Friday, December 16, 2016

Traditions & Transitions

We’re big on traditions in our family and, of course, the holidays come with many traditional activities nurtured over the years, but this year, as I experience traditions, I’m also experiencing transitions.

We’re officially empty-nesters in the sense that our youngest has turned 18 and is off to college and we’re okay with that. I’m reveling in watching our children make their way in the adult world, finding their places, marrying, starting families.  Even though they are all developing their own lives, we do see each other regularly and it’s fun.  However, as the holidays approached, I wondered whether we’d all be spending Christmas together or if this would be the year some go their own way.  The answer?  We are spending Christmas together and I’m thrilled, but I know it won’t be forever.  I jokingly said, “When y’all decide to have Christmas in your own homes with your own families, somebody please invite Dad and me to join you so we’re not alone!”

So, thankfully, we’re not experiencing the “big” transition this year, but smaller transitions keep popping up reminding me of the changes to come.  A month ago, while we were all gathered together, our oldest daughter brought up the idea of not exchanging Christmas gifts amongst the kids.  They’d already transitioned to drawing names a few years ago, now the suggestion was made to not exchange gifts at all.  I liked the idea that the real basis of gathering for Christmas is to spend time together, but the idea of no gift exchange between the kids nagged at me a little.  Eventually I accepted the idea as I realized they’re embracing the love of the season, not the stuff of the season (though I don’t think they’re sticking to the edict too strictly).  Transition – sort of.

Last week I walked into the kitchen where my daughter is living and there, on the counter, was the big white plastic bowl with the blue lid.  This bowl is really big and, over the years, has been used for only two purposes:  marinating Korean bulgogi and storing the Chex Mix my husband traditionally makes during the holiday season.  My husband was not in town and the house didn’t smell of marinating bulgogi.  “Did you….?” I asked my daughter as I lifted the lid.  Yes, she did.  There was a bowlful of Chex Mix.  My husband won’t be making Chex Mix this year; it’s already made.  Transition.

Earlier this week I began wrapping Christmas gifts.  I’m not into fancy packages, but I do like to use a little ribbon as d├ęcor.  The problem with using ribbon is getting it tied tightly around the package.  Having had children in my home for the last 35 years, there have always been little fingers available to hold the first tie of the ribbon in place while I tie the second, anchoring, tie.  As I began wrapping gifts this year I realized I’d have to hold the first tie myself because there are no children watching and waiting to offer a tiny finger.  Transition.

Small transitions, for sure, but reminders of the bigger transitions to come.  We’ll weather them as they come, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Re-cuuuuv-errrr-y

In 2001, at the age of 43, I walked the Portland Marathon.  I had severe blisters on my feet by the time I finished, but the next day I was feeling pretty good except for those darn blisters.  Around that time I remember a friend, a bit older than I, telling me how long it was taking him to recover from a ski injury.  He said an injury that used to take a couple of weeks to mend was now dragging into months of recuperation.  Now that I think about it, I think he was, then, about the age I am now – and I know what he meant!

Saturday I ran a 6k.  I ran it; I didn’t rock it (run-walk).  I was pretty proud of myself and feeling good about my fitness.  To be fair to myself, I also walked an additional three miles, stood for most of a football game, and sat in a car for five hours.  It was a long day – and I felt it Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday.  A decade ago a long physical day meant, perhaps a day of (say this in a perky voice) “recovery”.  Now I sadly realize my athletic activites take a greater toll and a long physical day entails days of (say this slow and low) “re-cuuuuv-errrr-y”.

I’m not letting that stop me, though.  Today I am going on a 9-mile hike with a group of women most of whom are older than me.  They’re fit and active and I’m sure they know about “re-cuuuuv-errrr-y”, but they’re out there setting the example for graceful, active aging – and I will be there, too.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Me v3.0

First comes love, then comes marriage,
then comes baby in a baby carriage.

Remember that silly childhood rhyme?  Well, I’m still in love and I’m still married, but I’m done with the baby carriage (except for grandchildren, of course).  Yesterday I settled our youngest child into her dorm room at college.  It was bittersweet.  On the one hand I’m excited for her and the new adventures I know are coming her way.  On the other, it’s always tough to leave a child the first time when they’re heading off into adulthood.  On yet another (hey, I’m a mom – obviously I have more than two hands), as I drove away mixing the “excited for her” emotions with the “leaving my baby” emotions, I also experienced a “Woo-hoo! I’m free!” emotion.

I know parenting doesn’t end when they’re eighteen.  My children range from 18 to almost 35 and I do plenty of parenting!  But it’s a different type of parenting than what we do the first eighteen years.  After children turn eighteen, parenting becomes more of a guiding role.  It isn’t necessary to care for their basic needs or be available for them every minute.  They’re out in the world growing their own lives and, piece by piece, child by child, I have been getting my own life back.

I’m thinking of this as Me v3.0.  V1 was childhood, v2 was adulthood with v2.1 being a focus on professional development, v2.2 was early parenthood, v2.3 experienced parenthood, etc.  Now, I’m ready for a new version of Me.  The adult Me with years of varied experience, but without the responsibility of caring for children on a daily basis.  This isn’t just an extension of v2, it’s all new and it’s all exciting.  It will probably take awhile to download and install the entire new version, but my internal drive is running well and I’m ready.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Rusty Brain

I remember as a kid working on math problems that made my head feel it would explode with the effort of comprehension.  Sometimes, when I’m writing, I get a similar feeling as I try to coerce the ideas in my head into words to be read.  Yesterday I experienced this feeling as I reconnected with a woman I worked with some thirty years ago.  We shared stories and compared notes on who we’d kept in touch with from our old workplace.  Names were brought up I’d known well thirty years ago, but that I hadn’t thought of in the intervening decades.  My mind struggled, digging deep to conjure faces to fit the names and who worked where.

My husband and I have used a dresser drawer analogy to deal with negative experiences.  At some point, it doesn’t pay to dwell on the negative – just put it in the drawer and shut it.  Sometimes “stuff” sneaks out of the drawer; sometime it’s necessary to reopen the drawer, but it’s comforting to be able to simply put some “stuff” in the drawer and let it go.  Yesterday, as I worked to remember faces and names, I felt my brain was full of old rusty file cabinets which hold the memories and information of my life.  Some of these file cabinets are really, really old and rusty and those were the ones I worked to open yesterday.  I felt my brain physically struggle to yank open some of those drawers.  Sometimes, the drawer would fly open with the effort and memories would come flooding back.  Other times, I simply could not open the drawer – the face, the memory just wouldn’t release back into my brain.

Today we’re heading off to our 40th high school reunion.  I’m anticipating a very tired, sore brain by the end of the day.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Like Mother, Like Daughter


Our local newspaper (which I really like) is running a contest (which I really don’t like) in honor of Mother’s Day.  It’s a Mother-Daughter Look-Alike contest.  The blurb about the contest starts out, “Do you have your mom’s smile? Do your daughter’s eyes look just like yours?”


Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with a mother and daughter looking alike.  It just seems superficial.  I have three wonderful daughters who resemble me in so many ways:  their determination, their kind hearts, their work ethic, their giving attitudes.  However, being adopted, and Asian to boot, they look nothing like me.  I feel a little miffed about this contest and it’s not simply an adoption issue.  There are lots of biologically related moms and daughters who do not look alike.  Does that make them, or my daughters and me, less special in our relationships?  No!  I’d much rather have my daughters be the type of people on the inside who exhibit positive attributes learned, at least partly, from me, their mom, than be concerned with whether or not we look alike on the outside.

Perhaps an essay contest would be better.  Mothers could write about what they see of themselves in their daughters.  Daughters could write about what important life lessons they learned from their mothers.  I could write about another trait my daughters and I share and for which I take full responsibility – a paralyzing fear of spiders.  Now that’s a mother-daughter act-alike winner!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Cootie Bugs and Briefcases

A cousin just posted this picture online and it gave me a jolt.  Not only did I have a beloved set of Cootie Bugs, but I realize now the way I cared for the set (always putting everything back in place) foretold what would become, I believe, one of my strongest traits:  being organized.  Both at home and at work (back when I went out for a job) I have always been very organized.  “A place for everything and everything in its place,” pretty much describes how I live and how I’ve managed to juggle the crazy schedule we call normal.

Years ago I realized another foretelling piece of play:  business grown-up.  I’d take my sister-in-law’s briefcase and a bunch of papers she had from some seminars she’d attended.  I would organize the papers into different piles based on color or size or content style, then I’d place them carefully into the slots of the briefcase before carrying it around the house like I was heading off to work.

Thinking of how obviously prophetic these two types of play were makes me ponder what other types of play might have been harbingers to other, more latent, traits or talents.  What do I have left inside me waiting to be discovered?  I think gracious, active aging demands we assume we have gifts left to be discovered.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bruce

When my husband and I started dating I learned he was a big fan of a new rock-n-roller named Bruce Springsteen.  At first I didn’t like Springsteen’s music.  I wasn’t much into lyrics and these lyrics, when you listened to them, were hard to piece together.  The sentences didn’t end with rhyming words and, in fact, the sentences often didn’t fully fill out a stanza.  I love to dance so, for me, music had always been about the rhythm.  I’m like one of those American Bandstand Rate-A-Record teens when it comes to music.  I like it if it’s got a good beat and it’s easy to dance to.  Springsteen’s music is a bit more complicated than that.

Over time, though, I learned to love his music.  Maybe I grew up a bit.  Maybe I really listened to the words.  Born to Run and Thunder Road became our anthems urging us to move beyond our small hometown.  A little later, when I was going through what I now suspect was a period of mild depression, Dancing in the Dark came out.  The lyrics were me (and it didn’t hurt that it had a good beat and was easy to dance to).  Our oldest son fell in love with the song Rosalita and could sing it all the way through before he was four.  We became a Springsteen family.  After 9-11, the album The Rising gave words to the feelings of loss and grief.  The first time I listened to it, we were on a road trip.  We put in the CD, my husband drove, I read the lyrics as I listened to the songs, and I cried.

Some songs were the antithesis of our experience or, perhaps, the songs helped us to work at taking a different path.

Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
I just act like a don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care

That wouldn’t be the marriage we wanted.  It isn’t the marriage we grew.  Maybe Springsteen’s darker lyrics help us take a brighter road.

We saw Bruce in concert last night.  Each time we see him in concert it’s an affirmation of who we are and how we got to this place.  I remember arriving at a concert years ago and wondering what was up with all the other people there.  My husband and I feel such a personal relationship with Springsteen; it was hard to believe that others might feel the same connection.  This morning my ears are still ringing, but I feel a sense of calm, gratitude, and hope.  I have lyrics running through my head…

Oh, oh, come take my hand
We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land

…and I feel grateful I took my husband’s hand.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Puddling Redux

Grandbaby #2 has arrived and, as I wrote in Grandma: APuddling Mess, I’m overflowing with love AGAIN!

He was born three days ago after a full night of labor for my daughter and two hours of phone calls and texts with me.  I had slept for two hours before the first text alerting me to her contractions and I slept for two hours after the last text from the hospital two hours later.  When I awoke at 4:00 a.m. I knew I wasn’t going back to sleep and I wanted to start prepping to be gone for a couple of weeks.  At 8:35, just before I was ready to leave, I received the text I was waiting for – he had arrived!

When I finally pulled in to the hospital parking lot several hours later, I was excited, but reserved.  After all, I’d done this before.  My daughter’s room was full of people.  Both she and her husband have large families and everyone has been awaiting the arrival of this little guy.   On his daddy’s side of the family, this is the first grandchild.  The baby was being held by one of his first time uncles who graciously asked me right away if I’d like to hold him (or maybe, at just shy of 20 years-old, a few minutes holding a baby had been enough for him).  As I took my new grandson into my arms, I was filled with delight – beautiful, lots of dark hair, his hands tucked up by his face.  Absolutely lovely.

It wasn’t until the next morning, as I scanned photos of him posted by family members, that it really hit me.  It’s not just that I’m a grandma again, it’s that this little guy is now part of our family.  I suddenly realized the immensity of that.  He will share holidays, birthdays, and family dinners with us.  He will soon recognize me as one of his special people.

There are plenty of not-so-great things about aging:  stiffness, aches and pains, wrinkles – I don’t need to go on.  But there are also plenty of good things about aging:  wisdom, calm, the ability to wear a red hat or a tiara if one so chooses, but perhaps the best thing about aging, the very best thing, is being a grandparent.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A New Sense of Calm

Photo credit:  Me
Note:  This post is also posted on my 366 Somedays blog because I think it is relevant to both blog topics.

This week I've noticed a foreign sense of calm within myself.  Once I realized it, I looked back to see if I could pinpoint when it began.  I can’t pinpoint a date, but I do know it’s been building for the last few weeks.  I say it’s foreign because my mind is usually racing, my nerves tied up with plans and worry, and something else – perhaps a heightened negative sense of some sort.  Now, my mind is still functioning, but it feels like it’s gently flowing, not racing.  My nerves?  I think of nerves as stress – again, flowing, not stressful.  And the “something else” is now this overall sense of calm.
                                               
I wonder if this is simply a matter of aging.  I’ve read that people tend to feel happier as they get older.  Is this new sense of calm simply me getting older?  As I read the research on this phenomenon, I really don’t think it applies to me right now.  One of the reasons people tend to get happier as they age is because they lower their expectations and accept their achievements.  Here I am, in the midst of my 366 Somedays tackling new goals every month, so I haven’t really lowered my expectations and accepted my past achievements as all inclusive.

I’m almost afraid to say it, but I think my new calm stems from the activities of my 366 Somedays.  I think my meditation practice, especially the loving kindness meditation, is having a positive effect on me.  I know daily exercise makes me feel good, but adding in the singing last week has changed my walks from exercise to a spiritual experience.  And yesterday I noticed that, when I’m not singing, I’m humming and humming also has therapeutic benefits.

I hoped the challenges of my 366 Somedays would bring satisfaction, but I wasn’t expecting calm.  This is another sign that stepping out and trying something new is good for us.  Now, if I could just whistle.  I read that whistling is also good for the body and mind.  Maybe learning to whistle should be one of my “somedays”.  No, let’s not push it!  I’ll meditate, I’ll sing a happy song, and I’ll hum a tune, but I don’t need to also whistle while I work.  Especially since, with all due respect to Lauren Bacall, there seems to be a lot more to it than "just put your lips together and blow."

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Grandma: A Puddling Mess

I’ve been a grandma for almost fifteen months and for almost fifteen months I’ve been trying to put my immense feelings of love into words.  I’ve failed in the past, but after last night, I will try again.

Last night my husband and I babysat our grandson at our house.  Normally when I babysit in the evening, I go to my son and daughter-in-law’s house, but this time they said it would be okay to bring him here and they would take him home in pajamas while he hopefully slept through the transition.  I haven’t yet heard how the “take him home” part went, but I’m hopeful it went well.  I meant to bring a portable crib to this house, but I forgot it at the other house.  For daytime naps, I have a full-size crib in our extra bedroom, but that bedroom is now occupied by daughter #1 and her husband who are transitioning back into life in the US after a year spent working abroad.  For naptimes, they graciously stay out of their room, but I knew they would want to go to bed as soon as they returned from an evening with friends.  Daughter #1 is 8-months pregnant and it had been a long day.  So, without a portable crib and not wanting to use the regular crib, I thought I’d just rock my grandson to sleep and lay him on a blanket on the floor while we waited for his mom and dad to return from their Date Night.

My grandson and I have a long history of rocking to sleep.  When he was an infant, I was fortunate to have many opportunities to care for him and to be allowed to rock him to sleep and hold him throughout his nap.  From Day One I always sang one of two songs to him while rocking and I always did a heartbeat-like pat on his back.  The routine of the rocking, the songs, and the patting, meant a quick trip to slumberland (sometimes for both of us).  My daughter-in-law has referred to it as my “magic”.  I’ve put him to sleep at a busy reception and at a loud major league baseball game.  As he became more aware of life, he even began to realize what I was doing.  Many times, he cuddled against me, but when I started to pat and sing, he’d rear back to look at me with a face that said, “Really?  You’re doing this again?” before crashing his head down and falling asleep.

Last night, as it neared his bedtime, I changed him into his pajamas, turned the lights low, and sat down in the rocking chair.  He knew what was up and he fought sleep, but as he did so, he cuddled against me, he gave me “kisses”, he looked up into my eyes with a look that brings me to tears now, just thinking about it.  He fought sleep for an hour and a half, but it was one of the loveliest ninety minutes of my life.

I’m still failing at explaining just how wonderful it is to be a grandma.  Before my grandson was born, people told me it would be great.  And I had no doubt it would.  I love being a mom.  I love my now-grown kids with a love I think they’ll only truly understand once they’re parents, so I expected being a grandma would be equally as great.  But, in many ways, being a grandma is even better than being a mom.  I don’t have responsibility for my grandson 24/7, so the time we have together is special.  When he is with me, I don’t plan to get anything else done.  I just enjoy him.  At first that meant rocking and cuddling for hours at a time.  Now it also means reading the same book over and over, exclaiming with exaggerated glee at some new feat, and not worrying about the toys spread across the floor or the fingerprints on the window – they’re both signs of his presence and they fill my heart.  It’s also knowing he loves me, too.  We expect a baby to love and prefer his parents – that’s the way it should be, but he and I have developed a special relationship and while I would never suppose to be at the level of his mom and dad in his affections, it’s heartwarming to see his delighted smile when he sees me through the window.  We have something special going on.

Next month, grandbaby #2 will arrive.  As I rocked grandbaby #1 last night, kissed his soft curls, and snuggled him against me, I was overwhelmed with love.  As we rocked I thought about starting over to build a similar relationship with the new baby and, I swear, my heart just about exploded with the thought.  Blessed with an unbelievably great husband.  Blessed with seven kids who are growing into or have grown into wonderful, caring, responsible adults.  And now, blessed with beautiful grandchildren whose lives we are invited to share!  Geez Louise, I’m a puddling, overflowing-with-love, mess.