Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Have you ever flown on an airplane? If you have—and I’d have to say that a lot of people probably have—you know that even before the flight takes off, the flight attendant goes through the procedures to be followed in case of an emergency.

Whether you board the plane in the United States, or Canada, or Europe; whether you fly Delta, Air Canada or British Airways; whether your flight will last one hour or many hours, these emergency instructions are given, without fail.

And without fail, those instructions are the same. When it comes to the most important part—the life-sustaining oxygen—the flight attendants will tell you to put on your own air mask before you help someone else with theirs. The principle at work here is simple: you can’t save someone else until you save yourself, first.

That is advice that should be given to everyone with regard to life in general, but especially to the mothers among us.

Mothers tend to do for others first and always. We feed others, if you will, before we even consider feeding ourselves. Even when we feel under the weather, our kids (and often times, they are our grown kids) look to us for their favorite pasta, or their favorite dessert, and we, being mothers, do everything we can to accommodate them.

The point of today’s essay is that it’s okay, sometimes, to say no.

We get so busy and are so intent on taking care of others we forget to take care of ourselves, first. We think putting ourselves and our needs first is selfish.
Nothing could be further from the truth.

Just as, on a flight, we would need to secure our own air supply first, in life, we need to secure our own health and well being first if we truly want to be able to continue to take care of others. Ignoring our bodies’ needs for exercise, proper nutrition, sleep, and down time is not the way to ensure that we give our best to our families.

Of course, when our children are younger, we often do just that. No amount of reasoning with us is likely to get us to change our ways, either. Taking care of the kids is what we do, period.

But we moms have to recognize that there comes a point when we need to step back from the plate. When our children are no longer children, it is time for them to not only do for themselves, but hey, pay a little attention back to the ones who’ve given so much of themselves for so long.

When we reach our fifties, I believe it is good and wise and noble to begin to put ourselves first from time to time. We didn’t sacrifice for our children to earn a reward; we did it because we love them, and it is what moms do.

But the rewards are there regardless, and they need to be enjoyed. Probably one of the last lessons our children learn—and they don’t learn it until they’re well into adulthood—is that mothers are theirs forever, to love and appreciate and respect.

But mommies pass on the mantle of parenting to the next generation.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I recall a conversation I had with my beloved several years ago. We were discussing the fact that he was becoming deaf—the result of working at an open pit mine without benefit of hearing protection for too many years. This was back before his site was purchased by the large international firm that owns it today.

At the time he was adamant, of course, that he didn’t need hearing aids. “Those things don’t work, anyway. All they do is make everything louder so that all you hear is loud static.”

Still, I had said, he should look into getting them. He said he would, as soon as hell froze over.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have an announcement to make. Hell has, apparently, frozen over.

This past Saturday my husband took delivery of his first set of hearing aids. He began the process to get them back in January, at the request of his employer. They suggested he go through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, a provincial government agency. This agency will provide equipment such as hearing aids if the damage suffered is work related.

So at the beginning of the year he went to get his hearing tested and was told, very frankly, that he was so hearing impaired as to be considered disabled.
This came as a surprise to no one but him.

One thing I can say about my beloved: he isn’t a man to believe something just because someone tells him so.

Or even if several someones do.

Needless to say there have been loads of improvements to hearing aid technology since the “olden days” when his uncle got one (I believe in was in the 1960s and that was what my DH was basing his opinion on).

He got the call to go in last Saturday, and when he came out of the building, he was wearing a couple of very small pieces of ultra-modern technology.

Aside from being light weight, they came with a “remote control” device. He immediately pointed the device at me and said, “I can turn you off, now.”

Congratulate me, I held my tongue.

He said they were comfortable, and that was good. We went home, and he went out to sit on the porch. Our front porch, that faces this very quiet street in our fairly small town, has always been a good place to sit. Dozens of trees line the street. Trees, of course, are the homes of birds.

On our street, the trees house hundreds of birds, at times.

“Good Lord, are they always so noisy?” DH asked. I just grinned.

He took the dog for a walk, and when he returned, he said, “I didn’t realize how much I didn’t hear until I got these.”

Again, I guarded my tongue. I like to think that, at my age, the need to say, “I told you so” has faded—that I’m mature enough to just let it go.

Yes, I’d like to think that, but I’m not sure I’m really strong enough to resist the temptation forever.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It’s been a long time since I have personally lamented the unfairness of life. There doesn’t seem to be a point to it. Life is unfair; it’s unfair for everyone; I know this, so the best thing I can do is just get on with things.

But then there are moments when I am left at a such complete loss, when the vagaries of fate are more than unfair, they’re just wrong.

Nine years ago the next door neighbor who for years had been the bane of our existence put his house up for sale. Nothing could have pleased us more, as the man—a divorced father of two—seemed to be on a personal quest to complain about as many things as he could each day.

I totally understood why this man was divorced.

One young couple came, with her parents, to see the house, and decided it was theirs on first sight. They moved in not long afterwards, as soon as they came home from their honeymoon.

These new neighbors were a delightful change from the other guy. They were a simple couple—he worked at a wood products factory, and she at a community home for the severely handicapped. They entertained a fair bit, but not the way you’d expect young people to entertain. There were no raucous parties, no drunken feasts. They instead hosted plenty of family-friendly picnics and barbeques. There were always kids there, either with their parents or on their own just having a “sleep over” with their uncle and aunt and you knew that this young couple would make excellent parents.

They had their first child slightly more than a year after they moved in; another daughter came about two years later, and then finally a little boy two years after that.

In the summers, mom and dad both took delight in playing with their children, and getting the children to pitch in on outdoor chores. In winter, you’d see them go on family walks around the block, or find them building snowmen together.

Sundays they would emerge from their home, all dressed neatly, and go to church.
Just slightly over three years ago, the young mother found a lump in her breast. It was suddenly just there, a massive growth, and when she went to have it checked, it was to discover that she had stage three breast cancer.

We were never intimately friendly with these neighbors. We’d chat when we’d see each other. This past winter, the husband and my beloved took turns clearing the snow from our respective sidewalks and from around our cars. The young couple would ask, from time to time, how my career was going. We’d chat with the children and, one day when all their tricycles were on the sidewalk, stated in mock horror that an outlaw biker gang was living next door.

They’ve been good neighbors, and from all I’ve seen, good parents and very good people.

Over the past three years we’ve watched them fight this disease called cancer, always determined, both of them, to stave off the worst. Throughout the battle, that young woman never wavered. She had her faith, not only in God, but in her own self. You knew she would do whatever it took to win this battle.

It had begun to look as if she would succeed.

And then the tide changed.

I remember talking to her husband one day, when it seemed she was in remission. “She’s always done everything right,” he said. “She’s never smoked, she’s always eaten a healthy diet, and she’s exercised regularly. I just don’t get it. Why did she have to get sick?”

That is so human of us, isn’t it? To think that if bad things happen, we must have done something to deserve them. The truth is, bad things happen to good people for no reason, and that is that.

In the wee hours of this past Sunday morning, my brave young neighbor lost her battle with this disease. She passed away at home, her three young children and her husband by her side. She was only thirty-eight years old.

Her husband told me the news himself, but I’d awakened and seen the ambulance there, and I’d known.

He said he was grateful the children got to say goodbye to their mother. He also said that she’s in a better place now. I believe that, too.

No, life not only isn’t fair, it was never meant to be fair. This I’ve always understood.

But sometimes, the degree of unfairness I witness quite simply leaves me gasping for breath and begging for mercy.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In the last week, both of our two nations celebrated their “national birthdays” within days of each other, as they always do. Canada Day was July 1st, and of course your Independence Day was July 4th.

I hope this year it was a good celebration for everyone!

Both nations have much of which they can be proud. Our countries are democracies, and best trading partners. Our border is peaceful, and our friendship endures. Our people live by the rule of law, and though that law is not perfect, it serves us all well.

Often, I’ve lamented that if we as Canadians have a flaw, it’s that as a people, we tend not to show our patriotism.

This year, perhaps because we were fortunate enough to have their royal highness the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge come to Canada, I was aware of our patriotism on display, more so than in years past. I saw much more flag waving this year than I’ve seen in quite a while.

My beloved and I spent Canada Day at the home of one of his co-workers. Situated in a small rural community—not even a village, really—our host’s home is on a corner piece of property, lush with trees, and soft lawn.

This community of not more than two dozen homes, I guess you could call it a ‘pocket’ village, as it occupies a pocket formed by a short road that meets a provincial highway on both ends.

And this community, on Canada Day, had a parade!

There were no marching bands, and no drum majorettes—although there was one fire truck. This parade consisted solely of Canadians, men, women and children filled with National pride, and unashamed to show it.

About twenty or so vehicles comprised the body of this parade, trucks decorated with lots of flags and streamers in red and white. One truck, a flat bed, had lawn chairs on it, and people sitting, waving their flags, tossing candy to the crowd, wishing everyone either “Happy Canada Day!” or “Happy Birthday!”

I was impressed by the smiling faces and the enthusiasm of the people—fully three quarters of the population of this community—who in their pickup trucks, or classic cars, drove slowly the one mile parade route, encircling the community.

Some of the partiers enjoying our hosts hospitality, tagged along at the end of the parade, bedecked as they were in their special “Canada Day” t-shirts and cowboy hats.
This humble yet proud parade made me realize that you don’t need anything fancy to display your national pride. You only need to stand up and be willing to show everyone how you feel.

There was a lot of fervor in Ottawa, our nation’s capital, on Canada Day—what some have called a “love fest” between those Canadians who gathered on Parliament Hill, and the visiting Royals. Every time Prince William mentioned the name of his wife, the cheers went up. And there was great cheering when he said he brought best wishes from his grandmother, “The Queen of Canada”.

I hope those of my friends who are Americans had a similarly moving and patriotic holiday. I hope you waved your flag, cheered your veterans, and ate some apple pie.

We do have much to be proud of here in North America, and much to be grateful for, too. And I, for one, am going to try to remember to be proud and grateful on a more regular basis.