Are you willing to drink that poison?

Copyright: ffennema / 123RF Stock Photo

In my last post, No revenue? Then what’s the point of this blog? , I wrote about our desire to guard and protect our valuable time. Since our time is so limited, and therefore precious,  we’re constantly weighing our options, trying to determine the most efficient way to get to our destination, or to achieve our goals. We fear that we may potentially miss something wonderful along the way. So, we ask ourselves, “What if I regret my choice?” The fortunate thing is that we can choose to learn from our mistakes and find consolation in the fact that we often get another chance to try and “get it right.”  Perspective is everything.

Half Full or Half Empty?

I’ve had my share of “learning” experiences. Nothing tragic. Just mistakes. Or as I would like to think of it, life lessons that have made me a better person. Like that time my entrepreneurial spirit far exceeded my business acumen…which really means, I started a business and it failed. But, as Janet Fitch wrote in her book, White Oleander, “The phoenix must burn to emerge.”

Yes, I am one of those people who loves a really good quote, especially if I can apply it to my life. I appreciate the wisdom in a truly inspired quote and I find that it can help to motivate, shift perspectives in a positive manner and help me to move forward. Does this sound pathetic to you? A 2015 article in DailyMail ridiculed individuals who find solace in the wisdom of quotes with the headline: Not so profound now! People who post inspirational quotes on Facebook and Twitter ‘have lower levels of intelligence.‘”

Whether it is “bulls**t”, as Gordon Pennycook – the cognitive psychologist who led the research (referenced in the article) and who wrote in the journal, Judgment and Decision Making – who is to judge? Whatever it is you do to make yourself feel better – meditation, running or even rubbing crystals – if it works and motivates you to move forward, then why not? Because really, the alternatives – self-pity, resentment, guilt, anger, regret, shame, etc. – are not only a waste of time and mental energy, but also a conscious decision to inflict personal pain and perpetuate suffering. Remember, “holding a grudge is like taking poison and hoping the other dies.” This gem of a quote has been attributed to a number of different people, including Buddha, Nelson Mandela and Carrie Fisher, among others. I heard Oprah refer to it on her SuperSoul Sunday podcast. In any case, regardless of who said it, I thought it was profound.

I guess my IQ just dropped a few points.

Copyright: olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo

Bad Advice

I’ve always liked the 1976 song, Don’t cry out loud. It’s one of those songs I really enjoy belting out. I sound really good…in my head. Anyway, I’m just now really hearing the lyrics and, I have to say, it’s really bad advice:

Don’t cry out loud
Just keep it inside
And learn how to hide your feelings
Fly high and proud
And if you should fall
Remember you almost had it all

Made popular by Melissa Manchester, the song was written by lyricist Carole Bayer Sager and singer-songwriter Peter Allen. According to Wikipedia, the words reflected Allen’s own thoughts and mentality after his father committed suicide when he was 14 years old. To cope, his mother taught him to always “put your best face on” and “don’t show anyone you’re crying.”

I’m no expert, but I’m quite sure that’s not the kind of advice we should be giving to our kids. But we are always evolving. And popular culture continues to play a significant role in influencing the way we see ourselves and how we interact with each other. Music, social media, reality shows and movies, have taught the collective “us” that it’s all right to share our feelings.

“To be open about the things inside you that cause you hurt, that cause you pain, that you are ashamed of … the corrosive effect of holding in your pain … of trying to hide it … I think is the worst suffering that you can have,” said Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics and a member of the Kennedy Family, when he spoke to Oprah (November 2014 SuperSoul Episode) about the secret his family kept.

I wish I had been blessed with this kind of wisdom when I was nine years old. I would not have wasted so much time and mental energy worrying about things I couldn’t control.

And, I wish I had been blessed with this kind of wisdom when I was 29 years old. I would not have wasted so much time and mental energy feeling regret and shame.

But that was my journey. And as I am now reliving – through my own children – the schoolyard trials that once kept me up at night, I remember that the words of a loving parent are sometimes not enough to soothe the anxious mind of a child – at any age. I pray to God for the wisdom to effectively guide, the willingness to patiently and lovingly listen to their complaints and worries (as there will be many). But most importantly, the capacity to shed a few tears when the problems seem too big for their little hearts and minds to manage.

No revenue? Then what’s the point of this blog?

Me and my dad. © Stories by Christina

Reflections on time, priorities and what we are all doing here

My mom got her real estate licence at the age of 55. (Prior to this, she and my dad owned a business and self published two books.) At a time when many people are planning and looking forward to retirement, she was planning on starting a new career.

She thought, It’s time to learn a new skill.

I thought, What’s the point?

A few years before this, a friend passed away after a motorcycle accident at the age of 26. (In the limited amount of time that I knew him, he lived a busy life, one filled with praise-worthy academic achievement, job offers right out of university and lots of friends.) At a time when many people are planning for the next party and looking forward to their future milestones – marriage, children, a house – he was being remembered for what could have been.

I thought about his death and wondered, What was the point?

That simple question – What’s the point? – can be sarcastic or a sign of resignation. And, it’s rhetorical in spirit.

13 years have passed since my mom sold her first of many houses and evidently I was wrong. There is, in fact, an answer.

There is a point.

Perspective and Priorities

Unfortunately, we often miss the point because we feel pressured – mostly by our limited time and our limited money – to figure out the most logical path to take or the most efficient option to choose. We strategize and analyze before acting on any idea because we want to ensure that we fill our time with practical and sensible activities. But is this attitude actually beneficial to us? Could we be missing out on the most precious moments of our lives, simply because we are trying to be “smart” with our time and money.

Take for example, my wedding day. I have fond memories – Yellow lilies and red roses. A handsome groom in a tartan kilt. Dancing to “My Girl,” with my dad. Rum cake. 350 family and friends. Lots of laughter. Lots of love. But, when a former co-worker asked me why we spent so much money on just one day, I felt defensive…and guilty. Since then, I’ve come to realize that everyone has their own priorities. And, if our actions or our decisions were made with good intentions, justification isn’t necessary.

Generally, when we are our most productive selves, we don’t like to waste time or to do things that are meaningless. And that’s the reason my husband and I disagree about the kids’ extra-curricular activities.

  • I think the kids should continue going to Mandarin-language classes because it may create opportunities in the future. He agrees, but wonders how proficient they will even become. What’s the point? …if we don’t speak the language.
  • He believes that having the kids grow up playing hockey is important. That’s cool, but I consider more than two days a week of hockey excessive. What’s the point? They’re not making it to the NHL.
  • The kids? They just want to spend time with their grandparents, cousins and friends. Cake and juice boxes? Instant party! #RealPriorities

Goal setting and timelines are great tools. In fact, I get really excited when writing up a detailed “plan of action.” When it comes to the reality of our lives, however, the perfection of executing our list of life goals “on time” isn’t as easy and the check boxes are sometimes left empty, unfulfilled. The comforting thing, well if you view it that way, is that we will all get to the end, just not in the same manner or at the same speed. But hey! What if we didn’t focus on time? Would we be happier? What if we chose to evaluate our lives based on the quality of our days, rather than on the time that has passed?

“There’s no present like the time” ~ The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2

Every year my family goes camping and we spend five days among the trees. This is the usual itinerary for the first day:

8:30 am   –      Leave city
11:30 am –      Stop at service station for lunch, gas and washroom
2:30 pm   –      Arrive at site. Set up campsite, tent, etc.
4:30 pm   –      Kids: running around. Husband: fiddling with fishing rod. Me: looking around and asking, what do I do now?

Is it time to go home? © Stories by Christina

After three years of going camping, I now realize that I can’t just sit in protective wrapping and wait for it to be over (Read: about my fear of bugs). The point of going camping is to simply: Enjoy it! I can either make the most of my time there or waste a truly awesome experience – for my family, for my kids and for myself. And, when I ask, “So, should we start getting dinner ready?” the answer is always, “Sure, but it can wait.” Schedules aren’t rigid in the forest.

The Quality of Your Life

I don’t know if there was necessarily a reason for his early death. But what I do know, for sure, is that my friend’s life had great meaning –  to his family, to his friends and to those who receive a scholarship in his name every year. He often boasted that he only needed five hours of sleep each night. And even though that’s not difficult at 26 years of age, I think it was more than his youth that gave him his energizing spirit. He had an exceptional desire to do and to excel at as much as he could, while still making time for his friends and family. In essence, I’d say, he “celebrated” his life. With every goal he fulfilled and with every friendship he carefully fostered, he was in effect, showing gratitude for his life. And, that is what I think we are here to do. That’s the point.

A know-it-all, until I didn’t know it all

I was 30 years old when my mom got her real estate licence. At that age I thought I knew everything. I had grown up and experienced so much since I was 20. And then all of a sudden I hit 40 and discovered I actually didn’t know anything at all.

Up until I got married and had children, I think I lived my life a bit like Forest Gump, simply floating around and letting things happen. Of course, I had made decisions and fulfilled goals, but I didn’t have the complete understanding that there is an end and that my time here has great meaning. And so, I now look at life – the time that we are here – as a precious opportunity to joyfully do the things that honour my talents; to fulfill my own unique purpose.

© Stories by Christina

No longer will I simply do what I think others want me to do. I will live with intention. And, I will no longer ask, What’s the point? Instead, I will ask:

     Am I living a genuine life?
     Am I treating people with respect?
     How can I deepen my relationships?
     Am I sharing my creativity?
     Am I taking care of my soul?
     Can I afford to “squander” my time to satisfy a dream? 

Can I afford not to?






Just a minute…let me take off my mask

Copyright: byrdyak / 123RF Stock Photo

This guy once told me I wasn’t very memorable.

I didn’t ask him to explain, because I just wanted to change the subject. But that comment remained with me for the next 20 years.

Although I was offended, I think I now understand what he meant.

We had attended elementary school together and 10 years after graduating, all he remembered about me was that I was quiet. I followed the rules. I was a
“good” girl.

Ironically, while at home, I was and still am the loudest and most vocal member of my family. I admit, it’s actually who I really am. And even the stars and the elements betray my well-hidden secret –  Feng Shui teachers say I am “fire;” zodiac astrologers say I am a “Leo;” and Chinese astrologers say I am a “Tiger.”

So, what happened?

Where did the “meek little lamb” my grade six teacher taught, come from?

Stylin’ and profilin’

At a recent family wedding, my seven-year-old son put on quite a show. Seemingly oblivious to all the other guests, he danced around like Mr. Bean. I was in awe. He was having so much fun; free from any insecurities.

Meanwhile, my mom was showing off her glitter pants, à la Liza Minelli, which were beyond sensational.

So, it was interesting to hear other people reacting:

For my son, people thought, “He’s enjoying himself. Let him express himself.”

And for my mom, it was like, “What was she thinking?”

Two types of people

After much reflection, I’ve concluded that my own personality changes (public vs. private) reflect fear. Many of us are driven by or inhibited by fear…about what others will think; of looking foolish; of failing…

So basically, I think there are two types of people:

  1. Those that were born with the freedom of self-expression and continue to do so throughout their lives
  2. Those that were born with the freedom of self-expression, but have learned to repress their true selves. It’s now latent, so they need to relearn how to express themselves…or simply consume alcohol

…there was that one time I went to Las Vegas and, according to my cousin, did an awesome Snoop Dogg impression through the casino…

Just “like” me

For the most part, we allow kids to act silly. But more than that, we applaud them for expressing themselves. We want them to be creative. We want them to be courageous and bold.

Adults, on the other hand, are criticized or become the subject of gossip if any form of individuality is on display. Is it a midlife crisis? He must be drunk. After all, we must show our maturity as we age. Still, I wonder if we are, in fact, exhibiting genuine maturity when we repress our personality, simply to fit in?

But who really cares? All we want is to be “liked.” So, we walk around inhibited. Afraid to express our inner child. Our inner creativity. Our inner fashionista. At my age, though, it’s no longer about me. It’s about supporting my children; encouraging them to honour self-expression during and past their adolescent years.

A lion in sheep’s clothing?

Although I’d like to be able to pass down some of the invaluable lessons I learned about peer pressure and self-expression from the experiences I gained while a teenager, I really can’t say I have any experiences to draw on.

I wasn’t a very expressive teen. And even I admit, my high school years weren’t very memorable. It wasn’t an exciting time. I went to an all-girl high school, where we were taught by Catholic nuns; where a visit to the bus stop to see the guys from our brother school was a highlight; and where the length of your kilt spoke volumes. However, I got through it…thankful that social media didn’t exist then.

So, without any personal anecdotes or genuine wisdom to impart to my kids, I’ll have to simply model self-expression at its best. After all, I’m in my 40’s now…“mid-life” and no desire to impress anyone, except myself.

To that guy who said I wasn’t memorable, watch me…drop it like it’s hot.





Audio – In a stereotype-free world, not all skunks are bad



My first audio post!

Description: The challenges of fostering a stereotype-free mindset in my children, while acknowledging my own assumptions and misconceptions.

Length: 8:13

Sources: Russell Peters clip approved by Russell Peters Management, Music licensed by AudioJungle

*Please Like, Share or Comment*



Icon Copyright: alexwhite / 123RF Stock Photo





From Embarrassed to Enlightened: Becoming a Better Mother…and Writer

As a young girl, I didn’t see the resemblance. Now, it’s hard to ignore: I am the mirror image of my mother’s 40-something-year-old self. At this point in my life, this is less of a revelation and more of a life-changing insight into who I am – as an adult, as a parent and as a writer.

Version 2.0

My sons are in their formative years, so it’s up to me and my husband to lay the foundation for a successful future; to establish positive work habits, promote the importance of manners and polite, yet assertive interactions with other people and a solid understanding of what is right and wrong. Basically, we’re hoping to raise men that will be able to make good choices for themselves.

We want them to be like us.

Only better.

Thank you for remembering to say, “Thank you”

“As a parent, you believe that the behaviour of your child is somehow a reflection on you.” Sook-Yin Lee, host of the now-retired CBC radio show Definitely Not the Opera (DNTO), made that comment when talking about how it can be a challenge teaching children to say, “Thank You.”

This sentiment really resonated with me because in the noise and excitement of Christmas and birthday parties, my boys often forget to show their appreciation.

It’s a frustrating, but a universal challenge for all parents; to have to constantly remind their children to “say ‘please’ and ‘thank you;” “wash your hands;” “pick up your toys;” “stop picking your nose.”

Organic, teachable moments

Eventually, however, they will learn…from our good and bad behaviours. Kids are great imitators.

Teachable moments © ximagination/123RF Stock Photo

There’s a 12-year-old boy in our neighbourhood who passes us on our way to school everyday. He waves his hand as he rides by on his bike and says, in a very grown up manner, “Beautiful day, isn’t it? Have a good one.”  #JustLikeDad #ParentingGoals

Although we, as parents, start out with solid intentions for positive parenting and a generally agreed upon set of rules, sometimes it’s the subtle influences and beliefs that have the most effect on how a child develops.

Take me for example:

I am a writer. My influences include my grandparents who owned and operated a newspaper, as well as my parents who published two books.

These are obvious connections. What I realized while reflecting on this story, however, is that I am a timid writer. And those same influences are the reason.

My Chinese grandparents and parents were born and raised in Jamaica. Living, working and raising families among a minority Chinese group on a small island meant that they knew “everyone,” and “everyone” knew them. Their thoughts, decisions and actions were motivated primarily by maintaining a good reputation, showing respect and ultimately, “saving face.”

When my parents moved to Canada in the 70s, they weren’t alone. Many friends and relatives also made the big move. And so, my brother and I grew up with a huge extended family of “aunties” and “uncles.”

Although my childhood memories are nothing but glorious, I realize how “small town” my life was. The pressure to maintain a good reputation wasn’t overt, but there was a general understanding that you must behave well. And because of my personality, this pressure inspired fear and restricted me from complete self-expression.

Did you hear that?

It was my mind.


My “aha moment”

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Of course, I dare not equate myself to his level of wisdom…butI must admit…my revelation has brought on a whole new level of clarity – it’s not all about me! Huh.

Note to self: Teaching your children about manners and the difference between right and wrong, is not about avoiding embarrassment. It’s about raising good people.

I guess sometimes when you reflect on yourself, what you see in the mirror becomes a little sharper, a little more defined and a whole lot shinier.







The snort heard around…my world

I wrote about my grandmother in a couple of earlier posts. She was “the strongest woman ever,” remember?


Unfortunately, she wasn’t strong enough to survive a heart attack.

She passed away in June.

At her memorial service, the common theme among our conversations and shared stories was her strength – her strength of spirit; her strength of character; and, her physical strength. She has been known to climb rooftops during hurricanes; rescue children stuck in snowbanks; and armed with only a couple of cans of condensed milk, stop thieves from robbing her store.

Still, every superhero has a weakness.

For my grandmother, I think her weakness was her inability to express her feelings. Well, that’s what I thought two months ago. Let me explain.

My grandmother wasn’t a cry baby. And, she didn’t complain. She kept her emotions of sadness and pain inside. In fact, the only time I ever saw her cry was when her sister-in-law passed away (and that was a shock to my nine-year-old self). All other times, she was successful at hiding her feelings.

In some ways, I’m a bit like that. I often hold my thoughts in and find it difficult to share my true emotions.

That’s a lie.

I could probably win an award for crying on command. I’ve been known to cry during episodes of Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

The #1 rule when giving a eulogy

With that in mind, I prepared a “light-hearted” speech for the memorial service. I wanted to tell everyone that my grandmother was like a box of sweet-smelling mangoes. I felt quite prepared to give a tear-free delivery, but was caught off-guard by my suppressed emotions and I shed a few tears.

Again, another lie.

As I started to get emotional, I attempted to hold the crying in. The problem with that, I now realize, is that it will come out in some form or another. You’ve gotta simply let it out. Bawl. Blow your nose. Let the tears flow.

But since I tried to stop the crying, I started to hyperventilate and then everything came out in front of 300 people, in the form of a SNORT…amplified throughout the room.

I can’t express to you how mortified I felt. Add to that my ugly cry face and I was quite embarrassed. However, since it was a memorial service, no one laughed or even mentioned it. It’s an unwritten rule.

My own superpower revealed

After the memorial service, as I replayed the embarrassing details of my speech over and over in my head, as though that would lessen the sting, I realized that I actually have a superpower. I have the power to make people feel, with such intensity, that they are physically weakened.

My snorts. My tears. My trembling lips. They all give me the power to bring a 200-pound, grown man to tears.  And although my vulnerability and honesty could never stop a bullet, I am able to touch someone’s heart.

More than just an anecdote

It’s been a little more than two months since she passed away, but I still get teary eyed when I think about her in the hospital. I wanted to write this piece because I often used her “character” in my posts. This story, however, was meant to show that she was more than just a humorous anecdote. And so this whole writing process allowed me to reflect. It made me realize that she spent most of her life taking care of other people. And, that’s the reason she didn’t show her feelings; she was too busy taking care of other people…being strong for others. She wanted to be strong for us.

Even at the end, when she was at her weakest point, she was her strongest. I held her hand, something I hadn’t dograndmotherne since I was a little girl. She looked at me and said, “I’m okay. I’m okay.” And so I left the hospital thinking I would see her at home soon. But, she passed away the next day.

Our very own

It took me a long time to finish this post. It’s been one of the most challenging and tear-filled posts I’ve written. But it’s helped me to let it all out. Bawl. Blow my nose. Let the tears flow.

My grandmother will live on in our hearts. She will always be our very own superhero.





Storm? No problem. I’m going camping

© Stories by Christina

We just got back from what has become our annual family camping trip to Algonquin Park and I’m realizing that camping really takes commitment. If you are planning a trip with a camping enthusiast, as my husband is, you have to be committed to going, even if:

  1. there is a thunderstorm;
  2. you are on your period;
  3. Avril Lavigne warns you about tick bites.

But I’m getting older and really the only things I’m willing to commit to are:

  1. my marriage
  2. my children
  3. finishing the chocolate cake in the fridge.

So worth it

© Stories by Christina

Truthfully, I do enjoy camping…well, parts of it. Like…I really love canoeing. Being on the calm, early morning water is pure serenity. I also like packing and getting the gear ready. Weird, eh? I think I get it from my grandmother; the need to be efficient and quick –  a benefit of camping with limited resources, but annoying to the laid-back, calm, nature-lovers I’m camping with. “Hey Ian…stop feeding the chipmunk.”

I also love seeing my children smiling and laughing, as they run through the forest. And, I like coming home and posting photos on Facebook. Most of all, I like “having gone camping.” And hey, you can’t tell me that the Huntsville McDonald’s doesn’t offer up the best tasting meal… YOU’VE EVER HAD.

So really, the only problem I have with camping is my OCD-like fear about bugs…on me, biting me or getting into the tent. This, however, has no bearing on whether we go camping or not. In a household with three outdoor lovers, I’m outnumbered. In any case, my husband’s plan and goal is to have the kids well-versed in the ways of the forest. And, as soon as they are into their early teens, I’m pretty sure I won’t be needed or even invited.

Until that day, however, I will have to tolerate a few daddy long leg spiders. But I will truly enjoy the occasional wonders that cross our path and make the minor discomfort totally worth it.

Hwy 60 in Algonquin Park © Hunter Berthelet




Whom should I ask? Mom or Google?

driving in the front seat
Look ma, no car seat!

Although her facts may be out of date, the internet could never teach patience and true love the way she can

A couple of random facts about myself:

  • I went to my first New Year’s Eve dance party when I was six months old.
  • I tuck my young kids into bed at 8:00 pm every night.

The metaphorical gap between these two statements is huge. It spans four decades and includes significant lifestyle changes that have altered the way we do things and the way we think about things.

My mom’s generation parented with the “let-them-fall-to-learn” attitude. While today’s generation of new parents wish, “if only we could put interlocking foam  mats around the entire house.”

Perhaps we over-parent, while back then they under-parented. The bottom line is: we think differently. And this is why my mom and I argue so much. It’s also the reason – a poor reason I admit – why I haven’t taken the time to say, “I appreciate you. Thank you. I love you.”

A generation of know-it-alls

Ok, truthfully we argue a lot because:

1) We have similar personalities
2) We are both really sarcastic to each other and,
3) I am so much more enlightened.

Our arguments almost always end with me sending her an email or text message, highlighting a Google-researched article on how to raise a child…the proper way.

So, I’m like:

  • Don’t you know that you don’t put babies to sleep on their stomachs?
  • You never wrap a feverish child in blankets.
  • Don’t you know? Breast is best.
  • Come on ma, car seats are mandatory.

And, she’s like:

  • Car seats? Never owned one.
  • You thrived on formula.
  • And, as far as sleeping on your stomach? Your head is round…You are welcome.

Looking into the mirror

first time seeing snow
First-time parents. First time seeing snow.

After becoming a parent, I naturally started to reflect…on my childhood, my parents’ decisions while I was growing up and ultimately their mistakes.

But I soon realized that it’s wrong for me to criticize the mistakes and decisions that have ultimately made my life so easy. The newly-arrived immigrants, who left the warm island of Jamaica in 1974 to brave their first cold Toronto winter and bring me into this world, worked long and hard to give me and my brother happy lives.

We were born having it all – from the big things, like a good education and a home in a safe neighbourhood, to the small insignificant things, like ballet, skating and swimming lessons. I also had the freedom to indulge in silly childhood whims and fads. Back in the day I collected stickers – puffy stickers, smelly stickers, shiny stickers, googly-eyed stickers – Madonna-inspired bracelets and friendship beads.

Full Circle

Lately, my son has been complaining about his legs aching – just typical childhood pains, nothing serious. So, I have been rubbing his legs a lot and remembering my own childhood leg pains. In spite of my incessant complaints and whining, my mom rubbed them whenever I asked. She was patient. And she sang to me, it seems, the only song she knew:

…Sing as we go and let the world go by
Singing a song, we march along the highway
Say goodbye to sorrow
There’s always tomorrow so think of today…

~1934 Sing As We Go

I suppose, if I have to admit it…the gap between me and my mom really isn’t that wide. In spite of the inevitable differences from generation to generation and the technological changes that alter our lifestyle, some things remain the same.  Ultimately, we are all simply trying to do our best and love our children.

So here it goes…”Ma, I appreciate you. Thank you. I love you.”

My lips quivered as I typed those words.



The day Cameron Diaz and Stevie Nicks helped me get rid of my junk

My life – neatly preserved with obsolete technology. Is it Junk? Or are they precious keepsakes?

My back is still aching and I’ve been having trouble bending over. My parents are preparing to sell their house, so I have been helping to clear out the junk, much of which I left behind after moving out 15 years ago. Anyway, you’re probably thinking that I forgot to bend my knees when I picked up the heavy items.  Actually no, I didn’t forget to do that.  I was particularly careful about lifting with my legs.

What I did manage to forget, as I picked up boxes filled with encyclopedias, was that I am no longer 20 years old. And, this whole business about selling the house has been a startling reminder that I am getting older.

Putting my childhood on Kijiji

As someone who is, to say the least, a bit out of shape, I am in no position to be picking up boxes of encyclopedias.  And, the fact that we are, just now, getting rid of these research tools that were invaluable to me 30 years ago, tells you a lot about how much work there is to get this house ready for sale.

Truthfully though, it isn’t the physical aspect of moving the furniture or boxes that stresses me out. And, it isn’t the amount of junk we have accumulated. It is the emotional strain of having to give away years of dreams and memories.

Be bold like Stevie Nicks

On the first morning I went over to help my parents, I started clearing out the VHS tapes. While I was scanning the various cassettes to determine which to recycle (Nutty Professor) and which ones I need to convert to digital (Tina’s 12th birthday party), I heard Cameron Diaz talking about aging (my 89-year old grandmother was watching Good Morning America). And I thought to myself, “Oh. My. Goodness. Even Cameron Diaz is afraid.” Well actually, she was talking about NOT being afraid to age and learning about the aging process from a cellular level…yeah yeah, sure Cameron.

Anyway, I was feeling overwhelmed. My grandmother, who, in her prime would have had an assembly line going, filling boxes and spinning her tape gun into position, was simply observing. She was pretending to watch tv. Really, she was afraid.

A small sampling of the cassettes, slides and photos I need to review and digitize. Notice the VHS tape labelled “Y2K” – LOL…my dad was afraid.

I think we were all a little nervous. Three generations in the house on that particular day – my grandmother, my parents and me –  throwing away our possessions. It was time to move on.

I drove home and playing on the radio was the 1976 Fleetwood Mac song Landslide.

…Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time made you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too…

Tears welled in my eyes.

“I get to turn a year older,” said Ms. Diaz.

I’m not really that devastated. I just cry very easily. Besides, life is good.  I have a family of my own now. We have our own house and are making great memories, which really means, we are collecting our own junk, too.

I’m also a lot smarter than I was in my 20s. Wiser. More confident.  Less worried about what people think.  And, even though I have dark circles under my eyes and am a bit thicker around the mid section, I actually think I look better than I did back then. My eyebrows are shaped. They weren’t back then.

Our memories and the dreams that keep us excited in this wondrous, challenging life are not in the things that we own. They are forever embedded in our hearts.

As the wise Cameron Diaz says in her new book, “aging is about living.”

And, I plan to age well.


Queen of the less-than-perfect comeback gives son advice on how to be assertive

I just thought of a really good comeback for that cranky, rude woman…the one who,
at Tim Hortons, complained that my crying baby was disturbing her…

…too bad that incident happened five years ago.

Rafael Ben-Ari
©Rafael Ben-Ari

Yes, I am one who will think up a deliciously, witty response…just, a bit too late.

Other than George Costanza, I thought I was the only one, but evidently this “phenomenon” (the exact word used on Wikipedia) is actually a thing. First described by French encyclopedist and philosopher Denis Diderot in his Paradoxe sur le comedien, he called it “L’esprit de l’escalier,” or “staircase wit.”

So, this “staircase wit,” who has always tried to avoid conflict, is now trying to guide her kindergarten son, as he slowly discovers the challenges of the school yard and is faced with the little “bullies” of the world. The amusing part is that if anyone, who really knew me, heard what I was saying to him, they would question me and my ability to act on my own advice. In other words, Do I walk the talk?

The Strongest Woman ever

Throughout my elementary school years, my grandmother guided me, albeit unsuccessfully, to “stand up for yourself.” And to, “never let anyone take advantage of you.” I’m not saying that I was bullied or treated unfairly, but I always took the passive-aggressive route when faced with conflict…hence the “staircase wit.” I admit it…I have spent hours, post argument, replaying conversations in my head and feeling triumphant when I came up with a really clever response.

Anyway, my grandmother – the strongest woman ever – is known for her no-nonsense attitude, her fearlessness and her ability to easily and effectively wield a machete. (Background: once upon a time, my family lived in Jamaica. They owned a shop. They kept a machete behind the counter. She never hurt anyone…I don’t think.)

Do I walk the talk?

So it’s about 30 years later, and I’m an adult now. From my son’s perspective, I am the one who should “know everything.” The one who should “eat all her vegetables.” The one who should “never be afraid of the dark.” Uh, yeah…still working on those.

But I can definitely say that I’ve got my grandmother’s no-nonsense attitude down; they can hear it in my voice. I’ve even perfected the characteristic, “Listen to me…” speech, Jamaican parents often employ when scolding their children.

So, when my older son came home to tell me about a certain conflict over cubby space at school (where the children put their coats, boots and bags), I told him, with my crazy-looking wide eyes,  “Listen to me…you stand up for yourself. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you…Don’t let anyone throw your bag and coat on the floor. Do you understand?”

And with that command, I realized how important my actions are to modelling the type of behaviour I’d like to see in my children. Because  honestly, my five-year-old self and my 40-something-year-old self would probably avoid any type of cubby confrontation.

But you know what? I’m not alone…at my son’s first Christmas concert, all the audience members in the front row stood up to take pictures and remained standing during the entire performance.  I was annoyed,  but didn’t say anything. And, neither did the other 100 or so parents…just some grumblings…a few weeks after the event. Seems like I am not the only staircase wit out there.