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Archive for the ‘If I knew then what I know now’ Category


I never thought I would be taking tests and talking back to school in my forties, and yet, here I am. For the past year, I’ve been re-teaching myself french. It’s been an interesting project to say the least. I probably *could* have worked a little harder, but, considering I’m doing this on my own, I’m actually fairly proud of where I’ve gotten. Tomorrow morning, I am taking a french oral exam. The same one government employees of the province take to determine at what level they can communicate in our nations other official language. I’m nervous as hell, but I’m also excited that I’ve come this far on my own.

There’s more.

Back when we lived in Ontario, I was just *starting* to entertain the notion of doing some further education. But then the move and the starting over and the finding work and all those other things happened and it was put on hold. This year, I applied to a program at the local college. I was wait-listed. That was okay. I mean, at the time I was kind of upset about it but, you know, part of being an adult is accepting things you cannot change and learning how, when and where to keep pushing. So, I applied to a different program at a different college. This one wanted me, right away. The only problem? They needed my transcript.
That doesn’t sound like it should be a problem, right? Except that I didn’t graduate traditionally. Instead, like the very scared teenager I was, I dropped out of school with only months to go before my graduation (because I was pregnant and my life got complicated, fast) and continued my studies on my own. Which *would* have been straightforward, BUT, that I was a terrible student in high school. I cut class a lot. I didn’t try. I cared more about my social life then my academic one and it showed. I did not have enough credits, even if I had stayed out that last year, to graduate. A funny thing happened when I became a mom, though. I got this tremendous drive. I did courses through adult education programs. I did night school classes. I did correspondence through the school board. Want to know what happens when you do classes from three different venues, over four years, both before and after a marriage so you have two different last names?? It becomes nearly impossible to track it all down.
I’m still working on gathering all the missing cogs to my educational wheel, so the second program had to wait, because a full transcript is mandatory for that program and I don’t have one at the moment.
So. Left with some mild depression and disappointment, I did something else. I decided instead of all these college programs, I’d apply to university.

And I am in.
Starting February, for the first time in my life, at 42, I will be an official University student. It’s super daunting and exciting and, well, weird a bit, but I am very happy about it.
So there you have it. I certainly didn’t go through the milestones of life in ANY kind of conventional way, but then, I was never much of a conventional gal. I like making my own moves, in my own time, in my own way.
Feel free to start sending donations towards my education, folks.
I’m about to be a student. Again.

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Happiness is music. Whether I’m in my car alone and rocking out at the top of my lungs to Bruno Mars, dancing in my kitchen to Sara Bareilles, painting to Rachmaninov or crying along with Domingo as he sings ‘laugh, clown’, I love music. My life plays out to a vast and varied soundtrack of my own making and it wouldn’t be the same if I wasn’t a part of the song and the song wasn’t part of me.
Happiness is art. Every so often I lose my way around, as most of us do at one point or another in life. I tend to be a wanderer. A meander-er, and I’m easily distracted so sometimes, I get mired down in the minutiae of life and I forget to keep contact with *who I am*. And then I create something. I write, or I paint, or sew or knit. I feed my inner artist. And I remember where my centre is. When I’m hurting or sad or stressed out or depressed, art is what brings me back to remembering that there is such joy to be had, sometimes in the simplest things. I am a person who needs to express themselves in order to be right. Art allows me to do just that.
Happiness is touch. Remember when that book about love languages came out? I do. And one thing resonated SO MUCH with me. Touch. I am a person who thrives on physical contact. Thankfully, I live in a family of people who touch. We’re huggers and snugglers and hand squeezers. My husband frequently puts his hand on my leg when we’re in the car or absently reaches out in bed at night to hold my hand or touch my hair. Often, he does it absentmindedly and will almost startle himself with an “oops, do you mind?”. While I love that he still checks in with me about when I want to be touched, 99 times out of 100 yes, I do want it. I love it. I am forever happy that my adult and teen children will still hug me, not perfunctorily, but actual hugs. Where they hold on and squeeze. And they’ll still sit snuggled up with me on the couch for a movie. I can’t imagine my world without touch. It’s how I say I love you without words.
Happiness is my home. It’s being able to go back every day to the people I love and the haven we created together. It’s looking around and knowing that my walls are packed with memories and that we all feel safe and loved here.

As much as I spend time complaining about things, or worried about them, stressed out or just upset or even angry, what I am more often than all of these is happy.
It’s not a bad old life after all.

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And now that I’ve posted yet another maudlin, privileged, first-world whine (see previous post) I’ve decided that I need to bring back some humour. We all need a good ol’ laugh. This one dates back a few years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever told it. In fact, I only just remembered it last weekend at a birthday party for my husband at our house. We were all hanging out having a few drinks and trading tales when the conversation turned to waxing. I don’t remember how, there was a lot of wine involved.
So this memory came roaring back to me and I shared it, and now I’m going to share it with you.

Many years ago, more than nine now, I think, we used to live in a little town house in Cambridge. I actually really loved that house, it was our first real home. The first home we owned and, like any place you own, we had put a lot of work into making it our own. However, before we did all the work, we had a ton of kids and ourselves piled into three bedrooms and one bathroom. It was…snug. Anyway, we did the kinds of things most parents with full and busy households do and got involved with sports and dance. Sports, for us, meant soccer. We coached and the kids played. We coached a lot. First one team, then two teams and then one summer which shall never be repeated, three teams. Every summer we liked to do something fun for the teams and we would have a skills/fun practice where the kids got to do really neat challenges. We would hang hula hoops from the goal posts and do precision challenges etc. And at the end, we’d let them pie us in the face. One year when it was my turn to get pied, my husband thought it would be a nice treat to buy chocolate whip cream. You can imagine how that looks, melted on a face in +30 degree heat. Not. Pretty.
Anyway, one year we told the team if they won a certain amount of games, Shawn would shave his head. Well, they did, and he did. And he looked good. So good, in fact, that shaving his head became a regular summer thing.
I don’t remember how it happened, but, I *believe* it had to do with a comment on a bald man’s head that looked so smooth and shiny, we thought it had been waxed.
Yes. We went there.
No, we didn’t think to ask anyone first or get advice.
No, cell phones were not so prevalent then and certainly did not have the video capacity they do now.
We went out to shoppers and bought some wax and strips. That night, I buzzed his head with the clippers so that the hair was short, but not so short there would be nothing to grab onto with wax. It was maybe, a half a centimeter long, or half of a half. We decided it would be best to start with the back of his head. Low down, from the nape of his neck straight up, perpendicular to his right ear. I applied the warm wax for him, as he sat bare chested on the side of the tub. I carefully placed the strip over the wax and rubbed it. We chatted, he said the warm wax felt nice. I asked if he was nervous and he said, a little. I asked if he was ready. He said yes.
I yanked upward, in one smooth motion, just like the instructions said. I yanked upward. His scalp yelled NO.
I don’t think it was actually his scalp that yelled, it was probably Shawn himself. But it was so primal. I’ve never seen skin pull away from the body that much. That strip didn’t budge, not one bit, but his skin did. We immediately realized that this was the worst possible decision of all time and the kids were drawn like moths to a flame to the bathroom door, no longer distracted by the Disney movie we had put on for them, they wanted to know if Daddy was dying.
I turned on the shower and bent his head over and tried to soften the wax again to the point of at least being able to take off the strip. But the wax didn’t want to cooperate. The wax thought it was funny. I thought it was a *little* funny. Shawn did not. I got my scissors out and tried to gently hold the strip away from his head enough to cut the tiny hairs but I was so afraid I was going to cut his scalp. We tried using a razor, but it kept getting gummed up in the wax.
It took us over an hour to get the strip off his head and get most of the wax off. Poor Shawn had such a headache and we had to razor the rest of his head to get it somewhat smooth. I mean, we learned some valuable lessons: leg hair and head hair and leg skin and head skin are NOT the same beasts. Waxing your head is a bad idea, and, if you spend long enough with your head tipped down over the tub and a shower head running directly over you with warm water, your ears will be super duper clean.
We have never again experimented with waxing any part of Shawn’s body. And, even though he did keep up the practice for many years afterwards, he no longer shaves his head in the summer. Bummer.
So there you go, a more lighthearted, true story, from the annals of the Reilly family years. And a little laugh for your Friday.

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There was this movie that came out in 1996 called “The truth about Cats and Dogs” in which Uma Thurman and Janeane Garofalo played friends in a bit of a reverse Cyranno de Bergerac. Uma is the tall model who maybe isn’t so worldly and Janeane is the smart, short, self-conscious one. There is a lot of great banter in this movie and the dialogue is smart and funny without pandering, but the reason I thought of it today is because I had a couple of friends take my picture.
So, there is a scene in the movie where Uma takes Janeane to a mall cosmetics counter and as Janeane is making very funny, if self-depreciating comments about her pores and the ‘free radicals’ in the air, the saleswoman plunks a huge, magnified mirror in front of her face. It’s a very aggressive move, and it perfectly illustrates two things about women: one, that our own inner dialogues to ourselves are worse than anything a person can say to us and two, that when insecure, we will spend money to try to fix it.

Which brings me back to today and my two friends. I work with a bunch of really fabulous people and in preparing for an upcoming newsletter, two of the people I love the most at work took my picture. Not just mine, but, this is my blog and this story is about me so, yeah, they took my picture. First of all, it’s daunting to have your picture taken. I am a total slave to the new age technology that allows me to use filters and take a zillion digital pictures to capture just that right ‘one’. So, having someone else control the lens made me nervous. Plus, I like these ladies. I am “the funny one”. I can always make people laugh. So of course I struck some poses like a fake Hollywood celeb with that hand on the hip front leg cross pose (from which I almost fell over, and I was wearing sneakers, not heels) and one of me literally climbing the wall behind me. But then they just kept on taking face shots. Which, I admit, was the point, but, again, no control=panic.
My inner me was freaking out a bit, having a hard time smiling without instantaneously criticising myself for how I must look. My inner me was instantaneously cataloguing every flaw that I feel the worst about or obsess the most about. My inner me was being a terrible, insecure wise-ass with a giant magnified mirror in my face.
Suffice it to say there were some really nice pictures in the bunch, because of course they’re both great photographers, but, as the emails kept rolling in for me to check them out, I had a really hard time. How do you turn off an inner dialogue that has been a part of your life for as long as you can remember?
You don’t.
I looked at each picture. The ones that were silly, the ones that were awful, the ones with too much neck, the funny one where I tried to pull my neck smooth, the one where I’m trying to look serious and am clearly clenching my teeth. I looked at every one of them. And whenever my inner voice tried to be too harsh, I said, that’s not me. I’ve worked very hard on my inner dialogue over the years trying to correct a lot of toxic thoughts and thought patterns. It’s not easy. But that can’t be me anymore.
So, I picked a nice shot, and also said that I would be fine with the goofy one of me pretending to climb the wall. Because that goof who likes to make people laugh, that’s me.
And I’m pretty okay with her.

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This past weekend was a long weekend and well, we just wouldn’t be us if we didn’t cram it full of stuff to do. So that’s exactly what we did. In the true spirit of team, I offered up our house as the location of the end of summer party for my work. In fairness, our property is just made for hosting and I was happy to do it. The weather was not so happy. It was cold, rainy and dismal. We didn’t let it deter us, though. We built a fire in the fire pit to keep folks warm and split our time from fireside to pool shed to back garage. There was plenty of good food, drinks and conversation and we went on until almost midnight.
Saturday morning, we helped our middle daughter Aislinn move out of our house and into her first apartment.
I’m going to pause here to speak on why this was so hard, because, I already have two other children who have moved out and, not to diminish what I felt when they did, there is something about this one that made it….well, harder.
So, I’m the second oldest of seven and I grew up with my older brother (13 months apart) and two younger sisters (four and six years younger). My three younger siblings were “the little ones”, which, fair or not, is what they were. They are 10, 13 and 15 years younger than me. They were born AFTER we moved from Guelph to Elora. Those first years of mine as a kid are filled with typical kid stuff: soccer teams and gymnastics and dance classes and taking us all over the place on family trips and such. Typical family stuff. But then, when I was 13 my dad got very sick and things slowed way down. So it was like, I got this one ‘Dad’ and the “little ones” got another.
We have often joked, much to our own children’s horror, that our family did a similar ‘split’ after we moved out east. We had family #1, when all the kids were little and we did soccer and dance and trips to Algonquin and epic Sunday morning breakfasts and movie nights and pulled them out of school for Harry Potter releases. And then we moved here and Shawn got sick, Liam and Keisha moved out and it was just us and our own “little three”. Only they weren’t so little. So life went on and we took kids to music lessons and we did a prom and a graduation and then not even a full month ago our Aislinn tells us she is seriously looking at places. Within two weeks she found one and voila, Saturday morning she moved out.
We miss her. It’s quiet with only two kids at home.
So how do we deal with only two kids left at home? Renovate, that’s how. We found a great deal on flooring at Home Depot, a new couch (after months literally of searching), and bought paint at Kent. So we spent the rest of our long weekend ripping out old floors, painting the walls, painting the trim around the room, windows and doors and then yesterday, putting the new floor in. Out with the old, on with the new.
In tune with our changing family, Shawn and I opted for the ‘old person’ choice of only one couch and a ‘special’ chair for each of us. For him, a recliner (only a nice one, not that brown monstrosity he used to have – love you babe) and for me, a chaise lounger. Something I can stretch out on, cuddle under a blanket on and oh yeah, knit. Because I’m also old.
I generally dislike change. Shawn and I walked around our house on Sunday night, after a late night snack in the kitchen and we realized, we bought our house for the family we had at the time, and not the one we were on the cusp of having. It’s a lot of house, for a diminishing amount of people.
I guess that just means we’ll have to have more parties.

Happy back to school, all!

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I had a nest with five little birds
Singing a chorus, night and day
Filling the air with their beautiful song
and never was chirping so gay

My five little birds lived in harmony
From fledgling to full soaring flight
Dipping and diving through air all the day
and snuggled in dark peaceful night

The first bird was quiet and pensive
The second was bold and so bright
The third had a strength behind grace
The fourth was a beautiful sight

The fifth bird was tiny, and broken at first
Fighting for each gasp of air
He grew to be bigger than all of them
he grew to be handsome and fair

My five little birds fluttered round me
All with such mischievous eyes
Then one by one, as they grew bigger
disappeared in beckoning skies

Five, four, three, onward into the world
Until only two remained home
For birds cannot nest for forever
and mothers must let their birds roam

I had a nest with five little birds
Please come back and visit some day
fill up our home with your beautiful songs
for never was chirping so gay

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I am in so many relationships, you guys. Like, a plethora. An abundance. A glut of relationships. I got relationships coming out the wazoo, which is a great thing, because at 42, I can happily say that the majority of those relationships are positive ones. And do you know why that is? Because I cracked the code. I figured out the hierarchy of relationship:happiness.
Me, Him, Them, You
Looks simple, doesn’t it? Almost too simple. And yet, so many people struggle with this. I’m not throwing shade, I myself completely struggled with this for YEARS. I finally got it right though and now I’m going to share it with you.
Me. I have to come first in the relationship list. It took me a really long time to accept this as not only true, but, as the HEALTHIEST choice for me to make. I always thought that putting myself first meant that I was being a total narcissist, but, I had it wrong. It makes me the sanest, most giving and loving me I can possibly be.
You see, I let my “me” relationship sit on the sidelines for a long time. I told her it was more important to focus on the children (which, is highly important, and they are a BIG factor of my life), my husband, my friends and making sure that everybody liked me at the EXPENSE of my own happiness, self worth and health. Tell me, how are you going to make all those other relationships wonderful fulfilling ones when it’s evident you don’t care enough about yourself to be happy? You can’t. Because if those people in your other relationships notice you are constantly unhappy, sacrificing yourself or just being a doormat for their happiness, they will stop trusting you. They will no longer engage in a mutually beneficial way, they will either pity you, or take advantage of you or just plain give up. For years I let my need to be ‘for everyone else’ overshadow my need to be for me.
And then. Major life changes, re-evaluation of life and a lot of really good therapy and I learned that when I look to myself first, I’m a happier person. I am able to give more, do more and be more because I have the reserves to do so. I can say no and not feel immediately worried that I’m letting someone else down because I’M ALLOWED TO SAY NO. My life is no longer lived for everyone else, which has in turn allowed me to be freer with the part of me that I *do* give. Being happy every day, for the most part, is the best way to live my life and believe me when I say, that has a ripple effect on ALL of my other relationships.
Him. So I’m married. I’ve been married forever, plus 22 years. I’m one of those few people in our current society who married her high school sweetheart at 19 years old and we’re still going strong. But we weren’t always. In fact, for a good stretch of years there, we were a mess. A big ol, covered in sticky kid fingers mess. Why? Because I was in the depths of living for my ‘other’ relationships. It was all going to the kids and then to the friends and the community we lived in, for the sake of appearances. And while we “appeared” to be “perfect” on the outside, a farce we were super proficient at performing, we were an unholy mess on the inside. He lived for his job and I lived for the kids. Neither of us lived for each other or more importantly for ourselves.
And then. Those major life changes and all that great therapy. Much like the discovery of self, we learned that we ‘chose’ our relationship with one another and we needed to bring it back to priority. We started to date again. We talked and really listened. We became one another’s best friends again and when there was a problem, instead of going to the friends to bitch, we went to one another and worked on it. The newly found importance of taking care of ourselves trickled into care of one another and our relationship. We found so many new levels of connection and we’re still discovering them. And it’s OKAY for us to put ourselves before our kids. Because when they see us working together every day on making our marriage and ourselves the best they can be, we model for them the kind of love and happiness they in turn will seek out. What a gift to give them!
Them. Those kids. Well, we had a bunch, so what did we expect other than having them take over the world. Five kids in eight years. Like lunatics. Or people who had birth control fail them once or twice. Either way, I love each and every child of mine even when I am super mad at them and they know it.
When they were little, I had the luxury of staying home with them for almost 12 years. I loved being a stay at home mom outwardly, but inwardly I struggled. Children are HARD. And to make matters harder, I also babysat in our home to bring in extra income, so between that and the friends in our neighborhood who came over, it wasn’t unusual for our house to have 7-10 kids in it at a given time. I was all about the kids. I did everything for them. Maybe sometimes too much. It’s hard to know. But, as they got older and I went back to work, in my fear of losing my connection with them from the single digit years, I started blurring the lines between parent, and friend. This did not actually serve either of us well. As the older kids got older, they sometimes became my confidants, and that REALLY didn’t serve us well. So, as I’ve said, excellent therapy and a reclaiming of our roles and their place in the hierarchy and I have excellent, parental parts in my children’s lives. I’m loving watching them all take their turns at moving on and becoming the adults they are becoming and I’m proud to say that they have (or seemed to have) learned that they need to take care of themselves in order to be able to give of themselves to others. I never hear anything but praise of how mature and delightful they are.
You. You get to come last. That doesn’t mean I neglect my friends, it just means, and you all know this, myself, my husband and my kids supersede you. I’m not going to go to you over my husband or hide things for you from him. I don’t do secrets and lies anymore. I don’t do drama. God, I hate the drama. And the best thing is? Since adopting this, the people in my/our life who thrived on the drama and the chaos have simply drifted out. Either than or I’ve let them go. And the people left? They are the ones who understand where I/we are and they get it. They love and respect us for it. Mostly, they are the same way.
It’s a happier life, friends, knowing this. Living this.
Me. Him. Them. You. It made it all so much simpler. And so much better.

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