Never Too Old to Learn

sailboat horizonWithin a one-week time period, I will have experienced two substantial life milestones, both of which I have been dreading.

The first, and most difficult, is that I had to say goodbye to my 84-year old father as he set his sails for the seas of heaven. Dad was gregarious, joyful, smart and loving, and he has left a legacy of enthusiasm and energy in his wake. He was the kind of man who made an impression on everyone he met. I am just one of many who really didn’t want to let him go, but we must.

The other milestone, which seems much less significant now in comparison, is that I will turn 50 on Monday. There. I said it. No turning back now, I have admitted it in a public format. It’s not the fact of a birthday that I’ve been dreading. I happen to like birthdays. Birthdays are a time of celebration, of fun, of being given another year to be awesome. Nope, what I’ve been dreading is that number. That 5 and 0 matched together have been taunting me like some kind of scary omen.

Yes, yes, I know the platitudes, it is only a number; you are as young as you feel, ya da ya da….but I have built up in my mind that 50 is the final good-bye to my youth. At 50, I have officially crossed over the half-way point of my expected life span. I had a few personal goals in my mind that I wanted to achieve by the time I hit 50. I have not achieved them. (Although on my optimistic days, I reassure myself that those goals are at least in progress. ) At 50, I will no longer be able to slow the progress of wrinkles and grey hair and aching body parts. I launched an initiative with my girlfriends to “Stomp the Frump” for fear of becoming frumpy.   Clearly I have let a simple number intimidate me.

And then, my wake up call. Having experienced my Dad’s passing, and sharing the Story of Dad with so many, I have started to not only accept the fate of the big 5-0, but to almost welcome it. My Dad turned 50 when I was 15. That means for the majority of my life, that energetic, full-of-life man was in his beyond-mid-century years. Ironically, my son will turn 15 this year. Do I want him to live with an old, depressed, pessimistic woman, or a happy, healthy optimist?

As for goals and ambitions….we are not remembered so much for what we achieve, but who we are. My Dad fought on the front lines of the Korean War; he had a long successful career, and was involved in several organizations. Yes, all of that is impressive and should be honored. But the memories people have shared with me have more to do with his passions in life, his personality, his zest, his humor, and his smile. So perhaps I shouldn’t be quite as worried about those goals I have set in my head – I believe I’ll still meet most of them, with time… instead, I think as I hit that big looming number, I should focus more on the lessons I have learned from Dad:

Be Fascinated by Life. Don’t take anything for granted; continue to see things with eyes wide open, and learn new things at any age. Encourage curiosity to figure out what makes things tick, and be eager to meet new people. Absorb, and be absorbed, by life.

Be Enthusiastic. Have a passion for the people and environment that surrounds us. Show excitement, even for small things, which could be big things to someone else. As kids, we always knew that at any performance in which we were involved, dad was the first and loudest to start clapping and cheering, every time. Don’t be shy, be that person.

Be Gracious. Don’t be a complainer. Complaining is a useless energy waster and solves nothing. Deal with difficulties and challenges, then move on. Say Thank You and mean it. Be thrilled when someone visits or wants to spend time with you. Make others feel special – because they are.

And finally: Smile. A lot. But make it genuine, not fake. My Dad had a mega-watt smile that was infectious and put people at ease. Who cares if your teeth aren’t snow white or perfectly straight? Who cares if you don’t have on lipstick, or have a lopsided grin? Smile anyway and witness the results.

Maybe, just maybe, if I keep Dad in my mind, I’ll start to look forward to the coming years as some of the very best in my life. I can’t promise that I won’t have moments where I lament about my wrinkles, muffin top, sore knees and forgetfulness. But perhaps I can convince myself that the 50 milestone is not for looking back and yearning for youth, but for jumping off and saying “wheee!”.

Hunter S. Thompson is credited for this quote: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”   I know, without a shred of a doubt, that Dad is relaxing in heaven, a rum in hand, saying exactly that.

When I grow up, I want to be like him.

 

 

It’s All About Perspective

Jubelnde Konzertbesucher auf Rock-KonzertOne night last week, two of my BFFs and I channeled our younger, more hip selves, and went to a concert. A real concert. Not a tribute band in a small local theater. No, we went for the gusto and traveled 90 minutes to join several thousand other screaming and singing fans to see Maroon 5.

We had planned this outing months in advance, part of our self-declared “Stomp the Frump” campaign. We three dressed in our coolest least-mom-ish attire. Mom Jeans were exchanged for faded trendy denim, and accompanied by what else, but black jackets and big jewelry.   When my son said “hey, you guys look pretty good” I felt that we had achieved our non-frump looks for the evening. Heck, I even took the time to crimp my hair.

We were three real women on the town, ditching all other responsibilities to just plain have fun and unabashedly prove that we are card-carrying members of the Adam Fan Club. Ok, maybe we don’t really have fan club cards, but at the pub we went to for dinner, we did get free signs from the local radio station to hold up at the concert to proclaim our devotion. And for the most part, we adhered to our pact to avoid “old lady” topics like medical issues and age complaints. Although we did have a bit of a discussion about retirement planning over dinner… Luckily, we don’t think anyone overheard us.

The show was amazing. We didn’t have the most perfect seats, but from our perspective, it was awesome. It was a great night, even if the ride home in lousy weather was long and tiring. We had accomplished our anti-frump goal and had photos and mild deafness to prove it.   In what I now consider a rather brilliant move, I took the following day off. I know darn well that I no longer can easily bounce back from a night that involves getting home in the wee hours of the morning.

A few hours later, in my sleepy, baggy-sweats, ultimately-frumpy alter ego, I got up to see my son off to school. I shared with him a few stories of the evening, and he did his best to act interested and impressed. I mentioned to him that I would be staying home that day, and when he got back from school, the two of us could get back outside and do some more shoveling to clean up the driveway.   He then said quietly “I like it when you are home when I get home from school.”

I attempted to respond nonchalantly with a “me too” then went on to other topics – because I know all too well that making a big deal of any comment out of a teenager’s mouth is a bad idea. But his words stuck with me all day. First my heart was thrilled, and I thought “wow, maybe I really am still cool, and he still wants to be around me sometimes.” Then, I felt a bit guilty.

When I grew up, my mother was a stay-at-home mom. I remember coming home from school, propping myself up in the hallway between the kitchen and her sewing area and babbling away to her about my day. She was there while I had an after-school snack, or while I had a friend over, or when I needed help with homework. (We went to mom for help with Social Studies and English, but waited for Dad to come home if we needed help with Math and Science.) Most of my friends also had a parent home after school. Having two parents who worked outside the home full time was still fairly rare. I remember hearing the phrase “Latch Key Kid” uttered in hushed tones between other parents, as if these “poor, lonely children” would be destined for a life as hoodlums because they went home to an empty house for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

Fast forward to my adult life. Ten weeks after giving birth to my beautiful baby boy, I returned to work full time. And haven’t stopped since. We were lucky to be able to hire a family friend to care for him while he was young, when we were both at work. She became in a sense his adopted grandmother, and stayed on with us until we felt he was old enough to be home alone after school. Yes, at that point, I had my own Latch Key Kid.

I know several other real women who after having children, decided to either stay home, or work part-time to be home after school. They made the choice to potentially get by with less income, or “give up” their careers to be more present in their children’s lives. I commend those women for making that decision.

So as I recuperated from my fun night out, got some things done around the house, and of course made brownies, I wondered if I had done a disservice to my son by rarely being there when he stepped off the bus every afternoon over the past few years. But I realized that he didn’t know any other way. He had easily learned how to let himself in to the house, lock up behind him, get himself a snack, take care of the dog, and stay safe and entertained until we got home every evening. When he got home this particular day, we chatted briefly, we went out and shoveled together, then he did what he does every day – went up into his cave –err, I mean room – and did his homework then played video games online with his friends.   Quite content and happy. He truly has learned to appreciate and enjoy his time to himself.

When my husband got home, our evening was the usual buzz of activity, getting my son to his music lesson, me getting out for a workout, all of us bonding over dinner… and any feelings of guilt I had experienced earlier that day were melting away.   Just like our seats in the concert venue, our busy lives as real women are all about perspective. We do the best we can every day to be there for family and friends and co-workers, and to appreciate all that we have, no matter what our schedules dictate.

And once in a while, we can take a step away from the usual routine and do something for ourselves, something out of the ordinary. We can give ourselves a boost and have fun, to feel cool and trendy, or just to feel at peace. The result is a healthier, happier us, which positively affects those close to us.   True, I may not be able to be home every afternoon to welcome my son home with fresh-baked brownies. But he knows I’m still there for him every minute, now matter where either of us are… even if it means embarrassing him by texting him a photo of myself holding an “Adam, yes please!” sign at a concert.   adam sign

 

 

Our Epic Stuff

baskets“A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” – George Carlin

My neighbor BFF and I had what we consider a brilliant idea. This spring we will hold a “Most Epic Tag Sale.” We will combine forces, energy, organizational abilities, and most of all, our unwanted stuff, and have a major two-household clean out.

A few years ago I vowed to never again have a tag sale. (Or a “garage sale”, depending on what part of the country you live in… similar to the debate between grinders, hoagies and subs, or pop and soda… but I digress).   I had decided such sales were a whole lot of work with little reward, and there was always left over stuff that no one wanted. But my BFF swayed me. We will do this one together, planned long in advance, and will have the Salvation Army ready to come and pick up whatever doesn’t sell. Brilliant.

Even more brilliant is the fact that we made this decision literally months in advance, thus giving us all winter to sort through and clean out our homes.   I figured this would be a piece of cake… spend a couple days in the basement, another couple days whipping through the rest of the house, then I could relax and wait for spring.

Silly, silly me. I have already lost track of the hours spent in just my basement, with much more still to go.  We have been in our current home for almost 15 years. Certainly not an eternity, but apparently long enough to fill every nook and cranny with items we really don’t need. I never really thought I was a kleptomaniac or hoarder…but now I’m beginning to wonder.   Some of the items, and quantity of items, I’ve found has truly been eye opening. I have found odd things like small knick-knacks with no true or even emotional value, that for some reason I have not only kept, but packed and moved with me since my teen or college years. I came across a whole box of miscellaneous candles and candle holders; a plastic tub full of mis-matched mugs and cheap glassware; Christmas decorations that I have never put up….and somewhere along the way, I apparently became a basket-aholic. I now have a pile of a dozen baskets to go in the sale, yet still have plenty on my shelf to be kept!

I’m not sure how all of these collections happened while I wasn’t paying attention – because I’m the one who did the collecting. I must have had a hidden personality all these years who felt the need to keep everything, as if I’m channeling a past life of surviving the Great Depression. Well, guess what. Time to meet my new personality: Purge and Clean-out Girl.

Most of us R.W.’s rarely take the time to really clean out our stuff. It can be a painstaking and arduous task, so it generally does not make it onto our list of priorities on our To Do lists, and only happens when we have to pack and move to a new location. Even then, at least in my world, apparently I have gone ahead and moved stuff that I didn’t even need.

What I have discovered, however, is it can be liberating and exhilarating, and in some ways, fascinating.   I am thrilled that I can now much more easily walk through part of my basement. Boxes are getting organized and categorized. What is of no use to me, could be very useful or of interest to someone else. Setting aside so much stuff to go feels great.

As for the fascination….there have been items I have come across that I forgot I had, or that of course immediately bring up fond past memories of my childhood. Even more recently obtained objects hold special meaning, like the bags of stuffed animals my son sorted through with me. He pulled out certain ones that he remembers specifically playing with when he was little, and I pulled out fuzzy critters I remember putting in his crib. I don’t know what if anything we will ever do with the stuffies we decided to keep, but we knew we couldn’t part with them.

That is, after all, the biggest challenge when attempting a clean-out of some magnitude. We are forced to make a decision between keeping something simply for sentimental reasons, or parting with it due to lack of use or need. I know darn well that I am a sentimental old fool, and I will keep several storage boxes of memories. And that’s ok. Its good to cut back, get a bit more lean, do away with useless items. But the items that mean something to us, or claim a part of our histories, no matter how seemingly trivial, are well worth keeping.

Today I opened a box that holds antique linens from past generations, as well as very old, but beautiful, monogramed silver. Will I ever use a silver tea set? Not unless I decide to host a Downton-themed tea party. But tucked in with the silver is a note, written in my mother’s handwriting, that explains how the items were bequeathed to me from my Grandmother (after whom I am named). Priceless.

Within some of the piles and boxes lie small mysteries. I came across a small wooden house with a removable roof. I don’t remember where it came from, or why I have it, but in some recess in my mind, I feel like it has some sort of significance. So I left it on a shelf and made a note to ask my siblings about it. Similarly, in that box of antiques, I came across kitchen linens, on which my mother had written “Pantry. 1939.”   I don’t know why she would write the location and year on kitchen towels, but I’d love to find out. Too bad I can’t go back in time to see her do it and ask her why.       linens

Yes, it is a very good thing that our Most Epic Tag Sale is not happening next weekend. For each corner, closet, box, shelf and cabinet holds intrigue. Some items are easily price-tagged and stacked to go; others are worth a hearty laugh and a “Really? Why have I kept this all these years?” before getting added to the pile. And still others are worth a few minutes of stopping to remember, smile, and maybe even shed a tear before they are careful re-wrapped and stored, or cleaned up and brought out into the open to be enjoyed.

Epic indeed.

 

Polar Side Effects


winter optimismSide Effect
– noun. Any accompanying or consequential and usually detrimental effect.

It is safe to say that a majority of people across the country at this point are tired of winter. Sure, some hearty souls still claim to be enjoying the season, and I commend them for their enthusiasm. As for the rest of us, however, we are eagerly waiting for a seasonal shift – not just because we would desperately like to hang up our shovels for a few months, but because of the rather bizarre side effects this season forces upon us.

For those in more temperate climates, you may have experienced a touch of cold and ice and maybe even some snow this year, but for the most part you don’t experience the same on-going consequences as those of us in northern climes. Battling these side effects is what wears us down. Allow me to give a few examples:

  • Outer Wear Fashion Goes Out the Window.   Early in the season, when we first feel a chill in the air, and thrill at the first pretty snow flakes falling from the sky, we giddily get out our cute winter coats, our trendy scarves and our girly gloves. However, after several weeks of frigid temperatures and piles of frozen precipitation, we abandon how we look when heading out the door. Our focus shifts to only the two most important factors: staying warm and dry, and attempting to stay upright and avoid falling. Out come the big clunky (yet warm and safe) boots, and the practical layers. I have a walking outfit that is fairly hideous. My fellow lunch-time walking co-workers can attest to this. I layer up with heavy sweatpants, a fuzzy fleece top, thick yet truly ugly mittens, and a head wrap scarf that I affectionately call my babushka. Not one item matches any other item. And I don’t care. I can look cute and trendy in the Spring.
  • Buh-Bye Barefeet. From approximately November through March, our feet are never uncovered. While we were previously frolicking barefoot, or donning adorable sandals, our feet now do not see the light of day. They go from socks to shoes to boots… and even after returning home, it is too cold to go bare, and we shove our feet into fuzzy slippers. There is no sense in getting pedi’s and coloring our toes until daffodils sprout in the garden. Unless, of course, it gives us the same small thrill as wearing a pretty new pair of panties that no one will see.
  • Cruddy Camouflage. We are not the only ones looking a bit blah by now. Our cars are too. Every vehicle on the road is the same color: grey. It is too cold to wash them, and even if we did, they will be grey again within 24 hours. Inside the car is no better. Grit and grime everywhere. Along with, likely, spilled coffee or hot cocoa.
  • Pothole Dodging. This season brings with it a game to test our reflexes and dexterity as the roads on which we travel disintegrate. I’m not talking about minor bumps and cracks – oh no. There are frost heaves the size of small mountains, lanes of crumbled pavement, and holes large enough to swallow a Mini Cooper. I’m sure a structural or chemical engineer could explain why something so seemingly durable as asphalt can not stand up to the brutality of winter…. I will just assume that the combination of bitter cold and heavy snowplows is mostly at fault. No matter the reason, smooth rides are no longer an option. And as we worry about the possible damage to our vehicles, we Real Women must remember something vitally important: under no circumstances get behind the wheel with a full bladder.
  • The Other Kind of Cracks and Crumbles. There is not enough moisturizer in the country to successfully combat winter dry skin. The cold crisp air devoid of any humidity, along with dry indoor heat, combine to create the perfect storm for our complexions. Our tone gets paler, our lines get deeper, and we are able to carry on complex conversations about the benefits of any number of lotions and serums. Like being on a deserted island, R.W.’s need three things to survive the season: food, water and hand cream.
  • Helpless Infatuations With Starch and Sugar. Like a mama bear in hibernation mode, we R.W.’s crave, search for, and create comfort foods. If a dish is warm, tasty, filling and satisfying, we dive in.   Gone are the carrot sticks and popsicles of the summer; they are replaced with bread sticks, mashed potatoes and cake. We know we are gaining weight by seeking solace in sweets and savories, yet we don’t stop until the temperatures warm and we are forced to shed our heavy layers to reveal the damage done.
  • Patience, Where Art Thou? Small inconveniences and minor challenges become huge hurdles and ugly aggravations after several weeks of winter. Our patience has departed, likely hopping a plane for the tropics. We are left to try to manage with minimal coping skills, even if we are normally very capable, strong women. The other day I stepped out my front door to my carefully shoveled steps and walkway, only to find that the snow my husband had shoveled off the porch roof to keep us safe, had landed in heaps in my path. The same path I cleared after every snowfall was now filled with two feet of hard- packed mass. I went inside and had a full-blown I-hate-winter meltdown. In reality, my husband easily cleared the way later that night with the snow-blower. But at that moment, that morning, my patience had evaporated. I do believe I threw a shovel into a snowbank. Ah well, we’ll find it in the spring.

Just like the warning labels on the side of medicine bottles indicate, side effects may vary. And I will admit that not all consequences of the season are bad. As winter wears on, we all begin to rally around each other, to commiserate about our plight, and to try to find ways to cope and be positive. We remind each other that at some point, spring will come. The snow will melt. Temperatures will go back above the freezing mark. This winter will become a memory, something to tell stories about, and the detrimental side effects will fade.

Today on my way home from work, I passed a house obviously inhabited by those with either a keen sense of humor or a whole lot of optimism. There, perched on top of a big snow pile in the front yard, were two colorful lawn chairs, a surfboard, and a case of beer.   The sight made my day and helped me remember: this too shall pass.

 

 

Natural Beauty

20s beautyThe other night I was watching TV and a few women were referred to as “natural beauties.” The women on the receiving end of these compliments were on the red carpet, glammed from head to toe. Their hair was coiffed, make-up perfect, and they were adorned with gowns and jewels. And I wondered what was so natural about any of it?

I asked myself a similar question the other morning when I was getting prepped for a usual weekday at work. It all starts in the shower, with bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash that promise to make me smoother, cleaner, more vibrant, fragrant and younger. As soon as I stepped out, I reached for a squirt of hair mousse, followed by my daily routine of creams and moisturizers. All this happened before I even began to apply any make-up. I paused and thought about how so many of us go through these motions to look “naturally beautiful” and I marveled at the multitude of products literally at our finger tips that allow us to do this every day.

The generations of Real Women before us didn’t have the ease of simply stopping by CVS on their way home to arm themselves with every product imaginable, or the ability to log on to the internet to have the next best most promising anti-aging cream delivered to their door.   Through the years, of course, the images of beauty have varied. In the early 1900’s, pale skin was a sign of beauty and class, tans were for those of a “lower class.” Heavy make-up was reserved for only those who were stage performers. Yet, real women still wanted to look their best – but for many years, they had to rely on home remedies, by using rice powder, beet juice, squeezing their cheeks for some color, or, amazingly, using lemon juice to lighten their skin.   The thought of applying lemon juice has my cheeks screaming in terror.

Real women in our past truly did rely more on their natural beauty. Today, in contrast, there is a multi-billion dollar industry in the world of cosmetics. Just a stroll down two aisles at Target can be a mind-numbing experience of choosing between half a dozen different brands and shelves of products of which we are too embarrassed to ask “what does this one do?”   There are, of course, R.W.’s today who go the natural route, with no make-up or extra creams and lotions. There are some who have that enviable flawless natural beauty so they look amazing as soon as they wake up in the morning. I kind of hate those of you who fit into that category, but applaud you as well.

My mom, a natural beauty.

My mom, a natural beauty.

My mother was one of the naturals. The only make-up she wore was lipstick. I remember how every evening, a few minutes before Dad was due home from work, she would stop to brush out her hair and put on some fresh lipstick. That’s it. If she and Dad got dressed up to go out, or hosted a party, she would apply just a bit of mascara and blush. I look at photos of her in her youth, and she is gorgeous – with no cosmetic assistance.

In contrast, thanks to having a fair & ruddy complexion, if I ever venture out with little to no make-up, others will ask if I’m exhausted or ill. Even on weekends when I may or may not venture out of the house, I still apply at least some lotion and base cosmetics so I look healthy and awake. So the “natural beauty” route is not for me.

But I do believe that there is another definition for “natural beauty”, and it has absolutely nothing to do with staying clear of manufactured enhancements or cosmetics. It has everything to do with a real woman’s fundamental presence. When I think of the real women in my life, I think of their smiles that can brighten up a whole room, the twinkle in their eye that can mean fun and mischief, their infectious laughter, the caring and love they exude, the energy that seems to vibrate out of them, and the determination and strength that shows through in everything they do. My first thoughts when I see these amazing people are not about the cool new green eye shadow they are wearing, or the color of their hair highlights, or whether or not the anti-wrinkle neck cream they are trying is working. What I see is the natural beauty of who they are and how they make the people around them feel.

If we feel better about ourselves by reaching for those products on our counters every morning, then fine, let’s go for it, let’s enhance our surface beauty. I’m all for appearing healthy and awake. But let’s not get too hung up on which lip color is the best option…because in reality, the smile itself is where it’s at.

 

 

 

 

We’re All In This Together

A grocery sea of humanity

A grocery sea of humanity

Weekends are what we look forward to all week, with illusions of extra sleep and relaxation dancing in our heads. Yet all R.W.’s know that at least a portion of our days off will require the inevitable, dreaded, time-consuming activity: running errands.  I believe that many of the men in our lives have a misconception of this duty. Often I’ve heard a man say “she is off shopping again”, with a bewildered roll of the eyes. Gentlemen, let me set the record straight: errands and shopping are two very different things. Errands happen ALL. THE. TIME. They are about as much fun as having a tooth slowly drilled at the dentist. Shopping is a fun, social activity which happens much less frequently. You can easily tell the difference by our moods when we return home. Are we frazzled, tired, and mumbling about playing beat the clock? Then we were out doing errands. Do we come back happy, refreshed and downright easy to be around? Then we’ve been out pleasure shopping.   The other way to illustrate this to the men in our lives is to invite them to join us for a round of errands. It will likely be the last time they accept the offer.

Like clockwork, we R.W.’s head out to do all of the things we don’t have time for during our work hours, and we try valiantly to fit them all in within as short a time frame as possible. This is such a common practice that if you’ve lived in the same town for any period of time, you will invariably see other R.W.’s out and about who you know – neighbors, friends, associates. Because we are all out doing the same thing. No matter whether it is the drug store, post office, pet supply store, hardware store, grocery store, discount department store or bank, at any location we are likely to see a couple of women pausing to have a conversation and catch up after running into each other.   A few years ago, I had my son with me running errands, and in the aisle of the drug store we stopped to chat with my good friend and neighbor. As we walked away, my son asked “why do we always see her everywhere?” and I replied: “Because We Live The Same Life.”   Ever since then, anytime we are in the same place at the same time (it happened twice today), we say to each other “WLTSL”.

Those of you R.W.’s who live in temperate climates do miss out on one phenomenon that takes the common errand day to a whole new level: the day before a winter storm. Even though we live in modern day, with highly effective snow removal equipment, and experienced power crews, if the forecast calls for a substantial amount of snow, the world erupts with people running every conceivable errand possible before being “snowed in.”   On those days, our Real Women stomping grounds are infiltrated by those who normally would not be out and about: senior citizens, young frightened couples, bored children, and men who have been sent out with a list and a prayer.

The result is a bit of madness, and a lesson in patience. Today was such a day. With the forecasters promising anywhere from 8 – 15 inches more of the white stuff over the next couple of days, the roads and stores were packed with people. I had to venture out for my usual round of errands. It didn’t matter whether tomorrow was 8 degrees and snowing or 80 degrees and sunny, I would be out today, along with the usual other R.W.’s, doing the exact same errands. Not so with all the “extra” folks. One element of a day like today that will test everyone’s patience is lines.   Lines everywhere. Lines of traffic, and lines of people. At every stop. I’m truly not sure what the correlation is between getting a package mailed or a prescription picked up before the snow starts, but there were lines of people waiting to do so.

And then, the pièce de résistance: the grocery store. I dread going to the grocery store on any normal day. Today, I knew it would be a whole new level of drudgery.   Sure enough, the parking lot was full, cars and people splashing through snow and slush to find an available cold wet cart to push around the store with what seemed like hundreds of other people. I was proud of myself, I kept my mood light as I wound my way around the store, dodging other carts, waiting to get around others to grab what I needed from the shelves. I was proud of the managers who had clearly planned ahead and had everything well-stocked. (Although once again I marveled at how milk is always the first item cleaned out). I was even in aisle 13 before my first hot flash hit, so that was a bonus.

Then of course came the worst part. Checking out. Moving up to the front of the store was like being a salmon attempting to leap up stream. It was a veritable sea of humanity, everyone now sweating in their heavy winter coats and boots, trying to jockey for the shortest line, of which there was none. As we all waited, various conversations popped up. Two elderly gentlemen marveled at how full my cart was. A mature woman ahead of me in line asked who would be helping me bring it all in at home. Other conversations sprouted up, about the storm, about certain in-store sales, about celebrity gossip on the magazines staring at us from the end-caps, and about the contents in our carts.   We were strangers all connected by the same circumstances, all in this together.

When it was finally my turn at the conveyor belt, I felt my mood plummet when I realized the cashier was Betty. God love her, Betty moves at only one speed: slow and methodical. At one point, when Betty paused part way through my order to slowly unwrap a hard candy for herself, I turned to the R.W. behind me and took deep breaths and said “patience, patience.” She smiled and said “I get it.”   Because she does. We were in it together. At one point, Betty, who was now 15 minutes past her break time, handed me her “closed” sign and asked if there was anyone in line after the woman behind me. I looked back and said, “well, yes, there’s a line that extends all the way back to produce. But I’m not sure they are all waiting for you, just any line to get out.”

Thirty minutes after getting in line, I emerged sweaty but triumphant on the other end, and hightailed it to my car. Of course I still had another stop to make before I could head home, but my errands were nearing the end for the day. I glanced at the clock. Another mental game we R.W.’s play is to try to estimate how long our duties will take us. Every time, reality adds at least an hour. Happily, I did make it home before dark, and before the storm started.

After getting everything put away, and getting changed into my comfy clothes, I of course thought of two or three other things I could have/should have accomplished while out and about. With a sigh, I jotted them down on a note for next time. After all, as certain as it is that tomorrow is another day, as certain as it is that a storm of some sort will arrive, I will again venture forth with my fellow R.W.’s for a round of errands….after we shovel out.

 

 

Paralysis or Puppies

pupppyThis morning the highlights on the national news included a train wreck in New York, a plane crash in Taiwan, a horrific death at the hands of Isis, and more brutal cold and snow for much of the country. Within five minutes, I was reminded that all over the world, very real people are experiencing very unreal, devastating circumstances.

I’m pretty certain that I speak for many Real Women when I say that news like this sends me into a moment of what I call mental and emotional paralysis. Like rapid phases of grief, we quickly ran through a host of feelings and thoughts. First of course come the waves of sadness, shock, horror, and fear. Especially when we hear of the brutality and incomprehensible evil at the hands of terrorists, we are frozen not knowing quite how to react or even comprehend what we are hearing. Next comes the feeling of thankfulness for what we have in our lives – our safety, our homes, our loved ones, our health. And finally, surprisingly: guilt. I found myself thinking “Really? Was I just grumbling about trying to figure out what to wear to work? What do I have to complain about? Why is it that I deserve to live such a comfortable happy life when so many others are suffering?”   At some point, we are brought back to our current reality. We find ourselves sitting on the edge of the bed, the dog staring at us, our socks still gripped in our hands and not on our feet, and we have to work our way out of that paralysis and figure out how to go about our day.

I remember in the days following 9/11, I was, like all of America, glued to the news, crying, trying to wrap my mind around what had happened. I remember also holding my then 17-month old son in my arms, thankful that he was too young to understand what was happening, knowing our lives would never be the same, and fearing about what kind of world he was coming in to. Now my son is old enough to have very honest conversations about world events, as we both grapple over the meaning behind many of them.

Yes, there are horrible and scary things happening out there. Yet when we stop to consider what the generations before us went through, perhaps we can take some comfort in the strength of humanity to continue. Our relatives and ancestors dealt with multiple wars, economic depressions, frighteningly powerful dictators, and catastrophic plagues. There is no doubt in my mind that they were just as, or even more, terrified as we are by certain events. In those days, life-changing events had more far reaching effects. They didn’t just hear an update about a war on TV, then head off to their usual routines. They were all part of the war effort. They didn’t just hear about a stock decline and make a note to call their Accountant. They got in soup lines. But they still sought out happiness and enjoyment in life wherever they could.

As always, we can learn lessons from our previous generations. Rather than become immersed in fear or guilt, we can take action. We can volunteer to help others, donate to relief efforts, even do something as simple as give someone who’s hurting a hug. We can remember and honor those who have suffered by continuing to live our lives.

Ok, sure, sounds good. But when we start our day with such depressing and scary news, how do we shake off our paralysis and not spend the rest of the day in the dumps? Any way we can. By sharing a laugh with friends, or appreciating a sunny day, or cranking a favorite song on the way to work. One of the accounts I follow on Twitter is “Cute Emergency.” Their sole purpose is to quite prolifically tweet out pictures of insanely cute puppies, kittens, or any other appropriately adorable animals. It is hard to swipe through a dozen or so images of puppy faces and not experience a mood boost.

Our Minister at my church often gives us a send off that resonates with me every time: Life is short. We don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of others. So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind. I cling to those words and try to carry them with me.

So, we have choices to make. We can become paralyzed by the news that surrounds us, or we can enjoy every moment of the lives we have and try to make a difference in the lives of others. And make sure to take in a daily dose of puppy faces.