IntrepidWoman's Journey

Canada just had a very long and very painful federal election process. It is a relief to have it end. There is a FB photo out recently of the new and the old leaders hugging, which is wonderful, but unfortunately, there have also been FB casualties.

The question I ponder today: why are people so mean on social media, to the point of violence? I have witnessed countless images that degraded political leaders, spewed hatred and showed violence. The worst was a photo of the leader of our country sitting in a chair and his head exploding into bloody pulp. Come on! Really?

Whatever did he do that caused so much anger? I see the same anger directed at the American president, including hate-filled comments towards him when he has nothing to do with the situation being discussed!

Social media scares me. It is infested with hate-mongers, bigots and bullies. They see nothing wrong with threatening violence, name-calling, bashing peoples intelligence and integrity.

Is it because I am old and just not receptive to the current total freedom of self-expression?

I am writing this post because I did something I never thought I would ever do. I believe in free speech and the value of everyone’s opinions, but I blocked two people from FB, one during the election and one right after.

During all the hate-filled comments against the Prime Minister, I posted a positive photo/info about him and was lambasted with cutting, rude words on my page that stated I was ridiculous and ignorant to think he was a good leader. In shock, I deleted the comment, then deleted the person. I can forgive many things, including his swearing and rants about how hard life is, but I hold strong my democratic privilege of freedom of speech. Say what you want, but don’t bad-mouth on my page!

Alas, after it was all over and I was relieved to have the negative stuff in the past, another person decided to state that a local candidate won because “aging boomers with their religiosity HANDED her the seat. People who are narrow-minded and suffer SEVERE memory loss.” A friend of the poster challenged this by stating she had voted for this person and found it insulting that hard working people who build this country were being put down.  The original poster said she “was not insulting our elders”, but the person still “got the vote by default.”

I could not contain myself, which is proof that I need to get off FB for either a good, long time or forever! I responded by stating the person “got the win by receiving the majority of votes from people of all ages in the riding” and stated that the writer was “insulting boomers who have been around a lot longer” (than her) “and we do have brains and far more experiences with life and politics! ‘Narrow minded’ and ‘suffering from memory loss’ = totally insulting!” My rant included “The people have spoken in this fine democracy and it is time to get back to working hard at making an honest living, paying forward with good deeds, and showing love and respect for our fellow humans!” Of course she took offence. To me, that is a bully. When someone stands up to a bully, they get louder, but eventually go away. I did not wait. I unfriended her to make her go away.

So, now I sit and ponder the whole thing. Am I terrible for standing up for my beliefs? Her statements were on her own page, so I did not have the right to comment, but isn’t that what everyone does, comment? We tell people how awesome their new image is, how incredible their holiday sounds and how cute their kids are.

I guess the rules change during an election and also when the discussion is about religion. Religion and politics. They say we should never discuss those two things. What is the third thing we should not discuss? Sex? I can’t remember. Maybe because I am a senior.

I am a baby boomer, after all with “severe memory loss”, at least according to an ex-FB friend. Sigh!

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I have been retired for 14 months. The first year was spent with no agenda, just waking without an alarm, not taking on tasks if I was tired, reading every book I could get my hands on, personally and digitally, learning about my new city, and spending time with family and friends.

Before retirement, I was always tired. During the last year of working, I could barely make it through each day without overwhelming fatigue and chronic pain everywhere. It was a tough year because I was determined to do my job well, despite having high blood pressure, being pre-diabetic, having active fibromayalgia and lupus in remission but attacking me in insideous ways like causing neuropathy in my feet and legs. I also had osteoarthritis in my knees, hips and right ankle ( where I had a steel plate installed many years ago after chasing my horse and falling into a cattle guard.)

I was a physical wreck when I turned 65, but was determined to work one more year before retiring. It was a financial necessity even though it seemed logically and physically impossible.

I made it. In my terrible physical state, I single-handedly downsized for a second time within 5 years, (from 2200 square feet to 750 to 560), packed what was left by myself, rented a UHaul, hired 2 men to load it, and relocated to a new city, the same day that my job ended. I barely remember the 2 hour drive from Okotoks to Lethbridge as I was so exhausted. It was raining when I arrived, and a father and son who I had never met but hired through a friend, unloaded my truck in the downpour, and I was left with the bed put together, but everything else piled up high around me and damp. Crazy.

Moving is like giving birth. At the time, it is horrible, painful and you swear you will never do it again, but life gets better after you are unpacked and start to forget how horrible and painful the experience was!

I am still hanging pictures, rearranging the kitchen cupboards and coming up with new ideas for my private little patio. It is a work in progress.

Retirement is seven-day weekends. It is time for personal discovery and reinventing self. It is worth working for 48 years to achieve. Everyday is a gift and a joy. I am going one year at a time now. It is the winter of my life and I am finally number one on my list of important things.

Written in 2012 and just published now, in October 2015.

Regrets are like leaves on a tree. They come and they go. We can try to hang on to them, but they are of little use as they shrivel up. Besides, there are always new ones to replace them if we want to have them.

Many adults have mountains of regrets that go all the way back to childhood. Those who carry them on their backs are ending up with chronic pain and damage to the body and eventually the spirit. To carry them does nothing to change them.

Some of my regrets include: (a) being a workaholic and having no energy left for better family time, (b) trying to pay a mortgage off to the detriment of our daily needs as a single parent family, and (c) using energy to be mad at my ex-husband for not stepping up to the plate more with our kids while they were growing up.

All these years later, I look back on my jobs and that is all they were. They took valuable time away from what was really important. I am renting now, and it is so much easier than juggling mortgage, several utilities and insurances, property taxes, repairs, etc. And finally, if my ex had stepped up to the plate, I probably would not have left him in the first place.

The other side to these things – I hope I made a difference with some of my careers in some people’s lives. I know I learned a lot from students and my teaching years were and always will be very dear to my memories. While raising kids, it felt very secure to pay a mortgage and not worry about landlords giving us notice (and the kids could paint their rooms any colors they wanted). My ex was not all bad, just not really into having the responsibility of a family.

So, now comes the part of giving up the regrets. They have been with me a long time and I have carried them faithfully. (There are far more than previously mentioned, of course.)

I am working on being guilt-free these days. An ‘a-ha’ moment brought this to my attention when I decided that it was time to more actively participate in R.A.O.K.  I did a couple of things anonymously and felt great. Mentioning this to a young man who I admire for his wisdom beyond his years, he asked me if I was doing anything to be kinder to myself. Yikes! What a question!

Of course not. I beat myself up regularly, on a daily basis, just out of habit.

Well, it finally happened. After 12 surgeries and surviving cancer twice, I was THISCLOSE to the final exit. Going into my 13th surgery, which was for hernia repair that I had left way too long, I had a sense of impending doom that I kept pushing away in my mind.

My long-time doctor, who actually attended the same high school I did in pre-historic times, came to my rescue when I phoned him because of escalating pain and attacks which were symptoms of hernia strangulation. I had not lived there for the past 4 years, but he immediately connected me with the surgeon in the small town where I had lived and taught for many years.

The surgery seemed to go well, although it lasted many hours and others scheduled after mine had to be cancelled. The surgeon repaired at least five herniated areas and the next day I was up and walking the halls, expecting to go home soon.

On the second day, my blood pressure suddenly plummeted and my kidneys shut down. Staff packed my belongings onto the ambulance gurney for my trip to ICU in the closest city. Ambulance attendants were standing by. I was unaware of this at the time, but I do remember thinking that I was in a very dark place and mentally decided to pull myself out of it. I can only guess that this is when everything started functioning again and they did not send me to the city. My doctor had waited and watched, hoping….

I was alive and functioning again, but was full of drugs from surgery and post surgery that had not been eliminated from my body. This resulted in 6 days of drug detox. I could only have Tylenol Extra Strength every 4 hours for pain, nothing else. During that time, I experienced really horrific hallucinations and thought that I was trapped in a very terrible place forever. I was afraid to close my eyes because I would sink into mind-chilling dreams that ended with me waking in full terror, trying to breathe and attempting to pull out all the tubes that I became tangled in by thrashing around.

The nursing staff was with me constantly, trying to keep me calm. Their voices and those of my sons kept me anchored briefly in reality. Each day got a little better as the dreams lessened. In the beginning, I would try to stay awake all night. One night I remember the nurses appeared to have floating heads and their faces were ghastly white with very bright, scarlet lips and blue-black hair. There was a nauseating floral fragrance that nearly choked me. The room seemed to be a long tunnel with walls moving inward, and I thought I was imprisoned in a terrible institution where I was trapped for the rest of my existence. Only the voices of the caregivers and my sons would bring me back to reality, sometimes only briefly during the first few days. When I was lucid, I would joke with the nurses, calling one The Mean Nurse because she was so firm, making me concentrate on her voice. I trusted her and sensed she was there for me. Later she told me she had over 30 years experience helping people in trauma situations. What a wonderful way to have spent her career years, taking care of people during such dark times in their lives.

This has to have been one of the worst experiences of my long life, but it is also one of the very best. I have always been ‘a rock and an island’, keeping people at arms length and attempting to suppress most emotions as I pounded my way through life. There was lots of happiness along the way but I never let too many people get too close…. once hurt – you likely know that story.

This time I was totally helpless. I had no control over anything about my circumstances. If I had been in a large city hospital, I do not think I would have made it. In all my previous surgeries over the years, I cannot remember any faces or conversations with the many caregivers and surgeons as it was all so impersonal. But this time I knew all the staff. Having lived in this town for over 30 years, I had either taught their children or the younger staff were my past students. Everyone was overwhelmingly kind. The young woman who came daily to take blood had been my student and she would stop in everyday and visit before her shift. Nurses would come in and ask if I remembered them. I have never felt so loved and so cared for in my entire life.

My doctor was there throughout the dark days, making the call to send me to the city, and then deciding to keep me there. The surgeon came in several times a day, even on the long weekend. He was kind and humorous and very compassionate, spending time as well talking with my sons. They were never in a hurry.

When the day finally arrived that I was able to take care of myself, shower and look human, I walked the halls and received numerous hugs from staff as they came on shift, telling me how great I looked.

I am filled with such joy as a result of my near-death experience. I left that hospital after two weeks filled with a humble sense of thankfulness and a desire to live my life differently. I have begun to really listen to people and look them in the eyes when we talk. My sense of my job being the top priority is gone. Nothing matters now but the people in my life. I am thankful to have a good job that I love, but I am most grateful for my family and friends and for that incredible hospital staff that cared for me with such love and compassion. I will never forget how my sons came and were my life line with reality, keeping me sane. It is my turn now to use my gift of more time to make a more meaningful difference in the lives of others. The first person I am starting to take good care of is me.

A post surgery visit with the surgeon a few weeks later ended with him warmly shaking my hand and saying, “Say hi to the boys from me.” Imagine! I grinned all the way home.

I am in the winter of my life. It came so quickly, too quickly it seems. When I look back at my childhood, then life as a single parent raising a family, and the autumn period when I was a free spirit with a horse, running a cafe in an old church and ‘finding myself’, I accept that every experience has melted together to create who I am today. A lot of the past feels like it happened to another person. A lot of the past fades into vagueness.

I do not have any regrets, not because I did everything in my life ‘right’, but because it is a waste of time to regret. Of course there are things I should have done and many that I should not have. I can wile away the hours by reminiscing and wondering what would have happened if I had taken a different turn in the road at the many junctions in my life. That is actually a fun thing to do, as long as a person does not get sad from these contemplations. It is not something to do more than once and it certainly can be replaced by better activities like a nap or entering a book.

It is done now. I always learned something of value from every decision, good and bad that I made in the past.

I cannot change anything in the past and I cannot totally predict the future, so I am only able to happily enjoy the present. The winter of one’s life has really only one downside – that it comes so quickly. Other than that, it is a wonderful time.

Did you ever ride in a car at night during a snowstorm when the snow was falling softly and the headlights lit up the flakes like a million twinkling stars? I remember that, when I was about 19 and in love. I remember the magic, and I had so much emotion about life and love and trying to control my path. It is a comfort to be old and realize that you have very little control, but what you do with life’s events is what counts.

In the winter of my life, I am enjoying each day, literally. I stop during the workday to think about what fun my job is, even though it can be stressful as well. I am trying not to get caught up in the “what ifs”. I see others do this and they create stress that is a waste of their time. I used to do that in my youth. So much time is wasted on ‘what ifs’ that never happen. Enough does happen that you will need your energy to deal with when it comes.

The winter of my life is still too busy at the moment, but it has more periods of stopping to enjoy the smell of rain, feel the cool breeze in the evening, enjoy the satisfaction of a good book or working with a soft wool and turning it into a warm scarf for a wee grandchild.

I hope the winter of my life is long, but there are no guarantees, which is why it is so important to feel each day and don’t leave it until the clock says you must. I am learning to live in the moment, in the winter of my life.

I know of five couples in my sons’ generation who are in various stages of getting divorced. What do they have in common? All are mid 30s to early 40s, most husbands and wives have demanding jobs, all have mortgages and several other debts, and one partner in each is leaving because they are ‘not happy’. The most important similarity of four of them – they have young children.

It weighs heavy on my heart to be surrounded by these families going through such pain, tearing apart homes, dividing hard-earned assets, taking children out of their homes and away from their friends and punishing the other parent to being part-time with their children for the rest of their lives.

In three of these cases, it is the wife who has chosen to leave. In at least two of the five marriages, the “I’m not happy” is code for “I have found someone else.”  It makes me very angry and desperately sad because they are being so totally self-centred.

It is just too easy to call it quits. No one works at it anymore. Marriages have become part of the throw-away mentality. This generation is supposed to be so wise and so worldly, but some of them are missing out on a huge truth. Marriage is hard work and should not be gone into lightly or with the idea that you can leave if you don’t like it. It is extremely difficult to live with another person and to share decisions about where, why, when, who and how many. When you have children it gets even harder to work together as a team and also keep the romance alive.

There are cycles in marriage. At many points along the way, you may find that so much has happened with children and jobs that you do not talk as much as you used to. There is an ebb and flow to marriage. There is lots of truth to the seven-year itch concept or seven-year cycle.

The wise ones know this. Many people who are married for the second time know this. If they learn anything from the first time around, it is that you both have to work hard at being married, all the time, and it is unrealistic to expect your partner to make you happy. It is also unrealistic to expect to be happy all the time.

One young woman crushed her husband with “I’m not happy”, taking his two young daughters and most of the money and making him a part-time dad. After the dust settled, she confessed that she still was not happy. Duh! Well neither is the ex-husband who can’t sleep and spends all his free time running when not waiting to see his girls.

Two of the people have discovered they are unhappy through yoga and meditation – the ‘Eat,  Pray, Love Movement’. Awaken your inner feelings, cleanse your past hurts, etc. etc. The problem is, after all this awareness at a serene retreat getaway, you are bounced back into the reality of life with no guidance on how to deal with the issues you brought to the surface during your fantasy week away. The result – you are unhappy with your life. The next step – change it by walking away from an investment of several years with another person who entered the relationship for the long-term.

I am not saying a person should stay if their partner is abusive or brings problems to the marriage by gambling or drinking, etc. But with all these couples I know, one partner in each relationship is choosing to walk away and their partners are hard-working and fully hands-on parents to their children. Most of the partners do not want a divorce.

The worst part, expressed by one young woman, is the total disregard to what is happening to the children during the breakup. This mom said she is so proud how well her child is handling everything. He is not being affected at all, she said, even though he is bounced back and forth between two temporary homes and crying when each parent leaves. Others are seeing how fragile he is and how he cries easily these days. Sometimes his eyes are so sad. He is a very young child who is being forced to grow up too soon.

His mother is one of the parents who has found someone else, but instead of admitting this, says that she is not happy and needs to find herself. It is only greener on the other side of the fence when you are in the initial stages of the ‘romance’. It wont take long if they remarry, to get to the same stages of finances and family concerns to deal with as a couple, including the whole new bag of problems that will emerge when blending families.

I wish there were laws that made it more difficult to get married. Couples should have to take mandatory courses that talk about the cycles of married life, the difficulties of finances and how having children changes everything, and the process of divorce and how it affects children, all before they can apply for a marriage licence.

I used to think that it is better that many couples are waiting until their 30s to get married, after having some years to find out about themselves first. I am not so sure now. As I look at a lot of them, what I see are self-centred, selfish adults who resent having to put children first and are unhappy to not be able to live the way they did when they did not have the responsibilities connected to marriage.

It is time to grow up and put your children first. They did not ask to be born and you owe them. Don’t leave the marriage without really working whole-heartedly at it through counselling with your partner. It deserves a commitment of several months to try to fix it instead of a quick walk out the door. Examine your lifestyle. If money has you by the throat because you measure success by square footage and the price of your toys, that does not help a relationship.

Are you really better off without that other person? Yes, they are not perfect. Yes they have made mistakes and done some stupid things, but you both have. It always takes two.

Best quote I ever saw: “If he was perfect, he would not have married you.”   Sure made me think, back in 1976 when I was getting a divorce.

My Number One Son turned 42 this week. I had to work that day, but felt that anyone with a ‘child’ that age should be home in bed, resting. I am too old to still be working full time!

Jim is easy to look up to and I admire the man he has become. He is a voracious reader and knows something about almost everything. He is very hardworking, but balances his job with his home life better than a lot of people in his generation.

On his birthday, I always think about him as a child. I go back to the day I was at work at the bank on the university campus, married for over a year, suspecting I was pregnant and not sure how I felt about that. It was one of those “oops” things. Anyway, it was before the time of home pregnancy tests, so when the doctor’s office called me at work to confirm that I was indeed expecting, I still remember saying, “Thank you for calling.” Then I walked out of the bank, down the hall to the washroom in the student union building, (we did not have our own), sat in a cubicle, grinned at the closed door for a few minutes, and then went into panic mode. I was 21, playing at being an adult, and was soon to be responsible for another human being – a helpless, wiggly, poopy and non-talking little creature who I could royally screw up if I royally screwed up!

When Jim was born, I brought him home to the house I had grown up in and I learned to take care of a baby. The years flew by and he was such a delightful little boy, so smart and succinct when he began talking and so eager to learn about everything.

As a teenager, he always had me in stitches – what a sense of humour! He also had a serious and thoughtful side and when he was president of the school council, he came up with the idea for his grad class to give back by hosting a supper for seniors at Christmas time, a tradition that is still going strong today at the high school.

He used to clean our house every Friday after school so that I would say yes when he asked to borrow the car for the evening. When he left for university, I could not understand why the house was always untidy, when there were fewer people living in it.

Years later, he loved to tell me all the things he did while living at home that I had no idea about at the time, (thank goodness!) I would try to stop him by saying I did not need to know after the fact, but there was joy in the telling for him.

He has had a wonderfully interesting life, living in China for a few years on two occasions and always working at figuring things out about life and stuff. When he finally made me a grandmother, I felt he was really doing his most important life work. He is an awesome dad and delights in his beautiful wee son and daughter, stating that they are a prince and a princess and he is just there to serve. We laugh, but I think he really means it.

He has been the teacher and I the student for many years now, which brings me to the fact that he is my only son who I did not teach in the small-town high school when I worked there. He missed me by a year and was glad of it!

When other young boys were out playing ball and riding bikes, Jim was  spending long hours with his Apple 2 E computer. Now he rides his bike, taking great, long road trips. He was not into team sports in school, but decided, with a push from his math teacher who was also the coach, to play basketball in grade nine. Coach Bruce would come to my classroom to report what a great player Jim was. We were both so proud.

When he was in university in Edmonton, another teacher from our high school came into my classroom one day, waving a news article from the paper and exclaiming how proud he was of ‘our boy’! I had not heard about it until that moment, but it seems that Jim was inspired to strike against the cafeteria at the university about the quality of food or supplier or ? My memory fails me, but I do remember how proud his social studies teacher was as he presented me with the article and the photo of Jim, staged to look as if he was eating out of the cafeteria garbage can.

Jim is my Number One Son because he came first. He had to suffer through the mistakes made by a novice mother.  Your oldest child is your prototype. It gets easier with each one that comes along. By the third time, another ‘oops’ arrived in son Dean and I think I actually let him raise himself! Middle son David loves the fact that he was my only ‘planned’ child.

For my oldest son, I have miles of praise and the deepest admiration, and I love his wonderful talent as a master story-teller. He expertly plays to the audience when family members and friends get together. He keeps us laughing and can also make me shake my head in awe as I listen to his serious thoughts on other days. After a visit where the kids have gone to bed and Jim quietly shares some insights with me, I drive home asking myself how I got to be such a lucky mother.

My three sons and I grew up together, and they did such a great job of raising each other! I hope Jim is not even half way through his life and I wish him at least forty two more birthdays. If a mother’s love could guarantee an extra long life, he would surely live to be at least two hundred. Happy birthday Jimmy!

How can this be? My middle son is turning 39 on May 15th and in my own mind I am only 20 something. (My 85-year-old mother reacts the same way when she realizes her two daughters are thisclose to being senior citizens.) I can’t decide if it is a blessing or a problem, feeling like that, but it is my son’s 39th birthday and I am so proud of the man he has become.

David has always been the family nurturer. He hurts for everyone’s pain. He picks everyone up and helps them through hard times. He unselfishly gives of his time and his money to take care of his family and his friends. From keeping grandma’s house in working order over the years to offering a strong shoulder through relationship breakdowns and an instant money transfer to save any one of us, he is always there. He will jump in the car or hop on a plane to help friend or family member in a personal crisis.

He often starts a conversation with, “You know what you should do mom….” when I am off on one of my tangents of flying by the seat of my pants with a new life idea.

I look back at his life with such joy in my heart.  I am very proud of the person he has always been. His journey has had its own hard times, but he is a survivor. He is intelligent and has a smile that melts the heart of the crankiest old lady and wins over the trust in any business negotiation. He is honest and has never been afraid of hard work. It is his intelligence, honesty and forthrightness that has made him successful in business but it is his gentle heart and loyalty that has made him so dear to the rest of his family and friends.

His current job carries a lot of stress but he has worked hard at it to give his family a comfortable life. Before he got married, he had already purchased his first home, and before that, had opened a branch of a business in Vancouver while still in his early twenties. Without formal post secondary education, he has accomplished so much and is greatly admired by the rest of our family with our university degrees.

His finest accomplishment is his son Jack. I am in such awe of his love for his son. Coming from a single-parent family with a father who was not around much has made him more aware. David always wanted a ‘dad’ and had many men including grandpa and coaches who stepped in and helped make him the person he is today. He likes to quote his grandpa and truly honors him by being as much like him as he possibly can be.

His grandpa (my dad), had two daughters and a son who died just before age 16. David and his brothers were such gifts as grandsons for my dad, and he loved them with all his heart. David, in turn, idolized his grandpa. When my dad would come to make repairs at our house and asked who was going to help him, Jim and Dean would scatter, but David would carry the tool box and be ready to learn how to fix something.

When he was a teenager, the phone would ring off the hook with calls from girls. He is the only man I know who has stayed friends with nearly all the girls he dated over the years. That winning smile, blond hair and blue eyes never affected his sweet and humble nature though.

When David was three, he had his tonsils out. I remember going to the hospital to find him sitting in the hallway in his pyjamas, waiting for me. It was not a good experience for him and he came away with a great fear of needles. He had several health issues as a very young child that were also hard on him.

Last year Jack fell on a scooter and split his nostril clean through. David and Lyndsey rushed him to the hospital for stitches and pain meds. When David took him to the doctor to get the stitches out, Jack was terrified, so the doctor was unable to remove them. He agreed to let his dad take them out at home, and David did. Can you imagine this man who had his own bad medical experiences growing up, cutting the tiny stitches in his son’s nose because his son trusted him to do it? Now that is a parent-child bond that puts a huge lump in my throat.

A few weeks ago, Jack called to tell me he was going to a Beavers’ campout. I asked if he had to bring anything special. His reply was, “The special thing I am bringing is my Dad.”

In high school, David was an awesome volleyball player. He would scrape off a layer of skin across the gym floor to save the ball. I will always remember going with him to provincial championships with his school team. They were in the finals and the two teams were so evenly matched, with the excitement being almost too much for the spectators. One of our dads leaped up and yelled, “If you win, I will take you all to Vegas!” They did win and Vegas never did happen, but we were such proud parents. I remember crying from the pure joy of it. David’s dad had come to watch and could not figure out why everyone was so emotional. I told him you had to have been there for the whole ride.

I was there for the whole ride. It has been such an awesome trip. Memory lane for me tonight includes all the baseball and volleyball games, and the hockey coach telling me to go sit somewhere else because I was yelling at David to throw himself on the ice to stop the puck at age 7. We travelled to summer games every year. When I was on a walking kick, he would jump in the car and bring me back at the end of an hour, 5 days a week, just because I asked him to. When one of my dearest friends died of cancer several years ago, David came and sat with me at her funeral. When I bought a beat-up, old church with visions of turning it into a cafe, David was there to tear out carpets, etc. I spent three weeks with Jack, Lyndsey and David in France in 2010. It was a wonderful experience.

My wish for my middle child is for many more birthdays. Some may be very special celebrations and others not so much, due to where he will be at in life at the time. I hope they are mostly wonderful celebrations for him.

Like most parents, I just want my children to be happy. For David, I want him to know how much he is loved and cherished as he turns 39 and from the moment I first saw his beautiful smile.

Divorce is like death in many ways but can actually be worse. It is the breakdown of a couple or too often, a family, where one person leaves. When a person dies, you go through the four stages;  denial, depression, anger, acceptance and then your life is never the same again; but you go on, cherishing your memories of the past. In a divorce, you go through the same emotions, but everyone is still out there. Every component of their afterlife changes. The marriage and family unit has died, but life goes on with everyone surrounded by the pieces of what once was.  Death is mourning the loss of a person and divorce is mourning the loss of an entire family unit while watching your chosen mate go on with their life. If you have children, you are never completely divorced. There is no erasing and starting over with a clean slate.

First, the decision by one person to divorce is made with a sense of relief. You can’t do this anymore. You are not going to do this anymore. You are not happy. You may have found someone else. You think it will be simple and straightforward to end the marriage.

In the heated discussions that start with hurt and disbelief, you think that the other person is going to be ‘fair’ about everything. The Leaver expects good, mature decisions that will benefit both. The Left gets angry and does not want the life they have built together to be chopped up into chunks and dispersed. Cooperation is not fifty-fifty. You do not have like minds.

Sometimes, one or the other party does not realize immediately that everything they have built together must be divided. You can’t keep something just because you like it. The other person has the same right to it! This often means it all has to be sold.

Both want what is right for the children, but it is the children who pay the ultimate price. They lose the stability of one home. They often lose their bedroom and their neighborhood. They lose big family Christmases. They lose mom and dad loving each other and loving them as a unit. Often, and soon, one parent is replaced by another adult at the breakfast table,  and nothing is ever the same again. There are more people in the equation now. The adults are just trying to find that allusive thing called happiness. New relationships often don’t go any smoother than the original marriage did. Bottom line is never to expect your partner to make you happy. It is up to you to make yourself happy, and there are more people to consider than just yourself in life. Children pay the price every step of the way through divorce and creating a new family unit.

Getting married is too easy and divorce is not easy at all. Watching the happy couple walk down the isle and pledge ‘til death do us part, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer’ is such a happy occasion. So many say the words without believing them or considering the actual impact of them. Others don’t even say these words in the ceremony anymore. Some time goes by and so many jump ship because life is not what they thought it would be.

No one ever stops to consider that the problem might not be the other person. It might be the lifestyle that is the norm today. Both parents racing on the hamster wheel, juggling high demand jobs and daycare, dance classes and hockey practices, etc.. They don’t sit down to family meals. They don’t spend time together laughing over a board game or all sitting in the same room reading or sharing their day. She runs off for a week with girl friends. Then he goes off with the boys.

The pressure is on to have the most, be the best and get it all done in record time. They know they are not happy. They fight over so many issues – finances, helping with household chores, ideologies about child raising. They expect their mate to complete them. Ah, the negative influence of television/movies. It will never be like it is in the movies. There is no such thing as “You complete me.”

If you start as friends, you need to keep the friendship alive. You must keep communication open. You should respect that the other person can have their own opinion and that yours is not the definitive one. You should always negotiate the important things. Your way is not always the best way.

You certainly should love your children above all else. Their gene pool is the combination of you both. They deserve security and love. If you cannot commit to your partner anymore, at least commit to your children. The concept of your happiness being number one priority is nothing but selfishness and immaturity. Yes, you deserve some time to yourself and for yourself, but arrange it so that it does not take away from the family unit. Children are not to blame for your marriage breakdown, but somehow they are often made to feel like it is their fault.  It is a heavy burden to place on children. When you divorce, it is often the end of their childhood, whether they are five or fifteen. There is no ‘good’ age for children to handle divorce easily.

I write this because divorce is all around me. For the last year, I have watched a good friend go through the pain of divorce. He is the father of two young daughters. He has always provided well for his family and always put them first. They appeared in public to be the perfect family. Then his wife went through a hysterectomy and became discontented with her life in general. She decided she was not happy and that divorce was the answer. He has cried daily for a year, but he has come through this learning a lot about himself and he continues to put his children first. He treats his ex-wife with respect and  has bought her the house of her choice and never questions her requests for money. The other day she said she is ‘stressed’ and was going to see a doctor. It seems she is still unhappy.

I am simplifying this of course, because it always takes two – to make a marriage and to break one. He had his faults, but why was she not willing to work on it with him? She was too willing to throw it all away. She has started dating and has everything the way she wants now, but is still unhappy. He sees his children on the days the court assigned and in between he works and runs and cries.

One of my sons was only three when I divorced. Two weeks after moving from the family home because my ex insisted on keeping it, my wee son woke up crying in the middle of the night. I went into his room to see what was wrong and he said, “I want my daddy”.  I will never forget the pain of that. As much as I had told the boys that the divorce had nothing to do with them and the problem was between the parents, that still left the pain from the death of the family unit. That was 36 years ago and a different time. We were too young and never had discussed what we wanted out of life before marrying. We also just happened to make babies before even talking about whether we wanted to have any. He continued to live the life of a single man while I became a working mother. It seemed easier to leave the marriage and lose the oldest child – my husband, who proudly stated he did not plan to grow up. Cute when he was 17; not so much at 25.

Even though people generally are older before they get married now and choose to have a family, they still get caught up in the competition of bigger, better, best, for themselves and their children. I thought being older might give marriages a better chance of survival, but the downside is that some of these couples come into the relationship expecting to hold on to their sense of self-entitlement. They enjoyed years of giving themselves the best of everything and putting themselves first. It is a shock when babies enter the picture and totally upset their lifestyles.

So I end this with pain in my heart, watching families I know breaking into little pieces. Life’s journey holds lots of pain as well as pleasure. As a single parent during my younger years and now as a grandparent of three precious little children, I am mourning for all couples who choose death by divorce. It might be the hardest decision you make in your life and it needs to be thought out very carefully. A simple question to ask: Am I better off with or without him/her? And just as important: “Are my children better off without our family unit?”

I have been fanatically saving every penny I could for several months now. Every pay-day, what ever was left in the account got transferred. Then I started dumping money up front on the day I got paid. If I had to eat creatively because I was out of groceries before the next payday, I would. Always deposit, never withdraw – that was my mantra. How proud I was. For the first time in my life I have money in the bank.

It is there for car repairs and unforseen expenses. It is there to prove I can save. It is there to prove I have a good job and can budget wisely.

But today, I found out it is there for another reason.

After washing floors, doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom and vacuuming, I showered and headed out the door on a road trip. My plan was to end up in Longview because I had always wanted to visit the little shop called ‘Wow and Then’. I have followed it on FB and have had a few conversations with the very amiable owner Pam. I also wanted to visit ‘All Through the House and Red Barn Mercantile’ in Okotoks. Their photos of interesting finds on FB had also piqued my interest for a while.

I found a galvanized tin full of pansies and parsley in the one place and then an old bird house in the other place. I also found a back road that I had never been on and had a sunny, scenic drive back to Okotoks.

It is too soon to put the potted flowers outside, so I set them on an old wooden table inside the bird house in front of my big living room window. Perfection.

It is nice to know I have a savings account to buy something frivolous once in a while just because. Every time I snip the parsley to add to my meals or admire the pansies, I will remember my perfect afternoon.

As I write this an hour after returning home, it is pouring rain and thunder booms overhead. After an enjoyable afternoon excursion, I am tired and ready for a ‘feet up and a good read.’

And I have just the book, also picked up this afternoon at the little shop in Longview, called: “Backyard Biffies. History, Charm and Humorous Stories About Outhouses.”  It is a signed copy from the Canadian author, Ron Cunningham.

Without my savings account, I would not be educated on the history of the toilet. That would be a shame!

Historically Speaking

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