Archive for September 2006

Kindergarten Prep?

Ben will start kindergarten next year, and until I read this article, my only concern was actually finding him a good school. We’ve looked at three so far, have nine more to go, and the whole process seems kind of insane (less so since I met someone who looked at 19 schools…)

However, I am relieved that neither I nor Tony feels the need to embark on crazy, competitive kindergarten prep classes for our kid. We’re doing our job — reading to Ben, talking to him, not putting him into an isolation tank each day — and we’ll count on his school teachers to do their jobs. I wonder how long we’ll be able to keep it so simple?

A Good Start

Some good news, for a change, on global warming. Let’s hope what’s happening in California will only spread, and inspire even stronger measures, around the country.

And if you’re still not convinced that global warming is a problem, go see An Inconvenient Truth or, hey, just read my column about it over at Literary Mama.

Worlds Collide

It’s always easy to trace what’s going on in my dreams back to what’s going on in my life. In graduate school, when I was studying for my qualifying exams and one of my subject areas was epistolary literature, I dreamt that one of my questions arrived in the form of a ransom note, cut-out magazine letters glued haphazardly onto a piece of paper. I even had a nightmare for a friend before her orals, dreaming that she was asked to tapdance for our most intimidating professor.

So a recent dream was pretty easy to decipher.

The seeds:

a) I’ve been watching a bit too much Project Runway;

2) I went downtown (a rare event) to get some pants hemmed at a tiny shop up a precipitously steep flight of stairs;

c) We’re starting to look at kindergartens for Ben.

This last is not without a fair amount of anxiety. There are 70 public schools in San Francisco, and places in them are assigned, sort of, by lottery. The “sort of” is because while you can list 7 schools on your application, and the school district tries to put kids in their neighborhood schools, the district also tries to achieve socioeconomic and racial diversity in the schools. To accomplish this, the district asks that you list the mother’s educational level on the application.

So, I’m thinking we’re not getting into the neighborhood school.

The dream:
Tim Gunn, the fabulous Project Runway host and fashion mentor, led me on a tour of the grimiest downtown hotels as I tried to find a suitable spot for Ben. We hiked up and down miles of grubby staircases, looking at dark rooms full of cots and bunkbeds, places that would look cozy to Oliver Twist, and all I could think was, “How will we haul his Elmo bedrail up these steep stairs?” And Tim Gunn looked hard at me and said, “Well, just make it work!”

If only it were so simple.

All Of A Sudden

Today, nearly 6 weeks after he took his first step, Eli has decided that walking is the way to go.

Until today, walking has been a daily event; something he’d try out for a few steps, maybe to get from the couch over to the chair, but it wasn’t his preferred method of transporation. To really get somewhere, it was his head down, hands and knees speed crawling.

All that’s changed now, and as it turns out, it’s just as amazing to see your second kid become a vertical person as it was your first.

School Lunch

Every once in a while, I’ll be listening to our public radio station when they take a minute to read the San Francisco public schools’ lunch menu for the coming week. It doesn’t sound so terrible, really– turkey and noodles; chili; meatloaf with gravy — though it’s certainly nothing I’d want to eat, and I expect it’s not the most delicious versions of these dishes, cooked as they are for several hundred kids at a time. My concern has always been that it doesn’t sound like much my vegetarian boy could eat, but I figured when the time comes I’d just pack him a lunch.

Lately, though, I’m feeling a little more political about school lunch. It should be a good meal–healthy and delicious. But of course, that’s not so easy to produce on the scale it needs to be, and government involvement in the school lunch program has led to a bizarre situation in which, for example, ketchup counts as a vegetable. The New Yorker (9/4 issue; sorry, I can’t find it online) recently had a good piece about the history of the American school lunch program, and how federal guidelines over the years have compromised it so terribly.

Luckily, lots of people are trying to improve how we feed our children. In England, Jamie Oliver is putting his money where his mouth is. Here in the states, Alice Waters is doing her part; I’ve also just recently heard about Parents Against Junk Food (who warm my heart by including a recipe for Crazy Cake in their first newsletter; see, healthy eating can include dessert!). Let me know about other efforts you’ve heard about to improve school lunch.

Four Minutes

When people consider having a second child, one argument in favor of expanding the family is always that you’re giving your first child a playmate, a best friend, a true companion who will be in their corner long after you fade from the planet.

It seems to me that that’s the kind of long-range thinking only possible for parents of one child.

Once you have that second, you’re too busy referreeing petty disputes about who gets to sit on the blue chair NOW, and who had a longer turn with the ukuelele. And I know it’s only going to get worse for me, since my second can’t even really talk yet.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted to have two children. And I love my own three siblings and three siblings-in-law. I even really like them. When we get together (too rarely, since I live 3,000 miles away from all but one of them), we find plenty to talk about it, and though we lead pretty different lives, there’s plenty of common ground.

Growing up, however, was a different story. I have some fond memories, but there’s also the fact that my sister regularly played dead to avoid playing with me. That my brother claimed my parents bought me in a store, and might return me any day. I don’t quite know how my parents got through each day.

I’ve been a mother of two for almost 16 months now, and today we had a breakthrough. Ben and Eli played together, unsupervised, for a solid four minutes. At this rate (and not counting the months before Eli could sit up) I figure it’ll be a couple of years before I get a full hour, but I’m looking forward to the day.

Buttering the Kiwi

No, it’s not a recipe today, but a link to my friend Jennifer’s latest column over at her website, HavingThreeKids.

I’m not sure I want a third kid, but if I did have one, I can only hope I’d write about the experience with as much laugh-out-loud humor and quiet affection as Jennifer does. Go check her out.

Parenting & Professing

I confess, I freaked out a bit when I first heard about this book. My Mama, Ph.D. co-editor, Elrena Evans, and I had done a fair amount of research already into the literature of parenting in the academy and hadn’t come across this title. Then I looked at the table of contents and found its section titles suspiciously close to the titles we’d devised (P&P; got them first, so we’ll have to change).

But now that I’ve read the essays in this book, I’m happy to report that there’s room in the world for the two collections. The essays in P&P; are thoughtful and well-researched, sometimes quite moving, often positively jaw-dropping. Fathers and mothers are both represented here, single parents, adoptive parents and grandparents; students, adjunct faculty, tenured faculty and administrators. But this is definitely an academic book, by which I mean a book written by academics for other academics. (My writing group continually reminds me not to take my academic language for granted; “What do you mean by the academy, anyway?” they ask.)

While Parenting and Professing‘s introduction very convincingly situates the problem of combining work and family in the broader context of the American workplace (as Mama, Ph.D. will), none of the essays take up that issue, or, I think, appeal to a reader who is not grappling with the problem of combining academic work with a family. I hope Mama, Ph.D. will. Stay tuned.

Milestones In My Not Becoming a Rock Star

1973: Anne and I play Magic Garden in her backyard. For those of you who don’t remember this PBS kid’s show, it featured two singers, Carol and Paula, kind of the apolitical, vanilla Indigo Girls of the 70s, doing skits and singing at the base of fake tree with a squirrel puppet named Seymour. Carol had beautiful blonde, wavy hair and a pretty name. Paula had mousy brown pigtails and, well, was named Paula. But she did play the guitar. Playing Magic Garden involved, basically, fighting over who got to be Carol. I argued that my name gave me the stronger claim. I don’t recall us getting much past this dispute into any kind of game.

1979: Jennifer and I aspire to be backup singers. We can sing pretty well (we can certainly do-wop ok), we figure we can wear the cute outfits, dance around, and shoulder none of the responsiblity of fronting a band. We practice in her family’s basement TV room.

1981-85: In high school, I sing in the chorus for performances of Oklahoma! and Guys And Dolls.

1988: Junior year at Oxford, Robin and I buy tickets to see Bruce Springsteen at London’s Wembley Stadium. We’ve been singing the songs off Tunnel of Love all spring, and cook up an elaborate plan to sneak backstage to meet The Boss. At the last minute, we discover the show is all carnival seating and we chicken out.

That summer, my sister and I go see Mel Torme at the Hollywood Bowl.

2006: I learn that a former “faculty brat,” the daughter of my high school history teacher, is a contestant on Rock Star Supernova. I have to tune in.

I’d known that Storm (really; and her last name is Large) was a rocker. We’d run into each other on the NYC subway in 1991; I was on my way to publishing job, she was on her way home from a gig. On my wedding night, I discovered that she was playing the club next door to our hotel, and briefly considered going in to dance in my wedding dress. Now here she is, in the final five of a reality show where the contestants compete to become the lead singer of Supernova, a band fronted by Tommy Lee.

I love it. The guys in Supernova, who are probably around my age but wear their years hard, say “chick” and “dig it” without irony, and a weak performance is “sauteed in wrong sauce.” They make me feel young. The contestants (2 women now, and 3 men), meanwhile, who are pierced and tattooed and wear more eye shadow in one night than I will in my lifetime, make me feel very old, very much a mortgage-paying, carpool-driving, sectional-sofa-sitting, tv-watching mom. And the music, some Bowie and the Beatles, but also a lot of stuff I don’t know, the music isn’t really my music anymore. But I don’t care, because they are really fun to watch. I don’t think Storm will win; I think either the hot Aussie guy or the soulful Icelandic dad will beat her out. Still, I’ll watch as long as she’s up there rocking because she can belt out a song, and I knew her when she was ten, and she’s as close as I’m getting to any rock star.

Clean Sweep

If someone from the New York Times photo desk called to set up a shoot at your house, how fast could you be ready? I have a couple friends neat enough that they could spend the time arranging flowers. Not me. But thanks to deep kitchen drawers, Method wipes and a Swiffer, we were photo-ready in 45 minutes.

The back story: a writer friend’s writer friend interviewed Tony for an article on green renovations. If we’re lucky, they’ll illustrate the piece with a picture of Eli, sitting on the bottom shelf of the kitchen island, eating his sunflower seed butter sandwich.