by Kathy Kuhl
Last month a gracious ninety-four-year-old woman was my hostess for nine days. Grace is a neighbor of my daughter. When she heard I was coming to Southern California to help with the new baby, Grace offered me her guest room, rather than let me rent a hotel room or sleep on my daughter’s sofa. I am very grateful.
Grace was gracious as well as generous. She is amazing, like the song lyrics that decorate her wall. My last breakfast there, I told Grace, “I feel I’m wasting an opportunity here. You’re 94, and I’ve just turned 60. What advice do you have for me?”
“A Young Chick”
She looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, “First, I’d say you’re a young chick.” It’s fun to hear that after a milestone birthday. Recently, a friend about fifteen years my senior said something similar. Don’t think about slowing down yet, she advised, if you don’t have to.
Aim to enjoy and use your remaining days well.
Next, Grace commented, “I think it’s mainly attitude.” Grace’s attitude helps her keep going. Having met folks trapped in bitterness or regret, and others absorbed with their possessions, I thought Grace was on target. Widowed twice and having outlived two of her four children, Grace remains active, serves others, and finds plenty to enjoy every day.
I told Grace she reminds me of my friend Mabel Sawhill, who passed away at 103 this spring. After retiring from the Navy Department, Mabel turned her part-time catering business into a full time operation. A few years ago, hundreds of us attended her hundredth birthday party—which Mabel catered herself. Mabel was a legend in Washington, DC and the subject of two documentaries. (See below.) Like Mabel, Grace makes the best of sorrows and setbacks.
The attitudes I saw in Grace were patience, thankfulness, generosity, concern for others, and humor. She is patient with my two-year-old granddaughter, and knows how to laugh with her silliness. She apologized for the neat stack of nonperishable food in one corner of the guest room, and explained she would be taking it to her church for their ministry to the homeless.
Her thoughtfulness struck me most one day in something she didn’t do. My granddaughter loves to sit and play near Grace’s kitchen window. So she and I sat there, on the bench at the back of their building, under a small tree, which our small girl calls “the potato tree.” And she bustles about with her doll and a broom, sweeping and explaining nonstop what she was doing. I sat there thinking how sweet it was to spend time with her.
Later, Grace said that she saw us and started to come out and join us. “But you two were having such a good time, I decided to leave you alone to enjoy it.” How considerate to remember that I only had a week with this granddaughter before I flew back across the country!
Grace’s third piece of advice was to “keep moving.” Grace goes to exercise classes three times a week. Years ago she and her husband bicycled all over Europe on summer vacations. (He was a teacher.) They had never bicycled much before they began those adventures abroad.
Now she’s scaled back, but she is still moving. Last summer, at age 93, she went to France to visit friends made on one of those bicycle trips.
We talked about how much friends help us keep moving. Grace’s friends at the gym have been taking classes together for years. “People I don’t even know say, ‘Hi, Grace,’ when they see me,” she said, smiling. “It’s the people that keep me going there.” I told her friends are a big reason I keep exercising, too.
Grace has lived in these garden apartments for thirty-four years. Since I live in Virginia, these tropical and desert plants are exotic to me. Grace and her neighbor Wendy make the place beautiful with their container gardening. They have helped my daughter care for her potted roses and herbs.
How does this relate to homeschooling? First, you may feel like a tired, old homeschooling parent. But I want to remind you (or those of you under 94, anyway) that you are still young chicks. The Lord may give you more years. How will you use them well?
Second, your attitude is key. Moms, remember: “When Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” I think women especially have the ability to influence the attitudes in a home, for good or ill. But dads, of course that doesn’t let you off the hook. I can remember many times my father lightened my mood with a gentle bit of teasing or a kind word. Your attitude matters. As the Bible says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.” Being irritable or perfectionistic isn’t going to help any parent. Savor simple pleasures, like I saw Grace doing: enjoying fresh fruit, flowers, and sunshine.
Third, exercise can help you keep that brighter attitude. Having just spent a month on the road with few opportunities to exercise, I deeply feel the lack. I have less energy, have been more prone to discouragement, and I feel stiffer. I am glad to be home getting back into exercise.
If you hate exercise, as I did for decades, or just can’t see how to work it into your schedule, here are some tips:
- Start small, start simple. Short walks, a few minutes on a treadmill with a good movie or a good book, or just a few stretches and jumping jacks are a start.
- Try different activities. Something you disliked when you were younger may appeal now. Keeping trying until you find things you like. I didn’t try my favorite sport until I was forty. It didn’t become my favorite sport for a few years. But it was just the easiest to manage while homeschooling. Slowly, great teachers and friends and my experience of the benefits—greater flexibility, better sleep, more energy, better posture—turned my attitude around.
- If, like me, your hand-eye coordination isn’t great, try sports that require less of that. Hiking, dance, martial arts, and geo-caching are just a few of many activities that get you moving and don’t require you to pitch or catch well.
You’re a young chick. Keep an eye on your attitude. Keep moving, enjoy your gifts, and be thankful.
Two short documentaries about Mabel Sawhill:
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