As we drove home, wet from the rain, he told me he felt bad that I sat on the bank while he fished. He wondered why I didn’t join him. “I didn’t mind,” I said. “I was cold and damp and it was good to sit under the tree for a bit.” I couldn’t find the words to tell my son that watching him in this place, as his line danced over the water, was more than I could ever have needed in that moment.
We have accumulated a lot of stuff. This is a first world problem and I want to say right away that we are blessed beyond measure and I am so grateful for our life. It’s just that, over the years, our blessed life has generated an abundance of things.
Some of this accumulation is due to the strange course of real estate sales and purchases in the last 5 years or so. At the beginning of this time period, we owned a 5500 square foot home with three car garage in Denver and a ski condo in Copper Mountain. When we decided to move our son to the mountains to ski full time, we sold the ski condo and bought our 3200 square foot mountain home. We sold the condo fully furnished and took only our personal stuff: soap, shampoo, hair dryer, etc. and linens/pillows/blankets/towels. Since my husband and I were commuting to Denver, we weren’t sure whether to keep the Denver house or downsize, so we furnished our mountain home and bought stuff for it. About a year later, we sold the big house and had to figure out what to do with all the stuff in that house. Everything. Furniture, TV’s, electronics, personal items, tools, cleaning supplies, you name it. We already had a mostly furnished, well-stocked smaller home in the mountains, so this was a challenge.
Eventually, we rented an apartment in Denver as our home base down there, so some of the stuff found a home. The rest, we pretty much crammed into our mountain house. And it’s okay for the most part. The most abundant items I’ve been working my way through over the years are cleaning supplies and personal items like lotion, soap, shampoo, hair dryers, hair products and medicine. And towels. For some reason, we have a whole lotta towels. Cabinets full of them in the laundry room. Some are well-used and appropriate for dog washes, but the rest …. they are perfectly good. Do you know how long it takes to use up towel reserves? Neither do I. I’m still working on it.
I am trying my best to use up the excess stuff. I celebrate each time I push the pump on a lotion bottle and it spurts the last glob onto my hand. Praise Be! Another bottle down, 999 to go. Recycle bin time! I really don’t want to throw things away if they are still perfectly good. That bottle of aspirin looks just fine to me. So what if it “expired” four years ago? “When I was a kid, things like aspirin never expired,” I exclaim with righteous indignation as I tap out a few to try to mollify my migraine.
We are working our way through the boxes of Band Aids that now hold only the weird sizes that are no good for any normal person’s cuts and scrapes. When one of us is injured, we cobble together a few of them and throw some medical tape on for good measure and I gleefully glance into the box and think, only five more to go — woo hoo!!!
Sometimes I do recognize that this strange obsession of using up stuff has gone a little too far. My son is 17. I still have a few partial bottles of Children’s Tylenol in the cabinet. They expired a very long time ago. In a pinch, though, won’t a good swig of the stuff have some effect on a grown-up headache? (Yes, Mom, I know that this is not good logic and I will dispose of the bottles soon.)
The other day I noticed that I have a remarkable supply of eye creams. Over the years, those sets of skin care regimens I purchased always came with eye cream. Despite my best intentions, I don’t ever use it. It just seems like one more thing that I don’t really have to do, so why bother. (And please no remarks on how my crow’s feet are evidence enough that I never use eye cream ….) The important question is: what am I going to do with them? I paid a lot of money for those special, magical potions. So, I Googled “Can I use eye cream as a facial moisturizer?” thinking that no one would be so gauche as to actually smear the costly stuff on foreheads and cheeks. Fortunately, everyone has already thought of everything and put helpful tips on the Internet and I got thousands of search results. Some said no way, that eye cream would either be ineffective or actually harmful (!) to other skin areas. Others said, sure, go for it. I had my answer.
Just as soon as I use up the remaining bottles of face cream (thank God they don’t have expiration dates … wait a minute, they just might … whatever) I am lining up those bottles of eye cream and using them on my face. So there. By the year 2020 I just may have used it all up. Yay!
You know you’re getting older when you make a pop culture reference to your new hairdresser and realize she wasn’t yet born when that culture existed.
I don’t talk much when I get my hair done. Back in the day, when I held down a hefty job and was raising a small child, it was a blessed break in which I lost myself in back issues of People and Us magazines. I warned any person new to doing my hair that I preferred quiet to chit chat. The hum of hair dryers, music and conversations in the background lulled me into something of a zen state.
I still prefer not to idly chat with my hair person. It’s nothing personal; she is lovely. I just find it odd to go two months between appointments and then blather on as if we’re old friends. And, in my introverted world view, I assume it’s a nice break for her not to be expected to carry on a conversation about upcoming vacation plans and family visits. I’d guess that she couldn’t care less about the idiosyncrasies of my daily life. As long as I show up on time and pay her a nice tip, it’s all good.
Sitting in the chair at the salon last week, tin foil folds sticking out all over my head, Pandora played 80’s music in the background. I don’t know why they had chosen the “oldies” station, perhaps out of deference to the assumed tastes of their clientele (me). To our great entertainment, the toddler son of another patron really liked it. He bounced around in front of us as Sting pleaded, “Don’t Stand So, Don’t Stand So, Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” And I thought about my growing up decade, and I thought about my hair, and I joked about how she could imagine how big my hair could get, back when hair was meant to be big, given how thick and curly it is. And I realized, after her awkward laughter, this is another good reason why I just shouldn’t talk at the salon. I had referenced an era as foreign to her as Motown is to me. She knows of it, in a sort of vague, my-parents-get-nostalgic sort of way.
When I was growing up, my neighbor Mrs. Duffy would go and get her hair “done” every week. A wash and set. I remember that she went to a beauty “parlor.” It was old fashioned, even back then, and I imagined that all of the hairdressers at the parlor were older ladies. But now I’m wondering if she did that because they were her people. They understood her pop-culture references. They shared the same era, experientially speaking.
Now that I’m <ahem> a woman of a certain age, perhaps I need to find the 80’s and early 90’s version of a beauty parlor. Someplace where they wear sparkly spandex, head bands and leg warmers. Where everyone gets a perm, along with mousse and toxic levels of hair spray. Where I can make a Magnum PI reference and they won’t think it’s a big bottle of merlot.
The lines on my forehead are becoming more pronounced, and a few crow’s feet dance at the corners of my eyes. I have sun damage “discoloration” on my cheeks. I’ve noticed more blue veins in my legs than I used to see. More than any other area, my hands don’t look like mine any more. They are all crinkly. It’s really dry here, and yes, what They say is right, the sun does do a number on exposed skin.
So, I ask myself, do I attempt to whip back these signs of the inevitable, lion tamer-esque, or do I let them carry me on down the river of aging? I admit to coloring the greys for quite a few years now. But somehow, it hasn’t occurred to me to do something about the other stuff until recently.
I don’t have to have soooo many wrinkles in my forehead quite yet. I could Botox them into motionless submission. I could zap the veins in my legs, laser my cheeks, yadda, yadda, yadda. I don’t see a problem with any of it in any sort of philosophical way. We do things all the time to look different, why not nip and tuck a bit?
What has prevented me from taking any affirmative action in this direction is not a moralistic high ground, but a lack of energy. It takes time to make the appointments (not to mention cash), and I just haven’t gotten around to it, much like my mammogram that I should have gotten a few months ago. I know, I know, I’ll do it next week. I do manage to get to the dentist every 6 months, I think because the necessity of that particular time frame was drilled (ha!) into me from a very young age.
And so, when the topic of wrinkles came up a while back with my son, his reaction to my possibly injecting something into my skin was a bit of a shock. He wasn’t just opposed to it. He was close to apoplectic. “How could you even think of doing that, Mom? I will disown you. (HA!)” As far as I can tell, he views this as some sort of fraud, that I’ll be pretending to be something I’m not.
I began to wonder about this. Why do I care? Like Popeye, I yam what I yam. I guess vanity gets the better of me? But why not look “my best” from here until the end? My grandma wore a wig. My entire life I never saw her without it. She was highly concerned that she have it on when she died, lest anyone would see her exposed, so to speak. What’s wrong with that? She lived well into her 80’s, stood at least 8 inches shorter due to osteoporosis, and wore old lady sandals and polyester dresses, but, bless her, she had her wig on when she died.
I’m not sure that I have the courage to make this story public. We’ll see how it goes and whether the “publish” button gets clicked. Fair warning, Dear Reader. Stop now if the topic of miscarriage makes you squeamish, because I’m going to share what it feels like.
This morning, I learned that a friend lost a pregnancy. I saw her just a few weeks ago, on the day she had taken the pregnancy test. We hugged and I told her how happy I was for her and her young husband. It was their first. At somewhere in her mid-thirties, a pregnancy is not as guaranteed as it once may have been. They were a little bit in shock but happily so. And when I learned of their loss today, memories of my own experiences came flooding back to me.
Miscarriage is one of the few things that our live-out-loud society does not talk about openly. A newscaster will get a colonoscopy on live TV, but we don’t speak of the painful experiences many of us have endured first hand. I’ve heard that up to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. My statistic is 75%.
I don’t want to take away from the loss that the daddies feel when an unborn child doesn’t make it to their first breathe. They hurt, too. But I’m not a daddy and I can only speak to what the mommy goes through, at least this mommy.
Our bodies begin to change immediately upon conception, imperceptively at first, to accommodate this little blob of cells. Within a couple of weeks, we can smell a cup of coffee two states away. Our boobs hurt. We get tired. And then when we pee on a stick and it turns pink or blue or there are two lines or a plus sign or whatever, our hearts beat a little faster and we suck in a quick breathe and for a while it’s our little life-altering secret. We might even take a couple more tests, just to be sure.
We tell our husbands or boyfriends or moms. In my case, my husband and I were elated by the thought of a new addition to our family. My first pregnancy, that resulted in my fabulous son almost 17 years ago, was not easily achieved. We tried for years for him and went through infertility testing and treatments and once we figured out what the issue was, he came along in a pretty normal pregnancy. We figured we had this baby-making thing beat. So, when I learned I was pregnant about 15 months later, it was a little surprising. We hadn’t been “trying,” meaning we hadn’t gone through the procedure that resulted in Kid One, but we hadn’t been not trying, meaning we hadn’t been doing what people do to prevent it from happening. Still, there was great joy and excitement.
In about five minutes after that stick does its thing, the mommy’s brain goes through some sort of chemical gymnastics, and she sees the next year unfold in a mental movie trailer. Getting bigger, eating more, swollen ankles, nursery decor, boy or girl, bringing her/him/ home from the hospital, tiny little newborn clothes and diapers. She has already “known” in some subconscious way that this thing was happening, but now it’s real and she can start to imagine what it will be like.
She goes to the first doctor appointment and they say “yep, it’s a blob in there” and she sees the blob on the ultrasound screen. They tell her to take prenatal vitamins and not to eat tuna or whatever and she gets little pamphlets and things in a plastic bag to take home. And she tries to go about her business without thinking about this ALL THE TIME. And she goes back for the next visit when the little blob has a fluttering heartbeat. By then her pants are a little snug. And she goes back again at 12 weeks to see that there is something in her belly that looks like a person, moving its tiny arms.
At 18 weeks, she goes in and the ultrasound tech gets her tummy all gooey and moves the paddle around and instead of cheery banter this time, the tech goes very quiet. She moves the paddle some more, makes sure the mommy can’t see the monitor screen and then she says, “Let me just go and get the doctor.” And the mommy lays there thinking, this doesn’t seem right. Oh geez what is going on? And the doctor comes in and looks some more and tells her in the understanding and sympathetic doctor voice, “I’m so sorry.”
And the floor disappears. She can’t breathe. Her arms and legs won’t move. And her mind tries to wrap its head around what is happening. What has happened, really, because it can’t be fixed. Life left that little being at some point and she didn’t even know it. She had been walking around making plans for him/her and eating right and sleeping more and all that time he/she had been gone.
Or maybe the mommy knew because her body had already started the process of dealing with this death and she had started spotting and had called her doctor to say, “I think something’s wrong.” And she finds herself sitting in the waiting room looking at all the pregnant bellies and thinking, “Oh, God, please no.”
I went through this experience three times. Each time, I found myself utterly shattered. 12, 17 and 8 weeks. I had D&C’s after each one, and woke from the anesthesia every time with tear-streaked cheeks. I sobbed uncontrollably. My husband, in his own grief, didn’t know what to do while I lay on our bed for days not wanting to talk to anyone about anything. Our little boy, oblivious to what had happened, just wanted Mommy to feel better. His hugs were the best medicine on earth. I was angry at God. If I’m honest, I still haven’t forgiven Him. However, I never begrudged others their joy when a baby came into their lives. Time quieted the pain and it settled deeper in, making room for life’s future joys and experiences. But it’s still there. News of another woman’s loss brings it back in an instant as my empathetic heart breaks for her.
But we don’t talk about this, except in hushed tones. “I’m so sorry,” people say, perhaps with a hug, and then hope it never comes up again. Sometimes people don’t even know about it, because the parents-to-be followed the old adage not to share the good news until after the first trimester because, “you never know.” And then it’s a secret. Something to hide. Like it’s something to be ashamed of. But when your heart has been ripped to shreds, it’s probably not all that healthy to keep it a secret. Just sayin’.
That little life was never out there in the world, sending its rippled waves of living across the community. But for the mommy, its heartbeat changed her forever and it’s ok for her to mourn. It’s not something to “get over” or just “try again for another one,” as well-meaning but clueless people may suggest.
Then again, some women may not feel the way I did. They may not have felt a connection with that little blob and it may not be the same sense of loss. That’s ok, too. This is just my story, and I hope it helps someone understand a little bit more about an aspect of life’s journey that we don’t talk about.
A fairly impressive set of scars on my right leg crosses my knee and runs down just above my shin. When the injury happened, it never occurred to me that the cuts would heal, but that they would leave these red and white marks behind for the rest of my life. I was 19 at the time, and didn’t have any perspective on what life-long meant.
I have a few other marks here and there. A tiny little white spot just above my wrist, a cut from a “bar fight” when I was in college. A round, thick, red scar on my palm from when I slipped down the stairs and sliced it open on a broken bowl a few years ago. Stretch marks from a hugely pregnant belly. A slightly misshapened middle finger, from pinching it in a closet door when I was eight or nine. I suppose no one gets to be “of a certain age” without a few dings.
I have more scars that are not visible, although they may be apparent to the people closest to me. Some are deep, scarred-over holes carved from personal loss, others are slight marks left behind from unexpected bumps along the way. Just like the outside scars, these invisible ones are part of who I am. They give me depth I wouldn’t otherwise have, a bit more empathy and compassion. And a little more strength.
My scars, inside and out, have their own beauty. Though they came with pain, they are life’s souvenirs. They are evidence that I have lived life well enough to feel the pain and joy, and all the ups and downs.