Saturday, October 27, 2007

out of the loop

Though Isaac has decided to forego his past habit of entering the library at a run screaming “TRUUUUUCK!!!!! BOOOOOOOK!!!!!” at the top of his lungs, he still expects that these bastions of literacy be equipped with an unending supply of books on vehicles of large proportions and the holy scripture on which his religion is based is a slim volume titled My Truck Is Stuck. My open-minded child is not opposed to reading books that aren’t about trucks, but while on site, it isn’t his mission to deal in such things.

Any library visit involves Isaac pulling book after book off the shelf in search of trucks, and me lagging behind him pulling off anything that looks like maybe it could contain a story or theme of interest or at least is nicely illustrated. Since I am usually trying to keep him from unshelving the entire children’s section, I don’t look very carefully at the books I’m grabbing. Often, when I get them home they are not so hot. The pool of horrible kids’ books is wide and deep.

Some of you may be familiar with Elmer the patchwork elephant who stars in his own series. I knew of Elmer, had seen the stuffed toy, and even own a bilingual board book about his colors that I quite like. And sometimes when you get to know someone too well, it ruins everything.

Apparently, Elmer has a cousin – Wilbur. Wilbur is checkered (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Wilbur is also, apparently, a ventriloquist.

Now, some women complain that they feel divorced from the professional world after having kids and leaving the workforce for a while, like they are out of the loop and haven’t kept up with new developments. Has something crazy happened in the world of literature while I was busy getting my son to 2 and a half? Have I missed something? Is this now a common or useful literary device? – to supply your patchwork elephant with a family member who can throw his voice?

The set up was smooooth. It went something like “Wilbur was a ventriloquist.” Uh, yeah. So, Elmer sets off into the jungle to find Baby Elephant’s lost teddy bear. He talks to the lions, the tigers, and a few other wild creatures, who tell him they haven’t seen the teddy bear. Then, he discovers the bear, who calls out to him “I’m lost! I’m lost!” to which Elmer responds in utter shock, “You can talk?” But don’t be silly, it was Wilbur, his black and white checkered cousin ventriloquist playing a trick. Whew. For a minute there, I thought they were going to step over the line and ask me to suspend belief in a way I just wasn’t ready to.

Friday, October 26, 2007

how far the apple falls from the tree

Isaac has been whining about Daddy all morning, so we drive up to Mike’s office and meet him for lunch.

We wander together into one of the lunch rooms that shares space with a book exchange library. Isaac takes to the shelves and begins flipping through mystery paperbacks.

“What’s that book about?” Mike asks him.

“Words,” Isaac says plaintively, placing it on the floor and digging out another.

After a brief look, his fears are confirmed: “Dit one ‘bout words too,” he sighs.

tell tale signs

A sure way to tell if someone has no children, or alot of extra time on their hands (actually, the two are synonymous): They watch you walk to your car with babe in arms then decide to wait for your parking space.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

success comes with its own challenges

In a crowded restaurant at lunch, Isaac returns from the restroom with his dad.

At the top of his lungs:

so close

"Mama! Knock, knock!"

"Who's there?"

"Ummm. Me not sure."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

false dichotomies

I still remember when Isaac was about 10 weeks old. I was talking to my sister on the phone, telling her that lately Isaac wouldn’t always fall asleep right after I fed him and I didn’t know what was wrong.

“What should I do?”

- a beat, then…

“Interact. With. Your. Baby,” came the reply.

I was panicked.

How? What do you mean “interact??”

I know how to change diapers, take walks, and breast feed (sort of). Now you’re expanding my job description? I’m not ready!

So it has been ever since – running to catch up with the next phase Isaac has moved on to while loathe to relinquish my comfortable hold on what I had worked so hard to get down in the last phase.

Something else has also stayed the same – the choice of “to do for” versus “to engage with.”

“To do for” is the more comfortable of the two – the rules are clear and the route is (mainly) undisputed, e.g., baby needs lunch for preschool tomorrow. Action: make lunch for baby. These lists of “to do” not only fill time, but release me in some small way to my adult thoughts –
call about playdate,
buy diapers,
return library books,
wipe son’s nose.

Naturally, baby barges in on the “to do” list. I find I usually become most annoyed at Isaac when I’m on a roll with “to do” and he’s mucking it up with “engage” –

call about playdate = “Me talk! Meeeeeeeeeeee TALK!”
buy diapers = “No sit in cart!” followed closely by begging for some sort of dinosaur cookie lamentably placed front and center at the check out.
return library books = scattering books randomly about the building then stamping his entire body with the due date.
wipe son’s nose = hiding in the closet to the tune of “Not see me, Mama!”

I once held a job (I know, just stay with me here) in which I had much creative freedom in how to fill my days. New projects were welcomed, new directions expected. Sometimes, it was nothing short of torturous, my battered soul longing for a form to fill out.

Prior to the job, I once had a graduate professor who warned me in the margins of my thesis draft to “beware false dichotomies.” I’ve thought of that advice more often than I can relate in the last eight years. “To do for” and “engage” are likewise part of the same whole. The part of me that wants to find out where they meet, leaves the list lying around the house until, “Mama, me draw on dis?”

“Yeah, Iz, go ahead.”

Monday, October 08, 2007

Vancouver continued (again), i.e. Chapter 3

There is a longing that comes and goes. It's about my former life, or at least an imagined former life, in which I might visit a city, say, a city in the Pacific Northwest, a cosmopolitan city of great beauty, with more water sculpture and fountains per capita than any other, a city full of coffee houses and playhouses, and restaurants. I might go in them, enter and be entertained, enter with a partner no less, speak softly over goblets of shiraz, wiping the corners of my mouth with the sage napkin before replacing it on the black lacquered table and rising to leave again. It is in these settings that the longing comes rather than goes.

Isaac chose this moment, this time of longing to act out what are no doubt growing pains of the emotional, psychological and physical kind. What I mean to say is, he is intolerably hyperactive and rebellious. Read: BRAT. Oompa-Loompas, anyone? (I know I should be laying out examples of his evil ways rather than reporting simply that he is on my nerves, but sorry, my writer self has been under siege in too many ways for me to creatively relate much of anything.) Mind you, this is my son who not long ago waited patiently and happily in the DMV with me for an hour watching the monitor for a “G” to appear, signaling our turn at last.

It's a little like parents who complain about their infants who started out sleeping through the night but now are waking up once or twice. I have no sympathy for these people. Zero. They are just getting their bleary-eyed come-upance. So it clearly may be that neither am I entitled to any shoulders to cry on. And yet, if you offered, know that we could likely float away on the deluge.

Vancouver continued

Would it have been so very hard for the concierge to have spent a little less time on her make up and a little more learning about her job? Then, she could have told me about Science World – a kid wonderland just a couple quick metro stops from our hotel rather than sending me out by taxi to the Maritime Museum with its broken magnetic boats to dock.

But I had pretty much established that our hotel – the big fancy one that Mike's organization was paying for and that was situated just a few blocks from the conference center – wasn't really set up for assisting families of young children round about the time housekeeping, being careful not to knock on the door since the privacy sign was out, called my room during Isaac's much-needed nap to ask when I'd like service.

What if I accept that someone or something is testing me; and what if we all agree that I've failed miserably? Now may I PLEASE be dismissed???

Maritime Museums. Dreary places playing news reels from this and that sea-faring disaster, counting up the numbers of crew and passengers lost, the bell recovered by divers hanging over the display (it tolls for thee). Cold, metal instruments and cumbersome equipment I don't know the names of. Claustrophobic cabins with logs laid out as if the bearded captain has just stepped out on the deck to smoke his pipe and will return any moment. Ladders and ropes and wheels that speak of icebergs and rats.

Just so you know, Isaac marked the Maritime Museum just as he marked most other stopping points on our trip – with a potty training accident. My son was apparently a cat in a former life. So stand back, all this glory is his and his alone.

Friday, October 05, 2007


Chapter I
in which the Complaining is discussed and a husband gets some sleep
(After A.A. Milne)

She had been right in the midst of the Complaining, a Complaining she'd worked hard to design, build and now, execute, revised as it was at 1:45 am lying in her Unacceptably Small hotel bed, eyes moist, next to her two-year-old, Only Recently Asleep after a Hysterical Meltdown brought on, no doubt, by Utter Exhaustion, and a body away from her husband, Sleeping Reliably Well.

The Complaining was revised again at 3:05 am, and again at 5:14, 6:29, 6:50 and 7:12.

She was right in the middle of laying out the Personal Assault, aka, the Complaining, made on her by the Night Clerk when she had arrived tired and hungry in the dark and rain at just past midnight, when the Day Clerk, aka Recipient of the Complaining, had said, “I'd be happy to take care of your breakfast tomorrow to compensate for any inconvenience.”

And she looked at the Day Clerk, who in turn looked neat as a banker, and she sighed. It was a Helpless Sigh, and she thought the woman, the manicured banker posing as a hotel clerk, saw the glimmer of sorrow that must have passed over her face. And then she paused, unsure how to proceed. And this woman, this clerk/teller in her post pearls and her square, white-tipped fingernails, in her navy blazer covering a predictable red satin camisole, was somehow just like her husband, the Reliable Sleeper, as he too was always jumping to Solutions and not wanting to listen to the problem at hand (in all of its grand and careful detail). And in the next moment, the one after the sigh and the sorrow, the one after the indecision, she said, “I'd like to make one more comment about my experience...”

Afterwards, now, for example, thinking back, she was proud of the Phrase. It felt Dignified – a solid recovery from the Sorrowful Sigh of Indecision, and also quite polite.

In her room, her new room, for they had given her a new room, proving that she sometimes succumbed to Solutions, she found, very accidentally, the print out of their reservation. There it was, right there, “1 King Bed – Nt Gtd.” Naturally, it was the “Nt Gtd” part that had caused all the fuss, and so she threw it away post haste, so as not to have to look at it.

Her husband, now Awake and presumably Well-Rested, had disappeared to a conference where he would attend a series of tightly packed 20-minute sessions during which Some Soul was to explain to a room full of Other Souls things like “An Augmented Reality Architecture for the Creation of Hardware-in-the-Loop and Hybrid Simulation Test Scenarios for UUVs (070427-011).” He had kindly left her a copy of his itinerary from which she could determine at which time he'd be listening to a speech on Inductive Power Systems for Autonomous Underwater Vehicles and when, exactly, he'd be lulled to the rhythms of Time-Series Data Exchanges Using the Geography Markup Language.

Since there is no such thing as Too Much Sharing, he had also said he would update her over email about when he might have a break. But she felt pessimistic about her chances for retrieving the information. In the drawer of the hotel room desk was a cable and a book marked “Internet” and under that “User Guide/Guide l'utilisateur.” Seeing how she'd failed to operate the coffee brewer properly, she thought she might leave the cable and its storybook where it was and just lie down a bit next to her two-year-old, Recently Asleep, on the Acceptably Large hotel bed and try to get some rest, maybe review how the Complaining of the morning had gone.

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