Tuesday, September 2, 2008

my next dissertation

is totally about Sarah Palin. Does it get any more fascinating?

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Wow - long time no write. Well, long time no write on this blog, though some decent work done on The Big Project and periodic long-winded comments written on other blogs (especially the addictive offsprung.com - nice people!)

Also, D is in a period of so much very rapid development and so much very rapid action that it's kind of hard to survive through it, let alone reflect on it. It's kind of like when he was a newborn and I spent so much time adjusting to the constant need and newness that I couldn't string two coherent sentences together. OK, like that but with more regular sleeping, thank god. But as it turns out, that failure of coherence back 19-20 months ago wasn't just due to the lack of sleep. It was the paradigm shift. We're in another paradigm shift, and it sometimes brings me to tears, it's so interesting and profound.

I mean, for instance, we're presently standing here at the division of ego and superego. I AM HELPING TO FORM SOMEONE ELSE'S SUPEREGO. There are few more frightening concepts out there than that. The people standing behind your superego, your neuroses, your anxieties -- those secret uberMenschen -- those people, the primal They -- they're now L and me, fer crissake. Recognizing that you are becoming someone else's subconscious forces is the very essence of the psychedelic acid trip that is parenthood.

Now, this process has of course been progressing since D was born and so isn't very sudden at all, but it is suddenly more verbal and overt. When he had less physical and verbal agency, he had fewer choices, and therefore less opportunity to do something "good" or something "bad." It's arguable how much choice he has now, but he certainly has some, and we try to listen to his opinions when we can. (Yesterday, for instance, he asked for a "wed" shirt. This was notable as he almost always asks for "gween" when asked, regardless of whether there is a green option or not -- e.g., the answer to "what kind of sandwich do you want?" is generally "Gween.")

So now that he has some capacity to choose what he's doing, we sometimes praise D for following directions (not pulling unripe tomatoes off the plant, letting go of the cat's tail, hesitating before pouring an open cup of water on the floor) with the phrase, "Good boy!" As in, "Good boy, D! Nice to pet the kitty gently!" or "Good boy! I like how you put your markers back in the bucket!" This may sound innocuous to you. But in my heart, I know it isn't. I'm certainly aware of studies which suggest that praise can be a double-edged sword, creating a please-the-praiser motivation rather than an intrinsic motivation, and that if praise is offered anyway, it should relate to task performance rather than to a child's essential qualities. So there's that.

But there's also hearing how your praise is heard. Not long after we started with the "good boy" business, he developed a new frustration word. Whenever something isn't going his way, he says "Gooby! GOOBY!" I at first thought it was a version of "Let go!" ("Wet go!", sadly, having enjoyed a far-too-brief moment in the sun at our house as D moved on quickly to saying "pwease!" when he learned that when a baby says pwease it truly is the magic word, at least around here.) But I realized that this word arrived after I told his fire engine to be a "good boy" and stay in one piece as I was putting its parts back together for the umpteenth time. D tries to mold the world as we try to mold him, trying to make it follow his directions in exchange for a couple of nonsense syllables. How to feel about that? I don't know. Dictatorship flows downhill, I guess.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


You know, I don't think there's any time in the last two years that I've thought, boy, I really wish people knew what I was doing right now. I haven't been hitting any hot clubs, having any deep and meaningful conversations in coffeeshops, observing things quirkily by myself in the rain. Moreover, the sense that I need to share my life with the world because nobody is OBSERVING me, dammit, has been permanently obviated by the fact that I am followed everywhere by a small human appendage. Including to the bathroom. (Are there many tweets from the toilet? How close do people take this minute-by-minute life documentation thing? And man, how sorry are you that Yoko Ono is too old for Twitter?) Plus, now that the appendage has taken to parroting my every utterance, I'm even getting a fairly constant stream of feedback.

"Let's build a sandcastle!"
"Do you want to go in and get something to drink?"
"Dink!" (Generally repeated several times, like an extremely small fratboy.)
"Oh holy sh**! Fu**!" (In response to the cranberry juice being poured on the white couch.)
"Fik! Fik!"

And this is why Twitter is not for parents. We already have micro-blogs. They're called THE TINY BRAINS OF CHILDREN! MWAH AHAHAHAHHAHAHAH!

(Thanks to Rekha for her post.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

he's the happy daddy and he's also the dog!

Title of today's post brought to you courtesy of my new favorite Telly sketch on Sesame Street, "Happy Family." Song goes, "I'm the happy mommy!" "I'm the happy kid!" "I'm the happy daddy, and I'm also - the dog!" "He's the happy daddy, and he's also the dog!"

Our happy daddy isn't also the dog. Thank god for that! We had a very pleasant - a.k.a. low stress - father's day, even though it involved brunch. This is mostly thanks to the fact that Abba, Kiss and Scouty were up here, providing no small amount of entertainment to our own little meal-wrecker. I gave L a watch he'd been wanting - he's really super easy to buy for, since he routinely gets excited about various objects - and I gave my dad some Ray Charles cds and a card promising an artistic rendering of the photograph of his choice (paint or pencils, depending on the photo). I figured one of those things would fit the bill. I think it turned out to be the Ray Charles, but I'll have fun with the photo project anyway.

I think I've figured out why I've been so exercised over the pregnant women issue. Jello. The lime green kind. I suppose it was an obvious point, but I think I was confused because it wasn't just jealousy, but rather the experience of emotional conflict. I would like to have another baby, but I also would really like to return to full-time work. These two possibilities are in direct conflict, at least for the foreseeable future. I've decided in favor of work, which means that while part of me is satisfied, part of me is still un peu triste. So that part comes out as unwarranted snideness towards people who are doing what part of me would like to do.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Suddenly, they're everywhere again. I'm happy not to be among them. Honestly, I can't imagine going through the last eighteen months again anytime soon. It was a wondrous experience that I will think of with love and amazement for the rest of my life but I am wholeheartedly looking forward to a little autonomy -- for all of us. The baby years mean that someone is always hugging you, lying on you, pulling or pushing at you, wailing at you, sticking things into your nose, whacking you unintentionally in the larynx, and really, why have a child in the first place if you don't enjoy all that to some significant extent, but it is one thing to have that kind of intense interaction with someone periodically throughout the day and kind of another to have it every waking minute, which seems to be the way things start out. And are only now slowly, sloooowly beginning to ease off. Today, for instance, he spent a good fifteen minutes trying to take apart the sewing machine. Luckily, his motor skills do not yet allow him to do any real damage, but I can now foresee a moment in time when he could possibly spend a good hour or so at it, and probably make the machine entirely inoperable in the process, but during that time not be interested in any love-smooshing or entertainment-seeking or stuff-whining at all.

I write this in full knowledge of the fact that I will be desperate for the love-smooshing at some point in the not-so-distant future, when I feel like he's not interested in hugging at all anymore and I will tell him "remember when you were a baby and you cried so much whenever I tried to put you down on the ground because you just wanted me to hold you all the time?" And he'll be like, "yeah, WHATEVER MOM" and then he'll go take apart the sewing machine again. At that point, I might start seeing the appeal of making another of the little clingy ones. But I kind of doubt it, as I might just start carrying the cat around again and possibly be satisfied with that.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

dun dah, dun dah dun dah dun dah DUNDAHDAH!

That was the theme music from Jaws, if you couldn't tell. It's up there to express the sneaking realization that the Terrible Twos are upon us.

It's so strange, the process of adapting to toddlerhood. I'm moving from the belief that my baby is an essentially helpless being who needs help to do everything to understanding that he is an essentially powerful being who is capable of doing things himself (or getting me to do it for him.) The first belief results in my making decisions out of pity for his helplessness, while the second results in decisions about how to support his developing independence. And obviously it's not that I feel only one of these things to the exclusion of the other - the new understanding of his abilities is phasing in as my belief in his helplessness phases out - but I think the toddler tantrums serve to mark the tipping point between which of these beliefs is dominant. When he starts thrashing and wailing because I'm not intuiting his needs quickly enough - and his sudden "needs" are now more along the lines of wanting a popsicle or some particular thing on a shelf - then I realize that he isn't crying from pain, hunger or fear, but from momentary impotence. From shortness and from motor control that works pretty well, but not yet perfectly. Wanting but not getting these things won't hurt him - it probably benefits him, really, to some extent. What would life be like without a few unsatisfied desires? If the popsicle doesn't appear until tomorrow night, isn't it all the sweeter?

Anyway, this is a challenging period but full of the learning for both of us. He's learning more about consequences and how asking calmly generally works better than crying for something. (I'm trying to push the "please" too, to create another marker separating a good request for something from wailing/grabbing/thrashing around for it. Also, who can say no to a polite kid? Useful life skill, there.) I'm learning how to detach emotionally, a little, when necessary. The nice thing about loving a baby is that there are basically no boundaries - if a baby wants something badly, it's almost certainly good for them - food, milk, being held. This really isn't the case with toddlers. There are lots of things toddlers want badly which aren't necessarily good for them. However, it's kind of difficult to make this emotional transition from being all Yes to being mostly No, with some Yes and some Later.

None of this has been helped by the terrible early morning wake up time. 5:15. 3:45. 4:45. It's like a parade of bleary moments that you remember from the other side of the evening in your early 20s. Basically, that sums it up. Having a toddler is like peering through a dark window at your teens/early twenties. It's not quite the same thing -- we'll be getting that in 13-14 years or so -- but it is kind of an early run-through. Toddlers are apparently just teenagers without acne.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

political fun with the seventeen month old

After a few minutes of checking out the NYT photo slideshow, he was pretty well trained to respond to photos of the nominee with "Bama!"

Extremely cute, and made me proud. Let the brainwashing begin!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

the great generational liberal white woman divide

"Can you believe the way they're disenfranchising Florida and Michigan?"


"And this thing about Robert Kennedy. It's ridiculous that they're making such a big deal about this."

"Hmm. I guess so, but you know..."

"I don't know why they're in such a hurry to get rid of her. She should stay in the campaign for as long as she wants."

Et voila.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

at the spa

I came up with a really useful mental invention last night -- I was feeling somewhat beat down, and asked myself, "what would make you feel better right now?" Being at a spa, I thought. You know, where you're constantly walking around in a robe with a towel on your head and things smell very floral and you're sipping some sort of herbal tea. I COULD DO THAT RIGHT HERE, I realized. So I took a shower (which for me is very spalike in itself) and then put on a bathrobe, made myself some chamomile tea and announced that I was in a spa and so couldn't see the dirty dishes or piles of clothes on the floor. I worked at the computer for a while (it was a working spa) and went to bed around 9:00 after demanding that L give me a backrub as part of my spa experience. He did it, too. It's amazing the power you can wield over people when you assume an imperious spa gaze and have a towel on your head.

Friday, May 16, 2008

on nature and culture

It's impossible to resist the drumbeat to naturalize your child as soon as possible. That pinnacle of bourgey nurseryschooling, the Montessori method, would have the kids outside all the time if possible, and if not, they should be touching only "natural" materials in their classrooms. Feh, plastic! (See my short rant on this topic below.) Pretty much anyone in the blogging world who emphasizes ecological responsibility -- and definitely anyone who emphasizes health -- focuses heavily on the sustaining qualities of connecting with Nature. Nature good, goes this popular line of argument, culture bad. Natural objects good, mass-produced objects bad.

So I fulfill my parental responsibility to regularly expose the young tot to the elements here -- walks to all of the public places, bird sanctuaries, little parks, etc. -- and despite the wealth of sticks and pinecones and rocks, he never fails to make straight for the cigarette butts, the bits of plastic wrap, and the old Skoal containers. The natural and the cultured bits are all the same to him. Cultured bits probably better, even, because they're likely to have letters on them, making them extra fascinating (and likely to bring on a fit of "S! S!!...K!K!KKKK!" and such. Our baby, and his crazy love of letters!)

Of course, nature becomes especially interesting once it's where you wish it wasn't. He's super interested in the ants which have just invaded our living room, for example. Score one for the nature-lovers there, I guess.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

the benevolent dictatorship

I decided to title give this blog the title, "The Benevolent Dictatorship" because parenting a child is an unavoidably political activity. Additionally, and to my surprise, I've found that parenting gives an unexpected perspective back into the political world -- perspective into what it must be like to have control over a non-democratic country, or cult, or some other large group of people. Whenever you have power over someone, entirely, unequivocally, you have to get used to the feeling of having entire, unequivocal responsibility for that person. You can try to diminish the feeling by reminding yourself of your charge's otherness, the fact that they are separate people with their own physical integrity and responsibility for their own personhood. You can diminish the feeling by spreading the caretaking out among a larger number of people. But ultimately, the symbiotic power exchange between the primary caregiver and the primary care-receiver is deep deep deep and I suspect, unshakable. The way that Tito is always president in Yugoslavia unshakable. Death does not part you, or diminish your power and responsibility in the mind of the living partner.

There was another small accident today, a kitchen accident, and D was totally fine. Completely and absolutely fine, like not a mark, no pain or anything, just a scare. But for the parents who witnessed it, and the parents who came into the room immediately afterwards, and even the parent who prevented the accident from resulting in harm to D it was a deep stab right to the middle of the stomach. The stab was about the baby's potential pain, but also about the failure of our responsibility, our individual and collective failure. The logic of the failure of responsibility is that we caused him pain. And there is no such precious body to us that we could live without coming back in our heads, at unexpected moments, to the image of his pain and the feeling that we caused it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

mwah hahahaha

I was sitting here during D's nap thinking of the things that needed doing this afternoon, including a trip to the store to replenish our precious bodily fluids -- that would be milk, half and half, and Long Trail Double Bag Ale, naturally -- and I had a thought along the lines of General Jack D. Ripper's. Wouldn't it be just like Bush and Co to be contaminating our microbreweries and organic milk providers with the understanding that they'd be SAPPING THE VERY ESSENCE of the liberal voter? Yoiks!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

fauxthenticity, retrothenticity

Pondering baby stuff, as one does when one is sitting in an enormous pile of baby stuff, it occurs to one that the current fashion for all-wood, no-plastic baby toys might be an inconvenient kind of fashion. We've gotten or purchased a number of the Melissa and Doug puzzles and toys for D. and I've noticed that just about all of them have chipped paint by now, just a few months into their use. There's no way they'll last into another child, if we were to have one, let alone stick around for years and years like their plastic brethren (or aunts and uncles, really, since most of the plastic toys we have are old old old, like from my childhood or before old.) Funny that plastic-based polyester t-shirts are retro and good because of that; plastic-based record albums are retro and good because of that, but not so much with the plastic baby toys, because those clearly don't hearken back quite far enough. Plus, plastic in a baby toy is viewed as dangerous, or somehow detrimental to the baby's emotional development. But just how detrimental to baby's development are the stupid Melissa and Doug painted-in-China-with-god-only-knows-what-kind-of-paint wooden puzzles and toys, hmm?
Their main benefit is that they provide an aura of fauxthenticity to the baby-raising enterprise. Not actually authentic, because the old wooden toys they're hearkening back to have degraded, chipped, or fallen apart by now (if they were in any use at all, that is, rather than having been kept like new in a closet somewhere due to someone's precognition of the future nostalgic value of a current object. Or because they were really boring-assed toys.) If it's old, or old-fashioned, it is more real and therefore more good than what is newfangled. This is particularly attractive to people who really don't know what other criteria to choose on. Like Leave it to Beaver is authentic TV, or authentic coffee is made from whole beans, or Walter Cronkite is an authentic newscaster, the wooden-not-plastic baby toy preference is one of those arbitrary things that makes the hideously inexperienced parent feel like they can at least get ONE thing right, for crissake.

Of course, there's also the possibility that the wooden toys are attractive because wood does degrade more quickly than plastic, and parents are concerned not only with whether their baby is sufficiently authentic but also whether they are reducing their baby's carbon footprint. To this, I say good luck. Here in the developed world, having babies is a massively anti-ecological activity. Every baby is going to produce so much garbage and so much carbon over their lifetimes that you can be assured of going to ecology hell for deciding to have one in the first place. But luckily, they are so awesome that you don't even care so much about that. Anyway, what I meant to express by this is that there are many dimensions to being ecologically minded, and one of the big dimensions to ecological responsibility is reuse. Plastic toys, properly recycled, get massive, massive reuse for the very reason that they are basically indestructible and won't break down. I'm using tons of toys from, again, my own distant childhood and look forward to passing them on when D is done with them. They are not as charming to me as the wooden toys. But D doesn't seem to mind, and his is really the more important opinion. Plus I don't have to buy as much, which works for me.

Friday, April 25, 2008

mommies on the move

Our playgroup has thankfully moved out to the Payson Park playground for the season, which (as you might expect from the word "thankfully" here) is a great thing in many ways. Between the huge climbing things, slides, and interesting new varieties of dirt to put in your mouth, the playground offers the young toddler plenty of time-consuming activities -- so I'm not hearing "car! Go, go, go!" quite so soon from my date. We get to be outside in the sun. We get to meet strange new babies with their strange new baby customs. We often get so exhausted by the running that one of us (typically, not the one driving) falls asleep in the car on the way home. Most importantly, of course, the outside playgroup takes the pressure off of yours truly to clean up the house and bring people over here. Yay for not hosting anything, yet also not feeling like a crappy parasite!

The downside to the outside playgroup is the dangerous huge climbing things, the dirt in the mouth, the being outside in the sun, the strange babies, the exhausting running, and the fact that when nobody is hosting, nobody makes delicious cakes and such for the mommies. Amy did bring munchkins today, which was nice and also gave me unexpected flashbacks to hebrew school. I brought fruit salad and graham cracker sticks last week. Still, none of this is on a level with freshly homemade baked goods, and what with the running you don't really have time to eat so much anyway. Actually, that last bit is true of life in general. Isn't life with a toddler mostly an inability to produce or consume delicious homemade baked goods? On second thought, not really.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Good news arrived, and with it a fabulous brain-bath of endorphins....a warm, warm feeling spreading out from the base of my skull and turning everything I see light yellow, glowing. It turns out that D's lead test result was entirely a false positive, and his true lead levels are in the lowest category, <5. The whole event was pretty stressful on many levels, due not only to the uncertainty about whether or not our baby had lead poisoning but also because the pediatrician's office refused to respond to the messages I left them over the last few days, the ridiculous mixed messages I got between the doctors and the public health officials, plus the dose of "bad woman!" message I inferred from the part of lead poisoning prevention education that concerns maintaining a very clean, dust-free home. All released in a solid WHOOOSH when I heard that the first test result had apparently just been due to the pediatrician's office fucking up by giving the lab a contaminated sample. Ha. Ha ha. The relief was so overwhelming I still don't even feel mad that my entire week-plus of high anxiety and lost work was due to a procedural contamination error. And one that I felt I observed, even, as the method for collecting the sample involved wiping blood off of the finger of a wiggling, twisting baby over the course of several minutes while both the nurse and I repeatedly came into contact with the sampled area.
Anyway, my first order of business was to crash immediately and sleep like the dead, and my second order of business is to get my life back in order.

Monday, April 14, 2008

get the led out

WBLM, our local "classic" rock station, has been playing exactly the same music for at least twenty years. This must save them a fortune in album purchases (or mp3 purchases, or whatever it is that radio stations do these days.) In addition to the inevitable "Two For Tuesday" (is there a "classic" radio station out there that doesn't do a "two for tuesday"? Isn't that a requirement of the "classic" radio genre, that you hear the same old songs that you hear every other day, but on this very special day they are arranged so the Beatles songs are NEXT TO EACH OTHER rather than being separated by a song or two? Magic!)...anyway, in addition to the "Two for Tuesday", they play a "Get the Led Out!" set whenever I am driving in the car in the early evening. That's not too often, maybe once every few weeks or something, but that seems to be the only time I hear it. I do imagine they probably play it more often than that, but I can't really tell you anything more specific than the fact that I seem to hear it every time I'm driving and the sun is going behind the horizon and shining straight into my eyes.

I have no idea where the phrase "get the led out!" comes from, but I'm now wondering if it comes from campaigns to eliminate lead residue in drinking water and public environments. You know, as in "Get the Lead Out." Which really makes a lot more sense than getting Led Zeppelin out. Out of what, for instance? Out of your head? Wouldn't playing Led Zeppelin songs rather put it back into your head? It doesn't make any sense.

However, getting the lead out makes a lot of sense. We just got an initial blood screening test back for the D-man, and it came back positive for lead. We don't know yet if it's really in there, of course, as the screening test appears to have a 50% rate for false positives (nice, huh? This is serious serious stuff, so do freak out, but remember, there's a 50% chance that you're freaking out unnecessarily! Silly hysterical mommy!) But if there's lead in there, we're going to get it the fuck out. Just like BLM says. Yes, indeedy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

the mommy army

Hello blogiverse, I'm giving blogging yet another try! Yes, yes, move to the sides of the room once you're in...don't want to block the throngs at the doorway.

As you'll note from the website address, I originally titled this blog "the Mommy Army" as a result of the chronological confluence of reading about the Mahdi Army and attending my first mommy-and-me Toddler Time at our local library. Clearly, there are many, many differences between these two organizations. In fact, just about the only similarities are that "mommy" sounds like "Mahdi" and that I was impressed by the degree of discipline and informal organization that had sprung up to fill some of the long hours of at-home toddler-parenting. The mommies clearly had a useful battle dress code in effect when I attended - jeans, clogs or loafers, and an LL Bean-type fleece jacket - and our drill leader made short work of the hour, packing in a good two dozen songs and rhymes in addition to an an inspiring story and a short ball workout. Having been entirely outside of what I immediately, in my head, labeled "the Mommy army," I was a bit taken aback. Parenting had seemed like an intensely personal activity to that point - we remained mainly cocooned in the house except for walks around the neighborhood for the better part of a year - but I realized that once your child is in public, joining society and such, you are part of a different class of people than you were before you had the baby. And joining a new social group takes some substantial socialization.

This process (a.k.a., my bellybutton) is really very interesting. Thank goodness there's a whole internet full of people just waiting to read all the mental lint I can dig up on the subject.