Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What Do We Tell Them?

This question has come up for me in a few ways recently. Most obviously, in terms of the recent events in Boston, but I've also been realizing that the Bug is old enough to understand a lot of what we hear on the radio, and I listen to NPR all the time.

So what do we tell our kids about the awfulness that happens in our world?

I looked to my own childhood for an answer. My dad is a retired firefighter, and my formative years coincided with the last decade of the Cold War. Because of the family news habit and the disaster-preparedness side of Dad's job, I had a pretty clear sense that the world could be a pretty dreadful place pretty early on. But the other sense I had was that almost universally, there are people running in to help. I've always been very proud that my dad was one of them. I wasn't shielded from the awfulness.

I have a relative who doesn't watch or listen to news because she doesn't think it is appropriate for her kids, but now that her oldest is in school, I kind if wonder how this head-in-the-sand approach is working? What kind if questions did she have to answer tonight because of the garbled version that was passed around grade 2 today?

I don't think it is a good approach to sit kids in front of CNN and turn them into disaster wonks, but I think it is equally important to be their source of information. When something big happens, talk to them about it. I'm a runner. Yesterday's events had me pretty shaken up. The Bug is 3, at the height of the narcissistic stage of life, but if she had asked why I was upset, I would have told her the basic facts: there was a bomb, a lot of people got hurt, the police are trying to catch the bad people who did it. From there, I would answer any questions she would have asked as simply and honestly as possible. I probably would not show her the video. I probably would tell her what to do if we were ever in a crowded place and something scary happened. (Find a policeman or other helper, tell them your name, show them your RoadID) I would tell her that I plan on running my half marathon in 10 days still because I won't let bullies and bad guys run my life.

I think kids know when we're not being honest. And I think if we want them I rust us as they grow up, we have to be honest with them from the start. I also think they let us know when we've told them enough. If we listen. When I was about 4, I asked my mom where babies come from, and she did the best thing she could have done-- she asked why I wanted to know, and it turns out that a neighbor had told me she had a baby in her tummy, which I knew couldn't be true, because if it was , she would poop the baby out. All I needed to be told at that juncture was that there was a special place inside mommies, near their tummies, for babies to grow and I was happy. I didn't follow by asking how they got in our out of there, and by figuring out what I wanted to know, and only answering the exact question I asked, my mom was able to not overwhelm me with details I wasn't ready for. I think we should so the same with world events.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I Blame NBC

I recently read a thread on a parenting board about a veritable Kobayashi Maru of parenting. When taking a small child grocery shopping, do you keep them in the cart whilst loading the groceries from the shopping cart into the car or do you place the child in the car first and unload the car.

My first thought was 'this question is so hard that you needed to solicit opinions on the internet? Dude. Seriously?'

My second thought was to classify this on a long list of middle class problems that a wide segment of the population probably aren't worried about as much as this person is-- lower classes are more concerned with schlepping groceries and baby on public transit or foot, and the upper classes can have the nanny watch the children or the house keeper can do the shopping.

My third thought was 'if this is your biggest problem, lady, you don't know problems.'

My fourth thought was 'Maybe I've been doing this wrong, I better read up.' This was followed closely by 'OMG! I need to blog about this!'

So the discussion raised some important points-- if it is hot or cold, one needs to be concerned about the temperature of the vehicle; just like you can't put an animal in a hot car on a sunny day, you cannot put a baby in a hot car on a sunny day.

Here's the thing. The discussion quickly became a list of ways to get one's child abducted or dead, and possibly one's car stolen. Here were the solutions offered and how they led to disaster:

  1. Keep child in the cart while unloading groceries. Turn back for merest of seconds transferring bag of groceries from cart into rear of car/trunk. Turn back to discover baby gone and skeevy van flooring it out of the parking lot. 
  2.  Keep child in the cart while unloading groceries. Turn back for merest of seconds transferring bag of groceries from cart into rear of car/trunk. Turn back to discover that cart has rolled all the way down the hill, into approaching traffic, and child is now greasy spot on 6-lane highway. 
  3. Start car to start climate-control system. Place child in car. Load groceries. At some point, discover your car peeling out of the parking spot, possibly running you down, and find self with abducted child AND stolen car. Now you are not only dealing with the police, but also with the car insurance company.
  4. Place child in car. Unload groceries. Walk away for 'just a second' to return cart to front of store or cart corral. Upon return, discover child and possibly car missing. 
Seriously. People were very concerned about these. And I'll admit that at one of the local grocery stores I visit, the parking garage is not optimal for emptying a cart; like most parking garages, the floor is sloped, and, without careful management, the cart can get away from me. This is why the Great Whomever gave me ankles and feet and a rudimentary understanding of physics. 

And I get the safety concerns; in the summer, the interior temperature in my car is high enough to fry an egg (or something) and there could be serious problems from the cart rolling away and getting struck by a vehicle. But being so darn worried about abduction just seems absurd to me. 

I went to Google, looked up 'child abduction statistics' and found some interesting numbers. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, approximately 800,000 children are reported missing in the United States each year. They are indicating anyone under 18 qualifies as a 'child.' Of those, they say that over 200,000 are abducted by family members, 58,000 by non-family members, and 115 are the victims of a 'stereotypical' kidnapping in which a child is snatched by a stranger who intends to hold the child permanently, demand ransom, or kill the child. 

Understand here that I do not mean to diminish the horror and grief of the families of those 115 children. Or even the other children taken in less stereotypical situations. But also understand here that I'm pretty good at math. According to the CIA's summary of census data, there are roughly 62 million people in this country age 14 and under. Roughly, then, 1.29% of children are reported missing in a given year. (Actually, it is smaller, but I can't isolate a number of individuals aged 15-18, so I'm spit-balling here). Not let us recall here that within this list of missing children, we are including children who run away, moments of confusion over who was supposed to pick little Jimmy up that lead to the police being called before checking at Grandma's house, teenagers who bail for a few days, and custodial disputes between parents. 

So because I'm good at math, I don't worry too much about my child being abducted. Particularly by a stranger in a parking lot. I'm more worried, when thinking about abductions, by someone I know. Since my husband and I currently get along, and most of our family members who want children have children, I'm not super worried about this. 

I am slightly more worried that someone might want to steal my car, and not notice a child in a car seat in the back. But, I drive a 2006 Subaru, and I tend to shop in the sort of stores where there is, at any given time, at least one Range Rover in the parking lot, and a whole heap of Priuses, so I'm probably good on that front. 

But it isn't just this grocery store scenario that brings up the possibility of abduction. My mother-in-law will not take her grandchildren to the playground at the Zoo, because she fears someone will grab them. All the time, I hear people talking about 'all the abductions' and I don't know where these are happening, but if I listened to concerned people, I would never leave my damn house. 

I blame Dateline NBC, which just can't turn away from a story about a pretty white kid taken from their home in the dead of night. I also blame the 24 hour news networks, who have about 35 minutes of legit news every day, and after that, they have to come up with something to fill the empty airspace and convince advertisers that it is worth it to continue to make their absurd enterprise profitable.

That said, when it comes to grocery shopping with my infant, I'll keep baby wearing. If they are going to snatch a baby out of a wrap on my chest, I've got other problems to deal with.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Arguments I've Had Today

Apparently 2.5 years old is prime age for arguments. Since waking up this morning, I've had the following arguments.

1. Regarding apparel:

Me: Would you like to wear jeans and a t-shirt or the pink dress?

Her: I want... MILK!

Revisiting the conversation several minutes and a sippy cup of milk later, the conclusion was emphatically the pink dress.

2. Regarding leaving the house:

Me: Alright, it's time to go to school!

Her: I don't want to go to school.

Me: Would you rather spend the day watching me work and going to the grocery store?

Her: I don't want to go to the store.

Me: Those are the breaks. School it is then.

3. Upon arriving at school

Her: [sighting the building] SCHOOL! (Imagine the tone of voice used by the winners in the Publisher's Clearing House Commercials)

Me: [After pulling into a parking space and unbuckling her carseat] Okay, let's go in!

Her: NOOOOOOOO! (Imagine the tone of deepest dispair used by a crabby, PMS-y woman who has just discovered that the last cookie is gone)

4. Inside the school, approaching her classroom

Her: I don't want to go to my class.

Me: But there aren't any toys here in the hall.

Her: I don't want to.

5. Regarding apparel (revisited)

Her: [Discovering the previously rejected t-shirt and jeans] My t-shirt

Me: Yes.

Her: Take off my dress.

Me: No, you can wear the t-shirt tomorrow. You look pretty in your pink dress.

Her: I don't want to look pretty in my dress.

I don't really have witty commentary on this. I think it should probably, however, be noted that she nearly beat me there a few times. I'm over 30 and a scholar. Seriously. I shouldn't be defeated in a battle of wits by a 2.5 year-old.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


So I've heard dozens of people say that they got dogs a preparation for children. I've always been somewhat skeptical of this statement, as even before I had a kid, I was fully aware that you can't put an annoying toddler in a crate for three hours while you go off for drinks. I was fully aware that the stakes with an animal are lower; there is almost no social stigma if, after getting a pet, you realize you can't hack it and give it up.

But, upon reflection, I can see some ways in which my dog has prepared me for being a parent. With the dog, I had to deal with biological messes much worse than anything the Bug produced in her early months. I've cleaned things out of my carpet that I would rather not think about, and that was before she was in the picture. Now my dog has never puked on me, let alone done it for every day for months on end.

But I did have, in HR parlance, previous experience dealing with hazardous biological situations before the Bug was born. In that sense, being a dog owner prepared me for dealing with one of the challenges of parenthood. It also gave me some practice with dealing with an unpredictable creature with a will of its own and a completely different sense of priorities than I might have.

But recently, I've been confronted with a situation that presents me with a question of what exactly dog ownership is preparing me for. On one hand, all of the above referenced stuff got me ready for being a parent, but now, my stupid dog has a Mast Cell tumor on his side. It is potentially quite serious, according to both the vet and the internet. It requires surgery that is expensive, painful, and not without risks. My dog is somewhere between 9 and 11 years old, and as he is a boxer mix, we can reasonably expect him to live another 5 years at the outside. The question becomes is treating this tumor worth it? At present, it isn't interfering with the dog's quality of life. It would extend his life somewhat, but it is also possible that a year after having this surgery, it is possible that he could develop some other health problem or just not wake up some morning.

This seems not entirely different not from a situation I might face with the Bug, but instead one that looms in the less-distant-than-I-probably-care-to-admit future with my parents if or when they become unable to make their own healthcare decisions. In a sense, my dog is more like an adult with some forms of dementia than he is like a toddler; he is nearing the end of his life, he is unable to fully comprehend the situation, and even if he is, he is unable to express what he might want done. Unlike my folks, he doesn't have a reasonably detailed advance directive that gives me guidance as to what I should do. He and I have never had a conversation about these sorts of issues-- but of course, these conversations with my parents are usually brought on by specific situations, and of course, we can't cover every single thing that could come up before it does. (I know this. My mother and I had a number of conversations about these issues, and I still didn't have a clear understanding of what to do when I was in a position to decide if her medical treatment should have been continued. It is the single most difficult decision I have ever made.)

With a child, the rewards of a curative but risky procedure would clearly outweigh the risks and costs. With this dog, at this age, it is not so clear. I'll probably get him the surgery, in the end. but it does seem to be practice at the sort of end-of-life issues I hopefully will never have to deal with with the Bug.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


So one of the on-going themes of this blog is, I think, my unwillingness to be stuffed into the rigid categories that my society would thrust upon me-- things like 'if you breastfeed, you can neither work, nor use a stroller' or 'if you cannot be perfect, you must give up' and 'if your children are not perfectly behaved, you must hide in your house until they can be.'

There are certain rules that I think go into the category of Good Ideas. Like... 'no running in the street' and 'cite your sources' and pretty much all rules around hygienic food preparation and water safety.

I would be glad to go on about my pain-in-the-arse neighbors who let their children run in the street and behave like wild beasts on the savannah, but instead I'm going to talk about water safety today.

I regularly take my daughter to the pool at our local YMCA. I actually go to a Y that is slightly further from our house because it has a separate, zero entry pool for toddlers and small children. In the posted rules for the section of the pool labeled 'Baby Pool,' the following points are salient: it is specifically for non-swimmers and children under the age of 5. Now, I am willing to accept that older siblings of non-swimmers or those under 5 and the developmentally disabled, perhaps.

However, to the pre-teen ninnies who invaded the toddler pool while we were there this morning, however, I would like to suggest that there is a neighboring larger, deeper pool that would be more appropriate. I would also like to say that if they are going to be in the pool that is designed for the use of smaller children, they should be aware of their surroundings and not, perhaps, play games that involve keeping their eyes closed.

To the lifeguards, last I checked the nature of the job is, is in part to enforce the rules of the pool. Yes, there's the making-the-fanny-pack-look-good, and there is also the watching-for-people-drowning thing, but I'm sure that leaves a few minutes out of every hour to ensure the more general safety of the other swimmers at the pool. I mean, I know that you are seventeen years old, and it may seem like a stupid rule, but before the 'big kids' showed up, I could barely keep up with my two-year old, and after they showed up, she wouldn't let go of me. Since I want to teach her to not be afraid of the water and to have fun in the pool, I'd love an assist from the authority figures, m'kay?

To the [absent] parents of the young people in question, I would just like to note that it is in part your responsibility to make sure your kids follow the posted rules. Since the posted rules suggest that you need to at least be on premises, although being in Pilates class counts, their compliance with the posted safety regulations is on your plate.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ways You are a Better Mom Than Me (And Why I Just Don't Care)

Parenting is competitive. Seriously. On an olympic level. Especially for moms. Don't believe me? Check out the Facebook statuses and photos of your parent friends. They are almost all (mine too) about the wondrousness that is the offspring in question.

The thing about parenting, unlike the Olympics, is that there isn't just one set of rules for it. Some people even adjust the rules just to make sure that they are winning at all times.

I'm not playing anymore. But I'm aware of the ways in which I am loosing. And they're funny. So... the reasons I'm a bad mommy.

1. My 2.5 year old is not yet potty trained. She's occasionally gone on the potty when placed there, but it just doesn't occur to her to ask to go. It also doesn't occur to her to tell us when she's messed her diaper. I figure she probably should have an awareness that dry is better than wet before we can make any real progress on this front. I'll keep asking, but she's not going to make progress on this front until she's ready, no matter how tired I am of diapers.

2. I am no longer breastfeeding my 2.5 year old. She lost interest around the time my production took a nosedive. I know that makes me less mom than some would like.

3. I breastfeed my daughter at all. I get that this might make me a bad feminist or not care about my body image or something. Whatever.

4. I take my daughter to daycare even on days I don't have to work. Firstly, I've already paid for it, and secondly, I think she has more fun there than she would spending the day with kids her own age than with me pretending I enjoy doing Ring-Around-the-Rosie 8000 times in a row.

5. I only work part time. (Since we all know grad school isn't a 'real' job.) I mean, seriously, I know you can bill 80 hours a week at your high-powered job, devote another 20 hours/ week to working out, and then be an awesome parent, but some of us do the best we can. I also know you make more than me with fewer degrees. Haven't I been punished enough?

6. I never, ever wear pearls to do my housecleaning. I rarely clean my house. When I do, it's a big day if it is after I've had a shower and it is for a reason other that 'WTF happened to all the spoons? Again?'

7. My daughter has both watched TV and eaten fast food. I understand we are going straight to hell and she is doomed to a sub-standard life. I hope to redeem myself by mentioning that we drink organically farmed local milk.

Congratulations other Moms. You win. Mostly because I'm not playing. I'm going to have to hang my hopes of a gold medal or blue ribbon on either my knitting skills or on taking up archery late in life and discovering that (against all evidence to the contrary) I'm really good at it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Comprehensive Exams In Social Media

So... I'm working on an eloquent, thoughtful post about what it is like to be an academic and a mom, but at the moment, my brains have dribbled out my ears, so I thought, to give a taste of what it is like by giving you a sampling of my social media posts over the past month while I've been plodding through Comps.

Comps day 1: I'm weirdly excited about my question set. I must remember this is not the time or forum to write a scathing tract calling for disciplinary reform.

Comps Day 4: I had a dream last night that I was having lunch with Kofi Agawu and debating a point I'm making in my 1st comps essay.

wishes she lived in a world where words have simple meanings... the genius who brought her this delicious crepe has never spent 5 days considering the essential nature of the banana or the meaning of the word 'text.' (Consider this the Comps Day 5 report)

Brain no worky. Time for sleeps... back at it in the morning... 2500 words to write by sundown Sunday. 

Plan for today: eat yummy Mexican food, reread some cultural theory, buy cheap kid clothes, eat ice cream, write 700 words. I'm that cool.

My child just handed me my copy of the Turabian Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Am I reading too much into this, or is she saying 'get to work, lady?'

Comps Day 8: A day behind schedule. I think this is fine, if I can get essay 1 sorted today, and essay 2 should be easier, so will take less time, right?

Comps day 9: I seem to be going through all of the stages I usually go through developing a project, but in quicker succession-- excitement, panic, crippling self-doubt, bitter anger. Usually I have several months to cycle through all of this. In other news, I've written the same footnote so many times I no longer need to consult the publication info in the front of the book

Comps Day 10: I have realized that my interest in Charles Ives may stem from a sense that at least my writing is more organized than his. So I'm going to bed... perhaps clarity will be with me in the morning.

People who have an undergrad degree in anything think they know what grad school is like: undergrad w/ more reading, less drinking. That's like saying you know what parenting is like because you used to babysit in high school or you have a dog.

Comps Day 11, you are dead to me. Comps Day 12, I still have hope you can make up for your neighbor's shortcomings.

Mid-day report for Comps day 12: Out of negative word-count territory and in need of a break before they think I'm moving into this coffee shop. Heading to the Magnolia-league music library with a baggie full of change so I can make the copies I need before the weekend.

It is very weird to cite your friends in scholarly prose. I want to say 'so-and-so, who I've been roaringly drunk with multiple times….'

You should see what my kid can do with a bowl of oatmeal.

What is 1500 words between friends? Or between student lackey and established academicians determining her fate forever?

Then it's a good thing my problem isn't a shortage?

It seems like I spend more and more time reading things and thinking 'that sucks' even when it is stuff I'm supposed to respect.

Comps Days 13 and 14 report: I have decided that Scrivener is the best writing tool ever. The more I work through these projects, the more features I start using. Essay number 1 is almost finished and essay number 2 is in progress. Essay number 3... well, according to the schedule, I don't have to worry about that until tomorrow.

Thank you, Google Books for being so utterly useless.

If I'm ironic and no one hears it does it mean I wasn't ironic or just that no one gives a shit? Or that I'm a hipster?

Yes. I know it is weird to sit in the coffee lounge of the YMCA working with musical scores. You don't need to glare at me.

Comps Day 17: Just dug out my dog-eared old copy of Rosen's The Classical Style. This thing might really be going off the rails.

I hate end notes. I always have. I hate them even more in e-books.

Comps Day 18: Wrestling coherence out of an incoherent mass. Also, realizing my paper-saving strategies might be a profit-boosting scheme for my eye doctor.

More in statements in parenting that I never thought I'd hear: 'Don't yell into the toilet, please.'

Comps Day 22: It is amazing just how much of my work process involves making tea and shopping for shoes on the internet.

Comps day 24: I'm quickly reaching the point where hygiene is optional. I've also learned exactly one thing about my discipline: we hate trees

Comps day whatever: moment of truth time. Essay 1: 6524/5000 words. Essay 2: 3275/5000 words. Essay 3: 2853/5000 words. I know what to write, now it is just doing it in crunch time. The editing task does flummox me a bit, though.

Back to the mines. I'm finally confronting the major source of my word overage, so today's goal is to let a couple of respected scholars off the hook. At least for the sake of comps.

Going to bed now. Comps essay number 1, for the spectators out there, is written and edited, but for the formatting and its lack of a title.

Thinks 'Because I Hate Myself' is a bad title for her last essay, no?

Comps, the Final Hours: Me, 3 essays, one PB&J, CBC, and the CMS. 1 Hour of fixing crap, and I'm DONE. If it isn't done by then, it must not be important.

And DONE. (Assuming no technology SNAFU) All research materials are officially grounded until further notice and I'm going out for cake. Then I'm going to sleep.