Monday, January 15, 2007

I've Moved!

The time has come. You all can find me here, now. Drop by soon!


~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2007, Mary P

Friday, January 12, 2007

Cleanliness is Next to... Of neat freaks and casual mommas...

I am not very concerned with externals. I listen to other mommies... "I left the child with dad, and when I came back, she was wearing odd socks... "Can you believe he took him out in a plaid shirt and striped pants??... "It never fails. If I let dad take her to school, she'll be wearing the same shirt from yesterday!" (Note how it's almost always dads who get skewered.) I listen and I just can't imagine spending all the energy worrying about this stuff. Um, unless it's a wedding or great-gramma's 90th birthday, does it really matter? A while back, when I told a mother that I'd given her son a bath, responded with "Well, if you thought he needed a bath, he must've been filthy!" So, I'm at the casual end of this spectrum. Most moms fall in the middle - they fret a little about tidiness and matching socks and colour-coordination, but they don't go nuts with it. Then there are those at the other end of the spectrum, the Manic Mommies, the Queens of Clean... Some years ago, I supervised a program for 4 to 6 year-olds, and typical for the age, the kids were exuberant, good-tempered, loud -- and often grubby. Except for two children. Little Sofia was the picture of sweet, pink-and-white girlhood. She always wore a dress, always made of some pale and gauzy fabric. Always the white tights. Always the shiny black mary janes. Poor Sofia typically sat out through most of activities, her huge brown eyes wistful but resigned. She could read, do puzzles, colour, and sing. She knew better than risk a drop of paint on her dress. Were this to occur, Outraged Mother would appear, shooting flame, the next day. "Do you know how much that dress cost?" she would roar. When it was suggested that perhaps such valuable items shouldn't be worn for play, she merely snorted. We were to Keep The Child Clean. This pattern was well-established when I arrived. Apparently, artist smocks had been attempted, but they were not up to the job of keeping Sofia clean in the sandbox. Previous supervisors had caved to the furor of the Mother. My solution was simple: a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Sofia was changed the moment she arrived in our program, and changed back again ten minutes before Mother was due. We were never caught out - strange how we all assumed Mother would disapprove - and I can only assume Sofia was canny enough not to mention it at home. The other child was a boy. He arrived sensibly attired in jeans and t-shirt. He was allowed to play, but he was expected to be Clean when his mother appeared. We did our best: washed his hands and face, brushed his hair before Immaculate Momma appeared. Appeared and Inspected. She would stand back a couple of steps before the boy was allowed to approach. No spontaneous hugs allowed here! She would scan him from top to toe. Generally our efforts passed muster, and she would open her arms to him. Occasionally, she would feel compelled to brush his hair or rub a speck of something from his cheek or tuck his shirt into his pants before doling out the Maternal Affection. Then there was the day when the head-to-toe scan went well, the hair and clothes check passed, the face was all right, but, but... Her eyes narrowed. "His nose needs wiping!" she declared, glaring at his primary worker. The worker was justifiably baffled. "I'm sorry, I don't see anything." Immaculate Momma took her son's chin in her hand and tipped the boy's head back. "There! Can't you SEE it?" The poor girl! Astonishment struggled with fury, and fury won. "Mrs. Immaculate." The words spat out from between clenched teeth. "If I can't see it from the front, it's not my problem. I do not get paid NEARLY enough to start picking your son's nose for you." Takes all kinds... ~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2006, Mary P

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Keystone Kids

Out with The Stroller again. Malli has walked the mile to the mall, and now gets to ride in the front seat of the stroller, while Nigel walks alongside. We create our usual stir. This time we pass through a crowd of seniors which includes a couple of class clowns. "You sure you got them all?" one calls. "One-two-three-four! Yup. All accounted for!" I grin at the gents, and slow the stroller so they can see the tots. Encouraged, one bustles around to the front of the stroller and makes as if to sit. "Five!" he calls. "Careful," I warn. "That one in front? She bites." He makes a big deal of leaping forward, clasping his hands to his bottom. All his buddies on the bench chortle. At almost three, Malli understands slapstick, and shrieks with laughter at the grampa and his look of mock-terror. The babies in behind don't get the joke, but respond to her merriment, and soon the air is filled with toddler shrieks, baby giggles and the husky chortles of old men. Good times. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2006, Mary P

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

All Creatures Great and Small

Too cold for the park today; we've been to the library already this week, so it's the coffee shop! One baby on my lap, two in high chairs, Nigel in a big-people chair all by himself, because he is a Big Boy. One latte, four waters, three bananas, and 25 minutes later, we leave. The woman at the next table, a rather severe woman in a very tailored suit, who had greeted our arrival with a dubious stare over the screen of her laptop, was smiling and cooing at the babies by the time we left. When I began stuffing small hands into mittens, she gave a coo of disappointment. "Oh, are you leaving so soon?" A good morning's outing. - - - - - - - - - For some light-hearted reading, one of my long-time favourites is James Herriot, author of a series of wonderful, semi-autobiographical books about his life as a veterinarian in the north of England in the thirties and forties. Mostly laugh out loud stories, some that will raise a lump in your throat, I've read and reread these books countless times - and then read them to my children. The chapters make great bedtime reading for children six and up, I find. Great stuff! ~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2007 Mary P

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rock On!

"You need to go potty? Yay, let's go potty!" Justin is my grand-nephew (I think that's it) - my sister's grandchild. He's interested in and reasonably co-operative with the potty venture, but what he lacks is Staying Power. "Potty!" he'll yodel, and plonk his butt down. Six wriggly seconds later, he's up again. There's no convincing him that he needs to sit still and reeelaaaax in order for anything to happen. He sits, he pops up, he looks in. "No in potty!" "Well, no, hon. You have to wait a little. You have to give it time to come out." My sister is encouraging and patient. He sits, he pops up, he looks in. She's encouraging and patient and completely ineffective. What to do? "Let's read a book, Justy." "Okay!" Justy hauls up his britches and heads for the couch. What? You want me to sit there and read? Everyone knows you read while snuggled on the couch or in bed. You do NOT read with your bare butt hanging over a hole! My sister bemoans this over the phone. "There's no point in using candies. It'll take him three seconds to eat a Smartie, and then he'll be up again. If he knows there's a Smartie possibility, he can't sit still, so I can't even use it to brib - er, motivate." Two days later, Justin's teenage aunt, who had received an iPod for Christmas, comes giggling into the kitchen. "Look, mom!" she giggles. "Justin likes to listen to my music!" Sure enough, there's the little man head bopping, hands clapping to music only he can hear. Head bopping, hands clapping, and... sitting down. Gramma pops across the kitchen, pops out an ear bud. "You listening to music, baby?" "Yeah! Singin'!" "You want to listen to more music?" "Yeah! Singin'!" "Well. Tell you what. Whenever you want to sit on the potty, you can listen to music!!" "So that's that." My sister chortles over the phone. "Now he'll sit for as long as it takes, as long as he can have the iPod. Rock on, Potty Boy!" Some days, parenting can be a breeze: you just have to keep your eyes open to the possibilities. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2006, Mary P

Monday, January 08, 2007

Five Minutes of Conversation on A Single Second's Worth of Vocabulary: the Babies Begin the Odyssey of Speech

"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" "Oh, Emily, that's not your book. That's Timmy's book. Here, you can have a book of your own. Here's your book." Anna looks up. "Buh!" "Book! Good for you, Anna! Emily and Timmy have a book. Book. Does Anna want a book?" "Buh." "All right. Here's your book." Timmy looks over with interest. "Buh!" "Book! Atta boy! Yes, Now Anna has a book, too." Anna waves hers perilously close to Emily's head. "Buh!" "How about that! You can all say 'book'! Book!" We share delighted smiles. (Though really, should I be surprised that this is one of their first words at Mary's house?) Emily laughs out loud. The babies are quivering with the joy of being able to say a word and be understood. There are few thrills like it. Me, I'm awash in the cuteness of my little "buh" triplets. We share a moment of joyfulness. "Anna has a book. Timmy has a book." Not to be left out, Emily adds her two cents. "Buh!" "Yes, Emily has a book, too. There are three books now. One, two, three." "Buh!" "Buh!" "Buh!" Heh, three babies, one word. "Look at all the books. A blue book, another blue book, and a yellow book." "Buh!" "Buh!" "Buh!" "Are you all reading your books?" "Buh!" "Buh!" "Buh!" "Lots of lovely books." "Buh!" "Buh!" "Buh!" Well, I think I've milked this for all its conversation potential. Until their vocabularies expand a bit, this will be what passes for small talk at Mary's. "Buh!" "Buh!" "Buh!" ~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2006, Mary P

Sunday, January 07, 2007

SaBloBoMo, my not-quite-daily book of the day continues: the mother tongue

I love Bill Bryson. This will undoubtedly come as a surprise to him, but he strikes me as the kind of man who could manage the shock. I've read a bunch of his books, starting with my still-favourite, "Notes from a Small Island", a book which had me crying with laughter at points, and which started my mild Bryson addiction. Today's book, the mother tongue, english and how it got that way, is a book I have read so many times that my sweetie (Stephen, not Bill) finally buckled down and bought it for me at Christmas. (On a budget as snug as ours, one does not buy books willy-nilly.) My own copy! That I can write in!! This book is so full of tidbits that's it's impossible to write a brief summary. Reading it of an evening turns me into that most annoying of spouses, the one who, when all are quietly immersed in their books, suddenly ruptures the peaceful air with raucous cackles and demands, "Oh! Listen to THIS!" The blurb in the back cover actually says it well:

With...wit and...insight, bestselling author Bill Bryson...explores the remarkable history, eccentricities, resilience, and sheer fun of the Englsh language. From the first descent of the larynx into the throat (why you can talk but your dog can't) to the fine lost art of swearing, Bryson tells the fascinating, often uproarious story of an inadequate, second-rate tongue of peasants that developed into one of the world's largest growth industries.
Turns out a lot of the oddities of our complex and idiosyncratic language aren't random - they have a reason. Our weird spelling? Blame the printing press. With its advent into England, spelling, which had prior to that been entirely a matter of personal choice, became much more standardized. "Unluckily for us," Bryson notes, this occurred
just at the time when the language was undergoing one of those great phonetic seizures that periodically unsettle any tongue. The result is that we have today in English a body of spellings that, for the most part, faithfully reflect the pronunciations of people living 400 years ago. In Chaucer's day, the k was still pronounced in words like knee and know. Knight would have sounded (more or less) like "kuh-nee-guh-tuh", with every letter enunciated.
(My Middle English prof., speaker of some seven languages and reader of even more, gave us a more Germanic pronunciation - "kuh-nicht", with the "ch" in there being pronounced as the Germans do, an abrasive sound well back in the throat. The sound some of my son's less desirable agemates make when preparing to befoul city sidewalks...) Hey, listen to this. Did you know that the letter cluster ough can be pronounced eight ways?* (Though three of them are largely irrelevant to North Americans, there are still officially eight in the language.) Oh, and have you heard of the lost word "ugsome" - isn't it great? Yes, it means horrible. What else could it mean? (But you can't use it to describe the contents of your baby's diapers - we have a word for that: noisesome, which, oddly, has nothing to do with sound. Bet Bill knows why!) Did you know that English is the only language that has enough synonyms to warrant a Thesaurus? (Wait, now I can't find it in the book. I'm sure it's in here. Where did I read that?) Oh, and that the OED spells "Shakespeare" as "Shakspere", though it "grudgingly acknowledges that the commonest spelling "'is perh. Shakespeare.' (To which we might add, it cert. is.)" What do the surnames Ferrier, Ferraro, Herrero, Kovacs, and Kuznetov have in common?** Oh, listen to this!!
It is a strange and little-noted idiosyncrasy of our tongue [which I have noted, as it happens] that when we wish to express extreme fury we entreat the object of our rage to undertake an anatimical impossibility or, stranger still, to engage in the one activity that is bound to give him more pleasure than almost anything else. Can there be, when you think about it, a more improbably sentiment than, "Get fucked!" We might as well snarl, "Make a lot of money!"
Ha! How about this -- what? Oh, okay. I'll stop now. But really, it's a great read. Bound to educate and entertain you while irritating all within radius of your snickering and exclaiming. Great fun! *though, through, thought, tough, thorough; additionally hiccough (hiccup, over here), plough (mostly plow), and lough ("an Irish-English word for lake or loch, pronounced roughly as the latter"). **they all mean Smith. (I didn't include the German Schmidt - that would've made it too easy!) ~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2006, Mary P

Friday, January 05, 2007

Today's Book

The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp Believe it or not, I only read this book this week! I've heard of Dr. Karp, of course - he's the swaddling doctor - and I was curious. I rarely buy a reference book without reading it first, so I went to the library, and discovered that I was number 48 on a wait list! Popularity doesn't always mean Good Book, however, but it did increase my curiosity. I was able to read it in less than a day. WHAT a well-edited book!! You know, a clearly-written, well-edited book makes reading such a joy. I was a bit skeptical when in the introductory chapter, he said "I was struck by the fact that many traditional baby-calming methods failed to work unless they were done exactly right." "Humph!" I thought. "If that's not a universal cop-out, I don't know what is." When I read his suggestions, descriptions, and instructions, however, I found myself saying, "Well, yes. Of course. Oh, yeah. Every time. That's right." In short, just about every suggestion and observation Dr. Karp makes are things I've noticed and learned myself over the years. Don't you just love it when what you knew all along is "discovered" by an "expert"?? Seriously, though, it is nice to have your opinions confirmed by an expert. In very brief, Karp suggests a "Cuddle Cure" for crying. Specifically aimed at babies under 3 or 4 months old, it can be used for longer; aspects of it can be used for much, much longer. The Cuddle Cure consists of five S's: 1. Swaddling - tight wrapping 2. Side/Stomach 3. Shushing - loud white noise 4. Swinging - any rhythmic, jiggly motion 5. Sucking He shows just how to do each of these: he provides lots of examples; diagrams are blessedly clear (though I suspect it probably helps that I already know how to swaddle); anecdotal support is cheerful and brief. He has a warm manner. I like his common-sense attitude. For example, he cites those who disparage baby swings - "Babies should be in their mother's arms, not in a machine... It shouldn't be called a swing, it's really a 'neglectomatic'!" His response made me laugh: "All this is silly. Thinking you're a better parent because you never use a swing is like thinking you're a better cook because you never use an electric can opener." I wholeheartedly agree. He reminds us, "throughout time, parents have had kith and kin to lend hands of support. In today's mini-families, a swing can help replace that missing extra pair of hands." Indeed. I wouldn't hesitated to give this to any expectant parent; in fact, this book, along with Weissbluth and White, will be my shower gift to a friend who's expecting next month. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2006, Mary P

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Book #2 - Middlemarch, by George Eliot

I read Middlemarch for the first time when I was 19, an assigned book in The Most Boring Class of my University Career. The book was a highlight of the class, but that would be damning it with faint praise. I loved it enough to reread it about once a year for several years. What was its appeal? At the time I would have said simply that I enjoyed the multiple plot strands, a 19th century soap opera. Looking back, I can see that Dorothea Brooke, the heroine of my favourite - and the central - plot line, was a figure for myself at that time. Dorothea, a young and lively woman, through an excess of Mental Purity, Moral Principles, and misguided High-Mindedness, marries herself to an elderly scholar. In her youthful pride, she rejects the wise counsel of her younger sister, who attempts to warn her off this union - what has a Serious Young Woman like Dorothea to learn from a frivolous little airhead like Celia? With all the fervour of her passionate being, she subjects herself to her new husband, and to supporting him in his noble studies, thus, she believes, assisting in bringing Good to the World. Gradually, she realizes that her elderly husband is neither particularly noble nor good, and that his studies, even should they ever reach fruition - an unlikely possibility - will produce only a dessicated tome, a fitting memorial to the self-absorbed egoist that is her husband. Looking back, I think the appeal of Dorothea to me were our similarities. She honestly strives to live according to laudable principles; her desire for moral and spiritual self-improvement resonated with the 20-something me; but her self-abegnating arrogance and naivety lead her to choose a path of emotional self-destruction - 'course, I didn't see that at the time. She escapes, and the tale ends happily for Dorothea, but it's a near miss. I made a few significant life decisions out of similarly good, but completely misdirected intentions and misapplied principles. It took me far longer than Dorothea to extricate myself, but I, too, have achieved my happily ever after. Nice when that happens. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2006, Mary P

Just Post Awards

justpostdec2006 Like many of my friends, I have a vaguely benevolent attitude to the rest of the world: I feel sad that there are homeless, I am pleased that gays have the right to marry in my province, I am angered by the plight of abused women and children. But, I confess, it rarely goes beyond feelings. We have foster kids in third world countries, I routinely drop a loonie or a twonie in an outstretched hat, or buy them a sandwich and a coffee and talk, and I make regular monthly donations to a couple of charities that matter to me. But what do I do? Not a whole lot, really. Thus I was delighted when the ever-compassionate and passionate Jen of Girl Plus Two joined forces with a Mad friend of hers to create the Just Post Awards. This award will go to a post you've found about social justice or activism, that touches you. What a great idea, huh? Here's how it works: 1a. Send your nominations to Mad, at madhattermommy (at) hotmail (dot) com, or to Jen at girlplustwo (at) yahoo (dot) com by the 8th. All nominated posts will appear on both sites on the 10th. 1b. In your email, please include the url for the nominated post and the url for your blog as well. 3. When they send you the code for the button, you get to give it to your nominee! 4. Then on the 10th, you write a post explaining why the nominated post spoke to you and link your post back to Jen and Mad. I'm thinking that by getting exposure to different thoughts on the idea, by seeing what other people are passionate about, what others are doing, I might be inspired, see how I can cast a little more light in my bit of the planet, physically, practically, in my here and now. So, be on the lookout! Or better, be inspired, and maybe write a post that might be nominated. Let's enrich the blogsophere - and the Real World, too. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2006, Mary P

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Challenge for January, should you choose to accept it...

...from Sassy Student. Posting challenge for January: "a book...every day, all month long. If you'd like to participate, please do! There are no rules, except you must post a book every day. It can be a book you love, a book you hate, a book that impacted you. Whatever you wish. You may review it, or just tell why it matters; you may post a picture from Amazon or your own copy. Whatev. Up to you." I'm three days late starting, but I'm in, along with Angela and Lara, for as many days of the month as I can manage! Given that I have easily read several thousand books in my life, this couldn't be too hard. (Could it?) In fact, this came along at a perfect time, because I'd promised myself before Christmas that I was going to tell you about a book, a lovely book I received early in December from the lovely Sarah Riley at Sourcebooks. Sadly for its curb appeal, or whatever term applies to books, it has a pretty lame cover. The artwork is great, but the layout is not. The colour choice is poor - blue dragon and purple sidebar?? Three different fonts in the title? In three different colurs? Ick. It doesn't cohere. And that list down the left? Really ick. It made the book look like a magazine - a cheap and chintzy magazine, the kind that clutter supermarket checkout lines. Open it up, though! Open it, and it's not chintzy, not at all. Inside the covers, you'll find poems of every flavour and style imaginable. The artwork is lush, the paper lovely, the size and heft just right for balancing on a lap. There are "kid poems", there are poems you mightn't expect to see in children's poetry book. Like all of the best childrens' books, this is one the adults will enjoy reading every bit as much as children will enjoy hearing it read. This book has staying power. Those selections which don't catch your child's attention this year will probably grab him/her next year. I read through the book on my own, savouring the slither of the glossy pages over my palm, drenching myself in the colours, wallowing in the words. Then I read it with the tots. Somewhere it indicated that the book is best for children 3 and over, and so I found it. The under-threes enjoyed the snuggling and the pictures, and the bouncing on my knee. What? Don't you bounce when you read a good, gallumphing poem like

A baby kangaroo is called a joey. His early life's a little vertigo-y Since Mama's always bouncing like a ball." (From Joey by Brad Leithauser)
And don't you laugh outright at the wonderful awfulness of 'vertigo-y'?? But the under-threes soon tired of the book, and were wriggling to get down, long before George (four and a half) was done listening. I discovered some old favourites, like Kipling's:
I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who.
(Not nearly as earnest and teacher-y as it might seem from the first four lines. The last line will have every parent of a three-year-old chuckling in rueful recognition. Or maybe, some days, screaming it to the heavens!) - The Tale of Custard the Dragon, an Ogden Nash favourite, is sadly truncated. While I understand why it might be difficult to put all of a lengthy poem in a short anthology, you really must go out and find the whole story - and not leave poor Custard stranded in ignominy, before he achieves his triumphant finale! - And of course, A.A. Milne. (Halfway Down the Stairs) AND! The book comes with a CD, an auditory treat. (For those who are uncertain of their ability to read poety aloud, give it a listen - and you will discover, as I did, that being able to write poetry is no guarantee that you'll read it especially well... You'll also realize that it's hard to do it wrong. Just do it!) The disk enriched the book for me. I'd not have given James Berry's "Okay, Brown Girl, Okay" a second reading had I not heard Mr. Berry read it. Suddenly I understood layers I hadn't grasped in my initial reading. (Granted, I read with three wiggling under-threes, who had decided about now that they were done with this book, thanks, and maybe they'd rather charge about waving the rainstick in the air.) I love the simple, telling metaphors in the poem, the compassion and encouragement he offers Josie. "All the time, brown girl Josie is okay." Lovely. As Mr. Yeats is with us no longer to read A Faery Song, the lilting Irish voice of Paul Muldoon will do quite nicely, thanks. I listened to it several times over, before discovering to my delight that he reads the next one, by Rainer Maria Rilke, too. And then!! AND THEN!! I was wandering about the livingroom, no longer, I confess, listening raptly to the tracks, until this utterly gorgeous - goooorgeous - creamy rich voice oozes from my speakers. The cadence catches me immediately. I know that poem. Who could ever read Poe's The Raven without having the beat of it impressed permanently in your brain? What? Your grandfather didn't read this out loud to you, your small body rocking to the rhythms of the words, and, as you got older, your mind enjoying the spookiness of the tale? Because of course grandad always read it on rainy nights. Heh. And the voice? Basil Rathbone. Oh.My.God. You'll buy the book on the strength of this track (track 36), whether or not you have kids. It's only an excerpt of the poem, but, oooo, yummm... George's favourite was Rabbit (which, sadly, blogger can't allow me to space properly). All the 'bits' should line up, one above the other, like (as the poet explains on the disk) a spine.
A rabbit bit A little bit An itty-bitty little bit of beet...
George liked the clear beat and the tongue-twister quality. He went home today reciting "better bitter beet than none". I think he'll be getting this book for his birthday in the spring! Okay, enough rambling. You can go buy the book now. Me, I'm going to listen to track 36 again... ~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2006, Mary P

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What I Got for Christmas

There's always one gift that stands out from the rest. The book was great, the calendar funny, the wine glasses pretty and much-needed, and the hinged seat for my piano bench will be hugely useful (when it's finished, Adam), but it was this one that will be The Gift of 2006. Lovingly handcrafted by Haley, we have...

Sock Monkey Mary.