Friday, 29 February 2008
Okay, not that great a week. PMS and "periodicality" can be blamed for some of the glitches of this week, but not all of them. The disappearance of younger daughter's indoor shoes from her locker Wednesday morning, for example. Now, most schools in Canada are running on a shoestring budget anyway, so frills like music, arts, special education, and janitorial upkeep have been steadily trimmed away over the years. This means that parents must purchase two pairs of shoes for their offspring: "outdoor shoes" for coming, going, and recess, and "indoor shoes" for cutting back muck on the floor. Apparently, someone thought it would be a wonderful trick to stow younger daughter's shoes in an unoccupied locker a few doors down from her own. (This is a "caring school", as her principal puts it, so the lockers don't actually lock.) We think it was a prankster for two compelling reasons: younger daughter's EA (educational assistant) helped her suit up for school dismissal on Tuesday afternoon and is unlikely to have left her shoes lying in the hall; young classmate who suggested this aforementioned scenario had a smile on her face that made something in my tummy sink. Younger daughter spent part of the day in sock feet, the other part in boots, and was pretty damn miserable by the end of it. I had flagged down the vice-principal that morning after a fruitless search of the Lost and Found and informed her as lightly and non-paranoidically (probably not a word, but I'm periodical, so leave me alone) as I could, of my suspicions. A gallant member of the still-existing janitorial staff located the shoes just as the dismissal bell rang. Her name is Nicole if you want to add her to your prayers. This morning, the principal approached me to acknowledge my concerns. I felt very "managed", but that's his job, so I thanked him politely. On top of this, younger daughter is suffering from messy chapped lips due a combination of -20 wind chills and a subtly drippy nose, older daughter is contending with an emergency concerning an student living with Asperger's who has erupted all over her drama class (the one class where he feels accepted, apparently), resulting in Asperger's presentations presided over by supply teachers, and I am so sick of dumping...
So I was finished writing the August 2007 of my yearly rundown in my journal (one of the reasons I started this blog) in the coffee shop, and I found myself drawn to the dusty speaker perched high above the entrance of the hallway to the washrooms. Patrons squeezed by me as I strained to make out of the lyrics of a song that sounded so familiar, but that I just could not place. Grateful Dead? Maybe, kind of calypso-y for them, I thought. Just before the song ended, I manage to catch "it's time for him to take his children home", so I hurried up the street back to my house, hastily kicked my snow boots off and googled various combinations of the words I'd heard. It's Uncle John's Band, and I was right, it's the Grateful Dead and here they are singing it:
(One of these days, I'll figure out how to actually post videos here.) And then, joy of joys, I stumbled upon a fan-vid of my most favourite Marx Brothers film ever Monkey Business paired with my most favourite Great Big Sea song ever When I Am King: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Cy2SxOUL7s
So, two of my sure-fire cures for the miseries, in one tidy package. Maybe the weekend will be okay....
Sunday, 24 February 2008
In the mid-nineties, someone named Fiona Zanatta was writing columns for The Vancouver Sun. (The Resident Fan Boy and I couldn't bear The Victoria Times-Colonist, so we subscribed to The Sun. Now, they pretty much all suck...) Anyway, I really liked her columns and clipped a couple, soaked them in milk of magnesia and club soda, then pasted them into my scrapbook with snaps of my preschool elder daughter.
I don't know what became of Fiona Zanatta; her name doesn't even show up on Google. Anyway, she wrote about the fact that we are rarely aware of the last time things happen; our scrapbooks and diaries will note the first time, but it's only in hindsight that we realize things are gone for good, and more often than not, we don't remember when something ceased to be. Concluding with a story of her six-year-old son climbing into bed with his parents, she said:
It may turn out to be the last time my son will crawl into bed with me and ask me to make the world perfect. But I was paying attention this time. I saw it coming and stayed up to watch it pass. This time I got to say goodbye.
Yesterday was the annual Perfect Canal Day. There's usually only one day when the canal is frozen enough for good skating, yet the temperatures are warm enough that your feet don't freeze before you get your skates on. (There's a bitter wind that rips up the Rideau Canal from the Ottawa River, even on the warmer winter days.) My husband, the weather junkie, obssessively checked with Environment Canada and the evening before, we began preparations by browbeating elder daughter into joining us.
The next morning, we worked on convincing younger daughter that this was a great idea. "It'll take too long!" she protested, fearful that she would lose out on valuable DVD-viewing time. Then we fetched the skates up from the basement and discovered that it's true, you shouldn't store skates in the blade guards, so I scrubbed off what rust I could and we hastily scheduled a visit to Home Hardware for skate sharpening en route. Younger daughter was still not enthused, and was even less so by the stops and delays. By the time we were waiting yet again at a bus stop after retrieving elder daughter from clarinet lesson, I was pondering on the wisdom of the whole enterprise, even more so as we trekked all the way through the Rideau Centre, over the McKenzie-King bridge, finally arriving and struggling to help younger daughter into brand-new skates.
I had brought my skates, but elected not to don them. (The Resident Fan Boy is a determined non-skater.) I cajoled elder daughter into skating with younger daughter, but before long E.D. was complaining that the slow skating required for escorting Y.D. was tiring her out and making her leg ache. I passed the cloth bags containing boots, skate guards, elder daughter's clarinet and music to the RFB, took younger daughter's hand and picked my way carefully along the ice in my boots, watching elder daughter vanish into the crowd of skaters under the next bridge. (Cue Jethro Tull.)Younger daughter hollered and clutched at me each time she came close to losing her balance. This continued for the next kilometre. I stopped to get a snap of younger daughter with the Chateau Laurier rising capitalistically in the distance, but when she glanced over her shoulder, she noticed, for the first time, that other skaters were bearing down on her and she panicked.
Part of the bargain for subjecting our children to enforced family fun had been a promise of lunch at the Elgin Street Diner, so at the Waverley Street steps we made a beeline for one of the scarce benches. This one was partially occupied by a chic young couple in matching alpaca hats who were leisurely getting ready, with plenty of pauses to sit back and watch, while chic woman blew her nose. We worked around them the best we could, juggling bags, struggling to wipe blades without a towel and ease on the skate guards. Chic couple was oblivious and eventually got up and skated south, leaving the snotty tissue on the bench. The garbage can was a whole ten feet away. Charming. Fearful of the tissue being attributed to us, I put on my gloves and disposed of the thing.
"So," we enquired of our daughters, "how was it?"
"Fine," said younger daughter, heading for the stairs.
Elder daughter said her leg ached when she was still and she got tired when she wasn't.
Inwardly I was euphoric due to pulling the thing off at all.
The Elgin Street Diner was packed of course, probably mostly with Canal traffic, but we ordered enormous lunches, and younger daughter, revived with a vanilla milkshake, glowed prettily. I handed her my camera and invited her take some pictures. Holding the camera lopsidedly, she peered through the viewfinder with both big brown eyes wide open. Within moments she was calling our names and asking us to smile. Soon she was chattering away easily on a variety of topics. The pictures she took weren't bad, either. Maybe we need to get her a camera...
That night, the Resident Fan Boy and I watched a DVD of Away From Her, a very Canadian film despite featuring the talents of Julie Christie (up for an Oscar tonight), Olympia Dukakis, and an almost unrecognisable and largely wordless Michael Murphy. The rest of the actors are Canadian and this was adapted and directed by the frighteningly talented Sarah Polley. The whole thing is based on "The Bear Went Over the Mountain", a short story by Alice Munro, which I'm sure I've read, but only faintly remember.
There's a lot of last times in this film, as a bright and practical woman fades away into Alzheimer's.
Here, again, is the uncertainty of when the last time is:
"I'm not gone," she tells her devasted husband (the remarkable Gordon Pinsent) on the way to the nursing home, "I'm going."
Yesterday was, I think, a last time. Elder daughter is fifteen, sixteen in two months, and heading to Europe on a class trip. She's increasingly reluctant to come out to Victoria in the summer; her ties are now to Ottawa. Family excursions with the four of us are increasingly rare. Yesterday may well have been the last time. So, I'll say goodbye.
Friday, 22 February 2008
I abandoned bus at Laurier and crossed the bridge, pausing to watch preprandial skaters skidding up and down the Rideau Canal, before doing some skidding myself on the woefully poorly kept-up pathways by City Hall. In the rather grand library at Lisgar Collegiate (gold painted molding and a decorated ceiling -- yoicks!), I took my seat next to the Resident Fan Boy to hear all about eldest daughter's upcoming class trip to Paris, Provence and Barcelona.
Now here's the trouble of living in a "company town": In Ottawa, the "company" is the federal government which meant we were surrounded by civil servants (the Resident Fan Boy being one). So we had elder daughter's Core French teacher from last year, a pretty Italian Argentinian who speaks with that slightly lisping accent which sounds like she's going to gob very elegantly, dealing with pointed questions about supervision and safety from parents who feel at home in boardroom meetings and seminars. Never mind the fact that this is the fourth such trip she has planned; many parents sounded as if they had serious doubts she knew what she was doing. Of course, these were the very same people who had failed to bring the requested forms and photocopies of passports, so we spent the first 45 minutes straightening this out. I nudged a mum I knew across the aisle and stage-whispered: "Do you think it would be rude if I read my book? I mean it's a great book, I could read it out loud..."
When we got home long after dark, I located the note that accompanied the forms and brandished it at the Resident Fan Boy: "See! The requirements for the meeting were listed!" "Yes," he said, "But it doesn't actually say 'Bring the forms'. These are government servants. They're used to doing only what's required and no more." Gawd, I hate this city...
Still, elder daughter is likely to have a splendid time. At least 3 of her best buddies are going along and of the four teacher chaperones, three are former (and, thank God, favoured) instructors of hers, including her very favourite English teacher.
"Too bad Ming the Merciless isn't going," I remarked to the Resident Fan Boy ("M the M" is her current math teacher -- a bit like Professor Snape, only with a sense of humour). "They'd get to all the tours on time."
"Yeah, but he'd make them do Math homework every night," said the RFB. We imagined him forcing the hapless students to work out formulas based on the architecture of Versailles. Elder daughter had just finished another stressful evening completing a dozen of his demanding algebraic problems.
This morning, on the bus to speech therapy, I coldly stared down a woman who was looking at younger daughter with one of those bewildered and slightly outraged expressions that people seem to think is appropriate for observing those not neurologically typical. (Younger daughter was engaged in a conversation with her dog puppets at the time.) And on the bus home, I was asked by a young father if I'd babysit his severely autistic son. He said he'd noticed how good I was with younger daughter. God knows what he thought he saw. I guess younger daughter's differences were especially apparent today...
Thursday, 21 February 2008
I've found it somewhat difficult to blog this past week, not for lack of opportunity nor topics, but I really don't want to turn this blog into a moanfest. Which is a challenge during February in Ottawa. The sad thing, February isn't Ottawa's worst month; it's worsted [in no particular order] by July, August, April and March. And January. Actually, June and September aren't that much fun either...
Whoops! This is sliding into Moandom. Anyway, how do I battle the miseries here in the Nation's Capital? Well, for one thing, there was an interview of David Tennant by Catherine Tate on BBC Four today. It was much too short, but thanks to the "Listen Again" feature on the BBC website, I can listen to it for the next week, providing our computer doesn't pack up which it's showing signs of doing...
Erggh! Sliding, sliding... So, um, David Tennant. Imagining David Tennant would find me fascinating. Self-delusion. Very very good for February. Uh, in a related and slightly related vein, finding well-made and witty Doctor Who fanvids on YouTube (or just well-made and witty).
You think less of me now, don't you? What else? Well, I bury myself in family history research. It is fortunate, in the midst of a rather bleak week both meteorologically and spiritually, that among the many queries I get online about my family tree (seriously, I get one or two a day) came a message from a distant cousin of my husband's who is interested in seeing my collection of wills downloaded from the National Archives. Fortunate, because after two or three years of gathering dust, these wills are finally being transcribed. I take myself down to the coffee shop with my trusty (and rather beautiful) magnifying globe to decipher "secretary hand". Now, you might say that wills are boring, legalistic, and morbid, especially ones from the eighteenth century. Only the middle term applies and one can ignore a lot of that in favour of all sorts of family shenanigans. The latest one I've just completed is one of my favourites so far. The Resident Fan Boy's 5xgreat-grandfather was feeling rather under the weather in the late spring of 1773, so decided it was time to make out his will. It's a very meticulous will, dividing the tablespoons and teaspoons between his two surviving daughters, making sure his wigs and shoes would be delivered to his brother after the funeral. Two sons get the money, livestock and land. Trouble is, he had three surviving sons. Three days after the first will, he drew up a lengthy codicil giving a sum of money to the third son, to be handed over seven years after Papa's death. In the meantime, eldest son is given the pleasant task of paying out three shillings to naughty son every Saturday Night. No other way. Or else all is forfeited. Crikey, I wonder what naughty son did? He shows up in later wills, administering and providing for his relations.
You think I'm an absolute dork now, don't you? Ah well, I always was. I leave you with another of my greatest comforts: music. Here's my favourite Elvis Costello song, sung by Aimee Mann of 'Til Tuesday (with EC on backing vocals). And there's a Doctor Who theme with it. Lovely.
Wednesday, 13 February 2008
My two daughters, four years and several worlds apart, have much in common. One is their refusal to discuss the tragedies and defeats of the day. "I can't talk about it," elder daughter used to say when she was much younger: "It makes me too sad." As for younger daughter, I doubt I hear about a fraction of the day's disappointments. Stress robs her of words altogether.
I can relate. I can often tell how unhappy I've been by the gaps in my journals and diaries over the years. Writing it down just makes it more real somehow.
So. A few days ago, I was actually having rather a pleasant day. I hurried up to the library just before picking up younger daughter. There was a hold waiting for me, Patty Griffin's 2004 album Impossible Dream, and while the librarian was checking this out, I spotted a new Alexander McCall Smith book lying on her desk. "You want it?" she asked.
I dashed next door to the school with my treasures. On the way out, we spotted one of younger daughter's guardian angels and offered to wait with her until her mother arrived. "Something happened today..." she said.
Apparently, the Grade Fives are tackling something called "Mental Math". One of the young boys in the class thought it would be screamingly witty to change this to "(Insert Younger Daughter's Name) Math". What is almost as dispiriting as learning that the boys have found a new and hilarious way to call my PDD-NOS daughter "mental" is that the young boy responsible was the ring-leader in a little gang that spent at least one recess in November shouting in younger daughter's face and ears, a particularly delightful thing to do to a sensory-sensitive child. Three of these charmers were hauled in to the principal's office and read the riot act. Little Ring-leader sent a long note of apology and a stuffed animal at the instigation of his mortified mother who stopped at an intersection to say: "I can't understand it; he's always been so supportive of her..."
I know she loves him. This is why I'll restrain myself from taking a shovel to school and braining the little creep. "I guess," I told Mihangel that evening, "he just thought 'Hey, this would be funny and everyone will laugh'...and from the sounds of things everyone did."
"Oh I doubt he even thought it out that far," said my husband, the former boy. A pause. "I don't think you would have liked me much when I was a kid."
I left a phone message for the teacher and went to the computer for my favourite painkillers: family research, David Tennant, music. The songs on Patty Griffin's album were, as expected, hauntingly lovely. And melancholy. I had to turn them off after a while. (At least Mary Chapin Carpenter and Dar Williams have the occasional flashes of humour.) Took three "Sleep-Relaxes" that night (herbal remedy, not to be taken several nights in a row -- it relaxes everything...). Quick word with one of younger daughter's EA's when he very sweetly offered us a lift to school. He's athletic and works with the class in the afternoon, so he might make an impression. Even quicker conference with math teacher who thanked me for the heads-up. Don't know what the outcome of this will be. I didn't use the "B" word this time, and frankly, I'm weary of reporting these things.
I did appease my own bruised feelings yesterday by "looking shovels" at Little Ring-leader at a field trip to see a play at the local girls' school. Just for a second. Judging by how quickly he averted his eyes, I'd say he knew exactly what I was thinking...
Friday, 8 February 2008
Tuesday, 5 February 2008
On Sunday, I decided to accompany the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter to church, having given it a miss for several weeks. I used to be a regular churchgoer, but the Unitarian church here in Ottawa doesn't feel so much like a church as a country club, only with a air of earnestness and social responsibility. So, after five years of banging my head against a brick steeple, I started accompanying my husband to his church, which sadly has only emphasized the fact that the one thing I've truly learned from all these years of being married to an Anglican is that I'm definitely not an Anglican. Still as Anglican churches go, the RFB's is not bad. I'd even go so far to say that it's the most Unitarian Anglican church I've ever attended. And that's saying something. This is probably due to the high percentage of gays that attend this particular church. I'd never met an Anglican church with a "rainbow section" before. (You don't have to be gay to be Unitarian, far from it, but the Unitarian church was blessing gay unions many years before it became legal in Canada for gays and lesbians to wed.)
All of which has absolutely nothing to do with why I decided to go along with the Resident Fan Boy last Sunday. It was Candlemas, a holy day I've always rather liked. (Groundhog Day has to be one of the lamest ideas ever.) I love watching younger daughter's face as she grasps the lit candles and the lights go off for the reading of the Gospel. And watching my daughter's face in the candlelight, I found myself choking back tears at the words of the gradual hymn, sung to the old English folk song O Waly Waly: "O little love, who comes again/ the Word reborn to make God plain..." For Candlemas, like most liturgical things, has a strong undercurrent of sorrow. It's based on the story of Simeon who saw the infant Jesus being brought to the temple to be presented, so it contains the Nunc Dimittis, the canticle of Simeon, the words you hear at nearly every Christian funeral: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace . . . ." And the not-so-comforting words to Jesus' parents: "a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also . . . ."
These strange shining pools in the centre of the dark, festivals in wintertime, are like roses with thorns for parents, particularly parents of special-needs children. But all the same, it is beautiful, and although I cannot in good conscience call myself a Christian, I do rather love the words from the opening of the Gospel of St John: ". . . the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not". Modern translations say: "and the darkness has not overcome it" which is no fun at all; I like the idea of the darkness saying "Huh?" Rather like my younger daughter shining out there in the sea of neurotypicalness...
Lent comes early this year, treading on the heels of Candlemas, so the service was supposed to end with the "burial of the alleluias" which we missed because the service went overtime and we had to catch our bus. All the same, this meant hauling out some of the best hymns for the last time before Easter, and younger daughter particularly enjoyed "All Creatures of our God and King" which is called the "Mr Bean Hymn" at our house. (Younger daughter adores Mr Bean who surely must be a little PDD himself.) And tonight we'll have pancakes and bacon and sausage for Shrove Tuesday. Tomorrow, the Resident Fan Boy will decide whether to brave the elements to get his forehead smudged on Ash Wednesday.
Monday, 4 February 2008
To make a tedious story short, that's what I was doing hanging out on a bench outside a deli in a so-called esplanade (just a mini-mall, really) this morning, with $17.50 in my pocket, feeling slightly sinister. Of course, a perfectly nice lady showed up with my book and we had a delightful chat about the state of children's literature, the obligatory sex scene that each adult novel seems to have (whether relevant to the plot or not), and anachronisms in films and books. She's a big fan of Rosemary Sutcliff, of whom I'd never heard (especially since I spent five minutes googling "Veronica Hitchcock" which was all I could remember by the afternoon), and will have to look her up. She told me that it was a comfort to leave a book "in the right hands", and departed remarking that I'd be well-suited to her book club.
Funny, the closest I've ever been to being invited to join a book club (and you do seem to need an invitation, don't you?) is one in Victoria which had evolved beyond the books. They'd decided to proceed directly to eating and talking. It was great, a lot less like homework...
Friday, 1 February 2008
By mid-afternoon, I was crampy and not looking forward to donning boot liners, boots, and icers. So I put it off. Now I was trudging up the hill, late, and furthermore, one boot liner was steadily working itself into my arch, taking my sock with it. I strode on, getting more uncomfortable and self-pitying by the minute. "Excuse me," said a lady from behind. "This wouldn't happen to be yours?" She had my bus pass. I must have dropped it near my house while hauling out my sunglasses, and she had trailed me all the way up the hill. In addition, this is the second time I've dropped my bus pass in the past two months, and the second time someone has taken the trouble to return it to me. A voice inside my head said: "There art thou happy." It sounded like Milo O'Shea in the 1968 film version of R&J. I made it across the treacherous field of ice to the school, thanks to my icers. There art thou happy. I sat on a bench inside and adjusted my sock and boot liner and because I'd given myself a pedicure the day before, no one catching a glimpse of my bare foot would have been nauseated. There art thou happy. (My boot liners are no things of beauty though; what possessed me to buy white ones?) I picked up younger daughter who was just closing her locker, and on the way home, remembered I had brought along my camera to capture shots of the crème brûlée snow resulting from the freezing rain and flash-freeze the day before, so spent the rest of the walk snapping away and thinking of my favourite bit from Amélie. There art thou happy.