Category: Aging

When Your Baby Becomes A Real Person, Life and Birthdays Are Never The Same

Having babies is a great idea, until you realize that they are real people. My real people are pretty much grown up now, and this is not where I say “but they will always be my babies.” Of course, in some way, they are still my babies. Big, tall, hairy, manly babies.

My real people were born in different years but all within four weeks of each other, which means every year we have birthday season. We’re in it right now as a matter of fact. For nearly two decades I enjoyed the yin-yang of it – expensive…and celebratory. And I thought this year would be no different.

But the first rule of parenting is to give up the rosy glow, because guess what, real people do what they want to do regardless of their parents hopes, dreams and expectations. We’ve had a lot of years to adjust-abhor-accept that, but it’s still not easy when birthday and holiday season roll around. Why? Because this year my real people made plans of their own. And worse – without even telling me until I had already ordered the cake.

Me to Real Person who is actually permanently moving “home” soon:

“Hey how about you drive down for a long birthday weekend before you move back, and we can celebrate your birthday and get your car registered, get your classes and financial aid all situated, and find you an apartment.”

(The middle child real person is transferring to a college near home to finish his senior year. Hooray! Although I better not have any hopes, dreams or expectations that his being around the corner will grant me free access.)

Real Person:  “Um, no, I can’t. I’m going to a festival.”  

Me:  “What festival?”

Real Person:  Electric Forest.”

Me – while quickly googling Electric Forest festival:

“Oh wow sounds like fun, but how did you get time off from apple?”   Wait… hold up… “It’s half-way across the country?!?”  What?!? (I have to admit it looks pretty cool.)

“Oh yea Mom, it’s in Michigan. Don’t worry, I’m not driving and I’ll only be gone 5 days.”

Ok, the kid is going to be 22 this year, but this is my baby. (Big, tall, hairy, manly baby.) He is going to an outdoor music festival – in the forest – and there’s more – working the festival to get free food and camping space – with a group of his friends.  My son camps?

Wow. I don’t know how I feel about this. Um, Happy Birthday.

My youngest did not utilize the shock and awe factor, he just decided on his 17th he would go out to dinner with friends and afterward to do whatever they wanted until he got home by 11pm. He told me the day before his birthday that this was his plan.

Oh ok. <sigh> Happy birthday.

Not sure what is in store for the oldest yet, we are still only part-way through birthday season. But I bet it will involve his girlfriend, and I don’t know if we’ll be part of the plan. I’m so proud of this kid, he will be 24 and finds his own way every day. I have such a soft-spot for this one that I will be totally fine with whatever he decides. (Can we get that in writing?)

I’m actually proud of all of them, and my soft-spot is pretty big. Like them. Big, real people.

It’s ok, I still ordered the cake. And yep, enjoyed every bite.

 

All Grown Up I Can Now Be Myself

A long time ago my mother told me that no matter how old we are, we still feel the same on the inside – we feel like ourselves. That makes sense, at the core we are who we are.

Not sure we always notice the “Myself” in ourselves because we are busy navigating our day-to-day, immersed in whatever we are doing, who we are with, what’s happening on our own particular path and that’s our focus. For years and years.

But what if we change? I mean really change. Like “Myself” is not who you think I am, or even who I think I am.

I was sitting in church the other day – something I don’t usually do. I was forced to go every Sunday growing up, and it didn’t feel right to “Myself.” But since Sir Husband does multimedia communications for the Harvard Memorial Church now, I go when he’s covering a special event. It’s kind of like going to the theater. This church is the pulse-center of Harvard U, where big things take place – from Commencement or famous speakers or concerts to High Church holidays during the academic year. Neither of us are religioulsy-affiliated but subscribe to spiritual wisdom.

I sat there for the event and thought about when I was sitting in church as a little girl. I hated it and hated my parents for demanding I participate. I didn’t “feel” it, it didn’t seem right to me and I didn’t appreciate their disregard of “Myself.”

But this particular day, my past tapped me on the shoulder differently, like it does when we least expect it. I felt like a grown up. I had decided to go to church that day for my own reasons – to see the special event, to sit in what the Memorial Church calls Harvard’s “Space of Grace,” a safe place with an astounding history and a magnitude that spans brilliance and imagination, beauty, hope and possibility. Wisdom defines Harvard. And although I was never a student there, when I go, I feel like Myself. Not the struggling little girl who flailed through a lifetime of hard knocks, chaos, roadblocks and dysfunction.

Our experiences leave deep imprints, some good, some not so good. I spent the last decade trying to not be Myself. To unlearn what I learned growing up and reintroduce myself to Myself. And in pivotal moments, there she is. The birth of my children…unconditional love with Sir Husband after our childhood close friendship…finally moving home after a whirlwind eight moves. And sometimes it’s simply an everyday moment that seems pivotal.

That place inside my mother was talking about – the ‘feeling like myself’ place? Sure. No matter how old we are we feel like ourselves. But things change – circumstances, hopes, dreams – and it doesn’t require being in church to notice who we are. We just have to pay attention.

It may have taken me a few decades to learn all I really ever have to do is be Myself. But it’s definitely worth the effort.

 

 

For Millennials, Mom Doesn’t Always Know Best

Seriously, high school kids don’t wear coats anymore? It’s winter in the northeast, there’s snow everywhere, it’s cold… but I have yet to get my almost-17-year old in any coat, let alone a winter one. Makes me crazy.

He’s not the only one, I don’t see any of them wearing coats when I drop him off at school every morning. That’s the other thing. He goes to public school but our town doesn’t have busses for high-school kids. They have shuttles – busses for middle schoolers that will shuttle any high schoolers to the high school as a last resort. He won’t ride with the youngsters. Not to mention it costs $500.

No coat, no bus.

He wants to fit in, not stand out, not ride the bus with babies. I get that. But I don’t get the stubbornness. He’s my third and by far the most resistant to anything I suggest, say, advise or even insist. He simply won’t comply.

Not sure I can blame this on the millennial m.o., although this fits into the selfish stereotype. But I don’t see it as selfish, ego-centric or even lazy. It’s about this generation’s ability to make choices that they feel are best for them and be solid in that. They walk their own path and they stick to it, because they have the will, and the courage. They don’t let other people tell them what’s best for them. I can totally appreciate that.

Minus the condescending, not-so-nice, teenage bad attitude of course. Empty nest is just around the corner and is looking pretty good.

Maybe I’m just inexperienced in the ability to stand tall in my own resolute identity. I’d love to be able to do that without any guilt or lingering trepidation. I grew up differently. I had to do what I was told or the consequences would be painful. The innate hesitation therefore, is real for me.

In fact I’m still hemming and hawing about a story I recently submitted. It was a tough assignment, long, involved and I had to follow a complicated outline. I do better when I can write without explicit restrictions – you know – walk my own creative path.

Sure everybody has to follow rules, but the politics of working well and playing nice with others can be a little tiring. He said…she said…do it this way…that way…no my way… Honestly, I was not only a little grumpy, I was sad when all was said and done because the powers that be didn’t seem happy with the story. Yet I complied and worked hard.

But do you think my son (and I’m guessing his comrades,) are sad when they don’t comply, even if it seems sensible? I doubt it. Maybe he’ll grow out of it, although his older brothers didn’t. They lost the b.s. teenage attitude, and they do ask for advice, but they still do what they want in the end. Even if it doesn’t make sense…to me.

Imagine the freedom living like that. Although I’ll still be wearing my coat.

 

It’s Easy To Be Yourself If You Remember Who You Are

Last night my historian husband started singing a song (he does that a lot, just starts singing out loud, usually songs from the 1970s,) that he used to karaoke at a club he frequented way back in the day. This was before karaoke even existed mind ya, he used a beer bottle as his mic and people would clear the dance floor for him to croon. Then he stopped mid-song last night and said, Wow, I can’t believe how many people I have been during my lifetime. 

Did you ever stop and think for a minute about how many people you may have been in your lifetime to date? I don’t mean multiple personalities, although sure why not – our personalities can and do change to some degree depending on our situation. I’m talking about who you really “were then,” verses who you are “right now.”

He began reminiscing about those different people he was – during his formative years, as a teenager, a wild fraternity brother, a banker-turned-journalist, husband, father, husband again, step-father, photographer, writer, furniture-maker, antique car enthusiast, Harvard University employee and student, and of course a pseudo-karaoke star.

As he did that I was overcome with physical and emotional discomfort – not from his chronicled narrative, but from whatever is locked up behind closed doors in my own mind. Memories that I can’t see or hear, but I can feel. I think it’s called dissociative amnesia – the stuff is in there – I just can’t remember much after too many years of overwhelming stress.

I don’t know many people who lack some of their autobiographical memory. I try not to talk about it because it’s hard. I hate that I can’t remember much of my life, especially when people around me are reminiscing. So ironically, I try to put my amnesia out of my mind.

But I live with a walking Wikipedia. Sir Husband remembers pretty much everything, and most days I’m in awe and astonished not just by his vivid memories all the way back to his toddler years, but by the smarts he accumulated and maintained along the way. He actually remembers every word to every song he has heard throughout his life – and sings them, in tune. He recalls worldwide historical events in detail, like he was there. He even remembers what I was wearing when I was a teenager and he picked me up for school every day. Wow. I can’t compete.

I’ve been lot of different people in my lifetime too – but the things they did, places they went, the clothes they wore, I’m not really sure. They say our life flashes before our eyes when we’re changing realms, so I guess eventually I’ll remember who I was.

On the other hand, I do know who I am now, today, in this perfectly memorable moment. And I’m thinking that’s who really matters.

 

 

Embracing Flaws Isn’t A Character Flaw

be-beautifulI’m not a fashionista, but I try to look stylishly acceptable. No trends, no bare midsection, and my skinny jeans are stretchy despite their designer appearance. My shopping store favorites are Nordstrom Rack and The Loft, so when I picked up a long tie die cotton skirt at BJs, it took me by surprise. I went completely off the rack. But I really liked this muted purple skirt, not to mention it was on wicked sale.

I don’t wear it often, hippie isn’t my thing. But I like to throw it in the mix when the occasion allows. We choose what we wear based on all kinds of things – comfort, style, weather, fashion, destination, dress-up, dress-down, how it makes us feel. But one constant for me is no wrinkles or tears. That whole Flashdance ripped-tee era wasn’t for me.

img_2442For no reason the other day, I decided to take a break from my yoga pants and put on the tie die skirt. It’s comfortable and the purple hues remind me of fall. Even color or seasonal attire is another fashion motive. I was completely dressed when I noticed a tiny hole in my skirt. When I looked closer it wasn’t just one, it was two. Like sharp little cat claws may have made the pin-sized rips.

This is when being OCD really gets me. I felt this urgency to take off the skirt and quickly sew those two minuscule holes before I went on my way. That of course would involve taking it off, pulling out the sewing kit, trying to thread the needle, stitching the small jagged holes, on and on. I didn’t have the energy, or frankly the time. So I took a deep breath and said to myself, learn to live with the flaws.

never-perfectAs if this was some profound realization, I was proud of myself for stepping back and consciously letting it go. Learn to live with the flaws. Is that even possible for a perfectionist? I had control over fixing it in that moment and didn’t. Yikes – imperfection.

This may seem ridiculous, but learning to live with the flaws is a big deal to me because it comes at a time when I’m feeling the flaws in a lot of areas. My perimenopausal body feels the flump. My gray roots grow fast. My worn and faded condo walls are in desperate need of paint. I’ve had some difficulty with some writing assignments for a potentially permanent job. I’m in desperate need of self-care when obligations are calling first. I’m feeling a little flawed in how to think about it all.

But after overcoming that tiny torn skirt situation and wearing it with the rips, I felt this sense of achievement and even a little bit free. Does this mean I might be able to ease up on stressing the gray roots? Or the chipped nail polish? Will I give up on picking up carpet dirt specs, or wiping fingerprints off the bathroom mirror? I may however draw the line at not making the bed. For now.

Whatever really, bring on the flaws and imperfection, I’m just going to be me.

self-discovery

Where Can I Find A Little Peace And Is There Room For It In The Budget

 

black-fridayOnly 17 days until Black Friday, the countdown has begun. There were years when my children were growing up that I had all the gifts purchased, wrapped, and hidden long before this enticing annual event. All it took was a trip to Toys “R” Us filling up back of the old Volvo wagon with the items on their lists, done.

Although it didn’t seem easy at the time, I had the time, energy and budget back then. Time only proved, that while the gifts got physically smaller, the price tags got much bigger. The boys got older, technology got newer, and gift-giving got harder.

vintage-christmasBut no matter our circumstances, my children have wanted for nothing really, despite my incessant frugality. To this very day I still prefer scoring the absolute best bargain on anything from clothing to food to holiday gifts. I’m far from extravagant but always provide a suitable stash for my kids.

This year though, we’re in a bit of a bind. We’ve had to shoulder some hefty unexpected expenses for the boys that required our hard-earned holiday stash. It’s no secret that our lives drastically changed after Mr. Ex revealed his gambling addiction, we ended up nearly homeless with empty bank accounts, retirement and college funds. That was 10 years ago, and he is happily recovered.

But unfortunately the boys and I have been unable to recover from his losses, even to this day. What they say about the lasting domino effect of someone’s addiction is completely true. So when things come up, like college tuition or emergency car repairs, we find ourselves hard-pressed. Sadly Mr. Ex says he can’t assist, so unless I find a way, my boys are on their own.

behaviorNot whining, I totally have their backs. Except, as the most wonderful (and most expensive) time of the year approaches, I am worried about how to manage. Like Charles Dickens writes in A Christmas Carol, it’s not about the gifts. But do kids really buy into that? Will they feel happy waking up on Christmas to a tree with no gifts underneath? Sure it’s about feeling the love – of family, of the season, of life. But how will it really feel this year when our small gift budget went to their emergency expenses instead? Let’s be real, they will be disappointed, and I will feel pretty bad.

Mr. Ex says he is at peace. That’s great, we all could use some peace.

Peace is an interesting concept. It’s easy to imagine, it’s highly desirable and naturally sought-after. We hear about it, read about it, sing about it, talk about it, and we’re even told it’s already there inside, so why, for some of us, is it so hard to really feel?

This is what I want to give my children this year – the feeling of peace – which could possibly be the best gift I could ever give them. First though, I have to believe it’s possible. In order to receive we have to believe, right? Just like in the beautiful story The Polar Express, believing is seeing…and feeling.

It is a special season, full of miracles and magic – and if we believe hard enough – even peace. Beginning of course on Black Friday.

tom-hanks

believe-gold

 

Halloween Is Over, Bring On The In Between

Welcome to the Christmas Season! It’s just two days after Halloween – the official holiday launch. We can tune in to Christmas music on satellite radio now, and we better start shopping for all the popular gifts.

Nah. I’m headed to the store to get a bag of Halloween candy for 50 percent off. We didn’t really get to celebrate Halloween this year, nearly empty-nested for the first time. Our 16-year old wasn’t interested, and we live in a big old house-turned-condos that sits well off the road in the woods, nobody rang the bell here.

At first I didn’t mind the lack of festivities – much to my holiday-loving surprise – the last halloween-04-064-copyoctober-05-010-copytwo decades of hazy Halloween memories were more than enough. No costume quandaries this year, messy pumpkin carving or mad dashes to the front door making idle chit chat with wee fairies and movie characters who aren’t old enough to eat a Skittle. No boys up past their bedtime sitting in a pile of open wrappers in the middle of the floor, no candy coma, no weeks of chocolate sitting around the house. Yea it’s all cute, and I loved it year after year…including raiding their bags when nobody was looking. But they’ve grown up and moved on.

Then the sun started to set on Halloween night…and some sadness crept in.

Halloween was over and it hadn’t even begun. I didn’t miss the hoopla or mess, I missed tradition – the anticipation of the doorbell ringing, trying to keep our hands out of the candy fullsizerenderbowl, pumpkin seeds toasting in the oven, glowing amber candle lights in each window, decorations, black and orange everything. Nope, none of that this year. Just a couple of full-size candy bars that Sir Husband sweetly brought home and placed near our teeny pumpkin. We missed the kids.

But “it’s whatever” as our millennials say. They are able to move forward in time without batting an eye, something I continue to try. I think there is an “in between” phase for parents, when we’re conscious of the big change adjusting to the empty nest. The shift in circumstances is noticeable.

But why do we always try to hurry our way on to the next thing, the next phase, even the next day?

water-restIn between is underrated. Nobody wants to hang out in between anything. Whether it’s between life phases or in between holidays, the world just pushes forward instead of embracing the void in between. What’s so bad about the void? That’s where we can pause, take a breath, and just be for a minute or three.

There’s something cool about being in the gap. Suspended between destinations or phases, hanging out in this space of has-been and will-be. Like when you are looking at a candy bar sitting on your table and you know it’s there and you are psyched about eating it but you don’t go for it. You wait. You anticipate. In between.

That was my favorite part of Halloween back in the day. The part just before the sun set when everything was ready but it was too early for trick or treating. We just hung out in those moments of peaceful readiness for whatever was ahead. We enjoyed the scenery. We enjoyed the pause.

Anyway…in the meantime, Merry Christmas.

charlie-brown

The Big Reveal: Love Yourself More

What do I miss besides my youthful glow, my grown-up children, and that phrase “you have your whole life ahead of you”? A lot of things actually. Like writing a blog every day. Or being able to eat spicy food. Sometimes I even miss little things about owning a house – mostly the ability to do what I want with the outside decor each season or on holidays, pumpkinswreaths, pumpkins, flowers, even answering the door to trick-or-treaters. Don’t get me wrong, the freedom of condo-living is awesome and I may never again want another piece of the American Pie.

It’s only recently that I’ve come to embrace a lot of things about midlife, and not just dwell on things I miss. All that stuff you hear about getting older is true, including gaining wisdom. But instead of sharing the to-do list of successful aging, or what to put on a bucket list, I’m just going to share the one piece of essential information I now have. It doesn’t cost anything, take any time, it even doesn’t require special skills, knowledge or training. It’s actually something everyone can do.

Love yourself more.

That’s right. That’s it. Love yourself more.

For many of us by the time we get to this midlife turning point we are tired – we feel bogged or beaten down, by life, by others, even by ourselves. We think we haven’t achieved enough, aren’t successful enough, don’t have enough money or the car we hoped for by now, the paid-off mortgage, the retirement fund, many of our dreams are starting to seem like vaporous clouds floating out of reach. Not to mention our body just isn’t what it used to be.

dont-worry-if-someone-doenst-like-youBut I’m here to tell you, nothing will change our past circumstances, and while there is always hope for the future, the most powerful thing we can do is love ourselves as we are in this very moment today, right now. Our health and well being depends on it. By the way, not loving ourselves proves what point and to whom?

It’s not easy. We are a society that focuses on youth, wealth, power, money and looks, and aging gracefully seems impossible. While we can’t fight that reality, we can learn to accept and appreciate ourselves just as we are, no matter what. That perception changes everything.

zuesSir Husband and I are paying attention to the midlife people around us who appear to have this “I Love Me” thing down. They seem happy, well-adjusted, and comfortable inside their own skin. We listen to what they say and watch how they move through life. Sometimes we even ask them what their secret is. Do they look in the mirror every day and say “You are awesome” in a Stuart Smalley affirmation way? Do they imagine themselves as the Greek god Zeus?

stuart-smalley

It’s easy to feel powerless when we’ve got a lot dragging at our feet, and isn’t always easy to shake off. I know a lot of miserable people, I used to be one of them. But what we noticed is that happy people keep their focus away from life’s sludge. They don’t let it invade their personal space, or their minds. Even if their situations are not the way they want them to be, they are ok with a different “different.” We have to see ourselves, and what we want, differently.

What do I really miss? Not realizing I’m worthy and deserving of my own love long before now. It’s truly the undercurrent of happiness.

 

deserve-love

Sometimes We Don’t Realize Just How Far We’ve Come

Don’t you love when you stop what you’re doing and notice you’ve accomplished a lot? I can squeeze in a whole day before noon – and let’s cut right to the chase – daily life can be a lot of work so it’s good to knock it down.

Besides my usual routine, yesterday I had to scan nearly 200 pages of my former medical records one slow page at a time, for my new – old – medical team. I’m going back to doctors I saw a long time ago, before I moved away. And sheesh, those 200 pages were only the records from the previous three years.

going-placesIt’s easy to take for granted when we stay settled in one place and our life remains compact. As simple as we want to make it, it’s not easy to move, although I have embraced it over and over as a opportunity to recalibrate, welcoming fresh starts as a vital part of healing from whatever wounds I may have. Clean slates are refreshing.

But this was the first time I moved back to someplace I’ve already been. I didn’t try to or plan it, it just simply worked out. I was thrilled of course and had some expectations which without a doubt were normal. I assumed I would see people who never left, whose lives just went on peacefully while I was participating in my own ongoing drama. I tried not to think about going back in time to a life that used to be, but how could I not?

fought-to-be-meThen it occurred to me. In the years I have been gone I have moved in and out of three states, gotten divorced and remarried, my children have grown up, I have changed my name three times, my hair color a lot, I’ve lost an internal organ, grew and removed a (thankfully) benign breast mass, gotten glasses, become a professional writer, I am not the same.

When I look in the mirror sometimes I don’t even recognize myself. I still feel like me I guess, a little bit, but the image continues to change. Which I just decided should work in my favor. I realized as I was scanning all those records, I have actually reinvented myself. And not just once. Then I started thinking – do we all do that anyway? Is that just part of steadily (or not steadily) advancing through our lives?

processWhen I go see my old doctors they probably won’t recognize me at all. Will I tell them it’s me and throw in a “how have you been all these years?”

I saw a story about past lives online as I was contemplating my old-new self. It said “the question isn’t who are you, but who were you?” This of course was relative to examining lifetimes. I believe in that, but it seems I’ve had plenty of lifetimes in this very one. Then it asked a fundamental question. “Why are you here now?”

fullsizerender-1“It is best not to trudge through the remnants of a distant past, slogging through random moments in order to discover little gems from bygone eras. Rather it is good to know that somewhere buried in your subconsciousness lies the memories of pivotal moments which have shaped your personality and have guided you toward the lessons that you are encountering in this life.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s about making peace with our past.

Don’t you love when when you stop what you’re doing and notice you’ve accomplished a lot?

 

you-are-entirely-up-t-oyou

 

Our Comfort Zone Lies Somewhere Between Our Body And The Bus

Three nearly-grown babies and a whole lot of changes in life, I finally got some big news that for many years I thought I would dread. I officially hit the M-word. It’s like a big accomplishment – I would like a commemorative cake.

menopause-blocks

unknownWhen I texted Sir Husband to tell him I finally crossed into the No More Babies On Board zone, he sent me a text of happy, celebration emojis. That’s because he has seen how uncomfortable I have been inside my own skin. No need to list all the symptoms of the post-childbearing years, but I have not fared too well.

hot-flashes-1

Discomfort by definition can span the gamut from body to mind and everything in between – it’s all interconnected. So when something is off balance we feel it, and it often shows. That goes for anyone – comfort zones are personal, life changes or not. Our comfort can be challenged, sometimes every day just interacting in life, our job, or simply out in the world.

red-lineThe other day we headed to a city festival where parking is tricky, so we took the subway. It’s not that I never liked the train, I just found driving more comfortable. I’m in my own little space, I can control the music, the temperature or stopping if I need to pee. But the other day we took the train as far as we could to get to this festival, then we had to hop a bus.

bus

I never rode a city busy in my life. Sir Husband on the other hand, loves public transportation and uses it a lot. So I did the best I could. I got my bus ticket (they don’t take cash,) I tried to put it in the right slot on the bus (the driver had to help,) I grabbed two seats in the front and pretended to be fine. I had no idea where we were going or where to get off, or even what to do.

To make matters worse, we had gotten on the wrong bus, and by the time we figured that out, we were in another part of the city. I maneuvered toward ear-shot range of the driver (are you even allowed to get up on a moving bus?) and asked her where we should go.

“You’re on the wrong bus honey,” she said. “You need to go the other way.”

tstopSir Husband of course was fine, but cringed at my expressions trying to stay calm. We got off at the next corner and walked several blocks to another stop. While we waited there for what felt like forever, we talked about my strain. I’m not going to lie – I was uncomfortable. Riding a public bus was outside of my comfort zone.

When the right bus finally pulled up and we got on, I acted like I knew what I was doing. But before I even had my ticket in the slot (this time I got it right,) the driver looked at me and said, “Well hello again!”

It was the same driver as our wrong bus. She had made a big loop around the city and was headed back.

I don’t know what happened, but she made me laugh and smile. We chatted all the way to our stop – and she didn’t make me sit down. I was actually kind of bummed when it was time to get off.

See how feeling comfortable works? Even when it’s something we dread? You just never know. Discomfort may be in our body, but it’s also in our head.

fullsizerender

 

%d bloggers like this: