Sunday, January 31, 2010

Babel

You know how some things just don't translate well? The problem with having to write in French when you're basically English is that you can only 'think in French' so far. Sooner or later you're going to have to translate something that you think of in English into French, with variable results.

Some French words seem to me to perfectly match their English counterparts. 'Oeuf' is just fine for 'egg'. "Vert" works for 'green'. 'Chat' practically is 'cat'. And how do you say 'appalling'? -- 'épouvantable'. Isn't that fantastic? When I was in Germany with a friend, we were flipping through the dictionary and collapsed into giggles over the word 'uberspannt', which means stressed-out, or 'overstrung'. Her German cousin later made us t-shirts with the word on them.
Photo by Sebastia Giralt

But sometimes the results are rather less felicitous. Angus is currently doing a speech on the Greek Gods (thank-you Percy Jackson books). He did a rough copy and then while he was at school I was looking up a few words so I could help him edit it that night. One of the words he'd left in English was Zeus's 'thunderbolt'. I looked it up. I looked it up again. I switched to a different dictionary. I did everything I could to avoid having to write that Zeus's symbol was an 'éclair'.
FEAR ME.

Photo by Paul and Hien Brown

Talk about losing something in the translation. I can't get this image of this hugely muscled shirtless dude with luxuriously white hair and a beard, standing on top of Mount Olympus, hurling chocolate-covered cream-filled pastries down on the targets of his displeasure.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Is it just one last kick at the January suck-can?

I don't really know what the hell I'm doing posting right now. Monday is February 1st. I guess it's highly unlikely that I'm going to wake up all bright and shiny and January-bitchy-bitterness-free. Although now that I've written it down, it's more likely that I'll remember to call my sister and say happy birthday (is there something symbolically lovely about having a birthday on the first day that isn't January? Perhaps there is. Unless you're Elaine -- good thing it's my sister's birthday and not yours, huh, Elaine?). Truthfully, this January hasn't been as bad as past Januaries. For a large part of that I have many of you to thank, which I do, warmly, profusely, until you're slightly uncomfortable with my frenetic overzealousness. Being able to -- spew is such an ugly word -- vent, and have people acknowledge and sympathize and empathize is unbelievably cathartic and comforting.

Before I started to blog (back when I said, many a time "I will absolutely categorically never blog" just to clarify precisely how wishy-washy and unprincipled I really am), I would look at blogs and think "well really, a lot of it is just a big mutual admiration society. How many people do you need telling you over and over again that you're a good person and you don't suck as a parent and you're not a big sucking useless drain on society?" It turns out that when you're the one involved in the mutual admiration, the answer is "many many people. No really, this is good, but are there any more people? Tell me again how green my eyes are, and how when my kids hate me it's all part of their natural development and not because I fed them too many hot dogs, and how last Wednesday wasn't my very last chance to ever make a positive contribution to the world." I've read blog posts where people confessed things that they obviously felt were so horrifying, so shameful that all of their friends and/or readers would immediately abandon them in disgust, and I thought "Jeez, I do worse things that that on a weekly basis", and everyone else said the same. And it helps. In a real, actual, observable way. So thank-you.
Photo by Steven Stiefel

But today? Today my husband is back (finally), but he's off all day with Angus at a hockey tournament. And I slept too late to be able to wash my hair before taking Eve to Irish Dance for extra rehearsals for the Crack thing. And I ended up in a van with two other women who both also claimed to have overslept but looked like fashion models. And I hate obsessing about my hair, but somehow it feeds into this whole 'being the best me I can be' crap. Like I'm failing some major life test by never getting the right hair cut, and never knowing what to do with the hair cut I get, and everyone else in the world even if they don't have great hair have normal hair, but the normal stuff doesn't work with my hair. Actually I guess it's my face that's the problem. I have a face that hair can't frame normally. I should work on face-camouflaging techniques.

Now Eve's at a birthday party next door. And I need to do my husband's sales-meeting/skiing in the Alps trip laundry. And clean the house for Eve's party next week-end. And figure out something for supper. And I'm out. I'm flat. I've got nothing.

But this week Eve made a get well card for Angus because he had a cold. Then she made a welcome back card for Matt because "this is the most much I've ever missed Daddy". And then she came upstairs and handed me a card that said "Thank you for everything Mom."

So fuck you January. Fuck you laundry. Fuck you messy house. I'm going to take my card upstairs and read a book.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

WTF just happened?

Are your kids (if you have kids) doing the MS Read-a-thon in school (if they're in school)? Because holy crap, are my kids ever doing the MS Read-a-thon. Angus is quite into it but Eve -- she doesn't even know exactly what MS is, but this event, plus the 'contest' her class is in against the class next door to see who can read more -- has brought out shades of competitiveness and determination that were hitherto unsuspected. Okay, I'm lying, I totally suspected. Actually I flat-out knew. Since she was about four days old. Still, it's intense. Her teacher gives them little blue slips of paper that I have to initial and send back -- one for every 30 minutes she reads. And she's six. Thirty minutes is a long time to laboriously sound out words and fit sentences together. In fact, thirty minutes is kind of a long time to listen to someone laboriously sounding out words and fitting sentences together. But what am I going to do -- say that's enough reading for now? Hello, leg that I don't have to stand on.
So yesterday she's getting ready for another marathon session, and she comes to the table with an enormous Robert Munsch compendium. We have two of these -- Angus's French one, from a couple of Christmases ago, and her English one, from this past Christmas. I assumed she knew which one she had, but I guess I was wrong:
Eve: "Okay. I'm ready."
Me: "Okay. I'm listening."
Eve: "On...partage...toot"
Me: "Tout" (thinking -- that's weird -- she knows that word)
Eve: (turning page) "Le premier...hey! Why is this in French?"
Me: "Huh? Because...it's a French book."
Eve: "No it's not!"
Me: "Pretty sure it is. Let me see. Yep. L'univers de Munsch."
Eve: "How did it turn French?"
Me: "It's Angus's. Yours is upstairs."
Eve: "Angus has a Robert Munsch book? Since when?"
Me: "Christmas a couple of years ago. I thought you got his on purpose."
Eve: "Why would I want the FRENCH one?!!!!"
Me: "Um, because you're in French immersion and you read French every day?"
Eve: "No, I wanted mine! Where's mine? I'm going to get mine!"
(stomps away from the table, stomps halfway up the stairs. Pauses. Turns around, comes back downstairs, comes back to the table, opens the book)
Eve: (sweetly and calmly) "Actually I think a French book would be good for me."
Please excuse me from coherent conversation for the rest of the day. I have mental whiplash and I think I need to lie down.

Also, if you haven't read Tabatha Southey's rebuttal to Pat Robertson's claim that Haiti deserved the earthquake because of their alleged deal with the devil, and you feel like having an admiring giggle, you really should.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Can I Get a Consult?

So yesterday, Angus had a friend over. A friend from a family we met through baseball and really like. His sister was also here playing with Eve. For the first little while, Eve and the girl did crafts, Angus and the boy were in the basement playing Wii and then watching hockey, and I was baking cookies. Then the boys came upstairs with the girls and things got very loud. I went up to read in my room, and totally unintentionally fell asleep for about half an hour. I got up, folded some laundry, then went downstairs and we ordered pizza and watched Elf before the kids went home.

Today, I went on Youtube to look for Glee clips. As soon as I started typing in the URL, the history lit up like the red light district in Amsterdam: the words 'hot', 'h*rny', 'lesbian', 'sexy teen', 'f*ck t*t f*ck t*t f*ck' and 'bathroom cam' unfurled in a lurid display in the history column.

The look on my face must have been quite something. For a moment I was completely -- I mean completely -- unable to conceive of how this was possible, unless I sleepwalked down to the kitchen in the middle of the night in subconscious search of a little hot-horny-sexy-lesbians-in-the-bathroom action. Hey, I'll be the first to admit I've had some pretty far-out dreams involving the Indian doctor from ER.

Then I remembered that I have a son. Who uses the computer.
Photo by marsmettnn tallahassee
I called Angus up from the basement and asked him if he'd been on Youtube recently. He said he'd been looking up some stuff about Mario Kart, and when I kept looking at him, he said "what?". I said it looked like someone had been looking at something inappropriate, and he said it was the other boy.
Now, I have to say I'm inclined to believe him, but not because he's my son. In the first place, he just didn't look busted enough. He's a lousy liar, and if I keep looking at him, he always breaks down, and I did, and he didn't. In the second place, he just hasn't seemed that interested in horny f*cking co-eds or anything else of that ilk so far. He happily uses the computer out in the midst of family activity and has never shown that furtive instinct to close the screen or anything when approached, and I've never found anything like that in the website history list before. The other boy is almost a year older, and all I know about him is that I like his parents and he's very polite.
I realize I dropped the ball here. I shouldn't have left them unsupervised at all, and I sure as hell shouldn't have been napping. In my feeble defense, Matt's been away since Wednesday and I'm a little overtired, but I should have considered that before I invited them over. Also, even if he wasn't the instigator, clearly Angus was there with the other boy while this was going on, and he didn't stop him, or come and tell me, or tell me after he'd left.

I'm not totally freaking out. Kids get curious about sex, and hello, here's the Internet with its shiny horny promises of sexy co-eds being all naked and completely unaware of the cameras and suddenly realizing they can't keep their hands off each other. But clearly there have to be limits.

My question is this -- in my place, would you punish Angus? And would you tell the other boy's parents? I'm about to email my husband, but being as he hates conflict even more than I do (if that's possible), I suspect he won't want me to do anything. And I honestly don't know if I should. This wouldn't prevent me from having the boy over again, although my computer-use parameters will be a little different (perhaps involving a padlock and a sign with big red letters). Telling other people stuff about their kids is such a fraught thing.
So, as the Bear in the Big Blue House would say -- what do you think?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sentimental about Education

I've been working on my first assignment for my course. It's not terribly arduous -- I just have to compare the mission statements of five libraries. And it's pretty much done. And it's not due until February first. In fact, the lecture on which it's based only officially came out today. When the course started on February 15th, there was a message mentioning that the first lecture would be posted in the lectures folder, but I couldn't find anything in there other than the welcoming message. So I emailed the professor (great. First whiny annoying student with a hand waving in the air going excuse me, excuse me, I can't find the lecture, where's the lecture). So she posted Lecture #1, which was actually dated today -- the second week of the course. The welcome message was the first lecture. We were supposed to spend the first week familiarizing ourselves with the software (which is stupidly easy to use, and I use the term advisedly, since I can use it).
Photo by Audra B

But hell, if it was up, I was reading it, and taking notes, and doing the class participation exercise.
I was supposed to interview two people about their library usage for the exercise, but since I know everyone's busy I sent out about a dozen emails asking people for their comments. And of course everyone I know is really freaking nice and efficient as well as being busy, so I got a dozen replies (thanks everyone!). So I emailed the professor asking if I could amend the assignment to include everyone's thoughts. And she emailed back: "Look, you incredibly annoying keener, can't you just do the goddamned assignment the way I wrote it and quit being a pain in my ass?". Well actually she wrote back that it would be interesting if I did it the new way and to go ahead, but I could tell she was thinking the other thing.

Then there's the first assignment. Which, as I said, is not that hard. So why has it been doing my head in? Granted, it was a little difficult getting the old gears moving in that way again, but I know I can put a paragraph together in a way that doesn't totally suck. I know I can think critically, or at least fake it. Why did I absolutely NEED to finish it once I started it, just so I could get it out of the way and stop brooding?
I would chalk it up to my good old obsessive, annoying-perfectionist, perspective-lacking me-ness, but I know for a fact I'm not the only one. My friend Janis took a course and at one point thought she'd gotten a five out of ten on an assignment (it was actually only marked out of five) and freaked out and didn't sleep all night. Okay, admittedly this is a small sample, and one could argue that Janis is every bit the older-child keener-freak that I am. But I think it might say something larger about the whole concept of 'school'. I remember a friend who studied science once saying that she decided to read The Brothers Karamazov. About halfway through, she stopped and considered what it would be like if she was reading it for a course, and she could feel all the pleasure drain out of the experience. How is it that 'learning' has somehow become twinned with this concept of regimented, rote, joyless fact-ingesting?

This isn't a well-thought-out treatise or anything. I know it all comes down to money. I know there are alternative schools that claim to break the mold of traditional education. I know that there are teachers in my kids' school that do make learning fun. In J.K., they keep caterpillars until they spin their chrysalises, and then set the butterflies free in the summer. In grade one, Eve gets a bean every time she speaks French in class, and gets to trade the beans for treats at the end of the week. Angus's class had a medieval festival with jousting and poetry and pancakes (they couldn't get a license for mead and pottage, I guess).

Still, every now and then I wish things were a little different. I don't really think homeschooling was for us -- my kids need other kids too much, and I'm not sure I have the fortitude to be responsible for their education. They both get a little bit of everything -- music, sport, art, literature, and good old-fashioned play. They're not being stifled. Eve especially still really enjoys most of her time at school. Maybe it's more my hang-ups than theirs.

Clunky segue to the relevant book quote. Earth Abides by George R. Stewart -- it's an end-of-the-world book, but not with aliens or bombs or John Cusack. It's quieter and more meditative, more a what-would-happen-if? story, with real characters and thoughtful questions. This is what it has to say about work and play:

"When once they stalked the deer, or crouched shivering in the mud for the flight of ducks to alight, or risked their lives on the crags after goats, or closed in with shouts upon a wild boar at bay –that was not work, though often the breath came hard, and the limbs were heavy. When the women bore and nursed children, or wandered in the woods for berries and mushrooms, or tended the fire at the entrance to the rock shelter – that was not work either. So also, when they sang and danced and made love, that was not play. By the singing and dancing the spirits of forest and water might be placated – a serious matter, though still one might enjoy the song and the dance. And as for the making of love, by that – and by the favour of the gods – the tribe was maintained.

So in the first years work and play mingled always, and there were not even the words for one against the other... But centuries flowed by and then more of them, and many things changed. Man invented civilization, and was inordinately proud of it. But in no way did civilization change life more than by sharpening the line between work and play, and at last that division came to be more important than the old one between sleeping and waking. Sleep came to be thought a kind of relaxation, and ‘sleeping on the job’ a heinous sin. The turning out of the light and the ringing of the alarm clock were not so much the symbols of man’s dual life as were the punching of the time clock and the blowing of the whistle. Men marched on picket lines and threw bricks and exploded dynamite to shift an hour from one classification to the other, and other men fought equally hard to prevent them. And always work became more laborious and odious, and play grew more artificial and febrile.”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Once a Pona time

I don't have time for a real post. My husband's away and Angus stayed home sick today and I went for a walk with Pam anyway and it was good even though it made my heel hurt because I ordered the stupid snow-runners from L.L. Bean in a men's size for some stupid reason and they fit my husband, so he took them on his oh-so-arduous business trip where they're going to fit in talking about how fucked the fibre optics business is around skiing in the fucking FRENCH Alps.

In spite of that, I actually feel fine. I slept last night, I walked this morning, the kids have been great, they both shovelled in the sweet chili salmon I made for supper and now Angus is reading Percy Jackson and Eve is working on her book (writing, not reading) and I'm about to go tuck them in and hit the sack with a funny book recommended to me by Magpie on the screwy history of marriage and men who are hysterically, insanely, almost amusingly afraid of women's woman parts.

Eve just read me a little of her story. It's about a man named Boo Boo who's a clown and his job is to 'phart' and make children laugh. He looks sad but only because of his makeup. Until he loses his phart bag and gets fired, and then he really is sad. Apparently chapter 2 features a boy named Stinky.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go have a bedtime story read to me. Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Also, I Gained Six Pounds.

I had my yearly physical today. In the course of the appointment I mentioned that I seemed to have a sinus headache all the time lately; when she asked how I was sleeping, I said not great, and she asked if I felt rested when I woke up and I said huh? Does anyone? She also knew I was having breakthrough depression symptoms, which I wasn't that concerned about because I generally do in January. But just as she was about to leave the room and I was about to hop off the table and get dressed, she came back and said she wanted to give me a prescription for something that she thought would a) help me sleep more deeply b) be an adjuvant for my antidepressant and c) help my headaches, because it's often used as a migraine preventer.

I felt a little like Homer Simpson after Lisa tells him that bacon, pork and ham all come from the same animal: "Oh right, some wonderful, magical animal!". If this works, I'll be out in the street with a sandwich board shilling for the drug company that makes it.

Truthfully, my mood situation has been better this year than it has some Januaries. I crashed a little early this year, so Christmas was a little hard to get through, but the last two weeks I haven't been terribly depressed. Physically, though, I feel just kind of crappy. Not really quite getting anything but always sort-of maybe fighting something off, that kind of thing? It makes me think of this passage in one of my Top Ten Best Books Ever (The History of Love):

"My heart is weak and unreliable. When I go it will be my heart. I try to burden it as little as possible. If something is going to have an impact, I direct it elsewhere. My gut for example, or my lungs, which might seize up for a moment but have never yet failed to take another breath. When I pass a mirror and catch a glimpse of myself, or I'm at the bus stop and some kids come up behind me and say, Who smells shit? -- small daily humiliations -- these I take, generally speaking, in my liver. Other damages I take in other places. The pancreas I reserve for being struck by all that's been lost. It's true that there's so much, and the organ is so small. But. You would be surprised how much it can take, all I feel is a quick, sharp pain and then it's over. Sometimes I imagine my own autopsy. Disappointment in myself: right kidney. Disappointment of others in me: left kidney. Personal failures: kishkes. I don't mean to make it sound like I've made a science of it. It's not that well thought out. I take it where it comes. It's just that I notice certain patterns. When the clocks are turned back and the dark falls before I'm ready, this, for reasons I can't explain, I feel in my wrists. And when I wake up and my fingers are stiff, almost certainly I was dreaming of my childhood. The field where we used to play, the field in which everything was discovered and everything was possible... Yesterday I saw a man kicking a dog and I felt it behind my eyes. I don't know what to call this, a place before tears. The pain of forgetting: spine. The pain of remembering: spine. All the times I have suddenly realized that my parents are dead, even now, it still surprises me, to exist in the world while that which made me has ceased to exist: my knees, it takes half a tube of Ben-Gay and a big production just to bend them. To everything a season, to every time I've woken only to make the mistake of believing for a moment that someone was sleeping beside me: a hemorrhoid. Loneliness: there is no organ that can take it all."

Now, Leo Gursky has had a genuinely, monstrously, unfairly tragic life. Me, not so much. But still, I wonder if my depression and anxiety have gone undercover, and only come out in weird symptoms and discomforts. My sore shoulder -- maybe that's my fear that we spend too much money and have too much stuff. Headache -- the suspicion that I read too much and live too little. Rash on elbow -- the worry that I'm really not the best mother I could be. Aching breasts -- the regret that I didn't have more sex with more people. Cough -- existential fear of life, death, the universe, and everything.

Nah. It's probably just lung cancer or a degenerative brain disease.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What I'm Reading

I just finished The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It was disappointing. It's supposed to be about a writer who's commissioned by a mysterious publisher to write a book 'with the power to change hearts and minds'. A dangerous book.

I love the idea of the dangerous power of words, and the Faustian aspect sounded intriguing. But the reality was much more telenovela/melodrama than sophisticated magical realism. You know what I'm really sick of? I'm really sick of men who languish and pine over beautiful tragic women who have absolutely nothing to their character other than being beautiful and tragic. What's fun about that? I mean, if she was beautiful and tragic and could fix a carburetor, or made a mean grilled cheese, or could pop your dislocated shoulder back in effortlessly, then by all means languish away. But nice boobs and long hair and an air of doomed misery? Bleah.

My first lecture for Introduction to Libraries was interesting and informative, with several links for further exploration of various libraries and on-line research sites. I was intrigued by the description of the holdings of one Health Sciences Library, which kept referring to 'knowledge-based health care' practice and information. Knowledge-based health care as opposed to what, exactly? Tossing back a cup of vinegar and nettles and hoping for the best? Denial-based health care, where you ignore the problems and hope they'll go away? Is this not a rather perplexing term?

There was also a link to the Freedom to Read website, which was very interesting. I particularly enjoyed reading the section on challenged books. There's a long list of books, along with the offended party's objection. One of the books is called Trouble on Tarragon Island, and deals with a clear-cut logging dispute:

"Cause of objection—In the novel, a girl’s grandmother joins an anti-logging group and poses semi-nude for a calendar. In the first chapter, several boys taunt the girl about her grandmother’s breasts, calling them 'bazoongas.' The librarian objected to the bullying scene—the Elizabeth School has a zero-tolerance policy for bullying—and to the word 'bazoongas.'"

This did, in fact, result in the book being removed from the shelves, although it was later replaced. It was quite fascinating -- in a voyeuristic, periodically livid, sometimes amused way -- to see the various objections people raise to reading material, and also I really enjoyed the repetition of the word 'bazoongas'.

I'm going to bed with yet another book or four. High hopes for no beautiful tragic suck-wads and maybe a few bazoongas.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Isn't this Too Early for a Slip Jig?

I'm two of the seven dwarves currently -- Sleepy and Dopey. I woke up wheezing in the night, and Eve had a special Irish dancing class early this morning (you know, for Just a Bit of Crack, I mean Craic). From the Youtube clip of the one two years ago, it promises to be a little more civilized than the feis, which was actually a competition -- that was kind of nutty. First of all, they have chairs set up in little orderly rows, but the minute the dancing starts people crowd up into the space between the chairs and the dancing area, leaving us rookies wondering why the hell we showed up an hour early for a front row seat if we were going to have to jockey to see over heads, some of which were clad in some truly mesmerizing curly wigs, making it hard to look away.
Photo from Flickr by Patrick

My husband ventured a guess that this is meant to approximate an Irish county fair, where the dancing takes place in the mud next to the pig auctioning and the ring toss. I say fine, but then they should give us tankards of ale and haunches of venison with the bone attached to prod the shovers-in with.

Then there's the actual dancing. The beginners' numbers are pretty straightforward -- three of them go at once, but they're doing basically the same dance, so other than hoping they all do their sideways steps at the same rate and don't end up in a pile-up, it's all good. With the older girls, it gets much closer to a dancing smack-down; three of them spin out onto the floor like wind-up dolls, they're all doing a completely different dance (most of which involve high kicks and require extensive space), and jockeying for the best place in front of the judges. Add to this the moments when they remember they're supposed to be smiling, which results in momentary teeth-baring grimaces, and it all gets a little surreal. I guess I'm going to have to think carefully about how far I want Eve to go in Irish dancing. Then again, we've already burned through ballet and tap, so by next year we'll probably be on to something completely different

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I'm Mad as Hell and I'm Not Gonna Take it Anymore! Sorta!

Yesterday the ever-thoughtful and balanced Amber had a post up on leashing your child. For safety, not, you know, just for kicks. A commenter posted a link to another post on using a leash for the purpose of not letting your kid hurl him/herself into traffic. A couple of the commenters to that post really spiked my blood pressure.
photo credit
license
I don't like confrontation. It makes me dizzy and sweaty. I also try not to be too judgemental. I'm a firm believer in not thinking you can judge a person until you've walked a mile in their leopard-skinned boots or socks and sandals. Over the past few years, though, I'm realizing that there is a limit to tolerance. There's a difference between not being judgemental and being a wussy push-over who has no opinions. Following different religions is not something I have a problem with. But honour killings are wrong. Being passionate about your culture is great. But cutting off someone else's hands and/or feet because they belong to a different culture is wrong. Denying education to women is wrong.
One of the smaller-scale things that I'm not going to just shut up and fume quietly about is a small subset of 'attachment parenters' who not only refuse to feed their children with bottles, vaccinate their children, let their babies sleep in cribs or do anything that might be construed as discipline -- that's their right, although if you don't vaccinate your child won't be playing with mine -- but also feel justified in telling other parents that they are at the very least neglectful and lazy, and at the worst abusive, if they don't do the same.

One comment said "Leashing a child is wrong -- period". Oh, nothing like that little construction to make the top of my head blow right off. It reminds me of a letter to the editor in the Ottawa Citizen which read "Breast is best -- period." Oh really? Even when you have an inadequate milk supply and your child is starving? What if you have to undergo chemotherapy? What if breastfeeding gives you debilitating migraines so you can either nurse your child or do everything else for them?

photo credit
license
I've always said that nothing terrifies me so much in a person as certainty. People who are absolutely convinced that they are right, not an eyelash's width of room for doubt -- these are the people who, under certain circumstances, strap bombs to themselves and go in search of virgins in paradise. Under other circumstances, they just really bring down a playgroup. There are so very few things that I would add '--period' to -- I can't believe how some people fling it around. Leashing a child is wrong -- period? More wrong than a child running in front of a car or getting irretrievably lost in a department store, causing hours of distress for the mother and the child? Leashing is treating a child like a dog? Sorry, but is that a really bad thing? Most of the pets I know are treated like royalty. Their leashes are a matter of safety too, not a device for humiliation and punishment. The rest of the comment reads "children are meant to be free and parents are their to protect but not stiffle (sic) them". Um, sorry, but have you possibly confused children with African lions or bald eagles? Because my experience has been that children are born with no sense of empathy or self-protection, and I'm here to help them learn those things. Do you send your one-year-old out to forage for dinner? Do you use a car seat, or does letting them ping-pong around the back seat engender more of a sense of freedom? Bike helmets can be sweaty and uncomfortable -- forget those, I guess.

Here's another one: "Why can't you parents keep a hold on your children without a leash? Generations grew up just fine without them. I say it's the parents not wanting to stay on alert all the time, not that kids run. Put a leash on your child and you can continue your conversation with your friends or shop without ever having to think about your child." That's right. All you parents who said your children run away? You're just big fat flat-out liars. And generations grew up just fine without them? What does that even mean? I'd venture a guess that toddler mortality rates are lower right now than they were generations ago. Sure, that MIGHT be because of better nutrition and medical care, but how do you know it's not the leashes? Chew on that, toots. And let's just examine the assumption that wanting to be able to finish a sentence or reach up to the top shelf to get a box of detergent without worrying about your child disappearing makes you a selfish, horrible person.

In the spirit of honesty, most of the comments for both posts were positive. I'm just at the point where I'm ready to say live and let live; you have a God-given right to your own opinion; you have God-given right to go home and talk about me behind my back to your husband about you think whatever I was doing today was loony; but if you want to spout vitriolic nonsense where I will see it, about how not following your every parental tenet makes me a bad mother, and expect me to just slink away, just because that's basically what I've done for the last thirty-nine-and-a-half years? Not gonna happen. I will seek you out and challenge you to a slap-fight. Well, not really, but I will come down on your head with the full weight of my many-adjectived rhetoric, you pusillanimous sanctimonious poop-heads.

There. That was invigorating. I'm going upstairs for Maalox now.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not THAT Kind of Rye

I re-read The Catcher in the Rye on the week-end. It's been vexing me how little I remember about some of the books I've read. I really like re-reading, but it always feels a little like falling behind (maybe if I didn't surround myself with gargantuan, teetering towers of books to be read it would be easier). I realized that all I remembered about Catcher was the character's name and that he said 'goddam' a lot, and something about being at a teacher's house in the middle of the night. And angst, of course. So I read it again. A lot of people have said that they read the book as a teenager and really identified with the character. I don't remember this being the case for me at all. I thought he was kind of a jerk. Then again, I was kind of a goody-two-shoes rule-following teenager -- I smushed up all my angst and alienation in a tiny little unappetizing ball and rammed it so far down my gullet it wouldn't resurface until several years later in the middle of a lecture on Latin America -- my professor thought I was weeping for the plight of the downtrodden poor, which would have been understandable, but actually I was just suddenly realizing how sad and artificial my comfortable, middle-class upbringing had been.

No, really. The book seems much better and much sadder to me, reading it as an adult. It's bandied about as a universal paean to youthful rebellion and disaffectedness, which in some ways it is, but Holden Caulfield also has real shit to deal with. I feel like his rather showy despair is somewhat more earned than that of some adolescents. He's lost a brother, and his parents persist in putting him in boarding school which, come on, who wouldn't be angst-ridden and angry? Has anyone ever had a positive experience at boarding school, other than some of the sappy little gits in Enid Blyton (just kidding, I adore Enid Blyton)? He fails in academic pursuits because he's mourning, and he feels like most of the world is artificial and worthless because no one seems to have properly acknowledged the pain and senselessness of his loss. The entire book is a diagram of his desperate and graceless attempts to connect with someone, and while there are flashes of humour and the ridiculous, on the whole I just felt really sorry for him. I was glad that he was wherever he is now, resting and, it is to be hoped, getting the help he needs.

So is it just that I re-read it in *&^ January? If I read it again next month will he just be an obnoxious slacker, on par with the high school kids who hang around smoking and swearing outside the library doors while I'm trying to shepherd my kids past and doing my best not to look like a starchy, disapproving middle-aged mother, even though that's precisely what I am? I might never know.

photo credit
license
I'm also re-reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, for book club, which is a little more fun. Here's to not having your house destroyed to make way for a hyper-space bypass, and to someday figuring out the definitive recipe for the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.

Also, Eve is starting rehearsal for another Irish Dance Show in March. It's called Just a Bit of Craic. Craic is pronounced 'crack'.
(Pronounced eyebrow raise).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tag, You're It!

I've been tagged by Jane to tell you seven things you don't know about me (which might be hard because, as we all know, I tend to share way too much with the Internet) and tag seven more people to play along. Much like in the real world, I hope I know seven people who will want to play along and not give me that look like Rachelle in grade two used to give me when I asked if she wanted to play -- that look that said 'even if you give me all the cookies in your lunch it's going to be a stretch'.

Anyway:

1) I can say pillow and egg in five languages (English, French, Spanish, Polish and Finnish). I got some guy to teach them to me in Berber when I was in Morocco, but I can't remember those any more.

2) When I was little I was terrified of car horns -- you know when, after a wedding, all the cars drive around honking like mad? My Dad says this is because I thought the cars had animal horns on them, and, while I realize this would make more sense than just being afraid of a noise, it's not true -- I was just afraid of the noise.

3) The only poem ever written for me by a guy was really, really bad. The only two lines I remember are "Allison is my alarm/ Allison makes me tick". It didn't turn me off the guy, but I was briefly really embarrassed for him and hoped like hell he wouldn't ask me if I liked it.

4) When I lived in Toronto I did volunteer work for a service that put books on tape for the visually impaired. They did books that were specifically requested for clients. This meant I worked on a variety of books -- fiction, religious tracts, etc. One time I went in and the book waiting for me beside the tape recorder was a volume of African-Canadian lesbian sex poetry. Extremely explicit African-Canadian lesbian sex poetry. Not that visually impaired African-Canadian lesbians and those who admire them don't have a perfect right to their porno poetry, but I kept looking around the room for a hidden camera the whole time anyway.

5) I hate green beans.

6) I failed my first driving test.

7)When I was in my first trimester with Angus, we went to a Moroccan restaurant my husband and I really liked. I ordered the lemon chicken tagine I always loved, but after three bites I felt sick and had to stop eating it. This aversion was so intense that I couldn't even finish a book I had been reading -- it was about Jesus and his forty days in the desert, and there were other people there and they had preserved lemons and olives, and reading this made me feel so sick I had to stop reading. I don't think I read the book until four or five years later.
So here's another seven people I always like to hear from (including Mary Lynn, who blew my mind by sending me a link-making tutorial Friday night, which was better than getting four pounds of chocolate in the mail. Words cannot express how much I am currently adulating her).

Riding in a Handbasket
Amber Dusick
Thoughts of a Smother Mother
Turtlehead
Party of 3
Don't Lick the Ferrets
Still Breathing

Friday, January 8, 2010

One Small Step for a Stay at Home Mom, One Giant Leap for...Well, No One.

First week of &*^%& January is over. Yay.
photo credit
license
I didn't know what to do with myself today. There were lots of things I should have been doing, but I was stuck in aimless mode. I answered some emails and sat staring at the computer, thinking.... that I had considered starting library tech courses in January. I had said I was going to take the first year that the kids were in school full-time off, to clear out the accumulated detritus of owning a house and having kids for the past decade. And to walk and work out more, and learn to play the piano again.

But then I thought maybe I would start courses in January, because it would only be a few hours a week and...then I could say I was taking courses instead of just saying I'm a stay-at-home Mom (not that there's anything wrong with that). BUT then I remembered that January was *&*^& JANUARY, and that my husband and my parents would be away for most of it, and that I might have to try to do HOMEWORK for the first time in fourteen years while sobbing and nursing thoughts of a suicidal nature, in between shoveling the driveway (because the minute Matt leaves for Switzerland there's always a blizzard) and driving one or both of my kids to emergency (because the minute Matt leaves for Switzerland they can't get down the stairs except at high velocity on their heads). And I thought, if I explained this to anyone who knew me, they would certainly agree that in this case, discretion really is the better part of valour. They would be kind and supportive and forgiving.

On the other hand, I could just suck it up and put my money where my mouth is. Which I hate, of course. I'd much rather put chocolate or tequila where my mouth is.

But I did it. I signed up for one tiny enormous course. An introductory course. 'Distance learning' they call it. At first I was overjoyed by this, thinking that I wouldn't have to go into class, because even when I was nineteen walking into a class full of people who were clearly all wondering what the heart-crushingly awful deal was with my hair was enough to induce a serious cerebro-vascular incident -- I don't even want to think how bad it would be now. But then I realized that now I've signed up to go to school... via computer. At some point I'm going to have to take courses ABOUT computers.... on a computer. And what do I know about computers? I know when one's upside down, that's about it. One course says I have to have a Pentium II quality or better computer -- that can be disassembled. DISASSEMBLED? They're going to make me take apart my computer? If I do that, how can I use the computer to tell me how to put the computer back together? Say it with me -- What. The. Fuck.

photo credit
license
I know it will be good for me. I know I've been putting it off because it's been a long time since I had to be where someone tells me when someone tells me, and since I tried to do something new and possiblity difficult (well, that and there was the child-raising and all the crippling mental problems and stuff). I hate doing things that I'm not good at right away. That's why I never play volleyball. And hey, maybe I'll also learn to do all the cool crap I can't do with my blog right now. Like make links instead of just talking about links I would make if I could make links. I know, I know, the idea is to make money at some point, not just dazzle you all with more than my sparkling wit and charm.

I have a student number. Want to hear something that's sort of amusing if you live in my head? My husband knows pi to twelve digits, but every time he said it I thought he was saying the first few wrong. He would say 3.14159265353, and I would think "3.14159? No way man, it's 3.14915". Because my student number in University was 8914915.

Okay, maybe it's not that amusing. Some of pi is kind of close to my student number, and I thought pi WAS my student number. It really is all about me.

Not to mention that the description of the diploma says I should enjoy working with technology and work well as part of a team. Rats. What have I done?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Do You REALLY Want to Know?

Description of which areas of the brain are involved in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder from The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D.:
"We detect mistakes with our orbital frontal cortex, part of the frontal lobe, on the underside of the brain, just behind our eyes. Scans show that the more obsessive a person is, the more activated the orbital frontal cortex is.
Once the orbital frontal cortex has fired the 'mistake feeling,' it sends a signal to the cingulate gyrus, located in the deepest part of the cortex. The cingulate triggers the dreadful anxiety that something bad is going to happen unless we correct the mistake and sends signals to both the gut and the heart, causing the physical sensations we associate with dread.
The 'automatic gearshift,' the caudate nucleus, sits deep in the center of the brain and allows our thoughts to flow from one to the next unless, as happens in OCD, the caudate becomes extremely 'sticky'.
Brain scans of OCD patients show that all three brain areas are hyperactive. The orbital frontal cortex and the cingulate turn on and stay on as though locked in the 'on position' together -- one reason Schwartz calls OCD 'brain lock'."
So how am I feeling? Well, we have this new green bin for organic waste and kleenex, and I have this sinus thing, so I'm using a fair number of kleenex and technically I should open the theoretically clean little green bin every time I need to put in strawberry ends or banana peels or kleenex, but every time I have to touch it I feel a desperate need to wash my hands, so I either have to wash my hands until my skin looks like something that should be made into a purse, or I have to make little piles of peels and tissues until a future time when I have to wash my hands anyway, then I open the green bin and put in the stuff and THEN wash my hands.
In other words, my caudate nucleus is a little sticky, and I'm in brain lock. You?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Teething Problems

My husband's in New York right now. In a way it's easier when he's away when I'm feeling down, because I just have to worry about keeping myself and the kids on track, and I don't worry about him worrying about me. I was surprised how easy it was to wake up yesterday when I spent most of the Christmas holidays reading and/or coughing all night and sleeping in to an outrageous extent (on the plus side, sleeping for 16 hours gave me a couple less hours to eat). I got up before the alarm, went in and cuddled the kids for half an hour or so (Eve sleeps on the futon in Angus's room whenever he lets her, which is quite often), got them to school, went to the gym, came home and cleaned up Christmas decorations, stared bleakly at the wall for a bit, got Eve at the bus, did homework, took the kids to piano, did baths and tucking in and then didn't take a sleeping pill because I'd gone to bed late and gotten up early so falling asleep should be pretty easy, right? RIGHT?
I'm a moron.
This morning, after my delicious and refreshing fourteen minutes of sleep, my Dad picked up Angus so I could take Eve to the dentist for eight o'clock. I wasn't all that worried -- Angus has had a pretty hardcore dentist phobia since birth, and even the tilting back of the chair generates severe and vocal unhappiness, but Eve has taken the whole deal pretty much in stride. Of course, this was a little more than a routine cleaning and check-up. This was the removal of a grievously infected tooth, which was of course going to necessitate a....needle...in her mouth...
photo credit
license
I'm a moron.
I never really considered the pounds of force that might be required for an average-sized six-year-old to hold her jaws shut for an undetermined period of time. I never really considered that, if a kid really really doesn't want to open her mouth, there's not a whole hell of a lot you can do to make them. I also didn't really feel comfortable promising her McDonald's, ice cream and a pony right in front of the dentist (even though she probably would have been on board. In fact, she was probably thinking 'come on Mom, get with the bribery, I don't have all freaking day!')
In all honesty, it wasn't that bad for that long. My heart broke a tiny bit, as it always does, when she said "I just can't do it", just like she always does at flu shot time, and then gave me that look of complete disbelieving betrayal when she realized that (seriously?) I was actually going to make her do it.
She livened up the whole process in true Eve fashion, of course, chattering blithely away to the dentist and the assistant even while her jaws were wide open ("I'n gonna get vraces? Heriously?") and having a little Hunter Thompson moment while the anesthetic took effect ("This feels weird. Bleah. Bleah. My tongue feels weird. Fat. Fat. Fat. My lip feels fat but I can't say fat properly because my lip is...FAT! Blblblblb...my tongue feels sort of....OH, so THIS is what numb means.") And all was forgiven when they gave her her holey tooth in a tiny little treasure chest.
I thought she was going to go to school after. I had her backpack and lunch and snowpants in the truck with us.
I'm a moron.
I looked at her, all swollen and bleeding and post-traumatic. Then I thought maybe both of us should come home for a nap. Until April.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Darker Shade of Blue

photo credit
license
Often, around this time of year, distressing things start happening to stuff around me. All the books seem full of teeth-grindingly beautiful and brave heroines, or plotlines that go around and around in circles, or people that say things like 'you do, do you?' (Good CHRIST, why would anyone ever use that as a line of dialogue? It's like a special palindrome for douchebags.) When I open the cupboards, cans of soup and jars of taco sauce throw themselves out trying to commit suicide. Dishes come out of the dishwasher with Cascade-scented tearstains on them.
Okay, maybe it's just me. I would say "for as long as I remember", but for the longest time I was totally unaware of the unparalleled forces of suckiness that were always unleashed in January. So I can't even call it a self-fulfilling prophecy. I would get through Christmas, get back in the swing of things, going merrily along, and suddenly wonder why I found myself huddling under the bathroom sink cuddling a can of Drano at one in the afternoon. Or I would be washing dishes and listening to music, and think, 'hmm, this is productive and enjoyable. I wonder why I'm going over coffin models in the back of my mind?'
Granted, January's not a pretty month. But I like snow. I don't mind cold. Theoretically it's a good time to do some pre-spring cleaning while putting away Christmas stuff. But for some reason my consciousness just wants to take a long winter's nap. It's as though I have a big, spiky, heavy mass in my stomach. If I sit very still, it doesn't hurt too much. The more I try to move and act, the more it thrashes around ripping stuff up.
It's okay. Everybody's got their thing. I try to save what agency and energy I can muster up for my kids, so they don't suffer too much. But I don't have a whole lot extra, and it seems like I should be doing more. More than just trying not to disappear.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Can I Borrow a Cup of Sugar and Your New Year's Eve Party, Please?

So New Year's Eve turned out pretty fun after all. Sometimes I think the best kind of party is one that happens spontaneously without a lot of stressful planning. Actually, what I really kind of mean is that the best kind of party is one that you let your neighbour plan stressfully and then crash at the last minute, after asking her to babysit your daughter so you don't have to drag her (the daughter) to the hockey arena an hour early (because it's a tournament) and you have it on good authority that this arena falls into the category of inhumanly vampirically freaking cold, and the daughter is playing so nicely with the little girl from next door that wouldn't it be more sensible to just let them continue playing, because after all what kind of plans could they possibly have on New Year's Eve?
My husband claims he had completely forgotten that it was New Year's Eve when he went over to check if they were okay with Eve staying there while we went to hockey. I was perfectly aware that it was New Year's Eve -- pride? shame? what are these things of which you speak? I wanted to just go and watch the damned game, rather than spend the whole time searching frantically in the red striped bag for popcorn, juice boxes, gummy bears, Game boys, ipods, barbies and colouring books. That's right, I wanted to be able to focus my full attention on our team getting their asses handed to them by a bunch of strapping farm lads from Kemptville.


Then when we got back, naturally they asked us in for a drink. And it would have been rude to just snatch our daughter and go home, right? Well, it would have been less a snatch than a really complicated, loud and ugly extraction, since she'd heard rumours of 'staying up until midnight'. There were margaritas. There was fondue. There was the woman who was clearly in desperate need of the life-changing services of my non-wacky chiropractor (I'm pretty sure I managed to write down the correct number, although when you're really drunk it's remarkable easy to flip right past chiropractors and end up at Coatings-Protective and Clothing-Special Needs, and also Clowns, so I really hope she ends up with a less-inflamed sciatic nerve and not a guy in big funny shoes with an anti-reflective coated truss, because she seemed really nice). There was a baby who smiled at my daughter and cried every time Dick Clark appeared, so totally my kind of kid. There were earnest, heartfelt, loving midnight hugs exchanged with people I had met three hours earlier.
Eve was up until after one and ended up sleeping over. At the end of the night, I only had to make it across the driveway (it was a near thing, believe me). And all with no fussing with my hair or freaking out over what to wear (well, okay, I did that for the hockey arena anyway). Love thy neighbour? No freaking kidding. My neighbours kick ass. I should bring them some cookies, or possibly a kidney.