30 January 2006

the worst thing about being a stay-at-home-mom...

...is that you don't get sick days.

Here I was, priding myself on having not gotten sick yet all winter, especially when everyone else in my house has been sick with various things at various times. And then what do I do? I go and get strep throat. This comes right on the heels of James' ear infection and Evan's ridiculously horrible diaper rash, so we have not had a break from illness and malady in this house for some time now.

Today was day three of strep, and I felt really terrible and tired. So I called in a favor and got a friend to babysit the boys for a couple of hours so I could nap. And gosh, was that nice not to have to worry about them for a while. I felt so grateful to have someone who would watch my kids so I could put myself first for once. Then this afternoon I went to the doctor and got sweet, sweet penicillin. So hopefully things will soon be back to normal.


28 January 2006

baby cuisine

You'd think, looking at my porker of a baby, that those rolls come from a love of food. Well, yes, and no. Evan has always been a big fan of the breastmilk, but it's been a struggle to get him interested in baby food, even food I've made myself. But lately we've had some exciting breakthroughs: the baby who wouldn't eat mashed bananas has decided he loves banana chunks; the baby who could only eat vegetables mixed with rice cereal to dull the strong flavors has decided he loves cheddar cheese; the baby who turned his nose up at almost anything offered in a plastic bowl will eat almost anything if it first comes from the dining room table. Just when I thought crawling would start to melt his chub away, he discovers a love of more food.


27 January 2006

my creative child

This afternoon I came across an interesting drawing James had done. It was a picture of a sad person, and when I asked why the person was sad, I got a disturbing look into my child's mind: turns out someone had stolen his eye. There is one normal eye on the face, one gaping red eye socket, and a gigantic frown. Once I asked, James added an arm reaching in from the side of the picture, holding Sad Person's eyeball.

While I do find it a morbid topic for a four-year-old, I'm also impressed with the creativity -- I can't think of anywhere he might have picked up the idea of plucking someone's eye out. I have to say, the kid never ceases to surprise me.


the trouble with boys

Newsweek's cover story this week is called "The Trouble with Boys." The cover calls it "The Boy Crisis." Naturally, as a mother of two boys, I'm wondering what's causing this panic. The problem? Boys as a group are falling behing girls, academically, in all levels of education. Why? Author Peg Tyre blames biological, developmental and physiological differences, along with curricula and standards that apparently favor girls, including sitting still and behaving, among other things.

This reminds me of remarks made by the president of Harvard last year on the innate differences between the sexes. Some people, naturally, are blaming feminism for the problems of boys. A 17-year-old boy has even filed a complaint against his high school, alleging that the school system favors girls and discriminates against boys. An interesting quote from this high school senior: "The system is designed to the disadvantage of males," Anglin said. ''From the elementary level, they establish a philosophy that if you sit down, follow orders, and listen to what they say, you'll do well and get good grades. Men naturally rebel against this."

Here's what I'm confused about: when our modern educational system was created, more than a century ago, there was, as far as I know, a strict expectation of obedience and good behavior. Generations of American men were educated in this system and have gone on to make America the most powerful nation in the world. But now, all of sudden, when girls start outperforming boys, it's a crisis! There must be something wrong with the system!

I like how no one is even entertaining the possibility that girls might be smarter than boys. I'm not saying this is necessarily true, but for most people it's not even an option. I find it interesting, though, that girls, who were grudgingly admitted into a system created by men, for men, and who in the last few decades were given a more even playing field with Title IX, are now surpassing boys in performance, and that this automatically means there is something wrong with the system. Girls are turning out to be better suited to the academic system men created, so we must change the system. Girls are not smarter; the system that served men for so long is suddenly biased.

And I wonder how much of it is "hard-wired," as the article says, and how much is culturally and societally influenced. The "boys will be boys" mentality is still very widespread: boys are naturally more energetic, rambunctious, and agressive than girls and these inborn qualities should be indulged; girls, meanwhile, should be encouraged to play quietly. When I was in school, well, I was the kind of kid who chose to read and play quietly, but I understood that in a school environment, these were the universal expectations of every child. There was a time and place to shout, to act up, to let off some steam. The classroom during school hours was not that place. If you didn't comply, you got sent to the office. You were disciplined, or suspended, or expelled. Now, if you don't comply with expectations, you can play the victim, file a complaint against your school and ask that they retroactively raise your grades.

You know, it reminds me of many of the kids I know, my preschooler included: losing the game? Change the rules. Blame someone else for your failures and shortcomings. What I'm trying to teach James already, when he makes excuses, is to take responsibility for himself. It's interesting to note that in my high school class, 11 of the top twenty students were girls, and two of those girls were teenage mothers. Two teenage girls with babies at home outperformed a majority of the boys in their class. This wasn't because of some bias in favor of girls -- this was because they took responsibility for themselves and succeeded, just like every other kid who earned a spot in that top twenty.

I would think that after so many years of boys succeeding in a structured environment where they are required to sit still and pay attention, it would be evident that they can meet difficult expectations whether it's in their nature to or not. It's evident to me after only four years: I have a rambunctious little boy; I know how hard it is to rein in an active child. But even James, at age four, is beginning to understand that there are things expected of him that he may not like and may not want to do, but that he will do.

If it's true that this is becoming a trend in America, girls outperforming boys in academics, then I wonder if in twenty or thirty years, we'll see a corresponding shift in the gender make-up of the professions. Will a 60/40 ratio of women to men in college in 2006 turn into, say, a 60/40 ratio of women to men in medicine, in law, in government, in science, in 2036? If women become the dominant professional leaders in society, will women as a group finally be paid equally to men for the same job? Call me pessimistic, but I think not. Although, my views on this have more to do with our cultural discrimination against mothers -- all parents, really, but particularly mothers -- but that's a post for another day.

All in all, I think the panic over boys' academic performance is overblown. I think there probably is something wrong with the educational system, but that the problem has less to do with gender than with schools' tendencies to lump kids together without allowing enough flexibility for kids who don't fit the mold. Newsweek does mention some things that could help kids who are falling behind -- both mentoring programs and single-sex classrooms have shown to improve kids' performances. But you know, when my boys get to public school, no matter how the system has changed by then, they will understand that good behavior and attentive work habits are expected of them; we will help them, but for most people learning is work, and if you want to succeed you will work for it.

(Dawn, and any other teachers I know who might happen to be reading this, I'd be interested in your opinion on this topic from the point of view of an educator. Thoughts?)


26 January 2006


....peace and quiet. This is so nice.

James woke up vomiting Sunday morning (all over his pillow, I might add... so gross) and since then he's sometimes had a high fever, a cough, no appetite. been sluggish and sleepy, but has also at times been completely fine. And Evan during the same time has been acting weird, too, probably because of his cold -- he's congested, doesn't sleep, is clingy and cranky and wanting to be held all the time. Thanks to this, I have been cooped up in the house with the little invalids for the better part of four days, and on near-constant duty.

So. After four days of this, James woke up this morning bouncing off the walls, so off to preschool he went. Evan actually went down for a nap very easily this morning. And this leaves me with some rare time totally to myself. So I've just thrown some Hawaiian Bread in the oven, put some PJ Harvey on the stereo, made some chamomile tea, and I am using the computer without being climbed on, tugged at, or bombarded with questions.

Some days, life just doesn't get any better than this.


24 January 2006

saying goodbye

I hate saying goodbye. One of the drawbacks of living in student housing, though, is that it happens on a pretty regular basis. Everyone leaves sooner or later, and now that we're halfway through our fifth year, families we've come to know and love are all starting to leave. By the end of this summer I don't think there will be anyone left in the neighborhood who was here when we moved in.

Today is a sad day. One of my close friends, who I've known for over three years now, and her daughter, who's been a close friend of James' for that time, left to move to Missouri this afternoon (with the rest of their family). I managed not to cry when saying goodbye, but it'll come later. She was of the first friends I made here who was also a mother, also a liberal in this conservative neighborhood, also into good books and girl talk -- none of these things is enough on its own, but combine them with a sense of humor, warmth, and good conversation and she's a friend who will be very much missed.

James will also be losing a good friend -- someone with whom he's spent hours and hours of playtime, at each other's homes and at the playgrounds and sandboxes, someone who he bickers with like a sibling, someone he looks up to, someone he has learned from, someone he loves. It will be a hard adjustment for both of us to lose our friends.


16 January 2006

wisdom from a preschooler

James, as the credits on Sesame Street start rolling: "Mom, can you please turn off the TV? Or else my brain won't feel good anymore, and my eyes will crack open."

I've never said anything about TV making his eyes crack open, but I have told him that watching too much TV is bad for his body and his brain. Maybe the kid does listen to some of the things I say.


13 January 2006

Friday photos

Took these photos at the zoo today, because it was 60 freaking degrees today. In January. In Rochester. I also got some photos of tortoises mating (which they seem to do every time I'm there) but I figured that's not really blog material. Not this blog, anyway.

Happy weekend, everyone.


09 January 2006

and on to year 5

Me: "You're the coolest 4-year-old I know."
James: "You're the coolest 50-year-old I know."

And so ended my son's 4th birthday. We were either wonderful or terrible parents yesterday, letting James make his own choices for just about everything. Thus we had lunch and playtime at McDonald's, and a shopping spree in Toys 'R Us with a couple of gift cards, where James picked out a light-up/noisy volcano for his train set, and a set of dinosaur stamps with ink pads. Then home to open presents from Grandma Christine, who spent the weekend with us. Dinner was hot dogs, followed by a cake made to very precise specifications: "A big round vanilla cake with chocolate frosting and a big number 4 made out of M&Ms." Who knew a cake could still be delicious after being dropped twice (pre-frosting)? We topped the day off with some rowdy balloon play, and sang Christmas carols instead of a bedtime story. James declared it a great birthday, and I think the rest of us enjoyed it too.


06 January 2006

home again

Well, after two and a half weeks and lots of traveling, we are finally home, and glad to be here. We had a great time with Greg's family in Washington. The kids were spoiled, of course, but I suppose they deserve it once in a while. James got to ride Grandma's horse, Snickers, a couple of times, and liked to help Papa walk the dogs. He spent a lot of time drawing (he got a lot of art supplies for Christmas) and a lot of time playing with the Schmidts' vast Lego and Transformer collections. His reading is really starting to take off, which we're all excited about. He also got to spend some quality time playing with Greg's 6-year-old cousin Kyle, who loves Star Wars possibly even more than James does.

Evan was a little overwhelmed by all the new people at first, but he soon settled in and loved all the attention he got. (Poor kid will have to learn to live without that again.) Surprisingly, he loved the dogs once he got used to them. He did learn very quickly to turn his face away when Lucky approached, though, to avoid those sloppy doggy kisses Lucky loves to give. Over the course of two weeks, Evan not only perfected pulling himself up to a sitting position, but also crawling and pulling himself up to standing. That last one makes me a little nervous, as he will try to pull up on anything. Now we've really got to get around to babyproofing the house.

We had a nice Christmas, saw all of Greg's family, played lots of Settlers of Catan with its various expansions (always important), slept in now and then, spent New Year's Eve in Seattle with Greg's friends, watched lots of movies, played lots of games (including DDR! my favorite), and we even got a night out without the kiddos for Greg's brother Scott's 21st birthday. I couldn't ask for much more out of a vacation.

Now we are home, with lots of unpacking and cleaning to do. James' birthday is on Sunday, so my mom is coming this weekend to celebrate with us. I have a lot to do in preparation -- find a birthday present, bake a cake, and lots and lots of cleaning. No more of the laziness of vacation. But I am glad to be home. It's very pretty and snowy here, and I slept in my own bed last night with cozy flannel sheets, and now I can play DDR every day and maybe shed a little of the holiday weight I surely gained from all of the wonderful food we had.

Hope everyone else had a wonderful holiday!