Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Baby's First

Baby's first rhetorical question, with hands on hips and brow deeply furrowed: "Do I look happy, Mom? No. I don't. I am very angry with you."

The context was perfect--she was trying to get my attention, and I was resolutely emptying the dishwasher despite her entreaties to play Dora. The tone was perfect--a kind of self-aware broadcast declarative designed to 'hook' the audience.

Is there a page for that in the commemorative album? Is there a tickbox for that on the developmental charts? What kinds of figures of speech ought children acquire competence in, and at what age?

Rhetorical questions. Huh.

I'm always shocked at the sophistication of Munchkin's language, her capacity with metaphor and analogy ("I eat blueberries for my blue eyes, and you can eat apples and have red eyes!), her use of book-style narration, with adverbs ("And the pony said, happily, 'I will help you, Boots!'), and her ability to use language to express strong feelings ("I don't want to cry softly, Mom, I want to cry loudly, because I am very frustrated and not happy! I want to be sad for a little while.")

A lot of her fancy talk comes from books--"my belly is the colour of a sunset!" she tells me, quoting Pinkalicious, or "I was so mad, I was FURIOUS," she cribs from Fancy Nancy. Some of her most-used play speech comes from Dora, or Diego, or the Wonder Pets: "There's an animal in trouble, Mom! Come on! Vamanos!" she implores, as we crawl under the dining room table with a paper clip in hand, to save a plastic dinosaur stuck on a Cheerio.

I kind of like these echoes we hear from her, because it makes me feel we've done the right thing being careful about the media she's exposed to. Her books push her to more syntactically challenging sentence forms, a richer vocabulary in a thematic context appropriate to three year olds--fantastical worlds, maybe, but ones where whimsy and kindess set the tone. Her TV shows are semantically benign: cooperation, sharing, problem solving, talking trains and singing animal that offer her scripts that she needs in order to get along in the world. It is amazing how she soaks it all up, how these texts structure her interactions when the book is shut and the TV is turned off.

By contrast, I see a lot of little kids quoting chapter and verse from Tropic Thunder or Anchorman or The Simpsons, parroting sarcasms they do not understand, and engaging in backtalk, defiance, and many other kinds of verbal and behavioural rudeness. And why not? That's what they see. It really, really bothers me.

Of course, Munchkin picks up a lot of her cues about the world--and her language--from me and Pynchon too. Her first rhetorical question, I blush to own, is one she has heard many times from me. She is a tiny mirror reflecting back our conduct to us, as much as she parrots the television and books she's exposed to. At least once this has come out, in perfect context, as "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST ALREADY!" (part of our family frustration routine) but more often we hear, "Let's get your doudou, Baby Bear, and Mama Bear will tuck you in nice and cosy for your snug!" (part of our family good-night routine).

Isn't it funny, how when our kids use their burgeoning language skills, they express us almost as much as they express themselves?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rattle and Hum

In the timeless rivalry betwee side-of-fork versus not-quite-softened red pepper contested in the epic battle to Separate a Bite-Sized-piece from the Omelette, red pepper held firm and Pynchon's fork slipped from his grasp, shot up in the air, and landed with a jangling crash back on his plate, an explosion of noise and movement in the middle of supper.

Naturally, I burst into tears.

Pynchon looked at me, a little shocked, but I couldn't quite hear what he was saying as the whooshing blood in my ears, the knocking of my racing heart, and the distracting sharp prickle of primal fear under my arms blocked him out.

My nerves are shot.

The root of the problem is that I'm not sleeping. Again. Whereas I used to fall asleep within minutes, only to wake up in the middle of the night for hours at a time, now I don't even get that first bit of rest. My new trick is to toss and turn for an hour or two, fall alseep, and wake up, heart pounding and mind racing, ten minutes later. I fall asleep somewhat easier if I attempt a midday nap, but still, ten minutes later--boom boom ack--it's all over.

There are other things. For example, massive road reconstruction 50 feet away from my house means that between 7am and 7pm my house is literally shaking. Glasses rattle, fixture hum, windows vibrate noisily in their frames. The plaster cracks. Nothing can stop the noise from intruding either, the whine and drone of many heavy machines rumble forwards, beep backwards, and bang up and down. I'm desperate to leave in the morning.

Munchkin has been waking up at night, not for long, but enough to rip me up from the depths.

And last night, oh last night! The student five houses down had a party that escalated into a raucous 11:30pm march down the middle of the street, tearing up one neighbour's rock garden to throw into another neighbour's driveway, before moving on to demolishing the barricades meant to keep people and cars from plunging into the excavated roadway. They came back and repeated their nonsense at 2pm.

It's amazing to me how even a couple of nights of broken or insufficient sleep can reduce me to hysteria and desperation. I actually wanted to physically harm those morons last night, an itch in my arms that wanted to claw someone's eyes out.

But I'm not talking about a couple of nights of broken sleep--this is becoming an intensifying pattern of persistent insomnia. It's like mental illness, really: I'm a different person, not able to enjoy the things I normally enjoy, not able to concentrate or focus, restless and anxious, depressed of mood and listless. Irritable and weepy. Unable to cope with the normal stresses of life, noisy neighbours or road repairs, say.

I've severly cut my caffeine and alcohol intake, been rigorous with my sleep hygience, practiced yoga, and avoided tv and computer time (glowing screens) too close to bedtime. I do yoga nightly. I take long walks during the day. And yet, still, ten minutes of sleep, a terrified wakeup, and hours of tossing and turning.

Insomnia, Dr. Google tells me, is not itself an illness but a symptom of some other condition--medical pharmaceutical treatments, then, address the distressing but secondary fact of sleeplessness by forcing the body to abandon consciousness with any number of powerful depressants all of which bring as much ill as good, and none of which are to be used any more than very infrequently or for a very short period of time. So the root of the problem is not, after all, that I'm not sleeping. It's something else, something else that manifests as insomnia.

My mother tells me that women in their 30s are the primary sufferers of insomnia. She surmises that having it all and doing it all is at the bottom of it all: it's anxiety and burnout. And truly, I have it all and do it all: demanding career, a beautiful home under constant improvement, a preschooler who has decided to 'marry' me, a husband with his own career and its demands, a drive to be healthy, to do the most for myself and my family. It's overwhelming me, maybe. No, it is overwhelming me, totally. Why else would I wake up in a sweaty panic to find myself worrying, absurdly, that Munchkin doesn't currently like vegetables and is doomed to adult obesity as a result of my failing to sufficiently entice her to eat green things? That three library books are overdue? That I forgot to email a colleague about something completely not pressing? That I forgot to put out our vitamin pills this morning?

Internet, do you suffer from insomnia? Why? And what do you do about it? I am losing this battle, and I am more than a little anxious that bursting into tears over dropped cutlery is more the rule than the exception at my house lately. Advice?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Excellent advice from my mother

So I guess it's going to summer now, huh? Muggy and stifling, with nightly thunderstorms that knock the power out just long enough so that you have to reset 12 clocks or face perpetual blinking midnight everywhere you turn.

Are you hot yet? We turned the air conditioner on for the first time since mid-June yesterday. With a click and whirr it softly brought itself to life and just like that soothing little puffs out cool air started billowing around our overheated rooms.

I came to air conditioning fairly late, with my parents installing the central air unit when I was halfway through high school, so most of my memories of summer interiors involve closely drawn shades and the ritual opening and shutting of windows, ceiling fans, and popsicles. So I am always vaguely in awe that I can command the cold with some fairly minor pressing of buttons on my own thermostat.

Our air conditioner is new, and it's the first 'climatised air' I've lived with since I left home for university. And because of my strong preference for loads of natural light and a monastic noise level, I have tended, over the decade of my single, apartment-dwelling life, to choose south-facing apartments near the tops of buildings. This has meant that my summers have always been very, very warm.

In Edmonton, near the end of my PhD, we suffered a real scorcher of a summer and my apartment at the time was a glorified bachelor with both eastern and southern exposure, at the very top of a red brick building with flat tar roof. Basically, if you imagine my apartment as a cube (four walls and a floor and a roof) three of the six sides were exposed to 15 hours of unremitting sun. It was like living in a pizza oven. My thermostat was one of those vertical-slider types to set the heat level, but a circular mechanism to mark the temparature on that vertical axis, and it got so hot in the apartment that the temperature needle spun right off the top of the scale and disappeared back into the mechanism.

I took a polaroid, which scorched in the heat, and distorted beyond recognition.

I was dying from the heat, listless and doing not much besides drink fizzy water with a splash of lime. I called my mom. She cut my rambling complaints short and gave me the best, craziest piece of advice that I'm now going to share with you.

"Put your bathing suit on and have a shower," she told me.

"Um, I'm quite comfortable showering naked, actually."

"No, Mimi, the point is to damp-dry yourself when you come out, and keep the bathing suit on."


"Think: have you ever in your life been too hot while wearing a wet bathing suit?"

No, actually, no I haven't. And I bet you haven't either. Take a moment. Cast back in your mind. Getting anything? Too hot in a bathing suit, yes, but in a wet bathing suit? No.

So I did it. You can't really sit on the upholstered furniture, but you can wash dishes, make the bed, tidy up, run the vacuum, sit at the kitchen table and read the newspaper, dye your hair. And you won't be too hot.

Moms. Sometimes, their advice is excellent, if unorthodox.

Friday, August 07, 2009

And ... we're back

Well, that was a long drive, another 413 km worth of Toyota-seat reshaping my butt.

Mercifully, it was a a quiet ride, mostly:

(I took this when I pulled off the road, obviously.)

Suddenly, my kid likes to read her 'newspapers' (kiddie nature magazines) and her 'tape stories' (readalong WonderPets books with a CD narration) and play pretend with her 50 My Little Ponies and assorted McDonald's-loot Teeny Beanie Babies. She just hangs out in the back by herself, keeping herself occupied.


Only now, I'm going to hear that WonderPets CD in my nightmares. Are you ready? Let's begin! The tin can began to rattle and ring ...


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Wah. Being a writer is wretched.

My writing face, tearing apart an article and trying to put it together again:

Can you see all the red pen marks, the scratch-outs and the desperate "FIX THIS CRAP!" marginalia?

Sample of deathless prose:

Genre develops in response to a social exigence: the new communication form must meet, that is, a pressing and established need. As readers as well as writers, mommy bloggers work to create new structures of community among parents that are not very well provided-for by contemporary Western patterns of work and living. As well as improving their own personal positions, these writers often seek to change the broader public discourse of parenting to ameliorate conditions more generally for all women/mothers. The writer/reader position adopted by the majority of mommy bloggers addresses two linked social exigences.

First, the public understanding of motherhood as an activity undertaken in the privacy of the nuclear family, and the widespread distribution of nuclear families into geographically disparate suburban communities removed from public amenities means that mothers of young children are physically isolated from their existing social networks and contexts.

Second, parenting in these isolated circumstances, many mothers find that they have difficulty developing a strong sense of self in their new roles as mother—the contours and character of this role seem opaque to them. Emblematic of this difficulty is the surprise often expressed in blog comments and posts that a situation the blogger had thought unique to her own family is in fact quite common: these comments often take the form of “You too? I’m so relieved. I thought it was just me …” Maternal rage is an example of a shared experience most bloggers find surprising; the physical pleasure of breastfeeding is another, as is the simultaneous awe-inspiring wonder and mind-numbing boredom of caring for newborns. Corollary to this is a pervasive sense of the loss of the prior adult ‘voice’ or ‘self’, the subjective sense of identity developed prior to childbearing. This problem is particularly acute among contemporary mothers, many of who delay childbearing into their 30s, and who thus have had time and opportunity to develop senses of themselves as adults defined by career, relationship, and lifestyle choices that are radically disrupted by parenthood.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Summer FAIL

Am I still going on about this rotten summer? Yes, yes I am. This summer is apparently the worst (most rain, least sun, coolest weather, rottenest weekends) since 1992.

1992? That was the summer I graduated high school. My last summer in the parental bosom, free to host weekend patio parties and loll around with my friends. BBQ's and bikinis at the cottage, all the cottages, days at the beach eating Ruffle chips and drinking Diet Pepsi before heading off the my new life as a university student (and hardcore Goth) in the Big Smoke where I didn't eat much of anything or seek out the sun, ever.

Ha. The rottenest summer on record.

Didn't really matter, as I was working like crazy at my summer job, vampire night-shifts at a group home for developmentally handicapped adults, shifts that turned me completely nocturnal so that if there were beach trips, I would've slept through them anyways.

We did go to Lollapalooza, though. I remember burning my nose so bad in the infernal, eternal lineup to get into Molson Park that it blistered and oozed. I wore that concernt tee for years and years, though. The summer of 1992, my first goth boyfriend, the high-drama of our still-new four year romance of black lipstick and leather pants, the summer of the nose piercing, a full neck of hickeys that my mom studiously ignored as she met me at the bus station, to drive me to my grandparents' for dinner. Oh, the folly of 19. Falling asleep at 10am, listening to The Cure: "Wish" is a good album to drift off to, if you're working nights and going to bed with the dew.

Rotten summers, then and now.

I told Munchkin this morning I needed to find a sweater. God damn it, I was cold in just my teeshirt and undershirt. She offered to help me find it, and pulled up my grey wool-and-angora cardigan. "This one, Mom?" she asked me, "Your beach sweater?"

Yes, Munchkin. That one. My 'beach sweater.'

Poor kid. This weather is warping her childhood, and pulling me back too insistently to rotten summers long gone and, I thought, forgotten.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Munchkin and Pynchon get along much better when I'm out of the house. Generally, my evening exit line is "Mommy is going to yoga," because although it took many weeks of tantrums to establish this routine, when she hears these words, Munchkin now calmly waves goodbye and tells me to do a princess pose.

On the weekend, though, during the day? If I want a break from the overpassionate attachment, we usually say that Mommy has some errands, and thus will be leaving the house and unavailable for leg-clinging, bum-biting (really), and general smothering.

So I waved goodbye and headed out the front door. Pynchon brought Munchkin upstairs for her nap.

"I want Mommy to put me to bed," she complained.

"Oh, I know you want Mommy, Munchkin," explained her father, "but Mommy went to do some errands and she's not home right now."

Munchkin tilted her head to one side and gave him a look.

"Daddy, is she on the porch?"

BUSTED! That is exactly where I was, with my newspaper and my knitting and grande nonfat latte, enjoying my peace and quiet. How did she figure me out? I'm out of her sight line and don't make a peep!

Daddy faked her out--this time--but, like Chandler Bing, one of these days I'm going to find myself actually boarding a plane to Yemen, just to catch a break. Yowza.