I have a wedding and a bar mitzvah to go to in New York City in May. In perusing my closet, I decided that I really have several dresses that would be perfectly appropriate, and there's not much need to buy a new dress (especially since I have a very good friend who's offered to let me go shopping in her closet too). But all my dressy pumps are either one-hit-wonders that go with a specific bridesmaid dress or other than I once wore, or they are black. That's because I tend to get all dressy in the winter, and black is practical.
So I decided that if I could make do with dresses, I could buy a new pair of shoes instead, in a design I've been pining for for ages: peep toe pumps. Something springy. I chose these:
Stunning, right? And the thing is, a muted sage green goes with at least FIVE dresses I already have, not to mention one I'm in the midst of making.
But the thing is, it turns out, they're kind of iridescent.
I'm not sure how I feel about that. They certainly didn't look even the slightest bit glow-y on the website I bought them from.
So now I need your help. Are they still beautiful? Or do they look a little Wizard-of-Oz gone green? Should I return them and keep hunting? (I have till mid-May.)
In case the dress options make a difference, they include: a streamlined celery green linen; a full and floaty 1950s style chocolate brown batiste; a black dress of vertical stripes in alternating satin ribbon and black "illusion" fabric -- fitted on top, widely flowing at below-knee hem; a white eyelet tailored coat dress (still under construction); and two patterned simple summer dresses (Ann Taylor-sundress style, not Target-sundress style).
What do you think? Are the shoes flashy? Garish? Great? Please help.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
I have a wedding and a bar mitzvah to go to in New York City in May. In perusing my closet, I decided that I really have several dresses that would be perfectly appropriate, and there's not much need to buy a new dress (especially since I have a very good friend who's offered to let me go shopping in her closet too). But all my dressy pumps are either one-hit-wonders that go with a specific bridesmaid dress or other than I once wore, or they are black. That's because I tend to get all dressy in the winter, and black is practical.
Friday, January 30, 2009
First, I had to spend 45 minutes taking an online module on preventing sexual harassment that was mandatory for work. Let me preface this by saying that I think sexual harassment in the workplace (or anywhere else, for that matter) is a serious issue, and I'm all for education towards its prevention. HOWEVER. I scored 100% on the pretest at the beginning of the module. You know, the test where they give you a whole slew of scenarios, and you have to say whether the events can or cannot legally be construed as sexual harassment. Then, after 45 minutes of module-ing, I took the post-test. You know, the one that actually counts before you can print out your little certificate to take to your boss to prove you completed the module. And I only scored 93%. It's true. After 45 minutes of careful education, my intelligence on this subject matter has diminished. Do you think I should have told the test-feedback form that little tidbit?
Then, Husband and I went to go test-drive a car that he'd found listed on eBay. As if buying a car on eBay weren't weird enough (really, shouldn't eBay purchases be limited to things your children will play with or you will wear or read? And that cost under three digits, never mind five? But I digress.) The car was being offered by a local dealership, so we had lunch and went to check it out. It was quite a very nice car, in fact. But the car itself (and the fact that in the end, we did not buy it) are completely irrelevant to the inanity of my Thursday, except for the mere coincidence of them being the occasion of my encounter with something like this:
Now, before you get your panties in a twist and think I've stolen some nice girl's Flickr photo of her grandpa at a museum to make some mocking point about a car dealership, let me just tell you that that up there, my friends, is a photo of a statue. Don't believe me? " Go check out the place I found it. Only because the car dealership was not a museum but a car dealership, the photo-realistic, 3-D old guy THEY had installed wasn't sitting on a bench wearing loafers. Oh, no. He was sitting on a cheap metal chair, wearing plaid old man pants (no offense to any of my male readers), a faded golf shirt that didn't really match the pants (In fairness, what shirt matches white pants bearing orange and red stripes to create a plaid?), an old baseball cap, and a pair of Birkenstocks. The statue was so realistic that the man had grungy toenails. Seriously.
I started at him for a while, trying to figure out if he was real or not, when I suddenly realized that the washed-up mechanic who was allowed to hang out behind the main desk at the front of the place out of courtesy for his many long years of service to the company would not have been wearing sandals without socks on a very snowy day in January in Michigan. Hence, he had to be a statue, his slight goosebumps, realistic skin tone, and dirty toenails notwithstanding.
I will be honest here. He totally creeped me out.
Then I found out that the staff has named him "Mr. Wiener." Not pronounced why-ner but pronounced wee-ner. Nice.
There's really nothing to say to that. So we left the dealership. I expect weird dreams of lifelike statues staring at me to haunt me all night long.
Then, top it all off, I actually had to Google "life like statue of old man to buy" in order to find this picture for you. As if I were dying to make such a surreal purchase myself.
My day could only get stranger if I won the lottery without buying a ticket.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Or, of course, (d) no one you know is actually on Twitter, and you sound dumb even just mentioning it.
But then I realized that there is some nice lack of pressure in the whole 140 character thing. So here's my last week, in tweets.
Saturday. Know what's really irritating? Doing eleventy-hundred loads of laundry all day & still being unable to find clean pj's at night.
Sunday. FYI: Playing snow baseball at dusk with a five year old involves a lot of standing around while someone looks for the ball.
Monday. "Going out for a beer after teaching (i.e. 9:30pm) will perk me right up!" Irrationality, thy name is over-tired mother.
Tuesday. Just discovered load in washer from five days ago. My laundry room is so cold that the pj's still smell just fine.
Wednesday. Internet is amazing for the most random things: need to fix a 50 yr old doll? There's a bulletin board that will help.
Thursday. Have lost the will to communicate in complete sentences. Will forgo subjects of sentences from now on as more efficient.
Because this post could stand to get a little more random, am also including three of my most favorite actual tweets that I think no one actually read:
What does a mother have to do to get directions for making Optimus Prime in origami? It's harder to find online than you'd think. 7:03 AM Nov 4th
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Five year olds are both inquisitive and creative. If one of them locates a tiny little hole in his down jacket, and spies the end of a feather poking through, he WILL remove the feather. If you are driving a car containing such a child, he may start loudly demanding, "Say SOMETHING. Say something so that I can see if I can hear you." Be prepared for the revelation that he has done something unthinkable with giant handfuls of down. Do not look at him to see what he has done until you are at a point where you can close your eyes and laugh until you are weak. Because when you turn around in your seat, he MAY resemble a Great Horned Owl, with delicate feathers of downy fluff poking out of both ears and clinging to his hair, and it MAY turn out that he has shoved an astonishing quantity of the stuff into his ears to see if he could make ear plugs, and you MAY find yourself insistently commanding that he remove the feathers before they get stuck, and simultaneously wanting to wet yourself with laughter as a whole clown car's worth of down is removed from an ear canal the size of a teaspoon. (Image from here.)
Also, don't be surprised if he tries to reload all that down into the jacket through the pinhead sized hole, if you tell him that the down is what keeps him warm, and he'd better not take out any more.
* * * * *
If you continue to indulge in homemade macaroni and cheese as your winter comfort food, and then compound that by discovering that you can easily make a 1/3 batch of fresh, warm, gooey Rice Krispie Treats at 9pm, it does not matter how much you exercise. You will not lose weight.
* * * * *
If you try to change the cartridge in your kitchen sink faucet to stop the incessant leaking that is driving you batty, and you choose to do so a mere 48 hours before hosting a birthday party at your house, be prepared to host said party in a kitchen with no running water whatsoever. (Yes, this also means you cannot run your dishwasher.) It can be done, and everyone will still enjoy the cake. But it's somewhat more difficult to orchestrate than if you'd just left the leaky sink alone for two more days and gotten all "I Too Can Be A Plumber" after the party instead of before.
Also, you never realize how wonderful running water in the kitchen is until you have to fill cooking pots with hot water in the bathroom and haul that to the kitchen for cooking and washing up.
Getting all "I Too Can Be A Pioneer" is less gratifying than playing plumber.
* * * * *
If that little voice in the back of your head tells you that you ought to pop that spare swimsuit into your gym bag, you really should listen. Because apparently that little voice knows that you will shortly trek to the gym with two children, a large lunch, and many other items in tow, but will leave your running shoes (which were just hanging on the strap of the gym bag) at home on the mudroom floor. And the little voice further knows that the only swimsuit currently in your gym bag is a two piece surfer ensemble in size 5T.
And the little voice further knows that because you can't swim laps and you can't go running, but you are a stubborn woman who has just gotten two children out of the house and to the gym in time to meet her friend there for a work out, you are the type to decide to "simply" use the rowing machine and lift weights -- in clogs.
Moral: even if the little voice doesn't have the words "I told you so" in its vocabulary, it is always right. If it tells you to bring a swimsuit, you will invariably need a swimsuit. In all things, listen to the little voice. (Little voices, plural, are something else entirely. You might want to try to make them go away.)
Monday, January 26, 2009
It's been a busy weekend at our house, what with the trying on of rock climbing harnesses, the eating of Chinese buffet, the purchasing of silk ties for a five-year-old who has a newly-engaged uncle, and the Over-Excited Spending of the Holiday Cash. My kids have only been to Toys R Us once before, and that was to pick out a present for a cousin, so the Spending of the Gift Cards was an event worthy of a lot of capital letters.
It is sweet to say that the Tie Purchasing Bonanza was met with nearly equal excitement to the loooong choosing of the perfect Transformer in the prior store. Son has told me that, ideally, he would like to start wearing ties every day -- well, at least every day that there is a tea party at school, for a start. (There is a tea party once a year; the boys wear ties; Son has never owned a tie and felt sadly under-dressed at last year's fete.) In a fit of DIY creativity, mixed with aversion to all things polyester, I decided to let Son choose a real tie from the men's rack in a pattern small enough that I could simply cut the tie down to the right length for him. He is delighted with his Williamsburg blue silk tie, and wants it shortened immediately. The wedding for which he will need to wear this will not occur until May, so I'm stalling as much as I can, in the hopes that he will not stain the thing beyond all wearing before we even get to New York for the nuptials.
We also went to a nearby ice festival. This is, obviously, the right thing to do when the temperature is in the teens and the ice-carving teams hail from as far away as Japan. The weather was not as cold as it often is in mid-January here, so some of the ice was not quite as clear as I have seen it in the past. Nonetheless, the sculptures were pretty incredible.
There were animals of all descriptions, glimmering in the afternoon light, dashing away from us, loping towards us, or howling at the moon. The pack of wolves someone had sculpted around a real tree was wonderful, but unfortunately was situated at the edge of the park, so that is was only possible to photograph with lots of bright distracting cars for a background. The beauty of this ice really is best appreciated with a very neutral background, since its translucence picks up so much that is distracting in colors.
Still, this hefty moose moseyed along unawares,
while his neighbor cow just begging to be stared down.
There were race cars.
And a simple guitar that was astonishingly clear. One must wonder how it is possible first to freeze ice so clear and then how on earth one could carve, scratch and sculpt it while retaining the clarity.
But my very favorite of all was an enormous mermaid, rising nearly ten feet above a sea of frozen waves, icy hair streaming in the winter wind, hands raised, as if in thanksgiving towards the brilliant blue heavens.
Art indeed. And what could be better than an art show attended in snow pants and followed up by hot chocolate and hot soup? It's not quite a gallery opening, but so much more family-awe-inducing.
Friday, January 23, 2009
winding sinuously up the trunk
along the branch
over the twig
you lie poised
a snow mouse, perhaps
or at least, no warming trend
* * * * *
In the "Yippee! Awards!" category of news, I found out yesterday that I am a finalists in the Parenting/Mom blog category of the Culture 11 LadyBlog awards. Voting lasts from now through this coming Monday, and you can only vote once in each category. If you have a spare few clicks in you right now, I would be most appreciative of your support.
Also, Blog Nosh Magazine has made it to the finalists list in several categories of the 2009 Bloggies (you know, the really really giant, Big Mama of blog awards). Mr. Lady is up for Best Canadian Blog, Secret Agent Mama is up for Best Photography. And if you click on over to the voting, you're likely to find a few more of your favorites worthy of your vote. Again, you can only vote once per category, so make your votes count!
Good luck to all the blogs we love.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
As far as I can tell, there are two ways humans seek to understand their world: with numbers and with stories. Many things can be quantified -- the rate of polar ice cap melting, the dollar amount it takes to live the meagerest of lives, the number of children who do not have health insurance. All of those can also be qualified -- with stories of drowned polar bears, of members of Congress who spent a week trying to live on $5 a day in foodstamps, of a specific child who died for lack of what would have been routine medical care if only she'd had insurance.
Some people prefer the numbers. They like data. They want facts. They envision change as being about shifting the numbers that make us uncomfortable more towards numbers with which we can live. (Unacceptable: the 8-9% of the ice lost per decade means there could be no polar ice at all within my lifetime. Acceptable: I'm not sure; ask the scientists.) Most often, foundations, granting institutions, researchers, governments agencies, and other bodies with authority to set protocols or disburse funds work in numbers. They think in calculated effects. They want "proof."
Then, there are the other people who prefer stories. These are ones who, when they hear that the United States ranks behind at least 19 other countries in the world in literacy rates, shrug and feel okay with the fact that we have a 99% adult literacy rate. But when they hear the story of their neighbor's father's near-death-experience because he had never admitted he couldn't read and therefore overdosed on his prescription medication by accident because he misunderstood the dosing directions, those same people run right on down to their local public library and volunteer to teach in the adult literacy classes.
I'm not here to say one way of processing the world is better than the other, that one type of "evidence" should be more convincing than another. I understand perfectly well that different types of information are needed for different types of decision making and different calls to action.
But here's what I will say: I think there is a sad and worrisome lack of recognition in many people's discussions of education today of the power of stories -- of language -- to shape the world.
In the rhetoric of improving our educational system, we hear all the time about the need to better students in science and math, to render them a technology generation that can compete in a global marketplace. In these high-flown speeches, no one says much about reading and writing. The old educational model that assumed a college degree created a Man of Letters has been replaced by the notion that a college degree is necessary for employment. In many ways, this transformation is welcome. First of all, obviously, because now college degrees can create Women of things as well. And secondly, because the assumption that education has a purpose (rather than simply being the elite province of the rich who don't have to labor for a living) is democratizing and empowering.
But we have lost something as well. Those old-fashioned degrees of the nineteenth-century, or even of the 1950s, were what we would now call Liberal Arts degrees. They were degrees that demanded rigorous and sustained reading, careful thinking, the ability to choose one's words wisely, and the honing of one's rhetoric.
Nowadays, the majority of college students, quite practically and reasonably, want their college degrees to give them skills. To prepare them for the workplace. To net them jobs. Of course, there are still "elite" institutions that operate on liberal arts principles. But the vast majority of college students see college as a stepping stone for a particular career. Hence, they do not major in the Humanities, because, of course, English is not a job title. Nor is History or Philosophy. These are subjects, but they are not careers (unless, and only if, you add the word Teacher after them).
They do not major in English because their parents say to them, a tone of skepticism in their voices, "what are you going to do with a degree in English?" And so, they choose Accounting instead. And they take the bare minimum of required courses in the Humanities as freshmen and move on, some of them gratefully, and others regretfully because they love language; they just don't know how they could be employed as an English.
But here's what you learn when you take Humanities classes: the power of narrative. I don't mean that you learn how to identify metaphors or define allegory (though you may learn those things), but that you learn how to analyze language to find what makes it tick. You learn that perspective matters. You do not need this knowledge just so that you can appreciate how Poe verbally renders the relentless walling-in of Fortunato at the end of "The Cask of Amontillado" by having Montressor count courses of brick, row by row, punctuated by Fortunato's screams. For while that story's end is dramatic and powerful, the lesson that one should take away is not merely that Poe sure could write a creepy story, but that stories are always told by the survivors. That perspective matters because books are written by victors. For if histories are told by those who have triumped, then it is vital to recall that these may in fact be unreliable narrators. Indeed, those triumphed over might tell quite another tale, if only they were not entombed alive behind walls of another's making.
Humanities courses teach us to step outside our own perspectives. They offer us critical theories that serve as new lenses for reading and open our minds to new voices. In analyzing literature, we learn to think about how narratives are constructed for particular effect and how to question the intentions behind those effects. We learn to be more savvy consumers of language that is designed to persuade as we ourselves become more proficient at both analysis and persuasion. In reading history, we come to think about the past not as a series of knowable facts, but as a tapestry woven from details into a story -- and we learn to ask who else might have taken those same filaments and woven them into a different picture.
A thorough grounding in Humanities subjects may not result in a job title, but it surely results in a better citizen of the world -- a person able to think critically and carefully, to assess situations from multiple perspectives, to deploy language as a powerful tool.
It is no accident that the greatest of politicians have also been great rhetoricians, able not merely to have good ideas and brilliant insights into what will make the future brighter, but also able to convey those ideas to people in a way that makes them hopeful rather than skeptical, in a way that makes them feel a part of something larger than themselves.
I watched the representatives from the Big Three auto companies struggle in their first hearing on Capitol Hill, and I knew what everyone knew: they failed because they didn't have a concrete plan. But I also knew what my colleagues knew: they failed because they didn't have a story. How much more powerful their pitch would have been had they told the story of the struggling Detroit worker, willing to retrain, retool, take a paycut, anything to make ends meet and keep his chin up, proud to be a third generation Ford man. They needed better numbers and less whining. They also needed a better narrative of what the demise of the giant manufacturing sector would mean not only for the man in Detroit, but for businesses all across the country that are initmately tied into this industry.
If any one of those guys sitting there had been an English major in college, he would have known that.
I'm not saying that everyone should run out and dump their "useful" majors in the Business school to become Philosophy or English majors. But I do think we need to take a good hard look at the idea of teaching skills rather than teaching to job titles. If "science and technology and math" (none of which are job titles, by the way) are good priorities to have, then so are "reading and writing."
Without the power of the pen (or keyboard), the brightest minds will find few receptive to their ideas. But, I tell my students, when they ask me "what you can do with an English major": with the power of the language in one's corner, the possibilities are endless.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Saturday was Son's birthday party. His FIFTH birthday. I still am having a hard time getting my head around that one.
It was, of course, a Transformers birthday -- complete with pinata, Optimus Prime masks, and a theme-based cake. Of course, initially, he wanted ALL the Transformers on the cake. I managed to convince him that I was simply not that good with an icing piping bag. I tried to convince him just to let me decorate the cake with one big Transformer. But, obviously, it was too hard for him to choose WHICH guy from the many that he loves. (Disclaimer: he has never seen the Transformers movie. He, like all the boys in his class, apparently is able to learn the names and powers of such characters through osmosis or the city drinking water. I don't know which.) Finally, we settled on the idea of decorating the cake with planets -- Earth and Cybertron (the Transformers' native soil, as it were) -- and then we would print little pictures of the Transformers and mount them on toothpicks and stand them up all over the planets to signal their journey from one to the other. Son thought it would be good to give Earth to the Transformer Autobots (the good guys, in case you were wondering), and Cybertron to the Decepticons (the bad guys, FYI). (Aside: if you have a son, you, too, will learn all of these things and more -- such as the "real names when they aren't wearing their suits" of all superheroes ever invented. Five points to anyone who can offer the real names of Captain America or the Invisible Woman, without googling them. It took Husband only about 3 seconds to be able to reel those off.)
By the time we finished decorating the cake, and putting on eight gazillion stars, Son decided we didn't need to put any Transformers at all. Which was fine with me.
The party itself was a lot of fun, if somewhat wild, between the pinata competitions and the chasing after each other with light-sabers. What did I expect?
Here's what I have to say about having a five year old: there should be names for the afflictions that come with the territory.
First, there is Legofingeritis: the painful tenderness of the pads in your thumb and first two fingers that is the direct result of spending two hours assembling the tiniest legos ever made into a catapult that could heft a large dog. (Not that I don't love legos, mind you. Just that the excitement of birthday legos requires INSTANT and SUSTAINED attention to their assembly.)
Second, there is Transformer-graine: the headache produced by by asked 437 times in one day to "just transform this guy back into a robot/truck, Mama." I don't know about you, but I think that you should be required to have an advanced degree in engineering even to be able to purchase Transformers. They are, in many ways, a fascinating 3-D puzzle. But when your newly-five year old has three new Transformers of the difficult kind (some are much easier to transform than others; the big ones require a Master Puzzler), you will be doing much transforming for many subsequent days.
I do not mean this to sound all gripe-ish. This is merely intended to be informative, should you be approaching Kindergarten with a son of your own one day. In fact, Son is mostly a delightful child, and he told me, with a contented sigh as I tucked him in bed at night, that the day of his actual birthday had been "the best ever."
He also, this morning, did a manfully kind Big Brother thing in the car on the way to school. Daughter was crying and crying and crying that her hands were cold. (In her defense, it was only 10 degrees out, and the car heat takes a while to kick in when it's that cold.) First, he tried to play a clapping game with her, to take her mind off it. When she couldn't (or wouldn't) do that, he leaned across the seat and put her mittens on for her. He spoke softly and gently, shh, shh, shh'd her most kindly, rubbed her hands between his own, and generally did everything he could to warm her up until we got to school. All completely unprompted by me. It was lovely. After we dropped her off in her classroom, I walked him back to his.
"Hey," I said. "I need to tell you something." He looked up. "Thank you for being such a good big brother in the car this morning. That was very kind of you to help your sister like that. I was really proud of you."
He beamed up at me, then suddenly got a little shy with the praise and buried his face in my coat.
So that is five years old: many good intentions; some real moments of altruism; pride, and shyness, all rolled into one.
Oh, and a nearly-frantic love of Transformers.
Of course, this would not be a birthday in our house without the obligatory Making of the Cake photos. We do nothing by halves. Including licking cake bowls.
Who couldn't love that face?
Happy Birthday, my darling boy!
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
There is a very interesting article in the upcoming issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education about some recent studies on parenting. The short version of the findings is that genetics seems to matter more than nurture in the long run in terms of shaping the adult a child will become (with some exceptions for abusive/traumatic events in childhood).
The most interesting part of the article to me, however, was the finding that parents now (both mothers and fathers) are spending more time with their children than they did 30 years ago, often to the detriment of their own sleep or happiness because they are so overextended -- but there is no appreciable benefit for all this sacrifice. Here are the concluding paragraphs of the article:
. . .It turns out that there is some really good news and some mildly bad news. The really good news is that we can stop worrying about the horrible fate of the next generation. The bad news is that parents today are making large "investments" in their children that are unlikely to pay off.
Now if parents enjoyed every minute of child care, there wouldn't be any bad news. Parents' huge time commitment would be successful consumption, not failed investment. If you study parents at the next children's event you attend, though, you will probably notice a lot of tired, grouchy faces. Happiness researchers confirm that impression. According to a study by a team of scholars led by the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, mothers enjoy child care just a little more than housework, and a lot less than watching television. As an economist, I have to suspect that a major reason for parents' lack of enthusiasm for their role is simply diminishing marginal utility: Average enjoyment of parenting is low because parents are overdoing it.
You might respond, "Yes, but at least parental attention makes the children happier." It's striking, then, that even kids don't seem to want all this parental attention. One notable study by Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute found that while most parents believe their children want more face time, only a tiny minority of children actually do. In contrast, about a third of children wish their parents were less stressed and tired. What kids seem to want from their parents isn't more time; it's a better attitude.
Ironically, then, a bird's-eye view of parenting research suggests that it would be good for the world if parents stopped trying so hard. Parents would be better off, because they would be doing less of something that — through excessive familiarity — has lost its charm. Children wouldn't be worse off, because parental "investment" has little payoff anyway. In fact, if we take children at their word, they'd be better off. Kids know better than anyone that if mom and dad aren't happy, nobody's happy.
Now, I haven't read all the studies cited here, so I'm hardly in a position to refute these researchers' claims on the basis of my experience with my own personal two children. But I do find it striking that anyone is willing to write publicly that "mothers enjoy child care just a little more than housework." While there are plenty of people who will throw up their hands and cry foul at such a generalization, here's the thing: I think it's true. Doing creative projects, going for sledding expeditions, reading stories, cooking dinner together for daddy...these are all extremely enjoyable. But "child care" -- changing the 10th poopy diaper of the morning when the infant has rotovirus, cleaning up the third glass of (expensive) spilled organic milk of the morning, mediating the squabbles of siblings who are calling each other "Baby Diaper" as if it is a slur -- these things are certainly a lot less fun than folding laundry. At least, if you have laundry that never talks back.
And whether or not you differentiate between activity time and child care, whether or not you prefer sweeping a quiet floor to explaining a matter of principle to a smart-aleck four-year-old, the last paragraph of that article is really stunning: LESS time, BETTER spent is actually preferable to MORE time frittered, grumbled, and worn away.
This, intuitively, I know to be true. When I am happy, my children are happy. When I am over-tired, they are crabby and push all my buttons. If I let them watch three episodes of Little Bear so that I can take a nap, we lose an hour and a half of together time. But we typically gain an entire afternoon of harmony and activities, whereas before, we would have hit Critical Meltdown Mode at 4pm, occasioned by a lot of raised voices and crying (mine, theirs, who can tell the difference any more?).
While I am not sure I buy all of the conclusions of these studies, and I think a healthy dose of skepticism, or at least "is this right for my family?-ism" is necessary when reading any such results, I will admit to feeling somewhat liberated by the notion that I don't have to enroll my children in twelve sports, and I don't have to hover 24/7, and in fact, we might all be happier and better adjusted if I don't. I will say that this concept fits well with my predisposition to want my children to grow up to become independent thinkers, people who are capable of enjoying time spent alone without contrived entertainment. In short, I want them to be creative and inquisitive, and I think it requires not being led all the time to develop that.
Then again, maybe I just want to take a nap.
And how to I tell the difference between a cop out and good parenting? How do you?
Monday, January 19, 2009
Those Romantic poets, despite their sexual indiscretions (yes, Percy Bysshe, it's true) and their predilections for "borrowing" images and ideas from their sisters without acknowledgment (I'm looking at you, Willy Wordsworth), sure were right about one thing: Nature can be truly sublime.
Now, I know that everyone right now is all "weather this..." and "weather that..." on Twitter and blog alike. I'm no exception; I've been known to tweet "car's outside thermometer reading in the single digits on the way to work this morning" with the best of them. I sympathize with those who are tired of the shoveling already or who are living in the near-arctic temperatures of Alaska. And I know I probably make some people sick with my rhapsodies about snow. Admittedly, I do love the stuff more than most people who have to move it around, dress the kids for it, slop through parking lots in it, and generally cope with it for five months of the year.
But let me just tell you about yesterday.
With a good 15" or more of base snow, we had a nice little storm on Saturday afternoon and throughout the night that left us another five or six inches. It fell steadily, with a deeply quiet hush, as new snow upon new snow upon new snow can only sound. The view out my front door at dusk was serenely stormy, if you'll allow me the oxymoron.
By Sunday morning, our picnic table looked out of place on our porch -- an interloping contraption of metal, no longer floating in a sea of white but threatening to drown under it.
I went out with my shovel to clear the driveway and found myself stopping periodically not because the work was hard (it was) or took a long time (it did) but because the world was so beautiful that I just had to stop and stare for a while. Small flakes tumbled lazily out of the sky as I worked, refreshingly chill on cheeks that were hot from exercise. When the sun could spare a moment to peek out from the clouds, the trees cast tall shadows across the pristine expanse of what used to be my lawn.
The air was not nearly as cold as it had been the past few days, the wind was still, and the only sounds were the scoop and scrape of my shovel, the swooshing hiss of snow landing on snowbanks, and that peculiar squeak that boots make if you step just right on a spot of compacted snow. It took me nearly and hour and a half to clear the driveway and dig out the knee-deep, dense ridge of snow the plow left had behind. That bank cut us off from the street, leaving our brick house situated on a rise of ground, as if we lived on our own little island of snow. I broke it down, reconnecting us through that wide expanse of shoveled driveway to the wider expanse of plowed street -- everything still white-coated, connected, a part of this winter-scape.
I love the time of winter when our road ceases to be blacktop, when so much snow has fallen that our driveway has a permacoating. There is something comforting about the way the snow muffles sound, about the way the eye has to strain just a bit to discern where the yard ends and the road begins, about the implication of connection from one house to the next as we all are linked by this map of quiet trails.
The air is clear and bright on a winter afternoon after a storm, the sky, a mere memory of blue, not a thing of blueness itself, the branches still weighted with the burden of flakes.
And did you know? If you approach a fresh snow bank
and look closely enough
you can see individual flakes.
And no two are ever quite the same?
It's enough to take the breath away, if you let it.
Some days, you should let it.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
You may remember my recent outrage over the short-sightedness of the CPSIA legislation designed to protect consumers from lead and pthalates in children's products. (Don't know what I'm talking about? Read the original post here.) I am pleased to say that the power of individual voices -- of bloggers and moms, craftspeople and Etsy shop owners -- CAN and DOES make a difference. I just got the following email from the Handmade Toy Alliance:
Thank you for your support on change.org! Because of your votes, 'Save Small Business from the CPSIA' is now one of the top ten ideas for change in America on change.org. These ideas were presented to President-elect Obama's change.gov/transition team at a press event in Washington DC this past Friday, January 16th.
With 12,280 votes from supporters, our issue is now part of a campaign to increase national awareness of the lack of provisions for small business in HR4040, the CPSIA, and bring about positive changes to the law. In the upcoming week, we will be working with the change.org team to engage an appropriate non profit group to help us further our cause.
A forum has been opened for discussion on how to most effectively turn our idea into a successful national campaign, and the Handmade Toy Alliance would love your suggestions on how to bring about this Idea for Change. You can join the conversation here:
You may wish to join in the conversation using the links above. But even if you don't, you should know that our voices DO get heard, that we have strength in numbers. This is an issue that was largely out of the mainstream media until bloggers and other online sources started paying attention and raising awareness. And now, it's in the top 10 agenda items the incoming administration will consider.
That, my friends, is a reason to speak out, speak up, and spread the word when the cause warrants.
Friday, January 16, 2009
We have a new authority in our house. He knows all the rules. He knows everything there is to know about procedures, advice, the matching of outfits, the eating of vegetables, and the proper washing of hands. He is, in short, an Expert in the Universe.
Whenever Daughter announces, with confidence, some household rule ("First milk, then juice") or some preschool rule ("you have to take your boots off before you can go in Miss Tracey's room"), the conversation always goes the same way:
Daughter: [serenely spouts rule of choice, followed by] Isn't dat wight, Mama?
Me: That's right, sweetie.
Daughter: [nods like the All-Knowing Oz, smiling slightly.] Dat's wight. [nod grows more emphatic, as tone of voice becomes more firm] My Blue Man said so.
The first time I heard "My Blue Man" quoted as the authority on something, I was more than a little surprised. But since the guy seemed to have his head screwed on straight, I didn't quibble. He was, after all, helping reinforce the "eat all your vegetables before you get dessert" rule.
The next few times "My Blue Man" surfaced, I started thinking it was a little weird. But I quickly developed a Sophisticated Psychological Theory (based on no actual experience in the field of psychology) that she was using her Blue Man as a kind of surrogate authority figure to help her remember the rules of her little world. Her Blue Man helped confirm for her the things she might otherwise resist or forget; he was a placeholder for authority when I wasn't around. In short, I assumed he was helping her figure out boundaries.
Then, I began hearing the Blue Man quoted in all sorts of random and un-rule-like situations. "You have to wear your pink owl socks with your stripesy pants, wight Mama? My Blue Man said so." And "Mama and me like de stems [of broccoli] but Daddy and Brother don't, wight Mama? My Blue Man said so." And so on...
I don't know about your house, but in our house, we get to wear our pink owl socks anytime we like, and no one gets to tell us otherwise. And as for the Jack-Spratt-and-his-wife principles of broccoli eating, well, they aren't technically rules, so much as preferences. I was starting to think that this Blue Man was getting a little too uppity and overly-fond of making rules in situations that didn't really warrant rules.
Then I remembered that it's a little bit difficult to get all hard-nosed with an invisible friend (invisible policeman?), so I took a deep breath and decided to stand down. However, I did start wishing that My Blue Man were a little more like Nigi.
Nigi is Son's invisible pal. He started out very small, so that Son could carry him around easily in his pocket. For a while, he grew very quickly, so that by the time Son turned three, Nigi was the same size Son was. For a while, there was a whole Nigi family, but the mother and father and little sister quickly grew tiresome, so now we're back to just Nigi again. Sometimes Nigi is the same size and age as Son; sometimes he is far larger ("as tall as the house, Mama!"), and sometimes he conveniently shrinks, Alice-like, to be carried around neatly in Son's pocket. On those days, the pocket is in fact an entire house, and it can take some coaxing to get Nigi to leave behind the tv he's watching in there to come and join the fun.
But the thing I like best about Nigi is: he's no bossy boots. He grows and shrinks, gains and loses abilities, laughs, is entertained, and disappears completely at Son's will. That, I think, is as it should be. Aren't the invisible folks supposed to be about control and creativity, about building the world the way you want it, about having a confidante who will always agree with you, a playmate who is always around only when you want that person there, an unconditional friend? That is the beauty and the power of invented companions. They are a sort of extension of the nighttime "lovey" or teddy. They are endowed with bravery if the child is fearful, mischief if the child is meek, chattiness if the child is shy, and so on. They represent all the child is, as well as all the child wants to be. And, they can fit in a pocket, be manipulated and spoken for, so that the child is always in control.
Unless, of course, you are Daughter.
In which case, perhaps, you are mischevious, chatty, daring and rebellious enough, at two-and-a-half, that the most appealing kind of invisible friend you could possibly have is one that will give you some relief from the frenetic pace of hiding behind curtains when you've been told to "come here!" by bossing you around a little. It does seem counter-intuitive that a child who has a mother perfectly capable of nagging repeatedly to "put on your shoes" and "eat your carrots," should choose to invent an invisible friend who all about making rules.
Then again, it just might make some sense: my little contrary Daughter has come up with My Blue Man just because he's exactly the opposite of what all the rule books say an imaginary friend should be.
I don't know whether to applaud her creativity or hide under the covers until she get past her teenaged years.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Last night, BusyDad posted this picture to Twitter with the caption "Wednesdays at work." (Go ahead, click on over and pop on back. It'll be worth it. And it will make what follows far more comprehensible.)
So I responded with some silly tweet about how professor's offices used to look like that pretty much every day -- except without the swank ergonomic mesh chairs and with a whole lot more dark wood paneling, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and tweed jackets. Of course, I had to say all that in 140 characters, so I'm pretty sure the word "ergonomic" wasn't in there. But the point was clear.
He, because he's funny like that, immediately wrote back that I was forgetting about my obligatory pipe.
And I'm telling you all of this because it was the PIPE that got me thinking. More correctly, it was my having forgotten the pipe that got me thinking. How had I missed that obvious accessory? (Apart from the also obvious fact that I don't smoke at all.) It didn't take long to find the answer: my real office is so bad that even the fantasies with some details missing seem extravagant.
In trying to describe my office (my abysmally sub-standard office as per the romantic vision of professors in hand-carved-wood-paneled havens with threadbare Oriental rugs and deep window seats in which to read while the snow falls), I realized three things:
1) I want the offices my undergraduate professors at the University of Vermont had (seriously, wood paneling and built-in bookshelves in a building that was nearly 200 years old);
2) my office is laughable not just by those standards, but really by ANY standards of actual professional work (it would be fine for the office of a volunteer, perhaps, or a graduate student);
3) my office needs more scotch.
Our building is in fact about to receive a renovation, and there is an upcoming meeting with architects to discuss what we are hoping might happen to the classrooms and offices of this aging seven-story hunk of1960s concrete. Do you know what my fondest dream is? The thing that ALL of us professors want most? The ONE thing (in case we can only have one thing) that will make our lives better, our offices more welcoming, our days brighter?
I'll give you some hints:
* it's not windows, though most of our offices don't have those, and the ones we do have don't open;
* it's not new furniture, despite the fact that we have 1960s green Steelcase pressed metal furniture -- giant behemoths of desks, industrial bookshelves, filing cabinets that would have been at home in a newspaper room during the Eisenhower administration;
* it's not an airier floor plan, less prison-like corridors, or room numbering that makes sense by going in order down the halls -- though of course all of those luxuries would be lovely.
It's this: we want them to remove the five inch square metal boxes that protrude from the center of our floors and contain the only electrical outlets in the entire room, and we want new outlets installed in the walls instead. We want this so that we can arrange our office furniture any way we like, instead of in the only configuration that allows access to the outlet. We want this so that our desk chairs no longer roll over our computer cords and disfigure the plugs every time we try to pull up to type. We want this so that we no longer trip over the boxes while talking to a student, thereby removing the last shred of dignity we might have had. We want this so that we no longer sprain our ankles when we go to answer the door or bruise our ankles when we wear heels and then bang into the metal boxes.
We will continue sharing phone lines, so that we never know whether the phone is for us when we answer it. We will subsist without a cleaning staff so that we have to vacuum our own offices. We will stomach the "retro" furniture, the grim lighting, the institutional cinder-block walls, and the prison-like hallways, if only they will get rid of the damn box full of outlets (and its sorry step-sister, the smaller box full of phone jacks) sticking up out of the center of the floor.
It seems pretty modest doesn't it? We have been told, however, that it might not happen because that much electrical work can be mighty expensive. *sigh* A woman can dream...
And now you know why I pine for those two-hundred-year-old, high-ceilinged, wood-paneled enclaves of erudition that were my professors' office when I was an undergraduate. Sure, I bet their windows were drafty, the heating system clanked (it was surely radiators), and they had to bring in their own Oriental rugs if they wanted to cover the vast expanse of wooden flooring. But I'll take those problems any day.
Also? I think my office needs to be closer to BusyDad's for scotch Wednesdays. Do you think the architects can arrange that too?
What's the best or worst part of your office? Got a picture to share? Leave a story or link in the comments, or email me the photo, and I'll do a follow-up post next week so we can all see where you work. I'm working on a prize here; can't say what it will be yet, but there will be something...and it might involve scotch.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Want to hear my latest brainstorm?
Carpet colors should be named after the kinds of dirt they will best hide.
My family room carpet, for example? Its color can perfectly be described as "Coffee Stain." Innumerable cups of coffee have been kicked over, splashed, jostled, and otherwise spread willy-nilly over that floor, and I swear to you that the carpet is the exact same color it was when we bought it. Nary a spot on it. It's not some miracle "stain-free" carpet. It's just that we had the dumb luck to be attracted to a carpet that happens to be the same color as the majority of junk that gets spilled on it. I would say a reasonable, conservative estimate is that the dirt on the dog's paws from the backyard (the porch door opens from this room), plus the spilled coffee, accounts for nearly 85% of the "uh-ohs" that end up on the floor in here. Milk, of course, does not stain in a color, and that comprises at least 10% of the spills, leaving a minuscule amount of other items (at least one of which is beer, which, last time I checked, was also a lovely golden brown) to potentially stain the carpet.
I think carpet manufacturers could make a fortune by honestly labeling their products according to the kinds of things that will be least likely to stain them.
Then busy people like us, who don't have a whole lot of time to waste in carpet stores, and who don't enjoy corralling noisy preschoolers in "boring" public places anyway, could simply march right in and say something like, "What can you show me at different price points in a nice shade of "Watered-down Orange Juice?"
Drink a lot of red wine? You just go in and ask for the "Cabernet" carpets.
Do a lot of gardening? You want either "Grass Stain" or "Loose Dirt" or "Desert Sand" depending on where you live.
All carpet manufacturers should have to produce carpets of exactly the same color names. It would be fine if the shades were subtly different, the piles varied, the fibers were unique, some were pile, and some were Berber. That's where the price variations would come.
I just want to know: which one will be most likely to make it look like I keep a reasonably clean house if I have guests stop by unexpectedly?
I think this has real potential to help consumers out, don't you? Now, why haven't the carpet makers thought of this yet?
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Monday, January 12, 2009
Yesterday morning, I snuggled on the couch with the little ones to watch a movie before breakfast. There was about 10" of new snow outside; it was still more dark than light; and the children, up at 6:30, were still in the mood to cuddle. After watching Ratatouille, Son and I decided to make omelets. As we sat and ate and talked about the movie, I said to him, "You know, you could be a chef if you wanted to, when you grow up."
He made that noise I hate -- a cross between a moan, a grunt, and a squawk of petulance -- and stomped his foot.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"I wanted to be a Super Spy," he said, with only a slight hint of whine in his voice. And not even a twinge of sarcasm.
I knew better than to laugh at this latest aspiration. "It's true," I replied. "Super Spies are much cooler than chefs. You could certainly be a Super Spy if you wanted to be. I just didn't know that's what you wanted."
He nodded, chewing thoughtfully on a giant bite of cheese omelet. "Teddy wants to be a Super Spy too," he announced around the last bits of egg in his mouth. "And he needs a Super Spy Outfit."
"Of course he does," I said promptly, completely relieved that it was not Son who suddenly needed a new suit of what were sure to be very specific clothes.
"He needs a jacket. And a hat. And glasses, of course," he added.
So after the kitchen was clean, we got out the heavy wool felt, needle, thread, and scissors, and set to work to make Teddy a new outfit. The Sheriff's vest we'd made Teddy months before helped convince Son that he could sew as well as I could, so of course, Son had to do the shoulder seams and side seams himself. Unequipped with the patience to let him try to set the sleeves, I managed to convince him that sewing on curves was too tricky, so he let me do that part of the spy jacket.
We had a few mishaps trying to sew on the buttons, but when the jacket was finished it looked...
"hmmmm..." Son said a little doubtfully. "He kind of looks like he's about to get married."
"Don't worry," I said, silently trying to quash mental images of Paddington Bear in his raincoat. "He will look very Super Spy-ish as soon as he gets his hat."
Next up, however, was the glasses, which we fastened out of pipe cleaners. (In case you have to do this yourself: real pipe cleaners, instead of those fuzzy felt crafting wire ones, are excellent for a purpose like this, since the real ones have tiny little wires sticking out of them over their entire length, which are excellent for gripping Teddy fur thereby keeping glasses on Teddy heads.)
Son was immediately enamored and promptly colored them red with a permanent marker.
I discreetly swallowed the Clark Kent references that bubbled up. Also, I secretly congratulated myself that Son doesn't know who the Blues Brothers are.
We moved on to the hat. This was a challenge. I've never made a hat this small before. And wool felt of a weight suitable for a coat, while perfect hat fabric, is not particularly easy to work with on a tiny scale because it is so stiff. I puzzled a little over the pattern, and then showed this picture to Son, hoping it might be acceptable. It would be easy to make in the right shape and size.
He took one look at it and rolled his eyes in practice for his you-just-don't-get-me-mom teenaged years. "That's a Detective hat, not a Super Spy hat," he said, with thinly disguised contempt for the offending article.
Don't ask me how he knows these things.
So, of course, I did what any desperate mother does who is tasked with making a porkpie hat, circumference 9", for an orsine Super Spy: I Tweeted for help.
@JPippert came to my rescue immediately, suggesting doll-making sites might have something useful. (Silly me, I'd been googling for directions for hats for teddy bears. Srsly. Sometimes the life of the mother of a Super Spy can become a little too focused.) She sent me to a great site selling doll-sized hat shapers, and then what I really wanted was a beautiful hat form so I could make Teddy a proper fedora. Who knew one could buy real hat forms that would produce 7" circumference hats?!?
In case you were not a theater costume-shop geek in college: to make real hats, you stretch and shape the damp base fabric -- either buckram or heavy wool felt -- over a solid form that is the hat size and shape you need. Once the fabric dries, you remove it from the form, and it retains its shape, and then you cover/decorate/trim as desired.
Thankfully, Son has not yet
misspent his college years in a theater costume shop, so he didn't know what he was looking at when he saw the fedora form. I was grateful, since making a fedora without a hat form is basically the equivalent of trying to start a garden without seeds. I showed him this lovely porkpie, which he admired. And seeing the picture in 3-D made it clear to me how to make the thing. (In case your own Ted needs a hat, I did find some reasonably good basic hat-making directions.)
Many very tiny stitches later, the hat was done. And Teddy looked wonderfully, fantastically, supremely...
Amish. There was no getting around it.
Once I finished choking down my laughter, I went and presented Ted to Son. His eyes lit up -- no doubt because we do not live in Pennsylvania, and he has never met anyone Amish. "He needs a Super Spy name," Son said. "How about Mooker?"
"Mooker is good," I said. "It sounds very Spy-ish."
"No, no! I know!" he exclaimed, on the way up the stairs to bed. "How about Fritzi? Fritz?"
"Fritz is a perfect name for a Teddy!" I agreed. Really, it seems to suit this particular Ted extremely well.
"Fritz Mooker!" he cried. "That's his Super Spy name." He dashed out of the bathroom from brushing his teeth. "Wait," he stopped on the landing, looking up at me. "What is it again?"
"Fritz," I said.
"Oh yeah....Daddy, look! His Super Spy name is Fritz Mooker! Isn't it great?!"
I have to admit, Fritz Mooker is a pretty great spy name. And as long as Ted...er, Fritz, is skulking around under lampposts with his Super Spy case (yes, now I have to make him a satchel for all his spy gear), I'm pretty sure everyone will know just what he is.
Then again, Fritz Mooker does also sound oddly like it could be the name of that nice young Amish lad who accompanies his mother at the pie-selling table on Farmer's Market Thursdays.
Perhaps that's Teddy's cover? He's Fritz Mooker: Amish farm-teddy by day, Super Spy when duty calls.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Son's birthday party is this coming weekend. If you've been around here long enough to remember last year's birthday party, you might recall that there is a lot to live up to in terms of expectations. Last year, we built a ceiling-high cardboard rocketship in our living room.
This year's theme is Transformers -- and I have to say that while I'm not much of a commercial characters, princesses-and-Ben-10, kind of woman, I am also not one to resist a challenge.
So I thought I'd do a little something like this for the kids who are coming:
Okay, I'm kidding. To-tall-y kidding. Honest.
In fact, this is the easiest birthday party I've ever planned because unlike all the ones in the past, there are lots of easily available things in Transformer land. Of course, Son is quite excited for the "Pin the Transformer on the Earth" game, which I will have to make. But otherwise, this party couldn't be much easier.
In fact, it's practically just an excuse to show you that insanely cool video up there, which I have been jealously guarding from Son's eyes, so as not to give him any absurd ideas. My family and close friends will tell you that this is a big step for me: I have just said NO to a complicated-time-suck-super-cool-but-unnecessary project.
It is a good day.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
This view out our porch door earlier today, in the midst of the snowstorm currently working its way towards New England, put me in mind of this classic Robert Frost poem, and I just had to share.
Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Happy Snowy Evening everyone.
Friday, January 9, 2009
I have few specific, vivid memories of Son's early infancy. Most of the period that was his first four months of life is a blur of groggy recognition.
I know there were diapers changed and bottles washed.
I know that a nurse practitioner in my pediatrician's office saved my nursing relationship with Son by telling me about nipple shields -- which were the only way that my cracked and bleeding self could bear to continue nursing the voracious monster that was my two-week-old. (Think I'm exaggerating? I still have scars to prove I'm not. Scars. From deep craters of wounds produced by the flawed latch of a newborn whose clueless mother couldn't make it better.)
I remember laughing until I felt weak when Son peed on his daddy during a diaper change. He must have been a week or two old -- no more because I was still mostly in bed, and the changing table and cradle were in our bedroom. Husband was doing the honors with the diaper, when I saw the telltale signs of impending drenching. "Oh," I spluttered, unable to find the right words to explain what was coming so quickly, "oh, his penis! his penis!" The warning was, of course, useless. Husband looked down at the little boy just as the floodgates opened. Right into Daddy's face. It wasn't nice to laugh. I know it wasn't. But if you could have seen his expression of utter disbelief...
And I remember saying, in quiet desperation to a Husband who tried to understand but simply did not comprehend the gravity of what it meant, "I have not slept more than three hours in five weeks."
I had a Son who was a slow feeder. He ate what the books called "every hour and a half." Except it took him 45 minutes to eat. So that by the time I swaddled him (it was a frigid January) and put him back into his cradle and fell asleep myself, I had only 30 minutes to sleep before he awoke hungry again. This lasted all night long. During the day, he would take a number of naps. The short ones were 20 minutes. The average ones were 45. Once a day, he would sleep for an hour and a half.
Adults are not made to sleep in snatches like this. Thirty minutes here or there, for weeks on end, is not simply unpleasant. It is actually torture. As in the real kind of torture that breaks political prisoners and makes them talk. As in the kind of torture that drives people "around the bend." In any case, it certainly makes you delirious.
And resentful of the husband who gets to go to work every single day by himself, where he will not be required to try to eat his lunch while jiggling someone else in a chair or to hold anyone else on his lap while he pees.
There were days when that was what I longed for the most: to go to the bathroom, and sit on the toilet absolutely uninterrupted, and completely alone, for as long as I deemed necessary. These are not grandiose dreams. But they are the dreams of a deliriously sleep-deprived mother of a newborn, isolated by the coldest, snowiest winter Michigan has seen in a long time and by her own sense of tremendous failure.
I, you see, had babysat my way through highschool. At $1 an hour, I often banked $150 or $200 per month in the summers. That is a LOT of childcare. I was pretty sure I knew all I needed to know about taking care of a baby. Having managed up to four of them alone for full days at a time as a teenager, I figured that by the time I was older, wiser (and able to drive!), I could certainly handle one newborn alone.
What I did not take into account, however, was that when you biologically produce the baby that you then must care for, your body does all kinds of crazy things with hormones. The other thing I forget to consider was that no matter how many children I babysat all those years ago, I always handed them back at the end of the night. Taking care of four rowdy children by yourself for one long day is no where near as mind-numbingly exhausting as taking care of one tiny infant alone for days and days and days and days without apparent end.
And then, on top of that, I felt so inadequate. Because when you have a new baby that you have been so excitedly anticipating, people who call to chat or run into you in the store always ask the same question, which is some version of "Aren't you just LOVING having a baby?" There is no way to answer "No" to this question without sounding ungrateful, cruel, and like a generally horrible mother. So of course one says "YES! Oh, he's wonderful. He could sleep a bit more..." *lighthearted chuckle* "...but you know how babies are..."
And thus friends never knew how every day I died a little more inside from the combination of exhaustion, loneliness, hormones, and inability to be honest even with myself.
The most vivid memory I have of those first few months is of the darkest day of my entire life. I had been out running errands. ("Don't you take that baby to the mall!" the pediatrician had admonished me, but what else was I supposed to do? It was 7 degrees out and the roads were piled with snow. So, I defied medical advice and ran occasional errands.) Son was about three months old. That made it April, but it was still cold and slushy out. He was bundled in his carseat, screaming. He hated the carseat. He screamed sometimes from the moment I buckled him in until the moment I took him out at our destination.
We had just arrived home from wherever we had been. His poor little face was red with screeching. I unclicked the infant carrier from the base, brought him inside, and he looked at me and just screamed and screamed and screamed. Something inside me snapped. "Shut UP!" I screamed back at him, as loudly as I could. Afraid I would hurt him, I put him down, carseat and all, safely tucked against the arm of the couch. And then I shrieked like a broken, maniacal thing, "SHUT UP! WHY can't you just stop crying?! Please," I started begging, "just. stop. crying."
In a frenzy, I tripped over a big cardboard shipping box, picked it up, and began shredding it and hurling hunks across the room (nowhere near Son, I might add; something in the back of mind seemed determined to keep him safe). Pieces thudded to the floor in time with my loud pleas, "just - stop - it!" I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. "Why can't you just stop crying? Why? Why?" I took myself out of the room, terrified at the huge emotions coursing through me, afraid I could hurt him or myself if I didn't just get away. I collapsed on the dining room floor in grief and hysterics. The dog, who had witnessed all of this, followed me into the dining room, tail between her legs. She wouldn't leave me, but she also wouldn't let me get close to her. Skirting just outside my reach, shivering, she kept her head meekly down. The sight of my beloved dog so afraid of me completely broke me.
That night, I told Husband that I thought Son needed to go into daycare two mornings a week.
I couldn't explain to him fully what had happened because I was so ashamed of my outburst. I told him I was "so tired" and needed a bit of a break. I was calm, if a little tearful, and my voice sounded oddly reasonable to my own ears in contrast to the panic rising within me. Husband, because I would not let him see the truth, had absolutely no idea how desperate and horrifying that hour of my life had been.
It did not occur to me until another month or so later, when Son was happily thriving in his two mornings out, when I was sleeping a bit more, and when I had fully turned the corner back towards the land of the living, that I had been suffering from postpartum depression. It's true. I hadn't known I was depressed until I wasn't any more. Only then could I say, "OHHHHH...so that is what that was!"
Even now, it stuns me to realize that a well-read, well-educated, otherwise pretty-in-tune-with-herself woman could be that depressed without knowing she was depressed...and without anyone else knowing it either.
Son turns five next week. FIVE years old. It boggles the mind how quickly that time goes. This is the first time I have ever fully told the story of that horrible day in his first April, the day I realized that I was going to have to admit that I did not want to spend every minute of my day with my child, that I did not love the incessant demands, that I was ill-equipped for constant exhaustion. That I was an utter failure as a mother.
I know now, of course, that I was not an utter failure. I was struggling, and I needed help, and I had to ask for help. That is not failing. That is being part of a family and a community. That is what it means to be a new mother.
But I also know that most of the popular images of new motherhood that surround us these days are of quiet, pastel women nursing satiated-looking babies in soothing-colored rooms. The women do not look exhausted. The babies do not look like vampires. The rooms do not look as if they are closing in. There is tremendous pressure (and I will freely admit that much of it comes from within) to prove that just as one can tackle the challenges of a career, one can master the art of mothering. There is a feeling that everyone will secretly judge as "failing" any new mother who is not pastel, contented, and perennially smiling in that dreamy way at her beloved infant.
And so I write this partly because it is time for me to own this story, to admit to myself that it happened, it was ugly, and we got past it. I write it partly because I want to purge these words, and this pain, from myself. I write it partly because I fear that there may be some other mother somewhere in similar pain, and because I know how much it would have helped me to know that I was not alone in my struggles. Not that she necessarily will read this, but that perhaps in launching these words out of myself, a cosmic whisper of understanding might murmur forth the soothing suggestion that not everyone adores life with a newborn. And that it's okay to admit that aloud and ask for help.
And I write it because, as I prepare for Son's birthday party, admire the fabulous child he has become, cling to him with fierce love and endless awe, I am so very grateful that those first few months are mostly a blur. A blip. A rocky start to what has become a deep, loving bond with a child so fantastic that he fills my heart with joy. Every day.
(I should add that I was inspired to let this all out by this post over at It's My Life, which is so wonderfully honest about the things we don't tell new mothers because somehow it would be unseemly to do so. Thanks, Jessica, for speaking to my heart with that post.)
Thursday, January 8, 2009
I'm a pretty big D.I.Y. girl. Call a plumber? Not till I try to fix the leak first. Pants too long? I'll hem them. Flagstone patio stupidly in the sun instead of the shade? I can carry bags of bedding gravel and haul flagstone across the yard with the best of them.
And so, it shouldn't be too surprising that while I've had real salon highlights which I adored, I have also bought the little bottles of miracle in the drugstore. I'm not brave enough to wear that cap with the colored dots on it and try to do my own highlights, so I just go for the all-over color.
So if you need a fun project for the weekend, or a little push to take the plunge yourself, let me first say: you CAN do it, and it CAN turn out just great. But just in case, here's what you might want to know beforehand:
First, despite what your mother told you and what you tell your own children, you do not actually have eyes in the back of your head. This will rapidly become apparent as you try to apply stinky, clothing-staining goo onto the back half of your hair. Evenly.
Second, if you turn your head upside down (over the bathroom sink, of course; you weren't thinking of doing this little project in the kitchen were you?), it will be much easier to tell if you are getting the goo into the ends of your hair, particularly your back hair. Between that and facing down towards the sink but looking up at your head in the mirror, you should be able to see everything, including that spot at the top of your head towards the back.
Third, when you turn your hair upside-down over the sink, imperceptible little bits of hair dye will splatter around -- so be sure that you have already put your toothbrush away in the medicine cabinet or drawer, or else when you go to brush your teeth, you will get a mouthful of grosser-than-gross.
Fourth, while you can get great color doing this at home, the brand does matter, and it may be a case of what works best for your hair. I am delighted with my most recent experiment, which included a follow-up deep conditioning oil treatment that left my hair super shiny and silky. (Before that treatment, my hair felt like dry straw from the effects of the dye, so I was more than a little worried. But it all turned out great.)
Fifth, even if you love the color, are delighted with the shine, and your nearly-five your old tells you "I like that new hair, Mama," you will not magically become more photogenic. (Sadly, this is the best photo of the new color.)
Nor will your children understand why you wanted a photo of yourself alone.
And they will play their favorite game, "Mama is a Jungle Gym," in order to ham it up for the camera.
But at least your hair will look good.