Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dawning of the computer age

Usually Trillian and I take a backseat on gift-giving for both Christmas and Scooter's birthday. We'll pick out something we think he'll like, but nothing very expensive.

But this year, we decided to go for something a little bit bigger: a computer. Maybe you've read about One Laptop Per Child--if not, go take a look. In any case, Trillian and I decided that it might be time to give Scooter his own bit of technology. He has shown interest in our laptops, but has generally restrained himself from messing with them. The laptop we got him is somewhat limited in its software, but it is incredibly durable. And cute.

So far, Scooter has let us do the navigation, as the touchpad mouse is a bit difficult for him to maneuver. We play the memory game a lot--one version has him matching uppercase letters with their lowercase versions, the other involves basic addition (and he's now able to do the simpler problems). He absolutely loves the built-in camera and will get me to take picture after picture. His favorite activity, however, is to have me do a bunch of typing in the word processing program so that he can hold down the Erase button and watch it all disappear.

I have to say that the decision to get Scooter his very own laptop was not automatic for us. We never went for the toddler computer accessories, and we don't want to turn this into another screen he spends a lot of time in front of. But I also think it's unavoidable that Scooter will need to have computer skills; heck, he's likely to begin keyboarding at school as soon as he starts reading. So this seemed like as good a time as any to begin his opportunity to experiment with technology.

I'm sure we're in for a lot more memory and photos and typing before we move on to other things. But hey, he typed his own name today!

Friday, December 28, 2007

What I did on my winter vacation

I'm only slowly coming out of vacation mode. Though I justify that somewhat by the fact that all of this 'relaxing' has been interspersed with errands and further checking off of the items necessary to establish myself as a resident of this new state. I've been here less than a week and knocked off a good number:
  • Driver's License
  • Car Registration
  • Library Card
  • Gym Membership
  • Waited for the satellite TV guy (even if he didn't come, it's still something I did)
  • Gotten a name and number for Scooter's OT
  • Left a message for Scooter's gymnastics
  • Canceled Canadian automobile and residential insurance (even if I'll need to follow up next week since the last person I spoke to there mentioned that they sometimes lose track of faxes)
  • Made our first mortgage payment
  • Checked on the progress of our floor-refinishing (they look gorgeous!)
There's plenty to write about, but you'll have to excuse me if my mind is unable to move from list-form for a bit.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas: the aftermath

Where to begin?

Scooter received a ridiculous number of toys this year. This is nothing new--his grandparents have a tendency to think "just one more little thing" for the month or two before the holidays. But this year, there was the added knowledge that we wouldn't have to go through the usual organizational nightmare of figuring out what was staying and what would be going home and how we would get it there. As a result, he received several bulkier items, including a little red wagon and a play tool bench. In a week, once our stuff arrives, the grandparents know that they'll be able to put it in the back of their SUV (it won't all fit into our car) and drive it up to Springfield.

One of the highlights, however, happened on Christmas Eve. For the past two or three years, we've let Scooter open one present early. He'd been asking for a particular Lego set for months, the only specific item on his wishlist. We decided to go ahead and present it to him on the 24th. And a good thing too. When I told him that he got to open a gift that night, he immediately asked, "Where's my Lego set?" He opened it up, put the pieces together, and then refused to let it out of his sight for his bath. It even slept with him that night.

On Christmas morning, I spent a good amount of time helping Scooter get his gifts out and putting things together. Later in the day, we played games, read books, played trains, and did puzzles. More of the same today, plus lots of wagon-pulling outside. He's sleeping hard right now!

[Moving away from toyland, my favorite gifts demonstrate my ultimate nerdiness. Trillian found binder clips with designs (butterflies and flowers) on them and a new book stand. I have already started to make use of the binder clips and will use the book stand when I study tomorrow.]

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Scenes from a homecoming

I had a direct flight yesterday--one stop, but no need to switch planes. There's no such thing as a nonstop flight to where I was going, so that was a pretty good setup.

Except that there was fog in Chicago. And when there's fog in Chicago, all US air traffic gets horribly snarled. Luckily things cleared up enough that we only had a 2 1/2 hour delay in Buffalo. Once airborne, I slept through a good chunk of both flights.

On the second flight, I changed my watch to my new time zone.

* * *

I had explained to Scooter the previous night that I would be coming in fairly early, telling him something along the lines of, "You'll wake up and play for a bit. Then you'll come to the airport and I'll be there before lunch."

We've been trying to be as explicit as possible with such explanations so that his expectations will be appropriate.

So of course, he understood exactly what I was telling him that time, and my flight ended up delayed.

Apparently when he woke up that morning, he immediately started playing, whereas usually he likes to go sit at the breakfast table with Grandma and Grandpa. Then at about 9:30 am, he started asking if they were going to the airport. Had my flight been on time, they would have left very shortly after.

So he was squirrelly all morning and started to disbelieve people when they said I'd be arriving soon. This was especially the case when Trillian and her brother were telling him they could see my gate from the waiting area. There was no plane there yet, and he was pretty sure they were just making that up anyway.

* * *

I came through one of the revolving doors at the airport, but not the one they were looking at. I was not very far away when I finally got their attention, so Scooter didn't have too far to run. A few steps, and he flung himself at me. I noticed as soon as I picked him up that he's gained some weight.

He went very quiet, I suspect a bit overwhelmed, and just smiled and hugged me. He wouldn't let me put him down for very long and never broke contact when I did.

* * *

Halfway back to Capital City, Scooter fell asleep, his hand still on my arm.

Trillian turned around from the front seat and told me two stories about how excited he was to see me again.
  • The night before I came, he told her that they were "missing one more human." He listed the humans who were there and then said they needed to pick me up from the airport.
  • Before leaving for the airport, Scooter insisted that his shirt be changed since he had gotten some breakfast on it. Then he wanted Grandma to brush his hair and lift him up to check in the mirror.
* * *

That I will not have to travel a significant distance any time soon has not quite registered yet. I am enough in Christmas mode that I can't quite comprehend that this isn't our usual two-week stopover. That when we do leave in two weeks or so, it will be to our house in Springfield, not to the airport. So that will be one more shift.

It is nice, however, to be sitting on the couch, listening to Scooter chat to his Grandma as she makes gluten-free sugar cookie dough, Uncle W. practicing his music in the background.

Happy holidays to everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Homeward bound

After the movers left yesterday, as I settled into the reality of needing to write another ten pages, several songs kept running through my head:
  • Beastie Boys' "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn." OK, really just the one line. Over and over again. Mayhaps this reflects the small nibbles of sleep I've managed over the past four or so days? It was the loudest in my head last night as the clock rounded on 4 am. I think there may also be something to the fact that today is the first day in a good week or so that I can head to bed early and not worry that I'm neglecting anything. Coincidentally, I'm in a New York city that begins with B.
  • Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound." Tomorrow I will step off a plane and into my family's arms.* One of the thoughts that has kept me going in the past two weeks plus that we've been in different countries is the moment that Scooter will throw himself into my arms. (Sorry, Trillian, you'll have to wait for the second hug.)
  • Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street." I have three CDs on my laptop and I listened to them several times yesterday as I worked on my paper. It's not even my favorite song from Shaking the Tree (a sort of 'greatest hits' album that's now 17 (!) years old, but has amazing harmony and a tendency to sneak into my head. I think, perhaps, that this is also my subconscious' recognition that I could definitely use a little mercy from my professor.
  • with occasional instrumental interludes courtesy of the strings in Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner." Solitude Standing is another of the CDs on my laptop, so that's another song I've heard multiple times recently. There's something about the strings part of the instrumentation that is particularly melancholy and captures the introspective nature of that song so well. And I have most definitely been dwelling in my head, perhaps a bit too much.
The words, non-school words, are starting to come back to me. There are sentences, non-academic sentences, wanting to be written. I am ready.

*Obviously not directly. First I'll have to push my way through the gate area and then search for Trillian and Scooter in the crowd before I will actually get my hug.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Laying low

It has certainly not been my intention to lay low. There are hundreds of things that have been running through my head. I've started a number of posts, but always stopped after a sentence or two.

I'm actually experiencing a very bizarre state of mind right now. Yes, I am stressed. The packers come tomorrow, the movers the next day. My last paper is due Friday, the same day I need to drive to Buffalo so that I can catch an early flight on Saturday.

But it's not entirely the stress that is messing with my mind. Not that I can even begin to explain how my brain's working right now.

I have no doubt that everything will get done. As far as the apartment goes, I know that at least I don't have to do the packing myself, removing a huge amount of the burden. But it doesn't mean that I won't be up late so that I can organize things and make sure all the things that are supposed to travel with me don't get packed up.

And the paper exists mostly in outline form. A pretty decent outline, actually. So the rest will get filled in. Won't be a brilliant paper, but I don't need brilliant, just passing.

So I'll probably be laying low for a few more days yet; there are just too many things to keep track of. Hopefully by the time I get my paper in on Friday, my mind will be working in a more linear fashion and the sentences will come a little more easily.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A whole different kind of cheating

There's a Simpsons episode that begins with the family celebrating an A Bart received on a test. When asked how he accomplished this, he recounts how he found himself reading over a chart of the universe repeatedly in an attempt to block out the sounds of Skinner and Krabappel's make-out session. He concludes: "So when I took the test, the answers were stuck in my brain. It was like a whole different kind of cheating!"

I have what I sometimes call a "sticky memory," which is to say that I remember a lot. Without much effort. Sure, it's not quite what it used to be, a result of continuing sleep deprivation and a mother's preoccupations, but information still has a tendency to get locked into my memory without too much effort.

As a student, this ability--to take everything in and store up lots of details I had not made a specific effort to remember--served me well. But when I started to realize that remembering facts did not come easily to everyone, to most people in fact, I began to feel a little guilty. Like I was cheating. Somehow, it was an unfair advantage (and I was very big on "fair") that learning required so little effort on my part.

Not that I was lazy. I truly loved learning for the sake of learning. Even if a teacher didn't offer me extra enrichment (and they often did, in the form of more difficult spelling lists and math challenges), I was always reading, a mix of fantasy and non-fiction. Still, I couldn't help but feel that it was cheating that I could breeze through anything placed in front of me.

Something that probably confirmed and increased this feeling was the realization that other people didn't really want to know that I could usually score 100% without any discomfort. Coupled with that was the "dirty little secret" that I enjoyed expending the effort that I did to learn. (Which, of course, is no small part of why I could learn so easily. It's not that I put forth no effort, but rather that it was not an effort I found disagreeable.) And so I began to keep quiet about how I was doing, sharing my grades with no one, feeling almost embarrassed by my successes.

This has been so ingrained in me that I find myself nearly flinching to write this next statement: I have almost never been academically challenged. Not in a "how will I ever cover so much material in so short a time?" or a "here's a new concept I need to practice with so I can understand it more fully" way, but in a truly brain-stretching, "not sure I'll ever figure this out" way. Not even now, in a doctoral program, in a field that is considered by some to be particularly difficult.

Why this now?

I took my last class-related exam today. My calculations told me that I would be fairly safe if I scored a low B- on it. And so, given everything else I'm dealing with right now, I decided that I would not knock myself out in studying. I was gambling on the likelihood that I'd be able to recall enough details from my presence in class to fill out essays to the proper length. I did do some review for the translation portion, but again decided to leave a large portion of it to chance and my ability to puzzle through even a difficult passage without any aids.

The upside is that I'm pretty sure I won that bet. In fact, I suspect that the lowest grade I'll receive is a strong B+, thus giving me a little more wiggle room in the quality of the paper I'll be turning in soon (last class-related paper). But I thought I'd feel a greater sense of accomplishment or closure, something other than the slight tug of guilt and... blah.

I know that this feeling is mostly irrational and that this isn't grade school anymore. In fact, one of my friends said to me before the exam, when I confessed to her that I had not studied appropriately, "But you'll remember what you need to." And she said it as a positive, not the dirty little secret that I've treated it as.

Maybe in a couple weeks, once the paper is finished and our stuff packed and everything else satisfactorily concluded, I'll be able to turn this around and find some small happiness that I didn't have to drive myself crazy with days on end of studying. I can already accept it intellectually, but maybe I can finally start to convince my conscience that a good memory is not a form of cheating.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Just when it starts to get sappy, the city goes and sh!ts on you.

In addition to the studying I've been doing, there are a number of move-related tasks I've been chasing down. Faced with a choice of locations where I could handle one of these, I decided to take a little walk this afternoon and go down by the Harbourfront. It has been one of my family's favorite walk routes, mostly in the summer, but I thought it would be nice to go down that way one last time.

As I walked away from the lake, I started thinking about all the things that I never got around to doing in Toronto with Scooter. Some of them were probably never going to happen--as much as Scooter was interested in the CN Tower, I think he was scared of going that high. But, I was starting to feel just the slightest bit sad that we hadn't done some other things.

And then I walked under a tree full of songbirds--do they not realize it's winter?--and felt it. A bird had shat on my head.

When I got home, I immediately stripped and went into the shower, washing my hair three times, once with my liquid mint soap since mint has natural antiseptic properties. I also decided that this was as good a sign as any that I'm done for the day. So now I'm in my pjs and eating an early dinner.

Toronto's got just over a week to give me a better last impression.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A break from the dead white males

Not that I need to be thinking about anything beyond the end of this semester, but my mind is particularly fractured right now. And so, even though I shouldn't be spending any time here anyways, I've been contemplating posts on a wide number of subjects:
  • I saw Golden Compass this past weekend and really enjoyed it. It's been about 7 years since I read the series, so there was lots I'd forgotten. Definitely makes me want to go back and reread the books, especially since there's been such a hoo-rah over their anti-religion positioning. Perhaps it's because I approached them as already a staunch atheist, but that's not something that struck me as at all surprising.
  • This time of year also has me thinking about being an atheist during the holidays. I've mostly come to terms with the celebrations that Trillian and I have chosen to share with Scooter, but I'm thinking about their significance (both general and specific to our family) throughout.
  • As I prepare to head back to the States, I've been thinking a lot about my experience in Canada. The past few days have involved a lot of meditation on the parts that drive me nuts (dealing with the bank and Canada Post bring those thoughts on). But I've also realized that I'm intractably American and am trying to decide what I think of that.
  • I've also found out that the teaching job most closely matching what I taught before will open up in the Springfield Public Schools in about 3 years. It would only be part time (though I could probably add secondary certification in an additional area) and would require me to go back for some education credits, but it is something I've been thinking about doing.
  • Trillian got me a Christmas gift. Which is something we haven't done in a while. She tells me it's something small, less than $20. And so, in between pages of various histories, I've been pondering what to get her in return. Not that I'm going to reveal it here, seeing as she's a regular reader, but I think I've settled on an intangible that should go over well.
Back to some long dead writers.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Procrastination, now in written form

I should be reading through a whole slew of primary texts for my exam on Friday. Or working on my paper due the week after.

Instead I've been doing a whole range of odd, piddling activities around the apartment. Cleaning Scooter's bath toys so that they don't get moved with scum on them. Organizing the pantry by what I will try to use up or give away before the packers come. Unpacking boxes from the last move to make sure we're not just moving crap we meant to get rid of before (like the broken, plastic plant pots that were in the hall closet).

Productive, to a degree, but not that pressing.

But it's a good indication of where my mind is, i.e. not on my schoolwork. Again.

I have this bad habit of self-sabotage whenever I find myself with too much to do. Usually I manage to pull through anyway, but there is a tiny voice in the back of my head that is reminding me it's not guaranteed.

Not that I haven't done anything school-related. I did confirm for myself today that none of the academic libraries near Springfield carry the books I'll need for the second part of my comps and that community borrowers do not have access to inter-library loan services. I also confirmed that those books are either unavailable or prohibitively expensive. So I will probably have to make a number of trips back to Toronto specifically timed to the length of my borrowing privileges at the library.

But now I'm headed back to the historians for a bit.

After I make a cup of coffee...

Friday, December 07, 2007

When turning inward isn't a good thing

Most evaluations of me as a child would make some mention of how "well-adjusted" I was.

I was an excellent student, attentive, well behaved, eager to please. When asked to do new tasks, I generally did them with the minimum of direction. I've always had a steep learning curve, adapting to new situations quickly.

Teachers loved me. Other students called me "teacher's pet" and "brown-noser," assuming I did all of this for the sole purpose of gaining teachers' favor.

My internal experience of this, however, was quite different than anyone else's perception.

I never understood the praise of my adaptability and quick adjustment, didn't know where that came from. Because I knew that the time leading up to a big change or new expectations generated flurries of anxiety, a churning stomach, an endless loop of potential outcomes in my head. Once the new situation arrived, I was always fine. I think, perhaps, that's when the adults in my life would make their observations, not when the waiting was threatening to capsize me.

And I couldn't help being a teacher's pet. I had a strong sense of rules and authority from a very young age. Even when rules seem pointless or silly, I have always tended to follow them, as long as they didn't conflict with what is safe or right (in a black-and-white sense). I would be mortified for hours whenever I got in trouble for talking out of turn--pretty much the worst offense I got called down for.

Have I ever mentioned that I used to bite my nails? Still do a little on occasion, though I pick on them more than I bite now. But I used to bite them down to the quick. Until I bled. And then bite them some more.

Or that sometimes tears would begin to stream down my face unbidden. Still do, though I have better control and know when it's going to happen. But I used to cry over seemingly minute things. And I never really knew just why and couldn't explain it to anyone who asked. Which would make me cry more.

Viewing myself as being on the autism spectrum, self-diagnosing specifically with Asperger's, explains a lot of this, I think. The rigidity, need for routine, fear of changes, acceptance of authority, self-reproach for the smallest mistakes--all fit within common descriptions of Aspies' personalities. But I quickly found ways to mask the outward displays that would draw too much attention. So I was the quiet, smart, good girl.

I think that most of the adults in my life were willing to take me at face value, simply because it was easier. I toed the line and actively avoided drawing attention. One less kid to worry about.

But I know, from my personal experience, that a lot of pain can lurk beneath the quiet exterior. That an "easy" kid may actually be acting quite unhealthily, ignoring her (or his) own needs in order to avoid being "trouble."

I remind myself of this frequently with Scooter. Trillian and I have been thankful that he has rarely acted out of frustration against other kids; he only rarely pushes or kicks those who tease him. But I am mindful of the fact that he often turns this frustration inward, hence his meltdowns. I have started to notice that there are times when a criticism or denial generate a look on his face that I recognize, a defeated look, a look of disappointment in himself. The tears well up, his face crumples, he wants nothing more to do with whatever initiated the feeling.

I don't know how much pain I can spare him. I don't know how to keep him from being so hard on himself. Maybe, just maybe, I can make sure he doesn't slip through because he's not enough trouble to warrant further attention. Maybe he can find the balance between being a sweet kid and still getting his needs met.

In the meantime, my stomach will be churning and the tears threatening.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Global Warming Thursday: Just how much convenience do we need?

I just saw a commercial that made me want to laugh at first--until I realized it was serious. It starts out with a woman complaining that when her dishes came out of the dishwasher, they were still wet; there must be something wrong with her dishwasher. But that's not a joke. No, there's a new product that is intended to dry your dishes faster.

Now my dishes do in fact usually come out a little wet. Maybe because I don't use a heated drying cycle. It's not like they come out absolutely dripping, however, so I'm not sure how this is supposed to be such a big problem. And I notice that I can't find anything about which chemicals exactly are in it or how it manages this magical drying.

But this sort of product points to something else that bothers me about the endless line of new items that are supposed to make our lives earlier. So many of them put more chemicals--who knows which ones?!--into the environment or create additional waste. Or both. All in the name of saving a step or a minute. The argument is always that we have busy lives and will somehow save time if we have a specific product for every task.

I have been guilty of this, and there are several products in my house that attest to this. We have been very fond of our Swiffer and its different pads; we have used Lysol wipes and dryer sheets. And I know that we won't give up every convenience. But I have a few ideas for how we can balance convenience with environmental-consciousness in our new home:
  • We have already switched to a "reusable dryer sheet." They eliminate static electricity and soften fabric without any chemicals. And they last for at least 500 loads. Even in a large household, that's a year or more of drying without chemicals. There's probably a dollar savings to boot. (Found them at Whole Foods, if you want to know.)
  • We will be keeping our Swiffer handle, but I may replace the pads with microfiber cloths. They perform similarly to the dry Swiffer pads, but can be washed and reused. And if I don't have any of those handy, I may just grab a newborn cloth diaper.
  • I have two solutions for wipes. One is not to use them. And we don't use them very often at this point. But there are occasionally cleaning projects that just scream for one to discard the items used for wiping afterwards. For these, we'll be making some homemade wipes. We can use recycled paper towels and control the ingredients in the cleaning mix.
Truthfully, those steps just aren't all that inconvenient. Only the homemade wipes will create any additional work--and not that much once I have the plastic container.

And I definitely think it's convenient to lighten my burden on the planet!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

No rest for the weary

Trillian and I both feel like we haven't had a break from all this motion. Sure we made it to Capital City on Sunday, but we've spent the last two days going back and forth between Capital City and Springfield to let the painter in (the master bedroom's brown turned out gorgeous, but the office color is a bit more purple than blue--we'll manage), set up phone and internet service, and wait for the cable guy--only to discover that the service center lied to us when they said we could get that hooked up before our TV arrived. On top of that, I've been running errands around Springfield both days.

And then I head back to Canada tomorrow so that I can finish up my semester and supervise the move.

Of course, all of the back and forth of the past couple days was immediately validated when we brought Scooter with us this morning and showed him his new house. He loves his room with its sky blue paint and fluffy white clouds. He played with the vehicles we brought up for quite a long time. He explored other parts of the house, remarking especially on the fireplace. And then I showed him the playset. He discovered that the slide is a very fast slide indeed, that the previous owners left some dump trucks for him, that there is a tricycle in the shed, that there is a sandbox that will be filled when the weather warms up a little, that we have a flat grassy area which will be excellent for soccer. He pronounced our "brand-new" (40+ years, actually) house "perfect."

Before today, I think that the house was mostly an abstract concept for him--pictures and descriptions, but nothing concrete. Now he has a frame of reference and can talk about the slides and swings on his playset, the paint and curtains in his room. I find myself arriving at a similar point. Even though the house itself has been real to me for some time, it is only now sinking in that it is our house, that we rightly have keys and can let ourselves in and out as we please. And this will serve as my frame of reference as I struggle through these last few weeks of class and separation from my family: knowing that we will all be there together, making that house our home, in less than a month.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Not dead, just feel that way

Will post details and observations in the next couple days. Every leg took longer than planned, except for today, which was insanely long anyways.

But I got to see some of my family, including my adorable niece. And Scooter did an amazing job--even without watching DVDs the whole way.

Have to go to bed. Trillian and I have an early appointment at our house--our house!--tomorrow morning. Getting stuff painted, cable hooked up, all the fun stuff.