Thursday, 26 February 2009

Milestones, Rites of Passage and Earth Shaking Events

A week after the event I am still amused by Little Stuff's huge excitement over losing her first tooth. She wasn't nearly as excited about it's arrival, having been a baby who cut teeth fairly easily. I don't remember her mother and aunt regarding the loss as a Big Deal; in the case of the YD, she had fallen on her face at the tender age of eleven months and knocked out one of her three teeth. She had the gap toothed grin for years. For her the milestone happened when her two adult teeth finally grew in and she could chomp down a row of corn on the cob as fast as the rest of us.

I look back and remember the events that were important to me, some of them, I am sure, common to all of us. Menarche for me was a very big deal. I was younger by a year than most of the other girls in my Grade 8 class; I did not have my first period until late in the spring of that year, long after most of my friends. I remember being elated when it finally happened. And I have often thought that there should be a celebration for the event, a puberty fĂȘte, a way to mark the day. A rite of passage. My father would have been incoherent with embarrassment, I suspect.

Although, maybe not. The day before my wedding he took me aside and haltingly tried to explain to me that a man might be prone to performance anxiety on his wedding night and that I should not expect too much. I had already found this out but that was not something I could tell my shy and formal father. What I did tell him was that it would not be a concern because I had my period. He took this information fairly well and went on to buy for me a very sweet and lacy pair of pajamas for the event. My poor father.

In fact my wedding was a somewhat strange rite of passage. JG and I were both undergraduates at the time; he and a room mate shared an apartment and I was living in a boarding house. (People did not routinely live together before marriage in 1963; at least not people we knew.) We planned to be married in the spring after his graduation. It soon became obvious to me that JG was dreading the formal event that my father would expect, the walk down the aisle, the many friends of my parents who would be guests and strangers to him. One Sunday morning as we had breakfast, his room mate having been banished for the weekend, I said to him 'For two cents I would phone my parents and tell them we are getting married right away'. JG solemnly handed me two pennies and I picked up the phone.

Our parents received this news as might be expected. My mother said 'I will have to talk to your father,' and hung up on me. His mother said 'What's your hurry?' in a voice that would have frozen lava. They came around, however, and arrived the next weekend to join us in the University chapel where the University padre married us. My mother brought a white dress and hat for me to wear; my father gave us the money he would have spent on a big wedding for our wedding gift. In thousand dollar bills, two of them. A lot of money in 1963; we paid off JG's student loans and still had some left over. The thing that made my mother-in-law the happiest was the fact that our first child was not born until three years later.

For a milestone, rite of passage and earth shaking event all in one, I believe the birth of the first child qualifies on every count. When the Eldest Daughter was born I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I had dealt with a tiny baby. I did not know anyone who had successfully breast fed. I had been weeks overdue, I was in labour for two days and there was not a family member living close enough to help. I recall pacing up and down the kitchen with a can of Enfilac in my hand weeping because the baby was not gaining weight and maybe I wasn't breastfeeding properly. I remember being totally stressed because she wouldn't stop crying. What saved my sanity was my husband who had been fifteen when his brother was born and who was quite calm about the whole baby thing. That and the fact that the ED was a calm, strong baby who slept six hours at a stretch and rolled over on her own at six weeks old. She also had the most wonderful smile in the world. For me. And we both survived my inexperience.

Milestones. The first pay cheque, the first boyfriend, the driver's licence and access to a car, graduation, buying your own furniture (not early relative hand-me-downs), the first time your baby says 'mum' and means it (the ED's first intelligible word was 'bugger'), the first legal drink in a bar, the first new car you can afford, the first home you (and the mortgage company) own, the first passport and trip overseas, the first sale of your work, the first gray hair (age 29, sigh).

Rites of Passage: for me, confirmation, wedding, the first orgasm, leaving home for University, wearing maternity clothes, the YD's first day of school (two and a half hours of time of your own!), the YD's departure for University (she never lived at home again), the day the husband retires (and you realize that time on your own is a thing of the past), the last time you use hair dye to cover the white, the day you are told you are going to be a grandparent, the first Canada Pension Plan payment, the funeral of the last relative of your parents' generation.

Days the Earth shifts under your feet: the first day alone with the baby, getting fired from a job you love and think you are doing well, the day your mother is diagnosed with dementia, the day she dies, the first time you look at a photograph of yourself and you see an old woman.

Milestones and rites of passage and days when your life changes. So many, some wonderful and some endured only because there is no alternative but to endure. Days you wish back again so that you could do better, days that you would like to live over again. Days that shine in your memory and days that you only want to forget.

The moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on. nor all your piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all your tears wash out a Word of it.


  1. milestones, the days life shifts under our feet--I've had a few of those. Thanks for the opportunity to look back at my life as you reflected on yours. I look in the glass and see an old woman as well, even though my mind refuses to believe it.

  2. I love this post. I never think of you as older (forgive that, because I can't think of a better way to put it) because you have such a fresh, light voice in your blogging -

    pah. I'm glad I read you!

  3. You don't look old!

    Somehow, finding out that YD knocked out a tooth at a year does not surprise me in the least. Boo smashed her mouth so much when she was a toddler I am shocked that she kept all hers.

  4. I don't remember knocking one out - but I remember my older sister pulling the other one out!

    Your writing is an inspiration to me, and this blog is a privilige to read.


  5. You are being featured on Five Star Friday!

  6. This is beautiful. I saved it in my reader for two days until I had time to read. Tonight, a victim of insomnia for the first time in awhile, I read.

    My sister's husband died this week. I feel like this post spoke to me in a way I needed to hear. It was exactly what I needed to read. xoxo

  7. What an absolutely wonderful post. I have a friend who is going through a number of milestones, rites of passage and earthquakes simultaneously at the moment. I am going to send her this.

  8. This was lovely, Mary!

    But ... in that wedding photo ... are you holding a cigarette? :)

  9. Jennifer? Yes. In the 1960s everyone smoked everywhere. That photo was taken in the office beside the University chapel. Good spotting. In fact in most of my photos I either have a cig in my hand or the package beside me. Drug addiciton.

    Loth, Mary, N, Kaye, daysgoby, thanks! I had fun writing this one.

    W, you were eleven months old. And a very lucky baby. You sneaked up a flight of stairs where I had taken off a gate for no more than two minutes, I swear, to take some clothes to the upstairs closet. I hung them up, hurried back onto the landing and I surprised you at the top, you stood up, went over backwards and landed on your face on the lowest riser. Tooth was the only injury. You cried for a few minutes. I cried for hours. I don't know how many of your nine lives you have used up, golden girl, but I can think of at least three incidents, this being one, where you were really really lucky. N, I guess you have one also in Boo.

  10. This was utterly amazing. It felt like waves crashing on the shore.

    To think that the flu almost made me miss it. Thankfully, your beautiful tulips lured me in.

  11. loved this. loved the wedding story, most of all, but all of it is wonderful

    have you read The Red Tent? The ritual around the first menstration fascinated me

    (oh... and recently a 3 year old knocked his tooth out while in my music class, and has been traumatized at the THOUGHT of entering the room again ever since. this brought me a mite bit of comfort)