Routine is Important: Just ask my Mother

As we age, we’re told to mix up our routine. Keep our brain challenged and break out of our day-to-day pattern. It’s healthy for us, or so we’re told.

And to some degree, I think there’s some merit to the medical studies that espouse such recommendations, but I think there’s also something to be said for sticking to a routine.

Routine is important. Just ask my mother. Disturb her before she has her first cup of coffee and visits the loo in the morning and she’s not a happy camper. God forbid, if you should bother her before her favorite television show, “The Price is Right”, is over. Not a pleasant experience to have with her.

Every morning, my cat and I dance. She whines. I feed her. She jumps up on my desk, starts chewing on my paper work and walking across my computer key board. Then she wants to go outside. Of course, she can’t simply walk out when I open my patio door. She has to walk around the perimeter of the living room first, then around the overstuffed lazy boy rocker and finally she’s ready to exit. I have to patiently wait while she does this little two-step of hers, and then I can close the door and go back to whatever I was doing.

There are days that I’d like to choke the little twit as she slowly prances by me and looks up as if to say, “Humans are so clueless.”

Maybe Boo’s trying to teach me patience, or maybe this little tango is something that keeps her safe and she depends on it. I don’t know. I’m no cat whisperer, and I certainly haven’t a clue as to what makes a cat tick.

I do know, though, there are days in my life when everything is crazy and life is one crisis after another. Having a routine and sticking to it keeps me secure: Taking daily walks. Going to exercise class on Wednesdays. Seeing my yoga buddies on Fridays. Reading a good book and falling asleep on a rainy afternoon with our other cat, Molly, spread-eagle on my belly. All routines I relish and enjoy.

And when the sump pump breaks, the IRS notifies me that I owe them $5,500, the inspector says my house has termites and my doctor tells me that I have pneumonia; I remember to get up, wash my face, put on a little lipstick and face the day, ‘cuz that’s what Mom taught me to do.

I’m not so much into the lipstick, like my Mom, but I definitely understand and appreciate the need for a consistent schedule to keep me going. There are days when I need the safety and comfort of knowing that I have certain things planned. So, when life comes along and messes with those plans, I still have the comfort of knowing that my daily regimen is still intact and it can be restarted with the dawning of a new day.

I keenly remembered how my special needs kids depended on a routine. They vociferously complained about it on a regular basis, but change it on them once in a blue moon, and they let you know they weren’t pleased. For many of them, their day to day home life was chaotic and their only source of reliability and sanity was my classroom and the safety of its expectations and schedule.

As I slowly age, I realize that I need to keep my mind challenged and continue to learn new skills and stretch my imagination, but I also realize that there are days that I need to feel stable and safe and having some structure and routine in my life is ok and actually beneficial to me in a number of ways, both physically and emotionally. So, I give myself permission to throw caution to the wind, and on those days I need to have a miniature snicker’s bar after I eat lunch, I go for it and sometimes even have two!

In the meantime, I need to feed Boo Boo, again, and wait at the patio door while she sashays around the border of our living room furniture. Have a great week, People, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes!

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A Rainy Day Analogy

Northern CA. has been getting pounded with weather this past month, and if the truth be told, I’m one of those crazy individuals who actually likes the rain. I find it cleansing and sometimes a signal to slow down with the day-to-day busyness of life and curl up with a good book.

Slowing down and napping on a sunshiny day just doesn’t seem right. One time I actually told my Pastor that I couldn’t understand how people could in fact die on a sunlit day – that death seemed more appropriate for rainy, cloudy days – and that life and living seemed more suitable for sunny days. Needless to say, my Pastor was a little flummoxed with our conversation that day. She awkwardly changed positions on our couch many times, while she tried to explain to me just why I may not have a choice in the matter.

I respectfully listened and acknowledged her reasoning, but it’s been 8 years since we had that little chat, and I still think it’s unnatural to die on a cloud-less day. Just seems like an oxymoron of sorts to me, but what do I know? The Princess and I are moving to the state of Washington, soon.

I don’t think I’ll have that problem any more.

That’s what all my well-meaning friends and relatives keep telling us: We’re headed to the land of constant rain slickers and duck boots, and sunglasses are a thing of the past; or so we’ve been warned. Guess it’ll make my impending twilight years and eventual death easier to deal with, eh?

At least my rainy-day analogy says so.

And it’s not death that has me so concerned these days, as much as the concept of growing old while trying to maintain my dignity and independence.

As I write this, I’m struggling with the fact that my mom and loved ones are three thousand miles away from me trying hard to maintain some semblance of independence; some modicum of respect and autonomy. Each of them fighting hard not to be an imposition on their friends or relatives, and each of them realizing that Father Time is playing havoc with their bodies.

In 1983, in response to her 55-year-old mother’s need for extended care after she suffered a devastating stroke, Keren Brown Wilson built her first assisted living house in the state of Oregon. What she and her husband envisioned when they built Park Place was an assisted living center that provided assistance, while at the same time giving the residents a sense of independence and privacy. She wanted the elderly to feel the sense of being home and not imprisoned or institutionalized, and by many accounts she succeeded.

The problem, as I see it, resulted when she wanted to reach more elderly and went to Wall Street for capital to build more places. Her company went public and their original concept of assisted living got watered-down. She went to Congress and spoke across the country trying to enlist the help necessary to sustain her original ideology, but was hit head-on with the medical and legal road-blocks of the ever-elusive concept of the “continuum of care” ideology.

And sadly, the idea of assisted living, as she defined it, all but died.

As I sit here today in the heart of Silicon Valley and think about how advanced we are in so many areas of society, I can’t help but see the paradox: is our technological evolution creating a people bereft of compassion and humanness, and do we need to seriously re-examine what is important to us as a civilization?

I don’t know about you, but when it’s time for me to hang up my saddle before I ride in my last rodeo, I want to know that I’m going to be assisted by people who care about me. I need to know that I’m not just a chore. It’s important that I am seen for who I am: a loving, kind woman who gave to her family and society and now requires a little assistance in return.

Dr. Wilson continues to advocate for hard-to-serve elders both in the United States and in Central America. I pray that her efforts are soon legitimized and honored by those in power. We seriously need to change our view on aging and what it means to “grow old”.

Until next time, be kind to one another, and I’ll catch you the next go-round, looking at life from my shoes.

 

 

 

A Silent Drive Home

I’ve come to the inauspicious conclusion in life that old age doesn’t kill us – loneliness does. On a recent trip home this fall to visit my family members and friends in the heart of the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York, I had the unmistakable experience of seeing firsthand what isolation does to people when they’ve been indiscriminately placed in elder care and then unintentionally ignored over a period of time.

I went home to see my mom and help out with some day to day activities of shopping, cleaning and cooking to lighten her workload and visit with her while we did our routine activities every day. What greeted me upon my arrival was something totally and completely unexpected: my uncle (her youngest brother) was hospitalized and subsequently placed in a nursing home, and my mom was depressed and not eating or socializing.

When I travel back to my childhood home, I expect to be emotional about seeing people and places that I haven’t seen in a long time – it’s part of what makes me, me. What I don’t expect, though, is to be so completely and totally inundated with feelings of powerlessness in situations that I have no control over – I don’t expect to be so thoroughly overwhelmed when I looked at faces long lost to any semblance of hope or redemption.

Every day I taxied my mom to and from the nursing home to see her baby brother. Every day my uncle’s strength improved, my mom’s resilience did, too. Where I once saw helplessness and desperation in mom’s eyes, eventually I noticed a life-force slowly coloring her cheeks and soon after an appetite for food and activity.

In November 2015, I read an article in the New York magazine that described a study on relationships called, “The Widowhood Effect,” and how when one spouse dies, the likelihood of their partner dying increased significantly. My mother and uncle aren’t “partners,” as such, but have had a close relationship since their youth, and I seriously began to wonder if my mom’s passing would mirror this study. She certainly was not doing well when I first landed, and I began to wonder if instead of a visit with friends and loved ones, I’d be attending a funeral for a favorite uncle and soon after a wake for my mom.

Allowing myself a brief time to deal with the emotions of the situation, one day a flicker of life suddenly appeared in my mom’s sweet eyes; and I decided that this little, gray-haired Italian passerotta (term of endearment for sparrow) still had some hell-raising left to do, and so I set out to make changes as needed.

Operation passerotta started and soon after success came as gradual and beautiful as the leaves changing colors on the hills of the surrounding Adirondack mountains.

She sat in silence. I sat quietly nearby.

I cooked and ate. She eventually started cooking and eating.

And very soon after, I became my funny, wise-cracking self, and she became her feisty rompicoglioni (pain in the butt) self.

Her brother’s physical therapy started working, and soon we started doing other things besides trips to the nursing home. Shopping at the dollar store, picking up a few things at the local grocery store – all things she routinely did before her brother’s ill health – slowly began to be part of her daily agenda; slowly began to blossom.

What amazed me each day, though; what never seemed to be missing with mom was her unconditional kindness and unwavering love for others.

Every day she dressed and put-on a little makeup. Then she walked down her apartment’s long hallway, deliberately grasping the handrails to guide herself toward the apartment steps that she took one at a time; careful not to fall or trip on her way out to her rusted, but reliable Flintstone car. And off we’d slowly drive over familiar roadways, past familiar homes.

“Take a left here,” she reminded me. “Go straight over the Meco Flats,” she continued.

“Make sure you watch for that pot hole on Easterly. I think it’s right there. Stop at the stop light and drive slowly. We don’t want to miss the turn-off,” she gently guided me as if carefully reminding herself.

“Why are you smiling?” she’d ask and continued before I responded. “Wait ‘till you get old. You’ll soon be doing the same.”

I sighed and kept smiling and went on with the drive until we reached the nursing home. Every day she walked into the place, she left a little love: a little kindness.

“I see you.” She said to the wheel-chair-bound woman sitting in the entrance hallway. “I see you,” she continued as she bent closer to her face and gently cupped her cheeks between her hands. “And I love you,” she whispered into her ear, as she smiled and kissed her cheek.

“And God bless you, too. Have a nice day.”

And down the hall she’d shuffle, taking a moment or two to acknowledge most everyone she’d pass.

Every day, we’d do the same thing. And every day she’d acknowledge the living and honor their spirit, and on the last trip to the nursing home – the last trip to my uncle’s temporary abode – we rounded the hallway’s corner to walk down one last time to sign him out and escort him home, and life hit us head-on.

I know my mother saw it. There was no mistaking it. What once was a life force, a life fully lived; was a being no more, was a soul for the heavens. A person of substance, now an inanimate lump. What once was a human, was vaguely hidden from view, by a flimsy, gray sheet on a one-way-wheeled stretcher; a stretcher of eternal rest.

We continued our walk until we reached my uncle’s room. It was time to go home and he was eagerly waiting. It was time to live life and continue what God planned.

Papers were signed, brief wishes exchanged and out the door we headed; out the door he was wheeled. Conversations were limited and emotions were raw; one last look at the stretcher-one last look at life stilled.

I looked for the wheel-chair lady. I know my mom did, too, but nowhere could I see her; nowhere was she found.

We drove home in silence – overwhelmed by the day. I remember the bright sun and blue sky and the rolling lush hills, speckled with the hint of color from a few frosted evenings, touched by the Adirondack cool air, and I silently thanked God for my car-mates and said a quiet prayer of gratefulness.

Life is precious.

Be kind to each other, People, and I’ll catch ya next time, looking at life from my shoes.

 

 

Sometimes Ya Hafta Look Hard at a Person

Two weeks ago, I decided that watching “On Golden Pond” was a better choice than doing my taxes or for that matter, cleaning my toilet.

I’ve only watched that film a bazillion or so times, but that day was “tax day” for me and I needed to watch it one more time before I could do my yearly tax tantrum and organize myself.

You know the tantrum.

The one that each of us does every spring in preparation for that time of year when we sit in front of a stack of papers and break out in a cold sweat wondering if our new born child’s (or grandchild’s) future has to be ransomed to pay the government even more money, or if (per chance) we’ve actually fed the beast enough to break even for the year.

So I asked myself, “Prepare my taxes or watch ‘On Golden Pond’?”

Such a dilemma.

At the time, cleaning my toilet sounded more enticing than sitting down and organizing my shoe box full of tax documents, but watching “On Golden Pond” seemed the more pleasant of the two, so “On Golden Pond” it was!

And watch I did with a mixture of pleasure and disquieting nostalgia.

From the opening scene of the summer sun sparkling on the lake with wailing echoes of a loon and its mate in the background, to the closing credits with the autumnal sun setting on a lake much colder and foreboding of winter months to come, I found myself transported – transported home to the Adirondack Mts of upstate New York and a time period I willingly (and at other times, not so willingly) traveled.

I wish I could say it reminded me of a simpler life; a life filled with special fishing adventures and diving lessons carefully taught by a loving, involved care-taker, like Billy, Jr. from the movie. But, life wasn’t that idyllic for me at age 13.

I had responsibilities and younger siblings to take care of – there was no time for fishing or boating or leisure reading and discussion of “Treasure Island” or “Swiss Family Robinson”.

Mom had to work and I had to help her help us. There were dinners to prepare and hung laundry to take down and fold. There were floors that needed mopping and diapers that needed changing; and on those rare occasions that we’d head-on up to “the lake” for a quick evening dip or Sunday afternoon swim, I remember the feel of the sand slowly oozing through my toes; and the cool, fresh mountain air that came from unpolluted Adirondack lakes and how the setting sun sparkled on the waves lapping at my feet, as I solemnly gazed across the lake.

They were special times. Carefree times. Times that came infrequently, but times that I cherished and fondly remember.

When I was younger, I was drawn time and time again to the movie’s physical location and the film’s portrayal of the relationships with the Thayer’s and Billy, Jr., their 13 year-old summer charge.

Over the years, though, I eventually found myself drawn to Norman’s and Ethel’s relationship.

Norman, the retired, witty college professor – staunch disciplinarian – highly regarded teacher and husband. Ethel, Norman’s happy, out-going wife who is several years his junior – grounded in her identity, but deferential to Norman’s “larger than life” personality and opinions.

Each different in personality and psychological make-up, but each suited to each other to make each other whole; to make each other “safe”….

Norman’s “flirtation with senility” in the opening scenes of the movie when he goes berry picking and finds himself lost on his property really hit an emotional chord with me; really made me wonder if I, like Norman, was “flirting with senility” at a much earlier age than he.

Like Norman, I find the comfort of my partner safe and validating when I find myself outside of “my bubble” and overwhelmed with life’s demands. It is she that brings me “home, again”, and she that calms my fears when the world is spinning and everything seems undoable.

And like Norman, I sometimes find myself “yelling at life” and wondering how the hell I got so old, and then I remembered what Ethel lovingly told Billy after Norman yelled at him for putting out the fire that Norman accidentally started one evening in the living room when he attempted to start a fire in the cabin’s fire place…..

“Billy,” she gently begins.

Sometimes ya hafta look hard at a person and remember that he’s doing the best he can. He’s just trying to find his way – that’s all. Just like you.”

Yep.

That’s me these days – gracefully (and some days not so gracefully) “trying to find my way” as I sail through some rough seas and other days, calm seas – as the Captain of this ship we call aging.

I’m older, fatter, grayer and not so nimble in my dancing shoes these days, but it’s ok. I’m also wiser, more content, definitely “gayer”, and more importantly – I’m alive and evolving – and becoming more and more my authentic self every day.

I may not be “fully evolved”, yet, but I believe in Aibeleen Clark’s statement from the book, “The Help”, that “I is smart. I is kind. And I is important.”

And on those days I’m not feeling so kind and so smart and so important, I have my Princess to remind me that I am.

(And on those days that I’m feeling too smart and too important and too full of myself, I also have my Princess to remind me that I am….)

May each of you be blessed with a special someone in your life that reminds you, that, “You is smart. You is kind. And you is important.”

Have a great day, People, and I’ll catch you the next time, looking at life from my shoes!

 

 

Getting Old’s a Bitch! (But it sure beats the alternative!)

The Princess and I took our Buddha bellies out for a stroll in the headlands of Marin County over the weekend and invited a friend to join us.

 

After all, it’s absolutely gorgeous weather here in draught stricken California and we may not have any water to shower with soon (or drink for that matter!), but boy howdy, it’s sure fantastic weather for taking walks and sight-seeing, lately.

 

So we’re strolling along the pathway and totally drinking in the sights, playing tourist and snapping pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and surrounding vistas, when we suddenly hear this young woman behind us remark,

 

“I’m tellin’ ya, Judy, since I turned 30 my memory’s in the toilet, I’m starting to lose my teeth and I’m ashamed to admit this, but I had to pick up some old people’s diapers at Target ‘cuz I’m starting to lose control of my bladder.”

 

“Damn!” she continues. “If 30’s this bad, what the hell is 40 gonna look like?”

 

The three of us wanted to answer her, but we were giggling so hard that the Princess started one of her lung-wrenching coughing spells (that are typical to former smokers and asthmatics) and we had to stop walking, so she could bend over and catch her breath.

 

At this point, Judy and her diaper-wearing friend, are giving us an “inquisitive look-over” while walking past us and we’re (literally) bent over laughing and coughing while they’re (I’m sure) wondering if we’ve lost what’s left of our menopausal minds.

 

We seriously wanted to answer this young woman and let her know that it was all down hill from here on out and that she was most certainly going to hell in a hand basket from this point forward, but we couldn’t stop laughing and coughing in time to enlighten her.

 

Guess there’s certain realizations in a woman’s life that ya just gotta let her find out from her best friend (or better yet, her Momma).

 

And this just may be one of those moments of awareness.

 

Life in my shoes is sure silly some days. Have a blessed day, People!

 

And remember: if you see a toothless, slightly disorientated thirty-something year old (with urine stained pants) be kind. It could be this kid from Marin County!

 

Catch ya next week for another adventure looking at life in my shoes.