Posted in Columns

The Eyes Have It. Now and in the Future.

There’s nothing like dinner with old friends to put life back into focus – sort of.

During a recent dinner out with a bunch of my high school friends and their assorted spouses, we found ourselves begging, borrowing and sometimes stealing those quintessential symbols of Middle Age: reading glasses.

Hanging at the bar before being seated was fine – the bartender asked what we wanted and each of us, in succession (much to the bartenders’ dismay, I’m sure) asked, “Whatcha got?” then ordered whatever sounded good at the moment.

It was a different story once we wedged our 16 bodies into the lengthy framework of tables and chairs that was reminiscent of our high school cafeteria, only way nicer. Apparently it was a better crowd, too, since there was no evidence of recent food fights or cranky cafeteria ladies scowling from behind the cash register.

The menus were the real problem. One by one, “cheater” glasses of assorted shapes and sizes were pulled from purses and pockets, stealthily placed at the ends of noses and despite the visual assistance the eyewear provided, a chorus of, “I can’t read a damn thing!” rose up to the rafters.

The entire scene confirmed the suspicion I’ve had for a while that I am, indeed, growing older. I do my best to ignore the signs –little lines on my forehead and around my eyes, waking up every day around 5:30 or 6 a.m. – even on Sunday. Can’t eat the way I used to. Can’t run around the way I used to.

Sometimes I cope by leaving my glasses off – look, no lines! I can’t see anything else, either.

Other times, I’m positive I am the only one feeling this way. (Let’s hear it for self-pity.) That nobody could possibly understand what it’s like to be – well, me.

Then I found myself amongst friends of a same certain age complaining about the same certain things – can’t see, can’t move, can’t whatever. We looked at pictures of each others’ kids and couldn’t believe how old the kids were – some the same age we were when we met around 30 years ago. I’m the only one who has grandkids – but in defense, I was also the first one to get married and have kids. So there.

At some point during the evening between the good wine, good food and even better conversation, I said, “Oh, my gosh, we are seriously getting old!”

My friend, Janet – whose personality and smile are probably more sunshiny now than ever – looked at me over her tiger-striped cheaters and said, “Who cares? We’re growing old together!”

OK, Janet, it’s true. We’re growing older. And really, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it other than accept it graciously and keep a fantastic sense of humor – not that there’s much choice in this particular group of people.

I hope we’ll spend lots of time together in our coming years. Can you see us hanging out in our rocking chairs on a porch in Florida, listening to “My Sharona” or some other early 80s pop tune?

There we’ll be, rocking to the beat, until one of us stops, shuts off the music and yells, “Hey! Can I borrow those glasses?”


Posted in Columns

Senior moment a decade or two early

Apparently, I am over the hill at age 44 (OK, so I’ll be 45 in less than a month – who really counts after 40 anyway?)

I know this because last week, I stopped at the local grocery store to pick up lunch and a few dinner items to save me a trip later.

The nice blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl at the registered greeted me cheerfully as I unloaded my basket onto the counter so she could scan each one and then efficiently dump the item into a bag.

We chatted about the weather and whatever else came to mind. Maybe even about the fajitas I was making for dinner.

I rummaged through my purse, looking for my debit card to pay for my groceries as she totaled the bill.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “I forgot to ask you, did you want to sign up for our senior discount?” Her blue eyes widened as she waited for the answer.

Wow, that’s crazy – she thinks I’m a senior in high school, I thought.


It hit me all at once. No, she did not think I was a senior in high school.

She meant she thought I was a senior citizen!

I truly did not know what to say. I thought about crying. Then I thought about screaming. I thought about leaping over the counter, pulling her blonde curls and screaming, “I’ll show you a senior discount!”

I wondered when the last time was I dyed my hair – no, the six-week gray stripe was not running across my skull, so that couldn’t have been the reason she thought I was – well, older than I am.

I was wearing practical shoes, but who doesn’t when there’s this much snow and ice in the middle of a real Wisconsin winter?

Truly, I was at a loss for words. I mumbled something unintelligible, grabbed my grocery bags and slunk out to the car to nurse my wounded ego.

Of course, I called my (younger) sister to share my story. I couldn’t understand her response. She was laughing too hard.

I told some of my coworkers as well. They were nice (Sometimes I bring them food, so I suppose they have to be) and said the girl must have been really young, that I don’t look like a senior citizen, yada yada, trying to make me feel better.

One of them said, “So did you say, ‘Sure! I’ll take the discount!’”

Hindsight is 20-20, of course, and I guess when you’re my age you’re lucky to have sight at all.

So I’m thinking next time I see my favorite grocery clerk, I’ll ask her for that discount after all!

Posted in Columns

Clean room, parental gloom

I remember dreaming of the day that the floor in my son’s room would be visible, that I wouldn’t need a shovel to clear a path in order to set something on his desk.

A week or so ago, a miracle occurred and my dream came true. The stuff is gone. The only problem: the owner of the room is gone as well.

And I find myself missing the mess every time I walk past his room.

I was almost smug, thinking we’d already launched one of our offspring out of the nest and into college, marriage and even parenthood. We had experience – this time would be easier.

We found out that in this case, experience didn’t matter. We found ourselves caught up in the frantic rush to pack, buy a lifetime supply of soap, shampoo, munchies and other necessities, cram everything into one vehicle – then discover we forgot we needed to fit our 6-foot-2-inch kid in the back seat as well.

We spent a long Saturday driving three hours north then hauled everything he owned up EIGHT flights of stairs (he’s on the top floor of his college dorm, of course), shopped for all the stuff we forgot or didn’t have room to pack, hauled that stuff up the stairs, hauled a metal loft kit up the stairs, put the loft kit together after consulting with numerous other confused parents and their college freshman as to how it actually worked (the directions were useless), found a place for everything, hugged our son and then hit the road for a three-hour drive south.

About five minutes after we left, my mommy world came crashing down. That was it – he was on his own for pretty much everything in a new place.

Without me.

Without his dad.

Without his twin brother or big sister.

In my head and in my heart, I saw the blonde, blue-eyed little boy who filled his days by singing, climbing, jumping, drawing and painting and living in an obviously delightful, imaginary world.

Somewhere along the way, that little boy became a young man who had already determined his own path and was stretching his wings.

I know he’s ready to fly, even if I’m not ready for him to go. He’s doing what we raised him to do, to think independently, to chase his dreams, to work hard, to create his own life.

His brother is doing the same thing in his own time, on his own path, not an easy thing for twins who, by their very nature, tend to be lumped together as one unit. He’s exploring the world, going to school and finding his path. He’s still at home, so the nest is not completely empty. But even with him home – he’s almost never home. So it’s pretty quiet at the old homestead. And his room isn’t as messy as it used to be, either.

One of the most difficult things about parenting is letting go and being able to say, “OK. We gave you all we could and taught you what you need to know. Now FLY!” I want to hang on to their last little bits of childhood, but inside I know that would clip their wings.

I’m learning all over again what it’s like to be a young adult, to choose a path and take tentative steps into my own future. It’s exhilarating to watch my own offspring doing it; it’s exhausting – and a little bit sad – to do it myself, because that means life is changing whether I want it to or not.

It makes me look forward to Thanksgiving – because I know the owner of that really clean room will return – and so will the mess.

And I will embrace them both with open arms.


Posted in Columns

Tonka trucks and tears

Cleaning out the garage can be an emotional experience. I spent Sunday afternoon helping my husband sort through the remaining boxes, crates, bags and other stuff that has been piled in the garage since we moved. He thought it would be nice if we could fit a car or two in the garage, since that would be its original purpose.

While he was involved in sort-ing and alphabetizing his tools and electronic equipment, I started pulling things out of my old toybox. Parked at the bottom were four mud-caked Tonka trucks. I set them outside, hooked up the hose and started spraying them with water to loosen the dirt.

Then I started to cry. Really. My brain took that motherly path from gee-I-remember-when-our-boys-were-little to oh-my-gosh-they’re-graduating-from-high-school-this-year. I could see my sons at three or four sitting on the dump truck, hurtling themselves down the driveway. Now they’re both over six feet tall – I doubt they’ll be riding the dump truck any time soon.

Then there was the time we had a septic system dug at our previous home. The guy was in the yard with his backhoe, working steadily to install the maze of pipes. At the same time, my two boys were playing in the front yard with their trucks, carefully digging their own trenches with a miniature backhoe that loaded sand steadily into the dump truck most of the afternoon.

It’s one of those things about parenting. When the kids are little, you can’t wait till they get big. When they’re big, you wonder how that happened so fast. I almost want to turn the clock back, or at least put it on hold so I can savor each moment – although given human nature, I doubt the savoring would last very long. It would be like final act in Thorton Wilder’s play “Our Town,” in which Emily revisits her 12th birthday after she dies. She watches everyone, especially her mother, hurry through life, not thinking, not really taking it in. Finally it is too much, and she returns to her seat in the graveyard, frustrated and disappointed.

I try hard not to hold on to things, so we won’t be buried in endless clutter. But there are some objects that bring up so many memories, I just can’t part with them. I’m not sure whether my boys care if we saved their Tonka trucks or not; however, they will be parked in their plastic bin garage in the basement until someone wants to play with them. My old toybox with its scratched paint and faded circus images will sit and wait. My dad made the box for my sister and I, and every time I look at it I can see the two of us pulling out every toy we owned so we could climb in and sail off on some sort of imaginary adventure. It’s a simple box, but even as it stands empty, I see it as full because of the memories it holds.

Who knew cleaning the garage could become such an emotional experience. All we really wanted was a place to park the cars. Instead, I took a trip through time.