Archive for May, 2013

The shame, and joy, of doing nothing!

to-do-list-nothing[1]

I have a confession to make.

I did nothing today.

Well that is not quite true. I did do some things. I showered. I emptied the dishwasher. I ate. I watched TV. I actually went outside and turned on the water sprinkler.

But did I meet the Facebook criteria of doing something? Did I build a deck, or bake a cake or wash my car? Nope, nope, and nope. So technically, I did nothing because I have nothing to brag about.

Maybe that should be something to brag about.

But it was not easy.  The idleness came with a price tag. A nice dose of self-shame. Crazy! Why do I feel guilty about doing nothing? Why do I feel I need to busy – like the ant instead of The_Ant_and_the_Grasshopperthe grasshopper? Does busy ever end?  I mean, there is always the sense of satisfaction in doing things, but it is never like I get any closer to getting everything done.  Every time I finish something, there is always another thing surfacing…it is like the Three-Headed Hydra:  my list gets longer as each completed task seems to spawn two more!

And I tell you, being busy takes effort. There is always something to fill the time –  something to tighten  because it’s loose, to glue because its broken, clean because it is dirty, polish because its dull, cut because its long, empty because its full, fill because it’s empty…the list can go on forever and ever.

All of us that have come out of the long winter hibernation know that the brief period between “snow thaw” and “mosquito season gets busy.  (I think it is called spring – a time where Canadians don shorts and flip-flops at a balmy 6*C.)  You know the to-do list…thatching and weeding and fertilising and planting and mowing and gutter-cleaning, organising, vetting, discarding, washing, cleaning, assembling dandelion_farmetcetera. And no one wants to be the home-owner who brings down the neighbourhood property values with the huge dandelion farm, or the lawn that looks like a grade school baseball diamond.   So I will admit that there has been a tiny degree of panic and stress because I needed to get a few things done or yard will continue to look trashy, the garage will stay chaotic, or the summer clothes reamin buried under boxes and boxes. There is so  much that should be, or really “could be”, done.

But let’s park the whole spring-thing aside. The spring clean and renewal will happen eventually – hopefully before Labour Day…

I have to ask, “Why is ‘being busy’ my default setting?”  Why am I embarrassed to do absolutely nothing productive? And when did I forget how to relax idly? Even calming things, like running or biking, seem to have become agenda items.  Why do I plan my “down time” and not just let whatever is going to happen, just happen?  And it seems like I am not alone – check out all the Facebook statuses – full of accomplishments and activities and running around and getting things done.  Rarely do I see the status, “I did sweet FA this weekend, and I am good with that!”

I remember being a kid, bouncing from activity to activity carelessly.  One minute it was staring at the clouds, the next examining the anthill, then a game of hide-and-go-seek, then my paper route, then a game of street hockey or soccer or touch football,  and then homework and a bit of TV, and then bed, all the while looking forward to the next day full of who-knew-what!

kids playing

And today, things have changed now that I am almost half a century old (ouch!). Let me think about it…oh yeah, responsibility, reliability, dependability, accountability.  All those translating to timings and deadlines and tasks and task reminders and “to do” lists. It means not letting down the side and not being the point of failure, the choke point. or the weakest link. It means checking and rechecking and confirming and rescheduling and prioritising and eventually, completing.

And what if it that has been a part of your life for 30-odd years? What if paying attention to detail and ensuring the equipment is ready for its next use, that the car is full of fuel before the big trip, or the clothes are laid out the night before to save time, is part of your being?  What if your whole life has been an exercise in finding time and maximising concurrent activity and minimising effort expended?

I guess it means that it is hard to relax.

Not impossible, but hard. It takes a few days to get into vacation mode.  It means accepting that things might not get done.  That the lawn will be weedy for one more week and that I will have to dig through the Rubbermaid totes in the garage for my favourite pair of cargo shorts.

its-better-to-be-doing-nothing-than-to-be

So today, I took my first step at doing nothing. I was able to sit around and take control of the big screen and eat leftovers and basically chill. It was great. It wasn’t completely blissful – I did have the inevitable pangs of guilt: yes, I thought about the lawn (rationalising that the seeding I did last week was too fragile to be mowed); I shuddered at the winter disorganisation as I tossed the empty pop cans into the garage recycling bins. But I fought through the shame and managed to find my way back to the man-cave and Lucky Slevin. I made my peace…

And to quote the sage Dr Seuss, once you make that peace, “Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!” So let the fun begin.

And as for those other things, I’ll get them done later.  When there is nothing good on TV, or the internet ends.  watching-tv

Later,

ASF

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I love my Mom!

Me and Momma

Hello!  It has been a long while since I have written. Life got busy. New responsibilities at work, great summer-like weather, the National Hockey league Playoffs (Go Leafs!). If you have survived the bleak Canadian winter, you get it.  Sitting in front of a computer has not been priority number one (unless it was Facebook or Twitter or StumbleUpon!)

And now it is mid-May.  Green grass springing, flowers blooming, leaves budding. And with May comes  Mothers’ Day.

Yes, it’s Mother’s Day – North American style! Not the soft namby-pamby Mothering Sunday they celebrate in the land of tea and crumpets and binge drinking.  Here, in the civilised world of 110v-60Hz it is all about cards and flowers and brunches and stuff.  Gifts and poems and offerings. A sort of husband &child  “confession”- cum- “recanting” for a year’s worth of taking Mom for granted.

ST-SHALES29

Meet Jane Jetson...

Meet Jane Jetson

Sunday will see Moms of all sizes and shapes and colours and creeds being celebrated by their progeny and

C'mon get happy!

C’mon get happy!

significant others.  Moms like Jane Jetson or Betty Rubble or Wilma Flintstone; or Morticia Adams and Lily Munster; or like June Cleaver, or Claire Huxtable; or Carol Brady and Shirley Patridge, Peg Bundy or Roseanne Connor. All types of examples and stereotypes of Moms out there.

And then there is my most favourite mom of all – my Mom!  Now I know that almost everyone will say that their Mom is the best. And they are probably right…but since it is my blog and my story – mine wins!

My mom, born in India, emigrated to England as a teen in the 50s.  Laughing in her cute mom-type giggles, she has told us stories of her first winter in London and her first snowfall – running around outside with a box to catch the “sugar” that was falling from the sky. She was a grocery

1960s...before motherhood!

1960s…before motherhood!

clerk in the family business and I think I used to watch her work – counting out shillings and bobs and half-guineas as she easily made change for the crazy 240 pence Pound Sterling. She married my Father at a young age in 1963 – in one of those arranged marriages that we all think are medieval because they never work and restrict freedom of choice.  Foolish us!  Mom and Dad have been married for 50 years…I didn’t even make it to half that.

Mom and Dad London

I remember leaving the UK when I was little. My mother got all of us dressed in our best – suits, overcoats, dresses – all 1971 chic, as she bundled a 6 year-old, a 4 year-old and 3 year-old into an airplane for the Trans-Atlantic trip to join my father in Toronto. She left everything that made her feel safe – her friends, her town, her home, and her family – to make a new life in a place she only knew through postcards. Though I am sure she dreaded it, she shared the same adventure and optimism that generations and generations of immigrants showed as they left their homes to make a go of it in Canada.  This could only be good for her family.

Moving to Canada was not all easy …occasionally she tells us about moving into our downtown Toronto duplex at Coxwell and Danforth.  A

The Mann tradition of the Birthday Hat...2012

The Mann tradition of the Birthday Hat…2011

house that did not have a stick of furniture, save a few stacking stools and an old coffee table, and then the very next day promptly walking several kilometers to buy  dishes and cutlery at Kresge’s.  And then she marched Dad to Eaton’s Downtown to buy beds and a couch. You see,  Dad had been a bachelor for almost 3 years – all he needed was a can of soup, a can opener, a saucepan and a spoon. If you are a guy, you know what I mean – who needs a plate or a table when you have a kitchen sink?  Eventually we splurged and bought a 13” black & white TV and some chairs – followed by drapes and a kitchen table and a few pictures. She took that bachelor pad and made it into a family home.

And when money was tight, she joined the work force. I remember her first job at Kensington Market. She worked as a clerk in a butcher shop…I call it her “chicken plucking days”. Mom never plucked a chicken but she giggles along with our inside joke. Every time we would come to collect her, she always brought us a little treat from the House of 1000 Cheeses – our favorite place to look at wheels of  Wensleydale and Stilton and Gruyère , all the while giggling while we held our noses.

With some gentle nudging from my Dad, she eventually finished her GED, graduating from High School, while she worked and took care of the kids. And then she applied at Sears to be a data processor for their catalogue department – a job she was woefully under qualified for – but won anyway. For the next 15 years, she did that job, eventually ending a 35 year career with Sears as an assistant buyer for the Bed and Bath Department.

Man, did she sacrifice a lot in that first Sears job!  Because we were young and she had a house to manage, she worked nights for a decade and half with a punishing schedule…she would come home from work at 7 am, make our breakfast and send us off to school, then sleep for 3 hours until noon. The she made our tomato soup and cheese sandwiches and hot chai, while we watched the Flintstones before heading back to school. Her afternoons were full of housekeeping and ironing and laundry and cooking dinner and watching Another World – the trials and tribulation of Rachel and Mack Corrie – until we came home from school. And then after supper, she would catch a 3 hour nap before heading to work at 1030 pm. Only six hours of broken sleep a day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 15 years.  I think I am tough, but she was tougher!

And the Mom stories from our youth…

Like our very first Christmas tree – which we cut down ourselves.  Mom, like us, thought we were simply going to a local lot to pick one up. Nope.  Dad figured out after  few stops that going to a Tree farm could save a few bucks! So Mom trudged uncomplainingly for a kilometer or so, through two feet of snow – in her pumps –  because she knew it was important to us. By the way, it was a great Christmas Tree.

1973 Ontario

I remember back in April 1972, when Mom dropped me off at High Park to do the “Walk for the Animals” walkathon in support of the planned Metro Toronto Zoo. Suddenly it dawned on her that I would be all alone on the walk as we could not find any of my friends. So as we pondered what to do, and as she looked at my eager face, she decided to join me on the 13 mile trek though totally unprepared. And I remember stopping at a Chinese grocery after a few kilometres, so Mom could buy a pair of flip-flops because her strappy shoes were giving her blisters.  That was one of my best days with Mom ever.

And I remember Mom the Adventurer, tumbling down an embankment at Niagara Falls and badly spraining her ankle – again because we had to park in the free spaces instead of paying to park for a spot closer to the Falls.  I am sure she suffered all day – through the Falls, and the Maid of the Mist, and the Marine Land & Game Farm – because she did not want to ruin our fun. When we returned to Toronto 12 hours later, she went to Emergency and got it x-rayed.  She hobbled for a few weeks after that

I also remember the time she couldn’t find the second package of discounted Scheider’s sandwich meat after one of our weekly treks to Knob Hill Farms. Dismayed that maybe we had lost it, she ventured out on our icy and rickety back porch on the way to check the trunk of our red 1972 Ford Maverick Coupe. Unfortunately she slipped on the icy steps – perhaps due to my poor shovelling skills –  I recall her casual calls for Dad’ s help – all the while her flashlight shooting up into the snowy night sky like a searchlight at a Hollywood opening.  Happily, upon finding that $1.99 package of lunchtime joy, she was fine.

I have remembered Mothers' Day on occasion...

I have remembered Mothers’ Day on occasion…

All the things she did for us. She fed us, bathed us, clothed us. She tucked us in, she comforted us and she occasionally scolded us. And mostly I remember how she played with us. Mom was  sporty – playing soccer or tag or baseball or spud, or king’s corner.  And her competitive streak at Monopoly or Life or Carom Board was scary! It was all fantastic.

Whatever she did, Mom found  gave it her all. And I remembered how much she cared…and the sadness I felt as I walked up the aircraft stairs as I made my first foray away from home in 1983 to join the Army. I remember how we were all so brave…her to let me go, and me to go away. 30 years later, I know that I am still her child – and I will be forever, no matter how old I get.

And it is only when I was older, dealing with two growing kids, that I realised how much effort it takes to give the support she has always given me, and the sacrifices she made to take care of her family. Even as I went through many  challenges and issues – as a kid and as a grown-up –  she has been someone to lean on. Knowing, to quote The Gambler, “… when to hold’em and when to fold’em.”  Mom has always been there, and I know that she will continue to be there.

Three Generations...2010 (just missing my Sister :( )

Three Generations…2010 (just missing my Sister 😦 )

I love my Mom. She makes me happy and she makes me feel safe. And it is ludicrous to think that I can repay all she has done for me in one day. But, I will try to do that. And I will try to be as good a person and she is – which will be difficult. After all, she is a mother – they are all just so good at it!

To my Mom – and all the moms out there…Happy Mothers’ Day. You all rock!

Later,

ASF