Here’s to you, Granny

“She’s figured out how to shriek. She’s been babbling and yelping all day long.”

“You were just like that. It would appear you have the same baby as I did,” my mom laughs over the phone as I lay tickling Joanie’s feet on the bed.

“I hope I don’t have the same teenager.”

“If you do, I’ll be there for you like your grandfather was there for me.”

“You’re going to make me cry.”

“I used to cry on the phone and he’d always say…”

“She’ll turn out fine,” we said in unison.

As I teenager I was a jerk. I wouldn’t come home for days and then go on a rampage when my mom told me I couldn’t stay out until 2am on a Wednesday.

“I’m going to Brian’s,” I’d yell. Brian was my seventeen-year-old boyfriend. He had pink hair, loved raves and his mom worked at his step dad’s bingo hall. You can imagine my mother’s joy when I brought him home and he introduced himself as Sparkle Boy.

My poor mom withstood this sort of nonsense until I moved out when I was eighteen. Even then she fielded drunken phone calls about oafish boys in the middle of the night.

Fortunately, since then we’ve become very close. We talk every day and I’m careful to repeatedly thank her for tolerating my adolescent fatuity. I learned to appreciate my mom, not just as my mom, but as a person through a series of phone calls in which I learned to ask her how she was doing, what she thought, and how she dealt with the world when she was in her twenties. It was through these talks that I started to feel guilty for the way I disregarded her feelings as I oscillated back and forth between demanding money and scream crying.

Another layer of admiration has developed since the birth of my daughter: I have been introduced to my mom, the Granny. My mom and I can now discuss things mom-to-mom. I call her every time Joanie does something new or something I don’t understand. Rather than listen to me whine about boys she calmly hears my panic about dangling umbilical cord scabs and the little patches of red skin I caused when I pinched the skin on Joanie’s arm in a car seat buckle.

It’s been a delight to watch my mom slip into the role of grandmother as effortlessly and naturally as she has. She makes adorable knitted blueberry shaped hats. She’s eager to bounce Joanie on her knee while I run the tenth load of laundry. She isn’t overbearing like I’ve heard some grannies can be but she stays close, just a phone call away.

So here’s to my mom who didn’t have an easy go with her daughter’s adolescence, but remains a loving ear, a strong role model, and a terrific grandmother.

Twerp, You Know Nothing

“It’s like a baby pops out of you and you immediately become an uptight bitch,” the girl with the round sunglasses decreed. “Have you read Rilke?” she diverted, handing a copy of Letters to a Young Poet to her sparsely bearded boy toy whom dotingly carried a stack of oh-my-god-you-haven’t-read-yets.

The girl with the round sunglasses continued to tell of her sister who refused to wake her sleeping baby daughter when her mother arrived fifteen minutes after bedtime. During the whole of her story I stalked her, holding Joanie in my arms facing outwards so the girl with the round sunglasses could see our indignation. I’d hoped that from our disapproving scowls she would discover her mistake, that she was in fact wrong to complain about her sister’s bedtime choices, that her sister probably hasn’t slept more than two hours in a stretch for months and that the 7:30pm deadline was the only way that this poor exhausted woman has found to ensure a four hour period of sleep for her baby. She would then infer that the folly of her ways, the sunglasses in door for instance, were a ridiculous play for attention, and that she, amidst all her calculations of image, should have found the time to consider the plight of others and become less of an ill-informed judge. “You’re right, intelligent and respectable woman with the bright-eyed baby, I was acting the fool,” she would admit, removing her sunglasses and at once shaving her boyfriend’s scraggly beard.

All of this would be the result of my scowl.

In reality she just smiled at Joanie and paid for her books, leaving me to my brooding, ineffectual discontent. I’m a little ashamed of imagining so much about a girl I know nothing about. Who knows, maybe she lost her glasses and only had her prescription sunglasses while she waited for new lenses to be set in a stylish vintage frame that cost more than her parent-funded-rent, but there I go again.

Before I had my own small one I could be terribly critical, admittedly I still can be, but I have since learned to temper my judgments through understanding and my own experience. I once would have admonished a father for having his daughter in front of the T.V to give himself a break, or a mother for having her son on one of those harnesses. My new reaction is closer to: “yeah, I could see that,” followed by a shrug. It may not be my style of parenting but motherhood is exhausting, especially in the first year. In the words of my friend Julia, looking back on the first year of her son’s life, “that was insane.”

When I was leaving the Jewish General Hospital with my new baby girl I was given a brochure and worksheet to fill out on shaken baby syndrome. The worksheet, created by the Sainte-Justine Mother and Child University Hospital Centre and adopted for use at many other hospitals in Montreal, asked for a list of a few things I could do when I feel overwhelmed as well as a list of people I could call if I needed help. At the time, fueled by adrenaline and dewy-eyed baby wonder, I quickly dismissed the pages as well as the faceless parent that might need them. It wasn’t until I spent my first night at home in the throws of those ugly and chemical post-partum feelings that I began to see the brochure’s use. While I would never shake Joanie, the place that impulse comes from is no longer quite so preposterous in my mind, and that worksheet I mocked so openly in front of the well-meaning nurse seemed suddenly to bare some necessity.

I think the reason I was so furious with the girl in the round sunglasses is because I recognized in her a part of me that so carelessly criticized parents. I still find myself scoffing at other moms every once in a while, but when I do I try to remember all the times I let Joanie sleep in the bed with me, or the moments I allowed her to stare blankly at the moving faces that say things she doesn’t understand while I take some time to watch The West Wing. I remember that just because people have been parenting since the beginning of human existence doesn’t mean that it’s not absurdly difficult.

Here’s to you, Alan Parrish

I was going to write about safety and new found fears this week but Robin Williams’s death shifts my attention, especially while on the topic of fear.

Jumanji was released in 1995 when I was eight years old. I was a skittish girl, tormented by terrible nightmares that left me quaking under my covers, trying to work up some semblance of bravery in order to run to my mother’s bedroom. Yup, I was a big ol’ wuss. Not that my wimpyness has since been cured but it’s certainly not as intense as it once was. I couldn’t even watch The Dark Crystal until I was well into my teens when I feigned nostalgia, pretending the movie was a fixture of my childhood like that of my friends’. Don’t even get me started on the string of sleepless months caused by a sleepover viewing of People Under the Stairs. 

I was reluctant to watch any film with even the smallest hint of ominous tone. Although, I did get the pleasure of enjoying Jumanji, despite my fearful protests. When my mum suggested we go see it, I loudly and defiantly denounced it as too scary. Fortunately, my mother’s assurance that Robin Williams was in the movie enticed me into the plush and sticky theater seat.

Three years earlier Aladdin was in theaters and Jafar was the antagonist of my nightmares. It was Williams’s voice behind the genie that would comfort me. His spastic energy and rapid fire character shifts distracted me from the looming long-jawed Jafar, his wispy evil goatee, and the shadowy blues and maroons that in themselves set my five-year-old mind on edge.

Again, in Jumanji Williams’s fatherly rosy cheeks and kind velvet voice comforted me. He played Alan Parrish, once a bullied wuss until he was whisked into the title game’s throbbing beat by a riddle and an early CGI tornado, to be transformed into a jungle warrior. He guided Kirsten Dunst, another of my childhood favourites, and young Bradley Pierce through the world of Jumanji as the wuss’s champion. Alan Parrish, along with many of Williams’s other roles were figures of bravery for myself and other wimps to aspire to.

It was that courageous quality that calmed my childhood fears, that same pluckiness, adventurousness and humour that I can’t wait to introduce to Joanie. We’ll watch Jumanji and Aladdin, Hook and Dead Poet’s Society, then later Good Will Hunting, Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam and even that great episode of Homicide: Life of the Streets in which he plays a grieving father against Daniel Baldwin’s crass cop. And I’ll tell her about Robin Williams, the wuss’s champion. We’ll laugh and cry and make fun of Flubber, and be better, braver humans for it.

I’m hilarious!

“I’m hilarious! Comedy gold!” I think to myself as I scribble jokes by the glow of an owl shaped night light. It’s the third time I’ve been up with Joanie tonight and my mind shifts or more accurately stumbles from one topic to the next until it comes to rest on one thought, a thought I have convinced my self is a shining jewel of humour. That thought, that beautiful quip that will live on forever in my readers for millennia as the greatest joke ever uttered:

“FBI, Federal Baby Investigators. Classified for babies eyes only.”

That’s it.

You can imagine my dismay- let down in the morning as I re-read my early morning scrawl.

Thus began a pattern that would continue until- well it’s still happening.

What follows is a list of some of the darling jokes I wrote in delirious laughter while breast feeding at 4am.

  • When it rains hipster mustaches make their wearers look like Asian walruses.
  • An idea for a sketch: Mixology gone too far. A bar boasts of having a wet nurse who is fed bourbon and bacon in order to create a bourbon bacon infused breast milk for use in cocktails. (No I have not tried this.)
  • That’s why they call it CARBonera. Am I right?
  • A series of puns that somehow found their way onto twitter entitled Celebrity Sharks including such beauties as: Jane Finda, Ray Fangs and my personal favourite, DJ Jawsy Jeff.
  • A list of baby usernames which I quickly abandoned because I could only come up with terribly offensive examples.

The moral of the story is never make decisions or tweet while breastfeeding at 4am. It’s too bad I can never remember this lesson when it’s most useful.

Joanie: a study in scowls

“I have more pictures of my children than my father ever looked at me.”

-Jim Gaffigan

While my dad was very present and certainly looked at me lots, the sentiment of the above quote reflects my own over-zealous photography. I’m sure my dad never came close to amassing the amount of pictures I take of Joanie. (Although with the purchase of his new tablet and the arrival of his first grandchild that may change.) I have had the same phone for two years and already baby pictures take up ninety percent of the megabytes or gigs or whatever storage on a digital device is called. This ratio is particularly astonishing as Joanie has only been alive for three months of those two years. 

I’m not sure how much this growth in documentation has to do with my generation’s excessively visual culture, but I do know the ease of taking and saving pictures is an obvious factor. I never have to go looking for my camera. I never buy film and consequently I never worry about wasting it. I am therefore free to hold a camera in front of my daughter’s face for as long as I want, doggedly trying to catch her elusive and ephemeral smile.

That little smile was born around the same time as the grand son of one my mum’s co-workers. Said co-worker receives a picture message a day of the new baby, so naturally my mum wants the same. I, with my new mother googly eyes, am proud and happy to oblige. But the thing about newborns is that they don’t do much, and while I see every new wink or finger twitch as amazing, they don’t make for varied photography. Really my mother has just received ninety some-odd pictures of a scowly baby strapped into various baby-keeping devices

So what do I do with all these pictures? Shall I oversaturate the internet with Joanie’s cherub cheeks? Before I was a parent I would have scoffed at the notion. “No one cares about your baby and it’s weird that it has a Facebook profile before it knows its own name.” Now that I have my own collection of kissy faces and toothless smiles, I can’t help but post the occasional photo or send out of mass email of Joanie’s spring clothing line. 

It wasn’t until I read Kirsten Clodfeter’s article “I’m that Mom whose Baby Photos you’re Blocking on Facebook” that my current Facebook profile picture of Joanie and I and our matching scowls  felt justified. Clodfeter’s article, funny, insightful and heart-wrenching, suggests the massive photo sharing parents do is a simple expression of love. And it’s true. I love that little smushy face and I want everyone to know it.  

 

Note: The Jim Gaffigan quote can be found in his special Mr.Universe, available on Net Flix

and

Kirsten Clodfeter’s article can be found on Salon.com

 http://www.salon.com/2014/07/25/im_the_parent_whose_baby_photos_youre_blocking_on_facebook/

Note 2: That’s little me in the picture, not Joanie, though we bare a striking baby resemblance.