Janet Sheridan: The upside of aging
When young, I hesitated to stamp myself approved because of attributes I didn’t possess. I yearned to be musical, kind and graceful. I wanted to hit homeruns, burp the alphabet and be chosen first every time. I also fretted about characteristics I possessed and didn’t want: my shyness, short nose, fear of old man Sweeney and tendency to lie when cornered.
As I moved from childhood, through my teen years and into adulthood, feelings of inadequacy continued to hamper my self acceptance: “I’ll never manage to play sports with skill, cook food folks will happily eat, drive expertly on roads with traffic, smile naturally when photographed or have an acceptable blood pressure reading in a doctor’s office.
When I retired, however, and my life lost its busyness, my inner critic grew weary, and new thoughts began to creep into my increasingly receptive head. One day, a startling notion bounced me out of my recliner: I no longer had to act professional. I could ignore the telephone, use inappropriate words when necessary and go to the post office in my house slippers. I didn’t have to read the latest book about fixing public schools by someone who’d never worked in them or spend Sunday afternoons worrying about everything I needed to accomplish in the upcoming workweek.
I also realized my shortcomings were neither socially reprehensible nor criminal, so I didn’t need to let them embarrass me. I used to splotch red and become defensive when I misheard while wearing my hearing aids; now, I laugh when Joel tells me our grandson said he’d call, and I reply in alarmed confusion, “Why’s he going to fall?” I hurt myself popping out of chairs in public settings; now, I stand up like my knees hurt — which they do; and, when visiting our children and grandchildren, I neither apologize for going to bed at 9, nor do I stay up until I start hallucinating.
I find I’m increasingly satisfied with less: less food on my plate, fewer choices in my closet, limited shopping, reduced wanderlust and little interest in the latest fashion trend, notorious comic, must-see movie, hot musician, essential app or trendy food.
My most liberating breakthrough resulted from my 2005 decision to crochet an afghan. I hadn’t wielded a crochet hook since I made a lopsided hot pad for 4-H that didn’t win a blue ribbon. Nevertheless, I chose an afghan composed of duplicate sets of 24 different granny-square patterns that used every crochet stitch known to womankind. After ripping out rows until my teeth ached, I finished two tear-stained squares — honeycombs and waves — and began referring to the afghan as my hundred-year project. But, raised to think you finish what you start, I persisted and crocheted the last stitch in 2014.
I spent three more days blocking, assembling and edging the squares, then weaving them together and crocheting an outside edge. Next, I spread my completed project out and, for the first time, saw the beauty of the combination of various patterns done in dusty rose, soft pink or sage green. When I folded my afghan and placed it across the foot of the guest room bed, it unified and accented the room in a splendid way.
I stepped back and smiled, thinking, “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I crochet again.”
The result was not worth my nine years of mostly miserable effort, so I began to examine my bright ideas more closely. Last summer, I decided I wanted to learn to swim well enough to do exercise laps. I spent the better part of the summer working toward this goal but never managed to flail and gasp my way to completing a lap; then I hung up my swim goggles for good.
I’ve jumped off the treadmill of achievement; and, at last, I’ve stamped approved on my forehead.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.