May 17, 2017

The Food of Love

Ask a teenager or a romantic and they will tell you a successful relationship is all about the Grand Gestures: the poetic declarations of love, the surprise tickets to the ballet, the offerings of jewels, flowers, expensive dinners in dimly lit restaurants. I was once both a teenager and a romantic, and I will tell you here and now after twenty-five years of marriage, if I still believed grand gestures to be the food of love I would live a disappointed life. Grand Gestures are well and good but daily small gestures are what nourish and sustain.

My husband is not one for Grand Gestures. True, in our early days of courtship he brought me flowers regularly, but he also proposed to me over a paper bag picnic from the once-lauded Bread Garden while we sat cross-legged on the floor of my bedroom. No diamond ring was presented. I still said yes. After all, we had been dating a solid three weeks.*

My husband is not a composer of sweet nothings. Oh, he can talk, certainly, about any number of things, but when it comes to whispered poetic endearments, they are few and far between. When they come though, they are simply stated, heartfelt and treasured beyond anything. Where this man truly shines is in his rock solid support and care for me, and for our family, and in the way he can, like a well-aimed javelin, hit upon the truth of a situation. No one cuts the crap and gets to the heart of the matter like my husband. Time and time again, I have been more than grateful for this trait of his. When a certain small daughter was resisting her swimming lessons and I was at my wit's end trying to reason, cajole and practically bribe her into going, he took her into his lap and calmly said, "Now what's this really all about?" When a son wanted to quit halfway through university and I was caught up in the emotional turmoil of his situation, his dad got on the phone and calmly said, "Now what's this really all about?" Our son will graduate from university next week and our daughter knows how to swim quite well now. Of course, we've had our share of battles in the family. Doors have been slammed, voices have been raised, harsh words of scorn pronounced from time to time, but somehow cooler heads prevail and we figure it out between us and carry on stronger and better than we were before.

I remember talking with a group of young people at a lodge where we lived and worked as a family. They were curious about marriage, mine in particular. What makes a good partner? they asked. My response was immediate: A good partner helps you become a better person. They chewed on that for a bit and said, 'That's cool'. At the time of the conversation I was going through a lot of personal stuff. Twenty-eight years old with three kids and living in a rustic cabin in a remote location, I was being challenged on a daily basis. Basically, I was faced with myself and my weaknesses and limitations each and every day. I was not the best wife and mother I could be at the time, but my husband was so incredibly patient with me. When I resurfaced from my difficult stage I asked him how he could stand me during that period (It lasted about a year). "I knew you would come out of it, you just had to get through it." Perhaps that was the grandest gesture in the world, him waiting for me on the other side with open arms. "I don't deserve you," I said.

Of course, relationships are about give and take. I have supported my husband through many of his own difficulties and challenges. I have cheered him on at the soccer field, at the sidelines of cycling events, and of course acted as his sounding board and best friend. I am able to do all these things without hesitation for him because we have built a foundation of love and respect between us. Our foundation is built, brick by brick, slowly and steadily with time and care, laughter and music. I still have no fancy jewelry, and I am still waiting to be whisked off to Paris, but if those things never materialize I know the day-to-day gestures - the daily phone calls to see how my day is going, the appreciative thanks for a good meal, the efforts to get to every event of mine or our children's, the commiserating when things get crazy, the hugs when I am stressed - are more than enough to satisfy.

Happy Anniversary, my love, and thank you. Here's to the next twenty-five years.

*Although he proposed after only three weeks and I said yes, shortly after I freaked out and said, "I'm not ready!" It was several months before I said, "Ask me again."

May 1, 2017

Loss and Letting Go

After a car accident about eighteen years ago, I was undergoing massage therapy treatment. At one point in my treatment my therapist must have been frustrated with my lack of progress because she said to me, 'You have a hard time letting things go, don't you?' At the time, I was insulted. How dare she psychoanalyze me? I remember thinking, 'Just give me the massage, lady, and let me go home.' Her statement, for it wasn't really a question, wormed its way into my soul and stayed there, mostly because it was true. I carried a lot of stuff around in my muscle memory, old grudges, past hurts, much self-protection, and the enormous expectations of personal 'success' that came from, well, various sources, including my own rather self-punishing version of perfectionism. Oh yes, I had baggage. Carousels of it. Thankfully, I also had a sort of irrepressible optimism, a cheerfully sarcastic disposition, and a love of laughter to counter the weight of all that baggage. After ten months of therapy, and with youth on my side, I recovered from my injuries and joyfully returned to running, dancing, and living (mostly) without pain. I wish I could say I also started letting things go, but I can't. That process would take many more years.

Loss has featured largely in my life for the past couple of years. I have lost people, ideas of people, ideas of myself. Through loss I have shed several layers of my hard-earned sense of self, and the process has been both painful and freeing. Like the snake that wriggles out of its old, worn skin, a person who struggles through a period of great personal difficulty has the power to emerge shiny and new. I am not yet shiny and new, I am covered in post-rebirth gunk, but I have hope I will fully emerge in smooth and radiant glory, eventually.

I was texting with my niece the other night. She had posted something on Facebook about a young friend who had very recently died. She told me what had happened to him and three of his friends - a serious car accident in which the friend had died on the scene, two were critically injured and one walked away relatively unhurt. My niece said she had gained a newfound appreciation for the preciousness of life. I found myself texting her the words: 'We always, always learn a lot from loss.' When we lose someone or something precious we rage and ask why? why? The loss seems so unfair and so arbitrary. But, somehow the act of losing also gives us, dare I suggest it, an unexpected gift of a deeper appreciation for what is left. We often pledge to live better and more authentic lives.

I suppose that is where I am at now: trying to live a better and more authentic life. I have been saying 'no' more often, which is a challenge for a people-pleasing person such as myself. One of the hardest things for me to let go of is the sense of disappointing others. People pleasers need people to think highly of them, even love them, and they derive a certain amount of pride in achieving that love and approval from others. I have worked on developing something of a new mantra to help me in my aim to say no more often: They'll get over it. I've had to let go of the idea of success and replace it with doing what I love for the joy and satisfaction it gives me. ME. I've had to let go of my children as they grow into independent adults, forging their own divergent paths. I would not say I have been a helicopter parent, but I did exhibit some tendencies in that direction over the years. My youngest said at one point, "Mom, you're like the mother duck who has been leading her ducklings all over the place, and one day she turns around and they're not following her anymore." Ever wise, she said it with a mixture of pity and 'deal with it, Mom'. I have had to let go of my pride, the main thing which has held me back and held me in all these years.

Throwing bag after bag off the carousel of my life leaves me feeling raw and vulnerable but I am okay with this. Left also with a sense of lightness and freedom I can now embrace what is before me. I have little idea of what the years after my youngest graduates from high school will hold, but at least I know they won't have the endless nature of a baggage carousel going round and round carrying the same heavy stuff until someone claims it.



April 24, 2017

Noises Off

Last evening, about nine o'clock, we heard a light tapping on our apartment door. My husband, just having arrived home two hours previously from his new job in the mountains where he lives part time, answered. He stuck his head out the door and kept his body behind it, shielding me from view - I was sitting shirtless with a heating pad on my chronically sore back. I heard a light, female voice asking if we could 'keep it down a bit'. Keep it down? We were watching an Australian murder mystery on Knowledge Network and our fifteen year old was having a bath. I'm not sure how much more 'down' we could keep it. I heard my husband respond with as much, and then the woman's response, "Well, try to keep it down anyway. We don't usually mind, but we have a guest who is very sensitive to noise." My husband closed the door and came over to tell me what I had already heard.

"How old was she?" I asked. He said she looked about twenty-five or so, and that she lived in the apartment below us. My husband was quite angry by the intrusion and the suggestion that we were being loud. I was, true to form, upset and sensitive to the idea we could be bothering the people below us with our day to day activity. I consider us fairly quiet people, especially when most of the time it is my daughter and me alone in the apartment. I would never go upstairs, as much as I would like to some days, and knock on the door of the young couple's apartment above in order to say, "Hi, I was wondering if you could get a new bed. Your very squeaky love-making is keeping me up at night. Also, your singing and terrible keyboard playing in the middle of the night is obnoxious. I love children, so I don't mind your toddler running back and forth across your apartment, but I think maybe you should take him to the park more often." I would think such an action incredibly rude and insulting. Of course, if I had a legitimate problem with the level of noise I would contact the building manager and make a complaint.

We have lived in this apartment building in our mid-sized city for nearly six months now. The general noises of life are to be expected from our neighbours. We all live together in a sense. Why not live and let live? The Shoppers Drug Mart in the plaza next door sells ear plugs. I lived here only a week before I bought myself a couple of sets. I rarely use them now, except in extraordinary situations like when the beeping and scraping of the snowplow would start at 3:00 a.m. in the plaza parking lot over which our windows look out. One gets used to the ambient noises at night. Mind you, I am nearly twice the age of our downstairs neighbour. I have lived in many homes of all types over the years, in a diverse set of environments. Perhaps the benefit of my life's experiences gives me a more tolerant view than I may have possessed at twenty-five.

This morning, I got up and walked softly across the bare floor to our kitchen. I wrapped the coffee grinder in a blanket, as I do when others in the house are sleeping, and ground my morning coffee. I was aware of every step, every move. I know this hyper-sensitivity to my own noise-making will subside. Until then, I will miss the freedom of living life without worrying about the residents below me.



P.S. The photo is of our view of the plaza over which I gaze at the mountains.

P.P.S. I have returned to blogging after a two year hiatus. I suppose I have things to say once again.