Monday, January 31, 2011

"Partisanship is the new Racism" ??

As quoted in the February 4, 2011 issue of "The Week" Magazine:

"Partisanship is the new racism. We love to criticize it, and we love to claim we've transcended it. We recognize it in our enemies but not in ourselves. When partisanship is seen as a form of social identity -- I'm a Democrat because people like me are Democrats, or I'm a Republican because people like me are Republicans -- we can understand why so many blue-collar Kansans are Republicans and why so many Silicon Valley billionaires are Democrats, even though each group's rational interests might be better served by the other party. Any liberal who supported George W. Bush's adventure in Iraq would have been ostracized by his friends. A conservative who feels Barack Obama is a cool president will be made to feel like a traitor at church."

-- Shankar Vendantam in (read the full piece here.)

Two and a half years ago, we moved from a Big Blue City in a Red State, to a Small Red Town in a Blue State. DH and I bizarrely, and without much discussion, agree on nearly everything when it comes to politics. So much so, that we never really ever need to actually talk about it. We just send each other quotes and articles like the above, and nothing needs to be said because we are so much on the same page.

Sometimes I even forget that there really are people out here in Podunkville and elsewhere in the world who have Strong Opinions on Such Matters. And even an unfortunate few who need everyone else to agree with them... or else! I'd really like to think I'm not one of those people. I have friends of all political and apolitical stripes. My mom is a Democrat and my dad is a an ex-GOP-er, now Tea Partier, so I think, in a way, being raised without a single, dominant political viewpoint in my family-of-origin has made me relatively flexible in my political thinking.

I don't think any party has a monopoly on good ideas, and I tend not to be very One True Way about much anything. Except for Etiquette, that is. You wouldn't know it by all of the swearing I do, but I was raised with a few pretty hard-core rules of manners that to this day I find myself really believing in. Hand-written thank-you notes. Respect for elders: It's always Mr. or Ms. So-and-so. Ma'am and Sir. May I, Please, Excuse Me, and Thank you. Generally, it isn't proper to discuss sex, politics, or religion... (unless you have felt someone out thoroughly and know them very well... and/or perhaps live somewhere like DC or work in politics where it is a cultural norm).

One of the reasons I knew I had to leave El Shitty Book Club o' 23 Podunk Princesses was the time when the organizer affectionately quoted one of the other members who was missing that night, as having said about some other woman they knew: "Then M said 'She seems nice, but I'm really afraid she's a Democrat!!'" Everyone laughed. And no one except me even blinked an eye. And I wondered if I would pass this person's simple enough litmus test. I don't fit neatly into any of the usual categories. But then I thought about her overall demonstrated level of comprehension of some of the current political issues today, and realized that there were certain words I probably shouldn't use because she might not fully grasp their meaning, and I thought to myself, eh, fuck it. It isn't my job. I live in a small town now, just stay below the fray. Glad I took my own advice on that one.

Anyway, back to the quote at hand - when I first read it, part of me thought, um, actually isn't Racism still the same old Racism? We're just a lot more coded and careful about expressing it these days, but it's obviously still there. One of the comments to the original article suggested that Vendantam's analogy should have been to bigotry instead of racism, and I tend to agree.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

In Which I Hope I Don't Offend Real Allergy Sufferers

What is wrong with my internal WTF? reaction to the following situation:

Ms. A, mom of a sweet 3-year-old kid who has just joined DS's one-morning-a-week co-op preschool class, shows up yesterday and suddenly says "My kid can't have any dairy" after the person whose turn it was to bring the snack for everyone put a piece of cheddar cheese on every kid's plate, then Ms. A's little guy sees it, wants it, and throws a major tantrum that results in Ms. A having to remove him from the preschool building. Once the little guy calms down, Ms. A bring him back and gives him his own snack of prunes and a banana, sitting him in a different room with her apart from all of the other children, who are eating snack together at one large table with their teacher.

Suddenly, a couple of the other parents are asking me, hey, what is going on!? Because I'm the person with the dubious distinction of being 'parent coordinator,' unfortunately. Aw, shit. And because not having all of the kids eat together with their teacher is apparently a big deal for some parents because they are worried that their kid will demand his/her own special snack, and to be able to eat with mom by herself.... actually that sounds like some potential shenanigan my son would try.

So I ask Ms. A, quietly, what her little boy's dietary restrictions are, and can I please let other parents know so when it is their turn to bring snack we won't have this happen again? (The school is already nut and gluten free, FYI). She says "Well, I don't want to force other parents to have to not bring certain foods." (Thinking to myself, ok so she wants the exact opposite of whatever she just said) I said "I hear you, and BTW we have a policy of being completely nut and gluten free already, so what specifically do we also need to avoid?" And she replied, "Last night my husband and I decided to eliminate all cow proteins from our sons' diets. No more cheese, no more dairy, no more non-organic beef because it is causing our sons' constipation. So we're trying a total elimination diet for 2 weeks to see if the constipation improves." (She said as her son gobbled down 4 prunes in 30 seconds... so perhaps hers isn't much of a scientific approach if her goal is to determine whether or not 'cow proteins' are in fact the cause of constipation, I thought to myself, snarkily.)

Suddenly the president of the co-op is chiming in over my shoulder, "Have you had your son tested for allergies?" I didn't know she was standing there. And at least two other parents are listening in. Ms. A said "No, but I've just been thinking lately about how bad anything from a cow is for you, and how humans were really never intended to eat cows and cow proteins, and how one time we went to this camp for the summer and the food was all vegetarian and no one in our family was constipated, and how when I serve only pure organic beef at home everyone is fine..." Then the kids finished their snack and I got pulled away from the conversation to attend to them, while the president continued to speak with Ms. A for a bit, and a few others continued to listen in.

And I realized my immediate reaction was to be pretty judgmental of Ms. A's entire line of reasoning. And I feel a bit bad about it, but not really. Look, for the record, I respect vegetarianism, veganism, pretty much any and all entrenched cultural & religious reasons for restricted diets, and obviously I fully support institutional restrictions of any foods that cause us and/or our children anything from mild oral discomfort to very serious, life-threatening illnesses. But... between you, me, and the internets, something about this scenario doesn't quite fall into this aforementioned "legitimate" category for me. Maybe because the overall tone of how it unfolded just rubbed me the wrong way? I really ought to give her the benefit of the doubt and go along with her pseudo-scientific thinking, right?

Then the president comes up to me and says "I think you should put the word out about it." Normally, I would send out an email, but honestly I am at a loss as to what to say, and how to describe what exact foods parents shouldn't bring from now on? We have a list of recommended snacks, but I have no idea if they'd be ok with Ms. A (and honestly, I'm irritated even thinking about having to find the list again and having to inquire - shouldn't that be Ms. A's burden?). Even though Ms. A said she didn't want to force other parents to comply with her self-imposed restrictions, Ms. A seemed pretty comfortable telling everyone about her family's diet, and I'm sure she would appreciate everyone doing their part to support her parenting choice (who wouldn't?), so maybe she would be ok with an email going out about it?

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I wish Ms. A would have said something sooner, because it caused a disruption to the class, caused a bit of "drama" amongst the parents, and clearly seemed to make the parent who brought the cheese feel like an a-hole. While Ms. A's son is new to the preschool, her two older children attended there for years, so it is not like she was unfamiliar with the process. When she joined, I made it abundantly clear the multiple ways I and others are always reachable. Granted, I'm sure she didn't expect her son to throw a ginormous tantrum over some cheese... but let's be honest, wasn't it the least bit foreseeable in this context? Anyway, that's all my own problem of feeling irritated and eye-rollish. And I want to be clear, if she had lied and said this were something we needed to have an epi-pen ready to deal with, hush would have been ALL OVER it. I am one of those moms on the playground who has the epi-pen and knows how to use it, and BTW no one in my family is allergic to anything (yet). So maybe I should just be happy she was honest about the situation and the lack of severity.

I'm afraid if I send out an email it will sound all passive-aggressive in my head and I will over-analyze it obsessively. Could you all please tell me honestly what the kind thing to do is? Thank you for listening (I'm annoying myself now just re-reading this.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

How Does Montessori Do It?

This morning I took DS (aged 3 years, 3 months) to a local Montessori preschool for an in-class observation before we formally complete the registration paperwork and pay a deposit to secure his spot in this fall's entering class. The plan is for DS to go at least 3 mornings a week the year he turns 4 (this fall), and then either 4 or 5 mornings or full days a week (we'll see how the upcoming year goes) the year he turns 5; then he'll be off to our local public school for K-12. I've blogged about the public school choice issue before, and right now the plan is to send him to the school in our home district; I'm pretty sure we're not going to want to choice into the away district's dual language school when the time comes. Our friend's first grader is having a hellacious year there with the district's crazy, ineffective discipline policy (called "Make Your Day") and the administration has been no help, so we've pretty much written them off.

Today I was completely blown away by how this entire room of 3, 4, 5, and 6 year-olds was just so eerily quiet, with each and every child focused on their "work" (aka oddly interesting pieces of toddler & preschooler crack) at these small tables or on all of these neatly-arranged floor mats. Then I was blown away yet again by the fact that my son actually participated in this unspoken routine of his own volition (!!), without any type of struggle (!!), and was transformed right before my eyes into a model little citizen within this unique little world without needing much instruction. After an hour and a half of observation, the teacher (beloved by all in Podunkville, and I can see why) proclaimed he would fit right in, and said she looked forward to welcoming him this fall. Then she said she needed to make a note to herself not to ever touch him again without his permission first because he physically bristled at her when she touched his arm while she was showing him how to do a "work," and she said he was the first child in all her years to react in that particular way to her touch, and she was truly impressed. Huh? I almost fell over. I think I finally met someone who "gets" my kid! It was pretty cool that she chose to view his reaction in such a positive light, and formed a strategy for working with him that didn't automatically label him a misfit.

I can't stop thinking about how well DS meshed with this place. You recall that this is the kid who, once he turned the dreaded 3, had to quit pretty much every activity we used to enjoy. This is a kid who has a reputation of being just very hard in general, as in 'Your Spirited Child' to a T. So I was sure he'd hate the place. I've never been happier to say I was wrong!

Now I kind of want to know how it is that they do it. I understand that the term "Montessori" does not reflect a trademarked brand, and so it can mean a million different things depending on the school. Even in Podunkville we have 2 "Montessoris" - one that the locals refer to as "the real Montessori" meaning every kid has to go 5 days a week and commit to 3 years including Kindergarten; and the place we attended today, aka what the locals call "the fake Montessori" where there is flexibility as to the level of attendance. Anyway, I was majorly impressed, but left before I could really figure out the proverbial secret sauce they have going on in there. My guess is DS really connected with the getting to choose his own "work" to do, where he could just jump right in, and not have to sit there in a circle on a carpet square, and talk or listen to other people singing, or do craft projects he isn't into - which were the common themes of all the activities he now hates. Hmmm.....

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Keeping My Mouth Shut

I kind of wish I was more of a talker sometimes. But the truth is I'm an introvert who sometimes manages to seem like an extrovert for awhile, but after a time my learned traits like carrying on a lot of small talk, and calling up someone to go see a movie or go to the mall with me go by the wayside, as I realize they are just not natural to my personality. The world seems to love extroverts - I'm learning to accept it, and to keep working to find my truest voice in social situations.

That being said, I am really good at keeping secrets - the good kind of secrets, anyway. When something is an obvious "need to tell" type of thing, I almost always find the courage to talk. Well, until this week anyway.

Something came to my attention recently regarding the "nanny" (Ms. H) of a local acquaintance of mine (Ms. S). (Note: to me, a real "nanny" is someone who actually lives on your property and works at least 40 hours/week. Anyone else is a "babysitter" or "day care provider/teacher." IRL, I would never, ever try to correct anyone on that point because, first of all, I'm not even sure my definition of "nanny" is technically correct. I just think the mis-use of the word "nanny" **in certain contexts** can sometimes make people seem overly pretentious and self-important. Not always, but sometimes, and in certain situations. I just think "babysitter" is so much more palatable, IMHO.)

So anyway back to my story. Another babysitter (Ms. D), who works for a local friend of mine (Ms. B) witnessed Ms. S's babysitter, Ms. H (an early-20-something with no kids of her own), treating one of Ms. S's four daughters inappropriately at a local indoor play gym. Ms. B told me that Ms. D told her that she saw Ms. H yelling across the gym at Ms. S's 6-year-old daughter, and refused to get up off her ass and actually go talk to the child about whatever she was doing that Ms. H felt she needed to scream about. So the little girl was running wild, Ms. H was yelling publicly, and Ms. D didn't like it one bit, but she also didn't say anything to Ms. H nor to the management of the play gym. (Sorry for all of these Ms.-so-and-so's, I hope this is not too hard to keep straight). Ms. B asked me what I thought she should do...

BTW, Ms. B and Ms. S are colleagues who do not know each other well; and Ms. D is in her 50's with 3 grown kids, and used to run a daycare that Ms. S's girls used to attend, before she sold the place and took up part-time babysitting.

I told Ms. B that I thought Ms. D should have addressed it directly with Ms. H or someone in authority, either at the time it happened, or immediately thereafter, if she really thought what she saw was so "inappropriate." I also said that I have seen Ms. H behaving very lovingly at this same gym towards two of Ms. S's other daughters, and I know Ms. S thinks the world of Ms. H and has taken her on several family vacations. Also, several of Ms. S's neighbors who are stay-at-home moms regularly play with the kids with Ms. H, and I have to imagine would report back to Ms. S if something were amiss.

Ms. B mentioned that this is a hard topic for her because when she used to live somewhere else, someone once reported to her that they saw her babysitter behaving inappropriately, and so she immediately fired her - but had nagging doubts about it. I agree that the "reasonable parent" when confronted with a report like that would probably have to let the sitter go immediately. I know I would - but part of the reason would honestly be not wanting to look like a crappy parent in the eyes of the person who reported the behavior to me! But on the other hand, no one can prove a negative. It would be like Ms. S saying to Ms. H, "prove to me that you did not scream at my kid in public."

I left Ms. B by saying she could call up Ms. S and let her know what Ms. D saw, and say something like "maybe you should talk to Ms. H about how you expect her to discipline the kids." I don't know though. My read on Ms. S is that she doesn't want her boat rocked and probably wouldn't fire Ms. H over this. I hate situations like this!! I feel like the so-called "right" thing to do here is eluding me. What say you, parenting goddesses?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ski Season Comes to Podunkville

One of the best things about living in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Northwest is the opportunity to live near a decent ski resort. DH and I both started skiing when we were in our early teens, and we only went about 4 or 5 days a year at most. So there is a huge gap between our level of ability (intermediate, don't enjoy moguls and ungroomed powder runs) and the ability level of people who are from this region and who started taking lessons at age 4 (a few of whom are more confident on skis than they are on their own feet). As DH says, "I am not out here trying to win Olympic gold, and I appreciate not breaking my ass."

Now that DS is 3 and is potty trained (wow- part of me can't believe I just typed that because it was such a long, non-linear journey to get there), he is ready for his first official 3-hour ski lessons, instead of just playing around with mom and dad on the rope tow. The local instructors are really good with the little ones, and they understand that at this age it is all about having fun and drinking hot chocolate afterwards.

We decided to do a season rental of real skis and boots for DS, which is super cheap here. He fits in the smallest ski boots and skis that they make. The boots are Salomon and have little rocket ship decals on them, which he loves because they remind him of Fuzz Lightbeer, naturally. And he has the cutest, shiny black ski helmet (which would fit most 5-year-olds, but he has a big head) that reminds us a little bit of Darth Vader or the Rick Moranis character from "Spaceballs."

DD has had a few tries on her plastic Happy Skis (the ones that strap over the snow boots.) She tolerates it for a little bit, but doesn't demand it like her brother did at the ages of 1 and 2. So she is most content to play in the day care at the base of the mountain while the rest of her family goes out to ski. In just a few more years, we will not be able to keep up with our kids, and they will want to run off to other parts of the mountain with their friends while we take it easy on the "boring" runs. So we'd better enjoy the brief days when we all can and want to ski together.

In other news, did anyone watch The Golden Globes? I did not sit through it, but I caught part of the red carpet chatter, and heard that some of my favorite shows "Mad Men" and "Boardwalk Empire" got accolades. I also saw an ad on TV telling me that another one of my favorites, "Justified" returns to FX on Wed, Feb 9th. I love me some gracefully-aging Timothy Olyphant. This should tide me over nicely until the return of "True Blood" to HBO hopefully this June. Did you hear about the homage to "True Blood" on "Sesame Street?" See it here, and be sure to watch for the Lafayette look-alike at the very beginning. There is also a "Sesame Street" that sends up "Mad Men" but it is not quite as entertaining, IMHO.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Starting on The Pill Later in Life

I am one of the only American women I know who has never taken any form of hormonal birth control. Until now, it had never felt right for me and my body, and I have a hard time articulating why. I know full well that it currently is and historically has been such a good fit for like pretty much everyone and their mom, forever. When I was a teen, my own mom (a relatively asexual being whose DH had a vasectomy right after I, their only child, was born) kind of sort of discouraged it with a couple of hints and some shoddy reasoning, while stopping short of having an actual birth control conversation with me - she's skilled at odd verbal acrobatics like that. In hindsight, I think she just didn't want me to ever perceive that taking the Pill would give me carte blanche to bed whomever free of consequences, because obviously it offers no protection against STDs. I think she thought somehow I wouldn't understand that basic scientific truth (duh, right!). Luckily I was resourceful and got my hands on the right books, and finally found The Bible on such matters: "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" by Toni Weschler. It seriously should replace the textbook for young women in junior high & high school sex ed classes. Can't wait to introduce it to my DD someday. I seriously credit this book with singlehandedly having helped me avoid unwanted pregnancy, because from it I learned all of my fertile signs by heart years before I officially needed to know them to start trying to conceive, and was basically using Fertility Awareness for years as a back-up to the various barrier methods I was using.

Another reason I missed out on the ritual of taking the pill during my "peak" fertility window of ages 18-35: I was a dork who starting having sex relatively late in college, at least when compared to my peers, so my need for reliable birth control was low. So a supercheap diaphragm, some spermicide, and a box of condoms pretty much got me through the 90s. I was working too hard and not having nearly enough sex. Meanwhile, nearly all of my closest friends who had started taking The Pill when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 pretty much stayed on it until well after age 30 when they started trying to get pregnant. Most had great, acne-free skin, and no trouble eventually conceiving. The only real negatives I ever heard about The Pill were breakthrough bleeding on occasion, and also the reports from three of my friends who suffer from migraines who were finally years later told by doctors "you should have never been given this kind of pill!" and who were then thankfully cured of their headaches once they switched to a different formulation.

Fast forward to the present day: this is my 35th year on the planet. I'm done having kids. I don't want to get my period anymore, and I would like the acne on my back to clear up. So yesterday I filled my first prescription for The Pill. It seems I am about to join the proverbial club. That said, the original plan was for DH to get a vasectomy - BUT as there unfortunately is no longer the local urologist who could do the 'no needle, no scalpel' technique here in Podunkville (good doctors don't stay here long) DH will have to wait until we have a couple of days free to get it done in a bigger city - so that means realistically it could be a few more years. I suppose I could have forced the issue and made him go see a local non-specialist who might eff up his junk, but honestly that's not the choice I would make for myself if I were in his shoes, obviously!

I guess my only question is, assuming The Pill works well for me and DH never gets a vasectomy, at what age do I eventually stop taking it? 45?? 50?? Or even later?? Hmm... My doctor didn't satisfactorily answer that one.

Ok, it's pithy link time. I'm sure most of you have already read or heard about Vanessa Grigoriadis' recent piece on "Waking Up From The Pill" - but if you've been living under a Cheerios-scented rock like me, maybe not. You can find it here. Recommended reading, though I have some issues with some of the assumptions she makes.

Your thoughts? What pill are you poppin'?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Drug Addict in the Family

It had been almost a year since DH had last heard from his little brother - who is actually not little at all, and is turning 31 soon, but generally behaves more like a teen so no one who has known him any length of time can quite believe he is truly a Grown Ass Adult. Last time we saw him, he was at a party at my parents' house in the middle of a blizzard, where one of my best friends and her husband overheard him making a phony phone call pretending to have lost his credit card - so that DH would loan him some money, which he did. Did I mention this party was actually our baby daughter's baptism, and that DH's brother was her godfather? Yeah.

So you can see from miles away where all of this is going.

Tonight, his brother emailed DH and both of their (divorced, now remarried) parents to reveal that in fact he is a coke and marijuana addict who is depressed, is an insomniac, was fired from his job, thinks he will probably be in legal trouble with regard to the circumstances of his firing, has no friends, has told more lies in the last 12 years than he can remember, has no identification, no documentation to be able to obtain identification, has no friends, and that his life basically sucks, and he is ashamed, sorry, and doesn't know what to do.

At this time, DH and I are trying to figure out if he is a threat to himself or to others. And what the best course of action is. Would DH hopping on a plane help matters? We live 2 time zones away but we have close friends in the city in which his brother lives in who work in psychological services, and can hopefully make some helpful suggestions/referrals.

Immediately after receiving the email, DH called his brother; they spoke for only a few minutes, then after they hung up DH just started sobbing. DH has felt a lot of what he calls survivor's guilt for having escaped their horrible family of origin, and built a healthy life for himself. DH had to fight back the knee-jerk reaction of wanting to call each of his parents (who BTW are each batshit crazy and Not Good People, but I suppose the good news is we all live on opposite coasts) because he really wants to let them know that he holds them responsible for having been such shitty parents to him, and even moreso to his brother.

As for me, I'm just sad, and I'm trying to be a good active listener, and to support DH the best I can. I suggested he set up an appointment with our therapist to process all of this. In a way, it is a real shock. The drug addiction piece does come as a surprise on the one hand, and yet on the other hand it certainly explains a lot of the behavior we've witnessed over the years but had chalked up to depression and personality disorders and general effed-up-edness.

It just feels really crazy tonight. And I feel so awful for DH.