Monday, November 24, 2014

I still don't love November

The cold and the darkness still suck. 

Halloween was the preamble to what was coming. It was chilly, grey and pouring rain, so much so that the candle inside my jack o'lantern on the porch refused to stay lit, and I was getting wet just sticking my head & hands out the door to dole out candy to the handful of poor, brave (sugar-desperate??) trick or treaters who showed up on my front porch (our lowest turnout ever in 25 years in this house). 

And then suddenly, it was November. 

Within days, the time change plunged us into darkness well before suppertime -- and it's been gradually getting darker, earlier since then. And colder. By mid-month, the beautiful fall foliage that made this October such a delight had mostly vanished, leaving stark, bare branches against the dull grey sky. We started seeing snowflakes in the air, and woke up the morning of Nov. 17th to a thin blanket of white snow -- and we've had more since then (which has pretty much put the kibosh on our morning walks & given me a slight touch of cabin fever -- the first since I've been off work).  (Although I suppose I shouldn't complain too much about the white stuff, when Buffalo is just two hours & a bit down the road...!!) 

It's November -- and October's tragic & terrifying events in Ottawa and St. Jean-sur-Richelieu cast a dark shadow over my country. Two innocent men lost their lives for the simple reason that they were both soldiers -- and easily identified as such because they were in uniform (one of them was guarding the National War Memorial -- an unarmed ceremonial position). These events brought additional gravity to this year's Remembrance Day ceremonies.  

It's November, and my daughter -- who should have been celebrating her Sweet Sixteen this month, and getting her G1 (learner's driving permit), like one of her cousins in the extended family just did, to much congratulations on Facebook :( -- is long dead, having never drawn a breath. :(

It's November and, being Canadian, we've long since had our turkey and meditated on gratitude (that was back in mid-October)(and to be honest, I prefer that timing, versus having so many big things crammed into the space of less than a month -- Christmastime is already hectic enough as it is...!). But in recent years, we've begun to adopt U.S.-style Black Friday shopping promotions -- which I am not entirely sure is a good thing.

So November is still, unquestionably, my least favourite month.

But I must admit -- November HAS lost some (not all, but some) of its sting. Even before I turned the page on my calendar, I didn't find myself loathing and dreading November in quite the same way that I once did.

A big reason for that, of course, is that I am no longer working. November was always our busiest, most stressful time of year at work (i.e., year end).  When my job suddenly vanished, so too did my year-end work obligations -- and all the stress and exhaustion that went along with it.

In past Novembers, dh & I would be up at 5 a.m., and slog our way through weather that was often cold, wet and miserable to the commuter train station, where we'd stand shivering on the platform until our train arrived at 6:45 a.m., to deliver us to our offices before 8... and then repeat the whole process in the evening in reverse (and hope the cold and snow didn't lead to train delays and cancellations :p ).  These days, I'm generally not up before 7:30 (MUCH more civilized!). :)  And looking out the window of my cozy house last week at the blowing snow, a cup of tea in my hand (or listening to the wind howling outside tonight), I thought for the umpteenth time how thankful I was that I no longer had to worry about commuting. 

In past Novembers, Christmas shopping was something to be squeezed in during lunch hours (a little bit here, a little bit there...) and weekend visits to a packed mall -- or postponed altogether until December (when the pressure was really on...!).  This year, dh & I have already gotten a start on gift-buying. It's great to be able to shop at the mall early on a weekday afternoon when there are far fewer people around. (Although it's a bit jarring, since most of the people there at that hour are senior citizens -- I guess it's one way to feel younger by comparison...!) 

We've booked our flights west for a slightly-longer-than-usual holiday stay with my family -- no need to rush back, or to battle with co-workers over vacation approvals or work coverage. Between now & then, I fully intend to take advantage of my new freedom to enjoy some of the holiday events & activities that I never could find time for when I was working.

For example, I spent a day at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair a few weeks ago with a friend from out of town;  I'm planning to attend a gargantuan annual Christmas craft show with another friend;  and I'm hoping to drag -- errr, bring dh to the European-style Christmas market in the Distillery District -- something we've never had time to do before. And I already have a date pencilled in for the Christmas lunch that's become an annual tradition with a couple of my previously retired colleagues. Aside from the lunch (which I always enjoyed, albeit with one eye firmly on the clock, because I had to get back to the office...), this is all stuff that I would have been hard-pressed to do (there's only so much you can cram into already-packed weekends) in Decembers past.

So I still don't LOVE November. 

But (so far, anyway -- with less than a week to go)(knocking wood?) it's the best November that I've had for quite a long time.  :) 

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

* Is this really the last week of November?? (Annual November post coming up shortly...)
* Christmas Eve is exactly one month from today. (You're welcome.)
*  I saw my first Elf on the Shelf photo/post on Facebook today.  Brace yourselves for the deluge...!
*  We've gone from snow & cold last week to temps of 14C with wind & rain today (high 50sF) -- and then back down close to 0C (= 32F) tomorrow. Crazy. (But -- it's not Buffalo...!!)
*   Aunt Flo is here today -- still as regular as she ever was, as I approach my 54th birthday (!!). I never thought I would still be dealing with her in retirement, but (as I have well learned) life can take some strange twists & turns sometimes...
* I made several phone calls today regarding medical records transfers (to my new family doctor) and dental insurance issues. All were answered & resolved within minutes. I think I should buy a lottery ticket.

And how is your Monday going?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

(American) Thanksgiving: Not about the kids?

An article from the Washington Post popped up in my Facebook feed this weekend with an interesting premise:  "Thanksgiving: A rare holiday that isn't all about the kids."  Author Jack Santino suggests:
Children may enjoy watching the Macy’s parade or look forward to pumpkin pie. But Thanksgiving activities aren’t centered on kids. There are no candies to collect, gifts to unwrap or eggs to hunt. There’s no staying up past bedtime for fireworks or Santa or the ball-drop in Times Square...  
The symbolism of Thanksgiving, too, distinguishes it as a holiday geared toward older relatives. Rather than a baby in a manger, or baby Cupids, or baby chicks, Thanksgiving prompts us to think about the Pilgrims...  
...the day tends to be calmer than the gift-giving frenzy to follow in December, and all the candy-colored, children-centered customs of Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Easter.
Among other points, Santino notes that children are generally segregated from the adults at the Thanksgiving dinner table, and "graduate" to the adult table as they get older. ("...being thankful is really a grown-up value. Only as we grow older does our appreciation deepen.") He also believes that "the adult focus of Thanksgiving has also helped it resist consumerism" -- the rise of Black Friday shopping aside -- although, as he notes, there has been some significant pushback in recent years against Black Friday and particularly how its tentacles have started to creep into Thanksgiving Day itself.

But while Thanksgiving may not be quite the kid-fest that Christmas & Easter & Halloween are (or have become in recent years), I still sense there is a focus on family and bringing the family together that can make it uncomfortable or downright difficult for those who didn't grow up in a Norman Rockwell-style family, or who have failed to conform to the family norms in some way (e.g., by producing children of their own).

I would say Canadian Thanksgiving in October is similar in not being a particularly kid-focused holiday -- although there are certainly critical differences between the two events (beyond the timing). Thanksgiving in Canada is generally not the big deal that it is in the States.  There are no Thanksgiving parades in Canada, no references to the Pilgrims (they had/have nothing to do with our celebration here), and you generally do not hear about people moving hell & high water to get home for Canadian Thanksgiving (if anything, that would be Christmas).

Anyway -- what do you think?

(And -- a propos of nothing -- with this post, and with five weeks left to go in 2014, I've surpassed the number of posts I published in all of 2013! Unemployment/early retirement has obviously helped my productivity, at least on the blogging front, lol.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Recent reading

A couple of interesting recent articles that I thought were worth sharing:

*  "No, you don't have to "move on." It's okay to grieve forever." (Washington Post)  Love, love, love this essay, written by a PhD student who lost her little brother when she was 5. Sample passage:
Like many therapists, I get a lot of people who come through the door thinking there’s something wrong with them because they’re feeling the loss of someone who has died, left or disappeared long ago. Often they ask me why they still sometimes cry.  
Sometimes I ask them to tell me why they think they shouldn’t still be sad. And most of the time we come to the conclusion they’re in my office so I can somehow put a cork in it for them so they can stop upsetting their families and the rest of the world.
Isn't that so often the case?

*  "The Science of Suffering" (New Republic)  Fascinating study of post-traumatic stress disorder and how it affects entire generations of families and cultures (Cambodians, Jewish Holocaust survivors, Native Americans...) -- and may, in fact, become hardwired into our DNA.  Coping mechanisms and treatment are also discussed, including whether it's better to remember or forget/supress memory.

*  "Tim Cook brought uncles and aunts into the limelight" (SFGate via Gateway Women) Not only did the Microsoft CEO recently come out of the closet as a gay man, in the same article, he also proudly and prominently identified himself as an uncle -- a role too often neglected when it comes to discussions about families.

"By putting “uncle” up high, he outed a huge group of us who are unduly proud of our roles as uncle or aunt, an accomplishment rarely noted by famous people," writer Tori Ritchie notes.
...aunt- and uncle-hood classically has been portrayed as a byproduct of suspicious childlessness, as in eccentric Auntie Mame or foppish Uncle Arthur on “Bewitched.” In the conversation about family values, aunts and uncles are rarely mentioned. There are no Happy Aunt’s or Uncle’s Day cards in the Hallmark aisle. It’s not one of those things you put on your Twitter tagline or brag about at office parties. It’s something you go about quietly, without public fanfare. 
Yet we live in an era when there are probably more devoted aunts and uncles than ever...  Until last week, we had no public voice, but now we have someone powerful and famous who has outed us and proudly claimed membership in our club: Uncle Tim Cook. 
Read the whole thing -- I thought it was sweet, & pays well deserved tribute to the unsung yet vital relationships so many childless/free aunts & uncles enjoy with their nieces & nephews.

I choose

A find from Facebook.  "Choice" can be a loaded word in the context of infertility -- childless/free life was NOT my first choice, although t's the life I wound up living. But I can choose how I deal with the hand I've been dealt, and how I want to spend the rest of my life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Loss, childlessness, and midlife crisis

I was in an online discussion recently among a group of loss moms (most of them in their late 30s & 40s -- some who have living children, some who don't) debating whether the funk some of the group members are in at the moment can be blamed on loss & grief, midlife crisis, or a bit of both. (And perhaps a dash of perimenopausal hormones as well?) 

So it was timely to find this article from The Atlantic, which puts forward the theory of the happiness U-curve. The data is more or less the same in every country researched: overall life satisfaction generally declines as young adults begin to age, bottoms out somewhere in the 40s or early 50s, and then begins to increase with age again (declining again somewhat in extreme old age, particularly if ill health is involved).  A few excerpts: 
Long ago, when I was 30 and he was 66, the late Donald Richie, the greatest writer I have known, told me: “Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40s, when you look at your life and think, Is this all? And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, Actually, this is pretty good.” In my 50s, thinking back, his words strike me as exactly right. To no one’s surprise as much as my own, I have begun to feel again the sense of adventure that I recall from my 20s and 30s. I wake up thinking about the day ahead rather than the five decades past. Gratitude has returned...
Midlife is, for many people, a time of recalibration, when they begin to evaluate their lives less in terms of social competition and more in terms of social connectedness. In my 40s, I found I was obsessively comparing my life with other people’s: scoring and judging myself, and counting up the ways in which I had fallen behind in a race. Where was my best seller? My literary masterpiece? Barack Obama was younger than I, and look where he was! In my 50s, like my friend K., I find myself more inclined to prize and enjoy people and relationships, which mercifully seem to be pushing the unwinnable status competition into the background... 
In my own case, however, what seems most relevant is a change frequently described both in popular lore and in the research literature: for some reason, I became more accepting of my limitations... For me, the expectation of scaling ever greater heights has faded, and with it my sense of disappointment and failure.
Nowhere is infertility or pregnancy loss mentioned, although some of the interview subjects mention the stresses of dealing with children, aging parents, and marital, career, health and financial problems. But I find that a lot of this article resonated with me.

I don't know whether it's the passage of time (16 years) and that time really does heal all wounds (although the wounds do still ache, now & then), whether I've just done my grief work really well, or if grief just exacerbated what would have been a midlife upheaval anyway?  I spent most of my 40s coming to terms with both my daughter's stillbirth and the hard reality that I was not going to be a mother. (And if you haven't figured that out in your 40s, turning 50 really brings that particular reality home...!) Having succeeded in just about everything else I'd set out to do in life, this was a tough, tough pill to swallow.  And it's really, REALLY hard not to compare yourself (and find yourself wanting) when everyone else around you is raising (seemingly) happy families (that they seem to totally take for granted), and there are pregnant women all around you, and baby bumps on every magazine cover. My career, such as it was, was no substitute, and it stalled, as the managers who had known and supported me left the organization (culminating in my termination this past July, after 28 years). 

Turning 50 was a milestone -- and while I've had my ups & downs since then (losing my job, for one), for me, I think the U-curve theory fits. I can feel that upward swing of the curve. While I am sad that my daughter is not here and that I never got to be a mom (to living children), I am grateful for the life that I have right now, and feeling happier and more excited about the future than I have in a long time. My life doesn't include children, but it's still a good one. Yes, I've had to deal with some crappy stuff in my life -- but everyone does, at some point -- and do I really want that to define & set the tone for the rest of my life? 

There will no doubt be more challenges ahead in the coming years. (I still have to go through menopause, for one...!)  But right now, overall, I like my life, and I am hopeful for the future.

Monday, November 17, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: It's beginning to look a lot like...

This (photo below) is the scene dh & I woke up to this morning. Not a lot of snow, and we've had some flakes in the air before this, but this is the first real accumulation that we've had this season (and it's still coming down as I type). 

Note that there are still leaves on the neighbour's trees that overhang our yard, and leaves on the ground (even though dh has been raking diligently and already filled 7 big bags).  There are just two yard waste pickups left this season, including one tomorrow. Yikes! 

I know it's mid-November, and my family & friends out west would roll their eyes at this photo -- they've already had to dig out from several major dumps of snow. And I have to admit, snow helps make things feel a bit more Christmasy.  The first snowfall always does look pretty, especially when it sticks to the branches, as it's done this morning.  

But yikes -- I am really not sure I am ready for this. :p

(On the other hand -- I did not have to battle my way on slippery roads to the commuter train station this morning & stand freezing on the platform, waiting for the train. Small victories...!)

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here  

Looking out my back door (window).