Thursday, March 31, 2011

Article: "Aging Without Children"

Getting older without children to look in on us & take care of us (we hope) is something that I know a lot of childless/free people think about. A lot. Probably more so than our peers with children. I know I do, especially since I'm not getting any younger. Not that having children is any guarantee that you won't be lonely in your old age, of course, but the odds are probably more in parents' favour, wouldn't you think? Which is why I appreciate reading articles like this one from the New York Times's The New Old Age blog. While it's frank in its discussion about the challenges of childfree aging, it's also comforting to know there's a new study that shows there is little difference between parents & childless people when it comes to levels of care and psychological well being. Did this article make you feel any better, or just add to your anxiety on this issue? (And does anyone know why my paragraph breaks are not "taking" on Blogger lately??)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reading: "Willful Blindness" by Margaret Heffernan

I can't remember if I saw an article about it first or spotted the book at the bookstore... but as soon as I saw Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril by Margaret Heffernan and realized what it was about, I knew I had to read it ASAP (or at least, as soon as I finished reading & blogging about Melissa Ford's book, Life From Scratch). ; ) I enjoy reading books that help explain what makes people tick, and why they do the things they do. Willful Blindness could be read as a companion volume to Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided (which I also read & reviewed on this blog). Both books explore slightly different facets of the same issue: what happens when we are confronted with the less pleasant aspects of being human, why, and what we can do about it. Ehrenreich focuses on the pervasive tendency in our culture to "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative." Heffernan casts a somewhat broader net, looking at the reasons WHY we sometimes fail to see the obvious and, importantly, what can we do about it. "Willful blindness," Heffernan explains,
...doesn't have a single driver, but many. It is a human phenomenon to which we all succumb in matters little and large. We can't notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won't let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial. We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs. It's a truism that love is blind; what's less obvious is just how much evidence it can ignore. Ideology powerfully masks what, to the uncapivated mind, is obvious, dangerous or absurd and there's much about how, and even where, we live that leaves us in the dark. Fear of conflict, fear of change keeps us that way. An unconscious (and much denied) impulse to obey and conform shields us from confrontation and crowds provide friendly alibis for our inertia. And money has the power to blind us, even to our better selves." (pp.3-4) (emphasis mine)
While Heffernan doesn't specifically address issues of infertility or pregnancy loss in her book, it's easy for infertiles/bereaved parents to draw some insights from her keen observations. Here are some of the chapter headings, & how I see the material in them relating to the ALI world.

  • Affinity and Beyond: Heffernan describes how we naturally gravitate toward the familiar, consciously or unconsciously seeking out the known & the comfortable. It's why we seek each other out in the blogging world, isn't it? -- to find others who have an experience similar to our own. And it explains why others who haven't had a similar experience -- even friends & relatives who love us -- consciously or unconsciously shy away from us when we remind them of our infertility &/or our lost children. They thought we were like them -- suddenly, we're not, and in a way that's pretty foreign to them (not to mention unpleasant, maybe even frightening). "What's most frightening about this process is that as we see less and less, we feel more comfort and greater certainty. We think we see more -- even as the landscape shrinks." (p. 21)

  • Love is Blind: not only do we tend to overlook the faults of those we love, says Heffernan, "we are highly driven to find and to protect the relationships that make us feel good about ourselves and that make us feel safe." (p. 24) Hearing about infertility & pregnancy loss doesn't make people feel good or safe (even if it's not THEIR infertility or pregnancy loss) so, often, the relationship suffers. We also don't like to think associate sad or unpleasant things with people we love. As an example, Heffernan writes about how she spent most of her first marriage in denial about the seriousness of her husband's congenital heart defect: "Because our identity & security depend so much on our loved ones, we don't want to see anything that threatens them."

  • Dangerous Convictions: Heffernan describes how our brains tend to filter out information that might challenge our most cherished beliefs. Which might explain why it's so hard to dispel some of the myths & misconceptions surrounding infertility & loss -- & why it seems to hard for some people to accept that not everyone will achieve pregnancy, not all babies get to come home...

  • The Ostrich Instruction: refusing to see anything that makes us uncomfortable, resistance to changing the status quo -- even when the status quo is endangering lives.

  • Just Following Orders: Our inclination is to trust our doctors & to do what they tell us to do. Most of the time, that's the wisest course of action -- but how many of us have followed our doctor's orders against our better instincts, and lived to regret it?

  • The Cult of Cultures: groups exert a powerful conforming influence over the individual. And right now, of course, what more powerful "cult" is there than the worship of all things pregnancy, mommy & baby related?? "Once we conform, there are many rewards. Not just Cayman Islands bank accounts and media coverage, but tiny, daily reinforcements that come from being with the in-crowd..." (p. 133) So often, the in-crowd (parents) doesn't even recognize all the ways in which they are privileged, in which non-parents feel excluded.

  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind: "It is so much easier to be blind to the consequences of your actions when you do not have to see them play out," writes Heffernan. (p. 167) She was talking about how difficult it is for huge multinational corporations to take responsibility for their actions when the people actually doing the work are so far removed from those at the top (case in point: BP & last year's Gulf oil spill). But, as a non-parent, outside the "in-crowd/cult/power group" (i.e., parents), I found meaning in these lines: "Power imposes distance between those that have it and those that do not. The powerful are quite often unaware of this; the best struggle against it, but the distance is always there." (p. 168)(emphasis mine) She does note that power often comes at a cost: isolation from reality. And if and when the bubble of power bursts, the awakening can be very rude.

  • Cassandra: In ancient Greek mythology, Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy -- with the accompanying curse that nobody would believe her. "She embodies that baffled rage that we all feel when no one else can see what we see." (p. 201) Sound familiar?? So does this: "The greatest shock, for Cassandras and whistleblowers alike, is their revised view of the world. Having started as conformists and loyalists, they emerge from their experience wary of authority and skeptical of much that they see and read and hear. Seeing the truth, and then acting on it, changes their vision of life. This independence of mind can instill a profound sense of isolation. But setting themselves free from consolatory fictions can also reveal new allies and soul mates and inspire a vibrant and purposeful identity." (p. 220)
"Cassandras show us that we don't have to be blind," Heffernan concludes. Her final chapter, "See better," outlines some of the steps we can take to combat willful blindness in our own lives. A few of these include (not necessarily in the author's words here):

  • "Recognizing the homogenity of our lives... putting more effort into reaching out to those who don't fit in and seeing positive value in those that prove more demanding... we have to acknowledge our biases." (p. 223-4)

  • Be wary of grand ideologies that neatly answer all questions. "We need actively to seek disconfirmation" & third opinions. (p.224)

  • Learn to think critically. "Being a critical thinker starts with resisting the urge to be a pleaser." (p. 230)

  • Stand up for others. Develop empathy. There's an interesting description about a successful anti-bullying program that tries to change patterns of thinking and understanding, from "me" to "we."

  • Learn from history: lessons from the past can alert us to trends and sensitize us to signals in the present.

  • Work to tear down the silos that separate us.

  • To what extent are we educating & bringing up our children to comply and conform?

  • We "need to celebrate those that make the noise, heroes more inspiring than talent contest winners and drunken movie stars." (p. 245) (As the quote goes, "Well-behaved women rarely make history.")
"We make ourselves powerless when we choose not to know. But we give ourselves hope when we insist on looking," Heffernan concludes. I've only just skimmed the surface of Heffernan's thinking here. If what you've read here intrigues you, then "insist on looking" at this thought-provoking book!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Odds & ends


  • Little Girl Next Door -- my yardstick for how big Katie might have been, what she might have been doing, how she might be dressing, etc. etc. -- turns 12 very soon. For all intents & purposes, however, she is already looking & acting scarily like a teenager. I've noticed a big shift in attitude lately. Until just recently, whenever we'd see each other coming & going, she'd wave enthusiastically, yell out, "Hi Sam! Hi Lori!" and sometimes come over & regale us with longwinded chatter. During the recent March break, however, we saw her coming & going with her friends several times (cellphones in hand)(!!), & were lucky if we got a perfunctory nod. I had to laugh, though -- I saw them leaving one evening, tote bags & pillows in hand, obviously headed for a sleepover. For all their grownup airs, they both still had teddy bears sticking out of the back of their bags. ; )
  • Speaking of 12-year-olds... dh & I have to attend a funeral visitation this weekend (nobody close, but a relative's inlaw). There will be lots of his relatives in attendance, including one of his cousins & his wife. The oldest of their two sons is 12 -- his mother was pregnant with him at the same time I was pregnant with Katie. Katie was stillborn in early August, he was born in late September, & Katie was due in mid-to-late November. Difficult as it sometimes is to hear about what he's doing in school, etc., I'm always thankful that (a) he's a boy & (b) his parents are often yelling at him. ; )
  • Interesting article in the New York Times about the preference among some (mostly evangelical Protestant) religious congregations for married ministers. Preferably with stay -at-home wives (who presumably have lots of time & energy to spare to helping run the church -- free of charge, of course). And children, of course. How many great ministers are these congregations missing out on because of their insistence on conforming to a certain ideal?
  • So many new people -- YOUNG people, most of them women in their early/mid-20s, unmarried -- have joined us at work in recent months. And each time I get talking to one of them, up pops the question: "Do you have any kids?" I just tell them no. Sometimes I'll add that I have two grown nephews. I can see that they are so eager for role models, for someone to tell them that it's possible to have it all -- marriage, motherhood, a career. I'm always sorry to disappoint them. Although (proud feminist though I am) I'm not entirely convinced that it IS possible to have it all -- all at once, anyway. (Which certainly doesn't mean we should stop trying.)
  • I've been thinking a lot about work issues lately & the relationship between work and childless/free life (and MY childless/free life, specifically) -- fodder for a future post, perhaps....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

(Un?) Lucky 13

13 years ago today, I peed on a stick -- and watched, dumbfounded, as two blue lines popped into view almost immediately.

Life has not been the same since then.

Friday, March 18, 2011

ABCs of Me

I don't think I've done this one yet...

A. Age: Ummmm.... 50 (eeeekkk...)

B. Bed size: Queen.

C. Chore you dislike: Washing the floor. Love it when it's done, but I always procrastinate on doing it.

D. Dogs: None. I briefly had a mutt named Honey when I was a preschooler. She went to live on my grandparents' farm & was run over by a car. :(

E. Essential start to your day: A bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar & cinnamon, & a cup of tea.

F. Favorite color: Blue.

G. Gold or silver: Ummm... can I have both?? ; )

H. Height: Just under 5'5"

I. Instruments you play(ed): Piano & alto saxophone.

J. Job title: Assistant Manager, Executive Communications

K. Kids: None living, one stillborn.

L. Live: near Toronto

M. Mom’s name: Donna

N. Nicknames: don't really have any (that I'm going to repeat, anyway, lol)

O. Overnight hospital stays: aside from when I lost Katie, several when I was in elementary school, for tests to monitor my bladder/ureter/kidney condition. Thankfully, I eventually outgrew it. After losing Katie, I learned there is a high co-relation between kidney problems & uterine abnormalities. I often wonder whether they could tell that I had a uterine malformation as a child.

P. Pet peeves: People who talk on their cellphones on public transit, in restaurants, etc., as if they're in their living room. :p

Q. Quote from a movie: Casablanca is probably my favourite movie of all time -- it has a fabulous script, chock full of memorable lines. Among my favourites:

Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

and

Major Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I'm a drunkard.
Captain Renault: That makes Rick a citizen of the world.

R. Righty or lefty: Righty.

S. Siblings: Younger sister.

T. Time you wake up: 5 a.m. :p

U. Underwear: Yes??

V. Vegetables you don’t like: Mushrooms & peppers. I LOVE tomatos, but unfortunately can't eat them anymore. :(

W.What makes you run late: Underestimating the amount of time I will need.

X. X-rays you’ve had: pelvis, skull, teeth.

Y. Yummy food you make: cookies, although I don't make them often these days. And I am an excellent popcorn maker (following in my dad's footsteps...!). : )

Z. Zoo animal favorites: penguins! I also stood in line for an hour to see a pair of visiting panda bears once.

Now it is YOUR turn.... let me know if you do this one & I'll come visit!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Christmas will be different this year -- finally!

My Parents' Neighbours' Daughter (PND) is pregnant.

It hasn't even been a year since she got married. And I distinctly remember her saying, whenever babies were mentioned, that it would be awhile yet. She's currently got a contract job & has been hoping to parlay it into something permanent.

I don't know what happened in the interim to change her mind (if indeed it was a conscious decision). My mother thinks she succumbed to baby fever -- she's surrounded by friends who are all pregnant or new mothers, and became an aunt for the first time this past fall.

The phone rang on my mother's birthday, a Saturday night in January. It was my parents' phone number. I knew my sister & her boyfriend and PND & her husband were there to celebrate, & I figured my parents had called so that we could all chat.

Dh answered, & said, "Hi PND!" I saw his eyes get big & even before he said "Congratulations!" I knew. I instantly knew.

I felt tears in my eyes, but I got on the phone & said all the right things. And meant them.

I wasn't just emotional because PND is going to have a baby, & I'm not, ever.

I got emotional, because I could just imagine my parents' joy at having a new baby around to spoil. PND's parents now live some distance away, and although her inlaws are close by, my parents will no doubt get to play the role of honorary grandparents.

I was also emotional because I am old enough to be PND's mother (and this baby's grandmother) myself (gulp). I have proudly watched PND grow up from an adorable baby herself into a wonderful young woman and recent bride. And now I get to watch as she becomes a mother. The circle of life, etc. etc.

I was emotional because I find all pregnancies nervewracking these days. I know, more than anyone else, what can go wrong. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, let alone someone I adore as much as PND.

Dh asked me if I would prefer if PND had a boy. I think I surprised myself: "No way!" I said. "A little girl would be so much fun to spoil. It would be like watching PND grow up all over again." The prospect made me happy.

We were all sworn to secrecy until after PND's first prenatal appointment. Which is why I am writing this post now, several weeks after the fact. Even on an anonymous blog with pseudonyms, I feel compelled to keep a promise. ; )

Baby PND (PNGD or PNGS??) is due later this summer. Not sure whether to try to plan our usual summertime vacation around the due date. I know too well that babies have their own timetables. Otherwise, I'll probably have to wait until Christmas to see the new baby. That seems too long. :p

"Christmas will be different this year," PND said to me on the phone. PND has spent at least part of every Christmas with us since she was a toddler. Hopefully, that tradition will continue for awhile yet.

We've been looking forward to a "different" Christmas (i.e., one with a baby around) for a long, long time now.

It won't be my baby -- but I think it will be the next best thing. : ) I feel so fortunate to have had PND in our lives, and that she is sharing this blessing with our family.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Flashback

Recently at work, I got into an elevator. Two other women were already in there. My ears immediately pricked up as I heard one of them speaking in a muffled, guttural voice, combined with hand motions. She was obviously hearing impaired.

It was oddly familiar & comforting to me -- transporting me in a flash back to my grandparents' farm, 30. 40 years ago.

My dad is the youngest of four sons, & second-youngest child of six. Actually, seven. My uncle, his next oldest sibling, is about two years older -- and he had a twin sister. I don't know very much about her, except that her name was Olga. The aunt I never knew.

As I understand it, they both got very sick when they were still babies -- scarlet fever, I think. She died. My uncle survived, but lost most of his hearing. And because his speech had not fully developed yet, he was & is difficult to understand & to communicate with, particularly if you didn't spend a lot of time around him. (Add in the fact that my father & his sibilings didn't speak English until they went to school.) Family members communicated with him by speaking very loudly & slowly, with lots of gestures & exaggerated facial expressions. He would respond with nods, gestures and some words & sounds.

Needless to say, there wasn't much in the way of special education or speech therapy or accommodations available in rural Manitoba in the 1940s. Doctors recommended he be institutionalized. My grandmother would not hear of it, & kept him at home on the farm, where he lived until after my grandfather died, when Grandpa was 96 & my uncle in his 50s. He finally got a hearing aid in middle age.

It only just hit me now, when I started thinking about my uncle, and the aunt I never knew, and my grandmother's loss, that my father was her "rainbow baby," her subsequent pregnancy, two years later. (Her last child, my youngest aunt, arrived eight years later, when Baba had reached the advanced maternal age of 40.)

My mother says my dad spent a lot time with his mother growing up, helping her around the house. (He's a fabulous cook -- makes borscht using vegetables from his own garden.) Knowing what I know now about infant loss & subsequent pregnancies, I can see why she probably wanted to keep him close.

Baba died at the far-too-young age of 68, when I was 14. I blogged about her here, last year, 35 years after her death. I wish I had had more time with her. There is so much more I'd like to know about her. But I feel like I've begun to understand her a little better, these past 13 years.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reading/Book tour: "Life From Scratch" by Melissa Ford


Melissa Ford is known to most of us in the blogging world for her wonderful blog, Stirrup Queens, which is not only her personal blog but serves as a hub for the adoption/loss/infertility community. Already the author of Navigating the Land of If, a chatty, down to earth "girlfriend's guide" to infertility, Melissa recently turned her hand to writing fiction.

The result is Life From Scratch, the story of newly divorced New Yorker Rachel Goldman, & how she found her voice/got her groove back by learning to cook, & blogging about it. The cast of characters includes Rachel's ex, Adam; assorted members of her extended family; Gael, a sexy Spanish photographer (I keep picturing Javier Bardem in the movie version, lol); and, in the role of loyal sidekick/confidante/best friend, single mother by choice Arianna.

In some ways, I was reminded of the movie "Julie & Julia" (haven't read the book it was based on, but if you've seen the movie, you know that it also combines blogging & cooking themes). I suppose you could call it "chick lit," but (while I wouldn't call it a serious novel, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky) it's more substantial & less frivolous in tone than the Shopaholic novels & the like.

I don't want to give too much away -- but I do want to say that was a fun read, and I'm looking forward to the promised sequel!

*** *** ***

As is customary for a virtual book club, our tour coordinator, the wonderful Lori of Write Mind Open Heart has sent each of us a list of questions, and we must answer (at least) three of them here. Here goes!

In your life outlook, are you a Rachel or an Arianna?

Definitely a Rachel. I loved this passage on page 91 that perfectly illustrates the difference between the two, where Rachel says of Arianna:

"No husband in the picture? You use donor sperm. Fertility problems found? You use IVF. No money for daycare? You just change your job around so you can work from home. Every solution looks simple, but I've learned from past experience with Arianna that while she may have the resolve to put plans into action, the rest of us are usually left with a huge, tangled mess when we dip our foot into solutions."

If you had a year to do what you wanted, what would you do? Would you learn to cook or something different?

Oh, I have often thought about this! One of my girlfriends used to work for one of the Canadian provincial governments, & took part in a program, whereby she'd defer some of her salary with each paycheque, & then every so many years, she could take a paid sabbatical. If I remember correctly, she was able to extend her maternity leave that way, and several years ago, she used part of her sabbatical time to spend the summer driving across the country & back again with her two daughters. They stayed with us for a few days while seeing the local sights then. Talk about the trip of a lifetime!!

So yes -- I would love to have a year off. (I know maternity leave is not exactly a sabbatical or a vacation, but it is a break away from the office routine, & I've always thought that, since I'm never going to get to take one, why shouldn't I be able to use that time & those funds for a sabbatical of sorts??)(In Canada, women now get up to a year off, funded through Employment Insurance, which most of us pay into.) I would use that time to travel, maybe to go back to school or take some classes in a subject that interested me -- yes, maybe cooking. ; )

Rachel's blog Life from Scratch is itself a character in the story. Do you think non-bloggers will understand the details of blogging (blog awards, stats and stat counters, other true life blogs mentioned) and how does writing her blog tie into her story making it appeal to the mainstream?

I wondered about this too. I guess you would have to ask a non-blogger for a truly honest take on this question. As a longtime reader of Melissa's blog, I recognized her distinctive "voice" in the pages of this book and, as a fan, I was probably predisposed to like it. I imagine -- I hope -- that readers who don't know anything or much about blogging will learn a lot from this book. Perhaps it will prompt them to check out some blogs later, or maybe even start one themselves. : )

How would you react if your blog hit the big time -- if you had hundreds of thousands or even millions of readers hanging on your every word, if you won awards, if mainstream media wanted to interview and feature you? Are there aspects of blogging fame that you'd refuse? How would the content of your blog change?

To be honest, I'm not sure I'd want that. Although I don't think there's much danger of that happening. ; ) Childlessness not by choice is not exactly a topic that people are clamouring to read about; au contraire -- even (& maybe even especially) within the ALI community. When you're still in the hopeful throes of infertility treatment, the idea that you could go through all this pain, all this heartache, all these drugs, all that MONEY (!) & still not come out of the whole process with a baby is just not something you really want to think about.

But it does happen to some of us -- & when it does, it's so heartening to know there are other women who have been through this, survived, & maybe even thrived.

I started blogging for myself, first & foremost, & it's still my main blogging raison d'etre. I know I do have a small regular audience out there, & I am grateful for that. But small is just fine with me. : ) There are very few people "in real life" who know that I blog, & I would kind of like to keep it that way. I don' t mind sharing details about my loss & infertility and my feelings about childless/free living with online friends, but I'm a little squeamish thinking about family & friends reading about some of the gory details. (Especially when some of them involve them, lol.)
In the very unlikely event that I did hit the big time, I think I'd have to try to be even more circumspect than I already am about writing about personal things and people I know, maybe become a little more generalized vs personalized. Some past posts would probably have to come down, or at least get some of the details edited out.

To continue to the next leg of this book tour, please visit the main list at Write Mind Open Heart.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

No thanks to the Academy


Ever since I was a little girl, the Academy Awards -- Oscar night -- was special at our house -- maybe because, once I got to a certain age, my mother would let me stay up late to watch it with her. My first memories of Oscar night come from the late 1960s, when I was in the early grades at school, & we were living in a small town in northeastern Saskatchewan (where we got just one -- yes, ONE -- TV channel). We went to visit a young couple, friends of my parents, who possessed what was then an object of wonder & envy -- a COLOUR TELEVISION SET -- so that my mother, a huge movie fan (who passed along her love of the movies to me), could watch the Oscars in glorious technicolour.

A year or two later, I think, still based in Saskatchewan, we spent Oscar night at my uncle's farm in southwestern Manitoba, travelling to (or from?) my grandparents in northwestern Minnesota. I have a vague memory of being allowed to stay up long enough to watch a performance of "The Bear Necessities," the Oscar-nominated song (& I think it ultimately won?) from Disney's "The Jungle Book," which we had recently seen at the drive-in theatre.

A year or two after that -- when George C. Scott refused the Oscar for "Patton" -- it was spring break and we were at my grandmother's. We had just been shopping all day in the large town about an hour to the south (still a cross-border shopping mecca), & a friend of my great-uncle's invited us over to watch the Oscars, again on a colour TV (we didn't get one until 1973 -- I think it cost over $600, a small fortune in those days). I'm not sure what thrilled me more, the colour TV, the movie-star glamour, or the pool table in the basement rec room.

About a year later, when I was about 11, again spending time at my grandmother's, I stumbled onto a paperback book at the local drugstore. It was all about the Academy Awards. There were photos from the most recent Oscar ceremonies, where Jane Fonda had won Best Actress for Klute. But then it went through the entire history of the Oscars, with profiles & photos of all the winners and lists of all the nominees. Like many kids of that pre-Internet, pre-reality TV era, I loved lists & stats, and had a well-worn copy of the Guinness Book of World Records. An entire book of lists & stats about movies?? Heaven! I practically memorized the thing. My mother would sometimes throw out a question to try to stump me: e.g., "Who was the best supporting actress of 1943?" And I could tell her. (My memory these days is not quite so sharp -- as we get older, we accumulate more mental clutter...! -- but I could probably still hazard a fairly respectable guess.)

I still have that book, somewhere at my mother's house. It is yellowed & brittle & completely falling apart, held together by a rubber band. I found an updated edition some years later, & have bought many similar books in the years since then. But that one remains special, because it truly introduced me to the magic & myth & memory that is Oscar. There are just two Oscar broadcasts that I have not watched from start to finish over the past 35-40 years or so: the first was in the spring of 1979 (pre-VCRs), when I was in my last year of high school and working part-time at Woolco (which was eventually bought out by Wal-Mart). My shift & the Oscar show overlapped by an hour, & I can remember standing in the aisle of the hardware department, where I worked (!) on tiptoe, straining to see Johnny Carson on the TV sets in the electronics department.

The second was in the late 1980s or early 1990s. My mother was coming to visit (her school spring break visits then often overlapped with the Oscars, & we would watch together), & I got us tickets for the red-hot Toronto production of "Phantom of the Opera" with Colm Wilkinson & Rebecca Caine. To my horror, I eventually realized that the tickets were for Oscar night. Fortunately, VCRs had been invented by then ; ) -- we got home in time to watch the final (most important) categories being presented, & then watched the whole show the next night, eating popcorn and fast-forwarding through the commercials & boring song & interpretive dance numbers. Not a bad way to watch, actually, although lacking some of the "who-will-win" suspense.

I used to watch ALL the awards shows -- not just the Oscars, but the Emmys, the Grammys, the Golden Globes, the Tonys, the Junos, the People's Choice Awards, the American Music Awards... And then, sometime in the last 20 years, I stopped watching most of them. Sometimes I'll tune in for an hour or so, but I rarely watch an entire awards show all the way through these days.

Maybe it's because I was getting older, & didn't recognize half the stars who were nominated anymore. Maybe it's because there just got to be too many damned award shows, & they're all at least three hours long each (and my attention span is not what it used to be)(not to mention my stamina -- most awards shows end at 11 or later, & I have to get up at 5 a.m. for work...!). Maybe it's because, with the advent of multiple channels on cable & satellite, & the huge info-tainment industry, including reality TV and numerous "entertainment" shows like "Entertainment Tonight" & "Inside Edition," and "People" & "Us" magazine & the like -- not to mention the Internet -- we got to see movie stars all the time now -- not just one special night a year, in their tuxes and gowns, but ALL. THE. TIME., in their jeans & sweatshirts & baseball caps -- sometimes in dubious places & situations.

But -- I still watch the Oscars, a big bowl of popcorn at my side a glass of Coke in one hand (the one night of the year, other than when we have company, that I bring pop into the house), and a ballot & pen in the other, marking off the winners as they are announced. There's still that aura of old-fashioned Hollywood glamour, of tradition & history (both Oscar's & mine) that makes it a special night at my house.

*** *** ***

So I'm sorry to say, maybe for the first time ever, that Oscar night this year was, overall, a disappointment for me.

I wouldn't say it was the worst Oscar show I'd ever seen (as famous film critic Roger Ebert apparently did), but it wasn't the best either. There were lots of lovely dresses, none that really made me go "huh??" ; ) Everyone was saying the next day how awful Nicole Kidman's was, but I didn't think it was that bad. I even thought her face didn't look quite as Botox-frozen as it sometimes does. ; )

There were some great moments in some of the acceptance speeches (F-bombs included, lol). But the hosts mostly left me cold. I've always liked Anne Hathaway -- she's cute, I loved most of her dresses, & yes, she can sing. ; ) But although I think James Franco is immensely talented in many ways, he seemed oddly disengaged, & she seemed to be trying too hard to make up for it. Neither they nor the presenters were well served by the dialogue writers. Many of the jokes were simply not funny. It seemed like everyone was insulting each other & pretending to be offended (or maybe they weren't pretending??) (Jude Law & Robert Downey Jr., the strange pairing of Helen "We Are Not Amused" Mirren & Russell Brand, Justin Timberlake & Mila Kunis) -- & the audience seemed unsure what to make of it. You could almost feel the relief in the room when Billy Crystal showed up, even briefly -- & then segued to clips of Bob Hope & Johnny Carson, which made the current hosts seem painfully lacking by contrast.

And while I know they are trying to keep things from dragging out too long, I miss the usual barrage of clips from movies & Oscar ceremonies past. And seeing the honorary awards presented to Hollywood legends. They were often the highlights of the evening. Shunting them off to a separate ceremony & then just bringing them out for a brief bow doesn't quite cut it, in my book. Same with having the same presenter(s) hand out two or even three awards in a row. I like to see lots of different stars on Oscar night. : )

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And of course, the transformation of the Oscars into Momapalooza is probably what rankled most of all about the evening with me (you knew there would be an ALI angle to this eventually, right?). Starting with the red carpet pre-show, which featured interview clips with many of the nominees's moms. Outside the theatre, reporters gushed over Natalie Portman's beautifully showcased baby bump (and it WAS a gorgeous dress, & she DID look lovely in it)... then Penelope Cruz, svelte in her gown just one month post-baby... and Sandra Bullock, waving her ringing cellphone, giggling that it was her son Louis calling her. Then there was Warren Beatty (sadly, he is really showing his age these days... I had posters from "Heaven Can Wait" and "Reds" on my dorm room walls, back when he was still considered a Hollywood sex symbol) -- who, when asked about his wife (Annette Bening)'s nomination for Best Actress, gushed about what a wonderful mother she is to their four children.

Inside & on with the show... where one of the first things our young hosts did was to point out Mom & Grandma in the audience. Then, of course, there were the traditional thank-yous to Mom in the acceptance speeches. I'll admit I loved Best Director winner Tom Hooper's story about how his mom was the one who discovered "The King's Speech," almost by accident, & encouraged him to make it his next project. ("Moral of the story: listen to your mother.")

But by the time we got to the lovely Natalie's acceptance speech near the end of the evening, thanking not only her parents but her boyfriend "for giving me my most important role ever," I had had enough. I often find that, when it comes to enduring all things pregnancy and baby and mommy-related -- at baby showers & family events, at work, on TV, in the movies, online, on the magzine covers -- I can take it & take it & take it -- but then, slowly, gradually, the steady, constant, never-ending drip-drip-drip begins to erode my sense of self and security -- the relentless talk, everywhere, about babies and pregnancy and children and baby bumps, all reminding me of the reverence (well, the lip service, anyway) paid to motherhood in this culture -- and that I am not a part of it, never WILL be part of it -- & then suddenly, I reach the tipping point, & I've had enough, & I just want to go home, or turn off the TV set and go to bed, and sulk for awhile. And vent about it in my blog. ; )

And I know it wasn't just me, noticing the Mom theme of the evening. It was mentioned in several of the articles I read the next day, as well as on ABC World News Tonight and Entertainment Tonight. "It was a night for mothers," notes New York Times's Motherlode blog. In Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams pointedly asked, "Is motherhood Natalie Portman's 'greatest role?'" (Her conclusion: no.) A lot of the commenters (I didn't read them all) told the writer to cut Portman some slack. So (more or less) did K.J. Dell'Antonia from Double X at Slate.

I get the point. She's young, it's her first baby, she's excited, etc. etc. And yes, I'm inclined to give her some slack. As the daughter of an infertility doctor, she realizes how lucky she is -- and had the grace to say so.

But once again, it's all about being a mom, and the baby bump. It's inescapable in our current culture, it seems -- even at that ultimate exercise in escapism (that's SUPPOSED to be all about the movies), the Oscars. :(