The Big Six-O

In just a few short days I’ll be turning sixty years old.  I’ve never liked making a big fuss about my birthdays, and this year is no exception.  We’ve already had the usual family dinner at my favorite restaurant, and my husband and I hope to take a long weekend trip sometime this summer.  That’s our standard procedure for celebrating birthdays now that we have reached the age when we no longer want or need gifts, and it suits both of us just fine.  Still, there’s something about turning sixty that feels kind of like a big deal, in both a good and bad way.

On the one hand, turning sixty means that I’m really pushing the limit when I insist on calling myself middle-aged.  Unless I manage to live to be 120, I am definitely past the mid-point of my life.  But if I admit I’m not middle aged any more, then that means I have to figure out how to change the name of my blog.  Plus think of an name that doesn’t include the phrase “senior citizen.”  Eventually, of course, I’ll have to change the name since it would be weird for someone who is 89 to be writing a blog named Muddling Through My Middle Age, but that’s a problem for another day.

On the other hand, even though sixty does sound really old to me, there’s something kind of liberating about my upcoming birthday.  Honestly, I’ve looked at least sixty years old for the past several years.  I inherited my father’s prematurely sagging neckline and also his fair skin that shows each and every wrinkle and broken capillary in clear detail.  And I think I was about forty-two when my hair turned seriously gray and I understood just exactly why mother dyed her own hair for most of her adult life.  So in a way, it’s kind of nice to finally actually be the age I look.

IMG_3479Beyond that, entering this new decade does feel just a little bit exciting and new.  My husband’s retirement is just a few years away, which means we’ll be free to do some of the traveling we’ve longed to do.  And the empty-nest my kids created when they moved out of the house is beginning to fill up again with supplies for my new grandson.  My son’s old bedroom has been turned into a “baby room,” complete with a crib, rocker, toys and baby books, to be used by my grandson and any other grandchildren I’m lucky enough to acquire.  (Note to my kids:  yes, that was a subtle hint.)

Turning sixty sort of symbolizes a new phase in my life, and I’m looking forward to seeing just what it will bring.  I may no longer be young, but I am a grandmother, and that seems like a fair trade.  I’ve lived long enough to begin to understand who I really am and better yet, to feel brave enough to let others see the “real” me as well.  I’m still relatively healthy, and still able to pursue some of my unfulfilled dreams.

And who knows?  Maybe this will be the decade when I not only look my age, but I begin to act my age as well.  But I wouldn’t bet on it…..

The Best Policy

Ann's photoWhen I was about six years old, I desperately wanted a pair of glasses.  And not just any glasses, I wanted  the “cat eye” framed glasses that were so popular at the time.  My older sister had a pair and so did Susan Breneke, who I thought was the coolest kid in the entire first grade.  I wanted those glasses so badly that I actually lied to my mother, telling her that far-away objects looked kind of fuzzy to me.  (My sister had described her vision problems to me in detail, so I knew just what to say.)  Unfortunately, my mom didn’t rush out and buy me a pair of glasses, which is what I thought would happen.  She took me for an eye exam, and I passed with flying colors.  I never did get those glasses.

I’m an adult now, and I no longer believe it telling lies to get what I want.   But there are still times when I think it would be easier to lie than tell the truth, and sometimes I struggle with being completely honest.

For example, I may want to tell a lie in order to spare a person’s feelings.  I know that people do that for me now and then.  When my husband and I are getting ready to go out, I’ll often ask his opinion of my outfit, sometimes even uttering the dreaded question, “Does this make me look fat?”  The closest he’s ever come to saying yes was the time I had just bought a new dress with lots of pleats at the waist and he asked me, “Have you seen the back view?”  Which was his subtle way of letting me know it made my butt look bigger than Cleveland.

Other times, I’ll hedge a little bit on my honest opinion when I’m talking to someone I know holds completely different views from me on a sensitive subject.  I’ve seen so many people become deeply offended, or even enraged, when someone dares to disagree with them that I’ve become a little too cautious in my responses.  There are times when telling the truth is harder than it sounds.

But I also know that I want to live my life as honestly and openly as I possibly can, and that means that I need to tell the truth about who I am and what I believe.  I need to accept the risk that there are going to be people who don’t like what I say or do, and that the loss of those relationships will probably sting, at least for awhile.  But the fear of rejection doesn’t outweigh the value of being true to my real self.

Like my husband, I need to always temper honesty with tact and sensitivity.  Honesty is never an excuse to run roughshod over someone’s feelings.  But handled correctly, telling the truth is actually easiest in the long run.  I don’t have to worry about keeping track of any little white lies I may have told if I always give an honest answer to a direct question.  If I admit to the many embarrassing things I have done in my life, there’s no need to worry about anyone “discovering” them.

And best of all, when I am honest with my friends and family, I know that those who stay in relationship with me like me for who I really am.  Any way you look at it, honesty really is the best policy.

The Greatest Gift

Last weekend was a busy one.  We had a death in the extended family, which meant taking a quick out-of-state trip on Friday to attend the visitation.  On Saturday, we drove back home so we could help our daughter prepare for the family lunch that would follow the baptism of our grandson on Sunday morning.  One of the disadvantages of growing older is that I don’t bounce back from those kinds of weekends as quickly as I used to, so I am only just now actually processing those recent events.

In many ways, the death of a loved one and the baptism of a baby are completely opposite events.  One life is ending and another one is just beginning, and the emotions we feel are so very different.  It doesn’t matter if the death came at the end of a long and well-lived life, or if it was sudden and completely unexpected, we still grieve and wonder if we are ever going to feel quite whole again without that particular person in our life.  And you don’t have to be religious to feel the wonder and joy of an infant baptism, since it represents the beginning of a new life full of promise and hope.  Any way you look at it, funerals and baptisms are very, very, different.

But as I look back over the weekend, I realize that those two seemingly polar opposite events have one very important thing in common.  At both times, family and close friends gathered together to offer community and support.  In the one case, they came to offer comfort and share memories of the loved one who is no longer physically with us.  In the other, they came to show their support of, and love for, a rather new little person who is just beginning his life journey.  But in both cases, the important thing is simply that they came.

Sometimes, life gets in the way and we can’t actually be present when someone needs our support.  Last week, the mother of a dear friend of mine also passed away.  Unfortunately, her funeral was held on the same day as our family’s visitation, five hundred miles away.  As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t physically be there for my friend.  But I could still reach out to her, thanks to modern technology, and make sure she knew she had my love and support.

Life will always be full of ups and downs, of occasions that seem unbearably sad and of other occasions that fill us with joy.  And the people who gather with us at those times to share our grief or our happiness are a powerful reminder that we aren’t in this alone.  They are the community that supports us through the life’s biggest changes.

So my take away from this busy last week and weekend is simple:  be there for those who need us.  Physically when we possibly can; or by calling, sending flowers, a card, or even a quick text when we can’t.  The details don’t really matter.  What’s important is just that we be there for each other, each and every time we are needed.

This Is The Day

We went to brunch this morning to celebrate my son-in-law’s birthday, taking our baby grandson with us.  The little guy did great, spending most of the time either sleeping or snuggling quietly on my shoulder, staring in wonder at the activity around us.  It was one of the nicest brunches I’ve had in a long time.  The food and company were great, of course.  But what really made me happy was the chance to just sit there with my family, holding my infant grandson.  And I wanted to savor every minute of it, because I know that babies don’t stay babies for very long and that far too soon, he’s going to be too big to drape so perfectly over my shoulder.

I am not, and never have been, particularly good at “living in the moment.”  I tend to put off doing the things that I could be doing, and even the things that I really want to do, until later, when I’m not quite so busy.  Or tired.  Or stressed.  Or whatever other excuse I have come up with for not fully appreciating what, and who, I have in my life right now, at this very moment.  And by doing so, I am counting on a future that is in no way guaranteed.

Life can change in an instant, both for the better and for the worse.  And all we can really count on is the here and now.  So it is actually rather important that we make each and every day count, as much as we possibly can.

IMG_0780For me, that means holding my grandson while he’s still small enough to let me, even if the food on my plate gets a little cold while I do so.  Or putting him in his stroller and taking him for a walk on a warm spring day, even when I have dozens of unfinished chores on my to-do list.  It even means taking even a few minutes to actually play the piano I insisted on buying a few years ago, rather than just vowing to find the time play whenever I dust it.

Making my day count may mean calling that friend I haven’t talked to in ages, or reaching out to mend a rift that threatens a once close relationship.  It may mean making a healthy choice for my next meal, or going for a brisk walk even if the weather isn’t perfect.  It may mean trying something I’ve always wanted to do, even if I’m afraid I will fail miserably.  The important thing is that I do it today.  Not tomorrow, because tomorrow may not come, for me or for someone I love.

Ever since my father died, I have made it a point to call my elderly mother several times a week.  Somewhere along the line, we began ending our phone calls with the words, “love you.”  We were never the sort of family who said that very often, and it was a little awkward at first.  But now it’s a habit, and a good one at that.  Because there is no better time to tell someone you love them than today.

Too Much Information

Sometimes I think I’m a terrible friend.  Don’t get me wrong, I care about each and every friend I have, deeply and sincerely.  I know I’m lucky to have them in my life and what a gift those relationships are.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m nowhere near the kind of friend I want to be, and that bothers me.

Last weekend my husband and I went to dinner with a couple of very good friends we have known for more years that I care to count.  We had a great time, eating good food and catching up on what was going on in each other’s lives.  It was a fun evening and one I thought had gone very well, until after I was home and it hit me that I had not once asked my friend about how her sister was doing.  The sister who had been fighting a very serious cancer and who, the last time I actually remembered to ask, was still struggling to fully recover.

All too often, that’s exactly the kind of friend I am:  the one who doesn’t remember to ask the important questions.  The one who doesn’t always manage to keep track of what is going on in her friends’ lives, which means I’m also the one who sometimes doesn’t give the kind of support that her friends need and that I really, really want to give them.

I know what the problem is, and it’s not a lack of compassion.  The problem is that I  don’t seem to have the ability to keep track of large quantities of information, no matter how important that information happens to be.  Like almost everyone else these days, I’m constantly bombarded with information that needs to be acknowledged, processed and categorized so that it can be retrieved when needed.  But in my case, the information is usually misfiled somewhere in the depths of my tiny little brain.

I can remember what I want to ask someone about until that person is actually standing in front of me, or I’m talking to them on the phone.  That’s the exact moment that I can remember only that I need to schedule a vet appointment for my dog, get a flu shot, take our passports back to the safety deposit box, and drop some food off at my mother’s house.  Later, when I’m standing in my basement trying to remember what I went down there for, I’ll remember that I want to ask about a good friend how her recent job interview went.  (Not that I’ll actually ask her, since she’s not standing in my basement at that exact moment.)

I worry that my over-stretched memory means that my friends and family must think I am self-centered, and worse, that I don’t really care about what is going on in their lives and that they can’t count on me for support when they need it.  The truth is, I couldn’t possibly care more, and I am always ready to give any kind of help that they need.  But it’s also true that they might need to remind me that they need that support.

I suppose the fact that I actually have friends means that there are people in this world who, if they don’t always understand me, or at least willing to put up with me.  And for that I am deeply grateful.  I suppose the true test of any friendship is the ability to accept people for who they truly are, flaws and all.  And maybe it’s time I began to do that for myself as well.

Sands Through the Hour Glass

Did another year really just pass?  I know it sounds cliche, but it honestly seems as if it wasn’t that long ago that we were welcoming 2017 and yet now we are bidding it goodby.  When did time begin passing at warp speed?  And more importantly, how do I slow it down, at least a little bit?

It’s not that 2017 was a year that I particularly treasured.  Like most years, it had its good points and its bad points.  I could have lived without the two root canals and the three new crowns (those hurt both my mouth and my wallet), and the less said about the numerous varicose vein treatments I endured, the better.  I wasn’t a fan of the summer drought and the damage that wrought on the local environment.  And one way or another, I said good-bye to a few dear friends whom I miss very much.

IMG_3571But 2017 also had it’s good points.  I enjoyed a fun beach vacation with my family, reconnected with some old friends I hadn’t seen in far too long, and got to experience an (almost) total solar eclipse.  My blog was featured on WordPress “Discover” which put me in touch with interesting and talented writers from all over the world.  But best of all, I got the wonderful news that a grandson is on his way and, if all goes well, he should be arriving soon.

Aside from the chance to finally be a grandmother, I really don’t know what 2018 will bring.  I’m sure it will be a mix of highs and lows, the same as almost every other year.  I’m equally sure that it will pass by quickly, or at least that it will seem that way to me.  I had always heard that the older we get, the faster time flies, but I guess I had to actually experience it before I believed it.

I learned long ago to stop trying to make New Year’s resolutions because I rarely manage to keep them.  But I hope, now that I’ve reached the point in my life when time is passing far too quickly, that I will remember to treasure the good times and the good things that do come my way.  I’d like to stop hurrying through a life that is already moving along faster than it should.  I want to try savor the moments and to live in the present, especially now that I realize just how quickly the present becomes the past.

Time may be moving more quickly for me, but that’s okay.  I still have time enough left to enjoy the people and the things that I love, and that’s good enough for me.

Tiny Bubbles

A few years ago, I passed a young woman and her dog on the sidewalk and the dog jumped up on me to say hello.  The young woman apologized, saying she had just begun to foster the dog for a rescue group and hadn’t had a chance to teach it any manners yet.  I told her it was fine, that I was a “dog person” myself and didn’t mind an enthusiastic greeting from a friendly dog.  She laughed and answered, “All my friends are dog people.  I wouldn’t be friends with anyone who wasn’t.”  I smiled politely and went on my way, but her words stuck with me.

IMG_1432I love dogs and spend a lot of time in their company, one way or another.  I share my home with a dog and I walk shelter dogs in my spare time.  Many of my good friends are dog lovers, and several of them also volunteer at the local animal shelter.  But I have other friends who aren’t especially fond of dogs.  I may believe that a house isn’t truly a home until there’s a dog (or two) wandering around, but I have good friends who wouldn’t dream of sharing their home with a dog.  And you know what?  I am just as close to them as I am to my dog friends.

I believe it has become far too easy these days to associate only with people who we believe are, if not exactly like us, then at least close enough to be comfortable.  We can watch news channels that will always reflect our political views, interact on social media only with those who share our opinions, and live in neighborhoods where most people not only look like us, but are probably also in the same income-bracket.  I can’t speak for other religions, but some Christian churches have even begun to align themselves with either conservative or liberal stances based on the sincere belief that not only was Jesus political, but that his politics were exactly the same as theirs.  The division of “us” and “them” seems to be growing wider by the day.

Personally, I don’t think all this “sticking with our own kind” is a good thing at all.  When we surround ourselves with people who think, look or act mostly the way we do, we are rarely challenged with the idea that perhaps our way isn’t always the right way.  When we know that the responses to our opinions will usually be agreement, it’s all too easy to believe that our opinions are actually facts.  And if we do this long enough, then it’s easy to forget altogether that there are good people out there who just happen to look at things a tad differently than we do.

It’s easy to live in our own little bubbles, secure in the knowledge that we are right and morally superior to those whose views don’t match ours, and there are times when I’m really tempted to do that.  But ultimately, it’s not the way I want to live.

I want to live in the real world, which is populated by people who see things in their own unique way.  I want to be in relationship with people who don’t always share my political and religious views because they challenge me to examine just exactly why I believe what I do.  I want to have friends who don’t share all my interests, but are willing to tell me about theirs.  Mostly, I want to continue to learn and grow as a person.  And I don’t think that can happen when I can’t find the courage to burst out of my own little bubble.

A Change of Season

According to the calendar, Summer isn’t officially over until September 21.  But for me, the Labor Day weekend has always signaled the end of summer.  Public swimming pools close, all the kids are back in school, and although the days remain warm (or even hot), they are shorter and followed by cooler nights.  And the flowers that bloomed all summer long begin to look faded and worn, as if they know that the first frost isn’t all that far away.

Some years I’m more than ready for Fall, but not this year.  This year the summer went by way too fast, and we had so many unseasonably cool days that I barely got to wear most of my summer clothes.  If I had my way, we’d be celebrating the 4th of July this weekend, not Labor Day.  But I don’t get my way on such things, and Fall is coming whether I like it or not.  So all I can really do is think back on the last three months and be grateful for all the good memories they brought.

I’m grateful for the short trips we took to visit old friends who we don’t see nearly often enough.  I’m glad that I have finally figured out that good friends are worth the time and effort it takes to stay in touch, no matter how far away they live.  I may not be getting any smarter as I age, but I am doing much better when it comes to getting my priorities straight.

I’ll remember the cool nights my husband and I ate dinner out on our patio, which is rare in St. Louis’ usually hot and humid summers.  I’ll remember that this was the summer we finally painted the ugly-colored brick on our house an attractive shade of grey.  For the first time in over twenty years, I drive up to my house and think, “Wow! That looks nice!”

IMG_2688I’m grateful that I got the chance to host my mom’s 87th birthday party so that she could celebrate with some of her family and friends.  So many of my friends have lost their moms in recent years, and I know that they would give anything to be able to have them around for just one more family gathering.  When I was young, I tended to take my parents for granted (as young people do) thinking that they would always be around when I finally decided to make time for them.  Now I know better.

fullsizeoutput_417bBut mostly, I will always remember that this is the summer that I learned that we will be welcoming a grandson into our family in a few months.  Becoming a grandmother will be a huge and wonderful change in my life, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the reality that my daughter is going to have a baby of her own.  To say I’m excited for the arrival of my first grandchild would be an understatement.

So this Labor Day, there is a part of me that is not quite ready to let go of summer and that wishes Fall would hold off just a little while longer.  But I also know that the changing seasons mirror the changing phases of my life, and that they mostly bring good things.  A mere three years ago, my immediate family consisted of only four people.  Two weddings later, it has grown to six, and soon there will a seventh member of our family.  And that’s a change I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Time Well Spent

Sadly, time is no longer on my side.  Even though I still think of myself as middle aged, I am actually well past the mid-point of my life and fast approaching the “golden years.”  Which means I am always startled (and not in a good way) by what I see in the mirror every morning, and that I have learned to accept that all the hair dye, concealer, push-up bras and cosmetic procedures in the world aren’t ever going to make me look young again.  And I’ve gotten used to that, I really have.  Because at this point in my life, I’m much more concerned with making sure that I don’t waste any of the precious time I actually have left.

A healthy perspective is one of the few gifts of aging, but I think it is a very valuable one.  I no longer believe I can put off the important stuff, counting on a tomorrow that may never come.  If something is important, it deserves to be done now, or at least as soon as possible.  Procrastination is a luxury reserved for the young.

Beyond that, I have a much better sense of what is truly  important.  I used to waste far too much time trying to push myself into situations that didn’t work for me, just because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do.  I wasted even more time trying to get the approval of almost everyone in my life, even from people who made it clear time and time again that I wasn’t living up to their expectations.  Now I know that life is too short to waste on people who don’t enrich my life, who aren’t willing to accept me as I am, or who seem intent on trying to shape me into whoever they happen to think I ought to be.

Last weekend, I visited the small town in Kansas where I lived during my preteen and teenage years.  I got together with dear friends I have stayed close to for over forty years, and also got the chance to reconnect with old friends I haven’t seen in far too long.  It was a wonderful weekend full of laughter and memories, and we had a terrific time acting (almost) as silly as we did when we actually were young. And when the weekend drew to a close, we all agreed that we needed to get together again, sooner rather than later.  Because we aren’t getting any younger, and we’re no longer willing to wait quite so long to hang out with people whose company we enjoy so much.

When I was young, I honestly believed that I had all the time in the world to do the things I wanted to do, to spend time with the people I loved, and to chase after each and every one of my dreams.  Now I know better, which could be rather depressing.  But I choose not to look at it that way.  Instead, I have  come to see my aging as a gift that forces me to realize that time is an incredibly valuable commodity, and that I need to spend it wisely.  I just wish I hadn’t waited quite so long to figure that one out.

Silver Linings

A week ago last Friday, our dog Lucy came down with Vestibular Syndrome, which has symptoms that closely resemble a stroke.  Her eyes flicked back and forth, her head drooped to one side, and when she tried to walk she either staggered in a tight little circle or fell over completely.   She emptied her stomach, seemed to have little control of her bladder, and a steady stream of drool dripped from her mouth.  But the vet at the Emergency Clinic assured us she would recover, and so we brought her home and did our best to keep her safe and comfortable.  It was hard to see her struggling, and I admit I had some real doubts about her quality of life.

IMG_2431But it turned out that the vets were right.  Her head still tips to the right and she is still not as steady on her feet (paws) as we would like, but all the other symptoms have disappeared.  She’s not only eating again, but she seems to have total recall of all the meals she missed when she was too sick to eat.  Furthermore, she’s made it very clear that we still owe her those meals and she’d like them served immediately.  She is back to giving me the “stink eye” when I don’t give her what she wants, and yesterday I caught her trying to dig a hole in the back yard.  Believe me, if Lucy is trying to be bad, then Lucy is very close to being back to normal.

I truly wish my dog hadn’t gotten sick.  I would have rather not thrown out two perfectly good dog beds because she peed on them before we figured out the trick of placing a puppy training pad between the mattress and the cover.  I didn’t want to spend so much time worrying about if she would recover, and the decisions we would have to make if she didn’t.  Most of all, I didn’t want her to suffer, physically or mentally.  Which makes it all the more surprising that, when I look back on the past ten days, what I mostly feel is gratitude.

I’m grateful to have access to an Emergency Vet Clinic, and even more grateful to Lucy’s regular vet, who took the time on a busy Saturday morning to answer all my questions and reassure me that we were doing the right thing to give Lucy a chance.  I’m especially grateful for the kindness and support we received from so many people, whether it was in person, on the phone, or on-line.  It helped to hear from people whose own dogs had suffered from Vestibular Syndrome and fully recovered, and it was incredibly comforting to know that so many people cared.

I hadn’t realized just how much I had taken for granted in my life until Lucy got sick.  I didn’t fully appreciate how many good, kind, and helpful people I know and what a true gift those relationships are.  It’s so easy to get caught up with life’s troubles, both big and small, that we overlook the good things that are right in front of us, day in and day out.  Which is why I’m glad that the events of the past week forced me to recognize that I have so much in my life to be grateful for.  And I’m hoping that I have sense enough to remember it.