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That Cabin in the Woods sounds better and better

March 25, 2010 6 comments

Slate and NPR have latched onto a “trend” — which means, of course, that it’s totally passe now — called “Hauls.”

Apparenlty, teen girls go shopping and then come home and as they take all of thier stuff out of their bags, they record it and post it on You Tube, with commentary. I heard about this on NPR first and nearly ran off the road because I was staring at the radio, mouth agape, in disbeliefe. At first I thought I’d missed a month and it was April Fool’s Day.

As I’ve been following the financial crisis, one of the things that’s struck me, again and agian, is the fact that the US economy is driven by consumer spending. In fact, it makes up more than 70 percent of our economy. It took me a while and some really long afternoons listening to NPR’s Planet Money Team before I figured out what “consumer spending” means.

I figured it was the stuff we consume: food, fuel, etc.

No, I finaly figured out that it’s what I’ve started to call Peir Barn Crap. You know what I’m talking about — the random and useless and expensive things that they sell at Pottery Barn and Pier One and all those catalogs that we get in the mail. The catalogs that encourage us to “decorate” our homes, and redo them every few years to keep up with the trends. The catalogs that want to sell us oversized things to hang on our walls, like ten foot pencils or paper flower chandeliers for $80.

That crap is the vast bulk of our economy? I was boggled. But then i started looking around.

There are several stores in Davis Sq. that sell… crap. Cute, neat, vintage, unqiue, artsy… crap. Almost everything we get from my mother is crap. The vast majority of stuff at a toy store is crap (what’s more, it’s plastic crap). Hell, even at my beloved Starbucks, the walls are lined with special seasonal stuffed animals and branded doohickeys that are, in the end, irreducably, crap.

And now we have teen girls who are buying crap and then posting about it. And other people are watching it! (I have not watched, I need to admit to that right now. I heard the story and read the article but that’s it.) Our entire culture, especially the so-called girls culture, is directed at the consumption and disposal of crap.

Now, I will be the first to admit that when I flip through Pottery Barn, I say “crap crap crap… .OOOH! I want one!” I don’t object to ALL decorative or useless things. Art is essentially useless, in a purely practical sense, but it’s vital for our soul.

But … it’s meant to be a grace note, a small touch, a sweet treat at the end of a hearty meal. But America’s diet of consuption and our diet of food has switched to mostly sweet crap and not enough real stuff.

This is all pretty obvious, of course, to anyone who spends time thinking about this stuff. But increasingly, as I have less and less control over what The Child encounters in the world, I worry about how to counteract this sickness in our society. I’m explicit about it all the time — “What’s that mommy?” “A catalog of stuff we don’t need.”

But she’s four. And perfectly willng to say, casually, “If we don’t have one, why don’t we just go buy one?”

I’ve talked to her about money and about how it impacts the environement. But it’s hard when you’re surrounded by people for whom chocolate milk is the only milk their children drink, a trio of grandmothers with credit cards and a strong desire to spoil their only granddaughter, and a coffee shop where there is a wall of constantly changing seasonal stuffed toys, right at eye level.

My major concern is that I’m not doing enough. The culture is so awful, the whole society is so saturated in this disgusting brand of consumerism, that it’s hard to escape. As a general rule, I try not to buy things we don’t need. I buy used stuff when I can. I try to limit my art to actual art, made by a person and not mass manufactured. I dont go to malls or big box stores if I can help it. (Books are the exception to all these rules, though.) But I also know that I consume way more stuff than I need, that I can be lured in by something shiny and new and want it and sometimes buy it. How do I keep those walls for her when I can’t hold them for myself?

The solution would be to go somewhere that this culture is seen as awful as it really is. But where is that? Outside of starting our own commune (SO not going to happen), I don’t know where to go.

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Let’s hear it for misdirection!

March 2, 2010 Leave a comment

The Parking Lot group tried, very hard, to get into it this morning. Conversations would start with, “Are you going to the meeting?” (There’s apparently going to be a meeting today.) “No, I have to read a book at my older son’s school.”

And I could see two or three moms opening their mouths to jump in. And I would access my inner Jersey Girl and talk really fast to say, “Oh, really? What are you going to read?”

I did this six or seven times.

Occasionally, two moms would break off and their voices would get really low and they would dart glances at P. (L wasn’t there yet). And I’d drag them, rather suddenly, into our conversation about pancake breakfasts.

The meeting will happen while I’m here, pretending to work. There will be a policy statement and that will be it.

I hope.

It bothers me that I spend this much time and energy on the group politics of a bunch of women whose names I sometimes forget. I mentally mock, just a little bit, the women who spend so much energy worrying that a pedophile might see their son’s picture online, but I just spent almost the same amount of energy worrying about the high-school politics of the situation. Who’s nuts here? I know they are… and I’m almost certain that I am, too.

And why are moms all attacking each other instead of… I don’t know? Attacking pedophiles? That doesn’t make any sense. But I feel like a whole lotta energy and effort — mine, L’s, P’s, everyone’s — just got expended upon something useless, pointless, and divisive, where upon it could have been spent on something constructive. Why is modern motherhood all about attacking women who do it differently than I do it? Do men do this — as parents or in any other field?

I’m developing a theory, slowly, about how society can no longer use fear of sex/getting pregnant to control women, so instead, its shifted to using fear about motherhood to control women. It’s hazy, still, but I’m thinking about it. Thoughts?

Rumble on the Preschool Moms List

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I know I haven’t written in a long time — more on that in some other post — but I’m in the middle of a brouhaha that needs airing. Both because of the complex issues surrounding it — issues of parenting in the 21st century, of information and privacy and safety. But also because it’s gotten so frigging out of hand already.

Let me preface this with the fact that The Great Valentine’s Day Kerfuffle of 2010 set the stage for this. More than 50 emails went into a serious and multi-week debate about whether or not the kids should give each other Valentines for V-Day. (And WHEN did that start getting called “Happy Hearts Day”?) I laughed and moaned — it was my fault because I asked for a class policy on V-Day after getting caught out in last year’s class.

At the beginning of the year, as part of the pile o’ paperwork involved in preschool, one of the things we had to sign was a release allowing the school to take photos and use them in promotional material or whatnot. I signed — what the hell, right?

In the first weeks of the year, it became clear that one of the moms had NOT signed. It was N., and she admits, a little sheepishly and little defiantly, that she has “a weird thing” about not putting her kids’ picture on the internet. Okay, we all shrugged. It’s a quirk, we can deal with it.

The teachers mostly took the brunt of that — they had to keep N’s kid out of the way if any photographer came to take photos. Didn’t affect anyone’s life but the teachers, so we went on.

I need to also tell you about L., one of our class moms. L is very intense. There’s no other way to describe her. She’s an older mom with way way too many post-grad degrees (two masters and a law degree), an in-your-face attitude, and excellent hair. She also has twin sons, one of whom has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She’s very proactive — one might even say aggressive — in advocating for her son. Of which I approve, though it’s a sometimes exhausting. Her son has a therapist who sometimes comes to class and who often uses digital photos of the class in his therapy. (He’s an awesome kid, btw, and very similar to The Child in so many ways that I have to talk myself out of little fits about The Child having ASD, sometimes.)

She is, I think, my favorite preschool mom this year. I should say that, too.

Last week, the head teacher came out and handed out a new form for us to sign. (Sometimes, it seems like motherhood is mostly about managing paperwork.) It was a new EEC statement regarding policies about digital images of preschoolers. One of the moms — P., who is nice and sweet but coddles and smothers her son a bit — declared, in front of the other moms that she was going to say no. I didn’t even notice, really.

To be wholly honest, I didn’t read it as carefully as I ought to have. I had other things on my mind (like the new Kim Harrison novel! Yay!). At the library, a few hours before the form was due, I asked L. to borrow a pen so I could sign it.

Well, I got an earful. Turns out, many of the moms were taking P’s lead and going to refuse to allow photos. And L was PISSED! It was going to affect her son’s therapy! It was going to completely strangle the cute photos we could post on the mailing list!

I agreed that it would put a lot of restrictions on what seemed like an important part of her son’s therapy. I also agreed that it seemed a little silly, given that any stroll through Harvard Square generates thousands of digital images of your child. I also agreed that it seemed impossible to enforce among the population that most moms are worried about — the casual pedophile. (The school is on a farm that anyone can pay $5 and get onto. They kids often encounter total strangers with cameras and cell phones. Short of the teachers tackling everyone who pulls out a cell phone, the only people that they could enforce this upon would be the folks visiting the school, all of whom have been checked out via CORI forms.)

Then I left, handed the paper to the head teacher, and heard from her that there was a major block of moms who were saying “no.”

Again, I didn’t give a damn. It seemed silly, but the parents have the right to control their child’s image. And in the 21st century, controlling your online image is a good idea, an excellent idea, in fact. (Hence the theoretical anonymity of this blog.)

When I walked out of the preschool a little early (never mind why), I was startled to see all the moms in a huddle in the parking lot, with L. holding forth. I didn’t hear much, but “I hear what you’re saying. I don’t think you hear what I’m saying,” and “I just want to protect my child!”

Ooooakaaay…. time to get the hell outta Dodge. I dashed to the car before I could get caught up in the conversation. I describe the situation, with some humour, to the Husband at dinner last night. We discussed the various permutations of the arguments and actually had some interesting thoughts on the issue. But I figured it was majority-rule, case closed, let’s move on.

The morning, the emails started. L sent out a lawyerly, bullet-pointed … screed, I guess is the best way to describe it. She mentioned a meeting on Tuesday and how she wanted to get her arguments in now, rather than taking up the whole 30 minutes. She talked about her son’s therapy, how important having photos of his peer group was, etc. etc.

I thought about it for a minute and decided that I remained weirdly apathetic. I really didn’t care one way or the other — both sides had valid points. So I decided to do something I don’t normally do — I suggested a compromise: to allow some people, like the therapist, to take photos after he’s signed a form that promises not to release the photos online.

I also pointed out that anyone with a film camera wasn’t covered, so there’s a giant ass loophole. Then I added, “I have no dog in this fight, I just want to point out that this isn’t an all-or-nothing situation.”

(I also did something stupid. I sent a note, privately, to L., saying that I hoped my emails had helped her case and that it might shift some of the more sheep-like moms. Change one mind and you’ll shift the whole herd. That was unkind, impolitic, and sadly, true. But I still shouldn’t have committed it to pixels.)

Then one of the other moms wrote a pretty aggressive email about how “we all thought about what was best for our child and we have the right to make this decision and I don’t think any of us are going to change our minds!” Well, that ratcheted the heat up.

A few more emails went back and forth, all polite, but then P. (the coddling mom), sent out a supposed-to-be-soothing email about how we need to be calm and not use words like “paranoid” or “reckless” to describe either side in the debate. Since no one has used those words in the general debate, you gotta wonder what’s been said in private, huh? That also ratcheted up the tension, but killed the thread to everyone.

What I find most interesting about this is how much effort this is all taking. More established preschools have policies on these things, but since ours is a new preschool (with a wishy-washy, half-assed head teacher), it’s very much a consensual democracy. Which is nice, in theory, but exhausting in practice.

Anyway, that was a long post after a long silence. I’ll let you all know how it turns out.

Holding onto sanity with both hands, hard

October 5, 2009 3 comments

So I just listened to a story on NPR that I knew I shouldn’t listen to. A young girl’s fight with the Swine Flu. It’s awful, don’t listen to it. It’s important, you should listen to it.

Every once in a while I hear stories like this and I get a glimpse into what life must have been like 100 years ago, when a virus or plague could sweep through a town in days and kill wantonly. The idea that my daughter — my healthy, sturdy, big, strong daughter — might die because of the flu…. it’s terrifying. I can’t imagine living with it all the time, every time someone sneezes, every time someone coughs.

I’m pro vaccine and going to get the Swine Flu shot as soon as I can, going to have my daughter get it. (I’d like my husband to get it, but we’ll have to see when shots become available for people without any risk factors. I’ve got asthma, so I’m in the earlier bunch.)

I know, objectively, that the swine flu is pretty mild in most cases. I know that she’s strong and healthy. But I also know that 60 kids have died and while more than half of them have had underlying causes, about a third were perfectly healthy. (If I start thinking about herd immunity, I get all kindsa pissed off, so I won’t even start.)

Anyway, I’m just trying to stay calm and remember that the odds are in my favor. And using lots of Purell.

Looking up from the bottom of a gravity well

July 20, 2009 2 comments

I know that most Mom Blogs are concerned with diapers and potty training and gender-parity issues and playground politics and whatnot. And certainly that’s what I spend most of my brain energy on.

But I have enough left over that I worry about other things, bigger things outside of my small, toddler-cluttered world. I worry that $6/gal. gas is almost certain to happen in the next five years and that it’s going to break our badly constructed country. I worry about Monsanto’s drive to destroy all food systems. I contemplate whether capitalism, which is entirely based on a consumer culture, is a sustainable social structure given what we now understand about the environment. I worry about the new Sufi terrorist group the Naqshbandi, because there is nothing more terrifying than a peaceful mystical group deciding it’s time to do something.

And I worry about being at the bottom of a gravity well.

All the talk of the anniversary of the moon shot has made me really think about the fact that people like Buzz fucking Aldren say we don’t need to go to the moon, just go to Mars. I want to grab them and shake them and make them read Moon is a Harsh Mistress until they understand.

Any country that controls the moon controls the Earth.

I know that there’s a treaty about not militarizing space. I’m not sure I think that’s the best treaty for us to have signed, but I get why we did it. But the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t take a whole lotta tech to be able to chuck rocks (semi accurately) from the moon. And a rock thrown from the moon will hit with more force than you can imagine. Think nuclear bomb, without all the effort necessary to get uranium, build a reactor, build a rocket, etc. etc.

“But,” you say, “it’s hard to get to the moon! Harder than building a nuclear bomb.”

I’m not sure about that. There are good arguments that it could have been done with gaslight-era technology. (I’m not saying that I believe the arguments, but smarter people than I give them credence.) If you’ve seen the lunar lander at the Smithsonian, you’ll know it looks like a kludge built in your dad’s workshop. And it was built with technology from the 1960s.

So when the Obama administration starts talking about “re-examining” NASA’s upcoming missions, I get nervous. When I hear that the shuttles are being retired and there won’t be a US vehicle to get humans into space for about five years, I get nervous. When I hear people like Buzz fucking Aldrin (I am so angry at this, can you tell) say that getting to the moon was about proving we could go there, and now that we’ve done it we should just aim for Mars…. I get very very nervous.

There are lots and lots of other reasons to go to the moon. We need to do more exploration, more scientific discovery. There are lots of other security threats in space — the satellite thing makes me wake up at night in a cold sweat. But let’s not abandon the moon folks.

If only because we don’t want people throwing rocks at us.

I found a tick on the kid Friday

July 14, 2009 Leave a comment

So Friday night, after bath, I was doing a tick check. We’d been out in the woods that morning and Thursday and I try to always do tick checks. I’d skipped it Thursday b/c she fell asleep and was doing a super-thorough (but silly, goofy, make-it-a-game) job of it.

And I found a tick.

For about a second I freaked, then got the “tick ID card” out of my wallet, checked, yes, it was a Deer Tick, a nymph, here’s how you remove it, put it in an old lip-balm container. Then, because it was supper time, I did a very cursory scan of my usual tomes on these things, couldn’t find a S.O.P. in the face of ticks, and did something a little lazy.

I shot a note to the mom’s list I’m on.

Now, I could have called the doctor (at 5 on a Friday) and I could have called my sister-in-law or even just done a really extensive online search. But I did the lazy thing.

I think I was expecting a couple of “This is the standard thing to do in the situation,” coupled with at least one or two Lyme Disease Hysterics emails. (We’ve got a woman on the list who is very very into the Lyme Disease Divide. More on that later.) But mostly I figured there would be a consensus… I can’t be the only parent in the world who has found a tick on her kid!

The responses came flooding in. Mostly “call your doctor”, which made sense but like I said, it was 5 o’clock on Friday. A couple of “insist insist demand antibiotics.”

And one woman wrote a TOME. She wrote to me privately to talk about the epic journey she’d had when her son was bitten by a tick. She gave me the breakdown of the Lyme Disease Divide — basically the mainstream doctors versus the “Lyme Literate” doctors. What she told me was pretty scary — the tests are wrong as often as they are right, but getting a “good” test is expensive and the medical establishment tends to refuse to do them. She wrote about how she sobbed and wept and spent hours doing research and how she was called crazy and unreasonable by her doctor and family.

I’d heard about some of this before — I try hard to avoid the whole Lyme disease thing because when I let it, it freaks me the hell out. I’ve been down the “crazy mom” road, though I was postpartum and had the excellent excuse of being postpartum. So I have sympathy though I wonder what she was doing since her son didn’t have any symptoms.

But what I find really interesting is that there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on what to do if your kid IS bitten by a tick. It’s like the medical establishment knows it’s failed at dealing with this disease. They don’t believe the “fringe” doctors but can’t come up with a decent alternative.

But every time I look at the so-called “Lyme Literate” doctors, I feel like I’ve entered into the world of what I call the “specious skeptics.” The folks who sound semi-reasonable when they point out that the doctors are wrong but still sound crazy when they try to say what they think is right. The vaccine-autism-link folks. The HIV-doesn’t-cause-AIDS folks. The antibiotics-cure-ulcers folks….

Oh. Wait. That’s right. Antibiotics DO cure ulcers. And there was a “crazy fringe” movement that insisted upon this fact for FORTY YEARS while the mainstream folks insisted they were nuts and hundreds of thousands of people died from bled-out ulcers. It’s only int he past twenty years that we have accepted what used to nutso theory as true fact.

And that’s what scares me about this Lyme thing.

An ant to all those grasshoppers: F*CK YOU!

June 12, 2009 1 comment

I know that the issues are more complicated than I’m about to make them. I understand the power of predatory lending and marketing, I know that very few people thought, “Hey! Let’s run up some huge unpayble credit card bills int he hopes that the government will do stuff to make our lives better at the expense of those who really work hard.” I know that we live in a toxic culture that values stuff and devalues savings, that pushes instant gratification and mocks thinking ahead. And yet I’m pissed.

As I was taking The Child to school yesterday, I was listening to NPR do an “economics lesson” with Greg Ip, economics editor for The Economist. I’m not sure I agree with everything he said, but I was an English major who didn’t even know where the economics building was in my college, so my opinion isn’t terribly informed. But one thing he said was obviously true and made me so angry I nearly ran off the road.

“Interest rates are like the price of money,” he said (I’m trying to quote to the best of my abilities, but it’s likely inexact.) “When the Fed pushes down interest rates, then someone who has money to lend, like someone who has money saved in a c.d., winds up a loser. That’s just a cold hard reality. Do you want the Fed to raise interest rates just to would reward those few savers but tank the economy for everyone else?”

Well, yes! Yes, I do. And fuck you!

We have tried so hard to scrape and save every dime and dollar. (Okay, The Husband has done most of it….) To keep within our budget, we have a ten year old computer, I own just three pairs of shoes, and the only vacation we’ve taken in the past five years was a driving trip to D.C., where we stayed in a tiny hotel room outside of the city. We buy local food and books, because that’s the right thing to do, and because they cost more, we scrimp everywhere else to make up for it.

We’ve cut our budget to the bone to put money aside for college for The Child. She’d got a nice little nest egg right now… $4k. Not a lot, but not bad, all in all, for a three-year-old with an at-home mom living in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.

But because the Fed is squashing interest rates to save corporate America and all those big spenders out there, the Child’s college account earns less money in interest than she makes finding loose change on the ground. Literally. Her $4,000 earns 25 cents in interest each month. And she finds at least one penny on the ground every day — sometimes dimes and nickels. Even in February, she still earns more!

And, here’s the kicker: We’re going to bust our asses to save money for The Child to go to college. And there’s a pretty good chance that little Emma down the street, whose parents bought the fancy shoes and went to Europe and had the latest in computers, will get financial aid because her parents don’t have anything in savings while my child will have to pay her way in full because we did save.

Like I said, I get that this is more complex than I’m making it. I get that I benefit from living in an affluent society instead of a depressed one. I understand that societies don’t work without social nets. I even know that the healthy people who pay into whatever stupid fucking health insurance I have will probably be cussing me out in ten years when I come down with diabetes or something. (Not that they aren’t reaming us up the ass for health insurance.)

But I can’t help but remember back in high school when I’d get a 97% on a test and everyone else would get a 63% and the teacher would “throw out the outliers” and then grade on a curve. Suddenly, all the idiots who didn’t understand the material would have a B grade and my A grade would look a lot less impressive.

And somehow, on those few tests when I totally botched the material, there were no curves. Just a big fat C for me.

Here endeth the rant.