My Hair Is Winning

The other day, I went to the hair stylist and begged her to transform my do.  I had been growing my hair for several months, in preparation of making a change.  I was managing that awkward “growing out” phase fairly well until about a week ago.  Then, I suddenly hit my personal wall in the hair-growing department.   

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t hate my hair.  In fact, it is one of the few aspects of my appearance that I can say I’ve always rather liked.  I have dark (well, with the help of a little gray-concealing enhancement), rich, wavy hair. It looks healthy and lush.  My curls tend to spring and bounce, which makes me look happier than I may actually be.  That, in turn, makes me become happier than I could be. 

So, if I am so enamored with my hair, why this passionate desire to change it? Call it a need for a pick-me-up. I don’t think it was so much about my hair as it was just that I wanted some sort of change.  Hair seemed like a relatively simple thing to change. 

Or so I thought.   

To be fair, I had mixed ideas on what I wanted.  As I thought about what I wanted my new hair style to look like and wandered around the internet looking for inspiration, the precision cut angled bobs called to me. The art deco sleekness attracted me.  On the other hand, I kept talking myself out of them because I was pretty sure my thick, curly hair would reject an angled bob as surely as a transplant patient rejects a mismatched organ. I went back to gathering pictures of shaggy, springy cuts similar to what I already had.   

When I went to the salon, I shared the story of my hair angst with the stylist. She listened to my thoughts on a new coiffure.  She looked at the pictures I brought with me.  Somehow, she heard what I really wanted through all the self-doubt.  She bobbed my hair beautifully.  We were both kind of astonished by the result. The stylist started snapping pictures. I stared into the mirror, gaping at my reflection.  My hair looked and felt great.   It swung around cleanly and softly, but never moved out of place.  No gel, no mousse, no hairspray.  It was magic.   

I turned to my hair magician and said, “I kind of love it, but I’m really depressed because I know I will never be able to get it to look like this again.” She immediately began to reassure me how easily I should be able to recreate the look at home. I knew that the key word in her exhortations was “should.”  When she realized I was still smiling sadly at the woman in the mirror, she started suggesting that I could come to the salon to get a blow out if I couldn’t get it the way I wanted it by myself.  I think we both knew that was never going to happen.  I don’t have the time, money, or inclination to be one of those women who go to the beauty parlor twice a week for styling. She suggested that, if I found the straightening too difficult, I could opt for a curly bob. I’m pretty sure a curly bob would make me look like a brunette Bozo the Clown. 

The day after my transformation, I said good-bye to the girl with the wonderful sleek new hair-do as I stepped into the shower.  I was pretty sure I would not be seeing her again.  Still, I wasn’t relinquishing her without a fight. 

I did my best with my hair when I got out of the shower.  The haircut was still nice and I managed to style it in a way that bore some resemblance to what it looked like when I stepped out of the salon…. But only the slightest resemblance.  The curls still flipped up a bit and the part didn’t seem to want to part the way it parted so naturally at the salon.  Everything didn’t look like it simply fell into place any more.  It looked more like it was pushed.  It was sort of like a new artificial Christmas tree.  When you first open the box, the pieces of the tree fit so neatly together and the whole bundle seems so perfectly packed.  After Christmas, you may be able to get the tree back in the box, but it is always a struggle and the pieces never lay quite right. There are always branches that seem to spring out all akimbo.  So did locks of my hair.    

When I decided I wanted to change my hair style, I never really intended it to be a battle. Still, I am fighting my hair and my hair is winning.  I guess I knew deep down that this would be the likely result if I succumbed to the allure of those bob pictures on the internet.  Sometimes, self-doubt is justified. 

I’m not giving up quite yet, though.  I haven’t thrown in the towel on hair diplomacy.  I keep thinking that, with a little quiet negotiation, I might be able to end the armed conflict.  With some practice, maybe I can figure out the technique that allowed my hair magician to tame my locks into straight submission.  Maybe my hair and I can reach a détente. On the other hand, my hair may demand complete independence.  If that happens, I am sure I will capitulate to the curls.  Playing against type is pretty tough.  I just haven’t the will to win a war with my hair.   

It is a good thing that I like my curls.

What do you do when you just want a change?  How has it worked for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful, springy day!

Terri 🙂

PS- Several days later…. It turns out my hair stylist is indeed a hair magician! The haircut has survived my ineptitude! I may not be achieving the same professional level of smoothness, but my hair still looks and feels good in “straight enough” mode. Even when I go curly on a given day (after all, it is June and I live in Florida, the hotbed of humidity), I don’t look at all like Bozo the Clown! Maybe there is hope for me yet.

 

Does God Have A URL?

The other day I googled God, but couldn’t find an email address. I wanted to keep in touch, so I thought I’d write Him a letter and post it on the blog… just in case God happens to be trawling the internet.

Dear God,

I thought I’d write a quick note today to tell You I was thinking about You.  How are You?  No, wait, don’t answer that.  You are Great.  Of course You are Great.  You are God, after all.  At any rate, I hope You are in Your Heaven and all’s right with the world… at least from your perspective.  I suppose Yours is the only perspective that is completely accurate.  Please forgive me if, down here in the weeds, I sometimes question the “all’s right with the world” part. 

A frog fell on my head today.  Yes, really.  I pushed open the screen door on the garage and apparently dislodged the little guy.  He must have been perching on top of the screen. I had no idea that frogs even had perches.  Maybe this frog suffered from species confusion.  Maybe he was a bird in a prior life.  If he was, he forgot he no longer had wings and couldn’t fly.  Instead of soaring into the air when I jostled his nestling place, he came crashing down on what would have been the hard cement driveway if my head had not gotten in the way. My head is also pretty hard, for that matter.   

I mean no disrespect, God, but was that absolutely necessary?  Haven’t things been challenging enough lately without lime green amphibians hopping around in my hair?  Did You think You really need to up the degree of difficulty? Or were You just bored and in need of a laugh? 

If it is the latter, I hope I provided you with a real gut-buster.  I am sure I looked insanely amusing while chasing the little guy around with a broom.  Once he bounced off of my head and onto the ground, I regained my senses enough to know that I wanted to make sure he didn’t hop into the house.  He was cute, but not THAT cute.  I stared down at him, trying to figure out how to get him away from the garage door without turning my back on him.  I’m not really sure why turning my back on him seemed like such a bad idea.  I’m not a border collie. It wasn’t like my staring at him was going to make him stay put.  In point of fact, I have no frog-herding skills.  Maybe the already defective visual reasoning part of my brain was still stunned into silence.   

At any rate, I ran backwards into the garage to grab a broom, never taking my eyes off the little bugger.  He was wedged into the track of the sliding screen garage door, but I was pretty sure he was just waiting for his chance to make a break for it.  Amazingly, he was still hanging out there when I returned with the broom. He soon became MUCH more active when I tried to sweep him onto the lawn and away from the garage. 

Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very bright frog and didn’t seem to understand that it was in his own best interest to hop in the direction I was sweeping.  Instead, he kept jumping up and spinning around in mid-air trying to propel himself closer to the garage.  I’m not sure what he found so compelling about my garage.  I can’t imagine entering this vehicular inner sanctum was actually the hill he wanted to die on, so to speak.  Unfortunately, though, I think he did die for his cause.  I must have looked pretty ridiculous dancing around the driveway, broom in hand, maniacally sweeping a moving object.  No matter what I did or how hard I tried to redirect it, that critter kept resuscitating and moving towards the door.  At a few points, he actually breached the perimeter, but I persevered.  I didn’t intentionally kill the frog, but I’m pretty sure he perished in the fight.  Maybe not, though.  He was a very resilient creature.   

So, what have I been doing when not killing frogs?  Not much. Certainly nothing as jaw-dropping as my close encounter of the amphibian kind. I am spending a lot of time with my mother exploring different techniques to keep her alert and engaged. I am only marginally successful with any of these strategies. I’ve decided to grade myself on a curve and declare victory based on the smallest achievements.  I gave myself an “A” the other day when she laughed and nodded while watching me discuss the day’s activities on a home video of my trip to Williamsburg a few years ago.  I am atoning for any unnecessary administrative burden I placed on clients during my career by trudging my way through Medicaid paperwork purgatory. Just a reminder, dear Lord… purgatory is supposed to be temporary, isn’t it?  In my spare time, I’ve been sightseeing, literally and figuratively, around various Christian churches.  I walk at least six and a half miles to nowhere every day. I go to water aerobics classes and am proud to report that I have become much more proficient at not drowning.   

So, God, I hope You are doing well. Thanks for giving me all the people who love me. I’m sure You are busy, so it is great that You’ve sent some emissaries to bring a little of Your grace into my life. If You get a moment between crises in running the Universe, could you please spare a second to bless them all with peace and joy?  I’d really appreciate it!   

Love, Terri 

P.S. One more thing, Lord, if it isn’t too pushy to be asking…. Do you think you could keep the frogs out of my hair in the future?  As long as I’m at it, the same goes for any other animals.  Thanks! 

I think God will get my letter even without an email account. I think God is everywhere- even the worldwide web!

Now it is your turn.  Have you ever experienced anything so ridiculous that you thought it had to be God’s joke?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a hoppy day!

Terri 🙂

 

The Long Haul

It has now been over nine months since my mother’s stroke. We’ve experienced several seasons of her prognosis. I’ve felt that each season has required a different response from me.

When my mother first had the stroke, I stepped into the war zone of my emotions, trying to be ever present and functional as medical staff triaged her towards “survival.” This season lasted only a day or two.

During the next season, my mother worked hard at rehabbing. The goal was for her to improve from “precarious existence” to “some truncated version of independent living.” During that time, I rabbitted around doing, doing, and doing. My focus was on doing all the administrative things to keep her life on hold and making sure nothing fell through the cracks so there was nothing to distract my mom from just getting better. I also invested my efforts in being her cheerleader and motivator.  I concentrated on trying to share the rehab process with her, as if my doing the exercises with her could somehow take part of the yoke from her shoulders. I also tried desperately to provide some sort of normalcy and memory of what “real life” was like. I remember regularly pushing her wheelchair around the rehab facility in the hot, humid Florida weather. My goal for that little adventure in exhaustion and dehydration was to remind her how much she enjoyed just being out of doors.  I wanted to show her that she could still enjoy some of her favorite things about living.

I think my mother knew before I did that things were not going to work out in the way I wanted. The season changed. It became darker and bleaker. The rehab wasn’t working.  My mother’s life got smaller instead of larger as she kept struggling with the physical and occupational therapy. As her life got smaller, so did the number of life experiences she could still enjoy. She became so, so weary. She declined physically and emotionally.  We seemed to have entered a season of good-bye. The hospice people believed she would pass quietly within a few days or weeks.

When someone you love is in their last days or weeks, everything in life changes. My life became all about her. During this short-term season, I spent much of my time just being with her at the hospice center. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t really do anything. I was just there. She ate almost nothing.  She slept a lot. I think she was just worn out from the months of battling to make progress in rehab and from the emotional effort it took her to accept her reality and decide to just let things be.  I did nothing to keep my life running that didn’t absolutely have to be done. I didn’t make much progress on the tasks needed to manage the financial side of my mother’s life either. Anything that wasn’t boiling over got pushed to the back burner, including my own feelings.

Once my mother had this opportunity to rest her weary body and soul, she stabilized and the season changed again. While it was clear she was never going to get better, it appeared that she would survive beyond the short term… whatever that might be. She was still journeying rather purposefully towards the end of life, but she was traveling at a languid pace. Sometimes, I think that pace has slowed for a reason.  This new season has given her time to look at the totality of her life in a clearer, less confused way than she could during the rehab or hospice seasons.  It has given us both the chance to reconnect in a more meaningful way.  Whatever the reason for the slower pace, it is her pace and it needs to be what it is.

Now, we seem to be managing her illness and journey towards her end of life for the “long haul,” if one can speak of the journey towards the end of life as the “long haul.”   The response must change. My role in this season has been to suggest and implement ways to make her memories and connections more satisfying and concrete.  I’ve bought laptop computers and portable DVD players to show her family pictures and videos. I’ve suggested particular movies and television shows for us to watch together that have meant something to us in the past. I call and face time my brother regularly from her nursing home room so that they can interact I’ve kept up with her friends in California, which results in those folks sending her emails and cards.

I have to acknowledge, though, that it is no longer possible for me to react in the same way I did while my mother was at the hospice house. All those practical and logistical tasks that I postponed during that sad, strange short haul have to be dealt with at some point. I must invest some time and energy in other relationships, if I want those relationships to survive the long haul of my mother’s decline. I have to feel the feelings that I pushed to the back burner when the only thing that mattered was my mother’s comfort. I need to take time for myself to replenish the reserves of strength that I’ve been depleting over the past nine months.  Over the long haul, my life has to be about more than watching my mother come to the end of hers.

I struggle with how to prioritize and balance over the long haul. I’m confident that my mother likes it when I live in a world outside her narrow one. She enjoys the pictures and stories I bring back to her after my “day off” each week. It is still pretty excruciating to leave her, for a lot of reasons. It is still exhausting to conduct my life with the extra layer of hurt over my shoulders that doesn’t ever really disappear. In some ways, of course, the short haul season was more difficult because it was so dark and intense and lonely. The long haul has been lighter and more purposeful. On the other hand, the long haul is just so relentless. I am so aware that I have no idea how much longer this way of life will continue. I have no idea how much longer I will be rearranging my days to visit the nursing home during my mother’s “sweet spot” of alertness. I have no idea how many more days I will have to do what needs to be done to manage her affairs. I have no idea when I will run out of strategies to keep her engaged.  I have no idea how long I can handle the grief. I have no idea what is ahead and how far ahead it is, except that the situation is likely only to get worse. As difficult as the “now”  is and as difficult as it is to journey this path with my mother, it hits me in the gut that the day is coming when I won’t be traveling with my mother anymore. That reality sneaks up on me from a dark, cold corner of my brain on a regular basis.  I am terrified of what it will feel like when it happens.

Sometimes I think I cannot face all the sorrow and fear one more day. Then I realize, I don’t have to face it for one more day. Right here, right now, I only have to do it today. I do much better when I keep my eyes and heart focused directly in the present. I can go to the nursing home today. I can think of ways, however small, to make my mother happier today. I can handle seeing her pain today. I can avoid experiencing the pain associated with my mother’s eventual death today.

What is the answer to handling the stress of everything related to my mother’s illness over the long haul? The short haul.

What do you think?  How does a person balance the needs of oneself  with the needs of others?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

Have safe travels today!

Terri 🙂

PS For those of you who read last week’s post, I wanted to provide an update.  Last Thursday, when I was walking into the nursing facility, I noticed that the warped places in the pavement are now covered by cement structures that look like speed bumps.  Apparently, my nice gardener guy did more than just help me up and clean up my mess.  I’m glad they fixed the problem!

 

The Stealthfulness Of Grief

Nobody tells you how sneaky grief is. 

For the first five months or so after my mom’s stroke, I rode the emotional roller coaster all the time.  It was understandable.  So much was happening and changing on an hourly basis.  Of course my emotional reactions fluctuated. 

After about five months, my mother’s condition plateaued.  She was not improving, but neither was she undergoing stressful medical procedures.  I got her settled in the nursing facility.  I resolved the financial side of things.  I sold her mobile home. Once her status quo seemed to be pretty stable, I thought I might be able to begin to stabilize myself and start learning to cope with my own feelings. 

For the most part, I thought I was doing pretty well.  I was figuring out how to accept the new reality. I was even starting to carve out a “mini life” for myself.  I was regularly spending some time without being engulfed in my mother’s condition and care.  None of it was easy.  I certainly can’t say I was truly “okay,” but I felt I was gradually repairing my shattered psyche.  Both my mother and I seem to be living in the now with a little more good grace and good cheer.  Our relationship is certainly not what it was in the pre-stroke days, but we are starting to find our footing in our new one.  We both seem to be recognizing each other again and are acting more like ourselves.  Things are far from “okay,” but, for right now, they are better than I can expect.  So there is every reason for me to put on my big girl panties and get on with life.   

Still, every now and again, I am just floored by sadness.  There isn’t even necessarily a reason or a trigger I can identify.  I’m fine…  and then I’m not.   

The other day, I was walking up to the door of the nursing facility.  I was carrying my purse, a case containing a portable DVD player that I bring to show my mom home movies, and a milkshake.  I don’t quite know how it happened, but I tripped on a warped place in the pavement. I might have been trying a new technique for long-jumping, except that I think you are supposed to land on your butt when long jumping, not forward onto your face.   It was as if I really believed I was Tinker Bell and had sprouted wings.  News flash- I had not.  

Luckily, I didn’t really hurt myself.  As I lay on the sidewalk, stunned, all I could think about was the milkshake that was now spilled all over the cement and the DVD player that might have been much more disabled by the fall than I was.  For some reason, that milkshake spill just demoralized me beyond almost anything I’ve experienced in life.  I felt so defeated that I kind of just wanted to lie there and hope the world would end.  It was a weird sensation of knowing that I was reacting beyond all rational thought but not caring.   

I knew the reaction wasn’t really about the milkshake.  It wasn’t about the DVD player (which, remarkably, was unharmed by its flight).  It wasn’t even about the fall.  It was the same old grief and stress that I thought I was conquering.  The reaction was about the fact that my mother is so compromised and I can’t fix it.  I thought I was coming to terms with that reality, but the sadness came crashing back out of nowhere.   

A very nice gardener guy helped me to my feet.  I stared at the mess I had left in my wake.  The gardener guy asked if I was all right and I said, “yes, but the milkshake is all over the ground and it is ruined.  Besides, there will be bees and people might slip on it.”  The gardener guy looked at me strangely and mumbled some sort of embarrassed response.  Still a little in shock, I made my way into the facility and into my mother’s room, where I greeted her sans milkshake.  I burst into tears when I saw her, apologizing profusely for the lack of ice cream.  I think I kind of alarmed her.  She kept telling me to go home but I wouldn’t.  I didn’t want the fall to win.   

When I did leave the nursing home, still feeling unspeakably sad, I noticed the milkshake mess was mysteriously gone.  I am sure that my nice gardener guy cleaned it up for me.  Thank you, nice gardener guy.   

I read somewhere that sometimes you don’t have to get over things; you just have to get through them.  Maybe the “getting through them” isn’t always by a straight path. 

Has grief ever “snuck up” on you?  How do you cope?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a thoughtful day!

Terri 🙂

School Of Dolphins

Yes, I know that dolphins travel in pods, not schools.  However, that doesn’t mean that the dolphins don’t have a thing or two to teach us.  I learned a lot from my day swimming with the dolphins at Discovery Cove.  The dolphin experience especially taught me  several important things about how to best use the time of our lives. Here are some of the lessons I learned from my new merry marine mammal friends.

Make the most of your time.

A few years ago, I nagged a friend of mine to participate in a dolphin encounter in Hawaii.  We didn’t exactly “swim” with the dolphins.  It was more like “wading with the dolphins” because we kind of wimped out and took the encounter option that didn’t involve any deep-water interaction.   I can swim and have been swimming since I was a very little girl.  On the other hand, I was sort of anxious because I didn’t know how competent one needed to be in the water or how far I’d have to swim or how long it would take me to cover the ground I’d need to cover to do the deep-water swim.  My friend and I had a wonderful, soul-lightening time on our “dolphin wading” encounter, but I still couldn’t help but feel that I was missing out on something.

The Discovery Cove experience did include a deep-water swim with the dolphin.  Part of my hesitation in deciding to go was the same anxiety that I wasn’t a good enough swimmer, but I decided to throw caution to the wind.  As I was standing in the water waiting for my turn at the swim, I confess to feeling a bit nervous. I am a self-professed proponent of carefully controlled adventure.  I’d rather have artificial adventure than risk the dangers of the real thing.

I believe that litigation potential is a fairly effective vetting tool to determine if something is reasonably safe.  I figure, if an organization is big enough and has deep enough pockets to get sued in the event of disaster, I’m probably going to come out of whatever adventure simulation they provide in one piece.  Since Discovery Cove has been operating for over fifteen years and has not been felled by ruinous lawsuits, I figured I’d probably be okay.

I did believe our dolphin, Kaolani, was probably not going to attack.   On the other hand, I still did not know what level of swimming competency was going to be required to keep up with the dolphin. All the trainers kept saying that if you had to ask if you’d need a life jacket, you probably shouldn’t be doing the deep-water swim.  They offered a shallow water swim as an alternative.  I kept thinking about it, even when I was out in the water.  No one else was asking for the shallow water swim. I didn’t want to miss anything, especially after self-limiting my earlier dolphin encounter in Hawaii. There was a bitsy little girl in our group whose toes barely reached the bottom of the shallow part of the water.  She opted for the deep-water swim. I decided that, if she could do it, so could I.  As it turned out, I just had to swim about eight feet and tread water for a few minutes.  I held on to Kaolani’s flippers and dolphin-surfed my way back to the shore.  And I didn’t drown.

Once I had my dolphin encounter, I resolved to stop limiting myself.  I stopped worrying about what I looked like or whether I could do something.  It was incredibly freeing.  I did everything the park had to offer.  I felt like a kid again.  But a more self-confident kid than the kid I actually was once upon a time.

Let It Flow.

It may seem almost contradictory to my lesson about making the most of time, but I think it is more of a corollary than a contradiction.  I learned that nothing terribly bad happens if you stop worrying about what an experience is supposed to be like and what you are supposed to do to maximize your time.  Sometimes, it is best to just let a day of exploration unfold as it is going to and react as you want to in the moment.

Before I went to Discovery Cove, I had this huge need to understand how everything worked.  I had so many questions about the minutia of the operation!  Here are some of the queries that ran through my head:

  • How good a swimmer must you be to enjoy the dolphin experience? (just barely competent)
  • Where were the lockers in relation to the activities? (all over the place and you could easily appropriate more than one locker if it was more convenient)
  • Is there a preferred order in which to experience the attractions or maximize your time? (I don’t really think so- I felt like I could do all the attractions without prioritizing) How easy was it to get to the lockers periodically during the day? (phenomenally easy)
  • How did you know when to go to the dolphin encounter? (they gave you the time and location when you checked into the park)
  • How did you get reapplication of sunscreen? (there were stations all over the place)
  • Where were the food stations? (again, all over the place)
  • Since I eat like a four-year-old, what was there to eat? (a wide variety of sweet and savory offerings)
  • Did you need to bring money for incidentals? (not really, although I never feel comfortable leaving the house without some money so I kept $40 in the locker and never took it out)
  • Should I bring a hat? (yes, but know it will get drenched going under the waterfalls interspersed on the lazy river)
  • Were there private showers and dressing areas? (yes)
  • Would the required wetsuit vests fit me? (yes)
  • Would I look awkward or funny doing the experiences? (maybe, but nobody cared)

I could go on and on, but I think I already have.  The Discovery Cove website gave a lot of information, but I found that it was just enough to inspire my brain to craft new questions.

Once I was in the park for half an hour or so, I relaxed considerably and stopped worrying about “doing it right.”  I just meandered and did what I wanted when I wanted.  I did it right, without even trying.

She Who Travels Fastest Travels Alone.

I really wasn’t thinking so much about traveling fast through Discovery Cove, but I do think that I probably traveled better alone.

One of my other hesitations in booking my day at Discovery Cove was that I’d be going by myself because Max doesn’t do water recreation.  The idea of him paying the high admission price to simply trail along behind me, take pictures, and consume all-you-can-eat hot pretzels all day seemed ludicrous.

Before I met Max, I did a lot of things by myself.  After my divorce in 1988, I was single for many years.  I learned very quickly that, if I really wanted to do something or go somewhere, I should do it by myself rather than wait for a time when someone else might join me.  It was nice when I did things with dates or with friends, but I really had no problem having adventures on my own.

After Max and I met, I became very used to having a partner on my experiences.  It was really nice to share our recreation and perspectives.  Once he moved in with me, I almost never did anything fun on my own.  I didn’t mind at all.  He doubled my enjoyment of these activities.  On the other hand, I found I was starting to lose my self-reliance in the fun arena.

When I first made the reservation, a day on my own at Discovery Cove sounded appealing.  I could please only myself and wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs or desires.  As the time approached, however, I started to feel a little bereft about being without Max while I had this new experience.

It turned out that Discovery Cove is a great place to have fun, with or without other people.  I pretty much tuned out everyone else and did exactly what I wanted to do.  To be clear, Max would have been fine paying his money and watching me have a good time.  One of his favorite recreational activities is watching me do stuff he wouldn’t do, like feeding animals in a petting zoo or bouncing around in a swimming pool.  It bothers me, though, to know he is waiting for me.  Since Max doesn’t do water activities, I am sure I would have worried about him being bored while I cavorted in the deep. Without him, I was free to return to a second and third time snorkeling on the reef.  I could lie around doing nothing when I felt like it.  I could eat and drink when it felt like the right time for me.  Also, I could enjoy showing him pictures and telling him all about my day when I got home.

So, dolphins don’t travel in schools.  They are good teachers, though, and I think I am going to try very hard to apply the lessons I learned at Discovery Cove to the rest of my life!

Have you ever learned a valuable life lesson while engaged in some seemingly inconsequential event, like my day with the dolphins?  Please tell us about it.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a great day!

Terri

Still Alive and Kicking

Based on the Holmes Rahe scale, I’m lucky I’m not dead yet.  The Holmes Rahe stress scale is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness.  These stressors are not limited to negative events, but simply represent situations that typically cause change or a need for readjustment in a person’s life.  They range from the relatively benign (experiencing a major holiday, for instance) to the more cataclysmic (such as the death of a spouse.)  The scale assigns each event a weighted score and measures the combined score of all the identified life events a person experiences in a year.  Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe conducted a scientifically valid study that resulted in a correlation between life events, as measured by stress scale scores, and illness.   

A score of over 300 indicates a significant risk of serious illness.  Even before my mother’s stroke, my score was 344.  In the year that included my retirement, the life events I’d experienced included but were not limited to:  changing jobs twice, retiring, moving across country, changing my entire financial situation, and taking responsibility for my ailing mother’s care, along with a few other more garden variety stressful life events like Christmas and a vacation.  And my elevated stress scale score doesn’t even include any events not included in the good doctors’ research…  like selling a home, moving my mother 3000 miles across the country, or finding snakes in the garage.      

Even with this empirical evidence to explain my feelings of stress, it still felt vaguely shameful to talk about that stress with family and friends.  After all, I RETIRED.  That should have been the end of my need for sympathy from them.  Obviously, if I am no longer working, I must have nothing about which to feel stressed.  It’s like I’ve lost my membership card to the Forever Frenzied Federation and am no longer entitled to vent about the frustrations and fears of my existence. 

When I think back about what the pace of life was like before I retired, it does seem silly to even think about my post-retirement stressors, especially before my mother’s stroke.  When I was working, I was constantly tossed and tousled by a hurricane at sea.  I was always struggling against drowning.  For some time after retirement, I waded at the edges of a still ocean.  Sometimes, a wave lapped a little too high on my leg and my pants got wet.  Certainly, not much comparison.  Still, the events in the year after my retirement truly were significant in their own right.   It would behoove me to pay attention to their impact, especially now that the cataclysm of my mother’s illness has caused a whole new type of storm in my world. 

So, what do I do?  Obviously, I can’t undo the life events and spread them out over a more reasonable time period. The damage is already done.   But maybe it is time to stand still for a while.  It is tempting, now, to invest any time and energy I can muster into pleasurable and fun activities.  When I take a day off from visiting my mother in the nursing facility, I tend to want to go somewhere and do something to divert my attention.  Running off in search of amusement whenever I have a spare moment may not be the healthiest strategy.  I think the situation calls for a little boredom to quell my overactive nervous system and dilute the overabundance of stress hormones in my blood stream.  Constant excitement, while entertaining, may not be all it is cracked up to be.   

So let’s hear it for monotony!  Sometimes it is better to lie down and yawn rather than to stand up and cheer.

Did any of you have a hard time responding to stress after you retired?  Did it feel like you somehow weren’t “entitled” to feel stressed once you weren’t working?  How did you cope with the situation?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a reasonably stress-free day!

Terri 🙂

PS I hope I didn’t throw anyone off by this early posting for the week.  I have a date with a dolphin tomorrow and must be on my way very early, so I thought I’d post tonight and save some time in the morning.  More about the dolphin day soon, I promise!  In the meantime, I’ll be back to posting on the regular day next Wednesday.

 

 

Springing Forward

The hospice nurse says my mother no longer experiences time in the same way most people do.  Do you think it might be contagious? 

Never before in my life have I messed anything up because of the beginning of Daylight Savings Time.  Last Sunday, I was getting ready to go to church.  I happened to look down at my phone and noticed it said the time was an hour later than I thought it was.  I wondered what was wrong with my phone.  As it turns out, nothing. 

I went to church, still operating firmly in Eastern Standard Time despite all iPhone indications to the contrary.  I thought I was arriving early for Sunday School and was surprised at how full the parking lot already was.  I noticed some folks going into the church and wondered at that.  By Terri Time, it was just about an hour before the service was to start and people usually don’t arrive that early.  Finally, out of nowhere (or, maybe, out of the numerous hints that my brain was consuming but apparently not digesting very quickly), I realized that Daylight Savings Time might just have started at 2:00 o’clock that morning.   

So, I did not have a spring forward this year.  It was more like a stumble forward.  Maybe I was actually pushed directly into the path of an oncoming time change.  I think there might be a message for me in this. 

I think I may have become a little stuck in flux during this past season.  Is that an oxymoron?  Can one be “stuck” if one is in a state of “flux?”  All I know is that I think my brain has been wallowing in some sort of disagreeable sludge ever since my mom had her stroke.  I have become used to living in a nearly constant mood of sadness, anxiety, fear, and inadequacy. It has become a comfortable ooze, if not a pleasant one.  I tend to sink deeper into it rather than exerting the effort to lumber out of it.  Yes, this whole journey started back in the last Daylight Savings Time.  Theoretically, I’ve had a couple of time changes to adapt to my new circumstances. I’m not sure my transmission is that good, though.  It tends to slip.  Given my sinister slide into the emotional muck, I’d say I had no trouble at all “falling back.” 

Now that spring is here (whether I sprung with it or not), it might be a good time to recognize and acknowledge new birth.  There has been a lot of growing inside me recently.  I’ve graduated from my perception that retirement is simply well-earned rest.  I’m now seeing how retirement can and should be enriching, as well as restful.    More than two years after my move, I have started thinking of Florida as “home.”  It no longer feels disloyal to prefer my life in Florida to what I was experiencing back in California.  I believe I have learned more about myself in the past two years than in the prior 30 plus “career” years put together.  The best news about that self-education is that I am figuring out how to appreciate myself.  I’m not saying that I am all that and a bag of chips, but I think I can now safely say that I am at least the bag of chips.  

In addition to recognizing and acknowledging the new beginnings I’ve birthed since my retirement, spring seems a good time to nurture the seedlings that are beginning to sprout for other changes.  I know I’ll never be okay with my mother’s condition, but I do sometimes feel the stirrings of acceptance and reconciliation.  This spring, I want to be a gardener.  I want to tend to my mother’s heart- to fill it with beautiful flowers and plants and lovely scents to remind her how much she is loved.  I also want to tend my own heart- to heal it and love it and remind it of how much I love. 

Is spring growing season for you?  Any particular “gardening” you are planning for this year?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Happy almost spring!

Terri 🙂

Practice Makes Perfect

Awhile back, I happened to look at the calendar and realized, with a start, that I was attending a wedding exactly 35 years ago that day. My own.
I remember that period around the middle of 1980 through the end of 1981. It was the last time, before my recent retirement and move across the country, that I navigated multiple life-altering changes in a relatively short period of time.

My parents sold the house where I grew up in mid-1980. They always wanted to sell the house and travel around the country when they retired. My younger brother had moved out on his own (well, on his own and about a hundred roommates, but that’s a story for a different day), but I still had a year or so of college to finish. My parents, two basset hounds, and I moved into a 27-foot travel trailer. We lived in the trailer full time in a campground across the street from Disneyland. I went to school, studied, worked a job part-time, tried to apply for and interview for post-graduation “career type jobs,” and planned my wedding from that travel trailer. We all lived together, ate together, watched television together for a year. There was no place to put anything (which was a special challenge when one considers the incredible amount of paraphernalia involved in organizing a wedding). Most of my worldly goods resided in a storage facility. There was no privacy. My “bedroom” was the dinette area that converted to a bed once any of the three of us decided it was time to go to sleep.

People thought our living situation was kind of weird, but it did make some sense in the big picture. My parents were beginning to live their “live in a camper and travel the nation” dream, albeit without the “travel the nation” part of it… yet. “As soon as we get rid of Terri,” (as they told anyone and everyone for the entire year of this limbo), “we are going to take off and be on our way.”

Between the end of May and the middle of August in 1981, I graduated from college, started working full-time at my college job, got married, and switched jobs to an extremely responsible “career type” government position (which, despite the fact that it involved constantly making decisions that impacted on people’s actual lives, paid virtually the same amount as my college “undersecretary clerical gopher” job). My parents hit the road, literally and figuratively. These were the days before cell phones, social media, and email. For about six months, my only communication with them were occasional letters (you remember, with the folded paper and envelope?) and cassette tapes we would make to send each other.

By the end of 1981, I think I already knew my marriage had been a horrible mistake and I was absorbed in the exhausting work of trying to pretend I didn’t already know it.

That interlude in 1980-1981 was the last time I went through multiple major changes in my life. Yes, certainly I navigated changes since then- a divorce, two moves, a couple of different jobs. All those changes, though, came more-or-less, one at a time. Each change was more like someone throwing a pebble into my life and watching the mild ripples rather than having changes crash unrelenting like waves on the shore of my life. The good news about singular changes is that they can become the focus of your life for a time. You can cogitate, analyze, grieve, and strategize about how to deal with them. You can reach out for sympathy. You can even turn your life into your own little soap opera for awhile, if you want. The bad news about singular changes is that you can also obsess over every little detail and become the object of pity.

When you find yourself in the tornado alley of change, you don’t really have the time to analyze and react to each one individually. Sometimes, the more you try to get your feet back under you and control things, the more changes seem to occur. Instead of focusing on the individual change and figuring out how you feel about it and how you are going to react, you tend to focus on the general whirlwind. Your brain begins to feel like a tornado itself. You feel too dizzy to see any way out. You have to seem pitiful, even to the point of tedium, to your friends. Let’s face it, even the best friends have some point at which they can no longer stand doling out sympathy and advice that doesn’t seem to be doing you any good.

Interesting that I’m finally able to “compare and contrast” the single change experience with the multi-leveled change twister. It has been over a two years since I plowed my way through the tornado alley of retiring, moving, and taking over my mother’s caretaking. I’m starting to feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  Maybe, in some small ways, I’ve finally come through the storms and the house of my life has landed back on the ground. I’m wary when I say it, but I think I’ve managed my way through the worst of it. It has been an exhausting ride. Even though most of these changes were the result of my own choices, the stress has been way more than I ever imagined.

Why has it been so difficult? I think I’ve just figured it out. The last time I handled this sort of life-altering multi-level change was 35 years ago. When it came to facing the changes of the past couple of years, I clearly lacked practice!

So what do you think? Have you gotten better at managing change with practice? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can leave me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Hope your topsy-turvies don’t leave you upside down today!
Terri

Distance Lends Enchantment To The View. Or Not.

I struggled with writing this piece. The ideas seem to swirl around in my head without actually forming.  They tantalize, but, when it comes to pinning them down on paper, they morph and flit away.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it feels a bit disloyal or ungrateful to question whether or not what you did for a living for over 33 years really made a whit of difference in the general scheme of things.   

Recently, I was speaking with a friend of mine who is still working.  She was feeling a bit down in the dumps because of the way things were going on the job.  She despaired because she was working as hard as she could, but there didn’t really seem to be any progress or, for that matter, any goal.  She put out fires every day.  She knew, on some level, that she was doing something important.  What she didn’t know was whether anyone in her organization knew or cared what it was that she did.  One of the points she cited as evidence was the fact that she was still called by a title that had been obsolete for over a year. 

It may seem somewhat trivial to angst over a title.  However, the title issue begged a bigger question.  To my friend, the fact that the agency did not recognize that the title was incorrect made her wonder about her duties, responsibilities, and accomplishments.  Was the time and energy she was expending being invested in the right things? What was she really supposed to be accomplishing? Did the organization recognize and value what she had simply adopted as her new role, without benefit of direction, once the job originally associated with her obsolete title was done?  How was she to get support and championship for what she believed needed to be done on an organizational level, based on what she saw from her perspective?  And the biggest question…. could her considerable efforts result in any “big picture” change for the greater good?

I tried to be supportive and the conversation made me realize that I have undergone a huge metamorphosis since leaving the world of employment.   Yes, I have navigated probably hundreds of everyday changes in my life as I’ve transitioned into the retirement world.  However, as I explained to my friend, there is actually one change that dwarfs all of the rest of them.  My perspective of my job has undergone a massive overhaul.  I think, when some people retire, they tend to see the job they left behind through rosier lenses than what reality would suggest.  In my case, it was exactly the opposite.  In my rearview mirror, the job was considerably less important than I believed it was when I was occupying it. 

It isn’t that I think what I did was unimportant.  I do believe that I helped a lot of customers and employees.  I think, because of my understanding, technical expertise, and leadership, most of the people in my limited sphere of influence had a better experience in life than they would have had if I had not been there, at least for a little while.  I can recall some of my efforts that had relatively big, tangible, positive impact on a few specific people. That is enough to make me feel great about what I accomplished in my career.

On the other hand, I think much of what I did was largely symbolic.  I am as big a believer in symbolic victory as the next person, but I do like to think that symbolic victories open the door and pave the way for more substantive triumphs.  I don’t completely dismiss the possibility that there are one or two people out there who may have truly benefited, in a very real way, from my employment.  However, I think most of my value was in listening, talking to people in a respectful way, and framing ideas so that they made sense to the other person based on his or her mindset.  I do believe all that is important in that it keeps the world turning a little smoother, but, let’s face it…. It doesn’t really change the price of tea in China.  From a big picture standpoint, I was basically irrelevant.

When I think of the tears I shed, the nights I didn’t sleep, and the harshness with which I chastised myself as I went through my career, I am now amazed.  What I have learned since retiring is…. It isn’t that big a deal.  Shocking, I know.

When I was working at my job, my brain knew that there were many more important things in life than whether I was a career star. There were more important things than having terrific office metrics.  There were more important things than getting a refund to a customer a few days faster than it would happen without my intervention.  There were more important things than supporting the career and personal growth of my employees.  It wasn’t difficult for me to name some of those more important things… faith, ethics, family, relationships.   Still, at some gut-wrenching, adrenaline-producing, crazy-making level, there was an undeniable force that drove my every action, emotion, and response during my work life.  It was that force that propelled me close to despair when I was not successful, even momentarily, in any of the “not so important” things.

Yes, being good at my job was very important.  It was critical that I be good enough at it to keep it and make a living.  It was also essential, from an ethical and self-respect standpoint, that I did my best.  It was important that I justify the trust my leaders put in me and the salary that the people of the United States were paying me.   However, meeting or exceeding every person’s every expectation of me truly was not that important.  First of all, it isn’t even possible to go through life without disappointing someone once in a while.  Second, sometimes people asked me for things that were not legal or ethical or reasonable.  Third, and it has taken me some time to realize this, some of those people didn’t even expect me to meet those stated expectations.  People were sometimes communicating what they wanted in an ideal world, but knew that what they were requesting was not realistic in any world in which we all live.  Somehow, I internalized all those requests as a sacred mandate.  I felt actual shame when I had to tell someone I had not achieved what they wanted.

I tried to explain this revelation to my friend, hoping that it would help her deal with her current work crisis.  She, of course, agreed with everything I was saying.  Intellectually, we all know these basic truths.  Hearing me say them didn’t make any difference to my friend.  It wouldn’t have made any difference to me when I was working, either.

Why is it that it is so hard to put things in proper perspective when we are still working?  When we are in the midst of the fray, it is as if there is some biological imperative to do what we are being asked to do that somehow overwhelms the good sense with which we were born.  We surrender our brains to the mercy of an overheated sympathetic nervous system.  Some people are able to wrangle those adrenaline responses.  They are able to balance those biological “fight or flight” reactions with the power of their innate reasoning ability.  Passion versus dispassion.  I wish I could have mastered that skill.   I might still be working today, if I had.

People often think that I am a fairly cool customer.  I come across as a logical, reasonable individual.  I think things through, probably to a fault.  I plan and strategize. I tackle things one step at a time.  I used to say “hope is not a strategy” and relied on an abundance of hard work rather than talent to succeed.  I believed I would meet my goals if I, like Dory, “just keep on swimmin’.”   I was always more of a plow horse than a race horse.  I don’t think I ever really saw myself as passionate in my career life.

As I write this, it dawns on me that maybe I was more passionate about my job than I realized.  Maybe the reason I have had trouble making this blog piece sit still is because I miss my job a little more than I thought I did.  Or maybe not.  Passion does exact a price.

What do you think?  For those of you who are retired, what do you miss about your work?  If you are considering retirement, what do you think you will miss the most?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Have a wonderful day!

Terri 🙂

The Sweetest Days

Max retired almost three years before I did.  I have to admit to a smidgeon of resentment when he retired and I could not.  It made no sense, as he is older than I am, was older when he retired than I would be on my planned retirement date, and he basically took over all the work of running the household after he retired.  It was pretty irrational.  I had no reason in the world to feel annoyed about it.  I was 52 years old, bringing in a tidy paycheck, and coming home to a clean, maintained house, freshly laundered clothes, and a fully stocked refrigerator.  Still, a part of me was really ticked off when I awoke violently in the middle of yesterday when the alarm clock went off and I knew he was still in bed.  Sometimes I’m not a very nice person.

Within two months of my retiring, we moved 3000 miles across the country.  We had not even really settled into a new retirement routine.  I was still toodling around town, celebrating with one batch of friends or another.  There was Thanksgiving and some early, pre-move Christmas preparations.  I didn’t have time to figure out what our life was going to be once we were both retired, much less what the impact would be on our relationship.  During the time I was still working after Max retired, it felt like “retirement life” was a reality, but “on hold” while we waited for me to reach the magic age of 55.  I wasn’t sure the routines and activities Max had in his retirement would continue after I would be around all day.  I wasn’t sure what sort of routines and activities I would do.  And I really didn’t know how his life and mine would intersect.  We were always very good about sharing time and fun while we were forced into a structure by our work lives.  How would we accomplish that sharing once the artificial timeframes of our work lives were gone?

Once we moved, it became pretty clear that both of us were experiencing a certain amount of stress related to this major upheaval in our lives.  At least, in retrospect, it is clear that we were both experiencing a certain amount of stress related to this major upheaval in our lives.  I have to confess that, at the time, I just thought Max was being compulsive and annoying and I am sure that Max thought I had turned into a lazy, irresponsible grasshopper version of the industrious little ant he had known for almost twenty years. 

The problem, I think, was that we learned that we both deal with stress in very different ways.  I was wrong to think that Max believed that the move and all the changes were no big deal.  He most definitely did find all the transition to be a big deal.  It is just that Max deals with stress by trying to control the heck out of it.  He tries to think of every possible problem, action, or task that could conceivably be an issue in any universe and believes in attacking each one immediately and simultaneously.  If you think of everything and do everything to solve/prevent problems as soon as they enter your head, you are unlikely to be unpleasantly surprised by disaster.  On the other hand, you might be exhausted, which, to me, was a disaster in itself after 33 years of working for a living and being chronically exhausted.  My way of dealing with problems is to let them sit for a little bit, brainstorm some possible options to deal with them, research those options, and then decide on a plan of action.  That plan of action will involve dealing with one problem at a time, celebrating the resolution of that problem, and then resting between rounds, as it were.  My way means some things may never get done.  Max’s way means we are constantly on hyper-alert and busy doing stuff that may never need to get done. 

The other issue involved the way we make decisions.  Both of us obsess in the decision-making process.  We research, weigh every possible factor, and simmer in our own juices for way too long before actually settling on a decision.  Often, we settle into paralysis by analysis.  However, for me, the obsession does not stop when the decision is finally made.  I second guess myself and mourn the road not taken with almost as much intensity as I mustered to make the decision in the first place.  On the other hand, Max never looks back.  Once he has made and implemented a decision, he tells himself and anyone who will listen that it the unquestionably correct one.  This became a problem whenever I voiced any possible downsides of our decision or mentioned that I missed something about our old home.  Max would immediately start reciting the litany of all the reasons our decision to move was the only one a rational person could possibly make.  To him, I think entertaining any possible regrets felt as if the whole thing was a catastrophe.  To me, not acknowledging the difficulties and the disappointments felt dismissive. 

For the first six months or so after the move, the difference in our two styles was an irritant to both of us.  It was uncomfortable to be at odds with one another, as we have so little practice at it.  We had seldom disagreed in our twenty year relationship before this move across country.  It made me kind of depressed to know that there were times when Max was not pleased with my approach or decision.  I’m sure it also frustrated Max no end when what he perceived as his “rational convincing” to do something (and I perceived as “nagging”) did not move me to his way of thinking and I really could not explain why.  I started snapping at him fairly regularly and he started just assuming I agreed with him about things.  I guess that is a chicken and egg conundrum.  I don’t really know which came first.

Then something happened.    I’m not sure when or why.  I think Max probably started it.  We became gentler and more tender with each other.  Instead of being frightened or irritated by the disconnects, we started to be more accepting of each other.  We started being more visibly appreciative of what each of us brings to the relationship and what we do for each other.  We started reminding each other of how much we loved each other.  Our lives became more about each other again and less about the complications around us- the house, the lawn, my mother, finances, etc.  There is a new easiness to the relationship- something like the joy we had when we were new to each other, but deeper and warmer and softer. 

In a few weeks, Max and I will celebrate twenty years together.  During that time, we have shared the death of three of our four parents, the growing up and growing old of our little mutant Welsh corgi dog, many vacations, many wonderful entertainments, health problems, career challenges, home renovation, caregiving of my mother, two retirements, and many, many other experiences I can’t even begin to name. With all that, the relationship has truly grown richer. It is sort of like warming up spaghetti sauce.  It is good the first day, but it gets better as it simmers when you warm and rewarm it.  There may have been times when each of us privately wondered if our “we” was going to withstand whatever was going on at the time.  I think maybe our new chapter is about being more secure that, whatever ingredients the future adds to our mix, our relationship will be okay because the base of the recipe is love and respect and admiration.  For me, the best place in the world to be is snuggled in his arms.  He makes me feel the warmth and wholeness that comes from being truly cherished.  For Max, I think being with me makes his spirit a little lighter and more joyful. 

So, my darling Max, Happy Anniversary.  There is no question that the sweetest days I’ve found I’ve found with you.

How did your relationship change when you retired?  Were there challenges you had to overcome? How have you navigated choppy waters?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a sweet day!

Terri 🙂