Monday, March 31, 2003

Should grammar be prescriptive (hard and fast rules that should never be broken), or descriptive (guidelines that describe the most common usage, and change as the language changes)? Andy Lamey makes a spirited argument for the descriptive side, larded with some neat jabs at Bush.

For obvious reasons, baby names are a hot topic of conversation around my house right now. Actually, I'm kind of interested in names anyway - I read all the baby name books on the market, even when I'm not pregnant. The funniest thing I've read in a very long time is this bad baby names site - Baby's Named a Bad, Bad Thing. It's recently updated with all new, very scary names, some of which verge on child abuse.

And can I just take this moment to complain bitterly about the piss poor selection of boys' names? There are umpteen jillion great girls' names, and approximately 10 for boys, most of which either Adam or I object to for some arcane reason (i.e. that's the name of the guy who ate glue in my first grade class, that's my old boyfriend, it sounds like a dog's name, it's too trendy, there's no good nickname). Most of the rest sound very strange with our last name. It almost makes you understand why people resort to names like Mason or Chance. It definitely makes you understand why the same names have been appearing in the top 10 boy's names list for the past 50 years or so.

Friday, March 28, 2003

When I had a son, I vowed he would not be one of those spoiled boys whose mommies did everything for them, preventing them from learning even the most rudimentary domestic skills. No son of mine would go to college unable to prepare a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese! Recognizing that Drew is 6 now and ready for a small measure of independence, we've begun to teach him some basic cookery skills (not without a great deal of trepidation). He's learned to use the microwave and the toaster, and he's allowed to use his small serated knife to cut fruit, cheese and bread. Today he invented the following (quite yummy) recipe:

Strawberry Bagel Sandwich (as dictated by Drew)
Cut a bagel in half (Be careful or you'll cut your finger!)
Toast it in the toaster (Be careful when you take it out, or you'll burn your finger! If you burn your finger, put some ice on it to stop the burn)
Smear cream cheese on both parts of the bagel
Cut up 2 strawberries (or you can use as many as you like - it won't make it taste any better or any worse) into slices (Wash them first!)
Put the strawberries on the bagel and smoosh both parts together
Eat it up

Maybe it's sleep deprivation, or hormones, or stress, but something about the constant chaos inherent to life with small children just seems to discombobulate the best of us. My friend Merideth describes the sensation as "I feel like I've dropped my brain and it's lying in shards on the ground. If I can just find the piece I need right now, and hold on to it, then I can do what I need to do." To me, it feels like everytime I'm about to get my act together and have a coherent thought, a buzzer goes off in my brain, causing me to lose my place. Too much of this, and you can start to feel like Vivi in The Ya Ya Sisterhood, who uses the metaphor of "dropping her basket" to describe a rather horrific and spectacular nervous breakdown. I don't think I'm on the brink of driving to Florida in nothing but a fur coat, but there are days when I'm a lot closer to dropping my basket than I'd like to be.

Yesterday was one of those days. I was up late the night before, working on a presentation for the class I’m taking, and I still had quite a bit of research and writing to do. Unfortunately I had to schedule this around a full day’s worth of meetings and running around. Oh, and did I mention that the presentation was due last night? What I needed was a chunk of time to sit and think and work, but that's pretty much impossible with young kids. Turns out Lacan really makes no sense if you have to stop reading every 2 minutes to referee a fight, get someone a snack, or clean up a potty accident. The culmination was when I went downstairs to fix the kids a snack and heard an ungodly clatter coming down the stairs. I ran to the foyer with visions of broken backs and concussions to find my office chair resting at an odd angle at the foot of the stairs. Apparently the kids thought it would be funny to push it down the stairs and watch my face split.

I confess that I didn’t exactly use calm, rational Mommy language to communicate my displeasure. There might have been a few “grown-up words” in my rant, as well as those time worn phrases that regularly provoked me to Winona Ryder worthy eye-rolls when I was a child. You know the ones – you probably heard them too, and swore you’d never use them on your children either. “I’m sick and tired. . . .” "What were you thinking?" "If your brother told you to jump off the Empire State Building, would you do it?" “Go to your room and stay there!"

Once the culprits had retreated to their lairs (to plot further mischief, no doubt), I calmed down and realized the futility of trying to analyze academic jargon and 18th century prose while supervising children. I reluctantly admitted to myself that I couldn't do much more in this environment and decided to be happy with what I had. I spent the rest of the afternoon entertaining my children (read: keeping them out of trouble), and trying not to think about my presentation. And, you know, the presentation could have been better - I wasn't as prepared as I would have liked, and I think it showed. But I got through it, no one threw rotten fruit, and I managed to avoid hocking my jewelry and departing for parts unknown. Which is the best you can do somedays.

I found this cartoon amusing. (Thanks, Julie!)

Anne Lamott made me cry this morning. (It's from Salon, so non-members will have to click through a short ad to read the column. Do it. It's completely worth it.)

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Baby news: I had my sonogram yesterday and the baby is healthy and developing normally. Also, baby appears to be a boy, which surprised the pants off of me, because I was convinced that this one was another girl. Franny's been adamant that the baby was a girl (last week I asked her how she would feel if the baby was a boy, and she said, "we should exchange him for a baby girl."). The supercool inside baby pictures served to distract her though, and she didn't seem the least bit disappointed about the change in plans. Drew and Adam had guessed boy, and they're both insufferable right now. (Apparently, the obsessive need to be right is a family trait - who knew?)

Word buffs should check out The Online Etymology Dictionary - it looks like a great resource. Book lovers (and if you aren't one, I don't want to know about it) might find this review amusing - "I'm not talking here about bad books. Though they exist, books that are just plain and irredeemably awful are too sad to waste time thinking about. No: the books I'm presently pondering aren't necessarily bad -- though some of them are -- they're just so... well... dumb and unplaceable, it's difficult to imagine book store owners knowing what to do with them, let alone book buyers. If they manage to find them."

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Day Late and Dollar Short Oscar Reactions

Adam would rather watch paint dry than the Academy Awards, so I waited to watch the ceremony with some friends who had been out of pocket on Sunday night. Here’s my reactions (exorbitant babysitting rates have prevented me from seeing most of the movies nominated, so I don't have much to say about the fairness, or lack there of, of the awards - just lots of shallow comments about the ceremony itself):

Adrien Brody is the Ballsiest Guy in the World. Not for slipping Halle Barry the tongue (although that took guts too), but for demanding more time on stage and getting it. His plea for peace was eloquent and classy and definitely the high point of the night.

Catharine Zeta-Jones - now there’s a woman who makes pregnancy look sexy (unfortunately, I bet she shaves her legs too). She looked absolutely gorgeous, and her genuine emotion at winning was very touching.

Apparently, Michael Moore wants John Ashcroft to hire assassins to take him out. I agreed with everything he said, and I was surprised at how quickly his standing ovation turned to boos and jeers – do all those liberal movie stars really love Bush that much? Or were they surprised that Michael Moore didn’t mince words?

Peter O’Toole – what a class act. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Can you name one young actor with his insouciant panache? I had an a-ha moment while they were showing the clips from his career - that’s who Lucifer (from The Sandman comics and the spinoff Lucifer) reminds me of – a young Peter O’Toole! And why oh why did Peter O’Toole never play Peter Wimsey? Talk about perfect casting. . . .

More Oscar fun, from the Fametracker web site: Oscar Edition Galaxy of Fame.

Whatever your stance on the war, this article from Salon should scare the pants off of you - Shut Your Mouth (if you're not a Salon member, you can click through a brief ad to read the complete article). Protest is not anti-American. Stripping Americans of their civil liberties most emphatically is.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Spring must be upon us. The bluebonnets are blooming along the highway, Easter baskets line the aisles at the grocery store, and I shaved my underarms today; signalling a sartorial return to bathing suits and sleeveless shirts and dresses. I also shaved my legs - something I normally only do to avoid snide comments from my mother.

Usually I'm not fussed by body hair. I started shaving mostly because my mother nagged me about it (I don't think she meant to humiliate me by comparing me to a hairy gorilla, but I was a wee bit oversensitive during my adolescent years). In high school, my newfound feminist identity made a convenient excuse to stop shaving. I wasn't being lazy, I was rejecting patriarchal standards of beauty! When guys asked me why I didn't shave my body, I delighted in replying, "You don't, why should I?" But, hypocrite that I am, I could never be completely comfortable with my dark underarm hair poking out for all the world to see. So, in college I started shaving my underarms again, but just in the summer, when it was likely to show.

My sparse, light-colored leg hair might get shaved once a year or so, when I'm going to be wearing stockings (a rare occurence, in and of itself) or wearing a bathing suit around my mom. As much as I want to believe that the fuzzy, natural look is equally (or more) attractive, I have to admit there's something very sexy about the smooth, clean line of a shaved leg. And with my round, moon-like belly, and pregnancy waddle, I'm scrambling for anything that might help me look more like a sexual being (the bodacious tatas are great in that regard, until your stomach projects out beyond them, and then it's sort of a lost cause).

Bitch magazine's take on the Oscars - The Women's Academy. Funny and scary, because it's true (sample category: "Best Actress in a Romantic Lead Opposite a Man Old Enough to be her Father").

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Check out this gorgeous artwork for the on again / off again Buffy animated series. Eric Wright really captures the mood of the show - dark but quirky.

The last news I heard about the animated series was that it was back on again, but that was last fall - I've heard nothing since, which doesn't bode well. Although with Buffy the Vampire Slayer ending it's run, and Firefly cancelled (and the potential Giles spin-off, Ripper on indefinite hold), it seems like Joss Whedon would be more interested in developing a new show.

Because we could all use a good laugh right now. . . .

Read Salam Pax's blog for the front and center Iraqi perspective on the war - he's posting from Baghdad.

Spreading the word about this very cool program (which I heard about in Neil Gaiman's online Journal, from someone who read about it in Wil Wheaton's blog) - Books for Soldiers. It appears that packages are getting through to soldiers despite the stricter regulations about mail.

People talk about the "terribly two's," but for my money, three is the real challenge. Franny's pushing every limit we set, looking for every loophole available, and driving me up the wall with behavior that must make sense to her, but I can't for the life of me explain. Yesterday (in separate incidents), she flooded the kitchen with the sprayer from the sink, dumped yogurt and sugar all over the floor, and spinkled the downstairs with parmesan cheese.

Of course, she's also cute, clever and charming. A moth startled her and I said, "don't worry, it's only a moth." She replied, "I know - they're just like little bedtime butterflies." How cute is that?

Friday, March 21, 2003

Great article in the latest austinmama.com about the way that comparisons between formula and breastfeeding treat formula, rather than breastfeeding, as the biological norm (in other words, they say "breastfeeding improves your child's health", rather than assuming that breastfeeding is the norm and formula feeding has health risks) - Subtle Truths About Breastfeeding.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but it's difficult not to connect the way formula is marketed in this country with the much lower rates of breastfeeding as compared to other industrialized nations. The World Health Organization's Code would eliminate all mainstream commercial advertising of formula, as well as promotional give aways through pediatricians and hospitals, but it is not enforced in the U.S. in any meaningful way. Formula commercials air frequently during daytime tv, and most parenting magazines are chock full of formula ads. If you've ever had a baby, you know that starting in your second trimester (or earlier), you get coupons and mailings from formula companies, as well as free samples. These mailings continue into your baby's first year, carefully timed to coordinate with your child's developmental stage. Many pediatricians also give out samples, and it's extremely common for hospitals to give new mothers diaper
bags filled with samples as well.

All of this material pays lipservice to the idea that "breast is best," but then contradicts it by saying that formula is just as good as breastmilk and by subtly (or not so subtly) suggesting that breastfeeding is hard. Which it is for some women, especially at first, and especially if they don't have a network of resources to help them solve those early problems. And isn't it convenient that the nice formula company just happened to send you a case of formula? So it's 3 am and you can't get the baby latched on and your breasts are swollen larger than your head and your nipples are sore, and look, you just happen to have formula and bottles (included in that handy diaper bag from the hospital) in the pantry, and wouldn't it be easier to give the baby a bottle just this once? Except the nice formula company neglected to mention that the more formula you give your baby, the more engorged and uncomfortable you're going to be, and the less milk your body will make, leading you to supplement with more formula, and possibly to weaning your baby.

There are absolutely instances where formula is necessary, and I certainly don't mean to denigrate women who, for whatever reason, were unable to breastfeed their children. However, I think it's shortsighted to downplay the benefits of breastfeeding or the very mercenary motivations of formula companies in order to spare those women's feelings. The simple truth is that most of the parents in this country who choose to feed their babies formula could breastfeed if they were motivated to do so and had adequate support and information.

More good information on breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, from the marvelous Katie Allison Granju. For practical breastfeeding advice, I also recommend the book So That's What They're For: Breastfeeding Basics by Janet Tamaro - it's incredibly informative without being preachy or guilt inducing.

The very rational and well put together site Win Without War has some useful information about sending letters to U. S. troops. I believe it is essential that the anti-war movement differentiate between disagreement with our government's policy and disregard for American troops - sending an email (concerns about contaminated mail have led to a ban on real letters) to a service man or woman is a great way to emphasize that.

Apparently we haven't progressed much beyond "America - Love it or Leave it!" in the past 30 years. Salon reports that a pro-war protester in Mississippi was carrying a sign yesterday that read "Support the US or keep your mouth shut" (read the story about protests throughout the nation here). Is it too much to expect a little rhetorical sophistication from those who believe that anything our country does is a-ok, because, after all it's America? Nevermind. . . .

Here's a newsflash: stifling protest isn't actually a very democratic or American value. Neither is mindless acceptance of whatever ego driven crusade the president comes up with. Anti-war protesters aren't spitting on soldiers (something that rarely, if ever, happened during the Vietnam War, despite the urban legends you've heard). You can disagree with this war, and still support the men and women who have to fight it.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Welcome to my blog. I've been toying with the idea of some kind of on-line journal for a while now, and, as part of my ongoing effort to take control of my life, I've created this one.

I suspect that more specifically targeted blogs are more successful - whatever that means (more widely read / linked / enjoyed?). However, I'm a more scattershot kind of person, so this blog will focus on whatever bright and shiny objects catch my attention. What can I say - like Walt Whitman, "I am vast, I contain multitudes."

Actually, I'm literally rather vast right now, as I'm 4 1/2 months pregnant with my third child. And there may only be one baby in there, but it certainly feels like multitudes with all the in utero gymnastics going on. Watch this space for updates on my pregnancy, but be assured that I'll find plenty of other things to talk about. I've done this enough that it's ceased to be the treasure-every-moment sentimental journey it was the first time around.

Other characters who will show up occasionally: my husband, Adam (a Genial Techno-geek), my 6 year old son, Drew (a Heathen Savage), and my 3 year old daughter, Franny (an Enfant Terrible).