Saturday, January 28, 2012

Beginner's Violin Insults

(aka "What Mummy thinks of while Clara practices")

Oh, go stick in your F hole.
And tighten your G String while you're at it.

Friday, January 27, 2012


In Sara Suleri's novel Meatless Days, there is a character who cannot boil an egg: she pus it in the pot and as it descends inadvertently, reflexively, twists her hand so the egg cracks against the side of the pot and boils replete with "frills and gills."  Every time.

I am the same way with dependent care claims.  They combine two issues over which I am tremendously, irrationally anxious (money, children).  Never in the 4 years that I have been doing them have I been able to submit a receipt without screwing it up somehow.  I put the wrong dates, my pop-up blocker is on and I can't retrieve the form, I put the wrong SSN, I get the dollar amount wrong by a dollar, I put the right dates but in the Canadian not American order (which makes them the wrong dates, again) . . .

Now I know that I always get it wrong, which stresses me out and in being stressed out I get it wrong again.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ultimatum to my immune system:

Either start working better so that I don't drift from pneumonia to cold to god knows what next.
Take a brief time off altogether and let me catch something big enough that I can have a nice relaxing break in a hospital somewhere.

Dangerous to issue threats, I know.

Maybe I should re-phrase that one:

Either start working better so that blah blah blah.
I will start eating more junk food and wine and red meat and officially give up yoga (unofficially I already have because I am always sick).  So there.

No.  The first threat was better.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Claraism du Jour, And What Winton Said

Me [to dog]: "Jesus, Hardie, why does your breath stink so much?"
Clara [to me]: "Hardie must have been stealing some of my bad breath."

Winton [rubbing his bath-water reddened haunches prior to putting on his PJs]: "Look, Mummy.  I'm touching my brain."

Pepita, again

This cat.  I should just re-name her Evil and be done with it.
1) she stalks inflated balloons and then pops them, on purpose.
2) she taught my other cat, Pumpkin, that the best way to wake me at night is to claw me on the lips.  Now they both do it.

Clara, violin

But Mummy, you are wrong.  The bow goes in the other hand.
[and you know what?  I think she was right]

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

MLK day, Clara

Clara: "Martin Luther King had a dream, and people didn't like it so they killed him."
Me: "You know that means "dream" like hope, right?  Not "dream" like what happens when you go to sleep at night."
Clara: [silence, accompanied by skeptical frown]

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More MLA fallout

So I called all our no thanks candidates.  The results of this gesture (intended to be cruel but kind, altruism in its most affronting form) have been mixed.

One candidate, who had been a clear "no" for us at the MLA interview, was so charming and collegial on the phone, insisting that s/he (anonymity must prevail or I will get myself sued) had "no hard feelings" and suggesting a grant my college ought to apply for, that got off the phone feeling especially remorseful and wretched.

Another was so immensely peeved when I told her/him that s/he was 4th on our list, that we were in the short term planning to interview the top three, but that one never knew how things would go and there was a small chance we'd contact her/him later in the process, that s/he sent a snippy email withdrawing from our search altogether.

It's a mixed bag, trying to do this right.  I lose sleep over it.  I've been on the other end too often.

Monday, January 16, 2012


I didn't start learning to play an instrument until I was fourteen.  My mother hated noise.  She wanted me to play the quietest of the instruments my school had on offer: a flute. I never really liked it.  I wanted to play piano, or saxophone.  Nonetheless, I still have my flute, and the music I learned in my teens still, as if by magic, resides in my fingers despite my brain's inability to read sheet music any longer.

In November, Clara saw a busker on Vancouver's Granville Island.  He was a spirited fiddler, good-natured, and even energized by the enthusiasm with which Clara and Winton danced to his playing.  Since then, Clara has wanted to play violin.

I'd ask every few weeks to see if she had changed her mind (mildly trying to dissuade her: I presumed on the basis of recordings of orchestral music that I liked violins even less than I like my flute).  She has remained steadfast.

Today we went to Perrin and Associates Fine Violins, an outfit 4 floors up in an unrestored 1927 building on Lexington Avenue, in Baltimore (in other words, resplendently deco, with an original elevator).  The walls are hung with gorgeous wood-bellied instruments from cello to teeny violins for rental to young beginners like Clara. 

She was fitted for a tiny violin, a tiny bow, a tiny case, and a puck of sticky amber rosen.  The strings even as she toyed with them had a surprising depth of sound.  The cello being test-driven in the next room sounded like a tree singing.  It was like being in the clubhouse of a cult I'd never heard of before: the stringed and bowed instrument club.

Clara was excited, but for Me (selfish, selfish), it was magical, and all the more so for being an experience I would never have had were it not for the stubborn and highly individualized tastes of my oldest child.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Yes, I do think it's OK that I let the children play their toy guitars loudly at 9AM on a Sunday, as they hollered through a rendition of "jingle bells."  It's retaliation for the neighbors using their treadmill from 3-4AM two nights in a row.

Friday, January 13, 2012

MLA aftermath

Here's how academic hiring often goes in my field (English):

-300 qualified people apply for one job (November)
-10-15 of them get interviewed at the Modern Languages Association convention (Dec-Jan).
-2-3 of them get interviewed on campus after the MLA (Jan-Feb).
-1 gets hired (March).

When I was on the job market, looking for a permanent job (for 5 years), I always hated that good news traveled by phone.  *Ring* "We'd like to interview you at the MLA."  *Ring* "We'd like to interview you on campus."  *Ring* "You got the job!" (I didn't get that last one very often, obviously.)

Bad news invariably came in an envelope, on a single sheet of paper, and regardless of how far I'd made it in the process, always came at the end of April.  There'd be weeks and weeks of hoping that I was just dealing with a really slow department before I acknowledged that my letter (the "PFO", or "Please Fuck Off" letter) was in the mail, the slow mail, the mail slated to arrive in April.

I resolved that as department chair I wasn't going to do that to people.  We interviewed 14, we're bringing 3 to campus.  I just phoned all of our "no"s.  I'd like to vomit now.  It has been an unpleasant afternoon.  I hope those "no"s feel, as I did, that knowing was better than no-ing in uncertainty.  But perhaps they think I am simply sadistic, wanting to hear them react to my bad news?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mummy, Forced to Discuss Christian Theology

Clara: "But.  What happened to baby Jesus?"
Me: "You mean after his birthday?"
Clara: "Yes, after Christmas.  What happened to the baby?"
Me: "He grew up.  And then he died, which is kind of a long story.  But he did get to grow up.  He did woodwork, they say.  Like Grandpa."
Clara: "Oh.  Was it 115 years ago?"
Me: "Longer. 2,000."
Clara: "But that's when there were dinosaurs!  You're wrong Mummy."
Me: "Uh.  Well.  I could be wrong, but I think it went: dinosaurs, Jesus, us in the present day."
Clara: "Are there more muffins?"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Claraism du Jour

When I grow up, I'm going to send Daddy a chicken as a present.  Because I know he wants to have chickens in the garden.  I'll have to send it though.  Because I'll be living in Africa then.  The chicken will have to go in the mail.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I should add

The "resolutions" below involve a large dose of fantasy, as I am recuperating but into week FOUR of feeling fairly bad every day.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Be it resolved that . . .

Nothing like a good long bout of pneumonia to make me ask myself "how did I get to be so low" (where "low" means: ill, tired, demoralized, shut-in, bleak).  Here are my plans. (Who cares, right?  But perhaps making them public record will make me act on them.)

Stress management:
Maintain my "regime" (half hour of yoga M-F; half hour dog walk w/ kids every day), and add one "excursion" a week in the form of either a bona fide yoga class at a yoga studio or a hike somewhere off campus, weather permitting.

Dullness Abatement:
Do something once every two weeks, possibly with a friend.  Eg visit a gallery, attend one of Goucher's many free cultural/ entertainment events, go somewhere I haven't been before.

Teaching/ Parenting tweak:
Be clear what my objectives are, but flexible about how to attain them, thereby balancing the goal (learning something specific/ putting coats on) with the needs, constraints and desires of the individual I am encouraging to meet that goal.

Clara and Winton, Overheard

Clara: "Did you know Pink Blankie is six and a half today?"
Winton: "Oh.  No I didn't.  Was her birthday yesterday?"
Clara: "No, it was on Sunday."
Winton: "Oh.  Did she have cupcakes?"
Clara: "Yes.  And balloons with ribbons."
Winton: "Oh.  Is she three?"
Clara: "No.  You are three."
Winton: "Oh."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mommy is evil

Christmas, Winton's birthday, New Year's, Clara's Birthday and Mitch's birthday all fall within a 10 day period which annually overlaps with our 13 hour each way drive to my in-laws in time for their Christmas Eve party followed by an obligatory wider in-law family party on the afternoon of Christmas day (sometimes itself involving several extra hours of driving depending on which wing of the family is hosting). 

Even when well, I am ready to poke myself in the eye with a barbeque skewer by January 3rd.
I have been more patient (resigned, fevered) this year, and have tried very hard to be affable and good -natured through it all.

Today, even with pneumonia, I procured flowers for Clara (her birthday today), arranged the outing which will actually celebrate her turning five, and encouraged the children to help make the salad dressing for dinner. 

I even consented to carrying Clara upstairs, which she loves, and I hate because a) she is heavy and b) I currently can't breathe.  Half way up she started to squirm.  At some point she reached her arm behind her so that when I went to put her down I pressed it, inadvertently, into a type of wrestling hold that hurt.  "Mommy, you did that on purpose!" Clara screamed at me, red-faced and more than once.  Goddamn.  No.  I didn't.  I didn't even want to.

Maybe I should just act like a harpy all the time if I'm going to be accused of intentionally hurting my children, by my children.

Thoughts on Pneumonia, 2

It curtails any New Year's Resolution zeal.
"I resolve . . . hack hack wheeze.  I plan to . . . . urgggggghh.  Maybe I'll be able to COUGH COUGH COUGH.  Oh, fuck it."

Monday, January 2, 2012

Thoughts on Pneumonia

Which, it turns out, I have.

It makes a good neologism: pneumonosyllabic.
It makes me feel resigned, delinquent, vindicated and lonely all at the same time.  In addition it makes me feel like I am harboring a small, belligerent, drooling alien in my left lung.
It reduces the scope of my parenting to smiling and nodding: how quaintly Victorian. 

How I hate this.