Monday, November 15, 2004

So many bugs

Bugs as precise medical terminology:

1. Helena's "bug," fever, emergency hospital visit, and recovery that delayed our trip from the gitgo.

2. The lingering of that same bug, which in subsequent days manifest in a suspect auricular discharge that, in combination with Helena's travel-inspired crankiness, led to a walk-in clinic visit for fear that Helena may have developed an ear infection. The doctor reassured me that is was simple some vestige of whatever bug she'd had.

3. My mom's "bug," which, in combination with the then yet to be diagnosed pneumonia, led to dangerously high fever and an emergency room visit the night before our scheduled departure. Mom was admitted for a few days, the doctors and nurses commenting, "That's some nasty bug you've got."

We missed our train. J-F came to collect us by car, though we stuck around a few extra days to take care of some stuff around the house.

Bugs as entertainment:

4. The ladybug Helena dressed up as for Halloween. Cute as a bug! I'll post a picture after I get my analog film developed and scan something. (I really should get me a proper digital camera — the Handycam is less handy and more cumbersome when you're trying to travel light.) We visited only a handful of neighbouring houses, more for the opportunity for my mother to show off her granddaughter than for the pleasure of trick-or-treating, Helena not yet having acquired the taste for the ritual or the candy (though the lollipop intrigues her). Helena seemed to prefer staying home and answering the door ("ding-dong") to the neighbourhood kids, furiously waving bye-bye to everybody.

5. The rubber spider in Helena's trick-or-treat take. A wonderful toy — you can hug it, kiss it, share your meals with it, pet it, pretend to eat it, wear it on your head or foot to illicit a (fake) reaction from family members ("Eww, a bug!), throw it in the general direction of people to freak them out. It's inspired the drama queen in her — she screams and feigns terror, brushing the bug out of her hair or off her foot and running away.

6. The fridge magnets (no, not "maggots" as I originally mistyped) — two ladybugs, of course. Take them off the fridge door, put them back on the fridge door, take them off again, put them back, take them off, carry them around in plastic cup, hide them in the cupboard, find them the next day, put them back on the fridge. Ah, the joy.

7. The book I was reading: The Bug, by Ellen Ullman.

From The New York Times new and notable paperbacks:

Reinventing the story of Frankenstein and his sentient monster as an allegory for the birth of the computer, this first novel takes place in Silicon Valley in 1984, when its heroine, a Ph.D. in the "linguistics of poetics," becomes enamored with an elusive computer bug called "the Jester" that threatens to bring down her company. The result is a "thrilling and intellectually fearless" tale that "remains true to the idea-rich gothic melodrama of Shelley's novel," Benjamin Anastas wrote in these pages in 2003.


I don't know about "thrilling." It wasn't quite the dark techno-mystery I expected, but rather psychological and philosophical, which I generally prefer. I was completely drawn in, not least because I could relate: I studied linguistics! I've worked as a QA tester! I listen to Einsturzende Neubauten!

For the only time during the trip I regretted not having Internet access, to be able to research, for example, the history of the computer mouse.

Next time I travel though, I will choose reading material less ominously titled.

Then there are the things that really bugged me, too numerous and vague to actually number.

Like sleeping with Helena. I hate that. She's a restless sleeper to begin with, and though I would ordinarily sleep through tornadoes and earthquakes, happy to rest on bare concrete, I stir at her merest whimper, so we keep waking each other up. But I admit that when she spontaneously wraps her arms around my head, saying "Mama" like she's genuinely pleased to see me, kissing my hair, it kind of makes up for it.

Like how my mom jumps when the phone rings, or how she's unable to do nothing for a day. Like her insistence on rehashing the errors of my blog ways (someday I must demonstrate to her the vastness of the Internet and the unreliability and foolishness of most of its content to prove how insignificant this blog is), and her weird need for the validation of her siblings.

Like all sorts of things regarding my brother. Like how he pronounces Helena "huh-LAY-na" — I hate that. So now you know: it's he-le-na, like Helen with an "a," with a slight stress on the second syllable, so that it sounds right in Polish or French.

But believe it or not, Helena is making me a better daughter, and a better person all round, I think.

A visiting uncle asked if Helena was named for my grandmother to which I replied, "Yes, of course." My mother was surprised, thinking I chose the name for its history and meaning, which is also true. And it's petty of me to have never clarified the point to my mother. In my view, all these components are inextricable from each other. If I despised my grandmother, I wouldn't be able to hear the name without that colour of feeling, no matter how euphonious. Likewise the name would never have made the shortlist were it not inspired by her and the desire to link to family history, but it would never have been pursued if the name was truly horrid. Besides, the woman deserves to be honoured and remembered, dammit. To me, a name is all meanings and connotations at once, and I've been frustrated that my mother doesn't get that — how does one begin to explain... Oddly (though I shouldn't be surprised) this admission that I named my baby for my grandmother seems to make a difference to her.

Sheesh! Two weeks without blogging and boy do I start to ramble!

I'm amazed by the extent to which I acted as interpreter for Helena — I have discovered the key to her secret language. I'm sure of it. Though people still marvel, "Did she really say that?" by which they're implying I put words in her mouth, but I'm not. Really. I know her sounds now. It makes sense. She makes sense. She has language!

The creative genius that is my little girl:

My mother had purchased pipecleaners, intending that we fashion antennae for Helena's Halloween ladybug costume (we settled for ponytails atop her head). Helena comes upon them one morning and hands me a crushed one. I ask her what she thinks it looks like. Flower. I go about further defining this pipecleaner flower. Another one. Giraffe. I give Helena a fresh pipecleaner, suggesting she "make" something. She proudly hands me her gently twisted creation: "Nnnick." Snake!
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