Monday, October 31, 2011

Ninjas and Pandas and Sugar, Oh My!

It’s Halloween, and you know what that means around our house?

It means we end up with more than the usual allotment of sugar, that’s what, because in addition to the annual shakedown of the neighbors it is also Lauren’s birthday.

Lauren loves her birthday. She loves it with the heat of a thousand flaming suns. Where I could go years without remembering my own birthday – and have, on more than one occasion – Lauren looks forward to every birthday pretty much from the moment she wakes up after the last one.

And now she is 9, her last single-digit year.

It’s been a frantically busy semester here in Baja Canada, with Kim trapped at Home Campus until all hours and me alternating between being glued to my chair typing lectures for classes and driving the 180-mile round trip to teach some of those classes twice a week. So a lot of festivities are subdued this year.

The girls did get a couple of pumpkins, though, which they spent the weekend carving. We can now let them carve them on their own these days, and they did a marvelous job. Tabitha’s is a cat, of course, and Lauren’s is a rabbit, in honor of our two newest pets. They are now guarding the front steps of the house.

Tonight the girls have decided to go to the neighborhood of one of Lauren’s friends for trick-or-treating, since so much of the point of this holiday is to spend it with friends and they really don’t have any in the neighborhood now that the girls across the street have either grown up or moved away. Kim is with them, leaving me at home to hand out the candy in between typing up my lecture on the Roman Empire and its successor states (because as an American historian, I’m fully versed on that topic – it is often said that American politics is Byzantine; now I’ll find out for sure).

This year we don’t have any cat costumes, for the first time in years. We have a ninja and a panda, and if we could combine them we’d get Jack Black.

Lauren will celebrate her birthday this coming weekend, once the sugar rush wears off. We’re not really sure what’s going to happen with it, but no doubt it will be fun.

It amazes me that she is that old. It amazes me that I must be that much older. It is astonishing how she has grown into a person of her own now, with strong ideas of how the world should run, a unique sense of style, and a zest for everyday life that is a model for us all.

Happy birthday, Lauren. I’m proud of you.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fright Train

Well, it’s been 24 hours and I no longer smell like Pittsburgh, circa 1894.

We’re coming up on Halloween now, if I’ve got this whole “calendar” thing figured out properly. Of course this bothers some folks, people who think that getting dressed up in costumes and hitting up the neighbors for candy is some kind of Satanic plot and who think that calling it “Jesusween” is somehow not going to cause everyone with more than five functioning brain cells to laugh like hyenas at a George Carlin show, but I’m pretty much fine with people like that being bothered.

I miss George Carlin.

Over at the same park where they have the Thresheree they were advertising a Haunted Train Ride, and since you cannot spend the whole weekend working on class prep (well, maybe you can, but I can’t) I put my stuff aside and joined Kim and the girls on an expedition that way.

We even picked up their friend Grace and made a field trip of it.

Eventually we found the entrance to the park – a whole different kettle of fish in the dark than during the day, particularly since the organizers of this thing don’t hold much truck with new-fangled things like signage. Why back in the day you had to find your way in by scent alone! And if you weren’t quick about it a squad of burly men in overalls would tie you to the nearest tree, coat you in Vapo-Rub, spin you clockwise three times and toss you in the creek before you tried again. Those were the times when men were men, goldurnit.

Where was I?

Oh yeah – eventually we found the park and got in line for the train. It was a long line, there being a lot of people there (none of whom, fortunately, smelled like Vapo-Rub, times having gotten soft like they have), and we waited.

They tried to keep us entertained while we waited, with all sorts of costumed ghoulies wandering up and down making people shriek, as well as a craft area up the hill for those who didn’t feel like shrieking. The line moved slowly but surely, and after a while we found ourselves boarding the train.

This is the same train they use for the Thresheree – a 3/4-scale fully functional coal-fired steam engine pulling one closed car and one open one. There was some talk among the girls about trying for the open car, but in the end we weren’t given any options and were just herded into the closed one.

And a good thing, too.

For one thing, the entire fifteen minute ride consisted of various costumed characters running up to the car and shouting at us or pounding on the sides of the car, even as we rolled by a fair number of ghastly scenes that had clearly been set up by people with some serious issues. It’s nice to see those people finding gainful employment that doesn’t involve politics, I suppose, but they were rather startling at times.

My favorite was the old van done up to look like the Mystery Machine, with what was clearly the pelt of Scooby Doo hung from the door frame.

The other thing that made me glad to be on the inside was the train itself. Recall the description above, notably the phrase “coal-fired.” There we were, riding through the darkness past all sort of eeriness, and probably half of it was invisible because of the thick black coal smoke that came belching out of the locomotive and in through the windows of the rail car. Sometimes I was hard pressed to see Tabitha, sitting next to me, let alone whatever new horror the organizers had set up outside.

Eventually the ride came to an end and we poured ourselves out of the train and back into our car for the ride home, shaking off the coal dust all the while.

The Vapo-Rub starts to sound good after that.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Advice for Expecting Parents, Part 3 of 3

From what I gathered, being an observer to the process, pregnancy goes through several distinct stages. The first trimester is a very tired stage. There is a lot of new construction going on, and this requires most of the energy that exists, so there is very little left over for anything or anyone else. The second is the Manic stage, where you've got all sorts of energy. Enjoy it. In the third trimester you grow weary again. Your limbs become more limber than strictly necessary. You are always warm (having 50% more blood and an internal furnace will do that). It can get very annoying. But remember – pregnancy is a self-limiting condition, and it will in fact come to an end.

Go to the prenatal classes. They're fun, in their way. Part 12-step program (“Hello, my name is Rebecca, and I’m an expectant mother. It’s been 3 years since my last child.” “Welcome, Rebecca!”) and part training regimen, some of what they say will be useful, especially the breathing bits. You also get a sense that there are many people all going through pretty much what you are and many of them are even less prepared for it, which is always a welcome lesson. There will be at least one Martha Stewart wannabe, and you can rest assured that either she or her kid will end up sniping from a clock tower someday. Enjoy them!

Be sure to get a tour of the hospital while you’re there. Also, if your hospital allows pre-registration so you can fill out all the paperwork ahead of time and just give your name (including your last name in any and all of its permutations) at the front door when the big event hits, that is good.

On the day everything happens, before you go in to the hospital, remember that you probably have more time than you think you do, so:

Eat something. You may be there quite a while, and once you’re hooked up to all the monitors it is a bear to get something to eat.

Shower, following the same reasoning as eating, above.

Don't go in until there are contractions. If you go in too early they will just send you home. Otherwise they get herds of pregnant women cluttering up the halls, not delivering babies. Call them to make sure if you think you need to go in - if you have an Ask-A-Nurse line, that is a good place to start - but they will probably tell you to stay home until the contractions start.

Having your water break is likely a good sign that you should be headed in, at least to see what’s up, though it can’t hurt to call.

Many well-intentioned people will offer to help you when you bring the baby home. On the one hand, such help can be invaluable, especially if you and they all get along. Such people will cook, clean and generally maintain the household while you both grow accustomed to the new normal. Friends will stop by with food also. All of this is wonderful. So long as everyone understands that the new mother is NOT NOT NOT NOT to play host IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, MANNER OR FORM up to and including greeting guests or putting on clothing clean or otherwise, and further that any such guests will fit their activities around her world and make NO NONE ZIP ZILCH IXNAY NADA demands upon her - well, then, that will work out just fine.

On the other hand, even if everyone agrees to this stipulation (and miribale dictu follows through on those agreements), it can be draining at a time when you will be drained enough.

You make the call.

When you bring the baby home, you will begin to discover what tired really means. Imagine how you felt studying for your worst-ever final exams period. Now throw in your worst workweek ever, and multiply the result by, oh, a very big number, and you will know how tired you will be on your good days. Newborns do not sleep. Or, rather they do - up to sixteen hours a day - but in two-hour increments all around the clock. Sleep when the baby sleeps, whenever that may be, and you will survive. Even if you do this, though, you will lose track of days. You will bump into walls. You will be - and here I repeat myself, as you will find yourself doing a lot in those first few weeks - very, very tired. This is perfectly normal.

It does have some consequences, though.

At this point, you probably have a lot of cares on your mind. Details that need to be addressed, things you have to do, that sort of thing. These will flee your mind when the baby arrives, or at least they ought to. You won't care about showers, you won't care about what the house or the baby's room looks like, you won't even care if you are dressed or not. Bottom line: you simply won't care about much of what strikes you as important now.

What you will care about is:

1. Is the baby eating?
2. Is the baby sleeping?
3. Can I sleep too?
4. Can I eat?

And you will care about them in that order. Babies exist to remind us that our other plans probably weren't that important.

Don't both of you stay up for the late night feedings so you can enjoy the magic of it. Take turns if you are bottle-feeding. If Mom is nursing, let Dad sleep - PROVIDED he takes over every other function of the house (laundry, dishes, everything). At minimum, the partner of a nursing mother of a newborn should prepare meals, take care of whatever older children are about, and make sure the house doesn’t burn down. Anything after that may or may not have to get done at all.

The magic lines are 3 months and 11 pounds. At three months (past due date, not birth date, so if Junior is really early you will have to add) your baby is cognitively advanced enough not to need you every second, just most of them. This is liberating. And at 11 pounds, her stomach is large enough to hold enough food to sleep through the night, defined as five consecutive hours of sleep. This may not seem like much sleep now, but you will think you are at a spa.

Any restaurant that delivers is your best friend during those first few weeks, especially if it produces leftovers. Indulge in this liberally. But beware of leftovers - monitor their dates carefully. New parents are very fuzzy thinkers and will sometimes eat very fuzzy things, much to their detriment. Trust the voice of experience - this hurts.

Babies cry. Babies cry A LOT. You probably know this, intellectually. You may even have had some experience with this, babysitting or taking care of friends' kids. But you don't know this in the marrow of your bones the way you will when it is 5am, your loving partner fell over an hour ago and it is just you and the tornado siren until dawn. You will despair. You will know the extremity of frustration. You will cry along with your baby. This is Perfectly Normal.

It has been scientifically proven that a newborn's cry is the single most irritating sound to the human ear (really - I have no idea how they did it, but there actually was a study on this). This is so because it is the only sound they can make - they can't ask for things, they can't point, all they can do is wail and hope you catch on (and believe, me, catching on is something that takes practice - you will find yourself running through all the options, one by one, until something works, and if nothing works you just run through them again or wait until the kid falls asleep). Also, babies, especially newborns, are AWESOMELY needy things - they can do nothing for themselves, not even fart. They need to make sure you respond to them, otherwise they die. A newborn with a soothing cry is a newborn that gets ignored and starves. Darwin at his finest.

Remember - it is PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE to spoil a newborn. Do not listen to harpies telling you to let them cry or they'll become brats. Until the kid is at least six months old and probably older, she won't cry unless there is some reason somewhere - it may not be obvious or even detectable, but it is there. She needs something - give it to her, or at least give her reassurance that you're looking for it. Pick her up, try your best to sooth her, and DO NOT IGNORE HER. There are still parenting manuals that tell you otherwise. If you find one, burn it. Newborns cry because they need to - not because they want to.

This means that your little one DOES NOT HATE YOU, no matter how much you may think so. She is not trying to make you crazy (that comes when she's a teenager). You will go loopy anyway, especially when she doesn't stop (we never went through colic, but I hear that's even worse). Remember that it isn't her fault - she's programmed that way, and so are you. She is just trying to get your attention.

The most important lesson to take away from that is do not take out your frustrations on her. You say now that of course you won't – OF COURSE! – but it's not 5am now, is it? Believe me, you will be tempted. You will understand how children get abused, though you will sympathize with it even less than you do now. I heartily support cruel and unusual punishment for child abusers, the Constitution be damned, but there were definitely times when the darker corners of my soul started making unwanted suggestions.

You will resist those suggestions, because you are not evil. You are the Parent, the grown-up, the adult in the room, and more than anything else in this world that is what your child needs – someone who will love them and protect them and take care of them even when they are not being lovable. Parenting is not for wimps. It will not be easy, but you will be okay.

Remember a couple of things.

First, it is okay to put the child down and let him cry for a few minutes. It won't hurt him, and sometimes you just need to take a break. Five minutes is about as long as such breaks can possibly last, even in theory - in practice it will be more like two, and even that is pushing it sometimes - but sometimes that's all you need to unscramble your marbles. Take a walk around the house. Go into your room and shut the door. Turn on a random TV show and crank the volume. AND THEN GO BACK. Again: parenting is not for wimps - get back to the front, soldier, and take what comes. You may be pleasantly surprised. Either she'll still be crying, in which case the cycle repeats and you may actually figure out what the problem is this time and solve it (hey, it happens now and again), or - and this does happen as well - she'll have worn down and conked out. Repeat as necessary.

And second, don't be afraid to take out frustrations and anger on inanimate objects. The pillows don’t complain. Nor do the walls. You might, depending on what you aim for, but that’s okay – you’re an adult and you can handle it.

Oddly enough, given all this, you will get used to it. As with everything else, the first three months are the worst, and after that you find yourself building up a tolerance. Eventually you will be able to sit in a room full of crying babies and not even notice - you will reflexively check to see that your own child is okay and that the other screaming munchkins have someone looking out for them, but you will calmly eat your meal and carry on your conversation anyway. Crying babies in public spaces or at events/ceremonies/etc. will just leave you with a wry and knowing smile. You will feel mostly sympathy for your crying baby, and even other people's crying babies. Your first reaction will go from "Oh no!" to "Aww, poor little thing..." You will even feel this way on airplanes, believe it or not. This is a survival skill, and a welcome one. Remember that it will happen to you eventually, no matter how unlikely this may seem at first.

Do not hesitate to reach out to friends and family for help. This is why they exist in the first place – to help you get through things that may seem too big at the time. There will be moments when that’s what this will seem like – babies are not all sunshine and roses. As you can tell from the length of this tome, parents generally love being useful this way. And I can tell you from experience how important it is to be able to talk to someone who can say, “Yeah, I remember that stage. You’ll be fine. This is how it goes…” Soon it will be you giving those reassurances, and you will understand it from the other side. We’re all in this together, and you might as well make good use of that fact.

Get used to your floors. Babies spend most of their time on the floor, and if you want to be part of their world you will too. Play with them on the floor. Talk to them on the floor. Spend time on the floor - don't you hate it when people look down at you? Get down on their level.

A side benefit of this is that if you get on the floor and crawl from room to room, you will get a much more thorough picture of the hazards you will have to correct when the kid starts to move on her own. Also, assume your carpeting is disposable and get it replaced when the kid is in junior high.

Science fiction is probably the best preparation for parenthood, because it teaches you to accept as reality whatever is presented to you as such. There will be more than a few times when you will need to fall back on this training.

Write things down. When you are in the middle of it, it seems like it will never end - things have always been this way, they will always continue to be this way. And yet by the time you turn around, that squalling little lump will be walking and talking, making his own plans and doing his own things, and you will have no idea where the time went, nor will you remember any of it on your own. Not the day-in, day-out stuff anyway. Every day, even if it is just a word or two on a calendar square, write something down.

Likewise, take lots of pictures. Digital storage is cheap, moments are priceless, take pictures accordingly. Make sure you get a camera that records the date! It's not like your former childless life, where all of your pictures are of holidays and you can pretty much tell that if people are wearing sweaters it must be Thanksgiving or Christmas. You will find yourself taking all sorts of pictures just because, and those are hard to date.

Above all, stop now and then and try to take in the magic of it all. This is an amazing process, for all its nuisances and inconveniences. It will change your life in ways you cannot even imagine now.

Some of these ways will be rather quixotic. Your time will not be your own, ever – babies are such awesomely needy things. You will have to PLAN for activities you used to just DO - grocery shopping, for example, becomes a well-thought-out strategic strike, complete with intense amounts of baby baggage. MacArthur went into the Philippines with less forethought and baggage than the average new parent needs to go to the mall. You can forget traveling or eating out for a while, at least for a few months (if you're brave – probably longer if you’re like most of us).

On the other hand, what you get back is far more important. You will see things differently. Your priorities will shift. You will never sneer at drippy Hallmark Mother's Day cards again, because you will understand what the corporate flacks who wrote them were trying to get at. It's hard to explain, and no matter how I try it won't make sense until you're there. You just have to experience it. And you are experiencing it - stop every so often, just stop, and try to take it all in. If you do it right - and I've managed to succeed maybe once a month during good stretches - it will be the most awe-inspiring feeling you'll ever have.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Advice for Expecting Parents, Part 2 of 3

In which we discuss the parental ramifications of George Carlin's observation, "That's all a house is: a place to keep your stuff."


The Baby Industry will try to convince you that you need a buttload of Stuff, all of it coordinated and all of it ready to go at least a month in advance. This is a crock of yuppie guilt.

Babies do not require a whole lot of stuff. They GET a whole lot of stuff, because a) babies are fun to buy stuff for (you will be amazed at what strikes your fancy after you become a parent) and b) once other kids are grown a bit, their parents are desperate to unload stuff and the Baby Stuff Jet Stream will park over your house and items will rain down on your head. This is a good thing, and the only way you can survive without going broke.

Also, you will become a connoisseur of garage sales - you will be amazed at the high-quality, lightly used (or even unused) stuff you will end up with when your baby is grown a bit and you have your own garage sale, and other people's garage sales are just the same. We bought a staggering percentage of our children's clothes at garage sales, and we found more than a few really cool (and otherwise very expensive) toys as well.

Do not worry about getting ready six weeks in advance. First of all, babies don't need that much stuff all at once. Second, you will never really be ready. You have no idea what is about to hit you. Trust me – you don’t. Many kindhearted and thorough people tried to tell us - intelligent and educated souls that we are - what to expect, and it was just so much scorched rubber on my scalp. Whooosh! What hit me!? You won't know what you need until you need it, and thank God for all-night supermarkets, overnight delivery and mega-stores. Emergency runs for supplies are Perfectly Normal, so relax.

In terms of stuff, though:

No matter what people tell you, there is a VERY short list of things which babies absolutely require. This list includes 1) diapers and cleaning supplies, 2) receiving blankets (especially for a cold-weather baby - you cannot have too many receiving blankets), 3) onezies (do not buy or use infant clothing that does not snap at the bottom, no matter how adorable it is), 4) a small can of formula in case the nursing doesn't work out, 5) a carseat, and 6) a place to sleep. This last can be as simple as your own bed, which works fine (though Dad may end up sleeping elsewhere for a couple of weeks if that happens).

EVERYTHING ELSE IS OPTIONAL, and all of this except the carseat can be purchased at your local megastore for around $50 to $100 total. More if you buy a cradle.

The carseat will probably be expensive, but this is one thing you definitely do not want to cheap out on - kids spend a LOT of time in the car these days, unless you live in a major metropolitan area with decent public transportation, so splurge on this one. Check out Consumer Reports, too.

The hospital will probably give you the small can of formula when you leave – formula companies pay good money to get their product into your hands, and you might as well take advantage of the system.

Remember, you will end up with much more stuff than this when all is said and done (oh, my, will you ever). You will want it, and your baby will be happy to see it, but this does not equal "necessary"

On the list of "Really Useful (if not strictly necessary) Things To Have, you can place the following:

Cotton balls - soak them in warm water and use them instead of baby wipes when dealing with newborns; they're easier on gentle skin and provoke fewer rashes. Make sure they're 100% cotton, though - the polyester ones leave strands behind. This works for the first few weeks, maybe a bit longer, until they get a little bigger. Then get wipes.

Door mice - those little foam rubber things you put on your doors to keep them from slamming and waking up napping babies - priceless.

Pillows - pregnant women use an ungodly number of pillows. You don’t have enough pillows. No, you don’t. Really, no. Stock up now.

Rocking chairs - preferably one in the baby's room and another somewhere where you will be taking care of her (best if it's in front of a TV, as you will be amazed at how often you will be rocking a sleeping child in your arms and can't move or read). I like glider rockers, since they don't wander off when you rock, but that's just me. Glider rockers also have the advantage of coming with solid sides, so they don't catch toddler fingers when you rock.

A small CD player in the baby's room for to play lullabies upon, and a lullaby CD. Any quiet, soothing CD will do – it’s not like they’re hipster music experts. They just want something nice to fall asleep to. So do you.

Finger food for the first few weeks - you won't have time to cook or even reheat, so have a big vat of something you can leave on the dining room table and snatch as you go by. Cookies are fine. Remember – empty calories are better than no calories, particularly for people who are red-lining their energy reserves, as new parents tend to do. This is not the time to be health-conscious or go on any diets. You need calories. You will lose weight anyway, and this is especially true of nursing mothers.

Binkies. This is another issue that many people confuse with a Moral Dilemma. We got many earnest dissertations on the evils of pacifiers, and ignored every last one of them. Binkies are incredibly useful - they work exactly as advertised, pacifying babies and allowing the rest of the world to soldier on. Good things. The silicon ones are tougher when Junior gets teeth, and if you’re worried about allergies they’re probably better than latex, but otherwise don't worry too much. The one really useful thing we discovered is that there are a number of brands that come with binky clips now - plastic clips that attach to Junior's onezie, with a ribbon that goes up to the binkie. Eliminate searching for lost binkies! Coolness. Avoid anything with an alligator clip at the end.

A nursing pillow, if you will be nursing. It props up Junior and saves your arms.

A big clock with glowing hands (or a clearly visible LED digital one) for the baby's room, so you know just how long you've been rocking the kid to sleep.

A good fragrance-free detergent. Anything marketed as a “baby detergent” is going to be heavily scented. There are those this does not bother, and you may be one of them, but we found that very hard on baby skin (not to mention ours).

Nylon netting for any stair rails or hallway rails the kid could crawl through (available at most hardware stores premade for just this purpose). Cabinet locks and other child-proofing devices. By the time you need these (at the earliest when Junior is 7 months old or so) you will have a good feel for what you need.

Tiny little hats - newborns lose heat through their heads and can't control their own body temps, so always have a hat on them for the first few weeks.

A cheap full-length mirror that you can tack to the wall at floor level in a room where the baby will be spending a lot of waking time (we put ours in the living room). Babies love to see themselves, and many never outgrow this. You can play Zoom-In Baby! Zoom-Out Baby! When they can sit on their own you can prop them up in front of it and buy precious minutes of down time. When they can walk, they will often go over to admire themselves.

Trashcans with lids. At first this will be because used diapers will find their way into every trash receptacle you own and eventually your air quality will suffer. Later it will be to prevent junior explorers from doing unsupervised archeological work on your middens.

A good-quality handheld vacuum, preferably cordless. You will be stunned at where all sorts of things end up.

Desitin - it's the scent of new parenthood.

A nice pair of soft slipper-type footwear. Until Junior is walking around outside, there is no need for shoes with hard soles - and until she's walking, there's no need for shoes at all. Socks and slippers will keep little feet warm, otherwise don't bother.

A four-door car, if you don't have one already. Schlepping a carseat with an infant into the backseat of a two-door is a sure recipe for back problems, particularly for older parents. I spent a great deal of time thinking, “So that’s why we’re biologically programmed to have kids when we’re TEENAGERS, dammit, and not in our 30s.”

A good stroller. Umbrella strollers are cheap and work fine for older babies, especially when you're traveling and need something portable, but they're not good for newborns. The kid has to be able to hold her head up while jostling over bumpy sidewalks, and that takes a few months. Get a nice big one that folds up. If you can, get one that has an infant carseat system so you can snap it out of the base in the car and directly into the stroller.

A good carseat. Again, do not go cheap on this one - your baby will be spending an awful lot of time there. And try to sync it with the stroller if you can - we had one that just lifted out of the car and snapped into the stroller, which was wonderful. Babies can sleep fine in these infant buckets, so if she falls asleep while you are driving, just carry her, seat and all, into the house and park her somewhere quiet for naptime. DO NOT attempt to take a sleeping child out of a carseat and put her into a bed, as you will just wake her up and make everyone miserable. Get one with two bases if you have two cars, so you don't have to transfer the base from car to car.

For favorite items, it is a good idea to have a backup. If there are one or two special toys or blankies, make sure to have an identical spare for when the first is in the wash or lost. Be sure to rotate them, though! If you just keep one in reserve, eventually it will still look shiny and new while the favorite gets worn and comfortable - and then the point is lost. At first you may feel guilty about such trickery, but this will pass. Age and treachery will beat youth and skill every time.

The key to parenting, as with any power relationship, is to control the options. In any system, from government to child rearing, power lies with the person who sets the options, not the person who makes the choices. If I can give you a choice of A, B or C, all of which are acceptable to me, what do I care what you choose?

While this is true for all phases of parenthood, it is especially true when it comes to Stuff. This means only stocking children's movies that you don't mind seeing repeatedly, only stocking food that you don't mind her eating, and so forth. If all the food is healthy, she can eat the same thing every day for months if she wants. If none of your movies rot your brain and curdle your innards, let her choose.

Let them win the battles so long as the war is safely in hand. They will be happier, and so will you. They won't figure out this lesson until much, much later – frankly, most people never figure it out at all – so banzai!

To be honest, I'm a lot better at this sort of thing in theory than I am in practice. Life intervenes, particularly when the kid gets older and starts to make her own decisions. I tried though, since when I did succeed, it made life just so much easier.

The best course of action on food is only to stock food that is appropriate. You won't do this absolutely - nobody does this absolutely, not even diet gurus or baby-mavens - but you can avoid a lot of grief if you keep the crap to a minimum.

Our pediatrician told us not to worry about balanced meals but to focus on balanced weeks. Some days are veggie days. Some are meat days. If you don't have any on hand, there won't be any potato chip days. If it balances over the course of a week, you're fine.

There are an awful lot of children's movies out there, and most of them are miserably bad. Cloying, poorly animated, plotless things with music you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy's wedding reception, they will kill you if you buy them because children like to see things repeatedly. Unless you intend to watch Hello Kitty a hundred times, don't buy it. We learned that one the hard way.

Though if you’re interested in how cross-cultural communication can go disastrously awry even with the best of intentions, get the Hello Kitty Christmas movie – it’s fascinating the first time, as train-wreck television often is, but unless you quickly “lose” it into the nearest landfill it will make you want to run to the nearest federal office and beg to be shipped to Guantanamo.

Avoid anything that prominently advertises itself as “heartwarming.” It will only give you gas.

Bottom line, when it comes to movies only get what you want to watch. This is not has hard as you may think. We live in the second golden age of animation and there are a lot of good movies for kids out there. Some examples:

For very little ones, the Baby Einstein company puts out an entire line of wonderful videos. Buy them. For the very littlest ones - anytime after about 5 or 6 months - Baby Mozart is cool. It has good music and pleasant little shots of toys in motion. You can watch it for hours without suffering brain damage (it’s actually kind of catchy), and your child will love it. The movies have gotten more slick with recent entries, since Disney bought them out, but they're still worth it.

Pretty much anything Disney puts out is worth buying, actually. This is what they do - they're good at it. Some of the older ones have not worn well (Peter Pan comes to mind), but you can't go too far wrong with Disney.

This is especially true with their Pixar branch. The Toy Story movies, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Up, Wall-E and so on are great - and, as with the best children's stuff, there is lots for the adults. Monsters Inc. is perhaps the best children's movie ever made, though the bottom limit for viewers is 3 years old.

There are a lot of other good animated films competing with Pixar. The secret is that the good ones throw in plenty of stuff for the adults who will be watching too. The Shrek movies are good for kids. Ice Age is fun. One of my favorites, actually, is a shamefully little-known movie called Hoodwinked. You can also get all of the first three seasons of Rocky and Bullwinkle, as well as the entire run of the Pink Panther cartoons, on DVD. The Pink Panther is especially nice when the kids are older and you have one of those DVD players for the car – there’s no dialogue to distract the driver, just Henry Mancini’s glorious jazz score.

Elmo rules. Especially for kids between 18 months and 3 years old. You would be surprised at how painless Elmo can be for adults

And so on. The key thing about videos is that it is okay to park your child in front of them now and then in order to get other things done, such as cooking dinner. This is not, as one (childless) social worker told a friend of mine, a form of child abuse. This is how things work. Don't use them as a substitute for parenting unless you want your child to send Mother's Day cards to Disney from prison, but as an occasional holding device, they're invaluable.

The same goes for music.

Getting children into music early is a great thing, but there is a lot of awful stuff out there. Avoid anything sung by kids, since these are made by grownups who have no sense of humor.

The ones we really liked were "Philadelphia Chickens," by Sandra Boynton (and its sequel, "Dog Train"), "Bright Spaces," a compilation, "Holiday Songs and Lullabies," by Shawn Colvin, "Night Songs" by Dan Zanes, "You Are My Sunshine" by Elizabeth Mitchell, and a few others. Anything by Dan Zanes is good, actually. There are also a lot of kids CD’s out now by “real” artists – it’s one of those trends, so you might as well take advantage of it. They Might Be Giants has one, for example. Bottom line, though, stick with the tunes you like and your sanity will benefit.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Advice for Expecting Parents, Part 1 of 3

It seems that I’m in the middle of another one of those waves where my friends all get together and decide to procreate. And good for that, I say. Otherwise that whole “survival of the species” thing gets a little tense.

Several years ago, during the last of these waves, one of my friends asked me if I could distill my hard-won parental wisdom and write down some advice for them.


If there’s anything parents enjoy more than telling other parents how to raise their children, particularly if it involves talking about their experiences raising their own children, I haven’t found it. And the result was … thorough. My friend was gracious about it, though, and I hope that at least some of it turned out to be handy when the time came.

What follows is that advice, tinkered with and edited a bit. Maybe it will be handy for you too.

Or at least entertaining.


Congratulations! You’re having a baby!

You’re about to embark on a life-changing journey of magical proportions, one that will enlarge your heart and expand your consciousness to become one with the human experience and … gag … wheeze … damn, nearly made it through that with a straight face.

Let’s try that again.

Guess what? With tools you had hanging around the house you’ve somehow managed to create a total stranger inside your body. And the fascinating part is that after this stranger solves what would appear at first glance to be an intractable “Tab-A vs. Slot-B” mismatch and squeezes their way out into the world they will live in your house and mooch off your finances for the next couple of decades, during which you will get no sleep and buy no new furniture. Also, there will be stickers. Lots of stickers, on every conceivable surface, occasionally mounded to a depth of half an inch or more.

And brightly colored plastic objects.

For you, this will divide time into Before and After. Your entire life – your home life, your social life, your work life, and your private life, even if you don’t think you have any of these lives – will change. Naturally you’re a bit weirded out by the whole thing. Of course you are. Who wouldn’t be?

Shows you’ve got some sense.

And because right now you’re looking for any floating object to keep you from drowning in a sea of worry, I have prepared a Whole Lot Of Advice, just for you.

Don’t say I never gave you anything.

The first thing you have to realize is that everybody and their nitwit twin brother has advice for you when you are expecting a baby, and it doesn't stop when the kid is born, believe me. Remember that advice is free and worth every penny. DO NOT BE RAILROADED INTO ANYTHING. DO NOT BE GUILTED INTO ANYTHING. Advice is everywhere, but you are the one on the spot.

That goes for all of the things your friends will tell you, including everything that follows from this point on. That goes for all of the things you will read in books. You will find that most of them are written by people with ideological axes to grind, which will be glaringly obvious when you start to feel guilty halfway through the first paragraph. That goes for what your family tells you, and what you hear on TV. It even goes for some of what your doctor will tell you - if you think something is wrong and the OB/GYN or pediatrician is dismissive, this does not necessarily mean you were mistaken.

You should examine the advice, certainly - most of it is well meant, and some of it will be incredibly useful. But do not feel obligated to follow it.

Though when doctors tell you to take positive action, it's generally a good bet to do so.

This is a compilation of things that worked for me with my children. But you know, they were different kids. Things that worked with one did not necessarily work with the other. And neither of them is your child. Nor am I you. If you find that you have strong feelings about something, or if what someone tells you strikes you as absurd, well, then, go with your gut. Remember, babies have been born long before advice became an industry. Most of them turned out fine.

Trust yourself. You will not understand why anyone would say this to you, particularly not during the first 72 hours after you bring your child home, but trust yourself anyway.

The one exception to this rule is vaccination. VACCINATE YOUR CHILD! And again: VACCINATE YOUR CHILD! I firmly believe that people who willfully put their child at risk by deliberately ignoring the greatest medical breakthrough of the last millennium should be arrested, charged with child abuse, and infected with every disease their child would have been immunized against, one by one, beginning with polio. Survivors will be inducted into the army and sent to remote outposts. This may seem draconian, but I'm okay with that description.

A couple of years ago I had the misfortune to listen to one half-wit of a mother defend her decision to put her children at risk by saying 1) the vaccines have risks too, and 2) these diseases don't happen in her neighborhood.

Yes, vaccines have risks. Everything has risks. And the risks from vaccines are documentably lower than the risks from not having vaccines. Science: it works. Also, the reason those diseases didn’t happen in her neighborhood is that HER NEIGHBORS VACCINATED THEIR KIDS.

It is people like me who provide her children with what little margin of safety they have, and it is people like her who will destroy that margin for my grandchildren. On a very personal level, I resent that.

There are a great many decisions involved in child-rearing which are Not Moral Decisions. Cloth diapers vs. disposable ones. (Tried both.) Breast feeding vs. bottle feeding. (Tried both.) And so on. Do what seems best and do not be railroaded by people with agendas.

That said, if you can breast feed, do it. It's cheaper, it's better for the baby, it's always ready and always the right temperature, and it travels better. Plus, you can't beat the packaging. Not all babies are up for it, though. We ended up with one of each, with no harm done. Ah well. Your mileage will vary.

The down sides to breast feeding are a) the baby is Mom’s, not Dad’s - Mom gets to stay up all night feeding her and there is a certain amount of bonding that takes place there that will leave Dad out in the cold for quite some time, and b) when Mom goes back to work, there will be pumping.


If you plan to keep nursing for long after you go back, buy your own pump. Breast pumps are definitely items where you get what you pay for, so don't get a cheap one. You do not want to be economizing with any machine whose stated purpose is to grab onto your nipples and pull. You’d only spend the difference on salves and ointments anyway.

Diaper-changing - a primer. Skip this if you’ve already had experience in this matter with siblings, nephews/nieces, and/or kids you babysat for.

The first time you change your baby's diaper, it will take upwards of five minutes and you will feel exhausted from the effort. This lasts about a week, maybe less. By three months, you can (and, in fact, will) do this in your sleep. You will do it in her sleep. Eventually you will get to the point where none of the parties involved will have any conscious memory of the process. This is called Progress.

A few hints for the road:

If you have a boy, be sure to have an extra cloth diaper on hand to lay on the appropriate appendage. As my mother said, the worst thing that can happen with a girl is that the changing table gets wet - with boys you get a face full.

Wet diapers are easy, especially if they are disposable. Peel and toss. Wipe her down and rediaper. No problem.

Poopy diapers (yes, you will talk that way too - just you wait) are another matter. Some things I have learned, generally the hard way:

Remove the baby's socks, shoes and pants completely, at least until you've really got the hang of this sort of thing. Babies are squiggly things, and you only have to have them plant their foot in it once to realize that feet can just be wiped but socks need to be laundered.

Hold her ankles in one hand and wipe with the other.

Wipe the butt cheeks first. That way you can put her down without contaminating the entire surface.

If there is a blowout, there is nothing to do but get dirty. Get her cleaned up and out of the way, then attack the mess. Take the clothes to the nearest toilet and rinse - this is why God gave you hands and Proctor & Gamble gave you anti-bacterial soap. This will not faze you after the first time.

Despite this, you will continue to eat finger-foods because you are a Parent and Parenting Is Not For Wimps (see below).

Have some sort of system for sharing this load, no pun intended. It should be something that requires no long term planning – flipping coins is great for this. You will find that it will be impossible to remember things like “turns” so you’re better off with random chance. In the long run it will even out, and in the short run it avoids arguments over whose turn it is.

Have a replacement diaper ready and waiting before you start. For some babies, removing the diaper is a signal to commence peeing. The waterproof little pad you have won't catch it all unless you're fast with the new diaper. If you miss, it isn't a tragedy but it is a laundry nuisance.

Have a changing area on each floor, at least in the beginning. When they're really tiny and you're really tired, schlepping all the way to the baby's room is a drag. The floor will do if you keep it warm enough and put the proper pads down. Remember the Old Drunk’s Rule - you cannot fall off the floor.

Being a new parent and being a drunk have a lot in common, actually: incoherence, the inability to dress or eat properly, the constant coating of random bodily fluids, the odd combination of curiosity and pity from on-lookers, and so on. All the psychosis without the health problems!

Beware of the meconium - the tar-like substance that extrudes from a newborn's nether end for the first couple of days. It is a bear to clean off tiny skin. Warm water and cotton balls are best - wipes are hard on new skin. Don't use wipes for at least a month if you can avoid them, possibly longer.

One of the advantages of nursing is that poopy diapers don't really smell all that bad. Formula changes that. Solids change that even more. Reason no. 14b why nursing is good.

Very little ones do not wet much. Put a tissue in the diaper and you will know better when it has been used. This is especially true with disposable diapers, whose absorbency is stunning.

If you do go with disposable diapers, invest in a Diaper Genie. It will vastly improve your air quality

Monday, October 17, 2011

Floating Politics

My grandmother moved in with us when I was a kid, shortly after her mother passed away.

It was a tumultuous time – Watergate had broken open and the nation’s political system had ground to a screeching halt, with the smoking remains being televised for all the world to see. She watched, of course, swearing all the while because they had pre-empted her soap operas. And since she was in charge of my brother and me while my parents were working, she would often use the events of the day as a springboard to impart the sort of wisdom and life lessons that family elders are supposed to impart in such situations. “People tell you that the cream will rise to the top,” she would say after yet another afternoon of revelations out of Washington DC, “but remember: shit floats too.”

Yes, she actually used to say that. I don’t know what the child-rearing manuals would have made of her, but she was an awful lot of fun for a 9-year-old boy to have around. And, really, it was in fact a valuable lesson, one that I have had many occasions to remember over the last three or four decades.

I’m trying to pay attention to the presidential race these days, the election being just a year away. It’s not easy, and I keep hearing my grandmother’s voice in my head, imparting wisdom and life lessons.

And why wouldn’t I, given the reality on the ground only a year away from the elections?

On the one hand, we have the incumbent president, a man who traded inspiration for accomplishment and who has paid the price, since his achievements have been systematically overlooked even by his own supporters. He was never going to be the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt – hell, it took Roosevelt a long time to become the first coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and few remember that he spent a fair amount of time on the 1932 campaign trail criticizing Herbert Hoover for reckless spending on social programs – and his most rabid supporters have not forgiven him for that.

As one commentator astutely noted a while back, the dirty little secret of American politics right now is that Barack Obama is a moderate conservative of the sort that had their own wing in the Republican Party way back when. Forty-five years ago, he would have been Nelson Rockefeller – socially liberal, fiscally conservative, business-friendly but with a deep appreciation for the social contract, the one that says that government and individuals each owe the other something and that taxes are the price one pays for civilization.

Those expecting a new Progressive wonderland have been disappointed. Those fearing a Socialist takeover of America have been … well, they’re still out there shouting about it, since no amount of reality is enough to shake those delusions. The rubber room of American politics is a crowded, crowded facility these days.

I’m pretty sure he’s a lock for the Democratic nomination, though, there being no other person with any equivalent stature in that party. It would be nice to have that settled early, since the last thing the country needs is a damaging primary fight that would more or less hand the presidency over to the Teabaggers.

And great googly moogly, folks, the extremists over on the right wing have certainly put forward quite a selection of cranks, losers, fanatics and cardboard cutouts, haven’t they?

There’s an avowed secessionist who now wants to run the very government he previously threatened to destroy, a man incapable of giving a coherent answer to a staged question and who seems to think that a jobs boom based partly on public sector employment and partly on no-benefit, minimum-wage positions entitles him to brag about the saving power of private industry.

There’s an apologist for slavery, a living, breathing reminder of the importance of taking one’s medications who is utterly incapable of giving a coherent answer to anything, staged or not, can’t be bothered to learn basic American history or simple science, and doesn’t understand why her stated position that she is subservient to her husband in all matters makes examining her husband something of a necessity.

There’s a Gilded Age relic who would rather let people die than part with one thin dime of his carefully hoarded lucre and has no idea why this makes him seem like someone that rational, moral people wouldn’t want in charge of a dog kennel, let alone the country.

There’s a special interest pinata who has spent most of the last few months running against his own health care reform program because … well, I’m not sure why. Perhaps he thinks that kind of total about face in the name of pandering to the most extreme elements of his party will make him seem strong instead of a spineless weathervane with no principles other than the sheer drive for power. I’m not entirely sure what he’d do with power if he got it, and I somehow doubt he knows either. He reminds me of the first Bush that way - a dog chasing a car because that's what he does, not because he has any real plans for the car if he catches it.  It's not like he can drive.

There’s a corporate spokesperson (another wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries – my, but they do get their tentacles into everything these days, don't they?) whose own website, last time I checked, couldn’t tell the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and whose childish economic plan has been savaged as unworkable and disastrous by the same people who brought you the George W. Bush fiscal train wreck, a group that ought to know about economic failure.

And there’s a bunch of other candidates who have somehow managed to be “lesser” than that, which is a truly awe-inspiring achievement when you think about it.

I’m sorry my grandmother didn’t live to see this.

It would be worth sitting down to a few episodes of the CBS soap opera line-up (now sadly depleted from its polyester glory of the 1970s) just to hear her take on it.

I suppose I’ll have to find one of my own.

Shouldn’t be too hard.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Uncorrected Errors

Someone is wrong on the internet.

One of the problems with being a teacher is that you are trained to correct people when they are wrong, to lead them away from their fallacies and their misconceptions, their factual gaps, and – let’s be honest here – the batshit insane gabbling that so many people refer to as their thought processes these days, and bring them into the promised land of verifiable evidence, logical consistency, historical accuracy and conclusions that wouldn’t embarrass a heroin addict mid-withdrawal.

This doesn’t generally work online.

I’ve been online continuously since 1993. Oh, not every waking minute, although sometimes it feels that way. I’ve just not taken any significant detours off of the information superhighway since the early Clinton years. I even remember when people said “information superhighway” without irony. I remember when graphical browsers were introduced. I remember when Yahoo had a feature labeled “What’s new?” that would list the fifty or so new websites that it found that day. I remember when Usenet was Teh Shiny.

Yes, there’s a point to all that, whippersnapper. Fetch me a whiskey and listen.

In that time I have learned, through hard experience, that people online are not susceptible to the same kind of educational processes that they are in the physical world.

That the anonymity and instantaneous gratification of newsgroups, chat rooms, commenting areas and other online fora do not reward considered thought, the willingness to admit error, or even basic civility.

That such fora are set up to encourage simple declarative statements, and the simpler the better – that anything requiring a subordinate clause, a moment’s reflection or any degree of subtlety more nuanced than grade-school name-calling is just a waste of time. That polarization sells. That the lowest common denominator can be astonishingly low indeed.

Not all of the corners of the internet are that way. I’ve found places where normal human discourse prevails online, where people take the time to examine what is said, consider it, and respond in kind, and I’m glad of them. Hell, I’ve even created some of them in classes I’ve taught with online students who took all my warnings seriously and went and had actual discussions in them, discussions I only had to monitor and evaluate, not lead.

But such corners are few and far between.

Perhaps the hardest thing this teacher has had to learn how to do online is to walk away from error.

To recognize the difference between someone who holds a position they wish to discuss and someone who is just shouting empty talking points.

To see when the walls of ignorance are so impenetrable that the person inside no longer can envision anything other than their own position, a position which seems to them all the world entire.

I’m not talking about differences of interpretation, where divergent positions can be supported by enough evidence to make discussion worthwhile. That sort of thing is what makes conversations worthwhile. I’m talking about people whose ignorance of reality is aggressive, complete and deeply cherished, whose entire position is based on delusion, the willful suppression of facts, and – distressingly, amazingly, proudly, and loudly often – a deep and abiding hatred of proper spelling and grammar, which at least provides a warning sign to the rest of us.

When all your training is to educate people, the fact that there is so often nothing to be gained by attempting to do so online is a hard one to swallow. But, it must be said, it is a realization that makes the world a much less stressful place.

I have learned not to comment when people say things that make me wonder how they managed to set their brains on fire without damaging their typing ability.

I have learned not to respond when I see things that make me doubt the wisdom of democracy.

I have learned that my time on this earth is limited and is better spent doing just about anything else besides trying to correct people on the internet.

Someone is wrong on the internet.

And wrong they shall remain.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Aaaaaand Action!

Have you ever wondered whether all this is real?

Over the course of my life, I have gone through several periods where it seemed as if my life were just a movie I was watching – a not very interesting movie, in fact, where I spent most of my time idly wondering if the hero would make it all the way through to the credits and the rest of the time thinking about other things. Sometimes, as I sit there in the audience, I wonder if the hero is actually me or whether I’ve got a bit part in my own life. That wouldn’t surprise me at all, really.

Generally those periods have happened when I was about to move out of one house or apartment and into another one, but not always. It’s a very strange feeling.

I’ve had this feeling for weeks now.

I get up and try to figure out what needs to happen today, what should have happened yesterday, and how to prioritize my world so that the key events from both of those lists get checked off. I spend the days and nights beating back the alligators in the fond hopes that eventually the swamp will drain. And the next day the process starts again.

There is a lot of typing involved. An awful lot of typing. And driving. Not much sleep. A fair amount of reading, most of it from textbooks and other academic sources but occasional bits of fun stuff at stolen moments. I’m sure there’s food – there must be food – but that is no longer as interesting as it used to be and so tends to be quickly forgotten. I'm glad it's cool enough for tea now.

But mostly driving and typing.

And those two things just don’t make for an interesting movie.

It will be good to see the end of this semester.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

News and Updates

1. The swingset out back is no more. When Tabitha was little, my parents bought us a big wooden swingset and Kim’s dad and brother helped us set it up in the back yard. It got a lot of hard, if loving use, but the girls had long outgrown it. We tried to give it to the neighbor for his thirty or forty kids, but they had to move away, unfortunately – they were good neighbors, and we miss them. But Kim’s parents said they’d take it apart and put it up at their place so our nephew and niece could play with it there. Unfortunately, after 9 years in the Wisconsin elements, the only thing holding that swingset together was inertia and it collapsed into a pile of dust as soon as its structural integrity was breached. So long, brave swingset. You served us well.

2. This semester is going to kill me. It just is. Between the class up at Not Quite So Far Away campus that I have to create from whole cloth and the one at Home Campus that I’m trying to revise and the performing arts coordinating that seems to be unusually time-consuming these days, plus all the usual things that come from being a Parent, Husband and Homeowner, I may do my own collapsing into a pile of dust soon. I’m not ignoring you, faithful readers. Not intentionally, anyway.

3. Still no sign of Tria, and we have pretty much called this one over. I suppose there’s always an outside shot of something good happening, but plans are starting to be made for a new cat eventually. She was a good cat.

4. Last night Lauren got to be a Junior Pom for the local high school – the one she will be attending someday, assuming we don’t move and the local voters are still willing to fund public education. I dropped her off around 4 or so at the football stadium and spent half an hour registering her – which was odd, since we’d already registered her in September. But she got a nice shirt out of the deal. We went back to the stadium after dinner and got to see all the Junior Poms doing their pre-game shaking and jumping, and – after a truly disastrous half of football for the home team – we got to see Lauren and her sixty or so teammates do a short routine on the field for halftime. Go get ‘em, Lauren! That’s her in the grey skirt in the back.

5. We left after halftime (just not that invested in the local team quite yet – perhaps when the girls are attending we will be) and went to the home of some friends and spent the rest of the evening sitting out by the portable fire pit and just hanging out. More evenings should be like that.

6. Tabitha seems to have adjusted to Mighty Clever Guy Middle School quite well, if her midterm progress report is any guide. Excellent work, kiddo – we’re proud of you.

7. There is no joy in Mudville – or at least my corner of Mudville – for the mighty Phillies have struck out. Why can’t us? Because the Cardinals, that’s why. Oh well. At least I won’t have to get hassled for wearing my Phillies hat next week by all the bandwagon Brewers fans who have suddenly discovered they have a baseball team this year. Of the teams left in it, though, I think I’d rather see the Brewers win it all than any of the others.

8. Every time I look at the political news it just gets worse for my country. The extremists out on the right-wing fringes seem bent on destroying everything that makes this country great and building a third-world tyranny where the United States of America used to be. Eventually I will get to the point where I will start ranting about it again just to keep from bursting, but not quite yet.

9. How long do rabbits live, anyway?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Glory Daze

Lauren has discovered classic rock.

This summer we separated the girls into their own bedrooms again, something that was a long time coming and likely well timed given Tabitha’s move into middle school. At a certain age, privacy just becomes more of an issue than it used to be.

I was a bit worried about how Lauren would take this move. She’s very much a people person, someone who hates to be alone and always wants to know where you are on those rare occasions when that happens. But she took it surprisingly well.

And why not? It’s the funkiest room in the house, long and narrow, with sloping walls and enough storage space in the kneewalls to have a whole other room alongside. It was a walk-in attic when we moved into the house back in the 90s, and in fact we converted it into a bedroom specifically for Lauren shortly after she was born. So it was kind of a homecoming in that sense.

As far as Lauren is concerned, the chief advantages of her new room are two.

First, that she no longer has to put up with Tabitha reading late into the night and leaving the light on that whole time, making it hard for her to get to sleep.

And second, that she can now crank up the tunes.

She chose the station without any input from us. This is probably for the best, as neither of us are particularly hep to the groove of modern youth, or whatever it is the kids say these days. Kim is no doubt better at that than I am, but that is praise of the faintest variety, thinner – as Abraham Lincoln used to say – than a homeopathic soup made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.

Really, Lincoln actually said that. He wasn’t talking about music, but he actually said that. Can there be any doubt that he was one of our greatest presidents?

Lauren likes to dial up the noise when she is getting ready for bed, so when I come in to read stories with her I usually have to turn it down. Every time I do, though, I end up humming whatever old song from my glory days of the 80s that they’re playing at that moment.

“You know that song, dad?” Lauren will ask in amazement, because it is inconceivable that her father might actually know something that could, by some stretch of verbal gymnastics, be described as cool.

“Yes,” I tell her. “That song’s actually very old. I remember that song from when I was in high school.”

And she agrees that this means that the song is indeed very old.


I am not sure what it means that my youngest child has developed a taste for the J. Geils Band, or Blondie, or the Stray Cats, or Styx, or any number of other such groups. But I’m enjoying it anyway.