Monday, January 31, 2011

On Parenting, and Latin

Just to give you a little bit of background, when we decided to have our now three-year-old son Story, the financial climate was much warmer. I planned on nurturing his every inclination with purchases of art supplies and sports equipment and hardcover Maurice Sendak books. I was going to buy only organic food, and vitamins from the health food store. I would research test scores and teacher-student ratios of all the schools in the tri-county area and send him to the best, even if it cost a little bit more. How was I to know that in the very near future I'd be cursing Walmart for raising the price of their three-quart bottles of juice from $1.88 to $2.38?

Although finances limit the number of museum trips I had planned, and totally exclude those Latin classes I intended to take so that, in our home, we could say things like "haec olim meminisse iuvabit" (one day, this will be pleasing to remember) when my hand is reduced to bloody ribbons from digging broken glass out of the toilet after Story smashes a bottle of perfume on the rim, I think we're doing pretty well. I do sometimes worry that there are those who wonder about my progressive parenting style. There are a few things that others might question. Let me explain.

Story's hair is unkempt because I want him to understand, right from the start, that one's time is often better spent on either sleep or creative endeavors, like lego building. Story is truly the Howard Roark of the three-year-old lego world. I'm not going to interrupt the work of a future genius architect with something as banal as hair-brushing.

Likewise, his clothes are not always matching, ironed, and/or properly sized. This is because I think that he ought not put too much emphasis on brands, fashion, and/or appearance. There are those who would disagree, those who think that "to be successful you have to look successful" or something like that. This philosophy is strictly for people who are not good enough at what they do to get by with looking or being however they want to be, like me. He should get his priorities straight, become an authority on a particular subject, and then he can dress like a successful person if he so chooses.

Also, daycare workers, you may have been a little confused at my reaction when you told me that he said "Damn it!" Twice. At first you only said that he had said a "bad word." My mind raced. This could be really bad. And I had to respond with what I thought was an appropriate level of horror. I might have overshot it a little bit when I said "I don't know WHERE he would have heard such language!" and started talking about the punishment I would inflict when he got home. Then when I finally thought to ask what exactly he had said, the look of utter relief that washed over my face, although I tried to hide it, must have been confusing to you. It could have been much worse. I mean, really, he could have heard that on prime time TV.

I know that Story can get a little wild and he's not very good at "doing what he's told." This is a concern of mine. For a time I worried that he might have ADD, but the fact that he can concentrate for hours on his lego projects eases my mind a bit. The wildness is partially due to the fact that he's three (almost) and partially because I think that a child his age should learn things on his own. If he thinks that he can build a tractor by overturning the chair in the kitchen and propping it up on the chair in the living room, who am I to stifle this creative impulse? The boy needs to use his imagination. The fact that he almost never does what he's told unless he's asked to throw something in the trash, brush his teeth, or get undressed for his bath, I attribute to him being very strong-willed, which if properly channeled can be a good thing. I know it doesn't seem like a good thing in the middle of the grocery store when I'm trying to chase him down an aisle with a cart full of overpriced juice and Goldfish crackers, but with the right discipline he could be a ruler of nations.

Unfortunately discipline is not something I'm good at. I feel like if I say something, people should listen - without me having to get loud, angry, dramatic, or physical. When Story does something I disagree with, like attacking me and my computer when I'm trying to type, it often turns into me whining to him about personal space and eventually a kind of awkward shoving match ending with me giving up and putting the computer away for the safety of all. I realize this is not the greatest way to handle that situation, but spankings are often ineffective because I'm not strong enough to make him quit grinning at me, and time out usually results in him peeing in the chair so that I have to take him out and get everything cleaned up. I know, he sounds like a monster, but "there are no bad kids, just bad parents," and I'm working on the parent end of that. We're coming along and we're both learning to communicate better.

Parenting is hard, especially when the parent is mostly just curious about what exactly the three-year-old is capable of, and the three-year-old is all too eager to indulge that curiosity. I think, though, that we're coming along pretty well. Hopefully soon we'll get to take a trip to the museum and maybe one day Story and I can learn Latin together. I think of all the languages, Latin would be the most interesting.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The strange land of women very different from me

I've spent a lot of time today reading. I started out reading stories on the McSweeney's website. Then I looked up some stuff on Wikipedia. I learned about bread, and Nicola Tesla, and that a Centurion in the Roman army usually commanded 83 men, not 100. Then I started reading Cosmopolitan magazine online.

What I've found is that there is a quiz for every possible uncertainty and insecurity in life, and everything can be neatly organized into a list. Does your hairstyle make you look fat? What do his food choices reveal about him? And if you've been wondering, they've got an article about "the dumbest thing you can do to your boobs." What does this mean? Are there women out there disguising their weight with their hair, finding meaning in chips versus chocolate, doing dumb things to their boobs?

I was a little thrown off by the titles of the articles, not to mention all the colors and the pop-ups and pictures of "Hot Male Models in Jaw-Dropping Outfits." But I did manage to get through "10 Ways to Feel Happier Instantly." Which gave me 10 ways to feel both superior and inferior at the same time - instantly. Most of their suggestions require coffee, friends, an insatiable appetite for sex, and a place to walk where you won't get scared out of your wits by honking horns and cat calls. But they also suggested that I take some Vitamin D, or buy some flowers, and those are things I could do.

You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I like the fashion articles. I like looking at clothes and shoes and even makeup. Like any girl, I like pretty things. And models in fashionable clothes with cool hair and makeup will always be appealing to me. Even if they leave me a little bored with my own clothes and hair, they will sometimes inspire me to go home and dig out all that makeup I bought last time I read Cosmo and come to work tomorrow looking like I'm going to the prom.

I think I used to read Cosmo a lot, and I think I was probably in high school. It's still somewhat entertaining but it just makes me blush and worry too much about my hairstyle making me look fat, it gives me too much to think about and analyze, and I can't stop wondering if I'm doing something dumb to my boobs. I think I'll stick to McSweeney's and Wikipedia. Maybe I'll read more fashion magazines without all the weird stuff. Then I can feel simply inferior, but inferior with a goal.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Shaking out the blanket

I suppose you've all heard about the birds dropping from the sky on New Years Eve? And about all the fish dying? And it's happening all over the world, birds, fish, now crickets. And that's just what's happening to the animals these days. Against my better judgement I leave MSNBC up as my homepage at work. I get used to the horrifying headlines, but sometimes I'm able to step back and read them as if I haven't read the same terrible things every day for the past year. Economic collapse. Mudslides. Fires. Shootings. Mass die-offs of wildlife. For some reason, be it astrological or coincidental or inevitable, everything seems to be up in the air these days, well, except for those birds.

I realize that every generation thinks that they're the last. I don't necessarily think that, but I just look around and wonder "how much farther can we go?" How could we make life any easier? What more could my cell phone possibly do? I can't imagine what the future looks like. I used to think "I wish I could leave the house and not worry about missing that so important call." Or "it's too damn hard to keep up with all these CDs, there should be a way to keep all my music in one place!" Or "I hate opening TWO jars to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, why don't they just combine the two?" How could life get any easier? Something's got to give.

I don't have very many friends, but I like to eavesdrop and I'm always curious about what is happening in the lives of people around me. I know I shouldn't but I love gossip. What I've been hearing lately is that everyone seems to be going through some sort of great "reorganization." It's not always bad, it's just different. Things are changing. We've reached some sort of limit, where things just have to change. It's as if the blanket of the world has gotten all rumpled and God himself has reached down to shake it out, the way Mom used to when she was folding laundry. Remember the sound at that first violent flip of the wrists that sent crumbs and wrinkles flying? Like that. It will probably be nice and smooth once He's done but right now everyone, and everything, seems to be getting all tossed about. It's not fun and it's not comfortable, but certainly soon things will smooth out again. I just thought that was worth acknowledging, that and also how creepy that must have been to wake up on New Years Day and find your entire town littered with dead birds. As one of the sheriffs of Beebe said "All the doomsayers were pretty sure this was it." This may not be "it" but it seems like "something." Changes are afoot.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year, New Skill

I have this idea that one day I'm going to have to live off the land, without the conveniences of things like meat that someone else has killed and a produce section. Things like gardening, food preservation, fire-building, and fort-building are all skills that I feel a certain urgency to learn. While not as horrifying as "how to pay the cable bill this month" or "that sound my car makes when I first turn it on," "what to do in a global catastrophe" is always there reminding me that I'm running out of time to learn how to do all those things that we as a population have spent the last 1,000 years making easier, so easy in fact that we've forgotten how to do them altogether.

So, on the first day of 2011, while I was thinking about December 21, 2012, which is less than two years away now, I decided that I was going to bake. When the engine of the world grinds to a halt, men will still want bread. People have been successfully baking bread since the Neolithic Age. I have never been successful. On hindsight I think that that is because instead of shortening I've always used butter. I don't know how to make shortening but I feel pretty certain that I could make my own butter if I had to, and I had access to a cow. The butter bread has always been edible, but it came out like a little bread-flavored brick. This particular day I decided to use shortening. If I'm forced into a position in which I can't purchase shortening, dense bread will probably be the least of my worries after all. It takes a good half a day to make yeast bread from scratch, what with all the rising and kneading and all, but it's worth it. I like the idea of starting with all these ingredients that are completely useless on their own and ending up with something as delightful as homemade rolls, which is what I made. I don't know if the shortening is what did it, but these particular rolls were fluffy and moist and even better than those that you might get on your table at a restaurant. It was the first time I've ever baked bread and not been at least mildly frustrated at the result.

So, come the day when bread is no longer mass produced and sold on shelves, I've got that one covered, and as long as shortening is still mass produced and sold on shelves, it will be fluffy and moist. Here's to learning new things. And it's a little late, but happy new year.