Entering the Clubhouse

nail-salonAs young girls, many of us would gather friends together to form special clubs or secret girls-only societies. We would share confidences and tell elaborate stories, write notes to each other, feel happily comfortable as our giggly selves, and develop clever mottos like “girls rule, boys drool.”

At some point of course we grew up and became attracted to some of those droolers, started families, finished our educations and got jobs, and while we maintain close friendships, those clandestine groups faded away. But not entirely. We still have our clubhouses where it is safe to gather with mutual respect and understanding, away from the regular grind. Our clubhouses now are called Salons.

Be it hair, nail, or massage, Salons provide us Real Women with a place to go where we can experience that certain female camaraderie, feel safe and cared for, step away from other roles and responsibilities, and if we want, be our giggly selves. For the most part, it is a girls-only environment. Sure, there are a few men who find a way to infiltrate our secret society. The Metro Males are comfortable with stopping by for special services, and we begrudgingly allow it. Other men are brought in with their spouse or partner to sit through a “couple’s” treatment, or because they’ve finally been worn down by their real woman saying “you’ve got to try it, you’d love it.” These men walk in the door and instantly know they don’t belong. Uncomfortable in their own skin, they try to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Even though we may smile politely at them, they know their existence in the clubhouse is being merely tolerated.   After all, how would they feel if we came in to their garage or Man Cave?

There are a wide variety of clubhouses – er, I mean Salons – to meet our needs. There are the nails-only salons with rows of sweet and capable nail techs who hail predominantly from countries like Korea or the Phillipines. The atmosphere is not fancy, but clean and efficient, like a high production nail care farm. In the opposite end of this spectrum lies a full-service Spa, offering every type of Professional Personal Beauty Care in a lovely and relaxing setting, with scents and sounds that sooth the senses. There is a hint of highbrow snob appeal, so we can really feel like we’ve escaped into an elite club.

The same range can be found in hair salons. From the budget family-friendly high-production rate hair dens to the trendy and funky boutiques, we can find our favorite niche. No matter the type, women enter through the doors and nod knowingly to each other. We have entered the clubhouse and have exchanged the virtual secret handshake. What happens in the salon stays in the salon. Unless, of course, it is shared with other potential secret society members. Word of mouth is our most powerful tool in building memberships.

Some club members are regulars, visiting the salon on a weekly basis, working specifically with one technician. They’ve gotten to know the clubhouse owners, and have their own favorite seat.   Others, like me, are more sporadic with visits. I go to the nail salon every two or three months, and hopefully hit a Spa once or twice a year. Some Real Women only visit the secret club for special occasions, nervous and shy but seeking the same escape as all of the others.

The regularity and importance of Professional Services for Body Maintenance seems to vary a bit by geography. In New England, for example, I think Salon visits for the most part fall into the category of “nice to have’s” vs. “need to have’s.” I know many R.W.’s, like me, who get their nails done on an irregular basis, and are likely to color their hair at home then get cuts when we’ve begun to look like Cousin It.   Yet in other areas of the country, R.W.’s would not be caught dead walking out of the house without having all body parts artfully preserved and hair perfectly coiffed.

We do all want to look our best, and our Salons help us achieve that. Yet the reason for their being far exceeds that basic need. Our clubhouses give us the excuse to just sit and relax for anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. I have literally almost fallen asleep while getting my nails done or my hair styled. Truly, when else do I sit and do nothing? Even more importantly, for that brief break in time, we feel special and pampered. We feel safely surrounded by women who are all looking to feel the same way, and are in the good hands of pro’s to indulge us. Best of all, we walk back out the door looking just a bit better.

Last night, as I headed out of the nail salon into the rain to stop at the grocery store then head home, I walked past other women in various stages of their appointments. Some were chatting & laughing with each other, some were talking to their technician like old friends, some were just completely zoned out. We each glanced at each other with that knowing girl-society look of “yeah, I’ll be back.” I caught a glimpse of myself in their mirror before I left. I saw a tired woman with bags under her eyes, no makeup left on my face after a long day. But a piece of me was just a bit more relaxed.

And dang, my toes and fingers look awesome.


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Plot Change

Open-BookThis past weekend I enjoyed some much-needed Real Women downtime with a couple of BFFs. While talking and catching up, we would from time to time stall out on what we were dicussing, lose our place, or make a rapid switch in topics. We decided that rather than refer to these as menopausal moments, or senility seconds, we would simply shout “plot change!” and move on. As avid readers, this made total sense to us. As Real Women, we were able to keep up with each other no matter the bumps and jumps in subject matter.

When the weekend drew to a close, my BFF headed for home and I slipped back into reality. And I started to consider the quantity, and variety, of plot changes we R.W.’s experience throughout our lives – as if we are our own walking libraries.

There are of course the edge-of-our-seat dramas, where we experience sudden and life-changing plot twists… illness, the death of a loved one, a career change, a move, childbirth, marriage or divorce.   These are the big story lines that rip at our emotions and we have no choice but to move forward to see how it all works out in the end.

We also have our fill of formulaic romances and comedies, where we can’t help ourselves from being sucked in by new relationships, or juicy stories, or laugh-until-we-pee situations. We can fairly well predict the outcome, but we enjoy the ride anyway.

We’ve all experienced the slow plot, where we just keep waiting for something exciting to happen, and it takes all of our focus to slog through the pages. We have likely all had times in our lives where we feel a bit unfulfilled, like we are just plodding along the treadmill of day to day activities, hoping and waiting for the plot to pick up and add some excitement.  Luckily, the story of life always delivers.

Have you ever read a book that has so many different characters, or locations, or plot adjustments, or time changes that it is confusing to read? Like you need a map or a notepad to keep track of who’s who and what’s what? Well, ladies, welcome to our daily storylines. Each multi-tasking, dynamic role-playing day, we have plot twists running constantly in our heads. Consider just a ride home from work, and all the pages that are rapidly flipping through our brains as we transition from one part of our day to the next: Ugh, I forgot to answer that last email, better do that first thing in the morning; and I gotta prep for the big meeting on Friday; what am I making for dinner tonight? What time is my son’s practice? Have to remember to take the dog to the vet tomorrow; oh, man, I think we are out of milk; oooooh, Meghan Trainor, I love this song – you gotta know how to treat me like a lady even when I’m acting crazy…I need to get out this weekend and get those extra school supplies, and hubby needs a new belt; wonder if I can get in some writing time tonight after dinner – oh, wait, that new show is on…..

Lastly, there are the stories in our lives with the engrossing, progressive plot development. They take some time, but we don’t mind because they’ve caught our interest, and we are invested in them. During my time with my friends this weekend, we did nothing wild and crazy – we had a great day together on Saturday, and went out to dinner… on the way to dinner, we laughed about not having the desire or energy to go out to any bars or clubs. We wouldn’t even know where to go if we wanted to. After dinner, we came home and sat out on my porch, sipped chocolate martinis, and talked and laughed and enjoyed the beautiful weather and peace and quiet of night. This is one of those slow and steady plot changes, where as we get more mature, our focus shifts from excitement and parties to quiet and relaxed time together. We vent and laugh about how are bodies are changing, and how our perspective on life has adjusted. What we want out of life, the activities and events and fun that we have, has changed from our younger selves in those earlier chapters.

As I type, we are on the verge of another predictable, progressive change. The last day of summer is giving way to the first day of Fall. The temperatures are dropping, leaves are changing, days are getting shorter, and I find myself staring into my closet wondering what to wear when it is 40 degrees in the morning and 75 by afternoon. The familiar sound of geese flying overhead reminds us that we’ve read this story before, many times. Yet each time, we know there will be some sort of unexpected twist, some new character, or event, that will happen in our lives to make this chapter just a bit different than the last.

So, as adaptable, wise, flexible, and strong R.W’s, we will strengthen our grip with anticipation, take a deep breathe and yell… Plot change!


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Can We Talk?

Pink_Princess_PhoneAsk any man, and he’ll say that women like to talk. A gross generalization? Perhaps. Generally true? Yes. We thrive on communicating. We love words. Lots of them. Now, we know there are a few of you men out there who are Chatty Charlies and enjoy a good gab fest. We also know, however, that most men fear groups of women because of the seemingly non-stop streams of verbosity that elevate when two or more of us are together. We feel our best when we are connected to others, sharing thoughts, ideas, venting, and yes, even discussing feelings. This is nothing new, of course. We’ve always been wired this way.

What has changed, much to our joy, is the increase in ways we can communicate now. In the “old days”, we had basically three choices: in person, via house phone/pay phone, and hand-written letters. We made it work. We connected. But now, we have a plethora of additional methods: cell phones, voice mail, texting, email, social media – all literally at our finger tips, no matter where we are.

I love that I can pop a text to my BFF early in the morning to commiserate about the weather or wardrobe issues.   Or share insights from the grocery store. I can call home hands-free while driving in my car to ask if my husband stopped to get milk. I can be in touch with family all over the country via email or FaceBook whenever it works with my schedule, unrestrained by time zones.   How awesome.

Certainly our virtual non-stop availability to communicate with each other has it’s pro’s and con’s. But with our busy R.W. lives, we just gotta love the convenience. My sister and I had been swapping voice mails and emails without actually connecting for several days. Finally this weekend, we had a lovely long conversation while I was sitting in my car in CVS’s parking lot, windows down, sunshine streaming in, me sipping my chai tea. She was halfway across the country, part way through a weekend road trip with her husband.   I will admit that our initial attempts to connect included a few minutes of awkward back-and-forths of texts and missed calls – but we were able to persevere and had a good talk during our one window of opportunity on a busy weekend.

We can, of course, get a bit carried away by what we consider to be useful modes of communication. A few days ago my brother and I were trying to reach each other to confirm some plans to get together when he and his wife were in our area. That particular evening, I sat at my kitchen table and called him on his cell phone, from mine. He was visiting his in-laws. The cell connection between us was spotty at best. After having the call drop, he called me back. He had walked into his in-law’s garage, his arm outstretched to the outdoors, with me on speaker phone so he could watch the indicator bars on his cell reception and turn or move if appropriate to keep us connected. It was raining out, hence the decision to just allow his arm and phone to get wet.   We were able to complete the call. When I hung up, I glanced over to our house phone hanging on the wall. I was quite certain his in-laws have one just like it. I was also quite certain that had we used those phones, we would have heard each other just fine, and he wouldn’t have gotten wet.   Yet, for whatever reason, it was “more natural” to stick to our mobile devices.

And that brings me to my current conundrum.   My husband and I have been discussing ways to cut back on some of our bills, and one of the primary targets is our bundled package with the cable company.   We have internet, home phone, and cable TV with them. With a surprising amount of patience, my husband attempted to contact our cable provider recently to have a chat about ways to cut back to bring our bill down each month. This is not the kind of call cable providers ever want to receive. I believe they go to training courses to purposefully learn how to talk in circles, and completely confuse their customers until the result is a more complex package for the same or greater cost.

He was eventually able to itemize our options – if we cut back to basic cable for our local stations and add on only HBO (assuming we can watch anything else we want via the internet), we’d be at one cost. If we keep the regular internet service, we’ll be at another cost. If we drop our house phone, we can save another $20 a month. To my husband, this was the no-brainer part of the conversation. Let’s drop the house phone.

Yet me, the woman who loves to text friends on her iPhone, or communicate via email and social media via my laptop, the SAME woman who sat at her kitchen table using her cell phone to call her sibling, suddenly felt uneasy about this decision. Drop the house phone? Really? I know a lot of other folks who have done this. It seems to make sense. And yet – something about it bothers me.   That night while we ate dinner, we did a bit of brainstorming on who calls us on the house phone. My handicapped brother does, but he also knows my cell #. The neighbors do sometimes.  A couple of other family members. Then my son offered up a few others: the school, the town, our doctors offices….. again, we could just give them our other numbers.   Even my son has his own cell phone. But….. but…. But why not? I just don’t know. I think it is a security thing for me. There hangs my home phone. Ready. Connected. Stable.   Like an old friend clinging to my retro past.

Perhaps it helps me harken back to those old days…. When I grew up with just 2 phones in the house, and we had to get permission to use them. When we were trained by our parents to have appropriate phone etiquette (I was to answer “Hello, Marjie Carr speaking.”) As I became a teenager, the phone was my lifeline to my friends. I remember sitting in the kitchen doorway, my back against the wall, playing with the cord while making plans to bicycle to meet a friend. So we could talk. More.

Then too, we only had 4 channels to watch on TV, which seemed like plenty. And other than the cost of the TV and the rabbit ears, those channels were free.   It was all much more simple.

So I guess the question I have to answer is, if I’m willing to possibly give up the convenience of 300 cable channels I never watch, am I also willing to give up my old phone friend at home?   Or is it worth $20 a month for me to not give up that one original method to communicate with others in my world?

Hmmm. I think I may need to talk about this a bit more….I better go call a friend.  Now where did I leave my iPhone?


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Report From the Bridge

uhura controlsAir-traffic Controllers.  Ship’s Captains. Lieutenant Uhura. The Army. Real Women. We all have them. Some are more high-tech than others. Some are in place to do such high-level activities as guiding astronauts or military maneuvers. Ours, as Real Women, exist to manage our lives and our family. They are: Control Centers.

We may not have a full bank of video touch screens and GPS navigational components, and our areas may not be pretty, or especially well organized…nor may any of us look as hot as Uhura did while turning brightly lit buttons. But our Bridges contain the information we need to keep things running smoothly. They contain valuable lists, reminders and schedules that are all necessary to run a tight ship.

Usually our Control Centers just naturally get formed in a conveniently common area in our homes. Perhaps on an office desk, on a bedside table, near the front door, or most commonly, on a kitchen counter. Wherever the most planning happens, and the greatest hub of activity is located, that’s where we set up our Command Bridges. This is the spot where we pause every morning to make sure we are all ready for our day ahead, and where we likely leave notes the night before.

One of my BFFs shared with me last week that her C.C. is located on “her” kitchen counter near the stove. The rest of the kitchen is for kitchen-related activities. But this spot is command central. She shared with me a photo and a list of what this area, for her, includes:CCenter 1

  • Lists: the “today” list, the “someday” list, the special list for the upcoming vacation
  • Recipes: to be used for dinner, or that have been considered in the past but have yet to be actually used
  • Happy Things: Photos or momentos of people and things to make her smile
  • An Anniversary card from her husband from who knows how many years ago
  • A water bottle, to remind her to hydrate and stay healthy
  • Vitamins – because we all forget to take them regularly
  • A Dollar Store trinket from her mother who thought it was cute; she has no idea what to do with it – so it lives in the C.C.

Her Center made me consider my own. Actually, I have two. I have one that lives on my home office desk, and it is all various materials related to things that really only I need to be concerned with in our family unit. Writing projects, notes to be sent, bills to be paid, and lots of women-related photos, trinkets and quotes to inspire me.

However, my Family Control Center, like my BFF’s, is also set up on the kitchen counter, near the phone and car keys. It is not nearly as tidy and organized as my friend’s area, and changes daily…. But for the most part, my Command Bridge includes: a phone onC Center 2 charge, to do lists, grocery lists, notes for my son’s school, a calendar of appointments, the dog’s medicine, coupons to be sorted, a $1 instant win lottery ticket to be claimed, post-it reminders, and items like my husband’s wallet which he left by his chair in the living room and won’t be able to find the next morning – unless I add it to the Control Center.

In this day of technology and smart phones, one would think that we R.W’s have all the information we need at our fingertips, no matter where we are. And that is fairly true. We at least can check our e-calendars to know where everyone needs to be, and we can send instant communications to family and friends. But to really keep us on task, we need helpful hand-written notes, reminders, and even trinkets. Could we survive out in the wilds of life if you took away our Command Centers? Sure, we are tough and resilient, and most of us still have enough memory capacity to keep track of important things. But without our Control Hubs, there would be more forgotten lunches, more lost keys, more dead batteries, more wayward trips to the grocery store, and more last-minute take out for dinner.

We R.W.’s have enough daily chaos in our lives. Allow us to embrace our inner Uhura and take Control of the Bridge. All we ask for is a scrap of counter space.


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Irrational Inventory

dressingsWe Real Women are generally responsible for maintaining appropriate household inventory levels of grocery items and commonly used home goods. Sure, our husbands or partners may occasionally venture out to the store, but they are either going with a list in hand compiled by us, or they are shopping for immediate need items. They are not going to notice that the household is down to one stick of butter and three eggs, or that the soap dispenser is nearly empty and everyone is on the last roll of toilet paper.   So it is our job to take notice of all of these items and plan accordingly.

Some items are more critical than others. In my house, running out of peanut butter or milk is a fate of horrific proportions; a house that is devoid of English muffins is the stuff nightmares are made of. And no Ginger Ale? I hate to see a grown man pout when it is cocktail hour. We do our very best to avoid such atrocities and have back up inventory on our shelves, in a pantry, or in the basement.  This is not foolproof.  Just this week I ran out of parchment paper. That was a bit disappointing when I wanted to bake some cookies, but nothing to lose sleep over. Replenishing that item can wait until the next shopping expedition, no need for a special trip.

Our plans can go a bit awry, however, when we begin to stockpile random items. We are somehow unaware that we build up multiples of certain items. Either we think that we are getting low on the item and purchase it every time we shop, then get back home to realize there are already 5 on the shelf, or we buy items over time and store them in different places so we never really know how many we have. Or, perhaps, we just lose count.

I have an inventory issue with salad dressings. I have many in the door of my refrigerator. And a couple spares in my cupboard. The funny part is, I really only prefer one type of dressing. It is all I use. Yet I buy others for recipes, or to have on hand when guests are here for dinner, or…well, really, I don’t know why. I’m just trying to come up with excuses.

The other day I went digging through my basement to see if I had a spare disposable tablecloth for an upcoming cookout. Sure enough, I did. As a matter of fact, I had at least eight of them. In a variety of colors. This is a classic example of buying one or two before every birthday, family reunion, summer cookout, and party of any type. Every time. Without checking home stock first.

I happened to mention my discovery to another R.W. friend, and shared that I’m not sure why I have these lapses in strategic inventory planning. She understood my predicament. She shared with me that she “has a recurring problem with mayonnaise and grape jelly.”   Another friend shared that at one point she had an unreasonable quantity of Cumin in her seasonings cabinet. It is good to know that we are not alone in our sometimes irrational behavior.   I take heart in knowing that I’m not a full-on hoarder because I don’t collect multiples of everything. Just a few chosen products — for no apparent reason.

In reality, this errant stockpiling habit is not just an affliction for women. My husband has the same problem with CD cases. He has some stacked by his desk and he’s got a whole box of them “hidden” in a closet. Empty CD/DVD cases. Why? Who knows. Could he get rid of them? Probably. Will he ever? Unlikely.

Sometimes we just have to allow ourselves some lapses in judgment and common sense, or recognize our hidden need to act like a squirrel preparing for winter. Rather than storing nuts for food throughout the winter, we are storing things like condiments for a possible naked salad emergency.

Hey, it could happen.


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The Secret Evil Metamorphosis Portal

mirror on the wallWe Real Women all own mirrors. Usually several of them. There’s the bathroom mirror where we do the private review of ourselves in our birthday suits, sucking in our stomachs or lifting up what gravity has been pulling down, or leaning in close to get rid of errant eyebrow hairs or to take inventory of wrinkles or complexion issues.

Then there’s the mirror where we put on our make-up. This one is either chosen for use due to good light, or just convenient proximity to where we store our cosmetics. Then there is the larger mirror where we assess our outfit for the day – often causing several changes before finally realizing we are running late and just have to go with whatever we have on.

Some of us have other smaller mirrors in handy locations for last minute checks before going out the door, or in our purses or cars to check windblown hair issues and lipstick application.

One would think, that with all of these opportunities for reflection, there would be no surprises awaiting us regarding our appearance.   We know how we look. Some days, on those rare lucky days, we’ve got good hair, a rockin’ outfit, and all of our appearance planets seem to be aligned. Most days, however, we just at some point give ourselves approval to go out in public looking as we do. We reach the “as good as its gonna get” moment and step out feeling, if not confident, at least alright with ourselves.

Most days, we are right. All is well. We did good. We look fine, if not awesome.

Then other days, somehow, between the home mirror and the rest of the world, we enter through a mysterious, secret, evil portal of metamorphosis.   We go into the bathroom at our place of employment and look in the mirror there, or we catch a reflection of ourselves in a window or store mirror, and we are taken aback at what we see. Suddenly we realize that we are having a horrific hair day, or the bags under our eyes are dark and foreboding, or that outfit that looked so cute at home and in our imagination is just plain…bad.

One morning recently, I chose to put on a new top I had found on a clearance rack the previous weekend and a pair of capri’s. I didn’t venture into the ladies’ room at work until late morning, and when I did, I thought “oh dear lord, this outfit looks like I put on 35 pounds overnight! What was I thinking?!”   I had crossed over that line from trendy and fun, and had entered into unflattering and scary. I suddenly wanted to go hide behind my desk for the rest of the day.

Sometimes the error is not in the way an outfit accentuates the least favorable parts of our bodies, but has more to do with wardrobe malfunctions. “I swear I couldn’t see my bra or panties through this material at home!” or “was that stain there this morning?!” or “why won’t this zipper stay up/hook stay clasped/button stay on?”

The clothing isn’t always what changes after we somehow pass through this invisible bad news gateway. “Did I look this tired and pale this morning?!” or my favorite “wait, where did that new crop of grey hair come from?”

We can blame poor lighting or bad eyesight for our delusions that we look nifty when clearly we don’t… but I do think there is a mysterious transformational force at work. When we are in front of our own mirrors at home, all is well. So something else must be happening.   Clearly one of the other secretive portals this force uses is the camera. How many of us have seen photos of ourselves and realized: “Wow, those pants make me look huge, I’ve gotta lose weight!” or “what the heck, my boobs look ginormous!” or “yikes, how did I get so old?”

In order to stop this mysterious dark force in our lives, we would need to remove all mirrors and reflective surfaces outside our homes and hide from all cameras. Or, perhaps we could hunt down Tony Robbins and ask him to cast a spell on us like he did for Jack Black in the movie Shallow Hal. I suppose neither of these are realistic options. So perhaps, we just need to get used to the fact that our imaginations might be a bit more rosey than reality. Or, even better, stop being so hard on ourselves and realize that the people we come in contact with each day are likely never going to notice our bad hair days, the stain on our shirt, a poor wardrobe choice, the extra wrinkle around our eyes, or the five new grey hairs. They are more apt to notice our new shirt, or our smile, or our funky earrings.

They won’t see our imperfections – mostly because they are too busy worrying about their own.







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They Didn’t Tell Us About This Part

sandwich-generation-caregivingWe all have our expectations of each stage of our lives. We know, for example, as children, that we need to learn how to play well with others and learn right from wrong.   We know as young adults that we need to start taking responsibilities for our actions and planning our futures. We anticipate that as parents, we will be experiencing the challenges, wonders, and fatigue of raising children. And, as we enter into our more mature years, we are aware that we’ll need to deal with our maturing bodies, make solid plans for our careers and retirement, and care for our elderly loved ones.

As we progress through each phase, we learn, and adapt, and every experience shapes who we are. We realize there are ways to find joy in every part, even the most challenging ones. By talking to friends, mentors, and loved ones, we feel prepared for whatever comes next.

Lately, however, I’ve been feeling that some vital details were left out in our expectation-setting process for entering our middle-age years. And it has to do with that last little item I listed: caring for our elderly loved ones.  Certainly none of us are naive enough to believe we won’t be somehow affected by the needs of the aging generation before us, and we all know that some day, each and every one of us, will pass on beyond this earth.   We all expect to need to help care for our parents, aunts, uncles, even older siblings and cousins. We also know that the bulk of this care will land squarely with us, Real Women. But now that many of us have entered this phase of our lives full force, I’m realizing there were details that “they” just didn’t tell us.

They didn’t tell us that:

  • It would happen suddenly. Sure, our own aging process has been gradual and transitional. But while we were focused on ourselves, virtually overnight the generation before us became old.   Suddenly they are all 75+, with the majority in their 80’s and 90’s.
  • It changes in a heartbeat. Literally. Just as quickly as our loved ones became old while we weren’t watching, like the flip of a switch, their health deteriorates. They go from healthy and vibrant seniors to elders with serious concerns like heart conditions, diabetes, dementia….and they need medical attention and increased care.
  • We have to become medical experts. Most of us did not go to school to become nurses or doctors, but now we have to learn what medical terminology means, how to organize and dispense medications, what to watch for in our patients, and how to help them.
  • We have to become pro-active hard-asses. Our sick and elderly loved ones are no longer of strong mind and body enough to be their own advocates. We have to do that for them. We have to manage the red tape of our healthcare system, we have to ask the right questions and get clear answers, we have to demand attention and focus from medical professionals and insurance companies. This is no longer the job for the meek and mild. And we have to draw on every multi-tasking and comprehension skill we have to keep everything on track.
  • The exhaustion is never ending. We begin to remember all too well the exhaustion we felt when we had newborn babies. The lack of sleep, the worry, the stress, the draining of emotions… it is all back. But this time, we are decades older with far less inherent energy than we had when we were young mothers or aunties.
  • Flexibility and understanding become the most important benefit offered by employers. Before, we were focused on our salaries, our 401(k) contributions, our vacation time, and whether or not we had a window near our desks. Now, we need, and desperately appreciate, the flexibility to leave at a moment’s notice for an emergency, or work different hours to accommodate medical appointments, or use company time for tracking down doctors, getting updates, and calling family members.
  • It is an epidemic. Literally every day I hear from an R.W. about an ill relative, or her time spent caring for an elderly loved one, or, sadly, someone’s passing. Yes, it is a life stage. What is remarkable is how many of us are all experiencing the same thing at the same time. The time will eventually come when we can get back to other, more fun topics, like who’s got the best sales, what trips we are taking, what books we are reading, and where we want to go to lunch. But right now, the conversations are more about who’s loved one is in the hospital and why.

And that brings me to the final piece they didn’t tell us:

  • How much we need to rely on each other. Our fellow R.W.’s get it. They understand the pain, the stress, the exhaustion. We have all been there. And, hopefully, on this roller-coaster path we take, one can be strong at the time another one feels weak.   Even though we don’t have a magic wand to keep everyone young, healthy and vibrant forever, we have strong shoulders, open ears and warm hugs to help each other through.

One of my ever-so wise BFF/R.W.’s, who of course has also been dealing with her share of caring for loved ones, stated: We are now tasked to be the Buddha and stay ever present in the moment. And that is so very true. A week or so ago I was working on one of my scrapbooks, and came across photos of a trip we had taken a mere four years ago to visit my Dad. The pictures showed my son roaming around a museum with his grandpa. At the time, my dad was still healthy, sharp, and mobile. He was the wise old sage sharing his wisdom with the young sponge who was eager to hear it. Looking at those photos, both looked so happy to be in each of their roles and having time together. At the time, it seemed like just a fun weekend visit. I had no idea then how quickly those would become cherished and magical memories.

This life phase may be our most challenging yet, and it sure would have been handy to have an instruction manual to study ahead of time. (Funny, I think I asked for a similar instruction manual on raising children!)  But like every other stage, we will learn, we will persevere…. And as long as we keep our overwhelmed moments to a minimum, and band together to gain strength from each other, we will still find pure joy in the important moments.



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