Saturday, May 25, 2013

That's All, Folks!!

After 3 years, 3 months, and an odd number of days, I'm all done with blogging.

It was great fun while it lasted. I learned a lot. But now I know I'm done, and I'm ready to unplug.

Thank you so much for sharing pieces of your lives with me. I won't forget about you.

Peace and best wishes!!


Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Trek" Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

I'm a die-hard Trekker, and I grew up watching the original Star Trek series in syndication. I've seen all of the movies, and every episode of every Star Trek TV series, with the exception of Deep Space Nine and Voyager (which are on my to-watch-someday lists, and they are on Netflix, thankfully). My favorite TV versions so far have been the original series and Enterprise, probably because of Spock and T'Pol. I love Vulcans as first officers/sub-commanders. So, of course, I'm loving the new movies, and I'm dying for another TV series in a few years.

I finally saw the most recent movie: Star Trek: Into Darkness. Not bad, not bad at all, but also probably not my favorite Star Trek movie ever -- for me it's still a tie between Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek: The Movie (2009) -- the one that finally brought my DH over to my side as a fan.

Anyway, Into Darkness was a tad too action-packed, with too much stuff blowing up all the time, and not nearly enough focus on the relationships between the characters. But it was still not bad, and a fun time at the cineplex was had by all with me that night.

I love all of the new old characters, except for one little quibble: I wish Chris Pine as Captain Kirk were slightly better looking - that's not to say he's unattractive, but honestly, he's no young William Shatner, and he's certainly no Chris Hemsworth playing his father, Captain George Kirk. Yum and yum.

Without going the spoiler route here, may I just say how thrilled I was that a key element of the plot was not leaked beforehand! I loved that it came as a total surprise, and circled back to the original series and earlier movies so elegantly. Well done, J.J. Abrams. I see why you're box office gold these days.

Are you a Trekker? Would you see either of the most recent movies anyway?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Our Italy Trip (A Long Time Coming)

One of my dreams came true this month. It was arguably the best thing ever for the long-term health of my marriage, too.

We took a 9-day road trip through central and northern Italy -- just me and my husband, without the kids. We felt like empty-nester retiree types, only we're in our late 30s and we have two preschoolers.

Seriously, DH and I had not had that much alone time to have even a full conversation and/or as much sex as we could handle since around 2005. It was fantastic. And it's been hard to return to the stresses (even the happy stresses) of real life.

The kids stayed at my parents' house, and all of them reported that it was the best time they ever had together. My dad thinks the kids have never been more fun, especially our 5.5 y.o. son, who has apparently inherited his grandfather's great sense of humor. When we called to check in one night, my dad had trained him to say to us: "We've been locked in the closest the whole time and Papa only lets us out to eat." He delivered his lines perfectly and we all had a good laugh.

My parents are, quite honestly, the perfect grandparents. They took the kids to the zoo or the park everyday, took them to see two plays, a nature center, a kids' craft event, and a baseball game. The kids can't stop talking about how much fun they had. (Can you say: lovingly spoiled?)

About how the trip came together - one day DH came home and told me he had just spoken with my parents and they had agreed to watch the kids so we could take a long trip to Italy together, which by the way he already booked because he found a great deal on Travel Zoo (and it was apparently also on Groupon). And he had already checked my work calendar and cleared out my schedule for me. Wow.

We've always wanted to go to Italy, and even though we've each traveled all over the world, remarkably, neither of us had ever been to Italy. Plus my husband speaks fluent Italian thanks to his family heritage, so this fact is all the more shocking. We fully intended to go as a belated honeymoon the spring after we were married, but then the Pope died, and travel to Italy suddenly became prohibitively expensive for us. Dream deferred.

Now, dream realized. It was awesome: Roma, Toscana, Venezia - yes, Venezia is a tourist trap, but I say, "Please, go ahead and trap me!!" We focused our visit on Roman ruins and wineries - and threw in a few museums for good measure. We had the best service ever in restaurants, thanks to DH's Italian. Lost count of how many times he told his family's American immigration story. I've never gotten so many things on the house before.

Our friends loaned us their GPS that already had Italy programmed into it. They said it would save our marriage. It did. Having the actual GPS coordinates ahead of time for one of the more remote hotels we needed to find was probably the smartest move we made. It was so remote, in fact, that the hotel put up a video on YouTube of someone driving to it to help guests find the place. Which cracks me up. We also got a kick out of the British-sounding voice of the GPS (a Garmin) garbling the names of Italian streets.

Prior to this travel, I had not done trip research in ages. The Lonely Planet guides used to be my go-to book references, and they've served me well for years. In March, I finally heard of PBS travel guru Rick Steves, and I gave his travel guides a look, too. For Italy, I think I like the Rick Steves' Guides a bit better, although clearly he enjoys museums a lot more than we do, so we by no means took all of his advice.

We flew Iberia on the way home. Not my favorite airline ever. (Nobody will ever beat the awesomeness of Cathay Pacific out of Hong Kong, the airline love of my life.) Though after we were seated, they were kind enough to give us a free upgrade to business class, I suspect because I speak Spanish - I definitely didn't request it. The Americans seated around us were like, why them but not us? Lo siento, cholos! The only real logistical surprise was when had to test the size of our carry-on roller bags twice at the Venezia airport, and I was concerned we were never going to get my bag out of that metal contraption again. But it worked.

We want to go back soon. Like every year and then retire there (unless we have grandkids we're lucky enough to see....). Our next trip will include Milan. Someday.....

So that's where I've been, and why I haven't been commenting on your blogs until recently. Do you share my affection for Italy? Where is your dream destination?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Virtues of Appearing To Be A Mediocre Mother and Housekeeper

Sometimes I come across voices in the comments sections of interesting blogs that really strike a chord with me. Like this commenter @fiftyfifty1 (who unfortunately does not have a blog of her own) from a recent thread on The Skeptical OB blog. I think Ms. @fiftyfifty1 really nails the nuances of how smart mothers who want truly equal partnerships actually behave as they negotiate both within their marriages and within the confines of unreasonable "looks" expectations of our larger society. Here are her words:

"It took my husband and me about a year of adjustment that included a fair amount of fighting after the birth of our first, but I can truly say I do not do more than my husband does and probably less. My techniques for success included being willing to let him fail in a spectacular fashion, being willing to ignore everything except that which was downright dangerous, and (most important) being willing to appear to be a rather mediocre mother. My kids looked worse than any kids around. But mismatched and stained clothes on your kids is a small price to pay for not having to dress them or do the laundry yourself." 

"Also strangers often seem to direct all questions to the mother. I frequently say "I don't know, ask their dad" and point at my husband. When other moms e-mail me to see if my kids can do a play date, I forward all the e-mails to him, and then have nothing more to do with it. And I don't act as a manager, delegating tasks to him. I figured he would be able to rise to the task if I were dead, so that meant he could rise to the task even without me being dead."...
"But there is a reason behind what appears to be on the surface just a "control freak" behavior by mothers. Mothers really do have to field judgment from those around them about their parenting and housekeeping. Men almost never do. This is, I think, at least part of why women go back and re-do [the household chore] when men do it poorly. Until everything got adjusted and worked out between my husband and me, there were times that things *really* looked bad. I remember that he left food scraps in the carpet in the sunroom and there was a horrible invasion of ants everywhere and yet he still didn't vacuum it up and one of his family members came over and saw it, but who do you think got criticized? Me! And other moms have teased me about how tangled my kids' hair was (and actually still is occasionally), but he's the one who gets them up and dressed. And when one of his elderly relatives sends a gift and he doesn't make the kids write a thank-you note, it is me they call up and ask "If it arrived". And these are just the criticisms that make it to my ears. I'm sure there are more judgments that go unsaid, and I'm sure they are directed at me, not him. Oh well, still worth not having to do it all yourself!"

Amen, sister. Amen. One question though. Did you really *need* to engage in a fair amount of fighting for a year after you first became parents? I ask this because I've been there, done that on the postpartum fighting with my DH (after we had our second child 3.5 years ago) and now in hindsight, I don't think any of our old behavior was productive, nor in any way feminist or cool. By "fighting" I mean verbal spats that felt really intense (activating fight or flight response/flooding), that were about the same issues repeatedly, and ultimately went nowhere - and we've learned that for us, that brand of going-nowhere fighting was a total waste of our time and energy. We should have seen our marriage counselor much sooner because we truly needed a neutral third party to get us to get past our own defense mechanisms (learned from dysfunctional marriages witnessed in our families-of-origin) to be able to see and say where the other person is coming from, and to finally work towards a solution. We certainly could have done it without all of the drama. Lessons learned!

These days though we do seem to be able to put into practice some better, research-based conflict resolution skills, and I'm thrilled we have a generally peaceful, happy union these days as a result. For a great resource, see "Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or Giving In" by Laurie Puhn, J.D. - originally recommended to me by Gretchen Rubin, author of "The Happiness Project" and "Happier At Home" as one of the many fine books in her excellent bibliographies. And don't hesitate to make that first counseling appointment.

Yes, it's hard when society is all about judging the woman for all of the various appearances-- her own, the kids', the home's -- but never the man. I think it is a worthwhile project to develop your "But is this really my priority?"-meter. It takes guts though. Not everyone is comfy enough with themselves to be able to let some things FAIL sometimes. Most women I know have simply not been socialized to be able to let appearances go, and they can't operate outside of the proverbial box. Just do it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Paging The Tooth Fairy!

Well, the last several days in American history have sucked donkey dick. I remembered all too well how shitty the period immediately following 9/11 was as I watched way too much cable "news" this week, saying things to myself like WTF? and "I really need to go for a run now" but somehow being unable to remove my ass from the sofa. But I do not wish to wallow in the suckitude here, because, I hope, life goes on. And thankfully, my kids' childhoods do not brake for national tragedies. Onward!

The silver lining capping off this week? My 5-year-old lost his very first baby tooth today. One of his front teeth!

It had been wiggling for the last two weeks, then he noticed some blood around it this morning and asked me (the queasier parent, natch) if he should try pulling it out. To which I said, "Uh, do whatever feels ok to do, I guess?" He decided to leave it alone.

Later, DH took him out for a doughnut and a playdate with a friend his age whose parents recently filed for divorce. I soon got the text: "1st tooth out!!" along with a picture of our little dude smiling proudly.

Having recently watched the movie "Rise of the Guardians" on family movie night, DS announced that  The Tooth Fairy would of course be dropping in tonight. He wasted no time placing his tooth under his pillow, hours before bedtime.

I'm told The Tooth Fairy sometimes leaves poems like the following (printed on paper cut into the shape of a tooth if the ol' Fairy is feeling crafty or is high on some of that childhood magic):

Dear Toothless Wonder,

While you lay sleeping, I came in the night.
Under your pillow was a marvelous sight -- your very first tooth!
It has come unstuck.
You're a big kid now.

Much love, and good luck!

--The Tooth Fairy

My kids are growing up faster than I can comprehend. Now the boy really looks old - and really nothing like a 5-year-old. But it's all good.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

First Communion Gift-Giving

I have three First Communions to attend tomorrow. I used to struggle with what to get a kid for her First Communion, or her Baptism. When I went through the various Roman Catholic rites of passage as a child, I received a lot of sweet, well-intentioned gifts that I truly did not enjoy. (Yeah, yeah. Learning to graciously accept gifts you can't stand is an essential art, so - Suck it up, princess!)

Most 7-year-olds do not need, nor appreciate 5 rosaries, 7 crucifixes, and 3 angel statuettes, etc. I think the grandparents, the godparents, and the aunts and uncles will have those gift bases covered. Fine. But for the random adult who is a friend of their parents like me? I'll stick to something secular.

No, these kinds of generic religious gifts do not get better with age. They are not appreciated in the future, either. Perhaps some religious gift that is small, personal, and handmade has the best chance of being more cherished? Sorry, crafting is not my skill set.

When I attended 2 Baptisms and 1 First Communion in the Spring last year, I came across a cool, untraditional gift idea (besides the gift of cash, which part of me thinks always makes the perfect gift). It is - the gift of cute summer sandals, with a card that reads:

"As you begin your walk with the Lord, you should do it in a great pair of shoes."

A baby being baptized will soon fit into a shoe that is US baby size 5, and a 7 1/2 to 8-year-old girl generally will safely fit into a US size 2 shoe. Good idea to enclose a gift receipt in case they have extra large feet.

The folks I gave these shoe gifts to remarked long after the fact how much they enjoyed the gift, and I've seen the kids actually wearing them even when they didn't know I was going to run into them at the park.

When I start getting invited to loads of Confirmations in a few years, I'm going to give cash, and perhaps a secular book (with a gift receipt of course).

What are your go-to gifts for kids celebrating religious rites of passage?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

What Can the Person Who Drives You Crazy Teach You?

My question for you: So, that person in your life who drives you crazy but you're not always sure why exactly - you have one of Those, right?

Not necessarily your spouse, child, or boss who might occasionally annoy, nor someone who is obviously toxic/suffering from some sort of readily-identifiable personality disorder. I mean the person who gets to you're.around.them.

Maybe this is just me, but there have been a tiny handful of people in my life over the years who seem to be well-liked by other people I love and respect, but who, for reasons I cannot always put an immediate finger on - annoy the ever living hell out of me. Around whom my antennae always go up. Around whom I'm always very guarded. Yet it's like nobody seems to notice it but me. Or maybe they do notice, but they're more forgiving of the person's qualities than I am. Of course, I try hard not to be a gossip IRL, so I never inquire to find out what they truly think of the person.

I was out to dinner with a group last night when one of Those people suddenly showed up. It was rough for me. I tried not to show it, but I was super annoyed - even though the person didn't really do anything actively annoying or offensive. I had to stop and think: what on earth is it about them that irks me so much? These three wonderful people who invited me here have a high opinion of said person, but I'm vomiting in my mouth at the person's every word. (So clearly, I'm going to have to do better due diligence next time before accepting a dinner invite to make sure they won't show up!)

I'm an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and I wonder if the personalities who are very opposite from mine automatically won't mesh with me - such as: very extroverted people who need to be the center of attention all the time, people who gossip in front of groups, people who loudly and carelessly reference events within earshot of people who were not invited to said events, people who are ungenerous with money despite having the means to say, repay a series of kindnesses by picking up a small dinner check, people who toot their own horns excessively and trash other people over silly things like their looks, people who host celebratory events for people they were publicly talking crap about weeks earlier, etc.

I'm channeling some imagined Zen masters with this one-- I'm wondering: What can I learn from the person who drives me crazy, even when they're not actively doing anything wrong?

Got anything for me?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

You Say "Satire," I Say "Grow Up"

Ok, Wall Street Journal, I get it - you have a real problem with legal, race-based affirmative-action (but you never have a problem with the other forms of non-academic merit-based preferences given to legacies and recruited athletes in higher ed admissions  - more on that after the jump) and you wish to belabor this point ad nauseum at this critical moment, when the Supreme Court has before it two affirmative-action cases. 

Maybe that's why you published this horrid, openly racist opinion piece written by Suzy Lee Weiss, the younger sister of one of your former editors (and oh, by the way, I enjoyed the photo house tour of the Weiss family home you also published two years ago.) But why not drop the nepotism next time and branch out from your odd obsession with The Weisses of Pittsburgh, maybe give some others the page space to speak to their own experiences, too? Might I suggest someone who appears to have done even the slightest bit of research into elite college admissions criteria these days? 

One of the first reactions to Ms. Weiss's painfully-inaccurate piece many seemed to have this week was - oh, that's awkward... and "That has got to be satire." Then Ms. Weiss herself decided later that yes, it was satire. So, if it's "just satire" then, sure, why not just relax already! Have a sense of humor about it! I mean, do we get this worked up about what they publish in The Onion? Ever read Jonathan Swift? Because who in their right mind would really write such racist and homophobic drivel for publication in a major newspaper? Plenty of people, that's who.

There's a lot more in there I could critique, (and Gawker already did that quite handily), however I'll simply note that Ms. Weiss was too clever by half. She was just sneaky enough not to openly satirize African Americans, or Jews, or Latinos - no snarky talk of donning an afro, yarmulke, or sombrero - because even your Average White Person knows that's no longer ok to do. Native Americans, however - well, feel free to attack members of that racial minority with impunity! Suggest they don't even actually exist! Right on - so says the WSJ because they edited and published these words. Members of the LGBT community? Go ahead and insist they're all just padding their college resumes with their dubious personal identities, too.

No, no, I don't think the piece was satire, though I wish it were. Claiming after the fact that racist and homophobic statements are "satire" does not magically transport them into some protected confine of legitimate, proper expression fit for a newspaper that nice people supposedly read. Calling this satire is another way to avoid taking responsibility for her hurtful, racist words, though. Since Ms. Weiss has a clear habit of blaming others for her failures, perhaps the shoe fits. Nice try. What this was, unfortunately, was a child's regrettably permanent attempt at mourning a loss with some self-deprecation while trying to be funny, but which actually revealed some troubling, misplaced rage directed at marginalized groups. Which is disappointing, but apparently enough people feel the same way so the WSJ signed off on it.

But enough about that. The rest of this looong post will focus on what Ms. Weiss's analysis failed to comprehend: what elite college admissions criteria these days are generally, and how the criteria have shifted away from the "well-roundedness" ideal that was predominant when Gen Xers like me applied to colleges back in the day. Then I'll finish with my thoughts on why nobody ever gets an op-ed published critiquing legacy and recruited athlete admissions, despite the actual stats showing that's where the lion's share of admission preferences are bestowed.

Insert disclaimer here: Getting a degree from one of the top 27 or so US colleges or military academies that are the hardest to get into is not the end all, be all of life; it is certainly not some guarantee that your life will turn out the way you want it to be; there are many various definitions of success, you'd do well to avoid acting like yet another risk-averse lemming who is forever maximizing options according to external standards that may not actually work for any given individual; results are not typical** etc. Yes, to all of that. Now, on to how it's done. 

First of all, the admissions process is still the same crapshoot it always was ever since the late 60s/early 70s when they began to stop de jure discriminating against women, Jews, blacks, and other racial minorities, but it is certainly not like 1990 anymore. Being "well rounded," in the boring ways Ms. Weiss cynically enumerates, in addition to having test and GPA numbers solidly in the target school's range, used to work out fine enough - but that is no longer an effective strategy. Applicants need even better numbers now, and they have to reach deeper. Forget being Secretary of French Club and Treasurer of Model UN plus a few sports and an instrument - these days, folks need to have a demonstrated focus on one or two things that they find truly interesting. Go read Cal Newport's "How to Be a High School Superstar" (do less, win accomplishments that are hard to explain, but not necessarily hard to do, and be interesting and passionate). 

For someone from a privileged background like Ms. Weiss's, so chock full of social capital that she gets to be published in the WSJ as a teenager, it shocks me how could she honestly not know all of this by now.

Secondly, before you blame all the Indians and the gays for your own failure to work smart and have more reasonable expectations, Ms. Weiss, for heaven's sake, do your research! Start with "A is for Admission" by Michele A. Hernandez (former admissions director at Dartmouth), and you'll quickly discover that the people you presume to have so much unfair advantage over you do not even begin to constitute the real cohort of applicants who actually are given an unfair advantage over you:

"At all the Ivies, legacies [now pretty strictly defined as the sons or daughters of undergrad alums only] are accepted at twice the rate that everyone else is (not as high as athletes, I might add). At Dartmouth, the legacy acceptance rate is around 40%, as compared to the overall rate of around 15-20% [year 2009 figures]... Remember that Dartmouth and Princeton still reject 60-70% of all legacies, a statistic that does not make the alumni very happy.... Is it fair to give legacies a leg up? In my opinion, a small boost is fair, but the Ivies are going too far with legacy acceptance rates two to three times above the general acceptance rate."
The trouble is, opinion pieces such as Ms. Weiss's too often focus only on the vaunted 'unqualified/lying racial minorities and gays who always seem to be getting admitted' instead of considering the *actual groups* who are given the lion's share of Ivy admission preferences despite slightly lower numbers: legacies and recruited athletes. On the statistical insanity that is Ivy athletics admissions, from Ms. Hernandez:
"Recruited athletes comprise only 2.5% of the applicant pool at Dartmouth, but they are accepted at a roughly 62% rate - much higher than the overall acceptance rate of 20%... Princeton..historically admits 60-70% of its recruited athletes (1979-1994). Except for football, most coaches at Princeton are limited to 10 or so on their list, in order to keep the academic standard high."
Hoo boy, how sweet it is to be a recruited athlete for one of the all-male Ivy "money teams" (football, men's basketball, and ice hockey)! Is the sexism not obvious here? Even with Title IX, the most athletic women, unlike the benchwarming Ms. Weiss, still don't get the kind of admissions boost that male football players do. Frankly, I'm surprised the Ivy League manages to recruit any decent athletes at all, because they are prohibited from giving them full athletic scholarships like pretty much every other school in the US can, so they lose a lot of athletic talent to other academically excellent schools like Stanford, Duke, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Rice, etc.
Finally, given these problematic numbers, why is it that nobody ever gets an op-ed published critiquing legacy and recruited athlete admissions? Why do we instead insist on blaming the Indians and the gays? My guess is, a lot of people on the right have a misguided, faux meritocratic sense of "earning it" that allows college athletes a pass, since arguably their "work" in sports happens to possibly raise money for the school. The same might be said of trustee/development cases, where a family gives a large sum of money and their children are admitted. (I had a classmate like that at college, she was actually a sweetheart and never acted like the kind of person who has a multi-million dollar facility named after her dad.) Legacies from families who don't donate millions of dollars to the school, however, I am at a total loss to comprehend. Where's the actual value-add there? Apparently, Yale has done the math and figured this out, and has recently granted admission to only 13% of its legacy applicants - a much more reasonable figure than 40% I suppose.
And of course, nobody on the right or the left wants to implement an admissions system based on "pure merit" because those on the right are afraid of the Asian-American students who will quickly fill 75% of the classes, like the mostly-Asian-American student body at the excellent, public Stuyvesant High School in NYC, where admission is granted only to the highest test scorers. Those on the left are afraid the other minorities will continue to be left out (see the NYPS admissions test lawsuit). Yes, there's that Model Minority stereotype again - the bias against Asian-American students in admissions is so well-documented that Asian-American applicants are being coached to hide their racial identity on their applications.
I'm dying for someone who is thoughtful about race and class issues to step up and express in the mainstream press the frustration I often feel that the college admissions and affirmative-action debate fails to take into account how the conventional "merit-based" criteria that we assume to be fair systematically exclude poor and working-class people of every racial group, including whites. But alas, if such a person is not the younger sister of a former editor, and if that person's childhood home was not previously featured in the paper, I guess they simply need not apply.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Post Easter Thoughts

Oh, hello! Where was I?

1) Working a lot, that's where. (Spring break is now here/my super busy time is over = problem temporarily solved.)

2) Treating my kid for lice, that's where. Yes, I've said it here recently: I did not know if I could survive a child of mine getting lice. Every parent has their own personal, irrational no-go area. For some, it's vomit, or blood. Mine was lice. Well, the worst has officially happened and I'm pleased to report it was not nearly as bad as I had imagined it would be. I learned that lice cannot actually jump six feet through the air to land on someone's head and infect them. Nope, they have to crawl. (Thanks, CDC website). Sharing hats or say, batting helmets is a much more likely method of lice transmission. They're relatively easy to kill with over-the-counter products (such as Nix), or an Rx, followed by a thorough nit-picking, plus washing the bedding. It was a whole hell of a lot of laundry, which was the part I took care of and I probably went overboard on it, and luckily DH handled the actual hair treatment and lice and nit removal part. If lice ever make their way onto your precious child's head, I strongly recommend one parent be the hair person, the other the laundry person. Also, if you live in a large city, you probably have some sort of "lice service" business that can come to your home and help you problem-solve. Put their number on speed dial.

3) Starting perimenopause, that's where. My trusted doctor said so. Says it is often misdiagnosed, just like pretty much everything else under the sun in women's health, no? I almost wish it were something, anything else. But on second thought, I do not.

4) Hosting our annual Easter Egg Hunt, that's where. After putting this on for the last 3 years in a row, we have (the Saturday before) Easter entertaining down to a science. We ask people to bring a side dish, plus drink cups and baskets for their kids. We provided the ham and wine. Took away the dining room chairs, turned the dining table into a two-sided buffet. Set our alarms and went off hide the (recycled from prior years' plastic, plus a few real dyed) eggs at 5:30am. Told people to come at 11am, knowing several of them will always be late, started the hunt at 11:45 as we had secretly planned. Bonus points for guests who brought small hostess gifts (Daffodils! Stargazer lillies! Chocolate bunnies! Hooray), wore their Easter best, and/or wrote thank you notes (I just got one in the mail today, awwww).

5) Reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, that's where. Awesome book, no matter what your work preferences/statuses are, trust me, contrary to what the Sandberg haters on the internets who have not done the reading are saying, this book cannot possibly offend you. Period. In fact, it is one of the most heartfelt love letters to a SAHM (her own mother) I have ever read - surprise, surprise. Also, I read the part about what happened to her kids when they were traveling with her on the plane for work at the exact time the same thing was going down in our house -- made me feel better about it. I guess sharing really is caring. Anyway, everything she says in terms of workplace advice is straight out of a book I have been recommending since forever: Nice Girls Don't Get The Corner Office by Dr. Lois P. Frankel. If you loved Lean In, read Frankel's next to make Sandberg's advice more granular -- awful title I know, but if I could gift this book to every woman on her first job, I would.

6) Watching the premiere of Game of Thrones, Season 3, that's where. It's the only show I'll stay up past my laughably early bedtime to watch. Would somebody, anybody please kill off evil Geoffrey Baratheon already?! I can't wait for the Khaleesi's dragons to grow up.

7) Waiting, impatiently, for the premiere of Mad Men, Season 6 next Sunday, April 7, that's where. Yes, I love good TV. To me, it never feels like wasted time. Matthew Weiner suggests we watch the last 10 minutes of the final episode of Season 5 right before tuning in to the new season. So that's my plan.

I will resume regular posting soon. I have one brewing which will involve me kvetching about Suzy Lee Weiss's WSJ piece "To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me" (thanks for your post alerting me to it @Catherine Johnson/kitchen table math).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Late 30s, Late Periods

I've taken three pregnancy tests in the last week. All have been negative, which is good because 1) I don't wish to give birth to any more babies, and 2) I use three forms of contraception.

The reason I have been helping to keep EPT in business lately is that my normally like-clockwork 29-day cycle is inexplicably off. My period is late, as in it's now Day 35 of my cycle. But I don't feel any sort of my usual premenstrual symptoms at all.

What gives?

I turn 37 soon - could I be starting peri-menipause already?

At what point do I consult a professional? HELP!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Raising "Digital Natives" with The Family iPad

Finally, a parenting piece in The Atlantic has validated my parenting choices, whoo hoo! There's a great article in the April issue by Hanna Rosin (having typed that, I'm pretty sure hell might have just frozen over) that just arrived in the mail but I can't seem to find a link to anywhere online, called "The Touch-Screen Generation." Reads like a very well-intentioned parenting blog post, like a more in-depth, reporty version of something straight out of Ask Moxie. But, of course, the cover photo is creepy - and, um, it happens to looks just like my kid, complete with the iPad covering up her face (I mean, it's The Atlantic, what else did I expect?)

In it, I learned some new-to-me terms: Digital Natives - they are the first generations of children growing up fluent in the language of computers, video games, and other technologies. Everybody else are Digital Immigrants, just struggling to understand. Of course, we all know exceptions, but from where I set these monikers generally fit.

The Hush family is the proud owner of one sole, cherished, iPad. It gets a lot of use by all of us, preschoolers and adults alike. For now, we have just the one in our house. Kind of like there was just "The Phone" singular, or "The TV" singular when I was growing up in the 1980s. My parents and I often had to wait our turn to use it. (I'm thinking of that Louis C.K. bit about having only one of something in the house growing up, and how awesome things are now by comparison.)

We let the kids play educational apps on the iPad at home pretty much whenever the mood strikes them (except bedtime, when we all take a tech time out - on the presumption it might inhibit sleep, but I wonder about that). More on those specific apps after the jump. We each happen to use the family iPad somewhat differently.

I use it only to watch The Walking Dead on Netflix while I run on the treadmill (and let me tell you, there's nothing like zombies to encourage you to pick up your pace.) DH uses it for sales pitches at work, and to do his online shopping. Funny, we also have a desktop iMac in my office, but I'm pretty much the only one who ever uses it. We rarely allow the kids to touch our phones - DH has an iPhone, and I have a Droid but I now wish I could travel back in time to 2011 and pick an iPhone instead. Oh well, my decision made sense at the time. Compared to my peers, I hardly ever upgrade my cell phones, and I have only had a lifetime total of 3 cell phones since I was forced (as in, personally called in to the boss' office and told to pick one up ASAP) to get my first, for work, in 2004 - and by then I was super late to that party.

Anyway, our youngest was born in the fall of 2009. The iPad came out in April 2010. We got ours sometime in 2011, and it is hard to remember life as a parent without it.

These days, you'll pry our family iPad out of our cold, dead hands!! I know, I know. But isn't this just another iteration of that dreaded "screen time" the APA urges us to limit because it rewires children's brains? My luddite friend who is training to be a Waldorf teacher thinks we're doing our children irreparable harm. I think she means well, but she's drinking the Kool-Aid and does not have children of her own yet. I, too, was an awesome parent before I had kids.

I absolutely love the ("educational"? yes, yes, absolutely) apps our kids use. Our three-year-old loves the Starfall ABCs app, Memory Train, and Montessori Crosswords.  Our five-year-old is currently fond of Stack the States, (and Stack the Countries), Star Walk, and Slice It!.  Let's just say I'm utterly convinced my kids are benefitting from having these apps occupy some space in their childhoods. I might not feel that way if they were on the iPad each and everyday, but they're not. They use it with about the same frequency as they use any other "toy" or activity at our house. Sometimes they go way more than a week without asking for it.  Should we as parents be treating the iPad any differently than we treat, say, books, art supplies, Montessori works, TV, or sports equipment? What role does screen time generally have in your family life?

And I'm always on the lookout for more app recommendations, so if you've got them, please leave them in the comments.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In Which No Nannies Were Abused and Enslaved In My House

Oh, you funny anti-nanny opinion-havers on the internets, how you entertain me so!

You leave blog comments on otherwise thoughtful and nuanced blogs expressing your concern for all the poor helpless nannies who you just know are ALL being "abused" and "enslaved" in millions of American households. You have loads of research to prove it, too.

If our most recent nanny were still employed with us, and if I were foolish enough to believe you, I guess I'd have to fire her right now. But alas, she's already decided to move on to new opportunities: we were grateful she waited until our youngest entered preschool, and our foster kid returned to the birth parents. The truth is, we think the world of her and her family. We helped her find a new part-time job (that she admits she does not financially need because her husband's job has always covered their bills, and otherwise she'd be a SAHM with 3 kids in all-day school) and enroll in private advanced English conversations classes.  She speaks good enough English and even passed the citizenship test in English, but dreams of improving, for which we are paying her full tuition even though she no longer works for us.

Yes, obviously, our system is certainly rigged against the working poor and I'm with Barbara Ehrenreich to the extent I wonder how anyone can support a family on, say, $7 an hour. However, the appropriate target for your ire should not be household employers like me, or @Laura Vanderkam, or @scantee over here, or even the mega rich like Sheryl Sandberg, or several of my grad school friends who live in large cities, who so very very clearly do not at all engage in unfair labor practices or tax dodging. Rather you should perhaps focus your ire on employers like Wal-Mart, who screw over the working poor en masse, reducing their workers' hours to avoid paying benefits, causing them and their families to become public charges. Or better yet, get mad at states that have low minimum wage laws.
In the last several years, I've employed 2 part-time US citizen nannies (not at the same time, though I don't necessarily see anything at all wrong/overly luxurious about having 2 concurrent nannies where a family has, say, a special needs kid, and/or 3 or more kids and/or multiples, etc). I went about employing each nanny the legal way: paying Social Security and Medicare taxes (against the first nanny's own objections I might add), reimbursing their transportation costs, giving paid vacations plus unlimited sick/personal days, providing them excellent job references after they each left us on their own terms, and supporting them to find future employment before they stopped working for us; and also letting their preschool-aged daughter be cared for along with my own kids in our home, and helping to pay for their daughter's Quincenera, and so on. 
All of the nannies I interviewed were making well above minimum wage (which was just over $9/hr in my state): I was told that the going rate in the Big City where I used to live was $500 a week, with a guarantee of 40 to 45 hours whether you actually needed that many hours or not, which works out to $10 to $12 an hour. Big City seemed to be cheaper than a lot of other cities. In one large southern US city, the going rate was closer to $15. What's more, nearly every nanny I interviewed stated, flat out, that they didn't do housework apart from cleaning up whatever messes they themselves actually make while performing their duties, and the ones with kids needed certain afternoons off for kids' appointments, they'd be gone 3 weeks at Christmas, and suddenly needed two months off to help their youngest transition into Kindergarten... and I gladly said "yes" and worked around their schedules because when I finally found someone truly awesome, I wanted her to stay. Our most recent nanny has great negotiation skills, and I love that about her even when she totally out-negotiates me.
So, I ask: Is what I've just described really "abuse" and "slavery"? Is this honestly so bad? Nannies work in a safe, clean environment for an employer who has the best possible incentive for treating them well: they're taking care of the boss's precious kids. I don't believe that a job caring for young children is inherently demeaning. If I believed that, I never would have been a SAHM like I was, and my DH never would have been a SAHD like he was. 
Yes, $10 or even $15 an hour, no benefits, is probably the bare minimum necessary to survive. But it's not a sweatshop, either, and it is definitely not "abuse," and dear sweet lord in heaven it is certainly not "slavery." And really, how offensive and inaccurate of you to say so.
I guess the real question is: is there a way for a progressive family in the professional classes to hire a nanny and *allow the wife to work* without automatically joining the ranks of so-called "exploitive" employers? (Because let's be honest, we're not talking about *husbands* not being able to work because they don't have access to available and adequate childcare!) And what else besides paying Social Security and Medicare taxes, and state unemployment taxes, should household employers be doing for their nannies?
No really, do tell.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

So Long, Cherished Public Schooling Ideals

I'm mourning the loss of the cherished ideals I once held so close - that it was a good and honorable thing to send one's kids to public schools. "I mean, of course I'll send my kids to public school someday," said my naive 21-year-old self, who would not actually become a parent for at least another decade. When my DH and I were dating, I even asked him (no, TOLD him) "Hey, my future kids are going to public schools, got a problem with that?" (not on the first date of course - I'm not that much of a level-jumper).

I used to judge the last couple of US presidents for sending their kids to places like Sidwell Friends instead of to the local public school nearest to the White House - imagine how that school would have benefitted with the First Daughter(s) there, in theory... I used to judge my old bosses who volunteered on public school-reform boards and projects, while sending their own kids to the best private schools in town, because "I think their peer group really matters most."

Back in the day, I took a lot of ed policy classes, back when the small schools movement was all the rage. I was so optimistic - because there was so much innovation going on, such an array of choices, I thought it meant our schools would have to get better. Wrong. I used to think homeschoolers were cray cray - now I completely and totally get it.

These days, I'm often reminded of what a former prof of mine used to say "If education were such an easy problem to fix, don't you think we would have fixed it by now?" Now I know that context matters - are we talking about big cities, suburbs, or rural areas (like where I live)? Three vastly different scenarios with totally different resources, and different needs.

Like the mother I met the other day who moved here recently from suburban California, where the academically-rigorous public schools were "a total pressure cooker" for her 9-year-old son, who could not keep up with some of his more gifted peers. He's loving it here in No-Academic-Expectations-Having-Land, in fact he's thrilled to be the smartest kid in class (yes, his teacher actually called him "smart," presumably thinking that a beneficial label). But I can't help wonder if they'll feel differently about it when he never quite grasps algebra. Will they even see the lost opportunities in terms of entire career fields that will be pretty much forever closed off to him if he can't grasp algebra? (Forever? Yes, I'm saying forever.)

So, here we are. We've registered our 5-year-old for first grade in a mixed age classroom at the new private Montessori elementary school. This means he's skipping Kindergarten, and will be the youngest student in the school by at least 7 weeks. We had him tested through the school district, and re-tested through a private firm (best $40 we ever spent.) Both tests concurred: he definitely belongs in first grade this fall. We read "A Nation Deceived" which help put our fears to rest about grade-skipping. Off the record, one tester said "I did a double take on his birthdate - looking at him and talking to him I thought he was born in 2005." and "No way should you enroll him in public school around here." Case closed.

Great news, yes. I finally feel really good about DS's educational future.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On Innovation and Yahoo's Telework Ban

As the old saying goes "Give the people what they want" (aw, shucks)... here's my defense of the Yahoo CEO's decision to enact a blanket ban on all telework.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (I've previously blogged about her here) was a fantastic recent hire. But it seems folks just can't resist tripping the proverbial prom queen. Unlike pretty much the majority out there who get off on second guessing every move she makes**, I, for one, am convinced she knows what the hell she is doing.

If anyone can right the sad, sinking ship that is Yahoo today, it's her. Informal poll time: show of hands, who uses Yahoo on a daily basis? Yeah, I thought not. I still use a Yahoo mail account and people actually make fun of me for it.

So when Mayer (the well-compensated tech genius expert) tells us (the technically-inept masses) she has mined Yahoo's employee VPN data and it has told her in no uncertain terms ALERT - the folks you have been paying to do the work aren't doing the work!, then she had the responsibility to do something about it. And she did - her move was a decisive, drastic one that has made her very unpopular in the press: she decided nobody at Yahoo is allowed to telework anymore.

For starters, nobody in her peer group is more data-driven and evidence-based in their processes than she is. Mayer made the decision by checking the data showing how much teleworkers were actually logging in to Yahoo’s network – and well, case closed. From the SF Chronicle:
“Likewise, we’re hearing from people close to Yahoo executives and employees that she made the right decision banning work from home.
“The employees at Yahoo are thrilled,” says one source close to the company.
“There isn’t massive uprising. The truth is, they’ve all been pissed off that people haven’t been working.”

There you have it: folks were not doing the work. Why her middle managers couldn't have effectively managed their own employees in the first place is of course, another story, and one that probably speaks to Yahoo's lackadaisical cultural problems that Mayer is trying desperately to correct. I prefer to call it strong, unflinching leadership on her part, but her critics are calling it some other unflattering things.

Her critics, such as Lisa Belkin in Huffington, are saying, "I had hope that as a new mother, she would use her platform and her power to make Yahoo an example of a modern family-friendly workplace"... it's a warning for everyone "that their lives don't matter." Seriously, Ms. Belkin? That sounds awfully hyperbolic. @Cloud, Wandering Scientist has a great analysis of why we aren't holding male CEOs to these same feminist standards.

Mayer's role is to lead a lagging company within the context of unforgiving American tech company capitalism - where it's survival of the fittest out there. Which, like most of corporate American life, is onerous hell to folks who need to take some time out of it for various reasons, but hey that's our system, and while I can't think of a better one either, I know we can do a few things better (uncoupling insurance from employment, universal child care, guaranteed paid maternity leave etc etc). But, as Mayer is not an elected official I would submit these concerns are not her primary problem. Instead, her focus is right where it should be: on building a collaborative workplace that will create and deliver inspired, innovative products. Buy into her vision, Yahoos, or get out. I can respect that, but I may not like it. And if I'm a recent Yahoo hire whose employment decision was predicated on my ability to telework, then yes, I have a legitimate grievance - but I'd wager that's a small subset of Yahoos. Certainly, there are also Yahoos out there who are grateful to have a leader with a snowball's chance in hell of saving their jobs.

As I've commented elsewhere, "productivity" alone is no longer the name of the game. There seems to be a dichotomy between productivity and innovation. Everyone's gut intuition about it and the current research seem to agree that telework improves productivity. But surprise, surprise telework is actually bad for innovation:
"Studies show that people who work at home are significantly more productive but less innovative, said John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University who runs a human resource advisory firm. "If you want innovation, then you need interaction," he said.  "If you want productivity, then you want people to work from home."
Mayer was hired last year with a direct mandate to alter Yahoo's stagnating culture. A decade ago, Yahoo was a place where the best and brightest Internet hires came together to innovate. For too long, Yahoo has been coasting along on auto-pilot, losing market share while maintaining existing business lines rather than growing new ones (i.e. being "productive" rather than "innovative"? hmm....). Yahoo has obviously been outpaced by Google and Facebook - two companies which, by the way also frown upon telework, albeit in a less extreme way than Yahoo's anti-telework policy. Which ought to tell us something.

If this anti-telework trend catches on outside of the tech-specific domain, that will be a crying shame. Because we know for a fact telework is great for productivity at fixed jobs. At Yahoo, and at this specific historical moment for the company, I can totally see how Mayer made the correct call. So, please, let's all stop questioning Mayer's intelligence in these matters.

** By the way, they call this "Tripping the Prom Queen" (great book, BTW) wherein the strongest females are attacked by the weakest females - the exact opposite of the treatment of strong males in our society. I happen to think this explains most of the anti-Mayer and Sandberg rhetoric out there.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Staying Another Year At Montessori Preschool Instead of Public Kindergarten?

Two more public school visits to go. Had to postpone one visit because I've been sick lately with the cold from hell. Why is it my kids can get over a cold in 48 hours but it takes me at least a week? Bleh.

I've been thinking that the path of least resistance might be to simply have DS stay another year in the excellent, small bilingual Montessori preschool for kids ages 3-6 he currently attends. The pros/cons to staying where he is look like this--

The Pros:

  • He's been so happy there for a year and a half now - it's a known quantity.
  • We all love it. (And I'm a tough critic, so that's saying a lot.)
  • The curriculum is challenging enough for him.
  • He's never bored there because they're always looking for signs of disengagement and then immediately taking action.
  • Easiest logistics in terms of kids attending one school, with workable drop off/pick up times.
  • It's affordable.
  • This will be his final chance to get a Montessori education locally.
  • Another lice-free year for our family. There's a good chance my kids will eventually get lice in public school because pretty much everyone here does at some point (not judging, just stating the facts ma'am). But then again, he could get something preventable like Pertussis, of course! And not that there's anything wrong with getting lice except it is a huge pain in the arse to treat it, and I suspect I will bear the brunt of it because my office is at my house.
  • No bullies/abuse.
  • Can keep learning Spanish.
  • Can continue to learn at own pace and love learning.

The Cons:

  • DS will probably be the oldest kid in the school next year (which is what happens when a kid has an Oct birthday, with an Aug 31 school cut off)
  • In the absence of older kids, I have a nagging feeling he'll be missing out on building some social skills - though I can't quite articulate what specific skills I'm thinking of... hmm...
  • He naturally clicks with kids who are 2 years older than him, and he's the same size as most 7-year-olds even though he's 5. So he'll really look bigger than the other kids, but will he care?
  • There's the notion folks around here believe that Montessori sometimes "ruins kids for public school" - as if they are so thrilled about learning and are curious and ahead of grade level that they simply can't fit in when it's time for public school. Quite an indictment of our local public schools if you ask me. Eventually, there's nowhere else for kids to get educated locally except public school or homeschool (or a combo of the 2). Yes, there are religious schools but trust me, they are out of the question, and anyway they are no good academically (unlike parochial schools in bigger cities).
  • The Spanish learning at Montessori is not immersion, meaning his spoken Spanish probably won't develop as quickly as it would if he were to attend the Spanish-literacy public K, we think (hard to assess).
  • Possible harder transition to public first grade as a 6.5 year old?

Your thoughts?

Monday, February 11, 2013

How To Break Up With My Newest Book Club

I harbor this super unrealistic fantasy that I will someday find myself in a local Podunkville book club that will be a perfect fit for me: it will be a welcoming space where everyone's voices can be heard, where we read interesting, challenging books and actually talk about them intelligently and in a way that honors differing perspectives.

Obviously, I've been there, tried that multiple times - and truly, this is never going to happen. Never? No, not ever. I see that clearly now. Dream dashed, but it's ok.

What keeps happening is that I'm a terrible judge of how certain people are going to eventually behave in a group setting. For example, there's one person I completely misjudged as being a lot more open and agreeable than they really are, and well, I now wish to extricate myself from any and all association with said person. (Long story short: this person has a habit of revealing other people's private information in a harsh, public manner, doesn't read social cues well, and totally dominates the conversation. And now I feel the need to protect myself.)

So, I once again find myself in "deja vu all over again"-land. The new book club started in September. By November, I had discovered I needed to get out. I've been trying the Be Perpetually Busy method of book club break ups ever since, to no avail.

I think a break up email to the whole group is probably in order. But something about that idea makes me cringe inside. Please tell me how you would go about breaking up with a local book club you had just joined.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Foster Kid

Legally, I am not permitted to say much (even in this space, which I hope? remains an anonymous blog) but I'd just like to share that we've recently made a wonderful temporary addition to our home. We've become a first-time foster family.

Foster Kid is about 15-months younger than our 3-year-old DD. FK is a sleeper, and is one of the most easy-going, laid back children I have ever met. Hallelujah! DS and DD are absolutely over the moon about FK.

I can't say much more than that. We hope FK stays with us for awhile, but I'm guessing FK's young parents will be ready to resume full residential custody of FK again pretty soon.

It's been quite a journey.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Disney Princess Obsession

Lately my 5-year-old son has been asking us to get him books about princesses, particularly the Disney princesses. Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of the idea of overexposing my kids to the Disney Princess Marketing Machine, for all of the usual learned helplessness/lack of agency criticisms you so often hear. Yet, now that he's old enough to choose his own library books I feel like I just need to let him explore his own interests, and this is where he is. (I've offered him my own favorite awesome princess book ever, "The Paper Bag Princess" but sadly, he's not all that excited about it. Darn.)

He spent 2 hours the other day reading all about Beauty and the Beast, and asking tons of questions. Last night, he showed me a picture in an encyclopedia of Disney princesses and told me that Prince Eric is the one he really wants to marry someday, and that he predicts his little sister will marry Prince Naveen. (Does he finally know what the word "marry" means? Yes, we think so.)

Yes, I occasionally wonder about DS's sexual orientation. Whatever his eventual preferences may be, it really does not change anything about the way I choose to parent. "You kids can grow up and marry either a man or a woman-- whomever you like" is a constant refrain at Casa Hush. We're all about "free to be you and me" here. Yes, boys can play with dolls and princesses! Yes, girls can play with trucks and baseball bats! That's the beauty of having one kid of each sex - they get easy access to the full array of toys out there. They get to share and trade the various gender-stereotyped toys their great aunt sent them for Xmas.

It makes me a little sad that DS refuses to bring any of his beloved princess books into preschool - as if he clearly knows he could be teased for being seen with them. He knows his superhero books are the so-called "right" socially-appropriate ones for him to be seen with at school, and he brings those all the time. It breaks my heart that he doesn't feel safe to share his princess-loving side at school, even though the teachers would be beyond totally accepting of him. How quickly kids pick up on the unspoken, but very rigid social gender norms out there.

The kids have been begging us to rent some Disney princess movies. I give up. "The Princess and the Frog" is on the books for this weekend. At least Tiana seems like a princess with some entrepreneurial moxie.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Great Kindergarten Search: School Visit 1 of 3

Back in October, I blogged about the Dreaded School Choice first world Problem my family is currently experiencing. As the public school choice decision deadline looms, we're doing school and classroom visits to help us finally come to a decision.

Our first visit was to the Away District Bilingual school. Here's The Good and The Bad points that we had identified about this school prior to our visit (I've blogged about this before - so skip my next 2 paragraphs if you've already read my old post linked to above):

The Good = "Since none of the schools in this district are winning any awards, we figure at least our kids will come out knowing Spanish."[Also, we think a lot of the families there would be a great fit for us socially, i.e. a lot of former big city liberals now living in Podunkville send their kids there. "If this school were in a big city, there'd be a lottery for it and we'd never get in."] From the daughter of a bilingual teacher: "I'm amazed at how beautifully her accent is coming along when she speaks Spanish. The opportunities to learn Spanish are awesome."

The Bad = "It all depends on which teacher team your kid gets assigned to - there are some great teachers you will want to request, and then pray your kid doesn't end up with one of the crappy ones. The principal is a nice guy but he's not a good leader and there's no cooperation between the Bilingual teacher teams and the English-only teacher teams." Also - "My son acts out because he's bored. His teacher says he's so gifted it's like he's special needs, but instead of challenging him more in school they encourage him to attend a half hour math enrichment after school as if that solves the problem - so, what's the point of him sitting in class all day? We have to do a lot of extra work at home to meet his needs." And "My daughter went there K through 5th and afterwards we took her to Mexico to visit her grandparents, and it turns out she does not even understand a word of Spanish. We should have never trusted that school." "We didn't know our son got in until my wife finally called the school 3 days before school started and demanded to know." "We didn't find out which teacher my daughter was assigned to until literally the day before school started - she had been asking us all summer long. Frustrating." [Also, due to budget cuts, in this district there is no school on Monday mornings, and that lost time is never made up.]

My perspective on this school has changed slightly, and in a good way, since visiting five Kindergarten and first grade classes there, and talking with the principal for half an hour. I also recently ran into a mom I know who actually teaches bilingual Kindergarten, and her son, who was at my kids' bilingual Montessori preschool last year, is enrolled in the Spanish immersion Kindergarten at this very school, and he is positively thriving there. Given her own profession, she's a tough critic, and I take her words as very high praise. The school started him out in the English immersion section, but once they realized he was already reading, they asked her if they could move him into Spanish immersion. That's great - I love it when I hear about a school proactively accelerating a kid when they've identified a need.

After the visit, I could now see sending my son to this school for Kindergarten - but he would need to be in the full Spanish immersion class, that is, the one that is intended for Native Spanish speaking kids.  He already understands Spanish (but is basically in silent mode still, refusing to speak it unless he can speak it perfectly - gah!), and so the language would not be a problem. If he were to be put in the English immersion class, however, it would be a complete, total, and unmitigated disaster. He already reads proficiently in English, but I worry about how he will actually test in reading - he is a perfectionist and will try to give up when he feels pressure.

We have two more visits in early Feb, so I will post about those in a few weeks.  As usual, your thoughts and perspective are always appreciated!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty's Real Message is Anti-Torture

Zero Dark Thirty is quite possibly one of the most misunderstood movies ever. I'm a huge fan. It's one of those movies people will watch in the future to get a sense of what the militarized American empire was like from 2001-2011. It is also one of the strongest feminist and anti-torture messages I have ever seen in a major Hollywood film. Yet people are accusing it of being the exact opposite.

There's been a lot of criticism from people on the left that makes me wonder, "Are we even talking about the same movie here?" The praise from certain people on the right also leaves me scratching my head.

So when I came across this HuffPost Live interview of filmmaker Michael Moore by Marc Lamont Hill, I said to myself - finally, someone gets it! Thank you, Michael Moore:

"Does the artist have a responsibility for the ignorance of the person watching the art? I don't want to have to dumb down my work for the people who won't get it.  I want to put it out there and the people who get it, get it."

I encourage you to watch Marc Lamont Hill's interviews of Michael Moore in their entirety. They're posted in 4-6 minute increments with a short commercial in-between. Don't miss the part where Michael Moore calls out the workplace sexism in the CIA. Fantastic.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sex Before Dinner

I'm the friend that people call up to ask for "married people" sex advice. I'll take that as a compliment. (I think?)

One of the biggest sexual roadblocks I'm hearing from married people has to do with being too tired at night for the mood to strike: "Help, we have amazing little kids, but they are cramping our sex lives because we're never alone!" Yes, that was me when my 2nd baby was under a year old, and not coincidentally, my marriage was at its lowest point ever. I learned that The Sex is very, very important to me. I start feeling irritable when I don't have The Sex regularly -- I start hating my DH and probably vice versa.

(Yes, folks, this is reason #1925 why I don't blog under my real name!)

Did I also mention we are crazy enough to co-sleep with our kids-- in separate beds, on separate floors of our house? This fact makes it difficult to ever have The Sex in our own bed late at night. That, and we all go to bed ridiculously early by American standards. (I judge this so-called US standard by the number of texts I get from local girlfriends after 10pm at night when my phone is turned off -- y'all Amurrikans definitely need to go to sleep earlier).

So how do we prioritize The Sex, you ask? It's as simple as making Sex Before Dinner part of the weeknight routine:

#1. We plan to have sex early in the evening, 3 nights a week, as soon as we're both home for the night (it usually happens somewhere between 5:30-6:15pm-ish). We say hello to each other and the kids, talk briefly about our days, then put on some Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood or Dinosaur Train for the kids, and set them up with a beverage and some fruit. DH and I sneak off to a room in the house with a lockable door and a box of tissues. The TV distraction for the kids only works if we don't let them watch TV at any other time, which is hard because educational-ish TV is quite possibly the world's best babysitter ever.

#2. Twenty minutes later... done! DH starts getting dinner ready (he plans all dinners a few days in advance to free up more time), and afterwards the kids and I clean up, and eventually we're all asleep by 9:30pm (unless the 3-year-old has napped that day at preschool, grrr.....).

By having sex before dinner, DH and I are never "too tired" for sex. I've found that it's like sex begets more sex - and planned sex on weeknights often leads to more spontaneous sex on the weekends. I have no idea why on earth that is - it just is.

Try it, you'll like it!

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Unvaccinated Child with Pertussis in My Kids' Preschool

Last week, I got a mass email from the Board of my kids' preschool that hit me like a ton of bricks.

The email from the school informed us that there is a child in my kids' class who has been sick for the last two weeks with Pertussis (aka Whooping Cough). The email shared the child's name.

Given that this is such a tiny community, and a school of < 20 kids, we all know of the little girl and her parents, and word about these matters spreads so quickly (even when you've given up gossip entirely) so I don't see the sharing of her name as the privacy violation I would have seen it as when I used to live in a large city. But still.

Coincidentally, our DD had experienced some severe unexplained coughing symptoms recently, so we had a bit of a freak out once we heard the dreaded word "pertussis." You may have heard there was a pertussis outbreak in my state (WA) last year, due to vaccine-denier parents who had refused to get their children vaccinated.

The pediatrician thinks she has the asthma that runs in DH's family, and possibly some allergies. Anyway, the nebulizer he prescribed seems to be working. All is well for now.

This whole episode really has me thinking. While on the one hand, I'm not terribly sympathetic to parents who by choice have never had their children vaccinated against the preventable, devastating diseases of childhood - to be honest, I really question their intelligence, on the other hand, I tend to see this as one of the costs of living in a free society. Maybe there's a benefit to living amongst the occasional free rider in our democracy.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Film Review: This is 40... (see it)

Hollywood comedies are not usually super feminist-friendly undertakings, with the notable recent exception of the excellent Bridesmaids. Which is why This is 40, starring Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, came as such an unexpected surprise to me. It's the sort-of sequel to Knocked Up (which was a decidedly un-feminist movie), however the world of This is 40 really has nothing to do with the sad sacks we met in Knocked Up. It explores totally new, refreshing, even possibly sexist stereotype-breaking territory. Here's a full review I liked.

I want to be perfectly clear: this is not some full-on feminist comedy. There are several problems with it, mainly having to do with class and privilege, dissected very nicely here. However, I can't help but feel hopeful about it. I'm taking it as a sign that the American film industry might be making some small progress.

For starters, the depictions of working women in heterosexual relationships in this movie won't piss you off as much as they did in the recent comedy The Five Year Engagement (the one where the guy goes batshit crazy after he gives up his career because his fiancee pursues the job opportunity of her life). I'm sick and tired of countless shows featuring working mothers as these unfortunate, hot messes who can't get it together and who Hurt the Kids because they work outside the home, while the fathers take no responsibility at all. This is 40 offers a welcome reprieve from all of that.

There are many beautiful little things to appreciate about the complications of the extremely privileged LA family headed by Debbie and Pete, a married, dual income couple who are both turning 40. They are something of a paradox: at times so much fun to watch, and at other times the very definition of the word eye roll. At times they are vulnerable and real, and their tenderness gave me hope in my own marriage (don't gag), other times they are total, unmitigated jerks in need of a serious call out -- {SPOILER}

... make sure you stick around for the ending credits to watch comedic genius Melissa McCarthy do just that.

The subtle, pitch-perfect stereotype-bending this movie does sends a unique feminist message. Debbie's a working mom who has not let herself go. She runs her own business, and her family needs her income (more on their financial situation after the jump). She has her own hobbies. She has her own interests. She goes clubbing and in one scene could go to bed with an attractive young professional hockey player if she wanted to. We get to see the imperfectly perfect Debbie in all of her complexity. And she's legitimately, hilariously funny.

Pete is a dad who also works at his own business and actually parents his own kids - I know, what a revolutionary idea. We see him happily handling the kids' morning routine. We see him physically present and engaged at his daughters' school. We see him monitoring his tween daughter's online presence. We see him disagreeing with Debbie about how to best parent their kids. We see them arguing about money. We also see him defending Debbie when another mother threatens her, even though Debbie is Wrong with a capital W. It just felt honest, as in a true version of equally shared parenting many of us aspire to but that is very rarely seen in movies or in life.

I also loved the fact that both Debbie and Pete suffer from daddy issues from their own families of origin, and that those issues are explored and compared. How wonderful to see depictions of family dysfunction that are not mother-blaming for a change.

One interesting criticism I'm hearing everywhere has to do with Debbie and Pete's imagined financial situation. They are so "rich" in the sense they conspicuously consume: they live in a fabulous mansion with a backyard pool, throw lavish parties, dress and decorate with style, have a personal trainer, an expensive bike, they vacation at a fancy resort, and their children have all matter of electronic gadgets.

But they've missed a mortgage payment. Their accountant says they're beyond help and now they need to sell the house - primarily because Pete has poor judgment both personally with his father and because he has been running his business into the ground (the $30k indoor neon sign was a spot-on example). They suddenly find they need that $12k someone has stolen from Debbie's business. They need back the $80k Pete loaned to his mooching father without Debbie's permission. So the criticism is: that these rich, overprivileged people honestly feel like they are strapped for cash seems laughable. Wrong. Not at all. It's an economic fact these days. Hello, ever hear of the Overspent American phenomenon? Loads of people look rich while having a negative net worth and zero cash flow (See The Millionaire Next Door). Yours truly even blogged about that recently, when my rich friend confessed to me she could not afford a cup of coffee. So I find their economic situation 100% believable.

That's the thing about this movie. It makes you ask: can this be real? It made me reflect, and made me laugh so hard I had trouble breathing. It encouraged DH and I to have a great conversation about aging, the way we parent, the way we problem-solve in our own marriage. See it. It's not perfect, and you'll cringe at a few things, but see it anyway.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What I Resolve Not To Do In 2013

Obligatory New Year's resolutions post. I'm framing it in the negative this year. Sometimes I find it easier to achieve a goal whenever I'm able to frame it as "I will NOT do X" and opposed to "I will do X."

In 2013, I resolve NOT to....

1. Gossip. In 2012, I noticed I had some really uncharitable thoughts about a couple of local people who have nasty gossip habits. I resolve to do exactly the opposite: no more shit talking; only kind speech about others. I will also be brave enough to announce my discomfort with gossip. (Or framed in the negative: I will not be silent about my true opinion whenever someone is foolish enough to share mean gossip with me.) Instead of icy silence and a cold hard stare, followed by an abrupt subject change, I'll try something like: "You know, if she could hear you right now, it would really hurt her feelings to know you feel that way about her, so that's why this is just not an appropriate topic for me."

2. Allow my blood pressure get over 120/80. The way I choose to see it, my prehypertension diagnosis at age 34 was a real gift. It forces me to prioritize my heart health. In 2012, no longer did my cardio workout take a back seat to the rest of my life. Thanks to my blood pressure readings, my heart health went straight to the top of my priority list. And there it shall stay.

3. Avoid revealing my truest self to the people with whom I want to have deeper relationships. For years I've been saying I wish I had deeper friendships with local people. Well, if that is to be, then my high agreeableness, high conscientiousness, INFJ-self needs to do a lot more of the talking, and a lot less of the active listening. (Yes, that would be the exact opposite of what pretty much everyone else needs to do.) I've already gotten started on this resolution - I told a close local friend with whom I'd like to be much closer how I really felt about something, and she responded beautifully like I knew she would. Baby steps.

What do you resolve NOT to do in 2013?