Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Tired and Cranky Chronicles, Pt. II

Having read Shannon's cautionary tale - it tells us something about contemporary culture that since we saw each other for about 10 seconds when I got home and she left for work, we used the internets to pass along most of the information needed for an evening of child-rearing' - my security forces were prepared for what someone once called "a long painful nightly ritual of bedtime rebellion." We encountered some stiff resistance in the Crib neighborhood, but ultimately the restive population was pacified without bloodshed - though other body fluids were involved.

Slowing the bedtime routine to a glacial pace, Julia and I had a full half hour of quiet stories before she reached the friendly confines of her crib. Downstairs, fifteen minutes of faint murmurs and sighs over the monitor ended with a wail - "Daddy coming in! Daddy coming in!" I hustled up there to find an immensely distraught toddler holding her right hand up in the air - "Fuzz! Fuzz! Getitoff! Getitoff!" I soothed her and showed her how to rub the fuzz - which originated in the scalp of her beloved oversized toy monkey, Mike - off on her bedsheet. She quieted down. I went back downstairs.

Ten minutes later, another wail erupted from the near silence, the kind of zero-to-sixty scream that indicates massive resistance to sleep. More "Daddy coming in! Daddy coming in!" This time had her left hand in the air, and she was crying and yelling, "Whatizit? Getitoff! Whatizit? Getitoff!" I looked down at her finger to find a distressingly large and solid wad of snot on the very tip. My first thought was, "This seems familiar..." My second thought was, "Where are the Target-brand facial tissues?" Once these key items located, I cleaned Julia's finger and then wiped her nose and her toy kitty's as well. (I think this was an attempt to pin the snot on the kitty.) As I finished my amateur veterinary care, I told her it was nighttime and all her friends were asleep and boy were Grover and Ernie sleepy, too. Back downstairs, I heard a few more halfhearted recitations of the alphabet, then nothing. Elapsed time from entering the crib to entering slumberland: 45 minutes. It could be worse. It could be much, much worse.

The Tired and Cranky Chronicles

Will I never learn? Apparently I jinxed myself when I wrote that post the other week about finally getting a break once in awhile in the middle of my parenting-marathon days at home with Julia. Surely you recall how I so happily stated that she naps every day without question now (as opposed to her younger baby days when it was all a gamble, all the time).

Hmmm. Silly, silly me, because no sooner did I flaunt my hubris to the Gods of Baby Sleep than Julia embarked on a pretty serious poor-sleeping crusade. Last Thursday, when she was sick with a cold and after I had seemingly been awake the entire previous night listening to, alternately, her cough over the baby monitor and the cursed wind of Northfield rattling our entire house, Julia actually refused to nap. AT ALL. I mean, she laid in her crib and talked and played and yelled and sang her ABC's (quite correctly, I should add) for an hour, and then bellowed to get up, having had enough. I'm sorry, but an hour of listening to her protest her nap over the monitor, thus preventing me from being able to nap myself, and culminating not in a second hour of actual sleeping but instead in her demanding to get out of her crib and be crabby the rest of the day does NOT a break for Mama make.

I bring this up today because we seem to be headed in that same direction again, despite the fact that Julia is clearly enormously tired from over a week of sleep deficit and the after-effects of a busy and stimulating holiday weekend with Grandma in town. As I write this, Julia has been in her crib for 55 minutes and so far instead of blessed silence, I have heard the ABC song again, various grunts, groans, and sighs, the rattling of crib rails, an indecipherable monologue seemingly related to her activities of the day so far, and a long stretch of mysterious construction-like noises, which culminated in urgent cries of, "Mama, fisk it! Mama, fisk it, fishie moo-git broken!" Upon hearing which I went into her room and found her standing up in her crib, holding distressedly in one hand the strap from her Fisher Price Aquarium crib toy, which plays music ("fishie moo-git") and which she had somehow managed to wrest free of the side of the crib. Now she is crying and saying, "Mama coming.....Mama coming...." which is never a good sign, people.

[Note: I just went up to check on her, and she was wailing hysterically, holding up her hand for me to see, begging me to intervene in the current crisis. No, she wasn't bleeding or otherwise hurt. She had a piece of black fuzz from her Ernie doll's hair stuck to her palm. You heard me. Fuzz.]

In addition to her nap strikes, Julia has also begun a long painful nightly ritual of bedtime rebellion, which really hasn't been typical since the dreaded pseudo-"sleep training" we did when she was about 7 months old. Most of the time since then, she has gone to sleep at bedtime fairly easily--unless sick, scared, or traveling--having learned to put herself to sleep without nursing, rocking, etc. But lately she talks and cries and fusses and whines for at least an hour after going down before she falls asleep, no matter how ridiculously tired she is. We've tried even earlier bedtimes than she normally has (and she's an early-bedtime baby), we've tried humoring her and keeping her up a little later, we've tried running her ragged during the day in hopes of wearing her out...but right now, none of the above is working. We've settled on a non-rigid approach of actually going back in a few times and talking to her quietly about all her friends and relations who are going night-night too, rubbing her back, and turning on her music box again. Totally indulgent, but anyone else who cares to say so can keep it to him- or herself, because if there's one thing you learn once you're a parent, it's that no one else will ever know better than you what works for your own child.

But, so anyway, bottom line is that sleep in this house is not going well right now, whether due to 2-year molars, 2-year-old independent streaks, summer heat, summer light, or some other unknown toddler variable. I feel like I'm living in the insomniac household in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's dreamy novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Maybe, in the end, this is the universe preparing us for the arrival of the new baby in 3 months? Which reminds me of our news: the C-section is set for August 25th. Of course, New Baby Tassava may decide to begin her journey into the world before that date (please, no!), but those doctors, they refuse to humor me and schedule it for a day sooner than 39 weeks.

Until 8/25, sleep tight, everyone. And watch for 2nd-birthday tales coming soon. For all her sleep challenges, Julia Charlotte is the sweetest, smartest, most lovable sweetheart baby in the entire universe, and she's having a birthday! Now THAT'S dreamy.

Review and Relax

Unexpectedly, I got a letter from my boss's boss yesterday informing me that I'd received a three percent raise, based on my recent performance review. I was surprised, as I'd understood that my review was a courtesy, completed at the six-month milestone to ensure that I was heading in the right direction and not at all tied into the salary-increse process.

That the review resulted in a not-insubstantial raise - and they called it a "raise," not a "performance based salary enhancement" or some such nonsense - was a pleasing springtime bonus. At this rate, the wonders of compounding put me only about a decade from breaking $100k! Please, call me Mr. Moneybags. What's that, Jeeves? For the last time, I told you to put the china set down near the davenport, not the chaise longue. My goodness but it's difficult to avail onself of help commensurate with your station.

At any rate, the surprise letter capped a review process which was pretty much the antithesis of the review process at Old Job. I'd guess that at most I spent about three hours doing my own review, including redrafting my job description and meeting with my boss, and about two hours doing the entire review of my assistant. Both of these reviews were, in my estimation, valuable exercises. While being highly supportive, for instance, my boss made a number of concrete recommendations of new things to do, things to avoid doing, or things to do differently. Concersely, at Old Job, I easily spent ten hours just inputting my handwritten self-evaluation into the absolutely ridiculous online "PerformanceManager" application to which HR was as blindly committed as a jihadi to Paradise. Only this was hell, and it came from a company named "SuccessFactors Employee Performance Management Solutions."

As that near-criminal name might indicate, it was tedious, evaluating myself on the company's paper forms, putting all those round pegs into the square holes provided by PM, sending the eval up to my boss so that s/he could add his/her own material (being careful never to use the uppermost ratings of 4 or 5, because, of course, the average employee is average), and then finally setting down to meet with that boss to go over the eval over the course of a couple 60-minute meetings. All in all, you could count on blowing 40 to 60 hours on these phases of the eval process.

But at least when I'd reached that point, I could see the end of the processs. Prior to that point, I had to go - everyone had to go - through all manner of "best practice" rigamarole, such as the "360 eval," which entailed asking a largish group of coworkers to evaluate you, too. The horror here wasn't that anyone would sabotage me. It was the opposite: I hated to inflict PerformanceManager on them. In fact, I wished I could inflict it on people I hated and didn't want to work with ever again. The boss was supposed to factor these peer evaluations into his/her culminating review, and they did, though usually in an innocuous, "doesn't look like anyone hates you" kind of way. Certainly, neither those peer evals nor the boss's own take on my performance ever led to a meaningful or rigorous plan for "professional development" over the next year. All of my bosses threw out a few ideas - a workshop, a book, maybe joining a new project team, etc. - but they never summed up to anything like a path toward a promotion or, aiming lower, a respectable set of responsibilities.

Largely, I suppose, this was due to the fact that at Old Job I was only once reviewed by someone who was my actual boss at that point. My first review was conducted months after the due date by an Excel jockey who was by then my former boss: I'd already moved into a new position elsewhere in the company. He put me through the wringer, but then just threw on the 3% increase and ushered me out of his office. A few months later, he was fired. At my second review (also months after the due date), my new boss first detailed a number of areas where I was "contributing," assured me that I was a valuable member of her team, and then told me, in essence, that she didn't want to carry my salary line and that I should look for another job in the company toot sweet. After a gut-wrenching six months of flux, I inherited a coworker's job as ill-suited for me as a chador. Less than a year later, that second boss, too, had left the company. My third review, which occurred more or less on time, was conducted by a boss who'd only been my actual supervisor for a few weeks, and hardly knew what I did or should be doing, much less how I was doing it.

All of this isn't so much an indictment of the review process at Old Job as specific instance of the general inclination of business enterprises to overelaborate. In this case, the lead conspirator was Human Resources, whose staff used all all kinds of fake science to make sure nobody got paid more. There were, for instance, the compendia of salary figures which never quite worked out to actually pay anyone more. Even better, there were the laughable Taylorist assumptions inherent in the PerformanceManager system itself, especially the way that your boss's and your peers' subjective evaluations were transferred onto 5-point scales which, when summed up and averaged, suddenly became objective assessments which slotted right into with the company's salary-increase chart.

But all the bosses who respected or at least played along with this arrangment were partly to blame for this ridiculous, wasteful, and near-useless system, too. Nothing would have been better than just sitting down, one on one, with a boss who had reflected on my performance, talked to a few peers and thought up a few ideas for doing a different and better job over the next year. I feel assured in making this claim because I just went through exactly that process, and have come out happier, better guided, and even a little better paid.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Guilty Pleasures

Via Snarky Squab: Guilty Pleasures.

Four Guilty Pleasures in Reading
1. American Profile, the sub-USA Weekend "magazine" in the Northfield paper - every celeb Q&A question is, "I really like Celine Dion/Garth Brooks/Scott McClellan. Tell me more about them."
2. "Blondie," the comic strip. I just can't stop reading it, unlike "Family Circus," which I can now avoid.
3. Wired - the business-shillingest magazine this side of Business Week.
4. Any fashion/lifestyle magazine - the girlier the better.

Three Guilty Pleasures in Movies
1. Red Dawn, the Reaganite paean to militia resistance to a Soviet invasion.
2. Schwarzenegger's action-movie oeuvre.
3. Hamlet, the Mel Gibson vehicle.

Five Guilty Pleasures in Food
1. Potato chips - the greasier and cheaper the better.
2. French fries.
3. Pepperoni pizza.
4. Chocolate cupcakes, which I could eat all day and night. No sprinkles, though. Yuck.
5. Garlic bread - the butterier the better.

Four Guilty Pleasures in Music
1. Guns 'n' Roses.
2. Johnny Horton.
3. The Scorpions.
4. AC/DC.

Four Guilty Pleasures in TV
(Pass - I honestly don't watch enough TV to have even one.)

Two Guilty Pleasures in Booze
1. Cheap, cheap beer.
2. "Depth charges" - shot of espresso in a pint of stout.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Nice Work if You Can Get It

For weeks now, for some unknown reason, whenever I idly ask Julia what she thinks Daddy is doing at work at any given time during a weekday, she'll answer, "Cookies."

When I respond, naturally, with an incredulous, "You think he's eating cookies? That's what he does at work?" she then adds, "Ice cream."

Hmmm. Do you think she knows something that I don't?

Small Town Living

Julia has her 2-year-old well visit at the pediatrician this morning. As I was getting us ready this morning, I realized that one of the wonderful things about now living in a small town rather than the big city we lived in until last winter is the fact that it now takes us 5 minutes, rather than 30, to get to the pediatrician. While this in and of itself is great--cutting out almost a full hour of travel time alone!--the reason it's so especially wonderful is that it means that I don't have to pack a boatload of provisions for every doctor appointment---snacks, sippy cups of water, multiple diapers, etc. Because we won't be gone all that long! I mean, even if Julia gets hungry for her snack while we're there, she can make it a few more minutes until we get home. I don't need to camp out in the waiting room doling out Cheerios and string cheese. And even if a diaper change is necessary, which is unlikely in the short time we'll be gone, surely there won't be ANOTHER diaper change needed after that before we get back home. It's liberating, in a way that only another parent of a baby/toddler can understand. Imagine when the new baby comes in August and we'll have to go to the pediatrician every few weeks---I may even be able to avoid the whole spend-an-extra-hour-at-the-doctor's-office-because-we-had-to-nurse scenario! (Can you imagine how THAT would work with a 2-year-old along for the trip?) I may actually be able to drive us the 3 miles home, and THEN nurse.

Simple pleasures, people!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sleep of the Darned

For whatever reason - turning two, having a summer cold, putting up with street sounds, late sunsets - Julia has been having a bad time sleeping lately. This leads not only to bad sleep for her parents and many nocturnal visits to her crib, but also to strange unconscious utterances. For the full effect, imagine these things said in a voice both sleepy and urgent and filtered through a cheap baby monitor:
1. "Sockies off... sockies off."
2. "Elmo... Elmo... Elmo..."
3. "1... 2... 5... 8..."
4. "Daddy, eat it! Mama, eat it!"

Uh, eat what, honey?

Grow Your Intelligence

Ugh. Wired Magazine is hit-or-miss for me, but this "review" of a new book applying evolutionary theory to economic history is all miss. According to the reviewer, Eric D. Beinhocker's The Origin of Wealth "jettisons the math-based canon of economic history and recasts it as a teeming evolutionary stew." Writing something like this bespeaks a decided unfamiliar with actual writing in economic history, which is pretty light on the econometrics and, actually, pretty heavy on the evolution. See Joel Mokyr's two big books, The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress and The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy, for some subtle economic history that's thoroughly informed by evolution - though not of the reductionist "survival of the fittest" school.

And for god's sakes, avoid saying silly things like, "Don’t grow your organization, evolve it." Don't ignore intransitivity, respect it.

Avian Memorandum

To the bird who keeps pooping in this birdfeeder:

Stop it.

Thank you,
The Mgmt. (and your fellow feathered friends)

The Past Isn't Even Past

Weeding out some files the other day, I came across a brochure given to me when I was interviewing for my job at Former Employer. It made for harrowing reading, since it conjured up many memories of how I thought that job might be a good one, and many more memories of just how bad it was. I'll keep those to myself, but I do want to share two lists that appear prominently in the brochure. They made me giggle then and make me want to retch now:
Core Values
Respect for Others
Passion for Lifelong Learning
A Learning Organization
Commitment to Learner Success

Good Listeners
Now, as one of my former coworkers once wrote, "we don't want to overly complex this," for these lists are little more than demonstrations of the poverty of late-1990s business culture. (That Former Employer was still bandying these lists about in 2005 tells you something about the company.) But good lord, there's so much to hate here. On top of the awful density of buzzwords like "innovative" and "learning organization," there's the intellectually lazy inclusion of several items on each list, especially "fun," which shows up in the brochure at the bottom of the left-hand list and the top of the right-hand list, as if to carry the reader through some particularly challenging conceptual terrain. And then there's the swerving non-parallelism of items in the sets: nouns and gerunds, a few noun phrases, and a few raw adjectives. It all sums up to make so sense at all except as a signal: "Here Be Dingbats."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More Northfieldiana

For my part, the wind was an aid today in pushing me and my bike to campus in record time. But just to keep things interesting, I shared the road with an old Farmall tractor, painted bright orange and puttering up the streets all the way to downtown. I saw a lot of odd stuff riding the Cedar Ave. bus in Minneapolis, but I never saw a tractor go by.

The Wind Chronicles Continued

Remember that post I wrote a couple of months back about the incredible windiness of Northfield? And wondering if it is always like this here, and if anyone besides me notices? Well, in case you were sitting there wondering how the wind has been in our new hometown (which I'm sure you were, right?), I'll update you. Five minutes ago I was in the laundry room when I heard a huge crash coming from our backyard. Turns out, our ENTIRE PATIO SET, meaning the table and all four chairs, encased in a green and white striped vinyl patio furniture cover, just BLEW OFF OUR PATIO INTO THE NEIGHBOR'S YARD, taking our garden lantern stake down with it.

Now imagine me, 6 months pregnant with a sizeable belly to show off, dressed only in a camisole and a flimsy summer skirt that keeps blowing up in the wind, with barefeet, running around the next yard trying to lug a table and four chairs back to our own patio in a wind that felt like it was trying to blow ME into someone else's yard. All while Julia watched in amazement from her highchair, munching crackers and green peas for her morning snack.

Um,'s still pretty windy here.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Renaissance Art for Toddlers

So Julia and I were upstairs in the family room before lunch today and she asked me to get down the big Janson's History of Art book from the bookshelf---you know, the behemoth textbook we all have from our college days? She likes it, and I swear, neither Christopher nor I intentionally encouraged such over-the-top precociousness; she just noticed it one day and wanted to look at the pictures. Every now and then she opens it up and asks to see a few favorite works of art.

Today she requested, by name, Michelangelo's David. (I mean, of course, that she said, "David," not "Michelangelo"--she's not THAT precocious. I did actually try to get her to say "Michelangelo," but she refused, saying--rightly so, I might add--"hard name.") After studying the David for a few minutes, she stood up, smiled excitedly, and said something unintelligible while touching her head. It took me a few minutes, and several (increasingly frustrated) repetitions of her statement, before I got it: "David has curly hair! Just like Brea!" If you knew Julia's 4-year-old cousin Brea, and her fabulously springy, glamour-preschooler afro, you'd especially appreciate the analogy, but despite that, I was stunned. This kid kills me. Where does she get this stuff?

It's Wake-Up Time!

There are many, many things I adore about being a mom, and especially, about being a stay-at-home mom. Truly, despite my frequent complaints over what a difficult baby she is/was, I wouldn't trade my life home with Julia for anything (which should be obvious by a quick glance at my checking account). I love being able to eat breakfast with her in our jammies rather than running around trying to get out the door to daycare. I love being the one to witness ALL her discoveries and new skill acquisitions. If she suddenly counts correctly to ten or talks about how aardvarks eat bugs, I know exactly where she learned it: from us. I love not having time to miss her during the day, because I'm WITH her. I love being the one to decide that she is going to eat pita and hummus with fresh cucumbers for lunch, not frozen chicken nuggets (for now, anyway). And I love all of our adventures, most of which would probably not fall into the category of "adventures" in the mind of anyone else (you know: trying out a new park with a brontosaurus slide, shopping for avocados at Cub, visiting the big Ernie doll in the children's section at the public library).

BUT. Can I just say this one thing? This new trend of Julia insisting on having a tea party with Mama the SECOND she wakes up, before I've even had a glass of water or formed a coherent thought? Finding myself sitting on the floor of the family room cradling a purple pastic teacup alongside a giant stuffed orangutan and a matted fuzzy orange cat, blearily commenting on how tasty the tea is while all the while thinking desperately of the espresso that awaits me downstairs in the kitchen, if I could only convince my toddler to go down for her own breakfast? And this all occurring sometime between 6:30 and 7:30 in the morning, depending on the day? I could do without that. Later in the day? Fine. I'm all for it. We have ten to fifteen other tea parties a day. But at 7 a.m.? Um, no. Unless it's a REAL tea party, and instead of tea, we are drinking strong iced soy lattes and eating raspberry scones from Blue Monday. (And yes, I am highly enjoying the consumption of caffeine during this pregnancy. The second time around, you just don't care as much. Shocking, I know.)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Elmo's Song

With apologies - but not many.
I'll hear this song, la la la la
On my deathbed.
La la la la, la la la la,
Elmo's song.

He loves to sing, la la la la,
I can't forget it.
La la la la, la la la la,
Elmo's song.

I'll tell the nurses,
I'll tell the docs
Please shoot me now!

Saturday, May 20, 2006


This afternoon, we rocked the scene at Art-a-Whirl, the big Minneapolis art festival. Mainly, we went to support our friend Karin, who makes some great jewelry, but we had a great time in general. There aren't many other places to see this mix of people: artists in their precise and complicated clothing, aspirational bourgeois like myself, lots of real or apparent collectors in suits too nice for a Saturday afternoon, chardonnay-sipping Edinans with money to bizzurn, and of course scads of hipsters, like the one saying to the other in the hallway, "So maybe Coca-Cola is the father of all modern drug abuse." Yeah, and your tight retro polo shirt is abusing my eyes, dude.

So while I saw some great stuff that I liked a lot, Julia had the fantastickest time. She really liked seeing Karin's jewelry and the prints displayed by Karin's studio-mate, Keiko Yagishita, especially a piece which Julia called "Zoe" on account of the resemblance between the dog and Zoe on Sesame Street. (It's the fourth item in the "Dogs" section of Keiko's website.) For her, I think the day's artistic high point was a painting of a "laffing horsey," mostly because it was a good counterpoint to the "scary fishy" and because it gave her something to recall and discuss for the rest of the day. "What was your favorite adventure today?" "Laffing horsey! Neigh-ha-ha-ha-ha!" At a zillion decibels. I know it's loud when it makes my hearing aids cut out.

The people-watching was good, too. At one point, we passed by two punks in raggedy black clothes, safety pins, and high blue mohawks. Julia stopped cold and stared, even swiveling on her toes to watch them stalk down the hall. A few minutes later, she pointed at a woman with a head of artificially red curly hair and exclaimed, "Elmo!" It's amazing how fast you can hustle her out of sight when you need to.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Urban Renewal

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Almost 2

Julia turns 2 in two weeks. Here are some of the thoughts that have crossed my amazed mind in the last few days as I have contemplated the year gone by.

A year ago, I nursed her on a folding chair at Art-A-Whirl in northeast Minneapolis, and though at the time she seemed enormous, when I see the photo now, all I see is a chubby baby in an adorable pink striped polo sundress with bare legs and a fuzzy head. And in contrast, this morning I sat on the floor at 6:45 a.m. having a tea party with the same baby, only this time she was sitting in a child's sized chair, dressed in cords and an eyelet shirt (size 2T), hair down to her shoulders, talking to me about pretend tea and "muffin vegetables."

A year ago, she wasn't yet walking. Today, she held my towel for me as I got out of the bath, sang the entire ABC song with me five times in a row, danced with her stuffed orangutan named Mike (who is as tall as she is) to her Elmo CD from the library, and told me, "Yellow hair Mama, like Julia."

On home video from last summer, her squeaky, round baby voice says, "Num!" and "Ma-ma!" and is just barely recognizable. This week she told me I was pretty, laid down on my chest on the bed and then told her dad, "Cuddling Mama," relayed a tale of playground drama (in which she accidentally knocked down a little baby buddy while giving him a hug) by saying, clear as day, "Julia knocked over Nicholas", and said her first six-word sentence ("Baby Julia is wearing rain boots.").

Wasn't it Catherine Newman who wrote something about feeling her daughter's babyhood "rushing like a wind right through the house"? I won't even try to say it better than she did.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Slow Day, Plus Some Writing News

It is 9:45 a.m. and Julia and I are still in our pajamas. (How reminiscent of her newborn days! Yikes.) This even though she's been awake since 6:30. Usually we get dressed and ready for our day quite early, but today for some reason we're in slow mode. Maybe it's because I hurt my knee yesterday doing squats and lunges along with my favorite workout DVD. (Maybe that's my cue to stop working out with non-prenatal exercise DVDs--you know, a subtle message: Hey lady, you're almost 6 months pregnant and your belly threatens to topple you forward with every lunge; it's time to accept your inner pregnant fatty and stop the workout heroics already, okay?) Or maybe it's because Julia is a grump today from only napping an hour yesterday and then refusing to go to sleep until after 8 last night, and she doesn't feel like cooperating with the morning routine. At any rate, we've already had breakfast AND morning snack, done two loads of laundry, and Swiffed the kitchen floor, all in our jammies. (Julia thought the latter was hilarious, and kept saying, "Mama and Julia cleaning! In jammies!" over and over as we swept.) Anyway, we're without a car today, so we're going to head out soon for a walk around our "neighborhood" (I use the term VERY loosely), if we can get our clothes on. Hopefully we can go see the ducks on the pond, the pink flowering trees, and the wind turbine across the nearby field without some kindly neighbor unwittingly scaring the wits out of Julia by, you know, saying "hello" or something like that.

In other news, I just got word that an essay of mine is going to be published in the June issue of The Mothers Movement Online. It won't be published for a few weeks, but check back here for more details coming soon!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Life in Northern Towns V

Last week - May 8-14, 2006 - my dad and mom separately commented on actual and possible snowfall in the Upper Peninsula. (My dad had to drive through it; I think my mom escaped any shoveling.) This brought to my mind the Snow Dayest Snow Day of Them All: a May 1 event when I was in elementary school in Ironwood, Michigan. (The year would have been somewhere between 1982 and 1984.)

That morning, the #22 bus from Ironwood township was really fighting a storm that had just blown up. It was very slow going down Vanderhagen Road, and it only got slower when we started traveling over the adjoining gravel roads and passing through long tunnels of trees. Finally, after we picked up the last kids before we turned back toward the main road and a comparative sprint to school, the driver actually stopped the bus to take a call on the walkie-talkie.

He never talked on the walkie-talkie, so we knew it was important. When he hung up, he matter-of-factly announced that they'd just cancelled school. He had to execute a zillion-point turn to get our yellow behemoth turned around in a blizzard, a 1.5-lane gravel road, and someone's short driveway, but before long we were rumbling back down the route, dropping off kids every few miles. When my sister and I got off at the farm on Pump Station Road, we couldn't even see the house, a quarter mile up the driveway.

The Curious Incident of the Book in the After-noon

A friend loaned me Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time yesterday, and I plowed through it in a couple hours while Julia napped. It's an exceptional book that passed my crude test of authorial skill: did I forget it wasn't a memoir? Yes, I did. Three minutes of Googling will reveal details about the main character, the plot, et cetera, so suffice here to say that Haddon exhibited an thrilling mastery of tone and voice. The denouement of the story was tearjerking, frankly. And the protagonist - who's not really the most likeable kid - has a facility for nice turns of phrase:
Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.

Eventually scientists will discover something that explains ghosts, just like they discovered electricity, which explained lightning... And then ghosts won't be mysteries. They will be like electricity and rainbows and nonstick frying pans.
You can find a good article on the book and on Haddon on the Times website. Among other curiosities, it reveals that the book "was published in separate editions with different covers for adults and children but with no text alterations." The inverse of the Harry Potter U.S. vs. U.K. arrangement.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Taking a Breather

It’s a strange thing, this cycle of mothering small children. Just when you reach one plateau in the precipitous climb of parenting, when you realize you actually have a moment to catch your breath—she’s sleeping through the night; can it be?! Or: thank God, no more of that awful terrified-of-everything stage!—the next challenge rises up with its inevitable mix of guts and glory.

Julia has just, so recently, gotten to the stage of being able to entertain herself largely on her own for short periods of time. (I should note here that she's been doing this with HER FATHER for several weeks now; it's only with me that she seems incapable of separating herself from my kneecap for more than twenty seconds at a time.) I know that for many parents, this experience comes far earlier, and to hear about it now with a 23-month-old must cause some head-shaking and responses of, “Yeah, AND….?” I know there are babies who can sit on the floor and play with toys by themselves; I’ve even seen it firsthand with my sister’s youngest, Gabe. I often forget he is even in the room, how foreign that species of baby is to my personal daily existence.

But this is Julia we’re talking about, and the fact that, perhaps two or three mornings a week after breakfast, I might find myself sitting at the dining room table reading e-mail and my favorite blogs on the laptop while she sits a foot away in her highchair, contentedly coloring and “writing” with pen and notebooks while I actually GET OTHER THINGS DONE (pleasurable things, no less! for possibly as many as 15 minutes at a time!), feels like a miracle to me.

And she naps now, every afternoon, no question. While many days it’s not much more than an hour, every now and then she’ll throw a 2 or even 2-1/2 hour curve ball in there, and I’ll have time to check e-mail, return calls, do laundry, AND exercise, and it feels not just like a miracle, but like a figment of my imagination. I’ve really never had reliable breaks from constant Julia-care before (on weekdays, that is, when I'm her sole caregiver). Since infancy, her naps have been unpredictable and dismayingly brief; her requirement for near-constant interaction intense. When she was a nursling, her feeding sessions were frequent and endless. My initiation into motherhood was one of never-ceasing need. It became my Normal.

But now, this newfound sliver of rest and relief makes me wonder if this is what it is like to be an at-home mom with a child in preschool. It makes me wonder if this is what being an at-home mom is like for MOST at-home moms. It makes me wonder WHY in the world I am on the verge of having another newborn just when my firstborn is starting to give me a break now and then. Egad. Am I insane or what?

I said it in premonition of Julia’s arrival two summers ago; I’ll say it again: In a few months, I’m going to be sitting on the couch in a dirty bathrobe all day, nursing every twenty minutes. With Julia, that’s EXACTLY what happened—except for the bathrobe part. I sat in dirty pajamas all day instead. And, okay, maybe it was every forty-five minutes instead of every twenty—MAYBE. (And really, does it matter? Either interval is too short to actually squeeze in showering, eating, or any household chores or errands before the next belly-up to the milk bar.) But wait---this time, I guess, I have to alter my prediction to accommodate Julia’s presence. There won’t be any “sitting on the couch all day,” nursing or not. I expect I will quickly master the art of nursing while actually standing up and walking (or sprinting, or nuking frozen peas, or supervising a session on the potty-chair).

It’s pretty hard to imagine. But then I remember, back when Julia was a newborn, how impossible it was to imagine ever being able to take care of her alone all day and also manage to feed myself, or bathe, or dress—let alone make it to and from the grocery store by ourselves, or up to the 4th-floor pediatrician’s office from the parking ramp with the infant carseat and the diaper bag. Now? These things are the stuff of life, no more remarkable than breathing. I have to assume that being mom to two rather than just one will gradually become the same.

And as for the insanity of having another baby just when I’ve begun to relish the joys of coffee breaks and catnaps and easy full nights of sleep? Well, love IS pretty insane, isn’t it? Who knew?

Hot Money

Leafing through my file of "that looks interesting..." articles last night, I found this piece from the Smithsonian Magazine on the efforts of U.S. mint employees to save their building and the $300 million in its vaults during the 1906 earthquake and fire. It's good old-fashioned heroism, mostly, told straight and without much analysis of the way the disaster exposed the strange fragility of the California economy. Without those millions in bullion girding against the ruination of the quake and fire, the state's (and perhaps the nation's) economy might have collapsed. (Make sure to see the photos of the gorgeous "Old Mint" building, the "Granite Lady," which is now slated to become the home of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

FedExtremely Cool

You must see this incredible and funny radar-scope video of FedEx airplanes trying to beat a thunderstorm to the Memphis airport. I love the emergence of order from chaos, in the form of three discrete lines of planes converging on Memphis, and the way the late-comers have to pull off and try again, sneaking in behind the storm front. (Via

How Pheasant

As spring asserts itself here in Northfield, the differences between the city and the country (or at least the small town) are emerging very starkly. I feel a bit stupid for having assumed, "Well, it's a college town in Minnesota - how different can it be?" The answer is, "Very." Rollerskiiing around the "neighborhood" has brought this home with special clarity.

For the past few years, I did all my rollerskiiing on the Minnehaha Creek path in Minneapolis. To do so, I had to pack all my equipment in the car and drive down to the path - not a terrible burden, but fifteen minutes wasted. The path itself was mostly flat and straight and often pretty (especially going around Lake Harriet), but I had to share the narrow two lanes with slow bikers, inattentive walkers and runners, meandering dogs, and the occasional waterfowl. In short, the density of pedestrian traffic made it more nerve-rattling than a workout needs to be. And then there were always the hecklers. Not loved, those hecklers. Not brave, either, as they shouted, "Where's the snow?" from their speeding SUVs. Covering your fresh grave, jerk.

In Northfield, though, it's the opposite in almost every way. I've only encountered two other people doing workouts - both bikers. The route is a rectangle, but it demands a few challenging climbs and some quick downhills. Rather than beautiful parkway houses or stands of trees along the creek, now I see little except rolling farm fields and lonely-looking but massive farmhouses (and one giant wind turbine). The sky is always towering with massive banks of clouds. The dominant smell - at least at this time of year - is of, shallwesay, local-source organic fertilizer, recently applied to the fields. Apart from the dopplering roar of passing cars and trucks, the characteristic sounds are the panicky gurgle of turkeys in their long, low farm sheds and, far better, the bark-squawk of pheasants lurking in the fields. This is an odd and otherworldly sound, but not an unpleasant one - even when, next thing, an actual pheasant pops out of a ditch and scuttles across the asphalt in front of me. And I'm only ever scrutinized by cows, sheep, and horses, none of whom see fit to comment on my exertions.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Bewishing Hour

Every night around this time, when Julia's been asleep for three-four hours and I'm just about to head off to bed myself, I wish I could just talk to her one more time, scoop her up out of her crib and chat. I wouldn't even need high-level discourse about, say, the charms of Kitty Cat, or the "beeeg shulptures" she loves on campus, or what she did at the park today. I'd be happy with a short Q&A about the status of her diaper. It seems like a cosmic crime, that just because it's nighttime I can't talk to her. Thank goodness that in about seven hours she will re-right the universe with her customary call of "Daaaadddeeeee! Daaaadddeeeee!"

Morizits! Morizits!

Julia has started standing in front of the full-length mirror, putting her hands on the frame, leaning in real close, and saying quietly to herself, "Beautiful baby!" When I heard her saying this the other day, I asked, "Who's a beautiful baby? Is it Baby Angie? Is it Baby Barbara? Is it Baby Catherine? Is it Baby Diane?" She let me get three or four names out, saying, "No..." each time in her cheery way before exclaiming, "Baby Julia!" and doing a little skippy dance. Then she looked at me eagerly and said, "More is its! More is its!" (This was pronounced, "Morizits! Morizits!") I asked a few more, getting more "no" responses and then a happy "Baby Julia!" Rinse, repeat. Now she wants me to do this in all kinds of settings. "I see something outside by the bird feeder! Is it an elephant? Is it a truck? Is it Mama? Is it a couch?" "No... No... No... No... Birdy! Birdy! [dance dance] Morizits! Morizits!"

Monday, May 08, 2006

Sci-fine by Me

I've been longing lately for a new William Gibson novel; Pattern Recognition is almost three years old already. Hunting for any news of such a novel online, I happily happened upon (again) the author's blog, on which he has published several new passages from a work in progress and a link to an excellent essay, "time machine cuba," on how he "learned of science fiction and history in a single season." Apart from a shiver of familiarity with how he discovered The Past in a trunk (I discovered the same Past in Time-Life books at the Carnegie Library in Ironwood, Michigan), the essay contains every aspect of Gibson's writing that I like: the blurred boundary between technical and literary language, the way he seems to back up into his narrative rather than charge at it headlong, the fascination with individual artifacts of the past, and above all the sureness of the prose. I've always had the sense, reading his work, that I'm communing with an expert. More than anything else, this expertise comes from his ability to show how science fiction is always about the collapse of civilization - sometimes into a dystopia, sometimes a utopia. Can't wait for the new novel - Cuba? santeria? intelligence services?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Some Days I Miss Working in an Office, Where My Job Did Not Involve Wiping Noses

Boy, are we having a tough day here. Julia came down with a cold today, and as always, that means that once the bug has hit her, she sleeps LESS than usual, not more, even though she's exhausted and miserable. As of now, she's been in her crib for over an hour but has only napped about 20 minutes. The rest of the time has been punctuated by her coughs, sneezes, sniffles, tears, and calls of, "Mama, Mama, Mama...." When I go in there to wipe her nose, give her some medicine, cuddle her, re-settle her down with her blankie and her multitude of napping "friends," and walk toward the door again, she wipes her eyes and says bravely each time in a tearful voice, "S'eep tight Mama!"

In addition to that pathetic cuteness, there's the fact that for longstanding and complicated reasons related to a board book called "Hug" that she got from friends as a newborn, her daddy calls her "Bobo," which has morphed into all sorts of permutations depending on the situation, such as "Saddy-Bo," "Scared-Bo," etc. This morning Christopher said to her, "You're such a Sickie-Bo today!" and all day long since, every time she's sneezed or sniffled, Julia has said afterward in a mournful voice, "Sickie-Bo." Sigh.

Naturally, I've already caught her sniffles, and there clearly will be no napping today, so we are a couple of saddy sickie-bos, for sure.

Simple Pleasures

I just love how Julia says the word "ladybug": "leg-a-bug." Come on now, how adorable is that?

I Can Hear You Now

Today marks one month of being bionic. The hearing aids are working out well, I think, and much better after a tuning session last week with the audiologist. First and foremost, they help me hear a lot better in a lot of different situations. I can't complain about that: it's nice to not have to be two feet away from someone to hear what they're saying. Second, the world seems a lot livelier than it did. Of course, I thought that things were just quiet. Turns out they weren't: I just couldn't hear passing cars, chirping birds, chattering students. The aids have been programmed to work most in the sound ranges where my hearing was worst: very high and very low sounds. Now, Mingus basslines sound even better than they did, and Julia's voice is more rounded, less musically sharp. Third, and oddly, my physical awareness is markedly better than it was pre-H.A. The audiologist explained this by saying that the areas of prioperception are closely interrelated, and that improved hearing often leads to improved physical coordination. I should have reacted to this news by falling off my chair.

Beyond those benefits, the aids are kinda neat. They play a cheery little four-note song when I put them in each morning, for instance. If I cover one ear with my hand, they generate a little buzz of feedback, which can make even the most banal setting seem a bit like a rock concert. A banal rock concert, but still. And at last week's tuning appointment, the audiologist downloaded all kinds of data from the devices, such as how long I wear them each day (17 hours a day!) and the kinds of sound settings which I tend to experience (mostly quiet at the office or home, but with spikes of loud meetings or toddlerism). It's a bit creepy to think that these tiny little things - no bigger than my pinkie fingertip - include enough computing power to do all that. Who knows if they're also recording everything I hear...

All that's not to say that the aids are entirely positive. It's been hard to get used to having plugs of plastic inside my ear canals. The sensation is not unlike the unpleasantly full feeling you get just before your ears pop in an airplane or elevator - only of course my ears never do pop. Another drawback can be summarized in twelve letters: sweaty earwax. And then there's the batteries. They're costly, for one thing, and for another, they die, like any battery. I'm getting good life out of them right now, and the aids make an unmissably harsh tone when the battery's about to run out of power, but still, carrying a spare pair of tiny and toxic little batteries everywhere is annoying. On the other hand, batteries mean we have nothing to fear from our robot overlords: we can just wait for their AAAs to die, then whomp 'em.

Repuglican Views

Almost exactly six months before the elections, I've just come across some good (if wonky) stuff on or about trouble for the Right.

1. Mark Schmitt's handicapping the prospective GOP presidential candidates for 2008 in the TPMCafe, e.g.,
John McCain. I’ve said enough about McCain recently. Some people believe he’s the inevitable nominee; others believe it’s impossible, because too many conservatives are just dead-set against him. I’m in the second camp.
After dismissing six other possibilities, Schmitt mentions Newt Gingrich as a gray-horse candidate. For my money, this looks to mean that the 2008 GOP field is open to a old-fashioned outsider, perhaps a state governor - a la Clinton in 1992. Can we Minnesotans dare hope for our hockey-playing golden boy, Tim Pawlenty? Oh, that would be great. (Summarized and found on Political Animal.)

2. Over at the Cato Institute, presidential advisor David Frum analyzes the end of a dream: the passing of "the fairest opportunity in half a century to reduce the size and cost of the federal government" - a situation which is bad for small-gubmint conservatives but good for the rest of us. (Well, NSA aside...) As Sam Rosenfeld says at TAPPED, it's unlikely that the conservatives who were honestly interested in "starving the beast" were ever very numerous: after all, Congress has been full of hundreds of nominally small-government conservatives over the past decade, and look at what happened. For an explanation of that curious paradox, it's worth looking at...

3. A new study by Cato (of all places) which finds that, according to Jonathan Rauch in the Atlantic,
judging by the last twenty-five years (plenty of time for a fair test), a tax cut of 1 percent of the GDP increases the rate of spending growth by about 0.15 percent of the GDP a year. A comparable tax hike reduces spending growth by the same amount.
Why? Because when you cut taxes, citizens effectively pay for less of what the government's doing - the unpaid-for remainder is usually covered by deficit spending, not eliminated. Pork is awful tasty. If you raise taxes, citizens essentially pay more attention to where the money's going, and vote accordingly. This makes good sense, doesn't it? If you buy something for a buck, you probably don't care if it's the highest quality. If you buy something for $10, you pay more attention to quality or maybe decide you don't need it after all. Read the full article to learn what one libertarian economist thinks conservatives ought to do with this counterintuitive knowledge. (Also via Political Animal.)

(Crossposted to After School Snack.)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Loudest Alarm Clock Imaginable

It's the first Wednesday in May, it's before 1 p.m., and I have ALREADY PUT THE BABY DOWN FOR HER NAP. What? You don't get the significance of the above statement? The horror I am currently experiencing? The reason I am slapping my forehead with my palm right about now? Then I guess you don't live in Minnesota, where the city tornado sirens are tested at 1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month, or else, maybe you do, or maybe you live somewhere else where this same practice occurs, but you don't have a young child for whom 1 p.m. is NAPTIME.

Let me tell you, when you do have a young child, a baby even (yes, I consider any child under the age of two a baby, even if she is the size of a preschooler), and especially a baby who sleeps through NOTHING, and on top of that a baby who is currently going through a fearful phase, the damn tornado siren feels like just about the worst injustice imaginable for a stay-at-home mom. As I was pulling Julia's shade at 12 noon and suddenly remembered what day it was, I actually experienced an irrational moment during which I, in all seriousness for a second, wondered what I could do or who I could call to, oh, I don' t know, CANCEL the tornado siren test for today.

This is a new problem for our household, because when we lived in Minneapolis, the siren wasn't close enough to detect. I never even thought about it. Then came January, and our first week in our new house in our new town. Have you ever wondered what those tornado siren towers look like, and where they are located? Well, come on over to our house and I'll show you, because you can practically touch the Northfield one from our front door. (Funny how I never even noticed that thing when we were shopping for our house....)

On the first Wednesday in January I was newly pregnant, we had just completed an EXTREMELY stressful house selling/buying/moving experience, I had just received word that my dad had had an unexpected stroke, and we were still recovering from a holiday experience that brings new meaning to the words "never again." Let's just say naptime was a much-needed respite and that I was not feeling very, oh, patient and energetic and able to handle unexpected interruptions in the baby-care routine that day. And then the clock struck one and a piercing sound ripped through our house like it was going to take off the roof. The cat went nuts, I jumped up, saying aloud, "What the.....?" and on cue, Julia awoke from her nap, crying. It sounded like the siren was IN OUR HOUSE. I quickly called Christopher on the phone, and he sighed, having already guessed what was occurring in our house at that moment. He pointed out that the siren was at the corner of our street, visible from our front windows. Yep. There it was. Oh, and have I mentioned? After the siren goes off once, it's quiet for about five minutes, and then they test it AGAIN. Just in case your eardrums are still intact. Just in case your baby missed it the first time. And does it have to be so interminable? Seriously, how long does the siren really have to go off in order to tell that it is still working just fine? My eardrums have exploded; I think it's working. I don't think it needs to run for three more minutes.

Since January, I have been careful to keep Julia up until after 1:00 on tornado siren days. If she is awake, and being held, and looking out the window at the tower, she is more fascinated than terrified of the siren, though she still tends to get disturbed and talk endlessly about it for the rest of the day. But if it goes off while she is sleeping (as has happened one other time since January, oops), all bets are off. The nap is over, she is traumatized, and so begins a VERY long afternoon. Today, Julia was exhausted all morning and without thinking I put her down for a very early nap because she was practically falling asleep in her vegetarian hotdog at lunchtime. When she was in her crib and I remembered the imminent siren, I desperately tried the tactic of saying to her, "Now honey, if you hear the siren going off while you're taking your nap, don't worry, it will go off soon, and then you can just go back night-night, okay?" (HA!) I knew it was a bad decision when she looked at me worriedly and then said, about ten times in a row, "Siren? siren? siren! siren! siren! Mama? Mama? siren? siren?" Sigh.

Here goes, it's 12:59......

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

World Soccer

As the European soccer football championships wind down, the World Cup is gearing up. Contested this year in Germany, the cup will pit national teams against one another. This is an increasingly rare sight in top-level soccer, where elite athletes typically play on the best European league teams, not teams in their home towns or countries. Geoffrey Wheatcroft explains and describes "the globalization of soccer" in this piece from the Atlantic Monthly.

Monday, May 01, 2006

All in a Day's Work

Here is a complete list of the items 23-month-old Julia served me and her giant stuffed orangutan, Mike, at the tea party we had this morning:

tea (of course)
blue ice cream
pink ice cream
purple ice cream
pizza with syrup
lima beans
pasta (sometimes called 'ghetti) with meatballs

Bet you wish YOU had been at this party, don't you? Tasty.

And here is a complete list of the "friends" (as Julia puts it) that she insisted must accompany her into bed this afternoon for nap:

Silky (her blankie)
An orange stuffed cat called Kitty Cat
A cuddly stuffed bear known as Robbie (short for Robinson) Bear
A large yellow fuzzy ducky pillow that she got for Easter from her grandparents
A small soft yellow ducky with a rattle inside that she got as a newborn, which she calls, naturally, "Stuffed Ducky"
A hard plastic realistic-looking brontosaurus figurine--maybe 8 inches long, nose to tail--that her daddy gave her today as a May Day present (what? don't you think gifts of dinosaurs are a natural component of a traditional May Day celebration?)
Her faithful naptime companion, Pinky Bear
Plus, 1 pink toddler-sized pillow and 1 pink matching blanket

Given the above list, can you see how it might have been a challenge to actually fit the 30-lb., 35-inch tall TODDLER into this crib as well? The more the merrier, I guess.