Thursday, April 27, 2017

am i relevant?

a few weeks ago i ran into a high school friend's mother at meijer. we had a delightful chat. she updated me on her family and i updated her on my mom. she talked about missing the responsibility of working, of having too much time on her hands and the burden of finding things to do to keep busy. it made me think.

over the last few years, my almost 87 year old mom has mentioned occasionally that she wishes she had a job. i know she misses being around people and having meaningful work. i gave her the idea of knitting baby hats to donate to local hospitals. she took on that task with gusto and delivered large numbers of hats several different times. this made me think.

a friend messaged me recently about seeking meaningful tasks for her mom to perform in assisted living. her mom was still healthy enough to want to do for others. this gave me pause.

i've seen so many mothers lose a part of themselves when their kids leave the nest. they search for ways for their lives to still have meaning. we are a sisterhood of women looking for ways to give our lives meaning.

these and so many other stories and experiences have me thinking about relevance. how do we continue to be relevant in today's society as we age? describes relevance as being connected with the matter at hand. for the purpose of this blog post, i'm expanding that definition to include: important, significant, engaged, beneficial and productive.

as young women, we are relevant in a variety of ways. we have careers. our opinions matter. our partners count on us. we nurture children. we change our communities, our world. all of that relevance is heady stuff. like a drug, we become addicted to the satisfaction of being needed, making a difference and being relevant.

i think that as we age, the need to prove something to the world decreases. we've raised happy, productive children who are contributing to society. we've reached our career goals. we are financially secure. we've achieved many of our goals and dreams. and, so, we start to ask ourselves what's next? what is the value of my life? am i important? what is my relevance? we are missing the drug that kept us happy and satisfied when we were younger. or, maybe, we aren't as frantically busy so we have more time to dwell on these things. smile

there also new physical, mental and confidence issues to deal with as we age. people say age is only a number and i agree that there is truth in that. but fighting back and holing on to all those faculties is a real battle that affects our abilities to remain relevant.

a few years ago i blogged about earning and maintaining respect from young(er) co-workers. you can read it here. there is a "hanging on" facet in the workplace as we age and close the gap to retirement. it's a balancing act to keep up with new trends and technologies while promoting (defending?) the expertise you've accumulated in a long career.

one thing that strikes me daily about social media is the way it helps to support, bolster and encourage the need for women to be relevant. a woman can become interested in hostas, research hostas, photograph hostas, blog about hostas and quickly be considered an expert. she's made herself relevant to the dozens, hundreds or thousands of people who frequent her blog, instagram and facebook feeds. she's found her new drug (thanks, Huey Lewis) and thrives on the benefits of being relevant.

a couple of years ago, an acquaintance said to me, "oh you have your art. you're creative. you can do so many things. i have nothing." although i felt empathy for her, i thought, "what are you waiting for? find YOUR thing and do it." we each only get one life to live. for gosh sake, go for it. live it.

in case i'm coming off as a know-it-all who has it all together, um, there is literally no truth in that. at all. i struggle with a great many things. a lesson i've learned the hard way lately is that sometimes i have to just get out of my own stubborn way. i think we get stuck in certain thought patterns, sometimes negative ones, sometimes self-defeating ones. we think that because we've chosen a certain path that we have to follow that path in a straight, linear fashion. we feel stuck, maybe defeated. i had to challenge myself to set myself aside, to get past my negativity and CHOOSE to travel on my path in different ways. i'm still headed in the same direction but i'm skipping, dancing, hopping and laughing along the way. okay, some days i'm limping, stumbling, crying and beating myself up. what's important is that i DECIDED to stop hanging my head down and dragging my feet. it's made a big difference. big.

so, today i ask myself: am i relevant? i want to be relevant. now and at 70 and at 80 i want to feel important, significant, engaged, beneficial and productive. oh, what a wonderful world it is that i get to CHOOSE how i will continue to try to be relevant. i've said it before -- choice is a powerful thing.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

small expectations

recently, i read about a fictional character who felt overburdened by the weight of others' expectations. it gave me pause.

no matter how casual or entangled a relationship is, there are always expectations.

when i was little, my parents expected me to eat my vegetables, be polite, keep quiet in church and get good grades. although i was quite mischievous at times, i was never burdened with doing what was expected of me.

in school, i enjoyed the challenges of meeting and exceeding the expectations of teachers. i followed the rules and was obedient.

i don't recall having difficulty with meeting expectations in the numerous jobs i've had over the many years of my career. for the most part i was a give me the goal you want to achieve and then get out of my way while i do it kind of worker. no one complained about the results i produced.

meeting expectations in entangled adult relationships has been a stumbling block for me. that's all i'm going to say about that.

as a 64 year old woman who lives alone, i have few expectations to manage other than those of my my employer. i do what i want, when i want. i like this about the life i've created. sometimes i feel guilty but rarely burdened. it's taken years to understand myself and what i need to be truly happy. i thrive on lots of quiet time, hours to be alone with my thoughts, to read, craft, sew, walk in the woods. i really don't want a lot of responsibility or expectations. spending time with my kids and grandkids is the big exception. when guilty thoughts of things i should be doing for others seep into my head, i remind myself that we each only get one life to live. if this makes me selfish, then i totally own that word.

on the flip side, i try to have few expectations of others. it's hard for me to ask for help. by keeping my life simple and small, i have fewer needs and so ask less of others. it works for me.

that dude up top is kiefer fynn nash. kiefer is a german surname meaning pine tree or barrel maker. fynn means bright and fair in gaelic. nash is a surname derived from middle english meaning at the ash tree. i imagine him as a woodsman, adept at identifying all the trees, gathering kindling, chopping down trees. he's quiet, contemplative, kind to nature and animals, a loner like me.

when not in the woods, kiefer sits and watches me work all day. he has zero expectations of me. my only expectation of fynn is that he sit quietly. this relationship works for me.

Friday, April 14, 2017

would i, should i, could i go to the woods

when asking myself the question, "would i, should i, could i go to the woods?" the answer is yes. always yes. there's something primal in the forest that speaks to my inner soul. the cycle of birth, death, decay and rebirth is apparent in every season. each of my senses awakens and feasts.

my almost-40 year old son asked me to accompany him to the woods last sunday. he said, "let's just go poke around." we were lured by the possibility of finding morels but it was very dry and we repeatedly told each other we were just a bit too early, maybe next sunday after it rains and the nights are warmer.

there was a quiet so quiet that you could hear the leaves rustle in the gentle breeze.

a lone woodpecker's call brought back memories of Woody Woodpecker in the living room with my siblings long, long ago.

chunky, peeling vines spiraling through trees reminded me of playing Tarzan in the big woods as a child.

matt found two fossils in the stream bed and i pocketed a piece of misty blue "sea" glass.

stumbling on the first may apples, the early spring beauties and the tiniest of toadstools was delightful.

but my favorite thing was finding the little boy still alive and well in my grown son. just as he did when he was 7, 9 and 11, matt noticed (and identified) everything  --  the dying bark on an ash tree, the woodpecker holes in a fallen log, the pheasant tail shelf mushrooms. his intellect and knowledge never cease to amaze me. when he peered up into the trees to find the noisy woodpecker, i saw the 7 year-old matt with binoculars around his neck. as he placed a fossil in his medicine bag i remembered the magpie matt who hunted/gathered bones in the woods as a child. oh, how i cherish those bittersweet glimpses of my first-born child.

this week i upped my walking game to an hour plus and i pulled out the five pound weights with a goal of 10-15 minutes a day. getting older and becoming more feeble is somewhat inevitable. but, i am determined to have many more years of getting out into the woods. my fervent wish is to still be able to say yes, always yes, when matt says let's just go poke around in the woods. at 70, at 75, at 80 years of age.

my other fervent wish is that when i am those ages, my kids will still see the younger me in my eyes and zest for living.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

on sunday evening my daughter texted me, "don't be so hard on yourself."

she knows me well. i'm stubborn, independent, determined and yes, hard on myself. these traits are most evident when i get an idea for a diy project that is probably beyond my skill level. but, i want to do it myself. i know that there will be tears and cussing and massive frustration. but i want to do it myself.

here's the story.

i stumbled on a library book about vertical gardening in a raised bed. i read it front to back in an evening and made a list of what i'd have to buy: 2x6x8s, 2x2s, 2x4x8s and deck screws. at lowe's, i enlisted the help of a young man who seemed skeptical about my ability to construct a raised vegetable bed. he cut the pieces to my requested lengths and loaded it all in my van. "good luck," he said with a smile.

at Tractor Supply, i purchased a roll of rabbit fencing with the right size holes, loaded it in my van and smiled about all the veggies i would grow.

the supplies sat in the back of my van for weeks while i waited for Mother Nature to cooperate. this last sunday morning, i laid my camping tarp out on the ground in the back yard and unloaded all the supplies from my van. there was a drill bit in my drill that i needed to remove. i couldn't figure out how to remove the drill bit as it had been a couple of years since i'd used it.  i pushed every button and turned every knob. nothing worked. so, of course, i googled it. twenty minutes later i had the drill bit out and inserted the thingy that came with the box of deck screws. it fell down into the drill. i had lost the nib or jib or whatever that thingy is that holds that other thingy in the drill that allows me to screw instead of drill. it was nowhere to be found in my plastic case of drill bits. twenty minutes later i had managed to tighten the drill enough to hold that first thingy in place.

fast forward another twenty minutes and i've figured out that the screws will not drive into the yellow pine without me pre-drilling holes. out with the thingy and in with the drill bit that i think is the closest size i have to the screws i've purchased. i don't own a work table or saw horses. i'm sitting on a tarp on the ground with the 2x6x8' boards standing on their 2" sides on the ground. i attempt to drill holes into the wood while holding the drill perpendicular and horizontal to the surface. as i'm doing this i am totally aware that drilling is much more effective when drilling down vertically into a board. but i'm stubborn and determined to do it my way.

forty minutes later, i'm sweating and crying and my right hand aches from holding the drill. i have managed to drill 3 holes. each hole is way bigger than the screws i plan to use because the board keeps leaning and falling while i'm drilling. at this point my language has guttered and my sleeve is covered in snot.

i give up.

i load everything back in my van. i go inside for a shower.

i pout, stew, worry, fret and beat myself up. i eat a piece of rhubarb pie and warm up my coffee. my main train of thought is that ten years ago i could have easily built this dang thing. by myself. (i'm not 100% sure there is truth in this belief). i admit to myself that this is another indication of my pending old age. it's not just physical, it's mental. my mind fogs easily and breaks down when i let anger and frustration seep into my emotions. i feel defeated. i cry.

after reading for an hour or so i convince myself that there is no shame in asking for help. i text my son and he says of course he will help me. he said from the beginning that he would build it. i wanted to do it myself. i cry again.

a note about the tears. i am not prone to crying or feeling sorry for myself except when i'm feeling vulnerable. "i'm getting old" thoughts have creeped into my consciousness more and more lately. it's hard for me to have a strong will to fight back when the weather is cold. fighting back gets harder. giving in becomes easier. and diminished brain capacity comes with giving in. it's a vicious cycle that many (most?) of us fight. spring/summer/fall foster feeling young(er).

later that night i was reading and texting with my daughter about a random variety of things and shared a snippet of this story. that's when she strongly suggested that i not be so hard on myself.

i continued reading while letting the events of the day play out in my head. and like a light bulb being illuminated, an image of nails popped into my head. hot damn! who says i need to use an electric drill/screw driver?! a friend has loaned me a three pound hammer. i can hammer this damn raised bed together. hot damn! i'm back in the game.

my grandson Ben accompanied me to the hardware store yesterday. he knew right where the nails were. he knew to weigh them in the scale and put them into a paper bag. he said to write the price on the bag with the pencil. when i asked him if he would help me hammer the boards together he replied sure.

i still have hope of building this raised bed. but maybe not by myself.