Tuesday, July 6, 2010

25 years: Our silver lining

Twenty-five years ago today (eek!), on a blazing hot July afternoon, in a chapel on the university campus where we had met almost four years earlier, in front of about 120 friends & relatives (mostly mine) -- after three & a half years as a couple, and much of that time spent in a long-distance relationship -- pre-Internet, relying on snail mail, weekly long distance telephone calls (expensive at the time) & occasional visits by plane & train -- I married my best friend, my soulmate, my sweetheart. : )

When you are a starry-eyed 24-year-old bride, & promise you are going to love this man standing beside you "for better or for worse," you really have no idea what those words mean. (You feel like you've already endured "the worst" just surviving a long-distance relationship until the day you could finally be together.) You have a vague idea that there will be difficult days, of course, but you are supremely confident that together, you will conquer any obstacle that life throws in your path.

Thirteen years & a month later, cradling the small bundle of blankets that cocooned our much-longed-for stillborn daughter, we knew the awful meaning of "for worse."

We had been through job uncertainty. We had lost beloved relatives, including dh's 50-year-old uncle & grandparents on both sides of our family. We had been so broke (particularly that first year) that we had to ask dh's dad for money to pay the rent, & rolled the quarters we'd been saving to use for laundry to help buy groceries. We had had arguments (mostly money & clutter-related -- spender vs saver, pack rat vs minimalist)(guess who is which?) & struggled with the demons of anxiety.

None of this had prepared us to deal with infertility & stillbirth. The next few years were a nightmare, as we struggled -- and failed -- to create the family we had always dreamed about, before our bodies, finances and nerves gave out on us. We knew that not every couple survives this rollercoaster ride.

We were lucky. It has not been easy -- but we have held on to each other. For 25 years. (Longer, if you count the time before we were married.) As that immortal philosopher Jon Bon Jovi sings (lol), "We've got each other, and that's a lot." If there is one thing that has helped us as we made the transition to childless/free living, I think it's the certainty both of us felt, right from the beginning, that we could still have a good life together, just the two of us -- because we already did. And I think it's important to know that in your bones, to truly believe that, if you are considering a childless/free life, for whatever reason.

Children would have been wonderful, of course -- the icing on the cake, the cherry on top of the sundae. There's not a single day that goes by that I don't think about Katie, about the family I dreamed of having, about the way things could have been, should have been. Not necessarily a better life, but a good life, for sure -- a different life, a family life like the one we'd both had growing up. It does make me sad, still. I think we would have been good parents.

But it just didn't work out that way. And even before we started ttc, I believed that parents needed to provide a strong foundation for that family by focusing on their marriage & on each other. I've seen too many couples become so wrapped up in their children and their children's lives that they lose sight of who their partner is & why they got together in the first place. And sometimes, by the time the kids are grown & gone and they realize what's happened, they can't find their way back to each other.

Awhile back, I posted a vent about how I felt our anniversary was being lost in the shuffle -- particularly since my parents' 50th anniversary party is in less than three weeks. (To be fair, I imagine they were thinking the same thing about my wedding interfering with THEIR 25th, lol.) We've already celebrated a wedding & our nephew's high school graduation within the past six weeks or so, and I'm going through a lot of changes at work right now. Besides Mom & Dad's party, there's a big family reunion coming up. Our summer schedule is already crammed, & our work colleagues beat us to the punch in booking vacation time, making it impossible, sadly, to take any time off around this day.

So far (at the time I'm writing this, a day before this is scheduled to auto-publish), nobody has said a word indicating they recall the significance of this date -- although I expect I will get calls &/or e-mails from my parents & sister, and possibly SIL, who is usually pretty good about remembering these things.

But it's still our anniversary. Our 25th, our silver anniversary. And that's worth celebrating.

And we are, in our own way. A couple of weekends ago, dh & I went shopping and bought the diamond anniversary ring I'd been eyeing for years. We also ordered new flatware & looked at some new stoneware to replace the stuff we got as wedding gifts 25 years ago. We're still using it, but the flatware is stained & tarnished, and the dishes are scratched & chipped -- a little worn around the edges (just like us, lol).

We thought about going somewhere this past weekend, but knew it would have to be an over Saturday night thing. And, being a long weekend of sorts in both Canada (Canada Day, July 1st) & the U.S. (4th of July), we knew it would probably be busy & hard to book something in any of our favourite local haunts (Niagara on the Lake, Stratford...).

Instead, we decided to let the dust bunnies have free rein of the house for another week, abandoned the usual Saturday housecleaning, and went into the city for the day. We went to the Royal Ontario Museum to see their special exhibit on the Terracotta Warriors from China, visited the mummies & dinosaurs while we were there, & then strolled down Bloor Street (the Rodeo Drive of Canada) to a bookstore for an hour's browse. Headed back to the 'burbs & finished the evening with a steak dinner at our favourite local restaurant.

Tonight after work, we will be having dinner downtown at an Italian restaurant in an atmospheric heritage building, attending "Rock of Ages" (an '80s musical! -- how appropriate, lol!!) and then spending the night at one of the city's grand old hotels. Later this summer or early in the fall, we hope to get away for a week or two, just the two of us -- possibly to Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island (maybe both). (Suggestions/recommendations for places to visit, stay, eat, etc., are welcomed.)

After we lost Katie, the Classic Pooh motif that was to have been her nursery theme became a huge source of comfort to me & dh. Ten years ago, in a little gift shop at the Forks in Winnipeg, we found (& immediately scooped up) a stained glass window ornament that now hangs on the big mirror in our bedroom. It's Pooh & Piglet, looking at each other, holding hands & skipping off together (down the road less travelled?). The caption, which has become a motto of sorts for us, reads: "It didn't matter where they went, as long as they went together."

I'm still not entirely sure where we'll wind up -- but I know that, as long as we go there together, we will be fine. : )

24th anniversary (July 6, 2009)

23rd anniversary (July 6, 2008)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Milestones: They're growing up, I'm growing older

Signs that I'm getting older are springing up all around me lately. I have a milestone wedding anniversary coming up shortly, a milestone anniversary party for my parents later this month, and a milestone birthday coming up early next year.

Another marker of time passing is watching kids I've known since they were babies mark their own life milestones.

Last fall, I wrote about how my Parents' Neighbours' Daughter (PND) called to tell me she was engaged, and already planning her wedding for the Victoria Day long weekend in May. As I wrote then, PND was a mere three months old when my parents moved in across the street, & probably spent almost as much time at our house growing up as she did at her own. There was no question that we would make the trip west to be at her wedding, and there we were, as she walked into the beautiful old church on her father's arm.

Have you ever tried taking photos & keeping the camera steady while simultaneously stifling the huge sobs that are wracking your body? (Not to mention trying not to muck up your glasses too much with tears, so that you can actually see the wedding.)

As I watched her walk through the door into the church, part of me had an odd flashback to watching her as a toddler in an adorable pink snowsuit, walking back home across the street by herself (with her mom watching from their window & we watching from ours) -- stomping on all the iced-over puddles (typical kid). There was utter disbelief that she was actually all grown up & getting married, that I really was seeing this happen. Gratitude that I was able to be there to see it.

And, of course, wrenching grief -- the scab being torn off the old wound again -- knowing that I would never, ever see my own daughter, radiant in a white gown & walking down the aisle with her proud father.

Fortunately, after the initial tsunami of emotion that swept over me, I managed to choke back the tears and got through the rest of the ceremony all right. Manouevred my way through dinner all right -- my biggest fear was accidentally ingesting a tomato or tomato-related food & having an allergic reaction, marring an evening that I wanted desperately to enjoy.

And then I had to give a speech.

A few weeks before the wedding, PND had asked my parents whether anyone from our family -- her second family, she calls us -- would like to speak at the dinner. I knew someone from our family had to do it. And I knew that someone was going to be me, lol. I knew my parents wouldn't -- they seldom, if ever, give speeches, and I knew they would probably be feeling at least as emotional as I was that night, if not more so. I also correctly gauged my sister's response when my mother told her of PND's question (which was "Hell, NO!" lol).

I'm not totally at ease speaking in public, but I'm not a total neophyte at it either. I was a junior high debater and gave speeches in 4-H competitions, and I was a member of a Toastmasters club for 7-8 years, although I hadn't done any speaking in quite awhile -- and certainly not at an emotional event in front of a couple hundred people, mostly strangers.

Still, I said I would do it. I knew what I wanted to say. Heck, I already had half the speech written for me in my blog. ; )

There was a bit of a funny echo from the microphone when I began speaking. As I progressed, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I just wanted to get through what I had to say without bursting into tears. And while I had to pause for a moment as my voice caught near the end -- as I thanked the bride's parents & brothers for sharing their daughter & sister with us for all those years -- I made it through just fine. Bit my lip to hold back the tears as the bride got up from her seat to envelop me in a huge hug. Saw the bride's mom wiping her eyes & knew I'd done my job.

*** *** ***

The other marker took place just this past week, when dh & I attended our youngest nephew's high school graduation. We'd gone to his older brother's four years ago, and there was absolutely no question that we would also come to his. Neither set of grandparents seemed interested (or willing to sit through two hours and 240 other diplomas, lol), so it was just BIL & SIL, dh & me. Older nephew, now 21, was not there, having rented a cottage for a week's vacation with some friends & his girlfriend -- another sign of how quickly time is passing & how much they have grown up.

Nephew #2, who was a cute & chubby toddler, is now a strapping 6'2" or so, towering over dh & me and even his father, who is almost six feet. I felt a swell of pride watching him put on his graduation gown & cap and patiently pose for my camera yet another time. As we have long planned, dh & I gave him a card with a fat cheque inside to help him defray his university costs next fall. ("For books & bus fare -- NOT beer," we said, only half-joking.) He gave us a heartfelt "THANK YOU!" & some big hugs.

My only big lump-in-the-throat moment was watching him embrace his proud mother when we found him in the crowd after the ceremony was over. It was another one of those moments that reminded me that I will never share such a moment with my own child.

I had a good cry the next day, reading a message from SIL, thanking us & saying how happy they were that we could be there to share the evening with them. No, I wanted to reply, thank YOU for letting us share this experience with YOU.

*** *** ***

In a sort of related vein, dh & I spent our Canada Day holiday afternoon today at the movies, in a theatre full of parents, kids & even a couple of babies (one of them squirming right beside me), seeing "Toy Story 3." I'd already read the glowing reviews -- along with articles written by grown men admitting that the movie made them bawl like babies. Even my two grown nephews admitted they cried when they saw it.

So I was somewhat prepared. Somewhat. I didn't expect that I would cry harder than I had at any movie since "Up," almost exactly one year earlier. Or that I would start crying from the opening sequence. Or that just thinking about the movie as I type this would make the tears well up in my eyes all over again.

In a coincidence that my SIL pointed out to us, the toys' owner, Andy, is now grown up, 17 years old, and heading off to college. (Just like our youngest nephew.) (I read that the same boy has voiced Andy in all three movies, growing up along with the character. ) And he has to decide what to do with his old toys -- to throw them out, store them in the attic, or donate them to the local daycare centre. Or take them, or some of them, with him to college. I won't spoil the movie for those of you who haven't seen it -- but be forewarned, bring plenty of Kleenex.