Category Archives: Aging Gracelessly

Have Garden Will Share

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Summer will reach its pinnacle shortly. In my perfect life, I would have this high summer weather every day—windows open, breeze blowing the curtains, occasional rainy days (or nights) to keep things green and growing.

But here it is, with summer near half gone, and I haven’t kept up the pace with all that needs doing. Until about five years ago, I had beautiful and meticulously tended gardens  of herbs, flowers, and vegetables happily commingling in my potager’s plot. Good medicine, from hands in the soil digging and planting, through tending the growth, to fragrant bouquets, healthy meals and medicinal tinctures and essences bottled and labeled. My gardens have been physical and spiritual sustenance.

Sadly, my gardens are now overgrown and choked with weeds. I feel more and more each day that I’m falling hopelessly behind. This year I’ve accepted, with much sorrow, that having offered me daily retreat for so long my once lovely gardens are now lost to me—I can’t keep up with the work of them.

I’m feeling my age.

Truth be told, many days I feel years beyond my age, mostly because of thyroid disease and chronic pain from spinal stenosis. I’m engaged in a daily struggle to keep these maladies from diminishing my life. This tale of infirmity isn’t my story, not the one I want to define me, at least.

Accepting the limitations that age or conditions put on living isn’t easy. Coming to terms with the fact that I will not be forever young and vital feels like defeat. Admitting that today is the best I will ever be and each tomorrow is a diminishing progression, even though in unnoticeable increments, is not an easy surrender.

Gone are the days when I could clean my house from top to bottom before noon, then run errands and still have the energy for dinner with friends or to attend an event. Now I’m lucky to clean two rooms at a time. When I’ve cycled through all of them by week’s end, it’s time to start at the beginning again.

The little acre yard carved out of the northern forest that I share with my better half and Gypsy Cat is getting harder to keep mowed and manicured. Shrubs are overgrown, dead tree limbs threaten to come crashing down, and the only grass we have is the crabby kind (a lot like me these days). Summer now stretches out as days stacked upon days of trying to make it all look good again (also a lot like me).

The garage, potting shed, and equipment barn have become our proverbial closets of shame, stuffed with our stuff—from things that would be useful to somebody but just not us, like bicycles and sports equipment, to life’s accumulation of cast offs that need to be sorted, donated or trashed.

When finally having all the things you worked so hard for becomes too much work, could owning less be the way to experience more? And is age really just a number only if you can pull off being younger than your years? Why does it feel so shameful to feel older than my number?

More importantly, would off-loading the unnecessary ballast accumulated over years of building a material life, add up to more years of living in the end?

Unless somebody willing to exchange work for a garden share comes knocking on my door, I’m about to find out.


Sunday Morning Coming Down

camera-514992_640It’s Sunday. The house is quiet in these early morning hours. I’m tucked away in my she-room, sipping fresh coffee. In summer, when the sun rises early enough to angle through the small window, it falls across the corner of the antique maple dresser I stripped down to the wood and then hand-rubbed with tung oil to reveal the grain.

The sun beam catches the glass of the framed mirror above the small chest of drawers and the room glows with the sweet promise of the season. Whispers fill my inner ear, I’ll bring you fragrant bouquets of roses and peonies. We’ll share lazy afternoons on the two-seater porch swing, and long nights tangled in the sheets when your body glistens from the heat of my touch. 

Oh, lover Summer, be still my heart.

Meanwhile, a friend shares a photo of her morning coffee at a sidewalk cafe in Paris and I feel a pang of envy for the life that got away.

I thought I’d journey to foreign places at this juncture in my life. I thought I’d sip coffee in a Paris Cafe, eat pasta alla Norma and visit the La Pescheria Market in Sicily, dip my toes in the Mediterranean, and drink Ouzo in Greece.

Alas, my husband’s health makes it extremely difficult to travel, and the stress of it when we do only worsens his conditions. He worries about getting where we need to be when we need to be there, with all the medical paraphernalia in tow and on board. But his concerns are that of a general running a campaign. I am the foot soldier with boots on the ground, carrying out the mission—and all the bags.

My travels worries are different. The possibility of a sudden crisis, even death, is something I live with every day. At home, or anywhere within the borders of the continental U.S., I know what to do.

With overseas travel, the thought of navigating unfamiliar territory and being unable to speak the language in an emergency makes it quite a different prospect. I worry about hospitals and transports if his heart, his burdened lungs, and his blood sugar all conspire to attack, deflate, and spike or plummet at the same time. I worry about simply getting us both back home if he dies.

Even when I imagine the best possible outcomes, I still see barriers everywhere. He won’t be walking along the ocean’s edge with me, strolling the maze of cobbled streets in historic cities, or climbing the stone steps of seaside villages, ancient ruins, or soaring cathedrals.

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It seems rather a lot of work, worry and expense just for me to spend most of my time in hotel rooms and sidewalk cafes, even if they are quintessentially European. Sure, I may be able to savor an authentic croissant with my French Coffee or wash down a plate of good Italian pasta with a goblet of chianti, but is it really worth all that?

The heart wants what the heart wants, and despite knowing the reality, considering my husband’s limitations, would be disappointing at best, my heart still aches for this unrequited encounter. Friends tell me to go without him. He tells me to go without him—lot’s of women do it.

We made these plans in a time when we thought we’d both be strong and healthy forever, or at least until we were, you know, really old. My husband has been to Europe, as a soldier, and numerous times after that. Our dream was to go together, to share the beauty and wonder with each other.

I have traveled without him since we married, though on a smaller scale. It only exchanges one ache in my heart for another, the longing for him to be at my side sharing the moments that photographs can’t capture. It casts a pall of loneliness.

My friend is traveling alone with others—sans husband. When she returns home he won’t be there to greet her; he died before they could share this time of their life.

One heartache for another.

 


When Good Is Good Enough

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I have been the MAD Goddess for so long now I have to dust off my math skills to figure out that this alter ego, the Middle Aged Mouthpiece in me, has been around for almost half my life.

At early 30-something I was, maybe, inching my toes into the stream of midlife. Never-the-less, the MAD Goddess voice was strong and she had a lot to say about aging while female in our American society. She still does at 60.

I may have been young in years then, but I felt old emotionally, if not physically. I had aging parents, three children and a husband. I worked part-time and honed my writing skills in whatever minutes were left over. I was always in the middle of something and being pulled in more directions than I cared to follow.

I came of age during the first wave of women told we could have it all. I’ve often said women were not having it all, so much as we were doing it all; and most of the time we were doing it all by ourselves, despite spouses and extended family.

For women in two career households, there might have been extra money for living the good life, whatever that might be. But more often than not, it ended up being spent on childcare and hired help to do the domestic chores—formerly housework, still largely women’s work.

Even now we continue struggling to figure out the pros and cons of all this upward mobility, and don’t even get me started on how the prevalent middle class dream paints a pretty picture of white-privilege America, while brushing over the class subjugation of people of color.

But there is something else on my mind today. Prompted by a social media post, it’s something I’ve been noodling over for a while now. I call it the ugly duckling syndrome, the idea that we have to undergo personal transformation to be shiny, happy, better people than we are.

As with much in our society, there is a money trail to follow. The pursuit of perfection is big business in America. We’re told daily that we must have perfect, white smiles, fit bodies, eat super-foods, wear dazzlingly laundered clothes, live in Pinterest-perfect homes and shit in sparking toilet bowls.

If it isn’t bigger, better, new or improved, it isn’t good enoughAnd that includes us. So, not surprisingly, with the arrival of middle age for the women who’d been doing it all, came a new industry—personal reinvention. Now that he kids were at least old enough to be somewhat self-reliant, possibly even old enough to leave home, middle class women had a sliver of time on their hands and money in their designer bags.

Instead of forking out their hard-earned cash for child care, they could hand it over for courses of self reflection and personal development that encouraged them to re-imagine their life, presumably one that was better than their current situation. There was a lot of misdirected belly button gazing going on, a lot of faux spiritual connection and self-care than translated to spa services. We were all supposed to come out virtually glowing with the outward perfection of inner enlightenment.

As the MAD Goddess, I was on that bandwagon for a while. I became a certified personal coach, a midlife midwife. I developed a four step process for achieving desired, measurable outcomes, whether a client wanted something as straightforward as finding a better job, or as esoteric and finding deeper purpose.

Being the rebel that I am, or that the MAD Goddess in me is, I focused my coaching on finding the right fit, not changing to fit in. I didn’t work with clients to reinvent or reimagine themselves, as if they were somehow inherently flawed or a broken thing that needed to be repaired. Instead, I encouraged them to rediscover who they’d always been,  to remember what gave them joy—or at least satisfaction if joy wasn’t in their emotional took kit. I led them in returning to their core values and embracing good enough.

Self improvement is not a bad thing. I think we all secretly desire to be better in some aspects. I’d like to be a better artist, I want to play an instrument, I want to write a best-selling novel, I’d like to eat healthier, be more physically active, and dress better. I think I should be a more patient wife, a less demanding mother and a more involved grandmother.

Some of those desires are to please me, and some are to please others.  The motivation behind both is the desire to meet some standard of my own design that is a combination of gut feeling and what I’ve been spoon fed to believe. Bottom line? I believe I should make changes that would presumably make me a more likable and lovable person to others. Pressure!

One thing about moving from middle age into Crone, is that I’ve stopped obsessing over what others think of me, if they like/love me or not. My circle of loved ones is growing smaller all the time, because I no longer have the inclination for wearing many masks or doing the exhausting work of pleasing everybody.

Because I love my husband and kind of want him to stick around and keep loving me, becoming more patient and understanding is worth the effort it takes. Same with going a little softer on my daughters and being a more hands on grandma. And as much as I like being all hermity, writing, painting, gardening, foraging and wildcrafting with plants and herbs (basically being village witch), I nudge myself to make time for my friends, because they are an important part of my life that I don’t want to lose.

And here’s the thing, these people who I love and who love me, they know my house is a mess most times, they know I’m a sort of absent-minded professor too focused on my projects, they know I’m mostly low energy and would much rather sit on the deck and share a bottle of wine these days, than go out to make a show of having fun.

These people don’t care that I’ll never play an instrument, that my art is mediocre or that my novel didn’t make any lists, let alone best seller. I’m good enough for them just the way I am.

More and more, I’m finding I’m good enough for me.

 


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