Accentuate the Positive

When my husband and I were first dating, we often went to the movies.  Our tastes were very different, but we both enjoyed a good comedy and there was almost always one worth seeing.  One evening he told me he’d really like to see the new movie, “Grease.”  I was a little surprised but went along with his choice.  After a quick stop at the snack bar, we settled into our seats and the movie began.

Less than five minutes into it, my husband turned to me with a look of horror on his face.  “I think this is a muscial!” he hissed.  I agreed that it was.  Scowling, he took another bite of popcorn and turned his attention back to the screen.   He watched in suspicious silence for a while longer before he began to look even more alarmed.  “And it’s a love story!”  Given half a chance, I’m sure he would have left the theater there and then.  But as far as I was concerned, we’d paid for the movie and hadn’t even made a dent in our soda and popcorn supplies, so we were going to ride it out.

When the movie was over, I asked him how how he liked it.  “It wasn’t too bad,” he admitted.  “Considering.”  I told him that’s exactly what I thought, too.  It certainly wasn’t one of my favorite movies, but it was good enough that I’m glad we didn’t walk out.

Fast forward more than forty years to a recent Saturday night when my husband and I decided to go out for dinner.  There was a slight chance of rain in the forecast so we considered ourselves lucky that the restaurant had a sidewalk table under a big awning, just in case.  We placed our orders and settled back to enjoy the live music coming from a restaurant across the street.  All was going well until it started to rain….very, very, hard.

ORyzU85tSfq3qtjHCpQWe quickly moved our table as far back from the street as it would go, thinking that would protect us.  And it did, for a while.  But soon the street in front of the restaurant was covered in water that was also lapping up against the curb.  Our waitress asked if we’d like to move inside, but we told her we were fine.  (We’re not eating inside restaurants right now.)   By the time she came back with our food, the water was beginning to cover the sidewalk as well.  Every once in a while a car would venture down the flooded street, creating waves that did reach our table, so we learned to lift our feet whenever we saw one coming.

I know this sounds like a miserable experience, but it really wasn’t.  A few other diners had also chosen to stay outside, the servers were all carrying umbrellas to stay dry, and the temperatures were quite comfortable.  The atmosphere was almost festive.  As I told my husband, “it’s like beach-side dining, without the sand.”

Sometimes in this life, things just don’t turn out the way we had expected.  What sounded like a good movie turns out to be a musical love story.  What we thought would be a good night for dining outside turns into a night of heavy rains.  But if we can just let go of our original plans and simply go with the flow, sometimes things turn out to be just fine.  As a wise person once said, “it’s all about attitude.”

The Company You Keep

No doubt about it, 2020 hasn’t exactly turned out to be a banner year.  Aside from the birth of our new granddaughter (which was a wonderful gift), it has mostly been a series of hardships that had to be both accepted and endured.  From learning that our dog tested positive for heart worm in February, to the arrival of the Covid virus in Spring and the subsequent lock-downs which resulted in the cancellation of every single event and gathering we had been looking forward to, to the worry of our granddaughter’s premature birth, followed closely by my husband’s cancer diagnosis, I feel as if I’ve hardly had a chance to draw a breath, much less process it all.

But like everyone else whose world has been turn upside down in the past few months, I don’t really have a choice other than to do my best to cope with this new reality.  And so I do what I can to adapt and learn new coping strategies.  It helps to do the small things that cheer me up, like buying fresh flowers for our house or making sure I always have a stack of new books to read when I can find the time.  I’ve learned the importance of self-care, and am getting much better at saying “no” to obligations that  threaten to overwhelm me.  If nothing else, I’ve  come to accept my limitations, and that’s a good thing.

I’ve also discovered the importance of discernment.  There are days when I take a break from the news, knowing that all the craziness and conflict will still be there when I actually feel strong enough to hear it.  I hit the “unfollow” button on Facebook in order to keep my newsfeed free from the petty bickering and tribal chest-thumping that many feel obligated to post on a daily basis.  Sometimes I let my phone go directly to voice mail, particularly when it rings just as I am sitting down to a hot meal or settling into a comfortable chair with a good book.   It took a while, but I’ve finally learned not to feel guilty about that.

More importantly, I’ve learned to be a bit more particular about the people I talk to on a regular basis.  I’ve always believed in accepting others for exactly who they are, and that is still the case.  But now that I find myself living almost constantly on the fine line between coping and feeling completely overwhelmed, I realize that I need to spend most of my time only with those who have the ability to cheer me up and keep me hopeful. One good thing about hard times is that you discover some of the people you know are really, really, good at being supportive.  They’re the ones who listen to you without judgement, who assure you that things really will get better, and who know how to make you laugh when all you thought you could do was cry.

IMG_6698I still love all my friends and family, and value my relationship with each and every one of them.  But right now, in this particular situation, I’m gravitating toward those who are helping me cope.  And that’s okay, I think.  If nothing else, they’re showing me exactly what I need to do when it’s my turn to “pay it forward” and help someone else who is in need.  Because the one thing I know about dealing with hardships is that it’s so much easier when you don’t have to face them alone.

A Sound Investment

GfmVigVWRjm+IR38uLJhMgEver since his daycare closed, I’ve been spending four days a week caring for my two-year old grandson.  It’s been a rewarding experience in many ways, and also an exhausting one.  I’ve learned a lot in the past seven weeks, including the fact that I’m not as young as I used to be.  I used to complain that I look so much older than I actually feel, but no more.  Nowadays I look in the mirror and see the wrinkles and sags and think, “Yep.  That’s about right.”

I’ve learned to limit the amount of time my grandson spends in front of the television set, and not just because every child expert warns against too much screen time for toddlers.  Honestly, there are just so many shows I can watch before I overdose on cute little characters with enormous eyes and amazing gadgets, busy going on missions and singing about whatever lesson they learned in this episode.   Limiting screen time may be good for his development, but it’s absolutely necessary for my sanity.

The most helpful thing babysitting my grandson has taught me is how to deal with annoying people.  Whenever I  won’t let him do something he wants to do (like playing catch with my crystal candy dish), he tells me, “Walk away, Grandma!”  I was taken aback the first time he said it, but then I realized what a handy saying it actually is.  Whenever someone is bothering me, I can just tell them, “Walk away!”  Who knew it was that simple?

But the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that all the time and effort that goes into raising a child is absolutely worth it.  Because eventually, those children grow up to become adults and those adult sons and daughters can enrich your life in more ways than you can ever imagine.  The child you once taught how to eat with a fork and spoon can become the same person who teaches you how to fix a problem with your computer.  The child whose “boo-boos” you kissed and bandaged can someday be the person who soothes your pain and calms your fears.

This morning I was a little overwhelmed with all the craziness that is going on in the world, and a bit depressed by how many people seem to be using this disaster as a chance to further their own agendas and lash out at the people they never liked in the first place.  My fears and frustrations came out in texts to my daughter, and then I immediately felt guilty for “dumping” on her.  I’m the mom, after all.  So I’m supposed to be the strong one, right?

But not this time.  This time, my daughter was the strong and encouraging one, pointing out the need to limit my exposure to the negativity and to pay attention to the positive things these changes have brought about.  And it helped, enormously.  Just as it helps when I talk to my son, who has such a clear-headed and confident way of looking at things that I sometimes wonder if we’re actually related, because he certainly didn’t get that from me.

So yeah, I’m pretty tired these days and no longer believe that I’m particularly young, but I’m okay with that.  Like all children everywhere, my grandson is absolutely worth all the time and effort that we can give him.  And someday, when he grows up to become an adult with his own unique gifts, I can only hope I’ll be around to share in them.

Just Fine

My mother called me yesterday and asked me if I was going to host Easter this year.  I could hear the hope in her voice, which made it even harder to remind her that no, I wasn’t going to able to do that.  I told her that we were all going to have to celebrate Easter in our own homes this year, and wait to get together when the “shelter at home” orders are finally lifted.  To her credit, she told me that was just fine and quickly changed the subject.  But I know that my answer hurt her.

Mom always enjoys family gatherings and holiday celebrations, and she was especially looking forward to Easter this year.  She’s been talking about it for a couple of months, ever since she heard that my out-of-town sister and her family were planning to come for Easter.  Mom was thrilled at the thought of having all three of her daughters and their families together to celebrate the holiday, but of course that was before the spread of the Covid-19 virus resulted in massive shutdowns and stay at home orders.  My sister cancelled her visit and I cancelled my plans to host our family gathering.  So this year, Mom is going to be celebrating Easter all by herself:  no family meals, no attending church services, and no watching her great-grandson hunt for Easter eggs.

I know that thousands of people are suffering far greater losses and disappointments than my mother.  I know that this virus has claimed too many lives and cost too many people their livelihood.  But the last thing I’m going to do is to point that out to my mother, or to tell that she has no right to feel disappointed or sad.  She has every right to feel her emotions and every right to mourn her loss, even if other people are mourning much greater ones.  Grief isn’t a contest, and if we never allowed ourselves to feel sad because other people have bigger troubles, we’d never be allowed to feel sad at all.  Which is just plain ridiculous.

Honestly, I admire the way my mother is handling the situation.  This may not be the Easter celebration she wanted, but it’s the Easter celebration she’s getting, and she’s accepted that.  (Which is what often happens once we allow ourselves to actually feel our emotions rather than feel guilty for having them.)  She knows that she we can’t safely visit her in the retirement center right now, and that it isn’t safe for her to come to our house and risk being exposed to the virus and worse, spreading it to the other senior citizens who live in her building.  But she also tells me often that she knows she made the right choice in moving to the retirement center and that they take excellent care of her there.

DSC03117We may not be physically together this year, but I can still drop off an Easter basket at her retirement center and there will be Easter services and concerts she can enjoy on TV.  I’ll call her on Easter and I’m sure the rest of our family will too, which will make her feel much less alone.  We may not be able to celebrate in our traditional way, but we will still celebrate and we will still connect with each other.  Which means that ultimately, my mother was right.  Easter really is going to be “just fine.”

Quiet Time

Earlier this year, I came down with a bad cold that seemed to concentrate in my throat and eventually caused me to lose my voice altogether.  The doctor told me to rest my voice as much as possible, which essentially meant that I shouldn’t talk unless I absolutely had to for the next few days.  I’m the sort of person who usually has a lot to say, but luckily the laryngitis made it so difficult to talk that staying silent turned out to be much easier than I had thought.  And the added bonus was that I learned a few things during that time I was required to keep my big mouth (mostly) shut.

The first thing I learned is that sometimes it’s best to pretend not to notice certain things, like, say, how very happy my husband looked when he heard that the doctor had told me to quit talking for a couple of days.  I could have pondered on just why he seemed to believe my laryngitis was such good news for him, but I decided it was probably in the best interest of our marriage if I didn’t go too far down that particular road.

The second thing I learned is that it’s so much easier to listen to someone, and I mean really listen to what someone is saying, when I know that I’m not going to have to say anything back.  Because usually when someone is talking to me, a part of me is listening and another part of me is already thinking about how I’m going to respond.  Which means that I’m only giving that person  part of my attention.  And it’s so much easier to understand someone else’s point of view when we actually shut up long enough to hear what they’re trying to tell us.

The third (and best) thing I learned is the value of silence.  Once I was in the position of having to decide whether or not saying something was worth the risk to my inflamed vocal cords, I became much more comfortable with not voicing every thought and idea that happened to cross my mind.  I learned how to simply enjoy my own thoughts without always feeling the need to share them with others.  I discovered how nice it can be so simply be with someone and to sit in companionable silence.  Honestly, during the time of my enforced silence I felt calmer and more at peace than I had in a long time.

This is not to say that silence is always a good thing, because obviously it isn’t.  Talking is an important form of communication and one of the main ways we humans connect with each other.  But for someone like me–who tends to talk a little bit too much–learning to be quiet was an enlightening experience.   I hope that I can remember the lessons I learned from being silent and continue to give my mouth a rest from time to time as I move forward.  Because if I do forget, then my only hope will be another case of laryngitis…..

Something New

IMG_1130When I was a child, Valentine’s Day meant school parties and special family dinners that featured heart-shaped gelatin molds and my very own box of chocolates.  When I hit the awkward teen-age years, the holiday was mostly a painful reminder of the boyfriend I didn’t have.  Then I found true love, and for the past forty-something years, Valentine’s Day was celebrated with flowers, chocolates and dinner at a nice restaurant, all of which I enjoyed very much.

But tastes change as we age, and in recent years both my husband and I began to tire of the crowds at the restaurants on February 14.  While the roses he brought me were beautiful, we couldn’t help feeling a bit scammed by the fact that their prices doubled (or even tripled) around Valentine’s Day.  And I have definitely reached the age where eating a huge box of chocolates is not a good idea, either in terms of health or being able to fit into my pants.

So this year, my husband and I decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day by babysitting our grandson so our daughter and son-in-law could enjoy an evening out.  Like all parents with full-time jobs and young children, they could use  more “couple time” and we love nothing more than being with our grandson.  Which why I spent this year’s Valentine’s evening snuggling with a two-year old while reading him bedtime stories.  And loving every minute of it.

I’ve come to believe that one of the secrets to living a happy life is the ability to let go of traditions, expectations, and even relationships that no longer work.  When our traditions stop giving us joy, it’s time to find new ones.  When familiar thought-patterns keep us nursing old grudges and reinforce negative self-images, it’s time to look for new perspectives.  And when people we were once close to make it clear that they are no longer interested in spending time with us or including us in their gatherings, then it’s time to accept that and focus our time and energy on those who do value our company.

It’s not a matter of turning our back on the past and all of the happy memories we have.  It simply means that we understand that all of us change, and that the things that once worked for us may not be such a good fit anymore.  More importantly, it means that we’re recognizing that there are new possibilities just waiting to be explored that just might make us every bit as happy as what we are leaving behind.  We just have to be brave enough to try them.

There was a time when I thought the best possible Valentine’s Day celebrations involved lots of flowers, cards, chocolates, and dinner at a fancy restaurant.  I couldn’t have imagined wanting to spend the evening eating store-bought macaroni and cheese, salad from a bag and reheated chicken nuggets, followed by bathing a toddler and then reading him the exact same book six times in a row before he finally fell asleep.  Yet that is exactly how I celebrated this year.  And you know what?  It was one of the nicest Valentine’s Days I’ve had in years.

Five Years Later

I’ve been blogging for five years now, and when you do something for five years, you’re bound to learn a thing or two.  To begin with, I learned that time really does fly when you’re having fun, because it just doesn’t seem as if five whole years have gone by since I started this blog.   I can still remember how I struggled to figure out how to create a blog, and how I felt both nervous and proud when I finally managed to publish my first blog post.

It wasn’t long before I realized that the blog stats I checked so obsessively really didn’t mean all that much, because they weren’t particularly accurate.  I have many regular readers who don’t follow my blog, and I have even more followers who never read a single post.  I also noticed that the posts I liked best weren’t always the ones that generated the most views.  Eventually, I figured out that what made writing a particular post most worthwhile was when one of my readers was kind enough to let me know that my writing spoke to them.  Because face it, if something we write touches even one person in a significant way, then that post was well worth the effort.

I sometimes have trouble embracing change, but blogging has taught me that change is not always a bad thing.  I think all bloggers enjoy having a core group of “blogging friends” who read and support each other’s blogs, and I was lucky enough to find such a group early on.  I’m not at all sure I would have stuck with my blog without their encouragement.  But most of the people in my initial core group have dropped out of Word Press, and been replaced by other new friends who have ventured into the blogging world.  The blogging community is constantly changing, and I’ve learned to accept that and be grateful for each new connection it brings me.

Blogging has also made me much less cynical, because it’s taught me that, despite what the news media would have us believe, most people are basically good.  When I first started blogging, I was very intimidated by the fact that readers would be able to comment directly on my posts.  I was quite sure I was going to have to deal with lots of spam and nasty responses.  But 99% of the comments I’ve received have been positive.  And they usually generate interesting discussions among people who seem to be both kind and intelligent, and willing to be share their experience and knowledge.  That’s the sort of thing that gives me hope for our world.

Finally, the most important thing my blog has taught me is to be willing to take a risk now and then, especially when it involves something I’ve always wanted to do.  If I hadn’t worked up the nerve to hit that “publish” button for the first time, I would have missed out on so much just because I was too afraid to try something new.   And the past five years wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun…..

Let It Go

IMG_1848I think all of us have times when we feel as if we’re on a treadmill, and someone keeps turning the speed up higher and higher.  Those times when there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get through even half of our “to do” list, and we fall into bed each night exhausted and already fretting about all the things we have to accomplish tomorrow.  For some reason, Fall always seems to be one of those times for me, and this year is no exception.

I’m sure part of the problem is that the days are growing steadily shorter and that there is so much to do in order to get our yard ready for Winter and our house ready for the upcoming holidays.  My husband and I are also spending a lot of time getting my mother’s old house ready for its new owners and dealing with all the little glitches that always arise at times like these.  (It took us two months to realize that some of the utility bills for her house have gone AWOL.)   Add these extras to our usual day-to-day responsibilities, and I suppose it’s no wonder we’re feeling a bit overwhelmed.

But I know all those things are just part of the problem.  And the rest of the problem rests squarely on my shoulders.  Because I have a long-standing and very unhealthy habit of taking on too much and hanging on to too much.  My intentions are good….I want to be a supportive friend, a good neighbor, a dependable family member, and basically just the sort of person that others know they can count on for help, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Within reason, of course.  But the problem is, sometimes I forget to be reasonable.

I tend to forget that there are limits to how much responsibility I can take on and still retain a sense of well-being.  I seem to need constant reminders that when I try to “be there” for everyone, I usually end up satisfying no one, least of all myself.  I need to learn that there’s no such thing as a perfect friend or relative, and that as long as I am doing my best, those who truly care about me will be okay with that.

I suspect that self-care and setting healthy boundaries will always be a process for me, and that’s okay.  I’d rather be too generous with my time and resources than too selfish.  But I also want to respect my limits, and learn to say “no” to obligations and needs that I truly can’t meet without stretching myself too thin.  I need to let go of my natural inclination to rush in and try to fix things, all the time.  Because let’s face it, it’s both arrogant and short-sighted of me to believe that I’m the only one who can step up when help is required.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll get to the point where next Fall is just a little bit more relaxed, and therefore more enjoyable for me and also for the people who would rather not have to deal with me when I’m stressed and crabby.  That certainly strikes me as a worthy goal….

My Way

rlMtuR23SC6pZJLH6olOvQMy mother and I have an ongoing dispute over the proper placement of silverware in the dishwasher.  I always place my forks, spoons and knives in the dishwasher with the handles up.  My mother places them in with the handles down, because she says the silverware gets cleaner that way.  And perhaps they do, I tell her.  But what happens after the dishwasher has run its cycle, and then I have to remove the silverware by placing my grubby little fingers on the parts of the spoons and forks that are supposed to go in people’s mouths?  And isn’t it dangerous to handle the knives by the blades?

When I say this, my mother always nods and says, “That’s probably true.”  But as soon as she thinks I’m not looking, she goes right on putting the silverware in the dishwasher with the handles down.

The correct way to load a dishwasher is a relatively small matter in the grand scheme of things, but I think our ongoing disagreement is a good illustration of a much bigger problem.  Because most of us tend to believe that our way of doing things is the best way, and our way of thinking is the only way.  And then we cause a whole lot of trouble by trying to convince everyone else that we’re right.

If you’ve ever had a “discussion” with someone who holds different views from you, especially on such sensitive topics as politics or religion, you know what I’m talking about.  Those are two topics where people have never had much tolerance for disagreement.  But even different beliefs in how we raise our children, how we run our households, how we celebrate holidays….heck, just about anything these days….can cause us to lose our tempers and lash out at those we think of as “other.”

I guess it’s just hard for us to accept that it’s not our place to tell everyone else what to think or how to act.  It seems to be human nature to like our own way best, and to harbor the belief that the world would be such a better place if everyone else just “got with the program” and came around to our way of thinking.  But it doesn’t work like that.  Because the people who are different from us like their way best, too.  And they also think that the world would be so much better if we would just wise up and agree with them.

The best thing we can do, I think, is to live our lives as best we can according to our own convictions, and to be very open about what we believe and why.  And if someone else wants to share their beliefs with us, we can listen to what they have to say and really think about why we do or do not agree with them.  Sometimes minds will be changed, but often they won’t.  And that’s okay, because other people are allowed to be different.  They really are.

So I will keep right on loading the silverware in my dishwasher with the handles up, and my mother will keep right on putting the handles down.  And that’s fine, because either way, we’ll still end up with clean silverware.

Time Flies

If that old saying “time flies when you’re having fun” is true, then all I can say is, I must be having the time of my life.  Because time is flying by so quickly these days that I can barely keep up.  According to the calendar, Summer is drawing to a close.  But I swear it was just yesterday that I was busy replacing all the Winter clothes in my closet with light-weight Summer tops and capris.  How can it possibly be time to start thinking about Fall?

And it’s not just the seasons that are flying by.  The nieces and nephews that I watched grow up now have kids of their own, and some of those kids have already graduated from high school.  Logically, I know that means a whole lot of years have passed since my nieces and nephews were born.  But emotionally, I tend to believe that they all must have found some sort of time machine that turned them into mature adults in the blink of an eye.  And I can only assume that my own kids must have used the same machine, because how else could my youngest one be thirty?

I’ve always known that time is a relative thing, because I remember the days of my own childhood when I would sit in classroom, sneaking peeks at the wall clock while I waited impatiently for recess.  The minutes simply dragged by until that long-awaited recess bell finally rang and we all rushed outside to play.  And yet those fifteen minutes of recess just flew by, because it seemed as if I had barely started to have fun before the bell rang again and we all had to line up and go back in the school building.

But what I didn’t realize was the fact that the older I became, the faster time would speed by.  I didn’t know that I was going to reach a stage in my life when I really, really wanted time to slow down, and not just when I was having fun.  I had no idea that with age comes the understanding that our time in this world is limited, and meant to be savored and enjoyed as much as we possibly can.

It almost seems unfair that this is a lesson that we don’t seem to learn until we have lived long enough that we’ve become far too familiar with grief and loss, and stopped assuming that the people we care for the most will always be with us.  At age sixty-one, I’m also accepting that I no longer have a long lifetime ahead of me to pursue unfulfilled dreams or repair broken relationships.  So I suppose it’s only natural that I feel that time is passing by far too quickly now, and why I really wish there was a way to slow things down a bit.

Unfortunately, I have absolutely no control of the great cosmic clock, which will tick on at the same speed it always has, whether I like it or not.  The only thing I can do, and the only thing any of us can do, is to spend the time we have left wisely.  For me, that means letting go of petty jealousy and anger, and actually doing the things that I love rather than thinking that I’ll get around to it someday.  And most importantly, making sure I spend as much time with the people I love right now, while I still can.