On writing and a whole bunch

The piece I am working on and have been picking at for about two weeks now is still in scribble, I’m in love with this character stage so I don’t want to focus too much on how much I love it but there is a little sprig of something in my mind about it.

This is writing. You can see it and know it needs something – in my case, I want a fantastical yet oh so ordinary element like Tom Robbins’s spoon and can o’ beans; but figuring what that something is, well that’s difficult. I don’t want it forced because it will just end up being useless drivel, but it’s just right there at the edge of fingertips.

How much of life is like that? Not just writing life, but actual breathing and taking space in the world Life. Right now, post degree and baby I’m trying to figure out what I am doing with myself on a professional level. It’s right there, at my fingertips, what I’m trying to figure out but actually grasping at it? Well it, whatever it is, just keeps squirming away.

In writing, like in life, I think we may force too much, push too much for that perfection that may not be our own sense or definition of perfection and before you know it, time has passed you by and yet … And yet. It is striking that balance between acknowledging your responsibilities to others (I have a million kids) and my responsibility to myself and to ensure my own happiness. It’s striking a balance between sacrifice and self preservation.

The path of development – for myself and my writing. It’s a funny thing.

book review: ScreamFree Parenting (Hal Runkel)

I recently read Scream-Free Parenting by Hal Runkel, a marriage and family therapist in Atlanta Georgia. I think mparenting books are valuable in that they can prod you into insightful dialogues, to question yourself and the path you are currently on. I don’t think any one book is The Answer and it would be insincere to think there is only one way to parent.

As for the methodology. Runkel advocates what I would call self-care. Taking time for yourself and your adult relationships (with your partner, family and friends) are so important – if you cannot take care of yourself and show your child(ren) it is important to do so, you will fail them and yourself. There is also the problem of what Runkel calls “reactivity”; this is the emotional reaction to an event, say your kid going batshit crazy because she can’t find pants that match her shirt. Instead of yelling at her that it’s because she won’t open her drawers and look and will instead ALWAYS rely on you to get them, stop that thought process and consider what is happening. She is not doing this to annoy you (really? Because it seems to happen every morning), rather she is a kid and reasoning is not her forte. You, as her frenzied parent, are there to help her develop the tools that will aid in her growth towards adulthood. Like the ability to find pants.

I found some of Runkel’s proposed phrasing, for example, “if you don’t put away your bike, tomorrow morning I will take it to Goodwill”, to be passive aggressive if put to use for every little thing. As parents, we are to guide our children into decision making as much as it is to establish rules for the house and the expectation that the children will follow said rules. It is not specifically that Runkel is saying to hell with household rules, it’s more that his methodology and phrasing would be daunting and irritating to use all the time. I think the calming moment to consider what is happening and choosing your words wisely (to not make the “always” accusation), to not dissolve into reaction (read: freaking out) is most valuable during crisis mode. If this is not terribly clear it is because I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I felt some unease at Runkel’s suggestion that his layout is for all the time. Remember how I wrote that parenting books generally have some good tips you can add to your repertoire? This is one.

He writes of the importance of a child’s space. A few years ago, at about the time N started school, I started knocking before entering her room or the bathroom. The danger of her eating something like laundry detergent was lessened at this point (chill, it was always put away), but I thought it important she learn boundaries around her body. That and she was finally getting that she should answer when I knock on the door lest Mommy freak out. Runkel points out the importance of allowing a child their space – if you respect their’s, they are much more likely to reciprocate. He is also under the impression a kid will want to clean their room because they’ll take ownership over the space and like it more if it is neat but I don’t entirely agree – N is not an organized kid but D is and that has more to do with their individual personalities. N needs more prodding to clean up after herself and organize her things. Thinking your kids will clean their room rather than pull a Jillian Jiggs is some serious wishful thinking.

As for Runkel’s writing style – it’s somewhat cutesy self-help which I can deal with because he doesn’t really lay it on too thick and he provides some real-life examples from his family therapy practice. He keeps referencing make-believe ScreamFree books that are in the future and I don’t know if he’s being serious or ridiculous because the joke doesn’t carry very well. The title is definitely loaded – I was definitely not toting this around, flashing the title because it is so sensationalistic (Canadian moment here – how American is the title, eh?). Runkel does address the title – “screaming” is more about the loss of control parents face than the actual volume and his aim in writing the book is to help parents be the calming force in their family.

book review: lost cat by caroline paul (illustrated by wendy macnaughton)

I have lived with cats my entire life. There was a brief stint when Mr and I were living in a little house near the university when I did not have a cat, but on the weekends I would drive to my mom’s house and pick up Twiggy, my childhood feline love. He would spend the weekend with us, purring into my chin and glowering at Mr, his usurper. Lost Cat by Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton is part feline love letter, part adventure story. The protagonist (and sometimes antagonist, really) of the tale is Tibia. Skittish and falsely brave he reminded me so much of my own Twiggy.

And so I sat in an empty arena parking lot and devoured the book. A pet is a family member. My cat Rosa (otherwise known as Boule) is your cranky aunt who surprises you at birthdays with the most thoughtful gifts and snuggles when you are sick. Our other cat Albert is the perfect family cat, selfless in the face of the suffocating love of children. Lost Cat is about what happens when you lose a vital part of your family. Caroline’s obsession with learning what Tibia did his weeks away is all too real for a cat person. A cat-sized camera? Yes, please.

Lost Cat is more than just a story of a lost cat returned. It is about what happens to us, as human beings, when our world is turned upside down through injury and how we lean on the people (and animals) we love the most in the ensuing recovery. Because recovery isn’t a quick rebound from down to “yep, I’m good, let’s go”, it’s also knitting yourself back together into a new person, stronger from injury. It is about vulnerability in love – how could Tibia disappear if Caroline loves him so much? How does Wendy, a non-cat person deal with Caroline’s obsession? Though the focus remains squarely on Tibia and learning where he went for the five weeks he was gone, we see the growth of Wendy and Caroline’s own relationship. At 6 months, their relationship was still so new to go through the heartbreak of a lost Tibby and Caroline’s accident.

Lost Cat is full of emotion – I definitely cried in that arena parking lot, just in time for a cyclist to ride by and peer cautiously into my car at me; it is also hilarious. Wendy MacNaughton’s are beautiful and quirky. Tibby, whom I felt I knew through Paul’s careful telling, came alive to me with each sketch. Paul’s writing is clever  and self-aware – Of course it’s a little nutty to attach notes and GPS to a cat’s collar, but it had to be done.

Lost Cat will be released April 2013 and you should head to your local bookstore to get one. Lost Cat is a fascinating and lovely read and it has the added bonus of confusing strangers with your tears and giggles if you read it in public.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing the opportunity for me to read Lost Cat.

birthdays, goals and another year

Your birthday marks the beginning of a new year for you. Forget New Year’s resolutions. You have to share the energy and the general crappiness that comes with others knowing your goals (or sharing in the chutzpah needed to carry them through and that’s exhausting and ultimately defeatist) because you went and drunkenly made these resolutions that are just absurd come the light of another day. But, with your birthday, the impetus to establish yourself is yours alone (save for all those other people who share your birthday – like Milton Berle or Bill Cosby). Forget New Year’s resolutions, everyone makes those just to break them.

Your birthday is yours, a new beginning and you can embody that smidge of new wisdom you have by revelling in your new number and the newness of the year. It’s like buying a new pair of sparkly sneakers and the promise you make to never, ever get them dirty. That first puddle you step in is going to be hard, but that’s part of living and you’re trying.

I am 30 now and have been for a couple of days. I have two children with another one one the way and it’s high time that I grow up. Establish some goals and do the things I’ve always said I would do. It’s the beginning of a new year and it’s all mine.

My 20s were altogether tumultuous and a mixed bag of what can only be described eloquently as, WTF. Like most of the nerdy, booky types of the world, there has been The Next Great Idea banging around in my head for the last couple of years and it is ridiculous to just keep it all tucked away in my grey matter. It’s just brain shenanigans, really. I’m not going to mess around with bold proclamations of publishing by my 31 birthday because I believe it will be a great accomplishment just to get the damn thing finished by next year, but there you have it.

Happy birthday to everyone else who shares my birthday.

the belly, the body and aren’t you huge

I’ve been trying for a little while to get my thoughts organized on the matter of growing larger, particularly in light of being told every day I’m huge (no shit – I’m 6 months pregnant and 5 feet tall, exactly where does the weight go?) and the ensuing media storm around Jessica Simpson’s pregnancy weight gain with such vile descriptions as “fat”. Getting bigger I can handle, when one is a Turducken it is to be expected as the baby needs somewhere to go. With my kids, it is straight out in front of me, at least by a foot and that is where all the weight I gain throughout this pregnancy will stay. From behind, I do not look like a turducken. At the market a couple of weeks ago, a wine seller came to ply his wares to me … until I turned around and nearly knocked him over because he was standing too close. What I cannot stand is being told constantly that I’m “just soooo big”, accompanied by gestures usually reserved for describing the girth of Santa Claus. The incessant comments about My Body. The words can be couched around “the belly”, making it more of an inanimate thing, rather than a significant part of my body. The fact remains that when you are pregnant, you are public domain and ought to accept the comments with more tact than the person giving them.

At no other time in a woman’s life is it appropriate to comment so intimately on a woman’s body than when she is pregnant (obviously, I mean to her face – we can all be a catty bunch). There is a certain degree of decorum surrounding our public interactions and one of those is that it is rude to point at someone’s body and give your opinion, unless you are a medical professional, and even then a doctor has tact.

My thoughts have been a jumble lately around why it bothers me so much to have someone, from across a room or other public space, point and exclaim, “The belly! IT’S SO BIG! LOOK AT YOU!” or actually call others to come and look at me as if I were a damn sideshow freak. I take care of my lady ‘stache, thank you very much. Oh, maybe because IT’S MY BODY YOU ARE STARING AT, so thanks.

Women’s bodies are constantly under scrutiny, for being too thin, too fat, too beautiful, simple, mousy, flabby, pasty, too dark, too light… anything and everything (check out this post). I do not know why it changes from passive aggressive talking around the woman where she may or may not hear to when you are pregnant and it is said to your face, perhaps because people have this concept that a pregnant body belongs to the community because it is not just the woman but also a future generation in there. This has as much to do with norms as our own beauty insecurities. By pointing out that I do not have the body I used to have, and will likely never have again (only a proximate guess at it), the commenter and myself are fitting ourselves snugly into established beauty rules that are archaic, crappy and ought to go, but that also dictate that there is a standard and neither one of us is fitting into them, so we might as well be miserable about it.

There is a beauty standard and not one of us really knows what it is, but we sure as hell can tell you what it is not. Everyone.

Hey Canada! (a blog tour and review)

A few months ago I received a bright and shiny edition of Hey Canada!, a quintessentially Canadian travel/adventure book for kids by Vivien Bowers. The premise of the book is that it is a blog written by cousins Alice and Cal as they travel across the country with their grandmother, hitting all the highlights Canada has to offer. The blog format translates only so well onto hard copy but the effect is that Hey Canada! is an incredibly fun and colourful adventure/reference book about Canada and the kids (Alice and Cal) certainly add a personal element.

Boy has recently discovered his daddy’s old comic books and he delighted in “Cal’s Historical U-Turn” comics that appear sporadically throughout the book. When our copy first arrived we immediately flipped through to Nova Scotia (of course) and then the scattered provinces that are home to family. I like the “reference” quality of Hey Canada!, the index and plethora of information is fantastic and came in handy when Miss N asked “What’s a Manitoba?” the other day.  Hey Canada! is not just a reference book filled with history and facts, though I have referred to it as such. It’s also an adventure book as the kids and Grandma keep losing Cal’s stowaway hamster and the cousins get into the usual kid-type shenanigans. The conversational tone lends itself really well to reading a chapter a day, each devoted to a province or territory, over the course of a week or two. Both Cal and Alice are well-drawn characters full of personality  and this comes through with the various “tweets” from Cal, his comics and Alice’s narration.

There is a really good mix of illustrations by Milan Pavlovic as well as bright photographs, some of which are instantly recognizable, such as the vivid Newfoundland jellybean houses set against the grey sky and Sudbury’s Big Nickel (which I saw on a road trip with my mom and brother when I was a child!). Hey Canada!  is a new way of exploring Canada on paper, it stirred memories for me and my kids were able to form connections to their country. The book would make a great addition to any classroom or home (I know a certain teacher who will be getting my copy).

Many, many thanks to Tundra Books for allowing me to participate in the blog tour (blogs acros Canada are taking part!). For a complete list of all the blogs taking part in the tour up until the big day on Sunday, go here. Also! There is a giveaway contest over at Goodreads that you should really check out! The contest ends in two days so in the words of Boy, “scoot, scoot skedaddle” over there and win yourself a copy.

library day: Fancy Nancy! Evolution! {kids’ book recommendations}

Wednesday morning is our official Library Day. It’s also the day we pick up our CSA and while that is a fun task for about five minutes as we pick through the box to see our favourites or make a note of what we’re googling later, we break up Wednesday with a trip to the library. Sometimes there is an activity, like the incredibly noisy Songs ‘n’ Stuff, which you’d think the musically inclined D would like but it’s really just 50 under 5s with jingle bells jumping around but other times it’s just D and I and a few other kids to play and poke through books.

Libraries are an invaluable resource. Boy (and Miss N) always want to take home all the books so we have a standard two book limit because otherwise it is impossible to find them all to return. I always feel guilty plucking a book off our shelf at home only to find the “Property of Halifax Public Libraries” stamp on the inside cover and knowing we borrowed it an embarrassing amount of time ago. I practically grew up in libraries. My Saturday afternoons with my dad were spent at the U of W’s Leddy, the downtown Windsor Public Library and during the week I wandered into the small library in the equally small town where I went to school. The hush and smell of books, thumbing through each page. It’s another world for quiet kids like me who have always read the book but never saw the movie based on the book, who have picked through all the books on the shelf and need to order books from the another library (remember the card catalogue?). I helped my dad set up the library in his church though I’ve now forgotten most of the codes. With his help I’d memorized most of the standard codes for the Dewey Decimal System. I was a different kind of cool as a kid.

And now, I share that love with my kids.

This week, we borrowed:

Born with a Bang: It’s told from the viewpoint of a very eager and earnest Universe and explains the birth of the Universe, from nothingness to now. It’s a bit advanced for Boy (who is 4). Miss N has flipped through it but I would recommend it for kids a bit older than these two. It’s interesting and the science seems sound but it’s very long and the mystical quality of the Universe “speaking to you” isn’t terribly interesting because I don’t really think the Universe is a puppy desirous of that much attention.

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story: Gorgeous pictures and perfect for a child Miss N’s maturity. She was engaged immediately and the pictures that take the reader from single-celled organisms to now. There are constant parallels to what the organism had then that matches what we have now. An excellent beginning to talking about evolution with kids.

My Brother Charlie: So heartfelt and honest, it’s told from the perspective of Charlie’s twin sister who loves him and wants to protect him always, even if he is difficult because of his autism. Our immediate lives have not been touched by autism but that does not mean we have to ignore its presence in the great wide world.

Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique: Now Miss N wants her own Fabulous Fashion Boutique so she can earn some more money for her iPod. Such a cute story and Fancy Nancy is such a kind hearted little girl, she really does remind me of Miss N (who loves her too).

Curious George Plants a Tree: Precocious. Who can resist Curious George? Not D who wanted to borrow every single Curious George book they had. I’m sure it’s touted as an Earth Day book, but really? You can plant a tree anytime and value the environment any time of year.

Until our next trip. What’s your favourite kids’ book? What would you recommend we borrow next time we visit? What would your littles recommend to Miss N and D?