Sunday, February 29, 2004

Oscar Impressions

Johnny Depp. Babe.
Peter Jackson. Hair Product. Atkins.
Diane Keaton. Annie Hall. Over.
Benicio Del Toro. Babe.
Allison Krause. Annie Lennox. Elvis Costello. More.
Renee Zellweger. Shut up.
Sophia Coppola. Damn you. That should be me.
Jude Law. Babe.
Peter Jackson. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Billy Crystal. Not looking so maaarvelous.
Johnny Depp. Babe.


On Saturday, we went to yet another 4 year old birthday party for Jonah's pal and partner-in-silly-crimes, Owen. These birthday parties have become part of the weekend routine. It makes the kid happy, so we work around them.

Jonah and I walked down to Owen's apartment, the "Washington Luxury". Maybe it had been a luxurious 100 years ago when the building went up. But then the George Washington Bridge was erected in the 1930s, and now the apartment is on the off ramp for the bridge. Like all the other buildings in the neighborhood, the building was solidly built, but has been sadly neglected throughout the years. It had parquet floors with a beautiful inlay around the edges. The dining room had wood panels covered with 20 years of paint. 10 feet ceilings and 4 bedrooms. It was better made than any of the post war boxes we have been viewing in NJ. Too bad the place was full of carbon monoxide from all the cars decelerating off the bridge.

Today, we went to visit my brother in Nyack, a little town 50 minutes north of the city. Nyack is immoralized in the paintings of Edward Hopper. Lonely people seen through the windows of brick buildings. The brick buildings are still there, along with some great Victorian houses over looking the Hudson. Now the town is also home to a weird assortment of bikers and hippies, artists and firemen, welfare mothers and Rosie O'Donnell. We played baseball in a park by the side of the river with my brother, parents, and sister's rugrats. It almost felt like summer.

Other news. I had several papers accepted at APSA. One is a co-authored paper on the politics of blogging. The other two are on the president and education policy, and the politics of parenthood. These acceptances were unexpected. It pushed me back on the academic track again just I had started to look at other career options. I guess I'm not quite done with this professor thing yet.


Friday, February 27, 2004

Out Bid, Again

Yesterday, I picked up Steve at the corner of 48th Street and 8th Avenue, near Times Square. He immediately fell asleep with exhaustion. Then I drove to NJ to look at a house because the real estate agent said we had to get out there THAT MINUTE. I passed peanut butter sandwiches to the boys. Ian took his apart and licked out the sticky innards.

A few hours later we put a bid on a pitiful, little home covered with posters of Elvis. And headed back to the city with kids now passed out in the back seat. At 7:00, there are no longer any parking spots in front of the building. So, we left the car in a bus zone, and each carried a dead-weight child up to the apartment. Steve raced down to prevent traffic ticket #2 for the day.

By 9:00, we found out that the owner accepted a cash offer with no home inspections, because the guy planned to knock it down and put up a new house.

That's our sad little adventure with house hunting. We're looking forward to a weekend off from life.

Read This

Rhubarb has a thoughtful post about childcare. She wishes that there were more cooperative childcare arrangements. I do, too.

I'm following the discussion about Samuel Huntington and the impact of the Latin American immigration on American political culture. Dan and Russell have good posts on this.


Thursday, February 26, 2004

No post today. Weighed down by a parking ticket at 11:01 and by losing a bid on the crazy man's house filled with Elvis memorabilia.


Wednesday, February 25, 2004


Before I had kids, I used to think that there were few differences between the genders. Any differences grew out of mothers forcing their little girls to wear pink and carry dolls.

This afternoon, Jonah walked into my mom's kitchen carrying five clusters of Lego. Then he carried on one of his trademark 20 minute soliloquies about those objects. Mom, these are my boats. This boat goes to South America and clears up the ice and has a snow plow and goes thirty and a hundred and five and one miles an hour. This one costs one and five dollars and two quarters and it goes on the tracks with the deisels and it has a purple button that helps it clear ice and an orange button that uncouples it. And this one has an explojun every Monday and Tuesday and Tuesday and Monday. He went on itemizing the various features of his mighty boats, and it involved a lot of explojuns.

Later we took the kids to church for Ash Wednesday. Jonah sat still. But Ian, who 1-1/2, immediately stood up on the pew and ran back and forth while shouting "Baa." I tried to hold him in my arms, but he threw his body to one side until I set him down. Then he climbed right back on the pew and shouted "baa." A little girl in the next row sat quietly on her mother's lap. Then Ian attempted an escape from our row and a sprint up the aisle. So, I dragged him to the back of the church where he did laps in the vestibule until it was time to go.

On the way home, the boys insisted on running back in forth in the garabage tunnel, a nasty, dirty spot by the side of the building where the buiding's garbage festers. After a couple trips back and forth, I dragged Ian to the front door as he hollered. That was fun, mama. On the second step, he tripped and drove his front tooth through his bottom lip. Blood oozed between his teeth. I raced up four flights of stairs with a bag of fish sandwiches from Burger King in one arm and a thirty pound sobbing boy in the other.

A few months ago, I returned home after being gone all day. They were plopped in front of the TV watching NASCAR racing or something. Steve had taken them for a long adventure downtown. Then I noticed how Steve had dressed Jonah. He was still wearing his pajama top and the snap and zipper were undone on his pants. The only reason that his pants had stayed on him all day was because they were a size too small. I understand that many four year old girls have opinions on clothes and would notice if their father had dressed them in such a manner.


Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Passion for The Passion

Last summer, I accidentally got put on an e-mail list for a Baptist church in AZ. I never wrote to them to take me off their list, because I enjoy hearing about the church gatherings in another part of the country.

Today's e-mail from Kelly, the Ministry Assistant, is telling everyone to go out to see Mel Gibson's The Passion. "A personal testimony - I saw The Passion of The Christ on Monday afternoon. I highly recommend it to all adults! This film is going to change lives and it's starting with mine!"

My personal prediction -- this movie is going to be a box office smash. Just not in NYC.

A Plan

I ran off to the local library today with an overly ambitious agenda. Tuesday afternoons are my last chance to get a big chunk of work done until the weekend, so I tend to pack in a lot. I wouldn't mind making some money to buy myself a bit more babysitting time. Instead of adjuncting this semester, I am working on academic and mainstream articles. The academic stuff does not pay (but is necessary if I want to work in the future), and the non-academic stuff won’t pay for a while.

I do have a plan. As I write on the politics of parenthood, I’m reading the recent books on this topic. If I quickly punch out reviews of those books for local papers and newspapers, maybe I can scare up some spare change. I heard that the Village Voice pays well, so I pitched them some ideas last night.

I have no idea what I’m doing. How do you write a pitch letter? You mean you don’t send them a completed draft first? How do you figure out who to send things to? I wish that the lines between academic and popular writing weren’t so rigid. It might improve academic writing; others have pointed out the need for that. It also could supplement the income of graduate students and professors.

I just started a new book on parent politics, The Mommy Myth. It was placed prominently in the local Borders, so the publishers must be pushing it. Its premise is that women are oppressed by media portrayals of perfecting parenting. I have railed against the perfect parenting books, but I wouldn’t say they oppress me. I just don’t read them. The authors seem particularly sensitive, because they even have problems with fluffy articles on celebrity parents. Also, the writing sucks, which oppresses me more than articles on Kathy Lee Gifford.

Actually, this book is so unbalanced and hysterical that I’m thinking about returning it to Borders, after I skewer it. I don’t want to encourage the authors to write more.

Read This

The Invisible Adjunct, Tim Burke, and Crooked Timber have an interesting conversation going on about modern historians making the subject dull. These posts are inspired by Simon Schama who says that "modern-day historians - with a few notable exceptions - have lost the ability to inspire the public with tales of the past in the same way as their predecessors." I would level the same charges against academics in other disciplines, as well.

Joanne Jacobs had a post a couple of days ago on the educational frenzy among middle class parents in New York City. I wrote about it briefly here, here, and here. I removed myself from that scene, because I thought we were going to move to the suburbs. Since that it looking less likely, I'm going to have to jump in with the sharks again.

Loved this post by John Holbo guest blogging at CT about his love of academic blogs and Lileks.


Monday, February 23, 2004

David Sedaris

I had beening planning to write some mucho serioso post today. It was going to be either further thoughts on housekeeping or how the housing market and educational angst is driving the middle class to ruin.

Nah. I'm in a good mood. Had one of those perfect days of half time child care which was miraculously free from strife and half time at the library where I sat for 4-1/2 hours happily working on my iBook.

Instead of the serioso post, I'm going to write about David Sedaris, the writer de jour in Apt. 11D.

Last month, I read three of his books:Naked, Holidays On Ice, and Me Talk Pretty One Day. Late in December, when I read Holidays on Ice, I kept my husband up because I was laughing so hard. Sedaris writes short essays about his life and his quirky family. Growing up in suburban North Carolina with a sarcastic mother and an earnest father, he had the ordinary life that most of us can relate to. His talent lies in finding humor in those bizarre rituals and happenings in family life, liking passing around a dirty book with your siblings.

In one essay "True Detective" from Naked he starts writing about his mom's and his sister's obsession with detective shows on TV, but it goes some place much darker...

It was one thing to sit in front of the television second-guessing a third-rate detective program, but quite another to solve a real case. We were well into the summer reruns when our household was shaken up by a series of very real crimes no TV detective could ever hope to crack. Someone in our family had taken to wiping his or her ass on the bath towels. What made this exceptionally disturbing was that all our towels were fudge-colored. You'd be drying your hai when, too late, you noticed an unmistakable odor on your hands, head, and face. If nothing else, life in the suburbs promised that you might go from day to day without finding shit in your hair.... The criminal hit all three bathrooms, pausing just long enough to convince the rest of us that it was finally safe to let down our guard. I might spend twenty minutes carefully sniffing the towel only to discover that this time the asshold had used the washcloth."

Sedaris also writes about the many odd jobs that he had over the years -- making clocks in the shape of the state of Oregan, stripping floors, creating performance art while juiced up on crystal meth, moving furniture in New York City. Sometimes he would take a job just for the romance of it. In college, he spent a summer picking apples with migrant laborers. Through these jobs, he comes across a slew of characters. But what makes Sedaris great is that he seems to like these people even as he points out their quirks and ticks. He isn't making fun of them.

The best essay in Naked starts off with Sedaris teasing his younger brother about getting caught with his pants down at work. Sedaris calls a nudist colony for a brochure, so he could leave it with his brother. But when the brochure comes in the mail, on a whim Sedaris decides to go himself. He writes about his initial awkwardness about walking around nude, and the saggy old people playing tennis without their clothes on. At first, he is horrified and embarrassed, but as the week goes on, he gets used to tucking his cigarettes into his socks and head out the door carrying only a towel. He also has a real affection for the naked old people.

During the ride into town Millie reflected upon the upcoming sunbathers' convention set to take place next week in Massachusetts. "That's where I married Phil," she said, referring to her second husband. "My four sons gave me away, just as nude and beautiful as they could be. They used to be so much fun, my children. We'd go to all kinds of nude parks and beaches, but then they got older and married clothes-minded girls who won't have anything to do with my way of life." She shook her head and scowled at the passing landscape. "Why did they have to go and marry girls like that? You try to raise them right and look what happens."


Sunday, February 22, 2004

The Weekend of a Stroller Pusher

It's Sunday night, and I'm pooped. I have to keep myself awake until the Sex and the City finale.

The last few days have been very busy. More failed house hunting on Saturday. Saw a house with no backyard, because the in-ground pool took up every inch of space. You opened the screen door and stepped into the deep end. Saw another house with no second floor, just rafters and insulation. It is also had a toilet in one of the closets. And we still couldn't afford those places.

In the evening, we put aside the depressing afternoon and went downtown for a birthday party for our friend, James. James is HIV+, so he takes his birthdays very seriously. He rented out the top floor of a hip bar in the West Village and invited 150 people to celebrate his 30th year. Steve and I got dressed up in black. I pulled out my big gold earrings and heels.

We quickly met up with our old friends and hoarded the few chairs by the bar. Cynthia told us about auditioning for TV pilots in LA and stocked up on mozzarella sticks from the appetizer table. Toni introduced us to her friend, Julie, who is Sarah Jessica Parker's dentist. And we just joked around for a while.

Met some new people, too, including a really sweet guy who is a producer for Spike TV, the new station for men. He's working a show where every week a guy is confronted by his old girlfriends who tell him how he was in bed. Sounds like a winner. Steve laughed at me for being flattered, because our new friend asked for our phone number and said, "you guys don't seem like the other stroller pushers."

We were just getting into the social groove, when we had to leave to relieve the baby-sitter. Only the stroller pushers leave a party at 11:30.

Between the commute home and debriefing the baby-sitter's husband on his dissertation, we didn't get to sleep until 1:00. A few short hours later, two kids were in our bed demanding Kix and Cheerios. Go away. Go away.

We took the kids to the playground today. Ian pushed around his play stroller like it was a lawnmower. Jonah ran around with the big boys and learned how to play "freeze tag." I chatted with one of the dads. As the weather gets nicer, I'll be at the playground all day. I can't wait.


Friday, February 20, 2004

Read This

A funny article in the Times on New York City moms having their own happy hour. We had a similar thing going on a couple of years ago. Andrew would show up at the playground with beer on warm summer evenings. Bob and Sally and Laura and sometimes some of the spouses would have a Bud in a paper bag while semi-watching the kids on the slides until 6:00 when it was time to go home and feed the kids.

Read this quickly. The link runs out this weekend. Some dads do make enormous sacrifices for their kids. Sam Crane uses his knowledge of eastern religion to find satisfaction and contentment in carrying for his severely disabled son.

Confucius teaches, for example, that ritual action is the glue that holds civilized society together. By "ritual" he means not only the grand commemorations of life's defining moments - marriages, births, deaths - but also the meaningful symbolic gestures of everyday life. It is in the heartfelt fulfillment of our daily obligations to others that we fill ourselves with kindness and integrity. We need not search far and wide for happiness; it is to be found in our routinely respectful treatment of the people around us.

Barbara Ehrenreich and the Old Libbers

I see that Harry at Crooked Timber has called attention to the exchange between Russell Arben Fox and me about Barbara Ehrenreich's letter to Slate. Since Russell and I have been emailing each other about it, I though I would share. (I've only got 10 minutes, so excuse any typos and lack of links, please.)

Here are portions of Ehrenreich's letter:

I discovered the magazine while clearing off the kitchen counter and reeled back in horror from the cover line—"How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement." For a moment I took it personally, as a vicious parody of the themes Arlie Hochschild and I address in our anthology Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy. When my daughter got home from work, she picked up the Atlantic, which I had forgotten during the fun game of carrying-Teddy-around-on-my-head, and commenced an icy diatribe against stay-at-home moms who have nothing better to do than bash their hardworking sisters.

First reactions are important. She was defensive. She felt like her daughter and her legacy were being attacked. Her first reaction was to put down stay-at-home moms. Then she says,

All right, Caitlin, I've read it now and know you didn't mean to satirize me or attack my daughter, who is, incidentally, the best mom I have ever seen in action, despite—and, I would say, also because of—her demanding job as a law professor and human rights advocate.

Now why did she have to add that her daugher was a good mother and a lawyer? More defensiveness?

I did like that she called attention to the fact that modern women seem to have given up on making men more accountable for the guilt of hiring nannies. Leave out the men who also enjoy the nanny's and maid's services and you are into plain old woman-blaming—in this case, for fairly hideous global inequalities. I also liked how she pointed out that nannies are a problem only for a small number of upper middle class women, and their defection from the universal childcare movement is significant.

However, her first reaction to Flanagan's article should be noted. I do think that there is a deep bias amongst libbers of her generation against women who work at home. There is some scorn against those who are unable to be both a law professor and a mother. After all, her end goal isn't really to have men and women spend more time with their kids. Her goal is to set up more childcare centers.


Thursday, February 19, 2004


Sam basically tells me to stop equivocating and just say it. Hiring nannies is exploitation. In fact, all work is exploitative. And he points out "the absurdity of working harder to have someone take care of your kids more so that you can work harder, ad infinitum, is obvious for all to see".

I think Flanagan would respond by saying that some exploitation is better than others. She wants to work, because writing at the computer is a lot less dirty than changing the diaper genie. I don't think it is a matter of money for Flanagan. She is working because she has a glamorous, prestigious job as a writer in NYC. And staying at home with kids is boring, mindless work with little respect. (I did wish she had spent some time talking about the good things about being with kids. Kids do have their perks, as you know.)

For those of lesser means and with less glamorous jobs, yeah, it is absurd to make money just to hand it over to the babysitter/nanny. That's why I took myself out of the game for a time. Actually, if I worked full time, I would pay more in childcare than I would take in. But many still make those equal exchanges, because some exploitation is valued more in our society than others.

Sam comes right back with:

I suspect Marx would say, yes, there are winners under capitalism (these days perhaps not just "owners of the means of production"), and they may well find a certain fulfillment in "cool" exploitation. But they should not try to put a happy face on what is becoming an increasingly brutal, globalized market in cheap female nanny labor, which is essential to their comfort. Their coolness requires a swarm of low-wage women, in numbers large enough to keep labor costs down. The talk about unionization is laughable. If nannies unionized, and their pay and benefits increased, "cool" exploitation would be beyond the means of many upper middle class families. Flanagan would be staring at the diaper genie.

And I think you are letting men off the hook too easily. I agree that men's sense of household cleanliness is not that of women (it is certainly true with my wife and me), but men, too, have to face the same choice: at what point do you limit your professional pursuits, even if they may earn you more money, in order to do what needs to be done at home, especially with kids. Many professional women have learned they cannot have it all. More men need to realize this as well.

Thanks for saying that. I've been so trained to avoid making judgments about other mothers, that I shy away from pushing my point home.

I ran into my favorite neighborhood nanny today on the way to the subway. She was pushing a stroller down the sidewalk. When I asked her about her own daughter (the same age as the baby in the stroller), her eyes lit up and she told me how her little girl was talking already and how smart she was. I bet she would rather be with her own girl who is being raised by a relative. Really sad.

I am not letting men off the hook, at least not in our house. In fact, as I'm busy on the computer, hubby's doing the dishes right now. If I got a good job, he would quit in a heart beat to be home with the kids. No problem. In our house, the kids come first.

I do think that the women's movement has given up on the men. That came out in the letters in Slate. There is some finger wagging, but no real muscle behind their words. Why? Flanagan says that nobody wants to do the "shit work". The women don't want to raise the kids, why would they expect that their husbands want to do it. Ehrenreich's solution is to have free childcare for all, not to have the husbands quit their jobs. No, no. Nobody wants that.

Yeah, more men have to realize that they can't have it all. But I don't even think that many women are willing to admit that yet.

(I hope my comments make sense. I'm way beyond tired.)

more links

Russell Arben Fox and I disagree on Barbara Ehrenreich. I found some of her statements biased against stay-at-home moms; he reads her differently.

Jury Duty

A quick interruption in "all nannies all the time" here at Apt. 11D. I went downtown today to get out of doing my civic duty. I had been called up to serve on a special grand jury -- those are for high profile cases that go on for 5 or 6 months.

Waiting outside the marbled halls of justice today were 7 white media trucks all with huge satellite dishes. Under a tent, 30 or more cameras were all trained at the front door of the court house. They were waiting for Martha Stewart to come out and walk to her limo at 5:15. They had been out there for weeks just to get that 10 second shot. I asked one of the clerks if she had ever seen anything like this. She said no.

You know I feel bad for Martha. (Yeah, I'm probably the only person out there who does, but I can't help it. I'm an old softy.) It's hubris. It's Oedipus. It's a Greek tragedy. Someone who has everything but forgets that they are human and loses it all. Why are people more willing to forgive Clinton's act of hubris, but not Martha's?

Feminism Old and New

Part of the reason I find this whole childcare debate interesting is that it looks like feminism is swinging off into several different directions.

There's the old school feminists, represented in part by Ehrenreich. Their aim was to get women into the workforce. Here they succeeded. But it also minimized the obstacles that working mothers would face. Their utopian notions of cheap, perfect childcare with fully supportive mates never materialized. They undermined the self esteem of at-home mothers and minimized the importance of their labor. They have also removed a whole set of questions from discussion, i.e. what about the kids?

Now there's the new wave of women. They've given up on their spouses and given up on government sponsored childcare. But they've been taught by the first generation that careers are good and that you could have it all. They are finding it tough.

Some continue down the road of the old libbers, but hire nannies and cleaning ladies to help them. As much men should share in the guilt and the worry over these hires, it does seem to fall on the laps of women.

And another 50% stay home. There are the Ann Crittenden/Lisa Belkin stay at home moms and then there are the more radical La Leche-sling variety. I am very interested in these groups as their become more organized and more radical. They consider themselves to be feminists, too. Though pretty much everybody is annoyed with the old libbers, because they feel deceived by false promises of career and family.

There is a lot of tension between these groups. It came out particularly in those letters in Slate. Sara Mosle says I'm paying my nanny fairly, why should I be guilty. Flanagan says lots of nannies aren't paid well, and don't forget them. Ehrenreich, who didn't even read Flanagan's article all the way through, gets all defensive about her daughter who is a law professor and has her kid in childcare. She thinks Flanagan is attacking her daughter and deriding the feminist legacy. It would have been interesting to see commentary from those who stay home. I like a good fight.

Childcare Notes and Links

A quick note before I run downtown to beg my way out of jury duty. That should take all day.

Russell Arben Fox writes on liberty at the expense of servitude.

Maud Newton finds it ironic that Flanagan is making a name for herself writing on motherhood, when she pays someone else to do the mothering.

Barbara Ehrenreich's letter in Slate which ticked me off so badly last night is worth rereading. Not because I agree with it, but because it makes for interesting debate. From her letter, I learned that daycare is good, but nannies are bad. Feminists have completely given up on getting the husbands to do more. And given up on the goal of both parents being involved in their child's development. Nobody wants to change the diaper genie, so let's have the government pay someone else to do it.

Some added thoughts before I start getting lots of hatemail. I don't know what the right thing to do is. Some people seem to be paying their nannies fairly and have found good childcare where they feel that their children are happy and safe. They have no guilt on either front. Others are very satisfied staying home with their kids, and are proud of the work they do at home. The difficult part is everybody in between. Those who worry about childcare and who also want a career. Flanagan seems to be in that guilt ridden middle group. She writes that a child needs its mother, but she has hired a nanny. I do like that she shows her ambivalence about those choices, because I think most people are torn by those decisions.


Wednesday, February 18, 2004


I should probably stop. I didn't get around to neatening up the last post. I'm getting pissed off, and that's not a good thing. But I just read the ongoing letters in Slate by Barbara Ehrenreich, Mosle, and Flanagan, and I'm annoyed.

Ehreneich says that, "when my daughter got home from work, she picked up the Atlantic, ... commenced an icy diatribe against stay-at-home moms who have nothing better to do than bash their hardworking sisters." She corrects Flanagan for missing the point of her book and says that we need is "a campaign for safe and loving childcare options for all of our children," and that the upper middle class employment of nannies removes them from this campaign.

Stay-at-home moms are not hardworking? They have nothing better to do? Screw you, Barbara.

Good childcare for everyone would be nice. But I am not sure what it would look like. I've never seen it myself. My kids have been in okay situations that have not harmed them in any way, but they've only been there part time. Even if childcare was free for all, I don't think I would use it full time, but that's just me.

I would like a little more childcare, more opportunities to work part time, a chance to return a full time career in a couple years, and more respect from feminists like Ehrenreich for my work at home.

Frankly, I'm surprised that Ehrenreich had that reaction to the Flanagan article. In fact, I thought of her when Flanagan wrote that her nanny cleaned up the sheets of her twin boys after a stomach virus. I thought that Ehrenreich would say that people should clean up their own messes.

I am disgusted by these women in Slate. I am grossed out by their entitlement, their rationalizations, their surity of the importance of their work, and their unwillingness to take on even a part of the boring, messy business of watching kids.


OK. We're talking nannies tonight. Let me just add a disclaimer before I go on. I'm still working out what I think about all this stuff. Maybe by the time I get to the end of this post, I'll have some more concrete ideas. Maybe not. I'm going to sum up some of the arguments made on both sides and answer some of them.

Now, full disclosure. I have a babysitter who is employed for 9 hours a week. I call her a babysitter rather than a nanny, because she's only 20, she's very inexperienced, she's PT, and she's going to college next semester. She's paid $10 an hour. I've also used daycare in someone's home for around 20 hours a week. And Jonah's pre-school is basically a daycare. So, I've sampled all of the childcare options.

Let's move on to the Caitlin Flanagan article. Let me just say that I don't think that this article was one of Flanagan's best. She doesn't seem to have one unifying argument throughout the article. It starts off with her feeling so superior to the working moms, because she's home with the kids. Then she tells us that she has a nanny. (Instant turn off. Sorry, but no one feels sorry for an at-home mom with a nanny.) She has a literature review, which bypasses subtleties in favor of jokes (I can relate to that). Then she ends weakly by stating that you're not exploiting a nanny if you pay her fairly and pay her social security and understand the pain of poor working women even as you take advantage of them.

I'm not going to review the Flanagan article, but use it as a jumping off point for a larger discussion. Do look at her list of books if you are really interested in reading more about this stuff.

First of all, nannies are different from day care workers. Nannies work in your home. They are not in their own homes or in a neutral daycare center. This gives them a lot less control over their work environment. Their work is micro-managed to a much greater degree than a daycare worker. It is also weird for the employer. The nanny knows that the family hasn't washed their towels in a week or that they've eaten nothing but Chinese food. Nobody has any privacy. Especially if the employer has installed nanny-cams.

The pay. It seems to vary greatly. I've gotten a number of e-mails from readers who tell me that they pay their nannies generously. $10-$14 an hour. The Mosle letter in Salon said that she pays her nanny $500 a week. That's about $24,000 a year.

$24,000 a year is better than working in a McDonald's or in a shop. Before she started babysitting, my babysitter worked in a basement of a clothing shop doing inventory making minimum wage. She's making more money now and is happier.

Many nannies prefer to be paid under the table and forgo their social security. If you're getting $14 an hour tax-free, you're doing quite well, though you're not getting social security.

On the other hand, Steve said that a trader he works with pays his nanny $350 a month. The trader rationalized it by saying that the nanny gets free room and board and goes with them on all their vacations. He described the situation to Steve as "a necessity." Most nannies are not receiving paid vacations or health insurance.

To be able to afford to pay a nanny well, you have to be in a seriously high tax bracket, especially if you have more than one child. I'm sorry, but I'm left with a series of questions. Is it worth it? Could one parent work less hours, make less money, and have less childcare? In some cases, perhaps not. If both parents are truly unhappy at home or there is only one parent around, then maybe there are no other choices.

Oh, yeah, one more question. Why am I spending all this time worrying about the moral dilemnas of the few who can afford this option?

If a nanny is paid well, is she still exploited? Flanagan and Sara Mosle would say no. My friend, Toni, who is a nanny would say no. Joan Tronto who wrote "The 'Nanny' Question in Feminism" would said yes. Tronto said the "weirdness" I described earlier of having a stranger in your home invites problems. Some women become jealous of the nannies and routinely fire them if they become too close with their children. The children treat them with disrespect. The nannies often have their own children is sub-standard day care settings. The lack of control over their environment is damaging. I strongly disagreed with Tronto the first time I read her, but I am not so sure now.


Tuesday, February 17, 2004

It's Not a Vacation

Steve's off from work this week. Since we're in frugal mode, we're not going anywhere or blowing much money. We might need the casheroo for moving trucks and cans of paint in a few months.

A week at home with kids shouldn't really be called a vacation. A vacation conjures up images of lounge chairs and frosty drinks with red umbrellas. It does not involve caring for children with ear infections. A vacation has nothing to do with the list of chores that I plan to accomplish this week: a hair cut, an excusal from jury duty (not easily accomplished in NYC), and a major transfer of files to my new computer. So what should we call this week? More work.

Another item on this week's itinerary is house hunting. We looked at more dumps in New Jersey today. We've narrowed the search to a couple of towns that have promise. They have sidewalks, a short commute into the city, and good schools. So, that's good, right? The trick is just to find a place to sleep in these idealic communities. Our old Southern belle real estate agent showed us six or seven places that reeked of death and divorce.

The first place needed a lot of work. The kitchen cabinets hung at odd angles. The walls were dirty and grey. Brown rugs from the seventies covered the second floor. The family had chaotically half moved out. The real estate agent whispered, "bad divorce". Kids' toys and coloring books were swept into the center of all the rooms. The agent said, "I can't believe they didn't clean up." The basement was piled to the ceiling with sagging boxes. A dog had ripped up the sheet rock.

That was the best one, so we'll have to see if the owners are willing to come down in price.

I'm trying to imagine if we can make it work. Can we paint over the sadness and lonliness and pain in these homes? If we strip off the orange flowered wallpaper from the old man's house, will it erase the smell of Old Spice and whiskey? When the dead woman's cabinet of curios is gone, will my computer hum happily there? Will a table in the kitchen cover the stains of dog piss?

Read This
Steve's vacation week has also given me time to memorize the latest New Yorker. Of course, read the David Sedaris article.

I also really loved Ian Frazier's piece on Route 3 in Northern New Jersey, a place I know well. His story starts off in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. "Most bus commuters sensibly occupy themselves with newspapers, laptops, CD players,and so on. I always try to get a window seat and then look at the scenery. If this were a ride at an amusement park, I would pay to go on it."

He also pays a rare compliment to the much maligned Garden State:

As a grownup, I have lived in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Montana. Now I live in the New Jersey town of Montclair. Recently, a friend who’s a rancher in Wyoming sent me a card saying he finds it hard to believe that he has a friend who lives in New Jersey. Sometimes I find it hard to believe I’m here, myself. When I lived in the city, I had the usual New Yorker’s disdain for this state. Oddly, though, I was attracted to it, too. I used to come over to Jersey a lot, maybe because it reminded me of Ohio and other places I love in the middle of the country. I like being on the continent, rather than slightly offshore. I get a sense that I’m more connected to it; when there’s a big snowstorm, for example, I imagine the snow stretching from here back across the Alleghenies to Ohio in unbroken white. And I like the feeling that I’m near the city but also just out of its range.


Monday, February 16, 2004

Advice to a Friend

Dear Friend,

I see that you are struggling with your new blog. I have some words of advice.

What should you write about? I’m assuming that you don’t want to make a blog of links, but would like to offer content.
- Write about what you did today. Write about what you read or watched on TV. Is there some issue that keeps you up at night? Any weird interests or obsessions? Perhaps an odd configuration of moles? It’s all food for the blog.
- Take apart the littlest moments of your life: feeding breakfast to your kids or preparing for class. Don’t get too ambitious. It might just be one paragraph a day. Some days, you’ll have some big point that you would like to make. Other days, the big point will come after you’ve written for a while. Some days, no point.
- If you have some world view that guides your life (I don’t), good. But instead of stating it outright, demonstrate how you live by this philosophy. It’s much more interesting that way.
- Read other bloggers and respond to ongoing discussions.
- Write often.
- Never write anything bad about family or friends. They’ll find it.
- Please, no cat pictures. Thank you.
- Read bloggers who do it well and copy them. I am a big fan of James Lileks.

Your voice. I noticed that you worried about adopting a “persona.” Yes, some bloggers adopt an alternative personality in the hopes of appearing cool to their readers. One of my favorites is the suave man about town. A man who is cultured in matters of bourbon and brandy, who analyzes the intricacies of Bush’s latest speech, who can parse science fiction TV shows. A James Bond who attends Star Trek conventions. Another favorite blog personality is the tough talking chick who smokes and curses and drives her Honda real fast. Please avoid doing this. Just pretend you are talking to your closest friends who know that you are full of shit.

Why blog? There are several acceptable reasons: to improve your writing style, to keep a record of your life in 2004, to network with like minded souls, to share your insights with others at a similar point of their lives, to try out new ideas, to rough draft future writing projects, to vent. Unacceptable motives for blogging: fame and fortune.

Your readership. Set up a free counter from sitemeter to find out how many people visit your site. It is a mistake to get too caught up in the numbers. If you worry too much about hit counts, you can drift away from your original mission or get frustrated. But it is nice to be read. The The Invisible Adjunct said a couple of weeks ago, “...after all, who the heck sends stuff into cyberspace for anyone and his dog to read without hoping that anyone if not his dog will indeed read it? ” Also, hit count can be a gauge, though a clumsy one, about the quality of your work. In addition, knowing that someone is reading you can be a good motivation for writing. Those beautifully bound blank journals last a week or two on my desk and then end up forgotten. I’ve been at this for 6 months.

And just have fun. Writing a blog is an opportunity to be creative. Experiment with different styles and topics. There are no rules. I’ll be keeping an eye on your progress.

Flea at One Good Thing (2/6/04) wrote this about starting her blog:

It's been almost a year since I started writing this blog. I wanted to keep a record of what the kids were like when they were little, true, but I also needed an outlet for the extreme stress that Steve and I have plunged ourselves into with trying to start a new family and a new business at the same time. It's often a despairing, overwhelming task, an effort to get up in the morning, to keep remembering to breathe in and out, to wonder what the hell else could go wrong. I wanted to write to remind myself that even on the shittiest of days, there was always one good thing that happened, and if I could just remember what that one good thing was, I could string them all together like Christmas lights and drag that string behind me, occasionally looking back to see how beautiful it all actually was.

Sources tell me that studio executives have canceled Angel. What shmucks. Some really brilliant mind has decided that we need more Fear Factor and King of Queens, and less quality TV shows about vampires. What kind of a sick world do we live in?


Thursday, February 12, 2004

Back on Monday

I received many great e-mails from people telling me how they split up the housework. Some good ones came in too late to make it to the blog. It seems like there are an infinite number of arrangements; some are more equitable than others. It would be interesting for someone (definitely not me) to set up a blog with a comment section for people to vent on these everyday matters. A historical record of ordinary lives in 2000s.

Harry at Crooked Timber has picked up my careless comments about housework and husbands and added his own points. Go there to discuss your ideas. (Thanks, Harry.)

I am a bit fried at the moment. It was a long week with illness, work, and e-mails. I'm too tired to write more on this topic today. Survivor is on in ten minutes.

Actually, I'm gone until Monday. My in-laws arrive on Saturday, so tomorrow I'll be doing 90% of the housecleaning. Take care.


Wednesday, February 11, 2004

TV, A Counter-Culture, and the Dads

Yesterday, there was a very interesting discussion at Crooked Timber about TV. Some felt that children's TV had too many commercials and promoted a materialism that they were trying to avoid. Others felt that their kids should be exposed to mainstream culture, because it is better produced than the alternatives, and that kids should learn to filter out the good from the bad early in life.

I surprisingly had few opinions on the subject of TV. My philosophy is just let them watch as little as possible. My kids watch a bit in the morning, so that I can take a shower and a bit in the evening, so that I can make dinner. They are young enough, so that all the shows are basically harmless. Until Emenem shows up on Sesame Street, I don't have to worry that much.

I have many more views on their toys, music, and books (that's for another time).

I do like the notion of a counter culture though. We have one going on here in my neighborhood, which is part of my hesitancy to move to the suburbs. Many of the families are part of the new educated lower middle class. Teachers, professors, and artists, who despite their education and skill, now make less money than unionized blue collar workers.

The counter culture that I'm embracing puts the kids forefront in the lives of the parents. Parents take a career cut to spend more time at home. Dads are home in many instances. Kids are not hidden away from the rest of society in backyards or daycare. There are sidewalks for the kids and large playgrounds. The birthday party we went to on Sunday was a simple affair. Two of the dads played guitars for the kids, who danced around to Beatles tunes. There were no ponies or other expensive outsiders brought in to entertain the troops. Everybody is equally poor, so there is no competition for nice clothes or private classes.

As part of my counter culture utopia, the parents also have lives outside of the kids, too. I despise those simpering parents who kowtow to their tots. Balance.

I am not suggesting a tall wall separating my kids from an outside culture. But I do think there should be a strong influence at home. And there can be much learned from religious conservatives who think deeply about what values they give their children and who minimize the pressures of the outside world. Russell Arben Fox writes, I'm grateful for my faith, because even though it isn't nearly strong enough, it helps me be content with what I've got, focus on my children, and get off the clock.

There is one big downside to making these lifestyle choices. Education. If parents are around a lot, they aren't earning money. And the only way to get a decent education for the kids is to buy into a pricey community. The school in our neighborhood is mediocre at best. The kindergarten teacher will have 25 five year olds with no assistants to help. A good number of the children have never been to school before; others don't know English. The room is so small, that I doubt that all 25 kids will be able to stand up at the same time.

On to the dads... Tim Burke writes about the distribution at his house. Overall, men seem to be doing more around the house than their fathers did. But is it enough? Is it a fair distribution? Based on my highly unscientific poll, women would say no. Are women just asking too much? Are women never happy, as Alison, a commenter from yesterday, claimed?

Housework aside, men, especially the self identified slackers, do really seem to putting a lot more into their care of the kids. Nobody is complaining about that. Tending to the kiddies is much more important than cleaning the tub, so I am heartened by this discussion.

It's funny that I should be writing this pro-parenting post today. I did get in a good two hour hike through the park this afternoon, but otherwise, the day sucked. The kids have colds. Geysers of snot shot out with every sneeze. There have been lots of tears. Not a second to myself to read the paper or the New Yorker. The super turned off all the water during the day, so I didn't get a hot shower, and a mountain of dirty dishes piled up in the sink. Then a couple of Steve's friends stopped by at the last minute, so I had to whip up a second dinner for them.

Thanks to everyone who wrote to tell me about their home arrangements and give me their thoughts on parenting. I hope to respond to everyone later. After Steve's friends leave. Alright, I have got to go be social.

UPDATE: Mental Multivitamin has thoughts on defining the educated lower middle class.
Fiche Reader, an academic parent, has good stuff on her style of parenting. Is there any commonalities among parenting and academics (that's my question, not hers)?


Tuesday, February 10, 2004

A Fair Share of Housework

“Given the number of hours that your husband works, does he do a fair share of the housework?”

That is the question of the day. Not only did I throw that out on the blog yesterday, but I’ve also asked every woman that I ran into today. (Didn’t run into any guys today, so I couldn’t ask them.) Here are the responses from my informal interviews:

No (emphatic). He watches TV in the evening, while I clean up and work on my part time job.
Yes. But he’s unusual, because he learned to do those things when his mom got very sick while he was in high school.
No. And that’s why I’m filing for divorce.
Yes. But sometimes I have to remind him.
No. I don’t need a husband; I need a wife.
Are you still reading those angry women, Laura? The problem with those women is that they don’t have their priorities straight. They should go to church and do some volunteer work and stop complaining already. (OK, that was my mom.)

Jay at Moment, Linger On has a response. And I got many e-mail responses. So many that I haven’t had a chance to respond to everyone yet. (For one brief moment, I considered adding a comments section.) Here’s a selection of reader mail without comment or analysis from me:

Jenny writes,
My husband and I have only been married for nine months, and we lived together for a year before our marriage. We are both academics on the tenure track. In terms of housework, I do most of it. However, he does have several areas of expertise. For instance, he's excellent about doing the dishes and cleaning up after dinner (and this is really a plus!). He also does his own laundry (although I have offered to do it), and he takes out the trash.

Here's the big issue, though. He does many other things around the house if I ask. Sometimes, I only have to ask once; sometimes I have to ask three times. I would like to get to the point where I don't have to ask at all, but I'm not sure that's possible. Like many other women, I have been well conditioned to clean up and take care of the house. He doesn't seem to have that compunction. He has no problem reading a book or writing while the house is a wreck and we have no clean clothes. I have female colleagues who use cleaning services, but right now, I just don't think that we can justify the expense. Of course, I'm wondering what's going to happen when we have kids in a couple of years... ;-)

From Donna,
My first husband was (is) a programmer, and ended up in the financial industry. He left before the kids woke up, got home right before dinner, and only took them on short outings on the weekends so that he wouldn't need to carry a diaper bag.

During my fourth pregnancy, I found out that my third child was stillborn because of toxoplasmosis caused by the rabbit we got during my first trimester--I changed its litter, and it bit and scratched me, but I didn't know that rabbits were risky at the time. So suddenly I
didn't want to touch the cage. My husband refused to change the litter because he thought it would set a bad precedent--that I might expect him to continue after the baby was born. I wore thick gloves. (The baby was fine.)

My second husband is a French artist/musician/web designer/gamer. He hasn't really worked since the dot-com crash. He's taking care of the house and the kids while I go to nursing school at Columbia. I have a wife! The problem is, this only works because the first husband is paying alimony and child support.

Allison writes,
I find the husbands can't win. Either they are these Type A, overworked high-earning types and the wife resents that they are consumed by career and their lack of involvement in home and family and that they and the nannies are raising the kids.

But I also have friends married to what you call "slackers" -- less demanding, lower income jobs and they don't appreciate it, they resent the financial pressure, the fact that they (the wives) have to keep working full-time and are always complaining that their husbands aren't ambitious enough and don't push themselves enough. They don't really seem to appreciate the increased time their husbands have with the kids and their help with household duties, in fact, they seem to take it somewhat for granted.

Russell, an enlightened slacker dad, writes,

How can resist answering, when you go around praising "slacker" husbands like me? Let's see--I cook breakfast, wash the bathroom, take out the trash, read the kids stories at night (though since daughter #1 and #2 often want different stories read to them, we sometimes divide up), and stay up late with Allison (daughter #3) if she's having a bad day. Melissa cooks most of the other meals (I will sometimes do dinner, but not usually; she almost never makes breakfast), does the laundry, does all the sewing (I don't know how). Most everything else (vacuuming, mopping, picking up toys, enforcing discipline) we split, more or less evenly I hope, though of course she's home with the girls for more hours out of the day than I am.

Kathleen writes,
I am married to a slacker, which is why we're able to negotiate a relationship in which he stays home and I work outside that home...

As I see in making the list, he does a lot of work. He's constantly working, in fact. So what am I complaining about? The reason why our arrangement is not entirely satisfying to me is that the house always looks messy. And I'm in charge of the big jobs-making sure the kids are stocked with clothes for the upcoming season, or scouring the newspaper for the few events and kids' classes available in our small town, e.g. Even though I've passed along jobs to him, such as making doctor's appointments, I'm still bearing the psychological burdens of parenting, which I recall reading about in an undergraduate women's studies class many years ago. We're thinking about homeschooling, and here's how I know it's going to work: he'll do the day-to-day activities, and he'll do them well. I'll do all the behind-the-scenes work-researching every possible homeschooling philosophy and curriculum; chatting with other parents-I mean, mothers!-about their choices and experiences; surfing the Web for affordable and appropriate games, toys, and books; filling out the proper forms with the state.

He: Takes care of the kids full time; Does most of the laundry, including cloth diapers (See? The guy is a saint); Does most of the cooking, including hot, nutritionally balanced,
vegetarian lunches and dinner for me when I get home (You weren't kidding about slackers feeding their wives lasagna; I eat incredibly well!); Takes out the garbage; Walks the dog, often shouldering wee children who can't get to sleep.

I: Work full time on the tenure track; Clean the dishes and spoons and pots and pans that were used in the nutritionally balanced meals, above; Maintain a veneer of cleanliness, like sweeping, wiping the counters, scrubbing the toilet, gathering up the newspapers for recycling, gathering up stray toys from odd places, folding the %#$ blanket on the couch, like, four times a day; Clean out the diaper bag occasionally; Organize-sort out old clothes to pass down to friends, keep track of stored clothes that the kids have grown into, shop around the Goodwill for bargains, sit down with the sock basket and actually pair socks up; Cook and prep when company comes; Am in charge of holiday cheer and responsibilities-the shopping, the activities, the thank you notes; Pay the bills? badly and often tardily

We share: Dressing and feeding the kids in the morning; Putting the kids to bed-I nurse the baby while he reads to the older one. If one of us is clearly exhausted or beset with anxiety of some sort, then the other takes on both kids; Putting piles and piles and piles of clean clothes away; Grocery shopping; Library excursions

From Melissa,
Ok, so I do read your blog and I married the slacker guy. And for a long time, NOTHING got done. My husband is an amazingly smart, kind, funny guy who is really really good to me. But, it took therapy to shake us out of our long-held notions over who does what in the household. It turns out that I was the careerist, and expected him to do EVERYTHING since I was out earning the money. He in turn, didn't expect to have to do anything. Both because his mother did everything and because I was making the money, if I wanted something done, I should hire a cleaning lady. Granted we don't have kids, and he is now making money (if you ever need someone to lay tile...) But, it took a lot of work for both of us to reach our happy, messy medium.

Read This
There are some very nice people in the blogosphere. People who put a lot of time and thought into raising good kids. People who make their kids a priority, not so that their kids will be the smartest or the most successful, but so that they have happy kids. Call me a sap, but I really like that. Harry Brighouse has a long post at Crooked Timber about childhood. I’m headed over there now, a little late to the party, to add my two cents.


Monday, February 09, 2004

Who Does the Laundry?

Today’s entry is total journal. No big points. No rants or raves. If you like your blog posts to come to some sort of neat ending or make some larger points about life. Read no further. This is just an ordinary day in the life.

Morning. Got Jonah on the school bus. Played with the little one while doing random tidying and fielding phone calls from mom and my sister. On the way to pick up Jonah, Ian fell asleep in the stroller guaranteeing no nap for the afternoon and a melt down later in the day. I cursed the nap gods.

When I walked into Jonah’s classroom, the kids were engrossed in an art project. They had drawn pictures of themselves with sad and happy faces. Jonah’s teacher showed me his work with amusement. Under his happy face, which was breathing deeply due to several extra noses, he had drawn a picture of his little brother. His brother was a second head on his shoulder. A sweet moment of sibling love sure to end when his brother dismantled his train tracks later in the afternoon.

After lunch of soup and toast, Angela arrived, and I left for the library. Ian wailed. Guilt.

I read Naomi Wolf’s Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected Journey to Motherhood. I had skimmed it last summer, but I wanted to look more closely to see if there was anything useful in it. The book is all about Naomi, her birth experience, and the depressing business of combining family and career.

Her flowery writing style made me wince at times. “...Cara, holding her coffee, would feel her eyes fill with tears that, since there was no point in crying, would never quite spill.”

There’s a lot of self pity from someone writing from her “cavernous suburban home.”

And she’s really pissed off at the husbands. About their inability to pack a diaper bag or cut back on their careers or to chip in with the housework. (This was also a theme in the Caitlin Flanagan article that still is not on line.)

Our situation is a little different around here. Due to a gross miscalculation about the length of time it takes to do a dissertation, both Steve and I were home full time with Jonah during his first year, while we wrote. We had a 50/50 split. As a result of Steve’s year at home, he can pack the diaper bag (if you’re not too picky about sippy cups leaking all over the place). He still does the dishes at night (if you’re not too picky about washing the outside of cups) and all the laundry (if you’re not too picky about shrinkage).

But ours was an unusual situation, and with all the poverty that it entailed, I am not sure that I would recommend that road for anyone.

How much is Naomi’s experience with husbands true? Her book is based solely on her own relationship and the marriages of her other upper middle class friends. The husbands are career focused, Type A types who pull in major incomes to buy the cavernous suburban homes. Are all fathers completely inept or just Naomi’s fathers? Have men not evolved since the days of Ricky Ricardo?

Unable to force the men to do more, the women in Naomi’s book resort to the exploitation of nannies. (Also a theme in the Flanagan article who talks of hiring nannies to do the “shit work.” And the central argument of Arlie Hochschild in her recent book, Commercialization of Intimate Life. Briefly discussed here.)

My first thoughts were to advise all my single friends to stay away from careerist husbands. Girls, go for the slackers. They might not make senior partner, but they’ll make your dinner and play with the kids. You might not be able to afford a house in a town with a good school district, but so what. He’s made lasagna for dinner.

OK, this post sort of morphed into a discussion of dads. If I was really a dedicated blogger, I would rewrite the first paragraph and add a snappy conclusion, but I’m not, so I shan’t.

I’m curious. Who does what in your home? Write me. Or write about it in your blog and send me the link.


Sunday, February 08, 2004


Janet Jackson's boob exposed! Yeah, big deal. I was a 4 year old birthday party today, and saw a ton of boobs. There were no strippers at the party, just breast feeding moms sitting on the sofa as the older kids played on the floor. My kid probably saw four or five exposed breasts today and, so far, there are no visible signs of scarring. None of fathers looked twice. Of course none of the breasts were festooned with jewelry like Janet. Just a small infant latched on.

Nothing says modern motherhood like breasts. I breast fed my kids for 3 months full time, and then another 3 or 4 months part time. 7 months longer than my mom, but far less than others. Some friends are still giving their 4 year olds a night time snack of Grade A mom.

Everyone is quite open about it. Baby is crying in the playground, and mom will whip out a mammary gland. No protective blankets to cover herself. No blushs. The kid's hungry and that's that.

It took me awhile to get accustomed to public breastfeeding. Raised a demure little Catholic girl, I was not used to baring all before strangers. But unless you want to spend close to a year cloistered in your apartment, you learn to unsnap your bra in public. Playgrounds, diners, park benches, family functions were all venues for exposure. One time, on one very long A train, I gave the morning commuters a little show to prevent dehydration in my infant.

My parents are sometimes uncomfortable about the new public whipping out of the breasts. Theirs was a time when children were fed only by carefully measured scoops of formula. It was all very sanitary and proper.

The Janet Jackson scandal continues to live on. Front page in the Week in Review today. I'm a bit mystified about the complaints that the Super Bowl is a family show and that children were harmed by Janet's act. I doubt any of the kids cared. Just maybe the grandparents.


Friday, February 06, 2004

A Hard Rain is Going To Fall

We need four days of rain to wash all the dirt off the streets. I've stopped letting Ian walk down the street on his own. Everytime he falls, and he falls a lot, he comes up with blackened knees and hands. The snow by the side of the road is no longer that light white fluffy stuff that came down from the sky last week. It's not even really snow. It's more like crystalized filth, all crunchy and black, with cigarette butts and candy wrappers suspended inside.

Yes, I'm dreaming of a deluge of biblical proportions that will melt the crystalized filth, and carry the cigarrette butts and candy wrappers and smeared dog poop and spilled coffee down the sewers to the sea where it will offend the ocean life.

There has been some great blog-talk about the good old days when kids walked to school. My kid walks home everyday at 11:30 from his pre-school. It's a long walk. 1 -1/2 hours back and forth. The long walk is good for uninterrupted chatting time with the boy and spontaneous picnics, but those walks have no redeeming value in this weather. I've been taking a lot of taxi cabs to pick up the boy.

And then there's that disturbing story of the 11 year girl abducted and killed while taking a short cut on her walk home from school.

What I want is a driving rain to wash the streets clean.


Thursday, February 05, 2004

This is Going to Go Down on Your Permanent Record

After our son started pre-school last year, it came as quite a shock to us to learn that he wasn’t perfect. We were sure that his pre-school teachers would thank us profusely for the honor of having him in their class. Certainly the teachers would talk in conferences about his brilliant wit and his clever manner. The other parents would blush with envy.

No. Pretty much his teachers started complaining about him the first day. The main problem is that he is too silly.

At some point during the morning, the teacher gathers all 18 kids in a circle where they are instructed to sit on their names. Then she tells them a story or sings a song or something for fifteen minutes. I guess Jonah finds this rather dull, so he instead tries to crack up the other kids by shouting out bon mots like “Mr. Poop-head” or “Butt-head” or some variety of those words. Last week, he expanded his repertoire.

After hearing that he was disruptive from his increasingly unhappy teacher, I asked him on the walk home, "What did you do, Jonah?"
Jonah explained. "I said, "buh, buh, banana-buhtt."
Ba, ba, banana-butt?
No, mom. buh, buh, banana-buhtt.

I’ve tried to tell him that Mr. Poop-head and his close cousins are not at all humorous or ironic, but I don’t think he’s buying it. After all, the 17 other kids laughed.

Another issue I’ve heard about is his tendency to daydream and bump into door frames, desks, chairs, and other children splayed out on the ground. His teacher came out of the room last week to seriously inform me of this character flaw. “It’s a safety issue.”

His teacher is also annoyed by his high energy levels. Only in pre-school is high energy, imagination, and a sense of humor punished.

I will surely hear about his abundant faults during our up coming parent-teacher conference. With all solemnness, I will hear how disruptive my child is, and perhaps this is due to some failings at home. And with this attitude, he will certainly be a problem in kindergarten and later end up in a trade school repairing old typewriters. Worse yet. He’ll probably go to graduate school.

Read This

The Wilson Quarterly has a few interesting articles this month on shopping and the American way of life. (Sadly, it's not on line yet.) What do our shopping habits tell us about society? Well, mostly women do the shopping. Men never buy their own underwear. If you put the makeup counter near the shoes, then women will notice the displays for skin creams while waiting for their shoes. Women really like those free give aways from Clinque. (Duh!) Sales at malls are suffering now that more women are working full time. Lots of good stuff in there. If women spend a good deal of their time shopping, should women's studies classes offer some readings in this area?

The Atlantic Monthly has a cover issue on the mommy wars by Caitlin Flanagan. I'm right in the midst of it, but it's excellent so far. It is also not available on line yet, but it will be soon. And then we're going to talk.


Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Belated Tuesday Mail Day!!

Quite often readers send me suggestions for books and articles to bolster or dispute my arguments. It's all good. Rebecca has some good reading related to surviving graduate school and dealing with advisors:

There is a book, designed for women scientists & engineers that does have lots of advice that carries over to 1)non-scientists 2) everyone else, including those pesky males. I started giving it to foreign grad students ("everywhere it says woman, cross it out and write Indian"). Then I said, screw that, and have pushed it on any grad student who will stand still long enough to read it.

The book is: The Woman's Guide to Navigating the Ph.D. in Engineering & Science. Also, there is a long standing, underground article called "Cynical Advice" for graduate students (biology).

In response to my post on cooking styles and women, Carla told me to check out Perfection Salad by Laura Shapiro.

Toni urges me to expand my definition of hobbies.

i don't think i entirely agree with your assessment of hobbies. for example, i think blogging is a hobby! while you might use blogging as a medium for brainstorming and writing, you probably wouldn't be doing it if you didn't enjoy it. i think hobbies can be loosely defined; reading; going to the gym; seeing films....i think these activities count as hobbies in nyc. people in the rest of the country don't see half as many films as nyer's nor are they as obsessed with what's on the best sellers list. while there may be a decline in craft books, knitting is on the increase from my informal observation. there are so many young women who are knitting on the trains or while they wait for their kid to finish gymnastics. i think there is a big difference between urban and suburban hobbies: without space, urban hobbies tend to occur outside the apartment and tend not to rely upon collecting things....book clubs, cooking clubs, the road runners, junior league, etc.

I'm not sure if passive activities such as reading or viewing movies constitutes a hobby, but maybe hobbies are evolving. If the definition is expanded to include war simulation computer games, then hobbies are alive and well on my husband's PC.

Read This

Russell Arben Fox is hitting it out of the ballpark lately. Please read his latest post on raising slacker kids, the need for sidewalks, and education angst.


Tuesday, February 03, 2004


I was going to have a Tuesday Reader Mail Day, but then I got all fired up reading a post on grad student dropouts rates over at Dan Drezner's blog, Dan Drezner. I hate to be predictable, but I have to swing at this pitch.

Dan quotes an article in the Chicago Tribune which reported that the dropout rate for graduate students is 50%, compared to 42% of undergrads and 10% for law and medicine. The article quotes some woman who is writing her dissertation on how this dropout rate can be blamed on poor academic advising. (Hon, good luck ever finding a job. Nobody likes a Narc.)

Other good numbers: Of the remaining 50%, only 25% graduate. The other 25% just hang around like ghosts on a wreck. And of the 25% who graduate, only a fraction ever find tenure track jobs.

Dan rightly points out that there is no market for new PhDs, so putting together policies to retain students is silly. Here's another radical idea, why let in all those students in the first place? Why take their money and exploit their cheap labor, if nobody ever expects for them to get a job. It's wrong, deceitful, immoral, reprehensible, and level eight in Dante's inferno goes to university presidents who allow this practice to continue.

But then Dan writes, "I'm afraid that I'm (mostly) old school on this one. Hand-holding sounds great -- except that part of the job of being an academic is being enough of a self-disciplined self-starter that one can focus on research instead of distractions like... er.... blogs."

First of all, those who drop out are not necessarily bad students. In fact, some of the smartest students I've known have dropped out. Those who make it to the end are not necessarily the smartest, but have the most endurance for pain and a blind optimism about the job market.

Secondly, HAND HOLDING??!!! He said HAND HOLDING??!!! Good God, I would have appreciated it if my advisor and Steve's advisor hadn't actively sabotaged us. (I hesitate to talk about grad school. I really don't like to stir up the old resentments, but I have to make my case.)

[damn fine writing deleted for obvious reasons...]

Steve's situation was worse. He had a micro-manager who proofed the punctuation in his footnotes. After Steve turned in the final draft of his dissertation, and the other members of his committee approved it, his main advisor decided that it should be reorganized. The guy had been reading drafts for two years and suddenly he wanted a major shift in the basic outline. One year later, Steve finally graduated.

We weren't looking for hand holding, just some decent behavior. One of things that Steve finds most refreshing about working in the private sector is that the managers are so supportive. Asking for more support by academic advisors is not going to lead to a new crop of wimpy Ph.D. It might just get them through with the graduate school ordeal quicker, so that they begin their new lives as temp workers with slightly smaller student loan bills.

UPDATE: Chris Lawrence has more.

Watch This

Time to out myself. I'm a major league Buffy/Angel nerd. And Maureen Ryan at Eric Zorn tells me that tomorrow's episode is going to be a doozy.


Monday, February 02, 2004

More on Houses
On Saturday, we found a great little house in our price range provided we ate nothing but ramen noodles and tuna sandwiches for a year. Sure, it was small. Not a tree house mind you, but also not much bigger than our apartment. Oh, and the house rattled whenever the train passed by across the street. And the owners mentioned that the basement could get a bit "damp". But it had a new kitchen and a fenced in backyard. The kids could go to a cozy little school a few blocks away. We put in a bid.

However, so did 25 other people. And they drove up the price by $100,000. Steve's a little bummed out about it, but I'm not. Who needs an abode when you have two PhDs that come with so many spiritual and intellectual rewards? Also, Richard Hatch is back on Survivor, so that will distract me for a few weeks.

The Birth of a Bad Body Image
My sister took her two daughters to her Weight Watchers meeting last week because her husband didn't get back in time from work. She set them up with coloring books and crayons as the meeting progressed. Erin, the 3 year old, was absorbed the whole time in her art work. But Megan, aged 5, put down her crayons after a while. One woman stood up and told the crowd that she had lost five pounds. Everyone clapped, and the leader handed the speaker a star.

Megan asked, "Mommy, why is everyone clapping for that lady?" Maria replied without thinking, "Because she lost 5 pounds". Megan was very quiet. And Maria, who immediately regretted saying anything, saw the gears turning in Megan's head. Megan was making connections. Hmmm. If you don't eat, then people clap and give you a sticker. Being thin is good. Being fat is bad. Megan asked, "Why aren't you getting a sticker, mommy?" BECAUSE, OK, BECAUSE.

Read This
Stephen Karlson has some good advice on making room for hobbies.

Hey, look. I'm on Erin Zorn's Chicago Tribune's website. (Thanks, Mo.) Maureen Ryan, guest blogger, taught me more than I needed to know about Janet Jackson's nipple shield. She also suggested reading this blog from a mom who runs a sex toy shop in Chicago.

The best academic laugh/cry I had all day, from Household Opera (via the Invisible Adjunct. She's baaaack.)


Sunday, February 01, 2004

(Yeah, I'm posting during the Super Bowl, because I would rather watch the Survivor All Stars. Go Rupert!)

Bears with Bonnets

A few years ago, Steve’s Cousin Petey came for a visit. As he sat uncomfortably in our salvaged midcentury armchair with its lumpy cushion, he asked us, “So, what kind of hobbies do you guys have?”

Hobbies? What’s a hobby? At that time, we had a newborn baby, two drafts of two dissertations, and a couple of adjuncting jobs. We worked every minute of every day. A hobby, what’s that?

My dad never had a hobby either. He just sat at his old Apple IIE revising his textbook and preparing classes all weekend and into the evening. He read a lot of books but since reading is work related, it doesn’t seem to constitute a hobby. My mother never wound branches into wreaths or stencilled the kitchen. Raising kids, carrying for my grandmother, helping my dad, paying the bills, and making buckets of pasta seemed to leave her with almost no free time. My parents spent any spare minutes at church or on the picket line of some political cause.

But Steve’s family in Ohio has a multitude of hobbies. After we became engaged, I went out to Cleveland to meet his family. I met Uncle Petey, who drove a mail truck during the day, but over the weekend he collected old electric organs and old Mr. Salty’s, which he lovingly displayed in the basement. Cousin Petey worked for the FAA by day, and at night, he set up an elaborate model train with plastic trees and miniature houses. Cousin Petey also collected rare musical instruments and refurbished old motorcycles. Another uncle was into ham radios and model planes.

Steve’s dad was always in search of new hobby. Something that would relieve stress from work and fill the hours. His latest thing was woodworking, but after shaping a few bowls and swans, his enthusiasm seemed t o have waned though he did love acquiring the new equipment.

The women also had their hobbies. Aunt Carol made Christmas ornaments and wall hangings of smiling reindeer with a jigsaw cutter. Aunt Audrey made clothes for dolls. I’ve heard that clothes for dolls is very popular. A lawyer friend said that whenever he goes home, he helps his mother’s friends get tax write offs for their rooms of bears with dresses by declaring those rooms as museums.

But the hobby is a fading phenomenon. Susan, my publishing friend, said that the crafts books with knitting instructions and creative projects for ribbons no longer sell.

We’re too busy. Everyone is spending more hours at work. More time raising kids. There is the computer to eat up spare minutes. And 100 channels on the TV. Technology and work have spelled the end to stamp collecting, gardening, crocheting, quilting, canning, pickling. I don’t think I would categorize blogging as a hobby. Since I use blogging as a means for brainstorming ideas and as a rough draft of future writing projects, it falls under work for me.

Is this a good thing? On the one hand, I am not sure if the world is made a better place by bears with bonnets. And who needs ham radios picking up on my cell phone calls? But the slow death of the hobby does come with its costs. For those who have a job rather than a career, a hobby can be a way to find satisfaction from work. It’s often a creative exercise. And when the collection of objects is the goal, there is a process of categorization and the thrill of the hunt. These activities don’t make money, but have greater rewards. Though I might find the end product silly, the process is excellent.

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