Monday, December 29, 2008


I'm noticing, lately, how my children are not me.

Pie, for instance, was showing my mother her fingers the other day. "You've got four fingers!" my mother enthused, "And a thumb!"

"Yes," Pie replied solemnly, "but one of them hurts."

Her finger hurts, a private soreness that she experiences without my awareness of it - a part of her subjective experience (however minor) from which I am excluded.

Perhaps it's the Christmas holidays. During the school year, my children head off bravely each morning to face the day on their own, Bub glowering resentfully, Pie gliding zombie-like towards the terrifying groups of playing children at her day-care. I realize, usually, that my children are not me.

For these couple of weeks, however, we return to something like our old symbiotic connection, spending the days holed up at home while snowmageddon rages outside. I keep mental track throughout the day of how long it has been since Pie peed on the potty; I notice when Bub does the dance that means he needs to be nudged in that direction. But all along they are thinking their private thoughts, living in a world of which I am only tangentially aware.

Yesterday we went to a birthday party. This was not a party for the faint of heart: it included upwards of fifteen children aged five and under, all gathered at a conservation area which featured a birds of prey exhibit and a play barn full of horses and sheep. A guide led us from place to place, stopping the children periodically to quiz them on trivia questions like "What does a chicken say?" and "What is a baby duck called?"

Bub was mostly oblivious to these questions, scampering around the barn while the other children clucked obediently. The one exception to this pattern occurred during the birds of prey show. The children sat on a series of risers as the guide showed them a Great Horned owl. "What do you think this owl would like to eat?" she asked. Chicken, someone suggested, with surprising accuracy. "Yes," the guide answered, "this bird does like to eat chicken. Is there anything else it might eat besides chicken?"

There was a short pause, and then Bub's voice rang out. "Frosted Flakes!"

Bub does not even eat Frosted Flakes. What would make him so confident of this strange answer that he would belt it out in that setting? "I think he knew he was saying something funny," hubby suggested to me afterwards. "He had quite a smirk on his face."

As we drove home later that night, Pie slept in the back seat while hubby and I analyzed the day in the front. Suddenly we heard Bub chuckling to himself. I turned around to see him grinning widely. "I said the owl would eat Frosted Flakes!" he muttered, chuckling again, his private joke like a tiny window into an inner conversation from which I am still mostly excluded.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008


The snowpocalypse is coming.

Actually, the word being used - repeatedly - in the newspapers is "snowmageddon." Is it possible that this is the first time anyone has coined that particular word? Because I laugh every time I see it and now that it's out there, everybody is using it.

This particular snowstorm does not otherwise seem to be especially unusual. High winds and 10-15 centimetres' accumulation. Not a great day for tobogganing, necessarily, but not as bad as the 50 cm we saw last month. But last month we didn't have the word "snowmageddon" to throw around, along with its various progeny: "snowlebration," "snowstivities" and "snowpalooza."

"What time are the snowstivities getting started?" one might ask. Or, if you're my mom, you might get confused and ask people if they're ready for "stormageddon."

Canadians love to heap scorn upon the snowdrifts that would keep other, lesser mortals housebound. None of the moms and dads at the kindergarten pick-up yesterday seemed particularly impressed by the weather system heading our way. Of course, it's easy to talk big when you're not actually planning to go anywhere. Personally, I plan to spend the weekend holed up at home, watching the snow pile up around my house and feeling theoretically superior to those who consider a minor little snowfall like this a sign of the end of days.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Babylon Revisited

Has anyone noticed how the morning newspaper has turned into a morality play?

Greed, a top economist noted last week, is the cause of the economic crisis. Greed! All my life I've been told that capitalism had tamed greed, turned it into a hardworking domestic animal, rather like the horse used to be. And now greed has suddenly bared its teeth at us. There's something distinctly old-fashioned about this, the realization that the origin of all social ills is something as quaintly Victorian as the sinful human heart.

Today's newspaper featured a new kind of real-estate agent: a scruffy housebreaker who matches people-less houses to homeless people. The police look politely aside, commenting only that it's up to homeowners to protect their property. In the accompanying photo, a woman and her baby inspect the tile floors of the vacant dwelling they're claiming as their own. There is something apocalyptic about this shift: the first will be last and the last shall be first.

I've been haunted, these silent weeks, by the book of Revelation. In the eighteenth chapter the mighty city of Babylon has fallen and the incense of her destruction rises to heaven. But meanwhile the city's inhabitants mourn. "What is like this great city?" they ask. Where once there was the sound of harpists, flutists and trumpeters, there is now only silence. At one time, any man with a ship could become wealthy at her rich seaports, but in an hour she has been made desolate:

And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men.

Economic collapse is what this passage describes - the downfall of an immensely productive economy that has created not only wealth but also an unparalleled flowering of music, art, and culture, and has done so on the backs of other nations.

All my life I've been told that Babylon was communist Russia, or the Roman Catholic church, or the ancient Roman Empire. But in the whole book of Revelation I find myself most sympathetic to the bewildered citizens of fallen Babylon. Angels fly over the city in the hours before her ruin, calling "Come out of her, my people - Babylon the great is fallen!" But where can we go?