Sunday, November 30, 2003


Here's a nice post on I Advent from Going Jesus. I especially like the prayer from Henri Nouwen.

giving thanks

Tomorrow's World AIDS day so today in church we heard about AIDS and the church. And I'm giving thanks that our church community is inclusive and that my children are healthy. I'll be back with more blogging soon, I hope, but I'm still recovering from ten hours plus on the road yesterday (including more time than I care to remember on the ever-pleasant NJ Turnpike) as well as from T'giving. Actually we had a lovely time, but it's always a bit crazy and I need some down time. So this is it.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

baby goats

...are so incredibly cute. Mama and daddy goats are, you know, goat-like. They push their noses through the fence at the children's farm park and beg for food. When they're not doing that they're not doing much.

But the baby goats--we saw twins, born 10/28--are adorable. They frolic. They jump. They twitch in the air while they're jumping. You might even say they dance. They play-fight, butting heads with each other, jumping on top of each other and then immediately falling off. They run up the little ramp someone has set up for them, and then skitter off the upended plastic tub that sits at one end of the ramp. They can't get any purchase on the plastic, so they slide off, jumping as soon as they land and running off again.

They chase each other around, then forget what they're doing and stop.

Good thing the parents were around looking all adult-goat-like; otherwise, we would all have wanted to take a baby home. And have been mighty disappointed when it grew up.

No, this is not an allegory. I'm actually finding my human kids get better with age. Though if they'd jump around and kick their heels in mid-air, that would be cool.

Monday, November 17, 2003

The Gender Genie

This algorithm supposedly can predict your sex based on 500 words of your writing. I posted in my column from Literary Mama and it guessed right. But wait, there's more! I pasted in a book review I'm working on and it guessed totally wrong! So, hmm, academic writing is masculine, my column is feminine? Why am I not surprised?

Thanks to This Woman's Work for the link...

The Gender Genie

Stirring the Cake

Today is Mom's birthday, and it's time to tell the stirring the cake story again. I know I haven't told it here.

You see, Mom's birthday comes at a particularly busy time of the school year, which is really the only calendar I've ever been attuned to. In fact I've rarely seen her on her birthday since I started prep school at age 13. We usually just shift the celebration to Thanksgiving--as, indeed, we'll do next week, since we're driving up for Thanksgiving again this year.

In the fall of 1977, I was living with two other girls in a studio apartment in the basement of our prep school infirmary--apparently the school was overenrolled and a few of us lucked out with these "cushy" digs. (We're talking bunk beds and another single bed dropped on top of ugly linoleum, with a little kitchenette in one corner...not terribly cushy, but access to cooking equipment was always worth something.) Abby was living upstairs in a regular double. According to my palm pilot calendar Mom's birthday was on a Thursday that year, so it must have been the day before that Abby and I decided to go into town and get a cake mix to make Mom a cake. Not that she was going to benefit by it, but it was the thought, right? And Wednesdays were half-days for us then, so that must have been it. (Either that, or this happened in the fall of 1976, when her birthday actually fell on a Wednesday. I can't remember what dorm I was in then, but perhaps Abby & I were roommates and I've just conflated two episodes? Not that it really matters...)

Anyway we went into town, got the cake mix, and came back up to my apartment to make the cake. Abby had a trick for making a peppermint chocolate cake--a few drops of peppermint extract in the mix--so we had done that, and the apartment smelled fabulous. Oh, I can still remember how fabulous it smelled.

The cake came out of the oven and we got it cooling, then decided to frost it. It was still pretty warm, but it smelled so tempting we just couldn't wait. We'd bought a can of chocolate frosting, and we popped it open.

Well, you know what happened. It began to fall apart in big clumps, the frosting sticking to the warm cake and pulling it apart. At first we were crestfallen--all our work, going to naught! But pretty quickly we saw the humor in it. We dumped the whole mess into a bowl and just stirred away, frosting and cake in big gobs filling up the bowl. Then we ate it.


So that was the year we "stirred the cake." I think we sang happy birthday to Mom as we ate it. I remember it every year around this time, and it gets better and better in my memory, though I don't think I've ever done it again.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Science: Mother Knows Best

More mother-related science. I teach at the same university with Craig Kinsley, which is sort of a brush-with-greatness for me, since he gets so much national and even international press. I even wrote up some of this research for Brain, Child some years ago. That had to do with the rat-moms getting more courageous about seeking food. Now there's more: ACCORDING TO RESEARCH done by Craig Kinsley at the University of Richmond, mother rats are less susceptible to stress than those who have never given birth. Read the rest here:Science: Mother Knows Best

The thing is, being neither a baboon nor a rat, I'm not sure how helpful these animal studies are. On the one hand, yes, I'm more courageous than before I had kids. And I think the health benefits of having friends--particularly friends who will groom you!--are pretty obvious. But: less susceptible to stress? Um, no.

Baboon mothers

Among baboons, moms with lots of female friends are the most successful parents, according to a new study that supports the idea that social support is an essential part of being a baboon -- or a human. So the big question is whether there is any relationship between baboon mothers and human ones. Read about it | News | Baboon mothers with social networks are more successful at raising young, study shows

my column is up!

Yep, this is me. Midlife Mama

Thursday, November 13, 2003

the other shoe drops

So who else figured out Nick was actually sick, after last night's fight? Yep, as usual, the bad behavior presaged a day at home from school with a nasty cold. I've been at this parenting thing for over 13 years, and both kids have often had this pattern of bad behavior right as they get sick, and I'm still always figuring it out after the fact. Though I do recall that there were times, in the throes of toddlerhood, when we would say "I hope he's sick" as a way of explaining behavior. Sigh.

Anyway the kids spent the day at home (Mariah's still not better, and her school is off tomorrow for conferences, so there goes another week...) and, according to Mark, who stayed home with them, they were angels. Figures. Not that I'm bitter or anything, but by the time I got home Nick was working up to something again. Late day, low energy, no reserves...

Maybe I need a sick day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Fighting about food...

I know "they" say not to do it--fight about food, that is. "They" say it will cause eating disorders, make meals stressful, all those bad things. We do it anyway. But tonight was the worst. We went out to eat, partly because I'd already been fighting with Nick over dumb stuff and just needed a break. He'd wanted to play on the playground after school, for example, and I'd denied him because it was raining. We'd argued about that ("It looks like it's going to stop soon") all the way to the car. In the grocery store we'd had a battle over which chips to buy. The kid can barely read and he's insisting on the ones that look more like Fritos than the ones that look like Tostitos. Why? I dunno. I want the cheaper --Tostitos-ish-- ones, but I let him win, because I won over the mac-n-cheese five minutes earlier. [Edit: by the way, he was right. The chips he chose were awesome. Mark and I finished the bag today...11/15] Then we fight because I have to call him five times. He says it was just three times. But either way, he wasn't coming when I called, kept going the other direction from where I wanted to go... it sounds petty as I write it down, and indeed it was, but it was also exhaustingly real. This is what it's like some days with a six-year-old.

So, here we are in La Casita. The food has been put in front of us and we need to eat pretty quickly since we're taking Mariah to the high school open house in an hour. We all dig in. Nick's still eating chips. [Edit: not the chips from the earlier fight. Sorry, I guess that really did sound pretty bad!] We remind him he's got a meal in front of him -- the oh-so-authentic cheeseburger and fries. We get ketchup distributed appropriately on the plate. I'm about halfway through my chimichanga. He's still eating chips.

Finally he eats a french fry, after complaining that they're too hot. Then another, and another. Something in me wants to remind him that he's also got a burger. I restrain myself as another five or six fries go down, but then I have to say it. "Nick, eat some of your burger."

He eats another fry, drinks some water.

"Nick, you ordered the cheeseburger and I'd like you to eat some of it."

"I want to eat the fries first."

"But I don't want you to fill up on fries and not have room for your burger. You like burgers -- you ordered it -- eat some, ok?"

Another french fry. Mark grabs his hand as he's reaching for another one.

"Nick, listen to Mommy and eat your cheeseburger now."

"I want to save it."

"Just a bite. Just take a bite and you can go back to the fries."

I'm already wondering why this is important. It's not like anything on the plate is all that healthy. It's not like he would die if all he ate was fries. But it hurts me somehow to see him doggedly shoveling them in, ignoring the slab-o-meat(ish) that he asked for. I tell him so.

"Nick, I just really want to see you eat some of the cheeseburger before you get too filled up on fries."

Well, it went on. And as usual, I was ready to back down after about five minutes. After all, I don't really care. I realize I don't care at all. I realize all I care about is finishing my meal in peace, but that's not going to happen.

Mark cares. He cares that Nick defies my authority, he cares that stable boundaries are set. So he insists while I begin to backpedal.

"I have a better reason than you," I say. "I want you to eat what's healthy first, in case you get too full for it later. You haven't told me your reason."

"I just want to do it this way. I did it this way before and you let me."

"I can't believe that, Nick. I always want you to eat your healthy food first. Or whatever's healthier, anyway. Not that burgers are all that healthy..."

He sees an opening. "French fries are just as healthy as cheeseburgers and ketchup. Maybe more. They're potatoes and you always want me to eat potatoes."

(This is true. He hates potatoes unless they are french fries or chips.)

"OK, just eat. I don't care."

But Mark still cares. "Eat a bite," he insists again.

Nick cares. For some reason he cares more about eating the french fries first than pleasing me. No, he cares more about defying me than anything else. But he's crying, because Daddy is mad at him.

It goes on. My plate is clean. So is Mariah's. The open house starts in fifteen minutes, and it's ten minutes away. Nick is sobbing, having been denied another french fry until he eats a bite of cheeseburger. Mariah is aghast. "Why does this matter?" she asks him.

"It doesn't," I say.

"It does," says Mark.

Sobbing still, Nick shouts, "Fine," picks up the burger, tears a bite out of it, chews through his tears, and picks up another french fry. He eats one more bite of burger --again at Mark's urging-- before finishing the plate of fries. Mark and Mariah leave for the open house while Nick and I sit across the table from each other. I watch him finish the burger, dipping bite after bite into the ketchup still on the plate. He's calm now, not a tear in sight.

"Nick, do you know why that happened?"

"Because you wouldn't let me eat my fries," he answers, reasonably enough.

"But, it happened before. Since I picked you up, you haven't done anything I asked you to. Why is that?"

"I'm not feeling good," he says. "Can we stop talking about this?"

So we do. What's to be gained, after all?

I remember the Salon piece that I linked a few days ago (scroll down). Some days you just don't want to say "no" any more. This was one of them, but I said it anyway, and wished I hadn't.

Writing about Food

Last year I began a document ambitiously titled "A Year in Food." For two months (ok, so nothing like a year) I wrote as often as I could find the time, about what I'd been cooking. Re-reading it this morning was a revelation: the meals I made! The time I spent! Fall cooking always gets me going, and this year fall has started and stopped so often that I've lost track. But still. Last fall I made bread just about every other day, soups, roasts, crock-pot meals... it made my mouth water to remember it all.

I've been wondering why I wrote about it, though. Mom used to keep lists of the dozens and dozens of cookies she baked every Christmas season. I think they are still there, on a back page in her old Joy of Cooking (the one whose spine cracked so long ago that even the tape she used to hold it together has atrophied). She would consult the previous year's list every Advent when she started up again. Did she keep the lists to remind her of what we'd liked? Out of some obsessive-compulsive need for order? To get "credit" for the work she'd done?

At some level I think that's it, with my "year in food" as well as Mom's lists. So much of mothering, so much of living, goes unacknowledged. So many days I wonder "what did I do today?" Keeping a list, writing about food, gives me a tangible reminder of my activities, activities that leave no trace except in the expanding and contracting waistbands of my clothes. As I read through my cooking journal from last year I was astonished at how much I accomplished--the cooking, the feeding, which were my primary focus, but also the things we did with the kids, the academic work I did--I recorded them all (or most of them) and I really did get a sense of how much I had done. All this evanescent work, still there on the screen.

I told Ann the acupuncturist that I thought of my knitting as "creativity lite"--as something I could do relatively quickly, without a full investment of mind and heart, that ended up in a tangible product. More and more I realize I need to be making things, whether it's scarves or cookies or earrings or words on a page. Words on a page may be the most satisfying, but they also require the greatest investment. So last year, I guess, I invested the time in cookies and breads, then doubled their value to me as products by writing about them as well.

I still think a book recounting a year in food could be interesting. But mine petered out in December in the pre-Christmas rush and I never returned to it. What if I started in January?

Monday, November 10, 2003

The body always knows...

I've been coasting along pretty calmly these last few weeks, insisting to all who asked that, yes, I was busy, and yes, there's a lot going on, but --thanks for asking-- I'm really doing fine. Hmm. Lots of people asking. Maybe they knew something I didn't know?

I really did feel fine. I was eating ok, sleeping ok (well, relatively), not really shouting at the kids--

Then I got whacked by the mother of all headaches Saturday morning. And despite naprosyn and naps, it hung in there. Sunday wasn't quite as bad, and today's even a little better. But now I know--

I was really proud of myself for how well I was managing. I've been really working on staying balanced, not getting too frantic about work, keeping calm--and it was working OK, but that pride thing, I think, was not.

Maybe it should have been a clue when my massage Friday didn't really work out the kinks as it usually does.

Maybe I should have paid attention the couple of times I did wake up in the night and couldn't get back to sleep.

Maybe I should have noticed that I was complaining about the kids, even if I wasn't yelling at them.

Why do I have to keep learning these lessons over and over again? I spent 90 minutes with a reading/prayer group last night talking (among other things) about how we need to learn that we're not in control, and here I was thinking I was, all along.

So, note to self: you're not in control. And, especially, try not to take credit for when it feels like you are.


My headache's not gone, but it's a whole lot better. And I'm going to try to get to the gym this afternoon. Life | Letting my kids go crazy

Here's the thing about motherhood: You say the word "No" all the time, and this word and many of its kind slowly begin to strangle your language, like weeds wrapping themselves around the prettier words you imagined using with your child like "Yes" and "Love" and "That's beautiful honey." But "No" forces its way in and eventually you can't help yourself, this urge to curb, squelch, and put a lid on almost everything your kids get into. Not because you're a meanie but because they are constantly pushing you and it's exhausting and ... Read the rest here: Life | Letting my kids go crazy

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Silent Lunch

I put a picture of Nick's on the refrigerator the other day. It depicts "the wite wich in hr sled" and Aslan. Yes, we've been reading the Narnia books. But that's not what I want to talk about. After I put the picture up Nick told me that he'd drawn it during "silent lunch." Apparently some Thursdays lunch is silent. I'm not sure if this is a desperate effort by the cafeteria workers to regain their sanity, or a pedagogical plot by the teachers, but it amuses me. I had heard of "silent lunches" before this year and they always sounded bad. Why make kids be quiet while they eat? Eating and talking are two of the great civilized pleasures, best practiced together. We were definitely nay-sayers.

But silent lunch this year is a little different. In the past the kids had to keep quiet and weren't even allowed to gesture or pass notes to each other. This year there's paper and pencils in the cafeteria and they can write notes. So when Nick thought C. was being mean he wrote her a note: "your mean." It got passed around, and she wasn't happy about it, but at least he was communicating.

Apparently M. wrote a note that said "your butt smells," and got in trouble for it. I tried to figure out why. Was it just the word? (Mariah was once punished for talking about Beavis and Butthead, because talking about them entailed saying the b-word.) Was it that it was mean? It couldn't be that it was because it wasn't true...

In any event I think it's fine that they're passing notes. Last year they couldn't even write their own names. Now they're writing, they're communicating, they're using their words. And if what they want to use them for is to tell each other how smelly they are, well, it's better than fighting, isn't it?

(PS--I also love that M. had to ask Nick how to spell his note.)

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Literary Mama

Literary Mama has launched! I've got a small role to play with this mag, but it's really a huge joint effort of a lot of very talented women. Check it out! And let me know what you think...

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Opting in, opting out

I've been thinking about those articles I linked below some more. Lisa Belkin's piece on Opting Out and the piece from the Chronicle about quitting a tenured position, especially. I have one friend who left her tenured position recently, and others who've never really tried for one, but I don't know many, really, who are opting out in the way Belkin and the pseudonymous professor outline. What I do know are many who are dissatisfied with the way work is--and I think that's the real problem. Belkin gets there in the end, too. We work too hard, we don't know when to quit, the expectations are too demanding... yada yada. Today I was thinking that the same thing is true of school as it is of work. Neither of my kids is really overstressed from homework, but I still see the stress of long days spent doing busywork, long days spent "being good." They come home tired, crabby, anti-social. Not always, but often enough that I wonder what they'd be like if we homeschooled. What we'd be like if home, school, and work were less at odds with each other.

I don't have any answers, just questions.