ON THE ROAD AGAIN

driving

Remember that liberating feeling you had the first time you slipped into the seat behind the steering wheel all by yourself? That moment when you pushed down on the accelerator and there was no one there to tell you to, “Slow down?” Recall the way the breeze felt as you rolled down the windows and cranked up the music? It was liberating, exciting and powerful all at once.

 As the years pass, that kind of moment becomes more muted. Even graduation from college, while notable, didn’t quite send my heart into the stratosphere. Getting married was exciting and magical but not exactly liberating. Having children was awesome and miraculous but again, keeps one on the course of restraint not emancipation.

 Having spent my life making commitments, taking on responsibilities and gathering possessions, this was the year to let much of that go. I began with the ‘stuff.’ Craig’s list sold fully a third of the house from tap shoes and teacups to basketballs and the barbecue grill. Two garage sales and friends carted off the rest. 

 My grandmother’s antique, bedroom set, which I’ve moved for some 40 years, now sits in an 18 year-old’s bedroom. Her mother wanted to surprise her with ‘real furniture’ when she returned from her first year in college. The sleigh beds my daughters once slept in, are now in the home of a woman who has suddenly taken in two teenage boys. Our unique, metal bookcase graces the showroom of a woman starting her own design business. Our old, fire pit lights up the backyard of a house full of college students. Even my houseplant of 10 years happily sits in the windowsill of a 23 year-old’s very, first apartment. She bought it because, “My dad was always growing something and I wanted to show him that I could do it, too.”  Occasionally, she even calls me for advice on how to keep it healthy.

 Now that my possesions have been scattered, the house sold and the movers have gone, I am driving west. The windows are open. The music is pumping and there is a big smile on my face. It is even bigger than the one I had all those years ago when I was first behind the wheel. This one holds years of wonderful memories along with the ones that others are yet to make with the things I once treasured but no longer need.  I feel liberated, excited and powerful all over again!

 

 

IF ONLY . . .

 

 sky in the icebox

‘If only I were taller!’ That is exactly what I imagined my pup was thinking this morning when she spied the carrots in the icebox. (Yes, that is what I still call it. So much simpler than its’ five syllable counterpart.) It got me thinking about all the “If only’s” in my life when I was that young: If only I had different colored hair, lived in this house, in that town, or came from a different family.  If only this hadn’t happened and that had.  Then life happened and I grew up, accepting that sometimes you just have to appreciate those carrots from a distance.

Therein lies the single, best thing about being a Boomer: we managed to get to this age in spite of all the things that didn’t happen. We survived the disappointments and have long resigned ourselves to the fact that we are what we are. And what are we? Resilient. That means that we have been ‘bent, stretched and compressed,’ yet still have ‘sprung back.’ It’s not just a matter of having developed thicker skin. We are tougher on the inside. That’s a gift but it was hard earned over time.

When 20 something’s tell me that they are ‘devastated’ over a breakup or have just lost a job, I think to myself, ‘Well, what’s the big deal? I’ve had dozens of those.’ At their age, though, it IS a big deal because they have no history to draw from. They are experiencing things for the first time and it can feel crushing. They are just starting their foundations while our roofs are fully intact!

So, while the young are making memories, we are remembering ours. Hopefully, they are rich and full, heartwarming and bittersweet. We have terra firma under us. Gravitas.  I confess, though, to still having one, ‘If only’ left: “If only time didn’t go so very, very fast.”  Still munching on that one.

 

 

 

DON’T PUSSYFOOT: PAY YOUR TAXES

Tax day is no longer the exciting prospect that it once was in 1975 when I excitedly marched into H&R Block (in January no less) with my very first year’s pay stubs totaling well under five figures.  As I handed the guy my large envelope jammed with disorganized receipts, I was thrilled to be joining the ‘real’ world of income-earning adults.  Now, I put off the deed until the day before they’re due.

 It’s amazing what I’ll do just to avoid a little pain.  For the last four weeks I have endured a faulty crown on a tooth that STILL hurts a month after being drilled.  There is a gap between my gum and the new crown that aches when I breathe or eat.  The top of it juts out just like that rock the Titanic hit and is sharp enough to draw blood.  When the dentist said he, ” didn’t see anything wrong,” I made him take off his glasses AND his rubber gloves.  “Now stick your finger in there and FEEL IT!” I commanded.  (I’ll just let you imagine his response.)  After a dainty, three-second probe, he declared, “It just needs some smoothing around the edges,” and sent me on my merry way.    

 Five days later it still bothers me.  So what am I doing about it?  Suffering in silence—(except for telling you, of course).  I’m not only reluctant to tell him that it STILL isn’t right, I also don’t want to hear the shrill sound of his drill chiseling through my ear canal, sending shock waves through the dendrites of my central nervous system. You know, this is just plum stupid.  A quick, phone call  would probably put me out of my misery. 

You’d think I’d have wised-up over the last 35 years, but I’m dumber than I was when I first took the SAT’s and thought ‘grovel’ was something you dug with.  There’s a zillion things in life I CAN’T control:  world war, nuclear fallout, drivers who put on their left turn signals then veer right, and my own teenagers.  But what kind of idiot can’t control their own mouth?  (Don’t say it.)  

Just now, some salesman had the misfortune to enter our yard unannounced.  Our dog barked loud enough to scare our visitor backwards through a thorn bush AND set my teeth on edge.  No pussy-footing around with her.  If something’s wrong she lets you know it.  Frankly, I’d trade her instinct for my intellect in a heartbeat.

 

 

CARRY ON

She looks absolutely pitiful; a shadow of the fluffy pup who only yesterday sprung up to her window seat to watch the cars go by.  The vet sent Skylar home today after double knee surgery.  A stiff, plastic Edwardian collar keeps her from licking the long, red-stitched wounds open.  Her tail no longer arches up with its’ Pomeranian plume but droops like a worn out feather duster.  Carefully, as if I am holding a fragile, glass figure, I carry her to the grass to pee.  Her hind paws rest in my palm like tiny rabbit’s feet.    

The sight of her now would make anyone sad—but for this:  She leaves my side, walking on only her two front feet as if she has done this all her life!  She pauses, sighs, then wobbles forward another several yards with both her back legs lifted.  They seem held aloft by invisible strings!  While her gait has a slight back and forth wobble, she moves with a smoothness that amazes me. 

I think of the old saying, “When one door closes another one opens.”  It occurs to me, though, that the other door being open means absolutely nothing if one does not walk through it.  And I think of the many people I know in my life who stand in front of open doors and never even cross the threshold.  They just stand there, not lifting a foot, as if paralyzed.   Aren’t they curious what might be around the corner? 

When I was a teenager and moping around the house, Granny always encouraged me to go do something for others.  ‘I bet Mrs. Tway would love it if you’d offer to water her flowers.”  Her theory was:  If you take a real interest in others, you won’t have time to think about yourself.  It always worked.

It even works for dogs.  Skylar has spotted a butterfly.  She gives chase for only a few feet and collapses in the grass.  Her little, collared head turns in the direction of the butterfly until it disappears and then she looks at me.  Her eyes are sparkling.  I lift her up and hold her close.  She looks around sniffing with anticipation of what might be next.  And so do I . . .and so should we.      

**Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir of the years before and after her grandmother’s descent into Alzheimer’s.  http://www.helen-hudson.com 

THE TOP TEN REASONS MOTHERS NEED DOGS BEFORE KIDS

Only one person wished me Happy Mother’s Day this morning:  the dog.  (Granted, no one else was up yet, but isn’t that how it is?)  Actually, she greets me EVERY day as if I am the most wonderful creature on the planet.  My kids used to be like that.  They’re teenagers now.  So on this happy occasion let me share a few things this little mutt has taught me that I wish I had known BEFORE I gave birth. 

1.  “No” is very effective about the zillionth time you say it.  If you cave before that they just don’t get the point.

2.  If you don’t want them to do something, like chew the buttons off your blouse, whatever you do, DO NOT TRY TO GET THE BLOUSE!  Give them a nice, dirty sock instead.  Otherwise you’ll end up with a ripped blouse.

3.  If they want to play, play with them.  Otherwise they will hound you until you simply cannot do whatever it is that might be more important than playing with them at that exact moment. 

4.  When they get too wound up, pick them up and hold them.  They’ll calm down eventually.

5.  If they bark at strangers you aren’t sure of—let ‘em bark.  Otherwise, get yourself a nice, pair of earplugs cause they’re gonna bark. 

6.  If you have to give them a nasty-tasting pill, don’t tell them, “It’s yummy” and insist they eat it.  Play ‘Keep Away,”  and don’t let them have it.  When they finally get it they’ll pretend to like it even if they don’t.

7.  Don’t pick up after them.  That chewed up, muddy shoe is on their bed for a reason.

8.  They’ll eat when they’re hungry.  Just put the food out.

9.  If they suddenly bark at you or nip you on the leg for absolutely NO reason at all, don’t try to figure out why.  They don’t know either. 

10.  Leash them up at night or you never know WHERE they’ll end up in the morning.

When my grandmother was raising me, she had already owned a dog.  This stuff was second nature to her.  I had to learn the hard way.  So, to all you new mothers out there this morning:  before your little ones grow up, GET A DOG!!!

(Helen Hudson is the author of “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir of caring for her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s.  http://helen-hudson.com. )


A STITCH IN TIME!!

Well, it’s been a whole week since 2011 lurched into view.  The gym is already less crowded.  For the record, I cannot ever remember making a New Year’s Resolution.  As a kid I must have watched too many grownups make—and not keep–them.  I have always tried to make daily ones; the kind that I could actually keep.  You know, like, ‘I will NOT eat one of those Hershey Kisses sitting in that bowl today!’  Or, ‘I will listen with real interest when old Mrs. So and So tells me the same story for the umpteenth time today.’

A resolution is ultimate and firm.  It transcends time—or rather it’s supposed to.  Ultimately, it is the resolutions we make which build our true character.  Trouble is we put so much emphasis on the BIG things, like Health Care, that we ignore the little ones, like taking care of the health of our loved ones.  We rush to put our elderly in nursing homes when a little reconfiguration of their own homes would help them stay independent longer.

Right now I am potty training our new puppy.  This is my first dog, ever.  It’s a bit more work than I had anticipated.  For one thing, she likes to pee in one spot and do something else in a completely different spot.  Because I have praised her so much when she actually sets foot on the litter pad, she now goes there often—NOT to pee—but to let me know she would like a treat just for setting foot on it.

So, I am taking it day by day, just like my resolutions.  2011 will find me knitting my life like a sweater; stitch by stitch and row by row.  I know full well that I can’t start the sleeves until the body is finished.  Just like I know this ten week-old pup will not be house trained overnight.  So today, my Resolution is to anticipate her signals better.  Meanwhile, I have the 409 and paper towels handy!  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a non-fiction memoir of her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s.  http://www.helen-hudson.com).


NEVER SAY NEVER

‘We’ just got a puppy for Christmas.  In the last two days I have bent over with a paper towel and wiped or picked up at least 12 different ‘gifts.’  According to my research, I will be doing this for the next 3 months—if I’m lucky.

Now I am not particularly wild about dogs, never have been.  Like ‘em from a distance.  Up until yesterday, I have never owned a dog AND NEVER BEEN TEMPTED.  Nope.  Never.  Never walked a dog.  Never picked up after one.  Never took care of a friend’s dog.  Over the years, I have actually plugged my ears in the presence of a barking dog, even when the sound was coming from a movie screen.

I was bit by a dog once.  Still have the scar.  Did I mention that besides their bark, I also loathe their smell, particularly when they are wet?  Oh, and I REALLY can’t stand it when they jump up on me and sniff everywhere.  Not my idea of a good time.

Broke up with a guy once because I couldn’t stand his dog.  Walked away from several apartments over the years because they allowed dogs.  Won’t stay in hotels that allow pets.  Have moved twice because a neighbor’s dog would not stop barking.  Had to sit next to a dog on a plane once and asked to be moved.

Not long ago, I pulled up to a friend’s house and was greeted by their very, loudly barking, BIG dog.  I did not get out of the car.  Too terrified.  So, rolled up the windows. . .and waited. Finally, my friend heard the racket and came to rescue me.

You get the gist.  But, did I mention how my daughter’s face lights up whenever she sees this (as of yet unnamed) pup?  Or how she rushes to play with it and doesn’t seem to mind cleaning up the messes?  Right now I can hear her saying to her little mutt, “Wanna go on an adventure?’  She has put it on a teeny, tiny leash and they are, ‘Going for a walk.’

Granny always told me to, “Never say ‘never.’”  That was 40 years ago.  If she could see me now running after this four-legged rascal with yet another paper towel in hand, she would just smile that knowing smile.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir of her grandmother’s descent into Alzheimer’s.   http://www.helen-hudson.com).

 

 

 

YOU CAN TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS

     “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  If you’re like me, you’ve probably said this so often that you actually believe it.  Funny what we feed our minds with, not to mention our bodies.  Nutritionists say we “are what we eat.”  Yup.  When I was a waitress plowing through my daily diet of cheeseburgers, chocolate milkshakes and fries, I looked exactly like what you’d expect.  The same holds true for our minds.  Although you can’t see into my head and it is very, very dark in the deep recesses of my curvy little cerebellum, I AM what I THINK.  Don’t argue with me because I have been around long enough to know the concrete, crystalline truth of that statement. 

     When I get up in the morning and think it’s gonna be a lousy day, it is.  When I actually have a lousy day but one teeny good thing happens and I focus on it, it becomes a great day.   They say we only use 10% of our brain.  I think we waste at least half of that thinking stupid, self-defeating thoughts that we eventually come to believe–not because they’re actually true but because we’ve thought them so long.  So, I finally decided at age 50 instead of looking in the mirror and totally freaking out when I beheld all the crow’s-feet & gray hair, I would try a new approach. 

     You now will find me, often in public restrooms, passing a mirror, looking smack at it and saying out loud:  “Wow! What a gorgeous face.  World you’re lucky to have me one more day!”  Okay, so some people don’t get it but back to the new tricks.  When my grandmother came to live with us she was 82 and well into Alzheimer’s.  She had completely lost the ability to tie her shoelaces so we bought her velcro tennies instead.  However, at 94, she actually figured out how to do it again!  Why?  Because she watched me teach my two year-old over and over.  

     Now I probably have no right to use the above title as I’ve never owned a dog, taken care of one or lived in a home where a dog existed.  However, right now I am actually thinking about getting a real, live, tail-wagging, precious puppy; one that might teach me some new tricks.  So, please, if you know of a breed that doesn’t jump on you, slobber everywhere, or bark too loudly, just let me know.  (shoelace vignette taken from “Kissing Tomatoes,” http://www.helen-hudson.com.)