Friday, April 29, 2011

Monarchist musings

Sap that I am, I actually took the day off work so that I could watch the entire royal wedding this morning, live. : ) I have gotten up early (& cheerfully) to watch every royal wedding of note for the past 40 years, starting with Princess Anne's (the first one, lol), in -- what? 1973? when I was about 12 -- & continuing through to Charles & Diana, Sarah & Andrew, Edward & Sophie, Charles & Camilla. (Not to mention the funerals of Diana, and the Queen Mother.) I felt a little silly asking for the day off, but decided that now wasn't the time to abandon tradition. ; ) (I have lots of accumulated vacation time I need to use up, too.)

Although the culture was not yet saturated with Disney princesses, I most certainly grew up listening to fairy tales & drawing pictures of queens & princesses in beautiful long gowns with crowns on their heads. When I went to school, we stood at attention & sang or listened to "God Save the Queen" at the end of every schoolday (it started off with "O Canada" & the Lord's Prayer and -- until I got to junior high -- even a daily Bible story)(!), which was common practice at the time (although I don't believe it is anymore -- pity). In Grade 1, I remember quite clearly that we had a team of "practice" teachers who did a unit with us on royalty -- kings & queens, & our Queen in particular. I was hooked. I started keeping a scrapbook about kings & queens -- Princess Grace, even the Shah of Iran, as well as the Windsors. I found it while cleaning out my parents' basement a couple of summers ago, & couldn't quite bear to throw it out just yet -- set it aside in my "keep" box.

Anyway -- as I lay in the dark this morning just before the 4 a.m. alarm rang (I'm normally up at 5, anyway, so 4 wasn't a huge deal), I thought back to those dim memories of Princess Anne's wedding, & watching with my mother & sister in our PJs. (I think we even had our colour TV by then.) I thought of little girls and princesses, and their mothers & sisters. And then I realized that Katie would be 12 today -- & I would very likely have been watching with her, either letting her skip school or go late, if need be (most of the wedding was done by 9 anyway). And I got very teary & emotional.

Dh gave me lots of hugs. Even though he claims he has absolutely no use for royalty, he loved "The King's Speech," encouraged me to take the day off, watched the motorcade to Westminster Abbey with me before heading off to work, & pronounced Kate's dress as "beautiful." ; )

*** *** ***

It WAS a beautiful dress. And a beautiful ceremony. Nobody does pomp & ceremony better than the Brits. I loved being able to sing along with all those wonderful old familiar Anglican hymns that I have heard since childhood. And to see that gorgeous, historic Abbey gave me chills.

I know some people love the royals as celebrities. They were a real-life soap opera ("Palace" vs "Dallas," I remember people calling it), long before current reality TV, and today more than ever, women & little girls alike (rightly or wrongly) seem to be enthralled by princesses. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little enthralled by those things too. ; )

But I also love the royals for the 1000 years of history that they embody, the continuity and the tradition, and their commitment to duty and service (something you most certainly must credit the current Queen for, if not some of the others).

*** *** ***

Until today, I think Chuck & Di's was definitely the most memorable royal wedding I've watched. Maybe because Diana & I were almost exactly the same age (me born in January 1961, she in July 1961).

(One of the young girls in the office said she's exactly the same age as Kate, which made me feel ancient. But even worse: "My parents told me Charles & Diana's wedding was lovely," said another, and I realized she wasn't even born then. Erk. Anyway...)

My own wedding dress (four years later) certainly had some similarities to Diana's --it had a big full skirt & long train, short, puffed sleeves & a long veil with a sort of tiara headpiece, although mine was just made of lace. The processional music they used (Trumpet Voluntary) was what I used for the recessional at my wedding.
The summer of the wedding (1981), my sister & I had found summer jobs & were sharing a basement apartment in the town where we had gone to high school (my parents had since moved to a different town). We only had a small black & white TV set -- we each had one in our dorm room at school, I imagine it was one of those -- so my sister's best friend invited us to stay overnight (at her parents' house), so we could watch the wedding with her (& her sister & mom, if I remember correctly) in colour. (This is a detail that I know REALLY dates me. I suppose most kids under the age of about 30 couldn't envision a world where TV didn't come in anything BUT colour.) I can't remember what time we had to get up -- 3? 4? 5? -- but it was an ungodly hour. I can remember my sister shaking me & saying, "The carriages are getting ready to leave the palace..." We watched the wedding -- & then went to work!

Years later, when the marriage started falling apart, I thought about a dream I had had when I was at university, sometime in late 1980 or early 1981, before the engagement was announced. I dreamed that I was at Buckingham Palace, coming down a staircase, & the Queen & Prince Charles were standing below, arguing. The Queen was scolding Charles & telling him it was time he got married & settled down. "Fine," said Charles, turning & pointing at me, "I'll marry HER." I froze & thought, "I'm going to be QUEEN!!"

Not long afterwards, Charles & Diana announced their engagement, & I thought how funny it was that I had dreamed about Charles & a wedding, & now there was going to be one. It wasn't until the truth about the marriage started coming out, & realized that that my dream had been more of a premonition than I had realized: he was under pressure to get married, & she was the first naive young virgin with an acceptable background to come along, be dazzled & say yes.

That awful Saturday night in August 1997, dh & I were home -- I think I was on the computer (even then!!) & he was watching TV -- & he called up to me to say CNN was reporting she'd been in an accident & they thought her boyfriend was dead. We watched TV until about 1 a.m., I think, when they pronounced her dead too. All I could think was, "those poor boys." :( When we woke up the next morning, the paper on our doorstep had a huge headline, all in capitals: "DIANA DEAD." It all seemed so unreal. I remember thinking, when I heard she had taken up with Dodi, that he didn't seem right for her & it would not end well. I just didn't know how "not
well" it would be.

I took a bouquet of white roses to the Princess of Wales Theatre downtown at lunchtime that week & signed the condolence book there. I've never done anything like that before but I'm glad I did.

*** *** ***

Years later, five or six years ago now, I think, the travelling exhibit from Diana's childhood home, Althorp, visited Toronto, & my boss somehow snagged free tickets for everyone in our group (which otherwise cost $25 -- a little steep, although part of it went to charity). We called it a "team building exercise." ; ) Eight of us (all women) went together one afternoon during a slow week at work. We quickly got separated -- the young ones charged on ahead, but my boss (who was in her 50s at the time, now retired) & I took nearly an hour to go through the exhibit, which included about 20 of Diana's dresses on display, plus items & photo albums from her childhood & old home movies, her brother's handwritten notes for the funeral eulogy, & notes handwritten by Elton John & Bernie Taupin for the version of "Candle in the Wind" that was sung at the funeral. They also had some of the Spencer family jewels, which were quite spectacular. I'm sure a good part of the ticket cost was eaten up in insurance & security expenses!

And, of course, there was The Dress. My boss & I both spent a good 15 minutes, just staring at it, and the video clips from the wedding. My boss laughed & noted that one of our coworkers was only about six months old at the time of the wedding. Obviously, Diana didn't hold quite the same level of fascination for them. "I suppose we'd have been just as interested in a display about Princess Margaret's wedding at their ages!" she said.

*** *** ***

Here's hoping this one works out. If today is any indication, they're off to a good start. : )

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

More odds & ends

  • It's dh's cousin's son's birthday today. His 13th birthday. He is 7 months older than Katie would have been, had she been born as scheduled in mid-November 1998. (Another cousin's son was born the following April. At every family gathering, I look from one boy to the other, trying to imagine Katie right in between.) I went to his mom's baby shower just days after announcing my pregnancy with Katie, & everyone fussed over me almost as much as the guest of honour. The tables were set with pink & blue plates, & I remember SIL insisting that I eat from a pink plate, because she wanted a niece. : ) 13 years. A teenager. YIKES.

  • Maybe it's just the age I'm at, being over the hump of (gulp) 50 now, but suddenly I am seeing books & articles about women over 50 everywhere. The latest is a collection of essays by Canadian women aged 50 & up, edited by Shari Graydon, called "I Feel Great About My Hands" (in a nod to Nora Ephron's book from a few years back, "I Feel Bad About My Neck"). The Toronto Star ran an interview with Graydon in the Saturday paper, along with an excerpt from the book, written by Mary Walsh. If you're not Canadian, you may not know who Mary Walsh is; those of us north of the border know her well from This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and particularly as her most famous character, Marg Delahunty, Princess Warrior. I can hear her voice in my head as I read. Priceless.

  • Stillbirth is in the news: the respected medical journal The Lancet has published a series of articles on the subject. I haven't read them all yet, but I know about them, thanks to a page 3 article in last Thursday's Globe and Mail (followed by one on Friday in The Toronto Star. (Warning: even on a topic as sad as stillbirth, some of the comments are truly reprehensible.) My one quibble about the articles is that they tend to focus on the high rate of stillbirth among Aboriginal and developing world women. I don't want it to sound like I think that it's only worth writing about if it happens to white middle class North American women. It's important to reduce the number of stillbirths everywhere, & the rates are, sadly, much higher in these particular populations. But too many people think stillbirth is something that, if it happens at all these days (& many people are surprised that it does), it happens in developing countries. Newsflash: It happens. To all of us. Being a white, middle class North American may be a privileged position in many, many respects, but it's absolutely no guarantee that you're "safe" when it comes to stillbirth. A lesson that many of us have learned from bitter experience. :(

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mad about the show

While channel surfing tonight, dh stumbled onto a rerun of "Mad About You," starring Paul Reiser & Helen Hunt. Talk about a bittersweet blast from the past.

"Mad About You" ran on NBC from 1992 to 1999. It was one of our very favourite TV shows -- in part because it so eerily reflected our own lives at the time in so many ways. The characters, Paul & Jamie, appeared to be about the same ages as we were (& in doing some Googling on the show to refresh my memory, I found a Wikipedia entry that actually gives their birthdates as 1962 & 1963 -- dh & I were born in 1957 & 1961). Their New York brownstone apartment reminded us of the midtown Toronto apartment building where we lived for the first five years of our marriage (although their apartment was a lot bigger & nicer than ours). There was so much about their relationship that reminded me of my own marriage. The characters reminded me a lot of my dh & myself (although I look like Helen Hunt only in my dreams...!).

According to this Wikipedia episode guide, Paul & Jamie began talking about having a baby in 1994, at the end of season 2 -- right around the same time dh & I were beginning to seriously think it was time to start a family. Their struggles to conceive (& the strain it placed on their marriage) formed the plotlines of several episodes during season 4 (1995-96), as dh & I were in the early stages of ttc -- with Jamie looking at a pregnancy test & smiling at the very end of the season finale. Baby daughter Mabel was born at the end of season 5 (1996-97), and was still an adorable baby for season 6, which ended in the spring of 1998 -- when I was finally pregnant myself.

For the longest time, the similarities and parallels between me & dh and our marriage, and our TV dopplegangers, seemed to just keep coming and coming. But in August 1998, during summer reruns, our Katie was stillborn. And when season 7 resumed that fall, I found it almost unbearably painful to watch.

Maybe it was for the best that this turned out to be the last season of the series. (Maybe even strangely appropriate.) Still, I did tune in for the series finale in May 1999, in which a grownup Mabel talks about what happened to her family. I didn't like it that Paul & Jamie split up (although they wound up sitting together at the premiere of Mabel's first film).

But there was another moment in the finale, another eerie echo of our own lives, that made me gasp and then sob. As I remember it, Jamie hadn't wanted another child, yet found herself pregnant again. In one scene, she is complaining to Paul that she didn't want to be pregnant again. Then we see Paul coming home (with a stroller, I think? -- some baby-related item) to an empty apartment, finding a note, & dashing out the door. Cut to a hospital bed, where he holds a gown-clad Jamie as she sobs, "I guess I really wanted this one after all."

The episode we were watching tonight was still an early one. I found myself once again laughing at the witty script, & marvelling at how familiar it all seemed. And feeling a little wistful. It seemed strangely removed from the present, the echo of a different place & time.

I'm glad it's back on TV again. It deserves to be found by a new audience that maybe didn't see it the first time around.

But I don't think I have the heart to watch Jamie go through ttc, infertility, & pregnancy & babyhood with Mabel again.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ontario government hopes we'll all "just adopt"

There was an article in today's Toronto Star -- an opinion piece, actually -- that had me alternately cheering & cringing. What had me cheering:

  • The fact that infertility was in the news (always good to see).

  • The article was prominently placed on page 3.

  • The pointed acknowledgement that while politicians love to cultivate an image of being "family friendly," they don't always put their money where their mouths are.

  • The fact that the Ontario government is (finally!) moving ahead to adopt recommendations made by its expert panel on family building that will make it easier for Ontario families to adopt.

  • It's also working on the recommendations related to increased fertility monitoring and a public awareness campaign on fertility issues.

  • Having someone else notice -- as I did months ago -- that the Ontario government is making all the right noises about the panel's recommendations on adoption -- while giving short shrift to other recommendations, namely to provide funding for IVF ("a political minefield").

  • The acknowledgement that, as I suspected, this is no accident, but a deliberate political strategy.
What had me cringing:

  • The headline in the newspaper read "The heartbreak and politics of test tube babies." I notice that the online story is headlined "The heartbreak and politics of forming families." Someone must have noticed and complained.

  • The story makes multiple repeated references to "implanting embryos" -- when all of us who have been through infertility know very well that embryos implant themselves (maybe, if we're very lucky) -- after they are "transferred."

  • The fact that that government is, in fact, deliberately favouring the warm & fuzzy option of adoption while trying to sweep the more controversial subject of funding for IVF under the carpet -- at least until after the next provincial election.

  • The columnist suggests that the government should mandate SET -- but still have would-be parents foot the bill, of course.

  • Apparently, the Minister of Health has been convinced by "health economists" that paying for IVF "is not as revenue neutral as I had hoped it would be." (!)

  • The comments attached to the story (are you surprised?).

For me, what it boils down to is this: by favouring adoption over IVF, the government of Ontario is essentially telling infertile people they can "just adopt." Which makes me wonder just how much they learned about infertility & building families from the whole exercise. Apparently they only read part of the expert panel's report.

Adoption is a wonderful option for some families -- and it's true that there is plenty of room for improvement in making adoption easier to navigate for Ontario families. (I've heard the stories from friends who have adopted through the public system here. It's no picnic.)

But IMHO, adoption should be just that -- an option. Adoption may or may not be right or desirable for everyone. The expert panel recognized this, and also recognized the many valid reasons why infertility treatment should receive public funding.

I'm not one for stirring up trouble or confrontation. But with a federal election under way, & a provincial election looming, we need to roll back the carpet & ensure this issue gets a full and fair airing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Odds & ends

  • The Great Raymondo, magician, to Lisa on Sunday night's episode of The Simpsons, looking at a photograph of his wife/assistant: "The only magic we couldn't make together was a child." Sniffle.

  • It's baaaacckkkk.... I'm talking about That Sunday in May that strikes dread in the hearts of infertiles and loss moms everywhere. The cards & ads are everywhere, already, & only sure to increase once Easter is over.

  • Among the MDay paraphernalia I noticed this week: a mug inscribed "Great moms get promoted to be GRANDMA." I thought of how hurtful that was -- not just for women like me, who never got to be a mom at all (at least in the eyes of the world), let alone a grandma, but for moms like mine -- wonderful moms, who never got to be a grandma, through no fault of their own. And how sad and guilty that makes me feel.

*** *** ***

We had an unexpected (& unwelcome) visitor last night. And I only WISH I was talking about Aunt Flo. We were watching TV just before 10 & all of a sudden dh said, "There's a MOUSE!" He said it went running along the living room wall (across from where we were sitting) & into the entryway/kitchen. I didn't see it. (I didn't WANT to see it. ) EWW EWW EWW!! :p

Unfortunately, this was not our first encounter with a mouse in the house -- we had one about five years ago -- saw it in the morning, bought & set some traps immediately before heading to work, returned home that night & the problem was resolved. It was weeks before I took down the other traps, though (or had a sound night's sleep). We eventually figured out it had come in through the dryer vent -- found a hole in the dryer venting hose.

So I got out the traps again (the plastic snap trap kind), we baited them with peanut butter & went upstairs to bed. Well, we got IN bed, but left all the lights on. I didn't even put on my PJs, just crawled under the cover in my clothes & socks. It was HOT & between that & just sheer nerves, I don't think either of us slept a wink. (I thought about going to a local motel... but then I'd be worrying about bedbugs...!)

Finally about 2:45 a.m., we heard a SNAP from downstairs. Waited a few minutes & then dh went downstairs, & yes, we caught the little bugger, in one of the traps we set in the kitchen. He scooped it up inside a couple of plastic bags, trap & all, walked over to the main road & dumped it in a public trash bin there. My hero!! ; )

I STILL couldn't sleep afterwards. Dh finally drifted off around 5, I think. I did eventually doze off but I'm betting I only got 2-3 hours sleep, max. We got up around 9. Fortunately (?), we are on vacation this week. On the one hand, it totally sucks to have something like this happen on our nice little staycation. :p But on the other hand, I'm REALLY glad we didn't have to go to work today!

We are still trying to figure out how it got in. Checked the dryer hose & it was fine. Dh had been out & got home around 8. I'm thinking it may have somehow scurried inside undetected then, because it wasn't long after that that he saw it. We've kept the other traps up, just in case he/she brought company -- but so far, so good. Here's hoping...! (And yes, it's times like these when I am very, very grateful that I don't have children in the house...!)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book: "Come to the Edge" by Christina Haag

I was born in January 1961, a few weeks before President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, and less than two months after his son, John Jr., was born in November 1960. As I think I've written before on this blog, the Kennedys have been an endless, lifelong source of fascination for me, & I have several shelves full of books about and by the family and its various members.

For the girls of my generation, JFK Jr. was almost as much a fantasy object of desire as Donny Osmond or David Cassidy. He was famous not so much for what he did as for who he was -- the son of a glamorous young president who was murdered in his prime, the adorable little boy, saluting his father's coffin (and breaking hearts everywhere as he did). He was a Kennedy, he was rich and, of course, he was drop-dead gorgeous. People magazine named him the "Sexiest Man Alive" in 1988, and one of Seinfeld's most famous episodes revolved in part around him (although he was never actually seen on camera).

I remember when one of the guys in my office quit his job in the early 1990s to study at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. All the girls wrote something in his farewell card along the lines of "Say hi to John-John" & "Feel free to pass along my number to JFK Jr." (Never mind that JFK Jr. never lived in Boston or studied at Harvard.) The closest I ever got to him was in early July 1999. A front-page story in the Toronto Star revealed that he had been in the Toronto area the day before -- flew his own plane (along with a flight instructor) to Buttonville Airport, north of the city, and was then taken to Magna headquarters to meet with heiress and sometimes politician, Belinda Stronach, to discuss financing for his political magazine, George. (What?? And he didn't call me??)

Less than two weeks later, while flying the same plane to his cousin's wedding on Cape Cod (minus the instructor), he was killed, along with his wife and sister-in-law. It was all horribly, horribly sad, particularly in light of the umpteen other tragedies faced by his family over the years (several of them involving plane crashes). All I could think was, "What a waste."

Now, more than a decade after his death, one of Kennedy's ex-girlfriends, Christina Haag, has written a memoir about their relationship, Come to the Edge. Cynics have questioned her motives in spilling the beans all these years later (she reportedly received $1.2 million for writing it), & much of the press to date has focused on salacious details such as the fact that he packed a book on tantric sex for a Jamaican vacation, & finished off a joint offered by one of the locals.

If you pick up this book expecting to read more of the same, you will probably be disappointed -- this is about as "scandalous" as it gets. There are some interesting tidbits about & insights into the Kennedy family -- for example, a description of John's Aunt Pat (Lawford) "in her cups," and Ethel Kennedy, disapproving of their sleeping arrangements at the Kennedys' Palm Beach house. Christina also writes with great affection about John's mother, Jackie, who told Christina that she reminded her of herself, and who continued to send her books and notes even after the couple parted.

But mostly, it's the story of Christina & John -- how they grew up in the same circles in New York City, acted in a play together, fell in love, and ultimately drifted apart. We get glimpses of JFK Jr. the risktaker -- the romantic -- and the heartbreaker (while he told Christina he loved her and expected they would ultimately be together, he just wasn't ready to commit). I felt badly for Christina when I realized that she was the one who introduced John to the romantic, secluded vacation spot, Cumberland Island -- where he returned several years later for his top-secret wedding to Carolyn Bessette.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked it up -- but I quite liked this thoughtful, sad but ultimately uplifting book. Besides an enduring affection for JFK Jr. ; ) I felt a bond with her in other respects. Like me, Christina turned 50 within the last year (she'll be 51 soon), and has experienced grief and trauma (beyond the loss of JFK Jr., she's also a breast cancer survivor) and, like me, she has no children (although she has had men in her life since JFK Jr., she has never married). Fat paycheques totally aside, I understand why she might want to revisit & reflect on pivotal events and people from the past at this point in her life.

*** *** ***

If you like this book, I can also recommend another beautifully written memoir about love and loss, involving many of the same people, but written from a slightly different angle: What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship & Love, by Carole Radziwill.

The story reads like a fairy tale -- at least, up to a point. While JFK Jr. was sometimes called "America's Prince," his cousin, Anthony Radziwill (son of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's younger sister, Lee) really WAS a prince -- a Polish prince on his father's side of the family. Carole, from a working-class family, was a producer with ABC News when she met and married him. Anthony had already survived a bout with cancer before she met him and, because of that, she knew they would not have children together. Sadly, the cancer returned, and soon she would not have her husband either.

In July 1999, John was already writing a eulogy he planned to deliver at Anthony's funeral, which everyone knew was imminent. But instead, Carole & Anthony wound up dealing with the shocking, sudden loss of John and his wife Carolyn, whom Carole had come to consider her best friend. Anthony died just a few weeks later.

I read this book when it first came out, five or six years ago, and I still think of it often. Even if you're not interested in the Kennedys, it's a beautifully written account of how we deal with life's unexpected twists and turns -- both good and bad.

Friday, April 1, 2011

And I would write 500 posts...

Ummm, looks like I just did. ; ) Yes, this post is #500 -- 500 posts since I first started this blog almost three & 1/2 years & in October 2007 -- wow! I'm 13 years out from my loss, & almost 10 years past my last fertility treatment, but I guess I'm still finding things to say about the experience! Someone, I forget who, posted this video when they hit 500 posts... the idea stuck with me, and the closer this milestone got, the more I was unable to get this song out of my head. ; ) (Fortunately, it's a song I love!) (Sorry, it doesn't come with an embed code.) And now to write 500 more...!