Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gender confusion

I spent a large chunk of my undergraduate years and my first year in graduate school approaching my field from a "feminist perspective." I put that in quotes because I recognize that it was a conscious framework through which I filtered all of the information I took in vs my present approach, which is "first and last, the text," although I also understand that my processing of the literature still includes a feminist perspective due to the simple fact that I'm a feminist.

But I'm getting away from my point.

As a "feminist scholar," I had long, impassioned discussions about whether gender is innate or constructed. I fell squarely into the constructionist camp, even if I was willing to concede some small corner to the essentialists based on very real biological and hormonal differences.

When I became a teacher, I realized how inadequate theoretical discussions are in dealing with gender differences, especially in early adolescence. Eventually I decided to suspend the internal essentialist/constructionist dialog and look at the issue of gender in a way that was new to me: regardless of the origin of gender differences, I needed to deal with the fact that they existed in a very tangible manner in my classroom. And so I made a conscious effort to understand the differences while not necessarily reinforcing them and while being supportive of those students who didn't fit neatly with expectations.

Add to all of this that I'm a lesbian, and I am very aware of fitting/not fitting into gender lesbian expectations. Wear a dress--am I trying to pass as straight? is it a sort of "drag?" Long or short hair--which set of expectations am I following? or is it, rather, intended as a reaction against expectations?

All of this goes to say that I have put a lot of thought into the issue of gender and have now combined this with my musing about parenting. And being the mother of a boy has meant adding yet another dimension to the issues at hand. Moreover, I frequently find myself struggling between my theoretical beliefs and my gut reaction to situations that involve assumptions about gender.

My son is a very beautiful boy. He was born with a full head of curly hair and incredibly long eyelashes. As a baby, nearly everyone assumed he was a girl because of those two attributes. "He's too pretty to be a boy" was something we frequently heard. (Apropos of nothing in particular, he looks very much like I did as a child, but even more like my youngest sister, who was almost always mistaken for a boy.) We usually would dress him in "boy" clothing, though that was mostly a result of what had been sent to us, since we bought almost no clothes for him in his first year or so.

Eventually, we developed the practice of correcting the gender assumptions of only those people we felt needed to know: medical professionals, of course, and people we knew we would see more than once or twice (neighbors, colleagues, etc.), but not the random person in the grocery store or on the street.

Yet, as much as I might congratulate myself on adopting a practice that didn't involve insisting loudly to all who might hear that my child is a boy, I cannot ignore my initial reactions and my internal conflict. Because I did start out by correcting everyone, regardless of the situation. I could sometimes feel myself getting a little riled up at the frequency with which this happened. And then there's the reaction I had to the few outfits we received that, by my opinion, were more girly than neutral. In particular, I remember snipping the little bow off the front of a purple onesie sent by my mother-in-law. Even as I did it, I felt like a hypocrite--I knew that a bow shouldn't make a difference, but I also knew I would be uncomfortable taking him out with it still on the onesie.

Nowadays, the challenge has changed a little. At his speech evaluation earlier this year, my son scored lowest in "grammar." 1/3 to 1/2 of the questions he missed in that category involved proper use of pronouns, particularly "he" and "she." And he continues to mix them up, mostly using "he" as a default, even if her knows a particular person is a girl. This is more than a grammar issue, however, as he doesn't generally make the distinction between "boy" and "girl" unless he has explicitly been told which one a person is--and even then he might disagree, as when he told me that his cousin can't be a girl because all babies are boys. This is something I generally address on a case-by-case basis, since I emphatically do not want to tell him things like "girls have long hair and wear dresses" and "boys have short hair and are good at sports."

This, in itself, is not a big deal. Most people don't get too worked up about a 4-year-old's misuse of pronouns, and I really don't care, even when it annoys other people. (And from a developmental perspective, this is consistent with some of his issues and I figure it will work itself out eventually.)

But, he has found a way to push me outside of my comfort zone again. And again I hate that I feel this way.

This past week, he came home from preschool grumpy one day. Apparently he was enamored of a little girl's headband and had taken it from her. I explained to him that he couldn't take another person's things, even if he really liked them--this part, at least was straightforward. He was still visibly upset, so I asked if he wanted his own headband. Which he did. So when we got home, I grabbed a bandana and made it into a headband (a favorite hair accessory of mine in junior high). To make it easier to put on, I tied it at the top of his head. And voila, he looked like a girl. The next morning, he of course wanted to wear it to school, calling it his "hair-bow." Giving in a little to my (and Trillian's) discomfort, I swapped the purple bandana out for a dark blue one and put it on so that the tied part was at the back.

I think that I've mentioned before that his school is very explicit about not enforcing any sort of stereotypes, and I am very thankful for this. The teachers encourage girls and boys to play with all toys equally; I have regularly seen boys wearing dresses when they have the dress-up clothes out. And so the reaction from my son's teacher was, "You look so cool today with your headband, binoculars, and sunglasses." (Yeah, he'd chosen some other accessories too.) But I was relieved when we went to his cubby and he took the headband off along with the other items.

On the other hand, when I ran into a couple of classmates later on as my son and I were having a snack after school, I preemptively explained the headband (plus binoculars and sunglasses) with, "He's making his own fashion choices." So while I feel good that I did allow him to put on what he wanted to wear, I still hate my internal cringing.

The feminist/gender studies theorist in me wants to be completely OK with all of this, wants to applaud his nonconformity, to encourage him further. Fuck expectations. Don't follow the crowd.

But another part of me, and I'm not sure what to call it (pragmatist? realist? protective parent? wuss?), wants him to blend in, to "be a boy" without forcing it. He already sticks out from his peers in other ways, do we have to add this too?

I was (I like to think) completely prepared to deal with the practicalities of raising a girl with regards to societal expectations of gender. I'm not saying it's easy, but it's the perspective I understand and I know what sort of outcomes I'd be aiming for. But with a boy, I find that I'm making a lot of it up as I go and still don't know what my goal is.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another non-diagnosis

I have spent the past couple days trying to analyze, synthesize, and otherwise make sense of this week's appointment with the developmental pediatrician.

The pessimist in me wants to pick up our AmEx bill and proclaim dramatically, "How much did we spend to learn nothing new?"

The realist (because there just isn't much optimist left in me, it seems) is able to look at this in a more balanced manner. The short version of what I learned in the hour plus of talking with the doctor is that we're doing what we need to for Scooter and our parenting instincts have been spot on. So while I didn't come away with any grand revelation or definite diagnosis, the whole appointment was extremely affirming.

Trillian and I have heard that we're doing everything Scooter needs so many times now that it tends to ring hollow. But it did help to have the doctor lay out the two things he feels are most important for Scooter's continued development: occupational therapy and a structured peer environment. So now we know the two things to concentrate on lining up for our move to Springfield.

The part that I keep turning over in my head is the sum of what he said: Scooter's in a gray area. But close enough to one side of it that it's unlikely he will be diagnosed with autism or even with a significant enough developmental delay that he'll qualify for services through the school.

"This is a good thing," the doctor said several times. And I know he's right. And it doesn't change what we will do for Scooter (just who's paying for it).

There's one other thing the doctor said, something I realized I really needed to hear. He remarked on how the pattern of issues facing Scooter is a profile he's seen many times "with bright boys." And he understood that one of my biggest frustrations is that, because Scooter technically falls within the range of "normal" for all evaluations, most people have been willing to leave it at that and not make anything of the discrepancy between the tests and his intelligence.
In the end, the doctor's sense about what we're looking at with Scooter matches what has been my gut feeling for a while now. The biggest challenges facing Scooter are his sensory integration issues. If we can address those and help him get them under control, all of the other stuff, will sort itself out. He'll always be a little odd, always look at the world from a different perspective. But truthfully, I wouldn't want him any other way.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Putting on my dancing shoes

There was a period of my life, primarily during my teens, when I wanted to be a dancer. This was not just the little girl's dream of tutus and pointe shoes. Rather, I trained nearly every day of every week. The ballet studio was my second home. I stretched twice a day and regularly sewed ribbons and elastics onto various pairs of shoes. I learned how to shellac pointe shoes so that I could get another couple of weeks out of them after my strong arches had broken them down into mush.

I still have physical reminders of those days. Bunions on both feet, the one on my right foot, just severe enough that I have thought seriously about surgery. My little toes have been mushed around and are permanently swollen in such a way that the toenails are not immediately visible. There are thick calluses on the balls of my feet at the base of my first and second toes, the result of bare-footed turns in jazz and modern classes. The first time I injured my back--at age 14--was in the middle of a partnered lift. My dodgy right ankle has its origin in the time I landed on the side of my foot, full-force, as I came out of a leap.

And that's the short list.


But whenever I have tried to figure out an exercise regimen I might actually stick too, enjoy even, my mind comes back to dance.

Most of my life is lived through an intellectual, rational lens. Although I did apply theories of physics and the like in my approach to difficult moves, most of my time in dance did not involve rigorous thinking. Instead, it was a sort of moving meditation. My best dance classes were those when the rest of the world melted away and my mind and body together focused only on the combination I was performing right at that moment. The physical effort, the sweat, the strain of positioning every part of my body just so, all while matching the music's tempo and emotion--all of that combined to give me the greatest physical high I've ever experienced.

For the past year or so, I have been telling myself that I would take a dance class--once I got into better shape. And that keeps getting pushed back and I keep struggling to find a way to get there.

So I decided last month to ignore the arbitrary middle step I had created. Maybe the best way to get into shape is to do something I will enjoy. Therefore, I have enrolled in a ballet class at my university's athletic center.

Two days ago I bought my first pair of ballet slippers in close to 15 years. Off to sew some elastics...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Don't cry. It's only a joke.

I just spent a good half hour reading through knock-knock jokes, jotting down the ones I thought Scooter might enjoy. At bedtime, we read a book that included a few, and he laughed so much that I realized I needed to refresh my memory. My mother-in-law told me when I wandered back to the living room that she and my father-in-law had turned down the television so that they could hear his laughter.

There is, of course, the wonder that is little kid laughter. I consider myself very lucky that Scooter has always been prone to the giggles. And he has always sought out the silly and funny in life; I like to think it reflects well on his upbringing, though it could also be his genetic programming (particularly my father's side).

There is also a little thrill for me in this discovery of knock-knock jokes, because it seems like he actually gets why they are funny. He understands the puns--and understanding puns requires an understanding of language and how the expected has been violated.

His delivery of the jokes is pretty much what I'd expect at his age. When he's not repeating the ones he's already heard, he tries variations on them that don't quite work. Example from tonight: Knock-knock. Who's there? Orange. Orange who? Orange porange. This, of course, after having heard from me (albeit a couple weeks ago now) the old standard of "Banana" several times, followed by "Orange you glad I didn't say, 'Banana?'" But at least he's rhyming. And I'm pretty sure neither of my sisters told jokes any funnier than that at his age.

Scooter's absolute favorite knock-knock joke, possibly the first one that really connected for him, is an old stand-by. Knock-knock. Who's there? Boo. Boo who? Don't cry. It's only a joke.

Except that for me, it's even more than a joke. It's an encouraging reminder of how far he's come!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Coming at my son's quirks from the same side of different

Last night, Trillian and I sat down for another session of "Rate Your Child." The developmental pediatrician we're going to uses somewhat different forms, so we couldn't just run off another copy of the master we have of the Sensory Profile and Developmental History. Which meant I read the questions out loud and Trillian answered Never, Sometimes, Often, or Very Often; I would mark down her answers, occasionally quibbling with her--often or very often, sometimes or often?

It quickly became obvious to us that these forms are intended to cover a much wider range of children, many of them significantly older than Scooter. I read off all of the questions to Trillian, even the ones for which the answer was obvious. Has he used weapons to attack people? Broken into stores or houses? Is he sexually active?

Then there were the ones that pointed up the divide in our perceptions of "normal" and are a reminder that many of Scooter's quirks did not appear out of nowhere. Does he make noises that are odd or for strange reasons? (He does make noises, but they make sense to me. He copies ambient noise and makes other sound effects.) Is he excessively shy with strangers? (I wouldn't want him to be immediately friendly to strangers. And what's excessive, anyway?)

One that didn't require any real discussion, that it's obvious he fidgets with his hands very often, led to Trillian's description of what he does with his fingers a lot of the time. I smirked a little. "You do it too?" she asked, half question, half knowing the answer. I held up my hand and gave a little performance of one of the things I do absent-mindedly--tapping each of my fingers in turn onto my thumb. I'm not too obvious about it, but I do that or some other hand-occupying thing when not otherwise engaged.

Sheepish grin and a shrug. What can I say?

(And it's too big a topic to attack right now, but I do think a lot about the genetic aspect of all of this, about how much of me--sometimes to a startling degree--I see in Scooter. So in some respect I did cause whatever this is that is tripping him up. On the other hand, it's not exactly guilt that I feel, and I need to unpack what it is that I do feel.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A post composed of comments

While I have not accomplished quite as much as I would have liked in the past 3 days (i.e., a quick devouring of everything on my list), I have used my time wisely and made some headway. As I type this, I am printing off my first seminar presentation--and I don't even have to give it until Friday.

It has been hard to stay away from blogging. Ideas keep popping into my head and I find myself teasing them out into the equivalent of posts. Though if I'm honest, I've done this sort of pseudo-writing for years, getting some of it onto paper, letting the rest of it float away. Since I started this blog, however, more of it has been recorded--for better or worse.

And then there's the fact that my blog-writing generated out of my blog-reading. That reading has certainly increased the number of ideas floating around in my head since I'm continually finding posts at my regular haunts that are thought-provoking. Which has been another difficult aspect of my limited computer-time of the past few days. I've thrown in the occasional comment here and there, but not on every post I've wanted to and never as much as I've wanted to say. As a result, I'm taking this little bit of rest I can concede to myself and giving a brief (oh-so-brief) reaction to a number of posts I've come across this week. This is not an exhaustive list of what's been making me think, but rather a taste.

  • crazymumma mentions the recent breast brouhaha with Bill Maher. And of course there was also the recent My Space deal with deleting pictures of breastfeeding mothers. I wrote about this a while ago after the mother was kicked off an airplane for breastfeeding because it made the flight attendant uneasy (can't find that post right now, but it's there). Just as then, I am flabbergasted that this continues to be such a big deal. Are people simply not able to look away? Are they so scarred for life if they see a tiny bit of breast in a non-sexual situation? As crazymumma says, "It's a boob for crying out loud. It makes milk. It feeds small things. Get over it."
  • kittenpie talks about spending time with our kids. More specifically, what is enough time and who determines that? She talks about a discussion on the Wall Street Journal and the inevitable barrage of comments purporting to know what others should be doing. It's already been said in the comments and if I got going now, I could go on for hours, but I am a firm believer in parents needing to determine what is right for their own family. Between my maternity leave and summers and Trillian taking some time off from work (and having enough savings to make up the cash flow difference even after we'd scaled back on everything), we each got to spend about 8 months at home with Scooter after he was born, with one month of part-time babysitting to take care of some overlap. We are so glad we did that, but we--all three of us--were also so glad when he started in a home daycare a little before the eighteen-month mark. And even if we could juggle our schedules to let him stay home now (which would almost work), I don't think we would; everybody has their own space, and when we get back together at the end of the day, we're so happy to see each other. When/if we have a second, we'll probably adjust what we did with Scooter; Trillian might cut back her hours a little, though I don't think she'll need to, and we'll be able to make some use of her parents. And of course, the plan is open to further adjustments or wholesale rewriting if we decide at any point that this child needs something different.
  • Lisa B's been writing about her recent pregnancy and the hell she went through. I don't even know where to begin. My heart breaks to know just what exactly she went through. She mentioned bits of it during the actual pregnancy, but did a good job of hiding just how awful the experience was and how torn she was.
  • Aliki wrote about the proverbial "room of one's own" and I felt a pang of the envy she says she so rarely feels. Writing here has been a reminder to me of just how much I like to put words together and the compulsion that used to drive me to fill page after page in the notebooks that served as my journals at university. Some of those journals have yellow sticky notes along the edges, some with a word or two--just enough to identify what story they belong to. For a page or two at a time, various characters come to life and try to make themselves known to me. A few of them still inhabit my head on occasion, pushing their stories forward, revealing new details. And I don't know when they will make it to the page. Someday, I tell myself, but I hope my characters will stick around long enough.
  • Bubandpie has been writing about Bub's evaluation, which hit any number of rough spots. This, of course, brings up anxieties for me, because I know that one of the hopes these evaluations bring is that we will finally have answers, whatever they may be. Some sort of closure, some sense of "what next," some validation (though I'm not always sure of what--that my son does have autism, that he doesn't but needs the therapy we've been getting him, that I'm not crazy--you know, just the little things). I am finding that the longer this process drags on, the less sure I am about how things will turn out. Scooter and I are making a trip down to the States at the beginning of next week so that he can go to the developmental pediatrician in our new state. There's a part of me hoping for some breakthrough moment, but rational me knows that the most likely outcome of this appointment will be that the doctor can't tell us anything conclusive and, yes, he does think we should get the full evaluation. But that little bit of hope for an immediate answer will live on until then.
OK, my brain is drained and my bed is calling. But I shall return.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Backing away from the computer

I had a rough weekend, emotionally speaking. A whole list of things hit me, some of which are out of my control, hence the anxiety they create. But one thing I can do something about is the fact that I have an enormous pile of work this semester--and only a semester to do it all. And so I find that I must buckle down and carve out more time for my work. Trillian and I have discussed how I can do this without giving up the most important non-school parts of my day, e.g. time with Scooter before bed, some weekend activities. And so there are two ways for me to recover more time to poke my head in a book: work more efficiently when I'm on campus and put 2-3 hours in each night after Scooter's in bed (leaving the apartment if need be for a place I can focus better).

Guess when I usually blog.*

Now, I'm not shutting down shop. Just cutting back my hours. Fewer and/or shorter posts. Plus a little less visiting time around the blogosphere. Making sure I go to bed at a reasonable time so that I can make better use of my mornings, which is when I'm my sharpest anyway.

I'm not entirely sure how this will play out in practice. I worry that my brain may explode from the accumulation of unwritten posts that will rattle around my head. But I must complete the first part of my comps by the end of this semester, at the same time I'll be finishing up the requirements for my final seminar. And then moving--but that, at least, doesn't involve the same mental commitment, so I should be back to my usual writing schedule in January.

But I'm not counting how few months/weeks/days away that is, because I don't need to have that panic attack again.

*And watch TV, so these particular hours involve multiple sacrifices.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Back to school

Today was the first day "back to school" for both Scooter and me. In both cases, I put the phrase into quotes because our first days have not coincided with the official first days.

For Scooter, there is no official first day since his daycare operates year-round. But this was his first day back since some of his friends started back to kindergarten. We had a moment of disorientation when we walked in--Scooter's cubby had been moved, and as I scanned the names, I realized that I didn't recognize a large number of the names I was seeing. On the plus side, it looks like my least favorite "friend" has moved on, so I don't have to worry about him picking on Scooter any longer. And although many of the kids from his group last year are headed off to junior kindergarten for half of each day, two of them will be with him all day.

He had a good day and was happily "playing basketball" with some of the other kids when I got there.

Today was the first day of my seminar. Now for most students, this was the end of their first week; for those students who were taking September exams (this is the first September I'm not!), it's been two weeks around the department. And so I walked in to a bunch of new faces, relieved briefly by my time in class (one person from another department, but otherwise all other people I've had classes with before) and a casual meeting with some other people in the afternoon.

But I realized as the day wore on that I am in danger of becoming that older grad student about whom the younger students whisper after I leave the room, "Who was that?"

And I also realized that as I am staring at a date for when I will be headed out of town, only to visit a few times a year, that maybe I'm OK with that.

I already experienced this disconnect a bit last year, though I know I was not the only one who felt this way. For whatever reason, last year's new group of MA students never mixed with the PhD students. And I don't just mean that our schedules were out of sync and we just didn't have the opportunity. No, it's more like I would enter the graduate lounge when a number of them were there and smile or say "hi" and all I'd get in return was stony silence--an experience that matches what I've heard from a number of other PhD students.

So at this point, the fact that I don't know the names of last year's MA students serves as a bit of a buffer from or barrier to connecting with the new batch.

And so my first day didn't feel as much like the fresh start of a new year as the beginning of a conclusion.

(On the other hand, the fact that I already have a list of work to tackle is a good reminder that school's back in session.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I do it!

"I do it!"

This is the refrain we have been hearing a lot lately.

Now, I have always seen Scooter as stubborn and independent, traits that are appropriate for a preschooler. But he has been stubborn and independent in ways that don't match what's usually expected from preschoolers. Until recently, when given two choices, he would insist on a third. He has always played with whatever interests him, not caring what the other kids are doing. But this didn't extend to doing things--he was always happy to demand that we do things for him.

One of the most apparent changes over the past couple months, however, is how much more willing he is to try things on his own. We're getting a crash course on what it's like to have a preschooler who's into everything.

Mostly, I'm amused. When heading outside, he needs to be first and to open the door. He can climb into the car or truck--and get out by himself too. "No hands," he said many times when I would reach to guide him out of his grandfather's SUV. He will cut up his own food with the utensils he insists he must have. He can carry a basket at the grocery store with the strawberries he picked out himself. All of these things add a little time to every activity, but I can mostly handle that. It's a reminder that he's in a good cycle right now. He has gained more control over his body and that gives him confidence. With increased confidence, he's willing to try to do more and thus gains practice in movement. Lather, rinse, repeat.

On the other hand, Scooter is still Scooter. And this means that his sudden desire to do everything is coupled with his unreal memory and powers of observation. We have learned that cries of "I do it" are preferable to the times that he just does it. Because when he gets an idea into his head, he thinks it through and creates a plan--then he carries through without hesitation or warning.

We discovered that the in-laws' front lock automatically unlocks when the handle is depressed from the inside. We found this out when Scooter decided to answer the door for the exterminator; he got there almost before I'd registered the doorbell.

Grandpa kept wondering where the cup that he kept with his exercycle kept going. Turns out that Scooter now knows how to get his own water from the fridge dispenser. He realized that Grandpa's orange cup was in easy range and that it fit under the dispenser. I'm not sure how long he'd been doing this when we figured out that the cup's disappearance, a little spillage near the fridge, and the fact that Scooter always had some water were all connected.

Today, Scooter picked up a step-stool and was moving it around the kitchen anytime he wanted something. As I made his grilled cheese sandwich, he clambered up to get a plate (very quickly, before I could reach him, even though I was right there). At another point, he used the extra height to get to a glass on the counter so he could get his own water (I'm so happy that skill has transferred).

To say he's keeping us on our toes would be an understatement. And occasionally I wish he would let up--just a minute or two, really. But then the moment passes and I'm smiling again because he can do it!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Haiku for back-to-school

September challenge
for BlogHers Act Canada:
write a post--haiku?--

about cutting waste
and packaging in my life
at back-to-school time.

First the green mantra:
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Act in that order.

Reduce: buy less stuff
or stuff with less packaging.
Ask: Do I need this?

About school supplies:
Determine what you need first.
Buy unwrapped notepads.

Keep track of your pens.
Then you won't buy a new one
every other week.

Don't print everything;
learn to edit on the screen--
fewer paper drafts.

Reuse many times.
Start to bring a bag with you--
no more plastic bags.

Bring a coffee mug,
one that you already own.
Use that all day long.

When the coffee's gone,
refill with water from a
convenient fountain.

Most city water
is remarkably healthy.
Or you could carry

a water bottle,
a filtered source from your home,
extra assurance.

About school supplies:
a backpack lasts many years.
pick one that's sturdy

and a good color.
Reuse supplies from last year.
Glue, crayons, markers

may still be OK.
Don't replace them just because
the ads say you must.

For school assignments,
if the teacher says it's fine,
use the same paper

multiple times--just
make sure to label clearly
each new assignment.

My own indulgence:
fountain pens, refillable
with inks of all hues.

These pens and bottled
inks have lasted me more than
four years already.

Recycle the rest.
When you buy a bottled drink,
use the proper bin--

on the street if you're
in Toronto, at home if
in other places.

About school supplies:
Recycle all used papers
and the thin cardboard

from the packaging
of any supplies you bought
and batteries too.

Voila my haiku
on thoughts environmental
as I head to school.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Long overdue review on "God is Not Great"

Way back in June, Metro Mama offered up a few free copies of Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I jumped on the offer since I'd been planning to read a number of atheism-themed books this summer.

Long story short, a lot of stuff happened this summer and I spent about two months reading a few pages at a time. Now, it's been another few weeks since I finished the book and I don't even have it with me. OK, so this is not the most responsible way of going about a review, but it's what I can manage right now.

To begin with, I am an atheist. And have been for a while. So I don't need convincing.

Which is probably the best audience for this book. I already agree with Hitchens that religion is a human construct and that modern science trumps the explanations created by religion in the past. I read much of the book raptly; while I have a general knowledge of most religions, Hitchens has studied them thoroughly and up-close. The details and anecdotes he provided have helped me better articulate my issues with religion and introduced me to many things I hadn't known before. And so I felt fully affirmed in my atheism.

Nonetheless, I have two quibbles with the book.

The first is that the end felt anticlimactic. I was waiting for the 'solution' I thought had been promised. Instead it felt like a rehash of everything he'd already said. His basic solution: people need to recognize in this day and age that religion just isn't necessary. But that doesn't give me any idea of how we get there other than trying to reason with people--and religion simply is not an area where the firmest believers are willing to listen to reason.

The second is that Hitchens cannot find any place for religion. He recasts every good act done in the name of religion as a 'humanist' act at its root. While I agree that concern for and attention to other people is not limited to believers, I also think it is a bit unfair to dismiss any religious influence on positive actions. There are several people in my life whom I respect very much and who hold their religious beliefs very dear. They are good people; I feel that if religion is what gives them the desire to do the things they do, it cannot be all bad--if only more people followed religion in the way they do.

But I would recommend reading God is Not Great to just about anyone. Atheists and agnostics will find more support for their (non-)beliefs and believers may find an opportunity to hone their arguments in support of religion or, at least, to define how religion drives them.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Back from wi-fi hell

Originally, my weekend away with Trillian for our friend's wedding was going to be a tech-free affair. Then, at the last minute, we decided to bring my laptop so that we could check our email and keep up with any news on the house-front. But of course, once the internet is up, it's never just a matter of checking one email account... or ignoring Bloglines and the daily puzzle.

Except, we spent a lot of time wrangling and cursing at the hotel's wi-fi. For which we had to pay $10. The signal was weak, the speed pathetic (from 1 Mbps to 11). We eventually gave up, though not until after a few important discoveries:
  • The owners of the house we're buying are so thankful their house is under contract and that we may have saved their lives (by alerting them to the carbon monoxide factory that is their furnace) that they've agreed to fix everything we asked for. That's a good $10,000 or so in repairs we won't have to do.
  • Trillian decided to Google the brand of the range in the kitchen. She found that it's a restaurant-grade appliance that cost just under $5000--at the low end.
  • The above two items have helped Trillian quiet her grumbling that we should have pushed harder on the price.
  • Although Pottery Barn wouldn't allow us to purchase a wedding gift for our friend (no Canadian billing addresses, even if shipping in the US), Target would. It's too bad we couldn't get our first choice gift, some red wine glasses, since it has significance for the weekly steak-and-wine dinner she and Trillian had when they were on travel for the same work project, but at least someone was willing to take our money online.
As for the wedding, I have a lot swirling around in my head. Such events always make me think about relationships and the like. In case I don't get around to a dedicated post sometime soon, some observations (which will also serve as reminders if I do ever write that post):
  • Since this was a lesbian wedding, Trillian and I spent some time dissecting other lesbian relationships. Sadly, this was mostly to note the end of long-term relationships among our friends.
  • One of those was the relationship between our friend who was getting married (I'll call her L. since I can't remember how far I got through the alphabet before) and her ex. L. moved a long distance to live with her ex several years ago. Trillian had her doubts about that relationship (so many personality differences, plus the ex gave L. a hard time about hanging out with Trillian) and it did end not too long after L.'s move. But she stayed in the area after the breakup and met her new wife.
  • Trillian and I talked about the necessary ingredients for a healthy lasting relationship. Number one on our list was a shared sense of humor. This is, of course, influenced by our own view of why we work so well together, but I do think it's very important in general.
  • There were numerous reminders for us both about why we are happy we eloped. Don't get me wrong, it was a beautiful weekend and we completely understand why our friend and her wife wanted this symbolic ceremony. They are definitely at the beginning of their time together and wanted to make their intentions clear to their friends and family. When we finally got married, it was our 12th anniversary--most people who knew us recognized our relationship as equivalent to marriage, so making a public declaration of it would have been anti-climactic.
  • Nevertheless, Trillian has floated the idea about having an anniversary party this year or next (though in the summer instead of February). We have had enough people express an interest in celebrating our relationship that it might not be totally out of place. Of course, we're thinking barbecue and a mostly outdoor location, very low-key, very child-friendly.
  • We were a bit surprised to realize we were the only lesbian couple there, likely the only gay people other than the couple getting married. And so the weekend was a reminder of the model Trillian and I remain. There is no doubt in my mind that L. truly wanted us there--she and Trillian were great friends when they worked together and have stayed in touch; both Trillian and I have hung out with her and her other friends--but I think we were also a subtle reminder to L.'s parents, who are mostly wonderful but sometimes still have a problem with the lesbian thing, that there are same-sex couples out there with long, loving relationships. And who produce grandkids.
  • And one last thing, really a confirmation of what we already knew rather than an observation: Trillian is really, really allergic to smoke. A casino was the headquarters for the wedding, and the smoke drifted into all parts of the first floor. Our floor was non-smoking, but we spent just enough time on the main floor--in the Starbucks, on the casino floor (only an hour or so, enough to lose $40 or so), in the banquet room--that the exposure to smoke was significantly more than we're used to at this point; we've gotten so used to living in areas with smoking bans. Yesterday Trillian had a sore throat and irritated sinuses. When she got to the doctor today, it had developed into an ear infection. Now she's doped up on antibiotics and allergy medications, and we're crossing our fingers she's enough better that the trip home in two days doesn't make the pain worse.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Scattered and consumed

There's a new post up over at BlogHers Act Canada; it talks about the September Challenge, the personal action readers are encouraged to take this month. I was going to write about it yesterday, but my mind has been pulled in too many directions to do it justice right now. So, go read it now and I promise a post next week that truly rises to the challenge issued by Sandra--she probably doesn't even realize the extra challenge I found in her post.

In the meantime, any number of topics have been rattling around in my head:
  • We had our home inspection and now have to negotiate a few fixes, though I suspect we'll be able to work that out. The big one is the furnace, which is 40+ years old. And leaking enough carbon monoxide when turned on to worry our otherwise staid inspector. "Are all the windows open?" he asked. Funny how these homeowners, who put a lot of work into many other aspects of the house, thought nothing about the fact that the furnace and water heater both are original to this 1960s house.
  • Outside of the issues the inspection found (and they always find more than one expects), spending three hours in the house has made me love it more. The updates were obviously done by people who put a lot of thought into how the space would be used. The master bathroom has an extra-long, double towel bar just outside the shower and a robe hook on the other side. There is a drawer right next to the oven that holds cookie sheets and other baking equipment. The play-set outside is almost exactly what Trillian had picked out online; it needs a little work--new canopy and rope ladder, some resealing--but has a great variety of activities for Scooter.
  • We head off to a wedding this weekend, leaving Scooter in the care of his grandparents. This will be the first time neither one of us is with him for more than a few hours, so I'm experiencing a mix of worry and elation. This is a bit of practice too for when we move here and have the grandparents close enough to play overnight babysitter regularly.
  • We spent an afternoon this weekend with a lesbian couple who live in Springfield. It was a friend-of-a-friend introduction and we had conversed online. They have 3 kids and have lived there for many years. Our conversation went a long ways to quelling the concerns we have about moving to a small town.
  • Scooter made a friend at the park last week. He and another boy spent the longest time running around together, playing hide-and-go-seek, following each other's lead--all of it unprompted. We had a planned play date at the beginning of this week (which went OK until the end when Scooter got upset that his friend was playing with other kids too) and got to talking with the boy's father. Turns out he and Scooter have a number of similar issues, something we'd guessed at during their first meeting, but we were surprised by just how much they have in common.
  • Scooter has been much more social in general. I can see how a number of the actions and phrases are learned--from us, from playgroups, from observation. Nonetheless, it gives me a little thrill to see him confidently go up to people, introduce himself, shake hands, and proclaim, "It's so nice a meet you."
  • I'm almost done with my application to the place I want to teach in Capital City. I have a few more paragraphs to put into my statement, but have proofed and printed off everything else. I find such statements so difficult when I am truly invested in an application because I worry about the tiniest of details. I've been pushing through that the last day or so in order to finish before we head out of town tomorrow.
  • Every once in a while, the thought crosses my mind: This whole moving thing is getting pretty real. We've almost got a house, I may be able to line up a job for next year, the details are working themselves out.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The monster in the bathroom

Scooter had trouble falling asleep last night. At one point, he had Trillian close his window because of a ghost. She complied, along with a gentle promise that there were no ghosts and that he was safe.

We were in and out of his room for other things, some of them the usual sort of little-boy-who-doesn't-want-to-sleep ploys. We continued with the firm "it's time to go to sleep" reminders and limited even those to when we were passing by his room.

But then he screamed. Trillian got there first. He told her that there was a scary monster in the bathroom. When I got there, Trillian was making a move to turn on the bathroom light and Scooter informed me that he was scared of the 'slithering snake.' Trillian flicked on the light and jumped back. I was half expecting a snake* when she said, "There's a huge centipede." No discussion was required--I went into our room and slipped on my new sneakers (although new, they seemed the better choice than my Crocs) while Trillian assured Scooter that I would take care of it.

I returned to find Trillian sitting on the bed with Scooter and gesturing to the door; the centipede had come back into the bedroom and was hiding there. It really was huge, at least 8 inches long. No need for gory details. It took several stomps, multiple paper towels and a plastic bag.

Here's the thing: I don't like killing anything. But for whatever reason centipedes, even more than spiders, really freak me out. I knew that I could not simply shepherd this thing out of the house. And I knew that it was pretty much up to me to make the situation better. So I was my son's hero, even if my heart was beating a mile a minute.

*I should have realized immediately that it wasn't a snake since Trillian merely jumped back and did not run screaming from the room. If it had been a snake, no amount of motherly concern would have kept her there. Anecdotal evidence: we went to a children's museum recently. There was an outdoor area with all sorts of activities. Near the sand pit was a bunch of seating made up of tree stumps. Trillian passing where my mother-in-law and I were sitting said, "I'm going to sit in the shade." I thought that was a pretty good idea, so I headed over towards a stump just past where Trillian had settled. Looking down, I realized I was looking at a couple of snakes. As they slithered away, I let out a sort of puzzled, "Huh." Trillian asked suspiciously, "What?" "Snakes," I replied. To her credit, she did not scream, but she did leap up and run out of the area faster than one would think is possible. Leaving me there with Scooter a few steps away. I, on the other hand? Sat down, a few stumps away from where I had seen the snakes. But they weren't there any more, were they? And I was pretty sure they were either hognose or garter snakes.

Monday, September 03, 2007

DIY OT: Gymnastics

We love Scooter's occupational therapy, even if we're paying for it out-of-pocket. Nonetheless, we're always on the look-out for ways to incorporate aspects of OT into everyday life, both to reinforce what he's doing with his therapist and to give it a little boost.

After the initial evaluation, when the therapist who had observed Scooter set his initial goals, we found it interesting how many of the activities he was doing in OT mirrored what he did in his gymnastics lessons. Now we would never suggest that gymnastics class could take the place of OT since there isn't the same individual attention and the activities at OT are manipulated to target his particular needs, but his weekly 50 minutes in the gym has definitely worked in tandem with the OT.

Scooter spends some time out of every OT session on the trampoline. This is one of the ways he has worked on two-footed jumps. It also plays an important role in the work on his sensory processing issues; jumping on a trampoline is an exciting action, and so his therapist has him work on catching a ball while jumping so that he has to concentrate and maintain focus. In gymnastics, they nearly always get a turn on the trampoline. Even though Scooter has always loved jumping on it, he couldn't do any of the skills demonstrated by his teachers before he started OT. Now, he's still behind the rest of his class, but he can at least jump without falling and attempt some of the more advanced skills.

Scooter's therapist also creates obstacle courses for him that require running, jumping, walking on a balance beam, climbing, and descending. A lot of this works on his balance and bilateral coordination, both of which are iffy. His gymnastics teachers tend to do something very similar for part of the class, incorporating various actions on the balance beam, rolls, and getting onto and off of different foam shapes. For the balance beam, Scooter frequently insists on holding a teacher's hand and refuses to go backwards, but I'll be interested to see if that has changed when he returns to class in a couple of weeks since he has gotten better about the balance beam in OT.

One other activity that is usually part of the obstacle course at OT is the ball pit. Most of the time, the intended path ends with him jumping into the ball pit. Frequently the therapist will roll him around in the balls or press him with a mat, both activities that work on the proprioceptive sense and are intended to help him organize himself physically. At gymnastics, they have an enormous pit filled with big pieces of foam (like cushion foam). There are platforms from which the kids can jump in, and then they have to 'swim' around in it and use their upper body strength to get out. This has a similar effect to the therapist pressing on him--and the foam pit has ended up being a favorite activity, only slightly behind the trampoline.

Only Scooter's last session of gymnastics overlapped with his OT. When we let his gymnastics teacher know about what he was doing in OT and how it shared components with gymnastics, she paid extra attention to those skills and updated us on how he was doing. She also let us know that having that information plus my explanation of how he has trouble filtering out meaningful noise from background noise helped her deal with him and keep him on task. We'll be doing the same thing for his next session of gymnastics, so I am hopeful that it will be an even stronger reinforcement of his OT.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Playing house

Trillian and I bought our first house in a seller's market. We did not get the first house on which we put an offer--and the competing offer was similar enough to ours that we and our agent suspected that the owners preferred not to sell to two women. But that was OK, because the house we did get had a better location, cost us less, and probably appreciated more. Not that we knew any of this when we put in our offer. And it was dumb luck that in that crazy seller's market we managed to get our house for below asking.

Luck was on our side again when we sold that first house. The area was still in a seller's market; we put our house on the market literally a week or two before it slowed down. And so we got asking price with no contingencies.

In both transactions, we did not deal with counter-offers and the like--the deals just happened. So the past couple days have been a new experience.

We expected that there would be some negotiation this time. Even though it's a buyer's market in Springfield, we put in a low offer on Thursday--10% below asking, which was already more than 5% below the price the house started out at a couple months ago. Counter-offer 1 came back promptly on Friday; we answered within a couple hours. Their final counter came back this morning, pretty much in the middle of where both sides started and exactly at the top end of our range. We accepted.

And so now, assuming the home inspection goes well and the appraisal comes through for that amount, we have a house. It hits the limit on what we were willing to spend, but we didn't set that amount arbitrarily, so we can truly afford it. This house is probably the single house we saw that we felt was worth that amount.

Some of what we are getting: walking distance to the elementary school, a large and level lot with room for both playing and gardening, a house that uses all of its space wisely, including a kitchen with plenty of cabinet and counter space. It is all on one level, meaning that my mother-in-law will be able to access everything and that we won't have to worry about navigating stairs as we get older--and we can both picture getting older there.

I'm crossing my fingers and knocking on wood until the home inspection. We've got a plan B and even a plan C, both houses that have their own merits. But this is the one I'm already furnishing in my head.