Wednesday, September 23, 2009
So, some shopping (Lulu Lemon outlet store—I even bought myself a hoodie and a jacket. I hate to admit it, but the brand really is worthy of the hype. There is almost nothing that my wife or daughter tried on that didn’t look fantastic on them. If they’d had kid sizes, I’d have dressed Kasia in it too.) visits with the Vancouver relatives; a day trip out to White Rock (lovey!); Flying Wedge Pizza; a Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant; White spot burgers; and Mary took her niece clothes shopping, my brother-in-law being a single dad with no sense of style....
Mary and the kids on our day trip to White Rock
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
(I made the mandatory jokes about Hope, which while new to the kids, still struck Tigana as pretty lame. And inappropriate, as it later turned out, given that Ryan Jenkins had hung himself in one of Hope’s hotels, his own having run out, about a week later.)
Kasia, left to herself, would hug everyone that came into range. We have, with some difficulty, managed to convince her that she should at least ask her intended victim whether they wished to be hugged before actually hugging them. Since this was similar to the well-established and understood rule that she must never pet a dog without first checking with the owner (lest said dog bite her) she has started asking permission first. The problem is, few people feel they can turn down the request for a hug from a five year old without appearing completely cold-hearted, so they often say ‘yes’ even though their body language is screaming ‘No!’.
This is particularly problematic with people in the service industries, who may feel they have to indulge the child lest they loose the goodwill of the parents. So we have recently added the rule that Kasia must first ask us, even before asking the intended huggee, so we may judge whether the individual or circumstances appropriate.
The latter criteria is still a bit hard for Kasia to grasp, however: Once given permission to hug a particular person, she believes she has carte blanc to hug them at will, regardless of what they are currently doing. This can be an issue when relatives, for example, are spotted at a job site, or standing on the edge of a panoramic cliff, or otherwise engaged in some demanding activity and not expecting 22 kgs of child to come hurtling at their knees.
So. We are the first aboard our cruise ship and a nice looking woman is manning the reservations desk, so Kasia asks if she may hug the woman. Mary agrees that it would be okay to ask, because for the moment we are the only ones there, and the woman appears approachable. So Kasia asks, the woman agrees, and the hug proceeds to everyone’s apparent satisfaction.
The woman introduces herself as Maya*, and tells us where she will be working later that evening, and expresses the hope that she will see us then and possibly get another hug. All is good until later that day when Kasia, contrary to the rules, rushes over and hugs another woman without checking with us first. Now, this was not a time or place I would have given Kasia the go ahead, because the waitress in question was clearly very busy – if anything, looking a little tired and harassed – and being tackled at the knees is probably the last thing she needed. But in the event, the waitress burst into a huge grin and hugged Kasia enthusiastically right back. And again later, Kasia spontaneously hugged another waitress without checking with us first. I was about to chastise her for this violation of the rules when I saw Kasia’s surprised distress when the assaulted waitress asked, “What’s your name, sweetie?” I realized that faced with three waitresses of the same nationality, with similar hairdos, and wearing identical uniforms, Kasia had confused the women and honestly thought she’d been given prior permission to hug. It wasn’t until she’d talked to them all a bit more that she was able to keep clear who was which.
And talk with her they did. One of the three, Aba*, was so smitten with Kasia and her hugs that the next day she brought over her roommate to meet Kasia so that the roommate could get a hug. On another occasion, Aba saw us in a restaurant she didn’t work in, but nevertheless came in for her hug. Our waitress of the hour, seeing Aba making a fuss over Kasia, asked if she too could get a hug, and pulled out pictures of her seven year-old daughter. Pretty soon, it seemed as if every crewmember on the ship had heard of Kasia and were asking her if they could get a hug.
This was not, I hasten to clarify, about the ship’s crew humoring a spoilt child’s need for attention. On the contrary, it became increasingly clear that many of the crew desperately needed a good hug. The crew generally sign 10-month contracts, and having been away from their own young families for too long, latched onto Kasia as onto a lifeline. Out came baby pictures, cellphone photos and 30-second videos of sons and daughters, and stories of what it was like being away from family for so long. One waiter talked about how he had left when his wife was pregnant and now had an eight month old he had yet to meet; this one had a seven-year-old who followed her compulsively for the two months she was at home, even into the shower; this one had a ten month old who’d be a toddler by the time she got home; and so on. Heart-breaking war stories, familiar enough for those in the armed forces, but these workers don’t even have the satisfaction of knowing they are making the world safe for Democracy.
Other cruisers, we discovered, often made facile comments such as, “I can hardly stand to be away from my children for the week of the cruise, I couldn’t possibly be away from them for 10 months!”, as if these workers had the choice, or that being away for 10 months out of the year, every year, for the child’s entire childhood doesn’t fundamentally change family dynamics in ways that a week’s absence can’t begin to approximate. It must gall these workers that such sacrifices are demanded of them so that they might serve cruiser’s another round of iced drinks.
Not that I don’t have my own middle class guilt here. When Aba came over to the table where Tigana and I were sitting to say hello and asked where Kasia was, I mumbled something about Kasia being off with her mom on ‘an activity’. “Yeah,” Tigana pipes up, “Mom’s taken Kasia to the spa for a mother-daughter massage session.”
“She’s five, and she’s getting a massage?!”
“She loves massages!” Tigana again volunteers, though this is based entirely on the five-minute demo the spa staff performed on Kasia as part of first day orientation on board ship. (Kasia’s cuteness factor gets her a lot of freebies.) But I could see by Aba’s expression that she was trying to comprehend what it must be like to be so rich that one could afford routine massages for one’s five year-old.
In another conversation, Aba said something about our work being hard too, and Mary said, “It’s not bad really, we only work about 6 hours a week.” Now, I’m pretty sure she meant to say “60 hours a week”, which would be pretty typical for a prof, and considerably less than the 90 expected of crew; or maybe she meant to say that this term she only taught 6 hours a week, and could work out of our home for the other 54 hours, which made sense in context of explaining why ‘rich’ folks like us didn’t have a nanny; but either way, Aba’s expression suggested she was picturing a lifestyle where the driveways are paved with gold....
(On the other hand, we had super next to a businessman and his wife who probably had glided his driveway – they mentioned in passing how their new chihuahua had ruined their $40,000 carpet and how he had jetted down to Argentina for some duck hunting the previous weekend...I deeply resented the extravagance of this glad-handing wastrel, but if he was typical of cruisers, I can’t imagine how galling having to wait on this idiot would be – or how I and my family look any different to the crew serving us....)
But I digress. Aba started showing up with little origami pieces for Kasia. First was a crane, then a kangaroo, folded by her fellow crewmember, Percy*. Kasia, with five year old’s lack of manners, asked for a puppy and a horse, next, which Percy quickly produced, along with a host of others: scorpions, crabs, and so on, all quite marvelous.
And then, to my consternation, Aba showed up with an expensive doll for Kasia, which sang a superb rendition of “You can count on me” when hugged. Kasia was instantly crazy about the doll, but I worried that Aba should not be spending her money on my already spoilt children. But Aba told Mary that although the crew see a new shipload of children every week, Kasia had affected Aba far more than any other child she had encountered. Hopefully, we can stay in touch, and Kasia can send Aba’s child something too...
*[Names changed to protect their privacy.]
We quite liked Kelowna. Even upon such a cursory examination, it seemed a very artsy community, lots of interesting restaurants, art gallery, bookstore, and relaxed ambiance. And nice views.
I loved the self-satire of this beach sculpture, which suggests a nice artsy orientation on the part of the town fathers.
We stopped for lunch in Revelstoke at the Modern Bakeshop and Cafe and were surprised by another really great meal! You never know what you’re going to get when you stop in smaller towns, because the captive market often means restaurants survive that could not last against city competition; but on the other hand, you often get independents that really represent home cooking at it’s best. The Modern was an example of the latter, only with a hippie twist that suited us very well indeed. Vegetarian and glutton-free options weren’t just after thoughts, as they so often in mainstream cafes, but things you’d actually order just because they tasted fantastic. We grabbed a bunch of their fruit granola bars and comped on those in the car for the next couple of days. Full four stars for this one.
Kasia explains to her Mom the difference between squirrels and chipmunks as they meet this guy at the top of sulphur mountain.
Mary took the kids up the Sulfur mountain cable-car, a mandatory excursion in their view, but one I skipped to work on my novel. (My knees had been bothering me so paying to limp around a mountain top seemed like a bad idea.) The kids reportedly had a great time, though they’ve done this one repeatedly; and I had a wonderful time writing overlooking the valley forest. There is something about basking in the sun, writing, that significantly improves productivity.
Then checking into the Brewster hotel, quick walking tour of the townsite, hitting the usual kid-friendly shops (e.g., COWS ice cream), plus the Banff Tea Shop.
We ate at the Maple restaurant because a $40 voucher came with our hotel room, but it was one of the few disappointments of the trip. The food, while adequate, was overpriced even with the $40 discount; and the service inflexible to the point of being ridiculous: we couldn’t help but overhear the next table being told all the things that couldn’t be done for their toddlers, the substitutions that couldn’t be accommodated, and the allergies that couldn’t be vouched for. So lots of pretensions towards being a high end restaurant, but neither the service nor food preparation to carry it off. Just the prices.
Summer vacation started with our taking in Lipizzaner Stallions show in Calgary as a special treat for horse-mad Kasia. In this regard, the show was a bit of a disappointment, as Kasia was clearly bored. Upon reflection, we realized that the finer points of dessage may have been a bit too esoteric for a five year old; or as Mary put it, if you’re of an age where you believe your toy Pegasus can fly and talk, seeing a horse stagger around on it’s hind legs for ten seconds may not seem that impressive.
Lipizzaner Stallion takes a bow
Kasia much preferred the Arabian Nights show we’d seen in Florida the previous summer, in which equally impressive animals were combined with a princess/fairy storyline and a good deal more racing around with acrobats on horseback. So, no reflection on the good work of the Lipizzaner Stallions in keeping alive an important European tradition, but Kasia turned out to be the wrong target audience.
The day was by no means a loss, however, as we were staying at the Delta Calgary South, a hotel with one of the finer dinning rooms in Calgary. Enroute to the show, we had enjoyed the lavish Sunday brunch. To give just one example of why I love the place: when I got to the station where the chef carves the roast, he asked how much I wanted, and I jokingly indicated a slice twice the size of my plate. Without so much as a blink, the chef folds it in half, and piles it on my plate. It was if I had ordered the largest prime rib dinner available, even though I’d already piled my plate high with the many other fine offerings from the buffet. This was in such sharp contrast to smorgs in Lethbridge – which either don’t have a carvery station, or else provides slices so thin they’re translucent and so small they get lost under a pickled beet – that I almost felt guilty about the two salmon fillets I had for seconds.
Gluttony aside, I was incredibly impressed with the chef on duty that Sunday. When my eleven year old ordered something at the pasta bar, he treated her like an adult, discussing the finer points of seasoning and taking her odd request completely seriously. When she came back for seconds, he rushed back because he could see the cook who had relieved him at that station had mistaken her intent and was doing her a normal kid’s pasta. That sort of awareness of what is happening throughout the entire buffet line second to second, and attention to detail even when dealing with a very minor customer, wins my undying loyalty.
If that were not enough, the brunch also features Robert Wong, the province’s top magician circulating table to table. I have seen my share of magicians over the years but nobody comes close to this guy, and nothing tops up close and personal for a magic show. My favorite trick is the simple slight of hand of producing a bunch of grapefruit out of a tiny magican's cup in which it could not possibly fit, right in front of our eyes. I have seen him do this trick each time we go, and each time I test my latest theory of how he does it, and he’s still too fast for me. Its so simple yet elegant!
We always end up talking for awhile after, and he was saying how the recession is killing him. He’d originally retained the hotel gig out of sentimentality as it had been his first break years ago, but he’d long since worked his way up to the business conference circuit and was making a good living as a motivational speaker. But come the recession, ‘magician’ is pretty much the first line in the budget you’re going to cut, right? Who needs motivational speakers when the threat of massive layoffs is pretty much sufficient to motivate everyone to want to shine their bosses shoes? My heart really goes out to anyone in the entertainment business, but I have to admire how Robert was able to reposition himself – he’s developed a whole new line of talks for school visits, a lower paying but steadier market. He’s even had some of his routines published in magician journals, and I must say I could see how they could be really effective in motivating students to stay in school and study maths and science.
Thus, the trip started on a fairly high note, built in part around excellent food. Breakfast the next morning, a regular Monday service, was equally gourmet (so much better than other hotels of the same bracket) and the service again beyond anything we’d been expecting. Soooo friendly and efficient, and again taking our kids completely serious as foodies – no crappy kids meals here.
And that became a theme for the trip that followed: this trip became about the food.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
When very young, we told Tigana the standard fairy tales, which would then have to be retold exactly the same way each night, until each story eventually reached saturation and we moved onto the next. Then Mary started a continuing series of stories featuring Peter (a Tom Thumb character) and “the little Girl” (who was of course Tigana). Tigana loved these stories beyond reason, as Mary retold the day’s highlights from the perspective of Peter. Tigana would always ask if she was ‘the little girl’, which Mary would neither confirm nor deny, but the events of ‘the little girl’s’ life strangely mirrored those of Tigana’s.
Then one time I covered off the Peter stories when Mary was away, not realizing that Mary considered them her special thing with Tigana. But the deed done, I was permitted to tell Peter stories when Mary was busy, so that we were soon alternating nights.
It was some time before we realized that we had quite different styles and had evolved the character of Peter in quite different directions. Mary’s Peter was mostly comical, getting himself into silly situations or misunderstandings, like the title character of the Amelia Bedelia books. My Peter stories were more plot driven and about Peter having adventures. Again, I wondered if this reflected a gender difference, or just personal style.
When Tigana was five, we moved to a new home in anticipation of Kasia’s arrival. Following a series of Peter adventures/misadventures over the move, I introduced the new character of Rhubarb, who lived in the Rhubarb plant in our new yard. As Peter and Rhubarb explored the new neighbourhood, they came into contact with a host of new characters who lived by the rules of magic I adopted holus-bolus from Dave Duncan’s A Man of His Word series. Bedtime stories became a 1,500 episode serial, building one to the next, and often ending on a cliffhanger to be resolved the next evening.
Like any B movie serial, much of each episode included stock footage. In our case the nightly prologue was getting Tigana and her companions out her bedroom window (stealing from Dave Duncan’s The Magic Casement) to the Giant’s castle in Cloudland, from whence her nightly adventures began. (Originally, Tigana and Peter had snuck out into the garden, and then out into the neighbourhood, but after the first couple of weeks of sneaking past Mom in the kitchen, the sequence started to lose credibility, and the storyline started to chaff against the confines of the neighbourhood. So I had the giant invite Tigana back to his castle in the clouds, and introduced the magic window to get her there. Once I exhausted the potential of Cloudland, I introduced the new characters of Dr. Who and Romana. Tigana was delighted with these characters -- and the infusion of 25 years of plagiarized episodes, adapted only enough to make Tigana the star of each adventure.
There were two problems with a continuing series of bedtime stories lasted over 1500 different episodes, First, having stolen every story idea I've ever read over the past 45 years, I was worried there for awhile that I might have ruined fantasy for Tigana. I could just see her discovering Dr. Who or Dave Duncan's books, and instead of the pleasure they have given me over the years, quickly discard them on the basis "They're not very original -- I've heard it all a hundred times before!" Fortunately, in the event, Tigana instead has discovered the dozen of new great authors writing for kids her age, and still loves fantasy. (Though lately she is into the preteen reading of novels about dating, most of which make my brain hurt. But that's another post.)
Second, since I wasn’t writing any of this down, I would frequently lose track of some of the characters or occasionally start to repeat a particular storyline. Tigana would immediately interrupt and ask, "Is this like where they went into the castle and found the bomb?" or "Is this like the time the got caught in a time loop?" "Somewhat similar," I would stall, improvising madly, "but in this case the time loop was running in the opposite direction!" or "No, no! No bomb in this one!" and then beat my brain against the bed post trying to come up with some different angle on an overused story steal. Explaining what had happened to the characters I left hanging from a cliff a couple of episodes back and completely forgot about was similarly challenging.
Some days I rose to the challenge magnificently, and would go out from Tigana's bedroom to regal Mary with the evening's story, and bask in her agreement that ''that was a good one!" Other days, not so much. On more than one occasion, I was so tired by the time we got Tigana to bed, that I would actually fall asleep before her... This did not, to the amazement of all, actually keep me from finishing the story. The first time this happened, I came back awake to Tigana saying, "That was terrific Dad, but I didn't quite get the part about the train."
"Train? What train?"
And Tigana recited back to me a whole 10 minutes of story that I had no recollection of telling, and which frankly made no sense within the context of the story I had started out to tell. But dream like, it had all sort of blurred together, and apparently my mouth had kept recounting as I drifted off to sleep. I wasn't entirely sure I believed this was possible until it had happened several times, and had been witnessed by both Tigana and Mary.
I loved telling Tigana bed time stories, and was sad when she finally out grew that nightly ritual in favor of her reading to herself. My only regret was that I never thought to record any of those stories/episodes. In retrospect, there were enough 'good' nights, and enough original material (given Tigana and in the latter years, her sister) were added to the standard fantasy storylines for me to have gotten the rough draft of a novel or story collection out of it. And then I thought maybe I could record my stories to Kasia, and was shocked to discover her complete lack of interest in anything other than the stories she dictated to me....
But then, at five and a half, it's early days yet. Tigana is insistent I don't tell Kasia any of my Dr. Who episodes, since in Tigana's view those belong solely to her, but as I begin linking together the stories of Princess HummingBird and her Pink Pony -- and more significantly -- the newly introduced character of tinyweenie -- there is hope yet that the process will repeat. I hope so.
Where it was shortly discovered by my own 5 year old. She opened the box with a ‘Wow, cars! Can I play with them?” I of course consented, especially since they were clearly already too banged up to be considered any sort of collector’s items. What harm could she do?
Momentarily distracted with other sorting duties, it has half an hour or so before I could return to explain what each vehicle represented, how they drove around the ‘roads’ on the carpet, which flowers in the carpet represented cloverleaf interchanges, all the complicated rules it taken me years to work out. And a good thing too as it turned out.
The carpet I grew up with -- "note highway" border strips with flower "interchanges".
When I got back to Kasia, she had all the cars out of the box and lined up next to each other. “These two are sisters,” she said pointing to the two blue cars, “and this is their Mom.” It was vital, she explained to me, that the cars stay in the right position within the line, that the line move forward in unison, because otherwise the family relationships might be disrupted. In a half hour she had worked out an entire family tree of cars, which had nothing to do with highway chases, conspiracies, or shootouts.
So, is this an age-related developmental stage, or is it a gender thing? For her, every doll and stuffy – and apparently toy car – is about “mommy/baby/older sister” relationships.
Kasia’s favorite pastime is ‘playing ponies’, which consists of extensive role plays with her massive collection of horse, unicorn, and Pegasus stuffies, supplemented with a few dog stuffies, the occasional fairy or mermaid, and visits from various Barbies and Kens intruding in the land of magic from the human world. Initially, when Kasia was three or four, plotlines consisted entirely of one or other horse falling from the bed or couch onto the floor and the frantic attempts by various horse family members to rescue these “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” victims. Invariably, once rescued, these careless individuals would again immediately plummet to the exact same spot. The cycle would be repeated for hours of selfplay. Invited to join Kasia playing ponies, we would have to stick strictly to the script: any attempt by one of our characters to, say, warn horse family members to stay way from the edge of the cliff, would elicit outraged tantrums.
Only slowly over the years has this basic plotline been allowed to evolve into the current version, which is that some bad guy (monster/witch/horse trader) intrudes into the valley of horses/land of magic to steal one or more horses and put them in cages from which they must be rescued. Lately, the bad guys are surprised to discover that the horses are magical and can talk/fly. Sometimes this discovery is what motivates the bad guys to try to capture the magic horses; sometimes it is this discovery that allows the horses to escape (e.g., the horses have invisible wings and turn out to be Pegasuses that can then fly away, after pummeling the would be kidnappers).
Mary and I have resisted, without much long-term success, Kasia’s insistence that there be bad guys. Tigana had had no such need to divide the world into good guys and villains, but Kasia insists on it. Most disturbing is her apparent belief that violence is justified against bad guys simply because they are the bad guys, as defined by the very narrow perspective of her tribe. The suggestion that the bad guys are bad because they are violent, and that being violent back makes you a bad guy seems to be a challenging concept to Kasia.
[I blame the early My Little Pony movies, which featured various stereotypical witches and mean spirited villains; in contrast to more recent My Little Pony offerings (such as Minty’s Christmas) which feature intelligent, engaging adventures sans bad guys. We started horse-crazy Kasia on the current My Little Ponies episodes, which were harmless enough, then hunted down the originals for our addicted daughter, not realizing what a corrupting influence they would turn out to be. I hated those early My Little Pony episodes almost as much as Kasia loved them. Fortunately, she now seems to be outgrowing the franchise...]
So, over the last year or so I have been working on introducing more moral ambiguity into Kasia’s play world. First, some of the dolls started objecting to being cast as the bad guys in various games. This was a hoot, because 4-5 year old Kasia saw nothing unusual in a doll arguing its assigned role, and would enter long debates with various ‘actors’ about their roles, their presumed motivation, and whether they were becoming typecast. The point of the exercise was to break down the ‘beauty=good’, ‘ugly=bad guy’ stereotype – and, frankly, to delay the moment when the next pony would fall off a cliff or get captured.
More recently, I have been working on showing the bad guy’s perspective. For example, I had a long series of bedtime stories / role-plays (story time has a tendency to become scripts for playtime, and playtime ‘rules’ tend to restrict the range of options for story time) in which the princess and her pink pony are the subject of persecution by the Wicked Witch of the West. (Borrowing wholesale for bedtime stories falls under ‘fair use’, right?) It slowly emerges, however, that the Wicked Witch has been the victim of a smear campaign, and that she is in fact the aggrieved party here. Although initially intrigued by the moral ambiguity presented, Kasia was clearly disturbed by the introduction of shades of grey, and has recently asked if we could go back to the original stories where it was just the good princess vs. the Wicked Witch....
Kasia's drawing of a pony
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
It's been an interesting journey: I started by reading and reviewing Lorina's first novel, Shadow Song, which is a brilliant example of why some great literature has to be self-published (in contrast to most self-publishing, which has been turned down for good reason.) That led to me discussing trends in publishing with Lorina and her role as a rapidly growing micropublisher (see earlier posts). The more we talked, the more I became convinced that she and others like her represent the future of SF publishing, And I've been looking for an oopertunity to get back into SF editing but all the other presses I was looking at kept missing what are for me the obvious trends of where things are going in the future. Lorina Stephens and Five Rivers seem to be positioning themselves at the cutting edge, right where I wanted to be.
I look forward to a long and fascinating association with Five Rivers.