If Pynchon were a superhero (and, of course, he's my superhero), his code name would be Mr. Furious. Because when he gets angry ... very very angry ... watch out!
Now, neither Pynchon nor I are terribly patient people. We are quick to anger, and although we are working hard to fight our natural inclinations, there's no denying that the urge is there. When set off, I like to swear a blue streak and get really sarcastic and cynical. Pynchon likes ... to ... ur, punch things. Or possibly kick them. His main superpowers are, in no particular order, brute force, and blind rage. These powers can be put to good use: opening jars of baby food, ramming together furniture from IKEA, ripping the overfull garbage bag from the can, etc. Brute force and blind rage are not so good for finesse work. And sometimes, lacking a proper object--for example, when the offending stimulus does not admit of a brute-force-blind-rage solution--sometimes, things go awry. For example, exasperated beyond all measure by Miss Baby's behaviour one fine day, he handed her off to me and went up to the guest room for a time out ... where, kicking off his slipper with brute force and blind rage, he accidentally put a hole in the wall.
You can imagine this didn't help anyone's mood.
However, Mr. Furious has been redeeming himself lately, channeling both force and rage into productive encounters with recalcitrant 'customer service agents'.
Let me just say that I am generally the most tractable and pleasant customer I can be. I listen carefully, I carry exact change, I make pleasant and respectful chitchat, and I rarely return anything. I understand that most front line retail workers make very poor wages, suffer inadequate training, and are offered no incentive for loyalty or even competence. I don't like conflict, and I don't like trouble. I think in the past this has led to me getting snookered. But now, Mr. Furious has swooped in to rescue me!
First case: Mr. Furious recently and with great vigor renegotiated our cell phone contract. To make a long story short, I got him a phone for Christmas and put us both on a shared plan that I intended to be the plan I already had plus some extra minutes. I tried very hard to make this clear to the woman who sold me the package, and she kept assuring me verbally that I got what I wanted but that, it being Christmas, there was no paper documentation she could give me to examine. We did not get the plan I expected, though: I had in fact lost all my long distance minutes and most of my local minutes, as well as my voice mail, and our 'evenings' now started at 9pm where they used to start at 5pm on my plan. One startling several-hundred-dollars bill later, we were getting the runaround from everyone as we tried to figure out what went wrong. The retail outlet told us we needed to call the 800 line. The 800 line tried very hard to send us back to the retail outlet. Well, Mr. Furious dealt the Front Line Phone Sap such a round of fury and persistence that he managed to get a manager on the phone, a reduction in our bill, and a custom-designed minutes plan plus early evenings and weekends in perpetuity. By the time that phone call was over, Mr. Furious allowed Pynchon to kindly chitchat with manager Ted, and for them to wish each other good evening. Take that, Telus Mobility! It was a marvel.
Second case: Today, Mr. Furious directed his fearsome energies toward the Sears Major Appliance Repair Service. Our still-under-warranty dryer is not working, and you can imagine what it is like to have a 9 month old baby and no clothes dryer. Our front porch has all week been festooned in underthings drying in the sun. If it starts to rain, we're in big trouble. Pynchon called Sears to book a repair appointment--you know, the kind where you stay at home all day because they don't know when they're coming? The first appointment was cancelled due to technician illness. Fine. They rebooked for Wednesday. Again, Pynchon and Miss Baby stayed in all day in breathless anticipation. Of a repairman who didn't show up. Mr. Furious stepped in and phoned Sears: "Ah," they said, "looks like you got booked for February 28". Period. As if that explained it all away.
Yes, that's right: they booked our appointment in the past.
Mr. Furious is especially good in these kinds of clearly-moronic scenarios. When told, after some pressing for redress by Mr. Furious, that we might be put on 'standby' for today, he unleashed a tide of righteous rage, and was told someone would call him first thing this morning. This morning, the 'standby' line was used again, effectively parsed by Mr. Furious thus: "You mean you screwed up our appointment, and I had to wait around all day yesterday for nothing, and now you want me to wait around all day today because MAYBE you might make it, but maybe you might not? Are you kidding me?"
The technician arrived 30 minutes later. And we're getting a $50 gift certificate.
I was raised to believe that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I was also raised to be polite and to avoid conflict. So I'm quite ambivalent about this business of efficacious furiosity. However, I was also raised to believe you got what you paid for: and by buying appliances and services from big name, expensive retailers, I expected to be treated respectfully by competent servicepeople. And all we got was stonewalling and "it's not my problem" and "the computer won't let me help you" so that, ultimately, I don't feel to bad about unleashing Mr. Furious on the collective 'service' behind. I have never, never, actually managed to get an apology or a reparation from any commercial organization every before. And now we've had two in two months, all because my husband gets angry, demanding, and inflexible. Sigh.
At least he's using his powers for good, instead of evil.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
If Pynchon were a superhero (and, of course, he's my superhero), his code name would be Mr. Furious. Because when he gets angry ... very very angry ... watch out!
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
*yeesh. edited to add a title. sorry.
Yesterday's post provoked more comments than I've seen since that time I was swearing in both official languages, even more comments than that time I appeared on a cult TV show, got struck by lightning, and revealed my congenital deformity. Seriously. Daycare? It's a big topic. NoMo and Bloor West Mama faced a situation similar to ours; Mad Hatter and Her Bad Mother and Sage are STILL on waiting lists for university day care; Jennifer (ponderosa) longs for Canadian-style family leave provisions in the US and recalls terrible stress and Oh, The Joys, GingaJoy, and Jenifer (R&PG) reassure me everything will be okay; Beck, quite sensibly, is horrified by the financial outlay the whole process requires. Em, regrettably, indicates that this is a transcontinental concern.
The kindness and passion of your responses, and the stories you shared in part have got me thinking thinking thinking about this issue. And thinking about how a while back GingaJoy noted that, strangely enough considering the way the larger media culture portrays motherhood, in the blogosphere the working mommies and the SAHM don't seem to be at each others' throats. So I'm thinking thinking thinking about a post on daycare and homecare and respect for mothers and the choices they make for themselves and their families.
When I get to thinking, stuff like this happens:
Can you see Miss Baby? That's her, the little pink blot underneath the nested end tables. I can tell you she started out in the middle of the room, sitting up, and made her way gradually but inexorably toward the underneath of the end tables. She was going after a cat toy. After having made the big mess of toys you see on the carpet. Her favorite thing in the world right now is to take everything that's in a container out of the container. When she's not looking, I put stuff back in and so she never runs out of stuff to take out. Until I get to thinking. Then situations such as you see above tend to occur. At which point, naturally, I go upstairs to look for the camera.
I will continue thinking, but only when Miss Baby is adequately supervised, or asleep, and get to work on a thinky post. Hm. That's the kind of cheap fun we can afford now that we have to get out the Big Chequebook for our daycare deposit. Yay.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Pretty much one year ago, roundly pregnant, under a pile of grading, swollen feet up on my desk, and piles of lumber not yet constructed into baby furniture stacked in the guest room, I signed up 'Baby Breach' for daycare. Well, I put 'Baby' on the waiting list, and paid 25$ for the privilege of being told that we could expect a wait of about 18 months for a spot in the infant room to open up. It seemed ridiculous to sign up a fetus for daycare, and 'July 2007' seemed so far away when I was counting the passage of time in weeks of pregnancy.
It's a good daycare: it's on campus, it's a coop, it has a great reputation. It is a licensed early childhood education centre, a regulated establishment. I feel confident of the care Miss Baby would receive there. Apparently, the 18 months of the list we were on represented the shorter wait: we got priority for being a 'campus' family. Babies unaffiliated with the university were best advised to be put on the list before conception if they were to have any hope of being placed when the one-year parental leave ran out. This is ridiculous.
When I called last week to check our status, there were still 15 families ahead of us in the line for infant care. We were told it might be September before Miss Baby could attend. I was panicked, and also angry: my university promotes its daycares in its recruitment literature aimed at providing a family friendly workplace, and Miss Baby, on the waiting list before her birth even, wasn't going to get in, leaving one university family at least in a very tight position. I know this is in no way unusual, and that many of you have similar problems. But that doesn't make the panic and anger any less real in our individual situation.
Yesterday, though, from underneath another pile of end-of-term grading, I heard the phone ring. Daycare is 99% sure of being able to offer Miss Baby a spot in the infant room.
Here's the catch: it's 2 months earlier than we want it.
Our options are to accept or to decline. To decline puts us back on the list, with still 15 families ahead of us, and no guarantee of Miss Baby ever getting in. To accept means putting Miss Baby in care younger than we had planned, and it means curtailing Pynchon's parental leave by two months. But. It also means forking over an extra $1800 to what we had planned for the year.
The fourteen families in the queue ahead of us had declined the spot. I can't know their reasons, but I imagine, similarly to us, that they had planned a certain timetable of returns-to-work, of trips, of leaves and home-based care. But probably some of them just can't afford paying for months of daycare they don't, strictly speaking, need or want.
We've accepted. Because we can afford--barely--to swallow $1800 worth of unplanned expense. We're well off, but we're not rich: consider that the monthly mortgage payment we felt able to carry is $991/m. Daycare will cost us a little over $900/m. This is a not insignificant expense for us. We'll worry later about Pynchon's back-to-work schedule, about deferring some repairs to the house, about discretionary spending. We will pay, essentially, an $1800 premium just to make sure that when we really need Miss Baby to have safe, healthy, loving childcare, we will have access to it.
I'm appalled. I'm grateful.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
I was very idealistic when I was a teenager: I think idealism and irony are probably the two defining (if paradoxical) conditions of teenagerhood, actually, so my idealism, I understand, is far from unique. Here are some of the things I was passionately idealistic about in high school: true love, saving the environment, vegetarianism, gender equality, meritocracy and social mobility. In a way, I still believe in these things, but the harsh black and white of my beliefs have been shaded and cross-hatched by the fine lines of experience, context, and book-learnin'. For example, in high school, I balked at the notion of 'feminism', styling myself rather a 'humanist'. This may have simply been a canny ploy on my part to not alienate the boy-folk whom I hoped would someday see fit to date me (no such luck), but I also figured that since women had the vote, and jobs, and such, feminism had mostly won the day and women's rights were well assured. (Oh dear). Knowing a little more of the world beyond my immediate experience, and having accrued some sobering experience of my own, I call myself a 'feminist' loudly and proudly now, if neither so loudly nor proudly as I denounced the label then.
As for my environmentalism, in my teenage years it manifested itself in a drive to collect cans for recycling, the co-founding of an 'environmental' club, and in spring cleanups of nature areas. But of course, I drove t0 school every day when I might have walked in about 12 minutes. Later, in university, it was easy for me to become a public-transit advocate, as I had no money for a car of my own. Since I spent twelve years in university before abandoning the 'student lifestyle', I had a solidly entrenched public-transit mindset by the time I finally had a career and the income to get both car and mortgage. You know about the car: the smallest we could get, with a high fuel efficiency rating, and only one car for both of us, rather than two. Well, in a one-car, two-career family, in which said careers are located at opposite ends of town ... somebody is taking the bus. And so we bought a house in our small city's downtown, partly because of its walkability to my work, and its good access to frequent buses.
Our house is just off the main drag, on the busiest side street parallel to the main drag, actually--this is how we could afford to live in the neighbourhood. At rush hour it's noisy, but all in all, we were very pleased to be able to put our money where our mouths were on the public transit, environmentally-friendly, pedestrian-lifestyle front. We felt also, it must be said, pretty canny for getting in early on the whole downtown revitalization thing going on, the gentrification of the area. Gosh! (we thought) A nice house, and affordable, and keeping to our principles, AND likely to appreciate in value, too!
Part of the local reurbanization initiative in our city is concerned with increasing access to rapid transit: a ridiculous proportion of our population lives in the burbs and drives drives drives, clogging up roads not built with today's car densities in mind. I felt very clever reading about this in the paper, feeling the wisdom of our choice. I was feeling, I must admit, a little smug.
Well. Saturday morning, I read in the paper that our road is the one proposed to bear a good bit of the new rapid bus traffic. My eyes swam. Visions of large rumbling buses passing by at all hours, with those awful squealing brakes that all buses seem to have. Visions of piles of cigarette butts and Tim Hortons coffee cups that seem always to collect at transit stops. Visions of sketchy people congregating and making noise. Visions of ... visions of ... NIMBY. Not in my backyard. An instinctive, propertied reaction: my peace and quiet, at risk! My property values, threatened! I spluttered. I moaned. I rapid-fire explained the article to Pynchon. On the basis of my consternation, he asked if I was going to complain.
I thought about it. I wanted to. My house!
But then, you know, I was feeling a little ashamed of myself. There's a saying I can't quite remember, but the gist of it is that it's easy to be poor and virtuous: there's not much real temptation to moral misdeeds in poverty. To be rich, though, is to have more scope for public action, to have both more capacity and more opportunity to choose selfishly. And here I was, smacking the newspaper in indignation that rapid transit might pass up and down my street. Me, the staunch defender of public transit, the pooh-pooher of Big Vehicles, the defender of urban living. Afraid of a bus. A bus (let's be honest) that I will likely ride to work. If I'm being perfectly honest, I would have to admit that it make sense to put a bus on my street: there are far fewer traffic lights than on the main drag, two street over, and of all the similar streets in the area, this one actually has the fewest number of inhabited houses on it (many of the 'houses' on this long street are businesses). What's it going to be then: my principles? or my self-interest?
Bring on the buses. No angry placards will I wave, no sharply worded letters will I deploy my expensive education to compose, no angry propertied mobs will I use my middle-class entitlement and confidence to amass. Now, the public transit proposal is still very theoretical and preliminary. No bus shelters are going up on the corners yet, nor are they likely to for some time. But still, I'd like to say:
Welcome, public transit. I hope you like it here in my backyard.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Well, I guess I'm just not quite hipster enough for this segment on CBC Radio One one Monday. Back in February, after I wrote about hipster-parent-bashing (as some of you did, too, and I was writing about it having read Bub and Pie's take on it), I noticed that someone from the CBC had been to read the post. Yes, dear reader, you are so few in number but regular in your visits (and so dear to me, obviously) that odd addresses in my Sitemeter provoke my interest. And so I discovered that producer Michelle Eliot left me a comment.
You have to understand how much I love the CBC: I listen to Radio One, Radio Two, and even Radio-Canada Espace Musique. I was tickled; my interest was piqued. So I emailed her. She never emailed me back, but did visit twice more, Googling her way here with the blog name. I wondered what would come of it, and Tuesday I found out. Pynchon was out walking Miss Baby when he ran into an acquaintance who used to work in the same building as him. They got to talking and the acquaintance joked about how, from the looks of our massive and pimped out carriage, Pynchon must be one of those 'hipster parents' he'd just heard about on the CBC. Did any of you hear it? I missed it, but would love to hear about it ...
So now Pynchon and I have both been mistaken for hipster parents, and I've had a near brush with the Mother Corp.
In any case, the whole near-publicity of it, the idea that I might go on national radio and talk about my blog was attractive and repulsive. And I think I'm actually glad my 'cover' is not blown, and that my Sitemeter reports the same 10-15 of you visiting and commenting. I really do like the communal and reciprocal aspects of this space, and I think that could easily be violated by lookie-loos drawn in for a fast peek after hearing something on the radio. I like that you all found me by blogging, and that you're invested in blogs of your own. Also, I'm a professor of new media theory and practice, and I'm a little uncomfortable blending that part of my life with this part. I think, too, that I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea of making a spectacle of my parenthood--like that might make Miss Baby the soapbox I stand on to get my head above the crowd for my 15 minutes. I kinda know someone who did that, in another place and another time, and it felt and feels icky to me.
Ultimately, though, I guess I'm just not hipster enough. As these seven songs will prove:
1. Rufus Wainwright: "In My Arms"
(I like to sing Martha's part. It gets good here once you get past the banter. Be sad.)
2. David Bowe: "Space Oddity"
3. David Sylvian: "September"
4. Japan: "Nightporter" (yes, David Sylvian used to sing lead for Japan ... nice hair, dude!)
Uh-oh! I've caught new wave fever!
5. Depeche Mode: "Love's not enough in itself"
I really love DM. Have forever and ever. Except that stinker of an album in 1993. Which was, regrettably, the tour I got to see them on.
6. Yaz (or Yazoo, depending on your continent): "In My Room"
Speaking of DM! Look, it's a band with Vince Clark and Alison Moyet. I played this CD on repeat one all-nighter during my PhD (in a five disk set that included The Smiths and some Beastie Boys) and couldn't listen to it for a couple of years.
7. Rosemary Clooney and Marlene Dietrich: "Too Old"
Um, yeah, I have loved Rosemary Clooney since hearing her as the sister act in White Christmas. And my mom was always telling me that I have this Dietrich thing going (I do find her hopelessly cool now, but when I was a teenager? I did not take this as a compliment but rather a dig at my, ur, teutonic features). And this song is a seriously funny duet about men being too old 'to pass the mustard any more'. This is the comic relief song after I've bummed you all out ...
So it ought to be obvious now that I'm no hipster mommy, right? And you didn't even have to watch me groovin' out with Miss Baby to the strains of Salt 'n' Pepa when I got home from work tonight. :-)
Dance, people, dance!
Thanks for the tag, Cinnamon Gurl!
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
After a good five day run of intense crankiness and clinginess and more drool than I could have imagined issuing from a baby who has almost entirely forsaken liquids ... tooth! The top front left tooth. There it was, just barely, jaggedly visible on the swollen ridge of her gums, last night as she tilted her head back at something hilarious I'd just done. (Hilarious? Um, I undid the snaps on her overalls. It's laugh-a-minute over here!)
Pynchon and I are feeling very intuitive: sure, we've been claiming for weeks that this tooth was sure to arrive momentarily, thus explaining all the bad moodedness and sudden personality changes, and sure it didn't actually arrive momentarily, but! But, last night before dinner (ie, one hour before tooth was discovered discernibly to have erupted) we both noted out loud that Miss Baby's mood seemed much improved and her disposition more resembling what we seemed to remember. We obviously feel very attuned, after weeks of fruitless tooth-coming-soon rumour-mongering, to have caught on so quickly that it had in fact now arrived, and having deduced this without actually seeing the tooth.
Would it be wrong to say that as nice as it is for her to have a new tooth, what is most impressive about this particular milestone is that Miss Baby is no longer the drooling, wriggling, pick-me-up-no-put-me-down-no-WAHHH, crabby baby of yesterday, and most of the week before that?
Monday, March 19, 2007
I don't like to be alone.
This is odd, considering the essentially solitary nature of most of my work activties and hobbies: I'm a teacher, sure, but there's a whole lot of quiet prep and grading to be done alone, and I have a whole semester every year in which to do my research, a semester described by most as delightful for its absence of people and people-related obligations, a semester of hiding away and reading. Not me. My door at work is nearly always open. In my leisure time, too, I read and read and read. Reading requires, of course, that we focus on the text at hand to the exclusion of all other stimulus. I also like to knit, and this too can require careful focus. I can, in fact, focus so intensely on these activities that repeated invocations of my name will ring across the living room unanswered: I am in the zone. But--but!--there I am in the living room, reading in the bustle even though the house is big enough that everyone can be on their own floor. Because I don't like to be alone.
When I moved away from home to attend university, the most startling and depressing change was my fundamental aloneness: I was no longer in a discernible family (or other) unit where I could plunk myself in the middle of ongoing daily life to do my own thing. And so I did a lot of homework in coffee shops, in cafeterias. And so I clung to my then-boyfriend, mooching time at his house, just to ... read a book while he watched TV. And so I pretty much half-moved into my sister's on-campus apartment after she had her baby. To not be alone. Like a crated puppy comforted by a ticking clock, I could only really calm myself if others were nearby, and preferably people I cared about. Alone together, maybe, but not alone.
My tendency to cling, to demand nearness, is exacerbated by stress, particularly by change: whenever I would move apartments or residence rooms, I always begged of my friends or my sister to come over. Not to help, I would assure them, but just to keep me company. To have someone sit on my bed while I took down posters and packed up candlesticks made me feel rooted even as my life was compacted into boxes. Poor Pynchon, too, had to deal with my ramped-up clinginess during my pregnancy: I so badly wanted him to be home with me, even if all I wanted to do was read the newspaper at the other end of the couch from him.
I was thinking of this the other day, my refrain of 'keep me company' when my sister came for a day visit. She's taking care of Miss Baby when Pynchon and I go to Cuba for a wedding in May, and so tries to come over fairly regularly to stay in Miss Baby's good graces. Her visit coincided with Pynchon's hard earned Day Off, a day in which he planned to vacate the house in the early morning and not return until the wee hours. It was a day, I have to admit, I was anticipating with some dread: "Yay!" I told my sister, "You can keep me company!" Now, taking care of Miss Baby is no longer really very taxing: she puts herself to sleep for naps, is of fairly easy disposition, eats well, and is amenable to outings of all sorts. But. She is not yet company either in the sense of keeping me totally mentally occupied, nor of providing quiet togetherness while I pursue my own activities. In fact, being alone with Miss Baby, for me, is very much alone indeed: I feel my aloneness keenly when she and I spend whole days together.
Don't get me wrong: we have lots of fun, she and I. I spend minutes at a time enthralled by her, and in any case devote myself willingly, ably, and cheerfully to the assorted babycare tasks of feeding, changing, playing, carrying. But other than those minutes in thrall, it's kinda long and, for me, very lonely. My own thoughts bash around in my head and the minutes slowly tick. I can't talk to her, nor can I sit quietly and read.
To my own sanity-preserving credit, I very early recognized this tendency in myself, and tried very hard during my maternity leave to have regular visitors. Visitors whom I assured would not need to lift a finger, and whom I promised to indulge in all manner of goodies and teas. All they needed to do was keep me company. And when they did, life was okay. I could handle it. In truth, in retrospect, it seems to me that the hardest part about my maternity leave was the loneliness. "Come keep me company," I begged of pretty much everyone I knew, and the hours of nursing and bouncing and changing and playing flew by. Alone, though, I soon grew sad and anxious, short of patience, and hated myself for it.
As Miss Baby gets older and more engaging, she becomes more and more a source of 'company' in her own right. But it'll be a while before I cease being grateful for visitors. Cease being cheered beyond measure that my sister will stay and sit for one more cup of tea while I cheer Miss Baby's exertions in the Exersaucer, or play peekaboo with her doudou.
For now, I admit that I can do it, all that this life requires, be strong, be brave, be patient--as long as someone will keep me company.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Remember how I was telling you we still bathe Miss Baby in the infant tub, because she refuses to sit up, and even though it's clearly far too small for her nine month old self ...
... simple expediency kept us from moving her out of it?
She busted it. We bought it second hand (for $7.00! Canadian!) before she was born, and discovered pretty quickly that it had a little 'split' along one of the legs, near the top. It thus leaked slowly, but as baby baths last, like, 5-10 minutes, a slow leak really doesn't do too much damage.
What really gets your attention, though, is when, mid-bath, that little split becomes a big gaping crack and the slow leak becomes a sort of Titanic-versus-iceberg hull breaching gusher. We didn't see the crack snap open, because it's underneath the foam pad. Pynchon just sort of noticed that there seemed to be suddenly a lot of water on the counter, and very little water in the tub. And that was that.
Miss Baby has now moved into more spacious and watertight digs, a move coincidentally coinciding with her decision to finally hold herself vertical, as though she was just holding out on us all along ...
... which is good, because on our visit to Gramma's, she thought you were supposed to recline in the sink, which forces me to take sad and pitiful pictures like this:
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Her Bad Mother wrote a post the other day about an encounter (or missed encounter) on the subway: about a young mother and a tiny baby in an umbrella stroller, and the maybe impossible distance of class and age that kept them from speaking to each other. That post broke my heart. I'm hormonal these days, but I have been that young and underfunded parent (to a nephew, in an umbrella stroller or a front carrier) as well as the older richer mom (university professor with a $500 stroller).
Anyhow, it's been making me think. And Mad's post last night about the connections we make in the blogosphere, think kinds of conversations we have here has been making me think, as I sit here at Starbucks reading her post, while sitting on the comfy couch across from two new moms discussing the sleep habits of their six month olds.
Well, I closed the laptop lid and said, "Omigod, I'm so sorry to be eavesdropping, but did you say 'shush-pat'? Are you doing the baby whisperer? I did the baby whisperer with my little girl" (this is where I open the laptop to show them my desktop image of Miss Baby).
I was careful to ask if they wanted to know my experience, and it was all very friendly, and we all had a nice time: me, new mom K and Baby girl M, and other new mom J and Baby boy J. How-do-you-do, nice-to-meet-you. They seemed relieved to benefit from my vaster experience (after all, my baby is nine months old, theirs but six, you see). Our experiences with the sleep training were similar, and I was very happy to see that they were visibly relieved that I could be so open about our decision to finally go to CIO, when Miss Baby was about six and a half months old. We discussed our misgivings, our feelings; fine time all around. They got some advice, or actually, reinforcement of their own intuition, I made some new acquaintances.
Here's the thing: these really are the moms in the mirror. These women are my age, they dress like me, their babies are dressed like my baby, we might be each other. We can assume so much in common (disposable income for lattes, for example) that it's easier to talk to one another.
But still, look at me! Reaching out to other mothers with empathy! Thank you, blogosphere, for giving me the confidence in my own mothering self to feel safe enough to be honest with others who might appreciate it, who might make a real-life circle of mother support. At Starbucks. Still.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Ah, spring! When a young woman's fancy turns to ... washing every single godforsaken piece of primary-colour plastic junk her baby may by turns put in her mouth, wipe against the cat, and drop on the floor.
Ah, spring fever! How you make me want to scrub the baseboards! Now that the sun is a little higher in the sky, months of accumulated grime are brilliantly illuminated, and for more hours of the day than ever before. Now that the snow is melting, how much easier it is to muck up the front and back vestibules--not so much actual mud rooms as mud closets.
Spring, when the prospect of lower heating bills before the larger air conditioning bills of the summer kick in makes me dream of funds for renovations, as I finally utter a manic, "That's IT! I'm tired of living in hobo house!" and start hunting around for power tools and my large but surprisingly chintzy wad of Canadian Tire money while counting the knobs on the kitchen cabinets.
Indeed, I got so spring crazy this past weekend that I finally installed a coat hook rack that's been sitting around for months. I finally decided if Pynchon (poor man, he never knew what hit him) hung his jacket on the dining room chairs one more time, I would surely go supernova. And so out came the pencil, the screwdriver, the level, the cordless drill ... but then the project was derailed because the batteries for the drill, long unused, had totally lost their charge. It was all I could do to wait. But it's done, and oh oh oh the taste of victory is sweet. Look! It's my red coat and Miss Baby's new spring jacket! What you can't see are the dining room chairs. There are no coats on them. And we fixed a long-busted closet door! And I put more outgrown baby clothes in more plastic storage bins!
Let the season of cleaning and renovating begin!
(Hopefully, the season of exclamatory sentences will soon be past.)
Signs of Cabin Fever? I recently overheard SAHD Pynchon say to Miss Baby: "Look with your eyes! Not with your mouth!" Um, good luck with that, The Dada ...
Monday, March 12, 2007
Way far up north where I grew up, the saying 'April showers bring May flowers' just struck me as so much nonsense: the reality was that April snowstorms brought ... May snowstorms. This was a philosophy appropriate only to TV-land: you know, the place where sitcom denizens frolicked in thick soapflake snow, their jackets open and their scarves trailing undone. Nonsense. As a child, it seemed to me that winter was fierce, and lasted nearly forever: April showers would have been an unheard-of break in the weather.
Spring in Northern Ontario is breathtaking and fleeting. All at once the roads are bare, the sun is high in the sky at dinner time, and all you can hear is the whoosh of air across your un-hatted head, the gurgle-gurgle of rapidly melting snowbanks pouring into the storm drains, the sudden mirthful chirping of birds. The air is crisp with the mingled and paradoxically mixed scents of dry dust from the roads, the clean wetness of shrinking snowbands--it's a marvel to smell anything at all, nostrils grown accustomed to harsh winter temperatures and seeking nothing more than not freezing with every inhalation. Scent itself--the world unfrozen!--is a minor miracle in a northern spring. I remember all this so clearly: that first warm-ish day, daring to skip the puddles on yard and sidewal, making my way onto the dry road in shoes--shoes!--to jump rope. This was heaven indeed! Not wet, not frozen, in shoes, skipping rope. Brilliant sunshine. The breeze might chill, but the sun is warm on your face. If you close your eyes, you can remember summer, remember what it is like to be outside, warm.
I can't get used to these Southern Ontario springtimes: how lucky we are to have warmth and light so soon! And so this very weekend winter seemed to start to melt itself away in front of me.
It's amazing what the body remembers, how easy it is to slip from 34 years old, married, with a baby and a career and a mortgage, to 10 years old, with a new pair of rainbow nylon kangaroo sneakers, a red k-way jacket, and a premium skipping rope--the heavy rope, the striped plastic kind with real handles--just wanting to be outside again. I made that slip this weekend, so suddenly did the warm weather appear from nowhere as I ran out to get a coffee in a hurry on Sunday morning, so suddenly noticing the melting snow, so surprised to feel that maybe, maybe this winter wouldn't last forever. Maybe things will grow, the light will come back. At once 34 and 10, caught between now and all those springs that came before, I just let the sun warm my face, let myself smell the dirt, hear the running water. All my selves, from all my springs, warming our faces, being in the eternal moment of changing seasons, before returning to my now, to being in the moment that is me now: chores to do, grading beckoning, a husband to love and a baby to grow. Grateful.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Bub and Pie tagged me with the question, 'Why do you blog?', to be answered with five reasons.
I don't imagine my reasons are all that unusal: I like to write (as Beck would say, "I know! I'm a delicate, unique snowflake!"); I appreciate the chance to have some human contact beyond people I pushed into the world through my girl parts (this was especially true of the six months of my maternity leave); I wasn't getting my bloggy-fix from simply reading and commenting; and I wanted a written record of this time in my life.
That's four. The fifth reason? Let me tell you a story.
In September 2005, a friend from my grad school days got in touch with me. She was going to be visiting family in my new town, and wondered if I might like to meet up with her and her husband (also a friend of mine) and their baby, to catch up. And so my friend, M, and her husband, and Baby M came over to visit. We exchanged pleasantries. We talked of mutual acquaintances. M kindly let me play with Baby M, while she hovered around and did a complicated routine with bottles and the fridge and hot water, and she seemed a little frazzled. I sort of got that they were bottles of breastmilk, maybe, but I couldn't figure out the bottle aspect; I didn't ask. I was about three weeks pregnant; I didn't say. We smiled and hugged and went on about our lives, having mostly exchanged pleasantries about new motherhood and new home ownership and life in the academy.
In June 2006, I gave birth to Miss Baby. I was tired and overwhelmed and nothing was like I imagined, and I found myself all alone, all day, and many evenings. With a wailing infant. Desperately googling about green poops, about projectile vomiting, about sleep--always sleep. I began to read a lot of blogs, and, as happens, was drawn into writing my own.
In early December, a blogger called 'Mad Hatter' left me a comment that she was pretty sure she knew me in real life. I went to her blog, and, of course! how could I not know it was M! I began to read. And read, and read, and read. Here was an M I never knew, even though I had known her well enough to have her on speed dial for a time in my life. And, among many other things, I learned all about Miss M's eating troubles, and Mad's heartaches with breastfeeding. And their visit at my house made a lot more sense. And simply reading her site made me more and more consicous of the gulf between us when we met face to face, observing the niceties of the friendly visit. Safe. Conservative. Pleasant. And really? Kinda shallow.
M, as 'Mad Hatter', compiled an awe-inspiring, nuanced, laugh-out-loud and burst-into-tears chronicle of her life as a mother. I was blown away. I recognized myself in some of here experiences, learned from others, and was able to share my own perspectives on yet more. And this is how we got to know one another again--through these typographical selves, this intimacy of text, the trust-building exercise of being brave and honest and out there. Blogging. Somehow, 'Mimi' and 'Mad Hatter' were able to communicate more empathetically, more uproariously, and more thoughtfully, than our offline selves had managed, despite the fact that we really were friends as best as we were able 'in real life.'*
So this is the fifth reason I blog, and probably the most important one: in my blog, I feel safe to be honest about the full range of my experience as a mother, and as a woman who is a mother as well as her own self; reading your blogs, I am grateful for your honesty, your intensity, your joy. I blog because so much of what we say here about our lives is a lot more real than what I manage in many, many of my 'real' interactions, at least wandering dazed through these conversational minefields of parenting and womanhood.
I'd like to tag three of you who have been kind enough to start visiting me recently: I'd like to know more about you, Em, Melanie, and Jennifer (ponderosa).
* thanks to Mad, for letting me tell this story here.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Sigh. The Globe and Mail this morning had a headline on the front page proclaiming "Sleeping: It's all downhill after 12 [years old]". Awesome. Great news after Miss Baby got up for a snack from 3-3:10, and then I lay in bed contemplating the universe until about 4:30 or so. Pynchon let me sleep in a bit, but still? The wrong side of the bed is the one I got up on. And so today's post, on various failings. Maybe I'll see how ridiculous I'm being, and laugh at myself. Feel free to join in!
How I've failed as a mom this week:
Yesterday, Miss Baby's mood really deteriorated over the course of the early morning. She got grumpy and whiny. What happened? Wet diaper? No ... Maybe her teeth? Give some Tempra ... Is she bored? Move her around ... carry her for a bit ... engage in intense conversation about daytime sleep and routines. Finally? Figure out neither one of us fed her breakfast. Watch her lose her mind with joy when proferred a biscuit. Yeesh. I guess this is a little bit funny.
How I've failed as a responsible grownup:
This winter I've managed to lose no fewer than two scarves and one hat. Two pairs of sunglasses have mysteriously gone missing as well, possibly never to return. I hate losing stuff! Where does it go? Also, today I packed the cellphone charger to bring to work, and left the cellphone in the vestibule. Nice. I miss my hat ...
My nose is stinkin' up the joint too:
All day, I have the sneeze that got away: my nose tingles and runs like mad, my eyes squeeze shut and fill with tears ... and then nothing. No sneeze. I think I've blown my nose, like, 50 times today. (Twice already since starting this post. Really.)
The boobies are letting down the team also:
Is it the soother? Because Miss Baby seems to be weaning herself. She only really drinks at dawn and then at bedtime. Inbetween, if we get 2 oz from the bottle, or 2 minutes of the real thing into her, it's a victory. The boobies have gone haywire, kicking into overproduction now that Miss Baby doesn't want any. I imagine I'm on some sort of hormonal rollercoaster. And also feeling rejected. My heart is sore, and my boobs don't feel so great either.
Obviously, this ain't no perfect post:
Have I now turned into that mommyblogger who imagines that people want to listen to self-indulgent self-pity. Wah.
Clearly, now I'm going to go crawl into a dark hole. And sulk. I hope to be back to my good mommy, responsible grownup, functional-boobed, eloquent self tomorrow. Until then, grrrr!
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Dear Miss Baby --
This week marks your first nine months 'on the outside'. Wow! Congratulations! But did you know you also spent nine months inside The Mama? I'd like to tell you a little bit about that time, so we can both remember it.
In the beginning, you were very very small--so small that The Dada and I couldn't quite believe you were there. But you were! We gave you a special name, 'Baby Embryo', and kept you as our little secret. We weren't ready to share you with the world yet. We had to go to the hospital, once, and that was very scary, but I got to see your little tiny heart flicker on a monitor--it was too tiny to make any noise, but I could see it. We were so happy that you were growing, even if I was soon very very tired, and very very hungry. In fact, in the first couple of months, it seemed all I did was eat and sleep, but The Dada soon learned that there was nothing good going to come out of remarking on it! He learned this by reading books like "The Expectant Father." Anyhow, I was so hungry that I ate two bowls of Cheerios every morning, then went to work to have chocolate milk. So much chocolate milk, which is surprising, because generally I don't like chocolate milk at all. What I do like are lattes from Starbucks, but suddenly I really didn't want them anymore--I guess you don't like coffee! And I was so tired that sometimes I took naps on the floor of my office. Really!
Around Christmastime, I was still very hungry but not so tired. A new development was that I could burst into tears anytime, anywhere, especially if something was so funny that I laughed out loud. Boy, if I started laughing at something, you could be pretty sure that it was going to turn into heartrending sobs that only subsided when I got tired ... or hungry. The Dada didn't find this very funny, but he gave me lots of hugs, and bought me mint chocolate chip ice cream whenever I asked. I asked a lot. Right after Christmas, we went to visit your Gramma- and Grampa-to-be. They were very excited that you did your very first dance for them: I felt you move on the 29th, while sipping my watered-down once-a-month martini--I guess you like gin! The Dada says the look on my face was priceless, and I think I know what he means, because I saw him make that face a week later, when you kicked him in the hand. It was an expression full of joy and surprise and wonder, all at the same time.
Boy, were you ever busy in the new year! Once you started moving around, you really moved around. The midwives always remarked on it, especially when you thumped their ultrasound wands. The ultrasound technician noticed it as well: she had to chase you around to get good pictures of you, and that's when we saw you for the first time. You had a face! And tiny little feet! And you sure were busy in there. When you still had lots of room, I could feel you 'swimming' from one side to the other, or feel you drift with gravity as I rolled over. Every day you got a little bit bigger. I liked to hold you, to put my hand on your belly-home, and feel you tap at me. I tapped at you, and you tapped at me. I liked to hold you when I went to sleep, to feel you settle over on one side, feel you fall asleep. I felt at peace and safe and more-than-myself, because you were always with me, and I was not just one person anymore.
Anyways. You really liked it when I was teaching: I guess the loudness and rhythmic pattern of my lecturing made you feel like dancing. This is not generally the effect my teaching has on my students, but I appreciated your enthusiasm, even if sometimes you made my shirt move around, and people got a little freaked out. During the winter, I was so hot all the time that I kept turning down the heat at home and at work, and everyone around me had to wear sweaters. Brr!
As spring approached, you and I both got quite a bit bigger, and suddenly I couldn't wear any of my shoes anymore! And I grew out of all my special growing-a-baby clothes! I started to wear more of Daddy's shirts, and that made me feel close to him. We bought all the furniture for your bedroom, and I put it together for you. The Dada painted your room. I was so big I was having trouble sleeping. And then I was having trouble getting off the couch, and in and out of the car, and up and down the stairs at work. There was a lot of huffing and puffing, and a lot of chocolate milk. We had our picture taken for a brochure for work, and so now you're famous, and we can be proud that my university's promotional materials show a massively pregnant professor in amongst all the smartypants in tweed jackets.
Your Auntie S. and The Dada surprised me with a baby shower, and your arrival started to seem closer and closer ... but still so far away. I was getting so anxious to meet you, and so was The Dada. He talked to you every night, and liked to put his ear up next to you to hear you hiccuping. You sure did hiccup a lot; it was funny and it sort of tickled me. The Dada said it sounded like little bubbles. Another thing I liked to do was to lift my shirt up so you could feel the sunshine: it made you wiggle and then fall asleep.
Soon it was almost summer, and almost time for you to be born. We could hardly wait! You gave the midwives some trouble, because you wanted to stay up high and not come down, and they made sure to send us for lots of ultrasounds: I guess you always liked having your picture taken. You were always healthy, and always big. Our midwife J. called me at work the week you were going to be born (but we didn't know it yet!) and told me I had to go home and stay there. Auntie S. came to keep me company, and we took lots of walks to encourage you to come out. People on the street laughed at us, probably because I was always wearing an awful pair of green terrycloth shorts, a maternity tank top, and flip flops, and they always said you must be on your way, because I was so big! But it took a while yet! We had time to watch most of the Stanley Cup playoffs with Daddy and Uncle J., even if we did take bathroom breaks every 20 minutes. Around this time, you also watched a lot of Gilmore Girls with me in the middle of the night: the recliner on the couch was the only comfortable spot for me when I couldn't sleep. I couldn't sleep because you were so big that I couldn't even roll over in bed by myself anymore! The Dada had to help.
Well, Auntie S. had to go home because it seemed you were never going to come meet us--as she got in her car, we joked that you would surely make your appearance that night, just so that she would have to make the drive twice in one day. And that's exactly what you did. But I'll tell you that story when you're a little older ...
Monday, March 05, 2007
It's just a JUMP to the left .... and then a step to the ri-i-i-i-i-ight. (Sage, I counted the 'i's just in case your Joe is going to come check on my transliteration)
Do you live in Ontario? Is it, and has it been, snowing cats and dogs for days? Are you heaving a baby carriage over massive banks left behind by the plow? Have you expended so much energy and enthusiasm in snow-clearing that you've broken your shovel?
Have you been to Canadian Tire to buy a new one? I have. And there is not a shovel to be found. Oh, no, wait: there are plenty of shovels, hoes, garden claws, spades, edgers, and weed whackers. Because if only I could get the 3 feet of accumulated snow out of my backyard, I would so be out there doing a preemptive assault on the dandelions. There are also garden hoses and garden gnomes, patio furniture sets, barbecues, cute little clogs, bulbs aplenty, and moonlights for those patio parties I'm sure to want to throw THREE MONTHS FROM NOW. Now, NOW, what I want is a snow shovel. Because in Southern Ontario in March, there is a lot of snow. In my driveway there is a lot of snow. On my sidewalk, there is enough snow to guarantee that when the bylaw officers come by, I will get a ticket--and all this snow fell yesterday.
But such is the consumer timetable that a snow shovel is not to be had past October: always pitch us several months ahead, grab us while we're enthusiastic, be the first with the new products to catch the market as it crests. And so the stores are filled with spring and Easter eggs, and the Paris runways showcase Fall 2007, while Winter 2007 is still hard upon us. Hard, hard upon us.
The poor CT employee I collared in indignation this morning pointed pitifully south: "Go to Home Hardware! I heard they have shovels! They're the only ones! Turn left out of our parking lot and you can't miss it! They're the only ones."
Just to be clear: if you want to daydream about the coming warmer months, you may exercise your retail fancy to your heart's desire. Go ahead and buy that cute aqua set of plastic patio dishes. If you're snowed in and needing supplies for the here and now, well, I hope you prepared your own emergency kit well in advance, because you're on your own.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
It all comes back to sleep, doesn't it?
My mom taught Miss Baby to fall asleep on her own, with no crying, and for longer naps than we've seen in months. How? She bought her a soother, and showed her how to use it. She unswaddled her. She walked her around the house, singing and cuddling, and put her down in her crib awake but calm. She kissed her, and walked away.
And that was it. Miss Baby slept for an hour.
To recap: there was no swaddling, no patting, no propping with pillows, no singing-until-asleep, no holding her still until she passed out and then tiptoeing away for 30 minutes of peace. Mom just put her down, kissed her, and walked away. And Miss Baby fell asleep.
Was it the soother? I don't know. It's not like we haven't tried to introduce one before--it just never took. And drowsy-but-awake? Do you think we left that stone unturned? With our routine, we thought we had the best possible strategy with the best possible outcome. Of course, it would often take 20 minutes of soothing to get a 20 minute nap, and there might be some crankiness during the soothing part, but what was the alternative? As it turns out, Gramma is the alternative ... Gramma, and a pink and yellow Nuk, on a pink string, attached to a bunny clip and clipped to Miss Baby's shirt.
You can imagine that this was lorded over me: of course she went to sleep, why do you two make things so much harder than they have to be, she's too big for that swaddle, that baby needs a soother that she can work by herself, just leave her be, she'll fall asleep.
And you know what? If it makes my baby sleep, and she's happy, and it's easier / more effective than my way? Hell yeah, I'll have some ice cream with that humble pie, please. And some tea to wash it down -- I've got time, my baby is sleeping for hour-long stretches. I'm happy to bow down to my mom for this. I don't need so badly to be right that I won't acknowledge a superior technique when I see it.
Sure, my mom went about it in her typical 'suprise!' kind of way: she had this all planned out and didn't tell us what she was going to do, she just did it, bought the soother and clip, volunteered to put Miss Baby down, promising to follow our routine, and then just did her own thing. Maybe I might get my knickers in a twist over this undermining of my parental authority, this I-can-do-it-better mentality. But you know what? She really did do it better. So now Miss Baby has a doudou, and a suce. And for this I can only say: thanks Mom.
Besides, maybe it's easier to take the high road because Mom and Dad had to admit to utter defeat at changing the bedtime routine: with them on Saturday night, Miss Baby managed to tantrum her way into a prime seat on Gramma's lap for two whole periods of Hockey Night in Canada, whereas she's normally asleep before the first faceoff. She ultimately went to bed with doudou-the-first carefully draped under her chin the way Gramma was originally instructed to place it. Heh-heh.
I'm inclined to say the score is Gramma: 1, The Mama: 1. But really, it's Miss Baby: 2. And as long as I keep that in mind, we should be golden.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Notice anything unusual in the picture? Well, besides the fact that Miss Baby's hair is not standing on end? Yes, that's right: the soother. Pipe. Suck. Dummy. Pacifier. Plug. The crack cocaine of the baby set. It's Miss Baby's new obsession, coming hard on the heels of her recently declared love of the doudou diaper.
This is what comes of a visit to Gramma's house.
My mom is ... my mom .... sigh. Ok. My mom shows her love by the degree to which she, um, she ... inter- .... bu- .... takes an active interest in the management of your daily life. And she is now taking an active interest in the management of Miss Baby's daily life. Gramma innovations include: put to bed drowsy but awake, find a more proper doudou than a cloth diaper, feed that baby cheez-whizzed celery, give her a soother for god's sake, let her get more frustrated during floor play to encourage her to crawl already, cut her hair she can't see!
"How did it go?" I can hear you all wondering. I'll tell you. Tomorrow.
But first, full disclosure: I have always been jealous of the active interest my mom has taken in my sister's daily life and parenting since S. somewhat precociously started her family at age 20, eleven years ago. Mom would send thoughtful but manipulative gifts: books about toilet training, along with a plastic bed sheet; gift certificates for swimming lessons to ensure a drowning-free cottage vacation in the summer; a new kind of hat she had read about that was far superior to what first-grandchild was wearing; full-body swimsuits to protect his delicate fair skin. She called every day. She made frequent visits, despite living 8 hours away, and working fulltime. She took baby R. for week-long visits, introducing solid food, or advancing daytime toilet training.
During these years, studying in a far away province, I was feeling a bit neglected: S. complained of the constant phone calls and visits from Mom, while I wondered why we only talked once or twice a week. Mom explained that I didn't need her help: she left me alone because she believed in me, found me independent and capable. Her confidence in my capacity to do it without her micromanagement was cold comfort. Just because you don't need your mother in the sense of daily material shortfall, doesn't mean you don't still crave her attention. I have to say that as the years have gone by, I am more inclined to rue my lack of generosity here: maybe I was lonely for Mommy, as it were, but my sister was labouring under real difficulties. Nevertheless, the more selfish parts of me continued to wonder when I might come in for my share of maternal attention. When I moved back to our home province? Nope. When I got engaged and then married? Not really. Bought a house? No, because she made her first move in 30 some years to a new house of her own. When I got pregnant? Well, I started to hear from her a little more often.
Maybe the turn started to come near to when I was to give birth. The Mother Daughter Phone Triangle (me, S., Mom) worked through S. to ask me why I hadn't asked Mom to come for a visit after the birth. Here's why: I honestly thought she wouldn't come. And I was afraid to ask and to be rejected. But she did come. And since I produced the first girl-baby amongst the grandkids, pink things started appearing, and active interest began, but still in a low key, 'here's a gift card from Sears get what you need I'm sure you know best' kind of way. Miraculously, she and Dad spent entire days and nights under our roof, whereas in the first year we owned the house, they spent a total of 5 or 6 hours in it--over several drive-by visits. Things were changing, definitely.
Well. The interest is full-fledged now, and I'm happy to report that my mother must really love me after all because my parenting has been found wanting, and baby grand-daughter in need of intervention.
Hence doudou deux. Which I guess I'll have to tell you about tomorrow.