Saturday, December 16, 2006


Anna Sophia attended her first poetry book launch yesterday, December 15. It was a command performance for a book that is dedicated to her, The Taste of Water, by Frank Ledwell, her grandfather. Not many eleven-week-olds can say they've had a book dedicated to them. That's some pretty quick turnaround on printing and launching.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Different Parents

I’ve always been surprised when people describe me as “calm” or “laidback.” I’ve never perceived myself as deserving either of these descriptors. I’ve always suspected I’m inexcusably bossy and uptight. I’m equally surprised when people think I’m “organized,” when in my cluttered mind, I’m constitutionally unable to set a priority. And I still remember the shock of being described as “sanguine” when I was nineteen and realized that I apparently gave off a general air of nonchalant happiness after all those years of adolescent angst when I perceived myself, and expected others to perceive me, as “moody” at best and “morose” at worst.
I still suspect those who know me best -- Stephen especially -- know that I’m frenetic, bossy, uptight, disorganized, and moody. But new parenthood is providing a whole new mirror, and I have to admit that I’m a different parent than I thought I’d be, and this is a great relief.
I started to find out early. First of all, it took such determination to be able to get pregnant and stay pregnant that I learned a motivated self-discipline I had never asked or expected of myself before. It took a very strict diet, regular exercise, and a committed yoga practice, and all these enriched my life.

Having discovered willpower, I worried I would be one of those mothers who imposed my will on a baby. All those bossy instincts that I try (unsuccessfully) to either suppress or direct towards useful activity . . .

I let go my worry about imposing my will after about sixteen hours of labour. I thought a nice, unmedicated vaginal delivery would be the best start for my baby. Anna had other ideas. She thought it would be best to be born by c-section. All of a sudden, I learned a lesson in setting priorities: get this baby born without her needing to express distress to be born the way she wants to.

I never thought I would be a mother who would bottlefeed my baby. I was determined to breastfeed, and I thought a nice steady diet of breastmilk would be the best start for my baby. Again, Anna had other ideas. Soon after she was born, I discovered reserves of calm I didn’t know I had when Anna, who couldn’t latch at all, turned purple and shaky with crying every time she caught sight of my breast. And I was able to let go my determination to pump milk for her when I realized that the infernal mechanical contraption extracted more tears than milk from me (making me more “lachrymose” than “lactating”). Anna needed a mom who was more sanguine than morose.

I was worried that as a mother, I would “go soft,” somehow, and relinquish values and desires and dreams and even my sense of identity and self. And I have definitely gone soft in some ways -- but not in the ways I expected. I’m still determined to maintain my sense of independent identity and activity, to set an example at the very least. (Thanks, Stephen, for helping support this determination.) But the joyous flipside of needing my independence is that I want the same for Anna, and so I don’t need to feel any smothering possessiveness about her. She is so amazingly her own self, her own person already. This bodes well for her independent identity and activity -- and it makes us, her parents, love and appreciate our babysitters!

There are so many ways I give in. I give in to the pleasure of cuddles and kisses and games. I have gotten so tender-hearted at the thought of suffering, anyone’s suffering, that it would be unbearable if I didn’t use it as a motivation to crank up the active compassion response.
As an oldest daughter, I am so touched every day to be experiencing what I now realize my parents must have experienced all those years ago, to feel what they must have felt for me, and I know now in a way I didn’t know before just how fortunate and blessed I am.

And perhaps we all have different parents than we, or they, might think.

Thursday, December 7, 2006


Of all the nicknames we use for Anna -- Honeypie (and other Beatles allusions), Anapestic (and other plays on words with an “an-” prefix -- Patrick suggested “anaerobic,” considering her activity level), Monkeyface (and other nicknames more usually applied to the cat), Chicken (and other of my favourite poultry-related terms of endearment), Pavlova (and other famous Anna’s, to the exclusion of tragic ones like Karenina) -- I like the “-pants” range of nicknames best: Smileypants, Crankypants, Gigglypants, Stayawakeypants, Askyourdaddypants, and, best of all, just plain Annapants.

And the distinguished award for being the first to call Anna “Anna Banana” goes to writer J.J. Steinfeld, who met her on the street on an early adventure.

Anna’s granddad had been put on notice by Grandma Carolyn to avoid the obvious banana reference. Rhymes come cheap. Free verse will never last.

He has been very accommodating and has reformed his ways. After a lifetime of never calling his own children by the names he collaborated in giving them, he now suggests not spreading around nicknames for Anna, because they might stick.

As far as bananas go, I’m aware of the grave risk of putting our baby girl in yellow and having her branded forever, but the risks of yellow must be balanced against the risks of pink. The “girls must wear pink” law of Western capitalist and consumerist despots is more severely enforced than I had even predicted.

What a relief that Anna looks best in solid purples and whites.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006


Today, Anna attended the annual memorial service for fourteen women murdered in Montreal, for local women murdered since that time, and for women around the world murdered because they were women. This service always touches me. The first memorial services for the Montreal Massacre took place in 1990, my first year at university. I remember participating in those services with a deep knowledge of what was lost with the loss of any young woman’s life.
Today, the urgency of eliminating violence feels absurdly important as I look at a baby girl and wish her for her the best possible life -- free of violence and full of choices.

Anna has attended four feminist events in the first ten weeks of her life. She has met her Member of Parliament, her Premier, and the provincial Minister Responsible for the Status of Women. Two events marked memorials of women who died by violence and efforts to prevent violence. Two events protested cuts to Canadian women’s organizations and the inexcusable gutting of the mandate for federal Status of Women programs.

I sincerely wish Anna was born at a time when women’s equality goals were already achieved (as the Harper government claims them to be). I had hoped that more of the work of achieving equality would be completed before she was born, much as I had hoped that the house would be clean and comfortable and safe. I guess we never accomplish what we set out to do during our pregnancies.

The first question we ask about babies is their sex. The first thing we do is ascribe them a gender and a set of ways of demarcating gender so we know how we’re expected to treat them: pink for girls, blue for boys. Frills for girls, plains for boys. Gentle tickles for girls, roughhouse kisses for boys.

At ten weeks old, Anna has never witnessed violence. She came close at the Public Health office, where our hearts sank to hear a two-year old boy tell his mother, “Wait for me, you idiot.” He did not say it jokingly. It was unbearable to think how he had learned so young to call his mother that or what the future holds for him and the people in his life. I hope that Anna does not have to experience his violence -- or anyone’s -- as she gets older.

At ten weeks old, Anna knows already some of the high expectations placed on girls. I shock myself with how easily, casually, automatically even I reward her for looking pretty and praise her for being “good.” I can only hope that I am as enthusiastic when she uses her voice to express her feelings and needs and that I reward her for her strength and intelligence and independent spirit. I remind myself every day to celebrate the ways she challenges me and the world, since there will be plenty to celebrate as she gets older.

At ten weeks old, Anna has met an amazing number of people who plan to love her like the dickens, and her capacity to accept their love and turn it into all kinds of goodness is incredible.

At ten weeks old, Anna has met dozens of women and men working together to eliminate violence and discrimination against women and others, and I am grateful to them all for the example they set.