It's New Year's Eve. I dash into the office--right next to Munchkin's room--to check my email, my comments, my Bloglines. A compulsive reader, that's what I am, one little peek at the Internet before rejoining the small party downstairs.
I'm listening, too: listening to Munchkin lying in the dim of whatever hallway light filters through her half-closed door. She is turning the pages of a book. There was a fight to bring the book to bed, and another one to have the door left open, "no, Mom, two MORE minutes!" The paper pages slide against each other, emit a snapped note as a certain threshold of bend becomes the action of turning. She is muttering to herself, snatches of text.
So this last night of 2008 is the first night she wins the fight to read by herself just a little longer, and can I say? I'm happy to see this little bit of me in her.
In a lot of ways, 2008, if you pardon the expression, REALLY SUCKED ASS. It's been, for me, an incredibly difficult year, where even the good changes put me through the ringer. I don't want to enumerate the reasons or even really think about why I'm so happy to see the tail end of this particular year, my year of being 35. I just want to look forward to what is to come.
I'm already editing my memories, trying to filter out the awful and hold tight to the sound of pages turning, the glow of a hallway light, the happy murmurings of a toddler who is building a private world out of books.
That's a keeper, I think.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
It's New Year's Eve. I dash into the office--right next to Munchkin's room--to check my email, my comments, my Bloglines. A compulsive reader, that's what I am, one little peek at the Internet before rejoining the small party downstairs.
Monday, December 29, 2008
My dad called tonight, a surprising enough event that when the phone rang and the call display showed the number, I automatically answered, "Hi Mom." But it was Dad, greeting me by a childhood nickname, "It's Dad," he said.
He was calling, he said, to tell me just how much he enjoyed having Pynchon and Munchkin and I spent the week of Christmas Way The Hell Up North with him and Mom. He wanted me to know, and he didn't think he'd made it clear enough, how nice it was to have us. How thoughtful our gifts were, what pleasant guests we made, what a delicious and unexpectedly fancy Christmas brunch I made, and how he had polished off the last of the leftovers today. What a great job I'd done on the homemade 'bits-n-bites', that I'd made from his recipe. Munchkin was a genius and loads of fun. Mostly, amazingly, he was calling about me. Thanking me. Praising me. Making a point of saying something kind, something that was clearly heartfelt, simply to be kind.
How did it come to be that the parent who best nurtures me, who most praises me, who seems most genuinely interested and enthusiastic about me is my dad? My stepfather, a man who married my mother when I was seven and whose presence I actively and vocally resented, whose authority I flouted, whose educational attainments and verbal dexterity I mocked, whose presence in our family I made sure to question in no uncertain terms, at every opportunity?
Let me be clear that in my family, everything is all about my sister and her kids--try to tell me different, it nevertheless remains that she has always been my mother's favorite, and the crisis of her early pregnancy cemented her position top-of-mind and top-of-conversation (never mind top-of-wallet) for the last decade and a half. Let me be clear as well that my stepfather and I have been like oil and water--or, probably, more like oil and fire. A relationship both highly combustible and generating more heat than light.
And yet, somehow, over these last five or six years it dawns on me that we've reached a point somewhere beyond grudging mutual acceptance. We've reached a point where his preference for me--me!--seems clear. He asks my advice on matters of practical communication, and on matters of cultural politics--and he follows it. He brags about me to others. He seems happy to eat food that I prepare (this in contrast to my mother, who before this summer, was never before seen eating my cooking and even now only grudgingly ingests it). He even--how did this come to pass?--seems to work hard to mediate between my mom and I in conversation, smoothing out the edges of her silences and declarative sentences to find a kernel of praise to amplify for me.
I've spent years chasing my mother's affection and attention, and nearly as many trying to put this man in his place. Not my dad, not as smart as me, not part of the family that is my sister, my mom, and me. What an ass I feel like now, as my career and family ramp up and he prepares for a quiet retirement with my mom, to discover that I'm carrying ill-will twenty years out of date when he has so graciously moved on.
Do you know, I still have to be coaxed (by Pynchon) to hug my Dad and tell him that I love him?
I thought my best gift this Christmas was the eight weeks of yoga lessons Pynchon arranged for me. But maybe my best gift is this new realization, this opportunity to build a new relationship with my Dad. I think I might, if I'm brave enough, wait for a couple of days, and send him a private little card, telling him how much his phone call--how much his support these last years--has come to mean to me. I could never have imagined reaching out like that, but maybe I can. I really begin to feel like I should. Thirty years into our relationship and he is my dad as surely as my mom is my mom, with all the history and baggage that family carries with it. It might be time to take some of those bags off the carousel, you know?
Huh. Who'd've thunk?
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Is it Christmas yet, Mom? Yes, Munchkin. Can I open my presents? Yes, Munchkin. Why don't you try this one--it says it's from Santa to Munchkin. Okay!
[Pause for toddler OCD removal of every scrap of wrapping paper and tape, and a terribly long interval before she turns the box around to get the view of what's in it .]
[Inarticulate joyful toddler gurgling and the beginnings of a frantic wiggle]
Mom! Mom! Can you take it out of the box?
Can it be? Is it? Trumpet! TRUMPET! TRUMPETTTTTTT!
Now how do you play this thing?
Ah yes, I see.
She pretty much hasn't put it down since. She even had her nap with it Christmas day, and we heard soft toots coming from her room for an hour after she went down. It was a real hit.
Best Christmas ever.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Baby, it's cold outside:
Daycare called at around 1pm on Friday: "Try to gun it up the hill," they counselled us, "people are getting stuck." Getting stuck retrieving their children in the middle of a wicked storm, daycare battening the hatches and turning off the lights.
I was so excited, I fell over:
Okay, I was actually making snow angels. I'm not very graceful. Munchkin did better. Check this out:
After making her angel, our little devil heaved herself off the patio and down the two foot slope, into a drift that almost swallowed her whole:
Out in the front yard, meanwhile, Pynchon had to deal with this:
Doesn't our sidewalk look clear? Please note that as of Monday morning (five days prior to the storm) all our snow had been melted by a truly biblical rain, so what you see here IS WHAT FELL ON FRIDAY. Niiiice.
We all got tired out, and headed in for some of this:
Who had her first cup of 'hot cocoa'? Munchkin! What did she think! Ha!
Merry Christmas, Internets. We're all Way the Hell Up North now, having run up ahead of another storm. I hope to catch up with all of you in the New Year. May all your shovels effortlessly push the white stuff out of the way, may your babies not get sugar-crazed, may your eggnog be delicious ... and may the holiday bring you rest.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Well, what with me having stalled for over a week, Pynchon took over and called R0gers cable--we've had no internet for over a week, and since we use VOIP for our phone service, no phone either. As I got increasingly twitchy about being disconnected from my Bloglines--I mean, my work email--and as 'Snowmageddon' descends on our part of Ontario, we figured it would be good to get our phone and internet up and running again.
In what can only be described as a 'Christmas miracle', Pynchon was NOT on hold for 45 minutes, and technician WILL be coming--today!--to replace our dead cable modem.
The sad part is: we would rather go ten days with no phone and no internet, rather than brave the automated phone system and its perpetual 'higher call volumes than average' holding pattern. And yesterday, we called, and got through, and today it will be fixed. Paradigms. Shifting!
At 7:10 this morning, the road in front of our house was bare, as I peeked through our bedroom window. "What a ripoff!" I muttered to Pynchon. "What happened to 'snowmageddon'? Pffft."
At 7:15, I couldn't see across the street anymore.
My Christmas shopping is all done: this has done wonders for my stress level. As I hid the last present in the [REDACTED] yesterday afternoon, I all of a sudden felt my brow de-furrow, felt my Christmas spirit return.
Can it be I'm going to enjoy this all now?
This morning, Munchkin and I delivered home-baked cookies to the admin assistants in my department, and all as well with the world.
TOOT! The trumpet came from Mastermind Toys, on Wednesday morning. That's about 36 hours after I ordered it, and 38 hours after I posted my plea for help. Thanks, guys.
I am engaging in rueful, black humour lately, a long running joke in our little family that I've amended lately.
"That's it, Munchkin, I think Mommy is going to sell you on eBay."
"No Mom! Not the eBay, to the gypsies! Sell me to the gypsies!"
Pynchon, offstage: "Wouldn't you rather we feed you to the wild dogs, Munchkin?"
"Yeah! Wild dogs!" And then, to the tune of Duran Duran's 'Wild Boys', sotto voce, "Wild dogs, wild dogs, wild dogs! do-do-do-do-DO!"
"Where's the wild dogs, Mommy?"
Thursday, December 18, 2008
We have turned it around now, I think.
Last night, the ride home from daycare built into a candy cane related tantrum that frayed all our nerves before our evening had even properly started. After we peeled off coats and boots and scarves and mitts, and Munchkin stamped her feet and threw punches at us ("I! WANT! THE BIG ONE! CANDY CANE! RIIIIIIGGGGHHHT NOW!") and we started snapping back at her with warnings about time outs and tone, we ... stopped.
I scooped her in my arms and told her we all needed to be kinder to each other, to use our kind voices, to be gentle and to have a nice time together. I don't want to fight with you, I told her, I want to hold your hand and pat your hair and relax with you for a minute. Let's calm down.
It worked, mostly. We sat in front of the television, watching Pokoyo and silently snuggling. Pynchon set the table and prepared supper. It became--amazingly--uneventful. Flareups were smothered with kind words and soft voices.
I'm not going to lie to you: it was very hard for me to heft this particular train wreck of a week back on track. I'm feeling petulant and put upon, but, after all, I'm the grownup, right? When I let go of my anger and resentment and tiredness and disappointment, I open a sliver of space for, maybe, grace. Munchkin is a beautiful, wicked smart, willful, strong kid. She loves me desperately. December is tiring and busy and overwhelming, for all of us. It's my job to help her learn how to cope better. You can do better than this, I tell her when she screams and rips her socks off, punches us, throws food, I know you're frustrated. Mommy will help you do better than this. Let's be kind to each other.
I sang to her last night, a song she loves, new words each time narrating the story of "My name is [Munchkin] and I ..." We sang of "I love to snuggle my Mom" and she lifted her head off my shoulder to cradle my face in her toddler hands: "I DO love to snuggle you, Mom,"
she agreed, and fell back into me with a sigh, peaceful at last.
We can do this. We will use our kind voices.
Oh--you want to see why our backs hurt from hauling her around? Here's a recent photo, with Pynchon (5'9") included for scale:
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
How funny it is that now, if you ask her about the theatre show, Munchkin will say: "I cried and cried for Mom. And I kicked and I yelled, and I lost my pink mitt."
Ah, it has been a week of tantrums, of mommy-preference with a vengeance, with its hitting and no-not-you-Daddy, with its random violent refusals. No one wins: Munchkin is obviously angry a lot of time, then, once she pushes us too far, she launches desperate charm offenses and begs us to 'try to be happy' when we obviously are not; Daddy is hurt, having just come back from a trip to Alberta, to be so vigorously pushed away by the little girl he missed so much, worried that too much of the tantrum burden is falling on me; I am tired and sore and angry, mad that Munchkin is manipulating us like this, sorry that she is so out of sorts, hurt that she's hurting her Dad, irritated that I can't, again!, get two minutes to brush my teeth without someone screaming for me, and my back hurts from her lurches and assaults.
I wish I was enjoying this week more. Wish I was better able to cope with this. Wish I wasn't feeling so defeated that even when I try to do something nice, what sticks is still the abandonment: not 'Mommy sat with me at the theatre show,' but rather, 'I cried and cried for Mom.' I know this gig is not about my gratification. There is something unseemly about complaining about the tantruming of a two year old. It's too much to ask her to behave better because Mommy's feelings are raw and her back is sore. But I'm just human, Pynchon is just human, and I think, right now, I'm feeling 'all alone and sad,' ready for a tantrum of my own.
Monday, December 15, 2008
So, Munchkin is very comfortable with the whole Santa thing this year--last year, she was much happier to contemplate (ie, chew on) her 5 inch stuffed Santa squeaky toy while steering well clear of (ie, scooting away in terror from) red-suited men with a big round belly like a bowl full of jelly. This year, she's braver and she knows the big man is the one to whom you confide your deepest holiday desires.
She's seen a couple of Santas in the last couple of weeks, the first at the mall with her preschool class, and the second at a house party this weekend. Her diction is clear, her please-and-thank-yous audibly in evidence, and her list? Well, she's staying on message.
And the message is this: "Trumpet." Just a trumpet. That's the only thing she'll ask for, and it's what she keeps asking for.
Where the hell do I get a toy trumpet?
[Where she got the idea from, I'm not sure. But it's adorable, no? Probably our last unbranded Christmas list, so, come hell or high water, I'm finding a trumpet for my little girl.]
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Here's me, March Break 1991, on a road trip to Disneyworld with my bestest bud B (dark brown hair), her sister D (reddish hair) and her parents. We made the trip in a maroon Dodge Caravan extended cab. I had a terrible, terrible head cold. The Canadian dollar was worth about 86 cents US. B and I shared a bench seat in the van, two sets of headphones connected via a splitter into one yellow sports Walkman playing REM and Black Box alternately (!). The weather was quite cold, which is disappointing when you drive for two whole very long days to get to Florida from deepest, darkest Canada.
God, don't I look terrible? I love my square, baggy Cotton Ginny sweatshirt, total absence of makeup and general sinusitis puffiness.
I feel bad that I keep telling Bad how we looked so much alike in high school. Dig my totally natural, pouffy tri-colour hair: did it used to be somehow red? And is it going brown? Who knows. Obviously, I was still in my preppy phase--the gothness kicked in later 1992, if you're wondering.
Anyhow. You may now commence to laughing ....
Sunday, December 07, 2008
The sound is distinctive, a little hard to describe: a top-note 'shoosh', a melody of squeak-scrunch, and a rhythmic tump-tump bass discreetly and quietly tying it together. This is the sound of walking in what I call 'fluffy-squeaky snow.' This is a particular kind of snow I associate with my youth in the far north of the province, snow that falls, suddenly, out of a bright, cold day, falls for hours and accumulates in soft drifts that easily obliterate sidewalks and tire tracks. It needs to be cold for this snow to fall, its crystalline flakes what I consider to be the perfect size: neither the miserly, miserable tiny specks of a deep-freeze snow, a snow that seems more like frost that forms in mid air, nor the big wet, clumpy flakes of the barely-freezing weather that's more usual around here, snow that forms itself immediately into slush when it hits the ground. No. Fluffly squeaky snow is the perfect snow.
We are adrift in fluffy squeaky snow this weekend. It fell and fell yesterday, and when we ran over to the neighbours' Christmas Open House we carried Munchkin through thick drifts, tucked our pants into our boots, giggled in the sharp cold. Great swaths of frost formed on all the insides of our single-pane heritage windows. The weather has stayed very crisp and cold, which is unusual for this time of year in this part of the world, and we awoke to a sparkling white landscape. Pynchon shovelled and shovelled, collapsing into an overheated, overexerted nap afterward. Munchkin and I slept and slept, too, all of us awaking, groggy and discombobulated, sometime after four, not much knowing what we would do with ourselves until our next bedtime. I ineffectually made attempts to clear the detritus of a brunch party from the kitchen; Munchkin threw her shoes in frustration and took a couple of practice dives for an incipient tantrum; Pynchon cracked open a Diet Pepsi and tried to caffeinate himself awake. I stopped and stood in the middle of the kitchen, rag in hand, at a loss.
Pynchon asked me if I was okay. "I am, but ..." I replied, and then it hit me, "but what I would really, really like to do is go for a walk through the neighbourhood, alone."
He sent me off, and my escape was as easy as that. High, lined boots. Thick scarf. Long parka, and hood. Double mittens. And out the door: a blast of cold on the tip of my nose, across the tops of my thighs through the denim of my jeans. The dark of December's early night sky and the glow of streetlamps, the twinkle of outdoor Christmas lights. I walked, swoosh squeak thump, up and down the streets of our neighbourhood, looking at trees through lit windows, admiring the curve of fresh snowbanks, listening to the metal twang and plastic scrape of shovels clearing driveways.
I lost myself in memories: this is the weather of my home town, and these solitary evening walks a habit of my youth. My nose got cold, my thighs went numb, and the tips of my toes, too, just like I remember. I remember: settling my thoughts in the step-step-step momentum of the walk, focusing my attention through the bracing stimulus of strong cold, the hypnotic effect of listening to your own breath, cocooned in thick outerwear. Thoughtful. Peaceful. This is how I medidate, a real northerner, in methodical, deliberate, pointless winter peregrinations, swaddled in fleece and down.
When I got home, dinner was on the table, and Munchkin ran to greet me. I happily played with her and sang to her and bathed her and read to her and hugged her. I felt renewed, capable. The time to myself, and for myself, in that snow and cold that rooted me to my past did me a world of good.
Friday, as we walked out to the car to go to preschool, Munchkin gulped a greedy lungful of morning air. "Ah! Fresh cold air," she exclaimed, a phrase she probably picked up from a book or a teacher at school. And that's what it feels like this weekend. Fresh cold air blowing out the cobwebs, a new beginning.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
If you ask her about the 'theatre show,' this is what she'll tell you, lowering her eyes and shaking her head slowly: "The velveteen rabbit was all alone and sad."
The theatre was full of children, hundreds of them, all rustling snowsuits and giggles and nervous energy. The touring company, four young women with hopelessly chipper voices, wide smiles, crips gestures, and broad choreography, played well to the crowd. We clapped to the songs.
Munchkin's class and I and three teachers and a couple of parents and grandparents made the twenty minute walk in the softly falling snow, through puddles, on a detour through the Math building, across a field deep in drifts from daycare to the auditorium. Boots stuck in snowbanks and detached from feet; boots were hastily retrieved. Hats fell over eyes and toddlers walked into each other, into benches, into random university students. Curbs presented insurmountable obstacles and landed wee kids on their well-cushioned bums. There was singing, and laughing. We used our marching feet; we used our listening ears. Munchkin and I led the way, her pink-mittened hand held tightly in mine, a stream of excited chatter issuing non-stop from her lips: "We are going to the theatre show! Hey, Jacob, hold hands with your partner! We are going to the theatre show! There is going to be elephants! And rabbits! I'm wearing my pink mitts! Do you have boogers in your nose?"
She'd never been to a 'theatre show' before, nor did she know the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, that well-loved, shabby toy, consigned to the fire in a scarlet fever scare but saved at the eleventh hour, made into a real rabbit by the toy fairy, a rabbit who frolics and plays and makes new, rabbit friends. She was expecting elephants, my funny Munchkin, but what she got, it seems was the loneliness and fear of a toy rabbit separated from her beloved boy, cast out into the wilderness in the dark.
"The velveteen rabbit was all alone."
When I walked into daycare with her that morning, the room was abuzz with the excitement of the trip, a noisy, chaotic giddiness. She turned to me and held my hand. "I want you to stay wif me, Mom," she said, and, miraculously, I could. I did. Time to put on snowpants and coat and hat and mittens and boots? Yes, I can stay wif you. Time to find a partner and line up? Yes, I can stay wif you. Time to find a seat, and settle down for the show? Time to watch the lights dim and the curtain raise? Yes, and yes, Munchkin, today I can stay wif you, hold your hand, wipe your nose, watch your profile as you stare so intently at the stage, take you up onto my lap and wrap my arms around you when you get scared.
The troupe mostly played it light, but I read somewhere recently that toddlers have no stomach from dramatic conflict, that in a story where a knee gets scraped to advance a happy plot, all that is remembered is the pain. The five act arc of tension, crisis, and resolution is too intense for two year olds, who are quite happy to ponder the much flatter narratives of, say, Max and Ruby. And so it is with Munchkin, zeroing in on that elemental fear of abandonment, of loss, of being alone.
As it happens, the theatre is in the building that houses my office--we were actually sitting in the balcony, about 30 feet away from my door. After the show, I carefully bundled Munchkin back up for the return trip to daycare, and reminded her that Mommy's office was right around the corner, and that I would stay behind when she left with her friends and teachers.
She was inconsolable, wailing and kicking, with big tears rolling down her face. My own heart broke, too. "Stay wif me," she pleaded, as S, shooting me a sympathetic look, tried to take Munchkin in her own arms. Munchkin kicked and arched her back, terrified, like the velveteen rabbit, of being pulled apart from the one she loved, mad as hell and willing to fight for it.
All the children slept like rocks that naptime, exhausted from their adventures of the morning. Munchkin awoke cheerful and silly, as usual, to have new adventures in the afternoon. My own heart was bruised a little longer. If I could wrap her forever in my arms to keep her safe, I would. But to become a real rabbit, you have to head out into the woods on your own. Only, I'm not sure which one of us that is.
Monday, December 01, 2008
Munchkin, it's not you, it's me.
Tonight, I picked you up from daycare, a surprise. My heart filled right up to the top as I saw your eyes light up when you saw me, when you came running to jump into my arms, buried your head in my shoulder. I whispered my plan to you: let's go home and eat a fast supper, and then you can make Christmas cookies with Mom. You and me.
You had been asking to make cookies for days. I'm not sure how you got the idea in your head but you did, and so this afternoon I went out for butter, and walnuts, and icing sugar so we could have this treat, this fun together, unexpected.
You were very happy. We dashed home and I tried to extricate myself from your enthusiastic embrace to get supper together so that we could all eat quickly. And you got mad, and I tried to pull my legs away from your grabbing and we were both frustrated: this is where it starts, our trouble, today. Sometimes, your physical need for me and my need to care for you conflict: you're clinging because you're hungry and crabby, but we can't eat until you let me go. Push. Pull.
Finally, you went to watch Caillou with Daddy for 10 minutes. We ate a big, happy supper, laughing and singing and dancing. As you ate the dribs and drabs left on your plate I dashed into and out of the kitchen, arranging bowls and spoons and ingredients, getting out your stool. You hollered anxiously for me to come back to you, for Daddy to go away, for MommyMommyMommy to sit with you, to wipe your hands, to get your milk, to do it all and do it now. Sweetheart, I can't sit beside AND get your milk AND clean your hands at the same time. I can't. And when you layer your demands on me like that, I get frustrated. I'm sorry.
We finished dinner. You were a perfect cookie helper: you put the butter in the bowl; you set the microwave going; you measured flour and sugar and walnuts; you stirred the ingredients together. While I rolled dough into little balls you gathered your 'friends' into the kitchen for a picnic. While the cookies baked, you looked in through the glass, and we danced to Christmas songs. You held my hands and we twirled and twirled.
When the cookies came out of the oven you were, of course, impatient to eat them right away. But they were too hot, and somehow you managed to wait until we got you back in your high chair for a treat. How proud you looked to eat that cookie that you helped to make! I was proud too. It's a moment I will cherish and remember.
But afterward. I'm sorry I was impatient with you when you threw a tantrum about going upstairs for bedtime, about getting your doudou from the landing where you had thrown it, about exchanging one cup of milk for the preferred 'pink cup'. I shouldn't have been so short. But with each test passed, you launched into a new one: demanding an open door, demanding to get another toy, refusing to snuggle quietly, kicking off all your blankets.
We were not, finally, on our best behaviour, you and I.
I love you so much--as soon as you were settled in bed, kissed, and tucked in, I called Grandma to brag about what a good cookie maker you are. Why am I so short-tempered with you, then? I'm not sure. Your overwhelming preference for me, lately, reminds me of those months and months of breastfeeding with no bottle backup: a sense of never catching my breath, of being deeply in love but of needing to just get away. Infatuation and irritation all together. Push. Pull.
You are two; it is in your nature to prefer me, to cling to me with all your might, just as it is in your nature to push my buttons, push your limits, and generally assert your will wherever you are able. You are doing what needs doing. Sometimes, though, I still get frustrated--a little sharp, a little short. I'm sorry. I pry your arms and legs from me, so that I can sit on the toilet alone, brush my teeth, have a shower. Alone. At the same time, I see how fast you are growing and changing, and I want to hold you tighter to me, cling to this rapidly elapsing toddlerhood, a time I really and truly am enjoying. I wrap my arms around you, feel your chest rising and falling against mine. Together. Push. Pull.
I want you to know this: even as I walk away to cool my temper, it breaks my heart to leave you. Even as I steel my expression against laughter during your bed-avoidance silliness onslaught, you melt the years from my heart. Yes, sometimes when I am with you, I want to get away--but always know that when you are far from me, I always want you closer.