Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

Bags under my eyes, bruises on my heart – still the best choice I ever made

Stress.

The silent killer.

The silent keep-you-up-half-the-nighter.

Stress is not being able to fit in a game of yahtzee with my child.

Stress is missing the bus.

Stress is the next bus passing me by because it is too full.

Guilt is my son telling me he missed me.

Stress is getting locked out of my office because I forgot my swipe card on my desk when I went to the bathroom.

Frustration is having to hold the hand of a colleague two levels senior to me with only half my workload as he fumbles with a file.

Stress is never finishing the readings for my classes on time.

Stress is a ball of playdough landing in a bowl already half full with water.

Pride is hearing my son call it stew, with garlic.

Stress is stepping outside on a bracingly cold September day, with my son’s new hat still wet in the washing machine.

Stress is being woken by a snoring husband, and then again by a crying toddler after having finally drifted off after thirty minutes of tossing and turning.

Stress is not having the time to go buy my husband a birthday present.

Stress is waking up exhausted, again.

Bliss is having my son climb into the cocoon between my neck and my knees and proclaim it HIS cuddle spot.

Stress is listening to my cat miau plaintively due to perpetual lack of attention.

Warmth is talking a new student out of dropping a class, assuring her that she is simply low on confidence, not capability.

Stress is nursing a headache due to too much coffee and not enough sleep.

Encouragement is a friend telling me that one of the greatest factors influencing a child’s future success is his mother’s level of education.

Stress is my son crying for one more story.

Comfort is reading him one more story.

Stress is running out of home-made frozen muffins.

Delight is being offered a taste of soap soup memomade instead.

Amazement is cuddling my son in his new big boy bed.

Stress is standing on the other side of the door and listening to him cry from fear of his first night in a big boy bed.

Stress.

The silent bruiser.

Motherhood.

Both cause, and cure.

A Haiku For You – 28 September 2009

An artist apart
From her paintbrush is driftwood
Swept back out to sea.

Out of place, sodden,
Borne upon whim of wave. In
Wait of shore, and tide.

GDP: A Nail In The Coffin?

I think I’ve just fallen in love with Nicolas Sarkozy.

I just found out that he commissioned a report that questions the value of using GDP as your primary indicator of national progress.

Mon Dieu!

In the report, the authors state a fundamental truth that we often tend to overlook: “What we measure affects what we do.” Let me tell you, as the parent of an enterprising youngster, this is most certainly true. In the context of economics, and not disciplining young children, the authors intended by this that what we pay attention to influences our decisions, so that if we aren’t paying attention to the right things, we’ll end up making the wrong decisions.

From the report’s executive summary: “The commonly used statistics may not be capturing some phenomena, which have an increasing impact on the well-being of citizens. For example, traffic jams may increase GDP as a result of the increased use of gasoline, but obviously not the quality of life. Moreover, if citizens are concerned about the quality of air, and air pollution is increasing, then statistical measures which ignore air pollution will provide an inaccurate estimate of what is happening to citizens’ well-being. Or a tendency to measure gradual change may be inadequate to capture risks of abrupt alterations in the environment such as climate change.”

CBC.ca wrote an excellent, approachable article on the subject. But in it, it unwittingly repeats one of GDP’s flaws. “If as a population we buy more cars and food and computers and beer, we are getting more and more satisfied.” Not necessarily so, if such things are no longer considered luxuries, but are becoming increasingly fundamentals in order to stay afloat in the new knowledge economy. Some things, like food, are a good indicator of wealth – the more food you can buy, and the better quality, the better off you are. Absolutely. Beer is a luxury, sure. Decent indicator (well, except for we wine-lovers).

But computers? Cell phones? Cars? It’s not so clear anymore. Before the 80s (heck, before the 90s), a significant number of North American households had a single income earner. If one person stays home, there are less commuters. Before the 60s, a significant number of households were rural, and many of these were farm-based. Again, even less commuters. Now, more than 80% of Canadians live in urban areas. Sure, we can bus (and I do), but that doesn’t eliminate the need for groceries, and visits to the dentist, and the fact that my entire circle of family and friends live 20 minute drives away (in different directions). My neighbourhood is not my community – my entire city is.

Also, just about every single sector in the Canadian labour force requires computer skills – agriculture, utilities, natural resources, transportation, health care, tourism – you name it, you need a computer to do it. You might not need to own a computer, but grade 3 students these days can’t do their homework assignments without access to Google. And cell phones? I have one for the sole reason that if my daycare provider can’t reach me within an hour if my son ever needs to be sent home for health reasons, she has the right to terminate our contract. This is NOT a luxury.

The incessant and intrinsic demands of the knowledge economy on our time, our brains, and our accessibility of communication renders an enormous number of so-called luxuries into essential tools.

As such, the premise that the more we buy, the happier we are is bunk.

“Ah but,” an economist would say, “you are making these choices of your own free will. You have chosen to earn a higher income, and the resulting increasing demands on your time and cognitive abilities.”

“Yes,” I reply, “but in doing so, I am directly contributing, and in fact disproportionally so, to not just GDP, but the creation of wealth and social progress. Moreover, the more of us who choose this, the more demand for these skills and knowledge, and goods and services, we create. As more people pass the bar of higher education or income, the higher the bar gets pushed.”

And so, cyclically, we argue, Mr. Economist and I.

Enter Monsieur Sarkozy au secours.

The report references my beloved social capital.

“For a long time there have been concerns about the adequacy of current measures of economic performance, in particular those solely based on GDP. Besides, there are even broader concerns about the relevance of these figures as measures of societal wellbeing. To focus specifically on the enhancement of inanimate objects of convenience (for example in the GNP or GDP which have been the focus of a myriad of economic studies of progress), could be ultimately justified – to the extent it could be – only through what these objects do to the human lives they can directly or indirectly influence. Moreover, it has long been clear that GDP is an inadequate metric to gauge well-being over time particularly in its economic, environmental, and social dimensions, some aspects of which are often referred to as sustainability.”

I’m sure there are many, many, political factors at play in commissioning this report, not the least of which is positioning France as an attractive place to live, while downplaying its abysmal economic performance, and reassuring its overly taxed citizens not to feel too downtrodden, because they live la vie en rose.

But I don’t care how partisan and framed and motivated this report is. What I care about is that an internationally respected panel of economists and social scientist have just come out and said that GDP is not the be-all and end-all of decision-making, and that we need to consider a more interrelated formula if we want to ensure that big-picture decisions are made with relevance to individual lives.

“The whole Commission is convinced that the crisis is teaching us a very important lesson: those attempting to guide the economy and our societies are like pilots trying to steering a course without a reliable compass. The decisions they (and we as individual citizens) make depend on what we measure, how good our measurements are and how well our measures are understood.”

Consider this phrase from my microeconomics textbook (the bane of my existence):

“Within a certain range of income, public or shared transportation is an inferior good as households allocate more income to private transportation as income rises.”

What about the possibility that as your income rises, the demands on your time also rise and so you can’t afford to arbitrarily have to wait fifteen minutes for the next bus, because you missed your usual bus due to a last minute dirty diaper?

This statement assumes that private transportation is a superior good, and that it is an elastic one. Not necessarily so.

Or this:

“The number of free lunches served increased due to a price increase on paid lunches, potentially reducing revenue. At a higher price, it became more worthwhile for households to seek eligibility for free school lunches.”

Is it because I’m a mother that I care about the poor kid and her stressed-out parents who just can’t squeeze in a price increase in hot lunches, and between the delay for paperwork (assuming that you get approved for the program), the kid ends up eating nutritionally-poor PB&J for weeks?

Is it because I’m a linguist that I so clearly see the power of this choice of words, and how framing your message also frames your assumptions? It is awfully easy to not see a hungry, nutritionally-deficient kid and frazzled parents when you talk about revenue and households and eligibility.

Some goods are substitutes, but they are not easily so. Indifference cannot be measured only monetarily, because there are too many unseen factors affecting individual decision-making, not the least of which is that we live in a society, not an economy. An economy is a useful construct, sure. But I can’t knock on its door and ask it to water my plants when I’m away.

There is so much that is not factored in adequately in the grandiose science of economics – things like social outcomes and human psychology. And this, ultimately, is what Sarkozy is saying. He is calling to account the myopia of the rational Homo Economicus, and the enormous social burden our collective nearsightedness has cost.

I think fundamentally, the reason I hate economics so much is not because I hate math (oh, do I ever) – it’s because I hate the arrogance.

The decisions that are made based on sophisticated economic modeling are so important, and so pervasive, yet are deliberately removed from the direct consequences.

It matters what words you choose.

It matters what you choose to measure.

It matters that for the first time, a prominent, respected leader of an industrialized country has publicly announced that he doesn’t like GDP.

Nicolas, you can come over to dinner at my house anytime. But be prepared, it’ll be Ontario wine. Il y a des limites, après tout.

What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?

Good heavens above, protect and guide this poor mother.

I had propped the screen door open to get the stroller out, and then unthinking (having not had time for coffee) decided that the day was too warm for my jacket, and so I popped into my bedroom for a light sweater. Ten seconds later, I was back in the hallway… but my toddler was not.

“Bonhomme!”

No response from anywhere in the house.

Gasp. “Bonhomme!”

Strolling about at the very end of the driveway, humming happily to himself and kicking the bright orange leaves.

“Bonhomme! Come here right now! That’s Time-Out!”

Standing stock-still, his shocked face begins to scrunch.

“You NEVER go outside without Mommy or Daddy! That’s so dangerous! You scared Mommy!”

Wailing.

“March inside right now, and go to the Time-Out Corner! Both hands up on the wall!”

He stumbles inside and collapses in a heap in the entrance, shoulders shaking. I pick him up and carry him to the Time-Out Corner. “That makes Mommy so MAD!”

Hands on the wall, chest heaving, he is the picture of dejection.

“I wanna go to daycare! I wanna (sob) go to (hiccup) daycare!”

We’re already twenty minutes late.

The Time-Out Timer rings.

Bonhomme immediately stops crying, stands now docile in his corner, face covered in snot.

I blow his nose and kneel down, eye-to-eye.

“Why did you get a Time-Out, Love?”

“Cause I didn’t listen,” he says with a charming half-smile, head tilted just so.

“No Love, it wasn’t because you didn’t listen.” This time.

“Cause… I was outside?”

Clearly, we have some work to do.

“Cause you went outside BY YOURSELF – you didn’t even tell me you wanted to go out. And you were so close to the road! That really scared Mommy. You never go outside by yourself. That’s dangerous! Cars can hurt you! I didn’t know where you were, and I was worried. Do you understand?”

“I understand.” He is the perfect penitent, looking down at his shoes. Sneaking a glance up at me to see if he is free to go.

“So, what’s the rule, Love?”

“Da…?”

“The rule. What’s the rule about going outside?”

“Uhh…”

“You never go outside without Mommy or Daddy.”

Bonhomme gives this some thought, shuffling his feet.

I get ready to get up and move on, thinking the point is more than hammered home, certainly for a two-year-old’s attention span.

“Momma, actually, it’s bout da road.”

I blink.

“Pardon me?”

“Momma, da rule should be bout da road. It should.”

He stands very straight, his head firmly nodding. He clearly feels perfectly justified in his logic.

Which, DAMMIT!, he is.

Dear Goddess of Patience and Misbehaving Offspring, help me in this hour of need.

“You’re right, Love, the rule should be about the road. Because you’ve been outside by yourself before, I know, but each time before, Mommy or Daddy were watching, even if you couldn’t see us, and we knew you were safe. This time, I didn’t know where you were, and you weren’t safe.”

“Cause I was too close to da road.”

“Yes, because you were too close to the road. And because Mommy didn’t know you were outside.”

“Cause you weren’t watching?”

“Yes, that’s right, I wasn’t watching you and making sure you were safe because I was in my bedroom getting a sweater, and I didn’t know you had gone outside by yourself.”

“Cause cars are dangerous and they can hurt me!”

“Yes, they really can. They can really REALLY hurt you.”

“OK, I will try VERY HARD to not go too close to the road.”

“Can you say you’re sorry, and give Mumma a hug?”

Off he goes, sorries and hugs dutifully given, bouncing and humming once again.

This time, he stops at the top of the stairs.

“Momma, can I go outside?”

“That’s lovely asking, Bonhomme! Yes, let’s go together.”

“Momma, I’m very happy!”

“I’m happy too! I’m so glad we had a good talk.”

“Yup! Momma, watch me!” Bonhomme jumps down each stair individually, swinging his arms for effect.

I’ve been bested by the logic of my 28-month-old – I can’t fault his perfectly articulated argument. But by all that’s holy, I’m not sure I’m prepared for a toddler who is quite so good at advocating for himself. I think I’m going to need my strength.

Why You Should Never Study Economics After Having Children

I live a surreal existence, the rope in a constant tug-of-war between extremes:

  • The emotional vs. the logical
  • The concrete vs. the abstract
  • The immediately real vs. the artificial

I am a madwoman, precariously balanced.

Equipped with a dustpan, I attack the reality of a toddler in a grown-up chair with a grown-up fork eating sir-fried rice.

Equipped with vocabulary, I battle constructed policy discourse that attempts to frame everything while being accountable for nothing.

Equipped with a loving heart, I soothe bitten cheeks, frightening falls, noises that are too loud and mornings that are too short.

But when faced with an indifference trade-off between a $12 surplus and four t-shirts for $6 each, or a $12 cheque, no t-shirts and $24 in cash, all I can think of is the poor soul in desperate need of clean laundry.

Clearly, economics professors have not had enough early-morning exposure to spit-up.

In Contrast

Today is a perfect day.

The sun is shining in a porcelain bowl of a sky, the air is as crisp as a fresh apple, and the birds and chipmunks sing in counterpoint to the traffic rumbling by in a bass beat.

I am absurdly happy.

I know there are a myriad of ingredients that have gone into this recipe, but regardless of how this day manifested itself, I am going to enjoy every last drop of it.

Sure, I’m tired, woken twice by a fretful toddler and once by a snoring husband, but I’m managing.

Sure, I’m stressed, with tests and deadlines and demands galore at school, work and home, but I can handle it.

Sure, I’m back in migraine-management mode, having had a blissful mostly-migraine-free summer, but I know what I need to do to stay on track, and at least in the healthy eating department, I’m achieving balance. The stress-reduction and good sleep habits not so much, but certainly as much as life will currently allow me, I do. No more wine for a while, though, dammit.

But not even the tee-totalling demands of my overly-sensitive vascular system can bring me down today.

I am riding high, and grateful.

What Keeps Me Going When I Can’t Not

Today was a brutal day.

It started by having a book land on my belly at oh six hundred and an insanely chipper voice say: “Momma, turn da light on! I want you to read to me!”

As adorable as the request was, I couldn’t do more than mumble and groan to Bonhomme to go ask Daddy, since I’d been up a quarter of the night settling the now-chipper toddler, who was not so chipper in the middle of the night with a head cold, and up another quarter of the night from the pain of a migraine that multiple codeine doses could barely dull.

And I still had the migraine.

But in to work it was, since I had an early meeting, to be followed by a mammoth 3-hour math tutorial at school, and back to work again after.

I tell you, it’s pretty darn hard to concentrate on linear equations when you can’t walk straight and light of any kind strobes with an intensity that could kill.

And distill a 20-page policy into a half-page user-friendly diagram.

But still, I somehow managed to do both.

Here’s what kept me going through it all (other than continued codeine doses):

1) The sight of an entire field of sunflowers nodding their heads in perfect time, as if dreaming the same sun-drenched sleepy dream;

2) A flock of geese taking wing off of the river, the wind from their choreographed take-off rippling the water like a wave of visible sound;

3) Hours later, a flock of geese landing, their wings like umbrellas floating, steering in tandem in a silent glide;

4) The delighted smile of a fellow bus passenger as she shared that same magical landing, and the secret sense of communion between us; and

5) My son at breakfast telling me to shush and listen, and announcing with saucer-like eyes: “the fridge is snoring!”

Heinous Veinous

Last night, I looked down at my legs, and they weren’t mine.

They were my mother’s. My mother’s legs with the varicose veins and those litle reddish purple tangled up threads that I’ve since learned are spider veins.

Wait a minute.

I’m not old.

I’m not supposed to be old.

Oh. Yeah. I had a kid.

Hmm.

Nope, still not old.

Perhaps, perhaps, not so young.

Apparently, varicose and spider veins are hereditary. It’s not just the excess weight and never enough exercise and age. They really are my mother’s legs. And, varicose and spider veins get worse, and I get to look forward to more of them, with each subsequent pregnancy. Oh, goody. That would go on the con side of the perpetual cost-benefit analysis of having more children.

On the pro side is: more children.

The problem, you see, is that on the con side is: more children.

My mother, and her legs, survived three of us. Only slowly, in drops and dribs and tantrums and tickles, do I begin to understand what that meant. What that means. What that will mean.

I have my mother’s legs. I have a mother’s legs. These legs not only bear me, bare me – they have born a child.

This morning, my legs were a garish canvas. This evening, they are a map.

A Haiku On The Poignancy Of Time

Time fleets. A smooth stone
Skips on the water. Ripples,
Like giggles, soon fade.

My Son, The Foodie

Tonight, we made a feast for dinner, certainly by Tuesday night workday standards: grilled vegetables and steak on the BBQ and pan-fried scallops in butter. Courtesy of some thoughtful shopping on Dearest’s part months ago, and the impending signs of freezer burn noted this morning. When everything was finally set on the table at 7pm, delayed by a surprise evening visit by Grandpapa, Bonhomme was a very understandable bucket of wiggles and whines. I figured the best we could get in him was a slice or two of zuchinni, a previously acknowledged fave.

I was wrong.

Bonhomme said “No!” to the slice of grilled zuchinni on his plate, and very generously transferred it to my plate.

Bonhomme said “NO!” to the slice of grilled egglant on his plate, and again, kindly shared.

Bonhomme said “NOoooO!” to the grilled mushoom on his plate, and ungently plopped it onto my plate.

“What about a scallop, love? You could squeeze some lemon on it.”

Bonhomme gave it due consideration.

Bonhomme keenly watched me gently squeeze my fresh lemon wedge and delicately cut the mammoth, gorgeous, steaming scallop in two and pop it into my mouth.

“Yes, please!” Bonhomme nodded his head decisively.

I placed a scallop on his plate, handed him the lemon, and let him have at it.

Fifteen minutes and four more scallops later, Dearest and I had enjoyed our lovely dinner in relative peace and quiet. Bonhomme had eaten nothing but scallops and steak sauce, although in kindness to readers with Foodie sensibilities, not together.

Bonhomme disolved again into a perfectly legitimate whiny puddle as soon as the scallops were cleared away. Dearest promised five minutes of TV if Bonhomme could manage to get his diaper changed and PJs on with a minimum of fuss. A pleasant toddler again miraculously emerged.

It just so happens that Dearest had come home with a boxed set of Julia Child’s original cooking show, I predictably having expressed an interest after having recently seen Julie & Julia (c’mon, it’s a movie about a blog, you expected me to resist?). Dearest figured that after five minutes, Bonhomme would be begging for storytime and bed.

Dearest was wrong.

Bonhomme sat on the couch, perfectly still, perfectly absorbed.

“Momma, she’s patting! That lady’s patting da dough!”

“Yes, Love, she is! That’s called kneading. She’s kneading the dough, to get all the gluten to stick together and make the dough all stretchy.”

“Yah! She’s kneading da dough! And she’s rolling it!”

“Yup, and now she’s adding the butter. That’s a lot of butter. Oh, and she’s sprinkling some flour on it!”

Bonhomme started kneading pretend dough on me.

“Spwinka, spwinka, spwinka!”

“Momma, she needs to put it in da oven!”

“Yes, Love, she will, but the dough’s not ready yet. It needs to rise.”

Bonhomme started giving instructions to the TV, getting more and more animated.

We watched the entire 30 minute episode, complete with pretend brioche-making on the couch. Bonhomme could not be negotiated with, cajoled or torn away. We even tried bargaining a trade-in of storytime for the termination of the show, but no. We were quickly disabused of this very poor offer.

The end of the show resulted in theatrics. Not on the part of Julia Child.

Off to bed, wailing.

I read Bonhomme an exciting brand-new Harvey The Painter book, and sang him his favourite Mockingbird song (lyrics à la Bonhomme). Bonhomme did not calm down until Momma bought him a brioche, after which when too hot, Momma bought him a copper pot.

“To put in the oven!” Bonhomme told me.

“Yes, Love, a copper pot to put in the oven,” I agreed, kissing him goodnight and making my escape.

To date, Bonhomme has had a love affair with cooking for half of his life. Throughout the cruising stage, Dearest despaired of our livingroom full of colourful, thoughtful, age-appropriate toys only to trip over stacks of cookie sheets and pots covering the kitchen floor. Bonhomme’s first three-syllable words were spatula and colander at fifteen months. The last time I had a friend over for a glass of wine, Bonhomme raced full-tilt to the door, cork in hand, to entreat my newly arrived guest to hurry because it was time to “do da deCANTer!”.

I can’t tell if Foodieism is genetic, or simply contagious.

At the end of the day, I just hope there’ll always be enough scallops left for me.