Sunday, July 30, 2006

His Early Work Was Influenced by Van Gogh

I completed a phone interview a couple of weeks ago, a follow-up to a study on prenatal nutrition that I participated in when I was pregnant with the Bub. This, I presume, is the part where the researchers assess how badly those daily trips to Dairy Queen impeded Bub’s physical, social, and mental development. For the first part of this "Ages and Stages Questionnaire" I cruised along happily. Is Bub running, jumping, climbing stairs? Check, check, check. Can he stand on one foot? Well, I guess so (but why would he?). Can he twist a doorknob? Sadly, yes.

Then we reached the questions that have to do with imitative behaviour, and my answers became more complicated. If I tell Bub to point to his (fill in the blank: nose, ears, toes, belly button), does he comply? Hmmm…not exactly. He knows what all those parts of the body are and can refer to them by name when he has his own reasons for doing so, but he’s not going to point to them just because I say so. (That is, unless I say "point to your belly button." ‘Cause belly buttons are fun and worth pointing at upon even the slightest pretext.) Next question. If I stack up four blocks, will Bub stack up the same number of blocks? Short answer: no. If I stack up four blocks, Bub will glance at them briefly and then continue with his own activity. Of course, when he stacks up four blocks, he is quite capable of keeping track of the number, and will strongly resist any suggestion that his tower should contain, say, three or five blocks (three- and five-block towers being clearly repulsive and inferior to the symmetry and perfection of his original, four-block tower).

By the time we reached the pretend-play portion of the questionnaire, I was clearly floundering and grasping at straws. After he draws a picture, can Bub identify what he drew? Not so much. "He’s not interested in representational art," I explained, "he’s more concerned with colour and line." The interviewer laughed sympathetically, and then put another check in the "No" column.

Despite his preference for abstract art, Bub has recently become thoroughly engrossed in his Baby Van Gogh picture book. His interest arises primarily from his belief that he can read this book. He has learned to identify most lower-case letters (occasionally mixing up "a" and "g"), so he solemnly points to each one, whispering "a-r-e-e-n spells GREEN!" (The colour of the letters is a helpful clue here, one that Bub appreciates very much.) Letters are his primary interest in life at the moment, rivalled only by his fascination with numbers. Having been able to count to ten for quite some time, Bub has recently discovered that these digits can be combined to form new numbers, and he spends hours studying the magnets on our fridge, grabbing the number one in his left hand and the number five in his right and muttering, "Fifteen…fifteen..." He can be distracted from his letter-and-alphabet toys only by an occasional, fleeting interest in his trains: he’ll pick one up and look at it carefully: "Big T, little t, what begins with T?" - pause – "t-t-t-TRAIN!"

I am constantly divided between my admiration of his brilliance and my concern that his passion for acquiring knowledge leaves no room for him to develop such things as imagination and social skills. So I’ve been pleased with his burgeoning interest in Van Gogh. When he can tear his attention away from the letters on the left-hand side of each page, he often points delightedly at the illustration – a carefully framed Van Gogh print. "Picture!" he’ll announce. And then maybe he’ll pick up his doggy and say, "No eating the picture, doggy!" and doggy will pounce on the picture hungrily while Bub shouts, "Oh no!" and I pretend to cry. Then Bub gives me a hug, turns the page, and doggy devours the sunflowers or the blue night sky. Bub’s favourite picture by far, however, is the sailboats:

As much as Bub adores Baby Einstein products, I’ve always been skeptical of the value of exposing very small children to great poetry and art – when it comes to stimulating a child’s imagination, I place more faith in Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss than in Monet and Shakespeare. But I have to give old Vincent some credit for awakening Bub’s appreciation of representational art. This morning he stood by the refrigerator, fingering the magnets that double as the letter "I" and the number 1. But instead of announcing "Eleven!" or "i-i-igloo," he looked at them carefully and then arranged them on the fridge. "Triangle," he muttered and then, with satisfaction, "Draw a sailboat!":

Saturday, July 29, 2006


I’m not jealous. Sure, Liz and Kristen and Catherine are busy hobnobbing with Amy and Heather in San Jose, and everybody is on a first-name basis now, their nametags peeled away and replaced by a truly startling array of nipple pasties…but I’m not jealous. At least not much. And I’m lying about that less than you think because if I were there? And so were you? I’d probably be sidling up to you right now and saying, "Will you be my friend? And can I cling to you for the entire duration of the conference so that nobody sees me standing by myself and realizes I’m a nerd?" And you would nod supportively (because that’s the kind of person you are) and succeed almost entirely in hiding that sinking sensation that takes over as you realize that I’m Linus and you’re my security blanket and you won’t be able to shake me off until you catch that early cab to the airport just for the sake of a few minutes’ peace.

So yeah. Not all that jealous.

But I am all blushing and giggling like a schoolgirl because Mrs. Chicky kindly included me in her response to Kvetch’s non-BlogHer-blogger-tribute challenge, a celebration of all us lonely bloggers who are spending this weekend catching up on our Bloglines rather than basking poolside in the California sun, laptops in hand, and competing with hundreds of other women for precious, precious bandwidth.

Without further ado, then, I’d like to draw your attention to two of my favourite non-BlogHer-bloggers. Neither of these women, to be sure, has put up a recent post lamenting her absence from the mother-of-all-woman-blogger-conferences, so if they have secretly crept off to San Jose, I have a few other names in my back pocket (check out my blogroll if you want to know who they are).

First, I would like to acknowledge the irresponsibly gorgeous Emily of Didn’t Think I’d Turn Out This Way. Emily has written sad, sharp posts that haunt me for days, and she’s written posts that tickle my brain and make me think (this is a woman who believes that Nietzsche could use a nice hug). But my favourite posts are probably those that feature T.V. (The Voice), her challenging, stimulating, and very funny little boy who evidently comes by his personality honestly as the son of not one but two very talented bloggers.

Secondly, please allow me to call your attention to Moonstruck Mama. Because her most recent post – much like all those pasties at BlogHer – may have forever changed the way I understand my breasts. Go and read. (And have your hanky ready.) You’ll be glad you did.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I Should've Gone to Law School

My grade ten math teacher wanted me to go into engineering. He was one of those wonderful math teachers who went out of his way to persuade girls to enter non-traditional fields – especially a girl like me, with her head in the clouds, who dreamed of writing books for a living. "Be a computer engineer for ten years," he advised, "and then retire and be a writer!" I never seriously considered a career in engineering, and I’m not at all convinced that I have the personality for it, though I do look enviously upon the career opportunities available to engineers I know, who seem to find their work challenging and stimulating.

I recently heard that a former neighbour of mine grew up and became a physician; she lives in Edmonton now and is working on a research project on post-partum depression, counseling new mothers and developing new treatment methods. These are aspects of medicine that appeal to me, especially the element of human interaction. But I pretty much foreclosed that career path when I dropped biology after grade nine, relieved beyond words to avoid the prospect of dissection. I’m probably not cut out for the health sciences field either – I get squeamish at the sight of blood, and when I talk with my nursing friends, I’m always grateful that my job doesn’t involve actual bodily contact with other people (and really no contact at all with their private parts).

Law school, though – that’s the career that got away. People used to tell me I should become a lawyer – a comment that reflected my stubborn, bull-ish, childhood self, the me I used to be before I learned about negotiation, compromise, and conflict-avoidance. I considered law school in an abstract way, though never to the point of actually applying, stopped always by my inability to answer the question of what kind of lawyer I’d like to be. Having spent the last three years observing my husband’s law school experience, I’ve remained equivocal – some of his courses sounded interesting; many of them seemed mind-numbingly dull. Now that he’s articling, I’m aware that the law profession is a ravenous dog that eats you alive and spits out the bones. But that’s not to say that I’ve ruled it out entirely. And when I review all the choices that have led me to be where I am now, law school remains the road not taken.

If I had gone to law school immediately after I completed my undergraduate degree, I would have finished by the age of 25. Instead of being one year into what would turn into a five-year doctoral program, I would have been finished my education and ready to start a career. It’s mind-boggling, really, to think of how different my financial position would be right now if I had been working for the last ten years instead of spending four of them in school and the other six working for peanuts as a sessional indentured servant.

Was grad school a mistake? Certainly it was according to those who consider it little more than a high-stakes gamble, with a tenure-track position as the potential pay-off, and with failure the more likely alternative. I loved my years in graduate school and went into them with my eyes open: I knew that I wanted to teach at the university level, and wasn’t especially concerned with the status attached to my official job title (lecturer, adjunct, associate). I wasn’t accumulating debt for the sake of my education, and I wasn’t convinced that there was anything else I could do that I would enjoy so much. And I was right about all those things: for the last six years, I’ve been doing work I love. I’ve never been bored. But what I didn’t realize when I was 22 years old and deciding between law school and grad school is how irreplaceable the next ten years of my life would be. At the end of those ten years I was married, pregnant, and no longer in a practical or emotional position to pick up stakes and follow my career wherever it took me. In some ways I do see grad school as a Venus fly-trap for smart people – it tempts us with the lure of intellectual stimulation and sucks away the most potentially productive years of our lives. Attractive scholarship packages mask the fact that you are paying for those graduate seminars and dissertation supervisors, not with cash but with your future.

So to bust myself out of this morose cage I’ve locked myself into, I’m going to remember all the things I’ve loved most about graduate school – the experiences I wouldn’t trade away for anything (not even a 70-hour-a-week job on Bay Street, with a 2-hour commute to the palatial mansion that I visit for a few hours a week in order to check on how much my children have grown since the last time I saw them):

  • The Victorian Race Theory seminar that introduced me to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and to Oliver Twist, and reintroduced me to Jane Eyre so that I would never see Bertha Rochester the same way again. I remember how exciting it was to immerse myself in Victorian culture, to feel the impact of the invention of new technologies like the typewriter and the gramophone and to recognize how the anti-Catholic stereotypes I had been exposed to as a child were rooted in Victorian ultra-Protestant xenophobia.
  • The Poetry Massacres. As a grad student at a Canadian prairie university, I loved the warm, friendly, uncompetitive atmosphere; I felt immediately comfortable among my fellow grad students, with whom I threw absurd fund-raisers in which the marquee event would be a 13-minute presentation of Hamlet or Macbeth. My role was always to die in melodramatic splendour, clutching my hand to my heart in the manner of Jo March and screaming as I fell senseless to the floor.
  • My trip to P.E.I. One of the main reasons I never landed a tenure-track job is that I only ever went to conferences when I wanted to, which is to say that I’ve attended a total of three and presented papers at two. But one of those papers was given at the L.M. Montgomery conference in P.E.I. Not only did I spend a weekend roaming about the Island in June, when the red roads are lined with banks of blue lupins, but I did so in the company of a group of "Kindred Spirits" – members of my very first online community, a mailing list for Montgomery fans. I ate lobster and sampled jam, bought early-edition copies of Anne’s House of Dreams and Rainbow Valley, and wandered around the abandoned Macneill homestead at twilight, communing with the ghosts.
  • Doing research at the British Library. For two weeks I lived in central London, spending each morning combing through anti-Catholic tracts from 1850 and 1851, and each afternoon sightseeing and shopping, stocking up on tea from Fortnum & Mason and browsing through the rare books on Charing Cross Road. I’ve never been much of a sightseer – what I like is to live in another country, even if only for a short time, and I remember my hours in the library reading room as fondly as I do the Tower of London and the National Portrait Gallery. A grad school friend made the trip with me and we roamed the city together, visiting cemeteries (her favourite) and bookstores (mine), while I strove, with some success, to conceal from her the terrible, terrible lovelorn-ness that was resulting from my first separation from He-Who-Would-Be-Hubby, who had only become officially more-than-a-friend a few months prior to my trip.
  • Being paid to read. Not paid well, mind you (never that), but paid, nonetheless, to read novels and poetry, to immerse myself in Jane Austen and George Eliot, in Tennyson and Browning, with the result that I can almost invariably pick up the brown pie pieces when I play the Genus edition of Trivial Pursuit.

Not a bad bargain, on the whole. Yes, I’ve mortgaged away my future, but at least I did it for the sake of some really, really good books.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Psalm 30:5

Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

The numbers on the clock read 1:49 when I opened my eyes from a dream about wizards hexing me with body-gripping pains. It was the third contraction that woke me and I knew immediately that after weeks of Braxton-Hicks and false alarms, this was the real thing. No need to pretend that these contractions hurt; I lay there in the darkness and revelled in the non-imaginary nature of the pain, joyful and amazed at my smart, capable body.

Every ten minutes – or sometimes, worryingly, eleven or twelve – the contractions would make their scheduled appearance while I smiled in the dark and made my plans: I would wait until dawn to have a shower, and then make a few phone calls before heading to the hospital. In the meantime I was like a kid on Christmas morning, too excited to sleep, so I headed down to the kitchen and fortified myself with yogourt while reading a book (a fantasy novel that had inspired my dreams of wizardry) and recording the time of each contraction on my bookmark. 3:18. 3:26. 3:35. Six days past my due date, I had been waiting for this baby for so long that I had started to believe that it was absurdly, naïvely optimistic to suppose the baby would ever be born, at all. With each notation on that bookmark, I became more jubilant.

Just to be on the safe side, I hopped into the shower at four, and by the time I got out the contractions had jumped to three minutes apart. Hubby got up. Phone calls were made. My in-laws were on deck to take care of the Bub while we went to the hospital, but they live 45 minutes away, so it would be at least an hour before we could expect them. I spent that hour in a frenzy of housecleaning, emptying the dishwasher and changing the bedsheets in two-minute bursts of activity punctuated by intervals of groaning, bent over at the waist and clutching at the handiest support. The long-awaited nesting urge had finally kicked in, and I was elated, euphoric, except for that moment in the centre of each contraction where I could feel my body bearing down. It felt like the baby was coming out, right then, on my kitchen floor.

(I am actually in labour in this picture. The ratio of minutes-in-pain to minutes-not-in-pain was still about 1:2, so I was feeling happy enough to pose for this, the only photographic evidence of my freakishly gigantic third-trimester tummy.)

By 5:15, hubby was posted at the front door, peering down the street and clutching a note in his hand, explaining our absence in case his parents were delayed, while I gasped, between contractions, "We’re not leaving Bub in the house alone!" Finally, headlights appeared at the end of our street and we sprinted for the car (in that hippopotamus-like way in which a labouring woman can be said to sprint), waving goodbye to my tired in-laws as they stumbled toward the open door, overnight bags in hand.

The last time I had visited the hospital, the path from the front entrance to the birthing unit was marked by cheery signs saying "Follow the Stork!" Since my last birthing experience, however, the hospital had undergone some restructuring – an amalgamation with another hospital – and some wise and benevolent administrator had decreed that There Must Be Uniform Signage. The result? The stork signs were gone, and new, splendidly uniform signs were on order. There were, however, no actual signs currently in place to assist the mothers in active labour who wandered aimlessly about the hospital, clutching their wombs in agony. That is to say that I, at least, wandered aimlessly for awhile, shuffling forward a few steps in between contractions, until a friendly nurse who had arrived early for her shift kindly shepherded me to the birthing unit.

I should say at this juncture that I’m a big fan of the hospital birth. I love the adjustable beds that do most of the getting-up for you in that post-partum period where getting up is a Very Big Deal. I love the nurses and lactation consultants, on call with the touch of a button. I love the menu cards where you check off boxes to order cereal and milk, chicken pasta and brown bread, tea and apple juice. What I do not love is the process of gaining admission to that lovely world of pain relief and comforting expertise. The urine sample. The hospital gown. The blood work. Finally, finally, I was shown to a room where I could rest like a beached whale on the stunningly narrow hospital bed, enduring a long, interminable contraction that ebbed and flowed but never quite went away.

The subsequent 90 minutes were the Not As Much Fun part of the birth experience for me. I was too dazed by pain to react emotionally to the news that I was dilated only 3 cm. Hazily, I noted the irony, remembering my concern that the baby would fall out before I could leave the house, but in a detached way, not with panic or despair. What I felt, above all, was frustration at my inability to relax or breathe through the contractions as I had during my previous labour. Then (as I remember it), I had deliberately relaxed every muscle of my body, letting the pain wash over me, but now I fought, tensing every muscle against the strength of the contraction. With every wave of pain, I tried to relax, and then instinct would take over and I would grit my teeth, arching away from the pain. At last the nurse came in to reassure me, saying, "The anaesthesiologist will be here as soon as we can find him." Find him? When we arrived, I was told that he was right there in the birthing unit, that I was next in line for the epidural. Apparently he had decided to go out for coffee and doughnuts.

The next bit is a blur – hubby waiting in the hall, checking for the arrival of the anaesthesiologist, me alone in the room, bellowing with every contraction. Finally things began happening – nurses arrived, the I.V. was set up, and they checked my cervix: 8.5 cm. In 90 minutes I had gone from 3 cm to 8.5 – hence the uncontrollable pain. "Do I still get the epidural?" I asked urgently, and the nurse nodded: "The baby’s head is turned sideways, so we’ll want to let you contract for a bit and see if the head turns." This should have been devastating news (Bub had faced sideways, necessitating a forceps delivery), but again that hazy acceptance kicked in: within seconds I took it for granted that I would be pushing for three hours, followed by another episiotomy and forceps delivery, and that seemed like not too high a price to pay for the blessed, blessed epidural.

Giving credit where credit is due, I will acknowledge that my epidural was absolutely perfect. Despite the world’s worst-timed coffee break, the anaesthesiologist did a great job, blocking my pain while leaving me the full use of my legs. What was not perfect, though, was the three separate stabs it took before he found the right place. It’s not reassuring, when someone is mucking about in your spine, to know that you have to hold perfectly still through three separate contractions in order to avoid permanent nerve damage. I’m not a person who believes that the purpose of prayer is to get God to do special favours for you. And I’m especially not a person who feels comfortable praying aloud in front of an audience. But on this occasion, all that went by the wayside. It turns out that public-prayer inhibitions are dissolved by labour pains just as quickly as body-image inhibitions – we throw open our legs and our mouths and cry out to God for help now. A moment later, the anaesthesiologist asked if the contractions felt less intense. "Yes," I replied. "But I think it was the prayer!"

Have I mentioned how I really, really loved the lovely epidural? ‘Cause I did. And I told the nurses so, every time they came to check how I was doing. I put my mom to work rubbing the heated towels over my arms and legs to calm the shakes that had seized me since the epidural took effect. Moments earlier I had been raging at the ineffective air-conditioning system that kept my room at a boiling temperature – and now suddenly I was freezing cold, but enjoying the blissful warmth of those hot towels. A party atmosphere began to prevail, as the nurse monitoring my read-outs kept beckoning passing staff members to come look at the chart: there were literally no breaks between contractions – the line just bobbed back and forth between "higher" and "highest." "If you were on oxytocin, we’d be taking you off right now," she said.

At 8:30 – one hour after the epidural went in – I told the nurse I was feeling the urge to push. She pulled up the blanket to check and exclaimed, "Oh, the baby has hair!" I wish there were words to convey how amazing that was. When I was in labour with the Bub, I pushed for hours, and no one ever saw hair – his head never budged. But the Pie’s head had turned, in response, no doubt, to the serious conversation I had with her on the subject once the pain had ebbed to manageable proportions. I was scheduled to give birth in the high-risk delivery room, rather than the birthing suite with its wallpaper border and 1980’s-style ceramic lamps, due to the suspicion that my baby might be a bit on the big side (see photo above). As I was wheeled out of the room, I could hear Gordon Lightfoot singing on the CD player, "It’s daylight Katy come on!" and I grinned, picturing my father driving across town in the early morning sunshine, hurrying to get to the hospital before the baby was born.

As soon as we were set up in the delivery room, I pushed through my first count to 10. The nurse’s eyes widened. "Don’t do that again," she said, "until the doctor gets here." My obstetrician had gone on vacation the previous Friday, and his patients were being covered by a petite blonde woman who looked about ten years old. She bent all her efforts to the task of slowing down my baby’s entrance to the world, letting me push for only 3 seconds at a time, and then pausing while the baby’s head crowned, a purplish mass in the mirror at my feet. "It hurts!" I thought in surprise, feeling that stretching, burning sensation, and then I remembered, "Oh, yeah. It’s supposed to hurt." And then the baby’s head was out and I pushed with all my might to deliver the shoulders while the pretty young doctor pulled, and manoeuvred, and pulled again for what seemed like a very long time, digging her heels into the floor to maximize her leverage. And then finally, with one last pull, the shoulders were through, and the doctor held up my baby, and my eyes flew, immediately, to check for sure: yes, that screaming, beautiful, brand new baby was my little girl.

Baby Cate – 9 lbs, 6.6 oz. Born at 8:53 am, July 26, 2005

Monday, July 24, 2006

As Wannabe as I Wanna Be

So. I'm not going to BlogHer. Not really a big decision on my part - I think most of the tickets were sold out before I even started my blog, so it was never really an issue. But that isn't stopping me from joining in on the interview frenzy that has gripped the mommy-blogosphere. I've jumped on board the T.O. Mamas interview-a-thon even though - wait! - I don't actually live in Toronto. Instead, I just lurk out here in the wildlands of Southwestern Ontario, enviously trying to join in on all the hot T.O. Mama action. And since all of us (wannabe) T.O. Mamas will be at BlogHer in spirit, we're linking up our interviews, webring style. You can check out my interview at Metro Mama's place, and I have the honour of interviewing Mother Bumper, mother to a stop-you-in-your-tracks-cute little girl whose intense gaze suggests a spirit that brooks no opposition and takes no prisoners.


So without further ado, here is Mother Bumper!

What is the quality you most admire in a blogger?
Okay, I have this tendency to turn into this beauty-pageant-style answer dingbat so please forgive any cliches or over-enthusiastic type answers I give. To counteract this, I will swear like a sailor. No I won't. Yes I will.

Ahhhh, who am I kidding.... Hell ya, I will swear like a sailor (did I mention I'm really indecisive?).

Anyhoo... that should balance out any vapid answers I give. So here it goes:

Honesty is the quality that I admire most in a blogger. When I originally typed this sentence I had created a huge number of links to bloggers I admire but it got super crazy and out of control. So go and check out my blog links to see what I consider an honest blogger. I don't link to anyone that doesn't strike me as honest and trust me, I've actually read some blogs that make me think "wtf?" and I never go back.

But as I was saying, honesty because I'm being honest so I pretty much expect that from the places I go. How can I tell a blogger is honest?

I can't but there is always a little voice in the back of my head that tells me what rings true, and I've learned to listen to those instinctual voices since having Bumper. They tend to be right, or so it seems. But the voices in my head have asked to stop writing about them so I will (because I must listen to them... they tell me to eat chocolate all the time and I MUST LISTEN).


Another quality would be a sense of humor in bloggers because too much honesty makes me cry and I can't have that all the time so I've got to have jokes people. I say humor me people!

So to recap I'm looking for honest and funny blogs.

You know that sounds less beauty pageant like and more like a part of my online bio for a dating service. If I had one. Which I don't. Honest! I don't. I'm happily married folks, happily married. See, there I go. Off on a tangent, per usual.

How would you describe your blog?
A mess of tangents and semi-coherent thoughts (I think I called it verbal diarrhea in an earlier post). Also I'd describe it has deadly cute because of the pictures of my daughter, Bumper.

No seriously, I would describe it that way.

How else would I describe my blog. Ummmmm... I have said that I write "bubblegum posts" because I keep it light here at Casa Bump. I've posted about toys, laundry and having my baby drive the car. Heck, I'm so hard up sometimes that I post about the weather and junk food.

I actually have written about more serious things, events that have shaped me into the person I am today. I've taken quite a few knocks and paths less taken in my past, which I have a hard time talking about and this blog has helped me exorcise some demons. I've found a place where I can open up some of the pressure cookers I harbour in a safe environment and the support I've found is completely overwhelming.

I started this blog because I was a lonely new mom in a big city far from family. I didn't fit in with the local moms and I needed to have an outlet. Blogging has done so much for me, more then I could have ever imagined. And I could go on for years about this but now I'm babbling so I'll move on.

Next question pleeeeeeze!

What do you most like about your blog?
The pictures and stories about my daughter. She is what brought me to blogging and she is what keeps me going some days (right over the edge but I'll save that one for an upcoming post).

Also, I love it when I make someone laugh or think about something and then they tell me in the comments. I get so excited when I get comments. Like REALLY excited. My husband finds it weird. But seriously, I get excited about every single one. I want to write each person that comments but Bumper does not afford me that luxury.

And the thing I like the most? I've made friends. Real LIVE friends. And I've met them because I write and they like to read what I write. And I like to read what they write. And I actually get to meet some of them in person. And they aren't middle aged, hairy men with MILF fetishes. Because I'm totally a MILF. Or I'd like to think so. I used to be a cougar but now I'm a MILF, oh yeah.... what was I saying?

What do you regard as the principle defect of your blog?
My tendency to go off on tangents (see any of the above answers for proof) and my poor grammar and lack of speling skilzs in addition to my total disregard for writing good. And I abuse punctuation like nobody's bid-ness!!!!!!

Actually, it's my inability to actually say what I want to say. I lose my nerve a lot. I write these serious and long posts and then I talk myself out of posting them because I'm afraid someone will recognize that it's me and call me out. Or worse, they will make fun of me. You see, I like blogging because I can tell my secrets and still, in a way, maintain my anonymity. But sometimes I think that someone will figure out who I am and then tell the world and it keeps me from telling some of the things I want to talk about. And I get scared.

So the principle defect would be that this blog author can be, at times, a chickenshit.

What character of fiction do you most wish had a blog?
Laura Palmer

Sadly, I can identify with her fucked-up ways and the whole angel-devil angst she suffered in her short fictional life. She was a great diary keeper so a blog would have been a natural progression. Actually, she would probably be more of a MySpace gal but that is neither here nor there.

What historical or real life person do you most wish had a blog?
Edie Sedgewick.

I was completely fascinated with her as a teenager. She was one of the ultimate real-life party girls, who did everything and met everyone. Some say she inspired Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde album. Can you imagine what she would write in her blog? I would be hanging on her every word.

What is your present state of mind as a blogger?
That is a hard one to answer because I suck at self-analysis.

Some days I'm exhausted mentally and don't want to write. But then I sit down and pound out a post and then suddenly I'm happy. And I feel accomplished.

Maybe I'm blogging in order to compensate for my loss of the office watercooler chitchat (one of the few reasons why I actually went to work) and to get the reward of feedback from others.

Hmmmmm... I might be on to something here... I feel a post coming on.... crap, where's my diary when I need it?

What is your blog motto?
Do no harm...unless it's warranted.

whatever (pffftt).

Where would you like to live?
London. I've been obsessed with the UK since I was a young whipper snapper and when I finally went there a few years back, I felt like I was home. I partied in that city like it was going out of style and never got sick of the scene. I was born to live in that city but since it is too bloody expensive, I'd like to live in Thailand. Once again, I felt so comfortable when I was there. The people are beautiful, the country is beautiful, and the food is FUCKING GREAT!

'nuff said.

(I had to put that in there because there wasn't enough swearing in this Q&A).

What do you value in your friends?
Respect and honesty. I actually have survived many a toxic relationship and now I know (at the ripe old age of 37) what a good friend is made up of and what makes a bad friend (even if they appear good).

Good friends don't make you feel bad. Unless you drank the last beer. And then you deserve it.

What is your principle defect?
I am self-deprecating to the point of nausea. Sometimes I hear the words coming out of my mouth and I'm thinking "I'd hit me right about now". But somehow I can't stop.

(Edited to add: Gah! I missed the memo on how to title these posts! Everybody else has lovely titles like "A Piece of Sunshine" while my title reflects the self-absorption that is characteristic of this blog. Because it's about me. Me, me, me!)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Stuff I Like

  • The way my daughter sometimes smells like chocolate…and other times like graham crackers (not for nothing do we call her the Pie!).

  • The determined, deliberate approach she takes to the task of sitting down: stagger forward a few steps…pivot…plop down on bum with huge smile of satisfaction, right in Mummy’s lap.

  • The unwritten rule in our house that the stressed, overworked spouse has the right to order homemade chocolate chip cookies, to be baked that evening by the less-stressed, not-all-that-overworked spouse.

  • Daniel Cook (and cute little red-headed boys in general). Maybe I’m just naïve, but to me his politeness and enthusiasm seem both genuine and refreshingly devoid of that young-Lindsay-Lohan-style flashiness, the practiced cuteness of the "We love you Barney" variety.

  • The times when I catch Bub’s eye and we exchange narrow, sidelong glances, smiles spreading slowly across our faces, until we start laughing for no reason, just because we see each other, looking at each other.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Toxic Students

Let me start by saying that by and large, I really enjoy interacting with my students. Most of them are courteous, hard-working (more or less), intellectually engaged, and wonderfully funny. I spent most of last Saturday wedding-dress shopping with one particularly delightful former student who has since become a dear friend.

But. There are the exceptions – those students whose arrogance, or insecurity, or sense of entitlement renders them impossible to work with. They wander around campus exuding a poisonous miasma that infects every class they become a part of. In twelve years of university teaching (including several years as a T.A.), I’ve encountered only a handful of these toxic individuals, but their memory lingers long after the other students’ pleasant, smiling faces have blurred into oblivion.

The Lady of Chichester: My first toxic student was dubbed "The Lady of Chichester" by my fellow T.A.s after the very first lecture of the year. Unintimidated by the 800-seat lecture theatre, she expounded her theories on the sonnet, prefacing her oration with the news that she was from England and thus had a head start on us rustic colonials when it came to understanding Keats and Shelley. All the T.A.s waited with bated breath to see whose tutorial would be blessed by the presence of this fount of knowledge, and in the end I drew the short straw.

Lady of Chichester’s most memorable trait was her outright refusal to believe most of the things I was trying to teach. She flatly denied that the Wife of Bath’s scarlet stockings were indicative of her lascivious nature, asserting that the association of the colour red with passion was of much more recent provenance. I was too flabbergasted by her brazen manner to recall, at the time, the Scarlet Woman of the Book of Revelations as proof of the antiquity of this symbolism, so I floundered for awhile and recommended that she check the Oxford English Dictionary as a special research project.

One day I was helping the Lady with a landscape description she was working on, and I circled the capital letters she had used to spell Barn Owl. "But it has to be capitalized!" she insisted. "It’s the name of the species – like Human Being." When I remained unswayed by this analogy, she sighed in exasperation. "We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one!" she said.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Lady of Chichester. She clearly had a hard time handling the fact that a twenty-five-year-old Canadian girl, with a baby face and a colonial accent, was daring to teach her about English literature, but she was essentially harmless – her occasional breathtaking attempts to undermine my authority had little effect on the functioning of the tutorial, unlike the other two characters in my gallery of student horrors.

The Conspiracy Theorist: One of the most dangerously contagious forms of student toxicity is the persecution complex, the belief that every aspect of a course has been designed with the express purpose of putting this particular student at a disadvantage. The most paranoid student I’ve encountered – let’s call her Victima – lodged a number of complaints over the duration of a six-week summer course. It was unfair, for instance, that the course was team-taught by two professors, since this required her to adapt to two different lecture styles (and created a constant terror on her part that her essays were being marked by the meaner of the two profs). Furthermore, it was unfair that her essay received a lower mark than her neighbour’s, since a quick count of the red-pencil marks on the page showed that Victima’s essay had fewer errors. (It was entirely useless to explain to her that there is more to grading an English paper than simply totting up the number of spelling and grammar mistakes.)

Although complaining was a customary mode of self-expression for Victima, her real forte was the filing of formal appeals. She lodged a protest, for instance, when the confidential course-and-instructor evaluations were conducted. Her evidence? She had overheard me instructing the student who would collect the evaluations to take the completed forms to "the office" (meaning the departmental office). Without consulting me or the student involved, she assumed that the evaluations had been delivered to my office, where I could tamper with them at my leisure.

Victima’s greatest triumph occurred at the end of the course. This was the summer of the massive power outage that left most of Ontario and several neighbouring states without electricity in the middle of a scorching August heat wave. The lights went out on a Thursday afternoon and, without knowing whether or not the university campus would be officially open, I arrived the next day to conduct a brief exam review with the handful of students who showed up. Over the following weekend, Victima rounded up her posse and emailed a request for an additional review to be held on Monday for those who had missed Friday’s class. Out of the generosity of my heart, I complied, and the moment the class ended, Victima and her henchwomen marched straight to the undergraduate office to launch yet another official complaint on behalf of the students who were not at the review class because they didn’t know it would be taking place. The department’s official response? Instructors are at liberty to provide extra help upon request without occurring any obligation to those students who have not made any request for extra help.

This story has an ironic dénouement: after hounding us for extra marks for six weeks in the hopes of achieving an A she did not deserve, Victima froze up on the final exam and failed to complete much more than half of the questions. I still have a copy of her email, sent off in frantic haste that evening, entitled "Exam Tragedy." According to department policy, a failed exam means automatic failure in the course, but in an attempt to turn the other cheek, I petitioned to have the policy waived so that she could pass mathematically on the strength of her term marks. If nothing else, all those tearful, accusing office interviews had made it abundantly clear that she had worked hard and learned enough that she deserved to pass the course.

The Hijacker: Far more than the Lady of Chichester, Victima had the power to poison the atmosphere of the class, creating little pockets of resentment wherever she went. Before and after every class, I could see the surreptitious glares and hear the whispered complaints as she attempted to rally the troops. Once class began, however, she subsided into harmlessness. Not so the Hijacker, whose presence utterly dominated what might otherwise have been an enjoyable class. By far the most problematic student I’ve ever encountered was Moravia the Militant Lesbian (not her real name). At the bottom of my conflict with Moravia lay a kernel of justified outrage. I was teaching a class on twentieth-century rewritings of nineteenth-century romances: Bridget Jones’s Diary and Pride and Prejudice, Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre. Moravia had a genuine point when she objected that the course syllabus reinscribed the compulsory heterosexuality of these texts by omitting gay and lesbian alternatives. I don’t happen to know of any gay or lesbian rewritings of classic nineteenth-century novels, but that is not to say that they do not exist. Nevertheless, the course syllabus had been approved by the undergraduate committee, the books had been ordered, and it’s not exactly up to the students to introduce changes to it on an ad hoc basis. Moravia’s strategy for coping with this inequity was to interrupt my lectures with interminable monologues that rarely had any noticeable connection to the course material. I’m not convinced that there was ever an occasion when she stopped talking of her own accord – usually she subsided only when I found an opportunity to jump in with a graceful segue linking her analysis of lesbian porn back to Mr. Darcy’s courtship of Elizabeth Bennet.

I never developed an effective strategy for curtailing Moravia’s hijacking of my class (as several commenters noted on my evaluations). Usually I prepare six pages of notes for a one-hour class, but for this course I never made it through more than four – the rest of the time was pure Moravia-management. Worst of all was the day of the group presentations: having finally been given the floor for what was supposed to be a ten-minute presentation, Moravia droned on for half an hour while my blood pressure spiked dangerously. Moments after the class ended (with my apologies to the groups whose presentations had to be postponed until after spring break), Moravia cornered me, demanding to know her mark. When I murmured evasively, she announced, "I’ll have you know, that was a fantastic presentation!" Finally I escaped to my office where I collapsed at my desk and relayed the confrontation to my scandalized and sympathetic office-mates. Just as I was reaching the climax of my tale, Moravia herself stepped into the doorway with a dramatic flourish, cackling with triumph.

The rest of the story is hardly worth telling – a complaint to the department chair, an apology, a failed attempt to appeal the grade on her final paper (failed because the other professor gave the essay precisely the same grade I had), and then a few strange and awkward encounters on campus, including one where she very pleasantly admired my newborn baby while I stifled the urge to clutch him to my chest and run. In some ways, I think, the Lady of Chichester and Victima brought out the best in me – gave me, at least, a chance to demonstrate some greatness of character. But Moravia invariably rendered me a weak, pathetic version of myself, a mixture of bossiness and cowardice.

It is less revealing than it seems that all three of my most memorable toxic students have been women. The ratio of men to women in my classes is about 1:3, and although most of my male students have been pleasant, there was that one fellow many years ago who, upon receiving his first graded essay, charged to the front of the class, waving it my face and shouting, "How dare you call this plagiarism?" But he did apologize later (saying, with admirable frankness, "I’ve realized that it’s in my best interests to be polite to you") and dropped the course a couple of months later, so for the most part he managed to fly under the toxicity radar. My toxic students have not been entirely without their uses. They have stiffened my backbone over the years – I try very hard to ensure it’s not just the squeaky wheel that gets the grease – and they have made me grateful, genuinely appreciative, of all those respectful, lovely students, whose names I can’t quite recall at the moment, who are the reason that I love my job.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Fever, In the Morning...Fever All Through the Night

After writing that post the other day about my efforts to make my blog a welcoming place for visitors, I have inadvertently stumbled upon the secret to pulling lurkers out of the woodwork: all you have to do is confess to breaches of etiquette. And while comments that beg me to stop blogging altogether (at least until my thank-you notes are in the mail) are not among my very favourite kind, I’ll take what I can get. So although the thank-you card controversy is really only just now heating up, I’ll move on to another shocking confession.

I kind of enjoy it when my babies are sick.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have two robust babies – robust in the sense of 9-lbs-plus at birth, with delectable rolls of fat, hearty appetites, and if not iron constitutions then at least a healthy resistance to such plagues as croup and the barfing flu. So I was a bit taken aback yesterday when I went to pick Bub up from his Sunday School class and found him curled up on the rug, sound asleep. The teacher was anxiously waiting for me to reassure her that he does this all the time, when in reality the last time he fell asleep anywhere outside of a carseat, crib, bed, or playpen was when he was two months old. And I have to say, there’s nothing quite so endearing as the steady, even breathing of a sleeping toddler with his bum in the air and his head resting gently on the Number 1 flashcard gripped tightly in his hand.

By this morning, both Bub and Pie had fevers – Bub’s was high enough that I was willing to hold him down long enough to get an underarm temperature (he’d have to be a lot hotter than 102 before I would be willing to try for a rectal temp). He had woken up whimpering (an unusual sound these days; generally he has only two modes: happy and screaming). When I opened his bedroom door he was standing there inquiring urgently, "Hug?" Bub has become more huggable and kissable in recent months, but there’s still nothing to compare with the relaxed, contented way his fevered body rests in my arms, his hot little head on my shoulder. There’s something so basic, so primally fulfilling, about caring for a sick child. The love I have for my children is not always right there for me, on the surface, emotionally accessible, but when my babies are sick that love becomes almost a tangible thing, surging in my heart when I hear Bub’s hoarse voice singing a feeble accompaniment to "Old MacDonald" or when I catch a glimpse of the patient sadness on the Pie’s face.

My house is a mess, with the curtains still closed, the breakfast dishes still scattered on the kitchen table, and one of those indefinable kitchen smells I can’t quite track down the source of. I’m behind on my preparation for tomorrrow’s class, with no fall-back plan if I’m too sick to teach later this week – but when I look at that pajama-clad boy sipping juice in his Spiderman plush chair, I feel oddly, supremely happy.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Real Life (It's Not All It's Cracked Up to Be)

(In which Ms. Bub and Pie moans and groans about the stuff that every normal family has had to deal with all along…)

Hubby began his new job this week. After three years of student life, he actually has the kind of job you have to go to every morning, Monday through Friday, and come home from well after six o’clock. After living a five-minute drive from campus all this time, he now has to commute out of town adding forty-five minutes (each way) to his work day. (Cue the eye-rolling from all you big-city mamas who consider a one-hour commute a quick and easy little trip to work.)

Worst of all, however, is this: he now has the kind of job where he has to go to work dressed in a SUIT.

Let us consider the disadvantages of this:

  • It will be several weeks before we actually see any money from this new job, since the measly paycheck he earns as an articling student is entirely taken up by the many trips to Moore’s to buy bargain-priced shirts, ties, and jackets.
  • When hubby comes downstairs all dressed and ready for work, he is strangely averse to spending those last ten minutes before he leaves scooping wheat-and-rice cereal and banana puree into the baby’s mouth.
  • It appears that, after almost six years of marriage, we may have to invest in an actual ironing board. (There is, at least, at this point no suggestion that I will be using this superfluous household item.)
  • When hubby comes home from work, all handsome in his suit and tie, Bub gives him a narrow look and then asks, suspiciously, "Who’s that?"

I am almost certain that Bub knows it’s his father in that unwonted get-up; he is, however, surprisingly skilled in the arts of manipulation. Each afternoon, he races excitedly into the house when he gets home from day-care and calls out hopefully, "Da-a-a-dee-e-e-e!" When Daddy finally materializes two hours later (and less than an hour before bedtime), he has more or less missed his window for the exuberant greeting and gets the cold shoulder instead. It would be funny if it weren’t just so sad.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thank U

In those days – before I had babies of my own – I would arrive at the hospital, atremble with excitement at the beauty and fragility of new life, armed with the Inevitable Teddy Bear. It wasn’t always a bear, necessarily; on at least one occasion it was a large plush moose bearing a "Made in Canada" t-shirt. And then I had my own babies and realized that if there is one thing a newborn does not need it’s another smothering hazard to throw in the crib. To be sure, the Pie adores stuffed animals – she dives on them with a gleeful bellow, and buries her head in their soft tummies, or holds them up against my cheek so I can sneak in a little snuggle as well. Nevertheless, plush toys are not exactly in short supply around my house, and they are far less coveted gifts than a few soft Carter’s sleepers smuggled in from the U.S., or, more patriotically, a nice new pair of Robeez (the dark green ones with the bear cubs, or a summery turquoise pair with an octopus).

In the post-baby era, my gift-giving strategies have changed. I look for that irresistibly cute outfit – the one that I simply cannot bear to leave on the rack – or a copy of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? to tuck into the gift bag. But the best gifts by far are not the books or the clothes or even the diapers – they are the hot meals delivered to your door in those early post-partum days when every bowl of Cheerios is a victory.

Four days after the Pie was born, there was a knock on my screen door – open to let the fresh breezes in for the first time in that hot, humid summer – and it was Marilyn from my church bearing a little pink bag containing a Cookie Monster t-shirt and matching blue-and-green plaid shorts. "How are you doing for meals?" she asked, adding, "I’ve circulated the sign-up sheet, and we can cover the upcoming week." By "cover," what she meant was that a full three-course dinner would be delivered between five and five-thirty for the next eight days. Each afternoon, just before five, hubby and I would pull out the church directory and place bets on who it would be – the friendly airline pilot who always stops to tell Bub a story? The music director? The talkative lady who keeps telling us that Bub is ready for promotion out of the nursery and into Sunday School? And then a car would pull up, and after a brief conversation – long enough for the visitors to exclaim over the Pie’s unparalleled cuteness – hubby and I would retire to the back porch with our booty: homemade rotisserie chicken, or pork chops, or a mixed green salad with slivered almonds and mandarin oranges. Home-baked cookies would appear on our doorstep covered in plastic wrap, alongside not one but two whole bundt cakes – one double chocolate and one lemon poppyseed. On one occasion, Bub’s would-be Sunday School teacher arrived with hot buttered green beans, picked fresh from her garden that morning.

Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for these tangible expressions of love and support. And, as it happens, words did not express my gratitude. For now we come to the confessional portion of this post, the part that led me to wonder whether I ought to move this on over to Her Bad Mother’s Basement.

I have not sent out thank-you cards for any of the gifts I received. For either of my babies. Not one.

I have my excuses. Both my babies were born just as I was almost – but not quite – finished teaching a course. I arranged for a friend to take over the remaining lectures, but I still had stacks of essays and exams to mark during every moment I could steal away. Rather than napping when the baby napped, I raced to my desk to make a dent in the pile. And I don’t have a reliable catalogue of exactly what came from whom. My in-laws would arrive in my hospital room bearing armfuls of pink or blue gift bags stuffed with hand-knit ponchos or soft, fuzzy blankets from people I’ve never met. Realistically I was not in a position to leap from my bed to grab a pen and jot down the names. But still.

I have tried to make up for this lapse, this appalling rudeness, by thanking people in person. "I bought this Snugli carrier with the gift certificate you sent," I’ll say: "It’s been a life saver!" But this tactic has been known to backfire badly, most memorably when I thanked my mom’s friend Lynn for the cute cable-knit sweater she gave the Bub, only to realize from the horror-stricken look on my mother’s face that the sweater was from Carol, and Lynn had given the Bub the CCM hockey hoodie.

I will occasionally forbid my friends to write me thank-you notes for the baby gifts I give them. But this is rank selfishness of course – I want to avoid the searing hot wave of shame that engulfs me whenever I open my mailbox to find one of those small envelopes, and glance guiltily at the two unopened boxes of thank-you notes that still sit patiently on my coffee table. It is tempting to blame the victims of my rudeness, as if the act of selecting and wrapping a beautiful blanket, or sweater, or onesie were some kind of imposition.

The better response – the only possible reparation I can make – is to pay those gifts forward: to be grateful, as I am, and to express that in the form of steaming crock pots full of ham and sweet potatoes, or a pink gingham dress, or a foil-wrapped packet of grilled carrots and green beans. And if I’m very lucky, perhaps some of the recipients of these gestures will forget to thank me, and let me off the hook, just a little bit, so that even if Emily Post can’t forgive me, I can begin to forgive myself.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Angst-Free Meta-Blogging (Or, An Ode to Comments)

(What follows is my attempt to indulge in a bit of the meta-blogging without any references to high-school politics, and with a bare minimum of the old, "Isn’t it pathetic how much I want people to like me?" angst. Not entirely angst-free of course – I am a blogger, and thus defined by my angst – but with 75% less angst than the leading brand of meta-blogging posts.)

Since lildb has thrown down the gauntlet on commenting-on-comments, I’ve been thinking about my commenting practices here at Bub and Pie. I’ve always enjoyed commenting on my comments. It enhances the conversational feel of my blog; it seems cheery and genial. There is, of course, a vague sense of hubris about it, about so blatantly displaying my arrogant assumption that people come back here for return visits just to check up on their comments, to see if I’ve seen fit to respond to them. Regrettably, I no longer have time to visit the comments I’ve left on other blogs, now that I am buried under a monstrous mountain of papers on the role of villains in children’s literature (they are the evil ones, in case you were wondering, the characters whose evilness allows the heroes to behave heroically, or so I am informed, again and again, in earnest tones of disapproval of the villains' selfishness, greed, and willingness to stop at nothing to achieve their ends). Even more regrettably, I no longer have time to keep up with my post-a-day habit. So commenting on comments has become my primary role around here lately, as I continue to enjoy meeting all you Dumbledores and Hermiones out there (and Victor Krum! I’ve really got a thing for those brooding Bulgarian Quidditch players – we have to set up a date sometime!).

I’ve only recently developed the courage to throw out an audience-participation style post like my last one on the Myers-Briggs/Harry Potter personality type indicators. Such posts seem more suitable for the likes of Mom-101 or Motherhood Uncensored, where a host of giddy commenters always remain poised at their computers, eager to pounce on the latest post and offer up their collective wisdom. That kind of open solicitation of comments expresses a confidence that someone is out there listening, and, I think, the comfort of feeling that I know who those listeners are. I’ve read your blogs, you’ve read mine, and we’ve reached the point in our relationship where I’d really like to know which Harry Potter character you most resemble. I wonder, though, if my sudden shift to the second person serves to alienate that other group of readers, the ones who drop by on a regular basis, leaving their calling card with Site Meter, but without feeling comfortable enough to say hello.

Now that I’ve been at this blogging gig for a little while, I’ve noticed that the blogs I read fall into three groups. First, there are my friends – people I read every day, who comment here regularly, whose personal lives I follow with interest. Some of you I’ve emailed back and forth; others I’ve met face to face. Second, there are the sites I visit in my capacity as a fan: I happily join the throng of adoring readers, leaving a comment if I feel especially moved to laughter or tears, or scanning quickly if the subject of a post is not of personal interest. Finally, there is the third group: a few blogs I read regularly without comment because I’m not sure I’m part of the circle of friends the blogger is addressing as her known, comfortable audience. These blogs have been around awhile, and there is a back-and-forth conversation going on that I’m not entirely sure I’m welcome to join.

I’m learning a little bit about the qualities that make a blog seem like a friendly, welcoming place to visit. Instinctively, I try to make my posts into smoothly polished gems, complete and whole, without blemish. And then one day I throw out a half-baked post and come back a few hours later, embarrassed, only to discover that those flaws and omissions have created room for somebody else to jump in with the one missing bit of snark at Angelina Jolie that is needed to make my post complete. Some of the best posts I’ve read out there are the ones where the real action is going on in the comments (replete with apologies for hijacking). So this is my way of saying - hijackers welcome! Lurkers – come on in and make yourself at home! If you stick around awhile, Bub may give you a hug, and Pie will almost certainly steal your glasses.

(Oh, and I almost forgot: I’m the Blog of the Day for another eight minutes! Or at least I was before Blogger took ten minutes to load the Dashboard - and then another ten minutes to tell me "Your HTML cannot be accepted." Anyway. It's past midnight and I'm ready to relinquish my crown. Go nominate yourself – er, a blogger you love – for tomorrow’s award!)

Edited to add: Here's my button!

Blog Of The Day Awards Winner

(Please observe how well the colour complements my decor...)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Tell Me Who I Am

I love personality tests. I was the girl who scooped up every issue of Young Miss magazine, just so I could sit around with my friends and do the quizzes that would calculate How Loyal a Friend Are You? or What's Your Flirting Style? (The answers to those two were "Like a Labrador Puppy" and "Not Applicable.") I still remember puzzling over the word "sultry" in a beauty quiz I came across in my mother's copy of Good Housekeeping. In retrospect, all I know for certain is that there was nothing whatsoever about my appearance between ages 10 and 15 that could remotely be described as "sultry."

My love for the personality test was reborn when I discovered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (especially in its various online knock-offs). The MBTI has many uses - it allowed me to identify my future (now current) husband within minutes of meeting him; it helped me understand exactly why my first marriage was doomed to fail from the get-go; and now it has proved to be an amazingly useful way to target good blogs: I took advantage of a little Q&A over at Friday Playdate to ask about Susan's type, and not only did that confirm my theory that she's an INFJ (like myself), but it also led me to a few great blogs, including It's Not All Mary Poppins, helmed by the lovely INTJ, Mary P.

So when I found an online personality quiz that would tell me which Harry Potter character I'm most like...

Well, suffice it to say, I was going to keep redoing the quiz until I came out as Hermione (though Professor McGonagall wouldn't be so bad). And Ravenclaw! Clearly the superior house in Hogwarts, despite J.K. Rowling's inexplicable refusal to create even one interesting Ravenclaw character (and no, Cho Chang does not qualify!).

Okay, that's my geek-speak rant for now. Any fellow geeks out there wanna join in? What's your type?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Why I Love the Humidity

Create your own curly-topped urchins at home! (Instructions incuded below.)

One curly-headed Bub...

...and a little Pie.

1) Take two children with recessive genes for curly hair (inherited from their father).
2) Heat children at high humidity to a temperature of 32 degrees Celsius.
3) Put children down for a nap for two hours.
4) Remove from cribs and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

My Career as a Writer

I don’t remember a time that I did not want to be a writer. I know that I was influenced in this ambition by Jo March, and Emily Starr, and Harriet M. Welsch – but long before I met those headstrong, talented, creative little girls, I was an even littler girl who knew that writing stories was what I liked best, and wanted to do for the rest of my life. This dream was never untainted by the desire for glory: I wanted to see my name in print, to see my photograph on the back of the dust jacket. I was besotted with fame and loved reading stories about competitive swimmers and gymnasts, novels with titles like A Try at Tumbling. That was, in fact, the title of a novel I read when I was nine years old, and I remember everything about it: the chintz curtains on the windows in the heroine’s foster home, her skill on the balance beam (derived from afternoons of walking along the railroad tracks at her previous foster home), her reluctance to use up the hot water by taking long soaks in the bath after her practices. This novel is not a children’s classic, but it did inspire my first real story, printed carefully (double spaced) on foolscap: "A Try at Cheerleading." (Suffice it to say that the denouement involved a scout for the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.)

The less said the better, perhaps, about the stories I produced for "creative writing" assignments at school. I know that there was disciplinary action on one occasion when I, aggrieved at the stupidity of the day’s topic ("The Life of a Dime"), sent my protagonist rolling down into the sewers. This was my first and last attempt at scatological humour, and though the class appreciated my references to "big brown smelly things" when I read the story aloud, my teacher Mrs. Davidson did not.

Plot has always been my downfall as a writer of fiction. This was partly because my reading had led me to believe that creation must take place in a trance-like state. No real writer would plan out a story in advance – instead the writer’s responsibility is to wait, pen poised, for inspiration to strike. Using this method, I could create my characters and place them in a situation of conflict, but then I rarely had any idea of how to get them out. In grade six, for instance, I wrote a story about a girl and her two squabbling friends, Miranda and Wendy. My heroine invited her friends for a sleepover, hoping to arrange a truce – and there my invention ran out. After hemming and hawing for awhile, I finally resolved the situation by having all three girls save their community from destruction by throwing some handy kidnappers into the mouth of the local volcano. (You are aware, I assume, that volcanoes require human sacrifice in order to prevent an eruption. I would like to point out that I used this plot well in advance of its circulation in Joe Versus the Volcano.)

By high school, I had figured out that the best way to avoid such volcano-related debacles was to steal my plots from others. In addition to poaching the plot from The Taming of the Shrew for my Harlequin (as mentioned in a recent post), I wrote an updated version of Cinderella, in which the heroine sends Prince Charming packing and lives happily ever after with the cute hired boy who had been a faithful friend through all her afflictions. My other strategy was autobiography. Perhaps the only story I can read without (much) embarrassment today was called "Arena Talk," a snapshot of that Canadian rite of passage, the local hockey game. In that story I set aside a linear plot and focused on atmosphere – the paper cups of scalding hot chocolate, the puck bunnies lined up in the stands, the transformation from clumsiness to grace as the players’ skates hit the ice.

When I was twenty-one, I returned to the Harlequin romance I had started four years earlier. Once again, my nemesis was the plot. The challenge of any Harlequin romance is to (1) create two characters who are meant to be together, (2) make it clear to the reader that these two people are supremely well-suited to one another, and then (3) disguise that fact from the characters themselves for 180 pages. It took 90 pages for my hero, Peter, to crack through Katharine’s defenses (she was habitually hostile and surly due to the failure of boys to ask her to dance in high school) – then I had to rely on a series of increasingly improbable Three’s Company-style misunderstandings to prevent the characters from falling into one another’s arms. I threw in a marriage-of-convenience so that the sex, when it happened, would occur with God’s full approval, and when I finally allowed them to discover that they had loved each other all along, my fund of invention had been so well and truly used up that I haven’t attempted fiction again since.

I’m not sure I realized until I sat down to write this post that it has been fifteen years since I last wrote a story. During that time I have written various essays, a dissertation, some academic and not-so-academic articles, and pages upon pages of my journal, but I have allowed myself to admit that I am not, perhaps, cut out to be a novelist. In many ways that is a relief – there is nothing so truly torturous as the embarrassment of writing bad fiction. I have sometimes felt that I would have done better if I had been born in the nineteenth century and could have produced one of those rambling Victorian three-volume novels with a naïve and beautiful heroine and a guaranteed happy ending. The novels I wanted to write always had more in common with Jane Eyre than with Mrs. Dalloway or A Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve never been a big fan of self-consciously experimental fiction (the kind that says "Look at me! I’m so daring and innovative!") – nor do I enjoy novels of the Oprah’s Book Club variety, in which likable characters are introduced for the sole purpose of being shuttled from one trauma to another. If trauma there must be, I prefer it to be of the eighteenth-century gothic variety: if my heroine is captured by a lascivious monk, I’d like to be able to dress her up as a nun so that she can escape through an underground passage. For a long while, it seemed as if the kind of novel I might want to write was too hopelessly old-fashioned to find a market.

Since then, I’ve discovered chick-lit – light, unpretentious, funny – and creative non-fiction: I’m a sucker for any of those books about people who adopt some kind of crazy lifestyle so that they can write about it, such as reading through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, or disguising oneself as a man, or suspending all consumer purchases for a year. This kind of writing appeals to me, intrigues me. All I have to do is come up with my hook. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


When I was pregnant with the Bub, I had certain goals for myself. I wasn’t going to become one of those moms, the ones whose entire lives revolve around their children, who never go to restaurants or movies, whose conversation dwindles to a nauseating chorus of poop-related woes. I looked admiringly at a friend who celebrated the birth of her daughter by taking her on a backpacking trek in China. (Never mind that I am camping-phobic and would never have signed up for anything that involved the words "tent" or "portage" even before I had my babies.)

Then the Bub came, and it was not a matter of failing to live up to those goals so much as failing to live up to a suddenly reversed set of goals. The mothers I admire most are the ones who exhibit a patience and a dedication that I don’t have and can’t even really imagine having. They nurse around the clock, they co-sleep for months on end, they engage joyfully and spontaneously in playful interaction with their children.

I recently came across a description of this kind of mothering (the kind I don’t – can’t – do) in the final essay in Andrea Buchanan’s It’s a Girl collection, in which Leslie Leyland Fields describes the sensation of holding her newborn daughter: "Until then, if anyone had asked me to describe the meaning of ‘helpless,’ I would have reached for a metaphor, ‘Helpless’ is like… But that day, I held the meaning itself in my arms, the word incarnated in the flesh of this being. And in service to her, I gave myself over: I was her food, her arms, her legs, her sleep. My body was hers, my mind, my heart – all hers." Now, granted, Fields was parenting on a remote island in Alaska. But the same idea is expressed by Marti Leimbach in a passage I stumbled across a few days ago: "I was Daniel’s trampoline and his hammock; he made my hipbone his seat and opened my heart with his laughter." A baby girl in Alaska, a toddler boy in London, England – but the same kind of motherhood: all-encompassing, total surrender.

What strikes me is how adaptive – how conducive to happiness – that kind of surrender must be. For me, motherhood is a gradual process of reclamation: a bit at a time, I reclaim my old life, my old self, starting with breakfast. I can vividly remember how good that first bowl of cereal tasted mere hours after the Bub was born. I poured on a packet of white sugar and scooped the Cheerios out of the little plastic hospital bowl, my hand shaking uncontrollably with fatigue, and those crunchy O's tasted like heaven. In the days that followed, I made a rule: "You’re allowed to eat breakfast." If the baby wouldn’t stop crying, I permitted myself to take a break long enough to bolt down a bowl of cereal and a cup of tea (and thus discovered that the baby could fall asleep after a minute or two of fussing). Breakfast was the first step. Then, when Bub was seven weeks old, he took up residence in the crib and I reclaimed my bed – not, of course, for the purpose of marital relations (the doctor's go-ahead notwithstanding) but rather for the far greater pleasure of curling up for a few minutes each night with a good book before turning out the light.

Each milestone in my babies’ lives has allowed me to reclaim some of my old territory: spaces in my home, my day, my body. Each reclamation has made me feel freer, more myself. I’m not convinced that such defensiveness really makes for the happiest mothering experience – but I’m not sure I know how to do it any other way.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Ten Things I Hate About You

Remember that movie, the modern-day updating of The Taming of the Shrew? Little known fact about me: the one novel I have actually completed is an unpublished Harlequin romance I started when I was seventeen based on this very premise, in which "Katharine" is a schoolmarm with a chip on her shoulder and "Peter" is a dashing breeder of Arabian horses.

Today’s writing task will, at least, reach a somewhat larger audience than my poor, long-neglected manuscript tucked away at the bottom of my hope chest. I have been tagged by Mother Bumper for this meme, and I’m finding it surprisingly challenging. I don’t know that I’m a big hater – when asked on Sunday morning to pray for the person I feel the most temptation to hate, I was forced to fall back upon a mean girl I remember from high school, who has since become a perfectly inoffensive veterinary assistant and against whom I bear no ill will. So I’ve decided to target only one person – let’s see if you can guess who "you" is.

I hate that you:
1) so often play the role of the "other woman" both in fiction and in life.
2) have unquestioned "most beautiful person" status, despite those bulging veins in your arms.
3) think that you’re ready to adopt in a few months’ time even though you just gave birth.
4) look all sexy and gorgeous when the straps of your nursing bra are showing, instead of just leaky and overtired.
5) seem to have actually no idea why people find it strange when you admit publicly that you have several lovers you can call up on a rotating basis whenever you’re in the mood.
6) usurp all the do-gooder points by, you know, caring about world hunger.
7) get to hang out with Bono.
8) got to make out with John Cusack in Pushing Tin.
9) think that it doesn’t count as cheating if you just offer to bear a married man’s child, so long as you don’t actually have sex with him until after the formal separation.
10) think that "Nouvel" is still going to be a good middle name twenty, or even ten, years down the road.

(posted by: Team Aniston)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Judge Not

Shortly after the Bub was born, I picked up a complimentary copy of a popular parenting magazine, in which the editor reminisced fondly about her favourite moment as a mother: she and her daughter were walking through a mall when they saw a woman pushing her crying baby along in a stroller. "Why doesn’t she pick that baby up?" the little girl asked, and her mother sighed happily. "I must have done something right," she mused, realizing that she had been so attentive a parent that her daughter had absorbed her (attachment) parenting philosophy (cue the heavy-handed moralizing on the importance of Responding to Every Cry). Isn’t that nice, I reflected – this woman’s favourite parenting moment is not related to an expression of affection from her lovely daughter, nor to a particularly charming phrase or antic – no, her favourite moment arises from that warm, fuzzy feeling that is generated only when mother and daughter join together in shared condemnation of someone else’s parenting skills.

Before I became a parent, I did an informal survey of some friends, asking them how they reacted when they saw children misbehaving in public places. Let’s say a six-year-old girl is throwing a screaming fit in the grocery store, or a three-year-old boy is biting other toddlers at his pre-school. Do you assume that the child’s behaviour is the result of too little (or perhaps too much) discipline, or do you feel compassion for the parents who have to deal with a child who’s a real handful? Most respondents tended to blame the parents, though several of my friends qualified their remarks by saying they reach that conclusion only when the child’s behaviour is met with an inappropriate or inadequate parental response. Seems reasonable, I thought – no one can blame you for judging someone when you actually see the poor parenting in action.

I recalled that long-ago survey a few months ago when I read Daniel Isn’t Talking, Marti Leimbach’s novel about raising an autistic son. The heroine, Melanie, visits a grocery store and tries to elicit language from her son by withholding his cookie until he verbally asks for it. He melts down, screaming and trying to jump head-first out of the cart, so she desperately stabs open the package with her thumbnail and he starts working his way through it – the whole package – while his sister begs for her share of chocolate digestives. The scene is disintegrating rapidly, as is Melanie herself, when a woman approaches:

I am used to people making comments about my kids – or rather about Daniel – and I prepare myself for what she might say. I just wish I were in a better frame of mind to hear it. That I had some witty or insulting remark I could make back. But my throat is full of pepper and my eyes feel like they are boiling. I just want to run. If she’d get out of my way now I might do just that. But instead she stops before me and looks at Daniel, then me.
"He’s lovely," she says.

When I first read that chapter of the novel, I was so blindsided by those words that I burst into tears. I come to this issue from a different standpoint, perhaps, than others. When I was four years old, my family changed forever: my little sister – a red-haired dynamo we had nicknamed "Smiley" – learned to walk. And run. And jump. And bounce off the walls of our home perpetually for the next twenty years (at which point she moved out and got her own walls to bounce off of). During those twenty years, I never went on a family outing without facing reproving glances as my sister burbled on with her too-loud and never-ending commentary, or ran rampant through the restaurant, pausing occasionally to point out a baby (jumping up and down with glee) or climb up into an empty chair, looking up at the less-than-amused strangers with her trademark mischievous grin.

In those days, what she had was called learning disabilities and hyperactivity; the terminology ADHD wasn’t in use, but my sense is that those four little letters wouldn’t even begin to cover it. My mother always felt that she suffered from an excess of happiness, a zest for life that simply could not be contained, that didn’t allow her to sit still, or listen when others were speaking, or to restrain any of the socially inappropriate impulses that have led, over the years, to much teasing and ostracism from her peers.

There was no stone my mother left unturned when dealing with my sister: she tried elimination diets, Ritalin, speech therapy, tutoring, the Montessori school (until she got kicked out), the Waldorf school (ditto), spanking, homeopathic remedies, and prayer. At the end of the day, my sister is who she is: the #1 Favourite Aunt to Bub and Pie (with a hand-painted t-shirt to prove it), an irrepressible optimist, and a much-beleaguered and put-upon friend to any number of people who have figured our that she’s willing to do just about anything to avoid conflict. Over the years, many, many people have blamed my mother for my sister’s behaviour – not just strangers, either, but even the mother of one of my sister’s classmates, a woman who on one memorable occasion asked my mother politely, "Have you ever tried disciplining your daughter?"

So when I see children acting out and misbehaving, I tend to err on the side of compassion for the parents. And when I see a mother pushing her screaming baby in a stroller, I think of what I’ll tell my children when they ask me why that baby is crying. "Sometimes babies cry when they’re tired," I might say. "That mother is pushing the stroller to help the baby fall asleep." Or perhaps I’ll explain, "The baby is hungry, and the mother is hurrying to get to a quiet place where she can nurse." I’ll say something so that my children will realize that the sight of a crying baby – or a screaming toddler – or a wild and out-of-control preschooler – is an opportunity to exercise some empathy, a bit of compassion, not a time to pat ourselves on the back. (Hearing echoes now of Go, Dog, Go!: "Night is not a time for play. It is a time for sleep." So gentle, yet so dictatorial. How ’bout this: "When a baby is crying, it is not a time to gloat. It is a time to be nice.")

#1 Favourite Aunt

Past My Bedtime

Edited below...

Every night at about 10 pm, my husband starts in with the remarks. "Time to be heading upstairs," he'll say, or, "Bub will probably be up early tomorrow." And I'll hurriedly scan through my Bloglines to follow up any last minute posts, or take one last look at my SiteMeter. By the time I amble upstairs it's 11:30 - another missed chance to catch up on some lost sleep.

My husband loves his sleep. Preferably in uninterrupted 9-hour chunks. We knew when we had a baby that the days of sleeping in past ten (or nine, or eight) were over. What nobody warned us about was the pernicious effect of blogging on one's sleep habits (Unhealthy Sleep Habits, Unhappy Husband).

Last night, however, the blogging-related sleep deprivation reached a new height, as I discovered a new recipe for a late bedtime. First, stay out far later than intended living it up with fellow Mommy-Bloggers at T.O. gathering. Second, lie awake for several hours replaying the conversation: Appreciating the way Sunshine Scribe so deftly drew everyone out with her friendly questions. Laughing again at HBM's stories. Remembering the unparalleled beauty of Scarbiedoll's little boy Nate from the afternoon gathering. Enjoying anew the amazing Strawberry's bouncy red curls. Reflecting on how approachable Metro Mama and Kittenpie were, how their friendliness kept everyone at ease.

It must have been well past two before I fell asleep - and it was definitely five-thirty on the dot when Bub awoke this morning, screaming in terror at finding himself in a strange bed (we're staying at the BFF's house, only his second overnight stay away from home).

I'm barely keeping my eyes open this morning, but it was SO WORTH IT, you guys. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun.

Just when I thought my weekend couldn't get any better - I'm awarded a PIMP from Her Bad Mother and a Perfect Post from Mommy Off the Record. I've been stumbling around with a silly grin on my face all day.