Saturday, November 22, 2008
This Halloween was quite a fiasco. It was really all my fault. I build up my hopes for events without really thinking them through and planning for all contingencies. This combination of high expectations with low planning can really only have one result: bitter disappointment, weeping/wailing/gnashing of teeth, and an overwhelming sense of failure. Halloween 2008 did not provide an exception to this formula.
So this it what I had imagined would happen:
Soren would be dressed in the adorable lion costume I purchased for him earlier this summer at a garage sale. We would go as a family to the ward "Trunk or Treat" activity, where Abe and I would fraternize pleasantly with the adults in our neighborhood while Soren frolicked adorably with the other be-costumed children. Afterward, he would skip delightedly from car to car, leaving a stream of delighted exclamations in his wake ("How adorable! " "What a dear little boy!" "Such a cute little lion!") while he collected a large round of Halloween candy which would later be generously shared with his favorite Daddy and Mommy and unborn little brother.
What happened instead was this:
Mommy and Daddy returned from work and picked Soren up from Auntie Collette's house, where he had spent the day wearing a series of princess dresses chosen by his cousins. He was loathe to exchange a fluffy violet dance outfit for the jeans and t-shirt I had selected for him that morning, so we brought him home dressed like a little girl, wondering if we should, in fact, simply allow him to go to the Halloween party as a princess. I decided against this course, as I thought it might confuse people about our child's actual gender, and also because I had spent $1.50 on an actual costume that I wanted him to wear this year.
Upon our arrival at home, Soren immediately started whining. Abraham had claimed a headache and threatened to stay home from all Halloween activities, so I sent him downstairs to take a power nap in preparation for the evening's festivities, which I did not want to participate in without my sweetie. I then turned my energies toward the little boy, wrestled him out of his leotard, and found some warm clothes to put underneath his costume so he wouldn't freeze to death while begging for candy in the church parking lot. I tried to add the body-portion of his costume, but his protests, twists, and screams reminded me that he hadn't had dinner yet and might be somewhat more pliant with food in his belly.
So I plunked him in his high chair, checked the clock (we had forty-five minutes), and smeared some peanut butter and jelly in a tortilla while he impatiently rocked back and forth, whined, pointed, and grunted. The high chair seems to bring out his autistic side. And then I remembered that I needed to decorate our trunk in some sort of cute Halloween fashion in order to keep up with the Brother and Sister Joneses. So I elicited a "please" out of Soren, plunked his meal unceremoniously on his tray, poured him a glass of milk, and then ran off downstairs to gather supplies.
We don't have a single Halloween decoration in the house, so I thought fast and grabbed a patchwork quilt that looked kind of harvesty to me. I brought that back upstairs and checked to make sure that Soren was till breathing. Then I remembered that the light bulb in our trunk had worn out. So I ran back downstairs, dug through Abe's tool room, and came up with a portable light that we could use for our trunk. I brought that upstairs and did another quick choke-check. Next I realized that, if Soren were unwilling to wear the lion mask that came with the costume, I would have to figure out how to paint Soren's face to look lion-y. So I ran back downstairs to check the internet for ideas. Then I ran back upstairs.
Now, this wouldn't have been so bad if pregnancy didn't turn me into something akin to an elderly hippopotamus with asthma. But it does. So every time I made it back to the top of the stairs I had to sit down and put my head between my knees until my heart rate slowed to something reasonable--like maybe 120 bpm--and I could breathe without gasping. Through my final bout of post-stair-climbing vertigo, I had a vague awareness of Soren in the kitchen, flinging pieces of milk-soaked peanut-butter-and-jelly smeared tortilla at the wall, at the counter top, and at the kitchen table. He was done eating.
So while I was scrubbing Soren's little face with a washcloth and directing him in the fine art of wiping milk off the floor, it came to me that he still needed a tail for his costume. This was something I had considered vaguely throughout the past month but never taken steps to rectify, always telling myself, "Halloween is so far away. You'll have time to do it later." But now Halloween was upon us. I darted into my bedroom, found some brilliant orange yarn, and, after some digging, came up with the only crochet hook I could find: one of those gigantic ones a person might use for crafting a rag rug. It would have to do. Only, it didn't. After several vain attempts at crocheting a tail that might be passably cute, I gave up, flung the crochet hook across the room in the same way that Soren might fling a cup full of milk across a room, and decided that the %&$*#$ costume didn't need a (@!*$& tail anyway.
And now it was time to get Soren dressed. This time around, I was allowed to pull the body portion of Soren's costume on without too much struggling. The mask, as I had feared, was another story. Soren would not have anything to do with it. If I even so much as got the thing within 3 inches of his head, he would commence screaming. So I moved on to plan B: makeup. I was able to successfully draw one half of one whisker on Soren's face before he started grabbing at the eyeliner I was using, shaking his head back and forth, and crying when I wouldn't let him have the pencil. I had a lipstick that I was going to use to pinken his nose, but that was also grabbed at and cried about. So after about three minutes of my desperately swiping at Soren's face with various cosmetics while he desperately thrashed, rubbed, and grabbed at said cosmetics, he looked less like a lion and more like a burn victim in ICU. So I gave up on the idea of his looking like anything but a little boy in tan fuzzy pajamas, rubbed the make-up off as best I could, and hollered down the stairs at Abraham to wake up.
Exhausted, I plopped into a chair. Soren, who was really just a tired little boy who hadn't been home all day, grabbed a book and brought it over to me. "Story?" he asked hopefully. "Story?" So I picked up book, pulled my little tyke into my lap, and started to read. And I also started to cry. I had failed at Halloween. I hadn't decorated. I hadn't bought any candy. I hadn't signed up to bring food to the Trunk or Treat. I couldn't get my child to wear his costume.
Abraham found me and Soren sitting in the rocking chair in Soren's bedroom, crying together. He immediately declared that this was no time for going out. Instead he sat down on the rocking ottoman and rubbed my feet while I read stories to Soren. It was really what our family needed: a quiet evening at home together. Halloween or not, we were worn out from a long week and really just needed to wind down. I wanted so much for Halloween to be fun for us, but I suppose wrenching a tired child, be-headached husband, and pregnant self around like holiday fun automatons was not the way to go about it.
(We did end up having doughnuts and cider at my sister's house later that evening. Her children were all costumed delightfully. I'll post about that next.)
Sunday, November 16, 2008
This month you've also taken to referring to Jesus as "Ceecee" (pronounced "see-see"). Every time you see a picture of Jesus, you're quick to point out that it's Ceecee. Your father and I marvel at how quickly you little people pick up on the concept of Jesus. We imagine herds of little toddlers following him around Jerusalem, all referring to him with their own garbled little versions of his name. I'm thinking about starting up a new church and calling it "Ceecee's Place." It would be a very casual sect.
Other linguistic notes from this month:
-You learned how to say "anckoo" ("thank you") at a recent family home evening. So now you say "eese" and"anckoo." Next up, I suppose, is "erelcum."
-Many of your words are pronounced in a backwards sort of way. For example, "Truck," "duck," and "stuck" are all pronounced "Kkkuh!" Similarly, "Rock" and "Sock" are both "Kkkkah!"
-Also new in the vocab this month: "Oy" ("toy") and"O-oy" ("story"); "Beebee" ("Baby") and "Peepee" (the liquid, not the part").
Observing your language development up close has been fascinating for me. It's such a complicated process-- learning to associate objects, people, and abstract concepts with specific sounds; developing the motor skills necessary to form these sounds consistently; stringing the words together into grammatical structures. It's a miracle of the mind, and I hope you don't mind my obsessive documentation of every step you take in this process.
Another aspect of your development that has changed during the past six weeks is your playing style. You've begun spending more time focusing on individual toys, figuring out everything they can do and experimenting with them. The gear board your Grandma Skousen sent you several months ago has long been a favorite-- but this month you've really started focusing on it, building towers on the spinning gears, finding ways to stop the spinning of the gears, matching colors, and pushing buttons until the toy plays a song you want to hear. You've also really started to be interested in "helping." You want to push the vacuum. You want to sweep the floor. You want to mop. You help combine ingredients in baked goods. You drag the table bench over to the kitchen sink when you see that I'm doing dishes. I had heard other moms complain about this stage and always wondered why. Wouldn't it be great to have a little helper instead of a little hinderance? But now I'm discovering that little helpers can be little hinderances. Everything gets done more slowly and less thoroughly with a 22-month-old on your team. You've got your own ideas about how things should be done (the vacuum needs to be turned off to really be effective; the dirt needs to be spread out by the broom, not gathered together; the dishes in the drainer need to be put back in the rinse water and the dishes in the rinse water need to be returned to the dirty dish pile) and no amount of explaining on my side seems to impact your opinions on such matters. Though I don't want you to misinterpret: I'm not complaining. I enjoy having you there with me while I work. I'm glad that you want to help and I know that you're developing a sense of autonomy and self-confidence from your practice. You're my little sweetheart and there's no way I would rather do the dishes than with your little body standing on a stool next to me.
In other news, your biting problem has diminished significantly this month, thanks to a series of family home evening lessons about what teeth are supposed to be used for (eating and smiling) and are not supposed to be used for (biting people). Unfortunately, you forget yourself from time to time. Sometimes at very inappropriate times. For example, Auntie Loriann, who had just been laid off from her job, came over to visit. You ran over to her and hugged her legs in a gesture of warmth and welcome that would have been just what she needed-- had you not then turned your head and chomped into her upper thigh. She was then forced to wind up an already-rotten day by screaming "SHIT" very loudly, spending a little time crying in the bathroom, and then passing the remainder of the evening with a pack of frozen peas pressed against her crotch. You seemed largely unrepentant, despite a brief stint in time-out and a quick refresher lesson about how Ceecee wants us to touch each other nicely and not bite other people's crotches.
I'm told that you are an unusually active child. I believe it. I am sometimes amazed when I observe other people's children your same age. They're allowed to do things like sit on the kitchen counter while their mommies work, wander in and out of the bathroom with adult supervision, and eat at the table with grown-ups. You, on the other hand, are not.
If I were to put you on the kitchen counter, you would immediately grab everything in sight, examine it, cling to it passionately if dangerous and throw it away if uninteresting. You would want to empty/squeeze/splash in/sample anything in any nearby containers. You would then attempt to crawl over to the sink or the stovetop. This would all quickly dissolve into my putting you back on the floor and your throwing a fit about not being allowed to do anything fun.
The bathroom is completely off-limits to you because, even with close adult supervision, you quickly find ways to empty the comet containers onto the floor, unravel the toilet paper, shake the over-the-toilet cabinet so that things fall off, splash in the toilet bowl, and sample the toothpaste.
The kitchen table provides similar opportunities: cups and pitchers to sample from and dump, plates and bowls to grab, napkins to eat, an entirely new surface to crawl/walk/dance on. Despite our best efforts to show you you to sit nicely at the table, I'll admit that there are times when-- after you've finished your meal in your highchair--we'll set you outside the kitchen, move the hope chest in front of it, and exclude you our dining experience. This usually results in your crying, which makes me feel like a big fat meanie.
My friend Holly tells me that when her little Aubrey sees a cabinet door open, she'll close it. You, on the other hand, will pry cabinet doors open and scatter the contents of said cabinet as far around the house as possible. If I'm ever foolish enough to leave the pantry door open, your trouble radar immediately beeps, and you're there as quickly as your little legs can carry you, hoping to throw several handfuls of flour and sugar on the floor before an adult notices what's happening and apprehends you.
One of your favorite activities this month has been unlocking, then opening, the oven; using the door as a step; and unplugging all the heating coils on the stovetop. I left Nanny Q (aka Uncle Quentin) to watch you for a few hours one morning and later discovered an entire jumbo pack of batteries that had been emptied into the stove. There was also a package of chalk in the oven. And several unusued diapers in the trash can.
I say this all with chagrin, but also with a note of amusement. You certainly keep things lively around here. I love your curiosity and activity. I love your stubborness, intrepidity, and individuality. Sometimes these characteristics make me pull my hair out and scream, "How long until the gypsies come to town and I can trade you for a bag of magic beans?" But that's okay. It's good for me. I like a challenge. And you're such an adorable challenge.
I love you, baby. Happy 22 and 1/2 months.
People throughout the community prepared artistic displays using pumpkins. This was a recreation of Grand Wood's "American Gothic."
Soren was a little hooligan, as usual. I spent most of my time trying to keep him from tearing down all the displays. It's a shame people are so picky about keeping things whole.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Saturday, November 01, 2008
If someone asked, yes or no, if I liked this book, I would say yes. I did like it. It was the size of a dictionary and, despite that, I read every durned page of it. It consumed my life for weeks, leaving me with a filthy home and a neglected child, but it was definitely worth the sacrifice.
So what makes this month-long reading project worthwhile? There are a couple of things:
First, the philosophy. Ayn Rand’s books are all attempts at illustrating the principles of her personal philosophy, Objectivism. Her firm, no-nonsense defense of libertarian politics and laissez-faire economics appeals to me. The novel is a neglected source of philosophical discussion, one that Rand tapped into with great ingenuity. Her works clearly illustrate that, where simple explanations may fail to persuade, contextualization in a story can significantly boost an idea’s air of veracity.
Second, the language. I found myself frequently pulling out my own writer’s notebook to jot down phrases that warmed my writer’s senses, glowing gems like these: “His eyes were shrewd without intelligence, his smile good-natured without kindness.” “The glow was red and still, like the reflection of a fire: not an active fire, but a dying one which it is too late to stop.” “It meant nothing to him any longer, only a faint tinge of sadness—and somewhere within him, a drop of pain moving briefly and vanishing, like a raindrop on the glass of a window, its course in the shape of a question mark.”
There are some things that bothered me a little about the book, however:
Ayn Rand was clearly a feminist, but she fell short as a feminist in a couple of ways. First, her primary female character, though shown a strong, competent, and commanding, lacked some of the strength and competence that her male protagonists displayed. Also, sexuality was clearly illustrated as being a male dominated activity; for the time period, I suppose Rand was stepping over the line for even acknowledging a female sex drive, but all the sex in the novel was very much along the lines of “Thor see woman. Thor takes woman. Woman submits. Woman happy.” Which isn’t to say that the sex scenes weren’t tastefully written and sexually appealing—it’s just that, in both Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead, sex always more closely resembles rape than a consensual act of love.
Everything in Rand’s novels (maybe even in her eyes) is exhaustingly black and white. She doesn’t leave any wiggle room for the humanity that lies within us all, our foibles and inner conflicts, our personalities and histories; in fact, if she were to read this review, she would probably say that those who allow for the humanity within themselves are simply failures allowing themselves to fail. For her, there is only one acceptable type of personality; there is only one acceptable goal.
The repetition. Halfway through the book I began to feel insulted at the frequency with which Rand felt that she needed to explicitly restate her philosophies. There was even a fifty-page chapter near the end of the book in which one of her characters does nothing but lay out the whole of the objectivist philosophy. Gee willakers, if a reader hasn’t figured out the basics of the philosophy after 1000 pages of 4 pt font, I think they’re probably a hopeless case and should be cast off as a sacrifice made in the name of capitalism. I wanted more credit as a reader.
Ah, sweet Anne Tyler. Earthly Possessions was a nice follow-up to Atlas Shrugged, a simple story with more a more subtle style and quietly poignant message. The story is about a woman who goes to the bank to withdraw enough funds to leave her husband--and winds up being taken hostage by bank robber. In Tyler’s novels, however, the plot isn’t nearly as important as the people. Her Pulitzer-prize-winning writing style is gentle; her characters are quirky and multi-faceted. Her world is full of wobbles and bumps, but never any real violence or darkness or evil. Just people. Regular people stumbling along, trying to live together, doing their best to make sense of their lives.
If you’ve never read any Anne Tyler, I probably wouldn’t recommend beginning with this particular novel—it’s a bit strange— but I would recommend reading something written by her.
Some of my favorites include:
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Breathing Lessons, Back When We Were Grownups, Saint Maybe, Ladder of Years, A Patchwork Planet, Searching for Caleb.
Abraham checked this out from the library for me. I was a little hesitant to pick it up because it is, after all, a fantasy novel, and a rather thickish one at that. I’m not really a fantasy reader and also have a limited amount of reading time, but I finally consented to give it a try, telling him, “Fine. I’ll give it 100 pages.” I didn’t notice when I reached the 100 page mark, however.
Elantris is a good novel for people who don’t usually read fantasy because the world Sanderson creates, while definitely different from our own, isn’t so foreign and complex that it takes several years to figure out. The characters are witty, interesting, and believable; the plot is engaging, full of twists and turns and loops that are surprising and satisfying; and the writing style is crisp and unobtrusive --though I did find a few editing errors!
If you enjoy Orson Scott Card’s work, you’ll probably like Elantris. Sanderson’s characterization and plot formation is similar to Card’s. A bonus is that Sanderson is a BYU alumnus and also currently works at the Y as a creative writing instructor. Go Cougars!
If you’re one of those people who can’t stand the thought of reading a book containing swears or sex (bless your little heart), Anne Tyler and Brandon Sanderson are both good sources of quality “clean” writing.