Hey – we may as well have fun as we go sliding into old age, right?

Posts tagged ‘family’

Lessons On Stuff…

Sometimes life has to hit me over the head multiple times to get a point across.  But as I head into my mid-fifties, I’m finally beginning to understand that most of the “stuff” I’m trying to drag along with me is absolutely worthless. 

I’m not talking about mental stuff (although I’m dragging a lot of that around, too).  I’m talking about actual physical things.  Furniture.  Books.  Clothes.  Art.  Memorabilia.  Chotchkies.  Lots and lots of chotchkies.  A chotchkie (I like that word!) is defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a small piece of worthless crap, a decorative knick knack with little or no purpose.”  That, in my opinion, is the perfect definition for too many things currently in my possession. 

I tend to personalize material things, and give them far more importance than they should ever have.  I think I learned that from an early age (sorry, Mom, but you know it’s true!).  Precious “things” have long been saved in our family, and used to decorate every nook and cranny.  Mementoes from vacations, gifts, family heirlooms, clever finds, pretty things, collectibles and things we call collectibles that really aren’t.  I have a hard time parting with any of these items, especially if I’ve had them “forever”.  It feels cruel to me in some bizarre way to discard an item that has traveled through life with me, even if I know I’ll never, ever use it again.  After all, “it’s still perfectly good”. 

To be fair to Mom, it’s not really her fault.  My grandparents on both sides were classic survivors of the Depression, and they frugally saved everything, used it up completely, and even then they wouldn’t part with it.  My Iowa grandparents used bath towels so thin and worn you could literally read through them, while in their closet was a box of plush towels from the famous Marshall Fields department store, a gift from their daughter.  A gift carefully put away for years, because “there was nothing wrong” with the old towels.  They were perfectly good.  When my New York grandmother passed away, we found similar boxes in her closet.  Fancy gifts of bathrobes, towels, and purses, all carefully saved and labeled (“Christmas 1980 – Keith and Darlene”).  Never opened because she hadn’t used up the old ones yet.  This was the generation that didn’t throw anything away.  Ever.

My first wake-up call about stuff was the death of my husband’s 2nd cousin.  Mary was basically a second mother for Hubby, as his own mom passed away at an early age.  Hubby was her sole heir, so we had the task of clearing out her humble 1-bedroom apartment.  Every cubbyhole was filled with her treasures.  While we kept a few things in her memory, most went summarily into boxes and headed off to the Good Will store.  It struck me that all those things that were so valuable to her simply held no practical value for us, and I began to look at my own saved possessions with the realization that when I’m gone, they’d probably suffer the same fate.

The second wake-up call was the task of packing up my parent’s home of nearly sixty years after my father died.  Mom was selling the house, and we spent months sorting and trying to prioritize stuff accumulated throughout a lifetime together.  This one was much more personal – these mementoes were part of MY memories – the things I’d grown up with (and a lot more stuff stashed in the attic that I’d never even seen!).  My first reaction was “save everything!”  And then reality struck – I already had my own house that was filled to the brim with things from my husband’s and my life together.  I simply couldn’t cling to and transfer everything from my parent’s home into mine (not to mention my brother might have something to say about it).  And that’s when I had the epiphany – my memories didn’t live in those things.  My memories lived in my heart, and I didn’t need a 30-year-old coffee mug to remember my dad, nor my old toys to remember my childhood.  I did pretty well at staying true to that epiphany, but there were still way too many “exceptions”.  After all, some of those things might have collectible value, so I had to keep them “just in case”.

I parted with even more chotchkies during our recent move. But as chronicled in my previous post, too much useless crap still moved with us.  And then Hurricane Irene took aim at our new home last week, which was now filled with our most precious old and new belongings.   

I spent that very long Saturday at our rental home up in New York, frantically watching The Weather Channel and surfing the internet for news on our North Carolina neighborhood.  Nothing I saw was good, and it got worse as the day stretched on and Irene pounded our home for nearly 24 hours. 

I’m embarrassed to admit that I started the day stressing over things.  The oak heirloom from the mid-1800’s.  The brand-spanking new entertainment center that spanned an entire wall.  The Stickley dining room set.  The nearly finished custom kitchen renovation.  What if a window broke?  What if the roof gave way?  What if a tree crashed into the house?  All of our STUFF would be ruined!

And then Stuff Lesson No. 3 kicked in.  Houses were flooding.  Trees were crashing down everywhere.  The relentless wind and rain were changing the landscape entirely.  And my friends and neighbors were living through it – riding out the storm inside their homes there.  While I was worried about things, there were people swimming to safety, clinging to roofs and trees, watching their houses literally float away, or burn down, or fill with murky, slimy, muddy waters.  I felt suddenly ashamed of myself.  And again, developed a whole new attitude toward STUFF, and realized how inconsequential it all really is to my life. 

Over the past week, thousands of people in the East are busy stacking ruined things at the curb to be discarded.  And that is terribly sad.  Many of those things can’t ever be truly replaced.  But those people will live on, and they’ll do just fine without the things that a week ago seemed so important to them. 

When my dear friend lost her home to a tornado earlier this year, she was shocked at how quickly she stopped caring about the things in her once-beautiful home.  Dashing to the basement as the house disintegrated around them was a distinctly clarifying moment – her husband and children were the only priority for her.  Nothing (and I mean NOTHING) else mattered to her.  She didn’t mourn the loss of stuff.  She was too busy celebrating the lives that had been saved.

My life would not have truly changed if all that stuff in North Carolina had been destroyed.  Well, there’d be a lot of work and inconvenience for a little while, but fundamentally my life wouldn’t change as long as I still had my family and friends.  Which makes me realize how totally unimportant stuff really is.  Which makes it a lot easier to sort through it and start donating or selling it.  Right now.

Let it be someone else’s treasure.  In this phase of my life, I’d rather my treasures were of the human kind.

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On Losing Friends…

There are many things that are a natural consequence of growing older.  Our hair turns gray.  Our skin wrinkles.  Our bodies slow down.  We find ourselves having more and more conversations over dinner with our friends that revolve around what medications we’re taking for various our maladies.  We start worrying intensely about retirement.

And we start going to a lot more funerals.

At first, most of the funerals we attend are for the previous generations.  It starts with our grandparents, then some older aunts and uncles, then sometimes it’s our own parents that we’re grieving for.  Those losses are tough.  It stinks.  We miss them.  Yet it feels like the natural flow of life – the ones who were here before us leave before us.

But right about now, in our fifties, we start losing friends.  Friends our age.  And that doesn’t feel natural at all.  Yes, we may have lost a few unexpectedly when we were younger.  Those are shocks, and even wake-up calls that life on this earth does not last forever.  But we are able to “justify” losses when we’re younger as being the exception rather than the rule.

But now – – – now we start seeing how fragile life truly is for our very own generation.  We start seeing each other more often in funeral homes instead of at happy hour.  We plan the carpools to get to the memorial services.  We bring casseroles to the house.  We meet for dinner after services to commiserate and be together.  We’re becoming “old hands” at the grieving business these days.  And that just sucks.

I don’t like going to calling hours and comforting the young adult children of my friends.  My heart breaks that their dad won’t be there to walk them down the aisle, that their mom won’t be around to give them advice about colicky babies, that the unborn children of these young people will never know their grandpa or grandma.  I don’t like seeing the elderly parents of my friends, facing a loss that no parent should have to bear.  And I really don’t like seeing broken-hearted husbands or wives, left alone at the stage of their lives when they were just getting their freedom back.  The stage of their lives that they’d been saving and planning for through-out their marriage – the empty nest, the retirement community, the trips and adventures.  The stage of life that I’m in right now.

Two weeks ago I lost a friend and co-worker to a stroke at 56.  Billy was just the nicest guy.  I mean he was truly, genuinely, completely nice.
Always smiling, always cheery, always a kind word to say as anyone walked by his workbench.  He could take a tired or battered piece of wood or leather furniture and bring it back to life – not just life, but renewed life, like-new life.   His workbench immediately became a flower, picture, and poem-covered shrine the day after his death.  Before that, he had decorated it with pictures of his family, notes from children, his favorite golfers (he loved the game) and funny cartoons.  He had put little reminders about work product written on masking tape and stuck onto the front of the shelves on his bench – “NS gets reboxed!”, etc.  But one little piece of tape with three words on it summed up his approach to life “Do Unto Others”.  That was the one that made me cry, and smile.

Tomorrow I say good-bye to a friend from our boating days, who became a friend for life.  Donna struggled with escalating heart problems this year, but her death last week at 61 was still a shock.  We had just spent some time with her over the holiday weekend, watching fireworks together, laughing and drinking and goofing around as always.  Eight days later she was gone.  We used to tease Donna about her “cleaning
frenzies” on the boat, jokingly calling her “Martha Stewart”.  While our husbands golfed in the early mornings, Donna and I and another friend would gather on the back of her boat with our coffees and books in hand, listening to NPR and chatting while the sun rose higher over the lake.  We vacationed together several times.  Donna had an enthusiasm for life and a penchant for laughter that I will truly miss.

Two months ago it was a former co-worker, John.  Months before that was another co-worker, Ray, whose wife is a friend.  Before that
was the brother of a another friend.  The parent of another.  I’m starting to create a “funeral wardrobe” to have at the ready at all times.

And I know that this trend won’t be getting any better as years go by.  Somehow I hadn’t really thought about the toll this would take – the losses so keenly felt when they’re contemporaries.

Making plans for the future is wise, but we can’t forget to enjoy the journey while we’re in it, instead of holding back for that magical “someday”
that just may not arrive.

The other lesson that has struck me is that I need to tell more people how much I appreciate them. I know it sounds corny, and it’s one of those things we tend to always say but never do.  But I want to mean it this time around.  It breaks my heart that I never told Billy how much his smile and his over-the-top-of-his-glasses gaze brightened my work day.  Even on the holiday weekend, when I knew that Donna’s health was failing, I didn’t look her in the eye and say “thank you for being my friend.”  Maybe that would have seemed melodramatic or even morbid.  But I should have said it anyway.

I hope you’ll join me in looking around your life and really seeing the people that make a difference, even if it’s just the laughing girl behind the counter at Panera who remembers your name and your favorite breakfast sandwich.  Tell her how much it means to you.  Tell your friends, and your family, and don’t worry if they give you odd looks or ask if you’re okay.  Make sure your spouse hears how much they’re appreciated.  You’ll feel better for knowing that they heard those words.

‘Cause frankly, you really just never know what tomorrow will bring.

How to Fight…errr…Communicate With Your Spouse

Odd subject for Valentine’s Day?  Maybe.  But one of the biggest secrets to a successful long-term marriage is figuring out how to argue with each other without irreparably damaging the relationship.

Just to clarify, when I say “fight” or “argue”, I don’t mean the knock-down drag-out verbal battles that pop up (hopefully) very rarely in a good relationship.  I’m talking about the little debates about who’s washing the dishes, which car to buy, etc. that can pile up in any marriage.

Couples who tell me they “never argue” just don’t understand the meaning of the word.  Because I firmly believe that a couple that always agrees on everything every day for years on end is in a coma.  And comas aren’t healthy.  Come on – people disagree with each other.  It happens.  Especially when you’re sharing a bathroom.  For years.  If you can disagree without ever raising your voice, as some people claim, that’s great (and please tell me your secret!), but it’s still a debate/argument/negotiation/fight, at least for the purpose of this post. 

I’d love to give an example of the stupid things we argue over, but I can’t remember any.  Why not?  Well, for one thing, sometimes we don’t end our arguments discussing the same topic that we started with.  And that’s the dangerous part of arguing – a silly vent/rant can become a grudge match if you’re not careful.  The little quibbles over crumbs on the counter or empty toilet paper rolls can easily end up drifting to “you don’t respect me”; “you don’t appreciate me”; or, at its worst, “you don’t love me.”  Fortunately, we’ve never reached the point of doubting our love for each other, even when we’re really ticked off.  Healthy debate is an art, and it’s something married couples have to work at constantly to keep the marriage fresh and balanced.   

There are a few philosophies out there on “how to fight”.  One oldie is the idea of holding hands while you argue.  It has merit – how can you stay mad at someone you’re holding hands with?  You can’t stomp away, and there’s no point in yelling if you’re that close.  And trying to stay mad when you’re holding hands usually leads to both of you giggling uncontrollably.  The problem?  Arguments start at the drop of a hat, and once you’re angry (after tripping over his or her shoes for the fifth time this week), the last thing you want to do is walk over and hold his hand!  The hand-holding thing works best when you know a conversation might eventually get tense (“honey, I’d really like to spend our savings on a new flatscreen TV…”).  If you plan in advance, and assume the hand-holding position early on, it can help both of you stay more calm. 

And of course there’s the golden standard – “never go to bed angry.”  I’m not so sure I support this one as much as I used to.   Hubby is one of those guys who just goes to sleep when he’s tired, angry or not.  I’ve been known to poke him to keep him awake so that we can work through some conflict and I can know we’re not going to bed angry, because that’s against the rules.  Which, of course, makes him angry.  Frankly, we’ve gone to sleep mad (or at least annoyed) a few times, and it’s been just fine.  A good night’s sleep does wonders, especially if you’re arguing about something as silly as leaving the toilet seat down.  Just as it’s hard to be mad at someone when you’re holding their hand, I’ve also discovered it’s hard to be mad at someone you’re waking up with…for the 5000th time.  We tend to just give each other a bashful “love you” while brushing our teeth, and move on with our lives, because again, who can remember what started the argument in the first place?  And who has the energy to carry it into day two?

One of my favorite tips came from a recent blurb in Reader’s Digest.  It basically said to treat your spouse like a dog.  Seriously.  If you love animals, then you know how well your dog is treated, right?  After Fido chews up your favorite slippers, sure, you’re mad as hell.  But then he looks at you with those puppy-dog eyes and you know he didn’t really mean it, and you forgive him.  Uses the dining room rug as a bathroom?  Smack a rolled up newspaper in your hands and kick him outside, but you know an hour later he’ll be curled up in your lap getting his ears scratched.  Yes, I’m talking about the dog. 

But the same can work for a spouse – really.  It’s all about intentions. I don’t intend to forget to empty the trash.  Hubby doesn’t intend to leave the cupboard door open.  I don’t intend to put his favorite cotton shirt into the hot dryer.  He doesn’t intend to track mud into the living room.  And aren’t those silly things the primary irritants in a good marriage?  If I can forgive a four-legged mammal for its carelessness, then I can forgive my two-legged mammal, too.   

On Saturday, we were driving through some bad weather on the way to a wonderful Valentine’s weekend get-away.  Hubby was behind the wheel, and pulled out to pass another car in some very dicey snow conditions.  I held my breath and grabbed the door (it was admittedly an over-reaction).  He chuckled and asked me how the brakes were working on the passenger side of the car.  I glared at him, and said “I’m picturing you as a puppy right now…”  And we both laughed out loud.

And that’s the best “secret” of all – laugh.  A lot.  If you remain aware of how silly a disagreement is, and bring that silliness to the attention of your spouse, how can you really stay mad?  As soon as one of us slips up and says something like “you ALWAYS…” or “you NEVER…”, the other will just start laughing and say “Really?  Never?  Never ever?  Are you sure?”  It might start with just a smirk, but pretty soon a smile is there, and then a laugh, and then we’ve forgotten whatever stupid thing we were arguing about. 

Communication is the key.  And that includes communicating when you don’t agree.  And that’s going to happen, so you may as well figure it out now.  I’m happy to say that I think we’ve done that pretty darned well in our marriage. 

So, as we head rapidly towards our 15th wedding anniversary….Happy Valentine’s Day, my Love!

Trust No One

In the golden days of our youth, we left our doors unlocked and let door-to-door salesmen into our homes.  We trusted people.  But our generation, the Baby Boomers, may have become the most cynical generation in history, and unfortunately, we have our reasons.  The world isn’t always a pretty place.  Bad things happen.  As children, we watched riots and assassinations on TV, and the world didn’t seem quite as golden as it did in the 1950s. 

And now, with the introduction of the World Wide Web, our skepticism radar has to be on high alert at all times.  If it’s not, we are increasingly likely to become victims.  It feels like someone is waiting to scam us, steal our identity, and part us from our money and security at every turn. 

Were there scammers back in our youth?  Sure.  Mostly land frauds – they’d sell swampland in sultry Florida or a lot in a supposed retirement community in Arizona, all based on shiny brochures and fancy documents.  People would then discover that the property they purchased (they usually received authentic deeds), was actually inaccessible, unusable, undeveloped land in some god-forsaken remote corner of the state.  A handful of people may have ended up getting the last laugh in Florida, as Disney sprouted in the midst of that dismal swamp, and their tiny lots actually gained in value.  But many people invested their life savings into a future that was just an illusion.  They’d load up the family on vacation into the big Chevy station wagon to go see their wonderful investment, only to drive out into the desert and discover that the pretty tree-lined community in the brochure was a complete and cruel hoax.

Today, scammers are preying on us, our children and our parents with an alarming array of schemes, often frightening people into paying them or giving them private information.  It’s easy to shrug it off and brag that we’d never fall for such a scheme, but that’s stupid.  Face it – if this stuff didn’t work, they wouldn’t be doing it.  Just the fact that the scams are being run at all means that people ARE falling for it.  We need to be aware, and we need to warn our friends and family members of what to watch for. 

Today, a young friend of mine received a frightening message on her cell phone.  It was a serious voice, telling her to return the call immediately to discuss a debt of hers that needed to be addressed right away to avoid legal action.  A single mom who recently went through a terribly nasty divorce, “Sally” called back in concern.  The man told her repeatedly that he was an attorney, and he gave her the last four digits of her social security number and the last four digits of her bank account.  He knew where she worked.  It was unnerving.  He told Sally that they were pursuing a $400 debt from a paycheck advance loan (which she had never made).  When she started asking questions, the caller became threatening, telling her that if she didn’t pay, they’d serve a warrant on her and have her arrested.  When Sally protested that she had young children, the caller told her she’d better make arrangements, because she was “going to jail”.  By now, poor Sally was shaking and crying – begging for more information.  Thankfully, she was smart enough not to respond when they asked her to “verify” her social security number.  The “attorney” terminated the call with more threats.     

When she came to me, my “scam alert” went on – big time.  I called the number they’d given her, said I “represented” her, and I demanded information.  He immediately got belligerent with me, in a heavy foreign accent.  When I told him I was reporting him to the attorney general, he hung up on me.  I called the local attorney general’s office, and the woman I spoke with assured us that no one could arrest my friend for a debt without providing written notice of the debt, which she could then contest in writing.  She referred us to the Federal Trade Commission’s fraud division.

Our contact there was equally pleasant and reassuring (by now Sally was beginning to calm down), and the woman took a full and detailed report.  She told us the caller wanted to steal Sally’s identity by trying to confirm her full social security number and bank account number. 

My young friend is not a fool.  She’s a professional worker in the office of a major corporation.  And these SOBs were able to reduce her to sobbing in fear and confusion.  I started thinking of how many people they have been able to bully into giving up their personal information.  The thought that they might frighten my mother, my aunts, my nieces, my friends into giving up critical data makes my blood boil.

So consider this my public service announcement, and please share it with others.  Mulder was right – TRUST NO ONE.  Question everything.  The worst that can happen is that you might momentarily offend someone who’s not trying to steal from you.  They’ll understand.   

That call from your sobbing granddaughter/cousin/nephew in Europe/Canada/Texas saying she/he was mugged and has no money and needs a wire transfer right away….DON’T DO IT!  Even if they use the right name and say the right things.  If you think for a second that the call might be legit (it isn’t), then ask very specific questions that only your relative would know (“what color is Aunt Sophie’s house/hair/dog?”).  Then get a phone number and hang up.  Call your other relatives and verify where this person is really?  I can virtually guaranty they’re not in some other country being mugged.

Anyone else who asks you for money?  The internet is as much blessing as curse – check them out.  Google them.  Isn’t that easier than handing over your hard-earned cash or your social security number to someone, no matter how nice or honest they sound?  And be sure to protect your internet data by changing your passwords regularly for email, Facebook, etc., (you are using a different password for each one, aren’t you???), and don’t use your birthday or children’s names as passwords – it’s just too easy.

And finally – do not ever, ever, EVER give anyone your social security number over the phone or online unless you are absolutely 100% positive about who you’re talking to.  Get their phone number and call them back with the info – if they don’t want you to do that, HANG UP THE PHONE.  If they say they’re from your bank and want to verify your information, hang up and call your bank to check it out. 

It’s sad to say, but there are a lot of cruel, evil people out there trying to think of new ways to rip us off.  I’d love to get Sally’s callers in a room for just 10 minutes…the bastards.  But since I can’t do that, I will starve them by announcing their “game” to everyone.  Don’t assume your friends and family won’t  fall for one of these schemes.  These guys are very good at what they do.  But we can be better by being informed.  And skeptical.  Talk to people.  Spread the word.  And be careful out there.

Americana Revisited

Sun-splashed concert goers on a hot summer afternoon

As a “baby” Baby Boomer, my childhood memories are not the bucolic “Leave It to Beaver” 1950s.  But the summers of the early 60s weren’t far off the mark in my upstate New York home.  Joys were found in fireflies and dragonflies and bonfires by the lakeshore.  We feasted on corn on the cob roasted in hot coals, and played kickball while our parents drank beer, threw horseshoes and laughed with our aunts, uncles and neighbors.

Then we grew up and watched the world become so much more complicated.  We went from being hippies to yuppies to workaholics, dizzy with success (or at least the pursuit of it).  We were sucked into the crazy excesses of the 1990’s and frankly, we forgot to have fun.  Our children were driven from school to soccer to cheerleading to baseball to karate to dance to bed in a maddening cycle of tightly organized “playing”.  Fun became something to be planned and coordinated and scheduled.

The century turned, and terrorism introduced itself to us in earnest.  The economy sank again.  Talking heads worked to convince us that we are a divided country – red vs. blue, patriot vs. immigrant, liberal vs. conservative, with no hope of compromise.  You might assume the charming Americana of our childhoods has been lost to our own cynicism.  But your assumption would be wrong.  Our essential American character is alive and well.  I saw it in action over the past holiday weekend, spent in a southern coastal town.  I suspect it was occurring in other scattered towns and neighborhoods across the country.

Saturday evening was spent in lawn chairs in the town’s waterfront park, listening to quality live music performed in the modern yet charming pavilion.  The sunlight splashed through the trees across the people gathered there.  Sitting in a variety of portable chairs, or seated on blankets on the grass.  Young adults were standing in small groups, laughing and dancing in the sea-scented breeze.  Children ran and played across the park.  Babies giggled with their relaxed and smiling parents.  Seniors tapped their toes to the music and chatted over ice-cold lemonade.  My husband and I shared a hot funnel cake buried in drifts of powdered sugar and cinnamon.  As Motown melodies filled the air, I sighed and said “This is perfect.”  And it was.

That perfection carried over to Sunday – the Fourth of July.  First was a church service filled with patriotic music, a powerful homily delivered by an Afghanistan veteran, and an interpretive dance performed by a young man from Haiti.  The afternoon revolved around the annual neighborhood picnic.  As I headed down the road in our pick-up truck to gather tables from the church, neighbors called out and strong guys jumped in to help.  People were scurrying back and forth between houses, with chicken grilling at one, hot dogs cooking at another, and the tents and chairs set up at a third.  Everyone arrived on schedule with food – good old-fashioned coleslaw, pasta salad, baked beans, brownies, pies, cakes.  Laughter and hugs.  Old friends introducing themselves to new neighbors.  The kids (young and old) played volleyball.  And as the sun began to set, chairs were arranged in a driveway so that we could re-gather under the stars to watch a movie projected on a sheet duct-taped to the garage door.   Movie popcorn and candy were served, while we laughed and cuddled.  It was perfect.

Monday didn’t disappoint.  We joined friends on their boat on a sultry afternoon, dropped anchor off a private sandy jetty, and feasted on sandwiches and sangria in the warm sun, listening to great music and enjoying catching up on our busy lives.  Perfect.

Three days without televisions or radios to tell us all about the latest scary predictions or tragedies.  Just good friends and sunshine.  And the best part?  Well, for one thing, it was basically free.  A funnel cake at the concert, and our food contributions to the picnic and boating lunch, and that was pretty much it.  It was a long way from being some upscale spa resort weekend.

But even more special than being inexpensive was that the entire hot southern weekend was true Americana – celebrated by people of different ages, different races, different religions, and vastly different political beliefs.  All those differences were set aside to celebrate America’s birthday and each other.  Our childhood summers are more than just sweet memories –  they can still be experienced today.  The challenge is to figure out how to carve out some of that perfection in the days, weeks, months to come.  A little less television.  A little less “organizing”.  A little less tension.  Less worry.  A little more appreciation of each other.  A little more laughter.  More spontaneity.  A moment taken in our oh-so-busy lives to catch our breath.  A little more focus on the quiet blessings that surround us.

If there’s one thing we Baby Boomers have learned, it is that life runs in cycles – what goes up must come down and (usually) what goes down can bounce back up again.  Political parties gain and lose power.  The economy surges and recedes.  Military tensions flare up and diminish.  That’s why they call it a “news cycle”, after all.  So let’s try to relax and remember the joys of our childhood, and give our own children the chance to experience low-pressure old-fashioned summer fun.  Concerts in the park.  Picnics and sparklers.  Boat rides and beach visits.  Americana revisited.  It’s perfect.

Marriage = Work

Happily celebrating Christmas Eve 2009 together

Being married is work.  Hard work.  Rewarding work (usually….).  But work just the same.

I was in love with old Hollywood movies when I was a little girl.  I grew up thinking that people just had to gaze into someone else’s eyes and BAM!  – they were in love.  The bells rang, the music crescendoed, fade to black, all was happy forever after.  Often the moment of love occurred in the middle of some big conflict – “Oh you brute!  You’re an awful man!”  Then the hero would grab the heroine by the shoulders and plant a big kiss on her.  She resisted (just for a moment), then melted into his arms.  Ah…love.  It Happened One Night.  Gone With the Wind.  The Philadelphia Story.  The African Queen, When Harry Met Sally, The Proposal.  It’s apparently a very reliable plot line.

This rosy-hued image of love and marriage was reinforced by the gothic romances I was reading.  As a teenager, it was Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, where the plucky governess always ended up with the lord of the manor (who was usually a rogue she had to tame).  As I matured, so did the romance novels, and the scenes became a bit more…um…explicit.  No fade-to-black here.  There was a lot of throbbing and pulsating going on.  I made the mistake of offering a fairly tame novel to my mother back then, and she promptly pronounced it to be “smut”.  But that didn’t stop me.  Janet Daily, Katherine Woodiwiss (“A Rose in Winter”…oh, my…), and Jude Deveareaux, whose “A Knight in Shining Armor” is probably the best romance novel ever (or so I thought at the time).  

But I digress….   The point is, all those romances were about the magical qualities of falling in love, and spent very little time looking at the “ever after” part. 

Falling in love is wonderful.  Staying in love is hard work.  As the glow of the early courtship fades and familiarity begins to settle in, a couple needs to decide how they’re going to make it work long-term.  If you don’t figure that out early and commit to it, a marriage can spiral into complacency – the true opposite of love when it comes to relationships. 

Complacency is always lurking at the edges of a marriage.  Let’s face it – once you reach the point where you’re flossing and toe nail clipping in front of each other, it’s easy for passion to take a back seat.  And all those cute little quirks that were so amusing and endearing when you were dating?  Well, eventually they can become downright annoying.  Infuriating, even.  That’s when you need commitment.  When you have to look at your spouse and see what you love about them, beyond the burps and farts and forgetfulness.  There are times when I am shaking in anger at my husband, and he has those same moments with me.  But we work past them.  We talk them out (sometimes loudly, I’ll admit).  But we keep communicating until it’s settled.

Like many marriages, on paper, logically speaking, there’s absolutely no reason our marriage should work.  He’s full of Irish passion and temper.  I’m a quiet WASP.  He charges through life full speed ahead, with a take-no-prisoners attitude about everything.  I’m the worrywart who frets constantly (“what if they don’t like me”  “what if someone gets hurt” “what if we get caught?”).  I can’t bear to break any rules, right down to insisting on following “use this door” signs as if the police are waiting to arrest me if I don’t.  He lives to break the rules in every way -devil-may-care, live life for the moment.  He’s the ultimate “morning person”, leaping out of bed before dawn, ready to tackle the day.  I am the opposite of “morning person”, crawling out of bed only under duress, and I’ve been known to put the milk away in the pantry and the cereal in the refrigerator.  He won’t hesitate to get in someone’s face for some injustice rendered.  I am mortified at the thought of causing a scene.  He’s loud.  I’m not.  He loves crowds and parties.  I’m happy with a good book and a glass of wine.  I cry at commercials.  He laughs at me while I’m crying.  And yet it works – magically well.

After a certain number of years, good couples (the ones who WORK at it), become not only partners, but each other’s true soul mate.  And more importantly, they become keepers of the secret shared stories. 

Sixteen years ago, shortly after we’d met, my husband and I faced the ultimate test of a new relationship:  assembling an entertainment center from what seemed like 200 pieces of wood and assorted parts that came out a very large box.  We were still “courting” back then, so we were trying to be pleasant.  He was grabbing pieces and putting them together in whatever order he found them in, insisting he didn’t need the directions.  I was fretting over making a mistake, and finally, exasperated, I said through gritted teeth, “Honey, I really think we should follow the instructions they gave us.”  His response?  “Don’t ever call me ‘honey’ in that tone of voice again.”  We stared at each other for a minute, then burst into laughter.  That comment is still one of our touchstones to this day.  If we use the word “Honey” in that exaggerated  tone, it’s a flag that things might be getting tense, and will (usually) lighten the mood – “Honey, I really think you should have taken that last exit….”

That’s just one example, but all good couples have them – those secret stories that can be referred to as a way of setting a current event into perspective.  A word.  A touch.  A look.  The secret language of experience for the couples who have figured out how to navigate the paths of relationship-building.  No one but my husband and I knows why saying the word “woof” can end a heated debate with a smile.  That’s our secret.  And those secrets are precious. 

Every anniversary, we celebrate another year of shared stories, fiery debates, daily laughter, family joys and sorrows, changing waistlines, career challenges, money made and money lost, evening walks hand-in-hand, and cuddles in bed.  We know each other’s faults and gifts in detail.  We have made a commitment to be partners in spite of or because of them.  Hardly a week goes by that one of us doesn’t look at the other and say “we are so fortunate”.   At the end of the day, it’s his smile, laughter and love that are my life support. 

Fourteen years ago today we exchanged our vows on a warm Sunday afternoon.  Whew.  What a ride it’s been so far!  All that work paid off.  I can’t wait to see what the next fourteen years (and more) bring our way.  Happy anniversary, my love.

On Being a Baby Baby Boomer

My family is a microcosm of the span of the famed “Baby Boomer” generation.   Having met at a USO in Chicago during World War II, my parents married after the war and began their family.  My brother was born in 1948, in the early years of the post-war Baby Boom.  For another 17 years, there were enough babies born every year (lots and lots) to count as the Baby Boomers, even though “the war” was long past.  I was born in 1958, near the end of the boom, which officially closed in 1964. 

Every time those first Baby Boomers hit a milestone, it makes news.  “Boomers Turn 40!”  “Boomers Turn 50!”  Boomers Turn 60!”  “Boomers Retire!” 

Well, when the afore-mentioned Boomers were turning 40 and facing their burgeoning mid-life crises, I was hitting 30 feeling footloose and fancy-free.  When they reached 50 and changed the cosmetics market forever in a panic to stay young, I was just heading into my 40’s with a new husband and a soon-to-be blossoming career.  And, while older Boomers are now retiring in droves, I’m still stuck in job-land for another 10 years or so.  

I’m a ‘baby’ Baby Boomer.  I was shaped by the 1960’s, but via the television screen, not a college campus.  One of my earliest memories is watching the JFK funeral on a small black & white TV while my mom cried.  I was five.  In 1968, my brother (the Old Boomer) paid my best friend and I fifty cents each to tear all the Bobby Kennedy campaign banners from his car the day after Bobby was killed.  At 20 and involved in his first presidential campaign, he was too heartbroken to do it himself. 

My view of those years was skewed by looking through the prism of how they affected him.  I paid attention to the war in Vietnam because my big brother was eligible for the draft.  I watched violent college protests on TV because he was headed off to college on the other side of the country (Mom’s advice – “do whatever you want out there, but don’t ever let me see your face on the national news!”).   I was 12 when four students were killed by the National Guard at Kent State.  I couldn’t understand it, and I worried that my brother would be shot on his college campus.  

Our childhoods were so very different.  He grew up with Andy and Opie.  I grew up with Laugh-In.  He was an Eagle Scout with a stay-at-home mom in a one car family.  They had a fishing boat and went tent camping in the Adirondacks for vacation.  He played Little League on a small local diamond (that’s still there).  I had a working mom in a family that boasted two cars, three snowmobiles, two boats, and a camper.  We went to New York City for vacation and stayed at the McAlpin (not quite the Waldorf, but almost right next door).  I showed horses for fun.  Yeah – being ten in 1968 was a whole lot different than being ten in 1958.

1958 was full of hope.  Ten-year-olds didn’t have a care in the world then.  1958 was Sputnik, Elvis, Alaska, de Gaulle and Eisenhower.  Yes, Castro and Khrushchev made a little noise, but that stuff rarely made it into the family living room.  Good grief, the musical hero of the year was Van Cliburn.  

1968 was a whole lot more complicated, and the news of the day was in our living room in living color.  It was LBJ, Vietnam, Nixon and hijackings.  Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were both gunned down.  Campuses burned, and Led Zeppelin rocked the radio while Hair rocked Broadway.  In ten short years, the world had turned upside down. 

My mom often says she feels like she raised two “only children”.  I thought she meant it was just because we were ten years apart – he was an only child for ten years, then I came along, then he was off to college with I was only eight.  But I wonder now if her statement also covers the fact that she raised two children in two such completely different eras. 

Some studies show that young Boomers like me don’t like being called “Baby Boomers”.  That’s probably a knee-jerk reaction to wanting to clarify that we’re not as old as those other guys.  But I don’t mind it.  Being a Boomer is cool.  We’re part of the generation that changed the world.  We may not be the “greatest generation” like our parents, but we were the 500 lb. gorilla that had to be dealt with.  We changed everything – politics, entertainment, fashion, civil rights.  We rocked the workplace, and powered the economy as we set aside our hippy beads (well, the old Boomers had more of those than us…), and we went into the workforce – men and women.  As we’ve aged (we’ll all be over 50 within 4 years), we continue to throw our collective weight around, for good and for not-so-good.  We’re spending Social Security dollars faster than our children can replenish them.  Senior living centers are springing up everywhere.  Powered wheelchairs now come in bright colors and stylish shapes.  We’ll need more doctors and nurses as we all begin to fall apart.  We’ve got another good 40 or maybe even 50 years of making our mark on society.  Sorry, kids!

Why would I want to be called the “X” “Y” or “Z” generation?  What does that even mean, anyway?  It’s lame.

Nope, call me a Baby Boomer, and I’ll take the name with pride.  Just don’t mix me up with those really old Boomers like my brother.  I’ll stick with being a Baby Baby Boomer, thank you very much!

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