Saturday, December 8, 2012

25 Things I'm Thinking About So You Don't Have To

It's been a while since I posted a list or a quiz. And it is also the season for doing good deeds. This post addresses both matters.

I've been spending a lot of time waiting in line (oddly, since I did most of my holiday shopping online) and not sleeping very much/well (sadly, because I am exhausted), so I've started jotting down the random queries floating through my mind. Perhaps you've been pondering some of the same issues! But now you can go back to using your brain cells for thinking about more important stuff, because I've got the detritus covered. Here goes:

1.) Why do Anthropologie stores smell like Goodwill - and how do they get away with selling weird lumpy crocheted purses for $268 and hideously patterned silk blouses for $189?

2.) And speaking of hideously patterned silk blouses, when did these become "wardrobe staples"? (Thanks for the tip, InStyle!)  Ditto "tough, small studs," "last season's must-have fur vest" (!?) and "envelope clutches." Okay - I actually like the envelope clutch trend, even though - or perhaps because - it sort of sounds like the name of a band. "Let's go see Envelope Clutch at the Casbah tonight, dude."

3.) When did J Crew shoes get so pricey? And why? Are they hoping to win the ugly crown away from the silk blouses this season?

4.) Is Taylor Swift the new Jennifer Aniston? What is up with her taste in men boys?

5.) Do phrases like "fashion forward," "flavor profile," "of the moment," "bespoke," or "house made" really mean anything?

6.) This coat looks like Cookie Monster agreed to be the designer for a Yo Gabba Gabba pop up store at a Katy Perry concert. (The picture doesn't really capture the true asymmetrical nature of its uneven and oversized boxiness. From different angels it looks like the wearer is a strangely shaped package wrapped up in fuzzy fabric by a drunken toddler.) And yet it has received press in every fashion magazine I have read in the past two months (n=4). Oh - and it costs $4,400. Even those ugly crocheted Anthropologie purses are blushing.

7.) Why do I not make extensive notes on gifts given so that I do not send people the same stuff year after year?

8.) Why did I not make extensive notes on gifts received last year so that I do not make any gigantic re-gifting faux pas?

9.) Why did I not write The Hater's Guide to Williams Sonoma?

10.) Well thank god someone invented this. How else was I going to grill all those jalapeno poppers we traditionally prepare for the holidays?

11.) Why do the public restrooms at the beach smell exactly like the lion cages at the zoo?

12.) Is there a more perfect cookie than Kellogg's holiday wreaths?

13.) Puffy coats, ladies of southern California? Really? It's 53 degrees. Everyone knows that's when you pull out your furs. For shame.

14.) What's up with America's Sexiest Douchebag these days?

15.) Should I be making my own marshmallows? How about soap? Ketchup?

16.) Ponchos. Huh.

17.) Are bounce houses really inflated with danger? We used plain old air in the one at our daughter's birthday party. Is that why no one got hurt? Certainly bounce houses post risks, but I'm having trouble getting all that worked up about the claim that "a child [is injured in one] every 46 minutes." I mean, my kid gets injured about every 46 seconds doing things like walking or eating Cheerios. Now I'm wondering if I should stick her in a bounce house to keep her safe for that extra 45 minutes and 14 seconds. (And yes, I know that's not how statistics really work, but you can see where I'm going with this.)

18.) What is up with this Target and Neiman Marcus collaboration? Who thought "Oh I know how to tackle the horns of the bull that is this troubled retail season! Let's make a joint line of ugly, useless stuff that's too expensive for the average Target shopper and too cheap for the typical Neimans customer and then we'll sell it at both places! Genius!"

19.) Is there anything people are not putting in high end, artisinal, "bespoke" chocolate bars these days? Ah, yes. Poop. Which is too bad, because it would take my whole poop or chocolate? thing to a whole new level.

20.) Has anyone ever said the words "You know what I love? Scrubbing the toilet!" except sarcastically in the middle of an argument with a spouse/roommate/child about who is working harder/has the more horrible life/is a bigger slob?

21.) Was Pierce Brosnan a better James Bond as Thomas Crown in "The Thomas Crown Affair" than in the actual Bond movies?

22.) How do people have more than one child? Literally and figuratively.

23.) Daniel Craig. Mmmmm.

24.) Are cheese curds and cottage cheese the same thing?

25.) Why does Donald Duck only wear a shirt most of the time, but when he goes into the water he only wears swim trunks?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

There Is No Sling

I so wanted to like Mayim Bialik's book about attachment parenting: "Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way." Maybe because that's sort of how I feel about Mayim Bialik herself. I think I want so hard to like her in part because I love the fact that she has a Ph.D. in neurobiology. I'm a sucker for geeky Hollywood anomalies like Natalie Portman, who published a paper on cognitive neuroscience, or Colin Firth, who is also credited on a cog neuro paper - although merely for suggesting that the study it contained could actually be done, or Ashley Judd for just being sort of super smart and civil and fluent in French.

But Mayim Bialik is also notable for her efforts to adhere to a modern orthodox-ish type life while living and working as an actor in Hollywood, which I also find sort of fascinating, even though I have no aspirations to ever follow in that line myself. And I do really love "The Big Bang Theory." 

Still, I have to admit that I found her book increasingly irritating.

I have no issue with attachment parenting. I have actually ended up doing a lot of attachment-y things as a parent, not because I have carefully considered them and decided they were best for my daughter or family, but simply because I am lazy and they were frequently the path of least resistance. If the only way for everyone to get sleep was to pile into one big bed, that's what we did. When my kid screamed bloody murder every time I set her down, I picked her up and carried her. A lot. She loved boobs and nursing her was often the only tool in my toolkit when tantrums or traumas struck. It wasn't a political statement, and I wasn't worried about her brain development or immune system - I just wanted her to stop crying and it worked.

I'm not going to follow Mayim Bialik on the whole "elimination communication" thing - I mean, I'm down with whatever Mayim wants to put forward on that front, but we are just kind of a pro-diaper family. And if we're going to go there, well, having a child constantly screaming at me and following me into the bathroom has completely messed with my elimination of waste to the point where some days I realize it has been hours since I've used the potty - and yes, I find myself calling it the "potty" in totally adult conversations which is horrifying - and that is the reason I feel funny and by "funny" I mean, "totally in excruciating pain." So if anyone needs help with "timing, signals, cues, and intuition" about elimination, perhaps it is me. Sorry if that's TMI.

And if Mayim Bialik doesn't want to use ibuprofen or antibiotics or eat any form of animal products that's fine, too. Whatever works for her is great. For her. Which brings me to what I think my main problem is with her book: the assumption that what works for her, will work for everyone. 

That attitude, more implicit than explicit, really annoys me. I expected more from Mayim - not as a mother or as a celebrity, but as a scientist. Although she has neurobiological and primatological reasons to back up a lot of her choices, the proof of the vegan tofu pudding (as it were) seems typically to be found in the behavior of her two sons and her own intuitions about parenting.

I am not one to doubt anyone's intuitions, but it is never good science to generalize from a sample size of two - much less one. What you then have is a case study, not a basis from which to draw conclusions. Especially not conclusions that you want to share with other people who might have completely different children, not to mention intuitions.

I can tell how hard Mayim Bialik tries - she really, really does - to explain what she is doing and why she is doing it, and to be understanding of those who make different choices without sounding smug or judgmental. But it is also really, really hard to write a parenting book (especially one promising to raise "confident, loving children the attachment parenting way") without a hint of smugness or judgment or some combination of the two when you are so sure that what you are doing is the right way to do things.

I guess that's where I differ from Ms. Bialik. I don't know what the hell I am doing most of the time, and I am pretty vocal about that. Perhaps that is just my parenting schtick. But at least I'm not advising anyone else to try it. I'm happy to share recommendations for sippy cups that don't spill, or iPhone covers that double as a wallet for busy moms and dads on the go, or post photos on Facebook of cupcakes I've decorated for a birthday party, but that's about as far as I'll go telling people that I think I've made choices that it will benefit others to know about. If there is one lesson I would write a book about, it is not assuming that what works for your family will work for anyone else. 

It's always good to remember that some kids don't want to be held, or can't be held all the time, and breastfeeding doesn't always work for a whole host of reasons, and co-sleeping really isn't for everyone. There are kids with chronic ear infections who need antibiotics, and wigged out parents who need to give their kids ibuprofen when they are teething so as not to loose their minds, because not all kids have the same pain-processing systems or thresholds - and not all parents have the same levels of tolerance for endless fussing. There are plenty of parents who let their kids play with plastic toys, or watch TV, or eat processed cheese and beef jerky. And all those kids - and families - turn out fine too.

Whenever Mayim writes about her calm, quiet, polite children and how her son whimpered when she night-weaned him, so it really wasn't as hard as she expected, I just want to scream and throw poop. Not necessarily at her, just in general. Because my daughter is not quiet or calm. Never has been, and likely never will be. Night-weaning was mind-jarringly, ear-shatteringly hard, involving what seemed like endless nights of screaming such that I'm sure our neighbors thought we were cutting of our daughter's toes. (They did confide that they heard her crying through multiple sets of closed doors and windows, and the typical suburban buffer space between our houses.) 

My daughter can be very polite when she has a mind to be, or when she is reminded to be. But she is also spirited and mischievous and hilarious and loud, and from what I can tell, although I did many of the same things as Mayim Bialik, I have a child who is almost the polar opposite of hers in almost every way. Which really isn't all that surprising, because I suspect she and I are also quite different people.

And this is why I am suspicious of parenting books in general. Just because you have a kid or a Ph.D. doesn't make you an expert on parenting. I know. I have both and I don't know crap about how to raise a confident, caring child. Or wait - that's not entirely true. My daughter is actually both confident and caring, but I'm not going to tell you that it has to do with the fact that I breastfed her or let her sleep with us until she was ready for her own bed. Or if it does have to do with those facts in some way, I'm still not going to advocate for them, because actually, I think that much of parenting is a crapshoot. Literally. A crap shoot. (See what I did there? I turned a philosophical reflection into a reference about poop!)

I should say that I agree with a lot of what Mayim has to say about the neurobiological underpinnings of behavior - as primates, we probably do prefer to sleep near others, for example. But like any human behavior, primate-like or not, there's a distribution, and for every sleepy snuggler, there's another kid who needs space and just wants their crib (or stroller, or playpen). I'm always skeptical of any claim that can be reduced in some form to an argument that biology is destiny. (Which is probably part of the reason I am so conflicted, because I recognize that many so many of my claims about my daughter's temperament smack of exactly that kind of reduction. But that's a topic for another post.) 

It's entirely possible that I am just feeling defensive, because all of Mayim's descriptions of her sons quietly playing with hand carved wooden toys on an artisan-woven organic hemp rug while eating dehydrated non-GMO sweet potato chips and listening to Bach in a backlit fuzzy pool of sunshine sort of drive me bonkers. Ok. I made up the part about Bach. And the hemp rug and dehydrated sweet potato chips. And the sunlight. But I do have this fantasy of what her days must be like that makes the whole idea of "discipline" in her house seem like some sort of unnecessarily comedic plot device. She never exactly comes out and says her kids are perfect, but I checked out her blog, and I think it is strongly suggested. This bothers me. Perhaps because it reminds me of how I feel when people with really mellow kids give me advice, which is that it is roughly akin to someone who raises orchids for a hobby thinking this entitles them to tell a lion tamer how to do their job.

I suspect that Mayim wasn't really aiming to write a parenting "guide" so much as seeking a way to share her experiences, in the hopes they could be helpful, or at least instructive to those who might be seeking an advocate or a different way of doing things. She pretty much says as much in the book. (I'm betting the whole "guide" language came from the publisher.) And I do think it is great that she has added a new voice to the Greek chorus of parenting tomes that I detest but cannot seem to stop buying. For a lot of people I bet it is nice to have a smart and reasonable public figure defending things that they might interested in but do not know a lot about, or that they might be doing in private but not talking about in public. There is no doubt that she believes passionately in the choices she has made, and that's great. It would be awesome if all parents could feel so sure about the path they are on. 

But unfortunately, some of us aren't that certain. Our kids are a bit more crazy. Our choices are differently framed - and constrained - by any number of factors: behavioral, neurobiological, social, familial, genetic, etc.  We really like prosciutto. 

Then again, no one is going to write a parenting advice book about how of course you love your kid but by bedtime you want to shut them in the closet and stick a fork in your eye. Or how to figure out if you have yelled at your kid too much that day. Or whether letting them go to bed in pajamas from the dirty laundry pile that they totally peed in last night because doing so will avoid a tantrum counts as gross, spineless, or merely practical. (What's a little pee, anyway, right? Some kids don't even have pajamas.) Or how the best advice is to stop reading books that make you want to scream and throw poop. 

No one writes books about these things. 

That's what blogs are for. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What I've Learned: Twenty-two Reflections Drawn from Three Years of Parenting

My daughter turned three today. And while the time has gone incredibly fast, I would say that the question - where did the time go? - is a bit disingenuous. I will tell you where the last three years went: trying to get my kid to sleep, picking up toys, managing tantrums, mopping up the floor, answering the question "why?" (about 20,000 times a day, lately), watching the same videos on YouTube over and over and over again, being hit in the nose with a sippy cup, worrying, worrying, and worrying some more.

Some of that time I wish had gone faster. Other times I wish I could have held onto more closely. A lot of the time I wish that I had been a better, more patient mother. But all in all, I've been watching my daughter closely this week and I have to conclude that I haven't done too bad of a job. Or at least I've done about as well as I could so far, being the person that I am.

The only evidence I have of this is the person that she is. And wow! She's a pretty cool person! Total nutcase. Intense. Energetic. Bright. Creative. Hilarious. There is never a dull moment. And while I can't say that she is this way because of anything I did or didn't do, I can say that it's clear I haven't yet broken her body, mind, OR spirit. Which is neither something to be proud of, nor the worst thing in the world. She has a lot of years - and a lot of other people to deal with - who can take care of that, even if it might have been an easier road for me to have done it.

In any event, I've learned a few things along the way. So I thought I'd share them. (What else is a blog for?) In no particular order.

1.) Always take extra (napkins, mayonnaise packets, plastic silverware, valium, diapers, wipes) if it is available.

2.) If you have the opportunity to use a restroom do so. If you have the opportunity to use a restroom by yourself, try to make it last as long as possible.

3.) If you do not pack a change of clothes (ditto: diapers, wipes, boxed wine, pacifier, snack) you will definitely need it. But don't think that packing it will help avoid needing it the way carrying an umbrella is supposed to ward off rain. It won't.

4.) Your butt is psychically linked to your baby. If you sit down, s/he will wake up. This is also true of your eyes and the camera on your video monitor. If you look at it, no matter how surreptitiously, your kid will suddenly start to twitch like that thing is shooting laser beams across the nursery.

5.) It is always happy hour somewhere. 10 am is not too early for a glass of wine, as long as you don't have to be driving anywhere or using power tools.

6.) Ants supposedly use two basic rules to build anthills: if you run into a piece of sand and you are not carrying one already, pick it up. If you run into a piece of sand and you are already carrying one, drop it. This also applies to children and toys, but it creates chaos, rather than toyhills.

7.) Anything clean is about to get dirty. Anything dirty can get dirtier.

8.) If it smells like poop, it probably is. Figuratively and literally.

9.) Farts are funny!

10.) You need less sleep than you think but you will miss it (and talk about it) more than you ever thought possible. Any no one else really cares. They have their own problems.

11.) You never know what is going on in someone else's family or relationship. Keep your judgments private. (I'd say "don't judge" but where's the fun in that? Plus, it is unrealistic.)

12.) You don't know what kind of parent you're going to be until you have a kid. You don't know what kind of kid you're going to get until they're born. The two are not unrelated.

13.) You will waste a lot of things: time, energy, food, gas, tears. Make resolutions to change if you must, but they often just set you up for more disappointment.

14.) Someone is probably doing it better than you. But someone is also probably doing it worse.

15.) Stop worrying about what you should be doing and do what works for you (within reason). When you are beating yourself up about something ask yourself not "what would supernanny do?" but something like "what would a parent in sub-saharan Africa do?" or "what would a serf living in the middle ages do?"or "what would Mayim Bialk do?" Perspective is one thing that is never wasted.

16.) You don't have to cherish every moment, because some moments just totally suck. But do try to record some of them in writing or photos or videos. You will forget both the good and the bad.

17.) It's hard being a human, whether you're 18 months or 38 years old.

18.) If you don't like kids, you might not want to have them. (And I'll throw this piece of advice in for free: if the human body freaks you out, don't become a massage therapist. Feet are freaky.)

19.) Sometimes the best piece of advice comes from the Wicked Witch of the West: "All in good time, my pretty. All in good time." Time is something of which there is never enough. Except when there is too much of it. (It is true, however, that you cannot have it in a bottle. No matter how much you pay for it.)

20.) Do not take your toddler with you to the gynecologist.

21.) Never put a banana in the pocket of your coat.

22.) Life isn't fair, but sometimes it is beautiful.