Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Three! It's a magic number

You seem appalled that we've had a houseguest for eight weeks. Here's what happened.

"Uncle" J is one of our oldest friends here--he worked with Pynchon at his first job here, and helped him to land the second one, where they worked together again. They went out drinking and dancing and caroused together. But I got to know and like J too: he was into celebrity gossip and home fashion and is a great conversationalist (which is to say, he asks me lots of questions about myself). Single and with no family in the area, we began to adopt J as a member of our family and he us: when Munchkin was born, he arranged to have our first dinner at home catered; in turn, we invited him over in the week of quiet time we had arranged to keep just to ourselves.

J's been ill. When I was pregnant with Munchkin, he had a bad hernia, and a worse emergency hernia operation that resulted in a serious infection (two weeks in hospital!) and permanent nerve damage that has seen him lose two jobs over two months-long stints on disability, in terrible pain. Since February, he's been on leave from his latest job, ill at home: demoralized, depressed, lonely, worried. We tried to help, with visits and drives to far-away medical appointments, and caring.

July 2, while I was Up North with Munchkin, Pynchon came home to find J sitting on a lawn chair in our driveway, with suitcases at his feet. He had been (illegally) evicted from his apartment, and could he stay with us a day or two?

Ultimately, a social service agency arranged for him to be able to remove his belongings from the apartment, and Pynchon and a buddy put them all in storage. J and his vast trove of pharmaceuticals took up residence in our guest room. For "just a couple of days," he said--days that began to stretch into weeks.

He is a gracious guest: he helps with childcare and is tidy and pleasant. But we didn't know his plans and were worried. Pynchon told him he could stay for 4-6 weeks, until he got it all sorted out. J began to feel better and started back at his job in Toronto (he works for the 'Movie Carnival' that begins to run in a couple of weeks, so it's very intense). Still, nothing on the horizon for a move out date. And it's been eight weeks now. He's still here, and we are beginning to chafe.

We have been glad to help. We are so lucky in terms of our health, our jobs, the stability of our family life--hell, our square footage. But we want to be our family again.

Our family.

What, actually, has most surprised me from this was how much Munchkin and Pynchon and Mimi have coalesced into a real family unit. It was such a shock when we brought our new baby home from the hospital: our whole lives seemed thrown out of whack. There was a stranger living with us, a stranger who wouldn't leave. Our habits were discombobulated; we became self-conscious. Somehow, though, in the two intervening years, we have become three--something I noticed a little when we moved into our new house and it seemed right that we three ordered in our pizza and stomped through the empty house together. Munchkin and Pynchon and Mimi is who we are now, a three that is one. "Uncle J", as close a friend of the family as he is, is not a member of this unit, and our rhythm as a family is thrown off by the syncopation of his constant presence. We are not, individually, quite ourselves, and we are not, collectively, our family.

We need our house back. We need to be us again, speaking our family nonsense language, running around in our underwear, cracking the veneer of polite detachment, stringing together the little intimacies that bind us to one another, that make us us.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Did you know?

... That I have a super power?  I can make it rain.  Here's what I do:  I hang clothes on the line, meticulously and carefully.  Then I walk into the house and start doing something else.  Tada!  Rain.


... That my kid can count to ten in French?  Yeah, we didn't know that either, until she started counting out her grapes at the table the other night.  I guess that's why you're supposed to eat dinner with your kids, huh?


... That we've had one houseguest for eight weeks?  That's a long story, but let's just say my internet time is reduced.  


... That red leaves are beginning to fall from the maple tree in my front yard?  Nooooooooo!


... That I swear to God I'll be writing more and better posts (and more and better comments) really damn soon?  That I'm trying to find new and entertaining ways of saying, sorry I've disappeared of late and please don't erase me from your Google Reader / BlogLines?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Parenting, it's all about proud moments

So. Munchkin and I have a wonderful ride home on the bus. She loves smiling at and talking to the people "going home! Home to see their families! And their toys!" We exit at our usual stop, right in the centre of our uptown district. She points at Starbucks as we wheel past, asking to go in for a "Starbucks." That's not on the agenda, but I distract her with what is.

"Look there, Munchkin," I say, pointing at the next building, "that's the liquor store. We're going to go in and buy, um, some liquor."

The Starbucks siren is momentarily eclipsed by this unexpected detour. "Liquor store," she repeats, gazing ahead thoughtfully.

We walk through the whooshing automatic doors into light jazz and air conditioning and tasteful music and carefully arranged displays of fine scotch, vintage port.

"YAY! LIQUOR!" yells my baby.

I decide to ignore her and head immediately and fairly briskly to the refrigerated wine cooler at the back, head down so that I can't see who might be staring. Or speed dialing the Children's Aid. Whatever.

In our staring-at-the-floor hurry, we nearly smack into the sample table in the middle of the aisle. An older genteleman in shirt and tie, with a clean white apron--a retail sommelier!--offers wee little plastic cups of two Ontario whites.

By this point, I need a drink, so obviously I say yes, choosing my words carefully in selecting the Riesling over the Chardonnay: it should be clear, I intend to convey, that I am a sipper of good taste, not a quaffer of mommy's little helper (appearances to the contrary, and despite the fact that the tens of tiny vessels lined up are exactly the ones the nurse uses to bring your pills). As I wax eloquent on the fine bouquet and fruity aftertaste of the Riesling, Munchkin decides to join the conversation: "We want LIQUOR!"

Her enthusiasm and clear diction and great volume do not speak well to my character, I am well aware. I grab a bottle of the Riesling and, hightail it toward the cash. Used to a more leisurely LCBO experience, Munchkin voices her protest: "No, Mom! I want more liquor!"

In a last ditch attempt at damage control, I wheel round and snatch a couple of toothpicked cheese cubes and shove one rather unceremoniously in her face, and fill her fists with the rest. After all, the mom whose kid is shouting out LIQUOR LIQUOR LIQUOR has bigger problems than a possible toothpick-choking.


The wine, though, was excellent :-)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

It's moms all the way down

I think a lot about my mother: is she going to call me? why does she like my sister better? how did she keep the house so clean, divorced with two girls and working as a supply teacher? how did she get to be so headstrong, born in 1944 and counseled to be either a secretary or a nurse, because she was smart? The little bits of information she casually drops indicate the untapped mine of stories: Did she ever tell me about the time her date was chased by the cops? While they both were riding a motorcycle? Top speed through a cemetary? And they crashed? No, Mom, you didn’t.

I think, too, about my mother's mother, Munchkin's namesake: every time I call my daughter to me, every time I giggle her name, or sing it to her, my family history extends out beyond us. I was an adult before I learned that Granny’s father early exited the picture and her mom (my great-grandmother) remarried. She was dead before I knew that my Pappy had cheated on her serially--and she cheated right back, making sure he knew it. I think she had a (half?) brother. I'm not sure. I do know that she loved to sunbathe, and would entertain us at the cottage by putting maraschino cherries in her belly button to feed to the chipmunks.

It amazes me how much of my mother’s inner life is a closed book to me, and one generation further back, how sketchy even the simplest details are.

Once, when I was in my early twenties, my mom handed me a red hard-bound notebook. It was some sort of stamped faux-leather, a nice size for holding onto, with lined brownish pages all full of her handwriting. I was shocked to discover it was a diary she kept in the early 1970s, when she was married to my dad and living in Toronto, and when they moved to Even Further the Hell Up North where I was, in due time, born.

I read it. I gave it back to her. We didn’t speak of it then and the subject has never come up in the decade since. I wonder sometimes if I hallucinated it: Mom’s pain and rage at discovering Dad’s infidelity; the removal from Toronto and relocation nearer to her own family in Northern Ontario; their apartment in the new town; Dad’s flying lessons and business trips; an awe-struck account of her pregnancy and of my very early infancy. In the diary she was a young woman, a wife, a person struggling to find her place, a soon-to-be-mother experiencing the happy anticipation of a family of her own, a budding feminist who fought to retain her dignity in trying circumstances. Not at all the woman I thought I knew.

I wonder if Munchkin will be curious about me the way I am curious about my mother. I wonder if my blog will be around for her to read, a sprawling digital archive of my stories and pictures and observations and my amusement among friends.

At this point, I feel like I want to remember for both of us: if I can capture the details of what I remember from before, if I can write while I live what is happening now, will we understand each other better? Or will I smother her with my version Of Everything? Or will I surprise her—look! Mom was a person, too!—so that she looks at me, at us, with new eyes, too, the way I looked at my mom after reading her diary? Right now, what I'm holding to is that even as we are so very different, my mother and I, she as practical and self-sufficient and well-adjusted as I am melodramatic and talkative and introspective, still, we are both, in our ways, diary-keepers.

It's not much, but it's a start.