A Day of Rest

Last week was a busy one, for a number of reasons I won’t bore you with.  Suffice it to say that it was one of those weeks when I had trouble remembering all the the things I was supposed to be doing, let alone actually getting them done.  I like to think I handled it well, but I suspect if you asked those who had to deal with me, they would tell you I was just a little bit cranky from time to time.  (Or very cranky all week long, depending on their level of honesty verses tact.) But still, I finished off the week with most of the items checked off of my to-do list.  Which means that today I finally have a few free hours to spend any way my little heart desires.

And do you know what I’m actually doing today?  Nothing much.  Nothing much at all.

Not so long ago, I would have felt really guilty about wasting so much time when I could be doing something “worthwhile.”  I don’t know about you, but I always have a few big projects hanging over my head that need my attention.  Right now I have an old dresser that needs to be sanded and stained (there was a reason the antique store was selling it so cheaply and displaying it in such a dark corner), and there’s several bins in the basement filled with stuff I’m quite sure I don’t need any more.  Also, I promised my mother I’d wash her windows several weeks ago.  But I didn’t do any of things.

Instead, I mostly just puttered around my house, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  I didn’t actually just sit on the couch and stare into space for several hours, but only because I don’t find just sitting and staring into space particularly relaxing.  What I do find relaxing is doing small chores that catch my attention, in my own way and in my own time.  I only sat down to write this post because I actually felt like writing it, and not because it’s Sunday and I almost always write a post on Sunday afternoon.

It may not seem as if I did anything particularly important today, but the fact of the matter is that I did accomplish one very important thing.  I rested.  I rested my mind by only doing tasks that required little or no thought, and I rested my body by slowing down and taking it easy for a change.  And you know what?  For the first time in several days I don’t feel tired, stressed and cranky.  Instead, I feel pretty darned good.

Life is far too busy for most of us, and we usually have little choice but to forge ahead with our hectic schedules.  But I believe that every once in a while, it’s important to “step off that treadmill” and allow ourselves a little breathing time.  We need to pay attention when our body tells us it needs a break, or when our thoughts become so jumbled that we can’t seem to think straight.  And those are the times when we need to find a way to slow down, tune out as much of the outside world as possible, and allow ourselves to simply be.  Because those are the times when resting is actually the most important thing we could possibly be doing.

The Only Constant

I started this blog because I wanted to write about the phase of my life that I called “middle age,” even if I was a bit old for that title. At the time, I was feeling a little bit lost and unsure of myself in the face of changes that sometimes seemed overwhelming.  I was a stay-at-home mom whose kids had grown up and moved out, and a free-lance writer who hadn’t sold anything in years.  My mother had reached the age where our roles were beginning to reverse.  Trying to keep up with the latest in technology left me feeling both confused and inadequate.  Worst of all were the changes that aging had wrought on my body, which essentially meant that everything that could possibly go south had done so, and I couldn’t read a thing without my reading glasses.

One way or another, I felt that my old identity had been stripped away and I hadn’t yet found my new one.  I thought that blogging about it might help, because writing has always helped me sort out just exactly what I am thinking and feeling.  And I was right…..it did help.  Just not quite in the way I had thought.

It’s been over three years since I launched Muddling Through My Middle Age, and I still haven’t found that new identity.  But after spending so much time writing about the struggle to figure out just who I have become,  I finally realized that it is that it’s perfectly okay not to know exactly who I am, or to claim a particular role and self-image and try to make it last for the rest of my life.  Because life is constantly changing, and the only way I can ever hope to cope with that is by being willing to change right along with it.

Of course some things about me will always stay the same.  My basic personality, my morals and my values, my deepest loves and my most annoying quirks are with me for life.  But so many other things have changed.  Just in recent years, I’ve become a blogger, a mother-in-law and a grandmother.  I am, slowly but surely, gaining confidence in my ability to master technology.  I have embraced new ideas and conquered some old fears.  I have become more “comfortable in my own skin” than I have ever been, even if that skin is awfully wrinkled and saggy these days.

The truth is, there is no such thing as just one new identity for me to discover and embrace for the rest of my life.  There’s just me….continually changing, growing and adapting to whatever life happens to bring.  And that’s a good thing.

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.

Time Out

I’ve been out of sorts lately, both physically and emotionally.  I’ve been tired and cranky, lacking the energy to perform even the most basic daily chores and not particularly interested in engaging in the social activities I usually enjoy so much.  I thought I might be coming down with some sort of virus, but days passed and I never actually got sick.  It took me a while to figure it out, but I finally realized what was wrong with me was that I was feeling totally and completely overwhelmed and that trying to keep up with everything I usually do was only making things worse.

Feeling overwhelmed now and then is normal for me, as it is for most people.  Most of us lead busy lives with responsibilities that we can’t drop every time they feel a little too heavy.  I volunteer regularly at an open-admission animal shelter, and I can promise you that every single person who either works for or volunteers at an open-admission animal shelter is all too familiar with feeling overwhelmed.  It’s just part of the package.  And I know the same is true for parents with little children, people with super-stressful jobs, those who are primary care-takers for aging parents, just to name a few.  There are times when know that we’re trying our best, but we also know that our best is not quite good enough.

Dealing with our own issues is hard enough, but we are also constantly aware of the onslaught of tragedies that are playing out in the world.  The Las Vegas massacre, Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, the earthquake in Mexico–the bad news just keeps coming, and it becomes almost impossible to even process it after a while.  Honestly, it’s not  surprising that most of us feel overwhelmed at times.  And when we do, sometimes the best response is to take a little break from it all.

Taking a break doesn’t come naturally to me, probably because it feels too much like wimping out.  I have a tendency to think that I should be able to handle whatever life happens to throw at me, and that admitting there are times when I can’t is the same as admitting that I am weak.  But I’m not.  I’m just like everyone else:  I have my limits.  And when I hit them, I need to step back and allow myself to catch my breath.

So this past week, I didn’t write my usual blog post for no other reason that it felt like too much work.  I gave myself a couple of days to perform only the essential chores and let the other stuff slide.  I didn’t accept any invitations for social gatherings.  I watched only enough news to learn the basic facts, then either turned the TV off or switched to a different channel.  I let my phone ring out more than once, knowing that any important messages would be left on my voice mail.

And you know what?  It worked.  Taking a break from it all didn’t make the world any better or make any of my problems go away, as nice as that would be.  But it did change my attitude and it did restore my confidence in my ability to cope with the the things I need to handle.  My head doesn’t hurt anymore, and I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends this weekend.

I am a strong person, but that doesn’t mean I can be strong enough all the time.  And for those times when I’m not strong enough, a little “time out” is exactly what’s needed.

Quitting Time

Sometimes I just don’t know when to quit.  Maybe I read “The Little Engine That Could”  too many times as a child, or maybe it’s that I can be a teeny bit obsessive when it comes to completing what I’ve started, or maybe I’m just too darned stubborn for my own good.  But for whatever reason, every once in a while I find myself plugging away at a particular goal long after it has become obvious that my chances of success are less than zero, and the only sensible thing to do is give up.  That little train engine may have chanted, “I think I can! I think I can!” but sometimes it’s much more honest to say, “I thought I could, but I was wrong.  I thought I could, but I was wrong.”

Recently, fellow blogger Kate (who writes a wonderful blog called Aroused) invited me to do an interview for another blog she writes called “Meet the Bloggers Blog.”  I was flattered to be invited to do that, and quickly agreed.  She emailed me the questions, with the request that I send my answers back to her, including links to two of my blog posts.  It sounded easy enough, and I had no trouble answering the questions.  So far, so good.  But then I tried to include the links and that’s when everything came to a grinding halt.

My computer uses Word, so I wrote my answers in that, including what I thought were the working links she requested, and emailed it to her.  Now a smart person would have checked those links before she sent the email, but I didn’t.  Draw your own conclusions about that.  Once I realized my mistake, I emailed her again and let her know the links didn’t work, but I would try to fix it.  Two hours later, I had chatted on-line with a Word Press Help assistant, looked up several sites on how to attach a link to a Word document, filled Kate’s inbox with several more increasingly apologetic emails notifying her of each failure, and still haven’t figured out anything about how to add a link except that maybe my word-processing system and Word Press don’t play well together.

DSC03342 2My tendency to keep trying in the face of obvious failure isn’t just limited to technology, either.  I love homegrown tomatoes, and for the past several years have been trying to grow my own.  One year I even succeeded and harvested a few dozen.  But that’s just one year.  Mostly, I grew tomato plants that were massive in size, but were also infested with white flies that kept the tomatoes from ripening properly.  The looked bad and tasted worse.  This year, I have a beautiful, white-fly free, normal-sized tomato plant in my back yard that has at least twenty tomatoes on it.  All of them green, as they have been since early July, and will probably remain that way until the first frost kills them.

Sometimes the only thing to to is throw in the towel and admit defeat.  At best, we can try to salvage something from our efforts that we can put to practical use in another area.  The one good thing that came from my efforts to add a link to my favorite blog post was that I realized the post I liked best was written just a few months after I started this blog, meaning that very few people, other than my mother and my husband, have actually read it.  I’m thinking it could be a good idea to re-post it on my blog, as soon as I figure out how to do that.  Which most likely means that you can expect to see it on this blog sometime in 2020, if I’m not smart enough to give up before then.

Things I Learned the Hard Way

The older I get, the more I am convinced that many of life’s most important lessons can’t be taught in the classroom.  So many of the things I really need to know I learned from experience, and sometimes through multiple experiences because I have the unfortunate habit of not always paying attention to what life is trying to teach me.  In the hopes of sparing others unnecessary discomfort, embarrassment, and pain, I thought I’d share a few of those lessons.

  1. If at all possible, avoid having a root canal.  If you can’t avoid it, always accept the offer of anything that distracts you from the fact that someone is busy digging all the nerves out of your tooth.  Wearing earphones drowns out the sound of the drills, and keeps you from hearing if the dentist happens to say, “Ooopsie,” or “Dang, I totally didn’t mean to do that!”
  2. When making plans for travel, never prepay for anything that is not refundable, nor tell the relatives you are visiting that you will be there no matter what.  That is a sure-fire way to bring on a major blizzard, an attack of the flu, or a family or household emergency.  I will always remember the Thanksgiving Eve when I came home to discover the upstairs toilet was clogged, the downstairs toilet was in the hallway, and our refrigerator wasn’t working.  I had to call my out-of-town mother and tell her there was a tiny chance we might not be there for Thanksgiving dinner.
  3. If you get home with your new jeans only to discover that the store forgot to remove the little gizmo on them that is supposed to spray ink if not properly removed, go back to the store and ask them to remove it.  Don’t try to do it yourself.  They aren’t kidding about that ink spraying thing.
  4. Set your own limits.  Nobody knows what you are capable of doing or coping with nearly as well as you do, and you are not required to live up to anyone’s expectations except your own.  This includes, but is not limited to, firmly telling your doctor that you don’t want to see the cute but bloody little cyst he just removed from your body.  Standing your ground on these matters beats sitting in the waiting room with your head between your knees, sipping cold water and waiting for the feelings of dizziness and nausea to pass so you can go home.

IMG_1452I could go on, but I like to keep my blog posts short and at least somewhat to the point, so I’ll just close with one final, and yet very important, lesson.  Never, ever, feed your dog or let your dog find and consume something her digestive system can’t handle. (I won’t name names, but some of you may recognize the photo.)  It results in explosive diarrhea, and few things are worse than living with a house dog suffering from explosive diarrhea.  I’ll spare you the details.  You’re welcome.

Can You Remember?

Coleman Application_page 3 1In most ways, I take after my father much more than my mother.  I inherited his sense of humor, his passion for reading, his deep love of animals, and (unfortunately) his sagging neck line and tendency to be a bit wide in the middle.  My mother and I look nothing alike, and I have none of her teaching, sewing, or decorating skills.  But there is one trait that my mother and I do share: we both have astonishingly bad memories.  And that’s beginning to worry me a little.

When I was young and my mom wanted my attention, she always called the names of my sisters first, and that was when she was looking straight at me.  Sometimes she even worked in the name of one of our dogs before she got to, “I mean….Ann!”  I never doubted that she actually knew who I was, it just took her a while to come up with the right name.  And honestly, I understood that, because I operate the exact same way.

I once stuck a glass bottle of Coca Cola in the freezer in order to get it cold enough to drink, and then forgot all about it until that evening, when someone opened our freezer door and discovered that it had exploded in there.  As a young mother, I walked out of my house without remembering my keys so many times that my son would not only ask me if I had the keys before he would follow me out the door, he also insisted I show them to him.  He was only five at the time,  but I guess he’d had a little too much experience at being locked out.

I have a long history of forgetting appointments, and I shed my belongings the way a dog sheds hair as I go about my day.  I’ve left purses behind in restaurants,  walked out of supermarkets without the groceries I just paid for, and left lawn sprinklers on overnight.  (Thankfully, we don’t live in an area that is prone to drought.)  I never buy expensive sun glasses or umbrellas because I lose track of them so often.  And I’m just as bad at remembering names as my mother ever was.

The problem is that I’m starting to get a bit up there in age, which means that I’m getting to the point where people are going to be getting just a tad judgmental about my lack of memory skills.  Like my mother, I have had a bad memory all my life, and forgetting stuff is just normal for me.  But forgetfulness is also something that becomes concerning as people hit their twilight years (and rightfully so), but how can you notice that someone’s memory is slipping away when it’s barely been there to begin with?

IMG_0576 2My mother is at the age where I often accompany her to important visits, and I see the looks that she sometimes gets when she has problems remembering stuff.  And I know the time is coming when I’m going to be getting those looks as well.  Which probably explains why I can get a little defensive about my mother’s memory (or lack thereof), because I not only know it’s just who she is, but I realize it’s also who I am.

I know my mom well enough to know that she’s still quite sharp mentally, even if her counter is strewn with the notes to help her remember all the stuff she needs to remember.  And I’m there to speak up for her if need be.  But that leaves the question of who is going to speak up for me when I’m her age and waltzing out of the grocery store without my groceries.  I guess I just have to hope that my kids inherited their father’s memory so they’ll recall all those times when they were little and I forgot my house keys.  And know that it’s just me being me.

It’s Complicated

I hate clutter, which means that getting rid of things is rarely a problem for me.  I routinely go through my possessions, ruthlessly culling the items that are no longer useful or desirable.  No matter how many times a charity calls for donations, I can always produce at least one big bag of used clothes, household items or other items.  And that’s not counting the carload of stuff we donate each year to the rummage sale at my mother’s church, or the stuff we give to my daughter to take to the local resale shop.

Even my most precious possessions–my books, my Christmas ornaments and my photographs–aren’t immune to my tendency to downsize and minimize.  I rid my bookshelves of books that no longer interest me, and I gave each of my kids a couple dozen of my Christmas ornaments when they moved out and started decorating their own trees.  And when my photo boxes get too full, I go through them and toss out the occasional photo or two.  (Especially when I have no idea who is in the picture.)  I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “saver.”

fullsizeoutput_3ebeWhich makes it all the harder to explain why I have several poinsettia plants on the window seat in my family room that are well past their prime.  The newest addition is two years old, and none of them sport the pretty red leaves anymore.  They are now green and spindly, require frequent watering and drop dead leaves all over the place.  But I can’t make myself throw them out.  I’ve tried, but I can never get past the idea that they are still alive, and I would be killing them for no reason other than I find them inconvenient.  And so they stay, taking up space and cluttering up my window seat.

I don’t have a rational explanation about my inability to get rid of unwanted plants when I can so easily give away just about anything else that’s in my house.  It’s completely out of character, and I doubt that anyone who knows me would believe that I have a window seat full of straggly poinsettias left over from Christmases of several years ago.  And yet I do.

And I don’t think I’m all that unusual.  Yes, hanging onto old poinsettias may be unusual, but doing things that seem out of character is actually rather common.  I believe most people have odd quirks and have done things that would surprise their friends and family.   I also believe that most people hold certain beliefs which seem at odds with their usual viewpoints.  Because the truth is that most people are much more complicated than they seem.

Of course we like to slot other people into categories that make they easy to identify, but those categories are rarely completely accurate.  It’s not uncommon for a liberal to hold a conservative view on a particular subject, or for a city dweller to have a passion for country music.  Animal shelter volunteers can own purebred dogs, and the grown son of a dedicated gardener may prefer his vegetables canned.  It’s all okay.  Because real people are complicated, and they are allowed to harbor all sorts of contradictions.  It’s just part of what makes us human.

And the reason I’m hoping no one gives me another poinsettia for Christmas this year.

Where I Belong

It’s taken me a long time to realize this, but I don’t do groups well.  It doesn’t matter whether I’m in a small group or a large one, sooner or later I know I’m going to get that familiar feeling of not quite fitting in, of hovering around the fringes of the group rather than being firmly planted in the center of it.  For a long time it sort of bothered me that I was always just slightly out of step with the people around me, but as the years have gone by, I can honestly say I’ve gotten used to it.

I remember when I young and thought that fitting into a group was about the most important thing in the world.  It was a popular custom at my grade school to “lock the gates” after choosing sides for a particular playground game, which involved standing in a circle, holdings hands and chanting “Lock the gates, lock the gates, nobody else can play!  If they do, we’ll take their shoes, and then we’ll run away!”  I know it sounds awful, but being a part of that circle actually gave me a feeling of security, even if I did feel sorry for the kids who tried to join in later and were turned away.

IMG_0402But somewhere along the line, I began to value my individuality over my need to belong.  I think it happened in stages, from not wanting to be limited to a particular clique in high school, to registering to vote as an Independent, to not joining a “play group” when my own kids were young.  (Don’t ask me why, but the concept of a play group just seemed too limiting.)  I love being around other people, and I care deeply for my friends and family, but I can’t tell you the last time I have sat among a group of people, any group, and really felt, “This is it.  This is where I belong, completely and absolutely.”  And that’s okay.

The connections I have learned to value aren’t the kind that come from being a long-term member of a particular group.  Instead, they are those moments when someone seems to speak directly to my heart, calming a fear or validating something I have long believed but been afraid to articulate.  They are the insights I get when someone shares one of their dreams or fears with me, alone or in a group, trusting that they will get nothing but help and understanding in return.  They are the moments when I feel such a strong connection to someone else that I can almost see it.  Those moments are brief, but they are real and profound.

There’s security in fully belonging to a group, no matter what our age, and there will always be people who want and need that sense of belonging.  I respect that, and sometimes even envy it, but deep down, I know it’s not for me.  I am, for whatever reason, just one of those people who feels the overwhelming need to “march to the beat of my own drummer,” even if that means I sometimes walk alone.  But that doesn’t mean I’m lonely, because believe me, I’m connected to others in all the ways that truly count.

Broken Connections

DSC01566I have never thought of myself as a huge fan of technology.  I get annoyed at people who spend too much time staring at their tablets or cell phones; I prefer to shop at real stores rather than buy things off the internet, and according to my son, I have absolutely no understanding of what Wi-Fi is.  So I was a little surprised by just how much my life was disrupted recently when a storm that blew through town knocked out my cable and internet connection for over two days.

At first, I didn’t mind when I realized that the cable was out, meaning I couldn’t watch television or log on to the internet on my computer or phone.   For one thing, I was just grateful that our house had power, since so many of the homes and businesses in our area didn’t.  (Some lost their power for days, ours was out only for two hours.) And I kind of liked the unexpected break from technology, especially since it meant I had more time to do things like read a good book and tackle some of the chores that have been on my to-do list for a long time.  I never quite realized just how much time I wasted “surfing the net” until I suddenly couldn’t do it anymore.  And I may have lost my instant access to the news, but that meant that I was also less stressed and worried than I usually am when I actually know what’s going on in the world.

For a while, I was feeling a little smug about how well I was coping without my cable TV and my internet access.  But I’m embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t very long before I was also feeling a bit anxious.  We had no service on Thursday, which is one of my usual days to publish a blog post.  I actually began to fret about not doing that, as though thousands of readers around the world were going to be logging onto my blog, only to be disappointed to find no new post.  Worse, I had no way of reading or commenting on the many blogs I follow, and worried that I might be offending my fellow bloggers by my absence.  (Because no one can possibly feel they have a successful blog unless they know I’m reading it, right?)  I’ve gone “off the grid” before, but I was always able to let people know ahead of time.

I was supposed to go out to eat with some friends, and  wanted to call the restaurant beforehand to make sure they had power. My first thought was to check their website to get the phone number.  Only I couldn’t do that with no internet, and I also couldn’t remember what I did with all my old phone books.  I needed to buy airline tickets for an upcoming trip, but I knew I didn’t have the patience to try to do that over the phone, since it seems that most airlines have exactly three customer service representatives answering their phones these days and calling them usually means waiting on hold for a day or two.  In short, I kept thinking of things I needed to do, and wanted to do, but no longer actually knew how to do without the help of the internet.

Which brought me to a rather startling realization.  I may not have any idea how my computer or cell phone actually works, and may believe that WiFi is something that exists solely to allow me to play solitaire on the internet, but I have become just as dependent upon technology as everyone else.  I like to think of myself as an old-fashioned sort who has a “take it or leave it” attitude towards technology, but that’s just a sham.  I never thought it could happen, but I’ve become addicted to the internet.  And as far as I know, there’s no twelve-step program to help me cope.