Thursday, January 29, 2009


A friend of ours called the other day to see if she could borrow our copy of Siblings Without Rivalry. Her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, it seems, is having some difficulties surrounding the arrival of her baby sister, now two months old.

“How long did it take Rowan to get over Isaac being born?” asked our friend.
I sighed. “I don’t think Rowan has got over Isaac being born,” I said, as gently as I could.

There was a small silence on the other end of the phone. “Ohhhh,” she said, after a moment.

It’s true that, a short while after Isaac was born, Rowan went a bit berserk — a couple of weeks of weepiness and regression that we attributed less to the arrival of his brother than to the chaos that arrival set in motion and the subsequent disruption of his own schedule: a round of visits from family and friends, a trip to Toronto, all of which coincided with his babysitter going on vacation. After the initial brouhaha settled down, so did he. Even finished the potty-training project we had all decided to put on hold.

But getting over Isaac? I’m guessing that’s a potentially decades-long project. Which doesn’t mean that Rowan doesn’t adore Isaac: just this morning, the two spent twenty-odd gleeful minutes together taking turns throwing the vintage Fisher Price push toy down the basement stairs. They wrestle, they dance, they sing, they cuddle, they hug and kiss goodnight. They play together independently upstairs while Rachel and I finish dinner.

But it is just as likely that Rowan will choose to bash Isaac over the head with the vintage Fisher Price push toy. Several times an hour, Rowan will charge at his brother like a belligerent goat, screeching, “Nananananananananaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” while Isaac shrieks in protest. There are serious sharing issues. And there is rarely a toy in Isaac’s hot little hands that Rowan doesn’t immediately, passionately, desperately need right now.
Rowan is not over Isaac.
But, isn’t that kind of the point? Rowan is not over Isaac, any more than Rachel and I are over either of them, any more than we’re over each other. Any more than Isaac is over any of us. We may be over — so over — that high school crush, that toxic friend, the ex with commitment issues, the Atkins diet.

But we are, the four of us, perpetually, just getting started.

Monday, January 26, 2009


In the late 1970s, my mother bought herself a dress made out of — you know it — Ultrasuede. It was fantastic. Not because of the styling, which I vaguely remember as light tan in colour, perforated with a pattern of tiny holes. Because of the way it felt. Sometimes I snuck into her closet just to touch that dress, to run my fingers back and forth across the nap of the fabric, which was softer than anything else I knew. She wore it to synagogue services one year, and spent the better part of three hours in a silent, futile battle with me, trying to get me to stop stroking her sleeve.

She called it “nudging,” (pronounced noodje, like book) a Yiddish term that translates to “pestering” or “badgering” or “annoying” — as in, “Mom, can we have ice cream? Can we? Can we? Can we have ice cream? Can we have some now? Ice cream? Can we? Have some? From the freezer? Now? Ice cream?”

Or, “Have you emptied the dishwasher?”

But nudging to me is always physical, not verbal, a form of silent intimacy that falls somewhere on the continuum between bliss and torture. My six-year-old compulsion to touch my mother's softsoftsoft sleeve. A small foot pushing against my thigh underneath the dining room table. Isaac stroking my hair: “Nice! Nice!” The way Rowan does up and undoes the buttons on my cardigan as he talks to me, or picks the lint off my sweater. A baby asleep on your chest, clutching your T-shirt in his tiny fist. Isaac’s thumb in his mouth, his fingers working the satin and fuzzy fabrics of his blankie. The way a cat pushes her head underneath your hand, the way a child creates a lap by falling into it, the way a bedmate turns her back to you for spooning, ready or not.

There are the large intimacies of parenting, those surrounding conception and pregnancy, birthing and nursing and feeding and cleaning and such. There are the children sticking their fingers into your yogurt and then into your nose. But, I think sometimes, that families are made just as much by the tiny intimacies, the nudges that only they can — just barely — get away with.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Old cat, new tricks

Every day, the cat jumps up onto my desk and stands in front of my monitor, obscuring my work. She tries to drink from my water bottle; meows repeatedly, piteously; knocks pens to the floor; generally forces me to acknowledge her presence by making a nuisance of herself.

And every day, I find myself thinking, “Why is Lola being such a pain?”

And every day, after about 20 minutes of this, I realize that she’s hungry. And I haul my ass off my yoga ball and put some food in her dish. And peace is restored.

I don’t know why I don’t clue in earlier. We’ve had this cat for, oh, nine years. And still, this one lesson doesn’t seem to permeate. Kind of like how, at the same time each month, I wonder why everything suddenly seems visible only through grouch-coloured glasses, or why I’m weepy for no particular reason

Or how I can catch myself despairing at a four-year-old boy who is forcing me to acknowledge his presence by making a nuisance of himself, who is insisting that Everything I Do Is Wrong. And then I actually think for a minute, and, without saying anything, I hand him a banana or a plate of cheese and crackers or a glass of milk. Which he silently ingests. And peace is restored.

(Cat bowl by Toronto designer Wendy Tancock)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Literary breakthrough

I’m sorely aware that I don’t blog nearly as much about Isaac as I should. I suspect it has something to do with language, and with the complexities that language brings. Isaac is talking up a storm these days — I recently tried to make a list of his words and stopped counting at 50 — but he is not, say, telling stories. Mostly, he is emptying cupboards of pots and stacking empty yogurt containers on top of each other and harassing you to lift him higher so that he can set a final one on top. He is repeating the phrase, “Good job!” over and over, patting his own self on the back each time he makes a move, leaving us confident in his burgeoning self-esteem. He is obsessed with all things tea-related, particularly teapots, proving that he truly is Rachel’s boy. “Tea!” can also mean, however, that he wants to brush his teeth, and we also occasionally mistake it for cheese. Which can also mean the camera. And so on. For all his words, he is still a bit of a shriekyhead, a habit I am trying to discourage by telling him to — what else? — use his words. To which he responds, sweetly, “Beep beep!”, an approximation of, “Up, please!”

But Isaac is definitely becoming more complex, language and all. And one of the ways that’s becoming apparent is that he will actually permit us to read him a few pages at a time of a book these days.

Which is a kind of exciting. Unlike his brother, who loved being read to from Day One, Isaac has never been interested in books. I would describe his attitude towards reading as, perhaps, hostile. He shut books if you tried to open them in his presence. Pushed them away. Occasionally threw.

But maybe, just maybe, he’s on track to discover the joys of classics like Harold and the Purple Crayon and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (which is even funnier once you’ve grown up and see just how exhausted and put-upon the parents look). In any case, last Thursday, I think I even managed to get through three quarters of the abridged version of Hands, Hands, Fingers, Thumb. And, this morning, he actually pulled a book off the shelf (My First Shabbat), carried it over to the couch, climbed up, and began leaf through it — if “leafing” is a term one can apply to board books.

(There have been other milestones of late, which I will duly note here for posterity’s sake: the Sleeping Until 7 AM. The Sitting in a Chair at the Dinner Table. The Gradual, Self-Imposed Weaning. The Fourth Molar. The Cuddling of Rachel in My Presence. The Beginning of Imaginative Play — on Sunday, we spent a good half-hour ferrying stuffed animals into his crib; he kissed each one and told it, "Night night!”)

All of which is by way of saying: Internet, I expect you'll be seeing a lot more of Isaac in the next little while.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I can’t knit any more. Too many decades of constant computer use have left me with repetitive strain disorders and carpal tunnel syndrome. From my fingertips to my shoulders, I’m essentially a train wreck, a bundle of tingling nerves and sulky muscles that rebel any time I type more than a few sentences or click my way through too many Etsy pages.

I’ve compensated by turning to voice dictation software, ergonomic mice and keyboards, a yoga ball instead of a chair, and by practicing certain forms of restraint. Like making the decision to stay away from online Boggle’s siren call. And giving up knitting.

It’s been a sacrifice, especially for someone who has a tiny bit of a problem with compulsion. Basically, I’m a productivity junkie. I like to keep busy, and I find it difficult to watch television without also doing something “useful” — a character trait of mine that Rachel barely puts up with (“When I watch television, I want to ... watch ... television,” she will say, when I suggest that we could fold a couple of loads of laundry while catching up on season three of Weeds.). Knitting was a perfect way for me to quell the voices while getting in good-quality bad-television time.

Mostly, I have come to accept the fact that my knitting career is over, although every so often I think that maybe I can find some small way to jump back on the craft bandwagon. So when my friend Judy, who has of late been indulging — beautifully, heartbreakingly beautifully — her own knitting and felting obsession, mentioned that she was going to repurpose a couple of hand-knit sweaters into felted mittens, I offered to unravel them for her. If I couldn’t knit something, I figured, I could un-knit something and make myself useful.

I made that suggestion on a Sunday morning, at Judy’s house, where my family had descended upon hers for our standing brunch date. I was thrilled to be there, mostly because being there meant that I wasn’t at home on a frigid morning corralling increasingly edgy children.

Or maybe I’m the one who’s edgy. Lately, I’ve been finding Rowan more challenging than I usually do: chalk it up to some combination of bronchitis (his and mine), PMS (mine), defiance (his), and a general ranginess, but I’m not exhibiting all the qualities that I would like to exhibit as a parent in terms of patience, modelling appropriate behaviour, and the like. Midway through the weekend, I had nearly had it, and the prospect of French toast at Judy and her partner, Jill’s, house was exactly what I needed.

We came home from brunch with a sweater. Isaac napped, Rowan watched a video, Rachel read, and I sat at the dining room table blissfully picking out the sweater seams. The day passed, more or less a study in average parenting skills and equally average four-year-old behaviour. Before bedtime, I sat on the couch with Rachel and Rowan as she read stories to him and I unravelled a sleeve.

“What are you doing?” he asked me.

I explained my project to him.

“Can I do it?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, passing him the sleeve.

And we sat together in silence for a good 15 minutes, working together, him pulling the yarn intently, me winding it around itself into a ball — our own little prayer service (I asked for more patience and more parental grace) at the Church of Craft.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Changing constellations …

On the last day of our visit to Toronto in December, I had some time to kill and an energetic child to entertain, so I took Rowan to the billiards room in my father’s new condominium building, and we shot some stick.

I haven’t played pool regularly since my undergrad days in Montréal, when my roommate, Lori, and I lived across the street from a bar unfortunately named the Copacabana. We and the rest of the theatre crowd became regulars, ordering happy-hour specials of two half-pints of St. Ambroise and other Québec microbrews before such things were fashionable, and playing dollar-a-game pool for hours at a time.

Eventually, I got good enough that I could occasionally run the table for a few games at a time, sometimes even winning against long-time regulars like the musclebound guy with the mullet we nicknamed Fabio. It got so that I would drop in for a couple of games most days after class. We got quite chummy with the owners, Alberto and Albino, who would occasionally unlock the table and let us play for free. Alberto even deigned to lend me his custom cue, stored in the supply cupboard. One spring day, shortly after graduation, Lori and I dropped in for a beer during lunchtime, and two middle-aged Portuguese gentleman, friends of Alberto’s, challenged us to a game. Much to everyone’s surprise, we won handily — I’d like to think by banking the eight ball at some difficult angle — and they bought us a couple of rounds.

Oh yeah, I was a hustler. (Now stop laughing.)

Much has changed since my Copa days.

Not just the setting — trade seedy bar on the Main for genteel condominium residence at Lawrence and Bathurst, for one. Or the company. Or the fact that I’m no longer that constantly heartsick young thing, personal soundtrack set to one of ani difranco’s angry albums — the one who lost too many games because she was too worried about people watching her to keep her eye entirely on the ball.

Or the rules. I used a cue to try to sink balls; Rowan used just his hands to whiz them across the felt and into the pockets. He did not take turns. He did not wait for me to line up shots. He took balls out of pockets and put them in others, knocking them into each other and out of my sightlines. I took shots more or less randomly, lining things up as best I could and hitting the cue ball before I was sure, before everything inevitably shifted in front of my eyes. Every time Rowan sunk a ball, he crowed, “I won!” And every time I managed to get one in despite the chaos of the table, he was equally supportive: “You won! Good job, Susan!”

In short, a microcosm of life with children. We had a blast. I can’t wait to do it again, and I can’t wait to visit him and his brother when they are cocky, twenty-something pool hustlers, and play a few games over a couple of pints of local microbrew, wherever that may be.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Pride and joy

Lest you think that bronchitis has brought out the best in my children, I thought I would share a little fantasy (and, I stress, it’s a fantasy) I’ve been harbouring of late:

You know those Wild Kingdom, National Geographic–kind of TV shows, the ones with long shots of the animals on the African veldt, the elephants trumpeting and the gazelles leaping and the lions stalking the gazelles?

Eventually, they always cut to a shot of the lions lolling about, full after the kill, with the cubs wrestling in the dirt around their parents. And eventually one cub or another gets a bit too close or a bit too uppity or refuses to put on its snowsuit and the mother lion half snarls and picks up her heavy paw and whacks the cub sideways with it.

And the cub rolls off, ass over teakettle (I fear I’m mixing metaphors here, but what the hey). If there were a sound effect it would be from a cartoon, and it would go something like i-bid-ee-i-bid-ee-ib-ib-ib-i. And the cub eventually comes to a stop and gets to its feet and shrugs and shakes itself off and goes back to playing, but with JUST A LITTLE BIT MORE RESPECT.

Until the next time.

Sometimes, thinking about that is what gets me through the next five minutes.

Friday, January 2, 2009

With bronchitis ...

... in both children. (And, said our GP, if I’m not careful, in me, too.)

And then I lost $80, just ... oh, somewhere on the street. Although I seem not to have shed the thin layer of morosity coating my outlook just right now. (I will say quick prayers of thanks for antibiotics, universal health care, and the fact that we actually have a GP, and that she will see us on short notice.)

And how is 2009 treating you?