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.

The Fog Is Starting to Clear

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I’ve had a rough time lately – say, ever since I finished my graduate program, actually. Which I have not wanted to talk about because, hey! I should be on top of the world, right? Finally finished with school, with the job of my dreams, a husband who adores me and time to finally see my kids and grandkids and friends. Right? Right?!?!?

The truth is that I have been overwhelmed and feeling stupid, which is something they touch on in school but no one can really make you understand until you live through it. Being the guy where “the buck stops here” is not a comfortable ensemble to don – it takes some time. I am lucky to have some wonderful, generous and understanding friends who are physicians and other nurse practitioners who have assured me that yes, they all went through it too, and yes, it does indeed settle more comfortably on one’s shoulders.

Also, for the first time since I was 19 years old, I live in a home with just my husband (and our now three dogs). No kids. And let me give a word of wisdom to you young mommies and daddies who are longing for some alone time when the little rugrats are grown up. You’ll get it. And it takes a while to get used to.

Kids who used to think you were the smartest, most wonderful, and most important Supreme Being in their lives grow up and get their own lives, and are as harried and tired and running around in forty different directions at once as we were at their age. And mommies aren’t quite as high on the priority list. In fact, sometimes we become a downright nuisance, an item on a to-do list to dutifully check off  (“call Mom”).

I’ve been wandering aimlessly in this fog of uncertainty, unsure of where to place my next step, and paralyzed to the point of just standing still. I have probably actually “grocery shopped” once in the last six months. My homemaking skills that were once so honed I could perform them in my sleep are lost, like a stroke patient knows how to walk, but their legs don’t have the same memories.

And then last night I was wandering around Menards with my husband. Menards is a place I avoid like the plague since we did our kitchen remodel six years ago, because it makes me seasick to go there. It is wall-to-wall and floor-to-super-high-ceilings with stuff that I don’t recognize, in great part. But this time I started noticing things with visual interest – stacks of 2×4’s all in a row, their edges exposed like bricks; cast iron burners on stoves; paint chips arranged in waves of gradient color.

Inspired by an amazing and talented man, I have been taking photos with my smart phone, so I took out my phone and started shooting random photos of random things, like piles of carpet samples, and shag carpet close up.
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And on the way home, I found myself smiling. I realized that slowly, my navel-gazing is starting to turn outward. I am noticing things. My self-absorption with everything that has changed in my life is waning. There’s an amazing world all around us, hidden from our view by our busy-ness, and our focus on our own little dramas.

The hours I spend at work are not the sum total of my life. The children I launched into this world are not my last achievement. There is beauty to be savored, and with which to surround myself. There is joy in the everyday. There is pain, yes, but there is solace readily available.

I realized that I am not the only one that longs to be heard and seen, and that billions of lives are playing out parallel to mine. That doesn’t diminish the problems I encounter, but it puts them in their proper place as temporary, and manageable.

The fog is starting to lift. Months ahead of schedule, springtime is returning in this little part of Iowa.

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.