I Can Do It Myself!

If a toddler is attempting to button his/her shirt and is having having fumbling finger problems,  asking them if they need any help, ‘Can Mommy help  you.”, is likely to elicit a strong “I do it myself!”.  If you are in a hurry to get out the door with said toddler in tow, this expression of competence may cause impatience, but generally we encourage children to learn how to do things for themselves. Independence and competence are traits we teach our children and we expect from adults. Our expectations of others and of ourselves are often based on our judgement of competency. “Don”t you know how to do ___? Have you been living under a rock? She acts so helpless, she needs to grow up.” But as we humans often do, we may have gone too far in promoting and valuing independence. After all how do we “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”? Is that even possible? 

I fell on my stairs yesterday morning. I think I tripped on my bootstraps! I realized I forgot something and turned to go back down the steps and slipped and landed hard on my right side.  Luckily it was only a couple of steps, my injuries were minor, but my vulnerability meter went off the charts. What if I was really hurt and had to crawl up the stairs to my phone? Or lay there and do the ‘Help I can’t get up.” T.V. commercial. I was safe, but I’m older and weaker and not naive enough to believe I will always be able to take care of myself.  All’s well that ends well right? I survive a natural disaster, or fight off an attacker or heal from a serious illness and I am a poster child for self-reliance. Or am I?  What about PTSD? The “getting through” a traumatic event often leaves invisible wounds that need to be healed. Can I heal myself too?  Even though our first inclination may be to withdraw or isolate, it is necessary to connect with others to heal. We all need validation from others to help us process our emotions.

Children need to depend on their parents to get their needs met, then they can grow up with a sense of security and eventually grow in independence.  Solitary confinement is the most punishing kind of imprisonment, being alone without human interaction can cause prisoners to become psychotic. We need others to be our mirrors, to see ourselves as human beings, others to push against to know we are real. Hearing ‘Help me!”reaches into our heart, our compassionate awareness, and we go towards the voice we hear. There is this sense that helping others is helping ourselves. As John Dunne said, “Never ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Remember the iconic movie scenes where the hero or heroine asks “Who’s with me?” and one hand slowly comes up, and another,  then quickly everyone puts their hands up. Cue the stirring music. We need our tribe.

Whether we’re referring to a cake, a carpentry project or a complex computer hard drive, there is satisfaction in being able to say: “I made it myself.”  Still we had to count on other people to make the materials and supplies we needed to make our personal creation. Our biggest creation is our lives, all the moments between birth and death. We will not survive if there is no one to care for us as an infant and small child, and as we age we may need others to care for us to have a good quality of life. What does aging gracefully mean? I think it may mean that as we age we need to be a realist, recognize our assets and deficits, and live within those limits.  If we need help to move a piece of furniture we can ask for help, and if we have learned how to organize a meeting, care for others, or make everyone’s favorite dessert we can share that. Giving help and receiving help are really the flip sides of the coin of inter-dependence. Quality alone time is important, but it is in the gathering and coming together with others where we find our purpose and become our best selves.

Roscoe, Molly And Me

                                             ROSCOE, MOLLY AND ME       

Roscoe T. Molly G.

Some of you have heard me say  “Roscoe is a hard dog to love, and I love him extra hard.” A mix of Chihuahua, wiener dog, mini pin and ?, Roscoe is cantankerous, nippy, a scaredy cat ( my apologies to cat lovers) and he’s a “barky”dog who’s also got an annoying whine. Right now he is whining and waiting for me to finish my T.V. dinner and set the bowl on the floor so he can lick it clean. He doesn’t know that I leave a couple of teaspoons in the bowl for him. Roscoe is on a diet, actually a diet to help him gain or maintain his weight. He lives and plays hard so burns a lot of calories. So I can kinda justify giving him people food. Entitled and insecure, Roscoe is full of contradictions. He hogs the bed but begs for comfort when he hears loud thunder. He loved our neighbor Larraine immediately, but takes awhile to accept my son Tyler, who Roscoe has known since he came home with me 5+ years ago. When Tyler visits he must woo Roscoe with treats before he will stop barking and settle in on the sofa. Roscoe plays with all the dogs at daycare and has no hesitancy with getting up close and personal with the big dogs. Roscoe is a big brother to Molly, my other little dog, and watches out for her at daycare. Don’t mess with Molly or you will have to deal with Roscoe. Dogs have personalities, and Roscoe has a BIG personality. He stands up on his hind legs and braces himself on my knee and looks up at me with adoring eyes. Roscoe loves me, and he loves me BIG. 

And then there’s Molly, my sweet little dog who weighs in between seven and eight pounds. Molly has a big bark and will bark at a dog 10 times her size. A mix of Chihuahua and ?, she can run circles around Roscoe and can get from the patio door to the back yard fence in a few seconds. She spins when she is waiting to get fed and I am amazed she does not get dizzy. She’s light on her feet and moves gracefully. When she perks up her ears she seems to be all ears, and her eyes are like the eyes of a deer. She gets what she wants with honey. Belly rubs are her favorite thing,  if you stop she will reach out with her paw to get you to keep going. She wiggles her way in to get a space on your lap and even Roscoe has to defer to her. Roscoe rules the roost, but Molly has her share of work-arounds. No matter how hot the day, Molly likes to sun herself.  It fun to watch her dig, as long as she is not digging up flowers. The dirt comes flying out and she is  like a machine. She escaped to the neighbors yard once by furtively tunneling under the fence in an area under the deck. Now, needless to say, the yard perimeter is checked frequently for any suspicious movement of dirt, but she does have a safe, small spot she can dig in to scratch her itch to dig. 

Roscoe, Molly and Me. I’m the only human member of this warm-blooded trio. Who’s in charge? I’d like to believe its me, but to be honest, some days I’d bet on the doggies. I sleep in rather contorted positions because I don’t want to disturb Roscoe or Molly, who own the bed despite the small amount of physical space they occupy. Admit it dog owners— you too try not to disturb your canine bedfellows.  Spooning with your dog doesn’t need to be our dirty little secret!  I usually allow Roscoe and Molly to determine the pace of their walks, but I can override them with my power of the leash or simply pick them up and carry them home. When I say “sit”or “wait” that is what I mean and I expect them to do it  now. They have learned many commands but they have more to learn and I intend to teach them. 

How do I explain how much I love Roscoe and Molly? We are like the 3 musketeers, “One for all and all for one.” I take care of them the best way I know how and I am fiercely protective of them. There are lots of people who aren’t as human as Roscoe and Molly. For their part, they are dogs, but dogs that seem to know when I need comforting,and comfort me, play with me when I want to play, and love me always. I don’t feel lonely when I can pet my dogs. I feel blessed. I’m so grateful to be Roscoe’s and Molly’s human. 

The Paradox of Healing

I was very moved by “Between Two Kingdoms” and wholeheartedly recommend  the book.  Saleika Jaouad writes about her life before cancer and after cancer. Her words on pain and healing are bittersweet and full of wisdom:

“I used to think healing meant ridding the body and the heart of anything that hurt. It meant putting your pain behind you, leaving it in the past. But I’m learning that’s not how it works. Healing is figuring out how to coexist with the pain that will always live inside of you, without pretending it isn’t there or allowing it to hijack your day. It is learning to confront ghosts and to carry what lingers. It is learning to embrace the people I love now instead of protecting against a future in which I am gutted by their loss.” 

Excerpt From

“Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted”

by Saleika Jaouad

For almost five years, I facilitated support groups for caregivers who were caring for people with dementia. I have witnessed the myriad of ways in which people grieve. I have seen the anguish in their faces and heard their desperate questions that had no answers. Pain etched on a sleepless caregivers face. My husband Roger died from dementia in 2015, so I too live with grief. With dementia, a caregiver’s grief/pain begins the day we recognize “something is wrong”, we may not have a diagnosis yet but we feel a loss we may not even be able to name. There is pain and more pain to come as dementia progresses and our loved one eventually dies. The best we can hope for is to travel the dementia journey with our loved one with grace and compassion. Pain is inevitable, we will not escape it, but perhaps as Suleika suggests we may learn “how to coexist with the pain”.

Caregivers have asked me how long grief lasts, and I always answer “Grief does not end.” What do I mean by that? I know if I think that on July 15, 2021, my grief at losing Roger will end, I’ll be disappointed, in denial, and cause even more pain for myself. Grief does not go away. I believe our lives are transformed when we allow grief to mold us, teach us and soften our edges. I think Suleika is saying this when she says healing “is learning to confront ghosts and to carry what lingers.” Grief is not something to tame or control, it will always be wild, but we can learn from it and go forward without looking at it and feeling it every minute of every day. As Suleika says we don’t have to allow grief to “hijack” our days. When Roger died my days were consumed by grief and shadowed by memories, but I still walked the dogs everyday. I made my bed everyday. I loved my son and listened to him and my sisters and friends. I continued to put one foot in front of the other, and sometimes I’d have to stop because I was doubled over with grief. And repeat…

Laughter and humor “coexist” with grief. We can laugh at the absurdity of life and death. Caregivers are a boisterous bunch. All emotions are ready to be pulled out of the quiver of arrows on our back. Grieving is messy, unpredictable and mysterious. Suleika found there are a ghosts to fight with and the pain of the unknown. We can’t put our pain in a pretty box, put it on the shelf and take it down every now and then when it is convenient for us.  There is no “place” to put grief. It is everywhere in the air and water and no vaccine exists to make us immune to pain. When I looked at my son’s newborn face I was overcome with love for him  AND overcome with fear of harm to him or losing him.  I knew there was no way that I could escape the love or the pain. It was hopeless. The act that sustains us and requires  the most courage is loving another human being with our whole heart, even when, especially when, we are hopeless.

You’re Already There

                                          

This last weekend my friend Susan and I took our favorite annual trip to Crested Butte, Colorado for the Wildflower Festival. It’s hard to find adjectives that describe how beautiful the hillsides and meadows are filled with wildflowers of many different colors. On Saturday, we took a hike on Snodgrass Trail and were making our way slowly up the trail, with stops to take photos and just be in awe of the mountains and the wildflowers. A couple were approaching at a pretty good clip so we stepped aside to let them past. As they passed us we heard the guy say “We need to hurry to get there.” and out of my mouth came “You’re already there!” I realized then that we often hurry to get somewhere else, to get “there” when what’s in front of us, right in that moment, is the only real “there”. Surrounded by wildflowers and mountains I was “ already there.”

I have thought about this moment for several days and have asked myself  “How often do I hurry to get to where I think I want to be and trample on the beauty of the moment?” I could run across a field of wildflowers to be on time, but literally I would trample the wildflowers. What happens when I finally get there and discover I don’t want to be there after all? The days, weeks, months and years I spent trying to “arrive” were not replaceable; they were my life’s assets being spent and dwindling year by year. What a mess I’ve often made by squeezing the joy out of the moment in service of some future goal.

What if we were always “there”? We can’t do anything perfectly, but if we could be more aware of “now”,  then “where” and “when” would  become less important. For me, in the moment, it seems I have everything I need. The goals I set for myself can only be met by the many little decisions I make each day. I  tend to be a worrier, but I think this change in thinking will lessen my worry habit.  Worry can make me trample the wildflowers while I obsess, plan and embrace anxiety and I need to remember that dead flowers aren’t very pretty.

The sign says “Consider why you want to go there.” The beauty of “now” may convince you there is no place better to be.

Crested Butte Wildflower

Run, Danita, Run

I use the term “run” loosely because a fast shuffle is more like it. “Look at that old lady kinda running with her two tiny dogs. Doesn’t she look funny?”  Forest Gump had good form at least. The dogs look pretty good as they jog along, but I sure look slow and I’m breathing pretty hard. I keep going for a couple of miles and occasionally encourage the doggies to keep up. I think they may be laughing at me, but on bad days I can hear them cheering me on, ‘Run, Danita, Run”. They are on my side because I feed them and I am their Lord and Master. 

Yep, my profile has been updated to a gray-haired, chubby, almost 69 year old woman. The thing is I’m happier now than I was at 25. I don’t even wish I was 25! This is interesting because at 25 I was sure that 69 year old women were way, way over the hill. If I am over the hill, then I prefer the scenery on this side of the hill. There are “wonders” of aging and I see them with my spectacled eyes and feel them in my heart strengthened by exercise. I believe these are good years for me.

So how did I get here? I followed the straight and narrow path and took the road less travelled. I followed lots of rules and blatantly broke others. I was right when I was wrong and wrong when I was right. I was apathetic and passionate. I screamed and I whispered. I cried in moments of incredible joy and in moments of incredible grief. I won some and lost some.  What has happened to me and the diverse choices I made in the past haven’t delivered happiness to my doorstep. I didn’t follow a path to happiness. Abe Lincoln said “We’re as happy as we make up our minds to be.” and I think he may be right. Others have said“Happiness is an inside job.” It’s not our outer circumstances that bring us happiness,  it’s our inner circumstances. I have many reasons to be unhappy, but I choose to focus on grateful acceptance. My eyes see the same things, but its my heart and brain that interprets how I feel about it. I feel happy.

If you are wondering, I assure you I’m sober and in touch with reality and frou-frou is not my style. I lead a simple life that is full of abundance. I have everything I need and a lot of things I want.  Wishing and hoping are distractions. Most mornings I tie my shoes, leash up Roscoe and Molly and head out to shuffle run for a couple of miles. I leave from my house and always end up back at my house, but in between there is my journey of joy.

The Big SHOULD

If Joe Blow says to me, “Danita, you should lose some weight.”, I feel several things: “That hurts. I’m ashamed. You have no right to say that to me.”  I may hold on to these feelings for awhile, but I can shake them off, albeit with some effort. Unfortunately, the voice I can’t walk away from is my own. In the echo chamber of my mind any “should” is multiplied and echoed exponentially in my thoughts. Whatever the should I’m placing on myself it soon explodes into the big SHOULD. Beneath the weight of this demand on myself, I suffer from a painful pressure on my psyche. I can become vicious in my attack on myself and the adjectives aren’t pretty: worthless, loser, hopeless, powerless, stupid,…. you get the idea. Can this negative cycle be broken?

There is some good news! As I get older I am better at fighting the big SHOULD. My goal is to love myself as I make changes, not withhold my self respect and self love until I accomplish my goals.  If I think I’ll be ok when I can run 5 miles, or lose 10 pounds or get my house perfectly in order, and I then withhold positive regard and love for myself until I meet these goals, I really set myself up to lose.  It’s a what comes first the chicken or the egg type of question.  So what’s the bogey man in should?  A “should” implies that this is what I need to do to be a good moral person; it is a moral failure if I don’t do what I “should” do. 

Isn’t the better question “What do I want for myself?  There is a difference between “I should lose 10 pounds.” and “I want to lose 10 pounds.” It feels different because the locus of control with “want” is internal, and the locus of control with “should” is really from the outside. Someone, somewhere has decided that these are the goals I “should” set for myself. It’s almost impossible to eradicate all the “shoulds” in our world. There is no lack of experts who claim to know what should be done to meet the goals set by every man, woman and child.  

Does “shoulding” ourselves work? Are we motivated to do what we think we should do? It is more likely “shoulding” sets us up to fail.  We simply can’t accomplish all we think we should. Feeling like a failure or feeling shame aren’t feelings that support motivation and change. I can’t shame myself into being successful. If I believe I am flawed and defective because of who I am, how can I allow myself to succeed at any goal I set for myself? That does not compute! Catching myself  in the act of “shoulding” requires me to  be vigilant about what b.s., or big SHOULD, I may be allowing to fester in my thoughts. I can replace these thoughts with more positive messages and self-compassion. I used to think if I didn’t obsess about my weight I would weigh 300 pounds and it was the “shoulds” that were keeping me from this fate. Once I was able to stop flagellating myself for not being perfect, i was able to motivate myself with self-love and compassion. And today I don’t weigh 300 pounds and I don’t think I should weigh 125 either. 

What I tell myself matters. I have to weed the “shoulds” out of my life, pull them up by the roots and let my garden grow.

Clutter And Me

It usually begins in a quiet moment with my eyes surveying my castle, and suddenly, like an itch with an overwhelming urge to scratch, I get this strong feeling—I have to clean, get rid of clutter, get rid of stuff NOW!  I usually start slow by subtracting a few things from my mantel, kitchen table or coffee table. This is the warm up part of de-cluttering. I gather steam and move on to the junk door, my clothes closet or my crafting storage. This morning I was compelled to organize my yarn and crochet thread and to store them in the same spot. I have a shitload of yarn! This is very obvious when I can see it all together. I pick up a lot at the thrift store, and just recently I figured out that if I buy a bag I can take out what I want and give the rest of the yarn bag back to the cashier to re-donate. This is a small step for me to cut back on what I bring home. After all who needs 3 balls of yarn the color of vomit green? Apparently I do!

The amount of clothes and the number of shoes I have is embarrassing. So now my thinking is   is, “If I die and my possessions need to be sorted and gotten rid of will my relatives think it is obscene how many shoes or clothes I had. Will they think I may have been a little weird?”. Sure that both of these questions would be answered with a resounding yes, last weekend I set out to purge my closet by 50%. Bags and bags of clothes and boxes of shoes, purses and hangers left my house and were donated to the thrift store. The number of hangers was testimony to my addiction to always having the perfect clothes for every occasion. I don’t have “casket” clothes anymore, but I am going to be cremated so why should I care? 

I survived without going to the thrift store for over a year during the pandemic. I had enough yarn, crochet thread and craft supplies to keep me busy for the entire year. I lived in sweats and comfortable clothes during the pandemic. Just when I was feeling good that I had conquered my need to have more and more, the stores began to open up. Once I set foot in the thrift stores again, I was off and running on my path of consumption. I was disappointed in myself because I thought I was resolved to live simply and frugally. I needed to remember what I had learned during the pandemic, and my mindset needed to be enough is enough —or wait for another pandemic to make up my mind for me.

 So what did I learn during the pandemic? I learned there is a real difference between need and want. I need food, water, shelter and human contact, but I don’t have “to dress the part” even though I want to. I lived fashionably with my “pandemic clothes”, using just one tenth of my usual wardrobe. Walks and long talks with my friends filled my “social calendar” and my heart and soul. All the “stuff” I had couldn’t protect me from a deadly virus or from myself. All the things in my life didn’t stop my worry about those I loved. I was thankful that I was able to crochet my way through Covid because of my yarn stash, but I barely made a dent in my mountain of yarn that was in danger of an avalanche. I’ve decided my clutter is the rubble caused by my life falling apart. The falling apart is what needed to happen for me to create my post pandemic life. A life without excessive consumption and clutter.

Scam Likely

                                      Scam Likely 

My phone gives me a warning “Scam Likely” when an unknown number or a number tagged as a solicitor rings in. When I see this message I end the call. I like this feature because it saves me from aggravating calls I don’t want and protects me from clever scammers that hope I can be duped.  Why don’t we have phone messages that warn us when we are about to say or do something stupid or dangerous like “ Shut up”  or “Get the hell out of here.”? How about being able to scan a person and get a message about their integrity, like “Lie Likely” or “Trustworthy”?  Avoiding negative consequences with the help of a smart phone which is smarter than I am seems pretty cool, but would I listen?

Remember how your parents didn’t know anything? It seems experience may be the best teacher, but we can ignore our parents experiences because we know “ It won’t happen to me.”. If we have learned Option A  brings the same negative result over and over, then it seems logical we would choose a different option next time. Not so fast! We humans are rarely logical.  If our phone tells us to “Shut up.”, but we are sure the world and our spouse needs to hear what we have to say, we may override the phone warning. We could  think “This time it will be different.”, or “I have to prove I am right”. When I remember to ask myself  “Why am I talking?”, I find I have less to say, and fewer words to eat. It sure would be nice to get a text message reminding me to think before I open my mouth.

Intuition or those weird feelings telling us something is wrong are the “text”messages we get from our sub-conscious. Sometimes I talk myself out of seemingly “irrational” feelings because  I don’t trust myself. If I can’t point to an experience that backs up what I am feeling, should I ignore a feeling based on intuition?  When I say I am getting bad or good vibes, this is what I am talking about. What I have learned is that it is better for me to listen to my intuition. The cold, hard facts may not tell the whole story. The truth may lie in the realm of emotions and sensing, more than in the facts. If all the arrows point West, the best decision could be to go East. We’re often told to make a list of the pros and cons when we are making a big decision, but I’ve found for me these lists are less important that asking myself “How do I feel about a choice? Do I feel at peace with this choice?” Even when I know one path may be harder than the other, I may choose the harder path because it feels right. Still it would be nice, if my smart phone could give me GPS directions so I would know I am going in the right direction in my life. But what fun is that, if joy comes from being lost?

The World Is Flat

                                                               Missey’s Poppy 

      June 18, 2021

I’m at the end of the world.”, my Mother says. She is in late stage dementia so can’t explain herself, but she seemed to be saying she was far away, at the edge of the world and didn’t feel connected with others. For centuries, the perception was the world is flat, and defined by boundaries and edges, which when crossed led to oblivion. Literally and figuratively, walking off the edge of the world was considered a real possibility. In the world of dementia, my Mother may understand more than me who stubbornly clings to  “reality”.

What are the ties that bind humans to each other? A person with dementia is untied from their memories.  “I remember” becomes “I don’t remember.” Without memory we can’t recognize others, and I suspect we can’t recognize ourselves.  If we have no history, no “this is how I got here”, how do we know who the hell we are? These thoughts are more than mental gymnastics for me.  Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about history and “what” history and “whose”history we remember. For example, our history or memory of slavery is vastly different depending on the color of our skin.  If we erase certain historical events aren’t we erasing parts of our nation’s collective memories? Don’t we risk breaking our connections to each other and to ourselves?

We “remember” January 6 differently. To some, it was just a normal day with tourists visiting the Capital, and to others it was an insurrection. We humans are very skilled at seeing what we want to see and disregarding the rest. Denial can erase the truth from our minds, but it doesn’t make it go away. My Mother may not remember that I am her daughter, but I am still her daughter. If we can’t agree on history and even the events of January 6th, what chance do we have of remembering how democracy works?  Maybe the world IS flat….

RSVP: to respond to an invitation, or in French: respondez s’il vous plait.  Everything sounds better in French, doesn’t it? It seems a simple thing, you receive an invitation, a request to be present or participate, are you planning to attend? Please RSVP.  Of course, we humans are not always very good at keeping it simple. Do I want to go to Snarky Susan’s Christmas party? Should I go even if I don’t want to because the party would be good for meeting new business clients? If I don’t want to go what excuse can I give? Or worst of all, I didn’t even get an invitation to the most important party of the year, I can’t RSVP because nobody loves me and I am terminally unpopular.

Johnny, a first grader,  is not asked to RSVP to first grade. He is expected to answer “present” when his name is called. When you have major surgery scheduled, the surgeon does not send an invitation and ask you to RSVP.  You best be present and ready for the surgery. In fact, many medical or dental offices expect you to cancel at least 24 hours before your appointment, or you may end up with a cancellation penalty. If your boss says the meeting is mandatory, he or she is not asking you to RSVP.  Be present or risk being asked to not be present permanently.

The wording on social invitations, like weddings, usually says  “We request the honor of your presence at…. Please RSVP by this date.” So it is the “ honor of your presence” that the RSVP answers. How often do we think our presence is an honor? Or that someone is honoring us by their presence? We are devastated by betrayal from our loved ones, and we say in effect “ … but you RSVP’d and you said you would be present for me and now you are not.” I like the sound of “ the honor of your presence”. How do I show honor to someone? I think it means showing up, and being present for another. As in: “to regard or treat (someone) with respect and admiration, to show admiration for someone or (something) in a public way, or to do what is required by a promise or a contract, or the center point of the upper half of an armorial escutcheon.”  ( Wait!  Scratch that last definition,  because I don’t have a clue what it means.)  So the bride and groom are requesting the honor of our presence so they can honor the presence of each other..  When we are truly present and honoring each other, we have sent a RSVP to accept the invitation to love.

If we are paying attention, life extends many invitations to each of us and we have many opportunities to RSVP, to accept or decline. We can accept the invitations that help us to be our best selves and decline those which encourage us to be less than. Sometimes invitations are sent several times and we may RSVP a different response at different times in our lives. Will you be present and honor your life? Please RSVP.