Thursday, July 24, 2008

Farewell Summer

When I was teaching last spring I was happy. Buoyed up by sunlight and sleep, I spent six weeks in a permanently good mood, thriving on my daily routine of reading, lecturing, and grading papers on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Treasure Island. I've taught Children's Literature enough times by now that it's effortless: my lectures are the product of my first year of teaching, when I would spend four or five hours preparing for each 50-minute class. They flow. They're easy to relearn and deliver. The level of effort is low, but the payoff is high: I'm still seeing new connections, learning new things. I'm still excited to teach each day.

This year, though, is a bit different. My grading load has doubled. I have a lingering sore throat that sends me into paroxysms of coughing, interrupting my classes and keeping me up at night. I feel drained by all the paint chips and shopping trips, the emails and mortgage documents. Teaching always gives me energy - no matter how exhausted I am I always wake up in the classroom - but at the end of the day there simply isn't enough of me to go around. At night Bub tells me, "I love you, Mama. I missed you today." And when I say, "I love you too" he corrects me. "No, Mama. Say, 'I missed you too, Bub.'" I did. I do.

Last July I was cracking a bit under the pressure of my baptism of fire as a stay-at-home mom. I was burning the grilled-cheese sandwiches, losing track of my kids at the toy store, and sweating profusely during long, humid days at the beach. This summer, beach days have been replaced by day camp and Teletoon Retro. The children come home with fridge magnets made of popsicle sticks and we collapse together on the couch, mesmerized by Road Runner and Scooby-Doo. August will bring us the packing and the moving, and by the time the dust settles in September I'll wonder what happened to the summer that passed me by when I was too tired to notice.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The First Coat Is On!

And here's what it looks like:

I have the yellowest kitchen in the world. (But I actually love this picture. Some of the other pictures are a bit too electrifying even for my taste. I'll find out what it looks like in real life tomorrow. Right now I'm just going by the pictures hubby took this afternoon.)

My dining room is very red.

I chickened out of the Biscotti colour I had chosen previously and went with Benjamin Moore Stone House instead. Now I'm wishing I'd stuck with something deeper and warmer. But I'll reserve judgment until the floors are in.

Beauti-Tone Milkshake in the upstairs hall.

This is Sherwin Williams Nuthatch in the master bedroom (the colour I had to choose on Wednesday's emergency trip). It's not the dramatic deep brown I originally had in mind, but I think I could learn to like it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Things That Are Stressing Me Out Right Now

  • The builder called yesterday to say that there will be a $1500 up-charge for the dark red and brown paints we had chosen for the dining room and master bedroom, since they require more expensive primer and 3-4 coats of paint. (I knew that extra coats might be necessary and was prepared to pay for them, but "pay" in my mind meant a couple hundred extra dollars, maybe.) This meant an emergency rifle-through of my paint chip collection, an emergency trip to Benjamin Moore to pick up the large chip of "Maple Fudge," an emergency trip to Small Town to test it in the dining room (gross), and then an emergency trip to Sherwin Williams to pick up "Nuthatch," the lighter brown we're switching to for the office and master bedroom. Total driving time: 2.5 hours. Total stress increase: immeasurable.

  • Hubby wants to have his name removed from the title to the house, so that means we need to rebook our mortgage. But mortgage rates have gone up since we first booked, so now we're considering a variable rate instead of a fixed rate. Any opinions on variable- vs. fixed-rate mortgages? (Aren't you glad you read my blog? Isn't this fun?)

  • The bricks are on the house now, and I don't like them. Can they possibly have been that orangey when I was picking them out?

  • My workload this month adds up officially to 72 hours per week. I can do the work in less than that, but that doesn't include the hours I spend groaning and pulling my hair out over the abysmal quality of the essays I have to grade.

  • I've turned into Mama Shrew. My communication with my children has devolved into an endless stream of "Time to put your clothes on NOW!" and "That's enough - I mean it!" and "Stop throwing your food, you're going to your room" and "That's it - I've had it!" All of the above are basically expressions of the same inner thought: "I'm too exhausted right now to figure out an appropriate consequence, so instead I'll see if my anger intimidates you into good behaviour." So far the result of that experiment is no. It doesn't.

  • My to-do list for today: Call the flooring place to make sure they've rebooked the hardwood installer. Write a letter of recommendation for a student who's applying for her Masters of Biology (because apparently the Department of Biology highly values my opinion.) Figure out how to print documents even though there is no printer driver available for my operating system. Flip through decorating magazines to find examples of the wood stain I want for my staircase. Check my blog periodically for responses to this whiny, miserable post.

Monday, July 14, 2008

An Occupational Hazard

To the students whose essays I marked this afternoon:


Here are a few simple writing tips:

1) If your thesis is "The characters in these novels are all different, but they share many similarities" YOUR ESSAY WILL SUCK.

2) If there are serious grammatical errors in EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE of your introductory paragraph, my head will explode.

3) The following ideas are not interesting or challenging enough to be worthy of proving in a university paper. They are ideas that are immediately obvious to every reader, including small children.

Villains play a key role in advancing the plot of the novel.

Without the villain, the heroes would not have had anyone to fight against and there would not have been a story.

The villain is an evil character, but good always wins out in the end, proving that you should always have hope.

4) If this sentence appears anywhere in the essay, I will clutch the arms of my chair in agony and I will groan aloud:

Throughout this essay the different characteristics in which a villain can possess will be examined leading to an analysis of the crucial role a villain plays in progressing the plot and developing the theme of good verses evil.

My eyes! My eyes!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Oedipus Redux

One of the biggest changes in Bub over the past year is that he has moved into the fourth dimension. He remembers; he anticipates; the things he sees and does have a larger context of before and after. In parenting terms, this development has certain benefits: Bub can wait his turn; he can be motivated by promised future treats. It has also altered his relationship to books and movies: a year ago, we were watching Baby Einstein and reading Hop on Pop. The pleasures of watching and reading had to do with recognizing familiar words and objects. Now, Bub has moved into the world of story. He has discovered the pleasures of plot, the mechanisms of suspense and cause and effect.

Bub takes a particular interest in stories of metamorphosis. For months after watching Brother Bear one of his favourite games was to turn slowly on the spot, arms floating at his sides, and then solemnly announce, "I am a bear." More recently the Incredible Hulk has attracted his attention. The transformation of mild-mannered Bruce Banner into a green-skinned monster of rage seems linked in Bub's mind to that more common yet equally extraordinary transformation: the change from boy into man. "I'm going to grow up into a man," he informed his Little Gym instructor yesterday. "And I'm going to go to the office."

This is a new discovery for him, and a fascinating one. "When I grow into a man," he told me last night, "I'll be too big for this bed." I tried to explain that a twin bed is actually big enough for a man or a boy, but he was having none of it. "No," he insisted, "I will need a mommy-and-daddy's bed. That's my favourite kind of bed."

"Will you have a wife to sleep with you in the bed?" I asked.

He was highly amused. "No, silly! You will sleep with me in the bed. And Daddy will be a small, growing boy!"

Maybe I need to revise the lecture I gave my Children's Literature class yesterday on how the Oedipus complex is not something we need to take literally anymore.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Why I Like Paint Chips

As I devoured a magazine called "Colour Tutorial" this morning, a friend of mine suggested I might like to help her pick colours for scrapbooking. I stifled the shriek of horror that erupts whenever I hear the term "scrapbooking" and explained that I am not interested in colour. I am only interested in paint chips.

I think my obsession with paint chips derives from a trait I have in common with my husband. In his case, this personality quirk manifested itself in an unusual preference for Canadian tax law as his favourite course in law school. Like a Benjamin Moore fandeck, the Canadian tax code is a self-contained system, an interlocking web of rules and principles. For hubby, mastering the intricacies of tax law had some of the same appeal as mastering the rules of Warhammer or D&D.

In my case, the appeal of paint chips is related to the way the colours are named and numbered. Subtle variations of hue and intensity are nailed down and categorized, anchored to words. As everybody knows, the names themselves are wonderfully excessive, ranging from the metaphorical (Lust, Heaven) to the prosaically descriptive (Yellow Raincoat). But that's not really the point. Even the most basic of names would have the same effect: by accessing the verbal centres of the brain, I am suddenly able to learn, remember, and see colour in a way that I've never been able to do before. I can be wandering through the Children's Museum, as I do every Friday, and suddenly shout "Semolina!" as I enter a vibrantly yellow room. Sure enough, the paint chip confirms: the colour is a dead-on match. The thrill of identifying Middlebury Brown or Roxbury Caramel on sight reminds me of the hours I spent in childhood acquiring equally difficult and useless skills: snapping my fingers, shuffling a deck of cards, juggling two balls in one hand. I'm not double-jointed; I never learned to do a front walkover in gymnastics. My parlour tricks are few and to acquire one this late in life is a rare pleasure.

Equally intrinsic to the appeal of paint chips is the body of knowledge required to interpret those slippery, deceptive squares of colour. Yellow, I have discovered, changes its hue dramatically when it moves from natural to electric light. A yellow that's rich and buttery by lamplight turns pale and lemony in strong sunlight, and the yellow that's rich and buttery in the sun turns blazing orange when the lights are on. Warm beiges have a tendency to tilt pink; neutral beiges tilt green; some good tilt-free beiges are Shaker Beige, Stone House, and Wheeling Neutral.

Paint chips, unlike other named and numbered sets of colours (like, say, nail polish) involve a gargantuan act of imagination. When you choose paint colours you are never merely assessing which one you like best; instead you're choosing between visions you must construct yourself of floors, curtains, and couches set against a backdrop that varies in light and shade. Everyone warns that colours intensify when you put them on the walls: bright colours get brighter, dark colours get darker. But these warnings can be deceiving: when I painted my front door Whitall Brown I was shocked at how light it was - I held up the chip disbelievingly, but it was identical. The problem was that I had been imagining it two shades darker. I don't know yet how good I am at imagining how my colours will look on the wall, but I know I find it HARD, this act of spatial and visual imagining. The words on the paint chips are my home turf, a comfortable and familiar launching pad for the very foreign and challenging act of envisioning. I've never been good at forming mental pictures. I'm having fun learning to try.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Final Paint Choices (This Time I Mean It)

My walls:

My colours:

From left to right they are:

Yellow - Benjamin Moore Semolina (kitchen)
Red - Sherwin Williams Stolen Kiss (dining room, half of Bub's room, one wall in living room)
Cream - Sherwin Williams Fragile Beauty (hallways, upstairs bathrooms, Pie's room; may be swapped with Beauti-tone Milkshake, which is a shade or two deeper)
Brown - Sherwin Williams Plantation Brown (powder room, master bedroom)
Large chip in background - Benjamin Moore Biscotti (living room, office, mudroom)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Highest Compliment

Last summer I was full of sentimental mourning for the transformation Bub was about to undergo as he entered nursery school. Hitherto, he had been all mine - his experiences were my experiences; his words were adapted from contexts I could recall and share. This was true, somehow, even though he had always been in part-time day-care, mostly in home settings with his sister and maybe one other child. But nursery school would mean peers, curriculum, a learning environment that I would know only through its effects.

A year later, the transformation is complete. Bub is a boy. He plans to grow up one day into a man so that he can transform into the Incredible Hulk. But I no longer feel any nostalgia for his simpler self; I relish it when he uses words I didn't think he knew, displays knowledge I didn't realize he had. Like yesterday.

A friend of mine has just had a baby, so I was ransacking the cupboard for the ingredients to my world famous Delight Squares (I'm serious about the world famous part - I just used Google to track down the post with the recipe, and I'm glad to see that I'm still on the first page of results for "Delight Squares"). As I pulled down the measuring cups, Bub asked in astonishment, "What are you baking?"

(This is a testament to how rarely he sees me doing anything in the kitchen other than reading blogs.)

"Are you baking, just like that time when Ruby" - his nursery school teacher - "baked muffins?"

I confirmed that this was, indeed, the case. Bub mulled that over a bit and then concluded, admiringly, "Mama - you're just like Ratatouille!"

(Now imagine that I'm all clever with the Photoshop like O The Joys, and my head is superimposed on the rat's body.)