Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Hater

It's my son's first Halloween, which should be filling me with excitement. But it's not. Because though he's too young to know it now, eventually he's going to find out that his mother is a not-so-closeted Halloween Hater.

I'm not really sure how this started for me. When I was younger, I liked Halloween. I dressed up in cute costumes, often coordinated with my little sister. (One memorable year, I was a car and she was a traffic light.) I went trick-or-treating, sometimes in my grandparents' neighborhood (we didn't have one), sometimes at the mall. I liked looking at the other costumes. I remember one of the years at the mall seeing someone dressed up as a flushing toilet. I also, of course, liked the candy. But sometime during my teenage years, that all changed.

The obvious theory is that my Halloween Hatred stemmed from the year my parents, worried about safety, wouldn't let me go trick-or-treating alone with my friends. While I don't blame them for this now (it's not even on the infamous "list of things Mom and Dad did to screw up Leanne's life" that I joke about with them now and then) at the time I remember it causing me a lot of angst and anger. But I also remember dressing up at school for the couple of years following that event, so I couldn't have been overly scarred at that time.

I guess it's as simple as this: as an adult, I just don't GET Halloween. It's a holiday based solely on greediness, scaring people for no reason, and changing who you are for one night. It's not a holiday about family or spirituality or giving. It's the opposite of that. It's about visiting strangers and pagan rituals and getting. None of which are positive things, at least to me.

It's also a lot of bother. Spending time and money on a costume I'm only going to wear for one night? No thank you. Watching scary movies that will keep me awake later? Nope. Buying tons of candy and traipsing up and down the stairs all night to heed the call of the doorbell? A major pain.

But now I have a son, and chances are, at least during his childhood years, he's going to love Halloween. So I need to get over my Halloween Hatred and find some redeeming feature of the holiday. I can only hope that his excitement over it will be infectious.

In the meantime, I'll be spending my Halloween looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas, two holidays I love and will spend lots of time and effort on.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Boy Toys

Yesterday, my son received a great gift from his Great-Uncle and Aunt: an interactive play yard. He had a blast with it, and it was so much fun for me too, getting to see him interact with objects and learn about cause-and-effect. But it got me thinking. This is only the first in a long series of toys I'm going to watch him play with. As a woman, a fairly girly woman at that, and one with no brothers growing up, I have no experience with "boy" toys. Sure, I played with Matchbox cars when I was really little, but most of my childhood was about Barbies, Rainbow Brite and playing dress-up. Am I going to cut it when it comes to playing with my son?

It could turn out that the toys he chooses will be gender-neutral- or who knows, even stereotypically "girly" (and if that happens, I won't discourage him) but chances are, there are Transformers, dinosaurs and guns in my future. I just don't get any of those things.
Transformers: What's the appeal of something that turns into something else? Who needs the option when you're always going to have a favorite version?
Dinosaurs: Cool, and can lead to lessons about history, but not something I'd ever obsess over as some little boys seem to.
Guns: Definitely not for me. I hate guns. But there was a story recently about the deaf boy who wasn't allowed to use the special sign for his name because it looked like a finger pointing a gun. In the wake of that, some research came out that boys naturally start playing "gun"- using their fingers, arms and voices to make gun motions and sounds- even when they've had little to no exposure to the real thing. Am I on board with that, or will I discourage it because it makes me so uncomfortable? I'm not sure.

Fortunately, my son does have a father who played with plenty of boy toys, and will probably be able to pick up my slack in this area. I can always stick to arts and crafts, reading and baking cookies. But I hope I'll learn to love what my son loves, even if its not something I'm naturally inclined toward. Childhood is so fleeting, and I want to make the most of it by spending time with my son doing what he loves to do. I'm grateful that right now, that means watching him kick, grab and learn!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sing You Home

Last week, my late-night reading was very enjoyable. I could hardly put this book down to go to sleep:

I've always loved Jodi Picoult. She tackles sensitive, controversial subjects- abortion, euthanasia and child molestation, to name a few- and sets them in a narrative with very real characters representing strong opposing positions. Some have criticized her work as formulaic, and it's true she usually writes her way into a court case, with the verdict being the climax. But I don't see this as any sort of drawback, because as predictable as the formula may be, her characters are anything but. Moreover, her endings are nearly always a surprise, even for her most dedicated readers.

Sing You Home revolves around a music therapist named Zoe who has tried for years to get pregnant with her husband Max. When their final IVF attempt ends in stillbirth, the couple breaks apart. After their divorce, Zoe starts spending time with a guidance counselor named Vanessa, and after a few months of increased closeness, realizes that she wants a romantic relationship with her. Zoe and Vanessa get married in a neighboring state, and decide to try having a child with the three remaining frozen embryos from Zoe's last IVF. Zoe can no longer carry a child, so Vanessa will be the birth mother. But when Zoe approaches Max about the embryos, she finds that Max, previously a surfer and a heavy drinker, has sobered up and become a born-again Christian. Max's pastor, who he credits with saving his life, doesn't agree with a lesbian couple raising Max's children, and he presses Max to file a lawsuit preventing Zoe from using the embryos. Instead, he suggests that Max give the embryos to Max's brother and sister-in-law, a devout Christian couple who also have infertility problems.

What I liked best about this book was that even though I knew Jodi Picoult's agenda- her son is gay, and she's very clear about her advocacy for LGBT rights- I still thought the opposing characters, such as Max's pastor, brother and sister-in-law, were well-researched and written. They were not wooden, but passionate on the subject of the Bible and anti-homosexuality. Some might say that Picoult likes to bash the Christian right, and that may be true. But she does do her research among those she disagrees with: for this book, she interviewed several members of "Focus on the Family" to get her characters straight (no pun intended).

This book brought up a lot of thoughts for me about faith, religion and morality, and how those three things both overlap and stand alone.

For more information on Sing You Home, including the research and intent behind the book, visit Jodi Picoult's comprehensive website here: Jodi Picoult Sing You Home.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Living in the Moment

I've never been very good at living in the moment. I'm always thinking about what happened in the past, or planning for the future. I've improved since meeting my husband, who is more laid-back, much better at appreciating the small things in life, and is always finding something to laugh about. We've rubbed off on each other over the years, and now I'm a better relaxer. But there's nothing that teaches someone about appreciating every minute like having a baby.

You're going to think that I'm saying since babies grow so fast, I've learned that I need to enjoy every milestone, big or small, and all the moments in between. While that's true, I also mean appreciating every minute in the more literal sense. As in, I literally don't know what the next minute will bring. Right now my baby's sleeping soundly- but one minute from now, he could be wailing his head off, and I'll be dropping what I'm doing to go to him. There are things I need and things I want to accomplish in any given day, but I have no idea when the opportunities for each will arise. I will eventually eat lunch, but it might be hours after I first felt hungry. I will find time to write, but I have to wait until he's asleep. Yes, there are a few things under my control- taking a walk with the stroller guarantees at least a short nap time, and putting the baby in my baby-wearing pack means I'll be able to get some household chores done- but anything can get interrupted, at any minute, by the baby's needs, which are currently more important, or at least more urgent, than mine.

What's surprising to me is how well I've adapted to this. It still sometimes disappoints me when I don't get everything accomplished that I'd like. But overall, I'm adjusting well to my days going slower and with much less predictability. For someone who is a major planner, whose favorite pastimes include making lists of goals and things to do, and who has been known to resist major life changes, I'm kind of impressed with my ability to live in a completely foreign way. It's like I've picked up a whole new life-skills set.

At some point, this time will pass, and life will become more scheduled again. Bedtime will be at a set time; meals will be by the clock and not by demand; the baby will be able to communicate his needs with words and not sounds. But I hope when it does that I hold onto the skill of living in the moment. Because as cliche as it sounds, the moment we're in is the only one we're guaranteed to have. That makes me want to love and enjoy life and family as much as I can, with every moment I have.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Casual Vacancy

It took me a few nights of steady reading, but I finally finished J.K. Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy. 

I want to preface this review with a few disclaimers.

1. I did not read any other reviews, either before or after reading this book, because I didn't want them clouding my own opinion. (I did accidentally notice that it got 3 stars on Amazon when I was looking for a new Kindle download.)

2. I will not let my feelings for Harry Potter affect my feelings for this book. I am already aware that no book could ever compare, so my expectations are are adjusted accordingly. But I am going to use my knowledge of Rowling's previous work to inform my thoughts on her current work.

I'm not going to synopsize the entire plot here, because it's incredibly complicated. Here's a simplified version:

The town of Pagford is divided over the issue of an adjacent housing project called the Fields, and a connected issue regarding the fate of a methadone lab that services many of the Fields' residents. The two issues are hotly debated in the Parish council, and two votes are forthcoming to allow the neighboring town to annex the Fields, and to withdraw the lease on the meth lab building. At the height of the debate, the Fields' most passionate supporter on the council, Barry Fairbrother, collapses of a heart attack. This is where the book begins. The rest of the book tells the stories of all the lives affected by Barry's death, the two Pagford issues, and the fight over the now-vacant Parish council seat. The cast of characters is vast and diverse, spanning from a bra-shop owner who tans too much and is obsessed with an American pop icon, to a very overweight, very prominent citizen of Pagford who is having a secret affair with his ugly (female) business partner, to an extremely troubled teenager, daughter of a heroin addict, whose goal is to be impregnated by the son of a rich family and be given a house of her own in the Fields. Those three characters are only the tip of the iceberg. Each member of the huge cast has quirks and foibles galore.

And here's what I think of the book:

If it wasn't for her name on the cover, I would not have known J.K. Rowling wrote this book. That's not meant to be a negative thing; it's just so far removed from her Harry Potter style that it's barely recognizable. I think that was probably the best tactic for her. The only common link I can think of between the two styes is that she shows, once again, her ability to handle a large cast and intricate web of storylines.

But The Casual Vacancy is incredibly dark. Wait, no, Harry Potter is dark too. I think I mean gritty. It almost seems like she went overboard trying to find explicitly adult themes and topics. The best example is the drug use in the book, which is widespread and very detailed. I now know a lot more about shooting up heroin than I'd ever wanted to.

The writing itself is also very different. I said in my initial thoughts about the new book, in my post Can Rowling Recapture the Magic? that she would need to grow-up her language a bit more, especially her descriptions- and she has.

The thing that surprised me the most is the lack of morality. This book is distinctly amoral. The ending is devastating- there's a huge loss without rhyme or reason. Harry Potter is all about morality: good and evil, right and wrong, making choices that have consequences. It surprised me that Rowling could write something so clearly opposite.

The huge differences between this book and Potter make me respect Rowling's ability even more than I previously had. However, I can't say I particularly liked the book. It was interesting, but it was long, and by the time I got about three-quarters of the way through, I started just wanting it to end. The characters are all interesting and well-formed, but none can be called likable. You need likable characters to get through a book that long.

So don't expect Harry Potter or anything remotely similar, but do expect a well-written, interesting story. Maybe you'll like some of the characters better than I did. Either way, it's worth the read.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

We Need a Union

Man, my new job is hard!

I mean, okay, it has some perks. For one, my Boss is really, really cute. Stare at him for hours, that kind of cute. And there's something to be said for working for a family member. I can work from home and I don't have to get out of my pajamas. (Translation: never have time to.)

But man, my Boss is demanding!

Get help from the union, you say? I wish there was one. I could start one, I guess. United Mothers Against Demanding Newborns (UMADN).

What would our aims be? Well, first of all, better hours. This 24/7 thing is a bit much. And not allowing for regular sleep time? Two hours at a time, three if I'm lucky and the Boss isn't being fussy. There's not even a lunch hour. Sometimes I have to eat lunch with the Boss yelling in my ear. Sometimes I can't eat at all because the Boss needs constant handling. If we had a union, I'd make sure they got us a more predictable schedule.

Better pay would be nice, too. Or any pay at all. If you think about it, I'm actually getting negative pay, because I can't work at my regular job. I'm LOSING money on this job!

I'd also lobby for better communication from the Boss. Interpreting his nonverbal cues isn't easy. No, I didn't get the memo that he didn't like his new bouncy seat. All I heard was loud noises coming from his mouth. Yes, if we had a union, I'd push to make the official language of Mother-Newborn be English. Or whatever language the mother speaks. Heck, I'd settle for sign language and just take a class. There are no classes in Newborn-ese. I've checked.

What else? It would be nice to have an assistant. Someone to take care of the household chores while I cater to the Boss's every need. It's hard to do the laundry and the vacuuming when the Boss is demanding to be fed.

And I would ask for better training for new employees. It's too late for me now, but I'm thinking about all the new UMADN members. They're joining up in droves, and they have no idea what they're getting into. We need something other than on-the-job training. Where's the HR department in all this?

Plus, most of us are coming into this partially handicapped! We just gave birth, for heaven's sake. We're all sore and exhausted and some of us even got stitches. Shouldn't we get some sort of compensation or help for that? I mean, the doctors told us not to lift anything heavy. Do they know how heavy the Boss's car seat is?

Yes, a union would be nice. I really should start one. Mothers, sign up today! I'll create lists of our goals, and start drawing up a contract between us and the Bosses. I'll find a place for us to meet and...

Wait. That sounds like a lot of work.

I think I'll just take a nap.