December 28, 2008

Ill Communications

This is the kind of kiddie blog material that's very hard to make interesting for those who don't already happen to have toddlers around. It's about wee childish sniffling, pitiful coughing, soughing, wheezing, the having of a reddish, heated hairline, a warm smooth back, a feverish glint in the eye and a sweaty forelock. Also: sullen pink blotches in the cheeks, unstable sleeping patterns and caterwauling at 2, accepting mildly (or strenuously rejecting) a rectal thermometer. It's those rashes around the nose and mouth from being wet too often and wiped too often. It's the too-short nap (making for a bitter and unstable afternoon) or its cousin, the over-nap, which makes, in turn, for a long and weird evening. It's the doctor telling you it's "probably a virus" and sending you home with bupkis.

Longstanding, inexplicable illness and general sorry-assedness like this makes human experience unpleasant by the yard, by the hour, by the week. It turns the fun-o-meter down on all things. It makes me think of what most of human history must have been like. All that nursing, being nursed, all the slowly getting worse.

Pox of all sorts has been coming and going in our home since before Thanksgiving. It's gone back and forth between me, and Sarah, and Elliot -- briefly affected Ada -- and even struck Elliot's Mimi (who lost her voice for Xmas). The glands in my neck STILL don't feel like they're the right size (or the same size as each other). We've all been a right mess.

We thought it was just a basic holiday virus extravaganza, and it probably is, but I noticed something else yesterday that goes a long way in tying together some of the phenomena we've been seeing. While Elliot and I were in the shower together, he was opening up his mouth wide to get a stream of water, and I discovered . . . .


(cue video)

Two sharp, white, splendid, well-crested, well-earned upper back molars. These things are like Moby Dick (in stereo) to Elliot's immune system (how quickly we forgot).

Only two more such monsters and he will have a complete set of baby teeth.

Those grippy gums I loved to have chawing at my thumb are well and truly gone.

December 07, 2008

Elliot's sleeping arrangement

From Sarah's mom:

What we had to do for [Sarah] might still be possible with the Plum’s crib:

We took the springs out, kinda dismantled the bed. Put the MATTRESS on the FLOOR, INSIDE THE FRAME of your bed! Then lowered the side to the top of the mattress—so it added the height of the mattress to the height of the side, thus making it harder for you to pole vault out. plus when you did (as you inevitably did) you started from a lower spot.

Yup, we ended up doing exactly that, because Elliot started being a climber. It's working really well.

Sippy Cup Design Study: We Have Our Winner

After 2.25 years and numerous sippy cups, it's become clear to me that the Playtex sippy cup variety pictured above is, for our purposes, the big winner. And now that they are sold without BPAs, I can recommend them with a clear conscience.

A design review:
  • Handles essential. Hook side-handles rather than closed rings highly preferred. So you can hook the sippy cup in your pocket while you carry a yodeling toddler down the hall. So you can hook it in the seat pocket on an airplane. Et cetera. We've had various kinds, and this arrangement just seems more handy, more often.
  • Translucent plastic, rather than opaque. So you can see in there! Are there dried-on milk rings that need to be scrubbed? Floating crumbs? Toy soldiers? Translucence is key.
  • Wide and sturdy rather than tall and narrow. If the valve is leaking, or missing (an inevitability, eventually), the cup is just a bit less likely to tip over and make an issue of itself. If the lid happens to be off, for grown-up style drinking (also know as "going commando"), the wide base makes it easier for little ones to successfully pick the sippy up and set it back down. And it's easier to clean with a regular kitchen sponge (rather than a wee bottle brush), because you can get your hand in there. It can also fit a conventional kitchen brush . Or even a rag on a stick . (Rag-on-a-stickers, you know who you are.)
  • Since toddler hands can fit into this cup as well, it can be used in a pinch as a to-go container for Cheerios, goldfish, or their organic, whole-wheat-based, non-hydrogenated equivalents.
  • The sippy can be dropped, but the valve will generally stay snugly in place. One higher-end BPA-free brand of sippy cup has a white plastic valve piece (nestled up under the cap) that tends to fall out if the cup is dropped, leaving the valve floating around in the beverage. Sippy cups get dropped constantly, of course, so this is super-lame. The cute Sigg aluminum bottles that everyone is buying like crazy happen to dent and ding like crazy. And their cute Swiss paint jobs start to flake off rather quickly (yikes).
  • It's not only possible to clean the very inventive, very simple Playtex valve assembly (one gold star), it's actually sort of easy to do so (three gold stars!). The otherwise stellar reputation of Avent products does not make up for a valve design that is fussy and really tough to clean. Born Free cups : basically uncleanable. If used for milk, liable to start smelling quickly. The Siggs are worse here: I was amazed at how quickly milk (and toddler-backwash) sours in contact with the metal of those bottles. If the breakfast-time Sigg bottle happens to be left sitting out in the few hours til lunch, trying opening it up and sniffing the rim of the bottle. Not good. If it was accidentally left in a diaper bag overnight (which does happen from time to time)...."it would be bad.")
  • This sippy involves 3 pieces, sum total. (see also: easy to clean; easy for family friends and relatives to figure out without instructions; easy to keep track of.)

Downsides of the winning sippy cup

  • Not dishwasher-safe. But nothing in this category is, really; and the aluminum Sigg bottles aren't, either. We bought one, and I read the instructions very closely. Hand wash! Hello, wee bottle brush.
  • Relatively soft plastic on the mouthpiece. As a sort of absentminded tic, or perhaps a hobby, Elliot gnaws, digs at, penetrates, and generally destroys mouthpieces and straws, whether they are hard or soft plastic. In end, the result is always the same; the softer plastic just means we have to get rid of the sippy head sooner.
Elliot is getting on in years, so some may be wondering why, or if, we still need sippy cups.

We so do.

As an example, I flew four flights on Northwest Airlines over Thanksgiving, in the company of my very milk-oriented son. On none of those flights was there any milk available for purchase or barter! I guess Northwest has stopped serving milk, even with coffee. Adapting to this, I brought along, for the 3-hour flight from Minneapolis to Salt Lake City (a leg where I flew solo with him), an eight-ounce cup of milk I purchased from the airport Starbucks -- clear plastic cup, clear plastic lid, green straw.

What was I thinking??

The crawling, the peekaboo (the tipping over), the bumping around; the accelerating during takeoff (the tipping over); the banking; the rolling around; the giggling (the straw getting bent down and then flipped up repeatedly, flinging dots of milk on the walls, on the seats, on my glasses, in his hair). The crushing of the crushable plastic sides of the cup (the spilling on the seat). Have we ever mentioned that Elliot cries over spilled milk? He does. He says (in a mournful, drawn-out kind of Eliza Doolittle elocution), "What haaaaappened?" over and over. Our standard answers ("Well, buddy, some expensive organic dairy product got spilled on this here naugahide seat cushion/flotation device") don't seem to satisfy the question he's actually asking. So he takes my chin in his hands (he does) and looks me full in the face and asks again, forlornly, "Wha'huuuappennned?" and a big pearly tear is stripped away from the corner of his eye.

And a little drop of my soul (of the same size and shape) goes spinning out the back of the plane.

We got two new sippy cups at Target today, and I feel great about them.


(ELLIOT absentmindedly squeezes the mole on SARAH's neck, as she carries him around Target.)

ELLIOT: What's that?

SARAH: That's my mole.

ELLIOT: That's a pomegranate.

November 24, 2008

Toddlers are awesome!

I mean, they are not always awesome.  Often they totally suck.  But mostly they're awesome.  For instance, this morning I was unwrapping a new book sent to Elliot by his mimi (thanks, mimi!!).  I held it up for Elliot to see, and said, "Look, Elliot!  A Christmas tree!"  And he said, "OH!!!!  A Christmas tree!  WITH MONKEYS IN IT!!!" and grabbed the book and ran off.  

I don't know where he got the idea that christmas trees come decorated with monkeys--certainly there are no monkeys in the tree on the book's cover--but I must say I think it's a fantastic idea.  

November 19, 2008


we continue to be just...busy.  but that's boring to talk about.

i did want to pop up, though, and ask, "how do we do this crib-toddler bed transition thing?"  Elliot tonight almost successfully plunged out of his crib, which to me is the clear sign that we need to break the fourth wall, as it were, and admit that it is full-on toddler bed time.  I mean, that's what this toddler bed thing is for, right?  But on the other hand, Elliot seems in no way ready for a toddler bed, and I don't say that in a nostalgic, "oh, my baby!" kind of way.  I say that in a "but really, he doesn't know how not to kill himself kind of way."  

If we take off the side of the crib, what will he do in the morning when he wakes up?  this is a VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION.  I am partly worried about my own sleep, of course, because there are days when elliot still wakes up inordinately early, and he sort of rely on that crib to contain him while he (hopefully) goes back to sleep. 

But even if he wakes up at the right time, what if he decides he wants to do something besides wake us up?  what if he decides that first thing in the morning would be a great "dive bomb off the couch" time?  this is entirely likely!  I don't want him up and loose when I'm sleeping anymore than I want him home alone.

But maybe this is fine?  maybe they just always always wake you up?  Reassure me, fine people.

in other news, I talked to a friend today who is just home from the hospital with her newborn baby.  she is in that Very Tired Place.  Send her thoughts of good sleep, and easy nursing, poor dear.


November 04, 2008

October 30, 2008

Autumnal stuff

After a hiatus of about a month, we're back in the picture-taking business. It's really fall now. We've got haybales, snuggly robes, apple-picking, apple pies, butternut squash soup, apple cider donuts, and some Mario Kart Wii: these are the things of autumn.

DSC_0166.JPG IMG_3599.JPG IMG_3617.JPG IMG_3608.JPG Sarah up a tree B on a bridge

Sarah is busy, busy every night til bedtime, with her books and papers, job applications, letters, writing samples, second writing samples, and marked-up drafts of all of these, in a revolving cycle of edits. What with that, student papers to grade, Elliot trying to climb on the counter to get to the blender, and an election to win, Sarah is totally booked. Good thing there's a set of grandparents on the way in less than 24 hours.

Elliot is booked, but in a different way. He has a new jones for reading books. In bed. Alone. It's the darnedest thing.

He simply informs us sometimes, out of the blue, that he wants to get in bed and read books. (Seems to have cooked this idea up on his own at some point.) So we obligingly drop him into the crib, and he points out the books he wants, and we slip them through the bars of the crib. Then he asks us to leave, so we leave. He reads silently for sometimes as much as half an hour. Meanwhile, Sarah and I tiptoe away and open the champagne.

Our burning glee is tempered by the nagging idea that he will try to climb out, unassisted, and that it will go poorly. It would definitely go poorly. Maybe he needs an actual bed now?

October 23, 2008

Famous Plum

UPDATE: Here's the official press release. Note my weird blinky photograph eyes. Elliot is definitely the star around here.

UPDATED AGAIN!: Okay, here's our 2 minutes of fame, and never say I don't tell all. Things to note: Elliot being totally overwhelmed and exhausted; Brandon being confused because he was not, originally, supposed to be on air and thus hadn't showered; Alexi being super suave; and me being all shiny (I don't really own much make-up? so just put on extra tinted moisturizer, which I sometimes use instead of foundation? but which apparently, under bright lights, makes you look like a greased pig?); and especially me being all, um, what's your question? when clearly the question was supposed to be totally vague so I could give whatever canned sound bite I was evidently supposed to have ready.

I will tell you that immediately upon leaving the studio, Elliot really perked up and was all, "I was on tv!!!" And this morning he said, "I on tv? again?" So apparently he felt that it was, overall, a positive experience.


OK, so. . . . the State of Illinois runs a college-savings program, called a 529 plan. To promote the program and encourage people to save for college, they held a contest. Our friend works for the state treasurer, and she prompted us to submit something. So we submitted a classic Elliot video, which was shot about 6 months ago with a beat-up little pocket camera. (We had blogged it here:

The next thing we know, #1 sweet-potato-smearing son is going to be part of a statewide marketing campaign. He also won $1000 for his 529 account (to be contributed post-crash -- whew!). (Barring further crashes.) (Try not to think about it.)

I don't have the footage of us on the local news today (except on our Tivo). But we do have the TV commercial spot which they created around our home video. It's at

October 22, 2008

Request from the commercial universe

[Note: this post was all small and tidy, and then I started adding pictures and it got all big and complicated. Ah! Irony!]

So, Whitney just posted a NYT story about the number of families who are choosing to live, with their children, in small, dense spaces. The story is particularly about people who choose to stay in Manhattan, but I like to think there's a larger trend (maybe not much larger, but still) of people who are realizing that having a huge huge house is not necessary for family happiness. One of the things I like about my life is that it doesn't involve a lot of suburban sprawl: there are lots of reasons why I've made that choice.

But what I now need is some toy companies to understand this.

We just got a toy catalog in the mail yesterday--back to basic toys. It's a perfectly fine catalog, successfully walking the line between practical and affordable (it's not all hand carved wood or something) and aesthetically reasonable (it's not all battery-powered elmo toys). Most of the toys seem designed to ellicit activity and imagination. So, good, right?

But what I need is a "back to basic" toys that is filtered down for small spaces.

As I see it, small spaces need toys that have at least two qualities:
1: even if they get big, they can be stored in small containers
2: getting the toy out of the small container and putting it together is PART of the fun, and something kids can do themselves.

So, for instance, Elliot's wooden train stuff. This is not ours, but you get the idea:

Elliot has a mix of Thomas, Brio, and Ikea railroad tracks and trains, but they all fit together and they're BRILLIANT. When he's playing with them it is a BIG IMPRESSIVE TOY--they cover the floor of his whole room--but they store really compactly. He can put them together in any number of ways, and no one way is wrong or right, and then when he's done he loves to throw them in a box--they're basically indestructable.

Also, here's one that Nana got Elliot for Christmas last year, which has been a hit. It is BIG and exciting:

But it folds up really small! Really small. and then when you untie it, it pops out all excitingly. Great.

Compare to this:

Which I'm sure Elliot would love. But it's huge! And it's always huge. It is one big huge thing, always the same big huge thing. There's no stowing it away and bringing it out later when you need something new and exciting. It's just always sitting there, all huge, in my living room.

Anyway, perhaps there are already a number of "cool toys for small spaces" catalogs out there, and if there are, I wish someone would let me know. Because Elliot loves toys and I love to buy them for him, but I'm not willing to move to accomodate them.

October 21, 2008

"I go see it"

A couple things Elliot doesn't quite understand:

A hissing, steaming radiator.  He knows that it's a hot thing, and hot things are dangerous.  Because they cause ouch.  He knows that he's being "carefully", as he puts it, by not touching.  His deference and respect are a little bit comical.  But it's the noise that bewitches him, the rumblings, hissings, and poppings.  He says, "What's that sound make?"  He knows something powerful is happening, and he's not convinced that where he is is where the action is.  "I go see it."

The moon.  We all four trundled downstairs into the street to see the (full?) moon rising over the lake a few nights ago, just after I got home from work.  Ada was all stirred up and dashing around -- we never just stand in the middle of the street like that.  She was acting like it was fire drill day at school and she'd just eaten a whole box of Nerds.  Elliot was placid in my arms.  We talked in circles about how the moon was coming up and the sun had gone down -- a familiar theme for us, these days, because little boys go to sleep when the moon is up, and they play with trains when the sun is up.  He liked the enormous yellow moon, but were we there yet?  "I go see it."

October 16, 2008

It's fall

It really is: today was so chill and sideways-lit. The afternoon was lovely, but there was a lot of bluster and I wished I'd had a scarf.

Which makes it hard to remember that just last Sunday we were doing this:

Because it was SO SO WARM. Everyone was out sun-bathing by the lake. And me, because I am the daughter of one Barbara Mesle, which means that I am hard core, did this:

I enjoyed my swim, though maybe not as much as enjoyed the idea of my swim. It was cold out there.

Chicago weather has a terrible reputation, but it always sort of irritates me to hear people complain about it. There are always these great warm days interspersed through things, and I love the fickleness of that, just like I love cold days in summer.

Anyway, this second video is unrelated to weather or swimming, but I suppose it does have a tenuous beach connection. Here's Elliot's current version of "row, row, row your boat." In it's own way, it too is rather hard core. I love the idea that it's sort of pump-up football music.

October 03, 2008

Art Appreciation for Toddlers

Well, because we are our demographic (and because it's good) the Fleet Foxes album is getting a lot of play around here this fall. It's really excellent kitchen music, and I recommend it.

But this album has a special bonus for us, because Elliot is fascinated by the cover. I had never thought about it, but it makes sense that he'd love Pieter the Elder--big crazy scenes, so much going on, animals and interactions of all kinds.

Things he likes best about this picture:
The man who spilled his soup

His favorite thing is clearly:

Thing most confusing:
The saint. How to explain this one? Difficult.

Things he has not yet noticed and thus we have not yet had to explain:
What the man is doing on that ball?
The pig butchering (which I think we will fold into the catgory of "sheep getting a haircut" for a while yet)

September 29, 2008

Citified Us

Not our greatest picture evarrr, but it does capture a certain something about who we are, where we are, and what we do. Like go around asking various establishments for a small glass of milk with a lid and a straw, for example.

Song! Song!

This song went on for half an hour. It went on down the stairs, down the sidewalk and down the block; at a stoplight and across a busy street; and into the front yard of one Zella Rose. Then there was a pause. Then the song moved into Zella Rose's backyard. It even became about Zella Rose, briefly. Here is a picture of the troubador and his instrument at that evening hour, as he bellowed from the shadows of what looks to be a woodchipper?


Elliot's response to hearing our neighbors sing Happy Birthday:
Birthday.  Elliot birthday!  Elliot want birthday.  Cake.  Hot.  Birthday cake, hot.  Elliot want candles.  Chocolate.  Elliot want chocolate candles!  Hot birthday candles!  Cake!  Mama?  Have birthday candles?  Cake?  Happy Birthday to yoooouuu...!

So Brandon, who is A Good Dad,  put a candle in the rest of his peanut butter sandwich (with extra jelly on top as frosting) and let Elliot blow it out, saying  "It's your birthday sandwich cake!"  Meanwhile, I wandered around thinking that chocolate candles are a pretty awesome idea.

September 27, 2008


As a big believer in seasonal music, I was thrilled to see Beck's post asking for suggestions for autumnal music. You should all go stop by and see the fantastic hodge podge of suggestions--from Yo La Tengo (yay me!) to the White Stripes to Earth, Wind and Fire to a lot of interesting folky things with which I am sadly not familiar.

So anyway, yes, you should go there, but I was actually thinking about her request this morning when I heard this song, WHICH I LOVE, and it occured to me that this song captures some of what I also love about Autumn, which is that all endings are also beginnings, necessarily, even if the newness is cold and unknown.

How's that for a Very Bloggy Sentence? Okay. I'm going to stop now. The song is really good, though; you should listen to it.

PS: contrary to what my suggestions of Yo La Tengo and the Mountain Goats might suggest, I do also like music not sung by earnest and nerdy men with endearingly reedy voices. I SWEAR.

September 26, 2008

Life with toddlers is metaphor city

Elliot, these days, is prone to worry.  About the lion, as well as other things.  Partly he is worried about this concept "worrying."  What is that?  What do you do about it?

I don't mean to give the impression that he's not also his normal cheerful little self.  Right now he's giggling and looking at pictures of "pooh bear" and rabbit and running around.  All is well and good.

But then there are these moments.  Like this morning, we were both sitting cross legged on the coffee table reading the new yorker (there's some backstory that explains why that's this is a reasonable thing to do; just trust me).  Elliot was pondering the nuances of the cover pictured above.  After some assessment, Elliot determined that the man was going to "fall in water."  I'm not sure where that came from, but I conceeded that that was basically right, but that there was a ladder.  "for climbing!"  Yes, Elliot, for climbing; after the man falls into the hole, there will be a ladder for him to climb out.  So don't worry!  It's okay!

Elliot was non-plussed.  "Laddar?" he queried.  "Laddar?"  Then he threw the magazine on the ground discontentedly and said, "man fall.  Man fall DOWN."

So it's just Elliot and everyone, being all "laddar?  laddar?" and all us  moms here saying to all those men standing over those holes: put down your cell-phones, you fools you fools, and start paying attention to the warnings, the worries, of my small child. 


A more cheerful postscript: I seriously was just pondering that last sentence there when out of the blue Elliot wandered over and said, real cheerful like, "fist-bump, mama!  Fist-bump!"  So we had a "yes we can" sort of fist bump, which is not to make this all pro-Obama (totally not the point), but just  a reminder that life is fine in lots of incarnations, with lots of fist-bumpy laddars in it, probably, after all.

September 19, 2008

Urgent! Because if there's one thing new parents know about, it's the importance of birth control.

I'm sure most of you know about this by now, but if not I want to mention this excellent editorial in today's times discussing a new Department of Health and Human Services rule for all health care entities that receive federal funding. The rule would require all such services providers to certify that "none of its employees are required to assist in any way with medical services they find objectionable."

It's the vagueness of this rule that is so terrifying.

Laws that have been on the books for some 30 years already allow doctors to refuse to perform abortions. The new rule would go further, ensuring that all employees and volunteers for health care entities can refuse to aid in providing any treatment they object to, which could include not only abortion and sterilization but also contraception.

Health and Human Services estimates that the rule, which would affect nearly 600,000 hospitals, clinics and other health care providers, would cost $44.5 million a year to administer. Astonishingly, the department does not even address the real cost to patients who might be refused access to these critical services. Women patients, who look to their health care providers as an unbiased source of medical information, might not even know they were being deprived of advice about their options or denied access to care.

Really? Really, Health and Human Services? You don't have anything better to do with that 44 million dollars than "protect the consciences" of medical professionals from the basic requirements of the jobs they themselves chose?

A couple of things:

1: Maybe there's some defense of this rule that I haven't heard? Or is it really just this horrifying?

2: So, as I understand it, an original draft of the rule had mentioned abortion specifically (in a way that included types of birth control) as services people didn't have to provide. Specifying that detail was too unpopular, so the rule was left intentionally vague. As if it's less horrifying that people can now just refuse to do anything?

3: Really, people just imagine all the many things that this law might be interpreted to cover.

4: Don't you have the sense that stupid, dangerous, and expensive rules like this are exactly why the so called "conservative" Bush administration has run up so much debt?

5: I live in a pretty underserved neighborhood, and am from a very small town. I know that there are many reasons why women already have very narrow options when they choose health care providers. This rule will hit the people with the fewest options the hardest--the people with the fewest resources, and the least opportunities for education.

6: Which again, right, this is why social and fiscal conservatism do not go together! Because when you take an underserved, under educated group of women and take away access to or information about birth control, it's really difficult to whine about increased spending and welfare moms!

7: But it's not just the underserved and undereducated. It's also those of us who have happy feminist health care providers paid for by a PPO. Most women I know have, at some moment in their lives, been in a situation where things had gone wrong: either they were away from home in an emergency, or had some birth control problem or failure, or sometimes something really awful that there's no reason to rehash here. In those situations, we all need to know that we can get accurate information and responsible care.

Anyway: this rule goes into effect SOON. I strongly encourage anyone interested to oppose it.

September 16, 2008

Of interest

Elliot thinks a lot about this picture.

As you can see, it is a picture of a lion who is crying. What you cannot see is the small girl, standing on the other page, "raaahhring!" at the lion, pleased at herself because she is not scared of the huge animal. She says, "I like me wild, I like me tame/I like me different and the same!"

This girl and lion live in a very good book called I Like Myself, and I would include more details about it except that the only part of the book that occupies Elliot's attention is this picture. He thinks about it so much that he has torn it out ("broken!") and sometimes carries it around to talk about.

"Lion scared. Lion crying. Water. Tear. From Eye."

Out of no where he mentions this lion. "Lion? Lion crying?" and trots off to find the picture. He points to the tear. "Tear. Lion sad."

When I was very small I broke my elbow very badly, right in the midst of the growth center. I had to have surgery, and be in traction, and it was apparently very awful for everyone involved; happily, I was too small to remember. When I was old enough to talk about the large scar on my arm, I claimed that a lion had bitten me, and to punish him I had carried him across the desert and buried him alive for seven years. (I'm not making this up.)   After seven years (so my story went; I was younger than seven myself) I dug him up and we became friends. My mom told me recently that it was only after we had learned that my arm would grow normally (at first the surgeon anticipated a "permanent deformity" that would require multiple surgeries) that I added the part of the story about the digging up and the forgiveness. 

When I told my story about my lion, I was imagining my own small self mastering a dangerous beast. I was a bit like the wild girl (not pictured above) laughing as the lion cried.

But Elliot seems actually a little worried about that lion.  Maybe it's something like empathy.  Or maybe it's him realizing something a little disturbing about the world itself.  Why would this this powerful animal be "crying?  scared?  tears?".  Something might be really wrong here.   Elliot, I think, wonders if he and the lion are different or the same.  (He imitates lion noises, too, saying, "I'm like a lion!  Rahhr!"  Other times he says "I'm scared [of?] the lion.]")

I'm glad to see something like compassion in my small son, but it pains me, sometimes, to watch him worry;  it tempts me, sometimes, to take this dangerous lion to the desert and bury him, too.

Food Issues with the Kinder

Interesting advice.
-- Get them to cook with you
-- No pressure
-- No forbidden fruits

A moment's reflection

"You know, this really is better than getting a ferret."

September 12, 2008

okay, so I thought elliot's tidbits were pretty awesome! but! just head right on over to jenny's blog, yessir, because that is some DAMN AWESOMENESS, right there.

September 11, 2008

Things Elliot has done recently: an incomplete list

1: Asked if the moon was flying: "Moon! Moon flying? Fast?"

2: Sobbed piteously at the departure of his grandparents: "Nana on airplane; Elliot on airplane too, so fast? Elliot too?" While he sobbed, he struggled to pry open the door with his small fingers.

3: Similarly, expressed grave dissatisfaction and not being able to join either Marie or myself on the "Choo choo": "Elliot go downtown too. Choo choo. Choo Choo together! mama and choo choo together; go fast."

4: Peed repeatedly, and of his own volition, in the potty, but only when already nude: "Elliot pee pee. Elliot blue potty. Flush?"

5: Commented, I swear, that you pee with your penis. Then asked, "my butt?" So I clarified that you poop with your butt. "Elliot butt. Poop."

6: Started to follow commands in songs: "make your arms into wings/ then flap those things," indeed.

7: talked a lot about cows, and about chickens: "bawk bawk!"

8: finally conceded that "w" and "m" are different letters, a point we had been debating for several weeks now (for a long time, W and X were the only letters Elliot expressed any, like, belief in, as that is his favorite of the alphabet song."

9: started singing his own awesome version of "Row Row Row the Boat,": "miny, miny, miny, miny, rowdebo..t"

10: practiced his final consonants. now anytime he says a word he repeats the final consonant at the end of the phrase, sometimes several times. "go park...k...k!"

okay and this is the most amazing one. I do not know who taught him this, but I am VERY GRATEFUL to them. So: the other day I was in our place finishing up work. Then I heard Elliot, Gilly and co return from their walk, so I started down the back stairs to fetch my boy. When I rounded the corner on the last flight of stairs Elliot was alone on the patio and smiled joyfully to see me. "mama!" he said. And then, FOR REALS, he said, "mama flower. pick flower for mama." THEN HE WENT AND PICKED A FLOWER AND BROUGHT IT TO ME, and I thanked everything beautiful in the world because, truly, I have tried to live my life well and with purpose but there is nothing I have ever done or could do to actually deserve the grace of that small blossom.

September 08, 2008

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow.

So, he is two! Our boy is two. Here he is, being too fascinated with the candles to blow them out.

I realized on Saturday--the penultimate day, the two year anniversary of me being due and going into labor and birthing our boy--that although I'd been thinking about Elliot's birthday I hadn't been thinking about it in any sort of retrospective way. I remembered that the year before, when Elliot turned one, I'd felt so reverent, so in awe of the changes the year had wrought and the fantastic insanity of bringing a baby into my life: what that had meant. This year, not so much; mostly I'd been thinking about what sort of cake he'd like to have at the party.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, I'm so busy right now--I don't have a lot of headspace to be any moment but the present. And also, Elliot is so much his own person. He is less a cypher through which to understand the ways I myself have changed--which is a good thing--and more his own zooming singing boy. He likes cake and cupcakes, and which would he prefer? Would he like chocolate? Lemon? Who, in the midst of sharing his busy life, could pause to contemplate life without him?

Still, if it's good to be in the now, it's still sweet, still valuable, to remember. And finally tonight, home alone together, I heard this song (on a "cd" my aunt sherry had given him as a birthday present; it's fantastic) and it got me there. I was surprised, frankly, because I think of this song as being so overused as to almost be a cliche.

But it wasn't cliche to Elliot; he had never heard it before. I sat there with him, listening to Louis Armstrong sing. And at that moment, it was indeed a wonderful world.

September 02, 2008

You can have it all

I've mentioned before that while pregnant I read a great book, and one of the things it says about parenting is that you have to realize, as a parent, that you can have it all, maybe, but you definitely can't have it all at the same time.

But what if you get it all at the same time?

On this blog we have periodically gotten very oratorical about politics, so you all know where I stand. I want to bracket my political inclinations right now and say that--I don't agree with her, a lot of her opinions and decisions make me VERY ANGRY--but I am really feeling empathetic about Sarah Palin right about now.

I don't fully know how to say what I want to say carefully enough--I am not trying to be offensive or argumentative, here, but just to notice that most of my closest mama friends have a very difficult time balancing work and self and mothering. It's tough. Even if you believe that it is important to balance those things, that you could not be good as a mother if you denied your need to be an individual and a professional, it's hard. I'm going to go on the job market this year without a major publication, and that's partly because I chose to spend my afternoons with my son rather than writing, and that was a really good compromise for me, but it was indeed a compromise. Most people I know are negotiating a similar balancing act--you keep your balls in the air, but you know none of them are flying as high as they might.

I normally have a sense of what I want in my life: that my professional life is important, but not the only important thing, and that I don't want my professional life to require me to neglect the other things I love.

I know that, but would I really turn it down if Harvard called and offered me a job? Would I really say no, even if I'd be ambivalent about all the work it would demand?

What if Harvard called, right after I'd just had a child with special needs--needs even more special than the needs of my other four children? What if Harvard called when my oldest daughter needed me more than ever?

What if Harvard called and said: we're calling, but we might never call back? What if Harvard called, and you thought you could really do some good, but weren't sure you could really do all that good right now, but maybe you'd just have to try, because this is your now, this is your moment, this is the time when life invites you and your babies and their babies onto that american idol stage?

A lot of attention has been paid and will be paid and should be paid to Palin's judgement in the next few months. I am not, right now, interested in evaluating the judgement she showed in making her choice. What I just want to say is that this moment in Sarah Palin's life is like a crystallized version, is like the reductio ad absurdum, of a decision all mother's face. It is absurd to be in her position; it is stranger than fiction, it is so hyperbolic I can almost not believe it's real, and that's not even counting all the weird Alaska-moose-cubing bits.

So I empathize. What I will have to decide, this year as I think about my own career, is whether I sympathize. I will be interested to watch as America judges the judgement of a mother, trying to have it all on our most public stage.

What a strange strange moment, when conservatives argue that a mother of five is qualified to be VP by VIRTUE of her mother-of-five-ness, while even liberal mothers wonder if really this is the level at which you say, you can't really have a professional career at this level, with this kind of family situation. We're all reaching the limits of our ideological foundation. Watching her extremity, we are all stretched too far.

August 28, 2008

What sound does a squirrel make?

Actually, that is not precisely my question, as I have heard a great number of squirrels make a great deal of noise. Just yesterday, Elliot and I had a long conversation of sorts with a squirrel on our back porch, who was mad at us because we wouldn't leave and allow him to dig up my flower boxes in peace. It is our dialogue with him that provokes my question, which really is something more like, "how would you transcibe the noises that a squirrel makes? What is the correct squirrel onomatopeia?"

I think they actually make three noises. They do a "tcktcktcktck" thing which reminds me of the cartoon Riki-Tiki-Tavi; while they do this one they often wriggle, like they're doing a squirrel-version of the dolphin kick, that also seems rather mongoose-ish to me. Also, they kind of growl. That's easy, like "grrrrr" but really low. But then, the screeching sound they make? How would you transcribe that? Like, "ReH! ReH! REE!" Is that it?

It's funny that squirrels aren't really in our cultural repetoire of "animal noises." Farms and safari trips seem to have the lock on animal noises, while your average urban dweller is excluded. But I think we need to remedy this gap, because after dogs and cats squirrels are the animals Elliot interacts with most often.

In other news: it is Kate Mann's birthday! Happy Derbay Kate Mann! Elliot is excited to sing to you tonight! And! It is my parent's THIRTY-EIGHTH wedding anniversary! That is a lot of years, people. Let me take this public forum to say: thank you so much, mama and papa, for being such great examples of how to make a happy, sustaining family. Elliot and I are both forever forever grateful.

August 22, 2008

Just fyi

if you are interested in seeing a little video featuring some HAPPY HAPPY SPLASHING ELLIOT, you can do so right here.

August 20, 2008


Sarah made an observation I think is spot-on: if there's one thing that has an incredible, almost unseemly power over the child's mind, it is the Brand.

The Brand is a pattern -- a personality -- waiting to be recognized & come alive in different guises, in different media, on shoes and buses and food boxes and videos and toys. You can put the Brand in your mouth or on your head or in your pocket or on your feet.

What Elliot wants is to connect dots. He wants to recognize patterns and bring his world into focus. That is one of his most acute needs and we see him working on this project daily.

What Brands are is dots waiting to be connected. I think of them as ikons -- in the old religious sense. They have power!

Fortunately, I trust the Pixar people with this power. I think I like Wall-E almost more than Elliot does. (But Elliot gets to wear the Wall-E shoes.)

August 08, 2008

brief update, with documentation

So lately I've been trying to teach Elliot to say, "I'm volatile!" Because all of a sudden, Elliot is kind of volatile. Brandon says that, despite my obvious hilarity, I'm not really doing Elliot any favors here and should probably instead teach him to say something useful and communicative, like, "I'm frustrated!"

I agree to a point, except I'd say that what's new and interesting for Elliot these days isn't frustration, which is old news, but volatility--that is, being really loud and pissed in the face of frustration. We hear, "aaaAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!" noises around here a lot more than we used to. I think it is a taste of two-dom to come. We'll see.

So, there's the volatility--that's real, that's something that's going on. But mostly, you guys, our life could be a big documentary called "why toddlers are awesome," or, "why it's worth it to have children," or, "you too can live on sesame street." Elliot is so chatty and fun right now, and he just goes around petting zoos and block parties and backyards befriending people left and right.

Like here's one story--a couple of weekends ago we were at this sidewalk restaurant thing (with TJ; hi TJ!) and Elliot kept wandering over to the doorway of the neighboring store, a place called "His Stuff" which sells fancy gay men overpriced t-shirts and jeans (basically). Elliot was attracted to the music wafting from open door, some club beat, "uhChaUhChaUhCha," etc. He stood there in the doorway dancing for a while, before he looked down and noticed that several leaves and some dirt had blown into the doorway. "Dirty," he assessed. So he came back to the table, grabbed his broom (we had just purchased it, but now we do often take it with us in case of emergency sweeping needs) and started sweeping the entryway. "I cleaning!" he said, still shaking his wee booty. The staff should there bewildered for a while--what do you do at the fancy gay man store when a toddler decides you're not keeping the place clean?--before reaching the obvious conclusion that they should start dancing too, which they did.

I mean, really! I don't even know what to tell you. And it's not just Elliot, it's all of his peers, too, it's this magical not-quite-two time. It's like he's in his own toddler movie, a new genre closely related to the musical comedy, or like he's a very young mary poppins or something. He runs fast, he talks about cows and garbage cans, he dances on the beach.

August 04, 2008

Are you looking for something to read?

No, I know, you're not. You're eagerly awaiting the new Twilight novel, out tomorrow. But, okay, when you are done with that (say, Thursday) you will be ready for some new weekend reading.

Might I suggest this children's fantasy novel, also out tomorrow, written by my friend Marie?

Marie and I went to college together, where we had many many adventures, and talked about many many books, and have recently gotten in touch again after many many years. While I have not yet read this new book, this book that Marie has written, here's what I can say to recommend it: Marie is hella smart; Marie has an accute eye for small magical details; Marie crafts deliberately and with love; Marie writes from the heart and always has. So I think this book is worth recommending even apart from the friend connection.

The other reason to read it now is that I suspect, I suspect, that this book and its sequels (FSG is putting the next one out next summer) are going to be...big news. This is just my guess. But wouldn't that be great? If the Kronos chronicles turns into the next Harry Potter, and you get to be all, "I read it when?" Won't that be fun?

And, if you buy it, you'll get to see the pretty real cover, not that nasty bitmapped thing I seem to have pasted in.

Most awesome photo in the history of the world

There's a whole backstory of city summer fantasticness to this photo, which we will perhaps document later, but I just had to post this right now because THE WORLD SHOULD NOT WAIT for the chance to see this photo, this brilliant photo, of my son nudely and with terrific focus serenading the world with a randomly acquired hot pink guitar.

Breakfast of Champeens

This morning Elliot had a little tantrum for ten or fifteen minutes (because we didn't let him go to the basement), which was finally concluded by rummaging around in the cupboard (angrily) and discovering some jars of baby food (disappointing). My suggestion that he might like to eat the baby food seemed to change the mood. And that is why, for breakfast today, Elliot had pureed turkey sweet potato dinner over a year old.

July 27, 2008

Trip to the Wasatch Mountains

We've posted a bunch of pictures from our trip to Utah on our flickr page.

The mountains were green, the weather was clear and warm but not too warm, the lake was not really too cold (it is snowmelt remember), and it was so nice to get to spend time with both sets of Elliot's fine young grandparents -- we are fortunate to spring from such folks. He also checked in with Honorary Aunt Rusti and Course Marshal Uncle Ken, Sloan and Lucas (see them being as cute as humanly possible in this hammock), etc.

And of course, he loved meeting and discussing his "Aunty Pammmm-uh." Unfortunately, we didn't manage to take any pictures of them TOGETHER, but maybe someone else has that on their camera?

July 24, 2008

In Passing: "5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do"

So, this isn't the promised wealth of pictures, but it's interesting. It's a 10-minute TED talk about how our particular culture of "safety" can actually make life more dangerous for children, and also considerably less interesting.

This grabbed my attention immediately because I had just been talking about how my parents were very successful at doing something similar--that is, introducing me to "dangerous" things in a way that made me convinced that being "safe" with them was a cool and worthwhile, rather than boring and irritating (as safety rules often seem to be).

Some of my earliest memories are of going off the diving board with my Dad. I felt completely secure and excited and proud to be able to swim in the deep end, dive down to touch the drain twelve feet deep, do flips and handstands, and looked with complete scorn on kids who would run at the pool, which was a surefire way, I knew even then, to fall on wet concrete and whack your head, and thus was dangerous--unlike what I was doing, which was exploring something powerful--water--in a way that made me respect that powerful things become dangerous when they they are not treated safely.

I had similar experiences watching kids exhibit what I considered to be completely stupid behavior with fireworks--which I set off in great and terrific abundance every summer, always being careful to fulfill a whole series of safety precautions. For me, these precautions weren't about fear, they were about power, the power of fire, which I only was able to harness because I knew what it meant to be safe. Those kids running around with tiny firecrackers, set off wily-nily--I knew they felt cool, because they held them recklessly in their hands, too close and too long--but to me, they seemed powerless. They were stuck with boring fireworks completely out of their control, while I, who took the time to erect a safe platform, water bucket near by, and a safety plan desivised in (what felt like) collaboration with my folks, was allowed to use my long careful matches to send great blooming explosions high into the night sky.

I guess the point is that sometimes safety means removal--taking away a potentially dangerous thing. Certainly that's often true. But sometimes the safer route is actually exposure, and experimentation, and opportunity. Sometimes the safer route is, as the speaker cited says, playing with the fire rather than pretending there's no flame.

July 20, 2008

Well, we've been gone for oodles

And soon we'll post some pictures here of Elliot at the cabin, in the lake, in the hammock, on a boat, on his "bike," running up an down the hill, using his dump truck from Rusti sometimes as a dump truck, sometimes as a vacuum cleaner. Sometimes doing a finger-wagging dance to "The More We Get Together" and sometimes to "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Sometimes he announces "Mama's Hard Core!" though, I admit, usually only with proding. More often he announces, of his own accord, "Everybody's okay!" and he's right, everybody is, and then some.

July 10, 2008

Preservatives and Food Colorings

On the food beat, there was a significant study that came out last fall about a link between preservatives (& food colorings) and hyperactivity in kids. This was reported in the British medical journal Lancet, which also means something. As someone who at least moonlights as a professional scientist, I can tell you that there's a big difference between studies that show a clear cause and effect relationship -- which this one does -- and studies like this one on kids who go to day care. That's a study that doesn't show much of anything at all: no clear cause, only a small effect. Journalists, unfortunately, generally report all studies on the same level.

Sodium benzoate in particular was tested in the Lancet study, and found to cause clear hyperactivity effects. Eat chemical ==> get hyper. So today while Elliot was helping himself to gobs of hummus with a tiny fork, I checked the ingredient list, and sure enough, there was sodium benzoate. Not all the hummus at the supermarket has preservatives in it, but this kind did.

It's not that I stopped the boy in mid-bite, but I did make a mental note. There are lots of kinds of hummus on the shelf. Just get the one with none of the weird chemicals in it.

We got in the habit of looking at ingredient lists when Whit and Jen were around last year, and Jen was saying, "Why the hell are there so many ingredients in Cheerios?" And we were like, Dude, don't worry about it. It will be fine.

And it probably will be fine, either way. But they have a good point. There just don't have to be that many ingredients in any food product -- food is not that complicated. But the point is also not to become superstitious or frightened. I'm just going to buy different hummus from now on.

July 01, 2008

Making yogurt . . .

. . . is really easy. And fun. And cheap. (I've shared this via email Sheree, but why hide your light under a bushel?)
  1. Nearly-boil a bunch of good whole milk. Let it cool down (or put the pan in a sink with some ice water if you want to get on with it) until it's 105 degrees or so. (Using a thermometer is the only part of this that requires supervision.)
  2. Mix in maybe a half-cup of existing plain yogurt. Put the milky mixture in some various small tupperwares.
  3. Find a heating pad or electric blanket. Put it in the bottom of the oven. Turn it on the lowest setting. Put the tupperwares on a rack above this. Close the oven.
  4. Leave. Let it sit for 6 or 8 or 10 hours -- until it seems firm enough to you. Yogurt!


Any yogurt can be used as the starter (incl. Activia), as long as it's plain and unsweetened. If you need honey, jam, etc., put it in after the yogurt is made.

June 28, 2008

I had a thought

So, I keep meaning to write down some tips about how to have a "natural childbirth." I may still do that, but I haven't yet, because I feel like I will have to have so many caveats ("not that I believe in the category of the natural!" "not that I think 'natural' childbirths are necessarily better!") that I might never actually get started on the advice. I dunno.

But I was just thinking that one piece of advice I would give any expecting mother, regardless of her attitude towards "natural childbirth," is that you should STRONGLY CONSIDER having a midwife-assisted pregnancy and labor.

Get a CNM--that's a certified nurse midwife, who has all the relevant obstetric medical training, and who (in most states) will be associated by a doctor who is available to provide all surgical medical proceedures, as needed. Most midwives work in hospitals, where you will never be far from any needed medical care.

I suspect getting a midwife seems like some major lifestyle choice--certainly the idea was radical to me when I considered it myself, especially as someone who is very mainstream in my medical ideas and choices. But it's really not. CNMS are medical professionals. They just have additional training, less corporate pressure, and a different idea of what counts as sufficient prenatal care.

I'm sure that if you are pregnant you have one big goal--to have a healthy baby. Both midwives and OB-Gyns will do their best to meet that goal. Most OB-Gyns are completely committed to both healthy babies and healthy mothers, and while disasters happen, most OB-gyns will get you that healthy baby.

But I suspect that most pregnant women have a second, if somewhat less important, goal, and that goal is to have a pregnancy and childbirth that feels special. I did. I wanted, when I was pregnant, to have my world think that my pregnancy was an interesting and exciting event, a milestone worth attention. I wanted my pregnant days to feel accomplished, like Mary's, and I wanted to feel like what I was doing was an accomplishment. Because it was; I was making a person.

In this department, midwives as a group stand far above OB's as a group (I'm sure there are execptions). Midwives go into midwifery because they think that birth is not only a physical event but also a major life transition, for both the baby and the mother, and thus deserves to be treated that way.

Midwives, in general, give you longer pre-natal appointments, are more sympathetic to a wider range of questions, and will treat you like an adult and a peer. They will be on a first-name basis with you, because they are less interested in having authority over you and more interested in supporting you.

As the health-care industry becomes more concerned about money, more scheduled, and more compressed--in general, more industrial--the pressure on OBs to make obstetric care more and more time-efficient and less personally attentive will only increase.

So: midwives. Regardless of what you hope your birth will be like, I would encourage you to consider a midwife's ability to make that hope a reality. I think it will make your pregnancy and birth more fun.

June 27, 2008

An Aside about food

We care about food, & the earth. If we had some land, we would like to maybe plant a garden, as Michael Chabon Crichton Graves Pollan recommends. However, local-food-ism, as a way of (imagining we are) doing something about global warming is not something I (B) have much patience for, since "food miles" are not any kind of real proxy for carbon emissions.

By contrast, here's a concrete way to shrink the footprint: cut down on red meat by about 1/4.
As a thought experiment, the authors examine how an “all local” diet — i.e., a diet that has zero emissions between producer and eater — compares to shifts in diet in terms of greenhouse emissions. Since that is nearly impossible to achieve, they found that one could achieve equivalent reductions through the following changes:

  • Reduce red meat expenditures by 24% and spend the savings on chicken
  • Reduce red meat expenditures by 21% and spend the savings on a nondairy vegetarian diet
  • Reduce red meat and dairy expenditures by 13% and spend the savings on a nondairy vegetarian diet

On Timeouts

Timeout has nothing to do with justice, repentance, or authority. Rather, it follows a simple logic: Attention feeds a behavior, and a timeout is nothing more than a brief break from attention in any form—demands, threats, explanations, rewards, hugs ... everything.

June 24, 2008

On Motherhood

Actually, this is not about "motherhood," per se. It's about the exhaustion that motherhood+isolated nuclear family life+a 40 hr. work week often inspires.

About the conjunction of those three things, this post is RIGHT ON.

June 23, 2008

An Action that Leads to an Emotion

This is also a "happy" story.

Elliot likes to play "tennis" in 2 forms. One is Wii tennis (seriously, he does play. I should admit that he plays poorly. But remember he will not even be 2 until September).

The second tennis is batting a big bouncy ball around the living room with a green badminton racket that he calls "tehball wrackit".

He asked for tennis activity this morning while Sarah was out, and I said, I don't know where your tennis racket is (which was the truth), we'll have to find it. He really understands & gets into the game of finding at this point (if he knows that you're serious and not faking), and we began to go from room to room.

The badminton racket could literally have been anywhere. We checked my bedroom, and then the bathroom and the front room, and then down the hall to the back of the house. As we passed his bedroom, he must have spotted it in there; he disappeared around a corner. He emerged into the hall brandishing the racket and grinning, and I said, "You found it! Good job," and he crowed, "I happy."

June 21, 2008

We speak fluent Elliot

We were realizing that, tonight. At least, we are as fluent speakers of Elliot's nascent language as anyone but him: we understand his patterns and references and connections and connotations. We parse him, and we do it better than anyone. Because we are his parents. That's what parents of toddlers do.

Of course, eventually we will not speak his language so well. That is good and normal, if a little sad--but his language is moving forward, and it will go on without us. And he won't, I'm sure, always be fluent in Brandon and Sarah--our own little relational in-language. Which is also good.

Still. Tonight we put him down to sleep while we ate dinner at my brother's house, and when we carried him later to the car he woke up enough to be interested in the late night city environs around us. "Green!" he said, pointing to the street lights. "More green!" He gazed at the world, arms around his favorite stuffed sheep. "Sheepy happy," he said. "Da happy. Mama happy." I looked at him, a little afraid to ask the question in my mind, because as a speaker of Elliot I know that if you ask him a direct question, whether or not it's "Elliot, are you happy?" the answer almost always is no. So I knew it was special when, cheek to cheek with his sheep, he turned his full eyes to the window and answered the question I hadn't asked. "I happy," he said, and I knew just what he meant.

June 20, 2008

Elliot has learned to be conniving

Here are two examples.

1: Elliot often wants to play MarioKart on B's new Wii, and by "often" I mean "pretty much always, indeed, right now, right now he is wanting, wanting to play MarioKart." I'm sitting here and he's plaintively demanding: "kart? Kaaaaart???" He gazes at Brandon with beseeching eyes. Now Brandon is saying, "No, Elliot, no Kart." Elliot, pausing to consider, wants to emphasize the benevolent nature of his request. "Kaart? DA's turn! DA's turn."

2: If Freud had pondered the question "What do toddlers want?" his essay on the subject would have been very short, because all he would have said was, "When toddlers are down, they want to be up, and when they are up, they want to be down."* Elliot has a new strategy to get up when we want him to be down. I'll be walking along with him in the stroller and he'll start saying "up? up? Uuuup?" and because I am cold-hearted and in a hurry, I won't let him. So what has Elliot concocted as a way to melt my cold cold heart and convince me to get him out of his stroller, and at least part-way on the path to freedom? He stops asking "up?" and starts asking, "hug? Mama? Hug? Mama hug Elliot? Hug?"

He is clever, this one.

In other news, here is a picture of Elliot wandering around in Brandon's boxer shorts, which he pulled out of a (clean) laundry pile and decided to wear around for a bit. Note how both legs are in the same leg hole.

*There might also have to be a section of the essay on how toddlers want goldfish crackers, I don't know.

June 18, 2008

Elliot has learned how to unlock the screen door

So if you're looking for him, make sure that your first thought is that he's gone running loose out the door, onto the porch, and down our forty-six steps.

Not that he's done this (the down the steps part, anyway). But the idea of it is really keeping us on our toes.

June 17, 2008

Moving on? Moving off topic?

So do all ya'll parents of small sons out there have opinions about this new MoveOn ad about the Iraq war? It's about how thinking about her infant son growing up to go fight in Iraq makes a mother very sad and trembly and mad at John McCain. We are its target audiences, I'd guess, and I'm interested in what people think.

My response was mixed. On the one hand, I totally had a visceral "ugh, elliot in iraq" stomach churn. But on the other, I felt sort of manipulated and pissed off and--worst--unpersuaded.

One thing it is trying to convey is this, which I agree with: foreign policy has a human cost for families, and people should act and vote and think as if that's true.

Another thing I agree with is that Iraq is not a place I would be happy to send my child to fight. know, it's probably unlikely that we will never have war, or never need soldiers. And the fact that it makes us, as mothers, sad and trembly to think about that--about our sweet babies turning into big endangered and dangerous soldiers--doesn't mean that it's not true. Feeling trembly is not an argument against Iraq. Or at least, it's not a complete argument.

It's a weird thing, right? Elliot is so sweet and charming, and yet in not very long we're going to have to go register him for the draft, and UGH. I hate to think about it. But the fact is, that I HAVE to think about it. Because there are some wars that have to be fought, and that means someone will have to fight them. "I am not opposed to war," Obama once said. "I am opposed to dumb wars." This is not an ad about why Iraq is a dumb war. It could be, but it's not. And I think that's really too bad--what a missed opportunity.

I completely disagree with McCain's Iraq policy. But I don't think he fails to recognize the human cost of war (and I'm not very sympathetic to the effort to paint him as such). What I would fault him for is his policy, not his ethics, which I (being charitable) imagine to be this: protecting a nation has tremendous cost, and sadly, some of that cost is born by soldiers and their families. It's not nice, but it's true. And if we have the conviction (which, again, I don't) that we need to stay in Iraq for a long time in order to protect national security, then we have to stay there, even if it makes us sad and trembly.

I think that maternal feelings matter, and should be part of the conversation. Our feelings are part of how we "know" about the world. But they are not all we know about the world. (Don't get me started on the intersection of sentimentality and politics, but if you're interested, I'll send my dissertation your way). What's more, I would be super irritated by a sentimental ad making the reverse argument, in which a woman clutched her infant son and said, "we have to stay in Iraq to keep my baby safe" or "those bastards tried to hurt my baby so let's go get them." Feelings--they sometimes make us do dumb things.

So I disagree with that part of the ad. But I also just think it won't be effective. Because if you are someone considering voting for John McCain, you are probably--in my imagination--someone who has a healthy respect for the military, and who thinks that it's an unfortunate but proud thing to share in the burden of protecting America. So will a mom feeling trembly change your mind about that? Or will it just make you think: ah, well, here's another ad from that liberal group who doesn't think military service matters.

I just watched it again, and here, I think is my main problem: this feels like a subtle sort of swiftboating. John McCain is wrong, but that doesn't mean that he's bad, or that he doesn't care about my baby. What's good about McCain, when he's at his best, is that he is willing to make hard choices. I like that about him, even if I think many of his (particularly recent) choices are bad ones. So I think we should honor that, and then ARGUE with him about why this war is bad, why this choice is needlessly and uselessly hard, rather than tremble, and cast him as some unfeeling villain.

June 16, 2008


It's Bloomsday!

Today I feel sad for Leopold Bloom. It's sad about Rudy. "I could have helped him on in life. I could," is what Leopold Bloom says.

It's OK if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

June 11, 2008

General Activity Level: High

Just wanted to mention that we've been on a whirlwind tour of the people we love. It's been a very concentrated burst of good stuff. Now we're resting.

Mimi and Baba came.

Socks, cup, brush

We went to New York for a wedding.

Sarah and B in Manhattan

We went to Boston to see Whit and Jen and Graham.

Nana & Grandad came to see us.

Now it's June, the good weather has finally arrived, and we're going to be grilling. If we don't answer the phone, look for us in the back yard.


I second Whitney's post about the value of YouTube for a crankly toddler. Elliot has a bad cold which is really slowing him down. Here are some things that cheer him up.

June 09, 2008

Lucky Penny

Penny is lucky because a) she is lovely and b)her parents are awesome. She was born during all our recent travels and excitement and so we didn't get a chance to welcome her here, but we want the chance to say officially: CHEERS TO PENNY! Cheers to Brit and Katie! Cheers to a new daughter to be welcomed to the world with love and spirit and and good humor. May you all sleep in at least four-hour segments. We send you much love!

June 03, 2008

pretty much what we've been doing

details to follow, hopefully, but this sort of sums it up.

May 19, 2008

Can I tell you how much I love this photo?

It's the best photo ever, EXCEPT FOR THIS ONE:

The drink umbrella? Held jauntily over his head? I'm dying.

Later when he wins a Tony award for reprising Gene Kelly's role in "Singin' in the Rain" you can all say you knew him when.

May 15, 2008

Today's Words of Wisdom

"The strange thing about children is that they love anarchy, but hate change."
--Carl Smith


May 14, 2008


So we have TOTALLY SOLVED the vacuum mystery. But we're not going to TELL YOU THE ANSWER, not quite yet, because a friend said she wanted to watch the video first.

Anymore guesses?

Update: Le Answer!

So the question is: what sort of vaccuum both "bonks" and "sleeps"?

the answer is: A Roomba!

One of which is owned by elliot's friend Robbie, and which he saw in action a few days ago and has, evidently, really been wanting to tell us about. Baccuum! Bonk! shhhh!

Of course, a roomba doesn't actually sleep, but it does sometimes stop doing it's awesome bonking, and at this point one might explain, to a whinging toddler, that the lack of activity was due to "sleeping" which also required leaving the roomba alone. to sleep.

anyway, that video is not elliot, it's just something I found on youtube, but i think it captures his relationship to the roomba quite well. when elliot saw it, he shrieked, said "Baccum! Baccum!!!!" and then tried to kiss the laptop screen.

May 13, 2008

Elliot and the mysterious urgency of the vacuum

What's this about? We're still not sure.

Since Elliot is still on about this today, we continue to be interested in your attempts at translation.

May 11, 2008

Why I Pay Homage to Mothers: A Response to Garrison Keillor

Normally I love Garrison Keillor.

But I think his recent column about Mother's Day is a load of bunk.

It's well-meaning, I’m sure. And it's conclusion--that we love mothers because it's so amazing that they will always love us--is quite sweet.

But what about these claims about motherhood:

little does she know what cataclysm awaits her inside: the loss of individuality as she joins the Holy Order of Maternity.

Mothers were, at one time, young women with Possibilities…and instead found themselves cleaning up excrement and jiggling colicky babies…They hardly ever have time to read James Joyce. They sit down to dinner with adults and feel brain-dead. A bouquet of flowers hardly seems compensation enough. How about a million dollars and a house in the south of France?

The cruel injustice of motherhood is that, out of devotion to her brood, she sacrifices so much of her own life that her children grow up to find her a little boring...Mom is just the lady who runs the vacuum.

There is an important point being made here: motherhood is often overwhelming, and it does lead to a lot of boring exhausting brain-deadness, even when done under the best of circumstances. We should talk about that, and the unfortunate ways our culture intensifies this issue.

But the conclusion Keiller reaches seems to be that motherhood is an experience, begun by the violently painful experience of childbirth,* involving necessarily a series of boring, repetitive individuality-killing tasks (his examples are vacuuming, clothes-washing, and birthday-remembering),** which leads ultimately to a fundamental debtor relationship between mothers and their children: mothers give up everything, and you can never give them back to themselves, so you should buy them expensive presents and feel guilty.

I hate everything about this logic.

First: there is no inevitable relationship between birthing a baby and doing the laundry. If you feel like it’s important for a boring job like laundering to be done, then help out, Garrison .

Second: Garrison might be surprised to hear that I actually know a lot of mothers who talk about James Joyce. I myself mother and talk about narrative theory and the gendering of race in 19-c America; my mother mothers and talks about neurodevelopment and trauma in contemporary literature; my grandmother mothers and talks about early Mormon history. Other mothers I know both mother and talk about educational theory; domestic legal policy; environmental health; third-world poverty relief, and cinematography, just to name a few examples.

Many mothers actually continue to have an intellectual and professional life post-maternity, and the fact that they should be acknowledged as having that capacity was a major point of this thing you may have heard of, Garrison, which I like to call "Feminism." Who knew?

Thirdly, finally, and most importantly: MOTHERHOOD IS NOT CONTRADICTORY TO INDIVIDUALITY. For most women I know, mothering is exhausting, yes, but also invigorating, rewarding, and challenging. It is sweet. It makes us better. It makes us happier. It gives us more complex ideas about the world, and our role within it. It gives us fun projects, and it helps us be in the now.

It is stupid and ignorant to believe that the only sign of adult intelligence is to “talk about James Joyce.” It is equally, if not more, compelling and interesting to talk about mothering.

Keillor’s essay, to me, seems written by an overgrown boy who never paid enough attention to realize that not everything in his mother’s life revolved around him, and if it did, maybe they both could have made some changes to improve the situation, and should have.

Unlike Keillor, I honor the mothers in my life not because they “gave up their individuality” for their children, but because they took motherhood as a chance to grow as individuals--letting it enhance their lives without becoming the ultimate limit of their selfhood. I am grateful to my mother not because she makes me feel guilty, but because she inspires me to be a better individual, tapped into the ground of motherhood from which my sense of potential now grows.

*Really, don't get me started on his description of childbirth.

**Because laudering and remembering birthdays are similarly degrading, I guess? What?

May 06, 2008

A few Elliot video tidbits

A little quiet reading of the New Yorker, a little sweet potato, a little bit of beasties -- it's pretty much your typical day as an Elliot.

Why we blog

Dooce, the ur-mommy blogger, has some thoughts about this. As with most of her thoughts, they are both funny and smart.

May 03, 2008

Wee Hairy Beasties

Elliot is super-addicted to the Wee Hairy Beasties, a Chicago-based kid's music band. Actually, he's addicted just to the song Wee Hairy Beasties, by the Wee Hairy Beasties. Actually no: he's addicted to the chorus of the song Wee Hairy Beasties, which goes
Hairy beasties...
Hairy beasties...
Hairy beasties...

He couldn't care less about the rest of the song -- let alone the rest of the album. During the verses (like, 5 seconds after the end of the chorus) he turns to me forlornly, puts his hands together like a supplicant, and says "mooore? moooar? morr beek?" (Which means beasties.)

If you need morr beek, the song is here.

A digressive reflection on danger and disapproval

Saw Zella Rose riding in one of these today. It looked super cool, and they said it's actually very stable, despite my first subliminal impressions ("...merciful Jesus, is that a child on the handlebars? Honey, find a cop.")

To use this device (which is probably safer after all than the rear-mounted kind, since it's right in the middle of the center of gravity, rather than way out back), you'd have to be mentally prepared for some public finger-wagging, tsk-tsking. But then again -- that's what we gear up for whenever we leave the house. Mismatched socks? Toy water pistol? Pthalate-infused sippy cup? French fries? Kid-on-a-leash? Kid-not-on-a-leash? Sledding without a crash helmet? Almost anything might be an invitation, to somebody, to correct you or judge you. Sticking the baby on the handlebars doesn't fundamentally change the game.

The silver lining, though, when you feel whisk of the tsk-tsk, is that at least what people are manifesting -- almost without being able to help it -- is that they give a damn. They care. In public, they care! Look at them caring. It's a spectacle little witnessed in American society, and I think it's entirely human and good. This caring impulse is the polar opposite of littering; littering expresses the basic lack of care. Are we a village or are we not a village? Tsk-ing says we are a village; littering says we are not.

The caring/meddling/judging impulse is one that I saw at close range when I was a kid in Germany. (Where I did not see any littering.) I can testify that Germans, by and large, indulge their inner busybody freely, loudly, and without shame. Especially where children are concerned. Forget admonishing the parent -- a German is never happier, it seems, than when he's nattering at a stranger's child, delivering the full explanation about why bicycles must be walked -- not ridden -- for the next .2 kilometers until the juction of the Fußgängerzone and the Städtebauförderungsgesetz, between 5 and 10 PM on Saturdays during the summer, as clearly marked on the green tiles mounted above the haberdashery. (At least, I think that's what he said.)

Postscript: some people in my neighborhood litter. Some of these same people drag along, and bawl out, young children in a way that just isn't appropriate given the youngness of the children. I'll admit that I judge the hell out of these people; but I can never bring myself to natter at them. Where's a dour German burgher when you need him?