18 December 2006

on modesty and responsibility

Okay, so blogging is obviously the last thing I should be doing right now, but I do need the occasional break from laundry and errands and packing. And I've actually got a real post in mind today! It's something that I've come across repeatedly lately, and something to which I've already admitted being somewhat shallow about, but it's provoked a conflict between my maternal side and my feminist side, which usually manage to co-exist quite nicely, but once in a while I run into a hurdle.

One of the biggest reasons I've always been a little bit sad about having only boys is the clothes. Sure, I have an adorable neice who I can buy clothing for, but I hardly see her, so it's not quite the same. Boys' clothes are all dinosaurs and rocketships and vehicles and sports, which gets pretty old pretty quickly. But girls have skirts and dresses and lots of colors and styles and accessories! (Like I said, shallow. I should probably just get a doll.)

But for a while, I've been noticing a trend in girls' clothing. Styles that used to be marketed only to adult women have started being marketed to teenagers, and now pre-teens and younger. It's always been the case, I think, that little boys' clothes are imitations of men's clothing, and now girls' clothes are starting to imitate women's clothing. The difference, though, is that there's an element of sexuality in women's clothing that doesn't exist in men's clothing, and that sexuality is beginning to trickle down to younger and younger girls. There is something that really makes me uncomfortable about seeing young girls in halter tops and miniskirts and teeny bikinis, about seeing thongs and tiny bras in the girls' department in a clothing store. It's not that I think girls shouldn't be comfortable or wear whatever they want to, but I think that the sexualization and objectification that is imposed on adult women by American culture shouldn't be pushed onto young, pre-sexual girls.

I've been browsing some parenting blogs lately, and recently came across the Moms for Modesty statement. I agree with a lot of what they say: encouraging modesty and refraining from sexualizing girls, teaching girls to value inner beauty, supporting retailers who sell age-appropriate clothing. But one part of their statement really caught my attention: "I believe that it is unwise and unfair to taunt boys and young men by permitting my daughter(s) to dress in an immodest manner. "

As a mother of boys, I have a real problem with this statement. Sure, I believe in keeping girls' clothing girlish, but not because I believe that girls have any kind of duty to protect boys from being "taunted". Something I firmly believe, and which I've already begun to teach James, is that you cannot control or change the behavior of anyone else; all that you can do is control your own reactions to the behavior of others. I believe it's unwise and unfair to assume that all boys will react the same way to seeing a girl dressed "immodestly", and I also think it's unwise and unfair to expect girls to have to predict and prevent the emotional and hormonal reactions of boys. I think it would be far more effective to encourage boys to control themselves no matter what a girl is wearing.

This attitude is something I've seen before, primarily from right-wingers and particularly from religious types. It's this idea that men and boys are somehow unable to control themselves in the face of hormones, and so it's the job of women and girls to lead them not into temptation. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a former neighbor of mine, which makes me cringe every time I recall it.

We were talking about this very issue: modest clothing for girls, and particularly teenage girls. She was in favor of modest clothing, not, apparently because of any benefit it might have for the girls involved, or even because of her religious views. No, her husband had told her that men are so visually stimulated, much moreso than women, that to see a young girl in a midriff-baring top drew his attention not only to the exposed skin, but to the suggestion of skin covered as well. In my neighbor's words, seeing a teenage girl in revealing clothing at the mall turned her husband's thoughts to that young girl's vagina. She believed that girls should dress modestly to prevent the visual temptation of men.

I was pretty appalled, and practically ran home to ask Greg whether that was really a universal male quality, as my neighbor's husband claimed, and Greg was as weirded out as I was. Either Greg is a very convincing liar, or my neighbor had managed to convince his wife that his disturbing reactions were not only not disturbing, but normal and typical. And perhaps he really does believe that all men are like him. But my experience tells me that this is not true.

So as a mother, as someone who thinks children are exposed too soon to the ugly things in this world, I would like to see young girls dressing more girlishly. The rampant sexuality of American pop culture is creeping into younger and younger minds, and I'm really uncomfortable with that. Women are objectified at young enough ages already; we don't need to lower the bar. But as a feminist mother of boys, I believe that women and girls are deserving of respect no matter what they're wearing. To focus on and disparage the clothing choices of a person is to show disrespect for that person. I want my sons to be able to look at a girl in low-rider jeans with exposed thong and see her not as a walking vagina, but as a person. Above all I want my sons to understand that they are responsible for their actions. If a scantily-clad girl turns their heads and inspires lustful thoughts, she is not responsible for the emotions her appearance has invoked in them. My sons are the only people responsible for the thoughts that run through their heads, and how they express those thoughts.

To expect a girl to alter her appearance in anticipation of the reactions of boys is like expecting a restaurant to eliminate desserts from its menu for fear of exciting the gluttons. It's an unfair burden to place on girls, and it excuses boys from taking responsibility for themselves. If I were a man, I think I'd be a little insulted at the implication that I am unable to control myself in the face of temptation. So let's give men and boys some credit here -- human beings, regardless of gender, are capable of controlling themselves. The idea that they're not is harmful to both girls and boys.

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17 December 2006

beginning to feel like christmas

We are two days from leaving for Washington for Christmas with Greg's family, and we just had an early Christmas celebration with my mom, and we have been listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas movies and finally, finally it is starting to feel a little like Christmas around here.

I don't know whether it's the lack of snow, my refusal to set foot inside a mall, or if I'm just too busy planning this year, but I really haven't been in the Christmas spirit much at all yet. So it was a little surprising to feel so festive this weekend for our early Christmas.

Some photos:


The "Christmas Eve" spread I prepared (with lots of help from Wegmans)


The boys waiting to open gifts on "Christmas" morning

James modeling his new Star Wars t-shirt

The Christmas stocking I knitted for the boys

Yes, I knitted only one Christmas stocking for my two boys, because I am a self-taught knitter who makes lots of mistakes, and this was the first thing I've made that wasn't a scarf or a simple hat. Regardless, I'm pretty pleased with my handiwork. I was also pretty pleased with my "Christmas Eve" dinner -- the first I've ever prepared. Just let me say, thank goodness for prepared foods at the supermarket, because it was very tasty and I barely had to do a thing. Also, cranberry-cinnamon goat cheese on French bread? Quite possibly one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten, ever.

But the best part of the weekend was watching my boys enjoy their new toys, and seeing the imaginative ways in which they played with them. Little people riding stuffed dragons, Superman fighting Storm Troopers, Batman as part of a plastic ham and cheese sandwich. They make me laugh.

Today and tomorrow will probably be devoted to cleaning and packing before we leave in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. I'm making no promises about the quantity or quality of my blogging until after the new year. So until next time, whenever that may be.

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14 December 2006

this is a little too early

Today in the mail I received a package with a letter informing me that it's time to register my child for kindergarten.

Kindergarten!

Okay, even though we're still less than halfway through the school year, the nursery school he's currently at starts holding open houses and accepting applications in January every year, so I know it's not really too early. But there's an element of competition to nursery school that doesn't exist in public kindergarten, where they have to take everyone whether they like it or not. You wouldn't think they'd need so much advance notice. But no. I've got a 12-page packet full of forms (mostly health information) to fill out before scheduling a registration appointment for early January.

The biggest problem with all of this, of course, is that our future, our summer and fall of 2007, is one big ol' question mark. We don't know when Greg will finish his PhD. We don't know where we will be living or when we'll be moving there (though we recently got a notice that we're expected to move out of student housing at the end of August next year, so we'll be moving sometime before then). Now I have to start worrying about kindergarten preparation, without knowing where James will be going to kindergarten? No fair.

Luckily, James is not interested in or excited about kindergarten at all, so he won't be disappointed by the uncertainty. I don't know why exactly, but so far he's pretty resistant to the idea of kindergarten. First he said it was because he didn't want to learn to hold a writing implement correctly, but now that he's got that down, he's coming up with other, seemingly random, excuses. Today he doesn't want to go to kindergarten because he doesn't know any math or science (incorrect -- he knows a good amount of both for his age) and he's worried about having too much homework (I'm guessing this comes from being good buddies with a 2nd grader). So I suppose he'll be relieved if I can't get things together to register him for kindergarten. Which, really, is not a serious worry. I know he'll end up going to school somewhere, and I'm fairly confident that he will love it.

But this is just another thing to add to the list, another item to cram into those summer months that are already starting to look a little crowded. I am not really looking forward to that.

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11 December 2006

weekend highlights

My sister and I had a nice little mini-vacation in Washington DC. We managed to pack a lot of interesting things into one day and one morning. I'd have to say that my personal highlights from the weekend were the museum in Ford's Theatre, and the Vietnam War Memorial, for many reasons. I was also impressed by seeing the Constitution in the National Archives, and the FDR Memorial.

Ford's Theatre was a lot more interesting than I was expecting, and I was expecting it to be interesting. I was kind of amazed by the quantity of memorobilia, and it was startling to see just how widely Lincoln's death was mourned, how passionately and deeply people felt about his assassination, especially when I imagine what the reaction would be if the current president were assassinated. Not that there wouldn't be a lot of grief from many people, but I can't imagine loving a president the way people loved Lincoln in his time.

The Vietnam Memorial affected me in a surprising way. Seeing photos of young soldiers propped up against the base of the wall really drove home the fact that the Vietnam War is really not that far behind us. To think that some people visit that memorial because they are still grieving someone close to them was sobering in a way that the WWII memorial, for example, was not. It is a part of our past yet still very present for many people.

I hadn't even known before my trip that there was an FDR memorial, but it's really quite large and beautiful, with four separate outdoor "rooms," one for each term of his presidency, and lots of waterfalls and inspirational quotes carved into the stone.

Other notable events for me:

  • Falling in love with Van Gogh's painting of Roses, which I'd never seen before, as well as delighting in many Monets in the National Gallery of Art
  • Eating swordfish, gnocchi, and pomegranate for the first time
  • Being photographed with R2D2 and C3P0 (my kids were so excited to hear about that)

Being surrounded by so much history and government was kind of inspiring -- especially seeing the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights in the National Archives. It was a reminder that despite how dissatisfied I may be with the current government, there is a tradition in this country to be proud of. I guess I felt some faint stirrings of patriotism in my cynical little heart. And now I'm really looking forward to going back some time, to taking my kids to all of the museums and monuments and memorials and teaching them about history, democracy, civic pride.

Oh, my, I believe I'm getting a little starry-eyed here. Anyway, it was a nice weekend, a much-needed break from my wonderful (yet demanding) children, and some quality time with a person I love. There are photos (lots and lots of them -- we got a new, huge memory card for the camera last week) posted on my Yahoo page if you're interested in seeing how goofy we were.

Edit: I can't believe I totally forgot to mention the amazing Rembrandt exhibit we saw, and an equally amazing exhibit of Bibles before the year 1000. Both fascinating -- could have easily spent hours looking at each.

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08 December 2006

friday photos

We have our first real snow! This was the view from my back door this morning:


I like to joke that the first snowfall of the year immediately makes everyone forget how to drive. You either have someone inching along at 10mph on clear roads because there's snow on the sidewalks, or you have someone who's forgotten to brush off their windows and mirrors flying past you, spraying slush, at 20mph above the limit. People instantly become idiots on the road.

This morning, my friends, I became one of those people. I was rounding a curve and when I hit the brakes I started to slide. So I let up on the brakes but I couldnt' change direction or I would've hit another car. So I crashed into the curb. Luckily the only injuries were a hubcap knocked askew, and a little bruising to my ego. I suppose, though, since that's the closest I've come to a traffic accident in 9 years of driving, I'm still doing pretty well.

Yesterday I decided to try to take Christmas photos of the boys, since I'll need to send out Christmas cards in the next week before we leave for Washington. Well, here were a couple of the better photos to come from the photo shoot:




Looks like we'll have to try again.

But not this weekend! Here's the really exciting news of the day, much better than snow: in a few hours I am boarding a plane to DC to meet up with my sister for a nerd weekend. This is the first time that I've traveled on my own since having kids. This is also the first time Greg has taken care of the kids alone overnight. So it's a big weekend for all of us.

Hope y'all have a great weekend too!

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04 December 2006

ethical compromises

As I mentioned yesterday, sometimes when you're on a budget you have to make compromises that you wish you didn't have to. This is something I've struggled with for a while, and I know my sister has written about this before as well, though I couldn't find the post I was looking for after browsing her archives this afternoon.

It's a conflict that's hard to resolve at this point. Ideally, according to my values, I would like to support local businesses, support businesses which are socially and environmentally responsible, support environmentally friendly and sustainable agricultural practices, and avoid giving my money to those businesses or organization that espouse values contrary to my own. With that in mind, I went on Saturday to check out a local craft fair: Metro Justice's Alternative Fair, which was offering "fair trade, earth-friendly and/or locally produced goods that support a just and sustainable world." I was hoping to find some holiday gifts for the people still left on my shopping list.

And at first I was enchanted -- it was a progressive's ideal alternative to the mall. There were lots of booths for progressive organizations -- the ACLU, the Sierra Club, CodePink -- and other booths full of handcrafted gift items, as well as homemade treats to eat. But as I wandered around, I began to get more and more discouraged. Sure, I would love to buy organic fair-trade Peruvian coffee beans, but on our graduate-student budget, it's more practical to buy beans of questionable origin for half the price from the local coffee chain. There were some gorgeous hand-knit scarves, but I could knit something almost as nice myself, for less money. Everywhere I turned I saw things I would love to buy in support of the principles I believe in, but it seems you have to be a wealthy progressive to do so.

I got so frustrated that I left after only twenty minutes or so, and nearly cried on the way home. It's frustrating that the default products in this country are mass-produced by workers who are either exploited or underpaid, and support corporations that use every loophole on the books to evade social responsibility. Ethical business practices are not the norm. Caring for other human beings and for our earth are not priorities for the business world -- the bottom line is money. And when you don't have much money, you have very few options about who you're giving yours to. This is why we bought our Christmas tree from the Boy Scouts, and why I shop at the Salvation Army -- both organizations discrimate against homosexuals, a position I'm not keen to support with my business, but their prices are hard to beat, and on our budget, that's really the deciding factor.

All of this is on top of beginning to read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which, like Fast Food Nation and other books of that genre, has me desperately wishing we could afford to buy produce and meat from sources other than corporate farms and agribusinesses. It's depressing that the morally and ethically responsible choices are not available to everyone, but only those with enough dough. And sure, within a year, once Greg gets a job, we'll have enough money to start buying grass-fed, free-range beef or sweatshop-free apparel, but the fact that my circumstances will change doesn't do anything to address the problems that require one to pay more to be an ethical consumer.

I don't know whether there's a real solution to this problem. Our country has long been promoting quantity over quality: consumerism is vital to our culture and economy, and more and bigger and cheaper are always better. It's a culture that focuses more on money than on people or the earth, and I worry that we're too far along this path to make any meaningful changes any time soon.

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03 December 2006

sunday photos

We've been having a busy, fun weekend. Yesterday we got a Christmas tree --after shopping around, finding some very expensive (and beautiful trees), we bought one from the Boy Scouts, despite their anti-gay position, because when you're on a limited budget, sometimes you have to compromise your convictions. That's a post for another day. Anyway, here's our tree, which James helped decorate, and which Evan has not yet tipped over, and not from lack of trying:




Then today we met some friends at the science museum. We'd never been there before; we'd always assumed that James was still too young to get much out of it. But we had some free passes, so we went and found out that it's really a lot of fun for all ages. They have a really cool dinosaur exhibit right now, and lots of interactive things to do there.


Which is scarier, James or T-Rex?


Evan found a dinosaur just his size.


James, spinning.


They called this a kaleidoscope, but it was really a mirrored enclosure. Still looked cool.

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29 November 2006

who is this kid?

I thought it was pretty amazing when Evan recently started sleeping through the night. No crying until 6am! I didn't think it could get better.

But today after lunch, I told Evan it was naptime, and instead of screaming and crying "NO!", Evan said nicely, "Naptime. I tired. I go bed." And he laid down happily in his crib for a nap.

This is the kid who has had sleep issues from day one. Who, for months, could not go to sleep without being rocked and/or nursed. Who sometimes had to be held for an entire nap because putting him down would wake him. Who woke up as many as 6 times a night for the first seventeen months of his life. And now he goes down nicely for a nap without crying? He sleeps through the night every single night?

Somebody must have pulled a baby switcheroo, because this is bizarre. I'm pleasantly surprised, but suspicious.

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20 November 2006

baby's first song

Tonight was Evan's singing debut. Do you recognize the song? (If you're not into toddler entertainment, you won't, but the other parents reading this might be able to tell what it is.)

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16 November 2006

shallow and superficial

The title of my blog post refers to me. Or does it? You be the judge.

Is it wrong that I don't allow my four-year-old to leave the house in sweatpants? I know that kids' fashion is different from adults', and I know that he's more comfortable in sweats than anything else. And lord knows I'm no fashion icon -- c'mon, I'm a feminist: comfortable shoes only, and of course, at the initiation ceremony I had to turn over all of my bras for burning.

And I don't care if he's really fashionable. First, we don't have the money for him to be really fashionable; second, I love the weird mismatched clothing combinations he occasionally comes up with. Maybe I'm just having flashbacks to my own childhood -- I can remember being teased for my clothes as early as the second grade. I guess there's nothing inherent in sweats to provoke teasing. But it's hard enough growing up poor without advertising it to the world by dressing like a hobo.

Okay, writing my thoughts out has helped me come to a definitive conclusion: I'm shallow and superficial. I think I really just don't like the sweats because they reflect poorly on me; like, can't I send my kid out of the house in something other than grubby gray sweatpants? I'm sensing some sort of lesson about parenting here... something about allowing your kids to do harmless things that make them happy even if you don't quite approve, or something like that.

What do you know, I've turned sweatpants into a learning experience!

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10 November 2006

seven months early

Baby update! I took Evan to the doctor's this morning (a couple of months late on his fifteen-month check-up), and this visit, combined with my own recent observations, have convinced me that Evan's brain is somehow seven months older than the rest of him. Physically, he's right on target. Actually, believe it or not, my formerly roly-poly little boy, who was once in the 90th percentile for weight, is now in the 15th percentile for weight. He still looks chubby to me, and the doctor said he's still growing normally, but his growth has slowed dramatically.

But mentally, the boy is a different story. The doctor told me that his speech is like that of a two-year-old (which sounds right to me; James, my textbook child, was not speaking as well as Evan does now until he was at least two). He's starting to put words together into sentence fragments ("more drink, please" or "TV watch Elmo"). And we've noticed in the last week or two that we're really starting to get into the Terrible Twos. Evan's two favorite words, currently, are "no" and "mine", and he uses both, often together, with alarming frequency.

And the tantrums! "No" and "mine" figure prominently in the tantrums, which are a reaction to all kinds of evil deeds by his parents and brother, such as when James tries to kiss him or when Mama tries to feed him peas (at one time, his favorite vegetable, but now apparently a form of torture). And this baby knows how to do a tantrum -- throwing things, ear-splitting shrieks, flinging himself down on the ground and flailing. We occasionally worry that he's going to hurt himself, but thankfully we've so far avoided any spills down the stairs or falling down onto anything too hard.

The older Evan gets, the more I realize what a wonderful baby James was. I feel a little guilty, because any other parent who has asked me about the Terrible Twos has heard from me that they're not really that bad, because even though the screaming and crying are annoying, you can understand where it's coming from, because your baby is frustrated or impatient or over-stimulated or whatever. And that was all true, for James. His Terrible Two behavior stemmed from two things: 1) he couldn't really communicate with us until he was two or so, and so got frustrated trying to tell us what he wanted or needed, or 2) he wanted to be very independent from a young age, and insisted on doing things for himself, therefore getting angry and frustrated if we wouldn't let him, or if he couldn't do what he was trying to do.

But Evan? Evan has finally taught me the true meaning of the Terrible Twos. Half the time we can't figure out what he's screaming about. Or his screaming seems all out of proportion to whatever it is that's upsetting him. We're working on trying to prevent these outbursts and tantrums, but since it's hard to know exactly what will set him off, this has been kind of difficult. And he's too young to really discipline; the best we can do is try to calm him down and distract him.

So, this is Evan at 17 months. Physical health: normal. Verbal development: outstanding. Emotional development: pretty normal, but driving us crazy. Maybe the fact that the Terrible Twos came seven months early means that they'll be gone by the time he's actually two. One can only hope.

Oh, but let's not forget the best news of all: at 17 months Evan is finally, almost sleeping through the night! He actually did two nights in a row, and last night he woke up screaming once (yes, really screaming) but was quickly settled with a cup of milk. Now that I've posted this on the old blog, I'm sure he will wake up 47 times tonight just to prove me wrong, but hey, that's what kids do best.

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08 November 2006

election reflections

Happy Election Day, a day late. I hope everyone got out and voted yesterday. We got to our polling place at 8am, so that Greg could vote before traipsing off to Ohio for work, and James assisted me in the voting booth while Evan charmed all of the old ladies volunteering at the polls. I love voting -- it makes me feel like I'm important, like I'm part of something great. Of course, in a state like New York, my individual vote doesn't matter much, but I still like being part of the whole process.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with who America elected yesterday. Here in New York, we are finally being governed by a Democrat, Eliott Spitzer, who I'm a little bit in love with in a political-admiration sort of way. We re-elected Hillary to the Senate, and you know, as much flak as she gets, and as much as she panders to the center and right, I still support her. I still admire her. My Republican Congressional representative was barely re-elected, unfortunately, but it was a pretty close race, so that makes me a little bit happy.

But the big news, of course, is that the Democrats took back the House of Representatives (and maybe the Senate), and for the first time ever, we have a female Speaker of the House. Ever since Nancy Pelosi appeared on my radar a few years ago, I've admired her as a strong, liberal woman with real progressive values and a backbone. I'm thrilled that she's in a position of leadership, and I'm excited that she is actually in line for the presidency! Of course, that's obviously a long shot, but considering that it's been more than 100 years since a woman first ran for President (thank you, Old Toad Trivia Night, for that piece of information), it feels good to think that the presidency is finally realistically within the reach of a woman. And not just Pelosi, either, but we're at a point where there is serious speculation about a woman -- Hillary --running for president, and perhaps actually being elected. I know the chances of her being elected are debatable -- I love her and even I'm not sure she could win -- but it's definitely a possibility, and given that there are two years between now and the next election, I think it's too early to predict.

And speaking of women, the other piece of news that's exciting to me is that the voters of South Dakota rejected the abortion ban. I guess the three guys protesting abortion outside the hopital in the rain this morning (such dedication!) didn't hear about that, because if an abortion ban didn't fly in a place like South Dakota, there's no way it'd ever pass in New York.

All in all, a pretty eventful and satisfying election. I don't have any illusions about the Democrats suddenly turning America around and heading in the direction I'd like to see -- I'm registered as an Independent because most of the Democrats aren't far enough to the left for my taste, and they're typically as bad as the Republicans in terms of conviction, integrity, honesty and reliability (or should I say, the lack thereof) -- but I'm pretty confident that they won't do worse than the Republicans have done, and that's at least a step in the right direction. Or maybe not a step so much as just not going any further in the wrong direction, but still, that's important.

Update: Rumsfeld is resigning! And I thought things couldn't get any better!

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03 November 2006

friday photos

Halloween photos, a few days late, due to the illnesses and recovery periods of all members of the family. There aren't any pictures of Evan because he was still under the weather; the closest he got to a costume was wearing his Tigger pajamas, and he did not cooperate for photos.

The delicious bloodshot-eyeball cookies we made

James, after helping scoop out pumpkin guts

James with our crazy jack o'lantern

Pirate Greg and Super James

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25 October 2006

adventures in single parenting

Some of the highlights of the last few days:
  • We got a package yesterday, and the first thing James did once the contents were removed was to dump out the foam packing material all over the floor. Evan's reaction to this was to stomp all over the peanuts (as we call them) and turn them into tiny little foamy flecks all over the floor.
  • Evan woke up approxiamtely every hour last night.
  • James threw a fit this afternoon (I can't for the life of me recall what he was upset about) and when he refused to go to his room I carried him there and held the door shut while he pounded on it. (This makes him sound like a monster, when really he just inherited his mother's tantrum gene. The tantrums are very, very unpleasant when they happen, but thankfully quite rare. And for me, they are good practice in patience.)
  • I had just gotten the boys into the bath tonight when Evan pooped. So I got the boys out of the bath, drained the tub, cleaned the tub, refilled the tub, and put the boys back in the bath. Evan promptly pooped again. That was the end of bathtime. In the time it took for me to go get Evan a diaper, James had pulled all of the blankets off of my bed.
  • Evan's current favorite activity is to pull the board games off of the shelves in the living room and dump their contents all over the floor.
On ordinary days, Greg comes home around 6:30 and we eat dinner and he plays with the boys before bed and I get a break. And then after the boys are in bed I clean up a little or do the dishes or whatever before relaxing for the night. So all of the things listed above might have happened anyway, even if Greg were here (most likely they would have), but without Greg, my break never comes. So once the boys are in bed I want nothing other than to collapse on the couch and watch TV or read.

This is very bad when it comes to the household duties. For example, the peanut pieces are still all over the living room floor because to vacuum them, I would first have to pick up the living room. And who knows what kind of messes the boys would make while I was thusly engaged. Besides, when I do have the time to get some housework done, I work on the never-ending pile of dirty dishes, because of that whole eating thing.

Hey, you know what else is great? Greg called tonight to tell me that he'll be in Colorado an extra day because bad weather is preventing them from taking good solar readings, which is the purpose of their trip. Excellent.

And now that this is starting to sound a little whiny and bitter, it's time to wrap it up. There have been plenty of nice things about the last few days, sure, but it's easier to dwell on the negative when I'm feeling tired and cranky. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day.

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22 October 2006

updating

It has been raining and/or gray outside for almost an entire week, and I'm getting tired of it. Greg is, at this moment, competing in an Adventure Race in Pennsylvania, and after coming home late tonight he'll be leaving tomorrow for Colorado, for work, for four days, so I'm single parenting for close to a week. I had my last ultimate frisbee game today, and we barely had enough players so I played almost the entire game, so I am tired, but in a good way.

So things are okay. I haven't had the blogging urge lately -- partly I'm feeling sluggish and uninspired, partly I'm feeling guilty about how often I update the blog versus how often I write personally to people. (You thought my blogging was infrequent? Try waiting for an e-mail from me: you can watch water boil, watch paint dry, and you'll still be waiting for me. Maybe I have some kind of disorder. I refuse to believe I'm just incosiderate.) I'm thinking that if, instead of writing a blog post every day, I write an e-mail, then I'll be caught up on my correspondence in a week or two. No reason I can't do both, I suppose, but I'm trying to prioritize, which has never been one of my strengths.

So, long story short: I will not be attentive to blogging this week, and possibly after that.

(But who knows? Every time I say I'll update, I don't, and when I say I won't, I do. It seems to work out that whenever I have the time, I don't have any ideas, and vice versa. Sorry to leave you hanging like that, but if you know me, that's the kind of thing I'm good at. Indecisiveness.)

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16 October 2006

ending my absence

Hello, loyal readers, if you're still reading after my unplanned absence, that is. I didn't really intend to abandon the blog for a couple of weeks there, but you know how it is. Stuff comes up. People get busy. But I intend to resume regular blogging any day now.

Today, though, no real blogging, just some cute photos. Two weekends ago, my sister and her family came to visit, and this past weekend we went out to see my other sister and her fiancee. Much fun was had by all, and I took about a million adorable pictures, of which I'll share a few of the best here.

James and cousin Molly among the pumpkins at a local farm

James and a pony at the same farm

At the waterfront in Salem, MA

The boys with Aunt Ren and some monsters at a street fair

Aunt Ren and her nephews outside the Rainforest Cafe

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04 October 2006

by popular demand

I've updated our Yahoo photos with photos from August and September. Enjoy!

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03 October 2006

autumn

So we are now officially into autumn, and if there's one thing I love about nature, it's the changes of season. I like wearing pants and sweaters after months of skirts and tank tops, I like drinking hot tea instead of iced, I like leaves changing colors, I like apple picking and Halloween and my birthday.

But what I really, really love about changing seasons? Changing foods. Summer giving way to autumn means that I can make soups and stews and casseroles, and I can cook with sweet potatoes and butternut squash. I'm digging out favorite old recipes, and experimenting with new ones. I can bake again, I can use the oven without having to evacuate everyone from the house for fear of heatstroke. We have pumpkin ice cream and apple pie ice cream in the freezer (because even when it's getting colder, it's not too cold for ice cream!). Maybe I'm a food geek, but I get so excited about cooking different things with different ingredients once the seasons change.

In bad mommy news, James is playing outside right now, alone, in the pouring rain. He's wearing rainboots and three layers and has an umbrella, and obviously is enjoying himself or he'd be back inside by now, but I still feel a little bit guilty. So I will make him a nice hot lunch when he gets back.

In employment news, we are entering the fourth month in which I've heard nothing from my employers, not even responses from the emails I've sent, yet they continue to pay me. Actually, I did hear from them -- I got an invitation to a reception for the retirement of my supervisor, and I couldnt' make it. No word on who's replacing him, or when we're actually going to do something, though.

And that's about all. Not much news for blogging, these days.

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28 September 2006

quote of the day

James: "I want to be a monkey when I grow up!"

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27 September 2006

happy banned books week!

As usual, I'm a little late to the party, but we are in the middle of the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, "Celebrating the Freedom to Read". When I was a junior in high school I wrote a research paper on censorship, and even then, as a pretty conservative Christian teen, I came down strongly on the side of free speech. Even then I was appalled at some of the reasons people tried to ban books and stories. I think my favorites were the fairy tales: "Robin Hood" promoted socialism; "Jack and the Beanstalk" taught the defiance of authority (or some such nonsense). It's really interesting (and sad) to me that some ideas are so frightening and dangerous to some people that they want them to be suppressed and/or destroyed.

It's the 25th year the ALA has celebrated Banned Books Week, so in honor of their anniversary, I'll list 25 books that have I have read that have been banned, and which I whole-heartedly recommend.

1. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
3. Harry Potter (series) by JK Rowling
4. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
5. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
6. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
7. The Giver by Lois Lowry
8. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
10. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
11. The Witches by Roald Dahl
12. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
13. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
14. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
16. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
17. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
18. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
19. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
20. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
21. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
22. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
23. Cujo by Stephen King
24. Carrie by Stephen King
25. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Okay, so I can't whole-heartedly recommend the last three, but not because they're tremendously offensive and I want them banned. I don't like Stephen King books now, mostly because I'm not into that whole genre anymore, but I do consider his books an important stepping-stone in my literary development over the years. I wouldn't recommend American Psycho because it disturbed me more than anything I've ever read -- it's incredibly violent and graphic -- but that doesn't mean that no one should be allowed to read it. As far as I know, most people who read books like American Psycho do not go out and imitate the violence they've read about, but rather understand that books like those are portraits of sick, highly disturbed individuals.

I'm planning to have a pretty liberal stance on books in our home. In fact, James has already read a couple of the books on the list -- In the Night Kitchen (ooh! A little boy's naked bottom!), and James and the Giant Peach (I think this must have been banned for some language reasons, though I don't know for sure -- but I do remember a few mild curses such as "damn" and "hell"). Many of the books on that list are books that I will insist he read, some because they're wonderful, imporatant pieces of literature (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Handmaid's Tale), some because I loved them so much growing up (Julie of the Wolves, My Brother Sam is Dead, A Wrinkle in Time). I think there's very little I would discourage my children from reading, because even the worst, trashiest books I've ever read (ahem... Flowers in the Attic, anyone?) have taught me something, even if only how to distinguish good literature from bad. I've read a lot of garbage in my time, but who would I be if I'd never read RL Stine books, or Scary Stories to Read in the Dark?

So how about you? Do you have any banned books to recommend?

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26 September 2006

safer, but more annoyed

This week, management has been installing a new fire alarm system in our building. I appreciate that now I am less likely to die in a fire in my home, or from carbon monoxide poisoning, but let me tell you how much fun the installation process has been!

We got a note last week that the installation would begin on Tuesday, and that we had to clean out the hall closets both upstairs and downstairs, as well as clear the areas around the main floor and basement stairways. Okay, so on Sunday, we got the upstairs hall closet cleaned out (the contents are currently residing in our bedroom) and some of the basement cleared. Figured we'd do the rest on Monday.

Monday morning, 8:30am: knock on the door. The work crew is here, a day early, and I'm answering the door in my pajamas with practically nothing ready for them. I need to take James to school by 9am, so I scurry to get dressed and clean out the downstairs hall closet (by throwing everything into the living room) as fast as I can so they can begin. The head of the work crew is very nice, polite, considerate, and assures me that they can make do with the messy main floor stairs, and that they'll move anything that needs moving in the basement. He also tells me that the first four hours of the day will involve lots of drilling and noisy stuff, so I decide not to be home for that.

So Evan and I drop James off at school and head to Starbucks to bide our time until the children's museum opens. We spend a mostly happy morning running around the museum, then pick James up and head home for lunch and a nap. Luckily, the weather is nice enough to eat lunch outdoors, because our dining room table and chairs have been haphazardly shoved out of the dining room and there is some light plaster dust on the table. Okay, we'll have lunch outside with the bees. We spend much of the rest of the day outdoors because there are lots of workers coming in and out of the house all day long. They leave around 4:30pm, and we are able to move things back into the downstairs closet.

This morning, they knock on the door at 8:20am and again catch me in my pajamas. Today, there is a lot of banging coming from both the basement and the attic. Again, we head out to the children's museum. Three and a half hours later we return for naptime to find that they are (finally!) almost done working in our place. I think they're finally done by now, which would be wonderful if one of the workers hadn't entered my apartment a little while ago with another notice -- this one saying that they will be testing the new fire system for the next two days. So just when I thought it was over, I learn that for two more days there will be "VERY loud" and frequent tests of the alarm system -- the notice warns that children should be kept "at a distance if possible." Great. I don't think I can take another day at the children's museum.

I have no complaints about the workers -- they've all been very nice, and I can tell from the way they interact with my kids that several of them are the fathers of small children themselves. And sure, I'm glad we have a brand-spankin'-new alarm system. But, being the homebody & hermit that I am, I'm not psyched about four consecutive days of being in my own home as little as possible.

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23 September 2006

weekend photos

We braved the intermittent rain today to go apple picking. The apple farm we went to must exist in some alternate plane of reality, because it was hot and sunny the entire time we were there. We came home with twenty pounds of apples, and a few cute photos:






Evan was kind of cranky the whole time, but James really enjoyed himself. And the photos demonstrate that he is clearly his father's son.

Now to figure out what we're going to do with twenty pounds of apples...

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22 September 2006

a preschooler's predicaments

So James has just had his first full week back at nursery school -- he's going 3 mornings a week this year, which is a very nice thing for both of us. But we are having a little trouble adjusting to being back at school -- sometimes it's just so hard to be four years old.

First is a sort of anger management problem that we've been dealing with since summer. James is very sensitive and emotional, has a hard time controlling himself when he gets upset, and has taken to very deliberately hitting other children during disagreements. On Wednesday a girl stole a block from him, so he snatched it and hit her with it. Today he and another girl disagreed about the source of the bells they were hearing from outside, so he hit her. This is really frustrating, because he knows that hitting is wrong, of course, but he is making the choice to hit. I've seen him act out in the heat of anger, and these incidents are not thoughtless reflexes. So we are working hard to reinforce appropriate standards of behavior.

Today we were driving home from school and I had him tell me his side of the story and we talked about what he could have done other than hitting. Then I gave him kind of a little lecture about the hitting, about how to resolve disputes, to remember to stay calm and use words, to remember that it's okay to disagree. After I was finished talking, there was a brief silence. Then James asked, very seriously, "What happens if you flush beer down the toilet?!" So it seems we also have to focus on the listening and concentration skills.

The other issue is a little more exciting: James is involved in a love triangle. There's a new boy in class, Bernie, who James has really hit it off with. Well, on Monday, James' teacher told me that James was talking all day about marrying Caitlin, a little redheaded whirlwind of a girl. I assisted in the classroom on Wednesday and several times James put his arm around Caitlin, kissed her on the cheek, told her he loved her. (She seemed kind of indifferent to him, but whatever. I like to see him expressing positive emotions, even if they're not returned with equal enthusiasm.) He sat next to Caitlin at circle time, but it was snack time when the trouble began. Because Bernie sat next to Caitlin, leaving no room for James, who was pretty upset about being separated from the girl he loves. Everyone eventually shifted and made room for James to sit on the other side of Caitlin, but then I noticed Bernie putting his arm around her. James' best friend making the moves on his favorite girl? Tragedy!

Of course, today, I heard not a word about Bernie or Caitlin, so maybe the whole thing is over. You know how preschoolers are.

So week 1 was not ideal, but we're hoping as we settle into the routine things will just get better. We'll see.

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20 September 2006

looking for answers instead of placing blame

So I was driving James to school this morning, and in front of the hospital, some guy steps off the sidewalk right in front of my car. The combination of that idiocy, plus the fact that he was carrying a bunch of anti-abortion posters, made me briefly consider not hitting the brakes, but I did have a child in the car with me and a hit-and-run would have been a little difficult to explain.

One of the signs he was carrying featured the word GENOCIDE (in huge letters just like that). That whole anti-abortion approach just makes me so angry. So minorities have a number of abortions disproportionate to their percentage of the population -- the right-wingers take this to mean that Planned Parenthood and the like are encouraging minorities to abort in some kind of genocidal eugenics attempt. Because the left has always been associated with white supremacy, right? They like to bolster that argument with selected quotes about eugenics from Margaret Sanger, even though she has been dead for forty years and therefore no longer really represents the pro-choice movement.

If you're worried about the disproportionate amount of abortions women of color are having, wouldn't it make more sense to find a constructive way to solve that problem, rather than waving your inflammatory posters outside the local hospital? Instead of fabricating a left-wing genocidal conspiracy theory, couldn't you consider other, more realistic reasons why minorities have so many abortions? It couldn't be because race and class are so intertwined, and minorities are more likely to be poor, therefore less likely to be able to care for an unplanned child, could it? It couldn't be that there's still a racial hierarchy in this country, that, though less obvious than outright slavery, still puts people of color at a disadvantage, could it?

But the people spouting the genocide argument are the same people who believe that pro-choice equals pro-abortion, who believe that Planned Parenthood is in it for the money (never mind that sliding scale business), who believe that they are more qualified to make judgments about a woman's situation and circumstances than that woman is. It's not an entirely rational wing of the anti-choice movement, so I guess it's silly of me to expect people like that to really think about the issues behind their posters.

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17 September 2006

books, glorious books

If you've read the post below, you'll recall that yesterday did not get off to a wonderful start. I was in kind of a bad mood for most of the morning, so by the time afternoon rolled around, I decided I needed something to cheer me up -- and that something must not involve my children, the source of my (temporary) misery. So I went shopping.

Most women -- stereotypically -- get psyched about shoe shopping, or clothes shopping, or make-up or whatever. Me, I get excited by thrift stores, cooking stuff (I have a list a mile long of items I need to improve my kitchen), and food shopping (seriously, I love grocery shopping, especially when my kids are not with me), but most of all by books. And among bookstores, my favorite ever is a narrow, creaky, crowded little book-lover's paradise, crammed to the ceiling with used books, tucked away in the back of a building on a main street downtown.

Now, really, even going to a bookstore and browsing without buying is enough to lift my mood. I really didn't intend to buy anything! But I came home the happy owner of 6 gently-used books. It was so hard to choose; I could easily have bought twice as much as I did. I left behind books by Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, The Time-Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry, books by Vonnegut and Bill Bryson.

So what did I buy? In no particular order:

  • A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

A lack of disposable income causes me to be a conservative book shopper -- I tend to buy only books I've read before and loved, or I buy classics that I think I should probably have read by now, but I somehow missed in all of my high school and college English classes. So it's nice when I find used books in good condition and pay a fraction of the price I'd pay if buying them new. (In this case, $75 worth of books are mine for just $30.)

And this morning I played two ultimate frisbee games, so I'm not up for much other than sitting around and reading and relaxing tonight. Perfect. Today, I am happy.

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16 September 2006

anybody want a baby?

So, Evan has decided not to sleep anymore. At night, anyway. His naps during the day are better than ever, but at night he's waking up more frequently than he's done in months. Greg and I are both getting up at least twice a night, and usually, around 5 or 6am, Evan ends up in our bed with us because we're too tired by that point to spend the time properly getting him back to sleep. But Evan doesn't sleep well in our bed either; he tosses and turns and climbs on us. The advantage is that at least we can stay horizontal; the downside is that Evan is free to leave our bed whenever he's ready to be up, which is usually in the 6:30-7am range, and he usually ends up waking James before James would normally wake up on his own.

As a result of this happening all week, I've slipped into Bad Mama mode. When Evan crawls out of bed, I don't follow. I'm so happy to have a few moments without him needing something that almost every morning this week, I've slept while my boys were up and awake. This has mostly been fine -- they get up, play together, watch some TV, and eventually wake me with calls for breakfast. But this morning, Evan, who has recently learned to climb up on the dining room chairs to reach the table, found the container of granola that I had carelessly left on the table. So of course, Evan opens the container and dumps the entire thing, on the table, the chairs, the floor, and, of course, himself. And into the butter, which I also left on the table last night. So I get up this morning, groggy, bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived after a night of frequent risings, and have to immediately clean the dining room while the kids are bleating for breakfast. Needless to say, I'm not a happy camper this morning.

So, if you've recently found yourself wanting a cute, cuddly baby, to play with, to hug and kiss, and to delight you with his ... rambunctious ... antics, drop me a note. I've got an offer for you.

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15 September 2006

friday photos


I don't know why James doesn't open his eyes for photos anymore. He also does the weird huge grin you see above. Regardless of how he looks, though, he's really, really happy in this photo, because this was taken on his first day of nursery school, which was Wednesday.

This is how James pretends to be R2D2. He has expressed interest in being a robot for Halloween, so I think we're all set now.*

This is one of the crazier things I've ever seen happen in my kitchen: a fight between a spider and a half-dead bee. That's the spider on the bee's rear end (click on the photo for a bigger version), trying to spin him up and secure his meals for the next year or so. The bee was really weak, and feebly crawling around, but finally he broke free of the spider's sticky grasp and hobbled off to safety. (I think I inadvertantly assisted him by taking this photo, because I had to move a bottle of lotion to take it, and I think the web was attached to the lotion.) At that point the bee promptly fell off the windowsill into my sink full of soapy water and drowned. Poor little guy.

I feel a little embarrassed sharing the state of my kitchen like this -- it's just a few cobwebs in the corners of the window! Really! We're not that gross! -- but this was just too cool not to share. I'm disappointed that the spider didn't get him, because she was tough! And she was working really hard. But it was still cool to watch.

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*No, I'm not actually going to dress my kid up in a laundry basket and call it a Halloween costume.

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11 September 2006

five years ago today

Where were you when you heard the news?

I was riding the bus to work when I heard the bus driver telling another passenger that an airplane had hit one of the twin towers. I dismissed it as some kind of crazy accident, and didn't think about it much. It was unusual for a driver to have the radio on, but I didn't think much about that either. I was almost six months pregnant with an unplanned baby, trying to cope with that as well as going to school and working part-time, so if I was a little preoccupied and self-centered, I did have my reasons.

When I got to work -- I was working at the Educational Technology Center on campus that semester -- all of the TVs in the ETC and the adjoining Multimedia Center were tuned to the news. Everyone was sitting around, just watching. During my bus ride the second tower had been hit. I was restless and didn't understand the scope of things at that point; I felt like I should be working, and asked my boss what I could do, but she said no one needed to work today.

Classes were cancelled for the rest of the day, and I don't really remember what I did after I left work. At that time we were spending a lot of time at the house on Raleigh Street where some of our friends were living. I remember watching the news there; I remember they had marked September 11th on their calender as "a day that will live in infamy".

Being the simple-minded pacifist-type that I am, it took me a while to understand the enormity of the event. I mean, terrorist attacks happen all the time, all over the world; it took an attack on our own soil to make Americans sit up and take notice. Do Americans know the date of a single terrorist attack on another nation? But the date of 9/11 is known all over the world. It was our generation's Pearl Harbor. But the "enemy" this time was much more elusive.

I had an online journal then, and I remember quoting the musical Rent in one entry: "The opposite of war isn't peace; it's creation." I was scared to be having a baby at a time when our country was in such emotional chaos; when an attack on civilians made people more concerned with revenge than justice; when there was so much anger where I thought there should have been sorrow instead. Friends started emailing me jokes about "towelheads"; I felt very alone in being a proponent of peace and justice at that time.

Five years later, my world is much different than it was then. I have two beautiful boys who are the center of my world (who I'm already trying to teach the value of peace). Yet our country is still mired in a war in the middle east -- does anyone really know what it's for anymore? The government gives optimistic reports but the media, the soldiers, other nations tell things a little differently.

I'm not going to get political, because I don't have the energy. But I do wonder when and how -- sometimes if -- it will all end. I worry about what the future holds for my boys. What will the world look like when they are men? Will 9/11 still have the same importance in 20 years? Will it be an isolated event from the days before we wiped out terrorism, or will there have been other, bigger, deadlier attacks by then? I don't think about these things often. Most days I just live my life, play with my boys, and enjoy myself, because if I do give in to these wonderings, it's just too scary.

What about you? Thoughts. reflections, experiences? Where were you five years ago today?

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08 September 2006

friday photos

Earlier this week, we went to the zoo in Syracuse, where my boys got some close-up views of some big cats:



The lion reminded me of something I overheard a woman saying at the Rochester zoo once; she was telling her friend that they must drug the animals, because they just lay around, they never do anything. That made me laugh at the time -- was she really expecting the Arctic wolves to entertain her on a 90-degree day in July? -- but with the lion at the Syracuse zoo, I wasn't so sure. She looked practically comatose, and despite James and other kids cavorting in front of her, I'm not sure I even saw her blink. But then, maybe she's just so used to kids cavorting in front of her window that it's just not all that interesting anymore. The other two lions in the enclosure were a bit more animated, however, with the male attempting to mate and the female crankily rebuffing him.

In other news, I got my first-ever door-to-door Jehovah's Witnesses today! This time, unlike with the Mormons who came to my door a few years ago, I did not allow them to enter my house or hypnotize me with their unblinking eyes. To their credit, these women were much more subtle -- and much less creepy -- than the Mormons; they never actually said they were Jehovah's Witnesses, and they didn't try to convert me. They were passing out literature -- interestingly, one of the women said they were mostly looking for Chinese-speaking residents to talk to -- but she gave me their booklets: one about evolution vs creation, and one about whether religion is good or bad. (Can you guess the conclusions of each of those topics?)

I perused the material, not because I was terribly interested in either one, but mostly because I don't know much about Jehovah's Witnesses. We have a few relatives who are Jehovah's Witnesses, and I have a friend who was raised as one but doesn't practice now, but I wouldn't have guessed that any of them were particularly religious had no one told me; they're not a very preachy bunch. Anyway, the only thing I was really surprised at was how many times the pamphlets made clear that Jehovah's Witnesses are not Fundamentalists ("We believe in the Bible! This is what the Bible really says!"). They also make sure to distance themselves from creationsists, because of the political implications of the term, though stating that "evolutionary theory and the teachings of Christ are incompatible" does, in fact, make them creationists. Other than these things, though, it was all pretty much as I expected.

So that's all the Friday fun around here. Busy weekend ahead, so you may not hear from me for a couple of days. Happy weekend, everyone.

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03 September 2006

sunday photos

In spite of the drizzly weather, we took a long walk in Black Creek Park this afternoon. It was a bit long for James -- by the end he was asking to be carried. We walked about 3 miles altogether, though, and he made it the whole way with energy left to play on the playground at the end of the trail, so it wasn't too terrible. Some photos:

Most of the trail looked like this


But there were several swampy areas


Greg likes to climb

We saw lots of pretty flowers -- no idea what they are

The boys by a peaceful pond

I'll be out of town for a couple of day. Blogging should resume by Wednesday or so.

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02 September 2006

explaining the unexplainable

Kim wrote a post recently called "Explaining the Unexplainable" -- about trying to explain to children things such as the purpose of fighter jets or the concept of war. We had a similar experience yesterday.

Greg, flipping through magazine: Wow, it's already been five years since 9/11?
Me: Yep, it happened just before James was born and he's almost five.
James, upon hearing his name come up: What happened just before I was born?
Me and Greg: .....

We kind of brushed it off, because how can you explain that airplanes were flown into buildings without explaining the terrorism that motivated it? And how can you explain the fact that some people will indiscriminately kill others, strangers, for the sake of some cause or ideology? I don't know how to do it; yet someday I know that I will have to do it, and that I will do it (though probably very clumsily).

This is some of the scarier stuff of parenting -- shattering your child's illusions of the world as a wonderful place, and helping them to understand the darker sides of humanity. When it comes to the big talks of parenthood, when faced with describing terrorism and hatred and religious fanaticism and the violence that comes with them, I find myself almost looking forward to having the birds and the bees talk instead.

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01 September 2006

chocolate obsession

Those of you who know me know that I like chocolate. Just a little bit. So imagine my delight coming across this book in the library today: Chocolate Obsession. It was the title that drew me in, but then I saw the author's name, and I nearly swooned. You may or may not be familiar with Michael Recchiuti, but he is the creator of Recchiuti chocolates. Admittedly, I have never actually eaten any of his chocolates, because as much as I love chocolate, I'm not interested in being bankrupted by it. But I have spent a considerable amount of time drooling over the Recchiuti website, because damn. Those are the prettiest, most exotic-sounding chocolates I've ever seen.

But now! There is a book! And I can (theoretically) make my own Recchiuti chocolates! I have a feeling that my kitchen is woefully understocked for chocolate-making, and that even making Recchiuti chocolates wouldn't fit my budget, but nonetheless, the possibility now exists. I hardly ever set concrete goals for myself, because I am a lazy, unmotivated person, but I vow here and now that I will someday attempt to make Recchiuti chocolates.

Incidentally, in case you've been agonizing over what to get me for my birthday -- only 79 days away, after all -- you've now got an idea. The book or the chocolates; I'm not picky.

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30 August 2006

i hate being busy

Well, even when all the travelling is over, things still don't slow down. After returning last week from Washington, we made a short trip out to my mom's last weekend to spend some time with her and go to the State Fair together. It was a nice weekend, if a bit rushed -- we went hiking on Moss Island*, where we managed, somehow, to not get poison ivy despite traipsing through a patch of it; the fair, of course was lots of fun: rides, farm animals, and greasy and/or sugary food. What could be better?

We've been home for several days in a row, but my preschooler is once again in high demand for playdates, so we've had lots of kid time. We also had the first parent meeting of the year for James' nursery school (though school doesn't start for another couple of weeks yet). Greg has been coming home for dinner and then going back in to work after the kids go to bed, so I haven't gotten to see much of him lately -- luckily I got my fill in Washington. And now that the fall semester is close to starting, I suspect I'll have some things to do for my community assistant position pretty soon. I feel like I should already be doing something, but I haven't heard from my employers in over a month, and haven't seen them since the orientation in June. I'm not complaining about getting paid for doing nothing, but I do feel a bit guilty about it.

This weekend we're going to a friend's for a Labor Day barbecque, at her parents' house on Canandaigua Lake. If the weather is nice, we're also going to try to do a little hiking. We have a book on local hikes, and we haven't done a single one -- kids are a little restrictive when it comes to good hiking -- but after the successful hikes we took them on on our vacation, we're ready to tackle the Finger Lakes.

In other news, my good friend Melissa is now blogging -- she is a wildly intelligent and wonderful woman, so check her out.

I'll close with a photo of my poor, accident-prone toddler. Today he was trying to climb on a tricycle that's a little too big for him; he tipped the trike over and landed pretty spectacularly on his face. The picture doesn't do it justice, but that is a big bruise on his forehead, and his nose is cut in several places. Poor baby.


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*Moss Island is a really cool place in Little Falls, NY, for which I can find very little online information, and no good pictures. It's an island with the Mohawk River on one side, and the Barge Canal on the other, accessible by a lock on the canal. It's geologically fascinating, with all kinds of unique rock formations, and it's popular for rock climbing despite being so small. Of course, I forgot to bring my camera.

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25 August 2006

friday photos

Good news: our memory card has been found!
Bad news: it is still in Washington.
Good news: it is being sent to us!
Bad news: I am too impatient.

We do have a second memory card, with much smaller storage capacity, from which I eagerly downloaded photos last night, only to find that the card contains only 11 photos, none of which are of people, and most of which are blurry photos of salmon at the fish ladder we visited. But I will share a couple of interesting photos:


This is a crazy tree that we saw on our Sol Duc hike. We have no idea what that lump on the tree is, but it is clearly part of the tree, and extends in a full circle around the tree. Tree tumor? Who knows? I suppose if I weren't so lazy I could Google it and find out for sure, but alas. The laziness.

This is a wall covered in chewed gum, in Post Alley in Seattle (which is a cool but fairly creepy little alleyway). The photo can't really convey the true scale of the gum wall; it was rather amazing, which is why we took a picture. Also, beyond the plain gum, there were some more creative displays, such as the next photo:

Awww. I [heart] NY, written in gum on a wall. How could I not take a photo of that?!

Happy weekend, everyone!

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24 August 2006

and we're back

Clearly, I lied about updating from the west coast. Who has time for blogging when you're on vacation? We're still getting settled here at home, so I still don't have a whole lot of time for blogging, but I thought I'd let my loyal readers know that I am still alive. And I'll give you a brief summary of the trip. And I wish I had some photos to post, but it appears that we've lost our memory card, so you'll have to make do with my descriptions and some internet photos.

Our kids were phenomenal on all of the flights, thank goodness. We got to see lots of Greg's family -- his sister came for a surprise visit; his 7-year-old cousin visited for a week to attend the horse camp Greg's mother was running; we were able to visit a few times with Greg's aunts; and we spent some time at his grandparents' house. We got to see Dawn and meet her boyfriend Derek; we got to see some of Greg's friends and have a kid-free couple of days in Seattle all at once.

Lots of outdoorsy goodness: we hiked at Hurricane Ridge, Sol Duc Falls, the Spruce Railroad Trail*, and I think there was one more hike I can't recall right now. We went to Salt Creek to look at tidepools, we went swimming at Lake Crescent, we picked millions of wild blackberries, and we went to the Clallam County Fair where we fed our boys nutritious foods like cotton candy and elephant ears.

Other fun included James' and Evan's numerous dance parties, Mentos-and-soda volcanoes, a little horseback riding for James, games of Settlers (and Seafarers) of Catan, Burnout Revenge (Evan is already becoming a video game addict), a viewing of Munich (which wasn't really "fun", but instead sobering, depressing, and disturbing, in an interesting way), and a visit to Herkimer Coffee.

All in all there was a lot of much-appreciated relaxation, and our boys got the chance to be just a little spoiled by Greg's family. I really wish we had photos -- I'm going to be annoyed if it turns out that our memory card really has disappeared for good. But anyway, we did have a lot of fun, though it's nice to be home again, too.

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*See the cliff on the right of the photo? Greg jumped off of it (only at a point highter than the picture shows) because the pool at the bottom ("the Devil's Punchbowl") is very very deep. It's safe, but it is a bit harrowing to watch your boyfriend jump off a cliff. Also, there is a very dark, cold, scary old railroad tunnel along this trail. Greg and his friends have even been known to go through it, but just standing at the mouth of the tunnel gave me the heebie-jeebies. Alas, I cannot find a picture online, but trust me. Creepy.

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04 August 2006

westward bound

Tomorrow by this time we will be en route to the west coast, where almost two and a half weeks of fun and freedom await us. In addition to seeing Greg's family, I'm looking forward to more pleasant temperatures, beaches, mountains, horses, people to help us with kid care, time to read and perhaps even play the piano, a visit with Dawn, and hopefully getting to spend some quality kid-free time with my boyfriend. I'm not really looking forward to the many hours of airplane travel ahead of us, espcially considering that Evan's molars are presently coming in, but I think we will have enough books, food, and toys to survive.

I'm sure I'll be updating the blog from Washington; I'm less certain that I'll be able to post photos, but Greg's younger brother is a computer whiz, so we should be able to figure something out. I'll probably be even more sporadic than usual, though.

Until next time, whenever that may be!

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31 July 2006

too hot for blogging

I've been comparing our weather with the weather in the Pacific Northwest, to where we'll be travelling at the end of the week for a much-anticipated vacation, and though they're apparently having a warmer summer than usual, I don't see anything above 81 degrees for their forecast this week. Hooray! Our weather here won't be too much warmer in degrees, but the crazy humidity makes me want to melt. Hey, Mother Nature? 75% humidity, without precipitation, is not cool.

In other news, even though I feel it's too hot to blog, it's apparently not too hot for frisbee, so I'm going to spend the rest of my energy this afternoon psyching myself up to run around and sweat buckets at my game tonight. To entertain yourselves while I'm not posting anything for a while, you can check out our July photos to get your fill of adorable kid pics.

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28 July 2006

friday photo


I was confused when I heard Superman mooing this morning. "Who are you, Supercow?" I asked. But once James explained it to me, it made perfect sense for Superman to be mooing: if you misremember his name -- Kal-El -- and believe that his real name is "El Cow", then of course Superman can moo.

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27 July 2006

essential nutrition vs the comfort of bystanders

Via Feministe, I came across this article about readers' reactions to the image of a breastfeeding infant on the cover of a parenting magazine. The ironic headline? "Why Women Don't Nurse Longer." Well, perhaps the common perceptions of a nursing breast being gross, inappropriate, or sexual -- all adjectives used by readers complaining to the magazine -- have a little something to do with it.

Okay, before I attack this article, let me start by saying that I am about as pro-breastfeeding as you can get. I think that many women make stupid excuses for not breastfeeding, because in a lot of ways it's easier not to; I think that despite our government's stated support of breastfeeding, it does very little in the way of actually supporting it by making it easier for women to breastfeed for the recommended amount of time; I think workplaces need to be restructured -- in many ways actually, but for the purposes of this discussion, to guarantee women maternity leave for those crucial early months when breastfeeding is established, and to allow women to continue to pump breastmilk in privacy and comfort once they return to work; I think our hyper-sexualized culture gives the sexual function of breasts far too much attention, when it is the far more important nutritional function of breasts that should be emphasized, if we are serious about being a nation committed to family values.

But apparently, people are only interested in promoting family values when it doesn't conflict with their personal comfort level. Quotes from the article:

  • One mother who didn't like the cover explains she was concerned about her 13-year-old son seeing it. "I shredded it," said Gayle Ash, of Belton, Texas, in a telephone interview. "A breast is a breast — it's a sexual thing. He didn't need to see that."
  • "I'm totally supportive of it — I just don't like the flashing," she says. "I don't want my son or husband to accidentally see a breast they didn't want to see."
  • Another mother, Kelly Wheatley, wrote Babytalk to applaud the cover, precisely because, she says, it helps educate people that breasts are more than sex objects. And yet Wheatley, 40, who's still nursing her 3-year-old daughter, rarely breast-feeds in public, partly because it's more comfortable in the car, and partly because her husband is uncomfortable with other men seeing her breast.
  • "In a survey published in 2004 by the American Dietetic Association, less than half — 43 percent — of 3,719 respondents said women should have the right to breast-feed in public places."
Basically, it seems that people believe that breastfeeding is fine, as long as mother and baby stay locked up at home with the curtains drawn. Hiding nursing mothers and babies is apparently easier than explaining lactation to a teenage son, or encouraging men not to gawk at the tiny section of exposed breast that a baby's giant noggin doesn't obscure. (I think the concern for the delicate sensibilities of men and boys at the expense of a baby's right to nutrition is bizzare and fascinating.) I'm certain that these women must also be lobbying their local grocery stores to lock up issues of Cosmo or Glamour along with Playboy and Maxim because -- boobs!

Listen -- anyone who's ever been around a baby knows that babies need to eat. Because when they don't eat, babies scream and cry until they are fed. And seriously, when you're out at a restaurant, what will annoy you more about the family sitting next to you -- a mother discreetly nursing her baby, or the baby screaming and crying because it needs to be fed and its mother feels social pressure not to nurse in public? And please, please, don't bring up the bathroom alternative. Because I have nursed a baby in a public restroom, once and never again, because it was disgusting and really uncomfortable. Think how many public bathrooms you're squeamish about even peeing in -- ladies, how many times have you hovered above the seat for fear of germs and disease? -- and now imagine trying to enjoy a meal in that locale. No way.

No, the only real alternative to breastfeeding in public is to breastfeed at home, to refrain from going out in public if there's a chance your baby will need to eat while you're out -- which is essentially the first six months of a baby's life, or until they start on solids. And that seems to be the attitude of some of the people quoted in the article: you may nurse, as long as no one has to look at it. Which is ridiculous. If we, as a society, agree that breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed a baby, and if we, as a society, agree that women have the right to frequent public places without restriction, then by logical extension we, as a society, should support the rights of women to provide their babies with the healthiest food possible in any place where it's legal for that woman to be. We should be actively encouraging it! Saying that breast is best without taking action to back up that assertion is hypocritical at best, and harmful to mothers and babies at worst.

You know, I feel so strongly about breastfeeding and the right to nurse in public that I've always wanted someone to challenge me while nursing in public so that I could give them an earful. Unfortunately, I've never had the chance. Maybe I've always been surrounded by tolerant people, maybe I've always been oblivious to dirty looks or whispered comments. I did have the mother of a friend of ours ask me, while pregnant with James, if I was planning to breastfeed, and when I said yes, she replied, "Gross!" Seeing as I hadn't had the baby yet, and had never breastfed, I didn't know quite how to respond. I was offended at her rudeness, but didn't think much about her negative attitude, because at that point the negativity toward breastfeeding was something I had yet to encounter. Little did I know how typical her attitude was.

I'll end with my favorite public breastfeeding experience. Last summer, we were at the state fair, and when my then-two-month-old baby needed to nurse, I found an empty bench in the building we were in and nursed him. An older woman nearby noticed me and said "Good for you!" She told me that a few minutes earlier, she'd seen an anxious mother wandering around with a crying baby, looking for a private place to nurse. We both laughed about what a silly expectation that was at a place like the state fair. THe older woman looked around and said, "Besides, we're in the dairy building. What better place could there be?"

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26 July 2006

the name game

With all the weddings I've gone to this summer, I've noticed something interesting. Even the most independent, liberal women I know change their last names when I get married. I know it's a long-standing tradition, but it makes me wonder how often anyone thinks about why women change their names, or if they do so because that's just the way it's done.

I find it interesting, too, that the only women I can think of who have not changed their last names after marriage are members of my family: my sister, my cousin, my aunt. (Am I missing anyone?) If I ever marry, I won't change my name. I've had my name for almost 25 years; having an unusual last name is something of a defining characteristic when you're growing up, and so I have some attachment to it. But beyond that, in recent years I've started considering the patriarchal origins of name-changing, and I'm uncomfortable with following a tradition that has its roots in what was essentially property ownership. The male is the default; children are named with their fathers' names to assert his paternity, and women are renamed with their husbands' names to signify the transfer of property from father to husband.

I know this is not the typical mindset nowadays; most married couples don't believe that one of them owns the other. Most people don't worry about the symbolic implications of name-changing. But I think it's useful to examine where our traditions come from and why we continue to follow them.

When I had James, we gave him Greg's last name because we planned on getting married at some point, and I thought I'd change my name at that point so that we'd all have the same last name as a family. But now that I"ve changed my mind about name-changing, and possibly marriage at all, I regret just a little bit not giving my boys my last name even as a middle name. Greg and I have talked about changing all of our last names to be the same, but my last name is too long for hyphenation, and our last names don't merge well into a new name. Maybe if we ever think of something appropriate for our family, we'll change our names, but until then we're going to live with different last names. This actually has never been an issue -- it's more of a problem for people that we're not married at all -- so it doesn't bother me much to keep it this way, though I do like the idea of identifying our family with a common last name.

But I feel that I'm something of an oddity for thinking so deeply about it. Most women change their names without stressing over it. Has the naming tradition evolved over the years along with the purpose of marriage and the roles of the spouses? Or is our culture holding on to a remnant of a more oppressive time simply because there's been no reason to change? I'm interested to hear others' thoughts on this; particularly if this is something you find worthy of consideration; if you think I'm making too much out of it; if you've had similar thoughts; if you think the typical woman considers this issue. Thoughts?

**Edit: I should clarify (because I wrote this really hastily earlier) that just because I find the origins of the name-changing tradition distasteful doesn't mean that I'm criticizing anyone who does choose to change her name. I realize that many people probably don't find the origins relevant today, and that people have their own reasons for changing their names. I think people should do whatever they want to do -- but I like to ask why we do what we do, as individuals, as human beings, as a society.

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