Wednesday, September 26, 2007
I don't know how much longer I can keep this pace up for.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
* * *
Lately, Swee'pea's been doing some annoying things. Like climbing up on chairs and standing up, and when I go to pull him down, he leaps into my arms, completely unaware of any risk. Or climbing up on the wooden gate at the bottom of our stairs, and arching his back so he looks at the room upside down. He always smiles mischievously, like he knows he's pissing me off and revelling in it, and his smile gets wider, after I've told him to get down with no result and walk to remove him forcibly, like heh heh.
Yesterday afternoon, he did the gate thing, and I told him to get down and then went to remove him the way I usually do. His bratty smile got wider like it usually does. And just as I was about to grab his arms, he let go and fell backwards like the world's most ill-advised trust game. I wasn't able to grab any part of him, and I screamed, [Swee'pea]! His head smacked the floor with the most awful crack, but I think it was mostly because he hit the really squeaky bit of the floor. He cried, and I shook, and I wanted to yell at him, "Don't ever do that again!" I think I kind of did, but I tried to be gentle, not to be too I told you so, because that sucks when you're hurting. Now, he seems fine, but my legs were jelly and my heart palpitating for half an hour.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
However, I had a particularly bright spot in my day yesterday. Walking downtown to buy yet more grass seed, the barrage of numbers running relentlessly through my mind and distracting my vision, we passed some kids hanging out outside Fresh Start. Four of them, in a row, and I was dying to take a picture. But I continue to be stopped up by my self-consciousness, my awareness that I would be photographing Disadvantaged Youths and feeling guilty for responding to that, for labelling them. So I just walked past them.
As I was passing, one of them commented on how cute Swee'pea was, so I stopped and we chatted. About how our local youth shelter, which served dinner to 30 kids every night and had 20 emergency beds closed suddenly in June with no alternative available. About how they're still waiting for the city to set up a new space and how it won't be downtown anymore. They seemed like genuinely nice kids, and I asked for a photo. I left feeling sad that I never got off my ass to help out at the shelter, and how I wish I'd made more effort to make that photographic project happen, although maybe it's better to give the kids a camera and let them represent themselves anyways. I'd like to volunteer now but since we're leaving town, it's just another lost opportunity. Still, I suppose there will be lots of Disadvantaged Youths in Toronto, too many to count or even to notice after a while, I bet.
After I left them, I saw this guy pulling out a smoke and couldn't resist. He's sitting in front of the grand old post office.
Later, I saw an old crazy friend from school, who I hadn't seen in many years but who's all of a sudden everywhere I go. In fact, I've been seeing a lot of people I haven't seen in nearly ten years... a former lover, and the guy who made good sandwiches in the cafeteria (one of the agents who came to our house yesterday).
I'd been feeling really blocked, photographically, unable to make the kind of images I want to (i.e. with people), so I felt a lot better. Still, I didn't sleep well and I feel hungover today, like some kind of time machine has opened up between my crazy school days and now.
Monday, September 17, 2007
AND Swee'pea only wimpered in advance of our arrival at the daycare (unlike the last few days when he had tears streaming down his face in the car), saving the real tears for the moments when I actually said goodbye and left.
And, we're doing it. We're moving to the Big Smoke. We told Sugar D's mom yesterday, and we're having real estate agents to price our house, and I think very soon things will take on a life of their own and we'll just ride along, until we find ourselves, dusting off and bewildered, in Toronto. Maybe by January?
Expect one of two options: slim postings because all I can think about is decluttering, house prices, and what it will be like living in such a big city (I've only lived in G-town since I moved out of my parents' place) or many posts about decluttering, house prices, and what it will be like living in such a big city. (Note to TO mamas: feel free to -- i.e. please -- share your experiences of the city, how it met your expectations and how it surprised you, both the good and the bad.)
Friday, September 14, 2007
This post wasn't supposed to be about breast cancer (I don't know what it was supposed to be about, exactly, but not that), but since I'm on the subject, I may as well continue. I know a number of women in real life who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, with both happy and sad endings. But the first person I think of right now, is Whymommy at Toddler Planet. I discovered her just as she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, an unusual form of breast cancer that doesn't present with a lump, but with strange skin changes, often in young women during pregnancy or lactation. When she described the symptoms, I became concerned about some weird skin stuff happening with my breasts (still lactating), and I booked an appointment with my doctor for the very next day. It turned out to be nothing, not IBC, but I was grateful to Whymommy for raising my awareness of this kind of cancer.
Later, she invited us to steal her post, which I meant to do, I just haven't gotten around to it. So here goes:
We hear a lot about breast cancer these days. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes, and there are millions living with it in the U.S. today alone. But did you know that there is more than one type of breast cancer?
I didn’t. I thought that breast cancer was all the same. I figured that if I did my monthly breast self-exams, and found no lump, I’d be fine.
Oops. It turns out that you don’t have to have a lump to have breast cancer. Six weeks ago, I went to my OB/GYN because my breast felt funny. It was red, hot, inflamed, and the skin looked…funny. But there was no lump, so I wasn’t worried. I should have been. After a round of antibiotics didn’t clear up the inflammation, my doctor sent me to a breast specialist and did a skin punch biopsy. That test showed that I have inflammatory breast cancer, a very aggressive cancer that can be deadly.
Inflammatory breast cancer is often misdiagnosed as mastitis because many doctors have never seen it before and consider it rare. “Rare” or not, there are over 100,000 women in the U.S. with this cancer right now; only half will survive five years. Please call your OB/GYN if you experience several of the following symptoms in your breast, or any unusual changes: redness, rapid increase in size of one breast, persistent itching of breast or nipple, thickening of breast tissue, stabbing pain, soreness, swelling under the arm, dimpling or ridging (for example, when you take your bra off, the bra marks stay – for a while), flattening or retracting of the nipple, or a texture that looks or feels like an orange (called peau d’orange). Ask if your GYN is familiar with inflammatory breast cancer, and tell her that you’re concerned and want to come in to rule it out.
There is more than one kind of breast cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer is the most aggressive form of breast cancer out there, and early detection is critical. It’s not usually detected by mammogram. It does not usually present with a lump. It may be overlooked with all of the changes that our breasts undergo during the years when we’re pregnant and/or nursing our little ones. It’s important not to miss this one.
Inflammatory breast cancer is detected by women and their doctors who notice a change in one of their breasts. If you notice a change, call your doctor today. Tell her about it. Tell her that you have a friend with this disease, and it’s trying to kill her. Now you know what I wish I had known before six weeks ago.
You don’t have to have a lump to have breast cancer.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
His crying when I drop him off (and my crying on the way to work) casts a shadow over my day that pulls my shoulders and spirits down all day, until I can pick him up, and he cries again, but only briefly, and we go home where he eats and eats and eats the food he's used to.
Last night, I had a bubble bath and read more of Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War. The latest story sees the author in Romania in 1990, shortly after Ceausescu died. She and her latest lover, a young Romanian photographer who can't speak English so they speak French together, go looking for one of the country's orphanages, which her lover calls Les hopitaux des irrecuperables, or hospitals for unrecoverables.
Sometimes motherhood makes me so sensitive, raw and exposed, to the world's tragedies, especially those befalling other people's children. This book has already brought me to tears once, and the part I read last night made me weep. Hard. Between the haunting photographs of the mostly naked and emaciated children in an institution so cold it doesn't even have mattresses on the beds (they were destroyed by constant bed-wetting and never replaced), and the mental images her words evoked, and the little girl who kept calling her Mama and, finally held close, bit her breast, I had no chance. To think that people charged with caring for children could be so inhumane nearly stops my heart. I know, intellectually, that the institution I have entrusted Swee'pea's care to is nothing like the ignored and impoverished institution described in Shutterbabe; there is no comparison really. Nevertheless, it feels like there could be, but for the grace of God...
If pictures can speak a thousand words, why do we keep writing?
"Call it the curse of the photographer. [...] most of the memories I have since becoming a photographer are four-sided and flat. When you learn to properly frame an image in the viewfinder of a camera, you start to frame and catalog everything you see, whether you photograph it or not. And suddenly, memory has the shape of a rectangle. The vastness of a forest becomes twelve trees with a rock balancing out the foreground. A person becomes a close-up of the crow's-feet around his eyes. A war becomes red blood in white snow. Sometimes I feel like my brain has become nothing more than an overstuffed spiral notebook full of negatives, printed at will in a disorganized flurry by the tiniest provocation."
At one point she freaks out, and her companion tells her to calm down, that she's "trying to understand something that is incomprehensible," a sure path to madness. It's the first time in her career as a photojournalist where shooting, hiding behind the camera, "seems like the most morally appropriate action to take."
As I read Copaken Kogan's experience at the Romanian orphanage, my tears nearly overfilling the tub, it occurred to me that words expand that flat, rectangular frame and make it three-dimensional and fluid. After Copaken Kogan exits the orphanage, having shot a crude and casual autopsy, she vomits until she dry heaves. She writes, "I look up into the sky, and it's as if I've opened the pages of a pop-up book or put on a pair of cardboard 3-D glasses. First the clouds pop out, then a bird. I see the sun and the way its rays hit the newly formed buds in the trees. I see the separate planes of the orphanage building, I see the horizon receding in proper perspective. Everything that had previously turned flat now has heft, shadow, dimension, depth. I see a broken tricycle. It's the first toy I've seen all day."
Combining words and images communicates experience in a way that neither text nor photography could do as well on its own. This book is devastating in many ways, a joy in others. I can't stop reading it; I'm invested. I must see it through to its conclusion.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Tonight, I talked about the book I'm reading right now, Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War, by Deborah Copaken Kogan. It's a riveting memoir about Copaken Kogan's experiences as a photojournalist in the late eighties, with equal parts feminism and photography. I haven't finished it yet, but already I can recommend it highly, especially for anyone with an interest in photography.
Photojournalism is very much a male-dominated profession, and Copaken Kogan experienced considerable discrimination and harassment, not to mention personal risks in covering mujahideen in Afganistan, junkies in Switzerland, gangs in LA, and anti-poaching efforts in Zimbabwe. The structure of the book is compelling: three parts, titled respectively, "Develop," "Stop," and "Fix," each with two chapters named after different men in her life. Some parts are horrifying, others achingly sad, some embarrassing, others empowering, all of them absolutely engaging.
Anyways, I was telling Sugar D about how much I'm enjoying the book, and how it recounts many of the author's sexual experiences, both good and really bad. At first, I wondered about this retelling of sexual capers, even though I myself have retold my own similar stories. But as her stories get more intimate and disturbing, I realize that this book is another way of attempting to change our culture's sexual double standard (the one that allows men to sleep with many women as normal behaviour but declares women doing the exact same thing as sluts); that just because she has a husband and family doesn't mean she should disown or bury her (hi)story. It is important that she, and others as we're able to, speak up.
Just as I was telling Sugar D about one particularly disturbing experience of hers in Paris, I noticed an enormous amount of flesh and suspicious folds in a window out of the corner of my eye. I saw the biggest c0ck I've ever seen, with the biggest, shiniest red lips I've ever seen wrapped around it. Yep, I busted a neighbour watching p0rn. Not only that, the neighbour was watching it on the biggest screen tv I have EVER seen. It must have been five feet across at least. AND they had all the curtains open. A side window could be an honest oversight, but the front window as well? I don't think so, not with that big of a tv facing it.
We had our little giggle, recognizing how apropos and ironic the p0rn sighting was, given what I'd been talking about, and then I went back to my discussion of the book. I live in a classy neighbourhood.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Today you are 19 months old. It's been a year since I started writing these letters to you and I still haven't gotten sick of them, of pausing to consider the ways you've changed in the past month and catalogue your current interests.
Over the past year, you've learned to climb up (and eventually down) stairs, walk and run. You've learned to chew real food and feed yourself. You've learned to use signs, body language and vocal utterances to bring our attention to things that interest you and make your wishes known. For example, just yesterday when I dropped you off for your second day at the new daycare centre, you wrapped all your limbs around me but one arm, which you extended towards the exit, index finger outstretched insistently, and repeated plaintively, "Bye bye bye bye," with increasing cadence and pitch. Your message was clear: "Let's get the hell outta Dodge, Mama!" It broke my heart that I couldn't just do as you wished and leave. I worry it might have broken yours just a bit too. I cried all the way to work, noticing only the dark and nasty parts of the world, like the dead squirrel flattened to the tarmac, its still-fluffy tail flapping around helplessly in the backdraft of all the cars passing it by. But enough of that nastiness.
Your vocabulary is growing so fast and furiously, I can barely keep up. Indeed, sometimes, I just have no idea what you're trying to tell me; your enunciation can occasionally be just a teensy bit... ambiguous. For example, "bebe" can mean any one of: baby (meaning anyone under 12), airplane, playground, sleepy or sleeping, sweeping, strawberry, raspberry (the whoopie cushion variety not the fruit, which you don't like), grapes, chickpea, green bean, or, as I discovered other day, ice cream.
(Do I need to state that you are a hearty eater? Or is it already obvious from the epicurean evolution of your vocabulary?)
You are very friendly, calling out hello to every person we encounter on our walks. Sadly, it comes out as "whoawhoa" and not everyone realizes that a) you're talking to them or b) you're saying hello. I try to translate for you, and usually people then reciprocate, which makes you happy. I think your friendliness brings warmth and a bright spot to the day of everyone you encounter. (Of course I'm your mom, so I could be a little biased. Who knows? Maybe you annoy the heck out of them.)
Our friend, Warren, who helps us in the garden, is one of your favourite people. You call him Na and talk about him all the time. Needless to say, Na loves his new name (mostly) and that you think so highly of him. You love being in our backyard and digging in the dirt with him.
Another word/concept you've discovered this month is rain. One day when it was raining and we were going stircrazy in the house with no car to go somewhere more fun, I took you out on the porch and held your hand out to feel the cold raindrops. "It's raining," I said, and you repeated, "naynay." Intriguingly, you've expanded the word from the water drops that fell from the sky that day to puddles, both indoors and out, condensation on windows, dew on flowers, and even teardrops rolling down my cheeks once.
You're still kind of boring on the playground, collecting sticks, leaves, and/or pine cones, exclaiming, "ah nana" (which could mean another one, lasagne, banana, or Granny, depending on the context) with each one. If you're not collecting sticks then you'll be climbing stairs and sitting down on them with a contented sigh or grunt of exertion like an old person. I can't think where you've learned that. Except for yesterday, when I took the camera to the playground with us to take pictures of your "play," and you decided to try climbing up some monkey bars, and barely sat on any of the stairs, which just goes to show me -- you will not be pigeonholed.
This month has seen some less than stellar moments from me, leaving me remorseful and drained: tears (the double whammy came when you, frightened, pointed at my tears and said, "naynay," piercing my already sad heart like a knife), loss of patience, even yelling at you once or twice (like when you grabbed a colander of freshly washed and trimmed green beans from the sink and dumped them all over our dirty floor -- what if it had been a knife handle that you grabbed?). Now that I'm trying to make dinner every night before your daddy comes home, the dinner hour -- when we're both tired and hungry -- can be a bit fraught to say the least. But I think things are getting better now that we're adjusting to our new routine (thank goodness!).
This month you also went through a hydrophobic phase when you refused to sit down in the tub and just wailed at the injustice of bathtime. Most times we just gave up and put you in your pajamas, but once or twice you were a bit whiffy and in desperate need of a some cleansing so we washed you standing up while you made your misery clear. Eventually I figured out that you would tolerate a "raining bath" where I let you stand in the tub with the water running. Finally, I bought you some new bath toys. Ever since you saw the new bath toys -- a basketball hoop (or boo as you call it) that sticks to the tub and three colourful balls to put in it and a little waterwheel that also sticks to the tub that you can pour water over to make it spin -- you've been back to your hydrophilic self, once again crying when we take you out. Only the promise that you can play with the bath toys again tomorrow night and the distraction of your toothbrush will quiet you.
This morning you have little purple half-moons under your poor little eyes, the result of too much crying over the last two days of adjusting to your new daycare centre. I hope things get easier for you soon. I don't know how much more I can handle. If I had the power, I would choose a life of sunshine and light for you, a life with no unhappiness. But I don't have that power, and life isn't like that anyways. I've resigned myself now to just trying to offer what comfort I can, and to foster resilience and for when I can't.
Love always and forever,
My anxiety didn't last long though, and I slept well. Swee'pea began playing with the daycare centre's trucks immediately upon arrival, and barely managed to pull himself away to give me a hug and kiss goodbye. He returned to the toys happily, singing, "Bye bye bye bye." I left feeling a bit superfluous.
At work, my morning was hectic and stressful trying to get everything that needed doing before noon. I felt like I'd been overprotective starting Swee'pea at the centre with a half-day; he probably didn't need it. I extricated myself from work, not altogether successfully, and raced to the centre. When I got to Swee'pea's room it was dark and quiet with little children spread all over on their little cots. Except for one who was in the arms of a caregiver I hadn't met before. Swee'pea started weeping as soon as he laid eyes on me, and we ran to each other. I held him as tightly as I ever have, feeling slightly vindicated that I was right about the half-day, but mostly awful for putting him through what was obviously an emotional and stressful experience for him. Even after he stopped weeping, his breath still came in those sob-style mouthfuls, like he couldn't quite catch his breath for sadness and relief.
I held him tightly, feeling like my heart would burst into tears at any moment, unable to contain my love. I held him for longer than was strictly necessary to get him to sleep for his nap, and contemplated his fluttering eyes, moving side to side as they followed his dreams, and I hoped his dreams were of happy things and not parental abandonment. I am sadly aware that even now at this young age, I cannot know everything or even anything of his internal life, except for what he is able and willing to share. And I suspect his internal life is more complicated than I'd suspected.
After his nap I fed him some lunch (he'd refused to even take a bite at the centre), then took him to the playground and a baby ice cream. I just gave him an ice cream yesterday, but I figured he'd had a hard day, and ice cream is good. I wonder if perhaps I'm setting him up for a lifetime of emotional and over-eating, but then I think that perhaps this is an important facet of resilience: recognizing when you've had a hard day and giving yourself permission to take it easy and eat lots of ice cream.
Monday, September 03, 2007
Sugar D, on Saturday:
[incredulous, mostly to himself] I haven't had an ice cap this summer...
Maybe that's because I don't actually like ice caps and I just can't remember.
[later, with ice cap in hand] Yeah, I think I just don't like ice caps.
[concerned] The car has been making weird beeping noises when I turn corners. There -- hear it?
SD: Just wait till the next turn; you'll hear it. I guess we should get the car serviced.
[I heard it on the next turn, with the radio off, but it didn't sound like any car-type sound. Suddenly, SD clues]
It's Swee'pea's toy sax, getting its buttons pushed when the car turns left or right.
If you get together with two hip happening gorgeous bloggers, are you obligated to blog about it? Or is it enough to spend your time musing on the engaging and thought-provoking conversations you had?
We visited the bloggers' capital of Canada yesterday to see if we could really imagine living there. We totally can. Except for the frightening house prices. Even though I think our house is quite modest, we could not afford it if it were somehow plunked down in TO.
It was a long and sunny day for us, and we were content driving home in the dark last night, with the dashboard and city lights around us and the big fat blinking airplanes sinking gently back to the earth, one after the other like a lullaby.
Why are they called the Terrible Twos, when the two two-year-old girls I met yesterday were so wonderful? Or do those two bloggers just have the secret of parenting all worked out?
The weight of all the work required to get our house on the market has me exhausted already.
I have been the recipient of some fantastic linky love in the last week or so. First, Bubandpie, High Professor of Blogging herself, included me in her School of Blogs. Yep, you can just call me Doctor Sin now.
I'll be teaching Urban Photography if I can find some time outside of Operation Move to the Urban Centre of All Urban Centres. And I hope to offer my own selection of courses by blogging.
And, Kyla, lovely Kyla, has bestowed upon me the Blogger's Reflection Award.
"This award should make you reflect on five bloggers who have been an encouragement, a source of love, impacted you in some way, and have been a Godly example to you. Five Bloggers who when you reflect on them you get a sense of pride and joy... of knowing them and being blessed by them."
Thank you, Kyla. I find it amazing that I have that effect on you when you have that effect on me.
The first five bloggers I think of when reading the above?
Bubandpie -- she is so quick to comment on new bloggers' blogs, she is a warm welcome wagon in a place that I found intimidating when I first dipped my toe in. Her posts are always thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I still think about her rage post, the one that said things I couldn't believe she had the bravery to say, things that elicited an Yes! I know exactly what she's talking about! moment at every new paragraph, the one that encouraged me to be brave in my own posts too.
Mad Hatter -- the first blogger to comment on my blog and then read regularly. I love that she still reads me a year later, and every post she writes feels like a gift. She's hugely intelligent, kind and funny to boot (and every pun makes me love her even more).
Sage -- not only does she always have a warm comment when I need one (and, really, when do I not, self-pitying whiner that I am?), but she gave me a ticket to a fantastic concert six months ago and invited me and my family into her home... and this weekend spent hours showing us around her hood. She is a warm and mindful person whom I really admire.
Kgirl -- Not only did she feed my family at seven months pregnant but she gave me the real estate special issue of Toronto Life, complete with sticky notes. She was also one of the first bloggers to encourage me in those lonely early days.
Aliki -- Aliki's writing is pure craft. Every single post. Her posts inspire me to write better posts, although many times I just give in to laziness. She has also been tremendously encouraging to me personally because of her experiences coping with her kids' earlier trouble sleeping. It's so good to hear from someone whose children were very similar (non)sleepers and who coped in much the same way as I do, and who's now on the other side. Proof that sleep does get better.
It was hard to pick just find when I find the blogosphere is full of random and deliberate kindnesses all around. Many of you have touched me personally with your kindness, and I thank you. It really does make a difference.