April 28, 2012

Weight and Daughters

I'm distressed because this evening Elizabeth mentioned that she hoped she wasn't going to gain any weight. Context: she outgrew all her pajamas and pants all of a sudden, and she's been extra hungry, so I mentioned that she must be having a growth spurt. She wanted to know what that was, so I told her that children often seem to grow all of a sudden, in bursts. That's when she said she hoped she wouldn't gain any weight.

You are going to have to take my word for it that I don't say negative or positive things about weight where she can hear me. I don't lament the way I look in my clothes. I don't mention gaining or losing weight. I don't verbally admire thin people. I don't call certain pants my "fat pants," or wonder aloud if I look fat/thin in what I'm wearing. I don't talk about foods being fattening, or having a lot of calories, or having fewer calories. I use the word "healthy" to describe health states ("I'm so glad we're all healthy again after that long winter of strep!"), not as a synonym/euphemism for eating less food, eating lower-calorie food, losing weight, or being thin. I don't mention diets, or restricting eating for purposes of weight loss/not-gain, or not eating something because "I shouldn't" or because "it'd go right to my hips." I don't have friends or relatives who come over and do these things. She watches PBS---no teen-girl-type shows.

I exist as a plump person. I don't mention being a plump person, or anything about being a plump person, or anything about what size I am or what size I'd prefer to be. EVER. It's not that I say it only to Paul or to a friend when I hope we're not being overheard, and then perhaps if this were a book we could illustrate this statement with a little sketch of the impressionable young girl listening unnoticed at a doorway; no, I am telling you that I NEVER MENTION IT AT ALL IN ANY CONTEXT WHEN I AM WITHIN A MILE OF HER.

Nevertheless, she is six years old, and she is so far below the average weight for her height that the pediatrician mentions it at each visit, and she doesn't want to gain weight. She's mentioned this a few times recently, but I've ignored it because I didn't want to draw a lot of attention to it---or more truthfully, because I didn't know what to say. This time I asked soooooo casually if the other girls at school talk about gaining weight. She said no. I asked if anyone else had mentioned it. She said no. I asked why she said she didn't want to gain weight, and she laughed nervously and said, well, she meant she didn't want to gain TOO MUCH weight.

I didn't pursue it any further. There isn't any point. It's not as if it's possible to rear a daughter who doesn't understand that this society expects her to be thin. I'd been hoping, though, for a longer time before she understood it.

April 26, 2012

Unorthodox, by Deborah Feldman

I just finished Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman, and I'm so cranky I just want to make a LIST of everything that made me cranky, but I'm also afraid that making that list will FAN THE FLAMES of the crankiness rather than venting them, and I will end up CRANKIER.

AND, I don't like to review books I didn't like, because I'm so hyper-aware of authors as real people, quite possibly (ill-advisedly) reading their own reviews. But MAN! When I read a book that seems like the author didn't give that consideration to the people she was describing, I feel a little differently about the whole thing. But keep in mind that I DID read the whole thing, and yet I'm only listing the things that bugged me.

(image from Amazon.com)

I was ALL SET to like this book. FIRST: insider peek into a culture I'm completely unfamiliar with, which is the kind of thing I love. SECOND: a story I could likely empathize with, about leaving a religion. THIRD: "Scandalous"!

The book opens as the author interviews her own mother, who ALSO left the Hasidic community, leaving Deborah behind when Deborah was a child. Do we find out the story behind this? No. Then we have an ENTIRE BOOK leading up to Deborah leaving the community herself. Do we get to hear how that happened, how she got away, how she managed to bring her son with her, what she then did about the relationship with her mother, or even about the scandal she caused by leaving (promised by the title)? NO. WE DO NOT.

Instead we hear an adolescent-style persecution story that reads like a fairy tale, and lots of nasty stories about the people she left behind. As when I hear someone bitterly slamming a spouse during a divorce, all this does is bring to my mind how unreliable one side of a story can be, and point out to me how motivated she would be to tell the most shocking stories possible, and make me start mentally coming up with a defense for the other side. The stories could even be TRUE, but they're told in such a relishingly vicious tone, they ring false. I ended up feeling sorry for the people she was either (1) deeply humiliating by revealing their very private and embarrassing secrets, or (2) telling lies about.

She specifically says that she doesn't think evil exhibits itself externally, but she makes sure to tell us just how ugly, squinty, frowny everyone she doesn't like is. The men she doesn't like are effeminate and weak and can't grow facial hair; the women she doesn't like have extra body hair and deep voices and are so bitter and unpretty no one would marry them. Everyone she DOES like is gorgeous, including herself: "I never thought about the shape of my head before, but now that it's out there in the open, I marvel at its perfect proportions and the sudden symmetry of my countenance." She also has great hair, and her calves bring honor to her family.

We hear quite a bit more, too, about how exceptional Deborah is. There are stories of her academic triumphs that sound like the fantasies children have: in one example, her teacher thinks she can't read well (because, the author says, not one other student in her high school class can), and challenges her on it in front of the class, and she BLOWS EVERYONE AWAY with her AMAZING DELIVERY AND SKILLZ. The teacher is SHOCKED:
...she...isn't expecting to find a student here who can read decently, let alone quickly, easily, and with excellent inflection. I can tell she is wondering how I could possibly have come by such perfect English. The rest of the class already knows I'm a good reader and relishes the teacher's comeuppance. They love it when I read, because my loud, lively reading and expressive interpretation of the story actually make the session fun.

Later she explains that everyone else waits for God to do things for them, but SHE wants to be someone who works miracles for herself. While everyone else prays for mercy (she can tell that's what they're doing: she's faking it, unlike everyone else), she alone challenges God:
A sudden peaceful feeling of resolution washes over me... I know instinctively that I am not as helpless as some would like me to think. In the conversation between God and myself, I am not necessarily powerless. With my charm and persuasiveness, I might even get him to cooperate with me.

In fact, again and again she remains silent just like everyone else---but while she knows HER silence is silent rebellion and HER passivity is because there's nothing she can do, she knows everyone ELSE is silent and passive out of dimness and lack of spirit. Everyone looks the same from the outside: SHE ALONE is special and different. She alone questions the way things are! She alone notices inconsistencies and oddities! She alone wants something different! She alone has DREAMS! Everyone else just wants to submit without even thinking about it! She can just TELL. "Why are they sending us home? ...Only I am curious, it seems."

When her fiancé's family presents her with an unengraved, expensive, extensively jeweled gold watch and a string of large pearls, she somehow KNOWS that no one gave a moment's thought to what she might like:
But it is appropriate that this watch should not have my name on it. It wasn't made for me, not in the way Eli's watch was, handpicked for his personality ... Perhaps if they had been picked for me, it would have been different later. ... But these gifts were purchased with no thought to who I was or what I might like.

It is worth noting that she and her fiancé (Eli) had met only once, for half an hour; that her fiancé's family had met her only twice but were nevertheless expected to choose something perfect for her; that she can't possibly know that they didn't spend ages trying to find the perfect thing; and that she chose her fiancé's watch from a store display (she manages to sound as if she had it made for him), based on her own tastes. (We have no report here as to whether he felt it had been chosen specifically for his personality, or how she knew it was perfect for him after knowing him half an hour.) Also note: she goes so far as to imply that maybe everything would have turned out differently if they'd bought her different presents.

Sadly for the prose style, the inevitable Inspiring Teacher in her life was adamantly opposed to colloquial writing. Sample result of this influence: "I wonder if I am but another figment of the suffering that Zeidy takes such a spiritual relish in, if to my grandparents I am but a test from God, one to be born humbly, without complaint." Can you imagine someone saying that out loud? TEACHER HAS SUCCEEDED. It's page after page like that. Later she mentions really loving the old-fashioned style of authors like Austen. NO KIDDING.

Also sadly for the prose style, this teacher was apparently fine with rhetorical questions. Did the author never notice that a serious of questions with no answers can sound kind of pompous? Did she never find that it was a style that could get a little wearying for the reader? Did none of the editors/publishers/agents involved notice that the entire book has a major problem with asking questions and never answering them? Did THEY not get weary, just proof-reading it? Did they not at some point think, as I did, "Hey, these are GREAT QUESTIONS and exactly why I'm reading the book, so how come you didn't write any ANSWERS at any point?"

There are many, many things that made me think "Whuh?" For example, she claims that in Hasidic communities, no one mentally ill or disabled can be helped in any way other than by their families, because they can't be put into the care of Gentiles. Okay! I will accept that Gentiles could not properly take care of them. Then...could a Hasidic center be opened up for that?

Or, she claims to have had absolutely not even the most basic knowledge about sex and to be shocked when she finds out the smallest detail (she didn't realize either boys or girls even HAD those parts)---but then she is not at all shocked to hear about her husband's experiences with other boys, and seems completely familiar with concepts such as child molestation, incest, homosexuality, and masturbation. And there's this story about a certain sexual issue she has? but a speculum goes in just fine? so I'm not sure what the what?

Or, she talks about how she now bears no resemblance to the girl who used to think God was sending her signs, and then she mentions signs from God several more times---always signs that approve of all the decisions she's making and confirm her view of her stand-out-from-the-crowd-ness, so I guess she was right about her ability to charm and persuade him. "God wants me to leave. He knows I was never meant for this." Then shortly afterward she's back to saying that something seems like a sign, but now it's from the universe. (The universe agrees with God.)

Or, she mentions how glad she will be to give up all her daughterly duties to her father, but throughout the book she's mentioned only how he's never there for her and the family does nothing for him and that she herself won't even acknowledge him on the street. Whew! It'll be a relief to be relieved of THAT duty!

Or, she claims to have been in a car accident "as the clock struck midnight." She has a chiming clock in her car? How does she know when it happened, when she also says that everything went black after the accident and she didn't wake up until later?

I think she couldn't decide which way she wanted to spin this story. Did she want to be the blameless lamb, innocent of everything, completely helpless, sincerely meaning to be the best and most obedient daughter/wife/mother but thwarted in that attempt? Or did she want to be smart and knowledgeable all along, seeing through the facade, never fooled, always planning to leave, forced onto paths she actively resisted until she finally escaped? By trying to spin it both ways, she got the worst of both: she seems to be blaming everyone else for the bad while taking all the credit for the good, and I don't believe either part of it.

So much of it could be absolutely true, and there could be reasonable explanations for all the many things that seem like they don't make sense. But it READS false, and it also reads INCREDIBLY ANNOYING.

Waiting For It To Be Over

I have been really FEELING the meaning of the phrase "tearing my hair out" recently. Henry is BREAKING me. On one hand, this is good, because it certainly has beaten out any last remaining traces of wanting another child. On the other hand, I am having MULTIPLE incidents per day where I feel like I would really enjoy getting to hit him, and I feel like I use up all my patience and good parenting on this one child and then have only scraps for the other four, and that seems like it can't go on happily.

I was telling Paul yesterday evening that I seriously don't know how to handle him. Henry seems like he is relentlessly disobedient and unpleasant, ALL DAY EVERY DAY. Well, I mean with cute/pleasant times too, and with an OVERLAY of cuteness/cheeriness to the unceasing naughtiness. But even when he's on my lap and being all cute while I read him a story, he will then giddily whip me in the face with his blankie and then put the blankie over my head and drag it off so a bunch of strands come out of my hairclip; and then as he's climbing off my lap he won't be careful, and he'll end up (1) whacking his skull into my glasses and then (2) kneeling right on a very painful muscle in my leg and then (3) elbowing me hard in the chest. Then he'll say several things in a loud unpleasant crazy-voice he's not allowed to use, and then he'll hit his sister with the blankie and she'll scream and he'll laugh, and then he'll say taunting things to Edward, and Edward will yell and Henry will laugh, and then he'll climb onto the coffee table he's not allowed to climb on, and then he'll stand up on it and fall off and cry. A few minutes later I'll offer everyone the pretzel bag, and everyone will take a few, and then Henry will plunge his hand into the bag so hard it knocks it out of my hand, and then come out with an enormous, pretzel-shedding handful he drops all over the floor. Then he will laugh, and as he laughs he will careen around stepping on the pretzels.

It's super super frustrating to have it be 6:24 in the morning and have him already in time-out after breaking four well-known and well-reminded rules. And I'm just so INCREDULOUS that he could STILL BE DOING IT. HOW CAN HE STILL BE DOING IT? We've had so many TALKS about it, with me patiently explaining to him (1) what he can't do and (2) why he can't do it and (3) what the consequences will be if he does it anyway, and then asking if he understands, and then later administering the consequences, and then after administering them MANY TIMES, asking if he knows WHY he can't seem to control himself, and him answering in the crazy unpleasant voice he's not allowed to use. I have actually put my hands into my hair and squeezed.

I was thinking things through for the millionth time yesterday. Could I try yet another different consequence? a different explanation? a new parenting concept? a boarding school? duct tape? I was also thinking about how I could do a post asking what other people would do, but I found I didn't really want to ask for or receive advice on this ("Have you tried giving 5 yesses for every no? catching him being good? meditating? changing his diet? being more understanding? having him tested for celiac? having him tested for a behavioral problem? reading this parenting book? giving him time-outs but calling them 'breaks' because 'time-outs' sound too much like punishment? being more consistent? making a sticker chart? offering rewards for good behavior?").

And so then I thought, "Well, what would I advise someone else, if they were having this issue?" And I think what I would say is to hang on until he grows out of it. Stop trying one thing after another. Stop spending so much time being agitated and hand-wringy about it. Hang on until he grows out of it.

There are so so so many issues with children. But with most of them, Paul and I will suddenly say to each other "...Hey! Whatever happened to such-and-such an issue?" and we realize it just petered out and stopped being an issue. It's easy for me to get super-focused on SOLVING A PROBLEM---when the problem is part of a developmental stage (either for kids in general or for this kid in particular), and there's no solving it except by waiting for it to not be an issue anymore. "Kids waking up wanting to nurse in the night" is not an issue anymore. "Kids resisting the potty" is not an issue anymore. Elizabeth no longer requires us to sit in her room while she falls asleep. Rob no longer shrieks in the bathtub as if he's being killed. Henry no longer cries all the way through swimming lessons. Rob no longer repeats everything a million times. William no longer makes that horrible sound. I haven't fretted about a certain child's certain issue in YEARS, and it used to occupy a good part of every single day.

Considering nothing is working anyway, I am going to try waiting for this, too, to be over. It's not very practical in the "How do I handle it the next time he does X?" sense, but it's helpful for reducing my hair-tearing reactions to it. Instead of feeling like it's something I'm going to have to BEAT out of him by ANY MEANS NECESSARY, I'm feeling more like it's an irritating stage and I don't necessarily have to fix it. I can say "Henry, the voice" in a weary voice, and not have to turn every single incident into a long and hard-fought battle to victory/defeat.

It occurs to me that if this is such an amazing idea, I should apply it to the teenager who watches my every child-disciplining move and then explains to me how unfair it was to him. Certainly that too is a developmental stage that will one day pass. But I don't think I can manage applying a wait-it-out attitude to something that's so much closer to behaviors I can easily imagine on a highly unpleasant adult. I am thinking more along the lines of the scolding I just read in Anne Tyler's The Beginner's Goodbye:
"I just want you to know," she was saying, "that I'm going to have to apologize to your wife every single day of your marriage, for raising such a selfish and inconsiderate person."

April 24, 2012

Questions About Seattle

Do you remember when you guys helped my parents with their Yellowstone plans? That was VERY HELPFUL. Would you be willing to do it again for my friend (since we were little kids!) Heather? She and her husband and two small children are going to Seattle the second week of May, and here's what she's wondering:
The research I have done so far... looked at hotels downtown. Fairly expensive and you have to pay an additional $30-40 just for one night of parking. So, would rather not rent a car. But I am worried about public transportation (scary metro at night, kids riding on bus without car seats, waiting hours for bus to come). Staying in the suburbs would be an option (free parking) but then we have to lug carseats and we are not right in downtown. And then would still have to pay to park in city for the days when site seeing. Does this make sense?? Just don't know how big of a city Seattle is!!! Boston... I could handle/explore without car... LA, not so much! :-)


April 23, 2012

Happy Shopping Trip

My mom and I went shopping this weekend and we were both feeling a little grim and crabby. I think that's what motivated me to buy things I might otherwise have continued dithering over.

I'd admired this plate at Home Goods several times, but I kept thinking, "Well, but we don't really NEED another lunch-sized plate..." This weekend I thought: (1) I am willing to get rid of another of the lunch-sized plates to fit this one in, and (2) This is why we HAVE mixed dishes: so that I can get the new ones I love, rather than having to be done choosing.

This next thing was one of my favorite purchases of the whole trip. I've been drawn to these strawberry things (are they serving dishes? dog bowls? ...bakeware?) for months, ever since they appeared at the consignment shop. And only $6 for the set! And strawberries always remind me fondly of my niece, even though she hasn't been called The Strawberry since her fetus days. But then I would think, "But I don't have any particular USE for them." This weekend I thought, "If I love them this much, and if I have struggled on each of five visits here to justify buying them, and if they are SIX DOLLARS, I think I should just buy them and let things shake out. If I have to donate them to someone else later, SO BE IT." And then they weren't even $6: they were $4-something because the consignment shop marks them down every month they're still there.

I like this bowl (soup-sized), but when I got it home I was thinking something like "But why this bowl and not any of the many others I like?"

Oh, yeah! Because there's a bird on in it!

New plastic plate for the kid-plate pile.

These Dilettante cherries (dried cherries thickly coated in chocolate, then with a layer of colored white chocolate over all that) are a big ISSUE for me. There used to be bags of them at Wallllmart for $3, but for some reason in the last few years they've more than tripled in per-pound price. Now I can get much smaller quantities for much higher prices, and I don't love them enough for that---but I like them enough to feel resentful over the change (THEY SHOULD NOT COST AS MUCH AS SEE'S). These boxes were on clearance for $3 (down from $5, which was already down from $8), so STILL kind of expensive, but they found my buying point.

And the biggest thrill of the whole trip: MUGS. The aqua one on the left is one I already had, and it is my favorite, favorite mug: I reach for it first almost every time it's clean. I love everything about it, and have to force myself not to give in to the temptation to leave it in the cupboard just because I'm afraid it will break and then I won't have it anymore. For months I've been keeping an eye out for it at Home Goods / TJ Maxx / Marshalls, but I've never found another one. And then this weekend I found (1) a second aqua mug, for back-up; (2) the same mug in pink; (3) the same mug in a another pattern I liked. It was very exciting.

April 21, 2012

Fill in the Impossible Embarrassing Blank

Tell me: If your 4-year-old child says, in a puzzled and clearly audible voice as you're checking out at the register, "That shopkeeper...looks like she has a beard," and the shopkeeper is female--- Is there any way to FIX that?

April 20, 2012

Depressing Streak of Books

I'm on a depressing streak of books. Most of them have been GOOD, and I'm glad I read most of them, but they have a lot of THINKY ISSUES in them and they're leaving me feeling broody and low and inclined to respond irritably if brought out of my Deep Thoughts by the needs of small children.

(photo from Amazon.com)

First I read The Snow Child, which is an enchanting fairy tale for grown-ups, and I was indeed enchanted. Until I got to the end, when I was all, "Wait. What? But then...what happened to the? And what about the? And what does that mean for the? And so was she or wasn't she?" It was a beautiful story, and the ending was as sad as all those original fairy tales where no one has modernized it for children yet.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Then I read Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, which is one of those 1960's Heavy Message books of the sort I haven't read since I had to in high school. I DID like it, and I AM glad I read it, and now I think "See the cat? See the cradle?" at appropriate times and I like that, and also I feel more culturally literate, and also now I can say "So I was reading some Vonnegut the other night, and..." But I also felt like there was a lot of stuff going over my head, stuff that I would need a literature professor to explain to me while I tried to stay awake, and I didn't like that. And it's kind of depressing/insightful on the subject of religion, and I couldn't tell if I liked that or not but it was depressing either way.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Then I read No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make It Better by Elizabeth Weil, the title of which I unfortunately misread as "Then I Made It Better," so throughout the entire book I was thinking, "When do we stop talking about marriage therapies/theories I don't believe in ('The marital bond mimics the mother/infant bond!') and get to the part where something WORKED??" (She does claim that things worked, but boy, I didn't get that feeling from it.) Also, I ended up depressed because she's married to such an incredible, unbearable jerk someone I would not be compatible with, myself. And they spend more on groceries than on their San Francisco mortgage when only one of them cares about food; I found that hard to incorporate into my world view.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Next was Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet by Heather Poole. I lovvvvvvvvve insider tell-alls, so I wanted to know ALL ABOUT what it was like to be a flight attendant and all the inside scoop on things. But she was so carelessly, cheerfully MEAN about everyone and everything. Like she didn't even realize she was saying mean things. It wasn't even snarky, it was just MEAN. And you know how it is when someone is telling you a mean story about someone else and you can't even enjoy it because it doesn't sound true? Like, it sounds so distorted and exaggerated and one-sided, it doesn't even make SENSE? I stopped reading halfway through, because the stories were making me feel queasy and I didn't even believe the parts that were almost certainly true (or at least trueish) and I wasn't even ENJOYING them. And I came away with that unpleasant "People are actually, seriously dismissing me as a worthwhile human being because I don't wax my eyebrows / don't get pedicures / have a minivan"-type feeling about humanity.

(photo from Amazon.com)

Then I read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Someone I read JUST wrote about this in the last few weeks, and I need to pretty much cut and paste everything that person said about it because she was exactly right: it was about Jesuits and space travel and that worked; it was one of those books where you know from the beginning that everyone is doomed (the example given was Bel Canto); there is quite a bit of crying; she was so glad she read it. That's how I feel too. Now someone please recognize who I'm talking about so I can provide a LINK and some CREDIT. [AH HA! It was Notthedaddy's post! Thanks, Shelly!]

This was another book that was depressing/insightful about religion, and again I didn't know how I felt about it. It was also depressing/insightful about society, and about contact with other societies, and about the way creatures are. And it was very sad: they tell you right at the beginning that only one member of the space traveling group is going to make it back. And yet there was a lot of laughing/happiness too, and so many interesting things, and I am so, so glad I read it, and I have found it on my mind a LOT, and I'm going to read the sequel. And in fact my MAIN complaint among all the depressingness was actually how the author kept having her characters saying marginally funny things that had her other characters just ROLLING and GASPING with laughter---which is a bit immodest, isn't it, considering the author herself wrote those marginally funny things?

(photo from Amazon.com)

And NOW I'm reading Slaughterhouse-Five, another Kurt Vonnegut. I keep getting interested in these older books because I subscribe to Contrariwise: Literary Tattoos, and the stories about why people got certain things from books permanently put onto their skin make me want to go read those books. This one is kind of about war and kind of about space aliens and kind of about time travel and kind of about being a Heavy Message book. And I like it, and I'm glad I'm reading it, and my guess at this point is that I will be glad to have read it, but it also makes me feel like drinking.

April 18, 2012

Kids and Swearing

Periodically I have to remind the children why they can't freely say non-swears such as stupid, dumb, hate, sucks, and crap---especially since I say all those words. There are a lot of ways to explain it; the explanation I use is that they first have to fully know what the words mean and fully understand the impact of using each word, so that they're able to judge the appropriateness of use and then accept the consequences of use.

It's not that the words are intrinsically bad/unusable, but rather that they're more complicated than regular words; context/audience/frequency is significantly more important. I know the difference between (1) saying privately/lightly to a friend that I think a certain school/work rule is stupid and (2) saying publicly in a meeting that I think someone's idea is stupid and (3) calling a clerk stupid. I know the difference between (1) "Oh, man, I'm sorry, I hate that you have to go through this!" and (2) "I hate this new parking lot!" and (3) "I hate you!" The kids don't really get all the nuances of those yet---but as they start to pick up the nuances, they get more freedom of usage.

One thing the kids have found appealing about this explanation is that it includes the idea that soon they WILL be able to use the words---and also that the timing is not arbitrary but based on their own judgment/maturity levels. That's what I find appealing, too: I don't have to sit around debating intrinsic word value or whether they MEANT the word that way: if they act like they don't understand what the problem is, they're not ready to use that word yet.

So they're allowed to try a word out now and then, and if it's outside of acceptable limits (calling a sibling stupid, for example), I'll remind them not to use that word. If they've used it within acceptable limits (saying that they think piece of homework or a rule at school or the way something works is stupid---bonus points if it actually is kind of stupid) I'll give them a little squinty, small-closed-mouth-smile look that means "I'm allowing you to use the word this time and in this setting, but I'm paying attention to how you're using it." It's a look that acknowledges/rewards correct usage, while reminding them that they're still in the probation period.

(Darned if I can find it, but Indigo Girl posted awhile back about one of her kids using a mild bad word, but using it correctly and, when glanced at squintily, following it with something like "I know, not in front of the grandparents." Yeah baby. That's the goal.) [Here's the post---thanks, I.G.!]

I've been allowing 7th-grade Rob more word-use freedom recently, as long as he uses the words correctly and not in certain company (school, for example, if adults are around), and as long as he doesn't use them too FREQUENTLY. That last one is big for me: if he occasionally says something "sucks," I'm fine with that; if he's saying "sucks" a dozen times a day and "crap" another dozen times a day, I'm not fine with that. Good-naturedness is also important: yelling "That's CRAP!" would be totally different than smilingly saying "...Crap!" when I notice/mention it's past his bedtime.

But several times recently his siblings have reported that he's been swearing repeatedly under his breath (but loud enough for them to hear). One incident was when he was trying to get his MP3 player to work. Another was when he was trying to find something he'd lost. Not iffy words but Big Swears---and not lightheartedly.

I THINK my goal is only to correct the "audience" and "overuse" aspects of this, not to correct the actual words themselves. Seventh grade is too young for him to use Big Swears in front of me (or in front of younger children), but may be acceptable for when he's alone or with peers (and there is also the issue of whether I could stop him in either of those latter two situations). As someone who by nature is STILL disinclined to use "the s-word," it's hard for me to know what's normal.

Do you remember what the rules were in your household growing up? Do you remember when you and/or your peers started swearing? When I was in 7th grade, I was still at a private school where you could get a stern lecture for using the word "weird." (It connects to WITCHCRAFT.)

April 13, 2012

Twin Reminisces

I was labeling a Postcrossing postcard from Taiwan, and when it self-sorted alphabetically I stumbled upon a photo labeled TwinUltrasound:

As well as a helpful visual aide I apparently made at some point for anyone having trouble with just the ultrasound technician's labels:

Notice it was 5 days before Christmas when I found out. It was 11:24 in the morning; on the way home, I called my mom at school for the first and last time ever. (One does not call a teacher during the work day unless there is life-draining blood, structure-threatening fire, or twins.)

Oh, and look! Here's me pregnant with the twins!

And I am TALL, and so long-torsoed I can't wear one-piece swimming suits, and I am not arching my back or tipping backwards at all---it's that even the one-size-too-big maternity shirt no longer has anywhere near enough tum space to hang straight across for someone measuring "50 weeks" pregnant. (Also: note I am using a camera that used ACTUAL FILM! We didn't switch to digital until the twins were about 6 months old. I am deliberately hiding my face with the camera because that removed one of the variables that made me not want to save pictures.)

And here they are in the hospital! You can see Edward had a bit of jaundice:

And going home, with TWO infant car seats:

At first you can make do with one bouncy seat (put one leg of each twin through each leg opening, so no one slides out through a leg hole). (It's making you feel kind of nervous, the way Edward doesn't seem to have room to breathe, right? He did that ALL THE TIME. I consulted anxiously with the pediatrician about it. He nodded seriously, considered seriously, and reassured my pale, damp-shirted self.)

And here I am, looking a bit bloodless and tired on the ugliest couch we ever owned, tandem-nursing while doing Sudoku puzzles (that's TWO great baby gifts: the tandem-nursing pillow from my cousin Lee, and the puzzle book from my friend Melissa):

It's tempting for me to get a bit glossy-eyed here, so let's not forget the tandem screaming:

April 11, 2012

Active Uninterest

I would like to talk a bit about the phenomenon of being actively uninterested in something. I brought this up once on Twitter, but I did it sweepingly, scornfully, winefully, and "right after a bunch of people I knew had declared active uninterest in something," which is the award-winningly cheeseheaded way to bring things up. This has left me sheepish about bringing it up again---but the thing is, it's something I DO want to discuss, not something I want to scornfully dismiss in a Twitter post while a bit fruited.

So FIRST, a better description of what it is I want to discuss. It's when there's a major event people are interested in, and other people are volunteering that they find it boring and stupid. I'll start with the example that makes me wince when I remember my own demonstration of this very behavior: there will be a major sporting event on the horizon, and people will be talking about it and Twittering about it and Facebooking about it and posting pictures of themselves in shirts and facepaint, and OTHER people will start mentioning that they themselves find the whole thing ridiculous and lame and they "don't even know who's playing." (*RETRO WINCE*)

Or there will be an awards show coming up, and people will be discussing nominees and hoping certain ones do/don't win and making plans for awards-watching parties, and OTHER people will volunteer that they think it's stupid and lame and they don't even know what kind of award show it is or who is nominated.

Or there will a celebrity wedding planned, and people will be talking about dresses and ceremonies and whether they might get up early to watch it on television, and other people will tell the air that they think it's the stupidest thing to be interested about, ever, in the history of time.

I have been thinking this over, wondering specifically about MOTIVATION for such remarks. Certainly I can see that if someone were asked "Who do you like in the game?" or "Who do you think will win for Best Actress?," someone could say politely, and with a trace of embarrassment at being asked about a topic they don't know anything about, "Oh...I don't really follow...those. Who do YOU think?" But the phenomenon I'm talking about here is VOLUNTEERING the information, unasked, announcement-style, often with a bit of an unpleasant tone.

The trouble with exploring this phenomenon further is that, as I've mentioned, I've done this volunteering-of-info myself. (I hope not recently---but it can feel so different in the volunteering-the-info position, I think it's actually possible to not notice oneself doing it.) So because I've done it myself, I'm motivated to find a gentle spin for this behavior, but I can only think of one: that the excited discussion about something one doesn't care about can make one feel left out. I've had the experience of kind of WANTING to be excited about something so I can participate in the excitement---but I'm just NOT. Declaring that NOT-ness to be the case can be a combination of (1) acting like one doesn't MIND being left out, certainly NOT, absolutely FINE with sitting over here by myself, and (2) hoping to find others who were also quietly feeling left out, who will now speak up with relief that they're not the only ones. (Although in that latter case, that's kind of an icky club to start: The Cutting Down Other People's Interests Club. I definitely see the appeal of such a club, and have belonged to many, but it doesn't help with the charitable spin I'm looking for here.)

But that's the best I can do, spin-wise, and it's not a justification that works to mollify the people who are excited about something. If you haven't had that experience, try this: Think of something you're passionate about. Get it firmly in your mind: is it an event? a hobby? a book or movie series? a cause? Imagine discussing it happily and excitedly with other people who are passionate about it. So much fun! So interesting! Then imagine someone coming over and volunteering, unasked, that what you're excited about is of ZERO interest to THEM, and/or that they think it's stupid and lame and a waste of time.

SUPER annoying and hurtful, right? Like someone throwing a bucket of cold water on everyone for no reason. So unnecessary! Why would someone do such a thing? Why not just go find a group of people talking about something they ARE interested in, instead of trying to STOP a conversation about something they're NOT interested in? Plus, sometimes the person is advertising their own ignorance as if they're proud of it ("I don't even know who's playing," "I don't even know who's nominated," "I don't even know who he's marrying"), which makes it even more annoying and dismissive.

Which leaves us with the question still: Why DO people ACTIVELY express non-interest? What IS the motivation? And more interestingly, to me: Considering that most of us have been on the receiving end of such volunteered non-interest and know how it feels---why do so many of us nevertheless do it ourselves when it's something WE'RE not interested in? I just spent a whole post failing to find good spin, so if you've got some I'd love to hear it.

April 6, 2012

Way Better

You know how you can keep criss-crossing with another shopper at the grocery store? I had an especially awkward one this morning, because she was also driving right behind me most of the way to the store, and we parked just a few spaces away from each other and then walked into the store in tandem, with little "Am I going in first or are you?" glances and hesitations, and THEN we kept criss-crossing.

We wisely stuck to wry little smiles until we were at the far end of the store and could dip into the stash of Awkward But Friendly Verbal Acknowledgements of the Situation. There aren't many of those, so you don't want to use them up in the first few aisles. First she brought out "We meet again!," and then I used "It's like synchronized swimming!," and then she pulled into the checkout lane next to mine and remarked that it had taken us almost exactly the same amount of time to complete our shopping, and I agreed that it had.

But remember we were parked near each other in the parking lot. I was hoping my checkout lane would be faster, because my car was farther back. But no, she was first, so I had to walk past her to get to my car. I used "It was a tie!," with a friendly little laugh---which was fine. I mean, she's not going to tell the family about it at dinner tonight, but it wasn't an embarrassment of a remark.

But I realized on the way home (with her car once again behind mine) that what I SHOULD have done was get a running start out of the store, and then fly the cart past her while yelling "RACE YOU HOME!!!"

April 4, 2012


When I wrote the post about the Stephen King and Ernest Cline books, I realized how unusual it is for me to read two books in a row by men. I DO read books by men, but I'll bet it's one book by a man for every ten to twenty by a woman---and most of the books by men are non-fiction. I identify so much more strongly with the female point of view, and sometimes I find the male point of view alienating and upsetting: I can end up feeling I was happier knowing LESS about how some of them see things. (WHAT IF THAT'S HOW PAUL SEES THINGS??)

It's even more extreme with blogs. With a book, the story might be more the point than the author; but with a blog, it's usually ALL person's-eye-view. I'm trying to think if I read even one single blog written by a man, and I don't think I do. (I do read two comic-strip blogs by men ((Bad Machinery and xkcd)), but that's different.) It's similar on Twitter, where I think I only follow one guy. Total. Everyone else is a girl, I'm pretty sure. It isn't a policy: it's that I check out a guy's blog or Twitter stream, and it fails to appeal to me enough for me to subscribe to it.

I know that back in my Single Days it was considered awfully cool and sexy for a hetero girl to claim to get along better with guys than with girls. I believe I said it myself, probably repeatedly, probably while flipping my hair, probably while hanging around with a group of guys and avoiding the girls. And I MEANT it, too! But that was full-on flirting/seeking when I did it, because it turns out that if there's no opportunity for a romantic relationship, I'd WAY rather talk to a woman. (If it's about romance, then I'm really more of a GUY'S girl. You know, not like those OTHER girls.) And even when I was single, I didn't read more books by men, and I don't think I would have read more blogs by men or identified more with the male point of view.

But I know this is not the way things are for ALL woman. (Not everyone is exactly the same! I am a brilliant statistician and observer of human nature!) I know there are MANY women who read pretty much only books by men, or follow just as many male bloggers as female bloggers, or whatever. So here's what I'm interested in knowing: Where are YOU on the spectrum? Are you in the market for a romantic relationship or not, and has that affected where you are on the spectrum? What proportion of the blogs you read are by women/men? What proportion of the Twitter accounts you follow are by women/men? What proportion of the books you read are by women/men (and are they woman's/man's-eye-view books, or more like non-fiction)?

April 2, 2012

11/22/63 and Ready Player One

I read two books recently: 11/22/63 (the new Stephen King) and Ready Player One (Ernest Cline).

(photo from Amazon.com)

The Stephen King one was exactly what I like to read from him: basic suspenseful-and-somewhat-supernatural storytelling, without the need to repeat nonsense words over and over in parentheses and/or italics to try to make them creepy. Or rather, only a LITTLE of that. (I never did find "Jimla" a creepy word, despite his efforts. It felt to me like he didn't find it very creepy either.)

It's a time-travel/do-over book, which I like. If someone described the plot to me, though, I'd feel a little pre-bored: someone goes back in time to stop Kennedy from being shot. The Kennedy assassination is a good event to try to stop because it's so classic---but because it's so classic, I'm tired of thinking/talking/hearing about it. That faded quickly as I started reading, because the book isn't really about the event he's trying to stop, it's about everything else involved in trying to live in a different time (he has to go back 5 years before the assassination), and it's about the various issues involved in trying to change the past. There are only a couple of yucky/scary scenes, and they're typical of a scary murder mystery or something (and you pretty much know how it's going to go, so you can skim without missing important things), not the Horrible Horrifying Horror I might be already dreading when I start an S.K. book (not like I could complain if I found some, considering it is A STEPHEN KING).

As usual, it could have used someone to go in and take out two to three hundred pages, but it's not like my skimmers are broken. I wondered why the narrator kept agitating about leaving Lee Harvey Oswald's kids fatherless if he (the narrator) killed him (L.H.O.), since if he (the narrator) DIDN'T kill him (L.H.O.), he (L.H.O.) was going to get killed shortly afterward anyway. I objected a bit to the love interest, a 6'2", 150-pound charmingly klutzy blonde virgin with huge tracts of land, who loves! sex! as soon as our narrator introduces her to it, and keeps referring to herself in the third person. I never felt like she was real or that I could see what was special about her. I felt the same about the narrator, though: he seemed like an idealized version of the author a man: A writer! A master engaging teacher who really gets the students to CARE! Tall and slim and handsome and resourceful! Free of flaws! A good dancer, and attractive to busty blondes!

So. I liked it. I thought the ending was good and made sense. I even recommended the book to BOTH my parents, and I would never recommend "a Stephen King book" to them.

Ready Player One, on the other hand, I recommended to Paul, and to 7th-grade Rob. I think the only reason it's not on the Young Adult shelf is that most of the references are to 1980s stuff. It's for people who grew up in the '80s---but it's a young-adult fantasy (high school students are awesome! and smarter than adults! and fully able to take care of themselves! and they know what's wrong with the world!) so I thought geek-in-training Rob would like it.

(photo from Amazon.com)

The plot is set in an impoverished future, when guys born in the 1970s are in their sixties and starting to die off. One of them is a Bill Gates / Steve Jobs type but way less socially functional, a multi-billionaire who dies leaving his entire estate to whoever finds an Easter egg (a little surprise hidden in the software) in his giant virtual world. The whole world looks for it, and five years later no one has even solved the first clue. We tune in just in time for a high school student to find the first one, and to watch him and his friends fight a huge band of grown-ups trying to cheat their way into finding it first.

I liked it fine, but I did a lot of skimming: if we'd been talking about Benetton Colors and slouch socks, it would have been more the '80s I remembered; Atari games and D&D are not tune-in points for me. And the young adult shelf is not part of my usual prowl, so I was rolling my eyes at the dialogue. But I still thought it was good, and I think it would be AMAZING for someone who got the video game / D&D stuff, and/or for anyone who likes young adult dystopian fiction.