Thursday, August 27, 2015

Alice Adams... Saying Goodbye

Thirteen years ago, this summer, I adopted a little kitten who had been orphaned and left covered in mud and fleas by a BFI bin somewhere near Commercial Drive. She was only a few weeks old when she was found. VOKRA rescued her and put her in a foster home where she, tiny tot that she was, lived with another cat and a huge doberman pinscher for a couple weeks. That's where I met her. I loved her instantly.
Right from the very start, Alice was attuned to me. She was small enough to sit on a Mad Gab box and was easily lost in the huge expanse of my double sized bed. Every day, she curled up on all fours on the bath mat for a little alone time by herself but, at bedtime, she would claw her way up the bed and snuggle in between my arm and my body while I read. We would both fall asleep like that. When she was little, I would wake up many times through the night to the sound of her purring loudly in my ear. 
I got her and my other cat, Johnny, two years after my Mom died. Johnny was mostly standoffish but Alice was my emotional compass in a way. In those early years, if I was hit by a sudden wave of grief over the loss of my Mom, I would tuck in for a nap to sleep away the sadness and Alice would stop what she was doing, jump up on the bed and snuggle right into me, comforting me with her kisses and motor-like purring. This never changed over the years. If I was sick or sad or had a migraine, she would find me and snuggle me to help me feel better. 
Alice was loving but she was also territorial. When Bryce first moved in, she was PISSED. She would scowl at him, thinking "Who the hell is this asshole sleeping on my side of the bed??" But in very short order, Bryce won her over and the two of them became thick as thieves. 
Then came the babies. When our first son was born and would cry to be fed, Alice would chase after us as we were preparing to feed him and bite our heels non-stop until we picked him up and fed him already. When our second son was born and too many people came to visit, she would pee in a plant to advise us when it was time to send them home. 
As the boys got older, she became their cat too and took part (somewhat lazily/reluctantly/irritably) in their dress up games of swashbuckling pirates or 'who can get Alice to wear this hat the longest'. 
But before I had kids, Alice was my baby. I admit with no small measure of sheepishness that I was THAT cat lady who packed my young felines into a cat carrier to take them on an airplane to Winnipeg for the weekend (or just across town in the middle of the week to have dinner at my friend's place). After I had kids, as many parents with pets that pre-date their children's arrival will tell you, things changed. Alice took her new place at the foot of the bed rather than between our pillows at the top. She fell further down the list of priorities with my growing list of responsibilities that required my focus and attention. She scratched EVERY wall surface she could get her paws on for no good reason that we could ever decipher. (Other than maybe she wanted our attention.)
A couple times - once in our small suite when I felt overwhelmed in the parenting of a toddler and an infant, or years later when Alice was pooing all over the place and I didn't know why - I considered finding her a new home. I wondered if maybe a nice grandma or grandpa somewhere could give her a more attentive space and make her the apple of their eye. But on those two occasions, when I actually took steps to inquire about placing her somewhere else, I cried both times and couldn't pursue it any further. I imagined how awful she would feel if she wasn't in "her" home with her own family and the hectic pace that came with us. 
Then, over time, something lovely happened. Somehow, things calmed down around my place and Alice became the apple of my eye again. She became my baby once more. And this is how she remained for the rest of her life: My Beautiful Little Sweetheart. 
Tonight, after consulting with a new vet, a specialist and the original vet that did her x-rays, it became clear that Alice had terminal cancer after all. And so, we had to let her go. 
It's astonishing how painful it is to lose her; how quickly the last thirteen years seem to have passed; and, even though there are four people who still live here, how empty the house feels without her in it. 
In many ways, I became an adult with Alice Adams by my side. I weathered the stormy early years of grieving my Mom, became a Mom myself, got married and, in a variety of different ways, I (mostly) grew up - all with this adorable fur ball along for the ride. 
It is amazing to me how lovingly ingrained in my life experience Alice has become. I'm not sure I had any idea it would be this way that moment thirteen years ago when I first laid eyes on her as she darted fearlessly underneath and between the statuesque legs of the doberman pinscher who towered above her. To me, she has been more than a pet. She has been my family.
It's hard to believe she's gone.
But for all the anguish we feel tonight as we take her blue blankie off the bed because she is no longer here to sleep on it, or as we clean her food tray and empty her litter box one last time, I am very much aware that the pain is proportional to the love. Not just the love we felt for her over the years but the monumental and unconditional love she felt for us.
So before I lay me down to sleep:
Alice Adams, my sweet, I thank you for everything. For your love, your snuggles, your companionship and your patience - not only in waiting for me to rediscover you as my fur ball baby in the throws of newly parenting my human babies but also in these last few days as we made daily (sometimes several times daily) calls to vets and specialists to see if there was anything we could possibly do to give you a few more healthy years with us. In true Alice Adams fashion, when it was time to say good bye before the stressful ride to the vet, you gave me one last curly cue snuggle on your blankie, along with the ever present purring that has accompanied me like the sweetest music these last thirteen years.
To some, this may seem overly sentimental. But I appreciate the opportunity to share this post all the same. 
Pets are our babies. 
Tonight, my oldest baby is traveling light.

Your pal,

The Happiness Detective

Baby Alice in her new home.

Smaller than a bread box.
Baby on a bed.

Big girl on her blankie.

Yes, yes I drove my cats across town to dinner at a friend's place. SUCK IT.

Alice and Johnny forever.
After Johnny died, Alice become very depressed. It wasn't until Bryce's dad, Ted, came to stay with us that she began to feel better. She curled up beside him in this position and remained that way for most of his visit.

Always in my arms.
Yet another snuggle. (Also Bryce's shit eating grin cracks me up.)

Thick as thieves.

Aye matey!
Cowboy Cat.
A boy and his cat.
Alice whispers her Christmas list in Zach's ear. He promises to deliver it to Santa.

Le. Sigh.

Christmas Queen of Sheba.

Sunny days.
One last kiss...

One last curly cue...

Alice Adams... Traveling light.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

And Now A Word About Women

I've had conversations with some of my male friends and colleagues lately about how we treat women, how we speak about women and rape culture overall. Conversations about looking at things from the perspective of the female demographic which is continuously targeted by a societal programming that ultimately debases, minimizes and disregards women.

I'm so grateful for the thoughtfulness and care these wonderful guys have extended me in these conversations. These men are treasures. They're willing to see things from a point of view that may not be their own inherently by virtue of having had an entirely different life experience in the world. Their open hearts and minds lend a much needed empathy to the kinds of conversations we need to be having in order to move our beautiful collective human story forward.

I'd like to see those wonderful men continue to speak up on this subject because, for me, there is no room in our human story to tolerate or excuse lyrics like this:

“Ain’t no one safe from, non-believers there ain’t none
I even make the bitches I rape cum.”
- Eminem, in Dr. Dre's Medicine Man.

Yes, I get there may be merit to what Dr. Dre is trying to say with the rest of the song but I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the specific lyrics Eminem contributed and how they pertain to the insidious culture of rape that has too long informed the way women are treated in the world.

According to Eminem, women are (still) bitches and he can make them cum by raping them. Lyrically speaking, he seems to take pride in the ability to inflict horrific sexual violence upon women who, according to him, will no doubt climax as a result of his maniacal prowess.

I know this is a song and not his admission. But this isn't the first time he's written material like this about women and rape. And the jury's been in on this for a good long while: WORDS MATTER. If we know words have impact, is this really how we want to be describing women and rape? Those who have suffered through this kind of violence will tell you it's not the sexy experience Eminem portrays it to be.

When I consider recent events, I feel unsettled, friends. I really do. I sit here and wonder why it took forty women to come forward before we were willing to disbelieve one man who said they were all lying. I wonder why a beloved Canadian radio host assaulted and harassed a multitude of women over the years, all while people knew or were advised about it and yet nothing was done to stop him sooner. Bill Cosby, Jian Ghomeshi... The list of manipulative, violent perpetrators goes on. Is it any wonder these individuals got away with their sexual violence for so long when, as a society, we have allowed lyrics and programming that minimize women and rape to become so commonplace?  Can we not see how these specific examples of verbal degradation contribute to the overall minimization of women and their bodies?

I know Eminem has got a huge following. I know this is an uncomfortable topic and I know people don't want to talk about it. I suspect some of you reading this will likely roll your eyes at my words and tell me to relax and not take it so seriously. But until those 200 Nigerian school girls from Chibok who were abducted and likely raped as child brides are rescued and returned to their families; until the Vancouver woman in Strathcona grows back the finger she lost a few months ago when she was brutally raped and attacked in her home at knifepoint in the middle of the day; until women can take charge of their own reproductive health in America without interference from fossilized government representatives and have it covered by health insurance as easily and freely as viagra is made available to men; until First Nations women in this country who have gone missing at an alarming rate are given the reverence and protection they deserve; until women are paid the same as men for doing the same work; until the importance of the female sexual experience is commonly acknowledged as equal to and not less than the sexual experience of men; until magazines stop telling me why I'll never be enough for my husband or how I can make myself more beautiful to keep him, I will go ahead and write them anyway:


I implore you, don't give Eminem the last word. Don't help him send us back in time. Speak up.

Let's move our human story forward where it belongs.

Your Pal,

The Happiness Detective

Monday, August 10, 2015

Feast On This

I grew up in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba - also known as the Strawberry Capital of Canada. (Well, in my day it was the Strawberry Capital of Canada. Now it's known for potatoes.)

Back in the day, our fine city of 13,000 or so held the beloved annual Strawberry Festival. People came from all over town and the surrounding countryside to revel in the merriment the festival had to offer. There was a giant bowl (the kind you could fit several grown men inside) filled with ice cream and that ice cream was topped with gallons upon gallons of our town's nationally renowned freshly sliced strawberries. (I ate my weight in that dessert every single year and I'm not afraid to admit it here and now.)

The Strawberry Festival was my hometown's annual highlight. In addition to the headlining "big get" concerts of said festival (April Wine, I'm talking to you), every year the festival would hold a pageant to crown the STRAWBERRY QUEEN. The social status this title bestowed was steeped in reverence. Friends, this competition was without parallel (unless you were from our sister city, Brandon, Florida in the United States for that is where shit also got real).
Contestants would parade around the stage with their hair standing four or five inches off the top of their heads and showcase their unique abilities for all to see.

I didn't ever compete in the pageant as I was a short, plump half Ukrainian girl from the other side of the tracks. No friends, this pageant was strictly for the esteemed young ladies of Koko Platz, their sisterhood and their not yet out of the closet brethren who sported more than a passing resemblance to any guest actor on the hit television sensation, Miami Vice. I was but a mere spectator sporting a substantial overbite and a second (make that a third) helping of strawberry doused ice cream.

Competition got a little more fierce years later with the arrival of a new subdivision in Portage la Prairie dubbed "Mellenville" which saw many entrants compete with their high sprayed hair and their soft peach polo shirts with the collars sticking straight up. (Years later, as I recalled all this to my gay obstetrician on the west coast in my third trimester, he outright dismissed these girls as "those Mellenville bitches" in an effort to comfort me when it was clear I would be tipping the scales with a 52 lb weight gain.) (Note: my baby was born 5 lbs, 15 oz.)

This pageant was cut throat. Those Mellenville bitches were relentless in their pursuit of the Strawberry Crown. One year, a girl played the flute. Inevitably, every single year, one contestant would (horrifically) sing a rendition of Whitney Houston's Greatest Love of All or the uptempo Sussudio by Phil Collins. I would lumber out in the crowd, bloated and gassy silently mouthing the words as they sang, all the while dreaming that one day, I too, could take the Strawberry Stage and butcher the high notes.

Alas friends, I never did go on to be crowned Strawberry Queen. I did a Sears commercial. But tonight at the dinner table, thanks to the magic of Songza, I performed an impromptu lip sync of Bette Midler's Wind Beneath My Wings, complete with hand motions, eye gestures and everything. My children begged me to stop and my husband wished I had chosen a song with more saxophone. But tonight for a brief moment over a parmesan encrusted white fish with brown rice and peas, I grasped the shining strawberry star I never could reach in my youth.

Suck on that Mellenville Bitches.

Then feast on this.

Your Pal,

The Happiness Detective