Thursday, July 30, 2009


Here are things I can do fairly easily: corral documents and family and apply for (and receive) a sizable home equity line of credit; determine when wood screws or drywall anchors are required to attach a table to a wall; stick to my guns when a contractor suddenly changes the payment arrangement for a renovation; pick out age- and size-appropriate clothes for children; pack for a week away at a cottage, including frozen food and chilled wine as well as dishtowels.

I can change my cellphone provider and plan. Hire staff and supervise them. Patch holes in the wall. Till and reseed a lawn. Talk a kid down from a tantrum. Use power tools. Negotiate government rebate forms. Get a good deal on a rental car. Determine in-season produce and eat accordingly. Understand drug side effects, and discuss interactions with pharmacists.

I can also do yoga, pretty well. Discuss my girl's behavioural issues with daycare providers, balancing my maternal protectiveness with developmental goals. Get poop stains out of sheets. Decipher the gas bill. Understand what length pants should be hemmed to. Know what looks good on me. Make soup stock from scratch.

In my 30s, I have suddenly become competent. I mean, really competent. At a number of things I had no idea about in my twenties. It feels like growing up. I'm overviewing the list I've just typed out and it seems a lot of what I know is about money and home maintenance and housekeeping and parenting--having neither money, nor house, nor kids in my twenties, not surprising that this stuff didn't come up before. But when it did, and I was totally unprepared, it was a little disorienting. How could I, for example, be someone's mom when I routinely bought the wrong size onesies at Bonnie Togs and had to return them? How could I own a home when I didn't know who to call to make sure the heat would come on when we moved in?

I have complained and complained and complained about the minutiae, the trivia, the sheer errand-ness of my grownup life since I began to live it in earnest five years agot (career! engagement! marriage! home ownership! pregnancy! baby! all in the first 18 months of that time). It has all, however, added up to competence, and suddenly, I feel stronger: I march through my life with purpose and goals and the ability to make things happen in a way I simply wasn't able to before.

I don't have any fewer things to do now, I'm just much more able to do them without a major cognitive burden in addition to the general drudgery of it all. Car making weird noises when we turn? S'okay. It's the brakes--nothing functional, remember I had that looked into? Ooh, that's a big gouge in the trim, let me get the wood filler for that, the Polyfilla is not the right stuff to use. I'll sand it down in a bit. New shoes for the fall? Well, I think a 9 1/2 will fit until Christmas, without being so big in September that they fall off.

Done and done.

Never underestimate the power of the multitasking mom. She's learning stuff, you know. Almost ready to take over the world. Or, will be once the ringing in my ears stops from this morning's killer tantrum ... now let's go confab with some other parents to strategize how to deal with the next one ...


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I've got sunshine, on a cloudy day

And I'll share it with you:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stupid Weather

It feels like it hasn't been warm or sunny for months. I'm so bored, stuck in the house in the face of driving rain, that I'm literally watching the grass grow.

The only thing this weather is good for is growing grass. Luckily, this was the summer we picked to seed the lawn.

Sigh. Watch it grow with me. You know you're not going outside or anything. Al the shots are from the same angle, but don't have exactly the same framing. Rest assured, it's the same patch of grass. I'm the one behind the lens, moping.

April. I'm glad they went out back for their post-preschool picnic in April. We had decent sunny weather in April. Yeesh.

May. We took a day off work to till and topdress and flatten and fertilize and sow. We prayed for rain. Sorry about that.

June. Lovely lush ecofriendly, drought-tolerant (ha!) green stuff. And it's too crappy to ever go outside and wiggle our toes in its lovely lushness.

Grumble grumble. My neighbour just came back from two weeks in France: she reports the weather was just awful there. So I don't think I'm being terribly parochial when I presume and ask: "How are you whiling away this miserable wet cloudy thunderous summer?"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Indignities of Modern Life


You know how you go to parties as an undergrad and people ask you what historical period you wish you could have been born in and because you're a woman you have to say "well, duh, women have always been oppressed and right now is the best of the worst so I'll just stay right here in contemporary postmodernity and besides I'm severely myopic with very crooked teeth and club foot besides so I need all the modern medical interventions I can get hold of just to be halfway socially competent [insert righteous and rueful sniff here]"?


There are some indignities inherent in hyper-rational late capitalist living that, really, I've had just about enough of.

For example. Giant toilet paper dispensers (and the attendant giant toilet paper rolls) in public washrooms. These would not be so bad, I imagine, if there were not a concomitant great increase in the flimsiness of the paper. I understand how this situation came about, I do. Giant dispenser (and the attendant giant rolls) means a pee-er is far less likely to be stuck, dribbling and helpless, asking for a neighbour to 'spare a square' so that quick exit can be taken from the stall of shame. I get it: bigger dispenser (bigger rolls) means the statistical probability of being caught without is greatly diminished. The paper is flimsy because--duh--flimsy paper is a lot cheaper to produce. However. When you combine this giant dispenser (giant roll) with a flimsy paper, what do you get? You get a heavy object, inert on a cheap-ass plastic spindle, that you must set into motion by pulling on something thinner and less strong than spiderweb.

So you reach your hand into the cavern of the dispenser, clutch at the gossamer-thin paper tissue, and tentatively pull. A one-inch square of ripped paper tightly grasped between thumb and forefinger is the result, and likely, you've now scraped your hand against the serrated edge of the dispenser. The floor is littered with these one-inch squares of toilet paper confetti, a testament to your membership in the club of peepee hygiene futility. Welcome, sister: we are legion, we are annoyed.

After much contortion and many tiny ripped and discarded squares later (perhaps if you're lucky, you'll slip on some of these later, or get them stuck on your shoes), you succeed in setting the roll in motion, and in extracting from the maw of the dispenser the required amount of tissue. Congratulations. Your next challenge is to separate this handful from the mother ship. You realize now that the edge of the dispenser is serrated because the tissue itself does not come in the convenient pre-punched rippable squares that make ass-wiping at home such a straightforward and rewarding procedure. No. Your must forcibly shear the tissue.

This is harder than it would seem: after all, you have just arranged the paper to its maximum strength so that you could pull it out from the dispenser in the first place. You have, that is, instinctively strengthened it by twisting into something quite resembling the paper ribbon of 90s crafting fame.

This paper ribbon resists the plastic teeth of the serrated edge, which seem, after all, much better suited to the tearing of human flesh than to the tearing of industrial toilet paper.

Give it a big yank.

Dab your bloody thumb-bone with the still attached tissue. Marvel that paper can be so strong as to visibly loosen a giant plastic dispenser laden with 20 pounds of cargo attached with numerous bolts to a steel frame when tugged. This, if all goes well and you manage to unwrap it enough to be able, using both hands, to rip it apart from the giant roll, you will wipe your delicate girl parts with, so that you don't smell like a hobo when you limp back to your office (you're limping because you slid on all those tiny bits of paper strewn on the slick tile floor, and bonked your knee ... against the giant toilet paper dispenser conveniently located to almost completely block your egress from the stall).

I'm mad as hell, and I'm carrying wads of premium bathroom tissue in my purse.

(And don't get me started on how no one in this advanced technological society can seem to make a stall-door fastener that doesn't need to be replaced with some jerry-rigged 19th century kludge of a contraption four or five times a year. How hard can it be to make a stall door that closes and stays closed, and then opens when you need it to? I told you not to get me started!)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

WW: Renovation Insulation

First, move everything in your entire house at least three feet from all exterior walls, without blocking any doors or closets.

Next, drill a MILLION holes along the exterior walls:

Then, fill the holes with insulating goo made from seawater, that comes in a giant hose that runs halfway down the block to a giant truck that makes a noise like a jet all day so that your neighbours start to cast questioning glances at you:

Finally ... write an enormous cheque, but remember the government will reimburse you for about half.

Clean up. Put everything back together and back against the walls where they belong. Retrieve belongings hidden in the attic. Watch hole-patch compound dry and realize it's going to need a sanding and a second coat. Weep into your white wine, but feel smug about your certainly-going-to-be-less-than-last-winter's $300 monthly gas bill. Take a muscle-relaxant and go to bed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Use your words!

Seven year old Noah came bounding back toward the campfire, holding hands with Munchkin. They had run up to the cottage together to find some plastic dinosaurs to play with, the way new friends do, sifting through each other's toy collections in search of common cause.

"Did you say she's three years old?" he asked, "because she talks really good. My brother is four and he doesn't talk that good."

Even the elementary school crowd notes Munchkin's verbal dexterity. And I have to say, life with a hyper-verbal toddler is something I'm much better equipped to deal with than, say, life with a pre-verbal colicky infant. We sometimes see the terrifying and atavistic return of the former Miss Baby, in tantrum times, a blur of flailing limbs and inarticulate shouting. "Use your words," we implore her, "use your words!"

Well. Sometimes the words are surprising. There is a reason that when people use the expression "out of the mouths of babes," they are usually shaking their heads ruefully. The upside of hyperverbosity is that Munchkin--poor, easily-frustrated, very opinionate Munchkin--can explain why she's feeling so rotten. The downside is that she's got no social filters and what she has to say can really sting.

To wit:

Last weekend, I sat on her bed as she slowly came out of the fog of a long and deep nap. She whined softly and pulled away from me, not making eye contact. "Use your words, Munchkin," I prodded her. In return, she let out a soft "Aroo ..." and then: "I'm a sad puppy, Mom, aroooooo, aroooo, because I wet the bed."

Indeed she had. Still half-asleep and more than half-embarrassed, she consented to be removed from bed, stripped, and led to the bathroom. Cleaned up, she began a quiet conversation with some bath toys and I slipped out of the room to strip her sheets and blankets.

Then disaster: Pynchon tried to engage her and she completely freaked out, screaming nononono and slapping and punching and screeching wildly, a fit of pique escalating into a three-alarm, out of control tantrum. It seemed that she wanted him to go away and me to come back. We finally calmed her down, together, and as she clutched pitifully at my knees, booger-faced and puffy-eyed, her dad told her this:

"I know you want Mommy, Munchkin. Mommy was busy changing your sheets and Daddy wanted to play with you. You wanted Mommy but you got Daddy instead. You have to understand, Munchkin, that you have two parents. Mommy and Daddy are both your parents and we can both play with you and take care of you. We both love you and we are both your parents."

He was very gentle, but insistent, kneeling down at her level and looking into her eyes. She considered this for a while, quietly.

"Well ..." she began, clearly still thinking through her response and adopting a verbal tic well-used by her mother. "Well, Daddy. I have two parents, a Mommy parent and a Daddy parent, but only one parent is my favorite and that is Mommy and so I want Mommy and I cried and cried for her."

What can you say to that? Yes, it's very hurtful to poor Pynchon, who really is a prince among men. But the kid clearly understood everything he told her, and offered her own quite reasonable (if heartbreaking) dissenting opinion.

This is what you get when your 37 month old begins to use her words: more than you bargained for, and often not what you wanted to hear.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What you don't want to hear ...

... while you're up on a ladder painting a doorframe on the second floor is this:

"MIMI!!! Come outside! The car is on fire!"

I wait for the punchline, but Pynchon sounds kinda earnest and in fact repeats his entreaty. Since I'm painting in my underwear (don't ask) I quickly pull something on and yes, when I get outside, my car is on fire. He was just heading out on an errand and no one had used the car since the morning, and he discovered the vehicle filled with smoke. What on earth?

Well, the fabric ceiling panel was on fire. In two places. Pynchon threw a bottle of water upward at it, and the flames doused and the smoke billowed. Yum: the only thing nicer than new car smell must be scorched new car smell.

How, you might ask, did we set the ceiling of our car on fire, from inside the house?

There was a mirror on the back seat, straight reflection on one side, and on the other side, the magnifying view. Munchkin likes to play with it and it wound up in the car. On the back seat. With the magnifying face upward. In the sun.

Honestly, did you ever hear of such a thing? The ceiling of the car now has black scorch / melt marks. I'll take a picture for you when I get back from vacation, okay?

Meantime, let me know of any strange and unforseen circumstances have led to property damage and possibly noxious chemical fumes at your house. And also, WTF?

Friday, July 03, 2009

So this is 'parenting', huh?

I had an insight last night, as I muted the TV, dropped my knitting onto the couch, and sprinted upstairs to Munchkin's room for the third time in an hour. The insight was this: sometimes it's my job to be the bad guy.

I marched into her room as she scampered about, alternately crowing at my presence and whining for ... a glass of water, another stuffed animal, a book that had fallen to the floor, for the door to be opened a little further, a hug and a snug. She was stalling, putting off going to sleep, wheedling and whining and hollering and jumping out of bed to make me come back, just once more and then once more again.

I scowled and pointed firmly to the bed. "In!" I said, "Mommy is getting angry. It is time for sleeping. If I hear any more whining and crying I will close your door and turn off the hallway light." She burst into tears, her little face red with abject sadness, howling.

I wanted to hold her tight, comfort her, wipe her tears, but I couldn't, you see: she was stalling, gleeful every time I came back upstairs, extorting another hug, another kiss, another tuck-in. It was nearly 10pm, a good two and a half hours after I had tucked her, kissed her, hugged her for what I had assumed was the night. She needed to go to sleep, and she wasn't going to do it if everytime she took it into her head to call me, I came running with kisses and kindness.

So I put on my stern face and made her tuck herself in. It just about broke my heart.

I have been trying, ever since I've become a parent, to be more patient, more kind, more forgiving, more empathetic. I'll be honest: my natural inclination is to be crabby when I enter the room of a child who should be sleeping but instead is hooting and hollering about a dropped teddy bear. And so I have been pleased these past three years to see myself becoming someone who could dash four times a night into a toddler's room and love her back to sleep, use soft words and endlessly retuck blankets. Imagine my surprise to find that that's not the skill I need now.

I don't much like this shift, actually. I don't like being the heavy, the bad guy. I don't like making a stern face at my bawling daughter, even though I know it's the right thing--the bags under her eyes this morning and her strongly-worded reluctance to get out of bed on time confirm that she is robbing herself of needed sleep by her evening shenanigans.

I'm afraid ... she won't like me? Won't understand that (God help me) this cold shoulder treatment hurts me more than it hurts her?

And suppertime. I think she might be developing Only Child Syndrome: you know, the need to monopolize adult attention at all times? She's taken to shouting whenever Pynchon and I try to talk to each other at the dinner table. Believe me, she is included in many of our conversations, and her opinion is often solicited: how was your day, what was your favorite activity, how are your noodles, what happened to Max and Ruby? But still she won't let our attention stray to each other even for a minute. It's no use turning to her and softly asking her to wait: because she wins that way, you see? We've all turned back to her and lavished her with kind attention. So now I pull out my stern face and declare: "Munchkin, if you interrupt me one more when I'm speaking, you will have a time out in the kitchen. It is not your turn to talk."

Pynchon later asked me if I was angry. I'm not. But I have to adopt this tone, this posture, to reinforce the rule: no interrupting, or there will be a negative consequence. No jumping out of bed for three hours, or there will be a negative consequence, or at least, no positive consequence.

I've worked so hard, in fact, to not be an angry parent that this need to get stern is really disappointing to me. However, parenting, I learn and relearn, is not about my gratification. It is about raising as happy, well-rested, socialized daughter. And sometimes that means I've got to be the bad guy. Now be quiet and go to bed!

* But if I can just make a note to posterity? Munchkin, the sound of your voice singing at the table is one of the sweetest, most innocent sounds I've ever heard and it takes years of weight off my soul. Your warm and damp little self in your pjs is one of the most snuggleable bodies on earth. But sometimes you need to be quiet and I need to tell you so; sometimes you need to go to bed and I have to enforce that rule.