Monday, April 30, 2007

The Sticker Chart and the Chores

Once again, the sticker chart has worked.

A few weeks ago, I was at the end of my rope dealing with attitude. Specifically, with the attitude I received every time I asked anybody under the age of 11 to do anything with the slightest relationship to maintaining the household.

"E, could you please set the table?"

"But it's M's turn. I did it yesterday. She never does it!"

"M, could you please pick up your clothes from the floor."


I'd had it. It was time to take action. I announced that we were going to make chore charts. Each girl would devise her own list of daily and weekly chores with me. We're not talking saving money on the housecleaner here (ha! as if there was a housecleaner around here) (hmm, can I save money on myself?). We're talking assigned nights for each girl to set and clear the table (alternating every other night, with the night off on Friday when we usually go out for dinner) (this is useful, because in fact we not infrequently will eat at a friend's or miss dinner somehow, so the old system of just plain alternating nights, rather than assigning them, was a major cause of arguments over who did what when). Also putting dirty clothes in the laundry (rather than on the floor), cleaning their room every weekend, opening the shades in the morning (E), closing the shades at night (M), helping fold laundry and doing the recycling (M--yes, her list has more than E's, but she's 10 and E is 6, and M did bupkis when she was 6, so everyone calmed down about that).

How has it worked? Fabulously. And it has nothing to do with a reward. We made a month's worth of spaces on the sticker chart, but we left it vague as to what would happen when the chart was full, though there were intimations--mainly from the children--of a treat (yes, we are the terrible sticker-chart-rule-breaking parents who use food for rewards, but we're food people, for goodness sake, and we have stick-like children who need to be forced to eat--somebody can smite me down if their body types change with adolescence and we regret it). Anyway, the reward wasn't the point; it was the ritual.

What has happened is that the onus for the chores has shifted from me to the chart. They know what is expected of them, so it's no longer Mommy the Witch Woman forcing them to abandon their books and dolls to labor in the salt mines. It's the thing that they are expected to do, and I still need to remind them, but they just do it. If they remember to check the chart themselves, that's gravy for me, and if they remember to put up their sticker, that's their gravy.

And if it costs us an ice cream sundae a month, well, that's fine too.

(Interestingly, this is how most of our sticker charts have worked. We've only done a few, but generally the stickers have been abandoned quickly, while the desired behavior has persisted.)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Black and White

I saw Dani Shapiro's new novel in a bookstore while we were on vacation and was kind of intrigued, because I liked her last novel and this one is obviously based on Sally Mann, whom I like as well. Then I read this excerpt from the first chapter (sorry if it's Times Selected), and I was even more eager to read the book because part of it is set in a few blocks of New York that I know about as well as I know any place I haven't actually lived.

It's an interesting book, though ultimately, I think, kind of irritating. It's about Clara Brodeur, daughter and model of famous photographer Ruth Dunne. Clara has spent the last 14 years of her life escaping her mother and the naked photographs her mother took of her as a child. Now Ruth is dying, and Clara needs to face her. (Don't you think I should get a job writing summaries?!)

What's interesting? Well, the story, for one thing. Shapiro is just a skilled writer, though the back and forth between the present and a fairly linear account of the past is a bit standard. Also interesting are the ethical questions about whether a mother is most responsible to her art or her child. And I liked the daily life pieces (you know, that contemporary women's literary realism thing I go for).

What's irritating? Well, frankly, the main character, and that's a problem. My first reaction to finding Clara kind of unbelievable was to doubt myself: I've never been photographed naked and unwilling by my mother the famous artist, so how can I say it's unrealistic for Clara to run away, refuse to tell her own daughter about her past, and constantly feel the world breaking down into blurry little pieces? Then I wondered whether Shapiro meant her to be an annoying character. But then I thought no, the responsibility of the novelist is to make the unfamiliar, the unknown, the that which is not me, real, and I'm not quite sure Shapiro succeeds in this case.

[Erica Wagner's review in the NY Times is just plain weird. The USA Today review is just plain stupid. This one is good (LA Times). Yikes: scary book party photo.]

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Different Parenting Styles

[Prologue: E woke up delightful, but when it was time to get ready for soccer, she became increasingly impossible. I tried very hard to hold on to my grip (sorely tested in the last 24 hours), but when I sent her to get the hairbrush and found her reading in her room, I lost it--or, as another soccer mom put it, I went Alec Baldwin on her. Which resulted in torrents of tears (angry, embarrassed, and penitent, as I pointed out to her, once I regained my equilibrium), mutual apologies, and compliance, but also recurrent tears all the way to soccer. As we headed for the team, we passed another girl and her mother in earnest conversation on the edge of the field.]

Other mother: You don't have to do anything you don't want to do.

Me: You are going out on that field.

[Epilogue: I walked E to her coach and the other players in the middle of the field. She ran her first lap in tears. Within 15 minutes, she was playing happily. By the end of soccer, she was ecstatic. The other girl eventually ended up happily on the field too. But it took a while.]

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Man Speaks Up

This is a great post about how one man came to understand what it means to support abortion rights. I have stories like this that I can't tell because they are not mine, but they have absolutely cemented my already deep commitment to a woman's right to choose, and to keeping the government out of the doctor-patient relationship. [link from Kottke]

New Lives

I spent a lovely few hours yesterday in a hospital room on a maternity ward with Local K and her newborn baby. There is something so peaceful about that one happy corner of the hospital, where all is quiet and the outside world disappears as you gaze at tiny fingers and hustle to attend to the hint of a weak cry. M and E have been awaiting this birth for months, especially eagerly for the last week, and they were utterly besotted. They took turns holding him--I barely got my hands on him, except during transfers from one girl to the other--and their gentle bliss was almost enough to make me want another baby, though that semi-urge was easily squelched by their squabbles over who got to hold him and whether the other could come anywhere near when he was in the arms of the one.

The hospital is downtown and after we left, we had Vietnamese food for dinner and went shoe shopping before taking public transportation home (a post on spring shoes may be forthcoming--the situation is dire).

Though we've lived in Blue State for almost two years, and for S and the girls I think it is thoroughly home, I still feel oddly transitional, largely, I think, because of my job situation, but also, probably, because I am the introspective one of the family. So I think often about the fact and nature of our living here. Going to visit a new friend's new baby; hearing her tell M and E, when I say I won't have another baby, that her baby will be their little brother; public transportation; the diverse vitality of East Coast Big City; my children comfortable with all of it: these are things that make me feel at home.

[This one is for Kelly.]

I Finally Weigh in on Alec Baldwin

You know, I'm probably the only person in America who had a little sympathy for Alec Baldwin last week. Yes, I've heard the tape (of course), and yes, he should never have said such things to his daughter, but I've said things to my daughters that, if caught on tape, would make me look like a terrible person, plus I think whoever leaked the tape to the media surely did not have the girl's interests in mind--it's good for an eleven year old to have the whole world know her dad yells at her like that? I think not.

But my sympathy is gone at this point, after Baldwin himself has maintained this story as a media event, apologizing on television, calling Dr. Phil for advice (uh, there are other competent therapists who might keep this confidential), and pimping his book. The appropriate response to the initial leak of the tape would have been to release a statement of apology and announce that he would be dealing with this privately, which he pretty much did. The appropriate follow-up would have been to deal with it privately, doing whatever he needed to do to try and mend things with his daughter, far from cameras and tape recorders.

By contrast, this kind of behavior--the media courting, not the difficulties with his ex-wife and child--is what leaves me with pretty much no sympathy for celebrities, especially when they complain about the media. Sure it's hard to get photographed every time you leave the house, but celebrities with dignity, like, say, Julia Roberts, let the paparazzi click away, smile (or not), go on with their well-behaved lives, and, funny, seem to find ways to live a good deal of that life in private. Whereas if you're always sticking yourself in front of the cameras and trying to make your business the world's business (see: Tom and Katie, Brad and Angelina), then, yes, your life will be made hell, because you asked for it. And if you behave badly, in private, but then collude in making that bad behavior public, well, all bets are off.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I Know Nobody Cares But Me and Phantom

Josh Beckett: 5-0

Jonathan Papelbon: 7 saves (in seven tries, which makes him essentially 7-0), 0.0 ERA


News Alert!

E has received her first marriage proposal. Yesterday, before school, C came up to her and said, "E, will you marry me?" For the record, her answer was "no." Her sister thought she should have said she would think about it, but I asked her if she wanted to marry C, and she said no, so I told her she gave the right answer. When I asked her what C did when she said no, she said that he was nice to her all day, which I think is fully to his credit.

Hypothetical Etiquette Question of the Day

If a husband comes home, acknowledges his wife and her friend chatting on the couch, and then settles down in the kitchen with a beer, some food, and a magazine, is he being rude or considerate?

Edited to add: He says he tried to talk to us but we seemed to be into our own conversation, and when he comes home from work sometimes he just doesn't want to deal with people any more. I say he gets a B in Husband (if we were into grade inflation and generosity toward effort, maybe a B+; if we were hardcore about results, a B-).


If this ends up in a DNA test, it will be another sad commentary on America today, whatever the outcome (I know he's a blowhard Republican, but nobody can argue with his accomplishments).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sad Reading on a Rainy Night

This story made me incredibly sad. I suppose it should make me angry, but right now it just makes me sad for what we have become, or rather, for what our government has become, and how we treat people and lives and the truth.

Yesterday at the Bookstore-Cafe

These days I have a bookstore, a cafe, and a bookstore-cafe.

The bookstore has mostly used books, with some new, and orders whatever you want for 20% off. It's right in the middle of Town Center, so it combines nicely with Friday night edamame or any-afternoon ice cream. You can get Samantha books, thrillers, or food memoirs, and the lovely owner recommended great books for my vacation--I wanted something that was neither stupid nor Serious, and he suggested books I've always meant to read, only my vacation was so lazy that I didn't even finish a book, so I can't blog them yet.

The cafe is in Another City, a five minute drive away. It is independent and slightly dark and has couches and small rickety tables and wireless and baristas of indeterminate sexuality with narrow shoulders and pouchy bellies under tight t-shirts with low-slung trousers. The pumpkin bread is delicious, and though it's noisy with clacking yuppies on the weekend, during the week it is perfect (right, Mom?).

But this is a post about yesterday at the bookstore-cafe. The bookstore-cafe is owned by its employees who opened it after the bookstore where they worked went out of business. It is clean and well-lighted and full of books you want to read. The cafe corner has Vietnamese rolls and thick vegan cookies and at least five kinds of scones a day that they refuse to label--perhaps to prevent discrimination, but it just makes more work for the people behind the counter who need to recite the day's list to every customer who asks. The bookstore-cafe is right by my office, and I go there for the kinds of meetings you can have over coffee at its awkwardly-placed tables, or to get some work done at the counter in front of the window (or to have cold drinks and Vietnamese rolls with my mom, right Mom?). Yesterday I went at the end of the afternoon to do some work and have a sandwich, because I hadn't eaten all day.

The first thing that happened was I think someone tried to pick me up. I sat down at the counter and opened up my work and my sandwich and started to work and eat. A few minutes later, out of nowhere, the young guy next to me observed that we were engaged in similar work and started asking questions about mine. This was odd because he was at least 15 years younger than me, and I was not feeling particularly babely: my front ends of hair were pulled back in a barrette, and I was wearing a sweater I consider matronly, though come to think of it, it is tight and low cut, but would you try to pick up an older woman with graying hair pulled back from her face in a barrette, and ruffles at her (low) neckline and elbows, who is eating a sandwich?

The thing is: I am quite happy to flirt at a party or a bar or a lake (in the summer we flirt at the lake, though that's with people we know), but yesterday afternoon I just wanted to work and eat my sandwich, but even though I liberally waved my wedding ring in his face, he kept looking at me wishingly and asking me questions and finally I had to abruptly end the conversation and turn definitively back to my work and my sandwich.

The second thing that happened was that after I finished my work and my sandwich, and brusquely returned my neighbor's wistful goodbye, I went to look at the new fiction table and discovered that knitting group books are the book club books of 2007. I loved Ann Hood's Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine, a zillion years ago, and I read an essay she wrote for some magazine about how knitting comforted her after her five-year-old daughter died, so of course I had to leaf through The Knitting Circle, her novel about a woman who is comforted by knitting after her five-year-old daughter dies. The only ethical thing one can say about such a book, I think, is that I hope it helped her to write it. Though I love knitting and books, I'm not quite sure what is gained from putting the two together. (OK, I just realized there is a huge problem with the previous statement, which I'm not going to get into, but the statement sounds good, so I'll leave it. However, feel free to disabuse me of the notion, so that I can eliminate the problem.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

For the Record

M and E went swimming outdoors for the first time this year on April 22.

And now, some questions:

1) What's with the leap from winter to summer? Spring, anyone? That gentle moment of daffodils, soft sunshine, and light breezes? You know: April with her shoures sweete? Wherefore hath it goneth?

2) Is sunscreen from last year still efficacious?

3) If I have brought the sandals out, does that mean it's time to put the boots away? (I'm talking the five pairs of black boots, one of which I wore four days out of five last week, not the snowboots.)

4) Could eyelash extensions possibly be worth it? (Not that I'm considering it, indeed, I never heard of them until this morning when I saw an advertisement.)

Monday, April 23, 2007

M's Best Line of the Weekend

[Discussing whether she was going to swim in the bucolic woodsy pond.]

Me: You'd be braver than I am.

M: That's like saying I'd be taller than you are.

[Perhaps you need insider information on my feelings about cold water and my height for this to truly register, but take my word for it, it was very funny.]

Weekend Accomplishments

Four home runs in a row.

In. A. Row.

Sweeping the Yankees at Fenway for the first time in 17 years.

Oh, you thought I meant my accomplishments?

Running in shorts.

Walking around the bucolic woodsy pond (in capris).

Figuring out the difference between Zack and Cody (that's Zack, the wild and crazy one, on the left, and Cody, the uptight gay one, on the right).

OK, so the Red Sox had a bigger weekend than I did. But we all enjoyed it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Another Clarification

Maybe I should stop blogging about this kind of stuff. Because I get all caught up in my own words, and then I'm clearly not being clear. The stuff about rich parents was meant to be an aside, though I can see how it doesn't seem that way. My main point wasmeant to be that yes, there are some parents who are overparenting, but I'm guessing the majority have their overparenting moments, but on the whole are just going along with their parenting, like parents have done throughout parenting history, albeit in the context of a media-supercharged parenting moment. I.e. think about the real people you know, the actual honest-to-god parents you carpool with, chat with outside school, went to high school with. Not the ones you read about. Not the ones you cast the evil eye upon because their kids seem like brats in the moments you intersect at the park, in the grocery store, in the cafe (if you are of the echelon that goes to cafes). How many of those real people in your life do you think are overparenting? I know an awful lot of parents. They come in various degrees of obsessiveness. But true overparenting, as described in that article? I'd say three. And maybe a few others who grew out of it. Not a huge percentage. But then maybe I just choose to surround myself with reasonable people.

(If you don't know what I'm talking about, go on to the post below.)

Those Terrible Parents of Today

Katie Allison Granju has a piece on over-parenting at Babble (obligatory disclaimer to preserve my cred: I do not read Babble; I was just pointed to this piece). In theory, I agree with her: over-parenting is bad. But at this point in the parenting media bubble, I have to question the premise. In four pages of diatribe, Granju describes the terrible hovering parenting practices of our generation in terms that any parenting pundit or mommy blogger will recognize, but she offers essentially no evidence that these practices are actually widespread. I'm not sure what statistics could serve as proof, but she hasn't found them--she cites one poll on a tangential issue. Even the anecdotes that usually pass for proof in the pages of women's magazines are strikingly absent--there is one.

So where's the beef? Are we really as terrible as they say we are? I think, perhaps, not. Consider: where do you see these parents who teach their children to crawl, schedule afternoon activities in half-hour intervals, and send their babies to speech therapy when they can't say "Mama" at six months? They're usually in the pages of the NY Times, New York Magazine, and upscale mommy lit. And what do those media manifestations have in common? Hint: major cities of English-speaking countries and lots of cash. You don't often hear about competitive parenting in Dubuque.

Of course I know some parents like Granju describes--I spent an uncomfortable hour with one just last an expensive apartment in just such a city. But the majority of us? Sure we're more obsessed with our children than our parents were, but we have some reason to be: many of us were scarred by parental self-indulgence in the 60s and 70s (not me, actually, but lots of other people), we parent in a more dangerous world, and the decline of the American public school system has made education an issue that is ever more fraught. But in the day to day grind? We're too busy or too poor or simply too uninterested to hover over our kids (and I'm not even going to go there on the class bias of Granju's piece, which is a hopelessly omnipresent fact of the public discourse on parenting).

There is always going to be a certain proportion of the population that is insecure and tries to live up to media images, whether those be the housekeeping magazines of the 50s and 60s that Granju cites, the reality TV shows of today, or...well, I'm sure you can think of examples yourself. And we are certainly more media-saturated today than we've ever been. But still, I really do believe that the majority of us are just living our lives. And the recent failure of a bunch of parenting magazines supports my claim.

In my set, the basic tenet is "Don't worry unless there's blood." We may not live up to this all the time, especially when it comes to college applications and bar mitzvahs, but when we're all sitting around drinking beer, and the kids are upstairs wreaking havoc, that's pretty much how it goes. Katie Allison Granju should come over and join us some time.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

On Speaking Ill of the Dead and Dying

Many years ago, a young man I knew died in an accident. It was during a period when many young men I knew died in many ways, but this young man was a family friend and I had just spent a lot of time with him, so his death was that much more present for me. There were hundreds of people at his funeral and he was mourned as the paragon he was, and everyone talked about how loving he was and what a good friend he was, along with all his other accomplishments. Only he and I hadn't gotten along during the time we had spent together. I could recognize, like everyone else, that he was a paragon, but a loving good friend? Not so much. I felt terrible for not being able to embrace the hagiographizing of the moment, but there were the facts: we did not like each other so much. I turned the dislike in on myself, figuring that if everyone loved him and he loved everyone, there must be something wrong with me. Of course I didn't say any of this, or maybe I did, but I tried not to. Strangely, the only person who I really connected with was his girlfriend. I'd been there when they met, and I'd seen him with her a few months before he died, and it was the most pleasant time we'd had together. I don't know who brought it up, me or her, but we agreed that he and I hadn't gotten along, and that it had been a pity, but she pointed out that he could be a huge pain, which he could, and after that it was easier to just feel sad and not guilty.

An elderly relative is very ill. It looked at first like he would die, but now it seems that maybe he won't. His wife died several years ago--on September 10, in fact--and he is estranged from one of his sons, and he hasn't been well. His life is hard, not a life one would wish on anybody. He is also one of the nastiest people I know, just a truly mean and awful person to whom I stopped speaking many years ago. My mother loves him, though, and so does his other son, and I am sad for their loss, which if it doesn't come now will come soon enough. But I was talking to Aunt M about how if there was a funeral soon I didn't think I would go, logistically speaking, and she said "Well, you hate him," and I said, "Yes, I do."

The title of this post is not right. I am not reflecting on speaking ill of the dead and dying; I am doing it.

I have always been deeply uncomfortable with the tendency of the funeral oration to file the rough edges, burnish the tarnished spots, and present the Platonic ideal of what was once a real person. On the one hand, it is a lovely thing that we can appreciate the best in people, though unfortunate that too often it takes death to produce that appreciation. On the other hand, we lose something, I am certain, by appreciating only the best. Because isn't part of love and real life appreciating the worst and the kind of not so great as well?

When the NY Times did the Portraits of Grief after 9/11, there were families who refused to participate because the dead relative was a son of a bitch.

My friend W was another young man who died, in those years of young men dying. I loved him dearly and M is, in part, named after him. He was dying for a long time, though, and he was particular, and got cranky, and at some point I flounced out in a huff. Here I was, caring for him while he was dying, and he had the nerve to--well, now I don't remember what he had the nerve to do, or why we were estranged and annoyed with each other at a time when we should have been savoring every perfect moment. Luckily we made up, and I was in the hospital as he descended into dementia, and I arrived at the house five minutes after he died. The fact that I can't remember why we fought might suggest that I should forget about it and just recall how beautiful he made everything, how he challenged me politically and intellectually, how much fun we had. Only that seems disrespectful to the whole complicated annoying lovable fabulous person he was. At his memorial service, we sat in a circle and shared our memories. I described how we fought and how I brought samples of the silk and lace from my wedding dress for his approval. Everyone laughed and nodded, at both memories.

I like many more people than I dislike, love many more people than I hate. But there are times when you are not supposed to dislike people, only it's hard if you do. And there are times when it is more complicated, only you're not supposed to say so.

(Really I don't hate the elderly relative any more. How could I? I don't see him, and his life is sad and lonely. The only possible response is to feel sorry for him. But I can't say that I didn't hate him, because I did.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Vacation Notes

Nothing like coming home to a five-run rally in the bottom of the 8th and the season's first (of many) (knock wood) triumph over the Yankees (sorry about that, Aunt M).

Nothing like going to An Only Slightly Less Exciting Place and doing nothing. Well, Aunt M thinks we did a lot, but basically we hung out with friends, hung out by ourselves in the bedroom, read, went to the park, drank wine (that would be me), and counted taxis (768--that would be E). Also one shopping mecca that will remain nameless (and was, I must admit, disappointing for both of us, ontologically, though successful, consumeristically), many modes of transportation, and one museum. Despite the fact that there was much more we could have done, but I'll leave it at that.

Nothing like going on vacation and barely paying attention to the news on a terrible news week. Can I just say Virginia Tech, Iraq, abortion, Wolfowitz, and Gonzales and leave it at that? Actually, I might have a post in me about Wolfowitz and Gonzales whose desperate (and, I would predict, hopeless) efforts to hold onto their jobs signal the outrageous hubris of the Bush administration, along with its ongoing collapse. OK, I guess that's about it, and I don't need to write a post, though I will say that outrage is much easier to articulate than grief and despair, or perhaps with outrage I feel like I have something worth saying, whereas my contributions to grief and despair can only be neglible at best, cliched and sentimental at worst.

Seriously, though, M and S have been taking care of the active vacationing, but E and I are rested, relaxed, and home. Blogging will now resume.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Back in a Bit

In the last two weeks I have finished two enormous projects (you can't even imagine), survived Passover, maintained the usual work and home routine, with the addition of my father (sometimes he lives here), and not slept. I need a break. Luckily, I get one. We're off on vacation: M and S to a Very Exciting Place, E and I to an Only Slightly Less Exciting Place. Blogging will resume in a week or so.

Are You Unique?

You can find out how many people in the United States share your name here. Except it says there are 0 people who share my name, because there are 0 people in the United States who have my last name, which is obviously not the case. I know of at least six living (my mom, my dad, my sister, me, and my kids), and I believe there was one more in the phonebook of City when I was a kid, and that's just one city in one state. I mean, it's an uncommon name, but it's not that uncommon (there are three who are sort of famous, at least to those who care about the realms in which they are--or were--famous--OK, four [not me!]--but I'll leave it at that).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A First!

M just looked up from the dining room table, where she is doing her homework, at me, sitting at the computer, and said, "You look good." Which is particularly rewarding, not just because it may be the first time that she has noticed how I looked when I am not dressed up for something special, but also because I had just been looking at myself in the mirror, while E brushed her teeth, and thinking, I look good (something about my hair and my nice red shirt, or maybe sleeplessness becomes me). I tell you, the era of empathetic mutuality, it fast approacheth.

Great Job!

I think I'm getting blog amnesia. Have I already blogged my skepticism of the critique of parental praise? The one that says we shouldn't say "good job" to our kids because it will make them think they are valued only for their performance? Or perhaps that it makes them think there is an arbitrary level of achievement they must achieve? Instead, the critique goes, we should specifically acknowledge exactly what they have done, a la "My, Susie, you drew daffodils and colored them yellow." I don't know about your kids, but I'm suspecting that my kids would respond to that kind of response with a deep "duh, Mom, I think I know what I just did."

Anyway, I just read another essay on this topic in our local paper, and once again I thought it was ridiculous, but who am I to think, so I called in an expert: the kid. M read it and said, "That's stupid. When you say "good job," I don't think you won't love me if I don't do a good job." I rest my case.

Besides, I love getting praised. But maybe that testifies to my inadequate personality development, and if only my mom had just told me I'd drawn a daffodil, I would be able to draw from a deep well of self-esteem and have no need of the assurances of others.

I'm SURE I've blogged about this before. Prize if you can find it. And sorry to be redundant, but it's been a long week.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Few Quick Book Reviews

Sweet Ruin by Cathi Hanauer

When I saw the pink cover of Sweet Ruin in the bookstore, I vowed not to read it, but there it was on the library New Books shelf one week, and somehow it ended up in the book bag. It's about a suburban New Jersey (ex-Manhattan) mom who is still devastated by the death of her newborn second child and only comes back to herself via an affair with a younger man. The main question I had after I read it was whether Hanauer was devastated that Ayelet Waldman's dead baby book and Eliza Minot's suburban New Jersey (ex-Manhattan) mom book came out before hers. Sweet Ruin is an easy read, but pretty predictable (of course in the mom's moment of passion, her daughter faces great peril...).

Easter Rising by Michael Patrick MacDonald

Easter Rising: An Irish American Coming Up from Under is a fascinating addendum to All Souls. When I finished All Souls, I wondered about MacDonald himself--he is strangely absent, especially emotionally, from the family and neighborhood narrative he recounts. Easter Rising explains why. As the rest of his family was embroiled in Southie, the alienated MacDonald escaped to early punk Boston, then New York, and eventually, post-punk, to Ireland where he regained his cultural identification. Though Easter Rising is not as coherent and forceful a book as All Souls, and I'm curious as to whether it could stand on its own, since it refers frequently to the events of All Souls without ever fully explicating them, it tells a fascinating tale, especially for a reader who was living a life that in some ways paralleled MacDonald's. What's really fascinating, though, is how completely absent this experience is from All Souls. I'm wondering whether MacDonald's next book will work the same terrain once more, for what's clearly absent from both books is love and sex, and I'm guessing (hard to find confirmation on the Internet) that the other fundamental issue for MacDonald is sexuality.

Lessons in Taxidermy by Bee Lavender

I am almost as obsessed with Bee Lavender as I am with Ayelet (see above), except that my obsession with Ayelet stems from an aghast indentification, while my obsession with Lavender stems from a fascinated (slightly put off) disindentification and, to be honest, some degree of envy. There aren't a lot of lives I'd trade for my own, but I might just choose to be a glamorous Europe-based writer, rather than a Town working mom. I always knew that Lavender had health issues, but they didn't seem enough reason not to want to be her. Then I read Lessons in Taxidermy, her brief and piercing memoir of her childhood illnesses and how she became the adult she is now. Wow. I think I'm fine with being me. I feel like I've seen the words "totally original" thrown around about this book, and I wouldn't go that far. Reading it, I thought of Dorothy Allison (working class roots, strong mother), Lucy Grealy (childhood illness, though with a very different ending), and--sorry I keep beating this drum, but I just have to--Michael Patrick MacDonald (class awareness, activism). Still, Lessons in Taxidermy is completely gripping in its own way. I read it in a day, sneaking chapters when I went into the bedroom to put on my sneakers or get dressed after a shower. Powerful, thoughtful, and a window into a horrifying experience and a fascinating person.

The takeaway? No need to read Sweet Ruin, if you can find anything better, which you probably can. Read All Souls first, and then see if you want to read Easter Rising. Lessons in Taxidermy? I say read it, but beware that it is not a fun read.

E Makes It

For lo, the matza is past, the gefilte fish is over and gone, the waffles appear on the earth, the time of the pasta is come.

Last night E ate two warm rolls, fresh from the pizza parlor, and, miraculously, her stomach ache disappeared and her good humor returned. There were crepes for breakfast this morning, there is pasta in her thermos for lunch, Dice-K is pitching, and all is right with the world. (Even though I didn't sleep again last night, which was totally ridiculous given how little I slept the night before.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Good Day at Fenway

Now that's what I call a home opener.

Edited to add: When's the last time you heard the words "Doug Mirabelli batting for David Ortiz"?!

Anna Nicole's Baby Daddy


My Nights

1. Go to bed (generally at a reasonable hour, because these days I am exhausted).

2. Lie awake.

3. Eventually fall asleep.

4. Sleep solidly till around 4 a.m. (it's been 4 just about every night, but last night it was 2:30).

5. Lie awake. Try to lie still and relax. Toss and turn. Try not to think. Think. Try to avoid being manhandled by E if she has ended up in the bed. If manhandling is unavoidable, escape to E's bed (rare variation: get up and do something like read or, last night, taxes).

6. Doze a bit, on and off.

7. If lucky, fall back into solid sleep, though usually not till it is almost time to wake up, as signalled by light, S, or alarm.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A Few Things, Including the Sunday Times

When did the public sphere run out of money? When I was a kid, I don't remember constant rounds of cuts, but maybe I just wasn't paying attention. It makes me insane that my school district has to make cuts and add fees to make up an $850,000 deficit, when corporate jackass bigwigs make that much money in a week and spend it on corporate jets and $6,000 shower curtains. And don't get me started on police, parks, and health care.

I think I deserve some credit for not saying two things that didn't need to be said today. One I started to say half a dozen times and stopped myself, and now I think the urge is gone. The other was an impulse of the moment in response to negative stimulus, but I made myself take a break and then realized that not only did it not need to be said, but it would have been a bad thing to say it, so I didn't. These are big accomplishments given my general need to say everything (hence the blog?). I pat myself on the back.

But enough about me. How about that Sunday NY Times? Boring, or what? Still, because one who says everything can always come up with something, I'll muster a few comments.

It eventually lagged, but overall this essay was pretty funny, especially the Sting motif.

The first four sentences of this article, on the other hand, are some of the worst writing I've seen in public in a while. Editor, much?

Why is Alex Kuczynski pretending that Paulina Porizkova actually wrote this book? And are there enough high-point consonants in that sentence?

I love this shoe (saw it in the Times, but couldn't link there).

Ugly shoes, anyone?

Any philosophers in the house? This is hilarious. (Yes, I've gotten away from the Times, but I needed to share.)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Political Products

My favorite t-shirt at the hip stuff store in my sister's neck of the woods. (I have to move the cursor over the space to make the image appear--not sure if that's just me or the site.)

Music and Lyrics

So it's not brilliant. In fact, at times it is positively leaden (especially when it tries to get meaningful about the nature of music, art, and reality). But at other times (the Pop video, the 1987 high school reunion, any scene with Cora, dinner at Rhonda's), it is highly entertaining, hitting just the right romantic-comedy-in-the-twenty-first-century balance of we-all-know-what's-going-on humor and affection. Plus it's Hugh and Drew, being quintessentially Hugh* and Drew**. In fact, it's hard to believe nobody ever thought to put them together before, given how neatly their archetypes mesh. Best of all, I saw it in the theater with M who thoroughly enjoyed it, marking another successful step in my ongoing quest to turn M into a movie-going companion.

* Remote man transformed by the love of an earthy ditz. See Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Always, It's a Boy.

** Earthy ditz grounded by the love of a transformed good man. See 50 First Dates, The Wedding Singer, Boys on the Side, etc. (This would, of course, be post-exploitation flix Drew, which would be post-child star Drew, but we love them all--and I know I have blogged my love for both Hugh and Drew before, but, like so many of my blog posts of the past, it is just too hard to find, and I'm not [quite] sure whether I've ever blogged my love for Wham and George Michael, but know that it's there, deeply, and you will understand why I couldn't not enjoy this movie).

Note: My dear old friends Jane Dark and run run revolution would consider Music and Lyrics an execrable exemplar of the dregs that are the American movie industry, which is why we agree to love each other and not discuss certain topics.

Note to note: I tried to fit commodity capitalism into that sentence, but I must point out that the only product placement I noticed was Baldwin pianos, which is pretty good, though JD and rrr would, of course, point out how meaningless the overt commodity is in the face of the insidious music-industry-business-is-business-but-love-still-conquers-all thematic, to which I would respond, so what, I still like it, which is why, as I said, we just don't discuss it.

Note to note to note: Yeah, yeah, yeah, Foucault, whatever.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Poor E

E is fraying at the edges. She's been up significantly past her (8 p.m.) bedtime six nights in a row (three seders, one evening of travel, two miscellaneous domestic late nights). Having chosen to observe Passover, she is slowly starving to death, her diet consisting of matza brei, plain matza, apples, and pears (plus the occasional vegetable and the very occasional bowl of rice). Given that the primary things that make E grumpy are tiredness, hunger, and M refusing to play with her, or otherwise thwarting her, and given that the reaction to the third is exacerbated by the first two, it's getting pretty ugly around here.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Is It The Sin, or Going Public With The Sin?

I find this story about a married lesbian couple whose church barred them from receiving communion totally disturbing. Not because the church barred them from receiving communion--it seems to me that if the Catholic church wants to say that gay marriage is a sin and sinners can't receive communion, that's their right (or rite, if you will). But the issue here appears to be not that the women were lesbians, not that they got married, but that they told people about it. Several people from the church explicitly say as much, with apparently no inkling as to how they are undermining their own moral stance. Here's the end of the story--does this priest really understand what he's saying, and its implications for Catholic "morality,"* if it can be called that?

Huskinson questioned why Catholics having premarital sex and using birth control are not barred from receiving Communion, too. But the parish priest said the difference is this: The other Catholics are "not going around broadcasting, `Hey I'm having sex outside of marriage' or `I'm using birth control.'"

*Note: Many Catholics are among the most moral people around, in all the positive senses of the word, but I am afraid that if this article accurately represents this church's beliefs and practices, it has an ethos of "morality," not morality.


I am in my second job in a row with a terrible leader. The first one was cruel and controlling, and I was right below her. She made it impossible for me to do my job and she was chipping away at my sanity, so I left. The current one is ineffectual, not very bright, and, as a result, defensive. However, there is a layer of capable management between us, and the workplace is much larger, so, for the most part, I am able to do my job in peace. Yesterday, however, his incompetence interfered with my life, both practically, in a very screwed up meeting, and conceptually, as I was forced to face, once again, the deep damage he is doing.

I am spoiled, I think, because the person I worked under in No Longer Red State was a paragon. He was thoughtful, even-handed, intelligent, respected, supportive, responsive--I would have laid down on hot coals for him.

I am interviewing for another job. It is a better fit for me, I suspect, and I thought it was a better place to work. I have just started hearing rumblings about the leadership there, but they are faint and mixed. I need to investigate.

It makes me sad how many bad leaders there are, and how much more difficult they make it to do good work (and you are certainly welcome to extend that thought nationally).

[Vocabulary moment: What is the difference between ineffective and ineffectual?]

Thursday, April 05, 2007


One thing I don't like about myself is that I eat too fast. It's a family failing. When I was little and my grandmother came to visit, she would get served first and, neatly slicing away at her food with busy knife and fork, she would be done by the time the last person was served (that would never happen in my house, where you have to wait till everyone is seated and served). My dad, too, eats quickly. None of us are sloppy pigs, but it detracts from the pleasure of the social meal to finish before everyone else, every time, and I think, too, that it makes me eat more, because I can't believe there's none left, so quickly, so I take another serving, out of habit, regardless of whether I'm still hungry.

At any rate, I've decided to tame this habit. My strategy is to put down my fork--or my sandwich, or matza with butter and salt, or whatever--between every bite. So far it's working (with the help of reminders from E), and eating is more pleasant. I'm pretty excited.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Rare Misstep

I love food, books, and Adam Gopnik, but Adam Gopnik's New Yorker piece on food in books is just a tad overwrought.

Hit Brit Chick Licks

Like the mass media lemming that you know me to be, I am alternating between Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen in the car (remember? the new car? with the CD player?!). I'm not sure they'll still be on the playlist a year from now, but at the moment they're plenty fun. I'm also not sure I have anything to add to the general consensus (you can google yourself--oh, what the hell, here's Pitchfork on Winehouse and Allen). Winehouse is indeed a big-voiced soul/jazz belter, and Allen is a bopping party-pop ska girl. Right now I'm favoring Allen: I like the juxtaposition of the bouncy beats and the break-up lyrics. But then I put on Winehouse and get pulled into her torrents of sound. I figure they'll be the primary rotation until I get hold of the new Wilco album. Then all bets are off.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Repeating Myself

I know I've blogged about him before (sorry, can't find the link), but some things bear repeating: Atul Gawande is the coolest.

Amazing Girl Clarifications

1. I don't think I was quite right when I said that we were Amazing Girls. One of the points the article made was that these girls think they are as capable as boys, indeed, are capable of anything. That's what was true about us. We weren't, however, the kind of multi-dimensional achievers these girls are--largely because we didn't have to be. I can't remember a single extra-curricular activity I did, after 9th grade when I played soccer and had a bit part in the play. C was on the soccer team and played in the jazz band and edited the yearbook. Lucy? R? I can't remember, but whatever they did, it wasn't much. Mainly we did homework, hung out with our friends, and partied. Summers? We worked and vacationed--plus more hanging out with our friends and partying. No community service trips, no volunteering, no nothing. And where did we go to college? The schools that those girls are scrambling to get into. It was a different era, that's for sure.

2. I think, given the tenor of some of the comments, that I may not have been clear enough. I do not want a pressured existence for my children; that's why we didn't move to Another Municipality. But I question the equation between intellectually engaging, or even, dare I say it, challenging, and pressured. My point was about the content of the curriculum, not the relentless demands of the achievement-oriented upper-class school, whether it be public or private. What I was lamenting was the fact that a high-level liberal arts curriculum (which should include science and technology along with literature and philosophy, not to mention the arts) seems to be primarily the purview of the Daltons and Newton Norths of the world, which means that it is inevitably coupled with high pressure, but I would like to imagine that it doesn't have to be that way, and I wish that in opting out of high pressure for my children, I didn't also have to opt out of...well, let's just say, for shorthand's sake, Descartes.

Baseball: Day 1

I'm in a magnanimous mood. If anyone can use the boost of beating the Red Sox on Opening Day, it's the Royals. I say more power to them. Besides, last year we won five out of the first six games, and then look what happened. Dan Shaughnessy, on the other hand, is drowning in doom. I think S may be right when he says that Shaughnessy, not Steinbrenner, is the Red Sox's worst enemy.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Note to EM

I would be happy to send you the chocolate pudding cake recipe, but I need an email address. You can post it in a comment, and I'll delete it, or you can send it to me at beccareads(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks!

Amazing Girls

Phantom said that as soon as she finished the NY Times article on the Amazing Girls of Newton North High School, she checked my blog to see what I had to say about it. I'm not sure if this means that I am predictable or wise, but I figure I better satisfy her desires.

There's a lot one could talk about here, from the increasing difficulty of accessing the top strata of American society (I could not believe that, after all that, Esther did not get into Williams, Middlebury, or Amherst, though I can imagine her being happy at Smith), to the fact that Amazing Girls are not such a new thing (we were Amazing Girls, though I will say that we did not worry about being hot, which, as Dr. B points out, is one depressing bottom line). But I'm going to go personal here, because, well, because I am.

When we decided to move back to East Coast Big City, I spent a lot of time researching where we should live (this is how things work in our house: I do tons of research, then I present my research to S as if I am giving him a choice, but I really have already decided, and my presentation is biased, and he goes along with my decision, and by now he doesn't even pretend to be empowered by this process, because he's mainly relieved that I do the work) (except for the new blinds, which I refuse to deal with, so he is taking action). Given affordability, location, and, of course, schools, it came down to two places: Town and Another Municipality.

Another Municipality has a high school that is just like Newton North. And that's one of the big reasons we didn't move there (other reasons included proximity to grandparents, geographical considerations, and long-term prejudices--on our part). I didn't want my kids to go to a high school where everyone was striving to be the best so that they could get into Ivy League colleges. I also didn't want my kids to go to a high school where everyone (else) would get a car for their sixteenth birthday. Town is a normal kind of place. There are kids who will go to the best colleges, and there are kids who will go to Blue State University, and kids who will join the military, and kids who will go nowhere. My kids will have the chance to achieve, without the pressure. And I'm happy about that.

However, what makes me sad is that they will not have the intellectual opportunities that high school students like the ones in the article have. Our high school is fine and getting better--they just initiated a course in Middle East history and politics, there is a nice creative writing program, there is theater and jazz band and a good batch of A.P. classes. But I am quite certain that M and E will not read Descartes in high school. It's just not that kind of place.

I went to a fancy private school that was known for its academics. Not only did I read Descartes, but I read Locke, Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein, and Chomsky (women? eh, not so much--I made up for that later). I read Emma and Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Seize the Day and Dubliners. And while I had lots of issues with my high school, it was a profoundly important intellectual experience that I doubt my children will have, though they will have other good experiences.

Is there a political take-away here? I think there is. It has to do with the way in which cultural capital accretes to the wealthy. Now that towns like Newton and schools like Newton North are increasingly available only to the super-wealthy, kids who could blossom under such an educational experience can't access it. Meanwhile, in middle-class and, especially, poor high schools, the curriculum is increasingly tailored to the workplace. There are some great programs that bring a meaningful, rigorous liberal arts education to the underprivileged (I am totally blanking on the name of this awesome project that teaches a classics course in low-income community centers), but of course they are few and far between. Sometimes it's hard to make the case for the liberal arts, especially given the economic exigencies of contemporary society, but look how Esther and her friends blossom as they think deeply about meaningful issues.

That's an opportunity we should be giving all our kids.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Amelia Earhart

As a child, I was obsessed with Amelia Earhart. No idea why, but I read everything I could about her, and even wrote my 8th grade research paper on her (note cards, outline, and all). I don't keep up so much any more, but stories like this one still make me shiver with excitement.

A Post About E

Never one to be left in the dust, E, upon hearing that I had written a post about M, demanded her own post. So here are some things E did this weekend:

1. Informed me that whenever you add a number to itself, you get an even number, because when you add a number to itself, like, take for example five, you get two of every number, like two ones, two twos, two threes, two fours, and two fives, which means you get five twos, so it is even.

2. Constructed a case for an egg (consisting of a plastic quart container with marshmallows at the bottom, the egg in the middle, and newspaper on the top, wrapped in the leg of my lavender corduroy pants [whose seat split in two places yesterday when I squatted down to lace her skates] and a towel, tied like a Christmas cracker), dropped the case out her (second-story) window, and did not break the egg! (This exercise was initiated because M's homework this weekend is to construct a case for an egg to be dropped three stories without breaking--M's is a complicated endeavor involving marshmallow fluff, jello, and wings, which which I refuse to be involved.)

3. Found all the chametz in the pantry, organized the packages by size, packed them in bags, and took the bags down to the basement (OK, I helped a little, but, really, she did most of it).