Tuesday, May 29, 2007

weekend update

Mariah and I spent the long weekend (ours started Thursday) in Boston and environs. I had a conference, she wanted to look at colleges. It seemed we could do both, and we (mostly) did. The conference was huge, but the children's lit papers were good and it was helpful to get some feedback on my paper and catch up with some folks. We were in a great location, too--we could walk to the things pictured here.
The Make Way for Ducklings Statue

The Swan Boat (made famous, at least for us, in The Trumpet of the Swan.)

It is a great pleasure to travel with Mariah, who loves children's literature as much as I do, and who took all the pictures here.

True graffiti:

On Sunday we had a little blogger meet-up with Becca and her daughter M before we had to get on the plane to come home. That was truly lovely; we'd met before, Becca and I, but in our pre-blog years, and it was great to catch up in person. M and Mariah hit it off instantly, and Becca and I fell into the kind of conversation you have with a friend you know well but don't see often enough. A perfect end to a great weekend.

I'm sure there's more to say--about the waitress who snapped at me, "When I get to it, OK?" when I asked for more water, about the cabdriver who spent the entire drive to Logan airport motioning as if to run his hands through his hair, but three inches above his head, about the good talks we heard, the great food, the lovely (if surprisingly warm) weather--but you'll just have to imagine it. Mariah's back at school (the attendance lady called to tell me she wasn't, though she actually was), and I've got so much paper piled on the dining room table that the table is invisible. Sigh.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

maybe this is only funny to me

Apparently not everyone's been paying attention to the altered rhythms in our house lately. As we got in the car to go to school this morning, Nick said to me, "Where's your bag?"

"I'm not going in to the office, so I don't need it."

"Oh. Is your school out already?"

(Graduation was May 14.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

more on boys and danger

Jody over at Raising WEG has a great post about the title and marketing of The Dangerous Book for Boys. Of course she's right, and I'm sorry I didn't really address it in my earlier post. I was interested in thinking about danger and kids in general, and the way that has played out with my particular kids--which has gender implications, but I didn't raise the implications of the book's title itself. It is, as Jody says, a problem to suggest that only boys are interested in dangerous stuff, or that you're not a boy if you're not interested in dangerous stuff (or not a girl if you are). So go read her; she's smart about it.

I was also thinking about stereotypes and gender yesterday when I went to the last of Nick's four dance performances of the weekend. (I was also backstage mom for one, and went to the second one with the rest of the family.) The kids were spectacular. For the opening and finale there were 700 (give or take) kids on stage, all dancing more or less in synch. They smiled, they clapped, they stomped and turned and bounced and swayed. I loved every minute of it, and as far as I could tell so did they. Nick liked it so much he's trying out for the advanced program, which involves a lot more ballet technique (and a lot more performance).

So on the way out I was more than annoyed to hear this exchange between parents. There were two couples, and the mom from one said to the dad from the other: "Wouldn't you be proud if your son got picked for the ballet?" Only, from her tone, it was clear that she didn't think he would be--that, in fact, it would be somewhat embarrassing to have a boy in the ballet. She followed up a minute later with, "well, ballet and soccer, I guess they balance each other out." (Doesn't she know soccer is European, and European men aren't manly, either? Oh, never mind...)

How you could walk out of the performance we'd both just seen and assume that somehow dancing wasn't quite manly enough for boys stymied me. (Never mind that nine- and ten-year-old boys hardly ought to be aspiring to manliness anyway...)

Luckily Nick doesn't think dancing isn't manly. Well, he wouldn't: his tae kwon do instructor, whom he reveres, danced with the ballet for years. And breaks cinder blocks with his hand. Take that!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mother Talk Blog Bonanza: Danger!

Yes, here I am, participating in another blog bonanza, related to another book I haven't read. (Disclaimer: the MotherTalk Blog Bonanzas are linked to topics raised by certain books in the news, but not necessarily to the books themselves. So the not reading thing shouldn't be an issue.)

Anyway. I've been thinking a little about boys and danger lately, mostly because Nick has had two black eyes and more than a few bruises and scrapes in the last three weeks. This came as a shock to me because he was my cautious baby. Mariah threw herself into things as a little one: she started walking at ten months, before she really knew how to stop. So she fell a lot, she ran into things, she tripped. And she got back up again, and again, and again. We had a tall metal slide near our apartment in LA, and I remember my dad being shocked at how boldly she climbed up it, grabbed the overhead bar, and flung herself down it, thumping her feet HARD as she came down.

She did break a wrist doing something similar in our basement a few years later, but for the most part she was fine. And at some point she became a little more cautious, a little more like her mother.

Nick, though, was slow to walk, and careful when he did it. He looked behind himself when he sat down, making sure he had a clear spot. He crawled downstairs backwards, carefully. We did have an emergency room visit with him, but it was pneumonia, not a broken arm. Because he was such a careful kid, we stopped worrying about him, stopped insisting he wear a helmet when he scootered or skateboarded, let him play outside with friends without supervision. (And yes, we live on a reasonably busy city street--it's not New York, but it's no suburban cul-de-sac, either.)

Somehow, though, he's gone the other way from Mariah: as she got more cautious, he got less so. Is this a gender thing? Or did her early risk-taking teach her fear and caution, while his early caution gave him confidence? In either event, I've seen a range of behavior from both kids, none of it so terribly dangerous that it gives me pause, though some of it might not quite pass muster with the safety police. Since I grew up playing in a vacant lot (where, yes, I did once get snagged by barbed wire and need a tetanus shot), walking to school by myself, and riding the bus to the end of the line for fun, I wish for more freedom for my kids, not more rules. So far they seem like they can handle it.

(The book I'm --loosely-- talking about here is The Dangerous Book for Boys, by the way. I'm intrigued, I must admit...)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

On buying bourbon at mid-day

Mark didn't think it was a good idea, going into the ABC store at mid-day, but I thought it was fine. Growing up in New York I remember Mom putting a bottle of scotch or vodka into the cart along with the rest of the groceries--there it was on the shelf, and it was no big deal to buy a bottle now and then. When we lived in LA the Safeway across the street from us sold "Fresh Fish" and "Liquor," according to the signs outside--to us it always looked like they were advertising "Fresh Fish Liquor" and we used to refer to our occasional booze purchases as such. Buying booze at the grocery store seems so wholesome and normal.

The ABC store, though, with its haze of stale cigarette smoke and even staler regrets, does feel a little seedy, especially at mid-day. But I wanted bourbon for a marinade (really! 1/4 cup each bourbon and low-sodium soy sauce, 2 tbl. brown sugar--a great marinade for two one-pound pork tenderloins) and I braved the atmosphere. There was a well-dressed guy in a bow tie picking up some good gin, and I brought my bourbon to the counter proudly, ignoring the tiny bottles of schnapps that sit next to the counter, like packs of gum in the grocery store. Does anyone just throw a couple into the cart at the last minute, as they might the gum? I don't know.

So all was well until I went to sign the electronic signature pad, and my signature came out looking like I had the shakes. I tried to laugh it off: "my signature always looks terrible on these things" and the clerk said "everyone's does" with a mixture of condescension and, um, was it derision? Did he think "everyone" had the shakes? Doesn't he know my signature looks just like that at the grocery store, too? (Where, sadly, they don't even sell beer and wine, let alone bourbon or fish liquor...)

But even that would have been ok. I know, after all, that my signature always comes out weird on those things. Backing out of the narrow parking lot--really, just keeping my foot on the clutch and rolling--I was thinking more about my signature than the telephone pole which I, therefore, bumped. Rather gently, but still. It's pretty scarred up, that telephone pole.

I guess a lot of people are buying bourbon at mid-day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Black Belt

Here's Nick receiving his black belt yesterday, after his successful test. Even before he tested, he had to submit two essays on martial arts topic for approval. Here they are:

by Nick

What are vital spots? Vital spots are the unprotected parts of your body. They are also more sensitive than other parts therefore you are caused more pain when you are hit in a vital spots.

The main reason for martial artists to know vital spots is so they can get away from a fight before they get hurt too much. Martial artists use vital spots because we're not in a fight to hurt somebody, we're in a fight because we were attacked and we want to get away as soon as possible. This means we hit somebody so we can run away before we get hurt too much. I know that sounds like cowardice, but "He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day." Also vital spots are different with different weapons (empty hand, blunt weapons, etc...). With a blunt weapon, you would aim for the bony parts of the body, such as skull, top of the hand, knee, or top of the foot. But with something with a sharp edge, say a sword or dagger, you would aim for the fleshy parts, such as stomach, bicep, or thigh. With empty hand you can aim for both. If you're using a palm strike you aim for blunt weapon vital spots, but if you're using a punch, you aim for the sharp weapon vital spots. This may make vital spots sound confusing but you only need to know the main ones, such as: solarplex, shin, chin, nose, and ear.

by Nick

What is meditation? There are at least two different kinds of meditation, but martial artists only use one. The kind we use is used to stimulate chi or ki (energy*).

When meditating, you are supposed to clear your mind and relax. But there's more to meditating than sitting down and closing your eyes. There is a proper way to meditate and an improper way to do it. The proper way is to sit up straight, have your hands palm up in a giving/receiving position, with your tongue at the roof of your mouth. Breathe in seven counts, hold it four counts, breathe out seven counts, hold it out four counts. Also when meditating, you should breathe through your lower diaphragm, meaning when you breathe in, your stomach inflates and when you breathe out, your stomach deflates.

Meditation is to relax your mind, but also to focus your body. When you meditate before your martial arts practice, it will help you loosen up even though your body is still focused. This combination of relaxation and focus is what you need to stay calm so you're able to keep control of your movements and aim your strikes.

*Chi is important to martial artists because it helps us focus but it also is our energy, and how would we defend ourselves without energy?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

bad mother award

Nick went to school last week with a black eye. He got it playing baseball out in the front yard with the neighbors. It was a plastic ball--something like a whiffle ball--but he got it right in the eye at close range. Mark and I were in the back yard and heard screaming, and it took us a minute to register that it was 1) Nick and 2) pain. Mark ran out of his shoes as we both pounded up the sidewalk to find out what was going on. We got ice right on it and it subsided after really only a day or two of bruising.

This evening Mark and I were in the back of the house and we heard a pounding on the front door. Nick has a habit of going out the back door and then pounding to be let in the front, and I was a little annoyed as I walked up to let him in. He almost fell inside, dropping his scooter on the front porch and holding his hand to his cheek. I had him in the kitchen for ice before I asked him what had happened. Face plant while attempting a trick on the scooter. Ouch. I felt bad for being annoyed when I heard the pounding.

The ice seems to have kept the swelling over the eye down, again, but the road rash on his cheek is --well, it's there. It's big. It stung when he showered and it'll definitely be there for a few days, maybe even until his dance performance next week. Let's hope not. I had a little thought that maybe some safety equipment while scootering would be in order...but then again, how do you protect your face?

(Nick says, "I'll definitely look like a settler, not like a Londoner." His dance performance tells the story of the Jamestown settlement. I think he'll be ok.)

is this thing still on?

I know, I know. I never post anymore. I don't write, I don't call.

But the grading, it is done (all but the final, no more changes, actually turn them in bit). And I can again turn to my life.

The only thing is, I'm much more interested in blogging about books than about my life. My kids' lives are increasingly their own and not mine to talk about (I know, they always were, but somehow this feels different), and I'm now an academic on sabbatical rather than a working mom (again, as soon as that button is pressed), so I'm feeling a bit...blogged out about life.

I may do a few MotherTalk things here and there, and probably some posts about food (now that I have time to cook again) but mostly I think I'll be over at the other blog for a while.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

on the X-chromosome...

I think Natalie Angier had a lot of fun with this article. Just check out this one paragraph:

Yet the X chromosome does much more than help specify an animal’s reproductive plumbing. As scientists who study the chromosome lately have learned, the X is a rich repository of genes vital to brain development and could hold the key to the evolution of our particularly corrugated cortex. Moreover, the X chromosome behaves unlike any of the other chromosomes of the body — unlike little big-man Y, certainly, but also unlike our 22 other pairs of chromosomes, the self-satisfied autosomes that constitute the rest of our genome, of the complete DNA kit packed into every cell that we carry. It is a supple, switchbacking, multitasking gumby doll patch of the genome; and the closer you look, the more Cirque du Soleil it appears.

Little big-man? Gumby doll? Cirque du Soleil? What's going on inside me, anyway?

A lot, it would appear. Fun piece.