In Which Old Ladies Run….

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We ran for 16 minutes today, this fat little 5-year old dachshund and I. Actually, the 4-month old golden retriever ran with us too, but she was hiding from me by the time I took this picture, because she tried to kill me 72 times in sixteen minutes tripping me.

Why, you ask, would a 52 year old woman suddenly decide to go out on a cold day when the streets are icy and I imagined the neighbors coming to their windows to laugh at the old lady wheezing down the street?

Because it’s fun.

Because my body is healthy enough to at least shuffle along, and I wanted to celebrate that fact.

Because everybody starts somewhere.

Because the fresh air stinging my cheeks was a rush after a long hard day at work today.

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P.S. Don’t worry. The golden and I made up. Sort of.

The Joys of Being the “Funny Old Lady”

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The other day, my manicurest Jimmy (yes, I totally have a very young Vietnamese boy named Jimmy who does my nails every 2 weeks and aspires to work in a factory), laughed and told me, “You’re a funny old lady” when I was searching for my purse that I had allegedly just put on the chair beside me only moments before. Or so the story goes.

I was delighted.

I was tickled because that means I have reached that magical period of my life when I can roll around on the floor with my grandkids and not worry about any of us getting dirty.

I can eat hot dogs for breakfast if I want because I’m no longer worried about making sure my little ones get the complete RDA of every vitamin and micronutrient. But they have to be Nathan’s. Or Hebrew National. Yum!

I can wear leopard sneaker wedges if I fancy them because I paid for the dang things, and because my husband thinks I’m beautiful if I wear a gunny sack. Because he’s funny and old too.

If I pee my pants laughing, my overriding thought is not to die of embarrassment, but to be grateful for such a moment of pure joy.

If I need to stay at work late because I have a patient who’s sad, or confused, or vulnerable, I can do so, and my husband understands, because we’ve both lived long enough to have felt that way ourselves.

If I’m really sad about something, I’ve lived through enough sadness to have faith that I will eventually come out on the other side, and I know that tears can be my strength.

I have friends that will come over if I need them and never raise an eyebrow that my bathroom isn’t clean. And friends that understand even if we don’t get together for months.

Never fear getting older. I promise. I PROMISE. It just keeps getting better.

First Times

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When I met my husband at 46, he had never seen an ocean. Also? He was afraid of water. Two things for which I had no mental frame of reference.

So I took him to the ocean. And the fearful wonder of a middle aged man feeling the tide pull against his feet for the very first time was amazing to behold.

We’re never too old for first times.

Redefining Family

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This photo includes my daughter, her husband, my granddaughter, my daughter’s father and his wife, his sister, my daughter’s sister….if you have trouble keeping all the specific labels straight, then do what I do.

Call them family.

The other night, I stopped to pick up my daughter at the home of her husband’s parents. And I teased her father-in-law, and hugged her mother-in-law, and they gave me a piece of the best, yummy cheesecake I’ve ever put in my mouth.

They are friends, but I do, completely, consider them to be family.

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This woman was to have been my daughter-in-law. She is my grandson’s mommy, and my confidante and friend. She calls me Momma Bear.

I call her family.

A week and a half ago, my former husband – the man who raised my kids – died. We were married for eleven years, and he was the man who chased off the boys who broke my daughter’s heart, who sat in the bleachers and watched my boys play sports. Our marriage had failed, but those life events weren’t magically erased. At the funeral, his sons (who I helped raise) called me Mom.

We grieved together as a family. And kids – now adults – who had spent much of their childhoods at our house were there grieving as well, and also called me Mom. Not because they don’t have wonderful mothers with whom they have close relationships. Rather, it was their was of honoring and remembering the bonds we have shared throughout the years.

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This is a woman who has been influential in my life for more than 35 years: my daughter’s grandmother. She taught me how to cook, and how to take care of a baby when I was nineteen years old. When our legal relationship crumbled, it is she who taught me that family is family and made not just me but also my boys feel included when there wasn’t a convenient label with which to identify us. She mothered me, and any woman will tell you how precious and inviolable that is.

I believe in the Words in Red, and Jesus Himself was very inclusive about his family relationships, and taught that to his friends and family as well. “Woman, behold your son.”

I’m very well aware that the way I define family – and the way I’ve taught my children to define family – goes against the grain. In fact, it can make those with whom I share legal and genetic bonds feel as if those bonds are not special sometimes.

They are.

But I honestly believe that the world could do with a whole lot more Family rather than less.

A true friend is like a mirror

I’ve had some time over the past week to spend more time than usual with the woman who knows me best in this world – my daughter, Britt. She’s 19 years younger than I am, and has (obviously) known me that entire time. And where once she was my child, the years have forged us into the truest and most lasting of friends. She knows me – even and especially in the ways that I would rather not be known by the world: in my least charitable and most unattractive ways. And she fiercely and loyally loves me – even when she does not agree or understand.

Here’s the thing. The last several years have been ones of great, terrain-altering change for me. Like, the kind that makes even the satellite map of me look different from outer space. Losses, gains, grad school and graduation, new hometown, new name, new identity. Wonderful changes, horrible changes. If you’re reading this and have breathed the air on this planet for more than 20 years, you know the kind I mean.

I knew that I was feeling kind of — untethered. Like an earthquake had broken me free from the mainland. I knew I felt like I was drifting. But I didn’t realize until Britt was here how much I had lost. Like, I had forgotten who I waswhat I did and how I did things.

 

Here’s the thing. Look at her. She looks like me. And if you saw us both together, you would have to laugh at how much she sounds like me, and has mannerisms like me. So when I saw her in my kitchen, as I sat, like a lump, watching her, it was like watching a younger version of myself – then – doing what I used to do. Poking around in the cupboards, coming up with some brilliant idea to cook something or create something. Doing. Reading. Thinking thoughts. Connecting. Laughing. Playing. Making plans.

I haven’t done any of that in longer than you would believe. Haven’t planned meals or made them with any consistency. Haven’t read anything besides a research paper. Haven’t thought anything or discussed anything deeper than what so-and-so posted on Facebook. For longer than I am comfortable admitting to you, unless I was working, I have just, well, sat.

She makes me remember who I am, and what I care about. She makes thoughts I used to think stir and stretch in the recesses of my brain that have been cordoned off for years. Her presence made me drag out the books of crochet patterns that I hadn’t looked at in years. It made me find the DVDs that had been shuffled and moved over the years from place to dusty place. As we sat together talking, I would say to her, “Remember…?”

I feel like a long long bout of amnesia is lifting. I feel the springtime stirrings of new growth on old wood. I remember losses past, and how we survived them. I remember what it felt like before I felt so…damn…old.

A true friend is like a mirror. In her case, my friend is the person who has known me and loved me longer than anyone else on the planet.

Thank you, chica. You gave me back myself.

I Need a Place to Speak

I have had a lot of blogs over the years, the most popular one being a personal blog that I eventually deleted after listening to the Conventional Wisdom that says that especially professionals should not be too transparent in the online world. Might damage our professional reputation, you know. And for someone like me, that is a distinct danger. My metaphorical slip is generally showing, if you know what I mean.

So I tried to create blogs centered around things for which I had a passion. Like whole, raw foods, and the health care system, and my career as a family nurse practitioner. The problem is that there are a lot of things about which I feel passionate – many of which have no logical association with the others.

I have been floundering, recently, feeling like I was wandering through some weird flatland, not exactly sure of where I wanted to go, let alone where I was. Unsure of my identity, my place in the grand scheme of things, how I was supposed to clothe myself, what I was supposed to eat, what issues I was supposed to care most deeply about, and even – alas – how I was supposed to feel about any of that unknowing.

“They” – those great unnamed experts out there – say that the best and most-read blogs are those who have a niche – you know. They’re about travel, or food, or Portuguese water dogs, or, uh, healthcare. But I was thinking that what I need at this point in my life is not readers to hear me but for me, alone, to have a place to speak. Even if no one ever hears me. To not speak, for me, has been malignant, and wearing, and aging.

Today I typed the phrase “I’m floundering” in the Google search bar (a fun little way to distract your mind sometimes) It led me, as you might expect, hither and yon, but it did lead me to the story of Sumedha Khanna, a physician who worked with the WHO for many years, and now focuses on individual and collective women’s health issues – physical, mental, and spiritual health. On one of the pages of her website, I read the following quote:

When we enter a forest phase in our lives, we enter a period of wandering and a time of potential soul growth. In the forest it is possible to reconnect with our own innate nature, to meet what we have kept in the shadows and what we have been kept from knowing or acknowledging about ourselves. Here it is possible to find out what we have been cut off from, to “re-member” a once vital aspect of ourselves. We may uncover a wellspring of creativity that has been hidden for decades. Most of all, once in the forest, we must find within ourselves whatever we need to survive. —Jean Shinoda Bolen, Crossing to Avalon

I think the thought that struck me in this passage was that it is OK to wander, in fact, it is expected to wander in midlife; and that wandering is fruitful and productive and good – not something to freak out about, and attempt to distract oneself from, and attempt to figure out. 

Because a lot of what we see when we look at other people, either IRL (in “real life”) or online, is very one- or two-dimensional. We read the writings of mommy bloggers and believe that they, in their child-rearing years, have everything all figured out. At the very least, they have a firm identity as, well, mommies. As I did, when my children were young.

Fashion bloggers know what they’re doing when it comes to looking cool every time they leave the house. Travel bloggers not only go to cool places, but they know their way around in very cool places. Foodie bloggers, somehow, create very cool dishes when I am looking around for chips when I finally drag my butt home from work.

But I wander. Because I’m at a time in my life when my children are adults, and my parents are all gone. My spiritual beliefs are a fluid and dynamic thing. I love my work, but it wears me to a frazzle and hurts my idealistic little heart sometimes. I adore my husband, but I don’t want to be in his hip pocket all day everyday.

I care passionately about social justice and I am in love to the point of giddiness with people and their stories, their courage and their strengths. I think the little human beings who happen to be my grandchildren are amazing, creative, magical little creatures that inspire awe and delight in me. And I love beautiful things – even if no one else sees beauty in them.

So, I created for myself a space in which I could speak, and if you are here, I warn you that I cannot predict the topics on which I will speak. I may speak about my beloved son, whose actions landed himself in prison, and I am just as likely to crate word vignettes about people for whom the lack of access to healthcare is nothing less than genocide. I may laugh about how my friends all bring me T-shirts and doodads about Red Solo Cups, and my fondness for margaritas. I may rhapsodize about my friends, who are talented, hard-loving, loyal-to-the-bone people that have marched with me into the fires of hell and never noticed the heat. Or I may describe the charming details of the flu. Who knows?

I may not interest anyone else, but I am coming to know that I am a tapestry on two feet, with a snag here and probably a cigarette burn or two there. What I say may not matter in the grand scheme of things (whatever that is), but it very much matters that I have a place in which to say them. Exhaling is just as important as inhaling.