I didn’t avoid the funeral because you were going to be there.
In all honestly, I hadn’t thought of you at all until my husband – who did go – told me he saw you there.
I’m not sorry I missed seeing you. It would have been a thirteen-hour round-trip and since my catastrophic – and permanent – burnout seven years ago, my body just can’t handle that big of a day. But I’ve been thinking of all the things I could have/ should have said to you, had I gone, that we both know I wouldn’t have said because well, I never think on my feet.
It should have been a hard holiday for my Mom. The week before Christmas, I was all packed and ready to leave for a week-long visit when my sister called to tell me she and my brother-in-law were both feeling poorly. No, she reassured me, it wasn’t Covid, but they didn’t feel well at all. Because I always stay with them when I come to visit my Mom, we regretfully made the decision that I should stay home. My sister was in no shape for company – not even her sister (!!) – and I’d just end up getting sick, too. Because we are ultra careful about not bringing germs into our Mom’s seniors residence, and because we would never lie about such a thing, neither of us would have been able to visit Mom in any case. It was with immense sadness that I unpacked my bags and stowed away their Christmas presents, which had been sitting in a box, wrapped and ready, beside my suitcase at the door.
I have a few childhood memories that will always haunt me but one of the worst happened in one single, terrible moment. I must have been 6 or 7 years old and we had been visiting my Grammy and Grampy. I remember that it was a beautiful summer day: we had all gone somewhere – I don’t recall the location now – with the exception of my beloved Grampy, who had opted to stay at home that morning.
Upon our return, as our cars pulled into the long dirt driveway that led to my grandparents’ humble little country home, I was the first to tumble out the car so that I could go find Grampy and excitedly tell him all about whatever amazing thing we had just been doing. He was unusually hard to find: I ran all through the little house, scouring every room for him.
“I’m in an exercise class!” my Mom announces excitedly one day, as we chat on the phone. “Do you want to come and see it?”
Mom is 84. She uses a walker to get around; she has mild dementia and lately, she’s been sleeping a lot.
Until my stepfather’s health began to fail, my mother was an active woman. She was one of those energetic people who have little patience for the people who can’t keep up; the people who have showed signs of slowing down. She gardened. She delivered Meals on Wheels. She took line-dancing classes. She was always going to ‘this’ sale or ‘that’ event with friends. Right up until bedtime, she was always puttering about the house: cleaning this, organising that. She never stopped: it could be exhausting, just watching her. My sister and I used to joke that she would end up burying both of us and would still be going strong at our funerals.
I can see it as though it were yesterday: my little sister, sullenly standing in the middle of the living room, dutifully practicing her tap-dance steps for an upcoming show: shuffle, shuffle, stomp; shuffle, shuffle, stomp. Her movements were embarrassed and stilted; the ‘stomp’ angry and emphatic. She was wearing a cute little dress and her childish little legs, bony at the knee and ankle, had been resentfully stuffed into pretty little white ankle socks and shiny black tap shoes.
You only had to glance at her face – a sullen black cloud – to see that she did not want to be there. She did not want to be practicing that ‘stupid’ dance.
My maternal grandfather was born in 1907: one year before the model-T Ford was made available to the public. It would be almost two decades before cars would become widely popular in North America but my young grandfather – always a clever and resourceful man – quickly espoused this newfangled technology. He built a ramp right in his own yard which he dug out of a nearby embankment and he always did his own car repairs. Money was tight and a car was already a luxury: I’m not sure he ever had to go to a mechanic.
I can only imagine how much his knowledge and resourcefulness would have impressed his parents, who were born in an entirely different era, back in the 1800s. They would have been dinosaurs, in comparison to my grandparents.
Watching others as they go about their daily lives is far more riveting than anything you will ever get to see on Netflix. When I lived in the city, I could (and did) people-watch all the time. No one knows you in a city and no one ever looks back at you. Eye contact in a city is unheard of. People will go out of their way not to look back. It’s almost magical, how invisible you can become.
It was a very stormy Christmas Eve back in 1970 and Dad had finished work at six o’clock. I was eight years old; going on nine; my sister would have just turned seven. Back in those days, the family always met at my grandparents’ house on the other side of the province. It was normally a two-and-a-half-hour trip. Because Dad had had to work right up until the very last minute, Mom had everything ready to go. As soon as he arrived home from work, Dad gobbled up a sandwich as Mom hurried me and my sister into the back seat, already dressed in our jammies.
Neither of us remember how we met. Kids don’t make much of a fuss about making friends; they just sort of… become. I still have a few of those black-and-white pictures we used to be able to take – stacked four on top of one another – in those little photo booths you could find in department stores back in the 70s. I love and treasure those photos of the two of us crammed together into that little booth, grinning big toothy smiles, being silly or just unselfconsciously staring into the camera with serious, loving looks on our faces.
As a kid who grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone else, it came as a bit of a shock to me, to end up living my entire working life in a big, indifferent city. I am an introvert, though, so despite the culture shock, there was a great deal of appeal for me, being absolutely swallowed up in a big, anonymous crowd. I think that people who love to sit and quietly think for hours may have fewer issues with big-city obscurity.
Nonetheless, I never did shake the part of me that had grown up in a place where most folks knew one another. Looking as much like my Mom as I do, even as a kid, I never went anywhere without being told: “Oh, you must be Y_’s daughter!” There is something very comforting about being in a place where, as the song goes, “everybody knows your name”.
Oh, yes, I heard you were quite the upcoming star in your field! Your Mom used to tell me all about how well you were doing: climbing that ladder; making such a name for yourself; playing on the 2018 World Junior Hockey Team, no less, and winning for Canada (!!!); getting noticed by all the right talent scouts; being courted by all those teams; making all that money now!
The NHL drafted you right after that championship, didn’t they? Wow: they must think you’re something special!
Gee, come to think of it, your Mom hasn’t said much about you for awhile now…
Well yes, I did hear about that little ‘thing’: I mean, who hasn’t? It just keeps coming up on the news, kind of like a bad penny. You must be just sick to death of hearing about it.
For a few years now, I have questioned the wisdom of purchasing a live Christmas tree. On a moral and spiritual level, I always feel guilt: I believe trees are as alive as I am. Why would I be okay with killing a tree for a tradition? In a time where our planet needs trees more than ever? Well, buying an artificial tree that is not biodegradable and that will absolutely end up in a landfill eventually is just not an option for me, either. And I am blessed to live in a country where live Christmas trees are plentiful. Unlike our parents and grandparents, we don’t go into the forest anymore to cut down a tree that – in time – would have become a giant. Instead, the cultivation of trees for just this occasion has become a tidy part of local business (and I always try to support local business). These trees are specifically grown for exactly this purpose – fields and fields of them, just kilometers from our home.
I don’t know quite when she started it, but many, many decades ago my grandmother, who was a beautiful and accomplished seamstress – if only to keep her own family frugally but very well clothed because money was tight – made Christmas stockings for the entire family. Every stocking is made of red felt with white-felt trim and each one bears the family member’s name as well as a number of lovely felt decorations, each slightly different and unique to its owner. My parents, my sister, my aunts, my uncles and every one of my cousins had their own stockings. Back in the 70s, when we all got together at my grandparents’ home for the holidays, our stockings used to cover every inch of my grandparents’ stairway banister. My own stocking is now dix decades old and although it is starting to look a little weathered, every single stitch remains intact.
It’s pouring buckets today. It’s almost midday and we need a light on in the house to read by. Outside my window, the grass is a deep, soft, lush green. It clearly appreciates all that water. Just past our lawn, the river is full to the brim and looks dark and powerful as it surges past our house. Locals tell us they’ve never seen it so high at this time of year.
It could be a rainy day in June, if not for the trees that are stripped bare of leaves and the Christmas decorations that line the street.
Okay, so confession time here: I love watching Christmas holiday movies. Not the blockbusters with the famous names, expensive directors and ample funding (although I like those too), but rather: the ‘B’ movies; the really cheesy ones. You know what I’m talking about: there is a whole channel dedicated to them and if you are a true fan, they start sometime around the beginning of November.
The movies are always set in a fictive, picturesque little village that must be frozen perpetually in time, else, why would they name their town ‘Christmas Tree Hollow’ or ‘Silent Night Village’? The heroines have names like ‘Holly’ and ‘Noelle’ and the handsome fellows they have their eye on, are all named ‘Nick’ or ‘Chris’. Every single house; every single street; every single store; indeed, every single vehicle, is artfully decorated with vintage Christmas decorations that all have a story to tell. Many of these decorations also carry magical powers. Everyone in the village knows and dearly loves one another. The characters live on streets with names such as ‘Mistletoe Lane’ or ‘Evergreen Way’. The entire town always works cohesively to plan the yearly ‘Yuletide Ball’ or the ‘Christmas Carol Extravaganza’.
For as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do something amazing: something that I would always be remembered for. I wanted my name to be recalled with admiration long after I was gone. I wanted my children to be proud of their Mom. I wanted to feel proud of myself.
I chose a profession in education: a place where it is easy to make a difference – if you want to – every single day. For most of my career, I worked in adult education; adult literacy, to be exact. One would think that working with adults who are learning to read and to write would be about as fulfilling a career as one could aspire to. Instead, I worked far, far in the background: writing and overseeing grant proposals for our annual funding; preparing action plans and strategic plans for the government to approve and therefore allow us to keep doing what we were doing for another year; training the teachers who would actually get to teach an adult how to read for the first time, as well as teaching them the myriad life skills that the statistical majority of us take for granted: skills that feel like a mountain to the adult learner who is absorbing them for the first time.
My sister and I were watching a documentary – I don’t even recall the topic – and there were two fifties-something women being interviewed who had been best friends since grade school.
When I was a kid, I lived in a town with a local air force base and I had a knack for finding friends whose parents would eventually be transferred to another base, leaving me – over and over again – bereft and mourning for yet another friend who had moved on.
With the above in mind, buy local, or if you cannot, buy items made in countries whose values align with your own;
Make ‘kind’ your default as often as you can;
Get your money out of RRSPs – and into a more spendable, less taxable, more easy-to-pass-on-to-your-kids format – while you still have a pulse (a banker gave me this advice);
You do not have to rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. The new detergents work better if they have food enzymes to help them break down better. It’ll save you loads of time, reduce the cost of your water bill and it will be much better for the environment;
Grow something you will be able to eat;
Take good care of your things and try to fix them rather than replacing them, whenever you can;
You really don’t forgive for the other person. You forgive because it’s just too toxic for you to carry that anger around;
Whatever awful drama or tragedy you are going through, time will make a difference. Hang on…
If you have kids and you don’t have a will, get one done up. In many places, you can legally draw up your own will so it doesn’t even have to cost you all that much;
Re. the above: if you have specific wishes, write them down! Tell your loved ones where they can find that information. And review your own wishes periodically. You will be surprised how they change over time;
Also re. the above: make sure a person you trust has Power of Attorney over your finances and your health decisions, just in case the day comes when you are unable to make those decisions on your own;
Regardless of how important you think you are in a business or an organisation, you are easily replaceable (and soon forgotten). Almost everyone retires at some point. Whatever work you do, it may be the centre of your existence now, but the time will come when you are obsolete. Rare are the people who work until the day they die of old age. Make sure you have a real life to fall back on when you do retire (and start early if you can);
There is nothing – nothing – human about ‘human resources’. Never, ever forget: they are not there for you; they are there for the system;
Re. the above, systems are never there for you; they are there for themselves (and especially, for their bottom line). The best you can do is to be your own best advocate;
Breathe. And stop to just look around, as often as you can. Leave your phone at home from time to time. It’s really, really beautiful out there…
Living isn’t the point. Making a difference isn’t the point. Making your mark on the world isn’t the point. What did you learn? I think that is the point…
The room was nowhere near full but there were nonetheless a lot of us there: say, 150 people, or 10% of our community’s population, which any small-town municipal employee would tell you is a roaring success.
Our local provincial MLA (Minister of the Legislative Assembly) was there to warmly and casually greet us at the door – many by name – and also to officiate the proceedings. My husband and I quietly commented to one another that this was a good first sign we were being taken seriously. The speakers were all clustered at the front of the school auditorium. There were three RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officers, including one who would turn out to be the spokesperson throughout, and the just-appointed-that-week Minister of Public Safety.
It took me nearly six decades – and one very major epiphany – to find my voice. To fully understand why I have always had such a hard time communicating my feelings, wants and needs. To completely digest that my people-pleasing personality had been affecting my every thought; my every move; my entire life. The day I finally had a name for my own personal nemesis; codependency; I was determined to overcome it once and for all, or die trying.
I was that blessing to every parent everywhere: the obedient child. I did as I was told. I never questioned authority. I dutifully respected my elders. I spoke when invited to speak and I kept my mouth firmly shut the rest of the time. I went to bed when I was sent to bed – hours before I was ready – without so much as a murmur of protest. I could enter a room without making so much as a wave.
I come from a long line of folks with truly awful tempers. I’m not sure if it’s a genetic thing, a hormonal thing, generational trauma or simply really bad karma, but on every side of my family tree, a number of my family members are known for flying off the handle.
I remember penny candy. I remember when you could buy a chocolate bar, a pop (*) and a bag of chips for 25 cents. I remember when a postage stamp cost 8 cents. I remember listening to music on records – 45s and LPs, to be exact. Cell phones were the stuff of science fiction but you could find a telephone booth on every corner and a phone call cost a dime. I recall how scandalised everyone was when the cost of making a call in a phone booth went up to 25 cents. I remember when computers were as big as a room and almost no one had ever laid eyes on a real one, except for a handful of scientists with obscure titles. When I was in university back in the early 80s, I only called home (collect, of course) on Sunday evenings, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. because that was the only time of the week when the cost of a call was affordable.
Dear Readers: I didn’t have a proper Halloween story so I am sharing a post about real monsters instead…
He has been lying since he was a little child.
At first, they were just little lies; meant to save him from being caught or from getting a spanking. But as he saw how good he was at lying; as he saw how much more people liked him when he told them exactly what they wanted to hear, it became a habit. Little lies soon became outrageous whoppers.
I love music. It fills me; heals me, sooths me and brings me out of any dark mood. I am the type of person who reflects deeply on the hypocrisies and the idiosyncrasies of life and I often get mired in the muck because of it. Sometimes, when I have gone way too far down the rabbit hole, some little voice will nudge me to my music lists and remind me that there is something that always makes me feel better.
I was minding my own business, just brushing my teeth, when I heard it. An unusual crinkly sound coming from the direction of the washer and dryer, just a few feet away.
Having experienced a few traumas in my life, I am pretty much perpetually on alert. And I tend to have a very good sense of where my folks and my critters are when I am in the house. I knew our cat, Maggie, was fast asleep in our bedroom upstairs and I knew our dog, Buddy, was lying on the floor at my husband’s side, in the living room. Besides me, our many plants, one wayward fly and perhaps a few house spiders, there was nothing else alive in the house: certainly nothing big enough to make that much of a ruckus.
I remember so clearly the very first time I voted. I was 19 years old and there was a municipal election going on in my home town. I was attending university, in another city. It was the first year that I was eligible to vote and when a person I knew from home approached me to tell me he was taking students’ votes by proxy, I excitedly told him that yes, I would be happy to cast my ballot.
The only problem was, I knew none of the people running and I knew none of their platforms (indeed, I doubt if I knew then, what a platform was). But voting was such an important part of ‘being a grown-up’! I had no idea what to do. As I stood there, studying the list of candidates, I was woefully unprepared to make any kind of rational decision.
It had been a rough month. Our stepfather, who was still mobile at the time, had begun getting up in the night and wandering in and out of other seniors’ rooms. He was – until the very end – such a gentle man that we knew he posed no threat whatsoever to the other people living on his floor, but you cannot explain that to a senior who also has dementia. Waking up to a strange man hovering over you – making strange “huh-huh-huh” sounds over and over since he lost the ability to speak – was very frightening to the other residents. We were informed that our stepfather would be moved to another floor better suited to care for his declining abilities.
In my country, Canada, today is the second official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
There were 140 federally-run residential schools all across Canada that operated between 1867 and 1996. The intent was to ‘teach the Indian out of the child’: complete assimilation, in other words. The children were forcibly removed from their homes. Their hair was cut; they were forbidden to speak their native tongue; they were forbidden to practice their spirituality and their traditions; they were not allowed to go home and they endured unimaginable abuse: either of neglect, physical and sexual abuse, or worse.
Each time, I could feel a terrified shiver run down my spine.
It has been years since that day,
And still I wonder how I could feel so much evil
Emanating from an ordinary woman
Doing nothing but buying groceries with her child in tow.
I prayed – and still do – that we never cross paths again…
My maternal grandmother could find objects: things that were impossibly lost. When my mother was a teenager, she was outside and lost a ring in the snow. My mother’s family was very poor so this would have been a disaster: you were expected to take good care of your things, and if you lost something special, there would be no money to buy another one. With this in mind, it is no surprise that my teenaged mother came into the house crying hysterically. According to Mom, Grammy walked purposefully out of the house; walked across the dooryard; reached into the snow and brought her hand out – holding the ring. A proverbial needle in a haystack- except that she didn’t have the benefit of knowing which haystack.
According to my mother, Grammy could heal burns, too. With just a touch. And a prayer, of course, for added measure. Grammy was a devout and fearful Catholic.
I have absolutely no gift for finding things but I do have a certain knack for healing – especially emotional wounds – and I am one of those people who gets ‘feelings’ about things. As I have heard no other family stories about such things, I have often wondered if these gifts came from my grandmother.
I am not a person to have dozens of friends and a lively social circle but I often connect practically instantaneously to the people who end up becoming my dearest friends. After we have been friends for a while, we will muse at how ‘it just seemed to happen’; no work involved; no real ‘start date’. It just simply ‘is’. As cautious as I can be about building new friendships, every once in a while, I simply throw caution to the winds and forge right in.
I also occasionally get a really bad feeling about an individual. And four times in my life, I have instantly felt a cloud of evil emanating from a person. The strangest – and most terrifying – happened, of all places, in a grocery store. I was wending my way up and down the aisles with my cart at the grocery store when at one point I became aware that I kept ‘meeting’ a woman shopping in the opposite direction: just a normal woman, pushing her cart with a small child in tow.
Every time I saw her approaching, I could feel this awful, black weight on my shoulders and chest. Every single time we passed one another in the aisles, this terrible shuddering shiver would start at my shoulders and course down my spine. I recall trying very hard to keep the shudder from showing. I did not want this woman to know that I was afraid of her. I did not want her to notice me at all. I felt very much as though I were in grave danger.
I have since prayed – many times – that she and I never cross paths again. And I have prayed for the child she had with her – who would be all grown up now. I do not understand what happened but I am sure that something inexplicable – but very real – did indeed take place that day.
To be fair, I have also felt the presence of great good – many times more than I have ever felt such evil as the woman in the grocery store. As I have gotten older, I have started telling the people I meet who send off wonderful light and energy. They always ‘get’ it because, well, they are filled with light: how can they not be aware of it?
But I can tell it always makes their day anyway.
I used to hide this part of myself: people are superstitious and such things smack of the supernatural. But oh, I am tired of hiding. I’m not getting any younger. If I am very lucky, I might have twenty more good years left. I won’t waste another second holding back.
I mostly love getting older – I am calmer, far less self-conscious and so much more confident. I’ve embraced my white hair. I accept my glasses. I live with the fact that I never have very much energy. I love that I don’t get hot flashes anymore.
But every once in awhile, getting older can really suck.
Like, how, when I look in the mirror, I still see my twenty-year old self looking back at me. And I swear, she hasn’t changed a bit.
Many years ago, I was a conference in Montreal for literacy teachers and their adult students. During the day, we attended workshops, had lunch together and discussed the many things we were learning, over coffee break. Evenings were free. In a city like Montreal, there was no lack of things to do and places to go. One evening, I ended up with several other conference-goers in a well-known smoked-meat restaurant. We had just finished a delicious meal and were lined up at the cash register to pay when I spotted a friend and colleague – a young teacher – having what was clearly an argument on the sidewalk outside with one of her teenaged students. A tall and physically-imposing young man, he stood head and shoulders over his tiny little teacher. Even under the light of a streetlamp, I could see that she looked frightened and way out of her element.
It’s funny, the things we get used to; the things we come to expect, year in and year out. I would be utterly miserable living in a climate with no crisp fall; no bitterly-cold winter. It’s what I have always known; what I have gotten used to.
There is something exciting, to me, about hunkering down for the winter.
I love how the world changes; sometimes on a dime: one day it is hot and muggy and the next, the year has deliberately done an about-face in a new direction. The air turns chilly, especially at night: the stars come out in bright contrast against the clear blackness of a night sky that is crisp and humidity free. The trees start to change colour – almost imperceptibly at first – and suddenly, the whole world is a riot of brilliant oranges, reds and yellows. The geese get loud again, noisily heading northward every morning in search for food in farmers’ fields and loudly flying southward in the evenings to bed down for the night. They will do this for a good month or more – the flock growing increasingly big and very loud – until one crisp day when you can smell snow on the air, they will head southward and won’t come back until spring.
I’m watching a band that has come in to perform at my mother’s seniors’ home. Not one of the members of the band looks to be under age seventy and the lead singer is a spry eighty-six-year-old. I pride myself in my very eclectic set of musical tastes but I have to admit to my Mom that I barely know any of the songs they are singing (or playing on the fiddle), and none of them well.
Nonetheless, the music makes your toes tap and we enthusiastically clap along as the band entertains the crowd.
At one point, my Mom leans in and tells me, “I know a dirty song to this tune.” And then she proceeds to sing me a few snippets. After my first, surprised, loud belly laugh, I do my best thereafter to only quietly snort my mirth.
As the band is leaving, Mom catches the eye of the lead singer (the eighty-six-year-old J) and he stops to chat with us. Before he even has time to react, Mom is telling him she pays the fiddle as she gently but insistently pulls the fiddle from his hands and puts it in to her chin to play him a little tune she knows. While I’m a little embarrassed, I’m not overly worried (I know Mom won’t be rough with it). I am definitely dismayed for the man, though, as he is clearly not used to handing his beautiful fiddle over to a perfect stranger. I relax as he relaxes; as he notes that Mom knows how to hold it and what to do with the bow. Being very rusty, it doesn’t take her long to hand it back to him in any case.
This is the woman who taught me good manners. This is the woman who showed me how to behave in public; who taught me to be courteous; to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. She behaves as innocently as a child now.
I’ve reflected how an event like this one would have been the perfect time for a ‘teachable moment’ when my children were little: “Next time, sweet pea, make sure you ask the nice man first. People like to be asked before you touch their belongings. And do be polite if he says ‘no’, as is his right.”
As Mom slips further into a rather endearing childhood sweetness, I understand that the days of teachable moments are over for her. All my sister and I can do is hover nearby and quietly apologise for her when it’s appropriate to do so, knowing she is the one who taught us such good manners in the first place.
Luckily, the nice musician understood, and she still talks about how kind he was – the actual lead singer of the band!! – to take the time to stop and talk to her that day; to let her play him a tune.
I recall clearly that it was a beautiful sunny day: the kind of day that happens on that first day in the spring where everyone goes outside without a coat for the first time and the air smells fresh and new and full of possibility.
I was in grade three, walking hand-in-hand with another little girl, through the school playground. I clearly recall how wonderful it felt, to have a friend who didn’t mind showing the entire world that she liked me enough to hold my hand. I was not a particularly popular child in my early elementary years so any public demonstration of affection was a feather in my cap; a sign that I was popular too (sad, that even at age 8, I already understood the concept of ‘popular’).
“LIZZIES!!! Look at the two lizzies!” shouted an older kid, pointing at us and laughing loudly. At the time, I was sure that every single kid on the playground turned to look.
The following is a work on fiction, based on a composite of a generous number of people I have warily watched from a distance over the years. According to statistics (* sources below), 1% of the human population meets the clinical criteria for psychopathy. In my country of 38.1 million people, that means nearly 400,000 people. We always imagine psychopaths as serial killers or other hardened criminals, but in reality, most psychopaths hide in plain sight among us. In order from 1 to 10, the professions that draw the most psychopaths are: CEOs, lawyers, the media, salespersons, surgeons, journalists, police officers, clergy, chefs and civil servants. While the percentage of psychopaths in these professions is still very low (statistics cite anywhere from 3-4% to 10.42%), you have likely met one or two in your lifetime. I know I have…
My father was diagnosed with throat cancer when he was in his mid-fifties – younger than I am now. While he was very proud that he had managed – two years before he got the cancer – to beat a life-long smoking habit, he had unfortunately not stopped soon enough. I had been on his back to stop smoking for many years. When I was around 12 years old, I rushed home from school one day to tell him that ‘all the kids at school’ swore by a stop-smoking trick called ‘eating’ cold turkey. It seemed so easy to me; we ate a lot of turkey so he had effortless access to an easy cure (Dad was kind enough not to laugh but I do recall that he was biting down – hard – on the insides of his cheeks in his effort to remain serious).
I clearly remember how awesome I felt, coming home for a visit after my first quarter-term at university. I was nineteen years old and in those few months, I had magically learned absolutely all there was to know about life. I was ready to change the world. I was particularly scholarly and knowledgeable with regard to the handful of Psyc 101 classes I had attended up to that point, which had provided me with great insights into my parents. I quickly set to work to teach them everything I knew, knowing how happy they would be that I could ‘fix’ them now.
I loved being a Mom. I loved the never-ending ‘why’ questions. I loved the snuggles; the bedtime stories; even the tantrums. Because I truly felt I was playing a role in helping my kids become whoever they were meant to be. My kids are all grown up now and while I do love getting to know the amazing people they are becoming, I do miss those days of being… well, their everything.
I envy my friends and family who have boundless, inexhaustible energy. You know the type: they’re up at the crack of dawn, unable to stay in bed because they simply cannot wait another moment to start their day. They go for a run before breakfast; they stop on their way to work to run a few errands; they work late and still manage to throw a little get-together that evening for friends – with food they cooked themselves. They volunteer for at least a dozen organisations. They have time-consuming hobbies that require gobs of energy to complete. They’re the ones who throw wonderful surprise parties; who cook up a meal for you when you’re sick; who always seem to have time for, well, anybody who asks.
They live life with gusto. They suck every drop of marrow from the bones of life.
My Dad and Mom were, respectively, just 22 and 23 when I was born. They had not planned on my arriving quite so soon: while they were respectably married when I made my tiny appearance, I was nonetheless way too early to be anything but a shock to them. Dad was attending university at the time, and Mom was working as a clerk at a local department store, to help make ends meet. Dad was spending way too much time out with his drinking buddies and Mom was spending way too much time at home alone with her growing belly. Nonetheless, when Mom started bleeding mid-pregnancy, they both held one another and wept, already enamoured with the little lump that was growing in my mother’s womb. Ever after, they would lovingly call me their ‘little whoops’ and cry as they told me how devastated they were when they thought they were going to lose me. My timing may have left something to be desired but I always knew I was very much wanted all the same.
Remember The Waltons? Back in the 70s, my family used to watch that show every Sunday night. You didn’t have dozens of TV channels to choose from back then – just two or three if the rabbit ears on your big box of a television permitted it – so just about everyone else we knew was watching it, too. The story lines were wholesome and family oriented. There was no swearing and everything usually got neatly resolved by the time the hour was up. You always felt better, just for watching. You forgot that they were characters in a TV show.
The world isn’t really built around the introverts.
We are quiet; we are shy. We think deeply but our thoughts rarely make their way unscathed, to our mouths. By the time it is our turn to speak, we have broken out into a cold sweat and everything we intended to say has come stuttering and stumbling from a tongue that has suddenly grown two sizes and is impossible not to trip over.
But only if you look; only if you are paying attention.
They dress differently from everyone else: some wear thrift-store clothes, have unkempt or unusual hair and don’t care a lick about fashion. Others are elaborately coiffed, flamboyant and colourful.
Some are loud and boisterous; others quiet and introspective; blending seamlessly into the woodwork.
They speak easily to the birds, the animals and the little spider in the corner of the room. They hug trees. They feel – and sometimes see – energy all around them. They speak gently to the weak, the tired, the broken and the seeking.
If they let you get to know them, they are interesting. And they are always interested.
They know things; they feel things; they are lifelong learners. They are seekers on a never-ending quest.
They have quirky, esoteric points of view. They don’t fit into moulds (although some of them try, for a time).
They are the strange child; the quirky cat lady; the long-haired octogenarian; the quiet friend.
They are often alone but they are rarely – if ever – lonely.
They are the Odd Ducks.
And you would be all the richer for getting to know them…