Monday, September 28, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends: The whine & cheese edition ;)

What happened to September??! 
  • I am still having some issues with leaving comments on WordPress & self-hosted blogs. I press "submit" & poof!  the comment vanishes into thin air. :p  I've contacted some of the bloggers directly, where there's a way/email address, & I'm told my comments have been directed to the spam folder, for some reason??  In some cases, it's happened more than once on the same blog, even after I've contacted the blogger. I have no idea why this is happening, but if you have a WordPress or self-hosted blog and haven't heard from me lately... ;) 
  • The online book group I belong to (which has been a 99.9% positive experience) has just wrapped up discussion on another selection. As I mentioned in my review here, near the end of the story, one of the main characters wound up with a "surprise!" pregnancy after several years of marriage/ttc, when she was around 40 (pretty ancient in those days).  This really irked me -- and during our discussion of that chapter, I got up the nerve to post a comment to that effect, because it was (& still is) such a cliché and (as I knew from personal experience) it doesn't always happen. (Sometimes, yes, but not always.) Of course, member after member promptly piled on to tell me about their friend/aunt/sister/cousin/neighbour/self who got pregnant at a late age after they "gave up" and "relaxed." ARGH. Serves me right for opening my big (cyber)mouth. :p 
  • I'm going through some insomnia lately. I usually go to bed around 10:30-11. Then I wake up around 2-3 a.m. (washroom trip) -- and I can't go back to sleep again. :p  I like to cuddle up to dh -- but then I get horribly hot & have to change positions again, which wakes me up even more. Dh often gets up around 6:30 -- I'll usually stay in bed & sometimes will drift off for another hour or so. The other night, I had trouble falling asleep (last time I checked the clock it was past midnight).  I was wide awake at 3 & by 5, I was starting to feel hungry (!) so I finally gave up & went downstairs & made breakfast, but I was yawning by mid-afternoon. I was reading an article on menopause the other day, & sleep disturbances were one of the symptoms they discussed. I'm not THROUGH menopause yet (no thank you, Aunt Flo... :p ) but at 54, I am definitely in the ballpark. :p A few weeks ago, though, I was sleeping like a log from 10:30 through to 5ish & then falling asleep again until 7:30ish. So perhaps things will get better again in awhile. I have to say, though, times like these are when I am so, so grateful I don't have to get up before 5 to head off to work anymore. I did have some nights like these when I was still working, & it totally sucked. :p
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here      

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


An article in The Atlantic (via Facebook) this week caught my eye. The online version title is "The #LuckyGirl's Lie: On social media, admitting effort is taboo." On Facebook, the title reads "The #LuckyGirl Hashtag Makes Trying Into a Social Taboo," and the blurb under the article read: "The myth of the effortless life."

The gist of the article is that we (and young women today in particular) like to present an image of success and perfection and positivity to the world (particularly on social media) -- when, of course, the reality of our lives is often a lot darker and messier.  

I've written before about the pressure we face in today's society to "think positive," look on the bright side and downplay the sad stuff -- so this was right up my alley.  Especially when I read this paragraph:
The “lucky girl” hashtag tells the world that everything just happened easily, without lifting a finger. For instance, the woman who writes #luckyat32 underneath the picture of her two adorable children might not have said that she had children after seven wrenching, expensive rounds of IVF. But social media isn’t a place for hashtags like #triedforyears; it’s an alternate universe where everything is attributed to good fortune.
Of course, while nobody wants to be a wet blanket on social media, you don't want to appear to be too happy either. Several of my FB friends have been posting about the "#100HappyDays Challenge."  I wasn't quite sure what it was all about, until I found this article:  "#100HappyDays? I ended up feeling miserable." Hmmm, interesting....
...when I posted something envy-inducing, I was conscious that my 'happiness' was bound to end up making someone else feel rubbish about themselves. 
Most of the time it felt like I was contributing to the idea that we all have a social media 'brand' - a carefully edited version of ourselves. I might have been telling the world about my great plans and my career successes – but they never heard about my bad days, or the things that went wrong. It was all very one sided.

And nobody wants to feel like they're oversharing.  Coincidentally (or perhaps not??), I also found this article, in which the author begs, "Forgive me if I overshare on social media." In her specific case, she was worried about what her friends thought when she announced on Facebook that she'd had a miscarriage.
I wanted to be honest and open about my experience, so other friends who had been through the trauma of miscarriage could talk to me about it, both for their benefit and my own. And given one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage I wanted my friends to know they’d have someone to talk to if, in future, they had the same experience. 
Reactions to my post ranged from “Um, that was an interesting decision” to “Wow, you’re so brave”. Neither of these reactions seemed to fit the bill for me. But I was sure of one thing: some of my friends had relegated the post to the lowest of social media rankings: oversharing.
Well.  I have a few friends who frequently post about how "lucky" or "#blessed" they are. I have referred to myself as lucky, on Facebook & here on my blog. And I AM truly lucky, I know, in many ways. I have a wonderful husband and extended family, a nice home full of lovely things, a warm bed to sleep in and plenty of food to eat. I'm in pretty good health.  I'm 54 and essentially retired. That makes me a rarity these days, I know.  Most of my problems are of the "first world" variety.

But these articles got me thinking about how much I share (or haven't shared) about my life on Facebook, and about how I may have shaped people's view of me, for better or for worse.

I am sure some people look at my childless/free life and think "Boy, she sure has it easy." Maybe, maybe not. Sure, I don't have to deal with sleepless babies, puking toddlers, college applications & tuition fees, juggling work and family. But on the other hand, most of my friends with kids have never had to deal with infertility, infertility treatment, or stillbirth -- and I don't think they have any idea of the struggle we went through to try to have a family. I am sure our stillborn daughter is just a shadowy memory for most of them ("oh yeah, that's right, they lost one, didn't they...?"), and of course, unless you have been through a similar experience yourself, you have no idea how deep the wound goes, how much it affects everything else in your life from that point onward.  

They might look at me & dh, now basically retired at a fairly early age, and be envious. They don't think about the fact that, for 30-odd years, we worked hard, lived relatively simply, and saved, saved, saved for this day.  They don't take into account the stressful jobs we both had, the pre-5 a.m. wakeup calls, the long, tedious commutes that made for 10, 11, 12-hour days, at minimum (often longer). 

Of course, there's a fine line that separates those people who like to post about how "lucky" and "blessed" they are, and those whose posts are an endless litany of woe. I've tried not to post too much on Facebook about the joys of retirement, of being able to sleep in and have tea with girlfriends and do fun little day trips with dh.  I don't want to rub my good fortune in others' faces. 

On the other hand, I've also tried to be careful about what I post about Katie, about infertility & childlessness, pg loss & grief. I know these are subjects that are still taboo in some people's eyes, and I try not to overdo it. I don't want people to feel sorry for me. 

On the other hand (yes, there's always another hand, lol), taboos aren't going to disappear unless we talk about them and bring them out into the light.  A little discomfort can sometimes be a good thing.  So I try to strike a balance. I don't talk about these things a lot on Facebook, but I don't try to hide the fact that I lost a child either. I post about her on significant dates like Aug. 7 & Nov. 14 and maybe Mother's Day. I don't "share" a lot of posts or articles related to these subjects -- but I will sometimes "like" them, recognizing that they may still show up in my friends' FB newsfeeds. (How passive-aggressive of me, lol.) 

It's a fine line. But I'll admit that sometimes I WANT others to feel uncomfortable, to remind them about what I've been through. Because life isn't always easy or effortless or lucky or blessed, and it annoys me when people seem to think or imply that mine is, especially when I'm feeling otherwise. Yes, I've been lucky, but I've also been through some tough crap (as everyone has) -- and if I've managed to deal with it with some measure of grace and success, heck, I want credit for it. ;)  

How about you? Do you feel the need to present an airbrushed version of your life on social media? Or do you let it all hang out?

Monday, September 21, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: A few odds & ends

A couple of odds & ends that didn't seem huge enough for posts on their own (plus I'm casting about for something to write for today's #MM post, lol): 

  • Further to my post about Kim Cattrall & her comments on not having children (but nevertheless feeling like a parent), there was an excellent opinion piece in the Globe & Mail about Cattrall's remarks and the reaction to them (apparently things got ugly on Twitter). Sample quotes from the article:
    • It’s obvious why some exhausted moms would bristle, but did Cattrall’s statements really diminish their sacrifices? Hardly. The actress never purported to be a better mother; nor did she advocate for everyone going childfree. Those who bash Cattrall, a seemingly nurturing woman, are playing the ugly parenting game of one-upmanship.
    • The large-scale derision of Cattrall’s maternal-ness also lays bare how resentful many still feel toward a 59-year-old woman who opted out of motherhood proper. Childless women are very often still cruelly judged.
    • More than anything, the attack on Cattrall reveals just how badly parents and non-parents are still set up as adversaries, a dynamic that benefits no one.  [Ed. note: Hear, hear!!] 
  • In the "we (ALIers) are everywhere" category: I was watching part one of PBS's excellent two-part biography of Walt Disney on "American Experience" last week, and learned that Walt wanted a big family, 10 kids!! He was overjoyed when his wife Lillian became pregnant in 1931, and even started building a big new house to accommodate his expanding family. (I could sense where this was headed...)  Sadly, Lillian had a miscarriage -- and not long afterwards, Walt had a full-scale nervous breakdown. I'm sure there were other contributing factors -- while he was a creative genius, Disney had a lot of business and money problems, particularly in the early days, and he was under a lot of pressure -- but no doubt the loss of the much-anticipated baby was a big part of it. (I peeked into a book about him at the bookstore later in the week, and while this was the only miscarriage mentioned in the PBS show, apparently there were several more that followed.)  He & Lillian eventually had two daughters, Diane and (via adoption) Sharon.
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here     

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Childless, childfree (tomato, tomahto)...

Kim Cattrall (aka Samantha on "Sex and the City" -- who was born in England but spent much of her early life in Canada) guest hosted the BBC Women's Hour radio program earlier this week -- and spent some of that time discussing the stigma faced by women who don't have children (herself included).

Full disclosure: I will admit I have yet to listen to the complete program. However, I couldn't resist writing about some of Cattrall's comments & the reaction they are getting.

A number of Cattrall's comments raised questions of semantics.  For example, use of the word "childless" -- a topic I have written about before (in one of my very first posts on this blog, in fact). "It’s the less that is offensive, isn’t it?” Cattrall asked. “Child-less. It sounds like you’re less, because you haven’t had a child.”

I don't find "childless" a particularly "offensive" term. But (as I have written previously) I can't say I really like it either. It does smack of being "less than" in the eyes of the world (perhaps even my own sometimes, still...).

Nor do I particularly like the term "childfree." It makes it sound like children are a burden that I'm happy to be "free" of -- and while I recognize that some people do feel that way and have no problem with the term and actually prefer it, it's not how I feel, personally.

"Barren?" Pretty bleak and Old Testament-ish. :p

"NoMos" (as coined by Jodi Day of Gateway Women)? "NotMoms" (Karen Malone Wright of The NotMom)? "Savvy Aunties" (Melanie Notkin)?  Nice tries at branding with a catchy label, but they don't exactly trip off the tongue. Justine Brooks Froelker of Ever Upward likes to describe herself as a "childfull parent," which is admittedly more positive-sounding than "childless" but perhaps somewhat confusing, particularly to people outside the infertility community.

(For lack of a better alternative, I tend to use "childless/free" in this blog.) 

And on that note -- the other semantics-related part of Cattrall's remarks that's getting a lot of attention is her comment that she is
“...not a biological parent, but I am a parent. I have young actors and actresses that I mentor. I have nieces and nephews that I am very close to. The thing that I find questionable about being childless or childfree is, are you really? There is a way to become a mother, in this day and age, that doesn’t include your name on the child’s birth certificate. You can express that maternal side of you very, very clearly, very strongly…. So I feel I am a mother, of sorts. I am not completely childfree, because I care about the next generation.”
Is Cattrall correct in calling herself a mother?  Is she "entitled" to do so? 

Personally, I don't often describe myself in terms of being a "mother" or "parent" -- even though, having given birth, I probably have slightly more claim to the title of "mother" in the eyes of the world than Cattrall does (-- albeit most people would not recognize me as a mother, since I never got to actively parent my child).  I know I AM a mother (to Katie).  And there are children and young people in my life that I've supported in various ways as they've grown up -- our two nephews, children of our cousins & friends, younger people I informally mentored and helped out at the office, when I was working. I love them all, and I am grateful to have them in my life.

But do they fill the void, compensate for my own lack of children?  Some people like to suggest that they might (perhaps as a way of making themselves feel better about the loss of Katie & my lack of other children?). 

Nope. Sorry. It's NOT the same. Being an auntie is a wonderful, amazing thing, and I love our nephews & some of those other kids to pieces -- but I recognize that it's definitely not the same as being a mother. 

(Funny, though, how I can write that with complete conviction and without wincing -- but to read a comment from a parent saying the exact same thing raises my childless hackles and makes me feel defensive...!) 

If Kim Cattrall (or you) feels differently, wonderful. But this is how I feel.

Of course, the whole kerfuffle begs the question as to why we need these labels at all, and why women must be defined by their relationships (or lack thereof) to children. (And also why nobody asks these same questions of men.)

As Amanda Marcotte pointed out in Slate:
Asking women who don't have children about motherhood is usually a trick question. There was no way for Cattrall to win this. If she said she has no desire to nurture children, then she'd face accusations of being unfeminine and lacking a maternal instinct. If she tries to highlight her nurturing side, she gets lambasted for not appreciating the sacrifices that parents make. 
Self-congratulatory paeans to motherhood reinforce the notion that there's something fundamentally lacking in you if you're not interested in making that particular sacrifice. The more that motherhood is held out as a uniquely ennobling venture that no other work could possibly equal in gravity, the more that women who opt out will be treated as if they're failing as women. If you don't like women who seem at all defensive about their childless status, stop asking them to defend it. 

I loved these comments from Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon:
You don’t need to be a mother, Kim Cattrall. You don’t even need to motherly. It’s 2015, and it’s high time we women weren’t judged exclusively in terms of how maternal we are...  
Our culture places an insane amount of pressure upon women to define themselves by how high they can rank themselves on the Good Mom scale, even if they aren’t even moms...  
I find the terms “childfree” and “childless” deeply lacking too. As a colleague said recently, they make having kids sound like having mold. But what I find more appalling and offensive is the way that women are constantly asked to account for their reproductive choices. And it’s completely fine for a woman to say, as Cattrall does, “I don’t think I really missed anything.”
Thoughts? Do you feel comfortable with the terms childless, childfree, or...?  Do you think of yourself as a mother, even if you don't have children you are actively parenting?

*** *** ***

A couple of other related articles:
  • Kim Cattrall is right: it's time to redefine childlessness by Nina Steele (The Telegraph).
    • Sample quote: "We live in a world in which parenthood is fetishised as the pinnacle - the very meaning - of life, and the only true route to happiness."
  • This article isn't related to Kim Cattrall, but makes some great related points: The Mother of all Questions by Rebecca Solnit (Harpers). Sample quotes:
    • "But just because the question can be answered doesn’t mean that I ought to answer it, or that it ought to be asked. The interviewer’s question was indecent, because it presumed that women should have children, and that a woman’s reproductive activities were naturally public business. More fundamentally, the question assumed that there was only one proper way for a woman to live."
    • "Questions about happiness generally assume that we know what a happy life looks like. Happiness is understood to be a matter of having a great many ducks lined up in a row — spouse, offspring, private property, erotic experiences — even though a millisecond of reflection will bring to mind countless people who have all those things and are still miserable... we are given a single story line about what makes a good life, even though not a few who follow that story line have bad lives. We speak as though there is one good plot with one happy outcome, while the myriad forms a life can take flower — and wither — all around us."
    • "Society’s recipes for fulfillment cause a great deal of unhappiness, both in those who are stigmatized for being unable or unwilling to carry them out and in those who obey but don’t find happiness... not only are the standard activities assumed to be inherently meaningful, they are treated as the only meaningful options."

The Current

Going through some old posts, found this meme, originally done in July 2012, and inspired by a similar post at By the Brooke. Time for a refresh! ;)

Current Book(s) -- I have several books in my pile right now that are partially read. I started reading "Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed" a while back -- a collection of essays edited by Meagan Daum about childlessness -- before I got distracted with something else. As a collection of essays, it's easy to dip in & out of.

Then a couple of weeks ago, we saw "Ricki & the Flash," starring Meryl Streep as an aging rock star (!!)(as I said to dh, "Is there anything that woman can't do??")  -- and someone I hadn't thought about in eons, playing her guitarist/love interest -- Rick Springfield (AKA Dr. Noah Drake of "General Hospital" and singer of "Jessie's Girl" and other '80s power pop gems). I remembered I had his memoir "Late Late at Night" in my "unread" collection & brought it up from the basement.

I got a few chapters into that (the verdict so far: self-indulgent, but rather amusing -- interesting childhood) -- and then we visited the bookstore the same day that Chrissie Hynde's memoir, "Reckless," went on sale (and at 40% off to boot). I loved the Pretenders, back in the day. So I put down Rick & picked up Chrissie. (So far, not much sex, but lots of drugs and lots of rock & roll.) 

(And then I saw a feature about Duran Duran on CBS Sunday Morning -- which reminded me that I have John Taylor's memoir "In the Pleasure Groove" also waiting for me, unread... too many books, too little time, lol...)

If/when I finally finish any of these, I'll provide full reviews. ;) 

Current Playlist -- I (still) don't have an iPod or the like for digital music, but I do sometimes listen to CDs on the stereo while I'm cleaning house or when dh is out. My most recent CD purchase was a greatest hits collection by the 1960s band Paul Revere & the Raiders (Kicks, Just Like Me). Their schtick was that they performed wearing Revolutionary War-era costumes -- tricorn hats, knee-length breeches & boots and waistcoats. (They actually recorded "Louie Louie" around the same time as the Kingsmen, but the other version was the one that most people remember.) Paul recently passed away, which renewed my interest in the group -- I had a greatest hits collection on cassette, but that was among the stuff I gave to Oldest Nephew earlier this summer.

We listen to the local rock station on the radio in the car, which mostly plays classic rock but also some new(er) stuff. I am kind of enjoying hearing some new(er) bands, so long as it's rock & roll.  A lot of what passes for music these days simply does not interest me. :p  (My teenaged self could never have imagined saying that... of course, my teenaged self probably could never have imagined rap or hiphop either, lol.) 

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure -- Didn't I just say I was reading Rick Springfield's memoir?? ;) 

Current Color -- No particular one, but I have been wearing a bit of purple lately. : ) I find I tend to look best in "jewel" tones.

Current Drink -- Starbucks tea lattes (tall non-fat Royal English Breakfast).

Current Food -- I've been eating a lot of fish & chips lately, when we eat out. Generally a safe choice when you're trying to avoid tomatos. ;)

Current Favorite Show -- "Who Do You Think You Are?"  (which just concluded another season here in North America).  Formulaic in how it unfolds, but some really interesting stories uncovered. It's every genealogist's dream to walk into an archive & have an expert hand over a folder of documents (pre-translated!) and answer all your questions.

Current Wishlist -- A magic wand to wave that will magically complete all the little projects & repairs that need doing around the house...!  I also have book wishlists with both Chapters/Indigo and Amazon.

Current Needs -- As I've blogged before, I am in desperate need of a new mattress set & bed linens, but trying to hold out until Aunt Flo finally bows out for good. At the rate she is hanging around, though, I may have to cave sooner vs later...!

Current Triumphs -- Some good genealogical finds lately. : )

Current Bane of my Existence -- The neighbours two doors down, whose yard is rarely mowed and and looks like a junkyard to boot. It looks like they may (finally??!) be doing some work inside the house, but outside?  Among the items cluttering their front porch and resting along (both) sides of the garage: several garbage bags (many, many garbage days have come & gone since these made an appearance, but, nevermind...), several sheets of drywall, rolls of torn-up carpet, an old barbecue (complete with rusted propane tank), a television set (presumably not working, but who knows), assorted empty beer bottles...  (Not just one but TWO seldom-used lawn mowers sat outside in the snow all through last winter. Also, the window in one car was broken and left open through several winter months as well, with snow drifting in (and God knows what else). )  There is obviously no room in the garage to park the car or store any of this stuff, & the door is hanging halfway off its hinges, does not close properly. No doubt animals have taken up residence inside. :p

People have complained to the city in the past (and we may yet do so) -- they will sometimes make a half-hearted attempt to clean things up but within a few months it's back to the same old same old. :p  I will admit our house is no showplace, but at least we keep the lawn mowed and neat looking.  They make the whole neighbourhood look run down.  

On the bright side, the eavestrough that came loose in about March -- 2014, not 2015 (I kid you not), and spent more than a year precariously resting, diagonally, on top of the garage roof -- was finally restored to its proper place recently.

Current Celebrity Crush -- Aidan Turner, AKA Ross Poldark. Yum!! ;)  I see (via social media) that filming on the second season of "Poldark" recently began.

Current Indulgence -- Haagen Dasz ice cream bars. 

Current #1 Blessing -- Being able to sleep in every morning. :) 

Current Slang or Saying --  Hmmm, not sure I have one.

Current Outfit -- A pair of Gap "boyfriend" shorts in a sort of golden brown colour, and a black ribbed American Eagle tank top.

Current Excitement -- Just a little over one year to Oldest Nephew's wedding (eeeeekkkkkkk.....!!!)!!!

Current Mood -- Slightly melancholy. Summer is almost gone & while I like fall, it means that winter is once again just around the corner...

Monday, September 14, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Suddenly, September

Suddenly, it's mid-September.

How did this happen??

The neighbourhood kids are back at school.

Last Monday, it felt like 40C (104F) when the humidity was factored in. :p  (I refused to leave my air-conditioned house.) Yesterday, it got up to just 13C (about 55F).  When we went out, I had to forgo my beloved capris & sandals and don long jeans, shoes, socks and a jacket, for the first time in months. 

We had the comforter on our bed last night (also for the first time in months), and when we woke up this morning, it was just 19C (67F) in the house.  Brrrr!!

The morning light filtering into our bedroom has a different quality, somehow.

There are already tinges of red and gold on the leaves of some of the trees.

Summer went by way too fast. And I'm not sure I'm ready for what comes next...!

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.     

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Grade 12 (!)

A Facebook find from a childless-by-choice friend.
I don't even have the dog to offer as an alternative. ;)  :p
It's (finally) the first day of school here, where I live. A day I have been dreading for a long, long time.

It's been an agonizingly long wait.  As I wrote earlier last month, "first day of school" posts & photos from parents in the U.S. have been popping up since August 10th (!!) in my blog reader and Facebook feed, with each Monday since then (FIVE WEEKS' WORTH, people...!!) bringing a fresh new batch of photos and posts and stories and laments about how quickly these children are growing up.

At least they ARE growing up.

Sorry if I sound a little bitter. You see, this would be Katie's "Last First Day." (And ours too, of course, by extension.) Today, she would have been going into Grade 12 -- senior year, for those of you in the States. Of course, next year would have been the first day of university, with more first days of class to come over the next few years (because of course she would have gone to university, right??). (According to dh, she would already be doing her doctoral studies by now, because of course, our daughter would be brilliant. Yeah, right... ;)  )

But the last year of high school is special, isn't it? (At least, it's supposed to be.) A milestone. A time to look back, and to look ahead.

I can look back, too -- on an entire lifetime of experiences she -- and we -- have missed out on. Things that never were. And look ahead too, to the things that never will be.

It's hard to believe she has been gone for so long.

She would be turning 17 in November. Over the past 11+ years, she would have survived daycare, kindergarten, first day of Grade 1 (and all the other grades). Learned to read. Inherited my Barbie doll collection & Nancy Drew books. Attended playdates and birthday parties. Cried over party invitations anticipated but not received. Made friends (perhaps with LGND), and endured catty comments from others. Had crushes on boys, and maybe even a boyfriend or two by now. Taken music lessons. Gone to a rock concert (maybe Bruce, with Mom & Dad, or (taking after her mom's boy-band inclinations, lol) 1D or Justin Bieber).  Learned to swim and skate, perhaps to figure skate, or even play hockey. Joined the Girl Guides, or some other such organization. Maybe spent a week or two at summer camp. Spent a couple of weeks every summer visiting Grandma & Grandpa out west (and getting royally spoiled). Been smuggled into a bar, underage, by her doting auntie. ;)  Learned to make tomato sauce with her other doting (Italian) zia (auntie), and been treated to gelato by her doting zio (uncle). Been teased by her adoring cousins. Learned to drive. Begged her dad & me for a car (among other things). Battled with us over curfews and Facebook. Maybe had a part-time job.

She would be looking forward to university applications, and prom next spring, and graduation next June, and university next fall. She would, no doubt, have been a bridesmaid in her cousin's wedding next fall, and full of plans for dresses and bouquets and showers and bachelorette parties. Perhaps thinking about her own wedding someday, as many young girls do. Perhaps her own family. My grandchildren. (Grandchildren!!)(Several of my peers, cousins & high school friends, some even younger than I am now, are grandparents already.)

All this would, could, should have been hers, and ours.

People often don't realize that when you lost a baby, you don't just lose a baby. You lose the toddler, and the first grader, and the tweener and the teenager, and the high school graduate and the college frosh, and the bride (or groom) and the young employee and the young parent he or she would have become. The children they might have had, too.

I never had any of it. Never got to see it, experience it, enjoy it.

But I miss it, and I feel cheated out of it, just the same. Even 17 years later.

*** *** ***

Previous first day of school/school-related posts:

Grade 6 (2009)
Grade 7 (2010)
Grade 8 (2011)
Grade 9 (2012)
Grade 10 (2013)
Grade 11 (2014)
Graduation blues (June 2015)

Monday, September 7, 2015

Book: "Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography" by Laura Ingalls Wilder

If you're like me & enjoy reading footnotes, have I got a book for you!!

I heard about "Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography" by Laura Ingalls Wilder, expertly edited by Pamela Smith Hill, a few years before it was released last year, and I have been following its progress through "The Pioneer Girl Project" blog of the South Dakota Historical Press. The publishers vastly under-estimated the interest in this book, which created huge backlogs in orders. It wasn't even available in Canada for a long time, but I was finally, recently, able to get my hands on a copy.

Like many of you, I'm sure, I grew up reading the "Little House" books and watching the television series.  I bought a boxed set of the entire series early in my marriage, intending to read the books with my kids someday, and one of the happiest memories I have of my pregnancy is sitting up in bed with my hand on my swelling stomach, reading "Little House in the Big Woods" aloud to my tummy while dh smiled at me from the doorway.

In past blog posts, I've reviewed several "Little House"-related books, including "The Wilder Life" by Wendy McClure and "Confessions of a Prairie Bitch" by Allison Arngrim (TV's Nellie Oleson). I've also read "Prairie Tale" by Melissa Gilbert (TV's Laura) and (back when I was in high school or university), "Laura," a biography of Wilder by Donald Zochert.   

So I was fairly well versed in Wilder's life story. Even so, there was plenty here that I did not know, had forgotten, or thought I knew but did not know the full story.

"Pioneer Girl" is really three stories in one.

First, it brings to the public for the very first time Laura Ingalls Wilder's unpublished handwritten memoir, "Pioneer Girl," which became the basis of all the subsequent "Little House" novels. In many ways, as some reviewers have noted, it's a much darker and more complex story than "Little House" readers will remember. For example, the novels gloss over some of the Ingalls family's wanderings, entirely skipping over the unhappy time the family spent in Burr Oak, Iowa (where the family helped run a hotel next door to a saloon, and Laura narrowly escaped molestation by a drunken man who entered her bedroom one night). The novels also don't mention the existence of Laura's baby brother, Freddie, who was born in Iowa and died as an infant.

Second, it's the story of the manuscript itself, and of an editorial and creative process: the introduction and footnotes detail how Wilder worked to refine the manuscript with her daughter, author/journalist Rose Wilder Lane, and how it changed and evolved into the Little House books that so many of us grew up knowing & loving. Many have thought that Lane was the actual author of the books (and she clearly helped herself to material from her mother's stories for use in her own works);  "Pioneer Girl" puts that theory firmly to rest. She obviously played a major role in editing the story and marketing it to potential publishers, and in shaping the books that followed (particularly the earlier ones), but Laura's voice and vision of what the books should be is clear and unmistakeable.

Third, as I mentioned earlier, "Pioneer Girl" verifies the historical facts underlying the manuscript and, by extension, the "Little House" books themselves. ("I don't suppose anyone will take the trouble to look it up," Laura wrote in a note to her daughter, after arguing whether a historical point should be altered to make a better story. Boy, would she be surprised....!)  Editor Hill and her team of researchers have done an absolutely amazing job of fleshing out Wilder's manuscript and adding to our knowledge of the books and the author's life by researching & verifying the stories, characters and places referenced (and pointing out the discrepancies between Wilder's manuscript, the finished books, and what the historical record would indicate).  Using census, newspaper and other records, they tell us more about people such as Soldat du Chene, Robert & Ella Boast, Reverend Alden, Cap Garland, Mary Power, and Laura's aunts, uncles and cousins, and what happened to them. (Nellie Oleson was a composite figure, drawn from three different girls Laura knew in both Minnesota and Dakota.)  They pinpoint the actual or likely dates of events Laura describes (everything from cyclones to blizzards to ice cream socials);  they find lyrics to songs that Laura herself could only partially remember.  The pages and pages of footnotes, photos and maps (plus a detailed introduction, conclusion and appendices, as well as bibliography & index) outnumber the pages of the manuscript itself.

This is not a quick read -- jumping back & forth from text to footnotes and back again -- but it's fascinating and absorbing and, if you are a big Wilder fan, an absolute must.  It's also beautifully designed and laid out, coffee table book size.

And now I want to go back & re-read all the "Little House" books again. :)

This was book #21 that I've read to date in 2015. I've now surpassed the number of books than I read in all of 2014!

#MicroblogMondays: Fired up

When I was growing up, fireworks were a special occasion, once or twice a year kind of thing.  Seeing them would involve a trip to a community park or ballfield at dusk on Canada Day (then called Dominion Day) or the Fourth of July, if we were in the States visiting my grandmother, equipped with lawn chairs and plenty of mosquito repellant. (I don't remember fireworks on Victoria Day in May until I moved to Ontario.) I do remember my uncle & cousins setting off some fireworks and firecrackers in Grandma's garden on the Fourth of July one year (possibly Bicentennial), and all of us kids running around with sparklers, but home fireworks were not something I grew up with in Manitoba.

So it was a bit of a shock when dh & I moved to the suburbs -- where the backyards are small and the houses densely packed together -- and discovered our neighbours liked to set off their own fireworks displays in the street outside our house and in their backyards on the Victoria Day & (especially) Canada Day long weekends. A little too close for comfort, perhaps, particularly it was dry or a bit windy...

But fireworks were still a special Victoria Day/Canada Day thing. Until recently. We had fireworks going off on the street behind our house on the August long weekend -- which woke me up just as I was drifting off to sleep. :p  And fireworks again Saturday night and last night -- BOOM! BOOM!! like a cannon -- which had me levitating about a foot off the couch. No doubt there will be more tonight.

Maybe I'm turning into a grumpy old lady, but since when did fireworks become an "every long weekend (especially in the summer)" kind of thing??

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here