Experience Life Untethered

walking away

Last weekend my eighteen year old son told me he wants to go to Australia this summer. By himself. Alone. Many thousands of miles away. Without me. “That’s great” I squeaked out. In the same moment I was both proud and terrified. Proud that I had raised a son who felt confident enough to travel half way around the world by himself. Terrified that he would indeed go half way around the world by himself. You work for eighteen years to prepare them for something like this and then when it happens you just want to yell “No, not yet. You’re not ready.” Or are they?

I remember the first time I let him go into a public washroom by himself. It was at the outdoor pool during the summer that he was seven years old. I wasn’t sure he, or should I say I, was ready for this. After he went in I stood at the entrance and waited a few minutes trying to calculate in my head how long it would take for him to do his business. Why was he taking so long? Had somebody gone in and was talking to him? My heart started to race. Should I go in? Could I ask that man to check on him? What if that man was a pedophile? Just as I was getting to the point where I was going to walk into the washroom myself, my son walked out. I think I hugged him. I think he pushed me away and looked at my like I was crazy. He was fine. Of course he was fine. Why had I been so worried?

older walking away

When he was seventeen he got his driver’s license. In the early learning days I tried really hard not to take the wheel from him just to make a small adjustment, so we didn’t hit the curb. Eventually the times I had to bite my tongue and not scream “SLOW DOWN” got less and less. He ended up taking lessons and doing many hours in-car with a real instructor. He passed on the first try.  I was so proud. And so terrified. For the first ten months (at least) when he was out at night with the car I would lay awake waiting for the sound of the front door to open. If you have a new driver and you can say that you haven’t worried about them being involved in an accident, you are a huge liar. I do have faith in his driving ability but you have no control over all the other crazies out there and well, he is still a teenager. Yet now, a year later I don’t worry so much. Liar.

What was I doing when I was his age? Oh god, what wasn’t I doing? A few months shy of eighteen I boarded a train for Banff, Alberta. I had a job to go to and would be living in the staff residence, but I didn’t know anybody there and had never traveled or lived on my own. Keep in mind that I had graduated only three months earlier from an all girls private school. I was the youngest employee at the hotel and was told by human resources not to tell anybody that I wasn’t actually eighteen yet. Imagine two or three hundred eighteen to twenty-five year olds (male and female) living in a building behind the hotel. Sure, we were working at the hotel, but when we weren’t working we were….well, we weren’t going to bible study that’s for sure. You name it and I probably saw it or tried it and yet I’m still here to tell about it. I wonder what my parents were thinking? Were they worrying about me? If they were, they certainly didn’t show it or say anything.  In fact I don’t remember speaking to them much that year.

It’s has just dawned on me that the fact that they didn’t show me or tell me that they were worried about me is probably why I was able to do this on my own. I never questioned whether or not I was capable or scared or nervous. It never occurred to me that I was in any danger or that if I was, that I wouldn’t be okay. If they had been calling me every day to check on me, not only would I be annoyed, but I may have started to think that there was something to be concerned about. By letting me go and experience life untethered they taught me that I could be independent and make wise choices. Thank God I wrote this or my poor son would never make it to the airport.

The Best Thing in Life is learning to let go.

jumping for joy

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MY DARKEST TIME

dark and scary

Life is pretty good these days. No, actually it’s great. It wasn’t always that way though. There was a time, about thirteen years ago, when my life was a complete mess. Wait, that’s not true. My life wasn’t a mess. I was a mess. A complete disaster actually. My life was complicated and things hadn’t been going my way. Not small things either. Major life things.

Having bounced back from an ugly divorce, I had remarried a wonderful man, my son was in his first year of school and I had a great job. All was good. Then the other shoe dropped. The day after we got married in Hawaii, the company that my husband worked for relocated to Memphis, Tennessee. A great opportunity to move ahead in his career,this wasn’t something he could turn down. We made the decision that he would go ahead and take the relocation and I would approach my ex-husband on the subject of me taking my son to live there as well. Unfortunately, he didn’t agree, neither did a judge….or an appeal judge for that matter. In hindsight they were right, but at the time I was devastated. I just wanted to put the past behind me and start a new life.

So there I was, living in a rental home and sharing custody of my son with a man who not only resented me for trying to take his son away but was bound and determined to share all of that information with my son. As much as we hated being apart, the company had offered my husband an amazing position and even though it did have a finite time frame attached to it (four years) we were newlyweds who only saw each other once a month if we were lucky. I hated being alone and it wasn’t any easier for him. We had sold our townhouse in hopes of being able to make a quick move so half of our belongings were in storage. It was a nice enough place but it wasn’t home. On the outside I had it all under control. Taking my son to school, going through the motions of life but underneath I was floundering in depression, sleep deprivation and anxiety over my relationship with my son and my new husband.

dark and scary 2

At the worst of it I would lie in bed at night in the empty house and imagine that gang members were creeping down the dark driveway to break into the house and attack me. It was so dark, so specific, so violent.  Yet so real to me. I would open my eyes and tell myself how ridiculous it was. I would go downstairs and turn on all the lights, look out the window and re-assure myself that everything was okay. The coast was clear. Back up to bed I would go. Close my eyes and the exact same thoughts would invade my mind. Just as I got close to sleep I would hear a tiny creak and my eyes would fly open and my mind would be all in a whirl again. It didn’t seem to matter how tired I was, I couldn’t get the images out of my head.

I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep or the depression but my decision-making abilities were all but gone. One day I needed to go to the grocery store for dinner. I wandered around for almost an hour trying to decide if we should have burgers or pasta. Did I want something healthy or tasty and quick. I didn’t want to have to cook so maybe should just get something frozen.

I left the store with a loaf of bread.

Half way to the car I thought this is stupid and I should go back and just buy something. I turned around and headed back to the store. Half way to the store I turned around again and headed back to the car. Sitting in the car I silently cried. It’s just dinner. Why is this so hard?

Believe it or not I didn’t go to the doctor for what was really bothering me. I can’t even remember why I was there but it must have been pretty obvious that I was a mess. After writing me a prescription for sleeping pills and an anti-depressant he suggested I go and talk to somebody. What? No, I’m fine. I just needed some sleep and everything will be good.

At that point I was still in denial.

I couldn’t even tell a man I had known for years what was going on. He was great. He said okay well just go see this friend of mine and if she says your okay then you can come back and tell me I was wrong.

It was just what I thought it would be. A couple of comfortable chairs, books on self-help and lots of candles. Close your eyes and calm your mind she said. I closed my eyes but all I saw was movement. Grey moving shapes flashed in front of me. My mind wouldn’t, couldn’t, stop moving. Try again she suggested. I closed my eyes again. No, still can’t get the world to stop spinning. Opening my eyes again I choked back tears and everything poured out. I explained the last year of my life and how I seemed to have lost any control over what was going on. I wish I could say that after spending an hour with her I had a better grasp on things but that would be a lie. It took us months to get me back on track. The sleeping pills helped. Along with antidepressants and a lot more appointments in the room with comfy chairs.

So why, when things are so good do I go back to that time?  It was dark and scary and out of control. I go back because it’s important for me to remember that all of the Best Things in My Life were with me through all of it.  And they still are.  I just couldn’t see them through all the grey swirling movement in my head.

Fear

fear tag

The recent Air Asia plane crash has done nothing for my fear of flying. It has, in fact, only cemented in my mind the possibility that any plane, at any time, could crash into a fiery mass. Most likely over a large body of water. Say, on the way to Hawaii? I know the statistics say that you have a better chance of being hit by a car but frankly, I don’t buy that. I remember my mom taking something (most likely Valium) when I was young to “take the edge off” when she needed to fly to England. I’m not there yet, but getting close. I mean really, how is it okay to be 37,000 feet in the air going God knows how fast, sitting in a tube of steel? It’s irrational you say? Maybe. But fears are fears and as irrational as they may be, they exists, if only in our minds.

My husband is afraid of snakes. Even the harmless ones. Where he grew up, snakes were not only creepy but deadly. Cotton mouths, diamond backs and rattlesnakes lurked in the backyards of many Texas homes. Somewhere in the back of his mind he associates snakes with death I guess. If I asked him to pick up a garter snake I don’t know if he could. Even watching them on TV causes him to tense up and shrink away. My husband is not a timid man either. This is his fear and despite assurances that they are harmless he is still not able to make himself hold one at the local farm. I can’t say that I enjoy snakes either but I could pick up a garter snake if needed to say…..taunt my husband with one.

fear
A number of people I’ve spoken to were afraid of being buried alive. Not something I ever think of, but again, fears are different for everyone. Actually, now that I am thinking about it, I’m kind of freaked out by it. I guess it would be similar to drowning. I’m not really comfortable with submarines either. Really? A steel tube hundreds of feet under the water? One friend took the fear of being buried alive a step further and has a fear of cement trucks. I have to say ever since she pointed this out I have driven past dump trucks just a little bit faster. Just in case. What if they dumped all of their cement on me in some freak accident? Would my last thought be of Tony Soprano ordering up some cement boots?

Tons of people are afraid of heights. For some, vertigo is a real thing and can cause dizziness and fainting. I worked in an office once downtown. The controller’s office was on the corner of the 21st floor with floor to ceiling windows. I would dread every other Friday when I would need to take the stack of cheques in to be signed by him. Took me a five or taken minutes to talk myself into it each time. A big attraction these day is towers, like the CN tower, putting in glass platforms for people, to walk out onto. Are you kidding me? How is this fun? When I was about ten my mom and dad took my sister and brother and I up The Chief. It’s a hike close to Squamish, BC that ends at the top of a popular rock climbing wall that is 600 meters high. Being the youngest I arrived last only to find the rest of my family on their stomachs looking over the edge of the cliff. Clearly I am adopted.

So, am I going to end up like my mom? Paralyzed with fear over the thought of getting on a plane? I hope not because I love to travel and look forward to adventures with my husband after the kids have moved out. (Snake free adventures of course). When are the powers that be going to invest some serious money into teleportation? How hard could it be. Get me from point A to point B in seconds is all I am asking. Until that time comes The Best Thing in Life is knowing that airlines serve wine at pretty much any time of day.

In Search of Higher Education

grad cap

Over the years, whenever I’ve come to a crossroads in my life, I’ve entertained the idea of going back to school to finish a degree I halfheartedly started after high school. For one reason or another it has never happened and now, at fifty, I’m pretty sure it never will. I have no regrets though, because I know that if it was meant to be it would have happened. My friend Karen, however, came to a point in her life, at 47, and realized that she did want to further her education. Growing up in Saskatchewan, Karen’s mom didn’t have a formal post secondary school education and as a single mother she struggled. Seeing that, Karen knew from an early age that she wanted more for herself. She would go to university, get an education and have a career. It was never a question, it was just something she would do. Her life has taken some twists and turns along the way but the desire to better herself has never faded. At 50 years of age she is five months away from earning her MBA.

After high school Karen earned a degree in Commerce and Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan then took a year off and travelled in Southeast Asia. At the end of that year she needed to make a decision on what to do and where to go. “I sat in a bar in Bangkok and tried to decide if I should go to Australia or the UK”. Although the lure of beaches and surfing was strong, the UK won out. Securing a work visa, she headed to London. Even though she had her degree, she was in her early twenties and had no real life work experience so she joined a temp secretarial pool. Her programming background and her wicked typing skills got her plenty of jobs and within a few months she was offered a full time programming position. There’s no doubt in my mind that it wasn’t just her university degree that propelled her into this job. Karen has, what I would call, moxy.

Okay, so quick life segway…..While working in London Karen met her soon to be husband. They returned to Canada and had two boys who are now 18 and 16. She took a programming position at a telecommunications company and continued to move up the corporate ladder. About 2002 she met me. (Okay, so maybe that’s not really a “life moment” but it was at a time that her life was changing so I’m putting it in the story). A few years later she found herself going through a divorce. Having been through a divorce, I know how all consuming it can be. From what I saw, Karen took it all in stride. She put her head down, worked hard and raised her sons. All the while continuing to better herself personally and professionally. I truly admire that.

Getting an executive MBA requires a lot of things. Working for an organization that believes in people is a great place to start, and Karen’s employer has been behind her all the way. But ultimately you need to have a full support team. Work peers, friends and family. At one point in her first year Karen was struggling to juggle work, school and parenting . Feeling like she was, perhaps, not fully there for one of her sons as he reported a less than stellar grade, she said to him, “I think I should just quit this and be more available for you.” As her eyes filled with tears she recalled that her son had adamantly told her, no way was she going to quit. They were behind her 100%. Now if only she could get them to study as much as she did. Unfortunately it hasn’t all been as good as that. “I wish that women would support women more.” She’s left friendships behind because some friends, female friends, couldn’t support, or understand, what she would gain from this venture. Feeling that there was no room for negativity in her life, she has forced to moved on.

A big part of the program she is enrolled in involves working in teams and networking. Some of the members of her team are VPs of huge corporations and are well connected men and women in Vancouver business. At first she was a bit intimidated, but then one night over beers she realized she was just as smart, if not smarter, than most of them. Hey, she thought, I could do your job. One day she probably will. As she gets ready to travel to Mexico next month to complete the International portion of her degree, she thinks about how good it will feel to be done. She has specific goals in mind for her future and opportunities and connections that will take her anywhere she wants to go.

This is the reason I write this blog. Exploring other people’s Best Things in Life and searching for mine over the last nine months has shown me so many different approaches to doing what you love. So many different ways to be happy. I will not go back to school. It’s not in me. But I admire Karen so much for what she is doing and I think that not only will she succeed in all that she does, but along the way she will teach others a thing or two. She has taught me that some things are really hard to achieve. Sometimes the road to them is long, winding and full of pot holes. But if you can navigate that road, as Karen has, great things await you. The Best Thing in Life await you.

Giving New Years a Pass

I’m not particularly looking forward to 2015. Not because of anything in particular, but because 2014 was such a great year. How can I improve on it? Can’t I just opt out of a New Year? Continue on with the one that is working so well for me? I don’t want to make any resolutions because life is good and it would appear that what I am doing already, is working. I am happier now than I have been in a long time. I am relaxed and feel good with who I am, where I’ve been and were I am going. I don’t know if I want a New Year?

The year started in Hawaii. All four of us spent two weeks enjoying all that Maui has to offer. Beautiful quiet days at the beach, snorkeling with serene sea turtles, fish tacos and cold beer for lunch and relaxed dinners on the patio. Really, it was an amazing vacation.  I had a chance to paddle board with my 18 year old son for two hours one day. Two hours of uninterrupted time to talk about life, work and the future. No cell phones allowed. For all of you with teenagers. you know that this doesn’t happen very often and is precious time.  The fact that we still had enough in common to talk about made me realize that I have raised a thoughtful, mature man.  (Holy crap, my son is a man)

Two weeks away was also a good chance for me to think through my options when it came to work. Life was getting crazy with my husband away so much and me not enjoying my job. On a warm sunny beach the decision seemed quite clear. Work? Whatever. But when we got home and life got back to normal, the decision wasn’t quite so obvious. I spent an entire weekend in early January changing my mind every half an hour. Work. Quit. Work. Quit. Thank god my husband is as patient as he is. So many reasons to continue and so many reasons to pack it in. Ultimately I decide to stop working at the end of February.

I thought that once I had decided to quit work I would immediately feel a sense of relief. Nope. Panick, guilt, stress. It took a good six months before it would really sink in that I had made the right decision and that everyone in my family was in a better place because of it. I do still feel some guilt. Usually it’s when I’m on the phone with my husband and he is telling me about how he has a meeting in one city, then is flying to another city for a site tour and then back the same day for more meetings and then working late to keep up with the work he didn’t do because he was in meetings all day. “Okay then, bye I’ve got to get to yoga” I say. Guilt. At least yoga is teaching me to be grateful for everything in my life.

So March 1st rolled around and eventually so did this blog. In hind site I went out of the gate a bit fast. I wrote A LOT in those first two or three months. Loved it, but perhaps could have saved some pieces for a later date. The world of online blogging is quite fascinating and I have learnt a lot from other bloggers and writers. When I tell people that I have a blog I get lots of different reactions. Some are interested and some sort of dismiss it as if to say “ya, you and every other person with nothing better to do”. There is some truth to that I suppose. For me it has been an outlet for the small speck of creativity in my brain that has been waiting years to come out. I’m not a “writer”, I’m not trying to change the world and I’m not trying to sell people on anything. I’m just enjoying my life and my friends and passing on the experience.

I think in my head I was hoping that not working would change how I felt, not only emotionally, but physically. I was dead wrong. In May I found myself feeling worse physically than I had in years. Tired, achy, fuzzy, bad skin. I could name a couple of others but, well, I’m not going to as nobody needs that much information. A complete overhaul of how I ate was, as far as I could see, my only option. Hardest thing I have ever done. Almost six weeks of no sugar. With a road race smack dab in the middle I needed to get off track a bit and then back on track half way through my detox, but I did it and am so glad I did. It’s not for everybody and anybody who does it should approach it in their own unique way. By the time I turned fifty in October I could finally say “I feel good inside” and truly mean it.

So here I am on January 3rd filling in the 2015 calendar and reminiscing about last year. It was a year of change and realization for me. I am comfortable in my slightly older skin, although I could do without a few of the new grey hairs. I feel a sense of contentment in my life that is new for me. I started Tweeting every day in November to recognize some small thing each day that I feel is one of The Best Things in Life. Give or take a few days, I have kept up with it. Totally not something I would have seen myself doing a few years ago, but isn’t that what life is about? At any age? Being able to make changes and start new things that bring happiness into your life? Maybe I won’t pass on New Years after all