Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pictures of Stuff that Happened in June

Kim came back to Ottawa, and a bunch of us went for lunch, including Susan, which means two of my newest awesomest friends with fabulous hair were in the same place at the same time, creating a magnificent hair singularity the reverberations of which were probably felt for miles around. 

Patti biked to lunch in a skirt, confirming her rock star status.

Eve and Kim and I got hopelessly lost after parking in the National Gallery underground parking lot. First we went into an administration building, then we found this lovely treed lot. Eventually we happened upon the front entrance, but we thought we might be lost forever for a while.

Eve. Flowers.

Eve climbed on and in a tank at the school barbecue.

Eve helped me get ready for my birthday party.

Pam came to my birthday party. She got really drunk. But she's not the one who barfed all over our back deck.....

Some people just can't hold their breastmilk.

It's totally normal for someone to send their husband home in the middle of a party to bring over their state-of-the-art ice cream maker to make ice cream out of the remaining pear puree from the pear margaritas, right?

Me at my party with my Whorehouse glass. You know -- from the Pier One Whorehouse Collection.

Angus started nightly baseball practices for the competitive summer team. That's two chicken sandwiches, souvlaki and vegetables, and s'more pie. And he ate it all.

My bellflowers burst into bloom.

We had our final book club meeting of the season, where things were very intellectual and sophisticated and there was rarefied discussion and dignity and shit.

You know how I struggle with irony, but I'm pretty sure this is it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mondays on the Margins: Wise-Minded Parenting - 7 Essentials for Raising Tweens and Teens by Laura S. Kastner with Kristen A. Russell

I'm not a big fan of parenting books on the whole. I'm not sure exactly why, since I've never been totally confident that I'm doing parenting right. I just don't always see why people who write parenting books necessarily know any better. I've also read way too much about Bruno Bettelheim, an Austrian child psychologist and writer and also possibly a total liar and nutbar who was convinced that 'refrigerator mothers' caused their children to become autistic by not giving them enough affection. Writing a parenting book is kind of like being a chiropractor - pretty much anyone can do it, it's not regulated, and how do you tell the ones who are just going to make your back stop hurting from the ones who think they can cure cancer and schizophrenia by squishing your head?

So when I was sent this book by the publisher, I was intrigued, but skeptical. But I really liked it. It's solidly evidence-based, gives the theory, the evidence and both good and bad examples, and it fits with my instincts.

Parts of this book reminded me of two other books I've read: Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman, and Teenagers: A Natural History by David Bainbridge. Wiseman's terming of the best type of parent as a "loving hard-ass" meshes nicely with the type of parenting that Kastner demonstrates as most successful, which is "authoritative parenting". Authoritative parenting consists of emotional warmth, firm limits and solid structure, along with allowing "psychological autonomy" (in other words, letting your kids disagree with you, even on big issues). This is in contrast to "authoritarian parenting" - strict rules without emotional warmth or psychological autonomy - and "permissive parenting" - lots of warmth but no rules or structure. The material that deals with how teen-agers' brains are developing and changing recalls much of what I read in Bainbridge's book, and can be really useful to know when dealing with a teenager whose behaviour seems off-the-charts irrational.

The book provides tools that parents can use on themselves as well as on their tweens or teens, stressing that it's difficult to parent effectively if you're not able to deal with your own frustration, anger or feelings of rejection before dealing with your child's issues. There are quizzes to help you assess your child's type, the type of relationship you have and the type of problems you want to focus on, with abundant reassurance that not getting perfect answers on the quiz does not mean you are failing as a parent. There is also emphasis on "good enough" parenting.

Some things seem to fall in line with common sense, some things were obvious to me, some things felt like they should have been obvious but weren't, and some things gave me something entirely new to think about (for instance, the idea that "a child who's accused of doing evil when he was just being naive or stupid has had real harm done to him." I never thought of it quite like that before). I felt that a couple of the essentials to remember and repeat could be very useful: for instance "my child is doing the best she can, given the situation and her innate temperament"; and "I may be right, but am I effective?", as well as "I will not cave when faced with high emotions".

The book recognizes that the underpinnings of a child's success - socially, emotionally, academically and in every other way - are complex and interwoven. It's actually pretty impressive how the authors manage to pull together multiple scientific studies, analyze and synthesize the findings and present them as something fairly clear, concise and simple (if not easy) to put into practice, rather than as a morass of indistinguishable information. I've even found myself watching television shows with dysfunctional parent-child interactions and musing on what the wise-minded way to handle the situation would have been (and in case you're wondering, yes, I do feel like a bit of a weinie when that happens).

I already have a list of people who want to borrow this. It may have turned me into the kind of person who recommends a parenting book. Weird.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Written on the Body

Dear Zits,

When I said I wanted the face of a nineteen-year-old again, this is not exactly what I meant, but I understand your confusion.




Dear Wrinkles,

Surely you're too old to be hanging with zits. It's unseemly. Get some pride.




Dear Breasts,

Much has been asked of you, I know. Would it be churlish to remind you that there hasn't been a nine-pound iron-gummed nipper hanging off of either of you for a good eight years now? And to ask you to, correspondingly, PERK THE FUCK UP ALREADY?




Dear Stomach and Hips,

I appreciate your steadfastness, but we don't actually have to be perenially ready for a hard winter on the Russian Steppes. Feel free to stand down.




Dear Lower Back,

Oh, cry me a river. We've all got it tough. Talk to the boobs if you don't believe me.




Dear Hemorrhoids,

Didn't get the memo on location, location, location, huh?




Dear Right Knee,

You CAN be replaced.




Dear Toes,

That colour looks fabulous on you. Keep up the good work.



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sibling Rivalry

It's been a great few days, and a draining few days, and I'm feeling actively repulsed at the idea of blogging, but APPARENTLY I'm supposed to push past the aversion and not just consider it nature's way of giving my readers a rest, so I thought I'd share a brief anecdote about Saturday, which was, no big deal, MY BIRTHDAY.

I was putting some finishing touches on the cupcakes for MY BIRTHDAY party, and the phone rang. I looked at the display and saw that it was my sister calling. I love my sister, and I consider us close, but we don't talk on the phone a whole lot - neither of us are big phone people. Every month or so we have a marathon session and then we leave it for a few weeks. And we'd just talked last week, so while I was picking up the phone I fleetingly thought "I wonder why she's calling", and then immediately, "OH, of course, she's calling because it's MY BIRTHDAY, and she's perfect and organized and competent and ALWAYS remembers everyone's birthday and calls them on the right day, whereas I tend to remember that it's someone's birthday in the middle of the preceding night, determine to call them, and then forget until the middle of the succeeding night, and I end up calling them seventeen days late and sending a present a whole season or two off. It's just who I am. So, I answer the phone, rolling my eyes, lovingly.

We talk for a while. We make some plans for when I bring Eve down to London this summer and her kids come back here. She tells me a story about her friend hitting a moose while driving on the highway late at night with her baby and elderly mother, and my sister having to go over to the house to wake up the drunk, sleep-deprived husband to go pick up his wife, except then he passes out and hits his head on the floor and she ends up having to take care of him while an estranged uncle goes to pick up the wife. Then I say something about cupcakes.

She says "what are you making cupcakes for?"

I say "my birthday party".

She doesn't say anything for a minute. Then she says. "Oh great. I just did that thing you always do, where you call someone ON their birthday but totally FORGET that it's their birthday." And she felt like an ass

Best. Birthday present. Ever.

(Although I like the bracelet too. Which she sent early. Bitch.)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Surly Thursday: Fear and Loathing at the School Barbecue

So I had a doctor's appointment early Wednesday morning. I made it early because I knew I was going to get weighed and I wanted to go without eating. This was a stupid, stupid idea. It was stupid because I know I've lost some weight and I shouldn't have been so hell-bent on the doctor's scale showing the most possible weight lost, and it was stupid because I live in a suburb that's reasonably far from downtown, which is fine in off-hours when the traffic is normal, but during what we like to call "escape from Barrhaven" when everybody's going to work, it takes an insanely long time to get there.

So I left an hour early for a drive that should take twenty to twenty-five minutes, and I was late, and stuck in traffic, and having a panic attack. I made it in around twenty minutes late, and managed not to burst into tears in the waiting room, and the doctor still saw me. And my weight loss was duly recorded and praised, but it was rather unfortunate that I was also there for a blood pressure check.

My doctor suggested strongly that I increase my medication dosage since my anxiety seems to be riding a little high. YA THINK? So to sum up - fuck you, fucking anxiety, you are HARSHING MY BUZZ.

After the doctor, I sat in my van and took some deep breaths. Then I drove to Starbucks and met The Maven and Sarah. And, well, I'm not going to talk about that now, because it makes me unable to stay surly. I drank a bunch of tea and basked in their awesomeness and we talked and laughed and interrupted each other and said no, you go first, and talked some more and laughed some more and the people that were there trying to get work done probably cursed us in their heads and wished we'd shut the hell up and two and a half hours flew by like nothing.

Thursday I started getting stuff ready for my birthday party on Saturday, and did an assignment and a quiz for my course, and it all would have been lovely, except it was the day of the effing school barbecue, which I used to be able to just not tell my kids about, but as soon as Eve was old enough to listen to her friends and read the memos she was bringing home I was screwed.

It shouldn't be that bad. I know a lot of people at the school. Some of them even like me. The weather was nice although it was supposed to be raining. It was only two hours long. Why does it strike terror into my heart and make me loathe all of humankind?

I'll get to that in a moment. I have to add that, as I was backing the van out of the driveway and talking to Eve about something, there was a horrific clunk that scared the hell out of us. I realized that, now that the huge snowbanks that made backing out terrifying are gone, my husband decided to move the basketball net from his truck's side of the driveway to my van's side. So while I was trying not to hit his vehicle's mirror with my vehicle's mirror, the mirror on the OTHER side of my vehicle whacked the basketball net. My reaction was somewhat disproportionate. I mean, it's possible - probable, even - that he wasn't expressly setting me up to wreck the van and feel like a total failure as a competent driver and human being. It's possible he was just trying to move the basketball net away from the tree. Regardless, it was a less than auspicious start to the whole ordeal.

We picked up Eve's friend whose parents weren't able to take her. We walked down the street to the school.

So here's the story. It's a big school. There are a lot of people. You think that knowing a good number of people should mean that you can find someone to talk to - maybe more than one person! - but the truth of it is that most years I end up wandering around feeling fat and awkward and lost and alone while Eve runs around getting hot dogs and freezies and going on bouncy castles with her friends. It's in a wide open field, so the sun blazes down relentlessly for the entire two hours. There's loud annoyingly perky music playing. There are about six picnic tables for about eight hundred people. I saw my friend's kids, then I realized she'd sent her husband instead of coming herself and felt a brief flash of total hatred for her. Then I couldn't find Eve and her friend for a good half hour, wherein I went from "it's cool that at least I don't have to stay with them the entire time because they're old enough to go by themselves and you know nothing's going to happen with all these people around in a contained area" to "jesus christ, I'm going to have the only kid who ever disappeared in full view of the entire school, out of a contained area". And just as an extra little bitter garnish, I realized that my husband usually doesn't come because it's baseball season and there's always been a game on barbecue night. But this time there WAS no game, and he was just sitting home in blissful silence and coolness and non-fat-social-leper-weirdness. After having put the basketball net right where my mirror would hit it. Then I found Eve and her friend.

You can imagine how well things went when I got home. Just kidding. Mostly. I do it because Eve has a great time, and I know that as a parent sometimes we have to do things we don't like for our kids. I just sort of fail on the part where we're supposed to do it halfway graciously.

Off to the drugstore. Hopefully as a side effect, the anxiety meds will also treat the overwhelming tendency to be a petty cow.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

He's the god of wine, I'm the goddess of whining

I missed my Mondays on the Margins post because I'm not quite finished the parenting book I want to review (although I can tell you that I was reading it at softball and Eve came over to switch her hat for a batting helmet and said "are you seriously sitting here reading a parenting book? You're just embarrassing yourself".) Also, Pam and I took the van for an oil change in the morning, then went to Ogdensburg New York to pick up a package at the UPS store. Then I came home, made dinner for Eve and Matt, sent Matt off to baseball (without Angus, who's on a three-day class trip to some camp) and went downtown to meet some of my book club at Darcy McGee's and then see Hawksley Workman perform The God That Comes, because 1) my friend Debbie teaches writing and drama and was so sweetly enthusiastic about it that we all sort of fell in line and 2) any time I get a chance to go to the NAC with ANYONE else, I tend to jump at it. Except for the symphony, my husband will always go to the symphony with me, but here's the thing, I sort of hate the symphony. I like classical music, but I like it to be playing while I'm doing stuff, like folding the laundry or doing dishes or reading or something. When we're just sitting there watching people play classical music, I start looking at their hair, and their shoes, and wondering if the first violinist has ever done it with the second trombonist, and if the oboist was cheesed off about it, and then I realize I haven't heard the last sixteen bars and I wonder why I paid all this money for something I can't even focus on and I wish I had some dishes to do.

So. Yeah.

I didn't really know what to expect. I didn't want to go when it was time to leave, of course. I never do, and especially not after a multiple long errand day and when it's gray and rainy and there's driving involved. Downtown. And parking. Underground.

But I drove. And parked (found a space that wasn't squished between a car and a post, although I had to go really far down to find it). And found my friends. And had a good dinner. And was well and truly blown away by the show.

One-man shows are hard, don't you think? They must be. It's all you. You have to keep everybody's interest and attention and amusement engaged for the entire time. And he did, he COMPLETELY did. When he switched characters, it was like his face changed into a different face. When he was the soldier king Pentheus, he was unutterably creepy. When he was the god Dionysus, you could almost feel his high, sweet voice stroking the inside of your arm or the back of your neck. When we were inside the Bacchanale, everything was so loud and shrieky and the chairs were shaking and it was uncomfortably overwhelming, which was exactly right. It was incredibly clever and musically flawless and very well done.

I was up too late. And today was solid rain all day and I feel like there are poisoned rocks rolling around inside my head but I worked out and took Eve to piano and then played with the piano teacher's one-year-old pug and two two-month-old baby pugs, so that was fun, but I didn't feel like blogging in the least. So I thought I'd just tell you about my day, wherein, as my husband said "you went all kinds of places". And now I have.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fear and Loathing at the National Gallery

Kim was in town for the week, it was a beautiful day and I had been away for the week-end and missing my kids. Angus had to go to a track meet, so I kept Eve out of school and we went downtown to meet Kim at the National Gallery. Kim is one of those people who doesn't have or want children, but has a gift for talking to them without sounding fake or forced or like she'd rather be doing something else. Eve always enjoyed hanging out with Kim, and she loves art. And you know, there are many times when Eve displays a maturity and perceptivity far beyond her years.

This was not one of those times.

Kim said she really wanted to see the Drawings and Photographs because she always leaves them for the end and then doesn't have time for them, so we started there. There was a lot of contemporary aboriginal art, including pieces by Annie Pootoogook, which makes me sad because she's been in the Ottawa newspaper several times and I know that her living situation is heartrendingly bad - addiction, homelessness while pregnant, having her baby removed by social services, just a long, sad list.

Some of the other artists featured were Jessie Oonark and Pitseolak Ashoona. Eve said "everyone in this room has a lot of Os in their name." She wandered off on her own and then came back and said there were scary pictures over there. One of them was called Angry Face (by Jutai Toonoo - more Os) and it was kind of scary. Then she showed us an oversized carved mask by Beau Dick and said "if this was a tv show, everyone would look at this mask and then go bonkers". Then she observed that the artist's name basically meant Pretty Dick and skipped away giggling.

She returned in a couple of minutes looking faintly disgruntled, saying "Why can't they just take pictures of people with their clothes ON?" I explained that when people are learning to draw anatomy properly, it's easier to learn by drawing people without clothes on. She wasn't impressed. I had to up my game when we came across three photographs by Shigeyuki Kihara, a transgendered Samoan photographer - one where she looks like a beautiful woman reclining on a couch in a grass skirt, then without the skirt still looking like a woman, then without the skirt and a penis showing. I explained about transgendered people, and how some cultures are more accepting of them than others, and how when cultures were first meeting the photographers were usually men who sometimes objectified women, and this was the photographer's way of presenting herself in her way instead of in a male photographer's way. Kim said I did okay. I told Eve maybe we should go look at some old European paintings of pretty buildings, since she'd probably had her fill of contemporary art. She said "does 'contemporary' mean 'naked and scary?'" On the way out we ran across a video of a naked woman writhing in the dirt. Eve said she wished artists could subvert the male gaze less nakedly and without slithering being involved.

The European thing went fine until we ran across some naked Greek goddess painting and Eve deadpanned "yay, more boobs". The Abstract gallery was better - she loves Picasso. I was trying to figure out how many people were in one statue and she said "it's abstract, Mom, there might not BE an even number of arms" which made another guard snicker. She then asked, before flopping down on a bench, "is this art, or can I sit on it?"

As part of the Indigenous art Exhibit on right now, there is a truly impressive stack of blankets that spans the two floors of the gallery. We saw it from the top floor and we went to read the explanation before we left. There was an older man on a scooter sitting in front of it. As we approached, he said "need a blanket?", in a way that showed that he was really cracking himself up. He then motored away on his little scooter, which made us realize that he had been sitting there just waiting for someone to come along so he could make his joke. We found this inexpressibly heartwarming.

We then wandered around the market for a while and went for gelato at our favourite gelato place. It was a great day, especially once we got to a place where everyone kept their clothes on.

Today the grade fours from Eve's class got to go to her friend's class because the grade fives were learning about puberty. When she came back and asked one of the boys how it was he said he wasn't going to be able to sleep tonight. She said she knew how he felt.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I am happy

I don't even know why I'm blogging right now because I'm just so happy and perky and dear god, possibly bubbly, that if I wasn't me I'd want to smack me.

Friday I drove down to Toronto with two girlfriends. The drive was smooth, the traffic was surprisingly good, the conversation was wide-ranging and low-filter and exceedingly off-colour and entirely restorative. We checked in to the hotel and walked out to look for some place to have dinner. We started noticing that most of the people holding hands were of the same gender, and then we saw a man in a leather skirt, and then we saw all the rainbows on the street signs and we thought.... this is going to be awesome! Gay waiters are the best. They tell you how gorgeous you are and call you My Lovelies and laugh uproariously at your witty banter even if it's not that witty.

We ate here. So. Good. The waiter was fabulous. The food was amazing.

We walked back to the hotel. It started pouring just as we were about to cross the street where the front doors were. We had some drinks and talked some more and went to bed.

Saturday Janet's friend came and took us to the Distillery District, which is charming and cute and fun. We bought some stuff at this shop where the woman makes everything in one size and then you try it on and she resizes it for you while you wait, which, come on, that is SO INSANELY COOL. And we bought fancy chocolate at Soma, because, duh, chocolate. And we looked at cool art. And Janet's friend bought Fluevogs and Collette and I didn't and then thought about going back the whole way home and then resolved to go to Montreal and buy Fluevogs at the earliest opportunity. And there were weddings, and the girl in the Fluevog store was delightfully bitchy about how many ugly wedding dresses she sees. And there was a group of people on Segways that I took a picture of with Collette's camera because when I was at home packing I found my camera but all of the memory cards had mysteriously disappeared from the place where I keep the memory cards and there was only one left and I had to leave it for Matt to record Eve in her very first singing recital because had agreed, against all odds, to sing in public and I WAS MISSING IT, and I kept saying all weekend I was going to buy a new memory card but instead I just took pictures with Collette's camera but now she's mean and she WON'T SEND THEM TO ME. Anyway, Segway group picture forthcoming. Oh wait, but we had the most amazing lunch at the Mill Street Brew Pub, where we were under a glass roof but we could look out onto the open-air seating, and the light was beautiful, and I felt like I was back in St. Lucia, and there was a grilled cheese with pork belly on the menu, and I don't see how you can order anything else when there's a grilled cheese with pork belly on the menu, although my friends managed to. It was sublime.

As we were about to go back to the street car, it started pouring. We hid in the Fluevog store and nuzzled the shoes until it stopped. We caught the street car and subway back to the hotel. Just before we got there, it started raining again.

We had a rest and washed up and then I walked across the room to look at the clock, saying "when should we....holy fuck you guys, it's quarter to six!" And then there was a flurry of "holy shit! What? Are you sure? What the hell happened? Did we black out?" and some high-speed dressing and make-upping. We went down to the theatre district. We had a light dinner at some Asian place after running the gauntlet of people on the sidewalk thrusting menus into your face trying desperately to entice the theatre crowd and I had to whimper STOP PRESSURING ME to one woman who was bound and determined that we were going to have STEAK AND SEAFOOD BITCHES. I had red curry chicken but really I could have just slurped up the sauce. Actually, when I was done, Collette slurped up the sauce. It was really, really good sauce.

We only had to walk down the street and across to the theatre. Naturally it started to pour rain.

We saw The Book of Mormon. I didn't know anything about it other than the South Park guys wrote it and it's about Mormonism. I learned a couple of things I didn't know, such as that Mormon mission partners are never supposed to be apart other than to go to the bathroom, and that Mormons don't drink coffee, and that "I have maggots in my scrotum" is a real conversation-stopper in almost any situation. Collette and I loved it. Janet was underwhelmed.

The next morning we got slightly lost looking for the Golden Griddle. I was just about to go into the Hasty Market to ask for directions when we realized the Hasty Market sign was hiding the Golden Griddle sign. Just as we were about to get back to the parking garage, the charming whore of a sky dropped one more load of water on us. It was a theme.

We drove home. We still hadn't run out of things to talk about. It was one of the most perfect week-ends I can remember. Yesterday I had lunch with Kim (who's visiting from her moved-away city of Winnipeg) and Patti and Lynn and Pam and Susan. The weather right now is cool and sunny. The pinched nerve in my neck is starting to release and I FEEL LIKE DOING STUFF. Tomorrow I'm keeping Eve out of school to go to the art gallery with Kim. I feel like the universe is giving me an early birthday present. Existential cupcakes for everyone!