Did They Just Say That?

Have you ever been the recipient of a totally out of line question or comment? I know I have and it’s left me dumbfounded more than once. I have also been guilty of throwing a few out there. Those were probably some of the most awkward moments of my life. It’s happened with family and friends. It’s happened with total strangers. These are some of the things I have heard done to others…

To a high school senior: So, what college are you going to and what are you going to be?

Not a horrible question, except for the young adult still trying to figure that out for themselves. Most don’t know what they are going to be. There are a few driven, focused individuals that somehow always knew what they wanted to be, but it’s rare. Even if they did, chances are they are going to change their minds in their junior year of college. They might be going for their core curriculum classes first, and deciding later. Let’s not forget that some graduates are going to end up in a tech school or going straight into a job. Not everybody can afford or desires to go to college.

To a pregnant woman: Can I touch your belly?

There are some things that are just off limits. Would you ask a non-pregnant woman if you could touch her belly? Of course not. For some reason though, people reach out and touch a pregnant belly. It’s not your child.  It’s intrusive!    It’s assault.

To a person pushing another in a wheelchair who is shopping for something:  Does she like blue?

Just because a person is physically challenged doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with their hearing or their brains. It also doesn’t mean that they can’t speak for themselves. They deserve to be treated the same as any other customer. Look them in the eye and talk to them, not about them.

To a woman who is overweight: When is the baby due?

What an embarrassment! There’s just no way to respond to this without a certain amount of outrage and even then the shock and embarrassment may keep you from being able to come up with any response at all. On the flip side of that, don’t ask a woman who’s already delivered her baby, but hasn’t lost the tummy yet, when the baby is due.

To a newly married couple: So, when are you going to have kids?

Just because a couple gets married doesn’t mean they want to start a family right away. It’s almost as bad as asking them how often they are going to have sex in order to achieve that goal. If you wouldn’t ask that, then why ask them when they are going to have kids? It’s possible that they can’t, or they may never want to, but either way, they shouldn’t have to explain that to you.

To a working guy: So, how much do you make a year?

How would you feel if someone asked how deep you are into credit card debt or what the balance is in your checkbook? It’s a personal question that doesn’t affect you in any way and doesn’t deserve an answer.  If he offered, that’s different. But then, we might think he’s bragging.

It’s amazing how some people can be and how rarely they realize that what they said was entirely inappropriate. More and more people these days just say whatever comes to mind without any thought to how hurtful, painful, or rude it may be. I can’t count the number of times that someone said something to me that left me pulling back and thinking, “Ouch!” Yet, I went on smiling, face flaming, again thinking to myself, “She didn’t just say that, did she? What am I supposed to say now? I think I’ll just quietly shrink back out of the room, unnoticed to lick my wounds…”

I am getting braver though. If it’s not someone close to me, I am more inclined to step back and say, “Excuse me?!”  It’s all in the delivery. You have to let your face show your emotions and your body’s physical reaction needs to convey the same reaction as if you’d been struck. Ok, maybe a little dramatic, but you get the drift. If you don’t draw attention to the faux pas they just delivered, they may never know that they did something wrong. If it’s someone close to me, I hope that I can take them to the side and explain what their remark made me feel like and that I would hope, as a friend they would never do that again. I wasn’t always able to do that, but I have learned over the years that if someone who professes to be your friend, says something hurtful or insulting, you should be able to let them know. If it ruins the friendship, you were never truly friends.

That said, I have been guilty of a few faux pas myself. I am not here to just point fingers because I too have let things slip out that I never should have even thought, not alone said. In all honesty, none were ever meant to be hurtful. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t hurt feelings. When made aware, I do apologize wholeheartedly. Most of the time, the injured party has had the grace to forgive me. Some, I’m not so sure of. My mother, may she rest in peace, was infamous for saying things that left quite a sting. Even my mother in law, who most of the time seemed saintly, would let fly with a remark that made you want to crawl into a hole. I can’t help but wonder if age has something to do with it. It’s possible that, with age, there is less concern about the effect our words have on others. Less worry about repercussions. I remember telling my kids years ago that if I ever started acting or talking like my mother, they had permission to just shoot me. They would laugh and I would look at them with a glance that said I was serious. Well, here we are. I feel myself bordering on becoming her and it scares me. Not because I think the kids will take me up on my offer, but that I could say hurtful things.

So, my message is for myself as much as for you. Think before you speak! And in some cases, mind your own business! We were taught that as children. I don’t know why we forget that later on. Just because your parent isn’t there to remind you to be quiet, doesn’t mean you have permission to speak freely. Ask yourself if it really needs to be said?  Then, ask yourself, does it hurt anyone? Is it unkind or unnecessary? Am I using the right tone or the right words to convey what I really mean? If you’ve gone through all of that, you should be ok. It doesn’t mean you won’t slip up. I do. We’re only human. I’m still making the effort. Let’s hope we can all still answer those questions honestly!

It’s Just Emotions

We have grown up believing that there were 6 or 7 basic emotions…happy, surprised, afraid, disgusted, angry, and sad (sometimes contempt is listed as the seventh). There is a new study, however, that says there are actually 27 categories. Imagine the myriad of possibilities! Like it wasn’t confusing enough to grow up with those basic 7. I find it amusing in this world of high tech everything, communication through machines more than in person, and the burgeoning language of emoticons to express what we feel, that we are only now supposedly discovering new ones. No wonder when you ask a guy what he’s feeling, he has a difficult time answering. It’s not his fault. Perhaps it’s simply that he was feeling somewhat hindered because he didn’t have a name he could express. I think most men today are comfortable enough to admit to those basic emotions at some time or another. It’s even ok now for a man to admit he’s afraid or finds something disgusting. But 27? That’s a lot of different feelings! I have my doubts.

Women, on the other hand, are renowned for being able to express their innermost feelings. Many men wish we wouldn’t, but let’s face it, we wouldn’t be women then, would we? I know from personal experience that I can probably run the gambit from happy to hurt, to angry, to vengeful in about 60 seconds. My husband finds it difficult to keep up with me. Fortunately, I find a substitute for vengeful fairly quickly and try to move on. Based on what others have told me their reactions are to things, I apparently am able to forgive fairly quickly too. Score one for me. 27 emotional categories? I am curious about these. What could they be? Have I truly lived and experienced them all?

According to the study, they are: Admiration, Adoration, Aesthetic Appreciation, Amusement, Anxiety, Awe, Awkwardness, Boredom, Calmness, Confusion, Craving, Disgust, Empathetic pain, Entrancement, Envy, Excitement, Fear, Horror, Interest, Joy, Nostalgia, Romance, Sadness, Satisfaction, Sexual desire, Sympathy, and Triumph. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have certainly felt all of those things many times over and was able to name it as such. There’s nothing new there. I was a little disappointed, to be honest. We must have needed a study to verify it though. I think they only had to ask any of us females to list what’s gone on in our lives over the last 6 months because we probably had that all covered, but perhaps that wouldn’t be scientific enough.

Is that what we admire, and simultaneously, despise in men? They are able to live within certain emotional ranges and usually have them under control. There are those rare exceptions who are out of control, but we are talking men in general. We, as women, are always asking them for more. We like that strength, that stoicism, but we don’t like the silence.  We push men to tell us what they are thinking, feeling, wanting. We also don’t always accept what they offer when they bravely make the attempt. If we ask him what’s bothering him and he says he’s just hungry and tired, we decide it’s time for the Great Inquisition and we have to dig deeper, just short of torture. It can’t possibly be that simple. There may not be anything to dig to find! And yet, somehow, we are disappointed. We can think of a thousand things he could have said.

Women are complex, or at least we like the mystery of that idea. We can call up any emotion we want at any given time, and yet, are perceived as out of control if we go beyond what men think are our boundaries. Most other women understand us. Men look at us like we grew horns and a third eye. The thought, “She’s crazy” crosses their minds. If he asks us what’s wrong, we say, “Nothing.”  We don’t mean that. It’s the opening tease. It’s saying, “Show me how much you care by trying to figure this out.” The shorter the answer, the more he needs to dig. We want him to pry. We want him to go to extreme lengths, so we have a good excuse to say exactly what’s on our minds. Tell me you haven’t done that a time or two!

I guess it’s what makes the world go round. Men can revel in the 7. We can flourish in the 27. Not understanding each other 100% keeps things interesting. What makes it work is that we still go on trying. The tug and pull of learning to live with and around each other. It’s just one of those things we need to recognize and accept. Compromise and work it out. It still doesn’t mean we won’t get irritated the next time we want to talk it out and he doesn’t. Say something! It doesn’t mean he won’t get irritated when we insist on letting him know how we feel about everything.  Blah, blah, blah. We need to start paying more attention to what we are actually doing instead of saying. Words can only convey just so much. We have to “read” each other. Learn what our partners show us emotionally by their actions. Couples, who are married a long time, learn how to diagnosis a situation at a glance. If we pay enough attention, we can do that with anyone. We have a tendency to let too much get in the way of that kind of intimacy.

We start as kids. When children try to tell adults what’s wrong, they often can’t come up with the words they need to make us understand. Instead, we feed them the words, naming their emotions, and they end up agreeing. What are we teaching them in doing that? Is that the reason it’s so hard for some adults to express those feelings? Maybe it was being told that some of our emotions were not acceptable like boys don’t cry and big girls don’t cry. Then, who is allowed to cry? We know that nothing could be further from the truth and yet we fight what we believe others may think of us if we are open and honest with our emotions. The trust it takes to be vulnerable with our emotions should never be broken. Nurture it. Take care of it. And the next time he clams up or appears to be ignoring you, it might not be about you at all. Read the signs. Show him the love. Let him know, when he’s ready, you’re going to be ready to hear it. If she’s bursting at the seams to have you find out what’s bothering her, give it a go. She’ll love you more for it in the end.

The Passage of Time

I had a wonderful time having my two daughters visiting this weekend, along with two of my four granddaughters. As it turns out, it was the oldest one and the youngest one as far as my own children go and my grandchildren too.  I always love it when any of the kids come to visit, particularly if it’s all three, but those times have become rare due to distance and obligations. I got my baby snuggles in with the 6 month old and got that full heart feeling as I sat and listened to my 17 year old granddaughter talk about starting her senior year this week.

I did notice something else this weekend. I watched my daughters being mothers and I heard them say things and do things that reminded me of being a young mom raising them. I felt the love they have for their children and am so proud of the way they are raising their own, but I felt, not just recognized, the passage of time. It doesn’t seem so terribly long ago that I was that young mother doing the best I could at being a mom. As we were all gathered around the table having a meal, I listened, I laughed, and I had a momentary sense of melancholy at the fact that those days were gone for me. The baby is sitting up and eating food now, not just formula. She has two teeth and is a happy baby, except when she’s tired and needs a nap. In that way, she’s a lot like her grandmother! My other granddaughter was talking about her experiences at her first job and the combined excitement and dread of the first day of school. I could hear the echoes in the room of past days when it was my own kids in those same situations, sharing those same thoughts. Everyone’s voices were rising and falling in conversation, sprinkled with giggles, guffaws, teasing, and understanding. I looked at my husband, who was in his glory with their presence, and saw the man I spent the last 41 years with building this life. Our girls were teasing him about his hair being too long and messy and I see the white overtaking the dark hair on the man who almost looked too young to get married when we did. In fact, his aunt asked his mother why he was marrying an older woman when I was actually 2 and half years younger than him. I like to think that it was those Irish boyish looks of his that made me appear older, not that I could have been decrepit at 19. If he hadn’t been on the other side of the table, I might have reached out to touch his hand at that moment, as though by touching him, it would erase that time. It can take my breath away at the thought that if my oldest granddaughter followed in her mother’s and my footsteps, I could be a great grandmother in 5 years, and my daughter a grandmother. How is that possible? It just doesn’t seem feasible.

I can stand in front of a mirror and look at myself, and be my own worst critic. I defy age by coloring my hair, although if I let it go, I’d only be slightly gray. My genes have given me that along with decent skin and very few wrinkles. I can still lift my cheeks, think about the cost of a face lift, and see the girl I used to be, but gravity brings me back to reality when I let go.  The eyes don’t quite sparkle the way they used to and aren’t quite as green anymore. If I look close enough, or better yet, put my glasses on, I can see the stray hairs that need to be plucked away. As I remind myself that I turn 60 this year, I think to myself, “Well, ole gal, you aren’t doing too badly!”  Then, I see a picture of Christy Brinkley and think, “Oh, hell. What have I done to myself?”

What have I done to myself? I lived life. I worked hard, lived through some rough experiences, made some tough choices, took care of lots of people, and left a legacy. I always applied myself 100% to everything and didn’t just give up. I remember the Carole King song, Tapestry, which I listened to as a young teen, and completely understand what she was singing about now.

My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue,

An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view.

A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold,

A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold

Impossible to hold in any way other than memory. The things that life has brought me have been interesting, heart breaking, joyous, and sorrowful. All woven together to create this woman who exists now. As beautiful and fragile as it is, I feel it slipping away through my fingers like silk, not velvet. I am not old, but I am not young. I move slower and have to concentrate harder. My face shows the years, but kindly. My heart has grown in more ways than I can count. I have loved, oh how I have loved, and I have no regrets for any of that. Each piece of fabric in my tapestry represents something to cherish, either for the joy it brought me or the lesson it taught me.

And yet, there is more to come. I am not a bucket list maker, but I feel there is so much more I have to offer. So much more to see and do. I hope I always feel that way and I hope I never give up on life. I can recognize the passage of time in fleeting moments that come more often now, but I am anxious to see what’s coming down the pike. We never truly know what life will brings us. The paths we think we will take versus the ones we might be forced to take. My granddaughter will graduate, go off to college, start making a life of her own, just like I did and her mother did. The babies will grow up and go through the same things. There will be more babies when my son marries and has a family. I hope we are blessed to see it through together. My tapestry could stand a few more rows, just as brightly hued. A woven bit of magic showing the passage of time.

Big Upsets in Life

You think you have all your ducks in a row, all your i’s dotted and your t’s crossed, and boom! Tropical Storm Harvey comes along and ruins it all. If it’s not Harvey, or some other natural disaster, it’s some other catastrophic event that erases all the hard work you put into having an organized life. No matter how hard we try to anticipate anything that can rock the boat, inevitably we miss something. Even the best relationships can be torn apart by a mistake. That’s why it’s really important to have a good solid foundation so when the hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes strike, there’s still something left to rebuild on.

Harvey can come in many forms. It can be an affair, financial difficulties, job loss, illness, loss of a loved one… All of them can destroy the comfortable place your world rests in. Any of them can leave you lonely, desperate, and feeling hopeless if you let them. So, what do you do when your world, as you know it, comes crashing down? As my father used to tell me, you pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with it. You can only allow yourself a short amount of time wallowing in self-pity before you take up permanent residency. It’s not a pleasant place to be.

We have a tendency to wait for the rescue, instead of taking steps to help ourselves. Just who do we think is going to do that? The Red Cross? FEMA? The military? God? Just maybe, we are not smart enough to figure this out on our own. Maybe we don’t recognize from whence our help cometh!

There is an old joke that goes something like this: It had been raining for days and days, and a great flood had come over the land. The waters rose so high that one man was forced to climb onto the roof of his house.

As the waters rose higher and higher, a man in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the rowboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and suddenly a speedboat appeared. “Climb in!” shouted a man in the boat. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the speedboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters continued to rise. A helicopter appeared and over the loudspeaker, the pilot announced he would lower a rope to the man on the roof. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the helicopter went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and eventually they rose so high that the man on the roof was washed away, and alas, the poor man drowned.

Upon arriving in heaven, the man marched straight over to God. “Heavenly Father,” he said, “I had faith in you… I prayed to you to save me, and yet you did nothing. Why?” God gave him a puzzled look, and replied, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

Sometimes our expectations are part of the reason for the disasters. It’s also part of the reason we may never recover from them. Once we are over the initial shock, we have choices to make. Do we have to be hit over the head with a 2×4 to see the reality of the situation? We were given a brain to use and heart to feel and how we choose to use them is what makes the difference. We can live as though nothing ever goes right or we can always look for the silver lining. Maybe we need to compromise with something in between. Some people are better prepared to handle life’s misfortunes because they’ve had a hard row to hoe, experienced many things that would truly destroy others and have survived, or just have an exceptionally good outlook on life no matter what comes their way. It’s like cancer survivors or those with near death experiences. Their stories are often inspirational and they have been given a new lease on life that makes them find joy in every moment. There are those who seem to skirt through life unscathed and blissfully ignorant of other’s suffering. When something does happen, it definitely knocks the wind out of their sails. Sometimes when I tell my story, I have had the surprised reaction from my listeners who are amazed that I have gotten through it all, and still come across as understanding, emotionally stable, and unscarred. Yet, I don’t view it that way. I just see it as part of life, and it made me what I am today. I could go around lamenting about my past or be terribly downtrodden, but for what purpose? I could put the blame on others or want revenge, but it wouldn’t make me feel better or change anything. What I do today, what I do tomorrow, matters more than anything that came before. The old saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” really does say it all. Even if you lose everything – your home, your spouse, and your way of life – we are all given a chance to either get on the other side of that or to give up. By giving up, you are not honoring anything you had and are saying it wasn’t worth trying for again. Working towards it again allows you another chance to have it and to cherish it, possibly laying better groundwork for keeping it.

We all have our bad days and feel like giving up. We also have days that feel so good that it’s like playing that one beautiful hole on the golf course that brings you back again and again, hoping for the same or more. Stringing bad times together makes weeks and months and years of nothing good. Pulling yourself together and wanting better gets you on your way to recovery.

So, when you feel like everything is over, that you have nothing to look forward to, or nothing to cling to, take a good hard look around. There are those who are there to support you. There are options to choose. There are things to be gained from what you’ve just gone through. You aren’t really alone. You aren’t really stuck. This is a new day. Don’t miss that rowboat, speedboat, or helicopter. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with it!

Going Back to Work

For years I was a stay at home mom. That allowed me to do a lot of things and made me available to be a caregiver for family for many years. It was a good life, and I would never change that decision, but I always knew I wanted to do more once the kids were grown. Eventually, I was able to go to work.  I worked at a credit union for a while and did retail too. Definitely preferred the banking business. I did learn that people are extremely sensitive when it comes to money. You had to have a tough hide with some of the customers. At one time, I had my own decorating business. I dabbled at being an office manager in a few places, including a real estate office. I was always interested in real estate and watched the housing market all of the time, so it seemed a natural job to do. I started college at the age of 50 with hopes of at least an associate’s degree. I enjoyed that very much. I did some religious studies and became a youth minister as well. I loved that work, but not sure how long I could have kept up the hectic schedule I felt I needed to keep in order to do my job properly. It wasn’t unusual for me to do 80 to 90 hours a week when I was carrying two paying positions and two volunteer ones. I marvel at my stamina in those days.

Which brings me back to the fact that I have not had a paying job since 2012. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy.  I had gone back to being the homemaker waiting for my husband to come home from work with dinner on the table and a spotless house. I believed my home, when I wasn’t working outside the home, was my job. I took great pride in my cooking, baking, sewing, crafting, decorating, whatever I chose to do to occupy myself and make a happy home. Hubby never had to cut the grass either.  We are home renovation nuts, so there have always been big and small projects we did together. I was the consummate volunteer, so it wasn’t like I didn’t get out and get involved, but my home was where I felt the most comfortable. Always in the back of my mind sat the thought that I should and could be doing more.  I became a relationship coach with the support and encouragement of my family and a dear friend who is a career coach.  I could work from home, set my own hours, help people, and have the luxury of writing, something I enjoy immensely.

Well, that all changed this past week. I am such a softie that I was doing pro bono work instead of charging for my time. Helping people was a higher calling than a paycheck. But, living in retirement has its pluses and minuses. We are always budget conscious. We weren’t enjoying life in the way we wanted to. Changes are coming about for our family, some happy, some not. That extra cushion was something we talked about a lot. So, I heard about a job opening a week and a half ago on a Friday night and pulled my resume together. Not an easy thing to do when you’ve been ignoring it for the past 5 years. Finding it was a feat in and of itself. I finally found it on an old external hard drive shoved in the desk. I showed up for an interview on Monday morning, was hired by text in the afternoon, a new experience for me, and went in to do paperwork on Tuesday. I ended up working for 2 hours instead and started my part time, 4 hours a day, 5 days a week job at a real estate office. I started doubting my abilities and asking myself if I was crazy to do this right off the bat.

Here’s the thing. I have done this work before, but in the 11 years since I did it, some things have changed. Imagine that! I am not computer illiterate, but let’s face it, I didn’t have to do spreadsheets or use Excel in my daily housekeeping. Now that I think about it, maybe I should have, but I didn’t. I now find myself sitting in front of that computer screen at work, silently talking to myself. I tell myself that I can do it. Self-affirmation is the first step to success, I tell myself.  Then, I convince my heart to quit pounding and to remain calm, so I can think clearly. With a few deep breaths the panic subsides and I manage to call forth things that were buried in the deep recesses of my mind. I tend to write a lot of notes for myself, mostly so I don’t forget important things, but also so I can rectify a possible disaster should I do something wrong. I have to admit though, there are so many things that I just do not know.  No amount of experience in that stretched out amount of time leaves you proficient with much. When I run into that, my first instinct is to call my daughter. She’s smart and capable and has saved me more times than I can count at home with my computer or things I want to do. I fight that urge because, after all, she’s not getting paid to do the job. How will I learn if I don’t try to do it? The only thing I can do is to make an attempt and hope for the best. I used to be a lot more afraid of making an irreversible mistake than I am now. Not that I couldn’t do something terrible, but I do know there are safeguards against too much damage. I hope.

Getting through my first regular day left me feeling exhausted, but also excited that I’d managed to start pulling together some semblance of my job. Each day it’s getting a little better. I am grateful that my boss isn’t throwing everything at me at once. I still feel like I’m faking it. I can live by the motto: Fake it till you make it! I am giving myself a month before I start being hard on myself. By then, I should have a grasp of the situation and handling most tasks without the constant fear I now carry with me. No one will be harder on me than I am on myself. I recognize that there will always be room for improvement, both in the way things are done and the way I do things. There are probably faster, easier ways, but we can only do what we know how to do.

There is something really exhilarating about a challenge. I feel challenged doing this job. Sometimes a little too challenged just yet, but the sheer satisfaction of a job well done makes me feel good about myself. That’s important at any time in your life, but considering my age and experience, it’s particularly important to me. I had many things that could go against me, like my age. I found someone willing to take a chance on me. We should never be afraid to at least try for things. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I am learning new things, so that’s good for my brain. I get to meet new people and be more of a part of the community than before. I like working part time because I can still do what I enjoy in my off time and keep the home fires burning. It feels odd to say goodbye to my husband every morning because I’m the one leaving, not him. I look forward to coming home and talking about what happened while we were apart. He likes to get projects done while I’m gone to surprise me. I am still working on a new routine, trying to get everything done that I was doing before, but with 4 and half less hours a day to do it in. I never did feel like I had enough time. Now, I have to set priorities and be more time conscious. If I happen to need a whole new wardrobe, it’s not the end of the world. No, not yet. Maybe after I put a few paychecks away in the bank. For now, I am going to try to be the best employee I can be. I will give it my all. It’s the only way I’ve ever done anything.

So, if the opportunity to try something new comes up for you, don’t let your fears or insecurities keep you from going for it. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Even if you fail, you will learn things that could help you to succeed at other things. You aren’t too old. You aren’t too behind the times. Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. You can do this!

Being Family through Divorce

It’s a painful thing to see your child going through a divorce even if you know that it’s really the best way to deal with a bad situation. It’s not what you wanted for them. You try to be supportive and offer sage advice, but if you haven’t gone through it yourself, it’s like flying blind. Feeling their disappointment and hurt is so painful, yet all that you can do is offer your love.

 It’s even harder to see it affect your grandchild at an age of such lovely innocence that they don’t really know about bad people or bad things. No matter how hard you try, the little ones pick up on feelings and emotions and overhear much more than you’d ever want them to. My one granddaughter is four years old. She will start pre-school next month. Of course, I think she’s brilliant because she’s my granddaughter. Children tend to bring even the most complicated things down to basics. A few weekends ago, she was visiting us with her mom and little sisters. She woke up early and, when she heard her Grampa and I moving around, she bounded into the bedroom and into our bed. Grampa was reading in a chair, so I climbed back into bed with her and asked if she’d like to watch cartoons until everyone else was awake. I turned them on, but she wasn’t really interested. She looked at me and said, “Mom and Dad aren’t married anymore.” I thought to myself that there was no reason to go into explaining that the divorce didn’t happen yet and so I just told her that her parents both love her very much. I knew this was a poignant moment that I needed to handle well. She then told me that her dad wanted to move away from them. My heart lurched, but I tried to stay calm and matter of fact. I told her that she would still see her daddy. At that point, she was done with the conversation. Of course, later I thought of all kinds of things I could have said at the time, but as I said, no experience with this.

Later in the day, we all went to Kmart because it seemed that all 3 girls had suddenly gone through growth spurts as only children can do and had very few outfits that still fit. There was a good sale going on and, while shopping, my granddaughter said she needed to use the restroom. I took her in and as we were walking back to her mom, she took my hand and said, “You took me to the restroom because you love me, didn’t you, Grandma?” I squeezed her hand and said, “Yes, I love you.” She stopped, looked up at me, and then quietly asked, “Will you always love me?” By now, I had tears in my eyes and my throat was tight. I looked down at her, touched her face, and told her, “Forever and ever.” I knew that the reassurances she was asking for had nothing to do with just asking questions. She needed to know that some things don’t change and that she could count on me loving her. Her little world was topsy turvy and she didn’t know which end was up. The other two younger girls are blissfully unaware of anything and the day will come when they will hear the story, but it’s a long time in coming. No, we have to make sure that the four year old doesn’t blame herself or think that she did something wrong. We have to reassure her that her parents still love her no matter what and that she always has her grandparents and aunts and uncles who adore her. Her story will always be different than her sisters’. She will remember more. It’s a tough spot for a little one to be in.

As adults, we have to try to handle it like adults and not angry, petulant children. We have to not be negative about the situation. We have to avoid saying anything unkind or derogatory about the spouse. We can’t argue or fight in front of the children or anywhere within earshot.

The child can’t be used as a bargaining chip or feel that they are in the midst of a battle or tug of war. The time spent with the child should be a carefree, memory making time. Keep planned schedules, events, and activities. Don’t disappoint them by not showing up or showing up late. It only makes them feel unwanted.

Depending on the age of the child, determine whether or not major changes in their routines or residence is necessary. Older children have friends and activities that they are used to having around. Uprooting them from their usual surroundings only adds to the instability they already feel. It will cause anger and resentment in some. If it is necessary, try making it an adventure and to keep their belongings with them. Any familiarity will bring comfort.

Your child may act out and not understand why they are doing it. They can’t understand adult situations. It causes confusion and conflict. You need to take the time to talk to them about what’s going on and how they feel about it. Their feelings aren’t wrong, but how they handle it may be. 

Be a better parent by showing them that you still care about one another’s well-being for their sake. This was a person you loved, and may still love, so teach them that although you can no longer live together or make a life together, you still care. Show respect to one another and be considerate. This is the father/mother of your children.

Show a united front on serious matters that involve the child. Don’t let the child start to use one of you against the other to get what they want. They are children and don’t know what’s best for them. You still need to co-parent.

Be careful introducing new love interests into their lives. Your front door shouldn’t be a revolving door involving your children in your relationships before it’s time. They probably still harbor hope that Mom and Dad will reunite. A new person starts tearing that idea to bits. Any new person needs to understand that you are a package deal too. They need to fit into your life with your children, not the other way around.

Remember that your child did not choose this life for themselves. They must come first and the decisions that you make jointly need to be what is best for them. With each of you providing a loving, stable home for them, they can still grow up being well adjusted, happy people. They will still believe in marriage. They will still believe in love. Keeping the divorce between the two of you will allow your child to see that even though things don’t always work out the way we hope, there can still be a happy ending.

The Others in Our Lives

I don’t know about you, but I tend to get slightly attached to people in my life that provide a service to me. I know we pay them to do their jobs, but we start looking at them more like family, friends, or at least close acquaintances. I think most of us would agree that we want to feel like our doctors care about us. If someone is going to poke, prod, and diagnose this old body, I want to like and respect them. It is why, after giving my new doctor three tries to make a good impression on me, I have fired him and returned to my doctor of over 20 years, despite the hour and half drive to get there. When I told my doctor she was worth the drive, she patted her hair, smiled, and said, “I know it”. She listens to me. She talks to me, not at me. That’s the kind of doctor I want. It’s the same with my chiropractor. Dr. Crackalacka, not his real name, is my hero. No fancy machines. No 6 weeks of scheduled appointments. 15 minutes with him and I am a new woman. He says to call if I need to come back. I can even go to his home closer to me if I need him. He gave me his cell phone number. It doesn’t matter that he probably does that with all of his clients. I believe I am secretly crushing on him.

I get attached to my hairdressers too. When I find a good one that makes me feel better about myself and seems to know just how to cut my hair, I never want to leave them. Moving three years ago forced me to embark on that mission to replace my hairdresser, and it’s sad to say, with little success. Today, I managed to get my third worst haircut of my life by a professional. I say professionally because at the age of 13, my mother was still cutting my hair. We couldn’t afford salons for all of us. A neighbor girl, who was my age, had gone to get a shag haircut at a salon. That was all the rage in the mid ‘70s. My mother asked how it was done. The girl said that the hairdresser simply pulled all of her hair up over her head and cut it straight across and it just fell into layers. In theory that might have worked. Alas, when my mother did it to me, she cut it too short and I had what could only be termed as a disaster left on my head. Today, it might be fashionable to wear spiked hair, but in those days, I was a freak. I wore a wig for 3 months waiting for it to grow back in. I will never forget how bad a $14.95 wig from K-mart could look, but at least it was better than my own hair.

Today, I didn’t leave in tears like I did the first two times a bad haircut happened. The first time I cried over a cut was back in the early 80’s when I used to go to a place in the mall in Dearborn, Michigan that had clientele like Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. He was a notable pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. Very trendy. I had a flamboyant, in your face, arrogant guy who decided to grace me with his creativity. He cut, nay butchered, my hair and I was appalled. Not only by how bad it looked, but the price he charged as well!

The second one was the day of my 35th high school class reunion. I believe the young woman had a grudge against society and took it all out on my head that day. There was no saving it or covering it up. My poor husband had to try to console me and the best he could come up with was, “It will grow back in honey.” Yes, it’s just hair. My crowning glory as the Bible puts it. I would see people I hadn’t seen in 35 years looking like this! I plastered on a smile and got on with it. What else could I do? K-mart didn’t sell wigs anymore. It shouldn’t be so hard to get a good haircut by people trained to do it. That’s why when I find a good one, I want to adopt them and take them home with me. I trust them. I know them. I also tip extremely well to keep from losing them.

We enjoy the familiarity of those we see on a regular basis and who make us better in one way or another. I even classify my pizza place that way. I like the fact that when I call, they know it’s me. Never mind the new telephone systems that identify the caller and bring you up on the computer, I feel they know it’s me anyway. They ask what they can get for me. I can say the usual because they can look up my last order and repeat it, but in my mind, I prefer to believe that they just know. The mailperson and the garbage men get cookies from me for Christmas with a card because I appreciate what they do for me. I don’t know them from Adam, but by golly, they deliver my mail every day and pick up my garbage every week and deserve that recognition. I want them to feel loved.

These people help keep my life orderly and running on schedules. They make my life better in many respects. Yes, I pay for their services, but you know when you are getting that little bit extra or they are going a little beyond the norm. I researched how much one should tip for services rendered. If you have made me like you, all the better for you. Every hotel I have stayed in for any extended periods of time, you will find staff that recognizes me, welcomes me back, and is willing to bend over backwards to accommodate me. Why? It is because I recognized their efforts and rewarded them. I treat them like people with feelings, not a robot who performs tasks. I talk to them. I show them respect and consideration. I do large baskets for the staff at holidays and give large tips out personally to the housekeeping staff. They all get cards of thanks.

No, you don’t have to do those things. There is no punishment doled out to those who don’t extend themselves in this way. I just find that it makes me happy to make them happy. It feels good and right. Even little considerations, like a note of thanks, or a smile and greeting when you see them, is appreciated. The last stay I had I ran into a maid I knew from another hotel. We passed each other in the hall, made light conversation, and went about our business. When I returned to our room, there was a towel swan on my bed with a note saying how nice it was to see me again. She did it because she knew I’d appreciate it. Of course, she got a bigger tip too.

Little things mean a lot and the relationships we develop with others that help to make our world a little easier, a little nicer, and a lot more comfortable should be given the credit they are due. You know how you feel when you do something special for someone and they let you know that they are aware of it. Let’s share that feeling. Spread it around like peanut butter on a hot bagel. And, by the way, don’t forget the friendly waitress at your favorite breakfast spot, with the cook who waves at you from the kitchen, that always serves you the medium toast, hash browns crispy on both sides, extra crispy bacon, and your eggs over easy with a firm yolk, just the way you like them!

He’s Not Crazy, He’s My Friend

Dealing with a friend who is bipolar can be really challenging. Some days I feel able and ready, but just as many times, I end up frustrated and annoyed. They will never know it because I know how hurtful that would be. It’s an emotional roller coaster that never seems to end. It only hits the highs, the lows, and maybe as a slight reprieve, a few straightaways. You never know where you are on that ride at any given time. I don’t think there is any surefire way to handle a relationship with a person who is bipolar, but there are things you can do to help you, and them, through it.

  1. It could be like Lady Gaga’s song, “Born This Way”. They are not at fault for being ill. They might have been born this way. In some cases, it is family history or traumatic experiences and, in some cases, it can be the way they are wired. It’s an illness, not a disease. There is no cure, but there is help. They can’t just not be this way because you want them to be ok. They don’t want to be this way either. Remember that when you lose your patience or become frustrated.
  2. Find out what you can about this condition. The more you know, the more you can help. Nothing is more upsetting than knowing your friend is suffering and you have no idea how to go about helping. It’s a lot of information about drugs, moods, and what to expect in the relationship.
  3. Talk about what to expect! Expect to not know what to expect. At any given time, on any given day, your friend can think, react, talk, and behave completely different than what you might be aware. You will know right away what you are facing when you see them or talk to them, but the ‘normal’ states can be few and far between. Just because they were having a good day the last time you talked to them does not mean you should expect that to continue. When it does, it’s wonderful.
  4. Don’t feel sorry for them. If you do, don’t let them know it. You need to have compassion and understanding, but the last thing they need is your pity. They can have a pity party better than anyone can and all by themselves. They need you to help them realize that you understand that life is particularly challenging at times, but you believe in them and their ability to handle it. You will be there to support them and remain a friend.
  5. Don’t try to speak to them in a clinical way. If they are getting treatment, they get all of that they need. They want to hear your emotions, your real thoughts, and your real intention of support. I’ve gotten in the habit of trying to set aside thoughts of an Inquisition. I try to work it into the conversation to check whether they are taking their meds and in the right dose. Don’t be angry if they say they aren’t. There are a lot of reasons why patients end up refusing to take them. The drugs can change their sex lives, curb their creativity, affect their emotional reactions to things, make them feel sedated, and cause them to put on weight. Some people mistakenly believe that they are well after taking the drugs and leveling out, but not realizing that they will plunge back into their manic/depressive states fairly quickly without them. They might even try weaning themselves off or cutting pills in half to try to determine what works without the side effects. Your friend doesn’t need a lecture about the medications. Just suggest to them that they talk to their doctor about what they are experiencing as soon as possible.
  6. Try to help them stay healthy. Exercise, good diet, meditation, and activities might help them to maintain their condition. They need enough sleep, but not too much. Depressed persons tend to sleep too much, which only exacerbates the depression. They don’t need someone who encourages or indulges in their bad habits, especially if they have an addictive personality, which often goes hand in hand with bipolar.
  7. Chances are they are never going to be there for you in the way that you are for them. It’s not that they don’t want to be. They just can’t handle the emotional aspect many times. Life for them is living on the edge. They can’t sort through their own issues to help you tackle yours. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you or care about you.
  8. They might only need you to listen. Let them rant. Let them cry. Let them express what’s going on in their lives. They might not respond to attempts you make at finding solutions. If you find they are talking about suicide, checking out, or looking for an opportunity to force someone else’s hand in aiding them, let their doctor know. Do not assume that they don’t mean it. Reaching out to you might be their way of asking for help. Understand that they may know that if they do tell you, you will stop them and will decide not to tell you that they are being suicidal. Don’t tell them to calm down or get themselves together. It will only anger them. Ask them if there is anything you can do such as taking a walk or meeting for coffee. Wait for them to be in a better place mentally before you make suggestions about how they can get back on track. They just need to know that you are not giving up on them and will be there for them.
  9. It’s possible that they aren’t being honest with you about everything. They might fear losing your friendship if they tell you everything they do or how they really feel. It’s not unusual for them to say negative or hurtful things to you in an effort to ‘protect’ you from what’s happening with them. They may push you away to save you from them. I tell them that no matter what they say that hurts me, I know it’s their illness talking, not them. It’s also not unusual for them to engage in dangerous or promiscuous activities in an effort to ‘feel’ something. Your friend might believe you will walk away if you know the real truth. Stay in touch, stay involved, and get help if you need it in dealing with your situation.
  10. Should they attempt suicide or succeed in killing themselves, do not try to second guess what you should have or could have done to save them. If you have truly been a friend, there is nothing more you could have done. You were not in control of the situation and are not responsible. Their mental state and inability to deal with the ongoing pain made them cause harm to themselves, not you.

It’s not easy loving or caring about someone who suffers with mental illness. They can live full, productive, and happy lives with treatment. It’s important that you don’t end up with more emotional and mental stress than you should take on. It can happen much too easily if you aren’t careful.  It’s ok to go the range of emotions about this. It’s how you handle it that matters. Try to keep the relationship as real and honest as possible. Know that it’s not going to be an easy road but your friend might very well be worth it.

Looking Back

Ah, the memories! It’s funny how something as simple as an object or a song can take you to another place and time, filling your mind with details, not always accurate, of a past experience. I sit here in front of a big picture window at a friend’s house looking a very large Catalpa tree. If you aren’t familiar with them, they have very large leaves and a long, almost green bean like seed pod that extends down out of the branches. When we were kids we called it a cigar tree. Kids in my neighborhood used to say you could smoke them. I don’t know that anyone ever tried it, but the thought was always there. We would snatch those off of the tree and try to open them with a pocket knife that every boy carried in his pocket, or hit each other with them which really hurt, or pretend that they were cigars. We thought we were being so cool. We didn’t know the hazards of smoking then and most of our parents smoked anyway. We were just being like “adults”.

As I picture the house I grew up in, I remember spots in the yard where I had my 4-H garden and grew something for the first time and how my dad dusted the ground with lime so that the cut worms didn’t eat everything I planted. I can still see the worm bed my brother built and tended for his project. I think we both got blue ribbons on those. There was my mother’s favorite Snowball tree, the climbing pink roses outside my bedroom window, and the apple tree we had our swing on.  I remember the side yard where I played rolling down the little hill or learned to ride a bike with the help of a neighbor boy who told me I could do it on his bike. And oh, the buttercups I picked and tasted because everyone said you could eat them and that they tasted like butter. They never did to me.  There was the orchard on the back of the property with the best trees to climb and the field where we played ball and I learned to drive a car.

Behind the house stood two outhouses, one for men, one for women, clearly marked. My mother kept them spotless and all summer we were told to use those instead of tracking into the house to go to the bathroom. I never got over the fear of falling in the seat hole. We also had two cottages on the property that were rented out, but had no indoor bathrooms. That may sound strange to people now, but the tenants lived in those cottages for years and long before my parents bought the place. They used the outhouses during the day and I assume, bathed in wash tubs or something in their homes, maybe on Saturday nights. We never snuck up to peak into windows or we’d be in big trouble. My mother would have told us not to be “nebby noses”, a Pittsburgh area colloquialism, and I could only guess at the sort of punishment doled out over the lack of decency in our behavior had we done something like that. The one couple, the McConnells, were very sweet and kind. They treated us like grandkids and I loved seeing them. When she passed away, Mr. McConnell didn’t last long past her and everyone said he died of a broken heart. In the other cottage, lived a man in his 90’s who had a companion. I remember her name being Myrtle and she was in her early 80’s. Even though my mother would get a terse look about her at the mention of her name, as kids, we didn’t think anything of their living arrangement. The only thing we did need to worry about is when the old gent would decide to take a ride in his big, black car. He would swerve all over the place and come down through the middle of the yard much too fast, whether we were playing there or not. The first person to see him coming would yell to get out of the way and we would run as fast as we could to get as far away as possible. We’d fall to the ground, laughing and grabbing our chests as though it was the most dangerous thing that could ever happen to us. He never did hit anything, but it was a miracle he didn’t.

Our summer days were filled with playing baseball or football in our yard or another neighbor’s, exploring the woods, swimming in the strip mine, or riding bikes. Once in a while, if it was too hot to be overly active, we’d pop tar bubbles on the road with our toes, use rocks to set off strips from cap guns, or play a board game on a shady porch. In the winter, it was sled riding down the hill of our road or building snow forts until we were too cold or it was getting too dark to stay out. My favorite thing to do, when I went in cold and wet, was to sit over the heat register on a chair and drink the hot cocoa my mother made in a big pot on the stove. My fingers and toes were numb and, as they warmed up, they would begin to tingle. When I got the feeling back, I’d beg to go outside again. The fun was all worth it. We were never bored and always had someone to do something with and yet, we hardly ever went inside anybody’s house. It was perfectly fine with your mother too if someone else’s mom had to tell you to go home or to stop doing something. You could hope and pray that she didn’t tell your mother what happened though. If she did call your mother about it, then somehow everyone on our 10 party line found out about it too.

I can tell you who lived where and in what house for at least 2 miles in any direction from our house. For at least one year, we had 21 kids at our bus stop kitty corner from our house. It was in front of drainage culvert and once, an older boy that seemed to pick on me endlessly, backed me up far enough that I fell into it. Fortunately, I was still small enough that the overgrown brush caught me and kept me from getting wet, but my pretty little yellow dress was snagged and soiled and I had to go to school like that. I never forgave him for that. With the exception of a few of those kinds of incidents, it was a safe little world and I loved it. I am sure my memories have blurred a little over the years and maybe softened the hard edges, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  I had wonderful friends, great playmates, people who cared about me, and always something new to explore.

Looking at this catalpa tree brought that all flooding back to me. The house I grew up in is no longer there. There are very few people left there that were there when I went into the service 43 years ago. When I think of them, everyone is right back there. Gramma Coll is sitting on one of her several couches on the front porch, waiting for her daughter, Jenny to come home from work. Jenny was someone I idolized. She was beautiful, had great clothes, drove a new car, and was a working, single woman. Mrs. Gallagher and Mrs. Clark, elderly sisters who lived side by side, were having a “discussion” about the grape harbor I would be asked to help clean out for Mrs. Gallagher after Mrs. Clark gave me my crochet lessons. If I stopped up at Eck’s, Mrs. Eck would be in the kitchen doing something, usually with a bottle of Pepsi nearby. I never saw her in any other room of her house, although I am sure she wasn’t a permanent fixture. Clarabelle, the pet chicken, would be outside on the porch hoping someone would feed her Cheerios. Sometimes my mother would ask me to walk a check over to Mrs. Dixon’s house to pay the property taxes because she was the tax collector. I would have to get my face washed, make sure I was presentable, get a lecture about being polite and how important this check was, and to make sure I waited for a receipt. I knew everyone and everyone knew me.

 It may only be in my mind, but it’s a wonderful place to escape to and relive those times. A lot has happened over the years, people have passed away and moved on, but many of us have reconnected over Facebook. It’s a “family” that goes beyond blood, beyond history, beyond our lives now. Someday, I’d love to have a reunion and see how close our memories all match up. In the meantime though, I’ll enjoy them just the way they are any time something makes me remember.

Proudly They Serve

I thought my son was flying back from training in Texas to his base in Kansas by military flight today. When my phone dinged me awake with a headline from Time magazine that a military flight went down, killing all 16 aboard, my heart stopped. I slid the headline on my screen to get the article, and in my rush, did something wrong that it wouldn’t come up. My husband walked in just then and asked what was wrong, I told him, and he headed to his computer. Time dragged until he found it and said it was a group of Marines on a C-130. The relief washed over me and just as quickly, I thought of the families of those 16. It made me hurt for them.

This is the life of a military family. It’s the same whether you are a spouse, a child, a parent, or a close friend. It’s always somewhere in the back of your mind.  You tuck it away or you’d go crazy with worry. Having been in the military myself, I understand the life. I know what can happen too. I lost friends in plane crashes when I was in the Air Force. One I had seen just the day before and another one, I had gotten a post card from saying he couldn’t wait to get back and for us to go on our first date. There were others. I remember sitting for hours through the night waiting for word on survivors more than once. It’s not something you get used to. I have more sympathy for my parents now over having 3 of us in the military at the same time.

My neighbor said to me yesterday that she didn’t know how I handled it. I just shrugged and said it’s just something you do. And then, when that happened this morning, it brought back that conversation and I wondered how well I do handle it. I guess I do to a point and we have been blessed so far. Then, I think of how many families are doing the same thing, every day, every night. Our thoughts go out to those who are serving overseas in areas we have only ever seen on the news and about which we hardly ever hear anything good. We know they can go down in planes, be blown up by IED’s, or shot at by snipers. We pray they will come home safely. Back to their families and homes. What we don’t think about are the men and women, who in doing their regular assigned jobs here in the states, are harmed or killed.

Training is required. That training is supposed to recreate life threatening situations in order to properly prepare them for their missions. Training accidents happen often. We don’t hear about all of them. All of those going to and from training have to be transported, leaving them open to the public or to mishaps out of their control. When I was in the military, we received a military discount if we traveled in uniform. It’s frowned on now because it puts a target on any service member who does travel that way. They prefer we don’t use their rank on mail they receive at civilian post offices and housing because it draws attention to them. You don’t see the bumper stickers or special plates for active duty, just retired. They don’t post much on Facebook or Twitter. Again, don’t be a target. That’s here at home in the good ole U.S. of A. Overseas, they try to be invisible when mixing with the public. On base or off base, always on alert. Our people are not loved in every country.

There are also those whose jobs are just as dangerous as their civilian counterparts. My son is a cop in the Air Force. He handles domestic violence situations, stand offs due to mental illness, accident investigations, transporting prisoners, first line of defense at a base, among other things, and there are many just like him at every base here at home and abroad. Many who do the jobs others don’t have the courage to do. They do it with honor and very little recognition. Some do their duty in complete secrecy, even from their families. They tell their families not to ask questions because they can’t give those answers. The husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, and children left behind waiting, worrying, and wondering where and how they are, never knowing what may happen to their loved ones every time they walk out the door or even if they will ever know what really took place when something does happen. It’s not always possible without putting the rest of us and their fellow service people at risk.

It’s not an easy job, but somebody’s got to do it. Our men and women who volunteered to dedicate their very lives to the service of our country, for each and every one of us, deserve better than they often get while serving and after retirement. Their families deserve more too because the sacrifice is across the board. Whether they serve inside our borders or in other lands, the military is their life and it’s a dangerous one. We celebrate a few holidays a year to recognize those who have served or are serving. Places give military discounts and some folks go that extra mile raising money through USO, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Wounded Warrior Project, and various support groups, while some of us donate what we can to offer help. It’s not enough. It can be a lonely life, a secluded life, one that puts you on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s a life you’ll never get rich from and trying to have a family and live a normal life can prove very difficult at best. Maybe it’s time to ask yourself what you can do for those who would never ask for help themselves. It can be as simple as writing letters, mailing care packages, volunteering at the VA or other organizations, or providing financial assistance. Whatever you can do, please do it now. God bless our men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, who proudly serve.