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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Middle Age Musings

13319217-illustration-of-a-young-beautiful-woman-with-shopping-bags-against-abstract-background-eps-10-file I like to describe myself as “middle-aged,” even though I doubt I’ll live another 54.5 years. What else could I call it? “Just past middle-aged, but not quite elderly?” “JPMABNQE,” for short. No one ever talks about this in-between stage of life; not really. I haven’t heard women talk about some of the things that come with it. Of course, we’ve all debated hormone replacement therapy, and which surgeon is best to treat various diagnoses common to our age group. And, we accept reading glasses as a necessary, often fashionable, accessory,  but I haven’t heard much discussion about the vagaries of this particular time of life.  So, let’s discuss, shall we?

Does any other JPMABNQE-er have problems shopping for clothes? I mean, really. When did I lose the ability to tuck anything in? Or even wear a belt? Where did my waist go? Hello Mom Jeans…and pants, and shorts; they must be high and stretchy enough to handle that dreaded, stubborn muffin top. And, I don’t understand layering. Last weekend, inspired by the first breath of cooler weather, I went shopping for some new fall clothes. I was browsing in one of my favorite department stores, admiring the latest trends in jeans and leather jackets, when a friendly, young salesperson approached me and said excitedly, “We have some great Eileen Fisher on sale; and a new shipment of her things are towards the front.” Eileen Fisher? I found myself taken aback a bit. While Eileen’s clothes are pretty and made of quality materials, she’s all about long tops that flow and hang loosely. Did she really think I needed that? Hmmmm.  I headed to the dressing room with an armful of sweaters long enough to wear as dresses, and a couple of pairs of stretchy pants. After trying everything on, and looking at that stranger in the mirror, I cried, “These clothes just aren’t me,” and quickly  exited the store.  I know I can reduce that muffin top with more intense exercise, but I recently got off track when my 27-year-old trainer literally got in my face.  I was struggling through push-ups when he kneeled down on the ground, looked me in the eyes and asked, accusingly, “Did you have wine with dinner again last night?” Excuse me, but I exercise so that I can have wine with dinner. I’m still looking for another trainer.

At this stage of life, we are no longer “soccer moms,” and can finally trade in our SUVs that seat ten and have the storage capacity of a cargo plane, for sporty little sedans that are fun to drive and easy to park at the grocery store. Am I the only one who notices how low to the ground these cars are, and, who looks for handles above the door for help easing up and out?  Does anyone else make sounds that you heard your mother make in her later years? For instance, the other day I went out early to get the newspaper and noticed a mom pushing her son in a stroller. I waved cheerily, then bent over for the paper, and heard involuntary sounds that I hadn’t made before, “Uhhhh, ewwww, whoo.” The young mother looked at me and gave a sympathetic smile. I was stiff, okay? Hadn’t stretched yet. After car rides of longer than an hour, do you find that you walk slowly at first, trying to warm up stiff hips? Just for a minute or five?

And what about increased crying proclivity? Do you ever cry during commercials? There’s one on television now showing a mother talking on the phone to her daughter who’s away at college, and the daughter is thanking her for sending a care package. “We’ll see you soon,” says Mom. I tear up every time. Watching movies, I often get teary at the opening credits as soon as the music starts.

Do you sometimes feel like the oldest person in the room? San Antonio is getting some hip, hot new places with ultra-industrial, barely finished out interiors, and plates to share, all of which appears to be highly attractive to the young people in town. First of all, I’d rather have my own plate of food, placed just in front of me and to the lower left of my wine glass, thank you very much. And, secondly, that urban chic interior sure does increase the noise level. Have you been to an outdoor concert lately? Last year, I accompanied my daughters and husband to Austin City Limits. I was astonished to find people climbing over my folding chair, while I was sitting in it. I’d carefully placed it close enough to the stage for the perfect view, yet not too close as to risk blowing out my eardrums. The youngsters ignored me, and stood up in front of me the whole time blocking my view entirely. “It’s a music fest, lady,” explained a young man after he heard me complain to my husband about the lack of civility. “Lady? Did he call me lady?” I picked up my chair and headed directly over to another stage where Neil Young was performing. Finally! Now I was with my people…and what a depressing sight that was. Surely these guys couldn’t have been in college in the late 70’s?

I could go on, but think I’ll stop now. Rather than accept these insults of middle-age (or so), I’ve decided to fight them by making some changes. I’m going to find exercise classes which include a long period of stretching led by trainers who are no longer in their twenties. I’m going to engage a personal stylist at some chic clothing store who can show me how to cover up while looking stylish, and I’m not ruling out Eileen Fisher.  And, I just might have to shop for a car that’s a wee bit higher off the ground. Oh well; at least I’m not installing a ramp outside the front door and safety bars in the bathroom. Not yet, anyway.



imagesFull disclosure: I am no longer Nearly, I’m there, a full-on Empty-Nester. I have learned in the last few weeks, that the term “Empty-Nester” is politically incorrect. Apparently, some find the phrase offensive, and interpret it as, “My work as a parent is over, and I will have nothing more to do with my children.” Or, “My house is empty, my work here is done, and I plan to party like it’s 1999!” (In our case, it would be  like it’s 1981 to March, 1988.) Oh please. It’s a silly label, but it’s the best description I can think of to describe parents who have spent the last 18 or more years sharing their home and their food with dependents who weren’t there in the beginning. My husband and I built and tended the nest, laid the eggs, fed and nurtured the little ones and kept it all going until they (finally) flew the coop. Sure, they’ll be back, and we will gladly welcome them, but no one can deny that our everyday life is different and forever changed. So, without any apologies or guilt, I shall define my husband and I as “Empty-Nesters.” With the exception, of course, that the name of this blog will remain the same; “Nearly Empty-Nester” has a better ring to it!

It’s hard to believe that less than one year ago, all three of my children, ranging in age from 18 to 25,  were living at home, and I wondered if they would find their place in the world and move along. Sure enough, one found a job out of town, one chose grad school in Alabama, and the other chose a college in Tennessee, leaving my husband and I alone in our big, quiet, empty house. Just a few weeks ago, everything was a whirl of activity as we prepared for two of our daughters’ departure for higher education out of state. We shopped, packed, organized, loaded the U-Haul, drove for two days, unloaded, and put necessary worldly goods in their proper places in a tiny apartment. Then, all was repeated one week later, with the exception that the transported items were squeezed into a small dorm room. Finally, everything came to a screeching halt and, on a Monday morning in late August, I found myself alone with nothing on the calendar, minimal laundry, and a very short grocery list. My husband was lucky, I thought, as he headed off to work, doing his usual thing at the usual time. When he arrived home that evening, I was outside watering long-neglected, withering plants. I looked up at him forlornly, and noticed he didn’t look much happier. “Well, should we go out to eat,” he asked, appearing confused. “I don’t know; what do you think?” I replied. We debated this for awhile, then decided that since I had food in the fridge, it would be best to cook it, thereby minimally disturbing our routine of 25 years.

We ate dinner together, making small talk to distract ourselves from the elephant in the room, (or, more accurately, NOT in the room.) Then, as is our habit, we moved to the den to watch television. “Should we watch last night’s ‘Breaking Bad’?” I had never watched an episode, but it had been a weekly, much-anticipated ritual for my husband and the three kids, so I agreed. I was happy for the major distraction that its meth lab, and all its quirky characters provided. When it was over, the realization that everything was different slapped me hard. I tried to hide tears from my husband, the first since leaving the girls at their respective new addresses. Then, a sense of deja vu came over me. I recalled sitting on a similar couch in a similar den nearly 26 years ago just before my oldest daughter was due to be born. I was teary then, too, and following some equally riveting t.v. show, I looked at my husband and cried, “Nothing will ever be the same!” I was right, it never was. It was better. Reassured and sniffling, I consoled myself with the hope that the next 25 years will be the best ever.

College Survival Tips

IMG_1670The other night we took our sweet niece, a freshman at Trinity University, to dinner. As we chatted about her first few days of life as a college student, she mentioned that her brother, a recent college grad, sent her an email with his tips for surviving college. What a thoughtful thing to do! So, as soon as I got home, I asked my daughters to try to pen some tips for their little sister, a freshman at Sewanee. (I asked said thoughtful nephew, also, but he indicated the payment of money would be required, so his advice will not be included here, unfortunately.) Listed below are the recommendations of my two eldest offspring. By the way, those are my notes in italics…because you know I couldn’t help but include my own thoughts on the matter!

Caitlin, University of Texas, class of 2012:

1. If you wait to study until the night before an exam you WILL fail. (Thanks for listening to your mother.)
2. Go to office hours! In my case, that was the only way to get to know a professor. (Thanks again.)
3. It’s never too early to start building connections for jobs and internships! (Something I wish I had taken more seriously.) (I hate to say I told you so.)
4. Red Bull and naps are your friend.
5. Guard your heart carefully when it comes to choosing whom to date *cough cough frat boys.* (This, from a daughter of a “Frat Boy.”)
6. Stay true to yourself.
7. Don’t drink mystery punch. (Thanks to another UT grad, your Uncle David!)
8. Have fun!!!

Claire, Texas Christian University, class of 2010:

1. Don’t expect to be best friends with your roommate your freshman year. If you are, great, but If things go really south really quickly, there are other options! (This, from my daughter who switched roomies by Labor Day, freshman year!)
2. Join a sorority or some other organization that’s active on campus and provides opportunities for fun.  Aka, just join a sorority. (ADPi or AXO, if at all possible!)
3. Go to the football games or to whatever sport is big at your institution. It’s more fun when you have school spirit! (Especially when your team plays in the Rose Bowl and WINS!)
4. Always look for opportunities to meet new people.
5. Don’t kill yourself over your coursework…and if you’re having to, choose a different major, such as Psychology. (This, from my daughter, a grad student in Clinical Psychology.)
6. In college, Thursday is the new Friday and best night of the week, so live it up. (What if you have an 8:00 class on Friday?)
7. Study outside on the lawn on occasion. (Just be careful of those hammocks strung up between trees that I’ve noticed to be the latest rage on college campuses.)
8. It’s ok to take naps in the library…in fact, it’s the perfect thing if you have an awkward hour in between classes and don’t want to walk all the way back to your dorm. You’ll find a favorite comfy nap chair quickly. (Guilty.)
9. Stay on the school’s meal plan for as long as possible so you don’t have to cook for yourself.
10. Know that you’ll look back on these days as the most fun period of your life so cherish every walk across campus, late night Whataburger run, happy hour, and minute hanging around, talking and laughing with your friends.

Pretty good advice, don’t you think?

For Anne, with love. 

Letter I Wish I’d Sent

Dear Hospital Patient Safety Manager/Clinical Outcomes Specialist:


I’m writing in response to your letter of June 17 addressed to my father. I just happened to be at his home when your letter arrived regarding an incident that occurred at your hospital on May 10, indicating that certain concerns of mine were referred to a committee as part of a “confidential physician review process.”

Your letter surprised me, as I never complained to you or to any other administrator at the hospital, and it is a bit disconcerting to think that something I said was the basis of a physician peer review.  The only “concerns” expressed by me, following a totally botched procedure performed on my father at your facility, were spontaneous bursts of extreme frustration and anger, including unfortunate curse words, which must have been overheard by those in near proximity, but were addressed to no one in particular. My father was unaware of my concerns as he was recovering from a closed head injury and many other setbacks, and I at least had the presence of mind to refrain from complaining to him about his medical care. I was just hoping that he didn’t hear the doctor tell me, immediately following the procedure, “Now we are in a real pickle.” Even Dad, as confused as he was at the time, would have understood that couldn’t be good.

Reading your letter, I became more confused and realized you did not fully understand the nature of my complaints. Your description of the procedure in question as, “not initially successful”, is inaccurate. In fact, we were initially told that a “miscommunication” occurred between the radiologist and the gastroenterologist necessitating a second procedure on that date,  causing great injury to our father and potentially setting him up for life-threatening sepsis. A large degree of my frustration was that my 90-year old father had undergone three unnecessary procedures, all at great risk to him, and for no advantage. In fact, all caused him great pain and discomfort, and the last put him at risk of death, and necessitated an additional surgery to properly accomplish what should have been done initially. But, I never fully explained that to you.

As you state in your letter, it is too late to change the course of our father’s experience at your hospital. And, I’m sure you would like to put it all behind you, close the file and hope that time flies while the Statute of Limitations runs. I too would like to forget all about it, especially now that Dad is home and recuperating well. But, after reflecting, I believe it is important for me to express my frustrations, in the hope that it will assist future patients of your facility.  It would have been helpful, if merely comforting, if someone in hospital administration had approached us to discuss the many setbacks in Dad’s progress during the five weeks he was hospitalized. Second, it would be worthwhile to explain to patients and families that a “hospitalist” oversees each patient’s overall care, including ordering consultations with specialists, regardless of which doctor conducted surgery or referred the patient to the hospital.  I believe we saw three different hospitalists during Dad’s hospitalization, each of whom needed a family member to update him/her on his case.

The more I ponder it, I am curiouser and curiouser that you, on behalf of the hospital, took the time to engage in a physician review process based on my “complaints,” although I never made any formal complaints, and you never tried to speak with me! Wouldn’t that have been helpful to you as you conducted your review?  I am fully aware that “physicians are not employees of the hospital,” as your letter states. However, you undertook a review of the physician who took care of my father, who practices at your hospital, and whom we didn’t know from Adam, and then you wrote and told us so. (By the way, the word “hospitalist” might lead some to assume he/she is working on behalf of the hospital; you might be careful about that.)

Sounds to me as if you’re trying very hard to direct attention from the hospital and toward the physician. Also, I’m suddenly remembering that I ran into one of your attorneys in the hallway of the hospital. I believe I shared with her some of my concerns about my father’s care. Oh, now I get it! Never mind.


Constance S. Kirk