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 every.damn.time.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).