Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A quiet night in the 100 Acre Wood

My son's costume came together last night.* I got into my old Eeyore costume (one of a couple I've bought rather than put together myself). My wife took pictures of me getting him into his costume and then of the two of us together.

He then wore his costume twice today at school. Once to show it off in the morning and then in the afternoon for the real festivities. My wife was able to be there for the afternoon fun, and I got there as soon as I could after my seminar. He wore the costume home.

But once we were home, we decided against going out again. My son had been a little grumpy all day long, and my wife and I both are still a bit under the weather. Our building hasn't organized anything for Halloween beyond a little candy at the front desk, so trick-or-treating would mean driving somewhere--we had considered going back to our neighborhood from last year since it's very residential. Instead, we watched "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" on DVD.

Now my wife purchased candy, just in case we have trick-or-treaters. But given that the management planned nothing and we have no light outside our apartment or any other way of indicating our willingness to ply others' children with sugar, it's doubtful we'll see anyone over here. Of course, that means we'll have more than enough chocolate to fill our own son's bag.

So by my math, we've broken even.

* For the second year in a row, my son appeared to be the only kid in his class with a homemade costume. On the one hand, it makes me proud because I feel like I've really pulled something off. On the other hand, it means his costumes are not as flashy as others', and I wonder at what point he's going to want more.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Just in case I had any doubts

My son's language development tends to follow a pattern. Just as my wife and I begin to worry that he's lagging too far behind his peers and are close to panicking, he exhibits a dramatic increase in both producing and understanding language. It happened this summer and again just a couple weeks ago. We still want to set up a relationship with a professional, but it has lost its immediate urgency.

Now I know that language ability is not an explicit indicator of intelligence, especially at this age, but sometimes it can be hard to remember. I never feel that my son has regressed, something that might indicate autism. But I have sometimes worried that his lessened interest in numbers and letters--two topics he couldn't get enough of before he was 2--indicates that he's not quite the brain I'd expected. But I try to remind myself that, in his view of the world, his current enthusiam for construction machines is no different than his other areas of study.

When intellectualizing doesn't do the trick for me, however, little reminders of that sharp mind help. Like the other night when my wife was trying to get him to eat some apple slices. He wanted a pumpkin cookie, and she told him he could have it if he ate two more pieces of apple. So he picked up a slice, looked her in the eye with a devilish grin on his face, and broke the slice into two.

(He did end up eating two whole slices of apple upon our insistence, but he quite obviously knew exactly what he had done.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Pop quiz

Today, in the face of a busy week, Mouse has been focused on:

a) Getting her class planned through the midterm in two weeks so that all she'll need to do is the grading.
b) Planning out and researching her paper for her seminar.
c) Catching up on the readings she's been barely skimming for the past couple weeks.
d) Making a Winnie-the-Pooh costume from scratch since, crap, Halloween's on Tuesday and what do you mean everyone's sold out of nearly every costume (and certainly every costume the boy would consider) and wouldn't it be mortifying if he were the only child without a costume at his class' party.

We've all been sick, for weeks now--doctor says it's probably a series of viruses and we just need to wait it out. The Halloween costume has been on my mind. This is the first year that we've left the decision to our son. He occasionally changes his mind or asks to be several things at the same time, but Pooh has been the number one choice. Everytime I've been in a store with children's clothing, I've been on the lookout for yellow sweats or a similar outfit, figuring I could make a hood out of some felt I have for the ears and throw a red T-shirt on top. Voila, instant Pooh bear. I did something very similar for my wife many years ago to great success.

But something quickly became apparent. Bright yellow sweats are not "in." In fact, I've come to appreciate just how hard it can be to find solid colored, plain clothes for children. Everything has some sort of printing on it. I could find a yellow sweatshirt, but not the pants, not any yellow pants at all. Not at Target, not at the Bay, not at Old Navy, not at (shudder) WalMart--and there must be some place I'm leaving out.

My other choice was yellow footed pajamas. When I was a kid, footed pajamas served as the basis for many of my costumes: pink pjs with a tail and ears on a headband--tada, I'm a mouse (kind of appropriate, huh?). But yellow footed pjs? Only pair I ever saw were very pale yellow with a floral print. The color was not quite right and I wasn't entirely sure I could cover up the flowers with Pooh's red T-shirt. And other than this pair, I could not find a single pair of 4T footed pajamas (I swear, I wore them until I was around 10, and I was tall for my age) and no solid colored long john pjs.

I even decided I would break my usual tradition of homemade costumes (or at least assembled from various bought items) and just buy one. Went to the Disney store. All that was left: Peter Pan, a couple costumes from Pirates of the Caribbean, and nearly any princess you can name. My son has seen neither Peter Pan nor Pirates of the Caribbean, and regardless of how progressive we are, the Little Mermaid is out. WalMart had a Tigger costume, which would have been acceptable, except it was a 2T. So I bought them out of yellow flannel material and unpacked my sewing machine. The "pattern" is one of his 4T footed sleepers. I cut the legs a little narrow and have had to add a strip of material to make sure they'll be loose enough.

Luckily, we just bought a red sweatshirt from Old Navy, which will go nicely over the yellow suit and hide the slash in the front for easy entry (I may be handy, but zippers are not my thing and I've misplaced my velcro). I'm not sure we'll do a lot of trick-or-treating since everyone's under the weather, but we'll get dressed up long enough to hit a couple of places and let people ooh and aah over the adorable Pooh bear.

Friday, October 27, 2006

One is not enough

When my son was first born, even during the first couple years of his life, I would find myself wondering how I could ever have another child. It was not simply a matter of trying to handle two rugrats--though that still crosses my mind, but more a matter of "How could I love another baby as much as I loved the little guy in my arms?" I knew that I wanted another kid, but I couldn't help worrying.

And then something changed along the way during the last school year. I can't quite explain it, but suddenly I knew things were different. Sure, I wonder how I will manage with two kids clamoring for my attention, but I don't worry about finding the love.

When I wrapped my son in his towel after his bath this evening and enfolded him in my embrace, hugged him tight and said, "I love you so much," I could feel the love just bursting forth. And the thought running through my mind was, "I need another child to share this with."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The clouds are parting

A ray of sunshine from the States: the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that it is against the state's constitution not to give committed same-sex couples the same rights at married couples. They're leaving it up to the legislature to decide whether to call it marriage or civil union or George.

I surprised myself when I discovered how deeply I care about the issue of same-sex marriage. When I came out and met my wife (lo, these many years now), I pragmatically recognized that this meant I could never be married. Have a committment ceremony, perhaps. Replicate some of the rights with legal documents. Have a family, if we wanted. But I figured that marriage was off the table.

Then some little things cracked my resolve. Made me think things might change. It started in Hawaii, the first state where the legal argument was advanced that the state constitution was written in such a way as to rule out discriminating against gay couples. While it didn't pan out as I'd hoped, though I believe that Hawaii has at least limited domestic partner rights, the seed was planted. It took several years and several cases that did not really have legs.

And then Vermont. My wife and I did not rush up there for a civil union. It wasn't a marriage, it wouldn't translate across borders. But we rejoiced for what it symbolized. A crack. A foot in the door. Change.

Massachusetts was the big one for us. The joy was tempered a little because the state attorney general found an old law on the books, originally intended to keep out-of-state interracial couples from marrying in Massachusetts, that said the state would not marry people from other states if their state would not recognize their marriage. But we both like Massachusetts and had practically decided to simply move there first, worry about jobs second.

And then the presidential election happened. The rhetoric from the right was scary, we felt like our family was under attack. Even liberals were making it very clear that they believed marriage was between a man and a woman, though they might entertain extending benefits to same-sex couples.

Yet in the time that I'd started to realize there was some small possibility that I might be able to get married, I'd found that I cared. A lot more than I'd expected. It mattered to me. Not just the rights, but also the word.

In time, we ended up in Canada. Where we are really, truly married. We do not know where we want to go next, but we would at least like to feel that we have the option of returning home. Despite my opinions on the language of the matter, we would be willing to move to a state with civil unions. Each state that extends benefits is another opportunity. Another state that suddenly seems safe and welcoming.

Our move to Canada was entirely voluntary, but it sometimes it feels like exile nonetheless. We very well may decide to stay up north, but knowing that we would have some options in the States soothes the sting that set in nearly two years ago.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Putting them to work young

Earlier this month, Metro Mama wrote about the recently proved importance of teaching children about doing chores from a young age. If you didn't see this post the first time, you should check it out for the cute pictures. It came to mind because of my son's new favorite toy.

We were in our local drugstore, waiting for my son's prescription to be filled. He has a cough that has not gone away, despite an inhaler. The doctor prescribed a strong cough medicine for bedtime so that he (and we) might get an uninterrupted night of sleep.

As we walked the aisles, he wanted to find the toys--which they don't have. Suddenly, he pointed at an end-of-aisle display. "Want that toy!" The Swiffer CarpetFlick. My wife and I looked at each other. Then she shrugged and said, "Why not?"

So since we got home and put it together (no handle extensions and it's the perfect size for someone around 3' 2"), he has been excitedly pointing out to us, "I'm cleaning the floor." Given that he has a habit of spilling his Cheerios and other snacks, it seems about right that he can now clean up the crumbs on his own.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A wild rumpus

I helped out at my son's preschool during afternoon snack today. After the kids were done with their snacks, they got ready for outdoor play. Those who were faster than others looked at books until everyone was done. As I cleaned up after them, I watched my son pick out Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. "That's a good book," I said to him with a smile.

So tonight at bedtime, I pulled it from the bookcase and said, "What about this one?" Usually he refuses my suggestions, part of the whole assertion-of-self thing. But tonight I received a big smile and an enthusiastic "OK!"

We climbed into his bed and began to read about Max and his adventures. As I read it, I revelled in the wonderful cadence of the words and the rich illustrations. My son laughed at Max chasing the dog (with a fork!) and quieting the monsters with his fearsome stare.

It was only a few minute, but one of those serendipitous moments when everything else ceased to be a concern and I could just enjoy existing. With my son right by me.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Potty training update

Because I figure you're all dying to know about the poop situation...

I realized that it's been a while since I mentioned the whole potty training thing. This is definitely a case of no news is good news. Since I know I have at least one reader who was viewing my experience as a likely window into what was in store for her, I wanted to pass along the reassurance that it does get better.

Our son now stays dry all day long--no accidents even during nap time. He even takes the initiative, so that we don't have to keep our eyes on the clock and ask him if he needs to pee every 45 to 60 minutes.

Pooping has improved as well. We still have skidmark issues, but he gets to the potty as quickly as he can. Again, it's all of his own initiative.

How did we get to this point? Shameless bribery.

We had stocked up on potty presents, with the original intent of giving him one for every day he stayed dry with an additional one for any poops. One day, however, when my wife was fed up after the third accident of the day, she told him he could have a present every time he used the potty. Not an ideal set up, especially a week or so in when he realized that the more frequently he went, the more presents he would get. So we spent a few weeks picking up cheap little cars and plastic animals, anything he might like that would not cost too much.

Now he has a couple bins full of the cheap toys, but we've hit a sort of equilibrium. He doesn't like to take a lot of time out from playing, so he doesn't go more often than he really needs. And we've mostly switched over to stickers for peeing with the occasional car for a poop.

I can't say I'm particularly proud of going the bribery route, but it sure has made our lives easier. He's still in diapers (or Cars Pull-Ups to be exact) at night, but that seems reasonable. One step at a time!

Friday, October 20, 2006

A boy or a girl

Years before I had my son, I always imagined myself with a daughter. I couldn't even imagine what it would be like to have a son. Since my wife felt exactly the opposite, I figured that at least one of us would be prepared for whatever Fate brought us.

During my pregnancy, I had a strong sense that I was having a boy, as did my wife. Since I had been teaching for several years at that point, I was not as frightened of having a boy. And I also began to realize that part of my fantasy about having a girl involved a desire to have a little me (and raise her right!). I became thankful that I was having a boy, because it was a strong reminder to me that my child is not me and I am not my child.*

Whenever I mention a desire to have another child, hypothetical or real, one of the questions I am asked is whether I want a boy or a girl. And the truth is that I don't care.

With a girl, we would have that perfect little balance of one boy, one girl. And there is that little bit of me that still wants a girl, and knows that I'm better prepared to raise an individual. Of course, if we have a girl, our son will be horribly outnumbered, the only male in an otherwise female household. I also fear getting a girl through her teen years more than a boy--so much more drama and subtle bitchiness.**

With a boy, our family would be gender-balanced. Plus, think of all the hand-me-downs! But, I shudder to think about two rambunctious boys running amok in our household.

I think my wife, she of the "I would have no idea what to do with a girl" plaint, is actually leaning towards a girl. And my son has shown a slight preference for a baby sister, though I'm not sure he's really thought it through.

And me? I just want that second line on the test next week.

* The irony is that he is so like me in many ways, in ways I wasn't even prepared for.

** Yes it's stereotyping, but most of what I witnessed fell into that same pattern.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Moving to yes

First in a series of pregnancy-obsessed posts as I wait...

This summer my son had the opportunity to meet his brand-new cousin. She was 2-months-old when we visited, still so tiny. He started out very eager to be her friend, talking to her and trying to share his trains. She just sat in her swing and made the occasional noise. He was not impressed--how could he be expected to relate to someone who can't appreciate Thomas and his friends?

It didn't help that his two mommies were cooing over the baby, cradling her in their arms to feed her a bottle, jumping at her every cry.* And then? They had the audacity to ask if he would like to have a baby at home. The answer, quite obviously, was a resounding NO.

We've continued to ask this question from time to time, as it comes up--seeing a baby in a stroller or on TV (this comes up a lot when we watch Robots and they 'make' the baby at the beginning). Last week, it came up as we rode home from school. "Would you," I gently asked, "like a baby brother or sister?" And for the first time, an affirmative answer: "I'd like a baby sister."

He confirmed his preference for a baby sister again today, qualifying it with the request that she would play trains with him. And when we dared ask, "What about a baby brother?", he replied, "OK, a baby brother to play trains."

So he is moving in the right direction. We don't dare tell him that whatever sibling he gets won't be able to play trains for quite some time. Or that it will be years before said sibling can play trains in an acceptable manner.**

Now all we need are some books that will help us explain everything: what it's like to have a new baby in the house and maybe even how the baby gets here--though that one will be harder if we try mostly to stick with something representative of our family. Any suggestions?

* Though it did remind his mommies of just how amazing it is to hold such a little one (and she was small enough to be just barely bigger than he was at birth). And it made them that much more certain that they're ready to add to the family.

** If ever. He often yells at my wife and me for playing with the wrong train or moving it to the wrong place.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The sad math nerd

According to this article, there's an inverse relationship between self-esteem and mathematical ability.*

That explains a lot about my school years...

* OK, OK, the statistics are based on figures for entire countries, not individuals, but the headline sure spoke to me on a personal level.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Five little things that made my day

1) Realizing that my son and I matched--rust-colored tops and blue pants.
2) Starting this week's readings for one of my classes and feeling confident in my ability after two weeks of incredibly difficult work that left me feeling incompetent.
3) Finding Cars sheets for my son's new bed.
4) Coming home to find my wife in her flannel pjs. It sucks that she's not feeling well, but she's so adorable in them.
5) Watching my son stick his tongue out in deep concentration during his bath.

And one more, just because: chasing my son as he streaks through the apartment, lotion not fully rubbed in, arms through the legholes of his night diaper, clucking like a chicken.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Five little things that say a lot: Eavesdropping

As I walked around campus this morning, the conversations around me were an insistent reminder that I am years older and worlds away from undergraduate existence.

1) So then we started drinking...
2) I had 6 gin and tonics. Double gin and tonics. So that's like 12 shots...
3) It was an engineering party, so I felt totally out of place...
4) Dude, you so shoulda been there...
5) I got through the secondary literature and am working through the poems now. (Oh wait, that was me.)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Five little things that say a lot: Overwhelmed, part 2

1) I've decided to resurrect something I started this summer when I was hitting crunch time.
2) We're heading to the halfway mark and I'm facing a midterm in a class for which I have not completed all of the work yet.
3) This whole trying-to-get-pregnant-a-second-time thing is very distracting, so I put off a lot during my last impatient wait to pee on a stick.
4) Having everyone in the family sick or allergic or whatever this crud is does not help.
5) I hope to get myself back on track by Friday.*

*Of course, by then I'll have gone to the clinic for try #2, so I'll start with the obsessing all over again.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Friday the 13th: Be afraid!

I am not superstitious. Nor am I a triskadecaphobic.

Or at least, I wasn't. Now I'm not so sure.

First, a little back story. I have been feeling under the weather for a while. The jury is still out as to what exactly caused the coughing attacks I was suffering for the past week. By Thursday evening, I had added congestion. And general achiness. Which, yes, sounds like the flu. It was in this state that I was heading towards bed around 10:30 when there was an insistent knocking on the door. It was the guy who lives below us (who is also connected to property management). He wanted to know if we had a leak in our heating unit. Not that we knew of, but he checked and then told us there seemed to be a slow leak above us, no big deal, they'd fix it tomorrow. OK, whatever, I just wanted to sleep. It was a restless night and I got up several times, each time noticing that my balance was especially poor and my head was swimming. Not pleasant.

Friday morning, I got up at my usual time and went to check my email. I was still pretty dizzy and noticed that sitting upright increased the pressure in my head. And so I made the decision that I would stay home. This was a pretty big decision for me since I attend three classes a week, two of them on Fridays. So emails to the professors involved and a couple of friends who could take notes for me. My wife took my son off to school and I went back to bed.

I woke up long enough to have the latte my wife made for me upon her return. She then went off to an appointment and I lounged, not quite sleeping, but not doing anything in particular. I noted that there definitely was a noise coming from our heating unit, but figured the repairmen would be in soon.

At about 10 am, several maintenance men came by. That's when things got fun. They went to check our unit and see if they could spot the leak. As they moved things to get in closer to the unit, they noticed that there was a steady stream of water pouring over our balcony (we rarely go anywhere near the door since we figure 3-year-olds and balconies don't mix). And there was some water in the carpet right around the base of the heater.

The maintenance men went off to check one other thing and "turn off the water." I started to move things away from the wet area and noticed that it was actively spreading. I peeked inside the heating unit and could see where the water was spraying; it seemed to be getting stronger. After a bit, I had the inspiration of going to check the master bedroom, which is on the other side of the wall with the heater. Lo and behold, water there, spreading quickly.

At this point, dizzy and exhausted, I sprang into action, moving as much as I could away from the areas that seemed most threatened. It concerned me that I could still hear the water pouring through the hole and that the maintenance men had not returned, but I didn't know what else to do. I tried to do some school work as I waited, but had almost dozed back off when they returned. They checked a couple of things, said they were on it, and left again.

My wife got back shortly after, and I filled her in on the many things that had happened in the hour and a half she'd been gone. During the time it took her to find our shop vac in storage and run it over the squishiest parts of the carpet, the water finally stopped running. So at least things wouldn't get any wetter.

The rest of our afternoon was taken up with phone calls and a variety of people in our apartment. Neither property management nor our rental company seemed to know who was doing what about anything. Someone came to move some of our furniture so that they would be able to lift part of the carpet and bring in blowers. But of course, he had no knowledge about who was bringing the blowers or when that might happen. As the afternoon marched on towards the time we needed to pick up our son, we made a snap decision--using credit card points, my wife booked us into a nice hotel. We packed up some clothes, school books, and trains and cars, and headed to our son's preschool. Yes, someone, probably property management, should have been taking care of this, but we were sick of waiting around and leaving voice mails.

We had chosen the hotel based, at least in part, on its proximity to our son's school, so we the three of us walked there. It took longer than expected to check in because the reservation had not been processed by their computer, but that got sorted out. Our son, ever the trooper, took one look at the hotel room, immediately pointed to the closed armoire, and asked to watch "Nemo." This would be because one of the times we stayed in a hotel, "Finding Nemo" was playing. We didn't have that, but were able to find something to satisfy him. We also got out the selection of trains and tracks and set up a mini-play area for him. He of course asked for several trains I had not brought. When I tried to explain that he could play with them tomorrow when we got home, he seemed mostly to be appeased and to understand, but he also said something about "new home." Which is when my wife and I realized that he probably thought we were moving since we had done something very similar when we moved last year.

One room service meal later, we were all in our pajamas and exhausted from the day's events. Or rather, my wife and I were exhausted and our son wanted to watch more 'Letters' (which is "Wheel of Fortune"--he loves watching the letters appear on the screen). When it finished at 7:30, we turned off the lights. I was asleep almost immediately, though my son's poking and pinching woke me periodically. Even he was asleep by 9.

Now, 24 hours later, things have settled down a little bit. We got back to our apartment a little after 10 am. The maintenance men were fixing our heating unit and the blowers were working on the carpet. At this point, the heat is entirely functional--they'll fix the holes in the drywall later. Our living room carpet is drying out faster than the bedroom's, but it seems likely we'll get out of this without mold. Our son's room is untouched, other than the extra things we shoved into it, so he's sleeping there. After I finish typing this, my wife and I will set up our air mattress in the living room, as our bed frame is propped up to facilitate drying. As my wife said this evening, we are sheltering "on site."

One side note: When my wife tried to go online at the hotel, we discovered that it was not free. Seriously, an upscale hotel where wireless access is not included! It meant missing Battlestar Galactica and no email or blogging. That may have been the worst hardship of all.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Disappearing ink

Turns out that handwriting lessons in elementary school have become shorter and less frequent, if taught at all.

My initial thought upon reading this was GOOD! Handwriting was my least favorite subject in the early grades, not least of all because I never managed to get above a "Satisfactory" mark in it--as opposed to the "Highly Satisfactory" mark I aimed for in everything. My handwriting just wasn't pretty. Even when I painstakingly shaped each letter, taking three times as long as usual, my cursive would never be the example my teacher picked out to show the class, as one of my friend's often was. Of course, I later learned that at her previous school, they had learned cursive a year earlier and her teacher had required them to trace the letters hundreds of times.

I also quickly figured out that there was no real academic content to handwriting lessons, that writing was the tool through which I could capture the many thoughts and snippets of stories I wanted to share with others. Once I got over my hyper-competitive desire to have the best handwriting, simply so that I would be the best, I began to see it as good enough.

Once I got past the point where my teachers required everything to be in cursive, I settled into my current style of half-print, half-script. I actually find it quicker than committing to one or the other. For a long time, I would apologize for my messy writing, though I realize now that what I was apologizing for is the fact that it is not feminine. I'm not sure I can fully articulate what characteristics I would classify as feminine or masculine, but perhaps you have a sense of what I mean. I know that as a teacher I could guess the gender of an assignment's author with about 90% accuracy (before I looked at the name and before I got to know all of my students' handwriting).

That's the long way of saying that handwriting lessons* were one of those little traumas of my tender years; as I read the article yesterday, the little kid in me thought of how much happier I would be if I'd been spared those moments.

On the other hand, I found interesting the study that said students who are more proficient at forming letters write more complex thoughts and sentences. Now, there does not seem to be any study looking at how keyboarding might fit into the equation, if there's any correlation between skills and the writing process. And I do not know that there's a great difference in the complexity of what I compose at the computer versus what I write out first--at this point.

But I do know that there's a certain sensual pleasure I get from writing with a nice pen. In fact I have several journal entries that wax rhapsodic about the physical process of setting pen to paper and watching the words and clauses and sentences flow across the page. It is why I own several fountain pens and why I love one particular pen more than any other I've ever used. With the right pen, writing is a meditative, therapeutic, transcendent activity.

And that's the experience I want to pass on to my son. I know that he'll probably do much of his schoolwork on the computer; that's an inevitability at this point and not necessarily a bad thing. So now, I'm resolved to make sure my son gets at least some handwriting training--not the type that will beat the interest out of him, but the sort that will help him find the pure joy of writing.

* I also feel it necessary to point out that there wasn't much particular teaching. I realized many years later that I grip, still grip, my pen incorrectly. I rest it one finger further back so that my writing bump is on my ring finger. There's a chance I picked up this habit even before I started school since I learned to write at least a little before kindergarten, but I never had a teacher correct me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Am I out enough yet?

Today is National Coming Out Day.

Something I realized as I walked back to my department after teaching.

With a slight feeling of guilt that my class probably doesn't know I'm gay. Not that I'm purposely hiding the fact, not that I have an issue with them knowing. It just hasn't come up that I remember.

In some ways, this is my dilemma. I have become so matter-of-fact about being a lesbian that I don't keep track of who I've told, because I assume I've told everyone.

And I prefer coming out in natural contexts. That is, I'm not going to walk up to someone and say, "Hi, I'm gay." I'm not going to announce this to my class out of nowhere. And I don't think a natural opportunity has arisen for me to refer to my wife.

This happened to me when I started teaching junior high and high school several years ago. I never tried to hide who I was, but I realized in my second year that many of my younger students had not made the connection even when I referred to "my partner." In the high school, the gossip had made the rounds, saving me the trouble--I found this out from students in the Gay-Straight Alliance. But apparently this was not a topic of discussion in the junior high. So I made an effort at least to address gay issues when they arose, to challenge that oh-so-junior-high phrase "that's so gay," to mention my partner and use proper pronouns in the hopes that they would at least know I was a supportive person.

It became easier to convey my gayness once I had my son, as I talked about raising my son with another woman. Additionally, I acted as a liaison between the high school's GSA and the junior high, raising awareness of days like National Coming Out Day and the Day of Silence with the younger students. This made me the most visible gay teacher for these students, and I considered my role a serious responsibility.

It's a little different with college students. In an environment that has been more accepting of my family. And so it becomes almost a non-issue for me, and I forget to be so vigilant.

On the other hand, I'm sure I will out myself to my class en masse sometime soon. Not because it's the designated day, but because it's the right time.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Funk, now with links

It must be something in the air. A major air mass covering a vast portion of North America. Perhaps it's the season and thoughts naturally darken as we lose daylight. Whatever the cause, many of the bloggers I read have been in a funk lately. Heck, I certainly was last Friday.

I think it started with Sunshine Scribe debating the role of her blog, how it might evolve, whether she would continue to blog.

Almost immediately after, Amalah wrote that blogging had been onerous of late.

And then Her Bad Mother posted about the lingering cold in her household (and, oh, do they linger when there's a small one in the house) and how the desire to post just has not been very strong. (This link isn't exact, as Blogger has decided not to show me HBM's site right now.)

Bub and Pie did not threaten to quit blogging or post less, but wrote about the anger that has been welling up and accumulating.

While my funk has not entirely dissipated, especially when this cough continues to rattle my brain, it is hard not to smile at least a little when an enthusiastic voice joins in for "Engine Roll Call" (the Thomas song that begins "They're two, they're four, they're six, they're eight") or fills in every other word of a storybook unerringly and with glee. And when I went in to ask him what he wanted a bit later, he replied, "Live happily ever after"--and things seem just a bit brighter.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Happy (insert holiday here)

To those in Canada: Happy Thanksgiving!

To those in the US: Happy Columbus Day!

We are not particularly celebrating either holiday, so this has been another one of those nebulous Mondays that throws off my sense of the week. I have to keep reminding myself, "Tomorrow is Tuesday. I have a seminar on Tuesday."

One nice thing this week is that a Monday holiday actually means getting a brief reprieve in my schedule since I usually teach on Mondays. Of course, it also means having my son at home all day. Last year, I had no responsibilities on Mondays and we had not yet found full-time care for our son (that was a fun first semester!) so there was nothing to mark the day as special.

Of course, my wife did not have work off today. Columbus Day is one of those holidays in the US that is not observed across the board. The federal government, most local governments, and banks are closed, but otherwise there's no consistency. It can turn into a politically charged issue, given implications of racism and genocide that accompany the story of America's "discovery." For a short time, I worked at a company that alternated Columbus Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as paid holidays, one in even years, the other in odd. My wife's current company only observes MLK, Jr. Day, so she was officially on the clock today.

Nonetheless, we managed to get out for a nice walk this morning and have enjoyed some family time. My son took a long nap this morning (overdue given that he skipped his nap entirely yesterday and pretty much woke up at 4:45 this morning), and I used the time to get most of my work done for tomorrow. One more chunk and I'll actually be prepared for once.

We briefly considered a turkey dinner for today, but have decided to push that back to US Thanksgiving when we'll probably host some of the other students from the States. So it's off to my roast beef pierogies.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I don't want to know*

One of my favorite things about StatCounter is being able to see what brings readers to my page. The most common search is "mouse nest" or "mouse's nest." I would like to think they're in search of my brilliant writing, but I suspect most of them are more concerned with taking care of vermin.

Today, I noticed a slight surge in activity on my page. A look at StatCounter shows that several of the new hits are arriving via blog searches. More specifically, they're arriving on yesterday's post. A couple of these searches are innocent enough. "Feminism" makes some sense, as I was responding to posts in which bloggers discussed feminism and raising daughters. I'm a little surprised that "baby care" lands on that post, but not alarmed.

It's the others that start to get creepy. "S*x stories," "girl s*x," and "skinny girls s*x" pretty much speak for themselves.** The one that makes my skin crawl, however, is "mother son s*x," both because someone was searching on that string and because my post was deemed relevant enough to show up in the results. I am relieved to discover that the reader spent no significant time on my post.

* I started to entitle this post "Write about s*x and they shall come," not intending the double-entendre. Needless to say, I changed my mind.
** Trying to learn my lesson here and not make this post appear quite so high on such searches.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Does he have to grow up?

Having taught the middle grades, having witnessed the turmoil of early adolescence as hormones kick into high gear year after year, I have to admit that I'm glad my first-born is a boy. That is not to say that I think boys have it easy or are easier to help through this time--puberty is hell on every child. I just know that, in my experience, boys' issues in junior high tend to be more transparent and straight-forward. When there were social problems with boys under my supervision (class, advisory, the lunchroom, the hallway), I quickly picked up on it and could usually divine who was involved and how and why. With girls, I often suspected nastiness, but could not automatically figure out where it was coming from and why.

This is all stuff I think about on a regular basis, but recent posts on feminism have brought my musings to the surface again. HBM and Mad Hatter have both posted about feminism and parenting girls, HBM on raising girls with a healthy sense of sexuality and Mad Hatter on the recent horrific acts targeted at girls. I recognize that there are several things I worry less about specifically because I am mothering a boy.

I worry less.

Boys are less likely to have serious body image issues, or at least to act on them. Many boys worry about being too skinny, too short if others begin to get their height or bulk before them. Sometimes, they obsess over baby fat too, though they are less likely to resort to extreme dieting; I did, however, date a boy in high school who had been anorexic because he was involved in competitive cycling.

Boys are less likely to be sexually abused or raped. OK, I don't have the statistics for the first part of that, but it is certainly my impression, especially since my son won't be left in the care of any clergymen. But I worry about the junior high locker room. I know that's where the worst taunting took place where I taught, and I've heard plenty of horror stories about other schools where verbal abuse and boyish 'pranks' (wedgies, pantsing, and something I don't remember the name of where you try to slap another kid so hard it leaves a handprint) can turn into something much worse.

Boys are less likely to be sexualized in popular culture. When I buy my son a Happy Meal at McDonalds (I know, it's horrible, but sometimes it happens) and they give us a 'boy' toy, I at least know it won't be one of those horrible Bratz or Barbie dolls (though it is sometimes a war toy, but that's a whole other rant). Yet, I am not at all happy with the current glorification of the 'pimp' and what that says to boys about male sexuality.

And that segues nicely into one of my more specific fears as mother to a boy. As a junior high teacher, I read article upon article about the growing incidence of oral sex among increasingly younger adolescents; more accurately, girls are performing the oral sex on boys primarily to be liked. Now of course I recognize that this phenomenon must terrify parents of girls, and rightly so. So why does it inspire dread in me (besides the protective-teacher concern I had before becoming a mother)? Because I want to raise the kind of son who would be able to say no to such an offer.* Or, if this happened later in high school and this were a girl with whom he had a caring relationship, he would reciprocate.**

And this particular situation embodies for me the uphill battle of raising a sensitive, confident boy. When so much of culture celebrates the unthinking brute, suggests that a man should be measured by his sexual prowess, how will I be able to help my son maintain his sweet, thoughtful demeanor? I know that my concern is the first step. And that a willingness and availability to discuss sex is important. But what happens when I'm suddenly faced with a sullen adolescent?

I'm told that locking teenagers in the attic is generally frowned upon.

* I've often wondered how often this happens. I can't imagine very many hormone-addled boys who would find it easy to pass on such an offer, and I'm not sure there are many who would even think it necessary when it's the girl's suggestion to begin with.
** And wow, I am so not ready to think about that!

Friday, October 06, 2006


It is unanimous. We all miss home. Except that it isn't home anymore.

On paper, intellectually, the move to Canada is the best thing for our family. The politics are much better. The city where we're living is wonderfully diverse and full of culture. Our apartment is literally the nicest housing I've ever lived in. The department I am in is one of the best for my particular specialization, not just in Canada, but in North America, if not the world.

But we miss home. The tiny house which we would have needed to add on to if we'd stayed any longer. The huge yard that required constant attention. The horrible traffic to get anywhere outside our immediate area.

But... Also the walkable neighborhood with shopping and restaurants (oh, how I miss the Lebanese tapas!) easily accessible. A coffee shop that is second to none. An airport accessible by public transportation, another a short drive away, both with reasonably priced fares all over the US. Temperate winters.

Our first summer here, our son repeatedly asked to go home. It took him a long time to accept that we had a new home. And our move also marked the slow down of his verbal development. Not coincidentally, if I'm reading him right.

Issues in my relationship with my wife, things that have always been there but had been in some sort of stasis, boiled over. It was the first time we seriously discussed splitting.

After a hard three weeks trying to get our son's allergies under control, adapting to a new semester's schedule, and being seriously deprived of sleep, we're all homesick again. Our son is asking to go home, and he definitely doesn't mean our apartment. My wife and I are feeling crabby about the little things. We want our US television (specifically the Sci-Fi Channel, Space just isn't the same) and access to US internet sites (again mostly a Sci-Fi issue, but also some other sites are blocked when we try to access them from Canada). We want easy access to a Target and more options in internet shopping. We want to be able to buy our son's favorite, organic cereal bars (they're not allowed up here because of the added vitamins and minerals) and frozen, organic macaroni and cheese at Whole Foods. My favorite frozen vegetarian entrees are not sold in Canada.

When I visited my old school, everyone asked about Canada. I put on a happy face and stressed all the positives. I hesitate even to bring up the negatives here. I hate it when I complain like this. I don't want to be that person. I know why we moved, I know that I did not force this on my family, my being a student here was really more a means to our specific end. And yet I still feel responsible for our current sadness.

I know this will pass, I know that things will improve, I know that we can make this work. I just wish it were a little easier.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Five recent sources of joy

Another slow-brain night. Originally, I had planned on writing about Battlestar Galactica, particularly my love for Starbuck. But the press of work and other distractions prevent me from doing justice to the topic--yes, I want to devote to it the same sort of diligence I give my more serious topics.

Instead, I treat you to some of the little moments that have given me joy recently:

1) My son has been pretending to be a puppy. It started last night after his bath; we still use some of those character baby towels, and he ended up in the blue puppy one last night. As a puppy, he gave lots of high-pitched barks and the best puppy hugs.

2) At the end of my office hour the other day, one of my students showed up. He was actually looking for another of his teachers, but decided to ask me some questions. This particular student can be difficult to deal with; he assumes he is right about everything, but seems to have very weak study skills. I was giving him suggestions about how to work on the memorization aspect of our course. My experience teaching younger students came in handy. Afterwards, his other teacher and another colleague complimented me and told me that it had been really helpful for them to hear both my study suggestions and how I dealt with a difficult student.

3) We live near train tracks and were able to time a walk perfectly with part of rush hour. On our way home, our son had a chance to watch 5 different trains go by. He was ecstatic.

4) After a couple weeks of allergy-induced coughing, we were prescribed an inhaler and mask for our son. We've been repeatedly told either that he's too young to have seasonal allergies (how do they figure?) or that he's too young to diagnose them (and therefore we can't treat them?). Relief for him means fewer days out of preschool and more peaceful nights. I'm always excited about more sleep!

5) Although I still haven't found my groove for the semester in terms of my course work, I've been able to get some things lined up for the future, including a good talk with the supervisor of my likely minor field. So the big picture is really coming together. Which always alleviates stress.

Off to read many pages for my class tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ebb and flow

It would appear I'm not pregnant.

I'm not fully convinced that I never was pregnant, rather just "a little bit pregnant," things just didn't quite take hold. I started thinking that might be the case last night. (TMI alert!) I'd had a sudden burst of energy yesterday, my breasts suddenly quit hurting so much, and my smell changed.* Lucky me, the nausea and dizziness have continued, so it appears that I am also suffering from a slight cold.

This would be a major downside of the pregnancy process. I am so aware of exactly when conception would have taken place and can easily count the days. Coupled with a well-honed body awareness and tendency to over-analyze, this means I obsess for the two weeks between ovulation and the beginning of the next cycle.

But, as I pointed out to my wife recently, I recognize how lucky I am when I read about women who must face the struggle of infertility. I feel guilty that I require the time and care of a specialist when all I am faced with is a "supply issue" and the limitation of only one try a month. I know that if I were in a relationship with a man, I would not even need to chart ovulation--a few extra rolls in the hay mid-month to cover our bases and that would be it.

So I will be calling the infertility clinic in Nearby US City tomorrow to alert them that I'll be coming in this month and will be arranging Pop's delivery in the near future. And I'll watch the calendar and pee on a few more sticks. The next try should be less stressful--no plane rides or nights away from home--and allow a little more control in timing.

A deep sigh. I turn my mind back to my school work.

* One aspect of my high sensitivity is that I have a heightened sense of smell. (More TMI!) I am especially aware of my own smell, both in terms of different kinds of sweat (exertion, overheating, stress) and where I am in my cycle.

Edited to add: I should point out that when I got home this afternoon, my wife had bought flowers and some of my favorite cookies (Lu's Le Petit Ecolier Dark) for me. I know she's disappointed too, as she was even more convinced I was pregnant. There are many reasons I love this woman!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More on my atheism

I've been trying to respond to the comments on my initial atheism post, but decided that maybe my thoughts required another post. Then I started working on this in my head and realized that there will be at least a total of three posts by the time I'm 'done.'

For me personally, there's a very fine line between agnostic and atheist. And I'm an atheist in scientific terms, which means I don't believe in God as the preponderance of evidence at my disposal leads me to believe this. I do not claim that my view is undeniably correct. Which I think starts to get at the point B&P was making. There seems to be a suggestion in the division between agnosticism and atheism that the agnostic may be more open to spirituality and others' differences whereas the atheist is angry and intolerant. I know I felt these connotations for myself, and I think that my over-riding desire to be polite kept me from identifying as an atheist for so long.

I agonized over the uncertainty for a long time as well, and that kept me in the agnostic camp. I said above that my decision was quasi-scientific. But there was an emotional, intuitive part of the process that allowed me to make the final step. Afterwards I was able to come up with the rationalization that made me feel a little more secure. And this is also the answer I give people who ask me, "But what if you're wrong?" On the one hand, I would like to believe that if there is a God, He is the benevolent sort who would care most that I am a kind person. In that case, I think I would still measure up well. If, on the other hand, He is more of the vengeful sort, I don't think I would fare any better if I did try to follow some religion.

Another aspect of my atheism that has caused a great amount of consternation for many people is the fact that I don't believe in an afterlife. I am an existentialist and think that life is what we make of it here and now. Most questions about this include the assumption that it must be awfully depressing not to have something to look forward to after death. But I imagine that I actually appreciate what I have more. And when I see reports of horrific acts of violence (like all of the school violence recently), I mourn more deeply for such loss. Yet I do not find this depressing, and it certainly informs my desire to see people treat each other kindly--why waste time on insults and unkindness when the time we have is precious.*

Finally, there is still much room for spirituality in my life. One outlet for me is nature. All it takes is a little green space and a patch of blue sky; I lift my head to the sun, listen to the birds, and just exist. Art also brings me many uplifting moments. Certain paintings, poems, pieces of music simply speak to me; a sweeping line, well-turned phrase, a lilting chord change and I feel my soul skip. It's not exactly a religious experience, but I imagine the feeling is similar.

* And no, I'm not all sunshine and lollipops and am often guilty of some less-than-kind gossip, but I don't like that side of my personality.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Miscellanea for a Monday evening

- I'm working on a follow up post to my original atheism post. I've written most of it, but got to a point where things aren't quite falling into place the way I'd like. So I'm letting it sit for a while.

- My poor son has been coughing almost non-stop. We think it's seasonal allergies, possibly mold or some other Autumn thing, but we have not yet got him on meds that control the cough. We're trying something different tomorrow, so fingers crossed.

- To mention the elephant in the room: Yes, I've taken a pregnancy test. This morning, in fact. Still inconclusive. I thought that perhaps I saw the faintest of second lines, but could not decide if it was really there or simply a trick of the mind. When I looked at it much later, there was definitely a faint second line--but that reading was well outside the 10 minute limit they allow for an accurate reading.

- In related news, the faux/early symptoms continue. The nausea has slowly increased. Today I changed my mind about what to eat for lunch because just thinking about my usual choice made me feel ill--and food never has that affect on me. I also swear that my waistbands are already feeling tighter (the bloating) and yet I haven't gained any weight, so it's not the usual water-retention/water-weight issue I usually have at this time of month with PMS.

- And I'm so tired.

- But I must go work now. The distraction has not helped me complete my coursework, so it's like pulling teeth to read through primary material, three times as hard to get through the secondary. But try I must.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

How was your weekend?

My son must hear this question at school, as he asks us frequently about our weekend. But it seems appropriate to turn the question on him.

I imagine it was a pretty big weekend in his world. We started by going to Ikea. There was the usual cheap breakfast and playing in the kiddie area, followed by running around the floor. There was, however, an ulterior motive--picking out a twin-size bed. Our son was in no mood to make a decision, so my wife and I did the debating and measuring. We ended up switching from our original choice--a daybed with built-in storage--for a metal-framed bed that is high enough off the ground that we can use under-bed storage boxes. Somehow I managed to get everything into our car (including us!) and we brought it home, to be assembled later.

That afternoon, there was no nap, something that has started to occur once or twice a week. I love my son, but I also enjoy those couple hours on the afternoons he's home. I will miss the nap when it was gone.

When my son decided he didn't want to stay in bed anymore, he wandered into the living room, where my wife and I were watching Fantastic Four--some mindless, weekend viewing. He came in during the skiing scene (and if you haven't seen it, don't worry), just as the obnoxious brother bursts into flame. "Oh no," he yelled, "he's on fire." This concerned him for quite some time and he kept referring to the fire. A little bit later, The Thing wrecked a truck to keep it from hitting a man. "Oh no," he yelled, "he broke the truck." Then a firetruck slid and took out the side of the bridge. Similar reaction. Ah, a toddler's perspective on life.

Today, he started his day with gymnastics, the first class we've signed him up for without one of us. It is the highlight of his week, and he brings it up several times a week.

Then we went to get a plastic sheet (very important!) and a new sheet set for his big boy bed. We had hoped to get a Thomas the Tank Engine set, but they were out--we could even find the exact spot where they were supposed to be. So Nascar had to do.

Before naptime, I dismantled his toddler bed, which had been his old crib with the dropside removed, and put together his twin bed. This led to a major meltdown once it was time to settle in. He kept telling us he wanted a new bed, Thomas sheets, his old bed, to sleep in our bed. We managed to defuse some of the anxiety by switching his pillow into a Thomas pillowcase and giving him his Thomas crib-size comforter.

It's a big change, and he's still not sure what he thinks about it. He has slept in a twin bed at his grandparents' house, but that is simply part of the excitement of the trip. We're hoping that by making the switch well before we start telling him that he'll have a sibling soon, he won't feel that his position has been usurped. But still, it's a lot of change for a little guy.

So that was my son's weekend.