Saturday, May 30, 2009

Expect the unexpected

We all grow up with some idea of the framework on which we'll build our lives. I'm not talking about hopes and dreams; I'm talking deep background. We might dream of being an astronaut, but unconsciously we assume that when we get back from our spacewalks there'll be a husband or wife, two-point-two children, two cats, and an aquarium. We aspire to win an Oscar, but we assume we'll display it on the mantelpiece of a brick fireplace in a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house on a shaded, Midwestern street. We hope to enter politics one day and to serve a term or two in the United States Senate; of course, it will be the great state of Iowa which will elect us to that post.

But in my experience, the framework is as subject to the whims of fate as are the dreams and aspirations. So here are a few aspects of my life that I never expected:

I never thought I'd live in California. I thought the farthest away I was likely to settle from Iowa was Minnesota or, possibly, Colorado. And yet here I am in a house we've owned for twenty-five years, in a town ten miles from the Rose Bowl and so close to the San Gabriel Mountains that north and uphill are synonymous. Two of my three children and my granddaughter are native Californians. I don't own a coat heavy enough for an Iowa winter anymore, and I can't remember the last time I saw an ice scraper.

I never thought I'd have a baby at twenty. I expected to graduate from college and then to work for awhile. Children were on the horizon - so firmly on the horizon that I had no idea when (or even if) I'd have any.

I never thought I'd like baseball, much less serve on the board of a youth baseball league for five years, learn to keep score!, and be glued to my television set during the World Series. And don't even get me started on hockey. (This is what happens when you have a son who likes to play games.)

I never thought I'd have a baby at forty-two. I was ready to retire from the high-pressure world of engineering to write fiction. I thought I'd get up early and write for three or four hours, take a long walk, chat with my agent or my editor, drink coffee in the afternoon with the other writers, and throw together a simple but elegant dinner to be served in my craftsman dining room after dark. Then I'd write a little more and go to bed. Rinse and repeat, every day for the rest of my life. A baby? At my age? Don't be silly. How can that even happen? (Well, I mean, I know how it happens, but to me? Not in a million years.)

I never thought I'd enjoy teaching middle school kids. Math. For free. I really, really, didn't see that coming.

I thought I'd have a lot more use for formal wear. I like to dress up; I thought I'd have many opportunities to do it, and that it would involve plenty of lace and satin and high-heeled slippers. I had no idea I'd spend so much time putting on the good jeans with a tee-shirt, a blazer, and some lipstick, and calling me 'ready.'

I thought I'd always be skinny and toned and bathing-suit-worthy. I mean, I was, for the longest time. And it wasn't as if anything changed in my diet or my exercise habits. But one day I woke up to the realization that I needed a Victorian swim costume if I was going to continue to swim in public places.

I never thought I'd own a dog. My daughter and I were in the car yesterday, waiting for a light to change, and I saw a pudgy middle-aged lady in a lime-green tee-shirt watch from behind while her little gray schnauzer pooped, and then lean over and pick up the poop with her hand gloved in a plastic grocery bag, and then tie the bag shut and walk on carrying a sack of warm shit like a purse. "Oh, dear," I said. "I've turned into that lady." The only difference? My dog is three times the size of hers.

I never expected to love sushi. Well, who in the Midwest does expect something like that? It's beyond comprehension, until you move to the West Coast. And taste it.

Okay, there you have it: the stuff I didn't know I'd live with. If you're young and you're making plans, I advise you to keep this in mind: life is unpredictable. Stay loose. Expect the unexpected.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm here

and I'll be posting shortly. What with the Recalcitrant Teen (diagnosed with mono just as the AP tests arrived), the garden (cool mornings sucking up my blogging time as I battle vinca for possession of my front slope), the holiday (mountain, lake, boat, you do the math), and a passel of good books (tent sale at Vroman's, sorry, totally indulgent), I've been buried. But I swear, I'll be back. Very soon. In the meantime, Lee Child's last Jack Reacher novel - Nothing to Lose - is fabulous. (And he has a new one out this month which I haven't seen, called Gone Tomorrow. I'll be reading it as soon as I get my hands on it.)

P.S.: ED has been nagging me for a post; here it is. And the Recalcitrant Teen is a) feeling better and b) making much better grades.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Aging gracefully

I just read an article from the 'Living' section of The Huffington Post about aging gracefully - the premise is that keeping the spine flexible through yoga is key. Okay, I can buy that. Flexibility is definitely important to feeling and looking youthful. But I'm pretty sure there's more to it than that.

The model they've used in the article to demonstrate the recommended yoga pose is no more than twenty-eight years old tops, and that's only if you push me. She's slim and pretty with thick, glossy hair. She's doing the extreme version of the pose - the one we all think we are doing, until we watch ourselves in the mirror and discover that we look a lot more like a coffee table going up and down than a cat arching and stretching its back.

So, this model looks gloriously youthful and graceful, because she is.

But let's talk about the reality of aging. Slim - not so much. There's this thing that happens to your waist - it thickens, even while you're eating and exercising as you always did. Pretty - not so much. There's this thing that happens to your face - it sags in places and puffs in others. You get eye-bags and jowls, and your cheeks seem to fall towards your jaw line, which is itself heading down towards your neck, which is so determined to go south that it pushes out amoeba-like bulges which wobble horribly under your chin. Thick, glossy hair - not so much. Your part - should you be so foolish as to attempt to wear a part in your hair - gets wider and wider. And gray hair is wiry and unruly and it doesn't shine.

Your joints get stiff: hips, knees, fingers, spines. You can't get comfortable enough to sleep at night because your newly-fragile body seems to have developed aversions to every sleeping position known to man. And once you've learned to counter that problem by propping various body parts up with pillows, you discover that there's some kind of sleep circuit in your brain which has shorted out.

Your gums recede, which makes your teeth appear to be longer. (Yes, you're getting a little long in the tooth...) This also creates sensitive spots which keep you hopping during dentist visits. And, to add insult to injury, your enamel thins, resulting in a warm yellow smile. You can remedy that problem with those at-home whitening strips, but you'll pay with even more sensitive spots than Mother Nature (that cruel bitch) has already allotted you.

There's quite a lot I haven't covered - your thighs slide down to puddle over your knees and your boobs start getting in the way of your belt; your satiny skin turns to crepe paper; things you used to love to eat make you fart now; and sitting in the sun will turn your skin blotchy brown - forever. Your nails form ridges. Your blood pressure goes up; your libido goes down. First you need glasses to read books; then you need glasses to read street signs. (Yeah, that spells bifocals.) You start to say, "What?" all the time. You have to label all your photos so you can remember your friends' kids' names. Receptionists ask if you need help getting out of your chair.

Now, if doing the cat pose once a day, or three times, or - heck, I'm willing to go as high as twenty! - will reverse these changes, then I'm thrilled to hear it. But I think the real issue is completely different. There's nothing - no pill, no surgery, no cream or makeup, no diet or exercise - which will restore our bodies to youthful perfection. So, in an article entitled "How to Age Gracefully," I think what we need is advice on enduring, on watching ourselves go to pieces with grace and good humor. I'd offer my advice, but as you can see, I haven't got any. I'm stuck at griping about the whole damn process.

Update: I edited this to add some stuff I forgot about.

Monday, May 11, 2009

So now what do we do?

As if this year weren't exciting enough already, Recalcitrant Teen has been diagnosed with mono. Yeesh. All those homework assignments, all those milestones, all that angst - for this? To end the year curled on the sofa, white as paste, unable to swallow around the dragon which has taken up residence in her throat, unable to pour a glass of ice water without sitting down to rest? At this moment, she's still hoping to turn up Wednesday morning and take the AP English Language test. After all, she was sick on Friday when she took the AP US History test, and she says getting through it wasn't all that bad.

I'm waiting to hear from her counselor and teachers. Her doctor says she's had it long enough (we thought it was a cold dragging on) that she's no longer contagious. She can go to school if she can GO to school. Now we need to know if the school objects, and how much flexibility we can expect from those in charge. And of course, we have to see a bit of improvement. It won't do any good to send her to school if she's going to spend the day curled in a corner, asleep.

What a comedy of errors this child's junior year has been. Maybe our next stop will be a brief stint of home-schooling - yet another brand-new parenting experience, thirty-nine years into the gig. Who knew?