Tag Archives: growing up

on the eve of a big decision

I rushed around the house this morning, packing at the last minute, trying not to forget anything I needed for my trip to Toronto, trying to get to the airport on time, trying to calm down about, well, everything. In my haste, I dropped a stack of papers. They all landed perfectly in order, except one. My photo of me and Don Bowling slid across the floor. I picked it up and paused for a minute to think about Don.don

Eight hours from now I’ll be making a big decision about what’s next in my life. I’m honestly not sure yet what the outcome will be, so you’ll have to wait for the details.

I sat down for a second and thought about what Don, my “adopted grandfather” (his words, my delight) would have told me to do. I remembered his stories, his many different paths, major changes, setbacks and adventures.

I thought he must be somewhere out there, finding a way to encourage me…telling me that I just have to remember to write, and to not let anything get in my way or distract me. I lost track of him over the years – we exchanged letters, Christmas and birthday cards for a couple of years but eventually they stopped. As soon as I got a moment to myself today, I looked him up. I learned that he passed away two months ago. April 11, 2016 was 7 years to the day after I sat with him on the square in Florence discussing life, love, and writing.

After I reluctantly left him in Florence, I bought a journal and started scribbling furiously. I vowed to adjust my attitude, take some action, and change my situation. It wasn’t in as dramatic a fashion I had pictured that day on the train, but I did change my situation. That spark of passion led me to Toronto, where my life did indeed get better.

Today I am back in Toronto, which feels like Home. Getting here was pretty special too.

I was settled into my seat, journal in hand, ready for the seven-hour flight to Toronto. I had a premium seat and the one next to me was empty, always nice. After everyone was settled and the flight attendants were closing bins and checking seatbelts, a little old lady made her way to the seat next to me, clearly flustered.

She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I’m very upset. They forgot me and I almost missed my flight.” The gate agents were supposed to bring her in a wheelchair but lost track of her because there were about 5 others on the flight. Her hands shook so much she couldn’t zip her purse so I gently took it from her, zipped it and placed it under the seat. I poured her some water and asked if she feels better now that she’s sitting down. She did. I got out a ginger cookie and saw her eyeing it. She asked where I got it, I gave it to her and she inhaled it. She asked if she could keep the other one for later.

She told me about her home renovation, paint colours, floor choices, her daughter that she likes and the daughter that she…well…doesn’t. I dug her headphones out of her purse and untangled them. I read her nine different movie descriptions and helped her choose one about a dress maker, then reset the system each time she accidentally pushed stop instead of the volume. She thinks marriage is overrated, and she loves Italy. I pulled her coat off for her, then put it back on. I helped her open the individually wrapped pieces of our meal, read the customs form to her, and learned about her grandsons who don’t visit and don’t even like surfing.

I had been reviewing my notes for tomorrow, rehearsing what I’m going to say. She said,
“You don’t need notes honey. You don’t need to explain anything. All you need to say is that you’ve decided what you want to do and you’re going to do it.” I laughed because it really is that simple.

She asked me earnestly, “what if they forget me again?” I told her it doesn’t matter because I can drive a wheelchair. I said I wouldn’t leave her until we saw her daughter, and she grabbed my hand and held on.

The gate agent didn’t forget her this time. He kept telling me he’d take her from here – confused as to why I wasn’t leaving. As promised, I stayed with her until we met her daughter to whom she said, “this is my friend Lauren. She stayed with me the whole time.”

Don and Noreen came into my life during times of uncertainty and fear. They gave me a few hours of their time, and some sweet and simple words of advice that left me feeling energised and confident about what to do next.

I don’t know yet what I’m going to do next. But it occurs to me that if I can learn to be as open and receptive when I’m feeling strong, as I am when I’m feeling scared, it could be anything.

the girl with the ferret tattoo…a stream of consciousness from Toulouse

Toulouse reminds me of Brussels. It doesn’t feel like the France I know (but I don’t know much about France, really). Sitting by the Garonne as the sun set over the lesser known Pont Neuf, it felt more like Florence, actually.

I literally felt myself slow down today. I’ve been so wired lately, so stressed. My mind is elsewhere, and if I were being honest with myself I’d admit I’d rather be at home in Toronto taking care of the million things I need to do before I move to London.


dougswimmingI miss my dog.

The expense and trouble to take him with me to London are outrageous, but last weekend when he was away at summer camp (the dog-sitter’s cottage, I tell him it’s summer camp so he doesn’t think I’m leaving him behind when I travel) I was reminded that my life is so much better with him in it that it’s worth the trouble.


A man tried to talk to me while I sat on a terrace on the Capitol square, eating Ibérico ham and drinking Rosé. I think he was either offering me a joint or asking for food or both, but I don’t speak French and he wore too much cologne. I said no.

Recently a friend told me I am “stoic” and when I asked her if she meant “cold” she didn’t say no. She said “stoic sounds nicer.” Fair enough. This guy wasn’t someone I’d be the opposite of stoic with, but even if he was I’d probably have reacted the same way.


There’s a girl at the next table with a backpack and a book. She’s probably 24 and she smiles at me when I tell the man to go away. We smile at one another when an American couple gets into a loud argument at a nearby table. Briefly, I consider talking to her. But I don’t know if she speaks English (her book is in French but she seems to understand the conversation going on beside her – the American couple, fighting over something he said yesterday). I feel like she wants to have a conversation.

I don’t talk to her because I don’t have anything to say that will inspire her. I won’t be her Don Bowling. What could I say? Follow my advice and in 6-10 years you’ll have changed completely. You’ll be stoic and cities will start to blend together and you’ll listen to the inner voice telling you that you can wait until next year to have that adventure.

Would my 24 year old self be happy with my almost-31 year old self?

24to31


London is a city of neighbourhoods, like Toronto, like San Francisco. Unlike Amsterdam, Brussels, and Toulouse… they have a centre and build out from it. If my life were a city, it would be a city of neighbourhoods.

I’m moving to London one year to the day after I moved out of the home I owned with Mr. Butterflies and we became officially Separated. He’s taking me to the airport.

I was recently criticized for breaking up wrong. Apparently, it is confusing that we love each other but decided not to be together. This person didn’t think I should expect support in coping with my divorce, if I wasn’t even acting divorced. I don’t care. The compassion we have and continue to show for one another is something I’m proud of.


Who are these women in their high heels and cute dresses? It’s 38*C outside. Why do I feel like the only sweaty tourist sticking to her chair and worrying about whether my t-shirt will show boob sweat?

I tried on some dresses today, but felt out of place. I think my uniform of jeans and a cotton top with comfy shoes will need an upgrade if I’m going to walk on the same sidewalks as Kate Middleton.


saufSauf is not the name of the street I’m on.

This reminds me of the time Mom and I got lost in Brussels because we stayed on Rue street for miles.

How is it possible I have such a poor sense of direction? I wonder if I like wandering around and getting lost because it’s really my only option.


I saw a girl with a ferret tattoo. I think it was a ferret, anyway. I’ve only seen two ferrets, and that’s counting the one on Kindergarten Cop (it’s not a tooo-mah).

I like her maybe-a-ferret tattoo because I’m still thinking about it. It’s intriguing. I like my lace tattoo but it’s not that intriguing.

tyson-dog-tattooWhen I got my tattoo, I felt like so uncool next to the shop full of people who don’t give a fuck what you think about their knuckle tattoos and face tattoos, naked ladies and Koi fish and sugar skulls.My tattoo artist and another artist were chatting over the buzz of the tattoo guns. The other artist said that a guy came in wanting his dog’s face tattooed. She said, “I said okay but I need a photo’ and he said he didn’t have one so I said ‘okay then it will have to be pretty generic for the breed.” And then I asked, “how do you tattoo a dog’s face? Is that even legal?” and I wasn’t trying to be funny and no one laughed. Ooooh, I get it now. So uncool.

it’s what i do

A couple of years ago, I was spending a weekend with my grandparents in a Sacramento suburb. It was a particularly eventful weekend, as a local woman had disappeared from the grocery store parking lot down the street from their retirement village. She had just run out for a few errands then her car was found abandoned and her purse was missing. Her husband of 30+ years was on TV praying for her safe return and explaining there was no way she just took off, she’d never do that, it’s just not in her nature. The community organized search parties, volunteers combed the open fields nearby trying to hold onto hope that she’d be found alive and well. 

During a commercial break I asked my Grandma and aunt a question I already knew the answer to: “if you guys found my car abandoned in a parking lot and my purse missing, what would you think?” Grandma smiled and said she wouldn’t worry, my aunt said she’d probably wonder where the next postcard was coming from. Papa chimed in, “I’d check to see if you took all your shoes with you. If you were going to leave, I think you’d take your shoes.” 

No one would assume the worst. No one would go on TV and say the circumstances were suspicious. Not because they don’t love me or worry about me – they do – but they know me. I’ve never disappeared without telling anyone but can’t say I haven’t thought about it many, many times. Plus, it just seems like something I would do – if you know me. In the decade after leaving my childhood home I lived in 4 cities in 3 countries – averaging 2 years in each until coming to Toronto where I’ve been for about 5.5 years – my record.

I’ve been called adventurous, unreliable, brave, a flight risk. Some people say they’re jealous that I’ve lived in such great cities, but I’ll never forget the person who told me she felt sorry for me because I don’t have roots. In the past 5 months I’ve come to accept that she was probably right – I don’t really have a home. I have people all over the world whom I love and who love me, countless places I know I could go if I needed a place to go. But I’ve also come to accept that I don’t like staying in one place, I like to keep moving, it’s what I do. I take what is important with me and leave the rest behind. I maintain my friendships and preserve my favourite memories and move on to the next blank slate.

Five months ago I wrote about my most recent struggle with what to do next, and my decision to stay in Toronto: 

“I didn’t know if I should stay or go, I just wanted to be somewhere I could feel whole – somewhere I could silence the nagging feeling that my life is missing something. Sometimes traveling drowns out that feeling, other times it is yoga. Often I escape it when I’m laughing with my best friend, other times when I’m taking a bath and listening to Norah Jones…I’ve decided to stay here in Toronto, and to continue on the healing journey I started almost a decade ago…That nagging feeling is silenced for now, I know what I need to do and where I need to be.”

I think that was a nice thing to write on New Year’s Eve – a night notorious for making resolutions you don’t keep (I’m also still not in shape, nor have I finished my knitting project. And by not finished I mean not started). It was certainly true, at that moment and for some moments after that.

I think you see where I’m going with this…

I’m moving to London, England at the end of the summer. It is something to look forward to and something to feel hopeful about. I know what to expect: I know it will be difficult sometimes and lonely often and that I should make the most of it because someday this time in my life will be over and I’ll miss it. I’ve always loved London. I like the gloomy weather and the city’s energy and that I’ll be traveling around Europe again. It’s an amazing opportunity for my career and for our company’s growth. I’ll be back in Toronto often so I’ll have the best of both worlds.

I’m not overcome with excitement, nor am I nervous. I’m happy to be moving there but more than anything I’m feeling calm. This feels right – I don’t know if it is right but I know it will all work out however it is supposed to, and I’ve come to accept that this is just what I do. 

my gramma

I love books. I love reading and l love talking about books. Someday, I want to write a book. I love gifting books I know my loved ones will love… and then calling said loved ones to talk about said books. I like the stories, but I love the words. I underline my favourite passages and pause and think about why the writer chose those words. My heroes are the men and women who use words to paint pictures that don’t leave you any choice but to feel the way they felt when they wrote them.

I record inspirational passages in the journal Mr. Butterflies gave me for my birthday 5 years ago: gifted specifically to let me know that he knows how much I love words. I wonder if the author wrote the passage first and the story around it, or if the prose just came naturally. Did they edit several times to make it seem more poetic or did the sentences form themselves on the fly?

It happens in real life too. In the middle of conversations, I sometimes tune out for a moment and think about why a person chose the words they did. My first memory of this was with my Gramma. Gramma almost never referred to herself in the first person when she talked to me. I noticed, but I never understood why, until I did.

Come sit over here with Gramma.

My Gramma had Her Spot on the couch. There were many couches over the years – the most memorable was her teal and purple sectional with a digital print (it was the 90s, obviously) – it had recliners on the ends and a cupboard in the corner piece. My sister and I stored our prized possessions there: a knock-off “Disney” colouring book, car bingo games, a dollar bill we folded and unfolded into origami elephants and swans and flowers, and most importantly, our Pogs and Slammers.

Her Spot was square in front of the TV: arm’s reach from the phone she used to place orders from QVC. She occasionally looked up from her murder mystery to see if we wanted a hot chocolate or some pasta. Our answer depended on how long it was until dinner – we knew we had to save room for Pillsbury biscuits. We giggled hysterically when the tube popped – it scared us every time. If we could convince her to open a second pack we had to promise to eat them all. She knew a top secret recipe that made her biscuits the best in the whole wide world (it was butter).

When I was a teenager, my life was upside-down. Nothing was okay, everything was fucked up and it seemed like no one understood. She’d invite me to lie down on the couch with my head on her lap. We’d watch the shopping channel and she’d comb my hair back from my face. Absentmindedly and rhythmically, her nails softly scratched a trail from the corner of my eye, along my hairline and behind my ear, down to my shoulder. She’d tell me stories about when I was a little girl, when I lived with her while my parents worked. She’d say “this is how Gramma got you to fall asleep when you was a little girl. You was the sweetest little girl…”

Don’t you dare bring that shit into Gramma’s house on Thanksgiving.

When I was 21 I moved to San Francisco. I loved my new life as a ‘career woman’ – thriving in the big city, being all fancy and stuff. I was jet setting and getting pedicures and all sorts of other extravagant things. I left my fucked up life behind for a fresh start and, for a little while, never looked back. Until I looked back. I found myself lonely and lost, and promptly hopped in the car and drove the 7 hours to Gramma’s house. It was Thanksgiving – my compatriots know but for those who don’t: Thanksgiving is the ultimate American holiday. It’s a bigger deal than all the other holidays combined.

It was Thanksgiving and I was a newly minted grown up and so it seemed time to ‘help’ with the preparations. I couldn’t cook (even if I could have, I wouldn’t have wanted to compete with my uncle’s deep fried turkey). I decided that my contribution to Thanksgiving Dinner would be my mom’s signature: “Orange Stuff”.

Orange Stuff is a Ritz Cracker crust with a Cool Whip/Condensed Milk centre and canned mandarin orange slices. I went grocery shopping, prepared the dessert, washed the dishes, and sat down feeling like an adult. An impeccable dinner was served and I looked around, counting my blessings for being part of such an amazing family. It was time for dessert and I was so proud to pull my dessert out of the fridge and serve it to relatives eagerly awaiting Kathy’s Famous Orange Stuff. The family took turns politely complimenting me, I acknowledged their praise and agreed it was pretty good.

Gramma interrupted my moment, shouting across the table, “what is this?” She clarified “this tastes like diet!” and shot an accusatory look my way. I tried to explain but she interjected: “this ain’t Orange Stuff! What’s this fat free shit?” There was no arguing with her, only apologizing…and of course, laughter. I’ve made Mom’s Orange Stuff twice since and I’ll never again dream of using that fat free shit. I never forget the tenderness in her glance, a softness that she didn’t even try to hide as she “scolded” me.

Gramma loves you so much.

A couple of years ago, I introduced my (then) husband to my Gramma. I was equally proud of each of them, and eager for them to meet one another. They were two of the most important people in my life and they both loved each other immediately (I knew they would). While my Grampa and husband sat inside, I stole a moment with Gramma on the porch. She said, “Gramma loves you so much and is so happy you’re happy.”

 

Since I was too little to remember, my Gramma always referred to herself in the third person. This isn’t the first time I’ve pondered, not even the first time I’ve written about it. It’s the first time I’ve shared because there are many people thinking of her right now, and who she was to them.

My Gramma never talked to me as the woman she was – a woman who had overcome so much, a woman who always put others first, a woman who approached every one of life’s ups and downs with grace and strength. As far as we were concerned, she was just my Gramma. Since long before I came along, she lived her life for everyone else. She was someone’s Gramma, someone’s Momma, someone’s wife and someone’s friend. She talked about herself in the third person – she chose those words – because they reflected how she saw herself and how we all saw her.

a new chapter

I’m happy that in a few hours 2014 will be in the past. It has been one of the more difficult years of my life so far.

My marriage ended in August. It was and continues to be a profoundly sad and heartbreaking backdrop to a lot of other things that, on their own, would be cause for celebration.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what might have been, if things were different, if I was different – but they’re not, I’m not. Slowly, those thoughts are becoming less persistent and are being drowned out by feelings of gratitude. I have experienced real love. I was half of a truly wonderful marriage that just wasn’t meant to be – through no fault of his or mine. The way that Mr. Butterflies and I handled our separation, the way we continue to support one another is something I’m incredibly proud of.

Obviously, a new chapter in my life has begun.

And as usual, that leaves me wondering about my next move. Historically, moving to a new city has been my go-to solution for all of life’s challenges. When I’m not happy with my surroundings, I seek out new ones.

Professionally, it’s been the best year of my life. I co-authored a book, spoke at conferences around the world, and tripled the client base for a software solution we built to automate a methodology I designed. I’m growing my team and am confident about the direction our company is going. Imagine my delight when my boss told me he’d support me if I wanted to leave Toronto – that my job would come with me if I decided to go.

Suddenly my biggest problem was choosing where to go next: back to Amsterdam? San Francisco? Portland? Somewhere entirely new? I was paralyzed by the sheer volume of possibilities.

Life transitions tend to make me introspective, as I’m sure they do for most people. I asked myself why I was leaving, and what I needed to make me happy in a new city.  Mr. Butterflies lovingly suggested I consider whether I was running from something or toward something, and as sound as the advice was, I kind of hated the answer. So what if I was running from something? It’s what I do.

The other thing I do is make lists.

Reasons to stay in Toronto:

  • I have formed very important friendships that I couldn’t possibly live without. I’d be back often though…
  • I’ve been in Toronto for five years – that’s longer than any city since childhood. I’ve been here long enough to develop a routine.  It may sound silly, but if you’re even a little bit of a nomad like me you know how exhausting it can be to find a new hair salon, doctor, yoga studio, etc. With the very memorable exception of being convinced to get bangs (ugh, why did I listen?)- I’m happy with all of the above. I do miss proper cobb salads and unsweetened iced tea though…
  • I own a parka, two pairs of snow boots, and a heaping pile of scarves in every fabric/colour combination you can think of. I can’t think of any other major cities where I could continue to get as much out of the significant investment I’ve made in cold weather gear. Maybe Chicago though…

Reasons to leave Toronto:

  • It would be nice to be closer to friends and family in Oregon, or to go back to my expat life in Amsterdam. But then, I’m lucky enough to have a life that lets me see them more often than some of my friends who live just a few blocks away…
  • I need to get out of my comfort zone. I need to push myself to grow. But staying put seems like the most uncomfortable and challenging thing in the world sometimes…
  • It’s freezing cold here in the winter, and in the summer I get whatever the opposite of Seasonal Affective Disorder is, because it’s so hot and humid I am miserable and just want to stay indoors and whine. There are places with much nicer weather. But when I was in San Francisco I distinctly remember missing the seasons…

My simple list of pros and cons quickly turned into a Rubik’s cube. Or maybe a Venn diagram: every single rationale seemed to fit in the overlapping space as both an argument for staying and one for leaving.

I didn’t know if I should stay or go, I just wanted to be somewhere I could feel whole – somewhere I could silence the nagging feeling that my life is missing something. Sometimes traveling drowns out that feeling, other times it is yoga. Often I escape it when I’m laughing with my best friend, other times when I’m taking a bath and listening to Norah Jones.

Without a clear answer, I decided to give it some time. I say “I decided” like it was a conscious effort to just trust that the right path would reveal itself to me in time. But really, there was no trusting the universe, no patience, no certainty. It was a very uncomfortable few months. But as they tend to do, things worked out. The universe did indeed reveal the right path.

I’ve decided to stay here in Toronto, and to continue on the healing journey I started almost a decade ago. I founded the When You’re Ready Project, a community for survivors of sexual violence (including me) to share our stories and find strength in one another. The Project has a long term vision to create a sexual assault registry so that we can combat the problem using reliable information. I feel like everything before this led me here: my unfortunate experiences as a young woman, my choice of a career in a field focused on innovative uses of data and protecting the privacy of individuals, and making my way to Toronto which is the birthplace of many inspirational and like-minded movements and initiatives.

That nagging feeling is silenced for now, I know what I need to do and where I need to be. I’m about to take a bubble bath, listen to some Norah Jones, then get ready to spend the evening with a dear friend.

In a few hours I will say goodbye to 2014 and gladly ring in the new year feeling thankful for everything that has led me to where I am right now. Years ago, a very special friend shared this poem with me. I’ve carried it with me and read it often, and nothing seems more fitting.

The City by Constantine P. Cavafy

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

up hill both ways

I write this post from the edge of my seat. The edge of my seat at this time being the terrace of a Bed & Breakfast in Cape Cod (the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, which is fantastic, by the way), wine at my side.  I’m here on a mini-honeymoon/ birthday getaway with Mr. Butterflies.  Today we saw a humpback whale fully breach, bought a light house fridge magnet, shared a lobster roll, and called it a night.  We considered going “out” but all the places the guidebook suggested sounded like they’d probably be loud or crowded or expensive. So we came back to the B&B for a glass of port and some lovely conversation with an elderly couple from upstate New York.

In the last six weeks I’ve felt like I’m in one of those rom-com movie montages.  You know what I mean… star-crossed lovers go their separate ways due to a huge someday-we’re-going-to-laugh-about-this misunderstanding but each of them keeps having little moments (accompanied, of course, by sentimental music) that eventually lead them both to realize they’ve made a mistake and go running through an airport, weaving through traffic, or some other dramatic and triumphant situation which is literally NEVER possible in real life. Have you ever tried to  run through an airport? I digress.

Anyway, back to my montage. My montage hasn’t made me feel like I’m missing anything or making any huge mistakes and I won’t be running through an airport any time soon (for several reasons).  Life is wonderful and I wouldn’t switch its course for anything. My montage has made me realize I’m aging. I know, I know – I’m not old. 28 is not old, 30 is not old, 40 is not old, I’m not even sure if 50 is old.  Put that on my list – I now think 40 is young.

FADE IN – TORONTO EATON CENTRE – SATURDAY AFTERNOON IN JULY

Twenty-eight year old woman wearing sensible shoes* and carrying a purse containing band-aids, hand sanitizer, and a wallet full of coupons walks into American Eagle. She winces at the volume of the music and shakes her head at the silliness of the song lyrics…why can’t they play some Norah Jones?

I went to American Eagle in search of the brightly coloured jeans that all the kids seem to be wearing these days, pleased to find a pair of bright red ones right away. I tried them on. The fit was not quite right, so I asked a charming young lady whose shorts covered less skin than my bathing suit if she could get them for me in a higher rise fit. She raised her eyebrows, smacked her gum and said, “We don’t have any, but you could try Sears.” I know, right? Sears? But the worst part: my first thought was “who does this sassy brat think she is, smacking her gum at me? When I was her age I had two waitressing jobs and would NEVER have smacked my gum at anyone, let alone a customer.” I thanked her through clenched teeth and left the store. I didn’t go to Sears.

SEPHORA – SAME AFTERNOON

Empty handed and lost in thought, pondering the likely reasonable price of jeans at Sears, woman wanders into store selling hundreds of varieties of bottles promising eternal youth (priced accordingly).

Not yet ready to head back outside into sticky hot Toronto summer, I decided my trip to the mall wouldn’t be entirely unproductive if I picked up some of the moisturizer I was almost out of. I didn’t find it so I asked a girl who might have been Gum Smacker’s younger sister. She let me know they were out but suggested I try another product. I’ve been using the same lotion for over 10 years (put that on the list – saying things were “over X years ago”) but wasn’t completely opposed to the idea. She squeezed a small amount onto the back of my hand and squeaked, “I think you’ll really love this. It’s the one my Mom uses.” A comic book BAM! appeared in a starburst above my head.  I left and went to Sears.

NONDESCRIPT TORONTO SIDEWALK – SUNDAY AFTERNOON IN AUGUST

Woman, in same sensible shoes, carrying same oversized purse (contents of which now also include sunscreen and some Tums) walks on the arm of a handsome gentleman who patiently explains to her that Gary Busey is not Nick Nolte. She is confused.

These days, opportunities for Mr. and I to ask each other “what should we do today?” are coming fewer and farther between. So when we get one, we relish it.  We started this one with an impromptu brunch with another couple, met up with a few other friends downtown, and as the sun went down were patting ourselves on the back for leaving the laundry unwashed and the mail unopened and getting out to enjoy the day. It was just after 7pm when Mr. asked if I’d like to see a movie…

Mr.: Would you like to see a movie? We’re right next to the Rainbow Theatre. I like that one because its old and teenagers don’t go there to hang out.

Me: Ugh, me too. Tweens are the worst. What should we see?
Mr.: Expendables 2?
Me: That sounds a little violent…plus, I didn’t see Expendables 1.
Mr.: ParaNorman? That’s a kids’ movie…
Me: Is it in 3D? You know I can’t watch 3D.
Mr.: What about Dark Night Rises?
Me: Is that Batman?
Mr: (Sigh) Yes.
Me: Is Batman Christian Bale or Tobey Maguire? I hate Tobey Maguire, he’s the worst.
Mr.: (Sigh) Christian Bale is Batman.
Me: Good, I hated Tobey Maguire in X-Men First Class. Yes, let’s see that one.
Mr.: That wasn’t Tobey Maguire, that was…never mind…Dark Knight starts at 8:15pm.
Me: WHAT?! 8:15? I can’t stay up that late, you know I’ll fall asleep.
Mr.: Sigh.
Me: No, you know what? Not today. Today is Spontaneous Sunday and we are going to go to the movies.
Mr.: You can sleep on my shoulder.

Where are we on our list? Here are the top ten ways I know I’m getting older:

  1. 40 seems young.
  2. Young people think I seem old.
  3. I start thoughts and/or sentences with, “When I was that age…”
  4. Anything after 8pm is late.
  5. I sleep through movies and wake up part way through to “whisper” loudly while other people glare. I order water because I can’t drink caffeine after 3pm.
  6. Music is too loud, crowds are too crowded.
  7. Prices seem absurd. I say so.
  8. People have started using “for your age” in a new way.  What used to be “you’ve accomplished a lot in your career for your age” is now “you’ve got pretty good skin for your age.”
  9. I say things like “I watched a YouTube” and “she Twittered about it.”
  10. I know how fortunate I am.

Aging, so far, has been pretty good to me. I wouldn’t trade my comfortable shoes for low rise jeans and I wouldn’t trade quiet nights in with my husband for anything.

*Minnetonka Moccasins are the BEST SHOES EVER. I don’t care if they’re not fashionable, they’re great. I’m starting a list of of the wonderful things about aging. Put this one on my list: people not only don’t care, they expect you to wear ugly shoes.

Update: Blog post is finished. Husband is snoring sleeping peacefully next to me in the bed. The best thing about growing older is doing so with someone wonderful. And older. Put that on the list.

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Mrs. Butterflies

When I log into the edge of my seat after several months without posting a blog entry I typically read through the last several posts and ask myself “what has happened since?” This time it is hard to answer, there are so many things. I’m not so narcissistic as to think you care about all the details but just enough to think you’ll be interested in the highlights.

A few weeks after we got back from Europe, Mr. Butterflies proposed. Everything about it was perfect and romantic and magical. And it started in motion a series of events that have gone by in a big blur of awesome.

We spent the first few weeks of our engagement getting used to the word “fiancé” (which is fun to say on a few different levels) and talking a thousand miles an hour about wedding plans. It has to be fun, and classy but not uptight. And there has to be good food and we’ll source it locally, and we want people to dance. And we’ll serve awesome beer. A short ceremony, with a little bit of humour – sentimental but not cheesy. The venue will be unique and interesting and somewhere that is special to us. It will be vintage meets rustic, and the perfect balance between masculine and feminine. I bought magazines and subscribed to blogs like Green Wedding Shoes and Style me Pretty and pored over the photos, bookmarking ideas. We made spreadsheets to compare venues and set recurring appointments to block off time to meet vendors. Recent brides are never shocked to hear that the fun of wedding planning began to wear off after a few weeks.

Fast forward through a few jaw-dropping realizations about the cost of a wedding in Toronto and the politics of formulating a guest list…hearing ourselves say aloud “we won’t be buying a house any time soon, we have to pay for the wedding” was the final straw. So we decided to do what made sense for us: split the wedding into two events.

We got married on a Saturday evening in the wine cellar of Splendido, one of Toronto’s nicer restaurants. There were only 13 guests, and I didn’t even buy new shoes. After dinner we met a few friends at a dive bar known for a great beer selection (The Rhino) and stopped for some late night falafel on the way back to our suite at the Gladstone Hotel. Sunday we nursed hangovers with Thai food and trashy TV and we were back to work on Monday.

Saturday we became husband and wife. I’ve already started going by Mrs. Butterflies and hoping the adrenaline rush I currently get from calling him ‘my husband’ never fades. Our ‘real’ wedding is this summer, and we’re inviting our friends and loved ones to share in that special day. We have the same aspirations for our wedding as before: It has to be fun, and classy but not uptight. And there has to be good food and we’ll source it locally, and we want people to dance. And we’ll serve awesome beer. Only maybe not classy. Advice from married friends tells us that seven months into our marriage will be an opportune time to reaffirm those promises we made.

People ask me if I feel any different as a married woman. Not yet. Being engaged felt different, and being married feels like an extension of that. I’ve started feeling like a ‘grown up’ for the first time. I developed a sense of invincibility as a teenager and held tight to it through my twenties. No matter what happens, I’ll figure it out. I’ll be okay. What’s the worst that could happen? But when I promised to spend my life with him I realized that the ‘with him’ is only one part of that promise. Taking care of him and taking care of myself are one in the same now.

Everything has taken on more meaning. Like what? Like how we LOVE Value Village. There is one in our neighbourhood and we often stop by multiple times a week. And now it is not just something to do, it is a thing. Our thing. One of our many things. A thing that someday we’ll look back and say, “Remember when we moved into our first place together and used to go to Value Village three times a week?” We’ll tell our kids about this and they’ll roll their eyes.

We use this logic to make ourselves feel better about the crappy place we’re renting right now. When the neighbours’ dogs are barking incessantly or their arguing keeps us up at night we think, “Someday this will be a memory” and it seems more funny than not. And this, I’m coming to realize, is the amazing thing about marriage. All those moments can be a thing if you let them be – for the best or for the worst. And as long as we stay on the same page we’ll either be happy together, sad together, or somewhere between things together.

what is wrong with 20-somethings today?

There is much buzz in the blogosphere this week about the New York Times article: “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” published in Sunday’s edition. The author, in a well written and articulate piece, asks: “Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?” Surprise, surprise: this 20-something disagrees with her views.

Apparently, “adults” are concerned about today’s youth because they are

  • “remain[ing] un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes,
  • going back to school for lack of better options,
  • traveling,
  • avoiding commitments,
  • competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs”

She backs it up with some pretty solid statistics:

  • “One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year.
  • Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once.
  • They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch.
  • Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever.”

Okay, fair enough.  I agree with all of the above – in fact I am guilty of half of those awful behaviours. So what exactly am I supposed to be doing differently?

Henig explains there is an “expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids.”  What do the stages of this “orderly progression” have in common? Well from what I can see, they benefit the generations of adults who have already completed them. They keep things on track; they keep society on the same path it has been. Question: how’s that been going?

According to Henig’s research, over half of the population is still heading that direction. So what is the problem, an increase in those who aren’t? A “trend” so to speak? Imagine what would happen if nothing ever changed…imagine the things we could accomplish with all the time we currently spend talking about how things were. Oh, the possibilities. If only…

Guilty as charged

I recently introduced my boyfriend to my family and friends. Among several entertaining (but anticipated) reactions to meeting him (the only serious relationship I’ve introduced to them and a foreigner no less), my favourite was an offering of congratulations to my mother on her daughter finally having found success. It is nice to know that I’m on the right track after years of misguided and selfish attempts to better myself.

I’m a picture of all the things wrong with today’s youth. Since leaving home I have lived in four cities in three countries. I thought I was gaining perspective and becoming a global citizen – in fact I was essentially stealing from America by not purchasing a home and contributing to a local community. I’m not married and I don’t have children. I didn’t know who I was at age 21, but I probably should have committed to raising a family and nurturing a marriage while I figured it out. And worst of all: I travel. Where to even begin? It is wrong on so many levels.

Luckily I do have one redeeming quality: I’ve worked for the same company in a highly profitable industry since I graduated with a business degree. Thankfully I have not sacrificed a comfortable lifestyle and financial independence to help others. Lord knows those Not for Profit Organizations are a selfish bunch who take advantage of naïve and idealistic youth who are willing to work for nothing. I’m glad I didn’t join all the other lazy hippies who pursued their passions – that would have been just dreadful.

Let’s move forward

According to Henig, “we’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls ‘the changing timetable for adulthood.’” She suggests we should “[rethink] our definition of normal development and… create systems of education, health care and social supports that take the new stage into account.”

To slightly contradict myself and momentarily ditch the sarcastic tone – I completely disagree (again). I think we can go too far in embracing change.

For almost every young person who “avoids commitment” and rejects the traditional path, one follows it because it is the “grown up” thing to do – that’s why it works. Both are difficult journeys, and they should be. By choosing we are growing, we are asserting our independence and learning about ourselves. If we eliminate the struggles that come with one option, no one will choose the other; and these fears about the future of society will come true.

“Every generation needs a new revolution.” — Thomas Jefferson

Bottom line: if my generation can offend my mother’s generation as much as hers offended the one before, I will be proud.

independence is a moving target

Yearning for independence is as much a part of being a teenager as confusion over changing bodies and angst over a seemingly endless series of crises. We try to hide the struggle to balance our sense of adventure with our insecurities. We define independence as the ability to do whatever we want. To stay out late, get a tattoo, pierce our nose…independence is about choice.

The lustre soon fades on freedom, once we have it we learn it’s not all we’d imagined. It’s a gradual realisation. Balancing freedom with responsibility defines our character as we approach adulthood. With each new personality we try on we gain confidence, we grow. But to adopt a new life we need the accessories – we’re certain if we lived in a high rise condo we’d be the chic and elegant woman whose heels click briskly across marble floors. If we wore a studded bracelet and dyed our hair black we’d fit in with the hipsters who frequent used record shops and reject “society’s rules.” We can decide to be whoever we want and suddenly independence is about identity.

We wait for a delayed flight with a man our age. He has a few days worth of stubble and highlights pages in a guidebook. He carries a backpack. We carry a briefcase and flip through gossip magazines. We decide we want to see the world, to gain stories of adventures to replace the mundane small talk, to connect with people. We’ve started living in the future (which is an optimistic way of saying “a fantasy world”). Independence is about getting what we want. We work hard in the present so that we can play hard in the future; somewhere along the way we narrow the fantasy down to a few realistic ideas and (if we’re brave) pursue them. Independence is about success.

If we’re lucky, we find ourselves right where we hoped we’d be: living several lives at once. We’re a professional, a music fan, an avid traveler, perhaps even a girlfriend, wife or mother. The realization that we’re craving independence sneaks up on us – we thought we’d found it but we’re back to feeling constrained.

Only now independence is the ability to have whatever we want, and not what we don’t. We have to decide what is important by asking: how do I do whatever I want, still be who I want to be, and get the things I want? Independence is not about need, it is about want; and it’s about finding happiness.

By the time we figure it all out it is often no longer independence we crave but companionship, stability, and love. As the clock ticks our desire to connect outweighs our need for autonomy. Soon we’ll find ourselves back to where we started: wanting the independence to do whatever we want.

gezellig

this post is from The So-Called Real World, a blog from my past lives.

Several years ago I set a goal for myself: to live abroad.  My desire to do so has driven almost every decision I have made for the past three years: my move to San Francisco, the career I chose, the specialization I pursued, the connections I made.  These are not to be mistaken as means to an end.

I arrived in Amsterdam a few weeks ago and this beautiful city will be my home for the next 18 months.  I think it was after my first successful attempt (after a few futile ones) to navigate the tram system that I realized the magnitude of my current situation.  I have achieved my goal.

A runner who beats a personal best time starts his next run with a desire to beat his new record.  A team finds success when they defeat the opponent, but the challenge starts all over again in the next game.  In both of these cases one can define exactly how, when, and by how much they have “won.”  In both of these cases the next step is clear; there is always another game to win, another time to beat.  In both of these cases one comprehends the feeling of victory, for if they have not experienced it before they understand it through having been subject to its opposite: defeat.

Achieving a goal independent of outside factors is difficult to define, to quantify.  I wasn’t faster, stronger, or better than my previous self or someone else.  I am not suddenly able to compare my performance to a baseline set by myself or others.  And perhaps the most difficult and foreign feeling I’ve ever experienced: I don’t know my next move.  All I can do is just be.

The ability to live in the present and appreciate each moment does not come naturally.  Or perhaps, like imagination and optimism, it fades with age.  By setting and accomplishing a goal with no tangible reward aside from self-fulfillment, I have found myself back in the present.  This state of consciousness is just as foreign as my surroundings, as I haven’t been here since childhood.

A mother will indulge her child’s seemingly never-ending string of questions.  She will come up with one acceptable answer after another for ‘why?’, ‘how?’, or ‘what is?’ (rarely ‘what if?’, or ‘when did?’ because those questions require an awareness from which they don’t yet suffer).  Sometimes she answers, “it doesn’t matter, it just is.” At this age, a child accepts her mother’s authority.  This is many years before adolescence when she suddenly knows everything.

In this new and unfamiliar place it has become an internal dialogue: posing a question, coming up with possible answers, and when none seems to satisfy my curiosity I decide it doesn’t matter.  It just is.  And I realize, I am living in the present.

Gezellig is a Dutch adjective that describes my current emotional state.  Look it up…