Kate

July 15, 2008

The tooth fairy dusts off her wand...

Tooth_fairyMy son is over six and a half. A cautious child, he's in no rush to grow up. That's why when his front teeth started getting loose a couple of months ago, he just left them alone.  Oh, he would touch them gingerly now and then, but not much more.

They started to look a little strange.  As I helped him brush his teeth, I could clearly see the new teeth coming in, although the old, baby teeth tried hard to stick around.  By the end they were sticking out at an odd angle, and my husband and I had started to give one another those eyebrows-raised parent looks. 

"When I was a kid," I said, "I knew a kid who tied a string to his tooth and slammed the door to pull it out!"  My husband was shocked.  "Leave him alone," he said.  "It will happen."  And it did.

Continue reading "The tooth fairy dusts off her wand..." »

July 04, 2008

A thanks to the firefighters

Big_sur Big Sur is burning.

For those of you who are not Northern Californians, Big Sur is one of the most beautiful spots in Northern California.  It is known as a beautiful place for hiking and nature-loving.  It's also known as a spiritual center of sorts, populated by the Esalen institute and by many people who are seekers: from new-age and traditional to just  offbeat cerebral.  A rich place, in culture and art. The guys at 71miles.com have a great page on Big Sur - check out the video.

Big Sur harbors many stories, as well. The Nepenthe restaurant is located on the site of a house that was purchased by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.  Many books have been written about the area, and it harbors some of the most lovely hotel experiences in California - and the nicest lunch spot.

Continue reading "A thanks to the firefighters" »

June 30, 2008

Mouse Trauma

Farm_2 I think I'm losing my touch.  You see, I was raised on a farm and in the mountains, and even though I've now been in the Palo Alto area forever, I still (in what feels like my DNA) harbor "country girl" memories.  Stuff like the time that mom shot a rattlesnake by the front porch, or having to help birth a calf, and so forth.  Memories like that, juxtaposed with my raised-in-NY husband's domestic squeamishness (OK, I won't go there), make me feel positively "butch" in the 'burbs.  Well,  most of the time.

But I have been vanquished.  By a common mouse.

Three days ago, I opened our bread drawer to see the unmistakable signs of mousedom.  Someone -- some THING -- had eaten its way through the plastic and nibbled on the heel end of a loaf of bread.  Something had crunched its way through the corner of a pretzel bag.  Horrors!  Nasty little live creatures in my DRAWERS.

Continue reading " Mouse Trauma" »

February 11, 2008

Still tied? I finally decided to vote for Obama.

(This was originally posted on Tuesday, February 5th - Super Tuesday)

Obama_sc_04_01_2007731285I didn't decide who to vote for until last night.

Oh, it was on my mind, but like many Democrats, I'm just hoping that the Democrats win, and that we can kick out the dirty thieving, lying, give-our-country-to-big-business sleazy opportunists that have been in control for the past 8 years and oh, excuse me ... was I going off on a rant?

Seriously, I haven't had much to do with politics in the past few years because if I did, I'd have to go on antidepressants.

I'm female.  I'm actually kind of middle-aged now (over 45) although I hear that we count age in something like dog-years here in California so I should still feel young.  But I have been in the silicon valley since 1980, have watched women in business for the last 27 years, and I am familiar with their strides and their struggles.

Continue reading "Still tied? I finally decided to vote for Obama." »

February 03, 2008

A Small Silicon Valley Moment

KateI met her at the park. Her two kids - a boy and a girl - were playing in the park and immediately started talking with and playing with my son.  Although I had started out on a remote bench, I moved over to hers once it was established that the kids loved one another and were having a hilatious time.  And we chatted.

She looked really nice.  Dynamic, fun, intense. She was working on a nonprofit project that is near and dear to my heart.  Or something like that.  I really cannot go into details here. 

...I mean, I REALLY cannot go into details.  Understand that it wasn't a park. I made that up.  If I really want to tell the truth (to the blogosphere), I have to say that "I met this woman, see?" and leave it there.

So why am I telling you this? 

Continue reading "A Small Silicon Valley Moment" »

December 12, 2007

First-Generation Good Parents

OzzieSometimes friends tell you the darndest things.  And the stuff that really matters usually comes months, or perhaps years into a friendship, in the stolen parental talk-moments at the park, on the phone, when the kids are in the other room and you're sitting with a cup of tea, or over dinner with adults.

My childhood had its difficult parts.  Suffice it to say that when I started watching the reality show about Ozzie Osborne, next to my upbringing the family seemed a little Ozzie and Harriet to me. I mean they loved one another, Dad worked (kind of), mom had pets and stayed at home (um, kind of), and they talked.  It was sweet.  (Note that, in retrospect, this observation seems a bit ... off.  My husband thought that I was insane, but it's all a matter of perspective.  (It helps to be an inveterate Pollyanna.)

In conversations with my friends, I have heard of terrible things that parents have done to children:

Continue reading "First-Generation Good Parents" »

December 11, 2007

The God Problem

1_2I have a God problem.  It's like an oily, bitter taste in my mouth -- a fundamentalist hangover, if you will, and I got it from the Bush Administration.  I thought about it because in a nice little talk about Thanksgiving, my consciousness, at the mention of "giving thanks" gave a huge shudder and skittered away -- just like a group of Republicans at a discussion of controlling, say, automatic weapons.

This saddens me.  Although many terrible things have been done in the name of God (and some really good movies too), I know many "people of God."  One of my best friends is a Catholic Priest, for heaven's sake!  And I number several other ministers in my groups of friends.  All are caring, devoted people, and for all, the word of God is a good word, a kind word. A way for people to show that they care for one another in the world, and a conduit by which people can live out their shared values, including charity, caring, and making space for others who are less fortunate.

So what's the problem? 

Continue reading "The God Problem" »

November 26, 2007

Kate's Yearly Pillsbury Warning Letter for Peanut Allergics

72682860_9d0cdbc3cb The baking has started.  We invited a friend over on Saturday to play and I tossed out the casual "we're baking cookies, if you want to."  The kid jumped at it.  It's easy to forget how much little boys like to make cookies.  Correction: how much KIDS like to make cookies.  What fun!

Last year, in the middle of baking cookies, I got tired of using my Yuppie Martha Stewart sugar cookie dough, so I bought some at Safeway. And was shocked to see that some of the Pillsbury cookie dough contains peanuts. Let me repeat: Some of the store-bought sugar cookie dough contains peanuts.  It's not made on machinery that also touches peanuts. It contains genuine peanut flour.  Why?  who one earth knows.

If your child has a peanut allergy, this is a REMINDER. In case you have let down your guard, and in case you let simple logic direct you (e.g. “it’s a sugar cookie. Those contain butter or shortening/sugar/eggs  

Continue reading "Kate's Yearly Pillsbury Warning Letter for Peanut Allergics" »

November 19, 2007

Burn her! She has a NANNY!

Burning_manRight now fur is flying because Pamela wrote a post about firing her nanny.  I'm not sure how it reads if you don't know Pamela at all, but as someone who does know her, the post was about personal growth, about learning to take the reins more in parenting, about weighing the benefits and disadvantages of a breakup, and deciding that you would really miss someone, but that you realized that it was time for you to stand alone.  In short, the post was about life.

Except... Pamela has a nanny.  So (let me get this right), she has GOT to be an entitled be-yatch, who probably steps all over the other mommies in her designer shoes while trying to dash out of her chauffeur-driven car and get some designer cream for the baby.  Or something like that.  Do I have it right?  In short:  Stay at home mom with a nanny = terrible, nasty person who must be badmouthed and shunned by other women.

Boy does our culture suck. 

 

Continue reading "Burn her! She has a NANNY!" »

New Gift for your Mother: A Genome Kit!

I am a WASP.  (White Anglo Saxon Protestant.)  At times I have argued in favor of being called a WASA (sub "agnostic" for the Protestant), but the lineage remains the same:  I am descended from hordes of light-skinned, sun-challenged people, many of whom probably have depressive tendencies, lack a predisposition to "let loose" in public, and like to lounge around the sidelines socially, cracking jokes and quaffing alcoholic beverages.  The wildest bunch is the Norwegian relatives, although if you've ever been privy to any of the Lutheran joke websites, you'll just roll your eyes at that one.

I tell you this because, while I am tempted to generalize and say that MANY mothers in their fifties like to work on the family tree and genealogy-type stuff, my husband has admonished me clearly about this.  "In my (Jewish) family," he said, we don't HAVE a family tree.  They were all killed.

Stops me cold, every time.

But a part of me still has a sneaking theory that family-tree research is a type of late-life nesting activity in older women.  Perhaps from the hind brain?  Something uncontrollable, like small animals digging nests

Continue reading "New Gift for your Mother: A Genome Kit! " »

November 18, 2007

Sticker incompetence

StickersJust the other day on my "core" mother's list (which is virtual, incidentally, and I love it like that), I asked for advice.  My son is starting to argue with me.  He's not done it up until now (I'm lucky, actually), but with his newfound "first grade-front-tooth-lost-reading-boy" power levels, I think that he feels just about equal to mommy, and I'm now getting a flurry of static when I talk with him.

A lot of the stuff he just didn't understant at first.  Like "Oh Yeah" is not a response for mommy.  But I've nicely let him know this (several times), and we're working through it.

Last night, however, the talking back got to me.

Rather than start a new family tradition (e.g. mommy opens a bottle of chianti, pours a glass, and THEN starts helping with homework), I pulled myself back and started to plan.

Continue reading "Sticker incompetence" »

November 16, 2007

My Dream Holiday Event: The Dance-Along Nutcracker

NutThe recent (and oddly anonymous) posting on the Nutcracker made me think of our own Nutcracker experiences.  When my son was 1 year old, I drove up to San Francisco and took him to his first Nutcracker performance: a matinee in San Francisco.  We used the standing room only seats, and stayed for a good 1/2 hour.  I was proud of him.  The Nutcracker, after all, was a huge part of my life when I was a little girl, and I was happy to be able to share it with my son.

Time passed, and my son didn't quite develop the same fixation on tutus, tulle, and toe slippers that I had enjoyed as a small child.  Yes, he loved wands.  He did want to be a witch for a while, and I remember defending his choice to a garrulous old sexist outside of Bloomingdales one day when he tried to tell my kid that he couldn't be a witch because he was a boy (hmmph).

Then I heard about an event called "Dance-Along Nutcracker."   Here's a description from past years:

Continue reading "My Dream Holiday Event: The Dance-Along Nutcracker" »

November 15, 2007

Start your holiday season out right - impeach Cheney!

DickHello there, everyone!  Beautiful days we're having, aren't they?  The leaves falling off of the trees, the sound of children's laughter carrying in the wind.  We're starting to get our holiday ornament boxes out of the garage, and I was thrilled to death to get a forwarded email from a friend today, telling me about a new movement.

Have you heard?  There's a story out saying that Nancy Pelosi, in response to a question, said that she would put Cheney's impeachment on the table IF she gets 10,000 hand-written letters.

Hot stuff!  I am going to use my "kitten and doggy" paper and will send my note out today.

Of course one of the readers on Digg said that the rumor isn't even remotely true.  He said that he called Pelosi's office and they denied it.  Darn.

Here's something interesting, though.  Pelosi's website doesn't even mention it.  Daily Kos says it's true, and cites the Freep report. The Freep report contains a letter from Cindy Sheehan, asking that the letters be sent to HER so that she can count them!  Curioser and curioser...

Continue reading "Start your holiday season out right - impeach Cheney!" »

November 05, 2007

Why aren't more people asking us to donate money for Tabasco Flood Relief?

Flooding 'This is not just the worst natural catastrophe in the state's history but, I would venture to say, one of the worst in the recent history of the country,' Mexican President Felipe Calderon, talking about the flood in Tabasco, Mexico.

BBC News: More than one million people are believed to be affected, with 300,000 thought to be trapped in their homes and more rain forecast in coming days.

Mexico_3Hi there, people of the silicon valley and web!  Today, I have a question for you.  Do you have a housekeeper, a gardener, a babysitter or nanny, or another house worker who is from Mexico?  Have you ever been waited on, had your food cooked by, or your table bussed by someone from Mexico?  If you're a mom, have you had some of the Mexican people, with their lovely, child-supportive culture, give you kind looks and a helping hand when your WASPy neighbors were ignoring you?  Have you or your children derived benefit from the added dimension that our overlay of Mexican culture in California gives you - in any way?

OK, now tell me this.  Have you reached into your pockets and sent money to the people of Tabasco, currently reeling from one of the biggest catastrophes to happen to Mexico in years?

Me either.

Why is this?

Today on the radio, I heard a statement that  went straight to my heart.  "Please ask the people of the world to turn their eyes onto Tabasco," the man said.  It made me think.  I haven't heard any news of local moms holding bake sales to benefit the people of Tabasco, Mexico, and I haven't seen any mails sent out in my email groups about how to help.  Nobody has made it easy for me to just Paypal dollars, you know?

Continue reading "Why aren't more people asking us to donate money for Tabasco Flood Relief?" »

November 04, 2007

Cross-cultural reading lessons: "Is Mimi Dead?"

My child goes to a small German immersion school in Palo Alto. We love it.  Since my child started going to this school, my white-hot incendiary posts about nasty school pressures have dropped off.   It's awesome.  The people are normal.  They are pleasant.  And they are sane.

Nothing comes without a price, and our price is the immersion German.  German is one of those contortionist languages.  You can rattle along, throw a whole sentence together, sound just great, and then -- bang! You're at the end of the sentence and you have NO idea which verb to use.  It takes some work.

In the Vorschule (Kindergarten) classroom last year, they very sanely taught no writing or math.  Instead, following the IBO program, they had six units where they did things like set up, decorate, and run a store; learn about Monet, Picasso, and Hundertwasser by painting and making cardboard-box sculptures; plan and put on a play; design, plant, and tend their own garden in groups; and so forth. 

Continue reading "Cross-cultural reading lessons: "Is Mimi Dead?"" »

October 16, 2007

Another Romantic Anniversary

Kate Last night was our anniversary.  We were supposed to go and spend a week at the Puerto Vallarta Four Seasons, but my husband's company is going gangbusters and as founder, it's not a politic time for him to leave, so we stayed home.  Unfortunately, my son had this week off of school, and all of his friends were either traveling or in school, so it was a bit lonely for him.  (And since we'd cancelled the trip at the last minute, I didn't have time to organize any kid events for him, poor thing.)

But we stayed home and did fun, low-key family stuff.  I planned to take the family down to Monterey for a couple of nights this weekend, as kind of a mini-trip, but we couldn't do that either, darn it.

On Friday, I was walking with my son as he scootered through Palo Alto, and as we walked by a restaurant, I got a great idea. Hey! I could actually make a reservation.  And then I could have someone watch my child and we could go to dinner for our anniversary!  Wow.  You know, after seven years, you'd think I would have this down.

Continue reading "Another Romantic Anniversary" »

October 05, 2007

The tooth fairy dusts off her wand

Toothfairy My son is over six and a half. A cautious child, he's in no rush to grow up. That's why when his front teeth started getting loose a couple of months ago, he just left them alone.  Oh, he would touch them gingerly now and then, but not much more.

They started to look a little strange.  As I helped him brush his teeth, I could clearly see the new teeth coming in, although the old, baby teeth tried hard to stick around.  By the end they were sticking out at an odd angle, and my husband and I had started to give one another those eyebrows-raised parent looks. 

"When I was a kid," I said, "I knew a kid who tied a string to his tooth and slammed the door to pull it out!"  My husband was shocked. "Leave him alone," he said.  "It will happen."  And it did.

A week ago, the first tooth fell out. With fanfare, the tooth fairy brought a small red glass heart and

Continue reading "The tooth fairy dusts off her wand" »

September 07, 2007

Menlo Park Experience #486: The Neighborhood Harridan

Cat_5Tonight my son and I were over visiting the uber-yupster grocery store in Menlo Park, Draegers.  We stopped upstairs first, so that mommy could look at plates and creamers.  After all, Draegers is where we registered for our wedding! (Honest.)  We looked at the birthday things, checked out the sale rack, and then headed down to get our groceries.

It was a short jaunt. Only around one bag, so probably around what, sixty to a hundred dollars?  (This place amazes me.)

At the very end, I stopped in the vegetable section to get some broccoli.  For all of this time, my son had been right at my cart, playing happily.  (He stops at the plastic bag station, helps himself to about four ties, makes a small toy, and is happy as a clam.)  He was standing about five feet away from me -- standing, mind you (significant for a seven year old) -- playing "rocket."  It went like this:  "shhhhhwwwwwww, rrrrrrrmmmmmmmm, nnnnnneeeeeeeeewwwwww" with a little high pitch at the end.  Nothing wierd.  No yelling, twitching, kicking, rattling, car-riding, throwing, tapping, or crinkling. No raised voices.

Continue reading "Menlo Park Experience #486: The Neighborhood Harridan" »

Our loaner kid experience

11114_bu As I mentioned in an earlier post, a girlfriend recently asked us, a single-kid family, to watch her child for a week.  Well, ten days, actually.  And two nights, if you're counting.  And four hours and thirty-two seconds and 12 nanoseconds....  (Ahem. A slight joke there.)

I jumped at the chance.

For one thing, my son stopped people all summer and told them that he was going to have "a little brother" for a week.  Clearly, this was the peak anticipated experience for summer.  And since he sat through four somewhat stultifying weeks at the local language summer school (poor kid), I figured that he deserved a peak experience.

The second reason was that I knew, down to my mommy toes, that it would be an excellent life lesson for my child to actually have another child share his life.  Up until now, we've only had playdates or visits

Continue reading "Our loaner kid experience" »

September 06, 2007

Palo Alto Money Eccentricity: The Good Kind

Streetmusician_2 Story from a friend, told tonight over tacos at Andale.

My friend was downtown with his son the other day, walking down the street.  He saw one of Palo Alto's street musicians playing at the side of the street, and in between my friend and the street musician was a young man with his bicycle. The young man was bent down, probably tying his shoelaces.

As my friend and his son continued walking, the young man got onto his bike and rocketed off down the street and around the corner.  He threw something as he passed, and my friend saw something white hit the pavement right next to the musician.

Continue reading "Palo Alto Money Eccentricity: The Good Kind" »

August 30, 2007

Our Loaner Kid

RunningIt is one of the greatest regrets of my life that my child is an "only."  And now I'm just too old to even contemplate bringing another kid into the picture.  So here we sit in a neighborhood with VERY few available/ kids, and I contemplate my son, who has to be the most social creature to inhabit my entire branch of the family. Poor kid. 

But we have done some things right.  It's not just college kids who have tribes.  We also have a tribe. We have at least two families with whom we get together at least once a week.  One family has twins, and the other family has three kids -- and my son neatly tucks in between child number one and child number two.  We share parenting approaches with the threesome family, and often, when we're together, it feels like one big group parenting experience.

Continue reading "Our Loaner Kid " »

August 12, 2007

More on the East Palo Alto Four Seasons. Chapter 4: the freeway exit

Emptyparking_2 Hey there!  How's it going?  Haven't heard from any of you during this summer vacation and I've missed you!  Missed all of the svmoms discussions about  the silicon valley, missed hearing what was happening in the USA (we were out of the country), missed the chatter.   And as I drove home from our vacation, I kind of missed our old comment-wild blog posting about the East Palo Alto Four Seasons hotel.  (Remember Stefania's posting?  Some of those comments had such a warm fuzzy feeling!)

Which brings me to the freeway exit where you leave 101 and turn onto Palo Alto's University Avenue.  Have you seen that exit?  And excuse me, but would it kill someone to landscape it?   Go almost anywhere in California and you'll see beautiful freeway exits (by exit, I mean the land in between the looping drive to and from the freeway, by the way). Trees, freeway noise walls with patterns and ivy all over them, the beautiful sand gardens in Southern California, and then you get to the Palo Alto exit and what do you see?

It looks like a deserted parking lot out there.  All that's missing is a junker or two (up on concrete blocks, please), and about 450 broken beer bottles.  Perhaps an encampment of hobos.  And ... some feral cats, to add spice.

Every time I leave the freeway for University Avenue, I find myself (as a gardener) pondering the implications of huge behemoth businesses purchasing the only finger of East Palo Alto to poke into the opulent greenery of "greater" Palo Alto  (don't even flame me for that one. I have jet lag and I'm kidding.), only to leave the entrance looking like Chernobyl 2: The Empty Lot.

Palo Alto is supposed to be ... oh, I dunno... pretty!  Kind of classic, isn't it?  With it's 1920's bungalows and impeccably-landscaped lots.  With those amazingly expensive houses and classy restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory (wince).  I think that jet lag is getting to me here, but my point is that there's a lot of "house pride" in the Palo Alto area... so why does it look like a pit when you enter it?

Maybe I'm missing something.  Perhaps the Four Seasons really did hire an extremely esoteric and somewhat eccentric landscape artist who has chosen, like Robert Arneson did with his bust of Mayor Moscone in the eighties, to use a form of mocking in his artwork?  An extremely deep (impermeable?) depiction of the silicon valley's juxtaposition of wealth and beauty versus untended, unlandscaped earth?  Maybe a piece that calls attention to the deep chasms within our society?

Nah. 

Nice to be home, BTW.  And never mind about the University Avenue exit.  I can always use Marsh road.  Sorry to mention it.  I'll just focus on the lovely blue Ikea island instead.

June 28, 2007

Shriek in the Evening

In our household, I'm usually the tough one.  Bugs?  OK.  Dead mice?  Not fond of 'em, but I can cope.  Live mice?  Yup, those too.  Birds?  Yes, yes, I can do it.

Tonight, though, I actually screamed.  In the house.  Ten minutes ago. 

We were sitting in the family room when I noticed some loud chomping coming from the cat food area in the laundry room. 

"I think our cat has worms," said my husband.  I knew what that meant. It meant that I had to go online and figure out what to do with a cat with worms.  Yuck.  So I ignored him.  But he persisted.  For the past week, our cat has been going through cat food at an alarming rate.  And now here she was, eating again.

We heard rustling as the cat apparently attacked the cat food bag, getting more food out by herself. 

"What shall we do about it?" asked my husband.  I was not going to enter into a discussion of cat worms, so as I stood up to go to bed, I said "buy more cat food."  Then I walked into the kitchen on my way to bed.  I turned the corner and ran face to face into the medium-sized raccoon that had been in the laundry room eating the cat food.

The raccoon at first just looked like my cat, but really really scared (so her hair was all fluffed out.) Then I realized that it was a creature and shrieked.  And then, get this:  The raccoon took off through dining room into my house somewhere!  I never saw it leave the house.

Yuck yuck yuck.

For the past fifteen minutes, we have been walking through the house, brooms in hand, looking underneath every piece of furniture to find the ... large hidden raccoon that's somewhere? 

As of tonight, I have officially hung up my "tough mommy" boots. That's it.  Something that weighs 20 lbs, harbors bugs on its body, and has really sharp teeth now feels free to walk through my suburban home.  Oh I will NEVER sleep soundly again.

June 25, 2007

New Journalism Lows

This morning I picked up the Wall Street Journal while I was having a snack. What I read almost caused me to throw my food at the wall.

Mainstreaming Trend Tests Classroom Goals
is another one of those articles that talks about how difficult it is to put children with developmental problems into standard classrooms. We've all seen the articles.  We've all heard the debates.

But there's a difference in this article.  The article talks about the problems that one teacher, Ms. McDermott, has had with one child in particular, in a public first grade in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  The article mentions the child by name, and the article has a PICTURE of the first grader on the first page of the Wall Street Journal. 

Excuse me while I stop typing and breathe heavily for a minute.

The article goes on to describe at great length the travails that Ms. McDermott had this year (her 31st year teaching, although this wasn't mentioned until after 70 column inches.)  It was rough.  Out of 19 kids, five had disabilities, including ADD and delays in reading and math (?).  The article was littered with comments such as "The teacher worried that she was failing all of her students -- especially Andrea."  "It used to be a joy to go to work," she says.  "Now all I want to do is run away."

Well personally, all I want to do is walk right down to the Wall Street Journal and kick someone's butt.  And then go over to the little girl's parents' house and give them a talking to as well. What on earth is going on here?  Let's say that a child has some ailment or problem that is giving them and their teacher a terrible year.  Is the new trend in our culture to profile every wart and terrible thing that happens as our kids grow up?  So that it can be Googled when the kid is older and used to make his or her life a living hell?

In our family, we work hard to keep our kid's information HIS.  I personally cannot imagine putting his face on the front of a national newspaper and letting an obviously hostile teacher talk about how miserable his existence makes her.   Can you? 

How about these quotes: 

"On May 3, Ms. McDermott planned an art project painting flower pots for Mother's day."  "Oh no! Oh no!" [NAME REMOVED IN THE NAME OF COMMON DECENCY] shouted, stamping her feet and waving her arms before being led out of the room.  [NAME] had wanted to spend more time on the computer." 

Or how about this one: 

"On Sept. 27, [NAME] who had been moaning quietly, launched into a full-throated scream, which lasted from 1:25 pm until 2:156 pm, according to a journal entry.  Ms. McDermott didn't know why.  [NAME]'s aide moved her into the hall and then to a room in the basement, though the class could still hear muffled cries."

Sounds pretty bad.  Sounds like a problem. Sure.  And I know that my child isn't in this boat at all, but can anybody out there think of a bad school scene or two that they would prefer not be published in the Wall Street Journal about their kid's schooling problems?

I don't have answers for the many pressures on our schools today.  I know that there are fevered debates on both sides of the mainstreaming issue.  Today, though,  I'm not even going to touch that topic.  Today, I am absolutely aghast to see an eight year old's name and face and personal troubles profiled in a national newspaper.  What happened to common decency?   Why is a teacher and a school being allowed to speak about a particular case in such a specific and public way?  And who is next?

I'll be dropping the journal a line on this one.

May 28, 2007

Boom Notes: Entitlement Driving is Back!

My husband and his friends used to have a game that they'd play over twenty years ago.  This was right after his first company was bought and he moved to the area.  Back when the Apple aesthetic was fresh and sexy - the first time around.

Seems that a lot of people in those days used the term "visionary."  So my husband and his friends agreed that to them, the term "visionary" would actually mean "asshole."  As in: "Bill is such a visionary leader."  I'm sure it reflects on our collective maturity, but we still enjoy the game on occasion.

This last week in Palo Alto I saw two exciting demonstrations of what I can only call visionary driving.  In one, the owner of a tan four-door Mercedes was on University Avenue.  He was right at the corner where the Lavanda restaurant lives (how do you pronounce that damn restaurant, anyway?  Every time I walk by I keep wondering where Lavanda's sisters, KeHona and LaToya live.)  I noticed this fellow when he honked several times to hurry the pedestrians through (note to out of town readers: this is RARE in California.)  Then he sped up, zoomed through the intersection, and careened his car into the exit lane of a parking lot about 40 feet down.  He got out and puffed his chest up, looking important and so very busy, and then had to wait several minutes while Lavanda's valet ignored him.  We chuckled audibly as we walked by.  (It was either that or yell at him.)

The next day I saw a brand new BMW execute a perfect "run over your kid" five point turn on a side street in Palo Alto.  God Forbid that the driver and his friend should actually drive the 40 feet to an intersection and make a legal U-turn.  They were too busy.  Too ... entitled.   I suspect, actually, that they were visionaries in training.

Just like sightings of the scout swallows in Capistrano, these "I'm a big swinging ... you-know-what" driver sightings seem to be multiplying in the Palo Alto area, which can only mean one thing:  Boom Time.

During the last boom, the streets were overrun with entitled people in expensive cars, all showing an almost visionary disregard for any signage, common sense, pedestrians, or rules.  One of the definitions of "pedestrian" after all, is "dull, ordinary, unimaginative, or uninspired."

Does anybody else remember boom traffic and driving?

I did some checking online to see if anyone else was feeling this way and ran into an intensely whiny post by Michael Arrington, titled Silicon Valley Could Use a Downturn Right About Now.  Arrington is feeling Web 2.0 pain when he writes: Silicon Valley is no longer any fun. In fact, it’s turned downright nasty.  Over on the Canadian side, Mark Evans is chiding Arrington for his attitude, saying that It’s like Arrington helped create a huge, wild party - and he’s now trying to hustle people out the door.  And Dave Winer weighs in with a blog post called Silicon Valley Sitcoms where he waxes philosophical about booms and busts, and suggests that Arrington join him in Berkeley until the boom is over.

Yup.  The lights are blinking, blogs are wrangling -- it's official.  Money's back in the valley.  Watch the traffic for more indicators.  And in the meantime, I leave you with a Traffic sign necktie and The Traffic School Song.

May 23, 2007

Another phone bites the dust

Today when I went to turn my car on, I picked my cup out of the cupholder and saw a small grey antenna poking up, dismally. 

Damn.  I drowned another one.

I fished my poor cellphone up and looked at it. The cute little window on the front no longer displayed anything but tea.  It's currently drying on the dishrack, but I know from past experience that it's dead.  Darn it.

This is the second cellphone that I've drowned in tea. I'm not sure what it is about me, but my poor phones, even the nice, well-performing phones, seem to be susceptible to drowning.

According to the folks at lifehack.com, lots of people drop their cellphones in water.  Pools, the ocean, bathtubs, even toilets!  So tea isn't all that bad, compared to some options, I guess.  But I tend to put my cellphone into the tea and leave it there, usually overnight, which is the real kiss of death.  I put milk in my tea, you see, and I guess that IC's aren't really set up to withstand protein.

I really did like the lady at lifehack, though, who said that when she got HER phone wet, she just threw it into the dryer.  "It banged a lot," she wrote, "but it worked again."  Other people suggested alcohol, compressed air, and so forth.  Many people mentioned putting it into the oven, but cautioned that you shouldn't do it over 250 degrees, and you can't do it for a second time, because it will melt.  Sounds like middle America is no longer scared of cellphone technology!

Today I drove to work without my phone. It was oddly ... 1999.  I heard numbers on the radio and realized that I couldn't just call them.  I thought of a doctor's appointment and couldn't check it.  The experience made me realize how much our lives have changed in the past few years with these strange little phones.  It's oddly zen-like without a phone.

Zen or not, I need one to keep in touch with my child's school, so this week I'll get my husband's old phone turned on.  I'll use that for a while.  Or according to this  link, I could make one!  Nah.  I'll stick to baked goods.  If I'm nice and don't drown this phone, maybe I can have one of my own again some day.

May 07, 2007

Oh dear, I lost my skin elasticity!

As you can probably tell from some of my previous posts, I don't get out all that much.  My life is not full of girlfriend-fests, and fashion remains totally incomprehensible to me. 

If I have a lunch free, I typically spend it with my husband, and I was never a "mom's night out" fan, since those, too, I prefer to spend with my husband.

Yes, I know.  Large, stultifying yawn.

But a few weeks ago I went to a mom's night out.  A friend needed to spend her monthly "food fee" at the local country club, and she took a bunch of friends out.  We were tasked to have a nice meal.  And chat.  I figured I could handle that.  I like to chat.

It was nice, it was fun.  But in the middle of it, the woman to my left began talking about her skin elasticity.  Her what?  I looked at her. She looked fine to me.  Pleasant, not iridescent.  No wattles or anything.  So I asked her what she was talking about.

"Oh," she said.  "One day I looked in the mirror, and realized that "poof" it had happened.  My skin elasticity was gone."  She leaned toward me, waving a wine glass.  "And once it's gone, that's IT."

Gosh, I had never thought about skin elasticity.  I notice other things.  Like the eight pounds I put on when I quit exercising, and the fact that it's never gone away.  Like crow's feet.  Like the fact that I'm really middle-aged now.  (!)  But skin elasticity?

I tried to forget about it but the words just hung around. And the next day in the car I found myself looking intently into the rear view mirror.  What on earth could she mean?  At the stop sign on Willow Road, I saw it.  Mine is gone too!  Apparently skin elasticity means when your skin hangs down on your cheeks a bit - it's actually stretched!  Is that disgusting or what? Oh my goodness.  For an excellent example, look at Mick Jagger.  And then shudder.

Wow. I had totally missed it. There I was, happy in my own world, not realizing that my skin had just given up the big one, until I went on a mom's night out.

I have to tell you that I'm terrified about the next one. Perhaps we can keep the topics to something calming like global warming or athiesm.  There are some things that I just don't want to learn about, you know?

April 24, 2007

Red Flags for Troubled Students

Even as I, with so many others, mourn the loss of students in another senseless school killing, I am wondering how we can try to stop this in the future.  I think the only way to do is by working with our kids.  We'll have to be systemic and grass-roots.  We'll need to teach our middle-school and up children the signs of mental sickness: flat affect, torturing or killing animals, a preoccupation with things like Hitler and Columbine, and of course -- any mention of wanting to kill their classmates.

And I think that we will have lean hard on the message that it IS all right to tell an adult. Not only that, but in order to keep our society functioning and intact, it is their responsibility.  If someone needs help and is getting dangerous, our teenagers and college students need to learn how to flag down help.

If you go to the FBI website and click on reports, you can download a fascinating report called The School Shooter.  This paper summarizes research into how schools, parents, and authorities should deal with the threat of school shootings, and it's got some very wise information indeed.

One of the things that the paper talks about is that all threats are not created equal, and that there are different types of threats or situations.  The paper talks about how schools can assess a threat's level of risk.  For example, the more direct and detailed a threat is, the more serious it is.  And if you come upon a high-level threat, you should immediately bring in the police.

The FBI paper has a long description of their four-pronged assessment approach, which looks at a student's personality, family dynamics, school dynamics (and the student's role in them), and social dynamics.   There is a comprehensive list of danger signs that we can look out for so that we can help prevent these situations in the future.

Personality Traits to Watch For
One of the first things the paper recommends watching for is what they call "leakage," which is when a student reveals clues that might signal an impending violent act.  The student may incessantly talk about guns and violence; they might try to get friends or classmates to help prepare for a violent act; they may boast, predict, issue ultimatums.  This information can be conveyed in stories, diary entries, writings, drawings, tattoos, videos.  Leakage is considered one of the most important clues that may precede violence.  There have been many tragedies averted because a student stepped forward and said "this seems dangerous" to an authority figure.

Other danger traits for a student's personality include:

  • Low tolerance for frustration, poor coping skills
  • Failed love relationships
  • Nurses injustices, doesn't forgive
  • Signs of depression
  • Narcissism - self-centered, blames others for failures
  • Alienated and dehumanizes others
  • Lacks empathy and trust
  • Exaggerated sense of entitlement or need for attention
  • Attitude of superiority
  • Is considered a nonentity
  • Anger management problems
  • Inappropriate humor
  • Seeks to manipulate others
  • Introverted with an exclusionary or closed social group
  • Recent big change of behavior
  • Rigid and opionated
  • Unusual interest in sensational violence or fascination with violence-filled entertainment
  • Fascinated by negative role models, like Hitler or Satan
  • Behavior appears relevant to carrying out a threat

In prong two, family dynamics, the FBI report talks about looking for some of the following red flags:

  • Turbulent parent-child relationship
  • Parents accept pathological behavior or behavior that most parents would find very disturbing
  • Access to weapons
  • Lack of intimacy
  • Student "rules the roost" and the parents seem intimidated.
  • The student is given an inordinate amount of privacy and parents don't know about his activities, school life, friends, or other relationships.
  • No limits or monitoring of TV and Internet

Red flags to look for in school dynamics:

  • Student appears to be detached from school
  • The school has a tolerance for disrespectful behavior and doesn't prevent or punish it.
  • Bullying is part of the school culture and school authorities seem oblivious to it.
  • The school atmosphere promotes racial or class divisions and allows them to remain unchallenged.
  • Inequitable discipline
  • Inflexible culture
  • Pecking order among students
  • Code of silence prevails among students. Little trust exists between students and staff.
  • Unsupervised computer access

We can, of course, discuss "red flags" until we're red in the face, but there's one more thing to consider.  While we're teaching our children that their schools and their culture is theirs to guard, we can also work towards teaching them to not bully and not taunt.  Many of the students who eventually brought violence upon their peers were shunned by the "nice" and the "normal."  Tragic that behavior that is so widely accepted in our culture can drive some of us to insanity, isn't it?  We see a lot of exclusionary behavior in our playgrounds and schools here in the wealthy silicon valley. 

Teaching our children to reach out, to try to include others at a young age is probably the most effective way that we can combat violent alienation in the future.  For those of us with younger children, it's something that we can immediately do.

Happy Spring!

Flowers_kate A neighbor giggled at me today. I was out in the street chatting with my baby red plum tree when she power-walked by.  "You are a very scrawny tree," I was saying.  "Better bulk up!"

Spring is my favorite time of year.  Every single day I walk around the yard looking to see what's grown, what's blooming, and what new adventure is happening outside.  Last year my friend Jill gave me some azaleas that have grown a good 8 inches, and they are brilliantly blooming a magenta color right now.  The peonies are peeking up and the stargazer lilies are coming up for the second year.  I just finished tying nice little knots in my finished-up paperwhite greens, and my beloved lilacs have finished blooming for the season (darn it).  The camellias are all still going.  I have decided that camellias are the "energizer bunny" of my garden.

Everybody's roses look better than mine, although my climbing roses are gorgeous.  I moved them last year, so it must be the dirt.  My son and his friends run through the gardens, and my son walked in the other day, holding a small vase. He had picked the first rhododendron bud, climbed on the countertop to put it into the vase, and then we put the vase on his little kitchen table.  I smiled at a friend about it.  "When he's twenty and loves flowers, it will be because of this," I said.

Even though I'm no longer at home gardening all the time, and even though I've rejoined the hyperactive silicon valley race, my garden continues on.  Sometimes I just walk outside and lie on the lawn so that I can smell the plants, watch them grow, and look at the beautiful colors.

I just bought a new kind of lavender at the local nursery. It's pink!  How cool.  The magnolia trees are bursting with buds, and the maple trees are starting to grow from scraggley adolescents into real trees.  The fringe flowers just finished blooming, and the weigela - my favorites, are starting to froth their beautiful plumage.  And of course, the wisteria is just finishing up its first blooming.

I drive down the streets and greet the trees that I pass every day. Soon the Crape Myrtles will start blooming. They're on El Camino, all through Menlo park, and their big clusters of magenta flowers are stunning.

I know, I know.  Instead of romping outside and leaning down to smell the new white little flowers that are blooming in the garden, I should probably be inside, looking through a recyclable catalog of solar panels or some other way to "lower my carbon footprint."  Instead of raising flowers, I should probably be planting vegetables and assiduously learning to dry them in the sun, or to juice them, perhaps with a foot-powered juicer.  Reveling is uncool right now.  I should be worried, with damp armpits and a high level of earnestness, and I should be teaching my son to do the right thing.

But it's beautiful out there!  We had a little girl come by for a "bug playdate" last week, and we found snails, roly polies, small beetles, ladybugs, and of course, the now-ubiquitous caterpillar.  Great fun.  Our bluebirds are like old neighbors now. My son still hears stories of when he was two and a bluebird  swooped down and stole an entire taquito off his plate. And for a year after that, we told stories of the  bluebird who lived at the train station and would fly over to watch him.

In America, they tell us that we suffer from the Protestant Ethic, which means that we collectively frown upon loafing and not carrying our weight.  Also, a surfeit of sensuality makes us itch. 

But it's spring and at our house we're lying around, drunk in a bacchanalia of blooms and shoots.  All of the bushes are blooming, reminding me of my Midwestern childhood.  The seeds that we planted are coming up, and a long row of gladioli stands at attention, waiting to dazzle later in the season.

I know that global warming is imminent and that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  I'm sure there are a billion things I should be doing as a responsible citizen.  But we're just going to hang up a "busy" sign play in the yard again today.  It's spring!

April 21, 2007

Fighting the "Loser" Choice

After the initial shock and terrible sadness of hearing about the Virginia massacre, I am angry. 

The Virginia massacre was performed by a psychopathic mass murderer. He was 24 years old.  Yes, he was a student, and that gives him special status in our culture, but he was also someone who chose a sick, wrong, misguided and yes - evil - way to end his life.  I am probably most furious about the photos that the murderer made and send to the news media - and the fact that NBC published them (excellent blog post, btw).  Some deluded kids are going to look at those pictures and look up to this guy. They're going to think that he is getting his "minute of fame." They're going to try to emulate it.

In a recent CNN poll, 1/3 of the teenage respondants said that they think an incident similar to Columbine is likely to occur in their own schools.  And one in five said that they know someone their age who has talked about committing a serious act of violence at their school, such as shooting a student or setting off a bomb.

So how do we convey to the copycats out there that this is a LOSER choice to make?  That it's LOSERS who not only decide to give up their lives, but choose to delusionally "go out with a bang" and emulate terrorists, with their manifestos, their props, and their virgin-bedecked futures (most of whom also create films or videos before going off to do their loathsome acts, incidentally.) 

Unfortunately, there is a cult of following to these sick young people.  How do we stop it? Is there some way to daub it with the brush of UN-coolness, so that it doesn't get made into a memorial?  How do we de-romantacize the "magical" date of April 20, Hitler's birthday and the date of the Columbine shooting?

I telephoned my mother today. She's a continuation high school principal. She told me that she couldn't talk because the police had contacted her, saying that a local had threatened another cowardly, sick act like this one, and that she had to send all of the students and teachers home and lock up the school.

Hastings Law School had a copycat threat too. And a middle school in Contra Costa County.  Countless others, I'm sure.

Nice.

In the olden days, someone who did this and their family would be collectively shunned.  Or the shooter would have been burned in effigy, instead of having his fantasy "hero" shots flashed all over the television.  As heavy-handed (and unacceptable to modern US civilization) as both of these approaches are, they did one thing: they provided clear and visible feedback that this is NOT acceptable behavior. 

I think letting people know that this is not cool or unacceptable is hugely important.  Every high school student, every head-banger, every young person who is unhappy with our country should also learn that "BUT it's not an acceptable solution to 'pull a Columbine.'" 

The responsibility must be collective. Across fashion, music, written and spoken word, in every single social enclave, the message should spread:  It's cooler to live than to die.  You can make a difference, live a life, spread your word.  You have amazing potential.  You don't have to do violence to be ... someone.

Pass it on.

 

April 11, 2007

New Skills - The Dirty Way

Sometimes I sit around the playground and chat with the other mommies. This is the time when you realize that everybody out there has a challenge or two.  One of the things that I seem to hear quite a bit is "My child is perfect in public, and a beast at home."

Gosh.  Not our problem.

My child is usually only a beast in public!  This comes of being an only child to "older" parents and living in a neighborhood where there are no children at all, unless you count the ones kept in little bottles (so as not to wrinkle their clothing) and only let out for church, or for the four hundred lessons they have every week.  All of my son's "sharing," "temper," and "patience," learning has taken place directly upon the world's stage.  Poor kid.

But I digress.  We have a lovely new developmental stage going on right now, and mommy's having fun with it in her own way <twinkle>.  Not only that, but it's taking place at HOME!

It's complaining.   If he doesn't like something, he kvetches up a storm. For some reason, terrible parents that we are, we have apparently raised my six year old to think that he is invited to piss and moan if he has to work.  And that everyone is DYING to hear it.  I sure hope this is a developmental stage.

We're a suburban family, very busy, etc. etc. and I didn't really notice this until we had "family work day" about a month ago.  My kid complained the entire time. Amazing.  And it would be far too easy to just throw the sentence "just like his father" into the paragraph, but you see, there's a back-story at the meta level. Daddy's from NYC; mommy's from a farm. Daddy's successful enough so that he doesn't have to go outside and deal with the world much unless he's sitting on a beach chair, and mommy landscaped the entire yard herself, learning spanish in the meantime. See a trend here?  At any rate, daddy is NOT a complainer.  Daddy is an insurmountable force.  He's busy, and usually just ... too busy to do anything outside.  Or that he doesn't feel like doing.  See how it works?  So, while my son has NOT learned complaining from Daddy; nor has he learned going outside and trenching the roses.  Weltanschauung, if you will.

At the end of the family workday, I sat down and had a nice chat with my son. 

"Honey, you complained so much today, that it's clear that you need more practice doing work.  From now on, you will not be allowed to watch any TV or play any video game until you have completed your chores for the day."  And that was it.  Big change.  And boy did it work.  It's been awesome!  When we get home, my son will say "Mommy, what can I do to help out."  The other day, we were turning into the driveway and I saw some bushes that were dry. He said "Can I water those for my chore today?"  Warmed my heart.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday was pretty rough (for a suburban kid.)  I admit it.  First off, he had to take out compost that had been sitting around covered up for two days.  Smelly, yucky stuff.  But he had to walk it out the back door and put it into the compost heap. Sheesh.  Took 7 minutes of histrionics and screams of outrage.  Hilarious.  As someone who was raised on a farm, I dealt with smelly, yucky stuff almost every day of my childhood.  You just suck it up and keep going.  This was a big lesson.  He came back crying and declared that he wouldn't do any chores for a WEEK, and oh my GOSH he had gotten smelly stuff on his pants.  Gulp. This was my kid?  He was such a stoic at 4!

It made me realize that really, unless I want my life to be a living hell in six years, we need to ratchet things up. So he got nice positive reinforcement for his compost-carrying, and then, when we went to Home Depot, I bought him a shovel.  And he got to dig three holes to help mommy.

The complaining! The pain!  The agony!  Who knew?  He and mommy were in the garden for an HOUR while he worked on the holes. Periodically he'd tap an ankle with the shovel and yell "Ouch!," or drop the shovel and sigh mightily... oh my goodness.   

"Is it deep enough?" he quavered for his third hole.  We put the plant container into the hole to see if it would fit. Nope.  Two inches more.  Such Hard Work!  And finally, the hole was deep enough for the plant.  He put it in, gently covered it with dirt, and then skipped away, happy as a clam to play a video game for 10 minutes.

I don't know if he realizes this, but today was the START of his gardening career.  I'm going to drag that kid and his shovel outside every single day until he gets into the swing of things.  He's going to have to weed the vegetable garden (just like I did - and I hated it), he's going to have to do ALL SORTS OF THINGS.  Because I forgot something:  sometimes chores are onerous.  Sometimes they're dirty.  They are *not* just the "ooh, have to unload the dishwasher" type of thing. They are the things that you vaguely remember doing when you were a kid. You remember hating them, you remember doing them because you had to, and you realize, as an adult, that it's because of those chores that you're strong and able to deal with life.  And stuff like ... taxes.

As we grow up as parents, we learn to parent with our strengths.  No matter how much we try to pretend we're someone else, we can't.  For me, there's no way that I can adopt abstract models of discipline for my child (do these three things and get a CHICKEN STICKER!)  I forget them, we miss them, they bore us, and we quit. But working in the garden, I can do.  It's nice to know that I found a tool I can really live with during this developmental step. 

Gotta go - it's time to plant!

April 03, 2007

Powerpoint Passover?

Taco So last night was Passover. We went out for tacos.  I try, I really do, to stay up with the various interdisciplinary nonsecular activities on the plate as a half Jewish /half non-Jewish/kind of "fun with pagan"/but basically nonbelieving kind of family, but hey.  I'm working too hard.  Everybody should just be happy that they have clean underwear.  My kid looked up at me and said "why aren't WE celebrating Passover" and I told him the truth: "Nobody offered to cook it."

Actually, though, I forgot.  We have done lovely Passovers in the past (hosted AND attended) but I'm falling behind on my social obligations this year.  I felt so terrible about forgetting (although there's really no reason - my husband was raised by Socialists and was only brought up to celebrate Thanksgiving) that I spent time today - valuable should have been working time - looking for a Passover Powerpoint presentation for my family.  I'm not sure why. For some reason, I just thought that it would be hilarious.

Don't you think that a presentation that says "Why is this night different from all other nights?," followed by a list of bullets would be amusing? Or perhaps my sense of humor just took a little detour and is heading somewhere strange.  Passover: the abbreviated version.  Glass of wine, a little haroset, a matzoh, and ... a laser pointer.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a good Passover Powerpoint presentation.  (Say that three times.)

However, while goofing around with Technorati today, I found a link on Hoyden-about-Town blog to an old post of mine (About the Wired article called Powerpoint is Evil), with a gem of a comment that contained EXACTLY what I had in mind. Convoluted, sure, but check it out.  The Gettysburg Address in Powerpoint**.  I love it.

The reason that I wanted a Passover Powerpoint presentation is that my husband went to a tech conference last week (I have no idea which one. Pamela's husband knows.) in which, as a recreational activity, they did "Powerpoint Karaoke." How does this work?  They apparently pulled about 20 miscellaneous Powerpoint presentations off of the internet, pulled names out of a hat, and people had to get up and give a spontaneous presentation about the slides.  My husband's favorite was one about man-boy love, apparently, including a lot of statistical analysis pertaining to the British publish school system. (I suspect you had to be there.)

At any rate, it's raised the concept of Powerpoint as humor all week - no doubt keeping me sane.  The occasional chuckle is good, so I hear.  Screaming arguments with yourself in the the mirror while eating a solitary sandwich, on the other hand, is frowned upon.

Happy Passover!  Happy Easter! Happy Birthday, Silicon Valley Mom's Blog!


**Something that is even more amusing is that the Gettysburg Address in Powerpoint was written by Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google. Here's the back story.

March 23, 2007

For John, Elizabeth, and Rose

In 1997, I was 36 years old.  My high school debate partner had just died of AIDs, and in the course of his death, his friends and I had gotten back together.  Which is why I was talking with Rose.

Rose is very smart.  She's got a degree from Berkeley in languages (fluent French and Italian), but she's always discounted it. When she was younger, she collected Barbie Dolls and wanted to be a trophy wife.  I kid you not.  That was a stated life goal.     Although Rose can (conceivably) talk about philosophy and literature, she prefers fashion.  One of those "friend of a friend" relationships where everyone is friendly, smiles a lot, and then escapes to their separate corners.  (Seriously, I might try to stab myself in the temples if I had to discuss fashion for prolonged lengths of time.)

But after John's death, we started talking on the phone.  About life stuff.  One day, she told me that she was getting a  mastectomy.  At 39, she'd found a very small lump, and when she mentioned it, almost casually, to her doctor, she found her butt speeding into an extremely intense treatment program.  As she told me, younger women diagnosed with breast cancer often have a very aggressive form of the disease -- and hers was very aggressive.

Two months later - when she was in the throes of treatment - I was diagnosed with infertility.  It was handled in what I now think of wryly as a "boot camp central" way:  I did a stimulation drug cycle, went in for testing, heard that my lining wasn't quite thick enough, got more drugs -- and when I went back, the doctor measured my lining, told me that "you'll never have children," gave me a drug to make me ovulate some time in the next few days, and waved goodbye.  It took only about 12 minutes -- very efficient!

I called the doctor back, of course, and made him explain the "you'll never have children" part of things. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I believe that he was the doctor who compared my internal workings to a toilet.  (Yes, he could have used one of those "sensitivity" classes.)  "You know that little bar that tells the toilet when to stop filling up?" he said.  "Well, yours is stuck on "full," so it tricks your body into thinking that you don't need more lining.  Embryos live in lining.  They cannot live in your body - there's not enough to eat.

His first treatment was to give me estrogen patches.  Three of them.  Estrogen, you see, is what makes your uterine lining get thick. 

But I digress. 

First off, yes, sure, infertility is hard.  But not when it's put right up on the table next to a friend with aggressive breast cancer.  Secondly, Rose just about bit my head off when she heard that I was pumping myself full of estrogen.  "You're WHAT?" she yelled.  "THAT STUFF MAKES CANCER!"

We both went through our respective treatments, and I learned some things:

First off, Rose was made of strong stuff.  She didn't complain, didn't moan, just put her head down and fought.  After her divorce, she was working for an extremely well-known (and nasty) designer who actually begrudged her her chemo treatments.  She lived by herself in New York City, with very little money or friends, and it was heartbreaking to watch her fight.

Secondly, I realized that there are a lot of women with breast cancer who fly under the radar. They're someone's mom, grandmother, aunt, and they don't "do" the internet. They can't take advantage of the internet groups and support networks that the rest of us use, and the only advice that they get is from people that they see.  I was part of a 400-strong internet group of forty-ish women with infertility, and the group blew my socks off. Founded by a Columbia professor of Linguistics, the group was full of highly educated, smart, very motivated women from all over the world. You could go onto that list and post all of your test results, what your doctor had prescribed, and so forth, and other women would tell you exactly what their doctors had used in the same situation, would send you the medical study that talked about the protocol, would send you contact information for their doctors, and so forth.  I'm still in touch with friends I met there, and they live in DC, the south, Canada, Finland, South America, and Germany.

Rose, on the other hand, had one support group. Her group met in the cafeteria one floor above her doctor's office.  All of the women went to the same doctor. And presumably, they talked about their feelings (because they were all getting their medical advice from the same doctor.)

I did what I could. I researched for her, send support packages, and so forth.  And after I had my son, I spent two years of my time doing independent medical research for individuals.  It was my personal way of "giving back."  All of the work I did is on my website.  Here's the medical page, and here's the overview page, which is aimed directly at people who have been diagnosed with something like cancer (or their friends).

So what happened?  Rose's breast cancer metastacized to her spine.  She fought, and began a new treatment regimen with a new drug called Herceptin.

It worked.

She became cancer-free (yes, even after having it on her bones), got a job and moved to Paris, and she's fine.  She's symptom-free, and it's been years.  Herceptin worked.  Just like I hope it will work on Elizabeth Edwards. Because there really is hope.

I know that many of the svmoms met with Elizabeth Edwards this past year, and she sounds like quite a lady.  I'm pretty amazed that they're still campaigning, but not surprised, and my heart goes out to her, her family, and everyone that this remarkable woman has touched.

There's just one thing.  My friend Rose cannot afford to come back from France because she has to continue on Herceptin for the rest of her life. And it's too expensive here in America.  She worked in France, and their National Health Insurance takes care of her.  If Rose moves back to America, she won't be able to afford her medicine.

So... Elizabeth, once you've beaten this, and when your husband makes it into the oval office, could you do Rose a favor?  Help to set things up so that our less-fortunate Americans can have access to the medicine that they need?

Thanks.   With a big dash of energy-filled great vibes, luck, and wishes, from your friends (and fans) in the silicon valley.

March 19, 2007

A little chat with infertility

Last night we ate dinner in a lovely Palo Alto eatery.  We let our 6 year old run outside as we paid the bill, and watched him chat with a mid-thirties Palo Alto couple at one of the outside tables.

"Daddy, lift me up!" he cried. And then to the man: "See? I CAN touch that high on the tree, just like I said!'

I took pity on the couple and apologized.  "I'm so sorry.  Were you hoping for a nice quiet date?"

"It's fine," said the man.  "Boy, he sure has a lot of energy."  They were trying to figure out how many kids they wanted, said the man, jokingly.   Looking rather smug, he said "We've been dating two years and still can't figure it out."  (Note: The cultural translation for the sentence and his delivery is: "I have Peter Pan Syndrome and cannot commit, and I'm getting an ego rush by wasting "girlfriend's" life like this.")  He then mentioned that he was an only child.

It just so happens that I'm interested in only children.  We have one - not through choice - and it's one of the great sorrrows of my life.  So I asked him what it was like to be an only child.  Did he get lonely?  What kind of person was he?

"Why, I'm selfish and self-absorbed," he said, with a chuckle and semi-charming glance at his date.  Her responding smile looked a little forced.

"Is he your first?" said his date.

"He's my only," I said. "That's why I'm interested in only children.  I've been infertile for ten years.  That's because I didn't start trying to have a child until I was 35."

Beside him, in a very small voice, the date said "I'm 35."

"This one took five years to have," I said. And then I leaned forward and did something I've never done before, just for the hell of it.  Lowering my voice, I said "Cost us about one hundred thousand dollars!"  "And," I continued chattily, "Most of my girlfriends also started at 35, and about 70% of us went through infertility together!"

I smiled, wolfishly.

Next to the man, the woman had perked up.  She was now smiling and sipping from her wine.  "Thank you so much!" she said.  "That's a big help!"

I looked at the man.  His overly-white smile wasn't nearly so bright now in the tanned face.  His pink polo shirt was still but his hands fiddled with his wine glass stem.

"See you later!" I said.  We waved and took our gorgeous little bundle of energy home to sleep.

March 17, 2007

A Glorious Kindergarten Day - Happy St. Pats!

All this week when I've dropped my son off at school, small clumps of children have been waving to one another excitedly and hunching over patches of dirt and asphalt.

"Look! Look!" they say.  "They're here!"

The teachers have been leaving small patches of gold glitter around - and helping the children to track them.  The kids have been gathering the clues in cups and bottles and sharing them excitedly.

"It's the leprechauns!" said the children to me on Wednesday.  Tomorrow we're building traps, and on Friday, they're coming to visit!"

I love my child's school. It's hilarious. The entire kindergarten population (two rooms) got together with glue guns and tongue depressors and toilet paper rolls and jars and ... oh, tons of stuff ... to make about 24 leprechaun traps.  My son's was a toilet paper tube pointed up.  At the bottom was some gold glitter, and, as he explained to me, "The leprechaun climbs down there to get the gold and it can't get back up and you trap it!"

On Thursday night, the traps were set and baited.  The children went home, excited at catching a leprechaun of their very own (SO much cooler than a hampster.)

On Friday, when we went into school, we entered a mass of activity.  The traps that had been set outside were torn apart and shredded.  The classroom was an unholy mess. Every single trap was upended or on the floor or torn apart -- and there were green footprints everywhere!  I have no idea how the teachers did it (someone's back must have really hurt!) but there were thousands of footprints, leading across the entire school yard (about 400 feet), back though the sand pit, around the house, and ... oh! the joy!

The children clumped around the teachers, and shoved and pointed.  They hopped with happiness.  The teachers led them on a romp for about 20 minutes until they discovered two small treasure chests, filled with gold (necklaces and small gold pieces).  The children divvied up the stash, and wore their necklaces proudly all day.

After my son joined the fray, I walked into the Kindergarten classroom for a few minutes to admire the mess.  Two boys from the third grade snuck into the classroom to look around.  One of them said scornfully "The TEACHERS do all of this." The other boy said nothing.

Adult complicity to bring children joy and excitement is such a wonderful thing.  I propose a toast to the St. Patrick's celebraters everywhere.  And especially to the preschool and kindergarten teachers who help touch our children with magic and excitement -- even in the crushingly modern days of 2007.

Happy Saint Patricks Day!

March 04, 2007

Ever thought of hosting a talk show from your minivan?

Remember back in the sordid late sixties when all of the upper middle class women were mooning around, drinking to excess and popping pills? (We've seen the movies, right?)  Well those days are over.  No longer do moms need to be held back by the vagaries of housewifery.  Soccer mom Jeannie Tate hosts a hilarious talk show - from her minivan.

Pamela, you might want to consider this as a little something to fill the time while shuffling those four children to four different schools!

March 01, 2007

From (yet) another psychologist to mommy's ears: You Suck

I've kept quiet on the entire subject of mommy drinking during playdates because the intensity of the debates created a curiously loud sucking noise in my head.  Kind of like any mention of Fox news, you know?  But today I saw yet another excruciatingly dumb study aimed at telling mommies that they don't measure up, and I just had to comment.

These studies are amazing.  And they are wrapped in - can I just say it?  -- absolute trash articles that reporters should blush to write.  The pseudo-logical gem that gets my personal "Idiot Psychologist Run Amok" award is an article from 2000 called Saying "That's Great" May Not Be.

The premise of the "That's Great may not be" article is that you shouldn't praise your child unless you should.  Well, duh. 

But then, some writer decided to inflate this 20-second premise into a whole article, and came up with scintillating quotes like: "Some child-rearing experts say a steady stream of praise can turn children into praise addicts who lack confidence because they dismiss the value of the compliments." (Yeah. this is how your typical 3 year old thinks.)  And of course they shoehorned in another expert saying that, while some parents overpraise, ''most parents don't praise enough. Praise is extremely important in building up a sense of children's own abilities. For psychologists to suggest that you should limit praise really undermines the idea of how we encourage children to feel good about themselves."

What is this trash?  And why is it being dumped on parents by the boat load?  Here's a theory:  There are a lot of people out there who want to earn money.  In order to justify earning it, they are selling anything that they can to "parents," because "parents" are a market segment.  And "you suck" will almost always catch a parent's attention.

I once picked up a Cosmo magazine and was appalled  Not only were the styles ghastly, but every single article carried the message "You suck, but if you do THIS to your hair, your body, your clothes, then ... you'll be able to pass and maybe some man will have sex with you."  Wow. What utter garbage.  But this time-proven "Let us tell you how you suck THIS time" approach really bothers me when it's aimed at parents.

If you're an overscheduled parent,  scanning this psych quote-larded garbage while frantically multitasking, the "you suck because a study says so" article undermines two things:  first off, your gut instincts, which should be generated by your cultural knowlege, memories, knowledge, personality, parenting style, and logic.  (Not to mention the occasional phone call to your mom, even if she's really irritating.)  Secondly, it undermines your confidence - and confidence is one of the most important things that a parent can have.

"Don't praise your kids."  What an incredibly stupid thing to write about!  If your kid is having developmental problems or is at a stage where they are afraid to go down the slide, have a tendency to fight with others, don't always wait their turn, are afraid of the slide, or whatever other thing, of COURSE you will praise them!  But of course an article that says "You should pay attention to your kid and your kid's development and do the things that you think are the right things to do" is ... dull.  It doesn't stir up controversy.  Hard to get talking heads to argue over something so sensible. Or even one of those swashbuckling, female-baiting fembots.

And so we come to the new article that raises my hackles.

Study links big egos in youths to programs for self-esteem is the title that the San Jose Mercury gave the article, although the original article's title is:  "Gen Y's Ego Trip takes a Nasty Turn," and it seems like one of the most amazing pieces of crap research that I've seen in a long time.

According to this article, there's a new study out in which five "researchers ... looked at the results of psychological surveys taken by more than 16,000 college students across the country" since 1982.

According to the article, "the Narcissistic Personality Inventory asks students to react to such statements as: 'If I ruled the world, it would be a better place,' 'I think I am a special person' and 'I like to be the center of attention.'

The study found that thirty percent more college students showed elevated narcissism in 2006 than in 1982."

Clearly shocking news, that someone older would find youth to be narcissistic, although seriously, with those questions, what would they expect?  If the kids think that they could do a better job running the country, well ... who says they're not right?  But let's move on.  Here's where it gets amazing to me (and BTW, the ostensibly academic leader of the study is also promoting her paperback this very week.  Tacky.)

Why is this so?  (I kid you not.) "Some of the increase in narcissistic attitudes was probably caused by the self-esteem programs that many elementary schools adopted 20 years ago, the study suggests. It notes that nursery schools began to have children sing songs that proclaim: 'I am special, I am special. Look at me.'"

The report also claims that "Those youngsters are now adolescents obsessed with websites, such as MySpace and YouTube, that 'permit self-promotion far beyond that allowed by traditional media."

Let me see if I have this right.  The new kids coming up are self-absorbed, shallow little jerks.  This is because they sang "I'm a good kid" songs in ... preschool.  It's also because they play on the computer and make pages on MySpace.   Parents, you suck because you're too permissive and haven't banned "I'm a good kid" songs from preschools. And ... here's a new twist:  KIDS, you suck, because ... well, you just do.

Ha.  Patent bull-hockey.  So the boomers, the most amazingly self-absorbed group of people in modern history, weren't even measured?  Kids today are like vanilla pudding next to people like Abbie Hoffman and the cast of characters who worked hard to, oh, burn down their colleges and just incidentally throw over an entire social structure.  Remember that decade?  (And they're STILL narcissistic.  Check out this little gem written by a boomer.)  And need I mention the fact that the boomer generation practically invented the crystal, aromatherapy, and self-knowledge movements?  Personification of narcissism, folks.  Jeez.  Like, have the writers of this stupid article even heard of Esalen?

I think that the thing that irritates me so much about this article is that the authors took an apparently serious study and turned it into  idiocy.  Perhaps some simple logic could have helped.  Or a reading of the book by Twenge, who led the study.

Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - and more Miserable than Ever Before is the name of Twenge's book. It's apparently aimed at 18 year olds to 35 year olds, and she's now apparently trying to broaden her application of the data, despite the fact that nowadays preschoolers learn the days of the week in Chinese, how to read, and there is no mention of self.

Twenge is on a narcissism kick.  She thinks that it's the cause for everything.  OK.  Whatever.  Personally, I think that she should take into consideration parents who think of their children as extensions of themselves (e.g. multigenerational narcissism), the relentless pushing of children to achieve. as opposed to taking time to find real passions, and the over-intellectualizing of childhood.  There's an interesting Rudolf Steiner quote which says that if you intellectually train children before the age of 5 or so (instead of focusing on their spirit and their selves), they turn into materialists.  What about that?

Ah, well, I suppose a discussion of the pros and cons of the study wasn't what the authors were aiming for. They were aiming for a nice little talking head nugget that would be carried on the nightly news.  And "You suck because your preschool works on self esteem" is certainly catchy, if totally moronic.

Gotta go. Some of the other mommies and I are meeting at Peets Coffee to "cleanse" the local Kindergarten curriculum of any pesky self-esteem propaganda.  Thank GOODNESS I discovered this blight early on. 

January 25, 2007

Settled, for now

My son is a six year old Kindergartner.  Yes, I have to admit that I did this on purpose, this red-shirting. I made sure that he would be six in Kindergarten solely so that he can be quarterback of the football team in high school.  I've read the articles, see?  If I red shirt him (excuse me, what moron invented this term?  And why has the media propagated it like a new designer drug at a rave?), then he will be physically more developed than the other children, and this will translate into ... you guessed it - we're anticipating full athletic scholarships to Yale!

Gosh, it's a breeze, this parenting thing.

Oh, I'm sorry. This isn't the audition for the new "Best Liar" reality show?  Darn.  Let me check my paper again. Kind of hard to see the description - there seems to be a big drawing of Sonic the Hedgehog on it.  Ah.  You want truth?  You want opinions from modern mothers on the educational system?  Oh dear.  Let me turn my happy music off.

Last year, in November, something happened at the park that I have never forgotten.  I was with my preschooler, and began chatting with another mommy.  Her son was in Kindergarten and it was month three.  "How's it going?" I asked.

"Well, he's in the bottom third of his class in reading," the mom said, with a wistful glance at her son.  "But we're working on it."

And deep inside of me, a little voice said  "Over my dead body will my kid feel that he's in the bottom third after two months of Kindergarten."

We love reading and learning in our household.   We have huge amounts of books in every room of the house -- including about ten bookcases holding double-stacked books out in the pool house.  We feel strongly that learning is for life - not for increasing test scores the way that corporations increase profits - and the No Child Left Behind act makes Mommy wild-eyed. (read this!)

I chose to send my son to a private school.  It's going very well, thank you. This private school is one of the few in the silicon valley where they do NOT teach reading in Kindergarten.  Instead, they teach the IBO curriculum.  My son just came out of a six-week art program where they studied the techniques of Monet, Van Gogh, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Picasso, an American quilter I don't know, and even my beloved Hundertwasser.  Before that, he got to make early American houses with tongue depressors and glue sticks, followed by a "modern city" with plastics.  There's a table in corner, with glue guns and the children create things every single day.

My son, and many other kids in his class, are working on social tools this year.  Social tools help kids learn.  They are working on listening to the teacher, on sitting quietly and participating, on helping the class brainstorm, and on collaborating. My son is working on keeping his temper when things are difficult, and on learning that he has to do what the teacher says - not just what he wants to do.  Lots of stuff.

He is not reading yet.  Few of the children are.  Nobody expects them to.  It's awesome.

There's one problem.  This is a language immersion school, and my son came into it at the beginning of September as the only child who had never spoken the language.  But this is the price I chose to pay to keep my child out of the now-federalized testing arms of the public schools.  And I chose a difficult time with learning a language, as opposed to a difficult time with learning to read.

Am I crazy?  Sure.  We wander around town, gibbering in the foreign language and trying to learn it. We listen to the language tapes.  We have a tutor and we're gradually getting better at it (Mommy is right there, learning it too.)  Is it painful?  Sure.  I look at the other kids in language immersion and it seems as though it's hardest for the little boys. But life is painful.  This is an awesome school - only 14 kids in his class - and it's the absolute best place for him in the silicon valley. 

This is too bad.  I researched hard, and looked at all of the private schools that I could find.  Most of them made me itch, horribly.  Many nanny-raised children, going nicely off to expensive private schools to be taught stuff that seemed amazingly unimaginative.  We went to one private school in particular and as we walked around, my husband turned to me and said "Where are the mud huts?"  He felt that the place oozed privilege so much that it needed a connection to the "other" side of the world.  I felt that the place would turn out nasty little perfectly-groomed excluders, and we decided to look elsewhere.

Our private school is small and very non-glossy.  It's amazingly inexpensive, given the prices in the valley, and it's something that my husband, raised by socialists in the Bronx, agonized over.  It's also sad that we couldn't find something like this in our own language.   But we've lodged our son here, and we've found the first warm, welcoming neighborhood since he's been born.  It only took six years. 

My son is six in Kindergarten. It was the right choice for him and I don't regret it for a minute.  He's going to a pretty odd school choice, and I don't regret that, either.  Both of those choices were made from the renowned "Mommy-gut," the place in a mommy that looks, clear-eyed at her child and the world, and knows what's right.  My advice?  Gather all of the information that you can, including going to school and watching how your child is in the classroom.  Look at all of your choices, and let your gut tell you what to do. 

As for now?  We're happy. My son is not stressed and he's learning things every single day. He runs to get into his classroom every morning.  In the afternoons, large groups of parents and children hang out for an hour or so while the kids play.  Every person we've met in the school is low key, welcoming, and friendly.  For now: this month, this particular developmental stage - things are good. 

January 22, 2007

Hey did you know that January 22 is "Blog for Choice" Day?

Blog_for_a_choice Oh no! I was just reading Lindsay Beyerstein's Majikthise blog and read her post about today being Blog for Choice day.  Jeez.  I almost missed it.

I'd like to take a minute, on this Mommy blog, to thank all of the feminists who fought for women's rights and for abortion rights. I'd like to raise a glass to the 34th birthday of Roe v. Wade --  the decision that took away back-alley abortions from our country and gave women control over their bodies.

With freedom comes responsibility.  Here is a toast to educating our youth about safe sex - for their health, and to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

My third toast is to the incredibly brave men and women under red-state seige (and some blue-state locations), who actually provide abortion services.

During our long fertility journey, my surrogate mother became pregnant after our third IVF.  When she went in for an exam at 15 weeks, we discovered that the fetus had died.  My surrogate mother tried to get a D and E procedure up in the very conservative portion of Northern California, where she lived.

The next day she called me, crying through angry tears. She had gone for the procedure and was told that she needed to go through "counseling" before she could get one.  "The fetus has died!" she said. "I'm not terminating a pregnancy!" 

"I'm sorry, maam, but those are the rules," said the nice nurse.  So we brought her down here to the silicon valley, and we found a wonderful doctor - both a fertility specialist and someone who performs abortions - to perform the procedure.

The entire situation was horrifying.  In the long, cold, Republican crazy years, it started to seem possible that, even if you had worked for years to HAVE a baby, but the fetus died, you might have the proper medical procedure withheld from you because someone had managed to have their interpretation of the concept of "God" have more power than your personal freedoms.

Absolutely terrifying.

So my last toast of the night is to all of the Americans who voted the Republicans out.  Thank you, for ending the biggest seige on our country that I have experienced.  There's still a chill in the air, but I'm hoping that we reclaim balance, retain personal freedoms, and uphold our country's tenets in the coming years.

Scroll through some of the very personal posts at the Blog for Choice site, folks.  Check out the amazing posts from Amanda at Pandagon, talking about a woman undergoing a court-ordered C-section (VBAC was not allowed),  Jill at Feministe, with a gut-smacking post about exactly what list of things makes her pro-choice, and finally, with Liza in Culture Kitchen, writing a post that will make you cry, it's so full of mother love.

And as you read, remember one, very small, teensy thing.  Politics is personal.

January 20, 2007

Appliance Brutality - I'm there!

Sometimes at the end of the day, I just give up and pick up my Tivo control.  Usually when I scan through what Tivo has taped, I get a sinking feeling.  All day-long extravaganzas of Battlestar Galactica and Zoboomafoo will do that to you.  The stuff I like usually goes off the air pretty fast, and although Rock Star SuperNova was intellectually stimulating... it's over.

This past week, though, my husband left me a present. He had Tivo capture "Mr and Mrs. Smith," and it's the best housewife fantasy comedy I've seen in years.  (Um, maybe ever?  What IS a housewife fantasy comedy anyway?  The mind boggles.)

Remember all the PR when the movie was released. The excitement! The trauma!  I hate movies and couldn't be bothered, although I did read an interview with Jolie, who proclaimed the movie a "metaphor for marriage."  I'm always interested when the multi-divorced talk about metaphors for marriage. 

Yeah, yeah, smoky romantic scenes at the beginning. Yawn.  Fun desert scene with large explosion and Pitt looking like a dope.  Pretty good.  Professional woman acting miffed, surrounded by other fembot-types. Yawn.  (See why I avoid movies?)  But then it happens. My favorite part.  They chase one another through their big, boringly-decorated Stepford Wife house and shoot the hell out of it (to a great version of the old classic "Express Yourself"") Bingo!

I'm not sure what's wrong with me, but seriously, watching that Sub-Zero get strafed by a machine gun never fails to make me laugh out loud.  Gosh, could this be a new psychological option that comes with bloated appliances?  Come to think of it, it's almost as good as the existing one (that would be the "every massively expensive appliance will fall apart within five years rule).

Does anybody else have laughing fits at watching luxury appliances get shot up?  Or should I keep my identity secret and change the subject, so they don't take my children away and issue me Valium?

I'm a little ambivalent about the spouse-on-spouse violence (although it's done well), but if you're having a frustrating time with that remodel, I sure know of a movie you could watch!

January 18, 2007

Fear and Loathing on the bedside table

So, um, what was the topic again? Is it favorite books? Or is it what I'm reading now?  You know, it's a lot easier writing for a blog with assigned topic days than it is taking a creative writing class.    Beats the pants off of "now take ten minutes and talk about the first time you experienced hormone-related keening sadness," you know?  More fun to read, too.

OK. Let's go.  Books!  I love books.  From the ages of 12 to about 30, my three favorite books were:

I'm sure that those choices (and the fact that they didn't change for almost twenty years) say a LOT about me, but I just want to say that immaturity is good, and when you get to middle age, immaturity morphs into what they call "a certain freshness."  So there.  Besides, the phrase "Her tongue slid past mine like hot glass" still floats in my brain on occasion, and frankly, "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold" never LEFT my brain.  Shaw is just brilliant.  Snide, savvy, with devastating social criticism skills that leave you snickering into your tea.

Talking about fiction is hard.  It's easier if you use a nom de plume, of course, but still, if it's done properly it can really piss people off.  Years ago, I met someone.  She was what was known as the "family intellectual" in her family, and apparently the whole family (dumb as rocks, all of them) would, like, practice their cheerleading routines while she lectured them on her writing tastes.  Within the first five minutes of our meeting, I casually mentioned that John Irving should be burned at the stake for inserting gratuitous sleaze into his fiction as a way to wake up his readers (can you tell me that having your penis bitten off is a classic literary device? I thought not).  Well,  he was her favorite writer in the world, and our social interactions have been of the chilly, handshake variety every since.  Darn. 

What I mean to say is that I will refrain from criticizing your pet books today.  I will be nice.  Soft.  Snuggly.

Here are some of my favorite books:

Confederacy of Dunces
I do not like gratuitous disgustingness in books. And this hero is utterly revolting. But the character and book as a whole fit perfectly together. It will make you laugh out loud.  An awesome book.

Little, Big
A big, beautiful, brilliantly-written fantasy book.

Ngaio Marsh - all of her mysteries
Re-read all of these while nursing.  Note: small paperbacks work best for this. 

The Beekeeper's Apprentice and the rest of the series
Laurie King actually pulls off creating a wife for Sherlock Holmes.  Seriously.  This is a very well-written book set.  I like it a lot.  Fun.  Take it to the beach.

Robertson Davies: The Trilogies, probably starting with the Deptford Trilogy
I love these books. All of them. Robertson Davies was a brilliant writer and when he died, I kept a clipping on my refrigerator for years.  From them you can learn about the theatre, Canadian history, Jungian archetypes, geeking (as in "carnival"), magic, running a nonprofit, operatic singing, and so forth.  Davies was one of our generation's most profoundly gifted writers. 

The Death of Vishnu
I love this book. Here's my review of it (AND Confederacy of dunces, as it happens) from LibraryThing.com (which I also love).

But let's take a break and talk about tools, shall we?  You're reading this on a computer.  Will you actually write these names down?  I don't think so. Let me introduce you to Librarything. If you love books, check it out.  Every time I log into it, I come away with three or four new ideas for what to read, and now I just buy books used online.  Here, for example, are the books that I have tagged as "best" in my personal library. And here is a look at the best and the most-tagged books on the site.  Enjoy. My gift to you.

Currently Reading

In case it's not already clear (or you're not already asleep), I am serious about my reading.  Well, I'll cut this as short as I can. Here are the some of the books open at my bedside.

Freud on the Ganges
A Christmas present from my husband. I first heard of Sr. Salman Akhtar through this amazing speech titled "The Lure of Fundamentalism."  Brilliant cultural insights that give us great insight to fundamentalism all over the world.  "In my way of thinking, to be mentally healthy and to be sane is not an easy thing."

Sally Chapman: Raw Data
Found this at a used bookstore. Sally Chapman has managed to write the best silicon valley mysteries that I've read.  They're a bit dated, but she does a very good job.

Travels with Charlie, by John Steinbeck.  Beautiful book.

Playful Parenting - because my husband beats the pants off at me for sitting down and having "quality play time" with trucks, Pokemon, and so forth. (Luckily, this books says that grabbing my kid and tickling him is good too.)

An awesome, out of print book called "Push Back the Chairs" that I cannot find on the internet. It is written by a teacher of 20 years, who talks about the passion-filled projects that he did with his students throughout the years (and boy could some of our teachers nowadays read this book!)

The Golden Gate, by Vikram Seth, because I wanted to re-read the wonderfully hilarious silicon valley novel written as sonnets (honest!) by Seth, who is a genius. 

... about 20 more, but I won't bore you, although check this one out!

So that's it.  Too many books, but it's a typical day.  And how is your reading life, my dumplings?

January 12, 2007

Silicon Valley Secrets

A few months ago I was interviewed by a 19 year old intern who asked me why people blog in the silicon valley. "Because of the secrets," I said. "It's such a secretive place that we're bursting at the seams." While I was utterly captivated by this idea, the intern decided to focus her article on the parallels between our mom-based blog and phone sex blogs. (Yeah, right.)

Hey, it's an approach. One of those residual "girliness" category things.

But I kept thinking about secrets and the silicon valley. Any piece of society has their secrets. Heck, the American south has made a whole literary name for itself by mining a pastiche of repression, secrets, and strange characters. What makes the silicon valley unique is the high tech business. And what makes us interesting is what we're not talking about - our secrets.

The six degrees of separation theory postulates that we're all connected - with six jumps through people that we know to connect anyone on the planet. Seems just a bit western-specific but heck, it spawned an internet company (or fifty), a book or two, a game, a play, and a movie. Good street cred. Here in the silicon valley (and connected technology world), it's more like three degrees of separation. Everybody has a secret or knows someone who does.

One of the things that always tickles me about the silicon valley is the gossip factor. When I first came here, I didn’t really know that men gossiped. Ha! The men I know here in the valley gossip far more than the women.  And everyone does it.  Gossip here isn’t your classic social/sex stuff though. It’s about money. Success. Who's doing what business with whom. New ideas. And technology is the biggest, sexiest thing around. Picture an enormous elephant with blonde hair and boobs, lounging in the middle of the living room, wearing Fendi. Buffing its toenails, with huge clanking bracelets sliding up and down its forelegs. THAT's technology in the valley. The coolest new product - awesome!  Oooh, check it out.  And <insert name here> just started a new company with <insert name here> making <oops, can't tell you> and funded by <insert name here.>  What fun!

But here's the thing: Nobody talks about personal things in their blogs. This particular blog is about what it's like to be a silicon valley mom - sort of. But you notice that we talk about the everyday stuff. Nobody's talking about what it was like when everybody and their dog lost their shirts in 2001. Nobody's talking about mates disappearing for literally years, about husbands who come home and endlessly pace up and down the halls, cellphones glued to their ears.

You might hear us speculating generically about the "effects of stress," but we don't tell you about the constant "just got dropped in the roller coaster" feeling about being 3/4 of a million dollars in debt - and worrying every single day that your life will go up in flames.  We don't even get any really amusing stories about the gloriously (and not so gloriously) "monied" valley types.  (Now that Steve and Larry are aging, that is.)

Why not?

Can't do it. Sorry. Everybody's in bed with one another -- God Forbid you should alienate someone or piss off an investor or leak a secret. And anything can be a secret. People regularly go into "stealth" mode here when they start companies, and I have seen best friends (admittedly, two highly neurotic, type "A" ones in this particular case) circling one another when talking about their new companies, not telling a thing. For months.

I think it's too bad. If you want just technical stuff you can always go to www.techdirt.com and get the word about companies and such, but wouldn't it be fun to have some really bitchy billionaire wife who no longer cared just let it all hang out? Or someone whose wife/husband just drove a company into the ground, talking about just which loser aspects of their mate's behavior were the reason that 20 mil of VC funding got flushed away?

Insider trading? Ha. Don't look at me to tell you. It would get back. But I do chuckle at some of the names. Multimillionaires? From what I've seen and heard, some of these people could use most of it in therapy. But you didn't hear it here. Valley sex secrets? Told one by one, after several drinks, and never in a way that could impact potential funding.  Stories about out-of-control wives who do things like buy second houses for their children to play in (so the décor in house number one stays pristine?) Talked about over dinners by laughing valley types – and recognized by people at the next table.

There's something else. If you want to be a success in America, especially the silicon valley, you can do it.  We're one of the best meritocracy systems around.  First step?  Be a success.  Yup. You heard right. That's the law of the valley.  Hang up a shingle, say you're already what you want to be, and then go do it.  Very few junior types around here.  Everybody's a big, swinging ...Ahem.  Yeah.  Well the 2001 crash got rid of the worst of the posers (rumor has it that they first went back to living with their parents, and now they're all either in alternate careers or working on the "package a feature, call it a Web 2.0 product" frenzy), but it's honest to goodness valley culture that you don't show weakness.

This is respected. It's how we do things. And when you're keeping up appearances, you keep smiling (and keep your secrets quiet.)

Here are some typical (and real) valley secrets and situations. Do any sound familiar to you?

  • You have talked with 180 VC's and nobody will fund you.
  • In your startup, your working-from-home, equity-paid engineers have stolen the source code and are holding it hostage until you renegotiate their contract, giving them the ability to license it.
  • Your best programmer is manic depressive and "codes better" without his meds.
  • The president of your company has disappeared and it later comes to light that he's been murdered by a woman who works on the assembly line.
  • Your ex-boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse is being investigated for something which you can totally believe and which tickles you mightily.
  • One of your executives has a collection of knives, which he likes to play with and often leaves lying around the office.
  • One of your coders is having a sex change.
  • Things suck and you don't want people to know.
  • You're in talks to sell your company for millions of dollars and terrified that information will leak and the deal won't go through.
  • The deal went through just as your best friend's company tanks and he loses everything.
  • Your best friend's company just sold and your company is tanking.  (What do you talk about over dinner?)
  • You went through negotiations and hired a top-level, very well-known firm to prepare the paperwork - they screwed it up and the deal is off. 
  • You find out that a competitor’s CEO was part of the swinger’s scene several years ago.
  • In a period of insanity, you founded your company yourself. It's three years later, you have maxed out three credit cards, your employees are furious at you, and you're looking as good as you can while you're praying that someone will buy you.
  • You are now worth a hundred million dollars and all of your friends are having a hard time financially (as many are in the valley.)

Are you bursting at the seams?  Is the pressure getting to you?  Allow us to help you out.  Give us a nice anonymous comment and spill the beans!

January 11, 2007

The last mom without a TV in the car

We had a really dumb vacation this year, and it was all my fault.  Oh, we talked about it, and we decided that driving down to Palm Springs on Christmas afternoon would be just ... stoopid, so we decided to fly.  Much more rational.  Makes sense.  We're busy, you see, and flying is more efficient.  Except that I woke up the next day and couldn't do it.  I "needed to drive."  It would be "fun" and "nice to have some together time with the family."  I'd "get to see the state." I bleated and sighed until my sweet husband said that he didn't care and we could do it. 

My family has been going to the desert for holidays for over thirty years. Now that my grandparents are dead, my mother continues the tradition. She goes to her surly retirement community and my brother's family goes to visit her.  We stay in our own resort in a different town, and we shop and dine together.  Sometimes we visit the surly retirement community pool together for the two hours that children are allowed, and we swim under the baleful watch of the walker-wielding denizens.  It's a real bonding experience with pure WASP overtonesGolf, personal distance, family time, a dash of resentment (handily provided by the retirees, since I can't do it any more), and a cocktail lounge.  What's not to like?

My grandparents lived farther north in Northern California and they always drove to the desert on "the Five," as they call it in Los Angeles.  That power stretch of highway that makes Californians settle in and people from smaller places wonder if we're just insane.

At any rate, we drove to the desert.  It was a nine hour drive down on Tuesday, and a six hour drive back (from Santa Monica) on Sunday.  That gave us, um.... four days of vacation.  And two full days of driving on I-5.  Ain't truckstops cute?

When I have discussed this trip with people I know, a shockingly significant number of them have told me that I should have packed movies for my child.  Nope. Not going to happen.  I try to be polite about it and not use terms like "I don't believe in plugging my child into media to shut him up," but seriously, some of the people I talk with are amazingly pushy.  It seems that for many people in the area, it is considered almost a birthright to have access to keeno entertainment technology, like, from the age of two.  Especially during vacations. Just like mom and dad.

Perhaps I would feel differently if I had more than one child.  But hear me out.  I don't care if other people plug their children in to shut them up.  Sure, I find it a bit tacky, and I personally feel very strongly that it's not the way to raise a kid, but on the other hand, it's a lot quieter!

My child sat in the back seat for both drives.  We listened to lots of things on tape and CD, sang some songs, talked about what we were seeing (and he listened to his parents talk), and he drew pictures, made things, and read.  Sure, he was probably bored out of his skull, but tough noogies.  If he doesn't get a little bored out of his skull at six, how on earth will he get through grad school?  <that was a j o k e.>  Besides, he needs to learn skills to cope with boredom and life.

A year and a half ago I took my child to a large chain mexican restaurant.  We sat down to see the two children at the next table watching a movie on a portable CD player.  What, your kid has such a short attention span that they can't sit through a family meal? Sheesh.

I realize that the portable CD players and movie players in the back of headsets are lovely.  They're ... luxurious.  They're special. They make trips into an extension of the TV room.  But is this really what our children need?  For reality, for the world to be some big, cushy, soft encompassing thing that they just sink into and watch?  I don't think so.  The entire concept drives me batty.

And by extension, the entire concept of luxury and children drives me nuts.  Have you noticed how many things nowadays have totally useless "luxury touches," many aimed at kids?  Like sugar.  My child, thankfully, doesn't have a sweet tooth.  Probably because he's not used to getting sweets.  Believe me, it's hard to not just give him a sweet or piece of gum or whatever.  I mean, heck, it costs, like one cent and I certainly eat what I want to. But I always think about the habits that I'm breeding, and I'm not willing to have some kid with a sugar entitlement syndrome, you know? 

Well, my kid had a "luxurious" trip.  He got to be with his dad and mom, with absolutely nothing in the way, for six days.  We laughed, talked, argued a bit, and looked at the world together.  At times it was very quiet for long periods of time.  Sometimes when I looked back, he was just sitting, looking out the window.

There is a (somewhat jokey) theory that you should try to create as many boring periods of time in your life as possible.  Boring is good, says the theory. It makes your life seem longer.

Well perhaps there's an alternate theory available for childhood. Time spent together with your family, just ... being ... is a gift in today's overscheduled, over-media-ized society.  Out of boredom comes creativity and the ability to cope with the simple stresses of life.  And when you're together as a family, traveling, you can occasionally stop staring out the window or reading a book to just talk to your family.

As dumb as it was to spend that much energy on the road, I enjoyed the enforced time together.  The time that you get in a car isn't like time in an airline terminal.  However, I'm equally happy to report that my urge to drive is gone.  For at least a year.

December 24, 2006

Low Maintenance? Or what?

Hello there.  Did you read that last post from Pamela?  It made me laugh. It also made me want to write a post and start it with:  "My name is Kate and I am low maintenance." 

Incidentally, low maintenance doesn't mean low pain, especially for gift-giving seasons.  I still remember the first gift that my husband gave to me. We were dating, and we were totally in love.  It was in a lovely box from a boutique in Sausalito. I opened it, gave him a big hug and kiss ... and we went together to return it the next day.

Perhaps "low maintenance" isn't the right term.

That wasn't an easy decision, by the way.  I do happen to have at least a few grains of sensitivity in my body, and I did respect that this was his first gift to me.  So I sat and thought about it.  And I decided that I'd rather be totally truthful with him than have the nicest gift in the world.  And of course, I would have hated looking at some godawful art glass thing for the rest of my life, you know?   

I still remember my first Christmas with my husband. It was the first Christmas that he'd ever celebrated and he went crazy.  Bought me all sorts of things.  Lingerie, clothes, everything over the top.  I returned them all.  As I recall, I just credited them back to his credit card.  I didn't want anything and he was up to his knees in a previous startup.  Seemed really stupid to spend the money.  But I petted him and thanked him.  And so began our gift pattern.

It's hard to buy me gifts.  I have a wedding ring and an engagement ring, so I don't need rings. I have several pair of earrings, so I don't need those either.  My husband bought me a beautiful watch for my wedding, and I like it so much that I returned the second watch that he bought me several years later.  (It was some lovely designer thing, but I liked my existing watch.  Why on earth would I want to wear a different one?)  And so forth.

As the wife of an entrepreneur, I'd also rather celebrate "liquidity events" or life events than yearly holidays, too. Sometimes it's just not time to get big, gift-wrapped presents, you know?  Call it my personal atavism.

This past year was our ten-year wedding anniversary. I already have jewelry.  I already lost one majorly-large piece of it, too, so I'm pretty leery of wearing what I do have - I certainly don't want more.  We have thousands of books.  I am very hard to fit in clothing, and I like comfortable cotton underwear over any of that wierd slippery stuff I used to wear when younger.  I have a bike.  I like my car.  What to get me?  My subconscious was ready to reject almost anything (unless it was a small token), but my husband is smart, and he beat me to the punch.  He bought me a digital picture frame, and he loaded it up with pictures of my son and our family.  Then he put it into the kitchen.  I walked into the kitchen and got tears in my eyes.  It was perfect.

Perhaps low maintenance isn't the correct term at all.  Darn.  I guess I'll settle for just being profoundly difficult.

Happy Holidays for all of you and for all of the "difficult" people on your holiday lists.  We know who we are, and we know that we're a pain in the butt.  Here's wishing you all enough humor to get through another return season with us!

December 14, 2006

A Californian Traditionalist

I think that ritual is cool.  I also think that there is a part of our brain that responds well to it.  Our humanist family dislikes many of the messages of organized religion, so when my son was very young, idealistic mom started out to make our own rituals (and traditions.)

When my son was a baby, I would take him out every single day and we would walk through the front yard, singing a song to greet the world. (Seriously.)  That's now over, but we did it for years.  For a time there, we would light a candle when we sat down to eat.  Since we really are (I mean, let's be serious here) big nonbeliever-types, we were a bit stumped as to what type of song to sing when we sat down, so we ended up letting my son choose. He decided that we'd sing "It is time to eat dinner," sung over and over to the tune of "Happy birthday to you."  Yeah.  We do that sometimes.  What else?  Um, does toothbrushing count?

I actually tried looking to the secular humanist movement to provide focus and direction for our home rituals.  And I learned that secular humanism, with its "one trick pony approach" (e.g. no, we don't believe) is really not half as fun as all of the wacked-out belief-based things that humans have come up with through the years.  Yeah, OK, we don't believe. But gosh, look! The people down the street are all dressed up for the festival of the giant turtle!  Let's go!   Religions have spent tons of years and tons of money to develop their rituals, and some of them are pretty darn neat. 

So what's a nice, nonbelieving family to do for traditions? After careful consideration, we decided to just celebrate everything. Except Kwanzaa. With all due respect, Kwanzaa has never really resonated with me.  I'm looking forward to Holi instead - that seems like a seriously cool holiday.

As a "tooth fairy athiest" as Richard Dawkins calls it, we try to give Solstice as much credence as that large, red-clad fellow, and we also celebrate Hanukka.  I mean, why not?  Properly engaged in, rituals and traditions are shared joy. We have always had a tree (nod to pagan traditions), and in our house the tree usually has a pink flamingo on the top, which we're not going to explain.

The decorations for our holiday tree are very special.  We have a dill pickle and a bagel and a glass box of chinese food, as a nod to the Jewish side of the family.  We have many moons and suns and wizards and fairies, as a wink to the pagan side of the family.  And we have many toys, such as bicycles, red wagons, a two-inch tall teddy bear, a hedgehog (!), and so forth, as a nod to memories and playing and some of the great Christmas stores in San Francisco.

We're trying to attempt at least one new tradition every year.  This year, we participated in a St. Martin's "Lanternfest" festival, where about a hundred people made lanterns, filled them with lit candles, and dangled them from sticks while walking through the street, singing songs in German.

It's not our tradition (yet), but I think I like it.  I wonder what's next?

December 13, 2006

Dear Pillsbury: This is a hate letter...

For the past two weeks, I have hosted guest children in my kitchen almost every day.  So far, we have gone through 14 pounds of butter (14 to go!), 15 pounds of flour, and 15 pounds of sugar.  All hundred cookie cutters are scattered around the kitchen table (especially the favorites: cows and the pink poodle), and yesterday, two six year olds used an entire bottle of red and green decorating shakes on just 16 cookies.  Yup, it's cookie baking season, and things have been pretty crazy around here!

For much of my childhood, I was raised on a farm.  With a mom who baled hay, canned her own food, made our clothes, and was kind of like some weird energy machine bunny creature.  This season is a nod to my upbringing, and also to my Scandinavian descent, which decrees that Christmas be celebrated with marzipan, chocolate, cookies, cakes, and the scandinavian Christmas symbols: hearts and pigs.

I'm slowing down, though.  As I make my way through the butter-fueled catharsis that is our preparation for ... solstice, I keep stopping and saying "Wow, I used to blanch all of my own almonds and grind them myself to make marzipan.  Now I just buy it!"   And "I used to make 30 types of cookies every year, but it's just not going to happen.  And I don't care."  Now, it's more important that the kids have fun with the cookies than that I actually make them.  Does that make sense?

Which brings me to the reason why someone at Pillsbury needs to be given massive amounts of negative feedback.

I didn't have my son until I was 39. That gave me many years of finding the absolute best, high-quality ADULT cookies to make.  The sugar cookies, for example, contain cognac!  Yup.  And that's what the little angels have been rolling out and tainting with cheap sugar googaws all week long.  It's sad.  Especially when they began to "decorate" the half sugar cookie/half chocolate pepper cookies.  Ick.

But the really sad thing is that, if you make "adult" cookie doughs, you use more butter, and a greater percentage of butter to flour (I think) than you do for the kid cookie doughs.  So the dough that I have is good for one rollout, one batch cut out, and then it turns to sludge.  Not great for kids.

Yesterday, I dropped by Safeway specifically to buy the Pillsbury cookie dough that I have seen while walking by.  Internally, I recoiled the first time I saw it, but after two weeks of little darling cookie making, I was thinking "hey, I'll bet THAT cookie dough could deal with 8 hands and 12 cookie cutters!  And I didn't have time to look for a "perfect kid cookie dough" recipe.  (Got one, btw?)

So why do I now hate Pillsbury?

It goes back to when my son was about 1.5 and had terrible eczema.  He went to an allergist and was diagnosed with a peanut allergy (and wheat).  He is now six, and had never eaten peanuts in his life. Until he made a mistake on Halloween, and we spent five hours in the emergency room.

So I got this cookie dough.  I make cookies ALL THE TIME. I know cookies. I didn't ever suspect that this had peanuts in it, and it's only by reflex that I looked at the label at the back of the package.  And I have been taught by society to not be violent, but I soooooo wanted to just slap someone at Pillsbury.  Are you ready?

Pillsbury has used peanut flour to make their pre-packaged sugar cookie dough.

Let's think about this for a minute, shall we?

Do you know anyone who has a peanut allergy?  It's a real pain.  If you really have one, it doesn't get better. And for many children. it gets worse with every single exposure.  My child now has an epi pen at the school, and I have to carry one in my purse as well.

We always ask, and I always check labels.  But how in God's name will a mother know to check that the package of dough has peanut dough in it?  And what about kids who assume that, since it's a "homemade" cookie, they know what went into it?  Or the moms who, when asked, say "Of course not, it's just a sugar cookie."

I would LOVE to know how many children have had allergic reactions just because of what has to be the stupidest idea I have ever heard in the history of pre-packaged food.  Peanut allergies are weird. Lord knows why kids have them, or why so many MORE kids have them now than before.  They're lousy and not great.  But what rocket scientist chose to invisibly put peanuts into a product that doesn't need them! 

December 05, 2006

Does this make me cheap?

You know that part of parenting where you start hearing an overemotional soundtrack running constantly in your head? (Mine was the Grey's Anatomy Breathe song, replete with images of the guy blowing up.) When you're so far behind on your endless school/social commitments that you wake up, look in the mirror, and start the day by saying "OK, what am I forgetting/late with/missing today?" Where you just come home and lay on the couch, thinking that everything is kind of ... too much?

Well finally, after six years of parenting (no child care), it happened to me.  I wasn't quite clutching my chest and panting, but I began whining.  Every day.

The Saturday before Thanksgiving, my hot water heater broke. I called around and two plumbers came out to bid. The first man told me brightly that he could put in a new heater for $2400 - and he could even start on Sunday! (Although since he couldn't buy the new heater until Monday, this seemed more of a symbolic start than a useful one.) Have I mentioned that I live in the town of Atherton? You get the most interesting bids in Atherton.

The next bid came from a fellow who pulled up with a truckload of water heaters. His company follows the (apparently) archaic process of getting a permit to install a water heater.  From him, I got a dark and foreboding picture. My ductwork isn't up to code and must presumably be replaced. Perhaps I need a new hole in my roof.  Asbestos was invoked.  The final straw, though, was when he told me with a straight face that a 75 gallon water heater would probably cost $900. (This price is about double what others had told me.)

The next plumber laughed. “Thanksgiving is in two days. Not a chance.” Nice, huh? We were leaving on Wednesday anyway, so I gave up and began washing my dishes with hot water from my Krups teapot. (We have two hot water heaters; so we did have shower/bath water for all of this.) Then I checked my email. Oddly enough, there was an offer in it. This was Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. The following Monday, did I want to fly down to LA to go see the new General Motors Buick crossover vehicle being introduced at an auto show?

Insane. We’d be gone for Thanksgiving, have a wild weekend, and on Monday – I checked. Yup -- I was supposed to drop off my son at school at 8:30, return to school to volunteer between 10 and 12, go away, and return at 1:45 to pick him up. Then, there was a “first grade readiness” meeting from 7 to 9 that night, and on Wednesday, the mommies were driving the children to see a play in San Francisco (I drove for two of these last month). And have I mentioned that I'm ostensibly consulting? Uh oh. Here came my background music.

Of course I couldn't even consider going. But then I thought of the nice people at General Motors, with their “send a mommy to the car show” program. How could I let them down? And if they enjoyed sending mommies to a car show, perhaps they would want to send us somewhere else next – like, Aruba! So I decided to drop all of my responsibilities and go.

My name is Kate and I have sold out. Not for money, but for an opportunity to blow off volunteer work, a parent teacher session, and a field trip. Have I also mentioned that I'm leaving my family without hot water? It's true. I am sellout, slacker mommy scum. Yahoo!  Now what in the hell is a "crossover" vehicle?  As a Northern Californian, the mind boggles.

November 24, 2006

Women who pee on toilet seats

Although I am a fifth-generation Northern Californian, I subscribe to very few of the traditional Northern California values.  Many of these values (which include, apparently, a lifelong focus on "healing yourself," a love of massage, a devout knowledge of herbs and berries, and saintly tolerance when your neighbors tell you how you're eating/recycling incorrectly) irritate me, but I can understand the one about "figuring yourself out." 

I have certain relatives (who shall remain unnamed), who still have a "wow, did I do that?  How odd!" attitude about their actions, even up to and including several marriages.  "Ha!" I say.  Here in the silicon valley, we've all had enough therapy so that we understand exactly what motivates us, why we are neurotic, hard to live with, and terrified of, for example, desk drawers or clowns.  The therapy hasn't changed anything, mind you, but we understand.

But even after you toss your therapist in favor of rollerblading lessons, and even when you've gotten sufficiently tired so that you no longer have time to be massively neurotic (selecting the more reserved "bitchy" instead), the thought process continues. Deep in the subconscious, a "what is the pattern here?" subprogram runs.  And frankly, that's not a bad question to ask.

With that internal subprogram in mind, I sometimes get a surprise or two.

The other day, for example, I realized that through the years my subconscious has developed a fantasy about women's bathrooms.  Specifically, a fantasy about how to deal with women who urinate on toilet seats. 

As we all know, a particular segment of our society is scared to sit on toilet seats.  Mythbusters apparently did a segment, by the way, where they actually tested the household toilet seat to see whether or not it was "the cleanest place in the house."  Amazingly, it was.  But I'm not talking about the household toilet seat.  I'm talking about public toilet seats.

And I'm talking about the segment of our society that apparently mewls in alarm at the very concept of touching their lily white asses (OK, OK probably multicolored, but it's a lovely phrase, isn't it?) to the seat.  I'm talking about fifty-something women in, say, Bloomingdales, who apparently see the other women as dressed in some sort of virtual maid's costume.  Or a nurse's outfit. 

From the time that my son was born, I thought about training him to say (in one of those piping children's voices that carries)  "Mommy, why did that woman pee on the toilet seat?"  I'm not sure, but it tickled the heck out of me.  I could just visualize a quiet, immensely disapproving line of bag-carrying women, heads swiveling in unison as they chilled the offender to the bone. 

Yup.  That's it.  That's my big fantasy. Or at least the best-developed one.  Of course I have other fantasies. I had one today when I inadvertently SAT in something that one of these nasty, horrible women left on the seat. I fantasized about grabbing her by the neck and screaming at her while shaking her back and forth.  But of course, that's not quite as civilized as the first one.

My son is six now, and we've only been able to do this once.  Now that I actually HAVE a child, I realize that children are more apt to pipe up with a "why do you want me to yell at that lady, mommy?" than the requested line. Darn it.   But I'd sure welcome any stories of embarrassment success for the sprayer coalition!

Incidentally, since we're moving into the holiday season, here's a little something for the "sprayer" on your holiday list!

November 19, 2006

In lieu of headscarves: the "I support peace in the middle east" movement

The smart folks at Obsidian Wings just recommended a new blog called Good Neighbors, which is a blog devoted to intercultural discussion about peace in the middle east.  (Here's Michael Totten's post about it.)  From the Good Neighbor's About page:

This site is dedicated to increasing dialogue and understanding between Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Saudis, Iranians, Iraqis, Libians, Sudanese, and Syrians on a cross-country level, as well as to increase understanding, respect and dialogue among the various strata of society within our individual countries...We are committed to building a better future.  And we are full of hope.

I was reading through it and saw this post, which proposes a simple "I support peace in the middle east" movement, instead of the fiery rhetoric that's so often heard.  Throughout the middle east, Yaeli (an Israeli) maintains, it's hard for the voices of moderation to be heard. Why not start a people's movement for peace? Why not indeed.  This sounds like a mother's movement if ever there was one.  Pass it on.

November 10, 2006

pole dancing and personal choices

Pole_dancing_1 A friend in Germany just sent me information about a pole dancing kit that was recently pulled from the shelves of stores in the UK.  The manufacturer was originally marketing it to children as young as 5 and 6, using the slogan "unleash your inner sex kitten." They're now repurposing it as a fitness accessory.

I'm going to let the whole "let's turn our young female children into little slutlets" thing slide for a while, with your permission.  I'm sure that we'll get a lot of mileage out of that one of these days, but today I want to discuss something else.

Can we talk about the whole pole dancing thing for a minute? Yuck.  What brought this on? The political situation? Economic and global trends?  The Sopranos?  Women wanting to "learn how to do it" or "practicing it" is really something that rates right up there with "what you do with your body hair in private" and I do NOT want to know about it.  Can we stop already?  Please?

Besides, I prefer women in hanging cages, if you want to get retro about dancers.

This week I got an email about two “experienced Pilates instructors” in my neighborhood who have started a pole dancing school (institute?) for exercise.  Their entire business is teaching women to swing around on poles.

I think that this is where I start to feel middle aged.  Perhaps middle age is where you've seen this stuff just too much before and you're a bit puzzled by why it's been dusted off again.  Like the recent spate of pole dance mentions in the press.  I’m sorry. It’s such BS. Same old “let non-hooker women play with the ‘bad girl’ thing and claim that it’s “empowering,” “good exercise,” “something for them”… does any of this sound familiar? Or even a bit disingenuous?

Ever heard the somewhat cynical theory that the entire concept of free sex in the sixties was more about horny young men getting laid than about any revolution for women?

But let’s get back to the pole. In the first place, I find the whole pole dancing thing utterly bereft of any  sensuality or titillation.  It's a big pole, see?  (shiny!)  And you can 409 it off in between sessions.  And you hop and twirl around it (yeah, yeah, it’s a wonderful workout), and some guy sits there and watches.  Nope.  Leaves me cold.   And, although now hundreds of women are now all over the internet and newspapers claiming that it's "just clean sexy fun," let's not forget that these poles have traditionally been used by strippers, working in places with little light, clouds of cigarette smoke, drunken patrons, and sticky floors.

Here’s a novel idea. If we really want to exercise by mainstreaming traditionally demeaning things that women do for money in sleazy bars, how about learning to pick up a dollar with your yin-yang? It’s a great trick and quite useful after childbirth.

The pole thing just doesn't do it for me.  At least if you're in a cage, you have a little more depth of interaction.  The whole "can look but don't touch" thing. The whole "mine and not yours" thing. This stuff is the proverbial give-and-take of sensuality.  It's fun. It's playful.  I'm sorry, but a freaking pole only makes me think of single mothers in Sunnyvale, dancing  with this pole so that they can feed their child.  Or those inflated, desperate-looking pole dancers in the Sopranos, who periodically get raped or murdered as the story line warrants.

Years ago, when I was first in the silicon valley, I was determined to be one of the guys.  This meant going to lunch with them.  They routinely went to the local strip joint for lunch and 20-something I went with them a few times.  I walked in with my coworkers, ordered a burger, and chatted while the sad ladies danced and bumped their way through their numbers.  It was a real experience. This was around 1980 or 1981, before much civilization had come to the valley, and I, a dyed-in-the-wool feminist, got my first taste of the gray area in making personal life choices. 

Life has changed now, feminism is practically incarnate, and several generations of women have grown up thinking that they can do exactly what they want to do without harming "the core being."  And that's true. 

At some level, it doesn't matter one whit what people think.  At another level, activities that looks like a fun, exciting trend now (and just for fitness!) might just seem sleazy and tacky in another five years. 

I think that one of the reasons why the pole dancing trend is disquieting is that in our society you often still have to pay a price, in less respect, lower wages, and so forth, by being equated with sex. Some of us experience a nameless discomfort when activities like this are touted, but it's no longer so easy to point to a direct consequence of them. Maybe there isn't one. Depends on what you want to do in your life.  And perhaps the best course of action is to let people do what they want, but continue uttering words of caution. History and context are good, no matter what you're doing.

In this case, one of the words of caution would be about publicizing your involvement in this trend.  Information doesn't die on the internet.  Be your own PR person and choose your hobbies wisely. By the way, when we were younger, my girlfriends and I discovered that a simple garter belt got excellent results - and we didn't have to worry about muscle tears.

Gotta go.  It's time to iron my "Hooters" t-shirt!

Toy Office

We are a two and a half office family. My husband and I are both home office people. We used to share an office (and loved it), but nowadays my husband gets his own office, and I share my office with a 3.5 year old.

About a year ago, my son coined the term "toy office." As in "let's go into the toy office!" And that's what we do. I type, he plays. Toy. Office. It's a great term. Wonderful connotations, too. Good for encouraging a nice white-collar career path later in life. It's an office. You PLAY there. Yeah.

But seriously, I've never really understood the role of women and their workplaces in American homes. We were, um, [insert ironic descriptive term here] enough to have bought a house in the dreaded year 2K real estate gargantua-price-extravaganza. As such, we like to keep an oar in by stopping by open houses sometimes. And in years of looking at Bay area homes, I have never seen a mom's office. Is that wierd or what? Maybe it's the socieconomic area? We looked a lot in Hillsborough and Atherton. But we recently looked (just for grins) at the 9,000 square foot, seven million dollar house down the street a bit. The house, confided the real estate agent, was bought with the proceeds of a well-timed stock sale. (The wife's.) She's involved in some other investments, too, and they commented that she's obviously a big part of the family's financial success.

Does she have a home office? Not on your life. There is a large, leather and mahogany-lined masculine extravaganza of an office. There is a large toy room. A large home theatre. A big room next to the toy room, which oddly enough has a foosball game in it. There's a bedroom for the au pair, a large walk-in closet, a family room that you could house a Guatamalen family of 12 in ... and I couldn't for the life of me figure out where the mom kept her life.

Is it just me? Does nobody else need places and stuff and a workspace, and so forth? Is it a writer-ish thing?

As I look, I have a fourteen-slot organizer, a bulletin board crammed with the requisite tacked-and-forgotten detritus, a hanging file thing, an in box, a four-drawer file cabinet (one entire drawer of which is filled with TRAVEL NOTES!), and so forth.

I've always had a home office. I always will. Even if I just live in one room, there will be a table, a chair, and a typewriter (or similar data entry device).

The thing that I always found really immensely scary are those upper middle class kitchens from the seventies and eighties with the cute little tiny desk built into the kitchen. In my opinion, that's like asking someone to nurse in the bathroom (but of course, that's just my knee-jerk side.)

At any rate, this entire thing comes up because we went to a birthday party today. On the way out, my son piped up with "where was the toy office?"

Next week:

"Where are the books?"

From the historical archives of The Anachronistic Mom blog

November 07, 2006

Dixie Chicks, NBC, blacklisting, and and the people's opinions

Dixie I don't have time to write much, but since today is voting day and all, I wanted to pass on a link.  The link is to a blog called Think Progress, and it's called The Dixie Chicks Ad that NBC Doesn't want you to See.  Remember when Bush declared his first war, infuriating many Americans?  Remember the creation of an organization called "Not in Our Name?"  Well, just about when he started his second war, the Dixie Chicks made their famous statement that they were ashamed that the president came from Texas.

From what I can tell, the Dixie Chicks are pretty ... Texan. Don't take much crap, talk straight, are quite opinionated.  Well, they paid for the statement.  They were blacklisted, their music was boycotted across most country western markets, people picketed them, saying that they want to deport them, and they received a massive amount of hate mail.

Does anybody but me think that this is really creepy? 

They have put out a movie about the experience, and now as quoted in Think Progress, Variety has reported that NBC is refusing to air an ad for the new Dixie Chicks documentary, “Shut Up & Sing.”  because  “NBC’s commercial clearance department said in writing that it ‘cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush.’”

Think Progress quotes Harvey Weinstein, who is distributing the movie, from his statement:

It’s a sad commentary about the level of fear in our society that a movie about a group of courageous entertainers who were blacklisted for exercising their right of free speech is now itself being blacklisted by corporate America. The idea that anyone should be penalized for criticizing the president is profoundly un-American.

See the clip here.

But more importantly, read the comments.  From what I can tell, both liberals and conservatives are angered that you're not allowed to speak out AND be American any more.  Let's hope that this anger shows itself as we and our fellow Americans - no matter what their opinions - head to the polls.

November 04, 2006

politics, antidepressants, sexual side effects, and ultimate hopes

Pile_of_mail I'm very proud of myself this year. I've almost totally ignored much of the spend-o-fest that is the upcoming election.  Somehow, in managing to absolutely drown myself in my schedule (have I mentioned houseguests? pesky medical stuff? palpitations about junior's performance? being stupid enough to volunteer for "helpmom" status at the school?) I have managed to put off the election.

I suspect that it's at the bottom of my "in" basket.  Below the, um, bills.

My son and I split an office, by the way, (The "toy office") and he has found that laying brightly-colored objects on mommy's workspace is a grand way to get attention.  On any given day I'll have three or four children's books, a toy accordian, some soldiers, a dragon, a small, stuffed turtle "aka Crystal Turtle," and other friends atop my interests. Is it any wonder that reading the fevered rantings of some "green" candidate drops in priority?  Or the water bill, for that matter?

Today, I read a wonderful column in which the columnist talked about those of us who still have the campaign literature piled on the refrigerator and are hoping to at least get to scan it before voting.  It made me laugh out loud.  Yes, even with those lovely telephone calls I've been getting (aren't those people jerks?), I've still managed to not be "imprinted" with my "message" to take to the polls.

Don't get me wrong. I get the Moveon.org emails and am signed up with all sorts of formidable liberal action networks. I know that they're tracking elections across the nation and trying to get a leg up on the steaming, Rapture-driven fundamentalist machine.  I know that the only way to do this is to involve the normals via internet, and I've pulled out my wallet for all sorts of wierd appeals this year.  You bet. Sure, I care, but if I really tracked what's going on in our country these days, I'd be sawing at my wrists with a rusty piece of metal, so I pay attention blurrily.

The other day, a girlfriend was telling me about antidepressants.  "I was having really scary anger attacks," she said.  "So they put me on Wellbutrin. It worked for a while but I had to try something else.  I felt fine, but I didn't give a sh*t, and I wasn't motivated to do anything."

Incidentally, have you ever seen www.askapatient.com?  The Wellbutrin reviews are hilarious.  Especially the sex side effects (which my girlfriend never mentioned.) But they seem to be confined to men, darn it.  I had to laugh, though, at the report that "taking this antidepressant makes me want to wander around the house naked."

Oops.  Now look what I've done.  We've gone from an earnest, "on top of it" discussion of THE ISSUES to meandering around and snickering about the Wellbutrin sex side effects!  My bad.  Politics tends to do that to me nowadays.  Ahem.  OK. Back on topic.

So, although the connection is somewhat oblique, I kind of feel like I'm on ... well, some antidepressant at least, when I think about politics.  Maybe it's being over forty.  I keep thinking that some nice twenty year old can get all het up about this stuff and I'll just send a check.  Meanwhile, I watch Jon Stewart for my news and periodically just hope it stops.

My point?  Aha!  I took Valerie's poll.  I got to the point where they actually mentioned the issues and had no freaking idea. 

So I cheated. I typed "how to vote in California" into Google, and sat back, preparing to wade through the right-wing answers with a rake. Nope!   Right up popped up Speak Out California, which gives just the liberal-steeped info that I needed.  I read the voter guide. Took me about 7 minutes. And now I know how to vote.

Incidentally, a friend of mine is a smug libertarian who refuses to vote.  What a total jerk.  Vote, and keep the snakewalking, rapture-loving folks from defining your life.

In closing, when's the last time you thought about what you want from your country?  My goals for our democracy:

Stop the severely anti-American practice of inciting Americans to hate one another.

Stop the fearmongering and the removal of civil rights and the nasty, sleazy dark-room government stuff that would make Nixon turn in his grave.

Start being a country that people respect and look up to (again).

Start working with the rest of the world on important things like stopping hatred and the breeding of terrorism, feeding and educating people, stopping genocide, and making sure that we don't wreck the environment so much that our grandchildren are poisoned to death.

It's 2006, for heaven's sake, and we seem no closer to global peace and harmony, or even a freaking prime directive.  The best thing that we have going for us is increased communication through technology and the internet.  That's a net plus.  How can we leverage that to help fix the rest?

That's what I want to know.

Oh - dump Arnold.  Face it, folks. He was severely instrumental in getting Bush elected - and there are some things that you just cannot forgive.

My fingers are crossed that next Tuesday will mean an end to the closest our country has ever come to a dictatorship.  Could you do me a favor and cross yours too?

October 29, 2006

Weird Comfort Food

Isn't Weird Comfort Food a great idea for a cookbook?  I wonder if it would take off.  Probably.  Heck, they published The White Trash Cookbook.  I don't own The White Trash Cookbook incidentally. I figured that I could just go out if I wanted that type of food.

However I did purchase The WASP Cookbook (what can I say?).  Reminds me of my years in Boston - and my grandmother.  And I have to mention my absolute favorite cookbook:  You've Had Worse Things in your Mouth, by Billi Gordon. Billi's cookbook is hilarious, although hard to find now. She divides food categories uniquely: Seduction, Destitution, Motivation, and Revenge. Her peanut butter and wasabe sandwich, for example, is custom-designed for the picnic where you haul your best girlfriend's panties (found under the bed) out and confront your boyfriend. You know? And her recipe for chocolate pudding containing chocolate laxative is a really great way of broadening your culinary view of things. Looking for the perfect graduation gift? Want your daughter to dump her scummy live-in? Give her the culinary tools for success.

But I digress. I actually began this today wanting to write about weird comfort food. The strange concoctions that we, as adults, tend to eat alone in our kitchen, hunched over the bowl or plate while reading shallow magazines or genre fiction.  So... what's yours?

Does weird comfort food have rules? Sure! It has to be something that you eat at home. Entire chain restaurant menus (e.g. Ye Olde Pancake House) don't count. It has to be a specific food combination that you or someone in your family uses for nutrition and comfort. My husband, for example, puts cottage cheese on pasta. Oops, excuse me. He just corrected me. He puts cottage cheese on egg noodles because apparently they taste "totally different." I find that odd. If we have no cottage cheese, he will take plain penne pasta and put catsup on it. Now I find that cringingly bizarre.

My family has an earnest streak which renders us boring on this topic.  When I was growing up, my mother would often make me comfort food. One favorite was soft-boiled eggs, chopped up small with some butter on top and homemade bread made into toast. Pretty dull, huh? I remember eating and thinking I was just like Christopher Robin. Stuff like this is why I'm such a freaking Pollyanna today.

I suppose that macaroni and cheese might have been another family comfort food, although I don't remember it as such. And it was real macaroni and cheese. First you overcook the pasta (remember the WASP reference up top?) Then you make a homemade white sauce and put dried mustard powder, some white pepper, a dash of worcestershire sauce, and a lot of grated cheddar cheese into it. Stir it up into the pasta and bake! Put bread crumbs on top. More butter. Lots of butter.

When my mother was getting her teaching credential, she sent us over to some real, honest-to-goodness white trash types for babysitting. It was amazing. I was twelve and I read probably 200 True Detective magazines (and all of their Reader's Digest Condensed Books) while there. Every time we were there, they would feed us this extremely strange food. It was ... macaroni and cheese from a box! The Kraft stuff. And, the real shocker - no vegetables!

This family was amazing. They were like the poster children for healthy home cooking. They all weighed about 300 lbs, the mom wore a flowered housedress, and the dad routinely took little Bubba out back for a good whipping. Yikes. I haven't read a True Detective magazine (or purchased or eaten Kraft macaroni and cheese) since. And what's with that stuff, anyway? It takes just as long to make the real stuff as it does the wierd glow-in-the-dark orange stuff! But I suspect that it's the siren lure of comfort food.

The real weird comfort food," though, and the stuff I'm most interested in, is the sometimes odd combinations that you developed as a child and still (somewhat furtively) try today. When you're a kid, you're just developing taste buds and a sense of, um, personal style. The results can be entertaining. Yesterday, I made a can of Campbells tomato soup. I put it on the table, and then got out the saltine crackers. Methodically, I crumpled about 10 of them onto the top of the soup. Then, I ate it. My son looked at me somewhat oddly and I tried to get him to taste it. He did, and then looked at me more oddly. "No thanks mom" he said, emphatically.

Ah, well, he'll figure out his own comfort food. I also enjoyed homemade dill pickles dipped in milk for a few years. Might I add, though, that I was raised in a health food-conscious home in the middle of the country, and we had limited options? Like lots of carob, and tea with honey in it if we wanted sweets?

Frankly, I look forward to hearing what all of you suburban ex-kids used to eat as comfort food. I'll bet you can come up with some toe-curling oddities. Come on, I dare you. Share!

BTW, as penance for the (shark noise please) Amazon link inclusions, here's a good booklover's link, just to even things out a bit.

Originally published on www.anachronisticmom.com

October 23, 2006

Revenge of the Marketing Bunnies?

Pretty_lady Reading Pamela's post about skinny, noxious fashion types (from Menlo Park and Atherton!), clutching their designer bags as they bitchily Blahnik their way through the mall, gave me pause.

It's true that the silicon valley has changed.  Years ago, in the silicon valley's naive, young years, it was just a vast post-academic, post cold-war arena, populated by thousands of geeks. 

You could see them walking down Palo Alto's University Avenue at all hours of day and night, thousands of geek-feet encased in Birkenstocks and white socks, the sound of bearded, whuffly geek laughter drifting in the air as they chatted about Usenet groups, technology, startups, and various hacks.  All over the valley, you could see them congregating in the traditional "geek clumping packs" as they ogled new technology at Fry's, listened to presentations at SLAC, or frantically gathered "gimme" products at the weekly trade show extravaganzas.

There was geek music, geek entertainment, geek culture, and geek love. It was awesome.  Everyone looked pretty bad, it's true, but having lived here in the eighties, I can attest to the fact that it's just because nobody cared, and not because they did the wierd eighties fashion stuff.

But now, as Pamela points out, there's a new force in the valley and her name is ... if I get this right.... raving fashion-conscious, social-climbing, nasty-to-the-"help" bitch.

Oh dear.

What could have caused our beautiful valley to slide into typical upper-middle class suburban nastiness?  What could have caused our beloved Stanford Shopping Center to turn into a miniature Westwood Village?

Let's look into the causes.

If fed enough wine, some people here in the valley have been known to speculate that it's a revenge of the marketing bunny kind of thing.  The ubiquitous marketing bunny was first brought in, if I remember correctly, by Apple computer, as sort of an eye-candy accoutrement to the technical company that had everything.  Marketing bunnies were liberal arts-educated, often blonde,  meticulously styled, and were the first significant aesthetic social force in the valley.  Marketing bunnies were not known for a particularly rich inner life, however, and most were very bored by high tech.

Well, it's twenty years later, and many of these ex-bunnies have married our geeks and settled down. What happens to an aging marketing bunny?  The hair stays blonde (sometimes as many as 15 different shades!), the features harden, the lines begin to be strategically botoxed, the lips plumped. And the goals?  The interests?  The activities? 

Yup.  Self. And how self looks. And how self exercises. Fashion, of course. And then ... the bitterness of aging. (caution: that's an extreme example)

But you can find bitchy Prada-wearing post-bunnies in every single suburban bastion of wealth.  And I'm not sure that I buy this theory.  That our geeks got ... dare we say ... eaten? by some sort of blonde female vacuosity-generator turned nasty?  It just seems too easy to blame the bunny.  Maybe societal forces turned her into a raving bitch.  Maybe it's not her fault.

A second theory is that there's just too damn much money around here, and that Americans who make a lot of money have no idea who to model themselves after, so they choose old Dynasty characters instead of doing something neat that they are passionate about. This is a highly amusing theory and makes for good party conversation. I like this one. 

And another, connected, theory goes back to the phrase "rich inner life."  You see, one of the best things about geeks and the silicon valley is the un self-consciousness.  I'm not talking about every-day life. I'm talking about enthusiasms,about passions.  Hobbies, joys, fun things  with (let's face it) a high dork factor.  Kind of the opposite of fashion, if you think about it.

In other parts of the country, young professionals engage in formalized rituals: parties, bars, and dating.  These rituals are based upon self-consciousness, and have been designed for years to perpetuate society.  You know: cute girl is raised to have "nice values," is educated, meets cute guy, gets married, and ... um, joins junior league? 

Nothing intrinsically wrong with that system, but what if you start introducing large sums of money into it?  Whammo!  Raving bitch with Prada. (I'd bet you anything.)  Oh. And I forgot part of the description: If cute girl doesn't wear the right cute clothes, or if her parents aren't rich enough, other cute girls cut her to bits and shun her. Nice, huh?

Now you could either ban fashion (which, in my personal book, might be a good idea), or you can raise your child with passions and enthusiasms to resist the most powerful social nastiness.

I've always found it odd that boy-hobbies seem to lead towards action, but so many girl-hobbies lead towards looks.  Maybe it's time to really work on helping women develop outward-based passions and joys.  Stuff that's NOT about themselves and how they look, but is about almost anything else (even the dreaded horse lust).  Girls with real passions have a natural defense against bunnyhood.

So how can our silicon valley defend itself against the bunny-carried virus of upper middle-class social viciousness?  Perhaps an unnatural interest in fashion can be treated as a slight brain anomaly.  Or perhaps children who display fashion thrall should immediately be taken in hand and their brains engaged.  What is fashionable and "pretty?"  Why?  What is the difference between being fashionable now in our culture, and in other cultures, at other times?  Are pretty people better? Do they have more power?  Discuss.  How has fashion had an effect on politics?  Has it helped to topple societies?  How is fashion like architecture?  Do girls use fashion against one another?  How? Do you want to be like that?  And so forth.

Perhaps fashion is OK, as long as it's kept firmly in context.

And perhaps geek culture could realize that we have a unique opportunity here in the silicon valley.  We have made our financial successes freed from the crippling and often bizarre social restrictions put upon workers  in other career arenas like investment banking, anything that deals with the public, or oil.  Now many of us are settled in our large McMansions or small, exquisitely-priced Palo Alto and Menlo Park homes, and our lives shape the silicon valley of the future.

Where do we take our children, our culture?  We have such great power, intellect, and interest of life here in the valley. Surely success doesn't just stop at Prada and bitchiness?

Don Juan at 6

My son likes girls.  A lot. 

Before I had him, I (raised on feminist tracts and the National Lampoon) was convinced that advertising and cultural striations made us act as we did toward members of the opposite sex.  My observations were shaped by the seventies and by memories of pink, penis-shaped bottles of cologne for girls (seriously, do you remember that cologne?), posters of "Nasty" Kinski and the snake, and of course, by the wierd gender-specific things that we do with kids and clothing and toys and recreational activities.  I was sure that we were independent, thinking entities, and all of the gender stuff was just societal programming.

And then at five months, I noticed something about my son.  He was lying in his little Graco baby bucket, and when an attractive woman would come around, he would circle his little fists around one another and then splay them out adorably - immediately getting an "ahhhhh" from the lady.  Hmmn.

I noticed a few other things, too.  My son has always liked girls from about 12 to maybe around 32.  (I'm 45, but mommies don't count.)  He's appallingly charming.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of this stuff might be genetic. 

This week, we went to the jumpy houses over on Woodside Road, where the children can romp with the pumpkins and jump their brains out for $12 an hour. We were there to meet a male friend and his little sister, but eventually the male friend had to leave, and when I next looked around, my son had found a new friend.  Or three. Three beautiful blonde little girls - two sisters and a friend.  My son bonded with the youngest and they had a rollicking time.

It's a bit odd, since about 20 minutes before he and his (male) friend were trying to beat their heads to a pulp in the bouncy house, but there it is. A total shift in gears.   And then I heard something shocking.  My son leaned over to the second grade girl (What's with all of these second grade girls?  He's in kindergarten!), looked at her dreamily, and said "Will I ever see you again?"  My eyebrows rose in shock and I glanced at the girl's mom.  She'd heard it too, and she thought it was cute as the dickens.

From there, things continued.  My son began to pester her for her telephone number, and the little girl obligingly walked up to me and rattled off some numbers.  And so goes another day at the park!

Get this.  He's got some wings.  He loves them. They're neat. Sometimes boys who come over play with the wings, but I've noticed that my (now 6-year old) son has learned to use the darn things like a babe magnet! When a little girl comes over, he'll say "I have wings" and bring them out, and five minutes later the two of them will be romping all over the place wearing wings.  Oh Lordy me.  When he's 22 he'll be doing this with a romantic CD and ... oh, I dunno. Scented candles?  Oh noooooooo.  I am prepared for many parts of parenthood, but envisioning your son as a seducer in training is just ... a bit rough.

Don't get me wrong.  My son loves rockets and if I didn't have an excellent handle on him, I'll bet he'd be blowing things up in the back yard (in the healthiest possible way, of course). But -- oh!  The siren call of little girls.

October 13, 2006

On Mathematics and Passion

Several years ago I wrote a parenting manifesto which I still follow.  One of the goals was to be passionate about your interests and your life.  And to find other people who are passionate, as well.  "Probably the most compelling and defining moments of your child's life," (I wrote) "will involve exposure to people who are living a passion -- be it teaching, fly-fishing, painting, or being a rock hound."

So let's talk about math.

I was raised math challenged.  When I was nine, after my mother's last divorce, we moved to the California mountains, where we were surrounded by seventies hippie types, animals, a lot of Pink Floyd, and huge numbers of books.  I'm sad to report that the joy of math passed me by.  My mother disliked it and so did I.

Now we live in the silicon valley, where a good friend of mine told me several years ago that she plays "math games in the car" with her child.  I was utterly flabbergasted.  "You mean, like, fun?" I said.  "Oh yes," she said. "We have a lot of fun."  Wow.  This totally blew me away and I have to admit that I spent quite a while trying to think of a math-oriented game I could play in the car with my kid.

Didn't work.  "Gee honey, what's 2 plus 2?" lacked a certain ... resonance (on both sides), and we soon dropped it.  He had to settle for the same mishmash of science information, bizarre cultural and travel tidbits, agnostic rantings, and mommy's non-Platonic monologues on "what is good."  Poor thing. 

But I see him "doing" numbers sometimes and he seems to like them.  I'd love to hook him up with someone who loves numbers, who just experiences sheer joy in them.  Maybe it will rub off.  Certainly it would be nice to at least let him know that not everyone views numbers with a baleful eye.

Enter our good friend Chongo.  He was just over chatting with my husband tonight, and showed me this web page.  Check out the story about Chongo at six at the bottom of the page.  A good cautionary tale about schools and bright kids.

Chongo's page is called How High Can you Count?  It makes sense that some children experience (apparently) a frisson of power when they can count higher than other children.  Yes! (She said, brightly.)  Sounds like Fun!  Oh, I am in so much trouble.  Do I have to be supportive of MATH now?  OK, excuse me.  Sometimes when I blog, the neuroses come out through the keyboard, although I assure you that they are firmly subdued in real life.

So, if I can interrupt my inner voice and stop having the vapors for a minute, this stuff is actually pretty cool. Chongo's pages are about playing with math.  He discovered some Prime numbers and has never lost his love for math.  The thing that I like about his website is that it's not some velvet-wrapped iron fist technique for getting your kids to SCORE HIGHER.  It's a genuine website from a genuine person who just flat-out loves this stuff.

And check out this game that he's put together, called The English name for a number.   Figure out what number you want.  Check some boxes.  Do you want it named using English or American convention? Power of 10? Miscellaneous odd things that you can check?  I put in this number: 789485726475950938484758596969585747383398390450550 and the little applet told me that the name of the number is:

seven hundred eighty nine quindecillion,
four hundred eighty five quattuordecillion,
seven hundred twenty six tredecillion,
four hundred seventy five dodecillion,
nine hundred fifty undecillion,
nine hundred thirty eight decillion,
four hundred eighty four nonillion,
seven hundred fifty eight octillion,
five hundred ninety six septillion,
nine hundred sixty nine sextillion,
five hundred eighty five quintillion,
seven hundred forty seven quadrillion,
three hundred eighty three trillion,
three hundred ninety eight billion,
three hundred ninety million,
four hundred fifty thousand,
five hundred fifty


You know, I am a total non-math fan, and that was even a little fun for me.  Then there's the  cryptographically sound random number generator and ... Oh Lord, I just don't get it.  This is one of the reasons why it's good to cook, so that when really brilliant people come over and start talking with my husband about math and science and technology, I can go make soup.  And such a relief to be the intellectual slacker. I embrace it over here at our house!  Where IS my Agatha Christie book?

One last thing.  At the end of the evening, Chongo took my kid out in the front yard to look at stars, and boy does he have a different perspective! (check out the Astronomy vita!) USUALLY my child gets stories of the constellations, which of course morph into stories from mythology and then, social commentary.   When I went out though, Chongo was talking with him about ... Oh, I dunno. Some wierd space travel time continuum thing.

I realize that I've been waxing rhapsodic over some weird geek stuff (yeah?  Why ELSE live in the silicon valley for over 20 years), and I apologize.  Tomorrow I'll probably get irritated at the mall again, but for today, I just want to say "hooray for passions!"  And thank goodness my child won't have to grow up thinking of numbers without joy.

September 28, 2006

Life with McMansions

872c12c90e086cd4bddd1bd07e29 We live in the beauteous and restful neighborhood of Lindenwood, in Atherton, California.

Today was another lovely summer day. We were awakened at 8 AM by a parade of dump trucks, a bulldozer, and a roller - approximately forty feet from our bedroom window. It’s almost 11, and the parade hasn’t wavered. Four years of these noises.  Ah, the birthing pangs of another McMansion. 

My husband, a gentle soul, said this morning that our welcome gift to our new neighbors (in the flag lot behind our home) should be a stack of Marshall amps and an electric guitar. Given to our six year old. My personal preference is recreational jackhammering.

I wouldn’t mind so much, but the neighbor dropped by our home a week and a half ago. “The house is done!” she said. “We’ll be moving in this week!” Great. Nice to hear. The original due date for the project was in February, but July is fine. Today at 8 AM, I got up in my bathrobe and walked to the back of our property. I climbed onto a tree trunk to look and groaned. There is no driveway in the house behind us. We have figured out that the parade of dump trucks probably belongs to the new swimming pool, and … there is no way that this project will be done before October.  Really poor expectation setting there.

Now I can’t blame the nice new neighbors. After all, they bought this lot for an exorbitant amount, and then didn’t touch it at all for four years. Lovely, quiet years - on the back side of the house.  They are very nice and we’re looking forward to having new neighbors. The house is beautiful – a veritable mansion – and I shall be tempted to genuflect as I walk into it. But I am so very tired of the noise thing. 

When we bought this house I was 8 months pregnant. There was a quiet, wooded lot in the front of the house, across the street. When our son turned three months old, they broke dirt on that lot and kept building for our first three years. Napping during the jackhammering phase was a big challenge. Eight months after the front house was finished, the rear neighbor started.  We are praying that the side neighbors stay healthy and happy.

Despite the irritations of McMansion construction, I guess you could say that the benefits outweigh the pain.  Sort of.  I mean, such entertaining design choices.  For example, the new house down the street. Despite being on a full acre, they have cleverly designed it so that you can see right into the neighbor’s yards from every upstairs window!

Like many in the silicon valley, we do recreational house tours on Sundays. It’s been amazing to see how large and gothic window frames are getting, and to learn more about modern suburban living styles.  Feels a little like "building materials of kings past," if you pay attention to all of the marble and stone.  Apparently the latest trend is to buy a full acre lot, build a house that protects you from being overwhelmed by the yard (concrete, after all, is so much more civilized than bushes), and then build a full garage-cum-basement underneath the house (because, with such a large house, you don't have space for a garage.)

My favorite example is in our neighborhood.  It's a large home.  The beautiful concrete/tile drive area in front allows the owners to drive into their property, make a full circle, turn and drive into the underground parking garage, and happily park fifty cars! This, indeed, is progress. The biggest driveway on their street. Certainly a masterful indicator.  Took years to build!  I have always wondered if the designer suffered from botanophobia.

And what is located in the new, underground layer of these McMansions? The last one I looked at had a large exercise room (empty), a large movie room, a big hallway, a few other miscellaneous rooms and a laundry room.

My first thought about the space was that it seemed like the perfect place to deflower the daughter of the house when nobody was looking, but that's probably just mom paranoia - forget I mentioned it, ok?

We had thought to stay home today and enjoy the back yard and summer. Now I think I’ll go somewhere peaceful. Like Costco. Maybe they sell Marshall amps.

September 17, 2006

Oh, my totemistic life

I live with a preliterate.

There are totems and meaningful arrangements of things all over the place.  Sometimes I expect to find a little, feathered clump with a small hatchet next to it. Say, under the dining room table.

We did this on purpose, of course.  We have raised my 5.5 year old child on stories (mom and dad tell them - our child now helps), and we have given him wierd-ass toys.  Oh yes, and we haven't let the commercial nasties take up residence inside of his mind.

Today I went into the kitchen to see two children's chairs. One was upended on the other to provide a table.  On the table was a little manniken next to a small paintbrush.  On the table, next to them, was a wooden model of Apollo 11, on its side so that the door could open. Neatly arranged around it was a card, and about 8 crayons, stacked so they looked like a pathway.  Lord knows what the whole thing represented, although I will report that when the creator showed up, he began flying the manniken around on the paintbrush.  Obvious, n'est pas?

Yesterday, I heard "h'-aaaaaah!"  repeated about 15 times coming from our son's bedroom.  I walked in to see him holding one of his knights (we bought him knights in Paris - that started all sorts of things!).  The knight yelled the battle cry and attacked the round glass orb that we gave our son for Christmas.  Why did we give our son a round glass orb?  Well, it's cool, of course.  It has bubbles in it and looks magical.  At any rate, the knight was attacking the round orb and pushing it across the carpet.  At the end of the carpet, the orb rolled onto the hardwood floor and the knight did a jubilant dance. Then they started over.

We have played with as much "garbage" as we have new stuff.  I have a hard time throwing away old toys because (I hate to admit this) but ... I have always *liked* those cars with the barbie dolls and toys glued all over them.  They look like great fun!  (And would drive the neighbors crazy, she says with relish.)

Perhaps when he's a bit older, we can buy a golf cart or something and give it a real "decorating job." 

In the meantime, I watch him and wish that we had a professional photographer living in the guest room. The arrangements that I find all over my house -- and their attendant totemistic powers and meaning -- are really, amazingly neat.  Here are my lousy photos but in my mind's eye I see them up on the wall in an art gallery. 

During training, artists study and understand every aspect and rule of art.  But for their masterpieces, they move past the rules and reach way down deep in themselves for an essence - the spark of wonder.  Perhaps some of what they grab for is the stuff that was going through their heads at 5?  The magic, the electric clicking of items in wonderlands?

I love five.


Published first on the Anachronistic Mom

September 08, 2006

Assimilation 101 - the sports thing

Despite mommy - who suffers from (is exalted by? who can say) an "I am a martian" syndrome, my son is starting suburban ice skating and soccer lessons. This is *so cool!* Part of me wants to just lock him in his room with a painting set and some books for the next 5 years or so, only taking him out for ethnic restaurant visits and trips to enlightening places, but another part of me is happy that he'll go out and get to be athletic. I was thinking about it today and realized that athletics might actually be, like, a part of his life. Odd.

Incidentally, this whole "stages of life" thing is pretty funny, especially in the silicon valley. For example, many of us who didn't wear coke-bottle lenses and have our calculators in holsters nonetheless experienced a feeling of being "out of step" with life. I think it's called young adulthood, but I'm not sure. At any rate, we went from normal childhood activities to unhealthy fixations about literature, research, existentialism, computers, work, and listening to (often antisocial) music. Ah, our twenties were such fun.

And if you live in the silicon valley, you can keep it up. You can go to Science Fiction and Hackers Group parties, where you can show up wearing a large cardboard sun cut to wear your head (if you'd like), and nobody will blink. You can literally spend years responding to every social statement made to you by saying "Burning Man was the best thing that happened to me all year," and nobody will think twice about it. I know that American culture is said to keep us young and acquisitive for years, but the valley beats out everywhere. You can keep that pure, post-pubescent awkwardness thing, mix it up with some overachiever-incredibly-focused on work energy and a lot of "but about 80% of me is still four" humor and love of fun, and you can *bank* on that as your personality - for twenty years if you'd like! Fill your entire apartment with Legos. It's OK.

Of course the "we're different, we're odd, we're pretty alienated" stuff palls when you have children. It doesn't go away, mind you, but it's not exactly the type of message that you want little Dylan and Kaiseke picking up. So you smile, and then you take them to preschool. And here's the weird thing. In preschool (as was recently pointed out to me by a psychiatric professional, who found it odd), children are expected to do *everything* well. Ever think about that? ONLY in preschool. If you're an adult, nobody expects you to be across the board normal/good at things. No way. But nowadays, kids are scanned up the wazoo, almost from birth, to make sure that they're *OK.* The fear of ADHD and Autism and Aspberger's hangs like a big, black bat, upside down in the corner, and everyone tiptoes around, facilitating eye contact with their kids and talking brightly.

But I digress. In our family, the kid's the social one. He adores people. He is open-countenanced, pleasant, innately happy, and ... (Oh dear heavens) probably athletic.

He *is* athletic, too. My husband and I are not familiar with this concept, although if I dredge back to my childhood, I can remember that other children were athletic, and that doing athletics was pretty fun. Well, in between bone-wrenching sessions of self-consciousness, but who's counting?

I took my son to go ice skating with our neighbor the other day and "free skate" was finished - they only had lessons. Bright me. I said "Can he try a lesson?" figuring that he'd hate it, we'd be done, and we would have done our obligatory "join the neighbor skate time." However, it turned out to be just lovely. There were four boys, all the same size, in the "tot class," and they were just adorable. They all skated with little tiny steps, arms out, and they had THREE instructors. Is that cool or what? Two of the instructors were guys. Big, manly ex-champ guys, or so I was told, which seems really cool for little boys.

The instructors drew a big squiggle across the ice and the kids skated across it. My kid shocked me. He did very well, didn't cry or fail to listen, and ... wow! He's five! He was out there for 40 minutes, and life was good. At the end of the lesson, it was very cute. They have a garbage bag full of 4-inch big pieces of plastic, which they strewed all over the ice. The kids had to skate over, bend down, pick them up, and go over to make a "basket." They all did pretty well, and I can see him doing hockey - *very* easily. IMHO he'd adore it. Hockey for little kids is cool. The teacher also took a couple of the boys for "fast rides" by skating along, holding them.

The lesson was **so** much more fun than skating with mommy. So now he takes skating lessons. And we go in for his first soccer class tomorrow! Yikes! That's an accident too. My friend said that her daughter missed her first soccer class last week and I thought "hey, they're the same age!" So I asked my friend where she got the lessons. And then I called and asked if I could go, too. My son was sitting in the car tonight and out of the blue said "I'm sure it will be very fun" in a decisive tone. This kid gives me such a kick. I had to smile.

First posted on www.anachronisticmom.blogspot.com

September 06, 2006

The "Accomplished" Kindergartner

Children_playing_1 I only have one kid.  When he was younger, I was a pretty mellow mom, but then he turned three and we started tangling with preschool and socialization issues and general silicon valley "my kid is only three and just made a rocket engine with legos" stuff.   By four, I was tense.

At 2, if my kid fell over, I was proud that I wouldn't run over and fuss.  Mellow mom.  Not overprotective.  Fiiine.  By four, if my kid dropped something or fell over, I would anxiously zip over. Did he hurt anyone? Did he upset any peers?  Did he do anything wrong?  Was his energy level inappropriate?  Was he bonding enough?  Ugh. 

Finally, I pulled my kid out of "upwardly mobile" preschools (I kid you not. I used to change my clothing to take my kid to his first preschool because I garden and I looked like a homeless person. And even with changed clothes, I looked like someone's employee.  The mommies used to show up in full makeup, wearing those little slide in shoes and dress up clothes.)  I put my kid into a lovely little normal preschool in Redwood City, which is right next door to ritzy Atherton, but decidedly normal.  He was happy and fit in, I was happy and fit in, and I could breathe again.  We stopped going to icy Menlo Park parks, where you need to wear a Junior League "accepted" sticker before the other mommies (or children) will talk with you, and began going exclusively to earthier Palo Alto or pleasant, friendly Redwood City parks.  Nice.

But I'm still a bit tense.  And Kindergarten just started.

This weekend I hosted a little playdate for some of the kids in the class. My child's wonderful, awesome preschool teacher joined us.  She is on a swimming team and came over to jump into the pool and play with the kids on her day off.  Afterwards, she came and sat at the table with the mommies, to chat and eat the awesome spread (this potluck thing is great!)  I'd been worrying (just a little) about Kindergarten, and asked her about children and success.

In the list of things that I wanted in a mate (a very handy list, btw), I wanted the person to have been successful at at least one thing at some point in their life.  When I asked the teacher about success, I was thinking of the new friends that we were making, who are good at swimming, fencing, etc.  Like masters-level good.  A friend of mine with a second grader talks now about how her son has turned out to be good at math, and how it has changed and helped to shape his life. Another friend's five year old speaks four languages.  Another one is ... oh, hell, I don't know.  Analyzing Proust.  You know?  So that was what I was talking about (sort of).  I had some wierd idea that my poor just-turning-six year old perhaps should have sprouted some measurable talent or skill that set him apart from others.  I hadn't really thought about this, BTW.  It was just something that came to mind... up from my subconscious.

"Do you get many children in the class who have already had many successes?" I asked.  The teacher smiled.   "Oh yes," she said.  "If you're the first kid who can ride a bike, for example, it's a wonderful feeling."  Fump.  There went my bottom right back down to solid reality.  I was utterly charmed.   The teacher spoke warmly about success for about five minutes, and it was awesome. She views every single thing that the kids learn as a success.  Everything they master, even the small stuff, is a wonderful new success, and isn't that just the truth?

I know that I sound a bit radical about the silicon valley and the idea of nasty toxins leaching into the fabric of society from the poisonous, massively-competitive stuff that we do with our kids (Oh, did I not mention that before?  Gosh, my slip. Sorry.), but there's a point to this.  Sometimes we lose perspective.  In this place where we live, it's easy to lose perspective.  There are so many accomplished people. So many highly competitive people.  So many scared people.  And media now treats kids more like adults, like their own consumer-based segment.

I forgot.  I watched all of the curriculum presentations and worried a bit that my son hasn't quite realized that he's there to LEARN.  I watched him wiggling and doing boy stuff and thought that perhaps if he had "accomplished" something that he'd do better, have more confidence in life.  For a moment there, I lost perspective.

Duh.

His teacher is right.  My child accomplishes something new and neat every single day.  He's doing a great job, a wonderful job.  And so is she.

Thanks to all of those teachers out there who can drag us back to reality, to Kindergarten and Preschool, and remind us of normalcy.  And especially thanks to all of them who view the children in such an amazingly positive fashion and cheer them on for every single one of their accomplishments.  How cool is that?

September 02, 2006

The Cheap & Sleazy Look for 6 Year Olds

It's the first week of school and my son has no pants. I wanted to buy him pants - I tried to buy him pants, but the 6-year old clothing depression thing has me in its clutches.

From 1 to 5 was easy.  Judge if you must, but I'll say it loud and clear: I loved Baby Gap.  Five no-muss, tidy, prepped to the max years wearing little polo shirts, khaki pants, fleece pullovers, and filling in the blanks from Target and my friend Ruth, who sent me "care package" boxes of hand-me-downs.

Sure, I was kind of sad that there weren't many fun or interesting clothes for kids here in the Palo Alto area (what's up with that, anyway?).  After all, at his birth, I had vowed to dress my son in clothing with ears for as long as I possibly could.  But we had visits to Carmel, Santa Monica, and Hawaii for fashion injections (and sometimes Ebay), and Baby Gap was always there to smooth out the edges and ground us.

Blue and red striped polo shirt - awwww.  Little tweed jacket (for two years running) - awww. Five dollar shirts, since everything in Baby Gap goes on sale monthly.  Yay!

Bloomingdales was fine as long as he wore footsie clothing, but their big boy clothing made my kid look high-maintenance.  Neiman Marcus was just laughable.  Macy's was unattractive. But Baby Gap.  Jeans, polo shirts... Heaven for a mom!

But now I have gradulated (or rather, my son has).  He's six and we have been shunted over to Big Kid Gap.  My dismay is boundless. 

In the first place, there's a big cutout in the wall, so as you look at all of the clothing for 14 year olds in mini sizes that they try to pawn off on your kid, you catch heartbreaking glimpses of little baby footsies and cute little toddler overalls. 

There I stood, looking at Gap's idea of 6-year old fashion, which I can only characterize as being in the "will sell my body to pay for my soho loft" style of clothing.  And my heart sank.

All I really wanted was some pants.  Gap makes jeans, you know? Like, aren't they supposed to be the "new levis" of our generation?  Apparently not for the 6 year olds.  Gap didn't have normal pants (in stock).  I was amazed.  The big display of pants was shirred jeans.  The pants were gathered, from hem to waistband, on the outside of the legs. With big patch pockets at the knees, facing out.  Do you have a boy?  Would he be caught dead in something like that?  I really couldn't decide if Gap was going for a paratrooper look, or a cross-dressing hotel maid from Miami look. 

The rest of the jeans were amazing.  Some moron in marketing - oh dear, it's almost laughable - has decided that 6-year olds need ultra-sanded, ultra-distressed jeans. With (get this) special attention given to the back pockets, so they come with HOLES in them.  And of course, the bottom of the pants is worn through also. Like... when you throw jeans out?  That's what they've done to them.  I call this their "feral street-child look" and think that some nice, Coors-scented child cologne would set it off well.

When I was in college, a friend of mine from Theatre class named Niko (flamingly gay and I mean that in the most admiring way) used to stay home and sand his jeans to achieve the proper "do me" look in men's fashions. He once explained the proper technique for enhancing one's, um, male endowment factor.  I cannot remember exactly the directions for shading, although in retrospect it seems suspiciously like those "minimize a large nose" or "make a round face look oval" articles in Seventeen Magazine.  It was something like "If the lighter shade is on the top, it creates the illusion of more length; at the bottom, more bulk." This was California in the early eighties and (unfortunately) nobody was kidding.

Of course the early eighties is probably when the current Gap Kids Fashionista/designer/denim torturer was born, so he/she probably doesn't remember all of that, but I sure do.  When I pointed these things out to the Gapkids manager she very professionally suppressed a laugh and suggested that I send feedback in.  It seems that someone up top at the Gap is forgetting that six year olds are little kids, and that sex, drugs, and rock and roll really are NOT the proper next step from a nice striped baby polo shirt.

In the meantime, I bought one pair of pants for my kid.  I took them off of him yesterday to see the strings and threads hanging from the bottom, and it took a lot of self-control not to throw them away. Target, here I come.

P.S.  Dear Gap: little boys USE those pockets. Please stop sanding holes through them! 

August 22, 2006

Kindergarten Readiness- Yeahhhhh

Aaargh!

Oh, hello there. I was just reading some articles about Kindergarten readiness when I lost it a little.  Let me catch my breath.  Perhaps one of those nice homeopathic calmness pills, some of my imported Russian tea (in one of those lovely paper-white china cups) while I sit at my imported-wood breakfast table and ... ah, there we are.  Where IS my new age music?  Or perhaps just a glass of wine (great idea, Pamela!)

Good morning everyone!  I was just reading an article written by the National Association for the Education of Young Children that mentions how, in order to attend Kindergarten, your child should have good basic skills. He or she should be able to resolve conflicts, should know some letters of the alphabet, and be able to sit, among other things. Buttons too.  It's a nice article.  In particular, I liked this quote:

"Kindergarten is a time for children to expand their love of learning, their general knowledge, their ability to get along with others, and their interest in reaching out to the world. While kindergarten marks an important transition from preschool to the primary grades, it is important that children still get to be children -- getting kindergarteners ready for elementary school does not mean substituting academics for play time, forcing children to master first grade "skills," or relying on standardized tests to assess children’s success."

Unfortunately, the article also sounds like it was written on a different planet, based on my silicon valley experience.  (OK, OK, not just the silicon valley. No need to be geographical here.  I guess this applies to many areas populated by type-A suburban-raised-overachieving-parents-who-are-out-of -control -and-and-egged-on-by-wacked-out-pseudo-achievement-oriented-school administrators.) 

My understanding of the particular brand of achievement-based Kindergarten readiness practiced in this area is that, in order to keep up with the aggressive pressures of local kindergartens, Silicon Valley Kindergarten-ready children (especially those pesky, irritating, constantly-moving boy children, who should probably be drugged anyway) must be able to:

  • Know all of the letters of the alphabet, including their sounds.
  • Be able to write them all.
  • Both cases.
  • Be able to do rudimentary reading.
  • Sit quietly during all of the circle times.
  • Line up like little darlings.
  • Be able to act interested when the wall of their kindergarten is filled with scintillating letter combinations, like "ng."
  • Be able to add and probably subtract.  Maybe a square root if they want to impress anybody.
  • Be ready and willing to be tossed into an language immersion program.
  • If they're in a language immersion program, be prepared to take the alternate school's language offerings, say, after school or during recess.
  • Be pliant and pleasant if their parents enroll them in yet a third language program, since, after all, the age of 5 is one of the best ages for shoving language knowledge into little brains (like foi gras).
  • Wait their turn calmly.
  • Quiescently participate in their soccer, baseball, theatre, fencing, chess, gymnastics, basketball, dance, ice skating, and swimming classes.  Oh yes, and piano and tennis.
  • Start their day at 7 AM with before-school time (so mommy and daddy can work), go to school for 6 hours, and then go into a 3-hour after-school program (so that mommy and daddy can work).

Contrast that with the American Acadamy of Pediatrics (AAP) Developmental Milestones by the End of 5 Years.  Wow.  (Although, for the cost of those designer clothes and lessons, this is kind of an unimpressing list, don't you think?  Where is the French?  The Tai Chi?  Saute skills?  HOW WILL MY CHILD GET INTO PRINCETON IF HE ONLY HAS THESE SKILLS AT FIVE?????  Oh. Sorry.  Homeopathic calmness pills.  Breathe.)

And of course, the kid needs to be ready for the stresses of ordinary life at five.  Like what?  Indiana University education professor Mary McMullen summarizes "new child schedules" pretty well when she says that (many) "youngsters are forced to deal with multiple transitions throughout the day, which can be stressful for 5- and 6-year-olds. Many of these children go from some type of early morning child care to kindergarten, then to special art, music or physical education classes, then after-school child care, and then home. Many are then shuttled off to sports events or other extracurricular activities. Some even have the added stress of multiple living arrangements because of divorced parents."

Gosh, put like that, it sounds mildly insane, doesn't it?  But that's life for our kids.  What an exciting petri dish for young psyches!  Mix that up with lots of television, the new video games (can you say  unnervingly realistic gore?) and ... golly, what are we brewing for future generations?

But for now, let's think about Kindergarten for a few minutes, since many of our kids are heading into it.  Does anybody else out there think that it's time to get a bit militant and take it back?  Maybe, like, along with childhood?

Here's a great article by Linda Starr from Education Weekly talking about some of the insane things that Kindergartens are aspiring to teach by the end of the year.  Goals, if you will.  And no, it' s not "raising your hand and waiting your turn."  I'll pull a few quotes out but I'd urge you to read the article.  Starr is a kindergarten teacher who totally rocks and her words should echo in your ears as you look at your own kid's class.

One of my favorite mentions is that "The Kindergarten Content Summary for Lombard (Illinois) Elementary School District 44 says that kindergarten students will learn to "identify story elements: plot, setting, characters." The AAP says that five-year-olds should "understand that stories have a beginning, middle, and end.""  Do you think that this is just some under-educated middle manager parsing wrong?  Or will the kids be working on a playground-sized Hero's Journey model while playing with their poseable Jung dolls?

Another example from Ms. Starr's article is: "The Cotati-Rohneet Park Unified School District in Rohnert Park, California, Kindergarten Curriculum requires kindergarten students (by the end of the year) to "count with one-to-one correspondence to 30" and "comprehend relationships between numbers to 30." The AAP says that average five-year-olds are developmentally able to "count up to 10 objects.""  Um, yeah.  Well, I'm still working on the number relationship thing. I hope my five year old can figure it out. 

Starr says "In trying to maximize our children's progress, we are ignoring the importance of their developmental limitations -- and we may be jeopardizing their future as well. We need to take a closer look, not simply at the age at which children enter kindergarten or at the experience they bring with them, but also at the developmental stage at which they enter; and then we need to develop a curriculum that meets those needs."  She says a lot more, too.  And we should all read it and take heed.

Finally, she quotes David Elkind, a professor of child development at Tufts University (and a GREAT author ) "To impose a strict structure on children in kindergarten totally violates what we know about early childhood development," Even worse, Elkind notes, "children feel stupid when they are asked to do something that they are developmentally unable to do."

I'm done.  I won't say more.  Well, one thing.

Please, as our children start Kindergarten and school this year, remember that it's OK to play in Kindergarten.  Playing in Kindergarten, experiencing the world in a broad way while they're still young, and having fun in school gives your child a far wider base from which to live and achieve than trying to be academic before their time.   And also, it might just be possible that the biggest goals in Kindergarten should be socialization and learning to like school and learning. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go back to reading Homer onto a tape player so that my child can absorb it subliminally while he sleeps...

August 11, 2006

Boy Pocket Inventory #1

It's happening. All of that stuff I used to read (starting from "Huck Finn") about boys and their pockets is happening right now.

Today I am guilty of not doing laundry for a little while. (So? Want to make something of it? The Japanese have created underpants that can be worn for SEVEN DAYS!)

And let's just follow that train of thought for a minute, can we? They have also created Good Luck Underwear.  And did you know that there's now disposable underwear for travelers?  Truly, popgadgets is an interesting blog. They have a newsletter and I just might subscribe. It's NOT all underwear, BTW.  Honest.

You know, philosophically (culturally?) speaking, if you type things like "japanese underwear for seven days" or "Japanese underwear for multiple days" into Google, you get some very interesting products. Power underwear for businessmen?

OK, OK, enough with the underwear. I told my son that I would only type out what was in his pockets and then we'd go back to playing "robot" in the kitchen, so I have to hurry.

- eight "Cariboo" cards, apparently lifted from preschool (sigh)
- two rocks: one red and rough, one white and smooth
- one bottle cap (totally retro!).  Says Bawls Guarana on it? Huh?  OK, perhaps not so retro. What happened to Coca Cola?
- one seashell
- one piece of twistable golden crayon (a terrible investment for a five year old, BTW. He twisted them all out, broke them off at the base, and has carried them around for weeks. Back to old crayons.
- a piece of plastic pirate's gold
- Some wierd postmodern looking 2.5 inch by 3 inch plastic card with punchouts for... parts of an airplane?
- two twisty tops
- a small subway map of the Paris subway

Does this sound familiar, all you post boys out there?  Ah, Boy phenomena.

August 06, 2006

Mouse Hockey

I have a bitter relationship with my housekeepers. Tonight, I saw evidence that the money spent on housekeepers should probably just go to makeup or one of those inner-thigh-cum-abs machines from home shopping network, when we lifted the couch. If you hire a housekeeper, your couch shouldn't have dust bunnies and junk under it. Period. Mine does.

Why did we lift the couch? Because Prozac the cat had been sitting there, watching underneath it for a half hour, and I deduced that there must either be a mouse, or the biggest bad-ass spider in the world under there. And either way, it was coming out.

"Honey, come here," I said. "Pick up the couch." He tugged on it. I snarled. "UP." He lifted it, and a cute little mouse scampered to the far end of the area. "It's going," I said and turned around. "I'll get a shovel."

I have to explain something here. I am essentially a country girl. Woman if you grew up near the seventies, but the phrase has staying power. As a country girl, I don't think that you'd catch me living in the country without a shotgun and a few shovels. Some nice digging ones, and a nice flat one I can use to kill critters. You know?

Recently, to the incredibly catty delight of some friends of mine on the local mother's club email list, a woman from Atherton posted hysterical notes to all 2,000 members. "Help!" she said. "I live in Atherton and there is a dead squirrel outside! Where can I hire someone for this?" The entire list was gratified to receive an additional posting, later that afternoon, saying "the nanny showed up and put it into a garbage bag."

Yup.

At any rate, we're not that type of household over here. But even as I thought of getting a shovel, I realized it wouldn't work. "Are you going to whack it?" said my husband, interestedly. (He's that type of domestic presence.) But I couldn't. If you're outside and it's dead, you just pick the thing up with a shovel (while distracting your toddler by pointing behind them and saying "look at the pretty bird!"). But if it's alive, even if you do pick it up with a shovel, you run the chance of just wrecking the hardwood floors. Not to mention, of course, you're essentially giving a hysterical little beast a high dive from which to burrow into a white couch. Or whatever. Ugh.

And I just didn't want to whack it. Ugh.  Mouse ... well, I won't go there.

So I went outside and looked around. Finally settled for a broom. It took three rooms and several moved chairs, books, and an umbrella stand but we were finally ready. My husband batted him gently out from behind the umbrella stand and I broomed him across the floor. He got loose and ran across my toes. Ugh. But I got him. Frankly, I've never played hockey, but brooming a live mouse across a hardwood floor, around the oriental carpets, and out the back door was a rush. I felt like I'd scored a goal!

Ten minutes later, Prozac came in and stared plaintively at the couch.  Where *was* that mouse?

August 03, 2006

Clueless Producers of Children's Media 101

[official warning: I'm so terribly sorry, but I was forced to use the word "damn" in this posting two times. Given how lots of the OTHER bloghers write (ahem... have you READ Dooce?), I consider this to be a squeaky-clean, lily-white posting, but since we're doing the community thing here, I wanted to issue a warning.]

I adore my kid. He's awesome. We've kept him media free for the most part, and he doesn't really know what a commercial is. And until today, when I let him watch the damn video at the back of the Gymboree store (a place that makes me itch), he had no idea that other children didn't adore brocolli, either.

So I had a return from his birthday. I won't go into why. We went in to return it and my son fell in love with butterfly wings that you strap on. I asked him if he wanted to try one on. He hid behind me and muttered that he'd do it at home. Since we play fairies at home, I just figured that he was shy. I bought him a beautiful one. It's gold with delicate pink netting, a golden bow, and jewels all over it. It looks totally cool, but I digress.

While he was waiting for me to try to find other things, he went back and sat with the children watching the video. I looked at it; it looked fine. Five minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a skit where a man was saying that brocolli "is great for you, really good for you" and an entire table full of kids was making faces and a kid was just starting to say... "what if you hate how...."

I yanked my kid out of there so fast that I think he missed it. I told him that I needed him RIGHT AWAY and chattered like mad while he left. In the meantime, I could hear a chorus of "eeeeewwwwww's and yuuuccckkkk's" from the video.  Made me want to smack the video producer.

What is WITH these people? I realize that whenever a child does something bad or not nice, there are fifteen "creative" types around to write a little book or skit about it, but ... DUH. Folks, if it goes to little kids, you just end up TEACHING THE KID THE BAD THING.

Like the recent Berenstein Bear book that I read to my son.  I wasn't paying attention and just read it to him.  It was about how the boy bear created a fort that was "for boys only" and wouldn't let his sister play, and how they resolved the issue.  Well, at five, my son had never thought of "no girls."  (Yes, I think we're probably bizarrely sheltered.)  Until reading the book.  After reading the book, he promptly went to school and began trying to ostracize his little playmates. Nice, huh?

My kid loves brocolli. Thank GOODNESS I got him away from the damn video before he learned the ugly, sordid truth: every other kid out there, especially the cool ones, wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole, In FACT, all those children eat is WHITE food, with the occasional foray into the bizarre boxed macaroni and cheese stuff, which I find utterly wierd.  And they all ski in Gstaad.

I am so not looking forward to the "coolness" factor in my child's life. 

July 24, 2006

Mommy's got a Power Washer

Pw_siding_icon_1 It’s a steaming day today and I got a sitter! It made me feel like the snoopy dog doing the snoopy dance. Remember that one? Ears streaming behind me, feet flipping… Hooray! I haven’t had a sitter in two or three months! Unfortunately, the sitter we really like decided to go pre-med at Stanford, and now whenever I email her she tells me that she’s close to passing out. Ah, well, maybe some other time.

So I got my sitter. For (oooh) three and a half hours in the afternoon.

And now let’s talk oddities. Psychosis? Something wrong. Want to know what I did?

I went to the oily, dirty “tool stuff” rental place and rented a freaking power washer, and then I power washed the back of the house and the patio. As I did so, I thought about getting a manicure, going shopping for clothes, and all of the stuff that I used to do pre-large suburban house and kid. And I decided that I vastly preferred power washing.

You know, when you power wash, you get really dirty. There are too few opportunities to get gloriously dirty as an adult (unless you’re in a dirty type of work, and no, I do not consider potty training to even fall near the “gloriously” anything category, thanks for asking.) Usually I put on some khakis, a black shirt, some decent shoes and … there you are. Today, I was in old shorts and my legs were literally black. There was a little powder spray coming back onto me, which kept me cool. I was out of the sun, so my rapidly-aging skin wouldn’t fall off or do anything untoward, and I was playing with the biggest, coolest, most powerful hose in the world.


Rarely when you do chores around the house do you get to deal with fun, powerful tools that don’t hurt and won’t, say, pound nails through your hand if you hold them wrong. A hose is cool. Just my speed . I sprayed a large brass bowl on the back patio and the water went everywhere.

Stay cool, have fun, and do something that gets you nice and dirty this summer. The kid inside of you will have a blast.

July 08, 2006

Does Baby Waby Want Prada or Juicy Couture?

We don't go to the mall much, but I recently had to return something.  Afterwards, I decided to test-drive "hanging at the mall" with my five year old. Since my husband and son both seem profoundly allergic to all shopping that doesn't involve monitors or mouses, I figured it would be a big lose, but ... it was kind of fun.  We visited the little fountain that he'd fallen into, the other fountain that he almost fell into, and my son shared a brand new interest with me: terrorizing pigeons.  Ahem. 

Hiding my son from the gaze of shocked coffee drinkers, I decided we'd check out the shoe situation at Nordstrom.  After all, we always need shoes, and the chairs are nicely padded.

My son was fed up to the eyeballs with being at the mall, and high-energy. I put some shoes on him and told him to "test them," and he zoomed around for a while. I hung out.  Noticed the mom next to me, who is on the floor with her very cute, very well-dressed (probably Oilily stuff? Layered cotton dressy stuff. Very spiffy.) 2 year old. There are six boxes of shoes on the floor. Nothing looked untoward. Then I heard screaming and started to pay attention. After soothing the screaming, the mom started again: "Julia, I really need to know which shoes you want." The kid turned her head away, but the mother continued. Clearly this was important. Do you like the purple, the blue with orange (mommy's favorite color), the pink with yellow flowers, or the suede?" What on earth was this woman doing?

I will cut this down. Over the course of 15 minutes, mommy solicited little Julia's opinion more and more. Finally, Julia pointed to some shoes and put them on. She liked them. Great. So then mommy says "what other shoes do you like? We're going to get two pair."

I looked at the mom. She looked normal. Honest. She wasn't poufed, hair-wise, wasn't wearing glue-on fingernails, and her eyebrows hadn't been, say, shaved and then drawn on with a pencil. She looked normal. Jeans and a t-shirt, even. No weird Jimmy Choo action.

Finally, I thought I'd stir the pot a bit. "Wow," I said. "It must be a lot different with a girl. My son is five, and I still don't ask him what he wants to wear."

The mother, obviously a very nice lady, smiled at me.  "I try to only give her a few choices. She chooses all her own clothes."

Let me just say this. This child is going to grow up to be a freaking high-maintenance spoiled brat beast. Honest. This kid is TWO YEARS OLD. You should ask the darn kid what color she likes, pick two, let her choose one, and then get the heck out. Why on EARTH would you bring this level of fashion BS into a kid's life when they're 2, for God's sake?

I mean, let's talk about this rationally. When I turned twelve and started my period, I cried for a year. Oh my goodness. The CLOUDS, the CLOUDS were so dark that they just made my little heart go pitter pat. Someone looked at me wrong. Children were hungry in Biafra. Piggy died. You name it, I was a puddle of emotion. Ick. Things have stabilized a bit since and obviously, I've become significantly less empathetic, but the point here is that I was an out-of-control hormonal mess.

I'm sure that boys do stuff also, but my mother told me once (she's full of these immensely charming bits of information) that boys are "easier" because girls "pull away sooner" to become their own people.

OK. Let's say that mom's right. So? How is this kid going to start to assert herself as a person and as an individual if her entire life has been dealing with moronic fashion decisions since she was two?

Or is this just a setup so that she and mom can be best friends, which as we all know (have you read the books I have) is *not* a recipe for best parenting.

And what happens when she really wants to differentiate herself or assert herself at, say, 12, when intensity reigns supreme? I'll tell you. Rodeo freaking Drive, that's what. Gucci, Pucci, whatever the designers are, this kid will be "expressing" herself to death with them. After all, it's practically her birthright, right?

Oh YEAH. And let me tell you, the finest guys just adore high-maintenance little fashion bunnies. Ahem. Not. I mean, I guess they do, if you like guys from, say Houston. Yikes. What are these people setting into motion? Martha Stewart three, even though the DNA's a bit tweaked?

Here's MY feeling about what you do. Get your kids as dirty as possible and let them run around and enjoy things. Don't lead with fear.  Today my kid picked up a spider at a store and two little girls began screaming hysterically. Who on EARTH teaches this stuff to children?  Ick ick ick. We have spiders all over the place at our house. They're cool. They're pretty. Some bite. We don't pick them up with our hands and we check to see if they're in holes we make in the walls before we put our hands into them (black widows like to live in walls, btw). Sheesh. Or we avoid them.  But we don't have classic "girly" screaming fits if we see one.  Even if you don't like something, is there a reason to limit your kid's life by teaching your child that it's AWFUL?

The best little girls that I know are the ones who have NOT been taught to involve themselves in ... come ON ... totemic relationships to brand name fashion. My goodness. That woman should have bought her kid some shoes. Two pair, three pair, who cares? And gotten her out of the damn mall department store to go and run around and be happy somewhere. I put my kid's neat new wings right next to this kid and she was too unhappy choosing between the freaking suede and the lemon yellow with lime green spanish espadrilles to even notice a neat toy. Sheesh.

Immersing your child in HOURS worth of choosing stuff (and then more stuff) and guiding how they differentiate is just freaking too wierd. Especially if the kid is TWO YEARS OLD.

Believe me, your girl child is going to eventually care about fashion. A lot. When they do, you can support that. Or not. Or perhaps you can guide that, so your kid doesn't glue their hair down with glossy black polish, black out their teeth, and insert computer chips into their temples, or whatever wierd-ass fashion trend is happening next.

BTW, there was a vastly uptight woman sitting next to me. Her kid, a smiley little girl of 12, was trying on some adorable shoes. Shoes nowadays are so cute! They were orange and red and yellow, I think. The kid put them on and I said "what cool shoes!" Then I sat down. The mother sat, lips pursed. The kid says "you don't like them, do you" "Nope," said mom. "They don't go with anything." "But mom," says the kid, "your shoes are ugly too." They both looked at the mom's sensible shoe. "Yes," says the mom. But they're "navy."

THIS is how it's supposed to be. The 12 year old is asserting herself, or working to learn how to do it. Mom doesn't like it but she's not forbidding it. She's working to let the kid make her own fashion mistakes.

And it's happening at TWELVE. Not freaking TWO.

Oh my goodness.

First posted on anachronisticmom.blogspot.com

July 05, 2006

Happy Birthday USA - and thanks for the launch!

Today, NASA put a tent up right outside the Moffet Air Base so that NASA employees and the public could watch the space shuttle launch. A friend who works at NASA told us about it.

We got up today and wondered what to do. Hmmn. At 10 AM was a parade in Redwood City, 11:30 was the kid's parade in Menlo Park where you could ride your bike with the other kids, , and at ... lemme see ... 12:30 or so was the launch.

This is what we did. We had breakfast and hung out at home. At noon, my husband got into the shower. I did not harm him. I snarled a bit, and mentioned, using my family's patented "waspy clenched jaw" approach, that the shuttle was blasting off in THIRTY DAMN MINUTES AND HE BETTER HURRY.

He did. Shower finished at 12:15. My son and I were dressed, and we finally got dad out of there at about 12:20. I personally have lost years of my life because I married someone with this particular style of living life. Shall we say, on the edge?

We drove out and get onto the freeway. Yes, it's a freeway drive. Got there at exactly 12:30. Did I mention that the shuttle blastoff was at 12:38? But we didn't know that, actually. I think our interaction was: "Doesn't the shuttle blast off at 12:30? Honey, it's a blast-off. Those happen on TIME. We need to be there!" [insert chart of wife's blood pressure rising here]

Response:  "Nope, it's not 12:30. It's some other number."

Brilliant, huh?

Aargh.  The next forty years should be a real learning and growing experience.

But I digress.  We walked in, and ... it was perfect. It was a lovely tent. There were about 150 people there, maybe more. There was a curtained-off area that was full, where a real, live astronaut was talking with people, surrounded by three large screens. For the rest of us, there were about five more screens, all over the place. There was a really neato cool 10-foot long model of the space shuttle, which we pointed out to my squirmy son. There was a totally nifty real "insides area" of the space station, including the vaunted frog egg experiment which a profoundly didactic woman managed to explain to us at amazingly great length, considering the fact that we only had 7.5 minutes to blast off. My son interrupted her to tell her his version of reality, but I picked him up to go and look at mission control and the launch on TV.

So different from when I was a kid, but so similar. I remember watching this stuff on little tiny TV sets and now here it is on a big, six-foot screen. It's not funky little module now, either. It's a sleek, beautiful little airplaney-looking thing, that looks a lot like one of the Star Wars robots, if you consider the finish. I looked at my son. He seemed a bit nonplussed. Aren't little boys supposed to get stars in their eyes and try to salute or something when they are exposed to things like this? Important things? Cool things? Positive things that the whole country is proud of (rare though they are in today's nasty climate?)

Still, he fidgeted. Until suddenly he stopped and looked around him. "Twelve, Eleven, Ten ..." The whole building had begun to count down with the mission control man. This was little boy territory; why were the adults doing it? I pointed toward the screen, and we watched. It was a wonderful experience, being in a room with all of those people who were fans of our country and of what we'd made and what we were doing. And mommy's a bit of a softy. "Three, Two, One, and we have blast off."

He watched while the giant rockets left the earth, taking the beautiful little shuttle with them. And he listened while the entire crowd broke into loud, enthusiastic applause.

We live in the Silicon Valley, surrounded by "thing-makers."  The space shuttle is one of the coolest, highest-profile engineering projects around, and we thank the entire team for making it work. Wonderful to see such a great project in action.  Thank you for the tent, <a href="www.nasa.gov">NASA</a>.  It was way cool.

And happy birthday, America. May that shuttle of ours come down safely, and may our country traverse this difficult time and come out strong, and fair, good, and safe.

cross-posted on www.anachronisticmom.blogspot.com

July 01, 2006

So are we turning our kids into large lab rats?

Have you, by any chance, read neurobiologist Susan Greenfield's comments on the effects of modern technology on brain development from her recent presentation to the House of Lords?  Interesting stuff. Here's an excerpt:

"Does this mean young people are acquiring or will need different skills? Memory, for example, may no longer be as essential as it was for those of us who had to learn reams of Latin grammar, but with everything just a click away, perhaps we are at risk of losing our imagination, that mysterious and special cognitive gift that until now has always made the book so much better than the film.

I am not proposing that we become IT Luddites, but rather that we could be stumbling into a powerful technology, the impact of which we understand poorly at the moment."

I really like the fact that she wants to try to figure out what the huge lifestyle changes (from media) are doing to our kids. Here's a Guardian article on same.

When you think about it, this generation of children is being experimented on: with media; with more chemicals in their bodies and environment than ever before; with new scares about our food supply (tuna fish only once a week!); and in verdant silicon valley homes, with crushing levels of competitiveness and scheduled time - as early as possible. Have I mentioned crushing economic pressures and both parents working? Ach!

Continue reading "So are we turning our kids into large lab rats?" »

May 07, 2006

Could Someone Please Hack Yahoo Avatars?

Bear with me on this one, folks. I have to get this off of my chest.

I am not of the Instant Messaging herd. I'm a stay at home mom, so there's no need to Instant Message my way through interminable meetings. And if I tried to Instant Message my way through life with my five year old, he'd turn into an axe murderer. However, I Instant Message a bit when I'm doing internet volunteer work with my friend Wendy.

Yesterday, I was using Yahoo's Instant Message function. I noticed the new avatar program. At least I think it's new. Cute. I don't bite with most of the internet "Look! It's the Coke(TM) logo. Let's play" stuff (did I mention that too much computer time for mom turns junior into an axe murderer?), but I gave it a try. What an awesome idea.

I went in and created someone. Gosh. Did I want goo goo eyes, big baby eyes, ordinary sloe eyes, eyes that look like I’m asian and just had 10 drinks, or just ... wierd eyes. Ahem. This is it? So I chose the ordinary sloe eyes. Little ones. Then I moved on to hair. And my heart sank. It's bunny land. Ick. It was then that I realized that this avatar function was for young folks, teens and twenties. Yup. It's the year 2005 and Yahoo has created a Cosmo-look for the masses.

Hear my cry: I want an avatar for people who are married with kids, feeling kind of schlumpy, mildly bitchy, and just flat-out *difficult.* I want an avatar so that I can explore my psychotic side while talking with people. I want an avatar so that my perimenopausal girlfriends and I can convey our ever-more-complex moods to one another - instantly, dude. How about someone who is, like 240 pounds? There have to be at least six different 240-lb interesting body types, if you really think about it. Male, female, heck, what about a transvestite look? 280 pound transvestite, black, blonde, tattooed ... you know. And with better clothes. Uniforms are always fun. Nurses, meter readers, postal clerks... Maybe just a pair of biking shorts?

I mean, let's think about it. An avatar should be fun. An avatar should be cool! But most of all, an avatar should be alternative. Now that I have had a child and my brain cells are toast, I have started watching some TiVo TV at the end of the day, and I have to tell you that the advertisements on TV are a hoot. Very different from how they used to be. Seems like they're letting the 22 year olds have a blast. But Yahoo has apparently put in the

Utah

contingent to create avatars.

Don't believe me? Check out the outfits or, better yet, the "backgrounds." Excuse me? Folks, these are valium-taking, slit your wrists backgrounds. Dressed in perfect little matching outfits, holding a rake with leaves, in front of a nice suburban house. Ick. These avatars look like Martha Stewart with a razor cut. I cannot imagine someone trying to look like that as an avatar unless they're a child molester.

Here's what I want. Shark teeth. Wouldn't that be cool? They have the technology to morph it right onto human facial characteristics, and it would be your only chance to sharkily leer at people. Or you could use it if you were, say, Instant Messaging someone to collect on an unpaid debt. Or negotiating a marriage settlement! And why stop there. William Gibson, here we come!

Or how about this one. Dumpy. Yes. Not chicklet-like. Like 150 lbs at five foot two. And for clothes... how about a pink fluffy bathrobe and slippers? And how about another option -- the same clothes, but really dirty? I'm thinking that,instead of the chic razor cut they offer something disheveled, with a one large curler in, the rest falling out look. And carrying.... Hmmn. Not a perfect rake but perhaps a beer?

Come on Yahoo. Loosen up. Or release the API and let people create their own avatars. I just don't believe that it's 2005, the hip hop folks rule the fashion scene (?) and Yahoo's got a bunch of cake-carrying, turkey-hugging, leaf-raking bunny razor cut clones for the kids to play with.

This posting originally appeared on www.anachronisticmom.com

April 24, 2006

The Maker Faire - Great Geek Americana

We were due to have an Earth Day party on Sunday but we cancelled - thought it would rain although we barely squeaked by without it (it's been an odd year for weather here in CA).  Instead, we went to the Maker Faire, which was a total geekfest. 

It was put on by the people who do Make Magazine, which is a magazine for people who ... make things. And heeere is the Make Blog which today seems to feature a knitted motorcycle!! 

The Maker Faire seems to embody Silicon Valley and America to me. You know the roadside attractions that punctuate the obscure tourist roads of America?  Stuff like shoe trees, large coffee pots, enormous twine balls, and the occasional hamburger stand shaped like a giant cow? Well, the Make Faire is those same exact people - fifty years later.  But now the tools are a LOT better than the occasional decorated concrete bunker in South Dakota. Honest.

The people who make stuff in the Make Magazine articles are fascinating. They make really cool stuff. They're obsessed, they're creative, and ... let's be honest here: it's a lot more fun to visit them in a faire than to be married to many of 'em, in my opinion.

Sometimes, I think that my husband's vocation/avocation (inventing technologies and creating companies) (also known as severely marketing-based entrepreneurialism - ahem) is kind of obnoxious. I mean, why can't he just decide to go and make wine in Umbria, for heaven's sake?  (Can you tell I miss him when he's gone?)  This making of companies is a real timesink.

Then I meet people who spend literally years of their time assembling, say, Babbage's Difference Engine out of Legos or Meccano.

Can we talk about this?  Show of hands from wives reading this please.  Would you severely harm your husband if this was his hobby?  Gosh, I wonder if there's a "hobbyist quencher" series of items cooked up by partners of Make exhibitors.  Hobbyist zapper?  I can see it now.  "Honey, could you please take out the garbage."  Three days later.  "ZZZZZAAAAAP!!!"  Gosh, I'll have to work on that.

Makes some gaming and the odd planning of new products seem positively mainstream.

BTW, the new Lego Mindstorm kits were shown at the show. They look very nice, although for the 8-plus range.  Lego Mindstorms are programmable robots (and the soundtrack for that link will give you a headache within 12 seconds.)

Coming up: A discussion about why there are lots and lots of games for the 4 to 7 range about all sorts of things, but ABSOLUTELY NO JUNIOR SIMULATORS.  Is this moronic or what?

Showing my geek roots, I remain...

Kate

<cross-posting from AnachronisticMom blog>