Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Could This Be More Annoying?

Pretentious foodies + self-congratulatory Brooklyn

Makes me want to eat a Big Mac. In Trenton.

Maybe I Should Start Reading Huffington Post

I had no idea the Obamas have been so busy. And I have to admit that I'm curious about why Michelle wears sleeveless dresses so often. Huh, looks like someone else is wondering too. But I somehow do not think that's the explanation.

Me? I don't remember the last day I did not wear a sweater. But today I wore shoes, not boots!

Johnnie and Junie, or One Thing I Will Never Be Is A Crazy Cat Lady

I am not an animal person. But you already knew that.

I didn't grow up with pets, but S did. He had cats when I moved in with him, and we had cats until we left No Longer Red State (where we left our last psycho cat behind, because he would not be caught the morning we were leaving, and S is quite sure that the outcome was that our dear neighbor finally caught him and took him to his aunt's farm to live out his days in psycho happiness, and I am choosing to believe S, though I have no recollection of this, because it's better than thinking that we abandoned our cat, though, really, by that time, I was ready to be rid of him, even though once upon a time he was my dearest darling kitten, but, like I told you, I am not an animal person).

I must say that I have been quite happy living life without cats. But E has not been happy. E has been pining for a pet. I think she would like a dog, but she knows That. Will. Not. Happen. so long as Daddy works nights and Mommy is the primary adult in the household. So she wanted a kitten. Then she started asking for a hamster, which was just so pathetic that we gave in and promised kittens for Hanukkah.

These days, S and I are stretched about as thin as most working parents, which means we meet all basic physical and emotional needs--kids are fed, clothed, homeworked, and loved--but anything not necessary slips through the cracks. Like dentist appointments, taking the car in, and getting around to getting the kittens. But in my family there is a long unfortunate history of promised gifts that never actually happen, so I finally started nagging S to go get the kittens.

On Sunday, S took the girls to the shelter (I could not go because I had work to do, but also because I knew that picking out kittens would totally stress me out, which would in turn stress everyone else out, and, really, the expedition would be much more successful without me, plus I wanted to continue my state of denial about the fact that we were about to have cats again until it actually happened).

The first shelter had no kittens. So they went to the second shelter. Where there were no kittens either. But there were cats. Specifically, a bonded three-year-old female and one-year-old male. Who were clearly meant for us.

Why? Because they'd been found stray in Colonial Town where we'd spent a most delightful day the week before. And because they were named June Carter and Johnny Cash.

I mean, come on, how could we not adopt cats named June Carter and Johnny Cash?! Especially since S's first cats were Fred and Ginger, and his second cats were Sly and Robbie (someone out there, please, nod vigorously at that one), and then Robbie had an unfortunate end--by that time, they were my cats too, and I did quite love them--and then we got the darling kitten who was eventually transformed into a psycho cat by a nefarious housesitter, and we named him Ozzie Buddha, because we had a friend who named his child Dylan Jesus, or something like that, to which I said we'd name our child Ozzie Buddha, because we were so sick of hippies naming their kids Dylan, but then it seemed better to inflict the name on a cat (Ozzie, of course, being after Ozzie Osbourne).

Anyway, we are all, including me, in love with Johnny and Junie, but they are not yet feeling the love, because they have been under the bed since S and the girls brought them home yesterday. But we're hoping they come out soon.

Edited to add: M just coaxed them out! First Johnnie, then Junie, though Junie went back in (Johnnie is M's and Junie is E's.)

Monday, February 23, 2009


You know that riddle we used to use to prove how sexist everyone's assumptions were?  

The one that goes:

A girl and her dad are in a terrible car accident.  The girl is wheeled into surgery, and the surgeon says, "I can't operate on this girl!  She's my daughter."

Remember the answer?  The doctor is her mother.  And everyone was shocked and embarassed that they hadn't gotten it?

A few years ago, I used this riddle on someone young, I think it was M, but she claims not to know it, so maybe not.  This person didn't even get why it was a riddle, because it was so obvious that the surgeon was her mother.  Progress, no?

Well, tonight M and E were doing riddles at the dinner table, and E asked me for a riddle, so I gave her that one.  She didn't even hesitate.

"She has two dads!" she shouted.

OK, then.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Moon

Let's just do some old-school school ranting, shall we?

You know the moon project? I know you homeschoolers have no idea what I'm talking about, but those of you with first graders, second graders, you know what I mean, don't you? The one where the kid has to keep the moon journal? Where they go out and observe the moon, and then they draw what they see, and write down a description, and then the next day they do it again, and again, and then they forget to do it, and get all stressed out, and you reassure them and help them fake it, and then they have to keep doing it for the rest of your lives? Yeah, that moon project.

Now, here's the thing: the moon project is based on old-fashioned inquiry-based education. The idea is you give the kids some stuff--batteries and bulbs, or seeds and a garden, or the moon--and you have them look at it and poke at it and do stuff with it, whatever the hell they want, and eventually they learn something about it. So with the moon, you observe and observe, and eventually you realize that the moon gets bigger and smaller, and rises later and later, and you put the whole class's observations together, and eventually you understand the moon cycle!

Cool, eh? Maybe even worth all that ghastly moon journaling?

Except that E's teacher (whom we totally adore, really we do, she gets E and gives her lots of nice challenges, and she looks like Barbie, and can quiet the children with a whisper, and really she is the world's most lovely and effective second grade teacher), well, she is a little unclear on the concept. Or, to be more precise, she is just not having the confidence in the inquiry process that you need to make it work. See, inquiry depends on...letting the kids inquire, and having faith that they will figure out what they need to figure out.

Obviously this is totally counter to assessment-based education, in which you figure out what you want the kids to learn, and then you teach it to them. As we all know, assessment-based education is all the rage, and it has its good points, along with its bad, but that's not the point right now. The point is, with inquiry, you need to let go of a specific outcome.

Only E's teacher is clearly not willing to do that, probably because she has a bunch of science standards that must be accomplished for the moon unit. She has the good instincts, toward the inquiry, but she can't just leave it there (or maybe she's not allowed to leave it there--this may be a systemic issue, not an individual issue, but I started with the individual narrative, so I'm going to keep with it). Anyway, she gave the kids a diagram with all the stage of the moon, and their labels, in order (waning gibbous, and all that). And she gave them websites to look up what stage of the moon it is today--or yesterday, or tomorrow, or any day you want. And she told them they could use all this information to help with their moon journals. Like, if it's cloudy, they can look up and see what stage the moon would be if they could see it. Which makes the whole moon endeavour that much more loaded and stressful, and also kinds of takes away what should be fun about it.

Do you get the dissonance happening here? Do you see the clash of educational philosophies? Do you feel bad for these poor children and their sweet little moon journals, trapped by the chaos of adult educational priorities?

I do.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

On College and Facebook

Blogging about Facebook is totally lame, but stick with me: this is really a post about culture and class, only not the way you think it will be.

Facebook has exploded at me again this week, this time with Town moms and college friends. It's all freaking me out a bit, but I suppose that's life in the 21st century.

I went to college with a bunch of future Masters of the Universe, as well as a bunch of future media/politics/artsy kinds of people, many of whom you've heard of by now. One of the future Masters of the Universe friended me on Facebook quite a bit ago, and he seems, indeed, to have become a Master of the Universe. He works at a major money kind of place, where he's been since 1988, and he appears to be in no danger of losing his high-up job. He's married to the girl he met in college, now a woman with an appropriately artsy career, and they live in a wealthy suburb. He's got three boys with distinctive names, and they go places like Greece and private islands in Maine. He's a Republican. He looks exactly the same.

I don't know that this Master and I ever had a private conversation in college, but he was always there. We lived in adjacent entryways freshman year. He was good friends with my roommate, and I was good friends with his roommate, and the two of them (the roommates) were inseparable. We ate countless brunches and dinners at the same tables, and lay around in courtyards, and went to parties, and decapitated tulips in massive games of frisbee mayhem (OK, I hate frisbee, and I did not decapitate the tulips, but I did lean out my window and scream and yell as tulips were decapitated).

I grew up to be a big literary feminist on campus, and he grew up to be an ordinary rich white guy on campus, but, like I said, we were just always there, and, you know, I am quite sure that I could call him up right now, Republican Master of the Universe and all, and get him to give a whole bunch of money to some weird literary feminist cause of mine. Because that's how it was. Truly--and I can't even believe I'm saying this--the forcedly intimate diversity of the freshman dorm had longstanding effects of tolerance, acceptance, and connection (true for gender, sexuality, class, and region, though I don't know about race...), albeit effects that may not, for many of us, go beyond that intimate sphere.

And here's the other thing: it gives me enormous comfort, in some bizarre primal way, to read his wry cynical Republican Masterful Facebook updates. That there are still guys like him, doing exactly what they were meant to do, even if everything they do is the antithesis of everything I stand for and believe in, somehow makes me feel like there is stability in the world. Is that fucked up or what?

Friday, February 20, 2009




Thursday, February 19, 2009

What's Happening Out There

I've been feeling completely bleak about everything today. These stories take bleak to the nth degree. [link from Elizabeth]

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dead Girls

In the last few months, two local high school girls have walked away from parties and died, one in a marsh, the other in a hospital, a few hours after being found in a stream.

The first girl's death was sad and shocking, but far away. She was a cheerleader in a town I don't know, an exurbanish kind of town, maybe even rural, where teens party on golf courses after football games and wander away into marshes (stifle the memory of partying on golf courses).

But the second girl went to a private school like the one I went to. It's the school where my sister-in-law went, and C's sister, where my friend R and her husband taught for years, a school I drive by, not often, but often enough. She was at a party in a town I don't go to, but a town I know. A party with no parents. A party where she wandered outside at 5 in the morning, wearing shorts and a jacket, in February. A party I went to, some 30 years ago, in a different town, sure, but with the same kids, the same absent parents, the same girl wandering outside at some point when she shouldn't have, only she came back.

It's luck, really, that helps most teenagers survive. Luckily, there's lots of luck, a lot more luck than not luck, keeping those wasted, partying, wandering teenagers alive. It kept me alive, for sure.

The media is being circumspect, because that's what the media has to do, in these cases. Glowing quotes about what a wonderful girl she was. Police talking to the other kids who were there. Nobody knows whether drugs or alcohol were involved.

Come on. We all know what happened, at least any of us who went to those parties, those of us who were lucky. She was tripping, and she wanted to see the full moon up close. She had a fight with her boyfriend and had to get out of the house. Some boy tried to rape her, and she really had to get out of the house. She drank half the bottle of vodka, and someone dared her. So out she went, in her shorts and jacket, and she realized she didn't know where she was, and she kept walking, and she tripped, and there was the stream, and she couldn't get up.

The question is: how do we keep our teenagers on the right side of lucky?

The answer is: I have no idea.

You can say we tell them not to drink and not to do drugs, to Just Say No and practice all kinds of abstinence. And, if you want, you can do that, but I can't, because I don't believe in it, and I don't think it will work.

You can tell them to call if they need you, whatever the reason, and you won't ask questions, you'll just come and get them. You can try to make sure there are parents around (though at our parties parents were never around). You can call them and text them and keep your phone right next to your bed. Sometimes you tell them the stories of girls who wandered away and died, and you hope they listen, though you wouldn't have listened, because you knew you were lucky.

Mostly, though, you send out the most powerful force fields of hope and luck that you can, and you hope they land on your children, and all the other children out there, to protect them as they stumble.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Extremes, Outliers, and Slippery Slopes

I don't blog so much these days because: 1) I'm busy, and my thoughts have a lot more places to go than they used to, and much of what I think about (work!) can't be blogged; 2) I've been blogging for long enough that I've said most of it before; and 3) in the torrent of voices, I rarely see reason to add my own.

But I think I finally have something to say about the octuplet mom, and, ironically, it's stimulated by disagreement with people who should, presumably, be my own. The feminist defense of Nadya Suleman has begun, and I'm afraid I just can't go there.

Let's start with the necessary disclaimers: the media is out of control, in both its attention and its attacks; the doctor who implanted all those embryos was in the wrong; she clearly has some kind of major issues (there's a space between scarred by your bad childhood and ready for an institution, and she's somewhere in that space, though I wouldn't venture to say where). I'll also give you that she has become a lightning rod for our conflicts and confusions about poverty, sexuality, single motherhood, plastic surgery, and all those lightning rod issues.

But what do you expect? This is America. We are conflicted and confused (OK, hypocritical and messed up) about poverty, sexuality, single motherhood, and plastic surgery. Our media is out of control. Our infertility industry preys on women.

And yet, that doesn't mean it is OK to have octuplets when you already have six children under seven.

I know a lot of people are talking about this in terms of taxpayer dollars, and, honestly, I don't really have a position there. I'm thinking about 14 kids under seven, and how they are possibly going to get the attention they need. Yes, money would make a difference: if she were wealthy, she could hire four nannies, and you would have a 5:14 ratio , 6:14 if there were another parent, 7:14 if the grandmother stuck around, all of which would be imaginable. 1:14 is not imaginable, and those kids are going to suffer.

Kate and Jon? That's 2:8. The Duggars? They had theirs every year or so, so there were never more than six under seven, plus the older ones can help. It's different, folks, 14 kids under the age of seven is different. And it's not OK.

I'm talking practice, not principle.

I feel a bit they way I felt when I read Amy Richards' piece in the NY Times magazine a few years ago, about selectively reducing her (unplanned) triplets to one. Was it her right to reduce? Sure. After reading about how she didn't want to be on bed rest or live in Staten Island or shop at Costco, did I approve? Not really. Was I glad she'd written about it in the NY Times? Definitely not: she may have been trying to make the point that women should be allowed to abort for whatever reason they please, but along the way she bolstered all sorts of stereotypes about selfish feminists.

I feel the same way, sometimes, when I confront the rhetoric of adoption activists, like my dear friend Dawn, with whom I've already discussed this issue. What happens when supporting a woman's choice to parent ends up inflicting a child on someone else who has no choice in the matter? What happens when a woman chooses to parent, but then a grandmother/aunt/sister ends up picking up the pieces? They do it, of course, because they have to, and because once a baby is born, it deserves all the love and care that all babies deserve. Still, it wasn't their choice, which definitely problematizes the idea of choice.

The octuplets are here, and now they deserve all that love and care. But that doesn't mean it was right.

I think it comes down to the distinction between rights and what's right. Rights are absolute. There's a reason the ACLU defends the Klan. Someone needs to stand up for those extremes and outliers, to protect everyone else from the slippery slopes they could hurl us down. Yes, it's true, restricting a woman's right to choose (whether it's to have babies or not to have babies) hurts every woman. And, yet, we do ourselves a disfavor when we stop simply at rights and principles. Because in practice, things are hard and complicated, and we need to acknowledge that too, or we lose the moral and practical high ground.

Sometimes we may have the right, but that doesn't mean it's right.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Big Girl, Little Girl

M has crossed the Rubicon into the land of teen disdain. I am a complete buffoon, the stupidest person she has ever encountered, worthy primarily of eye rolling.

In this new role, I am discovering the power of expectations. The closer I get to her, the more buffoonish I become. Leaning over to give her a kiss, I smash into her face and smother her being. Trying to be funny, I fall flat on my face. I am as awkward as a blind date, not quite sure how to address this being whose reactions I cannot predict.

I can write about this here, where she will read it, because, being the post-self-consciousness kind of family we are, we say things like, "M, you're being a disdainful teen!" and she says things like, "Yeah, and I will be for the next four years." And, honestly, she's not like that all the time. Though it's more than enough for me.

Meanwhile, E, seizing the opportunity, is staking her claim to perfect child. She loves her mama, she tells me repeatedly, and showers me with delicate kisses that land right on their targets. She behaves impeccably, whenever M doesn't, and she laughs at my jokes.

M pointed out yesterday that she only got to be the baby for 4 1/2 years, while E has already been the baby for 8. I pointed out that she was very ready to stop being the baby, and she loved being the big girl.

It's true, though, that I am aiding and abetting E in her efforts to remain a baby, which is very high on her list of priorities. For the first few years of M's life, I lamented every change and development, mourning the perfect previous M left behind. Then I realized that she was perfect in each new stage, so there was no point in lamenting. But with E, while I know she will continue to be perfect, I also know that I am experiencing every stage for the last time.

Some of the consequent loss is A-OK with me. I'm not so sentimental as to miss diapers, strollers, and the like.

But E still fits in my lap, and likes best to fall asleep in my arms. I can still pick her up and carry her downstairs. She's my baby, and someday soon enough she won't be, and then I'll be sad. Especially if she thinks I'm a buffoon.

But by then, M will be a delightful near-grownup, and while I won't have a baby, at least I'll have good company.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I Just Can't Help It

S and I had breakfast this morning at a new cafe in City (Mom, it's your favorite restaurant's new cafe, and if you haven't been, you'll love it) (Phantom, it's the new cafe from the restaurant where we had the vegetarian tasting menu) (how's that for in-group blogging?!). It's a lovely little cafe, wood-ceilinged and sun-dappled, with delightful not-your-usual-cafe-food fare, except I did not like the tomato jam which had some kind of spice which left a bad taste in my mouth, but the spice doughnut and leek turnover and fried feta and Greek yogurt were delicious.

But every single person in there was a cliche of a self-important cliche, and not only that, but an unaware cliche of a self-important cliche. Especially the two women my age sitting next to us, discussing their dysfunctional families. But also the middle-aged white gay men. And the private school moms. And, for goodness sake, me and S, the working couple stealing away for a quick Friday morning breakfast.

Now, it is totally OK to be a cliche. I am so much a cliche. You would not believe how cliched and ordinary I am, in my particular brand of liberal, literary, angst-filled, feminist, Jewish mom (yes, I'm talking about you, and you, and you too, even though you're not Jewish). Really, there are about a zillion of me. Which is why my prose is so filled with disavowals and parentheticals.

So I have no problem with being cliched. But thinking you are unique? I have a huge problem with thinking you are unique. Take my word for it, people: very few of us are unique. And those who think they are unique: perhaps the most likely not to be unique.

Now, there are certain life stages in which it is de rigeur (where do the e's and u's go in that word??) to think one is unique. It is completely acceptable to think one is unique in one's adolescent misery. But adolescent misery ends.

It may also be ok to think you are unique if your misery does not end, because misery does feel so wholly individual--even if you know it's not--that its powerful pain may be impossible to conceive of as shared, because the idea of others feeling it is too horrific to bear, on every front.

But...and now we're getting to the point, which perhaps only Libby has anticipated, Judith Warner, you are not weird, you are not unique, and your daughter is not the only girl in the world who does not wear Uggs. You are a typical angst-ridden writer who is a little out of the norm and thinks about things too much. Get over yourself! And, please, do not write about your adolescent daughter's weirdness in the NY Times, because this time next year, or even next month, though you may find it impossible to imagine, she may very well be wearing Uggs and hating you for exposing her to the universe. (And, really, you know that proudly professing your weirdness is simply an invitation for others to reassure you that you are special--or, if you don't...oh god, just go back to therapy already.)

She makes my blood boil. (And, yes, as someone who attempts to be self-aware, I know that I could just not read her, and that my compulsive reading and my fury have some of their roots in my own issues, which I choose not to broadcast at this particular moment, but still!!!)

Edited to add: (Why can't I just let this go?) My point is not that there aren't norms, but that "weird" is its own category, not some dramatic deviation.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Only Children

Being old school like we are, we have family dinner almost every night.  When it's most unpleasant, I tell my children that this is why they won't do drugs, so it's worth it.  

Much of the time, it's me, M, and E, and they bicker and compete for my attention.  It's of huge importance whether I ask first "So what's new in second grade?" or "So what's new in seventh grade?" and I try my hardest to alternate, but I fail.

Sometimes S is home, and then it feels like we are the most normal of pleasant nuclear families, except the girls still compete and grandstand for attention.

Lately, though, we have not infrequently eaten dinner with one child at a time.  M is in a play which rehearses from 6-9 a few nights a week, so most often E is the favored one, sitting between us at the head of the table (for some reason E sits at the head of the table when there are four of us, with me and S on either side, and M next to one of us; if it is just me and the girls, I sit at the head of the table; but when it is two parents and one girl, the girl sits at the head, and we parents sit across from each other on either side).  Tonight I put E to bed while S was picking up M, and then we had a late dinner with M.

These dinners are quite delightful.  The solo child sparkles and gleams, conversing politely and enthusiastically, if a bit narcissistically.  There is no squabbling and no sulking, just the happiest of children and her adoring parents.

I figure having one's parents to oneself is kind of like the sunrise: one appreciates it so greatly largely because one experiences it so rarely.  Except lately I've been seeing the sunrise every day, and every day it's lovely.  Which does not bode well for mutual sibling appreciation.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Education and the Stimulus Bill

I'm not following the battle over the stimulus bill carefully enough, because it makes my head spin, but this is pissing me off! Apparently the Republicans want to cut most of the education funding out of the stimulus bill, including school construction.

What I want to know is where their kids go to school.

My kid goes to a fabulous public school with great teachers, a diverse student body, a solid curriculum, lots of cultural enrichment opportunities (organized by yours truly and my peeps), and a FOR SHIT building. The building is 50 years old and a disgrace. It leaks, it's boiling hot for almost three months of the school year, its systems are going...oh, I could go on, and plenty of people have.

Now, I've always taken the position that the school is great and the building doesn't matter that much. But then I heard that we might get a new school out of the stimulus bill. How many people does it take to build a school? A lot. Yes, I'm talking about jobs. How much more will students learn if they are not sweating to death in May, June, September, and part of October? More. Not enough that I would stake my life on a new school, but enough that if you're doing an economic stimulus bill that's going to pour billions of dollars into the economy, I'd sure as hell rather see it poured into my daughter's school than into more of these damn banks.

Oh god, I am just in a rage. Well, I'm in a rage anyway, but this seems like a damn good place to focus it!

Edited to add: I know I'm just going with the selfish take on it here, but have you ever been in inner-city schools? I have. A lot. You (and I'm talking to those of you who haven't, because those of you who have know what I'm talking about) can't imagine how grim some of them are. Rebuild those schools, create jobs, and give students a better place to learn? How can this not be a no-brainer??????

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I Know Nobody's Going to Comment on This One!

Boras brings another one down.

Rejecting a $25 million offer?

The idea that Manny could end up not playing baseball because of Scott Boras's (and his own) greed once delightful and horrifying.

I Confess

Whosoever amongst you is without sin can cast the stone on taxes, but it's not going to be me.

Here are the tax sins I've committed (at least the ones I can think of):

- Paid nanny under the table for two years (she wanted the cash).

- Paid several housecleaners under the table (again, they wanted it that way).

- NEVER pay estimated taxes (because I am just too damn lazy, though I do pay it all every year round about April 13).

- Am currently ignoring a tax bill from No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb which seems to expect some kind of payment for the five months we lived there in 2005. They have got to be kidding!

- Used to always screw up our local taxes in No Longer Red State, because of byzantine rules about the relationship between the taxes you pay where you work and where you live (always eventually paid once we got the notice telling us how we'd screwed up).

Taxes are a total pain in the ass. Anyone who says they understand taxes is lying.

And here's the rub: I totally believe in taxes. In fact, I love taxes! Call me un-American or socialist or red or whatever you want, but I think it's just groovy to use my money on stuff that everyone needs, like roads and schools. I always pay my taxes, and I don't even try and ferret out hidden deductions to lessen my taxes. (I know this paragraph sounds all ironic and attitudinal, but it is truly heartfelt, and I've been saying it for years.)

So my tax offenses have nothing to do with trying not to pay taxes, and everything to do with the fact that life is complicated, and, well, sometimes being perfect on the tax front just isn't my highest priority. Especially since I realized long ago that I could never withstand the scrutiny attendant on running for political office (see: youthful indiscretions).

I'm sure a lot of these politicians with tax problems were trying to get away with something, but doesn't the fact that so many politicians have tax problems suggest that maybe there is as much wrong with the taxes as there is with the politicians? (And I'm not just saying this because they're Democrats.)

Update: Looks like Daschle's gone, which just sucks. He is a good guy.

And more: Looks like the experts basically agree with me. (And I always wonder why these are the posts that nobody comments on--am I just so brilliant that everyone is nodding and clicking to the next blog, or am I totally off base, or does nobody else get enraged about this shit?)