Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Parties Past and Present

Just a short post today. I'll pick up tomorrow evening. But there is much to do. I'm getting ready for our second annual Brunch with Booze party.

Kids put a crimp into the New Year's Eve drinking bacchanalia. Babysitters are scarce and pricey. Grandparents have their own gigs. So, we're at home thinking about parties past. Like the time we went to Times Square on the unusually warm night to watch the ball and then to McGovern's with a gang of guys from Cleveland. There were several six hours drinking fests at the Dublin House. The time we went to see the Macio Parker concert.

This year we'll be home preparing muffin batter and an Apple Brown Betty. Setting the table with bright plates and bowls from the 50s. Cleaning out the green pitcher for mimosas.

It's all so mature. So very Martha Stewart. (So very Martha before the nasty insider trading case and the bloated face from bingeing on Mallowmars and Ring Dings out of despair and regret. The nice Martha.)

The plan is to completely ignore our kids as they trash the bedroom and form little mean cliques. (Boys only! No babies allowed!) We'll listen to the Stones and drink champagne and orange juice and pretend that we are the same people that we were before the little savages arrived.


Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Based on the Book

Anthony Lane has a review of the third installment of Lord of the Rings in the New Yorker. Lane is one of my favorite writers at the New Yorker. I always read his stuff first.

Lane loved the movie, of course. He muses about the raving fans he sees outside the theater. In the last paragraph, he discusses his feelings about the book and the movie. He almost seems guilty about liking the movie. Like he has somehow betrayed his first love, the book.

As I watched this film, an eager victim of its boundless will to astound, I found my loyal memories of the book beginning to fade.

He reconciles himself to loving another. Because the second is so different that it doesn't replace the first. He writes,

It may be time to halt the endless comparisons between page and screen, and to confess that the two are very different beasts. Moments that lurk deep in the body of the novel are brought into the light... when I watch Legolas scrambling up that mamak, my mind turns not to Tolkien (who wrote no such scene, anyway) but to Douglas Fairbanks, scaling the side of a ship, in "The Black Pirate," with monkeyish ease and delight. Peter Jackson has not really made a movie of "The Lord of the Rings"; he has sprung clear of it to forge something new. He has taken a deep breath, and raised a storm.

I understand Lane's discomfort. Two other movies that I want/don't want to see are based on books that I loved, Girl with a Pearl Earring and Cold Mountain. Girl with a Pearl Earring was good, but Cold Mountain was great. And I devoured The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at least three or four times before seeing the movie. Do I want to replace the pictures in my head, with Hollywood's renderings. When I read Cold Mountain again, as I surely will, do I want my Ada to have Nicole Kidman's frosty face? I guess it's okay, if it is done well and very differently, as Lane says.

Human Contact

Today was one of those gray fog days of child watching. A day without social plans or rendez vouses at the playground. Of course, the day is jam packed with feedings, cleanings, and train crashing, but at the same time, it's the same old drill. My eyes glaze over, and there is a slight buzz of static in my ears.

OK, I've had much harsher gray fog days. Like when there is a terrible snow storm, and I can't even leave the apartment for a week.

I got out a couple times today. Too lazy to make myself breakfast, we went to Angela's Diner. Double fried egg on a roll with bacon cheese, for me. And silver dollar pancakes for the kids. Chatted with the people in the booth behind us, and the young Greek waiter joked around with Jonah. Later, after impatiently waiting for Ian to wake up from an endless nap (is he dead?), we packed up a late lunch to eat in the park. Peanut butter sandwiches, puffed cheese snacks, and a bottle of water. But the wind kicked in, so we had to turn around.

We stopped off to buy supplies for dinner. Since the supermarket and the fruit/vegetable shop are right across the street from our apartment, I buy food daily. It feels very French. Shopping led to some chatting with Mr. Ahn, the vegetable guy, and the Mexicans in the supermarket cracked open some walnuts for us.

Some days I curse city living. No parking place. No major appliances. Sucky schools. But we are so lucky to have so many people around us. Sure, some of the people who I came across today don't speak much English, but that's okay. Human contact is important even without words.


Monday, December 29, 2003

Read This

An interesting post by Matthew Yglesias on Money's best places to live. None of the places included cities. It was all suburbia. No time to comment now, but check out the comments section at Yglesias. There was some good stuff about the pros and cons of suburbia.

Enjoy reading policy papers? Have no life? Get regular newsletters from various thinktanks and foundations. I get stuff from the right and the left. Right now the Heritage Foundation is going apeshit over Bush's spending policy.

Dan Drezner is subbing for Andrew Sullivan this week.

Michelle at A Small Victory has a good post on why she's giving money to Iran.

Seeds of Change

The Week In Review has an interesting article about change. It mentions a book by Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France. Damton writes that the racy, best sellers of this time, which were totally ignored by the elite, stoked the fires of the revolution by portraying the royalty in an unflattering manner. The books helped bring about the revolution or at least, revealed the growing dissatisfaction among the masses with their king. Causality is always tricky to prove.

What signs of change are being ignored by major media and other elites? Can we read Oprah like tea leaves to find the source of the next political and social upheaval? Is there something subversive about her book club?

The article also mentions one of my favorite book, Nicholas Lemann's The Promised Land. Lemann writes that the shift in agricultural methods in the South led to the great black migration to the Northern cities which completely changed American culture and politics. Great read, by the way. The significance of the black migration was also missed by the elite at the time.

What shifts are going on today? What is the mainstream elite missing? The Times looks at some recent developments that could lead to major change, which is totally stupid, since the point of the Damton book was that the seeds for the revolution were missed by the elite.


Sunday, December 28, 2003

Back to Work, Sort of

I've taken a few days off from the blogosphere, and I'm finding it difficult to get back into the swing of things. It's like my ass, which has expanded five fold this week, has squashed my will to write.

I survived the holidays, thank you very much. We had a brief scare on Christmas Eve when a mother from Jonah's pre-school called to say that her kid had chicken pox. Moments later, Jonah stepped into the kitchen and showed me an "itchy boo-boo" on his stomach. After two hours of phone calls between doctors and relatives with kids, we finally figured out that Jonah had been immunized and that one spot might be all he got. So we went to Christmas Eve party at my mom's and probably slightly infected the other kids. Shhh.

Otherwise, the holidays were swell. Key years for warping kid's minds with the Santa myth and little finger waving, "you better be good or else...." A night out in the city without the kids. Lots of ass expanding food.

I want to enter into the New Year with a clean slate. I'm wiping my desk clean of all remnants of adjuncting, so I can start work on some new projects. I want no loose ends to distract me. I'm dumping old folders and news clippings. I'm consolidating lecture notes and shelving books. Clean desk, clean mind.

Yesterday, I sent out comments to the students on their final papers and explained their grades. I didn't have to do that, but I did. Already I've gotten one request for a recommendation and one demand to reconsider an A-. Damn it. Not quite done yet.

And the holidays aren't quite over yet. Jonah is off from pre-school, so I have to keep him amused this week. The babysitter is gone for two more weeks. New Year's Eve is coming up. Hard times for a workaholic.


Friday, December 26, 2003

The Egg Carton

When I was seven, my aunt MaryAnn got married. Now this was a big event in the life of a seven year old, not only because my beloved auntie would now love another, but because our little family was suddenly enlarged. Since my grandparents were first generation, the family had not yet expanded to its present mob-like proportions. Any addition was a big thing.

Multiply all that newness by 100, because my Uncle Naren is Indian and we couldn't always understand what he was saying. And he was a lot more formal than our silly Dad.

It was the first Christmas for the family plus one. I had made gifts for everyone. My dad got an empty frozen juice container covered with orange construction paper -- a pencil holder. My mom got a paper weight with my hand print made at school. My grandparents a pot holder.

But what to do for my uncle? I knew it had to be very good, since he had a lot of nice things already.

I decided to make him a desk organizer out of an empty egg carton. I would paint it bright green. I would fill each egg hole with shiny paper clips and new rubber bands and cheerfully mark their place with individual flags made out of tooth picks.

I wrapped up my creation with festive paper and a bow. And waited for him to open it up.

On Christmas Eve, when we opened our gifts, I handed my uncle my masterpiece. He slowly ripped off the paper and stared at his gift without understanding. It was at that moment that I realized that I hadn't actually painted the carton or filled it with supplies or made the flags. I had just imagined that I did it.

It was at that moment that I realized that it was just an egg carton. Grade A extra large. Blue styrofoam with a little shell still attached.

My gift giving skills have improved much since that sad Christmas in the 70s. Now I have a little money to spend on presents. I don't have to transform my mom's cooking castoffs into office supplies. My Uncle continues to prove a challenge at Christmas, though we have learned that the key to his heart is an excellent cognac. At the same time, I wish that I could please others with a thoughtfully decorated egg carton and an overactive imagination. How much simpler would life be?


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Merry Christmas

I have set aside a stack of half finished Christmas cards (I'm up the S's) to type in one last note before the holidays.

Tomorrow afternoon, I'm taking the kids in matching Gap sweaters down to my husband's office for their holiday party. And then in the evening, we're celebrating Christmas Eve at my mom's. We'll be grazing on 13 types of fishes in true Italian tradition and opening mountains of gifts. Steve and I will catch some extra sleep on the sofa on Christmas day while the kids play with their new toys -- baby strollers, trucks, and a dreidel. Then to my aunt's for a quiet dinner in the evening.

I hope you all have a moment of quiet, a gathering with loved ones, and a fine meal. And for all my non-Christian friends, enjoy short lines for the movie theaters, an end to all that infernal Christmas music, and a vacation day without obligations.

Take care.

Reader Mail Day!!

Last week, I wrote a post about how complicated it can be to accommodate two sets of parents on the holidays (12/17). After reading some e-mails from readers, maybe I have it easy.

Erika writes,

My partner and I have been together for five years, and are childless, and we still have the yearly battle over who goes where and when.

In our case, the issue is complicated by the fact that my open and liberal parents treat my partner as one of the family, and I'm barely tolerated at my conservative Southern in-laws. So I get the choice of spending my holidays with people who treat me as a barely acknowleged family embarrassment (fun!) or depriving my partner from seeing her parents on the holidays. I almost miss the days when I was simply not invited to spend holidays with my in laws. But spending Christmas apart is no fun either.

I am finding myself envious of the excuse of staying put for the kids, and making family travel to you. Since I'm not planning on giving birth any time soon, I'm thinking of developing a fake allergy to airplane seat cushions. (Hey, it works for my mother-in-law, who suddenly developed a dog allergy when invited to visit us.) Do you think I stand a chance?

Teep adds her own story,

When you're a product of divorced parents (as I am), you play "where do you spend the holidays" with a full measure of guilt-related goodness from the time the parents divorce until one of them is dead. Yummy! I have all the thrills you're having and I've been getting those very special jollies every holiday season since I was thirteen.

If a child of divorce grows up and marries someone *else* who is a product of divorce (like my baby brother and his wife), then BOTH of you have two sets of parentals lobbying for you for the holidays so you pretty much spend the entire month of December in a freaking car, driving to and fro to appease every single familial obligation on weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's worse if (like my younger brother) you have the ONLY grandchild for any of the four grandparenting households in the mix... and you'd like to have SOME holidays in your own damn house with your own damn tree and your own damn kid.

Be thankful you only have two sets of parents to deal with *and* that the two sets of parents you have to deal with aren't both yours. When both sets of parents are your own, the guilt level is excruciating. Trust me on this one.

Hmmm. I'll have seconds of the Christmas ham with a side of guilt and stress, please.

He Did It

In yesterday's Bleat, Lileks wrote about the bonding of the community of parents at holiday shows. I went to my son's holiday extravaganza yesterday. I'm not sure if I felt any connections with the parents of the 3 year olds dressed as ladtkas sizzling in a pan, though their performance was breath taking. But I did love my son a little more.

Performing is not easy for him. His cousin, Megan, sings, dances, and recites the alphabet in several languages for applause. My sister says, "Megan, sing the Eensy Weensy Spider in Spanish for the mailman. Dance the finale from Swan Lake for the check out lady. Show the gas station attendant how you can tumble while reciting the Gettysburg Address." And Megan obliges.

Jonah always refused to do the baby tricks. At last year's holiday show, when the 15 other kids flickered like Menorah candles on cue, my son just said no. He froze in front of the paparazzi of parents with video cameras and digital cameras, making his teacher frown. As all the kids fell to the ground like candles melting, he just stood still with lips quivering.

This year, he did it. With a dreidel pinned to his white turtleneck, he spun and sang. At the end, he took the microphone and said convincingly, "We hope you had fun!"

When the show was over, he wolfed down a jelly donut and ran around in circles with relief.

It was a small triumph for a shy boy, and I'm proud, proud, proud. I'm trying to put aside thoughts of all those tramatic holiday shows in the future. This morning before I put him on the school bus, he asked me if I liked his singing yesterday. Yes, yes. Very much.


Sunday, December 21, 2003

Enough Stuff

To make room for Christmas, it's already been necessary to clean and throw out stuff. The pile of videos on the book shelf had to be moved for the Italian creche. That meant cleaning out a drawer with extension cords and takeout menus, so the Wiggle videos had a home. The large tree posed a bigger problem. Jonah's bike which has been a permanent part of the livingroom decor since his birthday in June still has to be hung from hooks from the kitchen ceiling. Two baskets of toys and books need a home, but I don't know where yet. Am I allowed to toss them out the window?

And the box from Cleveland has arrived. It is large and heavy. Our little apartment can handle only so much. Where will I put all this crap? I actually hyperventilate a bit before Christmas and birthdays worrying about where things will go.

We have just too much stuff. All mass produced by child labor in China and Thailand. I could fill a room with cheap KB toys for $100. All given by sweet, loving family and friends with too much disposable income on their hands.

My family asked, "What do you want for Christmas?" Um, nothing. Oh, what an ungrateful child. You want something, don't you. If you don't tell me, I'll just go out and buy you a tent and four sleeping bags. Um, I want nothing. I want a minimal space with no clutter. Nothing underfoot at the end of the night. Nothing to use once and forget. Nothing to dust. Nothing to find a place for. Nothing too costly to give away.

My brother, sister, and cousins have sworn off gifts this Christmas. Instead, the six of us (plus 5 spouses) are dumping the kids and having dinner together in the city on the 26th. Conversation without interruption and a fine meal of grilled salmon is all I need. It means more to me than another set of bowls or smelly soaps or a shiny picture frame.

I foresee more trips to Good Will in the next couple of weeks. It's all about a conservation of mass. For every new thing that enters the apartment, one thing of equal or greater mass must leave the apartment.


Friday, December 19, 2003

The Tree

With perhaps the worst job in the world, every December tree farmers from New England and Quebec travel in their covered pickups to Manhattan to sell trees on street corners. They live out of their trucks from the 1st to the 24th selling firs and spruce to over privileged New Yorkers who shell out $50 to $100 for five feet of Christmas cheer. Apparently, these tree farmers do very well, but still it's brutal, especially in this cold weather. They pee at McDonald's. And shower only when a kind hearted soul invites them up to their apartment. To pass the time, many hang around and smoke pot. Ah, nothing says Christmas like the smell of cannabis and pine.

Steve got off work early today to buy our tree. After a quick dinner at the pizza parlor, we walked over to 181st Street with Ian in the backpack and Jonah on foot. We picked out a perfect tree. Almost six feet tall and full. The tree guys packaged it up neatly with netting, and we put it in the stroller. Then Jonah and I pushed this war machine from Lord of the Rings six blocks home.

Getting a real tree for Christmas is a new experience for me. We always had a fake one growing up, because my mom is allergic to all organic life. I have fond memories of using those large Christmas lights from the 70s, the ones that would get super hot, to melt the fake needles on our fake tree. The plastic would curl up and dance so nicely. After several years of repeated melting, the boughs of trees resembled clenched fists. Good times.

Read This

Queere Eye for the Medieval Man. "Oh Lorde in heaven! Is that last yeares potatoe sacke?" Well, it amused the hubby.


Thursday, December 18, 2003

A Blog Slowdown

I'm not shutting down the blog entirely, but I'm slowing down for a week. Too much multitasking going on around here. This morning, I applied eyeliner while downloading a student's paper and arranging a playdate on the phone.

I hope to get in a few posts about buying the tree, celebrating Christmas Eve with Italians, and shopping in midtown. But I need to have the time to do those things, before I can write about them.


Wednesday, December 17, 2003

A Little Box of Guilt

One of the trickiest aspects of being married is negotiating the holidays with the two sets of parents. Who gets Thanksgiving? Who get Christmas? If you live closer to one set of parents and see them fairly regularly, should you spend all major holidays with the others? Or do you alternate 50/50? There is a whole politics of parents that I was not versed in before I got married.

And then you make them grandkids and the stakes get higher. Each wants to be the one to show the kids their first Easter basket or how to make a perfect snowman. All the photo ops. But it also gets much more difficult to travel, so the long distance parents get less holiday privileges.

We drove out to Cleveland for Thanksgiving two year ago on a cold rainy night. It was a long eight hour drive with a brief dinner at a McDonald's. Half way there, on the lonely highway in Pennsylvania, Jonah came down with the stomach virus from hell. Vomited up grape juice and barely digested french fries all over himself and the backseat. We pulled off at the first exit and cleaned him up the best we could at a gas station right next to some guy who was cleaning up his truck after hitting a deer. We limped in Cleveland four hours later. The next day, Steve and I tossed up Thanksgiving turkey in his parents' bathroom. The memories of scraping up Jonah's stomach contents off the car seat as he wailed in the Pennsylvania gas station have limited car travel to the in-laws.

Even without the long drive, we decided that Christmas morning would be just for our nuclear family. Christmas stockings and all that corn would be our show. You can make them turkey or fire off fireworks on the 4th. But I want their happy memories of Christmas to be orchestrated our way. It must involve our stories of Santa coming in through the fire escape and buying the tree at 181st Street from the stoned Canadians who live in their truck all December.

So, that means no trip to Cleveland at Christmas time. This has sorely upset my in-laws, and I don't blame them. They like their holidays and want some family around. We'll figure it out all in time, but right now feelings have been hurt.

To make up for our absence, we packaged up a little box of guilt for them on Sunday. I bought everything in sight and packaged it up in shiny wrapping paper and cute notes. Sorry we are withholding your grandchildren on Christmas, but here, have a nice pot holder from William Sonoma instead.

Gift Guide

Since this blog is all about being Santa's Little Helper, I have another holiday gift suggestion. I have already suggested the amazingly versatile Pizza Pizzazz (12/15).

Add to your list the Dirty Bomb Detector. $139.00 buys you peace of mind as you travel throughout this great land of ours. Protect your loved ones from terrorists with a suitcase of depleted uranium purchased from Chernobyl in exchange for high grade cocaine and an old hooker named Joan.

The fine folks at dirtybombdetector.com are able to offer a low retail price due to high volume production. Act now!


Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Reader Mail Day #3

A third letter comes from Kathleen, a professor on the tenure track with two kids. (You go, girl!) She's been able to manage her family and her work, because her husband is a stay at home dad and because she lives in a relatively affordable area of the country where they can live comfortably on one income. Still, it hasn't been easy, especially since she started her first job shortly after having her second baby.

There were many comical episodes that involved me meeting with a student, racing downstairs for a quick nursing session in the car, kisses on heads, and then a quick tug on my shirt in time to meet the next student. I was really proud of myself at the time, but in retrospect I can see that I wore myself into the ground.

Any working mother has issues with breastfeeding. Friends with corporate jobs have discussed the embarrassment of a noisy electric pump in the ladies room. Women who teach have some additional concerns -- public leaking. When I was breastfeeding, I was so worried about leaking during class that I would stuff extra tissues in my bra. One time I forgot breast pads, so I used sanitary pads. Man, was I stacked!

Kathleen also writes of the benefits of having her husband home with the kids.

It allows me to just skip out the door in the morning without having to worry that everyone is fed and dressed and has all the clothes and food they need for 8 hours of day care. It alleviates much of the guilt I feel about leaving my babies. He feeds them hot, wholesome meals and takes them for fun hikes.

On the other hand, my house is a total mess. Folks who work outside the home may leave a rinsed coffee cup in the sink in the morning and when they get home, the cup is there waiting for them. Me, I come home to a day's worth of detritus--covering the kitchen counter, the living room floor, the kids' room, our room... I'm stuck with the second shift and a morbid fear that a friend will pop in for a visit. It's a small price to pay for a house of happy kids, though, so I'm trying to just deal with it. I can have a clean house in my 40's.

Someday, I'll write about different parenting styles. But not today.

Reader Mail #2

Rebecca writes, Still enjoy your blog, though I don't always agree.

Thanks, Rebecca. I don't always agree with what I write either. Sometimes I wake up in a ornery mood. And sometimes I'm testing out new ideas.

In response to a post on the article on the rising number of single people in their thirties (see blog 12/15) , Rebecca says that being married isn't for everyone.

There are problems being single, there are problems being married, there are problems being a parent: being alive is work. Often, they are different problems, that's all.

I completely agree. I didn't mean to imply that being married was somehow better than being single. I just wanted to mention the new statistics and make some cheap cracks at the professor who wrote about the fetishization of coupling.

The Paper Bag Princess (the book you mention in your blog that the prof recommended) is not about not being married, its about a young princess who is brave, and does lots of stuff to rescue the prince, who has no appreciation of her hard work & clever solutions, but criticizes her hair, clothes, etc. Most of the Moms I know love this book, because of the message that doing the right thing is more important than looking good.

Frankly, I have not read the Paper Bag Princess. I was just going by the article's summary of the book. If you think it has merits, I'll check it out. But usually I enjoying reading books to my kids that have fun rhymes or pretty pictures. I hope that Steve and myself set good examples to our kids about gender roles, so that I don't need to drive the point home with a book. I think it is far better for the kids to see Steve helping out around the house, rather than push the ideas on them with a book. Forcing an issue just paves the way for major teenage rebellion.

I've been married, and not married, and on the whole I like being married more, and think that its A Good Thing. On the other hand, the idea that being married solves all your problems (remember the old song - "going to the chapel"- and the line "I'll never be lonely again") is pretty pervasive. People don't always get married for good reasons (for them), and I'm sure you know people who stay married when its painful, when there is the possibility that it would be better to be single. I think that the woman in the article you cite is somewhat ludicrous, but that doesn't mean there isn't a kernel of a good idea in thinking about the reasons we have for being married or single.


Toni adds her single perspective.

Yes, total stigma if you are single. While you had tons of friends to hang out with in your early 30s, I on the other hand am surrounded by marrieds. Maybe I need to obtain some younger friends? Unfortunately, friends who are married and with children are not necessarily ready, willing or able to go out and tie-one-on. (Usually, they are willing, but they just aren't able.) People are like, "Why is a cute, smart girl like yourself single?" Me, "That's a great question. I wish I had an answer."

Reader Mail Day!!

I've gotten some really good letters from readers this week, and it's time to share.

Sam wrote to say that as a professor and a dad, he has "come to question the limits that professional life places on family roles." He also offers a dead on critique of academic writing and the insularity of the university. Not only is academic writing sometimes intensionally dense, as Crooked Timber has been discussing, but most (but not all) academic articles have become too arid, incestuous, and jargonized.

In any event, I wanted to respond to your "New Tricks" post and encourage you to take the plunge out of academic writing. I have done the same, though from the relative comfort of a tenured position, and all I can say is I may never go back. We are trained in graduate school to believe that anything non-academic is, basically, worthless. And we are drawn into a small circle of others where we turn back on ourselves constantly. Writing for a (gasp!) popular audience is, by contrast, liberating. You can escape the jargon, the incestuousness, the obsequiousness, and, frankly, the aridness of the academy and, on top of it all, people actually read what you write and care about it. It will be difficult but you should certainly give it a go. If you get a few things published, you will see how cheering it can be.

I mentioned Sam's critique to my dad, a political science professor, who whole heartedly agreed. He pointed out that in the past, the greatest thinkers, such as Hobbes and Rousseau, came from outside the university. Perhaps blogging can democratize the idea industry. Not only do academic bloggers have to learn to write more accessibly, but their ideas can be challenged by non-academics. And non-academic bloggers can get their ideas out without wasting 8 years in the university.

After working on this blog for the past few months, I find that the academic writing style has become onerous. Its rigid rules have become too confining. And the topics too arcane. How thrilling to write stuff that people might find interesting. I have tasted the sweet nectar of writing for a larger audience than the five fogies on a dissertation committee, and I'm hooked.


Monday, December 15, 2003

Laughing and Snorting

(I don't have to prepare a lecture for tonight's class. I have finally caught on to the two most beautiful words in the English language... student presentations. That means one more procrastinating post.)

Last night, I was laughing and snorting so loudly at David Sedaris's, Holidays On Ice, that I woke up my husband.

In David's first story, The Santaland Diaries, he relates his experience working as a 33 year old elf in Santaland at Macy's. We took Jonah there a couple of years ago, and he ran out screaming. Scary Santa.

Here's an exerpt from the Santaland Diaries:

I was at the Magic Window for fifteen minutes before a man approached me and said, "You look so fucking stupid."
I have to admit he had a point. But still, I wanted to say that at least I get paid to look stupid, that he gives it away for free. But I can't say things like that because I'm supposed to be merry.
So instead I said, "Thank you!"
"Thank you!" as I had misunderstood and thought he had said, "You look terrific."
"Thank you!"
He was a brawny wise guy wearing a vinyl jacket and carrying a bag from Radio Shack. I should have said, real loud, "Sorry man, I don't date other guys."

My Christmas Wish List

The Pizza Pizzazz has to be the best holiday gift of the season. You've seen the commericials on TV. The pizza revolves like a record on a turner. It cooks as it rotates via a small overhead heater. "From freezer to perfect in minutes."

And there is so much more you can do with this wonderful device other than make pizzas. I bet it can melt a lot of cheese on bread, too. My kids would also love to melt their matchbox cars as they rotated. Fun for the whole family!

Read This

The proportions of men and women ages 30 to 34 who have never married have both tripled since 1970, according to the 2000 Census. At the same time, there is a growing trend to glamorize marriage. The article points to that young, semi-retarded couple on MTV -- Nick and Jessica.

The statistics are interesting, although I have no strong feelings on this one way or the other. New York City is the home of happy, single people. There is always something to do and someone to play with here. I put off marriage until my thirties with no ill affects other than getting a late start at making the babies.

I was briefly amused by the reference in the article to a professor, Bella DePaulo, who is making it her life work to remove the stigma associated with being single. She says that single people must endure a "fetishization of coupling." "It's almost as if coupling were seen as magical: Once you find this person, your life becomes transformed." To counter society's fetishization of coupling, she wants to children to read stories where the princess tells the prince he's a bum, and they don't live together happily ever after.


Sunday, December 14, 2003

Man in a Hole

Too crappy to venture forth from Apt 11D, we spent the day wrapping presents, cleaning the bathroom, and watching CNN cover the old man in the hole.

The pictures of Saddam with his graying patchy hair and the open cuts on his head are shocking. He looks more dishelved than the homeless man on 187th Street. And less coherent. They found in him a rat filled hole within view of one of his old palaces.

Maybe they should have left him there. I can't think of a more fitting punishment for this man who killed and tortured thousands. Let him sit in a hole friendless and frightened. Watch his hideout with sharpshooters who would pick off any idiot who tried to help him. Let him sit in the hole for years as rats bite his feet plagued by hate and doubt. Isolated and forgotten.

Now that he has been captured and cared for by US doctors, he has the world's ear again. A martyr for some. And smoking his cigars again with four square meals sleeping on a soft mattress. Yes, he'll face a jury, be forced to be accountable for killing the Kurds and others, and surely be imprisoned forever. But that might be getting off too easy.


Friday, December 12, 2003

Distracted Parenting

This afternoon, my four year old stood on a chair and stirred up a bowl of flour and water on the counter. He had been begging to bake cookies, but I lacked three or four vital ingredients. Instead, he made "magic" cookies. He likes mixing and combining and measuring and tasting. This time was even better because I didn't care whether he sneezed into the concoction or let it fall on the floor.

After stirring the flour and water into a dough, I showed him how to dig his hands into it and kneed it into satisfying balls. He liked how his fingers got stuck together at first until we added another spoonful of flour. I got out a rolling pin and made his ball into a pizza shape.

And then I lost interest. Yes, my four year old has a longer attention span that I do. I snuck off into the office to check the headlines on the Times on line leaving him alone with the magic cookies.

After 10 minutes, I noticed a disturbing silence in the kitchen. Oh, no. What have I done? I left my kid alone in the kitchen with flour and water. I'll be cleaning flour dust off the ceiling. I ran in and found the kitchen looking its dingy self. No flour blizzard.

And then I stepped into a puddle. Poor kid had been so excited about his project that he ignored a call of nature.

OK, I don't know quite why I shared that tale of poor parenting. But now I have finished it, and I might as well just hit the publish button.

I'm off for the weekend. Revisiting the malls of my youth tomorrow and shopping in Times Square on Sunday. I'll be back late Sunday night.

Read This

A really interesting breakdown of voting patterns and demographics across the country. (via Andrew Sullivan)

Parents are increasingly buying homes for the college age kids, instead of putting them in a dorm.

Smaller rundown cities are reinventing themselves into cool places for hipsters. Where cities were once organized around the availability of coal, steel, transportation or labor, as Joel Kotkin noted in "The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution Is Reshaping the American Landscape" (2000), they now cluster around entrepreneurs, geeks and espresso bars.


I've been informed that Orlando is for the girls, but Viggo is for the women.

Suburban Specialization

Back when I was in middle school in the late 70s, the malls came to New Jersey. At first it was Paramus Park. Later Riverside Square, the Bergen Mall, and Garden State Plaza sprung up along Route 17 in Paramus.

14 year olds and malls. Need I say more? When our parents couldn't drop us off there, we would take the bus. Hell, we would have walked there. We were teenagers wacked out on funnel cake and cheese fries following around boys and spending our babysitting money on Cappezios and designer barrettes. Our idol -- Phoebe Cates back when she modeled for Seventeen magazine. Roaming around those citadels of consumption we got our first taste of adult freedom.

The opening of the malls had even more profound affect on the neighboring towns in New Jersey. It devastated them. Prior to the malls (PM), each town had places to buy shoes and pots and yarn. I bought my corduroy Levis and clogs from the Tenafly Department Store. After the mall (AM), these places closed up. In some towns, no stores opened up. The windows were boarded up and the signs taken down. Supermarkets and newspaper shops were all that remained. Even in affluent towns, the downtown became depressing and forgotten.

Lately, I've been noticing a revitalization of the New Jersey suburbs. They are reinventing themselves by specializing. One town attracts restaurants. Another high end shoe and bag stores. Another wedding boutiques. Another high end home supplies. It seems to be working.

I'm an old cornball about the idea of community. If I was planning suburbs, every street would have a sidewalk with an easy walk into town. There would be a coffee shop, a small book store, a pharmacy, a supermarket, a butcher. There would lots of friendly chatter with neighbors as you went about your business. How's the work going, Clyde? The wife and kids? Hot enough for you?

The adaptation of the Jersey suburbs isn't furthering my communitarian paradise. For that, I would have to go to the food court at the mall.


Thursday, December 11, 2003

Reason #2 to Upgrade my Blog

So that I can post pictures of Orlando Bloom. I'm sorry, but that man is fine.

Violent Kids

Time magazine reports that young children are increasingly violent.

Temper tantrums are nothing new in kindergarten and first grade, but the behavior of a 6-year-old girl this fall at a school in Fort Worth, Texas, had even the most experienced staff members wanting to run for cover. Asked to put a toy away, the youngster began to scream. Told to calm down, she knocked over her desk and crawled under the teacher's desk, kicking it and dumping out the contents of the drawers. Then things really began to deteriorate. Still shrieking, the child stood up and began hurling books at her terrified classmates, who had to be ushered from the room to safety.

Why? Because the kids are watching too much TV, watching too much violent TV, and aren't having enough time with caring parents. After a full day of day-care, kids come home and watch 2 hours of TV.

Not every school district in America is besieged by kamikaze kindergartners, but those who see a problem believe they are witnessing the result of a number of social trends that have come together in a most unfortunate way. Many cite economic stress, which has parents working longer hours than ever before, kids spending more time in day care and everyone coming home too exhausted to engage in the kind of relationships that build social skills. "Kids aren't getting enough lap time," says Karen Bentley, a seasoned elementary school administrator in Miami, who sees increased aggression in young students.

This is a problem affecting all socio-economic groups. Kids today have no structure at home. No dinner times or bed time. And this is affecting their school performance. And clearly making them very, very unhappy.

He recounts, for example, that the mother of an obstreperous 4-year-old told him the child has no formal mealtimes and eats whenever he wants. "If you don't have to sit down at a dinner table and stay there, how are you going to learn to sit in a seat at school and finish an assignment?"

'Tis the Season

Is it the 11th already? Shit. I have a lot to do.

80-100 Christmas cards with little notes and glossy pictures. Presents for 4 parents, 2 kids, 1 spouse, and 10 cousins. 8 boring papers to grade. 5 golden rings. 3 days until the the box for Cleveland really should go out. 2 Christmas bonuses for the babysitter and super. 1 filthy bathroom.

On Tuesday, I had a long list of shopping chores. Not only the first round of Christmas shopping, but all inventory had to be replenished -- toilet paper, soap, wipes. We go through those supplies so quickly now. It's worth going to Target in New Jersey to get those things. (The local stores in the city charge twice as much. Even a gallon of milk costs 50 cents extra in the city.)

I decided to take the kids and the babysitter along to the shopping center. Why? Because I'm an idiot.

I felt sorry for the kids being stuck inside all afternoon instead of getting a fun trip to the store. I could do my chores and the babysitter could help with the kids. Dumb. Shopping with kids sucks. I ended up cleaning up the 4 year old in the Barnes and Noble bathroom after an accident of a more serious nature. And not getting half the chores done. And not getting a half hour break with a cup of coffee in the bookstore cafe. And feeling too weird to delegate those distasteful chores to the babysitter, I let her walk around the store by herself and shop.

How the holidays effect the politics between parents... The home parents in the neighborhood are grumbling, as their working spouses stay late for office holiday parties. But it's work, dear. Well, where's my party? When can I come home all loaded and full of fancy food? Making jokes with adults on a night on the town with an expense report. So you can put the kids to sleep on your own.

As you can tell, I'm full of the holiday cheer.


Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Random Thought and Links

Tim Burke commented on a post at the Invisible Adjunct a few days ago. He wrote a very eloquent paragraph about how graduate school grinds out all creativity. IA liked it, too.

It's that the horizons of graduate school shrink down to a very short and narrow perspective, and disallow the very ideas and explorations that many people regard (properly) as the essence of intellectual inquiry. This will not happen in any obvious way: no ogre will appear to forbid you anything. It will happen invidiously, slowly, pervasively: no one will actually do it to you, and never will you be able to put your finger on exactly how and when it is being done. Slowly but surely, however, you will be cut to fit a very particular professionalized and disciplinary cloth, and become a willing participant in innumerable rituals of abjection. Slowly but surely, you'll begin to accept the intimate intertwining of your life and your work, and pernicious forms of virally spreading authority and power by numerous other people, some of them quite distant from you in social terms, over that intertwined work-life.

To get a PhD from my graduate program, you had to pass two sets of written exams, an oral exam, a dissertation proposal, and the defense. Outside evaluators said that though a regular graudate program had many hurdles, ours was more of a steeple chase. I saw some really good people drop out. I forgot what I had originally wanted to study, and instead worked with a professor who could pay me the most.

I would like to him to expand on the lack of boundaries between work-life.

On the home front, Russell Arben Fox is a dad, again. He says that he and his brothers are much more involved with the kids than his dad was. "...fatherhood, for many of us of my generation at least, means something much more egalitarian than it used to."

I've been thinking about the modern dads a lot lately and their share of child rearing. Is it 50/50? Has it at least improved? I've been trying to come up with big generalizations, but it's not working. I see too much of a range of behavior. And I'm still thinking things through.

I have many friends who are stay at home dads. They do all the heavy lifting from M-F, but I think that when the mom comes home on the weekend they are considered off duty. Just a theory. And there are many examples of dads like Russell and Steve who help out as much as they can, but have to go to work every day. And then I've seen other examples of dads who perhaps subconsciously stay at work later than they have to, because they want to avoid the chaos of home. Yes, they change a diaper on the weekend, but that is the only time that they see their kids.

OK, there's some random thoughts and links. We're off to Long Island to visit a friend today. I'll check in later tonight.


Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Blogger is really cranky tonight. It keeps eating my posts. I'm giving up until tomorrow. Is it really hard to switch to MT?

Check out this cool group, Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights. I'm going to write about them soon.

(I hope this works.)

Tuesday is Reader Mail Day!

On December 4th, Queer Eye was filmed around the corner. I looked all over for Carson to tell him to stop putting straight guys in white denim. I missed him, but several friends had Carson sightings. Damn.

I received an amusing note from a Southern gentleman, who gave me his views on white denim and fashion.

When the gods would make an ass,
If they make him middle-class,
Give him little cares and woes,
And let his wife pick out his clothes.

I love white denim, especially in summer. It goes so well with my canary-yellow sport coat. A grouchy (male) colleague once called me the good-humor man. I like cheerful colors. To complement my outfit, I put on a big grin. Why not, I mean I wear it in summer. Why must guys always go around drab? The opposite sex runs around in immobilizing high heels, skimpy now-you-see-it-now-you-don't dresses, thongs, etc., and worships depressing, famine-victim models (aka 'the walking sticks'). So grim. Guys prefer cheerful garb. BTW, I am not a homosexual. I am The Happy Bachelor

Hey, Happy Bachelor. See you go and make me smile, and I put you right into the blog. That's how it works around here.

HB might provide one important exception to the white denim rule. Guys can be more colorful, even eccentric, down South. Brings to mind Faulker, mint juleps, and straw fedoras. But in NYC, everyone (men and women) applies a black base coat and then adds colorful accessories. Otherwise, a cab hits a muddy puddle, and you're a mess. But HB paints an interesting picture of white denim in an appropriate setting. What do you think, ladies?

Melissa adds,

This past summer I went to a wedding where there was not one but TWO seersucker suits in attendance and boy did they look spiffy. complete with bow tie and suede bucks.


This is my son's letter to Santa. Can you tell he goes to a Jewish pre-school?

Dear Santa,

I want a stroller for me to put baby in and Daddy wants Railroad Tycoon 3. And Ian wants something to play with. A little dreidl. And that's it.

Thank you Santa,


Monday, December 08, 2003

New Tricks

For me, working part time is the only way I can manage everything. I'm not a career mom, like my sister, who embraces her role as mother with maximum gusto. But I also can't work full time. So, I've been working as an adjunct, the only option for academics who want to put off the tenure track for a few years.

But it hasn't really been working out. The money is bad, just covering the babysitter. And it isn't flexible. The babysitter called in a panic last week to say the baby was running a high fever. My husband had to come home to take care of him, because I couldn't cancel class. Students come in from all over the city. I couldn't cancel class after they had commuted an hour to get there. And my husband has the job that pays the rent.

Also, I'm pretty sure that adjuncting won't help me find a real job in a few years. Hell, lots of great PhDs with loads of publications and conferences can't find work.

Then there is the problem of transitions. It's very hard to go from wiping bums and giving time-out to pontificating in front of a class on the evolution of federalism over 200 years. I need a 40 minute bus ride and 30 minutes of blog reading to clear my brain of concerns like diaper inventory and milk consumption, so that I can prepare my lecture.

So, I am seeking out greener pastures. I told the chair last month that I wasn't coming back at least for the spring. I quit. Good luck, buddy, finding someone else with my background and my winning personality who is willing to work for $5 an hour.

I have a tentative plan. I have a couple of academic articles that I'm going to work on. I want to keep all options open. But I'm also going to try to write some mainstream articles about issues that are always on my mind. So I won't need to step into a decompression chamber before starting work.

I'm a little nervous about switching careers. I mean I've been at the academic racket for a long time. Old dog. New tricks.

But I'm also very excited. More later as plans flesh out.

Read This

A story about Barbara Ehrenreich and her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. To research the book, Ehrenreich took a series of low paying jobs to learn more about the lives of the working poor.

I read an article that she wrote about her experiences as a housecleaner which later became a chapter of her book. Ehrenreich found that these people aren't cleaning your house all so well, that they are barely making ends meet, and they have really, really crappy jobs. She advises women to clean their own houses and to make it into a family activity. I assume the book makes the same arguments.

For the record, we clean (or ignore) the dirt in our place. But I know of a lot of people who hire housecleaners. It is the only way that they can manage a job and kids or just keep their sanity. And the bread winner is so beat after putting in 60 hour week, that they aren't up for helping out on the weekends. Is hiring a housecleaner a terrible thing?

Anyway, read the article. It doesn't answer that question, but it does give a nice history of Ehrenreich's career.

Allison has a list of the pregnant bloggers. She also has links on her sidebar of other women bloggers. Useful.

The Invisible Adjunct had a post on a Chronicle article from a women getting advice from her advisers about whether or not to go to grad school. The article itself is good, but the comments at IA are also interesting. They are debating whether or not they regret going to graduate school. Me? No comment.


Sunday, December 07, 2003

Let It Snow

We got socked with a foot of snow this weekend. The roads were unplowed all Saturday, and we were too scared to take the car out to the Jersey malls for the first round of Christmas shopping. It was also pretty windy and cold. Too much for the kids. So we hunkered down on Saturday. Had a few friends over who built trains with the kids. On Sunday, we went up to the snooty mall in Westchester to buy over priced oven mitts at William Sonoma and puzzles at FAO Schwartz.

Yes, it's a winter wonderland in NYC just in time for the holidays. It's that time of year when the lights go up on fire escapes. Store windows are gussied up with fat Santas.

And when dog walkers think that they don't have to pick up dog poops. Hell-o people, just because your dog's warm poop sinks to the bottom of a pile of snow, it doesn't magically disappear. Just because it is quickly covered with a light layer of white flakes, it hasn't gone away. Yes, we'll be sure to see it again with the first thaw, when we'll be ankle deep in poop mud.


Friday, December 05, 2003

The Subway Game

Before the kids, back when we had a life, we would go out to see bands in the Village or attend parties out in Brooklyn. I live way up on the A train line at the 181st Street stop. The A train goes local after 11:00 which means that you can wait for 20 or 30 minutes to get on the train and then hit every stop along the West Side. 72. 81. 86. Between the long wait and the ride, it could take us almost two hours to get home from a party in Park Slope.

We would bide our time on the train platform by playing a game with the subway map. You link up station names to make a person's name and then provide a fitting character description. Examples:

Winthorp Hewes Whitehall -- A Park Avenue retired banking mogul. Smokes cigars at the Harvard Club. Secretly tries on wife's shoes.

Spring and Bay Halsey -- Twins with hippie parents who braid their hand with colorful strings and take them to Dead concerts. Been a week since the last bath.

Beverley Church -- A middle aged woman with a smart mouth. Likes bingo and Newport lights.

Sutter Simpson -- Likes guns. Hates varmints and those stinkin' liberals.

Vernon Jackson -- A doorman for a building in Queens. Likes jazz and checkers.

UPDATE: Get the London perspective from Transport Blog. And the Chicago angle from Stephen Karlson.

Read This

The history of the pregnancy test kit. (via Dan)

I'm starting to see more women bloggers who aren't trying to appeal to the cheap seats in the bleachers. Here's a new one by a Tribune journalist, Maureen Ryan.

Toni sent me this link to a series of articles on PhDs 10 years later.

And more on the Naked Chef, because he amuses me.

A World Without Children

Want to know what the consequences of not having children? Look at Japan.

Allison sent me a great article from Foreign Policy magazine on the population crisis in Japan.

Japan's reproduction rate is 1.32. The consequence for the economy -- falling production, plunging land values, and soaring taxes.

Women are choosing not to marry and have kids, because being a wife in Japan sucks. Men expect their wives to be mindless servants who fetch him a beer after his bath, peel him an apple, or keep the house spotless. They have little stature within the family.

I don't blame these women. I would probably do the same. But the impact of a low population rate is really interesting. They are going to have to rehaul their whole tax and pension system. They are trying to limit their tax burden to 50% of total income. With the low supply of workers, taxes threaten to go up to 60% to fund pension and health programs for the elderly.

Of course, some jerks in government are suggesting that women who haven't had kids should not be eligible for gov't benefits, since they've been off having freedom and fun rather than making babies.


Thursday, December 04, 2003

no posts until tomorrow. I fell down the stairs with the baby today. Nobody seriously hurt, but I'm a little shaken.

Read This

The Times reports that there are two types of guys: cads and dads. Women love the cads, marry the dads, and later have affairs with the cads. (Don't read this, Steve).

(more later.)

A Modest Proposal

I have been getting a lot of calls from telemarketers lately. They call as I am getting dinner on. Just as the baby is settling down for a nap. As I'm running out the door.

This increase in annoying calls is probably because I am one of like ten people out there who have been too busy to put themselves on the "Do Not Disturb" list.

I don't think it's fair that I should have to be the one to locate the number and web address which is buried somewhere in the pile on my desk. Call the number. Sit around on hold. Listen to musak. Then give the people my information. Just so I don't get calls from telemarketers.

I think that all the people who want to hear about the new subscription prices at the Met opera or ways to refinance students loans, should put themselves on a "Disturb Me" list. Please call me when I am bathing the children. Please call me when I'm wrist deep in meatloaf. Please call when I'm in the bathroom. Because I would love to hear about your fabulous offers and products.

Eying Queer Eye

They're filming Queer Eye for the Straight Guy around the corner. We often get Law and Order filming in the neighborhood, but this is the first time for Queer Eye.

Steve gets pissed off when film crews take over the neighborhood and take up all the parking spots. The young film lackeys yell when you walk down the sidewalk and tell you to be quiet. "Hey, I live here", he says. "How dare you tell me what to do in my neighborhood." But he's still scarred from the time he lived with an aspiring writer/director/producer who took over their apartment for months filming his movie about the killer bride.

When I see the train of film trailers, I always like to inspect things. I check out the food tent to see what their eating. And hang out looking glamorous waiting to be discovered.

After I pick up Jonah from school, I going to check out the Fab Five. I have to talk to them about the good work they're doing, but they really have to stop putting straight guys in white denim.


Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Much Belated Tuesday Reader Mail Day

On Tuesdays, I usually post a few reader e-mails, since I don't have a comments section. I haven't had a chance in the past couple week, and I got a complaint. So here they are.

In response to a discussion about nannies, Toni who works as a nanny to put herself through graduate school offers these observations.

it's difficult to be the nanny because you have to negotiate and sometimes do things you might not like to do. moreover, i think many people who hire nannies are ambivalent and often don't want to hire them. i think guilt is huge. you can't imagine the amount of material items or sweets these parents give their children. the nanny often gets dragged into the complex relationship between the husband and wife and that's never pretty ....sometimes i feel like i'm doing a dance of sorts.....the best relationships for me, are those with a lot of autonomy. it's definitely easier to keep the kid safe and give them good food. when there are a lot of arbitrary rules that don't make sense i think that's difficult. one employer was very strict about always being in the same room as the child whereas another completed trusted her children alone and in separate rooms. .....most of the parents and most of nannies out there are largely good. it's finding a relationship that works for both parties.

One parent from New Jersey says that the childless should not resent parents leaving work early to treat or treat.

anyone who thinks [it's fun] taking kids trick or treating clearly does not have kids. and certainly does not have a child who refuses to walk on her own two feet and must be carried from house to house and then is too shy to say trick or treat or pick out her own candy, i needed a big giant rest after trick or treating which for the mommy was no trick or treat. working until 10 would have been easier. says a mom who does both.

And Allison wonders how career women can get hooked up stay-at-home dads.

Wouldn't it be interesting to see singles ads where women state explicitly that their careers come first to them, that they still want to have kids, and that they are looking for a guy who wants to be a stay-at-home dad?

Old Baby Clothes

I can't bring myself to give my baby's old clothes to Good Will.

We live in a small NYC apartment. Our closets are overflowing. But still I'm holding on to plastic bags of baby bibs, newborn onsies, and little caps. Why can't I can pitch the stuff? I love throwing things out. Ask my husband who grits his teeth as I purge his closet twice a year. Why can't I get rid of the old baby clothes?

There is some sentimental value associated with every stained t-shirt, sure. But I just can't admit that it's 100% certain that there won't be any more kids. Which is totally insane. We live in a four floor walk up. I couldn't get three kids up and down. And it is impossible to even have a half time job with three kids. And I'm 38, which means a high risk of birth defects, less energy, and a long amnio needle.

Yesterday, I read parts of Ann Chittenden's book on the price of motherhood. Having another kid could bankrupt us.

But, you say, have another kid and they'll take care of you in your old age. It's an investment. Oh sure. One of my kids will probably end up as a high powered lawyer travelling around the world, too busy to make me some grandchildren. He never calls. He never writes. sniff. The other kid will be the pothead in the basement. He'll work a couple of landscaping jobs but it will all go to weed, rather than paying us rent. He'll hang out all day listening to Floyd and bring over his deadbeat friends.

Only someone truly insane would make a choice to have kids. Only someone driven by some irrational need would have a problem tossing stained baby bibs.


Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Good Questions

So many topics, so little time. The recent posts and comments at Crooked Timber and the Invisible Adjunct have brought up a pile of interesting questions:
- Do parents have a right to work and raise kids?
- What role do/should dads play in child rearing?
- Is it reasonable to expect a career and a family?
- What is more fulfilling: work or raising kids?
- Would a 50/50 split of child rearing between parents be the best way to go?
- What reforms can be instituted to bring about greater changes?
- Can we assume that home care is better than child care?
- What sacrifices have to be assumed by the childless so that parents can work part time?
- What policies should universities and the private sector employ to keep parents working?
- Does being a parent make you a better professor?

And the today's post by myself and Harry at Crooked Timber on the need to have children opened up a whole new can of sticky questions:
- Are parents driven to have children by an innate need rather than making a conscious choice?
- Does this biological imperative justify sacrifices by the childless?
- Do arguments for a larger social good for having children justify sacrifices by the childless?
- Are parents owed anything?
- What are political implications for arguing that people need to have kids?

Clearly, I can't answer all these questions. But I might nibble away at a few of them over time in this blog and elsewhere.


Monday, December 01, 2003

The Choice to Have Kids

(I'm back after half a pot of coffee, two large teas, one coke, and a beer. Is it really bad for your health if the only beverages you drink contain alcohol or caffeine?)

Last month, my good friend, Susan, called. She was really pissed off because all the parents left work early the day before to take their kids trick or treating. She had to stay at work until 10:00 to pick up the slack.

Susan said if you choose to have kids then you have to accept the penalties. You can't have everything. It was not fair that she had to toil while others played.

This sentiment was echoed by a commenter over at the Invisible Adjunct. Chris said, "To have a child is a choice one makes, right, and with that choice come certain responsibilities and consequences." People do have to choose between the kid and the career.

(I am a bit afraid to attack this topic. A good number of my friends don't have children or are trying very hard to have them. I don't want to offend or hurt anyone, but I feel strongly about this topic.)

I don't think it is a choice to have kids or not for most people (though not everybody). Making babies is what we do. Having kids was not a choice for me or my husband. When and how many, yes. But there was no question that we needed kids in our lives. Just as one's sexuality can't be chosen, having kids isn't a choice either. Being a parent is part of who I am.

Just as we shouldn't discriminate against homosexuals and feel that it is right to accommodate people with disabilities, society has to accommodate parents. That means changes in the workplace. And it means sacrifices from the childless.

And the childless benefit from the well adjusted children of others, as other commenters at the Invisible Adjunct point out. The childless benefit from the next generation as they enter old age and require expensive social services funded by my kid's pay checks. The childless also benefit from my kids being well adjusted and not requiring extensive social services or jail time.

And when we leave work early to treat or treat, to care for sick kids, or to go to a school meeting, we're still working. We're raising healthy, happy kids, which is just a different kind of work.

Having kids is an incredible sacrifice, and not only in the sleep department. My friends without kids may put in an extra couple of hours on a Friday night, but parents work all weekend to feed the kids and keep them safe. It's also a huge expense. Couples who work full time without the expense of childcare or diapers are much better off than we are. They have houses, while we live in a dumpy apartment. They take vacations and only pay for two plane seats. They have two full time salaries with benefits. Children are the leading indicator of poverty.

What are the implications of saying that having kids is an innate human need? Have conservatives used this argument to keep women barefoot and pregnant? I'm not sure, but I think the choice argument has been used to keep families out of the workplace. And somewhat guilty for burdening others with their responsibilities.

UPDATE: Harry at Crooked Timber picked up this post. He argrees with most, but not all, of these ideas. Harry asks "What is a sensible family policy from the point of view of non-parents? and What are parents owed?" Go there to get his views and comment.

Links Without Comments

I'm completely whooped today. Large Baby has been protesting sleep. We were up for a couple hours last night trying to persuade him that sleep is a very good thing. Right now he happily trashing his bedroom rather than taking a nap. Uggh. I would take his nap for him, if he would take a shower, organized my bookbag for tonight's class, do the dishes, and clean up for the babysitter.

All sorts of posts on the blogosphere about women, kids, and work. I'm too tired to comment on them right now, but let me give you the links:

Amanda Butler at Crescat Sententia does the math and realizes how old she'll be when she finishes law school and clerking. Since she has witnessed the effects of nannies, she doesn't want her kids raised that way. But she doesn't want to do all the child rearing and would like a 50/50 split.

Crooked Timber is continuing their discussion on this topic. Harry Brighouse puts forward three goals: "having men and women equal participants in child rearing; ensuring equality of opportunity for women; and encouraging parents to stay at home with pre-school children?" And then proposes some very utopian goals to get towards those ends. I've added some comments there, but I'll expand later.

The Invisible Adjunct has another post on academics and toddlers.

Also, Amy sent me a link to a Spectator article by a man complaining about lazy women chucking their jobs and staying home. Amy writes, "It's a quick read, and an interesting picture of another country and culture. The statistics he cites about how few married British women work are really interesting, although I don't know how accurate they are."

More after much, much coffee.

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