Friday, November 30, 2007

I'm Gonna Live Forever

All children believe that they will be famous when they grow up. Scratch that – some children believe that they will be famous when they grow up. They’re the ones who feel unpopular, underappreciated, in need of the revenge that comes with success. It’s surprising how difficult it is to relinquish that dream – my ex-husband never quite got over the fact that he wasn’t an NHL hockey player. I always laugh when I tell people that – more than anything else, it testifies to his ability to nurture absurd grievances, his exaggerated sense of entitlement. But am I really any different? I am equally haunted by the imagined, famous version of my adult self, the famous author/gymnast/figure skater that accompanied me through childhood.

*****

My students are writing essays this week about social class in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and many of them are lumping “fame” alongside wealth and pure blood in the list of traits that are valued only by shallow Slytherins. Throughout the series, Rowling makes it clear that Harry’s fame is a burden that occasions him much embarrassment (in the form of shutter-happy Colin Creevey) and even social rejection. Snape resents Harry in part because he suspects him of being an attention-hog, of using his fame to get away with stunts that no one else could pull off. His allegations are unfair – Harry neither seeks nor relishes his notoriety – but fame remains a vicarious pleasure in these novels. The wizarding world’s answer to Radio Free Europe is “Potterwatch,” and there’s something thrilling in the way that opposition to Voldemort rallies around me, I mean Harry, the man with the lightning-bolt-shaped scar.

*****

At the moms-in-crisis group last night a woman spoke who has been through every form of abuse in her life. She escaped drug addiction and sexual abuse, raised two children on her own, putting herself through university and developing a career as a teacher with no support from anyone. But the pivotal point in her life occurred when she finally relinquished her dream of being a famous folk singer. It was an almost laughable statement – until she pulled out her guitar and opened her mouth. She sang a song about her relationship with her schizophrenic mother, and another about the longing for heaven. I had goosebumps; I dashed tears from my eyes. Her music broke us all open, made us able to speak to one another more honestly than had ever been possible in our previous sessions on menu planning and infant care. I am amazed, though, as always, at how much maturity it takes to see value in that, rather than in packed concerts and interviews on Entertainment Tonight.

*****

I heard a sermon once about Moses. He was a hot-headed guy in his youth – he wanted to lead his people in an uprising against Egyptian oppression. He even killed a man, once, in defense of a fellow Israelite. But then he lost his nerve – he traded Pharaoh’s court for a shepherd’s life, finding meaning in his wife and children rather than in dreams of glory. When the fiery bush called him back to the Nile to proclaim deliverance for his people, he balked. I’m not a good public speaker. Send someone else. My Sunday School teachers always explained these words as evidence of Moses’ astonishing refusal to trust God. I think, though, that his hesitation is a measure of his worth, the best sign of his readiness for the role he had been called to play. Only when he stopped seeking them did fame, leadership, and history come for him.

*****

Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish Little House on the Prairie until she was in her sixties. Life is long. I can still hear that Siren call of fame beckoning from around the corner. I don’t grieve the loss of fame in part because at some level I haven’t yet given up on it. I can picture myself in the nursing home, tapping out blog posts and still waiting happily, expectantly for the world to take notice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Finish This Post

In honour of kgirl, I offer you the World’s Top Ten Birth Stories. (Spots 3 and 4 are empty - any suggestions?)

10) Tamar gives birth to twins:

And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.

And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first.

And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez.

And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.

Genesis 38:27-30

9) Athena from the head of Zeus:

When it came time, Zeus was in great pain; Prometheus, Hephaestus, Hermes or Palaemon (depending on the sources examined) cleaved Zeus's head with the double-headed Minoan axe, the labrys. Athena leaped from Zeus's head, fully grown and armed with a shout, "and pealed to the broad sky her clarion cry of war. And Ouranos trembled to hear, and Mother Gaia" (Pindar, Seventh Olympian Ode).

8) Most famous C-section in history:

Macduff was from his mother's womb
Untimely ripp'd.

Macbeth Act 5, Scene 8

7) Melly gives birth while Atlanta burns:

(this one’s too long to quote, so I’ll give you the highlights)

EVERYBODY: “The Yankees are coming!”
SCARLETT: “The doctor can’t come. Nobody can come. You’ve got to bring the baby and I’ll help you.”
PRISSY:“Miss Scarlett, Ah doan know nuthin’ ‘bout bringin’ babies.”

... flies, sweat, screaming ...

MELANIE: “I’m going to die.”

... mewling baby boy ...

SCARLETT: “We’re going home, to Tara.”

Gone With the Wind

(because the only thing worse than an unmedicated homebirth with incompetent midwifery is an unmedicated homebirth with incompetent midwifery followed by a horse-and-buggy ride out of a burning city)

6) “My workshop of filthy creation”

It was a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

Frankenstein

5) Snakes on a homebirth:



4) Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane

(as suggested by Veronica Mitchell)

"Good God!" said his lordship. "Did I do that?"

"All the evidence points that way," replied his wife.

"Then I can only say that I never knew so convincing a body of evidence produce such an inadequate result."

The nurse appeared to take this reflection personally. She said in a tone of rebuke:

"He's a beautiful boy."

"H'm," said Peter. He adjusted his eyeglass more carefully. "Well, you're the expert witness. Hand him over."

The nurse did so, with a dubious air. ...

"Do you feel it's up to standard?" he inquired with some anxiety. "Of course, your workmanship's always sound - but you never know with these collaborate efforts."

"I think it'll do," said Harriet, drowsily.

"The Haunted Policeman" from Striding Folly

3) Roll it and pat it and mark it with a "B"

(as suggested by Christine)

The first twin, a nearly six-pound boy, came fairly easily, despite Essie's slender frame, but the second did not follow as I thought it should. I had begun to fear for it, when I realized that it was very small, but in a breach position. I reached in and turned the twin so that she was delivered head first, but blue as death. Before I even cut the cord, I put my mouth down and breathed into her tiny one. Her chest, smaller than my fist, shuddered, and she gave a cry, but so weak, so like a parting, that I was near despair. ...

I swathed the child tightly and held her against my body. It was like cuddling a stone. I almost ran from the bedroom. What was I to do? They must give me an incubator if they expected me to care for newborn babies in this godforsaken place.

The kitchen was slightly warmer than the bedroom. I went over to the enormous iron stove. A remnant of a fire was banked in the far corner under the stove top. I put my hand on the stove and found it comfortingly warm. I grabbed an iron pot, stuffed it with all the dishrags and towels I could reach with one hand, laid the baby in it, and set it in the oven door. Then I pulled up a kitchen stool and sat there with my hand on the baby's body and watched. It may have been hours. I was too intent to keep track, but, at length, a sort of pinkness invaded the translucent blue of her cheek.

Jacob Have I Loved

2) Levin witnesses the birth of his firstborn son:

He stood in the next room, his head leaning against the door post, and heard shrieks, howls such as he had never heard before, and he knew that what had been Kitty was uttering these shrieks. He had long ago ceased to wish for the child. By now he loathed this child. He did not even wish for her life now, all he longed for was the end of this awful anguish.

"Doctor! What is it? What is it? By God!" he said, snatching at the doctor's hand as he came up.

"It's the end," said the doctor. And the doctor's face was so grave as he said it that Levin took the end as meaning her death.

Beside himself, he ran into the bedroom. The first thing he saw was the face of Lizaveta Petrovna. It was even more frowning and stern. Kitty's face he did not know. In the place where it had been was something that was fearful in its strained distortion and in the sounds that came from it. He fell down with his head on the wooden framework of the bed, feeling that his heart was bursting. The awful scream never paused, it became still more awful, and as though it had reached the utmost limit of terror, suddenly it ceased. Levin could not believe his ears, but there could be no doubt; the scream had ceased and he heard a subdued stir and bustle, and hurried breathing, and her voice, gasping, alive, tender, and blissful, uttered softly, "It's over!"

He lifted his head. With her hands hanging exhausted on the quilt, looking extraordinarily lovely and serene, she looked at him in silence and tried to smile, and could not.

And suddenly, from the mysterious and awful far-away world in which he had been living for the last twenty-two hours, Levin felt himself all in an instant borne back to the old every-day world, glorified though now, by such a radiance of happiness that he could not bear it. The strained chords snapped, sobs and tears of joy which he had never foreseen rose up with such violence that his whole body shook, that for long they prevented him from speaking.

Falling on his knees before the bed, he held his wife's hand before his lips and kissed it, and the hand, with a weak movement of the fingers, responded to his kiss. And meanwhile, there at the foot of the bed, in the deft hands of Lizaveta Petrovna, like a flickering light in a lamp, lay the life of a human creature, which had never existed before, and which would now with the same right, with the same importance to itself, live and create in its own image.

Anna Karenina

1) Mary gives birth in a stable:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:1-7

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My Myers-Briggs Analysis of Harry Potter

How’s that for a nice, searchable title? Welcome, random Googlers! There are spoilers here aplenty, so consider yourselves warned.

Cinnamon Gurl challenged me to identify the MBTI personality types of the major characters in the Harry Potter series, and that’s the kind of invitation that I just can’t refuse. First, a primer on the David Keirsey version of the system:

There are four kinds of people: (1) SJs, the joiners and club-builders – the ones who respect authority and play well with others; (2) SPs, the rebels and performers – spontaneous, charming, often very funny; (3) NFs, idealistic dreamers who thrive on imagination and romance; and (4) NTs, rational thinkers who are eminently logical.

The Harry Potter series is all about the SJs and SPs, concrete thinkers who either follow the rules (SJ) or break them (SP). On the whole, Rowling seems to side with the SPs. Everything in the wizarding world is concrete, even the magic (especially the magic). Wizards don’t read novels – or write them. At best they read the occasional fairy tale, but Beedle the Bard appears to be the only wizard who ever had a literary imagination. Wizards are scientists: they combine ingredients to create potions, they care for magical plants and creatures, and they utter set incantations to create particular effects. There is some innovation in the wizarding world (particularly by the Half-Blood Prince), but little true creativity. Perhaps if we’d ever followed Hermione to Arithmancy class or hung out in the Ravenclaw common room we might have met a few NTs, but NF idealists are terribly thin on the ground.

The classic SPs of the series are Fred and George Weasley. They are pranksters and jokers, latter-day versions of their rebellious forebears, Prongs and Padfoot. They are natural entrepreneurs with plenty of skill and intelligence but little tolerance for structured education. No matter how much Molly Weasley pressures them, they will never fit into the Ministry of Magic, being far better suited to throwing Dungbombs at authority figures than to obeying or becoming them.

Harry himself is an SP, though in far less spectacular style than the Weasley twins: he might well be an ISTP with his natural athletic skill and his ability to lie low when necessary. He is naturally ruled by impulse and though he is capable of planning and executing a strategy, he usually prefers flying by the seat of his pants. Bravery is a core value for Rowling, and it is an attribute that comes most naturally to SPs with their physical courage, their quickness of impulse, and their lack of debilitating factors like an uncomfortably vivid imagination.

Ranged against the SPs are a host of evil SJs. The series begins with Vernon Dursley’s irritable suspicion of anything that defies his definition of normal; he prides himself upon his pack mentality and his cookie-cutter suburban lifestyle. His counterparts in the wizarding world are Percy Weasley and Dolores Umbridge, both of whom are consummate rule-makers and enforcers. Though Percy proves to be redeemable in the end, his worst traits all arise from his SJ infatuation with status, authority, and conformity. There are many other, more moderate, SJs in the series: Molly Weasley, Professor McGonagall, and minor student characters like Lavender Brown (with her trademark giggles and consummately normal girly silliness). Draco Malfoy is probably an SJ as well, though in his case his SJ characteristics don’t actually make him go evil (he is that way already by heredity).

The SJs are redeemed primarily by Hermione, a classic ESTJ whose respect for rules and authority is corrupted sufficiently by Ron and Harry to become a useful counter-balance to their occasional recklessness. Hermione is supremely organized, a careful planner who can juggle everything from an unprecedentedly full timetable to packing a bottomless backpack with everything needed for a winter-long camping trip. She always urges Harry to stick to the task Dumbledore has set for him, and she is least moved by doubts or hesitations, providing a backbone when Harry and Ron lose their resolve.

NT students are hard to find a Hogwarts: in the Muggle world they’re easily located by their D&D clubs, their gaming conventions, and their science fair projects. There seem to be no nerds at Hogwarts, no cliques of misfits who bond over their arcane interests. Neville’s flair for Herbology suggests an NT nature – he may be a mild-mannered INTJ, intimidated by his robust ESTJ grandmother but never quite conforming to social expectations. Luna and Xenophilius Lovegood are mad eccentrics, a sure sign of their NT nature (all eccentrics are NTs, though not all NTs are eccentrics).

The best NTs in the Potterverse, of course, are Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape. (Snape’s loyal following, especially in the N-dominated blogosphere, may arise from the fact that he is one of the few abstract thinkers in the concrete world of witchcraft and wizardry.) Snape is a true scientist: as the Half-Blood Prince, he tinkered with potions and created spells of his own invention. The only wizard who surpasses him for intellect and creativity is Dumbledore. His early friendship with Grindelwald – based on a shared intellectual vision – suggests to me that he is a classic NT, probably an ENTP or an INTP. Dumbledore’s quirky sense of humour, his flair for nonsense, and his unsurpassed magical knowledge all place him in the same category as Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein, and Jon Stewart.

Perhaps the only NF in the series is Lily Potter. Against the advice of her friends, she remains loyal to Snape even though he’s an outsider and a Slytherin. She is impervious to peer pressure but not to her own ideals: when Snape goes over to the Death Eaters, she ends the friendship. Lily is described by Slughorn as an intuitive potion-maker, someone with good instincts and an ability to follow them. She harnesses the power of love so skillfully that she helps defeat the greatest wizard in the world; she also has a weak spot for a good-looking Quidditch player whose arrogance cannot conceal his romantic interest. She is credulous and even, at times, na├»ve: she considers Wormtail a safe repository for secrets and laughs away the suggestion that Dumbledore might ever have been friends with Grindelwald.

The only other potential NF I can think of is Remus Lupin: his life is one of tortured emotion – he is an outcast who falls in love, considers abandoning his child out of a misguided sense of duty, and ultimately gives his life for a good cause. R.I.P., Remus. We hardly knew ye.

Final Tally:

SPs: Harry Potter, James Potter, Sirius Black, Mad-Eye Moody (though he might be an NT: much depends on how accurate Barty Crouch’s impersonation was), Mr. Weasley, Fred and George Weasley (and possibly Charlie, Bill, and Ron as well, though with their prefect badges an argument could be made for SJ status), Ginny Weasley.

SJs: Hermione Granger, Percy Weasley, Cornelius Fudge, Horace Slughorn, Hagrid, Molly Weasley, Dolores Umbridge, Minerva McGonagall, the entire Hufflepuff house (with their virtues of loyalty and industry), the Dursleys, the Patil twins, Lavender Brown, Draco Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle (obedient henchmen just looking for a gang to join).

NTs: Neville Longbottom, Luna and Xenophilius Lovegood, numerous unnamed Ravenclaws (though not Cho Chang, who is too vacuous to be anything but an SJ), Phineas Nigellus Black, Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore, probably Voldemort (though there’s so little left of his soul that it’s hard to tell).

NFs: Lily Evans Potter, Remus Lupin.

Did I leave anyone out?

(Just before hitting "publish" I did a quick search and found this MBTI-based "Which Harry Potter Character Are You?" quiz. You can see all the possible results here. I agree with many of them, though I think the selection is likely slanted by the need to select a reasonably high-profile character for each of the 16 types. And even then the best they could do for an ENFJ was Olympe Maxime!

Pirate Monkey's Harry Potter Personality Quiz
Harry Potter Personality Quiz
by Pirate Monkeys Inc.


I still think Dumbledore's an NT - but as a potentially-fellow INFJ, I'm prepared to be persuaded otherwise.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Two Pieces of Pie


For all you Yanks who like a slice of apple and a slice of pumpkin – and to make up for the fact that I desecrated your holiday of thankfulness with yesterday’s litany of complaints – I offer these two pieces of Pie:

She’s The Map!

The Pie is a human equivalent to Dora’s Map. At any given time, she knows where everything is in the house. This is not a trait shared by any of the other members of the family. Bub can be looking right at something and still not know where it is; hubby can step over a laundry basket several times without even noticing that it’s there. But Pie – she knows. Lately, her bedtime requests have been accompanied by increasingly specific instructions. “I want the Other Kitty,” she insists (not be confused with “Kitty,” who always stays in her crib). I head downstairs to look for it and hear her voice on the monitor shrieking helpfully, “It’s in the basement! On the chair!”

Her Tender Heart

The Pie has an exacting schedule for her nightly bedtime stories. The first story (or two) is in Bub’s bed; then we move to the armchair in her bedroom for another story (or two); finally, she gets into her crib to read one last story (or two). Lately, her preference has been for this book:


The story revolves around Newton, a young rabbit who visits his cousins and is subjected to some not-entirely-good-spirited teasing because he refuses to remove his hat (a handsome orange toque). At one juncture his cousin Henry decides that he is “weird” and says, “You’re a pain!”

This always causes Pie a moment of distress. “He’s not a pain!” she squeals, scrambling to her feet in protest.

“No,” I agree. “He’s not a pain. Was that a nice thing for Henry to say?”
“Nooooo,” she intones solemnly. Then she edges over to the side of the crib, rests her head on my shoulder and snuggles in, dismayed perhaps at the meanness of which children are capable, or comforted by our joint condemnation of Henry’s words.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cold November Rain

“Oh no!” Bub wailed yesterday morning when we stepped outside. It was raining steadily, relentlessly – not a mere shower but a driving November downpour. “Stop the rain, Mama!” he demanded. I know exactly how he feels.

Since the 24th of October I’ve graded 97 essays and 25 tests, a perfect storm of marking that has kept me occupied for nearly a month. This, of course, is entirely my fault. After seven years of scrambling each summer to apply for as much teaching as possible, I was suddenly offered more courses than I could possibly handle. I settled on the four I thought I could do with the least effort and inconvenience, and arranged day-care around my teaching schedule: I have the children in care all day Monday to Wednesday and Thursdays from 9-12. During that time I’m expected to complete a workload which, on paper at least, totals 48 hours/week.

In September and October, this schedule worked well. With little or no marking to be done, I found that I could balance all the important things in life: eating, sleeping, class preparation, teaching, playing with my children, talking to my husband, blogging, reading, and watching TV (Heroes on Mondays, House on Tuesdays, and Survivor on Thursdays – I even tried watching Bionic Woman on Wednesdays, but soon gave that up). Since October 24th, however, I have abandoned the following activities:

  • reading the newspaper
  • reading non-school-related books (except for 20 minutes of Harry Potter before bed each night)
  • going to church (except for the mornings when I’m slated for nursery duty)
  • going to small group Bible study
  • talking with my husband
  • watching TV

(I would add cooking, but I never did much of that to begin with.)

I have not, of course, given up blogging, a decision that has created – in my mind at least – the illusion that my “I don’t have time for anything” whining is all pure self-indulgence. Obviously I DO make time for things when I really want to. Not only have I continued blogging, but I have also gone out socially, not once but four times in the last month. Granted, two of those four occasions were get-togethers with friends I have not seen since August – not wholly obligatory outings, but necessary if I would like to actually have friends once all the marking is done.

All this gallivanting has made it difficult for me to say no to additional requests, despite the fact that I am working every evening until 11 pm just to keep up and sending my husband out with the kids every Saturday morning (making me wonder what, exactly, was the point of keeping them out of day-care on Fridays). Nevertheless, over the last week or so it’s become increasingly obvious that all my time is allocated. Even giving up blogging would not necessarily free up time to do the things people seem to expect me to do (unless those things can be accomplished: (a) while eating breakfast, (b) during my office hours at school, or (c) after 11 pm).

“I can do everything I have to do,” I complained to hubby this week. “I can drop Bub off at nursery school and pick him up; I can take the kids to the Little Gym; I can teach my classes and mark my essays. But I can’t do anything extra – and people keep wanting me to do things that are extra!”

For example:
  • volunteer at the silent auction fundraiser this Saturday for the nursery school
  • canvas local merchants for donations to the silent auction
  • complete a phone interview for a study on toddlers’ sleep and behaviour problems
  • meet with students outside of my normal office hours
  • bring a healthy snack to the nursery school Tuesday and Thursday of this week
  • attend a baby shower for the three women in my parenting-skills class whose babies are due in the next month
  • cook and freeze three meals for the baby shower (each meal being suitable to feed four; dairy-free since one of the moms is lactose intolerant)

The other night, hubby answered the phone. It was someone from the church, wondering if I could bake something for the Stress-Free Holiday event this Saturday. “What exactly IS the Stress-Free Holiday?” I asked when he relayed this information to me.

“I don’t know,” he answered, “but I told her you’re not entertaining any further requests until after classes end in December.”

Good man.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Sins of the Fathers

"Would you like some dessert?" my mom asked on Sunday night, digging into the dark chocolate pudding cake, still warm from the oven.

"No thanks," my dad answered pleasantly.

"Oh you!" my mom exploded. "You are such a sulk!" She jabbed her spoon furiously at the rejected dessert. "Just because it's called pudding cake!"

For as long as I can remember, there have been two foods my father would never eat: "yucky squash" and pudding. This was a source of considerable amazement to me as I was growing up. My mom would make wonderful homemade butterscotch and vanilla puddings, rare treats in our health-conscious home, and he invariably and unaccountably chose to forgo all that sugary goodness, retiring dessert-less to his easy chair to watch the news. (He would load up on toast and jam later of course, to my mother's sarcastic dismay.)

Hubby and I burst out laughing at her sudden venom. My dad left the kitchen, deaf as always to any words that might be construed as criticism.

*****

"My parents fought a lot about housework," mom said later, as we sat by the table devouring our cake. (It was delicious - my spoon kept creeping towards the dish for seconds, only to be slapped back with a gasp of horror from my vigilant mother.)

Her mother worked full-time as a secretary when my mom was growing up - an unusual choice in those days. She and my grandfather shared household duties, doing the grocery shopping and housecleaning together while other housewives pursued the 1950s ideal.

"I always told myself that when I grew up I'd stay home with my kids," my mother added. "My husband and I would never fight about housework because I would just do it all myself." She paused, then added ruefully, "That's exactly what happened."

*****

My parents never fight. They have a deal worked out: my mother can complain, make jokes at my father's expense, or rebuke him for small, nonsensical things like not eating dessert, and he never rises to the bait or responds in any way. In exchange, he gets to do anything he wants.

I always knew growing up that I admired my mother - that I was on her side - but that I didn't want to be like her. Of the two I preferred my father's deal, the way he so genially managed to golf on the weekends while my mom looked after us, to watch football with his feet up while my mother made supper and washed up afterwards.

I've been as good as my word. Housework has been the #1 source of conflict in both my marriages (though in neither marriage has overt conflict been a major problem - I learned too many avoidance strategies from my parents for fighting to be an issue). I am a throwback to my grandmother, compulsively weighing and measuring my contribution to ensure that I'm doing my share of the housework and childcare, and not an iota more.

Long before I had children, I was struck by how odd it is, this adult life we live under the scrutiny of sharp-eyed observers who watch our every move, rejecting our ways and vowing to do better. Perhaps the only way we cope with these household critics is with the humour gained from a lifetime of compensating for our parents' flaws by developing a full set of our own.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Many Faces of Pie

Sports Commentator: (from the kitchen table, observing the behaviour of the furnace guy) Dere’s a man downstairs. He’s fixing the house. The man camed upstairs! The man went outside. He opened the door. The door is shut again! The man comed back in the house. Do you hear that sound? It’s the man.

Weather Reporter: It’s snowy! The cars are all covered! (runs to the other side of the house to see if the back yard is experiencing the same phenomenon) There’s snow all over the grass! Everything is covered!


UN Negotiator: I want blueberries from the freezer. No, not a sandwich. Not cheese. No peanut butter! No eggs! Not lunch then blueberries – how ’bout blueberries then lunch? (a few minutes later, smugly) The blueberries are in my mouf.

Cruise-Ship Recreation Director: Come on, mama! Let’s go in a circle: fast, fast, fast ... slo-o-o-ow. Chase me, mama. Fast! Sloooow. No, mama, you don’t say “fast” – I say “fast.” Fast!


Zombie: Arggghhh. I’m going to eat you up. (advancing steadily with a husky growl) Arggghhh.

Runway Model: I don’t want dose pants (rejecting my proffered pair of dark brown leggings). I want dis one! (turquoise velour with pink floral embroidery) And dis! (an orange shirt) Put my shoes on for me (holds out black patent leather mary-janes with lace bows on each toe) – I need some help. (ecstatically) It matches!


Fishwife: (protesting my attempt at furniture rearrangement) This chair doesn’t go here! That’s daddy’s chair – give it back RIGHT NOW! No! Don’t put it there! Do! what! I! say!

Investigative Reporter: Who’s dat lady? What’s she got? She has a bag. What’s inna bag? Where’s dat lady going? What’s her name? Is she that boy’s mama? She’s not my mama – she’s that boy’s mama!


Costume Designer: You don't got clothes on, mama. You got pyjamas. Put your shirt on. And your watch. No – put on earrings first. That’s better.


I don’t want to put my shoes on.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Murphy's Haiku

Two months of savings
set aside, first payment on
the big student loan.

What do you mean your
car repair cost thirty-five
hundred dollars? Crap.

That's okay. We've got
a cheque coming in this month...
is it cold in here?

Yes. Apparently
our furnace isn't working.
Crap crap crap crap crap.

Haiku Friday

Update:

Bill from furnace guys:
Ninety dollars and ten cents.
Problem: switch turned off.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Words

Have you donated rice yet? This site is perhaps the most brilliantly addictive thing I’ve seen on the Internet: it’s a test that allows you to donate rice to the world’s poor by showing off your vocabulary! The first few are low balls; if you get them right, the words become progressively harder. Eventually it comes down to guesswork, and the rule of thumb I follow is that (a) the longest option is usually the right one and (b) the answer that looks right usually is. (There are no trick questions – this is about giving food to the hungry, not making people look dumb, unlike Are You Smarter than a Canadian Fifth-Grader? – which should so be called Are You Smarter than a Canadian Grade-Five Student because here in Canada we don’t know about these “fifth-graders” or “sophomores” of which you speak.)

Playing with words this way has reminded me of that set of words in my vocabulary that I can trace to a single source – the person or event that taught me the word in the first place.

Lugubrious: I learned this one in grade ten during rehearsals for our high-school production of Our Town. Mr. Rambault was directing the third act, the one in which Emily dies and takes up residence in the town cemetery with various other local dead people. “You are not to be at all lugubrious in this scene,” he instructed the actors portraying the cemetery inhabitants (they nodded wisely, with no idea of what he was talking about, and I was vastly entertained by the possibility of accidental acts of lugubriousness being committed as a result of their confusion). Today I always think of the word as denoting a kind of Beetlejuice-style melancholy, all creepy and mummy-like.

Gregarious: Mr. Rambault again, describing the rambunctious cast members who found it so utterly impossible to keep quiet while other cast members were rehearsing. The word is memorable, perhaps, because I wholly lacked this quality: I sat primly in the auditorium seat, desperately wanting to be included in the laughter and horseplay of the gregarious theatre people around me.

Dichotomy: Psychology 100, first-year university. Along with “paradigm” and “continuum,” this was a word that made me feel like a real university student.

Diaphanous: Harlequin romance, circa 1989. Never let it be said that there is nothing to be learned from reading romance novels.

Superlative: I learned this word from reading books, possibly by L.M. Montgomery, but I learned how to pronounce it from the mother of one of my high-school friends. She had invited me over for supper, and for dessert she served a delicious baked apple full of cinnamon and brown sugar. “This is superLATEively good!” I told her – and she didn’t hide her laughter quite quickly enough to fool me.

Zeugma: This is one of those words I’ve learned from having to teach it to other people. It refers to the yoking of two words (usually two subjects or objects of the same verb) for comic effect, most notably by Alexander Pope in The Rape of the Lock, where he jokes about state officials who “sometimes counsel take ... and sometimes tea” or sentimental ladies who grieve the loss of a husband or a lapdog with equally noisy tears. Mainly, though, I like this word because it’s fun to say – much like “magma” (in a suitably Dr. Evil-style accent), only better.

Chiasmus: Same as above.

I’ve been teaching classes lately on academic writing, trying to establish when it’s acceptable to use big essay-flavour words and when a simpler word would be preferable. We’ve been looking at examples of academic writing and I’ve been taken aback by how many words are new to my students: denizen, garrulous, chaste, ravish. Some are able to use contextual clues and root words to figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word, but many more are not. When I teach Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments...”) my students rarely know what the word “bark” refers to (as in “a guide to every wandering bark”). To me, the word “embark” gives a substantial clue, but to others the word remains murky, impenetrable. I find myself thinking of Mr. Rambault these days, that short, Puckish, theatrical man whose choice of words always seemed so endearingly absurd, who spoke so earnestly without the least awareness of the amused non-comprehension with which we received his well-meant words.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Four

 
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He came to me in darkness and storm, pulled from my body with icy forceps while rain lashed the last fall leaves from the trees. He was fighting transitions even then, head turned to one side, refusing to budge.

Today he took Batman to school for show and tell. "No birthday!" he insisted. "No special show and tell!" In place of the forceps I used a backpack to extract him from the depths of the car. I hid the action figure inside, feigning anger when the battery-operated flying gear started spinning. A knowing laugh, a conspiratorial grin; Bub grabbed my hand and ran into the building through the drizzle of a cold November day.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

No Harm In Asking

I’m not very good at corporate prayer. I do okay during the pastoral prayer at church, but when I’m sitting in a circle hearing the earnest prayers of others, I always have to fight down my inner skeptic: the critical, resistant, sometimes sarcastic voice that raises obscure theological objections or simply urges me to flee. If prayer were like a Ouija board, I’d be the nonbeliever who prevented it from working.

This is a problem each Thursday when I go to the parenting class I helped start up last year. Hosted at a church, the program requires an army of volunteers: one woman comes early and stays late to set up and take down tables, two women supervise the children’s program, four act as mentors, and many others take turns teaching classes on meal preparation and crafts (topics I’m too chicken to take on myself). I teach classes on housekeeping routines, budgeting, and parenting: last week was books, toys, and music so everyone took turns playing with shape sorters and blocks while I pointed out the learning opportunities for children in these simple toys and demonstrated how not to play with a child (a demo that involved snatching toys out of people's hands and yelling “No, no, no, you’re doing it wrong, here let me show you...”).

All the volunteers believe fervently in the power of prayer. They arrive early so they can pray for every aspect of the class, and each week they close the evening by asking for prayer requests. I’m often desperately uncomfortable during these times, keenly aware of the appearance of manipulation, the implicit suggestion that in exchange for a few free board books and a bucket of cleaning supplies these single moms and moms-to-be are required to surrender their souls.

I can’t help noticing, though, that nothing I say or do in the practical instruction hour has nearly the value of this final act of prayer.

Many of the participants in the program are teenagers, fifteen or sixteen years old. They are restless: I can compel their attention for forty-five minutes at most, and then only if I build in plenty of activities. They won’t answer my discussion questions, though they will occasionally – surprisingly – raise a hand to interject a comment when they feel they have something to add. They fidget, they suppress giggles, they talk on their cellphones.

But when we ask for prayer requests, a sudden stillness descends. One woman talks about the difficulty of maintaining friendly relations with her baby’s father; another fights tears as she describes the measures she’s taking to regain custody of her three-month-old son. Our prayers for these women are circumspect: we ask for wisdom, patience, and comfort, without necessarily specifying a particular outcome.

Last week, though, we prayed for a woman whose due date is fast approaching, and one of the volunteers offered this prayer:

“Lord, I pray that Kyra would go into labour soon. We know that she is done being pregnant, so I pray that this baby would come quickly. Let her labour be easy with very little pain. I pray for a healthy baby and for such success in breastfeeding, that the milk supply would be abundant and healthy and that breastfeeding would be pain-free. And Lord, I pray that this baby will be such a good sleeper, a mellow, easy-going, happy baby who sleeps through the night.”

I have to say, I’ve really never heard a prayer like that before. Giggles started to ripple through the room about halfway through and by the time she got to the line about “such a good sleeper” many of us were laughing out loud. It wasn’t mocking or uncomfortable laughter – just involuntary, startled hilarity.

I don’t know what to think about this set of petitions. It seems unlikely that all these pleas will be answered (and rather unfair if they are). Is it wise to regard sleepless nights or pain during labour and breastfeeding as ills requiring divine intervention? Would it not be healthier to accept these discomforts in advance and be grateful to avoid even one of them?

And yet there was something so generous and loving about that prayer – about simply asking for blessings to rain down upon a sixteen-year-old girl who has made a choice to bring this baby into the world and who knows that for the rest of her life she will bear a burden of proof to the official and unofficial naysayers who insist that she doesn’t have what it takes to be a mother. If an easy labour and pain-free breastfeeding can smooth her path just a little, then I pray these things for her too.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mortal Kombat

Last week, Bub’s nursery school went on a field trip to the children’s museum. The drop-off time didn't work with my teaching schedule, so I arranged for Bub to get a ride with one of the other moms. I’m always a bit nervous about changes of routine, but it went off without a hitch: Eamon was watching at the window when we pulled into the driveway, and when he and Bub caught sight of each other there was much jumping up and down and rejoicing.

It’s still unusual for Bub to initiate conversations about past events, so I was thrilled – sort of – to get the following report later that day:

Bub: What was your favourite part?

Me: My favourite part of what?

Bub: No. Can you say the words, “What was your favourite part, Bub?”

Me: Okay. What was your favourite part of the children’s museum?

Bub: (crestfallen) No. What was your favourite part of going downstairs?

Me: Um, okay, what was your favourite part of going downstairs?

Bub: (grinning delightedly) The children hitting!

Me: There were children hitting? Where?

Bub: At Eamon’s house!

Me: Oh, you went downstairs at Eamon’s house – to play with some toys? But who was hitting?

Bub: (working hard to find the words) It was ... two ...mans. And they were fighting!

Me: Was this a video? Or a game?

Bub: It was a game! I loved it! It was my favourite!

Now, how on earth do I ask Eamon’s mom what violent fare my son was exposed to during the five minutes he spent at her house without jeopardizing the open invitation she extended for a future playdate?

Edit: Following Julie's suggestion, I asked Eamon's mom this morning about the great game Bub was raving about after his visit. Her guess? Their new soccer game for the Playstation.

Friday, November 09, 2007

My Invisibility Cloak

Andrea wrote a post this week about colour, and the pleasure she takes in it. Colour has always been one of my drugs of choice (along with Cold F/X – have you tried it? it’s like caffeine, only better). When I’m down, a quick shot of deep yellow always gives me an endorphin rush (this is one of many reasons that I’m rarely depressed in the fall; the other reasons have to do with years upon years of nerdy joy at the return to school after a long summer with no marks).

(Let’s break here for a quick hit of colour.


Don’t the hints of gold in that photo just make you go tingly all over?)

My decorating tastes have always inclined toward the juvenile side. I like lots of bright poster-like wall hangings, and I’m not afraid to admit that I have not one but two bunches of fake sunflowers in my house. When I moved into this house I spent days just reveling in the wall-colour: after years of beige-walled apartment living, I exulted in my yellow kitchen, my mellow green living room walls.

So I read Andrea’s post with a real sense of recognition, right up until I got to this paragraph:

No matter how hard I try, I can't understand the appeal of neutral outfits. OK, neutral as a base for bright colour, if you must. But an entire outfit of black and grey? Tan pants and white shirts all the time? Black shoes with black socks? Are we trying to camouflage with the asphalt? It all seems so dreary.

I’ve been known to wear red and even, occasionally, a bright, true yellow. But most of my wardrobe runs to black, tan, and brown. Not only that, but I actually shudder at the thought of adding in some teal, turquoise, or magenta. It’s not precisely that I would look bad in these colours, but rather that people would look at me. Not necessarily in a “Why is that woman wearing an old-lady teal jumpsuit?” way. Let’s assume that these are carefully selected, flattering and fashionable clothes. Still, wearing them would go against the deep instinct I have to cover up and hide.

Clothes have always been about concealment, for me – even in my thinnest days, I chose outfits that would draw the eye away from my thighs, that would cover up legs that were the wrong length and shape. I don’t mind people seeing my shoulders or face ... but still, I feel most comfortable in neutral clothes that invite the eye to pass right by.

This surprises me about myself. I am not a timid, shrinking person. For a living, I stand up in front of nearly a hundred students several times a week and attempt to compel their attention ... and I enjoy it. I’m a blogger; I think we can take it as read that I enjoy attention.

But there is some deep reservoir of – what, shame? body hatred? modesty? that motivates my choice of clothing. There is some lingering residue of “Don’t look at me” that forms a strange, contradictory part of my make-up. Even as a teenager, I avoided outfits that reeked of trying too hard – I could not bring myself to don the preppy uniform of Ralph Lauren and Beaver Canoe; the goth uniform of white make-up and black clothing felt equally foreign. I have always been determinedly bland in my fashion choices, eschewing colours and styles that attract the eye.

(This is a bit of a lie. In high school I showed up to school one day wearing eight-inch construction boots and a floral-print dress. Another day I wore a Scottish tam-o-shanter. I rather reveled in the stares, the blank incomprehension – and then I returned the following day wearing tapered jeans and a baggy pink sweatshirt, the ’80s version of the boot-cut jeans and navy-blue v-necks that are staples of my wardrobe today.)

Last month I had lunch with a blogger I’d never met before. When I arrived an hour late at our designated restaurant, I pulled out my cell-phone. Before it could ring, I saw a woman peering at me curiously with that “Are you who I think you are?” expression on her face. “I thought it must be you,” she told me later, “but I was expecting someone a lot bigger. When I saw you I thought, ‘That can’t be Bubandpie – she’s not 400 lbs!’”

I’m a bit appalled at the idea that I whine about my weight so much that you might think I’m morbidly obese. But I’ve thought of that conversation several times in the last few weeks and I find it oddly comforting. It comes to mind when I get dressed in the morning, tugging long shirts over my midsection and hoping that they will render invisible the bulging girth, the postpartum secret that is so embarrassingly public. It’s helpful to realize that to anyone but me, I simply look like an ordinary person – not especially thin, not grotesquely fat, but ordinary. Why is that something to be ashamed of?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Separated At Birth?



It's your last chance! Don't forget to vote!

*****

The results are in! I could never have achieved third-last place without you, my beloved voters. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Grievance #458: Unreasonable Client Demands

After the failure of the clients’ attempt to find a replacement mom, working conditions at the house of Bub and Pie have improved. Nevertheless, the employee wishes to renegotiate some aspects of her contract. The employee accepts responsibility for having created unreasonable expectations, but she wishes to establish the following new guidelines, to be adopted upon ratification of the new contract.

Article 1a: Breakfast
Clients are to select a bowl from the variety of options currently available in the cupboard. The bowl is to be used throughout breakfast (no substitutions). The employee understands that children are hungry in the morning and agrees to provide multiple refills. Under no circumstances, however, will the employee hand-wash bowls from the dishwasher, remove Cheerios spoonful by spoonful in order to make way for Special K, or transfer cereal from the Cars bowl to the Dora bowl. As a matter of professional courtesy, clients are asked not to hit one another with their spoons.

Article 1b: Supper
Although there is some precedent for eating Halloween candy as an “appetizer,” clients are to understand that this practice may be discontinued at the employee’s sole discretion.

Article 2: Getting Into the Car
The employee acknowledges that Client #1 (“Bub”) requires help opening the car door in conditions of rain or snow. Further, she recognizes that Client #2 (“Pie”) is not to be assisted in any way, but rather allowed to open the door and climb into the carseat herself. In return, the employee asks that clients move steadily in the direction of the car. Under no circumstances is Client #2 to move past her carseat and hunker down in the centre of the back seat to avoid being buckled in. Violations of this policy will involve forcible buckling up, notwithstanding any resulting tears and lamentations.

Article 3: Verbal Commands
Although the employee will generally obey commands of “Up!” and “Out!” this policy is nullified under the following conditions:

(a) whining
(b) screaming
(c) barking “Right! Now!” after the command

If any of the above conditions are fulfilled, the employee reserves the right to delay compliance until the client has said please.

Article 4: Bedtime Reading
The employee recognizes the clients’ wish for reading material to be provided after lights out. She will endeavour to fulfill all specific requests, but asks that the clients either (a) specify a particular title, (b) provide a description of the desired book, or (c) choose from a selection of available titles. The employee will go downstairs to retrieve up to three additional options; if these are rejected, no further trips will be made.

The employee believes this to be a fair and equitable compromise; she eagerly awaits the her clients’ response.

Update: Two hours into the new regime, the employee has caved to the following demands:

  • Breakfast is to be eaten on the living-room couch.
  • Breakfast is to consist of fruit-filled cereal bars (flavour to be specified by the client).
  • Clients must be permitted to occupy the driver's seat of the car and play with the steering wheel.
  • Before clients will enter their carseats, the employee must agree to any counter-factual statements suggested by the clients: for example, she must be prepared to admit that her jacket is blue (when in fact it is red), and that she does not have a valid driver's license.

There is some reason to be concerned that the employee lacks the guts for a successful negotiation.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sometimes It Really Is That Easy

One perk of parenthood is the constant flattery. From the perspective of my children, my knowledge is vast, my problem-solving skills immense.

Take, for instance, this morning. I was trying to read some blogs and drink my coffee in peace, but an escalating clamour from the living room finally drew my attention.

“No, I don’t want that!” Pie wailed.

“No! That is for you!” Bub shot back.

I wandered in to see what was going on. The children were shoving a book back and forth, reaching higher levels of frustration with each shove. I stepped in.

“Do you want this book?” I asked the Pie.

“No.”

“Do you want this book?” I asked Bub.

“No.”

“Okay. I’m putting it on the shelf.”

Stunned silence. From the relieved expressions on their faces, I’m assuming neither of them had thought of that solution.

*****

Have you voted yet today? My hold on second-last place grows more tenuous every time I check. Keep up the good fight!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Beware

Baby advice books all boil down to a single message: you are making mistakes now that you will regret soon, and for the rest of your life. Your misguided attempts at sleep training and formula-feeding are inflicting invisible lightning-bolt shaped scars on your innocent babies; in eleven years’ time they will be speaking Parseltongue and having nightmares about man-eating snakes.

There is no way to answer predictions like these. Babies are so frighteningly formless, so apparently moldable. They may seem happy and healthy, but how do we know what hidden damage is accumulating in their Omega-3-deprived brains? Even when they grow into well-adjusted adults, how can we know how they would have turned out – how smart, popular, and attached to their mothers they might have become – if only we had parented them properly?

(This, hubby points out, is the great advantage of the doctrines of original sin and total depravity. The babies are already broken when we get them; our job as parents is mostly damage control.)

I try to reject parenting advice that is based on fear-mongering. If another mom recommends reducing sugar intake to improve a child’s sleep habits I’ll give it a try, but if a self-proclaimed expert warns of hidden toxins that lurk harmlessly for decades until the master switch is thrown and we are all transformed into mindless robots ... well, I nod sympathetically and move on.

This policy isn’t necessarily wise or even feasible. There probably are hidden toxins, and no matter how determinedly I decide to ignore the fear-mongering, there is still a part of my consciousness that imposes a giant skull-and-crossbones watermark on most of the things my children consume, from animated TV shows to processed cheese slices.

One of the perks of becoming a veteran at this parenting business is that I’m developing a thicker hide. Dire warnings now have to penetrate nearly four years’ worth of habituation before they can infect me with the sense of panic that was my constant companion during the first dark months of parenthood. My children face unacceptable levels of risk day in and day out. We’ve all gotten kind of used to it.

They awaken in stuffed-animal-filled beds and eat casein-laden breakfasts in front of ADD-inducing TV shows. It only gets worse when we leave the house – there’s a recall out on the latching device in the Pie’s carseat (the replacement parts I ordered have yet to arrive). At day-care the children face separation from their primary caregiver along with all the indefinable hazards of an unlicensed home-care provider. When they come home, they’re left to play unattended with lead-coated toys, munching on a bowl of choking hazards while I root through the freezer to find some preservative-laced delicacy for our supper. Bathtime is closely supervised – but hubby’s presence cannot protect the children from the mould that inhabits all their plastic toys (not to mention the shower curtain and tub mat). After the bath it’s time for lotion (paraben-free – but is that enough?) and jammies (mostly free of fire-resistant chemicals – but what if there’s a fire?). Then there are stories, prayers, and lights out – all except for the bathroom light, which is just strong enough to disrupt their melatonin production.

And that is to say nothing of my suspect parenting practices. I coax the children out the door by pretending that they’re ghosts (I scream and they chase me all the way to the car). It works – but it also reinforces their belief that compliance is optional. I enforce bedtimes, when necessary, by threatening to shut the door, manipulating their fears and eroding their sense of trust. I punish acts of aggression only when I actually witness the offense, creating a slipshod and inconsistent system that is laughably ineffective. I permit my children to consume Goldfish crackers, Shrek videos, and McDonald’s happy meals. Sometimes all at the same time.

If I ever write a parenting advice manual, it will start with this mantra: embrace the failure. It’s a marvelously freeing way of life.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Dear God

I was out last night, so hubby got to listen to Bub’s bedtime prayers:

Dear God,

Thank you for...
… the week
… trick or treat
… Mama not at home.

God bless...
… Wallace and Gromit
… television
… scary.

In Jesus’ name we pray,
Amen.

When I got home, I prayed this prayer:

Dear God,

Please help me to beat Amalah in the 2007 Weblog Awards competition. I know that you have a plan for my life, and I just pray that your plan includes me winning this award. I know that you have the power to compel my readers to vote for me every day, and I trust that pesky little things like fairness and free will cannot interfere with your divine plan for me to win.

Amen.

(Actually, I didn’t pray that. But vote for me anyway?)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Underrated Pleasures

  • Hawks. It’s always a thrill to see one alight on the hydro cables at the side of the highway, and an even bigger thrill to see it swoop down for the kill.

  • The phrase, “There’s many a slip between cup and lip.” (Even more fun if you say, “There’s many a slip betwixt cup and lip.”) “Six of one, half dozen of the other” is also fun, but since there are more opportunities to work it into everyday conversation, it’s not quite as exciting.

  • Really hungry children. After two months of constant illness, both my children are miraculously healthy today, and between them they consumed half a package of macaroni and cheese, the better part of two bananas, four slices of yellow pepper, two containers of applesauce, and two Very Cherry fruit cups. I can see myself becoming like one of those Italian mammas, or Mrs. Claus, pressing food upon my increasingly corpulent children and urging them, “Eat! Eat!

  • Fried egg sandwiches on a toasted croissant. With half a cheese slice on each side. Yum.

  • License plates with letters that can readily be rearranged into words. Almost like playing Boggle in the car.

  • Survivor. It has come to my attention that some people no longer watch this show. Huh? I don’t get it. There’s something about the sound of Jeff Probst’s voice saying, “You want to know what you’re playing for?” that never gets old.

  • Finishing the crossword.

  • The first few swipes from a fresh deodorant stick, while it still has a nice curve at the top.

  • Being selected as a nominee for the 2007 Weblog Awards. Vote for me in the Parenting category! Keep me out of last place!

    What are your favourite undiscovered pleasures?

  • Thursday, November 01, 2007

    Corruption

    The Halloweens I remember are from elementary-school days, and they were all about greed. I passionately protested the Home and School Association’s use of sunflower seed packets as an October fundraiser. I weighed the advantages of different trick-or-treating routes: should I stick to the rich part of town with its higher ratio of chocolate bars to roll candy and icky toffees, or should I wend my way towards the older part of town where the houses were closer together, achieving the greatest number of doors per hour? By six-thirty on Halloween night I was chomping at the bit to get going and bargaining for the right to stay out until nine. My mother put her foot down at using pillow-cases to hold the candy, so I scavenged in the broom closet for the largest plastic bag I could find.

    When my best friend and I returned from trick-or-treating, we shed our matching cheerleader costumes and spent a pleasurable half-hour sorting our haul and doing inventory. One year a lone KitKat was discovered between our two piles and I claimed it as my own, even when our final count revealed that I mysteriously had two more chocolate bars than she did.

    Candy corrupts, and Halloween candy corrupts absolutely.

    “This is it,” I told hubby last night. “This is the pinnacle – the one Halloween that falls between last year’s ignorance and next year’s greed.” Last year, my children enjoyed Halloween in that shy, startled way that accompanies a wholly unexpected but nonetheless pleasurable experience. They stood mutely on doorsteps, resisting all our promptings of “trick or treat.” One-year-old Pie padded up and down driveways in her sheep costume, but rarely held out her bag for a treat. It was a fun night, but it was also embarrassingly obvious who all that candy was really for.

    This year, both kids knew that something was up. “Are we going outside tonight?” Bub asked over dinner in a tone that suggested both confidence and skepticism. It’s such an unlikely thing, really, that we would don costumes, leave the house, and knock on our neighbours’ doors at a time when we would normally be running baths and putting on jammies.

    Both children warmed up to the enterprise quickly. “It’s Pie’s turn to knock on the door,” I would caution Bub, only to be cut off by her protest: “I’m not Pie, I’m a monkey!” As we backed away from the door, Pie would urge, “Let’s find another door to knock!” and Bub would say, “Here Daddy, you hold my bag full of candy!”

    By next year, their joy in their costumes and trick-or-treating will have been subordinated by naked greed. I kept that in mind last night, enjoying their innocence while it lasted. What I didn’t realize was how soon it would come to an end. The moment of corruption occurred at approximately 7:45 when Bub opened his first bag of chips and Pie demanded a “big candy,” receiving a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup in return. The sheer joy of seeing small pirates and princesses roaming the neighbourhood and being just a little bit “scary” at the skeletons and Frankensteins on the doors has given way to an unexpected aftermath of hedonistic indulgence.

    Today, the costumes have been put away and the begging for candy has commenced. Bub won’t eat his peanut butter sandwich until I promise him “the last chips,” and I nearly had to fight the Pie at lunch in order to gulp down a mini Mars bar and a Twix that I’d surreptitiously looted from her bag. As for the Starburst sour chews and the Coffee Crisps, I’m hiding those along with some of the best crinkly chips. November is a dark, gloomy month. I’m going to need them.