Friday, October 31, 2003

She's a Man, Baby

I plugged my Lucky post into Gender Genie, and it told me I was a man. Does that mean I can stop shaving my legs?


Thursday, October 30, 2003

Gobs of Guilt

Are things better or worse for women today? Something I have been kicking around for the past couple of days. It's probably a mixed bag, but one thing that the 50s housewife didn't have was gobs of guilt thrown at her by child development experts. I curse those evil bastards.

It starts when you're pregnant. Or even before you know you're pregnant.

I didn't find out I was pregnant with Jonah until I was four weeks pregnant. This is the time of all the crucial brain stem development. And this was the time that I sauntered over to the Algonquin Hotel with some buddies and slurped up an extra large gin and tonic. Soon after, I downed several large glasses of red wine at an APSA reception. Good lord, women! What have you done to your fetus?

I spent the entire nine months of my pregnancy obsessing about those stupid cocktails and other minor discretions. To this day, whenever my kid does something less than perfect, I blame the extra large gin and tonic at the Algonquin.

After the test strip shows a plus, the first thing a woman does is go out and buy
What to Expect When You're Expecting
and 12 other books like it. You are sternly instructed about how you have to change your habits. Eat more protein, stay away from salmon, practice your Kegels, learn to breathe properly, avoid second hand smoke, shun caffeine, play classical music. Even brie cheese could have some bacteria that could cause harm to the unborn.

The 50s housewife dealt with the boredom of pregnancy by smoking a pack of cigarette and pouring herself a martini.

Afterwards, we're given another library of books on how to raise the smartest kids. You simply must breast feed on demand for at least a year. Babies shouldn't cry in their cribs for a moment. Black and white mobiles must dangle before them. Playpens are a no-no. There are music classes, exercise classes, dance classes all for babies too young to hold up their own heads. (Having a phobia of group happiness, I skipped all those classes.) Eating disorders have to be avoided, so if junior doesn't like bean burritoes, make him a separate meal. Even Elmo is evil.

These brain stimulation activities and self-esteem builders are recent inventions. Almost every mother I know, whether they work or not, confides that she is a bad mother, because it's too much work to stimulate and build all day. I blame the child development experts for excessive parental guilt.

I'm done with the blog for the week. Tomorrow is jam packed with candy and Halloween parades. I leave you with a quote from Betty, because it cracked me up:

In the fifteen years after World War II, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture. Millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife, kissing their husbands goodbye in front of the picture window, depositing their stationwagonful of children at school, and smiling as they ran the new electric waxer over the spotless kitchen floor. They baked their own bread, sewed their own and their children's clothes, kept their new washing machines and dryers running all day. They changed the sheets on the beds twice a week instead of once, took the rug-hooking class in adult education, and pitied their poor frustrated mothers, who had dreamed of having a career. Their only dream was to be perfect wives and mothers; their highest ambition to have five children and a perfect house, their only fight to get and keep their husbands. They had no thought for the unfeminine problems of the world outside the home; they wanted the men to make the major decisions. They gloried in their role as women, and wrote proudly on the census blank: "Occupation: housewife."

UPDATE: The Invisible Adjunct stopped reading parenting manuals. She wrote an eloquent post on the guilt and parenthood and catastrophe-- a must read.

A Cigarette, a Cocktail, and a Tranquilizer

This study came out in the media a few days ago. Children under two are watching two hours of TV a day. Lots of tsk tsking. Some babies have TVs in their room. Well, that's really bad.

I don't know how much TV my kids watch a day. Probably not two hours unless someone is very ill. But still the study freaked me out. The Wiggles are warping the kid's brains! So, our TV has been turned off except for a half an hour at the end of day. Now will someone please tell me how I'm supposed to take a shower and make dinner?

I should really avoid these studies and parenting books. Guilt city.

Last night, after West Wing, I picked up Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. It's really worth reading. The world has changed a lot since then, but it also hasn't.

One thing that has changed is that the 50s housewife wasn't so freaked out about constantly stimulating their kids. The kids were in the background, as she cleaned her house with a cigarette, a cocktail, and a tranquilizer. Ah, the good old days.

(short post this morning, but a longer one tonight.)


Wednesday, October 29, 2003


After reading the resentful article in yesterday's Chronicle, and writing up my views on the topic, I took a look at the Times discussion section on the Belkin article. I was shocked at the hate that readers had for the stay at home mothers.

"They're just lucky they can stay at home. Not everybody is that lucky," said many of the commenters.

I've heard that reproach a lot, since I've had kids. After someone says that to me, I am supposed to bow my head and say, "ah, yes, I"m so lucky and I am so greatful that I'm able to do this."

What is meant by "you're lucky and you should recognize it everyday?"

Maybe they mean #1. Not everybody is able to afford to stay home with their kids. Poor women have to work and put their kids in substandard daycare.

Yes, it's true that the poor have it bad in life. The poor are deprived of a lot, and in a more perfect world there wouldn't be these inequities. The poor not only have to work and put their kids in substandard daycare, but they don't have cars, health insurane, adequate schools, vacations, houses, etc... How come every time a guy gets into his Toyota Turcell, he isn't reminded how lucky he has to have a car? I've never heard anyone in the doctor's waiting room, taking the time to remember the less fortunate.

Or #2. Not everybody is able to afford to stay home with their kids. Most women, including middle class women, have to work and put their kids in adequate daycare.

First of all, my husband is doing okay, but not great. We don't have a house or a SUV. We don't take fancy vacations. We live in a four floor walk up in New York City. We periodically don't have heat or hot water. We drive a 1990 Toyota that my brother sold us for $700. We wash our dishes by hand, and have a crappy washer/dryer that barely works (blog 7/23). We ain't living the high life around here.

Now, if I worked our situation would not improve. In fact, it would get worse. Let's do the math.

What am I qualified to do with my newly minted PhD? Teach at a community college, do administration, teach at a public school. All those jobs pay in the mid $30,000s. Okay now let's figure out how much daycare would cost. Jonah would not be able to go to nursey school, because that's part time. So, two kids in daycare full time would cost at least $20,000. Now we're down to $15,000 take out taxes, transportation, take out food, and clothing and we're left with nothing. Maybe less than nothing.

Who are all these middle class women who can afford to work and put their kids in day care? How do they do it? Are they making a lot more money then I would? Does this still make them middle class? Do they have access to cheaper childcare? I don't know.

Or maybe they mean #3. Staying home with the kids is fun.

If they think that watching kids is all giggles and laughs, they're idiots. I love my kids. I really do, but it's hard, lonely, mind numbing work.

I do think that our family is lucky that I'm home. Personally, I think the kids benefit. And it means that there is a lot less stress around here. Getting the kids off to daycare every morning before you go to work is tough. Then picking them up after a hard day and having the energy to cook and get them dressed for bed is exhausting. The weekends are filled with all the undone chores from the week. I have a taste of that life just by working part time.

I would be far luckier if there were more opportunities for me to work part time. Adjuncting just pays for the babysitter. It would be great if I could work a bit more and have something to show for it.

Mothers (and stay at home dads) are just screwed. These people who call us "lucky" are mean spirited and clueless. This is why so many women with kids are seriously depressed.


Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Dan Drezner has a post on all the TV shows that hype the idle rich.

Women v. Women

The Invisible Adjunct has a post about a recent letter in the Chronicle. The author, Cady Wells, has chosen to leave academia because of the unreasonable demands on her time. Interestingly, she feels that as a woman academic more is expected of her then her male counterparts. All this work has hurt her health, so she's opting out.

Wells resents the incredible amount of hours we must put into our jobs today. No problem with that.

But what got IA upset (and myself), is Wells comment about women with children who opt out. Wells writes,

I've read articles in The Chronicle about mothers leaving academe to have more time with their children. While those articles make excellent points about the conflicting roles of mother and professor, they neglect the larger issue of the enormous space that work fills in all our lives. In a wealthy country such as the United States, we should all be able to afford time for friends, family, exercise, healthy diets, and spiritual growth. That right should not be reserved just for mothers.

Why pick on the mothers? The only exercise I get is picking up my son from nursery school, lifting my large baby up four flights of stairs, and putting away toys for the fiftieth time that day. I'm not doing pilates in a gym with a liter of water. And a healthy diet? Ha! I started the day off with half a pot of coffee and a couple of Mallowmars. Time with friends? Oh, sure. I haven't been to a movie in a year.

Why is there this tension between women with children and women without?

Maybe that's part of the problem with the Belkin article. It didn't talk about how raising kids is really hard work.

Tuesday is Reader Mail Day!

I received a couple of interesting e-mails in the past couple of days related to feminism and work. Frustrated because I don't have comments? Well, if you have views on this subject, send them to me today. I'll post it.

From Toni,

i think you hit on my dislike of feminism. i like to doing many of the
traditional things that feminists poo-pooh. i'm comfortable in traditional
gender roles cooking, ironing, cleaning. heck, i love to clean. do i want to
take out the garbage? no thank you. do i want to mow the lawn? no thanks,
the mower is too heavy. do i want to put on uniform and fight in a stupid
war (that a man got us into)...nut, uh.

I think this is one of the reasons that so few younger women identify themselves as feminist. Perhaps the old definition was too confining. I think you can be a feminist and like to make Halloween costumes. I don't think the two activities have to be mutually exclusive.

From Melissa,
I checked your blog this morning and read the article from the Magazine [Belkin Opting Out], and I must admit, it pissed me off a bit. What about women who like their jobs and who don't want to leave? Or women who would like to leave but can't for financial reasons? Or women who switch off with their husbands the duties of a stay-home mom. Its great that these women are able to chose between work and home and decide to stay home, but there are a lot of women who decide to work and are still good moms. I guess I thought that these articles give those women the short shrift.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not making judgements about women with children who work. I think one of the best thing about the women's movement is that it gave women options -- some choose to work full time, others part time, others not at all. For me, working part time, at least while the kids are young, is the right thing to do, but I know it's not for everybody.

How much of an option do women really have given economic realities? Some women have to work full-time, because one income is not enough. Some women (like myself) would like more real opportunities to work part time, but are facing huge barriers. Some women can't work, because two people with 60-80 hours a week jobs means needy children and dirty homes and hellish weekends. Women with multiple children may not be able afford childcare.

What I think is great about the Belkin article is that it recognizes that a two career family is very difficult to maintain. Yes, some people can do it, but others find it too hard. Some women have to get off the fast track.

Kids are a lot of work. More work than I ever could have imagined before they arrived. I wish I had chosen a profession that was more accomodating of the child-intensive years. I wish that someone given me career advice back in my twenties. This article was refreshing because it said that it is hard to have it all. I didn't realize that until I got here.

And many women feel like failures for not being able to balance it all. Old school feminists made it out that it was so easy. Not working meant that you were oppressed and stupid and lazy. (Perhaps this is another reason that so few young women call themselves feminists.)

Sure, men can stay home, and I know many. If I had the better paying job, Steve would happily stay home with the kids. At least for us, we need someone around part of the time.

I didn't get from the article that women with kids who worked full time were bad moms, but I'll reread it.

What I did find distasteful about the article was its decidedly upper middle class perspective. Belkin is interviewing women who are home with the kids, but probably have a babysitter and a house cleaner. Some women in the well to do Jersey suburbs are home full time and have a full time babysitter. That sure makes the decision to stay home a little less complicated.

Like Rebel Dad, I had a problem with Belkin making out that opting out is a female character trait. Steve would stay home in a heart beat.


Monday, October 27, 2003

Flash the Twins?

Tyler Cowen of the Marginal Revolution thinks the future of the blogosphere is a million Instapundits. Blogs that link to this and that, but don't write anything original themselves.

I don't want to get all judgy. There's a place for the "portal blogs" for sure, but someone has to be writing stuff for the portals to point to. Personally, I like blogs that have a political perspective or moderate debate or have a sense of humor or are well written.

This whole discussion hangs on Cowen's definition of a successful blogger -- one with a large number of hits. Perspective please. Reality check. Who the hell cares? I bet if I put up a picture of my boobs, I would get a lot more hits. Maybe that's the future of blogging -- naked boobs.

No time to write more. It's Monday, my hell day. Instead I'll be a portal and tell you to go to Signifying Nothing and Dan Drezner for more.

A Bee, a Train, and Billy Idol

I spent the weekend making a Halloween costume and reading Betty Friedan and other feminists. The two activities don't go so well together. See, I actually like making the kid's silly outfits, but the feminists kept making feel guilty for that. Shut up, Betty. I'm having fun.

This is our fifth Parent Halloween. And it's still quite a thrill. Shooting up rolls of film on the precious cuties and then a week of eating all their candy. It's excellent, really. Worth having a kid for.

For his first Halloween, Jonah was too little and we were too wrapped up in our dissertations to bother.

Halloween #2, Jonah was 1-1/2 and he got the hand-me-down matidor outfit that my aunt brought back from Mexico years ago. Cute, but he only wore it for about 15 minutes.

For Halloween #3, things got much better. Jonah was still too young to have a firm idea about what he wanted to be, but old enough to keep the costume on. So, I dressed him as Billy Idol. I gelled up his blond hair and gave him tattoos. His t-shirt had holes, safety pins, and a big A in a circle. He had a studded dog collar around his neck. We had a party and the parents got drunk. Good times.

Halloween #4, he really wanted to be a train, so Steve and I spent three days transforming an old box into a Thomas the Tank Engine costume. He looked great with his little arms sticking out of the side of the box. With Ian in a Baby Bjorn, Jonah and I went to the local Halloween parade. All the Spidermen, pirates, and butterflies marched in a circle around the park.

This year, Ian's getting stuck in the uncomfortable matidor outfit, but Jonah is getting a bee costume. When he said that he wanted to be a bee this year, I highly encouraged it. I kept thinking about John Beluchi's singing bee from Saturday Night Live.

I sewed fuzzy black strips around a yellow t-shirt from Old Navy. Boingy antennae and a little buzzer. And sunglasses.

Damn it, Betty. I'm not oppressed. Ironic Halloween costumes are a lot more amusing than grading papers.


Friday, October 24, 2003


Michiko Kakutani laughs at stars who write kid's books.

Once upon a time there was a land in love with fame and brand names. By and by, some famous brand-name people, holed up in their castles, discovered a new trade. They started writing books for children.

Many wrote books about children who sounded like themselves. Jerry, a comedian who made pots of gold with a television show and more pots of gold with commercials for a credit card, wrote a Halloween book about a greedy boy who wants to get his hands on lots and lots of brand-name candy. Madonna, a blond star, wrote about a pretty little blond girl who has no friends because everyone is jealous that she "shines like a star." And Britney, a younger blond singer, wrote a book, with her mother, about a young blond girl who really, really wants to become a singer.

Laura, a red headed blogger, writes a book about a little red headed girl who dreamed of becoming a red headed blogger.

The Opt-Out Revolution

Susan just forwarded a great article by Lisa Belkin from this Sunday's Times Magazine. (I guess the Times on-line runs their magazine stories two days early.) It's about the stalled feminist revolution. Women are finishing their MBA and PhDs, but they aren't ended up with the jobs. Why?

As Joan C. Williams, director of the Program on WorkLife Law at American University, wrote in the Harvard Women's Law Journal last spring, ''Many women never get near'' that glass ceiling, because ''they are stopped long before by the maternal wall.''

Women are rejecting the workplace, writes Belkin. And women who take time off, have a very hard time getting back into it.

She ends on a positive note,

Women started this conversation about life and work -- a conversation that is slowly coming to include men. Sanity, balance and a new definition of success, it seems, just might be contagious. And instead of women being forced to act like men, men are being freed to act like women. Because women are willing to leave, men are more willing to leave, too -- the number of married men who are full-time caregivers to their children has increased 18 percent. Because women are willing to leave, 46 percent of the employees taking parental leave at Ernst & Young last year were men.

Work/Home Space

One reason that I liked the Times article on Jamie Oliver was because it sounded like he had a good balance of family and work. His pub and office are right across the street from his home. So, he put his kids down for a nap and then runs to his kitchen in two minutes and get to work. Here's a quote:

He fed her shell-shaped pasta with tomato sauce and freshly torn basil while Daisy looked on, then suggested we cook at the pub that lies across the street from his home.

The pub has become a refuge for Mr. Oliver. He has taken to holding meetings and doing photo shoots there so that he can work close to home without actually working in his home.

I just love the sound of that. A place for home and a place for work, but all very close by. By the way, his daughters are named Poppy Honey and Daisy Boo.

Also, he works in a pub. Cool.

Weekend Homework

Last night, after we finally got back into Apt. 11D, I opened two shipments of Amazon books and a yellow envelope.

In Amazon Book #1:
Ann Crittenden, The Price of Motherhood

Danielle Crittenden, What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us

Christina Hoff Sommers, Who Stole Feminism?

Betty Friedan,The Feminine Mystique

Amazon Box #2
New York City's Best Public Elementary Schools
The Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools and Selective Public Schools

Yellow Envelope from Toni:
Joan C. Tronto, The "Nanny" Question in Feminism

This weekend is all about reading. Oh, and making two bumble bee costumes.


Thursday, October 23, 2003

Brain Rot

All creativity for entertaining sick kids was used up by about 2:00 today. Playdough. Blocks. Books. I was losing my mind. So, I bundled up the two (yes, now there are two) sick kids for a walk about the neighborhood.

As the door swang shut behind us, I realized that I left the keys on the table. Doh! Prolonged sleep deprivation has destroyed my formerly fine mind. (Last lockout -- 8/20/03 check the blog).

I got the car and car keys from the garage, and hid out at my parents in NJ for a couple of hours.

We came back to the city at 5:30 for our doctor's appointment with Dr. Socratic Method.

OK, Madam, let us inspect your children. Do you see them playing in the waiting room? Would you say that since they are playing, they are very sick? Fine, now let's take the oldest in the waiting room. Can he take off his own clothes? Would you say that is good sign? Look at his chest? Does he look like he's in respiratory distress? Look at his throat. Would you say that his throat is pink or red? Did you hear him sniff before he coughed? What does that tell you? Does it tell you that he has post nasal drip? He has a cold. (Does it tell you that you are a hysterical mother who is wasting my time?)

Thanks, Doctor, but I could do without the commentary. Give me some cough medicine, and I'll leave with my tail between my legs.

Does extended time at home with kids kill brain cells? Has the daily grind of sleepless nights, repeated diaper changing, and forced confinement wiped out years of academic work? It's a concern.

The deadline for proposals for next year's APSA is Nov. 14th. I better get my ass in gear.


Wednesday, October 22, 2003

House Arrest

I have been under house arrest for two days with a sick four year old. He's way too sick for school or the playground. He hasn't even felt able to manage the walk up and down the four flights of stairs, so we're confined to the 1,000 sq. feet of Apt. 11D.

I tried to find things to amuse us. Art projects. Educational computer games. Trains and more trains. But then the kids started fighting over who got to play with the tunnel, so I just popped in a long video in the afternoon. I'm going to parent hell for sure.

My only outings these past two days were a trip to the coffee shop this morning and the meeting of hysterical parents last night. I'm still all in knots over that experience.

"How many school tours have you arranged? I've done 19." (none)

"My child can't go to the local school. I've had her tested and she's special. She needs to attend a gifted and talented program. But your child will do fine at the local school, I'm sure."

"You really must interview the testers first before your child's IQ test done."

"The deadlines are coming up! What you haven't had the Stanford-Binet V test yet? You better hurry."


From Instapundit I found this great article in Salon about Generation X parenting styles.

The article has good links to parenting blogs and magazines, and fits in well with my world view. It also talks about how Gen Xers are writing memoirs about being a parent, including the author of the article.

She mentions Anne Lamott -- a bit too old to be Gen X, but we won't hold it against her. Anne wrote one of my favorite parenting memoirs, Operating Instructions. I still get a chuckle about her description of her son's poop as a meatball. Lamott is now a writer for Salon.

Another excellent truly Gen-X parenting book is Dave Eggers's, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Eggers's book isn't supposed to be a parenting book, but it is. His memoir describes how both of parents died of cancer when he was 21, and he dropped out of college to raise his 8 year old brother.

I read Staggering Genius right after Jonah was born. I was stuck inside a lot that summer recovering from a horrendous birth, so I read a ton of stuff. I liked this book because at 34, I was just as clueless about raising a kid as a 21 year old. And Eggers is such a cool parent. When his brother has nightmares, Eggers paints a mural of a superhero over the kid's bed. I have a huge literary crush on him.

I'm hoping that with a good night's sleep, house arrest will end tomorrow. I want out for good behavior.

Things to Read

In today's Times. The nation's public universities raised tuitions by 14 percent this year, the steepest increase in at least a quarter century....

Private universities raised tuitions by 6 percent, itself not an unusual increase in recent years. But after adjusting for inflation, 2003 was the third consecutive year that private universities raised tuitions by at least 5 percent, more than twice the rate of inflation.

The last time a series of comparable increases occurred was in the mid-1980's, when families were enjoying a much healthier economy than they are now.

As a result of the increases, tuitions reached an average of $19,710 at private colleges, $4,694 at public universities and $1,905 at community colleges, more than twice what these institutions cost 20 years ago, even after adjusting for inflation.

From the Invisible Adjunct and Michael Yglesias, there's this anti-Catholic article in Slate. Let's get Hitchens fired.

Also, an article on Jamie Oliver, the babe of the Food Network. He talks risotto and naps. I'm in love.

The Middle Class and NYC Schools

Since it's clear that we won't be able to move to the suburbs this year, we have to brace ourselves for the NYC public school system.

New York City is one of the few cities that has some decent public schools, and has a sizable middle class population. The middle class in NYC have mastered the science of navigating the schools in the city.

The rich have Dalton and Fieldston. They can pay $23,000 a year for tuition, but that it out of reach for all but Woody Allen and Soon-Yi. The rest of us have to figure out a way to get our kids into the right schools.

I wasn't able to blog much yesterday. One kid with a fever. And in the evening, I ran off to our pre-school's class, Preparing for Kindergarten. The school had representatives from the local schools and the exclusive Anderson school come to talk to us about their programs. This evening was one of the benefits of paying $5,000 tuition. (I brought along two friends from the neighborhood who can't afford the tuition, and took some grief for it.) We learned about the philosophy of the different schools and their admission processes.

In New York City, you don't have to just attend your one local school. There is choice within public schools, so you can apply to any public school in the city. The regular public schools vary greatly in their test scores and parent involvement. In addition, some public schools have gifted and talented programs, which require IQ tests. Some are extra gifted and talented, like Anderson or Hunter. Children have to score especially high to get in and then be screened by the school. Then all the children are ranked based on a combination of factors, and the best get in, although preference is given to siblings, students in the district, and the disadvantaged.

So, it's a complicated system that has elaborate rules that must be mastered. Time must be put aside to gain information. In addition to tonight's class, we've ordered a couple of books on the subject from Amazon and referred to a website. Also, time must be put aside to take tours of the schools, which are manditory, and take the admission tests and fill out applications. You also must have the money to shell out on over priced pre-schools that share information and to take the IQ test ($250). You must also be technically literate to check out the websites and download applications.

Once their children have been admitted to whatever school, then the parents kick into high gear. The middle class form parents organizations which donate huge sums of money for classroom equipment, provide tutoring, and supervise class trips.

The middle-class in the city have figured out which schools and programs are acceptable, and they have the skills (and the time and money) to get their kids into them. Then they assure their kid's success with hyper parent organizations.

Everyone else is on their own.


Tuesday, October 21, 2003

School Notes

Speaking of student evaluations, I finally got mine from last semester. Student evaluations always serve to enlarge my head four or five times, because I score very well with the students. I put a lot of time into preparing interesting lectures with a spattering of pop references, and it's good that it is recognized. The faculty evaluator who sticks his head in for 20 minutes or so has no clue how much work I put into teaching. So I take the student evaluations very seriously.

I did very well this year. Of the sixteen who evaluated me, 15 gave me 1s or 2s (top marks), except for one who gave me 5s (worst mark) for every question. ex. I would recommend the instructor to other students. Ms. Stick-up-her-ass gave me a 5 or strongly disagree. On the comment section she drew a picture of a frowning face.

Every semester there's one problem student. Sometimes they have attitude like Ms. Stick-up-her-ass from last semester. Well, Ms. S. was exceptionally bad -- dumb and arrogant at the same time, a lethal combination. Sometimes they're insane. I had one who showed up to class only wearing a bra and frightened the other students. Sometimes they're conspiracy theorists who bombard me with their paranoid fantasies. ex. gov't is organizing drug trade, the gov't controlls the media, CIA and AIDs, CIA and JFK, etc...

I wish Ms. Stick-up-her-ass didn't get to me. Why do I remember the crazy, mean students rather than the good ones? Clearly this is a character flaw.

Other good academic discussions going on here and here.


Monday, October 20, 2003

High Wire Act

The New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook wrote a couple of sentences in his blog that may have been anti-Semitic. As a result, he lost his job at ESPN. Read Cosh or Sullivan or Drezner for more on this.

Sullivan wrote a great paragraph about the dangers of blogging:

Blogging is, indeed, a high-wire act. Looking back, I write about a quarter of a million words a year. The notion that I will not write something dumb, offensive or simply foolish from time to time is absurd. Of course I will. Writing is about being human. And blogging is perhaps one of the least protected, most human forms of writing we have yet discovered. It's like speaking on air, live. Yes, bloggers should take criticism. But they should be judged on the totality of their work, not their occasional screw-ups. Gregg has been attacked enough.

It's really easy to screw up when blogging. I've written stupid things here. Luckily, my husband is a harsh editor who let's me know when I'm being an idiot, and I quickly correct myself. It's easy to forget that people are actually reading what I write. Not a whole lot of people, but still.

Part of why I'm keeping this blog is that it is fun to write without going through a peer review and to have my ideas published instantly. It refreshing to bypass the usual two year lag between writing and publication. Spontaneity has its downsides.


About six years ago, I took a long train to Fez. Along the way were little villages. Clusters of grey homes surrounded small farms. A few people were working the fields. They stopped and watched the train go by. These were very poor villages. People probably didn't have much other than their hands to work their fields and a couple of oxen. But many of the houses had satellite dishes on their roofs.

Ever since 9/11, I've become more aware of what other people think of us. Six years ago when were an oddity on the train to Fez, I knew that we were different, but I didn't worry. Now I do.

What do the people in those Moroccan villages think when they pick up Cribs on MTV or the E! True Hollywood special?

I saw a couple of movies this weekend, One Hour Photo and Unfaithful. They have almost identical plots if you take away Robin Williams as the creepy photo guy. A wealthy suburban family comprised of two impossibly beautiful parents and a nine year old boy. They live in Elle Decor homes. The husband works long hours in a profitable, but artsy profession. The wife is a stay-at-home mom who is bored and lonely. And then one person cheats, the husband in One Hour Photo and the wife in Unfaithful, and all hell breaks loose.

Hollywood is projecting a certain image the typical American family. We're filthy rich, amoral, free from cellulite, and only have one nine year old boy.

I'm not advocating that we only make films that are suitable for the Family Channel, but a little variety would be good. Hell, throw in an extra kid or a grandmother or something into the plot.

The shows on TV put forward other troublesome images. Do I need to know how many Bentleys J. Lo has? Do I need to know how many people Gwyneth Paltrow has slept with? Do I need to know how stupid Jessica Simpson is?

I really want to go back to Morocco again. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. But I'll never go back with the innocence of six years ago, because now I know what the people are thinking as they watch me in the train going by.


Friday, October 17, 2003

Several Movies and a Book

In this week's New Yorker, Roger Angell recalls sneaking off to the movies in the 30s. He would see several movies a week. King Kong. The Marx Brothers. All those TCM movies that I watch for a minute on the way to the E! True Hollywood special. Yeah, sometime I have to watch the whole thing.

My friend, Susan, came over tonight for beers and a video. Robin Williams in One Hour Photo. The guy who develops your film is actually a psycho who is obsessed with your life. Interesting concept, but it doesn't deliver.

Afterwards, we talked about movies that we saw as kids in the 70s. The one movie that all three of us remember clearly is Escape from Witch Mountain. Two kids with special powers travel around the country in a Winnebago. I think there was a cat involved and a magic harmonica. We loved it.

Also all the Kirk Russell movies, like the Strongest Man in the World. I still love the scene of the skinny guy who gets his arms stretched out on the barbells.

But neither Steve, Susan or myself went to the movies all that frequently as kids. The suburbs didn't have a local theater. Nothing like Angell's city movie experience. In my family, it was a real treat to go to the movies. It involved seeing some Disney film that was good for the whole family.

Or something that Dad wanted to see, like All the President's Men. One film that we'll never forgive him for was The Tree of the Wooden Clogs. My parents dragged my brother and sister and myself to see a three hour long Yugoslavian film with subtitles. I think a peasant cut down a tree from the master's property and suffered all sorts of humiliations. I remember spending a lot of time playing with the water fountain in the lobby of the theater.

Movies didn't get good until the multiplex opened on Route 4 in Paramus, NJ. I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Grease. I could probably tell you the seat I sat in for Star Wars.

I'm too tired to think of a neat way to end this sorry essay. Instead, I leave you will someone else's tale of inspiration.

Things to Read

Looks matter. More attractive professors get better marks from students. See Drezner and Volokh and the Invisible Adjunct.

Just found this blog, Suburban Blight: Do I Dare to Eat a Peach? (Love the Eliot quote) She's a breeder in her mid-thirties, so I like her already. She has a weekly round up of blogs that's interesting. Clearly someone with more time than me.

Michelle goes on about marriage and nannies.

The average price of a Manhattan apartment? $900,000. The Census Bureau says that the typical American household made $42,409 last year. At that rate, this family could buy an average-priced Manhattan apartment after just a little more than 21 years, if luxuries like food and clothing were skipped and entire incomes were forked over.


Thursday, October 16, 2003

Danger Lay Ahead

My dad took Jonah to the playground yesterday. As they got ready to cross the street, my dad said, Be careful, Jonah. We have to keep an eye out for cars. It's dangerous.

Jonah said quietly, Danger lay ahead.

Yes, it's a line from a Thomas the Tank Engine movie. Now my four year old talks like an old fashioned dime novel. More worries about how he'll fit in at the local public school next year.

A 100 year old water main broke just a couple of avenues away. Amsterdam Avenue looks like Venice. The streets are flooded. Cars are completely submerged. People have been evacuated. And we have no water.

No electricity a month ago, and no water now. Biblical retribution? Will locusts fall from the skies next?

It's very disorienting not to have running water. With messy kids, I use the water a million times a day without noticing it. A hundred mechanical acts everyday.

I keep forgetting that the water's gone. Get ready to make dinner and need to wash hands first. Turn the water on. Not there. Baby spilled potatoes. Turn the water on. Not there. Change a diaper. Turn the water on. Not there. I must have done that twenty times tonight.

After Steve came home, I ran out to get extra bottles of water. We have a couple gallons hidden under the sink from the last time Steve got worried about a suitcase nuke in Times Square. I wanted one more to rinse off the dirty dishes. The supermarket was already empty of water. The hoarders had descended.

Mayor Bloomberg was just on NY1, our local news station. He's looking beleaguered. The Staten Island Ferry crashed into a dock yesterday killing 10 people. The captain of the book jumped overboard and ran home where he tried to kill himself with a BB gun. Bloomberg was giving a press conference on the investigation into the Ferry and the latest on the water main break. Would he have spent $10 million of his own money in the last campaign if he had known what lay ahead?


Wednesday, October 15, 2003


Yesterday kind of sucked and the sucky feeling is carring over into today.

In the morning while Ian slept, a friend stopped by with chocolate donuts. That's not the sucky part. I love donuts, and I love friends just popping in.

We hung around talking for a couple of hours. Ate three donuts each. Blew off primo nap time to chat rather than work. Still not the sucky part.

My friend told me that her husband has still not been able to find work. It been almost a year. She might work the stores at Christmas time. She told me that another family from the neighborhood is leaving the city. He, a carpenter with a PhD in Philosophy, has been unable to find work, so they're heading up to the Berkshires.

Later in the afternoon, while Angela watched the kids, I drove to NJ to shop at Target and Whole Foods. On the way back, a crazy Middle Eastern guy cursed me out because I asked him to move his car backwards five inches so I could parallel park better. You're spoiled and you've always been spoiled, he screamed at me. I walked away rather than get into a fight.

(Do I get lots of cool points? I drive a standard in the city and parallel park.)

Later in the evening, I got a call from an old high school buddy. Like my morning friend, her husband has been out of work for a year. He's a civil engineer. After he finished the nuclear power plant in NH, the firm laid him off. They've been getting by with freelance work.

He's on a short list for a job in NC. They're considering it. The schools in their Boston suburb aren't great, so they would like to move anyway. However, schols aren't that great down in NC either. The Chapel Hill area is good, but the rest is average to poor.

I keep hearing that all the economic indicators point to a recovery, but I don't see it.

Maybe I am spoiled. Not because I want five more inches of parking space, but because I expect that MBAs should have jobs, that people should be able to live in major metropolitan regions regardless of income, that good schools shouldn't be hard to find.

Sorry to post such a downer. I told you I was in a sucky mood.

OK. One thing amused me today. I was reading the Hillary Clinton story in the New Yorker. She was going to an event at a Westchester library where she was met by a crowd of admirers. "Also hanging around outside was a man in a bright-red devil's suit, waving a sign that said, "I sold my soul to Hillary."

Tuesday's Reader Mail Day: Movie One Liners

I had a few who responded to my plea for movie quotes.

From Toni: "Big mistake, HUGE mistake." Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman

From Jeannette: "You people make my ass twitch." Meg Ryan, French Kiss.
"Listen, Lucy, three split infinitives!" Cecil (Daniel Day Lewis), A Room with a View
"Don't mind George. He's saying his eternal creed." Mr. Emerson, A Room with a View

From me (all from Raising Arizona)
"He's an angel. An angel straight from heaven."
"Hi, I need me a baby."
"Dip Tet! You've got to get your Dip Tet!"
"Because my womb was a rocky place where a seed could find no purchase."

From Chris:
"I've got to get inside this varmint's pelt and crawl around for a while. I've got to think like a gopher, act like a gopher, and whenever possible, to look like one." -- Bill Murray, "Caddyshack"

"I'm afraid I have some terribly distressing news. We have just run out of wine. What do you intend to do about it?" -- Richard E. Grant, "Withnail and I"

"No way, Wade, that wasn't the deal. This is my show." -- William Macy, "Fargo"

"Things were pretty hard with that sumbitch Reagan in the White House. I soon found myself driving past convenience stories--and they weren't even on the way home." -- Nicholas Cage, "Raising Arizona"


Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Things to Read

Here's another article about blogging. (Thanks, Toni.) This one focuses on the high abandonement rate of blogs. 66% (2.72 million) of blogs have not been updated in two months. "1.09 million blogs were one-day wonders, with no postings on subsequent days." Most people only maintain their blogs for four months. It was a good piece. Had some useful demographic info. And it makes me feel really virtuous.

As I get ready to unleash my son into NYC public schools, there's this horror story. John F. Kennedy High School, a sprawling eight-story building in the Bronx, has 4,590 students this year, 1,200 more than last. Lunch starts at 9:21 a.m., and all three of the cavernous cafeterias are packed until it ends more than five hours later.

Two Conversations

I am thinking about writing about mothers, work, and feminism. On Saturday, I looked a bit at the academic literature on the subject. I bought $50 worth of books from Amazon. I also talked to a couple of friends about the subject. I always mine my friends for ideas before I do any research. Here's what they said:

One friend is single, childless, and an executive editor at a publishing company. She feels great resentment against parents who work. She said that they are able to leave work early because of baseball games, while she and other single people are forced to pick up the slack. She works until 8:30 every night, and they should, too. She also dislikes it when women work part time while their kids are young, but still expect the same raises and promotions as those who work full time.

I got a very different story from my academic friend with a 3 year old. She feels that she is at a big disadvantage because she had a child. She has to leave at five in order to pick up her daughter from childcare. But then she works for another couple hours in the evening and over the weekend. At work, she never discusses the fact that she has a child or has trouble juggling all of her resonsibilities. She is constantly exhausted and is putting off having another child.

Different stories from different perspectives and from different occupations. But the pressures of the new economy are affecting everyone.

UPDATE: Steven Karlson of Cold Spring Shops comments on my post, Two Conversations. He writes, "I have to wonder how much longer the One Path to Promotion model is going to go without competing career paths. Too much stress, too much resentment, too much discontent".

He also wondered with my academic friend didn't tell others at work why she had other commitments. Because she didn't want to admit weakness. She has to compete with guys whose kids are already grown or have wives to take care of all those family details.


Monday, October 13, 2003

Yo! If you guys don't give me some good movie quotes for tomorrow, Steve is going to make me post all his lines from Star Wars. Now I am the master. and Obi Wan. Now that is name that I have not heard in a long, long while. That's all fine and good, but we need some variety.

Remember -- line, movie, actor and your name/blog.

Things to Read and Envy

Another Education Week article on the fight over tuition costs in Congress.

I just finished a lecture on the presidency and education, which mostly focused on the bully pulpit and control over the education bureaucracy. And, I added, he also has an important role as chief diplomat and chief of the armed forces, but we won't talk about that here since it doesn't have any relevance to education. Then I read this.

My dream home.

Teachers and Blogging

An article in Education Week discusses the pitfalls of being a teacher who blogs.

When another teacher walked into the classroom and abruptly told Jeanne Edna Thelwell that she needed to see the principal, Thelwell knew something was wrong....
"Is this a disciplinary hearing?" she asked.

"It's come to my attention that you have a Web site," the principal told her. Before Thelwell could reply, she continued: "Which is your right." After some dancing around the issue, the administrator came right out and asked, was Thelwell feeling suicidal? Then Thelwell noticed paperwork on the table stating the purpose of the meeting: Assessing the teacher's emotional state.

"I wanted to laugh," Thelwell recalls. But really, she says, after a bruising first few months at Brooklyn's PS 81, she was on the verge of tears, wondering if she could do anything to stay out of trouble. More to the point, she was wondering what she could have posted online to make the principal think she was on the verge of a breakdown. Then she remembered her entry for October 6, her 52nd birthday:

read the whole thing.

It also has useful links to education related bloggers, including Joanne Jacobs.

That's the Fact, Jack!

I love one liners from the movies. E-mail me your favorites, and I'll post them tomorrow.

Give me the line, the movie, and the actor or character. Also your name. A blog address is optional.

(extra credit: any movie with Bill Murray or directed by the Coen brothers.)

Half Way Up the Mountain

This weekend, Steve and I attempted to catch up on chores and cleaning. Rock. Sisyphus.

Fall clothes sorted. Rooms vacuumed. Smelly broccoli tossed. Diaper genii emptied (gag. you do it. no you do it.) Finally got that comforter back from the cleaners.

I even got a little academic work done.

On Saturday night, we went to my Aunt's house in Westchester for an engagement party for my cousin, Jeff, and his fiancee, Wanny. He's half Italian/half Indian. She's Korean. They're a good looking couple. Tall and willowy. Always wearing interesting hats and shoes that they picked up in Europe. (They're often teased.)

Both Jeff and Wanny are classically trained cellists -- a profession that is even more competitive and low paying than college teaching. There are so few openings that they enrolled in the PhD program at Rutgers. The doctoral program was a place to get free classes and make connections, but their main aim was to find a paying gig. They'll be done with their degrees next year, and the only lead for a job is in a small Tuscan town.

Like academics, it is foolhardy for cellists to marry each other. The chance of finding one job is small. The chance of finding two in the same city is next to nil. They know that they can never have children. They won't make enough money. The hours are crazy. And they might not be together. But they are deeply committed to their profession. It means more to them than kids.

45 people at the party. Auntie had it catered with tubs of salad, chicken marsala, and eggplant swimming in cheese. The Italians from the Bronx came, which meant that most of the guests were watching the Yankee/Cub game in the TV room. (Go Yanks!) The die-hard fans even had to watch the post game coverage. That sucked because the kids couldn't be distracted with videos. I followed Ian around for a couple hours as he sought out expensive collectibles, glasses of scotch, and electrical sockets. Too exhausted to socialize, we left early.

Though this weekend wasn't full of travel and adventure, it was good to catch up a bit. I have my favorite green sweater out from the top of the closet. We can sleep under a comforter instead of under a zipped out sleeping bag. There's coffee beans in the freezer. I almost feel organized.


Friday, October 10, 2003

A Short Post Friday

Seems as though I'm enjoying a traffic surge, due to my fellow political scientist and parent, Dan Drezner. (Thanks Dan.)

Dan says he doesn't mind all the annoying parts about being a parent. I want all the parents who read this blog to unload on his comment section. Give him the vomit in the car seat stories. Because it will amuse me.

I'm not going to post much tonight. Cognac, video, and husband.

But I will point to this link as proof that the British have a strange and wonderful sense of humor.


Thursday, October 09, 2003

That's Not My Job

Due to poor nap scheduling, I didn't get much work done today. Just returned some e-mails after lunch.

At 3:00, I got the shoes on the kids, packed up some apple chunks and graham crackers, and walked up Fort Washington Avenue to Javitts playground.

Today, we had trouble with Samuel. Samuel is a wild boy, who needs someone constantly telling him not to bounce his ball off other kids' faces. He needs someone smacking him on the back of the head when he screams "POOP." Instead his baby-sitter sits with her arms crossed half way across the playground. About as far from the kid as she can get without leaving the city all together.

Since Samuel is almost six and quite loud, naturally all the four and five year olds think he's the best. And now there is a small gang of boys armed with pointed sticks running up the slide backwards. Toddlers tossed aside. Their mothers gathering up the crying tots. It was all very Lord of the Flies.

I tried to get the boys to play a nice game on the tire swing, and tame the wild Samuel, but I failed. I couldn't mind someone else's kid when Ian kept escaping from the playground. I would turn my back to Ian for a second. Off he raced to the exit with his chubby cheeks jiggling. It was too hard to contain Ian and make sure that my older kid wasn't impaling others with his pointed stick. So we left.

I bribed the kids out of the playground with ice-cream from the Mister Softee truck. The white shark for Jonah. Ice cream sandwich for Ian and me. We found a nice bench in the Cloisters garden overlooking the heather garden for the treat, where I calmed down. It was actually a nice day. Hey, look at the flowers. Let's take off the sweaters.

Caroline stopped by with her three boys. We chatted about moving to the suburbs, while the kids drew on the sidewalk with chalk.

5:00 we walked back to the apartment, which is pretty late for us. I usually have dinner going by then. It's all about getting the kids to get by 7:00. Worrying about dinner ingredients, I ran into Jessica who handed me a Chinese takeout menu.

Like any good New York mother, I ordered chicken and broccolli on the cell phone while walking back home.

There are certain parts of raising kids that I love. Walking around the park. Treating them to ice-cream. Reading stories. But there's also aspects of the job that I didn't sign on for. Like watching other people's kids at the playground. And figuring out a four square dinner day after day.

Also putting valves in sippy cups, keeping track of milk consumption, watching the Wiggles, wiping bums, rinsing out shampoo, shopping at Target, transporting to pre-school, buckling car seats, curbing tantrums. Sometime I feel like saying, That's not my job. If I could delegate those jobs to a lacky or a graduate student, I would. But then I would miss out on ice cream in the park, too.

Lunchtime Reading

Thanks to Allison for sending me this Harvard magazine article. It profiles one Harvard grad who dropped her law career to become a stay-at-home mom. Later she started writing novels, which was much easier to combine with her family responsibilities. Of course, she gets up at 4:30 to write.


Wednesday, October 08, 2003

From Blog to Work

From Dan Drezner I found this story on bloggers transitioning to mainstream media.

Open questions:
1. Does this undermine the function of blogging as a watchdog of mainstream media? You can't be an critical observer if you hope to gain employment some day.
2. Are bloggers being co-opted? Opposition is silenced. New ideas are absorbed and made less radical.
3. How can I cash in?
4. How many bloggers have benefitted? Three?

The Happy Voter

Hannah Arendt once said that man is a political animal. In other words, we are happiest when making decisions, as directly as possible, that govern our lives. She would have been very happy about California.

Other bloggers have been very much excited about the Schwarzenegger candidacy, like Andrew Sullivan. Arnie's politics didn't excite me much.

The recall process has been fun in a carnival sideshow sort of way. (Come and laugh at the strong man, the midget, the lady with the double E implants).

It was also interesting for the sheer irony. The progressives, who at the turn of the century set up this system, would have swooned. They never intended the great unwashed to take advantage of the system. They intended to use the recall system to get around corrupt state legislatures, but they envisioned that business and community leaders would take the helm. Not sideshow freaks.

But last night, I got down right sentimental. I watched the news footage of hordes of people showing up to vote. Of activists on the phone and knocking on doors. People came to the polls for the first time. (OK, I'm a freak. Voting makes me misty.)

The Times has a good story today about the turnout.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley estimated the turnout on Tuesday at 9.25 million voters, about 60 percent of the state's 15.4 million registered voters, compared with about 50 percent last November and 71 percent in the 2000 election. If the estimate proves accurate, it will be the state's highest voter participation in a nonpresidential election since 1982.

What brought people to the polls? Were they energized by Arnie? Did they detest Gray? Probably both. But I also think that people relished the fact that they had the power to quickly oust a stinker, that they had so many choices of candidates, that so many non-career politicians were running. It woke them up from their naps.

This sideshow recall can't happen every day. But a little revolution every once in a while is a good thing.


Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Tuesday's Reader Mail

From Allison with a blog,
Love the blog -- found via Invisible Adjunct. You sound like my kind of gal. I've also got two kids and half a job, only I'm a journalist, not an academe. And I live in Israel. I love Manhattan -- lived in NYC for two years and miss it every day.

She's got a good blog, guys. Check it out.

From a friend on the tenure track and one kid,

as i was swimming today, i was thinking of titles for your book... sort of what happens to the awesome group of women who try to have it all -- some are angst filled, the working sort are angst filled -- even if you are totally cool with leaving your babe -- as i am -- no regrets there -- good for both of us -- it's the off times that throw you. the i can't get tenure unless i'm working all of the minutes in the day -- 8:30 -5:00, pick up kid, dinner, give bath, get ready for bed, read, do worksheets, pay some attention to the child, then work for 2 hours -- by thursday this is a total whiny mess. -- friday-- don't even talk to me -- or look at my house. a giant elephant could have moved in on tuesday and i can guarantee you that i would not even notice until midday saturday,. at which point i'm equally angst filled because i should be prepping classes, finishing the overdue paper(s), commenting on student papers (i assigned all of this work because i'm nuts???), cleaning the house, cooking food, oh there is something outside my house? tending the garden which looks like something i once read about in a book, exercise -- i used to exercise religiously -- and there is the poor kid...

When is the Invisible Adjunct going to write about the conflict between the tenure clock and the biological clock?

Things to Read and Do

Dave Berry has been posting some excellent potty stories. This one made me snort.

Duncan referred me to a hip parenting magazine, Brain, Child. They describe themselves as the New Yorker of child rearing.

Also, sign this petition. It asks the United Nations to treat suicide bombings as war
crimes and that those who inspire them be prosecuted by the International War
Crimes Tribunal.


Thanks to Anne, from the Univ. of IL, for the heads up on an article in the Chronicle from Dean Fish. Fish continues his defense of tuition costs, which started in the Times a couple of weeks ago.

He takes issue with a Republican report that finds that university costs are skyrocketing. First, he says that costs haven't risen disproportionately to other expenses (housing, food, travel.) Second, he says that costs have risen because of unavoidable expenses -- new technology, increased security, equipment, salaries of science, business, and technology faculty. Third, universities should not make decisions based on consumer demands, which undermine the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

I am sure that universities have a very high overhead. And perhaps public university costs have not risen disproportionately. (Private university costs are another story.) But I do have a big problem with Fish's unwillingness to be accountable to parents or elected representatives. He writes,

Should we settle curricular matters -- questions of what subjects should be studied, what courses should be required, how large classes should be -- by surveying student preferences or polling their parents or asking Representatives Boehner and McKeon? No, again.

If colleges and universities are to be "accountable" to anyone or anything, it should be to the academic values -- dedicated and responsible teaching, rigorous and honest research -- without which higher education would be little different from the bottom-line enterprise its critics would have it become.

By the evidence of this report -- not the evidence in the report; there's precious little of that -- Boehner and McKeon wouldn't recognize an academic value if it ran over them.

Fish's elitism undermines his argument. If you work for a public university and you receive public funds, the public has a right to know where the money is going. We call that democracy. Elected representatives (even if you didn't vote for them) have the right and the duty to ask questions about how public money is used. You can't expect a blank check from the government.

Perhaps there has to be a different mission in public and private universities. Private universities can set tuition rates as they please, have a serious research agenda, and provide jacuzzis for the students. But public universities have to be responsible to others. If the public doesn't want the faculty to take year long sabbaticals or teach classes of five students, then so be it.

(Despite my differences with Dean Fish on this matter, I have a great respect for him. I saw him debate the issue of free speech at City College several years ago, and he has a first class mind.)

UPDATE: Cold Spring Shops disagrees.


Monday, October 06, 2003


Because we haven't gotten desperate enough to go on the Disney Cruise, we went to Newport, Rhode Island this weekend with the kids.

I spent Friday sorting out fall clothes for the kids. The pre-packing chores. I would love to have the kids' clothes all neatly arranged in separate bins labeled by age and season. But that requires a basement. So, I have some clothes stuffed under the bed, some on top of the closet, some in my parents' basement. I spent Friday flushing the dresser and closet of summer shorts and tight t-shirts, and replacing them with sweaters and warm pjs.

The job is still half done. Jonah's old clothes must be returned to my parents' basement. (I'm sure they'll be overjoyed to see me arrive with more junk.) And the baby's old clothes have been placed in three bags: stuff for friends, stuff for Good Will, and stuff that I love too much/maybe someday I'll have another.

That took all day on Friday, so there was much frantic packing on Saturday morning. I put the TV on for two hours while I shoved things in bags. I had to. The kids were tearing the place apart, which is hugely distracting when you're trying to neatly pile up stacks of t-shirts and underwear. Being anal requires concentration.

I was wound pretty tightly as we left the city. Tough week. Being forced to sit still in a car for three hours was a good thing. No computers. No dirty bathroom to annoy me. No phone. I put on awful kiddie music, so no one would talk to me.

Newport is a large island with a rocky coast and a tremendous history. The center of town is full of 250 year old houses all huddled together. Each house has a little plaque with a name of the house and the year it was built. The street names are out of a Steinbeck novel, like Purgatory Road. We walked through some old graveyards (Capt. Wickham, Age 25, 1790), until the children began defiling the graves.

The center of town has been ravaged by cutesy shops. Ye Olde Quaint Crap. Pottery and hand blown glass and dangly earrings. You just have to look past that nonsense to see the old town square on the hill, the narrow streets, the customs house.

By the water's edge, there were some great outdoor bars to eat and lounge. Watch the yachts, drink a pint, and eat chow-dah. I bet you could blow hours of time just hanging and drinking. Of course, we wouldn't really know since we were with the kids. Damn.

We took the little savages out to dinner Saturday night. It was more down scale than the cool lounging place by the water. But they had a local ale and, of course, chow-dah.

Steve and I love chow-dah. Almost as much as we love saying it. Say it with me. Chow-dah. And any trip to New England involves eating bucket loads of it.

The savages, who had been sorely abused by a three hour drive, were not so cooperative in the restaurant. Steve and I took turns eating and minding the baby outside the restaurant.

After a little more exploring, we headed back to hotel. The kids fell asleep. We read by the light of the bathroom.

On Sunday, we went to church at St. Mary's, an old gothic church where JFK was married. Small and perfect.

For lunch, sandwich and chow-dah.

Since Jonah had stoically endured mass, we stopped off for coastal exploring on the other end of the island. Right along the water stretched a great grassy park with extreme kiting. I got some shots of Jonah with long tailed kites diving behind his head. I hope they turn out. Jonah and I ran across the grass and then over to the water. Newport doesn't have sand. Jagged, angry boulders and pools of tidal water instead.

We collected all sorts of "treasure" on the beach. 10 round rocks. 2 sea shells. 1 nasty feather.

Then we drove around the Gilded Age mansions that overlook the dramatic coast. We knew that the savages would only allow us to check out one, so we chose the biggest, Vanderbilt's Breakers. (Required reading: Edith Wharton.)

A mistake. Savages without a proper nap. In marble rooms that have a marvelous echo. On a guided 50 minute tour where they do not allow wandering off. A Germanic tour guide. With no trains whatsoever. After I finish this blog, I have to write a polite note to the RI historical society and ask for a $30 refund.

After beating a quick retreat from the tour, we roamed around the grounds of the estate. Actually, I think the mansions are better from the outside. The grounds and the architecture are still breathtaking. The faux-French furniture inside not so much.

It was a beautiful day and we had fun rolling around the grass of the mansion. Lots of photo ops. Steve and I laughed as we ducked behind a bush to change Ian's poopy diaper. Hmmm. What would Commodore Vanderbilt have said?

The rest of the trip was fine and good. We got back this afternoon. Threw on a skirt and ran off to school.

I have 100 e-mails to sort through. I've already seen some good links and some good candidates for Tuesday reader mail day.

Lileks is in NYC. Check him out for descriptions of landmarks that I've long since taken for granted.


Thursday, October 02, 2003

Bruised and Battered

I started this post this morning. I was feeling proud (mostly) of my ability to further my professional career during spare moments in the day. I wrote:

Kids have their own internal clocks which shift as they get older. Now that baby is 1-1/2, he's skipping the morning nap, which is a very sad thing. I counted on those two hours for getting work done, blogging, and cleaning the kitchen. It's not a whole lot of time, but I'm an expert at working during naps. As soon as baby's head hits the crib, I sit at the computer which is already turned on and ready for action. No warm ups of paper reading or solitaire allowed. I finished my dissertation that way.

Even with fully conscious toddlers, I still can multitask. My patented method of reading the New Yorker is to lie down in the middle of the kids' room and read. The kids like it. They think I'm paying attention to them. I'm also acting a wall keeping one kid on one side of the room with his trains and destructo-baby on the other side.

OK. So far I'm being rather cocky. Then I type in the following paragraph:

Sadly, the baby fell asleep on the trip back from picking up Jonah at nursery school. He woke up as I carried him up the stairs, and I couldn't get him back to sleep. I even let him cry in the crib for five or ten minutes. (Stressed, I ate half of an Entemann's Fudge Cake.) I think those five minutes of commuting sleep will be it for baby today. I'm screwed.

Then things just got worse.

Some days I think I can do everything. And other days, the city, the stairs and the kids all gang up and kick me in the ass. I have so many undone chores that I can't muster the courage to make a list. Haircuts. Fall clothes sorted. Dental appointments. Thank you notes. Broken watch band. For some reason, I fixated on the down comforter as my main task of the day.

Two weeks ago, the baby gagged on a half chewed goldfish and puked on our comforter. Since its down, it has to go to the dry cleaners. OK, easy enough, right? No, smartie. Not when you live in a four floor walk up.

So, I wasted precious time this afternoon trying to come up with a strategy for getting the comforter down the stairs while carrying the baby. I would put the comforter in a garbage bag and kick it down the stairs. Then put the baby in the stroller stored under the stairs. But how would I carry this big bag and push the stroller? Balance the bag on my head? Put the comforter in the stroller and point the baby in the general direction of the cleaners? Finally, I decided to put that chore off until Steve was home to watch the kids.

Next dilemma. We're out of diapers. Mom gave us two boxes diapers a week ago (diapers are much cheaper in NJ), but they were still in the trunk of the car. So, I call the garage giving them an hour notice. I get the car and pick up Jonah from school. We get back to the apartment at 11:50 where I plan to park the car on the street in front of the building. That way Steve can carry the boxes up the stairs on the way home from work. But it's alternative side of the street time. We can't legally park until 12:30. Ian falls asleep. I wait until 12:10, grab a handful of diapers, and leave the car. Luckily the man left us alone.

I admit defeat. I'm officially a mess.

We've going away this weekend for a quick vacation to Newport, Rhode Island. Packing for the trip might just kill me, but I need to clear my head. We have no agenda for the weekend. Long walks around gilded age mansions (I doubt the boys will put up with too much interior views) and sea food suppers.

Last post until after Monday's class. ta-ta

FYI. I've been posting a lot lately on work/kids stuff. (Hit the Sept. archive for the last couple days.) If you have opinions on the subject, head over to the Invisible Adjunct. She's got a comment section. (Thanks, IA.)


Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The Momosphere

One of the cool things about the blogosphere is that you can travel to different corners of the country and dip into different subcultures relatively easily. Though we all tend to regularly read like-minded bloggers (the academics read the academics, the journalists read the journalists), it's good to go exploring.

I am throwing around the idea around of writing a piece for a mainstream journal on the politics of motherhood. I haven't worked in this area before, not because of my politics or anything. I just never did. So I've been surfing around to get some ideas.

I'll share some of the places I visited:

this woman's work -- I stumbled across this blog a while ago. Dawn's not only a stay at home mother, but she's a home schooler. Reeeally interesting. Large numbers of people are doing it. Me? NO WAY. But it is still interesting. She has some good links to home school groups and LaLeche people. This might be one branch of the new feminists. The earthy backlash.

From this woman's work, I came across Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights. It's a political interest group that represents the interests of family caregivers. Are mothers a gap in the NOW constituency?

Because I'm curious about stay-at-home dads, I checked out one last blog, Being Daddy: Like Being Mommy. Only Hairier. A dad dispenses parenting advice and relates personal experienes. No career angst. Do dads have more fun?

Water. Check. Flats. Check. Blotting Tissue. Check.

Melissa sent me a link to Arianna Huffington's website. I guess Arianna is out of the CA campaign, but her blog is still around. She posted some real gems. Here's a sample:

Here then are my seven hard and fast rules for surviving the rigors of the campaign trail.

1. Absolutely no alcohol. Not even a sip of wine from somebody else's glass.
2. No carbs. Although I must admit I broke down on the airplane and had a bag of pretzels. But it was a really tiny bag.
3. Absolutely no high heels.
4. Drink lots and lots and lots of water. And when you think you've drunk enough, drink another bottle
4a. Make sure you have a well-trained advance person who always knows where
the closest bathroom is.
5. Keep plenty of blotting tissue handy for dealing with shiny patches in-between interviews. Especially if, like me, you have Greek olive oily skin - it's great for wrinkles, but bad for TV.
6. An ample supply of café lattes.
7. And, most importantly, it helps to no end to have a set of ideas you passionately believe in - and that you don't mind saying again and again and again and again and again and again..

I like this post for a lot of reasons. There's the practical make up tips Who wouldn't like that? Also, Arianna's not pretending to be a guy. She's concerned with her shiny patches. Does any male candidate even admit to using TV make up? Of course, it is a little disturbing that having ideas is last on the list of priorities for the day.

Belated Tuesday Reader Mail Day

This week's reader mail comes from my wise-ass brother. Chris says:

As you outline the dilemma, I conclude that the solution for working women is to find a way to make the children a steady revenue source. From the moment they stop wailing, they must be made to work. Very small infants can be dressed in cute, furry animal costumes and pulled around in wheelbarrows past rich ladies with no children. Then you pass the hat and watch the cash pile up. As they get older, they can be taught to pick pockets, play the saxophone outside the subway station, and work a three-card monte table near the Port Authority bus terminal. All of these activites will supplement a family's income and ease the conflict between work and child rearing.

UPDATE: Steve just had to resond:

I heartily agree, and there is plenty of historical evidence to support
his suggestion. When devising his utopia, Fourier planned to put the
small children living in his planned community to work doing chores. He
reasoned that since children have small hands, and since they like to
pick up things, children are naturally able to pick up small things
around the grounds and place them in their appropriate places. I
believe Fourier used peas as an example.

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