Red Jellybeans…

We’ve often heard that the only thing one can be certain of in life, is uncertainty. Call it change, call it growth, call it whatever you will, I call it – stress, discombobulation, and absolute chaos.

While knowing that the sun will always rise in the east, and fall in the west – I cannot count on seeing the sun every, single day. For some, this is not a big a deal. They roll with the punches and most of all, they don’t put as much stock into certainty. But for someone like me, someone who needs predictability and order to help me get through the day, it’s amazing just how much a little bit more to the left or a sudden change to the right can affect my world.

The end of the school year is always a hectic one – and it has been for as long as I can remember.

When we were kids, growing up on the other side of the world in Saudi Arabia, the end of the school year meant that we were packing our suitcases for weeks long vacations through Europe and to come and visit my dad’s family here in Canada. It meant that I could go from my daily routine of school, to being able to ride bikes down the hill at my cousin’s house (and try not to crash in the parked cars!) in idyllic Hamilton, or swing from the tire swing at the park near my grandma’s house in St. Catharines and best of all, walk down the street and buy a Freezie from the convenient store.

My mom would pack those suitcases for days, my dad would make sure all the papers, hotel reservations and tickets were in order. All I had to do was show up, little sister in tow.  Now it’s my turn. And there are days when I truly feel like I’m drowning in all the chaos; drowning in all of the choices and responsibilities; unable to see the calm.

They say it’s personality.

Some people have this innate ability to navigate their way through life without ever letting on that the pressure is getting to them.

I, on the other hand, am the epitome of a pressure cooker…with a release valve that seemingly appears to be sealed shut…until it’s not.

And it very loudly alerts all those around that I’m about to go off!!

I repeat to myself, over and over again, “I must try and take my steps more lightly. I must try and take my steps more lightly.” I mean, they will not define my every being. Yet the pressure in the cooker increases and it gets louder and I can barely hear myself above the FFFFFSSSSSHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Part of the problem is me, of course. Like most modern women, we want it all. Like most modern women, we don’t want to let any of the balls we’re juggling come tumbling to the ground because they’re important to us: partners, kids, family, jobs, friends, commitments and so on. Like most modern women, we even find it difficult to just put any one of those balls on the shelf or in our pocket even for a moment for fear that we may be missing out on something or worse yet, make the wrong choice.

Oh to have the strength of clarity…even in the face of uncertainty!

My seven year old is exceptional at limits and at being direct. He does what he does in such a way as to not even show any doubt in his decision making abilities and eventual choices. That is, unless of course it’s free dress day and he has to wear what his best friend is going to wear and I have to miraculously guess what that’s going to be!

In any case, every week when the boys would go to their swim class, as a reward for a job well done, they’d each get a quarter to use on the dispensing machines on our way out. These machines are a child’s dream: an assortment of candies and bouncy balls. My older son now has a healthy collection of bouncy balls – a testament to his many weeks of hard work and perseverance. My younger son, on the other hand does not. Not because he doesn’t also earn his quarters, but because he prefers to use his quarter to buy jellybeans, a consumable that’s gone within minutes.

I cannot understand the seven year old’s choice. The almost eleven year old and I are the same: we like stuff that lasts. Neither of us are good at delayed gratification (i.e. saving those quarters for something bigger in the end) but we sure do like our stuff. And those bouncy balls are a metaphor for things…material things…trophies! The seven year old is more like Mr. Niceguy: all about the experience.

One week, unable to let go, and accept buying jellybeans as a wise way to use his quarter, I asked the seven year old,

“Why do you keep buying jellybeans? Don’t you know we can easily get these at the store and you can have them whenever you want? Don’t you CARE about bouncy balls?”

To which he replied most matter-of-factly, “I CARE about red jellybeans.”

Point made. I was completely surprised and delighted all at once. This little boy had the freedom to choose but most importantly he had given himself the freedom to be at peace with his choice. There’s a lesson here…

Nothing is perfect – so it follows that uncertainty is a normal state. However, in it, there are elements of certainty: love, fun, laughter and our amazing ability to come through whatever it is we face – even if we’re not exactly who we were when we started. And while there will be days when the loud FSSSSHHHH of the pressure cooker seems to completely block my ears and keep me from remembering to take my steps more lightheartedly, I know I’ll get through them, one red jellybean at a time.

Epilogue: Modern day life is complicated. While many advances have contributed to increasing the length and quality of our lives, they have also presented us with more choices and options than ever before which can sometimes be daunting. Taking a step back, a deep breath and listening to what we really want despite what we think we want, as difficult as it can be, is a good way to move ahead. Try it…and have a safe and happy summer!

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Closet Claustrophobe…

All of us have these little things that make us, well, us. For instance, like many others, I’m often found complaining that I need to lose 5 or 10 pounds, haven’t had time to exercise, or just have waaaaaaay too many things on my plate.

Actually, I do have one quirk which makes me, me. Every night when I finally get the chance to relax after getting the kids to bed and the house tidied from the whirlwind that is the 10 year old and 7 year old, I wish to myself that I had the fastest metabolism in the world. All I want more than anything is to have a banquet-sized feast complete with fettucine alfredo, roast beef, spaghetti, and some very delicious Armenian delicacies (like mantee and dolma!) without ANY consequences. When I’ve admitted this to Mr. Niceguy he’s responded with, “Oooh, that sounds like fun!” Actually, it sounds more like the answer to all my prayers…!

But one of my bigger quirks? I am a “closet claustrophobe”. By that I mean, I am claustrophobic – some of the time. And I don’t make a big deal about it but I’m never sure when it will strike. There are guaranteed moments, however. For example, if I’m at a party and the music is just pumping and I’m really into the groove well, it doesn’t really matter how squished I am…until the girl behind me starts elbowing me and the sweaty guy dancing with her keeps inching into my personal space and I can feel his sweat invading my atmosphere and oh, there’s a drop and I’m about to lose my mind while I try to figure out how to break away on the one hand, and find room to show off all my moves on the other!

***BLECH***

It’s an odd feeling, claustrophobia. And it’s particularly harrowing when it just creeps up out of nowhere.

I wonder…maybe I was made for wider spaces – less density. And then, when I have all the space I could want, I feel like I’m haunted by ghosts. Where is the happy medium?

I recall one of the first times I realized I had claustrophobic tendencies. Mr. Niceguy and I had travelled to the fabulous Greek island of Mykonos – I know I write about Mykonos often but you see, once I discovered that little piece of heaven on Earth, I made it my mission to be there nearly 3 years in a row! Ooooh…when I think of those times…

The schedule was marvelous: awake sometime around 11am – just in time to have the last ham and cheese pastries at the little bakery around the corner. Then, walk through the deserted windy, cobblestone paths flanked on either side with whitewashed walls and blue-shutter-framed windows to catch the bus to Elia beach. All day long we would lie for hours on our rented loungers, counting time by the sun’s position and our deepening tans (ok, in reality also counting time by the number of cigarettes smoked, Coca Light’s and the number of songs listened to on my discman). Aaaaah…paradiso.

When the tans couldn’t get any deeper, we would head back to the bus and into town to start the night’s festivities that would carry well into the wee hours of the morning. Only one day, at the end of a successfully two-shades-darker-suntan day, there was an accident on the road which blocked the entire road leaving our bus stopped on an incline on a very tall hill (there’s only one main road that travels around the whole island).

The bus was packed with beachgoers eager to get back into town. Of note here is that the bus…was packed…with sweaty beach goers….at the end of a very hot day…crowding the aisles, with their arms raised to hold the safety bars along the top – sweat and hairy armpits everywhere. Oooh, and did I mention that in Greece when the bus stops on the top of a hill because of a minor motorbike accident in the middle of the only road it also turns off its engine? Yes. Important detail. No air. And the bus was so old that the windows would barely crack open.

I thought I would black out – blacking out would have been a welcome respite from my suffering in that wretched, hot hell – can’t you just feel how awful it was? Only I wasn’t so lucky. I recall turning into my own armpit trying to shield myself from my surroundings. I recall wishing I had an inside seat and wasn’t standing. I recall the cute brown leather change purse that a Brazilian girl was carrying and how it would be my salvation – every stitch counted, the pattern of leather committed to memory…all so that I could cope with the cold sweat trickling down my back which had nothing to do with the temperature and everything to do with feeling like a sardine.

The most glorious being, of course, when we finally made it off that bus and I could breathe deeply and normally, stretch out my arms and legs and just be grateful for life! I believe I started skipping back to our hotel…or perhaps I was skipping because it was dinnertime…

I would say that was probably my first and most significant experience with claustrophobia. Thankfully I learned from that situation. Like to always try and find a seat on the subway during rush hour. Or to always sit by an operational window. On elevators I almost never stand in the centre. When going out with friends and there’s an odd number, I often try to be next to the empty seat. And I almost never walk ahead because I feel like the person walking behind is going to catch me. It’s a funny quirk…perhaps it’s all the extra space I need for all of my baggage? Who knows.

In any case, if we’re ever having a heart-to-heart and I subtly start to back away…well, let me. It’s not that I’m not interested or listening, it’s just that I could use a little room. And if you do figure out how I can have a banquet-sized-meal before bed and lose weight at the same time, well, I’ll definitely lean in a little closer!