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My birthday was last week and I did that thing that kids never understand. I couldn’t remember how old I was. I remember asking my mom her age once and she said, “I don’t know. 45 maybe?” I thought she was putting me on. Who doesn’t know how old they are?! As a kid we’re obsessed with age and our next birthday and what will happen when we’re double digits, or 16, 18 or 21. We imagine ourselves “in our 20’s” or what our life will be like at 30 and in most of those imaginings we’re attractive, hyper successful and totally pulled together. When you’re young even a half a year makes a big difference. Loch is four and a half this week and he’s totally different than he was six months ago, but as you truly get older, not only do you no longer count months you can hardly keep track of years.

So, when someone recently asked me how old I was turning I said, “37. No, 38. Wait, shoot…um…no, I’m not 37 now I don’t think. So, no. I’m 36. So, 37. Yeah, 37.” Honestly, it was a struggle for me to figure it out. I was one step away from doing the math from 1975 and that’s saying something as I’m a big avoider of math.

My 2nd Birthday. First real party.

It’s not that I’m one of those people who hates their birthday or wants to be perpetually 29. I don’t. I love my birthday. I always have. Maybe it’s the Leo in me, but I’ve always loved a day about me, a celebration of my life. I’ve always appreciated the successful completion of another year. Long before I got sick I was a fan of the birthday. I’ve always told people who were grumbling they wished it wasn’t happening or talking about “skipping it this year” that they should be happy. There are so many people who would love (or would have loved) to live another year. The time we get on this planet is so fleeting and being granted another whole year is something to be grateful for, and if you’re also someone who’s blessed enough to be around people you love who want to celebrate with you, you should eat that s*^# up with a spoon.

My 6th Birthday with my beloved granny, Mimi.

I realize the “appreciate your birthday” thing might come off a little preachy or high hatted, but it’s not meant to. Yes, I’m in a different position than I was 4 years ago as far as appreciating every year, but this is not a new sentiment for me. Birthdays are an opportunity to slow down for a day and take stock of where you are and where you’d like to be. A day to appreciate your health, your family, your friends, your life. Another year has passed. Are you happy? Could you do something different? Is there a dream you wish you were following? Can you make a goal for next year? Are you healthy? Can you find the gratitude in that? Are you sick? What can you do to help your body take care of itself or better use the time you have left? Look, it’s impossible to be grateful for your life every day. There’s just too much to think about, too many things going on, but on your birthday you get a moment to look around and acknowledge where you are and hopefully find something to be grateful for.

My 8th Birthday. I loved that suit so much!

I’m happy to age. I’ll be thrilled when I reach 40, ecstatic if I reach 50 and grateful beyond belief for every other year after that. Let me tell you, if I make it, I’ll be the happiest 80 year old you’ve ever seen. All that being said however, and no matter how pleased I am to get old, aging isn’t for the weak. Getting old is one thing. Looking and feeling old is totally another. I might be infinitely grateful for my life but I am not particularly pleased with my wrinkles, or spider veins, or sagging upper eye skin (what with that?!). I’m not excited to get a waddle and I like being able to see my jaw line. I seriously considered botox this year as a lifetime of talking with my face has built a grand canyon sized trough above my eyebrows that you could drive a truck through by the end of the day. I hate not being able to eat whatever I want without seeing it on my lower half the next day. I loathe the cracking of my knees and the fact that I groan every time I stand up. I watch my parents with their shortening memories and different physical ailments and I see (if I’m lucky) my future. Getting old is tough. The body you relied on, the mind you took for granted, the memory you had, like any other living thing starts to decay.

My 34th Birthday dinner with my Toronto girlfriends (and our respective spouses).

The question of whether you’d like your mind or your body to go first isn’t a tough one for me. If I could, I’d chose to have my body give out (not any time soon) before my mind. Watching people’s bodies hang on long after their mind has gone is heartbreaking for everyone. I can’t imagine not knowing who I was or recognizing my loved ones. I think it must be perpetually lonely when no one is able to connect with you, and so hard for the loved ones who can see you right in front of them but are unable to break through. I’d rather be alert and cognizant right up to the end. It’s like we should all pick up smoking and high sodium diets somewhere around 85 just to ensure our body doesn’t keep us around after our due date.

My 36th Birthday. Cake made by Sean & Loch. Wonderful day at the cottage!

Like I said, aging is tough. Tough on the ego. Tough on the wallet (saving is something I need to do more of as I age)  Tough on the body. It’s not easy or glamourous but, like most things, it’s dependent on your attitude as to how arduous it really is. A positive attitude, one of gratitude and wisdom, can make the unpleasant aspects seem so much less. I went to the movies the other day with a friend I’ve had since we were 10 and at the end of the credits we were the last people in the theatre. Leaving just before us however were five older ladies (say mid 70’s) all busy chatting it up. As they walked out we watched them buzzing about the movie, their plans for the next day, who was going to some event. They walked slowly and carefully but they still seemed spry and light and were clearly having fun. I turned to my friend and said, “You think that’s us in 40 years?” and she nodded. Staying engaged with the world, with your friends, with your life, is a key ingredient to finding the joy in aging. You don’t have to be sick to appreciate each year, you just have to be conscious. Know that it’s all a gift and we should take advantage of it while we still can.

Happy Birthday to you whenever it is. May the next year be your best yet!

xo leigh

My 37th Birthday. 4 of us went out on a Monday night for dinner and ended up seeing an amazing Mariachi band, getting up on stage and then skipping over to an awesome Korean karaoke bar and singing away into the night. Couldn’t have been better!

The Should’s

I considered postponing my blog a week. I’ve been up at my cottage with my family and so much of me wanted to just be on holiday. The problem with working for yourself is you’re never quite sure when you’re off. You don’t have a “work day” or “quitting time”. Your weekends aren’t for recuperating or taking time off and there is no formal vacation. Sure, you can choose not to work whenever it suits you, but if you want to succeed, those times are few and far between. In my personal world of full time mothering and trying to launch a career, any time I have to myself (read: awake with someone else responsible for Loch) I feel I should be working.

This view…

“Should” is sort of a dreaded word in my family. I associate it with my grandmother who used the word often. It implies an outsider’s perception of what you are expected to be accomplishing or an implicit benchmark you are assumed to be striving for. It can be used by my mother (sounding like a mimic of her own mother) regarding my behavior, “You know what you should do…” or most recently Loch’s behavior, “he shouldn’t be doing that” or “he should know that” but it can also just be a voice in my head pressuring me to meet certain life requirements. “Should” is full of innate pressures that can needle you into a unsettled state. “Should” calls attention to your shortcomings and compares you to some unknown flawless person who is clearly making better choices than you. On the flip side however, “should” can also be a catalyst to accomplishment when you would otherwise be too lazy or distracted to complete a task. The spur you need to run that proverbial extra mile.

So, when the thought of enjoying a day with my family instead of sitting down to write reared it’s head, the “should’s” forced me to get cracking. I realize that my blog is hardly life or death. That few will notice if it’s a week late or that this week, even with my best intentions, it will come out a day late due to the fact that I am unable to publish from up north, but even so, I felt unable to relax and just let things go. I have no editor. No deadlines but the ones I impose on myself. No one is looking over my shoulder, but if I become lax about my work ethic, what will I accomplish?

…OR this view?

What occurred to me, while debating working or not, was the concept of living each day as if it’s your last. For obvious reasons I understand this feeling better than others, but for me, the concept itself highlights an interesting quandary. If today is my last day (or my last month or my last year) what am I doing alone in a room working on a computer? If today is my last day why am I concerned with work at all? If I’m supposed to be living as if I’m going to be gone tomorrow, why should I save my money or deny myself anything? If it’s all ending why should I care about my weight or make any effort with my appearance?

How do you live each day like it’s your last, while still planning for a much longer existence? How do those two ideas reconcile into one life plan?

This quote I found on makes more sense to me.

I understand the concept of treating others as if it was their last day on earth. To give people the care and compassion you would devote to someone on their way out. If you were interacting with someone who would be gone tomorrow would you brush them off or speed them along? No, you would put yourself aside and truly listen in an attempt to understand their feelings and fears. You would be more indulgent of their shortcomings and not rush the interaction to better suit your timeline. I understand that mindset and I think it would be a wonderful way to live, at the very least a noble goal to strive for. More often than not however, my lack of patience interrupts my quest to be a better, kinder soul and I feel intolerant and frustrated with people’s weaknesses. It’s not my best quality and one I strive to improve, particularly in trying situations.

A story was recently being circulated around Facebook. It’s been around for years but it never fails to affect me:

“A cab driver was waiting outside a brownstone in New York City. It had been a long day and he was ready to go home. He’d taken this last call and was now waiting, endlessly for his fare to come downstairs. He considered driving away but thought better of it and continued to wait. Eventually a tiny, little old lady opened the door with a suitcase in her hand. He stepped out of the taxi and helped her into the waiting car. When he asked for the address she gave it to him but asked if he would mind making a stop on the way. Tired but resolved he agreed and took his fare across town to a little tenement while she told him a story. She’d moved to the city when she was 18 with her new husband. The building she wanted to see was the first place they’d lived as man and wife. He was gone now, as were her children and friends, and she was finally moving out of the city into a home (that was the address she’d given him). With no one left, she knew this was her last opportunity to see her first home. Touched by her words, and turning off the meter, the driver asked if she had any other places she’d like to see again. Over the course of the night the driver and the elderly lady revisited all her old stomping grounds, the hospital where her children were born, the place of her first job, the theatre she’d seen her first play… As the sun started to rise over the horizon, she settled back into her seat and said, “Thank you. I’m ready to go now.”  Without another word they left the city where she’d spent her life. As the driver helped the lady out of the car and into her new home, she thanked him again. The gratitude on her face was worth more than any night at home would have offered him. As he drove away he wondered what would have happened if it hadn’t been him that took the call, if someone in a bad mood or a rush had picked her up, or even more close to home, if he’d driven off as he’d considered doing.”

Every time I read that story I like to think I’d behave like the cabbie. It’s what I should do isn’t’ it? We should plan for the future. We should live in the now. We should act like this or behave like that. The should’s have a hold in all aspects of our lives. Yes, we should be kind to little old ladies with no family, but it’s possible we might just drive off after waiting 10 minutes for an unknown passenger.

The concept of treating others as if it’s there last day is poignant and effective and one I feel I can fully understand. What I have trouble with is living my own life with the same consideration. Living life as if it’s your last day is both confusing and depressing, and frankly altogether too close to home.

It’s a question of balance. We can’t live our whole life for this one day, nor can we put all our eggs in the basket of an unknown future. We shouldn’t give all of our energy to our careers so we’re burnt out when we get home to our families and we can’t give everything to our loved ones so we have nothing left for the rest of our lives. We have to find an equilibrium between work and life without failing to remember that people should always outweigh the importance of tasks, and just like the cabbie, if we find ourselves with the opportunity to give a little extra to others, “leave them happier than you found them” as my friend Ashley says, then perhaps we should attempt to do that as well.

Ultimately I think sitting down to write this blog was important not because the world needed to read it so much as I needed to write it. Writing gives me a sense of purpose, and helps balance out my role as mommy/wife/sick person. Does that mean after typing I won’t go back and hang out with my family or sit down and read a book? No, I need that too. I’m just not off the hook because no one is watching. I know better than that.

Or at least I “should”.

Back hanging with my family!

As a final thought I read a quote recently from the Dalai Lama about what surprised him most about humanity. He answered:

“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he’s so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and dies having never really lived.”