Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Adding up the Numbers

Old age is fifteen years older than I am. 
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Several months ago, my husband and I were in the Atlanta airport changing terminals. When we walked onto the tram wheeling our carry-on suitcases, three very tried looking younger women sat on a bench seat, which was the only seating. They quickly rose and asked if we wanted to sit. My husband and I both said no thank you. The women sank, thankfully, back into their seats.

At the next stop, the trio exited. I then noticed a sign by their sitting area.

"Please Offer Your Seats to the Elderly and the Handicapped."

I turned to my husband and asked, “Do we looked handicapped?”

We often ride subways or buses in NYC when visiting our son or take parking shuttles or public transportation in other cities and countries. Doesn't bother us to hang onto a pole or hanging loop. We plant our legs and hold on. But in reality, although it shocked me, I know now it was our age that prompted their kindness.

Aging is a subjective issue. Yes, time goes by. People are born and people die. Lots of living in between. But the question I ask is how do we define where we are in that range?

As you can see, this blog is still entitled Midlife Roadtripper. When exactly is midlife? Midway through your childhood? Your adult years? Your career? Halfway through your rest home days? One foot in the grave/one not?

Like I said. Subjective. 

In my life, my husband and I have entered a new era. He's home all the time now. His career is over. Mine is not. I’m not even certain I’ve started one yet. (When you’re a writer, your pen never stops moving no matter what age.) Yet his retirement is an exciting time. Freedom  has arrived to choose how we spend each day. Travel time opens up. No excuses required to take a lazy day or daydream. We enjoy a slower pace.

Our children’s lives are the opposite. Career advancements, children, new homes and new friends. Changes offering movement at an exciting pace. 

My granddaughter is flush in a time of intellectual curiosity. She’s two, and her communication skills are blossoming, along with her determination to explore and learn. And to tell people what to do now that she can. She tests her parents as she seeks her limits. As she should for that is how she will discover her capabilities and strengths. 

Would seem then, that my kids are the midlifers and my husband and I are the old farts. Certainly they don't feel midlife is 32 just as we don’t feel like old farts. Yes, my knee doesn’t work like it used to and my husband's new hip gives different trouble then when it wasn't fixed. But we don’t feel old. 

On a recent trip driving Independence Pass and on to Redstone in Colorado, I remarked to my husband how so many of the people we saw were white-hairs. He said, "You're with one." Indeed I was, although not completely white yet.

Many, many years ago, while on a walk with my mother, she remarked how her age shocked her. That she didn't feel 55. That in her mind she was still 21. I’ve not forgotten that sharing of hers as through the years I’ve tried to think about what age my mind thinks. I know when I’m out walking or just out and about, I see myself in my mind as maybe, 40 or 45. It's only when I pass by a mirror that I stop in surprise. 

Who is that woman in the mirror? Scares me.

My brain tells me that I do have a timeline and best get my ducks in a row to make certain I accomplish all I can with whatever time is left. But isn't that true for any age?

My analytical, linear self is not as active as my creative self. My sensitivity gets in the way also. This makes this subject harder for if I were only a numbers person, this might be easier. When I look at the numbers, they add up.

52 years since I turned 10.
46 years since I got my driver's license.
42 years since I lived and worked on the Jersey shore for the summer.
40 years since I graduated from college and walked down the aisle.
22 years since I swam topless in the Mediterranean in Vernazza, Italy and also completed a triathlon.
If my dad were alive he’d be 96, my mom 92.
My children are 32, 30, and 26.

1956, the year of my birth was 62 years ago. Before the Internet,  cell phones, and DDT was declared dangerous. Thirteen years before men walked on the moon. Women needed their husband’s permission to get a credit card or birth control. If I'd lived in the South, my good friend Linda couldn't sit next to me at the movie theatre or use the same drinking fountain. 

Sad to say, in some respects, not so much time has passed after all. Ahem. Another essay.

I do see where the numbers are a factor. When I'm playing cars on the floor with my two-year-old granddaughter and she ups and runs off and I’m rolling over onto my knees and using the coffee table as a crutch to stand up, I know I'm not what I used to be.

I can swim in a unicorn and drink a mimosa at the same time. I can place my palms flat on the ground in front of me with unbent legs. I can walk three miles (if I have to) or swim more than half a mile (if my car drives me to the Y.) I do 50 squats every few days to keep my knee from aching and 50 calf lifts to keep my bad feet in check.

But the other day I noticed some bumps on my index finger knuckles. Little knobs. The ring that has adorned my left hand representing 40 years of an incredible relationship with my husband can only be cut off if it needs removal – that knuckle arthritically expanded through the years.

Daily, I see more moles. More chin hairs. The veins on my hands stand out more, the skin no longer soft and cushy and pure like my daughter-in-laws and granddaughter. 

These bumps on my fingers have upset me, the physicality of their appearance. For I can disguise my hair in dye and hide my eye circles with concealer, but I can’t do anything about those bumps. Or the ones that will follow.

I clearly see my ten-year-old self. That young girl finally in double digits. That girl who more often than not saw life differently than everyone else. 

In the normal life span one is given, yes, the numbers, and the AARP, and the government all say I’m a senior citizen. A senior voter. Not an ancient by any means, but according to them, old. I defy that. I'm a midlife older person. And to hell with the senior citizen label and the numbers. If given the opportunity, I will age with radiance.

There, I feel much younger now.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Fruitful Day

I love you in a place
Where there's no space and time
I love you for my life
You are a friend of mine
Leon Russell

If you take a look at this photo from my back porch, you might notice that tall cactus in the collection on the right. 

Up close, it looks like this.

Pretty ugly, yes?

Funny thing is, that misshapen cluster holds quite a story. Not to mention it's over 45 years old. 

Long ago, when I was young and thin, in college, and 19 or 20, I traveled with a couple of girlfriends from Michigan to Colorado for a Spring Break ski trip. Somewhere down on Colfax Avenue in Denver (which at that time was not a very nice section of town so not certain why we were there) I purchased a tiny three-inch high cactus. Can't tell you why I did that either as I'm a flower person.

On the drive back to Michigan, one of my traveling companions mistakenly set the thermometer in our hotel room to AC mode rather than the heat. We awoke with chattering teeth. My little cacti didn't fare so well either. It had shivered all night and barely stood, now wrinkled and soft. 

I warmed it and took it home. I set it in the sun in my bedroom. Every few months, I watered it. It lived. And thrived. Even grew an inch.

At that time, I had a boyfriend. We had dated in high school in Denver and back in 1973 we looked like this.

At the time of that ski trip (1975) we both lived in Michigan --me in Muskegon and then East Lansing. He in Ypsilanti near Ann Arbor.  We were young. We dated other people. We broke up. We sort of dated each other. All that for a couple years or more. We finally broke up-broke up. For good.

Some things don't die, though. One night, after many months apart, I caught a ride to Ypsi and took that cactus with me. Its survival supplied my metaphor and excuse for being there. Even though this little cactus might have shriveled and almost died due to a chill and inattention, I took care of it and now it grew. I left the cactus with that boyfriend of mine saying that maybe we could do the same thing and see what happens. 

He agreed and took on the cactus.

More than two years later after I'd graduated from college, this happened.
On a hot August day.

My roommates made that cake -- while they were drinking beer.

 The cactus moved to our new home in Ypsilanti. And it grew.  

Then all this other stuff happened.

Graduation - University of Colorado Chemical Engineering
Baby #1 

Baby #2 

Baby #3.

In those years we moved across the country several times and great care was taken to ensure the cactus' safety during the journey -- Michigan, Colorado, Utah, and Connecticut, before landing in Austin in 1988. In spite of the moves, and not always the best conditions, the cactus survived and thrived.

In spite of all the balls flying around our house.

About this time, I began putting the cactus outside in the springtime where it relished the direct sunlight. In our early 40's we conned my parents into taking care of our kids and managed a three week escape, backpacking through Europe.
Trevi Fountain
Monsee, Austria

Forget the kids. 
They just kept getting older, anyway.
As did we.

Green Lake

Hello 50.
As to the cactus, for years my husband and the boys, heeding my calls for caution, carried it out onto the patio each spring and then hauled it back inside to avoid a winter's freeze. It usually brought an argument as it required teamwork to avoid the many spikes that line each arm. 

Hidden in the house, I never thought it might become a tad sullen without the direct light. 
Again, it provided my metaphor. 
Took me years to figure it out, which is when I began to leave it out in the winter, covering it in old sheets during our rare freezes. It liked it out in the fresh air full-time. It grew stronger. Tougher. For the next couple years, it flourished and gained many new arms or whatever you call all those shoots.

Other than that Europe trip, our vacations consisted of Road Trips. We loaded our kids into our GMC Safari van and crisscrossed the lower 48 states, before cell phones. No TV in the car and AAA books and maps as our guide.
Field of Dreams. The Bridges of Madison County. The Black Hills. Devil's Tower. The Corn Palace. Green Lake, Minnesota. Green Bay, Wisconsin. Sheboygan. Chicago. Mackinac Island. Mammoth Cave. Gettysburg. Washington DC. Chincoteague Island. Yankee Stadium. Fenway. Nova Scotia. Trail Ridge Road. San Diego. Disneyland. Mesa Verde. Four Corners.

One hotel room at the Day's Inn. Always an argument over who got the rollaway.
Even though they were nice boys.
In 2008, we ditched the kids for a 30th anniversary trip. 
It's cheaper without your kids.

Left on its own, the cactus grew much stronger in the outside air. One day, one August day, I noticed an odd growth.

Not the prettiest thing I'd ever seen, but most unusual for certain.
Shocked me. 

Next thing we knew, all these guys moved out and became financially independent.


Turks and Caicos!
St Martin with great friends.
Denver Botanical Gardens
British Columbia
Every year, in August, the cactus bloomed. One year -- two blooms. Another-- four. Always in August. Our anniversary month...

while we added to the cast of players.

Oldest Son's Chelsea
Middle Son's Leigh
Maisy Grace
We kept playing.
At the lake.

The Blue Lagoon
Please note my halo.
New York City
You have to visit NYC when your youngest son lives there.
We added a new continent.
On the

The for-real backdrop.
Cape of Good Hope
After Africa in February this year, life changed. The husband retired. He loved his new found freedom. 

Accustomed to quiet 12 hour days of solitude, I attempted to complete my novel accompanied by the roars from blowers, power washing, and the TV. My inspirational view of the backyard from my writing space became obstructed by a motorcycle rebuilding project. Vroom. Vroom.

Murder scenes kept appearing in my writing even though my book wasn't a WhoDoneIt. Finally, finally with the writing complete and the house power-washed to perfection, we reverted to travel mode. A first-time trip to Lake Tahoe to visit family followed by a 4200-mile Road Trip up north, don't you know.

Lake Tahoe
The Apostle Islands -- Wisconsin

After we returned, in mid-July the cactus bloomed. I thought it odd that it bloomed a month early. I chocked it up to the changing climate noting that lots of things seemed a bit off these days. Ahem. 

A couple days ago, while on my way to the compost bin, I noticed something completely different. 


Most appropriate.
Come Sunday we will celebrate 40 years of wedded...


More than a few prickly spikes along the way, but good to know there are still surprises ahead. We'll let the cactus be our guide.

And that damn thing better not die.

While searching photos for this post, it came to my attention that these ARE the only photographs we have of the two of us. We'll have to work on that.


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