Just over a Year to Fifty: The Fun and Importance of Keeping Conversation, Kissing, Friendship and Love Alive in Marriage.

Last Sunday, we woke up to snow.  The first true day of winter came just  4 days earlier after an unseasonably warm November and December. There were high winds, blowing snow and it was damn cold.  But on Sunday, the snow was steady, coming down like heavy rain one minute, changing to a slow and gentle flow of snowflakes from the gloomy grey sky the next.   Albeit not my favorite season, I love winter days when it snows endlessly, especially if I have nowhere to go and nothing important to do.  It’s a nice alternative to the usual winter days when you have to be out in the bitter cold, shoveling your driveway and sidewalk, scraping your car and generally sitting upright and hyper alert while driving about town.  After being born and raised for twenty years in a tropical climate, I have seen twenty seven winters now; twenty nine if you count the two I spent at Syracuse University, and though I have lived abroad longer than I have in the land of my birth, I am, as calypsonian David Rudder puts it, “Trini to the bone”. I suppose you could say I have been able to embrace my adopted home and embrace it’s wintry climate by actually learning to do the fun things in winter mostly due to joining my kids and husband in snowball fights,  tobogganing , skiing, snowboarding, skating and hockey and realizing that when you make an effort to enjoy it, winter can sometimes go by before you know it.

 

It’s easy to stay in bed a little longer on a snowy morning, jumping out just long enough to brush your teeth so that kissing is pleasant and enjoyable.  Let’s face it, they only kiss first thing in the morning in movies.  It was one of those Sunday mornings that we have referred to as “Lazy Day” chez nous and it is how we “take Sunday back”.  Mornings like these usually start with me rolling over, bidding Tom good morning and asking him a single question that would lead to an all out, in depth discussion which would continue into our walk with our dog and a drive to our favorite coffee shop for our Sunday morning treat.  The question that morning was  “Tom, what scares you?”  to which he replied in his uber deep morning voice with the slightly oh-here-she-goes-this-is-going-to-be-a-long-one tone of voice, “Spiders and heights”.

Staring out the window at the snow, his long arm wrapped around me, we talked about why, in spite of his fear of heights he rode crazy roller coasters and parachuted out of a perfectly good airplane and how I don’t understand why a man who stands 6 feet 2 and 195 needs reams of paper towel to kill a spider the size of his index finger print.  He had no cool or concrete answer for the spider thing but as it turns out, the parachuting and crazy rides were some of the ways he faced his fears.  We chatted and segued from one topic to the next.   Unknowingly, fingers interlaced, my chin on his shoulder, we talked about the Hadron Collider, our theories about inoculation,  antibiotics and the constant evolution of the human species. Before we knew it, legs were no longer woven and we were out of the comfort of our bed, dressed and outside walking hand in hand in the snow up to the trail where we would throw the ball for the dog, pausing for a moment to take a look at and chuckle at her red toss toy that was still stuck up in the pine tree in spite of that windy Wednesday.  We chatted about how incredibly brilliant Adam is and how hard it must be for him to have to do some of the things he does because we live in a society that is filled with people mostly comfortable thinking and living inside the proverbial box. It was then we vowed again to give him the happiest life we possibly could and to make him as independent as possible without squashing who he is.  We then turned our attention to Logan and voiced how pleased were at his maturity, astute and insightful nature, in spite of his bouts of  male goofiness and periodic brain lapses that make us shake our heads.  We spoke of cave men, the first true scientists and inventors and that perhaps the development and utilization of verbal language and body language is why we have the emotion of love.  We talked about God, the abuse of religion and the irony of religious wars and how disappointing it was to occasionally discover how many people who were the pillars of their churches were actually the most corrupt human beings around.  Climbing in to the car, the conversation became about the balance of science and religion in our lives;  he, a non-worshiper continuing to maintain an open-mindedness about the possibility of the existence of a being or force such as God because there were still some things science could not explain and an existence of God, in his opinion could not be disproved.  And then there was me, someone born and raised at home and at school in the church, with a personal evolved opinion about the way I view my religion, God, science and fact.  I talked about the struggles I face navigating our life in light of what I had been taught about God, my occasional skepticism and the disappointment I feel when I come out of mass having been subjected to a “catholight” version of a sermon that often leaves me with nothing to draw from and apply to my life (I have been waiting to be moved by a sermon for about 4 years).   Yet though tried, tested and challenged in life like everyone else, I cannot and will not let go of my religion even in the times when I seem to have stronger hope than I do faith.  A sharp left turn of the wheel, I lean into him and kiss him on the cheek like I always do and he smiles as he does every time, patting me on the thigh saying “Elephant shoes” – this phrase when mimed looks like you are saying “I love you”.  That kind of moment to me. is still as wonderful as it was the first time we faced each other and said it at the end of the aisle on our wedding day, long past everyone’s view and it was silly and it was ours.

Our conversation came to a natural end when he descended into the basement to sit in front of his computer and  I headed to the kitchen table so I could stare at the snow through the glass sliding door while I jotted my thoughts on all this.  It snowed and snowed that day, stopping late at night.  It was cold  but we were toasty in our house, resting in our beds, waiting for sleep to overcome our minds and shut our bodies down before we had to welcome a new day and week.  It was a wonderful snowy Sunday and I was glad we decided to “take it back”.  To me, there is nothing more wonderful than chatting with someone you not only love to be with, but someone you actually connect with and can engage in intriguing and interesting conversations with and never grow bored of their company or what they have to say.

My marriage is not perfect; no marriage is but we are happily married (yes, I checked in with him before I typed this).  Marriage is hard work and requires a lot of time, patience, understanding, respect and devotion from both partners. It’s recognizing when you have hurt the other and apologizing and trying not to do it again.  It’s complimenting the other person randomly, lifting their spirits whether they need you to or not, holding hands, massaging shoulders, kissing, touching, making love to them and of course simply telling them you love them.  I didn’t get married to be unhappy.  I love spending time with my husband.  I love that he still reaches for and holds my hand and that we kiss… a lot.  My mother told me once that my grandmother told her in a few quite subtle words that keeping the love alive in bed is also a main ingredient when making a successful marriage and I certainly think my grandmother had given some sage advice.  There is nothing stale or outdated or wrong about honoring the body of the person you love.  Sure we all get older, change shape and size but that doesn’t mean we stop making love.  Think of all those healthy, positive endorphins!  Sex is certainly not just for the young or the promiscuous, or the unfaithful…I’m just saying…don’t let love making die.  Life is too short to ignore it and it is also too short to not say “I love you” as much as you can.

I mentioned before, I asked Tom what scared him, the snowy, conversation laden Sunday morning.  I told him I had many fears but my biggest fear which I have no real control over is, not growing old with him and not being able to do all that we would love to share together.  I want us to be here to see our sons find their niche but based on the foundation we have laid, they will (even headstrong Mr. Adam).  Beyond our children, I want to continue to grow the relationship I have with their father; to see the way we change as time goes on.  Right now, and I try to live mostly in the now, it is a wonderful privilege to have someone to listen to and who listens to me.  It’s a pleasure to take care of and be cared for by the person who promised to do so 19 years ago and it is an honour to continue that walk down the aisle hand in hand along what has become an unsteady and winding aisle of life, just as we promised we would in front of 22 of our family members and friends.

I am no expert on marriage.  I’ve gotten it wrong many times over the years.  I have frustrated him as much as he has frustrated me and of course we would.  We are two very different people from two very different families and backgrounds who have chosen to live under the same room AND raise children together.  Are there days when we both wonder if we chose not to marry? Are there days when we want to rip each other’s heads off or run around screaming in sheer frustration at the other person? Hell, yeah!  I remember this foolish couple who sat in my living room years ago among other friends who declared that they never, ever ever, EVER fought.  That they were such good friends there were never any raised voices, differences of opinion, sharp tones or words because they were buddies!  Buddies, Buddies BUDDIES! Best, best friends who never got on each other’s nerves.   Well, ran into them a few years later, a couple of kids later and it turned out that Mr. and Mrs “buddies”  were divorced and not as civil and they could be.  She was all about the kids and he drifted into a corner and disappeared and then got distracted and well … you can put the pieces together from all this.  I know I have a rather colourful personality and disposition. Passionate and impatient are a couple words that describe me.  Tom is patient and sometimes almost too patient.  He is quiet with a temper that one sees maybe once a year but it’s there.  He is strong where I am forceful and we boost and rein in each other as needed and over the years the relationship has been molded to suit each stage of our evolution as husband and wife; father and mother.  We are all aware that  some male humans have that basic animal instinct to spread as much seed as possible and some female humans have that other basic instinct that dictates the “okay I got my babies, thank you very much – off you go- to hell with you” thing going on sometimes, but we have to remember we are more evolved than that and that we certainly rise above cheating or neglecting the other partner’s need for attention and love.

I once had a conversation with another woman about being married and I told her if ever my husband and I have one of those “stinger” fights, one of the ways we mend is to remember why we got together in the first place and see if that plus all that we have built together is worth losing over whatever it is we lock horns over.  She told me (and I have heard this before from other women and men) when she got married, it was what everyone she knew was doing and so she did.  Based on this statement, do we conclude that some people are just insecure?  Are some people lemmings? ( Oh look, my friends are jumping over a cliff, so I may as well ).  Why would you marry someone you have nagging questions about in your head?  Of course you can never truly say without a doubt, this is the perfect person for me.  No one is perfect but if you don’t feel love for and from a person, why would you make such a commitment that will make you live a life trapped in misery living with a man who has become a roommate or a marriage that will only end in divorce?  Mind you, if the damn thing is dead, set each other free and end it already!  No one is doing anyone any favors  (especially the kids) by putting up with a marriage.  As a woman raising men, I say it is the responsibility of parents to raise the most respectful and honorable men we could but parents of girls must do the same.  We must raise our children to not settle or succumb to the pressure of what other people are doing.  Guys, even trophy wives loose their shine and get dusty and ladies, please don’t bring children into this world hoping to use them to make better husbands of your men.  If you are with someone you really don’t want to be with adding kids to the mix is like adding oil to fire.

With almost one year to 50, 24 years of being together and 19 years of marriage all I can say is that I get it now.  I get it when I look at my mother and listen to her now that is has been almost 10 years since my father passed away.  She did not have a perfect marriage but she had a solid one filled with happiness, support and love and respect.  I watched them put  a lot of work into it, always remembering to put my sister and me aside from time to time to care for each other.  Mom has done well considering her husband died and left her behind.  I like to think that outside of what we can do for her and give her as daughters and grandchildren, it is the love she had with Dad that keeps her going. Watching her and Dad throughout their marriage has made me realize that I have to treasure my time with Tom. I think marriage should not be something we do.  It is not just some next step.  I have no intention of encouraging my children to marry or have children.  They have to do what is right for them and they have to sort that out on their own.  If they do marry, I hope what we are showing them is a good example as my parents’ marriage was for me.  Our life has been very busy since our children were born like everyone’s but we have made it a point to make time for each other no matter how brief or to some perhaps dull and boring.  I love our long conversations, our walks and our marathon TV days and nights.  I love when we have a meal together, spend time over a coffee and when we occasionally go to the movies.  Ever the optimist, he always says “the best is yet to come” and while I am sometimes afraid of “what if one of us misses it?” I am more fired up with anticipation because I believe he’s right.  As long as we are fortunate enough to be healthy, keep the conversations alive, keep loving and  caring for each other, I think and I hope my marriage won’t end in divorce or won’t end with us living trapped in a marriage that eventually will fizzle out.  I hope (a very long time from now), like my parents, only death will do us part.

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Just Over a Year to 50 … In 2016 Happiness will be the Choice.

Christmas has just gone by and tomorrow a new year begins.  As usual I’m sitting here checking out what is going on with Ryan Seacrest at Time Square in New York, wishing I was there because it looks like quite the good time.  As I watch, I’m thinking about the year I have had; about what I have learned and what I would change and do differently. Perhaps I will try once again to make New Year’s resolutions and perhaps like every year since I was able to understand what a resolution was, they will fade away –  but like my body, my hair and my mind, the way I do things will change yielding both good and poor results and life will go on.  I will make many new mistakes but I think I shall not make old ones.  I will have to be forgiven, I will have to forgive but I will not forget and as usual, I will live and learn with eyes and mind wide open and hope that so too will my sons.

I have been blessed to have all that I have – the good, the bad, the painful, the stressful and the maddening as all of it is a component of who I am. Every emotion, every situation and experience is the fibre of my life and this journey that is the most intriguing story. If life was a book, it would be the most perfect book filled with great mystery with endless twists and turns and around every other corner, a surprise for the main character.  Whether the story be a long one or short, how fortunate we are each day to open our eyes with an opportunity to  see a new episode of “the show”…our show and even on the most mundane of days there is something miraculous that happens with every breath, every sight, every step…most of which we take for granted. But that’s okay because all of us have moments when we stop and realize just how good our life is …because we have all tasted the bitterness.  Yet, as sure as the sun will rise we also know the darkest days are always redeemed by days of light…we just have to pay close attention and we will all see that there is indeed good in everything.

With my 50th birthday just over a year away, I’ve  been settling into the next-phase-of- life Daniella and I love her more than I ever did  between the ages of 25 and 35.  The numbers vary from person to person but we all can recall those flying blind, confusing, career chasing, home building, family life balancing, ever so busy and ever so-tired-from-taking-care-of the-the-babies- you -could-just-puke years between ages of 25 and 35.  After all the growth and knowledge I gained during those years, I find the growth and knowledge that happens between the ages of 40 and 50 pleasant and comforting.  Thanks to my mother, when I was quite young, I learned the importance of being comfortable in my own skin and confident in my choices .  She always said, “If you can’t live with yourself, you can’t be happy living in this world,”.   Over the years, on the days where my confidence was shaken or a difficult decision had to be made, that one sentence of my mother’s sometimes was all I needed to move forward and in the last ten years, more specifically the last three, I made a concerted effort to discover and re-discover the things I wanted to do that filled my soul and simply made me feel good.  Absolutely, Tom and the children and all the things we did together and all the places we visited made me happy and satisfied but when you are juggling raising a family, working whenever you could, raising a kid like Adam, driving kids, encouraging kids, being that shoulder to lean on for your husband, keeping people properly fed and healthy, staying on top of what goes on at school, sports, tutoring, and therapies and funding, it is easy to lose a chunk of who you are and for me I put a part of myself on hold, mostly because when you are a wife and mother sometimes, it’s what one must do.  So for a while, I put that Daniella on hold – the girl who always had time to do the things that made her heart smile  … the girl with the imagination that ran wild with ideas and stories that stretched out the days and now that my boys are older and finding their paths and at work Tom and I are entering that fifth year of business that is a nice somewhat settled place to be, the opportunity to nudge that girl on hold and get her back in action again.

 

With age 50 approaching, I started looking at the way I did the “everyday ” things I thought were in order.  Stupid little things that were a part of my life that had become stale and un-enjoyable. So, I started to re-evaluate them and made changes that changed my life and brought that dormant part of Daniella back to life. It started with the silliest of things like quitting the gym three years ago, to play my sports and to take up yoga which I love and now crave.  But as I moved through the postures, I realized that something else was missing, something that yoga and my sports did not give me so I signed up for adult ballet classes and moved my body in ways it had not in what seemed like a hundred years.  And in spite of the agony of retraining my body to move in a balletic and graceful way, I smile from that first pique at the barre to the final courtesy and applause for the pianist and I am bursting with joy.

Re-vamping the simple things started me on a path of slowly learning to re-vamp other areas of my life.  On a friend’s suggestion, I started this blog.  She knew I always wanted to write novels and articles and  she knew even though I had a taste of being published  a few times, I loved it and hated it equally.  With our sons having autism she and I have a busy and unique lives compared to typical mothers and she understood why I always found it a struggle to find the time to write.  I put a lot of pressure on myself to get manuscripts in on time, always checking and re-checking publishing requirements, tweaking and re-tweaking formats and praying and crossing my fingers and toes that I wouldn’t get a rejection letter. But this blog allowed me to start writing when I could find the time.  With no deadlines or pressure, I could hit the keyboard and say what I had to say.  It was a neat way to write for myself in a format and style that was perfect for me while sharing my thoughts with readers around the world.  Taking her  advice was the best damned decision I made with regards to my writing.  While I feel that it is important to continue to learn how to write well, I  cherish the no pressure outlet that is my blog, the freedom it affords me and the endless and priceless joy it brings me. It is all mine. I don’t have to change my words or phrases to please anyone and for the first time in years, I feel and smell and breathe this  love of words once again.  Perhaps when my boys step out on their own in a few years, I will buckle down in front of the computer and write my novel(s) but until then I shall blog to my heart’s content.

2015 was also a turning point for me as a parent.  Raising a family today is quite different from when my parents raised our family and quite different from when Adam and Logan were children.  I had to learn and learn to change in order to be everything I need to be while I walk beside my boys’ two very different journeys through puberty on their way to manhood.  Raising young people is a fascinating privilege but it can be worrying and draining too.  You have to be firm enough, authoritative enough with the right amount of trust,  gentleness, support and understanding with a generous sense of humour and copious amounts of patience all wrapped up with reams and reams of love.  I have found it more important now to take the time to step away from dealing with them (especially Adam) than I did when they were little because there is a whole lot more to worry about now than when they were small.  Happily, Logan is on the right path so far and hopefully, Adam will find his way back to the peace he used to have before puberty.

Looking at the last 10 years of our life like a rollercoaster ride, our cars were filled with moving back to Ontario and establishing ourselves, raising little boys who are now teenage boys, my father’s illness and ultimate death, my mother’s life without him, new jobs, old jobs, Tom’s parents’ health, our growing businesses, perimenopause, school,religion, work relationships, friendships and Adam’s autism.  And as these very full and heavy cars approached the top of the track Tom and I worked very hard and hoped and prayed that on the long steep  decent that preceded all the twists and turns to come, we could keep everything and everyone securely and safely fastened in the cars.  But like any ride, not everyone survives all the twists, turns and loops and in 2015 some of our shit in the form of friendship, flew out of it’s car and blew away in the wind forever and though I did grieve that loss somewhat, I have come to realize it was for the better.  I’m too busy with my family and my life to waste my time on insignificant, vapid people who simply cannot grow up  and see beyond the superficial bubble they share with their equally defective peers.  This year was the first time I ever had to verbally end a friendship.  There was some sadness, some anger and bitterness over what I felt was a waste of my time and effort and then there was relief followed by gratitude; I was grateful to have had this experience because it re-affirmed what I knew in the first place…I had enough amazing friends not to mention an awesome family that includes my sister, my mom and my dozens of cousins no matter how near or far away they may be.  As this year comes to a close, I embrace the people and things that make me feel good, even closer and I abandon the trite, toxic and the ignorant to the past.

Barry Neil Kaufman wrote a book which he simply called “Happiness is a Choice”.  I remember reading it when I was trying to navigate Adam and our family through the initial stages of his autism.  Everyone chooses whether or not to be happy.  I am guilty of sometimes choosing the thing that can bring me down.  I’m not one for resolutions but in 2016 and beyond, I’m going to try and choose the things that lift me up. If it doesn’t feel good; if it’s inconvenient,  out it goes.   Life is wonderful but its hard and sometimes upsetting and frustrating and sad and it is also damn short so but I’m going to try and make those not so great moments as short lived as I possibly can.  Maybe I’m onto something by choosing to remind myself of all that I’d read in that short simple book by Kaufman.  I’m going to keep on with  finding the simple things that make my heart feel full.  I’m going to try and choose happiness over the nonsense and put myself and my feelings first in certain situations and see where it takes me.  I have a feeling it’s the right choice.  Here’s to choice in 2016 … choices that make you happy.

To Tom and Logan you are my pillars of strength and I love you to the ends of the universe and back. May 2016 bring us all everything we hope for and may the four of us be together, safe and happy for years to come.  And to Adam – all I can say is we love you.  You are talented and you make us proud but you are difficult to live with at times.  You did turn it around somewhat this year but there are still some important lessons you need to learn.   I hope in 2016 you can see the consequences of your actions.  I hope in 2016 you can understand that positive attention is better than negative attention and I hope in 2016 you can bring us all to a place of peace.  Happy New Year, my son.

Lastly, to my dear friends here in Canada and around the world, to my SJC sisters who tether me to who I really am, you mean so much to me… to my sister Reina and my mother and all my relatives wherever you may be, I love you and wish you peace, joy and a happy new year.