Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Christmas Cookie: Russian Teacakes

Amy has organized a virtual cookie exchange this year, and I am very happy to participate. Lately, the Breach has been getting a lot of Google hits on the topics of "christmas cookie blog" and "baking christmas" and "cookie recipe" so I figured I'd better make it worth the visits.

These are the cookies I burned my fingers on last year. But it was worth it! My mom has been making these since I was a wee kid--I think her recipe comes from a truly ancient Betty Crocker compendium from the mid-1960s that she received as a gift for her (first) wedding. It's a shortbread, but a little less rich and more powdery than the norm.

Russian Teacakes

1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sifted icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Mix first 3 ingredients. In separate bowl mix flour and salt and stir into butter mixture. Add nuts. Roll into 1" balls. Bake 350 degrees, 10-15 minutes. While still warm roll in extra icing sugar.

(It's that last bit that results in burned fingers, just so you know.)

Happy baking!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Update

Thank you--always, again--for your support and your advice.  Here's a brief update, a happy one.

J has checked into a hospital with a good crisis centre; he's being evaluated as an in-patient for suicidal thoughts. His roommates in Big City brought him in last night after telling him he had to move out, and confronting him about his problems.  At the hospital, he acknowledged his difficulties to the triage nurse and was admitted formally without delay.

So there's help, and there's hope.

Next weekend, Pynchon will be driving to the city, to the former roommate's, to pick up J's things and return them to the storage locker in our city.  We will be contacting J by phone this week.  To see how he's doing on this path that is his to walk, not ours.  We are relieved:  happy that J's Big City friends stepped up to the plate and staged their own intervention, happy that J is finally getting serious medical treatment, happy that the moment of crisis has passed.

And so it's back to living our own lives now.  Relieved.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ask teh Internets

Halp. We need advice. (Again. Always.)

Remember 'Uncle' J? Who was Pynchon's first friend here when we moved to town, a co-worker who became part of our extended family? Who showed up one day in our driveway with a suitcase and stayed for 10 weeks? Read up if you don't remember the deets.

Ok. Caught up?

He moved to The Big Smoke in September, but his health and his outlook on life have taken a big downturn since then. He's spent maybe three weekends here since he's moved out, and we usually hear from him over email or over the phone. But lately he's dropped right off the map, to the extent that one of his co-workers riffled through old phone bills, hoping that one of the numbers to our area code would yield 'J's friends'--that's us.

They wanted Pynchon to come rescue J: he was really not eating, was really heavily medicated for pain, was not coming out of his room, was not paying his rent. Pynchon called him and emailed and told him it was urgent that we get hold of him--no response, no answer, no reply. So one night this week he drove to the city (took two hours! In the dark!) and pounded on the door until J roused himself ... and fell over, split his head open, and made a trip to Mount Sinai in the ambulance. Nice. No major damage but no real progress.

Now the Big City friends are still calling and emailing Pynchon, asking him ... to what? I don't know. Fix it. The roommate reports that the rent cheque bounced. The co-worker thinks he's going to get fired, has looked up detox and hospice programs--she thinks he's got a drug problem with his pain meds. No one knows what's going on, but they think we can do something about it from 100km away.

The roommate just called again: she was going to meet with J to talk about the bounced cheque. But he's not there--he's left a note about going to the hospital? Can Pynchon fix it?

No.

We can't. Is that wrong? He's getting evicted--but he can't come back here. It's not good for our family, not good for our marriage. Not good for our finances. He is in chronic pain; he is depressed. He needs to be propped up. He needs to be driven places. He needs to be housed and fed. We did it all summer and it was draining. We have the terrible twos. We have high-needs careers. We are working on renovations when we can afford them. We are learning to be a married couple with a kid, despite a kid. We just can't--it sounds so terrible--spare much more for J than we already have.

What to do? Everyone is looking to us--even J is sending whiny, needy emails. He has no money. Soon he'll have no job. He's being evicted and he's so new to the city that he can't find his street on a map. He is feuding with his family ... who are all in Newfoundland.

How can we help but maintain our boundaries? We are terrified that he's going to be homeless, sick, addled, and alone. But we are just as terrified of singlehandedly trying to prevent it.

Scared, sad, guilty: everything we're working hard to stop feeling, and yet, here we are. Any suggestions, Internets? Advice? Commiseration? Excoriation?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Milky One

I should say, in all fairness to Munchkin, that she has been, lately, a delight: charming, snuggly, hilarious, polite, smart, and co-operative. You know, because I tend to write posts when these conditions do not obtain.

----

We have begun the singing of Christmas songs in the wind-down to bedtime. We are easing into the repertoire, but have begun with a doozy: Santa Claus is coming to town. The song is both melodically tricky (don't start too low: it gets a lot lower! Then goes up abruptly!) and plot-heavy (retelling, into baby ears, the basic parameters of the Kris Kringle contract: behave, and there will be toys. You are under constant surveillance!). Munchkin is rapt.

Monday, feeling limited by our two song rotation (Rudolph is the other guest of honour at our song banquet) I threw in the preamble to the Santa song: "I just got back from a lovely trip, along the Milky Way ... I stopped off at the North Pole, to have a holiday ...")

"No!" Munchkin shouted, "The Santa song!"

Last night, though, out of the blue (in the dark) she snuggled into my chest and asked in her sweetest voice, "Sing the milky one, Mama? The milky one?"

So I did. And lo and behold she knows all the words already and I think she's heard it twice. She hummed with me and popped the words in where she can.

I've written before about my singing. I have to say, two years later, I still love to sing to her. It brings me a lot of joy to sit in the dark with my girl, so big she hardly fits into my lap any more, to sing to her and with her, by request, songs that fill her imagination with dreams and her heart with the sound of my voice, echoing through my chest wall where she's pressed her head in tight. She pats my arm in time, I whisper in her ears and smell her hair.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Unmitigated bitchiness

I'm at Starbucks doing some work, and I'm next to this family. Three generations, really loud. On the table is about 5 thousand calories of sugar and fat, split among four people. The ten year old, really overweight girl, keeps whining to her father to give her more solid chunks of chocolate to melt into her drink because it's too bitter. It's a venti mocha--that is, a coffee drink. It's bitter because it's coffee. It's okay though, what with the chunks of chocolate to sweeten the drink, and her side order of a large chocolate milk. They're getting ready to leave now, because the little girl is demanding increasingly loudly to go for supper to the fast-food seafood place up the street. She is mad because they are going to walk (it's about a block away).

WTF?

Is it child abuse to so seriously mis-feed a child? It must be habitual, because she's quite overweight.

Is it wrong that this makes me bitchy?

(Ask Pynchon. I'm totally, irredeemably judgmental about this kind of thing. I feel bad about it ... but not that bad.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ho, ho, ho


Okay, that's it! Now it's Christmas. There's snow, one of our neighbours has outdoor lights set up, and Bing is on the loudspeaker at Starbucks, where I am curled up by the fire. And the kicker? Last night, in the tub, Munchkin told us that Santa is on his way, that it is Christmas and there are lovely trees, and under the tree, Santa puts presents for the children.

Right, then.

We've been enjoying Christmas as parents: a six month old is pretty cute in Santa pjs, and is happy to sit around peering into empty gift bags. And eighteen month old enjoys spending time with the grandparents and wearing silly hats, to wit;


But now she's got her own expectations--set by books at daycare, and her friends, and some exposure to, well, the rest of the world--and I feel weirdly stressed ...

Enough, I say! I love Christmas and I refuse to be browbeaten into holiday one-upmanship. Pynchon and I have always made lists for each other, laid groundrules, set budgets, been fantastically explicit about what our expectations are. As a result, we love our holidays. Now we're taking our newest family member into account, and here's what we want: we don't want to overwhelm her with gifts on the morning; we do want her to have fun with the rituals of decorating, and visiting, and baking with her family; we do want to turn her thoughts outward to the happiness of others, with participating in charity; we want to limit the commercialism while maximising the fun.

So she's getting: one present of some new books from Mom; one present of Play-Doh from Dad; and one big present from Santa--this thing:

I think she'll catch one look at this thing and that's all we'll see of her for the rest of the day. My sister's kids always have so much to open that they don't really enjoy anything at all. She's always pulling them off whatever they've just opened and want to play with, and directing them to the next thing, so that now, the morning is not about enjoying what you get, but about doing all the opening, tallying everything up. No thanks, I say.

We'll be heading Way the Hell Up North this year, packing all our modest gifts and expectations into the Echo with us, and I will be lulled into a coma on the four hour drive by the Xmas music I will insist be played on the stereo and by the blasting heat of the defroster that Pynchon will insist be coursing through the vents. It will be snowy and dark outside, warm and bright in my parents' house. We will spend Xmas eve assembling a dollhouse, tiny screws and tiny stickers and tiny batteries. We will place it in front of the tree, where Munchkin will see it first thing in the morning. Grownups will drink coffee and tea, slippered feet up on the couch, reading newspapers and magazines.

Christmas starts now for us. I will enjoy it. Tomorrow, Pynchon will bring down the Xmas boxes from the attic, and Munchkin and I will bedeck the house in bows, and we will talk about our family traditions. Then we'll play outside or go grocery shopping or make muffins. Maybe next week we'll put the gingerbread house together. The time is ours to use as we want, and the season is ours to craft into our own family traditions, our own pace. Less rush, more ritual. Less money, more time. Less stuff, more hospitality. Less greed, more charity.

More fun.

We'll see how long we can hold off the tequila binge.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

WW: Brrrr.

So, that's it, then, eh?


I guess that snow isn't going anywhere.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Erudite

Maybe her problem has been (as Mad suggests) that she's growing and growing and growing. Maybe it's a cognitive leap. Let me tell you, she's just had another major jump in language.

Herewith, some of the crazy stuff my kid has said this week. I have not altered the syntax. These are examples of unbroken monologues:

1. At breakfast this morning, engrossed by a bowl of raisin bran: "Mom? Can you help me to use my spoon to dig out another raisin? No? I will use my little baby fingers, as well. Where are you, raisin? I will eat you!"

2. At bedtime with Pynchon a couple of nights ago, after I had gone out to work: "I know, Daddy. I have an idea. We will get in the car and we will drive fast fast to Mommy's work. I will climb the stairs to Mommy's office and I will grab her and we will bring her home."

3. Recounting adventures at preschool: "I played in the snow and I was on the toboggan with Matteo and we went SLIDING down the big hill and we fell down again and again. It was so much fun!"

4. This morning, playing: "Mom? Tober the tiger is afraid. Afraid of the dragon! Would you like to help me find the dragon? Where could he be? I don't know! Is he in the bathroom? I know! Let's find him! Come with me, vamanos, Mom!"

5. Peering into the drawer that holds her 'pots' and 'pans' and 'sandwiches': "Sheepie? What are you doing here? You don't belong in the picnic, you go on the farm with the horsey and the cow. We will put you back there! Mom! Do you want to come with me? To put Sheepie on the farm? Come! Let's climb the stairs together, like fast turtles!"

We can hardly get a word in edgewise, maybe because we are increasingly sitting there listening to her with our own mouths hanging open at the most recent increase in the torrent of her words.

She is becoming noticeably more attuned to the finer points of grammar (not just pronouns but transitions and conjunctions--using, 'but' and 'and' and 'or' appropriately as well as 'also' and 'as well') and to idiom, correctly incorporating phrases like 'oh, my goodness' and 'last but not least' and 'have a lovely day' into her conversation. She'll pick up an emotional subtext from tone of voice and admonish the speaker to 'try to be happy!'. She is freaking us out.

Pretty soon she'll be narrating her own posts. For now, I'm trying not to say 'blog' around her, because then our secret will be out. Oh, my goodness.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I have to admit, it's getting better

It couldn't get no worse, that's for sure. Your stories and your reassurances helped immensely. Thank you for that: I needed to hear, well, exactly what you had to say.

Today, she woke up singing. She got dressed, marched willingly downstairs, ate a full breakfast while dancing and waving, and was so excited to put on her snowsuit AND snowpants AND mittens AND hat AND boots that she was literally vibrating, until we pushed her out onto the porch. She sang her way to the car, clomping through fresh snow. When I got out at the office, instead of having a fit, yelling "NO NO NO MOMMY DRIVE YOU TO DAYCARE! MOMMY DRIVE!" she asked if Daddy was going to drive and calmly presented her puckered lips for a goodbye kiss.

Tonight, she had a fun playtime before supper, happily climbed into her chair and ate another full meal, teased and charmed us, and made up yet more songs. She asked specifically for Daddy to put her to bed, for the first time in weeks. And he did. No tantrum. Sure, she wore a Team Canada Olympic shirt and a pink ruffled skirt to bed, but you've got to pick your battles, right? It was, altogether, an easy day.

WTF?

I know it won't last, that the sunshine is as unpredictable as the rain, but today we enjoyed her, thoroughly. We recalibrated our family. We're ready for whatever is going to happen tomorrow. Or, more likely, at 3am.

Phew.

[Oh, also? I had to stop at the Bonnie Togs again today: the size 3 snowsuit from last winter is clearly only going to fit for another month or so, and she has, since last week, unequivocally grown out of all the pants I bought in August. If you're keeping track, she's now wearing all size 5 dresses and shirts, and size 4 pants and skirts.]

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I need your stories

Please. Today was an utter disaster, following a week of near disaster. Munchkin has woken up four of the last five nights, and only Mommy will do. She needs rocking she needs milk she hates the milk it's yucky she wants Daddy she hates doudou she needs a snuggle she needs milk noooooooo don't put me down I need onemoremintuesnuggle nooooooo. It's usually 45 minutes of her anger and sullenness and then I'm insomniac for an hour or two. I am, consequently, both exhausted and always already out of patience by the time the day starts.

She won't wear pants. Hell, she won't consent to having her soaking diaper removed, let alone replaced. She goes from passive nonresponse to our instructions to full-on kicking and screaming. She's whiny and demanding and noncompliant. She says hurtful and deliberately cruel things to her father, and hits him viciously. She completely disregards my requests and soon enough hurts herself and wails like a banshee ... for me. Her father is disgusted and demoralized, and I'm on the verge of snapping.

She won't put boots on, but won't say anything until the boot approaches her foot: then she arches and kicks and screams, suddenly, so that I don't even imagine it's coming when her skull cracks under my chin and her forearm bashes my glasses into my nose so hard tears smart in my eyes. I swear loudly and then I yell at her. I stomp away and slam a door: time out for Mommy.

She won't stop hitting her dad: won't let him do anything that isn't met with screaming and arching and flailing. He swears loudly and then yells at her: he stomps and slams, too.

These are not the parents we want to be. Right now, we're not too impressed with ourselves. In fact, "self-loathing" would pretty much sum up our parenting philosophy right now. She's just being two, right? Maybe it's that we are perforce sharing the work unequally: she won't let Pynchon do anything, and she won't let me take a breather. We're all exhausted. All our feelings are raw. You know, this weekend, we're always just waiting for it all to explode again, a mere minute or so away from some random rage event: hers, mine, Pynchon's.

Pynchon and I have nothing left to give her--in fact, we can barely manage to loft wan smiles of support at each other. So help me God if the cat so much as looks at me sideways, I may do her violence. This is where I'm at. I know Pynchon is not too far behind me either.

I am beyond tired. I am also angry. I'm actually really angry with my two-year old, even though I know that's not fair. I'm disgusted with myself. I'm desperate for the weekend to be over, so that we can bring her to daycare and have a chance to just reset. But I don't want to go to work because, it having been such a hellish week and all, and me not sleeping worth shit and being completely emotionally spent, I'm behind on everything.

What I want from you, if you can give it: tell me about your toddlers. Can they be awful? For days at a time? I want to know that Munchkin is being, actually, normal. I want to know that our usual parenting style--careful calm words, time outs, positive reinforcement for good behaviour, careful consequences for bad--will eventually work. I want to know that this will stop.

Because we're at our wits' end. We feel like awful parents with a kid we've somehow failed. It's really hard to live like this.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Old people: I lieks dem

I was emailing with Nomo a while back, about Edward Albee and how I once played 'Gramma' in American Dream: it was the role of a lifetime, and I earned heaps of accolades ... from other graduate students in our rinky-dink theatre group.

It was surprising to them, but not to me, how easily I transformed myself from stylish young Goth to cantankerous, stooped, straight-talkin', rule-flouting old lady. I curled my hair up tight and sprayed it silver. I wore orthopedic white loafers and support hose and a truly unflattering dress. It was awesome. You see, I love old people.

I am in awe of old people. At the CB (our brunch spot) where they congregate in search of cheap food and old-style specials like liver and onions, I surreptitiously watch them. Old people have skills, skills I admire:

1. Their clothes are always neat, fit well, and are well-pressed. Old people are good at tailoring things, darning things, treating stains, whitening whites, and ironing. I suck at all these things and so buy dark clothes that fit poorly and get thrown out every four months.

2. Old people know how to keep their wallets closed. Once, at the CB, I saw two old ladies while away an hour and a half sharing one piece of pie and two cups of tea. When the bill came, they verrrrrrry carefully split it. You had the sense that there was change in their change purses still unspent from the 60s. I admire that. Sometimes, I spend $8 before I even land in the office in the mornings. Appalling.

3. Old people are handy: the menfolk know stuff like how to build shelves from scrap lumber, how to tune up the lawnmower, how to do winter maintenance on shrubbery and such. They clean gutters and install storm windows in the fall. I buy prefab kits that take two years to get put together, and ignore or subcontract (at great expense!) the rest.

3. Old people are crafty and ingenious: the womenfolk cook. Every day. A variety of healthful, unfancy, tasty foodstuffs that don't require exotic vinegar (that's a shout out to you again, Beck!). They can make useful stuff. They hem curtains or, hell, sew 'em from scratch, liners and all.

4. Old people know their own minds. You might think old people are closed-minded, because they're old and snappish, but if you scratch the surface a bit, old people have often developed quite considered opinions on the basis of some truly interesting life experience. They've got a whole lotta livin' on me, so who am I to say/

5. Old people are quiet. They like to sit still. They like to nap. Me too, me too, and me too.

6. Old people get to have grandkids: having already raised kids, they appreciate this opportunity immensely, both in terms of getting to play with little kids and in terms of knowing they still get to have a full night's sleep. This allows them to truly enjoy it all.

7. Old people, when they retire, get to follow their own interests: having already worked full careers, they appreciate this opportunity.

Okay, not all old people are like this. But there are a lot of well-dressed, frugal, competent, quiet, and lively old people around here, and it makes me smile to get to hang out around them. I share Munchkin with them: she dances, we all smile. They think of being young, I, of being old.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Date Night

It is so worth having a no post worth either the writing or the reading: an unexpected night out, to see a terrible theatre-student production of Julius Caesar, to go to a noisy bar and have a Cosmopolitan. With my husband. On a date. Holding hands and giggling. So worth it.

So. Nothing to see here, folks. We'll try again tomorrow, NaBloPoMo then officially half over.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Scenes from Gothdom

Remember how I used to be a Goth? I thought I might start an occasional series of posts about life as a Goth. Might be funny, and might be useful to remember how passionate I was about it all, someday, when Munchkin is going through a 'phase' (note: if you call it a 'phase', you will provoke a) another piercing or b) another six months of the behaviour, just to prove you wrong).

Mostly, I'm thinking of the funny.

This story made Beck laugh, apparently, really hard, and I hope you might find it entertaining, too.

Scene:

Edmonton: 83rd ave and 103 street--the heart of Old Strathcona. The players: one goth girl, on an old-fashioned girl-frame cream and black cruiser bike, wearing a black moiré taffeta baby doll dress, black-and-white striped tights, and 14-hole stee-toe boots. One 30-something woman, in a domestic white sedan. Both players are stopped at the traffic light.

The woman rolls down her window and leans out toward the Goth Girl.

Woman: "Excuse me? But can you tell me where you got those tights?"
Goth, smug: "Oh, these? I got these at a specialty store in Toronto"
Woman: "Oh, it's just that I'm a clown and they'd be really great with my costume"
Goth: [furious red-faced pedalling]

and .... scene!
Sigh.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WW: Long day, kiddo?


I hear you.  Me too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Ma soeur"

My sister and I started piano lessons when we were in grades 3 and 2, respectively. Why do I feel so old, now, remembering that we spent all our weekday lunch-hours at the convent, alternating between practice rooms not much bigger than the upright pianos they held, rooms where the glass-paned doors pushed out into the central room with its semi-circle of tiny desks surrounding the teaching sister, perched kind and attentive behind a slightly larger upright?

She wore a wig--or, rather, more than one, because I noticed one day that her hair changed colour from day to day, perfectly curled, immovable. She had thick-lensed glasses in thick plastic frames. Her eyes were owlish, comically enlarged. Her face was crinkled, but somehow dewy, too, pink-cheeked and radiant. She wore drab, practical A-line skirts, secretary blouses, acrylic sweaters in roses and mauves. Her glasses had a chain.

Her fingers were not long, that I noticed, but each one seemed articulated on its own, pinky as powerful as index, thumb delicate, the whole hand deft and quick in ways running counter to her age, her dress, her implacable demeanour.

Her name was Soeur Lucia--we all called her "Ma Soeur", 'my sister'. The music rooms took up about a quarter of the first floor of the French Catholic convent across the yard from our French Catholic school. (There were fewer English Catholic nuns, associated with Holy Name rather than la paroisse francaise, and they lived in a small house near the downtown, the house my friend P now lives in.)

When the lunch bell would ring, my sister and I walked over together from school. There were two practice rooms and the main piano. There were seats enough for about six children in the main room, although sometimes we spilled out into the vestibule. We would take turns daily in the practice rooms, for ten or fifteen minutes, and spend the rest of the hour seated in the main room, puzzling over musical theory, writing out scales and notes and rests in proper notation. Later transposing passages from one key to another, and naming intervals and chords. Once a week we had our 30 minute turn at the main piano with Ma Soeur, where she would listen to what we had practiced from the week before, teach us something new.

I remember: beautiful new books full of songs to learn, 10 notes all told, for one hand to play. Illustrations that sparked the imagination. Snatches of tune: old black Joe? Really? I remember: the soporific heat and damp of so many kids and their wet snowsuits, crammed into a room together. Hissing radiators. I remember: the days of my proper lesson, I was permitted to leave my grade 3 class early, to eat my lunch in blessed solitude and quiet in the A/V room before heading to the convent. I remember: loving Soeur Lucia, wanting to please her, but being, at the same time, generally lazy about practicing. Many details are really fuzzy, though: did we do the lessons in French? (I think so) Who were the other kids? (I absolutely do not remember) How many years did we do this? (I'll have to ask Mom).

I remember: before doing my first Royal Conservatory exam, for my Grade 1 Proficiency, entering the convent proper. What a shock! Behind the music rooms, a house! Hardwood floors and plaster walls in a pale green. General quiet and peace, and murmurings of French. A very old television, in a large wooden casing. A couch with wooden arms. Cold winter daylight.

I remember ma soeur getting thinner, quieter, disappearing into herself. I remember she died and the lessons at the convent stopped. I remember being sad about this, and I remember the other nuns having the children and their parents over to the music rooms one last time, to pick over Soeur Lucia's meager teacherly effects, for a remembrance. We chose a wooden pencil-holder, a carved but unassuming block of oak, with holes drilled in for pencils and pens to stand in. Today it sits on my parents' breakfast bar, Way the Hell Up North, next to their telephone and message pad.

I look at it and remember my own past, but as that time recedes further away it strikes me more and more as implausible, archaic, incomprehensible. The convent has closed, been torn down, actually. My elementary school now houses all the French students in the districk, JK to 8, and rooms still languish, empty. My parents have moved away. Ma soeur. She smelled like soap and steam. My fingers could span five notes, and my feet didn't touch the floor.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Meme!

Nomo tagged me for seven random things, and a random-ish photo. Cool! In this month of Nablopomo, I need all the content I can scrounge.

Seven Random Things About Munchkin:

1. Every day, one slice of seriously whole wheat / flaxseed / crunchy-bit dark brown bread, toasted, with peanut butter and "extra jam!", folded into a half-sandwich and cut in two. Usually with a big glass of milk and some kind of fruit. Often, all that's left afterwards is a smear of jam on her face. Kid likes her breakfast, and has never thought to protest the healthy bread.

2. The kid is big-time obsessed with Toupie and Binou, a show on Treehouse. And we have the book, an omnibus edition of six different stories from the TV show, and she knows them all. by. heart.

3. Some 80s songs she likes to sing, unpromped and while doing other things: "Pour some sugar on me" ("Red light! Yellow light! Green light! Go! He's the operator in a ONE MAN SHOW!") and "Abracadabra" ("I'm gonna reach out and grab ya!") and "Scenario" ("Here we go, yo! Here we go, yo! So wha' so wha' so what's the ... scenario?")

4. There was this episode of Toupie and Binou where Toupie uses one of those gag leashes to walk an 'invisble' dog: all belts in our household have since been conscripted into the 'Toupie the dog' army and can be found everywhere except where we put them down.

5. When she's in the car, in her carseat, she has this tendency, once she gets all settled with her book and such, to take doudou and place it behind/around her neck, like you might drape a towel over your shoulders walking into the sauna. It's weird and she's been doing it forever. Then she snuggles back into it.

6. She confuses 'turkey' and 'turtle' so that when she sees the tortoise at the local park, she gobbles at it. Every time.

7. She reenacts scenes from our family life with her Fisher-Price dollhouse, word for word. This can be disconcerting: "baby Goya is in her crib! And she says 'WAA! WAA! WAA!' and Mommy stands in baby Goya's room and says 'Go to sleep RIGHT NOW and that is the END OF IT.' Poor Mommy is tired and baby Goya is tired and now Daddy's is going to come! Unless you use your listening ears!" Yikes.

And sixth photo from sixth folder? Well, I use iPhoto, so I'm going with sixth photo from sixth 'event' in my library .... and it is .... this:



Oh Lord. It's me, five years ago, in a fashion show by a designer whose wife I worked with. We were all not professional models, but you should know there's like 45 bobby pins in my hair. So if you wanna model, you should know: we were all instructed, 'backstage' (ie, in the basement storeroom of a bar) that we should look above everyone's heads and not smile, and remember to channel the vibe that we are better than everyone. Your worst suspicions are now confirmed. Also? Not allowed to wear a bra! The chafe! The swing! The droop! I think I'll stick with my dayjob.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Do you believe in magic?

There's this episode of Caillou (and hey! thanks for that DVD, Gramma! NOT!) where his Gramma teaches him to do magic tricks. And so Munchkin now routinely holds her doudou out in the air, and asks Pynchon or I to crawl through it and hide under the table. Magic! (I guess you had to see the episode. I can have my Mom hook you up, if you want.)

Anyhow.

We had a bit of real magic over here tonight. Magic that turns tantrums into nutrition and good will! How'd we do that!?

Have you noticed that I've already posted twice this week about tantrums? Well, it's been that kind of week. And we were bracing ourselves for that kind of supper again, as we sat down to homemade veggie and bean fajitas. Munchkin had little fajita sandwiches with loads of cheese, and beans, and light on the veggies, just the way she likes them. She had sliced Granny Smith apple on the side, another favorite. And a banana. Well. She took one look and let it rip: "I DON'T LIIIIIIIIKE FAJITAS! I WANT CHEEEEEEEEEEESE! NO! NOOOOOOOOO! NO APPLES NO BANANA NOOOOOOO!"

We told her she didn't have to eat it, but that that was what we were having for supper. If she was all done, she could get down. In any case, the yelling had to stop. We were calm but immovable. She glared. She flailed. And then it went nuclear: she picked up a piece of fajita-wich right up off the plate, wound up, and frisbeed it across the dining room. It slapped against a baseboard, the shot heard round the house.

Time out. 2 minutes. In the high chair, in the kitchen. Mostly yelling for Mommy, and cursing the demon fajitas, while Pynchon and I munched in a necessary, if companionable, silence.

When the oven timer rang out the end of her sentence, I went to talk to her, about our ground rules for supper, about how yelling hurts our ears, and about how it is never okay to throw your supper.

Here's the magic part: she came back to the table, and ATE EVERYTHING ON HER PLATE. And asked for more apples! And made up a song about delicious fajitas! And smiled and was charming and pleasant. I mean, there were still big, fat tears pooling on her little toddler cheeks and she was working it like a (very hungry) borscht-belt comedian.

Time outs: I guess sometimes they work. WTF?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Uh-oh

Uh-oh.  As of yesterday evening, we have received four invitations to four different Christmas parties.  Two of these are family-invites.  Two are couple-invites.  Two are at the same time.


It's only November 8th.  Uh-oh.

---

Uh-oh.  I threw out my parka last spring before we moved.  I'd had it (a cheap, but cute and warm, rosy pink number from Old Navy) since we lived in Edmonton, since before I met Pynchon.  It was starting to get stained and no amount of pretreatment and careful washing was going to make it look presentable anymore.  If I didn't throw it out, I knew I'd just keep wearing it ... Similarly, I threw out my big, warm, comfy, 15 year old Sorel skidoo boots.  One of them was no longer watertight around the toes.

Now it's getting quite cold, and I've got no boots, and the warmest covering in my closet is a lined car coat that leaves my neck open.

Uh-oh.

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Uh-oh.  We had a terror-tantrum tonight at bedtime, and Munchkin screamed bloody murder and nearly threw up from being just so damn angry.  We took turns trying to calm her down in her dark room while she threw everything within reach as far as it would go, and made wild and unreasonable demands.

Finally, after nearly an hour of this, she rested against my shoulder, head on doudou, as I rocked her.  It was quiet for a while and then:  "Mom?  But I already told you I wanted a pink cup of milk.  From the fridge downstairs and I will go with you and put the lid on.  I told you."

Stubborn and articulate.  We're in trouble.

Uh-oh.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Memory's Odd Triggers

Even as I close in on those final laps of the current teaching term, January’s courses demand immediate attention: book orders to place, courseware web sites to resurrect from past terms. I opened up the ‘announcements’ section of my History and Theory of Media course website, copied over from three years ago, a series of relentlessly chipper invitations to my students to participate in the broader life of the university and the community: come to this talk! Hey, what a neat art exhibit! Register with the alumni association! Did you read this newspaper article?

Ready to start fresh in January, I deleted these Fall 2005 announcements from start to last—and something caught my eye. Somewhere in between this art exhibit where I gave a talk on urban utopianism and that department-sponsored visitor-lecture in new media performance art, I discovered my pregnancy and everything changed.

Suddenly, it’s mid-September, 2005, and I’m tired and uncomfortable in my fancy heels, having just completed my talk to a generally good reception. I’m relieved and sipping a red wine. I haven’t eaten supper, and neither has Pynchon, so we beeline for the ubiquitous art-event cheese tray. But the pickles are too close to the cheese, which looks distressingly wilted and sweaty, and the cold cuts are purple-pink and suddenly I absolutely need to 20 feet away from it, muttering gross gross pickle-cheese-purple, urgh. We put this down to my vegetarian sensibilities. I sipped and shuddered and felt yucky.

Suddenly, it’s late September, 2005, a couple of days after a positive pregnancy test that confirmed the more likely cause of my nausea. After the talk, in which the speaker ran for 40 minutes on a treadmill while talking about death and postmodernism, I warily approached two colleagues who had proposed to put forth a major funding application with me. I bowed out, reluctantly confiding in them that I was pregnant, didn’t want to commit to a new project for the new year which would fall during my maternity leave. One of them looked me deep in the eye and knocked the stuffing out of me: “Well, you must be really early? You know, these things often don’t really last, so don’t worry about not being able to do the grant. You just might, you know?” I wanted to cry, to punch her, to wrap my belly in protective bubble wrap and retreat from the world, so desperately attached had I become to Baby Embryo in the short days between gross-pickle and treadmill-talk.

I forgot all about this until today, routine digital housekeeping, blindsided by the force of the mundane, memory’s odd triggers, realizing how really momentous things spring from the simplest premises.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The work of tantrums in the age of digital reproduction

It was a garden variety, dinner-time meltdown. Something about the noodles not staying on her fork, or the refusal of her parents to find her something to eat other than what was on her plate, or a boogery nose, or just the length of the day.

We let her out of her high chair but she stayed right next to the table, so that she could continue to express her displeasure at the world. For an audience. It was funny: who gets mad at their fork and then methodically rips off their clothes in protest?

Oh well. She's two. She has tantrums. It is the wisdom of the ages that two year olds were ever thus. But how often do they turn to the camera and unleash their fury on the hapless photog?

video

It's like she's a boozy starlet who knows her PR rep is not going to be happy to see this footage on TMZ in the morning.

When did wee little kids become so media-aware (asks the media professor who has been blogging her toddler's life for two years)?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Hope

My middle name is 'Hope', as is Munchkin's. This morning, at breakfast, I taught her how to say 'President Obama'. We looked at the president elect and his family--"Michelle ... and the daughters!"--whom she demanded to see several times again as she ate her morning bran muffin.

To see her pointing at the new American first family, to smile and name them, as though it were the simplest, most natural thing in the world, restored my hope.

I know it's not my country, not my election. I'm having trouble understanding why this new president means as much to me as it does. It does. Hope and promise.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Kicking and Screaming

Last night she woke up in a pool of pee at 2am and was wildly unhappy about it, hollering for "Mommy!" and "Daddy!" in turn. Exhausted but jarred awake, she punched Pynchon right in the face when he lifted her out of her wet bed. Uncomfortable and sticky, she kicked me hard and repeatedly as I stripped her out of her soaked pyjamas. She screamed imprecations, flailed in all directions, demanded snuggles while slapping faces, gripped our arms in desperation while kicking us violently in the groin.

For nearly an hour we struggled to get her back into bed.

Changing the sheets and changing her clothes were, comparatively, easy. The challenge was to ease her temper. And my temper. And Pynchon's temper. Because we are, it must be admitted, an angry family. Short on sleep, long on deadlines, discombulated by the dark, assaulted by lights and noise and blows, none of us are at our best. Finally, she heaved a great sigh and flopped her arms up above her head, tilted her chin towards the wall and consented to be tucked in, still muttering darkly. I returned to my bed. Pynchon reached out a reassuring hand and fell soundly asleep. I tossed and turned and considered, as is my wont.

What I've considered is this: My daughter's rage is my rage. She expresses what I wish I could, awake and angry about it, rage against the fruitless lonely dark. Rage that what she wants, she can't have.

I am, and have always been, quick to temper. My mom tells a story of my infancy aglow with my compliant behaviour, but some of my earliest memories are of frustration and annoyance, cornerstones of my relationship with the world. As I've matured, and particularly since, in these past four years, I've come into my grownup life, I find that I'm sublimating my anger in resentment, quiet bitterness, apathy, and cynicism.

I watch Munchkin rage, and while the violence and noise and frustration of her outbursts can provoke a like response in me, for her, its cleansing. She feels angry? She's rocking it: "Mom, no, I don't WANT and snuggle, I am very ANGRY right. now."

I don't do that. And I don't think I'm any less angry than I've ever been and I don't think I've made peace with the world. In fact, I'm annoyed / resentful / bitter a lot of the time, and I don't want to be.

A couple of weeks ago, on the long long weekend of Thanksgiving, full of visits and cooking and packing and international travel and worry, I snapped. Sleepless again at 6am on Thanksgiving Monday, I tossed off a cynical 'to hell with it' and left the house to stake out a seat for the 8:30 am parade. I put out our chairs in a modest arrangement to take the minimum required space. At 8:15, a women pushed one of my chairs out of the way and sat down in front of it. I freaked out. I told her off. I raised my voice. I called her a name. I wouldn't let it go. It was awful, mostly because that's not who I want to be and I lost control.

I don't know how to be angry anymore, about the right things--don't know how to do cleansing, honest, effective anger. So part of what I'm feeling when Munchkin screams and flails and lets rip? Is envy. Huh.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Juxtaposition

I've been busting my behind trying to explain formal terms of literary analysis to my second years lately. Stuff I've known for so long I can't remeber not knowing it. Stuff that's so foreign to them that it takes some truly inventive example-concocting and, occasionally (I'm not proud of this) me standing on the instructor desk flapping my arms and squawking. But I think I've got it now!

Juxtaposition: placing incongruous items adjacent to one another to create new meaning from the comparison that results.

So.

Ready?

Today, I got this email:

Dear Mimi,

I’m writing because I have still not received your completed Office of [Money] cover sheet for your [Big Ole Major Grant Application] that was submitted on October 7, 2008. Please fill out and submit your completed coversheet at your earliest opportunity. http://www.lottabureaucracy.ca/forms/

Best regards,

Pynchon

Pynchon Lastname
Research Coordinator,
Grants and Government Research Contracts (Fancy Agency Names)

Office of [Administration]
[Triangular Building], Room XXXX via 1043
Phone: 519-555-5555 ext. 12345
Fax: 519-555-5555

Okaaaaayyyyy, sure, but I got it from this guy:



It's hard to take a form letter--from your husband!--too, too seriously, when you've just downloaded photos of him with your bra on his head. Caught in that position, naturally, he raised a glass of local microbrew. Of course!

Form letter: meh. Bra head: wtf? And yet? There's something about that combo that seems to exceed the sum of its parts, I think.

So. Juxtaposition. Any questions?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fall back

I'm not among those who whine and complain and develop conspiracy theories in March, when our clocks 'spring forward' one momentous Saturday night and the whole time zone collectively 'loses' an hour of sleep. I keep my eyes on the prize, and the prize is more daylight, when I need it--which is to say, after supper, rather than at 5am. So I am never really that excited when the clocks 'fall back' in early November: I am, mostly*, just really grateful that we do this now three or four weeks later than we used to, so that the grim months of daycare pickups in the dark are that much shortened.

Still, I have to say: what a great thing it was to drag my sorry self into bed at 10:30 last night, to read a new book for half an hour, and then, just before turning out the light, to roll the digital readout back to 10pm. And then I slept, uninterrupted by dreams or nightmares or babies or husbands or insomnia, until 7am.

If you're counting--and believe me, I am counting--that's 9 hours of sleep, all in a row. Such a bounty of unbroken hours of sleep does not often grace my life. In fact, I write a lot here about not sleeping. What a difference it makes to my day. It is, actually, amazing to me how changed I am--my mood, my reflexes, my outlook on life, my patience, my cognition, my laughs--when I, on these rare occasions, sleep through a whole night.

To whit: today, I had a little reunion with two of my good friends from pregnant-lady-yoga, from three years ago. We used to get together with our wee babies and drink tea while they lay inert on the carpet. Well. Mom #1 has had a second, so she arrived with husband, 2 year old, and 1 year old in tow. Mom #2 has sponsored her husband's children from his first marriage to emigrate to Canada, so she arrived with four children swirling around her like a autumn leaves in a gale: aged 2, 7, 9, 10. If you're counting--and believe me, I am counting--that's seven kids and 5 adults. For a good long while we perched in the attic playroom, distant repository of toys too noisy and annoying for everyday use. Their volume did not dim in the cacophany of 14 kid hands bashing them about.

After they all left? A faint buzz in my ears, as after a rock concert, and a good feeling. I enjoyed it.

Lemme tell you, if it hadn't been for that extra hour, and that gift from the gods of insomnia that let me use it fruitfully, it might have been a different story.

And now, if you don't mind, I'll be falling back into either my bed or big glass of wine, or some sequence of both.
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* I say 'mostly' because now that it's still Daylight Savings Time until after Halloween? The toddlers have to head out trick-or-treating while it's still daylight, and that's no good at all.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloween

This feels like our first real family Halloween, the three of us. Maybe because Munchkin is old enough (barely, but still!) to trick or treat, or because we live now on a street with a lot of kids, a lot of decorated houses, and not very much traffic. Maybe it's because we're not so stressed this year as last.

For as long as I've known him--that's five years now!--Pynchon has maintained that Halloween is his very favorite holiday. I begin to see why. Jack-o-lanterns, and candles, and decorations outdoors and in. Candy! Little kids dressed up such that you want to nibble on them, or at least squeal and pinch their cheeks.


Last night, I took Munchkin out trick-or-treating for the first time. She marched off happily, tiny little plastic pumpkin bucket in hand, knocking on doors and hollering "TRICK OR TREAT!" and afterwards tossing a polite "thank you" and a very vigorous "HAPPY HALLOWEEN" behind her as she clasped my hand to navigate her way back down off rickety porches by the light of glowing pumpkins. She warmed up to it, but, strangely, wouldn't go to the houses of the neighbours she knew best--I guess she figured there wasn't going to be Halloween there, because there usually isn't. I wonder what she thinks goes on at the rest of the houses?

She gravitated to where the other kids were, joining their groups, smiling and touching their costumes, expressing her admiration, trying to not get knocked over. It was adorable.

Slowly, we made our way home, to where Pynchon was holding down the fort with a giant bowl of candy as a steady stream of pirates and princesses climbed up to our own rickety porch. He was in his element: in the other house, we only tried to give out candy the first year. To two teenagers. Who came at 9:30. This is much more satisfying.

Munchkin and I set up on the porch: I dragged her high chair out and plied her with candy. She watched all the trick-or-treaters come to us, smiling and waving and shouting yet more "HAPPY HALLOWEEN" shouts. A colleague and her two young kids stopped by and played.


It was all over by 7:30, an exhausted Munchkin, ladybug dots still on her cheeks, and a thin coating of sugar still on her face and hands, tucked into bed muttering of treats and tricks.

Pynchon and I went to a party--it was nice, but the highlight for me, I have to say, was the early part of the night, seeing the neighbourhood lit up, touring the block with Munchkin, dropping candy bars into neighbour-kid pillowcases, complimenting costumes, smiling and waving at neighbour-parents. It felt good. Felt right.

Now if only Munchkin hadn't awoken this morning at 7, taking 15 minutes to limber up before launching into a full I WANT CANDY tantrum ... but it was worth it. Oh yes, it was.