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.

Fathers Day is now just for memories

Dad and I; in Barbados 1974 (L) and at my first wedding 1995.
Dad and I; in Barbados 1974 (L) and at my first wedding 1995.
It’s Fathers Day, and after 43 years of phone calls and presents I no longer have anything to plan for.  My dad died October 2012.  It’s hard to believe it’s been that long already

Dad met my mom when I was about 18 months old.  After they married he adopted me.  Entering my life that young, I never thought of him as a step-father.  He was my Daddy.  Growing up, whenever the topic came up with my friends they’d ask me if I’d ever met my real dad.  I didn’t like that.  I have no memory of life without him, and certainly no memory of the unintentional sperm donor who begat my existence. 

Dad was always there to do what a dad does.  He taught me to ride a bike, took me to the park and the beach, and read to me at bedtime.  He was at all my birthday parties and both graduations.  He spent hours putting my toys together on Christmas Eve and eating Santa’s cookies.  One year he spent four hours and 3 scotches putting together a dollhouse, only to hear me exclaim Christmas morning, “Look, Daddy, Santa put one of the walls in upside down!”

He came to my room when I had bad dreams or was scared of the wind, which was my personal night terror.  As soon as my parents heard the wind start to whistle, they knew they had less than 60 seconds before a tiny, tremulous cry of “Mommy” floated down the hallway.  Twice he raced into my room and carried me to safety during a fire, one in the basement and another when someone poured gas into my mother’s car and threw a match.  He scrutinized every boy who came to the house with his intimidating glare and too-tight handshake, an interview my husband, 5’3” and 100 lbs soaking wet at the time, remembers all too well.  He walked me down the aisle at both weddings.  He was there half an hour after his first granddaughter was born, and hot on the heels of the other two.  Therein followed years of him taking my kids to the park, and out for dinner and ice cream, and lots of holiday and birthday loot.  They were the apple of his eye.

Playing dressup
Playing dressup

I miss so much about my dad.  He played piano by ear and could play any song after hearing it only once.  Growing up, he was a familiar sight to my friends, outside working around the house every weekend.  They used to joke “You always know where Lisa McBride lives – just look for the guy cutting the lawn – or washing the car.”  He used to bore me to death with his road trip stories, like how the Holland Marsh came into being.  We regularly took weekend trips to Toronto when I was young, and he told me that story whenever we drove through the area on our way to the city.  Every single time.  Both ways. 

He would go jogging down the path through the bush beside our house every day.  More than once I almost got caught smoking with friends, or smooching with Steve, by my dad who would suddenly appear out of the trees and jog right past the long grass we were hiding in, frozen with fear and holding our breath until he was out of sight.

He took me tobogganing at Little Lake Park every winter for my birthday parties, dragging kids back up that big hill over and over.  He supervised the games at all my birthday parties in the days when Pin the Tail on the Donkey was still considered cool.  He took every chance to educate me, encouraging me to read, study and question, and telling me lengthy stories about historical events or his family tree research, two topics he was passionate about.  I often thought he would have made a good university professor.

Now everything about my dad is in the past.  When I visit mom I see his clothes in the closet, hanging untouched.  His workbench with his tools, and a little figurine I bought him over 30 years ago that says “World’s Best Dad.”  Two bookshelves still holding the books that were on his shelves in 1979.  The last remnants of a life lived, and ended.  Eventually it will all be gone, and the only evidence of his existence will be our memories, and our photographs.

 

dad copy

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

 

Waxing Philosophical

Since my dad died I have been thinking a lot about karma, fate, predestination, etc.  I never put much credence in any of it before, but now that I’m getting older (ugh) I can’t help noticing patterns, rhythms and happenings in life that I didn’t notice before.  For instance, the seeming inability to escape fate, or change your destiny.  I have been actively trying to turn my life in a new direction for 8 years, and it’s gotten me absolutely nowhere.  I have blog postings going back to 2009 deriding my finances, my job, my weight…yet here it is 2014 and my weight is only 6 lbs lighter than it was (and that just happened in the last 3 months), my finances are worse than ever, the same patterns repeating themselves over and over no matter what I do to change it.  I follow the rules, I get nowhere.  I break the rules, I get nowhere.  I’m selfless; nothing.  I’m selfish; nada.  Every time I try to break free, I’m pulled back in by a repeat of the circumstances that put me there the last time, and this has been going on since 1991.  This past year I’ve become a bit panicky about the whole thing.  I feel like there is a gigantic clock hanging in the air in front of me, the words “Life Span” tattooed across it, that every 60 seconds swings its minute arm forward another notch with a loud clang meant to remind me that yet another minute of what’s left of my life is gone, and I still haven’t done anything.

Do you ever feel like you have no control over the outcome of your actions?  I spent 5 years reading self-improvement and financial books and it hasn’t changed a damn thing.  And I can see and feel the same patterns swirling around me no matter what I do to try to escape.  It’s like the blueprint of my life is written in stone somewhere and is unchangeable; there are some things I’m never going to have; some things I’m never going to do.  Maybe everyone has that one thing they will never achieve, and mine is financial security.

In the greater scheme of things I have little to complain about.  At 47 I have no health concerns at all beyond a bit of what I assume is arthritis, while others lead lives constricted by their ailments.  I know people who have lost children, been diagnosed with cancer, had their homes burned down; there are children left orphaned by accident and illness; nothing this serious has ever happened to me.  I have my (rental) home, my children are healthy and happy, I have a job, and the only deaths I’ve experienced are natural cause- related older relatives; sad but nothing unusual.  I’ve also noticed that often when you hear of good fortune in others, they have a circumstance in their life that makes that run of good luck all the more welcome.  Lottery winners who are ill or unemployed for example.  And then some people just really seem to have no luck at all; ill spouse, unemployed, financial insecurity, illness of their own – all at the same time.

I see patterns in time, connections that don’t show themselves until years later.  Tonight I was looking at some pictures on my Facebook page of my hometown, Midland, Ontario, in 1959 when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip came through during their Canadian Tour.  My mother is in this picture somewhere near the top; I think she is the girl top right, first row sitting.  She is 14 years old.

Image

In this next picture, there are two O.P.P. officers just behind and to the right of the Royals, charged with providing Her Majesty’s security detail.  My mother is sure that the one on the left is my Grandfather, Chief Inspector William McBride (although I don’t believe he was a C.I. at that time – probably a Sergeant).  He was in charge of the Queen’s O.P.P. security detail so would have been quite close, and the profile, although fuzzy, looks very much like my dad.

Image

Talk about predestination – my 14 year old mother is less than 30 feet away from the man who will become her father-in-law 12 years in the future.  How weird is that?  At the time of this picture Grandfather lived in Toronto, a two hour drive south, and my dad was 23 years old and attending the University of Toronto.  My parents met when Dad got a job at the same hospital Mom was nursing at and moved to Midland, in 1968.

Things like this have been turning my mind to thoughts of predestination and things “meant to be.”  I feel very strongly this is the reason my husband and I are currently together…life circumstance intervened when we were teens when his parents moved away, separating us when it wasn’t meant to be so.  Twenty years later he found me – 3 days after I had an incredibly intense dream about him wherein physically he looked as he appeared when we reunited, and not the way he’d looked the last time I’d seen him…how could I have known?

I am starting to regret things a little less, and become somewhat more accepting of what I have. I’ve been thinking that maybe the debt I unconsciously pay to the universe in exchange for my life of no drama or trauma, is a somewhat hum-drum life of few highs or lows.  Maybe I’m not going to win the lottery, or travel the world, or ever do anything exciting.  Maybe living a quiet, unexciting life, enjoying my children and husband and, occasionally, a few simple pleasures, is my lottery win.