Lifelong learner

It has been 20 years since I graduated from university, ready to take a swing at journalism.

I thought about going back to school the moment my newspaper closed its doors, but then I got a job offer and shelved the idea. I was busy. I had two kids, a career, a partner. School was expensive, and unnecessary. And it would take time that I simply didn’t have.

And then it happened — life became complicated — and within that mad mess, there was a crushing moment that compelled me to look into the mirror and look really hard at the woman staring back.

What I saw was a woman who had been rushing around supporting and uplifting others for over a decade, gradually being crushed by the weight of it.

What I saw was a woman carrying around an empty bucket, having used everything she had to fill up the buckets of those around her. There was nothing left, and a sizeable crack in the bottom.

I’m alone more now than I have been in a decade. My children are outside, or they’re at their friend’s houses. They’re reading in their rooms, or playing independently.

Having a moment to catch my breath should be exciting, but it’s terrifying.

I’d been using the labels of “mother,” and “wife,” as an excuse. Those labels precluded “professional,” and made “student” seem impossible.

Days later, I voiced my idea outloud for the first time.

“I think I’d like to go back to school and get my masters degree,” I told my husband.

He nodded, said it was a great idea.

So I tried it out with my best friend.

“I think I’d like to go back to school.”

She sighed deeply through the phone: “Thank God! I’m so glad. Where are you going to go? What are you going to do it in? When do you need to apply? How many reference letters will you need? When does it start? Are you going to do course-based or thesis?”

I almost hung up. I hadn’t even started and already it sounded hard.

But I did the research, explored program options, timelines and costs. I made a trip to the bank; I ordered transcripts.

And then I told my boss: “I think I’d like to go back to school to get my masters degree.”

And he responded with a smile: “Figure out what you need, and we’ll do what we can to support you.”

I needed letters, and when I asked, people wrote them. And they were perfect. I’ve printed them off and tucked them away in my nightstand. I read them sometimes. They’re about a woman who is smart, and accomplished, and professional, and thorough, and funny, and insightful. She sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to meet her.

I needed time, and they agreed. I needed a little bit of money, and they provided what they could.

I started my first three courses last week, and I feel like I’m drowning — like I’ve just arrived in a new country that seems sort of familiar, but everyone speaks a different language, and I’m just faking it, hoping that at some point it’ll all begin to make sense.

I’m excited to start and terrified to fail. I’ve already learned so many new things, and am quickly realizing how much I don’t understand.

I’m meeting new people, and they’re so much smarter than me.

I’m being brave and it’s uncomfortable. When I lay awake at night I think about how much easier it might have been if I’d just kept my mouth shut. If I’d never said the words out loud. If I’d kept my dream a secret.

But then the sun comes up. And I’m one day closer to finishing. I’m one day closer to convocation, and I’m one day closer to meeting that woman that my references describe in their letters.

Please buy my “vintage” junk

There are people out there who “live simply,” which I assume means that they don’t have children.

I aspire to live simply, but currently, “live ordinarily,” meaning that my house contains a lot of useless junk. And because we’re busy, and because I consider it winning if I manage to wipe the toothpaste off the bathroom mirrors and occasionally run the vacuum around, organizing, arranging and disposing of this useless junk is always going to happen next weekend.

So as an experiment, when the notice went around the neighbourhood to participate in an upcoming community garage sale, I put my name down figuring that committing to this nonsense would force me to empty out the closets and root through toy bins. Short of moving, this was the only thing I could think of to reduce our mountain of useless excess.

I made this commitment a month ago, and I’ve been stressed the hell out ever since.

I’ve never hosted a garage sale. The garage sale will take place in two days. I am not prepared.

What if I don’t have enough stuff?

Are there a suitable number of things one must offer up to qualify as an appropriately-sized garage sale? What if I’ve been overestimating the volume of crap I have in my house, and when the day arrives, I set up my table in the driveway and it contains only four things?

I have literally lost sleep over this in the past month. What if I don’t have enough garbage?

Then I began combing through closets and it became clear that I was not at risk of running short of crap. It was at this point that I became nervous about displaying my crap with the right amount of flare.

Showing off the goods

When fun, carefree wanderers set up stalls at the market to sell jewelry made of forks, or driftwood wind chimes, their booths look charmingly whimsical, but I bet money they Pinterest the heck out of their retail displays before trundling into the market square at the break of dawn.

But what they’re selling is artistic and fanciful, what I’m selling are four pairs of gently used soccer cleats, every single season of Entourage on DVD (it was a phase), and a bucket full of action figures. My wares are not whimsical, and as such, will be dumped onto old sheets of plywood balanced across Rubbermaid bins with a sign above that reads, “Everything for a dollar.”

I envision brisk sales.

At the heart of it

I’m putting on a Bandaid without treating the infection. I’m purging the worst of the garbage, knowing full well that I’m just making way for more. I’m stemming the flow, but I can’t hold back the tide. I’m not dealing with the root of the problem, but she’s my mother in law and I love her.

So please, if you’re not busy Saturday, come buy my “vintage” DVDs.

Hands free

Imagine for a moment that it’s a spring day, and you’re walking down the street with all the time you need to pause, look in a window, fix your hair in the reflection, and keep on going.

You are sauntering; your long arms are swinging by your sides, and there’s a light breeze that’s keeping you cool but not messing with your mind. No jacket is required. Winter is over, and your arms can move without being imprisoned in their nylon jail; without that irritating “swipe, swipe, swipe” of a winter coat.

And you’ve got nothing in your hands.

Imagine that. Nothing in your hands.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast and the host was interviewing actress Amy Sedaris. During the interview she described a man they both knew as “the kind of guy who walks down the street with nothing in his hands.”

Listen: WTF with Marc Maron podcast with Amy Sedaris

I stopped listening at that point, and began imagining what that kind of freedom might feel like.

I can’t remember when I started carrying everything, but it’s been awhile. To walk down the street with nothing in my hands, or looped across my shoulder, would feel as foreign as writing with my left hand, standing up to pee, or being wrong.

I got my first purse when I was about five. It was shaped like a bunch of bananas and had a sharp metal zipper across the top. It held quarters and my Avon lip-gloss that came in the shape of a chocolate chip cookie.

Remember when your mom would take you to baby showers and they’d play the game “What’s in your purse?” Look it up, people still play it.

The winner of the game is the woman with the most ridiculous things in her purse. The ladies would all sit in a circle and someone would read out a random item — usually it started simply, with “keys,” before moving onto more obscure items, like bear spray, a spoon, a bottle of mouthwash, and a roll of duct tap (all of which, used together, could probably be turned into a bomb.)

Whenever you raised your hand and hoisted up your spoon or pepper spray to be admired by the crowd, you’d be awarded a clothes peg. By the end of the game, the woman with the most clothes pegs lining the hem of her skirt would take a prize home in her enormous handbag.

I was always annoyed that my own mother didn’t think ahead and salt her purse with random oddities, but as an adult, I recognize one clear truth: The winner of that game was the loser. The actual “winner,” is the one with the rotator cuff problems; she’s the one who can’t find her lip-gloss when it counts; she’s the one who can’t get through customs without a serious misunderstanding.

The real winner is woman without a single clothes peg, or the guy walking down the street with nothing in his hands.

This guy isn’t carrying anything for himself, or anyone else. Nobody’s asking this guy for snacks, or to please carry his BeyBlades. Nobody is begging him for gum, or a quarter so he can get a bouncy ball out of a machine. Nope. He’s so free he can’t even remember where he put his cellphone, and he’s so chill that he doesn’t even freak out about it.

The freedom of not carrying something — the freedom of not carrying everything — blows my mind.

I know I’ll never be described as “the kind of woman that walks down the street with nothing in her hands,” but as far as goals go, it’s not a bad one to strive for.

 

 

 

For the men in the office

March 8 (today) is International Women’s Day.

I could mark the occasion by writing about the mental load of motherhood; a subject that both fascinates and infuriates me. I could write about glass ceilings, about recognizing unconscious bias, about equity, diversity and inclusion, about how women need to be more intentional as they champion and empower other women, or I could write about some of the women who inspire me daily (there are so many).

But today I overheard a male colleague mention International Women’s Day, and he suggested showing his appreciation by bringing in flowers, or maybe pastry.

He wants to be an ally, but he’s missing the point. Shove your flowers and cake and whatnot. Creating balance in the boardroom isn’t easy, but there are simple things men can do, as colleagues, as allies, every single day. I’m not writing about institutional change. I’m talking about the small things that you do every day to remind us that we’re not like you. Bare with me if this sounds like womansplaining:

You take the notes
Next time you’re in a meeting, offer to take the minutes. I can’t count how many times I’ve been the only woman in a meeting, and when it comes time to decide who takes the minutes, all eyes turn to me. Today, and every day after, you’re going to offer to take the minutes. Minute-taking is gender neutral, and you’re going to be great at it! Let’s hear no more of this, “but you type so much faster than me,” garbage, either. I took Keyboarding 9 just like the rest of the 40-ish-year-old Canadians out there, so it’s not my fault if you haven’t applied yourself and you’ve let your skills lapse. Now’s the time to brush up.

Don’t ask me to bake (even though I’m amazing at it)
When that meeting concludes, don’t ask whether I’m going to bring goodies to the next one. Even if I had a refrigerator full of homemade cinnamon buns, I would NOT bring them to the boardroom so as not to set a precedent. How about you bring treats! (And don’t ask your wife to make them, either).

Share in the shit jobs
Does your office have a communal kitchen with a dishwasher? Mine does. It also has a refrigerator. The refrigerator gets cleaned when the women in the office finally get fed up, and I’ve yet to see a male colleague empty the dishwasher. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened, I just haven’t seen it. (While we’re at it, I won’t completely discount the Sasquatch. Canada’s a big country. It’s possible.) Our office kitchen also has laminated signs instructing people what to do should they notice the dishwasher full of clean or dirty dishes, or if they are confused about the difference between compost and garbage. Allied men — how about you read the signs?

Keep inviting me out for drinks, even when I say no
A big barrier to the advancement of women in the workplace is that we often miss the informal networking that takes place outside the office due to domestic demands. We’re less likely to go for drinks after work, or cut out early on a Friday to fit in nine holes — not because we don’t WANT to go out for drinks and create rich networks of powerful people — but because domestic responsibilities fall disproportionately on our shoulders. We’re often the ones picking children up from daycare, and making sure they eat and get to hockey practice on time. Often, we also end up missing out on the informal networking that takes place in the cafeteria, as we use our lunch breaks to run errands. And we’re barred from these informal boardrooms if they happen spontaneously. If I’m going out after work, I need to arrange things, so tell me the day before, please.

If I actually show up, don’t ask who’s looking after my kids
Hands up if you’ve been at a conference, or gone out with colleagues after work, only to have a male colleague ask who’s looking after your kids. Wait, my husband’s hand is not up! That’s weird!

Creating equity in the workplace isn’t a joke, and it isn’t simple. But there are some simple things that our colleagues can do as allies, as friends, to create a more inclusive workplace. And we’d all be better for it.

Three girls

I might have been four or five.

It was raining, and had probably been raining for days. It was a Saturday and my brother had a soccer game at St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Mission, BC. This would have been in the early 1980s.

We arrived, my brother joined his team, my mom joined the parents on the sidelines, and I joined the other siblings on the playground.

There was a slide — one of those huge, skyscraper-sized metal ones that would have taken my short legs three straight minutes of climbing before reaching the summit. You’d never find these slides on a modern playground, but back then we took risks.

I don’t remember the ascent, nor do I remember pausing and wondering how foolish I’d look if I just shimmied back down. I don’t remember sailing along this metal ramp to the bottom, either.

But I remember the finale — my blue jean-wearing butt splashed straight into a mulch-filled puddle. It was my trademark move at this age; one I’d repeat many more times before nailing the landing.

I don’t recall trudging over to my mom, rubber boots squelching full of dirty mud puddle. I don’t remember how itchy I must have felt as the mulch jabbed and poked my legs inside my soggy jeans.

I don’t remember my mom shaking her head, sighing, and looking at her watch to see how much time was left in the game. I don’t know if she considered just pulling my brother out of the game and taking us both home.

I don’t recall her hand on my shivering back, ushering me inside the huge red and white school, or if she spoke to a grown up when she arrived, or what they might have said.

I remember walking downstairs, though, and entering a big, carpeted room. I remember that the curtains were orange and drawn and that the light filtering through gave everything an odd, ginger glow. There were three girls in the room, and they seemed old to me, but were probably only 13 or 14. They all had long dark hair and they smiled at us.

I don’t remember wedging myself behind my mom’s legs and peeking around them. But I suspect I might have done just that.

I know my mom spoke to the girls; she must have — my mom speaks to everyone whether they want to hear what she has to say or not. I don’t know what she said, but they must have come to an agreement, because one moment my mom was there and the next she was gone, and I was alone with the girls in the orange-tinted room.

There was a couch, and I sat on it wet jeans and all, scootching my butt into its deepest corner. I must have put my hands over my face, because I remember how the room looked through fingers. I probably cried. I did that a lot at four or five, so it seems probable.

The girls took turns leaning in and talking to me. And they had scarves, so many scarves. There was a bottomless drawer in my grandma’s bedroom full of flimsy rainbows that my cousin and I would dig through and twine around our necks, heads, wrists, and waists.

The girls had these scarves, too, and they whipped them around their faces, behind their heads, and they reached forward, tickling the hands in front of my face, trying to coax them away. They were laughing, and telling stories. I listened, rapt, and terrified. These were scary stories. I stopped crying at some point, but continued to shiver — perhaps it was cold, more likely it was fear. They told scary stories through delicate scarves until my mom came to collect me.

We would have clambered into the big green Jeep with the wooden side panels and made the short drive home. I would have undressed and maybe even jumped into a rare mid-morning bath to get the mulch off my skin. My mom, I presume, did laundry.

We would have had lunch, of that I’m sure, but whether my mom continued on with chores while my brother, sister and I played, or whether she put up her feet and read a book, I can’t say, but I hope she did the latter.

I rarely thought about those three girls; the ones who didn’t get to go home with their families after the game. Or about all the other children who wouldn’t spend lazy Saturdays playing, having baths, being cared for, nurtured, loved, included.

But I think about them now, and often; now that I have children of my own.

I got to go home that day. I got to go home every single day. I can still go home today if I want.

And I don’t know how to reconcile that.

St. Mary’s was the last functioning residential school in Canada, and closed in 1985.

The great sleepover debate

I said no.

I say no often to my children without giving it much thought, but this seemed like a big no; there was a harshness to it. Saying it hurt a little because I could feel he wanted it so badly, and he’s such a great kid, and he’s almost 10, and I was probably being over protective.

“No. You can’t go to the sleepover birthday at the local ski hill. I don’t know this boy. I’ve never met him or his parents. It’s an hour away on a snowy road. No.”

Sleepovers are a rite of passage, and I remember my first attempt vividly.

I was about six, and I was to sleep over at my best friend Tami’s house. I’d visited countless times before, and our parents were friends.

There was a build up of excitement; I could barely eat as butterflies parked in my belly.

Finally, Friday night arrived and it was amazing until the lights went out, at which time I sobbed and begged Tami’s mom to take me home. She did.

A few weeks later, I tried it out again and made it through the night. I graduated to other sleepovers — sleepovers that found me giggling on my grandma’s balcony with my cousin Becky, or up watching Labyrinth over and over, pausing only to make prank calls to the boys from school.

(Keep in mind, this was before call display.)

Sleepovers were great. Sleepovers are great. I want my kids to have sleepovers and to host sleepovers, but I’ve been fielding invitations from parents since my oldest was about five, and I say no far more often than I say yes, because I’m torn between wanting my kids to have amazing experiences with their buddies, and wanting to make safe choices for them.

I’ve had to develop rules, which include:

  • If I don’t know the child, or the parent, the answer is no. You’d be surprised how many sleepover requests come to my house from children, and parents of children, who are complete strangers. I couldn’t pick them out of a police lineup, I have no idea who the parent is, what they look like, how many children or dogs live in the house, what they do for a living, or whether they have gang ties.
  • If a parent decides at the last moment that the pizza/movie birthday party is now a sleepover, the answer is also no. No. No. No. First of all, WHO LIVES LIKE THIS? Making the decision to extend a nine-year-old’s birthday party into the next day — on a whim — seems insane to me. I can’t work like that. I like plans, and I like having them in advance so I can give my extremely anxious brain enough time to freak out.
  • If there have been multiple playdates, and I’ve gotten to know the kid and the parents and have successfully creeped them on social media, then yes, yes, a thousand times, YES!

When my kid visits your house I want to know that he feels comfortable enough to tell you if he’s scared. If he feels sick. If he’s hungry or thirsty. And I want your kid to feel that way with me before he spends the night.

We’re told to provide our children with the tools they need to engage with the world. We talk to them about stranger danger, and about bullying, and about participating cautiously in cyberspace.

But we’re also told that most child predators are not strangers, and that they’re the next-door neighbour, the basement tenant, the babysitter, the uncle.

As a kid I didn’t notice when I graduated from midnight My Little Pony marathons to sobbing over Heathers and making prank calls in the basement. When my parents said no, which was often, I thought it was just because they were jerks.

Turns out they weren’t jerks. And I’m not a jerk, either. My kids will do sleepovers. But let’s not rush it. Let’s get to know each other a bit, see how they play together for a few hours before they spend the night. How about you invite me in for a coffee while they play so that I don’t have to resort to the social media creep?

That’s a lie. I’ll creep you anyway. I’ve already creeped you. But it’s only because I care.

Thoughts that keep me up at night

What problem are the removable liners in sports bras trying to fix? Is their primary purpose to solve the ages old horror of vague nipple shapes under tank tops? Or were they merely created to provide a nice, rounded shape to the otherwise lycra-flattened boob? I go to the gym often, and I run, and because of this, I own a lot of sports bras. If you’re like me, you’ve spent time fishing these fleshy-coloured flaps out of the wash, or poking your fingers inside the little slits on the side of the bra coaxing out the bunched-up liner, only to later attempt to reinsert it in the original position. There’s swearing, and origami involved in this process. And if you’re also like me, you’ve got a drawer full of odd-shaped fleshy flaps — like socks — that you hang onto because someday you might find the match, and then once again be able to hide your nipple shapes while you run. Let’s face it — some dude designed this terrible contraption, and then other dudes around other boardroom tables all over the world nodded their heads and agreed that it was a fabulous idea. And so here we are, ladies, drowning in mismatched fleshy flaps, hiding our nipples when really all we want is to go for a run and have everyone just leave us alone with our deep thoughts.

•••

At Costco, my 9-year-old is not allowed to try a piece of buttered toast until I say it’s OK. Which is fine. There might be peanuts, gluten, dairy and other dangerous things in that toast, and Costco doesn’t want to be responsible for my child’s anaphylaxis. I get it. But at what age do they start handing kids food? I’ve never seen anyone asked for ID at a Costco sampling booth, so do they have a standard “age at which you look responsible enough to know and understand your own food sensitivities?” Is that legal drinking/pot-smoking age? (19 where I live), or is it younger? Is it understood that by age 14 or so you’ve lived long enough to know not to eat dairy if you’re allergic? If there’s anyone out there who provides samples at Costco, I’m dying to know.

•••

My friend is preparing to sell her house, and as a result has been frantically renovating her bathroom and retiling the fireplace. She bought the tile for the fireplace two years ago, but it wasn’t until she decided to sell that she actually opened up those boxes. Meanwhile, I have a beautiful, two-person jetted bathtub in my garage. Someday, most likely in the weeks before we list our house for sale, it will move upstairs into our master bathroom. Until then, this gorgeous tub will collect dust (and empty pop bottles) in the garage, while also preventing us from parking inside. I’m often motivated to buy the things I need to renovate, but am very rarely motivated to actually renovate. It makes me sad looking at that gorgeous vessel knowing that I’ll probably never bathe in it, but even that sadness, and the bitterness of knowing that some stranger will delight in the beautiful bath, doesn’t prompt me to roll up my sleeves. It makes me sad — but not sad enough to actually renovate.

The mom flu

Once, when I was about 14 I had a sinus infection so severe that I nearly blew my left eye out.

To this day, I have to close my eyes tightly when I blow my nose so as not to accidentally launch my left eye across the room.

It occurred to me over the past several days, eyes closed, blowing furiously into a Kleenex, that I used to be really good at being sick.

As a kid I was sick all the time. I had coughs, fevers, pink eye, strep throat and chicken pox. I even got shingles when I was 13 — a special virus reserved for the elderly — that traced perfect loop-de-loops around my teenaged back.

But at some point it all stopped and I got cocky. My life is a germ factory, and I walk through it daily in short sleeves; my sick offspring literally sneeze into my open mouth and I wake up the next morning without a sniffle.

I rarely get sick, and now I’m out of practice.

Man Flu has its own Wikipedia page, and just recently, Dr. Robert H. Schmerling posted results of a scientific study conducted to determine if this condition is legitimate — if men actually experience more acute flu symptoms than women.

There is no similar Wikipedia page or Harvard study for the Mom Flu, so I feel qualified to discuss the differences between them, and I’ll do so by drawing upon zero actual research, and pure anecdotal evidence. Here is my conclusion: Women rarely give themselves permission to be sick.

Men are no better at math than women. They are no better at driving, at comedy, or at managing money. One only has to turn on the news to recognize that they’re also not that fabulous at running countries.

But they are great at being sick, and most of the women I know (sorry for generalizing ladies) are terrible at it.

This Mom Flu found me at home, alone, on my living room couch, on a cold Tuesday morning, confused and anxious about what was going on.

“What does a sick person even do,” I asked my dog.

He suggested a rousing game of fetch or a trip to the dog park, but there wasn’t enough Kleenex in the world to make that possible, so instead I washed the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, tidied up the boots by the front door, started a load of laundry and took out the recycling. Then when I felt I had “earned” some down time, I made tea and sat on the couch.

Tea done, I got up, put the mug in the sink, and looked around.

“What now,” I kept wondering, as the minutes ticked by on my first official sick day in over a year, completely aware that I was failing, and feeling crummy about it because I hate being bad at shit.

I turned on the TV but it seemed noisy and out of place during the day.

So I folded laundry.

Then I tried to nap, because that’s what I tell my kids to do when they’re sick.

But instead I sat on my bed and stared at my dog, who I eventually took for a walk.

Sick Day No. 1 was over, and I’d accomplished about 20 minutes of productive rest time.

I’ve got a Mom Flu. I’m out of practice, and it’ll take a lot longer than the length of the average flu to figure out how to grant myself permission to relax.

A social life, curated

Social media is such a lie, and I am such a liar.

It has been nine months since I posted to my blog, and it’s not because I ran out of things to say.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that I have two super powers, and one is never running out of things to say, ever. In fact, I can carry on both sides of every conversation without even pausing for breath.

I talk everywhere, and to anyone. Trying to get some work done? Big deal! I had a hilarious thought! Just about to make an important phone call? Yeah, but wait until you hear this!

I’ve always had a lot to say, but what I say, and what I share (especially on social media) has always been carefully curated. The moments in which I’m absent or silent are the moments that I don’t have the capacity for curating. If I had posted to my blog three or four months ago I would have shared thoughts and feelings that I would have immediately regretted.

I would have risked opening myself up to sympathy, pity, and criticism at a time when judgement was the last thing I needed, and pity would have driven me insane.

And I’m not that brave.

So I stopped writing because I didn’t want to run the risk I’d write something I’d regret — something I couldn’t delete.

But then I looked back over the past several months of my social media posts, only to realize I had been talking. I had been talking quite often, but the conversations I shared were so carefully manufactured that they were almost outright lies.

“Look at my life,” those posts cried out, “it’s full of sunny days, big smiles, fitness, family, friends, vacations, and very merry Christmases.”

Truthfully? That’s garbage. This fortieth year has been the most difficult of my life.

Brick by brick, I’m putting myself back together. But the trauma this year has brought has forever changed the way I am, the way I see myself, the world, and probably the way I write.

The lies we tell on social media aren’t intentional, or malicious. We’re all just constructing the stories we want to read. The stories aren’t always true, but we want them to be, we can imagine they are, and there’s comfort in that.

Here’s to 2019. A year of great stories, and greater honesty, openness and bravery. And to greater recognition that behind every perfect and hilarious social media post there is someone with an untold story who is working very hard to build herself back up again, brick by heavy brick.

 

You’re only as old as you feel

Originally published in the Kamloops Daily News, Jan. 11, 2011. Gramma passed away on Nov. 15, 2016, and not a day goes by that I don’t hear her emphatic voice in my head. Usually, it’s when I’m doubting myself. And usually, her voice is castigating me, telling me to stop being “SO STUPID.” In life, she never insulted me, but she’d routinely insult herself. We’re a lot alike, her and I. 

Ninety is the new 50, or so I’m told.

My grandmother, or Gramma as I have known her for the past 32 and a half years, turned 90 last week. There was a big hullabaloo over it, as there should have been. Unable to attend the shindig, I sent a card filled with scratch tickets in my stead.

I chose Set for Life, and fully expect her to win. I suspect she’d go with the payout, but I’d encourage her to take the $1,000 a week for 25 years, because I’m that certain she’ll still be going strong at 115.

Some people are born old. I know a few of them. Some people aren’t. We call these people young at heart, but that’s a terrible cliche, as it’s not particularly accurate. Gramma is young in mind, and in spirit, but she’s not young at heart. She’s had a heart attack once or twice in the near century that she’s been alive. According to her doctor, she’s got an enlarged aorta, but you don’t need a PhD to discern that her heart is too big. And I’m certain in the past 90 years she’s managed to break that big heart of hers once or twice – what good would 90 years be, after all, if there weren’t a tale of love and loss tossed in there somewhere?

She might not be young at heart, but she’s never been old, this Gramma of mine. In fact, I recall her saying that once, while going about her daily routine, she looked over and caught a glance at herself in a mirror and let out a loud shriek.

“Sometimes I forget,” she said to me that afternoon. “I’m going about my day and in my head I’m 25, but then I look at myself in a mirror and I’m OLD,” she yelled. Sure, she’s become hard of hearing, but that’s not why she yells, and it’s not really a yell in any case, it’s merely volume for emphasis. And Gramma is nothing if not emphatic.

This past summer, Gramma needed a hip replacement. It had been months since she’d been able to get out on the golf course, and she hadn’t been line dancing in a coon’s age. What really got her goat, though, was her inability to walk unassisted. She required a walker – the ultimate indignity – and occasionally, when going up stairs, she needed an arm to hold onto for support.

It was time for the surgery, she said (rather emphatically), and so she went, and these days she’s aquafitting and furniture shopping, getting geared up to move into a resort-style retirement community. It’s a big move, but exciting, and this way there’ll be someone to come in weekly and do her vacuuming. Unfortunately, it’s out of my price range, or I’d be tempted to join her.

No, Gramma’s not old. She’s a spry 90 – still going in for hugs and sneaking butt pats at the same time, and still cheating at Scrabble. While I know her as Gramma, the great-grandchildren (and there are many) know her as Gramma Treats, and while they all stop for butt pats when she gets in the door, their next stop is her giant purse, which is always overflowing with fresh cookies and little bags of candies, or little toy trucks. In fact, I’ve even caught my older sister sidling up to Gramma, asking her if she’s got any stray jubejubes kicking around in that magical purse of hers.

Age certainly is only a number, and sometimes I’m sure she feels each and every one of her 90 well-lived years. But she’s never been old to me, and saying she’s 90 just seems ridiculous.

She’s older than the BBC, than Readers Digest, than Time Magazine. She’s older than one-piece bathing suits, The Ten Commandments (the film, not the actual tablets), the Winter Olympics, Chrysler, Scotch Tape, Winnie-The-Pooh, the 40-hour work week and the use of insulin as a treatment for diabetes.

The things she’s seen, the things she’s lived through, make me catch my breath. The fact that I can still call her up and speak to her about those things makes my breath hitch for another reason altogether.

I’m blessed – so blessed -to have my Gramma, who was born when the population of Canada was a paltry 8.7 million.

It’s just sad that she had to wait until her 90th birthday for me to fully appreciate that blessing. Better late than never, I guess.

Happy birthday Gran.