Pause

Well, Autumn is officially here. This morning I woke up to overcast skies, rain-streaked windows, and a chill in the house that prompted me to put on a sweater. Like many, Autumn brings memories of schooldays. Sharpened pencils and a backpack full of brand-new school supplies. A blank notebook waiting to be filled with lessons and doodles. Brand new shoes for my growing feet and changing out of the swimsuit I had worn all summer. Ah, yes Autumn was always a delightful time. Now that I am an adult, Autumn is vastly different. With my schooldays behind me, and my (future) children’s schooldays not yet begun, Autumn holds a different charm.

As a grownup, (apparently, I am one?), I have started to think of Autumn as a pause button. Sandwiched between the blistering, thought-crushing heat of summer, and the snuggly, lazy days of winter is this perfect season. Autumn – when it finally cools down enough to put a thought or two together, and it’s not yet cold enough to freeze your nose, toes, and brain cells.

It was my momma who first taught me about the power of pausing to analyze, reflect, rejuvenate, and prioritize. Each year, as Autumn rolls around, after the sun-soaked days of summer are behind us, I feel myself hitting the pause button. I think it has something to do with the leaves changing colour. I catch a glimpse of red and orange-tinged beauty out of the corner of my eye, and I stop to admire the trees in their autumnal splendour. My mind starts to wander as I appreciate the journey those trees took over the past months.

Stark, naked branches against a backdrop of white snow gave way to baby green leaves sprouting from their buds to the lush green foliage of summer, and finally, in a flashy show of red, orange, and yellow, those same laves cascade down upon us as they prepare to sleep for another spring to come. While tracing the trees’ course over the past year, I start to reflect on my own. Where was my life when those leaves were safely stowed away, and the snow blustered around those bare limbs? As the spring began to melt away the cold, dark winter days, what was I accomplishing? As bright green life burst forth, did I give anything so wonderful to the world? And now, here I am, finally pausing all the year’s whirlwind as the Autumnal Equinox arrives. Last year, as I caught sight of falling leaves, pumpkin patches, and sunflower fields, I made plans for the year to come. This year, as those same scenes flash by, I pause to wonder what I have accomplished. It is, after all, amazingly easy to get caught up in the hustle, bustle, tussle of a busy year.

Thankfully, throughout the year, there are little markers that provide a chance for mini-intermissions. Times to pause and re-evaluate my focus. New Year’s, Lent and my birthday are these mini-intermissions in my life. I feel pressure during these times, though, that I don’t feel during my Autumn pause.

On New Year’s Day, the entire world is awoken to immense pressure to reinvent ourselves. Diets and exercise, quit that bad habit and our procrastinating nature, lose weight and gain insight, save money, find love! Magazines and self-help podcasts are declaring their foolproof guide to accomplish your fancy New Year’s resolutions. When I was younger, creating resolutions was an important objective. As I grew older, though, I realize that I never quite made it past the creation stage of my resolutions.

Similarly, during the Lenten season, the priest at my church would often question my younger self about what I had chosen to give up for Lent. It was a routine each Catholic schoolchild completed year in and year out. My Lenten resolutions varied over the years from giving up chocolate to refraining from backtalking to my parents, being more patient with my sister and to spend more time on my piano lessons. I crafted beautiful and thoughtful resolutions, but all the pressure placed on those forty days caused my young mind to cave time and time, again.

My birthday is another mini-intermission in the year. As mid-June rolls around each year, my family celebrates my birth, and I question how I’ve gotten so ancient yet not feel a minute older than last year. And so, I pause to ponder! How has this past year changed me? What do I hope to do before I turn another year older? Each year, I get too distracted by cake, gifts, balloons, and party décor to put much thought into my ponderings.

Alas, when September, October and November finally roll around, I’m ready to put some pressure-free thinking into a gentle, relaxed pause.

My momma is the kind of person who doesn’t realize how profound she is. She throws a casual comment out into the abyss, and unbeknownst to her, that quick remark finds its way to me and reverberates within for, sometimes, years to come. Many years ago, momma made a passing observation about how the busier a person was, the unhappier they seemed. Not quite understanding, I prompted her to expand on her thoughts. She shared with me how she had noticed these busy little bees in her day-to-day life, and she thought she saw a correlation between their harried, hustling lifestyle and their general disposition. She opened my eyes to an entire life philosophy that day.

Without intending to place blame or hurl accusations, I was taught by the world around me, as I grew up, that I should never be sitting still. I should be working hard, staying up all hours studying for tests and perfecting school projects, inhaling caffeinated beverages in attempts to push my tired body further. I learned that the ability to multitask should be worn as a badge of honour. I felt pressured into being the “smart” student, a teacher’s pet, to write letters to governing officials about how I think the world should be, ace tests, and participate in impossible amounts of extracurricular activities to mould myself into a well-rounded person.

As a teenager and young 20-something, I thought a busy lifestyle translated into success, happiness, wealth, and peace. As a late 20-something, my busy lifestyle translated into burnout, an autoimmune disease, insomnia, depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, failure upon failure, a mountain of debt, and the furthest feeling from peace in existence.

I believe, without a smidgen of doubt, my life would be dramatically different if I had learned as a younger woman the power of pausing.

Pausing allows you to take a beat to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite.  

Maria Shriver

The busier I became, the less present I was and the I knew what I genuinely wanted. I was so busy; I didn’t even have time to assess how unhappy I truly was. If I felt a hint of unhappiness, my solution was to do more and become busier. One day, it dawned on me that I had turned into the person my momma had shrewdly observed those many years ago.

It was during one of those beautiful Autumn afternoons. My parents and I were sitting on a wooden bench looking out at the Ottawa River. It was the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. I was basking in the warm sun, listening to the wind rustling through the trees and the gentle waves as they bumped along the rocks that bordered the shore. My eyes were closed, and I felt a small smile forming as I turned my face towards the sky. I could hear children playing nearby and the tip-tapping of little dog paws along the boardwalk as they trotted alongside their humans on a walk. I contemplated why life wasn’t always like this. My limbs, mind, and soul felt such calm and peace. I had spent the morning baking pies and cookies, preparing chicken, potatoes, and stuffing for a lovely feast to feed my happy little family. I danced around the kitchen to some of my favourite songs and enjoyed watching our Thanksgiving meal slowly come to fruition. Now we were soaking up one of the last afternoons when you could leave the house without a jacket on and still feel warm as the sun’s rays radiated down.

It could always be like this. The abrupt realization caught me off guard. Why was I keeping myself so busy doing nothing that brought me the peace and joy of that quiet afternoon? Because I had been taught that to be busy is to be happy. So, that Thanksgiving Sunday became my first conscious effort to pause and re-evaluate my intentions, ambitions, and aspirations.

It didn’t happen overnight, but I eventually let go of the glorification of busy. For years, I had kept myself busy and I had been confusing motion as improvement. Taking time to pause has taught me to remember what I want, realign myself, and dedicate myself to feeling genuinely happy. Throughout the years, I have taught my mind to do the exact opposite of what it was conditioned to believe years ago. In the past, when I would feel dissatisfaction with my life, or fatigue or illness in my body, when I would feel impatient, I would pile more on my to-do list. The moment I would feel ragged, or slowing down, my mind would pressure me to speed up and accomplish more. Now, I take those same moments and pause. Just stop. In the middle of a task, when I start to feel overwhelmed or rundown, I just pause. I take that small moment to remember that being busy is not something I should be proud of. Completing four tasks at once is not something to brag about. Sighs of impatient and answering my momma’s questions with frustration because I just-have-so-much-should-be-doing-right-now is not a badge of honour. I need to recall that big picture: peace, joy, tranquility. I need to pause.

Gratitude

Having an attitude of gratitude is not always easy to attain. Some days, I wake up with a spring in my step and joy in my heart. Other days… not so much. It’s on those days that I hear the voice of my wise momma cutting through all my self-pitying, self-loathing, selfish noise. “It’s okay to feel that today sucks, but look at all you do have!” she states knowingly.

Despite the fact that some days feel less like a walk in the park and more like a half-run, half-drag myself through a muddy path strewn with fallen-down gnarly trees, and fighting off scary bugs and hungry lions, I have the ability to see through that muck at what I do have – thanks to my momma.

I’ve learned, through the wisdom of my momma, how crucial gratitude is. Gratitude has changed me, for the better. I find an attitude of gratitude to be one of the most important tools in my life. It’s a simple, powerful step that shifts what I have into more than enough.

It’s too easy to fall into a self-woe pattern when I look around and take stock of what I don’t have. It turns out, though, that it’s just as easy to look around and take stock of what I do have. It’s taken many years, and a lot of repeated lessons from my wise momma, for me to realize this truth.

In the pre-Netflix era, when I was a young girl and we were limited to watching whatever happened to be on cable, Momma, my sister, and I were lazing around on the couch one rainy Sunday afternoon, channel surfing through what seemed to be a bunch of no-good shows. In the midst of those 20 channels, Momma announced, “that’s a good movie, let’s watch that.” And so, we watched the romantic journey of Miss Birdee Calvert in Hope Floats. It’s an adorable show filled with several actors and actresses who quickly became favourites of mine. About halfway through the movie, Romana Calvert murmurs to her granddaughter: “My cup runneth over.” At the time, I didn’t realize that was a passage from a Psalm in the Bible, making it even more special.

Sometimes, I feel as though that Psalm is a theme throughout my life. When I’m making Thanksgiving dinner for my family, when I’m snuggling with my cat, when I’m watching my nephew toddle around his playpen, when I’m going for a walk, when I’m doing the dishes; a quiet voice passes through my mind, whispering “my cup runneth over”.

Contentment with what I have, and disinterest in wanting more is a lesson passed on by momma. Even after almost 30 years, she passes on that same lesson on a semi-weekly basis. The moment I feel an urge to give in to the negativity that seems to be all around – wanting what I don’t have, or wanting things now – there momma is. “Arista,” her gentle, but firm voice softly reaches my ears, “remember to look at what you do have”. And, as if by magic, what I have is suddenly more than enough. My eyes are opened wide to see a cup spilling over with blessings. The things I lamented over not having just moments before become irrelevant because I can suddenly see what I have is so much better than what I don’t have.

Dissatisfaction with the ‘have-nots’ in my life is even something to be grateful for. The time spent “not having” just makes the blessing even more sweet if, or when, I do receive it. Automatic receipt of something I want doesn’t have the same feeling as waiting, working, dreaming and finally, receiving. The process is something to be grateful for.

My momma doesn’t try to sugarcoat life. She knows better than anyone that life is difficult, that it isn’t fair, that the continual struggle of not getting what you want is heart-breaking and challenging. She’s taught me those realities. Still, despite, or maybe because of, those struggles she has faced, she is the best person to pass on the lesson of gratitude. Momma could easily sit in a pile of self-pity and tell me all about how she has struggled, how she doesn’t have things that she should have, and how she doesn’t have enough. But she doesn’t. She sits next to me in her rocking chair and she tells me about how blessed she feels. Momma chooses to talk about what she has, and how grateful she is for it all. I imagine this isn’t always an easy thing for her to do. I can only hope to emulate her strength as I go about my day. There are moments when the realities of life and the grief over what I don’t have threatens to overwhelm me. There are moments when I am so downtrodden that I can’t seem to think of just one thing to be grateful for. The next moments are what matters, though. They are the moments I realize my cup runneth over, and if nothing else, I remember I have my strong, beautiful, wise momma. That’s more than I need and so much more than I deserve.

Simplicity

Here we are at July 5th already. To say it’s been a whirlwind of a year is a definite understatement – and we’re only at the halfway point. I know everything is feeling a bit kerflooey at the moment, my own life included. But there is one thing that does not feel like it’s fallen apart – my adoration for simplicity.

I can’t remember the very first time my momma taught me about simplicity, but it was a lesson she bestowed emphatically. I grew up with two parents who lavished upon their children. And, when we weren’t being lavished upon by our parents, we were being spoiled by our grandparents. I can think of nothing I didn’t have during my childhood. My father worked (and continues to work) in a mentally grueling profession to ensure material possessions were in constant, unwavering supply. My momma worked in another intellectually and physically challenging profession until I was about nine or 10 years of age. At that time, she elected to become a stay-at-home momma to my sister and I. #Blessed has never been more appropriate than when describing my childhood. Despite having every toy, trinket and childhood luxury known to man, I grew up with the knowledge that living simply and having an immense appreciation for the little things in life is invaluable to success and happiness. The value of simplicity has been known for centuries, and I am fortunate to have a momma who bestowed this wisdom to her offspring.

Sometimes, I get caught up in stuff. Wanting stuff, the allure of more stuff, cute stuff, exciting stuff, pretty stuff, more stuff, stuff filled with stuff, a house of stuff, stuff to wear, stuff to eat, stuff to watch, stuff, stuff, stuff, I want more stuff. My wise momma taught me that the addition of stuff does not necessarily equate to more happiness.

Each day, I find myself craving a more simple life. I want a house full of stuff, but not in the classic sense. I want my home stuffed with love, generosity, peace, joy, God, happiness, laughter, comfort. I want the stuff of a simple life. It seems the more classic stuff I add to our home, the more empty it feels.

Recently, momma brought to light an excellent idea (there goes her wisdom, again!). She said, “let’s leave the space empty until we find what we want to fill it”. With each passing day, I adore this idea more and more. Instead of a home filled with stuff for the sake of filling the corners, we’re going to leave those areas empty. I like to think that those nooks and crannies won’t truly be empty; they will be filled with laugher, love, and coziness. And until we find that perfect “stuff” that we will cherish, the corner shall house our love of simplicity.

Recently, I read an article (which I would link to here if I could remember where I read it 🙄) that equated a life of simplicity as a sign of laziness. If the house is empty, it must be because the family isn’t working hard enough to fill it. I know what my wise momma would say! Something along the lines of a more profane version of codswallop. I’m grateful that she raised me to believe in simplicity. I pity those who would read that same article, not have the wisdom passed on by their families, and think it’s true.

The simple life, simply put, is the key to joy. The more stuff, the more problems seem to follow. Even adding “good stuff” can complicate life. Not too long ago, I realized I am the proud owner of at least five 55 L totes full of books. I love books. Holding them, reading them, smelling them. Collecting books is something I have loved for many years. There is nothing wrong with my love of books, there isn’t anything particularly wrong about the five totes full. Generally, a love of books is viewed as a good thing. Be that as it may, this collection of mine isn’t bringing me joy. The truth is I’ve read less than a quarter of those books. I may be holding on to books that I would absolutely loathe once I cracked open their pages. So, why have them? They’re nothing more than dust collectors, at the moment. Are they bringing me closer to the simple life I dream of? Nope.

The solution, forgive the pun, is simple. Approach the five totes with purging in mind! I donated a plethora of books to my sister and the thrift store. I’m reading the ones left behind and, when I am through with reading them, I’m taking a hard look at them. Will I read them, ever again? If yes, it receives an honorary place on a bookcase. If no, they must leave my home. What good is it to me? The book has provided its purpose and so, must move on. These books of mine are “good stuff” but they aren’t aiding in my pursuit of a simple life. What would bring me the most joy is knowing the books are free from their plastic tote prison: nestled in the hands of someone who cherishes their words; or are proudly and simply housed on a bookcase for me to enjoy. Right now, those books are junk. They look like old, discarded possessions that are useless or invaluable. They are filling a corner without bringing joy. So, as my momma says, “let’s leave that corner empty until we find what we want to fill it”.

My momma is wise, and this is her wisdom.

Unfairness

Today, I struggled. Sometimes, life has this way of throwing curveballs so rapidly that there is no way a person could possibly keep up. I kept feeling disappointment piling on top of disappointment. I was envious of others, jealous of their having-it-all-togetherness that I seem to lack. Today, I felt like, no matter how hard I try, what I want just may never happen.

My momma taught me to work hard, to not give up, to be relentless in my determination while following my dreams. She also taught me reality: life isn’t fair. There’s no reason for the unfairness, or, if there is a reason, we don’t always get to know it. There’s no cure for life’s unfairness. Momma taught me that I may work unbelievably hard, and I may drive myself insane with trying, and the thing I’m hoping to accomplish just won’t happen. I was a young teenager when I recall her say those three little words. I recall whining about nothing important, “it isn’t fair!”. Her response? “Yeah, well… life isn’t fair.

While her words may seem harsh, they were true; and I think it’s important to realize that unfairness is a part of life. There will be days when it seems like what I’m striving for may never come to fruition. It isn’t my fault and it isn’t because I’m not trying hard enough. My mother taught me that trying my best, regardless of success (or lack of) is the important part.

So, today was one of those days. I sat on the edge of my bed, and, like a child, I pouted and thought to myself, “it isn’t fair!” Then, I remembered my wise momma. I remembered that life isn’t fair. I remembered that all that matters is to try my best. I remembered to count my blessings. I remembered that this too shall pass. Feeling the unfairness of life can be crushing and exhausting. The only cure I have found so far is exactly what Momma Dearest recommended: Count my blessings.

It might not be fair that I have tried to become an office administrator for about four years without success. But I have blessings that far outweigh that disappointment. I’m working as a Personal Support Worker in a retirement home. Every day, I put on my scrubs, go across town to work, and I help take care of people who need my support, my care, my patience, and my best self. And I can’t be my best self if I am too busy lamenting about the unfairness of it all.

I’m not going to stop pursuing my dreams. There will be more days when the unfairness of the situations around me absolutely crushes me. But I will always have my blessings. All I need to do is remember that wisdom from my momma: Count your blessings. Dreams are important, but so is living in the moment you’re in. Unfairness is all around us, but so are blessings.

My momma is wise, and this is her wisdom.

Impatience

Today, as I read my first blog post over, and over, and over again, a thought entered my mind. Not only did my momma impart wisdom and lessons about patience, but she also taught me the value and necessity of impatience. It sounds strange, doesn’t it?! The value of impatience.

Again, I have my mug of coffee in hand and I’m taking a trip down memory lane. My momma is an ever-present voice in my head. I hear her sighs of frustration as she grows impatient with me throughout the years. As a child (and sometimes even still today), I snap back at her. With my age, however, has come wisdom – momma was impatient with me because she cared. Momma and I are best friends, but she is still my parent. Her sighs of impatience were oftentimes because she knew I could do better, think better, be better. She wanted to raise a good human and an upstanding member of society. She wanted me to be as good as she knew I could be. These lessons have rubbed off on me, and I, too, now know the value of impatience.

Currently, I’m on a strenuous adventure. I am attempting to find employment in the field I am educated for and love to do. 😂 I’m funny, right. A not-so-young-anymore young woman looking for her dream job. The one she went to college for. The one she actually paid to learn about. Oh, gosh, y’all – I seriously crack myself up.

This is where the value of impatience is brought to me by my ever-so wise Mère. In moments like these, I picture my momma as a little old, possibly Italian lady, loudly scolding me about my lack of ambition and motivation. She’s telling me to get off my bottom and look harder for jobs. She’s telling me to leave no stone unturned. Apply to everything. Show up in person. Beat down the doors. Be relentless in my pursuit. Be impatient. Be so eager that I am an unstoppable force. A woman to be reckoned with.

My momma has always been this way. She is loving and soft-spoken, but she lets you know, in no uncertain terms, when you’re wrong and how you’re gonna fix it. My momma taught me that while it is true that good things come to those who wait, it’s also true that good things come to those who work their tails off and never give up. My momma taught me that, as important as patience is, it’s also important to know when you need to be impatient and go after what you want with unrelenting passion.

Today, I received an abundance of news from various sources. In the course of less than 24 hours, I have been disappointed, shocked, uneasy, frustrated, excited, joyful, infuriated and pleased by news. Relating to this hilariously unsuccessful and ofttimes heartbreaking pursuit of career, I was taught by my momma to stop letting patience fuel all of my actions. I need to set up the meeting, compel people to aid in my efforts, make waves in the still, stagnant waters of my employment rejection.

Knowing my momma, humble and modest as she is, she doesn’t even realize the impact she has on me, each and every day. She has no idea that the three-minute conversation she had with me in the car earlier this morning reverberated deep within me and awoke an impatient creature who is going to unceasingly seek a career that makes me happy. She, like all mommas, doesn’t see the influence her wise words have on me. I think, most of the time, she doesn’t even think I’m listening. But I am, momma. I am always listening and always learning.

My momma is wise, and this is her wisdom.

Patience

It’s currently 4:34 AM and I am awake. The cat is confused, the world is asleep, and the coffee is brewing. As I write this post, I am digging my pink measuring tape out of my drawer and sketching a diagram. The diagram is my blueprint for how to install a window air conditioner in a horizontal sliding window. We have lived in this humble abode for just over five years, and this is the first summer we have decided to install a third air conditioning unit. (Thank you, global warming.)

After watching a plethora of YouTube videos, reading countless instructables, perusing endless Google search results and fine-tooth-combing the instruction manual; it turns out, this is no small feat. Which brings me to the highlight of this very first blog post: patience. While this exercise of window-air-conditioner-installation has called upon various traits, I think patience is a good one to highlight.

The earliest memory I have of my mother bestowing her wisdom about patience upon me was many, many moons ago. I had to be about seven or eight years of age. I was sitting bare-bottomed on the throne (with the toilet seat down), waiting not-so-patiently for my squealing little sister to get into the bathtub so that she would eventually get out of the bathtub, and it would eventually be my turn to use the bathtub. As I sighed and grumbled, moaned and groaned about how infuriatingly long this was taking, my mother gently (-ish) told me to be patient. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what “be patient” meant at this point.

So what else is there for a bored, bare-bottomed, bewildered babe to do but learn about patience? Being an avid reader, I turned to our beloved collection of books for answers. Buried 215 pages in to one of my favourites, I found A Tale of Patience.

Treasury of Virtues
Courage Love • Honesty

I don’t know where this book came from, who bought it, when or where it was purchased, or how old it is – it’s just always been a part of my life. It’s a cherished copy of a beautiful book, and I think it has a place on everyone’s bookshelf. Seriously.
You need it.
It’s on Amazon.
Make haste!

Sarah Toast, and, of course, Hans Christian Andersen, bestowed great wisdom through these words. And, at the prompting of my dear momma, on that random evening, so many years ago, I felt truly enlightened about what patience is and I’ve carried it with me all these years.

The story itself is beautiful and captivating. As I reached the last word, however, I was puzzled as to how this ugly duckling had any relation to patience, or me waiting for a scrub-a-dub in the tub. All I could really come up with was, “so, I’m an ugly duckling right now, and [insert something about patience], then I’ll go in the tub and become a beautiful swan?” Like, c’mon Mom, I’m not that dirty. Thankfully, this little book has a small educational blurb following each story to help out children like me who take everything literally.

Sometimes it is hard to be patient with others who are different than us.

Jennifer Boudart, Adapter of Treasury of Virtues

That’s true. While difference is a beautiful concept, it can also be annoying. Especially when you’re cold, your sister is still not even in the bathtub, and you’re trying to learn patience. Eventually, through careful thought over many frigid minutes, I connected the dots. I had to “be patient” while waiting for my sister to get in the tub. And, through being patient in that experience, I would learn to transfer patience to other aspects of my life, and beautiful things would happen.

Beautiful things like the cool breeze flowing from a perfectly installed window air conditioner in a horizontal sliding window during a heatwave. That’s right. After all the patience (and coffee) I’ve invested in this project, we have a diagram.

Beautiful, isn’t it.

Over the years, I’ve heard my momma speak those two words a myriad of times. Be patient. While I have yet to truly master the skill of being patient, I can tell you that the moment impatience threatens to spoil my mental state, I hear her voice in my mind, urging me on to that virtue of patience.

My momma is wise, and this is her wisdom.