Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer reading: "The Girls from Ames" by Jeffrey Zaslow

I hadn't heard of The Girls From Ames until I saw it on the bookshelf one day, prior to my vacation -- but there were several reasons why I snapped it up right away.

First, I love biographies and true-life stories -- especially ones that span years & generations and tell me something about the time and place in which the people lived. This is "A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship." The author, Jeffrey Zaslow (who interrupted his work on this book to help Randy Pausch with "The Last Lecture") calls it "the biography of a friendship" among 11 girls from Ames, Iowa, who grew up together and remain in close touch to this day. Perfect.

Second, I probably could have guessed from the cover photo (those hairstyles! those short-shorts!!), but when I started flipping through the book, I realized the 11 featured "Ames Girls" were all born around 1962-1963 and graduated from high school in 1981. I was born in 1961 and graduated in 1979, so they are more or less my peers. We watched the same TV shows, listened to the same music, wore the same fashions and hair styles growing up.

And finally, they're from Ames, Iowa. I have scads of relatives in Iowa (though none in Ames), and I grew up several hundred miles to the north, in small agricultural communities (even smaller than Ames, but still...) on the Canadian Prairies -- so I knew that not only did we grow up in a similar time frame but also in a similar setting.

The book had its genesis in a column Zaslow wrote for the Wall Street Journal, exploring why women, more than men, hang onto friendships throughout their lives. One of the women who wrote to him was Ames Girl Jenny, who described her lifelong friendship with the other 10 girls from Ames. Zaslow -- who has three teenaged daughters -- was intrigued by the idea of exploring the complete, inside story of a group of longtime friends, from its beginnings to the present day. He contacted Jenny, and the eventual result was this book.

Some members of the group were more open to sharing their stories than others, and while I think just about everyone is featured or quoted at some point in the book, there are four whose life stories are featured more prominently: Marilyn, the conscientious doctor's daughter; Karla, the first of the girls to become a mother; Kelly, the outspoken, free spirit of the group; and Sheila, who died at 22 under mysterious circumstances in 1986.

In some respects, it was easiest for me to identify with Cathy -- the only childless (unmarried) member of the group. "When the Ames girls trade waves of emails about their kids' attention-deficit issues or the monotony of a long marriage, it doesn't resonate for her," the book says.
At the reunion, the others often relate to each other mother to mother. They talk about being their husbands' wives. Sure, Cathy wants to know about their families, but after awhile, she wants more. As she explains it, "When Karen shows up, to me she's Karen, not Katie's mom. I want to know what's going on with her, not necessarily how her family is doing. I know she's a mother and a wife, but I also know who she is as a person besides that."

..."What keeps me going back to them? What is it I don't want to sever? I think it's this: We root each other to the core of who we are, rather than what defines us as adults -- by careers or spouses or kids. There's a young girl in each of us who is still full of life. When we're together, I try to remember that." (pp. 95-96)

Karla is very different from me in her personality and life experiences -- but I could very much relate to the grief she experiences when her teenaged daughter, Christie, dies of leukemia.

The Ames Girl I probably identifed with most was Marilyn. In the "cheat sheet" at the front of the book, which includes "then & now" photos & a two-line sketch about each girl (which was invaluable, because with 11 of them, it was hard to keep straight who's who at times), Marilyn is described as "earnest, risk-averse, a bit of an outsider in the group." I'm not a doctor's daughter, nor a stay-at-home mom, but I recognized myself in those three descriptors. The chapter about Marilyn begins with her in her role as unofficial photographer at the latest group reunion -- a role that allows her to be part of the group & yet apart from it, observing -- a role I often find myself in at family gatherings. Marilyn has an active conscience and a strong sense of guilt (sometimes to the point of being ridiculous) that kept her from taking part in some of the girls' wilder teenaged shenanigans. (Yup, me too. I always hesitated, because I knew that *I* would be the one to get caught!! while everyone else got off scot-free!)

The book follows the girls through high school, college, marriages, divorces, funerals and 21 children. Grief and loss plays a huge role in the book. Marilyn's parents went through fertility treatments to conceive her after the death of their son; the girls gather to comfort Karla after Christie's death (there's an image of the 10 of them, huddled together on Karla's king-size bed after Christie's funeral, that had me bawling). There are pregnancy losses, and the deaths of parents. Two of the girls have been battling breast cancer.

And of course there is Sheila. Near the end of the book, the girls reconnect with Sheila's family and learn more about her untimely and mysterious death. Portions of the book's profits are being used by the girls to establish a Sheila Walsh Scholarship at Ames High School, to be awarded annually to an Ames High senior girl nominated by her friends. One key qualification is that she be a good friend to others at Ames High — just like Sheila was.

More than the biography of just one group of friends, "The Girls From Ames" delves into questions of friendship that all of us can relate to -- how we stay connected, how we forgive each other. Zaslow even presents academic research on various aspects of friendship and its lasting value.

As I read this book, I found myself thinking of my own dear friends from childhood (another 40-year friendship!) that I've stayed in touch with (although, sadly, not quite as well as the Ames Girls have). It made me want to pick up the phone & call them. And send them a copy of this book.

I'd like to nominate this one for a future Barren B*tches Book Tour selection.

Check out the book's website. There you'll find updates on the girls, reviews, and a fun video montage of photos, set to the Bob Dylan song "If Not For You" -- but sung by Rod Stewart (and if you've read the book, you will immediately think, "of course!" lol).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer reading: My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

I had never read a novel by Jodi Picoult, but I kept seeing her books prominently displayed on bookstore shelves and seeing people (women) reading them on the commuter train. And then My Sister's Keeper (the movie) came out, with Cameron Diaz as the mother, Alec Baldwin as the lawyer, and Abigail Breslin as the daughter, and I decided I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie (assuming that I could ever drag dh to see what was so obviously yet another a chick flick, lol)(so far, I haven't seen it). So I brought it with me on my recent vacation.

It was an absorbing read. Definitely geared to a female audience, but not so frivolous that it could be labelled "chick lit."

My Sister's Keeper is the story of a family whose life revolves around the oldest daughter, Kate, who has been battling leukemia since she was a child. Kate has managed to reach the teenage years, with the help of her younger sister, Anna (now 13), who was conceived using IVF and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, specifically so that she could be a bone marrow donor for Kate. Over the years, Anna has endured several painful procedures to benefit her sister. Now, Kate needs a kidney transplant -- and guess who is being tapped (yet again) as the donor? This time, however, Anna has other plans for her life.

I've heard news stories in the past, about babies who were conceived as donors for sick siblings. I knew it was an ethically contentious topic, but I never really stopped to consider all the different aspects of such a situation, and how it would play out through the years as the children grew up. How does the donor child feel about all this, and their role in the family? How do families of terminally ill children cope? How does one child's illness affect the family dynamics, & the other children in the family?

Speaking of other children in the family -- I think my favourite character in the book wound up being Jesse, Anna & Kate's juvenile delinquent of an older brother. The ending of the book is full of twists, and I had to laugh when I read about Jesse's fate. In retrospect, it seemed so obvious, but I honestly didn't see it coming. (By the way, I've heard the ending of movie is quite different from the book's. Caveat emptor.)

Many of the reader reviews I've seen express an intense dislike for the character of the mother, Sara, who tenaciously clings to the goal of keeping her older daughter alive, any way she can -- even at the expense of her younger daughter's happiness. But what would you or I do in the same situation? How can you not hope for a miracle? How do you know when to say "enough is enough"? What's the difference between admitting defeat and accepting the reality of an impossible situation? To what extent should parents be allowed to make decisions for their child, and to what extent should the child's wishes and opinions be taken into consideration?

Dare I say -- Sara reminded me of so many women I know, in real life and online, who tenaciously cling to their goal of becoming a mother... someday, somehow, some way. How do you decide when enough is enough? When do you stop hoping for a miracle? What is it that makes drive some people to try IVF four, six, nine times, and others (like me) to throw in the towel before even trying it once?

This would be a good future pick for the Barren B*tches Book Tour. As you can see, there's plenty of scope for discussion here!! And I will probably pick up another one of Picoult's novels in the future.

Celine will go on (& on... & on...)

Annacyclopedia was the first to tip me off to the latest big celebrity pregnancy news, last Tuesday night: Celine Dion is pregnant again. The next morning, there was an article in the newspaper (cleverly titled, "Celine Dion's genes will go on")(interestingly, strategically placed right next to the article I blogged about earlier on the need for coverage of infertility treatments). Apparently, she found out last Monday & told the world the very next day. The baby is due in May.

I have mixed feelings on the whole thing. First of all, even though I may have my Canadian citizenship revoked for saying so (or at least find it hard to get service when I'm visiting Quebec), I've never much cared for Celine Dion as a singer. She has a great set of pipes, no doubt about it, but I find her style just a little too overwrought. I find her willingness to babble about every personal aspect of her life both funny and irritating. And this, of course, is the most personal subject of all. Nothing like telling everyone right off the bat -- talk about supreme confidence!!

What I found most irritating for awhile, of course, was that she was able to get pregnant & I could not. She announced her first pregnancy in 2000, while I was mired deep in the muck of infertility treatment. As I commented on Anna's blog, I vividly remember lining up at the clinic early in the morning for our ultrasounds (it was like an assembly line) & hearing one of her songs on the radio they were piping through the office, while reading about her pregnancy in the morning newspaper. “I’ll bet SHE never had to stand in line at 7 a.m. with her butt hanging out of a hospital gown, " I said to the girl in line next to me.

And of course, not long after she finally had the baby in January 2001, she shouted her joy to the world -- including in a song ("A New Day"), which the radio played ad nauseum, while I was licking my wounds & trying to revise my life plans to NOT include children. Thanks, Celine...

At the same time, though, I can understand why she would want to tell everyone right away. Beyond her natural tendency to blab about her personal life, I suppose she & her husband figured the press would find out eventually, so why not beat them to it & make the announcement on their own terms?

And, of course, it's refreshing to hear about a celebrity who used IVF and isn't afraid to talk about it.

Bon chance, Celine.

NYT article: "For Parents on NICU, Trauma May Last"

Interesting article in today's New York Times about the lasting trauma faced by parents whose babies spend time in the NICU. The study cited is a relatively small sample... most of the parents I know whose children spent time in the NICU never took them home :( ... and I never had a NICU experience. But I recognize parts of myself and my own experience here, and it all rings true to me.

I found this part interesting, because it reflects what we see generally among our pregnancy loss support group clients (dad stays strong for mom at first, & then goes through his own tough times further down the road):
The Stanford study found that although none of the fathers experienced acute stress symptoms while their child was in the NICU, they actually had higher rates of post-traumatic stress than the mothers when they were followed up later. “At four months, 33 percent of fathers and 9 percent of mothers had P.T.S.D.,” Dr. Shaw said.

It may be that cultural roles compel the men to keep a brave front during the trauma to support their partners, Dr. Shaw said, adding, “But three months later, when the mothers have recovered, that’s when the fathers are allowed to fall apart.”

And this sure sounds familiar too:
One of the biggest problems for these parents is coping after they finally leave the NICU.

“It may be several months later when they’re ready to process what they experienced, but at that point, family and friends don’t want to talk about it anymore,” Dr. Holditch-Davis said.

Ms. Schrader, in Philadelphia, felt a similar isolation in dealing with her surviving daughter’s health problems. “We got the sense that people just didn’t want to hear about it anymore,” she said.

Read the rest here. And check out the comments (or add your own) on the Well blog.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Post #300: You know you're getting old(er) when...

…not only do you have pregnancy announcements to deal with from the people you work with, are friends with and are related to, but you also start getting announcements from THEIR kids. :p

We spent yesterday afternoon at a gathering for one side of dh's family. As we were driving there, I kept thinking, "[Dh's cousin's daughter, age 24, married two years ago] is going to announce she's pregnant today." When we saw her there, I had a momentary, "Nah, maybe not," because she is so friggin' skinny & her stomach was pancake flat. (Ah, to be 24 again…!)

But my first instincts were right. Although, actually, it was not she but her mother (dh's cousin, who is not quite two years YOUNGER than me) who broke the news, gleefully announcing to the gathering, "I'm going to be a grandma!" The daughter is just 10 weeks along. So I guess I will be attending a baby shower sometime early next year. Yay me.

(This is actually the second of our cousins who will be a grandparent. My own cousin, who is not quite four years younger than me, is already a grandfather twice over -- but I don't get to see them that often.)

Our hostess wasn't sitting with us at that point -- but a little while later, we heard a shriek, & she was laughing & saying (oh, just take a guess…!) -- yep, SHE's pregnant too! With baby #3 (a surprise!!). She only just found out & hadn't been planning to tell anyone yet, but her three-year-old son spilled the beans to one of dh's aunts ("Mommy has a baby growing in her tummy too.").

After 11+ years of dealing with loss & infertility, I'm well beyond locking myself in the bathroom & crying over these things -- I even managed to smile & congratulate the expectant moms (& grandma) -- but I can't say I was thrilled either, if you know what I mean. Just a sort of numbed resignation, frozen smile on my face, & how much longer before we can go home?? sort of feeling. One announcement, I can cope with pretty well, but two or more on the same day kind of take the wind out of my sails (see the story of my Worst. Christmas Party. Ever.)

I told dh later that I'd had a feeling about the cousin's daughter, even before we got there, & he said, "Really? How would you know that?" Duh...!!

This coming weekend, we're getting together with the other side of dh's family. I don't have any reason to suspect any pregnancy announcements there -- most of dh's cousins are in their 40s and pretty much done with babymaking, & most of the next generation are still too young -- but I've learned never to say never….

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Article: "Octomom: Robbling motherhood of its moral authority"

John Doyle, the Globe & Mail's television critic, can be quite cantankerous at times. But I found myself nodding in agreement at his rant in Wednesday's paper about Octomom and pronatalism run amok. The last two paragraphs in particular. 

Did anyone watch the show? 

*** *** ***

No job and 14 mouths to feed, but in our culture, still a star 
John Doyle 
Last updated on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009 04:02PM EDT 

Today, I have no idea where to begin. It's not that I'm speechless. Far from it. It's more a boggled-mind thing. For a start, I'm reminded that when I was a young fella in the Ireland of long ago – okay, the 1970s – and became a devoted newspaper reader, I was particularly fascinated by the letters to the editor page. There, I'd often find that a woman's letter of outrage about some development or other was followed by the writer's name, and then, “Mother of 12.” 

It was a time and place when being a mother of 12 gave the writer and her opinion greater weight and authority. That was then. This is now. 

That kind of identification no longer appears in Irish newspapers. The idea is considered primitive and absurd. However, it turns out that the mother-of-12 phenomenon has followed me here, with a vengeance. 

So let's start with this: The so-called “Octomom” is ready for her close-up. 

Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage (Fox, 8 p.m.) is the, ah, highly anticipated special that offers “never-before-seen footage” of Nadya Suleman, who made headlines in January of this year when she gave birth to octuplets, conceived through in vitro fertilization. Then it emerged that she was already a mother of six. For tonight's special, Fox makes the claim that “much about Suleman has been shrouded in secrecy and subject to speculation.” And, “Through this never-before-seen footage, viewers will be able to witness the emotional struggles, physical complications and financial burdens of this single mother of 14.” 

Oh, give me a break. Suleman did not merely “make headlines,” she became a celebrity, and that was the point for her. 

The advance word on tonight's special, which has been judiciously leaked by Fox, is that Octomom expresses regret. “I screwed myself, I screwed up my life, I screwed up my kids' lives … What was I thinking?” Suleman says in a clip from the program. We are also treated to footage of Suleman sitting on her bed with the eight complaining babies, as she seems dismayed about the chore of feeding them. 

This will probably have little impact where it matters – in the minds of young women who blithely have children in the most dire economic circumstances. Back when Suleman emerged into the media, it was revealed that she was an unemployed single mother living on food stamps. There was some tut-tutting by columnists and pundits. I suspect that, too, had zero impact where it matters. 

What mattered to many young women watching in the United States is that Suleman was a star, the focus of constant attention and, yes, she was going to get her very own TV special. No job, living on welfare, living with her parents, but a star! 

Call me peculiar, and allow me to rant here, please, but I'm appalled by the adoring attention given to those celebrities who embark on increasing their ever-expanding broods. As I write this, I'm led to believe that Canada is swooning over the news that Celine Dion is knocked up again. At least she's only had one child already. 

Simultaneously, there are photos everywhere of Madonna on holiday with her boyfriend, her daughter Lourdes and two adopted children. I've no idea how many children Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have accumulated by now, but my impression is that it's about a baker's dozen. 

From the cringe-inducing freak show that is Jon & Kate Plus 8 to the movie Knocked Up and dozens of others with their own twists on celebrating the joys of parenting, the popular culture has gone too far in beating the drum for the mindless make-babies craze. The attention paid to celebrities having babies and the celebration – in film and on TV – of people having babies who are unequipped to do so, is disturbing and detrimental. 

It's detrimental because the attention validates the decisions to have children made by young women who are not stable enough, economically or psychologically, to raise them. Suleman has denied the widespread belief that she had plastic surgery to better resemble Jolie. However, it has emerged that Suleman worked as a stripper and her stage name was “Angelina.” Go figure. This is one narcissistic woman with a deep need for attention. And she's got it.

Show & Tell: Katie's Dresses

At last week's S&T session, Luna posted on S&T about the "amazing blanket" her sister-in-law made for her new baby. (If you haven't seen it yet, go have a peek. It's gorgeous!)

This reminded me of something special that I could Show & Tell.

To begin at the beginning:

During my roller-coaster pregnancy 11 years ago, dh & I didn't buy very many things for our baby. It seemed like such a tentative pregnacy for so long -- spotting almost from the very beginning, all through the first trimester, a suspicious triple screen test followed by a less than stellar ultrasound that showed (among other things) that our baby wa significantly smaller and growing much more slowly than she should be -- followed by amniocentisis, a three & a half week wait for the results (and four more ultrasounds while we waited).

During this time, dh would often pass by a children's clothing store in the concourse of an office tower close to where we work, en route to buying himself some lunch. There was an adorable little dress in the window & he often thought about buying it for our baby. Even after Katie was stillborn, he would pass by the window, look at the little dress, and think about buying it.

He didn't. He couldn't. Buy a dress for a dead baby? (Especially when you're a guy, buying a baby's dress -- what sort of questions would he be fielding at the cash register.) What would people think if they found out?

Of course, the little dress eventually disappeared from the window -- and dh has never stopped regretting that he didn't go in & buy it. He has often told that story to the members of our support group, with the added moral to trust their instincts -- if there's something they really want to buy or do to remember their babies, do it, and to heck with what everyone else might think.

One of our (now former) clients -- who has since become a good friend -- is an amazingly talented quilter, and has given beautiful quilts to some of her fellow client/friends who have had subsequent babies. At a meeting that took place around the one-year anniversary of her loss, several years ago now, she quietly handed me a soft little parcel. We never want clients to feel that they need to give us gifts, so I slipped it into my bag to open at home later.

THIS is what she had made for us:

It's not a full-sized quilt, but a square, about 12"x12" (about the size of a scrapbook page -- and yes, she scrapbooks too!). You probably can't see, but in each of the four yellow corner squares (and one yellow centre square), there is a heart stitched.

On the back, she has printed:

Katie's Dresses
For Sam and Lori (lastname)
in memory of Kathleen Maria (lastname)
with heartfelt thanks from
(her name)

Here are some closeups of each of the smaller squares/dresses. I can't get over the detail that went into each one!

A little pink dress with a ladybug.

A sporty dress, accessorized with baseball & bat.

A little plaid dress for school, complete with wee pencils.

And a red dress for Christmas, of course.

This now hangs on the wall as you walk into our bedroom.

To see what others are showing & telling, visit this week's Show & Tell post at Stirrup Queens.

News article: "Funding fertility"

Article in today's Globe & Mail about the fight to fund infertility treatments in Canada, particularly in Ontario & Quebec.

Do yourself a favour, & skip the comments...!

*** *** ***
Funding fertility: the fight to have treatments covered

OHIP would not fund fertility treatments for Ana Ilha and Amir Attaran.

Blair Gable for The Globe and Mail

Suit argues that OHIP's policy is discriminatory, since it covers in vitro fertilization only in limited circumstances


From Wednesday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009 04:08AM EDT

Six months ago, Ana Ilha knew her biological clock was ticking. She just didn't know it was ticking so fast.

But when the Ontario Health Insurance Plan would not cover fertility treatments because of the source of her problems - at 37, her eggs were running out abnormally fast, a condition called a low ovarian reserve - she decided to take action.

She and her husband, University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran, filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on Monday. They argue OHIP's policy is discriminatory, since it covers in vitro fertilization only in limited circumstances.

"It's a medical condition like any other," Ms. Ilha said. "Couples like us should not have to suffer financially in addition to suffering emotionally."

Their case is part of a debate in Canada's two largest provinces, and it could soon spread across the country.

In Quebec, high-profile TV personality Julie Snyder, the wife of Quebecor CEO Pierre-Karl Péladeau, urged the province to cover IVF treatments. She made a documentary about infertility and put pressure on politicians.

In April, Premier Jean Charest's government announced that it will fund three IVF cycles for couples, making Quebec the only province to do so.

Seang Lin Tan, a fertility expert at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, said one in eight Canadian couples struggles with infertility.

"What's frustrating, is that people who would be good candidates are routinely told they have to dig into their pockets," Prof. Attaran said. "I'm fortunate, law professors get paid decently. But that's not true for everyone."

After a year of trying to conceive, the couple paid $6,300 for one IVF treatment at an Ottawa fertility clinic. A further $6,500 in drugs was covered by private insurance.

A spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister David Caplan said he would not comment on the case.

OHIP paid for IVF in the past, but in a cost-cutting measure in 1994, Ontario withdrew funding except for women whose fallopian tubes are blocked. That applies to about 25 per cent of infertile patients, said Jeff Nisker, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and oncology at the University of Western Ontario.

"Canadians should not be denied having children for the sin of being socio-economically disadvantaged," Dr. Nisker said. "Almost all other developed countries have funded fertility treatments. It's embarrassing."

Limiting publicly financed procedures by implanting only one embryo at a time would save money, he said. People who pay out of pocket are more likely to take fertility drugs, or have two or three embryos implanted at a time. The resulting multiple pregnancies are more likely to produce expensive premature births and complications.

The fight for IVF coverage has been waged, and won, before. In 2006, Warrant Officer Terry Buffett told the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that the Canadian Forces discriminated against him by refusing to finance IVF treatments for his wife. The couple's infertility was a result of medical issues on WO Buffett's part. The tribunal ordered the Forces to pay $7,500 in compensation, and to amend the coverage policy.

But there are other precedents. In 1998, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled that since IVF is not a medically necessary procedure, it should not be publicly funded.

Ms. Snyder acknowledges that her celebrity in Quebec helped her cause.

Ms. Ilha said she hopes her efforts will yield results as well.

"This is about the public interest," she said. She and her husband have asked for $16,300 in damages. "But if the government decides that it is going to change its policy, I'm happy to drop it."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer reading & movie: "The Time Traveler's Wife"

"The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger has been in my "to read" pile for some time now, & I wanted to read it before the movie came out last weekend, so I took it on vacation with me & devoured it in about two days flat. The book encompasses many of my favourite themes -- romance, time travel, infertility/loss. In fact, it was a previous Barren B*tches Book Tour selection -- unfortunately, before I started blogging.

I loved this book. I LOVE a good time travel story. I loved the idea of a love that endures, despite all sorts of obstacles. I love the "he said/she said" structure, although all the jumping around in time took some getting used to.

I love the way infertility & loss were addressed in the book -- how Claire sees babies everywhere, how Henry tries but just can't summon up the same level of determination to pursue this goal at all costs (so true to form in my own experience, not to mention so many other couples I know). I felt badly for Claire when Henry makes a unilateral decision to have a vasectomy. When she still wound up pregnant, despite the odds, I had two reactions: glee, and eye-rolling ("well, of course..."). And while I've never had a subsequent pregnancy (or multiple losses), the tentative way the couple approached each new subsequent pregnancy rang true.

Beyond the infertility & loss aspect of the book, I could relate very well to the whole idea of waiting, the idea of making the most of the time you have with the people you love while they're with you.

That's because dh & I carried on a long-distance romance for three of the four years we knew each other before we got married. We met at the University of Manitoba in the fall of 1981, when I was in my third year of a four-year honours arts program. Having completed a science degree at university closer to home, he came to my school to begin a pre-master's degree in immunlogy. That year, though, he got the idea to do his MBA instead. He took his GMAT & began applying to several schools -- he had to return home in the summer of 1982 -- but of course, he'd be coming back to Manitoba, where I was!

Unfortunately, he didn't get accepted at our school. It was either Dalhousie, in Nova Scotia on the east coast-- about as far away from me as he could go in Canada -- or Windsor, across the river from Detroit, which was slightly closer to home for him. He chose Windsor, and thus began our long-distance romance, while I spent the next year (1982-83) finishing off my degree in Manitoba.

That spring, I applied to journalism programs at several schools, & got into the University of Western Ontario in London (Ontario). So from May 1983 to April 1984, we were just a two-hour train ride apart -- heavenly!! We spent most weekends together, sometimes travelling another two hours in the other direction to visit his family in Toronto. By then, we knew we were going to get married, but the logistics of it all took some figuring out. Neither of us was rebel enough to buck our families' conventions & move in together (especially with no money, no jobs...), so at the end of the school year, I returned to my family in Manitoba & he to his in Toronto. We both found jobs and began working, saving our money and planning our wedding for July 1985.

In some ways, it seems like just yesterday, but in other respects, it was a different world then. Neither of us had money -- & what we did have we were saving for the wedding -- so aside from my year in Ontario (when I spent a small fortune on train tickets), our visits were far & few between. Long distance was more expensive then (& there were no cellphones), so we limited our calls to once, maybe twice a week. (One month, my bill was well over $100 -- a small fortune to me at that time. I didn't want to ask my parents for more money, and I was working a couple of nights a week as a waitress, so I hustled for tips like crazy to get enough money to pay it off.) There was no Internet, no e-mail, no instant messaging. In between phone calls, we wrote letters -- handwrote, on paper -- & sent them by snail mail.

I guess we learned patience -- and just how strong our relationship really was -- which stood us in good stead some 10 years later, when we began ttc.

*** *** ***

Dh & I went to see "The Time Traveler's Wife" The Movie on Sunday afternoon. It was beautifully filmed (on location in & around Toronto) and both Rachel McAdam & Eric Bana are gorgeous to look at. (And yes, true to the book, Henry leaves his clothes behind when he time travels.)

I cried in all the places you might expect -- Claire's miscarriages, Alba's birth, New Year's Eve. And I cried when Henry meets a 10-year-old Alba at the zoo, especially when she hugs him & says, "I love you, Daddy." (When she told him she's 10, dh murmured, "Of COURSE you're 10!" -- Katie would be 10 right now.)

And I cried at the very end, even thought it's different from the way the book ended. It was a reminder that love never dies, and the people we love stay with us always, even when we can't see them anymore (but it didn't pack quite as powerful a punch as the final scene of the book, I thought)(which also had me bawling). Overall, I haven't cried that much at a movie in a long time.

And yet -- I didn't walk out of the theatre feeling I had just seen a really great movie. It was good, but it didn't knock my socks off. Also, unlike the book, they don't indicate what the dates & ages are in each scene, so it's a little harder to follow what's happening. Dh (who has not read the book) was clearly lost in a few places & I had to explain to him what was happening.

Oh well, it was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon (especially since it's sweltering hot & humid outside again). Having attended two chick flicks of my choice in a row ("Julie & Julia" & this one), though, dh says he's picking the next one, lol.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Motherlode: "When a Full-Term Pregnancy Ends Tragically"

Last Thursday (yes, I'm behind...!), the New York Times' Motherlode blog featured a post called "When a Full-Term Pregnancy Ends Tragically." A reader asked for advice on what to do following the stillbirth of her son's classmate's sibling. To date, almost 60 people have responded.

"We get particularly tongue-tied when a pregnancy goes wrong, because there are no road maps, no rituals, no familiar words," writes Lisa Belkin.

Scrapbooking your grief

Some of you know that -- odd as it may seem for a woman without children -- one of my favourite pasttimes & creative outlets (besides this blog, lol) is scrapbooking.

I've made scrapbooks for my parents' neighbours' daughter, my nephews, and I recently started an anniversary scrapbook for dh & me that I hope (hope!) will be finished by or around our 25th wedding anniversary next year.

I've always intended to someday (someday) make a scrapbook for Katie and chronicle our loss journey since then. I have a Rubbermaid box full of Classic Pooh papers, punches & stamps (some of them sent to me by my dear cyberfriend Julia S, some years ago) and a Classic Pooh s scrapbook album, as well as lots of butterfly-themed embellishments. But I haven't. Yet.

I just learned about a new blog that may be a good prod for me in that direction. It's focused on healing grief & loss (of all kinds) through scrapbooking.

Any other lossmama scrapbookers out there? Check it out!

People are idiots

I have come to the conclusion that people do not know how to behave in public anymore. Dh & I were at the cemetery yesterday afternoon to visit our daughter’s niche — the CEMETERY!! — & there was a young guy nearby, not only talking on his cellphone, but having a very LOUD argument with his ex-girlfriend.

I mean, if you absolutely MUST carry on a telephone conversation in a cemetery (??), could you at least walk away when you see other people are visiting a grave nearby? Or go sit in your car to talk? Or talk more quietly? Or something??

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Barren B*tches Book Tour: "Moose" by Stephanie Klein

Gather round the campfire, everyone (& let's sing a round of Kumbaya while we're at it for Melissa, lol). It's time for another meeting of the Barren B*tches Book Brigade, the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community's virtual book club, organized by Melissa at Stirrup Queens. Participants read the same book and each submit a question to Melissa, who compiles & circulates a list of all the questions. We then answer at least three of them in our blog, and post at or around the same time on the same day. Melissa maintains the master list of participants on her blog.

I asked everyone to gather round the campfire because our selection this time is Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein, who blogs at Stephanie Klein's Greek Tragedy. The very thought of reading a book about summer camp while on my summer vacation seemed perfect, and while I must confess I never went to camp (let alone fat camp), I enjoyed this book a lot. I could practically smell the damp towels & bathing suits hanging up to dry and feel grains of sand between my toes as I read.

I always wanted to go to camp... but somehow it never materialized. Cost was probably a factor for my parents (and of course, if they sent me, they'd have to send my sister too), and we often spent several weeks during the summer at my grandmother's in Minnesota. Plus, where I grew up on the Canadian Prairies, very few people I knew went away to camp, let alone for the whole summer. Those who did go usually went to a camp sponsored by their church, or the 4-H Club, and rarely for more than week. When they got home, they'd tell us about all the cool kids they met (especially the boys) & teach us all the new campfire songs they'd learned.

Nevertheless, I got my camp fix through books (I particularly remember "Donna Parker: Mystery at Arawak") & movies -- like "Meatballs," "Little Darlings," and, most of all, the original version of "The Parent Trap" with Hayley Mills playing twins, separated as babies by their divorcing parents (Brian Keith & Maureen O'Hara), who meet by accident at summer camp and hatch a plot to switch places and then reunite their parents. I have seen that movie umpteen times -- first at the Saturday matinee when I was a kid in the late 1960s, and many times since then on TV & video. And I never get tired of it. (The remake, with a young Lindsay Lohan in the role of twins, and Dennis Quaid & the late Natasha Richardson as the parents, came out the same summer (1998) that I lost Katie. I went to see it with my mother, post-stillbirth, and while it was a pleasant diversion, I still prefer the original.)

Enough about my own camp experiences (or lack thereof). On to some of the questions.

What from your childhood led to a positive body image? And what, if anything, caused you to struggle with your own body image?

Weight was never an issue for me when I was growing up -- although I know I would have told you differently back then. No special pressures, just the normal pressures to be thin that any teenaged girl feels -- although I think the pressures have gotten far, far worse in recent years than they were when I was growing up in the 1970s. I haven't read my old diaries in years, but I well remember writing agonized comments to the effect of, "I am now 108 pounds!!! EEEEKKKK!!! I MUST LOSE SOME WEIGHT!!!" I look at pictures of myself now (or at the tiny pair of patched up cutoff denim shorts I wore in high school that still occupy the bottom drawer of the my old dresser at my parents) & I want to weep. I want to shake that girl by the shoulders & say, "Idiot, don't you realize how many girls would kill to have your body??" (Including your older self??)

(My younger sister was always the chubby one when we were children. Around the time we went into junior high, she suddenly grew taller and slimmed down, & has stayed thin ever since then. Until just a few years ago, she could still wear a pair of jeans she'd had in high school. B*tch.) (lol)

Wearing pretty clothes was an ego boost for me, as was getting to wear makeup, when I got older. Bodywise, my hair was always a source of pride for me (still is, I will admit) -- I have yet to encounter a hairdresser who doesn't comment in amazement over how thick it is.

If anything was an issue for me as a child, appearance-wise, it was my glasses. I had to get them when I was 7 years old, in Grade 2. At first, I thought getting glasses was kind of cool. I even wore sunglasses around the house as "practice" until my new glasses arrived. The novelty very quickly wore off, however. I can remember showing up at my maternal grandmother's house that summer wearing my new glasses, & sitting in the kitchen with my mother & aunts, fighting back tears while, outside, my cousins gathered at the screen door, giggling and pointing at me (led by the boy cousin closest in age to me, whose main pleasure in life always seemed to be teasing me).

(Funny, but for all that he tormented me while we were growing up, I'm very fond of my cousin. Of all my cousins on that side of my family, he's the one I wish I could see more often. He has three kids now, and both he & his mom have often said how much his oldest daughter, now a teenager, reminds them of me at the same age -- quiet, moody, a complete bookworm. I consider it poetic justice/karmic revenge against him, lol.)

I wore glasses for 10 years until I was 17, the summer before I went into Grade 12, and my optometrist (and my parents) finally yielded to my pleadings & let me get contact lenses (I still needed a pair of glasses as backup, though). I wrote a bit about my history with contacts, and what they did for me, here. Reading about Stephanie's first day back at school from fat camp reminded me a little of my first day of Grade 12 in September 1978, wearing my contacts and the "Annie Hall" style outfit I'd acquired with the money I'd earned working that summer -- an ankle-length pleated skirt, a grey flannel blazer over a white pinstriped blouse, salmon-coloured sweater vest and black skinny men's tie. And high-heeled, high-top boots. I didn't get quite the reaction Stephanie did, but I knew people were looking at me, and that I looked good. It gave me confidence.

*** *** ***

But somewhere after high school, as I went to university, got married and began to work, the pounds gradually began to creep on. For many people, seeing a picture of themselves is the wake-up call they need. For me, that picture was taken on my 30th birthday. I realized, looking at it, that there was nothing I could do about turning 30, but I could do something about how I looked. I promptly enrolled in the next session of Weight Watchers at Work held in my office building. That was February 1991, and by October, I had reached my goal weight (and even lost a few more pounds after that). At my lowest point, I was down 35 pounds from the previous winter. Yay me!!

I continued to attend the meetings for quite awhile afterward, as a Lifetime Member. At some point, though, I stopped tracking my food intake and stopped attending meetings. I started getting careless. The pounds began to creep on again. By the time I got pregnant in 1998, I was 15-20 pounds above goal weight; when I got pregnant, I gained another 15-20. After my daughter was stillborn, the weight never came off, it just sort of eventually rearranged itself. ; ) And I added a few more pounds on top of that. I tried going back to Weight Watchers a year or so after my pregnancy, while we were going through infertility treatments, but my heart just wasn't in it.

January 2007, I decided to try again. When I stepped on the scale (which is always a good 5 lbs heavier than the one I have at home), I was horrified: I was more than 50 pounds above my goal weight. I've continued to stick with WW (& shell out more & more money), as I think it's the most medically healthy/sensible & realistic plan that's out there. I've lost about 14 lbs since then, and I do look & feel better than I did. But it's been a constant battle -- one step forward, two steps back. It seems like I keep gaining & relosing the same three or four pounds, over and over again.

Losing weight at 30 was one thing, losing it at 48 is quite another. When I lost the weight at 30, I barely exercised at all. I did many the things they tell you to do, like drinking water, using low or non-fat dairy products and salad dressing, etc. And it worked.

These days, I'm still drinking my water & using low-fat products. (I even managed to avoid chocolate for NINE WHOLE WEEKS this spring when I was having problems with food reactions/hot flashes/anxiety/whatever the heck it was.) I don't deprive myself, but I try to eat healthy foods in reasonable quantities & minimize the treats (although I'm not always successful). I'm still not big on exercising, but I've taken yogalates classes, bought a pedometer, and tried conscientiously to walk more.

But it just hasn't had the same impact. I've had to come to the realization that I am never going to be the goal weight I was when I was 30, ever again. The size 8 Gap denim mini-skirt that I fit into for about five minutes back then, and then hung in my closet for the day when I could fit into it again, has long since gone to Goodwill. And that's OK.

But I'd still like to reach the top of my goal range. I think that's a more realistic goal weight for me these days, and still a healthy one. It would mean losing at least 25 more pounds, though, and I know it's much easier said than done. But I'm trying...

How did it make you feel when Stephanie's dad laughed at her being called a 'Moose'? Were you parents/guardians supportive of you during hard times/bullying/weight issues or did they just laugh at you like Stephanie’s father?

I felt badly for Stephanie, reading that. My parents weren't as uber-involved in the minute details of my life as today's "helicopter parents" seem to be. And if anyone got involved, it would most likely be my mother, who handled the minutae of our day to day lives, while my father worked.

But I did have some issues with bullies/mean girls, especially in my middle school years, & I can remember overhearing my mother saying to my father that she might have to have a talk with my chief tormentor's mother. Part of me thought, "No, no!" because I was afraid the bullying would only get worse. But it also felt good to know my mom believed there was a problem & didn't just dismiss my concerns -- and that she'd go to bat for me if she felt I needed the help. My sister & I were generally good students, but there were a few points during our school careers when my mother went to the school to talk to one of our teachers about concerns -- hers, ours or both.

In the author's note that precedes the rest of the book, Stephanie Klein writes: "I always hear that you have to let the past go, have to live in the moment, focus on your now. I'm able to move forward because I keep my past so close." I loved this statement -- not only because I, like Klein, am a packrat (who just finished going through a stack of boxes from my mother's crawl space that hadn't been opened in almost 30 years) -- but also because, so often, those of us in the ALI community are encouraged by well-meaning outsiders to "move on" with our lives. Thoughts? How does this statement apply to your own life, particularly regarding ALI? Do you find yourself wanting to keep your past close, or to let it go?

This was my question, and you can read about my crawl space exploits, here and here. ; ) As you can tell, I quite agree with Stephanie.

With regard to infertility & stillbirth -- as you can also tell, this is true for me in this part of my life as well. It's been 11 years since we lost Katie, 8 years since we made the decision to live childfree. But I still think about infertility & pregnancy loss issues every day, generally, as well as my own situation. I'm still hanging out on message boards for childless-not-by-choice women. I started this blog not quite two years ago. We're still facilitating the support group we attended after Katie's stillbirth, although we will be stepping down at the end of this year.

I wouldn't say that we haven't "moved on," because I think we have both come a long way since those dark days of 1998-2001. But I also think -- I know -- what happened to us changed us both forever. It is part of who we are now. It's impossible, for me, anyway, to completely "let go."

In the first chapter, Klein talks about her reluctance to gain weight during her twin pregnancy as a result of her childhood obesity. How have body image issues affected you during infertility? Pregnancy? Post-pregnancy?

Body image wasn't a problem for me during pregnancy (not that I remember anyway). I was so thrilled to be pregnant, after 2 & 1/2 years of trying to conceive. I took pride in my growing belly, and loved shopping for maternity clothes. I did find it a little disconcerting the day I needed my husband's help to put on a pair of socks, though, lol. ; ) And I did develop acne on my back. When my mother was here after we lost Katie, she used to dab the zits with peroxide for me to help dry them up, & then with vitamin E oil to heal the scars.

I know that many women have postpartum weight issues. I'm sorry. But you have a real live baby to show for it.

Try being postpartum after losing a baby. You're already feeling rotten enough about your body letting you down. You feel like cr@p, and you feel like you LOOK like cr@p. Not to mention that you may still look pregnant. If there's anything worse than being asked if you're pregnant when you're not, it's being asked if you're pregnant when not only are you not, you just lost a baby. And if there's anything worse than THAT, it's being asked if you're pregnant when you're not, you've lost a baby, you desperately want another one and you're finding you can't get pregnant again. (Been there, done that. Unfortunately.)

I've talked about postpartum weight issues with other babyloss mothers, in real life and online, who are also struggling to lose their pregnancy weight. One theory put forward was this: part of the reason it's so difficult for us to lose weight is that, somewhere in our subconscious, we may not really want to. Keeping the weight is a way of keeping our pregnancies, and our precious babies, with us. Letting go of the weight means letting go of our bodies the way they were when we had our babies with us. I dont' think that's the whole answer, but I think there may be a grain of truth in there somewhere.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: It Sucked, And Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong (aka Dooce).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Some more thoughts on my Columbine post

Dave Cullen, the author of "Columbine," was kind enough to stop by & comment on my recent post about his book. (This is the cool sort of thing that would never have happened in a pre-Internet world….) I had found his website when looking for stuff about the book -- hadn't checked it out too thoroughly, but went for a longer visit. There's all kinds of stuff there if you're interested in learning more about the book & his work on it -- including a promotional video trailer for the book. (Did you know that books, like movies, can have trailers?? I didn't.)

I watched the trailer, which is just under three minutes long, and right towards the very end, he observes that, many of the people affected by the Columbine tragedy felt "rushed to closure... and they resented it terribly," and adds, "The most important thing other communities can learn is, don't rush the healing."

I thought, "Touche!!" I thought of my own traumatic loss, & the other bereaved parents I know, in real life & online -- and how anxious everyone around us was/is to reassure themselves that everything is going to be OK. That we are OK. That we've "moved on." (Or, if we haven't, to hustle us along, so they won't have to worry about us anymore.)

Well, everything is not OK. Yes, it's 11 years later, for me, and there are many aspects of my life that are just fine (now), of course -- but it's never, ever going to be "OK" that my daughter was stillborn, or that my husband & I couldn't have the other children we very much wanted. Stillbirth and infertility changed me -- just as any life experience, good or bad, changes you, for better or for worse -- sometimes slowly and almost imperceptably, sometimes like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. Eventually, you learn to live with what happened, and with the new you and the new reality that is your life now.

But it's never OK. And the process of dealing with it never really ends, which is something that I think "outsiders" often fail to grasp. (In her fabulous stillbirth memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination (it seems strange to write of a stillbirth memoir being "fabulous," but it really is…!), which we discussed in a session of the Barren B*tches Book Tour a few months ago, Elizabeth McCracken writes,"Closure is bullshit." As I wrote in my post then, I think it's my favourite line in the entire book.)

But on the other hand, I hate people thinking that I'm NOT OK -- that I am going to turn psycho on them or something, because of what happened to me -- that they have to tiptoe around me when it comes to the subject of our daughter and why we have no other children. I hate feeling pitied. I hate the silence, the fact that my daughter is never mentioned these days. Tash had a mind-blowing post the other day about silence among her family members and the truly ludicrous situation she found herself in as a result.

As I think I've written before, I'm not sure which is worse -- the silence, having people tiptoe around me and treating me like I'm this fragile creature -- or (more common these days, now that 11 years have passed) that they totally forget/ignore what happened and just assume that I'm fine with attending their baby showers & listening ad nauseum to their never-ending stories about pregnancy and toilet training and back to school traumas, or their little digs about how much time/money/flexibility dh & I must have (unspoken: because we don't have kids like them, of course…!). It's a fine balance, and I suspect I'll be going back and forth between the two sides for the rest of my life.

It's funny -- I initially debated whether I should write anything on this blog about the Columbine book, and here I've written two posts about it. At first glance, it wasn't really related to the issues I usually write about here. But the more I thought about it, Columbine was a story of grief & loss too. A different kind of grief & loss than I have experienced, of course -- but I believe there's a common thread that runs through grief experiences that connects the bereaved to one another, and gives us some measure of insight and understanding into other people's pain. (Not everyone feels this connection, perhaps, but I think many of us do.) Wordgirl had a beautiful post this week along these lines, about reading Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones" (another book in my gargantuan "to read" pile -- which I must get to before the movie comes out this December) and "the transferrability of trauma."

Oprah was going to do a show about Columbine on the 10th anniversary of the event this past April, featuring the book. The show was taped but, at the last minute, the producers made the decision not to show it. Ever. On the one hand, it was understandable -- there was already criticism of how the media were handling coverage of the 10-year mark, the whole question of giving publicity to the killers and exploiting people's pain. Emotions were raw. I know from my own experience how things that are OK on other days of the year are harder to deal with on or around "anniversary" dates, particularly the significant ones that end in a 0 or 5.

On the other hand, though, it seemed to me such a typical "head in the sand" reaction to dealing with a painful topic. Of course, the mass murder of children by children isn't easy or pleasant to think about or talk about. Neither are stillborn babies.

But if we're going to learn about why these things happen -- how to prevent these kinds of tragedies in the future, and and better deal with those who are suffering because of them -- whether "these things" are stillbirth, school shootings, planes flying into skyscrapers or whatever else life throws at us (and there will always be something) -- we need to be able to talk about them openly and honestly -- with compassion for what others are going through, and with respect for each other's choices and opinions.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Show & Tell, Part 2: It (also) came from the crawl space...

Second of my two-part Show & Tell this week (Part 1 is just below, here) No, I couldn't make up my mind just what to show you. So I'm showing everything I can think of, lol.

For last week's Show & Tell, I wrote about how we tackled the crawl space below my parents' house -- and some of the "buried treasure" we dug up.

The items I showed you then were sentimental items, ones that got the tears flowing. This week, I wanted to share a couple of "fun" (re) discoveries.

Like these:

When my sister & I were about 6 & 7 years old, living in northern Saskatchewan in the late 1960s, the one thing we wanted for Christmas was a set of walkie-talkies, like the ones we'd seen in the Eatons catalogue. I don't know why they piqued our interest, but they did. Maybe we'd been watching too many episodes of Get Smart (we used to fight over who got to be the glamorous Agent 99 when we acted out the episodes we'd seen), & this was the closest thing we could find to a shoephone. ; )

I remember standing outside the Santa Claus matinee at the little movie theatre that December, after watching a kiddie movie & getting a free bag of hard candy. (Admission: 35 cents. Popcorn: 10 cents.)(Am I sounding like my own grandmother or what?) We couldn't get near the Big Guy himself (& were probably too shy to talk to him anyway), but I vividly remember talking to his assistant, a female elf by the name of Mary Christmas, whom we had seen on the after-school show of the local CBC-TV affiliate (a TV star!!), and telling her this was what we wanted. She said maybe, if we were good. And there they were, underneath the tree on Christmas Day.

We had fun playing with the walkie-talkies for a few years, and then almost forgot about them, until the summer of 1975. We were going on a long-planned road trip all the way out to the west coast -- Vancouver & Victoria, via Edmonton, Jasper & Banff -- with the family that lived across the street. We were travellling in two cars and I had the brillian (if I do say so myself) idea that we should take a walkie-talkie in each car to communicate with each other (this being at least 20 years before any of us owned a cellphone).

And it worked out really well. If we wanted to talk to someone in the car ahead of us, we'd flick our headlights on & off, open the window (although it was probably already open, given that we did not have air-conditioned cars in those days & it was hotter than H-E-double-hockey-sticks driving across the Saskatchewan and Alberta prairie) and raise the antenna. Not a great way to carry on a long conversation, but good enough for a static-y "Let's stop for gas in the next town."

This slightly fuzzy photo shows the microphone from the very first cassette tape recorder we ever owned, circa about 1970. The tape recorder itself is long gone, but we found the microphone in a box with my sister's stuff.

The tape recorder was a source of endless entertainment for my sister & our friends (three sisters) from across the street (the same ones we went with to B.C.). We taped records for each other. In those pre-VCR/PVR/Tivo days, we would set the microphone up in front of the television set and tape our favourite TV shows, like the Partridge Family -- & them listen to them, over & over & over again. (There is one Partridge Family episode -- "Danny & the Mob" -- that I think I can still recite dialogue from.) Or, when we were visiting our American grandparents, and luxuriating in the multitude of TV channels there (i.e., more than the one we got, lol), we'd tape the songs & guests that we liked on American Bandstand. We taped commentary, a la Danny Gallivan on Hockey Night in Canada, while our dads faced off on our friends tabletop hockey game. And we taped shows of our own -- singing along to my girlfriend's guitar music, telling silly jokes, and giggling. Lots & lots of giggling.

Years later, I was visiting one of the girls who had lived across the street, and lo & behold, she produced one of our old show tapes. We listened to our younger selves, absolutely killing ourselves laughing. (She made me a copy -- which I really should transfer to a digital format...) Her young daughter -- who had had a video camera pointed at her all her life -- was quite bemused by it all & wanted to know why she couldn't WATCH us.

And this is me, doing my best Partridge Family imitation. (Truly, I do not always look this dorky -- even cropped -- and I debated about sharing this one, but I decided you needed to see it to understand what I was writing about.)

Long before karaoke machines, or Guitar Hero & Rock Band, my sister and our friends used to put Partridge Family, Archies & Osmonds albums on the record player and sing along, pretending we were the band. We decided that we needed microphones, and (real or even play microphones being either extremely rare &/or expensive in our part of the world at that time) we eventually found the ideal solution. We covered the handles of our skipping ropes with tinfoil & sang into those (they even had cords we could swish back & forth!!).

Believe it or not, I found a skipping rope, tin foil still covering the handle, coiled up inside of a round zippered doll's suitcase -- like the round suitcase Tracy Partridge used to carry in promotional photos.

To see what others are showing & telling this week, hop over here.

Show & Tell, Part 1: Look what followed me home...

This week's Show & Tell comes in two parts. Yes, when I'm on a roll, I'm on a roll. ; ) This is Part 1. Part 2 appears just above this post, here.

My belated thanks to all of you who sent comments & good thoughts for me, dh & Katie on Aug. 5-7. We both really appreciated it.

I kept myself busy all day Friday, cleaning house (so I wouldn't have to do it on Saturday). After having my shower, I spent some quiet time going through Katie's things & re-reading my blog entries from last year that told her story. After dh got home, we ordered in Chinese (as we did when we got home from the hospital, 11 years prior). And then we went to the market, got some pink roses, and headed to the cemetery.

Afterwards, we decided to head to the local megabookstore for a Starbucks treat & a browse.

And I found THIS little guy:

A soft, fuzzy, cuddly Classic Pooh teddy bear. A whole display of them, actually, along with Classic Eeoyores and Classic Piglets, and copies of Pooh story collections (which I have).

Katie's nursery was to have been decorated in Classic Pooh -- we have a quilt, bumper pads, curtain vallance & matching wallpaper border, bought on sale at Sears in late July 1998 -- among the very few baby items that we bought during my rollercoaster pregnancy. And in the years since then, we've added to our Classic Pooh collection.

But of course, times change and baby fashions change, and Classic Pooh has fallen somewhat out of favour.

Needless to say, I simply could not resist. : ) It just seemed like fate that I would find a whole pile of Classic Pooh stuff on Katie's special day.
I wasn't quite sure what I would do with it or where I would put it when we got home. But when I walked into my bedroom, I instantly knew where Pooh should go.

I have two other (Gund) teddy bears sitting on our bed. I bought one for my annual workplace Christmas teddy bear drive some years ago. He was just so cute I couldn't resist buying a second one for myself. A few years later, I couldn't resist buying another, smaller Gund bear.

Dh once asked me if the two teddys were representative of me & him. I never really thought of it that way. I did always think of them as guardians of the house while we were away. ; ) I also didn't think of it until later, but they reminded me of Mr. Bear and Little Bear in Dare Wright's book The Lonely Doll, which I read & loved as a child, but had forgotten about, until I read an article about the author in Vanity Fair several years ago.

Anyway, the twosome is now a threesome. Maybe I AM unconsciously trying to recreate our little family??

This wasn't the first time I found comfort in the bookstore on August 7. On that day in 2004, we spent the day in much the same way, heading to the bookstore after visiting the cemetery. As I wrote in a post on a childless living board I frequent:
"... (a mocha frappucino is a great mood lifter, lol). They always play music in the store, of course, & while I was browsing, they started playing Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which I have always loved & always gives me the chills. It just seemed so appropriate for the day! Then, after that song ended, they started into "Stand by Me." It just kept going: the next song after that was "Lean on Me," & then a great sort of bluesy soul song called "Have a Little Faith in Me" (VanMorrison? Joe Cocker?). And as we left the store, they were playing "I Will Remember You" by Sarah McLauchlin (sp?). I just couldn't believe it -- it was like it was tailor-made listening for me. I got teary & then I started to laugh as I listened. Whoever it was that was responsible for the playlist, thanks!!"
To see what others are showing & telling this week, hop over here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer reading: "Columbine" by Dave Cullen

One of the things I love most about vacation is long stretches of uninterrupted time to read. Books. At home, even when I have several days off in a row (as I did last week), I always have a million and one distractions (and a pile of unread magazines, which are the bane of dh's existence) to keep me occupied -- so my gargantuan "to read" pile of books is often sadly neglected, or at least very slow to diminish.

Happily, I managed to read FIVE (count 'em!) books in the two weeks I spent at my parents' house recently. And each one moved me to tears, at least once. Nearly all of them had some connection to grief and loss themes of some sort.

Every now & then, I like to dive into a good true crime tale. "Columbine" by Dave Cullen is one of the best I've read -- meticulously researched and highly readable. Cullen is a freelance journalist who has written extensively about the 1999 school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado over the past 10 years. He delves into the teenaged killers' psyches, and traces their movements in the months, days and minutes leading up to their rampage, and their suicides. He shatters many of the myths that have sprung up around the tragedy and exposes how the local police knew much more than they let on about the killers prior to the event -- and tried to cover it up.

Grief & loss permeate the Columbine story. The different ways people grieve and how their stories have played out over the past 10 years, the role of the media in amplifying the grief felt -- even the disenfranchised grief of the killers' families -- are all explored here.

The character in the story who touched me (and, I suspect, the author) the most was the principal, Frank DeAngelis. The day after the tragedy, he was asked to speak at a gathering of more than 850 students and parents. He was uncertain of what to say, and feeling horrendously guilty that this had happened in his school. As he rose to take the microphone, the crowd leaped to its feet and began cheering wildly. He staggered, and broke down in sobs. I was in tears just reading about it, about his unwavering devotion to his students, and how the tragedy has affected his life over the past 10 years.

Columbine happened less than a year after my daughter was stillborn. One of my memories of that time was reading an opinion piece in the newspaper, in which the writer scorned the rush to provide students with grief counselling. I believe he suggested that the love & support of friends and family members should be sufficient to carry the bereaved through.

Maybe -- in a perfect world. To me, he was missing the point. It's often BECAUSE family members & friends don't understand what grieving people go through that grief counselling and support groups are so valuable. If it's not apparent immediately after the loss occurs, it often becomes so in the weeks & months that follow, as support dwindles and the bereaved are encouraged to "move on" with their lives.

Coming soon (I hope, lol): some thoughts on three other books I read during my vacation -- The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult and The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow. And, on Aug. 17, another Barren B*tches Book Tour, featuring Moose by blogger Stephanie Klein, which was another of my vacation reads.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Oh, the irony -- Julia CHILD was childless

Dh & I went to see "Julie & Julia" this afternoon. You may have heard about this movie already: it intercuts between the stories of Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep -- did that woman ever find a voice or accent she couldn't do??), learning to cook & writing her famous cookbook while living in France in the 1950s with her diplomat husband, and Julie Powell (played by the adorable Amy Adams), a NYC would-be writer who decided to cook all 500+ recipes in Child's cookbook in 365 days as a 30th birthday project in 2002 -- and blog about it. (I found Powell's current blog online, here.)

The movie has lots to say about food, about writing, about friendships, about marriage, and about blogging. It was fun, as a blogger, to watch Julie & her husband, Eric, setting up her blog, her disappointment when the only comments she gets are from her unsupportive mother, her chagrin when she gets called on the carpet by her boss for her blogging activities, and her excitement when a New York Times article about her blog gets her phone ringing off the hook with calls from reporters and publishers.

The big revelation of the movie for me, though (spoiler alert!), was the fact that Julia Child -- who got married in her late 30s & was in her 40s when the movie takes place -- was childless. There's a moment, relatively early in the movie, where she & her husband are sitting on a park bench in Paris, & she pauses as she watches a mother wheel a stroller past her. It's such a brief moment that I wonder if anyone who hasn't dealt with infertility would notice it. (Dh did, & squeezed my hand.)

And there's a second moment, later on, when she receives a letter from her newly married (also no spring chicken) sister and learns that she's pregnant. She starts crying as she reads the letter to her husband. As he puts his arms around her, she sobs, "I'm really very happy for her." Several people in the audience laughed at that point (?!). I, of course, was in tears.

The loving relationship between Child & her husband Paul (played by Stanley Tucci) is what really makes the movie, I think. I'd read comments in the press before about how unique it is these days to see such a loving, SENSUAL relationship onscreen these days between two middle-aged people. And it's a great thing to witness -- particularly as one half of another 40 & 50-something, childless couple who are likewise devoted to one another. ; ) The theatre wasn't packed, but it was fuller than it usually is for a Saturday matinee, and many of the people were at least as old as dh & I, if not older. I remarked to dh that the last time we we were in such a packed theatre on a Sunday afternoon (even more so, actually) was for "Mamma Mia" (also starring Streep, as well Julie Walters and Christine Baranski), and the time before that, for "Calendar Girls" with Julie Walters and Helen Mirren. There is obviously an audience out there that wants to see movies with good stories about more mature characters, like themselves. (Hello, Hollywood??)

The slightly less idyllically depicted relationship between Julie & Eric is also part of the movie, of course. They don't have children either (yet?), but then of course, they're in their early 30s (give them time...). I keep going back to Julia & Paul, who both lived well into their 90s. Both Julie & Julia tackle their respective projects (Julie her blog, Julia her cooking & eventually her cookbook) as a way to give their lives focus and meaning -- but I keep thinking about how hard it must have been for Child, a childless woman in the 1950s (a time when married women were not expected and certainly not encouraged to work), trailing along after her diplomat husband from post to post, bouncing from French classes to hat-making lessons (!) and boring bridge clubs before finally finding her life's passion.

I picked up "Julie & Julia" the book at the bookstore after the movie, and will probably add Child's "My Life in France" to my reading pile as well.

Anyone else see the movie? Read the book?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Show & Tell: It came from the crawl space...

When my sister & (especially) I moved out of our parents' home, we left a ton of stuff behind.

In the summer of 1980, we were preparing to move out of the house we'd been living in for the past six years. I was home for the summer, working, after my first year at the University of Manitoba, & my sister was graduating from high school. Finding no houses they liked in the new town, my parents decided they would build a house.

My dad went on ahead to start his new job while my mother stayed behind with my sister & me to pack up & get us off to university. In late August, the moving van pulled up & took our things away to storage, & my mom drove my sister & me to our respective university residences, and then proceeded to live with my dad in a motel (with sanity-saving visits to my grandparents and other friends & relatives) for the next three-plus months, moving into the new house just before we arrived home for Christmas vacation.

My parents moved again, in the spring of 1984, just before I finished grad school. And they've been living in the same house ever since then -- 25 years. Their house is a split-level, built in the early 1980s. Beneath the upstairs bedrooms is a family room, bathroom & spare bedroom -- but below the main floor level, there is just a crawl space, about four feet high. That's where they store most of their "stuff" -- including some boxes that have not been opened since our move in 1980.

My mother has been complaining for years that she's getting too old (even though she's only 68) & creaky to be crawling around in the crawl space (although she recently got a small wheeled stool that helps immensely). Not to mention that all that stuff crammed down there, close to the furnace & hot water heater, is an enormous fire hazard (eek).

So, for several days during the past two weeks while I was visiting, my sister & I helped Mom haul dusty, musty boxes up from the basement and into the garage, and started going through them.

Oh. My. God.

I knew I was a packrat... but even I couldn't believe some of the stuff that we dug up. (Did we EVER throw anything out??)

Here's (some of) what it looked like in the garage while we were going through some of the boxes. (Some of the stuff in the background is normal garage clutter and did not come from the basement.) You can see my mom, sitting behind the table & in front of the refrigerator.

My sister kept insisting, "I've already gone through my stuff. That stuff there is all Lori's."

Well ha ha -- much to her surprise and chagrin, the first four boxes we brought up were all her stuff. ; )

But there was definitely stuff there that was mine -- stuff that I knew was there, but also stuff I had totally, completely forgotten about.

Like a stack of cheap, dime store scrapbooks, with bubblegum cards and posters from Tiger Beat and 16 magazines of the Partridge Family & Osmonds & Bay City Rollers scotch-taped inside. The scotch tape, of course, had totally lost any sticking power after 30-40 years, & everything fell out with each page that I turned. (I was a scrapbooker even then -- but obviously not an archivally safe one!)

Like an entire carton full of pristine Tiger Beat and 16 magazines from the 1970s. (I think we must have saved every issue we ever bought.) And another box full of somewhat musty comic books (mostly Archie & the gang) from the late 1960s & early 1970s, some of them priced at a mere 12 cents each (!). (Ditto.) We tossed the teen mags & told my mother she could try to sell the comics at her next garage sale, if she wanted.

Like ALL of the posters that hung on the walls of my university dorm rooms. Including a poster for a dance that Harlequin played at John Taylor Collegiate in Winnipeg in the early 1980s -- signed (personally, to me!) by all the band members! I have never set foot in JTC in my life. I have a hazy memory that someone knew I liked the band (they played at many of our high school and university residence dances before becoming rich & famous... well, about as rich & famous as a band from Winnipeg got in the early 1980s) & got their autographs for me, but I can't for the life of me remember who it was.

I saved that one, as well as the poster from the movie "Reds" (with Warren Beatty & Diane Keaton) which my friend Heather & I went to see on my 21st birthday (January 12, 1982) at the beautiful old (but now sadly abandoned) Metropolitan Theatre, across the street from Eatons department store (sadly gone; now the site of the MTS Centre) in downtown Winnipeg. (We both loved the movie & begged for the posters from the manager after the show.)

And a poster of Bruce Springsteen, which hung in dh's dorm room, the one year he attended U of M. I already knew him, but I was on his floor, visiting some guys I knew one day, poked my head in the open door & said, "Hey, who's the hunk up on your wall?" "That's Bruce Springsteen," he said, patiently (probably thinking, "duhhh..."). And that's when it all began. ; ) He gave the poster to me when he was leaving to head back to Toronto for the summer, & then off to grad school. Next time I go home, I'm bringing back a mailing tube (so that I can put it into my suitcase without crushing it) & I'm going to get a frame for it & put it up in our basement. : )

Like a whole banker's box full of notebooks and projects from my school years (as well as others from university). Before the 1980 move, my mom gave us each a box & told us any school stuff we wanted to keep had to fit inside one of those boxes. So we had already chucked a lot of stuff back then -- but yikes, there was still an awful lot of stuff there. I kept my very first Grade 1 reading workbook (Dick & Jane!!), all of my essays & a few other projects, and all the valentines I could find (yes, I still had all those too) that my grade school crush Kenny B. had given me ; ) -- but chucked everything else.

Needless to say, going through -- and dumping -- so much of my past was hard, and emotional. I always had visions of going through those boxes someday & showing this stuff to my kids.

Not. Gonna. Happen.

(Of course, who's to say they would have been interested anyway, right? They'd have just had to go through it all & dump it when I was gone.)

For some reason, I felt a particular pang looking through the Barbie dolls & clothes (some of them from the early 1960s -- vintage stuff, albeit well used and not in mint condition) that I shared with my sister. "I don't know if I'm ready to part with these yet," I told my mother. "What are you going to do with them?" she said. I left before we made any definitive decisions. I'm hoping she doesn't sell it all anyway.

The most emotional part for me, though, came when I opened one of the first boxes we brought up.

When I was pregnant, I had mentioned to my mother that I'd like to use my christening dress for my own baby's baptism, if I she could find it. (I'd seen it before and knew she'd saved it.) My daughter was stillborn long before we had to start planning a baptism, but I often wondered what had happened to the little white christening dress, and my baby book. At one point, my mom confessed to me that she hadn't seen them in years & was afraid they had gotten lost in the shuffle of one of our moves.

But, going through one of the boxes, my eye caught some labelling on the side. I delved down under a pile of old clothes. And came up with three small boxes. I immediately knew what they were, and ran into the house, in tears, to get my mother.

One box contained my baby book.

One box contained a little red & white sweater that one of my mother's high school girlfriends had knit for me when I was a toddler, with distinctive little buttons, shaped like an owl's face (which I vividly remember wearing).

And one box contained my christening outfit.

My christening dress (early 1960s style -- short and sheer over underslip -- sleeves frayed), & little white slippers with blue ribbon ties (badly yellowed).

Closeup of the little slippers.

A little embroidered bib stored in the same box.

(I wish I had a photo of me as a baby wearing the outfit that I could show you.) (There ARE photos; I just don't have any here in my immediate possession.)

We didn't get the entire crawl space cleared out (if that's even possible). And I know there is more of my stuff in the well-stuffed closet in the upstairs bedroom that was briefly mine (for the nine months, post-grad & pre-wedding, that I lived with my parents). Including the pale blue gown that I bought for my high school graduation at Polo Park in Winnipeg for the princely sum of $65 -- the most expensive dress I had ever owned up to that time -- and only wore that one time. And the hideous long blue gown that I sewed myself as a 4-H project for my Grade 9 junior high graduation (probably the last garment that I ever sewed, come to think of it). And the coral pink dress with the white crossstitch embroidery on the sleeves, neckline and pockets that I had made for a year-end Grade 8 home ec project. (I found the accompanying notes for the dress while going through my old school stuff, and the teacher's marks and comments. I got an A+.) I know my old diaries are all in a box there (eek), & all my Bay City Rollers memorabilia, including a big box of letters from some of the penpals I had back then.

But we did tackle a huge chunk of it, and get rid of a whole lot of paper. There is no curbside recycling in my parents' town, so we had to take everything to the recycling depot uptown. We made at least three trips with the trunk & backseat of my mom's car fully loaded.

Of what we went through, I managed to whittle down what I wanted to keep into one box (which my parents will keep, for now). I'm hoping that someday, they will come out here by car again, or dh & I will make the car trip ourselves, & bring some boxes back with us. It's at least a 30 hour drive, going straight through. But with me not driving and dh not having much experience as a long distance driver, it would take us at least three or four days to drive there. One way. So, because our vacation time is short & precious to us, we have always flown. My mother insists that dh must make that trip someday, so that he can see just how far away he has taken me!

I have one or two other (fun) items that I photographed that I hope to share with you all in a future Show & Tell. : ) Meanwhile, hop over to the master list on Melissa's blog to check out what others are showing & telling this week.

And if you didn't see it on last week's Show & Tell, check out the video of Melissa's keynote reading at BlogHer of one of her most memorable posts. Reading the words onscreen was priceless; but to listen to her read it, live, and hear the audience reaction, will have tears running down your face. First, she touches your funnybone; then, she touches your heart.