Those whom the gods wish to drive insane, they first send on road trips

Another disadvantage of being almost 50 was recently brought home to me.  Along with muscle tone and the ability to drink until 4:00 a.m. and still get up for work, it would appear certain driving skills also diminish with age.  I’m still a good driver, but for a couple of years now finding my way from point A to B without incident has been getting more difficult.  Since I’m planning a life of travel after retirement, this is worrisome.  How can I expect to hike from Dublin to Dingle if I can’t find my way to a city an hour away from my house?

I get incredibly stressed when driving to new places now.  The smallest conversation with anyone in the car at the exact wrong time can distract me enough to miss my exit.  Then I freak out because I don’t know how to get back to where I was going.  So this year I purchased a GPS to put an end to the problem.  Suffice to say, it hasn’t been the godsend I expected it to be.

You know those stories you read about people who died because they trustingly followed their GPS until they were stuck in the middle of nowhere?  It’s not as bizarre a turn of events as one would suppose. I took my daughter, Madeline, to the open house at Waterloo University this past weekend, which is about an hour and twenty minutes west of Oakville.  I didn’t start the GPS right away because I figured I wouldn’t need it until I got near Waterloo. Actually, I got lost before I even left town.

Madeline’s first tour was scheduled for 12:30 p.m., so we left at 10:00 a.m. – estimated ETA, 11:30.  Driving up a main Oakville artery, I saw the 401 East exit and passed it, watching expectantly for the 401 West sign to make an appearance, which should have occurred within the next 30 seconds.  I saw nothing.  After driving for almost 2 kilometers I realized I was in cow country.  After another half kilometer of growing unease, I pulled into a car lot to ask for directions and was told the 401 West exit was 2 kilometers behind me. So back we went and there was the 401 West exit, clear as day.  I have no idea how I missed the sign on the other side of the road but I’m going with “it was blocked by some construction signs that distracted me.”

Finally on our way after our 20 minute detour, I was fine until we got to Waterloo (after the 401 snafu I had turned the GPS on).  However, there is a point, after GPS gal tells you to “take exit 8”, where the road splits and #8 continues to the right, and the signs indicate that the left lane is for “King Street downtown.”  It was at this juncture that the GPS barked, “stay left on Highway 8.”  I panicked as I watched the signs approaching, clearly stating #8 was on the right, going 110 clicks and running out of time to make a decision.  I finally decided to believe that the “8” was correct but the “left” was wrong and took the #8 exit.  Before I was halfway through the ramp curve, GPS lady said “recalculating…”  Therein followed ten minutes of continuous direction that had me turning left and right on numerous narrow, 60 year old side streets until we met up with…King Street. Headed downtown.  I drove down King, profoundly wishing it was possible to strangle an inanimate object.

The GPS did manage to get us to the university, where its usefulness ended for the time being. I then discovered that manmade signs are no less fallible than the GPS programming.  There was a huge, mostly empty parking lot to the left, but signs saying “event parking” to the right.  After following the signs to the right we drove through campus only to find ourselves in (1) a permit only parking lot, (2) a dead end construction road and (3) a dead end loading zone. After the third misdirection I threw the van into reverse with profane energy, during which my daughter kept wisely silent.

We finally made our way back to a city street and drove around in a square, deducing that eventually we would emerge once again on University Avenue, which we did.  This time I turned left into the parking lot, followed those “event parking” signs down a road that appeared to curve right into the woods and made me so nervous I pulled a U-y and finally found the deserted lot, with the barriers up and no signs about event parking anywhere.  I decided a parking ticket would be less hassle than trying to figure out all these signs and parked.

All this driving around in circles made Madeline late for her residence tour, but fortunately they were running so many it didn’t really matter.  Afterwards, my difficulty with reading the campus map made us late for the first lecture.  Madeline had trouble reading it as well – apparently map dyslexia is hereditary.  By the end of the day, however, we had walked through the same area four times and were beginning to recognize our surroundings – just in time for the event to end. Now we had to find our way back to the car.

The ride home was quiet and uneventful, because in that direction I recognize all the signs and know where I’m going.  It’s a good thing I do, because the GPS failed to recognize that Highway 8 East automatically turns into the 401.  No exit exists, so the machine was unnaturally silent all the way to Oakville, wherein it suddenly piped up again, advising me to get off the highway prematurely and take a route home that would have added fifteen minutes to our trip.

It may be my dreams of driving all over Canada are going to need an adjustment. I had been planning to either buy a small camper or outfit my minivan into something I can sleep in.  But perhaps, in light of recent events, I should replace those ideas with something more suited to my skill set.  Like a bus schedule.

Looks hard to miss, doesn't it
Looks hard to miss, doesn’t it

Age is just a number – except when it’s a really big one

Another holiday season is over and a new year has begun. In 18 days I am turning 48 and all I can say is…someone, somewhere, must have made a serious clerical error.

48 – already? Birthdays are now less something to anticipate and more a milestone to be regarded with ever-increasing anxiety and panic. When my mom was 48 I was 26, an employed university graduate and engaged. My youngest child is currently 11 – when she is 26, I will be…oh my god…SIXTY-THREE.

It’s disconcerting to realize I am almost 50 years old and other than three replications of my DNA eating me out of house and home, I have almost nothing to show for my sojourn on this earth. Raising the kids is fun (did I say that out loud?) but these days I have little else to give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I own nothing, have built nothing, and have created nothing beyond my embryonic writing forays.

I spend my days at a tedious job offering no fulfilment whatsoever and my evenings taking care of my family, reading or watching TV. I am by nature a solitary loner who regards others’ attempts to engage me with annoyance and mild suspicion, so the fact that I rarely go out or talk to other humans doesn’t really bother me. My only friend and I largely communicate through an ongoing Words With Friends game – I haven’t seen her in person in three years. Yet it is disconcerting to realize that if I died tomorrow, the only evidence of my death would be the lack of activity on my Facebook page and an empty chair at my desk that would be filled with another breathing sack of mostly water within a week. Statistically speaking, I likely have at least another productive 20 years left but I’m already feeling a burning desire to leave some tangible evidence of my existence behind. A published book; perhaps a star named after me; heck, even a clay handprint with my name on it would do at this point. Anything that says “I was here” before I’m not.

Enter the mid-life crisis, a state of being that occurs when you are suddenly hit with the hammer blow of realization that you are going to die; that you are now old enough (technically) to die any day. The total productive years you have remaining are now less than the years you’ve already lived. This sends some people into a tailspin of frenzied, radical life change that non-sufferers often view with disdain, as if they aren’t mature enough to control some urge of temporary insanity. They don’t realize the souls of these people are being crushed by feelings of regret and longing, their behaviour driven by the deafening ticking of their lifespan clock invisibly suspended in front of their face each waking moment (so I’ve been told). People have affairs, change careers, buy sports cars. One guy I know left his wife for a mail order bride from the Phillipines. He’s at least 65, she looks to be around 22. He says they’re in love, and who am I to judge when I’m considering quitting a steady job with benefits to write a cookbook?

People don’t expect to die in their 20s or 30s. Even dying in your 40s from natural causes is pretty rare. But 50? I am now old enough for potential heart failure, liver failure, kidney failure, strokes…my factory parts are reaching the end of their warranty. This new awareness of my impending doom makes me notice things previously ignored. I am re-evaluating my diet, sleep habits and physical activity level with an eye to avoiding future infirmities. I’m hyper-focused on every single ache and pain, blowing it up into a quality of life denouement in my imagination. Pain and stiffness in my hands – arthritis? A muscle twinge in my chest – blocked arteries? A new weakness in certain muscles – ALS? My focus is shifting from what I want to achieve in my ever-dwindling future to the circumstances under which I will eventually check out of this terrestrial hotel. Having sat in a chair in a cubical for eight hours a day five days a week since 1992, I now have stiffness and pain in my hips that makes it difficult to immediately straighten fully when I get off the couch. Visions of walkers and eventual hip replacement surgery have me considering a career change to something more physically demanding, like a dog walker or landscaper. Anything that will keep me moving before I seize up like an unoiled engine is up for consideration.

So I bought a blender to make smoothies, increased my fruit and veggie intake and stopped eating fast food. Other than that I don’t have the resources to change much; there will be no return to school for a journalism or English degree in my future. I am writing every day now though. I have also started yoga and pilates, albeit slowly; my hips are still keeping a hopeful eye out for that walker.

Coffee’s a bitch

As if life wasn’t hard enough. I have an incredibly stressful job, three kids, a husband who sees nothing bothersome about hanging drywall at 10:30 p.m., a messy house, two dogs…but I was holding it all together. The house is not clean, but not dirty. I know where the kids are if not exactly what they are doing. The young dog I can shut up in the kitchen; the old dog went under the couch soon after the young dog’s arrival and is rarely witnessed. The husband…well, you’re fighting a losing battle if you walk by saying “boy it’ll feel great to get out of these clothes” and the tape measure doesn’t so much as waver. Yet I always found some inner strength to keep things going and not completely lose my cool. Until recently, when a month-long experiment conducted because of a horrible hypothesis, came to an unwanted but undeniable conclusion.

I can’t drink coffee anymore.

I’ve been having serious mood swings for about six months now. When they started they lasted only a couple of days, usually the week before that time of the month (I can hear all the men on the blogosphere going “duh!” right now). I assumed that this was a pre-menopausal symptom that would eventually work itself out. Other than the slightly irritating problem of tears trailing down my cheeks as I typed out my boss’s dictation, it didn’t really interfere with my day. But slowly other symptoms began to show themselves. Irritability. Confusion. Lack of focus. Impatience. Exhaustion. Then the mood swings started lasting longer until they encompassed seven days. The slightest question from my children had me snapping. My husband’s attempts at mood-lightening were met with glacial glares. The young dog joined the old one under the couch. It finally occurred to me one night that my kids were spending a lot of time in their rooms. When my husband announced he was thinking of making himself a “man cave” in the garage, I knew it was time to do something.

There began hours of research into menopause and pre-menopause symptoms. An article discussing the changes in a woman’s body affecting her ability to metabolize certain foods caught my attention. One link led to another and soon I was reading about all the side effects of caffeine.

A problem with coffee had not occurred to me because I actually never drank it until 10 years ago. I am a big tea drinker – the Queen would love me. My husband, however, consumes three large cups of coffee every morning. I had tried it a few times before in my youth and always hated it, but tried his coffee and liked it. I still drink tea when I want a hot beverage at all other times of the day, but I started having coffee with him in the morning.

There were no side effects then. I had no noticeable problem until last fall. However, I could not deny that the article I was reading sounded very much like what I was going through. So in the interests of science and family harmony, I decided to skip the coffee for a week.

The effect was dramatic. I slept better, was more clear-headed at work, and my hot temper dissolved like ice cubes in hot chocolate. It was an amazing change. Things my kids did that previously set me off like a rocket now just made me laugh. My husband came out of the garage; I was in such a good mood I even complimented the beard he’d grown.

At the end of ten days, since I felt better, I took a coffee to work. Two days later I took another one. Then on the weekend I had two cups of coffee Sunday morning. By the end of the second week I was drinking it every day again, and all my symptoms came back. I dropped the coffee for another week – back to normal. Started drinking it again – Bitchfest 2014.

It’s tragic, but true. Coffee must be the reason I can’t focus at work. It’s why I don’t feel rested, and it’s why my husband was measuring our neighbor’s couch to see if it would fit along the back wall of the garage.

I am pissed right the hell off. Why should coffee bother me now? Why let me drink it for ten wonderful years and then turn on me like this? There’s no rhyme or reason for it. The only thing I can think of is, like the article said, you lose your tolerance for certain things as you age. My parents stopped drinking alcohol several years ago. They were never more than social drinkers, a Friday night cocktail and one or two drinks with dinner on the weekends, but they enjoyed it. They were forced to give it up, however; it disagreed with them so much that they finally said goodbye. Not so much as a sip of wine during the family reunion toasts now.

I can sympathise with the alcohol intolerance because, wouldn’t you know it, during the same six month period of caffeine testing, I noticed that I can no longer drink alcohol either. One rye and coke doesn’t do anything, but have two and I develop a raging, needle-jabbing-into-my temple, nausea-inducing headache. I can drink beer without pain, but now two put me to sleep.

So at the age of 47, I’ve been hit with a double-whammy – no more alcohol at night, and no more coffee in the morning. I am making a sterling effort to replace them with a healthy herbal tea and lemon, but it’s safe to say life will never be the same. However, my husband is no longer trying to install a woodstove into our garage. So maybe it’s a good thing.

The Bitter End

A labored breath in, a shuddered breath out,
I struggle to see through the darkness.
Whispering voices, mournful tones,
All talking about me…I am here.

Stray comments waft past my consciousness –

“…such a great mom…kids will miss her…always there…”

Am I supposed to be proud?  I am angry.

I was so much more – but no-one saw, or cared.

 

A childhood lived, but not experienced,

My passions deemed unsafe; improper; unwise.

Afraid I’d get hurt; afraid I’d choose wrong.

All was chosen for me.

 

Others’ expectations, so confining,

A spirit straightjacketed by good intentions.

I took those lessons into the world

Where they continued to shackle me.

 

I can’t travel the world, I need to work.

I can’t quit my job, we need my check.

I can’t start a business, we need my benefits.

No time, never time, for me.

 

Now it’s too late, no time left to be me.

No accomplishments of my own.

No obituary for me, there is nothing to say.

Nobody knew the real me.

 

The darkness spreads, the voices fade.

I try to speak, one last chance to be heard.

For someone to know who I am, who I was.

I was here – Why did no-one see me?


I was here

 

Saying goodbye to a road not taken

Here it is the May 24th weekend (which for some dumb reason is actually taking place a week early) and I am home alone. My kids are at their dad’s, my husband is in Muskoka working his dream job. I am having an orgy of spring cleaning, tossing every piece of junk not nailed down out the front door. And in doing so, I have finally thrown out my old construction boots. The last time I had them on was about two months ago, to help my husband move some wood with nails in it, and they were so stiff they hurt my feet. They are simply unwearable now.

Boots 002

Perfectly ordinary work boots, with steel reinforced toes and rated for shock (or whatever they call it – that green triangle thingy they put on them). But I love these boots and have carried them around, hardly ever wearing them, but refusing to get rid of them, for 26 years.

The summer I was 21, burned out from my boring university course and fed up with the city, I was determined to find a summer job outside. An acquaintance suggested I apply at a local christmas tree farm – he said the guy hired a few girls every year. I don’t remember applying, the interview, or the guy who hired me, but I do remember the job. You walked in a circle around the tree, trimming the branches into a nice cone shape, then moved on to the next one. Equipment required – steel toed boots, shin pad, and an 18 inch long machete.

Since my first job at 14, I have worked at offices, a bakery, Burger King, a golf course and law firms, and one 3 week stint as a waitress. That tree farm job was my first experience with manual labour and I have never loved a job that much before or since. Outside all day, one simple job to do, and being left alone to do it. Taking breaks when you need one with no accusatory stare from a superior. Listening to my Walkman all day. Riding to and from the fields in the back of the boss’s pickup. I remember my mother thought it would be too hard for me, but I had a ball. She took this picture of me at the end of my first day.

Work camp pic 2

In the years since, I often thought of that job and why it appealed to me so. It was the physicality and simplicity, and the peaceful environment, that drew me to it. If I could live my life over again, I would take an apprenticeship and learn a trade. Even now, if I could, I would love to learn carpentry – or masonry. That one intrigues my husband – as supportive as he is of my interest in the trades, he has a hard time picturing me working with cement and bricks. And so would anyone else looking at me right now – 47 years old, 188 lbs, sitting in a chair all day. But I actually thrive on physical work – it feeds something in me that working at a desk can’t satisfy.

I have spent most of my adult life wishing I’d made different decisions, and stubbornly holding on to the hope that one day things might be different. That hope is the reason I kept the boots – always waiting for a chance to wear them again. Even now, with all these responsibilities and really no options or freedom to change, I dream of quitting my job to work with my husband. To spend my summer outdoors, painting, feeling the sun on my face and fresh air…a gloriously unregimented existence.

But it’s not going to happen. If it was just me I’d do it and start fresh, but being responsible for three kids stops me. Steve’s income has proved too precarious to be our only income; I need more security than that for the life I want to give my kids. By the time all three girls are grown up and I’m responsible only for myself again, I will be 57 years old.

So I took the boots out of the closet – old, cracking, stiff with age. I put them in the garbage bag. Then, like an idiot, I started to cry. Took them back out again. Left them on the couch for a few hours while I threw out different things. Then, just before I tied it up, put them in the garbage bag again. No tears the second time.

I may still have the occasional day where I can work with my husband. But there will never be a new career in the trades – I’m too old, I’ve missed my chance. I have arthritis in my hands and could never wield a paint brush all day. Even food prep can be painful. It’s such a shame – there’s so much more acceptance for women in trades now, it would be a great time to become involved. There is even a new brand of construction wear especially for women in trades called “Moxi Trades”. They sell boots, safety glasses, tool belts and hard hats in construction yellow, powder blue, and pink. So, last week, I went out and bought a new pair of work boots.

Boots 003

Just in case.

“Someday” never comes

A little girl lived with unspoken dreams,
Others expectations met first.
Escape at eighteen, desires anticipated.
Now it is my turn.

What do I do to find my life?
This is your life, they say.
Finish school; find a job; get married; have kids.
Ok, done – now is it my turn?

The kids need shoes and lessons,
The car and roof need repairs.
My husband starts his own business.
When is it my turn?

The kids are grown, the house paid off,
The business is a success.
My hair is gray, my reflection unfamiliar.
Now is it my turn?

My children all have children.
I still wait for someday to come.
My family all say they love their life.
What about my life – when is it my turn?

My time has ended, the light grows dark,
My voice silenced, I sink to oblivion.
One final thought my last link to this earth –
Why was it never my turn?

Don’t wait for permission to live your life.

Midlife Crisis Soliloquy

To dye, or not to dye: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The evidence of outrageous aging,
Or to take arms against a sea of gray hairs,
And by coloration end them? To dye: to cover;
No more; and by hiding the gray we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That looking our real age is heir to, ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d.  To dye, to cover;
To hide: perchance to go blond: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that color change what dreams may come
When we have shuffled out our front door,
Must give us pause: do we look young and beautiful,
Or like a decrepit Mae West?
But why should we bear the whips and scorns of time,
The mirror’s truth, the proud woman’s shame and
The pangs of lost youth, craving time’s delay,
Bad enough the insolence of wrinkles and the bifocals
That we must now wear every damn day,
But…that patient merit of the unworthy salon,
Where the hairdresser herself might her error make
With her dodgy chemical mix?  Who will bear the friggen fardel of my burnt hair,
Frizzing and breaking under a weary brush,
And then the dread of something after gray,
The undiscover’d country of baldness from which
No hair returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear the hair we have
Than to try new colors we know not of?
Thus self-consciousness does make a coward of me;
And thus the native hue of my hair
Is sicklied o’er with a color matching my original,
And now begin this enterprise of great pith and moment
With this in mind the colors are mixed,
And lose the name of gray. – Soft you now!
The hairdresser!, Lady, in thy orisons
Be all my conditioners remember’d. Or no tip.