January 7, 2009
Before the holiday season entirely passes us by…
A couple of weeks ago I showed you a Christmas card that had a pseudo-infertility theme, then I alluded to an actual infertility Christmas card that I received. Time to tell you about that one.
One of my best friends growing up was a guy that we’ll call Ernie. He was and is a remarkable person. Brilliant: at the very top of his class at every level, from elementary to high school to college to graduate school. Talented: a gifted artist in several fields. Kind: one of the very best people I’ve ever known, with never a bad word for anyone. Also funny and uncommonly humble. He was someone that just about every kid in school liked to claim as a good friend. A kid in junior high said to him once, “Ernie, you get straight As and you like classical music. I should beat you up, but you’re too nice a guy.” When DH finally met Ernie after hearing me sing his praises for several years, he said, “You and your other friends always described him as so perfect, and I was expecting to hate him, but he is fantastic.” You get the idea — every mother’s dream.
Ernie has a brother that we’ll call Grover, who was always a jerk and a loser, frankly. As an adult, I hear that he is somewhat less of a jerk (of course Ernie won’t say anything bad about him, so I can’t get the real story), but he has never amounted to much. In every way that Ernie was a success, Grover was a disappointment. Not smart, no talents, mean-spirited, terrible sense of humor, cocky.
Anyway, in high school, Ernie and I had been close friends for several years when I moved down the street from him. This led to hanging out at each others’ houses almost every day, usually bearing some sort of gift from one’s mother to the other. “My mother said to bring you this pie.” “Here are a dozen apples from the tree in our backyard.” Our mothers were friendly in a superficial way, but our families were never actually friends. When Ernie and I both left for college and our respective parents both subsequently moved to other houses, their only ongoing contact consisted of Christmas cards. When I grew up and had a home of my own, I got a separate entry on Ernie’s mom’s Christmas card list.
Ernie’s mom sends the kind of Christmas cards that give Christmas cards their bad reputation. Long narratives about mundane details, poorly edited and with little thought to what the reader actually wants to hear about the past year of their lives. Easily mockable — Ernie and I have spent many hours on the phone laughing as I read him his mother’s Christmas cards, since she does not send him a copy.
Most years, the letters have included extensive detail about some random family get-together, as well as extensive detail about Grover and his wife Prairie Dawn:
- “Grover lost his job this year, so he and Prairie Dawn have moved into our basement.”
- “Prairie Dawn is still looking for work.”
- “Grover and Prairie Dawn got their own apartment this year.”
- “Grover and Prairie Dawn have moved back into our basement.”
She would devote paragraphs to Grover, and literally every year, not more than a single sentence to Ernie.
- “Our younger son Ernie will be coming for Christmas.”
- “Ernie will not be coming for Christmas this year.”
- “Ernie has received his graduate degree from the prestigious Sesame Street University.”
- “Ernie has received a huge award, coveted in his field.”
- “Ernie devotes his weekends to helping the poor, while Grover continues to watch TV in our basement.”
- “Ernie and his partner Bert just celebrated 5 years together.”
You see, Ernie is gay, and his family isn’t too happy about it.
In my eyes, this has been the reason that Grover is put on the Christmas card pedestal and Ernie is a mere footnote.
Ernie and Bert have been together for almost a decade, and Bert’s name has never appeared in the Christmas card. Every year, I have found Ernie’s short shrift and Bert’s omission egregious. Then, last year, she really outdid herself.
- “We love spending time with Grover and Prairie Dawn’s dog, Snuffleupagus. Our friends tell us that we spoil Snuffy, but that’s what happens you don’t have grandchildren to spoil.”
But it gets worse. In addition to Ernie and Bert being gay and therefore not being able to have children without immense effort, Grover and Prairie Dawn have been dealing with infertility for years.
Their mom is not a bad person, but she doesn’t always think through her actions. DH says that if someone in our families ever sent a note like that to over a hundred friends and acquaintances (whether or not they knew about infertility, which our families don’t but Ernie and Grover’s family does), he would never ever speak to them again. My own reaction would not be quite so extreme, but I would certainly give them a firm talking-to and ensure that I had line-by-line veto rights on all future Christmas card letters.
If I put myself in her shoes for a minute (Easy Spirit shoes, for sure), she must feel left out that all of her siblings and friends have grandchildren and she doesn’t. She is really the grandmotherly sort, and she’s also someone who likes to fit in. She didn’t ask to have a gay son, nor an infertile son, and I know that she wishes she had two “normal” heterosexual baby-producing sons. Without mentioning homosexuality or infertility outright in the Christmas card, she thinks she can avert people’s gaze by joking about the conspicuously absent grandchildren. But I promise that it doesn’t hurt her more to be grandchild-less than it does for either of her children to be childless, especially the one who’s been actively trying for many years.
Ernie found the card funny more than anything, because he is kind and non-judgmental, and he also has come not to expect much from his mother.
This year, every day during Christmas card season I would run to check the mailbox, eager to read her newest letter. Would there be more than a single sentence about Ernie? Will Bert ever make an appearance? More infertility jabs? More pointless minutiae about recipes and bingo tournaments and trips to Florida?
Progress! Continued minutiae of course. Still not a peep about Bert, but a whole paragraph about Ernie and his fabulous career successes (now a stark contrast to Grover and his lack of success). More talk about Snuffleupagus, but nothing about the absent grandchildren. A wild success! I can’t wait until next year.
Has anyone else received an infertility card, or worse, been the target of one? Ernie’s family can’t be the only one.
December 21, 2008
First of all, I will not be posting the winner and prize for last week’s Creme de la Creme contest. Because nobody won. So instead, you should come back in a couple of days for a multiple choice version of the contest. It involves picking a number between 1 and 10 — do you know any other contest with odds this good?
This week for Show and Tell, I offer up an Infertility Christmas Card. Last year I received a literal infertility Christmas card, but that’s a long story that I’ll tell later this week. It’s a story that I want to scream from the rooftops, but I can’t tell people IRL without outing myself as infertile, so instead it’s just between you and me, Internets.
This past week when we were refugees/nomads during the ice storm and subsequent almost weeklong power outage, I spent lots of time in places where I normally spend little or no time. One day I went to a local pharmacy (not a local branch of a big chain, but an actual local mom-and-pop pharmacy) to buy B6 vitamins since I’d left my bottle at home, in my fleeing haste. In the process of browsing the quirky offerings of the store, I came across a small display of boxed Christmas cards. Normally stores have a dozen to choose from, or two dozen, or more, but this little store had only 5. I almost fainted when I read the words on one of them.
Huh? What the hell kind of Christmas card is that? Is someone really making Christmas cards to announce infertility? What?!?
Then my eyes zoomed out and I looked at the cartoon.
Okay, that’s kind of weird. Not an infertile 30-something woman, but a horse. Hmm. Zoom out again.
It’s kind of funny from a neutral standpoint, but from an IF standpoint, it is funny on so many levels. And also not funny at all.
Go enjoy more holiday goodness (and some non-holiday goodness) at Show and Tell.