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New Tricks

Yes, an old dog can learn new tricks. Let me use myself as an example. I recently celebrated a birthday and, although I have been officially geriatric for some time now, I managed to learn some new life lessons last year.

A friend taught me to celebrate the end of each day. I now stop whatever I am doing and watch the sun set. In the beginning the ritual seemed kind of silly. Yes, the Western sky in Tucson is always worth a glance out the window (especially recently). But to deliberately sit down to watch a slow process? Every night?

Stopping work was hard for me to do. I wanted to finish writing a page or return a missed phone call so the task would not be left for morning. But gradually I began to not only like but need the ritual. It was calming to mark the end of the workday. It felt good to postpone a task for the morning…using a kind of magical thinking I tell myself that morning will come and the postponed tasks will get done.

Masterful short story writer Eudora Welty also taught me valuable lessons. “One Writer’s Beginnings” contains three marvelous essays: Listening, Learning How To See, and Finding a Voice. I adapted Welty’s three paths to becoming a writer to maxims for living my life.

Connections to others are more important to me than ever. Alas, the older we get the more loved ones we lose. Grief is a frequent emotion and alone-ness a common condition. Listening, listening to real people not a voice on a TV or computer screen, translates for me into being active and keeping connections open. A bonus is helping others when you hear their need and can do so.

Seeing what’s really going in a rapidly changing world is a challenge. We oldies may not be able to keep up with everything out there but we can do our darnedest to remain curious and cautious. I pretend to take an opposing of view about a hot button issue reminding myself to see through another’s eyes before allowing my opinion to solidify. Find a new voice at 84? I have vowed to only speak kindly or, if this is not possible, keep quiet. Acrimony and anger no longer feel right…I seem to have outgrown them.

I actually learned one trick from my canine best friend forever, Mindy. She is aging along with me, she walks slower as I do and is also becoming hard of hearing. But several times every day she acts like a puppy chasing madly after the “red dot” (a laser pointer she has been trying to catch for almost nine years). Then she curls up and sleeps so soundly I cannot wake her. I realized Mindy was pretty smart. She knows that resting after expending energy makes sense. She doesn’t try to tackle another task when tired and cranky. I was never a nap-taker but I have learned to acknowledge fatigue and “treat” it by lying down for a while, sometimes with a book, sometimes just with my thoughts. It works for this human as well as for canines.

What does any of this aging stuff have to do with parenting? Learning is the operative word in parenting. Parents help children learn from day one and parents must learn new parenting “tricks” as their child grows and the world changes. Actually my new tricks pertain to both children and parents: Stop to appreciate nature. Listen, see, and speak right. When you feel tired, rest up.