Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

I have tools, somewhere…

Due to having too many things to do and too little desire to do them, I decided to attend to the long-overdue task of cleaning up my e-mail inbox today. I’ve always believed in the power of procrastination for getting all sorts of unimportant things done.

I found, buried deep, an article that one of my Mommy-Posse sent me on parenting styles, “Parenting nirvana: You can get there from here“. One line in it really struck me (as I re-read the article, buying another couple of minutes of perfectly justified procrastination) was this: that the best parenting is really just an application of creative thinking.

Yes!

That I can do!

I’m good at creative thinking – not so good at disciplining and setting boundaries – but creativity? Yup, that’s in my toolbox.

For example.

Did you know that you can entertain a feisty toddler for at least 20 minutes at a time (perhaps even several times in a day), by explaining how water goes down the drain and through the pipes in the house and down the stack and out to the sewer system – and then showing him where all the pipes are in the house? Course, this works better when you’ve been renovating your basement since before the baby was born, and there are missing pieces of wall and ceiling to help you with your explanation. This can then expand to explaining how the furnace works, and the air ducts, and the air conditioner… who knew that cold air returns were so fascinating?

Did you know that if you explain that everything sounds like music if you listen closely enough, you might get a toddler to stop stock still (and tell everyone to BE QUIET! at the top of his voice) and listen to the sounds of the house, or street, or car, at completely unexpected (and occasionally inopportune) moments?

Did you know that combining earth, peat moss and manure with a shovel in a wheelbarrow to make quality garden soil is like mixing the ingredients for baking a cake to cook in the sun? I sure didn’t, until I was told by a 2-year-old that that’s how it works.

Explaining that brooms are not to be used to sweep Momma’s shirt (especially while being worn, in preparation for going to work), and that in fact, brooms are best when used only on the floor – that, I’m not so successful at.

Time-outs are in fact now becoming an opportunity to practice dramatic flair. His wailing really does have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to it. Really, it’s very impressive.

Too bad that my toddler appears to also be pretty good at creative thinking.

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Damn the Torpedos

Bonhomme is into machines now, like most manly toddlers. Garbage trucks, construction vehicles, rigs, I can handle. I can even delight in his fascinaction with rockets and satellites, although I am somewhat bemused that my 26-month-old is oohing and ahhing over galaxies and motherships. And his latest foray into the world of gears and turbines, and historic mills (especially the ones with waterwheels and windmills), is charming (if, again, a bit astounding considering that I can’t get him to identify colours).

But I never, EVER, expected to have to explain to my not-yet-two-and-a-quarter-year-old child what a gun is.

Two days ago, I had the brilliant idea to introduce him to “Wall-E”, the latest animated movie from fabulous Pixar. He watched 45 mintues straight without a word, a wiggle or a why. I admit to offering a running commentary quietly in his ear, pointing things out like the piles of garbage, and the sand-storm, and the spaceships, and the probe, and the planets, and yes, the mothership.

Last night, we had to remind him about Wall-E, and wouldn’t he like to watch it again (being a little tired of the other, well-watched, options)? Once again, he settles in, enthralled. But this time, he’s the one telling us the storyline.

And then, we get to the scene where Eva shoots the rusted out cargo ship, and causes an enormous explosion as the ships fall onto each other in a domino effect.

Bonhomme is wide-eyed, full of horrified glee.

“What she do, Daddy?”
“Well, Son, you see, Eva had a temper tantrum. She was upset, and made the ships explode.”
“Why?”
“Um, because she was mad. You know, how you get upset sometimes and throw things?”
“Why?”
“Well, Eva threw something at the ships, and they were old and rusty, and they fell, and they exploded.”
“Oh.”
“Cause why, Daddy?”
“And then Wall-E got scared, see? He got scared from the explosion.”
“Cause Eva froo somtin’?”
“Um yeah. We’ll go with that. See, look Bud – see Wall-E dancing? Isn’t that sweet?”
“Yeah!”

I know, all kids get into guns at some point. Just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean that they won’t – in fact, it practically guarantees that they will.

I knew I’d have to come up with some sort of explanation, and strategy, and rules that I could live with on how we deal with violent toys.

But not at 26 months! I’m not READY yet! I’m not prepared! I haven’t written the plan yet! I’m not QUALIFIED!

Where’s that lasergun? I’ve got to find me some ships to explode.

Carpe Diem

Between racing thoughts, a snoring husband, a lonely cat and a toddler with bad dreams, I got 5 hours of interrupted REM cycles last night. We’ve just recently permanently lowered Bonhomme’s crib gate and placed a chair beside his bed, in preparation for night-time potty training and a big boy bed. Bonhomme has delighted in his new-found freedom, but this morning was the first full-fledged romp through the house, taking full advantage of my zombie state.

“Momma! I got outta my crib!”

“Mmmrfmhhm.”

“Momma! I got out all by myself!”

“Uhuhm.”

“Momma! Want up!”

“Go ask Daddy.”

“Oof. Morning, Bud.”

“Daddy! (snuggle thump oof roll kick) Wanna book! Could I hava book? Daddy!”

“Huffmm. Here, Buddy.”

“Momma! Hmm. Thatsa Eee! Thatsa Enn! Momma!”

“S’great. Show Daddy.”

“Daddy! I’m reading! See, Daddy? See me? Daddy! Daddy? Daddy, want down.”

“Snfffmm oof. Here you go, Bud.”

(thump thump thump crash thump bang thump)

“Momma! Lookit I got! Momma! Lookit Daddy bought me!”

(a sound like Darth Vader meets Thomas the Tank Engine)

“Momma! Did you hear that? Momma! I’m making music!”

“Hhmmfs. That’s a harmonica, Love.”

“Momma! Dat’sa Arponeeta! Dat’sa Artoobeeda!”

“A harmonica, Love. Go show Daddy.”

“Daddy! I gotta Arponita! (Darth returns) Daddy! See, Daddy? (more Darth, little bit of toot) Dad!”

“Momma! Get up, Momma. (warm blanket is tugged away) Momma! Come see my Arponica. Momma. Get up!”

“Hmmff.”

(Darth Vader retreats with thumps down the hall)

(sound of a chair being dragged across kitchen floor)

“Momma! I can’t get it! Momma! Momma, the chair’s stuck.”

(more scraping)

(thumps getting closer)

“Mom.”

“Get.”

“Up!”

I crack an eyelid.

“See, Momma? See my Artobedeeda?”

“A harmonica, Love. You’re quite the musician.”

“Yup!”

(Darth meets the wild west, fading down the hall)

Darling Husband turns to me.

“Morning. I bought him a harmonica at the dollar store last night.”

“Morning. I noticed.”

“I thought I’d be fun.”

“Yup, tons.”

(crash from the kitchen as stuck chair falls. Wail.)

Time to get up.

Blogalism

There was an article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail talking about social media, and how it’s changing our views on privacy and online voyeurism, or “oversharing” (see Pop Culture Gives Way To Peep Culture). At the end of the article, there’s a statement questioning whether we’re really connecting to others, or simply connecting to ourselves.

My question is: regardless of who we’re connecting to – aren’t both a good thing? Sure, narcissism and voyeurism can both get a little out of control – but some introspection never hurt anyone, nor reaching out. The thing that is distinctly different about social media, and absolutely essential and long overdue, is the shift of power. No longer are we limited to a unidirectional information flow, where we passively read whatever the big news chains decide we should be interested in, and what side of the story we should support. Information is power, and I for one, resent it being hoarded.

A book I’ve been reading lately (see The Return Of Depression Economics And The Crisis Of 2008) talks about how capitalism isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve been able to come up with so far. And that the time is ripe for a shift in macroeconomic theory to rival the likes of Keynesianism, if only we could figure one out. Well, it’s made me think. And I think that what’s missing from our faulty economic model these days is the lack of recognition that the free flow of information is just as profoundly foundational in our current global economic system as the two pillars of capitalism – the free flow of capital and the free flow of people.

And speaking of capital, there’s another element that’s been missing in all those hideous economic models (can you guess which courses I hate the most in my Master’s? I am SO not an economist. That’s right folks, big time arts major over here.) – the failure to adequately account for, capture and measure social capital.

Ah, Ms. Smartypants, what’s social capital you ask? (I’ve recently been accused of using deliberately obfuscating phraseology – appropriately, obviously – when I spoke of my blogging causing a friend to get back to her neglected blog as a positive externality. I have been spending WAY too much time in the classroom lately, dudes.) Social capital is the idea that social connections between people affect the broader productivity of individuals and groups. There’s all sorts of other fancy words related to this concept – things like associational life and social cohesion – but what’s key is that when people get together and help each other out, it has positive effects on other, seemingly unrelated things. It has been identified in producing higher levels of trust, greater civic participation, greater reciprocity, improved performance in diverse work teams, and even greater health (apparently, joining an organization reduces a person’s chance of dying within the next year by half – see Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital). Yeah, but any Mom of young children could have told all those fancy schmancy researchers that bringing over a hot pot of coffee to another Mom can be lifesaving.

The blogosphere not only has both elements, but it continuously enables, creates and feeds both elements – the free flow of information and social capital – in an ever-expanding spiral.

So move over, Mr. Newspaperman, the bloggers are on the move. We’ve decided to change the world while you’re busy worrying about your revenue stream. The medium is still the message. So you might want to pay attention to what the medium is doing. Social media is not social because of its content, but because of its structure. It’s less about what we share, than the fact that we do.

The Squatter

Amongst other things, I’m a policy wonk. And yesterday afternoon, I managed to make a break-through on a policy I’ve been tasked with writing, which had been languishing on my to-do list for 4 months. This particular policy had been sitting very obtrusively in my mind – like a squatter, taking up unwelcome space. It was an unsightly, daily wafting an unpleasant cloud of odour, contaminating all the other things on my to-do list with guilt. Like all things I procrastinate on, it had the admirable effect of getting me to finish up all sorts of other, less important projects.

Yesterday afternoon, I evicted the squatter. I sat myself down, and I wrote. I ordered, I deleted, I rearranged, and I referenced. I was a Policy Warrior! I felt more energized and productive than I had in months. For an hour, at least. And then, I came crashing up against the Working Mom reality of having to leave at the end of the day in time to get to home for my next shift and much more important title of Mom.

I love my son, Heaven knows, I adore him more than a single human heart can encompass.

But I dreadfully resent the incessant pull of all the different barely-connected pieces of my life wanting more and more of me – and me wanting to give.

I’m a Mom to a beautiful, brilliant, astounding 26-month-old boy. And I’m a public servant, working full-time in Ottawa at a career that I’ve spent a decade building, and that I love. And I’m a student of public policy, studying part-time for a Master’s degree in public administration so that I can be better at that career, and maybe make a real contribution in my lifetime. And I’m an artist, but I don’t paint so often these days, because, well, when you’re a working Mom with a part-time degree on the side, pretty much everything that you ever thought made you you goes by the wayside – things like doing yoga regularly, and painting, and petting your cat, and quiet time alone, and maintaining any kind of mental or physical or emotional balance at all.

So, yesterday afternoon after working only a feverish 15 minutes late, I packed up to go home even though I was finally on a roll after a 4-month lull. “I’ll pick it up again tomorrow”, I told myself. Hah. The squatter took one look at my Warrior’s hasty retreat, and set up camp once again.

I’ve begun to hate the times of transition in my day – getting out the door in the morning, leaving my desk at the end of the day, even bedtime. They are all intrusions, telling me too loudly, too insistently, that there’s no more time. Move on. Next. And to hurry, because I’m late. I’m always late.

Why is it that Working Moms are always accused of not being committed enough? It’s the opposite.

At least my Warrior hasn’t left the battleground – it was a retreat, not a rout. Be warned, my Smelly Squatter, you will be vanquished. Eventually.

On Blogging

I’ve been very hesitant to begin a blog. I’ve been dragging my feet on the idea for a year or more, plagued by worries about:

– privacy,

– the long term implications of publishing stories about my baby’s foibles which will surely be received differently by my son when he grows up than in the spirit that I intended them,

– the danger of developing serious blogging addiction,

– adding another level of commitment to my already overcharged life – and yet another thing I might eventually feel myself a failure for,

– the inevitable negative responses I’m going to receive over the inevitably controversial things I’m going to say,

– hurting my family with the true things that I feel, if I have the courage to write that truth,

– having all my all jumbled thoughts and emotions and follies placed together in one spot, where not only can I not hide from them, but I can’t hide them from others – whatever blog I end up creating will be a very public, permanent, visual catastrophy,

– and wondering whether I really have anything meaningful to say.

But in the past month, the number of times I have received unexpected, and unequivocal, praise over my writing can’t be ignored. People are asking me to write. They’re thanking me when I do. A complete stranger called me up at work this morning to effusively complement me on a post I’d just written on one of our employee fora (I refuse to call them forums – just the first of many appearances of my anal inner linguist). A family member told me that if I didn’t submit one of my recent stories (periodic e-mails I send to my family and friends updating them on what my toddler’s been up to lately) to the Globe and Mail’s Life section, she would. Enough! I’ve heard. And I’ve decided to listen.

And funnily enough, that fear up there about not having anything to say? The least of my worries. If anything, I’ll develop a healthy fear of saying too much. I’m finding that the more I write, the more I want to write. I’m carrying a notebook in my backpack again – something I’d given up for years. I’m jotting down ideas all day long. I’m muttering to myself at the bus stop, and while walking, a habit that had been reserved lately for when I’m really pissed off at my husband. And the number one, true indicator that I’m hooked on blogging is that I’m giving up time from reading in order to post. Sacrilege! There you have it. An addict is born.

Returned To The Source

“Return to the source.” That’s the phrase reverberating in my mind today. It refers to the Tao, guiding one to breathe and let go, allowing the myriad of weights and guilts and distractions to float at the surface of your thoughts while your mind descends below them to reconnect with your breath, your pulse, your soul, the world.

I need this today – this anchor of stillness, a distancing from the storm of my emotions. My own private storm – where I war between profound grief at my recent miscarriage, and a fierce repossessing of my body. Nothing instills more guilt than admitting how relieved I am to be returning to myself again, my body a familiar territory – no masked hormone pirates rampaging through me, raiding my secret spaces.

So I run from the guilt, shy away from that part of myself which is throwing my hands up to the sky and doing a mad dance, shouting “Yes! My body is mine, it’s MINE again!”. And I wrench myself from the tears, only a very thin veil away.

My grief is the ocean, pounding through a storm, waves crashing onto a rocky shore, sending salt spray into the air. I try to sink beneath its waves, feel that slower, deeper rhythm shushing beneath the crashing. Look up through the dark depths to the roil and flow above me. Acknowledge the complexity of this absolute simplicity – the ocean wouldn’t be the ocean without a surface, whether calm or stormy. This grief is a part of me, as is the relief – I can’t deny either.

Beneath the waves, my tears and the sea water are the same. I find the stillness, and suddenly she’s there. My maybe-baby, the daughter I almost knew. The woman she would have been. She smiles at me, silent, at peace. I can’t smile back, not yet. She understands.

I will forever look at crashing surf and see a mother’s loss – vast, open, stinging, soothing. Complicated. Simple. Sacred.

An Ending, and a New Beginning

I lost a child today. This is my second miscarriage – the first was last October. Unplanned, unexpected, but very much loved – and secretly yearned for. I am devastated, relieved, desolate, pragmatic, lost, found. She would have been so beautiful, strong, tall, determined – my fierce, bright light. She was a sapling growing in my belly, a seed blown in by the wind. But her roots couldn’t find purchase in my inhospitable soil. I could feel her uncurling, sending shoots through every inch of me. I could feel my body responding to her presence – my blood pumping harder for her, my nose smelling more intensely for her, my belly and back making space for her. My head and heart aching for her. All my senses heightened, so that she could glimpse through me all the beauty that awaited her.

Will I get another chance? Will a life will itself into me once more? I don’t know. I know that I hope so. Despite the misery it means for my body and mind, both too empathic and sensitive by far, I want to feel that tender shoot reaching inside of me. I want to meet these souls, discover who they turn out to be – this brief entrance and abrupt exit shreds me in too many places. I will never meet them, these daughters who were and might have been. I will always be the poorer for it.

“Write about me!” she cries to me, even now, only a whisper whisking away on the wind. “Don’t forget! Don’t let me fade!” How could I not listen, and heed? My Loup, my Claire. I will always love you, and miss you, and wish you both could have stayed with me forever.

I will write, I promise. I will write of love, and motherhood, and the desperate fierce strength of women, whose hearts and touch and hope hold this world of flesh together.