Why Bother Season

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We have a few more weeks of skiing, but the reality has hit me:  we are on the cusp of mud season in the mountains of Colorado. It’s almost that time of year when everything is brown.  Everything is dirty.  And then, when it snows or rains, everything is muddy.  Some people view this season with affection, because it means the glorious summer isn’t too too far away.  Most people think of it as the time to leave for a nice beach somewhere for a month or two.  We are stuck here, save for a few days on a nice beach somewhere in Southern Florida in April.  (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

Around the country, people jump into Spring with gusto, cleaning, airing out, getting some sunshine.  At my house, I turn into a lump of inactivity as I adopt a new mantra:  Oooohhhmmmm … Why Bother … Oooohhhmmmm … Why Bother …

I take the dogs for a walk and they come home muddy messes.  I give them baths.  I take the dogs for a walk and they come home muddy messes:  bath.  Walk, mud, bath, repeat.  Walk, mud, bath, repeat.  The next time I start to run the bath water, the mantra kicks in:  Why bother?  The next time the dogs want to go for a walk:  Why bother … Oooohhhmmmm.

And so it goes.  The floor is dirty and muddy.  Sweep the floor, clean the floor, rinse and repeat.  Why bother?  The cat and dog are shedding horribly.  Vacuum the couch, vacuum the rugs, wash the blankets to get the hair off and the next day everything is covered in dog and cat hair …  rinse and repeat.  Oooohhhmmm … Why Bother …  Oooohhhmmm … Why bother …

Yes, I know.  This is not a healthy way to go through life.  Time to eat?  Why bother, I’ll just be hungry again soon.  Time to brush my teeth?  Why bother…  And so on and so forth.  But for the next month or two, until it becomes gorgeously wonderful around here once again and the grass grows, the flowers bloom and winter’s gravel gets swept off the sides of the roads so that I can safely ride my road bike, the poor dogs may be going on fewer walks and the couch may be more covered in pet hair than usual.  Please don’t mind me.  I am in Why Bother Season.

 

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Top 10 Things about Being a Middle-Aged Woman

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I am approaching my late 40’s.  I remember a time when anyone over 30 was old, so I guess it’s time for me to accept myself for what I am:  a white, married, semi-pro mom right smack in the middle of life.  I’m glad to be here, thank you, and hope to continue on this journey for quite some time to come.  So here, in no particular order, are the top 10 things about inhabiting this spot on the spectrum (well, maybe they aren’t the “top” 10, but it sounds like I’m on late night TV):

1.  I can stay up as late as I want.  Sometimes even past 10:00 . . . .

2.  Hormones are even more erratic now than they were when I was 14.  Thanks to these little buggers, I am often wide awake in the middle of the night, giving my thoughts the freedom to run willy-nilly.

3.  With age comes acceptance.  My big, thick curly hair now may be its true self.  That straightener rarely comes out of the drawer these days.

4.  My opinions are just that — mine.  Take them or leave them.

5.  My opinions may change at any time.  Deal with it.

6.  I can choose not to waste time with idiots and mean people.   As my once-toddler learned in Montessori, sometimes it’s best to “walk away.”  I know, I know, sometimes these folks are unavoidable, but I have no guilt walking away at the first opportunity.

7.  My reading list is not determined based on what someone tells me I should read.  Brain candy is a good thing.  However, if I choose to read something heavy or meaningful, it is my prerogative to tell you that you should read it.

8.  I’ve lived long enough to stop and appreciate when someone is really good at what they do.  Craftsman or artist, musician or athlete, orator or writer.  Hip hop or Spanish guitar.  Soak it in.

9. I’ve been kicked in the teeth by life enough times that I can hug a friend who has just lost a few proverbial molars and tell her with sincerity that I feel her pain.

10.  I’ve learned that life’s little things are the leaves on the big trees of marriage and babies and jobs.  They blur together at a distance, but are intricately beautiful up close.  Just let me find my reading glasses so I can see them better . . . .

I Think I’m Losing My Mind

My memory has never been very good.  Let me restate:  my memory of names of things and numbers has never been very good.  In sixth grade history, I failed the test on states and capitols.  Just couldn’t make myself remember.

I can remember details about situations and conversations from thirty years ago down to the shoes on my feet, but I can’t remember my neighbor’s names to save my life.  Or the names of places.  Or any sequence of numbers.  Even my past house numbers.  I live in fear of having to fill out some sort of form that requires me to list my addresses for the past 10 years.  Even though I’ve only lived in two places.

Lately, this affliction seems to have worsened.  It used to be that the name/number/whatever would come to me within a few minutes.  Now it’s just lost in the neurons.  I might be able to recall it a few weeks later in different circumstances.  I don’t know if this is something I should be really worried about or if this is just the way my brain works, as if it has decided that these things aren’t worth the effort of remembering and so it just stopped trying.

It isn’t that my neighbors aren’t important to me.  They are.  I want to remember their names.  I want to be able to say, “Hi, Pat!  How is Trevor doing at the University of Pennsylvania”?  Instead I say, “Hi!  How is your son doing at school”?  I can remember what her son’s interests and hobbies are, what he is studying, how many roommates he has, etc.  But the NAMES of things are just gone.

Sometimes I actually catch myself glossing over names when they are presented to me.  And I give my brain a shake and tell it to pay attention. And then I realize that I missed the names of the people I’ve just been introduced to because of the mental tongue lashing I was just giving myself.  Fortunately, my life partner has a fantastic memory for these important details.  As long as he is standing next to me, I’m golden.

I wonder if that brain game would help with this.  If only I could remember the name of that brain game . . . .

The Beauty in Scars

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.

That Smile Said It All

Parents of teenage boys spend a fair amount of time as amateur detectives.  Since boys are less than forthcoming about everything a parent would like to know about their offspring. we have to look for clues.  Is he sleeping enough?  We’re looking for an unusual level of irritability and complete inability to get up in the morning.  Is school going ok?  Generally, the grunted responses to a parental inquiry on that topic don’t shed much light.  We’ve learned not to even waste our time asking about social goings-on, so we keep tabs on the volume of texts and chats that blow up his phone.

When our son went to Europe for a couple of weeks with his ski team to train this month, we were like all parents of teenage boys:  mostly in the dark.  This trip meant missed school and risk of illness and injury.  We wanted to know if it was going well.  He’s taken quite a few trips like this without us, so we’ve had a little practice on how to read the social media crumbs as to how things are going.  He was online 2 hours ago, so the flight must have landed.  He posted a picture on Instagram yesterday (not with any people in it, but still) . . . he must be eating and sleeping.  In fairness to our young progeny, he did message us on Facebook here and there, and we even got to see him on Skype once, so we weren’t completely out of the loop.

When it came time to pick him up at the airport, my husband and I were really looking forward to seeing him.   We like our boy, and we miss him when he’s not around.  We also know that he needs to find his way.  As he gains his independence, we are learning how to let him.  At every stage, from when he learned to walk, to his first day at school, to this moment at the airport, we have had to study this lesson of letting go.

We watched for him to come up from the train at Denver International Airport.  He had been traveling for more than 24 hours.  We knew he would be tired.  We scanned each wave of people.  And finally, there he was.  I couldn’t help but grin at him, relieved that he was safe and in one piece.  And when he looked up and saw us, a quick and full smile spread across his face.   I knew then, it had been a good trip.  Better than any text or phone call we could have had.  It was all right there.

 

Tom Petty’s Words to Live By

I love Tom Petty.  He writes the best lyrics.  Let’s take a moment to sing a few lines from a smattering of his songs (they’ve been in my head since last night, so it’s only fair that someone else is out there humming along):

“Learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings.  Coming down is the hardest thing.”

“You don’t know how it feels, no you don’t know how it feels, to be me.”

“I won’t back down.  No I won’t back down.  You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won’t back down. . . . In a world that keeps on pushing me around, no I won’t back down.”

“Into the great wide open.  Under them skies of blue.  Into the great wide open.  A rebel without a clue.”

And, just because I love his swagger:  “You got lucky, babe, when I found you.”

A terrific mix of brazenness and insecurity.  Tom, I know you’re at Red Rocks next week.  Give me a shout if you have a few minutes to chat about your ability to express what everyone feels.

Everyone feels fear.  Fear is a crazy thing.  It breeds insecurities and raises adrenalin.  It prevents action or causes irrational actions.  It spurs goal setting or overwhelms.  Fear itself is not bad, unless it irrationally takes over and limits participation in life.  Fear can be a good thing. It keeps us out of dangerous situations. It causes us to put together first aid kits, carry drinking water, wear helmets, slow down on icy roads and rehearse for a difficult conversation with a colleague. But it can also hold us back from experiencing some of life’s greatest moments.

Fear has been a familiar voice in my head throughout my life. My fears have absolutely affected my life’s journey, sometimes without me recognizing that fear was turning the wheel.  Let’s look at some fears I’m willing to admit to, tied to choices that I made in younger years.

I am an introvert who fears rejection =  I did not rush a sorority in college.

I fear making a mistake in public and making a fool of myself = I did not participate in debate.

I fear pain and failure =  I did not participate in scary sports like water skiing and snow skiing.

I feared working in a grown up job after college (really, that possibility of sucking and getting fired . . .) =  After college, I . . . wait for it . . .  WENT TO LAW SCHOOL.

So, law school sucked worse than getting fired (I have now experienced both) and it was really expensive.  But, even though my decision to do so was guided by fear, law school was a good path to take.  I met my husband in law school.  I learned that it was ok not to be the smartest one in the room.  I learned how to work really, really hard.  Eventually, it led to a career suited to my abilities and supported our family well for many many years. Choices based on fear aren’t necessarily bad ones.  But unless you’re being chased by a bear, in which case fear should be present and active, try to recognize that fear could be a lurking driver, face it, and consider whether it should influence your decision.  Address the fear and put it in its rightful place.  Behind you.

Fear has made me miss out on a lot of great things.  When I was young, we spent our summers on a lake.  Friends across the lake had a ski boat and offered to take my older brother out for a few laps. Mrs. Allen then asked if I wanted to give it a try. Me? A scrawny seven-year old? I didn’t do things like that – way too scary. They pointed to the shorter skis on shore and I went over to take a look. Just then, giant spider crawled into one of the boots as absolute proof that I was not meant to water ski that day.  No way. No one could convince me.   And that was it; I didn’t water ski until I was well into my 30’s, when I tired of watching my husband and son have all the fun and decided to give it a go. Turns out I have pretty good balance and it’s fun, even though I’ve fallen, a lot, and with great opportunity for embarrassment. This year I even figured out how to drop a ski. My son is confident that I’ll be “cutting” in a year or two (we’ll see on that one, this middle age body has some limitations). Due to those childhood fears, I missed out on several decades of an activity that I really enjoy.

I almost missed out on snow skiing as well. Growing up, my family had neither the funds nor the inclination to snow ski, so it wasn’t something I thought I needed in my life. In college, my boyfriend convinced me to go ski with him and his friends at Mt. Brighton in Michigan.   I borrowed my sister-in-law’s boots and skis, put on my jeans and headed to the hill. My boyfriend was no phenom in the skiing world, but he had a little experience. I scooched along behind him to the poma lift and by some miracle made it to the top. “Just follow me. Do what I do,” he said over his shoulder. I slid right into a fence and fell over. With determination I didn’t know I had, I got back up and headed for the bottom.   The next moment, my face met the ground, and my ski hit the back of my head. Broken nose. A less than fabulous first run and confirmation of my fears.  I was done.

Fast forward a few years, and I visited my new fiancé in Colorado over Thanksgiving weekend. And he wanted me to go skiing at Keystone. Seriously? As we drove up to the “hill,” I became convinced that he wanted me to die. There was NO WAY I was going to survive this day. I (literally and to his dismay) shook with fear.  He patiently took me to the ski school, where I was fitted with torturous boots and taken to the beginner slopes at the top. My instructors were a sweet retired couple who started us off with, “These are your skis. Let’s stand on them for a few minutes,” and then gently guided us to the bottom of the hill in our snow plow stances. To my great relief, I didn’t die. I persevered in spite of my fears and eventually conquered the slopes. Don’t get me wrong, fear still bubbles up when I look down a steep face and think about it a beat longer than I should.  A good friend of mine once told me, as I stood at the top of a pitch wondering what the heck I was doing there, “Sarah, sometimes you just have to commit.”  She’s absolutely right.  Sometimes, we just have to stare fear down and move forward. With Tom Petty singing in our heads.

What Is Your Passion?

What is your passion? A leadership training professional asked the question in a seminar I attended several years ago. We could not say family or job (and this discussion was definitely not about love interests . . .).   I was stumped. I sat there for a few seconds, looking blankly at the woman. Then I glanced around my table to see how others were responding. A couple of them had the same blanched expressions on their faces as I did. Others were completely at ease and ready to share, having had no apparent struggle identifying that thing that really got their engines going. I stumbled through the exercise, coming up with something, anything, so that I could finish and the next person could share his love of restoring cars or throwing pottery.

That question haunted me. Why didn’t I have a passion? Did this confirm my insecurities that I really am just a boring person? Or, had I neglected some inner, art-loving child who was now a shriveled lump?   There are a lot of things I like to do, I told myself. I enjoy reading, hiking, skiing and going to the beach, to name a few. But, I couldn’t say that I am passionate about any of them. Being passionate about something is to pursue the subject of the passion with a sustained, heightened level of intensity and interest, similar to the way a third grader anxiously awaits recess.

I’ve since been an observer of people who have a passion, the “Passionates,” to see what makes them tick. This is really easy to do in the Vail Valley, which is full of people with passions for skiing, biking, fishing, kayaking, golfing, hiking, hunting and backcountry activities, to name just a few. I listen to their stories with interest and curiosity about all the time and energy they lovingly put into their interests.

I also live with two Passionates. My husband is an ardent fan of Wolverine football and basketball. Very few can match his level of enthusiasm and the depth of his knowledge of every player, coach, game, opponent, type of turf, or size of the stadium. He also loves to cook, especially for a group of people. With great intensity and pure joy, he will get out cook books and go online searching for recipes, make the shopping list, prepare the food, cook and serve it to us fortunate souls who get to eat it.   My son is an alpine ski racer, who every day works to improve his mind and body to be better at his sport. Passion.

A passion isn’t necessarily a life-long thing. For example, I don’t recall my mother having a consuming interest or even a hobby until she retired, when she became an avid quilter. She found a niche that suited her active mind and outgoing nature. She now wins awards for her beautiful work and has filled her life with interesting people who enjoy and appreciate the same things she does. I love to see what she has created when we get together, and to hear her stories of finding the perfect fabric for her latest project.

On reflection, I realize that those of us who don’t have capital “P” passion are the yin to the Passionates’ yang. Our more balanced, or perhaps less intense, approach to life gives the Passionates room to jump in and splash around. We are their audience, cheering section and sometimes the happy beneficiaries of what they do.   Just because we don’t have a passion today doesn’t mean we won’t someday be consumed by one. To keep an active body and mind, to continue to grow and to be open to new adventures are elements of a life well lived. Passionates, go forth and embrace your love, and share it with those around you. As for the rest of us, let’s continue to live our relatively restrained lives with a healthy curiosity about those Passionates with whom we share this world. But be prepared — we just may become one some day.

A version of this was originally published in The Vail Daily on February 19, 2014.