This is me. This time next year. I guarantee it.
Life has a real sense of humor. Sometimes it throws you a little curve ball that can be manageable albeit inconvenient, and other times it tosses you a big, fat, unexpected pile of crap without any means to remove the offending garbage that now sits at your feet. You are unable to walk around it, you can’t climb over it, but rather, the only solution is to slowly chip away at that dismal mountain, before you can walk through the pain in order to gain some sense of life again.
I didn’t intend to start my first blog article in over a year referring to “a pile of crap,” but when I tried to summarize the health issue I was suddenly confronted with over three years ago, well, the first thought that came to my mind was, “It’s been a shitty couple of years.”
Now that I have had some time to sit back and dissect exactly what happened, well, it’s hard to put a clear perspective on my illness, even to this day.
Polymyalgia Rhuematica (PMR) attacked my muscles and joints literally one evening while I slept. I went to bed feeling healthy and strong, yet woke up the next morning and struggled to move my legs without crippling pain. You know that feeling you get the morning after running a marathon? Yeah, well neither do I. So I convinced myself I must have exercised too hard the day before. But then I remembered that was impossible as well. Yet my legs felt strangely heavy and refused to cooperate with me when I attempted to get out of bed. None of this made sense. So, I put it in the back of my mind as my symptoms eased throughout the morning.
However, as the days and weeks wore on, the pain steadily spread up to my hips, arms, and finally my neck and shoulders. Walking was difficult, bending over was excruciating and lifting my arms over my head was a movement I could no longer consider. Much like the nervous anticipation you feel just before jumping in a pool of cold water, and the stunned moments immediately after you submerge yourself, was how I felt every time I needed to maneuver my legs to get into a car, to roll over in bed, to stand up from the couch, even putting on my shoes. Every movement became a painful shock to my once healthy and active body.
Because I thought it was a simple virus, because I had so much going on, BECAUSE, BECAUSE, BECAUSE, I put off going to the doctor until I simply couldn’t take it anymore. Stupid. Mistake number one. Why is it that, as mothers, we anxiously take our children to see the pediatrician the second they sneeze, but we disregard our own selves when we feel ill, tired or anything else for the matter? Apparently, I missed the lecture where you need to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help others.
Yet, I was fortunate. Unlike many patients who wait months for a proper diagnosis, my very good doctor detected my problem almost immediately. A leading arthritis specialist, who initially denied I had PMR because I was considered too young, confirmed my illness a few days later. Apparently, PMR is very common in men and women over 70. I was 49. In his 25-year career my new doctor, who would care for me for the next two years, had only seen one other person under 50 with PMR. Lucky me. I have since learned that this condition has many younger patients than I was lead to believe.
So with a prescription for prednisone, along with the comforting words that my condition could last anywhere from “two weeks to ten years,” and that I may experience weight gain, insomnia, hair loss, mood swings, and in rare cases, blindness, I was sent on my merry way to try and figure out my new normal.
No one knows what causes PMR. It’s a viral condition that physicians feel is associated with the immune system, genetic factors and stress. Okay. That last one made sense to me. Stress and I were, and continue to be, good friends. We know everything about each other. It wakes me up at night sometimes to say hi. We often walk hand in hand and call each other just to check in. And on that one August morning in 2011, my friend “Stress” decided I needed a little reminder that it wasn’t too far away.
PMR doesn’t ever really go away, but the steroids helped ease the often unbearable soreness. While the inflammation in my joints lessened, other problems occurred, such as a physical and mental fatigue so severe that having a colicky baby (which I experienced thanks to my first born) seemed like a walk in the park. I spent many days in bed when sleep was impossible the night before. Because it was extremely painful to roll over or pull up an extra blanket, there were too many evenings where I would go to bed and stay in the same position the entire night. Every little movement had to be thought out and sometimes hyperventilated over before I held my breath and finally plunged in.
After several difficult years under my doctor’s supervision, I was finally and gratefully weaned off my medication and months later declared in remission. While I do have flare-ups, and the PMR has not completely left my system, Advil has now replaced my steroid intake. I may still walk funny at times, as it takes me longer to move my legs after sitting, and I still have trouble lifting my arms over my head, but I am hopeful the worst is behind me.
During my illness, I forgot what it was like to live pain free. Even to this day, PMR crosses my mind all too frequently. I still re-think my steps, and look for elevators until I realize this is no longer required. But it wasn’t just the physical setbacks that plagued me. Ask anyone living in chronic pain and they will tell you that it affects your mental health as well. Depression and PMR go hand in hand for the vast majority of sufferers. I was no different. While mine was controllable, there were some days that stretched into several where living with PMR got the best of me – days where you lack any kind of hope that your body will repair itself. You feel old, tired and ugly when all you want to feel is healthy, active and engaged.
But today, I’m optimistic. After hard work, good doctors, a loyal and caring circle of family and friends around me including an online support group and yes, lots of faith and patience, I was able to plow a trail through that pile of crap and reach the other side.
What happens when life suddenly stands still, and you are confronted with something of which you have no control? What does one do when faced with long days sitting on a couch or lying in bed besides watching bad television? Hopefully, you learn something. And I did.
Joy is hard to find when you live with chronic pain, but today, no longer tied to my bed or hobbling around like a woman twice my age, I now take extreme happiness in a lifestyle I once took for granted. What I considered important before my diagnosis is no longer. Material possessions mean very little. My new saying is: “Stuff is stuff and more to dust.” Most of what we gather has absolutely no bearing on who we are. Kind words, good deeds, a warm smile, meaningful conversations and experiences leave a bigger and lasting impression than anything you buy at the mall.
And while this has taken longer to embrace, I am learning to simply let go. Yes, as I mentioned, “Stress” and I are still in touch, but I try to remember that worrying is nothing more than a waste of time and a lack of faith. My life can no longer be focused on the “what if’s” or the anxiety I feel when I am not in control. When my children can’t (or won’t) answer a text within five minutes, I try not to imagine them in a ditch. If clients ask me to revise an article, I’m not going to assume they will write me a bad review. Worry never solves anything, and when encouraged, it spawns a life of its own. I dwell on the present, because we are not promised anything other than today.
Thanksgiving is by far my most favorite holiday. You won’t catch me desperately wrapping a last minute gift with newspaper and masking tape nor dealing with frantic children who decide to change their Christmas list on December 24th. Instead, we celebrate gratitude. And while everyone has a story to tell about their crazy cousin, the overcooked turkey or Grandma’s traditional, yet infamous, fruit cocktail and green Jell-O salad, by and large it’s a day to surround yourself with those that mean the most to you while overindulging in an abundance of food.
But for too many families, Thanksgiving is not a day for celebrating, but rather surviving. Currently there are over 16 million children in America that live in food insecure households, homes that do not have consistent access to food. In my day our parents would tell us to clean our plates because “There are starving children in China!” Today, that hungry child could be sitting next to your son or daughter in class. You want to know what is scary? A recent survey said that 73 percent of our teachers regularly see students that “are too hungry to learn,” and this is posing a “serious issue” to our classrooms.
A blog I occasionally read, Scary Mommy, has created a way to help those struggling parents provide their children with a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The details are all available at the site, but through November 15, you can sponsor a family this holiday so one less child goes hungry. All proceeds, 100 percent, go to a deserving family so they may also have a day where a meal can be enjoyed and savored.
As a parent, I can think of nothing more horrifying than being unable to feed my children. But too many parents, particularly single mothers, struggle with this daily. With all the excess we have in this country, hunger should never be the growing problem that it is now.
Sometimes life’s most important and significant lessons gently tap you on the shoulder when you least expect it, but need it the most. I think about this today especially, because ready or not, holidays and resolutions are just around the corner.
Meet Virginia. Her family recently hired me to write her memoirs. She is a 92-year-young woman who was born before Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic, “talking” pictures were years away from being released, and penicillin had yet to be discovered. She grew up during the Great Depression, later worked for the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover and married her husband one week before he left for World War II. Other than written correspondence, she didn’t talk to him, or see him, for the next three years. Her stories are fascinating and her message is clear: We have it easy. Oh, and by the way, she wouldn’t trade places with any of us.
“I am so grateful I grew up when I did.” Virginia recalled to me. “We couldn’t even buy a five-cent ice cream, yet I had everything I needed, just not everything I wanted.”
While putting Virginia’s life on paper, I came across another remarkable, yet totally different story as I was browsing the bookstore recently. In her extraordinary book, “My Year of Living with Joy,” Susan Spencer Wendel, a wife and mother, learned at the young age of 44 that she had Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS. As we know, this debilitating disease has no cure and most who are diagnosed live less than five years. Yet her story is anything but depressing. Rather, she describes how she learned to embrace every moment of what was left of her life. Wendel arranged special, meaningful trips for herself and husband as well as individual vacations with each of her children. She wrote letters, recorded stories and songs to her children while her voice was still strong and completed the scrapbooks she had long put off all while focusing on life’s still present opportunities. And to top it all off, she wrote this remarkable book with her one good finger on her iPhone. All 87,000 words in four short months. What inspired her? She chose to live by the quote of Lao Tzu:
“Be content with what you have
Rejoice in the way things are.”
The point of this article is that I have encountered two women, with two different stories, but a similar message: It’s not “things” that create a memorable life. It’s experiences. It’s memories. It’s attitude.
This year, my family and I have made drastic changes in our household. We are getting rid of “stuff.” We are moving and downsizing and following the leads of Virginia and Susan because it feels right and it’s time. Birthday and holiday gifts are being replaced with adventures and making memories. My birthday this year was celebrated in Seattle and walking through the gorgeous gardens in Ballard, a place up until our weekend away, I didn’t even know existed. My husband, who has long wanted to hike the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, completed his dream just a few short weeks ago. We are making it work.
It’s funny what can suddenly prompt one to take action. Maybe this is what happens as you grow older and children start leaving the nest. While parents dread that day, I’m here to tell you that it also brings about some amazing gifts. You recognize that it’s not what you have in life, it’s what you take away. It’s not yearning what is missing, but focusing on what will add joy. And changing a lifestyle and trying new things doesn’t take courage, it really takes desire. I think the true meaning of happiness is realizing that you can be joyful without the things you thought you needed. I’d like to thank Virginia and Susan for reminding me of this simple, yet again, much needed reminder.
Just for today….
I want to stay in bed, watch Diane Keaton movies, play Angry Bird over and over, and start one of the many books I can never find time to read. I want to nap when the mood strikes and not have anyone call my name, wonder where I am or shout for toilet paper.
Just for today….
I want to ignore the grocery list that has been taped to my pantry door for a week, the expired milk in the fridge and the fact that my son’s school lunch today consisted of a jelly sandwich on a hot dog roll, potato chip crumbs, a handful of maraschino cherries (would that qualify as a fruit?) and carrot sticks that bend. I want the world to know that if you think his lunch was bad, wait until you see dinner.
Just for today….
I want my phone to stop ringing, the texts to stop buzzing and the emails to stop coming from people asking me for anything that even remotely requires any bit of energy. I don’t want to look for my checkbook, check my calendar, verify the last four digits of my social security number and absolutely not take a brief moment to help you with your survey.
Just for today….
I want the faucet to stop dripping on its own, the dishwasher to empty itself, the clothes miraculously folded and put away in the correct closet and my bills returned to me with a kind note that says, “Thanks, but this month is on us, Sincerely, your mortgage company.” I want to walk around my house and maybe, just maybe find a room that doesn’t look like Hurricane Sandy stopped by here before heading to the East Coast. I want the leaves from the entire neighborhood to stop falling in my front yard and the bag of spring bulbs I bought over two months ago to cease begging for my attention whenever I walk outside. Who wants to dig freezing soil anyway?
Just for today….
I want to hear more “thank you’s,” “have a good day,” and some sort of acknowledgement that when I let you take the parking spot that I have been waiting for, you will at least give me a friendly wave and maybe even a little nod. I want cars to stop honking (I really didn’t see you!), the light to stay green when I’m running late for an appointment, and the person in front of me in the Express Lane to really have 15 items or less. I want my prescription ready when it’s supposed to be and the cable guy to show up within the first ten minutes of his four hour window.
Just for today….
I’m feeling sorry for myself. I’m not trying to find the silver lining nor am I searching for one of Oprah’s “aha” moments. Nope. Tonight, when my family asks me “What’s for dinner,” I will point to the stove and say, “Whatever you are making. And you will be sleeping with dirty dishes if you don’t put them in the dishwasher.” Then I will turn back to my Netflix, watch “Something’s Gotta Give,” for the umpteenth time and make it a point that tomorrow, I will go to the grocery store, make my child a proper meal and feel better. Just not today.
My mother-in-law passed away in July. While she had been ill, her death was shocking and unexpected. At her request, she wanted no funeral or services so we carried on, handling her affairs and moving forward, just as she would have wanted. And while we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, my mother-in-law and I had a respectful relationship that grew stronger in her later years. I think the one thing that I admired about her the most was her unwavering support and unconditional love she had towards her family. Her children were truly her life and her grandchildren? Well, let’s just say that she was convinced all seven of hers were perfect and everyone else had issues. Yes, she would listen patiently to others discuss their grandchildren, but then she would respond with, “Well, have I told you about mine?” And she was convinced that this information made everyone’s day.
Because she didn’t want any type of funeral, there was never any reason to write a eulogy, but I often felt bad that some sort of acknowledgement wasn’t made. And then my oldest daughter sent me this out of the blue. With her permission I’m sharing it. It’s just perfect.
You have been gone for almost four months now, and it is the longest I have ever gone without telling you about my day.
There is so much I want to tell you, so much I want to say.
I want to tell you that Sean is now playing Varsity soccer, and is growing up to be such a handsome young man.
I want to tell you that Riley is now in college and loving every minute of it.
I want to tell you that I got another internship at the radio station, and I am the happiest I have been in a long time.
I want to tell you that I went to visit your best friend, and we both laughed and shared stories about you.
I want to tell you that my parents and I went to Vegas last month, and how hard it was to not see you there.
I want to tell you that I am a coffee drinker now, just like you were.
I want to tell you I still haven’t listened to the two voice mails I have from you on my phone. And I don’t know if I ever will.
I want to tell you that Dad came to visit me and we had the best time together.
I want to tell you how much I hate the fact that I can’t tell you these things.
But I also want to tell you how glad I am that you are now with your husband and Pat.
And lastly I want to tell you how much I miss you, and how much I love you, but you already know that.
You know, life can be cruel. You spend the last 19 years giving birth to a child, providing endless feedings and then later countless back scratches and lullabies, vaccinations, happy meals, gymnastic, piano, dance and whatever else lessons, because naturally every mom thinks they have a prodigy on their hands. You cheer at every sports game, sit up all night when your child is ill because the flu only strikes long after everyone is asleep. You break the bank and go on family vacations, even though years later your child will swear you never took them anywhere. You throw annual birthday parties they won’t recall either. Just when you have forgotten what life was like before children, it happens. They go and do something stupid. And your life changes.
Your child wants to go to college.
And not just any college, but one away from home. In other words, your child is leaving.
Who makes up these rules?
My middle child is leaving this week. She drank the Kool-Aid and believes that going to college is something she really needs to do to become a teacher. Go figure. Unfortunately, I may have had something to do with this. Yes, growing up, we encouraged her to go to college. We talked about it ad nauseum in our house since she was tiny. We discussed the benefits and the fun experiences, blah, blah, blah. But now, as she eyes the luggage in the garage, I want to tell her that I lied. I want to tell her that it was all a big joke.
I have tried to talk her out of leaving. I explained to her that college, dorm life, meeting new life-long friends, perhaps finding her future spouse, is really overrated. But she doesn’t believe me. She seems to delight in reminding me the many times I have said my college years were some of the best in my life. She makes known that I am still the best of friends with my college roommates and that I can laugh like nobody’s business when we all get together. For a kid that can’t remember when it’s her week to do dishes, she recalls this?
Regardless of what I say, she is leaving. Her room is almost bare. Luggage is packed and bags from Bed, Bath & Beyond clutter our hallway. Books are purchased and she has mapped out her daily schedule while studying the itineraries of all her classes. For some reason I don’t think I am going to change her mind. So with this being said, I just want to tell my daughter, who is infamous in our family for always wanting the last word, that right now, it’s my turn. I’m not going to give her any final advice. She doesn’t need it. Instead, I just want to say what this amazing child has taught me these past 19 years.
My daughter taught me that you can love your next child as much as you love your first. That your heart can easily multiply and it happens instantaneously. When you didn’t think you could love anymore, you suddenly could.
My daughter taught me that small does not mean fragile. She was born a little over 6 lbs and only 19 inches long, but she was and is one of the toughest people I know. Her determination and strength exceeds her tiny stature. She has shown that indeed, small things do come in large, beautifully decorated packages.
My daughter taught me that even if you have a strong personality, feelings are real. For many, sensitivity, compassion and kindness are often hidden underneath a tough exterior, only to sneak out when needed the most.
My daughter taught me patience. She never hesitated as a young child to say to anyone other than her father and I, “You are not the boss of me,” nor in her high school years did she think twice about challenging you on the absurdity of curfews. Yet she clearly respected our rules and confirmed to me that children not only need direction, deep down, they yearn for it.
My daughter taught me that when you fall, you get back up. This child was the one that was clumsy. She was the one that would drop the full glass of milk at the dinner table, or stumble when there was absolutely nothing in front of her. If you heard a loud noise upstairs, everyone downstairs would say in unison, “That’s Riley.” But she always laughed and brushed herself off as she struggled to her feet. She never sat on the ground and felt sorry for herself nor did she request any help. The words that most often came out of her mouth included, “I can do it myself.”
Finally, my daughter taught me that it doesn’t get easier to say goodbye. In fact, in some ways, it gets harder. As the nest slowly empties and the rooms grow more silent, the next stage of a parent’s life suddenly needs to be confronted. Yes, I had 19 years to prepare for this moment, but it just begs the question, are you ever really ready when your child leaves? While grateful she has this opportunity and that her hard word has paid off, that final hug and kiss are painful. So no, it doesn’t get easier. It is now confirmed that goodbyes are hard.
My daughter taught me one last thing. Be prepared for the unexpected. After returning from dropping our child off at college, I walked into my home to confront the quiet, when I saw that she had left us a note. To say it was beautiful is putting it mildly. To say we read it in stunned silence is an understatement. For this child, who could hardly wait to leave, who started packing last January, she taught me that home will never be far from her thoughts.
For those of you that love summer, that are energized by having your children around 24/7, that thrive on your refrigerator being cleaned out twenty minutes after you return from the grocery and live for sleepovers with a dozen of your child’s closest friends then this blog is not for you. If you bask in the continuous chant of, “But it’s summer! No one has a curfew!” “There’s nothing to do!” and my personal favorite, “What’s for breakfast?” when it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, then go ahead and move on. Read something else, because this is the first week of school and I am going to vent.
I could start this paragraph with a disclaimer, that I love my children and think their friends are great. I do. They are. But this mother is exhausted. If they don’t know they are loved, due to the last ninety days driving endless carpools, preparing meals for hungry kids, staying up too late for countless curfews, then I give up. My attention span is as short as theirs right now. Part of the fun of parenting is creating summer memories, but whoever said they needed ninety days of them was high on something. Now that I am officially in recovery mode, let me say that August is really the longest, cruelest month of the year for me. On one hand, you have television commercials teasing you with back-to-school deals. On the other, you have children sensing the impending doom of homework and early wake-up calls and now insist on squeezing every last minute of fun they can out of the final weeks of summer.
I will be the first to acknowledge that this time of year does not show my best side. I will also admit that I am the parent that does back flips in the school parking lot on the first day of drop off. I have also been known to give my children a polite shove when taking them to school each morning, while barely stopping the car. Friends and I have celebrated with Bloody Mary’s on those first days of school and I greet the teachers with high fives and not tears. In fact, I could never understand parents that cried when dropping off their children to school. That emotion just never occurred to me.
Regardless, and in case you have the wrong impression, I do love summer. I do love having my children home. But I’m tired. I’m worn out. I thrive on routine and the routine I like is when the school bell rings and kids are eating from a school lunch tray.
Because my millions and billions of subscribers count on me to update them regarding the latest trends and fads, I felt it was my duty to read “50 Shades of Grey.” All three books. Twice.
You are welcome.
So I’m ready to share my thoughts and give a complete and thorough evaluation of this latest literary phenomenon, but here is the hard part: I’ve been staring at this computer screen for over an hour. I’m struggling with what to write next. How do I begin? Where do I start? I don’t usually have problems with writer’s block, but I keep reminding myself that my mother reads my blog. My sweet, lovely, “50 Shades of Grey? Is that a paint swatch?” mother. Well hang on Mama and buckle your seat belt.
Actually, never mind. I forgot my children read this as well.
What can I say about 50 Shades of Grey that is PG-13? That’s the problem with this site. I have too many people that I encounter on a regular basis, so often it’s difficult to write what you sometimes really want to discuss. No wonder 50 Shades author E L James didn’t spell out her whole name. Her mom must read her stuff too. So here is the clean version of what I thought as I read about the escapades of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. And let me tell you how hard this is. It’s like reviewing an audio book with the sound turned down. But let’s give it a try.
I like the name Christian.
Ana didn’t seem so special.
I’ve been to the Heathman and it’s nice. But never in the suite. Nor the private dining room. Nor anything else.
In the book, Seattle always seemed to be experiencing great weather. The author is nuts. It’s always raining. Always.
No prenup? Yeah, right.
I kept wondering about the author’s husband. And her son. Then I thought of the fortune she is making and figured they were fine.
Doesn’t anyone ever sleep anymore?
No matter how hard you try, somethings you just can’t visualize.
I get it. Christian smelled good.
Wonder what E L James Google history would reveal?
Not that it matters, but will there be a Book 4? Anyone?
And that’s it. Much like Ana after a long weekend with her Christian, I am spent. I can’t think of anything else I can possibly comment on regarding this subject when I need to watch my my p’s and q’s. But if anyone can get back to me on if there will be a Book 4, I will be sure and pass it on to my friend who was the one wondering. Really.
I really don’t want another dog. I wasn’t even crazy about the one I had.
A margarita tastes like summer. Which is why I drink them year round.
No matter how cool you think you look, no teenager likes to see their parent dance.
A smile does go a very long way.
It is now embarrassingly apparent that the next time an employee at the Clinque counter gently suggests an eye cream, I should pay attention. Especially when they really want to say you need a good plastic surgeon.
It doesn’t seem so long ago when Friday nights and Aqua Net went hand in hand.
Why is it that men will not stop and ask for directions but have no problem using a GPS?
Being organized is completely overrated. But I really wish I could find my car keys.
I would much rather eat pizza and drink wine with family gathered around my kitchen island than eat at a top rated restaurant.
Life just feels better when reading a good book.
It never even occurred to me to cry when I sent my child off to kindergarten that first day. I wanted to send the teacher a thank you note.
I hope my children lead a brave life, yet know the difference between trying something that is really stupid and experiencing something challenging and fulfilling.
While kids will always forget that it’s trash night, they will never forget when it’s their brother’s turn to do the dishes.