Thursday, April 30, 2009

The end of an era

These things are so much harder to put together than to take apart, aren't they? Or maybe I've got that the wrong way around.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sleeping around

Field study notes: The sleeping habits of the suburban queer family

Location: Detached, two-story family home in northwestern Ontario.

Subjects: Occupants of house: Two adult women (codenames: Buttercup and Sausage), parents of one four-year-old boy (codename: Quiggy Quoggy Quoo), one toddler (codename: Pwink).


March 2009: Buttercup and Sausage have alternated sleeping on the futon in the basement in order to slow their child-induced, sleep-deprived descent into hell.

April 2009: In an effort to make bed- and night-times smoother, Buttercup and Sausage set up a single bed in Quiggy Quoggy Quoo’s room (hereinafter referred to, with varying degrees of success, as “The Brother Room”) for the thrilled Pwink, who has been longing to share in the bedtime festivities. After some initial bumps, the new system takes hold and all four family members resume sleeping through the night, on one level.

Buttercup, in a flurry of optimism and determination, hauls the double futon up from the basement to Pwink’s former room and declares it “The Spare Room.”

Nothing lasts.

Some highlights:

Wednesday, April 22, 7:30 p.m.: Pwink yells, “Love you!” over and over as Buttercup descends the stairs at bedtime. QQQ complains that Pwink is too loud and decides to sleep in Buttercup and Sausage’s bed. They will transfer him back to his own bed later on in the evening.

4:10 a.m.: Pwink wakes up and announces, “Mama, cuddle!” As a result, QQQ also wakes up and requests cuddles. Sausage climbs in with QQQ and Buttercup hauls the duvet off the parental bed and bunks down with Pwink. She must have slept, because she knows she dreamed (of weddings), but it doesn’t really feel like it. Sausage, whose bed is now duvet-less, sneaks out of QQQ’s bed and goes to sleep in the spare room.

Thursday, April 23, 12:40 p.m.: Pwink goes down for his afternoon nap. Spurns his single bed in the “brother room” in favour of QQQ’s bed. Two minutes in, decides that the futon in the spare room would be best and traipses across the hall to sleep there, exhorting Buttercup to join him. They settle down, he sticks thumb in mouth, and 10 minutes later he is asleep. Buttercup leaves. Later, she may regret not napping with him. But regrets are for the weak. She is not weak. No.

Thursday evening, 8:22 p.m.: Buttercup finds herself lying next to Pwink for 45 minutes until he is completely and utterly asleep. Each time she tries to leave, he wakes up and says, “Mama, night night!”, patting the bed beside him. If she continues to tiptoe out of the room, he starts to cry, forcing her back in so as not to wake up QQQ. Pwink has Buttercup’s number.

Friday morning, 3:30 a.m.: Buttercup wakes because her right arm is COMPLETELY ASLEEP and numb to the touch. This happens more and more frequently of late, and while it has nothing directly to do with the children, it never happened before they arrived and so must somehow be their fault. She turns over and uses her left arm to haul her right arm into a less compromising position and wonders, as she always does, whether the recurrent pins and needles are doing permanent damage, and what would happen if she didn’t wake up: amputation? She goes back to sleep.

5:22 a.m.: Pwink wakes up. Calls out, and in so doing wakes up QQQ. Sausage attempts damage control by bringing Pwink to sleep with Buttercup, except that QQQ follows them both into the parental bed and cannot be persuaded to cuddle up in his own bed with Sausage. All four lie down. Much squirming ensues.

5:32 a.m.: Just as everyone relaxes enough to make Buttercup think that just maybe, sleep might just occur, someone snores. Pwink sits bolt upright and announces, “Noise!” QQQ grumbles about Pwink being awake. Sausage absconds with Pwink to QQQ’s bed to stave off the possibility of all four having to get up. Pwink cries.

5:35 a.m.: Buttercup tells QQQ she will be “right back — don’t move!” and delivers lost blankie to Pwink and Sausage. Pwink continues to cry

5:42 a.m.: Buttercup tells QQQ she will be “right back — don’t move!” But she is lying. She instead climbs into QQQ’s bed with Pwink and Sausage, who immediately stops crying and snuggles. Sausage leaves that ungrateful Pwink and climbs into bed with QQQ. Buttercup, her arm trapped beneath Pwink’s head, stares at the open door and tries to will it closed with her eyes. It doesn’t work.

5:46 a.m.: Pwink asks for water.

6:10 a.m.: QQQ decides it’s time to get up. Buttercup is fairly certain — based on previous experience — that Sausage has coached him on keeping his mouth closed (“Like this!” and mimes buttoning her lips together) and being extra quiet as they descend the stairs. By virtue of the open door and his hawklike hearing, Pwink hears them anyway. Insists on getting up. Insists that Buttercup come with him down the stairs. Buttercup delivers Pwink to Sausage in the kitchen and returns to sleep in her own bed, because it is officially her morning to “sleep in.”

Friday evening, 7:23 p.m.: Sausage finds herself lying next to Pwink until he is completely and utterly asleep. Each time she tries to leave, he wakes up and says, “Mama, night night!”, patting the bed beside him. If she continues to tiptoe out of the room, he starts to cry, forcing her back in so as not to wake up QQQ. Pwink has Sausage’s number. Sausage fall asleep next to Pwink and stumbles downstairs two hours later.

Saturday morning, 2:11 a.m.: QQQ appears in the parental bedroom because he is cold, and insists there is room for all three of them in Sausage and Buttercup’s bed. He climbs in. Buttercup decamps for the spare room.

6:12 a.m.: Pwink wakes up, ready for the day. Buttercup gets up too.

1:04 p.m.: Pwink goes down for a nap. Buttercup who is tired and oddly besotted, take him upstairs and lays him down in QQQ’s bed. When he says, “Mama, cuddle,” she lies down. One day, they will have to break him out this habit, but right now the thing she wants to do most is snuggle up with her baby boy. She’s a sucker. He has her number.

Tuesday night: For a variety of reasons too tedious to detail here, Buttercup spends the night on the futon with Pwink’s feet tap dancing in the small of her back. She does Not Sleep Well.

Wednesday morning, 2:13 a.m.: Pwink appears in the parental bed.

Wednesday morning, 5:15 a.m.: Pwink wakes up, hysterical. Sausage suggests to Buttercup that she should just suck it up and get up with him. Buttercup counters that Pwink will indeed go back to sleep in a few minutes. Sausage decamps for the futon, but is waylaid by QQQ, who has woken up because of all the screaming. Sausage bunks down with QQQ.

Wednesday morning, 5:23 a.m.: Buttercup sucks it up.


And so it goes. I haven’t bed hopped this much since ... aaaaaaaaand, you know? I’m not gonna finish that sentence.

Heads you win, tails I lose

Isaac in 100 words or less: Asks for water, but does not want the water in his glass. The water in his class must be poured into my empty glass before judged acceptable. Then proceeds, repeatedly, increasingly aggressively, to offer me his water, holding the cup to my lips and refusing to be fooled by my pretend sips. Finally, to placate him, I drink some. Whereupon he screeches, “My water! Mine!” Whereupon I tickle him.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Green intentions

Happy Earth Day! To celebrate, Rowan rode his bike all the way to the babysitter’s this morning. That’s the equivalent of approximately two city blocks, but it’s the furthest he's ever gone at a stretch. What a difference a year makes. Last summer, Rowan on his bike was the equivalent of the kid picking flowers in the soccer field, all on, off, on, off, dont let go of the handlebars Mom hey what’s that shiny thing on the ground I’m tired can you push me let’s take the car. Today, he pedaled along steadily. “My bike has magic powers to go over cracks,” he told us, repeatedly. “That's why I'm so good.”

Rachel and I just grinned like idiots. Way back when, before there were children and we had only visions of what children might be like and what astonishing kinds of parents we would be, we both imagined our kids riding bikes. We imagined walking or cycling to school or daycare beside our bike-riding kids. (We actually imagined cycling beside our bike-riding kids as we made our way across, say, the Netherlands, or down the West Coast from Victoria to San Francisco, but I may be getting ahead of myself.)

And today, I got to check that vision off my mental list — always nice when those come to fruition instead of falling by the wayside (“And they will not eat cheese strings”).

My celebrations of Earth Day will continue for the next hour and a half, while Rachel takes both children to Kindermusik and I get my biweekly extra 90 minutes to myself. I have this vision where I will do yoga and some journal/creative writing and screw around on Facebook.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Baby steps

Recently, in an effort to clear up some misconceptions surrounding human anatomy (you will be relieved to learn that girls do not, in fact, “pee out of their bums”), I got out our copy of It’s Not the Stork and sat down with Rowan to have a little chat.

After we clarified — at least, for the moment — the tricky question of the female urethra, we kept turning pages until we got to the pictures of babies in their mothers’ bellies. And I found myself having what appeared to be my first formal “birds and bees” talk with my child.

I’ll save the actual details for another post, but suffice it to say it was all pretty low-key. I communed with my mother, flashing back to the time she made a special trip to the library and got a book — with diagrams — in order to answer my four-year-old questions about how the baby got out of such a small hole. I congratulated myself on my upfront, no-embarrassment, give-just-as-much-information-as-necessary-but-not-enough-information-to-overwhelm approach.

Until Rowan dreamily asked the one question I hadn’t really prepared for: “When are we getting another baby?”

Reader, I snorted. If I’d been drinking coffee, it would have sprayed out of my nose. I immediately felt bad: I mean, seeing that he is a kid, my kid in fact, it might be just slightly rude to suggest that he and his brother have set a precedent I don’t want to repeat. I mean, it’s one thing to shout, as I have, at my ovulating body, “Do I look like I want any more children?” It’s another to scoff at the very idea in front of your own offspring — I mean, it could send the wrong message, you know?

The right message, the true message, is that the two kids we have are the two kids we want. And with every milestone — the crib for sale, the high chair gone, the way these two kids grow and blossom and become more and more their own people, more and more independent — I have no desire to rewind and start over again, times three. I want to run ahead with my boys, not lag behind to nurse their younger sibling or stay home while that baby naps. I’m not ready for another two years of sleep deprivation. I want to cuddle them in the mornings. I want to watch Rowan put on his own coat and boots and help Isaac into his so that they can play outside in the backyard after dinner while Rachel and I have a conversation at the table and then join them. I want to push Isaac on his tricycle as Rowan figures out the two-wheeler with training wheels ahead of us. Forward, not back.

And then Rowan mentioned a few days later that, for his next baby, he’d like twin sisters.

And part of me — the insane part of me, the part of me that’s not be let outdoors on spring days — thought, Oh sure, why not? How bad could it be?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What's springing up around here ...

One of my favourite Bizarro cartoons depicts two kids, dressed in shorts and T-shirts on a summer’s day, staring quizzically at a snowman on the front lawn. “Okay,” says one, “I’ll give it one more week but if it hasn’t melted by then I’m tearing it down. It’s starting to give me the creeps.”

Witness the fossilized pile of snow-cum-dirt in the northeast corner of our front yard. I smacked it viciously with a shovel the other day and barely made a dent. Everywhere else, spring has sprung: the crocuses are budding and the snow has gone. Warmth spreads, but this one, intransigent lump remains. I imagine I will look out the window in July and shrug: “Still there. Hey, are the neighbours performing another exorcism?”

Can you see where I’m going with this? All these flowers and light vying against a hard little heart of stubborn iciness? Exorcisms? Of course: the terrible twos.

They have arrived, the toddlerific moments of ridiculousness. Almost overnight, it seems. Yesterday, during what is ambitiously known as “sharing time” at Rowan’s Kindermusik class, Isaac sat in the centre of a circle of bewildered four-year-olds, desperately grabbing at each instrument and shrieking, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” As I played an alphabet game with Rowan, Isaac kept up a steady chorus of, “My T! My Q!” Last night at bedtime, he insisted on pulling up my shirt to play with my (taut, taut, washboard) stomach. When I tried to get him to stop, he screeched, “My tummy! My tummy! More tummy! Mine!”

And, just in case we weren’t sure that he is hell-bent on world domination, this morning, he looked out the window and shouted, “My moon! MY Moon!”

Oh, honey.

I won't deny that this new season of aggressiveness has its tiresome moments. But I feel for him. He's just capturing his first glimpse of the vastness of the world and his relative insignificance compared to it all — not just his big brother or the hidden treasures of the kitchen cabinet, but the entire damn universe, moon and all. It must be a bit overwhelming.

But, like winter, it too will pass. I'm sure there will be moments where I wish I could take the back of a shovel to the two-year-old attitude. But one day I'll look up and think, “Hey — where did that go?” Assuming, of course, that I have not been entirely beaten into the ground with four-year-old attitude. What do they say? Hope springs eternal.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Passover/Easter fable

Once upon a time, there were two small boys. And their mothers took them from their small town, where the water was not fluoridated, on a small airplane, to (as the larger of the small boys put it) The Land of Toronto, where for two nights in a row they attended enormous family dinners, during which they ran around like madmen with their cousins and ate untold amounts of sugar and watched cable television shows like American Idol and had vast quantities of fun and fell into bed at 10 p.m. without even brushing their teeth they (and their mothers) were so tired and full of glee.

They also drove all around the Land of Toronto, having adventures that involved dinosaurs and subway trains and mud puddles and several of their mothers’ Old Stomping Grounds. And it was good.

Then they went to The Small Town of Guelph, where they ate untold quantities of chocolate Easter eggs and had large family dinners and ran around like madmen with their cousins and stayed up very late watching (appropriately) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The children, though generally delightful, coped with the travel and the influx of sugar and the lack of sleep and the media by occasionally throwing tantrums in the presence of older relatives and eating lots of cheese strings. Their mothers coped by drinking lots of wine. Mostly, they tried to be good parents, which involved, in part, requiring the small boys to brush their teeth after two nights of not.

They took out the small boys’ toothpaste and toothbrushes, whereupon the small boys’ auntie wondered aloud why the mothers were letting the small boys use fluoridated toothpaste.

The mothers explained that the water in their small town was not fluoridated, and that their family doctor had suggested that they use said toothpaste to compensate.

The auntie again wondered out loud why the mothers were letting the small boys use fluoridated toothpaste.

The mothers again explained that the water in their small town was not fluoridated, and that their family doctor had suggested that they use said toothpaste to compensate.

The auntie again began to wonder out loud why the mothers were letting the small boys use fluoridated toothpaste, but stopped herself midsentence when she realized that she was critiquing other people’s parenting and apologized for doing so.

Just then, the larger of the two small boys walked into the room and, for no apparent reason, bonked the smaller of the two small boys on the head. The smaller boy began to cry. The larger boy left the room.

There followed an uncomfortable silence.

Then the auntie said, “Well, maybe if you didn’t let them use fluoridated toothpaste, they wouldn’t be so violent.”

Monday, April 6, 2009

PS: Some good news

Last week, I found out that I was awarded an Ontario Arts Council “Northern Arts” program grant. Now I actually have to write that novel that’s been mouldering in my desk for the past decade. And I will — and I’m making that promise in public. Hold me to it.

ER, adieu

ER ended last week. I haven’t actually watched the show for about five years — I stopped during a particularly depressing point in the storyline, where Mark was dying from brain cancer, and Abby’s schizophrenic mom was giving her grief and Carter and Kem’s baby had just died, as had Kerry’s girlfriend. It seemed like the entire show was shot at midnight: just a whole lot of darkness and doldrums — and a whole lot of acronyms: another MVA, MI, MRI, DUI, GSW to the head, all just rushing into the trauma centre — too many of which seemed to parallel my own life at the time. I was newly pregnant with Rowan, and my mother was dying of cancer. Imagine the tension in the room when we watched, together, the episode when Mark actually died. Her in her hospital bed set up in the family room and me on the couch. No one looking at anyone.

And then, well, then, my mother actually did die, and then Rachel and I had a baby and moved and had little access to cable TV (although I’m guessing that last one is a flimsy excuse, given that ER probably plays on all the free channels in 24-hour marathons), and that particular show fell by the wayside, as did many, many things.

But I still kind of missed it. If all the characters were real people, I would friend them on Facebook and ask them for updates: “Great to see you! It’s been so long! How are the twins? Did Seattle work out?”

I missed it not least for the fact that ER was just full of smart, sexy, professional women who were integral to the storyline (for more on that, see Dorothy Surrenders) — nurses, yes, fantastic nurses, but also doctors. (And not blathering idiot doctors like the whiny whinies on Grey’s Anatomy.) Some of them were even queer.

Of course, the plot that involved Kerry and Sandy and their baby boy, Henry, held a certain weight for everyone in my circles. You remember: bio-mom Sandy, a firefighter, dies, and her homophobic-ass family tries to take the baby away from Kerry. At about 11:01 PM on the Thursday night after it aired, my phone rang. It was my mother. From her hospital bed. She was livid.

“You just make sure that Rachel adopts that baby!” she told me.

“She will,” I said. But then I also tried to comfort her with the obvious. “But Mom, um, you and dad aren’t going to try to take the baby away from Rachel if anything happens to me.”

“Of course we aren’t!” she snapped. “But that doesn’t matter. You just make sure you take care of things!”

“Okay, Mom,” I said. “Okay.”

Which was the right answer, all along. As Rowan will one day discover.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

When preschoolers hand you lemons...

Look what my girlfriend made!

I would say she just whipped it up in the midst of a particularly chaotic Saturday afternoon, but “whipped it up” would imply effortlessness, and this baby was a bit of a palaver. The making, chilling, and rolling out of the dough. The — literal and figurative — lemon squeezing involved in making the filling. The separating of eggs, the beating of egg whites into meringue. The assembly. The baking.

All told, it was a marathon of a pie. Rachel kept apologizing for attempting such a complex feat of baking on a weekend day, with children underfoot. Rangy, rangy, rangy children. “If I’d known it was going to be so much work,” she kept saying, “I never would’ve started this.”

Which kind of sums up how I was feeling about having kids right at that particular moment. Our morning had consisted of a series of tantrums, from adults and children alike, culminating in a tear-stained Rowan running down the driveway just as I was about to put the car in gear, screaming, “I am too going to the maaaaaaaaaaaarket!”

Minutes earlier, of course, he had refused to get into the vehicle, declaring loudly and repeatedly that under no circumstances was he going to the market. Rachel had finally thrown up her hands in disgust and gone back in the house with him, while I and a blinking Isaac, already in his car seat, were left outside. For a brief, shining moment I thought that Isaac and I might have a sweet little date together, sans four-year-old attitude. In the end, I strapped Rowan in, fed him a banana, did some deep breathing, and braved the public with both children, leaving Rachel at home for a blessed hour or two to stare at the wall or do Sudokus or drink herself silly — whatever she needed. She reciprocated that afternoon when I strapped Isaac into the stroller and wandered around the neighbourhood for an hour or two, listening to This American Life on my iPod. As I left, Rachel and Rowan were arguing about whether he could or could not stick his fingers in the mixing bowl while the electric beaters were running.

When I returned, Rachel and Rowan had reached some sort of truce. They had managed, together, to get the pie into and out of the oven. Then they played chase in the basement and read books. The kitchen was spotless. And this beauty was cooling on the counter — cloudy layers just obscuring the sunny sweetness underneath.