The Middle in ‘Mid-Life’

It’s funny how our dialogue has changed from talking about what to do on the weekend or how the baby kept us up all night; to how we want to spend our retirement years and looking forward to not having to wake up to an alarm clock or a mundane drive to an office.
As we get older, it becomes more apparent that our priorities and responsibilities change. Our children are more independent and need us less. We have more time on our hands (most of us) that we once dedicated to our children, but now can dedicate to other perhaps lofty pursuits.
Our parents are now in their later years and require more attention and assistance. Considering retirement homes and long term care facilities for the people who raised us is both daunting and heartbreaking, however, a responsibility we all will eventually face. It’s the circle of life, people and we can’t escape it. (Cue Lion King music here) We will all go through it. We just don’t want to.
The struggle of having to take responsibility for yet another human on the long list of other humans we already look after seems exhausting. It really does. Depending on the medical and physical needs the person requires to get through a day, it can be an emotionally draining experience, for everyone. It’s frustrating and complicated and sometimes impossible to get the care in order. But it will come. And everybody will be settled. Until the next hurdle, when you get that call in the middle of the night that in the back of your mind you knew would happen only you were putting it away, hiding it and ignoring it’s nagging voice telling you to ‘grow up’ and put on your big girl pants because now she needs YOU, instead of the other way around. Dying is a part of growing old and a part of life. Saying ‘goodbye’ is the hardest thing about being alive.
The invite to my thirty-year high school reunion just went out a few days ago making me feel incredibly old. And like I want to hide behind someone’s skirt. I don’t recall the exact moment I got to this point; this time in my life where I have to take stock and see where I ‘ended up’. Wait. I haven’t ‘ended up’ yet. I’m still getting there…at least in my mind.
Going home is always bittersweet. It’s where I grew, up but not where I live. It haunts me and sometimes it’s like I walked in a dream. I think, did I really live there? Did I really have those people in my life? Did I really take a piece of old chewing gum that was stuck to the bottom of the table at the Fiesta Restaurant and chew it? I was like five, but really? Aside from the obvious ‘ewww’ you all just did, I didn’t always do gross stuff. I think. The stories from my childhood come in spits and spurts. From some of the stories, I take it I was a hoot to be around. I took out the old photo album the other day and took a walk with my family. I looked hard to see what was in the background; do I remember where the Christmas tree went? Do I remember the rocking chair I sat in every night and my mother would say I reminded her of Aunt Edith when I twisted my hair and chewed my finger? An aunt whom I never knew and I never met. I have a hard time remembering what my dad looked like. I have a picture of him I look at often. I study his face and try to picture what it was like sitting on his knee, or holding his hand as we walked down the sidewalk. I was looking at my son’s school picture and noticed his eyes have a downturned shape to them. So did my dad’s. My son looks like my dad. A realization I just came to not so long ago. When did that happen? The cottage in Rondeau  where we swam in a freezing Lake Erie and played games on an inflated inner tube bobbing beneath surface only to splash back up and try it again. The summer days my brother would go fishing on the Thames river and I would throw rocks under the bridge only to hear him say, ‘no, like this’ and proceed to throw a ‘skimmer’. I could never throw a ‘skimmer’.
I could spend a lot of time visiting the past. Looking at old photos, reading old letters…it’s all there. As I get older, I seem to want to visit there and try to walk in my parents shoes. See things from their perspective. Try to feel the heat from a 1970’s summer sun; remember the winter my dad had to get a ride on a snow mobile to get home from work; raising a family on a furniture salesman’s salary. I put the photos and cards away for another day and “put the past in my behind.” (Another Lion King reference, in case you missed it.)
The past is a great place to visit from time to time, and I admit to getting lost in the murky depths of memories. I eventually find my way back to the present and revel in how I got here. My ending isn’t written yet, but my middle is a pretty special place.
I think I’ll stay here awhile, if that’s okay with you….

My Dad and brothers Christmas 1972

My Dad and brothers Christmas 1972

When Life Was As Simple As a Peanut Butter Sandwich

There was no internet, or iphone or i-anything. We had jump ropes and played hide-and-seek. Lunches were packed in paper bags or plastic lunchpales. We had milk tickets and rarely drank pop. We played games outside like tag and dodgeball and tether ball. We went to the park and organized softball games or climbed the monkey bars. We played Red Rover in the space that belonged to the person who had the biggest back yard. We went swimming at Jaycee pool and walked a mile or more to get there. We rode our bikes, skinned out our knees (and in my case, my face), and threw a ball against a brick wall when we got bored. We climbed trees, made forts outside and chased butterflies. We went tobogganing in the winter, threw snowballs and built snowmen. We sucked on icicles (nature’s popsicles), chewed bubblegum until our jaws ached and dared somebody to eat a worm. We went fishing, threw rocks in the river and played truth or dare. We had sleepovers, went to drive-in movies and knocked on our friends’ doors to come outside. We ate dinner in under ten seconds, had summer jobs and after school ones, too. We walked or took the bus everywhere and hung out at the mall.
That is what childhood looked like.
Now it looks like this:
Talking is through a cell phone and it isn’t with your mouth, it’s with your fingers. Video games are played indoors. Jump ropes are for the ladies at the gym. Bike riding is for the people on TV or for people who don’t have cars and need to get to work. Organizing outdoor games is unheard of. What’s Red Rover? Climbing trees is illegal, I think. Balls are a part of a guy’s anatomy. Lunch is going to McDonald’s and coffee at Starbucks. A bagged lunch means you don’t have any money and it basically sucks to be you. Fishing is for dads on the weekend. Outside in the cold?! Maybe if there’s snowboarding or somebody has an ice rink in the backyard. Icicles are frozen acid rain. Snowmen are too heavy to build. Tobogganing means climbing back UP the hill. Ugh. Walking anywhere is dangerous. Throwing a snowball means you have aggressive tendencies and anger management issues and will require counselling. Truth or dare is played on the internet and is called Facebook. Hanging out at the mall still happens and the crew you hang with is the Bloods. Selling a ‘pip’ is not candy. After school jobs require a curriculum vitae and a multitude of references. A young person working through University or College gets a disparaging look from the instructor.
Generation gaps aside, there’s a big one here. We are to blame, but let’s not discount the kids just yet.
They work hard to get good grades, they work their part-time jobs in spite of adults barraging them with complaints and cynicism, they do their volunteer work, play team sports, take music lessons, and drive mom’s car to pick up the siblings at the after school tutoring program. They take out the garbage, do their own laundry, buy their books, pay for their gas, clean their rooms and feed the dog. They battle peer shit, try to side-step the drugs and the alcohol, tone down the drama on Facebook and keep their wits about them. They spend their money on i-tunes and at Starbucks, buy Christmas presents for their friends and remember birthdays. They know about the bullies and try to steer clear, defend their friends in the face of that mean kid in math and learn that as much as life sucks sometimes, they’ll always have that guy on Youtube to make them laugh. They love their parents and think they’re lame sometimes and they have no sense of humour at all. Home is a great place to hang out and eat everything in the fridge. Their bed is their refuge. They know a lot about fashion. They think they’re invincible.
So did we.
We are raising a totally different generation of beings. In spite of, or despite all the technological advances these kids are still producing ideas and generating a whole new set of problems…but maybe solutions too. Let’s not judge too harshly. Sure our childhoods were completely different, but so were the times we lived in.
They’re alright…
We three

The Barn

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I remember being in the presence of an old barn.  This was back in the seventies when the summers were hot and seemed to last a whole year, not a mere few months.  We with nothing more to do but to wander aimless and reckless, our shorts hiked up and our faces flushed from the heat, trudging through yards and barren forest looking for adventure.  Or shade.

There stood before me a large black structure, the wood rotted and the inside dilapidated. The tall A-frame of the roof pointing skyward as if noting the direction of heaven.  The window at the top was gone; replaced with just a wooden bi-fold door hanging off its hinges.  The wood was split and left hanging, the wind blowing the shards innocently, as if afraid to blow too hard and break them. The grass lay brown and dry, the summer quickly turning into fall the leaves having fallen, dried up brown and withered away.  The dirt road was dry and gravelly, the stones crunching when we walked upon them.  There was a gaggle of us, the kids.  We were dispersed in age, the older ones herding the younger ones around the barn discovering it’s secrets and noting its dangerous allure. We were alone out in the country. Of course, near Chatham the country is everywhere around the outskirts of town.  I couldn’t have been far from where I lived.  I can’t imagine my mother ever allowing me to stray too far from her sight.   The attraction to the old building was in its mystique.  The rotting wood that once housed what exactly?  Animals?  Hay?  Corn?

   I’m not sure I was ever inside the barn.  The large looming face stands resolutely in my memory, however, any ideas of lofts or ropes or any items deemed ‘barn materials’ seems out of reach to me.  Was it a dream I had and I thought it was a memory?  Maybe, as the motives for attending the scene secretly remain hidden within the black rotting wood.

My brother seemed to have been the catalyst for my presence at the site.  My cousins were there as well, but more as outlying extras in a movie set.  Their milky dreamlike movements float through my mind and I can see their smiling faces looking down at me, mocking my existence among the big kids.

My memory of the old barn ends there.  I have no idea how we managed to travel so far outside of town, or even if it was that far out.  I just remember the feeling of freely walking about and curious as to its existence.  I know it’s no longer standing out in the country, but it’s nice to visit from time to time….