Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shut Up About Animals

Have you read Whoopee by Antonia Cornwell?  She's really very funny.  She has a number of posts labelled "Shut Up About Your Cats" which, for obvious reasons, came to mind for me today for momosyllabic has been all "cat cat cat" of late.

As a brief return to more typical material, I thought you might like to know what Clara and Winton argued, violently, about all the way to school:  what color the balloons should be at the birthday party Clara is going to pretend to have for her pink blankie this weekend.
Why pink, of course.  The argument arose from the fact that Clara wanted the balloons to be pink and, by her logic, that meant that Winton could not also want the balloons to be pink.  And yet he did.  He wanted pink balloons for the pretend party as well.
Oh the yelling.  And then the attempts to hit each other.  (Car seats: wonderful for preventing fisticuffs.)

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Where'd Black Cat Go?"

See adventures with animals, my Friday post, before reading this one.

Saturday morning dogwalk:
Winton: "Where'd Black Cat go?" [repeat approx. 40 million times]
We take a route that avoids the spot where we found Black Cat on Friday.

Sunday morning dogwalk:
Winton: "Mummy, Where'd Black Cat go?"
Mummy: "Oh, don't start.  Ms. Nightdress was supposed to call an animal shelter to come get Black Cat.  Shall we go check?"

And thus the beginning of the end.  Clara, Winton, Hardie and Mummy all off at a jog (to keep up with Winton) around the corner, down the block half way and then we were met enthusiastically by Little Black Cat, tail in the air, apparently yelling her head off at us: "Where the hell have you BEEN?  Why didn't you come down the block yesterday?  I waited for you.  You know it's hot and I want to come home with you.  Pawning me off on Ms Nightdress was cunning of you, but I still want to come home.  With You. Let's Go!"  Cat takes off towards our house, at a jaunty trot.  Children screaming happily.  Me also *ahem* very happy.

Cat comes in the front door with us like she's always gone walking with us in the morning and come back in through the front door.  Pumpkin (legitimate resident cat) puffs up and turns into, from the sounds of him, a theremin.  Little Black Cat gets upset.  I, mindful of possible flea infestation and stray cat illness that might infect existing housecats, whisk her downstairs for confinement in the basement bathroom.

Husband: unimpressed.  Perhaps especially because Briseis, our other current legit. housecat, was acquired by a girlfriend of his while he was away one weekend and has since become his cat, mostly against his will.  Anyway.  He's a good man.  He took Little Cat to the vet to have her checked.

But, get this, the vet scans her like a tin of peaches, and she's microchipped.  Husband and cat come home.  We phone the number the microchip company provided to be told the cat's owner is dead and his wife gave the cat away.  I didn't think to ask how long ago as the person on the phone sounded surly, and this is Baltimore, and I had already googled the owner's name and come up with a guy who had been imprisoned in 2009 for dealing heroin.  Also: I am under the impression this is an adolescent cat (small, kittenishly playful). Anyway.  Call to MDSPCA to file a found cat report, and ask what the property rights are on cats (ie if the kids--or I--get attached and 6 months from now an owner materialises, who gets the cat?  We do.  After only 3 days of custody, apparently).

Did I mention how sweet this cat is?  She curls up on any lap like an armadillo, tummy skyward, kneading the air with tiny paws.

Then I looked on craigslist and found a posting re: a lost cat named Sorrel.  Dates and location make it sound quite likely that we have found that cat.
I call the owner.
She's away camping.  We have a bad line.  She is unaware of her cat being microchipped.  Her cat is 5 years old.  But, she found her cat Sorrel in an alley, and, from the pictures in her posting, the cat we have does look similar.

Now we wait for the campers to return to find out if what we have in our basement bath is a five year old Sorrel, or an adolescent we get to keep.

I repeat: damndiddity.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Winton's.  In the carpet.  Again.
I leave him undiapered for about 5 minutes after bathtime hoping to entice him to pee in the potty, or even the toilet.  He HAS in fact peed in the potty (once) and on the (tiled!  easy to clean!) bathroom floor while wedged behind the toilet (many times).

This after a major melt down because we read a story with a white terrier in it and then, on the next page, a collie.  Winton wouldn't believe that they were different dogs and kept wailing and asking why the white dog's head was broken on the second page.  He only  let it go when I made up a story about what had happened to the white dog's head to break it.

I'm tired now, and I think I have little boy pee on my feet.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Adventures with Animals

I have been reading Mark Seal's Wildflower about the life (and death) of Joan Root: Kenyan, once wife of wildlife documentary film-maker Alan Root.  Joan is pictured on the cover: devastatingly beautiful, gently touching the nape of a very young elephant who is leaning in, sad-eyed, to nestle in the drape of her skirt.  Joan Root: protectress of orphaned, injured, vulnerable wildlife.

How I want to be her! I have always wanted to be her.  Age 8-14, I spent enough time at the Singapore Zoological Gardens, the vet's office where I volunteered on weekends, and the Bukit Timah Saddle Club that I knew a lot about otters, spaying cats and horses afraid of snakes, but little about reading or writing (age 10, I couldn't distinguish between "b" and "d."  Dyslexia?  Nope: ignorance).

So, reading about Joan Root and baby hippos has stirred up some stuff for me, making my own "wildlife" encounters over the last 24 hours oddly, poetically, heightened. 

Ahem, well.  There have only been two.

First, the baby robin perched on the messy loops of our sprawling garden hose yesterday afternoon.  It sat and looked at me, unwavering, with eyes that seemed too big, too black, for its small head.  It had the patchy coloration of a tortoiseshell cat.  I went to lift it into the bushes, and it ran before I touched it, small wings slightly flapping, into the hedge.  I fetched it a bowl of water (it was 95F yesterday).  I haven't seen it again.  But I think on those eyes, seemingly accusing me of NOT being able to effect a decent rescue.

Second, with the same coloring, the young female cat who adopted Winton, Clara, Hardie and me this morning as we were out for our morning "walk" (actually a dash behind Winton who is always a mere trip and stumble away from falling into the street).  She followed us, rubbing up against the kids, puffing her tail out and hissing at Hardie, bouncing into bushes and then suddenly reappearing on the path ahead of us, the whole way home.   This despite my efforts to scare her away by yelling "TSSSSTTT!" and clapping.  Also in spite of the fact that the last half block involves a very busy street.

Channeling my inner Joanness, I could not leave to take the kids to school with an adolescent tortoiseshell cat playing with the dead leaves on our porch, traffic zooming by.  So, we put the dog inside and walked with her all the way back to where she had first joined us.  It's in the 90s again today.  Cat and children all panting by the time we arrive back . . . well back where she had originally emerged from under a parked car.  It became clearer as I thought about it that this cat, despite her friendliness, probably didn't have a home.

I asked a woman sitting on her front porch in her nightie if she knew from whence the cat hailed.  Answer: from the vacant lot overrun with trees covered in vines.  Crap. 

At this point the following happened: Winton took off at a run down the sidewalk, little cat in hot pursuit,  the two of them advancing, obliviously, towards a man walking an increasingly excited pitbull on a length of rusty chain, and Clara started to cry.

This is what I did: picked up Clara, ran  to Winton and the cat,  put Clara down next to her brother, picked up the cat, ran back to the lady in the nightie, passed the cat to her (she looked alarmed: I feel bad about that bit), ran back to the children, picked up Winton, grabbed Clara's hand and RAN with them past the tail-whippingly enthralled pitbull all the way back home.

But what would Joan have done?  Tortured by my desire to have little cat (No no no.  I can't.  We have two cats and a dog already) I have since been back sans children and talked to Miss Nightdress (who had already contacted an animal rescue organization, and had little cat contained on her porch) and brought some tins of catfood by way of apology for passing a small irate animal to her earlier and then running away.

Oh but I want little cat.  Damn.  Damndiddity.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dance Class # 2

Winton is 2, Clara 4.  I thought it would be good to have them do some dancing (in other words, I was shamed by the colleague whose kids are the same age and do dance, violin and swimming classes). 

I hired a graduating dance student from the college at which I work to come to our house once a week.

She came over last week: Clara stretched a bit; Winton hid in the kitchen and shrieked.

She came over again yesterday: Clara insisted on putting a tutu on her blanket (ie stuffing blankie through the central hole where a girl's body is supposed to go) and then lay on the floor immobile (much worse than last week); Winton ran around shrieking (much better than last week).

Is it worth it?  Shall we persevere?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Yesterday evening Winton peed on the carpet next to his sister's bed, again.  She hates that, understandably, so there was a substantial amount of high-pitched screaming.  I'm having trouble getting the boy to sit on either the potty or the toilet.  This would be OK, as Winton could pee standing up if he liked, and if I could figure out a way to demonstrate it.  I said, over a patch of sodden carpet, "we really have to get your father to show you."

This morning Winton went in to wake his father, and the two of them snuggled in bed for a few minutes.

When I listened in, Winton was asking, perhaps as follow-up to last night's pee incident and the need for instructional materials,
"Daddy, you have penis?  Daddy has big penis?  Daddy? Daddy has big penis?"

(I imagine I'll get a hit or two today from some very frustrated porn seekers.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tree Trimmer

He came back today (a day earlier than originally scheduled and very early in the morning). 

I have consulted several homeowners about the "handsome tree man" phenomenon (surely an analogue in terms of trades and appearance to "plumber's butt," though more aesthetically pleasing).

Here's the prevailing theory: tree trimmers have to 1) climb high things, 2) do dangerous things around electrical wires, 3) wield power tools, 4) care about preserving the lives of trees and 5) spend a lot of time outside.  Ergo, the kind of people who become tree trimmers are 1) limber, 2) thrill seekers, 3) strong, 4) tree huggers (more likely to eat vegetables, remarked a colleague of mine) and 5) hikers.  That's why they look so nice.

Now, what physical markers characterize mothers of small children who are also trying to write books of literary criticism?  Underarm odor?  Flyaway hair?  Smears of dark chocolate?

Monday, May 23, 2011

In Praise of Bassett Hounds, and Orange Tabbies

We've now had Pumpkin (orange tabby) for just over a year (he was my Mother's Day present last year) and Hardie (bassett hound) for just under a year (he was Husband's Father's Day present).  Both were adopted from the MDSPCA.  Both were adult animals. 

Pumpkin I loved immediately for the way he inhales while purring, mouth slightly ajar ("rrrronk!"), his freckled lips, his predilection for laying down on my chest, even while I'm upright, and the fact that he sleeps with me every night (unless, increasingly common of late, he's sleeping with Clara).

Hardie the inscrutable has taken a bit longer but I am, to my surprise, smitten with him these days.  His implacable droopiness conceals a mischievous streak. Lost a toy?  Chances are Hardie has whisked it upstairs.  Despite being shaped like a keg on short legs, he can whisk, however creeping, silent on his massive feet, is his real forte.  Here's a 45 pound hound who can cross a hard wood floor silently.  Hardie never ever shows aggression with children, even those of strangers.  That's a wonderful thing.  And on Saturday mornings (my day to sleep in til 8.30) he stands with his head on my mattress whiffling softly until I get up.  I've given up trying to train him (ie he's trained me not to train him) and now we are all quite content.

Sweet animals, both of them.  I wonder what their years were like before they came to us.  I'm glad we have 'em.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


We (me, Clara, Winton, Hardie) met a friend of Clara's from school today at a local greenspace referred on googlemaps as "dog poop park."
No evidence of poop this morning, but several large dogs.

I am now utterly shattered.

What is it about "playdates" that is so completely fatiguing?
a) Small talk with new adults?
b) Children scattering in all directions like a dropped bag of beads?
c) Baltimore humidity?
d) Hardie's sumo-wrestler-esque leash manners?
e) Clearly, all of the above.

I'd watch cooking shows on TV now if our satellite dish weren't broken . . .

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mother--not a chirpy post

Apologies.  I have posted, and then edited, and then posted, and then edited this again. 

My mother is ill.  She has been ill, physically and /or mentally, my whole life.  My understanding is that she has been and is nursing some secret grief and guilt of hers into a host of psychological and physical issues, many of which allow her a retreat into prescription medications.   "Secret" is key: I know nothing substantiate-able about my mother.  Not even her maiden name.  I surmise that she was born in Germany shortly before WWII and that her father was in some way a terrible person (though that may or may not entail the terribleness of Nazi history).

These last decades she has been very very ill on the physical side especially, with spinal surgeries, MRSA after a hip replacement, and now an undiagnosable infection that seems, perhaps, to be emanating from her liver.  She lives a continent away.  My father, her full-time nurse, is almost 80 and past his best years for cleaning explosive diaorrhea out of carpets.

She is in hospital, in ICU, for her third day today.   My father responded "absolutely NOT" when I said I could come.

The cloud over my days is concern for my father, and, a more  more dark and dense cloud, my desire that my relationship with my children be stronger than my mother's is with me.  I feel terrible for the distance, literal and figurative, between myself and my mother, and know how devastating it would/will be if this is how things are when I am old and ailing and my children are off having lives of their own.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Caterpillar Song, By Clara

We built you a cave;
we built you a cage,
because we love you.
It's a present.

Bizet could have used these lyrics, don't you think (Love, bird, cage tra-la-la etc.)?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


A mother at Clara's school congratulated me this morning on how smooth our drop-off routine is.
"Well," I said, remembering many days spent trying to prise a small hysterical girl off my leg, "It hasn't always been this way."

Winton has always been easier to drop-off.  He is the boy who will generally give me an affectionate peck on the cheek and then announce "Bye, Mum."  BUT, when we reached his daycare today, he pitched such a massive and uncharacteristic fit when I left that I could hear him outside the building.

1) Gah!  I feel TERRIBLE.
and, perhaps also
2) Little bugger,  with cat-like perversity, he's proving that congratulatory Mom wrong.

Monday, May 16, 2011

World O' Winton

This weekend featured dinner out on Saturday at Pavan Foods, a family-run grocery and Indian Restaurant, at which Winton failed to consume the idli (steamed rice/ lentil flour dumplings) I thought would be mild enough for him and instead ate the very spicy sambhar that accompanied them, insisting that it was "soup."

Also on the agenda was a Sunday afternoon flail at the pool, followed by dinner (Out! Again!) at the Whole Foods buffet.

Unusually eventful.

This morning (Monday) Winton spent a lot of time demanding to "Sit Lap" and, during one of these snuggly sits, I asked "Winton, are you tired today?"

To which he responded "Nope.  Just bum-burps and yawning."

Claraism du Jour

Mummy, babies like boobs but they don't like alligators.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Yard Care

1) Avoid mowing lawn with an attentive, demanding 2 and 4 year old audience standing on the porch.
2) Avoid mowing at the audience's dinner time: it makes them crankier.
3) Don't get annoyed when your neighbor snottily asks that you sweep the lawn clippings off her side of the side-walk.
4) Don't book visits from tree trimmers for "sometime between 6 and 7 pm" if you solo parent small children at that hour.  (And don't be so ashamed of your yard at 5pm that you are driven to mow.)
5) Don't expect to seem composed and sensible when the tree-trimmer arrives at 6.45 and your two freshly bathed children are demanding, distractingly: blankies, water, tv, to be carried, books, water, blankies.
6) Do muse on the attractiveness of the tree trimmer (with Italian accent!) whose looks remind you that your 70 year old colleague has been going on for years about the massive crush she has on her tree trimmer.  Is this, by random angie's list chance, the same man? More pertinently, will he take away the chunk of tree he's going to come and cut down next week?  I hadn't the presence of mind to ask.

Lyrics--one for the astrophysicists (or the depressive)

Winton, singing: "Who's afraid of the big black hole, the big black hole, the big black hole?  Who's afraid of the big black hole [mumble mumble mumble] THIS MORNING?"

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I sound my barbaric "Yes"

Yes.  My grades ARE in.
Yes.  I have sent an email to the children's dance teacher asking if she can come Tues instead of Thurs in case I can go to baccalaureate.
Yes.  I have sent around emails asking for money for a gift for the outgoing department chair.
Yes.  I did the follow-up paperwork for the Liberal Education Requirements.
Yes.  I did email our provost to ask what the process/ timeline is if we want to hire next year.

No.  I did not start thinking about unfinished, messily piled, Chapter 3.

However.  Yes.  I am going to go browse T-shirts at Ann Taylor Loft now (Mother's day money for shirts, shoes and bras, right?)

and Yes.  I am going to yoga 2.30-4pm.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Student Exams

The winner for today's best exam gaffe: a definition of "Heroic Caplets"
The winner in "most fun" exam to grade:   The student who wrote part of her response in the style of the lyrics to "Panic! At the Disco"
(Runner up: the student who included diagrams of the facial hair of the students sitting around him.)

I am definitely going blind from reading though.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Claraism du jour (R rated)

I have tried to convince her that she has this song title wrong, but she doesn't believe me.

C: You put your left leg in; you put your left leg out.  In, out.  In, out.  Shake it all about.  You do the Hooky Pussy, and you turn yourself around.  That's what it's all about.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dislocation recognizes its kin.

I have always quite liked teenagers.  Not in gaggles, mind you: there is nothing more terrifying than 5 or 6 teens (either gender) laughing in a hallway.  One-on-one though, I generally like them.

Perhaps this has to do with adolescence and the sense of outsiderliness most teens seem to experience.

Outsiderliness (as a Canadian of German-Dutch parentage, raised in Calgary, Rhos-on-Sea, Singapore, Rhos again, Shrewsbury, Dallas, Vancouver and Accra and now residing in Baltimore after stints in Kingston, Ontario and Halifax, Nova Scotia) is what I do most in terms of identity.

Thus it makes sense that last night, when a wise American friend commented that each of us has an indestructible core within, I panicked, put my cup in front of my mouth to hide, and felt inside no solid core at all but rather a welter of conflicting affiliations and confusing losses.  Core?  Is that the bit that remembers the meaning of the British slang "doss"or the bit that knows the right way to eat an assam?  Both are irrelevant here in Baltimore, where I have finally learnt that the appropriate response to "how you doing?" is to repeat the question but not answer: "how you doing?"

This morning I visited a highschool ESOL class comprising students from Nepal, Congo, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mexico, the Phillipines and Trinidad.  It was comfortable.  I liked it.  Even the young man with the bling earring and attitude.  In the teens's quick assessment of classroom norms, I recognized their quickly shifting eyes and careful adjustments of posture as adaptive cultural camouflage.  For me, that's a homey feeling.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

Below, Ben Jonson's "To Celia."  To my readers, all 5 or so of you, wishing you a Mother's day that has a smacking of romance in it, and sees you as the better self you'd like to be, the younger self you used to be, the lovely self you hope to be and perhaps the best mother you sometimes are.  

Drink to me, only, with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine ;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I'll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise,
Doth ask a drink divine :
But might I of Jove's nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee, late, a rosy wreath,
Not so much honoring thee,
As giving it a hope, that there
It could not wither'd be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
And sent'st it back to me :
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
Not of itself, but thee.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Weepies

At Clara's school's Mother's Day Luncheon yesterday I was presented with a pink, glitter-encrusted flower pot in which a faux flower had been planted: at the flower's center?  A picture of Clara.  Clara's close friend Ingrid went to present her mother with a similar pot, tripped and fell, shattering the piece.  Oh the tears!

And, unexpectedly, I found myself all weepy too.  Was it the glitter-pot with Clara's face as flower?  Was it Ingrid's tragedy?  I'm seldom weepy so either way it was a surprise.

And later in the day yesterday was the English Department year-end picnic at which it was announced that I will be chair starting in the fall.

No weepies, but I did have to come home and drink a large bottle of stout afterwards . . .

Thursday, May 5, 2011

When they grow up

Me: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
C: "A ballerina! No, a Princess!"
Me: "And you, Winton?"
W:  "Uhmmm.  A Chicken."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


If there had actually been robins's eggshells to find on our hunt this afternoon.
If Winton had stopped running so Clara and I could look properly.
If dinner had involved more eating, less spilling.
If Hardie hadn't pillaged the laundry basket and eaten a hole into Clara's new but soup-soiled Easter t-shirt while we were in the bathroom.
If I hadn't punched myself in the mouth when I lost my grip on Winton's pajama shirt as I was trying to get his arm into a sleeve.
If last night I hadn't displaced my anxiety about being department chair next year onto the need to prune the noisy, house-scraping tree growing through the power line leading to our house and had instead actually slept.

Lunch Date

Yesterday, on picking Clara up at school, I discovered that her class is planning to host a Mother's Day luncheon on Friday at 11 AM.  Thank- FREAKING- God my classes ended today, and  WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY THINKING??

Yes, in principle it is a lovely idea.  But what about the kids whose working mothers cannot come at that time, and especially with such short notice?  Hard for the children whose Moms are not there; massive guilt-bomb for the Moms who cannot come.

As I ticked off "yes" on the sheet cheerfully headed "You're Invited!  Please say you can come!" I noticed that one mother had already scrawled next to her daughter's name "I'm so SO sorry.  I can't make it."  I'm so SO relieved that for once it wasn't me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My son the masochist

In car:

W: "Mummy, I have a boo-boo."
Me: "Oh, does it hurt?"
W: "Yes."
Me: "Is it bleeding?"
W: "Uh . . ." [pause, presumably for inspection of injury site] "No.  Not Bleeding."
Me: "Ok.  Well, I'll give it a big kiss when we get home, alright?"
W: "No, Mummy.  No big kiss.  I like it hurts."

Monday, May 2, 2011

Clara, and ever deferred sleep

Clara [spectral and whispery at the top of the stairs, one and a half hours after being put to bed for the night]:
"Mummy?  Mummy?  Mummy?"

Me: [Ascending stairs, significantly annoyed at the interruption of "The Amazing Race" on TV]
"Sigh.  Yes?  Why aren't you in bed, Clara?"

Clara: [Nonchalant]  "Oh!  Hi Mummy.  I just wanted to know, what are you eating?"

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Scented Hygiene

Scented Feminine Hygiene products.  Why?

Seems to me every woman who's ever tried one would, thereafter, recognise the smell.
And every man who's lived in close quarters with a woman who has tried one would also, thereafter,  recognise the smell.

Thus many many people recognise the smell of a scented feminine hygiene product.

Far from discrete or pleasant then, a scented feminine hygiene product signals to a large portion of the population "Hey!  I'm wearing a highly processed diaper-like article designed to absorb blood!"

Euw, non?