27 February 2006

other kids have imaginary friends...

James: "Someone was following me outside, but I didn't see anyone, and Kalia didn't see anyone, and my invisible cuckoo clock didn't see anyone..."


24 February 2006

maybe i'm a giant dork...

...but, when depressed and disillusioned about politics, there is nothing quite like America's Funniest Home Videos to lighten your mood. People falling down! People getting hit in the groin! Farting! Babies putting things up their noses! Pigs drinking beer!

Life's small pleasures, you know...


21 February 2006

on gender differences and parenting

I've been thinking some more lately about the "boy crisis" and about the differences between boys and girls in general. I've just finished reading Mismeasure of Women: Why Women Are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex, by Carol Tavris, and it gave me a lot to think about. It was written in 1992, so it's not exactly current, but also not completely outdated. I'd like to believe that culture has changed at least a little since this book was written, or maybe I am privileged by the company I keep, because I don't see that some of the assumptions that Tavris bases her arguments on are clearly the standard of American thinking today. (And Greg informs me that medical research as described in the book has certainly improved over the last decade.)

It was a good read, and although I didn't agree entirely with everything Tavris wrote, I felt I learned a lot, particularly in examining the way I think about gender. I thought it was a timely read, too, coming on the heels of the Newsweek article and the general uproar in the blogosphere over what to do about poor disadvantaged American boys. Let me say before I get too far that I haven't come to any kind of a clear conclusion on this topic, but it's something I think will give me a lot of thought, especially while my boys are growing up.

But there's one thing I want to focus on in this post, one buzzword that keeps cropping up all over the place: hardwired. People use this word to explain all kinds of things, but I'm not sure I'm buying it. If boys are hardwired, for example, to be more aggressive than girls, than won't my boys naturally prefer football and wrestling to tennis and golf, even if I encourage them otherwise? If boys' brains are hardwired in favor of math and science over reading, then why are there male novelists, why are there female scientists, why does James love to read so much? If boys are hardwired to be less nurturing than girls, I had better start saving for retirement and old age now, since I can't rely on my boys to take care of me when I'm eighty.

There are differences between men and women, obviously, in biology and physiology and body chemistry. But are there really such significant effects from those differences? I think there's a danger in labelling certain behaviors or characteristics as "hardwired" -- it's too simplistic. It lets us off the hook for taking responsibility for ourselves and our children. To write off male aggression, for example, as "hardwired", "boys will be boys" behavior, normalizes the behavior and frees men, or the parents of boys, from taking responsibility for the effects of that aggression.

To label certain characteristics as "hardwired" denies that people can or should change, and maybe I'm too idealistic, but I think that can't be true. If my boys are "hardwired" to have certain behaviors, certain aptitudes, then why am I putting such effort into parenting them at all? If they're naturally meant to be aggressive, then why should I discipline them for hitting another kid? Should I expect James to listen to his (female) preschool teacher, to sit quietly and pay attention when required at school, if society doesn't believe he should have to act like a civil human being? This is what really gets me about this "hardwired" stuff -- I take it as a personal insult. It implies that there are certain facets of my childrens' personalities, their very beings, over which I have no influence. If that's the case, why did I take this job in the first place? It's the old nature vs nurture debate, and a lot of people seem to be coming down on the side of nature lately. Well, I can't do it. I can't believe that my nurturing will have no effect on my children, or I might as well stop right now.


20 February 2006

slowly going crazy

Or, A Glimpse into the Life of a Seriously Sleep-Deprived Mother.

If someone, anyone, had come to me at 5am this morning and offered to adopt my baby, I would have gladly handed him over without a word. Well, maybe not, but those were the kind of thoughts running through my head at that hour. Last night, to the best of our collective memories (Greg, my mom, and me), Evan woke up 6 times at least. I was in bed for 9 hours, after dozing on the couch for perhaps an hour, but no amount of sleep is enough if it's coming in 2-hour increments. I've become a coffee drinker simply to function in the morning. I encourage quiet activities for my rambunctious preschooler because I don't have the energy to keep up with him, and I'm too short-tempered to deal with shouting. Sometimes I accidentally fall asleep on the couch while the boys are playing.

This doesn't happen every day, thank goodness, but it happens. Today is one of those days where I will be looking forward all day long for Greg to come home and then I will retreat into what little quiet I can find. It's been at least 10 months since I've had a full night's sleep. When I'm feeling too sorry for myself, I think about how lucky I am that I only have to deal with children on a daily basis. I can't imagine what my life would be like if I had to go to work every day and function in a real job with performance standards and requirements, after a long night of broken sleep. On days like today I feel incredibly fortunate that I set my own schedule, I determine my own work, I can fall asleep on the couch if I really need to, and what I don't do today can most likely be put off until tomorrow when I may be a little more rested and capable of dealing.

And when I'm really feeling sorry for myself, like today, I remember that someday my baby will sleep through the night, someday... and if not, he will be out of the house in another 18 years. At least there's that.


11 February 2006

drunk on the sunshine

On a rare sunny winter's day here in Rochester, my eight-month old is so excited by the shadows on the floor from the window blinds that he is crawling back and forth across the floor, just laughing. Babies are weird.


07 February 2006

i knew the girl wasn't bright...

...but this is pretty horrifying, even for Britney Spears. Now, I've really been trying to stay away from celebrity news -- I was a little too into celebrities for a while, so I broke the habit. But celebrities are like train wrecks -- very beautiful and expensive train wrecks that compel you to watch until the gruesome end. An added bonus is the superiority an ordinary person feels at these train wrecks, because even if you're not glamorous and richer than God, at least you've got a brain in your head.

Anyway, to escape from the brutal, aggressive paparazzi, Britney drove off in her car with her five-month-old baby in her lap. Right in front of the paparazzi, who, you know, have cameras. It's especially mind-boggling when you consider that encounters with paparazzi have caused celebrities to get into accidents. If she had hit anything -- even had to slam on the brakes for something -- her baby could have been seriously injured. She couldn't have taken the thirty seconds it requires to strap an infant into his car seat? No, his safety from the terrible paparazzi was more important than his safety from traffic accidents, which could potentially kill him.

I wonder, since there are photographs, whether anything will come of this, or if it will be another case of a celebrity getting away with blatant illegal behavior thanks to money and fame?


06 February 2006

my feminist boyfriend

So, Greg is not exactly a feminist, although he sympathizes with and supports plenty of feminist causes. But I find it funny, when I'm reading a book on feminism and trying to explain a feminist viewpoint to him, that I also have to explain the sexist stereotype or belief that the feminist viewpoint is trying to counter, because the sexism doesn't come naturally to him. And that is something that makes me very, very happy.


03 February 2006

human-animal hybrids and the culture of life

Okay, so after posting yesterday, thanks to a discussion with Greg and a link from Kim, I've learned that there is some truth to Bush's "human-animal hybrids" remark -- but that he or his speechwriter chose a pretty vague and misleading term to describe it. To say "human-animal hybrid" brings to mind The Island of Dr Moreau, or hybrid creatures such as satyrs, centaurs, minotaurs, or chimeras -- which is actually what the scientific community is calling the results of their research and experimentation. The images brought to mind by Bush's terminology are probably helpful in creating the opposition he desires, though: in mythology, these hybrid creatures were often dangerous or immoral, and in the case of Dr Moreau, those who create such creatures are totally insane.

But what Bush is probably referring to is actually legitimate scientific research, and potentially very useful, as this National Geographic article describes. As Greg reminded me last night, some animal parts are currently transplanted into humans, such as heart valves. The link Kim left in my comments describes how scientists are putting human genes into mice to study Down's syndrome. Scientists all over the world are combining human parts (for lack of a better, all-encompassing term) with animal parts to create these new chimeras. This research is being done to study human conditions to better understand how to treat them.

Now, I understand that there are ethical concerns in playing around with DNA and creating things that God or nature never thought of. But the more I know about Bush and science, the more I am convinced that his "culture of life" does not extend to actual, living human beings with actual debilitating medical conditions (unless, perhaps, they're practically braindead), or to those who've committed crimes, or to civilians who become casualties of war, or to women who find themselves pregnant and unable to continue the pregnancy for whatever reason, or to poor people in general, but is limited only to cells that have the potential of becoming human life. His inconsistency in being concerned for life continually astounds me, as his policies so often neglect those living people who are truly in need of help.

If medical research will allow us to save the lives of those who are already living, to improve the health of living people, then I think we're obligated to do whatever we can to help these people. Is it ethical to let them continue to suffer when we might have the technology to help them? It reminds me of the Plan B article I linked to yesterday, in the sense that some people in authority are so concerned about what some people might do (teenagers might have sex, scientists might get carried away), that they're denying lots of people the benefits of science and medicine that could change or even save their lives. And to me, that's not a culture of life.


02 February 2006


  • I'm amazing: it's only Feb. 2 and I've got our January photos uploaded. More to come once I've tweaked a few, for nit-picky composition reasons.
  • I was premature in calling penicillin "sweet" in an earlier post. I don't think I've ever had penicillin before, and I'm finding we don't like each other much. It may be giving Evan a few difficulties as well, though that's still just my suspicion until I'm concerned enough to call the doctor. So: strep is gone, but still not feeling top-notch.
  • My good local paper (the "alternative newsweekly") has a great article this week featuring "an insider's story of political influence in the FDA" -- the paper interviewed the former director of the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Women's Health. She talks about what happened to Plan B (the "morning after pill"): "...the science and the medical evidence had been overruled. Women's health and the public health were not the priority here." Scary stuff; a great read.
  • I must have missed it when I was not watching the State of the Union address, but Bush, when talking about ethics and morals in medical research, apparently mentioned... human-animal hybrids. What? Seriously, what is he talking about? Are there actually scientists working on this that I'm unaware of? I... don't understand who gave him his information.


01 February 2006

and i live in a liberal city

Two letters to the editor of my local paper caught my eye this morning (2nd and 3rd down). They each make some interesting remarks about parenting that I took issue with -- and it's interesting, because they each seem innocent enough at first, but neither actually squares with reality.

I'll start with the second, because it's the less malicious of the two:

Since the 1960s, motherhood in our society has been considered a calling that is of little value. However, since we have been witnessing the destruction of the American family, more mothers of today are choosing to stay at home with their children. They are discovering that a successful career is not based on monetary earnings but on the satisfaction of being able to personally participate in the raising of a new generation of good citizens. There is no greater power.

Still true today is the well-known phrase, "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world."

At first I liked this letter. Anything that praises motherhood can't be all bad. I agree that little value is put on being a stay-at-home-mom (although I disagree that motherhood itself, as the writer says, is of little value; on the contrary, it's society's highest calling for a woman). But it was the end of the letter that gave me pause: "There is no greater power" than raising a new generation of good citizens. I do think it's important that parents raise their children well, but to say that this gives mothers power? What kind of power is she talking about? Not economic, not political, not personal. Oh, right, the power of changing the world a generation down the road through those good citizens she's raised. She'd better hope she has boys, though, because any daughters will presumably be making the best use of their time by raising still more good citizens.

And "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world"? It's a nice thought, but I'd like to be given one example where power and change have come from those who stayed home and raised babies. Which societies, which communities exactly, have been ruled by mothers? Last I knew, the world was being run by white men, precious few of whom ever literally rocked any cradles. The women who won suffrage, the men and women who triumphed in the Civil Rights movement, the women who broke barriers in the corporate world in the '70s and '80s, all did so not because they were raising their children in the hopes of their children creating a better world, but because they took initiative themselves to change the world where they saw injustice.
I do value child-rearing, more than most people, I suspect, since I know firsthand what a difficult job it is. But I'm under no illusions that this job gives me any kind of power, except over my children, and sometimes not even then. Because even children are individual, autonomous beings, and even kids raised by a stay-at-home parent can become addicted to drugs, or commit crimes, or become racist or sexist or an asshole. Parenting is about laying a foundation, preparing your child for the world, but there comes a point where you have to cross your fingers and hope there are no earthquakes or floods headed his way. It all comes down to what your child does with what you've given him, and you really have no power over what happens.

No, the power in this sitaution resides with whoever convinced this woman that being a throwback to the 1950s gives her any kind of power.

The second letter pretends to blame parents for society's ills, but underhandedly places the blame squarely on mothers' shoulders:

"We as voters and taxpayers in New York have allowed our elected officials to put into place social programs that exonerate recipients of any responsibility for their actions. It is a system that rewards bad behavior, enables and promotes single-parent families, often with multiple fathers, and removes incentive for these people to change... It does not take a village to raise a child; it takes a committed parent to raise a child."

You like that? He never mentions mothers specifically, but he doesn't have to. Because who is typically the head of a single-parent family? That's right, a mother. And who can have children by multiple fathers? Yep, women. Why isn't he asking how many different women those men have fathered children with? Why isn't he calling for absent fathers to become more involved with their children, or calling for stricter enforcement of child support laws? He might as well come right out and say that social programs should be abolished because he doesn't want his tax dollars supporting those slutty single mothers who force the community to raise their children while they engage in "bad behavior", whatever that entails.

You know, I hate the individualistic attitude some people have. No one is asking you to raise anyone else's children. But as a society we are dooming ourselves to failure if we don't support those who need help, particularly children. Because guess what? Some parents can't get the job done alone. I don't think this guy has any idea what it's like to be poor and dependent on social programs for your very survival. It's not exactly paradise to deal with overworked social workers, or to deal with the stigma attached to public assistance, or, you know, to not be self-sufficient. Are some parents lazy? Are some abusing the system? Sure, but some are also employed, some have left abusive situations, some have been laid off, some are grad students with families who get paid next to nothing. Nobody plans to be on welfare, on food stamps, on Medicaid. But things happen unexpectedly, and that's what social programs are for: to help those who need help. Not to support them or "enable" them. And as for providing no incentive for change, well, I can tell you right now that this man has never visited a social services office in the middle of a weekday to renew his Medicaid coverage, because that alone is enough to encourage a person to get out of the system.

Obviously the ideal is that parents will be the primary providers and caretakers of their children. But the reality is that that's not always possible. So should we promote an impossible ideal, or should we face up to reality and deal with the situation as it actually exists? Should we punish children for the shortcomings of their parents by cutting social programs, or should we simply help those who need help? And that's not to say we should be handing out the fish -- teaching them to fish, giving them a rod and reel to start with, should be part of the program. As the "motherhood is power" woman said, these are American's future citizens, future leaders. It's in society's best interest to help all of those citizens live up to their potential, because unfortunately, parents can't or won't always do that. I wonder if the author of this letter sincerely believes that cutting social programs will benefit those who are now depending on them? I can't figure out if people like this man actually can't understand what it's like to be poor, or if they aren't even trying to understand.

Unfortunately, these are pretty common attitudes that I've come across more than a few times. But there are so many issues parents have to deal with -- I don't think it helps anyone to universally praise or condemn any one class of parents. There are already so many ridiculous expectation put on parents that adding more to the pile of things we won't be able to live up to won't benefit anyone. Is it too much to ask that we accept that all people and situations are different, and no one solution is right for everyone?