Genderless

A surprising conversation:

“Owen, are you a girl?”

“No!”

“Are you a boy?”

“No!” (as in, you are being so ridiculous)

“Well, what are you, then?”

“Owen!” (You guys are so silly).

We’ve tried variations of this conversation several times now, and still can’t get him to admit that he is, in fact, a boy.  It’s a bit weird in that he recognizes the gender of other kids (in real life and in books), but I guess (because he’s at the centre of his own universe) he’s under the impression that he’s the only Owen and “boy” and “girl” are what you call everyone else. What does he think when I call him “my favourite boy” or “good boy”? No idea.

When I was pregnant, I didn’t want to know “what I was having.” I liked the idea of the surprise (and it was a lovely one). I hadn’t really thought about it, but once I started shopping for unisex baby clothes, I realized that I was not super-keen on the labelling of babies as rocket-ship or butterfly obsessed from the moment of conception.

But I was hoping for a boy or a girl. And I was even kind of worried that I would have a child with ambiguous genitalia or something. I was reading quite a wonderful novel recently, Annabel by Kathleen Winter, which the early life of Wayne (Annabel), who is born as a hermaphrodite but whose parents (particularly his father) try to raise him as a boy. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but imagine how difficult it must be to raise such a child, especially in a world so split along pink and blue lines.

On the other hand, I’d never go as far as the parents of baby Storm, who refuse to divulge the gender of their child to anyone outside their immediate family. I can see that they want to make a point. Maybe the most important thing about  a baby is not whether it’s a boy or a girl – but it’s the easiest question a stranger can ask about a newborn, no? What else do you ask… hey, stranger, how was labour? Anyway, without getting into the whole controversy, I’ll just say this: even if a child will have issues down the road with the gender into which he or she was born, I cannot see the problem of knowing what it was to begin with. I don’t think knowing you’re a boy or a girl can in and of itself be traumatic.

I think at some point Owen will realize what camp he falls in. For now, OK: he’s just Owen.

Baby Book Club: Where the Wild Things Are

So this post is kind of cheating because everyone knows this book, right? But it’s such a perfect tie-in to our trip to the zoo…

It was a favourite when I was a child, a story that never left me, full of the possibilities of being disobedient and dreaming and going somewhere else in your mind where you actually had a say… and then (of course) getting lonely in your huff-and-puff I’m always right state of mind and returning home again to forgiveness and warmth and love. (Max is punished for “mischief of one kind and another” and sent to bed without his supper; however, when he returns to “his very own room” after visiting the land of the wild things he finds his “supper waiting for him … and it was still hot”). The last line appears all by itself on the last page, without any illustration to keep it company, but the line itself is crucial, because the supper has to be hot to show that Max hasn’t been away that long, and also to show that he is cared for and loved. And isn’t that the whole point of a bedtime story anyway, to show your children that they are cared for and loved?

Anyway, on Tuesday, for Owen’s birthday, my parents took us to Parc Safari. We were all convinced that Owen would love the animals but (as usual) underestimated how much huge, furry, strange creatures can frighten a toddler. He was OK with the animals in the distance. He liked the elephants, and was excited by the monkeys and lions (all at a clear remove). He did not much like the animals that got any closer. The thing about Parc Safari is that you drive right through the animals and can feed them out of your car window. My dad tried to feed an ostrich but was worried that the ostrich would peck his fingers off (one had snapped at my mother 3 minutes earlier) and so kind of threw the food in its general direction. Well, the ostrich didn’t understand that there was food on the ground. To it, a car clearly meant food, so the bird tried to stick its head in the window to get something out of my dad. My dad rolled up his window to keep it away from him, but the ostrich started pecking at Owen’s window as if to say “feed me, feed me!”

Owen was not impressed. “No big bird. No big bird. Away! Away!”

He was spooked by a lot of other animals, too, especially when we opened the minivan door so he could see better. The more glass and steel between Owen and the animals, the better, he thought… Especially when a rhinoceros peed. “Stinky stinky diapers!” said Owen.

Unlike Max, Owen was unable to charm the wild creatures with a magic trick. Most of what he seemed to feel was fear and wonder (a fear and wonder that’s present in the book, of course). He seemed relieved when we got through our “safari.”

After we finished looking at animals, Owen took a dip in the wading pool and when he got out his Nana gave him the rest of her ice cream cone.

… and it was still cold.

P.S. Rebecca Woolf of Girl’s Gone Child has started a storytime series on Tuesdays as well. I love her. Check it out (here’s a link to the first book profiled: Iggy Peck, Architect)

Strapped In

Our child likes to be restrained. He likes to be “strapped in” to whatever straps exist to confine him, whether that be in his stroller, his carseat, or even his highchair. We’d stopped strapping him into his highchair ages ago, but lately, it’s turned into a kind of game. He can sort of do up the buckles himself, though he can’t get them undone, so there’s a lot of back and forth. “Strapped in?” “Out?” “Strapped in?” “Out?”

At Parc Safari last week, my mother thought Owen might see better from the front of the minivan, so she took him on her lap in front. (Parc Safari is a zoo that you drive through, with the animals coming up to eat out of your hand). Anyway, rather than relishing the newfound and unexpected freedom, Owen lasted about 5 minutes in front before insisting that he return to his seat to be “strapped in.” On the other hand, whenever we go to put him into his stroller we have to undo the straps first because, inevitably, Owen has buckled them.

Our child has always been ever so slightly obsessive. He gets very concerned when he finds dirt (“Oh oh. Dirt, dirt”), and we have to tell him alternately to “lick his finger” (if it’s fresh food dirt) or “put it in the garbage” (if it’s, you know, dirt). He likes things to be straight. Neat. Tidy. Of course he makes messes, but even with birthday frosting all over his hands, he’s worried. “Dirt. Dirt.”

The desire to be restrained in the child-appropriate harnesses might be because of his desire to have the world properly ordered, his love of puzzles, or his need to feel safe (or all three? or am I just reading into this way too much again?). It’s funny to watch, though, because I would have expected a child to rebel against restraints at this age; instead, for now, he’s happily confined to his own little place in the world.

The Circle Game

And the seasons they go ’round and ’round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go ’round and ’round and ’round
In the circle game.            — Joni Mitchell

Last weekend Duncan and I took Owen to the Ormstown Fair. I hadn’t been to the fair in ages – I almost want to say decades, but not quite. Probably a decade, anyway. The weird thing about it was that apart from feeling really small, the Ormstown Fair felt oddly familiar. It wasn’t familiar from my youth (which was what I expected) but familiar in that I recognized the names of the people running the cotton candy and hot dog stands. It turns out that the Ormstown Fair is serviced by Campbell Amusements, which also operates rides and concessions at the Big Ex in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Guess where we were last summer?

Now, this photo does not tell an entirely true story, since Owen looks perfectly thrilled to be on the horse and, to tell the truth, it was work to keep him happy. Anyway, this year we rode again (it’s the only ride that doesn’t require the adult to pay, and at $4.50 per person per 4 minute ride, I wasn’t too ambitious to do more).  He loved it. He kept saying “up, down!” and was able (mostly) to hold on by himself, though I kept my arm around him just in case, because that would have been a nasty fall (which of course flashed through my head incessantly even though I was holding onto him).

Unfortunately, we forgot the camera and my new phone doesn’t seem to allow photos to be uploaded, so this is all I’ve got:

Look how much longer his legs are!

Almost a year has passed since that first photo. Owen can now walk, make demands, run, use the potty (occasionally), make jokes, smile upon request, say “please,” “thank you,”  “bless you,” (confused with achoo!) and “I love you,” sing bits and pieces of songs, and understand all manner of words. He knows his colours (except weird ones like beige), his numbers up to 10 (except 7), and the letters O, D, M, N, G, and Y.

It’s strange to look through this blog, which I began about a year ago, and to realize how very much does change in a year. Time has always felt circular to me, rather than linear, and I’ve always liked “The Circle Game” because it’s kind of wistful about the passage of time but acknowledges that circularity. We can’t return. We are captive, moving ever forward, but of course moving forward brings us back again. We spin through the seasons, we revisit the same places over and over again in slightly different bodies, and we even (sometimes) revisit places with people whose bodies we’ve had a hand in creating.

Owen turns two today. Happy birthday, my beautiful boy. May your dreams keep their grandeur and your eyes be filled with wonder for as long as they possibly can.

* The Baby Book Club will resume next week! Huzzah! Right?

What is it with September?

I am having a little birthday/holiday burnout, and I’m not even half done. In my life, the fall is relatively free of birthdays (there are a couple in there, but nothing overwhelming), then Christmas comes, then my birthday (that’s nice), and then, ever-increasing, come a slew: my parents, most of my friends… and then comes June. I think I’m being unreasonably stressed about it (as I am about most things)… I could handle my brothers’ birthdays. My mother took care of that. I was OK for Duncan’s… but then 3 days later was Father’s Day. Are you serious? My mother asked me yesterday what I did for Duncan for Father’s Day. Um. Nothing? I bought him tickets to Joel Plaskett, but that concert is in August. I was going to make breakfast, but we were at a bakery on Saturday so I bought some croissants instead. What did I do for Duncan on Father’s day? I wrote a sappy blog entry while he was out running with Owen. Then I had a nap while Duncan took Owen for a walk. I said “Happy Father’s Day!” (That was pretty nice of me). I taught Owen to say “Happy to you, Daddy!”

Anyway, tomorrow is Owen’s birthday, and that’s exciting, but we still have 1/3 of a cake left over from Duncan’s birthday last week, so guess who’s getting stale cake for his second birthday? I’ll use a new candle. (OK OK, we’re throwing  a party for him on the weekend. I’ll make fresh cake for our guests). Then Wednesday is my lovely sister’s birthday. She lives in Germany. Oh, Erin! I have nothing for you. Not even a card. Shall I hide behind the postal strike? Because I might have sent something. I am the queen of belated birthday greetings. And then a wee pause (a week) before my sister-in-law’s birthday. And then another week or so and it’s our anniversary… and if I am already partied out, what stamina will I have for fêting another event?

I just told Duncan we might need to have a time-out in September. Just in case. I don’t think I can handle another birthday in this time frame. I get it – the weather is cool, the leaves are pretty, it’s all romantic… but people have to stop.

From Our Minister of Happiness…

Duncan is disheartened with the state of our current government (frankly, so am I — but I am more resigned). Anyway, he’s taken to dreaming of an Alternation – a space of ideals hearkening back to a Canada that was (or that was at least envisioned): multicultural, artistic, environmentally aware, literate, idealistic, etc. I’m not sure such a place is not just a classic utopia (with all the inherent problems of such a good-place/no-place), but I do like that he believes that we can all be better if we can envision the nation we want rather than the one we have. In Duncan’s imagined nation, Owen is (of course) the Minister of Happiness. His minute-to-minute inquiries after his parents’ happiness actually creates the stuff out of nothing. It’s hard to be sad when your (almost two-year-old!) boy asks you “happy Mama?” – it’s pretty rare that I answer no.

One reason I am happy today is that Owen’s eardrum has healed. PHEW! He didn’t even cry when the doctor looked in his ear, and the doctor didn’t seem so insensitive now that he was offering me good news instead of bad. Perspective changes everything, of course.

Yesterday was Duncan’s birthday (in a month of many, many important birthdays: Adam, Luke, Duncan, Owen, Erin, Liz… did I forget any?), and we’ve been getting Owen to practice singing happy birthday. Perhaps because he’s the minister of happiness, though, Owen sings not about happy birthdays, but general happiness. “Happy to You! Happy to You!” he says. Witness:

And very, very soon it will be time to sing happiness to Owen. I can’t wait.

Baby Book Club: A Seaside Alphabet

A Seaside Alphabet (words by Donna Grassby and pictures by Susan Tooke) was one of the earliest books we bought for Owen, purchased in Halifax at Woozles, a wonderful children’s bookstore still full of warm childhood memories for Duncan. (On that note, Duncan met Sharon, Lois, and Bram at Woozles some time in the 80s… and was photographed with them – as he says, picking his nose. I think he’s just being coy).

Anyway, the book was way too mature for Owen when we bought it (he was 3 months old). Recently, however, to my delight, he has started choosing it for bedtime and naptime reading. He’s excited about books that become treasure hunts, and this one has such detailed images that I keep discovering new things every time we read it. My favourite books are always the ones that the parent wants to read it as much as the child –  really detailed pictures (like Peepo or 123) prevent boredom in ways that some of the “pet the fuzzy dog” books just can’t.

A Seaside Alphabet manages reasonable alliterative sentences using words and images from the East Coast of Canada and the USA. On the cover, “Lovely ladies lunch on lobster in the lee of the lighthouse.” Inside, “Balmy breezes blow Bluenose II by Boston,” “Quiet craft queue in Pasamaquoddy Bay,” and “An unruly undertow upends Ursula.”

The pictures, however, are even more fun, because in each picture there are more words starting with that letter to find (there’s a list at the back, but we don’t look much). On the “Q” page, for example, I just noticed Queen Anne’s lace and a quarter on the edge of the frame, and the little girl is carrying a quilt.


On the M page, pictured here, there’s a melon, mussels, a mollusk, matches, a man, etc. What’s fun is that while Owen might need to have something pointed out to him once, he doesn’t seem to forget, and has now started flipping between pages to find the two raccoons (one on the “R” page and another under “W” for wetland wildlife).

The book also reminds me of our lovely summers past and future in Nova Scotia (where Duncan’s parents and Owen’s grandparents live). It’s especially important for Duncan that Owen forge a connection with the sea, so this book, if nothing else, familiarizes Owen with the sights and vocabulary of the Maritime landscape. We’re heading out there this summer and when we go, Owen will be well versed in words like Musquodoboit and Kejimkujik. Important, that.

His Father’s Son

OK – so there was never really any question about who Owen’s father was. It’s not like I had a mystery lover or anything. But we’ve joked about it and sometimes Duncan wants, you know, proof. One of the “tests” that we’ve been mentioning since before Owen was born was whether he’d be able to wiggle his ears. Duncan has this ability to move his ears without clenching his jaw or moving his face. Maybe there are lots of people with this talent, but it’s the first time I’ve encountered it and I certainly can’t do it. I mentioned this paternity “test” in class one day – I forget the context – we were studying a number of plays in which the notion of women as male property came up, and got onto the topic of why women – politically – need to be faithful to their husbands. Those babies have to come from a verifiable source (the father) or the whole kingdom falls apart. Duncan doesn’t have a kingdom, of course (though he is getting fitted for a crown this week after his emergency root canal – fun times). Anyway, we keep trying to get Owen to wiggle his ears. He does, but he uses his fingers, so that’s no proof of my fidelity. He has, however, inherited at least two of his dad’s quirks.

As we’ve discovered this week, Owen shares his dad’s delicious blood. Mosquitoes love Duncan –  clouds of mosquitoes will hover around him while I walk bug-free. Hanging around with Duncan is more effective than insect repellent. Unfortunately, like his dad, Owen is a mosquito magnet. His arms were polka-dotted with welts this week, poor kid. I bought some citronella and have tried to keep him covered, but they target him anyway.

The second is photosensitive sneezing. When Duncan feels a sneeze coming on, he looks at a light. He often sneezes when coming out into the sunlight and always sneezes twice (no more, no less) . Owen’s sneezing habits are pretty much the same. Owen also sneezes after one or two bites of yogurt. I have no idea why. We’ve learned to feed two bites and then stand back so we don’t get sprayed.

These are traits we have to keep in the kingdom.