Friday, January 23, 2015

It's Greek Season. Rush. (Away)

Wow. It's been a whole month since I last wrote. It's nothing personal, I just haven't had much to say. And I've been whinier than usual, so I've done you a favor by not posting. Today, however, I have something "stuck in my craw" that I need to put out there, even at the risk of "wrankling" my Greek readers. And by Greek, I don't mean those whose last names end in "opolis." In this case I'm referring to those of you who were/are members of sororities or fraternities. I expect this post will be even less popular than the one in which I unintentionally offended women from the South.


For years I've considered writing on the topic of Greek life, but I just haven't taken the plunge. Yesterday, however, I read a piece in the Villanovan (the University student newspaper) that demands my response; even at the risk of wrankling some of you. The article "Sorority recruitment does not end in smiles for everyone" was written by a freshman who's been a sorority sister for all of one week. With memories of recruitment/rush still fresh in her mind, Deanna details a process she calls both "horrifying and exciting." She explains that rush requires every girl to attend nine 20-minute "rounds," one with each of the University's sororities--and then she describes the experience:
Lines of girls stood outside rooms of screaming sorority girls chanting songs about their chapters, wondering how they would be assessed once in the room and how they should act, if any different from themselves.
The rounds were exhausting, as I’m positive they were for the sororities as well. I like to consider myself a fairly social person, but I've never experienced a situation that called for so much social energy and effort in my life.
On the first day we all met two or three girls from each chapter and were expected to hold a conversation with them, about literally anything, for the full allotted time, without awkward silences. During each of these meetings all I could think about was “how is she judging me right now? The way I talk? My eye contact?” I’m still not sure I know.
By my final round I felt like a robot programmed for small talk and smiling—I was exhausted. And while that seemed like a lot of complaining, I did somehow have fun with many of the girls I met and I was happy to be able to meet so many of the faces I pass on campus every day. I didn't really know what to think when I “went to sleep” (stayed up all night re-living each conversation) on day one.
The writer goes on to report that she received a text the following morning at 4:30 a.m. telling her her schedule for day two. This is when you learn which chapters "dropped you." Deanna says, "If you thought your conversations went well, it’s difficult to not take the rejections personally." At the beginning of day two, she recalls the number of women she saw crying. By the end of that day, she was "seriously starting to wonder if recruitment was worth the social and emotional exhaustion." She continues:
I have to say, my wake-up text on the third day of rush was one of the worst rejections I’d ever felt. I now know that it was a blessing to have been dropped by the sororities that I was, but at the time I had no perspective, and I really just felt worthless. I know this isn't the intention of the sororities, and they “don’t want to drop any girl” but the reality is awful. And I didn't just feel sorry for myself. I felt horrible for my friends and even for strangers too. 
No woman should have to feel unwanted, but at the same time, how else would sorority recruitment work? 
Our writer says she couldn't be happier with where she ended up and she's glad that things worked out the way they did. She concludes, however, "I still look back on recruitment with negative memories, and I wish there was another way to do it. I think it may just be a necessary evil that some women won’t escape from with a smiling face. I know so many great women that fell through the cracks and I wish I could convince the sisters to go back on their decisions."

Wow. Where do I start?

My feelings about the Greek system have been firmly in place for 25 years, since I was a wee freshman myself. Deanna's honest evaluation of the sorority rush experience only adds to my conviction that this system is at best ludicrous, and at worst, cruel. Why any bright, personable college student would put themself through it is beyond my comprehension. And yet I have several friends who have nothing but great memories of their Greek experience. Even my husband is a former fraternity boy (though I'm not sure "former" ever applies to frat brothers).

I could go through Deanna's article line by line and comment on what I perceive to be madness, but I think I can sum it up by saying no one should voluntarily put themself in a position of being assessed/judged/evaluated unless there's a career move on the line. Don't we tell our kids, especially sensitive teenagers, to not let others determine their worth, to not let what others think or say bother them? I know that's a message I hope my kids hear, and yet, in just a few short years they may actually choose to have that very experience. And if selling yourself with fashion, a smile and small talk isn't enough, many of these groups will ask you to humiliate yourself and even risk your life to prove you have what it takes to be one of them. My husband would say it's about creating a bond, but I would say, "No thanks."

I understand that your first year in college is difficult. I know that making new friends isn't easy, and that there's something appealing about the idea of having a ready-made group of sisters or brothers to help you adjust. But no matter how hard I try, I just can't imagine allowing myself to be evaluated by my peers and waiting to hear whether I've impressed them enough that they want me to join them. Everyday in real life we're judged in some form or another; do I want to volunteer for a formalized version wherein I may be rejected not by one mean girl in high school, but by a couple dozen from different sisterhoods who are kind enough to turn me away by text message? I don't get it.

If all of that doesn't have you "rushing" for the hills, consider this:
Screaming sorority girls chanting songs about their chapters.
Enough said.



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Pup Came Home for Christmas

By now, those of you who are my Facebook friends are aware that I lost my mind a few weeks ago and adopted a puppy. We'd been talking about getting a dog for several months; the kids so kindly reminding me that I could take drugs for my pet allergies. After spending countless hours on PetFinders and visiting the SPCA, I decided to take the kids to a Meet and Greet with Home at Last Pet Rescue. Given that it was 30 minutes away in Blue Bell, it was clear that we were being fairly serious about this. The caveats were clear, however, no puppies and we're not bringing one home today.

So we met Lily, a puppy, and took her home with us that very day. I obviously have exceptionally strong willpower.

Thus far I'm glad to report that Lily has brought more happiness than regret, though I have to confess that in those first few days I was convinced she needed to be returned. The tension at home was reaching dangerously high levels as everyone claimed it was someone else's job to have been watching her when she stopped to pee on the floor. Now, however, the potty accidents have dropped off considerably and all we're dealing with is a sweet puppy who occasionally transforms, Gremlin-like into a lunging, teeth-baring monster.

Still, we all love her. Except Scout. The cat. Scout's about seven or eight. She was here during the Maddie years (Maddie was a nine-year-old yellow lab we adopted who lived until she was 12.) Scout's about as excited to have Lily in our lives as she was to have Maddie. When we brought the puppy home I'm pretty sure I heard her say "What the hell were you thinking? Are you trying to take several years off my life?" She then went away somewhere for several hours to contemplate her next move, which included puffing up to twice her size and hissing menacingly from places where Lily couldn't reach. I keep hoping one day I'll find them curled up together, giving each other baths, but it's not looking good. In fact, from her perch high above the refrigerator, Scout looked down on Lily and made it perfectly clear how she feels about our newest family member.

The following transcript has been translated from the original Felinese:

"Listen up you stupid mutt:

  1. You think they like you? Think again. You're sleeping in a crate. What self-respecting animal does that? What do you think their bed is for? 
  2. I would NEVER eat your poop. That's just stupid. Have you checked your breath lately? Damn, you nasty!
  3. This year we have a lame ass little Christmas tree sitting in the front window. Why? Because you can't be trusted not to put every single thing in your mouth, including pine branches and ornaments. I loved laying under the Christmas tree. You've ruined that. Someday you'll pay.
  4. What's with the big-to-do every time one of the humans comes home? You're making a fool of yourself. And making me look bad. 
  5. If you think that when you get bigger you're going to mess with me, you're sadly mistaken. I will always be able to look down on you from high above, and I look forward to smacking you on the head with my paw. You're going down.
  6. You're not supposed to eat the Christmas wrapping paper. You're supposed to wait till they're trying to use it and then lay on it so they can't get anything done. 
  7. Similarly, you don't beg for the humans to hold you when they're working on the computer. You just jump up on the desk and lay on the keyboard. Are you detecting a theme here, numb skull? 
  8. When I kill stuff and leave it outside, it's because it's gross. You eating it makes you nasty, baby.
  9. A leash? Really? Have you no pride?
  10. You go to bed the same time as our people? Loser. Night time is the right time to play, lady! You'll never be top dog in this joint. Sleep with your eyes open, pup, cause I'm watchin' you...

Here's hoping your holiday is harmonious and that you feel the love of family and friends! 

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Year of Books in Review

I had a Frances moment at dinner the other night. I said something along the lines of "I do quite like green beans." Actually, that was probably a more Albert-like statement, but you remember Frances, don't you? She was one of my favorites:


As I warmly recalled Bread and Jam for Frances, I thought of the many other wonderful children's books that have remained with me since I first read them to Ian and Abby. Leo the Lightening Bug. A Bad Case of the Stripes. Wings. Owl Moon. Nate the Great.

I always thought that being an elementary school librarian would be awesome because of the delightful new books that you would have to read as part of your job. But then I remembered that you'd also have to interact with young kids. So much for that idea.

Consider this trip down memory lane an introduction to my annual Books in Review blog post. For those of you who are new to Freakin' Angels, at the end of the year I like to share my thoughts on the books, movies and sometimes television shows that caught my attention over the past 12 months. While the movies I review are generally from the current year, I must note that the books I've read rarely are new releases. It's too hard to find copies at the library and I'm too cheap to buy them.

Now, without further ado, here are my top 10 reads of 2014.

1. Middlemarch by George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Anne Evans). Like I said, 904 pages. I've been at it for four months, and because I'm reading it digitally, it feels like I'm making no progress whatsoever. I compare it to a big bowl of spaghetti that you swear you've been eating for an hour, and yet the bowl seems just as full as when you started. So what's keeping me going on this 1870's classic? Simply put: It's brilliant, especially considering when it was written. George Eliot's humorous and insightful look at society--particularly a woman's place in it--is priceless. And somehow she manages to continue advancing the story with every page. Then there's the magical way she puts words together. For example:
For my part, I am very sorry for him. It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self.
Brilliant!

2. American Rust by Philipp Meyer. One of two books that received 5-star ratings from me in 2014, and a most interesting writing style. Written from the perspectives of six different characters, mostly in streams of consciousness, the reader is the only one who knows everything that's happening. The writing reflects the characters' state of mind, moving from coherent, full sentences, to disconnected phrases with no punctuation. It felt so real, presenting such an accurate picture of life in a dying steel town, and human nature: good, bad, right, wrong, ethical, unethical, moral, immoral. Like I said, I loved it, but it wasn't popular with everyone. One of my Freakin' Angel friends abandoned it. You know who you are.

3. Absolutist by John Boyne. My second 5-star book this year. Nothing as stylistically unique in the writing, just a really strong and moving story with the historical elements that I particularly enjoy in my novels. Highly recommended.

4. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. If you're one of the 20 people in America who haven't read this book, you'll want to. An amazingly true story that convinces me we'd all learn so much more about history if it was taught through the stories of those who lived it.

5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. If you're one of the 15 people in America who haven't read this yet, you should--even though chances are good that you'll hate it. Or at least hate the ending. Personally, I thought it was a wickedly fun read and the ending was perfect given what we were working with! I don't think I've ever read a more uniquely twisted story. And I thought the movie was really well done.

6. Naked by David Sedaris. This is the year I discovered David Sedaris. What a pity it took me so long! There's something about self-deprecating humor and naked honesty (pun intended) that I greatly appreciate and enjoy (and relate to). I have only one recommendation when it comes to Mr. Sedaris: Don't listen to him on audio when you have children in the car (he's a solid PG-13; or R-rated, depending on how protective you are).

7. Good Kings, Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum. This was the 2012-2013 One Book Villanova selection and I definitely recommend it. It's a great novel with painful parts nicely balanced with a good deal of humor. It deals with the lives of youth with developmental disabilities living in so-called care centers and homes. The only challenge in reading it (aside from the painful parts) is in keeping the characters straight (each chapter is told from a different perspective).

8. The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. Read by my neighborhood book club and well-suited for generating discussion. Presents a great moral and ethical dilemma: Would you keep a baby that isn't yours if you wanted one more than anything and couldn't have your own?

9. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. As described on Goodreads.com: With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the two teenage girls caught in the middle. Different than the books I typically read, I recommend it!

10. Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. Haven't read a book so quickly in a very long time. It's the kind of page-turner that you grab at a traffic light. It's not 5-star quality (I'm a tough critic), but if you're looking to be entertained with a fast-paced story, this will do the trick.

Since I didn't read an overwhelming number of books this year, here's a list of the remaining titles and the ratings I gave them on Goodreads.com:

  • The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. Definitely not my typical read.  Four stars.
  • Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter (the singer-songwriter). An angel speaks to the main character. Through his horse. Four stars.
  • An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer. A sweet read about a widower finding love again. Three stars.
  • All You Could Ask For by Mark Greenberg (the ESPN talk show host). The sports guy talks about the relationship between three women at difficult points in their lives. Meh. Three stars.
  • Love at Absolute Zero by Christopher Meeks. It started out strong with quirky characters, an interesting premise (can science predict/find love), and a good deal of humor, but it ended up reading like a predictable cheesy romance novel. Two stars.
  • The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore. Villanova's One Book 2013-2014. Interesting. Three stars.
So that's it for me. Would love to hear what memorable books you read this year!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Miss Shimmer, um, about this rating..."

Last Friday I took a half day's vacation to judge a speech and debate competition at a South Philly charter school. Ian's coach was desperate for help (each competing school has to provide judges), and since I particularly enjoy critiquing others, I volunteered. This wasn't my first time judging at one of these events, but on previous occasions I judged Oral Interpretation, which is what I competed in during high school (OI is basically dramatic reading). At last week's meet, I was needed to judge two categories that were new to me: Public Forum and Lincoln-Douglas Debate. They're both debating contests, with the differences being that PF involves teams of two arguing pro or con on some predetermined topic (genetically modified foods, in this case), while LD has two individuals face off on a more values/ethics-based topic.

While I didn't particularly enjoy Public Forum (I kept wanting to interject), Lincoln-Douglas was especially difficult, mostly due to the two students I had to judge. On one side was a young man who seemed to be advocating for "the right to be forgotten," as in disappearing from social media if one so chooses. I say he seemed to be speaking on that subject because honestly, I wasn't entirely sure what he was trying to communicate. This was not an auspicious start for my first LD. Little did I know things were about to go from bad to worse. Or at least mediocre to bad.

The young lady, who seemed to be speaking for the public's right to know, presented an opening statement that was nearly incoherent. She stumbled while reading her notes verbatim, never making eye contact, and most of what she read hardly seemed relevant to the discussion.

The event became increasingly awkward when it was time for the students to challenge one another based on the statements they'd each made. The young lady referred to whatever notes she'd arrived with, and made points that were completely unrelated to what the young man had proposed. It was almost as if she hadn't listened or at least hadn't understood what he was saying. She looked either half asleep or under the influence of who knows what. It was painful to watch. She sealed her fate when, given six minutes for her concluding statement, she used only two. And of course, in those two minutes, she said nothing of any value.

My job was to rate them each on a scale that looked something like this (I may be off by a number or two):

26-30 - Excellent
21-25 - Good
18-20 - Fair
15-17 - Below average

The form noted that scores under 15 should be reserved for those who exhibited behavioral problems or issues with their conduct.

I should mention that prior to beginning the meet, the school host asked that we not judge too harshly as it is early in the year and we don't want to discourage students.

Talk about your quandaries.

I rated him a 21 and her a 16, provided lengthy comments and suggestions, and turned my paperwork in to the tabulation room.

As I walked away, I heard "Miss Shimmer (dear God, people, it's one "M," which makes it a long "I"), can you come here for a moment?"

You might guess where this is going. 

I was told, "We really don't want to give anyone less than a 20. Can you give her a 20 and him a 21?"

I replied, "There was considerably more than one point difference in their performances."

"Okay, then give him more points?"

Because I lack the cajones to stand my ground, I crossed out my 16 and gave the worst speaker I've ever seen/heard a 20. I bumped up mediocre man to a 25. And then I mentally began this blog post.

This is a classic example of where we go wrong with youth today. We avoid critiquing them too harshly for fear of hurting their self-esteem. We sugarcoat everything in the hopes they'll believe they can do anything. What's wrong with judging them fairly, pointing out both their strengths and weaknesses so they have a realistic sense of self? What's wrong with suggesting they need to work harder if they want to be better? By never using red pens on homework assignments or tests, by giving everyone a trophy for participating, by telling them they're good, great, or awesome, we're setting them up for a serious shock when they enter the real world where there's no "pass go, collect $200" just for showing up.

And while we're busy patting the back of the below average, we diminish the accomplishments of the standout. Or, we over-inflate the mediocre to establish a reasonable distinction between them and the lesser student, athlete, or artist. My mediocre student didn't deserve a score that had him on the cusp of an excellent rating, but in order for him to justifiably believe that he significantly outperformed his competition, that's how I had to score his performance. Tell me this - why have a below average rating on the scale if we're not supposed to use it?

Believe it or not, I'm not advocating that we crush spirits and kill dreams. I'm merely suggesting that we be honest with kids, crediting them with resilience, which they possess in spades as compared to most adults. If we don't prepare them for honest evaluations and critiques now, at the first sign of criticism on the job, they're going to crumble.

I expect some of you will disagree with me on this and I welcome your feedback. Just try to be gentle. No red pens. No low scores. You know I don't handle criticism very well.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Back Burner for the Book

It’s been a while since I've had that whole “What am I doing with my life? Will my time on this earth have meant anything at all?” meltdown. I found myself in that miserable mental state a great deal during the last year or two in my previous job. I felt unsatisfied and unfulfilled and spent a lot of time wondering what I was supposed to do with whatever gifts I’d been given. Of course, being me, I also spent a good amount of time whining and feeling sorry for myself, which was considerably easier than actually putting on my big girl panties and dealing with it.

Miraculously, despite breaking every rule of job searching, two years ago I found myself in a new position at Villanova University and I haven’t had that empty feeling since. Until now.  It’s not the job, which I truly love, it’s more about the rest of my life, which somehow feels increasingly hollow.

Rob wants to know why I go to bed so damn early? It's so I can avoid the void. A woman can only watch so many episodes of The Gilmore Girls in one sitting before she realizes she’s pathetic. You know it’s time to make a change when you beg your daughter to put down her homework so you can watch television together.

I have some sense of what has caused this rather sudden mental and emotional nosedive: 
  1. The season. I tend to retreat into my head as the days grow shorter and darker. Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll drown given how much swimming is going on in my brain.
  2. My three-year sentence commitment as a church elder has come to an end, and I resigned from my committee work at the same time. What I failed to realize is that, while I bitched about it ad nauseam, serving actually gave me a sense of purpose.
  3. I lost my 10-hour a week consulting job. It wasn't much, but it was just enough to keep me busy in the evenings.
  4. My kids need me less and less, which I always thought would be heavenly, but now I’m discovering is actually kinda sad. The only things they want from me are dinner and rides to friends’ houses, neither which I’m particularly excited to offer.
I have determined that the main cause of my current funk, however, is book related. Nothing I've read, but rather the book I haven’t written. I've been down this road before, but at this very moment I know three friends/acquaintances who are enjoying publishing success. One has published his second children’s book and recently had a signing at a local store. A second is looking forward to the release of her first book in December. And a third is publishing her third book!

It goes without saying that my childishly competitive nature demands that I figuratively put pen to paper and write my own damn book. Not because I have a book burning inside of me, but rather because I hate when others succeed at something I always hoped I would do. Well, let me be the first to tell you that this is not the best approach to becoming a writer. Envy does not lead to success. Truth is, years ago I wrote the first paragraph of my novel. Trouble is, that’s all I've got. I have no idea where to go with it or how it would end. And I don’t want to write a mediocre book. I want to write a critically acclaimed book. 

I know what you're thinking: "Here comes the whining and excuses. All the reasons why Kim doesn't have the energy or the self-discipline to make it happen." But you're wrong! In fact, I have a solution for what ails me. Ready? 

Instead of writing a book, I'm going to become an actress!

Stay tuned...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Good News: We're Going to Work Together on This!

Nothing strikes fear into men, women and children like the prospect of a "group project." Has anyone of above average intelligence with a decent work ethic ever been psyched to hear those two words? As children, we learn early on in our education, that "group project" is code for a dysfunctional team approach that leaves everyone unhappy except for the biggest slacker. Schools torture students with group projects throughout their elementary, middle and high school years, to prepare them for more of the same in college. In college, group assignments are intended to reflect "the real world" in which working well in teams is vital to a company's success. Once we arrive in the working world, we lie to our employers when we state in our cover letter that we're "team players." Of course, there is the possibility that I'm the odd man out on this and the rest of you crave such project-based camaraderie, but my sense is that I'm not alone in preferring a stroll over hot coals to working on a team.

It's quite likely that it's the Type As among you who are nodding your heads in agreement while enduring flashbacks of evenings spent redoing a member's contribution to the "group" project. Type As want nothing more than to finish the work efficiently, correctly and without other humans mucking things up. Type As want control and that's exactly what's lacking when the assignment calls for teamwork. Even when you respect your group members and, in general, find them to be competent human beings, you're still likely to mutter, "I'd rather do it myself."

In the past year, I have been reminded several times of the evil that is group projects. I experienced sympathy pains when my colleague Kelly announced that she was working on such an assignment in one of her MBA courses. On another occasion I met with a fairly large group of school parents who are going to work together to put on a successful fundraising event. This "project" revealed an interesting dynamic that I would title "The Swarthmore Syndrome." The way it works is that all the parents from Swarthmore know best. 'Nuff said.

Perhaps the pinnacle of my personal group-based experiences, however, have been two years worth of committee and sessions meetings at church where the unfortunate among us were called into service to re-envision and rebuild our fellowship. I love my church family dearly, but putting Christians together in groups leads to the longest, most drawn out processes ever, accompanied by hushed side conversations, overcommittment by 20% of the frozen chosen, discussions ad nauseam, a great deal of private grumbling, and a lot of public prayer. I think the only thing that could make the experience bearable would be providing adult beverages during meetings, but that would be in violation of the new drug and alcohol policy.

Lest we let the workplace off the group project hot seat, I'd have to say that this is where you're going to find the widest range of so-called team contributors. I suppose this is a result of the salary element. Now, you might think that a paycheck would make a noticeably positive difference in teamwork participation, but based on my personal experiences of the past twenty years, you would be mistaken. In fact, to help those of you are just now entering the workforce, I've created this simple guide to identifying those you may encounter on your team:

  • The Naysayer: It can’t be done. 
  • The Boxer: Don’t ask me to think outside of it.
  • The Historian: That’s not the way we’ve done it in the past.
  • The Soother: Don’t worry about it being perfect, no one gets fired here.
  • The Amnesiac:  If we just ignore it, the boss soon will forget he even gave us the project.
  • The Suck Up: Quick to volunteer, less quick to work, quick to offer to present it to the boss.
  • The Millennial: Assigned to task, encounters first obstacle, commences whining.
  • The Thrill Seeker: It won't take long. We'll get around to it.  
  • The Meet-aholic: Let's meet to discuss next steps, again. I'll bring donuts.
  • The Bucker: It’s not my job.
  • The Pre-Retiree: Been there, done that. It is what it is. 
  • The Once and Done: I tried. It didn’t work. Oh well.
  • The Know-it-All: Type A without social skills.
  • The Fantasizer: Let's try to run a six-month television ad campaign with the $200 in our marketing budget.
  • Frankie Goes to Hollywood (a.k.a.: "Relax, Don't Do It"): There’s always tomorrow. I’m heading home. I've had enough for today. 

And then there's my personal favorite:

  • The Dismisser: The beyond-ballsy colleague who simply declines when presented with an "opportunity" to take on a new project. 
A colleague and friend of mine (someone whom I'm delighted to work with), sent me this helpful venn diagram. Please refer to it the next time you're asked to lead a team. You'll save yourself a good deal of pain and may actually find you enjoy the group project experience!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

I have a doctor's appointment this morning. This is not one of those that you schedule months in advance for your regular checkup. This is one of those where you call and tell them you really need to see the doctor now

I'm not ill, exactly, I just get the sense that something's not right (no smart ass comments, please). For weeks I've been going to bed around 9 p.m. (occasionally earlier), and even though I sleep between 9-10 hours a night, there are still days where I honestly don't know how I'm going to keep my head from hitting the desk in the middle of the afternoon. Then there are my aches and pains. Everyday, even if it's been a week since my last workout, I find there's always something that hurts.

The impetus for today's appointment, however, is my memory loss. While I've had plenty of those "walk into a room and have no idea why" experiences, lately I find myself forgetting something in a matter of seconds. Usually it's harmless enough: Did I put on deodorant just five seconds ago? A sniff solves that mystery. But two nights ago I took my daily medication, which I keep in an old-person daily pill case, and literally seconds later I couldn't remember if I had already taken it. I looked at the day on the pill case and for some reason I was completely befuddled. Without much thought, I took my daily medication. Again. As a result, I woke up at 3:30 a.m., developed a serious case of sweating and trembling hands, and cried. Obviously anti-depressants do NOT make you happier if you take more of them than prescribed. 

So yes, I'm seeing the doctor today and while my self-diagnosis is Lyme's disease (based on the fatigue and aches and pains, plus the weird red spot on my stomach, and the fact that I've found ticks in the house courtesy of the cat), I can almost guarantee that the doctor will put fatigue, aches and pains, and forgetfulness together and diagnosis me with "growing old." He's said it before. Sometimes I think he doesn't take me seriously. I know one of you is going to tell me to find a new doctor, but this appears to be a common problem (hmm...the doctor's being nonchalant or the growing old thing?). 

This past summer, my father fell off the dock in the marina next to his boat. He seriously bruised one side of his torso and thought he had broken a finger. A visit to his physician resulted in an exchange that went something like this:

Doc: What happened?
Dad: Well, I fell stepping onto the dock. I think...
Doc: (cutting him off) You fell because you're getting older. You think you can still do all the things you used to do and the reality is that you can't. You need to slow down.

My father told me later that what he was about to tell the doctor, before he was rudely interrupted, was that he'd had a dizzy spell, which obviously contributed to the fall. Was the dizzy spell the result of age or an entirely separate issue that the doctor took no time to diagnose?

My father and I are alike in many ways, including our refusal to "go gentle into that good night." My dad is 73-years old and hasn't given up a single thing that I've always known him to do. I guarantee that if I could get my hands on a set of water skis and a boat to tow him, he'd happily give it a go. About the only thing he's saying no to these days is amusement park rides, and that happens to most of us when we hit our 40s and spinning things make us want to puke.

Riding roller coasters and boogie boarding are my two main "I am not too old" holdouts. The roller coasters usually leave me needing a chiropractor, and the boogie board may plant me face down in the sand (if I actually manage to catch a wave), but I refuse to say no to what have been sources of great pleasure since I was a kid. My greatest fear is that if I skip just one summer at the amusement park or decline one afternoon in the ocean, I may never return to them again. 

The more seniors I meet, the more I believe that, while growing older is inevitable, there's nothing to say that we have to "get old." We can't control the years, but we do have a say in how we live them. The topic of our aging parents came up in a recent conversation with friends, and the general consensus was that attitude has almost as much to do with the quality of life in our later years as our physical health. I shared about my parents, and my friend told me about his mom, who recently passed away, but whose zest for life had made her such a joy to spend time with. Conversely, his father, who is in fine health, has relegated himself to old man status. 

Some folks seemingly decide overnight that they can no longer do what they did before, and they stop living in the fullest sense of the word. I'm not saying that those who truly can't should fake it, or put themselves or others in harm's way by doing what they should no longer do, but when it's fear that shuts us down, it's sad. 

I often find myself wondering, when I'm old (what age is that exactly?) will I still...

  • Put my feet up on the dashboard of the car or stick them out the window?
  • Dance around the kitchen to make my kids laugh (at me, not with me)?
  • Eat raw cookie dough and lick the spoon when Abby makes cake or icing?
  • Sing along at full volume with every song on the radio?
  • Laugh with complete abandon at funny movies, even in a theater full of people?
  • Hoot and holler at my grandkids' sporting events (if my mom is any indication, that would be "yes")?
  • Act in church skits, or maybe I'll have advanced to community theater by then?
  • Want to prove myself on water skis?

Well, it's about time for that doctor's appointment. I'm tempted to secretly tape the conversation. How much do you want to bet that he tells me I'm fine and that my symptoms are all part of getting old growing older? 

I'll be sure to let you know.