Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dark and Light


I am writing a section on Ian McEwan, and the influence of his military upbringing on his fiction.  McEwan = lots of reading about pedophilia, about which critic Peter Childs has this to say: "the abuse of children becomes the last recourse for put-upon adults who, through the torturing of others, attempt to punish something in themselves."  I recognise a dilute version of that observation in myself: low self-esteem days make me far more short-tempered with my children, as if I feel put-upon by my middle-aged invisibility and pimples (a remarkably unfair combo) and so become overly brittle about whether the kids have put their shoes away correctly.  Shame.


Dinner last night, Clara holding a slice of bread to her ear:
"Oh, hi Henry!  Mummy it's Henry on the phone.  How are you Henry?  Yes, I like to play on the castle as well.  Poopy is pizza!  Ok.  Byeeeee."

Overlapping,  Winton with banana held to his ear:
"Wello?" [Pause]
Passing banana to me:
"It's Daddy."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I once shamed myself by referring to Ngugi's novel Petals of Blood as Puddles of Blood.  The word "puddles" still carries a taint.

BUT my reason for writing this morning is to inform you that Hardie the dog is blameless in this week's urine-fest, phase one of which involved Winton (who is only diaperless between the bath and his bedroom every night) peeing on the floor beside my bed and incanting with increasing alarm "Mummy?  Uh-oh.  Uh-oh.  Uh-OH.  Mummeeee?  Uh-Oh."  Phase two was Clara wetting her own bed copiously in the wee (haha) hours of the morning, thus demonstrating that foam mattresses function exactly like kitchen sponges when wet.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Somnambulant Singer

Down by the bay
where the watermelons grow
back to my home
I dare not go.
For, if I do
my mother will say
"did you ever see a moose
kissing a goose
down by the bay?"

Winton's version, sung to himself in his crib and overheard through his bedroom door.

Dabbada BAY!
[pause] GROW!
[pause] HOME!
[pause] GO!
[pause] DO!
[longer pause]
Dabbbada bay.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dog House

We got Hardie, our 3 ish beagel-bassett type mix, from the Maryland SPCA in June.  He has, for the most part, been the ideal dog for us: his exercise needs are manageable and he keeps himself busy with his extensive slurping, gnawing grooming rituals.  Moreover, though I try to prevent my son's bad behaviour, Hardie lets Winton grab him from behind, kneel on him, explore the pads of his feet and yell into his ears.  He's a good dog.  And unlike our previous dog, he likes encountering other dogs when we are out walking.  It's still a surprise and relief not to have to cross the street to avoid other dog walkers.

However, Hardie is also an inscrutable beast.  He is disconcertingly un-emotive.  With droopy lips and ears, and eyes the colour of chestnuts, he always looks mildly sad: this is not a dog who smiles, looks inquisitive, or perks up his ears.  He has a long, low, mini-keg of a torso which doesn't bend: this is not a frolicksome dog, or one whose body arcs side-to-side when he wags his tail.  His tail is typically poised like a  handle on a delft-ware mug.  He is Bartleby the Scrivener  in his resistance to our efforts to train him.  Mild, yet immoveable.  Sit?  I prefer not. 

When he first came to us, the only indication that he was upset about the transition was vomit.  Unexpected vomit.  No prefatory shiftiness or unease.  Just Hardie standing still, looking mild.  And then Hardie standing still looking mild over a large, clear puddle (sometimes including bloated cheerios or goldfish crackers clearly recently pilfered from Winton). 

I had wanted to get an adult dog so that we wouldn't need to toilet train a new dog as well as Clara and Winton.  Hardie has been unpredictable in this regard.  He is mostly terrific about continence at home.  Though suspect about elimination on the dogwalks, he has turned our backyard (and vegetable garden) into a rank poop field that you can now smell indoors if you leave the back windows open a crack.  Sometimes though, he pees in odd places and I don't understand why.  Eg  a few weeks ago: THE COUCH.  Why??

This morning I was in the throes of getting Clara, Winton and I ready to leave the house.  This involves herding everyone upstairs to use the toilet (Clara, Me), change into work clothes (Me), and get a clean diaper (Winton).  Typically this takes a very long time as I am the only one keen to get any of this stuff done.
Clara is VERY proud to have been pull-up free, even at night,  for two whole days.  And very proud that the extra blankets I put on her bed, just in case, have been unnecessary.  I am very proud too (and relieved).  This is a HUGE deal.

 This morning Clara was tired (the result of a late day yesterday because I had to stay at school late for a faculty meeting and then our evening routine--hampered by everyone's more than usual tiredness and urgency--got pushed back later and later).  She consented to peeing, only on the grounds that she could then go lie in her bed for a few minutes while I got myself dressed and Winton re-diapered.  Sure, I said.
Clara pees, wipes, washes hands.  Exits bathroom.  Enters bedroom and begins screaming.

Hardie had carefully moved her preventative pee blankets to the floor and peed on her mattress.  And then, for good measure, peed on the blankets, and then peed AGAIN on the carpet next to her bed which is where I found him, looking mild in spite of Clara's quite justified opera of protest, when I came running to investigate.  Bastard.  Why??

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Claraism du jour

Clara [on floor playing with a stuffed bison]: "Mummy, guess what I'm thinking about?"
Me [on couch drinking tea]: "Hmm.  I don't know.  What?"
Clara: "Cantaloupe Melon."

Mommy is a monster

If I write this down now, they'll have notes for therapy later.

1) Blankets.
Clara and Winton both have security blankets to which they are very attached ("Pink Blankie" and "Neh Neh" [Night Night]). 

a) A year ago we went on holiday to a cabin in the woods.  Our old dog May and her blankie came.  May, upset, pooped all over her blanket the first night we were there and, because we were on holiday in a cabin in the woods,  Mummy threw May's blankie away.   Clara still has nightmares involving accidentally pooping on Pink Blankie and Mummy throwing it away.

b)  Winton's Neh Neh got washed on the weekend, which made it stink even more for reasons I cannot fathom.  Being separated from Neh Neh is intolerably painful to Winton (or so his yelling implies).  I was telling Maria about the stink problem this morning at daycare, and Winton, hearing "wash" and thinking I was about to take his Neh Neh away again, began shrieking inconsolably, and would not stop until I was out of Maria's garden with the gate closed firmly behind me.

2)  Potty troubles.

a)  Clara has been two whole days at preschool  with no pull up!  Mummy was very proud the first day, and distractedly proud the second (her brother was messing with the spigots on the school's water cooler when she told me the second time).  Mummy was also very very tired yesterday (her brother waking up at 5 far too regularly, a bad day teaching, a sore throat that has been on-again, off-again since school started).  Last night, Clara wanted to wear underpants to bed and Mummy said no.  No??  Am I out of my mind?  The child is 3.5 years old.  The voice of a colleague whose children have been potty trained since 18 mos. resounds in my head.  But but but .  . . I didn't want to clean a wet bed.  I didn't want to get up numerous times in the night to take her to the toilet.  I am a bad mother.

Wait.  Winton is almost 20 months.  Should he be potty trained now too?  But but but . . . when I put him on the toilet he cries until I let him stuff wads of toilet paper in.  And when he pees in the bath (the bubbles move) he alarms himself and (quite sensibly) insists on getting out.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


(It's not the Claraism du jour because it happened a few weeks ago and I forgot til just now)

Clara: "I don't like Elliott"
Me: "Oh?  Why?"
Clara: "He said I had a poopy diaper."
Me: "Ah.  Hmm. [Here I imagine the likelihood of her having a poopy diaper and struggle not to snipe that most three and a half year olds don't wear diapers anymore, dagummit]  What did you say?"
Clara: "I said 'I DON'T have a poopy diaper.  I am wearing a pull-up!'"

The Henry Heartaches

Clara's daycare, which she has now outgrown but which her brother attends, is run by an Argentinian former schoolteacher out of her home.  Her husband (from Iran) goes by the name Henry (which is not the name on his infant CPR certificate . . . but I guess it's *awkward* to have a Muslim name in these here parts these days).  Henry works as a chef at night, but helps out with the children during the day if necessary.  Clara started at daycare when she was nine months old.  Within days she had latched on to Henry as her main man, her choice of lap, the one she wanted always to be with, even if he had to be woken up after his late night of work in order to sit with her and a mug of espresso.  Out of my arms and into Henry's.  Every day.  Until, at 3 and a half, she started at "her new school" for summer camp.  She misses Henry, and I hate that I (well, I and her own increasing age, which isn't my fault) am the architect of the life change that has phased him out of her life almost completely (she still gets to visit sometimes when we pick up Winton but often he isn't there . . . because she isn't there demanding him on a daily basis anymore).

At her new school, Clara immediately befriended an older boy (he's 4).  And his name is??  Yup: HENRY.
Henry.  A sweet boy who drew monsters for Clara, signed his drawings and sent them home with her as gifts.

Now, I've been having a rough week.  First, the final episode of season four of Dexter rendered me fetal and weeping in the kitchen (slippage of barrier between fiction and reality, anyone?).  Second, Hardie (the dog) has spent the last two nights engaged in extensive, slurping, ear-flapping, luxuriantly leisurely and loud grooming between 3 and 4 am.  And finally, I think Winton is at long last teething his last molars (a baby set of teeth is 20 teeth, isn't it?  If he's not teething I have no idea what's wrong with the unfevered but sleepless little man).

In any case, I found out this morning (the first day of the official school year at Clara's new school) that new Henry was only in the same class as Clara over the summer because it was summer camp.  Now, what with him being four and her being three and a half, they don't get to play together.

This feels cataclysmic: to have lost one Henry is terrible, but TWO? My God.  In light of the week so far, this detail alone makes me want to sit under my desk and weep.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Stubborn in Words

I always thought that my linguistic foibles (using the wrong word at the wrong time but with enough conviction that people think I speak poetically or, perhaps, as elusively as academics are reputed to) were the result of being raised, in English, by native Dutch and German speakers.  No.  It's genetic.  It must be.  Winton does the same.

Winton, on any substance or atmospheric temperature that is not tepid: "Hhhhaughtt" [Hot, the only expression for temperature in his vocabulary, no matter how often I suggest "cold" might also be an option].

Winton, on any piece of cutlery: "'Poon!"

Friday, September 3, 2010

Math isn't funny

First week of school - adequate exercise + extra driving (husband's car broken) - adequate sleep + researching Sierra Leone's civil war - the students who should be here even though it is a Friday afternoon before labor day + wishing I was home with my children more + incipient sore throat - time to work on the book the deadline of which is freaking me out = lost sense of humor.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"First Day of School!"

"First Day of School! First Day of School!" is the first thing Nemo says to (yells at) his father Marlin in Finding Nemo.

It's my first day of "school" (as in full on teaching) today; Clara's first school day is next week.

After days of blinding busy-ness, and factoring in an extra early departure today so we could drive my husband to the train station because his car leaked all of its power steering fluid onto the road yesterday, it is suspiciously calm.  Too calm.

Do I really have time to start some reading for the book I'm trying to write?  Really?  NOW?  Will Wednesdays at 12.26 always afford me a small slice of "me" (ie research) time??