Act my age????

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This week is my birthday week…so I have been reminded by many that it IS my birthday and, oh my, have we been celebrating!! Lots of good meals, getting together with friends, biking, hiking, and LOTS of LAUGHTER…I have never been one to be concerned with my age. After all, it is just a number. In fact, for two separate years, I actually was placing on documents and forms the wrong age…a year older…until a friend saw me do it, and reminded me of my current age. So…here are some “ponderings” on aging…

I have been asked many times, “When are you going to grow up, and act your age?” Oh, you mean like Nola Ochs, who at the age of 95, graduated from Ft. Hays State University in Kansas with a degree in History? Or like, Frances Woofenden of West Palm Beach, FL, who at age 81 was still competing (and winning in her age group) water skiing? That’s right…water skiing…Or like the woman, age 75, who was in line in front of me at Busch Gardens, with her daughter and granddaughter, waiting to board her last roller coaster of the day? (She had already ridden four, one of which was rated the #2 best roller coaster in the world!) Well…if that’s what you mean by acting my age, then yes! I will agree to do just that!! 

What is the deal with aging, in that once you reach a certain age, or “look” a certain age, everyone begins treating you a little differently? Like you have morphed into a totally different person! The only thing that has changed is that you have been around for one year longer! Most of us are very thankful for that! We do not need to be treated any differently. We have not just “all of a sudden” become “cute,” “adorable,” “sweet,” or “little” anything!!! Don’t be condescending! Most of us could leave a number of you “younguns” in the dust!! Don’t assume that all the cells in our brains are not firing properly! 

A friend of mine came to visit this past summer (she is two years younger than me). We had both been wanting to zip line, and I had found a wonderful one in the Smokies. Supposedly, the series of seven lines included one of the highest and longest in the United States. We could not wait!! We got there, and of course, we were the oldest ones in our group. Each time it was our turn to get “hooked up” on the line, the guide would say, “Come on up, young lady!” After about the third time, I had had enough! I very nicely turned around to our group and said, “See, another benefit of getting older…people say you are young all the time…” The guide never said those words to us again, and began treating us like the rest of the group members. And just as an aside, there were about fifteen people in our group, and we had to hike from one zip line to the next…straight up the mountain…My friend and I were always the first two to reach the next zip line, and we never broke a sweat or was labored in our breathing…unlike the rest of the “young” group!!

I get to teach this aging “concept” at a lot of conferences. I always tell people that if I was Cat Selman at ages 25, 35, 45, and 55…that I bet I will still be Cat Selman when I reach age 65 and 75!! I was at a recent conference where I had made that very statement. At break time I went into the restroom, and as I was washing my hands, I noticed that a woman kept staring at me pretty intently. She was staring to the point that I became uncomfortable and was wondering if I had toilet tissue hanging out of the back of my pants, or had lettuce stuck in my teeth, or ANYTHING!!! She finally came over to me and said, “You look marvelous! I cannot believe you are 75!!!” I looked at her with disbelief, and said, “that’s because I’M NOT 75!!!” But thanks for the compliment….

When I first started working in nursing homes, those precious elders would tell me, “I don’t feel old. I feel like I am still young.” I would always look at them and wonder, how can they not see that they have aged…that they really are old? I “get” what they are saying now. You DO feel the same, because you are the same…your body has just gotten a little more “worn for the wear.”

Let’s start treating older people just as we always have, because they are still the same individuals that we knew when they were younger. They are very unique, wonderful people who share a zest for life, with the experience of that lifetime, and always looking forward to the next adventure and challenge. So….I think I will act my age! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

I did what you said….

It seems that it is back to school time…everyone is rushing around trying to enjoy the last few days of “summer freedom,” and parents are attempting to clothe and “supply” their children in order to be ready for that first day… No matter how old I get, I still think that I should be getting ready to go back to school when it nears September. Just to let you know how bad I am about this, and how strong that “pull” is for me, I will share a little secret. At this time of year, when I go into a store, I find myself invariably drawn to the school supplies aisle. I will pick up those “composition books,” new pencils, etc. and hold them to by nose and just breathe in that wonderful smell of “school.” I’m sure I have been flagged in numerous stores as “that woman who sniffs the school supplies.” She’s baaaccckkkk…. So, of course, this week’s post is about school….

My Mother told me that when I was five years old, she was cooking dinner, and I walked up to her at the stove and said, “When I grow up, I am going to college.” Now, I don’t know how on earth I even knew what a college was. We were poor, lived on a farm, and had no TV. However, she said that she never doubted for a moment that I would go, and that I would attain that goal. Twelve years later, I was off to college. I got grants, scholarships, and worked constantly to pay my way through. I did attain that goal. Upon graduation, I was determined to work in my field of education and make a career for myself. I attained that goal. I said that I would have my dream car, a midnight blue corvette, five years after graduation. I attained that goal also. You see the pattern here; right? It started very early for me…

My grandmother had a sister, whose name was Mabel. However, EVERYONE called her “Spunk.” So, to me, she was Aunt Spunk. When I entered the first grade, she told me that if I made all A’s the entire year, that she would give me a dollar. Now, it may not sound like much money to you, but to a five-year old back then, a dollar was a lot of money!! So I worked hard all year, and sure enough…I made all A’s. The first thing that I did when I got the report card was write a letter to my Aunt. My mother did not know anything about the letter – I just “took care of business” on my own. So the letter went something like this….”Dear Aunt Spuck, I made all As. Send me that doller.” I addressed the envelope to “Ms. Spuck,” with no street address, but I did write the town (it was a different one from where I lived) and state with no zip. She got it!! In the return mail, I got her congratulatory letter AND the dollar!! I was so pleased with myself. Fast forward sixteen years later and I was graduating from college. My Aunt Spunk gave me a wonderful graduation gift, and secretly hidden within the gift was the envelope and letter that I had sent her sixteen years earlier, asking for that “doller.” She had kept it throughout the years to give to me, and I still have it today. It serves as a reminder that if you set goals, and work hard, you can attain pretty much whatever you want…

I don’t understand how people get anything accomplished if they never establish goals. Every few years I will ask myself…is this what you wanted?…do you want to change anything or do anything differently?…is there something else you want to accomplish? It is a bit of hope, faith, dreams, belief in one’s self, and a LOT of hard work! As “cliche” as it sounds, today really is the first day of the rest of your life. What are you doing with it? OR what do you WANT to do with it? I want to make the most of my life…and I work at it every day…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

What Do You Mean….You “Can’t Find It”???

Well, it’s a new month…May! That means I have been writing this blog for four months already. Hard to believe! I started this blog in hopes that it would help me deal with the overwhelming sadness I felt over my Mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s and resulting death. Writing the weekly stories has helped me more than I can say, and I hope that all my visitors and followers have received some sense of solace, comfort, or inspiration, as well as a laugh or two…Since May is pretty much known as the “graduation” month, this week’s story will have to address that particular topic. So, we begin…

I graduated from high school in 1970. Now before you get out your calculator to figure out my age, I need to let you know that I was a child prodigy and five years old at the time…It was a time of social unrest and “upheaval” in our little town (as the media played it up to be). 1970 was the first year of mandated integration, and both the “white” and “black” high schools had been merged that year. The graduating class of 1970 was so large that it was moved from the usual venue of our high school auditorium to that of the football stadium. (Just as an aside, I would like to comment that on the first day of school that year, they had called in the National Guard, Highway Patrol Troopers, and various other “police” organizations, to make certain that we students would be “orderly” on that historic event – the “joining,” if you will, of two diverse high schools. I think we surprised the nation in that there were NO horrible events like some other cities and states, not in the South, such as riots and bus burnings. We simply went to school that day, and each day thereafter. I just wanted that down for the record….)

While growing up, my parents never put any pressure on me to be an “A” student. They had instilled such a desire in me for success, that I applied more pressure on myself than they ever did. As luck would have it, I had a “natural” ability to learn, so studying was never too difficult for me. Bringing home a “B” was very rare, and when that did happen, I was more upset than my folks.

Upon graduation, if a student had attained a certain grade point average for the entire four years of high school, they were given a designation of graduating “With Distinction.” The student did not know if they had attained that accomplishment until the night of graduation, when their name was called to receive the diploma. Although my Mother had NEVER said a word about this, I knew, deep in my heart, that she wanted to hear my name, graduating “With Distinction.” I was so nervous that night! We had practiced earlier in the day at the football stadium. We would approach the stage, row by row, and as they called our name, we would walk across, place one hand over the other to shake the Board of Education President’s hand, while receiving our diploma with the other hand…pause…look at the camera for the official photograph, and walk off the stage.

I was almost hyperventilating as I stepped closer and closer to the stage. I was praying the whole time, “Please, Dear God, I don’t think I have really asked for a lot in my life, but could you please let me graduate “with distinction?” I made it up the stairs, knowing that my name would be next. And then I heard…”Catherine Rebecca Selman, With Distinction!” I almost exploded with joy, so proud that this was something I had given to my parents. I hastily walked across the stage, where the Board of Education President stood. I shook his hand, and reached for my diploma…therein was the problem. They could NOT find my diploma! I stood there for the longest time with my hand out, waiting patiently for anyone to put that coveted document in my hand. I finally put my hand down by my side, kept the biggest smile on my face, and under my breath asked, “Do you want me to just walk on to the other side until you find it?” By this time, ALL of the officials of the Board of Education were frantically searching for my diploma. The President said, “No, just wait right here. We WILL find it!” The stadium was so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. You could just feel the pity pouring out from everyone in the audience. I’m standing there and realize that at any moment, I am about to burst into maniacal laughter, thinking, “if this just doesn’t take the cake…here I have worked so hard to graduate with distinction, and they cannot even find me a diploma!” The absurdity of the situation was just about to get the best of me, and I could no longer abide the audiences’ pity and concern. So realizing that I was about to “lose it,” I turned to my class, lifted my hands in a questioning manner, and shrugged my shoulders…as if to say, “what’s a girl to do?” When I did that, the entire audience burst into the laughter that was bubbling up inside me. We all had a good laugh!

As we were laughing, and still watching the Board feverishly search for my diploma, the young lady who had received her diploma before me, came back over and gave them “her” diploma…which turned out to actually be mine. They had given her my diploma by mistake. She was so upset and crying…and I was thinking, “why are you crying?…at least you GOT a diploma…it was mine, but at least you got one…” They finally awarded me the “lost” diploma, I shook hands again, smiled for the photographer, and got a standing ovation…Later, so many people told me that “if it had to happen to anyone, we’re glad it was you!” I had no idea how many times I would hear that, and similar statements, throughout the rest of my life. 

I actually teach individuals how to develop “humor skills.” The first skill is the “ability to see the absurdity of your situation.” My philosophy is that there is not much that you can’t recover from if you possess the appropriate life skills…and humor is definitely one of those skills. So my advice to all graduates this month, is to see the humor in life, the absurdity of your situations, and know that you can, and will persevere and succeed. The choices are all up to you…you can control the direction of your life. I am no longer that “child prodigy,” but I continue to practice those life skills that have served me so well. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…