Memory is selective

I’m the youngest of 3 children and there’s only 5 years between myself and the eldest, a brother, and 3 years between myself and my sister, so you would think we’d all have similar memories if our childhood, but no.

I remember watching cartoons, playing with the neighbours child, and celebrating the holidays. I do not recall anything of consequence between my siblings or my parents. In fact, I recall a most uneventful childhood.

My siblings, on the other hand, have very vivid and detailed memories of our upbringing. They both recall the houses we lived in, the schools we attended and any hardships we endured. As new immigrants my parents both worked, hard, to build a life in a new country so luxuries were pretty scarce in the early part of our lives. (I never saw that)

My sister recalls Christmases where there were no gifts and meals that were bereft of meat or fresh fruit and vegetables, because it was the end of a pay period and funds were short. (ok, I remember eating noodles a lot but I love noodles so the lack of meat and vegetables was ok by me). I recall the holidays always being a very happy time. There was music and company, and chocolate ornaments, and that must’ve been enough because I don’t remember when there were no gifts under the tree. In fact, I don’t recall any gifts in any capacity. (maybe I was just a happy kid)

I do not remember arguments between my father and his, nor do I recall the hateful ethnic slurs one of our neighbours hurled at us because he hated immigrants (I do remember his daughter had Barbie and Midge and Skipper AND the beautiful black patent leather Barbie carry case)

I do not remember when my brother almost died from an infection or when he was hit by a car. (But I do remember when he took the wheels off my doll carriage to make a go cart – boy, he really caught hell from my mother for that one!)  I do not remember my father pinching my sisters arm to get her to smile for a photo at her communion but I’m in the picture, right beside her, so it happened. (I was smiling broadly, by the way. She was kind of cringing) I have vague recollections of jumping on my parents bed, falling off and breaking my leg. (I got a new doll for that) I also remember placing my palm flat on a hot iron (I was an inquisitive child) That one scored me a whole pack of Juicy Fruit gum!

Is it a matter of birth order? The eldest participated in more, saw more and apparently remember more, or is it what we choose to remember?

My brother and sister recall the good times, but they also recall clearly, the bad times, but then they were that much older and saw the hardships. Could it be that by the time I came along things had improved (The alternative here is that I was an airhead, totally oblivious to life happening around me)  or could we be capable of selective memory? I don’t like to dwell on the dark side of anything in life, even to this day. It’s not that I deny the existence of hardships – they occur in every home, every life. I face what I need to, deal with it and move on. I don’t like to return to unpleasant memories because they haunt me.

My siblings are much more practical than I. They see all the good and the bad in the world and manage it realistically, i.e., they don’t internalize the negative emotion, rather they put it into perspective. They also don’t  gloss over harsh realities whereas I would prefer to block them out. If it’s ugly and I can avoid it, I will. Is that a bad thing? I hope not, cause it’s unlikely I can change at this point in my life….and I’m not sure that I’d want to.

I think it’s fair to say that in my lifetime I didn’t encounter much in the way of hardship, not anything serious anyway. I did not live through war, or famine, or depression, or drought. I did not suffer any form of abuse (although I still maintain making me eat liver was harsh and unnecessary)

If blocking out negative memories is in any way harmful, someone please tell me, until then,,,,,, ignorance is bliss……..and I’m happy because life is good!

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It’s not easy to raise a parent

In fact, I’d say raising a parent is not unlike raising an unruly teenager, forever. Ours is the first generation to experience the sandwich effect because our parents are living longer than theirs did. Our grandparents passed of natural causes in their late sixties or early seventies so our parents didn’t have to deal with Dementia, Alzheimer’s or just plain old age and the perils that come with it. Homecare was never as necessary and wait lists for long term care, never as long.

As children we worship our parents because they provide us with the essentials of life, and few if any, demands are made of us, cause we’re just kids. Then the teen years hit and suddenly we have chores that seriously conflict with our slackin’ off time. We now barely tolerate the same old corny jokes, cringe when a parent engages in conversation with our friends, and spend countless hours rolling our eyes and questioning how we could’ve been born to such squares. How’d we survive it?

Then come the adult years and with them responsibility, financial woes, and job stress. We now have children of our own to raise, giving us a new perspective on parenting and surprisingly, a new appreciation for our own parents. They offer help with babysitting, shower grandchildren with love and attention, and provide an empathetic shoulder when we need it.

All too soon though, they age, such that they can no longer help the way they once did. In fact, they now need help, hence we become the sandwich generation, and we step up to the task because we haven’t forgotten all that they did for us over a lifetime.

My parents are both still alive and in their late eighties. My mother, who is in advanced stages of Dementia, had to go to long term care several months ago, leaving my father suddenly very much alone. He struggled with the loneliness, and guilt drove him to visit her daily even though he hated where she was. He vacillated between sadness for the loss of her mind, and anger at a God that would allow such deterioration, and worry about his state of mind became our (his children) number one concern.

We rotated calling and visiting to ensure he was alright and tried to involve him in our lives where possible but he was still a lost soul, and we were hard pressed to know how to fix it. He had no enthusiasm for anything. He’d wear the same clothes day after day and cared little about the state of his appearance or his home. How many seniors have the gumption to overcome this?

My father is a man of strong character and thankfully, he is also a realist. He eventually accepted what was and decided it was time to make a life of his own, without my mother. He applied to a seniors residence that housed people of the same ethnic background, and it was the call advising an apartment was available that would see the sun rise in his life again.

The children and grandchildren stepped up to help with the move and it’s a good thing they did because he could never have managed this alone. Once the strong father and head of the household, he was now frail and unable to manage something so physically taxing as a move so while he couldn’t do much to help with the relocation of his household, he did manage to muster up a renewed enthusiasm for his future.

He took an interest in his new apartment, hanging pictures with care and planning his balcony garden. He now takes pride in his appearance, throwing out his tired old jeans and making use finally, of his dress slacks and colourful shirts. He has renewed acquaintance with friends he knew from the homeland, many of whom reside in the same complex, joined a choir he and my mother belonged to years ago, and even registered to participate in a couple of seniors outings. In short, he began to live again. He still visits my mother and he still misses her but when he comes home, he’s no longer alone and depressed. He plays some of his favourite old albums on the stereo, pours himself a glass of wine and plans his activity for tomorrow because tomorrow now gives him something to look forward to.

He is currently planning to throw a house warming party for some of his fellow residents and is happily planning his menu; salt herring, rye bread and booze, so for the moment he is good. They’re all over eighty so we don’t have to worry about anyone drinking and driving (the only vehicles they drive now are walkers) so our only risk here is a potential noise infraction cause most are hard of hearing so that polka music will be turned up nice and loud. After 88 years we have finally raised our father to where we want him to be – happy, and at peace, but it was a long road…cause it’s not easy raising a parent!

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This is a sensitive subject. It seems that lately you can’t turn on the tv  or radio and not hear about another famous male being accused of sexual misconduct. This isn’t a recent epidemic of misbehavior because many of these allegations date back decades. It appears, rather, that for the first time in decades, (probably centuries) women are being heard…long overdue.

That said, I believe in justice, for all, and now that a woman’s voice is being taken seriously I think it’s vital that the situations profiled are legitimate. If a man truly behaved in an inappropriate way he deserves to face the music. If that means a fall from grace or a job loss, so be it. He deserves it. What I fear is the woman out there who wants to ‘stick it to a guy’ that she has it in for, for personal reasons, and they’re out there.

I’d venture to say these are the vast minority, but they exist and they have the potential to destroy a man’s life and career, just because they can. Sadly, allegations are made public and job suspensions are doled out long before any evidence is heard and by the time true fact is revealed, the man’s career and reputation are destroyed. Even if allegations are proven false it’s too late. There will always be suspicion, a shadow of doubt, and his innocence will never be as widely advertised as the initial accusation because it doesn’t sell news. It does however, destroy a life.

I have a friend who grew up with a young man who was somewhat shy, a loner, very introverted. He lived with his mother all of his life. He never aspired to much because he wanted anonymity. He had little education but was lucky to secure a job in health care at a local nursing home and he never missed a day of work. His life was his job and caring for his mother and that was enough for him.

A disgruntled employee (female) who lacked his dedication to her role, wanted notoriety, in whatever form it came. She claimed he had sexually assaulted an elderly resident and made lewd and suggestive advances toward her. He was immediately suspended without pay, the accusations became public knowledge, and his fate was sealed. He tried to defend himself but as a loner he had few to vouch for him, no witnesses. She, on the other hand, was vocal, and captured the attention of media. What she didn’t anticipate however, was the elderly resident being lucid enough to deny the allegations. After a lengthy investigation, it was determined that her charges were unfounded – there was no evidence to support her claims and eventually she admitted she’d fabricated the whole scene. Interestingly this news wasn’t as widely broadcast as the initial charges, the damage to a young man’s reputation was done, and could not be undone. But it didn’t matter anymore. The young man, unable to cope in a world that now rejected him took his own life.

I’m certainly not saying every accusation of sexual misconduct is false. In fact, I’d venture to say most are bang on, and if they keep digging they’ll find more, but there are some unscrupulous women out there who have a mad on with someone and this provides them with the perfect weapon to destroy an innocent life. Whatever happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty’? Why are we so quick to defame a character before evidence has been weighed?

Women have been victims of molestation and unwanted sexual attention for centuries and they took it because men dominated and complaints would fall on deaf ears. Now, as women gain intellectual equality in business and society, their confidence takes the forefront. They are no longer afraid and the voices are louder, voices that now include men because for all the men who are guilty of abusing women, there’s ten times more who respect and support them.

For those men guilty of any form of misconduct, I hope you rot in hell. And for the women who falsely accuse them I hope you join them. I look forward to the day when we share equality between the sexes, true and complete equality. Until then, we have to trust in the integrity of our fellow man/woman. Heaven help us.


Death by Spandex

I’m not beyond admitting that I’ve tacked on a pound or two. Age, menopause, and a relaxed lifestyle have conspired with gravity to humiliate me….but I can’t discount the role spandex has played in this.

I remember watching old shows on television and loving the 50’s styles. Full skirts with crinolines, pencil skirts with high heels, and slim leg pants! They looked so feminine, so I was thrilled when several years ago these fashions reappeared. (everything really is a cycle)

I was excited to go shopping…ok, I’m always excited to go shopping, it’s my ‘thing’ (much to my husbands chagrin) but this time I was really excited because I could now wear the fashions I’d adored.    Or so I thought…..

Time changes everything…..who knew that time would make me well, ‘insulated’?

First thing I tried on was a pencil skirt.  I took a few sizes into the fitting room. I may not fit in to a size 6 anymore but mercifully most fabrics are now blended with some form of spandex for those of us who need ‘forgiveness’.  The first 2 sizes barely made it past my knees so I rifled past the next couple of skirts and grabbed the biggest size. It fit! Ok, I had to do some major yanking to get it there, thanks to the flexibility of spandex, but it fit. (I won’t disclose the size) I tucked in my shirt, smoothed out the skirt and secured a leather belt around my waist, then faced the mirror. I looked like a knockwurst with a rubber band around my middle. I don’t understand it! This style looked fabulous forty years ago – it was a classic – what happened? I look at the label in one of the skirts and note that that it’s a blend of fibers with only 5% spandex. Ok, there’s the problem

I peel off the skirt, pull on my leggings and leave the fitting room, morosely handing my selection of skirts to the attendant (a sixteenish, size 0,,, really?) who smiles and cheerfully asks if any were the ‘one’. I shake my head no (knockwurst can’t speak) and trudge back into the store.

As I rifle through the racks of clothing (I feel it’s my responsibility to buy something,,,,,my husband will wonder what’s wrong if I don’t) I find myself constantly coming back to my old favourites, leggings. Out of curiosity I reach inside a pair to read the label; 70% nylon and 30 % spandex. Ok, it’s not me, it’s the spandex! Those skirts didn’t have enough spandex. (someone should complain to the manufacturer – this is misleading)

As I continue to scour the racks for anything interesting a nagging thought keeps coming to me. When did I last try on my jeans, my NON SPANDEX jeans, the regular kind. I can’t remember. I do remember that sense of relief when I pulled on my first pair of spandex leggings though – I remember I could breathe for the first time in a long time. I left the store and drove home, determined to face my demon.  After parking the car, I put away my purchases (yes, I did manage to find something to buy, after all) then headed for my closet. It took some rifling but I finally found my old blue jeans. (why did I keep them?) I peeled off my leggings and pulled on the old jeans (God, I’d forgotten how stiff denim was) but they only made it part way up my thighs. I faced the mirror, and in doing so faced the truth…..spandex had tricked me into a false sense of security! All these years I was so sure my figure hadn’t changed…..the leggings slid on without effort, but the reality was I had changed, and spandex (now my nemesis) had camouflaged my expansion! I felt betrayed.

The reality is society is growing and manufacturers are clever enough to know how to keep up with our girth. Lycra in our socks and underwear, and spandex in pretty much everything else ensures a comfy fit, but where does it end? If we keep this up how big can we get (how stretchy is this stuff anyway?) before we explode into a big lycra/spandex mess?

I, for one, move for warning labels in all clothing containing any form of elastic. It used to be that we knew we were gaining weight by the ‘fit’ of our clothes but clearly that’s no longer the case. Clothing manufacturers have conspired against us to ensure we keep purchasing. Spandex is a killer – spread the word.

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Help Yourself

Sometimes we are blind to our circumstances and despite the gentle prodding of others, who are trying to help us, we continue to spin our wheels, digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a rut. We’ve all encountered hardships and sometimes they may have seemed insurmountable, so you indulge yourself for a little while because you’ve been wounded and need time to heal and gather strength. That’s ok because that period of reflection is what allowed you to process the circumstances, accept that you may not be able to change them, learn from them, and move on, positively. At least that’s how it should work.

I have a friend whose husband left her thirty years ago. It was a painful and horrible time in her life. She felt betrayed, rightly so, and unwanted. With  3 small children yet to raise on her own, she focused on them; trying to keep life as normal for them as she could. With a full time job and her kids she had little time to dwell on the circumstances of her now defunct marriage, i.e. she did not allow herself to mourn the loss, thereby denying herself the opportunity to heal. Over the years her resentment grew. Her disappointment in her ex-husband festered into full on hatred for him and anyone with whom he associated and she wore that loathing like a badge of honour. Now granted, she was wronged, but she’s not the first or the last person to be abandoned by a partner and denying herself the right to heal only hurt her. The ex-husband went on to have a very happy life, eventually remarrying and raising a new family. He moved on and she sadly didn’t. Had she faced the pain of her loss and dealt with it, perhaps she too could’ve moved on to a new and happy life, but she didn’t because despite the prodding of friends and family she simply refused to help herself heal. Who won here?

Another friend lost their partner to cancer. It was devastating and moving forward seemed unimaginable. Friends and family were supportive, offering company and conversation when needed, and while she appeared to respond to these acts of assistance, she was reluctant to move beyond this to create a new life.  She spent much of her time reminiscing about life with her late partner and any attempts to suggest new activities and social outings were flatly refused. Friends and family were baffled as to what to do and eventually they gave up. Eight years later, she is still despondent and lonely, and I can’t help but wonder if she wouldn’t be in a better place had she ventured out instead of allowing her grief to consume her. You will never replace the loved one you lost, but life is for the living and someday you may be surprised to find that you can find happiness again. You just need to be open to helping yourself heal.

Another old friend who had a challenging relationship with her parents all of her adult life, suddenly found herself their sole and primary caregiver in their old age. Years of resentment made it difficult for her to be compassionate and she could’ve walked away, leaving them to their own devices. (she was an only child) There are many who knew the strained relationship she’d had with her parents and would’ve understood her turning away, but she didn’t. She sought help in the form of therapy through which she eventually accepted that the nature of her relationship with her parents while not perfect, was one they could all learn from, and grow from. She got past her resentment and accepted that they would never be ‘friends’ in the traditional sense, and by doing so came to appreciate that their relationship as family was different, but just as valuable. With age came maturity and with maturity came acceptance. She cared for them for the next six years until they had both passed and to this day she is grateful that she did. She helped herself and by doing so found her peace. No regrets.

Several years ago a good friend suffered a career setback that emotionally cut them to the core. Typically strong of character, they were convinced that they could navigate their way through this chapter of their life on their own, but they couldn’t. Family and friends offered advice and support and it’s lucky they did because without their persistence my friend likely would not have sought the help they needed to help themselves. It’s not to say that they’re over it. Maybe we never get over the pain of a loss, whatever the loss, but every new day dulls the pain a little bit more. They don’t allow themselves to look back, and as a result, the road ahead is brighter.

Life isn’t easy, and sometimes the circumstances of our life tests us to our very limits, but remember what you’re made of, what you are capable of. Break the cycle of defeat. Dig out of that rut. Get out and do what you have to do to get back your confidence, your zest for life. Your friends and family can only do so much to help you, so don’t turn away from life – help yourself.

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                                 All the help in the world won’t help unless you help yourself