It was a relief to discover that my red-eyed appearance was not an emotional symptom, but rather simply a case of dry eyes that I ignored to the point where my tissues were constantly inflamed. Menopause symptom, likely, and easily addressed by adding Omega 3 and using re-wetting or artificial tear drops as needed. As needed being more often than I remember to administer – but I’ll get there. Thankfully, my constant red eyelids are now just an unpleasant memory.
Granted, I’ve been more likely to reach a silent overwhelm of emotion these days, particularly when I’m in the presence of my children. It makes no sense to me, as these are some of the people with whom I draw the most comfort.
I am rendered nearly speechless, unable to converse comfortably, or sensibly. Some of it is attributed to tinnitus – there are only so many tones that I can focus on without losing part of what’s being heard. Partly, it’s that I don’t want to miss a thing, so I nearly miss everything as I try to focus on every conversation at once. Not as easy a fix – but I’ll be working to find my perfect hearing range so that I can focus to give full-on attention to the conversant in that range.
The part that I can’t change is that I’m full to the brim with love for these people, and am faced with a change in status, for which I have no practice.
Change is a constant in life, and I’ve done a damn fine job of handling change in the past (meaning that I didn’t go on a rampage, and I didn’t have a total meltdown). Change during my earlier years was like drinking water. I gulped it down and on to the next task I went.
About five years ago I noticed a shift, a grating of tectonic plates sort of shift. Suddenly, I found myself irritable with too much change or too many compounded changes. Sure, I could still function well, I could still move on to the next task, but my comfort zone had been impacted, and it unsettled me, irritated me.
Still in the irritable stage, change has been fairly constant, the compounded sort, but I’m functional.
A change in position not aptly prepared for – that sort of change is like a chasm that has opened up beneath me. I’m not prepared for it, but accept that I must either embrace and learn to roll with it, or tumble along grasping recklessly at strongholds along the way.
Mother-in-law, Step-mother-in-law, Grandma, Step-Grandma – these titles, these changes to my position, have caught me off-guard in comparison with my own head-in-the-clouds, prior-concocted expectations.
Let me broadcast with great joy: I have the absolute best of the pick when it comes to family. Our sons were extremely easy to raise, and they chose very well when they chose their mates. I have daughters-in-law whom I love dearly, and they are the perfect complement to our family. Our grandchildren are a pure delight, and their parents are doing a great job raising these youngsters.
My job should be easy, but I’m a perfectionist in the most annoying ways – obsessive about where my everyday use items are situated, persnickety about what I ingest, and particularly overly particular in creating my own expectations.
I want to match expectations that I set long ago. I want to take bits and pieces from others I’ve observed in these positions and meld them into some fantasy figure, based on very little reality. Who could possibly have factored in where I or my family would be in our lives when this particular stage of life arrived?
So I emote silly things based on my silly notions, and get myself all tizzy-frazzled for things that no one else can control.
Compound that with the fact that my mother-in-law died during my second year of marriage, creating a void where I could have learned a great deal. My mentor is absent, that’s my excuse…
So I’m forging ahead in uncharted territory, with great hope that I won’t injure any relationships, step on anyone’s feelings, or cause any great distress; yet keep in mind my own emotional health and well-being.
Oh, and did I mention I’m menopausal? 😉
Each year, another notch of unrest strikes at my aging body.
During the early years of marriage, our primary difference was where our ‘dream’ home was located. He said humid Texas and I said rocky Colorado. He loved the moist heat and I loved the dry cold.
As an easy compromise, we remained in Kansas. Hot humid summers and cold-ass winters. Neither of us really thrilled about the locale, but staying put is ever so easily accomplished.
Aging, it seems, makes me reconsider – perhaps there’s merit in warmer climates.
As the joints in my fingers squeal little prophetic tunes of ‘if you think this is bad, just you wait’, and my cold ankles send icicles up my spine, I recognize that there will need to be some more compromises made – and quickly!
I’ve discovered that once my ankles become chilled, there is no other body part that I can warm to adjust my core temperature back to comfort. I simply have to find a method to keep my ankles warm, always. Similarly, the back of my neck is now a temperature modifying zone.
Where are those leg-warmers of the 80s? Why didn’t I subscribe to that fashion phase and store a box of them as mementos?
Thankfully, scarves have been quite the recent fashion craze – and as usual, I’ll finally be interested in them once they’re going out of style. Count on me to be completely off the tracks of fashion sense. 🙂
Seriously though, I’ve recently discovered that quality “short”boots – not the ankle boots, mind you – provide just the sort of heat entrapment necessary for these thermostat ankles, so I’ve stalled the caravan South for a bit.
But I do understand those SnowBirds now. Does that mean I’m still learning?
“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
Today marks the cultural page turn – from 48 to 49… meaning that I’ll begin telling myself that I’m 50 now.
It’s a bittersweet change, a journey-marking and emotion-stirring sort of transition.
I love who I’ve become. It’s been a long hard journey, but I feel it’s come full circle now – I found the girl I lost a long, long time ago.
A woman now, but with a girlish joy, a girlish energy, a girlish view of life – with a firm foundation of reality and knowledge.
Oh, I don’t know it all – hell no I don’t!
But what I do know gives me courage.
It gives me strength and fortitude.
And I can now look in the mirror and say “I love you, you beautiful bad-ass you!”
That took a long time, and I just realized today that it’s real.
Sadly, I’m now the number my grandmother reached, never to count another.
Did she ever reach a satisfaction point?
Was she ever able to look at the mirror and love those eyes looking back?
I’m only two years from the number my mother last counted.
I don’t know that she had the satisfaction of self-acceptance either.
This anchors me, holds me firmly on my feet.
I think of their end – to feel as young as I feel, yet to have lived as much as I have lived now. To realize how precious life is – I mean, we finally really get that at this age! Then to be done?
No knowledge, no history to follow.
Missed opportunities, missed grand-kids, missed great grand-kids…
That rocks my world a bit. It makes their absence seem off-balance, skewed and unreal.
I know that I’m 90% likely to exceed this year by 20 or 40 (yes, I’ll take the positive view) years. I’m thankful for what I have and what possibilities exist…
And I’m so happy with where I am, where we are, my spouse and I – where our kids are, and what our lives are about.
More importantly, I’m so thankful to Almighty that I’ve been allowed the opportunity to see today. We really never truly know if we’ll see tomorrow…
There you have it – it’s bittersweet…
But there’s more — I’ll share the “cherry on top” moment for the day:
Moving slowly this morning, just a little worn from four hours of road time yesterday, topped by a 5K mud dash for a fundraiser, I was feeling pretty good about myself. I’d accomplished a physical feat that I had been unsure of, and I had met new people and enjoyed myself thoroughly.
I took my sweet time, finally taking time to run through the edits and uploads for my niece’s bridal shower pictures. Much later than my usual time, I was ready to eat breakfast and get outside to monitor the poor, neglected garden.
I was in such a hurry to get outside, I decided to take my yogurt/granola out with me and eat it as I walked through the garden.
There I was, granola bowl in hand, rounding the corner of the garage, noticing that there was a strange chair peeking out from behind the camper.
As I continued my approach, the accompanying bistro style table with colorful flower mosaic tile and second chair came into view!
I have to admit, the smile on my face was the biggest I’ve had, and the tears that streamed down my face were pure joy.
I slowly set my bowl down and admired his choice, feeling the sudden rush of contentment that comes from someone just knowing me so well.
Yes, I feel pretty good, pretty grounded about the number fifty.
“Most people are on the world, not in it– having no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them– undiffused separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate. ”
What I’ve been reminded of, had reinforced in short successive meetings, is much broader scope than my personal epiphany.
The glimpse we’re given into the lives of Abraham and Sarah sets the tone: belief in and worship of Almighty Most High, deep family ties – not ties that choke but ties that rescue when in need, hospitality to travelers, and care and concern for others unknown.
Application of those principles is something I often struggle with. I don’t know which upheld “I need ______” sign to trust as I pass a forlorn beggar, nor do I trust my ability to judge safety when a traveler is sitting along the ramp of a busy interstate.
Touched with emotion, I keep moving past. I don’t stop, I don’t make eye contact except to flash a quick smile of greeting, hoping that they understand my dilemma.
What I’ve just found that I am able to do is to lend an ear when an opportunity arises. My opportunity was four plane rides during the transport to and from our work conference destination. Safely ensconced in a crowded plane, my trusty coworkers scattered throughout the cabin, I was able to let down my typical guard and converse.
Through the brief conversations, I met several people, and received a distinct impression – a heart print – from each and every one.
I’d like to introduce them to you:
Passenger One, the tall, balding NY Times reader, with a paunch. He was likely in his early to mid-sixties. He was very polite, yet somewhat brisk and professional, nearly British in his demeanor. He exchanged basic pleasantries and asked where I was going, then a little about my employer.
Side-tracked by the pilot announcements, I left it at that and chatted with the very helpful passenger on my left side. Once that conversation had run its course, I recognized that I had not inquired about the Times reader’s destination.
There was a shift in demeanor, a sudden letting loose of the rigidity, the polite standoff. As he turned to answer, I saw the pain in his eyes – a soft pain, but still very evident.
He was going to New York to visit his mother. She had recently had a very serious illness (which he did not elaborate upon and I did not ask) and was still hospitalized. He talked with a wry smile about how she loved the city life and he could not get her to budge and move closer.
No other family in the area, her friends long gone, this 93-year-old city gal was going out in her own terms. And he was dutifully and frequently doting upon her to see her through the journey.
I told him I hoped the best for her and for him as well when we parted. His thank you and kind smile were genuine.
Passenger Two, the frumpy, nervous-Ned, whose eyes darted frantically out the window, then to the onboard monitor. He was likely in his late 50’s, salt and pepper, with submissive demeanor – self-deprecating almost.
As I glanced toward the window, nervous-Ned mistook my glance as curiosity for his actions on the touch screen. He began to explain that he had a short delay between flights and was previewing the gate for his next leg of the trip.
Curious, I looked to see what he meant and he helped me navigate the new American Air monitors to see ‘my flight’ and the airport terminal map. A perfect opportunity to learn.
Continuing, in his nervous way, he explained that he was traveling to NV to attend two weeks of education. He is an administrative law judge and I’m sorry to say that I got distracted by that fact as he further explained his job. I was connecting the persona to the position and my prior experiences with such.
A very pleasant man, he talked a bit about his downtime and possible travel plans – staying in a motel in Vegas but with not one iota of interest in the gaming community.
Next leg of the flight, Passenger Three, the vivacious 62 yr old brunette, with fantastically lovely cornrow braids that sparkled as she talked – and talk she did! Our conversation began when I stated with matter of fact that she had my admiration for stepping across me so deftly to access her window seat. I didn’t see her coming and then she was suddenly there.
She launched right into her travel logs, excitement oozing from every word. I heard of her overwhelm with work and living the life she thought she wanted in Phoenix, I heard of her HUGE family of origin and the pride and love for them, I heard of her welcoming her nephew who would live with her during his college education. I then heard her dreams to return ‘home’, to get back to her roots and live closer to family – as soon as the boy’s college was complete. She cautioned me to Phoenix traffic, told me not to take it personally when folks weren’t nearly so kind and we gave each other good cheer as we parted.
Flying back home, the flight to Dallas, Passenger Four, the intense and nervous beauty, with deeply drawn lines, but sparkling eyes (when they were not clouded with concern). She was a quiet-ish sort, nearly suggesting submissive, yet her eyes held a longing to be close, to confide.
When I asked her destination, she said to a military stop, and then on to many flights. My eyes held hers for a moment, hesitant to ask, not certain if she cared to share – and then she did. She explained that she was going to Baghdad, as an interpreter at the embassy there.
Short notice given, she had packed as many belongings as she might possibly be able to carry, to serve in the ‘crisis’. She would only have the things she brought, to begin with – her lodgings would be in a small box-like ‘room’. The last time she was there, it was for three years. Conditions were different, it seemed… this time.
There had been an emergency evacuation, you see, she’d heard from a friend there. They were told to put what they could in backpack and get the hell out NOW! Everything they owned was forever lost, unless it fit in the backpack. This is where she was going, to do what she was hired to do, to fit the need she’d determined she could fill.
We talked about many things, and I can only hope that the unburdening gave her a small moment of relief. There is a situation, and we only know the tip of the iceberg – and she didn’t share information she should not share – but I am an observer, that’s what I do best, and I looked deep into her eyes and saw sorrow that I only know the edge of.
She touched me, squeezed my heart – and I reached out a hand, placed on her arm and told her I hoped for safe travels for her. Then she strapped on her 70 lb. backpack, this petite, yet sturdy version of citizenship; hoisted her second carry-on, and moved forward.
On the last leg home, I was pensive, seated for the late arrival of Passenger Four, the beautiful youth, a blond fawn-like creature, with demure eyes and obvious over-seas ways. She strapped on a headset immediately and plugged in to the seat back, appearing to shut out the world around her.
Then, after take-off, she had removed the ‘electronic wall’ and glanced furtively at me. I smiled. She smiled. She leaned toward me and asked if they would serve something to drink on the flight – yes, they certainly should. ‘Good, I need fluids’, she said.
Definitely international – but very good English, I asked where she was heading and the conversation ensued. A native Bulgarian, she was looking forward to college in a small Kansas town. Her primary reason for the change was to play basketball, something she’s done for the past twelve years. She wants to study psychology and be a mentor for at-risk children, particularly those entering school and kindergarten aged.
She spoke of home with a strong mix of pride, and sadness. Her community is mired in hopelessness, you see. They’re poor and give up all hope when their youth is diminished. She challenged me to keep forging ahead, to live life as fully as possible – and to visit her country.
I challenged her to contact me, to have a home away from home, as a newly adopted member of our family.