Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Old Friend

I had dinner recently with a very dear and long-time friend. We’re talking a decades-long friendship here. And even though she was married with two children and I was fresh out of Ohio State when we first met at Ross Labs, we both considered ourselves young and “happenin’.”

Incidentally, if you live in the central Ohio area, you’ll recognize that it was indeed a very long time ago seeing as how the place hasn’t been called “Ross Labs” in years. 

Plus, no one has used the term happenin’ to refer to themselves as being young and with it in, well, forever.  So clearly I’m dating myself.

Anyway. Karen and I used to be the unofficial party planners in our department at work and would find any and every excuse to gather a gang of coworkers together and go out.  Dancing was frequently involved, particularly if I held the decision-making reins.  We’re talkin’ back in the 80s – the big hair, lots of makeup, pointy-toed pumps and linebacker-worthy padded shoulder days. 

And, yes, I dare say…the good ol’ days.

Karen and I have maintained our friendship through many job changes over the years (both) and city moves (me). Through one divorce (hers) and many boyfriend break-ups (mine).  I helped her with preparations for her second wedding and she returned the favor much more recently and helped me with my first.   

So ours has been a friendship that has weathered the test of time and it’s one I cherish. There aren’t too many secrets we keep from one another, although we do seem to have lost touch a bit in recent years. We don’t call one another as often anymore, although I’m not sure we ever really did communicate much that way. But we do keep up through emails.

Once we realize it has been far too many months since our last get-together, we pin down a date and meet. This time it was at her house. I hadn’t seen their new kitchen remodel (started in 2014), or that they only have one Italian Greyhound these days and not two since they lost sweet Lulu last fall.

So we spent over three hours talking and laughing and catching up with one another. Heck, I talked so much I was surprised I didn‘t lose my voice.

But toward the end of our conversation we realized that a significant portion of our chat-fest was spent talking about health issues. Family health issues, our own health issues. 

We talked symptoms. We talked medications. We talked doctor visits. We talked supplements and vitamins and prescriptions. Oh my!

Yikes. When did we stop being The Young and the Restless and instead we turned into On Golden Pond

When did we become so freakin’ old??

I guess Father Time is funny like that.  Or sadistic. Yeah, I think I’ll go with the latter. Because instead of talking about the latest Gucci handbags or the newest movie releases, we suddenly found ourselves talking more about aging, elderly parent concerns and our own health issues.

Not once did we talk about books we’re reading, or the cute shoes she had on, or the gel nail polish I was wearing that doesn’t have to be cured with a light and comes off with regular nail polish remover. You know – “girl stuff.” 

On the other hand, there is something comforting in being able to talk so intimately with someone you’ve known a long time and whom you have trusted from the get-go. You know she won’t judge; she knows you won’t either. And it’s a relief to know you’re not the only one going through whatever it is you’re going through.

So I guess I need to acknowledge that a friendship that has managed to persevere through several decades is going to be a different one than when it first started.

But, like a cherished heirloom becomes more valuable once it’s considered an antique, so too does a cherished friendship like ours.

And, yes, I used the term “old friend” in the title on purpose. We finished our conversation feeling a bit old. But we promised ourselves that the next time we get together, we are going to table the health talk. 

So I’m thinking maybe we shouldn’t even ask each other the question, “How are you?” Yeah, that might be a good start.  Instead, I’m going to make a point of commenting on her cute shoes. 

And the word “orthopedic” will not be mentioned in that query.

Just kidding. She doesn’t wear orthopedic shoes. But she also doesn’t wear the sky high pointy-toed pumps anymore, either!

My orthopedic shoes, on the other hand… Oh, never mind. Didn’t I say we were tabling the health talk?!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Mother's Day 2015

First off, Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there. That includes birth mothers, adoptive mothers, mothers-to-be, step-mothers, foster mothers, mothers-in-law, and women who are like mothers. 

Heck, I should probably also include any single dads out there who have tackled both mom and dad duties. You have to give credit to a guy who can assemble a decent braid on his little girl’s head without it looking like a hot mess.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a category or two, but perhaps I can just include “and anyone else I may have missed,” which is kind of like the verbiage on job descriptions that gives employers free reign to tack on extra duties whenever they feel like it. 

Anyway, the point is, I wish all those special women out there an extra happy day on Sunday.  Yours is a job that is worth a fortune, but pays in strictly non-monetary ways throughout the years – from the infant tightly gripping your finger during feeding time, to the countless hugs and kisses you’ve been given, and from being the first person your child wants to show their masterpiece drawing or A+ test score to the first person your adult children want to call when something good – or bad – happens to them.

Sure, you’ve been given lots of Mother’s Day presents as a reward for all your hard work.
But you cherish the tiny handprint Mother’s Day plaque you received when your child was a toddler as much as the elaborate flower arrangement you received once your child grows up. (Oh, and don’t tell FTD, but she may appreciate the handprint Mother’s Day plaque just a tiny bit more.)
 But no matter how heartfelt our handmade creations are or how much money we spend on mom, those gifts can never repay her what we owe her for the love and devotion she has given in raising us.

Interestingly, she doesn’t expect gifts or monetary rewards. It was simply her job and a role she cherished.  (Well, maybe not so much the stinky diaper changes or the spitting up thing. She probably could've done without those.)

Yes, I realize that I’m looking only at the positive role models and I recognize that there are mothers out there who probably never should have been mothers. But I have been fortunate to have known so many women who were and are wonderful, loving mothers. So this is my tribute to them.

Sadly, I never got to add the title of “mom” to my own name. But I’m a pretty decent aunt and I have been fortunate enough to hold lots of friends’ and relatives’ babies over the years. And I was a heckuva babysitter when I was young, so I’ve changed my share of stinky diapers and dealt with the spitting up thing. But, even better, I got to experience that feeling of an infant tightly gripping my finger during feeding time. And I’ve been given lots of hugs and kisses by little ones. And many of my friends’ kids know me as “Aunt Jane.”  So I’m not complaining.  Technically, I’m even a step-mom to three grown children, although there was never the need to “parent” them. I just hope that they somehow know I care about them and wish them all the best as they go through this life.
So, while I don’t know firsthand what it’s like to be a mom, I am fortunate that I still have my own mom here to thank for all she’s done for me. I can tell her that I love her.  And I hope she knows how very grateful I am to have been her daughter.

But I don’t know that she does anymore. My mother, you see, is dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Whichever it is, it is a devastating illness and my mom is not the same woman I’ve known my entire life.

Yes, I’m very grateful to still have her here with us. I’m grateful that I can call her every week and she still knows who I am. Every week she asks about Vince and calls him by name.  But sometimes, toward the end of the conversation, she might say, “…and give our love to your dear husband,” which makes me wonder if she has temporarily forgotten his name.  

And I wonder when that memory lapse might become permanent. Which makes me so sad, I can hardly bear to think about it.

Our conversations are mostly one-sided these days with me giving her a recitation of our activities. Mom’s responses are usually of the, “Oh, my…” and “you’ve been busy” variety. Her contribution to the conversation is usually to ask about the weather, and she may ask three or four times. Just as she may ask a half dozen times what day of the week it is.

I always answer her with patience and love. I figure that she spent years doing the same when I was young, so it’s my chance to return the favor. I’m sure there were times when she grew a bit weary when her children went through the “How come?” and “But, why?” phase in which we repeatedly asked the same questions. Yet she somehow answered all our questions, which allowed us to move on to the next stage in our growth and development.

Mom still reads the newspaper every day, except that she may re-read the same article numerous times.  Very often she reads it aloud, which means we have to state our comments over and over again as if we’d never said them the first time.  Mom has a difficult time with any changes to their day-to-day routine, so she relies on Dad for everything. And it scares us to think what will happen if our dad leaves this earth before our mom.

My mom was a formidable woman when we were young. Yeah, all five feet, two inches of her. She was intelligent and opinionated – and Mom was pretty much always right. (Back then we thought she merely told us she was always right. Years later I have come to realize…she pretty much was always right.) 

But you didn’t cross her. She had a bit of an Irish temper and we knew not to misbehave or we’d suffer the consequences.

She was not our friend or our buddy. I don’t understand it when people today say their mom is their best friend. Sure, when kids are older, I kind of get it. But “in my day” (uh oh - soundin' like an old person here!), mothers were mothers and not friends. There was a definite hierarchy in the relationship that can’t really be present with best friends.

Believe me, we knew who was boss.  We sometimes behaved out of fear more than out of merely doing what was right. But through that method, we learned the difference between right and wrong and soon we didn’t need the fear part. We just did what was right because we knew it was the proper thing to do.

We also learned very quickly that mom was not the maid. And if we ever forgot that little tidbit, she made sure to tell us.  Emphatically.

Even when we were very young, we had chores to do around the house and we were responsible for our own belongings. Thus, the family room was never cluttered with toys and there was an order to our lives. One of my chores was vacuuming, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t like vacuuming back then because I still don’t like doing it now. (This is where Vince pipes in with, “When do you ever vacuum now?!”) But those lessons learned at a young age have helped me throughout my life.  And I’m happy that I don’t live in a messy home where I’d be afraid to have a friend drop by unexpectedly.

So I grew up in a different time and a different place. Parenting back then was different than it is today. I’m not saying it was better back then, but I definitely think there are pros and cons to each generation’s methods. 

But no matter the era or the method, a mother’s love is constant – and that has never changed.

There are so many times I wish I could still call Mom when something good – or bad – happens. When I want her congratulations or commiserations. When I am sick or need a pep talk, mom is the first person I think of to call. But I usually can’t do that these days as I don’t want to upset her. 

But I do take comfort in the fact that I can hug her whenever I see her. So many people I know have lost their mothers and dearly wish they could give their moms just one more hug. So I know I'm lucky.  

I get choked up and teary-eyed when Mom holds me extra tight before she heads off to bed and she whispers that she loves me. Mom grew up in a generation where you didn't just routinely say the words, "I love you." We were simply supposed to know that we were loved. And we did...but it is good to hear the words now and again. That she tells me how she feels now is even more poignant. I keep trying to store up those hugs and words and feelings, as I know that there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when she won't be able to say them.

Yet I miss those lively conversations I had with her once I grew up and didn’t need the lectures anymore. Jane-the-pacifist would even take one of her great debates – something Mom relished. I pretty much thought they were just arguments, and I knew I’d never win one of those with her. But if it meant that Mom was healthy again, I'd gladly participate in one of those discussions.

So while I miss being able to call my mother and ask for her opinion or advice, I know that I’ve been fortunate to have had her for as long as I have. And, because of her earlier guidance, I pretty much know what course I should take anyway. 

And I thank God for her every day. 

And, Mom?  While you’ll never read this blog (and would be appalled that I’m even talking about you in the first place!), I wish you a very Happy Mother’s Day. I love you - more than words or a bouquet of flowers - can say.