Conversations with Delphine

Delphine and I were drawing, and I had drawn her a spider. She told me to give him a crayon, so I drew a purple crayon. Then she asked me to draw him a hand (to hold the crayon with), which I did. Then I said "Should I give him a hat?"

She said, "No, he is not going outside."

Okay, then.

We went to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair last weekend, and we brought back a block of fudge. The next day I gave a little piece to Delphine. She asked "Is it from the fair?" I said yes.

"Thank you fair!"

I was folding laundry and every so often I would ask Delphine what something was. (Life is one big pop quiz when you're a toddler.) I held up a pair of Blake's underwear and said "What's this?"

"Daddy's big-girl pants."

We were reading nursery rhymes, and I started reading one out. Delphine said "No, no, Mummy, that's my!" ("My" is "mine".) And then she read it out. After she was done I turned the page and said "Do you want to do this one too?"

"No, you can do it. It's not hard."


She's such a little person. She is taking really well to the baby; she comforts her ("It's okay, baby, you don't have to cry.") and tucks blankets around her and stuffs the soother in her mouth (whether she wants it or not) and wants me to help her when she cries.

Today Blake took the day off (because he is a good husband. Delphine was only in daycare one day this week, and Blake has only been back at work for a couple of weeks so he knew that I was kind of overwhelmed by the idea of four days this week with both girls, so he took the day off today. He doesn't bring me flowers or take me out to fancy dinners, but stuff like that is so much better.) and we played. Delphine and I made pancakes (she is a top-notch stirrer) for breakfast, and then we went down to the playground at the school. Blake and Delphine ran around and climbed stuff while I watched and held Cordelia. Then we came home for hot chocolate and Jamaican patties, then a nap.

After naptime we played with Cordelia (Delphine blanketed and de-blanketed her about twenty times) and went out for coffee, and ate the rest of Delphine's Hallowe'en candy (she did not share). She played some games with her new flower toys, who are called Baba and Zeyda, and looked out the window. ("The clouds are pink, and white. There is water in the sky. Daddy! There is water in the sky.")

Then there was more patty, and Baba and Zeyda (the real ones) came over to pick Delphine up for her sleepover, which might just be a regular Friday thing. It was such a nice, easy, sweet day. The kind of day you imagine when you picture yourself with kids.

We are poking gingerly at the idea of potty training. Delphine is so conflicted between being a big girl with big girl pants, and being a little baby in diapers like Cordelia. It's painful to watch. We put her in pull-ups today but the experiment failed dismally; it's obvious she's not really ready. Fortunately they don't seem to mind changing diapers at daycare, even though she has moved to the preschool room.

I have a three-pronged plan of attack to get her out of diapers: First, I am going to help her practice getting to the potty (I think "run to the potty!" sounds like a fun game) and taking off her pants. Second, I'm going to try getting her to sit on the potty several times a day. Finally, I think I will also switch her back to cloth diapers. I'm getting sick of paying for disposable, and I think they will help her (and me) figure out when she has peed. Hopefully between that and the fact that all the kids in the preschool room are potty trained, she will soon be using the potty for herself, but if not I will launch a more intensive campaign in January, after the new baby/Christmas upheaval is over. Because what the hell else is there to do in January?

Early November Reading

The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change , and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century by James Howard Kunstler

I've read Stephen King, I've read Dean Koontz, I've read Clive Barker, Lovecraft, Poe. I have read some scary shit, but this is the scariest book I have ever read. It's about all the bad stuff which is coming down the pipe: the inevitable flu pandemic, climate change, and the end of the fossil fuelled economy. Basically he says, if we get through all this without blowing ourselves up or dying of thirst, we will be back in a pre-industrial-type society (he doesn't think much of the alternative fuel options), along with a vastly curtailed population. He thinks cities are doomed, he hates suburbs with a vigor unrivalled since my office mate Rajko, and he thinks towns and small cities are where it's at. He also thinks you should work on a post-industrial trade. He plans to publish a newsletter.

The guy is deadly serious. I have to find out if he's a kook or not. The book has no bibliography or index, which is certainly a bad sign. On the other hand it's clear to me that our society relies on fossil fuels to an alarming and unneccessary extent. Do we really need mangoes in February? Holidays in Hawai'i? Hot showers every day? Well, maybe that last one.

The fact that the oil reserves and other fossil fuels are running out sheds an interesting light on the issue of global warming. We're going to use all the available fossil fuels sooner or later. Does it make any difference if we use them up in fifty years or two hundred? The process of climate change is so slow and gradual and complex that I don't think it would make a difference, although as always I could be wrong.

Bottom line, this was a thought-provoking and easy (and scary) read. Kunstler is a cranky old man -- he hates the suburbs and he has some rude things to say about Southerners -- and it's always fun to hang out with the cranky, for a little while at least.

Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time by David Prerau

My problem with daylight saving time has always been that I don't understand why people don't just get up early, if they're so keen to have more sunshine. It drives me nuts when they say "you get more daylight". No you don't! There is the same amount of light, idiot! And, despite the fact that people stare at me uncomprehendingly when I say that now, apparently that was one of the main objections to DST when it was first proposed. Apparently the deal is that, sure the individual could just wake up early, but it's really hard to get businesses to open earlier and close earlier, so just fake 'em out by changing the clock. Having read the book I am now a proponent of DST, or double-DST, or whatever it takes to fit clock-time to sun-time.

It was a pretty good read, although I got a little tired of daylight saving time by the end of it. There is only so much you can say about people arguing over the clock, I guess.

The Everything Potty Training Book by Linda Sonna

Everything it certainly is. This book covers plenty of different methods, including a hard-core one-weekend method which requires you to be a drill sergeant, and a potty-train-your-infant method which sounds intriguing.

Every other book mocks the grandmotherly claim that babies were trained before a year of age in the days of yore, but apparently it was done. Which, having read the Long Emergency book, makes sense. No-one is going to put up with handwashing shitty diapers every day for three years if there is any possible alternative. It seems the baby-training method is more like training a puppy, whereas the toddler training methods require more conscious effort on the part of the child. She recommends a couple of books on the infant training method, so I will read further.

The problem with this book is that it covers many different methods and they get all muddled in your head. With some methods, you get the kid to help clean up their accidents, with some you don't. With some methods you reward success on the potty, with some you don't. It's hard to keep track of which is which, let alone which one you are using.

Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy by Candace Havens

As you may guess from the title, this is pretty much a 162-page fellation of Joss Whedon. It's kind of cheap and tacky too, with a large font, lots of pull quotes and pictures, and some fairly bad writing. I think people would take Whedon more seriously if stuff about him and his work wasn't so Tiger Beat-ish.

She's so advanced.

This one is precocious, I can tell already. How can I tell? I was nursing her this afternoon, and she bit me. She bit me! She is only five weeks old! She doesn't even have any teeth! Delphine didn't bite me until she was at least five months old.

Almost Two and a Half

Delphine is almost two and a half. Today was her first day in the preschool room at daycare, so she has gone from being one of the oldest and most senior to being the youngest and not knowing what the hell is going on. It will prepare her for many more instances of the same transition.

It was a little sad dropping her off this morning. I couldn't help looking at it from her eyes; the preschool room is bigger than the toddler room, the furniture is bigger, the other kids are bigger and louder and there are more of them, and she doesn't know anyone. It was all a little overwhelming and scary and I felt bad for her. It's hard not to want to protect her from any scary situation, even though I know she is going to have to learn to deal with life sooner or later.

Fortunately some kids she knew from the toddler room who had graduated earlier showed up, and she got comfortable. When we went to pick her up she was sitting in a circle being read to, which is about her favourite thing. Also she got Hallowe'en goody bags from the toddler room and the preschool room, because she spent part of the day back in toddlers as part of the transition process. Score!

Delphine is taking to Cordelia very well. She likes to touch her and kiss her, and when Cordelia cries Delphine likes to know why, and to help take care of her. This morning we were all sitting on the floor reading a book, and I decided to nurse Cordelia. As soon as I started Delphine went and got us a pillow, which is what Blake usually does.

She is a little jealous, especially when the baby gets to go in the sling or the carrier, but she never takes it out on the baby. She takes it out on us with the whining! And the carrying on! A two-year-old with something to whine about is like a dog with a bone.

We're starting to work on discipline, which in our case generally means "getting her to pick stuff up". She's a great one for dropping things on the ground wherever they happened to lose her interest, and between the baby and my bad back I am not much inclined to pick up her trail all day. Unfortunately neither is she. I haven't had a great deal of luck getting her to obey me when I tell her to pick things up, but I am trying to be consistent and get down to her level and "help" her pick things up and so on.

This seems to be her personal battle; I have been able to institute other rules, like "give me your jacket when we get home" and "don't get down from the table unless you are done eating" pretty successfully.

What else? She's really verbal -- she talks in whole sentences and constructs new words and new phrases using the rules she has already learned. It's cool! I can have conversations with her. She still refers to herself in the third person interrogative, though; she says "are you hungry?" when she is hungry. I'm not sure whether to go along with it or to pretend I don't know what she means and take her literally to force her to use the correct grammar. I am leaning towards the former, though; she knows I know what she means, so it's kind of patronizing to pretend I don't. And she will figure out how to communicate properly sooner or later; it's what she's hardwired to do.

Some More Books I have Read in October

French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano

This book lets the women of the world in on the French secret, how French women manage to stay slim in a culture which loves to eat butter and bread and meat and all those things which are forbidden to erstwhile skinnies here in North America.

Clearly it was the subtitle which appealed to me; I love to eat. I could stand to be slimmer, so I thought this book might give me some good ideas, and indeed it did. Mostly, though, it gave me a heartening impression of sanity. Guiliano loves to eat too; great swaths of the book are dedicated to discussion of her favourite foods and recipes, none of which contain sugar substitutes or applesauce instead of fat. In fact, you would be hard pressed to identify any of them as recipes from a diet book (with the exception of the dubious leek soup recipe which she recommends to kickstart your diet.)

One of the nice things about this book is that the author doesn't talk down from atop a lofty pinnacle of genetic and cultural superiority. She lives in the US and when she first moved here she gained a bunch of weight, which is why she had to consciously rediscover all the French secrets herself.

So what are the secrets? Nothing earth shattering; eat good food with lots of flavours instead of crap -- if you eat crap, she says, you have to eat more of it to satisfy yourself. Prepare your own food -- most packaged food uses salt and fat to conceal the fact that it doesn't really taste good. Have meals with multiple courses -- a salad or soup, the main, and then a sensible dessert -- again to satiate yourself with variety and ceremony rather than quantity. Don't eat standing up, and don't eat while you are doing something else; set the table nicely and sit down with your family and enjoy the ritual of eating. And of course, control your portion sizes, probably the least fun and hardest of all her recommendations.

She also says don't go to the gym. The gym, she says (and I heartily agree) is a waste of time and money. Why pay to sweat on a machine when you can burn calories by walking to the store, biking to work, climbing stairs instead of taking the escalator, kneading your own bread instead of getting a machine to do it for you, and so on. There are countless opportunities to burn calories every day, if you watch out for them.

The bottom line is to put a lot more consideration into what you eat, respect the food and you will derive more value out of less of it.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I got this out of the library because I needed to get the Cordelia quote out of it, and because I hadn't read it for a while. I don't remember Anne being so annoying, although when I was younger I had less qualms about skipping over the annoying bits. The big difference this reading was how I related to Marilla now that I am a mother of girls. (There's an essay by Margaret Atwood at the end of the book which says that the book is really about Marilla's journey from being chilly and distant to being loving.)

It's funny, being a parent. You suddenly find yourself on the other side of a glass wall, seeing the world from a slightly new angle.

Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork and the Myth of Total Efficiency by Tom DeMarco

This is a book about how being super-efficient -- that is, cutting out all the spare time and spare people -- screws over companies. He argues that if every minute of a worker's day is spent doing "work", tangible, billable, write-it-in-your-weekly-log-for-your-pointy-headed-boss work, you don't have any time left to think about how you could be doing things better, nor do you have enough flexibility to respond when your co-workers need you. It's a pretty compelling book.

Unfortunately it doesn't argue well for my version of "slack", which is really just "screwing around".

Toilet Training without Tears or Trauma by Penny Warner and Paula Kelly, MD and Pee, Poop and Potty Training by Alison Mackonochie

Of these two books, Pee, Poop is the more useful, because it discusses all the issues relating to your child's rear end -- general information on how the digestive system works, diapering, potential problems -- not only potty training. It also details a few different approaches for potty training.

Toilet Training actually mocks books which provide several different approaches, and purports to be less confusing by describing only one method, presumably the definitive method. Anyone who has been parenting long enough to be potty training knows that there is no one method, for anything, which works for all children. So my bullshit detector went off on page 4; never a good sign.

I also like that the other book is colour with lots of pretty photographs.

Cutting Your Family's Hair by Gloria Handel

I got this out because I ballsed up Delphine's last haircut and wondered what I should do differently next time. I learned a few handy techniques from this book, but unfortunately it seems that executing a succesful haircut involves a subject who will sit still for more than, oh, twenty-four seconds. So Delphine is going to have to wait for her first decent haircut.

The haircuts in this book, as shown in the photographs, actually look kind of cheap and amateurish. They look like the kind of haircut you get at a ten dollar place out in the boonies. You would think they would try harder to get the pictures in the book to look good. The book is also badly edited. For example, she starts off by describing how you cut guides -- basically a fringe of hair around the head which you cut to the desired length and then use as a template for the rest of the hair. But the steps given for the first haircut in the book don't include cutting the guides -- are you just supposed to do them automatically? Is this a cut which doesn't require guides, and if so, how many other cuts don't require guides? I don't know -- she doesn't say. It's confusing.

100 Best Books For Children by Anita Silvey

One of the best things about having kids is getting to revisit children's literature. This book is a list of one hundred really good kids' books, sorted by age and type. The fun thing is that Silvey gives you lots of insider information about the authors and illustrators, and what the books go through before and after publishing. For example, did you know that Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day was greeted with controversy? Did you know Ezra Jack Keats wasn't black? I didn't know that.

I think I might buy a copy of this book for reference. The only issue I have with it is that it's American and so the books she recommends tend to be American, but it balances nicely with my favourite meta-book, Dorothy Butler's Babies Need Books which is Australian and is satisfyingly Anglo-centric.

One Month

Cordelia is one month old tomorrow, and so far she's turning out pretty well.

The last three or four times anyone has listened to her heart, they didn't hear an arrythmia at all. In fact, our GP couldn't hear it the week after we saw the cardiologist, so apparently it cleared up seconds after we left her office. We still have to go see her again for a follow-up visit, so we aren't officially out of the woods quite yet.

Cordelia is another very sweet baby, like Delphine. She hardly cries at all, she just grunts and makes little kvetching noises. In the last couple of days she's had angry spells in the evening, where she cries with great vigour for a few minutes at a time. She can usually be distracted easily enough, though, and the fury ends as soon as it begins. Crying is supposed to peak at around six weeks, so hopefully this evening foolishness won't go on for too long.

She's eleven pounds now; she has been gaining an ounce a day for the last three weeks or so. She is plump and sturdy -- I wonder where she gets that...

It is hard having a tiny baby again. She likes to be held all the time, so I am back to doing everything with one hand. And it's very frustrating dealing with Delphine; when I nurse Cordelia she bugs me to read to her or play with her, or she climbs up in my lap. I can't wait until Cordelia is a little older and can sit up, or even walk. I know I shouldn't wish my child's life away, but honestly, if she were any other kind of mammal she would still be in utero at this stage.

The Led Zeppelin of the Oughts?

The Toronto Marathon is on today, and it runs right by our place. This year for some reason the organizers have hired a band to play to amuse the marathoners.

The first thing they played when they set up? One. The second thing? Enter Sandman. It's good to know that the go-to guitar music hasn't changed IN FIFTEEN YEARS.

The Rebel Sell: Why The Culture Can't Be Jammed by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter

This book should be subtitled "Everything You Thought You Knew Is Wrong", especially if you are or have had any contact with "radicals" or "non-conformists" or "progressives", if you think everyone (else) is walking around in a corporate-induced stupor of materialism, or if you have ever read Adbusters and felt smug and superior to everyone who wasn't reading Adbusters.

Since that describes pretty much everyone I know, including myself, I should say this book was a bit of an eye-opener. I have to admit that when I went around reading Adbusters and all that stuff, it didn't really ring true to me. I went along with it because it seemed like everyone else thought it was true, and I wasn't confident enough in my own good sense to go against the crowd.

This book, however, does ring true; it has the unmistakable stench of common sense about it. Heath and Potter argue that the counter-culture revolutionary types are basically screwing themselves (and the rest of us) because they refuse to accept incremental changes to our society (like, say, minimum wage laws); they think that our society is so profoundly screwed up that nothing short of a complete overhaul, a revolution, will fix it. Accepting incremental changes would imply that society is generally okay and just needs a few tweaks. Heath and Potter call bullshit and explain why in fairly convincing, and amusing, terms. Also they smack down Naomi Klein and Kalle Lasn pretty good, which is fun.

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

In this book Diamond attempts to explain why Eurasians have so much cargo (you know, the stuff we're all brainwashed into wanting by evil corporations) and why they (we) basically stomp over every other culture we come into contact with. It's because we have the guns, the germs, and the steel. But why? Diamond knows.

This book ends up being a history of the world, and the most interesting one I have ever read. I am much smarter now that I have read this. You should read it too (except you probably already have; I am kind of behind the curve here.)

First Week

Delphine vs. Cordelia: A comparative analysis

Well, more of a list, really.
  • Cordelia isn't hairy like Delphine was -- she has hair on her head, the barest suggestion of eyebrows, and maybe a little tiny bit of black fuzz on her ears. The hair is the same as Delphine's, though, straight and black.
  • Cordelia's nose and chin are narrower than Delphine's, but she has the same eyes (Blake's).
  • Cordelia says "Nah"; Delphine said "La".
  • Cordelia has narrow, elegant fingernails; Delphine has short, square nails like Blake and I. We think Cordelia's come from her Baba.

Baby Mysteries

Breast milk: goes in white, comes out yellow. Where does the yellow come from?

The Story So Far

The day after we came home from the hospital was Cordelia's third day of life, and the day the midwife came to see us. While she was examining Cordelia she heard an arrhythmia. I know a lot about a lot of medical conditions, but I didn't know anything about arrhythmias; I didn't know whether it was nothing to worry about, or something huge, so I kind of averaged it out and freaked out averagely.

We immediately went to a pediatric cardiologist down the street (I love this neighbourhood). She did some tests and said it was a premature ventricular contraction originating in a lower chamber of the heart. The premature contractions only occurred occasionally, and never two together, which means it's probably nothing to worry about. She sent us home with a 24-hour monitor and instructions to call back in six weeks -- it was at that point that I pretty much stopped freaking out altogether. She gave me a list of medications that I shouldn't give Cordelia, mostly cold medicines, but other than that we can treat her normally, and the arrhythmia will probably go away on its own.

Today (day eight) we took Cordelia to our family doctor for a retroactive referral to the cardiologist. The doctor listened to Cordelia's heart and didn't hear anything abnormal, so it may have corrected itself already.

Apart from that excitement, everything has been very normal so far. We had a little problem learning how to nurse (mostly I had forgotten a few techniques from last time) but now that's pretty much figured out, and Cordelia is churning out the appropriate number of pees and poos every day. She mostly slept and ate for the first week, but now she spends a few minutes at a time awake and alert.

She sleeps for four hour stretches at night. She sleeps in our bed, mostly because I am too sore to get up in the middle of the night. I'm not sure if we will keep her in our bed once I am better; it worked really well with Delphine, but I was also really happy when she moved into her own bed. We will probably keep Cordy in with us at least until she is old enough to not need to nurse at night.

I'm not doing so well. I had a setback in my recovery yesterday when my incision started bleeding. It's not supposed to do that. I called the midwife and she said I am doing too much, I should take it easy. I have been reduced to pretty much invalid status; all I do is sit and nurse the baby. Blake tends to me and does housework. It's weird and annoying, but I have been reading a lot. I think I might have gotten better today, if it hadn't been for the trip down to the doctor. Hopefully tomorrow I can sit all day and I will improve more.