Category Archives: Age

Junior High

I hated junior high. Based on my unscientific survey, I believe that makes me part of approximately 99% of the American population. It’s such an awkward time…an in-between age, with none of the maturity or true independence that makes older ages more tolerable.

I have just two positive memories of junior high. We’d moved to a small Kansas farm town at the end of 4th grade. By the time I got to junior high two years later, my classmates, who’d been together since kindergarten, had decided this city girl didn’t fit in, and I’d gone from a confident leader in my old school to a withdrawn, fragile girl with only a couple of other social outcast friends. I did find my old self by the end of high school, even becoming class vice president that year, but that was still six long years away and a distant dream.

My two good memories were being in a play in 7th grade, a memory now badly tarnished by my adult perspective. The other was being in track in 8th grade. I have no idea why I joined the team (in a graduating class of 34, there are no tryouts). You see, I’m not athletic. At all. However, back then our league wonderfully had a C class for girls below 100 lbs, a criteria I met. Our coach put me in the maximum number of events each meet, each of which I was equally terrible at. I was a generalist, competing in any event which required no real skill (hurdles and pole vault were out of the question). My “specialties” were the long jump, shot put, and the mile. The last two were particularly ironic. I was literally the 98 lb weakling pitching the shot all of a few feet, and I was an asthmatic who usually had to walk the last third of the mile. I remember a classmate once asking me at the end of a race why I didn’t just run the rest of the way? I was too busy wheezing and gasping to answer her. Yet those were my glory days! You see, in our tiny 2A league, most teams put up few or no C class competitors. I took 1st or 2nd place in all of my events all year. We took first place in league that year, significantly helped by my performances (the league abruptly eliminated C class the next year). It was my first step back on my journey to finding myself.

But the bad memories vastly outnumber the good ones. Struggling to find someone to sit next to at lunch or on the bus. Being asked to exactly one dance at homecoming, by my best friend’s boyfriend—a pity dance. It didn’t go well. I tried to lead, not knowing that I was. And one day in English, taking a couple of minutes of kids laughing to realize they were laughing at me, and a couple of more minutes to figure out why:  someone had put a “kick me” sign on my back. I never learned who.

I’ve come out on the other side. Within a few years, I realized that my own self-absorption of that time, which made me agonize over every “stupid” thing I’d said or done, was matched by equal self-absorption of the others, who forgot anything I’d done within minutes. And I met the love of my life who helped rebuild my confidence by loving me for who I am. I long ago forgave whoever taped that sign on my back. More importantly, I’ve forgiven me.

“And if I asked you to name all the things that you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?”  —Unknown

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New


The pads on our 6-month old puppy’s paws are still soft and pink. My husband said it’s because life hasn’t had a chance to wear them down yet, because she’s still a “new dog”. I like that concept:  “new dog”. If you think about it, we were all once new ourselves.

Puppies are such a gift, so pure and innocent. Ours has only five states:  streaking through the yard at top speed; playing; cuddling; afraid that she’s in trouble; and asleep. Life is very simple for her, and it’s refreshing to watch. Her few moods are highly contagious, especially her joy and love. She’d wormed her way into all of our hearts by her second week here. She’s easy to love.

Just as her paw pads will eventually wear down as she gets older, it’s easy for us to get worn down the farther we move away from being “new”. Life has a way of wearing on you, if we let it, even robbing us of our joy. That’s why I love having a puppy in the house again, even though she’s destructive and expensive. Her innocent antics make me smile and remind me of when I, too, was new. She gives the priceless gift of joy.

“If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment.”  –Carlos Santana


As Good As It Gets


This is my favorite movie title. The Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt movie is pretty good, but the movie title is awesome; it’s become a sort of life’s motto for me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been unbelievably blessed. I’ve got three really cool kids with my high school sweetheart; I have a job I love and colleagues I like; and we don’t have big money worries. I realize how few people can say all of that. Yet life is still challenging. I struggle, just like everyone does. Some of my struggles are obvious even to those I know only casually, while others are known only to family or very close friends. Sometimes I get really weary…no one goes through life without baggage or scars.

But I also know how good I’ve got it. I may get tired and stressed, but I wouldn’t trade my life and problems with anyone. I thank God for every day, and pray for His help to be better and stronger tomorrow. This is definitely as good as it gets.

“I think I’ve discovered the secret of life. You just hang around until you get used to it.”  –Charles M. Schulz


Weary


The older I get, the more weary I get.  I don’t know how to fully explain it, and I don’t mean that I’m more tired (though that’s true, too).  I mean weary, like not just in my bones but in my soul, too.  It’s not a good feeling, yet somehow it’s not totally bad, either.  It’s almost familiar, even though it’s new, like somehow it was inevitable.  I’m at the stage now where I’m working to decide what it means, and more importantly, what to do with it.

While I think that a small part of it has to do with the realization that I’m now unquestionably in the back half of my life, this isn’t a mid-life crisis.  I have a precious family that means the world to me and a meaningful job I love.  I’m healthy and active, and I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in my life spiritually.  No, it’s more than that.  It feels the most like more of a vague realization that life is just flat out a struggle, and there’s too much suffering in the world.  This loony election season hasn’t helped any, but this is way bigger than any political outcome.  I just get weary.

I get weary of the polarization and seemingly unreconcilable divide in our country.  I get weary of the need to hand money and a blessing out of my car window to the homeless.  I get weary of seeing the photos and hearing the stories of especially children fighting horrific diseases for their very lives.  I get weary of politicians acting in what is clearly their own best interest over those who elected them to serve them.  I get weary of layoffs and domestic abuse and addiction and racism.  It becomes overwhelming.

Yet when it seems like just one more all-too-human story may knock me down, another story…an offsetting story of hope… shines through.  The amazing part is it usually only takes one of the good ones to counter many of the bad ones.  That’s the power of good, of love.  From those small, shining nuggets of hope, I get the strength to carry on.  Even though I am weary.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  –Galatians 6:9


Uncanny

Do you know who this man is? Neither do I, but I feel like I should. This picture popped up when I Googled the tiny cemetery in rural Oklahoma where my great-grandparents are buried. It’s the spitting image of my great-grandfather, but it’s not him. Great-grandpa lived to be 100, and I was blessed to know him as an adult. Humans are hard-wired to recognize those we know. Though the resemblance is uncanny (my mother says “amazing”), I know it’s not him.

So who is he? The Internet associated him with a country cemetery of maybe 350 residents, of whom I’m related to a meaningful percentage. Plus he’s looking at me with my grandmother’s eyes and her brother’s face…he’s got to be a relative. We have no idea who he is, and there’s no one left who would know. The last of my great-grandparents’ twelve children–ironically their oldest–died five years ago at 100. My guess is that he’s my great-grandfather’s father, after whom he was named, and who’s buried in the same cemetery. The resemblance between them is too strong for him to be anything else. According to his headstone, my great-great-grandfather died in 1925. Anyone who might remember him would be at least 100. I doubt that person exists.

His face has stayed with me since I found the picture; it bothers me that I don’t know for certain who he is. He looks just like a man I grew up loving, a man who attended my wedding. We must be related, yet he is lost to time. I suppose that’s the fate of us all. We’re here for a brief instant, then the day comes when the last person who remembers us is gone. It is sad, but it is life. Already I’ve lost friends and loved ones at this halfway point of my life. Yet I remember. I remember them with fond memories; I will see them again, all too soon. And I will learn who the man in the picture is, and we will remember together.

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”  –Antonio Porchia


Fifty


I celebrated a milestone birthday this week. It was a great day, in the middle of a ten day vacation in Florida visiting our son. We miss him a lot since he moved a thousand miles away. On the trip, we hit a couple of theme parks, swam (a lot), and just enjoyed time together as a family. I had originally planned to let the milestone slip by as quietly as I could, having snuck out of town for it. But as the family time and friends’ birthday wishes made me reflect, I decided to go public.

None of my other milestone birthdays have bothered me, but as this one approached, I found myself wanting to hide my age. As a logical person, that makes no sense…fifty is only one more than forty nine, and I was fine with that one. The illogic of my reaction made me decide to face it, because something’s obviously bothering me about it.

I don’t fully understand what it is. We hear (and say to ourselves) that age is just a number, and that we’re only as old as we feel. I’m not scared of dying, and my genetics say I’m barely over the halfway mark. I don’t have many regrets. My best guess is that, even with a lot of life likely left, I still feel like I’m somehow close to done. Of course that’s ridiculous, because the only thing I’m remotely close to done with is work, and I am looking forward to that. I just have no idea what I plan to do next, though I know I will do something. Perhaps this is just another example of my bad habit of trying to look forward too far, to plan too much. Since I can’t see around the next big corner, I shouldn’t even try. Instead, I’ll just have to keep working at living in this moment of my life. It is, after all, a pretty good one.

“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”  –George Burns


Time

I don’t know where the time has gone. We’re creeping up on Megan’s 17th birthday; later this summer her kid sister will follow her siblings into teenagehood. Seventeen. It sounds so near-final. I know I shouldn’t look at it that way, but it’s hard not to. Her brother left home a year older and never came back. No boomerang kid, no summers and Christmases back home the way I’d reassured myself it would be. He simply walked away, shoulders back and unblinking, straight into the sun and his future. Of course I’m proud of his independence and happy that he’s happy, but weekly phone calls and annual visits are no substitute for hugging him goodnight every night.

It’s impossible to say what path the girls will take. Our own journey would have been unbelievable at that point in our lives. We all must find our own direction, stumbling and feeling our way, getting extraordinarily lucky sometimes, falling face first into the pavement others. Our scars either make us hole up and hide away, or they leave us stronger…limping and bruised, but wiser and more certain of what we believe in.

I am just as optimistic about our girls’ futures as history has proven  that I was right to be about our son. They are optimists. They know how to laugh. They are smart. They are so very strong and independent…I never worry that they’ll allow themselves to be taken advantage of by anyone. But I also know that they will make mistakes…some big…and they will get hurt. And I will continue to hurt when they do, just as I always have. Except that I won’t always be right there to rub their backs and say soothing things to help make it better. I will have to count on who they have become to get them through from here. I know I won’t be ready. It’s a good thing that they will be.

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”  –Denis Waitley