Tuesday, 28 January 2014
I have always been a sucker for superhero movies. Childhood daydreams included visions of clinging to Christopher Reeve’s back as he flew me over Manhattan. More recent fantasies have me as the iron lady Robert Downey Jr. serenades after popping off his metallic suit. Why do these superhuman characters strike such a chord with me? (I confess I never did get Batman. So dark and brooding. I mean come on, you’re independently wealthy, easy on the eyes, have a personal assistant and a kick-ass car. Is life really so bad? Maybe if you added a little colour to your wardrobe you’d feel better…)
Perhaps it’s the exciting chill of a fantastic action sequence. Maybe it’s the hopeful wonder of witnessing a nerdy outsider discover their secret power. Or maybe it’s the absolute certainty that at the end of 90 minutes, whether aided by x-ray vision or arachnid senses, the hero will save the day, order will be restored and everyone will return to the safety of their homes knowing that everything will be ok.
Thankfully, my daughters share my love of Marvel men. This December, right after “a life sized doll” my youngest wrote to Santa that what she really wanted for Christmas was superpowers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find that section in Toys ‘r us but I was happy to announce to her one evening that we were going to have a girls’ night out to go see the new Spiderman movie.
It was a treat for the girls to be out so late. The weather was mild as we joyfully walked to our neighbourhood cinema. Andrew Garfield did not disappoint. Oh Spidey, what an optimistic icon you are for invisible nerds everywhere. If a touch of bright spandex and a heart full of integrity has you accomplishing such amazing things, anything seems possible.
It was after 10 by the time we started to head home. The girls shuffled along beside me in sleepy contentment. The lights of all the local stores were off and we could see our neighbours through their living room windows, cozying up for the night.
“Look! The pharmacy is closed!” My 10 year old was wide-eyed at this view of the neighborhood she rarely got to see.
I pulled her tight. “Yup, it’s really really late!”
“And the hairdresser is closed!”
“Yup. They’ve all gone home to bed.”
“And even the grocery store is closed!” I laughed and took her hand. We fell into comfortable silence, our feet keeping a soft rhythm on the pavement. The houses rolled by us.
And then, out of the quiet of the night, my three-foot-high, curly-haired sage observed,
“But home is never closed, is it mommy.”
Home. That place where we feel safe and secure. Our bat cave where we lean on the strength of family and friends when faced by our own kryptonite. Not the physical structure where we lay our heads at night, but the friends we can always call up after months of absence to go out for a night of drinks, laughs and commiseration. The family members who make us laugh through our tears. Those people we return to that calm our spirit, ground us and pull us back to centre. The superheroes of our daily lives. The anchors of familiar security that remind us that it’s all going to be ok.
Recently I found myself having a series of hard days. It was one of those weeks where all the uncertainties and pressures of every sphere of your life seem to converge in some galactic test of your inner resilience. It was a test I felt I was failing as the end of the week approached. Weeks earlier I had scheduled to go out with some friends for a drink that day but when 5 o’clock rolled around, I was so spent I wasn’t sure how I would ever manage to drag myself to my car. In the elevator I found myself cornered by a colleague.
“You meeting us there?” Oh crap. I stumbled to think of an excuse and flustered through some rambling explanation about how I wasn’t feeling great and thought maybe I would pass this time. He persisted.
“You have to come. Just one drink. You’ll be glad you did.” I could feel tears of exhaustion start to sting my eyes. I finally mustered up some authentic courage.
“I really...just need to go home.”
When I finally peeled off my coat and boots and walked into my house, I paused at the entry of the living room. My husband and kids were cuddled on the couch in front of the TV. My own team of avengers. The little one looked up and shouted excitedly,
“Mommy, Thor is on!”
I finally exhaled and smiled as I nudged them all over to make room for me. Silently I thought to myself, yup, everything is going to be ok.
I was home.
Thursday, 16 January 2014
How are you?
A simple enough phrase heard so many times each and every day. Along with its equally banal cousins, “How’s it going?” and “What’s up?” it is generally followed by a range of similarly empty responses, “Fine thanks.” “Not bad.” and “Not much.”
Repetitive words with little meaning.
My father had it right. He had little time for such trivial interactions. An archetypical academic, my bicycle-riding, tweed jacket-sporting father would simply ask of any friend, grocer or stranger he happened to cross paths with,
“And you, are you happy?”
There was never any lead up to this intimate interrogation. No introductory “Good morning” or “It’s so nice to meet you.” He would simply open with the most essential of questions,
“And you, are you happy?”
Whether face to face on the street, through a long distance phone call or in later years, by emails punched out on his boxy 1980’s Toshiba laptop, the experience was the same. The phone would ring, and as you brought the receiver to your ear, you would hear his succinct British lilt.
“And you, are you happy?”
Five little words, profoundly strung together, uttered across a crackling wire.
“And you, are you happy?”
In college, my roommates were taken aback at first. They didn’t quite know what to make of this curious query. I would amusedly watch them stumble as they tried to decide how to respond.
What does one answer when forced by a stranger to examine your heart?
But over time they got to know his routine and soon enough were bantering playfully with him before thrusting the phone at me and proclaiming,
“It’s your Dad.”
He was a man who loved words. An English professor and author, he could lecture on many a topic. And yet in his greetings, he kept it simple. Kept it to that most important of questions,
“And you, are you happy?”
At the time, I don’t think I understood the depth of his statement. That he was rooting to the essence of what matters. I naively chalked it up to his endearing eccentricity along with his fridge full of homemade chutneys and his determination to bring back the appeal of the cravat.
Speaker, Lenny Ravich, suggests that the only appropriate answer to the question “How are you?” is to declare,
“This is my best moment. There is no other moment.”
Lenny goes on to say that if you try this, two things will happen.
1. You will finally confirm to others that you have completely lost your mind.
2. You will begin to feel and see life differently.
I’ve been trying it out. My first attempt fell flat. I came home at the end of the day and when my husband greeted me with his usual “How are you?” I quickly exclaimed,
“This is my best moment! There is no other moment!”
He promptly burst out laughing at the combination of my latest insanity and my blatant insincerity. I couldn’t help but laugh too at the outward silliness of it all, but paused for just a second in a moment of new awareness.
Somewhere in me, something flickered.
Months before his scheduled retirement, my father died. Although I was 28 at the time I think of it as the moment that thrust me unwillingly into adulthood. It was a moment that knocked me off my feet as I somatized my sorrow and spent endless nights seeking comfort in his old blanket. He was taken by a series of unexpected heart attacks. Unexpected by me, though I wonder how long he knew his less than healthy lifestyle was taking a toll. Though some choose to bury it, the loss of a parent hits hard regardless of the relationship as it represents the end of what was, and what we wished that fundamental parent-child union had been. Through the year of grief that followed, as I leaked tears and stumbled through the obligatory normalcy of daily life, I somehow forgot his unusual greeting.
It was only years later that my daughter reminded me.
My youngest daughters never met their grandfather. It is a sadness I will carry always. He would have so enjoyed their sense of play, and I will never know the things they might have learned from him. He will never pluck and hand them a fresh plum from his garden. He will never tell them fantastical Shakespearean bedtime stories and they will never fully grasp how they came to be. And yet, somehow-
I had come home from a long day at work and my ten year old daughter rushed to greet me. She silently watched as I danced around the porch, struggling to take off my snow boots without touching my socks on the cold wet floor. Out of the blue she asked,
“How about your day, did you like it?”
I froze and looked at her, flashing back to another loved one who so often asked me a similar essential question. I caught my breath, and confidently answered.
“This is my best moment. There is no other moment.” I grinned.
For finally I understood.
Saturday, 4 January 2014
“Jest do it. Determination and resolution are all you need to start your humor workout. The actual decision to pump up your humour practice can be similar in scope to the decision to include more physical fitness in your life.” – Mary Kay Morrison
Just. Do. It. I never could relate to Nike’s short and sassy slogan. The words slide across the screen as a lithe glistening model crosses the finish line. Just. Do. It. Who is this woman with her neon sports bra and sweat proof makeup? How does she just do it? Does she slip in a streamlined workout between dropping the kids at school and realizing the documents she needs for her meeting are still on the kitchen table? Does she just do it after putting in a 12 hour work day but before baking 48 pink and yellow cupcakes for her daughter's class party?
My relationship with exercise is a little less like a glossy TV ad, and more like an unsuccessful round of speed dating. I start with the best of intentions and the most positive of attitudes, knowing that if I can just get this relationship to work, it will be so good for me and I’ll feel energized for the rest of my life. I try something out, a new fitness trend, a new class but realize pretty quickly it’s not for me, so I say we are not a good match and I move on to the next table. Periodically I am grateful to hear the bell ring twice so I can go to the bar for a time out and a couple of drinks.
But a humor workout. Now that I can jest do. After all I have the best of coaches.
My son and I are addicted to laughter. I know few people who naturally radiate love and laughter like my handsome 25 year old. His sense of humor is sharp and contagious. He sees the opportunities for fun in everything. Our “humor relationship” grows daily as we are forever sharing goofy movie recommendations or links to websites with hilarious photos and translation fails.
Throughout the day I carry my cellphone with me, ostensibly to be able to respond to colleagues’ urgent emails or to schedule follow ups with partner organizations. But nothing brings a smile faster to my face than the familiar soft buzz of a new message vibrating for my attention. I look around the boardroom and sheepishly sneak a glance at the screen under the table. My son has texted me.
What do you call a fake noodle?
I smile and look up, verifying that no one has noticed my lack of focus. My colleagues appear to be hypnotized by this month’s financial report. My phone quietly buzzes.
I snort loudly, and then try to cover it with a fake cough. A couple faces turn accusingly in my direction but I look away chuckling.
One day I am preparing supper while the kids are all upstairs cleaning their rooms. Our weekly ritual of tidying up the house inevitably ends in fits of giggles over some ridiculousness or another. My husband has decided to grab a shower before dinner. I hear my son’s conspiring whispers over the girls’ laughter coming from his room. They are allegedly helping him fold his laundry but all I hear is the periodic plunk of objects falling and rolling across the ceiling above me.
Moments later my husband opens the bathroom door to find the girls poised out in the hallway. Our youngest thrusts a Tupperware dish at him.
“I found your marbles!” The container is full of marbles they have gathered from the bottom of their toy boxes.
“We heard you lost them!” Her sister pipes in.
I laugh as I look over at my son who can barely contain himself. My husband smiles and shakes his head. The girls are rolling on the floor.
A year ago my son bought himself a black sports car. It is his dream car and slowly he has outfitted it with every manly automotive upgrade imaginable including an over-the-top sound system. I confess I sometimes wonder about his choice as I think about the attention he brings to himself, this handsome, strapping young black man, driving around town blasting the latest rap tunes out of his soon to be tinted windows. I await the evening he will find himself unfairly stopped by the police who may not believe him when he explains that he is on his way home from his full-time job that he uses to put himself through school, or that he is on his way to pick up his younger sisters, a task he readily takes on not out of obligation, but out of pure love. Only I cannot help but smile at his bright grin every time I see him unfold himself from the front seat.
Combining his love of music, flashy vehicles and a darn good laugh, he has recently downloaded an mp3 version of Survivor’s hit, “Eye of The Tiger”. When he spots a neighborhood jogger on the street, he rolls down his window, turns up the classic Rocky theme and slows to a crawl beside the confused runner. Almost all inevitably laugh and give him an appreciative nod. Take that, Nike.
A couple years ago, he met a wonderful young woman who shares his love of laughter. Their Facebook pages are equally full of romantic pictures of young love and ridiculous selfies of the two of them making goofy expressions. I have asked them often how such a beautiful couple can manage to look so completely ridiculous.
They have plans, my son and his new love. Plans for the future. Plans for their futures together. My son is slowly putting himself through flight school, realizing his lifelong dream of being a pilot. His girlfriend recently got a long awaited promotion. They talk of moving in together, of travelling, of starting a life.
I know they will carry out these plans. Realize their optimistic dreams. Accomplish all sorts of fantastic things. With such a zest for life and laughter how could they not.
But in the meantime, I relish listening to their more immediate plans of spending an afternoon riding the bus, eating vanilla pudding out of a mayonnaise jar with a big spoon…just…for…fun.
This week I decided to just do it and start exercising again. I have been rolling out my yoga mat and proudly completing a daily workout. This morning I woke up to my stomach muscles feeling contentedly sore. After an uber-healthy breakfast I decided to exercise while checking out Kevin Hart’s, Real Husbands of Hollywood, a faux reality show my son has been telling me to watch for months. 4 episodes and 2 hours of spinning and stretching later and my stomach is KILLING me …from laughing so hard. Best. Workout. Ever.
If I can just stop laughing long enough, I’ll text my son.