Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Nontraditional Tradition

Father Christmas on Holiday Leaning on a Car Using a Mobile Phone and Wearing a Hawaiian Shirt

I have a love/hate relationship with "tradition".

Nothing feels better than traditions that bind our memories to people we love. Those traditions, large or small, are usually some of our best memories and the joyful fuel of anticipation.

Traditions give us common bonds with the participants. Formal ties to the people involved. They define our relationships in noticeable ways: "We have a tradition together. This means I will always have you in my life in this special way."

But here's the rub. Traditions tend to be based upon consistency-- things staying the same, needs staying the same, circumstances being the same. Doing the same thing in the same way with the same people.

I love that kind of stuff. I actually used to say frequently, as my children were growing up, "I wish I could stop the clock right now and keep everything the same." (I tried pretty hard to do this. Just ask my now grown children. I was pretty committed to letting them grow up as slowly as possible. Their friends probably saw me as the most protective and old-fashioned mother in the universe. They might possibly have been correct. I remember my husband suggesting our daughter just say she was raised Amish to explain some of her innocence when she went off to college...)

There are many moments in life like that. Those times of acute awareness that the moment is pure joy, could not be improved in any way, and you wouldn't change a thing.

But so far no one has figured out how to push the pause button on life. It just keeps on taking us farther down the road, and I must say that is a good thing. Who is ready to relinquish future possibilities? Not me.

Most of the good stuff in life results from change of some sort, if you think about it. Certainly there can be no new experience without change. Imagine a life like that. (I've had several close relatives with dementia. Perhaps memory loss in the aged is a blessing. Every experience is "new" all over again. And again! A little gift to keep life from being horribly boring....!)

So what happens to traditions? Well, one of two things, I think:

Either: commitment to the tradition overrides the need for change...and eventually it becomes stale. Someone moves or grows up or dies, and the fabric of the tradition has a hole in it. Life changes a bit and the tradition doesn't feel the same. Traditions can become burdens when devoid of meaning...and terribly sad when they mark our losses.

OR (and this is a lot cheerier, I promise): our traditions are fluid, evolving, embracing change rather than recoiling from it. Those kinds of traditions can go on forever. They will not become dated, irrelevant. Their elasticity allows room for my favorite friend, Serendipity, to come to the table and surprise us.

This holiday season, I propose "the nontraditional tradition." I will consciously seek to update our traditions where the need exists. Where it doesn't, where the tradition still serves a meaningful purpose, we will take note. And perhaps talk about interesting conversation, I'll bet.

I think I'll make a tradition out of this. :-)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Comfort in the Familiar

There is comfort in the familiar. And where there is comfort, there is rest. And where there is rest, there is rejuvenation. And where there is rejuvenation, there is growth. Which is what life is all about.

I've spent a lot of time with 20-somethings who have left the nest, left college, left the familiar. Stretched themselves in new directions, in new locales, new lifestyles, new company.

It's exciting! (And exhausting.)

After college, life comes at you like a freight train---and you don't know where it's going. You either jump on board or let it run you over. It can feel kind of terrifying.

It also feels exhilarating. (I remember.) The same lack-of-a-definite-game-plan that leaves you wondering how the heck you're going to weave a life also holds the promise for unlimited potential---for surprises, for opportunity, for greatness, however you define that. For making your mark. For finding your path under all the overgrowth of the past.

Things work out, one way or another, and the path reveals itself when you look back at it. But while you're out there choosing direction, putting one foot in front of the other just to keep moving, it can feel like you're not getting anywhere, or lost in unfamiliar territory.

That's when you need to find comfort in the familiar.

It is surprisingly easy to do.

Touch base with the people who are most familiar to you.
Go somewhere that feels familiar.
Whether it's a food, a place, music, activity---recreate it where you are. Give yourself the gift of the familiar when life feels strange.
Let yourself be a little kid again for an hour. The real world will still be there when you return.

And I'll bet you feel a bit more ready for it when you do.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Things I've learned about being 50...or so...

Two one way signs pointing to opposite directions
  • Those "Over the Hill" cards that were funny when you turned 30 or 40 aren't funny anymore. Give me something sappy that makes me cry. Which is easy when you're hormonal.
  • Ditto for funny gifts containing hemorrhoid ointments, wrinkle creams (sometimes the same thing), laxatives....They are now considered "Care Packages" and taken seriously.
  • Your face reveals whether you've smiled or frowned more in your life. I like to think there is still time to reverse the trend.
  • If you manage to get to sleep and stay asleep at night, God forbid anyone wake you for any reason. I mean that literally. God, please forbid it.
  • You have little patience for people who seem to think they know everything because the older you get the more evident it is we know very little.
  • You don't care what people think of you. Unless they criticize you.
  • Facial skin becomes particles cling to it for long after the meal is finished.
  • You realize you chew with your front teeth. How else could salad get lodged right there in front? You probably don't even need those molars your dentist is so anxious to crown (no coincidence his 4th child is going off to college either.)
  • As a result of the above, everyone needs a meal buddy to check 'em out after meals and make sure we won't go off into the world to humiliate ourselves.
  • You can still learn new things! But the learning curve is much longer, steeper, and more painful.
  • The job you always wanted doesn't exist anymore.
  • About the same time you realize your own limitations you also realize that God (all that is Good) is limitless.
  • Your hairdresser suggests "lowlights" instead of "highlights".
  • The clothes at Chico's start looking cuter.
  • You wonder why people sneer at "mom jeans." I mean, I AM a mom. What the heck?
  • Your kids wince when you talk about your thongs (and you're talking about footwear.)
  • They also wince when you tell them you just hooked up with an old friend. I mean, when did hooked up get to mean something sketchy? Who hijacked our language?
  • It's easier to forgive and forget than to hold a grudge, because, well, grudge-holding requires more memory capacity than you have to spare.
  • It's a good idea to gravitate toward people with happy attitudes because attitudes are contagious.
  • Open minds are far more interesting than closed ones.
  • Tolerance for arrogance goes out the window. By this time you realize that arrogant people are too nearsighted to take seriously anyway. It's just another form of vision impairment.
  • It feels a lot better to laugh than to...well, do just about anything.
  • You don't mind that extra 10 lbs anymore because it fills in some wrinkles. And, besides, all clothes are pretty stretchy these days.
  • You notice that most people who live to be really old admit to having a cocktail every night for decades. And you embrace the wisdom of the elderly and drink from the fountain of youth daily at 6:00 p.m. Because it's important to take care of yourself.
  • You forget what you were going to do when the kids got older. Heck, you forget what you were going to do after lunch.
  • You overhear two young moms planning a class party with complicated spreadsheets and timelines and think to yourself, "Hey, ladies, get a LIFE!" Then you go home and spend all day blogging about it. hmmm ;-)
OK, now, get back to work. You have a life. :-)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Right Where I Want To Be (for the next 24 hrs. anyway)

Man standing on rural road holding road map, head obscured by map

I've wanted to live on the coast of Maine, on a lake in Vermont, in the Berkshire Mountains, in the Texas Hill Country, in the boulder formations of Arizona high desert, on an island in Puget Sound, on a river in Central Oregon, in lavender fields in the Willamette Valley, on the red cliffs of the Colorado Monument, on a farm in the Amish country......for starters. Just in the last few years.

Almost every time I visit a new place, I want to live there. Within 24 hours I have memorized the local Homes and Land Magazine and scouted out the best views, coffee, and places to eavesdrop (which is the only good way to get to know the local vibe. It's like visiting colleges---forget the formal presentations and head for the bookstore and cafeteria. Alone. And listen.)

You'd think I live in a miserable place. I don't. In fact, I live in a place so close to perfect that finding fault with it is like trying to find the wrong side of the tracks in Heaven itself.

So what's up with that?

I mean, roots feel good. They hold you in place when the weather gets rough. They feed you from down deep when pickings are slim on the surface. They spread out and define your place, your breadth, your mark, your territory. They tell you who you are. Right now, at least.

We're all a bit territorial, let's face it. Like Robert Frost said, "Good fences make good neighbors." Partly because they help define our turf. Our edges. Our tribal land. Our comfort zone.

Yet I know few people (admittedly, there are some) who don't try on the idea of change, dream of new kinds of community, imagine different ways to live. Simpler lives, perhaps. Or more focused ones. Perhaps more open to serendipity. Or just...different.

I love my life. I have been blessed with people and experiences that define my little mark in this world, however modest, and the opportunities to pursue them with unfettered passion. But there is more to come. Different things.They will all, in the end, weave the fabric of my own unique existence here.

My fantasy is to live a year in every place that pulls at me. Four seasons in every little world that has teased me with promise. Which is completely unreasonable, hence the term fantasy. But how great would that be?

Those who love to travel know that it is transformative---sometimes in big, gut-busting ways and sometimes in small, measured whispers. The places and people you discover in locales different from home plant their seeds in your brain and go with you on to the next place, and return home with you, marking out a new spot in your soul.

So don't you just get curious sometimes? What parts of yourself would erupt from latent hibernation? There is such promise in open-ended journeys. So much room for my favorite friend, serendipity.

I guess it's not practical to take risks that big. Perhaps not completely pleasurable, either.

But somehow it seems that we humans are here on this earth for no other reason than to love and learn and to encourage the learning of others (which is really what love is, in many ways.) There is so much to learn, and let's face it, you can't keep growing in the same school, library, class, etc. forever. It is the unfamiliar that points us inward, makes us find our own inner yardstick with which to measure the world around us.

And learning means change. In fact, learning cannot exist without change---it is both the process and the by-product.

So even when we live in a perfectly sunny climate---we long for seasons. We live in a city and long for open spaces. We live in the country and long for urban vigor.

It's not that we're unhappy. It's not that we're unappreciative.

It's just that we're born to be somewhat discontent. It's a good thing. It makes us keep moving, in one way or another, toward new experience. And new perspectives.

This doesn't have to happen in the context of a geographical move. Sometimes just identifying the lure of a different locale can give us the tool to transform life right here where we started.

But stepping away gives us fresh eyes. Stripping away routine gives us a clean slate.

Unless you empty a bucket that's full, you can't get anything new into it. Vacations are like dumping out the bucket contents and collecting new perspectives to take home with you.

I'm shopping for a big new bucket tomorrow. I feel another road trip calling.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Laugh or Cry?

Elderly Woman Laughing

Two scenes from life-with-grandma yesterday stand out. How to respond? Well...

First: G-Ma, feeling fragile, ( "I'm on my way out, I think...") sits on the doctor's examining table. He says, "I'm going to take a look at you now" and uses the foot pedal to raise the table up-up-up.....G-Ma's face reacts in shock, fear, confusion (she thought she was leaving her body right then and there, floating up-up-up to heaven.)

Nice doctor shouts, "I did that, don't worry! I'm sorry, I should have warned you!"

G-Ma bursts out in riotous laughter, telling us that she had thought her spirit was leaving her body at long last. We all laughed hard and it turned her mood around. Laughing is good.

Anyone else out there holding the hand of a parent with dementia? Being a live 2-way filter, protecting him/her from a suddenly confusing world while simultaneously protecting the world from a suddenly confusing person?

Well, you can laugh or cry. (In reality, of course, you do a lot of both.)

I worry about sounding disrepectful when I share some of the laughing moments. Believe me, that is not my intent. Nor is it a way of denying the sad truth of this journey. It's just that I have to find the humor or I'll drown in other, less pleasant emotions.

I remember Mom and her sisters laughing at similar events with their own parents. (Yes, I'm taking my blood pressure medicines and not planning to walk this same genetic road...)

So here is the biggest laugh of the day. Or cry, depending on how you look at it:

Mom needed at CT Scan of her brain. Walking into the hospital, we passed a wheelchair-bound woman who had obviously had some major head surgery, as her entire head was wrapped in a huge turban of bandages with various tubes coming out at all angles. Mom looked at her, laughed (!) and said loudly, "Hey! Nice hat!"

What do you do? Laugh or cry?

I didn't have time to do either right then. I was too busy steering Mom in the other direction, which is hard to do with your eyes closed and teeth gritted.

I've got to laugh. On good days, Mom does, too.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

You're How Old Now?!

In Honor of My Daughter's 25th Birthday

Random things I learned after becoming a mom:

---Planning your time is irrelevant…nothing will happen when you think it will, including the birth. The best memories tend to be made when you were planning to do something else anyway.

---Sometimes kids need to stay home from school and eat ice cream in bed watching TV with Mom.

---Naps are gifts from God. Do not ignore God. Accept the gifts.

---Babysitters are also gifts from God. Except for the one we found sunbathing topless in the back yard.

---Boredom can be a good thing. Kids find their unique creativity when they’re bored. It can be messy and involve mud.

---3-year-olds should not be trusted with scissors if anyone in the room has long hair.

---Shoe fetishes appear at a surprisingly young age.

---Little kids like to put things up their noses. Usually on a Saturday night. When the ER is full.

---You can be so busy that your child can break her arm and you’ll forget to tell your husband about it….he’s a little surprised when he gets home from work that day. So he starts calling you several times a day from work just to ask what’s new. For the next 25 years and counting…

---You might be so busy that you’ll go trick-or-treating with child #1 and forget to take child #2 who is in his costume in his crib….

---Remember this: no airplane travel before age 4, at least. Also, if the pediatrician gives you some knock-out drug for the flight, know that she might have an inverse reaction and go ballistic for hours.

---Buy a great Christmas stocking for your baby, because if you get a 99 cent one at the drug store at the last minute because you think it doesn't matter the first year, well, your child will want the very same stocking every year for the rest of her life, and you’ll never get to have those neat needlepoint ones with their names on them.

---The child who loves liverwurst and hot dogs will be a strict vegetarian by the time she’s in junior high.

---Before letting your child blow on a dandelion, make sure he knows the difference between inhale and exhale.

---Kids aren’t real wild about duck hunting.

---Some children don’t understand make-believe tea parties and just think Grandma’s off her rocker.

---Great conversations happen when you tuck them in at night if you lie down with them…

---However old they are, that is the best age! It’s the greatest adventure of my life.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pie Bonding

Close-up of mince pie

Today Mom and I ate a pie.

Now, those of you who know my mom realize the significance of this.

My mother was a health food devotee before it was in style. Almost completely vegetarian, she considered fresh mustard greens the ultimate treat. (If you’ve ever had mustard greens you know that her taste buds were not like yours and mine.) Fresh (weird) vegetables, fruit and steamed fish was a blissful meal. Her daughter preferred cake, pie, and cookies…following anything fried or with cheese sauce.

Somewhere during her mid-80s Mom started craving Whoppers with Cheese from Burger King (she calls it “The King Restaurant.” And Haagen-Dazs. Chocolate bars. Pie. Not just a piece---a whole pie.

“You keep changing all your life--even when you’re old,” Mom says with a casual shrug.

I felt kind of mad about this for some ridiculous reason. (If you can’t count on your parents to stay the same, what can you count on?) My mother isn’t supposed to change! She isn’t supposed to like sweets! She isn’t supposed to eat unhealthy foods! (She isn’t supposed to grow old and leave me either…)

The older Mom gets, the more we have in common---which is a tad disconcerting, I must confess.

As her memory fails, sometimes it’s the things that have distanced us that go by the wayside. That’s not a bad thing really. Even a bit of a blessing perhaps.

I’ve always felt there is a blessing somewhere in every crisis.

Tomorrow we’re going to eat a cake.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Changing Perspectives

A few years ago I realized that my life is about half over (well, if I live to be 106 anyway, as my husband points out.)

A funny thing happens when you crest a hill and start down the other side. Instead of looking the direction you’ve always looked, your entire life, you find yourself like a skier suddenly heading down the mountain, looking in a new direction, going faster than you have ever gone---or expected to go---carving out surprising new terrain and trying to maintain some semblance of control-- to avoid the scary parts, hold onto your stabilizing poles, and keep from landing on your fanny---or worse!

And in order to do that you can’t be looking in the direction you were up until then. You have to take in the new scenery. Look at the view from a fresh perspective.

If you want to keep going, that is. If you don’t, you can stubbornly look in the same direction, maintain the same perspective as before, but one way or another your remaining journey will probably be short. And you'll miss a lot of good stuff.

Let's hear it for new perspectives! I'm glad that just when I think I can't be surprised anymore, life/God/nature throws something amazing in my face that shakes me out of complacency. That happened when I saw a glacier lake for the first time...its unique beauty made me cry. I think the emotion came from a recognition that life always holds the potential to surprise us in wonderful ways. That's where hope comes from, I guess.

We climb mountains in one way or another throughout our lives. Maybe what we see during our journeys depends on how willing we are to change our perspectives along the way.

Go climb a mountain.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mother Was Right, and That Terrifies Me

Portrait of a young woman clenching her teeth

Weird things just seem to happen to my 87-yr-old mother. They always have. Now, however, they often provide me a (frightening) glimpse into the aging process.

Take today's episode, for instance.

She wanted to show me a tooth that "might be missing some of its parts." (Sometimes she has difficulty finding the right words but compensates creatively..once complaining that it took "one-hundred-dollars" for her to get to sleep. "No, that's not right. I meant one-hundred-days. No, that's not right"..."Mom, you have insomnia?" "YES!")

We looked into the mirror together, she opened wide, and all of a sudden that was the least of her worries. Although the possibly deficient tooth was right there to be inspected, there was a more obvious problem.

"Hey!" Surprise, confusion. "One of my other teeth is MISSING!"

Now, I'm not talking about one those hidden teeth that are tucked away where only your dentist can see. I'm talking about one of the big, sturdy right-near-the-front molars.

"How long has it been missing?" (A stupid question really, like asking, "where did you put it?") She doesn't know, of course.

Ridiculously, I assured her that it must have been extracted a long time ago and she'd just forgotten! As if that's going to make her feel better! I am not good at this. Meanwhile she was glaring at me like I stole it or something. Or like I didn't believe her, which is worse. What's not to believe? The tooth is definitely missing.

So is this what happens when we get old? You go to bed with a full set of chompers and then wake up the next morning with one gone? Where does it stop? What's next? The rest of your teeth, one by one? Your hair? An arm? An ear? (Your dignity?) Maybe that explains the insomnia. What part of you will be missing when you wake up?

When I was little, Mom once told me that if I didn't quit eating so much candy my teeth would fall out of my head some day. I have had recurrent nightmares my entire life about just that--my teeth falling out suddenly, disintegrating, disappearing. Seems there might be something to that casual threat. I am going to have a hard time getting to sleep tonight.

First thing tomorrow I'll call her dentist. Perhaps the mystery will never be solved. Who knows. Maybe someone paid her one-hundred-dollars for it and she just forgot. You never know. I think it was a gold one.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Thinking Small....

Perhaps it is the small things--done consistently--that cause the greatest impact and change in our lives and the world around us.

Not every life is provided opportunity to accomplish great works, to do the big stuff. And not every opportunity provided is explored and utilized. So how do we live ordinary lives in a way that, at the end of the road, has made a difference?

Many years ago I began running every day. Oh, don't be impressed. I ran for about 5 minutes and walked for 10 or 15. And never increased the effort. But I did it religiously--a stress relief at the time--and found that the consistency had huge payoffs. What those tiny runs did for my body was amazing. And what they did for my soul was a sweet blessing.

But the biggest gift of all was the realization that there is tremendous strength in the small things we do consistently--those small decisions that, over time, move us in a certain direction---whether or not that is where we thought we were going.

Have you ever been in a situation that causes you to think, "How the heck did I end up here?" It's usually not because of one big decision or event, but often the result of all the little choices we've made along the way that have guided us there. Sometimes this is a good thing! And sometimes not.

Mother Theresa said something like,"We can do no great things, just small things with great love." Perhaps the one is what leads to the other. The small, loving acts, done consistently, over time lead to something great. Something out of view at the beginning.

In a culture of "big is better and bigger best", I think maybe we've gotten it all wrong. Perhaps the biggest source of power, in our lives and in our world, is the mindful contemplation of the small choices we make. Choices of kindness, caring, and compassion, the intent to be a positive force, if a small one. For just as negativity can spread and grow like cancer, so can all that is positive and good create its own powerful energy.

The little things DO matter. And, interestingly enough, they are sometimes the easiest to accomplish. Something to think about.

Friday, August 7, 2009

It's Official...

White Stork in Nest

...The kids grew up and appear to have moved out.

My husband and I look at each other and say, "How did that happen so fast? We weren't done!"
But apparently they were-- college diplomas in hand, dreams in their heads, hope in their hearts. Oh, they'll be visit. A lot.

Our daughter casually comments that it's okay if we want to turn her room into "something else." Like what? Something other than the shrine to her childhood that we have lovingly maintained?! I guess when she left for college on the east coast 7 years ago and then stayed after graduation for work---and now graduate school--- well, I guess we should have caught on that things had changed. We are very good at denial.

But now the younger one, the baby, for heaven's sake, has graduated from college as well and has stayed there, in another state. Actually, he did come home for a pack up the car with his living essentials (you know- the computers, RockBand, an aquarium, and many household accessories and appliances that I cannot at this point in time identify, but I'm sure we'll discover them missing before too long.) Then his room was---well, not empty but at least shaken down to the remants of a little boy's journey growing up. And I can't imagine ever taking down that spaceman wallpaper.

So here we are.

The first thing to do is obvious. It is time for a road trip! No schedules, no responsibilities, no one to think about but the two of us and our freedom from tuition bills, noise, piles of laundry, disappearing groceries....

"So where should we go?"
"Let's visit the kids."

Like I said, we are very good at denial.