Sunday, May 29, 2011

Saving face or saving money?

The cashier hit at least 50 buttons on her register, looked up and said, “That’ll be 25¢.” Her eyes slid past me to the jeans-clad boy in line behind me, his macho-ness skipping over me to envelope her in his studly grip. She smiled at both of us, me by default, as I said, “Excuse me? 25¢?”

“Well, that IS the senior price!” she huffed, as if I was questioning her math.

Ouch. She had immediately pegged me as one of that class of folks over whatever her company’s “senior” age break happened to be. What about all the money I spend on hair color and highlights? The expensive anti-oxidant oil for my face, applied faithfully twice a day? Good heavens—the HOURS in the gym? Everybody around me tells me I don’t look my age. Are they all lying?

Don’t answer that.

On the other hand, 25¢ for a full-sized cup of coffee is hard to refuse on the principle of “I didn’t ASK for the senior price, did I?” Retired or not, money is tight for all of us and a quarter saved is, well, a good thing. And heaven knows I understand the value of saving money, having had to pinch every penny that has ever passed through my wallet. But should that be at the price of a teenager snapping her gum and stamping me with the “OLD PERSON HERE!” label, without even blinking twice?

However, I bet this same child, the one masquerading as the store’s assistant manager, has had others chew her out for not mentioning the “senior” discount to them. I waited in line once, tapping my foot impatiently, as an elderly man took 10 minutes to decide whether he wanted the chicken sandwich or a cheeseburger, vacillating first this way and then that, as if it was an expensive cut of steak he was debating. His indecision was infuriating to everyone witnessing it. He finally made the choice and paid his money. Not until he got his change back did he say, “Did you give me the senior discount, honey?” I thought honey was going to leap across the counter and throttle the guy, old or not. She probably made a mental note after she calmed down  that she would never allow that to happen to her again. Just give ‘em the discount if they look as if they might qualify. Who at corporate would ever know anyway?

I have an idea. Let’s redefine the term. Maybe that will be less offensive to those of us in this quandry. Instead of “seniors,” how about “those with magnificent wisdom,” or “beautifully retired,” or “captivatingly mature”?

Just smile sweetly at me when you say it and then give me the darn discount.

“Old age ain’t no place for sissies.”
Henry Louis Mencken

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How did you DO that??

"How did you know you could do that?" 

The question hung in the air for a beat before I could answer it. How DID I know I could cut down a tree with a chain saw 10 years ago when that ugly tree was dying over my roof?

How did  I know how to replace the seal under my toilet when I finally figured out where that damn leak was coming from?

How did I get that 6 foot glass top to my new dining set out of the equally big box by myself?

What possessed me to start my own company with nothing but a business license and a lot of disparate information rattling around in my head?

For people like me, I guess the answer is: I didn't know that I could do it. All I did know was that those things needed to be done, and I was the only person on site to take action.

I was a single parent, working two jobs, with a very active daughter to raise. Money was tight, to say the least, but I also have a wide independent streak and believe that there isn't much I CAN'T do. We could delve into a psychological study of women like me who have some control and trust issues and an A type personality, but that would bore everyone to death, wouldn't it?

So, what did I do this month for the "thing I've never done before," my year-long journey of rejuvination that has turned out to be so much fun?

I tiled the back splash in my kitchen. About a year ago I pulled off the fiber board that has been fulfilling that purpose for over 20 years, and I just hadn't found anyone to put up some pretty white tile yet. I had the tile, the grout, the was all sitting there on my porch taunting me. "DO ME, DO ME!" it said every time I walked by. 

My mother didn't think I could do it. You know how mothers can convey messages without uttering a word? It's all in the body language, and hers was shouting loud and clear: YOU DON'T KNOW HOW TO DO THAT!! YOU'VE NEVER DONE IT BEFORE! YOU'LL RUIN IT!!"  Some friends said they would do it, but everybody is busy with their own stuff and it just never got done.

So, when my mother left for an overnight trip, I cleared off the kitchen counters and I tiled and grouted and caulked the night (and half the next day) away. Yes, it was hard, especially the caulking for some reason, but I just tackled the job.  Because it needed to be done.

Maybe that's not on par with my past months of new experiences.....hookah bars and driving Zs and taking a dance lesson......but it WAS new to me, something I've never attempted before.

And nobody had to tell me I could do it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tick, tock.....

"Only 53 more days!"

"It's Wednesday! Only two more days until the weekend."

"Six months until my vacation!"

"10 minutes until quitting time...."

What about this minute, this hour, this day? While we're counting down the days--sometimes even the seconds--today is slipping away, unattended and unappreciated. And sadly, it can never be replaced.....ever. Trite, obvious, but seemingly an ignored concept by so many people. Maybe until we gain some years and realize what we're losing.

I used to be one of them. In one of my professional roles over the years, I taught middle school social studies. To say the kids were uninterested would be a gross understatement, but that fact wasn't unique to my class. Students today, especially if they are 13, have more pressing matters to concern themselves with, like hormonal surges that make them literally crazy for a few years. Or parental pressure to WIN at all costs, at everything they attempt, leaving no room for failure while learning something new. These children begin to see learning as dangerous to their well-being at home and to be avoided at all costs. Or on the flip side, they have parents who are MIA, either in body or spirit or both.

"Why don't I have my homework? Well, my mom picked me up for the weekend, then on Sunday night got into a fist fight with my dad when he came late to get me. My homework is still at her house, left behind when I had to sneak out the window in a hurry to get away. My clothes for PE are still there in her washing machine, too."  Paul Revere and his midnight ride aren't of much interest to this child stuck in the middle of his parents' war.

I enjoyed teaching in spite of all this for about 11 years. Then the pressures began to wear me down, day by day, hour by hour, minute by crawling minute. As I rounded the curved driveway leading to the school every morning, the pressure turned to dread and then to near panic, a fist curled in my stomach just waiting to punch its way out. I figured out how many years I would have to endure before I could retire with whatever benefits would be left by that time. My stomach roiled. My heart pounded as I unlocked my classroom door each morning.

I watched other people around me--not all, but many--look at their watches dozens of times each day, like they had it all calculated until they could pack it in and leave for the last time. I commiserated with them in the faculty lounge: Only 10 days until spring break. Only 3 months until summer. Only 2 days until Friday. 3 hours until I can go home. There were others who made it to 3 weeks until full retirement and then dropped dead, the "prize" there in sight. Others finally got to pack up the new RV and begin all the traveling they had worked 30 years for but were stilled by a stroke on the way down the driveway. All those years of counting the hours and it was all for nothing anyway.

One day I had to face myself in the mirror and admit what I was doing to my life: I was wishing it away. Literally. I was missing my own life while I was merely enduring a job I no longer wanted. For what? A paycheck? Benefits? Couldn't I get those somewhere else, somewhere I enjoyed going every day, or at least had a sense of peace about? How much is a life worth, anyway? Just ask the ones cut down after mucking through all those wasted years.

Today I am a self-employed educator who got up and watched the fog slip across my garden in the morning stillness. I still teach and I write, thus fulfilling a life-long passion to express myself. I experience every moment as it arrives, and I watch it go on its unique way, never to be experienced again. I don't wrestle with my moments, one by one, until I can get somewhere else. Yes, my life has uncertainty. But it's of my making and within my control.

Teaching is no different than working in a factory or selling shoes. When you start marking time to get away from it, you need to do just that. And you don't have to wait until you're 50 or 60, like I did.

The clock is marking every precious second of your life.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What do YOU have on your feet?

My daughter has her instructions.

If I ever show up anywhere wearing vinyl shoes purchased from somewhere like the Sunday insert magazine, she has my permission to track me down and rip them from my feet.

What is it with the old lady shoes, anyway? It seems that women over 60 or so, especially those no longer working in the professional world, believe they don't have to pay attention to their footwear. They might sport a chic outfit when they meet their book club, yet wear clunky plastic shoes, as if they think their feet are suddenly invisible.

Oh, I know that feet take a beating over the years. And since our years are adding up, our feet often scream for mercy. But, come on, women! Many of us spend good money for Joe at the salon to hide the gray with color and highlights, a manicurist to shape and polish all 20 of our nails, and a skin care expert to nourish our sagging epidermis. Why, then, don't we spend a few dollars more to buy some stylish comfortable shoes? They're out there, I know.

The economy is bad, yes. But I'm guessing that most women reading this willingly spend money on items or services deemed important for other members of your family. Why do we always come last? It's time we diverted some of those resources for ourselves. Including shoes.

Go ahead. Look at your feet right now.

             Do I have to send my daughter over?

I like Cinderella, I really do. She has a good work ethic. I appreciate a good, hard-working gal. And she likes shoes. The fairy tale is all about the shoe at the end......
Amy Adams

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Time as cash.....

My dance instructor keeps me talking as we dance. Of course, anyone who knows me also knows that I have no problem talking--to anyone. Anywhere. About anything.

But he does it to keep me from overthinking where my feet are supposed to be going. I am not a naturally rhythmic person and this is hard work for me. And don't expect my arms and my feet to go in two different directions......PLEASE. He knows this, so we talk.

One of our conversations the other day led me to reflect on the concept of how much our time is worth. My instructor and I both facilitate group sessions with people, albeit in totally diverse topics, and occasionally all our prep work to plan a session is fruitless. No one shows up. Or a session is on a Saturday or other generally unscheduled day and as the presentor I HOPE that no one shows up. (I can't speak for him on that one, but I'll ask him the next time we're waltzing.)

When no one shows, we probably don't get paid. But if I'm all set up for folks to gather and I'm hoping merely to pack back up and go home, that means something: There are other significant ways to place value on my time.

And as I get older, I'm finding the alternate price tags we assign some blocks of our time are just as valuable, if not more so. Do I really need to schedule six trainings this week when it will leave me exhausted and depleted, unable to enjoy the seventh unencumbered day? There's barely time to catch up with normal things like laundry as it is. (I started to add cleaning, too, but all my friends and family would shriek with laughter at that reference....better I just not mention it.) Plus, my current car runs fine, even if it is five years old. Do I really need a new one?

I value time to do nothing if I choose. And please don't interpret that to mean that someone else pays my bills while I'm cloud-watching. No one does, and no one has for the majority of my adult life. I have simply learned that  if I'm hoping no one attends one of my seminars, even if that means my income is lower, then my time has taken on a richer, more meaningful texture. I have matured to the point that I recognize and accept that.

Now...shall we dance?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Indulge me, it's Mother's Day.....

She is bright and talented. She is energetic and resourceful, at least once she stops worrying about everything. She is beautiful and strong.

She is my 27 year old daughter, the child I had when I was 35, after proclaiming for years that I never wanted children at all. My first husband and I both wished to be childless. He still is. But at age 30, a different beat began in my soul, starting as a soft wordless chant that became louder as the years passed, until my body fell into step and I knew it was time. There was no denying it.

I married again to follow that need. I know that now. I didn't want to admit then that my desire for a child was the reason for that second walk down the aisle. Today, women routinely forgo the walk while still fulfilling their need for children. I'm sometimes a rebel today, but not so much in the '80s. The marriage lasted four years. I got what I wanted.

So there I was, chasing a toddler around as I turned 40. And she ran as soon as she could walk. Everywhere. I took her to the mall often, not because I had any money to shop (I didn't), but she could run there without curbs or potholes to trip her up. I could follow along without losing sight of her, at least not often. She ran through T-Ball and soccer, basketball and softball. She ultimately ran on to college still chasing a ball tied to the strings of a scholarship. She fell often, jumped up and dusted herself off.....and ran some more. She wore me out.

It wasn't easy having a teenager in the house when I was in my 50s, one that entered puberty at the same time I hit menopause. Too bad we couldn't exchange hormones. I was destined to wait, though, to honor my earlier commitment to be childless when most women are happily pregnant in their 20s. My child needed me to be older for some reason.  And it has filled my spirit beyond belief.

Today I am careful to respect her natural need to be an adult with a life set by boundaries between us. Painful, yes....but necessary for her. It thrills me when my phone rings each day and she chats me up about her day, all the good and the bad and the mundane. She listens to my advice. I know she does. Sometimes she even follows it. And she knows that I am always here for her. As the teenagers I once taught put it, "I have her back." She knows she can rely on me for whatever she needs, as much as I can provide it, without question. And if I can't provide it, I offer ways she can get it herself.

It is Mother's Day today. I've often said that being a mother has been the most delightful, rewarding role in my life.

But that's a lie, I have to admit.

The truth is that being the mother of this child is why I was brought into existence myself. It's that simple and that exquisite.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Oh, sleep, knits up the ravell’d sleave of care.....

The little things we enjoy in life transform themselves into epic events when we lose them.

            Like sleep. I understand all about hormone imbalances that occur as we age, along with increased levels of stress over getting older in a society that offers no honor or value to the “elderly.” None of that matters, though, when my eyes pop open at 1 AM and I realize at 2 that I’m going to struggle with regaining that elusive state of sleep I fell out of without warning. Falling asleep is normal. Falling awake, and staying awake, when your eyes are still gritty and sore with exhaustion….that’s something else indeed.

            At 3 I decide to read for a half hour and then try again. Nope. At 4 I decide I might as well get something done so I fold laundry or empty the dishwasher or some other mundane task that makes me sleepy during the day….but not in the tiny hours of the morning when I want that to be so. At 5, it’s almost time to get up anyway, so I just drop into my day and off I go. Of course, at 6 my eyes won’t stay open, and that’s the joke my body is playing on me. Not funny.

            I’ve slept in my recliner, at the other end of the bed, on the floor, even outside on my patio. I’ve sampled enough herbal tea to float an ocean liner. I have tried over the counter sleep concoctions that make my heart pound and my body go on overdrive. I've soaked in my hot tub until sleep is just there within my reach, my consciousness drifting a bit in the heat....until I climb back into bed.

            I started experiencing insomnia to various degrees in my 40s when I was still teaching. Try managing, much less teaching, a roomful of 13 year olds on 2 hours of sleep. Add to that the fact that my own child was born when I was 35 years old, so I was chasing a toddler around……as a divorced single parent. I get tired thinking about it now, coming up on 20 years later.

            One would think that I would have fallen into bed at night and pass out. And some nights I did, I’m sure. But there were more and more occasions when I would wake up for no apparent reason and stay awake until it was time to start all over again. Talk about stress.

            Today, my life has become purposefully less stressful. Some of the changes were the results of the natural progression of things: My daughter is an adult and on her own. Other changes were made to reconfigure my life into something more workable for me: I made the difficult decision to walk away from a tenured position as a teacher with benefits. I started my own business, still educating others in topics I think are critical. Most importantly, though, I am doing what I should have been doing since I was a young adult: I’m writing. The stresses (and there will always be some) are manageable and of my own choosing. That’s important. We can handle the difficulties in our lives when we feel we have control over them.

            Physically, I’m probably in the best shape of my life. (Well, maybe not when I was 25, but I can hardly remember that far back so it doesn’t count.) I exercise often and strenuously, and I’m adding some new types of movement to my repertoire. Emotionally, I think I’m healthy, too. I love my life the way it is and I am better at expressing myself honestly to those who matter around me.
My formula for living is quite simple. I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can. (Cary Grant)

            The trick is in occupying yourself the BEST you can, no matter your age. Perhaps, then, sleep can return as a "simple" thing in our lives.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dancing fool....

I was nervous and edgy. I almost talked myself out of going. Here it was, my fourth month of “doing something I’ve never done before” and I was thinking of ditching it at the last minute. But, I pushed through those feelings and drove to the dance studio anyway.

My hands were sweaty as I walked into the chilled studio and I was glad to see there were only a few other people there. That had been my plan, after all, when I scheduled the lesson for the dead of an afternoon during the week. I arrived and watched a woman who obviously was a competitive dancer go through some intricate moves with a partner, while an older woman shuffled along with an instructor on the far side of the dance floor. And, yes, there was actually a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling, ready to cast its jeweled reflections over the room.

I took ballet and tap lessons when I was about 5. I still have the black and white photos to prove it, complete with the tutu and daisy headpiece sliding over one eye. But I had never taken any kind of ballroom or contemporary lessons, and had never had much occasion to dance anyway. (I did go to my senior prom on a blind date...that's a story for another day.....and for the life of me cannot remember dancing.) But inside my head, I was a fantastic dancer, gliding down the staircase on the set of “Dancing with the Stars” to wow the judges with a spicy rumba or tango. In the real world, though, my experiences have not quite matched my mental images. Not quite....

It had gotten so bad that I had taken to refusing to dance with the (few) men who asked me over the years. It was just too embarrassing to walk out onto the floor, not having any idea what was in store for me, and have the guy start gyrating his body, hands flapping around his head, eyes closed, while I stood there clueless about what I was supposed to do.

My father did teach me the two-step during the years that he and my mother were dancing their way through retirement. And I could follow someone who boxed-stepped me around the floor, and sometimes I would encounter someone who led me enough that I felt like I was “dancing.” But they were the exceptions. I usually stepped on a lot of toes and had mine routinely crushed. Or I stood there and watched the gyrations, anxious to sit down so people would stop looking at me. There might as well have been a large black arrow pointing at my head as The One Who Doesn’t Know How to Dance. At least, that's how I imagined it.

And here I was, ready to take my first real dance lesson. Imagine my surprise when it only took my instructor, James, 40 minutes to prove something to me: I CAN dance, just like I experience it in my head.

What is required is a partner who knows how to lead.

Before we were finished, I was waltzing around the entire mirrored dance floor, head tilted just right, music flowing around us, with only a misstep here and there on the turns. We cha-cha’ed, his hand on my back gently telling me where to go as I flowed into the steps he had shown me. We finished with the swing, something I had seen other couples do but thought it must be too complicated for me to learn. It wasn’t. But it was a lot of fun.

This year-long journey is proving many things to me. One is that we are never too old to walk to the edge of the cliff of a new experience and take a leap, even when we’re unsure of what awaits us at the bottom. It might take a little push to go over the side or maybe just someone who can gently lead us.

Thanks, James! I can’t wait for lesson number two next week.

Stifling an urge to dance is bad for your health - it rusts your spirit and your hips.  ~Terri Guillemets