Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Moderate Likelihood

There are two theories floating around right now about Bub’s verbal and social development:

1) He is basically normal, and only appears to be delayed due to parental neglect. This theory is rooted more in optimism than in self-hatred, and its staunchest proponent is my husband, who argues that Bub has spent most of his life alone: he has usually been the only child in the home-care settings he’s been in, and when he’s at home he plays so happily by himself that we have often hesitated to horn in on his games. As a result he’s had comparatively few opportunities for social interaction with adults or peers, and his language delay is the natural and inevitable result.

2) He is actually autistic, but his symptoms are masked by excellent parenting. This is the theory proposed this morning at his autism screening by the speech language pathologist whose job it is to determine who gets on the waiting list for the developmental pediatrician. (Yes, that’s right. We just spent eleven months on the waiting list for a screening to determine whether Bub can be put on another waiting list.)

A bit of a catch-22, isn't it?

For an hour this morning, while Bub happily hooked fish with a plastic fishing rod, quietly being the most radiant, best, sweetest version of himself, I fielded questions. Does he enjoy sharing experiences with us? Absolutely. Does he engage in imitative behaviour? He has begun to recently, though I would have said "no" a few months ago. Does he express empathy? Ha! um, I mean, no, not at this time. Does he point? Yes, because we taught him how all summer, as we walked around the neighbourhood pointing out basketball hoops and fire hydrants, showing him how to extend his index finger and raise it in the right direction. Does he respond when you speak to him? Sometimes – if he realizes there’s something in it for him.

At the end of it all, she talked to us about how sweet Bub is, how well he’s doing. "I’m leaning toward ‘Low likelihood of Autism,’" she explained. "My gut feeling is that he’s one of the kids who will go on to do well." After a meeting with the psychologist, though, she wasn’t so sure. He’s in a good place, but the route he’s taken to get here hasn’t been typical: every step of the way he’s had to consciously learn the things that other children do naturally, and we’ve had to consciously develop techniques to teach him things that the Pie is doing of her own accord, naturally, organically.

So we came away with a check mark beside the box that says "Moderate likelihood of Autism" and a spot on the waiting list. Our turn for the real diagnostic assessment should come up in about a year’s time. And I’m oddly pleased by that result. When I made that first phone call to TykeTalk last December I was wanting to show my son to an expert who could pat me on the head and say, "Run along, silly woman. Your son is just fine." A year later, I’m less frightened than I was by what it means for Bub to be who he is. If he’s a quirky kid, if he learns differently from other children, I want to know about it, and I know I’ll be okay. For nearly a year now, part of my identity has been that I’m a mother of a child who might be autistic. Any change to that identity, in either direction, would be an adjustment. If I had walked out of the screening clinic with a check mark next to "Low likelihood of Autism," I would feel relieved right now, but a bit worried too – what if something important was missed? What if there’s something I should be doing to help him that I don’t know about?

But having teetered this morning on the borderline between those two results, I’m finding it easier to face another year of waiting. Bub is doing well. He will continue to do well. And by the time he starts school, maybe we’ll have some real answers.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

As Others See Us

One of the least enjoyable aspects of my job as a university teacher is the annual ritual of reading the student evaluation forms. These are typed out, with spelling and grammar errors painstakingly preserved, and put in my mailbox twice a year, a few weeks after the end of term. No matter how positive the students’ comments are, I am always braced for the worst as I read them: invariably, one stinging remark has the power to outweigh dozens of accolades. A friend of mine even goes so far as to mail her evaluations to a trusted friend in another province – it’s this trusted friend’s job to read the comments aloud over the phone, weeding out the nasty ones.

In my first year of teaching, I found myself overhearing a conversation as I was walking to class. The students weren’t talking about me, but they were venting their ire at another hated professor, and the conversation served as a reminder: it’s a student’s job to resent the professor – if I’m doing my job right, some people are going to hate me at least some of the time. That knowledge works better in theory than in practice, however, as one student was kind enough to point out last year: "Professor Bubandpie is a good prof who explains ideas clearly. However, she is a bit emotional sometimes and tries too hard to be liked." Ouch!

That desire to be liked takes a beating sometimes when I receive observations like this one: "I have noticed a general pomposity in your response to questions addressed towards you which is not beneficial." (At the risk of seeming pompous, I’ll point out that if you wish to accuse someone of pomposity without exposing yourself to the same criticism, it’s best to avoid the term "pomposity" altogether.)

Some comments seem to deconstruct themselves, relieving me of the need to come up with nasty imaginary counter-jibes. One of my favourites a few years ago went like this: "Too much feministic overtones throughout entire course. Spends time reflecting on women as artist, but ignores doing so for men. If equality is what we seek, equality should be applied." (This in response to the inclusion of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own in a course otherwise dominated by Chaucer, Milton, and Shakespeare.)

Evaluations do serve their purpose, of course. Along with requests for more men, more movie clips, and more novels by Judy Blume (and who can argue with that, really?), I have received some practical advice over the years: "Please say ‘good bye’ to the students before ending the lecture" one commenter requested after my first year of teaching; "I’d appreciate a hello to start your lecture and a wrap up comment" said another student that same year (during which I had signalled the beginning and end of my lectures by turning the microphone on and off respectively). Without student evaluations, how would I have known that upper-year undergraduates require the terms "capitalism" and "Big Brother" to be defined and explained for them? (That particular request, I should note, was phrased especially politely: "Don’t expect us to know what your talking about when you bring in material that is not required, e.g. …big brother???" If Orwell was too obscure, I would have thought the reality TV connection would have been topical enough to spark some recognition. Live and learn.)

If student evaluations are a necessary evil, the same cannot be said for RateMyProfessor.com. I have – almost – kicked my habit of obsessively checking my ratings on that site, and comparing them to those of everyone else I know. My hot tamale score has always been low (and I’ve noticed that male professors receive far more hot tamales than female profs – possibly because it’s funny when a female student gives her male professor a hot tamale, but stalker-ish and weird when the genders are reversed). The real kicker, though, was the comment from a student who was nice enough to count up the number of times I said "um" in a single lecture and post the results online. The memory of that comment has paralyzed me through many a lecture, and I haven’t been brave enough to check the site since.

Evaluations for online courses tend to be less personal. There are exceptions, though. I’ve taught online courses for the last two summers, and after the first one I received this comment: "I was surprised that while pregnant and giving birth she was still able to keep up with the work." I’m glad the student felt that I met my obligations in the course, despite the fact that the Pie was born just before the final exam. I do feel like a bit of an impostor, though – I must confess that while I was giving birth, I wasn’t doing any online coursework at all.

In fairness to myself and to my students, though, I should acknowledge all the lovely comments my students make – "A funny/engaging instructor. No complaints." "I enjoyed sharing a few tears with you when discussing Anne of Green Gables." "She has an excellent personality and maintains the classes interest with her ‘singing & dancing.’" (??) "She is the kind of prof that needs a teaching award and raise!" And, my personal favourite, "Uses the English language in a beautiful manner – wonderful." Kinda makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Reborn

For fourteen months, you gestated in the warm, soothing waters of our voices, lapped by the rise and fall of our words, a comfortable murmur broken only occasionally by the sound of your name, as startling as a bright yellow leaf on dark waters.

You’ve dwelt in a world of facts. The taste of sweet potato on a plastic spoon. The grit of sand between your toes. Mommy here. Mommy not here. These have been the conditions of your existence, easily reducible to a kind of binary code – sleeping (yes/no), hungry (yes/no), able to see big brother (yes/no).

And then one day I asked "Where are your ears?" (filling out one of many verbal skills questionnaires, trying to put a number on the body parts your big brother could identify), and your hand drifted up, almost of its own accord, coming to rest in the downy curls that cluster along the side of your head.

You have clung to me desperately, these last eight weeks, seeking refuge in my arms from the torrent of words that keep bursting into meaning, bright, amazing, loud, terrifying. "Sit down on a chair," you mutter, as you arrange Randy Douglas into your high chair, carefully spooning imaginary food into his Cabbage Patch mouth. And then you hurl yourself to the floor, screaming in frustration as I snatch away the leftover roast beef you’ve liberated from the garbage can, prying the greasy meat from your tight, enraged fists.

Like a colicky baby, you have emerged into this world of language and imagination kicking and screaming. Each nap has ended in a wail of protest, each meal begun with a pitched battle of the wills.

And I have struggled, these months, to let go of my assumption that you’re my "easy" baby. I have hated myself for resenting your tears, your running monologue of "Up. Up. Up. Up. No! No! No! No!" ...What happened to my happy baby? I’ve wondered, before stifling the unworthy thought.

But now, as suddenly as they started, these birth pangs have subsided. You’ve found your place, for now, in this cacophany of words you live in. Language has become your toy, its entertainment value outstripping its terrors. You have discovered, to your cost, that sometimes even the most heart-rending "Su-suze?" will not magically produce the coveted soother; you have learned that barking orders is only one way to use these slippery, slide-y words of ours.

You are as deft and nimble as a fish, little daughter of mine. At sixteen months, you are a burglar, like Bilbo Baggins, with a food-loving tummy that belies the quiet way you can dart in and make off with treasures before the slow-moving grown-ups even notice that you’re there. You suspect that we are keeping good things from you, and in many cases you are right. As your words tumble out of you, whole sentences at a time now, they expose that generous, avaricious, loving heart of yours, the secret self you’ll learn to hide again, in a few years’ time. But for now, your love is as naked as your greed, and both are irresistible.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving

"My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes." That's a sentence I read in a book once, and I say it over to comfort myself whenever I'm disappointed in anything.

I remember how intense the relief was the first time I picked up a pen, grabbed some paper, and started writing out my feelings after the dramatic revelation of my ex-husband’s infidelity. For two days, I had cycled through phases of numbness and unbearable pain, waking up each morning with tears streaming down my face, before finally the analytical part of my brain clicked on: as the ballpoint pen scratched over the paper, I could feel that doubling of myself as I stepped away from my pain, created the distance that would allow me to solve the puzzle of when and how my marriage had gone astray. I became a detective, combing through old emails, reinterpreting three years of ambiguous remarks and mysterious fits of anger in light of this new information. So much that had been confusing now made sense; so much was falling into place.

Words have always been my refuge. I have never been one to spill my emotions onto the page in free verse; instead I process things analytically – I develop theories and solve conundrums, and there is something comforting, in dark moments, in such cool analysis.

And yet I have had no words – no words at all – to help me this week with a little boy who spends hours of each day clutching his ear in agony and moaning, "Oh, it hurts! Oh, it hurts!" This isn’t the worst thing ever to happen to me – it’s not even the worst thing ever to happen to Bub – but it is unusual in its brain-paralyzing effect. I’ve been stumbling around, feeling disoriented, subject to occasional symptoms of anxiety: a racing heart, a heaviness in my chest, trembling hands.

It has been a relief, each day, to spend an hour with a group of seventeen-year-olds, hashing out the intricacies of the Shakespearean sonnet.

It has been a sudden lurch each afternoon, to hear Bub’s quiet groans even before I see him curled up miserably on the couch at his home-care.

There have been moments of stillness and comfort, as the boy and I lie down on the floor, side by side, tucked in with doggy and blankie and sharing the occasional smile at the antics of that dastardly penguin on Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers. In such moments, there is no room for self-doubt – I know that I am his mother, that I am all he needs.

There have been many more moments when he has called for me and I’ve had to tell him I could not go to him. Moments when holding him has meant refusing my daughter’s pleas for a hug and a cuddle.

Bub’s ear is thick with pus and earwax, a fluid that oozes into his pillow and crusts his cheek. This, my mother tells me and Google confirms, is an indication that he has ruptured an eardrum. No wonder his cry has escalated from "Oh, it hurts!" to "It’s an Ear Hurt!"

He never whines.

I put off the antibiotics for two full days, like all the recent studies say you’re supposed to, and in that time, the infection jumped from one ear to the other and burst his eardrum. He has been running a fever almost nonstop for four days, even while dosed with Tempra and Advil. The macaroni and cheese he ate for lunch today was the first solid food he has touched since Monday morning.

I am tempted to delete these embarrassingly mundane details. Everyone gets ear infections; the only reason I’m even writing about this at all is that I’ve been absurdly spoiled with healthy, robust children. I know there are children who are in pain every day. That knowledge weighs heavily on me today; it is astonishing, strange.

I have no conclusion, here, no insight. I have a little boy who is on the mend, who is in less pain today than he was yesterday. And since I’m Canadian I’m having pot roast tonight instead of turkey and cranberries. But I’m giving thanks anyway, and I’m a little more aware than usual of how much I have to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Boring Bloggy Business

1) For those of you who are making your way here from Bloglines, despite the fact that they're not posting my updates (or those of several other Blogger in beta blogs), please take note of the orange icon in the sidebar - that's a link to my Feedburner RSS feed, which does work in Bloglines if you'd like to make the switch.

2) Today is the last day to vote!

Back to your regularly scheduled blogging...

Edit: Alas, the results are out and I am not among the chosen, the favoured, the victorious, the specially-selected-superior-and-salacious. But the good news is that Sunshine Scribe, Metro Mama, Her Bad Mother, and Postcards from the Mothership are all still in the running in their categories, along with blogs that are new to me but that I plan to check out, so keep on voting!

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Stages of Motherhood

When I went to pick up the Pie from the church nursery on Sunday, I was met with a wholly unexpected sight: I saw her cradled lovingly in the arms of the nursery worker, a warm-hearted woman from Mexico who was carefully wiping the crusted snot from my daughter’s nose while the Pie cuddled contentedly, gazing up at her in awestruck admiration. "She had a nap," the miracle-worker explained, and then smiled happily up at her husband, adding, "It feels so good to hold a little baby again!"

Let’s see how many elements of the above scene were like scenes from Bizarro world: (1) The Pie does not cuddle. She hugs, she kisses, she pulls off glasses and runs away, but she does not cuddle. (2) The Pie does not permit snot-removal, or the removal of any substances from her face. Applesauce, cheese, spaghetti: any attempt to wipe these items from her cheeks, chin, or hair occasions much outrage and is met with corresponding levels of protest. (3) My daughter has not napped in someone’s arms for, oh, let’s say about a year now. Maybe a bit less than that, but not much. When she is up, she plays, and she goes down for her naps wide awake and kicking.

"That was a mother," I told hubby as we drove away. Everything about that woman exudes maternal energy: she has the kind of face that can stop a crying baby on a dime. The real key, though, is her ample bosom. I’ve seen it many times before: a baby is squalling furiously until placed into the arms of a real expert. The sobs subside and the baby relaxes, securely cushioned against this motherly woman's ample bosom. My bosom, on the other hand, tends to fall into the category of saggy and scrawny – even when I was breastfeeding I never achieved that shelf-like amplitude that seems so irresistible to babies.

Unfortunately for my children, they’re being raised by an impostor: I’m their mother, in that (as I vividly recall), I pushed them out my nether parts, but I lack the mommy-dust that magically soothes crying babies and has a soporific effect on even the most active of toddlers. When I expressed this thought to hubby, he did his best to reassure me, explaining, "We’ll really come into our own when they’re teenagers."

Personally, I’m hoping to get good at this job a bit before then, but his words did remind me of my favourite coping strategy for the times when I’m confronted with just how unsuited my personality is to the task of raising two pre-verbal urchins. Motherhood is a long job, and I don’t think anybody is perfectly suited to all phases of it: we all have to scrabble along as best we can at some point.

I first figured that out when I was in grade seven. For several years, I had loved hanging out with my friend Andrea’s mom. She was fun: she supplied us with unlimited copies of The National Enquirer, fixed us toasted bagels with cream cheese and bacon when we were hungry, and came up with all kinds of fun, zany things for us to do. She was a great mom. But when we became teenagers, she foundered: she wouldn’t let Andrea ride her bike in the neighbourhood after dark, she forbade her from trick-or-treating on Halloween – she just couldn’t do the letting-go that had to happen as her daughter moved out of childhood and into her teens. By high school, Andrea was in full-scale rebellion, and her mother was still clinging to her old set of rules, the ones that had worked fine back when we were ten.

I'm looking forward to the parts of motherhood that I think I'll be good at - the parts that don't involve stacking blocks or using a glue gun. I look forward to reading my children Anne of Green Gables and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to comforting them when their friends are mean, to going out to family restaurants when they're old enough to pick out their own supper from the children's menu. It shouldn't be surprising, I guess, that the parts of parenting I anticipate with the most pleasure are those that involve less snot and more words. And in the meantime, I use my words to pin it all down, all these baby and toddler moments that are easier to appreciate, somehow, when I see them in print.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What Kind of Blogtrovert Are You?

Although I identify myself as an introvert, my scores on the various Myers-Briggs online quizzes I’ve done over the years probably give me a 50/50 split between introvert and extravert results. (And yes, hubby, I’m sticking with the "extravert" spelling, though I acknowledge that "extrovert" is an acceptable variant.) I’m not as obviously introverted as I once was: I no longer hide under the bed when guests visit the house (though I sometimes want to), and I don’t usually bring a book with me to social events so that I can hole up behind it and look busy while no one talks to me.

I’ve occasionally been told, in tones of hearty reassurance, that I am not in fact an introvert. This backhanded compliment appears to arise from the assumption that the word means "socially awkward loser with no friends" as opposed to "self-sufficient woman with deep inner resources." Books about introversion often begin with a passionate defence of this type of personality in a culture that values friendly, outgoing, assertive types (to the point that prospective employers often test job applicants for extraversion, apparently unconcerned that a room full of extraverts might find it easier to socialize than to actually get work done). Introverts are on the defensive in American culture, it seems.

I suspect that Canadians may direct a little more skepticism at that image of the fast-talking all-American extravert. It has been my experience that extraverts almost universally deny that they are extraverted. "I really love to be alone," they say, as they dash off to greet newcomers. "I felt shy once, when I was four," they add, before launching into their famous comedy routine. Certainly some of the descriptors of extraversion are not entirely flattering: extraverts reportedly crave social environments, feeling uncomfortable in solitude; they cultivate a wide circle of friends rather than a few significant relationships; they ditch old friends in favour of whoever is new and exciting.

Of course, extraverts are rarely like that: the ones I’ve known are usually warm-hearted and passionate about the things they care about; they excel at making everyone feel comfortable and included in the social group; they bring humour and energy to everything they do. That said, I’ve begun to wonder whether I’m becoming a blogging extravert. In real life, I rarely have the energy to get together with a friend more than once or twice a month, while online, I juggle 80 Bloglines subscriptions at a time. Most of my friendships are of many years’ duration, but my blogging friendships are all brand new – and often the newest ones are the most exciting. Usually I prefer one-on-one conversations to mingling in a large group, but in the blogosphere I jump from place to place in a kind of frenzy, trying to dip into as many different conversations as I can.

Not everyone seems to approach blogging this way, though. There are some of you, I know, who approach the blogosphere more selectively. Your blogrolls are small, your conversations intimate. You are blogging introverts, and your writing seems to reflect that in its thoughtfulness and introspection.

So what kind of blogtrovert are you? Do you ever feel hesitant to leave a comment on a blog you haven’t visited before? Do you feel uncomfortable approaching a "popular" blogger? Or are you – like me – a shameless whore always scavenging for more attention?

(And BTW, don't forget to vote!)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

(Don't) Tell Me a Secret

I’ve never been good at keeping secrets. It would be an exaggeration to say that I’m incapable of keeping a secret – I’ve done it on one or two occasions, but always with that about-to-burst sensation, a kind of internal pressure that leads to a palpable sense of relief when the secret finally becomes available for public consumption.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that I don’t really approve of secret-keeping. Certainly there are occasions when guarding a secret is appropriate: priests, for instance, ought to respect the confidentiality of the confession booth (one good reason, alongside the fact that I’m not Catholic and not a man, that I’ve never considered the priesthood). But often secret-keeping is just blatantly wrong: secrets can serve to cover up crimes and protect the guilty; they can be used to define the boundaries of a group and exclude those who aren’t privy to the inside information. Even aside from such blatant abuses, however, secret-keeping seems to me to cause more problems than it solves.

Take, for instance, the lies: my ability to guard a secret is never weaker than when I’m forced to tell a lie. I’m an absurdly poor liar – I’d likely break a polygraph machine with my pounding heart and overactive sweat glands: the machinery would be rendered redundant in any case by my all-too-obvious avoidance of eye contact. "Pregnant?" I reply innocently, gazing upwards and to the left, "Oh, no, she wouldn’t tell me if she were pregnant." Lying to impertinent questioners is one thing, but then there are the concomitant lies to the original secret-sharer: a friend of mine used to preface virtually every communication with stern warnings about the top-secret status of what she was about to reveal. Eventually, it seemed as if the safest course would be a blanket denial that this friend and I had ever met. Failing that, I simply assured her that all her communications would be held in utmost confidence, and then thought no more about it.

The most problematic secrets, for me, are those that come between husband and wife: I have long made it known, to hubby and other interested parties, that I support the rule of "No secrets between husband and wife." (Hubby has never actually agreed to that policy, I should note, and though I married him anyway, I do feel the need to reassert from time to time my preference for full disclosure.) Secrets, I have always felt, destroy intimacy, and at worst they can create the space for further transgression – if I don’t mention that friendly email I just sent to an ex-boyfriend, that makes it all the easier for the email to turn into a lunch date, and a lunch date into phone sex, and the next thing you know you’re haggling over who gets the wagon-wheel coffee table.

That said, six years of marriage have shown me that there can be exceptions to the policy of full disclosure. For one thing, a spouse can waive his right to information – I’ve given up telling hubby things like, "Just then I was imagining that we were servants at Gosford Park hiding from the housekeeper in a back closet" or "That time we were Indians in the longhouse." (He always seems a bit freaked out by those post-coital revelations.) And for his part, he has never admitted to me that any woman is attractive besides me and Cate Blanchett. There are some things in a marriage that just don’t need to be said.

When it comes to third-party secrets, though, I stick to my guns. It should be rare indeed to ask someone to keep secrets from a spouse. For one thing, a secret that’s really worth keeping will often create a burden for the tell-ee. Jane Austen describes that vividly in Sense and Sensibility when Lucy Steele confides her secret engagement to Elinor Dashwood. Austen makes it clear that such confidences are not only selfish but also a means of exerting control over another person, who is barred by the exigencies of secrecy from seeking the emotional relief that the tell-er sought in revealing the secret in the first place. My friends have always known that, unless otherwise specified, the things they tell me go to (a) my mom, and (b) my husband. I can dispense with (a) when necessary but only rarely with (b). A couple of years ago one friend of mine went through a deeply private and traumatic experience, and I was amazed by her consideration for my feelings in bearing that secret: she gave me carte blanche to talk to anyone I needed to about my own emotional response to her situation, and though I limited the circle of information to my mom and husband (and made sure she knew I had done so), I deeply appreciated her sensitivity.

I’m aware that this view is by no means universally shared: many people feel it’s essential both to marriage and to friendship that one routinely protect the privacy of one’s friends by keeping any and all personal information secret even from a husband or wife. What’s your take? Tell all? or Loose lips sink (friend)ships?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My Secret Admirer

When I was in grade five, I came back from choir practice to find the following note in my desk:

Dear [Bubandpie]:

I love you because your lips are so brilliant and you wash your mouth with Scoap.

Hope to see you tonight.

Your Secret Admirer.

I had always wanted a secret admirer, and when it finally happened I responded predictably: I turned the note over to the teacher. (What an insufferable little prig I was!)

I'm feeling a similar mixture of flattery and embarrassment right now, without the slightly-creeped-out factor, at the discovery that I've been nominated for a Best Canadian Blogs award. The first round of voting ends on Tuesday, November 21, and you can vote every day. I'm in the Best Personal Blog category, but I advise you to take a good look a the nominees in the Best Family Blog category as well - it's some very good company I'm in over there!

Digging up that old love note has reminded me that I've been considering making a regular feature out of my diary-excerpt posts - I could call it "Mortification Monday" or "Stuff I Already Wrote Saturday." The problem is, I'm a free spirit - you can't tie me down to a schedule like that. But I will mention how excited I was at the opportunity to vote for Sunshine Scribe's Flashback Friday series under the category of "Best Blog Post Series." And in order to further disguise the blatant vote-for-me nature of this post, I'll leave you with this little bit of humiliation to enjoy:

August 26, 1982: I've found some really tight jeans that I'm going to wear the first day of school along with a top that really shows you-know-whats. [A magical top that shows things undetectable to the human eye - amazing!]

Yesterday and the day before I was in the mood to be smart and so I memorized the 50 states in alphabetical order.

Sometimes - especially with BFF we get into moods of being smart, beautiful, popular, or sexy. If I was in the mood for being smart I'd do something like memorize the states. A few days ago I was in the mood for being beautiful so I put on make-up and put my hair in a special way and today I'm in the mood for being popular so I put on tight jeans and listened to records.

Sigh. You gotta love an eleven-year-old's conception of popularity: it can be achieved in privacy of your own home, and the only equipment required is a pair of too-small Jordache jeans and a Hall & Oates record. No human interaction required. (Not totally dissimilar, I suppose, to blogging...)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Kindness of Strangers

A few months ago, the word "blog" was a minor irritant in my life, one of those ugly-sounding new words that had infiltrated the dictionary along with "spyware," "ringtone," and "avian influenza." My local newspaper runs an "InkBlogs" column, a title that manages to be both a bad pun and an oxymoron, but aside from that daily sting of irritation, blogs were well off my radar screen.

And then one day a BabyCenter bulletin led me here, and from there I clicked here and here, and the top of my head was blown off. Within days I had my own blog and I was making myself at home in this cozy little corner of the interweb. At various times I have braced myself for a visitation of trolls, but even my darkest confessions have invariably met with kindness.

It’s easy to forget, around here, that not everybody is nice, that by and large the Internet is a place where only the loudest, meanest voices can be heard. Some of the meanies have been descending to new depths lately, and in response Chookooloonks has come up with this:



It’s worth following this link to read her Declaration of Kindness (a nice counterpart, I thought, to Izzy’s equally inspiring Blogging Declaration of Independence).

Kindness is the fifth fruit of the Spirit, the one that comes after love, joy, peace, and patience. (To save Jennifer the trouble of going to church, here’s the whole text of the verse: "For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22) In times of crisis, I’ve always stuck with the first four, never feeling able to move beyond that giant stumbling block, patience. But now seems like a perfect time to add kindness to my list. Every day when my mother sent me off to school, she bade me farewell with the words, "Be kind." I value kindness, in myself and others, and when there’s something that you value, it’s always nice to have a button for it on your sidebar.

*****

The most fun acts of kindness, of course, are the ones that involve giving people cute buttons in honour of their side-splitting posts. Momish is one of my recent finds, a blogger who brings wit and honesty and, yes, kindness to everything she writes. My favourite kind of humour has always been the self-deprecating kind, and in this post she takes that willingness to poke fun at herself, mixes it with some fabulous plays on words, and turns it into a jazz-style riff. I won’t do more than set the stage by saying that the worst time to spill a glass of wine on your laptop is immediately after resolving to give up swearing. More ROFL awards can be found here and here. Go read, laugh, and be merry!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Both Sides Now

There’s a meme floating around right now that asks you to post "Ten Things I Hate About Me" followed by "Ten Things I Like About Me." I don’t plan to do either of those posts, but they have reminded me of the wonderfully optimistic and earnest way hubby and I began our dating relationship by confessing our perceived flaws.

Eight days into our newly-fledged more-than-friends status, we exchanged emails offering fair warning of our worst traits. Hubby’s were as follows:

Pride/Arrogance - Hopefully it stays on the pride side more than in arrogance. The fact of the matter seems to be that I stack up pretty well against my fellow (but lesser ;) ) human beings. Making sure to laugh at myself a lot seems to help keep things at least managable. This is probably the biggie though.

Irritability - If things aren't going my way, I can get pretty annoyed. Usually I wind up getting pissed-off at circumstances or people who I don't know too well. Generally those closer to me have a fair bit of immunity. I'm getting better at noticing when I get in those moods though.

Domineering - Not dominating certainly, but for whatever reason I occasionally come on very strongly and knock people over. Especially when I have a strong opinion about something (who me?) and somebody has a contrary, but not very well thought out one. Haven't got a handle on this one at all.

Laziness, or something that looks a lot like laziness - or procrastination or whatever. I do get my work done, but I'll be darned if I work terribly hard at it. I think it has something to do with me not valuing certain things very much.

After six years of marriage, I think I can say that this list is full of crap. Hubby is probably the most self-effacing and least domineering man I know. He is confident in his opinions, and he derives great enjoyment from playfully insulting those he loves, but he is not so much arrogant as he is violently repelled by arrogance in himself and others. As for irritability, his football-game sulkiness to the contrary, he is so rarely in a bad mood that when he does become irritable I always resent it – does he not realize that I am supposed to be the moody one in this relationship?

I won’t say much about that last entry, though. Let’s just say that if anyone has scraped out a slightly-better-than B average in law school by doing less work, I’ll be very much surprised. (That said, his approach to fatherhood is anything but lazy; all those times that he wasn’t hitting the books he was toting the kids to Saturday-morning dads’ group or hauling them in the wagon to the park.)

Let us turn, then, to my flaws:

Selfish passivity - This is the flaw I'm most conscious of working on from day to day. I tend not to put enough effort into doing things for other people, especially things I find arduous or unpleasant. For instance, my friend Kristine is one of the biggest helpers I've ever met. She will do just about anything for anyone - she'll take care of your pets for weeks at at time, she'll scrub your entire apartment when you move, and she'll travel several hours by car to help you pack up when you're leaving your husband. But when she needed help painting the exterior of their home I managed to avoid ever getting up on a ladder and pitching in. My particular work-around for this one is to seize every opportunity to give the kind of help I enjoy giving - that is, emotional support and help proofreading essays. But I'm aware that that doesn't really address the selfishness issue.

Neglecting people - This is actually related to the passivity issue - I'm not very good at putting effort into things like remembering people's birthdays, keeping up correspondence, sending thank-you notes, calling people up, etc. My most successful friendships tend to be with people who are willing to go ahead and call me even though it's been awhile since I've called them.

Difficulty handling criticism - No idea how to work on this one (other than forestalling it by examining and admitting my own faults ;->).

Inflexibility - This flaw comes to you courtesy of my mother - she's always telling me I'm too young to be this set in my ways. I kind of deny the charge that I'm too rigid - I just like to do things the way I like to do them. :) I'm not really inflexible when it comes to important things (on the contrary, I think that I'm normally willing to search for acceptable compromises); this tendency emerges only in relation to trivial things, like the order in which I eat my breakfast. A related feature would be that I don't always respond well to unexpected changes of plan - I don't always dig in my heels and resist change, but I do find it stressful. In order to combat the stress, I usually work hard and fast to come up with an alternate plan, and if that's impossible I go to the opposite extreme and detach myself entirely from the whole situation.

I cannot guarantee that the above list is exhaustive, but it’s accurate enough that I feel hesitant to publish it.

I expect that hubby and I would have difficulty completing the second portion of the meme: listing the traits we like about ourselves. Hubby, in particular, was raised by a family that takes very seriously the parable of the dinner party: it’s always better to seat yourself at the lowest end of the table and then be escorted to a position of honour than to claim the best seat for yourself and risk being asked to move down. Tooting your own horn, patting yourself on the back: these are graceless and risky behaviours for Canadians of Scots heritage. Hubby follows this code more carefully than I do, but even I reacted with dismay this weekend when a popular Canadian singer was quoted in the newspaper describing her latest album as "by far my greatest achievement." Her words cannot even really be called bragging, and yet my immediate reaction was to think, "Don’t say that! Let other people say it for you."

The taboo against self-promotion may explain, in part, why mommy-blogs contain far more confessions of failure than celebrations of success. As Metro Mama has recently pointed out, the genre seems to lend itself to negativity. There are certain legitimate reasons to avoid patting ourselves on the back as mothers – I would not, for instance, want to lavish praise upon myself for exclusively breastfeeding my children if that would deepen the regrets of those for whom such a breastfeeding relationship was not possible. But surely it can be encouraging to celebrate, occasionally, the things we do right with our children? So here are some of mine:

[insert pause here, as I spend three days trying to think up a list of things that I’m proud of]

The things I feel good about as a mother simply won’t form themselves into a bullet list for me. But one thing that keeps swimming to the surface as I ponder this issue is the way, over and over again, I have come to the end of myself as a mother, used up all my reserves of energy and caring, and when that has happened I’ve been confronted, always, with the same words: "Love, joy, peace, patience." I remember sitting in the dark, watching Bub as he slept in his crib, and repeating those words as a prayer. Love, joy, peace, patience: the first four fruits of the Spirit. I love the way the list is balanced between what my children need from me and what I need myself in order to be a mother to them. So here, then, is a modified bullet-list, not of my strengths but rather of the things that have sustained me and my children:

  • Love. The curve of his cheek. The light in her hair. The impish laughter that dances in her eyes, and the joking curve of his humorous mouth. For the eyes to see these things, thanks be to God.
  • Joy. A doggy. A fire truck. The incomparable bliss of splashing in water or watching leaves blowing across the lawn. For the heart to rejoice in these things, thanks be to God.
  • Peace. The silence of a summer afternoon, with breezes wafting in windows across the cheeks of sleeping children. For times of respite and grace, thanks be to God.
  • Patience. Between front door and carseat, he stops five times: once to look at a daisy, carefully touching each petal, once to say hello to the kitty snoozing on the doorstep, once to slap his hand in a puddle, watching the motion of each droplet, once to nibble an old cookie, covered in dust, and, finally, once to plant a kiss on his sister’s cheek, patting her arm fondly. For the good things that come to those who wait, thanks be to God.

"What have you learned about yourself since becoming a mother?" a woman at my moms’ group once asked, and we all agreed: we’ve learned how desperately shallow our reserves of patience can be. But there’s something else I’ve learned along the way: that love, joy, peace, and patience are words that had little meaning for me until my children showed me the way.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

And Then He Was Three

Babies are born in the circle of the sun / Circle of the sun on the birthing day...

Both my babies have been born in storm, storms that raged unheard through thick hospital walls and left the world transformed. The day I came home from the hospital with the Pie, the world was fresh and green, months of humidity washed away in a refreshing summer storm. A far, far different day that was from the cold November morning that brought me home with a newborn baby Bub. The leaves had fallen from the trees, all at once, and our garbage pails were nowhere to be found, carried down the street and into oblivion by the gale-force winds that had raged outside while I laboured.

My memories are hazy of those first few weeks - I can recall struggling guiltily to pour formula down the baby's throat before my milk came in, struggling to overcome the overpowering sense of terror and inadequacy that flooded me every time he cried. And then, a few weeks later, there was this:



And, three years later, this:


Happy birthday, sweet little boy.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Remember

Three years ago today, I was in the car as the Last Post rang out, on my way to the hospital. I wasn't having contractions, but my amniotic fluid was leaking, and I was under strict instructions from my sister-in-law (who didn't want to share her November 11 birthday) not to give birth until after midnight. (I complied.)

I love birth stories, I love thinking of them as our war stories, but today I am reminded of the fact that 88 years ago an entire generation of men came home and never spoke of what they had seen and done, over there in the trenches.

For them, and for those who did not come home:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, --
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

Wilfred Owen, "Anthem for Doomed Youth"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Guilty Pleasures

My husband isn’t much of a sports fan: on the rare occasion when we turn on a game (the Superbowl, the Stanley Cup finals), it’s usually at my instigation rather than his. Part of the reason for that, I think, is that hubby is temperamentally unsuited to the role of a fan. Once, when we were dating, we attended a Buffalo Bills game. For the first hour or so, a good time was had by all: sure, we were huddled miserably in the snow, but the maniacal cheering of the thousands of red-and-blue-clad fans kept us warm. Then, right about the time hubby’s beer-buzz wore off, the Bills scored a touchdown putting them up by twenty points. From then on, hubby’s expression became increasingly dour as he simmered with disgust at the gloating Bills fans whose cheering was unabated by the lopsided score in their team’s favour.

"Pissing on the parade," is the expression his ex-girlfriend reportedly used to describe his habitual need to moderate the excessive enthusiasm of others. With his innate appreciation for the virtues of balance and moderation, he is uncomfortable on a bandwagon: the more rabid the behaviour of those around him, the stronger his impulse to inject a healthy dose of negativity.

This is not a trait I share, of course: as I’ve admitted before, I never saw a bandwagon I didn’t like. I love to get caught up in a crowd, relishing that moment when critical detachment is lost in a tide of shared emotion. It doesn’t matter whether the hero-worship is directed at Bono as he belts out the opening lines of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," or at Joe Sakic as he angles the puck into the uppermost corner of the net: I thoroughly enjoy the cult-like experience of losing myself in that temporarily forged group identity. Back in ’85, I was one of those people who thought that doing the wave was the coolest thing ever.

As resistant as I am sometimes to hubby’s rebellion against the coercive forces of group-think, I do share some of his rebellious instincts when it comes to the things I’m not supposed to like. Perhaps because I’ve spent so much of my life in an academic environment, I take a peculiar pleasure in embracing the low-brow, the despised, the mediocre. As a Masters student, I wrote essays comparing Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to the Harlequin "American Romance" series; likewise, my M.A. thesis was a passionate defence of sentimentality in which I suggested that our cultural contempt for the "tear-jerker" genre arises from a misogynist distaste for fluidity. (There was a perverse pleasure for me, I think, in co-opting French feminism for the purpose of celebrating L.M. Montgomery Rilla of Ingleside, an unabashedly sentimental novel that is the fictional equivalent of John McCrae’s "In Flanders Fields" – another popular icon that earns nothing but scorn in academic circles.)

I’m tempted to psychoanalyze the sources of this impulse to affiliate myself with low-status forms of expression. I teach Children’s Literature. I use references to The Bachelor to illustrate my lectures on Paradise Lost. Is this habit my long-term reaction to those years of high-school persecution for being too smart? Is it, like so much else in my personality, a result of my deep desire to be liked by everyone? (It may be relevant to note here that when asked to come up with something positive about me, the members of my church small-group identified "uses big words" and "isn’t scary" as my top two positive attributes.) Or are my low-brow tastes evidence instead of a peculiarly Canadian dislike of anything uppity or pretentious – a fundamental distrust of status and success?

All those explanations might hold a grain of truth, but they obscure the fact that many of the best things in life are those guilty pleasures that normal people indulge in secretly while I trumpet my enjoyment of them to my stunned undergraduates. If I had ever managed to become more of an intellectual snob, it might have been good for my career, but then I would have missed out on these gems:

  • Ian’s proposal to Meredith at the end of season 2 of The Bachelorette
  • Nick’s Kind of Woman (my all-time favourite Harlequin, in which two people who are deeply and fundamentally unsuited to one another finally admit that they’re in love and get married – oh, wait, all the best Harlequins are about that)
  • mommy-blogging
  • the Outback steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion
  • the oh-so-1990s Country Traditions calendar hanging in my kitchen
  • that karaoke night in 1999 when hubby sang "Friday, I’m in Love"
  • many a breakfast at the Cracker Barrel restaurant (not so low-brow, perhaps, until you consider that I’m willing to drive two hours for the privilege)
  • jumping out on the dance floor at the opening bars of "Karma Chameleon" or "Come on Eileen" so that I can do the moves (invented by Madonna) that I first learned at my grade-seven lunch-hour dances
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (or, better, A Night at the Roxbury)

Okay, so that list kind of expanded from its original purpose to include not only the low-brow but also the trashy, nerdy, and tragically unfashionable. So confess! What are your guilty pleasures?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Talking About a Revolution

On the facing page from the poem I’m teaching this afternoon is a poem entitled "Eden," by Emily Grosholz: in it, a child expresses serene faith in his mommy’s ability to "fix it," whether by "it" he means a cartoon dinosaur being menaced by an approaching tyrannosaurus, or an electrocuted squirrel found dead on the road: "His mommy fix him," the child insists, and his mother reflects,

The world is full of truly fabulous
great and curious small inhabitants,
and you’re the freshly minted, unashamed Adam in this garden.

If the child is Adam, his mother is God: apparently omnipotent, but ultimately helpless against "the serpent sliding in the grass, or the tall angel with the flaming sword."

It’s a striking poem, one that expresses not only a child’s sense of wonder but also that doubleness of parenting: the frightened child hiding inside the adult fa├žade, the mother who has never feared so much, yet seemed so invincible.

But I’m not going to blog about motherhood and fear today; instead, I’ll direct your attention to the "question for reflection" provided by the editors at the end of the poem: How does Grosholz use language to elevate the poem’s subject matter from the trivial and childish to the biblical and profound? The answer, I assume, has to do with her willingness to trespass upon Milton’s territory, to lend significance to the "trivial" subject-matter of her poem (childhood, fear, motherhood) by tapping into the "profound" realm of epic and myth. This poem has value, the editors suggest, because it’s really about innocence and experience (good, Blakean subjects), not really about motherhood at all.

*****

I was reminded of that poem, and the shell of editorial commentary it’s encased in, when I read this post, which asks if the momosphere is "revolutionary." In an excerpt from an article in the Ottawa Citizen, Andrea O’Reilly responds to MUBAR’s claim that "Blogging may be one of the tools that brings about the much promised mothering revolution." She replies, "It’s very therapeutic, but I don’t think it’s revolutionary." The problem O’Reilly identifies is that mommy-blogs aren’t political enough: instead of lobbying for universal daycare, we simply vent about the isolation of modern motherhood without examining why those conditions exist or how they might be improved: "It’s a discourse of complaint, not one of change."

Those are some inflammatory words, to be sure. Rather than taking sides, though, I want to register my discomfort with the assumption that the blogosphere should be revolutionary. When we assess the value of blogging by saying, "Yes, it’s fun, but is it changing the world?" we’re holding it to an impossibly high standard. Most of human life is invested in activities that have limited potential to effect social change, and yet these activities have value. Creativity has value. Self-expression has value. Laughing and crying at the power of others’ words has value. Writing about motherhood does not need to be linked to a political platform to be worth doing; we don’t need to prove that our children’s experiences resonate with the themes of Milton and Blake to make their lives worth recording.

I once said that my blogging is motivated by two impulses: confession and preservation. The first motive is therapeutic: I rinse my soul clean every day or two, here, and then hang it out on the line to dry in the warm breezes of your sympathy. The second motive is creative: my blog is a document of trivial, ephemeral things because these are the brittle, weightless moments that will blow away all too quickly unless I find a way to capture them in all their crackly yellow-and-red detail, tracing their outlines, noticing, in the act of writing about them, how the colours flame out so brightly in that blink of an eye before they’re gone.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Away

Our first night out, after the Pie was born, was hubby’s birthday dinner. We went to the Keg, and when the server asked me to approve the wine, I said, "I have a four-week-old baby at home and this is the first sip of wine to cross my lips in the last ten months. You can only imagine how good this is going to taste." Red wine, red meat, adult conversation: it was new-mom nirvana.

This morning, though, was something even better: our first breakfast out in more than two years.

During my first pregnancy, I loved to hit the Paragon diner each Sunday after church. Two eggs over easy, sausage links, brown toast with strawberry jam…it all went a long way to counteract the disadvantage of having to settle for decaf coffee. After Bub was born, the tradition continued: we would buckle him in the infant seat and haul him into the restaurant, tucking him under the table out of the way of passing feet. In those early months I was breastfeeding constantly, reeling with shock at the invasion of this baby into every nook and cranny of my my life, but certain routines remained intact: as the organist pounded out the postlude, I would latch the baby on for a good top-op, right there in the pew, and then round up the lunch-time crowd and decide on a destination: the Prince Albert Diner for burritos and milkshakes, or the Paragon for French toast? There was a degree of suspensefulness to the post-baby brunch experience, as I kept an eagle eye on my slumbering son, wary of any sign of inconvenient wakefulness, but there was freedom, too, and a certain amount of normalcy.

And then the nap schedule came along with its tyrannical demands, and the Sunday brunch tradition fell by the wayside. Instead of lingering after church to socialize, we now fetch the Pie from the nursery and the Bub from Sunday School and hustle them into the car, grabbing a Quizno’s sub to go as we head home for lunch and naps. Our Sunday tradition these days involves a little quiet puzzling over the crossword while the babies sleep.

This morning, however, was another matter. For the first time in nearly three years, I woke up under a different roof from my children. While grandma and grandpa were at my house, hauling themselves out of bed to pour cereal into bowls and spoon applesauce into hungry mouths, I rolled over in an oh-so-comfortable spare-room bed and went back to sleep for a few more hours. And then I got up and lounged about in my pyjamas for awhile, sipping coffee and chatting with my lovely hostess. And then I went out for breakfast.

There was jam and butter and maple syrup, coffee and cream and even an unplanned rendez-vous with a fellow blogger. And when we couldn't fit in any more hash browns or slices of French toast, hubby and I went shopping, poking into little bookstores and gift shops, as if we were living a day out of that other life. To be sure, the clothes I looked at were in size 2-3T, and the placemats I purchased featured zoo animals and a map of the world; I spent a pleasant half hour comparing sets of plastic cookware, and my most prized book purchase looked like this:


I’m never away wholly, you know, even when I’m away.

But I felt lovely and free, and I talked to my husband, and I didn’t start missing my children until about an hour before I got home. I'm missing them now, as they sleep soundly upstairs and I clack away at my keyboard down here. And the funny thing is that as much as I enjoyed the breakfast and the shopping and the snuggling under blankets to shut out the bright light of morning, there’s something about that tugging sensation of missing them that is the best part of all.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Mortify Me

Edited below.

I’ve blogged before about my Judy Blume diary, an item so coveted by eleven-year-olds that my first entry in it is devoted to the envy and consternation likely to ensue among my friends as a result of its acquisition. I pulled it out of storage the other day in response to Wordgirl’s post about Mortified, a "live-comedy reality-theater event" involving people transforming their pre-teen diaries into seven-minute stand-up comedy routines. The show is designed to help participants achieve "personal redemption through public humiliation."

The idea has a certain gruesome appeal.

I was relieved to discover from Wordgirl’s post that I was not the only fourth-grader obsessed primarily with becoming famous. Did anyone else read the novel Fourth-Grade Celebrity? I studied it carefully, and developed a plan to achieve celebrity status, primarily by (1) chewing gum in class (and getting caught by the teacher), (2) placing a stuffed animal strategically on my desk (because everyone knows that excessive attachment to stuffed animals is the key to popularity), and (3) putting a comb in my back pocket at the rollerskating arena. Needless to say, it quickly became apparent that my desire for celebrity would have to be fulfilled through fame rather than through elementary-school popularity.

Competition was my very life-blood in those days: on the opening page of my Judy Blume diary, under likes and dislikes, I listed the following:

I like: Macaroni and Cheese, Chocolate, Writing Compositions, Winning

I hate: Jason Smith’s show-offiness, spinach, having BFF beat me

(Note the double standard: my entire life, as far as this diary is concerned, is devoted to showing off, but the same luxury is decidedly not extended to the hapless Jason Smith.)

Let us take a look into the leaves of this old record of my childhood hopes and dreams, shall we? On April 21, the Judy Blume quote of the day was taken from It’s Not the End of the World: "I do pretty good in school. [pretty GOOD??] I am supposed to be mature, well adjusted and eager to learn. I saw this written on my permanent record card one day in the fall. Sometimes I don’t feel mature, well adjusted and eager to learn." My attitude towards learning, by contrast, is as follows: "Tomorrow I have to do my Oral Presentation on San Francisco and all I have is one crummy soap compared to filmstrips, clothing, money, records, pottery, eggs, food. Mom and Dad say I have enough and don’t worry because Andrea didn’t have anything but she got 26/40 and if I’m going to get Academic plaque I can’t afford to have that on my record. Our kitten has its eyes open and I want to call it Kippy."

Observation #1: The other kids had brought in "eggs" for their Interesting City presentations. How was I supposed to compete with that?

Observation #2: Does anyone know of a good dentist who can remove Academic plaque?

A few more tidbits:

April 25: I am going to start a club Laura Carolyn, Crystal and I will be in it not Andrea because she thinks talking about you-know-whats and having your period is stupid. She would want to play barbies or something. Laura has such a strong will she probably will refuse to be in our club unless she can be president.

April 28: Last night the dance elective put on the show. I was in the disco Hot Chocolate. I hope the boys in our class liked it! [oh, ouch ouch ouch – so tempting to delete!] I don’t know who to like, Paul (humor), Dan (talent) or Alan (get away from Kelly).

I did start the club I had planned out on April 25: we called ourselves the Ginger Snaps and my code name was Foreste. Activities included speaking in a code language and playing the boy game: you pick a boy to like and then you score a point every time that boy talks to you (the highest number of points achieved in one day turned out to be 4). And I did win the academic achievement award that year (the point of which, naturally, was to receive the plaque, not the honour or recognition). I will spare you the five-page entry celebrating that particular achievement and leave you instead with one last entry. Should it be the chart listing my bust measurements over a 15-month period? Should it be the conspiracy-theory entry in which I explained how on the first day of school "the boys in our class decide – unofficially of coarse – who – of the girls – is the most popular"? (I was a real aficionada of the dash in those days.) Should it be the July entry planning my fashion strategy for the fall? (It depended heavily on the "Cheryl Tiegs fashions for girls" line of clothing.) Or how about this one:

August 1: I want to get to know myself so I can really choose the boy I want. Characteristics: smart, lazy, quick tempered, emotional, a little self centered.

Hmmm…I wonder which of the twelve boys in my grade six class would have been best suited for an eleven-year-old with those characteristics?

Edited to add: After posting the above, I began to remember the angst I felt, as a teenage diarist, about the judgements my adult self might pass on those hasty outpourings of unrequited love and thwarted ambition. And though I cringe and poke fun at myself now in exactly the way my former self most feared, what I realize now that I didn't know then is how very much myself I still am. That competitive, boy-crazy, self-obsessed girl is still me, alas - I'm better able to hide those traits, from myself at least, but that naked greed for validation in any form - awards, boys, popularity - it's just a little less naked now. That's all.

*****

Back by Popular Demand: The Squash-o-Lantern!

Hubby has thoroughly enjoyed the overwhelming response to his butternut squash-o-lantern. I think he’s finally discovered the addictive appeal of blogging: he’s been checking my comments obsessively over the last few days, reveling in your acknowledgement of his ingenuity and artistry.

So in the interests of providing proper acknowledgement and attribution, I want to make it clear that (a) hubby is entirely responsible for the purchase and carving of said butternut squash, and (b) the photo in my last post is of the back of the squash-o-lantern, where he cut some extra holes for ventilation. The front elevation is provided for you below, both with and without flash:



Boo!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Totally Outclassed in the Halloween Costume Escalation*

*with apologies to Lady M

Behold my Halloween photography prowess!

A mother who can't aim the camera:



Children who won't look at the camera:



But a very handsome butternut squash (otherwise known as: what happens when you go out to buy a pumpkin on October 30):



*****

And a wholehearted thank you to Cinnamon Gurl, who has nominated my Rage post for an October Perfect Post award. I really had no idea when I hit "publish" on that one that it would be met with such a sympathetic response. And it has helped, so much, to read your stories and insights. I continue to be sleep-deprived, but there's a little more cushion now between me and that teetery edge. My children (and husband) thank you.

The Original Perfect Post Awards

As always, more Perfect Posts can be found here and here. Happy reading!