The Difference Between Space & Distance

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You know all those emails you’re getting? Those communications from your favorite brands reassuring you about what they are doing during these super strange times – I write those.

So I just spent a week of home-based work staying calm and focused so I could channel that vibe into what I’m telling customers. This weekend, I’m so glad to take a break from talking about adjusted business hours, digital banking options, and “stay tuned for updates.” As you all know, the story is changing, not just by the day, but by the hour. It’s exhausting to keep up, isn’t it?

But all this week I’ve had a sidebar of thoughts running through my head – things that “Real Meesh” has been wanting to say versus “Professional Michelle.” Thank God for Saturday so I get this chance to say them…

It’s quite ironic that the last time I wrote for this blog, I preached about the importance of disaster preparedness. That was more than a month ago when my primary concern was a 24-hour boil water alert here in our hometown: I Want to Talk About Water. In this entry, I talked about how I was embarking on a plan to plan ahead. I had a list. I had goals. What I lacked was action. I didn’t follow through with the preparing.

Now here we are, only 6 weeks later, and we’re all living in a state of disaster or something as close to that as most of us have gotten in our lifetime. There was very little time to prepare for life as we know it right now. There is very little time to process what’s happening before the next thing happens. As the older half of The Precious Pair explained the other day through tears, “It doesn’t feel real to me.” Join the club, my dear.

I’m not here to share any hygiene tips. I’m quite confident that’s been well-covered by now. If you don’t know you should be washing your wands while singing the ABCs, well then, you must be living in a deep, dark hole. And, if so, you might want to stay down there – but only if the hole is at least 6-feet deep.

The tips I’d rather share in this Coronavirus blog – that now joins the massive reams of commentary on the subject – are the random thoughts in my head about all of it, probably of no practical use to anyone at all. Yet if my ideas can bring levity or hope or even a crooked half-smile to anyone feeling downtrodden, disappointed, desperate, depressed, or any other not-so-great mood at the moment, then I will have accomplished what I’m setting out to do…

Now, remember, I am NOT your Mom, even though some of this will likely come out sounding quite motherly:

Wait with great anticipation for the things you love — whether it’s baseball season, the Kentucky Derby, or just hanging out with a group of your favorite people on a Saturday night. If you’ve had events postponed, feel glad and grateful for that. That means your good time is coming. I feel the most right now for folks and especially kids who are getting their lives cancelled. The school days. The Prom. The weddings. Potentially, the graduations. That’s the heart-wrenching stuff.

As for me, I have an awesome Porch Party Season lined up for Summer/Fall 2020, and I hope you will join me!

Hug your household. The other day, I made the mistake of saying to my oldest in front of my youngest “If one of us gets it, all 3 of us will.” That sent the soon-to-be 11-year old into a panicked frenzy. Once I talked her off the ledge, she understood. And it helped that I could make the case for hugging – “This is why we can keep hugging each other all we want! There’s no limit.” The younger one is my hugger. But it’s funny how the older one wants a lot more of them these days herself. Don’t have any huggers in your house? Hug yourself. It’s okay. Do it when nobody’s looking.

Breathe like a yogi. I did start yoga this year. It was one of my goals early on, and I was doing it fairly consistently until the studio closed, of course. But I haven’t given up on the practice of intentional deep breathing. Whenever someone in our house is facing a meltdown, I point her straight to her own breath. I remind myself to do the same, all day, every day. Especially if I’m outside. Nothing feels better than getting that outdoor air into your indoor lungs.

Make some homemade soup. Yesterday, on a Zoom meet-up, my friend Julie mentioned some soup she had made. Sausage, veggies, beans. I couldn’t stop thinking about how good that sounded, so I copy-catted her soup and made a huge pot of my own today. Pretty sure I poured my soul into that steaming pot of soup. So I recommend you go make something, too. Soup. Lasagna. Cookies. Whatever sounds good to you, but try to make it from scratch with the extra groceries you’re likely to have on hand. There’s something therapeutic about crafting food slowly and thoughtfully; then sitting down and slurping it up.

Spring is never cancelled. Did you realize the First Day of Spring was March 19? I am taking solace in the hope that Spring always provides. The bulbs pushing up through the soil. The birds chirping cluelessly yet reassuringly. The lucky ladybugs showing up in my kitchen most days. That weird spring smell in the air – a fresh blend of rain and flowers and mud. These are a few of my favorite things right now. Mostly because they are not digital.

My thoughts on social distancing. I believe in it. I’m doing it. I’m guessing most of you are, too. But as the Word Nerd that I am, I wish they had chosen to call it something else…Why?

A few weeks ago, before we all began living this way, I had a conversation with someone I care about very much about the difference between giving someone their space and allowing someone to become distant. They are vastly different scenarios, yet there’s a fine line between the two. From an emotional standpoint and in any type of relationship – romances, families, and friendships — space is a good thing whereas distance is not.

Social spacing would have been the better label for what we’re practicing right now. No one wants to create distance between themselves and their loved ones, especially at a time like this. So, yes, thank goodness for technology – texting, phone calls, FaceTiming, Zoom meetings, Marco Polo video bits, and more. At the same time we’re grateful for it, I sense we’re all equally tired of tech, too. The constant nature of it takes a toll. (I say as I type on my laptop.)

The person I mentioned above has a birthday coming up on Tuesday. What a crappy time to have a birthday. You can’t go out to dinner, people aren’t able to shop much for your gifts, and the grocery might be out of your favorite things. Heck, if there’s suddenly a state or federal lockdown, you might even get stuck at home on your birthday.

In fact, several of my loved ones have birthdays coming up – my mother turns 80 on April Fool’s Day, and my girls and I had to cancel our trip to Florida to celebrate with her. On April 6, the younger half of The Precious Pair turns 11. I had planned to take her out to do several fun things that day. On April 26, my stepmother will celebrate her birthday, and my girls and I had to cancel our trip to Arizona to celebrate Easter with her and my dad.

I stand by what I said above. The things and people we love are worth waiting for. The hardest part is not knowing how long the wait might be. I hope to develop new virtues – maybe even Patience – as positive side effects of this crazy quarantine. What do you hope to get out of it, once we get out of it?

“Stay tuned for updates,”
Meesh

 

I Want to Talk About Water

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Water is a rather dry topic, one would think. Yet something happened recently that has led me to become fixated on and fascinated by water, and I feel the need to talk about it.

The event was a simple boil alert in our community. For 24 hours, we could not drink our water from our taps or even from our refrigerator filters. There was a mishap at our nearby treatment facility that prompted these precautions. As a result, they even had to cancel a day of school. (Thank goodness for e-learning so we don’t have to make it up at the end of the year.)

The situation also caused an emergency water shortage at our local Humane Society, and when they posted about it to social media, they experienced an overwhelming outpouring of support and bottled water. It’s interesting how humans are sometimes more apt to help animals than other humans. I can’t say I blame them. My oldest daughter is one of these people. Humans bring out the anxiety in her, but animals bring her peace. Plus, dogs and cats often represent pure innocence – with the exception of my own pets, The Pug & The Thug, of course. But back to the water…

Upon hearing the news of the embargo, I shared the warning with my two school-aged daughters, The Precious Pair. The 10-year-old kicked into high gear by taping notes to all our sinks and showers.

“Do not drink or brush with this.”
“Do not get this water in your mouth.”
“NO!!!”

These small reminders were not only funny, but also quite helpful for a forgetful middle-aged person like myself. And — because who really has time for boiling anything– we went out for water.

As we pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store, my girls observed the busy-ness of folks rushing into the store and emerging with massive amounts of bottled water.

“There’s definitely a rush on water! I hope they haven’t run out,” one of them said. And for a moment, I panicked at the thought of that.

“Look at all that plastic that will end up in our landfills!” the Earth-loving teen observed, and then she said something else even more profound and observant, “Look at how inconvenienced everyone seems about having to go out and buy water. Imagine if we had to walk 3 miles to get it, with buckets on our heads.”

Wow. What truth from the mouths of these babes of mine. Yes, we do have it easy. Yes, we do take basic needs and First World conveniences such as running water for granted.

How great that one of my favorite local coffee shops in a neighboring community supports clean drinking water in Third World countries. The Well Coffeehouse serves up some of the best coffee in the world. Coming from me, a huge coffee snob, this is a high compliment. But the best part about their product is definitely the cause behind it.

According to their website, “The Well is dedicated to Roasting and Serving Great Coffee. We are 100% about the mission of providing clean water, and 100% about making the best possible cup of coffee!” And thousands of people in countries worldwide have access to safe, clean drinking water because of The Well and its customers. New water supplies have come to areas where drought, disease, and war have made life especially difficult: Togo, Malawi, Kenya, the Congo, Senegal, Chad, Africa; the Central African Republic – 23 wells and counting. I’m sure in the mood for a latte, so it’s a good thing I’m here at The Well right now! (I’ve ordered a concoction called a Resolution.)

As is often the case when a small crisis crops up, my mind starts wandering and wondering and worrying. This happened the night of the boil alert. My creative brain dreamed up many scenarios where a water shortage could occur. The sad part is, these scenarios are not all that far-fetched. Global tensions are rising, and we are facing new uncertainties. While I find the current worldwide state of affairs to be terrifying, I also want to approach what’s happening practically. And that’s what has led me to www.Ready.gov.

This resource is helping me make disaster preparedness a priority in early 2020. The threat of a cyberattack that would lead to a loss of electricity/water/banking access and other modern conveniences is always a possibility, and I think it’s wise to be well-equipped if something were to happen. Of course, this plan applies to natural disasters, as well, which the world’s weather seems to be as unpredictable as our politicians these days. So I’ve done some research recently and have assembled this simple list for the girls and myself. And I want to share it with all of you.

SUPPLIES ⁃ Weather radio/charger/flashlight/SOS signal, all in one ⁃ Emergency water supply, 5 gallon drum ⁃ Canned/nonperishable food items ⁃ Dust masks for face ⁃ Wet wipes ⁃ Whistles ⁃ Extra Batteries, various sizes ⁃ Envelope with at least $100 Cash in small bills ⁃ Full Gas Can in Garage

HABITS ⁃ keep car fuel tank above half-full ⁃ keep cell phone fully-charged as well as a secondary charger ⁃ carry cash at all times

So this is my new list, and I’m going to work with it until I’ve gathered these things and established these habits. My hope, of course, is that I’m overthinking all of this, and I’ll never need our disaster kit. And about that word – “disaster” – I want to confess here that I use it inappropriately all. the. time.

When I’m running late – “What a disaster!”
When the girls are fighting – “This is a disaster!”
When I’m annoyed at work – “This place is a disaster!”

Overexaggerate much? I do. And I shouldn’t in light of all the true disasters happening around the world.

Earthquakes.
Wildfires.
Typhoons.
Bombings – both purposeful and accidental.
Civil Wars.
Forcible displacement of people from their countries.
Stockpiling of nuclear weapons.
Human trafficking.
Inhumane torture.
Outbreaks of disease.
Famine.
And, yes, water scarcity.

I know that’s a heavy list for a light-hearted little blog like mine; yet it’s important to rub the sleep out of our eyes once in a while and get real about the world that’s spinning around all of us.

Instead of debating whether our glasses are half-full or half-empty, let’s be deeply grateful our glasses hold crystal clear, clean, refreshing, disease-free water, most likely with ice. Please take a moment to realize how spoiled we are. (She says as she sips her latte.)

Never thirsty,
Meesh

Home Alone, Single Mom Style

F7558CFE-0970-4EAC-88ED-CC8FC08E15D2Sequels usually suck. Over the holidays, the youngest half of The Precious Pair and I watched Home Alone 2, the one where yet again the family loses Kevin on the way to their holiday vacation. He ends up lost in New York City where oh so conveniently he runs into the same bandits from the original Chicago version. The boy tortures the bandits much like he did in the first one. And throughout that scene of about 15 minutes, my 10-year-old giggled and squealed. Oh what fun it was to watch her watch that movie. I guess that particular sequel doesn’t suck so bad.

Do you ever wonder what people do at home alone? I think about this more these days because I spend considerably more time home alone as a divorced mother. I usually stay fairly busy on my own with work and good friends and social plans, but over this holiday break I’ve had some down time. Occasionally, I’ve gotten a little bored or lonely, but ultimately, I know this time is good for me and especially for my household because I have to face my chores head-on with few valid reasons to ignore them.

For instance, I can’t recall if I’ve written previously here about my relationship with my laundry. I should refer to this as my disdain for my laundry. It is the domestic task that challenges and troubles me most. So much so that I’ll admit I’ve paid people – former in laws and friends and professional launderers – to do it for me more times than I can count on both my hands.

But on a free night over the holiday break, if you were a middle-aged woman with time off from work and two children out of town, maybe you would decide to conquer your 8 loads of laundry once and for all because you’ve decided it’s part of a fresh start for the New Year. Soon you will also pitch the overflowing shoebox of “odd man out socks.” There seems to be little hope in finding them at this point. In fact, instead of locating matches, you keep adding singles to that box, which is really grating on your semi-OCD side. When you do find a rare match, there’s nothing more satisfying. (It’s the small wins in life that keep you going.)

What else does this kind of rare quiet evening look like for you? Snacks for dinner. Yes, Chex Mix. You squeeze in a Ham and Swiss Cheese sandwich for the protein factor, but let’s face it, Chex Mix is the main entrée.

Beverages will be the adult kind. Because, why not? But don’t tell your male coworkers you used the double-oaked barrel bourbon the boss gave us to mix into a blackberry-flavored drink you invented. They will admonish you for not downing it straight. You do like bourbon; however, you LOVE mid-priced gin and, quite honestly, any bottle of wine you can get your hands on, even if it comes from Aldi. And don’t knock those until you try them, please. ​​

You decide to take your first bath in six months, (wait – that could be misunderstood as not bathing at all. You DO take daily showers!) You use a loofah infused with a bourbon scent to match the cocktail you just had. The entire time you try to soak peacefully in the tub, the puppy is barking at you and making muddy paw marks all over the bathroom, including on your freshly-laundered white towel. She can’t understand why you are in the tub and she​ isn’t.

This brings me to the unfortunate truth that you are not actually home alone. You have two canine sidekicks who literally never leave your side unless you barricade them in a space with the cheapest baby gates known to man – the lightweight wooden style that you simply prop against doorways and trip over 20 times a day. The dogs are a bittersweet aspect of your life. They do represent bursts of joy for you, but much like a toddler does. They are cute and occasionally cuddly and sweet, but this comes at the tremendous expense of having to monitor or contain them 24/7 to avoid destruction of your personal property, accidents in the house, or one pup murdering the other at any moment.

You call them The Pug (age 7) and The Thug (9 months) because this is both a funny and accurate way to refer to them. The Thug is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the same breed the Queen of England prefers. You’ve considered many times shipping her off to a place like Buckingham Palace or, much closer, the local Humane Society or a nice Hamilton County farm. But the hopeful side of you thinks and prays that things might improve once she is spayed and walked more often in this mild winter weather we’re having, and you also have the option to send her away to doggie camp for $25 per day. Money well spent, much like the $2.25 per pound you sometimes pay to get the laundry washed, dried, and folded.

After the bath you have every intention of starting that photo project you’ve been trying to do since July. It was intended to be a Christmas gift for three of your best friends. But now it will have to be a New Year’s gift. But you never actually start it, so now it’s looking like a nice gift for their birthdays in 2020.

The house is relatively quiet with the exception of a variety of sounds made by the aforementioned canines. There are also tunes humming in the background thanks to DJ Alexa and several of your favorite male performers: Elton John, Billy Joel, John Mayer, Michael Bublé. However, you do play a good dose of Adele, because she is the Queen of Nights Alone.

Your biggest and most exciting plan for the night, in between folding all that laundry, is to watch tonight’s 10 o’clock Christmas movie on the Hallmark Channel. You go to tune in, but the cable isn’t working AGAIN so you decide to land on the couch and play purposelessly on your iPhone even though one of your goals (NOT resolutions) is to do that much less. But it’s not 2020 yet. So, it’s Facebook for you until you doze off on the couch around 11.

These are the typical activities you can find me doing when home alone. Not exactly the material of a classic 80’s holiday movie, yet it’s all quite fulfilling for me. I get things done, I do things my way, I eat my food, I play my music, and I try to unwind and reflect. There are things I love about being home alone, and a few things I don’t like at all. But I do view the time as self-care, because it almost never used to happen and now I am grateful it does.

That said, I don’t need a lot of it. Because my favorite place to be is with my favorite people – whether that’s at my house or theirs or someplace in between. Home is where my people are. And that’s where you will find the true me.  Not buried in piles of laundry nor soaking in the bathtub; not even planted on my couch in front of a Hallmark movie. The best version of me comes from being with the friends or family who love me for everything I am and despite everything I am not. That’s why being home alone is bearable and doable and healthy. Because I know it’s occasional and temporary and leads me to appreciate the company I keep even more. If this includes you, I say Cheers and Thanks, my dears. May this year of precious time ahead of us hold many blessings, loads of laughter, and endless joy and love.

Peace,
Meesh

“Honest” is Not the New “Mean”

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Recently, I had the delightful experience of FaceTiming a good friend who is serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine. A small group of friends assembled in my kitchen to make the video call across several seas and continents. The 90 minutes we spent talking with her flew by. All of us had a lot more to say, so we will continue the conversation when we do it again next month. But before we made that call, my friend who brought her MacBook was setting up when I noticed something big and orange stuck in her front teeth. I said “Hold on! You’ve got to get that thing out of your teeth before we call her…”

“Well, thank you for telling me,” she said gratefully as she picked it out.

“Yes, of course, I would want someone to tell me!”

And, yes, that’s absolutely the truth. If you’re ever with me and I have food stuck in my teeth, something hanging out of my nose, toilet paper trailing from my shoe, or half my skirt tucked into my tights, please tell me. Or let’s just say I’m behaving like a total asshole — call me on that, too. All these things have happened to me, and they will undoubtedly happen again. We owe one another the courtesy of honesty in simple embarrassing moments and beyond…

I get quite a lot of brutal honesty these days from Part 1 of The Precious Pair who is 15 now. Usually by way of her unsolicited opinions:

“Your hair doesn’t look right.”
“You’re not going to wear that, are you?”
“Those tiki torches in our front yard look trashy. I took them down.”

When she says things like this to me or to her younger sister, our reaction is typically one of resentment. “Why do you have to be so mean?” we will often plead to her.

And she defends herself every time…”But I’m just being honest.”

Why is it that being honest and direct and decisive and confident is often mischaracterized as being downright mean? This is especially true for girls and women. After all, we’re taught early on about sugar and spice and everything sappy. And in my youth and early adulthood even, I was much better at sugar-coating my comments. Now, a couple decades later, I’ve abandoned the art of spin doctoring my opinions, and in recent months, this is no more true than at work. I’ve been thinking lately why I’ve experienced this transition from overly polite to drastically direct. I’ve come up with several logical reasons for the shift.

About 5 years ago, I had a great boss who encouraged the employees under his direction to have what he called “prickly conversations” – in fact, he wanted us to conduct them with one another without hesitation whenever necessary.

I have a great boss now who is ultra-decisive. I love that about him. I want to be more like that. I am becoming more like that.

My company has a female CEO who believes in all the same. She never beats around the bush, and she doesn’t want her people to do it either.

I’ve worked with the same male peer for 15 years. We bicker. We raise our voices. We put one another in place now and then. We are more than prickly; we are downright harsh to each other at times. Guess what? The result is a trusting working relationship.

In the Summer of 2018, I completed a 6-month Leadership Training program. A good amount of the content addressed what they called “courageous conversations.” Again, more professional training that pushed me out of my comfort zone and into this newer phase of my life where I value receiving and delivering honest feedback more than ever before.

Amid these influences, I’ve grown into the style I am today: direct,  decisive, and confident. All the things that my teenager is trying to achieve with her unsolicited opinions. And here I am, calling her “mean.” What am I thinking, trying to stomp that out of her at a nice young age when it took me two decades to learn these things and become them?

Probably if I had learned to be this way much earlier, I could have avoided some of the interpersonal conflicts and turmoil that did consume my life in the recent past. I certainly could have and should have done a better job of communicating my opinions and pain-points (no pun intended) while also establishing healthy boundaries. Shame on me.

But I can do things differently now and for the rest of my life. Not just at work. But out here in the world where things matter the deepest.  I can move forward with an approach that is respectful and empathetic while, at the same time, real and pure and true to who I am and who you are to me. No more faking. No more fear. No more numbing myself to my own feelings so I can merely get by or trudge along on an unpredictable path. I owe this to myself. Most important, I owe this to all of you – my family, my friends, my coworkers, plus even acquaintances and strangers whom I encounter. Me “snowing” you into thinking things are fine and dandy when they are not — that will do you no favors. That will not open your eyes to a new perspective. That will not allow you the choice to change or not to change.

And, as I already said above, you can deal the same back to me.

So, My Dear Teenager, do not lose your gift for honesty. Simply learn to manage it. Control the timing of it and work on your delivery. Keep in mind that what you believe in your veins is not what everyone believes. Your style is not the end-all, be-all. Your opinion isn’t either. Always be respectful of differences. But your perspective and your perceptions are your privileges. You must decide continuously when and how and where it makes good sense to state them aloud. The best time to share your gift for truth is when you’re asked for it. Yet you must also use it to protect and defend yourself at times.

I’ve finally discovered the joy and freedom that honesty brings. And I’m not looking back. I’m not going that way. I’m taking a new path, still unpredictable, yet it’s brighter. Because, yep, it’s lined with tacky tiki torches. And the pathfinder is a braver version of me, one I’m still getting to know, yet I trust her sense of direction fully. I trust her to take me daily, with my loved ones hooked in my arms, to a place called Peace. God willing. This is my honest vision.

Lovingly,
The Real Meesh

 

 

 

 

An Open Letter to the Parents of the Pumpkin Smashers

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To Whom It May Concern:

I have a framed poster on my bedroom wall. It says “Think in Magic.” At this time of year, that’s easy to do. The fall season is one of pure magic – everything from the colors to the smells to the crispness in the air that tickles our bones, but doesn’t quite sink in to them the way the cold of winter does. And then after a blissful month full of falling leaves, apple-y treats, and pumpkin spice EVERYTHING, Halloween comes to wrap a big orange bow around all the autumnal magic. What is not to love about this time of year?

Well, sadly I can answer this: Your Children, The Pumpkin Smashers.

You might know if this letter applies to you. Or you might not. I’m not sure which scenario is worse. If you know your child is a pumpkin smasher, I certainly hope you are doing something about that. If you are completely unaware your child is a pumpkin smasher, then you probably have more problems on your hands than you can even imagine. But regardless of whether you know it or not, a group of your teen children, the now infamous Pumpkin Smashers here in our town, did cause my 10 year-old sorrow and tears when I told her they destroyed her four pumpkins a few weeks ago, including the nice big orange one with the perfect stem that she chose from Kroger, brought home, and decorated with a giant googley eye before she displayed it proudly on our front porch. That was just one night before your teens came along and committed their destructive and mean-spirited behavior on that same porch, my personal property.

Some of you have said, “But it’s just a few pumpkins.” That’s exactly why you are raising pumpkin smashers. Let’s think of it as a gateway crime. What’s next? Windshields? Bedroom windows? Will you be as accepting of their behavior even then?

It’s highly likely you’re also the parents of the young people who break the rules of the road while driving and then proceed to flip me off when I tap my horn at them. As I have explained to The Precious Pair, I use my car horn – an official resource provided to me – to alert others when they are doing something they should not, like swinging a U-turn in the middle of the city street I take to drop the younger one off at grade school. The middle finger of one’s hand is not an official resource for the same. In fact, it’s just flipping crass (no pun intended.)

It’s highly likely you are NOT the parents of the young people who work at Chick-fil-A, because let’s hand it to them, they are the Anti-Pumpkin Smashers. Always wearing a smile, bagging up nuggets enthusiastically, and saying it’s their pleasure to serve me, even if I’m a bit grumpy after getting flipped off by a teen driver on my way to Chick-fil-A. Thank you to these dedicated fast foodies who give teens a good name.

I do feel qualified to make this commentary because I am the parent of a teenager myself. While she has mastered a fair amount of sass in recent years, I can confidently state she is not the pumpkin-smashing type. Nor are her friends. They’ve been raised to know vandalism is a big fat no-no. Somehow you missed conveying this key lesson to your children. And what a shame for you. Chances are, since they do not respect the property of others, they do not respect yours either.

It all comes down to this for me: Mean people suck. But, unfortunately, the world has them and always will. Thanks to the parents who are raising them to be that way. All we can do to combat your child-rearing ways is to keep bringing up much nicer humans. Because kindness prevails. I believe in the magic of it. Perhaps you should, too.

Stop the smashing,
Meesh

 

The Octogenarian

0D4D394B-62E0-4898-841E-E6551CB47204.jpegWriting a blog for someone works nicely as a substitute for a birthday card. Have you noticed the price of greeting cards? My jaw drops when I flip one over to find it marked near or even more than five dollars. I can buy myself a pumpkin spice latte with that same amount.  But coffee and my habits and treating myself to things, these are not the points of this installment. My dear old dad is the point. You see, he is The Octogenarian of whom I speak. Robert, usually “Bob.”

He is celebrating his 81st birthday on Monday. So, he has now had a full year of experience in his 80s. Last year when he turned this milestone age, he explained to my oldest daughter (his oldest of three granddaughters) and me (his middle child) that, as a child himself, he never expected to live beyond his 60s. In 1948, when he was ten years old – the current age of my youngest daughter and his middle granddaughter – life expectancy for a man was only 64.6. Today, it’s much closer to 80.

Back in 1996, when my dad was a youthful 58 years old, he had quite the scare with a heart attack. This was deeply concerning to all of us because his own father, also Robert {“Harold”),  had passed away from a heart attack far too young, before any of Bob’s three children had been born.  Fortunately, my dad’s own heart condition did not require major surgery or bypasses, but could be treated with stents that worked quite well for decades. That is, until late this summer, when a new cardiologist discovered one valve 100% blocked again and another near that. And, thank heaven, they could go in and place new stents before a cardiac event took place.

But there were complications during his recovery, caused by his meds, and he was in and out of the hospital and medical care for two weeks. Stressful.

Fast forward one month, and I’m on a plane to Omaha, my birthplace, my hometown until I was 10, and the city  where my dad and stepmom have lived together for nearly 50 years. There I will see both of them (“Du and Mu”); my brother from Arizona, also Robert (“Rob”), my sister from Arlington, Laura (“Lu”); her husband, Scott (“Scoot”); and my 2 1/2 year-old niece, Julianne (“Jay”), who is the youngest of the three granddaughters.

You may notice I did not mention The Precious Pair on this trip, and this is tough. They are back home. We will miss them. Timing and logistics did not allow me to bring them. Yet they will be with us in spirit while they have a ball celebrating Homecoming Weekend with their friends back in Indiana.

But before I left, I did ask for some input about Papa Du’s Birthday Blog from my girls.

The youngest did not hesitate to suggest a memory from the archives of his 80th Birthday Weekend that all of us attended last September. There were many fun activities we did as a family, but one did stand out: a trip to a medieval-themed indoor putt putt center…

My dad raised us as putt-putters so this outing was a good choice for his birthday. I grew up putt-putting, not only in Omaha, but on some of the most beautiful courses in Colorado, where we took many summer road trips. Yes, mini-golf is a family tradition.

My stepmom “Grandma Mu” had spoken highly of this particular course in the days before we visited it. She told my girls it had a zip line and other unique and interactive elements, all enhanced with castles, knights, and dragons as decor. We were hyped upon arrival and as we began the course.

Sure enough, we encountered the zip line and my girls tried it. Impressively, so did Mu, age 70 at the time. So when we reached Hole #12 with the ballpit feature in between the tee and the hole, she was feeling especially confident and volunteered to fall into the ballpit after she took her first putt.

I’m grateful to this day that my teenager chose to video-record this moment on her iPhone, for posterity. Sadly, the video is not posted here for your entertainment, so I can explain the scene.

Mu fell in slow motion into the pit, with a sort of belly-flop landing onto the soft plastic balls. Immediately, she realized getting out was going to be far more challenging than going in. She doggy-paddled her way from the middle of the pit to the far side, while losing her sandel in the process. At that point, I remember asking if she was okay because she looked a bit panicked. My dad responded for her from the sidelines, “Well, of course she’s not okay.”

My brother extended a helpful hand while my girls and I stood by giggling. (I know that sounds insensitive, all considered, but you had to be there.) My oldest kept recording. The family behind us had gathered in the peanut gallery to watch. They acted concerned.

At one point, Poor Mu muttered “I’ll never get out of here!” but, low and behold, she did after what seemed like five minutes or so. By that time, we elected to skip finishing our play on this hole, and I decided it best not to experience the ballpit myself. Mu took one for the team of adults in our group by being the only one to take the fall into the balls.

This was the most unforgettable aspect of my father’s 80th birthday last year, provided by his adoring and loyal wife of nearly 43 years. It was a memory all of us treasure and none of us shall ever forget.

To continue this tribute to my dad, I’ll continue reminiscing, but I’ll go back even a bit further to speak to a few of my favorite things about him:

Celebrations.
I’m lucky to have endless holiday and birthday memories from my childhood days in Omaha. For many reasons, my visions of December 31st have stood out to me over the years. We never went out for NYE. It was always a fun night in, consisting of a home cooked dinner, board games, cutting up newspaper confetti, watching Dick Clark’s show featuring the ball drop in Times Square, throwing the newspaper confetti, picking up the newspaper confetti and throwing it again and again, and, after the stroke of midnight, my dad belting out a passionate solo of “Happy New Year” a lesser-known track from the popular 70s/80s group ABBA. It is still one of my favorite songs, and ABBA is my favorite band along with The Beatles, by whom my namesake ballad of “Michelle My Belle” was created in 1965.

I’ve attempted to duplicate the family magic of those vintage New Year’s Eves with my own kids in recent years. They, too, are big fans of celebrations of many types.

Passionate Interests.
Bob is a Renaissance Man, with multiple hobbies and collections. You should see his basement – it’s a museum of sorts, housing his stamps, Omaha post cards, and library filled with thousands of books, mostly mystery novels, and many first editions and signed copies. I have a stamp collection of my own that he brought to me this summer to keep. My favorites feature Disney characters and baby animals. I learned many lessons from my early stamp collecting with my dad. The people of Omaha have also learned many lessons from him, based on his deep knowledge of the city’s history. He even co-authored a set of books about it, and that brings me to the next topic…

Word Nerdiness.
Writers can name the writers who inspire them. One of mine is my dad. He has always encouraged me in this area with his own prolific habits of writing essays, skits and plays, limerick poetry, and famous Christmas letters. He has written for this blog once already with plans for his second guest appearance in motion. Not only do we both write, we like to talk about writing: word choice, rhythm, origins of idioms… These are the topics we like to cover and debate. Word nerdiness at its finest. It’s a love we both share, and I’m grateful for having this in common with him.   

Quirky Humor.
When I was in the second grade, my dad visited my classroom on Career Day to talk about his job as a corporate tax accountant at Mutual of Omaha. But instead of explaining his job, he came prepared to charm and entertain my fellow second graders. True to his signature style, he was funny and silly and passed out postcards featuring wild animals from the weekly “Wild Kingdom” animal show his company sponsored on TV. I remember this visit so vividly, and I recall how proud I felt when my friends said to me after his presentation “Your dad is so funny!” His sense of humor has always been a great source of pride and inspiration to me. After all, I ended up being pretty funny myself. The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. My siblings could give me a run for my money about who is the funniest among us, but I’ll just go ahead and state publicly that it’s definitely me.

John Mayer has a moving song called “Daughters” which is ironic because as a celebrity he’s considered a bit of a man-whore. Never married with no children to speak of. But it’s an incredible ballad, all the same:

“Fathers be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do.”

And this is the most important thing. I can thank my dad for: his influence in my ability to form strong bonds with people throughout my life. His huge capacity to love others has served as a beautiful example for all of us in the family. He has always developed and maintained healthy relationships with family members, countless friends, and his team at work, who adored him, too. He is a favorite person to many. He is indeed at the top of my list of All-Time Favorite Persons. And he is – hands down –  my favorite octogenarian. Then again, I don’t know many of them! …ha, ha! 

Happy #81 and Many More, Papa Du, with love,
Mitch
(aka Meesh to most of you)

5 Things That Keep Me Up at Night

fall moonSleep and Middle-Aged Me have an interesting and confusing intimate relationship.

It’s important to know I’m not including naps in the following analysis. Naps and Me are on solid ground. Nothing will ever get in the way of our special bond. To prove the depth of my passion and agility for napping, I have a paper plate award that declares “Nap Queen” handmade by one of my oldest daughter’s best friends whose mother happens to be one of my best friends. What is a paper plate award, you ask? Talk to a teen or tween or look it up on Pinterest. It’s a thing. And I’m proud to have a precious few of them…

Napping aside, it’s even more important to know about my background with overnight sleep. For as long as I can remember, I have adored it. It came easily to me for most of my life. In fact, I slept so soundly in my childhood and young adulthood that it was difficult for others to wake me up or for me to wake myself up. This is the primary reason I was the only nerd in detention doing my homework during high school. One too many morning tardies and my first period teacher threw the book at me. Except it was a pink slip, and it declared I was due at Afternoon Detention, along with all the thugs who were there for many reasons worse than being 5 minutes late to AP Biology.

So, at what point did my ease for sleep change? I will exclude the many years of interrupted sleep with babies, toddlers, and young children in my 30’s. Even then when I was up multiple times per night, I never had a problem drifting right back to sleep. No, my habits did not truly shift until 13 months ago when my life truly shifted.

Without going into great detail, that’s when – at age 45 – I began a chapter of enormous life metamorphosis. Separation, Divorce, Shifting Children Back and Forth, Packing Up the House We Lived in for 11 Years, Moving to the New House, Figuring Out Financial Things, Settling into the New House, Starting Freshman Year for the Older Half of The Precious Pair…and here we are in September on the brink of Fall 2019 – and it’s my favorite season. I don’t remember much about Fall 2018, so I’m really looking forward to it this year. Maybe with the crisper air and the calming sounds/smells/sensations that come with October, I will experience better sleep…

But currently and typically, my overnight pattern looks like this: I snooze soundly for the first 3 to 4 hours each night. The waking and staying up usually happens between the hours of 1 am and 5 am, but in varying blocks from 5 minutes at a time on the low end to a max of 3 hours at a time. Most nights, I simply lie in bed, shifting around, thinking. On some nights, I fall prey to grabbing my phone. Always a bad idea and never conducive to falling back to sleep. On other nights, I get up and do something. I might write a blog. Or clean a room. Anything that feels productive.

Recently, I’ve started thinking about why this keeps happening. After all, I am on the other side of all those transitions I mentioned. So, why can’t I sleep normally again? Here are five reasons I have identified:

Yes, (Some) Fear & Worrying.
This is where the pattern started, for sure, 13 months ago — with great concerns for my livelihood. And for my children. And, yes, even for my ex. For the latter half of last year and the first quarter of this year, I lived in a state of fear and worry, day and night. I’ve come a long way since then. At times, new and different concerns come creeping in, but they do not consume me anymore. Yet they can still rob me of some sleep. I highly recommend a worrying stone by your bedside. I recently received one as a gift, and I’ve since gifted the same to my daughters.

Too Many Ideas.
I am a creative type. Thus this blog. I also work by day in a role within Marketing/Communications/Advertising. I am a powder keg of ideation most days, all. damn. day. I curse here because this is somewhat of a curse for me. It’s tough to calm my brain. It runs constantly like a garden spigot you can’t seem to switch off. (Yes, the running water is not only an analogy, but a real-life challenge right now. I need to call somebody about this.)

Too Much Caffeine.
A dear friend of mine recently staged a semi-intervention with me about my coffee intake as part of a detox plan she’s recommending. I explained to her I cannot possibly give up caffeine altogether. But I have agreed to go from a Venti to a Grande daily, cutting out a whopping 4 ounces of coffee; usually Starbucks. (Have you heard about the largest Starbucks in the world opening in Chicago in November? It’s as if the Mother Ship is calling me there! I MUST go.)

Maybe My Needs Have Truly Changed.
My nightly norm seems to fall in the range of 5 to 6 hours of sleep. If I get any more than that, I feel completely exhausted, all day long. This leads me to believe that my need for sleep has decreased in its duration. Less is more, they say. Maybe this now applies to sleep for me.

Yes, (Plenty of) Overwhelming Joy!
I read a quote recently that said maybe we can’t always sleep at night because our current reality exceeds even our best dreams. And this is the reason I like to think about the most. Making it through all the dramatic changes of this past year has led me to a new place and new people and new emotions. I’ve also experienced renewed relationships and communications with beloved friends and family members. So there are nights when my mind is racing with happy thoughts, and it can be tough to quiet those, too.

But I am on a mission for better sleep by changing some habits, such as having an earlier bedtime, taking small doses of melatonin, limiting my phone time at night, and reading more from actual books with hard covers and paper pages. Print is not dead! Especially to us writers. Most of us want to hold a real book in our hands. Don’t you? (I ask this while you are reading a blog on an electronic device!)

One thing is for sure…even though it’s unpredictable, I still love my sleep. I crave it. I enjoy it. In fact, I treasure it. And I appreciate it more now than ever before. One of my favorite quotes is an Irish proverb: “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” If something is bothering one of the Precious Pair, I simply prescribe her a night of sleep. All problems seem smaller in the morning light.

And the laughter part? Well, no matter how tired I get, I laugh a lot every day, and I love to make others laugh. Nothing feels better. Except maybe a good nap.

Don’t let the bedbugs bite,
Meesh