Definitely Smaller

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

There is a joke in my family. Every few years, my turn to pick out the tree would come around and I inevitably chose the biggest tree that I could. I always pitched for the bigger trees, but got shot down by my practical parents who knew that the 15 foot tree wasn't fitting in the house with 6 foot ceilings.

So, when I made my own "home", I got to choose the trees. ME! ALL ME! I think I started out pretty reasonable....and have gone mad with Pine-frenzied power. Sadly, I have also infected my daughter who now feels the normal sized tree is "too small". I apologize in advance, future partner of my child. For clearly, you will be suckered into hauling 100 pounds of tree into the house and hoisting it up into the living room.

Here is a picture of last years tree. After my yelling at Terrance for chopping off "too much of the trunk", it ended up measuring 10.5 feet in our living room. Come on now, I still had Plenty of room with that cathedral ceiling.

 Of course, I also was worried that it wouldn't be big enough - cause it did look kind of small in the field.


We went off to find a Christmas tree in Montreal today.

Now, you have to understand - for the last 14 years, I have tagged and cut my own Christmas tree.

The routine is such:

Go to Christmas farm in October. Walk amongst the warm fall fields and find the perfect tree. Tag the tree with long pink ribbons. Pay the Tree Farmer our $28 dollars for an over 6 foot Balsam and get our organic pumpkins as our free "thank you".

Come back the second week of December and have a mug of mulled cider with the tree farmer. Walk out to the snowy field and find our tagged tree. Watch your child dance about in the field as your husband works on cutting down the tree. Place tree in sled and pull it over to your car to tie it on your roof. Drive the mile back to your house, and pop the tree in the stand.  Last years tree was ten and a half feet tall.

Aw, Life in the country. Can't get fresher.

Not so much the way it happened here in Montreal.

We drive down to the Florist's shop - The HORROR! A FLORISTS SHOP!!!

And look at trees that are already cut down and bound up in netting or tied to the fence. I see a potential tree.  Emily and I circle the tree like wolves. We assess the tree. I fluff the branches up to smell the balsam. Emily rubs the needles.

We smile at each other. We like this tree. True - it's big. Perhaps the biggest on the lot. It's not ten and a half feet, but still. Terrance stands to the side and waits for us to choose.

We agree, this is the tree we want. Terrance agrees too.

Then the price is given....


Terrance controls his facial features beautifully. He barely bats an eye. We tie the tree to the car roof and drive the mile home.


Spacial distinctions are clearly not my strong point.

December 2007, Gimlet Eye

Only One Reason

Sunday, November 27, 2011

This morning, sometime unnaturally early, my daughter woke me up to tell me this:

"Mama. Mama. I can't sleep. I want to but my body just WON'T! What do I do?"

She woke up a mother who had, in the past two days, gotten about 4 hours of sleep. She woke a mother who, experience has taught her, must get 8 hours of undisturbed sleep in order to not resemble Medusa.

Yes. My brave daughter.

I don't know exactly what I mumbled to her. I suspect it was along the lines of "Just close your eyes and stop talking'.

This morning, however, I brought the topic up again.

"Why did you wake me up last night? Did you wake me up to TELL me that you couldn't sleep?"

"Yes", she replied, all sunshine and happiness.

"From here on in, there is only one reason that is valid enough to wake me you understand?  That reason is the violent production of a bodily fluid in a manner which is NOT expected...Bleeding, vomiting..... are you feeling me here? Waking me to  Tell me you can't sleep? Not even nearly good enough."

"Yes, Mama." She smiles, demurely, kissing my belly as I wait in line for my coffee.

August 10, 2007 Gimlet Eye

(Psst...Now she just heavily stomps by my room over and over, sighing heavily, until I lift my head in defeat)

Service and Sacrifice

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What does it mean to serve? What is sacrifice?

These are the type of questions which rattle around in my brain with alarming regularity.

Perhaps it is because my biological father was a Marine who enlisted in 1969 during the Vietnam War and large portions of my childhood were spent on bases in the Southern US surrounded by other men and families who were part of the military. Perhaps it is because my mother, despite her other issues, has been a dedicated RN who has continually worked as a patient advocate in her nearly 40 years of nursing, serving in Labour and Delivery, Oncology, Pediatrics and Geriatrics units.

Service is ingrained in me as part of what it means to work. To Work is to Serve.

I have been surrounded by the telegraphed idea that the importance of "Me" is nothing when compared to the importance of "We" - that My comfort, my financial prosperity, my rights as a human have never superseded the rights of others

I pass this trait to my daughter who told me of the whining and bitching of her classmates when it was announced that they would - as a class - be volunteering sorting and folding clothes at a Salvation Army. While Emily actually is looking forward to going, her peers threatened to be absent or have their parents excuse them from service.

It simply puzzles me when I run into children or adults with the attitude and ideology that they are above or beyond being responsible to the other people in their communities ( or planet). And while I am loathe to be judgemental, it just feels selfish which is anathema to me.

Of course it is fashionable now to proclaim the rights of the individual as being beyond the rights of all and in our sick bizarro world the Privileged co-opt language to show that it is They who are wronged, they who are oppressed.  I mean I can hear the phone calls now, can't you? "How DARE you make my child volunteer at a Salvation Army? I am her parent and if I WANT  her to volunteer, then I would Choose for her to volunteer!"

Yet all we can do, those of us who serve, is to keep working, keep going, hoping against some hope that the value of All can somehow be seen by people who are blinded by the value of their One.

Which is, of course, a fruitless struggle. Yet still, we hope. And work on. 

Thanksgiving 2005

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Most of you have never gone back into my blog archives to read some of the truly Baleful Regards classics....This being one of many and the trip where the classic phrase "can the Baby get a Hot Dog?" was used repeatedly by my mother-in-law, causing me to almost push her in front of traffic in my attempt to stop her from buying my child a sure-to-make-her-violently-ill cart hotdog in downtown New York. In addition, Terrance and I had secured staging tickets at the Macy's parade, meaning we were going to see the floats LIFT OFF!  Plus I got hassled by the fuzz AND obsessed about bed bugs - so really it was fun for everyone! Enjoy.

Prior to telling you the parade story, I will treat you to the vision outside my office window. I have a corner cubicle, so although it is a cubicle, it feels as if I have an almost enclosed space. What makes it the BEST, is that I am on the 4th Floor and on an old mental institution campus grounds. Well, maybe that's a little creepy, but The old Elms on the grounds are gorgeous. Today was misty. The snow is melting, and it causes a fog to linger over the ground.

Basement 010

Ok, so we were staying at this studio apartment on E80th, between Park and Madison. Prime Location for museums, the park, et al. Thanksgiving morning arrives and I, sleepless from my night wedged in one small side space between two flailing bodies, moan as my husband gets up and announces that he's going for coffee!! He then further announces that I should get up and get us ready!!! Cause we're going to the Parade!!!!

My husband is totally a city person, He thrives on this energy. I myself feel ambivilent about most cities. I like the culture they offer, and the possibilities of cuisine that I can not get in the woods of New England, but am wary of the smelliness, and having my personal space bubble encroched upon, and waitstaff of whom I an unsure of their personal hygeine habits. That, and my new found fear of bedbugs - which I swear crossed my mind looking at those sketchy sheets even before I read the accursed NYTimes article.

I mumble at him something about "I'd rather live in the fifth circle of purgatory" and roll over to go back to sleep, since without his manly body taking up 2/3rds of the bed, I now have some space and the blood is returning to my legs.

He walks the brisk 3 blocks to one of the 8 billion Starbucks and then, knowing his wife, calls me to remind me to get up out of bed and get ready. Of course, his call comes at the p-re-cise moment I am finally falling to sleep. To add insult to injury, my ring tone is currently 'Ol Dirty Bastards "Baby I got your money", which jolts me to conciousness as if 'Ol Dirty was gyrating next to my ear, his gold grille a-grinnin. "Oh, oh yeah, baby I got your money, do-do-do-do-do, baby I got your money!"

The words that sprang from my lips were nothing close to "Happy Thanksgiving". I believe my daughter was treated to "Jesus Fucking Christ, what the fuck could you want?" - which is the traditional Thanksgiving greeting in my family. A little known fact.

Terrance: "Are you up? Are you getting Em ready? It isn't so cold as last night. I think it will be a great day to get out and see the parade."
Dawn: "I don't want to go. I am exhausted. I was almost back to sleep. Where the hell are you?"
Terrance: "Dawn, get up and get Emily ready, at least."
Dawn: ( showing how low her mothering standards have become) "Do I have to wash her or can I just put clean clothes on her?"
Terrance: "Just get her dressed, I 'll be back in a few minutes"
Dawn: "You better bring me the biggest cup of coffee they have"

So, I rustle my child out of bed and dress her. I wash her face. I am not sure if I made her brush her teeth or not. I don't think I did. I bundle her up and greet Terrance with grunt as I crawl back under the pillows. They leave. I lay in bed. I start to feel guilt. I mean, C'mon. I am in New York on Thanksgiving Day. I am across the park from the start of the parade. I am now watching pre-parade event on NBC. Terrance calls. He rubs it in. I hang up. I sip my coffee, and lie abed. I call him back. I inquire as to where exactly he is. He mocks me further. I hang up and ponder my sorry ass state further.

I watch the beginning of the parade. I call him again. He picks up the phone and laughs at me. He answers: "You can't stand it, can you? It's KILLING YOU, isn't it?"

Yes, it is. It is killing me. I leap up, shower and get dressed. The parade is well underway. This is the view from where Em and Terrance were stationed:

Thanksgiving05 008

Thanksgiving05 010

Clearly a fucking awesome spot.

I make it across the park and get to w81st. I call Terrance. "Where are you?", says he.
Me: "I am on the other side of the street....How do I get across? There are barricades every where!"

T: "Just run across the street!"

Me: "I can't there are police everywhere. Hey, there is the little Jai from Queer Eye. Man, he's SMALL! But he has really nice skin."

T: "Just run across, no one will stop you!"

I walk up and down the street nervously. I may be a bad ass in theory, but I am hesitant to jump out at the Macy's parade where there are many, many security people, all looking like Osama may be thinking about attacking Super Grover. I am a white woman - 5 foot four. I feel that I look very non-threatening, but these guys don't look festive or happy or anything.

I decide to make my break for it in front of the Budweiser Horses. I see a couple of police officers watching me, but keep my eyes averted and act as if I am a New Yorker - annoyed at such frivolity. I have to actually move a barrier to get across and begin my brisk walk to the corner of 81st. Woo-hoo. I am almost there.

Apparently not. The 2 cops at the corner point at all of us walking and say "You have to go around the other side." huh? All the way around the block? They ain't hearing a thing. I watch a few intrepid souls give it a go, trying to explain why they need to get by. No, No, and No.

I give up and turn back to walk around the block. Sigh. I call Terrance and explain that I have to walk around the block to get to him.

T: "Hurry up, you're missing the best stuff!!!"

I get to the corner and make my way to swing around. I large black police officer puts his body in front of me. "Where you headed to, ma'am?"

Me: "Over there, my family is waiting for me right over there. In front of that hotel."

I smile at the nice black man, making good eye contact. This has always worked in New England, and even in Detroit. But then again, I am always accompanied by my husband.

This time, it doesn't work. He is not impressed.

"Do you have ID? Are you a  guest of that hotel? Only guests and invited guests can get over there"

Me: "but, but. My family is right there.(pointing) "

"You can't go over there Ma'am. Not unless you show me some ID that says you are a guest of that hotel."

Me: "Yeah, but they aren't guests of that hotel....How did they get there?"

"I don't know ma'am, they must have invitations - you need to move aside there are people waiting to get through."

This was the moment that I ALMOST said, it was at the very tip of my tongue "It's cause I'm white, isn't it?" But I didn't. I did not want to get booked on Thanksgiving. Riker's can't have a very Happy Thanksgiving  feast.

Instead I called Terrance, who walked over and said "What's the problem here?". At this point, this police officer looked everywhere but at me and my husband. My daughter leaps up on the barricade to hug me and says "Mommy, why won't the police let you in?" in her most plaintive cute child voice.

So my husband comes over the barrier, and hugs me in front of the officer. I cut my eyes at him. and say loudly "He didn't believe that my family was over there, he wouldn't let me in"

Thanksgiving05 014

Thanksgiving05 013

I make it in, just in time to see the last balloon - Jo-Jo go before Santa makes his way to join the parade.

Truths Her Mother Tells Her

Monday, November 21, 2011

This time of year mixes up lots of feelings for our family. As two adults who are committed to teaching our daughter about American and World History through non-rose colored glasses, it can be difficult to detangle the multitude of messages implicit in the majority of the Autumn American holidays.

When Emily entered public school for the first time, she encountered the stories of Columbus. She brought home photocopied pictures of the Nina, the Pinta and Santa Maria.  Eventually in November ,she brought home paper Pilgrim hats and Cornucopia's and yes, even faux paper "Indian headbands". 

She asked if we planned on having a special feast for Columbus Day. After all, we mark most of our holiday's with special dinners, and given that this newfound holiday and story seemed to be so least important enough to require coloring and cutting and hats, one would assume an observance of some sort was due.

In that first attempt at telling her that maybe we all didn't see the story of Columbus and the Pilgrims in the same rosy light, Terrance ditched me. Hightailed it out of the kitchen with his "Daddy doesn't "do" Columbus" remark.

Yeah. Thanks for that Mr. Social and Economic Justice. Way to back up the Marx reader you have on the bookshelf.

Clearly, I was on my own.  

I did what I always do - I found a book.  Jane Yolen's Encounter. I sat the then 7 year old Emily on my lap, and we read it.

The story could be that of Columbus, but it could also be the story of any number of arrivals of Europeans on the shores of North and South America. The illustrations, done by David Shannon, are lovely. The story, however, is not. The story is one of theft and murder and pillage. The indigenous people who meet these white men are fascinated, for they have never seen anything like what is before them. White Skin. Blue Eyes. Large Ships. 

Told from the point of view of the only survivor of the Encounter, it is the type of story which leaves you shaken - wondering how you ever believed the tales of Columbus, the Pilgrims and the other Glorious Founding Legends of our Nation.  Of course it couldn't have happened the way we were taught. It makes no logical sense for it to have happened that way. 

When you start to poke around and figure out that the Pilgrims walked into land that had already been cleared by First Nations peoples...who had most likely been wiped out by a smallpox or other disease epidemic, and that they viewed this as a sign from God that the land belonged to them....That they looted graves of those peoples for the tools inside them, assuming that some divine providence had left this stuff just laying about.

It starts to make our founding stories a little less glorious. A little less heroic. Makes our manifest destiny credo, still evident in the nation building dogma of our political institutions, tarnish like cheap gold plating. 

Yes, there was heroism and bravery...but too often at the expense of someone else. Oppression of others is tightly woven into the American Story. First Nations/Native Americans, Africans, Irish, Catholic, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic, Arabic and Muslims have all served their time as the Undeserving Villain in the story of America. The Losers.  The people who do not get to write the truth of their experiences into the story because it would damage our national self esteem to know that We are one in the same. 

I am proud to be a citizen of the United States of America. However, I will not tell my daughter the same stories I was told. I will not allow her to believe that there were gifts that were given with no strings attached in the formation of our nation.  I will not encourage her to think that to be American is to be better, or more, or unthinkingly correct in what she sees and hears. 

This year, I put away Encounter and begin reading Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen to Emily. 

I want her to know that it is good to be proud to be American. It is good to be thankful for the gifts bestowed upon our nation and citizens. However, we must never forget that part of these thanks must be given to those peoples who do not (yet) get to tell their stories. That those sacrifices, including murder, genocide, theft and slavery occurred to grant us these liberties.

I want her to know that truth comes in a multitude of shades. That every victory had a loser, and that their stories and experiences are as important as the ones that get repeated in textbooks and celebrated as holidays.

Ride the Yo Yo

Friday, November 18, 2011

When I was Emily's age, I loved the rides at the Vermont State Fair. The Yo-Yo, the Avalanche, the Wheel of Impending Death, it made no matter.

I would ride and ride - never feeling queasy, never feeling anything but alive and free.  One year, when the fair had a "zipper" type ride in which you spent a majority of your time upside down, my friends and I would try to rack up ride after ride in order to see who could ride this behemoth the MOST times.

The last time I went on the rides at the Fair, Terrance and I were newly dating. The year was 1991, and he and I decide to go on the Yo-Yo ride.

Do you know this ride? It has seats suspended by long chains, which then swing wwwwaaaaaaayyyyyyyy out over the midway as the ride lifts off the ground and moves in circles.

I spent the entire 3 minute ride clutching the chains in terror, calculating the projectory of my demise. If I flew off NOW, I would most likely hit the funhouse......and if I flew off NOW, it was the Scrambler on which my body leave this mortal coil.

Good Times, ya'll. Good Times.

Needless to say, I did not go on anymore rides at the Fair after that moment....nor to this day. Fairs scare me. They scare me in a way that I was never scared as a child.

No. As a child, the Fair was a time of wonderful things. Fried Dough, Fries and Vinegar, small mirrors with the logos of 1980 rock bands on them, the occasional feathered roach clip which was worn as a hair accessory in my small Vermont town, and the ever present multi-layered fancy colored candles.

So what happened? Did the Fair get progressively more dangerous as time went on?

I don't think so. My best guess is that I crossed a threshold in which I became aware of my own mortality. Aware of my mortality in a way that was not possible for me to know, even as the precocious, street smart kid that I was. I understood that I was going to die, and that this death could come at any time from anywhere. I gained fear - true fear. Scary movies were no longer thrilling...they were SCARY. There were monsters in the world, and more often than not, they looked like people I knew.

I wonder if that is the moment in which we choose to forget what it is to be a child - the moment in which we decide that we are adults and we must protect children from the dangers that don't exist for them. Is it this moment when we decide that we should crusade to protect the "innocence" of children by censoring or out right depriving them of opportunities to grow and explore? Is it this moment when we forget what it feels like to have our decisions made for us by people who aren't listening to us?

I don't know.

I do wonder, however, if I would have been the same person if my mother had hovered over me, warning, admonishing, fussing, instilling fear of death in a person who was still learning what it was to live.

November 2007, Gimlet Eye

Time will do the Talking

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In one of the last times I spoke with my mother, we had a rather heated argument. In an empty Chinese restaurant, with my sister looking pointedly down at her food, our voices raised in anger. My sister had just been released from the hospital following a half hearted suicide attempt - which would be followed by her near fatal attempt two years later.

During this argument, in one of her many attempts to goad me into forgetting or shame me into silence, my mother yelled these words at me:

"I hope Emily grows up and blames you for everything."

Powerful words, these.  And certainly not an idea I hadn't had a million anxiety ridden moments before those words hurtled at me, nor the million moments after they soaked into my skin.

At the time, my ability to stay calm and respond astonished me. What I recall saying to my mother was along the lines that Emily's stories will belong to her and that I will have to accept that as her truth, which meant that I would have to accept responsibility if and when Emily told me her stories.

(cough cough - Wasn't a popular answer at the table, if I recall)

I don't entertain the idea that I am unique or different from every other parent on the face of the earth who holds these fears.  Far from it. The idea that we are profoundly fucking up our child is part and parcel of the parenting experience.  It is why we obsess over every hurt, every slight, every wrong. It is what has led me to plan extravagant birthday parties or prepare care packages for camp months before she departs.  I want to embed the knowledge that I love her into every cell of her body, unconditionally, despite my occasional crazy, despite the knowledge that being a mother often feels ill fitting on my psyche, despite the knowledge that I took a 3 year hiatus into terrible postpartum depression.

It is a short walk from these thoughts to my unfailing ability to begin the flogging of Me, my built-in self punishing instincts in full effect.

As I have been reading the Alice Miller books, with her view of abuse in childhood, it has not been difficult for me to create horrific scenes of my daughter's future. In part because I can pretty clearly trace some of my own issues - body, trust/affection, profound caution, boundaries - in a fairly direct line from Crazy D.  Coupled with the knowledge that I was emotionally unavailable to her during what I know to be important brain development times?

Why, Pass me that Hair shirt and cat-o-nine tails, Thanks!

Given my approach to mothering now, I brought Em in on the conversation. I told her about the books, and the premise.  I told her that I worried about asking her to stuff her feelings, that maybe I was conveying to her that I just didn't want to know how she felt.

Her laughter was spontaneous and full throated. A true belly laugh, that went on and on.

Finally I blurted: "But I worry that I am screwing you Up!"

When her laughter subsided, she leaned in and put her arms around me.

Looking me in the eyes, she said. "You are. But in a Good Way."

And because this is too perfect, I give you this from The Onion:

Study Finds Every Style Of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults

SANTA ROSA, CA—A study released by the California Parenting Institute Tuesday shows that every style of parenting inevitably causes children to grow into profoundly unhappy adults. "Our research suggests that while overprotective parenting ultimately produces adults unprepared to contend with life's difficulties, highly permissive parenting leads to feelings of bitterness and isolation throughout adulthood," lead researcher Daniel Porter said. "And, interestingly, we found that anything between those two extremes is equally damaging, always resulting in an adult who suffers from some debilitating combination of unpreparedness and isolation. Despite great variance in parenting styles across populations, the end product is always the same: a profoundly flawed and joyless human being." The study did find, however, that adults often achieve temporary happiness when they have children of their own to perpetuate the cycle of human misery.

The Ballad of the Binky

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I learned the importance of Two as a child care provider.

The first time I watched a parent try to pick up their child...and they didn't have the car seat. Having a parent hightail it back to child care to pick up THE binky, or THE bottle of tylenol. The agony. The frustration.

I thought to myself, "There has got to be a better way."

So, when I prepared us for the arrival of Emily - I insisted on Two. Two car seats. Two bottles of everything. Two sets of boots. Two snowsuits. This way, I reasoned, we could always have back up in case of...whatever.  I would never have to curse Terrance for forgetting to leave me the car seat, hoping against hope that the child care might have an extra one.

This extended to favorite babies as well. When Em attached to "Baby Baby"....I began seeking the second "Baby Baby". Who then became Know as "Baby Baby Baby Baby". We are an inventive group in the "naming of things". We have a cat named, Kitty or Le Chat - depending on the day. I am vaguely surprised we were able to name our daughter something other than "Human Female Baby who is driving us Crazy".

And binkies ( aka Pacifiers, dummies or whatever thing your family calls them)?  Ok, I am going to tell you one of my shameful, obsessive mother secret.

Emily chose ONE binky. A Playtex binky - The kind that looked like a butterfly.

In a fit of panic born of sleep deprivation, hormones and the reality that I had birthed the weapon of my destruction, I bought one of each kind pacifier available for sale at Walmart and popped them in - one after the other -  until she found one that she liked.

Hurrah!, I rejoiced. A respite for my poor gnawed upon nipples!

My previous ten-year-held conviction that my child would be binky free crumbled in less than two weeks of constant nursing.

Emily, Age 2 - with the Magic Binky

Four months later, I was strolling in the Walmart and looked up at the binkies. Huh?! A new design on the Playtex binky. Let's try it out!

We got home and I broke out the new binky. I popped it in.

My daughter's face scrunched as she tentatively sucked on this newish binky.  Then she opened her mouth and simultaneously spit it out and SCREAMED.  I mean, screamed as if she had just been set on fire. The scream of inconsolable anguish. The scream that makes your armpits tingly and a sweat break out.

My mind raced. Oh Playtex! Why had thou forsaken me? Your new binky design was of no comfort and this was the only one she liked. Playtex was trying to kill me!!!

Then I calmed down. I thought, I will simply call Playtex and alert them to the fact that my child does not like these binkies. I will then offer to buy their surplus stock of old binkies. They will be thrilled to unload their old merchandise. They will offer me a discount!

Um, no. That woman on the other end of the Playtex customer service line had no empathy for my plight. She calmly told me that they had tested the design and that babies couldn't tell the difference.

This may be true, I countered, but they didn't test MY child and that was the only one I cared about at the moment. Didn't she realize the future she was condemning me to? Years of sleeplessness and chewed on nipples? Did she not realize that it was the binky which kept my daughter from being left on the side of the road to be raised by groundhogs or other various rodents? My hysteria mounted.

The woman stood firm. I could not directly buy binkies from them. Maybe I could drive around town and find the old style and stock up?  And Hey, she will even send me one free binky, old style.

I called her names.

After I hung up, of course. I wanted the free binky. And then, with the determination and focus only achievable by a sleep deprived, lactating mother of a Four month old, I put my child in the car and drove to every pharmacy, every big box store, every convenience store within a 40 mile radius which might possibly stock binkies.

I would dance with delight when I would find one. But alas. I didn't find many. I could clearly see the disintegration of the binkies and with them, my fragile sanity.

At this juncture of hopelessness and hysteria, I had an idea. I would ask the internet. Remember, this was 1998. I was a member of a bulletin board of women who were having babies at the same time, the "MomMay's" we called ourselves.  I put out the call, and they responded. I would happily cover expense and shipping. Just find them and send them to me.  They did. They, equally hormonal and lactating,  understood the terror I was facing. They put their babies in car seats and replicated my store crawl, all over the United States.

I never counted exactly how magic binkies many I stashed away. Suffice it to say that Emily had her binkies until she was about four and a half years old. She was on her last few binkies, by that time. 

While I don't recall the names of those glorious women, those other mothers, who found these binkies and mailed them to me, I do recall that it taught me that Motherhood was a Club. One whose rules were not easily understood from those outside, but that if I really needed them, they would band around me and give me what I needed, be that booze or binkies.

June 25, 2007 Gimlet Eye

Open Letter to the Students at Penn State

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dear Students at Penn State protesting because a Coach got fired for protecting a Man who sexually assaulted children:

Wow. Just wow. I don't usually feel such anger at unknown people, but I can only say to you that I feel both great pity and amazing revulsion for you.

I personally would like to sit you in groups and let survivors of child sexual assault tell you their stories. In every last horrifying detail.  I want you each to face a Human who has been raped or molested or had their trust destroyed by Adults, either directly or through the tacit silence of fuckwads like this Coach. Of course, that is the survivors who didn't kill themselves or are in jail, or are so far gone in addictions that they simply can no longer tell you their story.

I want you to read case files of children raped in motel rooms or bathrooms or places that they live, their genitals or anus ripped and torn to the point of needing vast re-constructive surgery. I'd like you to meet five year old girls who can only relate to Men by offering them oral sex.

I want you to see the pictures in those case files.

I want you to justify to these survivors why Football is more important than the life of any child.

Because right now, the urge to drive to Penn State and punch every single one of you  in the fucking face is nearly overwhelming.

Very Baleful Regards,

Body as Lived Experience

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

I've been thinking about my parents a great deal.

In part because I am delving into the worlds of monsters for young children. This leads me to reflect on the monsters of my childhood - some of my monsters lived in my house, after all.

However, what I have been thinking about is the role of the Body. Body as Sensory Experience. Body as Lived Experience. Denial of the Body and the Consequences of that Action.

Since part of the tenet of my ( and Maija's) Monster paper revolves around the Sensory experience of Monsters in the lives of young children ( and later in that of young adult readers) I have had to consider the feelings of the Body as Prime Experience. Which makes complete and utter sense, right?

For young children, Body is everything. There is no facet of life that they do not first filter through the lens of their bodily experience. Until we socialize this out of them, of by age 7 we have them pretty well under wraps ( which is when many monsters start to recede) until their bodies betray them at Puberty, and we see the explosion of Horror/Vampire/Gore consumption.

It was in this mindset that I grabbed the book "The Body Never Lies" by Alice Miller from my bookshelf. Alice is a German psychologist who also wrote "The Drama of the Gifted Child" - which deals with children who have survived Narcissist Mothers.  I bought these books about three years ago and after reading "Drama",  my interest waned.

However, in my thinking about the Body, this title intrigued me. I grabbed it off the shelf and began to read.

Now, some of what she claims is bullshit. People miraculously reversing serious health disorders overnight after realizing and naming that they were seriously pissed at their Parents for abuse/neglect etc. I can't even start to entertain those claims as my rational mind rejects them.

However, some of what she says is intriguingly spot on..... particularly about our bodies forcing truth out. Particularly if we continue to engage with  our Parents, even as that relationship is poisoning us. As we defend and rationalize our lived experiences, regardless of hurt. Our bodies scream at us with the truth.

I certainly know this from experience. When I ignore my feelings, my body takes the punishment. Perhaps not right away, but it does.  Headaches. Stomach issues. Panic Attacks. Losing feeling on the Right Side of my body?  Um, yeah.  All expressions of emotions and experiences I attempted to bottle up. Unsuccessfully, I might add.

Sandra, the therapist who diagnosed my post-partum depression once asked me - quite seriously - if I was prepared to deal with one of the auto-immune diseases I was headed towards. "Take your pick", she said, "Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue? Your cortisol levels are killing you. and your immune system will turn against you soon."

Miller's other point is the occasional necessity of breaking with your Parents if the relationship will never change.

I miss my Mom. I can't lie about it. There are times when I long to re-connect with her, to crawl under a wing. Yet, I know without a doubt that she has not changed in the least, and never will.  I know that a reconciliation will come at an unbearably high cost for me.  That this cost will eventually be at the expense of my own daughter, for whom I am trying to be a centred and honest adult.

It is THAT which keeps me from walking through my mother's proverbial front door. I can't deny anything anymore, nor can I simply pretend that nothing has happened, or that I agree with any of the crazy shit she spews - which is, of course, the price of admission for my mother's good graces and conditional love. Deceit.

My body is my lived experience, and it will simply no longer tolerate deceit.

A Lesser Demon of Hell

Monday, November 07, 2011

First I would like to state - for the record - that this conversation actually happened.

Background: Emily has a day off from school. She also has a bit of a cold, so we take it easy. Or rather, I bundle her up in bed and do the billion things that must be done regardless of who is feeling well. Laundry, animal care and maintenance, lists of things of which we are running low so includes going to each human in the house and asking things like "Do you need deodorant? How about lotion?" and then writing those things down in a list in order to get in and out of the store as fast as humanly possible so I don't go buck nutty and stab the elderly who - despite my obvious corporeal presence reaching for the product- park their cart between my body and the shelf.... And I had to go to the bank to prove - once again - that I am a student and should not be charged crazy fees. This means, of course, that the teller and I  will have the long discussion again about how can I prove I am a student as I am pointing at my Visa sanctified by the Canadian government, gesticulating that I would not be standing there in front of them were I NOT a student since I would not legally be allowed to remain in the province. The same discussion I have been having for nearly six years. Which then makes me both horrified and irritated that I have malingered in my PhD program for this long and increasingly expensive vacation of doom. 

Did I mention the lingering psychic aftershocks of the full-o-blood tick removal from the cat the other day? As the other members of my family shrieked and flapped and stayed a considerable distance away while I wrestled the incredibly unhappy and sharp clawed feline AND wielded tweezers in order to maintain the slow and constant pressure required to remove tick AND tick mouth parts?  After which Terrance helpfully said: "You are going to disinfect those tweezers, right?" 

(dawn contemplating all the ways to torture terrance with unclean tweezers)

So where was I? 

Oh yes, the conversation. Once I returned home and unpacked all the requested/needed items, the child demanded Documentaries and together time. 

( oh, we are an esoteric duo, emily and dawn)

After the first one ( National Geographic: Mystery of the Crystal Skulls - don't bother, it was terrible) I called a bathroom break before  "Da Vinci :The Lost Treasure".

I am in the bathroom when this question is yelled in at me:

"MOM! Why is Calvin's teacher named Miss Wormwood?"

I sit, in silence. The child has been with me for an hour, and will be with me for second hour momentarily. I retain my right to silence and refusal to answer any non life-saving questions, such as "Mom, how do I staunch the arterial spurting of a severed jugular vein" -  for the 3 minutes I will be inside the sanctum of the bathroom. 

She yells the question again - LOUDER. 


On the one hand, the highbrow tone of the question pleases me.  Literary. Satirical. I am in the process of developing a fine mind out there.  On the other, I am on the GOD DAMN toilet. 

Since my silence does not cue her into the fact that I will not be answering, she begins the third scream in my general which point Terrance yells:


So yes, the answer is that Wormwood is a lesser demon of hell...with a little dig at Calvin's name origin. But the other answer is No, it doesn't stop. Not even when they are 13.


Sunday, November 06, 2011

There are many things I love about Montreal, truly. This city, for all of it's bizarre schizophrenic dual cultural and linguistic heritages continually at war with itself, shimmers in a way I have never before experienced.

On a gloomy and cold Saturday, we walked up rue Metcalfe towards Sherbrooke having just finished dinner downtown when I looked up.  And saw that the restoration of the church had been completed.

And not just any church, but the church where the Tiffany Glass lived.

Last Year, the museum hosted an amazing Tiffany exhibit, with one of the anchors being the glass created for these windows. Magnificent panels of stunning size, intricacy and beauty. (some of you may also recall me getting nabbed trying to take pictures inside the exhibit, while attempting to pretend I neither understood french, nor could read the signs...wink)

And here they were, restored to their home - glowing like a beacon.

But Wait. there was more. This statue.  I am smitten by it. Entirely smitten.  I can already tell you that it has moved aside my love of the concrete Tai Chi statues that were moved to the Botanical gardens from Parc Mont Royal.

It is clear to me that this statue and I are going to need some time together.  In a variety of weather conditions. If you were to ask me why I don't think I could express it. At least not yet.  But it feels special. As if it were placed there for me.

And finally, This sculpture. Of which this is only a very small portion, but which I spent several minutes puzzling out how I wanted to see it...until I realized it was from the bottom looking UP.


I love Montreal.


Friday, November 04, 2011

I am perpetually taken with texture. As I sat yesterday, waiting to pick up Emily from school, I looked down and saw the wool, against the cotton. My hand peeking out of the sleeve.  The richness of each piece making the others shine.

The bear in Snow White and Rose Red

Perhaps it is my affinity with textiles that make me preternaturally sensitive to such things - some sensory need that makes me want to immerse myself in them, like sinking down into a hot bath. 

I don't have much else for you on this cold, rainy November day.  I feel empty and old today, but I know it will pass. 

Tonight I will work on more of the Snow White and Rose Red rug. The bear pleases me beyond measure - his movement, his motion, his colour, the last minute decision to ring his neck with flowers - all of it. This is how I know my odd little intuitive way of designing rugs works for me. The pieces knit themselves together as I go along.  And I already have my teacher dying me wool for the next rug - which will be Little Red Cap, so I am planning the wolf, in all his glory. 

Autumnal Whatnot

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Over a year ago, I was bereft, forsaken, disconsolate.

As I look back, I do not turn to a pillar of salt, but rather stand agape at my ability to take the most brutal of pruning and survive.

Sometimes, I forget this you know. I forget that above all else, I was designed to survive.

Calm has returned, mostly, to my life. My beloved massage therapist tells me my aura - if one believes in those things - is completely different.

I suppose she should know, having spent so many hours with her hands on my flesh, knitting me back together from the shredded and scattered pieces I walked into her studio holding. When she touches me now, I do not soak the energy from her hands the way I once did, an exhausted battery. Yet I still go back, her touch reminding me that this body is my home, and that it is good to live inside this body. 

It is difficult to quantify all the changes within myself this past year. Or really, perhaps I should say "re-discoveries" instead of changes, for I don't feel essentially different. I remain me.

Many things are becoming much, much clearer for me. Terrance and I discuss the future now, calmly and as friends. My efforts to finish the PhD and, even more importantly, secure a job for myself are being segmented into manageable pieces which, despite my impatience, are slowly coming together. I cast my dandelion parachutes into the wind and wait for things to take root.

The deep, bone aching rage and grief that swept over me a year and a half ago are gone, slowly washed out to a sea that supports no life. And while I hated her every time she said it - Time, dawn, it will take time - the words of my therapist were true. As I stormed at her and demanded a time certain, a date to mark, an hour to observe the retreat of the warring numbness.

I practice patience. Of all things, this is most difficult for I am notoriously impatient.  I can not bend time to my will nor can I make anything happen or anyone act before they are ready.  Different, of course, from stonewalling and heel dragging- which I can do like a pro. 

I practice maintaining my boundaries - and respecting those of others. Which is so difficult for me with people of whom I am fond.

I want to please. I want harmony. I want no tumult. I will roll over to make nice and maintain an equilibrium, even to my detriment and denial of my nature and needs.  Which, of course, leads to dreams of me pulling out my own tongue. You don't need to be Freud to decipher that one. 

It is, however, my return to my body which remains most wondrous to me. I see things. I smell things. A tiny taste of something is enough to sate.

I feel at home inside me again. It is a revelation, for which I am grateful. 
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