FOMO

What is FOMO, some may ask? Is that like YOLO, fleek, Bae, lit or any other slang, used by kids today and embarrassingly misused by parents of said youth? Actually, Oxford dictionary defines FOMO as ‘anxiety that an exciting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts on social media.’  Is it really a thing, and if so, is this a new thing?

Well, as the baby of the family, I’m here to tell you that it is real and it is not new, it just finally has a label. My placement in the family has led to a severe, lifelong case of FOMO. As long as I can remember, my sisters (10, 9 and 7 years older), were doing things that I wanted to be a part of. Any youngest child in a large family can tell you that they always feel that they are missing out on something, because they are. Nap times and early bedtimes, are the most prevalent cause of this, but the fact that you do everything slower than your siblings is another. By the time the baby can do these things, the older ones are doing something else, and although my sisters were old enough, and kind enough to try to make it seem like naps were fun, and that they wished THEY had time to nap, or that they didn’t have so much homework and could go to bed at 8 too, I wasnt fooled. One of my first memories is dragging my “fle fle blanket” (don’t ask) slooowwlllyy up the stairs, while dressed in a snuggly blue sleeper, mesmerized by the jaunty Hawaii Five-O theme song. As always, by the time that enormous wave appeared, some adult, most likely my father, would have thrown out an admonishment to “get a move on.” Now, I never did get to stay up late enough to see an episode of Hawaii Five-O, and strangely I never bothered to watch it when, in recent years, a newer version was launched. The reason is, it really wasn’t the show at all, It was…”The fear of missing out.”

As a little kid, I was always the first one up in the morning, partially because I’m a natural “early bird” but mainly because I didn’t want to miss out on anything. Not that anything was happening, Actually quite the opposite, if my parents were up before me, they were doing boring adult things, nothing that I cared to partake in and my older sisters were sleeping in. I don’t believe I would have missed a thing if I had just stayed in bed, but I just couldn’t do it.

Not only did FOMO make me lose sleep, it also occasionally caused me to hurt myself and to watch unfortunate injuries happen to others. There was the time that, for reasons that have escaped me, my parents and two older sisters were gone for the evening and my 12-year-old sister was in charge. We lived in the suburbs of Trenton at the time, on a family friendly circle, where all the neighborhood kids would play outside together, until the street lights went on, and then you knew you’d better high-tail it home for dinner, or if you were one of the little kids like me, to get ready for bed. Anyway, my sister and her friends thought it would be fun to climb on top of my father’s van, which they all did, until six-year old me had a temper-tantrum because I was on the ground by myself and missing all the fun, so they hauled me up there too. It was pure bliss to be included, and it was everything I had feared I was actually missing all along, namely just being like one of the big kids. Until, they tired of that, and one by one they jumped off, including my sister so that she could catch me when I jumped. Nope, no way. I was not going to miss out on that opportunity nor was I going to risk being called a baby, so even though my sister said “Please, don’t jump!!!” I did anyway, and landed on my face. My sister, knowing in an instant, that she would be in big trouble when my parents got home, ushered me to her best friend’s house, apparently so our towels wouldn’t get bloody, but unfortunatley for her, the fat lip and swollen nose probably gave it away. I don’t remember how this drama ended, but I’m sure that my poor sister got the short end of the stick because she “should have known better.”

As I got older, I begged my sisters to let me come with them to whatever teenage tomfoolery was afoot. Many times I was allowed to go, sometimes because they thought I was cute like a mascot, and sometimes because someone had to babysit and did not plan on letting an eight-year old ruin their good time. Also, it helped that I never once told my parents. I saw things that parents today would not want their 10 year old kids to see, even on their phones, let alone in person. Like the time I was at my sister’s college and saw an inebriated fellow, purposefully run headfirst into a double pane glass door, the kind with the wire in the middle.  He got halfway through before his skull succombed to the wire and he was hauled out, delightfully bloodied and unconcious, and dropped rather unceremoniously on the grass by his buddies as they drunkenly laughed the whole time. Eventually someone thought to call an ambulance. Then, there was the time that I was at a pit party (I believe this was less of a FOMO situation as it was that my sister was forced to babysit) and saw a guy fall backwards into the fire. He actually climbed out himself, laughing and swearing and beating out the flames, while the girls screamed and the guys laughed. I’m sure you can understand why I didn’t want to miss anything.

“Pffttt, you only had first-world FOMO,” my husband scoffed when I read to him what I had so far. “I had real, legit FOMO. Try moving three times in fifth grade alone and see if you have a fear of missing out.” This is true, I actually missed out on that experience, as well as at least one hundred other calamities that made his childhood so terrible. I’m kind of glad about that. Actually, I think I might be outgrowing FOMO, just as it is becoming a thing. Social media is supposed to play a major part in all this anxiety, and although I love seeing what everyone is up to, there is not one single part of me that is anxious about missing out on exhausting adventures with small children or even night-time adult shenanigans. What do I fear missing out on now? Home. When I’m at work, or even across the world, I’m always wondering what’s happening at my house. Which is usually nothing, just the way I like it. Like right now, the only thing I’m missing out on as I write, is a nap. So, here I go (cue dramatic 70’s theme music).

A Walk in the Woods

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”  – Henry David Thoreau

“C’mon, let’s go!” He claps his gloved hands together, and looks at me with a twinkle in his eye. “It’s beautiful out, c’mon you’ll feel guilty if you miss it.” My husband has returned from a walk outside to get me, for several reasons. One, because it actually is beautiful out, as he says. By beautiful, he means it is not snowing or freezing rain outside and the temperature is hovering at the freezing mark, a remarkable 60+ degrees higher than earlier this month and unusual for January in Maine.  Two, after 26 years of marriage,  he knows that I truly am feeling guilty for not getting “my steps in” aka daily exercise, in favor of curling up on the couch with my cozy blanket and my Kindle. Three, he is a lover of nature and the woods of Maine and anyone who is passionate about something knows that it is most appreciated with someone you love.

“Okay, okay” I say as I struggle to my feet, tissues flying and my fleece throw falling to the floor. All afternoon, I had used a minuscule case of the sniffles to ward off guilt and to tell myself  that I should rest today. But, guilt is my best motivator and he knows it, and besides bundling up and going out in the fresh air was not going to affect my cold one way or another, I just needed to bring tissues and wear a hat.

Off we went, mid-afternoon puffy, layered gray clouds over us, stark white snow ahead. We headed for the snowmobile trail adjacent to our property, an old railroad bed, perfectly groomed with snow so hard packed, our winter boots made hardly a dent. Sometimes when it is very cold out, the snow squeaks underfoot, but today, because of the warmth, there was a pleasant crunch, as we started out in perfect unison.

We spoke a little, our words almost visible in the form of steam curling around our mouths, but mostly we were silent, enjoying the view and listening to the sounds of silence. Sometimes, one of us would stop abruptly, and the other would stay as still as a statue without a word, knowing that the other person heard something. usually it was a few deer, feeling skittish as we approached, suddenly bounding off, white tails waving as they leapt away. Sometimes, one of us would put a hand on the arm of the other and point, often at a deer, who with the simplicity of a child was spotted hiding its head, while its body was in full view, erroneously thinking that if he couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see him. Not wanting to disturb him further, and in search of other sites, we continued on. Occasionally a group of snowmobilers pass, they wave as they go by, we smile and my husband does the two finger wave that some men do. Some we know by their eyes, the only thing visible with their helmets on, some are strangers, but all nod and you can tell by their eyes alone that they are smiling too. Mostly there is no sound, except the wind through the pines, the crunch of our feet, and the occasional sound of glass shattering as ice falls off a tree limb. The smells vary, sometimes a whiff of wood stove smoke drifts by, sometimes the intoxicating scent of balsam, but mostly its just the distinct smell of cold.

The woods are a balm to the mind,  it’s no wonder that literary greats like Thoreau and Emerson found peace and inspiration there. The senses are stimulated but in such a gentle way, that you can choose to ignore it or absorb it. I have done both, There were times in my younger days when I snuck away to the woods for a cigarette as a way to escape the pressure of approaching adulthood, Back then, my already overloaded mind sought peace and tranquility, and I found it. After a few minutes in the enormity of the woods, my troubles felt as small as they sometimes do in the morning light, after the darkness of the night had magnified the smallest hill into a mountain.

As I have gotten older, I have started to allow the beauty I have seen to flow from my fingertips to my laptop, so that the woods have come alive. I have told myself to watch! Listen! Smell! Remember! I take pictures along the way, mainly to help me recall what my mind’s snapshots might forget. Looking back through these photos later as I write,  I see what I wanted to remember. Yes, here are the photos of deer, hiding behind branches as small around as my forearm, and clusters of them playing on the tracks before us until one of them gives an invisible signal and they are gone. Curious tracks, hard to decipher in the hard-packed snow, we discuss whether they are dog prints or coyote.  Playful, daredevil chipmunks darting in front of us, zigzagging across the trail, I can almost imagine that a teenage chipmunk dared his friend to cross in front of us. They are too fast to take a picture of, but I always remember them because they are so cute. Rabbit tracks make us wonder where they came from and where they went and woodpeckers ignore us completely, focused on the job at hand. All are captured on my phone, and in my soul.

My husband, eyes alight and movements as agile as a child, tells story after story as we venture on. There was the time he saw a mountain lion and also Bigfoot. Both considered impossible by some, believed by others. He tells of a beaver slapping its tail in warning at his approach, coyotes yipping close to him at night and Indian legends. Entertained by the stories, soothed by the sights and sounds, I have forgotten my head-cold and the fact that I am getting my steps in, until my Fitbit buzzes on my wrist, 10,000 steps. “Let’s turn back now” I say, suddenly noticing that the light is dimming and the pine trees, their needles dripping with ice like diamonds, are looking dark.

We turn around, walking in heavy winter boots and wrapped in layers, strangely easier and seemingly lighter than when I walk on a flat treadmill, clad in a cute workout attire with lightweight sneakers on my feet. Pondering this, I thought how exercise like anything else, is mind over matter, or as Mark Twain aptly declared, “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Just like my runny nose was no longer my focus, so my documented “steps” had ceased to be the reason for this adventure.

Home again, guilt-free and content. I sit down to write, to quickly capture all that I have experienced, while my husband prepares to go back outside, each of having taken back from the earth what our busy lives have stolen from us. We are grateful for each other, he that I shared his world with him. Me, that he knew what I needed before I did. Both of us once again soothed, yet exhilarated; a feeling only a walk in the woods can provide.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” -John Burroughs

It’s My Birthday (no phone calls, please)!

“It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.”
― Andy Rooney

Whoever said they want to grow old gracefully is crazy, or maybe they just gave up. I don’t plan to grow old gracefully, I plan to fight it every step of the way. By fight, I actually mean to ignore, which I generally find to be a fairly effective method of combat for me. Oh, I have a few weapons; I slather on the anti-wrinkle cream, use dollops of makeup and lately I have even resorted to eyelash extensions (!!), but to give up completely? Nope. Not going to do it. My mother claims there will come a day when I will revel in the freedom of pants with elastic waists, “slacks” are what my grandmother used to call them, and that being an old lady has its benefits. I can see that. It would be nice to not have to suck in my stomach all damn day and to get 25 cents taken off the price of my coffee, but I’m not ready to give in just yet.

Last week, I couldn’t remember how old I was, so I actually asked my husband in a panicked voice because it’s really kind of scary and frankly indicative of the number of years under my belt that I honestly couldnt remember if I was 44 or 45. It turns out that I am 45. Actually, I’ll be 46 by the time this is posted. My best friend Melody claims that she went a whole month preparing herself mentally before her 30th birthday. Anyone who knows her, knows what a circus this must have been as she can be a bit melodramatic. Anyway, she lamented and moaned for a month until her mother told her that she was turning 29 that year, not 30, and so she had to go through the whole process again, the following year.

What’s ironic about these two age amnesia stories, is that as we age we are supposed to be getting wiser; yet, when I was seven, I was “seven and a half” all summer, until fall at which point I became “seven and 3/4.” I eagerly awaited my birthday, all year-long. As the youngest of four girls, there really isn’t anything new under the sun when you are growing up. My parents were not all that impressed after all those years of raising my sisters, when I turned a cart-wheel or got an A. But your birthday?!? Now, that’s when you are special. The whole day was about me, even down to the birthday meal, which five other family members must eat because I picked it. I’m pretty sure it was pancakes.

But then…you become a mother. Suddenly, your birthday has nothing to do with you, because your little pumpkin loves parties and cake and blowing out candles. So, you find yourself, after a horrendous day at work, in a long line at the grocery store, a square (why square, anyway?)  Pepperidge Farm cake under your arm because you remembered that today is your birthday and cake is expected. Too bad you forgot the candles, so you have to decorate it with votive candles and pray they don’t notice. They do.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m going in the opposite direction at this point. What I used to long for as a kid (a day just about me!!! ), I now actually do not like the idea of at all. You know what happens on your birthday? Everyone calls you (ughh!) and wishes you a happy birthday. Voices I have not heard since last birthday, crackle over the phone and I do the “HIII, So good to hear from youuuu! We really need to get togetherrrr!” thing that is expected. I know how this sounds, I sound like a cranky old bat. Someone nobody would actually want to call. I’m sorry, I really am. I dearly love my friends and family, and if you love me too, please don’t call me on my birthday! Instead, text me randomly throughout the year when you hear a movie quote or song that reminds you of me and I will do the same. Unless for your birthday, you want a call. In which case, your wish is my command.  Also, while I’m on the subject, no need to bother with a card. Unless something falls out of it ($$$!!!), I’m not all that interested in it. except my BFF Melody’s cards. She takes a lot of time picking them out and underlines cute things, and I do love and appreciate that. But, my mother gets her cards, like 199 in a box and they have pictures of sailboats, or random closeups of Delphiniums, and no words on them but she puts things in there that fall out when I open it, so that is fine. Also, then I dont feel like a jerk for throwing it in the trash three years later.

So much negativity! I’m really sorry for that and if you gotten this far, you probably know that the best thing about getting older is that you care far less what people think of you than you did when you were young. This has been both a blessing and a curse as sometimes my mouth has gotten me in trouble in recent years. I’m already regretting the “don’t call me” rant above, and I’m considering deleting it. Nah, F*&$ it. Because If there’s another thing I’ve learned along the way, It’s that life is short, and therefore precious, and that there’s a time to be brutally honest (see above) and a time to play along for the enjoyment of others, as  I will be doing in a matter of hours at my “surprise birthday party” planned for me by my sweet husband and exuberant granddaughter. Those two have been plotting, scheming, shopping and laughing behind my back for weeks, but the clincher was the text to my phone, meant for our adult daughter that read, and I kid you not, “I’ll have everyone here by 4:30.” I truly am thankful for another year to fight the good fight, and for my family and friends, many of whom I will hug tomorrow at my party, after I let my granddaughter blow out my candles, and tell everyone we need to get together again soon.

Update: No one has called me! I am truly blessed with wonderful, thoughtful, friends and family!

Spry

When I get to be an old lady, the adjective I hope that is used to describe me is spry. This is an aspiration I’ve had since I started working with the elderly, nearly 30 years ago. I’ve always admired the ones who are plucky and spunky, and whose minds are sharp and legs remain strong. I’ve asked many, many patients along the way, “What’s your secret?”  I only ask the ones who are at least 90, and who have remained nimble. You know the sort, the kind of people who are lean, agile, and move quickly. They never trudge, and rarely sigh. They are quick to smile and laugh, and hardly ever complain. I like to know what keeps these kinds of people in the shape that they are in, regardless of their advanced years. The answer is always the same.

“I always kept busy” they say. None of them have reported that they like “downtime” or prefer to lie on the couch, eating chips and watching Teen Mom as I like to do once in a while. They never say they liked to sleep in, go to a spa or take frequent vacations. Not one of them mentioned that they long for a snowstorm which forces them to “hunker down”, or that they enjoy devouring a book, an activity that every reader knows reaches its pleasure zenith when accomplished in a horizontal position.  What they did do, was remain vertical all day, and they always keep moving.

Many of these folks, if they are at least 90, were born a year before the Great Depression. I’m sure there was not much time for lollygagging, “me-time” or just chilling with Netflix. They probably worked from dawn until dusk, and by the time they sat down, they were ready for bed. It makes me wonder what their “workweek hustle” would have looked like on their Fitbit stats, if they had such a ridiculous thing. Imagine the folly of having to compete with each other to encourage more steps! Folly or no, I currently have two competitions going on, and if I want to win this challenge against my 20-something year old nephew, I better not just sit here writing all day.

To that end, and in my ongoing battle of the bulge, I walk daily, or now that it is cold and snowy in central Maine, and outdoor workouts are limited to shoveling (ewww, no), I go to the gym, where I  walk on the treadmill slowly enough that I can peruse Pinterest for inspiring pins, or type blog ideas on my phone. My younger friends from work, have recently encouraged me to try some fitness classes, and since it is a new year, and since I’m pushing myself to be a joiner, rather than a loner, I have now attended Zumba and something called “Pound!!!!” (the four !!!! exclamation points are not mine, it is advertised that way!!!!). These classes are actually fun, if you can get a coveted spot in the back, that is. Unfortunately for me, but to the merriment of my friends, the good Lord saw fit to dole only a miniscule helping of coordination out to me, which basically means that as soon as I get my arms and legs moving in the same direction as everyone else, they’ve moved on to something else. I can only console myself with the knowledge that at least I am moving my body somehow, and laughing while I’m doing it. However, arduous being an adjective I’m not exactly fond of, I was planning on attending a “Zumba lite” class this morning which my friends assured me was geared for the retirement crowd, a subset of fellow gym rats I may be able to keep up with. However, a snowstorm has hampered our efforts this morning (oh, snap!), and as I’ve already declared a moratorium, nah actually a lifetime ban on shoveling, I guess I will just “hunker down” today. By the way, “spry” might be my favorite adjective, but “hunker” is one of my favorite verbs, as it is by definition, the opposite of action.

My 77-year-old mother is well on her way to becoming a spry 90-year-old. She retired from a nursing career a few years ago and has been difficult to pin down ever since. If she didn’t have a cellphone, it would be impossible to reach her, as she is always on the go. She goes to the pool at the local gym, at least three mornings a week, where she bobs around with her “gang of Barbara’s.” They are her gym friends, three of whom are named Barbara and the other two have names like Joan and Ruth. They bounce around in the pool, while kicking their legs out, or floating on noodles and discuss their grandchildren, the weather, and Dancing with the Stars. They make plans to “get together for lunch” but never do it, and don’t plan the next workout, but everyone shows up anyway. I think they are cute, and I hope someday my friends and I do this when we are retired. One day, as I entered the pool area, I saw a bunch of them bobbing to the strains of  “Milkshake”, the phrase, “my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.” prompting about seven matching, gray-haired, permed heads, to keep perfect time to the beat, completely and adorably oblivious to the words.

In addition to her workouts, my mother is always either giving someone a ride to an appointment, visiting friends in nursing homes, going to church several times a week or puttering around at her house, cleaning or baking. I know just what she will say after reading this too, “Ohhh, I don’t do that much. I spend a lot of time on the couch, reading or napping.” By a lot of time, she means maybe an hour a day, if that. She doesn’t realize that she is an inspiration. But, neither do those 90+ year olds I admire so much. I guess they don’t stop moving long enough to let the grass grow under their feet, or to ponder their effect on others. Now, excuse me, my Fitbit just buzzed on my wrist, reminding me to get moving. It must be time to head over to the couch for another laborious reading session.

(My mother and me at the gym. See her cutle little head in the pool?)

IMG_4342

Every Day Miracles

I just took this photo and it makes me so happy. I mean, a clean(ish) house, a glass of wine, a laptop, a clearly relaxed set of legs, belonging to a perfectly happy, and content wannabe writer? Heavenly. What you can’t see, and what makes me even happier, is the rest of the story.

It is January, and the world outside is white and tundra-like. An actual blizzard is raging. I can hear the winds buffeting the north side of the house and whipping the branches. It shakes the shutters and makes the Christmas wreath, still hanging outside, scratch against the door. The snow is blowing sideways and the roads are covered. There are hardly any cars going by, only an occasional plow truck rumbles past.

Inside, a fire crackles in the wood stove. I can see the flames dance when I look up from my typing and I can feel the comfortable warmth that only wood heat can provide. Two lazy cats nap, curled up side by side in front of the stove, having worn themselves out  wrestling and chasing each other upstairs and down in an effort to combat their severe twin cases of  “cabin fever.” The smell of my homemade brownies baking, my mother’s recipe, and chicken in the crockpot perfumes the air and is the essesnce of home. The house is quiet, other than the pleasant swish of the dishwasher, the tick of the hot oven and the snap of the fire. I am alone in the house, something every working mom knows is a rarity and therefore precious.

It occurs to me suddenly, that I am happy; completely content and peaceful. This is not to say that I’m usually not happy. I just don’t often think about it. After all, there are bills to pay, there are family members near and far to worry about, that beautiful snow is going to really suck to clean up tomorrow when the “high” temperature is zero, and one of those cats keeps peeing on my son’s clothes when they pile up in a corner of his room. Also, if I stop and think about it, I have a headache and aside from that, since I am alone, that means that my son, my daughter and my husband all have to brave the blizzard and travel home from work, another thing to worry about.

But you know what? I’m not going to think about those things, or at least not fret about them. In fact, this ties in to my New Years resolution. That is, to be more thankful. There are so many things to be grateful for. I can walk, I can talk, I can see, I can hear. I am healthy, I have a loving family, lots of friends, a warm house and a job I love. Why have I wasted so much time complaining? My smart niece has been doing “gratefuls” every single night for years. Basically, It’s an email type of diary, listing everything she is grateful for at the end of every day. This is pure genius, but also requires more dedication than I’m willing to commit to at this time. I’m going to do this in baby steps, and I have started to see a change. I’m already feeling more thankful.

It seems that there are as many opportunities to appreciate what I have as there are to grouse about what I don’t. Good things are not hard to find, they are everywhere. It’s really all in how you choose to look at it. I can grumble when the alarm goes off at five, and I have to get out of my cozy bed, or I can be grateful that I have a job that I love to go to, and the physical and mental ability to do that job. I can gripe when my husband tracks mud all over the floor, or I can thank him when he sweeps it up. I can bellyache about the cold weather, or I can marvel at the beauty of the snow. I can lament the fact that I’m not alone as much as I’d like, or I can be thankful that I have a family and a home and that I’m never lonely. I can even choose to be thankful that I can see the blessings all around, as many cannot. There really are two ways to live, and I’m going to try my best to appreciate all the miracles around me.

P.S. My two children and my husband all made it home safely from work. Anther thing to be thankful for!

 

 

 

Good Tidings of Great Joy

 

The world is white, the fire is warm.

The house is cozy, I am safe from harm.

My loved ones sleep, tucked in their beds.

Thoughts of them, forever in my head.

 

It is Christmas morning, I’m thankful to be here,

I’m blessed to have my family near.

But, there are so many, who feel alone,

even with family gathered in the home.

 

Loved ones who are gone, their absence still felt.

Single moms who make the best of the cards they’ve been dealt.

Soldiers who fight for us, far away.

Felons in prison, freedom the price that they pay.

 

 

But! Take heart dear friends,  today a King was born for you.

Wrapped in rags, his glory hidden from view.

His beginnings so humble, he was poorer than poor

He experienced hunger, cold and more.

 

He went through this life,  he suffered more than we.

He did this because he loves you and me.

He’s waiting now, his rightful place on the throne.

He will greet you with a hug, when you come home.

 

On Christmas day,  when not all can rejoice,

He hears your pain, he knows your voice.

Sad, lonely or sick, He’s felt them all.

Give your misery to him, he will not fall.

 

He loves you today, as much as he loved you then,

to be born a pauper, feel the pain of all men.

His majesty now revealed, for all to see.

Someday our pain forgotten , with Him we will be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, Christmas Tree

My husband and I have decorated 26 Christmas trees together. We’ve had real trees, fake trees, and on one particularly poor, but memorable Christmas, a stolen tree. “Nah, we acquired it” my husband said when I read this to him. We’ve decorated with babies crying in the background, toddlers with bright eyes and sticky hands, preschoolers with  questions and excitement, and nonplussed teens. Last week was the first time we decorated alone since our very first one so long ago, and it was by far, my favorite.

The decorations we use now, are not ones we originally picked out together (see paragraph below for explanation), these belonged to someone else. They are all antiques, in various stages of antiqueness. Half of them belonged to his side of the family, half to mine. Some are from the early 1900’s and are hand painted, even handblown, and others are plastic beads from the 60’s. I love them all.

It’s really a good thing we were given all these ornaments, because our own ornaments were unceremoniously, albeit mistakenly, brought to the dump by my ADHD suffering husband, 20 years ago. His long(er)-suffering wife occasionally still loses her shit about it when she’s riled up about something that has nothing to do with Christmas. Just the thought of the beautiful glass “Our First Christmas” ornament my sister gave us, and our daughter’s first, in the shape of a pink pacifier, amongst rotting banana peels and dirty diapers in a landfill, makes my blood boil.

Discarded ornaments were not the only thing that made our Christmases memorable. My husband has the gift of resourcefulness. He’s the type of person you would want to be stranded on a deserted island with because not only is he good at getting things done without the tools necessary for the job (being poor in our younger years, has had its advantages), but he’s also a fun person to be around as you while away the hours, waiting to be rescued. Anyway, one year early on in our marriage, we had less money than usual. Quite likely he had been laid off, as he was working inconstruction before he went to college, and I didn’t make much as a CNA, a job I had for many years before I went to nursing school. Apparently, we didn’t have enough money to buy a Christmas tree, so he decided to go into the woods of Maine, and chop one down for free. Unfortunately, although he found a beautiful one, it was on top of an 80 foot tree, which also unfortunately was on privately owned paper company land. Technically this was illegal, however given the fact that this occurred over 20 years ago, I think I’m safe to put it in print, given the whole statute of limitations thing and all. Besides, chopping that thing down with an axe, then hoisting and securing the remaining 18 feet on top of our Ford Tempo, was probably punishment enough. Never mind that 6 feet hung off the back of the sedan, suffice it to say that we live in Maine, and most people around here wouldn’t bat an eye to see such a spectacle hurtling down the highway.

 
Sadly, we haven’t had a real tree for years, mainly because my son and I are allergic to them. Every year now, he gamely hauls the artificial one down from the attic, puts it together and untangles the lights. Usually, at that point, the kids and I would take over and decorate. Sometimes he helped, sometimes not. Lately though, as we have sort of become “empty-nesters” (sort of, because our college age son still lives with us, although he is often not home), we are doing more and more things alone but together, if that makes sense. The other night, Christmas music on, we decorated. It struck me then, how  the traits we each bring to our relationship are unique, yet our adornments are beautiful in their own ways and compliment each other. Some from his side of the family, some from mine, yet they are so enmeshed, they are like one. It is hard to say sometimes, which one came from which family member, or even if they were from my side or his. It is not hard to tell though, that together, they make a beautiful tree and a beautiful life.

IMG_3828
Here is our tree. Ok, actually you cant even see our tree, I just wanted an opportunity to show off my party dress.

 

 

 

 

 

Tree of Life

 

Last night after dinner, my husband and I rose from the table at the same time, and while still discussing the minutia that dominates most of the conversations of a long marriage, started clearing the table. He scraped the dishes, and loaded the dishwasher while I wrapped up leftovers. Suddenly, I noticed the way in which we moved together. We were doing different tasks, but working towards the same goal. No movement was wasted, we did not bump into each other, or reach for the ketchup bottle at the same time. The work was done quickly and easily, and when I pointed out what I noticed, we joked about working like a “well-oiled machine.” This is one of the many pleasures of being with someone for a long time. You know their strengths and their weaknesses, sometimes even better than you know your own.

We’ve had a hard year, the two of us. This is the first year in a very long marriage that we’ve ever questioned if we would spend the next one together. We have been together since I was a teen, and I never doubted that we would  grow old as a couple. I guess it’s a miracle in itself that we made it this far without questioning our relationship. Not that it has been easy. We have survived poverty; not the kind where we were starving, but the kind where our electricity was shut off and we were too proud to ask our parents for money, so we told our young children that we were “camping” for the week (they loved it), and the kind where we couldn’t afford toothpaste sometimes, so we had to use baking soda. We survived the death of both of his parents, one by suicide, alcoholism, jail, a diagnosis of bipolar, with its 20% mortality rate, and both of us attended college with small children, while working.

Through all this, we laughed our way through many a hardship. It wasn’t all fun and games, of course. There were many tears, fights, threats and even throwing of wedding rings on two dramatic occasions. But in all those years, neither one of us, even while the words, “that’s it! I’m done” were hurled at each, ever thought for one minute that we would ever actually be done. Not for nothing, did my then six-year-old niece proclaim, “you guys are always either fighting, or kissing!”

No, the real threat came quietly. Years of his bad boy behavior, and my long-suffering martyr act caught up with us. We finally outgrew the roles that we’ve played for decades. Roles that we fell into naturally and actually must have enjoyed.  There is something so satisfying about being the “good one,” in the relationship. I do believe that I actually relished the martyr role. It felt pretty good to be the forgiver; benevolent, strong and merciful. I would shower him with forgiveness, and snatch it back at the first signs of a disagreement, enslaving him to a lifetime of being the naughty child to my scolding mom.

For some reason this year, we both grew tired of our roles. I was weary of the burden, and after a summer of no sleep and a restless spirit, I abruptly shucked it off like an old coat. I decided that I did not want to be responsible for his happiness or lack thereof, something he never asked me to do in the first place. I don’t know why, but I also had no desire to hold our family together with an iron will and a clenched fist anymore. I let it go. I had no idea what would happen, but I was too tired of carrying our responsibilities, our happiness, and our salvation on my back like a figurative beast of burden, to care anymore. I thought that if I let go, everything would topple like a house of cards. I thought that I was so strong, that if I gave up control, he would go down too. It turns out that I’m not that strong, I never was. I was weak, because I thought I needed to hold on so tightly. God is strong, and he does not tire, nor does he hold on so tightly, he chokes the life out of someone.

Matthew 11:28 

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

 

So, I did it,  I told God I was tired of carrying all of this baggage and I asked him to take it from me. Then, of course, like a control freak, I plucked it back from him a few times, but ultimately I experienced the freedom that comes with letting go. I decided that whatever happened, and whatever became of us, it would be better than what we had been doing and the weariness that I’d been feeling for years.

So, what happened to my bad boy? Did he spiral out of control? Did he fall apart without me to hold him together? Nope, he stepped up. It seems that maybe my mother-role wasn’t saving him all along. I actually was standing in his way. By stepping back, and letting go, I gave him room to take his place. By not feeling responsible for his happiness and behavior, he became responsible for it himself. He is more content, and I feel unburdened.

What this means for two people who share a lifetime of memories and laughter, is that we are free to choose each other, every day. No longer entangled in a vicious cycle of dependent/co-dependent behavior, we are able to oblige each other, because we are happy to do it, not because we feel the other person will give up, or fall apart if we don’t.  It seems impossible to believe that after 28 years together, we are happier than we have ever been. We laugh, as we always have done. After all, having fun has always been the glue that has held us together, sometimes one of the few things. Now, enjoying each other’s company is more like fruit on our tree of marriage. A strong tree with roots of trust and commitment, a trunk of love and devotion, and branches of respect, loyalty and friendship, The fruits have developed over the years and have ripened for such a time as this. They are children, grandchildren, joy, fun and companionship. I don’t have to support this tree, like I always thought, I only have to water it daily and enjoy it for the beauty, shelter and comfort it provides.

 

Sometimes “Good Guys” Wear Black

When my kids were small, there was a lot of talk about “good guys” and “bad guys,” especially when my son was little. He, like many children, liked the idea of defeating the bad guys. After all, the good guys should always win, and they do, at least in movies and books. Luckily, they are easy to identify.  The “bad guys” are dressed in black and are usually ugly with snarls on their faces. They are mean and rude. They don’t say “thank you” or “please” and I’m sure they never pick flowers for their wives. Actually, they probably don’t have wives, because they are bad, and no one wants to even kiss one, let alone marry one.

The “good guys” are handsome of course. They are often dressed in white and have impeccable manners. They are excellent swordsman and probably call their mothers every Sunday, and they always get the girl in the end. It’s black and white, there is no gray. The bad guys do not become good guys and the good guys are good 100% of the time. They do not do good things 90% of the time and then occasionally slip up, due to a lack of judgement, or lapse in sanity.

So, when we grow up and meet “Mr. Right,” we expect that they will be good guys, and they are, for the most part. Certainly no girl sets out to marry a bad guy. No one wants to look at a snarl-face at the dinner table or buy the same black outfit for him whenever he needs new clothes. We have already started to become disillusioned somewhere between the happy endings of childhood and the harsh realities of adult life, and realize that there is more to life than good and bad, black and white. We know that there are many gray areas and we accept that these gray areas apply to our own lives as well as in others. But still, we search for a good guy, and after we are with one for a while, we start to appreciate the little things, like the things my good guy does for me.

A good guy picks wildflowers for you because he knows that your practical heart dies a little inside when you see expensive roses fold their haughty heads after only one day of extravagant splendor.

A good guy gives you his fortune cookie at the Chinese restaurant, not because he doesn’t like them, but because “you love them more.”

A good guy poses for selfies with you every time you pull out your phone even though he says, “I don’t know how to fake smile” and, “why do we bother, we always have the same faces?”

A good guy walks on the outside of the sidewalk, even if the sidewalk is slightly slanted and it makes him appear shorter than you, just to keep you safe.

A good guy will go shopping with you if you ask, even though crowds make him panicky, and he puts the groceries into the trunk, while you sit in the car because it’s cold/raining outside.

A good guy has sampled lasagna all over Rome, but thinks yours is better, and tells you that.

A good guy comes upstairs when you text him from the warmth of your bed to ask him to turn on the fan, even though you are 8 feet away from it, because you don’t feel like getting up.

A good guy tells you that you are beautiful and that you that you smell good even though you often forget to compliment him.

A good guy sometimes leaves love notes in your lunch box and doesn’t mind if you show your friends at work.

A good guy empties the dishwasher, because he knows that you inexplicably hate this task.

A good guy rubs your back, even though you rarely rub his.

A good guy makes you a grilled cheese sandwich, when you text saying you are craving one, while you are on your way home after a long day at work.

A good guy makes a headboard from a pallet, after you saw it on Pinterest and then strings christmas lights on it and turns them on every night, so that you will see it when you go upstairs to change after work.

A good guy makes you a huge walk-in closet, big enough to fit three dressers, and floor to ceiling shoe racks, and bars to hang an exorbitant amount of clothes, while he makes do with one bureau.

A good guy asks if you have “stencils” for your fingernails and offers to paint them for you.

A good guy washes your car for you, notices when you need air in your tires, and your oil changed, and does it for you.

A good guy repaints a whole room, without a complaint, after you come home from work and exclaim, “ohhhh, I didn’t know that color would look so bright!  Ummmm, I don’t like it…”

A good guy knows that a long marriage is like hiking a mountain. It requires endurance, strength and perseverance. Sometimes, you don’t feel like climbing anymore and you want to go back, but if you push through when you think you have nothing left, the view is so beautiful, all the struggles leading to it are forgotten.

A good guy calls you his best friend and makes you laugh.

A good guy is strong, loyal, protective and sweet. He stirs emotions in you like no one else. He can make you go from love to hate and back again in one afternoon. He is the only person that can make you so mad, you never want to see him again, then five minutes later, make you laugh. He might snarl at you at the dinner table, but kiss you goodnight. A good guy always has your back, even when he is mad at you.

A good guy does all this, but he also f*$#’s up occasionally. Sometimes he drinks too much or too often. He stays out too late with his buddies.  He can be irritable, especially in crowds and can be irrationally jealous. He throws his jacket on the kitchen chair instead of hanging it up and his boots always track in mud. He loses things all the time and absent-mindedly drives off with cellphones and Ipads on top of his vehicle. A good guy also admits when he is wrong, apologizes, and tries to do better.

My good guy, like so many others, wears black sometimes. He is not always good, but neither am I. Many times in our adult lives, we find ourselves in gray areas. Sometimes we wonder if the good outweighs the bad. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. The longer I am married, the more I realize that if my guy always wore white, I probably would tell him that he is boring, and anemic, and that I need a little more color in my life. Sometimes, my good guy wears black, but in the end, he still will always get this girl.

Bravery in the Face of Fear

To leave the safety of your bed, knowing that you must fight off a blanket of darkness, climb a wall of despair, and be pelted with boulders of hopelessness, all while negotiating a razor wire of fear, is not weakness. It is strength. I’m grateful that I don’t fight the battle of anxiety and depression, but for those of you I know and love, who grapple daily with these demons, you are more powerful than you know and I am proud of you.

 

I wrote this a year ago today, and posted it on Facebook. It popped up this morning, which was strange because I’ve had this subject in the back of my mind for a while. I’m so thankful that I have only felt a wave of panic well up in me twice in my lifetime, but those two brief episodes were enough to convince me that people who have felt that tidal wave of fear wash over them, and still carry-on, are freaking superheros.

The first time it happened, I was in a small plane which was experiencing an abnormal amount of turbulence, enough to make the attendants, whose facial expressions I always scrutinize for any signs of fear whenever there is a flight irregularity, quickly take their seats and buckle up. Out of nowhere, my heart started to pound, my palms got sweaty, and I almost started to pant as I fought off a sense of impending doom. I felt like there wasn’t enough air and my seat-belt was squeezing the breath out of me. This passed through me in a matter of seconds, until my brain realized that I was experiencing a natural reaction (ok, slight overreaction) to a potentially life threatening situation. Thankfully, I was able to calm myself down with deep breaths and the whole episode only lasted about 30 seconds.

The second time I nearly panicked, was when I accidentally swallowed acetone (long, ridiculous story!), and as I was washing my mouth out with water at the sink, I started to hyperventilate and feel like I was choking, a thought made even more scary by realizing that even if I wasn’t alone, no one could do anything because I wasn’t choking on anything except chemicals. Again, I was able to calm myself down, and think rationally enough to call poison control.  I was fine, and both of these autonomic responses were fairly reasonable, as there was at least a potential for harm. But what if there was no threat to my safety? Imagine how it would feel if anxiety welled up for no reason, unbidden and unwanted, and could not be rationalized away?

The two experiences I had, lasted only seconds, but they were so intense that I remember that feeling, years later. It is enough to give me empathy for the people in my life who experience sheer terror even when there is no real threat to their safety. I have seen people whom I love, experience this, and their eyes look the eyes of a person who is drowning. Pupils dilated, hands shaky, some have grasped my arm like it is a life raft.  Some of these people have been patients, rendered breathless from lung disease, and some have been family. I once had to take a panicky friend to the doctors, who would not leave the perceived safety of my car, so I had to go the appointment in her stead, and implore the doctor to see her in the car, which he kindly did. I’ve had patients grip my arm so tightly they have left crescent shaped fingernail marks in my skin, and say, “don’t leave me!” I didn’t.  I’ve escorted people to psychiatrist appointments, and one time was asked to go to the appointment myself because, “you can explain how I feel much better than I can.” Again, I didn’t, but I sat with this person, while they fought the urge to run.  I’ve had to drive two different people to the emergency room because they both were convinced they were having a heart attack. I’ve had children hide their faces in my neck, and cling to me like a baby monkey, and I’ve had family members lean their head on my shoulder, to try to slow their breathing and their pounding hearts. Why am I surrounded by anxious people? I can’t say. I like to think that calmness is a gift from God, so when an anxious person leans on me, I always pray that His peace will pass through me and bleed onto them.

“I wish I had your strength,” a dear person once said to me. “I’m not strong,  I’m just lucky.” I told her. This is true. It is not strength or bravery to feel no fear. Bravery is feeling fear and doing it anyway. To the people I know and love who feel anxiety or even full on panic attacks and yet quietly work, care for your children, pay your bills and live your life, in spite of your fears; YOU are the strong ones and I admire YOU.