Wednesday, November 30, 2011

White Knuckles

For years, I scoffed at my sister Carolyn's reluctance to drive on expressways, or in bad weather, or at night (or, God forbid, all three). What in the world was her problem? While I was not what you'd call an enthusiastic motorist, I could always get from Point A (home) to Point B (pretty much anywhere but New York City and Boston, because the drivers there are maniacs), no matter the time or clime.

Well, now I understand C’s feelings completely. Now I am 55 (or will be next month). And, at 55, I'm finding that traveling at speeds OVER 55 is causing me to break out in a sweat and hyperventilate and grip the steering wheel for dear life. Rain, even a gentle sprinkling, causes me to seriously rethink my planned outing on the road. Snow, ice--forget about it! It's really depressing.

And the hardest part, for me, is my new fear of driving at night. My eyesight has been on the decline for years. And then I went on a medication that "may cause blurred vision"--and, lo and behold, it does! Nevertheless, I could basically cope, could stay in the correct lane, could still see the traffic lights. But suddenly, now, I was Mr. Magoo. One memorable evening, en route to a meeting, I literally had to stop and get out of the car and go over to the street signs to read them, twice! I was, of course, late to the meeting. Worse, once there I could not concentrate on the doings of the Naval Academy Parents Club. I was far too busy dreading my return trip, with its attendant pauses to stop, stretch my legs and squint, wondering if the sign read "Moreland Road" or "Meadow Lane"--or something else entirely.

So I finally got glasses. End of problem, right? Well, not exactly. Nowadays, after dark, the oncoming headlights explode like starbursts before my eyes. The yellow lines still frequently disappear, making it a distinct challenge to keep to my side of the street . The road signs may now be tack-sharp, but what good does that do if I am drifting and distracted by the lightshow?

My world, it feels, is shrinking rapidly. No longer confident behind the wheel, I am losing confidence in general. I was never Danica Patrick but darn it, I was a pretty decent driver! Now, I envision a future of more and more limits—limits of speed and of distance, of venturing out, of independence.  And it makes me sad.

Sad enough to fight it. I will not go gentle into that dark and rainy night. I will find glasses that actually work, and practice heading out onto the highways and byways once more. In downpours and snowstorms, at dusk and 11 PM. I will fight growing old, old in spirit. There are 80 year olds of my acquaintance who run rings around me in the courage dept. Let me take a page from their book. Let me keep trying.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Take a Hike!

I’ve never been a Black Friday shopper. Too disorganized, for one thing.  I have NO idea what anyone wants for Christmas this early. Nor do I have the cash with which to buy anything, as overfilling my shopping cart with Mr. Turkey and fixings has usually wiped me out.  And if I do manage to figure out my loved ones’ hearts’ desires—and squirrel away the funds to make their holiday dreams come true—they want esoteric things Walmart and Target just ain’t got. These days, with all the kids but Julie out of their teens, the gift of choice anyway is money to pay their electric bills and maybe a little extra for Ramen noodles. 

So how do the Seyfrieds bond on the day after Thanksgiving? Traditionally, weather permitting, everyone but me troops out to a state park for a vigorous hike. These adventures (I’ve seen the photos) involve endless trails through the forest, steep and slippery climbs to scenic overlooks. Traditionally, I stay behind, alone with my leftover pie, and wait to be regaled when my weary, but happy, family returns. 

For some reason, this year they convinced me to join them for a trip to Evansburg State Park. Maybe I’d finally had enough pie. Maybe I was just acutely conscious of how rare our time together truly is. In any event, there I was, at trail’s beginning, obvious newbie to the rugged outdoor life: pristine white sneakers, too many layers, no water bottle and no clue. My husband had been there before, and confidently led the way. As I huffed and puffed, bringing up the rear, Steve tossed off the fact that we were embarking on a 5 mile, 2 ½ hour “walk.” Too late to retreat—I’d never find my way back to the car anyway. So on I marched, until the first slight incline, when I fell. My hope that my stumble would elicit enough pity to cut the hike short then and there, was dashed when PJ just broke off a tree branch and handed it to me as a walking stick. OK, so this is how it was gonna be—no coddling for Mom, the Mom who had given painful birth to these wretched unsympathetic children!  

The next two hours plus featured: Mud. Mud under fallen leaves, mud hidden beneath the grass, mud right out there in the open. And, of course, mud caked on my formerly pristine white sneakers. It was so bad that Fearless Leader Dad finally caved and let us trek the final mile or so off the trail and on a beautifully dry and civilized paved road. My kind of nature at last! Street signs! Lawns! And, at long last, the parking lot where our car awaited to whisk us home! Home to pie! But also, home, this time, to laugh and remember—all of us, together—our state park adventure. A Black Friday with my wonderful family that no amount of money could ever buy.