Twenty years ago, while the Groundhog was getting ready to see his shadow on a sunny Monday morning, I was getting ready to go to the hospital to have a baby. My snuggly unborn baby boy was quite cozy with his bum tucked up under my ribs while I munched on chocolate chip cookies. He was a week overdue, and Dr. Mac decided to induce labour to pull him out.
I knew I was pregnant before any test could tell me. I loved those early sensations of tiny little bubbles and butterflies tickling me from inside out.
I knew he was a boy. We decorated the nursery in blue and chose only a boy’s name … Matthew. It means “A Gift from God” and he most certainly was a gift.
I knew I loved him. From the second his life sparked inside of mine, I felt his presence and fiercely loved him with all the love a mother bear could muster.
I loved his sense of humour. My awkwardly big belly provided a convenient shelf for my dinner plate … only to have it kicked off by a long, skinny foot underneath.
I loved his dark hair … and knew he would be born with a headful. The old wive’s tale of heartburn proved very true. I drank soda water daily to quell the burn.
I love his little rhythmic burst of hiccups.
Induced labour was a zero to WOW! experience. My contractions came on so fast and so close together that each wave crested on the back of the other. Epidural. Forceps.
At 6:00pm on February 2nd, 1998, my first and only child arrived.
“So you are the one who’s been kicking my bladder” I cooed to him as the medical staff attended to me. He was beautiful. Nine pounds eight ounces. Twenty-one inches long. Dark brown hair and eyes. Super large feet. He wailed at the abrupt entrance into the world, but quieted as he tucked into my side.
He broke my tailbone. We were hospitalized for three days as I tried to return to the normalcy of life with a newborn baby. Walking was painful. I could only nurse on my side.
As I look back and reminisce over every milestone, every step, every belly laugh, every tear, every hope and every dream … I realize that you, Matthew, are indeed my greatest gift from God.
I fondly recall each first … your first smile, your first tooth, your first word, your first step, your first day of school … You boldly ran into class without looking back, ready for the excitement of learning. My face was pressed up against the window to watch with wonder as you took off in the world. I was there for your first baseball game and every other sport you tried. I was there to smile into your puzzled little face, as you tried to understand adult concepts. I was there to help you learn how to tie a tie for your Grade 8 Grad. Who can forget the hilarity as we both tried to learn from YouTube videos? It only took 99 tries! I watched you graduate high school and walk confidently into adulthood.
You are the person I love most in this world and always will be.
You and I have been a team since day one. We’ve smiled the deepest of smiles at each other, giggled hysterically at our crazy inside jokes, treasured our family traditions, inspired each other, swelled with pride at our accomplishments, yelled back and forth with profanities, seethed in anger and held each other in tears. We battled my cancer together. But love is always present.
I started this list for you two birthdays ago, and promised to keep adding my advice, my hopes, dreams and fears. I just wish I could pound the lessons into your head so you don’t have to learn them the hard way!
- Learn financial responsibility. Some of these lessons are lessons I had to learn the hard way and without any guidance. I watched my father lose his job and face financial instability, and it was an extremely stressful and painful time for our family. That fear is still in me, which is why I stress so much about my job and career. While I have saved, it’s not nearly enough. I need to help you become more fiscally aware, and that is my commitment to you this year.
- Don’t be afraid to try. You have some of my perfectionism in you. If we can’t do it well … we don’t want to do it. Fear? Unrealistic expectations? Anxiety? Maybe. Maybe you think I have those expectations of you. I don’t. All I want is for you to give life your best shot and try. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to find your own path. Don’t be afraid to do your own thing against the tide of peer pressure. Don’t be afraid to love. Don’t be afraid of being scared. Test your abilities. Push yourself beyond what you think you are capable of. Get out there and LIVE!
- Being a man is not about accomplishments, athletic prowess, academic ability or financial assets. Being a man is more about character, compassion and courage. A man has character when he is a person of integrity who can be depended on. A man has compassion when he not only cares for others, but demonstrates it by putting their best interests ahead of his own. A man has courage when he does what is right even what it’s difficult. You are that man. I can see it … please don’t lose sight of who you are.
- Remember who you are. Decide your values and what is important to you and live them out. Don’t be afraid to be an individual. In an age when crass headlines overwhelm us everywhere, remember to be a gentleman.
- Listen more than you speak. You will learn more by paying attention to what others have to say, and people appreciate being heard.
- Be selfless. Let someone else have the nice chair, closer parking space or last slice. Look for simple ways to help others. And give your Mother the biggest chocolate bar.
- Keep your promises. Doing what you say you will do is a rare thing in our world today. It is one of the easiest ways to stand apart. This is the value that your first real employer, the Town of Ajax, saw in you. Remember why you were successful.
- Be confident but stay humble. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to, so don’t doubt your abilities. On the other hand don’t think too highly of yourself.
- There is no substitute for hard work.The process of working toward a goal is often as rewarding as the achievement itself. This comment deserves its own chapter … more to come on this topic!
- Intelligence and wisdom are not the same. Intelligence is the ability to learn. Wisdom is using knowledge and experience to make good choices. You can be both.
- Never stop learning. There’s a whole world to be explored beyond the classroom long after graduation.
- Embrace “IT”. Whatever life throws at you, embrace. Change, obstacles, accomplishments, difficulties, adventures, success, failure are all opportunities to grow. Remember this! Enjoy the moment. Run at it full force rather than running away! Charge!
- Love outrageously! Be a man who is known by his affections and his actions. Value your family, cultivate friendships that last and love with abandon. Don’t be afraid to love! That old adage “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is very painful to review when your heart is broken, but only when your heart is on your sleeve, can you find the deeply meaningful love that lasts a lifetime.
- Treat everyone with respect, especially those who are smaller than you. And by smaller, I mean their person, their life, what you think they offer you. Everyone is fighting an internal battle, so always be kind.
- Be positive. Some days, I think my positive outlook is the only thing that keeps me afloat. Find inspiration in anything; quotes online, writing, a good run or counting your blessings. Those are strategies that worked for me when life was throwing me curve balls!
- Give it all you’ve got! Your college years will be the most memorable time of your life. This is when you find out what you are made of! It’s tough … and humbling … and you have to work hard. You find out you aren’t the smartest kid on the block, effort is more important, and sometimes life just isn’t fair. But don’t give up. That’s the secret to success! Those who give up need to relearn lesson #2.
- Be kind to animals. You are truly gentle and loving with our dogs, and I hope you always love animals. They depend on us, not just to enrich their lives, but to live. Never allow someone to hurt an animal in your presence.
- Volunteer. I have been volunteering and giving back to the community for 30 years. Volunteer in Toronto General Emergency, Baseball and dog rescue. Each volunteer job has taught me immeasurable lessons, and given me deep friendships. Find the time to give back to the community you live in by doing something that you love.
- Learn to change your own tires. And if you find a woman stranded with a flat tire, change it for her.
- People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Everyone teaches us a lesson. Some people are only here to teach us something for a reason. People may come and go (a season) and that is ok. Life ebbs and flows. Cherish those who are with you for a lifetime.
- Do your own laundry. Ya … I went there!
- Take care of your body. It truly is your temple. Nothing NOTHING else matters if you do not have your health. Eat well, sleep well, don’t abuse it with bad stuff, exercise, rest your mind, body and soul and do all the good things you can to reduce stress and eat right! It goes a long way in getting us through life!
- You got this. Find someone who stands beside you and charge on. You got this! Never forget that you are smart (yes you are!) and wonderful (yes you are!) and capable of so much. Really … you got this!
- Help an elderly person. If you see an elderly person, help them. It is so easy in our society to become impatient. Imagine me … 30 years from now … as an 80-year-old trying to shuffle through the grocery store for the meager groceries I can afford. And imagine someone yelling at me or worse, hurling something at me. It happens. Don’t ever let it happen on your watch. And “youth is wasted on the young”! They may have some pearls of wisdom for you.
- TRAVEL! One of my biggest regrets is that we did not get to travel. You love visiting new places. I will never, ever forget your face in San Francisco when we took you to the buffet breakfast and you could have anything and everything! You have a true travel spirit and I hope you go farther than I did. I started off great but got sidelined by life. You always think there is time but then 20, 30, 40 and 50 hits. And you have not been to places you want to see and photograph. We are going to get your passport tomorrow!
- Will it matter in 20 years? You might be polarized on your view of something. Must have your way! Ask yourself … will this matter in 20 years?
- If someone offers you gum or a mint … take it!
- Fail big. If you haven’t, it means you have haven’t taken big enough risks! Go big or go home!
- Find good friends. And hang on to them!
- If you have a fear, FACE IT! Dead on. Run at it. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.
- Don’t chase happiness. There will never be enough until you realize you have more than enough.
- NEVER be the cause of someone’s fear. Never give someone or something weaker than you a reason to shrink back and cower from you.
- Everything happens for a reason. Late? Perhaps you were meant to be. Life isn’t a straight line … it’s more like a pinball game which sends you careening from side to side.
- Dear God, don’t make your mother late! Don’t be late! I hate being late! I can’t wait until you have kids who drag their butts and make you late. We will see who froths at the mouth then. And I will feed your little monsters sugar!
- You can only blame me for one thing … and only for a week. Then you need to get counselling and get over it. Move on. Face it. None of us are offered perfect lives. I did my best and you saw me at my worst. But I always loved you.
- Read books that make you a better person.
- Have sex with a real person. The connection of two souls is one of the most wonderful expressions of love. Technology can’t replace that.
- Wrap it up and use protection. I gave you a whole bag of condoms.
- Find your soulmate. It may take one day … it may thirty years, but she is worth it. You will know when you meet her.
- Forgive. Holding a grudge is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die. Set yourself free by forgiving.
- Find God. He is there. Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
- If I have a Bachelors in procrastination, you have a PhD. Procrastination will ruin your life.
- Always keep your sense of humour. Laughter is indeed the best medicine.
- Stop rolling your socks into little sock balls. You will drive your Mom, your roommates and your wife crazy.
- Love yourself first. Only then will you be ready to fully love, and be loved by someone else.
- Watch TED Talks. Those 20 minute presentations contain a wealth of good advice.
- Never doubt yourself. Self sabotage and self doubt will cripple you.
- Fill Your Bucket List! I don’t look back and say “Gee, I am glad I owned a BMW!” I remember the thrill of the ride, the moments with the sunroof down, tunes cranked up and somewhere to go, even if it was nowhere. Moments and memories are the real treasures. Climb Everest. Backpack through Europe. Take flying lessons. You are, however, banned from owning a motorcycle!
- Stop saying “I can’t.” Failure is our teacher, not our undertaker. To quote Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t … you’re right.”
- Learn to speak up! Ask directions. Ask questions. Smile and talk to strangers.
- Stand up for yourself. Even if it feels like the whole world is against you. Take no shit and take no prisoners.
- Find your voice. If you aren’t pissing people off, you aren’t saying anything new.
- Have opinions and voice them with authenticity, integrity and conviction.
- Get your Goddamn Driver’s Licence.
- More to come.
I love you to the moon and back,