Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Happy enough

Is this really the most wonderful time of the year?

In some ways, yes.

Two of my favourite food groups, chocolate and gravy, feature prominently during the Christmas season. Some of the most gorgeous sacred music ever written finds its way onto radio station playlists and my DVD player in November and December - along with Bing Crosby with his soothing brand of seasonal crooning.

And speaking of Bing, the coziest old movies and the best animated specials can be found on television stations 24/7 as the clock ticks down to Christmas day. And those you can't find on TV are almost always available on DVD to watch over and over again.

And cards - sparkly, lovely, mushy, happy cards - find their way into my mailbox almost every day, giving bills and junk mail a run for their money.

Christmas is a greeting card whore's dream come true.

And there really is a gentleness about the season. People, when they're not shopping or trying to find a parking spot, just seem nicer somehow.

So yes, it's a lovely time of year. And I love it.

But I think it's important not to over-glorify Christmas. Not because the other holidays will get jealous, but because it puts entirely too much pressure on everyone to actually feel as happy as we might be pretending to look; as happy as the songs and stories and televisions specials tell us we should be.

Sometimes happy isn't always there. But because Mariah Carey is shrieking at me about a silent night over the sound system at the mall, I feel like the world expects me to be happy, calm, and bright. Right now, dammit.

Like I used to be, back when I didn't know that babies died and fathers got sick.

It's not realistic to be happy all the time. And it's even less realistic at Christmas, where there's additional pressure to be the Norman Rockwellian picture of festive bliss - no matter what's going on in the rest of your life, it seems.

Divorced people, sick people, abused people, grieving people, depressed people, lonely people - they're feeling additional pressure to be festive and happy when circumstances in their lives make just regular old happy difficult some days. Maybe most days.

Spring is a wonderful time of year. Buds, blooms, balmy weather and an end to snow boots and winter tires makes it a perfectly lovely season. Summer, although I despise the heat, is nice simply because there's no chance of snow and a good chance of a cottage vacation. Fall - also known as pie season around here - is a delight, with crisp air, cozy sweaters, changing leaves and Thanksgiving.

All the seasons are nice.

It's just good to remember that when the joy of Christmas seems a little hard to find. Or when you think the amount of joy you have isn't enough.

One of my sweetest Christmas memories is sitting alone in bed, sick as a dog, eating canned chicken noodle soup and listening to Boris Karloff tell me how the Grinch stole Christmas, on CD.

By all accounts, it was a miserable Christmas. I was too sick to stay and have dinner with my family, so I went home after opening presents and crawled into bed with some soup. It was the very first Christmas My Beloved and I were together, and he'd given me the CD on Christmas Eve.

I was sad - I'd made my mother cry when I told her I had to leave - and in addition to being devastated that I was missing Christmas dinner for the first time ever, I felt like death warmed over. But I also felt loved as I listened to the CD and ate my soup. And by the time my sister got home with a turkey sandwich and some leftover pie, I was feeling marginally better. And even more loved.

Even a little joy is more than enough, especially during times when experiencing just a little smidgen of merry is a hard-fought victory.

It's important to remember that. It makes even the smallest amount of Christmas happy, happy enough.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The days leading up to Christmas...

...look a little something like this at my house:

When the family cookie party detritus is all cleaned up and put away for another year, the dining room table is re-purposed, becoming the official home of the Christmas train. Once they're wrapped, I pile all the presents that are heading out of the house into the middle of the train, creating present mountain around which it chugs.

As Dibley watches.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Christmas is NOT just for kids (dammit!!). It's also for adults who love to revel in the simple joys of the season. And for cats who live for the excitement of watching things that go around and around and around in circles.

Christmas is for everyone who wants a little piece of it.

And I do.

Monday, December 06, 2010

This, that 'n the other

On Saturday we had our 6th annual Family Christmas Tea, a tradition I started that first Christmas without Thomas when I was desperate to make new memories in place of the ones I'd imagined we'd be creating (with a 9-month old boy dressed in the santa suit his Grandma had knitted for him).

I've been baking and prepping for the last three weeks, and at 2:00pm on Saturday afternoon the plastic wrap came off the trays of goodies, and I scooped the whipped cream for the diabetic gingerbread cake into the candy cane bowl as my family walked in the front door.

The best moment of the day was when my dad, snuggled into the comfiest chair in the family room by the fire, smiled and said, "This is exactly where I wanted to be today."

The second best moment of the day was when my nephew, giggling and sticky with candy cane face, played charades with me in the kitchen.

It is possible, as it turns out, for your heart to both melt and break all at the same time.
___________________________________________
A few weeks ago my sister handed me a little round paper ornament. It was a copy of one that was going to be hung on the Christmas tree at the hospital where Thomas was born, in his memory.

By coincidence (one that has made my dad's health issues all the more emotionally complicated for me), it's the same hospital where my dad spent three months this winter/spring, and where he now receives dialysis three times a week.

On my way out of the dialysis waiting room on Friday, I spied the massive Chirstmas tree in the hospital's atrium covered in hundreds and hundreds of the little round paper ornaments purchased by family and friends in memory and honour.

I remembered the ornament that's now stuck on our fridge, and thought I might try to find its mate on the tree.

The tree has to be upwards of 20 feet tall and easily six feet wide. There are, as I said, hundreds of paper ornaments covering it from top to bottom.

And I found Thomas' almost instantly, about seven feet up and facing directly into the renal unit.

So I know he's watching over his Grandpa, at Christmas and always. Just like I asked him to.
__________________________________________
And speaking of Christmas, I got an early present the other day when I opened up my e-mail and found I'd been given a really sweet blog award by Lady Pumpkin! This is my very first one, and I have to say I was chuffed. I really was.

As per the instructions, I'm now passing the Cherry On Top award to the following five wonderful women who always manage to say something that makes me smile, cry, nod or laugh - sometimes all in the same post:

Mrs. Spit
Loribeth
Pamela at Silent Sorority
Emily
Justine at A Half Baked Life

Here are the rules: Link back to the person who awarded you, and then pick five blogs to pass the award along to. Make sure to comment on the awarded blogs so they know they’ve been picked.

Thank you again, Lady Pumpkin! I'm glad you think I'm deserving of a cherry on top!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Don't forget...

Lately I've been carefully reminding myself to prepare for the emotional onslaught of Christmas Eve, which seems to catch me off guard every year.

The first one without Thomas I spent cleaning - manically cleaning - and sobbing. It has not gotten much better. But that's because I kept forgetting how shittastic Christmas Eve is, for some reason. It's fresh agony each year thanks to my surprising inability to retain useful information like: CHRISTMAS EVE SUCKED LAST YEAR BECAUSE I WAS VERY, VERY SAD.

As the years have passed there's been noticeably less frenzied cleaning activity on Christmas Eve (of course that would be the first thing to go...), but there's still a debilitating amount of very raw sorrow in my heart on the 24th.

It's such a little kid day - my most favourite day of the year when I was small. So much magic in the air. So much promise. So much to look forward to.

And now, of course, there's markedly less magic and promise in my life. And the sorts of things I look forward to are having a schooner of wine when I get home from taking my dad to the hospital, or knowing there's a chocolate bar My Beloved has stashed away in the freezer for me.

See? Wine and chocolate. And I was going to mention something about fleece sheets, but that's just too obvious.

So I've been reminding myself that Christmas Eve is coming, pain and all, because I think maybe if it doesn't sneak up on me, it might not be as bad as usual.

Plus this year I'll be spending some of it in dialysis with my dad - which isn't necessarily merrier, but, well, different. And different is good, I find. Even when the different is actually bad, different.

I don't know for sure if being prepared will help at all - but at least I'm doing something beside waiting to wake up on Christmas Eve to a crushing sadness I'd forgotten would come.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Yeah, it's just not fair

Life is such a mental exercise sometimes.

Yesterday morning as I was getting ready to leave to take my dad to dialysis, I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks, momentarily overwhelmed by what a seemingly constant struggle life has become.

I'm still trying to navigate my way through the muddy waters of childlessness (complete with new and dazzling special effects and stomach churning surprises at every turn), and at the same time I'm watching my dad slowly slip away, and desperately trying to cope with the grief that creeps into my weary head when I think of how little time I know he has left.

One of the older dialysis patients had his wife, daughter, granddaughter and two great-grandsons with him in the waiting room yesterday. The oldest boy, just big enough to be out of a stroller, was simply booming with little boy energy - something pretty foreign in a waiting room cluttered with wheelchairs, motor scooters, oxygen tanks, and tired patients.

I couldn't help but smile at them.

And then I couldn't help but feel empty as I watched the sweet scene unfold in front of me. My dad is easily as old as that great-great grandfather. I looked at their big, growing family, and I just felt so sad and defeated. And then, of course, guilty for not being able to give my family the extra light and life that two little boys - or even one little boy - can bring.

Light and life are markedly absent from our family right now.

I stared at the boys and their mom and her grandparents wondering what it must feel like to have so much pulsing, vibrant, loveliness surrounding you in such sad, desperate times. And I thought about how sweet it must be to live in a world where the proper order of things (with its tidy, A always follows B, reality) provides a measure of comfort and peace during difficult times. Old people get sick and die while babies are born, live, and nourish the family with fresh hope.

I couldn't take my eyes off the family. Watching them was an exquisite sort of agony, but I just couldn't look away. Mercifully, they left soon after their husband/father/grandfather/great-grandfather was called into dialysis.

And order returned to my world. Just me and my dad. No little boys trailing along behind to remind us that life does go on and that we will not be forgotten.

I've been trying, of late, to focus on my blessings - of which there are many - to keep myself from sinking into a self-pitying funk from which there is no return.

It works. Mostly.

But I'm still angry that this is my life right now. I'm angry that we're surviving more than we're living. I'm angry that joy has to be so hard won. I'm angry that my dad is suffering so much, and that we're all suffering the helpless agony of not being able to make him better.

It's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair!!

But I know it's up to me to figure out a way to pry the good from all this and make my life about more than just the cumulative effects of its losses and sorrows and struggles.

I just hope I can muster the energy to do it. Again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Of course it hurts. Yes, even still.

The other day I read a blog post by someone who is much more willing to admit her brokenness than I am. She is not ashamed of it the way I am. She is not afraid of it, nor of what people think of it.

I'm not sure she even thinks of it as brokenness, as a matter of fact. Come to think of it she's probably right, dammit.

The gist of her post was that infertile women who claim to be okay with being around babies are lying to us - even to those of us in the same boat - and to themselves. I'm paraphrasing, but that's basically what she was saying - that those of us who are childless not by choice are never completely comfortable being surrounded by the things we wanted most in the world and can never have.

It makes sense, really. Say you want a drink of water really badly, and then say you can never have one ever again. Ignore the fact that this would, of course, eventually kill you, and just imagine how agonizing it would be to be surrounded by clean, crisp, cold water that you can never, ever have. Ever.

It would be difficult - painful even -  to go to a cottage, or a beach, or do something as simple as wash your dishes or have a long, hot bath. Touching the water but never being able to drink it and quench your thirst would be absolute torture. Probably forever.

So it really does make sense that those of us who wanted children but haven't been able to either conceive them, carry them, or bring them home alive would find exposure to children painful on some level every time. Probably forever.

It makes perfect sense.

And if I'm honest (which I don't always like to be when it comes to this sort of thing because I want people to think I'm strong and lovely), it really does always hurt to be around children. It's not a life-threatening gunshot to the head kind of pain anymore. But it is still there. And it's uncomfortable.

I would disagree with the blogger's insistence that the infertile never want to be around children (and are lying if they say so) because there are times when I genuinely do want to be around the children I love, even though I know it will hurt at the same time. Because I love children, and I especially love the ones in my life.

So the pain is just a side effect of exposure. And I can live with that. I have no choice, of course, but I really can live with it - especially since I've learned coping mechanisms that help me deal with the lingering after effects.

Those coping mechanisms often involve chocolate, wine, and shopping - but still, they work.

But I do wish I'd had the wherewithal to say no back when the pain really was like a shot to the head. When newborns were thrust into my arms by well-meaning friends who obviously thought that it would be a salve on my broken heart, and when new mothers (inexplicably, under the circumstances) launched into birth stories and tales of breastfeeding that seemed positively endless. I wish I'd had the courage then to say, "I'm sorry, but as happy as I am for you, hearing this much detail is a little painful for me right now - and no, I can't hold your baby either."

I wish I'd cared more for my own feelings than the feelings of others back then. I wish I'd known that it would have been more than okay for me to retreat to the safety of my home (or my car, or a bathroom - or anywhere where there weren't mothers and babies) when all the babyness around me threatened to suffocate me. I wish I'd known it was okay to protect myself and my barely beating heart.

I'm sure the unsolicited immersion therapy can be at least partially credited for shoving me along to the place I'm at now. I can look forward to spending time with a child - and in some cases I'm the one who initiates it - knowing full well that it's also going to hurt, but enjoying it despite the ever-present ache.

But the point is, I do still hurt. And I need to stop being ashamed of admitting it. And I need to stop thinking I'm broken because of it. And I need to stop thinking I'm less of a woman for feeling it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Surviving the holidays

When I was a kid, Christmas started as soon as Halloween was put away (which is the reason why I start playing Christmas music on November 1st now that I'm a grown-up and can make those sorts of executive decisions).

But back in the 70s when I didn't have quite as much power (but did have an alarming number of polyester pants), if the beginning of November was deemed too early to drag out the decorations, I just made my own to tide myself over. Construction paper chains and snowflakes worked well, although I callously tossed them aside for the breathtaking beauty of the plastic holly garland as soon as it made its glorious appearance above the fireplace hearth. It had multicoloured twinkle lights and everything - something no paper chain could ever hope to achieve.

My parents, whether they were conscious of doing it or not, created traditions that I still try to find a way to carry on today. The plastic garland melted in an overly-ambitious fire years ago - and our gas fireplace is too hot to allow a swag of garland anyway - but there are some things I cannot change. I will not change.

Christmas has an edge of sadness - I can't lie. I miss Thomas with an ache that sometimes threatens to double me over during the holiday season. And I miss my Grandparents, who were such a huge part of my life and of Christmases past.

But I love the season in all its tinseled glory, and I refuse to give in to the sorrow as much as humanly possible. It sits below my skin like a layer of winter fat, but I can hide it with big sweaters.

And I can ease it by indulging in the traditions that make me feel safe and cozy and loved.

I have a bourbon fruit cake in the oven right now, as a matter of fact, because my mom made it every year. She spent most of December trying to keep my dad from "taste-testing" it, but somehow enough managed to last through to the big day.

I tasted one batter-smothered, brandified raisin before I washed the mixing bowl, and it instantly transported me back to Christmas past. Kind of like my own personal Dickens-inspired time capsule.

The ornaments my Grandma gave me each year still find a way onto my tree - even the Santa Claus with the giant clown lips that we made together (I did the lips) - and I still get a brand new pair of Christmas jammies to wear on Christmas Eve.

There is comfort in ritual. And there is joy in creating new traditions, even if you don't have anyone to pass them down to.

Last year my niece said she'd visit me in the home if I promised to have my Christmas cookie party every year. It began as a distraction in 2005 when I needed to have something to do in the weeks leading up to what would have been Thomas' first Christmas - and when doing something "new" was critical to me, for reasons I can no longer really explain.

But now it's something that I know at least one little soul looks forward to. And the thought that it might become part of her cherished Christmas-past memories when she's all grown up means the world to me.

And so I bake. To distract, to comfort, to remember, to celebrate.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eight years

On November 16, 2002 I married My Beloved.
In October 2003 we lost our first child to miscarriage.
In March 2004 we lost our second child to miscarriage.
In March 2005 our beautiful boy was born and died 20 hours later.
In June 2006 we started fertility treatments.
In August 2007 we lost our twins to miscarriage.
In 2009 we decided to close this chapter of our lives and stop trying.

On November 16, 2010 we went to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the afternoon. We had a delicious lunch, and then window shopped our way up and down the town's main street until the rain got too heavy for proper strolling. We bought Christmas lights and an ornament for Thomas' wreath. We did a bit of Christmas shopping and bought some Irish tea (which we figured we'd need later once we were home and dry - and we did). We held hands. We laughed. We tried on hats. We marveled at the vast selection of jams Niagara-on-the-lake seems to produce - and bought some of that too. We talked. We drove home in the pouring rain to our quiet little house.

And then I took this:

And when I looked at it, I realized that no matter what has happened - no matter what unfathomable heartbreaks we've faced since we said "I do" eight years ago - I still always look happiest when I'm with my Sandy.

Some things never change.

oxox

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Christmas List

My Christmas list
By Kristin, age 40 & 1/2

1. I would like my Dad to be here for Christmas. Please.
2. I would like like them (whoever "they" are) to hurry the hell up and find a cure for cancer. For all cancers, and no matter at what stage. I would like that very much. Please.
3. I would like someone to invent a reasonably priced and 100% effective under eye cream that would make me look rested and relaxed, even when I'm exhausted and knotted up into a Kristin-shaped ball off anxiety.
4. I would like them (whoever "they" are) to make a fat-free chocolate substitute that tastes exactly like the real thing. But only after they're finished finding the cure for cancer.
5. I would like to be thin. Without trying...as if by magic.
6. I would like Justin Bieber to fix his hair. And then go away.
7. I would like our region to change its policy on backyard poultry so we could have a tiny flock of chickens in our yard, allowing us to bake and cook with farm fresh eggs. Every day, if we wanted.
8. I would like to find a comfortable pair of chubby-foot-flattering heels that don't make it appear as though I'm wearing cartoon pig hooves.
9. Oh hell, I would just like to have thin feet. And ankles that never swell.
10. I would like the fashion industry to pay more attention to round, short-waisted women so I could wear pants that aren't always two inches south of my cleavage.


But mostly I want #1 and #2. So Santa, go work your magic.

Love,
Kristin

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Notes on a madwoman update

I slept in, ate cookies and did not walk.

Siiiiiigh.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Notes on a madwoman

I bought new sheets today - but not just regular old sheets. Fleece sheets. Fleeeeeeeece. I saw them somewhere last week and have been dreaming about them ever since. When I spotted a gorgeous set at Costco today for just $31, I grabbed them.

They're going to take up a stupid amount of room in the linen closet when we're not using them, but it'll be worth the annoyance during the warm months to be cuddled by a queen size mattress-shaped teddy bear all winter long.

I took my dad to dialysis today. We needed someone to be there to make sure the shot he was getting wasn't a duplicate flu shot. He has a lot of trouble hearing and even more trouble remembering, so he came home on Monday afternoon with sketchy information about the nature of the shot.

Always one to escalate the seriousness of a situation beyond reasonable levels (particularly if I have an entire night to think about it), I decided I needed to make sure he was okay myself.

And the sheets, they came later. A carefully planned reward.

I can't figure out if this is a healthy coping mechanism or just a crutch. But whatever. I have new sheets!!!

Fleeeeeeece.
___________________________________________________

I've been clenching my jaw like a madwoman on crack lately. Not that I know what a madwoman on crack would actually do with her jaw, but I suspect at least some of the time there'd be some vice grip action going on.

The last time I was at the dentist I was soundly chastized for my grinding activities. So much so that she actually took a picture of one of my more seriously worn teeth and blew it up on screen so I could get a really good look at it.

It was bigger than my head. Alarming for that reason alone, frankly.

She then proceeded to show me one of her own perfectly formed, pristine teeth - the same one as the mangled, head-size one still leering at me from the computer monitor.

It was horrifying and humiliating all at once.

God, I love doctors.

I'm kind of hoping I get a lecture on grinding at my next appointment (which I need to make soon so they'll stop leaving messages for me in that cheery, "it'll-be-quick-and-painless-and-really-fun-and-happy" dentist tone they use when they're trying to lure you in for a cleaning). I might need to explain to her - at length and in great detail - exactly why I'm a helpless slave to the grinding, especially now.

I bet that would be even more fun than taunting someone who grinds with your magical, perfect tooth.
__________________________

I neeeeeeeed to start getting some exercise. I need exercise way more than I needed those sheets. And probably more than I need to go to the dentist, truth be told.

The stress is killing me softly. And fattening me up nicely.

I reward myself a lot - with fleece sheets sometimes, but more often it's with chocolate. And I really must find a better way to cope with the stress of worrying about and caring for my parents - and then worrying about what bits of my own life are sliding while I'm preoccupied with them.

I worry all the time. Then when I do something hard, I reward myself with crap I shouldn't eat or stuff I don't need to buy. Then I feel guilty. Then I worry about that for a bit, then I go back to worrying about whatever it was that I was worried about before I decided I had to reward myself.

And so on, and so on.

I'm clearly in a downward spiral of chocolate eating and sheet buying and endless worrying.

Maybe I'll go for a walk tomorrow morning after a good night's sleep on my new fleece-y sheets. Which are, of course, chocolate-coloured. I'm nothing if not consistent.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The crazy cat lady

Last Halloween we went all out. I was a mummy and My Beloved was a delightfully homemade Superman (I have photographic evidence, but I'm fairly certain I'd be served with divorce papers if said photos landed up on this blog...).

This year, however, we weren't able to muster up the energy to do much of anything. Worry makes you tired, was our conclusion yesterday. We put out a pumpkin and the sound-activated spider - and of course we had treats - but we were planning to be plainclothes Halloweenies for the night.

But by late in the day I found I couldn't completely resist Halloween's lure. So I came up with this...


The ponytail "cat ears" really show off my gray roots, which is an especially nice touch, I think.

I put on a Snoopy Halloween hoodie to complete the ensemble, then I poured a glass of wine and sat in the living room to wait for the trick-or-treaters.

Halfway through my glass of wine I realized how ridiculous it all was - a 40-year old childless woman in a Snoopy sweatshirt and cat makeup sitting in the front window with a beer glass full of wine.

Yeah, I'm way classy.

But you know, I think this is what would have made me a good mom. Minus the wine part. And maybe that makes it all the more pathetic that I still do this sort of thing, but I shall choose to think that it makes me charming instead.

As the years pass it will, I suppose, just make me look really crazy - but we'll cross that bridge to the asylum when we come to it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Remembrance

First thing this morning on Facebook, I found this.

I've been wanting to write about this very thing for a while; about how hard Facebook has the potential to be if you are on the outside looking in. The ultrasounds and baby photos subbing as profile pictures, the "offers" to sell naughty children, cute birthday/Halloween/Christmas/Thanksgiving stories, announcements about potty training successes, first teeth, and new pregnancies...

Facebook is rife with childcentric information.

And there's absolutely no reason why it shouldn't be. None whatsoever.

But because it is, it can be a dangerous place for someone trying to navigate the bloody waters of infertility and loss. And it can be torture for someone for whom all those lovely baby things will never be a reality.

The interesting thing is that we generally stay very quiet about all this. So much so that it likely never occurs to anyone but us that it might be painful. The landmines are invisible unless you see them as such. We are blown to smithereens every day by things others look at with wonder and joy.

That's just the way it is.

It's the way it has to be, in fact, because the world can't (and shouldn't) stop merely because we are sad. There is no reason our sorrow should trump another's joy.

But that's precisely why I was so shocked to see the link above; stunned that someone would actually dare to put it all out there - to demonstrate in a tangible way what it can sometimes feel like to be a childless person floating alone in a seemingly endless sea of fertility.

We, as a group, generally concentrate our efforts on making sure other people don't feel uncomfortable. The last thing we tend to do is point out our own discomfort. We might be broken, humiliated, and desperate - but we are usually silent.

And I'm not sure what I think about this phenomenon anymore, this strange code of silence.

I don't want to be the person who rains on everyone's parade, reminding people with my sad looks and pitiful sighs that I envy what they have. I don't want to be the needy girl from whom people flee in horror. And I certainly don't want to end up being a one-trick pony who can't talk about anything but the life she wishes she'd been able to have.

But sometimes I do crave a certain level of acknowledgment - a little something that lets me know you would smother my pain with a pillow if you had one big enough, or strangle cruel fate with your bare hands for denying me my joy. I am desperately struggling to co-exist in this fertile world, and that pain I feel is real. This life is hard - harder than I ever dreamed - and I'm not always okay. I probably look it most of the time - maybe all the time - but I am stuck together with tape, staples and prayers. And chocolate and wine.

I'm not looking for pity. I can't stress that enough. I think what we all want so much is simply for people to remember that we're here too.

So you think you can dance

So tonight at dance class, My Beloved and I had to hijack the instructor (we'll call him Cliff because I can't remember his real name) to settle a disagreement about which leg we should each be using when starting the waltz. I always presume I'm right - which is, unfortunately, not always the case. Not that it stops me from steadfastly believing I'm right the next time a directional or foot placement issue comes up, of course.

I also, not surprisingly, have trouble letting My Beloved lead.

Anyway, after having the mystery of the starting-leg sorted out for us (yeah, I was wrong), Cliff then proceeded tell me that I'm one of the best dancers in the class.

I started laughing.

Incredibly, he waved off my laughter and insisted that I'm truly one of the best - something about the graceful way I move my body or something. I dunno - I stopped listening when I realized he wasn't taking the piss. Shocked into a stupor.

Something nice about my body? Wha...? Huh??

Me, people. There are impossibly tiny little women (in impossibly high heels and flirty little skirts) in our dance class. I'm 40, with easily that many pounds to lose, and always sweating withing minutes of the music starting.

I'm a sweaty hippo in a tutu, really.

And yet somehow, inexplicably, one of the best in the class.

Now I know it's not saying all that much - some people in that stuffy elementary school gym can barely walk, let alone dance - but I've never been good at anything requiring physical endurance and/or coordination. And my body has failed me (us, really) so many times since we lost our first baby seven years ago that I'm totally unaccustomed - and thoroughly unprepared - to hear it being praised by anyone. For anything.

But whaddaya know. It can dance.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Picture this

On Saturday night, for no other reason that it suddenly occurred to me that I wanted to, I posted an album of Thomas-related photos on Facebook.

I think the idea sparked to life after I saw a picture Loribeth posted there of the beautiful plaque on her sweet baby girl's niche. It was such an intimate and lovely thing to see, and it allowed me to know her just a little bit more than I had before, which is something so precious when you're talking about a baby that has died. There isn't much to know - that's the unfortunate truth. Every little thing is to be cherished.

So I set about digging through my photos with a strange sort of urgency and excitement. Having suddenly discovered that it was the right time to share all those sweet memories of my pregnancy and Thomas' short life, I couldn't wait to post the pictures.

I was, if you squinted and looked at just the right angle, going to be almost normal - just like any mom who posts pictures of her pregnancy, nursery, and the baby that followed on Facebook.

You know, normal but for the part in the photo essay where you see a grave marker - and stop seeing pictures of the baby.

Details, details, details.

It took an hour or so to choose, download and caption the photos.

Dozens of kind, loving thoughts now litter the comment section below the album - words I will carry in my heart forever because they are so heartfelt and so loving. That wasn't a surprise (I'm friends with some really, really great people) - it was my reaction that caught me off guard.

I was touched. Happy. Grateful.

And then, somehow, confused. Because in the midst of reveling in the joy of hearing people say what a lovely boy he was, and how much they appreciated the album, and how hard it must have been for me to post it, I started feeling a slow, creeping kind of sadness.

My boy - my story - disturbs people. It makes them uncomfortable and sorry and sad.

Which, I mean - duh. Of course it does. Of course.

But somehow in the midst of my photo posting frenzy, I kind of forgot that bit. I was thisclose to being normal - posting pictures of me pregnant and smiling, of My Beloved painting the nursery, of me cutting the cake at my shower - and my excitement at doing a regular old thing like sharing baby photos with friends made me forget that we aren't really regular people anymore.

My balloon didn't burst, exactly. But the slow leak did it in just the same.

I feel a bit foolish for having tricked myself the way I did. I look back and see a crazed woman madly scouring her photo archives with reckless abandon and unbridled glee, totally oblivious to the crash that was of course going to come - and I'm amazed at her naivete.

After more than five and a half years you'd think I'd know better. I mean, really.

But still, the brief feeling of normalcy was quite nice. And, in the end, totally worth it.

And besides, I'm glad that my friends might now feel that they know Thomas a tiny bit better than they did before - just like I feel a lovely sort of peace and closeness for knowing Loribeth's Katie just that much more now too.

Friday, October 15, 2010

This little light of mine...

...I'm going to let it shine in memory of Thomas, his four wee sibilings, 
and all their friends now playing together in God's garden.

 With love forever, and ever, and ever.
 Until we meet again. ox


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fire

On Friday as I was leaving the dialysis waiting area after my dad was summoned in for his "oil change" (as he used to call it when his mind was still a little fuzzy), I stopped briefly to talk to one of the hospital volunteers.

She's an older lady herself - probably in her mid 60s - and I have long suspected that she has a tiny bit of a crush on my dad. She lights up when she sees him, teases him like a schoolgirl, and has also been known to pet him. Like, literally - she strokes his arm like she's petting a cat. Friday she went to far as to pat his face, cupping his chin in her hand for a brief moment.

Were it not for the fact that she's a very kind woman - and really no competition for my mom since my dad has only ever had eyes for her - I would probably have already issued a passive aggressive smackdown. But she's entirely too sweet for that sort of thing. And, really, why should I mind that someone shows my dad a little extra kindness?

There's often not enough to go around in this world. That he gets extra doses when she's on call is fine by me.

So on my way out on Friday, she asked me if I thought it upset him that she pokes fun at him. I smiled and told her no, that he eats that sort of thing up (he is a man, after all).

She then went on to say how sweet he is, and that he seems like a good, kind person who has lived a good, happy life. She sees a lot of old, broken people filing past her as she greets them and checks their names off the list. My dad is no exception, held together by spit and tape the way he is. But she has somehow managed to see beyond the old, sick man he's become so dreadfully quickly. I don't know what her gift is, but with just the briefest of contact each week, she was able to see right into his soul. And was kind enough to tell me what she saw.

It's what I see too, of course, but it made me feel so good to know that what I know isn't a secret - that it's still obvious, even in the hardest and saddest of circumstances. As beaten down and as sad as I know he sometimes feels, he still radiates an inner light that is visible for miles.

As I drove back to have lunch with my mom, I thought about how incredible it is to have someone see you that way; to have someone feel the goodness and kindness radiating from you like the heat from a bonfire on a chilly autumn night.

So along with learning the ukulele (which I'm still determined to do, despite evidence to the contrary in the form of a thick layer of dust on the poor little thing), my new life goal is to try to be the kind of person my dad is so that one day someone who doesn't know me - or anything about me - might feel that kind of warmth too.

Maybe this isn't something you can aspire to. Maybe it's just something you have to have without trying - or even knowing. But I will never forget that conversation with the hospital volunteer, or the light my dad manages to bring to her face with the power of his own.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thanksgiving Day, 2010

This, this is what I'm thankful for this year.
I love you, dad.

ox

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Perspective

Time has given me the ability to understand that what I see - and the way I see it - is coloured by the lens of loss.

This notion is true for everyone, of course. We all see the world based on things that have happened to us: people we've met, jobs we've had, loves we've lost, struggles we've faced, triumphs we've celebrated - our life experiences make us see things in a way unique only to us.

So I'm biased, is what I'm saying.

I see a mother wishing away her weekend because she's tired of being with her kids and I want to scream. I hear conversations about how parenting is mostly joyless drudgery (at lot - it seems like a trendy opinion these days) and I reel with the force of a hand slap to the face.

I stand mute while these conversations swirl around me because I know that my opinion won't count. I am the one who sees motherhood through rose coloured glasses. They know that, and I know that. I can still conjure that dreamy, once-upon-a-time vision of a warm, sleepy baby tucked into my arms while I rock him gently back to sleep in the middle of the night, singing softly and marveling at his beauty while my heart bursts with love and pride.

Seriously, I can still see it, plain as day. 

In that vision I am beautiful, love radiating from my glowing face in the dim light of the man-in-the-moon lamp, tendrils of hair cascading just so, my robe crisply white, my slippers fluffy and new. I am not haggard, half-asleep, dirty, disheveled, or vomited-upon. I'm not even in a bad mood. I'm happy to be up in the middle of the night. Happy.

Is that how it would have been? I'm guessing probably no. Not every time. Maybe not even once (except for the glowing with love bit - I'm sure that would always have been true).

But in the absence of any personal evidence to prove this vision fraudulent, that's the movie that plays in my head. And so to hear parenting so cruelly maligned is always a bit of a shock. Almost a personal affront to the life I wanted so very, very badly - and to that lovely vision I hold so dear. It flat out makes me angry to hear those who have it treat it like a head cold they wish they could medicate away.

But I understand it's not fair of me to judge. I really do, despite evidence to the contrary. And I understand that I can't help but see the experience of parenting in a way those with living children never will. It's just that all that annoying understanding creates such a war between my head and my heart.

The worst of it is that I can't say anything. Obviously I can't contribute to conversations about the difficulty of day-to-day parenting (although it's not like I don't have a clue how hard parenting can be; I had to take my child off life support. I get that it's hard). And if I chose to point out that parents should shut up and be grateful for the gifts they were lucky enough to be given every time someone within earshot complained about their kid, I'm sure I'd find my Christmas card list diminish rather quickly.

Parents who have living children see their lives through that lens. They aren't supposed to put on my glasses and see it my way. They can't. They have their perspective, I have mine.

So I stay quiet. Mostly. You know, except for blogging.

And I try - I really, really do try - to keep it all in perspective, knowing that my vision of motherhood is still, and always will be, just a lovely dream playing quietly in my head.

It's my world too

Today I got trapped behind a woman with twins at the grocery store who seemed hellbent on telling me all about the apparent lack of two-seater shopping carts at stores in our town. She blocked my cart, then took her sweet time strapping her twins into hers as she blabbed on and on about the galling absence of the elusive two-seater. Her eyes waggled out of their sockets with outrage and disbelief at the magnitude of this horrible injustice. Like the universe somehow always owed her a convenient spot to stick her kids simply because she managed to have two of them at the same time (who, by the way, were totally old enough to walk nicely beside the cart, if you ask me).

My mistake was agreeing that the seat part on the new FreshCo carts is hard to open. But the thing is, that's where I put my purse, not my kids.

I started to explain that I use the area where you'd normally put a child as my handy purse-holder - that would have been my contribution to the conversation - but agreement was all she needed to assume that we had common ground. And she was off.

After the initial vent subsided, I learned how difficult twin wrangling is, and got a verbal map of all the stores in our area with two-seater carts. Which is all such useful information for me, isn't it?

I'm used to this sort of thing. It usually ends up being more amusing to me than anything else now - in that Murphy's Law/ Born Loser sort of way. Unless the person is particularly annoying, in which case I'd probably be irritated even if I had living children.

But there is still a little part of me that squirms under the weight of my history when this sort of thing happens.

Because, of course, in situations like this I'm a fraud. I nod in agreement, as though I know anything about things like putting kids in shopping carts or twin wrangling - or need directions to the stores with the best kind carts for multiple kids. But I nod just the same, and smile sympathetically.

Or, even worse, knowingly.

No one can tell I'm lying. No one can possibly imagine the internal dialogue I'm having at the same time - prepping my answers, absorbing landmines, concentrating on arranging my face into something that I think probably looks normal, relaxed, and appropriate. Acting, acting, acting. 

And then I walk away feeling like I've just been sliced out of a picture. Neatly and with surgical precision, I lift right out of the "normal" world around me as soon as someone reminds me that I don't actually belong there - that I will always be different because I have this whole other life that people who worry about the lack of two-seater shopping carts can't begin to fathom even exists.

Of course I have the right to explain that my world looks different; that my purse is in the spot where children are intended to be because all my children happen to be dead. But most of the time this is simply impractical. It's easier to nod and agree than it is to tell my story in the fleeting snippet of time you generally give to strangers at the grocery store. My story isn't quick or easy. And, let's be honest, most people simply don't want to hear that kind of story anyway.

So I just carry on living my double life, being normal until I'm reminded I'm not. And being me until I'm required to play some other, more palatable and socially acceptable role. 

Lucky for me I'm not half bad at faking it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

* CLICK *

Ugh, I intended for this post to be a photo retrospective of sorts - a cool visual way to end ICLW week. But I just made the fatal error of spending a bit too much time looking at the photos we have of Thomas in the hospital. And now, well, I'm spent.

The very hospital-y shots we have of him are always so shocking. Precious, of course, but startling. In my mind, he's the peaceful, gorgeous baby in the pictures we have framed in our bedroom and living room. No tubes, no wires - no obvious evidence of a hospital. The ones in which the hospital is not disguised, however, always take my breath away. In a bad way.

So this is going to have to do, this funny shot of me covered in cats. It was late summer of 2004, and I was doing what I did best during the first 10 weeks or so of my pregnancy with Thomas. Tired? Who me?

Whilst I was making good use of the couch, I became a mattress for Lucy (our cat) and my sister's two kittens who we were cat-sitting that week.

Apparently cats dig you when you're pregnant. Like, a lot.



Luckily Lucy still digs me now, pregnant or not, which is pretty nice. Pretty nice indeed.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by for ICLW! It was so nice to "meet" you, and I appreciate your visits and your comments more than you know!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Acceptance

I feel, for the most part, that I'm on the upswing in terms of accepting a childless life. I had some scary complications (both after Thomas was born and after I lost the twins) that made the idea of continuing to try less appealing than it otherwise would have been, and I love the life I've built with My Beloved in the last few years since my most recent loss. Plus an end to the crazed hamster wheel of shots, drugs, raging hormones, timed sex, and dildo cams? Well, that's been nice too. Very, very nice indeed.

I feel almost normal.

Actually, in truth, I probably now feel as normal as I ever will.

The big secret no one ever tells you is that sorrow doesn't go away. Time doesn't heal all wounds. It simply makes the scars less angry and harder for people to see. But the scars, they stay etched on your soul for the rest of your life. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, because there's nothing worse than thinking you should have to stop missing your baby - that that's the healthy thing to do.

I assume no mother with living children ever simply forgets they exist. And so just like those moms, I never forget my son. And I will never forget the other three times I found out I was pregnant, nor the hope and joy those positive tests brought to my life and to the lives of the people who couldn't wait for those children to be born.

But the thing is, that's all feeling more and more like a chapter I just finished reading. Trying to conceive, miscarriages, losing Thomas, fertility treatments - that all belongs to a different part of my life.

I've gently, quietly turned a page. Almost without noticing.

Maybe it's partly because I'm so focused on my mom & dad and the extra help they need right now, I don't know. But it really does feel like the time for children has well and truly passed, and the idea doesn't fill me with the same overwhelming grief it once did.

It's a decision we made about a year ago, but it's settling in with me in a comfortable sort of way now. And I'm as surprised as anyone that I'm making peace with the hand we were dealt. Because it was a fucking awful hand - right out of one of the most horrific nightmares imaginable.

It'll never be fair that we didn't get to be parents to living children. And I will always grieve for that beautiful life I thought we'd have. I want to scoop up those two silly kids who sat on my sister's patio and talked about having children on one of their first dates back in the summer of 1999. I want to scoop them up, hold them close and tell them how sorry I am that things turned out this way instead.

And then I want to tell them how proud and amazed I am of the way they're going to weather the shitstorms to come.

It shouldn't have been this way. But somehow we're making it work.

Imagine that.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Happy X2

So, the dancing? In a word, Fabulous!

Not us, of course. We were mediocre at best, really. We stepped on each other (a lot), we lost concentration and laughed, we made stupid jokes and giggled when we should have been listening, our basic cha-cha looked more like a pot bellied pig and a giraffe having a synchronized seizure, the waltz made my right bum cheek ache (I don't think the waltz is supposed to hurt), and I was scolded by My Beloved more than once for leading (because apparently it's the man that leads. Hunh).

But still, fantastic. A solid hour in his arms - and no room in our dance-challenged brains for any of our cares or woes.

Perfection.

And then today, after paying for a cab ride back to the train station from a meeting, I was handed a toonie (Canadian for a $2.00 coin), and two caramels by the cab driver.

The toonie, he said, was for a cup of coffee. And the caramels? Something sweet to go with it.

In the history of cab rides has anyone ever been given money back at the end of the trip? AND candy, for heaven's sake?! I've been wracking my brain all afternoon trying to figure this out. But since there's no logical explanation for it, I'm just going to assume that he had a good reason for doing such an unexpected and kind thing for a total stranger.

And I'm going to remember how this feels, and pass it on.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Painting the town red-ish

A few weeks ago I boldly proclaimed that my goal was to do at least one thing a month that we couldn't do if we had kids. Not to gloat, as you'll recall, just to try to make the best of a situation we never wanted to be in, in the first place.

It was my attempt at silver-lining hunting, driven by a deep desire not to waste the rest of my life wishing for what I've lost and pining for what I can't have. Clearly I'm going to wish and pine for the rest of my life (who are we kidding?!) - I just want to make sure I do other stuff too.

The thing is, in all honestly, I can't exactly figure out what we can do that babysitter-enabled people can't. Which is a bit of a pisser, really.

So, for the sake of argument, let's just assume that no parents can ever find babysitters. Like, ever. Or if they can, they find they have to cancel their fancy evening plans because the baby sitter gets sick. Or has a really important term paper she needs to work on.  Or gets grounded for sneaking out of the house to go see a Justin Beiber concert or some such thing.

Let's just pretend.

Okay, so having said that - the thing we're doing this month that we clearly could never do if we had children is go dancin'! Yeah, that's right, I've persuaded My Beloved to take Ballroom dancing lessons at my church, and tonight is our first class.

This is probably akin to the agony of a root canal to most men, but My Beloved is awesome beyond all comprehension and won't refuse me the simple pleasure of dancing cheek to cheek.

Or cheek to teat, really. He's very tall.

Part of the lure is our ability to pay-as-we-go. If it's boring, bad or really, really embarrassing we need never return.

But I'm hoping we'll like it. And not fall down, and stuff.

We shall see.

In the meantime, I have my fingers crossed and my dancin' shoes on!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A wee bit about me for ICLW

Oy, where to start.

I guess the beginning, which, for this blog, was January 2005. My internet adventure was inspired by a good friend's dad who wrote some of the sweetest, funniest things in the last few months of his life while he battled cancer. Yeah, while he battled cancer.

I wanted to do that. To write interesting, funny things about the ordinary bits of my very ordinary life.

I was pregnant with our first child at the time. Thomas. I had already had two miscarriages, one on October 25th, 2003 and a second in March 2004.

Thomas outlived them both. He slipped silently into the world at 5:30pm on March 9th, 2005. The only sound I ever heard him make was one little gasp as I held him while he lay dying.

He was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. He still is. I will die knowing there was nothing more beautiful on this earth than the face of my son.

I had a massive placental abruption during delivery. I lived. He died. He was perfect, healthy and strong, but 12 minutes without oxygen was too much for his tiny body. He passed away 20 hours after he was born.

My blog, which was never intended to be a blog about loss, infertility and, eventually, living without children, became anything but ordinary. It became therapy. Really, really fast.

I battled secondary infertility after a bout with septicemia post c-section left me riddled with scar tissue. Armed with nothing more than a severely damaged psyche, one blocked fallopian tube, a misshapen uterus, and the aforementioned scar tissue, I fought the good fight.

We almost won - twice, really - with twins, conceived in late spring 2007.

But they're gone too. Lost at 12 weeks.

And so it's still only the two of us. And that's just the way it's going to be.

My goal is to be living proof that sometimes that's okay. Sometimes the "happy ending" everyone desperately hope you'll get is one that looks just like ours. Because we are happy, in our own little way. We are sad too, of course. We miss what we almost had - every second of every day we miss that boy's sweet little face. But I think we're as happy as you can be with a history like ours.

Yeah, it's not exactly a fairy tale - but it is my story.

And, damn it, I'm writing is as best I can.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Help make October 15th Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day in Ontario!

The Perinatal Bereavement Society of Ontario (PBSO) is working towards having October 15th officially recognized as Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day in Ontario. If you or someone you know has been touched by perinatal loss, please consider contacting your MPP and asking him/her to support this effort. It would mean a lot to bereaved parents in Ontario to have an official day during which to remember and honour our little souls.

The hope is that promoting awareness of pregnancy and infant loss will also increase the likelihood that bereaved parents will receive greater understanding and support from family, friends, co-workers, and health care providers as they face the challenges of this very complicated, life-altering and lifelong grief. 

I've included a link to the PBSO website where you'll find sample letters (for bereaved parents or supporters) with all the information you'll need, including how to find and contact your MPP.

Please consider helping out by writing to your MPP. 

Please?


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Firth and Saunders

I recently read that men have a preferred sex while women have a more preferred sex. Which totally explains how I currently have a crush on both Colin Firth and Jennifer Saunders.

I will swing both ways, apparently, as long as the object of my affection is English. And in show business. And attractive. And talented.

So anyway...

Colin and I went to the movies together on Friday night. We totally, totally did.

My absolutely fabulous sister snagged four tickets to the Toronto International Film Festival's premiere of The King's Speech on what was Mr. Firth's 50th birthday. He attended the gala premiere, of course, where I (and about two hundred other people) witnessed his utter and complete gloriousness on the red carpet.

I only caught a glimpse, really. I was rushing back from the ticket office with our tickets when I heard, "COLIN! COLIN! COLIN!", from the frenzied crowd on the red carpet just as he moved his way into the media tent.

But a glimpse of Colin Firth is nothing to sniff at.

Oooh, it would have been nice to actually sniff him...can you imagine?!

Anyway, Colin Firth, Geoffry Rush, and the film's director, writer and some other people (whose names and titles escape me because they were introduced to the audience after Colin Firth, thus rendering me completely incapable of paying any attention to them whatsoever) all sat in the theatre and watched the movie along with us.

It was a big theatre, and I didn't actually know they were in the audience until after the film ended, but it still totally counts.

I went to the movies with Colin Firth.

As for Jennifer Saunders, I've spent the last two weeks blowing through the entire 5 seasons of Absolutely Fabulous (including specials and extras). I can't believe it took me 40 years to discover the awesomeness of AbFab.

Where. Have. I. Been?!

I now want to be her. Not the charmingly amoral character she plays, but her. That career. I want that career.

Never mind that I'm nowhere near anything resembling an actress, have never taken any acting classes, and have no desire to actually be an actress. I just think it would be amazing to write something that clever; to put something so awesome out into the world that it has the power to inspire a 40-year old, musty-brained copywriter to want to do more with the words in her head.

So when I grow up I want to be Jennifer Saunders.

Failing that, I would also consider becoming Colin Firth's second wife when My Beloved chucks me after reading this post.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk

My book was talking to me last night.

Feeling wide awake and vaguely tense (which could have been all the sugar I ate at the CNE yesterday messing with me), I decided to read myself to sleep. It usually works like a Valium-induced charm, but it failed miserably last night. In part because the final 150 pages of the book were gripping, but also because it would not. shut. up.

Talking books are such a nocturnal buzz-kill.

"You make a life out of what you have, not what you're missing", it said to me.

I hate when books are smarter than I am. And I hate when they get all up in my face, trying to teach me valuable life lessons when I'm just trying to get to sleep after a vegetable-less day of total crap eating.

Book was right, though. What was, rather miraculously, left standing in the bloody aftermath of my quest for a child is what I'm building my life upon. It doesn't mean that what (or who) is missing isn't important and hasn't changed me, forever altering the course of the life that remains. But what I snuggle up to each night, hold hands with in a crowded midway, and share my rocky road cheesecake with is what's here.

And my God, it's good.

So, that was nice. A bit of a slap upside the head, but I can't say it's terrible to be reminded that it's important to readjust one's focus every now and then. Book meant well.

"A lost child follows a mother all her life", came just a few pages later.

It screamed through my body and brain, that phrase, with its searing truth. The tears finally came when I read Book's final chapter, closed it, and turned out the light.

Thomas would have been starting Kindergarten today.

I lay on my back with my hands on my belly, the empty tomb where he once rolled and kicked and lived. I cried softly for him in the dark. I whispered his name.

Book was probably thoroughly disgusted with this wanton display of ingratitude for the life I have, especially after it had just reminded me that what I have is pretty sweet, all things considered. But Book can suck it.

I finally got up, took some deep breaths of cool night air at the window, and found a cat to cuddle. Sleep inducing solace eventually came from the Internets. The people inside my computer are as wise as Book, and infinitely more empathetic. Messages from four night owls in response to a pitiful Facebook status gave me the comfort I needed for sleep to come.

And it did. I curled up next to My Beloved, a toothless old cat tucked in beside us, and smiled as I dozed off.  Because books are smart, friends are kind, and darkness makes you see the unfathomable beauty in the light.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Because sometimes we all need a little magic...

Magic Cookie Bars

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cups sweetened, flaked coconut
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup pecan pieces
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Dump graham crumbs into a  9" X 13" pan. Pour melted butter over top of crumbs and mix until all the butter is thoroughly incorporated into the crumbs. Firmly press crumbs into the bottom of the pan to form a solid crust.

Evenly pour coconut over crust. Evenly pour chocolate chips over coconut. Evenly pour pecans over chocolate. Evenly pour entire can of sweetened condensed milk over everything.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 - 30 minutes. Top should be golden brown around the edges, and starting to brown in the centre.

Remove and cool completely before cutting.

Visual inspiration courtesy of my first annual Family Christmas Tea, circa 2005 
(that's them on the left!)

Now go. Off with you. Make sweets. That's an order.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Miscellaneous Monday

I could not sleep last night. I used every last one of my special Jedi mind tricks to try to calm down and lull myself to sleep, but my stubborn brain fought off each and every attempt until well past 2:00am when I finally, mercifully, conked out.

As a result, I'm operating in a general haze of stupidness today.

Thus I am perfectly primed for The Bachelor Pad tonight.

Yeah, that's right - I watch crap reality TV that actually makes me stupider for having watched it. And I don't care. It will give my racing brain something else to digest tonight instead of my own worries. With any luck my noggin, thoroughly drunk on garbage-y TV, will burp, fart, and pass out early.
___________________

I'm going to the premiere of The King's Speech at the Toronto International Film Festival next week. Colin Firth - who owes me $40 for last year's The Picture of Dorian Gray premiere that I went to ONLY because he was going to there, except that he wasn't (!!!) - will be in attendance too.

Yeah, that's right - I'm going to the movies with Colin Firth.
____________________

I had a great idea this morning. Or maybe it was last night. I don't know, I'm too stupid to remember right now.

Anyway, I thought it would be excellent to make a point of doing something every month that we wouldn't be able to do if we had kids. Not to rub our flexibility and ability to be spontaneous in the faces of those who have to rely on babysitters and plan for early evenings, but to make sure we actually make good use of this life we were given.

We didn't choose it, but it's just sitting here, all wiiiiiide open. And it seems criminal not to use up every last drop of it.

And so that's my new plan.
____________________

Almost six months ago I thought for sure my dad was going to die. A few weeks later, he almost did. And a few weeks after that, he started to crash again while My Beloved and I stood in the hallway outside his hospital room staring stupidly at each other. Helpless.

Today I gave him a kiss on the cheek while he sat at the kitchen table eating his meatball sandwich before dialysis.

I remain in endlessly grateful awe that he's still here.
_____________________

I have an adoption post rattling about in my head that I will endeavor to spit out soon.

We are the circus freaks of the infertility world, we black sheep* who choose childlessness over adoption. At best we are objects of curiosity. At worst, we are harshly judged - usually by those who have never had to make these sorts of decisions under these kinds of extraordinary circumstances.

But there are reasons - really good, solid reasons - why we are walking this path instead of the one others may think we should have taken.

And one day I'll talk about it.

But not today. I'm too tired.

*Totally stole "black sheep" from Pamela over at Silent Sorority .

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sometimes when we get bored...

...we put stuff (like furry toy mice) on the cats' heads.

They don't always like it.

Sucks to be them.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Life lessons

When I take my dad to the hospital for dialysis I always go in and wait with him. He doesn't need it - he's perfectly capable of walking in on his own, getting registered and waiting in the outer lounge to be called in for treatment - but I enjoy spending that time with him, just the two of us.

We chat about all kinds of things while he chomps away on his ice chips. Sometimes I stare intently at his face, trying desperately to memorize every little feature while he talks, but I am listening closely too. Hearing the sound of his voice, now weak, but still full of fire and life.

For a hospital waiting area, the dialysis lounge is actually pretty nice. Comfy chairs, dark paneled cupboards, a great ice machine (so I'm told), and a TV, all tucked away from view of the hospital lobby. It's as cozy and as non-threatening as it can possibly be.

But, you know, it's still a hospital waiting room. And there are enough old, sweet faces in there to break your heart a million times over.

I focus on my dad, but when there are lulls in our conversation, my eyes wander to the other souls waiting in the room. And yesterday, I overheard enough of a conversation between one patient and a dietitian to change the way I view my own little world, tragedies and sorrow and all.

She's only in her late 40s, I'd say, and in addition to dealing with renal failure, she is obviously struggling with some form of mental illness - a fact that became very clear yesterday when I overheard part of her discussion with one of the renal dietitians.

As I watched her face register fear and sorrow - flicking back and forth between the two as she told her story -  I thought about my own life. About what's going on right now.

I miss my son. With every single cell in my body, I miss that boy every moment of every day. And I ache for my dad, and for what he's going through - and for the awful toll it's taken on his mind and body over the last five months. And every day I worry that my mom will call and tell me he's gone. And I worry about her too - and my sister. And I wonder if I'm doing the right things, doing enough, saying enough, or maybe saying too little. Or saying too much.

And sometimes I find myself consumed with it all. Worried, sad, distracted. Swallowed whole.

But as I sat in the dialysis waiting room yesterday listening, I thought about the good bits. Dad is still here. There is a Kristin-shaped dent in my mattress next to a Sandy-shaped dent. I wake up to Dibley-the-Wonder-Cat kisses on a regular basis. I laugh until my stomach hurts. I can walk. I can see. I am loved. I love back.

I am still here.

And life, despite all its sorrow, is often so good I can barely breathe.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The small matter of The Home...

Lately I've lapsed back into my preoccupation with what will happen to me when I'm old. The other day, in the midst of a conversation that had nothing to do with either of us, I pointed out to My Beloved that he and I will likely end up in nursing homes at an earlier age than my parents will because we have no one to look after us.

It popped out of my mouth and crashed to the floor of our family room like a lead weight. The hard, real truth of the statement literally drowned out all other sound for a few moments as it clattered around, coming to rest right between us.

And we just sat and stared at each other, unblinking, until My Beloved made a joke (implying that I would be headed to Shady Acres long before him), and balance was restored.

'Cause that's what we do. We speak of big, scary, grown-up things and then immediately use jokes as brain bleach to wash those recklessly flung words away. 

But in all seriousness, I really believe that my mom and dad would be in a nursing home right now were it not for my sister and me. We do what we do because we adore them, of course, but the fact remains that we are the reason they are still able to stay in their house. We drive, cook, clean, advocate, listen, soothe, support and entertain. They have us to rely on - and they always will.

My Beloved and I, on the other hand, have cats. Not quite as useful to the elderly, really.

Anyway, all this has been rolling about in my head again lately. And it reminded me of last Christmas Eve at my in-laws when, to my surprise and delight, a bottle of white wine appeared on the dinner table before me.

Wine. WINE! This never happens at their place. Like, ever. The drinkers, not surprisingly, are on my side of the family.

I waited an appropriate amount of time before grabbing the blessed bottle by the neck and strangling out a glass of liquid holiday Valium. And then another. And maybe a third, I can't remember.

I do remember I was tipsy by the time dessert rolled around. And the only one in the room who was, since the bottle of wine and I were apparently having an exclusive relationship that night.

And that's how I found myself slightly drunk on my mother-in-law's couch on Christmas Eve, begging my 10-year old niece to promise she'd visit me in the home.

Not really my proudest moment.

Fortunately she merely looked at me with a little grin - like I was a silly old aunt meant to be giggled at - and slyly told me that she would come visit me when I'm old as long as I continue to have my Christmas cookie party every year.

Clever girl.

I realize I'm only 40, and that with luck (and perhaps more exercise and less chocolate) I'll have a few decades to plan for the nursing home years. But closing the door to a life with children has opened the hatch to this new, alien place and I'm still having trouble finding shelves and closets for my brand new set of random thoughts and general concerns.

It's very strange to have gone from a mother-to-be to a woman planning her 80th birthday in just a handful of years.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Buzzzzzzzzzzzz

Okay, there's this little bee in my bonnet, and if I don't let it out it's going to keep repeatedly stinging me...

A month or so ago I noticed an article floating about on Facebook that women were posting to their profiles by the dozens. Nosy - and always happy to procrastinate - I of course clicked on the article's thumbprint to see what it was all about.

In a nutshell, it was a "Dear Abby" style column. A reader had written in asking why her girlfriends with children always claimed to be so busy and were generally unavailable after having kids. She couldn't figure out why someone who works full time (as she does) who shares many of the same responsibilities as people with children (cooking, cleaning, errands, etc.) could manage to make time for friends, when those home caring for children couldn't.

Yes, it's ignorant (in the, "she has no idea what she's talking about", sense of the word).

But I think it is possible that someone young and childless might have absolutely no idea what motherhood entails - or that it is a 24/7 job, particularly when children are tiny - especially if she hasn't been around children all that much.

Before I started trying to get pregnant (and reading all the books and magazines that you read when you're preparing to raise a child), I really didn't know the full scope of the whole motherhood thing - the mechanics and details of it all, I mean. I didn't know how many times a newborn poops, or how often they feed, or how little they sometimes sleep during the night, or how often they need to be held, or how hard breastfeeding can be - or how much sleep is lost by new parents because of all this.

I just didn't know.

Some might argue this sort of stuff is common knowledge, and that all women should have absorbed most of it by the time they're in their 20s - but I would argue that it's not. Certainly not for someone like me who was the baby in my family until a cousin was born when I was 20, finally bumping me out of last spot.

The reader's fatal mistake, I think, was implying that mothers are somehow lying about how much time it actually takes to raise a child. She suggested they are simply fudging the facts in an effort to outdo childless working women on the, "my life is harder than your life", scale.

Because yeah, that's just stupid. I absolutely have more "me" time than every single mother I know, and I would never try to suggest otherwise. Someone with a live-in nanny (who also does light housework and cooking) might have more me time than I do. But that's it.

I suppose the reason the article popped up all over Facebook profiles was because of the artful smackdown delivered by the columnist. She wasn't especially kind, and opted not to presume the reader was simply woefully ignorant.

Apparently it all struck a chord with mothers who, I can only assume, have been challenged in the same way the reader obviously challenged her friends with children.

And they got to postin' it on Facebook with a vengeance.

I have no particular problem with the article, nor do I think it was wrong of the columnist to point out the challenges of raising small children. I'm all for educating the masses. But I do have a problem with the way it spread like wildfire all over FB, and the gleeful way in which women were posting it, complete with, "AMEN!" and "YOU SAID IT, SISTER!" descriptors.

It was awkward for me - uncomfortable and alienating. And I just think it was unnecessary. Not the article, but the repeated (and sometimes smug) re-posting of it - meant, one can only assume, as a passive aggressive way to make a point to every childless FB friend. And in a way that rendered us completely unable to respond, lest we look like a collective pack of whiny, defensive assholes.

Each time I saw it on someone's profile it made me cringe. I wanted, but resisted the urge, to write "duly noted" in the comment section.

There's more than enough "us vs. them" dynamic out there in the big wide world. To ignite a battle between those with and those without children in a social forum like FB just seems pointless at best, dangerous at worst.

Ahhhhhh. That's better. Bee's gone now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Miscellany

For everyone who commented on the multicoloured bedspread (pictured below in its infancy, complete with feline who thought for sure it was a cat bed), thank you. I still worry that it's a little wild and crazy, but it does brighten up our bedroom in the winter, and it's incredibly warm. Insanely cozy, really, which is critical in the dead of winter when bleakness is omnipresent and so wearying.

And since someone asked (which made me giddy because I love talking about yarn), I used Equinox Stripes by Nashua Handknits.

It's kind of pricey, but I was lucky enough to pick up enough skeins at the Coates & Clark warehouse outlet before it closed down and headed south (sob), so what would have cost me close to $600, was just a little over $100 instead - which is an excellent price for handmade item of that size, if I do say so myself.

___________________________

I watched Under the Tuscan Sun for the millionth time on the weekend. Chick flicks are an indulgence in which I partake when My Beloved heads up to the futon in the sitting room to sneak in a Sunday afternoon nap.

Win-win.

Anyway, without going into a complete plot synopsis (booooring), there's a part in the movie where one character tells another about the "empty shell people". They are, she says, people who experience some sort of personal trauma and eventually find themselves at a crossroads - a point where they could choose to remain empty shells or move forward into a new life.

Every time I watch the movie I hope I'm walking on the right road.

I don't think it's as simple as making one decision (oh that it were that easy). No, I believe living a life after trauma requires a constant, consistent effort to move in the direction of happy, even when happy seems like the farthest thing possible. As often it does.

There are always setbacks. Of course there are. But at the end of my life, I hope I won't look in the mirror and see an empty shell.

I know I'll at least see someone who tried very hard to be full of happy. I do know that for sure.
________________________

Speaking of the end of my life, lately I seem fixated on making sure that random, but personally critical, details about my funeral preparations are known to My Beloved.

I don't have a death wish, nor am I ill (as far as I know). So I'm assuming this preoccupation with my final arrangements has to do with seeing my dad who is, very obviously, approaching the end of his life.

It's interesting how your brain can trick you into dwelling on one thing to avoid thinking about another.

My Beloved is not especially happy with this particular party trick of mine.

________________________

Sneaking off to a matinee on a Monday with your sister on a hot summer day is a most fabulous thing to do. I highly recommend it.

I also recommend using a big purse to sneak in your own drinks so you can avoid paying $4.00 for a bottle of apple juice (which, if you're anything like me, is almost stroke-inducing).

________________________

I always feel guilty. Poor Therapist Lady tried to beat this out of me multiple times - and she's not the first or only one who's tried - but it remains. Solid. Steadfast. Clinging to me like stubborn grout mould.

I always feel guilty about something.

I have absolutely no idea how to rid myself of this affliction. I like to think it's charming - part of what makes me quirky and interesting - but I think it's probably just annoying.

And possibly life-shortening.

So it's a good thing My Beloved knows what I want included in my obituary, I suppose.

________________________

Dibley the Wonder Cat is sitting on my lap purring while absentmindedly licking the crook of my arm.

This, people, this is why cats are awesome.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More expensive than wine, but cheaper than therapy

To say the last several months have been stressful is an understatement. I'm practically pooping diamonds, I'm in such a constant state of clench. In fact, on Saturday I finally succumbed to a nap (something I almost never do, for fear of missing something good), because after a week of looking after my mom and dad solo, I felt like I'd been hit by a truck then run over with a steam roller cartoon-style. My whole body ached. Slipping into blissful unconsciousness was such a welcome relief.

But since naps aren't always an option (really, I hate missing stuff), and vodka/wine/cocktails are (or should be) limited to happy hour, and I can't really afford therapy at the moment, I found something else...

First, there was Knitmap, a searchable yarn store directory I stumbled across one afternoon when I probably should have been doing something more productive.

And from there, Spun Fibre Arts, which is, incredibly, just minutes from home.

Minutes. From. Home. And I never knew.

My Beloved accompanied me on my maiden voyage to Spun a few weeks ago. He heard my contented sigh upon entering, and patiently followed me around the room while I touched everything I could put my little paws on, oohing and ahhing all the while.

I told him he could sit (there are couches in the middle of the store that are probably meant for knitting & crocheting class purposes, but certainly must frequently double as a man waiting area), but he said he wanted to watch me finger yarn.

Which sounds dirty, but really isn't. I swear.

I think it had just been that long since he'd seen me that content - lost in something that didn't involve old people on dialysis and my ever-present fear of the call.

I left the store with $40 worth of the most gorgeous baby llama yarn in soft lavender, and a buzz that I can only say rivaled a hit of Valium with a red wine chaser.

It was like they were pumping antidepressants in through the air system, the way they pump oxygen into casinos in Vegas.

I have simply not felt that relaxed in months. Months, people.

I have to think it actually had something to do with petting the yarns. It was almost meditative, moving slowly through the store from cubby to cubby, looking at all the delicious colours and touching each different flavour.

Yarn touch therapy. Is that a real thing?

If not, it should be.

Today I finally found a pattern worthy of my yarn, and started crocheting myself a rippled scarf. It's selfish to make something for myself out of the most gorgeous (and expensive) yarn I've ever bought, but it somehow feels right - like it's a continuation of the whole experience, which was so therapeutic, and so desperately needed.

So just for me.

Women don't do enough of this sort of thing. We're somehow biologically programed to look after others, and we spend an inordinate amount of time doing so, often at the expense of ourselves and our own precious peace.

So I'm telling you right now, go find your yarn store. Go find whatever it is that makes you feel the kind of contentment I felt that day at Spun, and do it - or eat it, or read it, or bake it, or sleep on it, or wear it. Whatever it is, just dooooo iiiiit.

Trust me.

Monday, August 09, 2010

What now?

I've been thinking about this question endlessly lately.

What exactly should I do now? Where do I go from here? Now that we know there will be no more attempts at children, what happens next?

Isn't it lucky for me that my mid life crisis happened to coincide with the end of my six-year long trying to conceive catastrophe? It's so great to have all your crises collide in one huge clusterfuck so you can really sink your teeth into coping with them all at once.Yeah, that's real handy.

But seriously, what now?

I was always good at writing essays in university. Once I got going, I could write the most glorious bullshit with the greatest of ease.

But getting started was always agony. I'd stare at that menacing blank page for hours. Or, in truth, avoid staring at the menacing blank page by doing something else, anything else, until I was so pressed for time that I had absolutely no choice but to skulk back to the typewriter and start working.

I'm staring at a blank page again. Only this time it's the rest of my life instead of an essay.

And I don't have a big enough typewriter for that.

While I was mulling over what to do with the remaining 20 - 40 (God willing) years of my life recently, it dawned on me that my childless friends are among the most interesting people I know. One is a radio host who's working on her second book, another is taking acting classes and writing scripts in her spare time, a third teaches bellydancing, another is a comedienne who stages one-woman shows and takes clowning classes, and then there are the pair of singleton adventurers who sync up their vacation schedules and travel the world together once or twice a year.

These women are doing things, creating things, experiencing things - all without having procreated. And, more importantly, they seem happy doing it. They don't appear to be blindly searching for fulfillment - something to plug the kid-shaped holes in their lives.

They are an awesome assembly, with their assorted talents and hobbies and collective zest for life. Always doing, seeking, playing, learning, and moving.

And not a child amongst the lot of them.

Some are childless by choice, some never married, and others I've never actually asked. But regardless, They're all childless, just like me.

They're just kind of doing it better than I am at the moment.

They are my inspiration - my proof that there is a big, full, happy life out there for those of us without children. And even though we are often invisible in today's child-centric world - and occasionally misunderstood and sometimes even judged harshly - there is a place for us. Dammit, there is.

I have no idea where my place is, of course. That's my whole point. But I have faith that it's out there somewhere.

And as soon as I finish licking my wounds and cowering from the big, scary blank page, I'll have a look and see if I can find it.

 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

(Mostly) Wordless Thursday...

...Because really, I have no idea what to say about this picture of Dibley the wonder cat anyway.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My mother's kitchen

I was standing at my mom & dad's kitchen sink this afternoon, washing up the dishes I'd used to make a meatloaf for their dinner, when the smell of browning meat and simmering chili sauce bubbling from the oven carried me back to another time. To the same place, my parents' kitchen, but to a time when I was a child and my parents were young - and they were looking after me.

And the warmth of that scent memory flowed through me, slowing my breathing, relaxing my body.

I inhaled deeply, trying to pull more comfort from the air in my mother's kitchen. I looked out into the yard where I used to skate on rinks my mom flooded every winter, where my grandma shoveled paths in the deep snow, where I played in the sandbox and lay on a blanket in the sun listening to 45s on my sister's Mickey Mouse record player.

I remember my dad with black hair, taking steps two at a time. I remember my mom wallpapering the stairway, standing on homemade scaffolding without a trace of fear.

And now they are old. And I have woken up 1964 times without Thomas. And life is so different than it was, and every day I find myself sorting through some sort of grief. Sometimes newly realized, sometimes familiar and worn.

There are moments of peace and moments of despair. Moments of joy and moments of sorrow. Always, there is light and dark.

And that's the way it is. Right now, in this aching time as I watch my parents failing and I look into my future and see just a handful of us left and no one following behind; that's the way it is.

This, as it turns out, is what it means to be a grown up: feeling pain, but taking strength from lovely memories and finding moments of comfort in my mother's kitchen.