Friday, March 26, 2010

My little green (black) book overfloweth

It's easy to meet people these days.  All you need is a stroller, preferably with a baby in it.  But in Toronto, that's an optional extra.  Here, pretty much anything goes, and no one bats an eyelid.  Ever since LGO came on to the scene and I moved back to (Canuckian) soil, my social life has picked up enormously.  That has to be a paradox, right?  Sure, the highlight of most evenings with the little one asleep upstairs, consists of a long bath and/or curling up on the sofa with Mr Green to watch Mad Men or -- if that isn't quite bleak enough for our tastes -- Durham County, which is about as bleak as it gets.  My daytimes, on the other hand, are booming with play dates and park meets, through which I've met some true kindreds I likely wouldn't have met otherwise.  On the flip side, I've also met countless other women, women with whom the only commonality is possession of a birth canal through which something so huge travelled, it defied the laws of gravity and sanity to do so. 

But I'm digressing...  Lately my black book is teeming with phone numbers and emails from such chance encounters.  It's like dating, except I was never the type to own a Rolodex.  It's like being a lesbian, without the lesbianism.  I'll come home and Mr G will say, just to make me feel cheap: 'So, who did you pick up in the park today?'  But I know deep down he's just jealous (and secretly hoping for said lesbianism).  Really, it's all too easy talking to strangers.  I'd even go so far as to say it's an occupational hazard of the stay-at-home mom.

Sometimes, though, the easy camaraderie can backfire.  As in back draft.  Usually it starts (and often, mercifully, ends) by the swings.  You and Stranger Mommy exchange dull factoids, such as your tots' respective names and ages.  Other times she'll avoid pleasantries altogether, and dive straight for the jugular, telling you in the blink of a weepy eye about her many miscarriages.  Or worse.  You'll get to talking about teething and what products you use to help little one cope.  Innocuous enough, you say.  Next thing you now Stranger Mommy starts telling you how her ex used to apply the tingly, mildly numbing stuff to his doo-dah "so he could last longer".  Oral Gel.  I'll never think of it the same way, and now you won't, either. So there.

For all the weirdness, I love these chance encounters with fellow moms.  I love the sisterly fraternizing that very occasionally develops into real friendships.  Lately, I have been urging Mr Green to take LGO out on a Saturday morning, to court some dads.  After all, if babies are proven chick magnets, no doubt they must also be d*ck magnets.  And in the bizarre and uncompromising land that is parenthood, one thing is for sure: you need all the friends you can get.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Money can't buy you love (but it can buy your tot some very expensive music lessons)

As we venture into April showers territory, I am ever searching for new and creative ways to entertain LGO. Recently, we have subtracted the morning nap from his daily equation. As a result he is currently in that limbo where one daytime sleep is not quite enough, but two is too many. So without the morning nap in situ the days feel longer for both of us. Don't get me wrong, I adore his company, and his antics provide endless amusement. (You should see him dance; I can't even blame Mr Green for that one!). BUT -- there it is, the three-letter deflator -- it's tiring watching him tear around the living room like a Tasmanian Devil. At the same time, his naps were my saving grace. Now I'm struggling with fewer hours to Get Everything Done. I'm sure others out there felt the sting of the two-to-one nap.  How did you make the transition? And do you have any timesaving tips for Little Green Mom? Inquiring minds want to know...

Of course there is no such thing as Motherhood: the Manual. Or Parenthood for Dummies for that matter. (Wait, on second thought, better check Amazon... If there is, I'm pre-ordering my copy.) But for a Type A like me it's been a long haul trying to play the part of a Beta. I'm getting better at dealing with life's constant greys. Sure, it's pitiful keeping him up all morning long when he rests his head on my shoulder and sticks his thumb in his mouth, i.e. LGO speak for, 'Listen up, woman. What does a toddler have to do to get a nap around here?' But at this point giving in to two naps, as tempting as it may be in the short term, means a middle of the night blitzkrieg in the crib. 

So, with the grey, wet days upon us, I have been on the prowl for affordable toddler activities.  There is always the library, and LGO's love of books hasn't diminished in the slightest since my last post.  We are spoiled by the sheer number of parks around here, and LGO is partial to a swing ride.  More good free, if not always clean, fun.  A shout out to the Early Learning Years and to my local community centre which runs a drop-in programme. For a measly $30 annual membership LGO can play in a nice, contained and carpeted space with an array of toys that are both clean and functional, which is more than I can say about other facilities. Not long ago I signed him up for a 10-week programme through Toronto's Parks and Rec, envisioning a similar setup to the community centre.  It was less expensive than some privately run programmes. Unfortunately, the programme was a total disappointment.  No fewer than 35 tots ranging from one to five years old were registered. I don't know if you've ever been in a space with 35 one to fives, but take it from me it's nothing short of Armageddon.  There is such disparity in the development and behaviour between the ages of 1-5 that if the council wasn't obviously just maxing out numbers for the sake of dollars, they would have had sense enough to split the sessions into two age groups: 1-2 and 3-5. But that is just my opinion, of course.  The programme consisted of 90% free play, 5% craft (utterly wasted on 1-2 year olds) and 5% circle songs.  The toys on offer were not only filthy, many were busted, and I never came across a single one that had batteries!  Needless to say, LGO won't be going back.  And as Mr Green is wont to say, You get what you pay for.  At least he's not wont to say, I told you so.

Now, LGO, like many of his kinder contemporaries, is a bit of a music nut.  Together, Mr Green and I own over 500 CDs, so there is always some kind of music playing in the Green home.  We have previously tried out Rainbow Songs, which offers music classes to the under-4 set.  Founder Mike Whitla's methodology "comes from the belief that there is interconnectedness between music, movement and language that support each other through the learning process".  The songs are taught with real guitars by real musicians with real credentials.  But best of all (because kids clearly don't care a jot about credentials) the classes are fun.  The songs are catchy, and when I sing them at home with LGO he starts to do the gestures. He dances.  It's a holistic way of learning and although such programmes tend to get all deep and cerebral about the benefits of musical training at a tender age, to me, as a parent, any learning is simply a bonus and a byproduct. I am far more interested in fostering in LGO a love of music that will feed his soul and last him a lifetime.  Only problem: the cost is prohibitive. Since we attended last summer, RS's popularity must have shot up in line with their prices.  And maybe I'm just being tight, but we personally can't justify spending that kind of money for a weekly 45-minute jam session when LGO and I can jam to the same songs -- on CD -- at home.  Moreover, RS has a concert coming up, and as much as I would love for LGO to go and get the 'live experience', I nearly choked at the $25 ticket price.  That's $75 for the three of us (see, I can add).  It is a charitable event.  But still.  No matter how much I love an artist, if I feel they are charging too much for a gig I simply don't go on principle.

To be clear, I'm not just picking on RS.  They are one of a myriad kinder music classes out there cashing in.  We used to attend Gymboree, too, another $80-something a month for a bit of singsong led by some keen minimum wage student.  Some bigwig piggy in a starched white shirt obviously spied a niche market among middle class mommies so desperate to get out the house, and equally desperate to make sure little Johnny keeps up with the other little Joneses, that they swallow the ludicrous fees. Let it be LGO's first lesson in capitalism.  Ca-ching!

It may have taken lots of sweaty research, but there are alternative ways to entertain babes and toddlers without breaking the piggy bank.  LGO is hardly lacking in stimulation or play dates. And we have met lots of nice people in the process.  When we just want to boogey down to music, there is always the Beatles. I'm getting the whole back catalogue from the library.  They might not be the obvious choice for kinder music. But John, Paul, Ringo and George are far less annoying and hyper than say, the Wiggles.  And LGO just loves the wacky lyrics and fun melodies.  Take Octopus' Garden and I Am the Walrus (for bathtime).  Take Drive My Car (for ride-ons) and Yellow Submarine (for colour identification).  Take Hello, Goodbye and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (for language play).  Now if the Fab Four were still around and touring the globe, then, Mr Green, well, then I just might have to reconsider smashing Mr Piggy...  At least there is no doubt in that instance I would get my money's worth.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A is not only for Apple... (Warning: no mommy fluff here)

In a bid to reno this blog, I found myself googling baby pictures recently.  Not a good move. But then, savvies that you are, you probably already know this.  An exercise not for the faint hearted.  And that's without even mentioning: a) the obese baby that makes my own son look anorexic, b) the oodles of supermodel babies, and c) the babies that look like something off of an Eels album cover. But what topped them all was the picture of the Aborted Baby.  I won't even say fetus, though doing so would surely make us both feel better. I think 'it' was around the 16-week-old mark. Truthfully, I couldn't stand to look for more than a second without wanting to retch.  Now, before you say, I thought mommy blogs were supposed to be fluffy, and before your mouse makes a mad dash for the Back button, I promise this won't be some holy roller pro-lifer rant.  Yet the image shocked me to my core, and I'm pretty sure it would have done so even if I wasn't a parent.  Despite the fact that our eyes are bombarded with so many violent and sickening images on a daily basis, from CNN to CSI-wherever, few pictures still have the power to send a jolt of fear and revulsion from our brains to our stomachs.

But this picture did. And I feel pretty sure that no woman would be to sleep at night if she saw the aftermath of her 'termination'.  Amazing how semantics, mere phraseology, can empower and exonerate us. Mea culpa.  Whatever the predicament which led to her choice, such images speak for themselves.  They are incapable of embellishment.  You can use whatever words you want to describe an abortion, or a D&C, or whatchamacallit.  Just as an annulment is a fancy word for divorce, and a red rose by any other name is still a rose... The image I saw was bloody and real and indisputably human.  Honestly, I've never felt strongly about this issue. I've even gone so far, at times, as to consider myself having feminist leanings.  And it has been a luxury not to hold strong views on a matter so contentious that many have killed, and died, in its name.  I'm not here to judge. I know as I type these words, from the smug comfort of my kitchen counter -- as a woman whose pregnancy was both straightforward and planned -- that there are women out there, women caught in the flames of personal hells, feeling there is no other choice.  No other option available to them.  Women who have been raped.  Women whose lives would be irrevocably destroyed if they brought a child into it.  Women who would hate me just for having the audacity to talk about their lives in some stupid blog... 

Still, there is the picture.  And a whole host of 21st Century contraception.  Failing that, the morning-after pill.  And failing that, millions upon millions of other women who would give everything they have to bring a child -- even a stranger's child -- into this world, unjust and cruel and completely bonkers as it is.  I am thankful for your sake that you did not see this image.  That you won't go to bed tonight with it in your head, inspiring your nightmares.  But how much worse, to go to bed with this image written on your conscience when maybe it doesn't have to be that way. I remember clearly my first ultrasound.  I expected nothing but a bud, or a cluster of cells (patience, reader, I was no science major!) at the most.  But LGO was so formed already.  His heartbeat ox-strong, his spine, his head...  That came as a surprise.

Ok, so this post does smack of pro life.  How can it not, though, when my own mom found herself in the aforesaid hell?  It was circa the '70s and she was a very young, very unwed mother, eg. the scourge of society, then and -- to some extent -- now.  My bio father flew the coop when he found out.  She was scared shitless.  And she was deeply ashamed, it goes without saying.  How much easier would it have been for her to take the path of least resistance?  Get her life (and body) back intact, finish school, ease herself into adulthood. But no, she played the hand that was dealt her.  She graduated high school in her balloon-shape, went on to get a degree in night school, and a respectable career.  Years later, she met my stepdad, got married, and today looks every bit the pillar of her community if you didn't know her past. 

Metaphorically speaking, I know of no one with kahunas as big as my mother's.  And yet she plays it down.  She had a choice, and she made it. Sure, it's not for everyone. But looking back she says she wouldn't have it any other way, as hard as it must have been for her at the time.  And you know what, I'm kinda glad she did.

Monday, March 8, 2010

I'm too sexy for my diaper... and I shake my little tush on the catwalk

Glorious sunshine.  It's been a long and difficult separation, yet it seems we'll soon be reunited for another torrid few months!  Honestly, I've been lusting after the sun like something out of 9 1/2 Weeks.  I didn't know the pull of Vitamin D could ever be synonymous with a young, strapping Mickey Rourke of yore, but there you go...  I miss the long, long walks and the Toronto parks, not to mention the guilt-free gelato that invariably ensues.  And hopefully -- if you'll excuse the dreadful pun -- the chance to put to bed winter and its ailments.  A little good health is long overdue in this household.  Hard to believe we haven't even lived here for a full year yet.  For me, even after more than a decade away, Canada has never stopped being home. And Mr Green feels like he's been here forever, which could be a blessing or a curse depending which way you look at it. 

Around this time last year the idea of baby modelling secretly got lodged in our brains like a tic.  Secretly, because the idea makes me cringe in a Jon Benet Ramsey sort of way.  I mean, what kind of holier-than-thou vanity must a parent possess to think their baby is cuter than the rest?  Some people say all babies are cute, but between you and me I've seen the pitiful proof that this just isn't the case.  Some babies are downright homely, in a cute sort of way of course because they are teeny tiny.  But that's like comparing the sweet and fuzzy Gizmo to its scaly, snot-green Gremlin cousins.  The idea only came into our brains because while out with LGO we were (and still are) constantly stopped by adoring masses.  Not just cooing grannies, either.  A gaggle of teenage boys once stopped doing whatever it is that teenage boys do these days, to ogle LGO. 

I have a friend whose two children both model and earn a tidy sum for it.  She only fell into the business by happy accident.  But if her and her husband's genetic combined output produces such beauty, I figure why not share it?  What other purpose does beauty serve but to be admired by the non-beautiful majority?  Is it exploitive, you ask?  I don't think so.  Not at this tender age, at least.  Baby modelling takes more than a pretty baby face, though; it requires a certain demeanor, in guardian and child.  Last year around this time, LGO was routinely bothered by cutting teeth and (mal)lingering colic.  As you will know from historical posts, he wasn't exactly what you would call happy go lucky.  Now, like any toddler he can be impatient in the store, yet as soon as a stranger stops to admire him (which they do at practically every aisle), boy does he turns on the charm.  And he just loves having his photo taken.  Presumably the shoots aren't strenuous.  And I hear the dollars add up to a shiny education fund.  So, like I said, Mr Green and I are still toying with the idea.  It's something to do, and my friend enjoys getting out and meeting other moms and babes in the 'business'.

Problem is, there is an initial outlay just to register with a legit agency. With no guarantee that your baby will be chosen for a gig.  Does LGO have what it takes to model?  Of course we think he's cute.  But among the legions of cutie pies, is he cute enough?  Is he photogenic, really?  Do our own deep bias and the attention of strangers warrant the initial outlay?  Or are we setting ourselves up, like so many other delusional parents, for an embarrassing reality check?  And if he is selected for a photo shoot, or a commercial, will we have the gall to tell anyone other than our immediate families?  Embarrassment lies on either side of what should be, but isn't, harmless fun.  Because how can it be harmless when there's a whole shit load of dollars and parental pride at stake? I wonder if my friend ever feels any subtle (or not-so-subtle) jealousy from parents whose children will never have the god-given goods to model.  And if she does, is the feeling easy enough to shrug off on her way to bank her son or daughter's latest four-figure salary? Or when she sees their smiling cherubic face blown up on an upscale department store billboard for the first time?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In the night garden through the looking glass

So LGO and I are under house arrest this week. 'Tis the season of viruses galore, and ours probably isn't severe enough to warrant a stupid name. Really, what is plaguing our house is likely nothing more than the Common Cold. But I prefer to call it Wanda. Only when you're on first name terms does the duel truly begin. And Wanda, be warned. I've got Vicks on my side; I've got NeoCitron and enough Kleenex to wipe the floor with you! Wanda, be warned, I'm gonna kick your butt from here to kingdom come... As soon as I can get up off the couch.

It is tough enough entertaining a toddler at the best of times. But when you also feel snotty and sorry for yourself, the challenge seems insurmountable. What to do? What to do when he still only wants to eat crayons? What to do when his only interest in Lego is how far he can throw the individual pieces... I stacked blocks with him, then croaked through several story books. That killed about 20 minutes. Eventually I capitulated. I turned on the TV. Shock, horror, I know. Television is black death. Most experts tell you it will not only turn your kids' brains into pea soup, it will turn them into fat losers without hope of a job or a girlfriend, without hope of ever leaving that dented spot on your couch. It might be Russian roulette, but I'm willing to hedge my bets. I do try to regulate what and when our own little couch potato watches the Idiot Box. For instance, I am careful not to let it become a soundtrack to our days, even when they are spent indoors. But I'm not a fascist about it, either. Usually he watches about 30 minutes daily of Treehouse, plus one 'educational' DVD (Einstein or Bumblebee -- chicken or egg, they're much the same, and I won't speculate about which came first and ripped the other one off. I think Einstein have had enough embarrassment to last them their careers). Educational because the focus is on vocabulary. We don't watch the ones with a bunch of images set to a classical record since they wouldn't hold LGO's attention for a nanosecond. The Bumblebees show real kids doing real actions, with a voiceover that labels said actions. Don't get me wrong. The DVDs aren't a substitute for Little Green Mom. But they're yet another facet of learning and playing, I think. They're not a babysitter, although they do provide LGM with a vital mental break and LGO with a different form of stimuli. Personally, I don't see the detriment in that. Most TV, though, I would agree with the experts, is drivel. And kids TV is better than adult TV. At times I have found myself getting quite involved in a moralistic episode of Franklin, or wondering how The Backyardigans will sing their way out of their latest caper. LGO isn't interested in much programming. But when the Tube flickers to life, he does get that glazed, zombie-eyed look. He has always had a penchant for In the Night Garden. Another trippy British derivative much in the vein of Teletubbies. I don't fool myself into thinking there is anything remotely educational in the Night's content. But neither do its makers claim there is. It is pure, frolicking fun. A good lead in to nap- or bedtime, as it always concludes with each of the characters getting tucked into their respective beds for the night. The characters themselves are a queer assortment, queer in the weird sense, though I think the narrator is queer in the straight sense. He keeps saying, 'Isn't that a pip?' which must be some British idiom, although I've never ever heard it in my 11 years of living there.

So, for the cast and crew: You have a blue dancing fellow with a red blanket, who is normal enough despite being mute. His girlfriend is a Marilyn Monroe-type hussy, always lifting up her skirt for all and sunder, and kissing her boyfriend, said blue fellow. She doesn't say much either, other than her own name, which is probably all that can stay in her mind at any one time. Then there's this other strange creature, who does FA all day but blow a horn and push around a broken bicycle. He never rides the thing. Yet despite all that pushing, he still has the worst case of pear-shape you've ever seen. To make matters even more pitiful, he also has something like a stack of Krispy Kreme for ears and piled on top of his head. Actually, they are not donuts but rocks -- donuts are just wishful thinking on my part, probably subliminal -- rocks which he polishes every now and then. Yep, that's about all he does. That's his big contribution to the show. Aside from him, there is a miniature, pontifically robed family of ten. They are how I image the Pope's entourage under a microscope, cutely assembled in a miniature house where they all sleep head to head in their big red headdresses. All of this without even mentioning the lesbian triplets or the blimp thingamy that makes sounds like wet farts!

Who thinks up such shows, I mean, really? And where do they score their colourful assortment of hallucinogenic drugs? We tell our children JUST SAY NO, yet at the same time it seems we tell our programmers JUST A LITTLE MORE LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS, PLEASE. No matter. LGO loves the stuff. And the theme song is very mollifying if I do say so myself. I often find myself nodding off to it, stretching out in that boat 'no bigger than your hand' and lighting the little light. Here is the way to the garden in the night... It doesn't always have to be educational to be magical. And isn't the realm of the magical an essential part of fostering imagination? Isn't the realm of the magical one of the most precious and ephemeral parts of childhood? I see no problem revisiting the land of make-believe and gobbledygook through my son's eyes every now and then. I personally think it's healthy, not harmful. As long as he grows out of it, and off of my couch, by the time he reaches 30, that is.