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“Parenthood” and what’s wrong with it

March 19, 2010 2 comments

There’s a new series on NBC: Parenthood, based on the 1989 movie of the same name. The movie has one of my favorite lines of all time, uttered by a then-barely known actor named Keanu Reeves:

You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car – hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.

Based on the strength of this line, the fact that Lauren Graham starred, and for another reason I’ll get to in a minute, I decided one day to watch the show. I’ve seen three episodes now and I think I’m done.

Now, the third reason that I decided to watch it: Because I don’t know what normal parents are like.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy making a place for myself, as a person and as a parent, where I am surrounded by supportive and loving people who don’t tell me constantly that I’m a weird freak side-show who doesn’t think like everyone else. Mostly this is a personal bubble I’ve created, but partly it’s the community I’ve chosen. Cambridge, Mass., is NOT the median average for any damned thing in the country.

This is, for the most part, incredible and good, especially since I was lucky (smart?) enough to get people who will tell me if I’m being stupid. Constant and unthinking agreement is good for no one.

But it also means that I’m pretty well isolated from what I think of as “mainstream” American parenting. I honestly get baffled about things that clearly everyone else thinks are normal and usual. And, more importantly, I get blindsided by attacks form people — mostly my family — who think I’m being “weird” in some instance where I thought I was right in tune with normal practices. (Honestly, I didn’t think anyone thought of Teddy Grahams as a healthy snack on par with a piece of fruit. They are cookies, right?)

Since every preview seemed to make the show out to be the Greatest Hits of American Parenting Anxiety, it seemed like a good place to go to find out what other, normal, parents think.

And wow was I right. It lined up all the big issues in the first episode: single moms, deadbeat dads, money concerns, a child with Asperger’s/Autism, not becoming your father, teens acting out, parental competitiveness, the working mom dilemma, etc. etc. I was slightly irritated by the heavy handed script, but stuck to it for three episodes. It was an interesting view on what people thought about parenting — or at least, what Hollywood thought people thought about parenting.

For example, The Husband spent a lot of time yelling at Peter Krause for his crappy reaction to his son’s diagnosis with Aspergers. I thought, while he was jerky, he was actually less jerky than most dads seem to actually be in a similar situation. (I have had two moms recently tell me that when their kids got diagnosed with some problem, their husbands reacted with violent denial and refusal to admit the problem.)

Then, in the third episode, came something that made me want to scream. The Asperger’s kid gets kicked out of school, which is silly but a plot point so I’ll forgive it, and Peter Krause and his wife decide to get him into “the best private school” for Asperger’s kids. They pull strings and camp out in people’s offices and finally talk to the head of the school and she says that there are no spots this year, but come back in September.

The parents then spend four or five minutes demanding that this woman “just spend five minutes with Max! Just five minutes and you’ll see how special he is!” They badger and beg and bully until she agrees and spends five minutes with Max and calls in the final minutes of the episode to say that YES, Max gets in! It was the emotional high point of the episode, the triumphant end that had everyone in the family cheering, was supposed to make the audience cheer, too!

It made me so angry I wanted to spit.

What about all the people who followed the rules and waited on the waiting list so that they could get their kid in? What about all the parents who paid the ungodly tuition with the knowledge that the 3d grade class would have a 5-to-1 ration and now, because they squeezed Max in, it will be 6-to-1? Is Max really that special special special of a snowflake that they will bend the rules? Or is it just that these parents were bullies and jerks?

This is what’s wrong with Parenthood and parenthood. The rules don’t apply to MY kid. MY kid is special. MY kid deserves to have the rules bent, broken, ignored, just this once, just for MY kid. All the other kids need to conform, but you need to make an exception, just this once, for MY kid.

And I’ll bet you that at some point there will be an episode where Max’s parents go to the mat with the school to fight for small class sizes because too many kids are getting in.

I know that it’s vital for parents to advocate for their kids. But bullying your way into a school just because it’s the best school, the one with the best status and reputation, and not thinking of the larger issues, not thinking about other kids, not considering how a wider advocacy will actually help more kids and be better for your kid in the long run….. that’s what is wrong.

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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.

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.

I’m fairly certain this isn’t a spoof

December 1, 2008 Leave a comment

Sadly, this came from SciAm.com, a reputable site, and the link seems to be to the actual FDA page. 

“Levels of melamine alone or cyanuric acid alone, at or below 1 part per million in infant formula do not raise public health concerns,” the FDA said.

People mock my loca-vore-ness. I’ve been told to lighten up, get real, take a chill, get a grip, and stop being so damned serious because our food is perfectly safe. 

And yet… the FDA thinks trace amounts of melamine are okay in infant formula. 

No, I don’t have any proof that 1 ppm is harmful to infants. But I’m willng to bet that somewhere down the line we’ll find out that it is. There is so much we don’t know about the human body, about how it develops, what it needs, how it reacts to the toxins in our environment. I can’t imagine that it’s a good idea to be pumping a plastic byproduct that mimics protein into our infants. Even in teensey weensey amounts.

There are whole worlds of problems with the U.S. food system, such as it is. The FDA is a major part of that problem. I don’t know what to do to fix it, but I suspect that firing the head of the FDA and all of his (her?) croneys might be a good start for Mr. Obama.

Categories: food, motherhood, Politics