Aging in Place?

My mother is 91 years old. She is still happily living in the house she and my Dad bought in 1962.

She is dealing with dementia, some small health issues and increasing frailty.

But she is safe at home. In her chair, on her porch, surrounded by the walls that held our family of 8 for so many years.

In many ways she is incredibly lucky. I think that many people of her generation have always planned to “age in place”. To live and die in their one beloved home.

I understand that urge. I understand my Mom’s attachment to this place, to her anchor, to her best memories.

But as I make may way through this house, the place where I was raised and from which I launched my own life, I am swept with sadness.

I see images of my 5 siblings gathered around the kitchen table. I remember our arguments, our jokes, our little annoyances and our small joys. I see my Dad, so happy and proud, grinning at Mom as she served dinner to the brood.

My heart hurts.

And I wonder.

Is it really the best thing to stay in place until the end?

I ask this question as I find myself moving through my own house today. The house that my husband and I bought 31 years ago. The house where we raised our own three children into adulthood. A house, a home, filled with so many memories.

I love it here. I look out into my garden and remember that when we moved in here, there were no gardens. I am the one who planted the day lilies, the forsythia, the coreopsis and coneflower and phlox and lilac.


Walking around this yard fills my heart with memories. And it makes me sad.

I walk by the backyard, now filled with blueberry bushes. I remember walking here with my baby boy, the first year that I ever planted my own tomatoes. That little guy, nearly a year old, loved to pick a fresh, warm tomato and bite into it as he stood there barefoot in the grass. I can still see him.

He turned 31 years old today, and I struggle to let go of the image of his golden haired smiling baby self.

I move around to the side of the house, remembering my baby child, my last born. I can see him throwing a baseball against the wall. I can hear myself yelling at him, complaining that he and his friends were cracking the siding.

I remember pets that are long gone.

I remember a sweet, tender, heartbreaking little boy from next door and I remember his shocking death at the tender age of 25.

So many sweet things happened here.

When I walk our dogs around the block, there are ghosts all around me. Ghosts of Halloweens past and birthday parties and giant storms. Ghosts of neighbors long gone, and children now grown.

Ghosts of young adults falling in love, and the tears that came with those experiences. Shadows of lessons learned and echoes of lessons lost.

Now my house is also filled with the memories of my grandchildren, who have spent so many days here in my care as their parents have gone to work. Another layer of ghosts pulling at my aging heart.

And I am beginning to wonder if I really want to “age in place.”

Paul and I have friends who have managed this part of life with more grace. Some have moved to new and excited places where they are creating their “next phase” lives on islands and in exotic foreign lands.

I watch them packing up their middle aged lives and moving on with joy.

And I am envious, and a little jealous and aware of the fact that if I had it to do over again, I would have sold this nice little house right after our children left it. I would have moved to a new place, to start a new life, to find my next steps.

For me, the idea of “aging in place” has lost a lot of its charms and now feels like an anchor that is holding me down.

Photo by Devon MacKay on Unsplash

The End.

It is the tail end of summer.


No more heat, no more barbecue, no more beach days.

And yet……

I am retired this year!  “Fall” doesn’t actually start on the first day of school.  “Fall” doesn’t start until it gets to cool to swim. It won’t be here until the frost.  Until the leaves turn golden. Until we switch from fresh lettuce to fresh squash.

For the first time in many, many years, for me summer won’t end until baseball is over!  Until (if God truly loves us) the Cubs have surprised everyone.

For the first time in oh, so very long, summer is not defined by the first day of school. Summer for me will last until I feel cold.  Until the frost is literally on the pumpkin.

For the first time in my life, I think, I am heading off to the beach for a weekend in the fall!  Paul and I will be going down to the Cape on Friday, taking a ferry to Oak Bluffs to meet our wonderful, generous, boat-owning friends.  We are going to spend the very first weekend of meteorological autumn on the ocean, on a boat, on Martha’s Vineyard.

I am SO PSYCHED.  I am beyond delighted. I am ecstatic.  I can’t even breathe, I am so happy.

School is in session. Kids are reviewing math facts and choosing “just right books.”  And I don’t care.

I am free. I am liberated.

I will spend the beginning of “the end” soaking up the last rays of the sun on the deck, sharing a good bottle of wine with my pals, watching the sun set over the island.

It may be the “end” of summer, but for the first time in more than two decades, it isn’t “the end” of my freedom.

You gotta love retirement.

Reinventing Myself. Again.

So I have been retired for all of four days now.

I don’t feel any different.  I still see books about teaching and think, “Oooh, next year…..”

I still watch the weather report, thinking, “I have to get to the beach!  Summer is so short! I have to get to the beach!”

I still feel like a teacher.

I still talk to the young lady at the grocery store register, swapping stories about how wintergreen mints make sparks in your mouth on a dark night.  I still tell her, “I’m a fifth grade teacher!”

I still smile at the kids in the mall, wondering which ones are fifth grade age.

I haven’t yet shed my teacher skin.

But slowly, oh, so very slowly, I am coming to the dawning realization that my summer vacation will not end on August 31st.  I am gradually, painstakingly grasping the concept of Fall as simply another season in an ongoing flow of seasons.  “September” no longer means “Lack of sleep”.  “September” now means more days of glorious sunshine, and maybe some quiet days on those beaches that I love so much.

I remember so clearly when my children were very young.  The summer would speed by in a rush of doctors visits, dental check ups, shopping for new clothes and the occasional day at the beach.  All too soon, I would find myself faced with the sad reality of trying to manage a household of five people with different demanding schedules.  I remember laying out the “first day of school clothes”, setting up the coffee, packing my own work bag and pulling out the crock pot.

I remember looking at Paul and saying, “There goes Swifty”, a reference to the mechanical rabbit that took off in an endless loop to lure the greyhounds at the dog track into a pointless chase.

I remember how much I felt like one of those greyhounds on that last day of summer, about to begin my own never ending race to get myself around the track, knowing that I would never even come close to that pretend rabbit.

I remember it so well.

But now I need to look beyond that race, beyond the idea of life as a series of school years.  September will no longer be my beginning.  June will no longer be my end.

For the first time in so many years, maybe I can begin to see my life as an unfolding road, rather than a circle running around and around in the same narrow track.  Maybe this year I can learn to love the warm golden days of October, and to embrace the coming of winter.

Maybe I can focus on the harvest, instead of the classroom assessments.

Slowly, carefully, hopefully, perhaps I can reinvent myself yet again, and find myself a spectator, rather than a racer on that endless repeating track of school days and holidays and school vacations.  Maybe I can detach myself just a bit from that world, and find myself at home in a slower paced walk along the path that meanders from year to year.

Maybe I will be able to reinvent myself once again.

I hope so.

Stalked by Dr. Oz

I don’t know about you, but I have to fight my addiction to Facebook.  I try hard not to go straight there every time I boot up my laptop.  I try not to recheck it every few minutes while I am supposed to be writing a report or doing lesson plans.

My intentions are good, but my will power is weak!

If I don’t constantly track Facebook, how can I keep tabs on my kids? I mean, really?

If I don’t keep up with every status update, how will I see the growth of everyone’s beautiful babies and children?  How can I stay in touch with my childhood friends and old High School buddies?

I try, I do.  But my will power is weak.

The questions is: How the hell does Facebook KNOW that my will power is weak? How does Mark Z. read my mind like that?

I’m sure you’ve noticed the little column of ads on the right side of your FB page, right? They don’t usually bother me, but lately I have noticed that in with the ads for shoes, purses and tax prep offers, I keep seeing Dr. Oz sitting on a couch in front of the hugest woman in the world, her gargantuan figure draped in a bright fuschia muumuu.  The first time I saw her, (just as I was about to pop a cookie in my mouth), I felt intense sympathy.  I mean, yikes, there but for the grace of God, and all that.  Dr. Oz looked so kind and gentle as he leaned toward her.  The ad was for some kind of Dr. Oz weight loss program.  I ignored it.

But over the next few weeks, I saw that same image popping up, over and over again.  Sometimes the woman was swathed in yards of fuschia, sometimes she was in neon yellow or an eye melting chartreuse.  It was really disturbing!

I began to feel uneasy.

I would open FB, grab a nice buttery piece of toast, and immediately my eyes would be pulled to the right.  Urk!  There she would be, in all her horrific glory, folds of cloth and folds of flesh draping over her knees and the TV studio couch, Dr. Oz leaning in to offer help.  The toast would drop and I would reach for an apple.

The weird thing is, they seemed to be advertising different things every time.  A diet, an exercise plan, a health food plan….. And it was always the exact same image, with only the dress color changing.  Weird!

Now, I understand how these ads work. I order shoes on Amazon, I get a million shoe ads.  I buy a book on line, a million book ads pop up.  I write a status about my back ache (not that I would ever do that!!!) and ads for pain meds and spine stretchers appear.

But I haven’t joined a weight loss program, or searched for low calorie diets or googled Dr. Oz!

HOW does Facebook know I need to drop a few pounds?   HOW?

Can it see me?  Gulp.

Is there some weird sensor in my screen that detects the scent of chocolate and immediately calls up the picture of the woman in the hot pink outfit?  I’m beginning to feel more than a little creeped out.

As my discomfort (ok, my paranoia) grew, I investigated the stupid ads, and realized that there is a little ‘x’ on the upper right corner of each one. You can click on that and remove the ad!  Yay!  Facebook even sends you a little message, telling you that you can hide “all ads from  said company”.  I clicked on that, of course, within two seconds of finding it! Then Facebook asks you why.  I clicked “uninteresting” the first time. And the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth times, too.

The next day?  Screaming yellow muumuu. “Plop” goes my ice cream spoon.  “Click” on the ‘x’ again.  This time I hit “offensive” as my reason for sending the fat lady away.

Two hours later: Fat lady, bright red dress, oozing flesh.  Click, click, click! After a while, I started to hit “other” as my reason for removing the image.  Then FB asked me to explain. “I am not dieting.” was my first response, but as each day goes by and she keeps coming back to haunt me like a dish of spicy chili, my responses have become more and more shrill.

I have been reduced to fighting with the invisible, snarky robots who run Facebook’s ads.

This is how the conversation seems to be going now.

Fat lady in green: You’re a whale, Karen. You know that, right?

me: Shut up!!!  I own an elliptical machine!

Fat lady in yellow: Yeah. You have to actually get ON it once in a while. Step away from the donut, girlfriend.

me:  Go away!  Offensive! Repetitive! Stop!!

Fat lady in pink: Seriously. You look like a manatee. You are two pounds away from asking to borrow my dress.


So, my friends and relations, I have two questions:

1)  WHY are these ads popping up over and over?  Is Dr. Oz after me?  How do they know I’m “big boned”?

2) Should I keep up my fight, or just give in and try to lose a few of these extra little love handles?

What’s your FB experience been like? Do you get ads for anything less offensive than this?