Today I Am Fifty

fifty cake

When I was in my twenties I looked forward to birthdays every year. I have always looked young for my age and starting out in my career I never felt that people took me seriously because they thought I was younger than I was. I secretly hoped that some day I would actually look older. I know, a bit weird. So now I AM older ( not necessarily old) and I’m asking myself, as are other people oddly enough, how does it feel? Really it feels like just another day, but that doesn’t make for a very good blog post does it? So, as I sit in my cozy kitchen on this rainy October day and reflect, I have come to some realizations about what it feels like, and means to me, to be fifty.

Over the summer my husband and I were having dinner with some friends, one of whom had recently turned fifty. He told us about the party he had thrown for himself earlier in the year. It was a wild one from the sounds of it. A packed house party with loud music, lots of drinking and the mandatory requirement for any really good party, a visit from the police in the early morning hours. Sounded like one of the parties we had been to in our high school days. The next day he felt like hell, but it was all worth it for him. I am apparently not a party animal because just the thought of doing this makes me tired. I am a social person but I have never been a night owl (ask my college room mate) and am perfectly happy to be in my pajamas by 9:00pm most nights. My husband makes fun of me, but it makes me happy.

For others friends, the big 50 has been marked with a once in a lifetime trip, completing a marathon or overcoming a lifelong fear. When I quit my job last February I decided that this was the year I would train for a marathon. I even wrote a post about it. It took me about two months to decide that it wasn’t going to happen. It took me another month to come to terms with that and be okay with my decision. Now don’t get me wrong, I admire the people who have done these things immensely. I’ve just finally realized that it’s not who I am. I have always thought I needed to show people that I had accomplished some feat in order for them to be proud of me. Why it has taken me fifty years to realize this is not true, I am not sure. I still struggle a bit with who I am supposed to be, but I am getting closer to being happy just being me and realizing that I may not have a “mission” or a “thing”. I may just be…..me.

The past eighteen years of my life has been a bit of a roller coaster. Divorce and single parenthood at thirty three. I remember people asking me how I got through leaving my first husband with a three month old baby. You do what you have to do and you get up every day and move forward. When I did re marry, a few years later, my husband’s work took him 3000 miles away for four years. For anybody who hasn’t had one, long distance relationships/marriages really suck. Then at forty two another baby. Totally planned but nonetheless a challenge. I feel like it has only been in the past two years that things have finally felt settled down. I read a great quote the other day from, of all people, Nancy Reagan. “Women are like tea bags. You don’t know how strong they are until you put them in hot water”. It’s a good thing I like tea.

I’ve made some changes in my life over the past few months. I quit a job that I didn’t really like and am now able to be more present for my family. I overhauled the way that I eat and now physically feel better than I have in years. I have determine that killing myself trying to run up a mountain really has no benefit and have come to embrace yoga. I have come to terms with my relationship with my siblings and parents and am learning more about myself because of it. These things have made a huge difference in my life and I can say without a doubt that I am happier now than I have been in a very long time. I’m healthy, I have awesome friends, a loving, supportive husband and two great kids. Today, the Best Thing in Life is turning fifty.

Get a Job

working man

As my seventeen year old begins his search for a summer job I got thinking about all the jobs that I have had over the years and what they have taught me. Jobs, I think, are not always about learning how to build things, or add up numbers or serve people. They can be full of life lessons without you even realizing it. Simply having a job teaches you responsibility, time management and economics. It can also teach you how to deal with disappointment if you were to, perhaps, lose said job.

My first job was at the Fish and Chip Shop in the shopping area close to my home. I was probably thirteen years old. The owners were a lovely British couple named Rina and Paul. (I think…c’mon it was 36 years ago). Arriving for my first day of work I imagined that I would be taking orders and serving the much loved fish and chips. Nope. The first task I was given was pulling the bones out of the fish in the back of the kitchen. After a few weeks I was elevated to washing dishes in addition to pulling fish bones. Eventually I got to take orders, but it did take a while. I learnt that you need to start at the bottom.

When I graduated from high school I was pretty sure that I wanted to work in the hotel business and I think I know why. A close family friend was a VP with C.P. Hotels. He and his wife lived in a suite at the Hotel Vancouver and had wicked parties catered by hotel. I assumed that this was were I would end up. With his connections, I got a job as a bus girl at the Banff Springs Hotel. The dining room was huge; like football field huge. Breakfast shift started at 6:00am. Huge tour groups would flood in, eat and then leave to catch their buses. Dirty dishes, heavy bus pans and sore feet became a regular part of my life. I learnt that a lot of hard work is required before those great parties can happen. If they ever do.

Over time I realized that hotel/restaurant work was not my destiny. I took a two year Business Administration program at the local technical school with the hopes of getting into the business world. I was fortunate to get a job with an actuarial consulting firm as their office manager. For those of you who don’t know, actuaries calculate the future incomes of pension plans. There is a lot of money in actuarial consulting and the firm did really well. It was all very L.A.Law. Partners meetings, extravagant Christmas parties and lots of office politics. I learnt that some people really do use the math they learnt in grade 12 to make a living.

In 1995 Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment was where I met my husband. It’s a bit of a funny story. When I started working there I was married. When I left, three and a half years later, I was divorced and the mother of a three year old who was dating a co-worker. Talk about office gossip. I worked in the finance department helping with payroll. My future husband, worked in arena operations. It was a very dynamic place to work. Lots of young, energetic employees, exciting basketball games, concerts and the occasional Russian hockey player sighting. What did I learn from this job? I learnt that if you can open yourself up to new opportunities that great things can happen. Also, that NBA players are very highly paid.

When I went for my next interview I didn’t know that the company I was interviewing with was Starbucks. What a crazy experience. The job was Administrative Supervisor for Western Canada. It was pretty intense. To start, I was trained to work in a Starbucks store and had to complete a certain number of hours as a Barista. Regular trips to Seattle included a tour of the bean roasting plant, meeting Howard Schultz and numerous coffee tastings. I spent the first few months learning the Starbucks language. At Starbucks it was never half way. You were either all in or you weren’t. I learnt that some companies want your heart and sole and if you can’t give it to them, it’s not the right job for you.

My most recent position was with a small business software re-seller. It started out as an admin position but eventually I ended up in the sales department. I loved the company and the people were great, but sales was not my thing. If they didn’t want to buy it, they didn’t want to buy it. Who was I to change their mind? The hours were flexible though and the owners were understanding of the fact that my husband traveled and sometime I just wasn’t available. From this job I learnt that sometimes you can’t have everything all in one package. You have to take the good with the bad.

So what advice would I give my son as he goes out into the world looking for a job. I know that my advice should be “Do what you love” or “Follow your passion”. But the truth is that he just needs to get a job. A job that will teach him that he needs to be on time. Every day. That he needs to be able to follow procedures and rules. Even the ones he disagrees with. That he may not like his co-worker, but he still needs to get along with them so that he can do his job. That the government will take a potion of what you earn whether you like it or not. Really, he just needs to get a job and know what it feels like to work for a living. Or in his case. Gas money.

Divorce – Good, Bad or Ugly?

I’ve been through a divorce. Many of my friends have been through divorces. In fact, when I thought about it, I realized that quite a lot of my friends are divorced. Thirty five in fact. Some recently, some many years ago. “It’s an epidemic” one friend said. As all relationships are different, so are all divorces. So what makes one divorce good and easy and the other stressful and horrific? Or are they all just bad? Are divorces good, bad or ugly?

I left my ex-husband 17 years ago when our son was 3 months old. Mine fell into the “stressful and horrific” category. I was hurt after discovering that a past friend and co-worker was involved with my husband. When I think back, what I most remember was the overwhelming desire to broadcast to the world (preferably by a large, well lit billboard) that it was not my fault. For some reason it seemed really important to me. Was that normal? What is normal in a divorce? With so many questions running around in my head I felt the need to write.

I started by asking my thirty five friends to tell me what were the worst and the best things that happened during or as a result of divorce? The feedback was so interesting and passionate. Obviously this is something that gives rise to a fair amount of emotion. It’s not a simple question. There is so much more to it and clearly the women I know aren’t shy about giving me their opinions on how things went down.

For one friend the worst part was that her kids have been so affected by what had happened and they really had nothing to do with it. “They didn’t ask for this to happen”. They weren’t responsible yet they have to deal with the fall out. They are collateral damage so to speak. I think that is something that we would all agree on. Missing the kids was a big downside for a lot of people. Those long lonely weekends spent counting the hours until they came home from their dad’s. In hind site, it was a blessing that my son was so young when my divorce happened. By the time he was old enough to sort of understand what was going on, most of the bad behavior (not on my part of course) was over. Don’t get me wrong, we still don’t see eye to eye, but at least there are less issues to deal with than there were when he was little.

For those of us who have older kids graduating from high school or in university, I got the feeling that there was a huge sense of accomplishment. I think maybe divorced parents need to work a little harder in that department. Now before you get your knickers in a knot, I’m not saying that we are better parents than people who are still married. I’m just saying that we have more hoops to jump through in the parenting department. It can be hard enough to parent a teen within a solid marriage but having to do it with somebody you may not trust, respect or even like, can be a major challenge. To come through it with well adjusted kids is a major coup.

Some found that a year or two down the road they are better friends and closer to their exes than they ever were. This is not the norm I discovered. It is quite rare and, in of some circles, even frowned upon. Particularly if there was some sort of infidelity involved. That’s a whole different animal from just growing apart. Yet for some that’s really how things have worked out. “We’ve made mistakes, we’ve survived, we’ve moved on and we’ve discovered happiness.” Are they the lucky ones? One friend is even in the process of getting back together with her ex. Can you go back? I guess she’ll find out.

More often than not there is animosity, distrust and well, dislike. What’s odd, to me, is that even with these feeling raging inside us, our exes are still able to incite very strong reactions. Some might even say passionate. After a disagreement with her ex, one friend had a particularly strong reaction. “I got home and I stormed around the house and cried and yelled and when it was all over I was okay.” (Come on, we all did it at some point). We’ve yelled, sworn, cursed the day we ever walked down the aisle (in my defense I was foggy from cold medicine and Tylenol). You would think that we would know that it shouldn’t get to us. At some point you loved that person and perhaps it takes a while for the strength of those feeling to go away even if those feelings are anger.

I find it really funny that by far the best thing for most divorced women was that they now get to cook whatever they want. Or better yet, not cook at all. They felt free and independent. Able to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. (Midnight McDonalds run anyone). Don’t get me wrong, these women were not in relationships that were oppressive. These are strong, capable women. “Neither of us knew how stressed we both were until he left. It was a huge relief.” Perhaps we were working so hard on trying to make the marriage right, that when we finally gave in, the freedom was a sweet release.

As an old friend and I were catching up over a couple of large glasses of wine in a noisy restaurant, I realized how deeply she felt her divorce. “I felt a huge sense of failure”. And she wasn’t alone. Why is it that even though our actions had not directly caused the split (and by this I mean that we weren’t the ones that slept with our secretaries) we still felt immense failure. Even marriages that ended simply because they grew apart, incited feelings of failure. Of course it doesn’t help when people’s first reaction is “I’m sorry”. We are so programmed to believe that when we marry, we have to do everything in our powers to make it work. It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t really worthless and a bad wife, my ex-husband was just an asshole. Go figure.

Without question every friend I spoke to said that the best thing to come out of the divorce was the huge personal growth they experienced at the end of the day. Would they have felt this way if they hadn’t gone through a divorce? Hard to say. I know lots of emotionally evolved women who are happily married. I know this; the end of a marriage forces you to look not only at your relationship, but at yourself. You are on your own in the big wide world. Therapy, friends, family and wine were all cited as coping mechanisms in the first year. And while you may feel lonely at times, as one friend pointed out, you make it through. Sometimes it happens quickly and other times it takes years, but we’ve all made it and are, dare I say, better off?

As all people are different, so are all divorces. I’ve learnt that there are some common threads but, for the most part, we have all dealt with the end of a marriage in our own unique way. I for one, have learnt that nobody can make you happy but yourself. Others have discovered that they can love again. All have found a strength within them that they maybe didn’t know was there. Today I find happiness in the fact that I have been happily married to an amazing man for 13 years. They’re good, they’re bad and yes, they are ugly, but divorces happen. It’s what you do with them that can be The Best Thing in Your Life.

Michele

whistlerbiking26sep0808-0[1]

A few years back I was part of a group of women who would head out onto the cross county biking trails of the North Shore mountains as often as we could. We were all moms of varying cycling and fitness abilities but we enjoyed each other’s company, the exercise and the time away from our angelic children. Typically Sunday morning we would meet at about 8:00am and ride for a couple of hours or until the need for coffee kicked in. It was on one of these Sunday morning rides that I met Michele. Michele is a police officer.

Recently Michele and I got together for a drink with the purpose of talking about divorce for a piece I’m writing. We did talk about divorce, but we also talked a lot about her career, relationships and parenting teenage boys. What I took away from our conversation are some great additions to my piece on divorce, some excellent parenting tips, but more importantly, I learnt about the life of a female police officer and how her career has been instrumental in her personal growth.

When Michele and I first met, she had just recently moved to the Vancouver area and was looking to get hired by a local police force . She was going through a separation (potential divorce) but totally seemed to have it together. Having been through a divorce, I admired how rational she seemed to be when it came to talking about her soon to be ex and their relationship. Was I assuming that as a police officer she was probably pretty tough and could handle herself in any situation? I guess I was, because I know now that in her own words she was a mess. Living in a new city, no job and a failing marriage. Yipee!

Things did turn around pretty quickly for her career though. She was hired by the Vancouver Police Department and started to settle in. When I asked her about harassment on the job she said that it has never been an issue, mostly because of the way she has handled it. She told me a story about how, as a new member of the VPD, a fellow officer had made a sexual comment to her after a drunken Christmas party. The next day when she figured out who had said what, she didn’t get mad, she got even. She walked into the morning briefing with a sealed envelope in her hand. Looked the guilty culprit in the eye and told him that she didn’t take these things lightly. She put the envelope down in front of him and said. “You’ve been served” implying that she would sue him. Inside the envelope was a picture of a huge set of hooters with the caption “Next time you want to look at a set of boobs, look at these.” Classic.

Dealing with the end of her marriage proved to be more difficult. She was seeing a therapist but still struggled with feelings of failure and self-doubt. At this time Michele was working with the domestic abuse unit of the VPD. While on a follow up call to a battered woman’s home she suddenly realized that she was saying all the same things to this woman, that her therapist was saying to her. It’s not your fault, you are a strong person who can do anything and do it on your own. The lightbulb not only went on for her, but it made her realize what these women were dealing with and how best she could help them. I’m pretty sure that this is what Oprah refers to as an “ah ha” moment. As she continued her work, not only did she get stronger herself but her ability to empathize and help the women she worked with grew immensely.

After a few years Michele moved out of the domestic abuse unit and into homicide. How cool is that? She is confident and knows that whatever life has to throw at her she can deal with it. Her sons are in university now and she is venturing into a new relationship. She is grateful for the time she spent with the domestic abuse team and knows how much it taught her about life and handling adversity.

I truly have a new respect for police officers and how they approach their work. Michele became a police officer to help people and ended up helping herself. How is that not one of The Best Things in Life?