Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Bohemian Like Whoa!

I like Bohemian Like You by the Dandy Warhols, but when I added the song to my ILike list on Facebook, it brought up a rather graphic video. I don't mind that so much, but I don't like stuff being sprung on me, so here's another Doctor Who fanvid tastefully pulled together by "piffo". It's nice to have options. Right?

Monday, 28 April 2008

The one I've loved the longest

Yesterday, I sat in a café just off the campus of the University of Ottawa, waiting for elder daughter to finish her interviews connected with her participation in an adolescent girls study. It was a warm windy afternoon, and I watched the twenty-somethings pass by, swept up in term finals. Young girls look as pretty and varied as ever I remember, but, I dunno, guys these days look remarkably unprepossessing and all the darn same: baggy pants, short gelled hair, tee shirts. A young girl with dark hair, summery green top and jeans, and a comfortable, confident gait emerged from the throng of Sunday sidewalk strollers, and with a shock, I realized it was my daughter who just turned 16 last week. She could pass for someone in her twenties, which grates with her no end. (So could I, when I was her age --- until I opened my mouth.)

Both the Resident Fan Boy and I have had similar small shocks over the past few years when we've arranged to meet her somewhere, and for a split second, fail to recognise the tall, self-possessed young woman waiting for us.

I worry about her because she seems so all right. So articulate, centred, together. I was such a mess at her age. I've just dug out my diary from when I was 15 going on 16. It makes for depressing reading, my sixteen-year-old psyche.

She had the whole of our attention until age four, and really the bulk of it until age eight; her younger sister was pretty well a camp-follower until we realized there was a problem. Then, it became all about younger daughter: the meetings, the consultations, the therapies. I sometimes think elder daughter copes by being the "one we don't worry about"; she gets top grades, is pleasant company (aside from the odd adolescent hiccup).... I can count the crises we've had with her over the past eight years on the fingers of one hand.

How does she feel about having a special needs sister? It's hard to tell. I think her attitude towards those with "differences" is marginally more enlightened, but she clearly finds classmates with ADD, Aspergers, etc. a bewilderment and an exasperation. I remember a passionate discussion when she was about to turn twelve, when I was pleading the case of two classmates with learning difficulties. "This will be your sister in a few years." Her response was heated: "People like my sister!" "They like her because she is cute," I replied sadly. "She won't be cute forever."

A mother of one of her pals told me that she was surprised to learn that eldest daughter had a sister, because she never mentioned her. (In fact, this woman told me this every time we met. After a while, I wanted to hit her.) My heart broke a little when I saw that elder daughter's best friend had listed herself as her "sister" on Facebook.

And see? This damn post has become about younger daughter again.

In trying to give equal time, equal resources, equal care to two or more children, there's bound to be guilt and short falling. Do I love one child more than another? That's like saying I love ice-cream more than chocolate. The best answer I ever heard of in response to the inevitable who-do-you-love-best from an elder child is: "I love you both the same, but I've loved you longer." My elder daughter is my beloved first-born, the one I've loved the longest. All evidence to the contrary, I think about her and worry about her every day. She is everything I wanted to be when I was a teenager, from her self-discipline and assurance right down to the straight, heavy hair (mine was wavy). I wish her many happy returns.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Still in avoidance mode -- the magical lost world of the 45

The Resident Fan Boy, who worships at the altar of Environment Canada daily, informs me that David Phillips, the meteorologist whom Canuck weather geeks idolize, has declared spring to be over. In Ottawa, spring began about a week ago. In a good year, in central Canada, we can count on two to three vernal weeks, but last night the first thunderstorm of the season rumbled through.

At the time, I was studying my Facebook profile where I've listed my 252 (or something like that) favourite songs through an attachment called "ILike". If you push the button by the song, it will play you a 30-second excerpt from the song, and if you go to the hot-linked title, it will try to find you a YouTube video of the same. My 5 featured songs change randomly throughout the day and one of the ones up last night was "Darling Be Home Soon" by The Lovin' Spoonful. The featured video was a festival performance by John Sebastian, but I saw another video listed and played it out of curiosity. A 45-single is held up to the camera, then hands place it on a turntable with the plastic donut in the middle to accomodate the large single hole. Someone puts the needle on the vinyl and for the next two to three minutes, you relive the music experience of the pre-MTV world, when you glued yourself next to your tinny portable recorder player or your stereo set to 45 rpm, and without images save for those called up in your mind, slipped into the siren world of a favourite song:

See, this fella (I think it's a fella) calling him?self thunderbird 1958 (must be a fella!) has set up a YouTube channel where he's filmed hundreds of 45's with a few 33 lp tracks thrown in, mostly from the early sixties to early seventies. Some are famous, many obscure, and there's stuff there I haven't heard for ages, including the very, very first single I purchased. I refuse to name it, not that I'm ashamed of my choice, but on the grounds it will incriminate and definitely date me...

And oh my goodness, there's "Hot Love" by T. Rex, "Day After Day" by Bad Finger, "Snoopy's Christmas" by the Royal Guardsmen, "Which Way You Goin', Billy?" by the Poppy Family.... One of the rarest finds was "Softly Whispering I Love You" by the English Congregation, which, in a decade of truly weird songs, has to be one of the strangest ditties to make the Top Forty in the seventies. Rather than have "thunderbird 1958" play his 45 of it, here's a slideshow someone calling his-or-herself "hwaj5300" pulled together, because, until last night, I never knew what on earth the choir was warbling at the beginning:

Paul Young did a considerably less loopy version about 1990, but where's the fun of that?

Monday, 21 April 2008

In which the blogger bravely runs away

Bloody hell (or Hades). I was actually having rather a nice day. My friend-with-whom-I-go-for-coffee took me out to a pre-birthday breakfast at The French Baker near the Byward Market. Since she is a member of The Sisterhood (that is, a fellow "special needs mum"), I gave her a blow-by-blow of the latest crisis (the beginning of which is in the previous entry), and afterwards, we strolled through the Market and found perfect (we hope) blouses for two of our respective daughters (both the eldest), before picking up what looks like the ideal book on puberty for younger daughter.

And...and... Damn. I just don't feel like going into how the day ended. Suffice it to say that the crisis at younger daughter's school continues, and if I get brave enough, I'll blog about it later in the week. but it's my birthday tomorrow, dammit. I want to turn up the Beatles full-blast. I want to rejoice in the one day I can say belongs to me. And right now, I want to hide in another Doctor Who fan-vid. Because that's how grown-up I am.

Today, I'll choose a fan-vid from another prolific YouTube poster "Maggi137". I believe Maggi is German and maybe it's her European sensibilities that govern her choice of songs and clips. It's not always to my taste, but it never fails to be interesting. What follows is one of my personal favourites which I think captures Maggi at her quirky best:

Happy Birthday to me. Thank God the new Doctor Who is being regularly posted by guerilla uploaders, otherwise I really think I'd be going mad. If anyone out there is given to lighting candles, light one for younger daughter and me, willya?

Friday, 11 April 2008

Define "all right"....

This has taken me several days to write. And it isn't very good.

I think I've mentioned this before, but the trouble with journals and diaries is that the keeping of them often involves writing down the sad stuff. I guess it's supposed to be more therapeutic, but often it only seems to make the pain more real. In the same (open) vein, I've been struggling to complete my yearly rundown and have run into a snag with last November, which featured a number of set-backs, failures, and heartbreaks.

Earlier in this past rather horrific week in April, I caught the tail-end of the movie Hilary and Jackie, the 1998 film about the DuPré sisters. Jacqueline, who went on to great fame as a cellist, eventually succumbed to a particularly nasty strain of multiple schlerosis, dying deaf, mute, and in pain. At the very end of the movie, she's an apparition, standing on a beach in the early 50's and telling her child-self: "It's going to be all right."

But it isn't. Just a tad later in that same rather horrific week, I strode up the hill to school with younger daughter, holding the words of "Ordinary Day" by Great Big Sea in my head and heart (I embedded a Doctor Who video to this song in my previous post): "At the end of the day, you just gotta say it's all right..." But it wasn't. Younger daughter was stressed out and more socially-challenged than usual. She was yelling at and physically pushing away her "guardian angel" each recess. She was refusing to join in at recorder practice. To top it off, the so-called student-led conferences were scheduled toward the end of the week, and after months of no homework assignments at all, they came tumbling down, like objects thrown to a juggler. The juggler being me, of course. A few balls got dropped... Here's an excerpt of an email that I finally got the courage to send to the principal and teaching staff: I must confess I've been in a state of bewilderment since last week's student-led conference. My husband and I arrived in (her) classroom at the appointed time, and it was almost as if we were unexpected guests. The other students were cheerfully showing off their portfolios, but hers was nowhere in sight. We killed time looking at photo displays, waiting for guidance, and not sure what to tell (our daughter). This was our seventh student-led conference, the third with (younger daughter), but no one seemed to have prepared (her) for what was expected this time. When the portfolio finally made its appearance, it had the oddest assortment of documents; some were assignments we had recognized from earlier in the year, but others utterly flummoxed us: a Xeroxed fairy tale written in language well below (her) reading ability; what we took to be a prototype of (her) locker shield, except most of the drawings weren't by (her) and it inexplicably had "Grade Three" written at the top; and a penguin project with Xeroxed references to Antarctica despite the fact that (younger daughter's) project appeared to be about penguins living in Australia. Our hearts sank. Is this portfolio reflective of (her) work this year? Perhaps (younger daughter) chose these things herself? The portfolio gave us the impression of a last-minute search to find things to put in it. We felt rather too dispirited to stay long and left at the earliest opportunity.

I didn't tell them that both younger daughter's teachers had approached us and said pleasant things about her that sounded like grasping at straws. I didn't tell them that as younger daughter waded through the contents of this strange portfolio, I was struggling with despair, grief, and the voice inside me wailing: "My God, they think she's an idiot!" And I certainly didn't tell them that I staggered home, turned on the computer, put the earphones on with the Proclaimers full blast and wept while sorting through my family history files.

That night, I took 3 "Sleep Relaxes", but woke at 2:30 in the morning in a sweat with the opening of "Sunshine on Leith" running through my mind: "My heart was broken --- sorrow, sorrow, sorrow...." The thing is, "Sunshine on Leith", isn't about despair; it's about redemption, and eventually, despite the snaggle-toothed gremlins of worry besetting me from the dark of the early morning hour and the steady ache of my knee which is still slowly recovering from the sideways split of a couple of weeks ago, I eventually felt myself relax into sleep. Younger daughter had speech therapy the next morning, so I telegraphed my distress to her speech therapist and had a quick conference while y.d. played with the dollhouse in the waiting room. By happy circumstance, the developmental psychologist who assessed younger daughter five years ago was making a rare office stop-in, and led me into an empty office for a few minutes of compassionate listening and some dashes of perspective. When I left, I was no longer feeling quite so wounded (or murderous). I still diplomatically avoided seeing the teaching staff when dropping younger daughter off at school. It wasn't until Sunday (after some heavy Doctor Who therapy) that I summoned the nerve to compose the above-quoted detailed email which ended with: So, to sum up: May I be allowed to email? May I have notice of incoming assignments? Is it possible to have a regular idea of what (my daughter) is expected to learn? It took seven minutes for the principal to respond. To each point: "Absolutely". He also said he was stunned. I wondered anxiously what I had said to stun him. The next day, I had quite a long impromptu conference with younger daughter's homeroom teacher, followed by an off-the-cuff offer to include her in an after-school ecology survey that afternoon, and, oh Gawd, a sudden increase in homework assignments. Clearly, we're going to have to go over Point Number Two again... Miraculously, over the weekend, younger daughter's extreme anxiety seemed to melt away. Due to my own relief? Reinstating her vitamin regimen? (We'd been running low.) Even after a run-in with a rather notorious class-member during recess that day, her words didn't desert her. The boy pointed at the picture of Cruella De Vil on her teeshirt and (according to the guardian angel) taunted her: "Are you mean?" "Not as mean as you are, Adam!" Of course, now her guardian angel is being accused of putting the words in her mouth. Younger daughter's classmates evidently think such a comeback is beyond her abilities. And "Adam" is on the warpath, referring to her as "stupid". Still. For once we have a confrontation that has a ring of assertiveness to it. Here's younger daughter's take on the incident:

The human condition seems to entail a lot of singing hopefully in the face of inevitable decline, whistling past the graveyard. Is it all right? Reason seems to say not, but reasonability isn't always the best way to survive the day. The late (really late, she only left us last year) Madeleine L'Engle struggled with the "all right" question in several of her books, but I remember in particular the passage from the closing of The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, one of her many auto-biographical works, this one about the her mother's final months. A year after her mother's death, Madeleine is putting her grandchildren to bed and is confronted by the theological in the shape of her grand-daughter: "But, Gran, is everything really all right? Really? It is completely cosmic questioning, coming from a small girl in a white nightgown with a toothbrush in her hand, sensing the unfamiliar surrounding the familiar. It is warm and light in the house, but the greater the radius of light, the wider the perimeter of darkness. . . . I must answer it for her, looking down at her serious, upturned face, and I can answer truthfully only if I have my feet planted very firmly on rock. I think of the warmth of the rock at the brook, and that I will never know more than a glimpse of the ousia of the small green frog --- or of my mother --- or of the two little girls --- and this is all right too. "Is it really all right?" Léna persists. "Yes, Léna, it is all right." This is all I can promise my daughters, knowing that "all right" is a really, really relative term. But the Proclaimers sing: "I thank Him for his work, for your birth and my birth.."
And I do. Because, otherwise, all this seems terribly pointless.

Friday, 4 April 2008

April Cruel

It's bloody snowing again.

For the past few days, the waist-to-shoulder-high piles of filthy crystalizing snow have been slowly retreating from the edge of the sidewalks, gradually revealing beat-up garden ornaments and six-month-old dog droppings. The yard at my younger daughter's school is an skating rink in the mornings and a large iceberg-filled moat in the afternoon. However, it could still be said that progress was being made. Until midday.

I looked out the window between the knee-icings only to see the large white missiles plopping down and covering the newly exposed mud and khaki-coloured grass. This morning I had a hasty hall conference with one of younger daughter's EA's about an incident during morning recess yesterday, when she inexplicably yelled at her guardian angel and spent the period after recess weeping heartbrokenly while the EA tried to explain that yelling at friends is "bullying behaviour".

Is it? When I tried to find out what happened from younger daughter herself on the walk home from school yesterday, her response was predictable: "I don't want to talk about it." A block later, she said, "I'm feeling brave now." Heartened, I asked again, but she said, "I'm tired of talking about it now." What can you say to a child whose verbal abilities shut down when she's upset, who is probably terrified when the angry feelings well up, and who is convinced that anyone who tries to help her manage these feelings doesn't like or love her anymore? Bullying behaviour? Really?

And it's still snowing. I'm grateful that the internet is rippling with Doctor Who interviews and that David Tennant and Catherine Tate have been making the pilgrimage through the radio stations of London, leaving podcasts to take me out of my physical and emotional self. God help us if the spybots close down the illegal posters of the new Doctor Who; I've never needed it more. One of Mihangel's favourite posters got the axe last week, but he had titles and links all over the place, a veritable homing device for Auntie Beeb's single spies and battalions. Our favourite is a lady who comes out of the woodwork only to post at a specially-set up channel with renamed episodes. If she's found out, she pulls up stakes and posts from somewhere else.

Fanvids rarely get pulled, so here's two more of my favourites, this time with a Canadian content theme. The first is set (by woefully infrequent YouTube poster "MrsCake") to the optimistic, triumphing-over-adversity music of Great Big Sea from Newfoundland, and features, I think, five of the ten Doctors so far:

(Man, that was difficult to embed!) If Great Big Sea embodies the life-affirming possibilities of Doctor Who, then the Barenaked Ladies seem to perfectly match the quirkiness of the mad goings-on. Here's "Moto1261"'s interpretation of Rose's journey with the Ninth and Tenth Doctors which includes my very favourite version of the regeneration between the two:

Hooray for Canada! (Don't know if the posters are actually Canadian, but clearly they are People of Taste.) I'm starting to feel a bit better already. As for my younger daughter, I have to cling to the notion that what seem like regressions or even new problems are actually signs of progress. When she "lost it" a few years ago, it would mean days of recovery. Now, it's fifteen minutes of unpleasantness and grief. It may look like the Slough of Despond out there, but it's no place to live. Somehow, with plenty of backsliding and repetition, we'll all learn to cope...