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Pushing 50: To the non-parents

Many friends of mine haven’t had children. For some it’s been a life choice and for others it’s been a choice that life has made for them. And sometimes it’s been an extremely painful loss of direction because having children had always been part of their plan.

When you say you are a parent to another parent it defines you to them. You know a feeling of human-ness that they know. It’s similar to saying you’ve had a death in the family or you have seen bloodshed in battle or that your heart has been broken. When you meet another soul who has had the same experience there is an instant bond.

I think maybe those people who haven’t had children make that same bond with each other. There may be a touch of sadness in that connection but I like to imagine there’s also a glow that is shared between them that comes from all the love and energy that the put into our lives.

So many of the non-parents I know are caretakers for the rest of us:

  • The lady who dropped everything to help her friend as she went through chemotherapy – making sure the children were fed, loved and got to school on time.
  • The woman who sends money to children’s causes all over the world and whose heart breaks every time she sees suffering of any kind. She has adopted countless dogs and would do anything to help a friend. Even me.
  • The man who let a baby into his life – the child of his girlfriend’s drug-addicted daughter – and raised her as his own. He watched her learn to walk and talk. He taught her songs and took her on boat rides and walks on the beach. And he let her think he’d be okay when she and her grandmother moved out.
  • The veterinarian who opened a free clinic for the pets of those who are struggling to get by. Her team vaccinates, de-worms and flea treats up to 60 animals every month. She also plays amazing auntie to almost a dozen nieces and nephews – a strong, fun and loving role model.

To all the non-parents out there – our caretakers – from us obsessed, the-world-revolves-around-our-children parents: Thank you. You rock.

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Pushing 50: Road trip!

One of my earliest memories is throwing up in the back of the car.

We were packed up for a road trip to somewhere and I, being the youngest, was stuffed neatly between my brother and two sisters in back seat of the Meteor.

Mom said it was the apple juice. My siblings were completely disgusted and I got shifted to the front seat to sit between Mom and Dad.

We didn’t do a lot of road trips when there were all four kids at home but, once it dwindled down to just me (I was the youngest by eight years), the three of us – me, Mom and Dad – went everywhere.

Dad could drive forever in a day and I – despite earlier indications otherwise – turned out to be a great little traveler. I would sit in the back and look out the window, read my Archie comics or play with my plastic barnyard animals. I had the whole back seat to myself – it was like a little bedroom.

I swear we drove every back road in B.C. And we drove down the coast of Washington and Oregon and up the Canadian end of the coast as far as the highways, logging roads and Dad’s nerves would take us.  We explored the tumbleweed knotted landscape of Cache Creek and Kamloops and up into the Thompson Valley, down through the orchards of the Okanagan and deep into the crevices of the Selkirk Mountains.

When I was older and we lived in Calgary we made the long drive to Mexico, two winters in a row, heading down into Vegas and then across the Saguaro forests of Arizona and dipping out to see the Grand Canyon on the way home.

Before each trip Dad would read maps and books weeks ahead of time, planning different routes and learning about the places he wanted to visit.

We’d always start the first day of a trip super early and Mom would make ham bunwiches for us to eat on the road. For lunch Dad would find a space off the highway – sometimes at a picnic site but just as often in a farmer’s field or just off in the bush somewhere – and Mom would pull out the Coleman stove and cook hot dogs and Cup-a-Soup.

Then Dad would have a beer and a nap and me and Mom would go for an explore or just sit and read.

Dad always had a destination planned for the evening and towards the end of the day’s drive he would hand me back the tourist guide and ask me to find some reasonably priced motels with a kitchenette. Sometimes they would sneak me in to the room to save a buck or two and I would have to sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag, but other times we lucked out and the place would have a pool and some kids for me to play with.

There were years that Dad was into rock-hounding and we drove up the Fraser Canyon in search of thunder eggs and geodes. We looked for abandon gold mines and ghost towns all over the province. We even went through the tailings of active mines finding golden cubes of pyrite crystal and pretty pink gems of garnet wedged into talc.

Other years he’d tie the aluminum boat onto the roof racks and pack up the seven-and-a-half -horsepower motor and off we’d go to some lake or bay he’d heard was good fishing.  I remember me and mom unpacking the car and getting dinner ready while he lugged that stupid boat (Mom’s words, not mine) out to the nearest body of water and got his fishing gear ready. Sometimes he’d take me out fishing too. But apparently I didn’t sit for four hours in a boat quite as well as I did in a car.

My road trips are never quite as leisurely nowadays. I am usually strapped for cash and I don’t have a subservient spouse to prepare my roadside snacks for me. I try to drive from free accommodation (my house) to free accommodation (my sister’s house) in one day.

But I still love a road trip.

I am headed to the coast on Saturday. It’s a 13-hour drive if I don’t hit any construction. I’ll be alone – just me and the dog and some music. I’ll pack a ham bunwich and some apples and I’ll stop on the side of the road for my lunch. Maybe I’ll even take a nap.

I can’t wait. It’s going to be beautiful.

Pushing 50: Dance

I love to dance.

It doesn’t really matter to me why or how I’m dancing I’m just one of those people who loves to move my body to the music.

My mom and dad were big dancers when they were young:  jitter bug and jive and all that stuff. They were fabulous to watch together.

They were always quick to point out that the ‘jigaboo-jumping-up-and-down’ that I did wasn’t really dancing. Whatever – they were just old.

There was a time when I would gladly be the first one out on the dance floor – even after I gave up alcohol. I’ve even danced alone.

After my divorce I discovered the Saturday afternoon blues jam at the King Eddy in Calgary. It was pure nirvana for me.

The King Edward Hotel was built between 1905 and 1910. It had wooden floors and low ceilings and the windows in the rooms above were stained and warped with age.

It definitely wasn’t pretty.

But that dark little tavern on the ground floor would get packed to the walls with blues fans on Saturday afternoons. Parking was at a premium and you only parked right outside the building if you owned a Harley.

Everyone from politicians and accountants to street folk and drug dealers would pile in to listen to that sweet, sweet, sweet sound of raw, live blues.

Every other Saturday my kids were gone to their dad’s and I would head off to the Eddy all by myself, bravely strutting past the bikers and the crack-heads and ducking into the darkness – setting my nervous little butt down on the first stool I found.

I’d close my eyes and breathe and let the incredible whine of electric guitar soak through my soul.

Eventually someone would ask me to dance – I wasn’t the only addict in the place – and then I’d be up for the rest of the afternoon.

Ageless and graceful and free.

I moved away from Calgary and the Eddy (as I knew it) has long since closed down. I’ve few opportunities to dance my ass off since then.

I think I’ve even developed a little bit of inhibition in the past few years but it’s hard to tell because I’ve danced so little since then.

As a matter of fact, I think I’ve only danced twice in the last year: once to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon with an old friend on his back deck and once at a Christmas party with a bunch of young-uns.

The other day it occurred to me that I might never get to go out dancing again. But then I slapped myself. Of course I will.

The music never stopped playing – I just have to listen a little harder.

Pushing 50: Tears

Over the past 50 years I’ve cried a fair bit: tears of joy, tears of frustration and tears of sadness.

Unfortunately, it’s part of who I am. Whether it’s a redhead thing or just a ‘me’ thing – I’m not too sure – but I’m quick to get a lump in my throat. Learning to swallow that lump down has been a tough part of adulthood for me and sometimes I’m just not quick enough to shunt the tears.

Fortunately I don’t usually bawl my eyes out, most often it’s just a little trickle of a tear down the cheek.

My list of throat lumpers and tear triggers includes:

  • Onions.
  • The national anthem. When I’m right in the midst of it – like at a school assembly or a hockey game – for some reason I find the notion of ‘True patriot love’ overwhelmingly emotional.
  • Happy endings.
  • Sad endings.
  • Big goodbyes.
  • Reuniting with loved ones after anything longer than a month; it used to take only a week away from my kids to bring on the tears but I’m getting stronger.
  • Ceremonies: funerals, weddings and graduations.
  • Seeing love. I’m not talking about porn. I mean those sweet little gestures you see between couples like hand holding or that look in a person’s eyes when their watching that someone who rocks their world walk across the room.
  • Songs. You Can Let Go by Crystal Shawanda is a sure throat lumper and, of course, Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven.
  • Exhaustion.
  • A man’s angry voice directed at me.
  • Childbirth. Is it just me or is anybody else instantly brought to tears by the birth of a baby? And I don’t just mean my own. Throw a child-birthing scene into a comedy, drama or horror flick and my water breaks too, out of my eyeballs.
  • Kind words when I feel vulnerable.
  • Laughter. These are my favorite kind of tears. The kind where something is so funny I can hardly share it because I’m laughing too hard. I’m talking about that teenage-girl-sister-best-friend kind of funny where all you have to do is look at each other and the laughter starts all over again.

Recently my eye doctor prescribed artificial tears for me because apparently my natural ones are running low.  No big surprise really, is it?

Pushing 50: The law of distraction


Across the country provinces are legislating distracted driving laws to prevent people from talking on their cell phones or texting while driving.
In Alberta they’ve even expanded the law to encompass distractions like driving with your golden retriever on your lap or eating a sandwich. One officer told me any food as big as your head should be considered unsafe to consume while driving a motor vehicle.
These laws are all well and fine but they only protect me from those distractions that are obvious and visible. They don’t even begin to address that busy space between my ears – that’s my centre of distraction.
The other night I got home from work, walked the dog, did my yoga and then, at about 8 p.m., I hopped in the car to grab some Chinese food for dinner. Sometime later I pulled up at my office. Just as I started to think, ‘Wow I must be early, look at all the parking spaces,’ I came to, regrouped and headed to Peking Palace.
I realize there’s undertones of Alzheimer’s here, especially with my 50th birthday approaching but, in my own defence, I have to say I’ve always been like this. I have led a life of distraction.
I remember one hot and sweaty Friday morning in July I packed my two boys and the neighbor’s kid in the car to drop them off at day camp before heading to work.
I fought Calgary Stampede traffic for close to an hour heading across town to their drama camp at the United Church. I was a little PO’d when I got there five minutes late and there were still no camp councillors there to take my kids in. In fact, nobody was there. That’s because it was Friday and the camp didn’t start until Monday. The kids still had one day left of Boy’s and Girl’s Club camp and that was about two blocks away from our house.
It doesn’t just happen behind the wheel. I go through phases where I’ll put ice cream away in the cupboard and tuck a meatloaf neatly into a drawer to bake for an hour and a half. It’s puzzling when you look in the oven and your food isn’t there.
Once, I barged into my son’s room, after a full day of nagging him to phone his father (my ex-husband) to wish him happy birthday.
“This is a phone!” I snarled, handing him the silver keypad as he untangled himself from his girlfriend. “You punch in the numbers and hold it to your ear – then someone (like your father) will answer and you can wish him happy birthday!”
My boy looked at me patiently, “No, Mom, that is a remote control for the TV. I don’t think I could get through to Dad with that.”
The other day I thought I’d put my hair up in pigtails – it’s just a little too short yet for a pony tail but long enough that it’s hot on my neck.
I twisted a bundle of hair on the right side into a black scrunchie – it was definitely going to look cute – and then I went to my bedroom where I knew the other scrunchie was on my bedside table. I made my bed, had a cup of coffee, read my emails and then got ready to head out the door. Thank God I had to pee before I left the house. I saw my half-done hair in the bathroom mirror.
I’ve also poured the dog a bowl of coffee and almost left for work without pants on.
I’m not the only one.
At 7:00 a.m. every weekday morning for over 30 years my mom would lay out a bowl, a spoon, some cereal boxes and milk, and a glass of juice. At 7:05 my father would arrive at the breakfast table, down his juice and then sit down to eat his cereal.
One morning, for reasons unknown to her or anyone else, Mom filled Dad’s juice glass with some chardonnay. Dad came to the breakfast table and knocked the drink back same as always – only realizing what it was after he’d finished it. So he said.
And I’ve seen this kind of distraction go on outside my family as well.
A friend of mine was a volunteer at the school lunch program. One day a little boy came up to her crying, his lunch bag in hand.
“Look what my mom gave me for my lunch!” He wailed.
Inside the bag was a can of Coors Light.
Okay, maybe the kid took the wrong lunch, but my guess is his mother was distracted.

Pushing 50: I love you

After my brother died my sisters and I started to say ‘I love you’ to each other.

He had died young, at 19. We were young too: I was 11 and my sisters were 21 and 24.

I love you.

I don’t think it’s something I’d ever considered before – it was the ‘70s after all. I don’t think my parents had ever told me they loved me.

I know the few times I said it to my dad, even as an adult, his response was always ‘Thank you,’ which left me feeling needy and awkward.

I love you.

It’s something I’ve told my children ad infinitum. One of my boys always returns the sentiment. With the other one it’s really a crap-shoot. Some days he’s feeling the love, some days he ain’t. I take my chances.

I love you.

How important is it to say those three words?

When someone is dead you can’t tell them you love them anymore (or you can but they might not hear you).

My sisters and I continue to say it freely to each other and to our children – we’re well aware of the suddenness of death.

I love you.

Do we mean it?

I do.

I mean it more than I ever have. The love I give now is more than it ever was. There’s integrity, depth and wisdom that come with my words. Even when I’m angry, when I say ‘I love you,’ I mean I give you my heart although I might not have anything else to give at that moment.

I think when children say ‘I love you’ they mean it that much too. They love you as much as they know how.

Do I say it too much? Has it become a catch-all phrase that’s just too easy to spit out?

Nope.

Love should always be that easy.

Pushing 50: Everyday life

My mother was born in 1929 in Bootle, Liverpool.

During the blitz her family spent nights in a bomb shelter. They had an outhouse at the back of their yard and a chamber pot under their beds. Her sister died of scarlet fever – antibiotics were for soldiers those days, not kids. Mail delivery was twice a day – which made it easier to plan a social life.

Mom saw telephones, microwave ovens, dishwashers, McDonalds and colour TVs become everyday things.

I was born in 1963 in Montreal, Quebec.

I shared a bedroom with my older sister until she was old enough to leave home. I had mumps, measles and chicken pox (twice). Once I got real sick with pneumonia and had to have penicillin. I turned the light on when I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night – just in case there were spiders. After we moved from Vancouver to Calgary in the 1970s, I handwrote letters to my close friends almost every day and checked the mailbox diligently after school for their response.

In my life I have seen dishwashers, microwave ovens, cell phones, computers, cruise control, air conditioning and Starbucks become everyday things.

My kids were born in 1990 and 1991 in Calgary, Alberta.

Most years they had their own bedrooms. They were vaccinated against measles and mumps. Both have had their lives saved by antibiotics. We left the light on in the bathroom at night. When we moved from Calgary to Vancouver Island they were able to keep in touch with their friends through online chats and phone calls.

They have never known life without computers, microwaves, McDonalds, Starbucks, cell phones, TV or bank machines.

I wonder what everyday will look like for their children?