I Need a Vacation After My Vacation

I have read several posts lately from bloggers I like describing wonderful vacation plans, sharing journal entries from exotic trips, replete with pictures of incredibly beautiful vistas that renew their spirits and calm their pounding working-world hearts.

I admit to being somewhat jealous, and easily fall into “everybody is having more fun than I” pity-party mode.  But then I remember, vacations can be great, but there are so often costs that don’t involve money.  And those beautiful pictures and exotic journal entries may not give the whole picture.  The pity party is over when I righteously comment to my inner traveler:  Yes, but what are they leaving out of their breathlessly positive reports? How much fun did they really have planning, executing and then recovering from that wonderful trip?

Family Vacation #1

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Because of our limited financial situation, vacations always involved riding in the back seat of the car with my two younger brothers.  Cars didn’t have air conditioning then, so in summer the windows were open and dust blew in our faces, along with the heat and occasional stray bug.  We didn’t have “devices” then either, so we actually had to talk to each other or occupy ourselves playing various games.  At the time “talking” consisted mainly of heated sibling discussions regarding the rules of “Alphabet” or “20 Questions.” It was a matter the level of national security whether or not you could count a letter that appeared inside the car or exactly how long you had to have made eye contact with a letter outside the car to legitimately include it!

One summer my parents were brave (foolish?) enough to take a cross-country trip to visit my mother’s sister in California.  I don’t remember much conversation between the adults and us kids, although there must have been some.  My mother and father talked to each other, but we really couldn’t hear them over the road noise–not that we were particularly interested anyway.  But we could clearly hear my father’s voice when, exhausted from the heat and the long hours at the wheel, and sick and tired of listening to the arguments over who was touching whom and who was cheating at Alphabet, he would briefly take his eyes off the road, turn his head around and yell:

PIPE DOWN BACK THERE!!

Adult Vacation #1 – The Single Life

Advance planning during the single years involves asking a friend to watch Fido for a week or so, trusting them with the key to your apartment, and hoping they won’t forget to water your favorite plants.  Then you take off to somewhere you really wanted to visit. You get there by whatever means you decided, see what you want to see, get up when you want and go to bed when you’re done.

Adult Vacation #2 – BC (Before Children)

At some point, becoming involved in a committed relationship with another (flawed) human being does make the process a bit more complicated.  First comes the shocking realization that someone else has a say in the location of said vacation.  That not being enough of an imposition, they also get to express an opinion about the means and cost of arriving at the vacation spot.  After some gentle give and take (after all, you really love this person), you decide to drive to the beach.  You’re home free, right?  Sorry, but no!

beach-654641_640Once you’re there, you still need to negotiate whether to use the air conditioning or leave the sliding doors open to the sea breeze; what time to eat breakfast, which place sells the best coffee and has the best deals; what spot on the beach is close enough to the room so you don’t need a moving van to carry the supplies, but far enough away so you don’t have to listen to the traffic; is it better to be down-wind from a smoker or someone who uses stinky sunblock?  Which spot gets a nice breeze, but not enough wind to knock down the umbrella?  Which group of people has a monster radio that they are going to play at screeching high decibels while throwing Frisbees over your head?  And that’s only on the first day!!

Family Vacation #2 AD (A Disaster)

Once you add children into the mix, things get dicier.  Now I know some people travel effortlessly with their children and have fabulous family vacations that will be the subject of fond memories until everyone is too old to remember.  I’m just taking their word for it, but you might want to think again about the questions at the end of paragraph two above.

One year when our children were around 8 and 5, we decided to go camping. When I was a child we went on some family camping trips and the PTSD resulting from them should have given me a clue about what I was in for.  But not wanting to deprive my children of the opportunity to earn a few PTSD points for themselves, I figured what the heck, let’s give it a try.

We set up with not too much trouble, my husband being the handy, outdoor type who lived through a survival trip with Outward Bound back in the days when survival was actually dubious.  At least for me it would have been.  I figure if our humanoid ancestors had spent centuries working their way out of caves and trees in favor of indoor plumbing, who am I to argue with progress?  But I was ensconced in the sacrificial phase of motherhood, when I was still willing to trade personal comfort to ensure my children the proper childhood experiences.

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I won’t prolong the agony, but suffice it to say that I am not very good at sleeping on the hard ground with random pieces of small rocks creating bruises in my tender skin and dodging the flailing arms and feet of the two children sleeping on either side of me. And never mind that I generally need to get up in the night to use the “bathroom.” There isn’t a flashlight big enough to assure me that Sasquatch isn’t lurking behind the trees and do not think I am willing to walk across the campground in the middle of the night to use the facilities, such as they are.

Adult Vacation #3 – The Golden Years

So now the children are grown and on their own (more or less, but that’s grist for the mill on another day).  I’m retired, which means that I’m basically always on vacation (more or less), and decisions about where and when to go on a formal vacation are subject mostly to energy and available funds.

I’m still willing to go camping, but my requirements have changed.  Set me up in a 30- foot camper with indoor plumbing, a hot shower and a refrigerator that makes ice cubes and holds a bottle of tequila and I’m good.

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Better yet, just jack up my house, slide some wheels under it and roll me down the road.

 

 

 

 

To tweeze or not to tweeze…

eyes-161265_640I always prided myself on eschewing the mainstream makeup wisdom that requires eyebrows to be neatly curved and well defined. There was also a time during my mis-spent youth when I refused to shave my legs and underarms.  It was the 60’s and social norms and expectations of all kinds were being questioned and tested, including those that defined proper womanhood during the 1950’s. Besides, the argument went, European women, who at that time seemed to occupy an exulted place in the average male’s pantheon of ideal woman, didn’t shave either–or at least that was the generally accepted information then.

I still don’t use makeup, much to the chagrin of my lovely daughter–an artist for whom all life is a canvas, including face, hair, clothing and accessories. Whenever I am going anywhere more classy than the local grocery store (believe me, the bar is not too high here), she offers to make up me!  I decline, not because she doesn’t do a good job, but because I just don’t feel like myself all dolled up like that!

As I grew older, I knew that physical changes were inevitable.  Wrinkles don’t bother me too much.  Minor flareups of arthritis are manageable. Other problems, which I am too polite to mention here, are annoying, but so far can be kept under reasonable control. Grey hair is a badge of survival. There are a few more serious issues to deal with, but I’m learning to minimize their effect on my health and emotional well-being.

cat-205651_640But those doggone bristly white hairs that have decided to populate my chin drive me to distraction. How I can be so calm about spinal stenosis which, let’s face it, could ultimately cripple me, but go over the edge at the sight of a few stray hairs, I have no clue. And, please, don’t let me get started about the ones that are dangling out of my nose.

I tell myself I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff or make mountains out of mole hills. I used to get impatient with older people, back when it wasn’t personal yet, if they would become agitated over some small detail, or irritated because of some minor change in routine.  But I understand more now.  Aging is a long, hard process of letting go, of health, friends, independence and ultimately everything.

It takes a lot of pluck to survive these golden years!  So if I want to be obsessive over a few stray hairs, just remember, I’m in charge of the tweezers, thank you very much!!

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A Total Paragon?

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Many days I find little inspiration in the daily word prompt.  On occasion I have even had to give myself a symbolic dope slap for allowing resentment to creep into my struggling thought process when the word doesn’t turn me into an instant Hemingway or Emily Dickinson.  (There have also been a few days lately when the prompt didn’t show up at 8 AM, which it is SUPPOSED TO, but that is probably a post for another day!)  So imagine my happy surprise when today there are two words that I can use!

Generally when a word doesn’t immediately provoke a line of thought, or has numerous meanings, I go on-line and look at definitions to help light up enough brain cells so I can actually start writing.  I had a pretty good idea about what “paragon” means.  The first image that popped into my mind, however, was Paragon Park, a wonderland of rides, cotton candy, fried foods and carnival games that used to exist at Nantasket Beach.  I got to go there a few times with my husband, who spent many summers at the beach as a youngster, and regaled me with verbal images that sounded a lot like Peter Pan describing Neverland.  But by the time I got there it had become somewhat seedy and eventually fell to economic struggles and the influx of year-round condos and upscale establishments.  It was definitely no longer a paragon of a park.

As for “total,” anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes in the company of several teenagers is totally familiar with that word, and probably wishes to never hear it spoken again. I can only wish it had totally gone the way of Paragon Park, totally.

Let’s return to definitions of paragon:  Dictionary.com provided me with several options:

  1.  a model or pattern of excellence or of a particular excellence: a paragon of virtue.
  2.  someone of exceptional merit;
  3.  printing:  a 20-point type

The first two definitions were familiar.  While I consider myself a generally good person, smart enough to satisfactorily travel through life’s complexities, I honestly don’t think I rise to the level of excellence most of the time.  Even if I did, my upbringing would come back to haunt me if I were brazen enough to sing my own praises to that lofty degree. Trying to apply concepts of excellence, merit and virtue to anything going on in the world these days would be a struggle that I just don’t feel up to at the moment.  And writing about printing type would bore me to tears.

But wait, there’s another definition:    4.  an unusually large, round pearl.

Okay, now we’re talking.  I’m large and round!!  And I think I can accommodate my self-image enough to let in the image of a pearl. Not flashy like gold and silver bling, but elegant enough for special occasions.  Something precious that grows inside a not-so-attractive shell.   I can live with that.

Smart and Fashionable?

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It took me a couple of weeks to gather up the courage to participate in my first Silver Sneakers swimming pool exercise program. “Silver Sneakers” is a program provided by insurance companies that entitles senior citizens to go to classes at the numerous participating health clubs free of charge and without the necessity of joining that particular club. Some would say that this is evidence of kindness and generosity on the part of insurance companies.  I, however, think it is a great conspiracy to slash another excuse for not exercising off my list.

In any event, while recovering from a ruptured disc and the resultant nerve and strength problems in my right knee, I had gone to this health club pool during free periods and walked back and forth, doing a few gentle stretches to benefit my knee and back.  After I began to feel somewhat better and was able to walk less like Lurch and more like a dignified, although slightly lame, older woman, I convinced myself that driving 25 miles round trip to the nearest pool wasn’t a good idea because it increased my carbon footprint too much and I could put my footprints in the path around the field or on the street.  Of course, that would involve actually going outside and, you know, it’s been raining a lot and the black flies and ticks are waiting and the ground is uneven, which is really bad for someone with hip, back and knee problems.  (Anyone who thinks I may run out of excuses anytime soon does not know me well!)

In a moment of facing the truth about a week ago, I checked out the pool exercise classes at the club and made a pact with myself that today, June 6th at 9AM, I would be in that pool come hell or high water (pun intended).  And I was!!!

lake-constance-1937136_640My advance fears and expectations were typical of someone who has struggled all these years with weight and body image.  I knew for sure the following:

  • I would be the fattest person there.
  • I would be the most out of shape.
  • I would be the only weirdo who keeps her glasses on in the pool because she doesn’t like to squint and bump into people.
  • My bathing suit would be the least attractive and definitely not fashionable.
  • I would embarrass myself by leaving after 10 minutes.

I arrived in the pool early.  There were already at least 20 women chatting away in various groupings like old friends.  Many of them smiled or said hello to me as they maneuvered their way toward people they already knew. Not knowing anyone, I used the time to check out some of my fears and advance assumptions.

  • I was not the fattest person there.  There were people of all sizes and shapes, and it didn’t seem to matter where I fall on that useless judgmental scale.
  • I wasn’t the most out of shape.  It’s hard to determine where on that useless judgmental scale I fall, either.
  • For a while I was the only weirdo with glasses on, but nobody put themselves in danger of drowning by falling down in hysterics over it.  Then another person descended the steps with her glasses on, and then another, and another.  Four weirdos in one place means we are no longer weirdos!
  • There were all kinds of bathing suits, most of them more or less like mine.

I was feeling pretty confident. More people joined the group, until there were about 30 of us. As each one entered the pool I wondered if she were the instructor.

Then a clearly out-of-place woman entered the pool area.  She was YOUNG, TALL, and BUFF!  Her black exercise pants were painted on her long, lithe legs and skinny little butt.  Surely, I thought to myself, she is just passing through.  But no, you guessed it, that was the instructor.  She plugged in her music and started yelling:  “Jog, move to the right, move to the left, jog, turn right, turn right, turn right, move forward, move back, march, turn left, turn left, turn left, jog, jog, jog.”

beach-1295588_640The lady next to me sidled over, introduced herself and asked if I was new to the group. She told me she comes regularly and she really likes the instructor.  We exchanged a few words about arthritis, which is sort of like the weather as a conversation starter for me now. Looking around at the pool full of senior citizens, I realized that few of us were doing the same moves as that manic young person standing above us yelling like a Drill Sargent on steroids.  Many were talking to each other and just halfheartedly moving more or less in time to the music.  But moving!!

I wasn’t embarrassed, didn’t feel fat, ugly, or out of shape.  Yes, I know that according to some judgment scales I may be.  But you know what?  Being natty, cool or fashionable is not so important any more.  What is?  Being nice, friendly, and tolerant of my own and other people’s shortcomings.  Gathering the courage to step out of my comfort zone and realizing that most people are doing the same.  Noticing when someone is alone and smiling and saying hello in welcome.

A few women left after 20 minutes.  I made it to 35, and plan to go back on Thursday.

 

 

 

Riding the Medical Merry-go-Round

Spending a major portion of 2016 dealing with some major health issues, my life was consumed with frequent PCP appointments, numerous tests, consultations with several specialists, day surgery, and physical therapy, as well as attending to some on-going, but not life-threatening, conditions that need regular maintenance.

My usual fall-back position in dealing with stressful emotional and physical situations is humor. I like to poke fun at myself and the funny but mostly ineffective ways that we humans try to deny, spin, and re-shape reality when facing some of the less wonderful parts of life. I don’t know if laughter is the best medicine, but it certainly is a good one.

After all of the general practitioners, specialists, physical therapists and nurses had contributed their expertise and advice, it was all crystal clear:

The urologist says I must drink copious amounts of water to keep things circulating in my kidneys. The three large kidney stones will be removed surgically, but that can’t be done until the fluid building up in my lungs is resolved. That fluid is likely a result of the fact that one of the stones is blocking the exit from my kidney, and will continue to do so until the surgery is performed. That surgery can’t be done until a cardiologist has given the okay! The fluid has put strain on my heart, so my cardiologist has advised me not to drink too much liquid.  

In the meantime, the arthritis in my spine decided on an advance attack. I won’t elaborate on the pain involved in a ruptured disc, but humor made a speed-of-light exit from the room due to the loud screaming. Fortunately I had some serious pain medication prescribed by the urologist, which is what bought him my forgiveness for cancelling the surgery until further notice.

After crawling to the sofa and a short nap, my attempt to walk to the bathroom resulted in learning that my right knee no longer worked properly, buckling immediately and nearly dropping me to the floor. My husband helped me to the car and we headed to the health center, where he told me to stay in the car while he went to get a wheelchair. Of course, I listened to his good advice (as I always do). Instead of standing patiently by the car, I took a step. Hitting the pavement on my right knee would have resulted in a lot of additional pain except the aforementioned pain killers were still doing their job. X-rays determined that nothing was broken (except maybe my pride, but that’s a subject for a different post).

Obviously my spinal stenosis was getting worse. Now it was necessary to visit the specialist whom I had effectively avoided for almost a year because I am terrified of the idea of “spine surgery.” I know that Gronk survived it, but he is in a lot better physical shape and no doubt has much better health insurance. I’ll opt for additional physical therapy and humor.  (Okay, yes, and pain medication.)

There are many more gory details, but I’ll pass up the opportunity to continue my thinly disguised attempt to gather sympathy. Suffice it to say that the surgery was eventually done successfully and I am now free of kidney stones; I can drink the recommended amount of daily fluids (enough to float a small boat) without asking my heart to do any extra work; my right knee is still stiff, but I can walk and drive with minimal difficulty. This is all wonderful, but unfortunately I now have no more excuses to lay in bed all day reading, other than admitting that I am just lazy.

There are so many changes during this stage of life, necessary adaptations, facing whatever physical or mental decline may occur with as much dignity and grace as possible. Going through an intense period of medical issues and facing life’s inevitable major crises is difficult at any time, but now they contain an element of seriousness that was not present before. Laughing over the image of riding this medical merry-go-round, I still hear a small, scary voice asking “Is this going to be my last ride?”

And then there are the small, daily indignities, hints of more to come. The forgotten name, the morning stiffness, the digestive system that no longer handles things in the same way.  Those small things that happened to my mother as she aged, when I didn’t really understand that someday they would probably happen to me. Sure enough, yesterday I called the cat by my daughter’s name.  I laughed, because what else can I do?

Maybe labels would help.

                  CAT                                                           DAUGHTER              cat-300572_640  child-1721932_640

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images thanks to Pixabay.

Drama Queen

actor-975726_640Anyone who has survived raising teenagers is well acquainted with drama.  The more traditional belief is that it relates to girls more than boys, but I think this may reflect the view that what females express is “dramatic” and what males express is daring, courageous, going out into the world and achieving success, or just taking charge in a manly fashion.

Calling someone’s feelings or behavior dramatic is often a way of trying to lessen its power or indicating that it is somehow not valid.  “Don’t be so dramatic!” we may tell a sobbing girl who has just found out that her best friends went to the mall without her.

I am pretty sure that most women my age grew up with the message that we are “too sensitive” or “too emotional”  to make it in the “real” world.  In the 1940’s and 50’s, it was very clear that no woman could ever serve in the armed forces, run a company, compete in sports, or become president.  Even worse would be that “time of the month” when she would be incapable of making a rational decision because of her out-of-control hormonal imbalance!  I have to confess that this idea did turn out to be useful to me since we were allowed to skip physical education classes if during roll call we answered “regular.”  (No proper young lady would have spoken the word menstruating out loud at that time.  Even saying “I have my period” would have been scandalous.  But for someone who always felt like a complete klutz in gym class, it was a handy way out.)

Not that I am knocking the power of hormones.  Ask anyone who had to live with me while I was adjusting to menopause.  I am truly grateful it happened at a time before everyone had an iPhone readily available.  I would be subject to serious blackmail if any of my worst episodes had been recorded for posterity and would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere apologies to anyone who still suffers nightmares resulting from any of them.

However, one of those screens that still lingers in my window on the world is the one that tells me that ladies don’t make a fuss.  When we encounter something unappealing, or even downright dangerous, we certainly do not scream, swear or counter attack.  We do not even politely and calmly express our displeasure.  Instead, we figure out ways to adapt our own lives to the situation and work to make everyone else feel comfortable and accepted.

Unfortunately, this approach has not served me well.  I suspect it ultimately didn’t even serve those who seemed on the surface to benefit from it.  Lately I have been studying people who are clear about what they want in life, but who are also generally kind and compassionate toward others.  I realize that it isn’t necessary to be obnoxious or overly dramatic about what I want.  But it is necessary for me to be clear on my own boundaries and make conscious and good decisions about my own life.  I’m not so sure about this approach yet, because even though it’s late in the day, I’m just beginning to feel like a grownup.  But a word of warning–if it doesn’t work, I will revert to being a drama queen.

 

Motherhood and Retirement

Writing about being a mother on Mother’s Day seemed too much of a cliche.  But here I am anyway, adding my own limited perspective to what is probably one of the most emotionally charged, personal, yet universal experiences–being a parent. I clearly cannot write from personal experience about being a father. But I know many of them–my own father, the father of my children, brothers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins and in-laws.  While there are certainly important differences–the intense physical involvement of a mother in pregnancy, childbirth and nursing being the most obvious–at its most fundamental level the emotional aspects of being a parent are not ultimately gender specific.

There is no shortage of advice meant to prepare you for motherhood.  While the old joke about babies not coming with a manual may be true in the specific, there is enough information out there to overload even the most skillful researcher.  Ranging from professional “experts” to blogs from women and men on the front lines of parenthood there is no area of child rearing left unexplored. But all this information and advice seems flimsy and inadequate when a real child moves into your life.

I digress for a moment of humor about one of the most common experiences of early parenthood.  SLEEP??  I have heard rumors that there are babies who sleep through the night before they are six months old. Neither of my children did, and I became president of Zombie Nation in a landslide election.  Not only did neither of them sleep through the night for a very long time, but after the arrival of our second child, I think they conspired with each other to arrange the timing of their awakenings to guarantee that I would never experience more than three or four hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Prior to becoming a mother, I could have won an Olympic event in sleeping through thunder, television, traffic noise and even a minor earthquake.  My husband woke to the slightest sound, alert in moments to assess if there was any real danger threatening his home and family.  So, was it not logical for me to assume that a baby’s wail at 2 AM would create a similar response?

late-riser-149016_640Instead, my gold medal in sleeping was cruelly snatched away and given to him.  He could now sleep through screeching, wailing and sobbing, while I snapped instantly awake–not at the screeching and wailing part, but when the child inhaled the breath that precedes it. Even after she learned to talk and would call out “Dada, DADA,” he just muttered “She means Mama.”

The biggest surprise that came with parenthood, however, was this one overwhelming reality.   I am now emotionally bonded to another human being for the rest of my life.  I became a mother through adoption and I remember well the judge asking “Do you understand that this is forever?”  How quickly I replied that, of course, I knew it was forever.  But knowing and understanding are not precisely the same.  Understanding came often like a punch to the solar plexus, this realization that I would do anything in my power to nurture and protect these children that had been entrusted to me.   The frightening truth that I would not or could not always protect them, that despite my best efforts I would fail them in ways that I often did not even understand.

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Now, many years later, I am still a mother.  There is no retirement option, no two-week notice, no hiring someone else to take over.  I still worry about them and wish I could protect them from all the hurts, fears and bad things that inevitably happen in the course of human life.  There is no happiness in my own life that matches the feelings of joy when their lives are good and successful, or the sadness when they are not.  As I grow older, my greatest sorrow is that I will not always be here to protect them, even though that protection is now mostly just loving them, listening to them when they want to talk about their lives, and, yes, praying that angels watch over them in the dark of night.

The judge was right.  FOREVER.