Thursday, April 30, 2009

Party like it's 1955

The school was built in 1954--I know this because the slide show, "A history of [Chichi District], our neighbourhood", showed a photo of the building we were sitting in, from 1955. The inside of the gym didn't betray any concessions to the changing fashions or realities of the past 50 years. The walls were painted cinderblock, the doors, dented steel with glass panels gridded with wire. The members of the neighbourhood assocation who came out on such a wet night were, absolutely without exception, white. Mostly middle-aged or older. If younger, expensively shod and smelling of righteousness. Of money.

The history slide show indicated that this, the neighbourhood immediately adjacent to my own, was Canada's first master planned, fully zoned and bylawed, subdivision. Right from 1933, there were hurdles to clear before new buildings or amenities could be added: setback from the street, architectural integrity, maximum height and minimum lot size, 'proper tone.' It was meant to be controlled, to be classy, to be exclusive. It was, and, actually, it still is. The association has its own historian to ascertain the area's pedigree, to etch its story into the hearts of its ratepayers.

Someone asked if the PowerPoint slide show would be available for downloading, and if so, from which web site? General assent and applause followed. Following this 30 minute interlude of self-congratulation and self-mythologizing, the business of the meeting began.

The Green Committee spokesperson reported on a worrying trend to felled and dying trees in the neighbourhood: all planted at the same time, and all of one breed, they had proven not very well-suited to the actual climate and in any case were reaching maturity and senescence all together just as their canopy really began to increase resale values in the homes they shaded.

The trees, she explained, were an unhealthy monoculture: the city's tree expert proposed that controlled culling occur and a more catholic replanting effort, encouraging a wider variety of trees, be undertaken.

An unhealthy monoculture.

I sorta zoned out when a particularly glossy and well-fed neighbourhood potentate--charter member of the neighbourhood golf club, and head of the Traffic Committee--expounded on the siren song of four-way stops and the evils of commuters taking shortcuts from one arterial road to another, breaching the master planned sanctity of the neighbourhood of overgrown and dying trees. Tradition must be maintained, the integrity of the original vision brought once again to the forefront of municipal bylaw enforcement. Studies and votes would need to be taken. White faces nodded, their cane-style umbrellas uniformly leaned against uniform stacking chairs. Their leather handbags on cotton laps, their sportcoats open over buttoned bellies.

An unhealthy monoculture.

As the 'other business' portion of the meeting opened, I said my piece on behalf of my own street's association, and it was with a glad heart that I hightailed it back to my Japanese subcompact in that parking lot full of German luxury sedans. I was glad to drive the seven or eight blocks back to my own, older, resolutely unplanned neighbourhood, its tall houses packed a little more closely together, its funny gap-toothed smile of mis-shapen, idiosyncratically renovated houses and gardens and student rentals and prams on porches and beer bottles on front steps.

Monocultures succumb wholly to stresses to which they are vulnerable. A more chaotic or diverse culture is difficult to fatally wound, hydra-headed and many-strengthed as it is.

Maybe master plans, offering us these false hopes of perfect uniformity, perfect control, actually make us weaker. Maybe it's better to live cheek by jowl with the student house, the lawn-pesticide user, the PC voter, the sidewalk organic gardener, the families, and the investors. At the very least, I know our trees will live longer. I suspect our neighbourhood, too, might better weather the storms of the new century not in spite of, but because of its jumble of people, of land uses, of mindsets.

Hm. Sometimes, not planning might be the best plan of all. That's tough for an ENTJ to wrap her head around, but I'm trying.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

WW: Hipsy-hopsy with Gramma

It's worth a click to see the big version: she's in mid-hop, gleeful and on her way to a tea party Way the Hell Up North with Gramma.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Perplexing Conversations

I held the door at the local brewery as the young whippersnapper clerk helped an elderly gentlemen out with his purchases.

"Thanks," called the whippersnapper, "Your party is in the back!"

Um, what?

I grabbed my six of Pynchon's favorite dark ale, and stood at the cash to wait for the whippersnapper to return.

"Oh, sorry," he said, "I thought you were here for the party."

"What party?"

"Um, all the real estate agents, they've got the bar today, I thought that's what you were here for."

"Do I look like a real estate agent to you?"

"Sorta." He shrugged and pushed the six pack over towards me with my credit card receipt. Conversation over.



I've been researching the local zoning maps, because, as you all know, we live in the historic uptown district of our small city, and so it's a mash of commercial properties, residential neighbourhoods, and industry (eg, the aforementioned brewery).

I write to the city help desk because the codes are inscrutable, and the legend doesn't really help: "I-25, GR-2a, C4-12" says the map. The legend offers, "Industrial 25, General Residential 2a, and Commercial 4-12." I ask for clarification.

"Hi!" writes the hapless clerk, "I-25 means industrial 25, and GR means general residential."

I write back politely to note that I sorta got that information from the legend, and I'm confused about what the numbers mean. Can she explain?

"Sure thing," she writes. "The numbers reference the different kinds of use that are permitted."

BUT WHICH ONES????? I've just given up, because I'm embarrassed to point out to her that she is being remarkably obtuse.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009


We idle at a red light this morning, Munchkin and I, driving to campus. She looks out her window and says, "Two trees, Mom, that house has two trees." She pauses for a microsecond before adding "A Mom tree, and a girl tree."

Munchkin's is a binary world, with bears and bunnies and puppies and cats and even trees and spoons and cat toys rigorously paired off into Mommys and girls. Her whole world is this: there are Mommys and there are girls, each pair twinned indissolubly and essentially. Everywhere she looks this is what she sees, this is the story she creates to account for everything.

Her passion for me is unbounded and her compulsion to pair all the elements of her universe this way is but an imperfect realization of her real desire, which is, actually, that Mommy and Munchkin fuse into one being. And so she squeezes between me and the counter, and then wraps her arms around my leg, and then stands on my feet, and then insinuates herself between my thighs. "I waaaaannnnt you, Mommy," she tells me as she's trying to figure out a yet more intimate attachment. My protests--but I'm right here, my love--are meaningless to her because the fact remains that I still sometimes walk away, sometimes talk to Daddy, sometimes disappear from view, disentangle myself from her caresses.

Last night, asleep for hours, she called my name, insistently, despondently, several times. I went into her room to find her fast asleep but still somehow tortured by my absence. Pynchon says she does this a lot late at night, when he's awake to hear her.

At the very moment that she begins to realize her own autonomy, her own separateness, her own self-hood, in these months that she develops self-consciousness--this is the moment she clings most tightly to me, works to absorb me into her, her into me. Her tantrums lately are evenly distributed into two camps that reflect this paradoxical developmental stage: she yells as loudly to DO IT MYSELF!!!!! as she does to insist that I WANT MOMMY TO COME HERE RIIIGGGGHHT NOOOOWWWWW!!!

It's hard to know when to hold her tighter, when to gently push her toward her own resources, when, sometimes, to leave her with Daddy and vacate the premises so everyone can catch their breath. I know that I have some separation anxiety lately too--when did she get so tall? when did she learn to put her own shoes on?--because she's my girl and I'm her Mommy and if she's afraid of the unknown future of autonomy, I'm afraid of losing the time of symbiosis that's already past.

Girl Blogger and Mom Blogger indulge a shared passion for 'orange noodles' and goofy smiles

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Try this on for size

Hi. My name is Mimi. I'm 5'7" tall and I weigh 128 pounds. My problem, my problem for what feels like my whole life, is this: I distrust my body. I am not sure how it looks, if it works right, if it is normal. If it is right. If I can even see it right.

I know my mind pretty well. My consciousness and I have spent a lot of time together, and, frankly, not much that it does surprises me.

My body surprises me all the time. How can it be that I see a pudgy, lumpy wrinkly Mom when I look in the mirror, but most snapshots show me to be willowy, dramatic, and even sometimes chic? I can't square that circle. If you tell my I'm smart, funny, a good writer, I will blush a little but probably assent to the compliment. If you tell me I'm pretty, or sexy, or thin, I will honestly argue you out of it.

How do we come to this funhouse mirror effect? It's like my body is a problem I simply cannot make sense of. I've been thinking a lot lately about the usual suspects--the beauty and fashion industries, insanely thin Hollywood standards, etc.--but I wonder if my dysmorphia has other roots as well. Roots in my closet.

Try this on for size:

I have to buy specialty bras, because my rib cage takes a 30" band. This is probably why the fitted dresses I buy are often size 2. However, all my t-shirts are size Large, or else they're too narrow across the shoulders. Invariably, they're too short in the waist. Also, I wear size Large maternity tank tops nearly every day. So: you guess. On top, am I small or am I big?

All my pants are too long: I have short legs. I have to get everything hemmed up. My pants are all size 4 or size 6. But my underwear are invariably purchased in size Large, because anything smaller cuts into my legs and my belly. And Large is none too large, believe me. I buy Medium pajama bottoms, and they're usually too short but they're plenty baggy. And another complication--the size 8 jeans I wore in high school, and my more recent size 4 pair, when laid one atop the other, show themselves to be exactly the same size. So: on bottom, am I small or am I big? Stumpy or leggy?

Sweaters? Most mediums have arms and bodies that are too short. Coats? My best fitting one is a size 4 from the petite section.

The BMI charts put me a the low end of healthy; but everything on me jiggles and wobbles when I move. I can't square the circle. I have no idea what I look like, no idea at all.

I'm a thinker. I've tried and tried and tried to think my way out of this blindness, this unknowing. I guess I "know", objectively, that I'm a thin person, but to know something objectively is not to know it in your gut--in your body. In my body. And, other than pregnancy and childbirth and breastfeeding, my body is where I don't feel like I know much at all, and that makes me feel like a failure on a number of fronts.

I don't want you, Interverse, to tell me I'm pretty or that I'm thin. I want to know how--if--you have come into a sense of yourselves as whole, as knowable. How you can see yourselves as you are, without a shimmer of distortion blurring you right out of the picture.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Incident Report

Like S-- last week, M-- approached us sheepishly tonight when we picked up Munchkin at daycare. Out of the corner of my eye I registered that my girl was not wearing shoes, which was odd.

"I feel soooo bad," said M--, "We were all taking off our outside clothes and Munchkin was standing so close to me that when I shuffled my chair over as I turned around, I felt it come down on her foot ..."

M-- at this point looks really tortured, and hastens to add, "I didn't bring my whole weight down on it but she was really clingy so I held her for a long time and then when I put her down she just cried and cried and cried, so we've put an ice pack on it ..."

Ah, no shoes. Icepack. Gotcha. An incident report has been logged, just like last week.

Last week? Well, last week S-- called me at work: "Don't worry, everything's okay," she offered right after 'hello,' which is the standard procedure when daycare calls you at work, "It's just, I feel sooooo bad because I knocked Munchkin over and we think she might have hit her head a little."

Knocked her over?

"Well, she snuck up right behind me, really close, and I didn't notice her there, and when I turned around, I sort of, I'm sooooo sorry, tripped over her and we both fell down."

R-- later pulls me aside to tell me that she thinks S-- was hurt worse than Munchkin, who simply wanted to be held and consoled. Munchkin got a black eye, but S-- is still apologizing.

Tonight though, I'm grateful for these reports if not the incidents themselves. I'm grateful, particularly, for a couple of insights they grant.

First, I'm glad to know I'm not being hysterical or touchy when I describe Munchkin as fantastically clingy lately. When I say she spends a disproportionate amount of time wrapped around my leg, stepping on my feet, wedging herself in between me and the kitchen counter? Well, the stories from daycare--where she is literally underfoot--seem to bear this out. Keep your friends close, and keep your Mommy closer: that's Munchkin's watchword. So, second, I'm grateful that when I'm not around, there's people at daycare she cares enough about to put herself in the path of injury to be near them. And that these people will hold her and pat her booboos and give her icepacks and a special book. Frankly, they remind me that her clinginess is a gift, an expression of love, a toddler 'thing'.

But maybe until she loosens her bonds of proximity a little bit, we should all be more careful about changing direction, shifting our weight, reaching out our arms, or stopping abruptly. All these incident reports. It's a lot of paper. Hey--here's another thing to be grateful for! I've managed never to injure her when she's stuck to me like glue!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring Triptych

Enjoy the sun on your faces, the wind in your hair, everyone!

Thursday, April 09, 2009


We went Way the Hell Up North, Munchkin and I, for a wee break. And part of the rupture of routine was to have my perceptions of my own mother twisted somehow.

I read the paper and looked out at the lake as Munchkin played teaset happily by herself. After a while her orbit tightened around my chair, as it will, and she started to get a little silly. She pulled my slipper off one foot and turned into 'the Tickle Monster!' She laughed at her powers as she reduced me to chortles. This carried on for a while and, fair's fair, she asked me to tickler her in her turn. She dangled a little foot towards me.

I pounced, tackling her onto the carpet, the two of us rolling and squealing. Tickle fights are a fine exercise in self-control for all parties: the pleasure of a helpless laugh is counterbalanced against, well, the helplessness.

"Stop it, Mimi, for God's sake," my mom intervened from the kitchen.

I was annoyed, a little, that she was mad at me for roughhousing with Munchkin--she was probably, I figured, irritated by the noise, or by Munchkin's obviously mounting excitement. Did she think it was too close to lunch, or I would crack both our heads on an end table? Or was it simply indecorous or maybe overindulgent.

I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, Mom, I've got it under control."

She put her hands on the counter. "It's just that my mom used to tickle me mercilessly when I was little and it was really awful."

Empathy. For Munchkin. Not a critique on my parenting, per se. A snippet from her childhood. An admission of past vulnerability.

Huh. Tweak! I gave them both hugs.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Toddler 1, Daddy 1

Just in case you're keeping score, Pynchon evened the game.

From the bathroom early this morning, as I fished around my makeup bag looking for my eyeliner, I listened to Pynchon and Munchkin in the midst of their daily, heated, wardrobe negotiation. To give you some context, we consider the negotiations successful if, after protracted struggle, at least two of the three following conditions obtain:

- all the major parts of the body that should be covered are covered
- no one has been materially or mortally injured
- we all wind up no more than 40-60 minutes late for work

So I was surprised to hear Pynchon hold firm on the morning's wardrobe lineup: purple princess shirt with matching socks and the dreaded Auntie Heather Pants. The dreaded Auntie Heather Pants are a gift from--can you guess?--Pynchon's sister Heather. They are a really nice, roomy, cute pair of chinos with an embroidered flower on one leg and adorable useless little pockets just the right size to hold tiny ponies. But if you press them toward Munchkin? She will scream the house down and lash out so violently from all four limbs that we tend at that juncture to just drag her into the middle of her room and let her thrash on the carpet until her rage is spent.

So I was surprised to hear Pynchon deflecting Munchkin's "NO! I don't WANT to wear THESE PANTS" by pressing them upon her once more.

The gambit: "Well, Munchkin, these are not your Auntie Heather Pants. No, we had to throw those away because you didn't like them at all and you did NOT want to wear THOSE pants."

She listened. He continued, conspiratorially: "These are ... Wacky! Khakis!"

Can you believe it? She put them on and sang the Wacky Khaki song for the rest of the day. Huh. And the game is tied at one apiece. I'm impressed.