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Rules, culture, the rule of law, and what makes a geek

July 22, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking a lot about rules lately. About how The Child wants, desperately, to obey rules. She wants a strict set of rules and for them to be followed and enforced. Because that’s what my little girl needs, I’ve become a Rules Queen.

The problems with this that I’ve encountered are two-fold. First, explaining to her that it’s not her job to enforce the rules. This bugs the hell out of her. In dance class, another little girl was dancing even though it wasn’t her turn. She handled it well, didn’t freak out or anything, but she did tell the little girl to sit down during class (I heard). And she’s kept talking about it for days afterwards. Explaining that it’s the teacher’s job, not hers, to enforce the rules lead to my realization of the second problem: Almost no one follows or enforces rules.

The teacher at the dance class didn’t. Other moms often don’t. Certainly other kids don’t. What’s more, we live in a culture where the guy who follows the rules, in literature or tv or movies, is usually regarded as too uptight, a jerk, someone without humor or reason. Rule-followers are mocked, derided, and made into the bad guys. Often they finally “loosen up” and turn into OK guys at the end. (This goes double for women. Usually they wind up having sex (or finding a boyfriend) and become much more fun/sympathetic characters.)

I remember, vividly, one day when I was in first grade. It was the first week of school and we were all very excited because we got to wait by the big-kid door for class to start (as opposed to the playground, where the Kindergarten kids waited). The Principal, Mr. Scizer, came out and told us all, in his nicest, most jocular manner, that we had to wait down at the playground. It was a new rule.

The next day, I saw my best friend, Caryn, and a bunch of kids all waiting up at the door instead of at the playground. Being a bossy little miss-know-it-all (AKA, someone who followed rules), I reminded them that Mr. Scizer had said we needed to wait at the playground.

They told me that I’d misunderstood, he was joking. I said he wasn’t. Eventually he came out and told us, somewhat angrily, that we needed to go down to the playground. And everyone was angry … at me.

That was, in many ways, the start of my social isolation in grammar school. I didn’t understand the unspoken code of when it was important to follow the rules and when it was important to break the rules. I’m still not sure I get it, sometimes. In fact, a lot of geeks/nerds are the ones who somehow failed to internalize the unspoken code of when to break rules.

I worry about The Child’s love of rules. And the fact that she gets very upset when other people break the rules. I’ve tried explaining that it’s not our job to tell other kids what to do, or even other grown ups, but it’s hard since often I also want to march over to the rule breaker and read them the riot act. And sometimes I do just that — I delivered a stern lecture to the guy smoking at the toddler park, right in front of the “no smoking” sign, for instance.

A lot of the moms stared at me, laughed, or turned away with a sneer when I did. Some of them said, “That’s right!” and told me they’d wished they’d done it. So mixed results.

But when I tried to get the kid down the hall from me to stop smoking in my dorm hallway, she laughed at me and several of her friends made my life difficult. I knew, despite my handicap, that going to the RA would be over the line — despite the fact that she was breaking the rules and making me sick (I had bad asthma). What’s more, I’d be putting the RA in an awkward position because it was understood that RAs enforced certain rules but not others. And any RA who enforced ALL the rules was considered a “ball-busting uptight bitch.”

I have spent much of my life dealing with the same long-simmering anger that afflicts The Child when she sees someone breaking the rules. (And don’t get me started on The Husband!) I worry that my inability to understand this silent and shifting gray area will force her, as it did me, into the geek category.

And that’s the last thing I want for her.

Running the numbers

July 17, 2009 2 comments

So my neighbors are moving out today. Thanks to the miracle of the Interwebs, I know exactly how much they sold their place for. This is relevant because they are condo neighbors and own a house that is, essentially, identical to ours. So I know that if we sold our place RIGHT NOW, we could walk away with about $120K in cash after we paid off the mortgage.

In Boston, that doesn’t get you jack shit. I think you might be able to buy a parking spot down town for that. A crappy parking space.

But in Maine…. ah, in Maine, you can buy 65 acres for $37K. Add in a house from Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, which will run you about $24K and you still have about $60K left over for stuff like installing solar panels, a composting toilet, a pen for chickens and goats and rabbits, a few beehives, some apple trees, a big garden, and a water turbine to generate some electricity.

Of course it’s a fantasy. If we were young and very healthy and childless, it would still be a risk. Health care/insurance is expensive, especially for a farmer. Winter is brutal in Maine. We’ve never farmed and farming is a risky proposition, especially without training.

But the fantasy is nice. No mortgage to pay. No food to buy. No electricity to pay for. If only there was a job where we could do that and get some regular cash coming in.

I gotta get my book published.

The Child is napping! Should I laugh or cry?

June 30, 2009 1 comment

About a month ago, after months of struggling with napping, I decided it was time to abandon the nap. I know that 3 1/2 is early but she was fighting it so hard and it was becoming such a struggle to get her to sleep. I’d spend an hour and a half to get her to nap for the same amount of time.

She’d been skipping naps regularly anyway and I figured it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Well, except the bedtime thing. Because she was so tired, I moved her bedtime up an hour. That meant that she was eating dinner at 4:30 so that she could have some time with Daddy during the pajama time ritual when he got home at 5:20. The ritual takes an hour or so so she was asleep at 6:30. It’s tough on all of us, though. The family meal time is really important to our little family and I missed having that hour with all three of us at the table, eating and talking.

(Not to mention I had to engineer two dinners for two different dinnertimes. I failed at that, entirely, btw.)

She did well the first week or two. Bedtime was blissfully much much shorter… she’d conk out right away. Then the crazy-ass visit with my folks fucked everything up. She slept for 15 hours one night. She started whining that she was tired at about noon. She’d conk out the minute we put her in a car. But all attempts at actual naps were met with screaming fights so I let it go.

(All of this, btw, and she’s waking up at 6 a.m. on the dot. No matter what. We’ve got sound machines and light-blocking shades and we tiptoe around the place while we get breakfast and … it’s like she’s got an alarm clock!)

This morning, she started whining she was tired. I hurried her home and tried to do a nap. She was squirmy and insisted on sitting up. Then she said she wanted quiet time, not a nap. Since her squirming had already managed to kick me somewhere delicate, I said sure. And then, after an hour of quiet time, she came out screaming and crying that she wanted a nap! Please could she have a nap!?

Figuring it was hopeless, I put her down. And she’s asleep! Wonder of wonders! I’m sure it won’t last long… she drank a lot of milk during rest time. But she’s asleep! Happy dance!

I’m sure bedtime will be a bitch tonight. Sigh.

I just read what might be the dumbest book ever

April 8, 2009 1 comment

One of my cousins, for Christmas, bought The Child a beautiful book called The Quiltmaker’s Journey. I’d been getting into quilting and even made a small quilt for her newborn son the year before, so it was a thoughtful gift. And the illustrations were truly stunning. Not my favorite style, but lovely.

I’d seen the author on Simply Quilts. I didn’t remember much about the episode other than I didn’t like the block they chose — the rosebud block, which was paper pieced. Paper piecing is WAY past any skill level I’ll ever reach.

Weirdly, I never got around to reading the book. That should have said something right there. Maybe I did and got annoyed and never picked it back up, I dunno. But tonight The Child picked it as one of her three going-to-bed books so I sat down to read it.

It’s just…. dumb.

The main character is a girl who is incredibly rich and wonderful. She’s brave and strong and has good friends. Her parents die (without a ripple in the story or the girl’s mood) and leave her the biggest fortune in the town! So big that she runs out of things to buy! Which is impressive because she lives in a town where everyone is rich and wonderful. But the town Elders tell them never to leave the town because it’s surrounded by horrible dreadful terrible things.

But she feel sad and empty, nonetheless. Her friend, the seamstress, teaches her to make little things from cloth, one day sees that she’s unhappy and tells her that she will find her way soon enough.

Of course one day she goes outside… through a secret tunnel (guarded by six sleeping guards! Don’t know which is dumber: to guard a secret hidden tunnel that no one knows about or to hire morons that fall asleep.) Her candle goes out, because apparently she only brought one, and then magic candles light her way.

Outside she discovers, of course, poverty. A town so poor that people slept on the street and cried from hunger. Instead of turning around and going back to get some of her stuff to feed, clothe, and care for these people, the girl starts to walk. She walks for days in her big beautiful white silk gown. And, of course, the stupid git hadn’t brought food or blankets so these poor people, starving unto death, had to feed the bint. And, of course, they gave up their food happily. A junkman hands her a perfect rose, the only thing he owns of value. A girl gives up her only shoes when Her Nibbs’s slippers fall to pieces. All the poor people are cheerful, loving, and not at all resentful.

Finally, she realizes that “HEY! I should go back to my rich house and get some stuff to help these people!” But she’s lost (moron) and takes forever to get back. When she does get back, she marches straight up to the Elders (who all look like Victorian caricatures) and tells them whatfor. They scold her and say that if she leaves they will take away all of her stuff!

So she marches away with nothing but her clothes and a ring from her dead mother. Not even a coat. She wanders, hungry and alone, blah blah blah, finds some apples and instead of eating them, she gives them away. Instead of feeling hungry, she felt happier and more full than ever! Giving things makes her happy!

But she has nothing to give! She can’t help fix a house, she can’t catch fish… oh, there’s a mom and a son sleeping cold without a blanket. She sells her ring, buys cloth and thread and needles and then wanders up to the top of some godforsaken (but beautifully drawn) mountain to make a quilt. A cheerful happy warm quilt. And the sun shines upon her and the animals bring her food and the birds all make an umbrella of their wings if it rains. (Just think about the poop!)

Then she sneaks over and wraps the mother and child in the quilt (and it really is a lovely quilt) and realizes that this is her gift and spends the rest of her life making and giving away quilts to those in need. No mention of how she gets more thread or cloth or whatnot.

I think I understand the message that the author was trying to convey. But it’s so badly done that I think that book may got to the shelf of “bad books” never to be seen again. I tried to explain the problems to The Child while we were reading it: “She’s going to go exploring. Should she go exploring without proper provisions? No food or warm clothes?” But there are so many problems that I just don’t think it’s useful even as a discussion point.

All that said, I may keep it in among my quilt books because I really love that quilt.

Davis Sq. Starbucks, 8:40something, this morning

March 29, 2009 5 comments

Barista: Did you want a black tea or a black tea with lemonade?

Me: Just black tea, please. I need the caffeine.

Barista: ‘kay.

Random Guy Ahead of Me Waiting for Latte: How much caffeine is in a black tea?

Me: No clue. But I didn’t have any caffeine for years while I was pregnant and nursing, so a Venti black tea is more than enough for me.

RGAoMWfL: My kid’s 18 month old and my wife drank seven cups of coffee a day when she was pregnant. Didn’t change a thing.

Me: Oh? Wow.

RGAoMWfL: She was 115 lbs. when she gave birth. How about that?

Me: Uh… wow?

RGAoMWfL: Her body fat never got over 13 percent the whole time she was pregnant!

Me (looking down at my way-more-than-13-percent self): Wow.

RGAoMWfL walks away, carrying latte.

I stare at the back of his head, mouthing “What the fuck was that?” at my barista.

The costs of motherhood

March 23, 2009 1 comment

I’m the only stay-at-home adult in my condo complex. It’s a small association — only eight units — so it’s not surprising that I’m the only one. But it means that whenever an inspector needs to come in, the fire alarms need to be serviced, etc., I get to spend the morning at home making sure that the service guy gets in, has access to all the common areas, doesn’t get lost.

We have a condo manager and he would do it for us, of course. At the cost of $50 a pop, plus travel expenses.

After two years of this, it finally dawned on our manager (though not on me or anyone else) that maybe it would make sense to pay me to let these guys in. I’m going to get $25 for each instance. That’s less than half as much as we’d pay the professional, but still compensates me for the morning lost to each service call.

What I find really notable in this is that it took our manager two years to think of it. And I never did.

We pay the guy who lives upstairs from us to shovel the walk whenever it snows. No one would have even thought of asking him to do it for free. But of course the stay at home mom will be happy to spend four hours waiting for the plumber to come and fix the pipe to the communal washer and dryer.

There’s a concept in economics called externalizing the internalities. It’s big in environmental studies. It means (very loosely) that we don’t count costs of things that we take for granted. And I find it interesting that motherhood is squarely in that category.

I’ll give you another example. The Husband, who is very involved, thoughtful, considerate, and does all the laundry, was talking about his grandparents’ caregiver. Her name is Rosemary and she’s from Ghana and she lives with his maternal grandparents. She takes care of them, cooks and cleans for them. She gets one day off a week and one hour off every day. Otherwise, she’s on duty.

“Can you imagine?!” The Husband said, shaking his head. “Working 23 hours a day, six days a week, taking care of someone you have to bathe and help to the bathroom? How much would they have to pay you?”

I quirked a smile at him and looked down at The Child, holding my hand on the escalator. “Honey, I do it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For free.”

He blinked. Twice.

“I do outweigh her, which is an advantage,” I admitted. “But she’s way faster than your grandparents are, so it probably evens out.”

“I was about to say that she cooks and cleans too, but I’ll shut up now.”

I don’t know how much Rosemary gets, per hour. Let’s pretend that it’s minimum wage. In Massachusetts, that’s $8/hr. Times 23 hours a day, times six days a week, times 52 weeks a year = $57K and change. (Not that I get a whole day off to myself every week. Hell, I’m barely get a whole hour off to myself every day.)

Now, Rosemary doesn’t have a car so she doesn’t do the shopping or any car errands. I do that, so I’m probably worth another $5K a year. I also let people into condo, which is apparently going for about $50 a pop on the open market. Add that all up and …

Well fuck. That’s a pretty good wage. Even more when you realize that I do a part-time gig on the side, and make dolls and quilts for The Child. I don’t know if you’d count the hours of research I spend reading articles and journals and books on childcare?

I haven’t spent a lot of time pondering the policy implications of this. But it seems to me that a tax break for at-home caregivers would not go amiss here — take The Husband’s salary and subtract my “salary” and we could pay taxes on only the remainder? It needn’t apply to just parents, though. What about all those suffering women (and it’s mostly women) who are caring for elderly or sick relatives? There’s a tax credit if you paid someone else to do it. Why not for those of us who are doing it ourselves and therefore aren’t earning money outside the home?

Maybe if we monetized this stuff, we’d get some respect?

Running the numbers

February 17, 2009 5 comments

I’m a crunchy mama. My kid eats organic local food, I breast fed until she was two and a half, she co-slept until almost that time. I was a big baby wearer (until all that healthy living made her so damned big I couldn’t carry her anymore).

But, with all that, I’m pro vaccine.

This position is apparently deeply controversial among my fellow crunchy mamas, though the science backs me up. (Incidentally, I’ve made all my crunchy mama decisions because the science backs me up.) I know that there is some really interesting anecdotal evidence to link vaccines and autism. I’ve heard a lot of stories that make me believe that there may have been at least a slight link, though whether it was causal or not I can’t say. (I will point out that there’s some very interesting preliminary evidence that television has a very causal link.)

But, even with all that, when I sat down and ran the numbers on vaccines, I came down hard on the side of vaccines.

Why? Because even if the most outstandingly pessimistic views on autism are correct (and they are very grim — 1 in 25 kids), they are still better odds than risking the gamut of childhood diseases. Mumps can kill you. Measles can kill you. Rubella can kill you. Whooping cough can kill you. And that which does not kill you can leave you blind, crippled, sterile, stunted, mentally damaged. Chicken pox may be largely harmless as a child, but it can kill an adult. And shingles can be brutally painful.

And the flu can kill you.

One of the moms on my local list serve just shot out an email about a child who died last night of the flu. Healthy on Wednesday, dead on Sunday. She admits that she doesn’t know if the child had the flu vaccines, but even if he did, I’m willing to bet he hadn’t every single year. Each yearly shot may be only 30-percent effective, but the cumulative effect is much more potent.

One of the other moms wrote in a slightly breathless manner to ask “how that happened?!” I wanted to refer her to the book Flu . Influenza is often deadly, especially for the old and the young — there’s a reason the CDC tracks it so closely. Tens of thousands of people die in this country each year because of the flu. I’ve seen estimates that range from 36K to 60K. That’s about as many as die in car accidents. And a flu shot isn’t much harder than putting on your seat belt.

Then some other mom shoots back, quite snarkily, that she doens’t understand what this boy’s death has to do with vaccinating?!

I wanted to shout and bang heads together when I heard that. Herd immunity is the surest way to prevent deaths from these things. But we’ve become a victim of our own success — we’ve eradicated viruses so well that people are shocked when a child dies of the flu, even though that used to be very common. But autism has such a high profile that we’re more scared of that.

Listen, if you don’t want to immunize, I respect that. I disagree violently, but I can’t quite bring myself to say that the government should make a law that says you must vaccinate. But don’t pretend that your decision doesn’t affect the rest of us.

(I will add that I know that this is an emotional subject for some folks. I hope I didn’t offend you. I also know I’m opening myself up for a massive flame war. To head that off, I’ll tell you that I’ll post only thoughtful responses, not rants, flames, etc. I know that I just wrote a rant, but hey, it’s my blog. I can rant if I want to.)