Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How to Grow Old Ungracefully

My daughter found four white hairs in my head on Monday night.  I'm not ashamed to say that it was pretty upsetting at that moment.  I've never had to dye my hair (not that I have to now) to hide white/gray hair.  

I'm noticing the wrinkles around my eyes--which are getting a little deeper each year.  But as I told my 15 year old, I've earned them.  I've earned the fine wrinkles and I've earned the white hairs (oh, I'll still hide them, dammit, and I'm not ashamed of that, either. I'm not even ashamed to feel bad about growing old.  I've earned the right to do that, too.) 

I'm almost 44 years old and I've been to more funerals than my 90 year old great-aunt--and she's the last surviving of 9 siblings.  I've beat cancer and dealt with crippling anxiety.  For the most part, the grief that is always waiting to pounce is outdone by the positivity in my heart (my good friends and close family know I can bring the negativity too, but I'm working on it.)  That's not to say that I can in any way see a positive in the deaths of my family members--but I can focus on the way my brother's beautiful girls are growing up, the way my younger brother and I shared so many Sunday drive-to-Dad's memories, or the way my children have my father's dimpled chin. 

So yes, I have some white hairs and a few new wrinkles.  But I also live my life to the fullest, doing exactly as I please, writing and geeking as I like.  Despite the appearance of the white hairs or the wrinkles I don't feel too old to volunteer or cosplay or enjoy life.  I've learned the lesson that life is just too short to skip out on doing anything you love because you have a few off-color invaders on your head (eww, I'm not talking about lice--if you have lice, please, skip out on attending public events & get treatment.) 

Getting older is still, I'm sure, going to be hard for me--I may be 29 at heart, but after three kids my body doesn't always feel the same.  But I've done more to further my personal happiness this year than I have in a very long time, so I'm going to share a secret with you--I'm 43, and I'm just getting started.

Crinkles and all.

Monday, April 4, 2016

20 Things I Never Said Before You Left

Having lost a father and two brothers, I know a little about regret.  I try to live my life these days with that in mind, so that the sinking feeling that "I never got to say" doesn't ever plague me again.  
But before I was so world-weary and wise, I left a lot on the table.  I forgot to say some things, and I forgot to do others.  With that in mind, this one's for my Da.

20 Things I Didn't Say Or Do Before You Died

1.  It's okay to be scared.  You had lung cancer, and you grew up in an era where a man worked, a woman stayed home, and guys were not allowed to feel fear.  I was scared for you, and I know you were too, and I wish I'd let you know that I knew, and that I didn't think any less of you for it.

2.  At the end of my wedding video the videographer put us on the spot and asked if we wanted to say anything to our loved ones. I fumbled, and stuttered, and I said "Mom, thanks for everything, you are the wind beneath my wings...and Dad, thanks for being such a great dancer!" It sounds silly, but the idea that you thought that it was your only contribution to that special day haunts me.  I was honored to walk down the aisle on your arm.  And yes, you were a great dancer; but what I really meant was that I waited my whole life to dance with you in your handsome suit, just the way I remember dancing on your shiny brown shoes when I was a child.

3. I talk too much.  It's a nervous habit, and on Sundays I'd jabber away, instead of listening more to you about your life.

4.  I'm sorry you only met Chris after we were engaged.  I never thought you'd be interested in meeting my boyfriend, and now that I'm a parent I realize how much that must have hurt. I wish you'd had more time to bond over old movies and character actors, and maybe you wouldn't have had to stare him down the first time you met if we hadn't already been engaged.

5.  I'm sorry if you thought I didn't care when you were sick.  I hope you didn't believe that, even as your wife threw it at me in the kitchen.  You told me not to listen to her, and I have to hope you didn't either.

6.  I'm sorry I didn't believe you could die.  Even when they said there was no hope, that you only had a few months to live, in my head I believed that MY Dad was stronger than any disease.  I planned the following week off to spend time with you--but I was too late.

7.  I wish I hadn't been so concerned about doing everything in its due time, because waiting to have a baby meant that you didn't get to meet Shaelin, or Jason, or Lily.

8.  I'm sorry...but I'm glad you weren't alive to see the death of not one, but two sons.  I can't stand seeing what it's done to Mom, and we both know she's always been the stronger one.  

9.  Being a child of divorce was painful, but I appreciate that there were times you tried to make it easier in your way.  You made a point to tell us that your new girlfriend's cooking wasn't as good as mom's, and as a kid I thought that was a weird thing to an adult I realize you were trying to take away any sense of replacement or competition. 

10.  Thank you for traveling two hours on a Sunday just to spend the day with us, to take us to China Sky or McDonald's or the movies.  To this day I can't see a first run movie without thinking of the way we would wait in the lines that went around the building to see the next Star Trek or Star Wars movie.  (FYI, I can't see a Star Wars or Star Trek movie without thinking about you, either.)

11.  I wasn't the rabbit that ate the carrot.  I know you thought I was, but I wouldn't have left a half eaten carrot in the couch cushion--I would have eaten the whole carrot.

12.  I'm sorry if I disappointed you.  I know you (and I, to be honest) expected me to take the R.O.T.C. scholarship and join the military.  Things didn't work out that way, and there will always be a part of me that wonders if you would have been prouder of me if they did.  I have no regrets--I loved the career I chose instead, and I love the writer's life I live now, but I also would've loved to make you proud.

13.  I picked Butterfly Kisses to dance the father-daughter dance at my wedding because I was focused on the Butterfly Kisses-- you always gave me "Eskimo Kisses" with your nose when I was little..but all you were focused on was "after all that I've done wrong I must have done something right."  I never thought about things you did wrong,  both because I loved you too much to care and because Mom always hid that stuff from us.

14.  Stop smoking.  Stop smoking years ago.

15.  I love you.  I know I've said it before, but there's just no way I could've ever said it enough.

16.  I hate John Wayne movies.  I wouldn't change the fact that you watched them all the time, because now it's nostalgic and they remind me of you, but God! I didn't fall asleep on the couch because I was lazy or over-worked, I fell asleep because I couldn't keep my eyes open when that cowboy drawl came on.

17.  I always thought you were 6 feet tall, even though you were only a couple of inches taller than me.

18.  No man could ever replace you.  If you ever feared that you were loved less because somebody else lived in our house, you were blind to the hero-worship that we had for you.  Proof positive:  I married a tall, handsome guy who loves old war movies, cheap beer, and bad jokes.

19.  I'm jealous that you brought each of the boys to play golf with you.  I know I can't hit the ball to save my life, but it was such a huge part of you that it always bothered me that you didn't share it with me.  (It's like that "mountain"--which I've since discovered is really more of a small hill--at Breakheart that you always took the boys to see but I was too little.  I'm bigger now.  Grown up.  I can golf.  Sort of.)

20.  I'm proud of you.  I know that there are things you've done in your life that are not things to be proud of.  But you also worked hard at a job you loved,  taught me to read at the age of three and fostered a love of a good Stephen King book, laughed at losing half a finger because it bettered your golf grip, weren't afraid to hug or kiss your kids, fought cancer as hard as you could, and left at the moment you chose to leave.