What does life look like in my future?

Do you remember the “Freedom 55” commercials for London Life a few years back? The guy was suddenly able to meet himself in the future. I have been thinking about this spot lately as I am turning 55 this June. Time to make some choices.

(Interesting side note about that commercial: I worked on the London Life account and Freedom 55 didn’t actually exist. It was just a concept title to get people interested. There was no there, there whatsoever.)

Now I am building a new home, that will be the last home I ever live in. Thus, it is imperative that I create a place where I can live happily at 55, 65, 75 and beyond. How do I want to spend my last few years? Will I be healthy and able? Our new home is being built for very active people, with hiking trails, tennis courts and a big gym. Yet we are making it a bungalow because we are going to be too old to go up stairs!

This is a First World problem, no doubt. But it involves making major decisions based on imagining how your life will play out, ten or twenty years from now – choosing, or at least imagining how every aspect of your life will look, well before your are actually living it. And some of these choices are huge. You know the expression “well it’s not cast in stone.” In this case, it actually is. It’s a matter of making choices based on your best guest for the you in the future. (This is exacerbated by the fact that I have no spacial ability whatsoever. The architectural drawings were useless to me. Even when we got underway – does this look like a house to you?) IMG_0510 Looking at every aspect of your life, staring from the great broad strokes – where do you want to live? How will you be spending your time? What will matter to you? A good hospital nearby? Friends? Where will your children and potential grandchildren live? This is coupled with the most minute details of your day to day – no moment by moment existence. How will everything in your future you’s life look and function? Where do I want to sit and watch t.v.? Is there enough to light to read with my fading eyesight?

I damn near made a big mistake when picking out the new bathtub. I choose a super deep, high sided tub and pronounced it perfect. My husband, however, pointed out that I will be hoisting my ancient body into that tub when I am a 70 year old. Do I really want to launch myself over four foot hurdles just to get into a wet and slippery danger zone? I was nearly responsible for future me’s broken hip! I had to pick a tub that an old lady could get into. It has a lower spot on the sides so I can step in easily. I almost got the one you sit in and then close the door to fill it up but I am ever the optimist. But I keep forgetting. I keep getting stuck between the people we are today and the people we will be in 10 or 20 years – older, retired, living a life certain to be different in many ways from how we are living now. I am having a hard time imagining it.

A good friend told me the trick to living together happily when your husband retires is very simple. “Don’t make him that first sandwich.” Even if you have to go out and just drive around, make sure you are not home at lunch, otherwise your days will look like that forever.

One thing for sure. I want lots of places to lie down. I think I’ll go have a nap right now.


Lifeboat at 40,000 feet

About 15 years ago we took my husband’s family to Italy for two weeks. We had our three kids, his parents, brother, sister, brother-in-law, and niece and nephew. This was the first time I used the internet to book a vacation and I was terrified at every stop that things would not be what we were expecting. It wasn’t. It was better.

The trip was made much more complicated by the fact that my mother-in-law was extremely ill. In fact, we were unsure as to whether she could join us on this adventure right up until the day we left. She did come, and while I had arranged special transport, wheelchairs and doctors on standby in every city, she did just fine and enjoyed every moment.

My mother-in-law had suggested that in advance of the trip, each of the five kids do a project on a particular place that we would be visiting. Then, the night before, they would do their presentation so we would know what we were going to see. It was awesome.

The first week was hustle and bustle – four days in Rome, one with an Art/History major who took us on a private tour that was incredible. I had been to Rome before but she made it come alive in an interesting and engaging way. The restaurants were all marvelous (why is it that even the snack bar in the train station there is better than most restaurants everywhere else?). After a late dinner, we would walk home through the Campo de’Fiori and stop for a gelato under the stars.

Kids in Rom

We then travelled south, by luxury private coach, to Sorrento, through the countryside to Pompeii, and then on down to Naples. At Naples we took an overnight ferry to Sicily where we slowed the pace down by staying in the same two villas every night and taking only day trips.

It was March and the ocean was freezing but, being Canadian, our kids went swimming. My husband was accosted by German tourists who, seeing our kids swimming happily, stripped down and entered the icy water. “Verrückte Kanadier!” they screamed. Crazy indeed.

By the way, if you ever travel to Sicily, I can’t recommend highly enough the incredible Sabrina Lo Piano who arranged everything for us – with great skills and charm. http://siciltime.blogspot.ca

Everything on the trip went smoothly, right up until the very end. Our flight from Rome to Toronto was mid-Atlantic when something happened. If you fly often, you are able to determine very quickly when there is a sound that just shouldn’t be. Like when an engine blows up. The loud bang, the shudder and correction of the plane would have been hint enough, but we also had the visual of bits of burning metal going past the windows.

My husband and I looked at each other for a long second, saying nothing and saying it all. Then we gathered up the kids – who had been all hanging out together – and put each child with an adult. “Okay, let’s put our shoes back on and do up our seat belts for a while. Let’s put this pillow on our laps”.

The plane was very calm – some people were praying softly and the flight attendants were walking, albeit at about 60 mph, from place to place securing overhead bins and gathering loose items. The Captain came on and said “Ladies and Gentlemen we’re experiencing a little trouble (!!) with one of our engines so we’re going to have to take her down and have a look.” Of course, this was said with a slow, comforting, Southern drawl – why do all pilots sound like Chuck Yeager?

Now here’s the thing. I turned around to my mother and father-in-law. They were completely calm, and she said to me “Les, don’t worry about us.” For them, as well as us, it was all about keeping the kids safe. I swear to you their demeanor felt like, if we had been on a lifeboat, they would have swum away to give us more space.

As we were still over the ocean, we had to fly without the engine for a couple of hours. We finally put down at an Air Force base in Goose Bay Labrador. We could see the fire trucks and ambulances all along the runway as we landed – safely. Since there was no customs facility on the base, we had a long wait while they figured out what to do with us.

The base had been about to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a big party. They, so kindly, turned over to us the space and all the food that they had laid on. They set up banks of telephones so that we could call our worried families. (The incident had made the local news in Toronto so people were concerned).

The airline advised that a new plane would be sent from Toronto, but couldn’t arrive until morning. We made the kids beds on the floor, but I was desperate to find a proper bed from my mother-in-law. The airline people couldn’t let anyone leave the mess hall, as they hadn’t cleared customs. When we spoke to the Warrant Officer he said he would take my in-laws over to the Base Commander’s quarters so they could get a good night’s sleep. When I said the airline people won’t let them leave he asked “Do the airline people have a gun? Because I do.”

A few years later, when the events of September 11th forced dozens of planes to divert to Gander, and Goose Bay, I remembered the incredible kindness and generosity of the people that night and was knew that, however awful the situation, the inherent kindness of these strangers would make a bad situation that much better.