Monday, February 28, 2011

Blame It On the Boogie

I have done my best to foist my musical tastes upon Sam. When I was pregnant with him, Ryan and I saw the Tragically Hip play at the Queen Elizabeth theatre, and when I caught a handkerchief that Gord threw into the audience, I rubbed it on my belly for luck. I got a feel for my changing balance and girth by dancing around to James Brown and Madonna. I worked through labour pains with mix CDs made up of painstakingly selected favourite songs that all carried their own memories of times that were good, times when I was tough, so that I would be able to call on those experiences, and mine them for the strength it would take to push that baby out. 

The first lullabies we sang to Sam were Beatles and Postal Service and Mamas and Papas - except for that one night when I heard Ryan successfully putting him to sleep with his renditions of House of the Rising Sun, then Piano Man. Apparently, nothing lulls a one month old like brothels and sad drunks.

As Sam got bigger, I took him to play groups and drop ins where I learned songs and rhymes that are actually aimed at babies, and I had to admit that he responded to the simple rhythms and repetition. Rather than be concerned, I was willing to take his love for any kind of music as a positive thing. When Ryan laughed at me for pointing out that Sam's skillful beating of a wooden xylophone and enthusiasm for his shaker egg might be signs that we have a musical protege on our hands, I comforted myself with the thought that it would be Mama to whom he dedicated his album of Radiohead covers when he was three years old and successfully captured the genius of OK Computer on a toddler tambourine. 

Though it must be obvious by now, I'll put it out there - music means a lot to me.

Certain bands take me back to highschool, and friends who took the crafting of perfect mix tapes just as seriously as I did, and joined me in planning our Friday evenings around the Much Music Countdown. Looking back at those years of perpetual melodrama, I can't scoff at my teenage self, because I remember so clearly feeling those songs resonate in a world where no one understood me, and they made me feel a lot less alone. Ninety percent of that pain was simple teenage angst, but for the ten percent that counted, those songs were a lifeline.

I was lucky enough to have a big brother with good taste in music, and to have the kind of relationship that made me want to do everything he did, rather than automatically scorn his picks. As I grew out of that teenage messiness, his favourite bands became my favourites too, and they've stuck with me since then. Thank goodness he made me love the Tragically Hip - otherwise Sam might not exist. I met Ryan when I was 15, and that very good brother had orchestrated a trip to Vancouver for his giddy little sister. I was almost as excited to see the Hip play at GM Place as I was to meet my brother's highly interesting university friends. I went home to Kitimat with a new love for live music, and a big crush on one of those boys. That crush came to fruition a few years later at my brother's wedding when I asked Ryan to dance, to what else - The Tragically Hip.

In university, I was introduced to a whole new world of thoughts and people, as well as downloadable music. Napster changed my world, as did burnable CDs. The many (many, many) albums of Ani DiFranco became my new soundtrack, coincidentally around the time that I became a card-carrying feminist - or rather realized that I had been all along. I've simmered down a bit since then, but I've made sure that Sam has been exposed to plenty of Riot Grrrl, especially when the world news makes his Mama angry.

As the years have gone by, and I'd like to think that I've grown up a bit, I've started to appreciate singers and and songs that are a lot older than me, like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, CCR, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell. Though he may not go for Ani DiFranco, Ryan and I converge on these, and have found that Hallelujah makes an excellent lullabye.

These days, I don't have as much time to search out new music, but when I do, I find myself gravitating to more upbeat tunes, which lend themselves to spinning around the kitchen and bouncing up and down with a wiggly baby. He likes Cee Lo, Florence and the Machine, and Arcade Fire. I'd pretty much do anything to get that little bottom bopping, as it tends to do as soon as certain songs start up, which leads us to the Raffi dilemma.

Now, it's not that I keep him away from all children's music. There are some great kids albums by indie artists, and there are all kinds of versions of popular songs done up for kids as well. We're talking Radiohead, Coldplay, Flaming Lips... everyone wins, right? Then there's Raffi. My mother, Sam's Gamma, has waged an open campaign to introduce Sam and her other grandsons to Raffi, heedless of my protests. And dang if the little turncoat doesn't love it. From the first strains of "Baby Beluga," to the last notes of "Joshua Giraffe," he's a happy guy, and that bottom, it is bopping. As for me, I'm working on ways to combat the insidious catchiness of those two minute tracks of baby crack, but I find myself falling asleep with "The More We Get together" dancing around in my head, and I'm humming "Little Red Wagon" at the veggie mart.

What's my problem with Raffi? Honestly, it's hard to pin down. I hate to admit it, but it's something to do with how in earnest he is. There's no eye-rolling, no irony, no nod to how ridiculous it is to sing silly songs over and over again to babies, and how much we're giving them by leaving dignity at the door. It's not that I mind singing these songs to Sam - I sing them every day, (with hand gestures!). It's that I recognize that I'm doing it because I love him, while shaking my head internally and chuckling at how much my life has changed since the utterly unaware self-interest of my younger days. Also, I know he's trying to keep it real, but couldn't Raffi find some kids who can carry a damn tune to sing back up on these CDs? Seriously. Are there no musically capable kids on Salt Spring?

Anyway, as much as it pains me and my music snobbery, Raffi is on my iPod's most played list, in fine company with Radiohead and Dan Mangan. Sam's got me wrapped around that little finger that points at my stereo while he cocks his head and says "Uhhhgh?" The fact is, when I sneak my own picks into his little playlist, and dance with him, singing the chorus of Signed, Sealed Delivered (I'm Yours), there's no irony at all. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dear Sam: You Were Born, Part 2.

So there we were, at 7am on January the 6th, and I was officially in labour. Your Dad and I laughed to think that you would have the same birthday as your big cousin Lucas, who had been born exactly one year ago that day. Apparently your in utero hearing was very good, and you were displeased with this idea, because you bucked a lifetime of joint parties and shared cakes by drawing things out long enough to have your very own birthday, January 7th. I suppose I should be thankful that eight is not your lucky number.

Your father and I had spent nine months counting down to this moment of go-time, and I have to admit that it was somewhat anti-climactic when it arrived. It made me wish we were a little bit less over prepared, so that there could be a bit of scrambling - a bag to pack, relatives to call, livestock to tend, but we had no such distraction. Your Dad even had an app ready on his phone to time my contractions, which were irregular and not very long, but we had faith that they would pick up over the next few hours before we headed to the hospital. In the meantime, we sat down to watch an episode of the Tick. This is random, I know, and I don't have a great explanation for it. In fact, I don't remember the show at all. Instead, I remember sitting there cuddled up to your Dad, just the way we'd done in that exact spot for years, and realizing that the next time we settled down on that couch, we'd be holding you, and we would be absolutely terrified.

Dr. Holly told us that after six hours, we'd better head to the hospital regardless of my rate of contractions, because with my water broken you were at risk of bacterial infection. As soon as you master the ability to comprehend language beyond "Mama," "Dada," "dance," and "dog," you will come to understand what the words "bacterial infection" mean to your father. The first time you leave the lid off of the butter dish, you will hear about Louis Pasteur! And the falling bacteria! And contamination! And you will understand that your Dad would not take such a risk lightly. So, at 1pm, we headed off to Women's Hospital, me clutching my pillow, and your Dad driving very, very carefully. On the way there, I called your Auntie Teresa to cancel the plans we had for afternoon coffee. I had this thing about not crying wolf when it came to labour, meaning that I was terrified to be 'that woman' who shows up at the hospital, claiming to be in labour, only to be sent home a dozen times by admitting nurses, scoffing at lack of dilation and pain levels and the like. Considering that my water was broken, this wasn't going to be an issue, but I was still hesitant to make a big deal. When Teresa asked why I couldn't make it, I muttered something about the hospital, and getting something checked out, before admitting that uh, I was in labour. With the baby. Right then. Predictably and appropriately, she lost it, and something in her excitement made it sink in a bit more, that this was for real, and it was indeed a very big deal. You were coming.

When we got to the hospital, they checked me in right away, and promised to come measure my dilation. Now, I was confident that I was going to be at something significant, like five centimeters. The week before, at my OB check up, the doctor had put me at a two, and I was unreasonably proud of this accomplishment, probably due to my overachieving nature and high expectations for myself. So with my OB nodding in approval and assuring me that I wasn't going to go past my due date, I took that early dilation to be like: Oh yeah. My cervix has this under control. Nature is taking its course, you guys. So, with that, I was prepared to hear the intake nurse give me something sweet, since I had been in labour for six hours at this point. Instead, I was at three. I took this as a blow (see: overachieving nature). Nevertheless, I bucked up, and started walking up and down the halls of the intake area, since my contractions tended to peter out when I sat still. This really wasn't a good sign, but I ignored it. Positive thinking! I also ignored the sounds of the woman who came into labour and delivery a few minutes after me who was positively wailing in pain, and begging for drugs as soon as she came through the admitting doors. I clutched the cds I'd brought of my favourite songs, and the pain management tips from my prenatal yoga teacher, and reassured myself that I would get through this. Surely, that woman was overreacting. Let's get back to pacing.

The next little hurdle came in the form of an IV. You know what we haven't had in a while? A tangent! Here goes.

I hate IVs. Now, I don't like to think of myself as the kind of person who says "I hate needles," or "I hate hospitals," because that has always struck me as being redundant by definition. I mean, come on: if you enjoy getting needles or think it's fun to be sick enough to need hospitalization or visit someone who is, you are strange, and that is a fact. Can the rest of us all agree that we don't enjoy these things, without claiming it as an identifying feature? It may seem that I'm overly worked up about this (which is possible), but the real issue as I see it is that the people who state these obvious truths tend to serve them up as an excuse for all kinds of irrational behaviour, like avoiding needed treatment, or seeking sympathy. That said, I hate IVs. It may be the fact that I've had some bad experiences that left IV bandages on my hands for a few days at a time, or may just be that having a shunt inserted in your vein and taped down so that you can feel it under the surface when you move your hand or your arm in the slightest way is inherently nauseating, but whatever the reason, it makes me shudder, and appreciate every shunt-free moment. Let's all take a minute to flex our hands and bend our elbows. Isn't that nice? 

Anyway, I knew one of the first things they were going to do when they admitted me was poke me, and insert a line to stay there for the duration of my labour. The thought of having to deal with the contractions and pushing and fatigue and pressure was one thing, but being tied down by an IV was something I had fixated on, and was truly dreading. However, when they called me back from my pacing, I knew what was coming, and I was prepared to take it. In fact, I was feeling confident enough that I agreed to let the nice, nervous looking med student have a go. Yes, that was dumb. By his third attempt, he was mortified, I was gritting my teeth, and your normally mild-mannered Dad looked ready to give the poor guy a shunt of his own, if you know what I mean. The nurse stepped in, she got it on the first shot, and we were good to go. Next step: delivery room.

Part three to follow....

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dear Sam: You Were Born.

For a whole year, from month to month, I've been composing letters in my head to Sam, telling him stories from our life to keep track of his growth as it has barreled along at a pace that astounds and amazes us. It's something I should be recording, and this is the place to do it. Let's start at the very beginning. 

Dear Sam,

You were born on January 7th, 2010, at 4 in the morning. Although it was arguably the most important day of your life to date, you probably don't remember much of it, so I thought I'd take you through it, at least from my point of view. Even if you could recall, you were coming at it from a very different angle, so I'll let you know how it looked from my end.

I'm writing this more than a year after the fact, which is literally a lifetime for you. For your father and I, it's been a lifetime of sorts as well, as January 7th marked the start of a new reality for us, with days that flew by, and nights that wouldn't end, both highs and lows that stopped our hearts, and a new appreciation for cliches that try to capture the love of a parent for a child. You had us at "hello," or in this case, "Here Mama, hold your new baby," spoken by the lovely nurse whose name I can't recall, but who spent twelve hours helping us get you out of my tummy and into our arms, though you were taking your sweet fancy time... but I'm getting ahead of myself. It started like this:

After another night of heartburn and overheating and hoisting my 30 pounds of a belly in and out of bed for bathroom breaks and restless pacing, I got up with your Dad as he was leaving for work, and prepared myself to face another day of well-meaning strangers taking my hugely pregnant state as a cue to chirp at me to get my sleep now while I still could. You should know that I set a good example for you, even as you were still in my womb, by not hauling back and demanding "How? HOWWWWW?" 

Anyway, it was January 6th, and you were due to arrive in three days. I was more than ready for you to exercise your Clark side by showing up a bit early, because I was well into that state of pregnancy that's evolutionarily designed to make labour look not so bad, since it will be an end to the unbelievable awkwardness of late stage pregnancy. And heartburn. Oh Sam, the heartburn. Here comes a Mama tangent!

I had chronic heartburn for your whole pregnancy, escalating to levels that could not be touched by Tums, Gaviscon, strategic meal-planning, or moaning. Old wives' tales took this to mean that you would be born with a full head of hair. With a little bit of logic and a whole lot of dumbfounded head-shaking, your Dad had disproved this theory before you even came, but you did him one better by making it to thirteen months (and counting!) with nothing on your head but the sort of peach fuzz that a fifteen year old boy would barely consider a beard. Daddy is proud of your dedication to scientific accuracy.

Anyway! It was 7 am, and I was wondering whether or not this would be the day, when it occurred to me that my water had broken. Actually, it occurred to me that maybe my water had broken? I couldn't really tell? Because sitcoms and movies make it out to be a gush of bucket-sized proportions, big and forceful enough to soak the shoes of bystanders and cue a dramatic, definitive start to labour, whereas this was far less commanding and decisive. It was more of a trickle: slow, unhurried, not at all urgent. I could not know it then, but that meandering water foreshadowed the theme of your entrance, which would stop and start and resist rushing over the next 24 hours. A call to our kind doctor friend Holly confirmed my suspicions - my water had in fact broken, and the wheels were set in motion. Resist as you might, it was time to come. 

Part two to follow. I'm going to take a page from your book and do this at my own pace. Deal.

Intake vs. Output

There is an imbalance that must be addressed. Here's my confession: I'm a taker. I spend much of my free time consuming the work of others, in the forms of music, writing, movies, pictures, and projects that make me think "Huh! I could do that!" but I totally don't. Especially the writing. Not that anyone is sitting around, feeling a dearth in their level of fulfillment that will only be corrected by my contributions, but I think it's time that I give a little bit back. That's what this project is about. 

I've done this before. I've started to write, even put out a few things I liked, but I've never taken the next step and actually let anyone know that it was there. Correction: I have told a few people, but only those who have already seen me do plenty of embarrassing things over the years, and still seem to care and enjoy my company. Perhaps because I also have dirt on them? (MARY) 

Regardless, it's time to quit being a chicken, take a big girl step, and put something out there, in the hopes that it can make someone happy from time to time. I'll post often as I can, about this and that - stories that might be interesting, links that turn my head, and plenty of stuff about Sam. A bit of output, if you will, to counter that imbalance as it currently sits