Letter to My Father’s Ex Girlfriend

Dear G,

There we were, one summer afternoon in the countryside near the ocean having lunch, you, me, my boyfriend (ex) and my dad. I’d just returned from travelling the world, a two year backpacking trip that left my parents wondering if I’d ever settle down. Settling down was the last thing on my mind. Then you asked me that unsettling question that changed our relationship forever: “What do you plan on doing with your life?”

I now realize my father must have been worried about me and confided in you. That question triggered all the emotions of disappointment at returning home, the reality that my mom and dad were no longer together, and my anxiety that perhaps I really was wasting my life. I blew up at you. I don’t remember exactly what I said, just that there was this shocked silence after I spewed venom. Dad and my ex looked down at their plates. No-one spoke for a really long time. Lunch was ruined. I think you got up and left, or maybe it was me. I can’t remember.

I’m sorry G, for blowing up at you. It’s not my usual behaviour and I remember all the times in my life when I’ve behaved uncharacteristically and I can count them on one hand. But I’ve never forgotten your words. I thought I knew everything like all young people think they know everything. I didn’t have a plan and one has to have a plan. I only wish I’d known it sooner. I wish G, that someone had taught me to set goals from an early age, that even travelling in freedom requires planning and goal setting. If I’d set proper goals, perhaps I wouldn’t have returned home prematurely, broke and dissatisfied. Goal setting would have given me the clarity and vision that maybe a proper job wasn’t the way to go for me. Well thought out goals would have pushed me and stretched me until I grew enough to achieve exactly what it is I was meant to achieve in this life.

Now that I’m older, I realize I only have a certain amount of time on this earth. Without clear and well defined goals, it’s hard to know what one really wants and how to get it. I set a lot of goals, weekly, monthly, yearly and every five years. Sometimes my goals work out and sometimes they don’t but at least I have a plan.

G, when you asked me, “what do you plan on doing with your life?”, I wish I’d had a better answer, even if I’d said something trite like, “living it.” You probably could’ve taught me a lot in those tumultuous years of my early adulthood. Anyway G, your words were not wasted. I hope I’ve helped young people, including my own children, make better decisions. I tell them that it may seem like they have a lot of time, but it flies, it really flies. They have to decide what they really want, no matter how outrageous or how different it looks from someone else’s life. I tell them to make a plan, put it on paper, tack it on the wall, look at it every day, and take small steps till they get there. I tell them, G, to never give up but most importantly, I tell them if they’re wrong, it takes a bigger and better person to simply say, “I’m sorry.” So now, over twenty years later, I’m saying I’m sorry. You were just trying to help.

Of course, in the way of life, it isn’t so ironic that I’ve done all this with my own children, told them to set goals, that they need to plan for success, asked them what they plan to do in the future but I’ve heard, at least once, “Leave me alone Mom. I just want to enjoy my life. I want the freedom to do what I want to do.”

It must be an age thing.

You’re Too Sensitive

Has someone ever said something to you that hurt so much that you’ve never forgotten it? Or maybe there was truth to it but you didn’t want it to be true because that’s not the person you wanted to be. You see, I’ve always admired those rough and tough females who were witty, had comebacks to every insult, could punch a boy out if bullied, who never cried in private much less public. I was never that person.

It was the late eighties. I was a teenager. I remember the house I lived in on Norbrook Acres Drive, standing near the living room in some argument with my father. My sister and mother were there. I don’t remember what the argument was about or what we said to my dad that made him so angry. He stormed off shouting, “All of you are too sensitive.”

Those are the words that cut like a knife. Did he mean all females are too sensitive? Just us, the women in his family? He was angry, so being sensitive must be really bad, so I must make sure I’m the opposite of sensitive. I don’t think my dad’s words bothered my middle sister. She’s more rough and tough or at least she appears to be. But I was deeply bothered. He must have wanted a boy. Boys are not sensitive. And on and on through my brain these thoughts flew.

As an adult when I’m supposed to know myself, I’ve often wondered why I get so overwhelmed by life. I see mothers rushing around with their children, doing all these activities and they seem so happy. I on the other hand, want to get it out of the way and do what I want to do: play with the kids, relax, write, read, be alone. I simply can’t handle rushing around in a frenzied state all afternoon long. And why do I cry when someone tells me a sad story? Can’t I merely nod and empathize like other people without tears trailing down my cheeks? And why do I get so annoyed, so cranky when surrounded by streams of people, say at a parade or Costco on a weekend? I discovered why one day when I went to You Tube, Ted Talks and something interesting caught my eye: a talk called “The Gentle Power of Highly Sensitive People.”

I am not alone. I’m simply an HSP – a Highly Sensitive Person. Not to be confused with an introvert (many HSPs are extroverts), a wallflower or a doormat. In simple terms, an HSP experiences life in a vivid way: sadness is deep sorrow and joy is high ecstasy. I may be emotional but still confrontational. I may not like crowds but I have the ability to easily and deeply connect with others. This is genetic. I can’t change it anymore than I can change my eye colour. I can’t toughen up. Even more surprising, fifty percent of males are HSPs. It is not a feminine trait. It doesn’t mean males are weak. I know this as a fact. I’m married to an HSP. I’ve seen him take on situations and people that more aggressive types have shied away from. Being married to an HSP is great. I feel cherished and understood.

What’s not so great? Realizing my ten year old son is an HSP and that I’ve spent the entire baseball season telling him to toughen up, to not take things personally, to stop thinking so deeply about everything. I should know better because it takes one to know one. But I, like everyone else, have fallen into the trap of thinking that only aggressive people win, that sensitivity is a weakness, and that my son will not be able to handle life. Now that I’m aware of this, I hope I’ll be more helpful to him instead of trying to mould him into something he isn’t and will never be. What I think I was really trying to do is to shield him from the pain of life, from the pain of his own emotions and to protect him from all that hurt. But I can’t, not anymore than I can change his eye colour. He’ll go through life as I do, feeling everything deeply, from the happiness that lifts us into heaven, to the sorrow that carries us to the depths of hell.