XXV

I’m sitting on the couch watching the rain pour down outside, with Say Yes To The Dress Canada in the background, when I can hear it over the whine of power tools.

Twenty-five years ago, I was in my wedding dress, taking photos with my bridesmaids in the sunshine and preparing to get married.

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It couldn’t be more different from today.

I’m on vacation this week. The Big Guy is at work. He’s going to take off Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This has raised some eyebrows. At first, I was disappointed, but I look at it this way; like my wedding day, my 25th wedding anniversary is one. day. In the 9,131 days we’ve been married, there have been many amazing days. Some of them were better than our wedding day. I’m not hinging my happiness of more than 9,000 days on the contents of one.

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Which leads me back to my wedding day, and the young women on Say Yes To The Dress Canada. So much energy, emotion, drama, MONEY for one day. You hear it in what they are saying and how they act. The dress has to be PERFECT. The day has to be PERFECT. Everyone has to love the PERFECT bride.

<PAUSE> May I take moment to share my thoughts about the unending focus on the bride. Yup, she gets the fancier outfit, but she’s only one-half of the equation. If the groom doesn’t show up, this is nothing but a Prom For One. And yes, I’m basing this on a heterosexual relationship because that happens to be what I’m in – and what they seem to cater to on SYTTDC. <PLAY>

So let’s say the day is PERFECT. The weather cooperates, the guests arrive on time, the venue is stunning, none of the key players are a) inebriated b) quarrelling. The bride is stunning and the dresses, flowers, and elementary school bridal attendants are Instragram worthy. The service is the ideal ratio of reverent, emotional, traditional, modern and contains no less than three Facebook worthy posts. The food is scrumptious, the music is perfectly selected and the party never seems to end.

Until it ends.

And you wake up six months later with the person you vowed to love until the end of days. There are no more bridal showers with amazing and unnecessary items to replace the “old” household items that have served you perfectly well while you lived together. No more two-day bachelor/ette parties in remote locations. No more spotlight. Just life.

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The perfect couple, right? WRONG!

Because life is why you side up for, both in content and in term. Yes to the awesome days when you both are in a great mood. Yes to the days when you want to throw in the towel on life. Yes to an empty bank account and Yes to a surprise dinner out when one of you gets a raise. Yes to not talking for three days because you are so busy you don’t realize it’s  almost the weekend. Yes to your own form of shorthand when you talk, text, or need to relay info telekinetically in the middle of a disastrous family gathering.

TBG is the first guy I dated. I said yes the first time he asked me to marry him. There has not been anyone else I’d rather hand 25 years over to. I understand when he doesn’t communicate so well. He tolerates when I over-communicate. He is a perfectionist – I am not. We work. And we work well together. A quarter of a century and two kids later, I think we’ve proved that.

Happy 25th Anniversary Big Guy. Here’s to 25 more!

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The Big Guy’s first selfie. After all, his arms are longer than mine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Years

Facebook reminded me that it’s four years tomorrow since my father died.

Amongst the memories of sunsets, flowers, dog and kid pictures is a photo of my Dad. The one we used in his obituary. I catch my breath every time I see it. I remember taking the picture. I remember it was Father’s Day. I remember we knew he was sick and that we needed to squeeze every last memory we could out of the days we had with him. I remember telling him that this was his Father’s Day gift, photos of him with all his grandkids. I remember knowing I was lying to him because the photos were for us. Cancer has a way of destroying the memory of how your loved one looks. It lays waste to the body and forever imprints in your mind how hard they are trying to fight, and yet, losing.

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He didn’t look like that yet. It was coming. But on this day, he still looked like Dad.

So as the fourth year rolls around, part of me feels guilty because I haven’t been feeling as heavy as I have other years. From the beginning of June I start to dread the 6th. It’s the first of a two-part whammy because his birthday is on the 9th. I’m more emotional and sentimental. Not this June. Life has been stupid, crazy, busy and I find myself facing the eve of this anniversary and it starts to sink in…I’m not heavy. I’m used to this pain at this time of year.

I feel guilty that I don’t feel that way. I wonder what it means.

Second Born Son got his full licence on Monday. As I think about it, I’m struck by the thought that the world I’m living in now is moving so much farther away from the one my father lived in. He kicked me out of his hospital room to apply for the job I now have. The one I’ve excelled in and worked so hard at. I was told I had the job two days after his funeral. So many times I’ve thought, “He’d love to hear this story” regarding something that happened at work. First Born Son is in the working world. He was in high school when Dad died. He didn’t even know if he wanted to go to college. FBS now has his dream truck, his life planned out and graduated college. SBS has one year left of high school and will be going to college. He’s as tall as his 6’4 brother and is going to be a heartbreaker. He was in Grade 8 when my father died. He didn’t get to see FBS or SBS graduate into high school because of his illness. We are making changes in our life that we never thought of when he was here. In some ways I think he’d be lost if he came back and saw where all of us were today.

We moved on. Without him. It feels wrong.

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I still cry. Usually it’s a song or a photo. Something that hits an emotion. Music and memories get me. I spent his last night on earth bunking with him in his hospital room. Neither of us slept much.

I still dream about him. One just a few weeks ago that was so real I didn’t even take much notice that he was in the dream. It was so natural to be talking about the dogs with him in this dream, just watching them bounce around. He was there, petting them, commenting on how big Cane was, how sucky Roman was. Dad never met Cane since he wasn’t born until a couple years later. Dad loved dogs. I woke up from that dream and was absolutely convinced the conversation had taken place. He was THERE.

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Maybe that’s how I’m supposed to look at theses years moving away from my father’s life. He’s not HERE but he’s here. He knows what’s going on. He would love the Jeep. He would be absolutely stoked about the renovation. He would be singing the praises of FBS working toward his dreams and would be congratulating SBS on his licence and upcoming prom. He would be thrilled to see what I do for work.

It doesn’t make June 6 any easier. It just means the wound isn’t throbbing any more. It’s a scar.

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The Magic Number

Some clever bloke said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The same could be said about this renovation. While the concept of the addition/reno has been kicking around pretty much since we moved in eight years ago, the first step was last fall when I put pencil to paper and drafted the very rough sketch of what we/I envisioned; a larger space that would allow us to accurate our growing family and give us the sight lines to the back of the property that we desired.

The rudimentary drawing was then taken to a professional who made accurate renderings. The tweaked the aspects of my drawing that were impossible (a window underground anyone?) and ensured the dream we dreamed was possible within the building code.

Once we had the blueprints, it was time to get prices to see if it was even financially feasible. Off to find general contractors to quote on the project. We held off until January because, you know, Christmas.

With a sense of anticipate that can only come with a New Year and a completely unrealistic expectation of what is possible, we started booking appointments with contractors.

The Good News: We had interest from general contractors.

The Bad News: They promised to get us pricing, AFTER they took off the month of February.

Yes, February is not a good month to pin down quotes. We are learning many things with this process, but the first, and biggest lesson so far has been this…

  1. THOU SHALL NOT EXPECT ANYTHING FROM A CONTRACTOR IN THE SECOND MONTH OF THE YEAR. FEBRUARY IS SACRED AND CUSTOMERS SHALL NOT BUT KEEP IT HOLY.

Finally we heard back from the contractors and they were asking bizarre questions like; “How much do you want us to allot for the kitchen?”

Whoa! This is a chicken-egg situation here. Do you set a budget when you don’t know how much you can afford? Or do you figure out what you can afford then set the budget?

We headed out on a Saturday with kitchen manufacturers. We were beginning to notice a disturbing pattern.

Admiring a granite countertop that we were interested in: $5,000.

Upgrades from the “standard” kitchen display: $5,000.

Sinks and taps combos: $5,000.

Appliances: $5,000.

Whaaaaaat? DA HECK?! We are tossing around 5K like it’s $20 bills! Yikes.

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Now, I realize that we are used to cupboards of cardboard construction, however, we don’t want to go economy on this project. That being said, we don’t want to have to sell a kidney to afford this either.

We’re not sure either of us has a kidney worth $5,000.

The quotes finally come in. Like the Three Bears, we had a price that was too high, a price that was too low (yes, it’s possible), and one that was just right! Fortunately, the “winner” is also a great guy. I think we’ll be able to work well with him and he’s already come through with some great ideas.

It’s the end of April at this point.

With this crucial part of the process locked in, we started looking around and realized, we have a TON of work to do before the first week of June target for the project to start. We have rooms to pack, a deck to remove, bricks to take off and plants to transplant.

This is when Mother Nature joins the party.

She shows up uninvited the second last weekend in April and brings with it a snow storm the likes of which none of us can remember happening in Spring.

Then there was the windstorm the first weekend of May.

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This brute brought winds up to 110 km/hr. The barbecue was tossed across the lawn, but, for some reason, the deck was unfazed – which is remarkable, because when we finally removed it last weekend, we learned that the deck wasn’t actually attached to the house. It was more or less sitting on a header which was supported from the ground by vertical posts that were rotten at ground level.

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See something off with this photo? I’m sure the perpendicular support REALLY helped the deck.

Yup – whether or not we did this project, that deck was a death trap.

So – here’s where we stand for those of you keeping score at home:

  1. no deck
  2. ripped apart dining room
  3. half packed kitchen
  4. no flooring in the living room.

Thank goodness we have a long weekend coming up, because the next item on the “to do” list is the brick removal. If you don’t hear from me in a week – send out the rescue team!

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Crazy? Why, yes, I am.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved Mustangs and Jeeps.

The first new car I purchased when I graduated from college and got a job was a dark green 1991 Mustang Coupe. I was driving a Mercury Tracer that my Dad bought for me.

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Mine was a two-door but it was dark blue and missing the quaint European-inspired landscape. Dad taught me how to drive stick in this car and this vehicle got me through college.

I had my eye on a sports car and the Mustang had my name all over it.

 

MUSTANG

Unlike this photo, it wasn’t a 5.0, but as this photo shows, the salesman thought the driver should be male. When I told him I wanted standard transmission instead of automatic, the conversation started getting awkward. For him.

“I don’t think you want a standard,” he said, with a knowing tone in his voice. Patronization was the order of the day.

“Actually I do.” I responded. “I’m driving a stick now.”

He’s not listening to me.

“You know, when you bring that car back to me, I’m going to have to sell it as a second car, you know the second car of the household, and that’s usually the wife driving that car, and women just don’t drive standards.”

Crickets.

I give that statement a moment to settle and then I state the obvious.

“Last time I checked, I was a girl. I’m looking at buying this car, not selling it, and I want it to be a standard.”

I loved that car. We called it The Ditch Pig because it was rear wheel drive and it loved the sides of the roadway. When First Born Son came along, we knew we couldn’t keep The Ditch Pig for long. The little bucket seat was barely fitting in the back seat and when the time came for FBS to be front facing, the car was going to have to go. We traded my car for my Dad’s 1990 Lumina.

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What I lost in a model year, I gained in a proper back seat. We kept it for a couple of years then moved into a couple of other vehicles. When my Dad was done with The Ditch Pig, Little Sister traded him for it. It was fun to drive and lasted forever.

After the Lumina we had a number of family-friendly vehicles. We even took FBS’s goalie bag to shop for an SUV so we knew it was big enough to handle the oversized bag. Many a weekend we had FBS and Second Born Son’s hockey bags stacked in the back. Vehicles were merely modes of transportation. It had been a long time since I was as excited about driving as I was when I bought my first car.

Then it happened. FBS bought his truck and while he was finalizing the deal, I found myself stepping into a Jeep for a test drive. SBS came with me because was getting sick of all the truck talk. We loved it. Only problem was, it was a two-door and as long as we have a 6’2 kid at home, he needs to fit in our vehicle! The timing wasn’t right and as much as I loved the Jeep, it just wasn’t time.

The reminders were all around us. The Big Guy kept pointing out every. single. time he saw a Jeep. Then we saw THE Jeep.

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It was in a parking lot at Wasaga Beach. I turned to TBG and I said, “THAT’S the Jeep I want.” It was big, it was aggressive looking and had attitude. I was in love. I think I scared TBG, but he was secretly pleased at the same time.

With a little research, I find out it’s a special edition – the 75th Anniversary Edition Unlimited to be exact. A limited number of 2016 and 2017 Wranglers have some custom features that made for a pretty impressive ride.

But, we did already have a vehicle and again, the timing wasn’t right.

Then this happened.

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Perhaps it’s difficult to see, but this was my latest vehicle. It is exactly one car width too far to the right. It’s almost in the flower bed. This is not good. I was trying to back up to gain some moment for a drift ahead of me, when the granular snow pulled me off the driveway. This has never. happened. before. To me, it was a sign.

In January, with some inspired timing, I noticed a new 75th Edition was being discounted at the same dealership FBS had purchased his truck. A couple of phone calls and we had ourselves a deal.

Truthfully, I wasn’t sure we actually had a deal until we were leaving the dealership and were driving the new vehicle home. I gotta say, there was a little bit of shock settling in.

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Yes, it’s black. Three out of the last four vehicles have been black. Yes, TBG likes to wash cars. It has features I didn’t know I’d want and a couple I’m pretty sure I don’t need. Regardless, I’m thrilled with it and love driving again. TBG loves driving it, and while SBS was a little hesitant at first, he’s enjoying it as well. The only draw-back is we had to postpone his driving test so he can have a couple of months to get used to the new wheels.

For the most part, people are usually pleased to hear that someone has a new vehicle. The odd one (emphasis on odd) looks at this beast and thinks I’m going through a mid-life crisis. I would suggest that this is actually what all grown ups aspire to – having the things they can enjoy while they are still young enough to enjoy them. God! That sounds like I’m really getting up there! I just feel that you shouldn’t have to wait until you are retired, or until the kids are married, or until….whenever, before you enjoy some fun things in life. I’ve told TBG that this vehicle is going to last me a long, long time. We’ll enjoy driving with the top down in the summer, and I’ve already put the 4-wheel drive to good use this winter.

So I’m ok with people saying I’m crazy for wanting this vehicle. They don’t have to like it, and they don’t have to pay for it. I’m doing both, gladly.

They probably couldn’t get up into it anyway.

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Ch Ch Ch Changes

Overnight a day changes. A month changes. A year changes.

I’ve encountered two kinds of people – those who reject change or find it difficult, and those who embrace it. For some, even changing a new hairstyle is too much. For others, they thrive on the difference that change brings to their lives. There is some easy change, like a new purse, and then there’s more difficult change, like losing a job.

This past year has brought some of the more challenging types of change. I do enjoy change, and like to have goals I’m working toward because I like the feeling of moving forward, progress, evolution. I haven’t liked all the changes this past year has brought. I lost sight of the evolution that happens to all of us and it’s not always timed the way we want it to be. Some people leave our lives and we struggle to see things the same way without them. Some people come into our lives and because they are new, it can be difficult to fit them into our world. Status quo is comfortable. It doesn’t challenge us. We are lulled by our comfort.

Christmas is a time that brings changes to the fore. Changes that don’t matter in July are overwhelming in December. We need our traditions to give us a sense of continuity over time, starting when we are children. Change at this time can be especially difficult. It’s been remarkable how many times change has come up during this recent holiday season. Anything different is painful and hard to accept. If we don’t  have Grandma’s china on the table, is it still Christmas? If we don’t gather on the 25th of December, can we still celebrate?

Change, even the hard change, is good. You can’t flip through any family photo album and not see the changes. Children grow, new family members join the photos, older members leave seats around the table, which are then filled with new children. Do we not want things to change? No, we want the good stuff, but it’s the uncomfortable change that we’d rather do without. Unfortunately, we don’t get to pick our change a la carte. It’s ordered for us, delivered to our door and there is no returning it to the kitchen.

So what’s the answer to adapting to the shitty change? Flexibility and perspective. I look back at my own life and can see the times that the times that I was part of change may have been difficult to people around me. Some of them were gracious and accepting. Some of there were not. Some of them were downright cruel. I am not going to be one of those people.

I am going to look at all change as a challenge in flexibility; witnessing my family and friends evolve and grow. Someone new coming for dinner? BRING IT! Changing a tradition we’ve had for 40 years? Guess it’s time for something new.

I’m looking at 2018 as a year of growth and success. The past several years have had their fair share of challenges. Last year felt like pushing Jell-O over sandpaper. It’s time for change, either brought to me or created by me.

I’m looking forward to that change, very much.  Happy New Year to all of you!

3 Years

Hard to believe it’s been three years.

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In some ways, we talk about you enough that it seems like you are still here. In others, it’s downright painful to see how much you’ve missed. Like yesterday. I know how proud you would have been about First Born Son’s graduation. You would have loved how he dominated his course. How he landed a job months before he graduated. How he bought a truck that you would have fallen in love with.

You would be delighted to see the growth in Second Born Son; literally and figuratively. He’s taller than his father and will soon look down on his brother. He is making decisions about his life that would astound you, as it does us. He reminds us of you.

In some ways, year three has been a bit easier. We don’t look at holidays like the top of the big hill on a roller coaster; unavoidable and rather unsettling. We’ve got some new ways of doing things. Little Sister is living at your home with her family. They are doing amazing things with the property, including looking at organic farming down the road. I can hear you saying they are crazy and then in the same breath, saying that’s what you would have liked to have done. Mom is settled in a new home. It’s perfect for her. She’s walking, close to the library and doesn’t have to weed gardens, so she’s got it made.

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But there are STILL days when a certain song comes on, and you never know which song that will be, that you find you stop singing along because you can’t breathe. Tears and a tight throat prevent you from enjoying it. Instantly transported to a time when you were dancing it it in the family room.

The hard days are farther apart. But they’re not gone. In a way, we don’t want them to be, because they remind us of you. I’ve heard that there is a need to grieve. “You need to grieve.” “You still haven’t grieved.” I don’t know what that means. I do know that being at your grave isn’t where I feel closest to you.

Know that we are missing you, remembering you, and hoping you are having fun with all the dogs in heaven.

 

The Little Boy Who People Said Couldn’t, Became the Man Who Did

I will never forget this moment for the rest of my life. I’m sitting at a teeny, tiny desk with The Big Guy, First Born Son’s Grade 1 teacher and the school principal. They are trying to tell us that while our son is lovely and polite, cooperative and friendly, he is a poor student. So much so, that the teacher is telling us that she believes he has ADHD.

I remember how I felt in that moment. That they got it wrong. In a big way. Here was a kid who had a vocabulary that rivalled most teenagers. He already knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life; be a farm, drive a truck.

When TBG and I voiced our doubt of this off the cuff diagnosis of his academic failure, we were told we were in denial.

<PAUSE> It is my opinion in this day and age, that the label ADHD is a quick “bandaid” solution that is far from a quick fix. I know people whose children legitimately fall into this category. We also knew from TBG’s aunt, a retired teacher who worked most of her career with ADHD and children on the autism spectrum, that FBS was absolutely NOT ADHD. If this was the case, we absolutely would have followed up on this. We were told we were trying to avoid a problem. I felt it was insulting to children who had this disorder and their families, to simply throw ADHD at parents as a “solution”. <PLAY>

I suggested that he be held back a year, and was told, no, not a good idea, because he would have issues with his peers. I shot back with “you worry about his education and I’ll worry about his social life.” He wasn’t held back.

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They told us we should expect that FBS might not graduate from high school. We should keep our expectations low. You can’t imagine what it’s like to have someone tell you that the future for your child has already been set for him, and it isn’t good.

We knew early on that we would have a struggle with FBS and his academic endeavours. Hours upon tear-filled hours were spent wrestling with math, reading and science. The only class he truly enjoyed, and seemed to do well in, was gym. French was a nightmare, exaserbated by the fact that the French teacher didn’t like that learning didn’t come easily to him. She just wanted to teach the easy learners.

This became a pattern in school; the teachers who didn’t want a challenge, were harsh. The teachers who knew he was trying were kind, but still didn’t know how to help. In Grade 6, a glimmer of hope. The teacher gave him an award for his positivity and outstanding efforts. For the first time since Kindergarten, FBS felt he was good at something in school. It was a turning point. Unfortunately it would take two more years before another teacher would make the effort FBS needed.

In the mean time, his self esteem plummeted. He was frustrated by his lack of ability to understand his school work, which was compounded by bullying that started in Grade 3. So much for keeping him with his peers!

It was his Grade 8 teacher who took the time to look into what was going on with our son. Testing, research and investigation paid off in time for high school where FBS became strong academically. It came down to this; what takes most people three or four times to understand, takes many more times for FBS. He can understand if he ‘s shown HOW to do it, and not simply told. He needs to keep math in front of him throughout high school, especially once he’s determined he wants to get into welding, a skill that requires ALL the math. Learning tools were offered and implemented. We immediately saw a difference in our son, and his schooling, but it would take years before he could truly hit his stride.

In his Grade 12 year, he told his father and me that he wasn’t going to to his graduation. We replied with, “The hell you aren’t!” It was at that time that we told him what was said in Grade 1, that he’d been written off by a system that didn’t take the time to collect students who fall through the cracks. It gave him pause. He didn’t realize how far he’d home; the obstacles he’d faced and triumphed.

He went to his high school graduation. He was an Ontario Scholar, on the Honor Roll and achieved his Specialist High Skills Major. Not bad for a kid who’s highest expectation would be to sweep floors at Tim Hortons.

FBS then applies to college and is accepted at his first choice. He wins not one, but two awards for his outstanding work over his two-year program. It’s obvious the story of his perseverance in elementary school is motivating him in college.

Today he graduated from that program. He’s been hired at a reputable company and will be making more money than I am!

A couple of weeks ago, he decided take some of his saved funds and splurge on his first new vehicle. It’s a truck.

Tonight, as we left a dinner with family to celebrate his graduation, he made a startling revelation.

“You know, I’ve accomplished just about everything I wanted to; I got into the college I wanted, I graduated, I got a job welding and I got a truck. All I need now is a farm!”

We have no doubt that will happen. And we look forward to cheering you on, as you prove everyone wrong.

Congratulations Sweetheart! Could not be prouder!