I Imagined that We Get Hot, Fat, and Grow Mustaches But I Need to Know More

I’m not freaked out about my age.  I worried more turning thirty-nine than I did fifty.  Thirty-nine seemed the end of youth.  No kidding.  At fifty, while I sometimes long for my mom on Sunday mornings to be making pancake breakfast in my kitchen, complete with juice in silly little glasses, I get that I’m the matriarch in the house.  My first kid left home when I was – just a sec – math is hard for me when I haven’t slept all freak’en night –eighteen plus twenty-five equals forty-three – holy shit (excuse the language, I’m tired and cranky) was I only forty-three?  These days women are having babies at the same age that  I was all boo hoo over mine packing her bags – no wonder I’ve been blogging on that subject forever.

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Where was I?  Right, I’m not upset that I’m fifty – something-in-the-first-half-of-the-fifties.

Okay you guessed it – it’s this menopause bit that has me feeling crazy.  (Acting crazy?)  And somehow it seems aside from information gleaned from all those stupid email jokes with pot bellied old ladies with saggy boobs threatening their ill-prepared husbands, I don’t have the hard facts on this hormonal upheaval.  I kept meaning to buy a book about it – seriously, this isn’t a dumb menopause joke – but in all the hundreds of times I was in a bookstore, I forgot.  Right now I want to mention something really basic, almost intuitive, that I couldn’t remember the other day, but I can’t remember what that was.  I did finally buy a book, and somewhere in the pre-amble to how for the next few years my life would be wacked, it told me I’d have trouble staying on task, and true enough I have, so much so that I haven’t been able to read the manual.

Just after I had that daughter of mine who left home eons ago – and is currently hormonally challenged herself – but at least she gets a baby out of it – I ran off to the mall for baby nail clippers and rubbing alcohol for that nasty umbilical cord bit and left her with her daddy.  I thought the boys (boys, not men, I was just a girl back then) were staring at my voluptuous-as-never-before breast feeding body (I actually felt like a cow), but was shocked to look down and see I was leaking milk through my light cotton dress.  Being almost the first of my friends to have kids – no one had informed me about how I might  leak while out in the mall.  I could never figure out how I missed that fun fact of how being a new mommy involved having boobs with no self control.  And now I can’t figure out why I don’t know much of this menopause stuff.  Yeah, I guess I always imagined that we get hot and fat and can grow mustaches.  But where are the women warriors that are supposed to inform me about all this not sleeping (leading to hormonal blog writing), the ridiculous benign, yet annoying, restless legs,  the lost of nouns and names and the further hindrance of my limited ability to do math.

And what was the evolutionary purpose I wonder, as the moon continues to rise on a November morning with me wide awake at 3:56 a.m.?  It had to be that back in the day, having outlived our reproduction purposes the grand plan was that, not sleeping, we would wander out of the cave to rub sticks together and be eaten by a dinosaur –  leaving more berries and wild animals for the younger women (my timeline might be skewed but you get the picture.)

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Sometimes I see a women near my age who looks serene and calm, or maybe even a little giddy.  And I think – she’s done, she’s been through it and come out on the other side, maybe she’ll tell me the brand of cream I can buy at the health food store that I can rub on my forehead and I’ll be able to remember the names of my four kids again.  Help me, women friends out there in blog-o- (oh, God – I can’t remember how to spell what I want to say, my spelling was never top notch but it’s leaving me with my math and my nouns) okay, tell me just this, this could go a long way – how do I sleep again, like a baby (well, not my daughter’s baby) but those other babies that sleep all through the night?

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Phone-less in San Francisco

In response to reading melancholy blogs from parents experiencing  withdrawal from kids gone away to college and university, I promised to re-post a couple of those learning curves of my own.   So here is PHONE-LESS IN SAN FRANCISCO

Seven P.M. on a Sunday night my twenty-year-old daughter calls,  obviously near tears.  “Someone stole my phone,” she cries.  “I feel so cut off without it.”

But she is on a phone, one the cell company she’s been dealing with, has given to her.  Born in 1959 myself, it takes me a minute to catch up.  It’s not the phone, it’s the information in the phone.  “I feel like I have to start over meeting people, making contacts.  I feel so alone again, Mom.”

“Honey, honey, I get that you’re upset.  But those people will call you.  You’ll get your numbers again.”

“Mom, it doesn’t work like that.  I’ve done this enough to know lots of those people were never going to call me.”  What she’s done enough, is move around, this daughter of mine.  This is the third time in her young life that she has by choice surrounded herself with absolute strangers – situations where she had to work to have even a single friend.  From our home in Calgary, at age sixteen, she bravely did a high school exchange in Rome, Italy – isolating herself further by having to learn Italian.  Her siblings went to school on the west coast, but she headed east to Concordia University in Montreal.  Now, trading another cold Canadian winter for a foggy one, she was taking part in Concordia’s school abroad program by doing a year at SFSU in San Francisco.  “People here have their own friends.  I’m the new one.  I have to call them,” she explained further.

I was alone in our renovated, too big house, when she’d called.  Her dad had taken two of our nephews to an early hockey game.  The weather outside was shifting, from a Indian summer to light flurries.  Earlier I’d been in the yard pulling down sweet pea vines and raking leaves, and wishing I was cooking a Sunday dinner like some of my friends would be, for kids who stayed in the city for jobs and school.

“What are you doing right now, Mom?” she asked quietly.

“Missing you guys.  Dad’s gone to a hockey game.  I was going to make toast but the breads gone moldy.

“Mine too,” she said.  “My bread’s gone bad, too.”

“I guess we need each other to finish a loaf of bread,” I said, from where I watched the sky turn dark outside the living room.

“Yeah, we do.  I miss you guys so much.”

“You’ll get your numbers back, Lily.  You’ll run into people.  And some friends will call.  It just seems bad now.  I’ll email you Zoe’s and Hudson’s and Cole’s and your cousin’s numbers.”

“Will you do it now?”

Of course, I told her, yes, I’d do it right away.  And I would add a note to her email, about how brave she was, and how I knew the next time we talked she would be okay again, having found her friends.

Hey Granny, You Better Buy an Easy-Peasy Umbrella Stroller

So I bought the bright red  stroller for wonderful grand-baby – and was shocked at what a buggy cost!  That said, I do remember saving hard for a double buggy when two of my own darlings were eighteen months apart, and in fact this stroller is built with the future in mind.  When you have baby number two you can purchase another contraption for the teeny new one to lie above this one (or something convoluted like that) and IF number two is followed by number three, everyone shoves over and you buy a little step to attach to the back so number one’s little feet still don’t have to do the walking!

So one-year-old granddaughter was in my charge while we visited Windermere B.C. and I took her to ‘town’ to have a little stroll around and pretend people were whispering, “Mom, or grandmom?”  Of course, the gig (in my dreams) was up when baby woke from napping and I needed to adjust the stroller back to let her sit up, and had to ask a youthful shop owner (of childbearing age) to assist me.  Baby and I wandered off down the sidewalk window shopping, with me picking up her flowery sun hat as she threw it down (“good game, silly grandma”) until I noticed that now the fancy buggy straps were so loose grand-baby could haul up and run off if she so desired.   I was struggling to tighten them – baby bouncing on my lap and stroller sliding all over the walkway when a kind couple came by – my peers, I might add and the silver haired gentleman, introducing himself as a experienced grandfather, offered to assist.Okay, we were all – the other couple and I, the grandparent type you see on the vitamin bottles in my bathroom – the just barely 50, might need a boost of vitamin type, you know that fit, but slightly graying sort from the freedom 55 comercials frolicking on the beach?

But could any of us fit-frolickers understand that millennium baby stroller? Nope – for full comprehension we needed a buggy from the eighties.  I finally had to tell this guy thanks for his trouble but obviously the darn, modern, high tech stroller had outwitted us all.  I slid baby back in and had the forethought to ask my would-be helper to demonstrate the four-way clip that held the whole harness together.  He obliged, but I guess, given the circumstances, my short attention span was timed-out.

After I fed my dolly a cup of strawberry ice cream for her lunch, I figured we should make our way back to the car.  There I was in front of  my ride trying like mad to undo that child-proof four-point clip and thankful that grandpappy and I had  never tightened the darn harness, as it was becoming clear that if we would have succeeded I’d have had to abandon my vehicle and stroller stuck-baby many miles back ‘home’ – instead I was taking off her shoes and preparing to lift and slide her out of the bottom harness when who should rescue us?  Kindly grandfather-man, probably wondering why I hadn’t paid closer attention last time.  Okay, I’m definitely the grandma – the universe was making that loud and clear – baby’s mom was at a music festival calling up her mis-spent youth and dancing her little heart out, and I was considering how badly I needed a teeny little afternoon nap.

Leaving Lily in Montreal

My mission – if I chose to take it – was to leave my eighteen-year-old daughter in Montreal.  Her dad and brother had just left to return to Calgary and now it was my job to finish, as they say, setting Lily up.  I made lists of what I’d accomplish – getting an account for her to pay her utility bills, a few simple cooking lessons (that I had some how neglected during the past eighteen years), arranging for an internet connection which hasn’t got any less complicated or expedient since I did the same for her older sister six years previous.  Lily is an organized detail person and could have managed all that on her own.  I didn’t need seven days to help her with it.  No, the real reason for my prolonged stay was that I couldn’t bear to think of leaving Lily alone in that small hot apartment before she had made a few contacts with potential friends.  The night before her first day of classes, against my boring motherly advice about getting sleep, she had me drop her at the apartment of friends of friends from home. She came in at one a.m. and told me that they were good guys who had given her tight advice about the city – so therefore potential friends.

The universities I was familiar with in the west all have distinct campuses.  The locations of McGill and Concordia right in the centre of Montreal make the down town community indistinguishable from the university community.  While Lily put on her little black French dress and was taken out by the Calgary connected friends I left the apartment in search of a breeze, and soon felt that the student age population owned the streets.  I was feeling rather alone in my dotage.

Lily and I had one more sweltering weekend together.  It was almost too freaking hot in the apartment to conduct cooking lessons over the gas stove so we sought out air-conditioned restaurants.  Our server in the Mexican restaurant around the corner was a classmate who invited Lily to go cliff jumping in the Eastern townships.  Lily had photography homework that night and rushed off to shoot a roll of film with another classmate (and another potential friend) and I saw Mama Mia – the movie, alone.

I’d never been to many movies on my own, but it had been a relief to sit in the air-conditioned theatre and wonder how many of the mother/daughter sets we’d seen in Ikea earlier had made it to Mama Mia to hear Merle Streep sing ABBA songs and drool over Pierce Brosnan.  Or maybe there were other daughter’s like mine who were engaged in tentative bonds with new acquaintances, while their mom’s escaped the oppressive heat to listen somewhere nearby in the dark to Streep’s character croon to her twenty-year-old daughter,

What happened to the wonderful adventures

The places I had planned for us to go?

Well, some of that we did but most we didn’t

And why I just don’t know

Slipping through my fingers

All the time I try to capture

Every minute

The feeling in it

Slipping through my fingers all the time.

The afternoon before I was to leave the weather broke, skies turned a steel blue and the rains came.  Back in Calgary Lily’s brother, Hudson, would be packing to make his move to the west coast with his band.  I would get home in time to see them off.  I made Lily and I supper of roast chicken, too sticky risotto, and grilled zucchini cakes and gave her verbal directions on washing dishes sans dishwasher. I had imagined us working together in the teeny kitchen but she was reading homework on the history of photography.  I could see her nodding off and so suggested she read out loud to me, and together we learned about camera obscura and deguerrotype and Henry Fox Talbot.  She finished up and fell asleep stretched across the bed in her clothes.

Since high school Lily would lie on the back of our living room couch in the afternoon sun to share what was on her mind, or we would go out to our favourite coffee/nacho shop.  Her brother, Hudson, liked to go out for breakfast with me after a late night with friends and do the same, talking more with me than at other times, letting me in on what his latest plans were and, being Hudson, his philosophical stance on them.  I couldn’t solve all of their young adult angst, (sometimes it just reminded me of my own),  but I learned to be less afraid of their troubles and just listen, trying not to yap back too much,  guiding them instead with careful assurances that they would find their path, just be careful to leave doors open, it was all about those open doors.

Watching Lily sleep, her blond hair spread across the new Ikea pillows,   I thought of all the photos she would take and print over the semester  and of all the images I will have pictured on long afternoons, as fall turned to winter. I hung my head out the window and listened to the students up late, calling out to each other, as they passed by, excited by their new independence.  It was time to go home.

To read more about Lily and I – along with the chaos of four kids being launched into the wide, wide world – during that next stage of parenting, click on the following links:

Link to Amazon.ca  http://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

Link to Amazon.com  http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

Embrace Technology Because I’m Too Young for a Paper Shredder

I’m not old – not some little granny – well, I’m a grandma, but a young grandma – just fifty-one.  That’s just eight years older that Julia Roberts who just finished eating, praying and loving, and it’s ten years younger than Merly Streep.  And I’ll be any age that lets me sing my heart out to Pierce Brosnan ( age fifty-six)) on a mountain top in Greece.

But I breezed into my local office supply store to update my printer because it ‘thinks’ way too long before it will respond to my tapping the print button, and in no time I felt like I was born in ‘the early days’ as my grandmother used to say.   I had to direct myself to listen really, very carefully to the twelve year old sales clerk who was so patiently telling me why it wasn’t the printer that was at fault, but that the printer was too fast for my much older tower computer’s USB port and what I needed was not a printer, but to replace the ancient computer with a small lap top which I could buy for not much more than the high tech printer I wanted (but didn’t need) and if I wanted the teeny tiny laptop that would fit in my purse, all I needed was a exterior hard drive which was the size of a deck of cards or I could even (be patient, I could have this confused in my addled fifty-one-year-old mind, as my  concentrating was further impaired when the baby clerk mentioned something about the system his wife used – did twelve-year-olds have wives – was he possibly twenty-four?) …yeah, I could even sign onto a hard drive warehouse thingy where they (were they robots) could keep my hard drive contents on a shelf somewhere far away.

We have a same age friend who tells my husband and I that we have to “embrace technology”,  and believe me I want to.  I do.  Or I did. But my heart was beating so, so fast in my efforts to embrace what the hec this clerk was talking about and I remembered that I needed a new  fade and water resistant uni-ball bright coloured felt pen to replace the old one that one of my adult kids took off with the last time they were home, so I let the nice ‘man’ help someone else while I went to catch my breath one aisle over.  What caught my eye next was a paper shredder – I refuse to buy a paper shredder.  Now that is a testament to one’s age.  Ask anyone over sixty – they all own paper shredders.  Probably even Merly Streep.

The Last Ungainly Swing Dance

When , Lily, the baby of our family, asked if she might take part in a foreign immersion program in grade eleven, my heart stopped beating.  If the youngest of our four kids left at only 16 years old – her Dad and I would be sitting smack in the middle of a shockingly empty nest.  Our friends and family couldn’t shut up about the EMPTY NEST prospect, constantly reminding us that it loomed around the corner.  What was with that?  Were they all watching to see how we would replace the noise, and chaos, comings and goings, organizing and meal planning, and endless discussing that goes on when you have kids at home?  Were they waiting to see how we would manage when too many of our evenings and weekends became unfathomably quiet.  Their curiosity was well founded.  I pondered that uncertain future along with them.

After two decades of kids, kids, kids swarming around us – what the hec would we do?  I might have suggested we take up ballroom dancing – seeing as we are so often hanging out in ballrooms, but I had already played that card.  Apparently, around ten years into a marriage it was what wives got husbands to do.  It felt like such a coup when Will agreed.  His not wanting to do it previously, didn’t translate into him not being able to do it. Will fox trotted and two stepped, and cha cha cha –ed across the gym floor with the rhythm and musical ease he was born with, sometimes with the wiry male instructor, after he’d given up on clumsy, impossible to teach, tone deaf me.  I sympathized with our kids who always had to beg me to let them quit any activity –  music lessons, karate, choir, baseball – whatever.  Will made me stick out that ballroom gig right up to the last ungainly swing dance.

One of Will’s younger work colleagues suggested we get a puppy.  Her parents had fostered puppies when she and her siblings all left home.  She couldn’t know that Will and I are considered by some of our nearest and dearest to be anti-pet.  These friends have been known to get all misty-eyed and accusatory and say, well, I know you hate my dog.  Hate is a strong word, and hey, if I lived in the country I might even acquire a dog to protect me from all the things in the country that make a doggie bark at night.  Most of my reluctance to the city dog, has to do with the poo (and maybe the hair on the couch, slobber on my leg, and kibbles everywhere.)  So no ballroom dancing or puppies to fill the emptiness we might feel sans kids at home.

The year I turned forty-eight, I took lessons in both knitting and outdoor in-line skating.  In-line skating was okay, but I’ve yet to find an in-line skating partner. Knitting passes the time on planes and long drives.  That same year Will bought his dream machine – a midnight blue sports car.  Will confessed that while he was aware that young people did knit, watching me knit made him feel old.  He failed to understand that driving in the low slung car made me feel old, too.  I had to concentrate to gracefully get in and out of it, but also, I tried to explain to my oh-so proud husband, that when we drive down the street, radar detector on, seventies music blasting, I am on to the meaning of that visual double-take pedestrians give us.  It says – was that an old guy, who can finally afford a cool sports car, playing old guy Led Zeplin tunes, and if  it was, I don’t have to be envious because I’m not old yet (glance again) yes, it was, old indeed, oh and look, his wife is knitting. So I suppose we will be diverted from our emptynest-ness by planning two-seater driving trips to places old people go – Waterton Park, Yellowstone Park, and Mount Rushmore, while I knit loose lope-sided teeny sweaters for Zoë’s friend’s new babies.

My approach to Lily’s request to do the immersion program had been completely hands off, not wanting the blame in any way should she call from a far away place to say she was so, so sad and lonely.  Maybe the whole foreign immersion idea would fade away, as teenage ideas often do, before being replaced with the next half-baked scheme.  But Lily was a take charge kinda girl and had the whole application process rolling neatly along on her own, right up to the day we received a phone call to say that the Cultural Immersion people needed to send a staff person to our home to interview Lily, Will, and I as part of the in-depth study of the prospective applicant.   My brain whirled – could this be our out?  Could the wrong answers spare Will and I the possibility of more badly chosen classes or fostered pets and keep little Lily home with us?   Tune in to Thursday’s post to find out….

Phone-less in San Francisco

Seven P.M. on a Sunday night my twenty-year-old daughter calls,  obviously near tears.  “Someone stole my phone,” she cries.  “I feel so cut off without it.”

But she is on a phone, one the cell company she’s been dealing with, has given to her.  Born in 1959 myself, it takes me a minute to catch up.  It’s not the phone, it’s the information in the phone.  “I feel like I have to start over meeting people, making contacts.  I feel so alone again, Mom.”

“Honey, honey, I get that you’re upset.  But those people will call you.  You’ll get your numbers again.”

“Mom, it doesn’t work like that.  I’ve done this enough to know lots of those people were never going to call me.”  What she’s done enough, is move around, this daughter of mine.  This is the third time in her young life that she has by choice surrounded herself with absolute strangers – situations where she had to work to have even a single friend.  From our home in Calgary, at age sixteen, she bravely did a high school exchange in Rome, Italy – isolating herself further by having to learn Italian.  Her siblings went to school on the west coast, but she headed east to Concordia University in Montreal.  Now, trading another cold Canadian winter for a foggy one, she was taking part in Concordia’s school abroad program by doing a year at SFSU in San Francisco.  “People here have their own friends.  I’m the new one.  I have to call them,” she explained further.

I was alone in our renovated, too big house, when she’d called.  Her dad had taken two of our nephews to an early hockey game.  The weather outside was shifting, from a Indian summer to light flurries.  Earlier I’d been in the yard pulling down sweet pea vines and raking leaves, and wishing I was cooking a Sunday dinner like some of my friends would be, for kids who stayed in the city for jobs and school.

“What are you doing right now, Mom?” she asked quietly.

“Missing you guys.  Dad’s gone to a hockey game.  I was going to make toast but the breads gone moldy.

“Mine too,” she said.  “My bread’s gone bad, too.”

“I guess we need each other to finish a loaf of bread,” I said, from where I watched the sky turn dark outside the living room.

“Yeah, we do.  I miss you guys so much.”

“You’ll get your numbers back, Lily.  You’ll run into people.  And some friends will call.  It just seems bad now.  I’ll email you Zoe’s and Hudson’s and Cole’s and your cousin’s numbers.”

“Will you do it now?”

Of course, I told her, yes, I’d do it right away.  And I would add a note to her email, about how brave she was, and how I knew the next time we talked she would be okay again, having found her friends.