Friday, February 27, 2009

The Parable of the Miu Miu Bag

“We need more, don't we? Oh. This is- This might be- What do you think of...” Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Growing up my mother only bought and owned leather shoes and purses. They all matched. Every time I visit her, my purse is the first thing she notices. Her first question is always “Is that leather?” Never convinced by my answer she grabs the bag and does her infamous leather sniff test. I learned at a young age... if you’re going to be a fashion diva you better wear, sport or carry leather. Forget the animal rights activists’ cuz Jug’s opinion rules.

Hence the day last year when I paid my mother a visit. The minute I stood in her landing I could smell the leather. Yes I had become my mother for 5 minutes in time. I walked into the living room where family were gathered enjoying themselves. Abruptly I asked “who has new leather?” Sheepishly my sister-in-law Antoinette looked up. She didn’t need to say another word. I saw it on the floor beside her feet...the most beautiful mink coloured Miu Miu bag. The Miu Miu purse is the Prada “hipster” couture line and Antoinette is our hipster. I sauntered over to feel the lambskin and unconsciously performed my mother’s leather sniff test. That bag was the sweetest smell and softest touch I had ever experienced. My green eyed monster reared itself as I coveted having one of my own. Antoinette had bought it at Harrods in London that week...I couldn’t get there fast enough.

I needed one so badly... for the leather of course. So for Christmas 2007 I purchased a black Miu Miu bag on-line for myself, all the while thinking “Steve is going to kill me.” The bag arrived in its dust cover and certificate of authenticity enclosed. It is beautiful and the smell and feel are to die for. When Steve discovered my purchase he gave me that look of his, the one that could kill and no I won’t tell you what I paid for it. His statement cut to the bone, “So tell me, how you are going to sport that and explain it when you work for a not-for-profit?” So I was extravagant, but he didn’t need to rain on my parade or did he? I tucked it away in my closest waiting for the right inconspicuous occasion to sport my Miu Miu bag. I have never found the nerve to carry the bag yet.

Fast forward 6 months. On one beautiful June day I was preoccupied writing a report for work. I recall Hilary coming into my office and asking me something. I wasn’t listening, but I nodded yes and off she went. At supper time she called to be picked up from her friend’s house. As I drove around the cul de sac, I was taken aback by the creative art the girls had drawn on the cement and driveway. Hilary clambered into the car covered in charcoal and chalk. She looked like "Pig Pen". I drove around the bend when suddenly something on the floor caught my eye. The black Miu Miu bag! I turned and glared at her. She immediately rebutted “but I asked you, you said yes”. I had no words. I was boiling as I asked her to open the satchel. There before my eyes the lining was chalk and charcoal covered. It was no longer my virgin bag.

I don’t anger easily but when I do I boil. I turn into Mount Vesuvius and I’m always left to clean up the carnage. As I walked through our front door, I lost it. I said things I will never repeat. Things I should never have said to the very person that I love the most in this whole world. I tore upstairs and fell asleep. I awoke at midnight to find a handwritten note on my bedside table. It read like this “I’m sorry, I am a horrible person, and here is $20.00 to buy a new bag”. 20 bucks...that’s all she had, it was worth more to me than the damn bag. I learned that the “Devil does own Prada” that night.

We are going to England for March Break. I’m taking my Miu Miu bag with me. I am going to use it when I go shopping at Harrods as that would be the most inconspicuous place to sport a Miu Miu. When I finish shopping I’m giving the bag to Hilary. She deserves it, I don’t. After all it’s just a bag and she is priceless.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Life and Times with Annie (1940-2005)

You must be present for every Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthday, school play, clarinet recital, and soccer game in our kids' lives. I want you to love them, and spoil them and teach them things that Kevin and I can't. Like how to throw a right hook for example. I want you there, Viola. I do, up front and center. From this point I will not negotiate.” ....Charlotte Canitilini (Monster-in-Law, 2005)

Annie is my mother-in-law. She died 4 years ago today. We had an interesting relationship. From the outset she and I engaged in covert antagonism. In her mind I stole her only son; I was “the other woman” and she was resolute to claim him for herself. Ironically I was as stubborn, tenacious, and perseverant and determined as she was. Our battle began before I even said “I do” and I was driven to win over her.

Let the games begin...I moved from Toronto to K-W and her first words that day were “that coffee table would look better covered with Mac Tac”. As my wedding approached she was insistent that we display her felt bride and groom mice at the church and that the event should be videotaped. I emphatically said “NO”. She I went down the aisle I saw them perched on the organ and my brother-in-law videotaping as I fumed fire flares through my nares. Add the organist I never knew about or wanted. Silly eh? She abidingly defied me.

That sets the stage of our perpetual dance. We took turns in the lead and chalked our individual wins. She was thrifty. So much so I’d have to bite my tongue when she’d come with her garage sale finds wrapped in the comic section of the newspaper. There were Care Bears, Alf, dish towels and Kleenex boxes that matched my granite counters. She learned I collected Santas and she gave me Santas until they were coming out my ears. She never ceased to amaze me with her excitement as I tried to conceal my disdain.

I scorned her preference for all her other grandkids over my own child, even though I am cognizant of the fact that I was the one who drew the line in the sand to survive as a family. It’s true. I made the decision to restrict interactions to major holidays and birthdays. When all is said in done I know she loved my child the same as the others.

In 1996 she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Our relationship underwent a complete metamorphosis. The local oncologists did not offer Annie much hope for treatment or outcomes. I exercised my contacts at Sinai and connected her with the best oncologist. Our battle for control shifted to a battle for her life. I still remember my moment of performance anxiety. She was at the clinic; the oncology nurse could not find a vein to start her IV. My determined Annie demanded that the nurse call up to the ICU and have her daughter-in-law come down to start her IV. Obediently I arrived and wished the “rapture” would happen, I knew if I missed I would never hear the end of it. I applied the tourniquet, ordered her to pump her fist several times, all the while watching her cephalic vein swell, ready for the taking. I nailed it, but then again I could start an IV on a dead dog. She fought cancer like a boxer. She had more guts than glory, unfailing in her perseverance to kick cancer in the bloody face. We learned to respect each other through those years.

The revelation of my relationship with Annie was cemented when my hubby had his accident in 2001 which resulted in a “Triple Triad "of his elbow, the unstable dislocation of his radius, ulna and humerus. Four different hospitals, nine unsuccessful conscious closed reductions and three open reduction surgeries over six weeks were hard on all of us. Final surgery...last hope...St. Mike’s Hospital with the infamous Dr. Michael McKee. I had worked with Mike when he was a resident at Mt. Sinai and he said he could save his arm. He was our last hope. Without his intervention Steve was going to lose the complete use of his left arm.

As luck would have it Steve was scheduled for surgery on 9/11. He was docked in pre-admit waiting to be called into surgery when the twin towers were hit in New York. You could feel the vacuum effect hit Toronto. I sat, stewed and sat and stewed. The hospital administrator announced that all surgeries were being cancelled as they were anticipating victims from New York. I was sick; I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach, when suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up, it was Annie. We stared at each other. I looked into her fierce determined eyes; she was almost daring me to absorb her conviction through osmosis. We didn’t say a word; we just wanted this trauma over, hoping for no disability, hoping against hope. Mike appeared out of nowhere. I remember his exact words...”I’m declaring life and limb, going in with Steve now”. Deep sighs, no words, Annie and I sat there watching the twin towers being hit on CNN over and over again. Finally she ordered, “Time for a walk.” We headed out to Shuter Street with no destination in mind. On the corner was a vagrant carving an angel out of soap. She bought it and handed it to me. She was my angel that day.

I learned it was not our differences but similarities that challenged us. Both nurses, confident, determined, perfectionists, controlling and wanting the best for those who matter to us. While I will always resent those early years, I cherish the friendship we built and the respect we earned for each other. I lost my groove when Annie died. I needed that sparring partner to fight for what mattered. All that being said Annie changed me for good and who would have ever thought that...I miss you Annie; your friendship left a handprint on my heart and I have finally learned to negotiate.