Saturday, September 30, 2006

Public service announcement

Last spring, I bought myself a laptop. Knowing from experience that a 7- or 8- pound computer was much more than I wanted to lug around, especially with a bag full of other books, I ended up with one of the lighter Dells. It was a bit of an investment, but it will hopefully last through my PhD. Plus, it's great for taking on family trips as the screen is incredibly crisp, making "Mighty Machines" an even grander spectacle to behold.

I was a little concerned when Dell issued its initial battery recall. While both my computer model and the battery model were on the list, their website promised me that my specific battery was not affected, based on the full serial number.

Since Dell's recall, there has been a flood of battery recalls--all for Sony batteries--from nearly all of the laptop manufacturers.

So yesterday I clicked onto a story about Sony's continuing woes and discovered that Dell had expanded their recall by another 100,000 batteries. I dutifully returned to their site, re-entered my information, and was informed that yes, my battery does need to be replaced. It has been ordered and will be here in about 20 business days. In the meantime, I am advised to run the computer only when it is plugged in, with the battery removed.

Not a huge inconvenience. And I know that the likelihood of fire is small, but I suggest that anyone with a laptop less than a couple years old recheck the recall status of their brand. Just in case.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A different kind of coming out

Most people who get to know me even a little bit find out that I'm gay. If the conversation is at all personal, I can't help but mention my wife and son; I've often said that being in a relationship makes it much easier to be openly gay. And if I weren't comfortable with people knowing, I'd need to get comfortable very quickly since a 3 1/2-year-old doesn't self-censor.

But what comes up much less often, what I don't immediately work into a conversation, is that I am an atheist.

And it's not just that there are fewer opportunities to make this announcement to people. I am fully aware that I experience greater anxiety about how people will react to my atheism than my 'alternative' family (although there have been situations where I've decided it's simply in my best interest to stay mum about both issues).

Unlike a good number of the other atheists and agnostics I know, I was raised to be an atheist. My parents had a 'mixed' marriage--one side Jewish, one side Christian (and a mix of denominations at that). We celebrated holidays from both sides of the family, but it was about family traditions more than the religion. As there were not many Jews in my hometown, my parents took special care to make sure we knew the history and significance of the holidays. Of course, because they assumed I would be inundated with information about Christianity, they gave me little specific instruction on that side; I remember learning about the story of Easter on the playground just like one learns about sex.

As I got older, I came to understand about the difference between ethnicity and belief. My father did not believe in God. It was not until many years later, after his death, that I discovered my mother does believe; I do not know if she agreed not to try to influence us or if she simply yielded to his dominant personality. My father did not force us to believe as he did, but he firmly presented his position.

My first conscious decision about where I stood came at age 11. I had been taking Hebrew and Jewish history at the Jewish Community Center. I enjoyed it, as I enjoyed most intellectual pursuits. But then I came to the proverbial fork in the road. If I continued classes the next year, it would be specifically in preparation for my bat mitzvah. There were several reasons this was enticing: continuing a language I enjoyed, the mental challenge of taking my Hebrew to the next level, not to mention the gifts everyone went on about. BUT. But I knew that I would be doing it for the above reasons, not because I was a committed Jew, not because I wanted to be recognized as an adult in the religious community. And that somehow didn't seem right or fair or ethical.

That is when I first called myself an agnostic. For the most part, I was pretty sure I did not believe in God, but I wasn't quite ready to commit. Even then, I didn't go out of my way to tell people about my beliefs (or lack thereof). Since my last name is often seen as Jewish, I tended to let people maintain that impression. People with any political sensitivity, even those who felt the need to witness, generally left me alone--it would be insensitive to push Christianity on a Jew.

As I got older, I continued to examine my religious beliefs and began to acknowledge that calling myself an agnostic was hedging my bets. Several things contributed to my eventual willingness to embrace the term 'atheist.' The primary influence was my wife. While she had a very different path to atheism, our specific beliefs were basically the same, so it didn't seem that we needed two different labels. I also came across an article which refuted the idea that atheists don't understand faith; rather, the author posited, many atheists have faith in science.* That was a real "Eureka!" moment for me.

But the final transition from agnostic to atheist happened in the oddest of places. I was on break at my retail job (one of those obligatory college jobs that helped pay rent and provided a break from deep thinking). Three other coworkers were there as well. Two of them were women my age or just a little bit older, working full-time at the store. The third was D., a guy who was the age of my next younger sister, someone whose family I actually knew through my sister. The three of them were involved in a heated debate about religion; I was reading a homework assignment. All of a sudden, D. turned to me and said, "Mouse, you don't believe in God, do you?" I'm not sure anyone had asked me so point blank before, but I quickly recovered and replied with a simple, "No, I don't." In triumph, he turned back to them and said, "See!" I'm not sure what point I had made for him, but that's the day I fully became an atheist.

Many of my friends and family members assume that my being an atheist is connected to my being a lesbian, a result of feeling rejected, even damned, by certain denominations. They enthusiastically tell me about how their church or synagogue is different and how much I would love it. Sometimes I will try to explain that there is no connection, that my identity as an atheist is a separate issue (as much as any aspects of identity can be separated). Mostly I've taken to telling them I'm glad to hear that there are so many accepting congregations--and I am truly happy to know that religion does not have to be an immediate point of division.

My wife and I are raising our son as an atheist. We celebrate both Christian and Jewish holidays, though fewer than I did as a child. As in my childhood, this is mostly about establishing family traditions. I've had it suggested to me, usually in subtle terms, but not always, that my son will lack a moral compass without a religious upbringing, yet that doesn't worry me. Issues of right and wrong, ethical behavior, relating with others do not require religion; instead, I will make sure to encourage my son's compassion and empathy, his understanding of the consequences of actions.

I think I turned out OK. I have faith my son will too.

*Argh, bad scholar. I have no citation for this and absolutely no recollection of where I saw it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Another to-do list

I've been mulling over a number of potential blog posts again, but find myself too tired and distracted to tackle any of them with the expectation of writing what I really want to say. I can't help but notice that several topics still remain from a list I created in August. So what's on my mind:

1) Reminiscing about my first pregnancy. This comes, of course, from my imminent venture into a second pregnancy (if I'm not already there). I know that the second pregnancy can vary widely from a first (much like the children that result), yet I can't help but compare at least a little.

2) Talking about being an atheist. I don't know that this has explicitly come up so far, but I've been pondering a post on this for a while. And of course, Bub and Pie again acts as a catalyst with a simple mention (and I don't think she even knew I was an atheist).

3) Exploring my relationship with my mother. I've referred to it before, but only cryptically. It's something I think about a lot, but impending (second) motherhood makes me examine it even more.

4) Possibly a long overdue post on the 'politics' of blogging. It's been discussed to death, covering a wide range of opinions, but I may yet weigh in.

5) Sort of connected to that, a discussion of the fact that I often forget I'm a 'different' blogger. Right, there are people who might find it hard to connect with me because of that whole lesbian thing (not to mention, atheist, liberal, and several other attributes).

The faux, or possibly real but early, pregnancy symptoms that are plaguing me now (plus the large amount of work I have for class tomorrow), however, keeps me from going any further into these topics for now.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

It's nice to be missed

The highlight of my trip to the States last week (other than that whole possibly pregnant thing) was a trip back to the school where I last taught. My main reason for going was to visit with a couple of colleagues from my department, my very good friends who I miss terribly. But rather than meet them off-campus during a free period, I ventured into the school itself. And I was just amazed by how good it felt. So natural.

I started by surprising one friend's high school class. She had suggested this since I had taught most of the students in that class at least once. While I haven't been gone for that long in the grand scheme, it was my first reminder of how quickly the youngsters change! I chatted a little with some of the students as they finished their group work; several hung around at the end of class to ask more questions, my son being a favorite topic for us all.

My friend had another class to teach after that, so I headed up to my department and caught up with my colleagues there. Then I walked around the school a bit, my old haunts, and found some of my other friends. Some had been informed I was coming and welcomed me enthusiastically. Those who weren't expecting me did a double-take. As one former colleague said, "My initial thought was a simple 'Oh, there's Mouse," because you belong here. And then I remembered that I don't see you every day anymore."

After my two friends were done with teaching for the day, we headed off to the nearby Starbucks, ordered our drinks, and then caught up on gossip. Just like old times. It was so comfortable and I realized just how deeply I've missed them.

Throughout all of this, I had not counted on how emotional it would be to see all of my former students. I knew I'd be happy to see the kids in my friend's class because they're the ones who have chosen to go on in my favorite subject. But in the halls and the lunchroom, even though I tried to keep a low profile, there were the inevitable squeals (those would be the girls) of "Ms. Nest!" Many smiles and hugs. And it was interesting to notice that the students who sought me out, who were truly excited to see me there, represented the whole range of those who taught. Students who had struggled in my class, probably detested what I taught them, ran up to me with just as much enthusiasm as those who loved my subject. Two students who had ultimately had to repeat some of the material begged me to come back. Kids who had been so happy to be free of my subject after junior high asked about Canada and my son.

Seeing these students again reminded me about the impact of teachers. Several of my highest achieving students, the ones who I had realized early on were talented and who seemed to connect with my subject, hung around a little bit more, asked a few more questions, actually seemed nervous. The advanced student I had taught her first year at my school--when I gave the students topics for a project, I specifically picked out a more difficult one for her, telling her about its literary background and indicating that she could learn more about it in high school if she stuck with the subject--and there she was, in that very class. Another student I started out in my subject during my last year who was so amazingly bright and whose mother emailed me to say how much her daughter would miss me--she was practically at a loss for words, but smiled so big. And it hit me--I'm one of those teachers they'll remember.

So I'm still riding high on that feeling.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More on TV characters

No, I have not been obsessing about television characters since completing the meme about my favorite characters. Rather, I had a moment last week that reminded me of a character from a show I'd completely forgotten about. Then when I was cleaning up my area (i.e., the couch and coffee table where my books inevitably gather), I found my brainstorming list, which included a few characters who didn't make the final 10. So without further ado...

Favorite TV characters, honorable mention :

1. Lindsay Weir from Freaks and Geeks. As I was driving to the airport last week, the song "Lady" by Styx came on the radio. Immediate flashback: Nick Andopolis serenading a very uncomfortable Lindsay. Lindsay would be another one of those characters I closely identify with. Smart girl, known mostly for being the smart girl, is sick of the label and starts hanging out with a different crowd. Now I never had the guts to totally ditch the smart crowd, but my first boyfriend was from a group of students who were an odd mix of smart/burned out/drugged out/drunk/disenchanted. And I wore an Army surplus jacket too!

2. Jane Tennison from Prime Suspect. I am a fan of all things Helen Mirren, but this is the show that made me really aware of how amazing she is.

3. Jeffrey from Coupling (BBC version). What a fun show! I love the group chemistry. And Jeffrey, poor Jeffrey, creates some of the best moments with his inability to handle some of the simplest social interactions. I love the episode where he's trying to chat up a woman from Israel, completely misunderstands what she is telling him, and ends up shouting "Breasts" in Hebrew across the bar.

4. Bubble from Absolutely Fabulous. Another character who adds just the right touch of humor. My wife and I still quote her lines regularly, particularly "little animal, not a rat," when trying to remember what to call the computer mouse.

So those are my also-rans.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Reminding myself of the lesson I supposedly have already learned

It took only two tries for me to get pregnant with my son.

After the first try, I was 100% convinced it had worked, just knew I'd get the second line on the pregnancy test. And then I got my period.

The second time, I was 100% convinced that our timing was off and that there was no way I was pregnant. I tested two days before my period was due (with tests that claimed they could detect up to four days early). Negative. On the day my period was actually due, I tested again, at my wife's insistence (she's adding, as I write this, that I was acting crazy, so she was pretty sure I was pregnant, despite my convictions to the contrary). And a second line appeared. I was pregnant.

I am trying to remind myself that the brain is a tricky thing. That the frequent twinges on my right side, occasional nausea, exhaustion, excess saliva, bloating (without noticeable weight gain), and sore breasts are a figment of my imagination. It is, technically, too early to be feeling any symptoms according to every medical guide I can find. The earliest I'll let myself crack open one of those pregnancy tests sitting in my bathroom is this Sunday. And yet...

Ever practical, I went to a clinic in Nearby US City today for a consultation and to establish myself as a patient. I know exactly what I need to do to set up insemination for the next time I ovulate. But always with the caveat, "If I'm not already pregnant."

My wife thinks I'm pregnant. And deep down I do too. But I just keep remembering I've been here before.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Some people have too much time on their hands

Via No Nym's guest post at BitchPhD in honor of "Talk Like A Pirate Day":

My wife showed our son the SpongeBob "You are a Pirate" video on YouTube. From there, she discovered a whole world of SpongeBob clips. Now most of these are not simply clips grabbed from regular SpongeBob cartoons. Instead, they are often little bits and pieces of various episodes with other items thrown in, carefully set to some song or random music. This is one of my son's favorites.

I barely have the time to keep up with half a dozen blogs, much less put the energy into creating a SpongeBob montage. I suppose I should be thankful that someone has done something that amuses my son. But really, who are these people?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

My highly sensitive son and me

When my son started at his new preschool last year, he initially settled in just fine. The teachers told me several times about how surprised they were at his adaptability. But after several months there were little things that were not improving. He wasn't really catching on to potty training. He didn't eat very much. He had frequent meltdowns. He would get too worked up to use his words. In concert with his teachers, we've been trying a few things, particularly encouraging him to tell us what was wrong instead of just crying.

But I needed something more and wanted desperately to find proof that my son was not a complete oddity. In my searches I came across Elaine Aron's The Highly Sensitive Child. This is actually follow-up work to her general work on high sensitivity. There's even a website. Reading the book was a very emotional experience for me, as I saw both my son and myself on nearly every page.

And this is a large part of why my feelings about my son's differences run even deeper than the usual mother's protectiveness.

A highly sensitive person is more sensitive to stimuli than the average person. The possible manifestations are many, though most highly sensitive people exhibit both emotional and physical sensitivity. Through her research, Aron has calculated that about 20% of the population. She also points out that American society (and Canadian follows this to a great extent) is generally organized to the advantage of and usually celebrates the attributes of people with average sensitivity.

So how does this all play out with my son and me?

Even before I read this book, I'd noticed that he shared many of my emotional traits. The quickness to cry is not an indication that he is a sad child, as the father of one of his classmates has mentioned to my wife on more than one occasion. It is, rather, an outlet when he's overwhelmed. And the highly sensitive person is overwhelmed much more easily, because all external stimuli have a greater effect.

I have always cried easily. Sometimes I couldn't even explain why and would often make up an answer for my parents, who insisted that there must be something wrong. I recognize now that there was usually an aggregation of causes, and the smallest of discomforts or setbacks could be the tipping point. I've also realized that crying is the natural expression of a whole range of emotions for me, really any very strong emotion--sadness, anger, frustration, exhaustion, embarrassment. And this is also what I'm seeing with my son.

I am very sensitive to noise. That is not to say I must always have it quiet; in fact, I usually like to have the TV or some music on, even if I'm not really paying attention. But that is more a case of me being able to control the level of noise. In noisy places, I often find it hard to concentrate on or even hear what is being said to me. It's not normal distractability. It's more that I notice everything and want to process it all. Now many people would say that I'm inattentive or space out, but what is happening is that I have learned to tune out noise in self-defense and they have to practically get in my face before I notice they're talking to me. My son has not yet learned to ignore the noises around him. I remember one morning at preschool, the CD was acting up, emitting an odd squeak every once in a while. With each noise, my son would suddenly look up and make a little noise. I quickly realized that he and I were the only two in the room who noticed this; nobody noticed when I turned off the CD player either.

I have physical sensitivities too. My oddest one is a dislike of socks, mostly because I can rarely get the seams to lie correctly over my toes or they constrict my feet in the wrong places or they bunch up when I walk. I also hate many of the tags in my shirts. My son does not share those specific dislikes, but his picky eating seems to be largely due to texture. He loves chicken nuggets, but is picky even about those. We can't serve him the healthier versions because the breading has the wrong texture; he just has to feel the breading on his lips to know it's wrong.

It doesn't surprise me that he has meltdowns at school. There are about 25 kids in his classroom, many of them very noisy and rambunctious. He mostly loves playing with them, but sometimes it's too much. My son has always been able to play by himself, maybe one or two other people at most, so large groups can quickly overwhelm his senses. Especially when there are kids who insist on poking and touching and being right in his face; when the stimuli are already coming fast and furious, that's the last thing he needs. So of course he cries. I completely get it.

One thing I especially like about Aron's book is her strong belief that being highly sensitive is not "something to live with," but rather a quality to nurture and prize. This has meant a lot to me as I still struggle to overcome a lifetime of low self-esteem and now strive to make sure my son knows how special he is.

And being highly sensitive does have its benefits. I am generally good at reading other people; most of my errors come from my self-esteem problems so that I'm quick to read another person's anger as anger at me, but I get the emotion right. This also means I'm very empathetic. My son too is more empathetic than most kids his age. Whenever he hears crying, he looks for the source and tries to figure out what he can do. At the playground a couple weeks ago, when an older girl wiped out a younger girl on the slide, he immediately went up to her and asked, "You OK?"

It is very important to me that my son retain his empathy and ability to notice the little things. And I want him to know it's OK to be reflective and not in the middle of every social situation. On the other hand, I want to keep him in preschool and work with his teachers to help him defuse situations before the meltdown begins so that he will be able to start kindergarten with success.

I haven't even gotten into the obstinacy, perfectionism, easy frustration and lack of interest when something proves difficult. I'm also keenly aware that I need to make sure that my actions reflect the parenting he needs, not what I wish I had or what will help me heal.

Friday, September 22, 2006

When is different just different?

There is nothing developmentally wrong with my son, per se. He has met all of his developmental milestones, and the doctor was completely satisfied with him at his 3-year appointment. But I recognize that there are many ways in which he is different from his peers. I recognize a lot of this and am fiercely protective of it because I recognize myself in his 'oddities.'

From a very young age, my son has been introspective. His favorite things at just a few weeks old were the pattern of triangles on our quilt and the ceiling fan above our bed. He would look at them, truly examine them from a young age. And that too is a way in which he was different. He could focus eyes very soon after birth and immediately took to inspecting his world and trying to figure them out.

My son has an amazing memory. We have never been able to use the distraction method. He was enamored of the remote control at a few months old, before he was even crawling, and would throw himself around trying to get it. We would hide it behind a pillow, under a blanket, and he would seem to forget about it. But the second we moved a finger in the direction of the remote, he would perk up and wait for it to make an appearance.

At eighteen months, he began learning his letters and numbers. By the time he was two, he could count to 12--and truly understood the concept of counting. He also knew nearly all of his letters (U, V, and W gave him some trouble) and could pick them out on the page.

He has a vivid imagination, re-enacting and building on stories from books and DVDs. When we saw a car that had a motorcycle on a trailer, he told me a story about how it was going to the airport where it would be put in a box and would then go on an airplane.

But here's where the flip side of the differences start to come up.

He could hold up his head very soon after birth and was also early on rolling over and sitting up. But after that he was on the late end for many of his physical milestones. He didn't crawl until he was nine-months-old. He wouldn't walk unsupported until he was 16 months. And then waited until after 18 months before he would walk without prompting. (Though he started climbing at the same time as he crawled.)

Language is another mixed bag. It has been acquired very much according to his own desires. He has always had a larger vocabulary than would be expected for his age, but doesn't always follow the proscribed path for putting words together. At the point he was 'supposed' to know body parts, he knew one or two, but he did know about twenty different animals with their respective sounds. His sentences generally have the correct number of words, but he doesn't have the sorts of conversations I hear other kids having. I recently realized that he is very good in a conversation of his own choosing, but not as good at small talk. He never answers "How are you?" appropriately and doesn't tell people how old he is. When I ask him who he played with, he often replies with what toys (though I suppose that given his imagination, the trains very well could be his good friends). We're not always sure if he truly understands us--is he being willful, lying, what?

Potty training is taking forever. He seems to understand the process and now gets it right more often than not. But sometimes he just doesn't use the potty. No particular reason. He just doesn't.

He has frequent meltdowns. These are not quite tantrums, not the kick and scream on the floor sort of thing (though that happens on occasion). Rather, something will go wrong; his face will crumple and he will dissolve into tears. This happens more often than with his classmates. And once he gets started, it takes him a long time to calm back down.

He doesn't like to be touched by his classmates unexpectedly and will yell "ouch" when they do. This is not an all-around thing. He always wants my wife or me to hold him, and I've never seen him react negatively when a teacher or another adult touches him.

Truthfully, if I didn't have him in daycare, if I weren't planning to send him to junior kindergarten next year, very little of this would concern me. At home, one-on-one, he's generally delightful and sweet. Even when he digs his heels in (and boy is he stubborn too), it tends to be more amusing than frustrating (potty training aside). And I see the potential for him to use his qualities to his advantage when he gets older. But because we have to deal with classmates, both older and younger, I worry about helping him negotiate the larger world and fit in to the degree he needs to without quashing who he is.

For tomorrow, I hope to talk about how I see myself reflected in his personality.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Renegade inseminator

Or, the lies I told, trying to get knocked up

When I called my old OB/GYN office on Monday to make sure I had everything I needed for my special visit, I ended up canceling my appointment. Turns out they decided I needed a consultation and pap smear at their office before they'd do the insemination. Never mind that I've had a pap smear recently (perfectly fine) and could give them the records.

Nearly in tears, I called my wife. And therein was hatched a plot. Did I really need the doctor? I already had the plane tickets, was planning on meeting up with some former colleagues who are dear friends. Not that I expect that this is the time, but I was really invested in trying this month.

So I called the sperm bank to tell them I'd be picking up a vial. Was I still using Dr. F.? Lie #1: Yes. Here I'm relying on the fact that the clinic generally doesn't communicate with the doctor if everything runs smoothly.

I showed up early to pick up the cannister, since I wanted to get things taken care of as soon as possible. Lie #2: I wrote Dr. F.'s name in the pick-up log.

Took care of business back at the hotel, took the cannister back, headed in to see my friends at my old school. Lie #3 (told many, many times--and less an outright lie than a stretching of the truth and lie by omission): Answer to "What brings you here?": "Some doctor stuff. I haven't transferred everything up to Canada and it was just easier to make the visit down now and get it all shifted during the year."

And is it a lie not to declare the few hundred dollars' worth of "Pop" that traveled back with me?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

It all blends together

I went in and out of this airport I don't know how many times when I lived in the area. Yet, I couldn't visualize what I would see next. Off the airplane to the baggage claim to the car rental place. It's all vaguely familiar, but I'm not sure if I'm actually remembering this airport or just some Platonic Form of an airport.

On the shuttle to the car rental location, the woman next to me asks, "Is this new? Do you know if all of the rental companies are in one building or if there are multiple stops?" I know that I should know, but can only smile and say, "I'm not sure."

Later, as I walk around the mall near my hotel,* I reminisce about when my wife and I used to be able to go there regularly. Then I start to think about trips to that mall with my parents and siblings. Except that never happened. That was a different mall.

I know that some of it is the homogenization of commercial spaces, but I also suspect a factor of age and distance.

* And yes, I chose the location specifically so that I could pick up a couple things at two of the stores I know are there.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lousy Lice

Some child in my son's classroom has lice.

Ever since I heard that, my head has been itching non-stop.*

Throughout my years of teaching, I managed to escape lice. Yes, it's much less prevalent with the junior high set and older, but I had enough contact with littler ones that I count it as an accomplishment.

But then I see the notice at my son's school and am reminded that there's another route of infestation open to me now. I think we may have passed the incubation period for this round, but I know it's just a matter of time before the next one. And the one after that. Ad nauseam.

And with this whole trying-to-get-pregnant thing, I have the added concern that I couldn't just use the strong shampoo to kill the little suckers off. I believe that the non-chemical approach involves spreading oil over your hair and covering with Saran Wrap for a couple hours. A couple times a day. For many days.

Is shaving my son's head an option?**

* A totally psychosomatic reaction. We've checked our son nightly and have seen no signs. All three of us have dark enough hair that lice would be obvious.

** Probably not a good idea as we head into Canadian cold weather. Sigh.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Sillies get ready for bed

I am now the proud owner of multiple pictures of my son with a diaper (technically, pull-ups) on his head, otherwise naked--in other words, date-embarrassment fodder. To be fair, I may have given him the idea (the diaper on the head, not the accompanying naked part).

We were already being quite silly in the tub, what with the squirting of each other and the surrounding area and the bear spout-guard eating my son's rear-end. My wife came in a couple of times to check on the roars and shrieks of laughter. I'm glad the unit next door is currently empty or I might be trying to explain the noise to the cops.

After his bath and towel down, my son extended the silliness to putting on his night-time diaper. So I put it on my head, which was apparently the funniest thing ever. At his first opportunity, he grabbed and turned it into a hat for himself. He ran to show my wife, I slipped into the den to grab the camera.

Many, many pictures later, we settled down enough to squirm into pajamas, read a story, and get into bed. I suspect sleep is still a long way off. But I'd call it a pretty good night.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

In defense of Xander

Of all my choices on yesterday's post, I suspected that Xander would be the most likely to be questioned. And in many ways, Willow would be the easier and more logical choice. As I said, I started watching Buffy because of the Willow and Tara storyline. When I went back to watch the series from the beginning, I most identified with Willow, the shy and brainy one. I liked watching her transformation into a more confident woman as she came into her power and found Tara. I also have a thing for redheads.

But still, I have to say Xander is the character I'd pick out. The short version of my reason: Xander is the regular guy who sticks around to the end.

Now the long, drawn out version. But I swear, I have a point.

I have always read stories that involve quests and dangerous missions. Inevitably, the characters must face many perils and often willingly put their lives on the lines. And as I read these stories, "I could never do that, I am not that brave" runs on a continuous loop in my head.

Let me give you an example. In the Lord of the Rings, everytime Tolkien switches to Frodo and Samwise making their way through Mordor to destroy the ring, stress overwhelms me. I couldn't do it. I couldn't keep going. It would take much more than lembas to keep me going. Forget Mordor even. When Frodo is just setting out, I'm already wanting out. I'm pretty sure that if someone handed me the One Ring and I couldn't pawn it off on someone else, I would simply curl up and wait for the ring-wraiths to sniff me out. Yes, I'd like to think I'd rise to the occasion, but I'm not too optimistic.

So back to Buffy. Nearly all of the central characters have some special power.

Buffy is the Slayer. 'nuff said.

Willow. Even before Willow realizes that she has magical ability, she is the brainy one. She does the research and makes the connections that allows Buffy to do the slaying. Once she begins to develop as a witch and her relationship with Tara helps her channel her magic, she turns out to be more powerful than anyone expected-- destroy-the-world powerful after Tara's death!

Giles has his training as a Watcher and, for most of the time, the support of the Council. He has a large store of knowledge and much experience to call on.

Angel and Spike are vampires and have all of the attendant powers. They also have the creature-of-the-night thing going for them.

Oz covers all the bases: brooding, sensitive, musician. And he's a werewolf.

Anya is a demon. Quite a nasty demon too, when spurned.

Dawn is the human incarnation of The Key.

Faith. Also a slayer, but with serious attitude.

Tara--see Willow.

Cordelia. While Cordelia does not have supernatural powers, she has super powers in the high-school sense--she is popular and controls matters of life or death on the social scene.

And then there's Xander. He's not the smartest, he's not popular, he doesn't bring any unusual power to the fight. But he's a solid friend and is always there. He may not like what he's being asked to do, he may complain bitterly, but he's there. He doesn't curl up, he doesn't turn tail and run, he stands by his friends and does what he knows must be done.

Another, less emotionally charged, reason for my choice comes from an appreciation of what I think Joss was doing with the character. I'm sure countless academic papers have been written on this, but here's my abbreviated take. Xander, in some respects, is the Everyperson. He ends up in the middle of this supernatural mess mostly by accident--it could happen to anyone. Since he is not a brain, he asks the questions that allow an explanation of plot points. On top of all that, he often serves as comic relief. I am always amused by his misadventures in love; they take bad patterns in dating to a whole new level. His love problems also set up a reverse damsel-in-distress situation, where the poor guy helplessly waits to be rescued.

All of that is why I love Xander so much and why he stands out for me among the rest of the characters. I admire him because, even after enduring the near destruction of the earth (several times), he's still there.

Friday, September 15, 2006

My first meme(s)

How exciting! I've been tagged for my first meme by Bub and Pie. She actually included two in her post, and I will respond to both.

Meme #1: What's on p. 123 of the book you're reading?

The process:
1. Open the nearest book to page 123.
2. Count down to the 5th sentence.
3. Post the text of the next 3 sentences.
4. Name of the book and author.
5. Tag three people.

I'm cheating a little here--I know, first meme and already bending the rules. But I couldn't use the book I'm actually reading at the moment because (1) it would reveal my field pretty specifically, (2) the 5th through 8th sentences include characters I can't recreate here, and (3) it would be really boring.

Instead I picked up the book I just finished, Sunshine by Robin McKinley (I said I would re-read this after my exam and I did!). Here's what I found:

"The table knife in question was lying on the one clear space on Jesse's desk. I assumed it was the same knife. It was the coffeehouse pattern and while it had been wiped roughly off, the smear of remaining bloodstains was convincing. I had no idea when I'd dropped it."

If I just add that "I" is the main character who has gotten into a tangle with vampires, it segues nicely into meme #2.

Meme #2: My all-time 10 best TV characters

How could I resist this one when I found out that it was inspired by Joss Whedon's own list? And so I give you my favorite characters of all time, in no particular order, but starting with Whedon's own creations.

1. Xander from Buffy. Yes, it was the Willow and Tara storyline that pulled in my wife, who then converted me. And I do love Willow, in a she-can-paint-Sappho's-poetry-on-my-back-anytime way. But as I went back and watched all of the earlier episodes, Xander crept into my heart. The poor guy just couldn't buy a break; everytime he thought he might have found a nice girl, she puts him in chains or tries to destroy him in some other way.

2. Mal from Firefly. Because I would follow him. This decision was similar to the Buffy decision. Both shows have such incredible ensemble casts and they work because of how well the characters and actors fit together. And there's something about every crew member that draws me in. But Mal holds them all together. He's tough when he needs to be tough and sensitive when the situation calls for it.

3. Xena from Xena: Warrior Princess. It was a toss up between Xena and Gabrielle, but specifically the Gabrielle who learns that she can handle a weapon and look out for herself later in the series. But I loved Xena from the beginning. I suspect it's the dark and brooding thing.

4. Jaye Taylor from Wonderfalls. Another show Fox cancelled way too soon. Jaye, an over-educated slacker who has moved back to her hometown of Niagara Falls and works in a souvenir shop, suddenly finds that inanimate objects are talking to her and telling her, cryptically, what to do. Things never work out as she expects, but someone's life always ends up better. Quirky, hilarious, and unpredicatable.

5. D.I. Dave Creegan from Touching Evil (Robson Green in the British version). Another instance of attraction for a different character (Creegan's partner D.I. Susan Taylor), but Creegan is an amazingly intense and complicated character--the first series starts just as he is coming back on duty after having been shot in the head.

6. Chris Stevens from Northern Exposure. I was always intrigued by the philosophy spouting, ex-con DJ. His character challenged me, I think because I still wanted people to fit neatly into categories (I was probably too old to still feel this way, but I think I was trying to find some order in my life during a time of upheaval).

7. Jeremy from SportsNight. Again, a show I loved for the way the ensemble worked together. But I have a soft spot for the geeky guy who didn't quite fit in, yet could always recall the statistic someone needed. One of my favorite episodes takes the form of a letter he's writing to his sister.

8. Jamie Buchman from Mad About You. She was so sharp, funny, motivated, and flawed. A line that sticks with me (haunts me!) comes from the series finale when we're taken into the future and find that Jamie and Paul have separated. Jamie says to a friend, "He said I was unkind." It made me stop and think about how quick and sarcastic plays in human, not sitcom, terms.

9. Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons. Let's just say neither I nor any of my friends were surprised at the results of my personality test. While my mom and dad are no Marge and Homer, I can certainly relate with Lisa's experiences at school and her various struggles (how to be cool but not act dumb, religion, vegetarianism).

10. Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica (the new series). You'll notice that only one other character on my list is on a show that is currently in production, and given that The Simpsons are starting their 18th season, that one is already well-established. BSG is just about to start its third season, but Starbuck made my list the moment I saw my first episode. For those who have not seen the show (or heard anything about it, since this is almost always pointed out), the new Starbuck is a woman. It makes for an interesting character. She still smokes, drinks, dislikes authority, but is the best pilot they've got; on the other hand, there are some old family issues that have been alluded to and she definitely doesn't handle relationships well. It's a bit of the brooding and hurt thing that obviously plays to my nurturing side; I could make it all better!

So that's my list. It is (unintentionally) gender-balanced and may reveal more than you wanted to know.

I now tag Lisa B., Sunshine Scribe, and Metro Mama.

Shh... don't tell anyone

I had carefully planned out a series of posts that would lead up to my grand revelation. It was brilliant.

But I've started some plans in motion today. Now I'm feeling all conspiratorial and dying to share just how crazy I am--and I've decided not to let my best school-friend in on the scheme.

So first the revelation: my wife and I are ready for baby #2. And we've managed to get almost everything in order. I've been plotting my cycle and seem to be pretty regular. We have "pop" on ice (brings a whole new meaning to popsicle) at our original sperm bank. And we are so ready.

The rub: "Pop" is not cleared to come to Canada. Apparently, the US and Canada test for different things in different ways, so we can't just have him shipped up here.

Now, we had a solution to that, a good one even. I would simply become a patient with some doctor just across the border. "Pop" could wait for me there and I'd drive over, as long as it was a light school day.

Rub #2: It has not been easy to set this up with a doctor.

One clinic, that seemed very promising, played phone tag with me for 2 weeks before telling me that they didn't "have the facilities to handle frozen sperm." I don't quite get this, as "Pop" travels in his own container that stays at the needed temperature for at least 7 days. They would be able to just stand him in a corner until I came in. Whatever.

So I contacted their suggested clinic. And I have an appointment in two weeks to set up my patient file. Only problem: I ovulate next week and really don't want to wait another cycle. OK, fine, I'll make the appointment, but I'm still looking for someone who can take me sooner.

Almost in tears, I said to my wife, "Why does this have to be so much harder than last time? I really miss our old OB/GYN." And thus was planted the seed of our plan.

Next week after I teach one morning, I will drive to the airport and fly back to our old city. The next morning, I will go pick up "Pop" and head to my old doctor. They are more than happy to fit me in on the very day I needed, which also happens to be the day it was easiest for me to reschedule my usual committments. After I go through the drill there, it's back to the airport and home again so that I can be back in class the next morning.

It's crazy, it's absolutely nuts, but I am so excited.

Keep your fingers crossed!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mighty, mighty machines

One show that's on Canadian television, but not available in the US (to my knowledge), is "Mighty Machines." For anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of discovering this educational, children's programming, the concept is as follows: various 'mighty' machines are shown at work and a voiceover, in the character of one of these machines, explains what they do. For example, the "In the City" episode is told mainly from the point of view of Little Mac, a city pickup who rides around the city and visits various machines like Dusty the Streetsweeper, Vic the Vacuum (who cleans out storm sewers), and Stumper who chops up old tree stumps. The show airs on Treehouse both as short 5-minute clips between longer shows and in its own 20+ minute slot.

My son fell in love with "Mighty Machines." Anytime we have caught it on Treehouse, he goes into a fit when it's over. How convenient it would be, my wife and I said to each other, if they had some episodes on DVD. Silly us, of course they do. We found one, previously viewed, at our local video store one day and figured it was worth a shot (we were also trying to distract him from the fact that we hadn't been able to fulfill a promise that day). The DVD had 3 full episodes for more than an hour of viewing.

We watched the DVD's episodes on the sawmill, buses and trains, and trucks so many times that we could recite the lines as well as any of our favorite Monty Python sketches. Our son would sing along with the sawmill song ("I've been working at the sawmill" to the tune of "I've been working on the railroad"). Somewhere along the way, he decided the machines were so awesome that they deserve another 'mighty,' hence frequent requests for "Mighty, Mighty Machines." One day as my son and I came home on public transportation, he began to declaim in a Shatner-esque manner, "Mighty machines... they're mighty machines... doing mighty things... for you... for me."

He remembered where we had bought the first DVD and asked us some time later if we could go in and look for more DVDs. My wife and I acquiesced, figuring that maybe we could have a little variety.* So we walked away with two more "Mighty Machines" DVDs, each with 3 episodes. Now he tends to flit back and forth between episodes (usually on different DVDs), calling out "I need to watch train one," followed by "I need to watch garbage dump one."

So tonight, we were out for our evening walk, and he asked to go look for more "mighty, mighty machines." This was when we weren't even in sight of the store.** For whatever reason, it seemed like an OK idea. I think both my wife and I were relying on our belief that we had already bought out all of the previously viewed volumes at this particular store. Guess again. As we paid for our two DVDs, the clerk remarked, "'Mighty Machines,' volumes 1 and 4. I guess we didn't have volumes 2 and 3." To which I replied, "We do... and volume 6."

On our way back, my wife remarked, "Well now we're just missing one volume." But really, what are the chances we'll be lucky enough that they stopped with volume 6?

* This is always the toss-up for me. Keep the one DVD so that we watch it until we all go mad or add new ones so that although there's greater variety in the rotation, it's even more stuff that drives us crazy. Not an easy decision.

** The kid has, and has always had, an outrageous memory. We were merely headed towards the store, and he knew.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Finding my rhythm

Trying to post something before I run off to get my son from daycare. I'm at that awkward beginning point of the semester when I'm not yet buried in work, although I have plenty to do, and I haven't yet found my rhythm since everything's just getting started. It's taking a lot of my mental energy just to keep track of where I'm supposed to be when.

I have a large backlog of topics I've been meaning to tackle here, but right now most of them exist in fragmentary draft form, if they've even made it that far. As I mentioned yesterday, academic work tends to sap my creativity, so it will be interesting to see if it has a similar effect on my postings. Although my summer included a certain amount of school-related work, the volume was nowhere near what now looms.

A result of the lack of rhythm and onset of creativity-suck is that I am in the middle of Doubting What I Am Doing. As I come out of a new seminar, I say to myself, "Is this really what I want to spend a semester on?" As I stand in front of my class, not yet knowing their names, not quite into the meat of the subject yet, not even knowing how many of them will stick around, I think to myself, "Am I reaching them? Can I actually teach them this stuff?" As I look at the assignment I have for a class I have not yet attended, I wonder, "Can I stay motivated to keep on top of this?"

I look at all of the new graduate student in our program, dewy-eyed, professing how excited they are about this year, putting a positive spin on every aspect of the program, pontificating on their love of the intellectual pursuit. I know some of this is the novelty and some of it may be posturing, trying to say the right things. I also know some of them truly mean it and academia is their lives. So I have to remind myself that this is not me, that I know what I want out of my program and have come to terms with the fact that my subject is not the end-all, be-all in my life (oh, so far from it).

In another couple of weeks, my schedule will be etched on my brain. I will have my rhythm and move between classes and activities without too much thought. I will move past my doubts and forget what it was like to have enough free time that I slightly resent losing it.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why I'll never finish my book

I am a writer at heart. Or maybe just touched in the head.

Characters have a habit of introducing themselves to me in my dreams. I observe them interacting and get a sense of their strengths, weaknesses, desires, challenges, secrets. Then they run through my thoughts unbidden and their stories start to unfold.

I have lived with one character in particular for years now. I know nearly everything about her. Yet I sincerely doubt her story will ever be told. Here's why:

1) I don't write enough.

And generally to finish a novel, one must write a fair bit. I have a handful of scenes, lots of notes, some character studies, and plenty of ideas. But it's nowhere close to being a cohesive narrative. This problem is compounded by the fact that...

2) I feel less creative when I'm busy with academic work.

I realized this back in college. I had a particular burst of creativity when I was out of classes, decided to channel that into a creative writing class, but found myself in dead water when I was trying to write fiction at the same time that I had research to do. Not that I've taken proper advantage of the times I've been away from academic work. Now that I've committed to the academic path (again), I can't imagine having the sort of respite I'd need to polish off a novel. But all of this is moot, given...

3) J.K. Rowling published first.

My character invaded my dreams well before the publication of Harry Potter, but comparison would be unavoidable simply because my heroine is an orphan of sorts and has a birthmark in the shape of a lightning bolt. Intellectually I understand that this is really just tapping into archetypes (and probably go all Jungian on you or cite from The Golden Bough if I wanted to look up a couple references), but I also know that in the end it would all come down to Harry Potter.

Not that the world needed another random fantasy novel anyway.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years later

I saw that my classes began on September 11th. I understood that 2006 - 2001 = 5.

Yet somehow I hadn't quite processed the significance. The fifth anniversary of September 11th. I know that my experience doesn't even begin to compare with that of so many people who were truly in the middle of it, but for at least part of that day, I couldn't be sure.

I was in Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001. My wife was not with me; she and I chatted via instant message since the activity of my day had not yet begun.

Then she IM'ed me, "A plane just flew into one of the World Trade Center towers." I was floored, but didn't panic. It was unclear what kind of plane, and I assumed it was some small, personal aircraft whose pilot had made a horrible mistake.

But a short time later, "Another plane just hit the other tower." And I knew that couldn't be an accident. It was hard to get a news site up, as they were all so flooded with traffic. Even when I did, there was no information my wife hadn't already told me.

Those first moments passed by in slow motion. I caught my breath, tried to stay calm. And then everything sped up: the next plane hit the Pentagon, just miles from where I stood. Soon there was information overload: there was a fire on the Mall, the FAA in Fredericksburg had been attacked, the towers had fallen, a fourth plane crashed, a car bomb exploded at the State Department. "I'm in a war zone," I thought to myself, still not panicking, because I just couldn't let myself.

Now it turns out that most of the information flood was false. The towers did fall, the fourth plane did crash, but DC was not under siege. I was relying on others for my information, and I still don't know the sources for most of what I heard. Internet news sites were crashed by the load of traffic and I didn't have access to a television.

It was hours before I could get a phone call out. First I called my wife, who was practically hysterical with worry. Then I contacted my mom so that she could tell other family members I was fine. Later I would call relatives in New York, both to let them know I was OK and to make sure that some trick of fate hadn't taken them to the towers that day.

I was glad not to have television in the middle of it all, glad not to see the towers fall over and over again while the reporters tried to sift through the fact and fiction, tried to make sense of it all.

I couldn't get out of the city until late in the afternoon, after some of the rumors had been quashed, after I was pretty sure I hadn't lost anyone. Yet as I drove out of the city, panic finally set in. I could see the Washington Monument, the spire of the National Cathedral, I drove right past the Israeli Embassy. I realized how many important buildings I was driving past--targets now. The streets were nearly deserted and I suddenly felt exposed.

No grand statements, no lessons, though I did at least learn that I was living pretty much the life I wanted. And despite our misgivings about bringing a child into such a world, we began to realize how much we wanted a child in our life. I was pregnant less than a year later.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

My blogging fear

All of the reasons I originally gave for blogging anonymously are sincere, but I left one out: teenagers. Not a fear of roving groups of teenagers, as I have read on other blogs.* 7th and 8th graders. Specific 7th and 8th graders. Who are no longer 7th and 8th graders (unless they've done very poorly in school since I left).

One of the reasons it took me so long to start my own blog was a slight aversion due to all the grief they caused me as a teacher. For a long time, I was concerned about how my students might be using the internet, including blogs, but somehow avoided any situations that required my action. Around the time an article came out that covered the range of awful things happening on the internet, we ended up with our own junior high name-calling problem.** I was made aware of this as a low-level administrator, but did not have to do anything specific at the time.

I also was given the name of the Live Journal where the original insults appeared. Which led right down the rabbit hole (to borrow a phrase from HBM). Since it would be unthinkable for students to maintain a blog without an extensive list of 'friends,' it was quite easy to move from blog to blog. Some students used their names in the title; sometimes names appeared in the comments. Even if they were fairly careful with names, I could figure out the owner of a blog in under five minutes. At this point, the goal was minor surveillance.

But it didn't take long before several posts showed up that suggested the adults needed to step in. More insults, including a rather virulent strain aimed at a particular student, and several students who seemed to be putting themselves in bad situations with significantly older students. There was direct intervention where necessary, but we also decided to split the 7th and 8th graders into small groups to discuss the internet.

I suspect that some of the other group leaders emphasized the 'danger' aspect: sexual predators could be targeting you with the information you put out there. While I certainly wanted my students to be aware of such an issue, it tends to fall on deaf ears. Besides, it didn't get to the heart of why we were having the discussion. So instead, we talked about the permanence of what one puts out on the web and that it's impossible to completely get rid of it. I gave the example of an old email I found when I googled myself once; it had been sent to a professional list and, luckily, was nothing to be embarrassed about, but it had shocked me to find it posted on a website with open access. But I could tell they were thinking about finding certain of their emails randomly in the ether. The other teacher in the room pointed out that colleges and companies have been known to reject candidates or rescind offers based on what they find via a search. As this was a very college-oriented group, that had an impact.

The students' perspective was interesting. The most common complaint I heard was that it was creepy to find out teachers had read the blogs. In fact, this point came up not only in that group, but also in other situations where students spoke to be about what had happened (I was an approachable teacher, so they felt they could talk to me, even though I admitted to having read some of the blogs myself). The counterpoint, of course, is reminding them that their blogs had public access. Moreover, I always thought it was creepier to think about random perverts reading their blogs than adults they knew and, ostensibly, could trust.

One student, a popular girl who was very savvy about social issues, if not the smartest in her class, posed the most thoughtful question: If all of this stuff you're saying is true, then why are adults doing it? Why aren't they thinking about what they put out there?

I paused briefly, probably sighed deeply, and then said, "You're absolutely right. There are a lot of adults out there who put stuff on the internet without giving it a second thought. I know that I send emails all the time without thinking about their permanence. A big part of the problem is that this technology is so new that even most adults haven't thought it through. And so they haven't quite figured out the consequences. Obviously the internet isn't going away and there is so much about it that is convenient and useful, but we're all still learning."

So this is yet another reason I blog anonymously: I'm trying to follow the same advice I once gave my students. Whenever I put something out into the ether, I imagine one of them coming across it. The last thing I would want is for them to squeal with delight and say, "Look! It's Miss Mouse's blog." Because, yes, it would be a little creepy.

*Amalah's is not the only blog where I've seen this, but I couldn't find the others easily.

**As far as I know, the teachers and administration never found the sort of sexual stuff from the article in our school, though they did turn up a bunch of high school students who posted pictures of themselves drinking.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Protecting my family

I am writing this in response to HBM's request for posts about the causes we hold most dear. I have been rolling the idea around in my head, and I suspect that this will, in fact, be only the first of several posts, as seems to be my practice when responding to one of her assignments.

It took me a while to figure out what to write about. There are so many worthy causes out there and, in fact, I find that I start to feel inadequate whenever I ponder all that I feel I should be doing. At first, I even began to fret that there isn't anything I truly am passionate about. But I realized that I wasn't being fair with myself. I am not dispassionate or apathetic. If asked what I care most about, I would easily answer, "My family." Not a surprising answer, but it does extend to the cause to which I most devote myself: gay and lesbian equality, focusing on, but not limited to, equal protection for gay and lesbian-headed families.

I am not a march-in-the-parade, in-your-face lesbian, or at least that's not my intent. But I have made a lot of choices with the hopes of advancing this cause.

The easiest thing I do is give money. My wife and I support HRC because they lobby lawmakers. It's not something I personally would want to do, beyond the letters and emails I have sent to my particular congresspeople, but I recognize that it is necessary for getting things done in the US government. We also give money to Lambda Legal. After our Canadian marriage, we decided not to create a registry; since we had been together for more than a decade and many people already treated us as a married couple, it seemed unnecessary. We did, however, suggest that friends and family could give to Lambda Legal since they've been so active in the fight for same-sex marriage in the US.

What I actively do in the fight for equality is simply to be out. Since the first time I set out for graduate school, more than a decade ago, I have made an effort to live as honestly and openly as I am able. At the beginning, it was always a conscious effort after psyching myself up. When I began teaching at the junior high school-level (much less so with senior high), I was very aware that I was the only openly gay teacher in the division (though far from the only gay teacher, so very far from it). Yet I found that my students, and even their parents, responded positively. It is much easier for me now, but that doesn't mean I don't experience a little anxiety when I correct someone's assumption that being married means I have a husband.

I do not know how much of a difference I am making in people's assumptions and perspectives. At the very least, however, I can be assured that all who get to know me even a little will then be able to say that they know someone who's gay. A fairly normal, intellectual, and thoughtful mother who's gay.

There is nothing that says proponents of gay and lesbian equality need be gay or lesbian themselves. The above-mentioned groups welcome all support. GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) is a group that does wonderful work with teachers and schools. It also doesn't take money to help. Just speak up. Don't let casual homophobic remarks go. You don't have to be abrasive, just say you don't like that kind of word/comment/sentiment. And support schools teaching even the youngest of children that there are all different kinds of families. It's an easy way to introduce the concept to kids without needing to bring sex into the discussion.

Friday, September 08, 2006

1000 little touches

Early in the morning, my son creeps into our room. I lift him into our bed. We snuggle until it's time to get up. He throws his leg over me, pokes his foot into my side. His hand slides up my back or my sleeve. He traces the shape of my ear with a finger.

Once he decides it's time to get up, he climbs out of bed and pulls away my covers, starting at the top and working down until my feet are uncovered.

As we go about our morning routine, there are little hugs and kisses. He'll come lean against me, climb into my lap, play with my eyebrows, pull at my ring.

We head off to school. Invariably he wants to be carried part of the way. He leans his head on my shoulder, plays with the straps of my backpack, slides his hand up my sleeve. Sometimes he sneaks an arm into the top of my shirt, patting my breast, his comfort from early breastfeeding.

On public transit, we sit next to each other. He moves all around, looking out the window, at the ads, at the people. I keep my arm out to protect him from sudden lurches and stops. Sometimes he clings to my arm, climbs into my lap, tries to squeeze by my legs.

Walking the last couple blocks to school, I carry him part of the way and put him down so he can run the last bit. He holds my hand up the stairs, but is ready to pull away when we reach his classroom. Still I always get my kiss and hug before leaving.

Later that afternoon, he throws himself into my arms with a heartfelt "Meema!" If I take some time to chat with his teachers or other parents, he tugs on my hand.

Our ride home reflects our morning ride. Often as we walk home, we play a game in which I walk ahead a little bit and then he runs to catch me, crashing into my butt with his head. Or he pushes me along, hands on my back, leaning his weight into me.

Throughout the evening, more kisses and hugs, cuddling on the couch, hand-holding. For story time, he crawls into my lap in the glider-rocker. I sit there for a little bit as he settles into bed, his hand seeking out mine. Another kiss.

After he's asleep, before I can end my day, I sneak back in and lay my hand on his chest. Now I can sleep.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sweet relief, now freak out

The exam is over and, although I haven't heard official results, everyone's proceeding as if I'll be here at least another year.

The paper is nearly done. I handed in the final copy today. My supervisor assured me when he returned my last draft that there were only minor corrections and any issues he brought up in his comments were intended for my future work. So now he and the second reader just need to assign it a grade.

So now I've officially completed all of my obligations for the 2005-2006 school year and can take a well deserved break.

Except that the next semester begins on Monday. As in 4 days from now. I'd been kind of ignoring that since I had other stuff to get through. And so it was really just yesterday that I allowed myself to think about the fact that I will be teaching next week, never mind the coursework.

The teaching assignment is a little unusual. Officially I'm a TA, but in reality I will be handling most of the student-contact hours, making homework assignments, and grading; the professor in charge will be teaching some of the classes and has already come up with a reasonable schedule. My contract and the number of hours I've been allotted are completely in line with this, so I'm not getting cheated. But it's definitely more responsibility than is usually given to a student at my point in the program.

The class is not exactly the same as what I used to teach to junior and senior high school students, but the basic skills needed to teach it are pretty much the same. I know that that's the reason I was asked to apply specifically for this position.

I blocked most of this out, didn't think about the fact that I would have so much responsibility for a class, in order to make it through my crunch time. But that has passed and now I face a different crunch time. A friend of mine remarked this morning when we were discussing trying to get ready, "I'm just now starting to accept the idea that I will forever be working from deadline to deadline now and I should let go of any thought of getting ahead."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Noticing the details

My son has sharp eyes that pick up on the smallest of details. I consider myself observant, but sometimes it takes me a bit to catch on. Riding on public transit one day, he starts talking about monkeys and bananas. I'm not sure what to think, is he telling me a story? Then he points up and says, "In the picture." Sure enough, there's an ad with monkeys and bananas.

I remember a particular day last summer when I took my son to a community drop-in playgroup. They had a train set that included a few Thomas the Tank Engine characters. They were very old, so old that they either came from a time before the names were printed on the bottom of the train or the names had worn off. I did not know the engines very well at that point, having been introduced to them reluctantly about six months before. My ability to name them depended primarily on their color, and of course several of them were the same color; I didn't yet have their numbers memorized. So I pick up a green engine, no name to help me, and ask my son, "Which one is this, Henry?" He takes it from me and turns it so that he's looking at it squarely in the face. "It's Percy."

When we got home, I checked the train by number and discovered my son was right. Now at that time, all of the trains' faces looked pretty much the same to me. In fact I assumed that the creators pretty much slapped the same faces onto all of the engines. Eventually I could see the slight differences--Gordon has a more pointed nose, for example--but this was immediately obvious to my son.

Sometimes it can feel like a perpetual "I Spy" game, but I truly appreciate that my son is noticing so much.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Thoughts as I recover

The exam is over. I am guardedly optimistic.

The paper is back again. Very little work to do before I turn in my final copy.

My brain is fried.

Some things that have flitted across my mind during the day:
  • I'm finally at a state where I can admit in this space that the exam was a retake. I did not pass it last year due to two very large and uncharacteristic (of me) mistakes. I have been kicking myself for several months now over any number of things: not getting enough studying done, agreeing to a long winter vacation to the States, searching for a new place to live days before the exam, not choosing one question that I would have definitely gotten the core of even if I hadn't remembered all the details. I have never messed up on a big exam before, so that was a blow to the confidence. And then there's the added pressure that, technically speaking, if I don't pass this exam, I'm out of the program--which would mean we wouldn't be able to stay in Canada. No pressure.
  • I have been so focused on getting through today that I'd forgotten new students were coming to campus. Or rather, I'd forgotten what having new students on campus means. And apparently I blocked out events from last year. Because I was very surprised to come across the numerous groups wearing the same T-shirts (brightly colored with 'witty' sayings and some variation of 'Frosh Week' on them) and name tags. When did college students get so young?
  • As I took my walk around campus during the break between the two sections, I found myself across from a playground that my son's preschool class frequents. Sure enough, there they were. "Don't notice me," I silently willed, knowing that my son would get worked up if he saw me; at the same time, I stole glances at him as he climbed the slide.
  • I kept a picture of my son on the desk where I took the exam. A reminder of why I'm doing this and also that there's at least one person who will love me regardless of how I do on the exam.
  • Also on my desk: two fountain pens, my traveling inkwell (I'm a fountain pen geek and use ink instead of cartridges), a mechanical pencil, correction tape, coffee, and mints.
  • I started the exam in the morning with both pens nearly full. I used up both and had to refill one during the second section.
  • The traveling inkwell was a good purchase after all.
I refuse to look back at my materials tonight. I don't want to know what I did wrong. I will be off to bed soon.

Monday, September 04, 2006

What happened to my baby?

There are times that I look at my son and, as if seeing him for the first time, I realize he's not my little baby.

He was born with very curly hair. He had his first hair cut at a little over a year and we've needed to trim it about once every six months. Over the past year, we've noticed the curl starting to relax, but have tried to pretend the air's really dry or brushing it after a bath has straightened it. But the texture was also changing. Besides, my hair did exactly the same thing and is now simply wavy.

Since his summer haircut, nearly a shave, too short for our taste, his hair has grown back to a pleasing length. He still has a couple curls at his temples, but the rest lies against his head in soft waves. It's starting to part itself on one side. It is a boy's hairstyle.

And then this morning we got him ready for a birthday party. I pulled out last year's jeans; they no longer required any cuffing at all (and we rolled them twice through the winter). I added a layered-look T-shirt, something his grandmother got for him this summer in anticipation of this year's cold weather. It's a little long, though well within the limits of style, and the sleeves hit him just about perfectly. Put on socks and his black Chuck Taylors. Suddenly, I'm looking at a BOY! Not a baby, not a toddler, but a boy.

I want to cry. He looks so cute, but so very grown-up.

We go to the party, tire him out, and come home. He's exhausted and ready for a nap. So my wife tucks him in and he quickly drops off. I check in on him after a while to make sure he's still napping and have to restrain myself from kissing his angel face.

Ah, there's my baby.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Giving in to the siren call of Disney

As I sit here typing, I am aware of the two Mater stickers that adorn me, one on my shirt and one on my forehead. That's Mater, as in Tow Mater, not some sophisticated, Latin "mother" thing. For those who may not be in the know, Mater is the lovable and goofy tow-truck sidekick to Lightning McQueen, the main character in Disney/Pixar's Cars, who just happens to be on my wife's forehead. I know this oh so well as I have seen the movie. Twice. And various bits of licensed paraphernalia are spread throughout our house.

There was a point, before my son was born, that I thought I would not expose my son to Disney. This was part of the whole desire to be a total earth mother and protect my son from the evils of such a commercial society. No licensed characters. I think there was something about no television. Definitely no Disney with its unrealistic fairy tales and stereotyped portrayals of gender.

And then he was born. I was so tired and desperate for a little companionship, even if it was just the sound of the TV. I quickly made the concession of putting it on Noggin, and so I introduced my son to Sesame Street. He loved Ernie and Elmo and all of their friends, so when family and friends sent gifts and books with Sesame Street characters, I couldn't bring myself to complain. I mean, this was Sesame Street, the symbol of all that was good and pure from my childhood. Of course from there it spread to other children's programming. But again I couldn't complain about Blue's Clues and even things like Oobi and Franklin began to grow on me.

Just as quickly, we gave up on staying away from toys based on TV and movie characters. He has a "Hokey-Pokey" Elmo from his grandparents, although it scared him for a while. His first pairs of underwear featured Bob the Builder, Spongebob Squarepants, and Blue. His train set is 100% Thomas the Tank Engine; for his 3rd birthday, we went halfway across town to get Thomas plates, cups, tablecloth, etc. (which I forgot to use with his grandparents, so we still have some left over). He has books that feature these characters and more.

At some point, we moved into our collection of Disney VHS tapes. The very fact that my wife and I have a fairly extensive collection of Disney movies, most from the days of VHS, several doubles of movies both of us brought into the relationship, should have been a clue that this was inevitable. I believe we started with Winnie the Pooh and moved on to Jungle Book. He has also come to love Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. On DVD, he chooses from Toy Story, Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., and the extra Winnie-the-Poohs (the lesser Heffalump Movie and Pooh's Grand Adventure, though he doesn't seem to notice that they just don't match up to the original).

Cars was the first movie he saw in the theater. My wife and I decided he was probably old enough and that it might hold his attention. The first time we went, he sat on my lap the entire time, barely moving. He couldn't be bothered to take any of the M&Ms my wife offered. As the credits rolled, he said, "Wanna watch cars again." He would have stayed in the theater all day if we'd let him. He and I went with his grandmother for a second viewing on a day when we needed to kill some time with him. He was not quite as still, shouting out words of encouragement or warning, but he repeated his request to watch it again.

Now, despite my earlier vow to the contrary, I'm actually happy when I find new Cars items. Many of these have been serving as potty training bribes--underpants with his favorite characters, sheets of stickers (and hence my current, decorated state), coloring books, sets of plastic cars doled out one at a time. I know that the movie will be released on DVD on November 7th. And yes, we will be getting it then and not waiting for the December holidays.

This doesn't mean that I've turned a blind eye to the problems I see in the stories. There will be discussions. However I grew up on Disney, I love fairy tales, BUT I can still recognize the sexist and stereotypical elements and understand that they do not fit in reality. So rather than keep my son from it altogether, I'll just make sure to provide some context.

In the meantime, Mater and I will just hang out over here.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


In the same vein as my previous post, I thought I'd explain my choice of pseudonyms, with proper edits for anonymity of course.

When I was in grade school, there was a girl a year or so older who, for whatever reason, didn't like my group of friends. In any case, we got into the usual pre-adolescent sort of name-calling match. Several of the names were based on our names (as opposed to the oh-so-fun "Four Eyes" and "Fatty"). As a zinger against me, she took a version of my name, one I have always hated, and added "Mouse." I was righteously indignant, but mostly about the first part. "Mouse," however, seemed somehow appropriate. It became my camp nickname and was used by many of my close friends.

Now, it's not that I'm particularly mousy, definitely not in a physical sense. But I am happiest observing and staying out of the action. I'm easily spooked and don't like to draw attention. And I do like cheese.

The nickname fell out of use after a few years. I've outgrown a few of those traits or am better able to disguise my shy nature. But I immediately thought of that name again when I first considered starting a blog. Somehow, it fits how I feel about putting myself out there in a new environment: vulnerable, ready to bolt, a bit twitchy.

And so I've made my comfortable little nest over here in this corner. I'll quietly share my stories. And my cheese.

Friday, September 01, 2006

What's in a name

One of the issues same-sex parents have to deal with is what their kids will call them. It's a little easier for families with two fathers; with variations like Daddy and Papa, it's easy to come up with two distinct names. With moms, most variations use an 'm,' so it can be harder to find the right balance between easy-to-pronounce and easy-to-tell-apart.

Some solutions I've seen/heard:
- Mama and Mommy can work, although they're pretty close together.
- Mama plus first initial or first name. On L-Word, there's Mama B. and Mama T. (for Bette and Tina). In the book, Heather has Two Mommies, there's Mama Jane and Mama Kate.
- Families with a Jewish background (or one mom with this background) often use 'ima,' Hebrew for 'mom' for one of the moms and an English version for the other.
-The young son of one of my bosses in college called her "Mommy" and her partner "Meema." This is also a variation used in the comic strip "Dykes to Watch out for."
- I've also heard of families leaving it up for the kid, with the belief that they will figure something out and it will be quite apparent. This is what we ended up doing.

At first, we tried the Mama/Mommy route. This didn't last very long, as neither of us could quite remember to use them consistently. In fact I couldn't tell you right now which one I was.

My son started calling me 'Mama' fairly early on. Actually, it was more like 'mamamamamama.' The doctor told us this didn't count as a word since all babies make that noise, but he definitely used it when he wanted me specifically. This was also the doctor who scolded us when he didn't know his body parts at 18 months, although he could name many animals, along with the noises they made. Not our favorite doctor.

As he got a bit older, he changed what he called me, but again it was obvious who he meant. Similarly he developed a name for my wife. Given that his designations are fairly original, I can't share the exact terms here, but will use 'Mommy' and 'Meema" from this point on since they're similar to his terms.

I love to hear his little voice shout out "Meema" whenever I pick him up from preschool and am amused that his friends refer to me the same way. I also think about the fact that my names don't mark him out as mine. That is, my mommy-name is not traditional and he carries my wife's last name. When people hear our discussions of, "Let's go see Mommy," I wonder what they think our relationship is. Am I the aunt, babysitter, neighbor?

Now, don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change his last name or what he calls me for anything; it's just part of my ponderings about the world around me. He carries my wife's last name, not our hyphenated names, on my insistence. I can't imagine being anyone but 'Meema.' And nothing can take away the knowledge that he is a part of me.