Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
1. Write every day whether you want to be a writer or not.
2. If something is bothering you with a good friend, honor the friendship enough to address it.
3. See as much of the world as you can.
4. Name your band something memorable like “Speedy Vulva”.
5. Don’t act according to obligations, it will make you feel overwhelmed and irritated and more importantly, it’s not genuine.
6. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Do not complain about the time or money involved in their procurement and preparation.
7. If people ask for your opinion, be brave enough to give it.
8. Don’t expect strong friendships or relationships without putting any effort into them.
9. Use the library, even if it means waiting weeks for books you're dying to read. It saves money, resources, and space in your apartment.
10. If someone has a leech on her toe that she got while swimming in the Connecticut River and didn’t notice for several hours, grab a lighter and burn it off.
11. Give yourself lots of time alone.
12. Be open to change, even in your wedding vows.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Almost as annoying as the amount of parenting advice out there--not just out there, but falling like volcanic ash where ever new parents happen to be standing--is how unbelievably vague so much of it is. If you're going to follow me around with nonsense about Wally's pants being too short and how I should make sure to wipe his face (should that go before or after making sure he doesn't get hit by a car?) or the fact that he's getting wet (was that not the point of the hippo sprinkler in the playground?) at least aim for a little more consistency than Sarah Palin when giving information that could be of some possible use.
1. Can you drink or can’t you while breastfeeding? I know doctors have to categorically say you can’t so that no one misuses the term moderate drinking like they do every year at the office Christmas party. But whenever I asked about it back in Wally's first year I’d fall into a conversational sinkhole:
(me) Is it okay to drink while breastfeeding, I mean like one beer or whatever?
(friend, coworker, person behind me at ATM, clerk at the liquor store) As long as you’re not pounding cosmos and margaritas.
So it is okay to drink one beer or a glass of wine?
As long as you’re not pounding cosmos and margaritas
Obviously I know that’s not okay. Did I say, "Is it okay to pound cosmos and margaritas while breast feeding?" No. Why are you dancing around being even the slightest bit helpful by ruling out such a ridiculously extreme case? Why can’t anyone just say “Yes, it’s okay. One beer is okay. Yes.”
2. (me): If he only wants to eat on the go, should I let him, or should I enforce "mealtimes"?
(person who clearly needs to look up the definition of "busy") He needs to eat.
(me) Okay, so I should let him eat healthy snacks on the go.
(other person) Make sure he's not picking all day long.
(me) But grazing a little is okay?
(other person) Children should eat what they're given.
When it comes to parenting everyone knows best--especially the people whose children moved to Singapore after college and never came back--but they'll never give you a straight answer. Wally had lots of trouble sleeping on his back as a newborn. When he started to roll over at 2 months I kept asking, is that okay, for him to sleep on his stomach? Well, everyone said, just be sure you always put him to sleep on his back. (Did they mean if he rolled over, that was his problem?) If it was really okay, why couldn’t they leave it at that? It never sounded convincing.
I feel like I'm talking to my high school French teacher. The answer to every student's question was "That's a case by case basis" but she could never think of a case. Everything depended on the speaker. We could never get a yes or a no.
I guess the best advice -- and there are some free spirits out there who've been willing to give it to me-- is do what works. And "what works" can change minute to minute. Some days your toddler will be just fine sharing "cool cars" with other kids in the sandbox and you can keep reading that first sentence of Taming the Spirited Child over and over pretending you're actually getting a little free time. Other days you'll see the "grabby phase"* coming from a mile away, and it's your job to grab him out of there before the monster trucks go flying. When it comes to health and safety, there are hard and fast rules (and surprising ones -- peppermint oil is highly toxic, don't ask me why I know). But when it comes to most of the day to day stuff we agonize over, I haven't found any other way but seeing which situations and patterns and reactions work best (depending on the mood and time of day) and trying to make the greatest number of those happen. And even "what works" doesn't always work. Still, it's a good rule to follow. Harder for me is biting my tongue when the woman in the laundry room says I should cut Wally's hair because it's getting in his eyes.
(“Yes, it’s okay. One beer is okay. Yes.”)
*coined by neighborhood mom Kristin Ames
Monday, June 21, 2010
Sunday, June 20, 2010
We called it the Ladybug Principles because we'd been using ladybug stickers to mark days that we ran on our calendars. We gave the principles lighthearted names to make them easy to remember, but based them on a mix of classical wisdom and modern cognitive-behavioral science. During that summer we ran as much as we could and kept track of what ideas worked and what didn't. We cringed and amused ourselves looking back at a painful early draft where there were about 32 sections all divided into "hurdle" and "solution". Glenn Davis could not have gotten through them all.
When we finished we sent the book out to exactly one agent and one editor. Both gave feedback for how to make it more sell-able. We thanked them, gave their ideas a few moments thought, and moved on to other projects. We took our own advice in many areas but not in the one where we faced the strongest resistance and needed it the most.
Five years later, the manuscript found its way into the hands of a resident at the psychiatric hospital where my dad supervises first year post-docs. She is an actual runner as in she won the New Jersey Marathon, in 90 degree heat. Her main focus this year is to lead a running group as part of the treatment for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. And guess what she's using as her guide? Rules with names like: The Flossing Principle and The Banana Split Corollary. These sections are actually printed in her medical records. A few weeks ago she told my dad, "We're moving onto Johnny Appleseed."
My dad and I keep laughing over the names being taken seriously. Although the truth is, the names themselves are probably not. But the ideas are. And maybe that's the essential point that we were missing, taking them seriously ourselves. We'll put off eating and sleeping and normal human functioning to work 'til the last dog dies for other people's projects, but rarely for our own.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
I met my friend Anne from high school today at a farm close to where we grew up. Anne was a year behind me in school but we worked together at a children’s museum and shared a love of Weezer-before-they-were-famous (and after).**
We only had an hour to spend together between when she could arrive (because of the kids) and I had to leave (because of Wally). Back in high school a rushed visit meant meeting after dinner and getting home before the town curfew of 1 am. This time we talked as fast as possible, in between treasure hunt questions, Wally’s disappearing acts (I am now accustomed to being greeted by strangers with a relieved “There’s your mommy”), requests for water and the like.
Anne asked if I can ever “get out on my own” while I’m visiting. I said not really, except during Wally’s nap and I'm in the middle of several freelance projects now so I use the time to write.
“Can’t your parents watch him for a while?” she asked innocently, as Wally stuck his hands in the chicken cage, gave a goat a kiss on the mouth, climbed up to the top rung of the sheep pen, and jumped on the roped-off hay ride wagon. Within less than a minute she had answered the question herself. Anne had a baby on her hip, a scared-four-year old wandering behind her, and was managing to push along a double stroller.
I made the mistake of saying how calm and well-behaved the girls were and immediately apologized. I hate when people do that, observe a child’s behavior for two minutes and instantly generalize it. We laughed over that tendency people have to collect a little data and, as Anne said, feel they’ve “nailed it.”
“He doesn’t like apple juice.” "She's so easy on long trips." “I guess he’s not interested in animals anymore.” Just because he doesn’t want apple juice right now doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t like it. Aren't there certain things you like that you don't feel like consuming right now?
Plus we can't always assume that a reaction is related to the variable we're focused on. Maybe a boy who loves cows and begged to see them for a week is crying even though he's right there in the barn with all the nice cows. Yes he does like cows--he still does-- but does that mean that when he's in bovine proximity nothing else can bother him at all? Like he can’t have a stomach ache, or be tired from traveling all week, or have really wanted to ride on that hay ride?
There seems to be this propensity for immediately classifying children and expecting consistent behavior. We don't do it with adults in quite the same way. They're not watching the World Series – they must hate sports. He wants to see Toy Story III--he's obsessed with Pixar. We don’t usually go from one incident to global proclamation. But with children we often do, refusing to let them be complex, capricious, impulsive, extreme in their emotions--all things we know they are.
Maybe it’s because they’re such mysterious creatures, seeming to be half human and half spirit, driven by unseen forces. Forces that infuriate--we came all this way for them to have fun and they're just not that into it--and ones that amuse--like the way they get the biggest kick out of the simple orange house cat sleeping in the barn, the way they shriek with delight when it jumps up to a higher haystack, eager to get away from their overzealous petting.
**(We went to see them open for Lush at Axis on Lansdowne Street in the summer of 1994. When we walked up to them afterward to buy t-shirts, they asked how we had heard of them, a question that by September surely wouldn’t have been posed to Tibetan monk.)
Monday, June 14, 2010
My new hero Lenore Skenazy posted my "Free-Range Experiment" on her blog yesterday. (Guest Post: Trust A Stranger at the Park?). One comment in particular has been nagging at me (in a good way). "i am pretty free-range. but, having a stranger, in NYC, saying she could watch my kids, while tempting, is not always the wisest course. Where is Rachel located? NYC is its own animal. I would have suggested the same thing, but I can’t think of many moms who would take me up on it. It all depends, really; it’s not an open/shut case of who is neurotic and who isn’t," (rae liter).
Friday, June 11, 2010
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
When I was five I fell off a jungle gym and cut my forehead, requiring 11 stitches across and 8 down. It was a minor upheaval, an anxious afternoon for my mom. I don’t even think my dad came home early from work. No thought was given to changing anything about the pebble-lined playground; no suggestions about spotting a 5-year-old for tricky climbs and flips (I’d been imitating my 7-year-old sister's penny drop when I dropped without the penny part).
True it was a small injury, one which didn’t call for a lot of soul-searching on anyone’s part but so far as I know no one ever asked—where were the adults? The adults were inside making dinner or writing letters or talking on the phone and folding laundry. They were hugely involved in our lives in all kinds of ways, but they also understood when to step out of the ring. We were allowed to be both seen and heard, and that was a breakthrough in parenting compared to their upbringing, but the fact that they were often neither was nothing remarkable.
Most everyone I know my age has similar stories.
How did a generation raised like this turn into hovering aircraft with our own kids? What’s so perfect about the ubiquitous helicopter metaphor is that it gets at both insidious parts of the phenomenon. Not only are parents today hovering nearby at at all times, taking away every chance for freedom or independence, for minor falls that will teach children to be more careful next time, but oftentimes they're never getting down and actually playing with the kids. Sure they are always around, saying their names, singing their praises, but will they follow them over to some weird, dirty corner of the playground or will they say, “Eli, stay here where I can see you.” You could see Eli over in the weird, dirty corner too, but that would mean you'd either have to let him go by himself or risk getting mud on your Manolo Blahniks and one has to draw the line somewhere.
Why not let the kid explore on his own a little, or else join him in his adventure? What is the point of hanging around buzzing and texting and snapping pictures? “I’m here if you need me, I’m here, I’m here” helicopters seem to say, "but unless you’re in danger, you don’t really need me."
Actually, that’s not true. They do need us. To look at the ladybug they found (not post a picture of them holding it on Facebook). To ride down the slide next to them. To help them push sand into a hole in the sidewalk. They do need us, but not in the way we're telling them to need us.
I love Lenore Skenazy's line: “I tried, but the helicopter parents refused to land."
Let's land the aircraft. Step outside into the sunshine. Breathe the air. For a minute after we cut the engine, the world will seem preternaturally quiet without the blare of the rotor blades. And then we'll start to hear so many other things. Maybe we'll wonder why a little girl is so intrigued by stuffing leaves into her empty snack cup. I’m sure she’d be more than happy to show us why it’s fun. But if we're not interested, we should go sit on a bench and check our BlackBerrys and let her get on with all the exciting things she needs to do.
Saturday, June 12, 2010, Red Hook, NY- Little Creatures Films invites the public to join a magical experience that jumps off the screen aboard the Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge on the Red Hook waterfront at 290 Conover St., Pier 44, from 3-5pm, in support of its upcoming film Spirit Ship.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Thursday, June 3, 2010
"To keep their shape, the jello needs to be primarily solid. As the alcohol content increases, the polymerization of the jello is inhibited such that it becomes more fluid-like. At a critical threshold of alcohol, no solidification occurs. This transition can be measured with a rheometer."
Wally is sleeping under the huge, white comforter he filched from our bed (fits it all in his crib somehow) after a disastrously and inexplicably cranky morning (for him...and for me...).
** (not literally--although two Australians did actually fill a pool with 7,700 gallons of Jell-0 in 1981. Perhaps an attempt to disprove the dessert's famous slogan "There's always room for Jell-O"?)