The Long Slide to the Big M

When I was a teenager, my mother began to go through menopause around the age I am now. The only real information she gave me about it was that it happens to all women, it’s called “the change” because you stop having a period and can no longer bear children, and there are mood swings involved. She was a woman of few words when it came to explaining anything biological.

There are a few important things she left out, however, that I have been experiencing myself, now that menopause is knocking at my own front door, and could’ve used a little insight on what to expect in more detail.

Allow to me elaborate.

First of all, you don’t just go right into menopause. Oh, no. First you get to experience all the joys of menopause – the hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, etc. – before you even GET to actual menopause. This period is called “perimenopause,” and can last a number of years. In fact, I have been in this fun-filled phase of femininity for around 6 or 7 years now. Yes, you read that correctly. My gyno tells me this time can last up to 10 years in some cases! Oh, fun!

Two years ago, I had a hysterectomy, during which I had them take everything but my ovaries. Cervix, uterus, Fallopian tubes – all gone. The only reason I kept my ovaries (which, in hindsight, I realize I really only needed one) was to keep the lady hormones flowing. Removing both ovaries causes immediate menopause, and I chose to ease into it instead of leap into it.

They did tell me that, after you have a hysterectomy, it’s likely that menopause will arrive within around two years. So, there was that to look forward to.

Let me add here that, although the surgery went well, recovery did not, and I experienced enormous amounts of pain and discomfort that no one could explain or fix. A dozen trips back to the gyno (and all the patient co-pays that went with them) and, nine months later, I was finally referred to a specialist who took one look and knew exactly what was wrong: I wasn’t getting enough estrogen. He put me on estrogen patches and (no exaggeration) they changed my life.

Anyway, last year, the hot flashes began coming more regularly, the mood swings more severe, and I was sure this was it. The big M was finally happening. Yeah, no such luck.

Since I have no uterus and, hence, no periods, there is really no hard evidence to point at and say, there, that’s it, it’s menopause. Only a blood test will tell for sure. My blood test at the time revealed that, no, I was not yet experiencing “the change.”

Well, damn.

So, let me tell you about a few of the fun things you can expect as you take that last long slide into maturity (which, of course, is a relative term). 😉

First of all, you will cry. A LOT. By that I mean that not only will sad Netflix shows make you cry. You will cry in the shower, in the car, in the bathroom at work, in the bathroom at home; you will cry when there is absolutely no reason to cry, because the hormones that are having their last hurrah in your lady parts will mess your emotions up so thoroughly, you will hardly know up from down.

In addition to the emotional roller coaster, you will be tired All. The. Time. No matter how much sleep you get (trust me, it won’t be much), you will be tired. And you will be confused. I don’t just mean “where did I put my car keys” confused. I’m talking “how did I get here” confused. I could be driving to Home Depot, a trip I’ve made a thousand times, and forget where I’m supposed to be going.

I have tried to turn off the television with my landline phone, when I had a landline. I have had conversations with my husband and daughters where I literally can’t remember what we were talking about ten seconds later. While this concerns me (and my family), I typically regain my memory shortly thereafter. Although not always.

You will have night sweats so bad that they will wake you from a dead sleep and you will need to throw off all the covers, even if your room is cold. Once the heat passes, you will become so cold that you may even shiver. I’ve had friends tell me they’ve experienced night sweats so badly that they’ve woken up literally drenched in their own sweat and had to change their sheets and clothes. Thank God, I haven’t reached that degree yet.

New in the last few months are the bouts of agida. For those of you who are not married to an Italian, agida is slang for heartburn. I experience this excitement almost daily, typically a few hours before I go to bed. I don’t have to eat anything spicy or drink too much coffee. I pop those Tums like we’re going to run out of them.

The mood swings may also include moments of extreme and sudden anger (which has frightened my family on more than one occasion, as it comes out of the blue with no warning), or you may feel completely at peace with the world. You may sometimes despise humanity and all its evils and lash out, or you may be thanking the good Lord for this wonderful experience called life. The emotional spectrum can be extreme and surprising.

I don’t know yet if I’ve finally crossed over that big life-change threshold yet, but with symptoms coming on faster and more furiously, I can only guess that I must at least be close to the precipice. Other “tells” have included weight gain (yes, I will blame it on menopause!), slight vision changes, and general crankiness with the smallest of inconveniences.

Yet, still, with all of that and more to come, I totally love being a woman. As much as we have to go through physically, emotionally, and mentally, I wouldn’t take back or erase any of it. I almost feel bad for men sometimes, to not be able to experience amazing miracles like childbirth, and every single contraction pain that goes along with it. lol Or cramps! If they could experience cramps now and then, that would be great.

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No Mid-life Crisis, Just Mid-life Adventures

I turned 49 a few weeks ago. Even though I still feel a sense of disbelief at the thought of turning 50 next year (seriously, I was 30, like, yesterday), I feel content. 

Aren’t I supposed to feel some sort of regret at where I am in life at this point? Aren’t I supposed to be lamenting all the things I haven’t done, all the money I haven’t made, all the places I haven’t seen? 

I don’t. 

Where is the mid-life crisis I’m supposed to be experiencing? Sure, I feel a sense of personal freedom now that my kids are grown. I can do more of the things I want to do. I haven’t really traveled more, but I’d like to, and I intend to as soon as possible. There are things I want to do, goals I have for myself, but all in all, I love my life. 

If you don’t know me, you might wonder how I can say that. Well, for one thing, I love what I do. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I am one. I worked my ass off, I overcame “no, thanks” a thousand times, and I accomplished my goal. Do I make a lot of money writing? Hell, no! Sure, that would be nice. It would make the wanting to travel part a lot easier, but no. I don’t make a lot of money. Yet, I’m doing what I love, and that’s a lot for anyone to say. 

I live in a place where I can be at the beach or in the woods or walking around town in a matter of 15 minutes. The natural beauty here still fills me with childlike wonder, even after almost 20 years. And there is still so much I have yet to see! 

I have a family who loves me, and a husband who still surprises me. He once told me that if he were to die tomorrow, he would die knowing he was loved. I can’t ask for more than that.

2018 was a pivotal year for me in many ways. I accomplished things that may seem small to some, but were enormous to me. Although I don’t have an actual “bucket list,” per se, I was able to check off a few things I’ve always wanted to do.

I was hired for a job that I really enjoy, after years of layoffs and let-downs. (I’d been laid off four times in the previous five years, so I know nothing lasts forever. But I’m hoping it lasts for a good long while, anyway.) I get to write and take pictures, and visit places I’ve never been, and meet some amazing people. 

I quit smoking this year, after 33 years of addiction. In what I consider a last act of desperation, my husband and I allowed ourselves to be hypnotized to help us quit, and neither of us has touched a cigarette since. And I will never go back again. I know that’s easier said than done, but I mean it. Although I admit I do miss it now and then, the feeling of that long drag and that even longer exhale, the smell of it makes me want to hurl. So, yay for that! 

I jumped out of a plane this year. This was a three-fold activity, in truth. First, and most importantly, it was a challenge to raise money for veterans in need. Second, I’ve always wanted to try skydiving. Third, I have a true and awful fear of flying in small planes. So, I was presented with an opportunity to take on all three in one fell swoop, if you will. I succeeded in raising money for a worthy cause, I was able to do the jump, and I faced my fear. Unfortunately, my fear of small planes only increased after riding in the tail of that loud, smelly, cramped death trap, and I have no intentions of doing so again. 

After experiencing almost a year of excruciating pain following my hysterectomy in 2017, I finally found a doctor who helped me this past January. This may not seem like a “pivotal” experience, but if you’ve ever lived with serious pain for months on end, with no real answers from other doctors on why it was happening or how to fix it, you’d understand the absolute pure, tear-inducing joy in finally feeling relief. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

Finally, my husband and I took our first “real” vacation without the kids in 25 years. We traveled around Lake George in New York and stayed on Grand Isle in upstate Vermont, just a few miles from the Canadian border. It was a lot of driving, and a lot of camping, and some really beautiful scenery. That’s the longest we’ve been alone since we had our kids. I’m happy to report that we’ve decided we still like each other, and will continue to travel together in the future. 

There were smaller milestones, like my first time driving a Formula 1 race cart, but those were the most important. These experiences all marked me in their own ways, and in good ways, and I look forward to whatever adventures meet me along the road ahead. I have no time for a crisis. Only time to set some new goals. 😉

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Messages from the Great Unknown

Something is happening. I don’t know exactly what, but… something.

I’m one of those people who listens for guidance, from God, the universe, my inner self – wherever. There are often signs all around us, but we’re too busy or blind to notice them. Lately, however, I haven’t been able to ignore the fact that something is happening.

I’ve never been a “bucket list” sort of person. I accept the adventures in life as they come. Sure, there are a few things I’d like to do someday, but it’s a short list.  Yet, within this last year, things have been happening and coming to pass, and I find myself asking why. Why now? Why all at once?

Three things that I’ve always wanted to do are: experience skydiving, get a half-sleeve tattoo, and see the great Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli live in concert. (Yes, nothing earth-shattering. No mountain climbing or swimming with sharks here. I enjoy simple pleasures.)

I never thought I would realistically see Bocelli ever, as he travels the world so much and tickets to his performances can be astronomical in price. Yet, a few months ago, an American tour was announced and I was able to purchase tickets to his concert in Boston this coming December. I still can’t believe it. To me, it will be an experience of a lifetime.

Then, I put in $10 on a tattoo pool at a studio where I’ve had work done (squares were $5 each), for the chance to win $1,000 in ink – and I won. I was able to get a half sleeve worth over $750 – a lot of money I would never have spent on ink otherwise. But now I have it (and it’s freaking awesome).

One day, while scrolling through Facebook, I saw that a former coworker was taking part in a challenge to raise money for a local veterans’ organization. The goal was to raise a minimum of $1,000 and then do a tandem-style skydive. I thought it was a great opportunity to raise money for veterans AND finally get to skydive. And I did it.

So, why didn’t any of these things happen last year, or the year before? Is the universe trying to tell me something? Is something going to happen to me, that I should be given the opportunity now to do all these little things I’ve wanted to do in a short period of time? I don’t know. I couldn’t possibly know. But I do know enough not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Nine years ago, on the day we found out my mother wouldn’t survive the cancer that was taking over her body, she said through her tears, “Don’t wait. If there’s something you want to do, do it now. Don’t wait until ‘someday’.” I never forgot that.

So, until I come to understand what’s happening, if it’s anything other than plain good fortune, I’ll continue to embrace this life as long as I’m breathing, and be thankful for and humbled by the experiences and adventures that come my way. I’ll remember to tell those who are important to me that I love them, and that I’m grateful to have them on my journey. And I’ll remember that life is so short, and to live it as fully as possible.

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Riding in Cars

Being a parent is no picnic – especially being the parent of teenagers. They’re too old to be treated like children, yet too young to be treated like full-grown adults. You know you don’t want them to do anything stupid, like get pregnant, or quit school, or experiment with drugs. Yet, they have to make their own decisions when they’re out there with their peers. That urge to protect them at all costs is so deeply ingrained in your psyche, that letting go is almost like pulling teeth.

This year, my youngest daughter is a junior in high school. She has many friends who drive, and she gets picked up for school each morning and often goes out at night or on weekends to the mall or into town or to the beach with said driving friends. And this, I find, is when I have to bite my tongue the most.

Each time she gets in a car with one of her friends, I’m tempted to remind her to wear her seat belt, don’t distract the driver, don’t get in a car with anyone who’s been drinking or getting high. I want her to insist that the driver not speed, in case there might be a person/animal/obstruction or black ice on the road. I want her to call me or my husband if she needs a ride home from anywhere.

You see, these are all things I’ve said to her a hundred times. I’ve asked for the cell phone numbers of her friends, the make and model of the car she’ll be in, the names of her friends’ parents, and even their addresses. I’ve asked her to text me when she leaves one place and goes to the next. (When I DO get her texts, I breathe a small sigh of relief that she’s OK.)

I’ve talked and talked about the dangers of teenagers in cars so many times, I’ve lost count. And her reply to my warnings is always the same – “I KNOW, Mom.” And I know she knows. So, in an attempt to reign it in a little, lately I’ve just been saying, “Please be safe. Keep in touch with us. I love you.”

Last week, two teenage boys in a local town were killed after crashing into a tree on a dark road. One died in the car; the other died later at the hospital. They were coming home from hockey practice. And every single parent of a teenager who drives, or has friends who drive, said a little prayer. I did.

We can’t hold them back. We can only try to guide them, and warn them of the potential dangers that are out there. That’s our job. It isn’t an easy one by any stretch, but it’s what we signed up for.

We can love them, shelter them, protect them as much as we can, nag them until the message we’re trying to convey sinks in, and then set them free and say a prayer.

 

 

 

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The Power of Random Acts

I’ve been feeling disillusioned lately. You see, I’m one of those annoying people who always looks on the bright side of things, and counts my blessings, and always tries to see the good in other people (even when people make it pretty damn hard to see). I am optimistic and hopeful, and I love these qualities about myself.

However, I’ve been feeling like disappearing off the grid these days. I feel myself becoming angry, and losing patience easily. I hear myself saying things to other drivers (“Turn, already!”, “Oh my God, at least go the speed limit!”, “Freakin’ tourists!”), even though I know they can’t hear me. I feel myself frowning as I scroll down my Facebook page, with post after post of Trump, Hillary, the Kardshians, Kanye, and the like. Ugh.

I’m still unable to find full-time or even part-time work, and unemployment insurance is about to run out. I constantly feel the pressure of that ticking clock. Being laid off three times in four years is, by far, the most frustrating thing that has ever happened to me. I have been turned down for jobs for which I am perfectly qualified. On the occasions when I do ask why, I get the canned answer, “We found someone who better matched the job description.”

I’ve been at this long enough to know that that probably means they didn’t want me because A) I lack a degree (even though I’ve spent well over a decade doing what I do, and doing it well), or B) they found someone who’d be willing to do it for less money, or it might even mean C) they found someone younger to hire, which would tie in to B. I hate to admit it but, at 46, this is now a potential reality, even though, of course, it’s completely illegal.

I digress. Because of all of these things, I find myself losing faith…in myself and in other people, which is something I never wanted to happen. But then, once in a while, something will happen to bring me back.

A couple of nights ago, I was on my way to pick up my daughter from the waterfront, where she had spent a few hours with friends. There had been an SUV in front of me for at least the last 10 miles, taking it’s time, driving at a leisurely pace. (Traffic around this neck of the woods in the summer is just cray-cray.) As I slowed for the dozenth time behind this SUV, a teenage boy on a bike rode out in front of my car, and slammed into a Jeep coming in the opposite direction…so hard he took it’s side mirror clean off. He laid still on the ground and, for about three seconds, it was as if time stood completely still.

And then chaos erupted all around me.

People came running from everywhere, all directions, offering to help. Someone put a clean white cloth or towel under his head; others asked him questions…what’s his name, can he feel his legs, can he move his toes, did he feel pain in his head or neck…others, myself included, were out of our cars and calling 911. People were talking to the driver, asking if he and his passenger were OK.

I was struck by the generosity of everyone present. All these people jumped into action the second they saw someone in need of help. I was moved. Once more, my optimism was restored by these simple acts of compassion. Strangers were willing to help. That was all it took.

It restored my faith in humankind. And I still have hope for all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

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Letting Go

We’ve been cleaning out the cellar and garage for the better part of the last two weeks. By that, I mean my husband has been doing most of the cleaning out, and I have been doing most of the watching.

Each year, like clockwork, he’ll point to different items in the basement and ask, “When are we getting rid of this?” and I’ll say, “Don’t get rid of it. I’ll have a yard sale and sell it.” And I always mean it. I consistently convince myself, without a doubt, that on the very next fine-weather weekend, I’ll haul all the boxes and bins up the driveway, set up tables, and make some good cash on our old stuff.

Yet, it never happens. Why? Because I finally realized the truth. I’m a hoarder. I hoard.

All those boxes and bins and broken, useless things that have been sitting in the basement and garage all these years represented memories. There were plastic bins of books I had as a teenager, filled with adventures to which I’d escape every single chance I could. There were boxes of toys and books and stuffed animals that represented our girls’ childhoods.  There were skateboards, roller blades and bike helmets, and a very old hurricane lamp from our first home, as well as an old griddle that we’d bought years ago for our new home. Every single item, for me, was a memory. And I just didn’t want to part with any of it.

But even I could see that things had gotten way out of hand with all the clutter. And I knew that if I went through every box and bin carefully, I would end up squirrelling away as much as I could to other parts of the house where they might temporarily avoid notice. Believe me, I know myself.

So, other than a few very important items (baby items, christening and first communion dresses and the like), out it all went. My husband would point to a box, give a general idea of what was in it, and I’d just nod or squeak out a half-hearted “OK.” It was the right thing to do. It was the SANE thing to do. All of those possessions that had been buried in boxes for a decade or longer would be donated. They’d be much better served to be in the hands of someone who could use them.

Do I sound mature saying that? Did I take the high road? lol

The thing is, parting with all of those earthly possessions made me face the realization that those parts of our lives are either over and coming to a close in the near future. Our eldest daughter is already married and living out of state. Our youngest will be out of high school and pursuing her own life in a few short years. My years of being the mom of two young children is over, and a new chapter – a chapter in which the nest will be empty –  is soon approaching.

It will soon be time for new adventures for all of us.

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Still Crazy…Even Now

Shhhhh…..I’m cheating. My 23rd wedding anniversary is this coming Saturday, and I’m re-posting a column here that I wrote several years ago, not because I’m feeling lazy but because it’s one that I really enjoyed writing. It meant a lot to me then, and it still does. I hope you enjoy it.  🙂

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I’ve heard people often ask those who’ve been long married, “What’s the secret to a good marriage?” The answer is usually different, depending on whom you ask. And I think that’s because the answer IS different for everyone. Because, regardless of what we might want to believe, there is no one special ingredient, no magic formula, that’s the secret key to wedded bliss.

My husband and I will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary at the end of June, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately wondering how the heck we pulled that off.  We married young, at only 22 and 23. And in an age of divorce we have, thus far, been able to trump the statistics and somehow hang in there year after year.

We couldn’t get enough of each other from the time we met in college, at the ages of 17 and 18. We were young and stupid and stubborn, and wouldn’t listen to anyone’s advice or opinions and we did what we wanted to do. We even quit school so that we could work full-time and save money to get married. To heck with college, we thought. We were in love and that’s all that mattered.

I’m shaking my head even now, as I type this, at that young, foolish couple. What we really were was lucky.

I can’t honestly say we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, because we did. We waited five years to get married, and we got to know each other very well in that time. We fought, we broke up, we reconciled, we worked, we fought, we broke up, we reconciled, and that’s how it went for five years. I ignored my parents’ attempts of advice, telling me that we fought too much, and it wasn’t healthy, and maybe we should take a break from each other. I wouldn’t hear it. And neither would he.

And some way, somehow, we always managed to scrape our way back to each other, regroup and keep our eyes looking forward, together. We were always able to somehow get past all the petty crap, for lack of a better term, and keep the big picture in mind…the part where we still wanted to share our lives and raise a family and grow old together.

And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing ever since.

So now, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to impart a few words of my own wisdom on what it takes to have a good marriage. I’m no expert by any means, but I have learned a few things over the years.

First of all, you have to learn how to compromise. And it ain’t easy, believe me. The power struggles and arguments that can happen in the course of a marriage can be exhausting, and sometimes ugly, and if you aren’t familiar with the art of compromise now, learn it. It really does make things easier.

Second, learn to listen. If you’re spending a majority of the time talking to your partner and not listening to them, you’ll regret it. Respect what they have to say and pay attention to them. You’d want the same for yourself, wouldn’t you? It’s not too much to ask, or to expect.

Next, if they come home in a cranky mood and say they don’t want to talk about it, understand that they don’t want to talk about it. Don’t rain down a bunch of questions, and foolishly assume that you’re helping them by forcing them to let it out. They’ll let it out when they’re ready, believe me.

And don’t underestimate the importance of giving each other a little space now and then. Everyone needs to do their own thing occasionally. You really don’t need to be glued at the hip every free second of every day to prove that you love each other.  Have your own interests.

On the flip side of that same note, make some time to be together….alone. I can’t stress that enough. Life can get crazy with work and kids and sports and so many other distractions. Make a date where you can have a drink, or see a movie, or take a long walk and hold hands and just talk and be together. Connecting is so important.

And make love as often as possible. I don’t care if you’re a newlywed or a couple who’ve been married 50 years, showing your physical desire for the person you love and enjoying each other intimately is one of the most important expressions of human emotion you can make, not to mention the fact that it’s a basic human need.  Passion shouldn’t die once the babies have arrived, nor should it after the kids are gone off to college. Those flames need to constantly be fed.

Finally, have a sense of humor. Being able to laugh at a situation (or at yourself, as the case may be) is so important. It’s true that something that seemed so significant at the time can…and will…most likely be laughed about down the road. Being able to laugh at something together can bring you closer. It can make you feel like kids again. It can make you remember that it’s OK to be silly and funny and goofy together. Everything doesn’t have to be so serious all the time.

Marriage isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. It can be hell on wheels sometimes. It’s like a maze where you can be constantly twisting and turning and ducking and weaving. It’s an uncharted road for everyone, and each couple has to find their own way. But if you’re able to stick together, if you can continue to hold hands and keep your heads down and just keep plowing through, while managing not to kill each other, it can be the greatest adventure of your lives.

With that said, I would like to wish my husband, my confidante, and my partner-in-crime a very happy 20th anniversary. Thank you for all we’ve built together….the good, the bad and the crazy.

May we have many more years of us.

Credit to Gatehouse Media New England

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