Autumn leaves

I was writing an e-mail to my grandmother this evening. I live far away from my grandmother and don’t get back to visit very often so I always try to include stories and pictures of various things I do in my life. Even though we are far a part I still want her to feel included and involved in my life.

One of the topics we talked about this week was the changing seasons. The weather in both of our areas has now firmly dialed in to “fall”. After hitting send on my e-mail I paused and stared at the e-mail for a very long time. We talk about fall every year but for some reason I couldn’t take my eyes away from the message.

What was it that caught my attention this time?

While I was browsing through writing prompts I figured out what it was. There was a line in my grandmother’s e-mail that I couldn’t shake from my head.

We have to do things slower, and be careful.  Getting older isn’t easy and can be frustrating.  I’m thankful and count our blessings.

I see it now. It’s fall. It’s fall for us, and it’s fall for her as well. The seemingly never-ending days of summer youth have come to an end and life for my grandmother has moved into an autumnal state. Everything must run its course, just as the seasons do. A deep and disturbing realization but one my grandmother is so gracefully able to summarize with a few strokes of her keyboard.

One day fall will turn to winter, as it always does. There will be cold, dark nights that seem unending. A profound sadness. Emptiness. Finality. After the winter will come the spring, a new beginning and memory of all that has come before it, and all that will follow.

I’m not ready for winter yet. Neither is my grandmother. So for now, we will both play in the autumn leaves and count our blessings.

With love, Mia

Nov 4: Today I am thankful all the beautiful memories my grandmother has helped to make.


Raincloud of Youth

The other day I was in an elevator with a customer. We were chatting generally about work.

Him: How long have you been with the company?
Me: A little over 3yrs at this point.
Him: Oh, okay. So… you started right out of school then?
Me: Oh, no. I’m pushing 30.
[awkward pause]
Him: oh…uh… okay.

He apologized for his mistake but I let him know it’s really okay. Most people don’t peg me for more than 12 or 13. It’s really only in the workplace that people assume I had to at least complete college first. That gets me to at least 19 or 20 in their eyes. Sometimes people are even quite rude about it too, which he wasn’t. And, in all fairness, I do look really young.

I used to be really bothered by peoples’ inability to correctly assess my age. So much so in fact that I can, off the top of my head, name five different times that people have jumped to terribly incorrect conclusions based on my perceived age. Three of them happened this month. I just thought of two more while typing this. Thankfully, despite my appearance, I do actually age. That means I’ve learned to better understand other people and my own emotional triggers. This has resulted in me being able to laugh off the innocent mistakes when necessary, and start to assert my professional skills when it becomes an issue of ageism.

Why do I tell this story you ask? Because I think we all deal with adversity on some level. It can be adversity in terms of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, physical appearance, or any number of other things. Learning to handle adversity with grace makes us better, stronger, and more compassionate people.

For me, the most noticeable issue I struggle with is what some people call “the fountain of youth” – what I’d prefer to all a “raincloud of youth”. In the context of this post though, it’s not just about age. I believe we all have our own personal rainclouds that follow us around. Look up and identify what your rainclouds are, and then… grab a thick coat and learn to dance in the rain. 🙂

Oil paintings

When I was 10 my maternal grandmother died. Despite all of the time I spent with my grandparents as a child I have very few memories of my grandmother. Most of my memories are of the circumstances surrounding her decline and eventual death. She was sick for a long time. I remember when my grandfather cleared out the dining room furniture to fit in a specialized hospital bed and I remember later visiting my grandmother at the hospital. It was all very strange and unfamiliar. I also remember our first visit to their house after her death. Most of all, I remember crying at her funeral. I was surrounded by people I had known all my life, mourning a matriarch they had known for all of theirs. I cried that day not for what I had lost, but for what I had never had. I cried because I wasn’t sad; there was no piece of my heart missing. I cried for them and I cried for not being able to understand their heartbreak. What a strange feeling to have.

Shortly after her death my grandfather sold the house (which she shared with three of his children and their families) and moved over a 1,000 miles away. He needed a change in environment and I completely understood. We went to visit him one year, and though his health was starting to fail him, he seemed to be learning how to live his own life again. I was hopeful and I was happy for him.

Soon, he remarried. He traveled back to his children and invited both families to become one. His new wife, Marie, seemed to be a wonderful person and they made each other laugh. It was beautiful to see. She had also lost her previous spouse and I hoped to myself they could help each other work through their recent losses. It seems like they did. Life went on and time continued to pass.

As my grandfather’s health worsened over the years, Marie was by his side. She managed her health and his. Her children supported my grandfather when his own children were unable to make the trip. I found myself hoping that was the type of love he had shared with my grandmother. If not, I was certainly glad he had found Marie. My grandfather died this past year, with his loving wife by his side. It had been nearly 20 years since my grandmother’s death. 20 years he took to build another beautiful relationship. How lucky to have two loves in his life.

Yesterday I found out Marie has been working on oil painting. She painted a picture of my grandfather and she wanted to show it to the family. His smiling face was peering back at me through my iPhone while I was on my morning commute. What a deep and wonderful love they had. You can see it in the way she paints him and in the way the painting smiles back at her.

When I leave this Earth I hope I will have made an impression on someone’s heart as lasting at the impression my grandfather left on Marie’s. ❤

It’s all just a memory – or is it?

I met a friend for lunch today. We hadn’t seen each other in a while so it was nice to catch up. We talked about the usual suspects – kids, spouses, work, our spouses’ jobs, that sort of thing. It seems like at least one of these topics will always lead one of us to getting lost in the fanciful nature of life. Today it was a story about her eldest child. I’ve known her oldest kiddo for his entire life and I have loved watching him grow up. (Fun fact: I 1st met my friend when she was 8 or 9 months pregnant with him). I used to teach in his school when he was younger so I had also had the luck of being able to take part in his day-to-day care. Those days are long gone now but I still consider myself invested and interested in his development.

Anyways, back to the story. I don’t remember how the topic came about but she was telling me  how his memory still seems a little spotty. He can’t always relate events at school as they actually happened but will occasionally bring up events from months ago with amazing detail. This is a pretty common phenomenon for preschool/early elementary aged kids and it is something that always makes me smile. We started talking about how probably a lot of the things he does say he remembers are actually just stories that have just been repeatedly reinforced by adults. Really, we went on to say… isn’t that the case for all of us? How many memories are uniquely made by us and are we even able to tell the difference between those two things?

“When he gets older, what do you think he will say his earliest memory is?” I asked her
“You know what,” she said, thinking distantly “I don’t actually know. That will be interesting to see”.

We continued to talk for a bit about how far back we think we have legitimate self-made memories and what sort of stories we were told, or what documentation our families had for us to be reinforced with. We both agreed that we have little to no actual memories before the age of 4.

“You know what that means, right?”
“What?” she looked at me curiously
“That means, when he gets older… he won’t remember any of this. The little boy we have known for his entire life up to this point… will never have existed to him.”

We both stared at each other for a few minutes. Then we continued talking about that crazy thing we call a brain and just how weird it is to watch a little human develop. It’s such a pure and open look into how a mind develops. It’s almost otherworldly.

The conversation ended hours ago but I still can’t stop thinking about it. 4 years of living and being present… 4 years of knowing, learning, seeing, feeling… In 2 or 3 years the details of memories will become distant and questionable for him. Two more years after that? The memories will be nothing but background noise… if they are even anything at all. How crazy is that?

The human brain is truly an amazing thing.

Glad it’s not in your eyebrows

I was combing my hair this morning to put it in a ponytail when I noticed a sharp streak of white running through my bangs. In a rush of excitement I grabbed my phone to snap a picture. I finally had proof!! You see, I’ve been telling folks for a while that my hair is starting to come in white but since I have naturally dark and curly hair my hair often falls differently from wash to wash, hiding any signs of aging. I smiled at my proof and quickly sent a photo text to my mom:

“You can see the white today!” I smiled like a goon and hit the send button
“Glad it’s not in your eyebrows” she said
“That would be kinda funny” I offered, not being sure what else to say (though I still maintain only white eyebrows would be a funny sight to see)
“It’s horrible” she replied, ending the conversation. Hmm, well okay then.

My mom is not alone in how she responds to my enjoyment of aging. In fact, I seem to be almost the only person who takes such amusement in the changes that come with growing older. When I delightedly show my white stripes of hair to other people I usually get responses in the vein of “thank goodness that’s not my hair”, “are you upset? I would be”, or “you know, you can get some inexpensive hair dye that will cover that right up”. I still haven’t found a single person who holds the same excitement as I do.

Why is that? Why are we taught to be so consumed with changes to our appearances? Why are we taught to fight back signs of aging as though they are dragons. Is it vanity? Or is it simply a fear of confronting our impending deaths?

Perhaps I am just biased when it comes to aging. I’ve always looked younger than I am and I routinely have people question my age and identification cards. — I’m not kidding, I once had a customer refuse to be served by me and she called my manager out from the back room to berate him for breaking child-labor laws. I believe I was 16 or 17 at the time. —  So, maybe it’s my own twisted way of finally getting recognized as an adult. I mean, how many 12yr olds are walking around with white hair? I’d prefer to believe it is a sign of maturity and confidence but, uh, judging by how I couldn’t even write the word ‘maturity’ without laughing at myself… I some out doubt that’s what it is.

Whatever the reason, I refuse to feel embarrassed about the physical aging process. I am me, and that’s the best person to be… even when that person starts to have grey hair and wrinkles. As long as the wrinkles aren’t on my heart I’ll still be happy. 🙂

Actually, now that I’m talking about it, I have found another person who can be amused by my age and appearance… my husband Tony (that’s not his real name but it’s a nickname of sorts so we’ll stick with that) In fact, we often poke jokes about my age. People usually assume he is my older brother so I guess being able to have a good sense of humor about it is a coping mechanism really. We always have a good laugh when things like that happen. Maybe, this grey hair can start to turn the tides in his favor. At this point Tony is betting I don’t make it to 30 before I go full white.

You know what? At this point, I kinda hope he’s right.