Monthly Archives: January 2007

I Hate Sara Lee

It is the morning and I am looking at this hot dog bun and feeling dread. I am sending rays of hate towards Sara Lee, imagining she is a real person and is responsible for what’s about to happen. I don’t even know why we have a Sara Lee product in our refrigerator, but Clem wants a hot dog for breakfast (turkey dog, don’t think too ill of me) and we have just returned from vacation and there is precious little else in there. So I concede to this, just this once.

But I can tell the bun is stale and fragile (and crappily made to begin with) and it’s going to fall apart when we put the dog in it. And Clem is going to freak out. She is going to scream and cry as if rats were eating her toes. It is January 2nd, and I need to go to work after having been gone for two whole weeks. Really gone. Checked out. Did nothing. Stuff is piled up. We have a major launch event in three months and basically everything left to do on it. I need to get to work.

I give her the hot dog and the bun, in that way that you do something you know is stupid, but you don’t know what else to do (I had told her she could have it) and you think maybe this time it will not have the consequences that it usually has. But it does, of course, and then you realize you knew it would and you wonder if you are an actor in some boring movie and not an actual thinking human being of your own. So your toddler is crying uncontrollably about the broken mess on her plate and isn’t remotely ready to go to school and it is 8:30.

So you non-parents are mostly thinking “Why do you put up with that kind of behavior?” And I think the same thing, often. And the alternative? Please come over here and show me how not to put up with that. She is crying, loudly, so I can take her upstairs and put her in her room and let her cry louder. I will need to lock her in her room, since she will just run out if I try to leave her there. I could lock her in there and go get myself ready in the meantime and then decide what to do. I could, and frankly I have done that, but I don’t like to lock a child in a room alone. I could say to her “I can help you if you can stop crying and talk to me.” I do this. Yes, well. I believe in my heart of hearts that this will work one day. It does not work now. I can say it a few more times, but it is more ritual than anything. Does she hear me?

It is five days later and I don’t even remember now how we got her to calm down. I think Chris did it. We made it to school, late, to work, late, but the sky did not fall. There is not enough room in memory to store all of these moments. I remember the bun. I threw the rest of them out that afternoon. They tasted like paper anyway. I don’t know if I’m a good parent. I know I’m a loving parent, but I might be way too lenient. I might be raising a total brat. I do not want Super Nanny to come to my house, but I sure as hell wouldn’t mind a visit from Mary Poppins. Or just magical powers. But I believe the idea was that Mary Poppins only visited houses where the kids were neglected and under-loved. This is not our problem.

I have come to the conclusion that we do put up with our kids. At school, the teachers don’t tolerate meltdowns, I know that, and I’m glad of it. She knows how to keep herself together when she has to. Apparently when she is with Mommy is not when she has to. I know I am supposed to teach her to get a grip, helping her channel her emotions while validating them. I have read books, some of them very good and very helpful. I have the best intentions. But sometimes I want to slap her. Sometimes I wonder if that in fact would be helpful. I decide it probably would not, but the thought comes back from time to time.

We tried something today that worked so well and was so cute I think Miss Poppins would be proud. After an unfortunately pretty typical after school hour of what the books say is her letting out all the stress of her school day on me (she is after all, only 3 ½ and was in school for 9 hours today! Ugh. I was held up at the office.) I suggested that when she feels like crying or whining about something, she should instead say “Mom, I need a hug.” Miraculously, this worked. She needed a hug about every 25 seconds in frequent spurts throughout the evening, which made cooking dinner difficult, but she gives fantastic hugs. Her giant round cheeks are so soft and they squish up against your cheek or your neck and she wraps her legs around your waist and squeezes. It’s pretty damn awesome. The anti-matter to a whine. Some of the hugs were just for fun but several times throughout the evening I saw her start to freak and instead ask for or just take a hug and actually calm down. Magic! And magical.

I know from experience that this will probably not work tomorrow. At the most it’ll work for a week or two. Then we will have to find something else, and in the meantime there’ll be dozens of meltdowns. And maybe one of my friends or family will nominate us for a visit from Super Nanny. Does she scare me because she looks mean or does she scare me because I’m raising a brat and I don’t want to face it?

Comments don’t work

Comments still don’t work on this blog. Don’t know why. It’s not that I don’t want you to comment, okay? You’ll just have to send me an email if you want to tell me something. You probably know how to reach me.

Also, yes, I know I don’t have to put the whole entry on the main page. I just like it that way. If you think it’s totally unacceptable, you can email me. If you know how to reach me.

Leapfrog and the Mommy Beast

I was more or less against the Leapfrog stuff. Let kids be kids. They will learn at their own pace. And those characters are kind of annoying. We had some of the infant toys, the ones that call your child back to they toy if she neglects it for 3 minutes (“Come play with me!”). They weren’t horrible. Better sound quality and less cloying music would be greatly appreciated, but they were fine and Clemmie kinda liked them. But I put those early ones away after they started to drive me insane, and as the kids get older the Leapfrog stuff becomes increasingly Educational, in a hit-you-over-the-head-with-an-alphabet sort of way. We send Clem to a Montessori and that is Not The Way It Is Done. We do not compare our children to others. She built a Roman arch out of blocks at school today. So what if she doesn’t know which one is the B?

So imagine that you felt this way, and then you were sitting in the living room watching your 3 year old daughter scribble her ten thousandth wavy line on her ten thousandth piece of paper and her best friend, almost exactly the same age as her, walks over to you and hands you a piece of paper with a textbook drawing of a kittycat face and the letters C – A -T neatly printed beneath it. I’m serious about the neatly printed part. The lines were straight, the proportions perfect; it was nicer than I could do right this minute. I wonder if you would have done what I did, which was to bark at her suspiciously “Where did you GET this?”

I’m looking around for the sorry-ass 12 year old who has to lurk around ghostwriting her doodles, when her mother comes to pick her up. I decide to confront her about The Problem. “Have you SEEN this? I think Isa may have DRAWN it.” I sound like I am talking about a disease. I am glancing uncomfortably at Wavy Lines #549, which only moments ago I thought was pure abstract genius. I am wondering how quickly I can hire a full-time tutor.

Katya waves her hand and says “Oh yeah, she does that now. It’s the Leapfrog stuff.” Oh, of course. Right. The Leapfrog stuff. “Isa is very visual. Clem is extremely verbal. Clemmie talks so much better than Isa.” Bless her heart, my friend Katya. Not that I cared in that way. Uh huh.

Well, Clemmie is very verbal; she talks a mile a minute and occasionally uses pretty big words for a three year old. My lizard brain is calming down a bit. It’s wonderful that Clemmie’s best friend is shockingly gifted (Perhaps it will rub off?) I return to my normal, non-judgmental, empowering, organic veggie-cooking mommy self. It is all okay. Kids are kids. Clem is in fact a genius in her own right. I should know; she argues with me like a 20 year old.

At Christmas I ask Clem what she would like Santa to bring her. She says she wants a ducky and a rainbow. I kid you not. How’s that for cute? (And innocent.) Santa brings her, well, tons of shit, but both things she asked for, though the rainbow was a bit down to the wire and came in the form of some modeling clay taken out of its package and bent into an arc (it is now full of dog hair and rather unattractive, sadly). Clem was delighted. Santa also brought her, unsolicited, two Leapfrog videos (The Letter Factory and The Word Factory) and one Leapfrog toy (The Word Whammer fridge magnet thing). She really likes them. Her mommy now thinks that a “variety of different kinds of toys are healthy.” She wonders if she herself is entirely healthy.

My lack of education hasn’t hurt me none

I recently read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and it is just stunning. Amazing. Beautiful. I remember reading Housekeeping a long time ago and loving it, but I have had the opportunity recently to recommend books I read in my teens and twenties and have mostly regretted it. There was the time I chose Young Men and Fire for our book group and everyone wanted to kill me (we switched at the last minute to A River Runs Through It and those that read that instead I think forgave me). So I was prepared to be underwhelmed by her new book, but I needn’t have been. Gilead is only her second novel; Housekeeping was the first and it came out 24 years before Gilead. 24. All I can say is that woman must have thrown a lot out in the meantime. She only lets the masterpieces out of the house, apparently.

Plenty of people have written much better reviews of the book than I could so instead I want to write a little about Kansas and Iowa. So, as it turns out, all this stuff happened in Kansas in the 1850s that presaged the Civil War. From the Wikipedia article on History of Kansas:

The most controversial provision in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was the stipulation that settlers in Kansas Territory would decide whether to allow slavery within its borders. This provision repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had prohibited slavery in any new states created north of latitude 36°30′. Predictably, it also led to violence between the Northerners and Southerners that rushed to settle there.

Within a few days after the passage of the Act, hundreds of pro-slavery Missourians crossed into the adjacent territory, selected an area of land, and then united with other Missourians in a meeting or meetings, intending to establish a pro-slavery preemption upon the entire region. As early as June 10, 1854, the Missourians held a meeting at Salt Creek Valley, a trading post three miles west of Fort Leavenworth, at which a “Squatter’s Claim Association” was organized. They said they were in favor of making Kansas a slave state, if it should require half the citizens of Missouri, musket in hand, to emigrate there, and even to sacrifice their lives in accomplishing this end.

To counter this action, the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company (and other smaller organizations) quickly arranged to send anti-slavery settlers (known as “Free-Staters”) into Kansas in 1854 and 1855….Several Free-State men also came to Kansas Territory from Ohio, Iowa, Illinois and other Midwestern states.

In case that was too abrupt a transition for you, the narrator in the book is the grandson of a Free-Stater and a major thread throughout the book the history of his family, especially the rift between his father and grandfather over the grandfather’s advocacy of violence in the pursuit of the abolition of slavery. The narrator alludes to all this stuff like Bleeding Kansas, John Brown, the Underground Railroad, and the fact that the whole town of Gilead, Iowa exists because “it was just a dogged little outpost in the sand hills, within striking distance of Kansas. It was a place John Brown and Jim Lane could fall back on when they needed to heal and rest.” He doesn’t really explain it but you can piece it together, and it helps if you look up a couple of articles on Wikipedia to help you understand the context of the story, or it would really help if you’d been, say, an American Studies major at a prestigious liberal arts university when you were younger.

Which I was. And yet, this largely news to me. Underground Railroad, sure, John Brown, yeah, vaguely, but I had no idea for instance what Bleeding Kansas referred to. Hello, I went to Yale! For Christsakes, Yale had a reputation at the time for focusing heavily on race and class issues, so that’s exactly the shit I was supposed to learn! I probably did learn it, but just forgot it. Maybe there was a lecture I skipped (well, there was more than one). Shouldn’t have been on a test at some point? Hell, I got As and Bs, at least in AmStud. I always knew I knew jack-all about European history or philosophy or even English literature (in which my father has a fucking PhD) or math or chemistry but I realize I don’t know anything about even the very few subjects I’m supposed to know anything about. Same is true of knowledge I’m supposed to have gathered since then. I’m a professional conference organizer, but people ask me things like “how big a ballroom do you need for a general session of 1000 attendees?” and I just kind of stare and drool. I worked in the video game industry for 8 years and I probably could not accurately describe the premise of many of the top selling games (ah, but I could tell you who developed and published them!) Now I’m dallying about in the Internet industry and seem to be moving along well enough with what I’m picking up, but I realize: I don’t actually KNOW ANYTHING.

It gets better. I have had the same ten CDs in the visor of my car for about the past eight years. I would say they are my favorites but it’s only because I happen to have them there and have listened to them seventy-four thousand times. One of them is The Damnations’ Half Moon Mad. Track 6 is Kansas, where the chorus lyric is “Kansas, Bleeding Kansas.” Did it never, ever, in the bazillion times I listened to this track, occur to me to figure out what the hell they were singing about?

So, sure, this could be driving towards that common argument about education teaching one how to learn rather than focusing on teaching specific facts and figures. Totally true, of course, and more so now with the Internet and all. But I feel like it would have be nice if I’d learned a little more actual history (or literature, or whatever) along the way. Oh, I’m not blaming. No one’s fault but mine, trust me. I’d like to go back and audit courses at Berkeley. But I’m a bit busy for that at the moment. I’ll probably have time to learn a bunch of interesting shit just before I die.

BTW, I had to look up those quotes in the book to write this and rereading parts of the book makes me realize I need to reread the whole thing. Such a great book.

5 Seconds of Fame

I got a mention by Tim O’Reilly on the O’Reilly Radar today. Granted, it was for forwarding an email, which is not exactly rocket science, but I felt special just the same. Also special that it was about links to wikipedia, because I am somehow just giddy about how great wikipedia is lately. It’s not like I just discovered wikipedia, but I just started seeing it with love-struck eyes recently, like you’d look at a particularly amazing sunset, or the Grand Canyon… a silly kind of wow. It started after we went to see The Queen (the movie, not the person) and I came home and read everything about royalty I never knew before. It’s like suddenly my lack of education is irrelevant. I’ll just learn it when I need to know it. More about my lack of education soon.

Can I also just say that — and I am not sucking up because I know that my audience for this blog numbers in the twos or threes, or maybe it’s just me by now — that Tim O’Reilly is so da bomb? Yes, I know what you are thinking. I’m publicity starved and he threw me a bone so I’m all agog. Whatever, judge if you like. But seriously, I’ve had the opportunity to work with him a little, and the man just radiates integrity, and furthermore, kindness. Not super common in geniuses. Again, not news to the larger world.

Josh and Helen

Yay, the blog is un-broken. Chris moved all our stuff to some new hosting company where he has some giant account and broke the blog in the process. This was back in October. It’s not really an excuse, since I have not been blogging exactly regularly, but I was on a bit of a roll there (okay, it was only one post, but it was long) and I keep telling myself I need to write more for the good of my soul. It’s my New Year’s resolution. Seriously. I might write stuff not on the blog too (I have a secret writing project), so don’t judge me if this still more or less blank in June, but I have hopes. Dreams. We’ll see.

I some stuff I’ve wanted to write about over the last couple of months, but at the moment I am thinking about Josh and Helen. They are moving to Perth… that’s in Australia. And not the populated part of Australia, the other side, the Western side. Okay, to be fair, some wikipeeding turns up that the Perth metropolitan area has almost 1.5M people, so I’m grossly misrepresenting the place. I tend to make fun of Australia for having a total population the size of New York City (and just over half the size of Tokyo) but that’s out of defensiveness. I knew J & H were going to move there at some point so I felt the need to mock. Why fewer people is somehow embarrassing, I cannot tell you. The world needs fewer people. Chris and I are contributing by having only one child. We’ve actually been to Australia, well to Sydney and the Blue Mountains, the sort of A side of the country (before we had said child), and we thought it was beautiful and delightful. We hear that Perth is fabulous too. And with 7% of the country’s total population, there are probably some lovely people there. Hey, Oakland only has 411,000 people. Well, minus three soon. They’re taking Oscar with them!

Three very great people. That’s why my tone can’t seem to stay away from snarky. I will miss them A LOT. Helen is from Perth, and her wonderful parents are there, and Josh seemed to have some sort of accidental job interview with a Perth-based game company while they were there visiting, and now it’s all happening a little sooner than I expected. It is so like Josh to start a new job on the other side of the world while ostensibly on vacation. Seriously, he’s already working there. They haven’t even come back for the cat and he’s working there. They’ve probably bought a house there already and haven’t even told me. Maybe at least they’ll sell us their Prius and some good will come of this. Maybe they’ll rethink things and decide to leave Oscar with us for a couple of years. More dreams.

But as I was saying, despite evidence to the contrary, I am very happy for them, and I will miss them terribly. They do things like drop by unannounced. Often with food. Have parties with themes, and even games. Games that require sharing your inner child with other guests. They laugh at bad jokes. They tell you when you have something in your teeth, unless you’re having a really bad day, and they know you couldn’t handle it. They go to Burning Man, and they make it sound like a Tupperware party. They couldn’t be pretentious if they tried. They cook great curry. They always have an open bottle of wine. They have had, I believe, 5 or more cars at once, but they never drive them. They will come feed your cat while you are on vacation and not mind that your husband has _extremely_ specific instructions for them despite the fact that they have a cat and know pretty well how to feed it. They will lend you their decrepit truck dozens of times and not mind that you break it a little bit. They get you to play soccer on Sundays and then don’t make you feel too bad when you stop. They will forgive you when you forget to leave them the key to the car you told them you would leave for them, stranding them outside your house for hours. They will play the Ha game at their baby shower. Even better, they will let everyone do an OM circle at their baby shower. Helen did a triathalon less than a year after having a baby and kicked ass. Josh made a video out of it with Chariots of Fire as the soundtrack. They got married in a redwood grove, and I cried. They had the reception at our house, and I cried some more, but that was because of all the carved redwood sculptures they left here. Long story. This is all out of sequence; they got married before the baby and the triathalon—that’s one way they were conventional. But no one would have thought twice if they hadn’t. They are perfect for each other.

Anyway, I am thinking about them. They sent everyone they know some long email announcing their move but they left me off the distribution. Chris got it, hasn’t forwarded it to me. I think they can’t bear to officially inform me, knowing I will take it pretty hard. But I’m doing okay with it. Clem is pretty upset though. I told her earlier today and then tonight, when we were done with our book and turned out the light, she looked up at me and asked “What did you say about Josh and Helen?” She’s a big fan too.