Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Contemplative de-cluttering

Yesterday and today were good days. Yesterday I overhauled the living room and dining room -- packed up one bin of stuff to get rid of and one to put downstairs, moved some stuff around, cleaned off a bunch of surfaces -- God help you if you're a reasonably level surface that's been empty for more than three and a half minutes in my house. We have a terminal surfeit of crap in this house. The biggest problem is probably all the damned books, which require damned book shelves, which take up space where other stuff should go, which results in a chronic plague of... other stuff. You can't look anywhere and not see stuff -- books, papers, art stuff, dishes, vases, baking supplies, toys... I know I'm never going to live in a show house. I know at heart we're basically messy, creative, glitter-loving pack rats. But there's a limit. At some point your eyes get tired -- they need a quieter place to rest. So I need to get more ruthless about tossing and donating stuff, less lazy about moving stuff and putting it away, and I might not be able to keep every picture Eve makes. Maybe I should even get rid of some books (Oh yeah! I went there!).

Last night was Irish dancing. Today I worked in the library and did some more cleaning in the family room, then took the kids to piano and dumped a load of stuff with the consignment store next door. Ah -- two solid days as a productive citizen. Which got me thinking about the time we get in life to 'move ahead' -- assuming we know what we want to do, the time we get to put energy and work into that, as opposed to the time we spend sort of treading water -- trying to get comfortable with who we are, healing from setbacks, dealing with the necessities of simply existing, etc. There's sort of a sense (at least I often have a sense) that only the first is worthwhile. Every time I get sick and have to spend a few days out of commission, when my kids were small and most of my time and energy was focused on keeping them alive, I feel like I'm going backwards, or standing still. And think of people who are suddenly hit with a cancer diagnosis, or people who have to work multiple jobs just to keep their families fed and clothed. I have to stop privileging one type of experience over the other so much. Sometimes time alone, reading and thinking and healing, is beneficial. Sometimes you have to look closely at the life you're living and the work you're doing instead of mindlessly charging ahead with it.

Sometimes you have to walk over to your friend's house to watch Lost and listen to the Hairspray soundtrack on the way. It's good for the soul.

Monday, March 29, 2010

I know it's wrong to exploit my kids when I'm out of post ideas but...

Today Angus was scraping some labels off of miniature plant pots for me in a sink of warm soapy water, so Eve could paint the plant pots in Easter colours. A propos of nothing, he suddenly said, "You can't bury her at sea, because her bosoms will float".

That's what you get when you try to share treasured childhood memories with your kids.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The first thing you need to know is that everything turned out fine.

On Angus's first day of Junior Kindergarten, we put him on the bus in the morning, took a few pictures, then watched the bus drive off. Matt went to work and I did who knows what for two and a half hours, then walked back down the street to wait for him to come home on another bus. Instead, a car drove up, and his teacher got out. She had parked on the other side of the street because of the direction she was driving, and as she walked across the street she was saying: "He's fine, there's a problem with paperwork with the bus company, he's fine, so he couldn't get on the bus and I'm not allowed to drive him because of insurance, he's fine, he's waiting in the office." Was it not brilliant of her to open with 'he's fine'? Anyway, I walked home with Eve, stuck her in the car seat and went to pick up my completely unperturbed son who was charming the office staff, then went home and called the bus company and tore a strip off some hapless employee. The next day he came home on the bus.

When I was in University, my sister and one of our high school friends were driving from Sudbury to Toronto and they hit a bear. They were unhurt, but both the car and the bear sustained some fairly serious damage. The OPP called my Mom in the middle of the night and said "Your daughter has been in an accident". They then provided some more details, and as the phone was being passed from one person to another my mother heard a women say "I think I just gave some poor lady a heart attack.". So my sister talked to my mother and then Rachelle asked my Mom to call her parents. So my Mom calls her Mom and what's the first thing she says? "The girls have been in an accident!" They really should give lessons on this kind of thing.

Angus has been walking to my Mom and Dad's house after school since October, because Eve was given a spot on the bus but he wasn't, and she loves taking the bus so much. A few weeks ago Eve observed that Angus was getting an inequitable amount of Grandma-time, so we decided that she would go to my Mom and Dad's after school on Wednesdays. I asked her if she wanted my Mom to come and get her, and she said she'd like to walk by herself. I said let's call Grandma and see what she thinks, thinking my mother would stomp decisively on that little notion and I wouldn't have to be the bad guy. Silly me. My Mom said sure, that sounds fine. And okay, it's only two blocks, and there's a crossing guard that can see her practically the whole time, and you have to let them be independent at some point, and it's school dismissal time so there are so many people around (many that know her) that really, what could go wrong? So I said okay, somewhat reluctantly.

The first two times it went off without a hitch. Actually, the first time my Mom started walking out to meet her and ended up walking her almost the whole way and Eve was not impressed. The second time she walked by herself and she was terribly proud. Today my Mom called at 3:02 (dismissal is at 2:45) and said she wasn't there yet. My Dad had gone out to check for her. I called the school (and yes, I was worrying that they were going to judge me for letting my seven-year-old walk two blocks on her own )and the secretary tracked down her teacher. The teacher said she had seen written in her agenda that she was walking to my Mom's, and she'd reminded her. She said she'd go outside and check and call me back. I hung up and my Dad drove into my driveway. I went out and we basically just stared at each other. My chest felt like a burning sheet of metal. My mind was crowded with horrors. My Dad said he was going to drive back to the school. I called my Mom back and there was no answer.

My Mom called maybe four minutes later. Eve was playing at the park. My Mom explained that this wasn't a good thing to do when anxious people were counting on her prompt arrival to forestall heart attacks and cerebro-vascular incidents. Eve understands this now.

Maybe six minutes or so I didn't know where she was or what had happened to her. For some people, this six minutes is the rest of their life. I am so profoundly grateful that today I am not one of those people.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Breakwater House

I'm sick of working on my electronic periodical indexes assignment so I'm reviewing The Breakwater House by Pascale Quiviger.

This book is beautifully written, and the translation is flawless. I mention this because whenever I see that I'm reading something in translation, I tend to wince; nothing interferes with a reading experience like a bad translation.

I was a little wary after the first few pages, which describe a woman finding and buying a house and then mysteriously being unable to photograph it properly, or track down the previous owner, or give directions that allow other people to visit her. In my experience, this type of non-linear plotting is sometimes an excuse for an author to indulge her poetic urges without regard for logic or story. And I like a story. Happily, there is one, or several, and they are all quite captivating, despite a certain non-linearity. The characters, mostly women, are wonderful: Lucie and Claire, two little girls who meet in infancy and grow into a fiercely close friendship: Aurore, Lucie's mother, colourful, bohemian, passionate: Suzanne, Claire's mother, stoically proper and affluent: and various ancestors that lead to Lucie's present story, wherein the confusion and fragmentation is actually a completely understandable response to a crippling, logic-destroying grief.

The writing is densely textured with striking images: a woman's stomach after childbirth "retreats slowly, like a tide, without making a sound. It looks like an unmade bed, a deserted backstage, a painting under restoration...A shawl for the long winter nights." A mother holds her child, the "imponderable mass of her sated sleep." There are sad, cock-eyed moments of humour -- Aurore gives Claire a black doll, which she adores, dresses in pink and sleeps with every night, whereupon her discomfited mother suggests that "Mélanie ought to become the other dolls' cleaning lady." When her husband's grandmother thrice survives the night when doctor's have declared her death imminent, Suzanne keeps calling priest and Claire "questions her about the risk of overdosing on last rites."

A slight magical mist surrounds much of the narrative, yet the depiction of female friendships is letter-perfect. The hyperbolic and mythic nature of some of the events does not mute or negate the emotions of the characters. The narrative is threaded through with grief, but the overall tone is of healing. This is an intriguing book by a wonderful writer.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March Broken

I've decided to give myself a little mental bitch-slap before I precipitously give up blogging forever. I'm in a prickly, unfriendly place. Does anybody else find that a virus seems to infect your mind as well as your body? Other than the obvious 'it's gorgeous outside and I'm too sick to go anywhere', or abandoning my husband with the kids for the last couple of days when he's leaving for a week tomorrow, or that he took off Friday so we could do something as a family and I was stuck in bed so he took the kids bowling and mini-golfing, it's like I've stayed in one place too long and my immune system is too low to evade or mount a defense against the mean little thoughts with sharp little teeth.

It seemed that visiting some friendly blogs and then following their blogs to some unfamiliar blogs was a good way to spend some fevery headachey rib-cracking coughy time. In retrospect, I probably should have stuck to vampire movies and the last few episodes of Dollhouse.

I don't remember how I stumbled upon the blogging world of the mothers who have lost children. I think I saw the blog name dead baby jokes and thought gah! THAT's in poor taste. Except it wasn't. And then it was like hours wandering in a dark thundery forest. These women are going through something unimaginable that they have to find a way to imagine. A lot of it is very powerful writing. Some of them are impossibly funny and witty and articulate about it, which almost seems unfair to the ones who are still flailing around almost wordlessly in grief. I don't comment on these, because it's so not my place -- this is a country that is foreign to me, and I have no helpful or valuable or relevant words to offer. They seem so queenly and unassailable in their grief, and I'm glad that they have their community of people who understand, even if there is no way to make it better. I do visit them periodically to bear witness, and because sometimes they talk about what people can do to be helpful -- or at least not doubly hurtful -- and what people do that makes them angry or increases their pain, and these are things that I think it is good to know.

There is a whole other world of blogs written by parents of medically fragile children, and again, a whole new language to be learned. I don't look at them out of any kind of purely voyeuristic curiosity, but again, I visit because it's a way to be less ignorant. Sometimes what these people ask seems impossible -- they don't want people to be insensitive, but they don't want pity. They say a lot of their lives are normal, but they resent people who underestimate how hard it is. Sometimes it seems impossible for those of us on the other side to strike the right tone. That's okay -- I get that sometimes the actions of people not in your situation must all be sandpapery and wrong. It also highlights the important fact that these people, contrary to what they are often told, are NOT saints. They are people, and mothers -- fiercely loving, angry, sad, joyful, tired and bitchy by turns, like the rest of us.

In short, I have come up for air (what air I can drag through my clogged and wheezy passages) feeling like my blog is the flakiest, most insubstantial confection ever, like I've never written a post on anything of any real substance, like I should pack it all in and pull the covers back over my head. But I'm not going to. I'm going to remind myself that there are blogs I love that have nothing to do with dead or disabled children, and that no matter how vital one community is to some people, the internet is vast and there is room for an infinite number of communities. I might try to focus my energies on more weighty subjects from time to time (and no, I'm not referring to my ass), but I can't be someone I'm not, and negating my own experience doesn't help the people who have a more unkind path to follow right now.

Take that, mean little thoughts. Which I will now attempt to drown in pistachio ice cream, if Eve hasn't eaten it all. And she doesn't even like nuts. Hmmph.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March Break day four

I'm sick. Angus is sick. Good thing I front-loaded the week. Last night Eve and I watched Where the Wild Things Are. I thought it was amazing, but she said "there aren't a whole lot of happy parts in this movie", and she wasn't wrong. Angus had a friend sleep over last night and I was watching a friend of Eve's this morning, and Angus and I started trading coughs around 4 a.m. so the morning was Angus and Nathan playing basketball and hockey outside and Eve and Laura making little books, and the afternoon was Angus lying on his futon watching The Mighty Ducks on the little DVD player while insisting he wasn't tired and Eve trying to make exercise equipment for a fairy (more on this later). And I hid in my room and read something hard-boiled and not too taxing. Also, I gave Eve a bath. For an hour and a half. With Barbie Mermaids. This is one section of ninety minutes of singing, yarn-spinning and general commentary:

"You have to go back to your Dad."
"Mom, I'm not going back. I have to save you. It's in the legend."
"Actually the legend says your Mom dies."
"Go with the legend. Go with the legend, girl."
"I'm not listening to some stupid legend! I'm doing what my heart says."
"Are you sure it's not what your stomach says?"
"Save the Mom! Save the Mom! Save the Mom! Save the Mom!"
"Okay stomach, you can stop. We get it."

How can you not love this kid?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March Break day three and Sunshine

We've pretty much dispensed with the wild-rumpus style out-in-the-world March Break fun; we're onto the slothful, energy-conserving, pajamas-all-day March Break fun. Matthew and Meghan came over and Angus and Matthew played Pokemon Platinum for four hours. In my defense, we had a busy day yesterday, and Angus has a cold. And I'm not responsible for Matthew's future brain-mushiness. Eve and Meghan invented imaginary friends and drew pictures of them (Meghan's is a five-foot-tall talking flower with a cellphone. Eve's is a half-supermodel, half-fairy, half-dog, called a FuzzBuzz. And no, I didn't point out the inherent fractional contradiction, we're all wearing pajamas, cut us some freakin' slack, would you?). Matthew and Meghan just left. Angus has another friend coming over for a sleepover and Eve is stalking Victoria from next door, who isn't home yet but will be leapt on with deranged slinky-like passion the moment she shows up.

So I was catching up on blog-reading in the brief between-extra-kids period. Mary Lynn mentioned that she was happy to get the Bloggy I gave her, but that she always feels hesitant about giving awards because she thinks people will feel like it's some weird imposition, or wacky chain mail-ish. And I was like dude! Me too! Or I feel like if their blog is a lot older than mine they'll be like "ooh, thanks, but I have four dozen of these cluttering up my virtual trash can, maybe there's some homeless blogger who could use it". So Mary Lynn passed one on to Julie, and Julie said it was her first award, which THEN made me think "what the hell, Julie, I've totally given you an award". But then I thought, crap, is it possible I completely forgot to pass on my Sunshine award from Suzicate? Yes, yes it is, as it turns out. It was my first blog award EVER, and I must have gotten carried away by the excitement (yay! praise me! externally validate me! enable my great yawning neediness! ahem). Also, the rules are to pass it on to ten other bloggers, and I don't think I can do that. I don't comment on every blog I read, and I can't see chucking an award at some unsuspecting blogger saying "hey! you don't know me but I love your blog! here, have some sunshine! oops, sorry, was that your eye? my bad!". So here you are. If you don't like it, go ahead and trash it -- but don't tell me, okay?

1. Julie at Thoughts of a Smothermother. I love her little vignettes, pictures, musings, snips and snails and puppy dog tails. And I covet her two-year old. I love two-year-olds.

2. Amber at Strocel. Amber is a mighty mighty blogger, in frequency, duration and depth. I tried to find out how you get to give a blog award without getting one first, because there's an Inspirational Blogger Award I really want to give her, but I couldn't figure out the rules (because I'm a teeny, teeny blogger, in frequency, duration and depth, and computer skills). But she's also kind and gracious, so I'm betting she won't spit at my Sunshine Award. Amber, you are inspirational, and also bright and glowy, kind of a like a big ball of incandescent gas... I mean, you help the flowers grow.

3. Jane from Theycallmejane's blog (it's a hence the name kinda thing). Jane is adrift in admirers already, and rightly so -- she blogs to better the world, or at least make sure we notice where some improvements could be made. And we like the same music!

4. Tracy, the Mayor of Crazy Town. She has four kids, so I'd rather make this a spa-day-and-margarita award, but we do what we can. I love her funny pictures and the way she blogs about kid-wrangling, moods and the agreeable chaos of the quotidian.

5. Lynn at Turtlehead. She invited me to World Trivia Night! We shared Pringles! We both love Glee! We both love The History of Love! She's in my friend Pam's book club! She makes pie!

6. Mary Lynn at Riding in a Handbasket. Mother of two little hamster-dancing cuties. Bestower of computer favours. At this point we may be starting to seem like a slightly sickening little mutual admiration society. Does this bother me? It does not. Not a whit. One-way admiration sucks. Ask all those Johnny Depp fans.

7. Alison at Party of 3. Single Mom. Hilarious kids. Intelligent, entertaining, grapefruit-juice-out-the-nose funny blog. I will get to meet her at a Blogger's Breakfast at some point if my husband manages to stay in the country or my kids let me leave the house.

8. CJ at Don't Lick the Ferrets. You think YOU take a lot of crap? CJ takes a LOT of crap, gracefully and graciously, madly churning out afghans all the while. She's kind of my hero.

Some of you I just gave a bloggy award to. Whatever -- it's awards season. Not the Golden Globes or Oscars, but those obscure, before-the-big-ceremony things they have for key grips and best boys. You're all like little happy pills without the nasty side effects. The least I can do is give you a little sunshine.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March Break, day two

Two words: PARC OMEGA.

What better way to spend a sunny day in March than driving around poking carrots at large animals while they gob all over your car windows (actually, since my mother generously offered us her minivan so all six of us could ride together, all over your parents' van windows?).

Pictures of slobbering wapiti, surly bison and adorable wrestling bear cubs will be forthcoming. Margot took most of the animal shots since I was driving (a dicey proposition at the best of times).
My husband and I brought our kids here when Angus was three and Eve was a baby. As soon as we got in the gate, a big elk-like thing approached the window and my momentarily dim-witted husband said "Look Angus!" and opened Angus's window. All the way. Whereupon the huge elk-like thing stuck its head right in the bag of Tostitos in Angus's lap. Whereupon Angus was suddenly quite disenchanted with the whole feeding-the-animals thing. A few minutes later, when we were in the lodge buying bags of carrots, Angus asked "are those for feeding the animals?" I said yes, and he nodded thoughtfully and said "Yeah. I'm probabwy gonna be a wittle bit scared."
He was much braver this time. Especially with animals of the stuffed artificial variety.

Of course, the boys did opt to stay in the van while Eve and Meghan did this:

There's also an area where you walk along a walkway and look down on some arctic wolves. There were also supposed to be moose, but there was only one very guilty-looking bear. Hmmmm.

It was a great day and the kids were fabulous. Margot and I and our kids used to be together all the time, and then they started school, in schools with different start times, and it's been much more difficult to see them. So it's been a great Matthew and Meghan March Break: they were here yesterday, we were with them today, and they're hanging out with us tomorrow morning while their mother teaches physics to first-year university students (pretty sure I got the better end of that deal). Too bad, because by the end of the day Eve and Meghan were obviously sick of each other.

Oh, and the symphony was fantastic. Until the second half. If we'd left at intermission, we would have been golden. Turns out I'm not a big fan of Shostakovich.

Monday, March 15, 2010

March Break, day one

My friend Margot is working mornings Monday Wednesday and Friday this week, so our friend Collette was watching her kids this morning and I'm watching them Wednesday morning (I don't know about Friday -- maybe's she's dropping them off at the pool hall with twenty bucks and their health cards). Collette came over with her three and Margot's two, so we had three girls and four boys. The girls drew little pictures and broke food into tiny pieces for the fairy that lives in Eve's room. The boys were engaged in various intellectual pursuits in the basement. Collette and I were bettering ourselves with a physics program in the family room. We fed the kids some healthy organic fare for lunch.

It was arduous. It was exhausting. Margot owes us big.

Tonight Matt and I are going on a date -- dinner and the symphony. I got him tickets for his birthday, which really is a gift, because he loves the symphony and I...well, I love classical music. I don't so much get the concept of watchcing people play it. My mind wanders, or I get fixated on the second violin's moustache, or I wonder if the piccolo player and the bassoonist are doing it, and then I realize I've missed the whole second movement and I feel guilty because we spent good money to be here. Then I think about last week's episode of Lost and wonder about Jacob's inherent goodness or evil, then I pinch my arm to focus myself. It'll be fine. He'll be happy. I'll have lovely background music for my inane musings. I suppose there are worse ways to spend the evening.

As usual, links brought to you by Mary-Lynn's unfathomable awesomeness.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Freshly Cracked (Craic-ed)

We're back from Just a Bit of Craic (craic is gaelic for fun or entertainment, pronounced 'crack'). I sort of knew in the back of my head that it was in an old church, but it didn't really register that I would be sitting (aka grinding my tailbone and jamming my spine into) an excruciatingly uncomfortable church pew for two and a half hours. My back will require cracking after that. But Eve was gorgeous, and excited, and adorable hopping around up there. And my Mom kept her cool pretty well, even though it was long, and kind of chaotic, and the dude with the Irish brogue and the microphone who was m.c.-ing was freakin' unintelligible.

Eve's group was right before the intermission. Then they got to come and sit with us and watch the second half. The highlight was probably Eve's running commentary when a solo dancer came out, dressed sort of surprisingly in a tank top and boy-cut underwear and did a modern dance number (stuck in amongst the sparkly dresses and kicks and jigs, it was probably supposed to provide some variety, but it really was a little odd). Eve: "She's just gonna dance all by herself?" "Is she wearing shoes?" "She looks like she's just randomly moving". And then, when the dance move involved dropping precipitously to the stage: "She fell down!"

I'm happy she did it. And I'm happy it's over. And I'm happy that when I got home, there was a blog award waiting for me from the madly hilarious and kind and generous Mayor of Crazy Town. You know people that say it's an honour just being nominated, or the work is its own reward, and awards don't matter? Aren't they just adorably charming lying liars? I am ALL about the awards. Mayor Tracy, you're better than crack. So I'm supposed to give the award to five other blogs. These are some of the people that blog clean and deep; they contribute to my happy days:

Mary Lynn (naturally) from Riding in a Handbasket

Unknown Mami

Patti from Still Breathing (hope this doesn't seem too frivolous)

Lynn at Turtlehead

Pam at Easily Amused (good blog, and really the one you want with you when you're walking past rich people's enormous houses with dollar-store reflectors stuck in the lawn)

I'm happy. And really really tired.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Is one remaining speech impediment too much to ask?

Mary Lynn (the fabulous, the flawless, the freakin' amazing Mary Lynn) just posted a lament for her daughter's disappearing baby vocabulary, which set off a mindstorm of memories and the kind of nostalgia that makes me very bitter because it makes me realize that I am, in fact, just a big fat mom cliché (I remember one of my smug, skinny high school friends as we sat in the downstairs school hallway and watched a very pregnant teacher chugging past. The skinny friend said with a sneer "I'm not going to waddle like that when I'm pregnant". Oh right, pregnant women waddle because they want to, not because they're trying to balance a watermelon on their pelvis without falling on their face).

When Angus was little, he referred to himself in the third person for a while, as many kids do. Then he modified it to "A" (the letter A, rhymes with hay), instead of Angus. His most common utterance, when we were trying to wrest control of his utensils or toys or anything, was "A do it!" He would also say things like "the water was falling on A's head" and "that's A's hat". When I did the laundry I would usually give him a basket of receiving blankets (which we used for everything from kleenex to spill-wipers) to 'fold'. Once we were doing this and he said something about "my laundry". I dropped the pillowcase I was folding, stricken, and said "You mean A's laundry?" and he looked at me pityingly and said "no. MY laundry." Oh FINE -- speak correctly if you must. I was devastated.

When Eve started saying Angus's name she couldn't make the 'n' sound, so she called him 'Agus'. It was very cute. We just got used to it, and then suddenly one day when she was around four, I said to Matt "hey, she's saying his name properly". They were sitting out on the front step eating freezies, and when she came in to throw out her wrapper Matt said "Eve, say Angus". She said "what?" and he said "what's your brother's name?". She looked at him oddly and said "Angus". Then she walked outside and said to Angus "your Daddy just forgot your name."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lest Ye Be Judged and all that crap

All the blog posts I just read (none of them my regularly scheduled reading) made me cranky. It's fine to say "I try not to be judgemental", but what the hell does that even mean? The truth is you can't really go five minutes without judging. You can't get from bed to bathroom to breakfast without making judgements. You have to use your own best judgement (which can be really unfortunate in some cases). And people? Well, aren't people just annoyingly individual, and different from each other, and all with the opinions and everything? And if they differ enough from you in how they think, or eat, or talk to their kids, or watch reality tv instead of Lost, or treat people who don't believe in their god (sorrowful glances as opposed to, say, acid-throwing), well then, how do you not judge that? I actually once heard myself say the words "God I hate intolerant people." Great, huh? And some things I can say "totally respect your opinion, although I totally disagree with you", and sometimes I lie awake all night formulating brilliant, incisive arguments that will without a doubt change this poor misguided unfortunate's mind if I just get the chance to share them. Because who, in the name of all that is sane and good and has a delicious candy shell in the world, would want to be different from me? Don't they know everything would be better if they just tried to be more like me? Well, me and Kurt from Glee.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm going to be web content!

I whine a lot. I recognize this. It's not because I expect sympathy -- I don't. I don't even give it to myself. I am rationally capable of recognizing that I have a very nice life. Great children, great husband, great parents, great sister, great friends (gah, the monotony -- note to self: accumulate some associates with toxic personalities to bitch about). Nice lifestyle, good pair of running shoes, great kitchen table, nice yellow vase of red-orange tulips. Some real time to myself during the day, starting last September. Sadly, I'm also middle-class Western neurotic enough to have a sneaking suspicion that there are a bunch of women out there who have all this AND hair that doesn't suddenly decide to take some time for itself, toes that don't overlap so toenails become an urgent and painful issue, and brain chemicals that don't suddenly find English muffins a source of unutterable chartreuse-flavoured despair every third day and alternate Tuesdays.

Like I said -- I whine. Often I mean it humorously. Often I hope that by framing it humorously I will persuade myself to see it that way. Often it works. Sometimes, not so much.

I don't feel great today. I still have this ongoing sinus problem. I couldn't fall asleep last night and when I finally did, I woke up coughing and stuffed up a couple hours later and couldn't fall asleep again. I feel headachy and slow. I spent the day reading Lectures and making notes, which was a perfectly legitimate and even necessary use of time, at my kitchen table with my vase of tulips, in the sun. And felt guilty and unproductive because, I don't know, I wasn't writing a book or running a marathon or...something, I don't even KNOW what. It's annoying.

Well, screw that. Let's talk about Mary Lynn. My good friend who I've never technically met, but I LOVE. Why do I love her? Because she's funny and smart and from the first email she sent me her voice made me feel like she was someone I wanted to know. But wait! There's more. When I kept complaining (whining) about not being able to make links in blog posts, she sent me an email with detailed instructions about how to make links in blog posts. It's because of her that I can spout off about what I'm reading or my new favourite cracker or my sister's new favourite gift basket accessory. This is something that makes me veritably chortle with glee every time I do it -- it's true! I chortle! And wait! There's EVEN more. Soon after we started our mutual stalkerdom (following each other), Mary Lynn sent me a link to Anansi Press, which was asking for bloggers to fill out a questionnaire in order to be sent books for reviewing. I filled out the questionnaire, but I was pretty sure they would just laugh and hit delete since I had to answer questions like 'average number of commenters' (uh, 1.5?), and 'site metrics' (um, eleven centimetres?). But today? THIS was in my inbox:

Hi Allison,

Thanks for filling out our blogger review questionnaire! I had a peek at your blog and it's great — very funny. Just wanted to let you know that we popped a copy of Pascale Quiviger's The Breakwater House in the mail for you to read and review, if you like. Hope you enjoy!


Trish Osuch
Web Content Manager
House of Anansi Press
110 Spadina Ave., Suite 801
Toronto, ON M5V 2K4
416-363-4343 x42

Free book! In the mail! From someone who professes to sort of maybe care about my opinion! Doesn't that just strike the perfect balance between 'doesn't really matter' and 'really doesn't suck'? And doesn't Mary Lynn (linking again JUST BECAUSE I CAN) sort of rock all the way to the moon and back? And don't you think my pretentious faux-erudite book review will be more fun than all the whining? I do. I really do. Plus, she said my blog was funny, out of all the other available adjectives (self-pitying, maudlin, horrifyingly shallow and self-obsessed, nasty, brutish, short). I'm calling it a good day, on balance (ha. balance).

Monday, March 8, 2010

Knowing Me Knowing You #1

I got this from Julie at Smothermother who gets it from Shan at Fairy Blogmother (love that name). Seemed like a good way to try to get un-blogcked. Anyone can play.

1. Do you play a musical instrument?

Piano, mainly. I was pretty good at one point, but surprisingly the years of totally ignoring it haven't done me much good. I'm trying to get back into practicing regularly. I tried guitar for a year or so, but my fingers are too short and stubby and my teacher was weird. I played trombone in the (all-girl) school band -- THAT was fun. I used to be a pretty good singer (I was in a cheesy-but-thought-we-were-badass band in high school) but pregnancy hormones and asthma medication have pretty much destroyed my voice.

2. Do you have a set of every day dishes and a set of "good" dishes?

Nope. We got colourful stoneware for our wedding 'china' and that's what we use. I prefer my dishes to be brightly coloured and non-matching. Like my socks.

3. Chocolate milk or white?

White. I don't like chocolate milk or ice cream. Actually I prefer most things that can be white or chocolate white, except chocolate. I like chocolate chocolate :).

4. What time do you usually head up to bed?

Varies wildly. I read until between eleven and midnight. The time I start can be nine or ten or (when I really hate the world) eight, which the kids love because one of them can sleep in Matt's spot while I'm reading.

5. Do you hang your toilet paper over or under?

Over. Has to be over. I will change it if it is under. And I have no idea why, except that in general I'm a wacky neurotic obsessive person so...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Books, Babies, Butchery

I've been binge-reading memoirs over the past week of stuck-ness. Reading becomes sort of a fraught endeavour when I'm not feeling in top emotional shape, since the joy tends to get sucked out of almost everything, and it feels wrong to be reading grimly and compulsively, but it's a step up from staring at the walls, so I still do it.

The last two I read were Paradise Piece by Piece by Molly Peacock and Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession by Julie Powell. Peacock is a poet, and this book is touted as an exploration of her decision not to have children. Julie Powell is the author of Julie and Julia, which was made into the movie starring the deliriously delicious Meryl Streep who embodied Julia Child-ishness, and Amy Adams, who was totally the wrong actress to play Julie Powell, in my opinion (WAYYYYY too sweet).

I tend to read memoirs, at the outset at least, in a very cynical manner -- I could meet you on a street corner and have you tell me a sad life's story and I would weep and embrace you and take you home to feed you borscht, but when it's a print I can be a real bitch. About halfway through Molly Peacock's book I suddenly thought, what the hell is my problem? She had a hellish childhood, her father should have been chemically castrated at puberty and damned straight she wouldn't want to have kids. What still irks me (and funnily enough it showed up in Julie Powell's book too) is the assumption that woman who decide to be childless have that we who procreate are blissfully, blithely unconflicted about it -- as if they're the only ones who have to constantly question whether they're fulfilled and leading the best possible life. It seems that the mothers these women know are all self-satisfied, slightly dim people who sit around beaming at their snot-nosed screaming brats and soliloquizing about how womanly and fertile and at-one-with-nature they feel. I may be exaggerating slightly, but not a whole lot. I know that some people think it's selfish to choose your career over having a family. I used to say it's more selfish to have children, before I had them. The truth is, either choice is selfish in different ways, and self-sacrificing too; it's a plain fact that nobody can have it all, and no matter which way you go, some days you will think "I was insane to think this was the right choice" and some days you will feel the deepest pity for anyone who chose differently.

Molly Peacock had a turbulent childhood and the resultant trauma led to other crap in her life that would not have accomodated a child well at all. She's an artist and a teacher, and when she says she needs to be able to leave those children and go somewhere at the end of the day where there aren't more children, I think that's perfectly legitimate. How many authors or musicians or artists have been revealed (in yet more memoirs) to be horrible, abusive parents that probably never should have had children? Maybe if your art means that much to you, you ARE better off deciding not to try to be a mother too. Some people are okay putting the art aside until the children are grown, or trying a mish-mash of being both, with variable results. I do agree with Molly Peacock that the decision is one that likely needs to be made more than once, and I sympathize with the tendency to second-guess oneself, but lord knows that isn't solely the province of the childless. I second-guess myself six times before breakfast.

Molly Peacock is quite likeable; Julie Powell? Well....

I don't mean it to be quite as acid as it sounds, when I say that I think both of these women have made the right decision not to have children (with Julie Powell I guess I'd have to add 'so far'), in Molly Peacock's case because it would have been a hardship for her, and in Julie Powell's case because it would be a disaster for the child.

One thing I kind of have to admire (?) about Julie Powell is that she really owns her shit. She doesn't try to sugarcoat her flaws. I know some people enjoy writing and reading vicious reviews, and this book fairly begs for them. I can't do them; I'm always too aware that there's a real person behind the writing. Julie Powell has definitely taken a heapin' helping of abuse or fifty for this book, and it's easy to see why. It's harder to see why someone would want to write this book and have it published. Or why I read it, I guess, since nobody forced me. I quite liked Julie and Julia, although even then I wondered at Julie's singular lack of shame and gratitude (but then, I'm a big sloppy mess of shame and gratitude, and not everyone has to be like me). In this book, (in which the subtitle should probably be reversed in order of priority), she explores the profession of butchery and delves in painful detail into an adulterous affair, much of which is carried on with her husband's knowledge, if not sanction. I did find the meat-cutting parts interesting, and her description of the butcher shop where she apprentices, and its remarkable owners and employees, is lovely. The parts about inviting her lover into her apartment as a 'friend', and having him sleep on the couch so they could fool around while her husband was sleeping? Not so much.

More than anything, Julie Powell seems to be really emotionally immature. She wants to have the sweet, soulful husband with whom she's 'like two souls in one body'(or something, I don't feel like looking it up), and the edgy, self-assured, self-absorbed lover who makes her feel badass. My take is more that you don't get to have everything, you pick your partner and work hard on your marriage and figure out a way to live with it -- or don't. She persists in trying to have it both ways, and romanticizing it even while professing to be tortured about it. When the affair sort of 'ends', it's because the lover dumps her, and then she cyber-stalks him and deluges him with calls and texts for months afterwards. These are not the actions of a well woman. She talks about both her mother and grandmother having the same dark unhappiness in them, and while she might be onto something, I do constantly have the impulse to tell her to try a nice SSRI and keep her panties on for a while. And that the fact that her lover likes to tie her up and hit her and was always absolutely sure that he was going to be able to seduce her doesn't make him deep and complicated -- it just makes him a crafty jackass who gets a lot of sex.

It bugs me (is this bourgeois and puritanical?) that the 'resolution' she comes to is that she has to keep seeing the lover (not sleeping with him) because he's a 'part of her experience', and she expects her husband to be okay with that. Her self-knowledge doesn't really seem to increase through the writing of the book (although she can break down a side of beef in much less time). If I took anything away from this book, it was to see the same tendencies in myself in embryonic form, and to be grateful that they haven't ravaged my life or my husband's life to the extent that they have hers. Maybe sometimes the best thing you can hope to think at the end of a memoir is "Crap, I'm glad I'm not her".

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wheels spinning and the smell of something burning

I'm sort of stuck. All around stuck, I mean, but also blog stuck. I find myself staring at the screen, and thinking I need to force myself to organize a couple of thoughts into a coherent post because it's good practice. Then I wonder if I should be littering the internet with my mental parings if I have to work that hard to scrape up a post. But withdrawing from everything is kind of what direction I feel like I'm going, and I don't think I should just go with that.

It's been sunny most of the week. Everyone's all shiny and happy about the goddamned sun. Spring is coming. There's a new energy. I'm supposed to feel like washing curtains and cleaning out closets and delivering calves and whittling chairs. Instead I find it immensely difficult to do anything that requires concentration or deep thought -- or even to remember that I want to. I've been trying to practice the piano every day. Some days I remember, but more often, the minute I wander out into the living room it's like the piano throws a cloaking field around itself ('move along, move along, nothing to see here -- isn't there a bad sitcom or a fruit roll-up calling your name?'). I'm supposed to see the sun and want to go out and bathe in its warmth and promise. Instead I see the sun and think, Jesus, it's way too bright out there.

I'm trying not to think it's all my fault. I think I might just need a slight tune-up of the pharmaceutical variety. I did force myself out to the gym this morning, and then I got a few groceries downstairs at Loblaws. I walked back and forth in front of the ice cream section for a good ten minutes. It was all too expensive, or the wrong flavour, or had too much fat. I ended up not buying ice cream, and feeling like a big weenie. Angus's Nintendo DS was lost for a week or so. He hadn't been playing with it, and then when we tried to find it it wasn't in any of the usual places. I didn't think it was his fault -- we'd packed it for a few trips, and we thought it might have got left in a bag or packed away by accident. My Mom eventually found it under the bed the kids sleep in when they're at her place. I was relieved, not just because it's expensive, but because it sticks in my craw when anything is missing. But here's the thing -- I can't stop looking for it. Every time I take laundry downstairs or recycle newspapers or clean out a drawer, I find myself looking for the DS (insert bad metaphor here).

So I'm faking it a little bit. But that's not necessarily such a bad thing. Yesterday I had nowhere I had to be, nothing I had to do, and I was on the verge of royally screwing up a day off, wallowing aimlessly in bad tv and trans fats. I decided to clean and cook. Finding the surface of the dining room table and moving the pile of outgrown clothing that was preventing my husband from opening his bottom dresser drawer didn't necessarily make me feel fantastic, but it probably sucked less than inhaling a bag of cheetos while watching the Price of Right would have. Then I decided to take Eve to do the build-a-bear that was one of her birthday presents when she got home from school, even though the prospect of entering a mall was slightly less appealing than the prospect of stabbing myself in the eye with a hot sauce-tipped bamboo stake. And it was great. She was adorable, and grateful, and excited, and sunshiny. She made a rainbow bear and dressed it like a fairy princess and ate a humongous slice of cheese pizza and rainbow ice cream and mentioned that babies are 'really cute, but a tiny bit annoying' because one was crying rather loudly a couple of tables over. She told me I was the best. And suddenly I wasn't really faking it any more. I wasn't the best, but I was better.

Okay, I just went looking for a funny picture of fake boobs to link to (fake -- get it?), to make this less whiny and leaden. Did you know there's a website called Rate my Melons? Anyway, nothing I found was remotely funny or appropriate, and now I'm worried that the next time my son tries to check his email he might click in the wrong place and be scarred for life. I promise I'll try to be funnier tomorrow (if I haven't been locked up on the advice of Children's Aid).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Overheard at piano lessons

My kids have piano lessons from five to six on Tuesdays. Eve goes in first, and I sit with Angus in the waiting room, then they switch. At the same time, there's a woman with two tall blonde long-haired daughters -- they're eleven and twelve, but they look older. I always get a kick out of overhearing their exchanges because they mom is sarcastic, sort of like me, and one of the daughters absolutely HATES taking piano lessons. Every time they would come out with the instructor saying 'she can do it, she just doesn't want to practice,' and the girl saying 'because I HATE the piano' and the mom saying 'I really don't mind if you have to beat her'. The mom often overhears Eve talking about how much she loves playing the piano and Eve's teacher talking about how well she practices, and sometimes the mom tries to hold up Eve as a shining example for her daughter. The daughter looks at Eve, amiably enough, and says 'don't do it! Don't let them brainwash you! It's a horrible instrument!' and Eve giggles because a teen-ager is talking to her, who cares what she's saying.

Today Eve was still in her lesson when the girl came out. The instructor said to the Mom 'I don't know what the deal is, but grade five is going WAY better than grade four'. The Mom said 'you know what, there's been some big hormonal shift or something, because suddenly she's practicing, and she's not arguing and...' and the girl piped up 'and I'm nice now!' and the mother nodded happily. Every now and then, they throw you a bone. That's why we don't abandon them on a mountainside for the carrion birds, I guess.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Happy Anniversary to my friend the hooker

Cool thing number one: I actually remembered what I'm supposed to blog about today.

Cool thing number two (WAY cooler than thing number one): My friend CJ at Don't Lick the Ferrets and her T21 Traveling Afghan Project. Today is the one-year anniversary of the project, which has a hand-made (by CJ) afghan traveling all over the world to different families who have a family member with Down's Syndrome. The afghan travels with a journal and photographs of everyone who spends time with it.

I love everything about this project. I worked with quite a few people with Down's Syndrome in my days with the Associations for Community Living in Sudbury and Hamilton. Without wanting to romanticize or idealize their condition -- many of them have serious health problems -- they are the sweetest, funniest, most genuine people you will find on the face of the earth. CJs daughter is the cutest little button ever.

I also love the traveling aspect. All the people of this community sending on this object, made with love, along with their own experiences, hopes, joys and wishes. It's not often that you come across something so pure, something that puts a little more beauty and joy into the world, without sucking anything out. I'm happy to spread the word. Pass it along, if you're so inclined, and help keep the happy hooker hooking happily.