“I gotta wash the sheets on my bed. Gotta watch the things that go unsaid.” Sarah Harmer
This weekend I was writing out the monthly post-dated cheques for our daughter’s nursery school. I was doing the exact same thing this time last year, so I was familiar with the routine. Our daughter won’t go to Kindergarten until she’s 5, so she gets to go to the same nursery school two years in a row. I kind of like the idea of that. It sort of feels like a “do over”. The last one before she graduates from high school. This time last year I was a bit of a nervous wreck. Just the idea of turning your only child over to “outsiders” (even though it was only for a couple of hours a day, a couple of days a week) was upsetting to me, and I dreaded the first day of class. I walked her over and went downstairs with her, got her outside shoes off and her inside shoes on, and handed her the “Snack Cup” and expected a sort of tearful bit of clingy business. Instead, there was a quick “Bye Dad!” and off she went into the room with the other kids without a single look back. If there was going to be any tearful clingy business, I would have to manage it myself. Would it have KILLED her to show the tiniest bit of trepidation?
So here we are a year later, going through the motions of getting ready for another school year. On each cheque, on the notes line, I write, “Audrey’s Tuition” like I’m some toff sending my child off to Eton or Oxford. It’s just the church basement across the street, but somehow it feels more prestigious when you use the term “tuition”. I’m dealing with things much better this year, because I’ve been through it once before.
In this life, “do overs” are hard to come by. How many times have we done or said something that we wish we could “do over” and take back? Or maybe how many times have we been in a situation where we said or did nothing, and regret it? If I were to take a quick stock of my regrets, most of mine would fall into the latter category. That is, I’ve regretted my silence more often than I’ve regretted making noise. Saying anything is almost always better than saying nothing and if we all play by the rule that I proposed with funerals (i.e. that we are all given a free pass at saying stupid things at funerals because, well just because) then this is even more true. To put it bluntly, I’ve only told one person in my life to “Go Fuck Themselves” to their face, and I’ve never regretted it.
I think my biggest silent regrets are looking back on my “last moments” with loved ones, especially when I didn’t know it would be the last time seeing them. If I could have those moments as “do overs”, I would probably not be so afraid to tell those people that I loved them. I would risk it, even if it felt weird. I guess a part of me always plays the optimist: a person on their deathbed might recover, and then I’d look like a right ass, telling them I loved them and everything. Damn! The one person that I had a PRETTY GOOD idea may very well have been the last time I saw them was my Aunt Audrey. We visited her in the summer of 2009. We had named our daughter after her, and we wanted her to get to see her. She lived in another city about 15 hours from us, and about a month before our daughter was born she suffered a pretty major stroke and was in the hospital. She got to meet her “little namesake” as she called her, and we visited with her over a number of days that summer. At my last visit, I told her that I loved her, and she said, “I love you too”, and that was that. So simple. What was I afraid of? And it felt right and good and then I said something dumb: “Try to get better.” I mean, really? After having that lovely little moment with my favourite Aunt I had to go and ruin it by somehow making her feel bad about being sick? Maybe my funeral amnesty rule needs to be extended to hospital visits, or really any time that I might potentially open my mouth.
But not all my regrets were silent ones. I remember there was this girl I sort of liked all through junior high and high school. It was kind of slow burn kind of thing. Things never really got to the point where the conditions were right for asking her out, at least that’s what I told myself, and it wasn’t until a couple of years after high school when a group of us were at a classmate’s wedding. It would be the last time I would see this girl (young woman, by this point), because she was planning on leaving town the next day with this dude that was sort of like her boyfriend. They were driving to Toronto and that didn’t sit well with me at all. I was kind of moody all night and when a slow song came on I asked her for a dance. While we were dancing, I just sort of bared my heart and soul to her, Logan Echolls style. I told her that she was making a terrible mistake and she shouldn’t leave town with “that guy” and that I liked her and that we maybe should hang out sometimes and stuff. I actually said that to her, people! My words were harsh and startling to her, and she broke away from me and went into the washroom. She was visibly shaken and left the reception shortly after that. I felt like John Cusack at the end of many early John Cusack movies. The difference being that the girl did not change her plans in the final reel and come running in for a slow motion embrace. That girl still left town the next day with “that guy” and a couple of years later they got married. A few years after that, I received word that they were divorced, and things got ugly at the end. Whispers of abuse and neglect and cheating. I’ve never talked to her again. That last dance was our last dance. I wouldn’t even know how to get a hold of her now if I wanted. I probably should have just kept my big mouth shut. I could have used a “do over” there, don’t you think? But you know what’s funny? Even though I realize now that what I did was kind of douchy and selfish, I still don’t regret it as much as those times when I left things unsaid.
So here I am, just finished writing out cheques, getting ready to do Nursery School all over again, and THIS time I’ll get it right. I know what to expect. I was thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if you could get a “do over” for every grade from one to twelve? Maybe just have six grades, but have “Grade 1, first time through” and “Grade 1, second time through” etc. The second time through kids would be really really good with those times tables, and really, how much actual learning goes on in there anyway? This isn’t a new idea. Look at the old “one room schoolhouses” that were so common on the prairies last century. Mind you, kids probably didn’t often go all the way to grade 12 in those days. Farm and work duties often trumped “book learnin'” but you still got the idea of same teacher, same room, same kids (for the most part) year after year. I think I would have really dug that approach.
But that’s not how the world works. Each day presents itself with equal opportunities to do good and also to screw up. To quote Jane Siberry, “What in the world will the world bring today?” Nobody knows, and it’s better that way. It’s better because we are always given another chance to get it right, to tell the people we love that we love them, to challenge shyness, to sing at the top of our lungs, to join in community, to recognize and encourage kindness, to make good art, to laugh at our mistakes and maybe learn from them, but the laughing part is key. Maybe we do get do overs after all, more than we know.
Maybe we get them every day.