Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Virginia Drivers, too

Go read Susan's post first. Mine is seventeen, but she got her license the same day. Neither coast is safe now.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

why do I keep reading these articles?

Via Elizabeth at Half-Changed World, I found this article on "breadwinner moms" in the New York Times. Unlike the author, Elizabeth's not seething at being the "breadwinner," and neither am I.

Over the 17 years we've been parents, Mark and I have split the "breadwinning" duties every which way. At first we both worked half-time, as graduate students. Then I worked full-time and he worked half-time. There have been years when I was the only income-generator, years when we split it, years when he was "at work" and I was "at home" (though I was on sabbatical, and still earning something, at the time). Over all the years, I've been frustrated on occasion, satisfied, scared, happy--but not because I was the sole earner so much as because I found the organization of work life non-conducive to family life. And I have one of the world's most flexible jobs, so whenever I complained (even to myself), I almost always countered that with the recognition that I have it, relatively speaking, easy.

As does everyone, frankly, who can afford to organize their family life around one income.

That said, what frustrated me about the Times article is, as usual, the lack of any analysis that goes beyond the personal. Yes, yes, we all have to renegotiate our roles. Mark has learned to cook. I still do laundry. He knows the teachers better than I do (though there have been years when I did). He has had to learn to live without the public identity that work confers, while I have brought our kids to class and skipped meetings so that I could get them to after-school programs. But the Times article seems to suggest--without coming out and saying it--that this whole renegotiation thing is doomed to fail because (you guessed it) women just want to be moms, and don't like giving that up. Well, pardon me for disagreeing, but that's just ridiculous. Women and men both want the public affirmation of identity that work can confer, and the private joys (and terrors) of parenting, and they want to be able to move between them more freely than they can now. (And not all women and men want the same thing at the same time.) Workplaces that don't provide childcare, insurance policies that are too expensive, pediatricians' offices that aren't open after school or on weekends, inflexible work hours--all these things are, for me anyway, far more of a problem than any "renegotiation" we've had to do.

Again, we're lucky. But if the lucky people don't agitate for change--after all, we have the resources--then it won't happen. When feminists said "the personal is the political" they didn't only mean that people would be individually renegotiating their marriage contracts. They meant--I mean--that our private choices have public implications (and vice versa) and that to ignore either domain as we work on the other will doom us to failure.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Glad that's over with

So, according to some guy I heard on the radio, today was the most depressing day of the year. (Hey, it was NPR! It must be true!) He explained that the Monday of the last full week of January is considered to be the most depressing day of the year. Christmas bills, cold weather (so I assume this is just in the Northern Hemisphere), and failed New Year's resolutions were listed as the causes.

So if this was the most depressing day of the year I'm in pretty good shape, because it could have been a lot worse. In fact, it was a perfectly fine day. The kids would have liked a little more snow--we had some freezing rain that postponed the start of school for two hours but didn't cause a cancellation. The power went out on campus after I'd taught my class, so I cancelled my office hours and came home to work in warmth and comfort. Tae kwon do class and dinner with a friend (twice-postponed already, so we were bound to make it happen) rounded out the day.

The happiest day of the year is supposed to be June 22, in case you want to make plans.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Middle School

I'm just catching up with last Sunday's NYTimes, as usual at the end of a week. By the time I read it nothing is really news any more, but it's still interesting to see what was on the Grey Lady's mind earlier in the week. Last Sunday it was, among other things, middle school (or, preteens).

Where I live parents start obsessing about middle school when their kids are in second grade, if not earlier. It's playground talk, cocktail party chatter, coffee hour conversation. We have elementary schools we like, both public and private, and then the black hole.

Not really, of course. In fact there are lots of options here, which may be part of the problem. There are two small private middle schools with innovative curriculums, one for girls and one for boys, both encompassing grades 5-8. There are private K-12 schools, both co-ed and single-sex, that take in new kids in either 5th or 6th. There is a preK-8 Montessori school, where Mariah did 7th and 8th grade quite happily. (This one's very small and 7th and 8th meet together, with the same teachers.) There are a couple of parochial schools that run K-8 and seem to take new kids in pretty much whenever. There is an IB middle school within a larger public school. And there are a couple of "model" public middle schools, one within walking distance of our house.

So what's the problem? I think, as the article suggests, the problem is that there is no one-size-fits-all model for this age group (roughly 11-14 or so). In fact I'm not sure that 10-14 is even, really, a coherent "age group." Actually, I'm quite sure it isn't. Have you ever seen an 11-year-old boy stand next to a 14-year-old girl? They might be from different species.

The single-sex schools do a good job of serving a small number of kids. They are warm and friendly and, as I said, innovative. But they ask you to pull your kid from his/her familiar elementary school a year early, and a lot of kids (Mariah was one) don't want to do that. (They also don't have nearly enough spaces for the kids who want them, which is both their greatest asset--they have very small classes--and, for many, their greatest drawback.)

The other privates have their advantages and disadvantages: it's hard to break into a cohesive community (and, for the most part, these are) in pre-adolescence; they are expensive; they can be socially very exclusive for the parents as well as the kids. But they seem to do a good job educating the children who go there.

The public schools look like fortresses. There is no grass around them. Kids stand around on the blacktop during recess looking like convicts in a prison yard. Mariah spent a year in one and ran screaming in the other direction, to the touchy-feely Montessori school where the whole group went for a walk/run every afternoon. But some of her high school friends stuck it out and got a reasonably good education (including honors credits that transferred to their high school, unlike Mariah's), and appear to be well-adjusted kids. The IB program was new when Mariah was coming through, and she didn't want to be a guinea pig--but Nick has friends with older siblings there, and for all the problems the whole school-within-a-school model has, that's probably what we'll aim for.

What saddens me a bit is that a nice group of kids will be splitting up over the next few years. Some are already planning to head off to the single-sex schools next year. Others will start home-schooling, or go private, or choose one of the several different public schools. I know there's a great advantage to breaking up cliques and moving into new environments, but I'm wondering if age 10-12 is the best time to do that.

I have no answers, just questions. And worries. But since I have this conversation about once a week in various face-to-face venues, I'm also feeling a bit blase about it. It will work out, somehow. And I don't think the New York Times is going to make a bit of difference.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

finished object(s)

This is the Sophie bag from magknits, made about 1/3 larger (I like a big bag). I made it in less than a week, out of lovely soft malabrigo yarn from Uruguay. It smelled a little vinegary as I knit it--I assume they fix the dye with vinegar--but that washed out in the felting process. There's a stripe there of another random yarn out of my so-called stash, because I was afraid I might run out of the malabrigo--I think it worked out pretty nicely, though. It's a design feature, not a desperate attempt to stay out of the yarn shop.

In other news, I also finished a draft of my (somewhat) overdue paper today. And the semester hasn't even begun yet!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Knitting Content

Or, contented knitting? This is for Becca, sort of. Lately all I want to do is knit. Why do I love knitting, you ask? Well, there are many reasons. (How helpful that imaginary interlocutor is!)

1. It is not wasteful. You buy the yarn, you knit it. If there are leftovers, you can knit something else with them. (Yes, there is a stash, and yes, it is overflowing. But it will be knit into something, really.)

2. It does not go bad. For some reason all the avocadoes I buy, and some of the lemons, go bad before I cook with them. This does not happen with yarn, though it does on occasion go out of style.

3. It is very forgiving. Even if you have to start something eight times, you can always rip it out and start again. In fact some of my stash yarn is ripped-out projects. Lest you begin to feel that this is some kind of vicious cycle, be assured that it is not: every project I've knitted, even the ones I ripped out (probably especially those), taught me something. (My dissertation director said something like this to me about the various false starts on my dissertation, but I have yet to make any use of the things I learned about orphans during the unfortunate middle period of that project...)

4. You get nice things at the end of it.

5. It redeems all sorts of otherwise "lost time." I mostly knit while watching otherwise forgettable television, but also during unavoidable kid-related waiting times. It's (gasp!) better than a book for this kind of thing because you--or I, at any rate--are a little less likely to get lost in it. Also I get carsick if I read in the car, but not if I knit. [edited to add: this requires actually bringing the project along, of course. I was early to pick Nick up this afternoon and didn't have my knitting. Lesson learned. Maybe.]

6. Yarn shops are fun.

I'm sure there are more reasons, and I'm also sure that these are not terribly original. But I'm three pages into an overdue article (writing, not reading, alas!) and I needed a break.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee after only 60 years on the throne, but I suspect that's because she knew she wouldn't be around for the 75th. Traditionally, though, a 75th anniversary is celebrated with diamonds--which, I'm sorry to say, I won't be giving my dad for his 75th birthday today. Caroline has already gotten the relevant historical context, so I'll just add my birthday wishes to hers--happy birthday, Dad!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Best. Christmas. Present. Ever.

Mark and I gave Nick a ping-pong table for Christmas. It was Mark's idea, really; I was skeptical. This is a kid who doesn't have video games, and everyone he knows does, and I worried that this just wouldn't be--I don't know--exciting enough.

He's been at Mark since we got home to put it together (it was given as a promise, since we were at my folks' and it was too big to take with us), and today it was done. And after dinner we had a rousing game of doubles that had us all laughing hysterically--at one point I was in tears from the silliness.

We are terrible. Well, Mark's pretty good, and Mariah's ok, but Nick and I are hyperbolically awful. Still, even when you're awful you hit the ball occasionally and it goes--well, somewhere, and that's fun. There was more running after the ball and laughing than there was playing ping-pong, but you've got to start somewhere.

I haven't laughed so hard in weeks. Maybe months. It was great. I hope we do it often.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Embracing Mess

Penelope Green saves me from a doomed New Year's Resolution:

Mess is robust and adaptable . . . as opposed to brittle, like a parent's rigid schedule that doesn't allow for a small child's wool-gathering or balkiness. Mess is complete, in that it embraces all sorts of random elements. Mess tells a story: you can learn a lot about people from their detritus, whereas neat -- well, neat is a closed book. Neat has no narrative and no personality (as any cover of Real Simple magazine will demonstrate).

No narrative! That does it. Neat is out. (Now if I can just convince Mark...)

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Column

According to Philip Pullman, "There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book . . . . We don't need lists of rights and wrongs, tables of do's and don'ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” In 2007, I want more stories to read, to share, to talk about, to teach. What about you?

Read the rest here, and leave me your suggestions as well!