tripping the life unbalanced

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

#50: My Year of Magical Thinking

(I just realized that the numbers on my 50 book challenge list could be misleading you, my gentle readers. The numbered order in which they were originally set was based on the alphabetical order they are in, not the chronological order I read them in. So, for example #50 on the list is My Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, but I certainly HAVE NOT already read 50 books this year. Just clearing that up).

Preamble and all.

So here we are. At probably one of the most anticipated titles on my list (for me). And I am just not all that sure how I can possibly best describe my reaction to this book. It moved me, inspired me, depressed me, and gave me hope all at the same time. It spoke to the mother in me, the child in me, the partner in me, the skeptic in me, and the sometimes over-the-top anxiety-ridden woman in me.

This is Joan Didion's story of the year that followed her husband John Gregory Dunne's sudden death and her daughter's serious illness. It is the story of a woman who meets hell head-on and somehow somehow lives to write about it. When I first heard about this book, I must admit my first reaction was "I don't think I could ever read that. It would be so sad and give my brain more fodder for fear about death than it needs." And sure - it is sad and it does go into the heart of grief. She doesn't shy away from the horrible awful condition of grief - the endless days of remembering moments from the past and living in those moments, and the questions about destiny and fate. Didion constantly reminds the reader and herself about the expectations one has of life itself - of the apparent meaningless of it all, when death is always so close to us.

But what is absolutely amazing about the book is its focus on survival: death and devastation engulf Didion that year but yet she comes out of it. Still grieving, yes. Still questioning, yes. But she does emerge. And I suppose that is what spoke to me the most - the "surviving it" aspect. I realize that sounds a bit platitudinal, as we all know people who survive terrible ordeals and live to tell the tale afterward. Yet somehow, through reading Didion's mastery, I get it.

One of my most favourite passages of this book comes at the very end, as the year is drawing to a close. Didion is talking about a memory she has of her husband from the late 70s, when they traveled to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. They were swimming in some caves and were navigating the power of the tides. I will leave you with it, with the hope that you might decide to take this book on yourself. It will be worth it.

(page 227)"The tide had to be just right. We could only have done this a half dozen times at most during the two years we lived there but it is what I remember. Each time we did it I was afraid of missing the swell, hanging back, timing it wrong. John never was. You had to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change. He told me that."

Sunday, April 23, 2006

you give me fever

Alice came home with a fever on Friday from daycare. As soon as she walked in the door, I knew. I saw the face and the lowered head and heard the "I don't feel vewy well." We've been housebound most of the weekend just lying low. Which is never really a success with a 3 year old, is it, lying low? She gets restless and bored but she can't really do anything either. Blech.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

#35 A Perfect Night to go to China

This latest read on my 50 book challenge was quick. I finished the book in under 3 hours and afterward thought: that was it? David Gilmour's A Perfect Night To Go To China took top fiction prize at the Governor General's awards last fall, and for that reason this book showed up on many of those recommended lists from 2005. Which is how it ended up on my list.

Maybe I'm not getting the full point of the book, or maybe I was just overwhelmed with his constant dream metaphors that seemed...well...kind of elementary. It is a haunting story. A man (Roman) leaves his 6 year old son at home by himself one evening for 15 minutes while he visits a nearby bar. And of course when he gets back the boy is gone. The book picks up from there, following Roman as he spirals into grief and guilt.

Obviously the subject matter itself is enough to somewhat turn me away from this book: a story about a missing kid? Check one for my worst nightmare. And grief over said kid? That can be all for me, folks.

But I do think that the subject of grief and loss can be dealt with better (whether in fiction or non-fiction). I would point you to the current book on my nightstand: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I will be posting my thoughts on that one soon.

Otherwise, I can't really say that I would recommend A Perfect Night to go to China. Maybe there was stuff going on in Gilmour's dream sequences that was far beyond me. Or maybe the subject matter itself made me extra critical. But regardless, this was not a book that touched or moved me.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

parenting in the age of worry

I'll admit it: I've always been a bit of a worrier. I had serious bouts of insomnia as a young child, and used to spend that time thinking about all the things that could possibly make me anxious. I managed to quell the anxiety a bit in my teenaged years, but the demons started to rear their ugly heads as my mid 20s approached. And then, upon becoming a parent, I became a true member of the club: I was diagnosed with GAD (generalised anxiety disorder)

The first year off with Alice (living in Canada has the BEST benefit of having a maternity leave of one year) I was actually OK. Sure, I had some moments of insanity, but nothing too intense. Even the fact that Alice was born with fluid on her lungs (due to the c-section) and had to be in an incubator for 5 days didn't make me curl up and cry the days away. I somehow got through that, and the months after that coping at home with a sleepless infant. I learned about being her mom and how to carve out a place for just me in her world. I grew as she did, and when I returned to full-time work I felt ready to enter the world again, anxiety-free. It was when Alice was about a year and a half that I fell. Suddenly, the immense responsibilty of having a child hit me, and hit me hard. I started to have panic attacks in public when with Alice. I started focusing on her vulnerability and total dependence on me. It freaked me out, and in a very bad way. I would have moments of sobbing fits and intense nausea where I would hole myself up in my room, while Matt played with Alice downstairs. Sometimes just looking at her I felt such intense love and protection that it felt like I could handle anything, while other times I couldn't even bear to hear her voice in the house. It was as if her very presence reminded me of all I represented to her. Of all the danger in the world that could befall her. And of the terrible unspeakable life I would have if something happened to her and I had to live without her.

I started seeing a therapist last year and went on medication soon after. I feel so much better now, and have learned to cope and manage my panic. I have learned to enjoy my daughter again, which has been so wonderful.

But what I am left with after this experience is wondering how alone I am in this tyoe of "mother worry". We know a lot about postpartum depression these days (well - at least more than we did 20 years ago) and we also are more educated as a society a little more about depression and anxiety issues. But what about this mother worry I carry around with me? It is hormone-related or something else? My doctor says it is that I am just someone who is more suspectible to anxiety, so therefore I worry more about my child. But I think there must be more to it - I have talked to many other moms who experience the same crippling anxiety when it comes to their children. There's something to be said about the physical and emotional connection we have to our children that makes us shake with worry sometimes when they leave the house. And why do we do this to ourselves? Why can't we just somehow let it go and simply enjoy our children?

Monday, April 17, 2006

#30 Never Let Me Go

Over the long weekend I got the chance to finally finish #30 of my 50 book challenge. And if the titles on this list of mine were ever in competition with each other, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro would probably be in the top 3. I feel I can say that because even though I am only about a quarter of the way through the list, this book is so great that you know you are in the presence of excellence while reading it.

I don't want to spoil the story for those of you who plan to read it (do it DO IT I say), so suffice to say this is somewhat of a sci-fi novel set in an alternate time where human clones are bred as organ donors. It focuses on 3 friends (who are clones) and their years at an quasi-English boarding school while preparing for their ultimate destiny - donating their organs. Are ya with me so far?

To say this novel goes beyond any sci-fi tale is an understatement. This could easily be a comment on the possibility of cloning and its effect on the world. It could be personal statement about the search for so-called "perfection" and what that does to society at large. But it's not. It's a tale of 3 friends who must navigate through their somewhat moral-less world, without the regular rules of young self-exploration to back them up. Instead of the necessary self-examination that is the staple of any novel with teenagers, these 3 friends embark on a different journey to contemplate their existence: who are they really if just stand-ins until their organs are needed by the real humans? What kind of moral compass can exist in a world like this? They go through the same painstakingly awful rituals of growing up (fitting in with their friends, discovering young love, betraying each other) but yet they are all too aware that their future does not actually exist. That these rituals mean nothing because there is no place to hang them later in life.

I'm not a sci-fi fan, and I'm the first one to look glassy-eyed when Matt starts talking about theories of chaos or such as shown in some specific Star Trek episode. But this book had me thinking and feeling beyond the usual read. Absolutely recommended.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

gourmet grub


Frozen chicken fingers and half of box of Funshines
is a decent dinner, right? 'Cause that's what Miss A and her mama are getting tonight. Matt is getting home late and I can't be bothered making anything substantial. Oh well. As long as she thinks I'm the cooler parent, we're fine.

Monday, April 10, 2006

building the village

I have always had close female friendships. From early best friendships in grade school to a long lasting relationship that continues today, I definitely seek out the girls in the room. I have gone through my share of the ups and downs of having girlfriends - the constant giggling to the cat fights to the dramatic breakdowns - and I have at times cursed the psychological warfare that seems to go hand-in-hand with female friendship. But for the most part, I prefer to hang with the ladies.

When I became a mom, I found many of my previous friendships falling by the wayside. It was a fault on both sides - some friends found it hard to relate to my new life of early nights and all-night boob feedings, and I isolated myself instead of reaching out to some old friends. I found myself instead approaching other new moms in the park across the street from my house (I actually accosted one new mom by saying "hey! You have a baby and so do I! We should be friends!") Slowly by surely I built up a new network of friends who were mommies, and was able to navigate between my old self and my new self more comfortably. Some old friendships died and were never to be the same again, while others resurfaced and were rebuilt by something entirely new.

When I first started blogging, I had no idea that I would be meeting the next group of important female friends in my life. I thought it was just a good way to document Alice's early years and work out my feelings as a new parent. It didn't take me long, though, to see the emotional connections mommy bloggers made online. Blogging is like the updated version of talking over your back fence to your neighbour - you swap parenting nightmares and strategies, offer and receive support, and generally just chat your way around your life. It was through blogging that I learned the true meaning of that old African (and somewhat overused) proverb "it takes a village to raise a child." The village of mommies I have found through this blog has truly inspired me. This is the village I come to when I need to giggle or purge or snark or learn or generally feel comfortable in my new skin. Because, it also takes a village to raise a mommy - a healthy, happy, and well-adjusted mommy.

So big big love and thanks to my new village of friends I've been hanging out with in real life - Scarbie, Marla, and most recently T.O. Mama, You rock my world, and you rock it big.

Monday, April 03, 2006

it's about time

I'm so tired today. I think I got a total of about 10 hours of sleep between Saturday and today. Why is this you ask? Because Matt and I engaged in what can only be called Fight Fest 2006. The reason? TIME. Free time. Work time. I need time off. You need time off. It's time to leave. It's time for me to go out. What time are we leaving? Why does it feel I never have time to myself? And on and on and on. You get the picture.

Before we had Alice, time was already an issue for us. We are on different ends of the time spectrum - he likes life to go slowly and I like things fast. I annoy him with my jumping from subject to subject, and he equally annoys me with his agonizingly slow pace. He needs free time on his own and I need him to respect my need for the same. Usually we can laugh about these differences between us, and usually we remember that it is this very difference that means we can stand to live together day in and day out. But then sometimes the issue itself rears its ugly head, like it did this weekend.

Since we had Alice, we have had to learn to adjust the way we see time, as all other parents. Before all else comes Alice and her need for our time. And for the most part, we can deal with this quite well. But add to the mix that Matt and I are both self-employed and the fact that both of us need extra time sometimes on our respective businesses, and you can get a battle over free time. Also add to that mix miscommunication problems and the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day and you get Fight Fest 2006. Which basically included a lot of sentences that started with "do you not get how I feel?" and "I was just saying..." and a lot of hushed swearing in the kitchen so our 3 year old can't hear us. It's been brewing for awhile - we've been dancing around this issue of free time for awhile now and haven't had a full-out brawl in some time.

We haven't completely recovered from everything that was said on the weekend, and we both seem to be treading a little softly around each other right now. I'm sure things will be resolved soon, it's just so tiring in the meantime. I think both of us want to just be done with the fight and move on. But we're both a little stubborn in that respect and will hold out until we feel like the other person understands our respective points. Until then, though, time is standing still over here and I would like it to move forward. Now please.