The New Peer Group

Recently I joined the YMCA, tried a yoga/Pilate combo class then attended the orientation session required before a personal trainer consultation. I made my reservation, studied group offerings, and put together a few questions.

What I missed was the message that this meeting existed for adults fifty-five and over, complete with handouts and a discussion of course offerings that didn’t require doing anything on the floor. During introductions I shared my interests and mentioned an interval training course I thought might be a challenge. Chair yoga, gentle stretching, and a couple of special aqua classes were presented along with a building tour and treadmill demonstration.

Bundling all adults over fifty-five into one peer group makes as much sense as organizing only one social activity for school children between ages five and eighteen. The year my mother turned fifty-five she decided it was time to sell the house and move into a building built just for their peer group. They were in the prime of their working years, still building retirement accounts, dancing and traveling.  She believed the developer’s advertising about making new friends who were also unencumbered by children and building a rich social life.

My father noted the assistance bars in the bathroom, the lack of entertainment space in each unit, people my grandparents’ ages in the lobby. He refused to move into a senior citizen facility called something more attractive. And continued refusing for the next quarter century.img_5048

It appears that decades after my mother’s attraction to the advertising of an over fifty-five condo, marketers are still lazy about how to identify the needs of those who check the last box in the age question. How about adding a few more boxes? I am glad to be beyond tampon days but am not ready for Depends. I just wanted to know if a personal trainer would think that the interval course was going to be too much of a challenge.

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Santa and the Spirit of Christmas (Spoiler Alert!)

We began an elaborate hoax when our sons were toddlers. Santa lived with his elves in a toy shop at the North Pole. He drove a sleigh pulled by magical reindeer. Somehow Santa brought presents for kids all over the world all in one night. Sometimes I wondered why I was perpetuating the myth, when I would just have to explain it away later.

As little guys, our sons couldn’t distinguish make believe from so-called reality. There was God, who they couldn’t see or understand, Power Rangers who got rid of bad guys, and Barney, a singing purple dinosaur. Why not Santa? Plus, the fiction was bolstered by family, at daycare, in stores, and by songs, movies, and books. The idea of Santa would have been hard to resist, especially since their friends and neighbors were also being indoctrinated. But when it came right down to it, we likedthe idea of magic and spreading joy.

So, we were committed. When the boys mentioned toys they liked, we took note and occasionally reset expectations (Santa brings presents to so many kids. He probably can’t give 160-piece Lego sets to everyone.) We hung stockings and filled them with never-seen-before candy on Christmas Eve after the guys were asleep. Along with the wrapped gifts from us, we set out unwrapped gifts from Santa. We encouraged the boys to leave cookies and milk for Santa. My husband and I enjoyed the cookies, but left one with a bite out of it along with a thank you note from Santa. Christmas felt magical.

Eventually, our sons grew older and began to wonder if Santa was real. Then I explained that Santa was make believe, but the spirit of Christmas isn’t. At Christmas, many people are more generous, more loving, and act better than they have to. Over the years, people have done incredible things in the name of Christmas, like the Christmas Truce of World War I in 1914. As part of my explanation, I also swore my guys to secrecy. They were under strict orders not to tell their friends what they had learned—they should let other kids’ parents explain it. Our sons understood the responsibility and wanted to help keep the magic alive.

I don’t know how our sons will handle the topic of Santa if they have children, but if they carry on the tradition, I’ll be a willing co-conspirator.

On Becoming Easygoing

The Secret to Aging Well? Contentment. That recent New York Times article caught my eye, because clearly I’m aging and with luck, I’ll continue to age for another 30 years or so. My body and mind are likely to take hits along the way, so how can I age gracefully? What magic needs to take place in my mind so I’ll be accepting of inevitable changes, tolerant and easygoing when confronted with irritating people and situations, and content with the many good things in my life, if not joyful?

Hmmm. This might be harder than it sounds . . . . Ever since I was a girl, I’ve had a writer’s sensibility—noticing sensory details along with the quirks and nuance of how people behave. I’ve mentally recorded and searched for the words to describe all of what I see and experience.

For a writer, the capacity for analysis and the ability to think critically are assets. For example, I wrote the previous sentence five times before I found the right words, and I enjoyed that analytical process. I also analyzed the NYT’s author’s choice of “contentment” and concluded that “acceptance” and “being easygoing” would be more accurate word choices for the outlook he is recommending. But who asked me?!?

Because writing has been both my work and my passion for decades, I’ve honed my ability to see, remember, analyze, and define. Yet now the habit of noticing and articulating everything appears to be at cross purposes with the habits of being tolerant and accepting. Implied in my wish to become more patient and forbearing is the expectation that I’ll quit noticing stuff and letting it bother me.

The habits of a lifetime are hard to change. I will probably remain particular about writing. But I’ve already cultivated the power to notice without judging in some of the other areas of my life. For example, one of my friends always apologizes for her messy house. I can see that it is, but I don’t care. Mine’s messy too.

Another friend wears the same three shirts over and over, but I accept that although she has the money, she doesn’t care about clothes. And I definitely sympathize with her dislike of shopping.

Many of my friends and family are passionate about sports, while I remain lukewarm. No doubt the sports lovers are equally baffled by my passion for reading and gardening. They must wonder how I can get so excited about Barbara Kingsolver’s newest novel or why anybody cares at all about plants with variegated leaves!

Variegated

Variegated coleus

Perhaps the answer to my dilemma is to refocus my observational powers on seeing the good in life and finding the words for that. That sounds positive and cheerful, which is how I want to be. Maybe with practice I can flex those muscles and strengthen my capacity to be easygoing and accepting.

I figure I’m still young. I’ve still got a few years to get that right!

Autumn Has Its Compensations

I am fascinated by the pull of the seasons, how deeply rooted my reactions are. After several cold, rainy days, it’s autumn. Suddenly, I want meatloaf and baked potatoes and think about roasted vegetables. I research soups to warm up with instead of the salads I ate all summer. After sampling two mealy peaches, I’m done with my favorite fruit and turn to apples without a backward glance—Ginger Gold and Sweetangoes from the farmers market.

In April, 52 degrees would have made me giddy with delight, but in late September, I’m shivering and resisting, while pulling on long sleeves and calculating how many layers the day calls for.

The steep walk up 50th St. warmed me up and I was grateful that my hands weren’t cold anymore. Only ten days ago, it was 90 degree and humid. I was sticky with sweat during a daily walk and walked after dark because it was cooler.

It’s barely light at 7:00 a.m. and dark by 7:30 p.m. I know we’ll have more warm sunny days this fall. But summer—the long, hot, sunny days on end that I love—that summer is over.

Autumn has its compensations (Apples! Turning leaves! Bonfires!) but underneath it all, is an instinctive awareness that winter’s coming with its cold dark days.

Seen and Heard

Recently, I was reminded that seemingly small moments can have a lasting impact. My mother-in-law told me about her visit with a local librarian. They got to know each other, and now the librarian chooses books for her as part of a library outreach program for people who don’t drive. Although the librarian came only once, her visit meant a lot to my mother-in-law.

Every now and again, acquaintances tell me about a time when something I said or did came at exactly the right time. Often, I’m surprised because I don’t remember the moment and wasn’t aware that I’d had any special impact. With that in mind, I try to be gracious when someone I don’t know well wants to talk. Maybe they need to be heard.

I love good tomatoes and there’s one vendor I look for at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market, because his tomatoes are consistently good. We have a nodding acquaintance—we know each other’s faces, but not each other’s names.

The last time I saw him, he asked me if I liked the Tennessee Ernie Ford song that the market’s musical entertainer had just played. I agreed that it was a good oldie and recalled that a neighbor friend’s mother used to play it on the stereo.

Then the tomato vendor told me he loves to sing, and he sang a little of the song in a surprisingly rich bass. I complimented him, and he explained that when he was young, a voice teacher taught him to breathe properly. Now he shows the guys in his church choir how to breathe so they won’t strain their voices when they try to sing bass.

As I walked away, I realized that after our longer-than-expected conversation, I had a fuller sense of him as a person. I don’t know if the conversation meant anything to him or not. Maybe he needed to be seen, wanted someone to know that tomato farming was just one dimension of his life. Or maybe he was just bored and feeling chatty.

Either way, I’m glad I listened. There’s a gift to me in that.