Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve

I don't know where the time goes... the last few days & hours of 2012 have absolutely zoomed by. So many plans, so many good intentions... so many blogs to read & posts rumbling around in my head, so little time...!  My Google Reader is hopelessly stuck above 1000 posts, it seems (not all ALI-related, happily). I manage to read a blog post here & there but meaningful chunks have eluded me for the past month. :p 

The Christmas season flew by too. I missed out on a few of the things I usually like to do at Christmastime... only caught snatches of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol," and didn't see "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," "A Christmas Story" or "The Bishop's Wife" at ALL. :(  But there were compensations. ;)

Dh's Christmas party was on a Thursday night (the most common party night on Bay Street in Toronto), at a restaurant far from downtown, let alone where we live in the suburbs.  Last year's party was at the same place and he didn't get home until midnight (and then had to get up at 5 a.m. as usual for work the next day :p) -- so this year, we spluged for a night at a swanky old downtown hotel... we brought a bag to work with us, checked in at lunchtime (& headed back to work), then he went to his party while I went to the Eaton Centre to shop, eat and admire the holiday decorations, there and all through the underground concourse.  Stopped off at a Starbucks en route back to our room & enjoyed a caramel brule latte while watching our favourite Thursday night shows & waiting for dh's return. While I find I never sleep as well as when I'm in my own bed, we did get to sleep an hour longer than we normally do, & still make it to work at the usual time. Perhaps this will be the start of a new tradition. : )

We spent Christmas with my family as usual... with the added bonus of a near-daily visit from PNGD/The Princess, now 15 months old, walking, saying a few words, redecorating the Christmas trees and generally keeping us hopping. Extreme cuteness all round. Many photos were taken. ; )

For the most part, I was able to enjoy her and her presence on its own merits. But I did have one very emotional moment. Every time she and her mom (PND) left my parents' house, she would take off and lead her mom in a merry game of tag/hide and seek around the car -- peeking around the corner -- before PND scoops her up & into her car seat.  (PND assured us she only allows her to do it at my mom & dad's -- they have a fairly long, wide driveway, on a quiet court with very little traffic.) It was hilarious. (I captured one such chase on video, filming through the living room window.) The first time she did it, I was laughing so hard I thought I was going to wet myself, & I felt tears of hilarity rolling down my cheeks.

And then suddenly, I realized I was crying for real. Laughter to tears, in the blink of an eye. I think my mom noticed, & dh patted me on the shoulder while I wiped my eyes. Just so precious. So much that we've missed out on. :(

It was also tough watching my mother trek off to various neighbours' houses to see their visiting grandchildren. I went with her a couple of times. I'll admit it, I get a kick out of seeing the miniature versions of the people I've known since they were kids themselves, too. ; ) But it was painful to see my mother's eagerness to share in some of the joy of other people's grandchildren, knowing she doesn't have any of her own, & why. :( 

Today, dh & I stopped at the cemetery en route to shopping & dinner out. A beautiful, bright red cardinal was hovering in the snow-covered tree beside the columbarium where Katie's niche is. Breathtaking. : )

I had hoped to have my usual New Year's meme done & posted tonight, but I haven't even looked at it yet. I suspect my answers would be pretty much the same as they were a year & two years ago. Oh well. I may still get it done. Being half Ukrainian, I figure I have until Ukrainian New Year, right? ; )

I hope you've all had a good holiday. I leave you with a photo of the Christmas decorations at the Toronto Eaton Centre (including several gigantic illuminated reindeer roving through the mall):

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Post-Newtown musings

  • Newtown, Connecticut. 20 gorgeous children, 7 adults. Kindergartners and first graders, for crying out loud. :( 
  • I was having breakfast with my teammates at work that morning and there was a TV set on the restaurant wall, tuned to a 24-hour headline news channel, sound turned down. I saw a headline flicker by about a school shooting in the States. I shook my head, but it didn't really register -- school shootings in the States being sadly not unheard of -- until later, in my cubicle, browsing some news online.  
  • Most Canadians don't understand America's fascination with guns. Guns are nowhere near as prevalent here as they are there, and are nowhere near as deeply embedded in the culture.
  • But -- they ARE around -- and there is a vocally pro-gun segment of the population, particularly in rural areas.
  • We have our own tragic stories of mad gunmen, school shootings and mass murders. To name a few:
    • In 1967, when I was six years old, an entire family -- two adults and seven children --was murdered on a farm near the small town of Shell Lake, Saskatchewan, about three hours from where we were living at the time. Only the baby survived. I don't think I knew all the specifics until years later, but I remember the prevailing atmosphere of fear (mass murders were practically unheard of then, nevermind in rural Saskatchewan), and how my mother barely wanted to leave the house until the killer was caught, several days later. To this day, if you mention his name or the subject generally, my mother will visibly shudder.
    • One of my coworkers was a student at Brampton Centennial Secondary School in 1975 when one of Canada's very first school shootings took place. A student and a teacher were killed, and 13 other students injured before the gunman committed suicide.
    • In 1978, one student shot another -- allegedly for ridiculing the rock group KISS -- at a high school in Winnipeg.  I was 17 and living about an hour away at the time, and we often drove by that school on our way to the mall, so I remember it quite clearly.
    • On Dec. 6, Canadians marked 23 years since 14 young women engineering students -- targeted specifically because they were women -- were gunned down at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.
    • There was another shooting in Montreal in 2006, at Dawson College, where one person was killed and 19 injured.  
    • In general, though, the reason these stories are so memorable is because they are so rare. 
  • I grew up in small rural Prairie towns where -- even in elementary school -- the boys would talk endlessly about hunting and trapping. Several of my uncles and cousins hunt, and while my dad never has, at least in my memory, he did ask for -- and get -- a BB gun on a recent birthday, to scare the crows away from his precious garden. I chipped in with my mom & sister (he's hard enough to buy for at the best of times and rarely asks for anything specific...), but all the while muttering, "I can't believe I am actually buying my father a GUN. For a PRESENT."   
  • I myself asked for -- and got -- a toy rifle for my 3rd or 4th birthday, so that I could be like my hero, Chuck Connors, "The Rifleman." (Not exactly the common gift of choice for little girls in the early 1960s, I know, but my best buddies were three brothers who lived across the street and so -- for a couple of years anyway -- I was a little tomboy, learning to skate on the backyard rink my dad made for us in a pair of their oversized hockey blades.)  Anyway, somewhere in my mom's photo albums, there exists a black & white snapshot of me, dressed in a crinoline and Mary Janes, and proudly brandishing my new rifle. (!!)
  • Somewhere along the way, though, I lost my appetite for guns. I used to get nervous just being at my aunt's house & eyeing my uncle's rack full of rifles, mounted on the wall.  
  • This might seem petty in the face of so much pain -- but did any other loss moms or CNBCers out there find themselves wincing over all the comments prefaced by the words "as a parent" (including from President Obama), and the comments and Facebook posts from people instructing us to "Hug your kids a little tighter tonight" and "I couldn't get home to my kids fast enough."? 
  • My gut feeling is that, even if we don't have children here on this earth, those of us who have lost pregnancies and babies can relate to those grieving parents right now just as well as (or dare I say, better than?) parents of living children who have never experienced the loss of a child.   
  • I have also had my ALI hackles raised by all the references to how the "moms of America" must unite for social change (a la MADD -- as a New York Times columnist suggested).  (a) While the stats do show that more women than men are in favour of gun control measures, I'm willing to bet there are plenty of dads/men out there who are horrified by what happened and willing to make their voices heard. And (b), obviously, just because I am not a mom doesn't mean I don't have a stake in this too.
  • And then I read this opening paragraph for an opinion piece by Salon's Joan Walsh: "As parents, we can feel the stabbing pain of newly bereaved Newtown mothers and fathers, but we don’t have to be parents to feel that loss." Bless you, Joan! : )
  • As I mentioned in a comment on Stirrup Queens, some local parents are up in arms because their children were told about the shooting in Connecticut by their teachers. They say they don’t want their kids to know about what happened. While I understand the instinct to protect your children, especially the younger ones, from harsh reality, I am not exactly sure how they expect to do that. Kids are so media savvy these days -- the media is saturated in coverage of this event right now -- and of course, they talk among themselves — not that they always get their facts straight. I think it’s much better that they hear it (or at least a true but edited version) from an adult -- preferably their parents, but teachers may be put in a position where they have to answer questions too.
  • Case in point (I may have told this story here before):  in October 1970, when I was 9 years old and in Grade 4, a radical Quebec separatist group called the FLQ kidnapped a British diplomat (who was later released) & also kidnapped & murdered a provincial cabinet minister, Pierre Laporte. (Google “October Crisis” & I’m sure you’ll find lots of information -- here's Wikipedia's entry.) Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister at the time, invoked the War Measures Act, which severely curtailed civil liberties, and there were troops in the streets of Montreal & Ottawa. It was a very tense couple of months. I was living far away from the action, in a small remote rural community on the Canadian Praries, and there was no Internet or CNN ratcheting up the news coverage, but there was still a lot of fear, and a lot of wild stories circulating on the playground. One of my friends told us that Laporte had been beheaded -- and I believed her. Her dad was an RCMP officer -- he would know, wouldn’t he?? (It wasn't true. I didn't realize that until years later.)
  • Melissa at Stirrup Queens brought our attention to a blog post by Dyke in the Heart of Texas, challenging us to remember one of the young lives lost at Sandy Hook (and not the gunman).  Kathy at Bereaved & Blessed has also embraced this challenge.
  • If I remember one name from Sandy Hook, it will probably be Ana Marquez-Greene. As this article explains, Ana spent spent about half of her far-too-brief life in the city of Winnipeg in my home province of Manitoba, and only recently moved back to Connecticut. Her father is a jazz musician who taught at the School of Music at my alma mater, University of Manitoba. Her funeral will be this Saturday. :( 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Three generations

I never met my mother-in-law. She died before I ever met her (although dh & I were already together, albeit in the long-distance phase of our relationship). 

She died exactly 30 years ago this past Saturday. She was in her early 50s, only a little older than I am now.

Coincidentally, all of us were together that night at BIL's celebrating our oldest nephew's 24th birthday. Dh & I brought FIL & stepMIL;  SIL's family was there too. The house was full of food and laughter, and at one point, dh, his dad (now in his 80s), his brother and our two nephews were all piled onto the couch together, laughing & joking & punching each other. Three generations, so much alike, all of them.

I took a couple of photos -- I have many photos of the five of them together, over the years -- and as I did, I thought about the woman who made it all possible, and how much she would have loved to see this -- how proud she would be of her two boys and how they've grown up, and how proud she certainly have been of those two tall, handsome grandsons. I thought about how the most awful grief can sometimes, somehow, over time, morph back into some form of happiness once again. I thought about how much can change, for worse AND for better, in the space of 30 years.

This morning, dh & I were listening to last year's Vinyl Cafe Christmas concert on CBC Radio -- while getting ready to go into the city to THIS year's Vinyl Cafe Christmas concert.  The musical guest last year was Hawksley Workman, a rather quirky Canadian singer-songwriter. One of the songs he performed had me gulping back tears as we watched live last year, and had me running for the Kleenex again this morning as we listened on the radio. It was prefaced by a long story about his grandparents and the times he spent time with them as a child.

There was so much in the song -- washing dishes (the GOOD dishes, used only on special occasions) in the kitchen before we were allowed to start opening presents on Christmas Eve, "go and get the camera," setting the wishbone on the windowsill to dry, even putting out suet for the birds -- that reminded me of long-ago childhood Christmases with MY wonderful grandparents.

And as he sang the wistful line "three generations are only together for so long," I thought about them -- as I so often do at this time of the year -- and about the three generations who had been together the night before -- and how we need to cherish those good times while they last -- because they pass by so very, very quickly. 

Wash the dishes
wash the dishes
the Christmas dinner dishes
three generations in the kitchen
all at once

and go and get a camera
and go and wake up grandpa
three generations in the kitchen
all at once

play a christmas album
the Elvis Christmas album
three generations sing Blue Christmas
all at once
and light another candle
come sit near the piano
three generations sing together
all at once.

put away the turkey
to make sandwiches tomorrow
and put away the bones to make soup for the winter
but not the wish bone
we'll just put it on the counter
to let it dry out this week
in time to make a wish for New Years Eve

take turns with the washing
and take turns with the drying
three generations in the kitchen
all at once
soak the tough ones til tomorrow
and save the suet for the sparrows
three generations Merry Christmas
all at once

put away the turkey
to make sandwiches tomorrow
and put away the bones to make soup for the winter
but not the wish bone
we'll just put it on the counter
to let it dry out this week
in time to make a wish for New Years Eve

and put away the fancy dishes
just to take them out next Christmas
three generations are only together for so long
telling stories of the good times
the bad times and the war time
three generations
are only together for so long

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Coming soon(ish?) to a mailbox near you

One of the Christmas traditions that's important to me and that I've continued in the years post loss is sending an annual card. As I've written in past years, my choice of card has taken on added significance in the years since Katie came into our lives. All my cards have been picked with her in mind. Classic Pooh and angels have been recurring themes.

Inevitably, I know "the card" when I first lay eyes on it, & this year was no exception. I did look around a little more, just to see what was out there, but in my heart, I knew. : )  I actually had to send the clerk into the basement storage locker to find the quantity I needed. ; )

Once again this year, my card came from the Papyrus store -- it is called Snow Family. I love the family, and I love how the little snowman is looking straight up into the heavens, at a different angle than his/her mom & dad. 

What do you think?

(Now to find time to write the darn things...)

2010 card was a photo card of me & dh on our 25th wedding anniversary : )