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June 2010

What Would Muriel Do?

I’ve been thinking about my friend Muriel.  For thirty years, we were the best of friends, even though she is fourteen years older than I am. We always seemed to be able to solve each other’s problems.

Over the past few years, she hasn’t done so well. She has lost her husband of more than fifty years.  I just heard through a mutual friend that she is having short-term memory problems, and needs an aide to help her read her mail.

I have a copy of an essay that Muriel wrote about how she felt about being in her 70’s.   She started the decade with a white-water rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. But she was feeling less adventurous as the years went by.  She wrote about how much she enjoyed exercising and  the memoir-writing classes she taught.  She wrote about losing friends and the looming “statistical scoreboard.”  But she was happy.

Now, I am  in my seventies, feeling less immortal, and wondering what I’ll be like in fourteen years.  But I am still asking myself, “What Would Muriel Do?

On the Bus

I didn’t ride my bike to work the other day, so I took the bus home.  It was a rainy early evening and I was lugging a big purse, my brief case and an umbrella. A young man with a trim red beard offered me his seat, and I refused saying I was fine standing.

Shortly after we were underway, the person next to him got up to get off and when no one else took the seat, I did.  I told the nice young man that I didn’t sit down because I was old, but because I was carrying so much, and, in fact, I normally ride my bike to work. 

He said that although he’s only known me for two minutes, he can tell that I am spry.

“Spry”, I thought—that’s a word to describe old folks.

So much for the start of a beautiful friendship.

Happier at Eighty-Five?

According to a 2008 Gallup poll of 350,000 people nation-wide, our happiness peaks at age eighteen.  After that, people feel worse and worse until they hit age fifty when the trend reverses.  And they feel increasingly happier after that until age eighty-five when people, so the poll says, are as happy as they were at eighteen.

How would I have answered that poll?  I don’t remember being so happy at eighteen.  I was in college and I suppose that was fun, but a peak of happiness?  Not sure.

Basically, I have been pretty cheery all along, but in looking back, I think I may have been happiest in my fifties.  I had settled in my career; I didn’t feel like I had to prove anything.  The children were doing well.  Peter was happy teaching.  We were healthy and strong and being “old” wasn’t even on our radar screen.

At 70-something, I’m usually happy.  But happier?  On my way to being as happy as I was at eighteen?  No idea.

One thing is true.  Too many of my friends haven’t lived to my age. So that makes me lucky.  If I am still writing this blog at eighty-five…

I’ll let you know how happy I feel.

The Old Neighborhood

Fifteen years ago we moved out of the house our kids grew up in. It was in a wonderful neighborhood, on a quiet street with lots of kids. But our house was too big and too empty after the kids graduated from college. So we left.

On Sunday, there was a pot-luck supper in the old neighborhood for our former across-the-street neighbors, Elaine and Charlie, who are moving after forty-seven years in their home. They had teenage daughters who baby sat for Seth and Jeremy when we moved there. One of those daughters was at the party with her teenaged daughter. Talk about the passing of time…

It was a great reunion. One family that lived there when we did couldn't make it back, but two others did. One former neighbor recalled driving Jeremy to nursery school to the constant refrain of "Tell my mother to pick me up early" when I told her that he now has two children of his own. The people who bought our house from us just had the last of their three boys graduate from college. They said our house had served them well, as it did us. Someone brought pictures from one of our block parties back when we were all so much younger.

With Elaine and Charlie leaving, only three houses will have the same owners as they did when we lived there. But the new people are all nice too.

The evening flew by. There was endless talk about the good old days and we all agreed that we would have to do it again soon.

I'm not going to bet on it.

Al and Tipper

Al and Tipper Gore are calling it quits after forty years of marriage. They've been through so much together, yet they have grown apart.

After a media frenzy that included discussions about why long marriages end and why it shouldn't be so surprising that people want to "find themselves" as they grow older, everyone turned their attention back to the BP oil spill.

We were talking about Tipper and Al and long marriages with some friends the other night. They've been happily married for about twenty years, but both had been married before. They told us that leaving a spouse (even one you don't like) is a wrenching experience, one that can't be imagined without going through it.

Perhaps because we have had a strong forty-two year marriage, I can't see going off on my own to find out who I am at this stage of my life. I'm pretty clear on that subject anyway.

Peter and I often tell people that we have had to stay married to each other because nobody else could put up with either of us.

Al and Tipper probably don't need to worry about that.

How Sweet It Was

I have been writing “letters” to our grandchildren since Leo, our first, was born six years ago. I want them to be able to read about how much we loved watching them grow. And I tell them some things about us because if we are lucky enough to see them grown up, we won’t be what we used to be.

Here is part of my latest letter.

“It was three months since we had seen you, and you have changed, as you always do. But this time, we realized that Grady is no longer a toddler. At three and a half, Grady, you are a force. Funny, full of sentences, a Superman in every sense of the phrase, especially in your Superman P.J.’s complete with cape. What is so amazing is that although you guys are two and a half years apart, you’re great friends. At least most of the time. Grady looks up to you, Leo, and you take care of him. Most of the time. And most nights Grady joins you by sleeping in the top bunk in your room.

What made this weekend special is that we took care of you without your parents for twenty-five hours. You were on your best behavior except when Grady wanted to go to the “treeless tree house,” and we thought that was off limits.

When you and I were reading a counting book together, Grady, we realized it had been in the mud, and I had a lot of dirt from it on my Capri pants. I wiped it away with my hands, but you kept finding more and brushing it away. It was a small moment, but one I will treasure. And I’ll treasure seeing you, Leo, so tall and slender, fitting into your mother’s roller blades at age six. You’re not too confident on them, but you’re getting there. We had a good time before Mommy and Daddy left, and after they came home, but the very best was when we got to substitute for them, reading to you and then cuddling with you in the bunk beds at bed time.”

How sweet it was!

What Makes Peter Happy?

I am married to a very good-natured, even-tempered man.  He’s always “fine.”  Unlike me, who can turn grumpy on a dime, the most I’ve heard him complain about is that his 80-year old body doesn’t move as well as it did, in spite of his rigorous exercise regime.  He is as steady as they come. 

Peter was a professor for over thirty years, and the only time(s) he ever appeared annoyed with me was when I interrupted him while he was grading exams.  Grading was about the only thing that put him in a bad mood. 

The other day, his smile was especially bright.  On that day I had had some good news, and I was pretty excited. I asked him why he was in such a good mood.  He replied, “It makes me happy to see you happy.”

And he meant it.

Thoughts on Being the Mother of a Forty-Year Old

Seth turned forty last Saturday.  He lives five thousand miles away, but that didn’t keep me from thinking about the "olden days" when he and his brother (who lives three hundred seventy-five miles away) were little.  I decided to look for the journal I kept the week Seth was born.  I am sure that I never threw it away, but I couldn’t find it.  However, I did find a yellowed day-by-day schedule left for our baby sitters when Peter and I went away for a week in January,1978. Here is an excerpt:

“Before school:  Please put out Seth’s clothes on his desk the night before.  Give both kids clean everything except trousers which they can wear again if not too dirty.  Seth will get up; around 6:15 and read or come down and watch sports on TV.  Jeremy will probably need to be wakened about 7:30 and he needs (or wants) help getting dressed.

After breakfast, Jeremy should have a vitamin and be reminded to go to the bathroom.  Seth will need his hair brushed  (brush is in drawer in hall).  Also, they should brush teeth, if time.  For snack, Jeremy should take four dried prunes and some raisins.  Seth usually takes some juice in his thermos and two whole graham crackers.”

That was thirty-two years ago.  A far cry from living three hundred seventy-five and five thousand miles away.