Friday, April 29, 2011

The Failure of Language

Derrida?  Non, pas aujourd'hui.

Winton has deep circles under his eyes on this, his fourth day home with Granma.  I suspect they result from conversations like this:

W: Granma?
GM: Yes? [not looking up from the TV coverage of the royal wedding]
W: Granma, cream cheese.  [Meaning: I'd like an english muffin with cream cheese]
GM: Huh? [not looking up from the TV coverage of the royal wedding]
W: Cream cheese, Granma, Cream. Cheese.  Please?
GM: What? [not looking up from the TV coverage of the royal wedding]  I don't know what you're saying Winton.  You want peas?
W: [wailing]  No no no no.  Crmmmmm CHEESE!
GM: I'm sorry, honey.  I don't know what you want.  Do you have a poopy diaper?
W: [Falling face down onto his blue blanket, "Neh neh"] CREAM CHEESE [except through the blue fuzz it comes out "Grrmmm Thsss"]
GM: Let's ask your mother before she goes to work.
W: [Crying]

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

At Home, At Work, and Yoga Practice

Granpa is building a new deck.  We didn't ask.  And it is hot and humid here this week.  And his back is troubling him.  Yet, I suspect it provides welcome refuge from the children he can't hear properly despite his high-tech hearing aids, and from our relatively uncomfortable Swedish armchairs.

Yesterday this left Granma (still wheezy from open heart surgery last year) on solo duty with the four and two year old while Husband and I were at work.

Today I cajoled Clara into spending at least the morning at Preschool (not hard: she loves her heavily bejewelled teacher).  Winton's school is closed this week (hence the grandparental visit) so, he is to stay home with Granma.  Except he usually comes to school with me and Clara so his weeping and distress on my departure with his sister was loud, tearful and abject.

And now I have one of those "ripped in half by my obligation to be at work when what I want is to be with my children" headaches.
It makes me look 400 years old and miserable.

I also forgot my yoga clothes for my daily half hour hidden in the corner of the basketball courts.  I NEED yoga today.  Such was my desperation that I borrowed a pair of pants (already worn a few times) from a tall colleague.  After my classes I will roll up the sleeves of my dress shirt, and the legs of someone else's pants and sweat floppily, and hopefully somewhat privately, on the basketball courts. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Claraism du Jour

[on looking at Winton's crotch, freshly liberated from the confinement of a diaper]
"Oh!  His penis is smashed."
 [and then]
"I think I'm going to grow a penis of my own!"

I need a good girl-power rebuttal . . .
(Re-BUTT-al!  Ha.  I think I just answered myself: rediaper the boy's butt)

Coffee and Kisses

When I had a flash of clarity about what I wanted to do with my life (a year after completing a BA in International Relations, and midway through an evening shift at the boy's boarding school at which I worked as a "houseparent") this is what I envisioned:

Me, as an English (literature) Professor in a comfy office, surrounded by books, reveling in the adoration of my students, proffering invaluable pearls of wisdom about great novels.

In graduate school, I modified the vision:

Me, disheveled, face inches above a steaming coffee, in a nice coffee shop, reading obscure international novels and hiding from: students, grading, publishing and other responsibilities less pleasurable than the reading which is also, legitimately, part of the job.

The graduate school vision persists as a seldom-realized ideal.

Today I got to sit on the patio of good coffee shop, reading (and--though it wasn't so bad--prepping lecture notes) while drinking a vast latte. 

I may have to kiss my mother-in-law on the lips when I get home later, for it is only because she is there, looking after the children (meaning I don't have to take them to their respective daycares) that I am able to have 40 minutes or so "extra" in the morning.

She's from the Midwest.  She'd be appalled.  Perhaps by the kiss, perhaps equally by the notion of "working" (reading) at a coffee shop.  

Monday, April 25, 2011

Healthy or Unhealthy?

Unhealthy: trying to run everything.
Healthy: sharing responsibilities with spouse.
Unhealthy: Spouse's normal workday and commute (11 hours or so in total which leave me, M-F, obsessively trying to run everything and often getting ragged, irritable and yelly as a result, especially when dropping loudly reluctant, and successfully resistant Clara off at pre-school and then trying to get myself to work on time).

Unhealthy: trying to run everything.
Healthy: allowing visiting grandparents to take care of the children this week.
Unhealthy: trying to deny that this stresses me out because it makes me feel unimportant.

Unhealthy: self-esteem correlated with self-perceived usefulness.
Healthy: self-esteem.
Unhealthy: inability to pinpoint potential sources of self-esteem other than being useful.

Healthy: dark chocolate.  Good thing I just ate some.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Winton likes to make sure everyone knows the lay of the land, even when Mommy has relaxed certain house rules for the week of grandparental visitation:
"Granpa! Granpa! Granpa! Granpa!  [pointing] that's Mommy!"
"Granpa! Granpa! [pointing] that's Hardie!"
"Granpa! Granpa! Granpa! Granpa! Granpa! Look!  That's Daddy."
" Granpa!  Take shoes Off."
"No, Granpa, NO.  Shoes off!"
"No, Granpa.  No shoes. No shoes in house.  Shoes Off"

Thursday, April 21, 2011


This morning I read (because I start teaching the novel tomorrow and, it turns out I haven't read this book before) the last 250 pages of Tim Winton's Cloudstreet.  It makes the brain melt.  It makes me want to look at the sky.  It is tremendous.

After finishing, I took Hardie (surprised to have me home) for a walk under a sky so blue my breath broke midstream every time I looked at it.

It's 7.01 pm, and the kids are just down.  I need to clean up and confront more reading (for I also teach Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible tomorrow). 

But that sky was a relief, a wonder, a moment of the sublime, as blue as the lilacs struggling through the long grass next to our front steps.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bat Sh*t Crazy and Burnt Out

Husband and I watch one hour of netflix after dinner every night (imagine two adults with deep, dark under-eyes posed like corpses in armchairs, silent and exhausted).  We are half way through The King's Speech.  The scene in which the then Duke of York swears and swears and swears is enticing.  I want to do that.  So badly.

I'm in my office, crazy with despair right now.

I want a day off with happy children draped on me like compresses.

I want time to go to the swimming pool and pretend, as I swim laps, that I am actually flying.

I want to put my head in a hessian sack until I feel better.

Instead, I think I will cancel my office hours tomorrow, NOT come to work, and sit at a good cafe with the 1,000 pages of reading I am supposed to accomplish in one day, plus two sets of grading, and pretend that I am taking a mental health (and hygiene) day.  Perhaps if I pour an espresso in my ear I will feel happy and clean-brained?

(And if I pour one in Clara's ear, will she stop yelling  at me?)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mental Hygiene, and a Third Ball

I have, since moving to the States 8 years ago, marvelled  at the title of  "The Department of Mental Health and Hygiene."  What a wonderful phrase, suggesting, as it does, that psychiatric misfunctions and malaises have to do with cleanliness.  Depressed?  Well, you haven't been washing your brain properly, have you?

It has been an ego-crushing week at work (is it really only Tuesday?), with the addition of the student blowing his nose into his sleeve distractingly in class yesterday (was that really only yesterday??).

It has also been a rough week so far with Clara, who has taken to refusing any/everything I offer her and then crying hysterically when I stop offering.  "Clara, would you like a yogurt or a piece of fruit for breakfast?" "Noooooooo!"  "OK [leaving the kitchen] let me know when you are hungry" "No!  No! No! Mummyyyyyy! No! [which continues, increasingly shrilly, for 10 minutes at a time]."

I think I need to reasses my theory that I only have time to juggle work (one ball) and kids (the other ball), for if everything is crap with both of those balls and I feel like my soul is cuddling up to a cheese grater, I need some refuge.  Not sure what, yet.  But a third ball.  A small one.  I need it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Claraism de la Nuit

Daddy: Clara, why aren't you asleep yet?
Clara: Because when I closed my eyes there were words.  And when I closed them again, there were flowers looking at me.


Student in the front
blows his nose on his shirtsleeve.
I can think no more.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Mine, not the kids'.  Long week (long semester) and every 3 months or so I hit a nadir: "I feel invisible" and "Oh, I just wish someone was interested in me for me" and "I just need a little praise."  It's all very self- pitying and whiny.

Seems the intersection of teaching (in which performance is reviewed by students, and only at the end of semester, and often contingent on popularity rather than pedagogical efficacy), research (in which articles I slave over are blind reviewed and get lambasted freely, recreationally even, by reviewers) and parenting ( in which performance reviews come in the form of "No!  I don't like broccoli" regardless of how well or cunningly it is cooked) has me down in the dumps.

What I'd like to hear:

1) On student evaluations:

Wow!  Your handling of the student with Asperger's syndrome and his random, tangential outbursts really improved over the course of the semester.

2)  On reviews of my written academic work on Third Culture Literature (a field I am trying to "make happen"):

You have again decided to write about material on which there is no body of existing criticism and, even if I [the reviewer] have different ideas about what conclusions you might have reached, I am impressed that you managed to produce these ideas in a vacuum.  I recommend publishing your article.

3) On parenting:

Oh, nice job diffusing that sibling conflict!  Excellent redirect of tired toddler frustrations!  I can't believe you got your children to eat sliced carrots for breakfast: that's awesome.

It is indicative of how frail my ego is that even typing a fictional list has made me feel better.  Ahhh . .  .

Friday, April 15, 2011


My four year old daughter (lovely, lithe, blond, blue-eyed) clutched her thigh as she was getting dressed this morning and said "It's too big and soft here, Mummy."

I suspect her teacher.  Her TEACHER!   Emaciated, overly made-up, weighed down by several pounds of jewellery every day, and driver of a car emblazoned with "I Run!" bumper stickers, she is lucky the school year is over soon, for my first impulse on hearing Clara's self-condemnation was to find and eviscerate her. 

But soon Clara will be in summer camp.

Poor/ Lucky Clara also has her grandparents (my in-laws) coming in two weeks to help us with school closures over Easter week.  While Clara LOVES her grandparents, her grandmother HATES her own hair, and has an unfortunate habit of remarking on how Clara's hair is just like hers.

She's only FOUR.    Gaarrrhh.  I'm pretty messed up, but I'm fairly sure I didn't have complexes about my appearance til I was at least ten. 

This more than anything makes me want to concede to Husband's request that we buy a yurt and live in the Colorado wilds, feral and  secluded.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chain Reaction

Winton, running, trips, catching foot on his blanket mid-air which throws him further forward than merely falling would have so that he first bangs his head audibly on the leg of a large armchair and then lands heavily on his face.

Hardie, panicked on Winton's behalf, spins in circles sobbing like a teenage girl.

Clara, incensed at being peripheral to the action, shrieks semi-coherently about the need to shape an bunny tail out of tissue paper and wedge it into the back of her pants.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Waiting for the Phone to Ring

Just realised (1.41pm) that  I FORGOT WINTON'S BLANKET when we left the house this morning, despite my having draped it over the banister so I would see it on the way out.

That means he is at Maria's (daycare), likely screaming his head off as he likely has been since 1, which is when she normally puts everyone down for a nap.

ohgodohgodohgod.  My lectures are not prepped for tomorrow, but clearly I should be expecting the "please come get your inconsolable son" phone call (which will include the "I know you're busy but clearly you are an idiot for having forgotten his blanket" subtext).

Lecture prep frenzy commencing in 3-2-1 . . .

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ostrich and Monster(s)

The game we taught Clara's friend Henry when we were over there yesterday.  Someone gets to be the ostrich (stretch one arm up and make your hand look like an ostrich head  by squeezing straightened fingers and thumb together, other hand dangles limply on your behind in manner of tail feathers).  Everyone else playing makes clawed paws with their hands and roars.  Ostrich, silent, pursues monsters and tickles with its beak until it's bored THEN it runs away shrieking, for fun, in falsetto with the roaring monsters in hot pursuit.

Henry's Mum likely hates us today.

dessert, by Clara

a small bowl filled yin-yang style with red grapes and dill pickle slices.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pet owning: glamourous and hygienic

Me [to Pumpkin, our large orange cat, perched on my shoulder at the time and using all of his claws while trying to turn around to face the other direction]: Please get your anus out of my hair.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Clara: misunderstanding idiom [Mummy: misunderstanding Clara]

C: Mummy, Blankie has a bug in her nose [yes, the anthropomorphising of Blankie is a whole other issue].
Me: Oh, that must be uncomfortable.
C: It's been there for weeks.
Me: I wonder what it's been eating.
C: Probably nose goblins . . . Mummy, Blankie gave me her nose bug, and now I can't breathe.
Me: Ah! Your cold came from Blankie?
C: Uh-huh.  But Blankie still has a bug in her nose; that's why it's bleeding.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Indulgence, redefined, and retribution

These days staying at work 20 minutes later than usual in order to work a teeny tiny widgy inconsequential bit on MyDamnBook (for which I have a deadline with my writing buddy next week) is an indulgence.

Hardie, he of the easily upset stomach, vomits if his dinner is late.  And 20 minutes later than usual is too late.
Retribution in the form of a welcome-puddle of canine stomach acid dotted with small chunks of paper from a source as yet to be discovered.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Be warned: rambling below.

I grew up, in part, in Singapore.
(unrelated to Singapore) For the last 20 years I have been vegetarian.

(slightly related to the Singapore thing in that my career has been influenced by my international experiences) My current academic research is on the literature of former Missionary Kids, which is requiring some very disturbing investigation of the lives of former Missionary Kids.  This afternoon that involved watching All God's Children, a documentary about abuse in a West African mission school.

The film, with its description of children in tropical contexts feeling abandoned by their parents brought up two things: 1) some of the more troubling associations being internationally mobile has for me despite my unarguably privileged childhood (feeling loss of people and place chronically); 2) some troubling issues around parenting.  I want, perhaps too much, to always put my children first.

Anyway.  Of late we have been eating Sunday dinner en famille, a clear benefit of the children getting older.

I am learning to cook meat.  For me this is huge, as I stopped eating meat shortly after we left Singapore when I was 14 (perhaps a result of how meat is prepared in schools in England and Wales so maybe Singapore and vegetarianism in Britain and thereafter are related?).  Tonight, my ambitious plan involved a package of bone-in chicken pieces.

I wanted to make curry.  The pieces were too big. I required a cleaver (traumatic) to make them smaller.  I was skeeved out.  After whacking away with the cleaver, I bleached everything too much.  My hands started to peel.  I am born-again at meat eating.  Totally new to meat cooking.  Totally disgusted by carcasses.

But I managed to make a Singapore Chicken curry.  It was like the Tanglin Club on a Saturday afternoon in the mid 1980s.  Waaaah, so good lah!

The rest of the family: underwhelmed, though Clara liked the chicken.  Husband, after too much compliment-hunting from me, asked what I wanted to hear from him when I looked at him expectantly.

Oh, but I wish you could share my nostalgia in that taste, and I wish the children could understand what those spices connote for me!  I wish there were people other than my parents (increasingly loopy and living a continent away) and my brother (a heroin addict with no phone, passport or desire to communicate too regularly with his overachieving straight-edge sister) who shared some of the archive of memories that tool around irrelevantly in my head.

It's been an emotional afternoon.