Tuesday, October 23, 2007

MG: Homework Rock Star

"Mommy, STOP HELPING ME! DON'T READ ME THE WORD ANY MORE!! You have to let me work it out! If you don't let me work it out, how will I EVER LEARN??!?"

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Things I Like About Canada

We've been here for almost two months now, and not everything has been easy. I have yet to get used to the exorbitant price of dairy products, for one small thing. And the rain, it makes Seattle seem like Arizona by comparison. And while CBC is a worthy organization, I have to admit that I miss my NPR.

But there are a bunch of things I like. Here are a few:

1) Butcher shops in the malls! Also, greengrocers. And bakeries. This seems to me to exemplify Canada's felicitous blend of United Statesian and European sensibilities. There are malls, yeah, with department stores and food courts and gigantuous parking lots and the like. BUT the malls are also part market High Street, so after you finish buying your office supplies and eating your sushi and getting your glasses adjusted, you can pick up some chicken legs for dinner, and an onion, and a couple loaves of cheap day-old bakery bread, all at different, small, relatively charming (for a mall) storefronts, without setting foot in the overpriced mega-supermarket up the street. And without going outside and slogging through the rain, either. I have seen this at a couple different malls, so it's not just an anomaly at the one near our house.

2) Generous, standardized maternity leave. Now, obviously, this comes too late to benefit our family directly. But from my professional vantage point, I can see how it benefits society as a whole. Having a categorical one-year mostly-paid maternity leave means that most new moms take a year off, period. This opens up their jobs for a year for, say, new professionals in the field (like my colleague whose first library job was a maternity-leave post some years ago), and also means that social services and suchlike can be planned with the assumption that most babies up to one year old will be home with a parent.

Here's an example: part of my job involves co-leading a weekly baby storytime, as well as another one for toddlers. When a group of us were planning out these story times last month, someone pointed out that some of the toddlers would be coming with nannies (I'm working in a pretty affluent area). "And the babies," I said, without thinking. "Oh, well," my boss shrugged, "Most of them will be with their moms, on mat. leave." It struck me as so different from the States, where some babies are in childcare centers, some with nannies, some in makeshift care arrangements with relatives, some home with their moms for a few weeks, or a few months, some with both parents in exhausting shift-work arrangements so they can cover the baby care and the bills. Of course, there are older kids in all those situations. But for that crucial and labour-intensive first year, you can pretty much count on knowing where the babies are and who's with them.

3) The money is pretty and comes in different colours. And because there are one- and two-dollar coins instead of one-dollar bills, you can think you're just walking around with a pocket full of change and yet still turn out to have a substantial amount of cash on you.

4) The Canadian spellings of words like "labour" and "colour" and "honour" are really starting to grow on me. Even though my computer doesn't recognize them and wants to let me know that I'm making spelling errors.

And now, to bed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


There's a lot I want to say about my uncle's funeral, from which I just returned. Good, mostly. If a funeral can be good, this one was good. But it's late and I won't say it all right now.

Just, before I forget, that MG was awful, awful, awful in the morning yesterday (to me, only, not to any other family members) and sort of awful at bedtime--jumpy and silly and borderline-obnoxious--until all of a sudden she stopped being obnoxious and broke down and cried about her uncle being dead, and that she wished he was alive again, and that she would miss him so much. I put it down to about three parts genuine grief and one part sleep-deprived exhaustion. We talked about all the love her uncle left behind him, and RW reminded her of the tombstone we saw that afternoon that was for someone who died on the day MG was born, and about how there's a baby out there somewhere who was born on the day her great-uncle died. That seemed to help some.

But just before that, when she was flomping around and resisting bedtime, she said, "I hate bed! I wish I didn't have to be in this bed! I wish we could go home! To Vancouver!"

Always before, when she's complained that she wants to go home, it's been definitely home to Seattle. I was not foolish enough to remark on this milestone, but I noticed.

Sometimes you have to be someplace else before you know where your home is, I guess.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

National Coming Out Day, One More Time

All day I was thinking: "October 11.. October 11...isn't this some kind of holiday or something??"

It took a straight 27-year-old guy vlogging at Brotherhood 2.0 to remind me that today is National Coming Out Day.

I haven't thought much about National Coming Out Day in...years. A decade, maybe. As the woman in this swell video points out, you don't just come out once; you come out all the time, for the rest of your life, in countless situations, but the big ones--friends, family--I did a long time ago.

These days, I come out on the merest pretext, from a combination of principle and practicality. I am not what you'd call a private person; it goes against my grain, and trying to remember what I'm supposed to keep secret about my life would irritate and exhaust me beyond belief. I'm a pretty ordinary, bourgeois, middle-aged person in appearance and countenance, and I like to flatter myself that my being so regular-appearing and being so out can maybe help open some minds that might otherwise be closed. I go by the Harvey Milk principle that you can change peoples' minds, and ultimately help to change the world, by simply being yourself and being out. (It's also a nice lazy way to be an activist.)

But I know--and was reminded anew today when I came across this thoughtful and eloquent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education--that being so out is a luxury. The article's pseudonymous author writes that in the competitive academic job market, she can't always risk coming out at interviews; at the get-to-know-you social events that often accompany them, social questions like "are you married?" become verbal land mines. She writes that she may have to take a job in an environment that wouldn't support or welcome her relationship. I can see why that prospect would frighten her, especially in the tight community that so often comprises a college.

The Chronicle article, and this post by witchtrivets, have made me think again about how much simpler the casual-conversation part of my life became after MG and I got legally married in Vancouver just over four years ago. Since then, I've never hesitated when someone asks if I'm married; these days, when I'm asked, I don't elaborate, or qualify, or educate anyone about the Defense of Marriage Act; I just say, "yes."

It means a lot to me, that "yes." One thing that I didn't post about, when I wrote about the horrible day when I didn't become a Permanent Resident because I didn't have one very important document, was that the Immigration Officer kept referring to RW as my "friend." It was infuriating: I would say, "My spouse is on her way down to meet me; she can sign for all our goods," and he would say, "Well, when your friend gets here, she can..."

It was scary, because I was at their mercy, there at the border, and they could've just refused outright to let me in. But every time he said "friend," that day, I interrupted and corrected him: Spouse. Spouse. Spouse. Because getting to say that, and have it count, was one reason we moved.

And I hope that Chronicle writer, and Witchtrivets, and everybody who wants to, gets to say it soon.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

I Found the Camera Cable!

After the move.
(A month after, in fact, but sadly it doesn't look that different from when we first got there.)

Literacy in action on the Mermaid Girl's bedroom door.
You can tell she's a tech writer's child because she includes written instructions and a diagram.

Birthday sweater made by Savta.

Art break at the birthday breakfast.

The famous Aleph-Bet Cookies.

This just cries out for a LOLCat caption, if I could only think of one.

On the swinging trapeze at the park.

Another one: worse lighting, better expression.

The Mermaid Girl, walking along the sea wall with Uncle Skaterboy.
She looks so old, all of a sudden.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Roomba Method

...of room-cleanup management, that is.

Here's how I described it in an e-mail to my mom last night:

because the Mermaid Girl has SO MUCH stuff, and plays with so many things that have dozens of tiny little pieces, that if we only make her clean every once in a while then the mess will be too overwhelming for all of us, and also because since she's allergic to dust we really have to vacuum in there every week or two. So, ergo, she has to clean her room every night.

So far we've been using The Nagging Method, which has been about as effective as that method usually is (i.e. not very). She stalls for as long as she can, sometimes an hour or more, only cleaning when we come in to glare at her. It drives us all nuts and makes us and MG totally exasperated with each other.

So, starting tomorrow, we're going to be using The Roomba Method, named after that cute little vacuum robot. It's gonna work like this:

1) We give MG half an hour or so in which to clean up her room.
2) We give her a five-minute warning five minutes before the end.
3) At the end of the allotted time, The "Roomba"--in the form of a parent with an empty box--enters the room, picks up everything that's left on the floor, and puts it away in the box for at least a week.

The crucial elements to this succeeding are:

1) We have to be totally cheerful, empathetic, and low-key about it and not express disappointment or exasperation with her
2) We have to be totally hard-hearted about it and not give in when she starts weeping and wailing and begging.

One problem that I can see is that as the Roomba Time approaches she could just start stuffing things anywhere, without regard to where they belong, which will lead to a total mess in her bins and shelves in very short order. To alleviate that a bit, I suggested that she can have a "To Be Filed" box that she can dump anything into that she doesn't have time to put away properly. Anything that *she* puts in the To Be Filed box before the Roomba comes in, she gets to keep. If she can find it! (which is the same problem that RW and I have with our own "To Be Filed' bins...)

We explained it to her this evening at dessert time, and she didn't fall apart as much as I thought she would. So, we'll see. We're gonna try it for a couple of weeks.


Today is the first Roomba Method day.

She had a friend over after school this afternoon. They pulled out a bunch of stuff and scattered it about the room. MG declined the opportunity to clean up with her friend before the friend went home for dinner.

She's in her room now.

She sounds very cheerful, humming and banging about.

The 5-minute-warning bell just went off.

Any bets on what I'll see when I go in?


It could've been worse. The place was still a pit at the 5-minute warning mark, and MG was scurrying around randomly stuffing things into bins, having obviously totally piddled away her cleanup time with playing and daydreaming. But she wasn't whining or furious or demanding help or despairing at the impossibility of it all as she usually is by that time; she was quite cheerful as she informed me that "It's still pretty bad!"

When I came back in with the basket 5 minutes later, almost everything was off the floor, and the To Be Filed box was overflowing. I moved in slowly, and she grabbed the last few items and put them away before I could get to them.

She was so pleased at her success that she immediately whipped up a "Roomba Chart" for herself and filled in the first square with an empty basket. She informed me that if she has more empty baskets than full ones by the time the chart's complete, she gets a smiley face. I was expecting her to start angling for some monetary or food reward in exchange for a good chart, but the smiley face that she came up with seemed to be all she wanted.

If this keeps up, I predict that her bins and shelves will soon be in complete chaos. But at least everything will be off the floor, and we won't be at each others' throats of an evening.