Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Read This

Maureen Ryan at the Chicago Tribune is taking over for Eric Zorn this week. Catch her posts on the lack of quality TV shows and Al Franken's new radio show. She also wrote a great article on suburban mom, sex shop owner, and blogger, Leigh Ann Wilson of a One Good Thing. (via Ms. Musings)

Speaking of Christine with the tricky last name, aka Ms. Musings. She's been posting some good stuff lately. Liked her observation about the personal blogs that women seem to favor. The personal is political (as a fellow blogger recently pointed out to me).

Quick Note on Bloggers

I had the opportunity to have lunch with a fellow blogger yesterday, and had a fabulous time chatting in a cafe in the Upper Westside. No details, but a quick observation. The blogosphere is amazingly decent, smart, and fun. What a nice community we've formed. Warm, fuzzy moment.


David Brooks had a good op-ed yesterday, entitled "Stressed For Success." He counsels high school seniors waiting to hear about college acceptances that it really isn't that important. The name of your school, your SAT scores, and the number of extracurricular activities that seem so important now, really don't mean much in the long haul.

Once you reach adulthood, the key to success will not be demonstrating teacher-pleasing competence across fields; it will be finding a few things you love, and then committing yourself passionately to them.

He sees no difference in the quality of students in Penn State or Harvard. And there are quality teachers everywhere.

What he said. I've taught now at an elite university and a plebian university, and truthfully I liked the kids at the plebian university better. Sure, there were a few that couldn't write an essay or analyze a text, but for there were also some that were smarter than me. In addition to brains, they had a hunger and a drive that I never witnessed at the elite university. And because I really liked them, I bent over backwards to help them.

Though I'm many years away from the college craze, I've been getting a taste of it with my son entering kindergarten next year. Some friends can't believe that we're sending our child to the local school. It doesn't have a science lab or green playing fields. And the mix of students means that the test scores aren't the highest in the city. They are schlepping their kids around Manhattan to fancy private schools or far flung alternative schools that boast of "child centered" curriculum.

I decided that slick teaching programs and fancy perks were not so important to me. When I signed up Jonah for school last week, we knew the family in front of us and the family behind us. The school is located just around the corner, so I can scoop him up in a second if he gets sick or if there is an emergency. The teachers have been around for years; they taught some of the parents from the neighborhood. It was a warm, safe environment with low levels of competitive stress. He'll be the star in his class. The other parents are good, hard-working people who haven't spoiled their kids.

Perhaps I'm too idealistic about education. My friend, Margie, thinks I am. She says that her husband would have succeeded faster if he had gone to Harvard, rather than a state university. Name recognition and connections would have boosted him up the ladder faster. Perhaps. But, also maybe, he wouldn't have had the same drive, the same hunger and been undone early on by a sense of entitlement.

It all comes down to confidence. Not so much in the schools, but in my kid and us. I feel quite sure that my kid is smart enough to do quite well anywhere. I'm sure that we're resourceful enough to make up for any gaps in his education in school. He'll get to where he needs to go, regardless of perks and pedigree. I wish others were as cocky as me.


Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Tuesday is Reader Mail Day!!

Last Friday, Melissa and I exchanged e-mails about the Time Magazine article on Stay at Home Moms. Here's how it went:

Melissa: I'm wondering what they all had to say about stay at home dad's. Of our friends out here [in San Francisco] with kids, if they have a parent who stays home, it's split about 50-50 as to whether it's the mom or the dad....

Yeah, they didn't have enough on stay at home dads. They didn't give any facts on the numbers of guys who stay home. They did have a lame sidebar that said that men want more time at home with the kids, too. But it didn't have any data that I could quote. I'm really glad to hear that the guys you know want to stay home, too. Steve would be totally into it. Go men!

Melissa: It just seems to me that so much of this is just an extension of the sexist argument that women have some natural ability to make better parents than men. By excluding information about men, the message that is sent is that stay at home dads are not worthy of mention.

Good point. Agreed.

Rebel Dad agrees, too.

On the city page of the Times on line is a link (Thanks, Andrew) to wonderful pictures and interviews with the characters of the subways, including the ubiquitous Dr. Zizmor and other subway fixtures.

Good thing I watch Access Hollywood, because today I learned that William Hung, who memorably sang "She Bangs, She Bangs" on American Idol has a website where he hawks merchandise and receives marriage proposals.

Wise Words From Jonah

Mom, you know why I want to be grown up?
Why, Jonah?
Because then I can play computer and watch TV all day.


Monday, March 29, 2004

Downwardly Mobile

From an article on the housing market in NYC in the Times:

Sociologists and economists say soaring real estate prices mean it simply costs more for a middle-class family to stay in the middle. Some experts see a widening gulf in the middle of the middle class, separating those who have and those who have more.

On Long Island there are great extremes of wealth and poverty, and then, somewhere in the middle, is a middle class whose definition is at best slippery.

Nationally, if a family's annual income is $75,000, by most definitions the family belongs to the middle class

By that standard a low six-figure income would put a Long Island family in the upper middle class nationally - yet that family may well not be a position to buy a house in most of the Island's communities.

"More and more it's a case of winners and losers in the middle class," said Susan S. Fainstein, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University. "There are two groups. If you have a secure and steady job, own a home, you can be doing quite well. Then there are all those people who are on a slippery slope who are afraid that they're going to lose their job or that it will go off to India.

"They're the ones who are the forgotten middle class," she said..
All of which serves to price large segments of the middle class out of some real estate markets.

"I don't know how people are doing it," said Rachel Ranis, a sociology professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. "It's very hard for any family to buy in this market unless both parties are working."

The Gentrification Genii

In some circles, gentrification is a dirty word. They speak of the evil middle class families moving into poor neighborhoods in New York pushing out the poor. Rents rise, bodegas are replaced by Starbucks, and people are displaced. In some part, this is true, but there is also much that is good that comes from gentrification.

In our neighborhood, the middle class and the poor live side by side. The poor are protected by rent stabilization laws, so they can pay $500 for their two bedroom apartment, while their white neighbors pay $1000 for a one bedroom. Sure, the landlord isn’t too happy about this situation, but there isn’t much he can do about it.

The local school now has a sizable population of middle class parents. These new parents have formed a powerful committee that pressures the administration to increase services for the kids. They volunteer their time to help tutor kids in need. They throw fund raising events to help provide supplies for the school. Other parents are very grateful for these services.

Our church has been kept captive by a few surly old people. We call them the Adams family. The head usher, Lurch, scowls at fidgety kids, and Morticia, the head singer, leads the congregation in dirges. Last week, parents began organizing a committee to start a children’s mass and a fund raising dinner for the sagging church.

Parents are organized through the work of one entrepreneurial parent, Jessica, who runs an e-mail list. She informs parents of the dates to register kids for the local school, of yoga classes, of available babysitters, and of local protests to stop reductions in services for the subway. I receive four or five messages a day from the tireless Jessica. Another parent has a website of local events.

Middle class families do these things because they are informed, educated, and empowered. The benefits of better schools and cleaner subways benefit the entire neighborhood. Poor families guard their valuable, rent controlled apartments, because they reap the collective good of gentrification. And certainly middle class families benefit from the diversity of the neighborhood by exposing their children to different cultures.

Public Enemy #1

You are a menace to every coffee shop in the Northern hemisphere. You are triggering a rash of coffee rage. You know who are. You are the selfish sipper-taster-mixer at the milk station at Starbucks.

Yes, I have seen you. You approach the milk station with your grande half caff/half decaff with a cell phone attached to your ear. As you chat with your buddy, Tiffany, you add a drop of skim milk, then taste. Then add a smidgen of sugar. Stir. Stir. Taste. Smack your lips. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon. Taste. Stir. Add more milk. Pour out some of the over flowing mess. Taste. Add Sugar. Laugh with Tiffany about what the boy at the bar said. Sip. Sip. Stir.

Meanwhile, the line grows behind you. The lady behind me spills her cup. And you continue with the science of the perfect cup of coffee and chatter on the cell.

Here's what you do, honey. It's really very simple. Go for the half and half and dump it in. If you must add sugar, one shake is enough. Stir at your table, please. And if it isn't perfect, tough. Because if you try to cut in line to get more milk, I'm going to do some permanent damage to that cell phone.


Russsell Arben Fox writes, There is a real need, and a reasonable one, for society to act collectively on behalf of easing the social and economic costs of child-rearing in the modern world. Read his post, Matthew Yglesias's post, and the article in Washington Monthly about the costs of raising a family today.


Sunday, March 28, 2004

What is it?

Saturday morning, I went to the Whitney Biennial, the latest in contemporary art. The Biennial is always controversial. For those whose art appreciation doesn't go past the Sistine Chapel or the Mona Lisa, this show has always been concrete proof that modern artists are pulling one over on us. "A basketball suspended in a fishtank? Don't be telling me that is art. That's a crime. That's what that is." "That's a giant penis. A penis. That's is not art. Someone should stop these people."

True story. One time at the Museum of Modern Art, I saw a couple gazing intently at a fire hydrant. When they realized that it was just a fire hydrant, they ran out of the room with very red faces.

I do like modern art. Sometimes, even the basketball in the fishtank. If I'm in the right state of mind, I can get into the nihilism and humor of a bronzed inflated bunny, though I can understand why it can piss off other people. If you are one of those pissed off at modern art people, the Whitney biennial is not your art show.

Amongst the pieces you would hate: A video of two guys vaguely dressed as Russian peasants tromping through a plowed field with handfuls of hay. The two guys walk across the screen and dump their hay and then go off screen where they get more and dump more and that's it. Another one that might make you unhappy was a sculpture of a stack of pancakes (representing a band) surrounded by fern fronds with lips (representing the audience). Yeah, those didn't do much for me either.

But there were several works that showed incredible talent and technical skill. David Hockney had some beautiful, loose water colors of interiors and rain on a porch. Julie Mehretu captured the energy and movement of a short hand city with bold swishes of color. There were some very memorable photographs. I particularly liked the dreamy photographs of surfers waiting for the perfect wave by Catherine Opie. (Check out the images on the Whitney website.)

If you're in New York City, I suggest going, though be prepared for a 40 minute to an hour wait. My friend Susan and I got there at 11:30 on Saturday, and the line of chain smoking art students stretched around the block. It was okay. It was a beautiful day. Prime people watching. Sigourney Weaver walked by.


Friday, March 26, 2004


So, I admit it. I've been watching the Apprentice. I'm shameless. In last night's episode, the remaining two women went into the boardroom for their tongue lashing from the Donald. These women, who aspire to become heads of major corporations, teetered in on high heels and micro minis. They looked like stewardesses. Ann Althouse noticed it, too.

Is Finding Nemo too violent for kids? For mine it is.


Thursday, March 25, 2004

Maternal Desire

I've read the New York Times review of Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and The Inner Life, a review in the San Francisco Chronicle, and an interview in Salon with the author, Daphne de Marneffe.

I have not read the book. Any self respecting writer would hold herself back from commenting on a book that she hasn't read. But I'm a blogger, not a writer. Clearly, I have no self respect.

I do think that de Marneffe makes some good points. Raising kids isn't well respected in society. Not like a fat bonus, a promotion, and a smart suit. Many women worry about the care of their kids and feel underappreciated for their work at home.

But I don't buy her argument that mothering it is only path towards self-fulfillment for women. I am not basking in a warm glow of bliss every minute that I'm with the kids. This morning, after repeated calls to a computer tech department, I finally got someone with a pulse. Just then, Ian walks into the room with a guilty look on his face, a sagging diaper, and a hand covered in fecal matter. Not a warm bliss kind of moment.

I also don't buy that only women have a need to care for their children. Men are increasingly willing to forgo their careers to take care of the family. And certainly many women have zero interest in having children and lead happy well adjusted lives.

Despite these flaws, it sounds like deMarneffe makes some good points about parenting; it is undervalued and it can be very rewarding. Worth a read. The New York Public Library should have it ready for me in a week.

Stats on the Workweek, Parenting, and Slackerdom

On Tuesday, during my few hours of peace in Inwood library, I went took notes on the recent Time Magazine article, "The Case for Staying Home." (March 22, 2004, p.51-- 59) The article discusses "the reluctant revolt" of more women staying at home, at least for a short time. It's on the newstand now, but not on line, so I thought I would share some of the stats.

The U.S. workweek still averages around 34 hours, thanks in part to a sluggish manufacturing sector. But for those in financial services, it’s 55 hours; for top executives in big corporations, it’s 60 to 70. For dual-career couples with kids under 18, the combined work hours have grown from 81 a week in 1977 to 91 in 2002.

And with e-mail, pagers, and cell phone, most people also work at home too.

“We are now the workaholism capital of the world, surpassing the Japanese,” laments sociologist Arlie Hochschild, author of The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work. (Reading that now.)

72% of mothers with children under 18 are in the work force – up sharply from 47% in 1975, but has held steady since 1997. 6.4% of families, women work, but the men are unemployed. (Not clear if these were stay at home dads)

First ever drop off in workplace participation by married mothers with a child less than a year old. That figure fell from 59% in 1997 to 53% in 2000. Roughly the same in 2002. Significantly, the drop was mostly among women who were white, over 30 and well educated.

22% of women with graduate or professional degrees are home with their kids. 1 in 3 women with an MBA are not working full time.

Generational differences. A 2001 survey by Catalyst of 1,263 men and women born from 1964 to 1975 found that Gen Xers “didn’t want to have to make the kind of trade-offs the previous generation made. They’re rejecting the stresses and sacrifices,” says Catalyst’s Paulette Gerkovich. “Both women and men rated personal and family goals higher than career goals.”

Boston area marketing group, Reach, found more evidence of a shift in attitudes. Gen X moms and dads said they spent more time on child rearing and household tasks than did boomer parents (born from 1945 to 1964).

In the highest household-income bracket ($120,000 and up), Reach advisors found that 51% of Gen X moms were home full time, compared with 33% of boomer moms. But the younger moms, were far more likely to say they intended to return to work.

Go slackers!


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

On the Road Again

ROAD TRIP. Took Jonah out of school. Skipped Ian's 10:00 nap. Called for the car and off we went to Connecticut to visit Cousin Jenn. At the last minute. Carrying only an extra diaper or two.

ROAD TRIP. I love playing hookey from school. Even if it's only my kid's 4 year old nursery class. Reminds me of high school when I would forge my mother's signature on a doctor's note and sneak off with nowhere to go.

ROAD TRIP. I love the glamour of hitting the open highways with a beatup jalopy, a pack of smokes, and road pop. Well OK, I've got the jalopy. One time I drove across the country with my friend Robin while reading On the Road out loud. That is until we got to New Mexico when we just stopped talking to each other all together.

ROAD TRIP. Yes, the romance of real long road trips will forever be ruined by the two midgets in the backseat. Thelma and Louise did not have a car seat in the back. You know Brad Pitt would have nothing to do with them if the back seat was cluttered by stale sippy cups. And if the trip is longer than an hour or two, the crew starts getting restless. Still, if I turn the radio real loud and open the window, I can drown out the protests from the back.


Check out Todd Oldham's collection at Lazboy.


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Read This

God Damnit, the Invisible Adjunct has left the building. It's a huge loss. Huge.

A Salon interview with Daphne de Marneffe, author of Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and The Inner Life. (via Miriam Jones) I'm a bit played out on this motherhood thing right now, so I'm not going to comment.

The Consequences of Failure

Last week, bypassing the usual political procedures, Mayor Bloomberg ended social promotion for the third grade. His methods and his policy have generated a great deal of heat. (Lots o' links here.)

First, the policy. Is it good to hold back third graders who fail the grade and fail summer school, who are hopelessly behind their peers? Is it good for the kids to hold them back? My cousin Marcus made it to eighth grade before anyone realized that he could barely read; his dad always thought he should have been held back until he mastered the basics. But, on the other hand, kids who are held back don’t necessarily get what they need, face greater social stigma, and are more likely to drop out. I have mixed feelings.

So, I asked a friend from the neighborhood who teaches second grade in a hardcore city school. She said that holding them back doesn’t help and promoting them doesn’t help. By the time they get to third grade, it’s too late. She said that the kids in her school are behind middle class kids even by Kindergarten. Nevermind the ABCs or numbers, these five year olds don’t even know how to hold a book, because they have never done so before. She said these kids need intensive work in mandatory nursery schools.

Her answer makes a great deal of sense to me, though I could see some political benefits from holding the kids back. It could generate pressure on parents and the schools to deal with the problem more seriously at an earlier age.

Second, the politics. The Mayor pushed forward this policy only after replacing three members of the panel that approves his decisions. Parents who came to state their grievances were only given a limited amount of time to speak. Many have complained about Mayor Mike’s autocratic method for putting forward this policy.

Urban schools are run differently from other city government functions like sanitation or probation or road repair, which are directly under the mayor's control. At the turn of the century, public school system were established and organized under a separate governing structure, boards of education. The idea was to insulate schools from the corrupt bosses who ran the cities at that time. (For a well written discussion of the Progressive movement and schools, see Tyack and Cuban's Tinkering Towards Utopia.)

During the sixties, a layer of direct democracy was added to this system with locally elected school boards and citizen review.

After years of bureaucratic growth without political checks and corruption by local school boards, urban schools are a mess. In the 90s, many cities moved to mayoral control. The idea is that here is one guy who will be forced to be accountable; unlike the bureaucrats, he has to be reelected. He can integrate city services better. He can manage the budget better. Sure he might not have any experience with schools, but the president has no miliary experience and we expect him to be commander in chief of the armed forces.

So, where do I stand on the Mayor’s strong armed methods? I think I want to see what happens. I want to see if mayoral control over the schools will make a difference. If it means less direct democracy and more reliance on representative democracy, that’s fine for a while. It’s an experiment this mayoral control, and I want to see how it plays out, so I'm willing to give him extra room to move. It’s not like the old system worked all that well.

If Mayor Mike fails to make progress, come election time, he'll won't be promoted for another term.


Monday, March 22, 2004

Hero Homes

We’ve been seriously looking for a new place to live for the past couple of months. The local elementary school is over crowded, dirty, and uninspired. We lack an elevator, a driveway, a dishwasher, a backyard, and adequate laundry facilities. We think life could be easier somewhere else.

The apartment prices in our neighborhood start at $350,000 for a one bedroom, so we started looking in New Jersey within an hour commute of the city and with average to good schools. We zeroed in on one town that has the good schools and the commute. Though most houses in the town are crazy expensive, one part of the town has some broken down Cape Cods built after WW2 for the returning heroes armed with the GI Bill of 1944. We thought we would buy one of the broken down hero homes.

However, so did everyone else. We waited on line with the other desperate families to look at Sunday open houses. We even bid on four sad houses, one by the railroad tracks, one that only had 1-1/2 bedroom, one had no yard, and one had no place to eat. And we were outbid at every turn. One guy put down all cash and waved the inspection, because he planned on knocking it down. One family bid $100,000 more than asking price. All of these homes were on the market for less than three days, went far over asking price, and had 10 or 25 bids.

We’re not terribly upset. We’ll come up with some other solution. We could rent somewhere else or stay and have our babysitter help us more. The local school, I’m sure, won’t turn my kid into a drug dealing drop out in a year or two.

I bring up our sad story not for pity, but because I think we’re in the midst of a serious housing crisis that is being missed by the mainstream press and politicians. Housing prices have gone up 28% in five months. Average housing costs in the metropolitan region must be at least $400,000. Cops and firemen and teachers have no chance of finding a home an hour, even two hours, out of the city. This problem has hit almost every major city this year in part because of low interest rates, high demand, and Wall Street bonuses. The authors of the The Two-Income Trap point to the inclusion of women into the workforce and the competition for good schools as contributing to this problem.

What is to be done? People need shelter. The only new construction in the area are developments with enormous, jacuzzi-filled mansions. Instead, we need to build another Levittown. Towns with smaller, affordable homes on small chunks of property. Or two family row houses with common backyards. We need to reclaim the towns with bad schools, so that the middle class can consider moving there. A combination of government and private investors need to start building a new generation of hero homes.

Here’s some stats from the The Two-Income Trap:
Over the past generation, home prices have risen twice as fast for couples with young children as for those without kids. Mostly because people with kids have less choices. They can only move to areas with good schools.

Since the mid-70s, the amount of the average family budget earmarked for the mortgage has increased a whopping 69% (adjusted for inflation. At the same time, the average father’s income increased less than 1%.

Since I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for Levittown and other post war communities, here are some links on the subject:

Great photographs of Levittown in the 1950s and interiors of the homes.

The impact of the GI Bill of 1944 on post war America.


Sunday, March 21, 2004

Morning Links

Last week, the mayor of NYC, bypassing usual political procedures, ended social promotion in the third grade. Diane Ravitch, who has no love of school bureaucracy, opposes his methods and the lack of checks over the mayor. Facinating stuff. Worth a longer post later the week. More links on the subject: here, here, here, here, and here.

Urban parents have set up a website to deal with their issues, like is it okay to leave your sleeping baby in the apartment, while you put a load of laundry in the washer in the basement. The Times wrote an article about it. Slightly grossed out by the discussion of wealthy parents.

Any question that the nanny relationship with parents is very complicated? Read this.

A Quiet Weekend

We had a relatively quiet weekend. Needed it. For the past six weeks, we've spent every free second in the real estate trenches, instead of catching up on sleep or dealing with the basic maintenance of our apartment or having fun trips around the city. We needed this weekend to chill.

But before chilling could occur, we had to do the basic maintenance operations of the apartment. We've really let things go to pot lately. Greasy dust on the microwave. Foot prints in the tub. The only food in the fridge was Mr. Spongy Potato and his buddy, Ms. Furry Onion. Some cleaning occurred; not quite enough.

Then the piles on the desk needed attention. On Saturday, we bought some organizational systems and photo albums from Target. That section of the office is now much more tidy. I have admired my work several times today.

I finished keying in my handwritten notes on my lecture notes. I taught a graduate class at a major university for two semesters last year. Without an adequate textbook to work from, I put together an entire class from scratch on the politics of education. Now that I've neatened everything up, my lecture notes are 120 pages long -- a small book. Damn, I put too much work into that class. My accountant was appalled by how little I was paid last year. He scorned my W2s. I scorn them, too.

Actually, thinking about it, very little chilling happened. I read the Jeffrey Toobin article on Martha in the New Yorker while the kids watched the Wiggles this morning, but that was it. OK, time to knock off the Sunday evening journal blog entry and get to this chilling business.


Friday, March 19, 2004

Friday Fatigue

By the time I get to Friday, I'm pretty fried. Five full days of watching the kids, running to the library, making dinners, blogging briefly in the quick evening, and consoling kids with nightmares at 4:15 am. I've fallen asleep twice while watching the kids today. Here's some good stuff, but am too full of Friday fatigue to comment tonight.

Harry at Crooked Timber and Megan McArdle of Assymetrical Information picked up my review of the Mommy Myth. (Thanks, guys.) Go there and comment.

Interesting post at this woman's work about being a feminist and a home schooler.

Lileks writes about the Adam Gopnik article in the New Yorker about Times Square.

God, I really wanted to write longer posts on this stuff today. Instead, it's probably best to begin Happy Hour here at Apt. 11D. Good weekend, people. Cheers.


Thursday, March 18, 2004

Adjunct Hell

The Invisible Adjunct is on vacation, so let me do my part by passing on two articles from the Chronicle on adjuncting, first noticed by Emma Jane at Barely Tenured. On the Half-Time Track cites great benefits to being untenured. It's a load of crap, but we'll have to wait until the IA comes back with her comment section to really rip it apart.

The other article, I'm Professor Nobody, tells the typical story of adjunct hell. Her conclusion is right up IA's alley.

It has often been remarked of college teaching that in no other profession do people compete so ardently for stakes that are so low. One might add that in few other professions do employees behave as if those who are at the bottom of the hierarchy are Untouchables. What will it take for powerful people in academic departments to acknowledge that their humanity, their core decency, would be enhanced if they practiced the liberal values they espouse so passionately in the classroom? If the literary canon can be expanded to include the work of women and minority writers, why can there not be a seat at the table for adjuncts and lecturers at faculty meetings?

Mommy Myth Review

The Mommy Myth has gotten a lot press lately. I quickly dismissed it a few weeks ago for its sloppy research and poor writing. I thought I would dismiss it in more depth today.

The authors claim that a dominant ideology today makes women feel guilty if they don’t spend 24/7 with their kids bolstering their self esteem and developing every emerging talent.

This is true. Raising children today is a much different enterprise than it was in the 1950s or 60s. My mom didn’t strap us kids into car seats, which meant that it was easier to go places and to share carpooling with neighbors. She put us to sleep on our stomachs, which is much easier than putting babies to sleep on their backs. She gave us solid food much earlier and filled our bellies with formula, which meant that we slept through the night quicker. She shoved us out the backdoor and we amused ourselves in the backyard with a stick and a hole. We had no dance classes, music classes, or playdates. We cried in our cribs until we went to sleep. If we didn’t like dinner, we went hungry. She read us stories, of course, and sang us songs, but she didn’t do it all day. She had the house to clean and dinner to make for my dad.

What is the source of this more demanding style of parenting? The authors blame a vast right wing conspiracy, which they intelligently call the Committee for Retrograde Antifeminist Propaganda or CRAP. (Call me an academic snob, but I was really irritated by this. Also, trying to be cute, they call the former Soviet Union, those pesky Russkies. Finger nails on a blackboard.)

Now I’m not an expert on Dr. Laura, but I don’t think that she is the source of the new demanding style of parenting. I believe that conservatives just want women at home, and are not prescribing activities for the mother.

Unless the Sears are in league with CRAP, I think that the new style of parenting has other sources. Child development experts, safety experts, and parents themselves have brought about these changes.

As soon as you find out that you’re pregnant you are given a library of books on how to make the smartest child. (I wrote about it before here.) And we buy them. Parent magazines report on these studies and respond to the demand for information and publish detailed articles about how to do yoga with your 6 month old baby, how to sing to your fetus, and the dangers of one hour of TV a day.

Why do we buy this stuff? Why do we put so much time into parenting? Well, partly it’s because we love our kids. It’s natural to want to do the best thing for your kids. If a study shows that TV lowers your child’s IQ, we have to turn off Barney, even if it means that we don’t have time for a shower that day. Maybe, it also has to do with the fact that the middle class feels much more insecure than it did in the past. There are less career opportunities for those who fail to flourish in school and more income inequity.

This new style of parenting is much tougher on those who work. And this is the unstated point of the Mommy Myth. I’m home most of the time, and I’m pretty drained after a long day of parenting. How much worse is it for a woman who picks up her kids from daycare at 6:00, makes dinner from scratch, cleans up the kitchen, sorts the mail, reads stories, gives baths, brushes teeth, and puts the kids to sleep? She puts the kids in front of the TV to make the dinner and while she gets ready for work in the morning. She knows that her kids haven’t gotten this high maintenance parenting at daycare, and there’s no way she can do much in that hour or two that they are home together. She’s too exhausted from work to engage in stimulating chatter with the kids; maybe even loses her temper too often. It’s tough.

Instead of stating that point, which is interesting and good, the authors get defensive. (This mothering thing makes us all defensive.) They defend the old feminists who said that we could do it all, they make weird causal assumptions, and they fail to show that their kids have thrived without their full attention.

One of the pressures (there are others) on the work of the previous generation of feminists comes from child experts, not Dr. Laura. Attachment parenting and Baby Mozart are pressuring women to leave the work force and forcing feminists to think up new solutions.


A New York Magazine columnist responds to Myrna Blyth’s book, Spin Sisters : How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness and Liberalism to the Women of America . The columnist had an interesting observation about the difference between men's and women's magazines.

Men’s magazines reassure their readers from the get-go. You’re a womanizing slob who drinks too much? Hey, that’s cool. The assumption is that you’re okay; it’s the car or the stereo that needs fixing. Women’s magazines work from the premise that their readers want, and need, to improve their lives.

Real estate prices in New York have gone up 28% in five months. Between the house hunting frenzy and the angst over my kid attending PS 187, there is just too much stress around here.


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Theology and Transportation

Dropped off the kids at my mom's today, so I could visit Irv the accountant. After Irv removed a box of Joint EZ from his desk and adjusted his hair piece, he did a good job for us. Thanks, Irv.

As I'm dealing with rush hour traffic on the GW bridge, Jonah starts shooting me rapid fire questions from his car seat in the back.

Mom, am I going to get dead? A long, long time from now.
I don't want to get dead. (slight tremor in his voice.) Don't worry. That won't happen until you're really old.
Like Pop Pop? Older than Pop Pop.
Am I going to get old some day? I don't want to get old. Yeah, me too.
When I get dead, am I going to go to heaven like Great Grandma? Sure.
What does it look like inside heaven? I don't know what it looks like. It's real nice.
How do you get to heaven? By bus or by train? By bus.


Tuesday, March 16, 2004


I liked Tim Burke's recent post, Terrorist Tipping Points. Tim tries to figure out a motive for Madrid's bombing. Was it desperation, nihilistic blood lust, or political strategy?

He writes,
Anybody who devotes even a small amount of time to thinking of plausible targets knows that not only is there a huge surplus of such targets, there must always be so in democratic societies. The train attacks in Spain could easily have happened on Amtrak: in the past ten months, I’ve sat on Amtrak trains where people in my car have left a backpack on a seat and gone to the bathroom or club car, or so I’ve assumed. If they were leaving a bomb instead, how could any of us tell? Trains only scratch the surface: a hundred ghastly scenarios spring to mind.

Since 9/11, I also think about the worst possible scenario. A series of small bombs under the George Washington Bridge. A vial of lethal bacteria in an upstate reservoir. A dirty bomb in Times Square.

It's better now. Those thoughts of devastation have subsided a bit. But in the months right afterwards, when most New Yorkers were suffering from a mild case of post traumatic shock syndrome, the worst case scenario seemed imminent. I was in midtown when it happened. Read about it here, if you like.

In the days after 9/11, we were all on edge. In the playgrounds, the parents described their escape route from the city. They knew where they would go in upstate New York and how they would meet up with their spouses. We had all thought this stuff through. When the fighter jets flew over the eerily quiet city, we stopped talking and looked up.

Many friends packed Go Bags for themselves which they left by the door.

Steve loaded up the trunk of our car with gallons of water and beans and a transistor radio. We finally got a cell phone. I only wore sneakers to work for a month in case I had another long walk home.

I was teaching at the time. When class finally reconvened, I just let the students vent that first day. 50 freshman faces looked to me for answers, and I had none. One student had to drop the class, never recovering from almost losing both her parents in the towers. One student worked as an intern for the Times and told the class wild rumors that the reporters were investigating. There was some story about a bomb on Halloween. Students were continually late to class, because the subways were always being shut down for investigations. Every time this happened, I had a sharp burst of panic.

After several months, we calmed down and ate the beans and drank the water. Student life returned to normal. I no longer compulsively worried about my husband working in Times Square. I stopped looking up at the sky wondering who was piloting the 747 overhead.

Madrid brought me back to that place for a moment. The panic of living in a place that is so fragile and full of people and symbolic. The buildings that I used to regard as solid and massive, now look like they could fold up like a Kleenex. I saw steel and concrete turn to dust on TV. Now I've seen powerful trains opened up like an high school earthworm experiment. The world is a lot more fragile.

Read This

Time Magazine has a series of articles on women who opt out of their careers to take care of the kids.

Tim Burke discusses the terrorist attack in Madrid and wonders "Why haven’t they done more?”

Dr. Manhattan at Blissful Knowledge, a fellow blogger from the 'hood, takes me to task for my nostalgia for 1980's NYC. Adam Gopnik in this week's New Yorker on the same topic.


Monday, March 15, 2004

Boston Rob and Other Stuff. Tomorrow.

I was planning a brilliant post tonight on capitalism and the Olson twins, but that's not happening. Two pints of Sam Adams are clouding my mind.

At 7:30, when I usually settle down at the computer for business, my friends Susan and Chris called me to join them at a local joint, Jesse's Place. For a second I wavered, because I really wanted to get to work. But I think it is better to have a life, rather than write about a life, so off I went. We talked about the war in Iraq, our revived worries about a bomb in the subways, European attitudes towards the war, Boston Rob on Survivor, and the Mel Gibson movie. Good stuff that will make it to the blog at some other time.

So, in short, no post tonight.


Sunday, March 14, 2004

An Obvious Solution

Yesterday's evening news, towards the end of the half hour, had a segment about how overweight Americans are. After smokes, burgers and fries are the next biggest killers. (Alarming statistics shoot up on the screen over the image of fries sizzling in lard.) The government is starting an awareness program. McDonalds is cutting out its supersize fries. Interview with a man recovering from triple bypass surgery saying that if only knew ten years ago now what he knows now. Peter Jennings shakes his head.

The next segment discussed the rising gas costs. (Close up of gas tank prices.) Interview with a man driving an SUV saying that he spends $80 a month on gas prices. His large belly is pressed against the steering wheel. Some discussion with economists about the reasons for this. Peter Jennings shakes his head.

There is an obvious solution to problem 1, obesity, and problem 2, gas costs. Walk.

Gregg Easterbrook writes that a century ago, the average person walked 3 miles a day; now it's less than 1/4 mile. Sounds about right. My parents don't think twice about taking the car to a dinner party one block away.

As an urban dweller, I log 3 miles a day. I blow through shoes every few months. And I moan and gripe to all who will listen about those miles and all the crap I have to carry to the park. (Close up of me in despair.) Last week, I walked 1/2 mile to the park carrying two toy strollers, spare diapers and wipes, two sippy cups, a soccer ball, a bottle of soda for me, snacks, and a minature mutant ninja turtle on a skate board. We roamed around for two hours and then walked 1/2 mile home. The last leg of our trip took 40 minutes because the kids were so tired.

Usually I feel quite sorry for myself, because of the miles and the baggage. But tonight, I'm feeling rather pleased with myself. Because of our lack of easy access to the car, I'm thin, the kids pass out with exhaustion at 7:00, and we've saved a bundle on gas and gym membership. Also, I'm limiting global warming, reducing our reliance on mideast oil, and easing congestion on America's highways. I guess I should be happy we can't afford to move to the suburbs.

Read This
Yet another article on Google in the Times. What most amused/disturbed me was the fact that some assistant professor is teaching a graduate seminar entirely on the subject of Google.


Friday, March 12, 2004

Why Don't More Women Have Political Blogs?

Dan Drezner pointed me to a CSJ article, The Blogosphere: The Boys 'n' Their Toys. The article explores a recent finding that though men and women start up blogs in equal numbers, Women are responsible for as little as four percent of political blogs -- "sites devoted to politics, current events, foreign policy, and various ongoing wars" -- according to the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE). Instead, women tend to write more personal journal style blogs. Why?

The article points to a number of hypotheses: the guys got there first, women express themselves differently, and women shy away from the frat boy fighting of the male political blogs.

Technical point. Perhaps NITLE defines the word political too narrowly. Politics doesn't have to be narrowly defined to current events or international relations. Political science includes the study of public policy, political philosophy, urban studies, women's issues, and comparative politics. Women might be better represented in these areas. For example, the Invisible Adjunct writes about the politics of higher education; Joanne Jacobs writes about the politics of lower education; Allison Kaplan Sommers writes about politics in Israel; Ms. Musings writes about feminism. Also, perhaps women mix their political posts with other topics, and missed notice by NITLE.

There is an annoying assumption in the article that current events blogs are somehow better than other kinds of blogs.

The author of the CSJ article suggests that women aren't interested in politics. ...while women are just as interested as men in spouting off, they're fundamentally less interested than men in spouting off about politics. Hogwash. I've got a PhD in the topic.

Why didn't I start a current events blog? I could have. I'm a big mouth with credentials. Occasionally, I'll have a current events post, but mostly my blog is a mix of personal observations with broader political and social questions, ie. the latest developments in the women's movement or the job market in academia. I didn't start a current events for a number of reasons.

I am a late starter to blogging. I got in after the main hierarchy had already been established. After surfing around for a while amongst the big shot bloggers, they did seem to link only to each other a lot. I rarely saw a link to other women. (Allison Kaplan Sommers recently posted that maybe her latest pregnancy would get her linked by Instapundit, since nothing else she wrote seemed to get her noticed.) The pictures of Salma Hayek or Miss Aftganistan weren't offensive, but it did set up a Maxim atmosphere. There is a fraternity amongst the current events bloggers that does, inadvertently I'm sure, exclude women.

Time. I don't have much of it. To do the current events blogs, you need to be able to write quick draw posts with lots of links. And links take a lot of time. Not only do they have to be programmed in, but you need to read around and wade through comments. Women have less free time than men.

I also felt that, when I got into blogging, current events were pretty well covered by the existing blogs. If I had a burning need to speak up on a topic, I could add a comment somewhere. I wanted to talk about something else. There is still a lot of unexplored area for conversation on the blogs. There is a lot more to politics than the war in Iraq. I would like to see a blog that just focused on health policy or on urban/suburban planning or on race issues.


Boomer Death Watch. A blog that hates aging hippies, almost as much as my grumpy husband. Apparently, we can even blame them for high costs of housing. That's cool with me. (via Stephen Karlson)

Claudia has further thoughts on hiring nannies abroad.

The feminists are finally supporting Martha. Good. Read Ms. Musings.

Why aren't women better represented in the political blogs? Excellent question. See Dan Drezner and his links. I might go over and comment at Dan's blog about this. However, I might not be the best person to speak for my gender, since gender genii keeps identifying me as a guy.


Thursday, March 11, 2004


I don't feel like a fun post today. I'm thinking about Madrid.

I've been there a few times. Twice to visit my sister who lived there for a couple of years, and once during my honeymoon. It's a great city with noble buildings on the main streets and warm, happy bars off to the side. My sister's friends were fun loving and kind to me with my poor Spanish.

I'm thinking about reading a John Le Carre novel on a park bench while waiting for my sister to come out of class, of eating olives and tortilla at an outdoor cafe and watching people walk by, of drinking cheap wine until 4:00 in the morning.

I'm very sorry for the people of Madrid, and terribly angry at the terrorists who bloodied that beautiful city.


Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Reading Books to Kids

Raising kids has its moments. Some moments make me contemplate a dive off the Staten Island Ferry. Getting Jonah to stop calling people, "Mr. Stinky". Getting Ian to make it home for his nap, rather than taking a power nap in the stroller on the walk home from Jonah's pre-school. The power nap just makes him ornery later in the day. Sustained whining from 4:00 to 5:00 from a cranky Large Baby sapped all energy today.

Other moments with kids do not suck. Reading bedtime stories is always great. My kids never get tired of them. It might be the one time during the day that my two over active boys sit quietly and relax. They lean against me and listen. And for twenty minutes, sometimes more, there are no demands for juice, no car crashes, no leaps off the sofa, no "Mr. Stinky."

And there are some great kids' books. Here are some of my favorites:

Mike Mulligan and More: A Virginia Lee Burton Treasury Mike Mulligan is a kid's classic. The story of an old steam shovel, Mary Anne, whose glory days are over. Though Mary Anne and her owner, Mike, built the cellars for big skyscrapers, she has been replaced by the newer gasoline, electric, and Diesel motor shovels. But Mike can't bear to send Mary Anne to the old gravel pit. Instead they take a job building a cellar for the new town hall in Popperville. "They left the canals and the railroads and the highways and the airports and the big cities where no one wanted them any more and went out in the country."

The treasury has three other stories. The main characters are a house in the city, a tractor, and a cable car. They are stories of urban progress, kindness, and hard work. The artwork is WPA 30's style. And the writing has a nice syncopation; it's fun to read.

Maurice Sendak's Nutshell Library is another favorite. Four little stories in a box: Pierre, One Was Johnny, Chicken Soup With Rice, and Alligators All Around. The children and characters in these stories are saucy, naughty, and spirited. And again, the words are so fun to say that Carol King turned them into songs.

In September
for a while
I will ride
a crocodile
down the
chicken soupy Nile.
Paddle once
paddle twice
paddle chicken soup
with rice.

My third favorite of the week is Olivia. Olivia is all about the artwork. Black, white, and red ink drawings of a high maintenance little pig who lives on the Upper Westside. "She's very good at wearing people out". The writing is not poetic like Sendak or Burton, but the story is more modern. The daily routines of a kid (okay, a city kid) from morning to night. Olivia goes to the museum and tries to paint like Jackson Pollock on her bedroom wall and then gets time out. My kids always like it when Olivia gets time out, so I make sure that I say it very loudly for them.


Tuesday, March 09, 2004

I Love the '80s
Was NYC better in the 1980s, when grafitti covered the subways and crack dealers controlled Northern Manhattan? Andrew writes to say no.

All you say about NYC back then is true. Also true is the dread, then giggles I get still today driving the stretch on Ft. Washington between the GWB and CPH. Back when the subway was a nickel and I was racing bikes all the time we'd roll up through what was then the scariest place I rode. I've been worse places but none in lycra. The kids in the smallish Accord type cars screeching off the bridge to score crack and the smackheads slow-motion mummy walking up the middle of the road made what is now a bucolic Hudson-upon-Hudson neighborhood a cold sweat for somebody on a (gasp!) 700 dollar bicycle! There was ever the feeling of impending doom in NYC in those days, it seems to me. It's true that after college I was making money and paying my Brooklyn rent on time, spending it on "Caramba" margaritas and trips to the real Canal Jeans, on Canal, before it was on Broadway, even, but there didn't seem to be any legs holding up the tables we drunkenly leaned on.

It seems things are better now to me. Especially for the people who live there. Maybe not good enough to stay with younguns, but a better place than the mid-80s.

Though the city was in many ways uglier, it was also more edgy, artistic, and spontaneous. I remember walking by crack dealers to see a poetry slam on Avenue B. Now the crack dealers are gone, but so are the poets, replaced by supermodels and trustfund kids. In the 1980s, I saw Luka Bloom play open mike at the Red Lion Inn, but the coke heads were doing lines on the table next to us. Now the Red Lion is a destination for tourists, and the music is bland. Our neighborhood might be safer, but my landlord is evicting all the old Dominicans in order to raise the rent. Artists, photographers, and teachers are leaving the area for cheaper locations -- Massachusetts, North Carolina, upstate NY. New York is no longer a destination for artists and writers; it is a destination for lawyers and investment bankers.

It's better and worse at the same time.


Toni was after me to write something about Martha being taken down by the women haters in American justice. Others are doing this, so I won't. Here's a poor Martha op-ed in the Post.

When Martha was found guilty, the traders at my husband's top secret Wall Street firm applauded. Nobody likes the perfect, rich lady.

The Post has had a field day on her. I'm loving all the food puns that the tabloids have been slapping on page 1. Guilty:Goose Cooked. Humble Pie: Martha on Probation. God, that's good stuff.

Chris says this about the Post and their crack team of headline writers, That, I guarantee you, is a paper where people still go out and dutifully get shit-faced every single night after work.

Read This

Mo Ryan for the Chicago Tribune writes why we have more America's Top Model and not enough Angel on TV. (via Dan Drezner)

Bloggers collect campaign contributions. Henry at Crooked Timber comments.


Monday, March 08, 2004


I've always had a thing for the city. In high school, I began taking the bus by myself into New York City to roam around. Right after college, I moved into a two bedroom apartment in Sunnyside, Queens with my high school buddy, Sandy. I have lived in other cities, but NYC always calls me back.

One of the things that I've always loved about the city is its ethnic neighborhoods and all the great foods. You can get dim sum on Mott Street then walk a block into Little Italy for espresso and a canolli.

Though our neighborhood is in transition, there is still a large Jewish population around. Some Hasidum and some old European Jews. For Purim, my son brought back hamantashan from pre-school last week. I'm in love with these triangular almond flavored cookies with the dollop of apricot. Never quite gotten used to gefilte fish, but hamantashan are amazing.

The city still has its ethnic neighborhoods with their unique foods, but it has changed a lot since the 80s when I began exploring.

On Sunday, I checked out the new mall in the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle. A mall in New York City. It's just wrong. This one is especially bad. It's a mall of super high end shops. Armani. Coach. Burberry. A man's shirt in Pink goes for $130. Bored now.

I used to work in Columbus Circle in the Trump building, formerly the Gulf and Western building. I was a young editor at Simon and Schuster on the 16th floor over looking the park. Around the corner was a great independent book store, the Colliseum; it closed down a year ago. The new mall has a Borders.

And all over the city, small, inexpensive clothing stores are shutting down (RIP Canal Street Jean Company). It's all super expensive SoHo boutiques or the Gap. It's the mallification of the city. Bored now.

In 1987, my first job as an editorial assistant at Simon and Schuster paid $15,500. Because the city was so much cheaper back then, I could pay rent, buy beer, and buy funky clothes with that salary. $15,500 today wouldn't cover rent.

I'm mourning the old, funky, down on-its-heels city from the 1980s. After Hours New York. Desperately Seeking Susan New York. I'm drowning my sorrows in a large glass of milk and a couple of hamantashan.

The New Middle Class Family

I followed with great interest the discussion about maids on Friday. The discussion leaked from blogs into real life and the debate continued on into the weekend.

Some arguments were more persuasive than others. Since I don't have a maid, I'm not going to make any pronouncements about their growing presense in our homes. I don't want to be judgy.

Still, it is interesting to note that so many middle class families have maids and grounds keepers and nannies. For good or for bad, the middle class family is an entirely different animal than it was when we were growing up.

Tasks that my mom took for granted, I wouldn't do. Like doing my husband's shirts. The dry cleaners downstairs washes, starches, and irons them for 99 cents. Money well spent.

My son was playing with a toy kitchen last year. When he held up the toy iron, he asked, "what's this, mommy?" "An instrument of torture, dear."


Friday, March 05, 2004

House Cleaners

The nanny debate sparked by Caitlin Flanagan has led to questions about house cleaners. Is it wrong to pay others to clean up after us? Is this exploitation?

Sorry to disappoint, but I'm not getting into that one today. Too busy. Here are some good links though:

Barbara Ehrenreich, "Maid to Order", April 2000 -- This article is so good, that it is one of the few non-dissertation related files in the cabinet.

Other bloggers on this topic: Russell Arben Fox, Tim Burke, Chun, Belle Waring

Will Someone Please Bitch-Slap Miss Tyra For Me?

Every once and a while, a TV show comes on that is just so bad that I am compelled to watch it. (Yes, I am a perverse, unhappy creature.)

On Tuesday nights, I've been watching America's Top Model on UPN. It's a reality show where 15 girls compete to be a model. They have their pictures taken by professional photographers in a variety of awkward poses and go to Milan to have their portfolios seen by different fashion houses. Every week, one model is dismissed, until one remains. The winner gets some modeling deal.

The girls are judged on their looks and disposition. Strong willed girls are quickly weeded out. Girls who have even the slightest amount of body fat end up puking in the bathroom. One girl this week was told that she had a bad body; she was a size 4. Another girl smiles a lot, and she's told that she's too commercial. Not enough heroin chic. In fact, the front runner is a former drug addict.

It is just so un-PC that I can't believe that this show exists. The Miss America contest at least has a talent portion, and the contestants have to pretend that they are going to go college and have some sort of a commitment to world peace. Compared to the girls on America's Top Model, the Miss America contestants are chubby.

The judges themselves are a riot. Janice Dickinson has the gravelly voice of a 2 pack a day smoker and the mouth of a trucker. Her Studio 54 years have taken their toll, and her face is held together only through the skill of the surgeon's knife. She sneers at the girls' pictures and says bluntly, "you look like sh*t." "This is the worst picture I have every seen." "She should sell toothpaste. She's not a model." "Look at her ass. It's huge."

Tyra Banks sits in the middle regally listening to the other judges rip apart the girls' appearances. Tyra refers to herself as "Miss Tyra" or "Miss Tyra Banks." Then she calls each girl forward and corrects their personality flaws as well. I have a strong urge to bitch slap "Miss Tyra."

Why is this show on television? Where are the feminist protests of this show? Disgusted and appalled.


Thursday, March 04, 2004

Privacy and Stay at Home Moms

Tim Burke has a nice post today on the battle of the moms, nannies, exploitaton, domestic workers, and feminism. There's a lot there, and I won't be able to comment on it all. The limits of this blogging medium.

Tim explains that he was very reluctant to hire a housecleaner. "I was intensely uncomfortable about having strangers inside my domestic space... I didn’t want any people seeing my dirty clothes, my books, my things, my way of life, if they weren’t very close friends or family." (Side note. I think that this attitude is more common among men than women. My husband feels more strongly about maintaining privacy than I do.)

Tim's concluding point is that perhaps some women stay home with the kids into order to protect the family's privacy. "I wonder a little if the stay-at-home moms argument doesn’t come from some of the same attempts to assert privacy, to cocoon some of our lives away from the world, to close the circle of family and shield ourselves from the world."

I think that a side benefit of staying at home is maintaining this privacy. But most SAHM moms have other reasons for opting out of the workplace.

My friend, Margie, just called. She's a SAHM with a PhD. I asked her why she didn't pursue a career after her daughter was born. She said that she thought it was just crazy to work a million hours to get tenure, not make much money after childcare, and never see her kids. She thought her kids would benefit by her being at home. I asked about Tim's privacy theory, and she thought that having that cocoon was nice, but not her main reason for being at home.

Still, I really like Tim's discussion about privacy. I've talked about it before with my husband, the historian, because so many of our friends have housecleaners and such. We don't, but our super does tromp through our livingroom with some regularity to fix our disgusting bathroom, and the guys at the garage shuffle our car around.

Are we losing the ability to take care of ourselves? Are we losing some of the rugged individualism and self-sufficiency that de Tocqueville observed in our country 200 years ago? Should we be concerned?


Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Pulling Switches

Jonah's having some problems keeping dry at night. We tried for a week of going cold turkey, but no luck. Up once in the middle of the night to change pajamas and the bedding. And then again in the morning. So, last night I thought we would return to pull ups for a week, so everyone could catch up on sleep.

As I ripped open a package of size 4 pull ups, I realized that I mistakenly bought the girls variety. It was candy cane pink and had three Disney princesses dancing over the crotch. Cinderella, Sleepy Beauty, and Belle as the protectors of a dry night of sleep.

Uh-oh. I knew this was going to be a problem, but I had just paid $15 bucks for them and had no others, so I tried slipping it past him. "Here, Jo. Here's a pull-up," I said while picking up a toy off the floor. "Nooooo way," he recoiled with horror and revulsion. "Those are not cool, mom. Those are for girls."

He absolutely refused to wear them, although he did offer to take them into school to show his friend, Melanie. "She's a girl." Forcing him to wear the girlie pants seemed like a bad idea. It's stuff like this that ends up in a psychiatrist's office years from now. So, we had another poor night of sleep.

This "cool" stuff is starting to pop up a lot around here. Sneakers are cool, but his black PayLess shoes are not. Skateboards, motorcycles, and anything sure to put him in a lifeless coma are cool. You know, the typical stuff.

Every once and a while, I find myself watching my kids and marveling at how evolutionarily perfect they are. Blending in with one's peers is an important trait that promotes the success of a species. (OK, I watch WAY too much Discovery channel.)

I'm also amused at how suddenly he became aware of his peers. Two months ago, I could have conned him into wearing the Sleeping Beauty pull ups. Today, no way. It's like some cool switch got pulled in his brain. I wish the potty skill switch was pulled instead, but I'm not so lucky.

Read This

In this week's New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert reviews two new books on modern motherhood: Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and The Inner Life by Daphne de Marneff and The Mommy Myth : The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Has Undermined Women by Douglas and Meredith.

De Marneff is concerned about a dominant ideology that forces women to sublimate their urges to be with their children, while Douglas and Meredith feel that the dominant culture idealizes motherhood and slights women who wish to have a career. Kolbert writes, "Although, logically, it is impossible for both “Maternal Desire” and “The Mommy Myth” to be right about what constitutes the prevailing ideology, each, I suspect, speaks to something real about the way that many mothers feel these days, which is that they are failing to measure up, personally or professionally".

Watch This
Steve came home with Oreos and beer to enhance our viewing pleasure for tonight's episode of Angel. Did anyone catch the story that Wesley read to Fred, before she turned into a blue haired demon last week? Hint... Sara Crewe. It was one of my favorite books as a kid, A Little Princess. That's why Angel is such quality TV.


Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Tuesday is Reader Mail Day!!

A couple of weeks ago, as I was writing about nannies and housecleaning, a recurrent theme came up about men. Several writers complained that childcare decisions (and guilt) rested too much on women's shoulders. Also, many women still were unhappy about the unfair distribution of housework. On the subject of male contributions, Todd writes:

I haven't had a chance to finish Flanigan's article, but I'm intrigued by this whole debate. As a man who is recently married to a woman embarking on a high powered legal career, I've done a lot of thinking about how to place myself in regards to traditional gender roles. Personally, I don't have a lot invested in traditional male gender roles. It really made no difference to me if my wife wanted to keep her last name or not. That was her decision.

This whole debate has brought home how much the mundane daily tasks of life, and the men's willingness to assume these tasks, have a broad impact on women's ability to pursue professional goals. It's hard to see a good way to redress this situation on a large scale or through some government intervention, since ultimately these activities take
place in a very private sphere.

On the subject of housecleaning, Kristine writes in:

My husband and I both do laundry, usually in omigosh-there's-no-underwear-
for-anyone-to-wear-tomorrow panic mode. Perhaps I'm too much of a shrew, but it infuriates me that he shrinks things, doesn't pre-treat stains, etc. It's like saying "yeah, you've got those funny feminist ideas, so I'll do the physical work to appease you, but I'll be DAMNED if I'm going to use my precious male brain to actually THINK about laundry." Psychological burden, indeed!

David wrote me a couple of weeks ago, after I threw out the question, "Who does the laundry?" His discussion of housework distribution and care for their daughter in a two career family is interesting. It's not easy.

My wife and I made a concious decision that teaching would be my career as that would afford me more flexible family time and mesh nicely with my wife's career as a real estate agent... Now that wife is at work, I do more cooking, sometimes have to get home earlier or have the toots dropped off at my work, and always be available on weekends. I do almost all childcare on weekends. I can pack the diaper bag just fine, but once the sippy cup is out, I tend to leave it behind. I also do all housework when assigned (I do trash almost nightly, and take it out and bring it in once a week). I am responsible for cleaning the kitchen floor, but do not have an assigned slot to do it in which makes things tricky for me as I am a creature of routine. I usually, but not always, unload the dishwasher. Most importantly, my wife knows that she can ask me to do anything and I will do it. Thus, once or twice a week, I'll do dishes because she wants to give Leonarda a bath. The laundry thing we haven't worked out a new routine yet, so my wife almost always does it, but I'll do loads if I need specific things. We have an HE washer and try to do only full loads so there is a lot of throwing things in with the toots' stuff. I also do a lot of the guy stuff and pick up the living room Thursday nights (the only night that happens).

My wife works three days a week plus weekends in the office, plus some afternoons and evenings (typical real estate hours). However, our financial situation is precarious and we may have to move to a more traditional arrangement if I move to a more traditional job, a decision we will make next year. Two days a week, toots goes to day care (she started at a year old) and one day a week a sitter comes to us.


Monday, March 01, 2004

(I've been out all day, and I come home to find a Drezna-lanche. Thanks, Dan. Now I'm a little embarrassed and shy.)


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a bit about nannies and childcare. At the time, I was a bit dismissive of childcare, because my kids have been in so-so arrangements.

This weekend, I was thinking about what would great childcare look like. I have to admire the old libbers for their willingness to explore new ideas, instead of modern parents who just accept our limited choices. So, what would good childcare look like?

Some universities have excellent lab schools for the children of professors. Columbia and the University of Chicago come to mind. Their schools are overseen by faculty in education or psychology departments, and students care for the children for class credit. It's an wonderful situation all around. The children are with highly motivated, educated personnel. The classrooms are open to all visitors. They are on the campus, so their parents can drop in at any time. It's also good for the college students since they learn by actually working with kids.

These programs should be replicated everywhere. They do not exist at most universities. And even where they are offered, only the children of faculty can attend. There are few, if any, spots for temporary faculty, students, staff, or members of the community.

All large companies should have on-site childcare with areas to have lunch with their children every day. I know that Merck has a great program.

The cost of childcare show be on a sliding scale depending on income. Right now, middle class means $42,000 per year. Childcare should not exceed $5,000 per child. (My local childcare center costs $15,000 per year.)

Since even my perfect childcare system is less perfect than parental care, then the workday should not exceed 35 hours per week.

Commute time can mean 10 or 15 more hours of childcare. This time must be cut down by having one's work, home, and childcare very close together.

Childcare centers should also be operated near senior citizen centers, assisted living centers, and homes for the handicapped. These various groups are all hidden away in the peripheries of our communities. Put them together. Put them in the center of our communities. Have the old benefit from having young kids around. Have the seniors read stories to the kids and the disabled. Have the disabled sing for the old folks and the kids.

When childcare centers are not run by universities, then these centers should pay their workers fairly and offer benefits. They should be affiliated with the public schools, though not be part of the system.

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