Thursday, December 31, 2009

New year, new decade, new beginnings

I've been reading a lot of looking back/new year's resolution posts -- including a thought-provoking summary from Pamela Jeanne, who reminded me that it's not just the end of the year but the end of the decade -- and the start of a new one.

Ten years ago, on New Year's Eve 1999, I was sulking. I'd survived a full year & a bit after the stillbirth of my baby and what should have been her first birthday. With my 39th birthday fast approaching & my biological clock ticking frantically, I was desperate to get pregnant again and in the midst of fertility testing. I'd also just survived Christmas without either of my grandparents there -- my grandfather died in October 1998, just over two months after Katie's stillbirth, & my grandmother followed almost a year to the day later. My uncle (my dad's sister's husband) died a week later at 65, one week after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, & my mother had a hysterectomy the day of his funeral.

So I was glad to see 1999 end. But I still wasn't happy. I wanted to welcome the new millennium in style at a ritzy party, wearing a festive party dress, dancing to a Guy Lombardo-type orchestra & drinking champagne-- something we've never really done on New Year's Eve -- but (a) tickets to such events were expensive, this year especially, (b) nobody in our circle seemed to want to do that (most of them, of course, had young children & sitters are scarce -- & expensive -- especially on New Year's Eve hereabouts), (c) most had other plans (& didn't invite us, including BIL), & (d) dh (who is most comfortable in his PJ pants & T-shirt) was lukewarm on the whole idea.

Remember, too, that there was some trepidation around the whole Y2K thing. I'd spent months writing articles for the staff newsmagazine at the bank I work for, about Y2K preparations, & key messages that branch employees could pass along to our customers, reassuring them that their money would be safe. But nobody REALLY knew what was going to happen. We returned from Christmas at my parents' early that year, so that we could both be on call at work -- just in case. Before we left work (early) on New Year's Eve, we were given plastic garbage bags & instructed to use them to shroud our computer monitors & CPUs -- just in case the water sprinklers went off. (!)

So we wound up at FIL's, along with all dh's aunts & uncles on his dad's side. We were the youngest people there by a long shot. Dh had a great time, playing cards with his uncles. The aunts kindly tried to include me in their chatter, but since most of the time they kept lapsing back into their native Italian, I wasn't able to follow or participate in much of the conversation. I wound up spending most of the evening watching the TV coverage of the spectacular fireworks displays as the clock struck midnight around the globe. It was impressive to watch, but it was definitely not the way I'd hoped to be spending Millennium New Year's Eve.

When I think about it now, though, perhaps that evening set the tone for the decade to come -- a decade of watching others doing what I longed to do (partying at the turn of the millennium, having a family), feeling more of an observer than a participant in the normal rituals of society (New Year's Eve parties, getting pregnant, having kids), envying others who were having more fun than me (or at least, it sure seemed that way sometimes), and learning to adjust (& readjust) my expectations, to settle for something different than I had originally wanted.

Over the next year & a half, I subjected myself to the pain, stress, indignities and disappointments of infertility treatment -- but by New Year's Eve 2001, I was in full retreat. Now 40 (close to 41), stressed beyond belief, suffering from anxiety attacks, fearing the long-term effects the drugs I'd been taking would have on my health, and alarmed at the mounting costs, I had climbed off the rollercoaster of treatment. I was still secretly hoping for that miracle pregnancy --and continued to do so for a couple of years afterward -- but was slowly coming face to face with the reality that I never would have that second baby I wanted so badly (and I never have). I set out on a new journey down this road less travelled, and began licking my wounds & trying to figure out what the rest of my life was going to look like.

To some extent, I'm still trying to figure that out. I guess my goal for the next 10 years, if I have one, would be to stop trying to figure things out so much &, as the Nike ad says, just do it. If I've learned one lesson over the past decade, it's that life is definitely not a dress rehearsal. As my favourite quote in the sidebar of this blog says, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." We only get one shot at this, so we'd better make it good, even if things aren't turning out exactly as we had originally planned or hoped.

I want to get that passport, start travelling more and start really, consciously seeking out & enjoying the benefits that come with childfree living (and yes, there are some). I think I -- we -- deserve them. : ) We have more than paid our dues.

The next 13 months will bring our 25th wedding anniversary, my parents' 50th, a family reunion (all three events in the same month!!) and my (GULP!) 50th birthday. I'm hoping (knocking wood!) the next 10 years or so will bring a comfortable early retirement for both me & dh. And I'm hoping (and again knocking wood) that our good health will continue, so that we can enjoy it.

I hesitate to say my 40s totally sucked (and hey, I do still have one more year to go!) -- but they could have been better, and I'm partly at fault for not at least trying harder to make them that way.

I want the next 10 years to be different. In a GOOD way. And I know it's up to me to make the most of whatever life hands me.

Past New Year's posts:

New Year's Eve 2007
New Year's Eve 2008
New Year's resolutions for 2009

New Year's resolutions for bereaved parents

This was passed on to me in an e-mail by a friend who's also a bereaved parent, & while I don't often pass chain e-mails on, I thought this was worth sharing:

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I Resolve:

That I will grieve as much and for as long as I feel like grieving, and that I will not let others put a time table on my grief.

That I will grieve in whatever way I feel like grieving, and I will ignore those who try to tell me what I should or should not be feeling and how I should or should not be behaving.

That I will cry whenever and wherever I feel like crying, and that I will not hold back my tears just because someone else feels I should be "brave" or "getting better" or "healing by now."

That I will talk about my child as often as I want to, and that I will not let others turn me off just because they can't deal with their own feelings.

That I will not expect family and friends to know how I feel, understanding that one who has not lost a child cannot possibly know how I feel.

That I will not blame myself for my child's death, and I will constantly remind myself that I did the best job of parenting I could possibly have done. But when feelings of guilt are overwhelming, I will remind myself that this is a normal part of the grief process and it will pass.

That I will not be afraid or ashamed to seek professional help if I feel it is necessary.

That I will commune with my child at least once a day in whatever way feels comfortable and natural to me, and that I won't feel compelled to explain this communion to others or to justify or even discuss it with them. * I will keep the truth in my heart -- the truth that my child is always with me in spirit.

That I will try to eat, sleep, and exercise every day in order to give my body strength it will need to help me cope with my grief.

To know that I am not losing my mind and I will remind myself that loss of memory, feelings of disorientation, lack of energy, and a sense of vulnerability are all a normal part of the grief process.

To know that I will heal, even though it will take a long time.

To let myself heal and not feel guilty about not feeling better sooner.

To remind myself that the grief process is circuitous -- that is, I will not make steady upward progress. And when I find myself slipping back into the old moods of despair and depression, I will tell myself that "slipping backward" is also a normal part of the mourning process, and that these moods, too, will pass.

To try to be happy about something for some part of every day, knowing that at first, I may have to force myself to think cheerful thoughts so eventually they can become a habit.

That I will reach out at times and try to help someone else, knowing that helping others will help me to get over my depression.

That even though my child is dead, I will opt for life, knowing that is what my child would want me to do.

~From the Brooksville/Spring Hill FL. TCF Newsletter
* Added by Faith :)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Show & Tell: Winter Wonderland

I didn't have to dream of a White Christmas; I actually had one. Which is nothing new, since I am from (& spend my Christmases in) a part of the world in which white Christmases are the norm. I can count on just a few fingers of one hand the number of Christmases I have had that were NOT white.

There was actually not a lot of snow when we first arrived -- but a few mornings into our trip, I woke up to find everything covered in hoarfrost. So pretty!!

Here is the view from my parents' front window of one of the neighbours' houses:

The huge mugho pine in the front yard:

It started snowing lightly on the night of Dec. 23rd. All through the day on Christmas Eve, the snowflakes continued to fall gently. Perfect.

And then we woke up on Christmas morning. I wouldn't call it a big blizzard -- I don't think we had anywhere near the amount of snow some people in the States had. But there was still snow. And it was blowing. Travel was not recommended. Thank goodness we were all safely together already.

In some parts of the yard, the snow drifted up quite high, depending on where the wind was blowing. Here's my dad using his favourite seasonal toy, his snowblower, to blow out the drifted snow on the back patio. You can see here how deep it got!

See what others are showing & telling this week at the Stirrup Queen's blog.

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By the way, I am still trying to catch up on my blog reading. Seems like no matter how long I sit at my computer lately, I never manage to crack the 700 unread posts mark. Eeeekk!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Christmas meme(s)

There have been a couple of cute Christmas memes going around, with some overlap. So I've done some combining & rearranging & voila! -- my One Big Christmas Meme. (Yes, I know, Christmas is over -- but I have Eastern European heritage, so I figure I get until Jan. 7th, lol.)

Egg nog or hot chocolate? Hot chocolate.

Do you like eggnog? I used to drink it (my grandmother made it), but haven't had it in years.

Wrapping paper or gift bags? I use both, but I love the look of a well-wrapped package.

Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? A mixture. The larger ones get wrapped, but things like toothbrushes, etc., go unwrapped into the stocking.

Real tree or artificial? Ours is artificial (we usually go away for the holidays & I wouldn't want to leave a real tree to dry out), but there is nothing quite like the real thing!!

When do you put up your tree/decorations? We try to do it the first weekend in December. Mom usually saves her tree for me to decorate when I get there, because she knows I love doing it.

How do you decorate your Christmas tree? White lights, gold bead garlands, ivory balls (which remind me of ones that Mom has) & then an assortment of ornaments collected through the years -- many of them Pooh or angel ornaments related to Katie. : ) I actually collect the classic Barbie ornaments that Hallmark puts out (the ones that look like the old-fashioned Barbies that my sister & I had), but I don't have room on the tree for them any more...!

Mom & Dad use the big old-fashioned coloured lights, & an assortment of ornaments that have been on our tree for years, dating back to when I was a baby. Bringing them out each year is one of my favourite Christmas traditions.

Colored lights or white lights? Our tree at home has the small white lights on it. Mom & Dad's has ancient coloured bulbs -- the big old-fashioned kind. Mom insists on having them. I think they remind her of her own childhood. I don't want to ask how old these are. I feel a little less nervous about them now that Mom & Dad have an artificial tree.

What tops your tree? An angel that we bought the first year we had a tree.

Mom & Dad have an old silver & red aluminum star with a hole in the centre for a Christmas light to go through that is as old or even older than I am. Every year Dad wants to get rid of it & every year Mom & I say no. Mom found a very similar one at a garage sale one year & wrapped it up & gave it to my Dad as a gag gift, lol. I appropriated it & we used it on our tree for a few years, but the connecting wires to it looked so old that I decided it was best we go back to the angel.

When do you take the tree down? Usually the first weekend in January. Although I figure I have until Jan. 7th (Orthodox Christmas). ; ) Or even Jan. 13th, which my Mom says is a Swedish holiday called "Little Christmas." (Yes, I am part Scandinavian too.)

Do you hang mistletoe? I have a couple of plastic mistletoe balls that I hang in the doorways to the kitchen & living room.

Do you have a Nativity scene? Sadly, no. I have been looking for one for years but I either don't like them or don't like the price tag. I am leaning towards splurging on the Willow one, though -- it's beautiful.

Mail or e-mail Christmas cards? Mail. This is the first year I haven't had my cards done before Christmas. I'll be doing them this week before I go back to work.

What is your favorite holiday dish? Mom's stuffing & gravy. I could care less about the mashed potatoes, just give me the stuffing & gravy, lol. I also love the cranberry-orange relish. Legend has it that when I was a toddler, I was literally caught red-handed, reaching up to the table & stuffing handfuls into my mouth.

Favorite holiday memory as a child? Waiting for my Grandpa to come (& all the presents he'd bring, lol). Also, the year I was in university & my parents gave me a stereo. I'd been bugging them forever about a stereo, but I never really thought they'd get me one. (I still have it! -- turntable & all...)

Most annoying thing about this time of year? The crowds everywhere, & how rude & short-tempered people can get sometimes.

Worst Christmas ever? I can't think of one that sticks out as really, really "bad." Christmas 1998 was obviously the saddest, as both my expected baby girl & my beloved grandfather -- whom I'd spent every Christmas of my life with -- were not there.

When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? Lori S. told me when we were both in Grade 3. I don't remember it being a huge shock. I probably had my suspicions already.

But I've never said that I don't believe. And he still keeps coming, lol.

Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? We open ALL our gifts on Christmas Eve (except the ones that Santa brings). My grandmother was Swedish & that is their custom. When we were kids, we were allowed to open one gift before dinner (just to keep us quiet, lol). The rule was always that we had to eat dinner & finish washing the dishes before we could start opening presents.

Snow! Love it or dread it? Well, I honestly believe it wouldn't be Christmas without some snow on the ground. But believe me, by late January, the thrill is definitely gone...!

Can you ice skate? I can! At least, I could, lol. (I think it's a requirement of Canadian citizenship, lol.) I don't think I've put on skates in more than 25 years, but I'm sure it would come back to me if I got out there again. I've roller skated since the last time I ice skated (although I haven't done THAT in many, many years either...!) & it wasn't too hard to get used to. I learned to skate on a backyard rink in a pair of borrowed hockey skates when I was about 3, & I took figure skating for several years when I was a kid.

When do you start shopping for Christmas? The intentions are always good, but I rarely get started before December.

Have you ever recycled a gift? I don't think so. I may have passed along some extra chocolate I've been given. Some have gone to Goodwill after an appropriate interval.

Do you remember your favorite gift? See "Favourite holiday memory," above.

Hardest person to buy for? My dad.

Easiest person to buy for? My sister.

What do you want for Christmas this year? I didn't have much of a list. Most of what I REALLY want I will buy for myself. I love pretty sweaters & I always get a few of those.

Travel at Christmas or stay at home? Travel. I've managed to spend every Christmas of my life with my family so far. Knock wood!!

What's the most important thing about the holidays for you? Being together with my family & just enjoy our time together, indulging in our family traditions.

What is your favorite holiday dessert? Love my Mom's shortbread.

Candy canes…good or bad? Love them. I used to buy a box & use them as tree decorations (& then eat them off the tree, lol).

What is your favorite holiday tradition? I love them all!

Which do you prefer: giving or receiving? I have fun giving (especially when I really hit the mark with my gift)... but I will admit, it's also fun to receive!

Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Yes.

What's the weather usually like where you live on Christmas Eve? We are usually with my parents on Christmas Eve... and it is almost guaranteed that there will be snow. I could probably count the number of Christmases I've had without snow on just a few fingers of one hand. (This year, there was snow on Christmas Eve which turned into a snowSTORM on Christmas Day.)

What is your favorite Christmas song? I love Christmas music... a few favourites would include "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)".... "I'll Be Home for Christmas"... "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Of the traditional carols, probably "Silent Night."

Saddest Christmas song? I love "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (especially as sung by Judy Garland) but if you listen to it or see it in the movie ("Meet Me in St. Louis"), gosh, it's sad. Of the traditional carols, I find it hard to sing or listen to "Away in a Manger" these days, for obvious reasons...

Favorite Christmas show? TV show: A Charlie Brown Christmas (bring on the Kleenex). Movie: tough one: "It's a Wonderful Life," "A Christmas Story" & I also like "The Bishop's Wife" (the original b&w with Cary Grant, David Niven & Loretta Young).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

History repeating itself

Exactly 30 (!!) years ago, December 1979, I was just finishing up the first semester of my first year at university. All my classes ended early in December, like around Dec. 4th. No exams, all my term papers were done.

I went home to my family. I had a whole month before I had to return, & the time stretched out ahead of me like a huge blank slate. What to do with myself? My sister was still in high school, which wasn't finished for another 2-3 weeks, and many of my best friends were also her friends, in the same school. Many of the friends from my own class were still away at university. My mother was working part-time. I was afraid I'd be bored just hanging around the house. And I figured some extra money might be nice to have.

So I went to the local mall, where I'd had a part-time job in Grade 12, working at Woolco (which was bought out by Walmart some years later), found my old boss & asked whether they'd need any help over the next few weeks.

Be careful what you wish for. They hired me on the spot, full-time hours for the Christmas season. I worked in the hardware department (my old stomping grounds, ludicrous as it may seem...!) & the sporting goods department (even more so...!). It was right next to the music department, which played the same Barbra Streisand Christmas album over & over & over & over again. I like Streisand, but to this day, I cannot hear her singing "Jingle Bells" without wanting to climb a wall.

On the first business day after the holidays, they put me on cash at one of the front checkouts for the Boxing Day sale. I gained huge sympathy that day for harried clerks dealing with long lineups of frazzled customers & bargain seekers who question every price that gets keyed in. I collected my paycheque before I headed back to school & vowed that I would never do THAT again. Christmastime is to be enjoyed!!

Needless to say, I wish I had listened more carefully to my younger self. Although, to be fair to myself, when I agreed to do a freelance proofreading project last fall, I never dreamed I would still be working on it at Christmastime. I was first approached about the project -- a book -- back in late September (!). Back & forth we went with e-mails. I got a preliminary copy & supplied a quote in early/mid-November. I didn't actually get the go-ahead & receive the finished manuscript to read until Nov. 30th -- and by then, of course, I was waist-deep in year-end madness at my day job & running around with Christmas preparations & events in the evening.

I was pretty accurate with my estimate of how long it would take to read the book itself -- but then I was asked to also check the index. I vastly underestimated the amount of time THAT would take. I finished reading the manuscript late last night, & sent it back (with an invoice) today -- just as the work week winds down, and holidays at my parents looms on the not-so-distant horizon.

So between my actual job, this additional project, and the wonderful madness that is the Christmas season, I have been extremely busy and highly stressed for the past several weeks. Last weekend I was on the go from the moment I got up until I collapsed in bed later that night. I didn't turn on my computer at home for four full days (a new record for me, I think...!). My blog reader's unread post totals have reached previously unfathomable heights (& I'm sorry if I've missed out on some news you've had to share). I've been crying at the drop of a hat (although I tend to do that anyway at this sentimental time of year).

But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Three more sleeps, & the holidays await. I can't wait to sleep in, to catch up on my reading (blogs & books), & to eat my Mom's fabulous turkey with stuffing & gravy.

And, maybe when I get back, a nice fat freelancing cheque will be waiting for me. I am going to thoroughly enjoy that!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bah humbug, continued

So many blog posts in my head; so little time. It has been a busy week at work &, with a key date coming up on Tuesday, next week will likely be more of the same. This weekend, I've also been working on a freelance project that I was first contacted about in September (!) & thought would be long over by now. Less than two weeks before I see my family, & I have not bought one Christmas gift or addressed one card. :(

Dh & I did, however, get the tree put up & decorated yesterday, while listening to Christmas music on the stereo -- so all is not completely Scrooge around here.

Which reminds me, we went to see the new version of "A Christmas Carol" last week, in which Jim Carrey plays Scrooge (as well as the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present & Future). I've seen quite a few different versions of the story & this one ranks right up there. (It's done in a semi-animated style, a la "The Polar Express.") Of course, it's such a powerful story in any format, & I will admit to needing Kleenex at several points.

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It's December 6th, which is a significant date in Canada. Today, it's known as Canada's National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. That's because, 20 years ago today, Mark Lepine burst into an engineering classroom at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, separated the women from the men, accused them of being "feminists" & opened fire. Fourteen promising young lives were cut short before Lepine turned his gun on himself.

I remember that day -- which eventually became known as "the Montreal Massacre" -- all too well, watching the news reports on TV that night, the growing horror of the realization that the women had been singled out as targets. There have been some excellent articles in the newspapers over the past few days looking back on the event, & on the lessons learned (and, sadly, forgotten). The one that touched me most deeply was featured on the front page of ysterday's Toronto Star. Before the shooting started, Nathalie Provost spoke up. She told him, "We're not feminists."
Provost was one of the lucky four who survived. "At the time, I thought to be a feminist meant you had to be militant," says Provost... She was the young woman who, from her hospital bed a couple days later, urged Canadian girls to not be frightened by the event and to pursue engineering careers. She was also my introduction to feminism in life, not just theory. And to the concept that the personal is political.

"I realized many years later that in my life and actions, of course I was a feminist. I was a woman studying engineering and I held my head up."
I've always been proud to call myself a feminist, and found her words heartwarming. It's a great article. Read the rest of it here.