My sons are entering what I like to call full adulthood. They are at the stage where they tackle problems on their own and let their father and me know the outcome. This is great to see, because we have all done the work to prepare them to do this and while they are relatively open with us and seek advice occasionally, more and more they’re trying to involve us less and less. It is a natural progression that is both beautiful and slightly unnerving to witness this carving of paths and shaping of lives and as their mother, I have to accept this aspect of their independence. Their father is far better at it than I am.
I check myself before I convey how I feel about them or when I want to give that boost of confidence they might need. The innate desire as their mother is to go back in time when I would hold them in my arms and tell them how special they are and how proud I am of them and end the pep talk with a big hug and a kiss on the cheek — but we’re not there anymore and those moments are what I refer to as fond foundational memories. I know they have dark moments. We all do. If you are alive you have dark days. In a world with so much failing around us, it’s impossible to avoid dark days when you feel like no matter what you have done right, everything is piling onto you. I am from the generation where we were told that we shouldn’t whine,that no load is too heavy to bear, that we had nothing to complain about and to suck it up. Today, we can go to the extreme if we are not careful and we can fail to teach our youth how to cope. Other times we can disable them by jumping in and disarming them of problems by solving it for them, parent-style. We walk a fine line as parents no matter the age of our children and we have to come up with ways to lift them up without patronizing them or disregarding their ideas and opinions.
Last week, one of my sons was working through an issue and we could tell in the initial phone call, he was upset and was making rash decisions and spoke about giving up on something he has been working so hard to achieve. He had done nothing wrong but the circumstance in which he finds himself is unfortunate and out of his control. All he could do is be his best self within the organization in the midst of the disarray and work on ways to get out and transfer to another that would be a better fit. After listening to what he had to say, we gently reminded him that over the years when we opened the door for him to quit, he never did and that he needed to give himself twenty-four hours to cool down and look at it with fresh eyes and not give in to making rash decisions.
The next day we listened to a much calmer young man who reiterated that he was not a quitter and that he was thinking with a clearer head and planned to take things patiently, day by day and continue to do his best until something better came along. We were happy to hear this but not surprised and it was then I recognized I needed to tell him something I hadn’t outrightly ever said to him or his brother in their teen years and this was the perfect time to tell him why I agreed with his plan. I simply said,
“This plan makes sense to me because of how important you are,” I began. “I hope you know that you are important, son,”
His silence indicated he was waiting for my explanation. I told him that beyond his academics, job and his sport; beyond his importance in our family and his circle of friends; he is important to society. I told him I was aware that he knows he is a good human being and I want him to remember that society, our community and any future community in which he finds himself, needs him. The world society needs humans like him. He is important for the survival of our species and our planet because he is a human who wants to do the right thing and knows how to get things done. He is a human filled with compassion and patience and he is a kind, loving and always-willing-to-help human who spreads happiness and joy. And while we are all flawed, he makes us proud parents because he is the best of us plus all the innate goodness he showed up with nineteen years ago.
I imagined what it would feel like to be told how important I was at a young age. If sometone tells me that now, I believe it because I am a parent, a provider,I provide service to clients, I am knowledgeable and I have the means to teach and to help. But when I was young and had nothing tangible to show in order for me to feel important…man, if someone explained why my mere existence and my actions made me important, hmmph, that would have lifted me up beyond the stars. We need to tell people they are important. We need to let them know that we see the role they play in life and why they are vital to our existence.We need to tell them that they don’t need material possessions or titles to be important because they are one unique and special piece of a much greater jigsaw puzzle that is life and we can’t be whole without them. We need to show them how their very presence on the planet is key to the success of many other people and that everything they are a part of would be worse without them. And while everyone is important, our young people are especially so, because they are the ones to take us into the future — a future, I might add, we have severely tarnished — a future they have to fix. We need them. We need them to cope so that they can survive. We can save their lives if we tell them how important they are…tell all of them, not just the ones who appear vulnerable. Tell them all!
You are important. You are needed. You represent change. You represent hope. You are the best of us and we are here to help however and whenever we can because you are important and the world does not work without you.
He is a joker 99% of the time, making all kinds of weird faces but I think I have a handsome dude. I mean that’s what starts it, right? You like the way a person looks according to your taste and then you keep looking at them, taking them in – their gestures, their smile and then you get to know them and if you are lucky, really know them before you decide you want to spend your life with them. I think love has a lot to do with using your head as you follow your heart. It is a combination of so many things including luck and intuition with a little dash of abandon. In addition to the way he looks, what I fell crazy in love with was his mind. We have had, and continue to have, the most fascinating conversations and at times wonderfully solid, prove-our-point intense arguments, usually in bed on a Sunday morning, through the time we walk the dog to the last bite of breakfast. When Adam and Logan got old enough to grab a bowl of cereal and head to the TV and eventually morph into late sleeping teenagers, our Sunday morning conversations became more frequent.
We talk about the strangest things sometimes – random things that usually start with me blurting out questions about stuff that just flies into my mind. There have been conversations about the Hadron Collider, politics; audio; every genre of music, architecture; athletes; history; Einstein, Dalton and Darwin; why plaid was ever a concept, modern medicine; parenting and finances. We’ve talked about people, clothing and cars; art in all its forms; movies; growing up in Trinidad and why our avocados are also called zabocas and why they are so much bigger than the ones in California and Mexico. We’ve talked about growing up in Canada, the TV shows that were unique to where we grew up and the ones we watched along with the rest of the world. Of course we talk about our children, our parents and siblings and what we hope the future will bring. We talk about sports and food and the places we hope we are fortunate to see together and what the other should do, if the day we are to become a single unit, comes sooner than we would like it to. I would like to think every couple talks and have healthy arguments like we do – that every couple finds their spouse interesting after the first 5, 10, 15 years and beyond. Do we get fed up with the stuff of family life? Of course, we do. That’s to be expected because it can really wear you down but you can’t let it grind you down. If I had to pick two things to tell people getting married it would be these –
If you have a fight, and I mean a good old all out, drag down, spit-out-hurtful-crap kinda fight…stop and take a moment to remember why you fell in love in the first place. You should be able to find the answer and realize that it is greater and more powerful than what caused you to fight in the first place. (if it isn’t, then of course, you have a decision to make)
Never let tension drag on. Talk about how you feel no matter how long it takes even into the wee hours of the morning…talk it out and apologize if you are wrong. Umm … I have to throw in one more …must be the Trini in me …
Definitely have make up sex. Have lots of sex … you are married after all. Keep it spicy. Keep it fun. Keep it alive. Make your partner feel special because they are because they have chosen to put up with you and most likely one, two or more children! Marriage is hard work man … may as well have all kinds of fun.
But as usual, I digress. Back to Tom and his mind. As creative as he is, and as avid a reader, Tom enjoys everything numeric. He speaks the language of numbers fluently and loves that with numbers there is always a conclusion, a definitive answer and to him, that makes sense. Numbers don’t scare or confuse him and after a neurofeedback test we all did, it seems that numbers keep him quite calm and happy. This ability is what makes the difference in the way we run our business and when you sit with him, you see how his plans to save, grow and protect your income make sense. Sometimes, if you find numbers as fascinating as he does, the meeting becomes more of an interesting conversation between two similar people and next thing you know, you realize you are fond of the same music, games – the list can go on. However, if you really, really, really are not numerically inclined, but you know you need help and you are open minded and you find yourself meeting with him, you also have the opportunity to sit with me, the translator. I help intimidating jargon that tends to pop up seem more friendly and together Tom and I will make the numbers relatable and user friendly to you so you can leave our office with a sound personalized plan that makes sense. It’s a win/win situation …plus we have a giant jar of Skittles in the office.
This past June, Tom was asked to speak at our company’s Congress. It is a 2 day forum where business ideas and strategies are discussed and we come together as a region to share our thoughts and learn from each other. Tom’s topic was about getting your Financial business up and running. He titled it ” Breaking Ground – Tips and Strategies for your First Five Years of Business”. Adam was busy finishing up the last week of his Grade 10 year but Logan was able to join us as he was on a field trip in Toronto (close to where Congress was being held) to wind up his Grade 8 graduation year at Elementary School. I think it is important for children to understand what their parents do and and how their work impacts people’s lives. I think it is important for them to know just how it is parents manage to keep a roof above everyone’s heads, clothes on their backs and food on the table and I think it is an important part of their education and I want my children to also understand the importance of giving a family member support by their mere presence.
Tom and I knew by 2003, it was time for us to get out of Radio and Television. The industry is not what it used to be and with the internet being as powerful as it is, the industry will continue to have a hard time engaging the current younger generation and future generations. Salaries shrank, many jobs became redundant and the job (whatever was left of it) owned you and each month the hours you put in were not reflected in your pay slip. The lack of creativity and shift to reality television that literally airs everyone’s dirty laundry on international TV is another example of the drastic change in the business and we knew in order be a part of something we were proud of and in order to continue to provide for our children the way we want to, address Adam’s needs and to retire the way we hope to, we had to make the shift to a different career. With my banking background and his flare for numbers and interest in economics, Finance made sense and though we still dabble in creative writing and voice work as paid hobbies, we have never looked back.
One of the beautiful things about training for a career in Broadcasting, is the ability to speak in front of a crowd. We each are capable of doing that without boring people to tears (let’s face it, even if you love it, numbers is a pretty dry topic). To Broadcasting, we attribute our ability to make our presentations interactive and entertaining and our effective use humor – a skill we are developing in both Logan and yes, Adam as we have helped him come out of his shell and deliver speeches to his elementary class back in the day, about topics he loves. Tom’s workshop at Congress was divided into two sessions and each time the room was filled. Blessed with one of those unique, richly textured broadcasting voices that makes you want to listen to him, he was engaging right away and as such, no one was distracted by their phones or whispering to their colleague beside them. He spoke about his first year in the business and how important it is to develop a strong foundation in the early months of advising. He spoke about how to look beyond what you read in a person’s portfolio and looking for ways to help clients, save them money, what were the right questions to ask in a review and how to really listento your client and how to find out about their changing needs and goals. He spoke about why he attributed the success of his first two years to the methods he used and segued into his difficult third year, which to be honest, was mostly because he had to put parenting ahead of work more than usual that year because our Adam not only had to deal with autism but puberty as well. He then moved on to the following years and what he did to right the business ship while helping me keep the family vessel and Adam on track and he said something I will never forget. He said,
” If anyone should have failed in this business, it should have been me. The odds were always against me because I don’t have the easiest of families because of Adam’s autism. We had very little respite in place for Adam at the time and we have always had to keep life as normal as possible for Logan with all that we have to do for his brother. When we decided to start on this new career path, to help me get started, we took the plunge and had Daniella leave her part time job to come work with me. There was no steady spousal salary the family could rely on and we had very little savings we could tap into. In our family, we tend to jump in and swim because sinking is not an option. There are no great excuses for not trying or not performing. As humans, there are many traps that we create for ourselves that we can fall into and use as excuses for failure if we allow ourselves to do so. I knew all I had to do was work, serve my clients in the best way that I could and just keep going. If I had a bad day, I gave myself some time to take a break and have that bad day but the next day I would re-group and get right back at it again because three people at home were relying on me. If you do right by your clients, if you do everything in their best interest, if you are honest and fair and if you have a good support system, you can be successful at this job and anything you put your mind to,”
The last part of his presentation was centred around financial planning for an overlooked group – families with children with special needs. He explained how to use the tools we have as advisors in the most effective ways for these families and how to use them so that families can be tax smart. He spoke about wills, probate, special needs assistance grants and by the way everyone was taking photos of his power point and writing notes, I realized they were learning something new…something that had been right under their noses the whole time but they just did not see it. He was showing managers and “big wigs” how to do it right and looking at this realization on Logan’s face, I could not be more proud. Tom was also teaching his son, how to teach other people. He was showing him how to share his knowledge and showing him how to deliver his ideas in a strong, dynamic and effective way … humph… it was quite the effective “take your kid to work day” session and Logan was honored and proud to be a part of it.
I am quite an internally emotional person. I am not a crier, in fact I come off sometimes as cold and sometimes a little unfeeling as I don’t always show outward emotion and when I speak, I can sometimes be quite blunt and honest but Tom is the only person who can make me tear up by the videos he creates. He ended the session with a couple videos one of which featured Adam to bring home his point. Now throughout the presentation, he had video clips from movies, he had images and clips of various people and situations, that allowed him to prove his point in a light visual way in between his statistics, tables and charts. The videos, which I had seen many times while he was preparing for the presentation came on the screen and they simply showed the value of the life of a person with special needs and why helping their families continue to give them the enriched lives they deserve was so important, and why in our business compassion has to be the first ingredient.
My tears were ones of pride and joy and out of much admiration for him in BOTH of his sessions because Tom does things for the right reasons ALWAYS. He was put on this earth to help people and even though in our situation, we need help ourselves, he always gives and gives and gives – of himself, his money and his time. What was even better was that Logan (who is so much like him) got to see this and got to see that nice guys do finish first … it may take some time but it DOES happen.
Tom got a standing ovation after both sessions. There were lines of advisors wanting to express their gratitude and shake his hand. There were advisors wanting to know more, asking for his business card, wanting a copy of the presentation etc., so Logan and I had to go to work dealing with that. As I think about each moment in those two presentations, my heart gets so full. I was never looking for a husband. I never pictured the white dress or walking down the aisle. I had dated a couple nice guys before Tom and a couple bozos and I had gotten to a self comfort where I was happy to just be. I was capable of taking care of myself and was interested to see how my life would play out. I would say sometimes I am not an easy person to figure out or be with. I have my ideas and opinions and I am proud of who I am and I don’t bend easily so I never thought I would find anyone who would be a great partner, soul mate or husband … but here he is and there he was in a damn fine black suit, “awesoming” all over the place delivering what he knew, quite eloquently in an entertaining and informative way with passion, humor and his great laugh. He was talking about work but he made it human and he made the clients human and he made his peers care and while doing all that, his math was impeccable and the numbers made sense and I could have had him right then and there he was so smart and so damn sexy!
Now, as I drift into the coolness of fall, sip my chai and reflect on the summer and its special moments, I smile at the thought of my math geek and the complete package that he is to me.
He tries to make us happy every day. If there is a problem, we can count on him to fix it and if we need a dose of fun, he will provide it.
He loves life, he loves his parents, his brother and sister, he loves their family, loves my family, he loves our boys and he loves me.
He honors the vows we recited in front of twenty-two people nineteen years ago on one beach and the vows we renewed nine years ago, on another.
My 10 year renewal vows to Tom
Tom’s 10 year vows to me
He can give me a potato chip and make me feel like a queen and the only way I know how to honor him is to put my thoughts into words especially for his sons to read. No one is perfect (my God, I am hopelessly flawed) but we can learn how to treat each other like we are the perfect beings we were created to be.
Every so often, we get an opportunity to take in the essence of someone we love, or someone we call friend. I like to think of those moments as golden moments because it is so easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and lose sight of what is special about a person. And this past summer, the last one in my forties, Logan and I were given one of those golden moments. It was wonderful to “see” Tom again and know how very important, and kind and good and loving he is. In marriage you get to see the struggles and the little annoyances often. They add up and piggy back on the responsibilities of adult life and they spill over in a big sloppy mess onto the relationship and if you are not careful, they cover up the golden moments, those precious lifelines that keep couples in contact with each other at a deeper and more significant level. Watching my widowed mother over the past 8 years, I am more aware of the importance and power of the golden moments because in a month, a day, an hour or a second a person can be out of your life forever and wouldn’t it be tragic if we never took the time to see them for who they were, to see what made you love them or to not take the time to tell them what they meant to you and that you just simply loved them no matter what. My mother and father appreciated and loved each other and as my sister and I got older and moved on, it was apparent that their love and friendship knitted them even closer together. On the 17th of this month (October) they would have been married 52 years and I know there is not a day she doesn’t wish he was here. I know one day Tom or I will find ourselves alone and like my mother, we will survive because like her there will be no regret about not doing what we should have done for each other or not saying the right things to each other.
Who knew this lone wolf would ever have gone down this path of partnership and love with someone who makes the hard times bearable and the good times, spectacular? Marriage is hard, grueling work. Two people from completely different families and backgrounds come together and are supposed to find a way to co-exist for years sometimes even bringing children into the mix. At first glance it is a scale that tilts heavily on the side of failure but we are more sophisticated animals than those in the wild (at least we are supposed to be) and we are responsible for communicating and compromising and being honest and fair and nurturing and most of all loving, so … we persist and some of us fail and maybe some of us try again and sometimes it takes some of us to hit the third or fourth time before it becomes a charm. I remember when I first took Adam to Trinidad, my uncle Kit looked at me, smiled and shook his head and said,
“My goodness, look who’s married with a child. What a thing!”
My family knows me well but I am glad I turned out to be somewhat of a surprise. Surprised myself too but I am ever so grateful things unfolded the way they did, for richer or poorer, sickness and health, till death do us part, Tom James, right?
In May, I took trip to Vancouver with my mother. Neither of us had been there before and considering she is 76 and retired, she’s healthy and has the time to spare and I could make it happen so off we went. We did all we could in four rainy days and I am glad she is a trooper because we could have easily been sidetracked and stuck indoors with the constant down-pouring. Armed with our umbrellas (like everyone in Vancouver) and raincoats, we got to Stanley Park, to Gastown, to the Art Gallery, the Olympic torch at Canada place, the harbour, The Classical Chinese Gardens … we crammed everything we could into our time together including catching up with my cousin, Natasha, whom we don’t get to see very often.
I live about an hour and 15 minutes away from my mother and sister, so anytime I can spend with them … with her …has to be planned and is very valuable to me. Like anyone with a family, there are many things about our loved ones that make us sigh, or shake our head and roll our eyes but the love we have for each other is fierce and glues together the fragments of our frustrations with each other to keep us whole. My mother is a unique character. She is very much the verbal martyr and tends to be very defensive. She is stubborn, does not always pay attention and talks while you are talking. She over-packs because of the “you never know” and “just in case” scenarios she has in her head and she just does not understand how I travel so light and how nonchalant I am about not having an oversupply of band aids in my purse or sample sizes of Advil, Tylenol, Gravol and Immodium.
“Why put yourself in a situation where you would have to buy these things?” she would ask, astonished.
“Because on every block there is a pharmacy and all these things are like 2 to 3 bucks”, I would reply, casually, sometimes cheekily.
I hate bulk. I hate having excess shit and as annoyed as she is about my empty handbag, I am annoyed by her incredibly overstuffed one that she has to dig into every five minutes. Still, she is my mother and I do have a lot of her in me, although to toot my own horn, with help over the years from being married to Tom, I have it under control. From Lumlin (her Chinese name), I got my sense of organization. Rare are the occasions when I leave something to the last minute. When I travel, I am packed about a week ahead of time because a week before that, I made certain everything that needs to come with us was clean and pressed. I get my need for order from her as well. I like and have to have a clean kitchen. If you want me to cook, the kitchen has got to be clean and tidy and I insist on a clean bathroom and made beds. After a long day at work, or a long day on the road, my eyes need to fall on certain things that are ordered and neat so that my brain does not go into visual overload (hmm…a little Adam-like I suppose). Unlike my mother, I can leave the dishes for later if I want to leave and go do something fun on a nice day. I have never let the traits I have, distract me from having a good time and I am okay leaving things for later when I have something else to do. My mother also passed onto me some very old school lessons in etiquette which I am proud to say I have been able to pass onto my sons. They know which fork to start with first when we are out for a meal; know when they need to wear a tie and dress shoes, shirt and pants and when to dress down. They often remember to stand when a woman joins the table and they open and hold the door in public and are polite with their actions and words. In a world so adamant about not doing things the way our parents did when it comes to raising our children, I am proud to say (while I understand why some people feel their parent’s way is archaic), I raised Adam and Logan pretty much the way my mother and father raised my sister and me and I am not sorry I did.
Like my mother, I adore my children and would kill for them as any parent would but I also believe there is a time and place for them and that they should not always be the centre of attention. I spend a lot of time with my boys to the point where, as they separate themselves from me as they get older, I am not sad to think that one day they will move on with their own lives, on their own path – I am actually proud that they are moving on and I am happy for Tom and me because it means that our uninterrupted time together is approaching. Children are wonderful but they can be draining if we let them be. Like my mother towards us , I have no guilt when it comes to Adam and Logan but respect for the men I am watching them become. I also have bought into her take on marriage, considering she had 43 great years with my father. My mother always made time for Dad. She was his greatest listener, advisor, friend and love. That time when they were sitting together, was their time and unless we were bleeding or near death, we NEVER interrupted them. Neither one of them contradicted the other when it came to the rules and expectations of our family and our home and the other thing that has stuck in my mind about their marriage was trust. When they were together, nothing could phase them – not money, not friends, not mauvais langue, not sickness, not death. I feel that way about my own marriage. I feel that with Tom in my corner, there is nothing that can harm me. We have this saying between us “It’s you and me. It’s always been you and me and we’re still here”.
From Lumlin, I have inherited a strong sense of loyalty. When I am your friend, I am a good one, to the point of being taken for granted sometimes and then if it gets past a certain level of tolerance, I end the friendship. Like her, I may be an ex-pat but I am a “Trini to de bone” because as we say in Trinidad, “one must never damn the bridge they cross”. When you move away from the land of your birth, it is imperative to stay true to your roots to help you meander through the culture you have chosen or rather, have suddenly found yourself. Like her, I feel one of my biggest obligations to my children is to make them confident in themselves and to teach them that they can do anything if they work hard. Like her, I am teaching them to dream and to reach and to know that even if they fall, they won’t fall far and like her, I have learned to give them these skills even on the days when I don’t feel 100% confident in myself. Mom raised me to be accountable for myself and my actions. She trusted me to do the right things and for the most part I did because I could always hear her voice whenever I was in a tricky situation, guiding me to make the right choices. She had a confidence in me that I never wanted to betray or let down and I see that in both my sons. They know that I know I gave them the right tools that they need for society and I know they work very hard to do the right thing. That being said, I have inherited a not so sweet side from my mother as well. Mine I think is a little darker than hers, lol, but it is in check. Let’s face it, my mother, like everyone on the planet has her “bad ways” too. My girl ain’t a perfect angel by any means. She can sting you with words when she’s ready and because I learned by observation, so can I and so can my sister but one discovers how to rein that shit in and release only when necessary – and in this world we live in where selfishness (most times) trumps selflessness and when people are just downright asinine, you might get a little venom from our direction … oops.
These skills (hopefully only the good ones, right? lol) my mother gave to me, are the skills I am giving to Adam and Logan because they need to be strong to face every single day in this world. They need to be strong to handle the dark times life will throw their way and I know that because I have lived through some dark days and I’m still here, in one piece, dependent on nothing more than my own will power because I was not raised to be weak or give up but rather raised to keep getting up and keep trying and keep moving on to the next day, next thing, next opportunity … just like my mom.
This trip gave me a chance to see Mummy. To see what makes her, her now and what has changed about her as she has gotten older. Her tech confidence isn’t what it used to be since she stopped working and she likes to lean on us for the simplest things regarding the computer and her phone, but we remain patient and we teach her and she comes around as we know she can. I think she has just decided there are some things she does not want to give too much of her attention to anymore and that is okay. She is still a busy body around the house, always cooking something (you never leave her home without a container of something tasty) or she is always cleaning something and though she does not have to, I understand the need to feel useful, so we let her (within reason – moving things in our house to suit her short stature does not work when the shortest person living here is 5’7″ and the tallest is 6’2″).
Mummy and I are extremely different. We are not besties. We are mother and daughter. I call her to chat and occasionally for advice or just a listening ear (as long as she does not talk over top of me lol) and we go places together. We cook together when we can, drive around together when we can and it’s nice. It’s comfortable. There are times I feel sorry that her all time love has passed away and I get frustrated when we talk about things Dad might have done that made me shake my head, and she jumps all over me defending him – but then I know it is her grief that’s talking. As an adult, I lost a father but she lost the man she loved and I have no idea how she feels, so now, we only reminisce about good things and that is fine because that is what she needs. There are things I prefer not to discuss with Mom because a) sometimes I don’t want her to worry about my stuff at her stage in life, and b) there is a strong generational difference of opinion regarding some things but I respect where she is coming from although I don’t think she respects where I’m coming from sometimes – oh well – old dogs, new tricks. She speaks like a 76 year old and is often politically incorrect – again – old dog, new tricks – and those are the times when she talks like she knows all about the topic and is right as right can be – so I take her comments with a pinch of salt, right? But the bottom line is, she is my mother and she has her moments of wisdom when she speaks to me from her heart. I admire the strong faith she has that buttresses my wavering one and when I am in doubt, when I need support; a confidence boost; when I worry about something; when I am faced with a tough decision, when I need prayer, she is there. I can count on her to always be there and I hope when she is gone, I can close my eyes and hear her voice and hear what she would have said to me so that I can right myself. She gave me the strength that so many admire and some, deep down inside themselves hate about me all at once. She told me from the moment I could understand words, that I was beautiful on the outside and exquisite on the inside. She is the reason I have so much compassion and the reason I have no fear of the stuff of life. There are things that make me scared but nothing that scares me enough to quit. She is me. I am her, I am Dad. I already see myself in my children. I know like me, their mother frustrates the hell out of them and I see them roll their eyes and I notice when my opinions bounce off of them because they are too strong. I might see myself as a watered down version of my 5 foot maybe 2 inch powerhouse mother but to my children, I am her.
I can do a better job of being a daughter – we can all be better adult children to our adult parents. If you think you are a perfect adult child, you are a hypocrite. If your adult parent does not make you sigh and shake your head, you are a hypocrite. If you think you are drastically different from your parents, you are in denial – wake up. And if you think you do things better as a parent than your own parents did because you have read some new age bull-shit parenting books, you’re a damn fool. If you are lucky to have one or both of your folks around, put your arms around them and be thankful for them and in some way show them how much you appreciate them and all they did for you. If your folks were a disaster and they messed you up royally, find a way to forgive them, if you can, for your own salvation and sanity. Forgive and free your soul. Remember, you are going to be an adult parent to adult children before you know it. What treatment would you want from your adult son or daughter?
So … thank you Mom, for irritating me, harping on me from the time I could talk, showing me how to do everything from run a house, mix a drink for your guests from the time I was 4, to holding a job, and being amazing at the best job, in a cynical world that views being a good wife, mother and life partner as an underachievement, even though we all know that the problem with the world is that work takes way too much precedence over family and many people have no choice but to let it. Thank you, Mom for banning me, for vexing me; punishing me; kissing me and hugging me; thank you for telling me when I was being an ass and telling me when I was wonderful. Thanks for the confidence and bravery you instilled in me and the pride I see in your eyes when you look at me and mine. Thank you for what you still are able to do for me. You drive me crazy and you make me laugh. Thanks for coming on this trip with me and being so game to do whatever came up next. That was very cool of you and I will never forget that. Thank you for still ever so subtly showing me the way. I am you in so many ways and you know what? Nothin’ wrong with that at all.
I’ve been having a little difficulty getting into the Christmas spirit this year. I thought it was because of the hectic nature of the last three weeks with deadlines at work, moving offices, dealing with stuff at school with the kids and of course running the household, but I’m no stranger to busy so I knew it had to be something more and as I started writing this I started to uncover why my mood has been a little less festive than usual.
I have always loved Christmas. I loved the Santa, North Pole, reindeer fantasy and magic of it as a child and was so grateful to be able to create that wonder for my own children. I love the joy and cheeriness of people and the extra effort they make to be kinder and more generous and loving and I have always felt that Christmas gives many of us a chance to perhaps redeem ourselves, give of ourselves and to have a chance to end the year in a positive and uplifting way so we can start the New Year with a clean, fresh slate. Having been raised Catholic, I also cherish the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ.
The birth of the man who walked the earth advocating a way of life so simple, it is hard to understand why we have made it so complex and why we have let greed, competition and hatred turn a simple life concept based on love into this unattainable goal of peace and unity.
I have always loved Christmas, be it green and hot or white and snowy, it has and always will be my favourite time of year. Like childhood, I feel that Christmas is too short, so my benchmark for the start of my Christmas season is the American Thanksgiving holiday. To me, it is the perfect time to start thinking of putting up the tree and decorating the house to create that warm, inviting, family feeling that is so comforting to me and mine. It is a perfect time to start planning when to host or visit family and a perfect time start thinking of that special little gift for each person in my life and thinking of ways (with the boys) to make someone’s life in our midst a little better. It is a perfect time to start my personal countdown to at least three days when I am surrounded by family, relaxing in the comfort of our home without having any work, school or extra curricular commitments to interrupt our time together.
I have always loved Christmas with all its sights, sounds and smells. I close my eyes and can smell the warm smokiness of Mom’s ham, the aroma of the seasonings she used to prepare the turkey wafting throughout our flat, and the hearty scent of the stuffing and pastelles that confirmed it was Christmas chez Barsotti. I remember Daddy squeezing his eyes shut in the delight of opening the jars and having the tangy, garlic, mouthwatering smell of uncle Manny’s, Aunty Barbara’s and the Abreu’s garlic pork hitting him in the face, and year after year savoring the delicacy, unable to decide which sample was the best. I also will never forget the sweet, fruity, rummy smell of every aunty’s black cake and if I keep my eyes shut long enough I can taste it all too…the pastelles, the sorrel, the ginger beer
… because with my eyes closed I never left Trinidad, I am still a child and everyone …everyone who is supposed to be there, is there.
That’s it you know…that’s why I am having a harder time getting into the Christmas spirit this time around. I find myself at almost one year to fifty realizing just how many of us are gone. During all these years spent creating Christmas memories with my husband and children, there was an unconscious comfort knowing everyone who made my Christmas memories special were still around. It’s like the pieces of the puzzle that created my Christmas were still in place keeping my foundation solid so that even though I was far away creating new memories with my own family, the essence of who I was and who I am was still there.
I have always loved Christmas carols and songs that bring back so many wonderful childhood memories that involved the significant parts of the puzzle of my foundation that are missing now. I don’t know how much it has changed, but when I was younger and lived in Trinidad, Christmas seemed to last longer than the ones I have experienced while living abroad. I was always dancing in some end of term Christmas pageant, singing at the hospital, hospice, old folks home or at the big Creche at the St Ann’s Gardens and of course the celebration of Midnight Mass all of which to me was the best build up to the greatest time of my year.
I remember my mother wrapping presents for her sisters and brothers and our dozens of cousins and how excited Reina and I were to go with Dad, and deliver them to their homes and having a little visit at each stop. I remember admiring each of my aunts trees, each decorated with a similar Yee Foon style with a flash of their own flare. Each year on Christmas Eve, Daddy’s brother, Uncle Frank would bring our cousin Natasha over for a visit. When we were little we played from the time she arrived until she left and as we got older we moved around less while our mouths moved more as we chatted endlessly about things and people at our school and what we hoped we would get for Christmas.
I have always loved the childhood memory of the pride people took in readying their homes for the arrival of Baby Jesus. You see, I grew up in the Caribbean at a time when people would sometimes use Christmas as the perfect time of year to splash some paint on their walls, maybe sew and hang new curtains and freshen up their place a little bit. I grew up there in a time when people, no matter how much or little they had, took pride in a clean, inviting presentation of their home and always had some kind of refreshment to offer folks who stopped by to wish them all the best for the season. As the end of November approached, you could hear Christmas music on the radio, never mind we were sweating in the heat of the sun as Bing Crosby belted out how much he was dreaming of a white Christmas … and as my mother readied her ham, pastelles her turkey, ginger beer and her sorrel, she swayed her hips and shuffled about out kitchen to the merry notes plucked on the quatros and guitars that was our Parang. I don’t think I know anyone who grew up with me who don’t know at least 10 Christmas songs and carols word for word. What was even more astounding was whether we understood them or not we all sang along to popular Parang songs in perfectly pronounced Spanish.
And even after I outgrew Santa Claus, Christmas Eve through Boxing day was the crescendo of my Christmas season. To me, there was so much goodness in the atmosphere I couldn’t help but be happy…so happy I could burst and I will be forever grateful that I was blessed to have been born and had the opportunity to grow up for 20 years in a place where life, cultural events and holidays were celebrated by all regardless of ethnicity or creed or race. There we all were, on a hot sunny island, the pieces of the foundation of my childhood memories – my parents, my aunts, uncles and cousins and dear and cherished family friends dancing and eating and celebrating in somebody’s house every weekend as Christmas approached.
Aunty Meiling and Uncle Mike were always ready to host a party. At Aunty Moye’s and Uncle Kit Sang’s there was always the most delicious food and a lot of jokes and laughter. At Aunty Jean’s and Uncle Joe’s it was always spic and span, beautifully decorated and there was always some ditty or treat you never tried before and, of course, Uncle Joe’s Punch de Creme that he was always willing to share. Aunty Yvonne was always one for for her kind words and her deeply felt well-wishes for us all and I will forever have the carefully crafted, beautifully hand made pieces, family artists Uncle Archie and Aunty Pat would give to our family every year. I will never forget my parents’ dear family friends, Nicky and Jean Inniss who had live paranderos and a steel band at their home where life and holidays were to be celebrated by all.
I will always fondly remember the fantastic Christmas floral arrangements and the spectacular decorating job my mother’s friend Aunty Barbara would create not just in her own home or for her friends but in the shopping malls and business places alike, lending her signature style to an entire island. I will never forget my sweet Grandad who took us to church and walked everywhere and took the most time to carefully ponder what would be the most mentally stimulating and interesting presents to give Natasha, Reina and me. To this day, I carefully open and turn the slightly yellowed pages of the English grammar books, the dictionary and special interest books he gave to me all those years ago, even if just to read his handwritten inspiring note to me and to touch something he once held. I will forever remember Mrs. Sylvia Hunt, who for years, shared her culinary prowess with our tiny twin island nation on television. Sylvia became a family friend and all I have left of her are two not very flashy and simply laid out, stained-by-ingredients-over-the-years cookbooks that guided my hands as I fought my way through certain local recipes so I could add my heritage to my boys’ palette.
Now, almost one year to fifty, I look back on those days with pride and joy but tonight I am weepy as I write and recall. You see, short of Mom, Aunty Meiling, Uncle Mike, Aunty Moye, a few other aunts and uncles and the cousins many of these dear people are gone and I feel sometimes that part of me is gone too and because I live away from the land of my birth, the memories I am making now with my family are wonderful but so very different and alas, I find my Christmases now, a little shorter and colder and I am not talking about the weather. While I know, like anywhere else, Trinidad has changed, I can tell by posts on line by my family and friends, the atmosphere is pretty much the same.
I wish Christmas everywhere was less commercial. While it’s fun to shop and get special gifts for our family and friends, it has become out of control because we let ourselves be controlled by the things we see that we feel we must have. Everyone is too busy to get together and just sit and spend time chatting during the holidays. And while presents and prices have gotten out of hand, we like to shove that politically correct stick in the spoke of the Christmas wheel that chastises people for saying Merry Christmas. You know what, as a Christian, I have said nothing as non-believers and non-Christians piggy back on the celebration of the birth of Christ just to take advantage of retail sales and receive presents. They have no clue that the exchange of gifts is the commemoration of the wise men and shepherds bringing gifts to the baby Jesus – they just know guy in a red suit, retail frenzy, exorbitant costs and Boxing Day sales. More, more, more. Me, me, me. I also really wish those “wannabe non-offenders” would stop offending me by trying to tell me I can’t say “Merry Christmas”. If I say “Merry Christmas” to you and it doesn’t apply, it’s okay and easier to nod and either say “thank you” or “same to you”. “If someone came up to me and said “Hey, happy Kwanzaa” I’d be all, “Right back at ya. Happy Kwanzaa,” So much easier than making much ado about absolutely NOTHING. I wish people could just stop for a moment and dial Christmas back to a time when it was less about stuff and sales and bargains and political correctness and more about friends and family being together. I wish schools could call a Christmas pageant, a Christmas pageant and that kids could sing carols about the birth of Christ without a lot of fuss from tightly wound-tightly-over-nothing adults in control. Wow…that was a rant in the middle of a heartfelt piece….sorry I digress. Re focus, Daniella.
I have always admired and respected the effort my parents made to give us the best childhood and the most special Christmases they could. I remember while doing their best to give us better than they had, they taught Reina and me what the true meaning of Christmas was. One of my earliest Christmas memories was of Daddy taking us and several toys to the orphanage to distribute to the children there. We spent time making meals for the homeless and with our Dad and with our school we spent time with the elderly who very often had no family, We were taught the importance of giving and remembering that it only took a minute to think of people who were poor, ill or lonely and another minute to share what we had with them and spread joy. Reina and I did receive a lot but we knew it was important to our parents for us to give even more and it is something I have continued with my sons because as their mother, I have an obligation to put two good and decent people on the planet.
I think in the days to come I will get into the spirit of the season. At this very moment, my heart aches because I am missing those who are gone and I am missing being able to jump in the car and go to my cousins. At this very moment I want to be downstairs in the courtyard of the Inniss’ home in Santa Cruz, dancing with our friends and family to sweet parang. I want to sit and watch Aunty Moye in the kitchen and I want to go by Uncle Joe and pick up a bottle or two of his delicious and potent Punch deCreme.
I want to see Aunty Yvonne’s tree with the big fat gold tinsel wrapped around it and I want to watch from the corridor in Aunty Meiling’s and Uncle Mike’s Valsayn home, at the aunts chatting and fussing in the kitchen while the uncles clink their scotch glasses toasting the season then talking about cricket and politics and whatever else tickling their their fancy. I want to be dressed in my Christmas nightie and be fascinated by that strange, little, yellow Chinese lantern bulb on that old string of lights Mom would string on our tree. I want back the Christmas of my youth and I want all those who have died to be alive and those who are far away to be near again but I can’t have that.
What I do have though, is confirmation from Logan that I have given and continue to give him and Adam their own special memories of Christmas. He said he and Adam also have ornaments on our tree they fixate on.
Ornaments that remind them of special events and special presents they’ve received. He remembers helping in the parades on those cold nights when his father and I worked for the local radio station. He remembers learning why filling the special shoe boxes with crayons and paper and pencils to send to kids in less fortunate nations was important and he remembers the food drives I helped them do for those threatened by hunger in our community. He looks forward to Christmas Mass with us and he has told me so much about what he remembers that I am able to take solace in my effort to give them similar experiences to mine at Christmas. I hope to be able to share many more Christmases with my three men, my mother, my sister and her family and my husband’s family and create many memorable moments. But for now, I am going to take the time I need to miss those far away from me and those who have died. This is the phase of life I have fo
und myself in now… after all 50 is less than a year away. But as I drink my eggnog and pretend it is Uncle Joe’s Punch de Creme, I toast all the pieces of the puzzle of my foundation who live miles away and I remember with love, honour and respect, my sweet father and his brother, my grandparents and aunts, uncles and friends who have left this earth. With my cousins and my friends who are the children of those who have passed, I will share a bit of sadness and grief but I know who we are is a direct result of what they gave to us and they along with all these wonderful memories will not be forgotten.This jumbled mess of words is dedicated to all my friends and family far away with a special dedication to those of us living without our loved ones – Gabrielle and Dominique, Janine and Ryan, Sui Yen and Meiling, Kim and Sue, Nicole and Jo Anne, my sister Reina, my mother Angela, my aunt and God Mother Ruth, Sean and Barry, Richard, Brian, Ian and Leslie. And to my cousins aunt and uncle who I really need to make a better effort to see – Susie, Marcus, Sharlene Michael Jr. and Sarah, Meiling and Michael Sr. – Merry Christmas to you and a Happy New Year. May you be wrapped in peace and love for all your days to come ~ Danie.
It is no secret that I have a sour taste in my mouth when it comes to puberty especially when it is combined with autism. The autism I get because we’ve lived with it for 13 years … its the hormones and the attitude and the defiance that comes along with a youngster entering adulthood presents to you when trying to define and assert himself COMBINED with the challenges of autism that I absolutely despise. Don’t get me wrong, I love my children but damn it if there are days when I just want to ram my head into a wall when the teen stink rears it’s ugly head in this house. Puberty hit with Adam HARD and if there was a year this family was going to go belly up in every sense, 2014 was it! But, we survived. Tom and I (as much as I could anyway) kept our heads down, worked the business with the some of the most “interesting” clients. No amount of good sense made sense to them and keeping our young business alive was an uphill battle. Add to that a son with autism in puberty who was angry more than not and a younger son just tugging at our heart strings as he stepped up in any way he could to help us deal with his brother. 2014 was the year things could have gone either way. We could have given up on our livelihood or we could have given up on Adam but we didn’t. They were both our babies and we couldn’t walk away from a business or a kid we believed in. We just kept going; working the business and working our hardest to put the right things in place to save Adam from himself and damn it, we did it!
2015 started off with us getting some wonderful clients who really understood what we could do to make their lives better. It was like the heavens opened up and sent us people who needed our advice and who were willing to listen and learn and realize that we had their best interest at heart. Thank you God, thank you universe, thank you good fortune. (how Alanis Morissette of me). Then, if that wasn’t uplifting enough, at the end of January in the heart of winter we along with Tom’s sister Suzanne, his brother Martin and His wife Christa and their little ones, were off to North Bay to see Adam who made it to the Special Olympic Winter Provincial games in spite of the puberty fiasco of 2014. You have to appreciate that we were so unable to get through to Adam, that getting him to these games was my benchmark, my taste of victory for him and a sign of his own ability to get out of the funk he was in. I didn’t give a shit if he placed. I just wanted to get him to North Bay, have him compete without incident and have an amazing experience and I just wasn’t sure if he or we could turn things around for him fast enough. Well wouldn’t you know the little bugger (or rather the 6 ft bugger) had a medal sweep. Four events, four medals – 1 gold and 3 silver. Watching him on the podium, watching him having fun at the loudest ever opening and closing ceremonies, watching him dance and rock out to the live band at the after party, eat with his team mates and learn that he shared a room peacefully without incident with his team mate and listen to his coaches without defiance was the first indication that we had made it. We and he survived the bullshit combination of puberty and autism. The plan was in place, the respite family couldn’t be more perfect, the treatment was working and he was beginning to understand that we would never be intimidated by his behavior nor would we allow disrespect in our home. He knew we loved him too much to let him self destruct and we could see that he was beginning to understand that while we were all in favour of him becoming his own person, he had to do so while learning to respect authority and having consideration for others.
And then there was Tom. You never know why you meet a person until you see how they are in the most trying of times. It is in these times that you realize that just maybe there is a divine plan for your life and the person you are with, is supposed to be in your life. Tom is an old school man. You know, the ones who provide, protect and fix the broken stuff. The ones who make you feel that everything is going to be alright even when he barely believes it himself. The one who makes you feel safe. Tom had the hardest business year mostly because of the distraction that was Adam in 2014 but he never whined about it and he never softened or wilted under pressure. He got up every day, kissed me good morning, walked the dog and helped me get the boys to school (mornings were particularly challenging with Adam who did NOT want to go to school), dressed and went to work, head held high even on the days he wanted to just crumble and curl up in bed. He mostly worked alone as he gave me months of time off from the office to sort out the Adam stuff. He came home to help with dinner and he listened to me bitch and complain about the obstacles in my way. He tried to keep me calm (which is NOT easy) and pointed out anything positive he could find in the worst of “an Adam situation”. He made Logan’s life as uplifting and normal as possible in a tumultuous year and he implicitly trusted whatever I did to try to get Adam on the right path. Most of all, even on the days I wouldn’t give him the courtesy of a smile, he tried to make our lives fun. In a situation where many people would just walk away, Tom stood strong and he went to work and he paid the bills and made sure whatever needed to happen with Adam was financially handled. He may not be the mushiest of men, nor the most vocal when it comes to affairs of the heart but his love pours out in his role as husband and father and to me that is what men are supposed to be – solid, fearless even when they are scared, resilient and reliable. Now that I think about it, it’s kinda sexy too.
This month, and more importantly this week was golden for Tom and therefore for me as well. God was good, the universe was set up in the right way and most of all, the hard, hard work and dedication to giving people the service and care they deserve yielded the results we had hoped for. Integrity, honesty and fairness paid off and I am happy that our boys were watching as things on the business front unfolded. This was a good week. This was a week that stood on a foundation built on a love I never knew I would experience, persistence, faith and 4 souls who refused to quit. We had help from a very special family along the way, and the support of our immediate family and close friends as well and as I write this I realize just how truly blessed we are. I suppose in the worst of times, blessings come in all forms and if you aren’t careful, you could miss them as it is easy to be blinded by the darkness of hardship. Life is short and it is a roller coaster and for what it’s worth, I’d do it all again with the same triumphs and problems.
My hope for you is that you live your life in love and in hope and with faith that being at the lowest of lows only means that the only way to go from there is up. Have your partner’s back knowing that facing hardship together will help you conquer it. Surround yourself with people you can really count on and be comfortable with the fact that it will usually be only a few. Rid yourselves of the people and things and places that weigh you down and learn from every experience then extend yourself to someone in need. To think that this is the last of our hard times would be naive. It IS life, after all! But, we are in a long awaited, well deserved and beautiful oasis right now. My soul is soaring. My heart is full …overflowing actually, with happiness and long awaited peace after a difficult year. I know myself better now and my head is clear and it is with great joy I embrace the opportunity my family has to really…finally … breathe.