Monday, April 30, 2007


It is well-enough known that new motherhood is not conducive to well-restedness: babies generally don't let you sleep as much as you would like. How frustrating, then, that my Miss Baby now sleeps through the night, and I do not! I wouldn't say that I am an insomniac, but the nights that find me tossing and turning fruitlessly in the dark for hours are becoming more frequent and more regular.

So here I am writing to you at 4 in the morning--I might as well do something, right?

When I was younger--in my teens and twenties--I had a terror of this long dark midnight of the soul. One of the reasons I then was such a nightowl was that staying up on purpose forestalled lying in the dark and worrying. And I was always a worrier. I worried about the usual stuff, about being single forever, or about the failing of whatever relationship I happened to be in. About school and grades and homework assignments neglected and coming due. About what Life Held for Me in the Future. Tired but ever less sleepy, I would drift into more amorphous worries: always prey to 'imposter syndrome,' I would inevitably call the worth and purpose of my very existence into question. Good times! One of the main perks of 10 years of student life turned out to be that I could sleep in until noon after one of these episodes, put some serious distance between myself and the worry.

As I've aged and, I hope, matured, I worry about different things and about the same things. I don't think, for example, that I slept at all the night that Pynchon and I put in the successful offer on our house. The magnitude of the commitment, the legal irrevocability of it, both to the bank and to each other, awed me. A marital cliché, I also of course often lie awake in bed calculating budgets and bills and to-do lists major items from which escape my notice until 3am. The responsibilities of adulthood defeat me in the dark. The idea of managing food, shelter, nurturance--keeping body and soul together--for myself and my family seem in the middle of the night responsibilities to which I am unequal. I am pervaded by a nagging sense of dread. Nothing is right in the middle of the night.

The miserable loop of my nighttime thought process wraps me ever tighter across the chest as I roll and toss--I'll never get tenure because someone else scooped me on my book! How can we pay for daycare and property taxes on a reduced income in the same month! How can I get everything packed for our trip to Cuba! Where are the passports! Why on earth are we going to Cuba when we're so crunched for money! Now we owe a walloping tax bill for reasons inscrutable! Will Miss Baby be happy with my sister and mother for a week! How can I leave her! How come every time we fix something in our house something else falls apart! I'm hungry! I haven't had my hair cut for six months! When did I become such a frump! Am I old, and if so how can I still be so unformed, so immature! Immature and frumpy, Jesus what a stupid reason to like awake worrying! How will I ever stay awake for my full-day teaching workshop tomorrow! Why am I even going to a four day teaching workshop when I need to write a book! I'll never get tenure ... and the loop comes around again. For hours.

What always amazes me, though, is that by morning it all seems (pardon me) like a bad dream, nothing the light of day can't chase away. Even on drastically reduced sleep everything seems brighter. Doable. My dread thoughts of the hours prior reveal themselves to be mere chimeras of false logic, fatigue, and self-pity, easily vanquished by simple daytime doingness. I'm always tired after one of these nights, obviously, but I always manage to shake my head at my own silly fears--"I can't believe that kept me up all night," I chide myself. I write a cheque, or make a list, or start a new research project. I drink a lot of coffee and resolve to try to be calmer.*

I see the pattern, but I still can't shake night's clammy grip, can't loose myself from the claustrophobic worry with which it envelops me. But it is one thing to understand the futility of a course of action, and quite another thing to change course. Sleepless, I usually don't even manage to get of bed, to untangle worried me from the mess untidy sheets and blankets, uncomfortable me even more uncomfortable from a desire to not wake poor peaceful Pynchon. How pitiful to not even take the minimal step of walking away from my own terrible thoughts, too hopeless even to soothe myself with TV or some blogs. I usually just lie awake, awe-struck, miserable, feeling culpable and afraid until suddenly it's morning and I must have been sleeping again.

I have read that when worries keep me awake I might write them down, to translate amorphous dread into a plan for aciton. So here I am, in my dark midnight house, feeling the chill on my bare arms and explaining myself through my fingers. Trying to chase the ghosts away in the light of a laptop screen, to lull myself to drowsiness with the soft clicking of keys. The night, though, is a place, a topsy-turvy world where competent, cheery, daytime me can't operate. No amount of list-making can soften its fearsome topography. Night, sleepless worried night, is a space that must simply be traversed, the scary void between know territories, the dark hallway shadows between the nightlights that I rushed through, heart-pounding, in midnight trips to the bathroom as a child.

How silly it all is! Maybe, though, the defeats of the nighttime offer a necessary darkness to my otherwise charmed life. Maybe the night keeps me humble, reminds me that things are not always easy, that a good attitude is sometimes insufficient. That the human soul is not endlessly capable of easing its own cares. That it is vulnerable. That I am vulnerable.

Tomorrow--today!--the mists will clear. I'll write you something about about the wonderful wonderful bloggy fun over here this weekend, of new old friends, of surprising connections, and of the intensity of interaction that comes when bloggers who already 'know' each other 'meet'.
* I didn't say my judgment improved. Only my outlook. Morning can only do so much.

Friday, April 27, 2007


Can you all read this article and let me know what you think?

Goode, Julia. "Perfect Family Planning." The Chronicle of Higher Education, 24 April 2007. [free access.]

Outline: This is an opinion piece by an untenured law professor, on how she is planning / has planned all her pregnancies to create the minimum amount of fuss in her workplace.

Here's an excerpt:

I am an academic dean's dream professor. After two pregnancies, I had canceled only one class and asked for no maternity leaves and no reduced teaching load.

Me, I'm kind of appalled by the tone and the purport of the article, but I'm trying to see things from her point of view. What do you think?

Yours in perplexity,

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Just Married"

Two years ago today, Pynchon and I were married in Jamaica, in a ceremony at the end of a long walk on a short pier, in blazing morning sunshine, surrounded by ocean and pink carnations and a gaggle of raucous Welsh tourists.

It was the happiest day of my life, except for the fact that the canned music was Pachabel's Canon in D, which I simply cannot abide. Oh well: in the video, it's been dubbed over with Kenny G. On the official documents, I am listed as a 'spinster' to Pynchon's 'bachelor'. It took us the whole week of our 'weddingmoon' to finish eating the cake.

Happiest day of my life.

In this pic, it's about 1pm -- the wedding is over, I'm drunk on champagne, and we each can't help but stare at our rings. Married! Forever! Incredible ...

Best decision I ever made, and every day I try to live up to the hope that this marriage represents, the faith we've placed in each other to partner for life, and now to bear and raise children. How can anyone love me and trust me so much to undertake such momentous doings? How? I am in awe of the love this new family is bringing me. My husband. My love. Our daughter. How can I ever hope to repay, to deserve, this bounty?

Tonight we exchanged cards and looked over all our wedding photos, all the photos from Jamaica. We added commentary, embrodering our computer slideshow with details--remember that crazy wild cat? oh, you got so sick on the snorkeling boat! gosh, it was sooo hot--just amazed at what we did and what we've done since.

Best decision I ever made.

Happiest I've ever been.

Thank you, Pynchon, for loving me so much, and bringing out the very best in me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Monday Miscellany: Scenes from a Marriage

The scene: our house
The time: this weekend
The players: 34 year old 'Woman' and 33 year old 'Man'; 10 month old 'Baby'

Scene 1:
Baby naps while Man windexes every window in the house; Woman drives--to the dump to be rid of paint cans, where there is a lineup, to the thrift store to donate clothing, where there is a lineup, to the beer store to drop off empties, where there is a lineup. Baby awakes refreshed. Mother and Father need naps.

Scene 2:
New neighbours moving in across the street. Woman runs over to introduce herself, tries not appear nosy, crazy, or stalkerish. New neighbours look a little shell-shocked, and wear matching Blackberries. Woman reports to Man that new neighbours might be younger than they. This is distressing. Baby coos and flails and demands attention.

Scene 3:
Baby plays in massive pile of hand-me-down books on the living room floor, while Man watches new neighbours move, offering a running commentary on their furniture and personal belongings for Woman. Man and Woman suddenly feel very extablished and ... old.

Scene 4:
Baby continues playing happily and independently amongst books. Man decides to see if he can still lift Woman in stylish, over-the-threshold manner. Drops her. Both collapse in fit of giggles, complaining about their heft, weakness, and general increasing age.

Scene 5:
Woman spots giant swooping bird of prey circling over the neighbourhood. Man and Woman move right up to the front window, mouths agog, bending down to better squint skyward. Baby eats books. Man and Woman suddenly realize they look like crazy nosy neighbours to new neighbours just across the street. Retreat hastily from window, muttering, "we're not crazy stalkers, nossir, we just like birdwatching. BIRDWATCHING, fer crissake. We're young hip urbanites. I think that was an eagle! Check out that wingspan." Baby falls over, but rolls cheerily enough under the ottoman, and chews its leg.

Scene 6:
Woman, in fit of spring fever, steam cleans the entire house. Man cares for Baby and lifts the heavy things. Tomorrow, they will both (Man and Woman, not Baby) be moaning from the pain of physial exertion. Baby will point at things and grunt. Then Baby will suddenly sprout her fifth tooth, to general surprise.

Phew. How was your weekend?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Rituals and Change

I love to go for brunch. When Pynchon and I started dating--well, when he started staying over at my place--I began to inculcate in him this love too. We made it a regular weekend event: big brunch at nearby greasy spoon, reading the Globe, then home for a nap. When we moved here, we looked for a long time to find our perfect brunch spot. We finally found it when we bought our house: ahh, The CB, where they always tease us and they always remember our order. When I was pregnant I craved it a lot, and craved the post-brunch nap almost as much.

When Miss Baby was born (4:30am Friday), our very first family outing (11am Sunday) was to The CB.

She's sound asleep of course, as they tend to be as teeny newborns. I am so happy to be drinking a coffee and reading my Globe, that I don't mind my postpartum belly that still bumps the table, or that I'm wearing Pynchon's clothes still. Hurrah for brunch!

Of course, once Miss Baby got to be about two months old, brunch was out: she wouldn't sleep any more in public, and demanded to be in constant motion. The next several months are a blur of marching. Any brunches taken were solo outings, respite from the chaos at home.

Recently, though, we've been going back together, she and I. We let Pynchon sleep, usually. Miss Baby sits in a high chair now, and can entertain herself with toys and cheerios while I (gasp!) read my Globe. When my food comes, she eats my toast and I put down my paper and we 'talk'. The waitresses coo over her and she flirts with everyone. We all have a great time.

This morning, Pynchon came with us, a 'family brunch', and I asked him to take a picture, Miss Baby incorporated into our ritual, but changing it too.

When I look at these two pictures, I'm really taken with the difference that 10 months can make. Look at how we've changed! I look more like myself and she's come into herself, aware that The Dada is taking her picture and composing herself accordingly. But also the continuities: I still order the veggie omelette, and I'm still starting with the Style section once I had Pynchon the sports.

I hope we can do this together for a long time.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Who needs whom?

I found myself marching into the office in a great rush from the far furthest reaches of the pay parking at the university today. The damn competitive dancers and their parents had taken up every last spot in the close lot. I was well on my way to being late for this meeting, which I would have to leave early to attend a medical appointment (good news! I have 'snapping hip syndrome and have to do physio!) and I was feeling behind in my work generally because I'd made two trips to the hospital this week--one for the x-ray of my hip, and one to pick up a cd of said x-ray. To go to a meeting in any case meant that that was time taken away from ... grading? research? course prep? Gah!

I have been feeling like an academic laggard all week, and this hot march in, bearing the big computer bag and a bigger bad mood, just did me in. I called Pynchon on the cell to vent (good thing we have a 'couples talk free' plan.)

And so I vented. And out came this: "You know, when I get all angry and disappointed in myself or this job or our crappy house or whatever, I like to think about Miss Baby. Because she's perfect. We did that right."

So. Who needs whom now?

I mentally slapped my hand over my mouth in horror. Here is the slippery slope! The one where all the sting of my (self-)thwarted ambitions is soothed by the transfer of all my mental energy to my daughter. Uh-oh. It's only natural, I'm sure, to be amazed that I grew something with all the right number of fingers and toes and pushed it out of my own body. That I fed and watered this little being so that she grew. That she brings me joy simply by being herself. But oh dear heavens I don't want to find myself setting my self-image by her behaviour. Then I become that mother. As if she needs any more pressure on her developing little self, this selfish need of mine for her to be perfect so that I know I'm not irredeemably flawed. I felt this earlier in the week, too, when word of the school shootings saw me home from work early, desperate to hold my baby girl close close to me, to feel the love and the purity and the innocence. So that I would know the world was not irredeemably flawed. What a burden for her to bear for me!

In a stunning reversal of months of habit, I needed her today more than she needed me. Huh.

Things change almost faster than I can process them. Tonight, for the second night in a row, Miss Baby refused the Magic Boobie: I guess the weaning is going a little better than planned. Nothing but a bottle of formula would do. It's clear this process upsets me more than her.

Here's my job: to help my baby grow up the way she needs to. To give her the guidance and the freedom follow her path. Not to clean up mine. I know she's just a baby, but it's a lesson I'm sure I'm going to need to keep learning.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Where's 100, Miss Baby? Point for Mama"

And there is joy again.

Miss Baby! Understands English! It's a revelation. I'm as shocked as if the cat had begun to tapdance.

I was nursing her (Miss Baby, that is--not the cat) and she, of course, was distracted by the ceiling fan. So I said, while rolling my eyes, as I do, "Yes, yes, Miss Baby, the ceiling fan, your only friend." She looked at me. She looked at the ceiling fan. Then she pointed at it, grunted and looked at me. I was surprised.

"Miss Baby," (said me,) "Where's the ceiling fan? Point for Mama."


Point. Grunt. Wiggle. Smile. She is pleased as punch that I have figured out that she knows what I am talking about. We walk excitedly through the house, testing her vocabulary. As it turns out, she is quite well versed in things we repeat a lot. Here are the things she can identify correctly by pointing, following a verbal prompt*:

* Doudou
* Ceiling fan
* Boobie
* Cat (she can actually say 'cat', and does)
* Duck (her rubber duckie for the bath)
* Picture / Flower (a recently hung print)
* Doorbell (the apparatus above the door frame)
* Banana
* Grapes
* Minigo
* Cracker

She's a lot smarter than we've been giving her credit for. Since the three of us have figured out this means of communication, it's been nothing but pointing, pointing, pointing over here. She points at everything and anything, and we name it for her. Then she wiggles and squeals.

Her other gestures begin to seem more communicative as well. There's a clear set of moves that means 'pick me up' and another that means 'I'm happy'. But I'm just gobsmacked that words--arbitrarily-assigned sounds standing in for objects--have become part of her world. Gestural communication is primal, I think: there's a universal posture of tiredness, of joy. But verbal language is an abstraction, a cultural convention that associates sounds with things. Miss Baby is joining ... culture? Is becoming human? It's just a wonder to behold.

She understands at least some of what I say to her, opening a whole new kind of interaction between us. And what timing: just when I'm mourning the end of our breastfeeding relationship, that particular physical intimacy. Here we are developing a new verbal intimacy.

Ain't life grand?

And: this is my 100th post. Wow! That kind of snuck up on me. Thanks to all of you who read for making it so interesting to write.

* unless the cat is in the room. Then the only thing getting pointed at is the cat.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Tears Keep Welling Up

I can't help it. The more I read about this school shooting at the university in Virginia, the more my eyes fill, and my lip quavers. It's just too awful. I just finished reading about a professor in his seventies, a Holocaust survivor, blocking the way of the shooter while his students escaped.

He was killed.

What can I say that won't be trite, or a cliché? I'm heartbroken, and terrified, and angry, and despairing. I'm here at the Starbucks with my morning latte and a pile of revision notes for my manuscript I'm eager to get working on. But I have to post about this and right now. Because I can't see past the tears and I need to find some way to let this out.

Ever since that man walked into a classroom in 1989 and shot a bunch of students because they were women and because they wanted to be engineers, I have felt ... unsafe. That was a horrible crime, a hate crime, motivated by misogyny and resentment. School shootings have many motivations, and shooters have terrible delusions. The thing that strikes the most terror in my particular heart has to do with the location, with the victims--schools and students and professors.

I work in a university. I am a teacher and a researcher, a university citizen. My working life is dedicated to knowledge, to developing ideas and transmitting these ideas. Teaching people to think. Helping them learn. Advancing knowledge by sitting still and thinking really hard about stuff most people hardly have time to consider, let alone ponder at length. It's the greatest job in the world, and one of the most important, so far as I'm concerned.

With every professor who gets shot in the head, this world is threatened. With every student who jumps out of a second-story window to escape a crazed peer bearing weapons, learning becomes more dangerous.

When school shootings happen, I hear echoes of the purges of intellectuals that attend the establishment of repressive political regimes. When professors and students are killed for being professors and students, I see the flames of anti-intellectualism being fanned. I see people who are hated for ... what? Learning?

I don't know what motivated this shooting. I'm sure it will all come out in the fullness of time. I do know that I'm reading my own particular terror into the situation, I'm seeing it through my own particular lens. In calmer moments I can bring myself to pity individually all the victims of this terrible crim, to wonder coolly what happened, to be open to learning the facts and taken them for what they are. But in this time of unknowing, what I mourn is what is closest to me, a vision of green yards and low buildings full of young people learning, professors teaching and reading and experimenting. Increasingly, these spaces and practices are threatened by hate, by violence. A force of death and pain and misery and anger brought to a micro-world dedicated to life and growth and exploration and the development of self for the betterment of the world at large.

And I weep. I'm so scared.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Burning the midnight oil

It's 10:00 pm on a Sunday night, and I'm at the office, winding up three and a half hours of grading. Grading I've promised to give back to 35 undergrads tomorrow, a day that has become littered with meetings and obligations, after a week that did the same. So here I am on Sunday night at the office, a situation I rarely find myself in. It's both dreary and, in a way, a little bit freeing.

Dreary I likely need not explain to you: grading? on a Sunday evening? at the office, no less? But maybe freeing needs a little more explaining.

Oddly, since Miss Baby's been born, I've been feeling nostalgic for the wacky student lifestyle--you know, where you can roll into work whenever and wherever, come and go at will, and stay up until the wee hours working on something if the spirit moves you? Even though I'm back at work now, and free to be in the office between 9-ish and 5-ish, I still sometimes wish I could, say, stay until 7pm, or leave for dinner and come back. Or sleep in and start late and stay later. So tonight, with this grading deadline and no other way really to meet it, in I come, with Pynchon graciously agreeing to feed, bathe, and put-to-bed Miss Baby. And I've been amazed at how much I have got done tonight. How virtuous I feel being here after hours, as though my incapacity to do my work during regular hours qualifies me for some kind of award because I'm doing it on Sunday instead. The award would be for poor time management, likely. Anyhow, someone should do a study on why coming in on the weekend seems to be so darned productive--my sister and father say the same thing. You?


I'm actually too old for this now, I think. I like to be asleep by 10:30 and grading until 10 is not the best way to wind down for the evening. I can fell myself getting sleepier and stupider as the evening progresses. I've probably written something in excess of 2000 words of comments on various final projects tonight, and I'm all worded out.

Sunday night at the office. Dreary. Freeing. Huh.

Friday, April 13, 2007


I like to make up words for thing that need words. You ever get a takeout coffee that is leaking all over you, but the seal on the lid is perfect and there are no visible cup-breaches? I call that (blasphemously, sorry) "coffee stigmata". It's catching on among my friends, particularly since the beverages at the Timmy's nearest to my department is particularly prone to this phenomenon. "Boobwashed" is my new word for non-rational thinking associated with all things breastfeeding.

I, who thought myself so reasonable, have been boobwashed. And I feel pretty crappy.

Pynchon and I are going to Cuba in early May, for a seven day trip organized around his best friend's wedding. Miss Baby will be spending the week with my mother and my sister. And I will have weaned her by then. It's killing me.

I can't believe how guilty I feel, how many of my guilt cylinders are firing all at once: first, I'm withdrawing breastmilk from my little girl; second, I'm ending that particular intimate connection of skin-to-skin nursing we have together; third, I'm introducing formula. Rational me sees a 21+ pound 30+ inches ten-month-old, and knows that she has been more than adequately been prepared for life after boobies: hell, she even went the WHO-recommended six months of exclusive breast feeding, and she was nearly five months old before she even had to drink this from a bottle. I've been dutifully pumping every day since I went back to work. No harm is going to come to her from weaning now.

That's worth repeating: no harm is going to come to her from weaning now.

I think it's only natural that I am regretting-in-advance the severing of this physical link between us, that intimacy of touch, that intimacy in which my body nourishes hers in an immediate and vital way. And I am reconciled to mourning that. In my rational mind, I know this is a good time, that she, I think, is ready. In a lot of ways, I'm ready too.

But, but, but. I'm boobwashed because I'm afraid of formula. Please don't imagine that I think any less of any of you who formula-fed from day one, or introduced solids at 3 months, or weaned at six months. I respect all of your choices and arrangements. I'm so mad at myself for freaking out about this. I actually grimace when I mix up formula. I don't like to think of her drinking it. I imagine it to be some sort of corporate poison. Worse than taking away the boobie milk is giving her formula. Boobwashed. I feel physically ill about it. And I'm so angry that I have been encouraged to feel this way by some overzealotry on the Breast is Best front. The can of powdered formula even reminds me, that if it is at all possible, I should be breastfeeding my baby rather than giving her what's in the very can whose label holds this text.

I know breast is best. I breastfed--I breastfeed--Miss Baby. But the time is fast approaching to stop. And I'm hating myself for it. And I'm hating myself right now for the pain I'm sure to be causing some of you, those of you who were not able to breastfeed, or who are otherwise not comfortable reviewing the feeding of your own infants. I fed her easily, happily, not so much as a cracked nipple for me or a problem latch for her. We have worked together on this for ten months, and we have one more, gradually tapering, month together in this way. I have nothing to feel bad about, except to mourn, as I will again and again, the end of one stage of our relationship at the very moment I celebrate the beginning of a new one: and to watch her eat from my offered spoon, or from her own remarkably messy fingers is a kind of joy I'm only really coming now. And truth be told, she is largely weaning herself, of her own will shortening her periods of nursing from 5 times or more a day for 10-20 minutes, to 4 times a day for a maximum of 4-5 minutes. She's much less interested in nursing, even at bedtime. I know it's time.

I will miss nursing my baby. The feel of her little suck-suck mouth pulling at me, the joy she shows as I'm lifting up my shirt. I want to cry. I know this business of tapering off is causing some dramatic fluctuation in my hormone levels and that's probably not helping my mood any, but I could really, really do without all the added guilt on top of this sadness. Where did it come from, this idea I seem to have absorbed, that this is so wrong? Why do I feel like a bad mommy?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Uphill, both ways ...

All the comments to yesterday's post have been just fascinating, and have given me lots to think about.

What I had started to think about, though, was that kids today--particularly our kids!--have it so easy! Why, when I was a lass, I had to walk to school in my bare feet. In the snow. Uphill. Both ways. As I recall, we lived in a muddy hole in the ground, got up before we went to bed, ate rocks, and were glad of it! Glad, I tell you! Rocks'll give you the energy you need for gold minin', which we did in frozen creeks, to keep ourselves in second hand rags!


I think in this anxiety about the ease of Miss Baby's childhood, this slight wonderment at how I've moved up the ranks in life and thus moved her up in the ranks, I'm turning .... into my own mother and her parents before her. Toilets! Aren't you fancy!

I'm guessing this is just the grand march of my life from youth to parent. Now it's my turn to cluck at all the advantages Miss Baby has, that I didn't, and how she shouldn't squander them.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

In a class by herself

Miss Baby is growing up in different context than either Pynchon or I. That's only natural in some ways, I guess, seeing as we were children in the 1970s and can remember the introduction of microwaves as a household novelty, while she is a Child of the New Millenium and Will Be Raised By Computers.


I'm thinking more of geography, of experience, of, well, class. I'm not quite sure how to write about this, but, seeing as I've been thinking about this on and off for months, I figured I might as well make a go at it.

Miss Baby is born into a different material context, and will be raised in a different social and cultural environment. She's the child of university-educated parents, white collar professionals; she's an urban baby, plunked into the very heart of our small city. I was a rural kid, a way-the-hell-up-north kid, and my mom was a college-diploma'ed elementary school teacher. My stepfather works in forestry. Pynchon's parents are missionaries, his mother a trained as a nurse and his father in the military. I'm two generations away from outdoor plumbing; he's two generations from illiteracy. Miss Baby is two blocks away from a Starbucks, a rep cinema, and an organic market.

I wouldn't want to overdraw the contrast. My stepfather is solidly into management now, and my mom retired on a very generous pension after working her way up the ranks, including the earning of a BA while I was a child. They drive a luxury SUV. Pynchon's parents purchased a home outright in their retirement, and his dad earned his own BA over 10 years of part-time study. Our families have been moving up for a long time, for generations. So the fact that Miss Baby is positioned higher on the socioeconomic scale that were her parents is, really, a continuity.

What I'm thinking is that this difference makes her childhood something of a mystery to me: the multi-raced friends, the urban landscape, the material ease, the amenities and riches of the schools. I might share these experiences with her as an adult, but she's starting somewhere different from me, a place I've never been.

Too abstract? I guess the fulcrum on which this pivots for me is this: I remember in grad school, being both in awe of, and resenting, the professor's kids. An awful lot of PhD students have parents who are professors. Obviously, brains run in the family, but what struck me was the ease with which these grad students navigated the social terrain: it was the one they grew up in, as familiar as breathing. Doctoral programs are largely an acculturation to The Ivory Tower Lifestyle: ways of behaving, of dressing, of thinking, of eating and drinking and watching movies. All this is passed on implicitly: they know who professors are, how they act, how they live. They live that way too. Not me. My parents were unclear on what I would be qualified to do with a PhD: my dad thought I might teach high school. To get from where I grew up to the Harpers'-subscribing, Toyota-driving, French-theorist-reading, fancy-wine-swilling place where I am now required changing a lot of me.

And now? Now, my God, I've given birth to a professor's kid.

And I wonder how she'll turn out, what difference it will make in her life to have organic brunches among the PhD'ed, to be so completely surrounded by books of impressive densities, lulled by the background chatter of research and grading and institutional politics. And of course, to be raised in a city, to travel by airplane, to have access to a world of information I could never have imagined. To meet a variety of people I never knew. To be, I guess, different from what I was, by being raised by who I am now.

As you can see, when I get a full night's sleep, I am really at leisure to grasp at things to worry about. But a professor's kid. I don't know how I wound up with one of those.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A Monday Miscellany

It's all a jumble today, largely because I've been trying to do my taxes online and it seems we owe $1500. Please dear Lord let this not be true. Not on top of two unexpected months of day care and a quarterly property tax payment all due on May 1 ... after we've just paid the plumber $430 for emergency pipe defrosting in February and $130 to the dryer guy.

So with fear clouding my vision I'm capable of only the most disjointed thoughts.

The Google List

Strange ways to get here. Googlers of the following visited Mimi on the Breach at least briefly:
  • go a boobin' (American university URL)
  • diaper lover (ditto--what, is it finals or something?)
  • Victorian bridal trousseaux (Wesleyan University: Um, sweetie, do you have a paper due?)
  • I had my period three times normal but now it is longer should I get a pregnancy test (some poor sap in Saudi Arabia)
  • cold bath step father alcoholic (and you landed here?)

Here and only here ...

Ladies and gentlemen, our major documented parental lapse is more productive than we ever imagined: we have yet another frantic visitor looking for information on "baby ate philodendron".

To the philodendron owners: it's going to be okay! Just rinse with water!

One minute, 11 seconds of unadulterated cuteness

We thought she'd never learn to read. Ok. So the book is upside down. Still.

Here's hoping that the dollar signs stop spinning around my head by tomorrow, and that I can regale you with complete thoughts and complete sentences.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Family Hug

We are coming into our own as a family, I think, although I may just be feeling cocky because Miss Baby slept all night (!), had a 1h40 nap this morning (!) and another 45 minute one this afternoon (!). Rest-induced giddiness aside, I really do think we're coming into our own as a family. It's all starting to work.

I have my reasons.

1. Sometimes Pynchon and I negotiate who gets to hold the baby. Gets. Until very very recently, it was who had to hold the baby. Now, she snuggles; she charms; she puts her little fingers in my nose, or uses her index finger to touch my little diamond stud earring, her little mouth open, breathing warm baby breath on my face. Or sometimes she just freaks out with happiness, all her little limbs just a-flailin', screeching with the fun of it.

2. Miss Baby often seems very content to be in the same room with either of us, or, preferably, both of us. She watched, rapt, as Pynchon put away groceries and I made falafel, or, earlier, as he read the paper and I hung a print on the wall. She smiles and flails as she catches our eyes: hi mom! hi dad! I'm eating grapes--what are you doing?

3. Our days are starting to follow a standard rhythm, and it's pretty comfortable for all of us, most of the time. Miss Baby has two naps, into which (however brief they might usually be) she settles peacefully, snuggling her doudou. On the room monitor, we can sometimes hear her sucking particularly vigorously on her soother. When she's awake, she's mostly happy. She likes to eat her finger foods. She likes to play with her toys. She likes to be carried to the window, where she can watch the traffic and lay her head on our shoulders, patting our arms. It's kind of pleasant.

4. Our evenings are becoming freer. Tonight, having spent the day together trying to get some work on the house done, we are each getting the time we need: Miss Baby happily talked herself to sleep around 7:20, Pynchon went out to a sports bar to watch the Ultimate Fighting Championship on pay TV, and I'm blogging and lolling on the couch, reading decorating magazines.

5. And last but not least: We have inaugurated the 'family hug', the three of us in a clutch, singing a little song we made up, ending with kisses all 'round. We had been doing it for a while with the sense that Miss Baby was simply tolerating us, but the other day she giggled, and started to 'sing' after we left off, patting our backs in imitation. A family hug.

How mundane it all is! But what a relief after the months of what felt like crisis management, crying management, sleep management, the allotment of sanity-recovery time in one hour portions. We do more together now, and while we are getting more done--more housework, more cooking, more outings, more minor renovations--we are also happier to do less. Just hang out, all together.

Sure, there's lot of annoying stuff, hard stuff, frustrating stuff. But recently, that's not what's uppermost in my mind, it's not what's defining the experience of being three, one of us only 21 pounds. Now I'm tasting a little more of the joy.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

All Mommies Care: the Daycare Thinky Post

During the run-up to Canada's last federal election, much was made of the Liberal party's recently signed national child care strategy as a key campaign issue. Discussion of the role of the federal government in supporting or managing the care of children seemed to split into mutually exclusive, strident, and passionate camps along ideological lines. Basically, the split was characterized thus: SAHMs espousing traditional values felt slighted, insulted, and overcharged for bossy socialist regulated day care in variously insitutionalized settings; working mothers dismissed the SAHMs as retrograde unenlightened housewives with no sense of solidarity. Of course, there was some nuance allowed: what about the expense of daycare for working families? what about the gap between minimum wage and the cost of care? what about the lack of available spots, at any price?

The letters published on this issue in my local paper seemed to indicate that moms (and it was by and large women self-identifying as mothers who wrote in) were indeed very angry with each other, very much split into two camps: one would hiss, "a child's place is in the home and why should the income tax structure penalize me for this natural desire to raise my own children?", while the other would sniff "my god almighty, you poor uneducated unambitious slob--just because you want to watch Young and the Restless all day doesn't mean us professionals can give up our lives."

It was pretty awful.

I can say I tended more to the latter position that the former: from what I read it seemed that the kind of SAHM who wrote to the paper was indeed very much opposed to things--career, autonomy, regulated institutional child care--that I hold dear.

Since I have started blogging, my world has greatly expanded, and my vision of what motherhood is has been enriched. GingaJoy is right: the SAHMs and the working moms seem to get along, by and large, just fine, at least in this little corner of the momosphere.


Well, it is clear from every blog that I read that every single one of you cares deeply about your child/children, is acutely conscious of the work involved in bringing a child into the world, and raising that child with love, with respect, and with skill. Every single one of you seeks to balance Woman against Mother, autonomy against partnership, personal growth against sacrifice for the greater good. Every single one of you, whether you stay at home with your children, have a nanny in your home, or drop your child off at formal or informal settings of care. You are each individuals, with different skills and interests, certainly, but I find that we share a fundamental care for our children, a commonality that is our strength in this bloggy space, the glue that holds us all to each other as readers and writers.

We are kind to each other, even in the very multiplicity of our choices and paths: when I wrote about how much I love my job, many of you who stay at home wrote to support me. When I wrote about being pressured into daycare, many of you wrote of similar experiences and how hard they were for you. When I wrote about trying to pump often enough for Miss Baby you were all very supportive of continuing that or mixing formula into the routine, whatever worked best in our individual situation. We all seem to be attuned to nuance and specificity, eager to support one another, to offer comfort rather than judgment.

Wouldn't our political debates about child care be so much more productive if we could all bring this kindness, this empathy, out into the public sphere with us? But how? I feel so very kindly towards you, internet mommies, because I have come to know you as mothers (and father, Denguy) and as people, and my understanding of family is thus enriched.

Can we tell our stories, and listen to others' stories, with this kind of kindness, in the real world?

This blog is my story, a meandering tale of one mom who works, one mom who is grateful to have lucked into a spot at her campus daycare, but who is now often found lying awake in bed, worrying about her baby girl! in amongst strangers! for hours and hours a day! A mom who barely made it to six months of maternity leave with her sanity intact, who is so grateful to be doing the work she loves while her husband stays home for the next six months of her daughter's life. Whose life and family is in so much better balance for the variety in her day.

I respect and admire the SAHMs I've 'met' by blogging. You are smart smart women, funny and caring. You seem happy to be at home. You are women I would gladly be friends with IRL. And the working mommies, oh how I begin to know your world too: the split between home and work, the fretting about the care of your darling darling children, the hard work of coming and going and balancing. The joy of coming home to be in your families.

My position is this: families need to have access--meaningful and ample opportunity--to supports for the care of their children. Families who forego one whole income in order to provide stable home care for their children need to have their sacrifices recognized, need to have this choice made more affordable. Families in which both parents need, for financial or personal reasons, to work outside the home--hey, families where both parents want to work outside the home--deserve to have access to competent, safe, loving child care so that this choice doesn't feel as though it entails sacrifice of children's happiness. As it stands, and from what I can see, one-income families pay a disproportionate tax burden for the choice they make for the good of their families. Also, families in which both parents work outside the home face severe stress, in an economy of scarcity, finding any kind of safe care at all for their children, let alone care of choice, or care that is affordable.

It seems to me that none of this is ideal. And that there's not much to be gained by pitting mommy against mommy. Not that that's what happens here, in the momosphere: far from it, in fact. But how to change the political debate.

I wish you and your families, children and significant others, all the very best happiness and security and satisfaction in devising the arrangements of home and work that suit you best. I wish this to be as friction-free as it can be. What I know is this: we love our children dearly, and wish the very best for them. But it's too damn hard to get it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Q and A

I asked Mad to ask me ... and she asked me some doozies.

1. List one film, song, book, poem AND TV show you would like to share with Miss Baby one day. Feel free to embellish.

Ack! I'm a little abashed by this question, seeing as the CURATOR OF A CHILDREN'S LIBRARY COLLECTION is asking me. And I'm remarkably illiterate in children's genres, actually. But. Here we go.

Film: I hope that Miss Baby comes to appreciate my favorite film of all time, Bringing Up Baby (1938, dir. Howard Hawks, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant). I first saw it when I was ten or eleven, on Saturday Night at the Movies on TVO with my Mom. I loved loved loved it, and have become a real fan of the screwball genre. I would hope that Miss Baby can learn to love things beyond her immediate historical context--different manner of speech, different social circumstances, different narrative pace, adult protagonists, leopards.

Song: Pynchon wrote a song for Miss Baby, soon after she was born. He taught it to me, and we sing it to her every day.

Little [Miss Baby] has pretty blonde hair, and
Little [Miss Baby] has big blue eyes.
Little [Miss Baby] has long eyelashes, and
Little [Miss Baby] has a cute button nose.
Little [Miss Baby], I love you,
From the top of your head, to the tip of your toes.
Little [Miss Baby], I love you,
From the top of your head, to the tip of your toes.
Book/Poem: I hope she likes Dennis Lee. I have fond memories of Dennis Lee from my childhood. We have a board book of Alligator Pie, and the singsongy-ness of it seems to enthrall her.

TV show: My fondest wish is that when she is a teenager or a young adult, she will ask me to share a TV show with her. I want to know what she likes, and I want her to like me enough to want to share her pleasures with me. I don't imagine (or desire) to be her best friend or anything, but I would like for her to initiate a shared ritual with me. As I say, my mom and I used to often watch Saturday Night at the Movies together, and sometimes, when we're together, we'll watch its current incarnation still.

2. Small town or big city: where's your heart?

Ahhh. I grew up in a small northern mining town in decline. We didn't get a Tim Hortons until I was near the end of high school. Small. In some ways my upbringing was golden-age-idyllic: childhood friends all on my street, single family home, walk home from school for lunch, roam around town to activities unaccompanied on my bike, nearby creeks and wild areas for exploring, everyone knows everyone else. In many more ways, it was stifling: parochial, nepotistic, closed-minded, racist, homophobic, leery of the arts, largely anti-intellectual. The town library has no copy of Jane Eyre. The town I grew up in no longer has much to offer me ... and has continued its decline over the years. People there now seem to invest more in movable property (ie skidoos and satellite dishes) than in their homes. It's dirty and depressing and there are no trees anywhere. Shudder.

But that's not the question. And the answer is: city. Maybe small city. I've lived in Toronto, Guelph, Edmonton, and now my new city. Toronto was really great in my 20s, but I can't really afford to pay for the lifestyle now. To be honest, I'm not likely to go to the galleries, shows, concerts any more if I lived there than I do now when I can drive there occasionally without the real estate premium. I loved Edmonton: a truly awesome, livable city. Now my small city has all the amenities: movies, shoe stores, public transit, university and college, airport, good hospital, variety of kinds of people. It also has some of the advantages of my small town: I often run into my friends and colleagues on my walks around our downtown area, and I can walk and bike pretty much everywhere I want to go. But the crucial thing is the openness and freedom I feel in cities.

3. If you could propose one piece of legislation in the House of Commons, what would it be?

Gah! So many causes I could help! This may seem a bit shallow, but I would really like for funding for postsecondary education to be stabilized and for a greater proportion of the burden for this education to be borne by the state, rather than by the learner. The costs now are outrageous and getting more so. Graduating with massive debt is a terrifying prospect, and this debt colors the entire experience and students' orientation to it: students at my university, at least, are increasingly anxious about getting 'good jobs' and picking the most marketable programs, and freaking out about getting 'what they pay for' that they're almost unable to learn. Unable to explore ideas and interests. Unable to grow as people. And of course, many prospective students don't come at all. Learning is such a powerful, self altering experience. And we're too anxious or poor to have it.

So. Bring on the Equitable PostSecondary Funding Act.

4. When you just need to dance what is the song on your mental 8-track?

Mostly, I dance with and for Miss Baby's amusement, and we're really into Salt-n-Pepa's Push It right now. Although we heard Young MC's Bust a Move on the radio last week and just had a BLAST rocking out old school. God, I have GOT to get out of the 80s ...

5. If you could be any kind of artist (actor, musician, painter, poet...), what kind
would you be and why?

No question: I would sing. I love singing. I hear harmonies in my head and love the way voices move together, love the ranges of notes, of tones, of volume. Gives me chills. The power to make music with your body! Awe-inspiring. But, boy, do I suck. Mad, you know me from my acting days, and I'm not terrible. I can play the piano, and earned a high school credit for it. I once made finalist in a provincial poetry competition in high school. I cannot draw or paint. But what I really wish I could do is sing. Sigh.

Well, that's me. What about you? Can I ask you some questions, blogosphere? Just say the word ...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Worth a Thousand Words, Again

Sick. Overwhelmed with grading. Still hungover from Friday dinner with Terry Eagleton. Pumping and so typing one-handed, tersely.

Thus, photoblogging placeholder post.


This is what's wrong with our dryer. It's the size of a dime. It must be reordered. We have no socks.

Miss Baby says: I loves me some flax seed toast with almond butter!