Thanksgiving: Feeling Thankful When Life Isn’t Perfect

321602_278316702194454_4244576_nIt was probably mid-July when I started to write a post about dust and sunlight. It was going to be about what you do when the sun shines through the windows in the late afternoon and illuminates the room so that dust that is normally invisible can suddenly be seen. I was going to make an analogy with our lives, and how sometimes we have moments where something strikes us about ourselves and we become truly clear about what we need to do……yet  we still don’t do anything….we leave the dust there, even though we know we should probably clean it up.

But that post never got finished because life turned kind of upside-down. Well, my laptop also was on the blink so I could blame that too. The reality was we had worked for almost a year getting our house ready to put on the market. We got rid of lots of random stuff we never used, we cleaned the attic and garage, we painted and fixed things and finally, we said “now or never”. All that work paid off. The house sold in a day. The closing came fast and before I knew it I was following my husband in a rental truck, me in our car down 84 west…..we were moving to Florida.

I was kind of pushed into an early retirement, having to leave both part time jobs that gave me so much joy (working at Connecticut Children’s Hospital and the Gengras Center School for children with special needs). I was leaving behind almost all of my family and most of my closest friends. My beautiful garden was left to someone else. I stuffed as many sentimental flower pots and lawn ornaments I could into that truck but moving to a condo meant I couldn’t take it all. It was hard to drive away from a life that took decades to build. And yet, I was so excited to be retired and not have to drive through any more snow storms during rush hour. I was thrilled to be in a new place where I could have sunshine and walk barefoot and swim most days of the year. Was I doing the right thing? I was so happy yet so sad.

I was a mess.

But I survived this big upheaval in my life. I am sure some of my friends reading this are thinking I am crazy to have even one ounce of regret. I mean, not having to work and living in the sunshine state? What on earth is there to complain about? I actually did (and still do) feel a gigantic sense of relief that I won’t have to deal with having to drive somewhere everyday, or deal with snow, especially driving in it, which I don’t enjoy. And as far as missing family and friends, well already I have visited for a few weeks and had more quality time with my daughters than I typically do (two sleepovers filled with lots of laughs). I dragged my mom down to Florida for a few weeks and trust me, she was ready to go back home. But the point is, I am realizing I can make time, precious meaningful time with my family and friends. It just may be more expensive, flying verses driving a few miles.

But what about joy? That’s what I got from work. That’s what I felt every day interacting not only with the cutest kids in the world, but the most inspirational co-workers, at both jobs. I have missed that joy and even though I have been so thankful for my easier but different life, I have not figured out this part yet. Yes, my visits with my daughters and family and friends back home gave me that joyful feeling, but I need it more regularly.

I have had a few moments down here though. I have met some amazing women who happen to be older than me. One in particular who happens to be 96 years old and sharp as a tack, as they say. She is absolutely beautiful, radiating a sense of happiness and joy. Whenever I have popped in to visit her she is always sitting near a window, soaking in sunshine or watching people walk by with her little bowl of Werther’s Original toffee candy nearby. She says she needs brightness and sunshine, lots of light makes her happy. She is funny and makes others laugh. When you ask what her secret is to looking so young (her face is smooth, not like you would expect for a woman in her 90’s who lives in Florida), she mentions her glass of scotch every night before bed. I doubt that is it, I am guessing it is her contagious joyful attitude. I was a bit worried when I heard she was in the hospital last week (due to COPD). Someone thought she wouldn’t be back. But then yesterday, while on a short golf cart ride around our block, guess who zoomed by? There was Bunny, sitting on the passenger side of the golf cart, her equally joyful and funny caretaker driving. I was thrilled to see her waving as she whizzed by.

I have also felt joy just listening to the ladies in my daily water aerobics class. That is the one reliable routine I have fallen into. Every morning at 9 am anywhere from 4 to 12 women, most in their late 70’s or 80’s join together to exercise. At first I thought I might be bored, not sure how much I would have in common with these women. But over time I learned their stories. Stories of pain and loss, and survival. So many have had some type of cancer, breasts removed, sections of lungs taken out, hip, shoulder and knee surgeries. loss of spouses and even children. And yet, they laugh and giggle constantly. They make jokes about their aches and pains and help each other modify the exercises to make it doable for everyone. They help each other, they are there for each other.

One remarkable lady lost her husband years ago, and then last year lost her older daughter in a car accident. She has an older son with special needs who often stays with her. She has health issues herself, yet, she shows up wearing her “bling”, making us all laugh and giggle. I love visiting her, her door is always open, no need to call, just pop in. Although the rule for our building is that you can only have 3 pots of flowers outside, Adele has ten times that! She is a gardener and loves her flowers. She says she just tells everyone she is “babysitting”. Anyway, this one particular day we were sitting on the couch and out of the closed guestroom came her son who I had never met. He struggled a bit with his walker, eventually making it out to the lanai. He introduced himself and even he made me laugh, telling me my feet were pretty (they are NOT, trust me). When I left her house that day and walked in my flip flops along the sunny brick walkway, I had that feeling, that feeling of happiness and joy. It hit me that I need to interact with people like Adele and her son and Bunny on a more regular basis. I need to be inspired by people who have gone through things most of us would struggle with. People who keep their sense of humor no matter what.

The one thing I sense these joyful people have is a feeling of thankfulness. They have gratitude for all that they do have despite their challenges. They are thankful for their sunny days and friendships. They are fulfilled by helping each other. Yes, they have gone through a lot, but they are survivors and they keep going, focusing on the funny side of life (which is always there, you just have to find it). I often hear someone say “we are so blessed!” These words out of the mouth of someone who survived lung cancer, needs monthly shots in her eye for vision issues, went through months of weekly infusions due to a rare infection that took months to cure. No complaints, no bitterness, just “we are so blessed”.

On this Thanksgiving day I know there are many going through really hard things. Many people I know have health issues, some have relationship struggles, others trying to make ends meet while raising a family. No matter what you are going through, what your struggles are, I hope you can learn from my new water aerobic friends the value of gratitude and looking at the good, not the bad in your life. As I write this, I realize how blessed I am. Now, time to make that pumpkin pie!!!!

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy every moment and all that you have.

PS. Thankful for my new laptop! More posts to come, next one probably to do with dealing with “the day after” Thanksgiving  : D

Being Thankful For Good Enough

great book by Veronique Vienne

Anxiety over imperfection. That is the statement that got stuck in my brain at 4:45 am this morning as I was struggling to make myself stay asleep. Despite telling myself that today is the only day this week I can sleep in….I just couldn’t. When you are tormenting yourself about whether you should make mashed potatoes or not for your Thanksgiving Dinner it is hard to sleep. What is going on here? What happened to my priorities?

Sometimes I feel I have been fighting this my entire life. Not sure, but I am guessing I have already written a post about it (so forgive me if this is repetitive). Although at this stage in my life having “things”perfect is not at all important to me (anyone who has witnessed what my hair looks like on any given day of the week can testify to this). And if you glance upwards in my house in almost any room it will confirm to you that perfection is not something I suffer with (and the spiders are very happy about that). But that is my physical world. When it comes to “performance” or maybe it’s behavior, or how I may be affecting other people, well that is a different story.

I am guessing I am not the only one who absolutely needed to get the A on a report card. Back in my high school years that C+ I got in typing really bothered me (I told myself I would never take a job where I needed to type anyway and that helped me deal with it..remember, computers weren’t invented yet). Unfortunately, I couldn’t predict this modern world where I have to type every day of the week. Anyway, as time went on, this feeling of wondering if what I was doing was good enough seemed to get worse as responsibilities grew. The first time I was criticized by the chief dietitian in a medical center where I was doing a practicum almost crushed me. It was just the start of my career in the nutrition field and my first experience working in a research hospital, and even though I was not a dietitian yet, it was a lot of pressure. I thought I was doing my best. Yes, I was very shy back then and spoke very softly. That is what put her over the edge I think. She took me in her office and pretty much yelled at me for not being confident. It was horrible. For heaven’s sake, I was probably 19 years old. Although I left in tears, in the end, like all painful experiences, it was a gift. It took a while to digest it all but she was right. I needed to work on this, and so I did. By the end of the summer practicum when I had to do a presentation in front of a large group (well, about 25 people, to me that was big) I nailed it.

But that did not change that inner voice that seemed to always question if I was doing enough. Enter my first child, Jennifer. I was proud of myself for making it through a long labor the natural way, it is what I went to those birthing classes for and I did it! But could I successfully breast feed my new baby? I will never forget my wonderful Italian grandmother looking at me with doubt. She actually said “are you sure you are going to have enough?” She was assuming the size of your breasts were correlated with how much milk you could make. Thank goodness that is not true, but I panicked anyway. She was wrong. I was a natural.

After two more babies, I was blessed to be able to be a “stay-at-home” mother. I had so much energy and was able to keep up with the house, food, laundry, dirty diapers, doctor’s visits, holidays, playgroups, you name it. So why was I feeling like I was still “not enough”because I was no longer “the dietitian”? I was not making any money anymore and it felt weird. Most mothers I know today would have been thrilled to do what I was able to do. Of course, years later after going back to school and work (at the same time) it dawned on me that those years of staying home with babies was much harder than working full time and going to school. I always joke about the joys of getting to go to the bathroom by yourself, or even getting a lunch break where you can actually finish a sandwich. That does not happen on a regular basis for stay-at-home parents.

So then life went on and with experience came confidence in the job/career world at least. Now I know what I don’t know. It is probably a lot but that is totally ok with me because wherever I am working I have no problem asking for help or guidance. It took years to learn that it is alright that you don’t know everything. We learn so much from those around us, whether it is our patients, our students, our co-workers or in my case, even my children. Not knowing it all is not the problem. It is worrying about making everyone happy. That is my conclusion and that is what woke me up this cozy rainy Sunday morning when I should be sleeping.

So back to the potatoes. Are you planning your holiday dinner and wondering about the same silly things? You want the table to look pretty. You want to be sure everyone has a place to sit (in my case anyway). The bathroom needs to be clean. You need to have everyone’s favorite (so even if just one person wants pecan pie, well you need to make it).But what if you didn’t? Would it really matter?

In the end, for me anyway, there is lots of joy derived from all of this. For example, my sister-in-law Michelle is making my son’s favorite brownies as well as pumpkin moon pies. If you despise baking because it is so much work (like I do) that kind of tedious work sounds painful. But to her, I know the pay-off is seeing the smile on my son’s face when he sees that plate. Money can’t buy that feeling. When you give, you receive. Making people happy is a wonderful thing. But is there a line there, a limit to how much energy we should invest? Finding the balance between joy and stress? When does making people happy become a problem?

Only you have that answer. This time of year can bring a lot of both, joy and stress. The need for perfection in yourself, be it in your physical world (body, clothes, clean house, etc) certainly makes it harder. Needing to make everyone perfectly happy can also make this time of year hard. Getting the perfect present, making the perfect meal, sending the perfect card. I ask, do you care what gift you get, or what card, or what food is served when you gather with family and friends? Probably not. It is the people that are around us, the love, the laughter that matters. And I can’t wait for that! Mashed potatoes or no mashed potatoes, I bet nobody cares.

This will be the first Thanksgiving without my dad and we will miss him. I am going to make that pecan pie anyway because he is the one who liked it. I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving and hope you enjoy all that is truly important. The people around you.