Saturday, October 30, 2004

More Googlebombing

Elizabeth at Half Changed World discovered that the top link for Stephen Jay Gould's article "Human Equality is a Contingent Fact of History" is to David Duke's official Web site. To quote Elizabeth: "Gould's argument is, first, in support of human equality as not just a moral principle but a scientific fact -- at least with respect to racial differences."

By linking to the actual article, bloggers can help bump the Duke site from the top of the search heap.

Here's a link to the Wikipedia entry: Human Equality is a Contingent Fact of History.

Pass the word!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

… Said the Fish in the Pot

It's not quite the same as tasting a madeleine*, but reading The Cat in the Hat has re-ignited a memory for me.

Sean loves The Cat in the Hat. I admire the word play, of course, but the book stresses me out. You know the fish in the book, that nagging embodiment of anxiety as the Cat wreaks havoc? That's me. I completely identify with the poor fish. What a nightmare scenario: home invasion, no parents, wanton destruction of property.

The fish especially reminds me of my grade-school self. I was the ultimate Miss Goody Two-Shoes. I never, and I mean never, got in trouble. I got good grades and was always quiet and shy (and a complete social reject, but that's a post for another day).

My classmates were largely rambunctious troublemakers. In my Catholic school, punishment was meted out en masse---even if only some kids were misbehaving, everyone in the class had to write the spelling words 100 times. I hated this environment and hated (most of) the other kids. I would grow tense every time the teacher left the room, silently wishing that everyone would just sit down and be quiet, for heaven's sake. I was never a tattle-tale or snitch, but the psychic toll of stewing in silence was not inconsiderable.

Even now I am battling the unsavory side of this personality trait: a tendency to go with the flow, to be the good girl, to never upset anyone. Sigh. How will I motivate my kids to question the status quo and follow their bliss if I am the Queen of Nonconfrontation?

*Okay, okay, I've never actually read Remembrance of Things Past, but I see no reason to let that stop me from trotting out this overused literary allusion.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Can We Go Spelunking in That Cave?

One of my big parenting pet peeves is empty threats. If you say you're going to turn this car around if Johnny pokes Susie one more time, then by golly you should follow through.

Since this tends to bug me, I try to be consistent about enforcing rules, even when the ensuing meltdown is disproportionate to the disciplinary insult. Most of the time I'm pretty good about it.

Most of the time.

Right after Sean's bath tonight, Jeff was brushing Sean's teeth. Sean has this annoying habit of clamping his teeth down on the toothbrush and laughing as Jeff or I tell him to open his mouth so that we can brush his teeth. It's the laughter that gets to us more than anything---the more terse we become, the more Sean laughs.

I told Sean that if he didn't open his mouth, there'd be no story before bedtime. His response? More laughter, and we had to pry that toothbrush out of his mouth with a set of pliers. Well, not really. But we were tempted.

Minutes later, when I informed Sean that Daddy wouldn't be reading him a bedtime story, his tears were profuse and his unhappiness obvious: "I want a story! Please? Daddy read a story!"

You can guess what happened. We caved. But in a principled sort of way---one story rather than the usual three.

Maybe it's because the evening had been such a roller coaster, with tears and tiny bouts of hysteria over pretty much nothing at all. I just didn't want to end Sean's day on such a sad note.

Tomorrow maybe I'll turn the car around for real.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Suburban Legend

Most of the time I actually don't mind living in overdeveloped suburbia. I love my house; my neighborhood is quiet, friendly, and ethnically diverse; my children will be able to walk to their grammar school.

On the way to the county library yesterday, my positive vibes about where we live got a jolt as we drove past two of the three farms in my town. These three farms are not just the only working farms in my town---they are also the only ones in the entire county, and they are all within about 2 miles of my house. Pretty cool, I thought, pointing out to Sean the horses at one farm and the sheep at another.

As we approached the library, though, the unseemly side of suburbia revealed itself. The library is located in an office/retail park, and it's right across from a half-empty shopping mall. Two of the four anchor stores have been closed, their husks sitting forlornly on a sea of blank asphalt. One of the stores had been built a few years ago and was unceremoniously closed after about a year and a half.

So we have the dying shopping mall here, and yet a few miles away (apparently in a far more promising neck of the woods), a new crop of stores is being erected. Thank goodness! If there's anything we need around here it's seven more Kohl's, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Target stores.

And thus my idealistic reverie was cut short. To top that off, Sean decided to practice almost every single maneuver in the toddler cliché handbook: running away from me, pulling books off of shelves, throwing the stuffed animals off the couch in the children's section, and lying down on the floor while we were checking our books out because I had had the temerity to stop him from running behind the counter.

I solaced myself by thinking that the large late fees I always wind up paying are helping the library to stave off a possible fiscal crisis brought on by short-sighted state budget cuts.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

So Where Can One Buy Patience, Anyway?

I am a somewhat impatient person.

No, wait, let me qualify that. In certain circumstances, I am a somewhat impatient person. In others, I am a paragon of patience.

At work, for instance. I've been doing my job for a long time and have acquired enough experience and perspective that not too many things topple me from my equipoise perch.

In the parenting milieu, patience for me can be a terribly finite resource. Again, though, not with everything. I have a high threshold for tantrums, for example. And spills and messes? Not a problem.

But say you are a two-year-old who likes to expend your excess energy by treating the sofa as your personal jungle gym. You hoist yourself up on the arm of the sofa and then dive onto pillows placed strategically along the cushions, yelling something like "AAAAAAAAOOOOhhhh!". Then you wriggle down among the pillows and bellow "I'm stuck! Help! Mommy! I'm stuck!" Then you laugh hysterically when your mother or father comes over and explains, calmly at first, that you cannot play the fall down game on the sofa, that you may get hurt. And then you repeat your little game until you are banished from the sofa. And you do this every single night.

This is strictly hypothetical, of course, but it's very similar to situations in which my patience snaps like a dry twig.

Or, to pluck another hypothetical situation out of thin air, say you are a one-year-old who never ever sits still. To you, getting dressed is an egregious violation of your civil rights, robbing you of time that could be much better spent pulling books off of shelves and crawling up the stairs. Even worse than getting dressed is having shoes put on your feet. Now, shoes are a delightful plaything---you've spent many joyous minutes carrying them around and placing them on and taking them off various pieces of furniture. But to have those shoes put on your feet? Torture.

By the time one shoe is more or less forced into place, you wriggle yourself out of arms reach and walk away, then protest loudly when chased after to resume the hateful activity. Repeat this process for the remaining three steps: tie shoe, put on next shoe, tie next shoe. Is there any wonder why your mother exhales loudly and proclaims "My God we haven't even tied the first shoe yet! If you could sit still for 30 seconds we'd be done by now!"

I'm working on the patience thing. I recognize my trigger points and try to maintain composure when I sense them approaching. I don’t want to turn into the shrill mom who yells a lot. I don't think I'm anywhere near that stage, but I do wish I could be Zen Mommy more often.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Again with the Not Sleeping

The latest frivolous inconvenience setting off my internal whine-o-meter is lack of sleep.

I've mentioned the sleeping problems that have befallen us. Things have improved a bit: Sean seems to be falling asleep more easily, and Allie's multiple wakenings have diminished because her most recent tooth finally erupted.

In the place of the every-few-hours wakenings, though, is one big wakening midway through the night. And it seems to have one and only one peaceful solution: bringing Allie into bed with us. Oh, yes, I know all about the co-sleeping controversy, really I do. I am well versed in the arguments from the entrenched camps: 1) co-sleeping is natural and essential for forming an attachment with your baby, co-sleeping is the way that humans have slept for thousands of years, cribs that separate baby from parent are a modern monstrosity that fosters poor attachment and 2) co-sleeping is unsafe for babies, babies need to be able to soothe themselves to sleep, parents need to establish a space separate from their children.

As with many other divisive parenting topics, I see merit to both sets of arguments. Call me an advocate of the mushy middle. In this case, our decision to have Allie sleep with us midway through the night is motivated by sheer pragmatism: The fastest, most efficient way for all of us to return to sleep is to sidestep the endless cycle of rock, bounce, walk, sing, put in crib, pick up after instant awakening.

Part of me likes snuggling with Allie. It's soft and warm, and it's one of the only times she's ever stationary enough to cuddle with. But truly, Jeff and I sleep so much better when there is just the two of us in bed, not the two of us separated by a squirmy, roving baby.

The alternatives? I hate the cry-it-out approach, and I'm reluctant to resort to the Ferber method here. We tried Ferberizing with Sean and it was traumatic for all of us. Maybe reluctance will yield to desperation at some point, but we're not quite there yet.

Editors Begone!

From an interview with Anne Rice in The New York Times last week (no link because the article is no longer available online for free):

"People who find fault and problems with my books tend to say, 'She needs an editor,' '' Ms. Rice said. "When a person writes with such care and goes over and over a manuscript and wants every word to be perfect, it's very frustrating.''

She added: "When you take home a CD of Pavarotti or Marilyn Horne, you don't want to hear another voice blended in. I feel the same way about Hemingway. If I read it, I don't want to read a new edited version.''

Honey, if anyone needs an editor, it's you. What a lovely combination: bloated prose and bloated ego.

Monday, October 18, 2004

15 Years and Counting

At work I received a phone call from the security guard at the front desk. "There's a plant down here for you."

Hmm. A plant? Maybe a gift from an author exceptionally pleased with our work on his manuscript?

Oh, no. Much, much better.

It turns out that the "plant" was, in fact, 18 stunning red and white roses from Jeff for our 15th anniversary. We've been married for 8 years but have been together for 15. Fifteen years! I'm having a hard time conceptualizing this span of time. In some ways, I feel that Jeff and I have been together forever. Yet it often seems that the time has melted away.

I know that some couples do not celebrate the date on which they became a couple. I, for one, am glad we are not such a couple. I can't imagine restarting the clock, so to speak, on our wedding day, and dismissing the 6 and a half years we spent together before that.

Happy anniversary, Jeff. The distance we've traveled in the 15 years since that first kiss is immeasurable; I am so lucky to have you as my companion on this journey.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Mass Media Semi-Independence

I will be the first to admit that I am a sucker for glossy, attractively designed lifestyle magazines. True, in the pre-kid days, I would never subscribe to anything other than Newsweek or Utne Reader (and if I were feeling particularly socially conscious, Mother Jones), but give me a doctor's office and a choice between InStyle and Time? I'll take the celebrity gossip and impossible-to-duplicate decorating tips any time.

This subscribe-only-to-serious-stuff credo went by the wayside when I became a mom. To fill an insatiable hunger for advice on raising children, I signed up for a bunch of commercial parenting periodicals. They are so pretty to look at! And so filled with helpful advice!

Something in me actually yearned for enumerated, multicolor lists that boiled down the complexity of childrearing into chirpy platitudes: 10 Quick Discipline Fixes, Eight Mistakes New Parents Should Never Make, 100 Baby Products You Must Buy (And Kindly Overlook the Convenient Product Placements from Our Advertisers, For We Do Not Let That Sort of Thing Cloud Our Editorial Judgment). Maybe I desired this because real-life parenting was so messy.

I've tried to overlook some of the more unpalatable assumptions underlying these magazines. Among them: 1) You clearly need help, fast, by reading conflicting advice from self-appointed experts; 2) if the advice doesn't work, here, buy some overpriced stuff you and your child do not need to fill that aching void in your life; and 3) in case you weren't aware, your child is in imminent danger from EVERYTHING in life.

To be fair, it's not that I haven't found useful advice or sometimes enlightening articles. But I find the overall tendency to simplify parenting (and marginalize working mothers, a rant for another day) to be insulting.

So this time, when I receive the 20 renewal notices for these magazines, I'll consign them all to the recycling bin. I might keep Working Mother for now, although I am growing to dislike its emphasis on white-collar jobs and upper-middle-class mothers. Surely the concerns of blue-collar women deserve equal, or perhaps even more, attention---I think it's unlikely that most work places in the U.S. can afford the plethora of family-friendly policies offered by the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers.

The one magazine I will definitely keep? Brain, Child. I love this magazine, the polar opposite of the glossies. My only complaint is its frequency. Four times a year just isn't enough, especially now that I'll have far fewer other magazines to read between issues!

Monday, October 11, 2004

Culinary Lessons from a First Birthday Party

1. Chicken marinated and baked in raspberry vinaigrette takes on the unfortunate hue of uncooked meat.
2. Quick grilling helps diminish this unsavory appearance, thereby restoring the sanity of a harried hostess.
3. Raspberries have an astonishingly short shelf life.
4. Moldy raspberries tend to look unappetizing, too.
5. A mom who offers to run off to the organic grocery store 20 minutes before the party begins to fetch fresher raspberries is a godsend.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Desperately Seeking Suggestions

I am in a book funk. I'm almost finished my current book and have no attractive options on the horizon. Despite my initial enthusiasm, I've ditched Crimson Petal and the White after about 300 pages. I admire the writing; some of the sentences are extremely clever. But life is short, and I decided I'd rather not devote my limited reading time to 800 pages about Victorian prostitution. More specifically, it's the painstakingly detailed encounters with Victorian prostitutes that I'm tired of reading. Oh, and the hypocrisy of the prostitutes' patrons. And the patronizing attitude toward women in general.


I turn to you, gentle readers, for some suggestions about what I should read next. Anyone? Anyone? Buehler? Buehler?

(If you've been put off in the past by the registration requirement for the comment feature, fear no more. I've found a new comment service that allows anyone to post a comment without having to register with Blogger.)

Stangely Quiet

In the room next to me, there is no thumping, banging, singing, or chatting going on. To anyone who has lived in our house for the past 2 weeks, this seems a little odd. Surely the occupant of that room should be playing with his menagerie of stuffed animals in the semi-dark, oblivious to the fact that the lack of light in his room is a pretty universal signal for TIME TO GO SLEEP.

I've been almost holding my breath, waiting for "MOMMEEEE!! Mommymommymommymommy MOMMMEEE!!! Can you sing? Can you lay down on the piddow? Can you get [Insert whatever stuffed animal fell out of his crib]?" Since Jeff is not home (he's at a swanky hotel receiving an award for a video he produced for work), there would be no trading off these missions into Sean's room tonight.

For whatever reason, though, Sean was calm and quiet when I said goodnight and left his room. And he's stayed that way. Maybe the CD of lullabye music we decided to try playing after putting him to bed has had the intended soporific effect tonight. Or maybe he was just really tired. Either way, it's a nice break from the 2-hour bedtime marathons we've been having around here lately.

Now if only Allison would sleep through the night …

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Budding English Speaker

English is a tough language to learn. What with all the homonyms, homophones, idioms, and picayune grammatical rules, it's a wonder anyone not born into an English-speaking land can manage to speak it, let alone write it, with any fluency.

So when I edit reports written by people for whom English is not the primary language, I tend to resist the urge to roll my eyes at twisted syntax or incomprehensible sentences. Instead I stand back and admire an intellectual feat of which I am incapable. The most complex sentence I can construct in German, the only language I've studied, is about four words long.

Sean came to the language party a little late---he didn't begin speaking more than one or two words until around Christmas of last year. (Hah! Fooled you! Here you thought I was about to natter on endlessly about something other than my children.) Since then his vocabulary and comprehension have expanded almost exponentially.

As with all toddlers, there is no end to the cuteness inherent in Sean's malapropisms and mispronunciations. From "mawnlower" for "lawnmower", "hecilopter" for "helicopter", "innasaycond" for "intersection", inserting a "d" in various words ("we have-ta be quie-det"), and "I spy with my lil-lel leye", it's all I can do not to swoop down and hug him each time he speaks.

I find it amazing that children apply grammatical rules even without having heard a specific precedence for them*. To them, it's obvious that if the past tense of many words is formed by adding "ed", then that must be the case for all words. Sean sometimes says things like, "I throwed the ball."

Even more problematic for him are pronouns. "What him doing?" is a big question around our house. How confusing it must be to learn a language that doesn't even pretend to be consistent: on the masculine end, "him" is the noun and "his" is the adjective, but the feminine equivalents are the same word: "her".

So when Sean wrangles with English grammar, I have to silence the editor in me. Instead of correcting him, which I think would only make him feel self-conscious and embarrassed, I repeat back what he said, inserting the correct words: "Yes, you threw the ball really far!" "What is he doing? He is mowing the lawn." It doesn't seem to have made too much of a difference yet, but I'm hopeful.

*One of these days, I'm really going to buckle down and finish Stephen Pinker's The Language Instinct, which I started about 7 years ago.