The words you speak become the house you live in. Hafiz. Love those Persian mystics.
This "summer vacation" thing is turning out to be a lot more work than school. I am exhausted and we've only reached the middle of week two. Luke is used to having a busy, structured day and Sylvie is used to having my undivided attention and I am not used to the heat, both literal and figurative. It's at least 30 degrees Celsius here today and I feel like a bloated roasted marshmallow (burnt on the outside, swollen on the inside) stuck inside a jello salad. If that jello salad were hot and yet somehow could still retain its essential goopily jelly-like jello nature and it also had to do the laundry and the dishes.
This morning Luke walked across the street to his tennis lesson by himself -- he would have preferred me to stay at home but we compromised. In the end, it was decided Sylvie and I would come but we were given strict instructions to follow at a certain distance. And I was informed that once I arrived at the court, Luke would acknowledge me by winking instead of waving. On the way back, Sylvie freaked out over the irritating way her shadow was following her everywhere. Not her metaphorical shadow (me) but her actual shadow. Fun times.
On the weekend I read Tina Fey's Bossypants and enjoyed it very much, except for when I was hating her. Motherhood has really slowed her down. She wrote that the rudest question anyone ever asks her is how she manages to juggle it all (her career and parenting) because the implication is that she must be f*%^ing it all up. But that is the very question I am left with because it is evident that she is not. She does manage to do it all -- and apparently brilliantly. Unless her kid is a nightmare, of course. And in that case, it might not be her parenting. It could just be her genes. (Seriously, the woman must need like three hours of sleep a night.)
I thought it was an enormous hairy spider. Three times.
It was actually this toy Vivi got with a happy meal at McDonald's. Three times I happened upon this thing lying on its face on the floor and three times I thought it was an enormous hairy spider. I finally had to throw it out. McDonald's isn't just cavalier about the health of our bodies. It is now deliberately messing with the health of our minds.
My friend Kat and I walked our two-year-olds past the Pleasant Rest Home today. It appears to be abandoned now -- unless absolutely everyone in the place was resting pleasantly. Either that's a ghost in front of the door or my camera lens was dirty. You decide. A few years ago the residents of this home rode on a float done up on a graveyard theme in the Exhibition Parade. And it wasn't remotely close to Halloween. Perhaps that is why the place is no longer in business.
This image is almost enough for the cover of a Stephen King novel. Except maybe we need some blood splattered up in the top lefthand corner or something.
On my facebook and twitter statuses the other day I jokingly misquoted this as "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your ONE WILD AND PRECIOUS HOUR TO YOURSELF?" Other moms understood.
But I do love the real Mary Oliver quote and isn't this photo by Ez of Creature Comforts, so pretty? She should sell prints. This would be nice in the kids' room.
Although it's been almost two years since my second child Sylvie was born, I recently started reading Life After Birth: What Even Your Friends Won't Tell You About Motherhood by Kate Figes with Jean Zimmerman. It was published in 1998 and was the first of a small number of books that address the incredible changes a woman must face after having a child. There are a lot of books on pregnancy and childbirth and a lot of books on parenting and child development but there are not many at all on this particular subject. While I was pregnant with Luke, my first, six years ago, Andi Buchanan was kind enough to send me a copy of her excellent collection of personal essays, Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It, and I think that it is the only book I read at the time that addressed what might happen to me, physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially, after I gave birth.
Of course, the things that happen to you after you give birth and take your new baby home are the kinds of thing you have to experience in order to even begin to fully understand them. It is one thing to read that breastfeeding might be difficult and another for your breasts to blow up to the size of balloons and hurt so much you're tempted to prick them with a pin, to see if relief might come with the pop. It is one thing to be told that you will be exhausted and another to actually feel so tired you could lie down on the dirty floor of a busy grocery store and fall asleep immediately. It is one thing to read you might not be very interested in sex again for some time and another to feel as if you might scream if your partner even touches the back of your hand with the tip of his little finger. It is one thing to be told that you have never before felt such love as the love you'll have for your baby and it is another to be taken hostage by an emotion so powerful, intense, and daunting that "love" isn't a strong enough word for it -- or, worse yet and not uncommonly, to feel nothing much at all, at least in the beginning.
In Life After Birth, Kate Figes contends that these kinds of intense experiences mean that mothers have more in common with one another than they do with other childless women who have similar backgrounds and interests. In almost an aside, she writes:
Motherhood is a great leveler. The most privileged mother has far more in common with a socially and financially deprived mother than with a childless woman from the same social background. As I searched for differences among mothers I became acutely aware of the fact that their experiences felt uncannily similar. Money, education, and expectations inevitably affect the way that women manage motherhood, but the essence of the experience is essentially the same. The experience of childbirth differs from woman to woman depending on her physical makeup, her state of mind, the position and size of the baby, and the environment she gives birth in, but the physical rite of passage of giving birth is the same for every woman. It is an extraordinarily powerful event that can be enjoyable or nightmarish, but either way it is a landmark memory.
She points out that almost almost all mothers share a sense of wonder at the miracle of procreation; sooner or later feel frighteningly intense maternal love; find it difficult to manage the demands of work and motherhood; undergo mental and physical difficulties related to pregnancy and labour and often don't have time to recover; and find that their relationships with their friends, families and, most importantly, their partners, have changed in unexpected and unpleasant ways.
I agree with all of this, yes, but I found myself taken aback by the assertion that I have more in common with other mothers than I do with, say, my childless friends who share my background and interests. What does this even mean, to say you have more in common with one person than another? After all, having "things in common" isn't something you can objectively measure. Certainly being a mother is now a central aspect of my identity, perhaps even the most important, but I am still the person I was before I had my children. Do I now have more in common with, say, an impoverished fifteen-year-old mother of four in an African village, someone who doesn't even speak the same language I do, than one of my good friends, a lawyer by training, an avid reader, and a writer of my age and social class, who also happens to be a woman who hasn't given birth?
Although it's true that I have perhaps a better understanding of that other mother's emotions and concerns than I ever would've before, and more compassion for her, I still can't possibly understand the challenges she faces in her day-to-day life and, in fact, wouldn't be able to survive them with my sanity intact were we to somehow change places. And, having spent a lot of time with other stay-at-home mothers over the last five years or so, many of whom are much younger than I am and who don't share my interests or educational background, I must say that I think I might've gone crazy long before if I hadn't been able to talk about anything other than motherhood and childrearing with like-minded (and yes, childless!) friends every now and then.
What do you think? Are you, by virtue of having given birth, a member of a new sort of tribe that transcends class, social, and economic boundaries? Do you have more in common with other mothers than you do with any other childless women? Or does that kind of thinking marginalize mothers even further?
I get my best ideas, or perhaps my worst ones, whilst lying beside Sylvie, waiting for her to fall asleep. Tonight I lay there in the dark, hardly daring to breath and listening to the lone peeper that seems to have taken up residence in the neighbourhood trees. I fear his mating song may be in vain. His lonely call soon became the backdrop for a jaunty little tune that kept running through my mind. Using my time wisely, as I always try to do -- multitask fellow mothers! -- I made up some words for it.
Where did you come from, little one?
Out of my vagina -- oh what fun!
I know it sounds ridiculous but yes, it's true,
They tore me apart and...
Out came you!
I just sang it for David and his main quibble is that I had a c-section. I informed him I write for humanity, not just for me. But if I were to sing this to either of my children, which he has forbidden me to do on pain of divorce, I could simply replace the word "vagina" with "belly" and it would still work.
This is a real live unicorn's horn. Or as "real live" as something both dead and mythical can be. It's a narwhal tooth, housed in the Museum of Natural History in Halifax. Hunters in Nothern Europe brought them down south where presumably the legend of the unicorn evolved. I can sort of guess how that happened.
Maybe a white horse bent down to sniff the horn just as some drunken bard was getting ready to perform. (Incidentally, doesn't Luke make a cute faun? Sylvie is astonished at his transformation. Or possibly about to descend into a sugar-induced coma.)
Image of a Thai Coke can, taken from here.
Acclaimed travel writer Pico Iyer has a short piece called 10 Things Every Traveler Should Do in the latest issue of Real Simple magazine. They're useful tips for getting the most out of every travel experience, whether you're visiting the next town over or the other side of the planet. With this baby's arrival imminent, we're not planning on going anywhere, not even the beach, any time soon. But a woman can dream. I was particularly struck by this tip, for when you are visiting someplace far from home:
Ten years ago, when we were living in Singapore, for a little while we lived around the corner from a McDonald's tucked into a corner of the outdoor food court situated underneath a block of government flats (almost every block of HDB flats had these communal eating places). The restaurant used to give me a weird frisson every time I went in -- it was so familiar, of course, and yet, in its Singaporean incarnation, so strange. I thought at the time that someone should write a travel piece about visiting the various McDonald's restaurants around the world. It wouldn't have to be McDonald's, of course -- you could choose any Western restaurant or chain store that seems bound and determined to take over the world. They started opening up Starbucks in Singapore right around the time I arrived (I arrived the day after Princess Diana was killed) and a giant Ikea followed shortly. Both of those businesses tended to create the same surreal kind of tension.
In many ways, I find Nova Scotia, where we now live, much more remote from that world than Singapore was -- when we moved here in 2002, there were no Starbucks here yet and there are still only two or three in the entire province, I think. And there are no Ikeas.