Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Architecture and other determinisms

I'm reading a book of theory right now, addressing the nature of space: is space an empty container, a naked stage on which we array ourselves and the objects and institutions that comprise our lived reality? Or is space imaginary, with identical bland furnished rooms understood to be intrinsically terrifying or exhilarating when they represent to us the pain of a visit to the dentist or the coming freedom of claiming a lottery prize? Is space some combination of material and experiential, as when Munchkin and I inhabit daycare differently, me from a vantage point some three feet higher than hers, oriented towards symbols and objects of hygiene and pedagogy and to adult faces, while she knows intimately the geography of the undersides of tables, of tiny chairs, of the quality of light when the shades are drawn and she 'lie down tummy' on her cot at naptime?

What I do know is this: my sense of my family and my home and my future have been shaken this week, much more than I expected, by simple things, material things: objects and space.

Tuesday, I gave away all the baby gear, to a massively pregnant, but definitely glowing, grad student in my department. We are decluttering our house this month, and it galled me to think that our attic was filled entirely with baby gear and Christmas decorations. That's it. So I thought, seeing as we'd decided to be a family of three, that I'd pass along the baby gear.

The student was enthusiastic, and grateful. I sent her an email enumerating the collection: deluxe pack'n'play playpen, baby gym, front carrier, sling, Bumbo chair, exersaucer, diaper genie, infant toys, car mobile. We set a date and time for the pickup. Immediately, I became regretful and anxious: what if, by giving away all this stuff, I foreclosed the possibility of another baby? No matter I still don't want another baby. It was the stuff that did me in--touching the toys, smelling the residual milky-with-hint-of-Ivory-Snow smell of the laundered sling, hearing the distinctive clatter of the exersaucer's array of toys. Tactile memory. Now, I remember that I found those times very hard, and I didn't much like that period of then-Miss Baby's infancy. She didn't sleep, she yelled all the time, I was weepy and scared. But the stuff! I agonized for days, by which I mean I agonized during sleepless nights. Should I give it away? How could I not? Finally, it occured to me that I might demand right of first refusal, and so I did. Before you pass this along to someone else, I asked, could you check if we might need it back?

Discussing this with Pynchon, we got to talking about the new house, seeing as it's the move that's prompting my wild giveaways and possession purges. We started to imagine ourselves in the space, and Pynchon described his vision of the renovated third floor loft, a possible large-scale master bedroom for us, complete with full bath and deep closets. I started to freak out: the second floor has three bedrooms already! The main floor has a formal living room, a formal dining room, a den, a kitchen, a bathroom! We couldn't move up to a loft while Munchkin was still small: who wants to leave their kid on a different floor to sleep? But then when she was older it would be so much nearer to the time when she might move out, why would we need yet another bedroom? We were going to be all alone, maybe in sixteen short years! All alone in what seemed to be such a giant house, with a renovated basement! A renovated loft! All these rooms and sad pitiful empty-nested me and Pynchon a testament to loneliness, rattling around in the huge quiet. Shouldn't we have more kids just to fill the house? Wouldn't we be awful failures, figures of pity, if we didn't?

?? !! ??

Clearly, I am insane, but it's worth noting that the castles I build in my mind are so easily demolished when they bump up against the green plastic of the exersaucer, against the 7 foot ceilings of a 102 year old basement. At worst, I give away all the baby gear in my certainty that Munchkin is to be an only child--and then it becomes a funny story about my hubris having to repurchase everything later. And I love a good story. As for the house, who can say how big or how small, how full or how empty it will feel to us in three months, let alone three years, or ten, or twenty? I am not usually so misguided as to think, in daylight hours, that how I feel right now will be how I feel much later. After all, my parents upsized in retirement, and my mom finds her empty-nest life more vital and busy than any other time she can remember. Life moves on the way that it will. We fill the spaces with our lives and they change with us as we change them.

Neither my new house nor my now-absent diaper genie can determine me. I'm glad we sorted that out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What urbanization looks like, from my dining room

The cranes in the further distance are entombed in the ever-rising concrete of a multi-use, commercial / residential tower development one block over from us, the one that Pynchon read about in the paper on the day we moved in, three years ago:

The brick buildings just beyond my back fence? That's the business owned by Condo Jerks, currently festooned in humongous 'going out of business' signs. We actually received from them a flyer promoting the sell-off of the contents of their retail showroom, the one into whose front door I stared for so many months, breastfeeding Munchkin: the flyer crowed about all the good deals to be had, and promoted the 'exclusive new luxury condominium development' soon to break ground. Break ground on my property.

Ain't life funny?

It's working out for us. And I can laugh, maybe a little, because I am a strong supporter of urban densification, urban revitalization, living/working in the core of our city. I liked it so much, I bought the company! as the man from Remington said. I believed in it so much, my house got knocked down for condo visitor parking!

Ha. Ha-ha. I'm recovering. I'm starting to laugh again.

Monday, April 21, 2008

With even more spring

This is for Kyla, who mocked the Canadian toque-boots-jacket spring. Same park, same kid, one week later:

It was her first day in shorts this year, on Saturday, and within 20 minutes, she'd skinned both knees, in two separate incidents. She's proud now to show her 'broke-a knee' to anyone who cares to look. We wore sunblock and ran around like maniacs. Ahh, spring. Finally.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Face Oddity

A new reader, Cheryl, has tagged me for a meme. To whit:

1. When tagged, place the name and URL of the tagger on your post
2. Post the rules
3. Write 7 non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself
4. Name 7 of your favorite blogs
5. Send an email/comment on their blog letting them know they have been tagged

I'm going to try to make this funny, but it might turn out appalling: sorry in advance. See, it's been, um, quite a week for my self-esteem, body-wise, with any number of children, grownups, and circumstances making me feel I must be some kind of freak. What makes it a little funny is that I'm actually a fairly attractive person: you know, tall, blonde, thin, Teutonic, not-smelly. Whatever. Anyhow, "7 non important quirks":

1. Last Thursday, Munchkin grabbed at a particularly prominent mole on my scrawny upper arm (I have a LOT of moles). Her verdict was immediate: "Nipple!" Um, no. Not a nipple. Mole. Thanks, flesh of my flesh. You'll get there one day.

2. Earlier that week, at Starbucks (obviously), I was crammed in along a long bench next to a family with a six-year old relative in tow. The little girl, Gracie, was fascinated with my computer and with me, and we had several brief and adorable conversations before she asked me, flat out and a propos of nothing: "Are you missing a tooth?" I goggled and blinked. "Urrr, no, it's just, they're um, crooked." Her family was horrified. She continued. "You should get braces!" Thanks, random kid.

3. Saturday morning, Pynchon finally convinced me to buy my first new non-nursing bras
since, um, I'm not sure when. I warned him it would be expensive. I went to the Specialty Professional Bra Boutique in our uptown mall. The verdict? People, I'm a 30E. That's right. Toothpick-sized rib cage, giant boobs. In the US, they call this size 30DDD. Awesome. The three D's are for the dollars dollars dollars you need to spend to buy bras in this size because of the freakish freakishness of your non-standard rack. Specifically, $130 each. But, sweet baby Jesus, they are soooooo comfortable. Wow.

4. Saturday afternoon, in Toronto for the Awesome Bloggy Parents Get-Together, I stopped by Fluevog, where I had purchased some really cool and expensive unisex ankle boots in December. I had sent one pair back because when I wore them outside, my feet got wet. Now, my new pair bore witness to socks just as soaked. I marched into the store, and found the manager I had been dealing with. His verdict? The problem is not cheap-ass construction that uses cheap-ass glue to bond the leather upper to the rubber sole and which promptly disintegrates in damp weather, but rather THAT MY FEET ARE TOO WIDE FOR THE BOOTS. Dudes, they're unisex workhorse ankle boots, not teetery Jimmy Choo mules. How can it be that I buy them, my feet fit in them easily, I suffer no pain or blisters or pinching at all, and then, when it rains, the sole separates from the upper and water pours in.? It's my fault? Remember, I have a club foot. I'm sorta sensitive about this kind of thing.

5. Every day, underneath my t-shirt, or blouse, or sweater I wear a maternity tank top. Why? Because, designed to accomodate the vast terrain of a hugely pregnant belly, these tanks are the only shirts I've ever found that are long enough to ensure that I'm not flashing my belly at people all day. I buy all my shirts as long as I can find them, believe me, and I've still always got inches of belly all over the place. Why, dear God, why?

6. I can't work can openers. Since we've lived together, Pynchon has watched me throw out at least three can openers for being defective, in the sense of being inoperable by me. Here we are making a big deal about me throwing out the last one in disgust:

So he bought me an electric one. And I can't work it, either.

7. I have a fatal fondness for Kraft Dinner, and I seem to have passed this on to Munchkin. On those nights that Daddy works late, we will, literally, split a box between us. She puts away her half, and I inhale mine. Basically, we're racing through our bowls in order to make sure that the other doesn't wind up getter more. Ah, rituals ...

I can't imagine who I might drop this meme on, so I'll just thank Cheryl for thinking of me (and boy, are you regretting it now, Cheryl! You're probably also terrified to meet me in a dark alley. Or a dark bar. Like this fine collection of bloggers, staring at me quite possibly in horror:

Okay, it's really only Motherbumper who's staring in disgust, but Metro Mama, Crazymumma, Amy, Mamalooper, Redneck Mommy, Her Bad Mother, and I'm-sorry-but-I-didn't-really-meet-you-two bloggers and a stealth blogger are turned away in disgust, surely.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Snap! Dissed again!

As Munchkin, newly barefoot, ran giddily and unsteadily from my arms and out into the enormous university gym filled with tennis balls and toddlers, teacher B turned to me and said:

"Oh, is it casual day at your work today?"

Snap! Hard to mistake that one!

Munchkin was up three times in the night; neither Pynchon nor I got more than three hours sleep. Somehow, we all slept in, until 8:10--and he had a meeting across town at 9:00. "You take the car today!" I shouted as I ran to get Munchkin out of bed. Comedic chaos ensued, and Pynchon made it out the door shaved and showered, but un-fed--I couldn't even tell you what he was wearing, I saw so little of him. I showered, having plunked Munchkin down for a rare and therefore fantastically-peaceful 20 minutes of Treehouse, but didn't manage to do my hair or get past the mascara and lipgloss stage of makeup because I had to retrieve the rain suit from the dryer and pack up all my work gear and try to sort out breakfast.

By the time we left the house, Munchkin had clean clothes, all her outdoor gear, a nice hairdo, and a cheerful smile. I had on my skinny-cords, Diesel sneakers, long layered t-shirts under a neat sweater, a tailored jean jacket, and a pashmina.

"Munchkin, we're taking the bus!" I intoned cheerily.


Doudou in her seatbelt, strapped into the stroller, she kept up an excited monologue all the way to the bus stop and, indeed, all the way to daycare: "Bus! Take a-bus a-daycare a-Mom! Yay! See a-ambulance! Doggie! Walk a-stroller! Daddy work a-car! Hi man! Hi! I take a-bus a-daycare! Beep-beep!"

I was happy: we were really late, sure, but we were both clean, and, bonus, I didn't accidentally leave anything at home, AND I had correct change for the bus--a bus that came, conveniently, only after we got to watch an ambulance driving sedately past us. Exciting! I was patient and indulgent and we had, Munchkin and I, lots of fun watching the High Street traffic, getting on the bus, riding the bus, walking across campus to daycare.

I was, actually, feeling like a success, even though it was past 10 am and I couldn't figure out a way to carry a latte and push the stroller at the same time.

So, B? Stuff it! "Casual day at the office": you know FULL WELL that I'm a professor. You should remember that I'm on sabbatical, because I've told you more than once. I wear what I like and I keep the hours that suit me. Keep your passive aggressive comments to yourself, please.

(B, it is worth noting, also made a big deal to me, during the House Sale and House Purchase Condo Developer Jerks Emotional and Financial Nightmare, about how I should be sure to keep daycare informed about the process, because it would be very emotionally gruelling for Munchkin to move, and that they needed to be able to help her out through a difficult and scary transition. Um, yeah, twist that knife a little deeper into my overworked anxiety wound, wouldya?)

(And I should say: she's really good with the kids. She's one of the older workers, and she's used to being a mother hen. Maybe she just likes to feel competent. She takes very good care of my Munchkin.)


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

But that's not what I meant, not at all

I met my friend B for lunch yesterday, and we caught up on the various goings-on in our families. Her youngest daughter is just months older than Munchkin, and we used to do mother-baby yoga together. We try to keep in touch, but she's incorporated her husband's three prior children into their family home and working full time and I'm working and moving and and and. It was nice to see her, nice to sit and dish and share photos. We were talking about how we wished we could get together more, socialize more. "You should really meet my friend J," she exclaimed, "We could all hang out together! She's so much like you, she's a professional and she's really cynical about everything and is always talking about giving her kids away and how cranky she is."


Do I come across like I resent motherhood? When I was pregnant, and obsessively describing everything for Pynchon, he asked how bad it was: "You're always complaining about how your back hurts and your feet are swollen and you're so weepy, you must really hate being pregnant."


No, no, no. That's not what I meant, not what I mean, at all. I actually really loved being pregnant (except the last three weeks. No one likes being nine months pregnant. But even then, it's very exciting to be so near to becoming a mom, to meeting your baby. I remember being very impatient, but also feeling very happy and very special). Every day I catch myself being grateful for my baby, my little girl, my giant Munchkin: she hugs me, she makes me laugh, she sees the world with new eyes and shares her wonder with me.

I'm terribly afraid I've made myself misunderstood.

Once, when I was in my mid-twenties, I was driving with my mom, a long road trip to the ancestral cottage in Northern Ontario. Having given the matter some thought, I asked her that, if she were born in 1973 instead of 1944, would she have chosen to have kids? I thought not: her first husband, my dad, was a philanderer and a drinker and having the kids was part of an attempted domestication strategy. My mom is a very independent, quiet person, who values her career and likes to do her own thing. She was married five years before choosing to become pregnant with me: if she had to do it again, I thought maybe she wouldn't.

It's not like my mom was not a great, great mom to have as a child: she was. Full of hugs and songs and mother-daughter trips to others cities, on the train, to museums and festivals and parks. Matching homemade outfits for my sister and I, careful hairdos and carefully cleaned faces. She took a lot of pride in us and worked hard to provide us a home and a life together. But did she enjoy it? I wasn't sure, then. Mom also often shooed us out of the kitchen in the post-work, pre-dinner rush. She shushed us away from her ankles when she wanted to read the paper. She retreated to her room after supper to work on her university courses for her upgrades. She got annoyed by the exuberance and volume of our play.

Mom answered my question quickly and in the affirmative: of the tragedy of her first marriage, she was most happy to have, as she said, 'my two precious girls.' She enjoyed watching us grow into people, that crazy amazing process of physical and mental and emotional growth. She loved taking us places with her, dressing us up, seeing us smile. I was surprised.

And now? Here I am wondering how B and Pynchon can imagine me to be anything but thrilled with my life, and the tables have turned. You know what? I do complain a lot. I don't know why, but I can't seem to help it. I'm a literary critic and prone in any case to overanalysis, and overanalysis has never been confused with pure, in-the-moment joy of experience. I'm not like that, I guess. I don't hesitate to tell people that Munchkin was a pretty severe trial as Miss Baby, what with the no-sleeping and the several months of constant yelling or constant marching around the house in the sling. I didn't like the yelling or the marching or the no-sleeping. But I did love breast-feeding, I loved her tiny hands and her big blue eyes. I loved her giant cloth diapers and her bony little bum. I loved her gummy smile and her raised eyebrows. As a toddler, she's much easier. Do I like tantrums? No. Do I like her current mommy-mommy-mommy phase where, if she could, she would suck the very life out of my? Well, I don't like it for 10 hours in a row. Do I want to get up at 2:30 for "Hug! Bottle! Hug! Bottle!"? No, but then, I really really need my sleep. But I love her beyond anything I might ever have imagined. She brings me joy inestimable. More simply, I like having her around all the time, this no-longer-new member of our family, grabbing me by the hand and dragging me to the living room to play 'circle time.' I melt when she wraps up her Pinky Pig in her doudou and tells it sternly to "be quiet a go-a-sleep now, Pinky Pig, wake up a-morning!".

I was overjoyed to become pregnant. I revelled in that process of growing my daughter inside me. I was amazed at her birth, and forged into motherhood in the crucible of her infancy. Every day she wraps herself a little more around my heart and I can't imagine life without her, though, I must admit, I can very easily imagine a couple of hours without her, and fairly often.

I look around my house, at the pull-up tucked into my duvet cover, at the mangled board book in the middle of the entryway, at the little plastic duck wedged into the tub drain, at the 'thermometers' (pens) hidden in strange places all over and my heart is glad: what energy my Munchkin brings to life, to my life. Yes, I complain and yes, I'm honest about not being cheerful about everything all the time. But I'm happy, happier, really and well and truly, than I've ever been. I chose and I choose this family. I guess I just wanted to put that out there, for the record, because maybe I don't say it enough.

My baby girl, my sweetiepooper, my Munchkin, my joy.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


The smells mingled in the thick steam, but not unpleasantly: cucumber and aloe face treatment ... citrus hair mask ... white tea body rub. My skin was pink and as the heat opened my pores and brought a flush to my face I could feel the tension drain out from my shoulders. The high-pressure hot water jets pounded away at the sore point on the back of my neck and it seemed I got looser and taller all at once. Deep breaths of fragrant steam and the meditative effects of the gurgle of rushing water blotted out the whole world, except for the sensual one. The smell, the feel, the warmth, the quiet. Depilation and lotion, exfoliation and aromatherapy. Ahhhh.

After, my scalp still zinging and the skin on my face aglow attention was turned to my feet: buffed and scrubbed and soaked and polished I marveled at the enforced laziness of a pedicure. Sit back and wait. It takes the time that it takes. No matter: I idly flipped through my design magazines, my Saturday paper, alternating the contemplation of big ideas with the contemplation of stainless steel appliances, a perfect balance.

Later still, wrapped in soft terry cloth and bundled under feathers and linen, I let the heat build up around me as I let it all go ... the deadlines, the tantrums, the packing, the planning, the bills. Let it all go and fell softly asleep.

Can you guess what I did on Saturday night?

Yup. I had an obscenely long shower, painted my toenails on the couch while reading the paper and spying on the neighbours, and went to bed early. Extra large pumice stone and fancy face wash? 10 dollars. Shaving my legs for the first time in two weeks? Priceless.

Luxury: the toddler years.