Friday, October 24, 2014

Always Learning

I've been at my new job for nearly two months now.  It came after a traumatic end to my last job, followed by a few months of recovery, and a few months of searching for something new.  I had almost given up when this one came around.  I was tired, frustrated, and beginning to doubt my skill-set and my abilities.  I always pictured myself working with children, teens, or young people.  And now I go to work and sit across from people with grey and white hair who are older than my parents.  I love how life ends up being what you don't expect and how those surprises are often what give you the most joy and satisfaction.

I'm working at a non-profit independent living seniors residence.  My official job title is "Resident Care Coordinator", but in actuality I'm a family counsellor.  I get to spend my days with clients who have a myriad of issues and struggles - most of who just want someone to talk to.  I get to work with clients in their 60's, all the way up to their late 90's.  I get to problem-solve and work together with their families, and consult and case-manage with health care professionals.   My clients all have sharp cognition, most are busy, active, and living really full lives.  Some are on the cusp of a move to more supportive housing and need extra support to get to the next step.  I see it all, and I'm always learning.

In just the past two months....

I've learned that sometimes what people come to talk to you about has nothing to do with what they really want to talk to you about.  You can have three sessions about doctor's appointments and the hum-drum of life and then ask the right question and know you've hit gold.  Regrets, disappointments, and shame will rise to the surface and then the work begins.

I've learned that it's never too late to begin.  You can be in your late 80's and know the time is right to do personal work to make your life better or easier, or make your load lighter.

I've learned that shame is so prevalent.

I've learned that you can keep secrets for a very long time.  I've sat with clients who tell me things they've never spoken out loud in over 70 years.  There are times I sit feeling like I'm sitting on the most sacred ground as things are uncovered, spoken, and brought to light.  Sometimes it's like I can see the heavy burden lifting.

I've learned that older people are just like you and me.

I've learned that you can pretend your whole life, but it will all catch up with you eventually.

I've learned to sometimes speak really really loudly and enunciate my words very very clearly.  I've also learned that there are times when my voice needs to be soft and soothing, just above a whisper.

I've learned that 95 year olds still like to read romantic fiction and that if you drive a scooter and get a flat tire, CAA will come to the rescue.

I've learned to not expect certain ideas, opinions or lines of thinking from people just because they're old.  Age means nothing.

I've learned that in some ways, age means everything... especially when you think your memory is failing, or judgement is going, and you're scared you're losing yourself.

I've learned that you're never too old to fall in love.

I've learned to trust myself and go with my hunches.

I've learned to remind people that it's OK to need someone to help, especially when those people have lived their entire lives proving to everyone that they are self-sufficient and don't need anyone.

I've learned that you can be young in age but very very old in disposition, or old in age and as youthful as they come.

I've learned that people usually reap what they sow.  If you're alone and isolated, there is almost always a reason.

I've learned to value stories more than I did before.

I've learned that I love working with seniors.
I am reminded every single day at work that my job is a gift and the conversations I have are sacred.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Personal is Political

Tomorrow marks the end of an era for my family.  It's the first time in 32 years that my dad's name has not been on a ballot for the municipal election in the community I'm from.

32 years isn't just a season, or a good run.  It truly is an era.

When I was 8 years old my dad took his first stab at local politics, putting his hat in the race to become a school board trustee.   It's interesting to me that he was younger then, than I am now, when he got his start.  He won his position handily that year and continued to sit as a member of the Garden Valley School Division Board of Trustees for 10 years.  Looking back, I love the poetic irony of it all.  Here was a man who hadn't graduated from high school himself sitting in a seat working to make the decision and policies for the schools in the community he loved.  No one that voted for him cared that he had never graduated.  They cared that he said what he believed and he didn't waiver.  He cared about the school system because it represented the future of his town, and it was educating his own two kids.  10 years later his youngest child had graduated from high school and it was time to move on a new battle.

22 years ago my dad continued his political adventure and ran for what was then the position of town counsellor for what is now the city of Winkler.   His connections, friendships, and passion won him that election, and every one since.  In every way and in every opportunity he made his mark on council.    My dad's never been known as someone to sit idly by when something is happening that he doesn't agree with or believe in.  If he's passionate about something, you'll know about it.  If he thinks something is happening that is underhanded or not in the best interest of the community, you'll know about that too.  If he disagrees with you, you'll most definitely know about it.  He made his positions crystal clear during his time on council, sometimes offending, usually challenging, often stirring-the-pot, but always promoting the community he loves.

My dad has never backed down from a battle or a fight he believes in, even if it wasn't the  politically astute thing to do.  He has championed the underdog and the forgotten, never agreeing to something just for political gain.   His mantra has always been that "I'm not a politician".  He's fashioned himself as a blue-collar, "every man's man" who remembers the ones that many have forgotten about.  He's taken his lumps in the media and on the street, but he's never stepped back when his integrity is on the line.

I get my passion for politics and my willingness to engage in battle from my dad.  It's not an easy row to hoe, but if it's how you're built, you can't help yourself.   Much to his chagrin, my political stripes are vastly different than his in many ways.  We disagree on many issues on many fronts... religion, politics, world events, ideology, just to name a few.  We can spar and verbally banter until the heat is on, and our tempers are flaring.  And then we agree to disagree, shake hands, and wait for our next chance to do do battle.  He taught me well.

This past year I was engaged in a situation where my integrity and beliefs resulted in me loosing a job I really cared about.  I knew that lots of people would question my decisions, my motives, and my actions,  but I never wondered if my dad would support me.  I knew he would, because standing up for what he has believed in is how he's done politics his whole life.   It's how he started, and tonight - after 32 years in municipal politics,  it's how he's ending.

Well done, dad.  You did your community, and yourself, proud.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Home is Wherever You (and They) Are

Something funny happens when your kids grow up.  They grow bigger.  And they also have more stuff.  In the past year our house has felt like the walls have been closing in on us a bit.  Our house is relatively small for a family of 5 by typical North American standards.  It's a 1065 square foot bungalow with no garage.  When we  bought it 13 1/2 years ago it felt really big to us.  We only had wee Hannah and there were a few rooms to fill.  Now we fill them up and are usually overflowing.

It was the "overflowing" part (as well as the lack of garage) that prompted us to start looking for a different house last Spring.  We had really specific parameters, as well as a really specific geographic location that we'd consider.  This was a move that was supposed to make our lives simpler and less cluttered with more room to breathe and less ice to chip off of the windshield.  We said we wouldn't move unless it was the "perfect house in the perfect location" (something that probably doesn't really exist), because there was too much good about where we were.

We've spent the past several months weeding through listings and seeing houses.  I'd say we've seen about 15 houses in since April, with the last one, for the second time just this afternoon.  Until this afternoon we were pretty sure we would be putting in an offer on this one.  Some things seemed perfect.  It had 4 bedrooms upstairs, it had lots of room in the living room, dining room, and family room for people.  We knew just how we'd gut the kitchen and start it all over again, and the yard and gazebo were beautiful.  The extra-wide double garage was big enough for our vehicles and our bikes.  It wasn't in the area we really wanted to live in, but we thought we could over-look that to get the other stuff.

We took the girls, and Mike's long-suffering kitchen-designing sister Corina, to see it yesterday.  We spent an hour pouring through the house, taking some measurements, imagining where we'd put things and who would get which room.   We came home and made lists and crunched numbers and anticipated what different repairs and upgrades would cost us.   Although there were things about the house the girls liked, they made it very clear to us that they really didn't want to move.  We've heard this loop on repeat since last Spring.  Anytime a move seems closer or a house seems better, their refrain gets louder.  They don't care if their bedrooms are minuscule or if they almost tumble down the basement stairs when there is more than one person getting their shoes on at the same time, they tell us. They like where we are and they don't want to leave.  We spent some time yesterday reassuring them that we will always try our very best to make decisions for our family that are for the best for everyone, and if we went ahead and bought this house, they would have to trust us to know it was a good decision for all of us.

Then this afternoon Mike and I went back alone to the Open House to take one last look.  We went expecting to be more convinced than ever that it was perfect.  Only when we got there, that wasn't the feeling we got.  We noticed the work that would need to be done, and not the space.  Our eyes found the cracks and the curling shingles instead of place our couch would go.  But it wasn't just that.  It was the packing and the planning, and the fixing things here to get ready to sell this house.  It was the boxes and the expense, the tightened budget, the inability to take big family vacations and sign our kids up for extra saxophone lessons if they want them.  As that mountain of things accumulated, all of the good things about the house got smaller and smaller.  By the time we got into our car, we both agreed that we don't have it in us right now and that sometimes, maybe our girls are smarter than we are.

Somehow we always think bigger is better, and sometimes it really is.  There is nothing wrong with bigger.  But there is something good and satisfying about keeping things simple and manageable and consistent.  (Remind me that I said this when I'm chipping a few inches of ice off the van in January when we're already late for school.)  For now, our girls crave familiarity.  They don't care if their room is tiny, or if we have to leave the house in shifts.  They aren't unsatisfied.  They need memories and holidays and things to remember and laugh about.  We'd have those in the new house too, but they would likely be interspersed with more talk about budgets and dread of anything breaking down or falling apart.

For now, this is where we're staying.  It's small and squishy, but we're all together.  We have places to visit and things to do.  We have neighbors we love and friend's houses that we can bike to.  We have people to car-pool with, and relieved kids.  For now, that's all we need.  In a year it might look different.  But for now, this is enough.