Getting Old is not for Sissies

At least that’s what my 95-year-old Nanny (grandmother) tells me, and after spending a little over a week with her in Illinois last week, I would whole-heartedly agree with her.

My daughter Bryn was going on vacation with her grandparents, so I flew her to St. Louis from LA, handed her off to her grandparents who were driving to Florida for a week of fun in the sun, and then drove the three hours north to my grandmother’s house in Bloomington, IL.

Upon my arrival, my grandmother burst into tears and announced how happy she was to see me.  I had just been to visit her the month before as part of our annual summer vacation, but sadly, at 95 years of age her memory is not what it used to be.  Although it had only been a month, she was unable to recall my previous visit.  This always breaks my heart.  She will say things like, “No one ever comes to visit me.”  I gently remind her that I see her every summer, and although she believes me, her reality is such that she cannot remember the visits, so for her it’s like it never happened.

10422269_10153164412434668_2062150226730818813_n[1]While my Nanny is very healthy physically, her memory loss and diminished capacity for independence grates on her self-esteem.  She hates that she can no longer stand at the stove and prepare full meals or bake the delicious cakes and desserts she always enjoyed having in the house.  Every time I came to visit she always had a cake, pie, or some amazing sugar creation waiting for whatever company happened to stop by.  She was always prepared for company.  Now, she is still able to care for her own physical needs, prepare light meals like sandwiches, and also do some very light housekeeping, but for the most part her recliner in the living room occupies most of her attention these days.

12019820_907152482686906_3905592130149668443_n[1]My Nanny is 95 and my grandfather turns 97 this week.  They don’t have computers, internet, Wi-Fi, or even a DVD player.  They have cable TV, but that’s about it for modern technology.  Their day consists of rolling out of bed around 9am, and sitting in their chairs in the living room all day long, watching baseball, Mass, Fox News, and AMC movie classics.  That’s it.  I imagine I will find that life pretty enjoyable if I make it to their advanced age, however, for a 41 year old active woman, it was enough to make me want to throw myself from a cliff.

I wanted to spend quality time with them, so that meant sitting with them in the living room.  For hours.  Every day.  For nine days.  Watching Fox News.  And Lawrence Welk.  For the love of God, Lawrence Welk.  Watching her sing along to songs she has known for fifty years was heartening, but it was also like nails on a chalkboard.  My grandmother sings beautifully, and it made me happy to see her happy, but an hour of Lawrence Welk is enough to make me want to grind my ears through a pencil sharpener.  Now imagine a week of that.  (If you are reading this and you don’t know who Lawrence Welk is, google it.  Right now.  Then drink a bottle of wine and thank your lucky stars you weren’t me last week.)  I used to watch it with her when I was in college, just because it made her happy.  I did the same thing this week, just to make her happy.  Damn, I’m a really good granddaughter.  One night I came upstairs to find them watching AMC Classics, and Animal House was on.  OMG!  Talk about awkward!  But I sat through the movie because it was two hours of something funny and relative to my age group.  At the end, my Nanny declared it to be “junk” and she stated that if people actually thought this movie was good, then she held little hope for the future of our country.  I informed her that Animal House is a cult classic and almost everyone loves this movie.  She was thoroughly disgusted with humanity and went to bed.

11870911_511767202313147_6626111183102035627_n[1]Oh, and did I mention that many people tend to lose their filter when they hit advanced ages?  Well, my Nanny is no different.  This is a Christian Catholic woman who took her responsibility as a Christian seriously, and my whole life she refrained from talking trash about others because she felt it was a horrible sin.  However, that is no longer the case.  She has become brutally honest and says whatever pops into her head.  For example, among other shocking statements, she told me one day that I was the fattest she had ever seen me, and what the hell did I think I was doing letting my body go to shit like that.  I’m totally serious, and this is a woman who never cussed.   I reminded her that I’m not 25 anymore, I’m almost 42 years old and I usually work out 3-4 days per week.  She said, “Well, whatever you’re doing, it’s not working for you.”  One day I came upstairs wearing fashionably distressed jeans.  She said, “Are those the best clothes your husband can afford to buy for you?”  So I said, “Yes Nanny, and can you believe I bought these jeans with the patches already sewed into them?”  She rolled her eyes in disgust.  I winked at her.  We both laughed.

Due to her memory loss, we also had many repeated conversations.  She would ask me the same questions every few minutes, and I would give her the same answer, every time she asked.  We did this every day.  Several hours per day.  I was kind to her.  I was gentle.  I tried to remind her that she was still pretty and valuable.  Whenever I told her she was beautiful, she would say, “Yeah, pretty ugly, and pretty apt to stay that way.”  I’m laughing as I type this because her sense of humor is awesome.

IMG_1163I had to leave the house for a little while each day to maintain my sanity.  I found myself falling asleep on the couch with them at 6:30pm.  I was sleeping until 9am in the morning.  I was becoming an old person.  One day I looked at my VivoFit and saw that in the entire day, I had only walked 892 steps.  In a whole day!  The next day I went for a four mile walk just to combat the sedentary inclination.  I also went to the local campus, Illinois State University, my alma mater, and walked the quad.  It felt good to see the buildings, the new renovations and the efforts made to beautify and modernize the campus.  I found myself thinking, “Damn, I went to a nice school.”  I relived a lot of great memories that day and refreshed my old lady soul.

One day, Nanny let me take her for a drive.  She was alive with excitement driving around this town where she had spent her entire life.  She was seeing old and new buildings, construction and modern architecture, as if she were a young child in a new and enchanting land.  She was filled with memories and emotion as we drove past homes where she lived as a young woman with my grandfather, and cried when she observed new buildings where her old favorites no longer existed.  She lamented the time when she also would no longer exist, torn down and forgotten like an old, worn out building.

The day I left we said a tearful good-bye.  We are both painfully aware that at the end of each visit there is a very real possibility that it will be our last.  Before I left she looked at me and said, “You know I may not remember you at all next year.”  I held back my tears and said, “Yes, but I will remember you.”  And I drove away watching her in my side mirror as she stood in the driveway, beautiful and proud, with her hand raised in the air.  As she always does when I leave her.

So yes, whether you are 41 or 95, getting old is most definitely not for sissies.

Vacation!

Hello, world!  I’m home!

The family and I spent nine days visiting with friends and relatives throughout the Midwest.  I call this trek our annual Midwestern Tour, as we hit Illinois, Indiana and Michigan in the same week. This time of year the area where I grew up is amazingly beautiful.  You wouldn’t believe how green everything gets.  Even the corn fields look beautiful when I haven’t seen them in a while.

We spent the first couple of days in Chicago, then drove south to central Illinois to visit my grandmother.  We then drove three hours north through Indiana and Michigan to reach my mother, other grandmother and various relatives who live in the area.  It was fast, organized, exhausting and incredibly fun.

Here’s the highlight reel…

10635748_10152955877379574_8811372455149121989_n[2]While in Chicago, my college friend hosted a house party and invited all of our girlfriends from school, along with their families.  We BBQ, drink, laugh and relive our glory years together while our kids run around and make new memories and form new friendships.  This year the adults sent the kids to the basement to play so we could play the game, Cards Against Humanity.  If you’ve never heard of it, it’s an adult card game of mostly vulgar and inappropriate topics.  If you’re not too uptight and appreciate a dirty joke, then this game is for you.  I will say that I did surprisingly well in the game, and my two most popular cards read, “Altar Boys,” and “Two Midgets Shitting in a Bucket.”  Feel free to use your imagination here as to what these cards may have been in response too.  🙂

We visited my grandmother, who is 94 years old.  I’ve always had a very close relationship with my Nanny and she’s an incredible woman.  She is in amazing health but starting to lose some of her short-term memory.  We looked at the same photo album about four times, and although it was new for her every time, I continue to be amazed at her ability to remember details about family history from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Her own mother was born in 1897, and every conversation feels like a history lesson, but one you don’t want to miss.  When I ask her how it feels to be 94, she tells me, “getting old is not for sissies!”

St. Joe lighthouse

St. Joseph, Michigan

While in Michigan, we visited with several of my high school friends, my mother, grandmother, aunt and a few cousins.  I went to my favorite childhood restaurants.  We drove to St. Joe and took the kids to Silver Beach, which is on Lake Michigan.  My kids ran down the pier alongside the lighthouse, disbelieving that Lake Michigan wasn’t as big as our Pacific Ocean back home.  I found a lake house there I would like to buy for the low, low price of 1.6 million dollars.  What a steal!  LOL!  At one point Bryn looked at me, while having dinner outside on a patio overlooking a beautiful lake active with boats and jet-skis, and she said, “I can’t believe you got to grow up here!”

Yeah, I got to grow up there.  It’s funny how so often in life we don’t appreciate what we have until we can look back with some perspective.  Growing up, I didn’t appreciate the beauty of the fields, the lakes or the small community that looked out for each other.  I took it for granted and was more excited to see other places.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that the older I get, the more I appreciate where I come from, and this annual trip means more to me every year.  I want my kids to experience the things I loved about growing up in the Midwest.  Admittedly, my kids have opportunities that I never had as a child, and I’m thankful for that.  But I also want them to appreciate the simplicities of life.  The small things and traditions that add up to big things when you look back on your life and remember what you loved most about your childhood.

lake canoeingI want them to gorge themselves on strawberries while picking them fresh from the fields, and then bring the berries home to make fresh strawberry jam in grandma’s kitchen.  I want them to canoe the rivers of my hometown and camp under the stars, even if it’s just in their grandmother’s back yard.  I want them to catch fire flies,  sit around a bonfire in a field with their cousins, learn to water ski on the lake and marvel at the incredible beauty of the leaves turning in the fall.   I want them to know who their people are, and why, no matter what they choose to do in life, it will always be special that their family comes from this incredible place.

So yeah, it was a good vacation.  😉

 

 

Wanda Says…Keep calm and head to Chicago!

Chicago-skyline-2[1]This past weekend I went to Chicago, alone, for a girl’s weekend with some of my college friends.  I needed a break from my stay-home-mommy-madness.  I needed a break from laundry, dieting, cooking, and repeatedly asking small people to brush their teeth and put on their shoes.

I love Chicago, and it is my favorite city!  Aside from being beautiful with endless cultural opportunities and diversity, there is a comfort and familiarity that always draws me in.  Lakeshore Drive, Michigan Avenue, State Street, Navy Pier, Grant Park, Buckingham Fountain and the Shedd Aquarium all hold memories for me that span the first 25 years of my life.

Millennium Park

Millennium Park

Some of my favorite memories include prom dress shopping at Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdales, attending the Taste of Chicago food festival, Cubs games, making a music video at Navy Pier (which I am still extremely embarrassed about), attending a friends fairy-tale wedding at the Hilton Towers, and endless nights of fantastically bad behavior while bar hopping with friends.

The weekend was amazing!

We spent time in downtown Chicago and went to Macy’s to look at the holiday windows.  We had lunch at the Walnut Room and I felt the holiday spirit begin to rear it’s glorious head as I drank wine and allowed myself to be sucked into the moment .

Macy's Christmas Tree in the Walnut Room

Macy’s Christmas Tree in the Walnut Room

wpid-2014-11-15-13.11.59.jpg.jpeg

I believe!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We walked the city and visited Cloud Gate, or as the locals call it, The Bean, at Millennium Park.

wpid-2014-11-15-14.34.53.jpg.jpeg

The Bean!

We drank endless bottles of wine, ate tapas and sang at the top of our lungs in a lovely little dive bar.  We reminisced over old memories and we laughed until our sides hurt.

wpid-2014-11-15-14.38.41.jpg.jpeg

I froze my ass off, but it was worth it!

I want to thank my friends for making themselves available to me when I desperately needed to escape from my life for a few days.  Thank you, Jennifer, Katie, Amy N., Amy D., Jenn L., and Melissa.  Thank you for being the wild, wine-drinking, fun-loving, adventurous women that you are!

I also want to thank my mother-in-law for the first class plane ticket to Chicago!  You spoiled me rotten for my birthday and gave me a much needed boost to restore my sanity, and I can’t thank you enough!  🙂