A wilderness is populous enough

We just moved from a new-construction tract home on a cul de sac to a charmingly rustic and rather remote log cabin in the woods. It's a bit different. Before the subdivision we were in a condo overlooking a major street in the heart of Chicago, so we're on quite the journey here.

My sisters wanted to know whether I chose this house because it looks like the Little House on the Prairie. I was a big Laura Ingalls Wilder fan growing up. Like, a BIG fan. Not the TV show, the books, mind you. Don't give me that TV show bullshit. When I lived in Minnesota I drove up to the museum at Walnut Grove and I was extremely irritated to find it overrun with references to the TV show.

Anyway, my sisters are wrong.

This is obviously the Little House in the Big Woods. I told my husband that I was looking forward to sitting around the woodstove, darning socks while he mends harness. You know, like The Little House in the Big Woods, I said. Because of course everyone is familiar with this, right? "There you go," he said. "You should wrote a book. That's a great title." Sigh.

Living out here means learning all sorts of new things. Like where my trash goes. No trash pickup in the boonies, unless you arrange it yourself. I thought we could just toss a bag of trash in the back of the car every day or so and throw it out in the dumpsters at the grocery store or whatever. Apparently that's illegal? So we're getting some giant trash cans and once a month or so Trent will have to drive them to the dump. "It's $10 for up to 140 pounds," he told me. "Wait, what?" I said. "You have to pay?" He looked at me like I'd just sprouted ass ears.

The thing that appeals to me about hauling our own trash, aside from saving money, even if it's not free, apparently, is it makes me much more aware of the trash I create. There's an old compost heap on the property, and I'm thinking about reviving it. Thing is, composting involves bugs?

Last night I picked up what I thought was a clump of thread from the floor and screeched like a starlet in a horror flick when I realized I was holding a half-dead spider. And at our last house, my single attempt to do something about the planters full of dead plants that were all over the yard a few months after we moved in--I make no admission of liability here, I think they were dead before they ever became our responsibility--was quickly foiled, never to be reattempted, when I stuck a shovel in one and about a hundred earwigs came boiling out. Ugh. I am still shivering at the memory.

So. Yes. To the extent we realize the full possibilities of this property -- vegetable garden! chickens! -- it will be something of a miracle of personal growth for me. Keep your fingers crossed. (But don't hold your breath.)



From Jane Austen's Mansfield Park:
"I am a very matter-of-fact, plain spoken being, and may blunder on the borders of a repartee for half an hour together without striking it out."

From Lionel Trilling's essay, Mansfield Park:
The city bears the brunt of our modern uneasiness about our life. We think of it as being the scene and the cause of the loss of the simple integrity of the spirit--in our dreams of our right true selves we live in the country. This common mode of criticism of our culture is likely to express not merely our dissatisfaction with our particular cultural situation but our dislike of culture itself, or of any culture that is not a folk culture, that is marked by the conflict of interests and the proliferation and conflict of ideas.


Walking the dog

Taken with Instagram using the Hudson filter (I think), plus a yellow filter in PhotoShop. This is Port Angeles taken from Ediz Hook, a natural arm of sand and rocks that curves around the harbor. I am in love with the autumn sunshine.

Commute, continued

The view from the driveway of Nugget's school.


This time I pulled over

Another scene from my commute to Nugget's school. Also taken with Instagram, using the Hudson filter here.


Public Menace

As if I were not already a public menace on the roads, I've taken to playing with my phone's camera while driving. This was taken with the Instagram app using the Kelvin filter. Plus some adjustments in Photoshop at home.


the clear sky of fame

This is what I see as I approach my house on my way back from dropping Nugget at school in the morning. I love my life.

Another thing I love about where I live? My name was in the paper the other day because I passed the Washington bar exam. I was the only person from my town on the pass list. I'm friggin' famous now.


I am a peppercorn, a brewer’s horse

Conversation while driving this afternoon:

Moremadder: Hey, see the construction site over there? 
Nugget: They're building a house?
M: It looks like they're adding onto a church.
N: Not a house?
M: No, I'm pretty sure it's a church.
N: What's a church?
M: (shit) Um ... it's a place where people go to ... be together and ... sing songs and ... um, pray (shit shit don't ask what that is don't ask) ... and, um, talk ... about ... things.
N: Why?
M: Uh .... because, well ... it ... it helps them ... be happy.
N: I'm happy. You happy mommy?
M: Yes, I'm happy. (phew, thank god. Or you know, whatever.)
N: Let's go there sometime.
M: Uh ... to church?
N: Yeah.
M: Sure, we could do that. (shit)


Once more unto the breach

When I launched this journey toward a better balance between career and family in my life (i.e., quit my job), I wrote:
I am firmly opposed to helicopter parenting. And I think when an individual is focusing all of his or her energies on parenting, the helicopter is inevitable. So I hope to find some balance. If you see me writing here about the charts I've created to track my son's development as a percentile of the rest of the population, or the monograph I'm writing on the incidence of allergies among children on an all-organic diet, please call me on it.
That was last December. Last month I started a new blog about my family dinners. It tracks, in exhaust(ing)ive detail, the cost and nutritional value of the dinners I put on our table. My goal is to learn about nutrition and frugality, and hopefully improve at both, and I find that this kind of detailed tracking is often the best way to learn. But ... yes, it is a bit crazy. And ... yes, it is exactly the sort of thing I worried that I would do after quitting my job. So ... hmmm. I'm not going to stop, at least not yet. But it is definitely an indication that my balance has shifted a little too much toward family and away from career.

So I am noting it here, in the place where I purportedly track my career/family balance. Among other things, ahem. Perhaps more "other things" of late. But! I just learned that I passed the Washington bar exam, as I knew I would, unsupportive spouse who worried unnecessarily about my lack of studying aside, and I will soon be sworn in and free (from anti-competitive protectionism) to practice law in the state of Washington, of any and all kinds, without any supervision or guidance at all, oh heaven. Gird, loins! Marshall, courage! Onward!



From Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride:

She's happy he's still alive: women live longer than men and men have weak hearts, sometimes they just keel over, and although she and West aren't old--they're hardly old at all--still, women her age have awakened in the morning to find dead men beside them. Tony does not consider this a morbid thought.
Zenia's ashes were in a sealed metal canister, like a small land-mine. Tony was familiar with such canisters, and they depressed her. They did not have the grandeur of coffins. She thought of the people inside them as having been condensed, like condensed milk.
Small things like good eggs delight him, small things like bad eggs depress him. He's easy to please, but difficult to protect.
But that's what happens when you love someone, thinks Tony. You cheat a little. 
 15 pages in and I've already dog-eared 4 pages. I love this woman. On the other hand, I am beginning to get a sneaking suspicion that I've already read this book, and forgot about it. Granted, my memory in general has more holes than a Chicago street, but still. The ability of a book to stay with me long after I read it is one of my measures of greatness.

Book Review

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness IndustryThe Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book very quickly, and talked about it to anyone who would listen. I was quite wild-eyed in my fascination with it. But my ardor waned as the book went on; ultimately, I'm not sure what I would say if someone asked me what it was all about. It really wandered. And while I enjoyed the journey, by the end I was left feeling kind of empty about it. I'd still recommend it, but I haven't thought about it much since I finished the last page.

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Book Review

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Family, Sixty Acres, and a Family UndoneThis Life Is in Your Hands: One Family, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone by Melissa Coleman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was telling my father-in-law's girlfriend about my current fascination with growing/gathering/raising one's own food (an idle fascination, since I am lazy and have no real desire to labor in a garden or chicken coop), and she told me I should read this book she'd just finished. So she sent it to me. But when I read the flap and realized that the book was also about the accidental death of a three-year-old, well--this mother of a three-year-old wasn't too enthusiastic about reading it. But eventually I did, and I'm glad. I was quickly engrossed, and read it in just a few days. I enjoyed the little tastes of information about organic farming--just enough to learn a little without getting bored, for a non-gardener--and was touched and drawn in by the emotional life of the author's family, which is observed and probed in such insightful detail that it's surprising that the author can write with such objective distance about her parents; and yet there is just enough of the author's own feelings--both sympathy and resentment--to keep it warm. I think Ms. Coleman must have spent a lot of well-used time in therapy to get to the place she's at in this book. I love to read stories that have this sort of spiritually balanced, clear-eyed perspective on the world--not preachy or chirpy or delusional but still positive.

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these trees shall be my books

Hundreds of jellyfish have been populating the waters by our city pier for the last few weeks. Seeing them made me realize that the membership I bought for the Seattle Aquarium was probably unnecessary. Why drive two or three hours to look at sea life in an aquarium when we are surrounded by it out here?

Of course, the aquarium does have much to offer. I took Nugget there last week when my sister was in Seattle for work and--although Nugget is still young enough to prefer the octopus statue he can climb on to the genuine octopus in the tank--I saw and learned a lot.

But I'm accustomed to thinking (citybred elitist that I am) that big cities are cornucopiae of opportunities for enriching exposure, in contrast to the barren wasteland outside them. The jellyfish reminded me that in many cases, cities offer an artificial experience of things that are part of everyday life elsewhere. Without the cost and crowds. Like the farming, port, and logging activities that go on around us all the time where we live now.

Every day we drive by front end loaders stacking logs on the waterfront for cranes to load onto hulking container ships. It's like a small boy paradise here, with trains, trucks, tractors, ships, and planes everywhere we look. One day while walking my dog on the beach, a seaplane landed nearby to drop someone off and then took off again, and then an otter nonchalantly crossed my path. Cities offer air shows and zoos and museums--and don't get me wrong, I miss those--well, not the air shows--but here, everyday life is just as rich.



O! let my books be

The original Borders, in Ann Arbor, Michigan: closed for good.
It is truly terrifying to see this once-loathed behemoth close its doors. I cannot deny that I buy many if not most of my books online -- these days, usually used, from Alibris or Amazon. When I don't just borrow from the library. But there are few things I love more than browsing a bookstore. And while I love the quirky charm and hand-selected editing of an independent bookstore, the behemoths offered many things the independents could not. Like in-store espresso bars, and a generous sprinkling of armchairs and tables where one could sit and read for hours without raising any eyebrows. They replaced libraries in many ways -- and were even better, because you can't drink coffee at the library. This particular Borders, above, was home to many long study sessions during law school. They even let me bring my dog! I have never encountered another business that equaled that hospitality.

The lack of a chain bookstore was one of the few things I reproached of my new, small hometown. I would much rather while away a rainy afternoon with Nugget in the generous children's section of a Borders or Barnes & Noble than at McDonald's Playland. The coffee would be infinitely better, for one thing.

So I mark the passing of Borders with grief, sincerely and deeply. With a tinge of rueful irony; I find myself thinking often of that movie, You've Got Mail. That was just 13 years ago! What will happen in another 13 years?

I'm no Luddite. I understand the appeal of e-books, and I welcome them as an invigorating new medium for literature. I love that the internet has made it possible to find virtually any book you could want, rendering moot the argument that chain bookstores were bad because they homogenized and shrank the range of books available. But I grieve, and I worry. Capitalism rewards the majority, and often, I'm in the minority. A minority that no longer has the luxury to vote with her wallet.



From Lian Hearn's Across the Nightingale Floor:
... and the dogs were mourned by me, at least. I wondered what pact they had made, what fealty they had sworn, to be caught up in the feuds of men, and to pay with their lives. 



From Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test:
"I love the way you talk," one prisoner tells another. There is real tenderness in his voice. "You just let it flow from you as if you own all the words in the world. They're your personal property and you make them dance for you."
There is no evidence that we've been placed on this planet to be especially happy or especially normal.


Speak less than thou knowest

Nugget and I are in the midst of a crazy month of travel to see various family. We got back from San Francisco yesterday and are heading to Chicago on Thursday. Apparently it's a good thing we are traveling so much; I discovered yesterday that my Nugget, now a small-town boy, is in need of a little broadening. We were on a crowded parking shuttle, going from the Seattle airport to the lot where we left our car. It was one of those mini-buses, with seats facing each other around the perimeter. Nugget sat on my lap in a corner seat. Directly in front of us sat twin boys, probably around 8 years old. Their mom was next to me, and their dad and grandma were toward the front. They were black.
Nugget quietly contemplated the little boys for a minute, then said, "Mom?"
I was looking up the ferry schedule on my phone. "Yes?"
"Why those boys have funny hair?"
I froze, afraid to take my eyes off my phone. I could feel everyone on the bus waiting for my answer. I think we were all dying inside, except everyone else got to think, "thank god that question wasn't for me."
"I don't think they have funny hair," I said finally, "I think they have very nice hair. Maybe they think your hair is funny. Do you think so?" Nugget laughed and shook his head.
For being on the spot, I think I didn't do too badly. But the conversation wasn't over.
"Why they have those things on their ears?"
Oh yes. The boys had hearing aids. Because my preschooler wasn't satisfied with stomping his way through one highly sensitive and charged area like a bull in a china shop. We got the twofer.
"Honey, it's not really polite to comment on what other people look like or are wearing." Not a very good answer, but I was done with this conversation. In retrospect, I probably should have just explained what a hearing aid is. Fortunately, the boys' mom came to my rescue.
"They don't mind explaining what those are," she said. She prompted her sons for an explanation, but they apparently minded.
"They're going to have to explain them at school tomorrow," the kids' dad said. Guess my tactless son and I had given the family a practice run for the first day at a new school. Yay us.
Mom gave up on the boys and explained the hearing aids to Nugget. I struggled to come up with a warm and jolly comment to put the whole discussion to bed, but after considering and rejecting inanities like "Isn't that nice!" I just turned to the mom and said, with obvious relief, "Thank you."


O partial sleep!

Trent and I both read bedtime books to Nugget every night, but we trade off responsibility for the ordeal that follows. Getting Nugget to fall asleep generally requires an hour or two of sustained attention. Last night one of us jumped the gun on concluding that the battle had been won for the night, closed Nugget's door and headed downstairs, while the other one was surprised to see Nugget's head poking in the bathroom door while he or she was standing up in the bath to shave his or her bikini line. Without naming any names.

"It's hard to fall asleep, mom." Nugget frequently tells me. And it does look hard. He throws his body here and there and grunts and groans and screws up his face in a grimace of concentration. Nugget was did this even as an infant. He was like a mini WWE wrestler, rebounding from one side of his crib to another with inarticulately macho-sounding grumbling.

As someone who can sleep 12 hours and then immediately take a nap, I can't relate. Maybe this means he will be one of those people who needs only 4 hours of sleep and thus spends the other 20 running circles around the rest of us? I'm not sure whether I want that for him or not.

I am sure that I want him to sleep more easily now, while it's my responsibility. And you know, it feels like a particularly personal failure to be waging and losing a battle over sleep. Me, the queen of sleep. If there was nothing else I could be proud of, that was one talent I always thought I had. is there no end to the humbling of a parent by her child??

Perspiring from the effort


travellers must be content

Since we traded my sweet BigLaw income for a sweet SmallTown lifestyle, I've been dabbling a bit with couponing. Yes, couponing. It never made much sense to me--such a hassle to save 50 cents--and even now with my altered economic landscape that seems like a paltry payoff. But what I had not realized is that there are various strategies that have to be followed that will multiply those 50 cent coupons to a more meaningful amount of savings. So I'm trying it. I even walked around Costco yesterday with my little pricebook, scribbling down the prices of everything I regularly purchase.

But here's the frustrating thing. Couponing really does not lend itself to a nutritious, whole-food lifestyle. When's the last time you saw a coupon for produce? I can think of one. I got a free pound of baby carrots recently. And a free bag of cookies with the same purchase. Really effective coupon shopping requires buying a lot of processed foods, which is not how I like to feed my family. Further evidence that the obesity war is not being fought on a level battlefield.

Those free cookies would have wreaked havoc on my calorie-counting regime this week if I hadn't finally gotten with the program on my long-laid plans to exercise regularly "now that I have time." Yesterday I even went for a 90-minute, mostly uphill hike. Albeit by accident. I set out to do a half-mile loop that is the only trail in the Olympic National Park where dogs are allowed (Peabody Creek), and I somehow got a couple miles up the trail to Hurricane Ridge before I realized that something had gone awry. Perhaps it is a good thing that the dog ban has kept me from doing more hiking.

Fortunately, my balcony offers views like this, no hiking boots (or compass) required:


Ay, kennel, puddle, sink

My dog is driving me crazy at the moment. She will not stop whining and scratching at the glass patio door no matter how many times I tell her that she cannot come in until she is dry. It makes me glad that Nugget is old enough to understand explanations. It hasn't been that long, but I'd already forgotten the daily frustration that goes hand in hand with the cuddly sweetness of babyhood.

The fact that Kiara--the dog (and no, I didn't name her, my Irish-name-obsessed sister did, but it's better than Lelu, which is what her previous family called her. She no longer answers to it. And who could blame her? They were the second family to abandon her before she was a year old. I'd want to forget everything about her life before me too.)--is soaking wet is completely her own fault, and I warned her it would happen, but "I told you so" is not that satisfactory when you say it to a dog. Who turns her head and cocks an ear and then barks again to be let in.

We went for a walk/run on the beach (most of the running was her, but I did run enough to get my heart rate up, which is something, for someone who abandoned her nascent soccer career after one day of practice freshman year of high school because there was too much running) and she insisted on going in the water. I managed to keep her from going in past her knees (which she wanted to do because there was kelp floating out there and she just had to know what it was), and she might have escaped without the full-body bath under a freezing cold hose when we got home if it weren't for this:
The standing water along the path to the beach was so thick with algae that it looked like solid ground. Appealing, right? I'm literally steps from the car and I look back to see where Kiara is, and she is actually going into that algae water. I could not believe it. What goes through that dog's head? I briefly considered making her run alongside the car rather than let her in the car with stinky algae-water dripping from her fur and stinky-algae-mud on her paws. And then I remembered that the back of my car is already covered in sand and dog hair and dried dog drool. Not to mention the toddler crumbs all over the middle seat. Plus the sunscreen that I was wearing on the way to the beach on Sunday, which got all over the front seat and, inexplicably, all over the outside of the car as well. So I loaded Kiara in and reflected that there is something to be said for a dirty car.

The other day when I took Kiara to the vet they told me that there are two boxers up for adoption at the humane society right now. "My husband would kill me," I replied. I went home and told him about it and he said, "No I wouldn't. You can adopt them if you want." My mouth hung open a little, and I wondered whether Trent had forgotten the regularity with which my separation-anxiety-riddled Kiara pees in the house when she's left alone. "You'd just have to move out," he continued. Oh. I guess I'll pass.


Yet, countrymen, O!

Sign outside the local hardware store: "Closed today for Jimmie Bob's funeral." That's a close second for "most obvious sign I'm not in Chicago anymore," right after this front-page headline in our local paper: "Duckling Shot with Blow Gun Recovering" (and the update a few days later, also on the front page: "Injured Duckling Returns Home to Mama"). I love living in a small town. It's especially comforting right now, knowing that if the morons* in Congress send us into default I'll be able to raise chickens in the backyard.

*We need to be fiscally responsible, let's start by not paying our bills ... GOD BLESS AMERICA.



From "Clever Girl" by Tessa Hadley, in the June 6, 2011 New Yorker (I detest this magazine but my husband subscribes, and clips the short stories for me. And I read them, as consolation for the fact that there are stacks of these f---ing magazines creating clutter all over my house. The New Yorker owes me a good f---ing story. Occasionally they deliver. Very occasionally. Pretentious motherf---ers.):

In a reasonable voice, he communicated his warnings about the meanness at the heart of things, which he understood and I, in my childishness, was refusing to acknowledge.
I didn't make the connection that Nor did, between the power of what I read in books in my own time and the outward husk of learning, perfectly functional but not involving, that went on in the classroom.


Yet cease your ire, you angry stars of heaven!

Ah, 33. A very bulbous number, full of lumpy curves. Like a 33-year-old mom who doesn't get enough exercise.

I've been thinking about mortality lately, for reasons other than my birthday, though I suppose it contributed, and it really is most unpleasant. The abstract idea of an "age of innocence" takes on a sharper edge when you get old enough to realize how very innocent you were in the days of youthful immortality.

Funny thing about youthful immortality. It has the effect of making everything look like it's standing still. There you are with your youthful energy raging at the stodgy old world and its standing stillness, when all the while everything is incessantly, unrelentingly changing. And by the time you realize it you'll start to see it not as change but decay, and you'll fight for everything to be the same always and forever.

Today is perfect, in all its dying glory. So was yesterday, though it's now dead. If we're lucky, tomorrow will be perfect too before it goes. Happy Birthday, Anne.


no mean happiness

Lori Gottlieb's article "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy," in The Atlantic Monthly (which had nothing new to say but got lots of press because it's on a subject people love to flog on an on (I wonder if Gottlieb is any relation to a reporter named Gottlieb who writes "stories" for my hometown rag that combine a remarkable lack of content with blatant small-town sensationalism, like "Sequim model shown on Playboy website")) had this one rather interesting paragraph:

“We want our kids to be happy living the life we envision for them—the banker who’s happy, the surgeon who’s happy,” Barry Schwartz, the Swarthmore social scientist, told me, even though those professions “might not actually make them happy.” At least for parents of a certain demographic (and if you’re reading this article, you’re likely among them), “we’re not so happy if our kids work at Walmart but show up each day with a smile on their faces,” Schwartz says. “They’re happy, but we’re not. Even though we say what we want most for our kids is their happiness, and we’ll do everything we can to help them achieve that, it’s unclear where parental happiness ends and our children’s happiness begins.”

(Btw, if you found Gottlieb's article depressing, here's a good antidote from Dr. Laura Markham. (Not that Dr. Laura. This one's an attachment parenting proponent, which I don't altogether agree with, but I find her blog is really useful to keep my parenting focused on my son's needs rather than my own baggage.))

It strikes me that with all the energy this generation is putting into child-rearing, we are missing the obvious.Someone should conduct a study of the childhoods of the world's most successful people, and write a parenting manual based on it. I think it would go something like this:

Chapter 1: Give your child very little attention so that s/he will go to great lengths to earn your love and approval.
Chapter 2: Raise your child in poverty so that s/he will be hungry enough to stay manically focused on amassing wealth.
Chapter 3: Expose your child to violent oppression so that s/he will become passionately dedicated to eradicating it.

Et cetera.


Book Review

Lovejoy: A Year in the Life of an Abortion ClinicLovejoy: A Year in the Life of an Abortion Clinic by Peter Korn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascinating and compelling. I don't read nonfiction unless it's got enough of a narrative to keep me turning the pages, and this one more than fits the bill. More importantly, it's an unblinkingly honest look at what abortion really means, to the women who face that most difficult of choices, and the medical providers who make that choice possible. Including a detailed description of a second-semester abortion that was very, very hard to read--the sort of thing I could imagine encountering in pro-life literature. And yet I think it would be impossible to read this book and walk away thinking women should be denied that choice.

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Book Review

Alias GraceAlias Grace by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

That rare gem: a page-turning plot that makes you think deeply about universal issues, peopled with compellingly flawed characters and rendered in lip-smackingly delicious prose. Highly recommended for anyone. And it would be a great movie. Imdb says it's in development--I hope it gets made.

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most courteous feathers

Last night I watched the three Law & Order: LAs on my DVR and felt like I'd accomplished something. Had I watched three Law & Orders in a row on a TNT marathon I would have felt like a lazy goodfornothing slob, but because they were waiting for me on DVR and I cleared out the queue it felt virtuous. Yet another reason DVR is awesome.
I got Nugget a new Spiderman shirt over the weekend, which blew his little toddler mind, and when he arrived at school on Monday I reminded him that he should show his friends his new shirt--a way to distract him from the fact that I was dropping him off at school and leaving, because dropoff has been difficult since his best friend changed schools.

It worked. He swaggered (seriously. he swaggers. it kills me.) into the other room, holding his sweatshirt open and throwing his chest out. He does the same thing with his Superman and Batman shirts. We could be sitting around eating dinner or something and suddenly he'll yank open his sweatshirt and yell "Supermyaaaan!" Just like that, with the "y" in "myaan."

And it wasn't the first time I'd used his obsession with licensed clothing--Toy Story and Cars are also favorites--to smooth the way at dropoff. Yesterday it occurred to me afterward: am I putting too much emphasis on material things? Does he think he needs a cool new t-shirt every week for kids to like him? And how do the other kids feel about it, that he's always coming in saying look at my cool new shirt or check out my temporary tattoo (yes. those too.)?

So it's started, already. Mostly in my head, probably, but I now know how unprepared I am to watch him navigate the social minefields to come.


is he not stupid*

From the toddler development newsletter produced by Northwestern Memorial Hospital: "Research suggests that a child's vocabulary at 4.5 years of age is the single strongest predictor of overall first-grade achievement." And as we all know, "first grade achievement" is a significant predictor of ... uh ... what? SAT scores? Income level? Risk factors for alzheimer's? Holy shit, I'd better get out the flashcards and start cracking the whip on my Nugget.

*my 200th post!


count them happy that enjoy the sun?

I haven't posted in quite a while, although I have a half-dozen abandoned draft posts in the queue. I'm not sure what or why but I've been avoiding something here. When I start to write I feel that reluctance you feel when you're getting vulnerable and you're not quite ready. For some reason I just don't want to live the examined life right now. MY GOD, what is it I'm hiding in there? What is it that makes me shrink from opening the door to my inner consciousness?? What will I find??? Or maybe I've been reading too much Virginia Woolf.

And now I have a great excuse for any sort of procrastination or avoidance: my study program for the Washington bar has begun in earnest, and I am Buckled. Down. To the blanket spread out on my sun-dappled lawn, with my head resting on a contentedly snoring dog. I'm getting serious, here. Do not disturb.


bread from my royal hand

We went back to the Olympic Game Farm yesterday, this time with Trent. Who insisted on getting bread and feeding the animals. It proved slightly less terrifying than I predicted, but--I am ashamed to admit--I did squeal in fear when a bison stuck his whole enormous head in my window. But that was because he was dripping muddy drool all over me. Ick. Unfortunately, I think Nugget--who was on my lap at the time--now has a serious bison phobia. Oops.

 More genuinely terrifying was when Trent let Nugget steer, while we were driving next to a sharp dropoff. 


like of each thing that in season grows

One of my sisters had a roommate in law school who was unabashed about her intention to marry one of her classmates and stay home with the dozen children she planned to have. She had no apparent intention to actually practice law, and devoted her energies to the social aspects of law school--to the near exclusion of the academic side. People joke about girls getting their "MRS degree," but it was a shock to encounter someone like that in real life. Or perhaps, I should admit, it was shocking to encounter it in my life. This girl had received her bachelor's from a highly-ranked university, and was attending a highly ranked law school that is, moreover, particularly known for the extreme seriousness of its students. I guess the academic snob in me thought MRS degrees were only granted by lesser institutions. At any rate, it is relevant that both schools are private, and very expensive. Surely there are cheaper ways to find a husband.

But now I'm in the interesting position of being married to a man I met in law school, and unemployed by choice. Hmmm. My sister's roommate aside, perhaps many of these supposed JD-gold-diggers are just misunderstood. Maybe they went to law school to practice law, happened to meet someone, and then discovered they wanted or needed to quit the law?

I've had this idea floating around my head lately. Maybe we 21st century ladies are going about this whole thing backwards. Our bodies are best suited to bearing and rearing children in our early twenties--exactly the time when women like me are entering professional schools. By the time we finish school and start building a career, we are approaching use-it-or-lose-it time for childbearing. If we are so inclined, we use it--and then we have small children with very large needs. We scale back the career or put it on hold, and devote ourselves to our children for a while. Several years down the line, the kids don't need us anymore and we're ready to go back to work. But wait! That expensive education we got? That experience we had started to accumulate? It quickly became stale and useless in today's fast-paced world. We have to start from scratch building up a career, and are stigmatized by the years of "doing nothing." That's a familiar story, right?

So wouldn't it make more sense if we had the kids first and launched the career later, skipping the wasted false start? What if that were the norm, and women in their thirties and forties were a familiar sight in the halls of higher learning? What if it were so common for young women to do this that when people met a SAH mom at a cocktail party, they asked about her career plans--like you would a college-aged kid--instead of awkwardly changing the subject from the embarrassing "and what do you do" conversation and excusing themselves to find someone more interesting to talk to?

I know, there are all kinds of problems with this. For one thing, I wasn't sure I wanted kids until I met my husband, and I didn't meet my husband until I was 27 ... and in law school. For another, raising kids generally requires that someone have a decent income, which means that ladies following this plan not only have to know at an early age that they want to have kids before launching their careers, and meet and marry the father of their children early on, but also must make sure he's making enough money to support a single-income, growing family right away. That's a tall order.

Still, for those who can meet those specifications, it would be nice if that path was perceived as more acceptable, and considered along with other options. Generally speaking, I think we rush young people into career decisions without adequate education and discussion about the various options and their consequences.


From Virginia Woolf's Night and Day:
... the old conclusion to which Ralph had come when he left college still held sway in his mind, and tinged his views with the melancholy belief that life for most people compels the exercise of the lower gifts and wastes the precious ones, until it forces us to agree that there is little virtue, as well as little profit, in what once seemed to us the noblest part of our inheritance.
... for whatever people say, I'm sure I shall come back to this wonderful world where one's been so happy and so miserable, where, even now, I seem to see myself stretching out my hands for another present from the great Fairy Tree whose boughs are still hung with enchanting toys, though they are rarer now, perhaps, and between the branches one sees no longer the blue sky, but the stars and the tops of the mountains.
One doesn't know any more, does one? One hasn't any advice to give one's children. One can only hope that they will have the same vision and the same power to believe, without which life would be so meaningless.


What say you to a piece of beef and mustard?

Now that the weather is nice, we've started walking down the street after dinner to see the sunset. This is what happens at the end of the street we live on:

It falls into the ocean.

To flaming youth let virtue be as wax

I can't remember the last time I had an impassioned debate about the definition of happiness and the impossible nature of justice. Sometimes I miss being young.

Are young people more or less interesting than old people? I've generally assumed, even when I was young, that more experience equals more interesting. That seems logical. But lately I've been wondering. There is the Hamlet effect. More experience means more dithering. More uncertainty, more doubt, more fear. Less passion, less energy, less versatility. More responsibility. Responsibility is not very interesting, I'm afraid.

When I was young (I know, I'm not exactly old, but I'm talking about real youth here. I'm no youth. Young men don't look twice before calling me ma'am.), I found it incomprehensible that people could tolerate poverty and injustice in their midst. How could people devote their lives to accumulating wealth instead of fighting the good fight? Adults seemed so complacent. Was that going to happen to me? And here I am -- I'm not voting Republican, but I'm not dedicating my life to eradicating oppression either. And I can understand why people choose to live in a gated community literally and figuratively; focused on protecting their own children from poverty and injustice, even at the expense of wealth and justice for the wider world.

I think I now find it harder to understand how people can devote themselves to a cause. How do they go on picking up the battle standard day after day, in the face of hopelessness and helplessness and doubt? When there are people on the other side of your cause who fervently believe that you are wrong, how do you go on believing that you're right? It seems to me that gets harder as you get older and have more experience with being wrong. Growing up is a lot like being in a photoshop file while someone is adjusting the contrast. Either it gets grayer and grayer until you can't see a damn thing, or you start seeing everything in black and white.



From Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room:
     Had he, then, been nothing? An unanswerable question, since even if it weren’t the habit of the undertaker to close the eyes, the light so soon goes out of them. At first, part of herself; now one of a company, he had merged in the grass, the sloping hillside, the thousand white stones, some slanting, others upright, the decayed wreaths, the crosses of green tin, the narrow yellow paths, and the lilacs that drooped in April, with a scent like that of an invalid’s bedroom, over the churchyard wall. Seabrook was now all that; and when, with her skirt hitched up, feeding the chickens, she heard the bell for service or funeral, that was Seabrook’s voice—the voice of the dead.
     Mrs. Jarvis walked on the moor when she was unhappy, going as far as a certain saucer–shaped hollow, though she always meant to go to a more distant ridge; and there she sat down, and took out the little book hidden beneath her cloak and read a few lines of poetry, and looked about her. She was not very unhappy, and, seeing that she was forty–five, never perhaps would be very unhappy, desperately unhappy that is, and leave her husband, and ruin a good man’s career, as she sometimes threatened.
     Still there is no need to say what risks a clergyman’s wife runs when she walks on the moor. Short, dark, with kindling eyes, a pheasant’s feather in her hat, Mrs. Jarvis was just the sort of woman to lose her faith upon the moors—to confound her God with the universal that is—but she did not lose her faith, did not leave her husband, never read her poem through, and went on walking the moors, looking at the moon behind the elm trees, and feeling as she sat on the grass high above Scarborough...

That is my home

This is a text I received from my husband yesterday: "They're looking for a mountain lion near here so be vigilant if you guys get out of the car when you pick me up." That never happened in Chicago.

Speaking of which, this is where I walked my dog this morning:

And this is where I walked my dog in Chicago:

I was trying to get a picture of our friendly neighborhood rats when I took that picture. Oh, hey! We did have wildlife in Chicago! Not mountain lions, but probably even more hazardous!


Book Review

IvanhoeIvanhoe by Walter Scott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hard to get past the anti-semitism. Scott is incapable of mentioning Isaac "the Jew" without also commenting on his avarice. Literally. Every time. And Isaac is not a minor character--he's in virtually every chapter. On the other hand, Isaac's daughter Rebecca is a great female character. Her Saxon counterpart, Rowena, is quite flat in contrast. Ivanhoe is also pretty flat. There is very little insight into his or Rowena's emotional experience of the events of the book, particularly when you compare them to Isaac and Rebecca. So why am I giving it four stars? Because there are scenes in here that are unparalleled, any of which could alone justify Scott's reputation. E.g., Friar Tuck and Richard Plantagenet stepping carefully--and belligerently--into an acquaintance that quickly leads to a drunken sing-a-long before the altar of St. Dunstan.

View all my reviews

’tis time we were at church

The book that I am working on involves a lot of traditional religious imagery, and one of the thematic concerns I'd been considering was relevance. Practically speaking, I am an atheist, as are many if not most of the people in my life. In my little sphere of over-educated liberals, religion seems irrelevant, and encountering people for whom religion is a very central concern can be a little jarring. So it struck me that for my main character, this religious imagery might feel weirdly anachronistic, and I'd have to address that.

But then I was listening to some This American Life episodes about god and religion* (in other words, I wanted to listen to This American Life, and justified it by finding episodes about god and religion so I could call it research for my book), and was bowled over by this statistic: 83% of Americans say they belong to a religion. I really have a hard time wrapping my mind around that, given how little religion speaks to me these days.

I often wish that it did speak to me. My first year in college, a very desperate and confusing time for me, one of my neighbors in the dorm was a beautifully prototypical Iowa farmboy. He was big and strong and silent and sweet, and very Christian. One day he said to me, in his quietly unassuming way, "I've found that people who don't believe in God tend to be more unhappy." I'm sure I leapt to deny it at the time, but I think now that he is right. There are probably studies that prove it. And I've thought lately, as the depression that has dogged me for more almost 20 years now has been nipping at my heels with extra ferocity, that I could really use some sort of spiritual practice in my life.

I've been meaning to get back into yoga, which I think counts for something, even if it's just alone in my living room on the Wii Fit. (Hey, can you get Morning Vespers and Shabbat for Wii? Hmm ... pretty sure this is a joke.) I even looked into the local Unitarian church, before deciding I just couldn't stomach it. The Unitarians are just too ... hokey. There's no way I could ever find faith in the Catholic dogma I grew up with--I don't think I ever believed in it, despite my Catholic-school immersion--but I do love the solemn doom and bloody gloom of it. That's how a religion should be. More Nosferatu than Raffi. In my opinion.

* Incidentally, if you have never heard any of Julia Sweeney's one-woman show about losing her faith, you must check it out.


how I am punish’d/ With sore distraction

Here is the problem with a home office. No matter how comfortable, organized, or otherwise suited to concentration, it is connected to the rest of the house.

I think ideally a home office should have its own separate entrance. I could come back from dropping Nugget off at school and go in the separate entrance, and imagine that the rest of the house does not exist. No opportunities for a "quick break" to throw in a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, bake a loaf of bread and a dozen muffins, refinish the dining table ... Also no bed upstairs to lay down for "just a catnap."

Of course, just about every office has the mother of all distractions built in. I'll just take a "quick break" to check my email, read my blogs, scan the headlines, browse the sales, indulge my hypochondria ... this is why Jonathan Franzen is brilliant, whatever you may think of his novels:
Franzen works in a rented office that he has stripped of all distractions. He uses a heavy, obsolete Dell laptop from which he has scoured any trace of hearts and solitaire, down to the level of the operating system. Because Franzen believes you can't write serious fiction on a computer that's connected to the Internet, he not only removed the Dell's wireless card but also permanently blocked its Ethernet port. "What you have to do," he explains, "is you plug in an Ethernet cable with superglue, and then you saw off the little head of it." (Time, Aug. 12, 2010)
He actually sawed off the ethernet cable. I love it.


Sweet Home Chicago, the Non-sarcastic version.

Check out Trent's really excellent obituary for his time living in Chicago. I'm trying to think of something to add, as a native, but he was pretty thorough. 


So much against the mettle of your sex

Nugget has become very opinionated about what he wears. I try to let him make his own decisions whenever possible, so I stifle my desire to put him in the preppy little polos I adore. He favors his cousins' old t-shirts featuring characters from Pixar movies. At least he's saving me money.

Of course, there have to be some rules. Appropriateness for the weather is the obvious one. But how much do I let societal norms and expectations dictate what he wears? He would wear pajamas all day or, even better, would go pantless if I let him. I don't. But it bothers me when I deny him something he wants simply because I'm worried about what people will think of me.

Gendered expectations are particularly difficult. They are completely beyond him at this point. One day I took him shopping for clothes at Target. While I begged him to reconsider his complete refusal to consider the plaid flannel mini-lumberjack shirts I coveted on his behalf, he headed for the girls' clothes. "Cute!" he said, pointing to some dresses. I steered him away, feeling simultaneously guilty and ridiculous for feeling guilty.

Another day we were discussing the fact that mommy wears dresses and Nugget does not. "My get bigger, wear dresses." He said. "You can if you want," I told him, "but you know, usually boys don't wear dresses. It's mostly girls who wear dresses." He got upset and insisted that he would wear dresses when he gets bigger. "Okay," I said. I certainly hope that Nugget grows up to be the kind of kid who wears a dress to school because he wants to and doesn't care what anyone thinks. That is the epitome of cool, to me. But it doesn't always work that way in middle school. I'm not looking forward to helping him navigate the social minefield of those years. I've already failed miserably at navigating them myself. I was the worst possible combination: I tried to act like I didn't care what anyone thought, but I did, desperately. I went back and forth between flouting peer pressure and caving to it, usually at the worst possible moment for each.

For the most part I stick to the conservative line of teaching my boy to be a boy, indulging his idolization of Buzz Lightyear and quietly avoiding Dora the Explorer and her pink-themed accessories, and laugh off my guilt as the overwrought liberal intellectualism of a parent who needs to get over herself.


Trent sent me this article from Smithsonian Magazine about how our expectations for what little boys and girls should wear have evolved. Ladies Home Journal advised moms in 1918 to dress their boys in pink: “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

The most interesting part of the article to me was a comment by Jo B. Paoletti, author of the forthcoming book Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. She explained that kids don't become conscious of geneder until 3 or 4 and don't understand that it is permanent until 6 or 7, "[s]o they think, for example, that what makes someone female is having long hair and a dress." I was suddenly proud that Nugget knows that men have penises and women do not.* But I'm still terrified every time he points to someone at the store and identifies them as a man or woman. Aside from the usual concern that he will misidentify someone and thereby cause offense, I worry that he'll decide to explain, in his too-loud toddler voice, what sort of equipment the man or woman has beneath his or her clothing.

* And yes, it has occurred to me that I've defined sex exclusively with reference to a male trait and now he's going to grow up perceiving women as Other. But I think he can wait to learn about vaginas, at least until he's mastered the ABCs.


Thou damned and luxurious mountain goat

I recently read Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson, which is set on an island in the Pacific Northwest in the 1950s. It contains a lot of descriptions of people gathering or growing their own food; fishing, digging clams, growing strawberries, raising chickens, etc.--which, I imagine, was so mmuch more common back then than it is now. For some reason I was really captivated by this, and I've been kind of obsessed with the idea of producing or gathering my own food ever since. And then today I read this article by a woman who was forced by the "Great Recession" to start living a more sustainable life--she went from buying goji berries and espresso at Whole Foods and Starbucks to buying seeds for a vegetable garden with food stamps, and dumpster diving to find fresh produce for her family. I was alternately horrified and shamed in reading it.

Shame or no, I don't think I'll be diving into any dumpsters anytime soon. But I do have half a mind to plant a vegetable garden. Only thing is, I'm really lazy. Producing or gathering one's own food require commitment and work. Also readiness to learn about and understand plant and animal life. And then there's my picky eating habits--hard to live off the earth when you refuse to eat zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, shellfish, and many other gifts of Mother Nature.

I do eat eggs (and willingly pay three times as much for eggs from vegetarian-fed, "free-range" chickens), and I like the idea of harvesting my own eggs from a backyard flock. The main deterrent there is filth. I imagine that chickens relieve themselves, and that it smells, and that someone has to do something about it. I'd rather that someone not be me. So I'll put that one off at least until my son is old enough to shovel chicken poop.

The lady who waxes my eyebrows (see? I can't even wax my own eyebrows) told me yesterday that she and her husband just got some goats. Her husband wants to use them for packing on hikes, she explained. Confused, I imagined a goat strapped to her husband's back. For the fresh milk? I asked, still obsessed with home food production. No, she explained: to carry his stuff. Oh. Goats are good at walking on mountains. Really hope she didn't realize I was picturing her husband carrying the goat up the mountain. Her goats are male. But I could get a female goat if/when we move outside the city limits, I thought. That would be cool. Also has to wait for Nugget to grow into his poop-shoveling duties though.

For now, I think I'll start with an herb garden on my windowsill. If the plants live, maybe I can move up to an outdoor vegetable garden.

Speaking of keeping plants alive, it just occurred to me that I was twice chastised by strangers today with regard to my dog. First for not having her on a leash and then for leaving her in the car while I went in the library (although technically I was not actually chastised for the library thing because I did not respond when the librarian asked "the person who owns the blue station wagon with the dog inside to please come to the front"). I don't believe I was endangering her (or anyone else), but my position also was not all that defensible in either case (thus my decision to slink away rather than argue about it with the librarian while everyone in the library craned their necks to see the abusive dog-owner). In general, unleashed dogs and dogs unattended in cars are a bad idea, I get it. But the encounters left me irritated at the way having responsibility for other beings--kids and pets--makes one particularly vulnerable to criticism for your choices. So maybe I should skip the goats and chickens.

Anyway. I'm off to the grocery store.


Out, damned spot!

Nugget continues to be pitiful about going to school, whimpering to break your heart all the way there about why he can't stay home with me. My certainty that this is what is best for him and for me is unflagging, but that does not make it easy. And while I maintain I do not feel guilty, it should perhaps be noted that when I picked Nugget up today (early), we went straight to Wal-Mart (sigh, shoot me, I know, but this is a small town and I don't have a lot of options, ok?), where I purchased: Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, a Cat in the Hat movie (the one with Wayne Campbell), cinnamon graham goldfish, a goldfish-shaped goldfish dispenser, and whipping cream to put on our strawberries.

And then a dinner that can only be described as trying, except to the extent that it might also be called tedious, reminded me why I don't have what it takes to spend 24/7 with a toddler. It's not that he is a picky eater. God knows I can thank karma for that one. (Hmm. I'm not sure that sentence is consistent, theologically speaking.) It's that he forces us to stand on our heads and juggle to get him to eat even when he likes the food. That's the part that drives me crazy.

To the extent I have any guilt about daycare, I would argue that it is due to my failure to use my free time appropriately, not to the existence of said free time. Even without any napping or novel-reading or tv-watching, today felt unproductive. Yet when I tallied it up like I was billing my time it wasn't a bad day at all. (See? this is why I miss it. Writing down everything you do in 6 or 15 minute increments can be surprisingly satisfying.) I went to the post office and the bank, finally rolled my 401k over, finally canceled my recurring contribution to Chicago's NPR station (plaintively assuring the lady on the phone, who did not care, that I moved and I really do plan to support my local station), finally replied to some week-old emails, researched local estate planning lawyers (finally getting around to a will ...), looked into transferring my vehicle registration (I'm still driving around with Illinois plates; which did prove useful when those people outside the post office with their unbelievably offensive Obama-with-a-Hitler-mustache (this is somehow linked to that ridiculous birther thing? I don't get it) poster didn't bother trying to talk to me; although the growly stinkeye I gave them probably helped), paid bills, created a chart to analyze our household cash flow (that's normal, right?), did laundry, flooded the laundry room twice (ok, three times. but more like two and a half), cleaned the laundry room (not by choice, clearly), and probably a few more things I'm forgetting (and/or are not interesting enough, even for this catalog of domestic minutiae). Here's the thing: I'm not convinced all that would not have gotten done with Nugget in tow. I don't need daycare just for that.

(Did you ever hear that story about the man who came home to find his house a mess and his kids eating cereal? His wife was in bed with a book, and when he asked her what was going on, she said, you know how you asked what I do all day? Today I didn't do it. Yuk yuk, stay-at-home moms work too, and all that. The thing is, families with two parents working outside the home do manage to get along somehow. You find a way to get things done when you have to. Qualitative differences and lifestyle choices aside, I hasten to add.)

Anyway, the point is, I really need to sit my butt in a chair and stare at a computer screen putting words on paper for a few hours every day if I'm going to be able to justify to myself sending Nugget to school. Even on days like today, when it felt like the domestic minutiae awaiting my attention was piled too high to be ignored. (Is it still procrastinating when you procrastinate by doing things you've been procrastinating about?)

It would also help if Nugget would hurry up and realize that other kids are way more fun than I am. Not to mention a dog and a rabbit and an orchard and a pumpkin patch. All I have is a recurringly flooded laundry room. And if you think I'm going to let you put on your rain boots and splash away in there with a toy boat? Hello. I'm your mother. I don't think we've met.


’tis a playing-day

Nugget's first day of school today. I stayed an hour trying to leave without crying (him--not me), eventually gave up and left to the sound of him screaming bloody murder. They called me 20 minutes later and I feared the worst but they were only calling to say he was fine.

They seem to really stress independence at his new school, either it's a Montessori thing or the teachers are lazy. I like it, but I'm worried about Nugget getting up to speed. For all my talk about stressing independent thinking, I guess I enable him a bit with things like cleaning up after himself. On the other hand, he appears to be the youngest kid at the school by quite a bit. The oldest is 5 and 3/4, as she solemnly told me, and seems very old indeed.

I am incredibly impressed by the kids, they were all so kind and polite. One asked Nugget if he could give him a hug, and when Nugget just turned his face away the kid gave him a kiss instead. So cute. The kids were asking whether Nugget talks yet and why he is so shy, but I guess he opened up a bit after I left. Funny how that works. He was never going to relax and enjoy it as long as I was there.

Last night I was as nervous as if it was my first day at a new school. Which I guess it is in a way. When I expressed surprise about that to Trent, he said of course, and he felt the same way when Nugget first started at his old school in Chicago. But for Trent there was guilt about taking Nugget to school, and I don't share that at all. I am quite comfortable that Nugget is better off going to a nice school with nice kids where they will teach him to be a good Communist and all that, instead of staying home in isolation with me and my amateur attempts at early childhood education, interspersed with ignoring him to sneak in some emails or cook dinner or whatever.

Mostly what I felt as I drove away was worry, because he was still so scared and upset when I left. It occurred to me that I never really experienced this at his old school because I didn't really ever do dropoff until he'd already been there a long time and I could feel confident that he would settle in and enjoy his day at school even if he cried when I left. It's the privilege of the working parent to be shielded from that sort of thing. But fortunately the new school called to tell me that he was making friends, so I need have no qualms on his account. Besides which I have the reassuring thought that he settled in just fine at his old school, and he will find his place again. For myself, it feels weird to be without him, a little empty and sad and scary. But also very freeing.

sweet villain!

Nugget has had two very bad and very public meltdowns in the last two days. Yesterday, in the airport on our way home from a visit to my mom, Nugget started to head into the men's room. "Be right back," he told me, holding up one finger. I reacted quickly, shouting no and grabbing him. Which caused him to shout "no!" back and start hitting me. He had a metal toy airplane in his hand, which he used to hit me in the face before throwing it across the broad and busy hall of the concourse. He continued screaming and hitting me in the face while someone kindly brought me the toy plane he'd thrown. All this took place right next to our gate, in full view of the planeful of people about to board the plane with us for a six-hour flight. In a nutshell, it sucked.

Today he lost it at Costco because I put the green beans in the cart myself instead of letting him do it. When the tantrum started, I told him we were going to have to leave the store, and when the tantrum didn't stop, I abandoned my cart and started to follow through on the threat, as the toddler manuals tell you to do. Then it occurred to me that this made no sense. We drove 15 miles to Costco, and I really needed to get my shopping done. Nugget couldn't care less whether we left or not--he was probably happier to go home. So why would I put myself out to punish him, when he didn't care? So I turned back--yes, I didn't follow through on my threat, bad mommy--and said good riddance to that little bit of parenting lore.

The rational parent in me isn't too concerned, and attributes these tantrums to yesterday's long day of travel and the transition from Eastern to Pacific time, aside from the usual mercurial willfulness of a toddler, with a genetically-fueled extra helping of stubbornness. But the human being in me was upset about being hit--in the face with a sharp-edged metal plane, no less--and yelled at by my son, in full view of many strangers. I was upset about it, and it was hard not to let that dictate my response to Nugget. It's hard to keep my focus on long-term parenting goals in the face of present discomfort, especially--as I wrote recently for Babble--when I can't be sure that the course I've mapped to those goals isn't completely misguided.

I don't put my faith in the old saw that if you love 'em, it'll sort itself out. There are plenty of parents who put their kids in therapy with only the best of loving intentions. Just look at Amy Chua. On the other hand, I seem to be blessed with a naturally good kid. As I tell him when I say good night, "you're the best." For now, he says it right back. "You the best too, mommy."



From Jill McCorkle's PS, in The Best American Short Stories 2011:
If I had your job [as a couples therapist] I might ask a person: If a nuclear disaster occurred, and you had to live out those final painful days just stretched out somewhere thinking about your life--This is who I am. This is what I love. This is what I believe--who would you want hearing your whispers?

From Kevin Moffett's Further Interpretations of Real Life Events, ibid.:
A story needs to sing like a wound.

From Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities
That honest tradesman's manner of receiving the look, did not inspire confidence; he changed the leg on which he rested, as often as if he had fifty of those limbs, and were trying them all; he examined his finger-nails with a very questionable closeness of attention; and whenever Mr. Lorry's eye caught his, he was taken with that peculiar kind of short cough requiring the hollow of a hand before it, which is seldom, if ever, known to be an infirmity attendant on perfect openness of character.



From Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities:
A WONDERFUL FACT to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life's end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?

He was a man of about sixty, handsomely dressed, haughty in manner, and with a face like a fine mask. A face of a transparent paleness; every feature in it clearly defined; one set expression on it. The nose, beautifully formed otherwise, was very slightly pinched at the top of each nostril. In those two compressions, or dints, the only little change that the face ever showed, resided. They persisted in changing colour sometimes, and they would be occasionally dilated and contracted by something like a faint pulsation; then, they gave a look of treachery, and cruelty, to the whole countenance. Examined with attention, its capacity of helping such a look was to be found in the line of the mouth, and the lines of the orbits of the eyes, being much too horizontal and thin; still, in the effect of the face made, it was a handsome face, and a remarkable one.


thou hast cleft my heart in twain

Nugget and I are spending a few weeks at my mom's beach house to get some quality time with "G-Ma." I've been taking advantage of the extra caregivers in the house to work on a brief that's due tomorrow. Last night I was up late working on it when I heard "Mommy!" wailed pitifully from upstairs. I ran up and gave Nugget the glass of water he wanted, got him back to sleep, and returned to my brief. It was a welcome interruption, and not just because I was procrastinating. There is something about that cry of mommy in the night that gives me a rush. Nugget has complete trust that if he calls out for me I will appear from somewhere and make things right. That should be terrifying, but somehow it's inspiring.

Update: Right after I posted this I thought I heard Nugget call me so I went running upstairs. When I got there he said, "No, not you. My calling G-Ma!" So much for my lofty musings.


what visions have I seen!

I have awesome dreams with some frequency. No, not that kind. These dreams are like a really good thriller/action movie, full of suspense and amazement. I'm not kidding, they are really good. Upon closer examination they might not make much sense, but there is more linear narrative than a David Lynch movie. If only, it has occurred to me, there were some way to record a dream. I could become a famous dream author, and all I would have to do is sleep.


every thing that grows/ Holds in perfection but a little moment

I don't know why they call it the terrible twos. The magic of this moment between babyhood and big kid takes my breath away every single day. I can still scoop him up and rest my lips on a fat baby-soft cheek, but when I say "I love you honey!" he can say "I love you honey!" right back and make me laugh. It's the best of all worlds.


Then the whining school-boy

We put down a deposit on a daycare slot for Nugget today, and I have mixed feelings about it.

The timing is exactly what I had originally projected: about 3 months of hanging out full-time before finding childcare here. I definitely feel the need for it. I have several projects in motion or on back burners right now and it has been really difficult to find time to work. I'm not the sort of parent who thinks she needs to be down on the floor playing with the kid every second, but even if I try to sneak in some time working while he's playing in the same room, it's hard to be very productive and thoughtful when you've got one eye and/or ear alert for the sounds (or silence) of distress (or trouble). So I do want this, and I think the timing is right.

But. I kind of feel like I'm getting a new boss after working independently for a while. Suddenly I might have to defend our decision not to push the potty-training yet, for example. We're not the only people responsible for Nugget now, and the newcomers have a thousand times more experience and education.

Worst of all, we are going to have a schedule imposed on us. Nugget will need to be at daycare in time for 8:30 am circle time because that's when the "jobs" for the morning get distributed. (It's a  Montessori school--they make it sound like a Protestant workhouse to disguise the fact that they're a bunch of communists.) At the moment we wake up at 8 and lay in bed for an hour watching Curious George and Cat in the Hat before going downstairs to eat a leisurely breakfast while watching Super Why and Dinosaur Train and Sid the Science Kid. (Shut up, it's not TV if it's on PBS. Also, Sid the Science Kid  is really f-ing good. I haven't absorbed this much science since "Chemistry to Biochemistry" ruined my college GPA.)

Despite the volume of TV-watching going on, I also freak out a little when I look at the hours for full-time daycare. Do I really want to give up all that time with him??!! And then my rational voice says: yes, you do. I need that time for my work, and I will still have plenty of time with Nugget. Quality time, because I won't be giving him my partial attention while I try to sneak in some emails, and because I won't be so drunk on the knowledge that we have all the time in the world together that I let us piss away 2.5 hours in our pajamas every morning.

So yes, some concerns and reservations about daycare, most of them irrational and/or indefensible.

Nugget has also displayed mixed feelings about going back to daycare. Sometimes when I talked to him about going to "school" he'd say "no, I want to stay here with you." Other times he'd talk about missing his teachers and friends at his old daycare in Chicago, or would point out the kids playing outside a daycare we frequently drive by and ask, "my go there?" But as time has gone by, he has seemed more and more ready to get back to school. When we visited daycare centers this week, he cried when we left. I thought that was a good sign.

We got incredibly lucky with the daycare we visited today. They just expanded from 12 to 15 kids, and we snatched up the last of the three new slots. Their new facility boasts an orchard of apple and cherry trees and they are planning to put in a garden with a pumpkin patch. It's like preschool heaven. No wonder Nugget didn't want to leave.

Of course, he also didn't want to leave the place we visited on Monday, which was filthy, was run by people without teeth, and only had "preschool" two days a week. What do the kids do the other three days they're there? It's "just daycare," I was told, like I asked a stupid question. Is it just because I'm a yuppie that I think daycare should have a curriculum? (Does anyone use the word "yuppie" anymore? What do you call  overprivileged, pretentious, and hypereducated people like me these days?)

Anyway, just 5 more days to call myself a SAHM. I'm not sure if that means we should spend less time in our pajamas, or more.


sound and fury

All through the years that everyone asks you what you're going to be when you grow up, I thought I was going to be an English professor. My last year of college, I took the GREs and read up on PhD programs. Then I realized that I like books too much to study them for a living. I didn't want to read from a critical distance. (I don't regret that I didn't pursue that path, but in writing that last sentence I just realized that I'm not sure I agree with my younger self on that point anymore. At least if I had been an English professor I would have gotten to read literature all the time; as a lawyer I never had time to read literature, and it hurt.)

Once I'd decided not to be a professor, I was at a loss. I actually used the phrase "existential crisis" to describe how I felt, without irony. The path to be an English professor was well-mapped, and there were reassuring plaudits at each stage: grades and test scores and recommendations and awards and other stamps of approval from comfortingly elite institutions. Leaving that path forced me to ask myself what I wanted out of my life, which is another way of saying, what is the meaning of life? It's a big question that most people can't answer, and confronting it directly feels empty, and lonely.

For lack of any other ideas about what to do with a BA in English, I went into book publishing, and a few years later ended up in law school. I'm eliding a lot here, but it's not my intent to tell the story of my life here.

The point is, the way I feel right now about my life and career feels very similar to how I felt when I graduated from college. The pretentious and melodramatic phrase "existential crisis" is once again inescapably apt.

At times it leads me to ask, "what have I done?" I left a job that I enjoyed and at which I was pretty good, and now I feel adrift. But I also know that my satisfyingly high-powered job did not shield me from existential crises. It kept me too busy to dwell on it much, but I still felt like I was wasting my life on something that did not in the end matter to me very much. Which is exactly why I left. That and the needs of my family. It's one thing to waste your life on something you don't care about; it's another to see your family making sacrifices so that you can do it.



From an article about Billy Ray Cyrus by some idiot at GQ:

One of the freedoms you can find away from the nation's coasts is freedom from the curse of trying to be cool ...



From Bert Holldobler's & Edward O. Wilson's Journey to the Ants:
In our view, the competitive edge that led to the rise of the ants as a world-dominant group is their highly developed, self-sacrificial colonial existence. It would appear that socialism really works under some circumstances. Karl Marx just had the wrong species.
(What is dogeared?)


roaring for a chamber-pot

Warning: Readers without children may want to skip this post.

So I really didn't want to start potty-training, as I've mentioned, but Nugget has seemed very ready for a while so I felt like I should. I guess I have to reevaluate what constitutes readiness.

We went all out on potty training starting this morning, and in the less than four hours it took me to give up, Nugget went through six pairs of underwear, including one that I threw away (I know it's not ecologically or economically sound, but there's a reason I didn't do cloth diapering. I'm just not willing to go there.) and Nugget did not earn a single sticker.

I really tried to stick with it, even after I repeatedly asked him to be very specific about whether he had to poop or had already pooped, and, with his full assurance that he had not pooped, I pulled down his pants and poop fell out.

The final straw was after I cleaned him up from that little incident, and I asked him over and over again whether he wanted to sit on the potty before putting clean underwear on; he said no, no, he didn't have to pee, so I foolishly listened to him and put clean underwear on. Whereupon he immediately told me he had to pee. Whereupon I discovered he had in fact already peed. In the underwear that had been on him for less than two minutes.

This is why I am not ready to potty train. Not because I don't want my baby to grow up. Nugget will always be my baby, even when he doesn't need me to clean up his poop. Even (sigh) when he does need me to clean up his poop.