Regrets, I’ve Had A Few

There are some things I’ve discovered over the course of my life.  Some, I’ve known for a while.  Other are just becoming  apparent to me.  Maybe life has to slap you around a little before you discover the truth about yourself.  Like the fact that I’m a slow learner.  And that I’ll never skate in the Olympics.

I will never fold laundry like my mother in law.  I don’t know if its an eye-hand coordination  thing, or if it involves math.  What I do know is that I suck at folding sheets.  I’ve tried using a table, the sofa, the bed and the floor but nothing seems to help.  I end up with a sad little pile of wrinkled bedding that makes me feel like taking up antiquing.  I shove them into the linen closet where they sit beside the wrinkled napkins and badly ironed table cloths.  The door stays firmly closed.

My mother in law made Martha Stewart look like an Appalachian hillbilly.  No matter what was happening in her life, her house always looked its best.  She could whip up food for forty people in under an hour and keep her cool when visitors turned up out of the blue, expecting to stay for two weeks.  I learned a lot from her over the years, but that kind of graciousness is not in my DNA.

I’m never going to be good at yoga.  It would probably help if I took some classes, but still.  I’m just not that bendy. Ten years of ballet and I never mastered the splits.  I will never dance with the Stars, or be one.  No one will ever think that I can dance.  Especially me.  But still.

Somehow I’ve managed to end up with people who love me.  I have children that I respect and adore, a mother I cherish and a husband who still makes me laugh after thirty-six years.  My sisters and brother will always have my back, even when I drive them crazy.  And what I’ve realized is, its never too late to learn something new.  Okay, too late for skating, but Yoga is a strong maybe.

Like Frank Sinatra, I’ve had some regrets.    Unlike him, I’m completely comfortable mentioning them.  Now I’m going to follow the rest of his well sung advice.  I’ll continue to fold sheets, take classes and move my life forward.  I’ll just do it my way.   

Balancing Act

About a week after my dad died, I felt the  Earth tilt.  I stepped out of bed one morning and fell toward the ceiling.  My whole world was upside down and spinning.  It was like riding a tilt a whirl at the fair.

  I am living with Vertigo.  It’s often connected with blurred vision or earaches.  My sight has been a little smudgy since dad passed on.  I’m okay if I stare straight ahead, don’t tilt my head up, down, or to the left.  Lying down is the worst. When I get into bed at night, I hold  my pillow close, thereby ensuring a soft landing.  Then the room begins to spin. The child in me enjoys this part, even as the adult feels like throwing up.  In the daytime the vertigo catches me unaware, like a surfer being overtaken by an unexpected wave.  Its weird.

One of the things I’ve  learned about myself is that I don’t handle change well.  I enjoy a boring life.  (Not that I have one, in spite of it.)  But I like a  routine.  I like eating regularly and watching the same television shows.  If I enjoy a certain book, I’ll read it again.  If I really like it, I’ll read it thirty times.  Same with movies.   I’ve watched ‘You’ve Got mail’ once every couple of months since it came out in the early nineties.  I don’t even know why. 

When my mother in law was dying, I started experiencing chest pains.  I actually went to emergency twice.  The second time it happened, a nurse very tactfully told me that when your heart is breaking, it can feel a lot like a heart attack. Aahhh.  So now, I wonder about the timing of this vertigo.  Not that its a figment of my imagination.  It’s very real.  But maybe it has something to do with the fact that my whole world is off kilter.  My dad is gone, my mom is a widow, and the world as I’ve known it is changed forever.

So If you see me staggering around town, please know that I’m not drunk.  And I’m actually doing very well.  Because my sadness about dad is tempered by my faith.  I believe that he’s having a well deserved jam session with all of his musical heroes.  He’s harmonizing with Frank Sinatra and playing clarinet with Benny Goodman.  So he’s fine.  But until I get used to the fact that he’s not here, holding up his corner of my world, then I’m going to be unsteady on my feet.  Getting out of bed in the morning will require some concentration.  My world will spin out of control for awhile.  But it’ll stop eventually.  I’ll regain my footing and carry on.  I just need a little time to adjust to the change.

I’ll Be Seeing You

Last night I dreamed about my dad.  He passed on a week ago, Saturday.  For the first moments when I wake in the morning, I forget that he’s gone.  I feel the weight of something pressing on my heart, and I wonder at it.  That’s when I remember.  I lie there, feeling the loss of him.  Knowing that I will never hug him again in this life.  I’ll no longer wheel him to dinner in the nursing home where he lived.  I won’t  attach his bib, organize his cutlery.  I won’t tell him that the lift in his bedroom is a really cool ride and that he would have loved it when he was a kid.

 I won’t get to stroke the soft gray hair away from his forehead, or fetch a facecloth to wipe his face. I can’t kiss his cheek, so carefully shaved by my mother, or turn my face so that he can kiss mine.  I’ll never hear him say, ‘Love you, dear.’  Not in this life.

 He’s free from his wheelchair.  No more blood sugar checks, no more insulin.  No more eating pureed food and drinking thickened coffee.  Imagining him in heaven with God and family gives me comfort .  I know that I will see him again.  But for now, it doesn’t take away the pain of his absence.  I feel like a five year old who has let go of her father’s hand in a crowd.  A panicked, worried child.   

To a certain extent, our roles had reversed.  I took care of him in the way that he used to care for me.  But he remained my father to the very end.  I remember being sad about something terrible that happened in our community.  I went straight to the nursing home, and over to the table  where he was seated.  I pulled my chair close to his and laid my head on his shoulder.  As I cried, he patted my hand, making those reassuring sounds that parents do.  Itt was so comforting,  like a blessing from God.

My dad was kind.  He was considerate and thoughtful.  He has helped so many people, friends and neighbors, because he always cared how people were doing. His life was hard when he was young.  Raising seven children, six of them girls, cannot have been easy.  He made mistakes.  But he never complained, even when life got more uncomfortable at the end.  He had the gift of gratitude, and he’s done his best to pass it on.

I’m grateful for you, dad.  I’m proud to have been your daughter. I’m so happy that you’re in a better place. I know that you’ll always be there waiting for me, for mom, and all your children. In the meantime, you go on ahead.   Have a visit with Count Basie and Oscar Peterson. Listen to some Stan Kenton in the jazz room.  Have a wonderful time in heaven, and don’t forget to give Uncle Walter and Grandma Ann a hug.  I’ll be seeing you again.

The Aging Games

In the movie, The Hunger Games, the main characters spend a lot of time running for their lives. Its a little like the game of Survivor, except the voting is done with weapons and its not just your torch that gets snuffed. For thousands of years, human kind has loved a good contest. Think gladiators. Think Olympic curling. Different events but for both, an enthusiastic audience.

The competitions we watch entertain us. They also distract us from the biggest reality game on the planet. While we’re busying ourselves with school, work, children, parents and (for Clarence) shopping, we’re all racing along a path toward death. Yep. At some point, we’ll all be D. E. A. D. Drop everything and die. Do everything and die. Don’t even argue… Well. You get the picture. Leaving out the whole life after death thing (which I totally believe in, thank you God!!) it still means that our earthy form will expire. But while there is no way out of the death race, there is still a way of winning.

Welcome to the Aging Games. Each contestant in this race has only one goal, and that is to make it to the finish line in the best shape possible. There are a few things that will help you along. A few obvious ones are:

Don’t smoke (or quit. Quit right now!)

Eat sensibly…overdosing on vegetables is always a good idea. Drop the sugar habit.

Keep moving. Obviously, we’ll all approach this differently. Some will jog, lift weights and engage in iron man triathalons well into their seventies. Others (like me) will skip and do light aerobics while watching television. The point is to keep moving as much as possible.

Enjoy yourself. Be with people that make you laugh. Do what you want with your spare time. And when you meet up with a senior, appreciate them for the warriors that they are. Every single one you know is struggling in some way to keep it together, to live their lives, and to make them count until the very end.

They may be in pain. They might be having memory problems. But they are in the last push of their lives, the hardest part of the race. I salute them all, and I salute you, future warrior. Fight to the finish. And if you believe in life after death, then I’ll see on Redemption Island.

Show Me The Way To Go Home

Now that I’m spending more time in Winnipeg, I’ve been struggling once again with an inability to find the way to and from…anywhere.  It’s like someone has taken a sponge and wiped out parts of my brain.  A number of years ago, I couldn’t find the Sport-ex in the town of Creighton.  I had to go home and admit to my husband that, no, I would not be picking up our daughter from skating.  He thought I’d had a stroke.

I would have loved to have had a good excuse for embarrassing myself that way.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me, that I have such a hard time getting from one place to another.  I also struggle with guessing distances and height, so maybe its a spatial thing.  Whatever the cause, I’ve discovered a few helpful tips.  I try to look around more  when someone else is driving.  And I use map quest a lot while I’m in the city.  Our next vehicle will have a GPS, but for now, map quest does the trick.  Except.

The other day I carefully and successfully navigated my way down Pembina to a second hand book store.  Something that I hadn’t  counted on, though, was finding my way home.  Because (and perhaps you already know this, dear reader) the street names change.  For example, Osborne, depending on where you are, is also called Isabel, Colony, Memorial, Dunkirk and Dakota.  For someone who gets lost a lot, this is a nightmare.  I didn’t know about this little complication or I would have map quested my way home.  Since I didn’t, I ended up someplace downtown during rush hour, where the traffic was basically stopped.  That didn’t prevent me from lurching into another lane. I would have been proud of my move if I hadn’t scared the crap out of a pedestrian.  I was at least eight feet away from him, but he obviously felt threatened.  He shook his fist and yelled so loudly that I banged an elbow in my haste to roll up the window and lock all the doors.

Stalled traffic also presents an opportunity for homeless people to make a little extra cash.  They hold up signs saying things like ‘have no work or food.’  The jury is still out on how to handle this one, but I have a hard time saying no.  So in between trying to get in the right lane, avoid hitting pedestrians and still the panic building inside my chest, I had to roll down the window and hand out loonies.  I had quite a few, since I’d been planning on washing the car.  For some reason, I didn’t feel I could stop until the coins were all gone. 

Once the traffic started moving again, things didn’t get much better.  I kept circling the same block over and over again, until finally I cut through a parking lot and temporarily derailed my driving purgatory.  It started up again, though, when I found myself shooting down Main Street in the wrong direction.  How I finally found my way back to Osborne Village, I’ll never know.  The good news is, I haven’t been lost since.  Scaring the crap out of myself had some valuable side benefits.  Now I always make sure that I know how to get there AND back again. 

A positive side to all the driving mayhem was my realization that every journey, whether physical, spiritual or metaphorical, needs a destination.  Never mind the saying about the journey being the thing.  Yes, we’re supposed to enjoy the ride.  Take in the scenery.  Pull over every once in a while to eat some lunch, or pee in the bush.  But overall, we want to be headed somewhere.  Maybe the most important thing to ask ourselves is this.  Where do we want to go?  Which is another way of saying, what do we want to be when we grow up?  Some of us are still trying to figure it out.  The next time I’m lost, I’ll remember to ask myself the big questions.  Where am I going?  And how do I get there?  Hopefully, I’ll arrive at an answer.

Uphill, Both Ways

      Its been creeping up on me for a long time.   I finally have to acknowledge something that my children have known about me for awhile.  Like my father before me, I’ve begun whining about How Much Things Have Changed.  Sure, I never walked five miles to school, uphill both ways, in 40 below weather with a lunch bucket frozen to my hand.  Dad, you win that one.  But!  Brace yourself for this, and Clarence, thanks for bursting my bubble. I just found out that there are hotels in the Himalayas on the way to Mount Everest.  Hotels!!  Nothing else could signal so well the collapse of the world as I knew it.  Next thing you know, people will be driving around the golf course in cars.  Wait.  They do that already.  But back to the Himalayas.

     Way, way back, in 1979 to be exact, Clarence and I were hiking to the Everest Base Camp.  Those of you who know me well will understand that this was not my idea.  On the other hand, being only twenty-four at the time, I was eager to take part in it.  I mourn that change as well.  But anyway.  We walked about 250 miles over 24 days.  That’s two hundred and fifty miles! It was mostly uphill!  There were no hotels, per se.  Instead, we stayed with the Nepalese people in their homes.  While this was a rich cultural experience that I in no way regret, it probably explains my tendency for intermittent coughing.  The people built huge fires in their small huts, and at night they closed all the windows and doors.  There were no chimneys.  So the smoke just built up until you couldn’t even see the person lying next to you.  On the other hand, it helped hide the rats that lurked in every corner. 

     On second thought, they didn’t lurk.  They gamboled around the room, having an especially good time on top of my sleeping bag.  Then there was the food.  It was mostly rice and dalbaht.  (I may be spelling it wrong, but I can’t find my diary.)  There was no butter.  No salt and pepper.  Just rice.  The chai was good, though.  We stayed one night at a monastery and bought a wheel of yak cheese so large, it would have looked comfortable on a tractor.  We could barely carry it between four of us.  Still,  we ate it in three days.  Now, I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry.  Nothing gets plugged up when you’re walking for eight hours a day, uphill.  Its an impossibility.  (Side note: when I came back to Canada I searched everywhere for yak cheese.  Apparently, they don’t export it.)

     Rats.  Plain white rice.  Two hundred and fifty miles uphill.  To make matters worse, Clarence lost thirty pounds and I gained five. I could go on (and  will, if someone asks me to.)    But my point in all the whining is this.  What’s next?  Sliding floors that help you move faster?  Wait.  They have those in the airport.  You get my drift, though.  Why does the next generation have it so much easier?  And will they at least appreciate the hardships we suffered?  I’m begging all the baby boomers who read this to take up my cause.  Whine to the next generation.  Carry on the grand tradition of belly aching about change.  After all, I’m only one woman.  I can’t carry the load alone. 

The Sound of Your Life

     I am aware of the fact that I have a good life.  This is true for most of the people I know, though all of us face adversity from time to time.  Still, I’m going to whine a little about something that my life is  missing.  In order to have it, Apple would have to figure out a way to make  life apps.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  I know which one I’d want, though yours might be something different.

     I would like my own personal soundtrack.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to live in a movie.  I like making up my own dialogue, thank you very much.  And I like being surprised by life, and also appreciate not knowing when the end is coming.  So, no script app.  But a soundtrack is a completely different thing.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to meet a friend on the street and have just the right kind of music playing lightly (or not so lightly) in the background?  If the conversation was intense, there might be a pulsating undertone.  Or maybe just a poignant violin, depending on the topic.  If one of you was having a bad day, the other would know it instantly.

 There might be some downsides to it, like if you were planning to kill somebody and everywhere you went, violins were shrieking like they do in horror movies, right before the monster appears. However, I’m a pacifist, so I don’t think it would be a problem.  Some of our family dinners might be a little crazy, but that would just be business as  usual.  We usually have music anyway, come to think of it.

     For my personal, every day life, I want the music to swell for me, like it did for Scarlett O’Hara in the movie, ‘Gone With the Wind.’   When I dig in our garden,  I want a whole orchestra backing up the flow of my tears as I hold up a shrunken vegetable and cry “As God is my witness, I’ll never plant potatoes again.”  So much more satisfying than just whining to my husband about it when things don’ t turn out.  And relationships would reach a whole new level of interest.  Especially the sex part.  (Forgive me, my children, but its true.  Parents have sex.  And yes, they would like some music, too.) 

     A soundtrack would be especially useful when times are tough.  When my self esteem is circling the toilet bowl with all the other crap, I’d like a little music to mark the pain.  Maybe our soundtracks could be programmed to gradually get more upbeat if we’re wallowing too long in our self pity.  It would drag us right out of the doldrums and have us marching to a whole new tune, feeling great about life again.  Most of all, I want a soundtrack that, like Mary Tyler Moore,  gives me permission to just go ahead and throw my hat in the air.   Because, if I do it to music, then I’ll know for sure.  I’m  going to make it after all. (drum beat and cat meow)  Sigh.

Love Story

This is reprinted for Connor and Cheyenne, Susan and Brent, and for baby Mason, the newest addition to the clan.
February is the month for stories of the heart.  If you’ve ever set sail on the ship of love, you’ll recall the intensity, the pain and the wonder of it all.  Yet ask any new parent about first holding their newborn, and they will tell you of a connection so deep, it makes everything else pale in comparison.  And so nature planned it.   
Why else would we willingly deprive ourselves of free time for the next decade, face an avalanche of poopy diapers, or walk the floor at 3 in the morning while singing old Barry Manilow tunes, which is the only thing your tired brain can produce and which strangely enough seems to help.  This is truly God and biology at work.  It amazes me even now how those tiny dictators have us hopping to attention, all the while keeping a firm grip on our hearts.
          And how does this explain that other love story; the grandparent?  Just when the kids have left home, the dog has gone to doggy heaven, and retirement looms like a sweet promise on the horizon, along comes the first grandchild.  Even if a parent is unprepared, and the grandparents are in shock, still, a new chapter in the book of love is written.  And this one is a blockbuster.  Plans fly out the window in the face of this new being.  Grandparents are as helpless as parents in resisting this tiny force of nature.  I hear grandparents say all the time, “You enjoy them, and then you send them home.” 
         But they don’t!  The grandparents that I know, including my own parents and in-laws, give up many weekends to care for their grandchildren, and most seem happy to do it.  It’s like an angel appeared with a trumpet and shouted, “Let the endless giving of time, love, and energy begin again!” But that’s not how it feels, because love never drains your batteries.  It charges you up instead.
          I remember when our oldest was a year old, and she threw up in the middle of the night.  I immediately called my parents, who came running over (though my mother is a nurse and should have known better.)  We all watched over Hilary like she was a time bomb ready to go off, and when she simply fell asleep on the living room floor, we all breathed a sigh of relief.  “That was a close one.”  No, it really wasn’t.  And of course, it happened time and again, though we all learned to panic less often.  The love was there, always, and the time given, with my mother taking turns walking the floor with her 16 grandchildren, and even traveling with my sister to conferences, walking around cities wearing her grandsons in the babyTrekker.  When I was feeling overwhelmed, my parents and in-laws would come over and hold my babies while I did housework. 
Love signs us up; we have no choice in the matter.  So this February, which many consider the month of love, I salute and give thanks for grandparents, who give their hearts over and over again, along with their time, energy, and money passed under the table to grandchildren. 

Why I Love the Walking Dead

I don’t like horror movies.  I don’t like the news.  In fact, I dislike violence  of any kind.  So my fascination with AMC’s ‘the Walking Dead’ has taken me completely by surprise.  I got hooked watching the season one finale and was utterly compelled (almost against my will!) to follow it from the beginning.  To say this in writing is like admitting that I get up in the middle of the night to eat, or that I like the Lawrence Welk show.  Damn you to hell, blog, for making me reveal  my dirty little secrets.

I’ve been trying to figure out the appeal of  this post apocalyptic drama.  Its not the zombies, that’s for sure.   Its not the suspense, which actually makes me a little crazy.  Would you lie down in an abandoned pharmacy and have sex on the floor if there was even a remote possibility that a dead person (who is biologically programmed to bite you) might be lurking in the dark?  No.  Me either. 

I couldn’t sleep last night, which was bad.  But I figured out the appeal of the show, which was good.  Its this.  The people who are still themselves, ( ie: not dead, yet still walking around) have one job to do.  Stay away from the Zombies.  Sure, they still need to forage for food  and supplies in  dark abandoned stores.  They need medicine, and sometimes even sex (or a combination of the two, as previously mentioned.)  But that’s about it.   There are no dentist appointments.  Maybe even no dentists.  Nobody  shovels snow, or goes to see their lawyer about making up a will.   There are no parent teacher interviews.  Instead, parents huddle under their cars, hands clapped over their children’s mouths as the zombies trudge by.  They’re all just running for their lives.

The characters don’t care about global warming.  Nobody is trying to track down organic food.  They just don’t want to be food.  Nobody mentions getting a hair cut, or highlights.  Supposedly no one wears make up, though they all look great.  It’s easier to be thin and fit when you’re running all the time. In the middle of all the horror and fear, there must be some comfort in that.

Besides a plan, a post apocalyptic survivor  needs a gun or a bat.  (Only a direct head shot takes out a zombie.)  A car is also important, though a convoy of cars is best.   My heart is in my mouth during the whole show, though the parts where they’re all driving is when I feel safest.  You know where everyone is.  And zombies can’t run that fast.  On the other hand, you never know if one has hitched a ride on the roof.  I sit on the sofa, a pillow conveniently close by so I can use it to block the screen from time to time. 

The unspoken question posed by the show is this.  How do people behave when the world as they know it ends?  When we’re all in survivor mode, which one of us will shoot a guy in the leg so that he has to remain behind, thereby drawing all the zombies that have previously been dragging themselves in your direction?  Who among us is a hero, bravely rescuing others and putting themselves in harms way?  I have a sneaky suspicion that its not me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a nice person, but in this case, I think I’d be more than a little self serving.   In other words, bang!  Here, Mr. Zombie, have a serving of him. 

We’re probably all better people when we’re not running for our lives.  Fatter.  Maybe more self indulgent.  But most likely, a lot nicer to our neighbors. 

Best Year Ever

2012.  Two thousand twelve.  It doesn’t matter how I write it, I love the look and sound of the new year.  Never mind the Mayans or anyone else who has a bad word to say about it.  I have a good feeling about this one.  For the first time ever, I’ve been able to write cheques and letters without putting the wrong year down. 

I’ve  got my resolutions in order, both personal and business.  This year, we’ll celebrate our 23rd year in business.  That’s a lot of babyTrekkers.  Thanks to all our former and present customers for your letters, photos and funny stories.  I’ve been blessed by all of you.  There is something wonderful about having a business that connects a person to others around the planet.  I love that fact that people on every continent have worn and loved the babyTrekker.  For those of you unfamiliar with our Canadian carrier, let me give you a few facts.

The babyTrekkers  are made with love and care, one at a time.  We purchase our organic cotton through an American company, use American made buckles and foam.  Everything else, including the manufacturing, comes from Canada.  We pay attention to the details, and we like to get things right.  If we don’t, we  make it right for our customers who somehow, over the years, have come to feel like old friends.

This is the year that I celebrate, you, the customer.  I salute you, my friends, for undertaking the precious, overwhelming and ongoing task of parenting.  I honor your quest to be the best mom and dad you can be, and for making a place for the babyTrekker  in your family’s story.    I pray that this is the best year ever, for you, for me, for all of us who share this amazing planet.  God bless you all and have a great 2012.