Irreverent Mama

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Six things about me. Meme from John.

1. I have claustrophobia. I have trained myself so that I can manage elevators, if the trip's not too long, and I can manage the toilets on trains and planes, but caves? Can't manage 'em for love nor money. (I've tried both: a bit of naughtiness completely scuppered by a panic attack; and if even that can't get me in there, bribery can't even begin to be effective.)

2. I used to play the piano with reasonable competance. I loved Chopin's waltzes in my teens, but now find them a bit lush and overblown. Bach's preludes and fugues were my adult favourites, but, sadly, life encroached and it's been years since I've played properly.

3. Every morning, I sit in front of a SAD light for 45 minutes. It keeps me from plunging the depths in the winter. I loathe winter. Loathe it. Unfortunate, that, given where I live.

4. I used to scoff at the idea of a soulmate. If such a thing existed, most of us managed just fine without one, but I had serious reservations as to the existance of such a thing. That was my stance on the matter for years. Until I met mine.

5. Although I've been happily monogamous for some years now, I am generally ambivalent about the practicality of monogamy. I certainly don't think it's neccesary or essential.

6. I am left-handed.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Twenty-two years ago. I was in the final trimester with our first child. We didn't know the sex, so we had to choose contingency names. The boy was easy. Adam. We were agreed on that. Simple, basic, masculine, virtually impossible to shorten to something stupid and/or cutesy. But the girl?

I wanted Zoe. He wanted Jennifer. Now, there's nothing wrong with "Jennifer". I didn't mind it. It's a perfectly nice name, and in fact, I rather liked the way "Jenny" felt in my mouth.

"Jenny, lovie, come here! Mummy wants you!" Jenny would have long, shoulder-length brown hair and bangs, an open face and a big smile. She would run to me through a field of daisies with the sun bouncing off her silken locks. (This was my first child, recall.) I could deal with Jennifer just fine -- except that his sister, who was due to give birth any second, had told us that was one of the names they were considering. She had told us this months prior, well before our nameless bump was conceived.

But he was determined. Our child would be Jennifer. His sister, he was sure, wouldn't mind. His sister, I was sure, would be pissed -- and I would completely agree with her! Big brothers can be so oblivious. Besides, these babies would be cousins who'd see a lot of each other. It was just silly. Two girls, the same name, born within weeks of each other. But I couldn't get him to see it my way reason, and ours was not the kind of relationship where I had anything like the last word. If he didn't change his mind, our baby would be Jennifer.

And I would be pissed, and his sister would be pissed. (Why didn't I just ask her? I'd been instructed by The Husband not to, and at that point, though I chafed, I was still young and In Love and attempting to live by some pretty farcical -- but very sincerely held -- notions of what constituted husband-wife relations. So I didn't. I look back at the woman I was then with no little mortification, I tell you that.)

Oh, well. Maybe we'd have a boy. Maybe they'd have a boy!

They had a girl. Jennifer.

And then, I was in labour. It was not easy, it was not gruelling. It was sixteen hours of textbook first-baby labour, at the end of which, they held my baby out to sweating and euphoric me.

"It's a girl!" crowed the doctor.
"What will you name her?" asked the midwife.

And, as they handed this wet, warm, wonderful baby, this whole other HUMAN BEING I had just expelled from my weary, disheveled, aching and blissful body, I gazed into her slate-gray eyes, then glowed at the room.

"Zoe! Her name is Zoe!"

That was that. Zoe she is.

And you all know I'm no longer married to her father ...

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Monday, January 14, 2008

"Agh!" The wail from the bathroom is as heart-rending as it is loud. "Look at this! I can't go to school today, I just can't!"

Welcome to the world of body drama, where pimples and body odour are social crises, where lop-sided breasts and mid-cycle spotting bring fears of cancer and early demise, where every personal quirk is viewed as an abnormality that will bring unending public scorn on the sufferer.

At any given time, there are anywhere from one to five females in my home, ranging from 14 to 22 years old. (Not including me, obviously. My hormonal challenges are of a different, more, ah, mature nature.) Let me tell you, I know from body drama ...

It's tough, being a teen. Everything is changing, and changing quickly. Your body is out of control, your emotions are all over the place -- some days it seems your entire life is out of control.

Where do you go for information, instruction, and assurance? You might consider Nancy Amanda Redd's recently released "Body Drama". Nice to look at, nice to touch, and so well-designed -- visually and conceptually.

The book is perfectly structured to deliver the maximum information with each visit, no matter how long or short.

It is divided into five categories: Shape; Skin; Down There; Boobs; Hair and Nails. (A brief tangent: You know, I can accept the usefulness of the generic and innocuous "down there", but I cringe every time I hear or read the word "boobs". Can we not just call them breasts? "Boobs" is just so ... ugly and clunky and disrespectful of such lovely objects. Ugh.)

Body Drama is chock-full of terrific, solid, factual information. That is its foundtion. What makes it work is that Ms. Redd "gets" teens. Within each drama are three subheadings including "What if they notice?" Ah, yes. Remember? The all-powerful, omniscient "they" which is presumed by teens to be morbidly fascinated by every burp and hiccup of their lives, minds, and bodies. "What if they notice?" includes practical information on how to prevent the "drama" from being public, and why it probably doesn't really matter as much as you think if it does get out there.

Where Body Drama suggests that something is a bad idea -- tongue piercing, for example -- it doesn't stop at the reasons why it's a bad idea. Recognizing its adolescent audience, the great risk-takers, the tremendous don't-bother-me-with-facts, I-know-what-I-want's of the world, it then says, "But if you're going to ignore this good information, here's how to do it the safest way possible."

This is not a cop-out, this is reality. The thing about teens is, you can't make their decisions for them. Like it or not, they will make their own decisions, and some of them will be stupid ones. All you can do is provide them with good information -- all the good information -- and hope for the best.

And then, we come to the pictures. Amongst all the excellent information the book provides, there are pictures. Pictures, pictures, and more pictures. Pictures of zits, of stretch marks and head lice and cellulite. The pictures make the book so very visually appealing, and it is with the pictures that the possibility of offense arises. Because the pictures, they are plain, they are un-airbrushed, they are real. The squeamish out there will use terms like "explicit" and "graphic" -- and they'd be right, except for the tinge of negative moral judgment that accompanies such words.

Teens are curious about their bodies, and this curiosity is not just natural, it's appropriate. If they don't have the information, they are at huge risk, because not knowing stuff has never, in the history of humankind, prevented a teen from experimenting anyway.

So, yes, there are pictures of girls in there. Naked ones. There are pictures of breasts, because how else will you know the huge range of "normal"? And, the big one: there is a dual-page spread of 24 vulvas.

I confess it was a mild jolt, even to unflappable me, opening the book to that page, but it took me about 1.4 seconds to get over it, and get interested instead. Because men, they get to compare, don't they? All their "stuff" is right out there -- and I'll bet lots of boys have been traumatized by that very reality. But girls have a different anxiety, that of not knowing. Even if you take a peek at your own, for most straight women, that will be the only one you ever see. So seeing a bunch of them, seeing the variety, is interesting.

Some, however, will be horrified, and refuse to buy the book on that basis. Others will say, "Okay for my daughter, but I can't have it in the house, because what if my son sees it?"

What then? Well, then he will get to satisfy HIS curiosity, too, in a way that does not take him to porn sites. Because he will, you know. It is simple curiosity, not deviant urges, that takes most young teen males to those places, and once they're there, they can get hooked. That is NOT where I want any son of mine either spending his time, or getting his information about female sexuality. With Body Drama, he will get high-quality information that is respectful of women, information that teaches him about his future partner's health, needs, anxieties, information that will help him be a better husband and friend. So, yes, if my son were to pick up the book, I would not be ripping it from his hands.

I love this book. Optimally, it will be used by mothers and daughters together, to promote discussion, to answer questions, to just "talk girl-stuff". If you know your daughter needs the information, but you're too squeamish to start these conversations, you can leave it lying around where she'll find it.

I hope you don't decide to ban it from your home. Like it or not, your child will one day be a sexually active adult, and, no matter how you might like it to be otherwise, THEY decide when that happens, not you. What parents do is provide a moral/ethical framework, and solid, quality information for the decisions your child will inevitably, eventually, make. Because you want, above all things, for your child to stay safe and healthy.

And Body Drama is a wealth of quality information, presented in a way that stands a pretty good chance of being heeded. Not always an easy task, with teens. Well done, Nancy!

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Friday, January 11, 2008

It started with a not-quite-dry bath towel.

I'm changing careers. This is not news; it's been ongoing for a while now. I work from home, and will continue to do so; only the source of the income will change. Well, that's not true. A lot will change, most of it for the better. Or so I hope.

In the meantime, however, I continue with the old job and squeeze the new one into the cracks. As new income increases, old job will decrease, but for the foreseeable future, I'm holding down a job-and-a-half. And it's going to get worse.

Matthew was heading into the shower when I realized that his towel was still in the dryer. (He does the meal planning and grocery shopping; I do the laundry. Both of us view this as equitable. Most days.) I popped down to the basement to retrieve it. Because it was very cold, it was hard to tell if it was quite dry or not. But when I'd flapped it a few times in the warm kitchen air, it was clear: still damp.

Our dryer is functioning at about the same level of efficiency as the fridge a month before Christmas. It needs replacing, but we do have laundry lines in the basement, which I used for years, with the dryer there for emergencies only. This year I've gotten lazy.

I hand Matthew his towel.

"I'm afraid it's still a tiny bit damp, but it'll do." He nods, easy-going sort that he is. "I could be hanging things, like I did last year, but there's so much clutter heaped up down there I can't move around."

My voice cracks on the last words, and, to my astonishment, I'm falling apart. Some men would grab their towel and head for the hills at this point, but Matthew is made of sterner stuff. He doesn't take me into his arms for a "there-there" pat on the back. He just tips his head, indicating his listening ears.

And I'm off. Stuff I didn't even know was in there.

"I hate using the dryer all the time, I hate using all that electricity when I don't have to, but I can't even reach the lines because of the clutter, and I hate the state the basement's in, and I know I keep saying I'll get to it, but I just never do, and everywhere I look there are lists of things that I should be doing and I'm not, and I just feel so inadequate. I know I could be doing it, but I'm disorganized, I'm not using my time effectively, I procrastinate..."

I wind down to a halt. My throat feels shredded with the tension, but I'm not crying. I don't cry readily, not for personal stuff. Too busy analyzing and thinking it through. I save tears for fluffy-cute kittens on TV commercials and tragic stories of children shredded by wars.

He's a patient man, Matthew. He knows when to listen, he knows when to speak. "You're not inefficient at all. I don't see that as procrastination, I see you being strategic with your time and resources properly. There isn't time to do it all, so you choose what's most important. That's not inefficient, that's not disorganized: that's just smart."

Now I'm sobbing, but it's the good sort, the shudders that break up and release the tension, and I'm in his arms. My sobs shake both of us, and Matthew, patient, loving, perfect Matthew, holds me until the storm runs its course.

Wonderful man. He's right, of course.

And that damned basement? We'll sort it together. When there's time.