When I was young I could do backbends. I could stand on my hands. I could fall down, bounce back up and keep running. I could move a couch without wetting my pants.
It’s all too easy to come up with things I used to be able to but now can’t. Lately I’ve been trying to remember things I used to do and still can, but for some reason stopped. One day instead of hopping up on the bed to put on my socks, I sat on the floor like I did when I was a kid. The simple act created a small shift in attitude. What else can I still do?
Go outside barefoot
Drink hot chocolate
Make clover necklaces
Watch tv with a blanket and a pillow on the floor
Squirt Hershey’s Syrup in my mouth
Picnic on a blanket
Color with crayons
Pick dandelions and put them in a vase
Stare up at the stars
Lay on my back and imagine shapes in the clouds
Make snow angels
Children have a way of keeping us young at heart. They encourage us to play and leave our cares behind. Playing with children allows us permission to indulge. But hey! When you were a kid, all you wanted to do is grow up so you could do whatever you want whenever you want. So if you want to act like a kid all by yourself, you get to do that.
What did you used to do that you still can if you wanted to? Go for it. I double dog dare you.
More specifically, what’s the story you’re telling yourself? Is it a true story? Does it need to be rewritten? Who helped you write it? Was it a parent? A friend or adversary? The media?
Like a bedtime tale, the stories unfold while we fall asleep until one day we wake up and find they were just faerie tales all along.
nce upon a time I carried a story around into my forties. It said that I am just like my mom. I remember the distinct moment I challenged that story. I was at work, wiping the speckled black countertops liked I’d done every day for a year. Suddenly a thought popped into my head.
I am not my mother.
That’s all. Yet, there it was. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was the tipping of the first domino. Some called it my mid-life crisis. Some called it my late bloom. Knowing what I know now, I can tell you it was the changing of a story; a story I’d been retelling every time I started my diet anew.
We all tell ourselves stories. And once we’ve decided that story is false, we can’t just stop telling ourselves that story. We have to fill it in with a new one. One we can trust.
So when I falsified that story, the new story was . . .
I am me.
Nothing in the universe says I need to face the same challenges my mother faced. Nothing says food has to control me. The new story rang true, and I felt, for the first time in my life, at the age of 45 . . . normal.
I’d always been normal, but for the first time ever, I felt it. Inwardly, I had changed. Outwardly, people noticed. Friends said I glowed. Acquaintances walked by me without realizing they knew me. Yes, I had lost weight, but there was more than that. I had a different story. I am me, and I was not only normal, I was everything I had always wanted to be. I was like Dorothy realizing she had been home all along.
So why and how did I find myself back on the diet treadmill, going nowhere fast? It started when I turned 50. It was just a number like any other. If anything, I was gearing myself up for an amazing decade.
And then it happened.
The Change. The Big M. It was more than a ceasing of the monthly cycles. My skin lost its elasticity. My hair lost its sheen. I lost noticeable strength in my hands, back and arms. My shape changed even before I started putting on weight. I didn’t recognize myself. I mean I literally asked out loud, “Who the hell’s body am I in?”
And I fell sleep to a new story . . .
I am old.
I tried to control it in the only way I knew how. I dieted. Okay, you can stop laughing. But I get it . . . it sounds funny as I write it too. Now, where in the world could I ever have gotten that idea?
The diet industry brings in $20 billion every year, and we’re forking it over like blueberries and yogurt. Do you really want these people writing your story?
So when I woke up and saw the story for what it was — a horrid faerie tale with a bad ending, I needed to write a new one I could trust.
I am aging. Thank goodness I’m aging, because as long as I’m aging, it means I’m still alive. And as long as I’m alive, I have the potential to grow and learn and love. There is no promise of tomorrow. There is only now. And right now . . . life is good.
I’m a firm believer that walking can be a metaphor for anything in life. A journey of a thousand miles . . . the path less traveled . . . it’s not the destination, it’s the journey . . . the straight and narrow path . . . two steps forward, one back . . . am I right, or am I right?
I’ve been on a bit of a journey lately, and frankly, I was afraid to take you along. I thought you might jinx it. I felt fragile. Like writing about it might break it and I’d have to go back to the start. Besides, the introvert in me likes to travel alone, and you might talk too much. You might disturb my inner thoughts or suggest a different trail.
Well, I decided it might be good for me, and maybe even you, if I tell you where I’m at, what the terrain looks like, how far I’ve come, and maybe where I think I’m headed.
The trail is called Intuitive Eating, and there’s a book by the same name. There are many books by other names, and social media pages you can find by Googling Body Acceptance, Self Compassion, Body Love, BoPo, and Anti-Diet. It’s a movement that encompasses bodies of every size, age, color and ability. It’s about inner peace and love, and you know I’m all over that.
I’m not a stranger to beginning a journey. I began anew every morning and by nightfall felt lost. I cried alone in the dark. At daybreak I’d set out again. It’s a cruel circle. I’m talking about dieting. I was a self-proclaimed, out-of-the-closet diet junkie. I’ve described it as trying to stand still in the surf. It’s impossible.
Wading into the water, there will come tides and surges. There is no controlling it, only adjusting to it. And sometimes you need to let the waves carry you in or out a little bit before you find footing again.
Dieting isn’t that. Dieting is willing yourself to stand still. Most of us just end up face-planted in the sand wondering what happened. Then we wake up and try the same thing the next morning, maybe from a different spot on the beach, exclaiming over the roar of the surf that, “Today we will stand!” And expect a different result.
I’m afraid I’m mixing up my metaphors, but let’s just imagine this trail meandered somewhere along the ocean and opened up on a beach. And that’s just it! I’m not sure exactly where this trail is going to go next. But I do know it’s already taken me to some awesome overlooks and some really rough terrain.
So if you can stand the poetic metaphors, I invite you to lace up your walking shoes and join me. If you just want to sit at home and read my posts from the couch, that’s okay too. I’m not a trail expert by any means, but I am an expert on the steps I’ve taken. There are historical centers and information booths I’ll point out along the way, but if you ask me, all I can tell you about is my own experience and send pictures of the view from here.
At 16 we get our drivers license, at 18 we receive the right to vote. At 21 they allow us to legally drink. After that it goes downhill. At 26 you’re kicked off your parents insurance and at 50, well, they prod you to get prodded. I’m talking colonoscopy, here. Yes, I did turn fifty some time ago, and my doctor’s been lecturing me ever since. She gave me a pamphlet and presumably sold my number to the gastroenterologist. After they realized I wasn’t picking up, they stopped calling. I held out for five years.
It’s not that I’m afraid of the doctor or the embarrassment or even pain. I delivered four babies vaginally without meds for Christ’s sake. It’s the principle. They aren’t looking for polyps. They’re mining my intestines for gold.
The colonoscopy is the poster child for American healthcare run amok. It’s the most expensive test most of us are prescribed. Like other hospital procedures, a colonoscopy in other developed countries is a fraction of the cost we pay in the US. Here, the procedure accounts for the lion’s share of most gastrointestinal physicians’ income. Using less invasive, less painful, safer procedures would also be less expensive, but who wants that?
Sure other tests may have to be done more often, but at the cost of my prep kit (or less), some of them can be done at home and with no disruption to work or life for those of us who are at low risk.
I was told it was no big deal. Well, it was a big deal, albeit temporary. And the argument is that cancer is a bigger, potentially more permanent deal, right? And because we all know someone who has suffered and lost to cancer, we let them win that argument.
Here’s the thing. You knew I was going to tell you the thing, right? I have health insurance. It makes it easy to go to the clinic every year whether I need it or not, and order up smears and cultures, and scans and scopes whenever my doctor deems it necessary. I have a primary physician and even a phone app that will tell me the results of every test I’ve had in the last ten years. And while they go to the effort to make it all seem free it indeed is not. Healthcare is costly, and is not getting any cheaper or accessible for millions of good, hard-working Americans. If, by some miracle, they can afford the colonoscopy, it won’t matter because they can’t afford cancer treatment.
Once I booked my appointment, I had to put in for my day off of work. Not only do I have the luxury of taking a day off of work, I know someone else who is also able and willing to take a day off of work to drive me to and from the surgery center.
Four days prior to the procedure I went on a low-fiber diet. Not everyone can indulge in changing their diet for four days on a whim. They access their food from a food shelf once a month, or clean out their cupboards at the close of every week. Heck, I’ve been there — and not so many years ago. They can’t afford the $18 for the prep kit, or the two quarts of electrolyte beverage.
No one told me I should have considered taking the day before the appointment off of work, too. I was disoriented from fasting, couldn’t think or make decisions. I was ill from overdosing on mega-laxatives. When Bubba apologized for eating dinner in front of me, I told him I couldn’t eat if I tried.
However, by the time we arrived at the medical center, the illness of the power-lax had worn off and I was starving. A woman in scrubs took me to a tiny room and instructed me to change into a gown. When she came back she slapped a pressure cuff on me, inserted an IV needle in the back of my hand, and said goodbye before closing the door. That was the last person I saw for an hour and a half.
I sat in that room after not eating any solid food for 36 hours, while the staff talked audibly outside my door about who was going to lunch, and where. When finally someone came to get me, I was just about at the end of my rope. I made her wait while I slooooowly coiled my phone cord and placed it in my bag. I sauntered down the hall at my own pace, watching her surprise at how far behind her I’d fallen. You’re on MY clock now, bitch.
Apparently I get mean when I’m hungry.
No less than four people made conversation out of how to pronounce my last name. Yeah, that never gets old. The nurses complained about how cold it was and that the music had frozen. What kind of music is appropriate for a colonoscopy anyway? Dirty Deeds? Send the Pain Below?
When the doctor asked me where I’d been hiding for five years, I was thinking, “You know what? The faster we do this, the faster I can eat.” But you don’t argue with a guy who’s about to put a 6-foot tube up your backside. Mama did teach me not to say anything if I can’t say something nice, so after an awkward moment of silence he replied, “Okay . . . !”
Thanks to plenty of sedation and pain meds, the memory of the next twenty minutes is dim. I do remember the doctor asking for more Versed and the anesthesiologist telling me if I let go of her she can get me more pain medication. I remember them showing me the monitor, as if it could distract me like an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Okay, okay . . I’m done going over the details of my colonoscopy like Gramma at the Thanksgiving table. In the end (pun intended), I got a clean bill of health, a free ticket to come back in 10 years, pictures — yes, pictures! — and a blue tote bag out of the deal.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying that colon screening is unnecessary. I’m saying our health system needs a good thorough check-up. If they really wanted more people to get screened so that less people would die, they would offer more convenient and less disruptive and less expensive options more readily. Healthcare would be for everyone. But then they wouldn’t have all that fun money, would they?
We are aphids blindly sucking nectar off the tender plant while they farm our backsides for the sweet honeydew.
The organist and vocalist were late. I hated my dress. I had little say in the flowers. Yet, there was a smile on my face. I was following in the footsteps of those young women who had gone down the aisle before me. No, not my bridesmaids — the women who followed in the footsteps of their mothers and their mother’s mothers before them.
The person who walked down the aisle that day so many years ago seems like a completely different person from the one who writes here today. I had different beliefs, even though my values have remained the same. We base our beliefs on myths and facts that updated as new information becomes available.
Values are the things we find important, and although the priorities of our values may shift with time or age, they typically remain unchanged. I value love, but I no longer believe marriage is the only way to secure it. Does that help explain it? Life doesn’t grant do-overs, but it does grant start-overs, and we are all encouraged to grow and evolve.
June Cleaver and Mary Scott were my role models. June Cleaver was a fictional character on a black and white television show where men came home from work expecting quiet children and dinner on the table. June was known for her impeccable dresses and tidy pearls.
Mary Scott was my grandmother. She was a non-fictional character who watched me while my mother worked. She was known for her jet-black hair, slight frame, and dainty gestures.
Both June and Mary believed it was the woman’s duty and privilege to run the home while their husbands worked. Their homes were always as tidy as their skirts by the time their spouse returned home, and they knew how to get a steaming dinner on the table at the same time each day. Boy, did I have a rude awakening!
It’s hard to talk about how I might have done things differently if I had a the chance. After all, I might have had different children, or no children at all. I’d have waited. I’d have learned more about myself. I’d have considered the impact my choices make on the world, and my life. But life doesn’t give us do-overs. Fortunately, it does give us start-overs.
Is it time to update your beliefs? What myths might you hold as truth? What facts must be updated with new information? What are your values? Do you need to reprioritize them based on a change in your life, age, job, or family?
My children are waiting for marriage and children. I’m proud of the choices they’re making. If they do decide to do either, they’ll have so much more to offer their spouse and/or children. They’ll have a better idea of how to live with other people. They’ll have a better grasp of their own values and beliefs, and not rely on ones borrowed from their parents, grandparents, or fictional t.v. characters.
It’s okay to change your beliefs. It’s okay to realign your values. It doesn’t mean you’re a whole different person. It means you’re evolving.
First and foremost, I blog for therapy. Unlike a diary, it forces me to choose my words wisely. Where a diary will take any abuse you want to give, my public blog requires I treat my thoughts with respect. And in doing so, I find an appreciation for “life and all things peaceful, balanced, whole and precious.”
I blog for posterity. It’s something to leave behind. I don’t believe in a supernatural afterlife. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to hang around watching over my loved ones eternally. In a recent mishap, I accidentally and unavoidably caught a glimpse of all the pictures on the Rebel’s phone. Trust me when I say I don’t want to watch over them from above.
I blog to pass along a wisdom. Ancient cultures sat around the fire listening to lore from their elders. While I do have plenty of advice to share around the fire, most of it involves the perfect toasted marshmallow or the dangers of wielding hot pokers. Besides, who has time to sit around a fire listening to their elders anymore? Anything like that gets shared here as “Lore” for those who find it valuable enough to read.
I’m not sure at what age one becomes an elder, but I think I’m growing into it as gracefully as possible. That is, kicking and screaming, my brittle nails shredding on the door frame of old age. My daughter, the Romantic, reminded me that I once announced I was going to age naturally and embrace it — gray hair, wrinkles, and all. Yeah . . . I was thirty-something and knew nothing of disappearing collagen or finding coarse, white eyebrows reaching out like odd antennae over the tops of my bifocals. And so this thing of wisdom that comes with age is less of a gift than a purchase, dearly paid for with my declining condition.
Perhaps there is a responsibility to share what has been so expensive to attain. Maybe I want to spare my children and readers the pain I’ve born. After all, the suffering of my children is two-fold; once for their pain and another for the remembrance of my own mistakes. Or maybe I just want to give you a shortcut, a life hack, so you can surpass where I have been and finish farther ahead. Whatever the reason, sharing lore is clearly a primal need, present since men acquired the ability to speak.
The elders of my youth have all passed away. They, too, shared the experience of their years. Some of it I remember, most of it has probably been forgotten. The truth is, I gained less of my wisdom in listening than I found in living. The toddler learns more from touching a hot oven than from being told it is hot. Riding a bicycle can only be mastered after falling. We learn to guard our heart once we know how deeply it can hurt.
I’m told there is occasionally wisdom in my words. If you find it here, it is yours. If you want to keep it, however, it’s going to cost you a couple of wrinkles and maybe a white antenna eyebrow. But I guarantee it will be worth it.
It’s that time of year again when I look at where I’ve come and where I’m headed. When I think of the tumbling towhead of my youth, it seems impossible that I am the same person. I sometimes think of her and wonder if I’ve become the person she had hoped I would.
The girl I was held high hopes for humanity. She rescued injured birds from the middle of roads, and abandoned kittens, despite her severe allergy to cats. She believed that everyone possessed a beauty and a kindness if you looked hard enough. She appalled an unjust world that would deliver babies into poverty while others flaunted wealth. She believed in the abundance of love, peace, and food, if only the obstacles could be removed.
She was no saint, and neither am I. She had plenty of lesser values and unlearned lessons. She had fears, and pride, and selfishness that all abide in the adult she became. And as I look, I realize how much I am still her — for better or for worse.
If she had known where we would be today, I’m not sure if she would have chosen a shorter path or ambled along the one I’ve taken. Yet, this is the place in which we find ourselves, my little inner child and me, and we are quite happy.
I’m glad she held so few expectations. It allowed me to stop and contemplate a bug along the way, or touch the bark of a tree. Had she held me fast to some appointed destination, I’d have taken such a wider, paved road and missed the little things along the way.
The future is a mystery — like trying to depict a figure in the shadows. But the little towhead I take with me suggests I hold no expectations for the crone I’ll someday be. Together we will mosey down our untrod trail looking for the tiniest of creatures to share our time. And someday I can say I found my way to an older age, and I’ll be so much richer for it.
There is a quilt draped across the back of my desk chair. It’s just a small lap quilt, the kind I remember from nursing homes. The fabrics are old-fashioned prints, woven from cotton. The simple squares are sewn together in random sequence. The layers are tied with yarn at the corners of the pieces. I don’t even know who made it.
It is, by all standards, a quilt of no distinction at all.
Given to the University of Minnesota by a quilting group, it was made to keep oncology patients warm. Diminishing weight and the treatments they endure leave cancer patients extremely cold all the time.
When I first saw the quilt, my father sat at the kitchen table, where all memories of my father lead. He wore a thin grey goose-down jacket. The stocking cap Mother knitted sat high on his head. The quilt lay across his lap and over his slippered feet.
The strong, firm man of my childhood was now frail, thin, and weak. His face produced a genuine smile that visually drained precious energy from his body. I noticed the quilt immediately.
“Where did you get this?”
I hugged him then walked over to do the same to my mother. She explained where he received the quilt, and we all agreed how very nice it was.
As the weeks progressed, my father was never without his quilt. And now, as I look at it these twenty-four years later, I imagine it wise and gentle. The threads woven in purpose. The pieces cut with precision. Love somehow supernaturally layered between patchwork and batting and backing.
For decades the quilt sat neatly folded on my bedroom shelves as a reminder of the care my father received during his last months from so many faceless angels. It is a steadfast message that we just never know when the good we do will affect the lives of others.
Recently I brought the quilt from its place on the shelf and rested it on the back of my chair. When the temperature dips down, as it can in Minnesota, the quilt comes out to lay across my lap and over my slippered feet. It reminds me, as I work diligently at my job, to do well. But more importantly, it reminds me how lucky I am to be in a position where I can do good.
“Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.”
Like most parents, I recorded every first of my children’s early years. There are pictures of first trips to Grandma’s, first steps, first solid food, even taking their first poop in the toilet. A post by Emily at The Waiting, reminded me how easy it is for the lasts to slip by unnoticed.
Do you remember the last time you were picked up and cuddled? I have four children, and found myself searching the dark corners of my memory for any recollection of the last time I lifted each of them into my arms. There is none.
We acknowledge the achievements, the going-forwards, the milestones of where we are headed and not so much where we have been. Maybe it’s because we don’t appreciate the significance of what we leave behind until it’s gone. Or maybe it’s because we just never realize it’s the last time . . . until it is.
Firsts, like lasts, are not eloquent or refined. The last step we take will most likely be much like the first — feeble and clumsy. Each brings with it a demonstration of progress. But one is a beginning and one is an end. One is noted and one is forgotten.
Humans, unlike animals, carry the burden of understanding time. We romanticize a past we strain to remember. We grieve its loss. The future is hope and wonder, even amidst uncertainty and trepidation.
Between the first and the last is the present. It is the center. The now. We forget to stop and live in this moment. And this one. And this one. Each tick of the clock is another gone by. The present moment is as steadfast as time is fleeting. Always here, for better or for worse.
A moment in the present is not reliant on memory, nor hope, nor wonder, nor dreams. There is no uncertainty or vagueness. The instant you are in right now is as real as anything is ever going to be.
If we could know the last time we were picked up, or rode in a pedal car, or fit in the shopping cart seat, that it was our last, would we have enjoyed it more? Would we have whined less? Would we have grieved the loss?
Probably not. Children don’t perceive the elapsing of time. A baby lives in a constant state of “now,” his only concern if he is hungry, wet, or sleepy. Eventually, he will understand time by experiencing it — what is a minute, an hour, a year?
Maybe this is what allows children to move forward at the speed of light. If they knew all the wonderful things they leave behind — naps, strollers, wagons, wearing pajamas in the middle of the day and yes, being lifted high above someone’s head — maybe they would want to stay children forever. Maybe the lack of grief is what allows them to grow.
. . . And maybe our grief of the past is a gift we are given that allows us to relish the present. It permits us to cuddle their round little bodies one more minute, or stop and watch them as they nap, or slip into their world of imagination, or pick them up just once more before they are too heavy and we too weak . . .
In the book of my life, each decade has a chapter.
Table of Contents
The Young Adult
Ah yes! I loved the chapter about the SELF! That is the chapter when you finally make sense of all the chapters that came before. And after that I had so much insight and confidence and lust for life, I couldn’t help but think . . .
“Oh. My. God. The 40s were so awesome. I cannot wait to see what the 50s bring!”
And I eagerly turned the page without looking back.
. . . Only to find myself transported, via tractor beam, into a space vehicle. My brain was taken out, probed, implanted with alien “stuff,” rewired and pushed back in my head like grade-school homework in a backpack.
That is the only explanation I can come up with for what ensued. I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and I didn’t recognize myself. There were bags. Under my eyes. On my hips. On my stomach. There were hairs in places hairs had never been before, lacking pigment of any color. My nails grew ridges and shredded in the winter. My ankles swelled. My joints hurt. The sleep sucked. My metabolism slowed to the speed of tar pitch.
That’s when I realized this chapter wasn’t going to be an easy read.
And I have this sense of urgency — the knowledge that time is running out. There are places unvisited. There are classes untaken. My story line hasn’t even been sorted out yet. Anyone who has come this far knows two things.
The first 50 years passed in the blink of an eye.
Time flies faster the older you get.
I drove by the local arena the other day. All the schools hold their spring graduations there, and the police were directing traffic. The following conversation took place:
Me: Gee, I sure am glad I’m done going to graduations. The long-winded speeches . . . the crowds . . . finding a place to sit on an uncomfortable bleacher . . . trying to find your kid in a long row of like-dressed kids . . .
Me: Yeah, but you’re probably going to have to go as a grandparent.
Me: I’d forgotten about that. And it will be even more uncomfortable to sit on the bench, and harder to hear the windbag giving the speech.
Me: Will I even be alive?
Me: Well, even if I got a grandchild miraculously today, that would still be 18 years off.
Me: (Doing the math) Ohmygosh. Yes. I will probably be alive in 18 years.
Me: Am I ready for that?
Yes, I was alone at the time. But these conversations occasionally crop up when I’m not, too. Bubba doesn’t care. It gives him a break from speaking. Once again I digress . . .
In 18 years, a child can grow from a helpless infant into a young man or woman. How young am I, then, to have just as much time to write an epic ending for this old book? What a thrilling twist of plot to be abducted by an alien vessel! What transpires?
The objective is to make this story of mine more of a can’t-put-it-down kind of book — the kind you finish and wish you could keep reading, rather than the long drawn out chapters with an ending that doesn’t make sense. But then, we are each the author of our own life, aren’t we?