Wednesday, October 31, 2007


It's always a good thing when Halloween falls on a Wordless Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Diagnosis: Maybe

For nearly two years now, I’ve been saying that my son might have autism. Today, a room full of experts said exactly the same thing.

“Bub is a conundrum,” the psychiatrist announced at the end of this second day of testing. “I think he probably has autism – but at this point I honestly don’t know.” Bub has many of the classic markers of autism – with pronoun-reversal being one of the most obvious – yet in other ways he is closing the gap between himself and typically developing four-year-olds. He sailed through the pretend-play portion of the test today, making a wooden block drive like a car, fly like an airplane, and pour like a cup. But he also played quietly with toys for three quarters of an hour while hubby and I were being interviewed without once bringing over a toy for us to look at or attempting to gain our attention in any way. He is, as I’ve known all along, a borderline case, someone who may or may not be best served by an official diagnosis. “Every kid who’s the least bit odd is diagnosed with autism these days,” the doctor pointed out. “They say that 1 in 166 children has autism – there’s just no way that’s right.”

The results of the tests we did earlier this month were unsurprising: Bub’s intelligence is above average (and, on some portions of the test, exceptional), but his social and life skills are lagging behind. The psychometrist noted the gap between Bub’s performance on concrete and abstract tasks; the speech pathologists mentioned the scripted quality of his speech. Everyone remarked on how gentle, sweet, and well-behaved he was. (At this juncture, Bub looked up from the book he had been perusing for the last twenty minutes and announced, with an enchanting smile, “I love these colours and shapes!”)

In the end, it was our decision to make. “Based on what I’ve seen, I’m comfortable writing down Pervasive Developmental Disorder on a piece of paper,” the psychiatrist said. That piece of paper won’t get us IBI therapy – Bub scores too high to qualify for that – but it will get us onto some waiting lists for other programs. It will also get us an IEP when we start kindergarten in the fall. Until then, we keep doing what we’re doing – Bub is improving by leaps and bounds with his current regimen of gymnastics and nursery school, and the psychiatrist claimed that for children with his intelligence and verbal skills, the right day-care/school environment can accomplish as much as a behavioural intervention program. We’ll continue with speech therapy and add some OT – and in fifteen months we’ll go back for a reassessment.

The psychiatrist made me promise that if two years from now it has become clear that Bub doesn’t have autism, I’ll let him remove the diagnosis. I think I can safely say that’s a promise I’d be happy to fulfill.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Truth About Kids and Sleep

I think I convey a spirit of candour on this blog. I cop to my failings and misdemeanours as a mother with a kind of misplaced enthusiasm, using them as self-deprecatory currency, a means of creating sympathy, friendship, and even a kind of reverse adulation. There are limits, however, to my candour, and I’m about to breach one of them: I’m going to write a post about sleep.

One of the few worries I had about the spacing of my children was that Bub would be evicted from his crib before he was ready. We had weathered a few weeks of sporadic CIO in order to get him sleeping through the night, and it seemed like madness to meddle with a system that was working so well. It was with much trepidation that we moved him into the big-boy bed when Pie was six weeks old: we put the mattress and box-spring directly on the floor, installed one of those side-rails, and tried to make the environment as crib-like as possible: the folded-down quilt acted as a visual barrier at the foot of the bed, and the soothers and blankies mimicked the layout of his crib. The trompe-l’oeil worked – for a good six months or so, Bub called out for us first thing in the morning, never realizing that he could scramble out of bed of his own accord.

I remember the first morning that he solved the puzzle of the big-boy bed – there was a little rush of air as he padded down the hallway, and then a face appeared at the side of my bed, inches from my own. At first, this newfound freedom was used only at wake-up time: it was a good month or two before he began to explore the middle-of-the-night possibilities. After nearly two years of sleeping through the night, suddenly he was free to wander.

We tried adding a room-darkening shade, to no effect. We piled on additional blankets, thinking he must be cold. He rarely seemed frightened or upset, but just in case, we added a nightlight. We responded to his noctural wanderings with brisk, mute promptness, avoiding eye contact as we tucked him back into his bed. And still he was getting up, sometimes three or four times per night. He wasn’t doing it because he was cold; he wasn’t doing it because he was hungry or scared; he was doing it because he could.

Finally, we took action: if he got up during the night, we locked him in the basement in a playpen.

I’d like to think that this isn’t as barbaric as it sounds. The basement is a familiar environment: his train table is down there, along with many of his books and toys. The basement is dark and quiet – and, moreover, it’s far away from the Pie’s bedroom, so the children cannot awaken each other. Bub had actually been taking naps there for several months (ever since he had lost the ability to nap under the brighter and less confined conditions of his bedroom). Instead of deterring his nighttime wanderings, the “downstairs bed” (as Bub calls it) began to act as a motivation: at four in the morning, Bub would come wandering into our bedroom, asking to go downstairs.

On the plus side, a trip to the downstairs bed usually meant that Bub would sleep later, especially in summer when the first rays of sunlight would act as a kind of jet-propulsion, ejecting him from his bed at 5:45. In the quiet darkness of the basement, he would slumber until seven o’clock. For nearly a year now, hubby has been lugging Bub’s increasingly heavy self down two flights of stairs to tuck him into the increasingly cramped quarters of his playpen. Some nights he would last until six in his own bed; other nights he would be downstairs before four.

The last few weeks have seen a downturn in Bub’s sleeping habits. Now, his first night-waking occurs shortly after midnight – usually about a half hour or so after we turn out our lights. When I’m lucky, this happens before I’ve fallen asleep; when I’m not so lucky, his arrival in the room pulls me with torturous slowness from the depths of my first deep sleep of the night. We tuck him back into bed, and two hours later he gives a repeat performance. If he goes downstairs too early, sometimes he awakens around five and yells for a tuck-in until I wake up, stagger downstairs and rearrange his blankets firmly around his arms and shoulders. The downstairs bed is no longer my friend.

So Friday night we tried something new. At bedtime, we tucked Bub in and put a child-safety gate in front of his door. Most three-year-olds have long since learned to defeat such mechanisms, but Bub has never been one to challenge physical boundaries – he doesn’t climb out of his playpen, and he does not attempt to circumvent baby gates. We explained to him that the gate would stay up all night, that he would have to stay in bed until morning. At midnight, I heard the creak of the floors and held my breath. The floors creaked again, and all was silent. At six-thirty, I heard Bub murmuring sleepily … but again he stayed in his room. When morning came, he stood by the gate and whispered, “Mama! I’m ready to get up!”

It has been only three nights. It can’t possibly be this easy. I’m sure that within a month or two he’ll have figured out that a well-placed shout will get us to come running. But for now, I’m wondering what’s wrong with me that I didn’t try this before.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Advantage: Bub

(On the car ride home from church this morning…)

Pie: Roar. Roar. Roar.

Bub: No roaring! Lions drive your brother crazy. EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT!!!

Pie: Roar.

Bub: You can cry, Pie! You can cry!

Pie: (Begins crying.)

Bub: That’s right. It is time for you to cry. I will cry you.

Pie: I’m not crying! I’m roaring like a tiger!

Bub: No roaring! I give you a time out! You will go to bed and have time out in the bed.

Pie: I won’t go to bed – I already had a good sleep!

Bub: Roar. Roar. Roar.

Pie: (Refuses to take the bait.)

Bub: *smack, smack*

Pie: (wailing) No kissing me!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Overrated Pleasures

I’m an appreciator of small pleasures. That said, there are certain things in life that I seem constitutionally incapable of enjoying – things that other people exult in which somehow leave me cold.

  • Freshly Laundered Sheets. They always look so lovely in the dryer-sheet commercials, billowing whitely in the sunshine as the radiant housewife throws them on the bed. And then her husband comes home and discovers that freshly-laundered scent – five days later! I love the idea of crisp linens, but in practice I find that unless I make a mental note I forget to even check for that elusive whiff of freshness. Maybe I have an underactive sense of smell, or perhaps I’m just too tired at the end of the day to care.

  • Shoes. There are two sensations that shoes have the power to excite in me: (1) pain, and (2) bored indifference. I understand the theory behind the love of new shoes: now that clothing is no longer fun to buy (due to awkward waistline issues), I can divert my vanity towards pumps and handbags. (Is pumps even the word I’m looking for here? It would sound much cooler to say something like espadrilles – but I’m not entirely sure what those are.)

  • Nature. October is the wrong month for this item, because even I am seduced by the riotous pleasures of fall. It’s warm enough to step out the door without bracing myself, yet cold enough that all the bees and wasps have gone into hibernation. Everything, suddenly, is my favourite colour. Nature should always be so accommodating. Any other month of the year, though, I infinitely prefer the indoor world with its screened windows, computer access, and cushioned chairs to the prickly discomforts of nature.

  • Wine. I can enjoy a glass of Merlot with barbecued steak in the summer. Most of the time, though, I’d prefer a latte with whipped cream or even Coke straight from the can.

  • Dogs. I go all melty over a chocolate-lab puppy just as much as the next person, but on the whole dogs seem to have too much saliva. The small ones yap and the big ones get muddy paws on your shoulders. They need to go out for walks in even the most inhospitable weather and then you have to pick up their poop with a plastic bag. Why bother, when you could just as easily adopt a nice fluffy cat? (Also: dogs can’t purr.)

  • MSN. I know I’m not alone in my resistance to Facebook, but what about instant messaging? Am I the only one who considers it to be a stress I just don’t need to add to my life?

  • Exotic Travel Destinations. Every year my in-laws spend a couple of weeks touring remote and exciting locations: Ethiopia, China, India, Peru. They book tours with agencies that promote adventure-touring: they ride camels into the desert and sleep in sleeping bags under the stars. I would really like to be the kind of person who will spend her retirement so adventurously – but I’m pretty sure I’m not. I’m more of a hotel person than a tent person, and when I think about my dream vacation, I no longer consider exotic locations: instead, I find myself fantasizing about England and Germany, Quebec City and New York. It’s as if all the places I really wanted to see I managed to visit before I turned twenty, and now all I want to do is go back.

    What about you? What do you consider to be overrated pleasures?

  • Thursday, October 25, 2007

    Mom Wanted: No Experience Necessary

    Now Hiring: Full-time Mom.
    Hours: 7 am to 8 pm. On call from 8 pm to 7 am.
    Salary: Commensurate with industry standards. Paid in monthly installments of joy and satisfaction. Stock options available, delivering long-term dividends.

    As the successful candidate for this position, you take pride in providing a high level of service to your clients, meeting all snack- and video-related requests promptly and efficiently. Ability to multi-task is essential, particularly when requests for snacks and videos are issued simultaneously by both clients.

    Familiarity with the new Parental Protocol is an asset, particularly the clauses outlawing (a) use of the clients’ dishes for your own lunch, (b) violation of the clients’ physical space (i.e. lifting and placing the client in a child-safety seat), and (c) singing and talking not previously approved by the clients.

    Duties include: preparation of meals as ordered by the clients (menus subject to change), transportation to and from excursion sites (departure times to be determined at the clients’ sole discretion), provision of a minimum of three daily wardrobe selections, and changing diapers (upon request only). Please note that this position does NOT require any preparation of fresh vegetables, housecleaning, or disciplinary measures. Dispute resolution is to be left to the clients (time-outs being expressly forbidden by clause 13.1 of the Parental Protocol).

    To succeed in this position, you should be aware that while you are permitted to move freely about the workplace, you must be prepared to relinquish your seat whenever a client wishes to use it. Similarly, you should be willing and able to join clients on the couch to read stories and/or watch TV upon request.

    Qualified candidates should submit their resumes confidentially to Bub or Pie for review. Immediate availability is an asset, as we wish to replace the current mom as soon as possible.

    No telephone inquiries or employment agencies please. Only those selected for an interview will be contacted.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007


    Moving right along ...

    “Yes, I wanted you to see how the comfort of all depends on each doing her share faithfully. While Hannah and I did your work, you got on pretty well, though I don’t think you were very happy or amiable. So I thought, as a little lesson, I would show you what happens when everyone thinks only of herself. Don’t you feel that it is pleasanter to help one another, to have daily duties which make leisure sweet when it comes, and to bear and forbear, that home may be comfortable and lovely to us all?”

    “We do, Mother we do!” cried the girls.

    Marmee is a firm proponent of the benefits of hard work, one of which is that it sweetens our hours of leisure. I can see her point: I am so inundated with marking right now that my leisure has become like a tray of caramel apples. Poisoned caramel apples.

    It’s not exactly the case that I spend every waking hour hard at work. It’s more like I spend every waking hour contemplating getting started on the thirty essays that came in last Friday. While I lounged on the couch last night watching Heroes and Journeyman, I made endlessly postponed plans to get up at the next commercial. While reading blogs at lunchtime today I spent half an hour promising myself that I would get down to work after reading just one more post.

    A stack of unmarked essays poisons every leisure moment and yet it makes the prospect of leisure irresistibly compelling. I find myself fantasizing about making homemade applesauce or spending a whole afternoon rereading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Suddenly, I am entranced at the prospect of cookie-baking and clothes-shopping, activities I normally pursue as means to an end rather than as ends in themselves.

    Back when I was a student, I would survive exam times by balancing present incentives with future rewards. While I was studying, I depended upon M&M’s paired with chips and salsa to get me through the night and promised myself a nice stack of Harlequin romances to read when I was done. During my comprehensive exams for the Ph.D. I kept a list of plans: dates to go out for coffee with friends, movies I planned to see, beach excursions and costume parties. “Let’s plan something for after my last exam,” I’d say. “From then on, my time is my own.”

    My time, of course, will never be my own again. Time is something I steal in greedy snatches from my family, sneaking it in small chunks while the children nap or borrowing it on account when hubby takes over for the day.

    Despite her preachy tone, Marmee is right about the drawbacks of uninterrupted leisure. I’m usually happier when I’m a bit too busy than I am when I’m not quite busy enough. The great swathes of free time that I’m hankering for right now do not have a proven track record for making me happy. But right now that can’t entirely suppress the longing I feel to pop in a DVD of Grey’s Anatomy (season 2) and watch it for eight hours, breaking only long enough to order pizza.

    Under Pressure

    I'm a tell-er. There are certain events and experiences that create a kind of internal pressure that builds up until I simply must tell someone. Usually that someone is my mom. She is the bank into which I deposit my cute kid-stories, my gross symptoms, my embarrassing anecdotes. Hubby's good for that too - but he doesn't get home until six. Sometimes the valves burst before he can get here.

    Never is the urge to tell more powerful than when there is reason to believe that the recipient does not want to hear the information. My mother's empathetic imagination is well-developed: if I exhibit symptoms of the stomach flu, she starts to feel nauseous. If I were a considerate person, this would prevent me from calling her the moment I become ill. Sometimes I manage to hold out for half an hour.

    Terrible stories are another case in point. Hubby hates tales of suffering animals and children ... but if one crops up in the newspaper, I get all fidgety until he's read it.

    The urge to confess our most embarrassing and shameful secrets can only, perhaps, be exceeded by the urge to reveal other people's most embarrassing and shameful secrets. The internal pressure created by a really big secret is at least as uncomfortable as a bad case of gas during the third trimester of pregnancy.

    This morning, something almost intolerably embarrassing happened to me. It is truly too embarrassing to reveal here - and I just called my mom, but she's not home. So I'm finding relief in the act of writing about the urge to tell - to lighten my psychic burdens by airing them for the world (or at least for my mom) to see.

    Does everybody feel this way? My husband is a vault - he can keep a secret under lock and key with no discernible effort. Is this because the urge for secrecy in some is as strong as the urge for confession in others? Or is he just a stronger person than I am?

    Sunday, October 21, 2007

    Not a Music Meme

    Bren tagged me for a music meme. This would be a lot easier for me to complete if I ever actually listened to music, or had a knowledge of music released after 1989. (Actually, I do like some music after 1989 – there was that brief spurt in the late ’90s of fun songs like “All Star” and “Tubthumping.” But arguably those were throwbacks to the ’80s.) If I had completed the music meme as given, you would have learned exciting things about me, such as the fact that the last album I purchased was just before the Pie was born (Johnny Cash Greatest Hits, so that I could play “Ring of Fire” while in labour) and that the last concert I went to was the Barenaked Ladies' Christmas show. I kind of got carried away with the opening question, however, so I decided to concentrate on that instead:

    What song is in your head?

    “Are you ready, are you ready, are you ready to clown around. With Loonette and Molly, a clown and her dolly, at the Big Comfy Couch!” Please, somebody, make it stop. The children have been taking turns being sick every weekend since the beginning of September, which means that we have been watching a LOT of Treehouse. To be fair, the children don’t like Big Comfy Couch any more than I do – they prefer cartoons to the heavily-made-up-adults-playing-with-toys genre of children’s programming. It’s a rare confluence of tastes: in most ways, their enjoyment of a given TV show will be inversely proportional to mine. Children’s television shows tend to fall into one of six categories, ranked below from worst to best, based on the children’s preferences:

    6) Heavily Made-Up Adult Plays With Toys. In this one category, the children and I are in perfect agreement: Big Comfy Couch and Mustard Pancakes may try to fill the void left by Mr. Rogers and Mr. Dressup in the “unmarried adult living in a house with puppets” genre, but I find them more creepy than heartwarming.

    5) Imaginative Child Engages in Unpredictable Flights of Fancy. Personally, I like this genre: my favourite is Farzzle, a giggly baby whose adventures revolve around random objects like crayons or flowers that come to life and do zany things. My children find it terrifying, though – they’re inclined to shout in horror when Farzzle is at the beach and his pail and shovel suddenly get up and start tap-dancing.

    4) Curious and Gregarious Child Goes on Real-World Adventures … and learns about things like baking cookies and ballet dancing. I love Daniel Cook and Emily Yeung; my children, on the other hand, tolerate them only because they know that something better is coming along.

    3) Cartoon Characters Have Ordinary Lives. Max and Ruby, Charlie and Lola, Angelina Ballerina … these shows are preoccupied with lost toys, spilled paint, and spoiled tea parties. At best they are British and charming; at worst they are Arthur.

    2) Cartoon Characters Engage in Predictable and Formulaic Adventures. What’s going to work? Team work!

    1) Fluffy Animals Face Off Against Sinister Cartoon Villains. In these shows, Gargamel lurks around every corner, cackling evilly. The worst offender is The Care Bears, in which the villain (of this morning’s episode, anyway) is a buck-toothed little girl. It makes me cringe – but when it comes on, Pie leaps to her feet, shouting ecstatically, “I love the Care Bears!” while I exit the room in haste, hoping that she’ll follow.

    Friday, October 19, 2007

    What's Your Preference?

    When hubby and I were dating, we went out for dinner to Moose Winooski’s. When our bill arrived, it was accompanied by two fruit-flavoured candies, and soon-to-be-hubby held out the platter for me to choose. Naturally, I picked the grape one – but the gesture prompted me to ask him why he always gave me the first choice in situations like that. Was it chivalry? A kind of archaic code of ladies-first that had survived long past things like opening the car door or pulling out my chair?

    Not exactly. In most situations, hubby explained, it didn’t really matter to him which option we selected. He had noticed, however, that I always had a preference. It just made sense to let me pick.

    I’d like to think that I would have been capable of enjoying the rest of the evening even if I had been stuck with the pineapple candy. Pineapple candies are kind of gross, of course, so I might have opted simply not to take a candy at all if hubby had wanted the grape one … and that might have made me self-conscious about my breath after the garlic mashed potatoes I’d had with my meal … so I guess I can see the logic there. It’s advantageous for everyone if I get to choose.

    When asked for a preference, I’m the kind of person who can almost always come up with one. Other people, I have observed, do not. Perhaps this is one of those codes of politeness that I never quite mastered. How many times do you have to say “I don’t care” before you’re allowed to indicate what you really think? And once both people have moved beyond the “whatever you think” stage, how do you negotiate whose preference prevails? I have little patience for prolonged hemming and hawing – if a group is hesitating idly about where to go for supper or what movie to see, I’ll jump in and make the call. (Of course, that means if the food is terrible or the movie boring, I’m the one everybody blames … I can see the advantages of sitting back and waiting for someone else to cast the deciding vote.)

    I can recall a character in The Joy-Luck Club whose marriage nearly collapsed because of her refusal to express a preference. Trained to defer to her husband in all matters, this woman had submerged herself so fully that her husband eventually felt he was living with a stranger. (This incident stands out in my memory because it prompted me to remark casually to then-, now ex-, husband, “Promise you’ll never leave me.” And he responded, “I can’t promise that.” Ironic, really, considering that among the causes of that divorce, no one could ever suppose that my refusal to express an opinion was one.)

    Another literary character for whom expressing a preference can be problematic is the autistic narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Christopher explains in that novel that his phobic avoidance of the colours yellow and brown functions as a decision-making device – it gives him a guideline, a template to narrow down the options that might otherwise be overwhelming. I'd like to assume that my ability to express on-the-spot preferences arises from my deep self-knowledge: that I am so attuned to my emotions that I can quickly and easily determine what I would most enjoy in any situation. Upon reflection, though, I must admit that, like Christopher, I rely on many self-imposed codes, ones I use without being fully aware of them. I only wear soft, comfortable clothing in cool-toned colours (red, navy blue, black, or forest green). I like romantic comedies but I won’t see horror films. I don’t eat foods in which rice is a major component. I pick the item from the dessert menu that is served hot with ice cream on the side.

    I could provide a convincing rationale for any of these preferences – it’s really true that I look better in navy than I do in pumpkin or turquoise – but functionally they are a kind of shorthand: I continue to use them long after I’ve realized that a really bright yellow shirt can actually look good on me if I pair it with something blue. When my rules break down, I can generally intuit a preference, but I often seek confirmation from others. When I’m torn between two items on the menu, I ask the server for a recommendation, and my favourite kind of server is the one who can answer readily and decisively.

    Which kind are you? Do you usually know what you want, or would you rather let others decide? And if you say, “It doesn’t matter,” do you really want the other person to decide, or are you waiting for the ball to be tossed back to your side of the court?

    Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Pie's First Story

    In a scene eerily reminiscent of the closing sequences of Casablanca, Man and Lady are perched atop the helicopter landing pad, facing one another intently.

    Don’t go to work, Lady! the man says.

    Lady turns to walk away, resolutely headed towards her place of employment.

    Don’t walk to work! Come back! I want you!

    They embrace, but the Lady is inexorable. Moments after her departure, a second Lady appears, looking out the window of the airport control tower.

    Get out of my swamp! says the Lady. I want my swamp back!

    Poor man.

    Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    Obligatory Optimism

    Tonight I’m off to the third of a three-part small-group study on “Balcony People.” Balcony People are the optimists, the cheerleaders, the people who believe the best of you and bring you up when you’re feeling down. The alternative is to be a “Basement Person” – a nit-picker and a back-biter, someone who is cynical and pessimistic, determined to ferret out the basest motives for any action. (The ground floor is apparently completely vacant – you have to be one or the other.)

    The Biblical basis for the study is sound, and I don’t think one has to be a pep-rally leader to cultivate habits of thankfulness and charity. But I find myself exhausted at the mere idea of inhabiting a world of relentless optimists, where one’s doubts and hesitations would invariably be met with a chorus of “That’s okay! You can do it! You can do anything!” (Exclamation points, I believe, are the only punctuation used by Balcony People.)

    I am an optimist. Perhaps for that reason I’ve always preferred the company of pessimists. There is something restful about them with their moderate expectations, their cautious approach to life. Of course, the optimist/pessimist distinction is overly simple – perhaps we should speak of optimisms: there is optimism related to one’s expectations for the future. My latest invention is going to make me a million dollars. My secret boyfriend is going to leave his wife and marry me. And then there is optimism related to one’s circumstances. My cup is half full, and really I don’t even want more than half a cup because I’m not that thirsty anyway. Both these forms of optimism may vary depending on whether we’re dealing with situations or people – the person who finds reasons to be thankful for the things she cannot change may also have a razor-sharp eye for hypocrisy or a foolproof sense of when she’s being duped.

    As an optimist, I’m keenly aware of the deficits inherent in my condition. I would not make a good physician – I am far too apt to dismiss worrisome symptoms. I don’t like to borrow trouble – I assume that everything will turn out okay, and mostly it does. This habit works well for me in ordinary life, but it would be dangerous in a family practice, where the patient’s minor complaints usually turn out to be nothing – except for the times when they’re not.

    Pessimists are prepared for the worst. They’re the ones we optimists turn to for supplies of bottled water when disaster strikes and all we have are flashlights powered by useless rechargeable batteries.

    Pessimists are alert to signs of deception. They’re good to have around when we’re tempted by a pyramid scheme that sounds too good to be true.

    Pessimists are brave enough to address problems in their relationships before they’re too entrenched to be overcome.

    Pessimists are brave enough to acknowledge when the problems in their relationships are too entrenched to be overcome – and they’re capable of cutting their losses when they do.

    Pessimists know that the emperor has no clothes and they aren’t afraid to say so, even when surrounded by optimists like me who keep squinting hopefully, sure that we’ll see embroidered silk robes if we just look hard enough.

    Behind every enthusiastic Balcony Person there’s probably a pessimist who takes on the thankless task of fending off leeches and con artists, gently nudging the BP away from his most quixotic plans, preserving the illusion that people are inherently good by quietly steering clear of those who aren’t. They’re easily underrated, those pessimists, and as a dyed-in-the-wool optimist, I won’t be the one to run them down.

    Monday, October 15, 2007

    Listen to Your Mother

    Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

    Today is Blog Action Day! After coming up with the title for my post, I was amused to note that Jen’s contribution is entitled “Respect Your Mother,” by which she means respect the Earth. When I say “Listen to Your Mother,” what I mean is listen to my mother. Long before trans fats became the villain du jour, she was exhorting me to check labels for hydrogenated oils and shortenings; well before the presence of Bisphenol A in plastics started to receive media coverage, she adjured me never to put plastic wraps or containers in the microwave. She knows stuff, my mother – and in me she has a rebellious daughter who never takes her warnings quite seriously enough. So as an act of public service today, I thought I’d pass along to you some advice my mother has given me – perhaps you will reward her efforts better than I have done.

    • Avoid body lotions that contain parabens. They are bad (I forget why). Here are some good alternatives:

      (Avalon Organics hand and body lotion and Alba Botanica sunscreen, in case you're having trouble making out the labels.)

    • Take vitamin D supplements and Omega-3 fish oil capsules once a day. They’re good for you.

    • Buy organic milk, apples, strawberries, and peppers. Don’t worry so much about organic bananas or potatoes, though, unless you plan to eat the peel.

    • If you or your children are depending upon chick peas for iron, be sure to drink orange juice with it. The Vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron.

    • If you or your children are depending on peanut butter as a source of protein, be sure to drink some milk with it (you need the dairy product to make a complete protein – not sure what you’re supposed to do if you’re a vegan).

    • Give your children cod liver oil. It comes in tasty berry-flavoured drops!

    This has been a public service announcement. While you’re considering how to implement this good advice in your life, you can also click over to Toxic Nation and sign a petition asking the Canadian government to ban Bisphenol A, a chemical compound found in cans and plastic containers that leaches hormone disruptors into the foods we eat. I especially like this initiative because I’m lazy and I’d rather not have to avoid canned goods or transfer my foods onto glass plates every time I microwave them.

    It’s not every day you can foster your health and the environment and make my mother happy.

    Sunday, October 14, 2007

    Bub's First Story

    One of the questions I found difficult to answer last week was about whether Bub was capable of telling a connected story in sequence. I couldn’t recall him doing so, and having observed him since, I have noted that his remarks tend to focus on isolated, unconnected events.

    Until this morning.

    Bub: Mama, can we tell the story of the Colour Babies?

    Me: Sure. What are the Colour Babies doing?

    Bub: They are sleeping. I’m going to wake them up! (He goes over to the garbage can, opens it and pulls out an invisible handful of sleepy Colour Babies.) Here you go. It’s the Colour Babies!

    Me: How many are there?

    Bub: There are ten many.

    Me: What are they going to do?

    Bub: They are going into the Magic Cave! (He crawls under my legs, which are propped up on the coffee table.) Follow me, Colour Babies!

    Pie: (determined not to be left out) I’m a Colour Baby!

    Me: What colour are you?

    Pie: Yellow!

    Bub: The babies are at the beach. It’s time for them to be going to dress up!

    Me: Which Colour Baby are you, Bub? Pie is Baby Yellow. Are you Baby Green?

    Bub: No. (reprovingly) Mamas don’t like to talk. The Colour Babies are dressing up.

    Me: (getting back with the program) They’re dressing up in a costume? What are they dressing up as?

    Bub: I’m a koala.

    Pie: I’m a koala too!

    Bub: Grrr. Grrr. The babies are scared! Don’t worry, babies – we will save you! (He gathers up the babies and places them on the diaper-changing pad, counting to make sure all ten Colour Babies are present and accounted for.) It’s time for the babies to have some celery.

    Postscript: After some consultation with hubby, I have discovered that this narrative is actually a continuation of a story Bub came up with yesterday in which the Colour Babies’ garbage-can-sleeping and celery-eating habits were firmly established.

    Post-postscript: In the Further Adventures of the Colour Babies, on the way home from church today they were pursued by a herd of ten horses. Fortunately, just as the terrified babies were about to be trampled, the horses got small and the babies got big, and then they turned into SuperBabies and flew away. Should I mention again that Bub has never produced a narrative-like structure before this weekend?

    Saturday, October 13, 2007

    Sharing Soup

    It was sharing soup day yesterday at Bub’s nursery school. He brought a potato with him, proudly presenting it to Ruby at the door and adding it to the pot. The only difficulty was holding him back, getting him to wait his turn, for as soon as he caught a glimpse of his teacher he burst into excited shouts of “Hello Ruby! I brought a potato!” This was the same potato that, moments before, he had insisted must be left in the car – like any other change in routine, soup-making day was something he embraced excitedly only after his initial ritual of angry rejection.

    A couple hours later I turned up with the other parents for a shared meal. The children had helped to chop pre-cooked potatoes and carrots, adding them to the pot full of pasta and broth. When I arrived, Bub was sitting in a circle with the other kids, miming the actions of stirring and adding vegetables; he took his turn climbing in a giant pot and then obediently scrambled out again when his turn was over. He had received his first half-hour of in-school speech therapy that morning, and Ruby pulled me aside to whisper that Brenda, his speech therapist, had been nearly in tears at the sight of him having fun with the other kids, adapting to the demands of nursery school. We have been working with Brenda on and off for a year and a half and she has seen Bub at his worst – stressed, melting down, struggling to form the simplest of sentences. He is indeed a different boy.

    As we hunkered down around the table, perched on foot-high toddler chairs, Bub chattered happily. “Did we cut the carrots?” he asked. “Are you visiting Bub at the nursery school?” That’s when I saw it – a flicker in the eye of the three-year-old girl munching cheese and crackers across the table from us. She didn’t comment, but I could see her noticing Bub’s unusual interrogative speech, his inappropriate use of the third person. The other children chatted amongst themselves; no one spoke to Bub.

    This is tiny; it is insignificant – Bub neither noticed nor cared, and indeed it would have been different if he had been seated with Stewart, his particular friend (that is, a boy in whose vicinity he occasionally engages in parallel play). It didn’t even hurt me, that tiny ripple of social rejection. But it made me wonder.

    In her comments on this post, Mary Jo has been challenging me to think about the potential repercussions of an unnecessary diagnosis. I am making a choice to take Bub for these tests; he is not obviously autistic – he’s a child who would never have been diagnosed as such twenty years ago (and may not be diagnosed as such now). I cannot predict what lies on the other side of this process. Are the services we would gain with a diagnosis good enough to outweigh the stigma attached to the term “pervasive developmental disorder”? Are children more or less likely to bully, tease, or reject my son if his quirks and differences are given a label?

    Bub is smart – yesterday he scrutinized the brand-name logo at the bottom of our TV and muttered, “tuh-aw-sss … buh-a.” (It’s a Toshiba – I think the “shi” part was confusing for him.) He is smart, but I want more for him than that – I want him to develop the skills he needs to make friends. I don’t necessarily desire for him to fit in (I never did), but I want him to be able to communicate and form relationships.

    Would an autism diagnosis facilitate that process, or put it in jeopardy? Are children kinder or crueler when divergent behaviour is attributed to autism, ADD, or any other of the increasingly commonplace childhood disorders? What do you think?

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Children of a Lesser God

    Our routine was to watch cartoons together every Saturday morning. We had done so all winter long, and my four-year-old mind could not reach back beyond those endless months of cold and snow. It was thus an unpleasant surprise, to say the least, when the first warm Saturday arrived and he loaded his golf clubs into the car, leaving me to the chill company of Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, and Wile E. Coyote.

    I don’t think I threw a tantrum after that first weekend. I knew what to expect, and I knew, too, that my enjoyment of our Saturday-morning ritual had not been shared as fully as I had innocently presumed. It was my first lesson in forgiveness, the inexorable waning of righteous anger and the adjustment of expectations that follows. I would know in the future that I could count on my dad to be proud of my accomplishments, to create treasure hunts for me at the cottage, to engage patiently in the frustrating and ultimately impossible task of teaching me to catch a ball. But all that had to be fitted in around the demands of two eighteen-hole rounds per weekend. Golf always came first.

    The Christian ideal of forgiveness incorporates a willingness to turn the other cheek – to risk a repetition of the offence, to believe in the possibility of change. Most of my forgiving is not of this kind. Anger drains away and leaves me with lowered expectations. I know better than to make plans that depend upon the friend who has repeatedly stood me up. I learn not to share private information with the warm-hearted woman who simply cannot help spilling all her secrets (her own and everybody else’s). Friendships can function surprisingly well this way – most relationships, in fact, require this willingness to let people be as flawed as they are.

    I’ve been watching this realization dawn in my children’s minds this week. Pie has been clinging to me in the mornings, frustrated and angry at my insistence on detaching myself from our cuddle on the couch to attend to such necessary tasks as washing my face and getting dressed (as well as some not-strictly-necessary tasks like loading the dishwasher and making the beds). When I dropped her off at day-care yesterday, she glowered reproachfully, refusing our normal tokens of farewell (a goodbye kiss or a hastily shouted “Bye-bye Mama!” as she rushes to join the other children at play). I can see a suspicious sharpness in her eyes as she recognizes the symptoms of my restlessness, my inability to immerse myself as she does in a good episode of the Wonder Pets. “It’s a baby zebra!” she hollers, dragging me out of the kitchen to see the animal in trouble. I do my best to feign interest – I thank her for sharing her exciting discovery – but my pretense is starting to waver under her sharp, knowing gaze.

    Bub is making the same discovery. A few days ago I put on the Veggie Tales ’70s CD and joined Bub for a few songs – we did the locomotion, we snuggled down to sleep on the floor like lions in the jungle, the mighty jungle. But the Pie was napping and I was itching to get some work done. I detached – he pulled me back. I detached – he pulled me back. A third time I detached – and he stopped pulling, standing there dejectedly, like a boy who has just learned something new, something unexpected.

    The Pie was in high spirits today when I picked her up from day-care. Our routine is well-established now so she knows that the day I come get her right after lunch heralds the start of the long weekend. While Bub and I ate our lunch, Pie tormented her brother by grabbing her Veggie Tale pirates and roaring at him menacingly: “I’m a cucumber, roarrrrr.” There were no tantrums or clingy fits, only exuberance. I am forgiven after yesterday’s bitter parting … but in her forgiveness I cannot help but detect a subtle lowering of expectations. I have fallen from my godlike perch – I am teaching my children their first lesson in human frailty.

    I love my children more than they could possibly know – and yet my love is far more contaminated by boredom, resentment, and selfishness than they could possibly suspect. Their eyes are growing sharper, more attuned to the outlines of fallenness in me, and the fact that they cope so well with the disillusionment is the most damning evidence of all.

    Tuesday, October 09, 2007


    One Christmas a very cruel relative gave hubby and I matching Tangram games, enabling us to engage in head-to-head competition as we attempted to speedily arrange things like this:

    into things like this:

    The competition would have been much more fierce if I had ever successfully assembled even one of the Tangram designs. The racing-against-the-clock factor proved to be irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how much time I am given – I will never be able to assemble a Tangram.

    It was thus with a sense of enormous pride that I watched Bub kicking butt this morning at the “block design” portion of what appeared to be a preschooler-IQ test. This was the part of his autism assessment that had been so frustratingly postponed a few weeks ago. Bub was in good health and high spirits this morning, and he coped with the testing situation far longer than he has ever been able to do in the past. He identified pictures of lamps and sandwiches, even pointing to a lady at a cash register when asked to identify the picture of “paying.” “Gnawing,” “fancy,” and even “scissors” proved to be more challenging – my sense was that the vocabulary tests gave a reliable indication of Bub’s strengths and weaknesses.

    His real moment to shine came when the psychometrist pulled out a set of red and white blocks and challenged him to match his designs. With great patience and confidence, Bub manipulated the blocks until he got them just right – stacked in rows, alternating colours, whatever the examiner requested. Each time, he presented the finished product with a grin of accomplishment: “I made a match! I did a great job!”

    Puzzles were another story. I would have thought that puzzle-piecing would draw upon the same set of skills as shape-sorting, but the difference here was that he had to match the pieces to a mental image of a familiar object, rather than checking them against a model. With three-piece puzzles he was able to put together a car and a clock, but when a fourth piece was added he faltered, unable to figure out how to fit a dog’s body between the two sets of legs or how to arrange a door so that it stood vertically at the front of the house.

    The same thing happened with the language testing: given a set of pictures, Bub had no difficulty pointing out or naming the objects he recognized, but during the question-and-answer portion he clammed up. Questions of “How old are you?” were greeted with somber silence; in response to queries about colours and animals he simply repeated the question, trying occasionally to get me to answer in his stead.

    I’ve always sensed that Bub has difficulty calling up mental images. When he's looking for a lost object, his gaze slides right past it, as if he is unable to visualize what he's looking for and match that mental picture to what he sees. That may also explain why he has struggled to talk about memories of past events – his language is closely wedded to visual and auditory stimuli. Faced with concrete problems, he can solve them efficiently and even creatively, but asked to think about the appearance of familiar objects, he falters. He is my complement in many ways, strong where I am weak, comfortable in a world of shapes and designs and wary of the verbal world in which I am so thoroughly enmeshed.

    And yet we are alike: we love to do a good job, and when we fear we can’t we prefer not to try. “Can we go home now, Mama?” he whispered at the end, worn down by the pressure of solving puzzles and hazarding answers to questions he only dimly understood. I remember those Tangram games, now packed away or possibly thrown out to avoid further humiliation, and I can imagine how he feels.

    Saturday, October 06, 2007

    They're Snoggably Delicious

    Veronica Mitchell comes up with the best memes. She was the mastermind by the best TV-characters meme that circulated so entertainingly last fall, and now she’s come up with

    Ten Literary Characters I Would Totally Make Out With If I Were Single and They Were Real But I’m Not, Single I Mean, I Am Real, But I’m Also Happily Married and Want to Stay That Way So Maybe We Should Forget This.
    The problem is, she can’t justify it to her husband unless she’s tagged, so we get to do it first. Anything for a friend, that’s what I always say. (Also, I seem to have entirely lost the ability to write blog posts that contain actual paragraphs. Ideas for list-based posts, on the other hand, keep cropping up like mushrooms.) In an effort to manifest some semblance of creativity, I think I’ll break my list up into categories:

    Best Character to Make Out With in the Room of Requirement
    Sirius Black (young version). The old version would be too old for me. Actually, the old version is probably in his late thirties, but from the fifteen-year-old mental perspective I assume when I read the Harry Potter books, I have a serious crush on the teenage Sirius: “Sirius was lounging in his chair at his ease, tilting it back on two legs. He was very good-looking; his dark hair fell into his eyes with a sort of casual elegance.” He’s all Jordan Catalano-style teenage rebellion with his dark-wizard background and his easy arrogance – a bad boy and a good boy all rolled into one.

    Best Character to Make Out With After Accepting a Hasty and Ill-Considered Marriage Proposal
    Mr. Darcy. Need I say more? “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” (And yes. I just typed that from memory.)

    Best Character to Make Out With Before He Goes Off to War
    Kenneth Ford. When I came back to Rilla of Ingleside as an adult, I was shocked to discover how wholly undeveloped Ken Ford’s character is. I had vivid memories of swooning over him as a romantic fourteen-year-old, but the basis of my attraction was almost entirely the following description (which, I now realize, is embarrassingly similar to the description of Sirius):
    Kenneth was a tall lad, very good-looking, with a certain careless grace of bearing that somehow made all the other boys seems stiff and awkward by contrast. He was reported to be awesomely clever, with the glamour of a faraway city and a big university hanging around him. He had also the reputation of being a bit of a lady-killer. But that probably accrued to him from his possession of a laughing, velvety voice which no girl could hear without a heartbeat, and a dangerous way of listening as if she were saying something that he had longed all his life to hear.
    Ah, those dangerous listeners. I realize now that fourteen-year-olds don’t want complex, realistic male characters – they want a more or less blank slate onto which they can project their own fantasies of desirable maleness.

    Best Character to Make Out With if You’re a Rat
    Justin from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I don’t actually remember much about this character, only that I had a bit of a crush on him in grade eight. He was a tall, strapping rat with a virtuous heart – the kind of rat who will gallantly protect you against cats, farmers, and evil scientists.

    Best Older Man to Make Out With
    Sherlock Holmes, as represented in Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice series.

    Best Detective Besides Sherlock Holmes to Make Out With
    Lord Peter Wimsey. Depths of feeling concealed under a cold (or, in this case, deliberately foppish) exterior. A detached and brilliant intellect. An English accent, money and a title. What can I say? I’m a sucker for all that.

    Best Vampire to Make Out With
    Dracula, as represented in Fred Saberhagen’s sympathetic retellings, The Dracula Tape and The Holmes-Dracula File (in this version, Vlad Tepes engages in bloodsucking only for enjoyment and by mutual consent, without necessarily transforming his partners into vampires – perfect for a casual bit of snogging).

    Best Character to Make Out With On the Eve of the Battle of Agincourt
    Henry V. God for England, Harry and Saint George!

    Best Character to Make Out With in Middle Earth
    Faramir. In the movie, of course, Legolas, Boromir, and Aragorn get all the attention, but in the book Legolas always strikes me as a bit of a weenie, Boromir is a mean-spirited traitor (with none of the tragic depth leant to him by Sean Bean), and Aragorn is hung up on Arwen (who can compete with that?). Faramir, on the other hand, is honest, brave, and level-headed – and not so caught up in the male bonding-fest that is the Fellowship of the Ring that he can’t show a girl a good time.

    Best Character to Make Out With if I Can’t Have Mr. Darcy
    Captain Wentworth. Mostly just to make Louisa Musgrove mad.

    I thought of Petruchio and Mr. Rochester, too – but they’re too demonstrative for me, too nakedly emotional. In the end, I think there’s only ever one thing that makes a man attractive to me: power. Not crude physical or political power, but a strength and intellect kept so tightly leashed that you just want to be there for the moment when his iron self-control begins to slip.

    Here’s your tag, Veronica! (And you too, Beck – I can’t wait to read your list.)

    Friday, October 05, 2007

    A Love/Hate Relationship

    Things That Fill Me With Abject Self-Loathing Despite Their Relative Insignificance

    1) Ending my lectures five minutes early. Every class I taught this week ended at fifteen minutes past the hour instead of the usual twenty past. No matter how often I tell myself that my students are delighted by the reprieve, I cannot help but see those five empty minutes as embarrassing proof of the gaping cavern that is my brain.

    2) Forgetting things. (Case in point: waking up to discover that I forgot to run the dishwasher; hand-washing some juice glasses only to discover that I forgot to buy orange juice when I was at the grocery store.)

    3) Undone tasks. Sticky floors, un-filed papers, cupboards devoid of edible food, empty bottles of contact lens solution … my house is cluttered with such evidence of my inadequacy as a human being.

    4) Being late – even if only by five minutes.

    5) The halo of frizz that has surrounded my head all through this cloudy, drizzly week.

    Things That Fill Me With Inordinate Pride and Happiness Despite Their Relative Insignificance

    1) Blogging.

    2) Bringing Ziploc bags of sliced red and yellow peppers on family outings. Nothing makes me feel more like a supermom than pulling a colourful, healthy snack out of my purse to the joyful cries of my enthusiastic children.

    3) Spending one-on-one time with one of my children – even if that means watching TV with Bub or plying the Pie with ice cream. (White chocolate raspberry – for each dainty morsel she managed to secure, I would shovel two or three great gulping spoonfuls into my own mouth, and then there would be much mutual smiling and nodding and exclamations of “Mmmm, yummy.”)

    4) Making applesauce.

    5) Sparking enthusiastic discussions in my classes, even when these discussions are of limited educational value or relevance to the text at hand. (What are the codes of courtesy operational in our society today and what emotions are they designed to restrain? Twenty minutes of discussion on this topic served to disguise the fact that I had nothing left to say about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight this week and preserved the illusion that my mind is a bottomless well teeming with insights. Right up until 15 minutes past the hour - then all masks were off.)

    What trivial things make you love and/or hate yourself?

    Wednesday, October 03, 2007

    Lurking is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

    I love lurkers. Their love is pure - they come here and read what I write solely because they want to, expecting nothing in return. And when I manage to pull one of them out of hiding, their comments are especially meaningful (hi Jeannie! Natalie! Marian!).

    Of course I love you too, regular commenters - but I get a chance to express that when I visit your blogs and leave my own comments. So today is I HEART LURKERS day at Bubandpie, and not entirely coincidentally, it is also "The Great Mofo Delurk" (not my title). Fantastic buttons are available in a dazzling variety of colours, so although I feel a little bit guilty doing this only nine months after National Delurking Week, I find myself unable to resist.

    The Great Mofo Delurk 2007

    And since it was so much fun last time, I'll do the mutual interview format again. All replies welcome! (You can answer one question or all five, as you are so led.)

    1) If you're buying a house, do you base your decision on facts (price, location, square footage) or feelings (the "I can see myself living here" moment when you step in the door)?
    2) What bad habit or parenting style are you most likely to catch yourself judging others for?
    3) Do you watch Grey's Anatomy? If so, do you find Meredith charming or insufferable?
    4) Tell me a cute kid story. (Here's mine: Yesterday, Pie was eating peas for supper - as per our usual peas/corn/peas/corn rotation - and she was piling them onto her spoon by hand. With each one, she murmured, "Do you want a ride?" Once she had four or five loaded up she'd whisper invitingly, "Are you ready?" - and then gobble them up.)
    5) Ask me a question! I won't promise to answer this time (so no more questions about my weight, Veronica Mitchell), but as a general rule, I like nosy questions best.

    The Great Mofo Delurk 2007

    Tuesday, October 02, 2007

    Another Book Meme

    Total Number of Books?

    Many years ago, I did an inventory and found that I owned 700 books, of which 100 were still unread. I tried to do an updated count last weekend, but I got confused over whether I was at 350 or 450 and I hadn’t even left my basement yet, so I gave up. I’m estimating 1000 books owned and 200 unread.

    Last Book Read?

    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I’m inching through the series at a snail’s pace now that school has started, but this one is a surprising favourite of mine. It was perhaps the biggest let-down of the series when it first came out – after all the drama of Voldemort’s return in Book 4, the ensuing Sitzkrieg was infuriating. But every time I read it I like it more: I enjoy the students’ subversion against Dolores Umbridge (especially in light of Neville’s later comments about how bolstered he always was by Harry’s refusal to remain prudently silent), and I like the way the novel exposes the lack of democratic institutions (such as a free press or regular elections) within the wizarding world. I especially enjoy the Owl examinations at the end, the Great Hall filled with students at individual desks, gripping their quills tightly and answering questions like “What is the incantation and wand movement required to make objects fly?” This book places Snape in a newly sympathetic light as the victim of bullying by James and Sirius; there is something terribly poignant about the popular, arrogant Padfoot and Prongs throwing their weight around Hogwarts with so little life and freedom ahead of them.

    Last Book Bought?
    Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale, on Jonniker’s recommendation. Haven’t started it yet (see above).

    Five Meaningful Books?
    I’m tempted to steal Mom-NOS’s selections for this one: she beautifully describes the impact of Paul Collins’s Not Even Wrong and Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions. It’s tempting, also, to stick with my regulars: Emily of New Moon or Pride and Prejudice. But it doesn’t say “the five MOST meaningful books you’ve ever read” – just five meaningful books. So I’ll try to strike out for some new territory here.

    Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsey: Before we started dating, I mentioned to the-man-who-would-be-hubby that I had been looking for this book, an in-depth description of the Myers-Briggs personality types. A week later, he showed up at church with a copy he had just happened to stumble across in his travels. I paid him $20 for it, and he kept the bill, vowing to use it one day either to (a) buy me a ring, or (b) get drunk.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwen: This is the book that convinced me (against all previous evidence) that I can actually enjoy recent, highly acclaimed fiction. I picked it up because the title references a major and yet insufficiently understood theological concept, and then I kept reading because the heroine is really Emily of New Moon transplanted into an Agatha-Christie-style 1930s manor house in England. Young introspective writer-wannabe meets detective novel – even all the postmodern experimentation couldn’t quite ruin it for me.

    I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence, by Catherine Clark Kroeger and Richard Clark Kroeger: Obscure though it may be, this book changed my life and made faith possible for me again. The whole book focuses on a single passage in 1 Timothy, explaining it in historical context so that it becomes something other than bewildering nonsense. Also, the book demonstrated that it’s possible to be educated, feminist, and rigorously orthodox.

    Rilla of Ingleside, by L.M. Montgomery: All my life I’ve been fascinated by the history of the two world wars, in part because this book convinced me that the Great War was fought by my friends and brothers.

    Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism, by Paul Collins (I tried to resist; I failed): Nearly two years ago, I picked up this book from the bargain table at Chapters, the first step on a long road of self-doubt and indecision, of trying to understand what autism is and how my knowledge of it can help Bub. The book is satisfyingly quirky in its historical and geographical breadth – it moves, at times unpredictably, from Jonathan Swift and the court of mad King George to Nazi-era Austria and the offices of Hans Asperger. At the heart of it, though, is the author’s son Morgan. I don’t know, to this day, whether I love Morgan so passionately because he reminds me of Bub, or just because Collins is that good a writer.


    Mary G of Them’s My Sentiments, Mary Murtz of The Eleventh, Mary, mom of many of Owlhaven and Mary-LUE of Life, the Universe and Everything. (If you’re not named Mary you don’t get tagged, but feel free to get in on the open invitation from Mom-NOS. I did.)