Saturday, December 31, 2005
- M and E's friends, and their friendships
- Niagara Falls
- seeing Madagascar with E and Pride and Prejudice with M AT THE MOVIE THEATER
- the beach
- ice skating
- renewing my friendships with E and A
- talking to Aunt M
- our summer vacation
- the bed at the hotel in Newport
- the picture on our holiday card
Happy New Year!
It seems to be the Polly Pocket holiday season for the five-year-old set. E got one for her birthday and two for Hanukkah. My sister gave E the same one we got for my niece (Calendar Polly--either you know what I'm talking about, or you don't want to). My sister had gotten the same one to give to my niece the next night, so luckily I got to take that one and we gave it to E's friend for whom we'd forgotten to buy a birthday present.
It's a very musical holiday season chez nous, especially in the car nous. We have a permanent medley going: "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," "Rudolph," "Jingle Bells," "Hanukkah O Hanukkah," "The Dreidel Song" (with the special verses E learned at religious school: "I had a little dreidel, I made it out of bread, and when I went to spin it, I ate it up instead," and "I had a little dreidel, I made it out of air, and when I went to spin it, of course it wasn't there"), and a new composition by M and E that goes "Sufganiyot, sufganiyot, oh how I love my sufganiyot," over and over, ad infinitum, forever, could these holidays please end already.
This Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year's/school vacation marathon is wearing me out. We've had grandparents, we've had Disney on Ice, we've had a Hanukkah party and a birthday party, we've had annual special treat excursion with E and A-R, tonight we have New Year's Eve dinner party, and we just got invited to yet another Hanukkah party tomorrow. Oy. [Edited to add: And we just got invited to two more parties tomorrow!]
My New Year's Eve strategy seems to be working again. I decided many years ago not to worry about New Year's Eve, and as a result I've never had a bad New Year's Eve. Tonight we're going to dinner with several families from E's school, and then coming home to write in the girls' New Year's books, play games, and watch the ball drop. E is very excited to watch the ball drop, though she is still struggling to understand what the ball is and how it is going to drop. Unfortunately, I would peg the chances of her watching the ball drop at low to negligible, given her penchant for falling asleep on the couch. The big question is whether S will make it home by midnight. The chances of that are barely higher. Oh well. At least M is good company.
Friday, December 30, 2005
In Red State Capital City Suburb, we were at the top of the economic heap. Sure there were people with a lot more money than us, people with much bigger houses than ours, but we could do pretty much whatever we wanted, given our income and our desires, and we never felt ourselves at any loss. (Really I should not be saying "we" here, because S doesn't have these issues. So when I am saying "we," know that I mean the family economic unit, not the family emotional unit, and that the emotions expressed herein are all mine.)
I was about to say that in Red State Capital City, wealth was not visible, but as I wrote that, I realized it is not true at all. Wealth in Red State Capital City was quite visible, largely in the form of McMansions and Hummers, neither of which interested me at all. Which is to say, the signifiers of wealth did not signify for me, and therefore I felt fully satisfied with my own economic state.
Then we moved.
Until I quit my job, our income in East Coast Big City was actually about 25% more than it was in Red State. To put it a bit more precisely: we had a good income in Red State, a better income in East Coast Big City, and both incomes were well above all relevant medians, means, etc. We had enough money there, we have enough money here (or rather, we had enough when I had a job, and we will have enough again when I get a new job, and clearly we have enough that I was able to quit my job) (I just want to be absolutely clear that this is about feelings, not money, except that it's also a little bit about money, but enough disclaiming already--like I said yesterday, if you want to take this as privileged whining, you probably should).
Now that we live in East Coast Big City, I am constantly aware of the money we don't have. We don't have the money to send our kids to private school (not that we want to, but the option would be nice) (let's not even talk about how we'll pay for college). We don't have the money to live in a house in Town (let's not even talk about taxes). We don't have the money to drive the car I would drive if I had the money or to buy the beautiful things we see in stores. And the thing is, all around us are people who have that money and more.
In Red State, I would read the New York Times and wonder who on earth would buy a $700 stroller. Now I see that stroller every day, not so much in Town, thank god, where I think I've only seen one, but whenever I go to East Coast Big City or City or Other City. I listen to the parents at ballet complaining about the number of private schools they're applying to. In a kind of ordinary nice restaurant in Newport there were Botox faces and fur coats and designer purses.
And the thing is, a lot of these people are not so different from us. Similar backgrounds. Similar educations. And sometimes this just makes me totally insane. Because I appreciate so much, really I do, everything that we have. I appreciate that, with a lot of help from our family, we were able to buy a condo in Town. I appreciate that I could quit my job. I appreciate that we can go to the doctor whenever we need to. I appreciate that we have lots of nice things and can go out to dinner and really, still, even in East Coast Big City, do so much of what we want to do.
But there's a piece of me that wants to buy a beautiful new bed like the one I saw the other day in the window of a furniture store on Fancy Shopping Street. And replace all my dingy bras and fraying towels at one fell swoop, and I'm not talking shopping spree at Target. I'd like to remodel our attic to the specifications of my dreams. Buy organic and hardcover whenever I want. And not worry every single minute about whether I'm going to find a job that makes enough money.
This is where S gets sensible. S says we could have had all that, but we made different choices. And he's right.
But I tell you, it boggles my mind how much money some people around here have. And I hate how much I want some of it.
[Newport, of course, is the ultimate metonym for money, not just that old Astor and Vanderbilt money, but real people today who have yachts and summer houses and wear Lilly Pulitzer and drive BMW SUVs.]
[I really should just delete this post.]
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Newport crystallized some things I've been thinking about and thinking about blogging about since we moved. I haven't managed to blog about them, I think because they're complicated and kind of obnoxious, but I also haven't managed to stop thinking about them. So I thought maybe I'd try blogging about them in the context of Newport.
I'm going to try and write three posts: the east coast post, the money post, and the house post, though I'm not sure they will come out in that order. They are also deeply entwined, so I don't know if I'll be able to keep them separate. And before I even start, I should say that it's extremely likely that this whole thing will come off as simply a privileged whine, which it is, so consider yourself warned.
For the last few years, I feel like there's been a constant stream of articles and stories about people leaving the coasts for the heartland: the midwest, the southwest, anywhere you can get a job and afford a house and live happily ever after.
I'll be the first to say that jobs and houses are great things. In Red State we had both, or should I say all three, because we had two good jobs and one nice house which equalled a lovely suburban life. All those things that those people in those articles move to the heartland for. Great. Fine. Groovy. I hope it works out for them.
This post is not going to go all culture and politics and lattes on you, because, frankly, you can find culture and politics and lattes in the heartland. We saw Mark Morris and Wilco and John Doe solo. We went to anti-war rallies and worked on the Kerry campaign with lots of like-minded folk (though not enough). There were corporate lattes all over the place and independent lattes just a short walk from our house.
But it didn't work for us. Why? Well, that's a long story, and a lot of it comes down to work, and I don't go there (much).
But in a fundamental way--and I didn't realize how fundamental it was until we left--it didn't work for us because it wasn't home. On one level, this is about family and friends. We had wonderful friends in Red State Capital City: friends to have seders with, and friends to celebrate with, and friends to sit around and bitch with: all kinds of friends. But our family was all in one place, 600 miles away, and nearby were my grade school friends, my high school friends, my college roommate, my post-college roommate, K and D. We were always packing up and coming back: for holidays, for bat mitzvahs, for weddings, for vacations. We could never fully root ourselves there, because everyone else was here.
OK, I'm having trouble with a segue. What I want to talk about (and maybe I did blog about this? certainly I started to blog about it, but I seem to recall deleting, as I've deleted lots of attempts to blog about this nexus of issues) is the landscape. I'm tempted to get all metaphorical and talk about the social landscape, because that's a piece of it too: almost everywhere I went in Red State, I was pretending, pretending to be a normal person in Red State (not at your house, J, and not at your house, D, but pretty much everywhere else), whereas in Blue State, I'm just me.
Really, though, I mean the literal landscape. The houses, the freeways, the beach, the ponds, the mountains, the lakes. In East Coast Big City I still drive a lot, but I drive through neighborhoods and along rivers and even the freeways go over neighborhoods and across rivers. When I get to the country, which often I do, I'm driving through woods and over hills. Almost every time I run, I run by a river or a pond, and this is in the middle of Town, which is not exactly a metropolis, but is certainly on the urban side. A few weeks after we moved, we went to the beach, the beach I went to as a kid, and I could breathe.
Basically (literally and metaphorically) it comes down to fields. I hated those damn fields. And if you love fields, because they are the landscape of your childhood or because you have grown to appreciate their bleak midwinter beauty and their summer expanse of green, more power to you, and I truly mean that. But they weren't for us. So we came home.
And I thought about all this on the beach in Newport, where I could breathe.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
[When I was in a rage and thought of this post, it was long and detailed and had to do with my relation to cooking and food and eating, and each child's individual relation to food and eating, and it made us sound like we have huge issues, which in fact we don't. Now I'm over it and everyone just ate the nice dinner I made, so I feel no need to rehearse it all. But the sentiment still seems worth recording.]
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
At a certain point, though, perhaps when I had kids and a job and less time to read, I realized that this habit, really this compulsion, was keeping me from reading. If I didn't like my book, I wouldn't read at all. I couldn't start a new book, because I had to finish my book. But I didn't like my book, so I wouldn't read it, which meant I didn't finish it and thus couldn't start a new one. Something of a readerly Catch-22.
So I threw caution and habit to the wind and started abandoning books. If I didn't like it, I wouldn't read it. I'd return it to the library, or put it back on the shelf, or even just leave it in the stack on the bedside table, and I'd defiantly find a new book. Sometimes I stopped after a few pages, sometimes half way through.
I started a list of books I'd abandoned, right next to the list of books I've read. Somehow that helped it seem ok.
Sometimes, though, it's hard. There are the books I love immediately and race right through (Prep). There are the books that grow on me, engaging me just enough from the beginning to keep me reading, if slowly or even a bit resentfully, and eventually becoming a pleasure (On Beauty). There are the books I cheerfully abandon after a chapter or so (something I took out of the library last week which so totally didn't work for me that I've already forgotten the title). But then there are the books that I don't quite like enough to want to keep reading, but don't quite dislike enough to quit without a second thought.
I have two of those out of the library right now. New novels I'd heard of by famousish literaryish writers: Kathryn Harrison (you know, the affair with dad book [Amazon link for reviews], which I've never read, and a bunch of novels that always get reviewed in the Times, which I've never read either) and Lynne Sharon Schwartz (loads of middle-class New York intellectual novels, including Disturbances in the Field which is great). Promising, no?
No. They're not working for me. The first chapter of Envy is dazzling, and I was ready to settle in, but then the plot gets tedious (psychoanalyst with dead kid obsessed with sex) and the writing gets pedestrian (the dialogue, my god, the dialogue is so bad). The Writing on the Wall is way too self-conscious in its "I'm writing a 9/11 novel"-ness. The character has oddnesses that make her seem like a character, not a person, and there is an arch tone, maybe it's the self-consciousness, a kind of winking at the reader, like aren't we smart to be reading about this odd character and knowing the towers are about to fall and, presumably, change everything (I haven't gotten there yet, I'm only in the middle of Chapter 2).
Oviously I should just stop reading. But I can't seem to let go. Maybe it's the old completion compulsion; maybe it's kind of wanting to see what happens; maybe it's wondering if they are really so bad, given how good the reviews are (I read The Starter Wife straight through in two days, curious if it could possibly be as bad as it was, and it was indeed as bad as it was, but it was trash, absurdly trash, fully aware of its trashness, so that was fine). And I don't really have anything else to read--except the stack of books-to-be-read on my dresser, now so high it has mitosised into two stacks.
Maybe I'm just having trouble letting go and moving on.
Monday, December 26, 2005
1) My kids spend an inordinate amount of time upside down. Basically a modified plough pose, if you know your yoga, though without the arm position. They watch TV upside down. They read upside down. They lie upside down on the couch and on the floor, contemplating the ceiling. They do their next weird thing upside down.
2) My kids practically live on frozen peas. We go through three family-size bags a week, not a pea cooked. When we get home, which is usually around 5:45, the first thing I do is pour each of them a bowl of coldy peas, as they are known chez nous. Which they then consume upside down, as often as not.
3) One of my kids' favorite games is known as the two-year-old game. I believe this game consists of E being a two year old and M being some older person in charge of the two year old--mom? big sister? I'm not quite sure. But they play it a lot.
Wow, those three came quickly, but now I'm having trouble. E eats frozen waffles frozen, but that basically repeats #2. M reads the same books over and over and over, but that's ordinary bookish child weirdness. Oh, I've got one, though it's a kind of passive weirdness, testimony, really, to their weird father.
4) My kids own records. LPs. Lots of them. And they go to record stores and pick out new records (well, used records, but new to them) (when their friends come over and see the records, they ask what they are--that's how weird it is for kids to own records).
I'm struggling here. And my kids are so weird, really, they are, but somehow I'm having trouble pinpointing their weirdness.
Of course there's the M weirdness of refusing to see movies in movie theaters, but I'm trying to come up with shared weirdnesses, and E is down with movie theaters.
OK, I've got it.
5) My kids spend more time planning the game than playing the game. In fact, in the middle of playing, they'll stop for more planning. Very meta.
And I even thought of one more.
Extra credit: The weirdest thing my kids say to each other: "Let's pretend that we're sisters."
I tried again. This time I used the KitchenAid (I don't know why I didn't use the KitchenAid last time; I always use the KitchenAid; the KitchenAid has revolutionized my baking; I owe almost all that I am as a baker to the KitchenAid; but last time, for some reason, I did not use the KitchenAid, I think perhaps because the recipe involved lots of bowls and much mixing, and the hand mixer seemed apropos). This time I also used the egg yolks. I scrutinized the recipe once again; I wondered What Would Nigella Do; then I did what I do: asked S what to do. After much scrutinizing of the recipe himself, he decided that I should add the egg yolks after the melted chocolate and before the superfine sugar. So I did.
People, Nigella made a mistake. This recipe needs egg yolks. It also benefits dramatically from the KitchenAid. I had batter that looked and acted like batter. I spread the batter into the pan. The cake rose. I was a happy baker.
Then I took it out of the oven, three minutes after the maximum recommended time, because it seemed a bit moist, and the cake collapsed. I was once again an anxious baker, though I reminded myself that many cakes collapse on purpose.
S dusted it with powdered sugar and we served it with whipped cream to raves from the first-night-of-Hanukkah guests.
It was pretty good: a dense kind of cake, moist, but with a light chocolate flavor, and the chestnut gives it, well, a kind of nutty sweetness, as might be expected. I wouldn't say that I adore it, but I do like it, in an "I'm not quite sure why I like this" kind of way.
Overall: thumbs up (with the egg yolks).
Friday, December 23, 2005
Thursday, December 22, 2005
The most important practical lesson of M's holiday concert was if you have an older kid, come late. It's standing room only at 9:00 when the concert begins, but the kindergarten parents leave after the kindergarten sings, the first grade parents leave after the first grade sings, etc. By the time you hit third grade, there are seats to spare. Of course this won't help us much next year, when we'll have kids in kindergarten and fifth grade so we'll need to be there from start to finish, unless there's another dramatic near-birth experience. But by, say, 2008, we should be able to drop E off at school at 8:10, go out to breakfast, and mosey into the auditorium around 9:25, just in time to sit down in a comfy chair and hear the second grade sing (M will be long gone to middle school by then).
The best thing about M's holiday concert was how totally fabulous it was, and how much it made me love her school--standardized tests, xeroxed worksheets, and all. What was fabulous? The principal welcoming us by explaining how the school has people from lots of different countries and religions so at the holiday concert they share lots of different holidays and cultures so everyone feels welcome. The music teacher who got the kindergarten kids to sing in unison, the fifth graders to sing in multi-part harmony, and every kid in the school excited and involved. The songs, which ranged in language from Hebrew to Japanese to Spanish to English, and in content from the changing seasons to the new year to lights to posadas to Frosty. The kindergarten girls in their party dresses, despite instructions to wear white tops and black bottoms. The ultimately conforming fourth graders in their white tops and black bottoms. The fourth graders singing "Song of Peace" to end the concert.
I tell you, it was like the winning entry in a competition for best public school advertisement ever.
If Johnny Damon thinks 13 million dollars a year is so much better than 10 million dollars a year that he's willing to cut his hair and abandon Red Sox Nation for the Yankees, then the hell with him.
But this morning, the pain is back: the sick clutching feeling in my stomach, the anxiety about what the future will bring, the free-floating fury that doesn't know where to land--on Johnny, for doing the deed? Larry, for apparently screwing up everything? Theo, for abandoning us first? John Henry, for letting it all happen?
At least if Theo were still around, we might maintain the illusion that this happened on purpose, that it was part of a bigger plan. And maybe it is. But it's pretty hard to have faith these days.
[And of course sports are the opiate of the masses, to bastardize Nietzche and Marx, and it's all just big business as usual, except...well, except that it's not.]
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
HAPPY BIRTHDAY E! We love you more than edamame and rice!
Meanwhile, in central Pennsylvania, a Republican judge does right (as opposed to wrong, not left) by the schoolchildren of Dover. Of course, the voters of Dover already did right, by booting the school committee that voted in intelligent design and replacing them with a committee committed to evolution. It's great to see some good news for once.
And in other New York Times news, I read Ken Auletta's New Yorker piece about the Times the other day ( actually it took me a few days to read it), and wondered how, well, how believable his disdain for Sulzberger is. That is, the article invited the reader, at least this reader, to take it with a grain of salt, in the very intensity of its evident disgust with its subject.
But then came the story on unauthorized spying which suddenly appeared just as the Patriot Act was up for reauthorization and its author was about to publish a book (sorry for the link to the other side, but they've got a point this time). You start to wonder who's minding the farm.
Then yesterday, they published the article about the teenage boy who became an online child porn star, of his own volition. The article's depiction of the world of predatory pedophiles is horrifying, and I suppose that's its main point. But I found it disturbing in some more subtle ways as well. First, of course, there are the pornographic implications of writing about pornography. Isn't reading the article just a little titillating, even as it is so upsetting? And how many people read that article and thought "wow, I'm going online to find myself some of that teen webcam porn"? Maybe not a lot, but certainly enough. Then there is Justin himself. The boy clearly had a bad homelife: his father abused and abandoned him; his mother seems, at best, not to have been paying enough attention (would you let your fourteen year old go out of town on his own to meet people you don't know? and those untreated ear infections?). The article is quite clear that the attention Justin got from adult men was a huge motivating force for him, as he escalated his pornographic activities. Indeed, he only stopped when confronted by Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald, and that happened only a few months ago (see Eichenwald's accompanying essay). Now he has done a 180: he has a lawyer, he has received immunity, and he is assisting the FBI in a massive investigation. Clearly Eichenwald and the Times thought long and hard about how to do the right thing, both by Justin himself and by the subject matter. But has anyone thought about how this boy, who so craves positive attention from adults, is still getting that attention, just in a different kind of way? I'm not saying that Eichenwald and the FBI and the lawyer are in any way parallel to the pedophiles, but can't they see how hard Justin is trying to please them now? So when Eichenwald boasts, and really it is boasting, about how Justin has turned his life around, thanks to him and the Times, I don't know, I'm a little skeptical of how it will all turn out once the attention dies down.
Wow, not much coherence to this post, huh?
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Do you think he's going to release the ultrasound pictures to the press? Will we get to watch the birth video?
Please, someone, just make them go away.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Congratulations to those of you who have stuck around since the beginning.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
M - The Parent Trap (Hayley Mills)
I got Crash, though I didn't actually watch it till Saturday night. I'm not quite sure what I thought of it, so I'm going to ramble. I don't remember the reviews and I haven't looked them up, so this is me unfiltered. If you haven't seen the movie but plan to, you might want to stop reading now.
Crash made me think about Film. I'm pretty good with literature. I know what I like and what I don't, but I also have no problem identifying what's good and what's bad, and I don't care if you disagree, because I'm right. But movies I'm not so good with. I know, for instance, that Nashville is a great film, no matter what anyone else says, though pretty much everyone agrees with me. But I also know that I love Dirty Dancing, and I couldn't care less whether it's any good. And damned if I know why everyone thinks Cinema Paradiso is so great.
I'm not quite sure this is the issue, but maybe it's related.
I found Crash totally compelling, but I'm not quite sure it's a good movie. There was car crash imagery and gun imagery and door/window imagery, all of which had clear thematic significance. I get imagery and themes in literature a lot, but whenever I get them in film, I'm all excited and think what a sophisticated film it is and what a great film viewer I am. But then I think that maybe I only got it because it was so obvious, which means maybe it's not such a good film.
Same thing with moral ambiguity. Lots of it in this movie. The good black guy sacrifices his integrity for his brother, but then his mother blames him for his brother's death. The good white guy shoots a black kid. The bad white guy saves a black woman's life. Is this true to the complications of life, or is it just formulaic and cheesy? Not quite sure.
Here's the thing: in contemporary film, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Let me give a simple example: romance. If you let the couple overcome their differences and live happily ever after, you're capitulating to the hegemony of the marriage plot. But if you don't let them live happily ever after, well, you're still basically capitulating to the hegemony of the marriage plot by resisting it, i.e. what will register is that you are breaking the rules, not whatever substitute narrative you think you are enacting (Deconstruction 101--see Derrida for further explanation).
With regard to Crash, if you demonstrate the unceasing inevitability of race and racism in contemporary America (i.e. L.A.), you've got a totally depressing movie. If you let tolerance shine through, you've got the American happy ending cliche. Is there an alternative? Does this movie pull it off? I'm not quite sure. There's a lot of bleakness, and then there's some hope: the little girl lives, the rich black couple appears to be reconciling, and, most importantly, the bad black guy does not sell the van of Chinese people to his fence, but instead sets them free in Chinatown. But by the time we get to his rueful grin as he drives away, I'm afraid we're in the realm of redemptive cliche. And when the black cop (alias the good black guy) finds his brother's little saint statue in the sand by the side of the road, well, it was just too obvious even for me (though the other thing about me and movies is that I almost always know what's going to happen [The Sixth Sense? totally obvious that he was dead]--really, I should have been a screenwriter). Then there's the scene where the rich black guy throws a piece of wood on the burning car alongside the poor black people, just in case you hadn't realized that he has realized the preeminence of his racial identity and the importance of solidarity.
And I think that's ultimately the problem with Crash, for me, at least. It was interesting and complicated and made a lot of good points about the intractability of racial conflict in America, but it was just too heavy-handed. As is proven by the snow. When it rains frogs in Magnolia, it's totally believable and beautiful, indeed, it pulls the whole movie together. But this snow, with its odd evocation of "The Dead," just seems forced. Especially since throughout the movie people have been saying "I hear it's going to snow" (nobody in Magnolia says "I hear it's going to rain frogs").
Then again, race and racial conflict in America are heavy-handed. So maybe the movie was ahead of me once again. After all, I watched the whole thing, though I thought I was going to bed, and I seem to be going on about it at great length. And I haven't even said anything about gender, which was the first thing I wanted to write about.
I wish S had stayed up to watch it with me. Maybe it's time to go read some reviews.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
But we moved, and now E is at school and there is a flourishing birthday party scene. She's been invited to a party with 20 kids, a carnival, and a musician (granted, it was a joint party for three kids) and two parties at the gym. We gave her a choice: she could have a big party with lots of kids or she could go to the paint your own pottery place around the corner with three friends (and she couldn't talk about it at school--that's our rule: invite everyone, or invite just a few but don't talk about it, and certainly you cannot invite everyone but one or two).
E's dream has been a paint your own pottery birthday party, so that's what she chose. Later we upped the count to five, for various social reasons, but we ended up with three anyway, because one couldn't come and one called in sick.
Will anyone be surprised if I say it was delightful? I think I am.
We walked to the paint your own pottery place, E holding E's hand, and A holding C's hand (E had been very clear that everyone had to hold someone's hand while we walked, and I was given the delicate task of hand-holding assignments, and in this case, I must say that I gave priority to my E, because the other E is the alpha girl in the class, and everyone wants to hold her hand). They were well-behaved and charming while very carefully painting their pottery--I thought it would take about 15 minutes, but they lasted at least 30.
Then we came home, hand in hand again, and had cake and ice cream and presents (here we bucked the Town trend: at every party E has gone to, the presents have not been opened--I must say, this is a practice I disapprove of, not opening the presents, because I think it deprives kids of the pleasure of giving, not to mention the opportunity to learn that it's not always about them). They played with balloons, and the presents, and then the moms came, and then--here's where it veered off course, in the most pleasant of ways--the girls got into the dressups and decided to make a show, and the moms sat in the living room and chatted (and S went to the grocery store--M had already gone off to her friend E's birthday party, two hours late, so she would get to paint some pottery), and everyone stayed for an extra hour and a half, and we had a lovely time.
Not a squabble, not a tear.
And big girl presents, too: games, art projects, Polly Pockets.
[And if you were wondering about the cake, E asked for the same cake as last year (Old-Fashioned Chocolate), and it was once again fine, if not that exciting.]
[And if you were wondering about my #1 birthday party tip: blow up a whole bag of balloons, no strings, and leave them on the living room floor. Hours of inevitable fun.]
Friday, December 16, 2005
[And here I must plead guilty to once having had a nanny and telling people, like the women Flanagan describes, that she was Mary Poppins. Which in fact she was: she was British, she'd spent two years at nanny school, she called me up and announced that she was going to be my nanny, and she created an unheard of level of order in our lives--she even got recalcitrant young M to fall asleep without hours of singing and back-patting, though of course M only performed this trick for her, never for me. Does it help if I say that she became one of my best friends?! (Please note self-parodic phrasing.)]
Thursday, December 15, 2005
- my orange kitchen
- holding a sleeping child in your arms, knowing that even though she feels bad, you're making her feel a tiny bit better
- Prep (someday I'm going to write about how incredibly good this novel is, not that it's an original thought, but right now I'm just trying to get something positive up here, not engage in substantive literary criticism)
- the fact that Monty Python has a record called Monty Python's Previous Record
- M's friends (last night she went out with E's family to celebrate E's birthday at the Indian restaurant on the corner and the fancy restaurant on the other corner where E's mom works; today she walked home from school with E and M; now she's going over to play with S)
- a washer and dryer in your own home (we've had that for many years, but one forgets to appreciate it until a little girl throws up in one's bed at 5:30 in the morning)
- six more days
[Apologies if you came here from Dawn, thinking you were going to learn something about a sick kid. She threw up twice this morning and she has a fever, but it's nothing dramatic. And really, I promise, I'm not obsessed with suicide.]
Not to burst your maybe-it-abusive-homes theory, but the little sister of a good friend of mine from high school committed suicide (by hanging herself) several years ago. Her home was stable, not abusive, her parents are wonderful loving people that are "cornerstone of the community" kind of people. It was really a tragedy.
But the family does have a history of mental disorders (depression et al), and I believe the girl in question was in therapy etc. So it wasn't out of left field - which is really cold comfort. :( Suicide is such a horrible thing...
I think that's really what I try to tell myself: not that it's all abusive homes (my friend's observation was about screwed up kids more generally, not suicide ), but that there is some cause, that it won't come out of left field and all of a sudden I'll discover my apparently happy and healthy daughter hanging dead in her closet. But I'm sure that happens too...
I'm aiming for a more cheerful post later today, if E stops throwing up...
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
In today's paper there is an article about a fourteen-year-old girl who committed suicide a few months ago. Of course I read every word of it, and by the end I was practically in tears. There were pictures of the girl, and of the father and stepmother sitting in her room, and it was just unbearably sad. What was interesting, though (interesting? ugh, but I don't know what would be an appropriate word), is how even as the article seemed to tell the whole story, it left out a crucial piece.
There was a thorough account of the girl's background, which was clearly chaotic: drug-abusing parents who both went to jail when she was a toddler, foster care, an erratic mother in and out of her life, mainly out. The father did pull himself together, got custody of the girl and her brother, and, by all accounts, tried as hard as he could to help her. He got DSS involved because she was so troubled, but when they put her in a residential facility he visited her every day, and when she came out, he was very attentive, trying to be both loving and firm as she stole from him, ran away repeatedly, refused to take her meds, etc. Even her friends said that he was a great dad, though he fully acknowledged the negative effects of his behavior in her early childhood. Along with the background, there was a pretty thorough account of the events that led up to her suicide, including of that day.
What was missing, though, was any discussion of how she felt. The article said that she would call her friends and talk about hurting herself, but they would talk her out of it (of course the day she hung herself, she didn't call). But it said nothing about her emotional experience. Surely, given how much difficulty she was having, she must have talked about her feelings--to her friends, her therapist, even her father?
I still want to know, then, what does it feel like to be a fourteen-year-old girl who wants to kill herself?
This is a question I've asked before. When I was nine, a fourteen-year-old girl who'd gone to my grade school committed suicide--she hung herself too. She was in high school by then, and I didn't really know who she was, but somehow she felt close to me. I was very upset by her death at the time, and then I thought about her for years, when I was fourteen, when my sister went to the high school she'd attended, whenever suicide came up. Years later, one of her teachers and a famous psychiatrist wrote a book about her. I remember skimming it fearfully in the bookstore, but I couldn't bring myself to read it.
I've often felt bad, very bad, as a child, a teenager, an adult. But I've never considered suicide, and I wonder what makes the difference.
Obviously I now approach this topic as the mother of girls who will eventually be fourteen, which makes it even more horrifying. How do you make sure this isn't your daughter some day?
Many years ago, in California, a good friend of mine worked at a clinic for runaways, kids who were drug addicts, prostitutes, living on the streets. I remember her saying that 100% of the kids she worked with came from abusive homes, and I've held onto that as a mantra. I'm raising my children in a stable, supportive, loving home and that will go a long way toward protecting them. But what if it doesn't go far enough?
Now back to your regularly scheduled narcissism.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Monday, December 12, 2005
Sunday, December 11, 2005
But the other night I got to see Juliana Hatfield and John Doe duet on "When Will I Be Loved." And for that you should be jealous, very, very jealous.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
But then we walked out in the pretty snow to the Thai restaurant around the corner, had a nice dinner (in our coats because the place was freezing--and I was sweaty from shoveling and got very chilled which was probably the most unpleasant part of the evening), walked all the way to the movie store, happily playing in the snow, came home with more happy snow-walking, and watched our movies. M started one tantrum, but I told her that if she had a tantrum she couldn't watch her movie, and then she and E got into eating snow and all was forgiven.
E - Madagascar. This summer I realized that M's movie phobia had blighted E's life. At 4 1/2 she had never been to a movie theater. So I took her on a special Mommy date to see Madagascar. Since M's movie phobia also prohibits animation (Dumbo almost sent her over the edge, and though she has seen Shrek once at a babysitter's, she refuses to see it again), I have missed digital animation, really all animation since 60s Disney. So Madagascar blew me away visually, even if the story was not exactly earth-shattering. E just loved being at the movies alone with Mommy. And she does a mean rendition of "I Like to Move It Move It." We watched a few scenes and it sure was better than Dora, Blue's Clues, or Strawberry Shortcake, her usual picks.
M - The Muppet Show with Elton John in fine glitter and glasses form. Do I need to say anything more? The Swedish Chef, Pigs in Space, Veterinarian's Hospital, AND "Crocodile Rock" (with a chorus of muppet crocodiles on the "La, la la la la las"), "Benny and the Jets," "Goodbye Yellowbrick Road," AND "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Elton and Miss Piggy. Someday I'll go on about how much I love Elton John, but for now I'll just say that M and I loved this one. E fell asleep.
Me - Desperate Housewives, Season 1, Disc 2. Once again, I'm behind the curve. I have a thing about series TV. If I know I'm not going to be able to watch every episode, I can't even start. DVDs have saved me. Thanksgiving weekend, my sister and I watched the first four episodes in one shot. I'm not in love, but it's definitely entertaining. What I like best is how meta-TV it is. There's the cul-de-sac/Nicolette Sheridan Knots Landing thing. There's the Marcia Cross/Doug Savant Melrose Place grown up thing. Then there's the Sex and the City gets married and moves to the suburbs thing with Charlotte/Bree, Samantha/Gabrielle, Miranda/Lynette, and Susan/Carrie (I'm sure this has been commentated upon a million times, but, like I said, I'm behind the curve).
Friday, December 09, 2005
For reasons that can probably be guessed, I have become fascinated with monstrous professional women, colloquially known as bosses from hell. I actually read The Devil Wears Prada (which could have benefited from a good copy editor) and then I heard somewhere that Judith Regan fit the bill, and I came up with this article.
It's striking how similar such women are, give or take a characteristic or two. There is the imperious confidence (which of course fronts the deeply suppressed insecurity), the narcissism, the obsessive focus on minute details, the vendettas and battles, the back-stabbing, the outrageous treatment of underlings, the constant staff turnover, the failed personal life.
Then there is the remarkable professional success. Miranda Priestley's eye makes Runway the impeccable publication that it is (and I assume Anna Wintour does the same for Vogue). No one can argue with the number of bestsellers ReganBooks has published. I could provide more evidence, but I won't--you'll have to excuse me.
So I'm trying to come up with a feminist analysis here. Let's get one thing straight, though, before we even start. Women like this, or at least, women like this with whom I am acquainted, suck. A lot. They are cruel, vindictive, petty, and manipulative, and they cause untold misery to other people, men and women alike. I am loath to offer a systemic analysis that offers any insight into how and why they are the way they are, because, really, there is no excuse.
And yet. Why are we so interested in women bosses from hell? Surely there are men who are as bad, yet still we harp on the women. Facing the constraints of gender, do women have to be that much nastier to prove, as Judith Regan puts it, that "Everyone in this place is a pussy but me!"? Do we expect a kinder, gentler professional demeanor from women, and then become outraged when we don't get it?
Is there a system, then, that rewards a certain kind of woman? Do such women have the stamina to claw their way to the top--and not give a damn what other people think of them? And do we have an ambivalent fascination with them--awe at their accomplishments and disgust at their misdeeds, an antonymous schadenfreude, as it were--that somehow enables us to justify our failure to achieve in the way they have?
Or you can read it as the triumph of power feminism and the repudiation of difference feminism, along with the persistence of the double standard. As Margaret Thatcher and Condoleeza Rice have shown us in the political arena, women can be just as good as men--and just as bad. And we need to curb our own instincts to believe otherwise.
[My favorite quote from the Judith Regan article? The former friend who calls her "the highest functioning deranged person I've ever known."]
[Aren't you impressed that I've written this whole post without using the b-word? That's in honor of you, Dr. B.]
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
A few days ago, I was thinking of writing a post about danger and rules.
Lately, sometimes, I've been driving without my seatbelt. Not on the freeway, or even to work, just, say, if I need to go a few blocks in the neighborhood to pick E up from a birthday party (I know I could have walked but it was cold and dark and I had dinner guests arriving at the exact same time as the party ended). It makes me feel oddly floaty to drive without my seatbelt, and I'm feeling oddly floaty these days, so it works for me, makes me feel a little better about my lack of control over this world I float through.
Driving without my seatbelt makes me think of the time I rode a motorcycle without a helmet (don't I just get wilder and crazier by the paragraph?). I was taking the bus from Bombay to Goa, and I got off to get something to eat at a stop and the bus left without me, but with all my things. A friendly Indian guy with a motorcycle offered to take me the rest of the way, so I got on the back of the motorcycle, no helmet, and we headed for Goa. It was sunny and warm and my hair blew in the wind and it was just great. When we got to the bus station, the driver was unpacking my suitcase, which was a little embarassing, but it was worth it to have ridden on a motorcycle without a helmet, just that once.
Accidents, and paralysis, and brain injuries, and death. I know. Bad, all very bad, and we need to wear our seatbelts and helmets and be safe. And yet, can't we acknowledge what we are giving up by being so safe? And can't we admit that sometimes, in our devotion to safety, we go just a bit overboard?
Which brings me to the post I was thinking about writing yesterday as I waited outside M's classroom for our teacher conference. Those are some grim walls. Tile and lockers and weird board stuff with lots of little holes in it, and that's it. No rows of identical art projects, no arrays of essays, no holiday decorations, no nothing. Standing there waiting, I was not a happy mom committed to public school. At M's old school, the walls were covered with kids' work. At the public school in the next town where she has religious school on Sunday it's the same thing. What is wrong with this school, I wondered.
So I asked the teacher: Why don't you have any of the kids' work hanging up? She looked dejected and said that the halls used to be covered with kids' work, and then the fire department came through and made them take it all down.
Because, you know, there are so many instances of lethal fires caused by illustrated essays on Egypt spontaneously combusting in the hallways of America's schools (she didn't say that, I did).
Two points, then, a question and a statement: 1) Can we temper our commitment to safety with just a smidgen of common sense? 2) Remember to ask before jumping to negative conclusions.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
I have some confessions to make. Nigella confessions.
1) I have been making cakes that I've already made.
2) I've been screwing them up.
Chocolate Banana for a birthday party and Chocolate Guiness for a dinner party. In both cases, the unsuspecting consumers said the cake was delicious, but they were wrong. The Chocolate Banana was undercooked and badly mixed (lumps of banana). The Chocolate Guiness was badly mixed and oddly bitter, perhaps due to badly mixed baking soda, but it seemed worse than that.
I know what the problem was: lack of patience. Mine. The same lack of patience that renders baked potatoes too hard and onions in the stirfry too crisp and pungent. The lack of patience that is hard to overcome, but lately I've been trying and the last several baked potatoes have been deliciously soft and moist. Clearly, though, I have to try harder on the cake mixing front.
So the stage was not well-set for Chocolate Chestnut Cake. And the difficulty of finding chestnut puree did not help. Nor did the fact that the chestnut puree I finally found had corn syrup in it, and the recipe specified unsweetened. Nor did the fact that the ingredient list called for 6 eggs, separated, but the recipe itself appeared only to make use of the egg whites (I read it many times, looking for the egg yolks, but they weren't there).
Usually I would ask S how to handle all these conundrums, but it was his birthday cake and asking him seemed unseemly. Plus he was at work. My sister was on the phone, though, providing much moral support, if little practical assistance.
I used the puree, corn syrup and all. I did not use the egg yolks. I mixed and folded patiently. Then it was time, according to the recipe, to pour the batter into the pan. But I did not have a pourable batter; I had a stiff batter that I scooped and patted into the pan, assuming it would rise and even out.
It rose a little, but it did not even out much. Nigella said 40-50 minutes. I checked at 40 and it did not seem done. I was patient. I checked at 45. I checked at 50. It was a little more done, and did not seem to be getting doner. It was not wet, but it was jiggly. Like jello. I took it out.
I hope I am communicating how stressful this all was.
It tasted OK. Rich, dense, chocolatey, not so chestnutty, really not that exciting.
But here's the thing. I THINK NIGELLA MADE A MISTAKE. And so does S, with whom I was able to share the entire saga, once we were eating the cake. I think if I'd added the egg yolks to the chestnut/butter mixture, after the melted chocolate and before the rum, it would have been pourable, it would have risen a bit more, it would have been lighter. My surmise is supported by the fact that in other recipes, Nigella specifies egg YOLKS or egg WHITES, so if she wrote eggs, separated, presumably she meant us to use the egg yolks AND the egg whites.
S wants me to make the cake again, with egg yolks. I have another can of chestnut puree. I might do it. Or I might go on to Chocolate Cheesecake.
[For those of you coming in late to the Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame project, I've added all the cakes to the sidebar.]
[Edited to add: If you came here via Google looking for cake information, you can find my more successful attempt here.]
To the birthday woman: Happy Birfday You!
To the birthday man: I remember the first time we celebrated your birthday together. I came back from my grandfather's funeral and barely made it to your party. It was the first time I went to your house and the first time I met your friends. Who would have thought that 26 years later we'd be celebrating your birthday again right back where we started. At least now we're not in the basement. Happy Birthday. I love you.
Monday, December 05, 2005
But you can't keep up with everything, and somehow I've never gotten around to Dar Williams, which is kind of odd, because K and her girls are way into her, and I know people who know her, and I've been hearing about her since way back in the day when she was playing tiny clubs and college campuses in New England.
Be that as it may, however, I never consciously heard a Dar Williams song until this morning when the DJ on the acoustic radio show said, "Next up is one of our most requested songs during this season, Dar Williams' 'The Christians and the Pagans.'" Dar Williams, I thought, I should pay attention. So I did.
I try to keep things positive on this blog.
OK, that's a lie, I don't try to keep things positive at all. But I do prefer to talk about things I like, or things I really hate for lots of good reasons. I certainly don't hate Dar Williams, and I think I'd like to like her, and really I have hardly any grounds on which to feel one way or another about her.
But that is one annoying song. Annoying squeaky-breathy voice, annoying strummy guitars, annoying smarmy lyrics. Ugh.
Bring on the hardcore. Please.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
This is not a post about marriage and housework. S is at work, so all these things are my responsibility, but he's been doing lots of laundry and he even helped clean up after the dinner party that he didn't get to attend because at the last minute he had to work, though the party had been planned because he didn't have to work. In other words, he's trying to do his share.
This is not a post about the class politics of housework. At the moment, I employ nobody to do any of these things that I need to do, so I can feel neither self-satisfied nor guilty in any of the dimensions in which domestic employees inspire self-satisfaction or guilt in supposed feminists.
This is not a post about the pleasure of housework, because, frankly, that is something I just can't access. Not in a providing for my family kind of way, not in a zen kind of way, not in any kind of way.
Well, that's not true, exactly. At the moment that the house is clean, I am happy, but for me, in my house, that moment is absolutely shadowed by the fact that the house will be a mess again momentarily, unless I continue, constantly, endlessly, to clean it.
That is, my issue with housework is profoundly ontological. I do these things, that I do not enjoy doing, because they create a state I need, even, occasionally, enjoy (cleanliness, clothes to wear, dinner on the table), but that state, in its very essence, contains the seeds of its own undoing (wearing the clothes will make them dirty which means they will need to be washed again), which will once again force me to do things I do not enjoy doing, in an endless insatiable cycle. (Lacan must be applicable here somehow, but I'm too worn out from cleaning the house and doing the laundry and dealing with the tantrums to figure it out.) (And I know the Buddhist approach would be to embrace it, but, let's face it, I'm no Buddhist.)
I'm sure there are people who get pleasure from housework, and I say more power to them and wish them all the best. But I'd rather be reading, or writing, or running, or talking with a friend, or hanging out with my kids. Which is to say, ultimately, that this post could simply be replaced by a well-worn quote from one of my bibles, Free to Be You and Me.
Housework is just no fun.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Friday, December 02, 2005
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Is E's penchant for baby talk normal or a sign of stress?
Why can't I get worked up about the Linda Hirshman article that has the rest of the feminist mom blogosphere pontificating?
Is Ariel Sharon capable of pulling a Yitzhak Rabin? Will it make any difference if he does?
Will Ayelet Waldman's new novel live up to its blurbs?
Why are some people uselessly tyrannical?
Why are some other people uselessly meek?
What will we do with sick kids when Grammy goes away for the winter?
Should we send holiday cards this year?
Does my college boyfriend ever google me?
Will the global hegemony of consumer capitalism ever cease?
Will I ever be satisfied with my life?