DANGER!

I was reading a couple of things today about product recalls for babies and how they’ve gotten out of hand and I just wanted to add something of my own experience. We bought Zoe a little cloth book with a little ball dangling from it on a string. On each page you were supposed to do something with the ball – make it stick to velcro, hide it in a pocket, and, on one page, “throw” it through a little cloth basketball hoop, etc. It was recalled. Of course. Why? Because theoretically, if the baby put the ball through the hoop in such a way that the book was around the baby’s neck, the baby could strangle him- or herself.

Theoretically.

This had not happened, of course. And let me tell you, theory doesn’t always translate to reality. The truth is, if a baby was at a high enough stage in development to get the ball into the hoop at all, the then baby’s neck was very likely already too big to fit inside the loop that such an act would create. In fact, if the baby was out of the womb, the baby’s neck was very likely already too big to fit inside the loop that such an act would create. And I say this as a parent of a very tiny child. Furthermore, while it would take some degree of coordination to get the ball into the hoop, and also a great deal of emotional/mental development to be interested in such an activity, it would take an even greater degree of coordination to do this while the book was around one’s neck. I suspect there are plenty of elementary school students who couldn’t manage it, even if the string was large enough to fit around their necks.

But what’s the point? That yet another product was ridiculously recalled for no apparent reason? Who cares? My point is this – even though I thought the recall was ridiculous, and couldn’t actually bring myself to return it, I sort of stopped letting her play with it. I mean, I didn’t snatch it out of her hands or anything, but I didn’t bring it along on car trips; I didn’t choose to show it to her if I was trying to distract her, and I didn’t keep it with her most-played-with toys. So she sort of forgot about it and I let that happen. And I really, really didn’t think she could choke herself with it. I just thought, but what if I’m wrong, and something happens, and then the reaction is, “Well, it was recalled. What kind of a parent lets their child play with something that’s already been shown to be dangerous?” And a part of me wasn’t really thinking at all, I was just reacting emotionally to a toy now branded DANGEROUS. My point is, community standards have their effects on even parents who are actively trying to resist them, and for better or worse (mostly worse) mass media largely constitutes our community. So all these recalls, and the culture of control and blame surrounding them, make a person paranoid. I mean, the fact is, as unlikely as it is that a child would be harmed by this book, crazy things sometimes happen. But instead of seeing a world in which crazy things sometimes happen, we see a world where some parent, some corporation, some school wasn’t responsible enough. And it’s making us all crazy even when we have our blinders off.

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Exciting Zoe Development

So I don’t know if this behavior is on a chart or anything, but this week I have noticed a sharp increase in Zoe’s ability and desire to imitate what others are doing around her. At Gymnastics, during circle time, for the first time, she followed the teacher when the teacher banged on the floor (for Thunder!) and stopped when she said “Freeze!” Then when the teacher brought out sticks for the kids to bang together, Zoe banged them in the manner the teacher was demonstrating – together, end-to-end, on the floor. At Hebrew School yesterday, she imitated the dance moves to “Not By Might,” holding her hands up to her mouth for “the children sing” and raising her hands above her head when we sang “will rise” just like everyone else was doing. This doesn’t sound like much, I guess, but I thought it was pretty cool to see, especially since she’s been going to Gymnastics and Hebrew School for over a year and it was just like watching switch turn on.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Women

I was very interested to find this column on the NY Times’ web site. Overall, I really like it. I hadn’t heard of Ben Roethlisberger before, but the fact that I haven’t heard of something is hardly evidence of anything at all. I’ve fallen woefully behind on current events coverage of late. But I like reading columns about how behavior like his is wholly unacceptable and should be considered unacceptable by the community at large, including by major corporations, and if I were in the market for athletic shoes, well, I certainly wouldn’t be buying Nikes now.

But I find the inclusion of Tiger Woods in this article a bit puzzling. Ben Roethlisberger has sexually assaulted and raped women (ALLEGEDLY). Kobe Bryant, who is also name-checked, raped a woman (ALLEGEDLY). Tiger Woods didn’t rape anybody as far as I am aware. He committed many, many acts of adultery, which is certainly disrespectful of his wife, and certainly seems to indicate a certain sense of entitlement. But isn’t rape a whole ‘nother ball game? Adultery is bad, yes, but isn’t rape, like, a million times worse? I mean, okay, technically, Kobe Bryant was also committing adultery when he raped (ALLEGEDLY) that girl, but it’s not the adultery we care about, right? It’s the rape. So is it really fair to conflate them the way columnist Timothy Egan does?
I don’t say this because I want to protect poor widdle Tiger. I say it because distinctions are important.

The Price of Motherhood

I read this terrific book a couple of weeks ago, The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden. I had intended to blog about it when it was still fresh in my mind, but one of the prices of motherhood is that that is a distant dream. (Although I guess I should be grateful that the fact that I am still f-ing breastfeeding this child means that I have time – during feedings – to read.) Another price of motherhood is that nothing, I mean nothing, stays “fresh” in your mind. Motherhood is like having the door to the refrigerator that is your mind always open. When I started reading articles earlier this year with studies “proving” that motherhood does not, in fact, make you more stupid, I started laughing. I suppose it doesn’t actually make you more stupid. It’s just like that device used in “Harrison Bergeron,” where smart people have to wear a device that sends blasts of horrible, thought-interupting noises into your head every five minutes, so you can never complete a really good thought.

But I have some time now, assuming my daughter stays asleep for another little bit, and Jason already went downstairs and I don’t think he knows I’m up, so there’s no one for me to take care of at the moment and maybe I can get this entry written already.
It was a really terrific book and made me very angry at several points. Fortunately, it also reminded me that, while, apparently, most men are evil, the men I know personally, like my husband and my father, are not. I guess it’s a good thing I already know them, because otherwise, after reading this book, I’d be starting a radical lesbian feminist army the intention of which would be to kill all men for having proved to be not only useless but damaging for several thousand years now.
“Oh, don’t be silly, Ricki. Most men are not evil.” Oh, really? And I quote: “. . . income earned or controlled by mothers is more likely to be spent on children than income controlled by fathers. ” Crittenden cites an article done for the Population Council and International Center for Research on Women. “Economists now believe that mothers are so much more likely than fathers to invest in children’s health and education that the surest way to promote economic growth in poor countries is to educate and empower girls.” There, she’s citing a working paper from Lawrence H. Summers, written for the World Bank Policy Research Working Paper. (Oddly, he’s the guy who stepped down as president of Harvard because he said that thing about women not being good at math. His name keeps coming up in my readings, for things other than that, and it becomes increasingly clear to me that that quote about women was taken way out of context and that’s not really what he meant at all. But don’t worry; he’s doing okay. He’s currently the director of the National Economic Council.)
I’m going to quote a couple of paragraphs in full:
“Studies conducted on five continents have found that children are distinctly better off when the mother possesses enough income and authority in the family to make investing in children a priority. As one survey put it, there is ‘considerable empirical evidence, across diverse cultures and income groups,’ that women have a higher propensity than men ‘to spend on goods that benefit children and enhance their capacities.’ (from Intrahousehold Resource Allocation in Developing Countries) Even more provocative is the considerable evidence that children’s welfare is enhanced not just when mothers have their ‘own money’ but when no man is able to challenge maternal priorities. Two researchers summarize this potentioal dynamite in the dry language of social science: ‘Evidence is growing that the internal distribution of resources in female-headed households is more child-oriented than in male-headed households.’ (from ‘Gender, Adjustment and Macroeconomics,’ in World Development 23) In other words, matriarchy, the original family arrangement, may turn out to be the optimal one after all.
Reserachers in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent have all found that when mothers are educated and have some control over the family income, children are healthier, get more schooling, and will eventually have a greater earning capacity, with all that implies for economic prosperity. The sad truth is that quite a bit of income in the hands of men seems to find its way into bars and the pockets of cigarette companies, among other fleeing pleasures (from World Bank, Toward Gender Equality: The Role of Public Policy). ‘It is widely perceived,’ one report (“Understanding How Resources Are Allocated Within Households”) notes, ‘and supported by a mass of case study material that, relative to women, men spend more of the income under their own control for their own consumption. Alcohol, cigarettes, status consumer goods, even ‘female companionship’ are noted in the literature.’ “
Crittenden follows with several stories from across the developing world indicated that in female-headed households, all members of the household eat more and eat better, and that much more of the money in female-headed households goes towards things that will benefit the whole household.
“But, Ricki,” you say, “this is a developing world problem. The men in these countries do not have the sophistication to be good fathers like the ones in ours.” Okay. I will admit that, again, the men I know personally do not behave like this. Jason gets just as big a rush buying Zoe toys as he does buying himself toys, and his latest toy is equally used by both of them. My father spent lavishly on his children’s education. My stepfather has a few spendy hobbies but we were all well-nourished and well-educated. Even my uncle, who has no children of his own and, if he wanted to, could spend all his money on toys and pleasures for himself, instead invests in his extended family. The children of his brother and his cousin benefit from his money.
But increasingly I see that my own family is the exception, not the rule.
It was hard for me to decide which chapter pissed me off the most, the chapter I quoted above about the degree to which money in a female-controlled household was allocated to the household whereas money in a male-controlled household was allocated to the head male, or the one about child support in this country. Which, it seems, men don’t want to pay. For instance, she tells the story of the changing of the law in 1992 in California so that, basically, mothers would be awarded more in child support. And men protested. Actually, men’s second wives protested, which I guess is understandable, but the men stood around doing nothing. Except, you know, not paying up. And it’s not just California, it’s everywhere. Men apparently do everything they can to lower their child support payments and to pay as little as the can get away with, legally, and then, when that fails, to simply not pay. And I just don’t know how men justify this to themselves. I know in their heads, the money is not going to their children, but to their ex-wives, who, by virtue of not sleeping with them anymore (or possibly more legitimate reasons than that) are heinous bitches who don’t deserve it. But, dude, that kind of emotional reaction should be what you work to tamp down because you know deep in your heart that your CHILDREN, of whom you are the FATHER, need your financial support and frankly, deserve to be living the same lifestyle you are. But it’s not just that vaguely shameful emotional reaction that, as adults, they work to suppress; it’s the basis of entire political movements. Men – even wealthy men who can easily afford to pay for their children – ORGANIZE POLITICALLY in order to not pay for their children. It’s so disgusting I can’t handle it. (Of course, I do know men like this, who I will not mention here, because it’s not nice. But fortunately, the men most directly concerned with my life are not like this.)
One of the more interesting stories related to this was a story in which an economics professor was asked to be an expert witness for a divorce case for a lower-middle-class family, and turned over to her class the assignment of figuring out how to fairly allocate resources after the divorce. One thing they learned is that, even if resources are fairly allocated, everyone’s standard of living drops rather dramatically. They decided that everyone should have the same standard of living post-divorce, and that to make that happen, the husband would have to turn over 3/5 of his income to his ex-wife and THEIR four children. And the point, I believe, is not so much that the husband and wife should share the financial burden of a divorce equally (which, without children, is debatable – and I mean sincerely that I can see both sides of an argument about that) but that the CHILDREN should not suffer disproportionately financially when they will already be suffering in other ways. The students were shocked to learn that all their economic wrangling over who should get what was for naught – the court decided that the husband should get to keep most of his income and that the mother who was being left with sole custody of FOUR CHILDREN, including an infant, could get by on $15,000 a year. It’s one of those cases where what you learned in kindergarten about fairness is more useful and morally supportable than how adults who run things do it.
Which brings me to the next point. Not only are men evil, but the government is evil, too. The total lack of support for the job of taking care of children is astounding. It’s almost overwhelming to get into a rant about it now, but seriously. Judges routinely sneer at stay-at-home moms in divorce cases, arguing that they should simply get jobs, but a) employers don’t like looking at “blanks” in your resume caused by you doing the work of motherhood, and b) there’s no or limited government-sponsored, affordable child care. Unless you’re in the military. And I don’t want to be the kind of person who’s all, “Why do our troops deserve this kind of support but not the rest of us,” because I think that if you volunteer to be in the military, to train your body the way they do, to put yourself in physical danger the way they do, and to put your life in the hands of the government, letting them tell you where to live and for how long and what use your skills will be put to, then the government damn well better make the deal as sweet as possible for you. I’m all for extra goodies for military personnel. But I bring up the military’s excellent day care system because it proves that it’s doable – training day care workers and subsidizing day care so that everyone who’s able and wants to work in fields other than child care can, and everyone who wants to work in the field of child care can be well-trained and reasonably paid. It can happen; that it doesn’t happen in the non-military world is evidence that the government doesn’t really give a shit about children. Or mothers.
Reading about France and Sweden really made me sick. In France you get a YEAR of paid leave. And if you’re a single mother, you get all kinds of subsidies for nannies and stuff. AND government-sponsored FREE day care starts when the kid is THREE. In Sweden, the workday is being cut back to resemble the school day, and both mothers and fathers get A FULL YEAR. PAID. They live in this dreamland. It’s unbelievable. And, yes, I know they pay a lot of taxes. It doesn’t matter. It’s so worth it. My husband had to argue with his company for them to allow him to take ONE UNPAID DAY (in addition to five paid days) to stay home with me. “We really frown on you taking unpaid vacation time,” they said. “Unless it’s for something really important.” “The birth of my first child?” he said. “Well . . . if you must, you must.” Honestly.
All of this really made me want to do something. Start a political organization. I mean, I already want to; I just don’t know how. But I’m still stuck on this idea of, like, a Real Family Values coalition, which would fight for things like government-subsidized day care, and enforcement of child support payments and equity in divorce, and all the other things I like, like more playgrounds and gay marriage and stuff. How do I do this?

Push-Ups

I still cannot do a push-up. Actually, now it’s worse. Before I could maybe manage one or two. Now I really cannot do a push-up.

And the thing is, it’s not even a strength issue. That is, it is a strength issue, but before we can even get to strength we have to deal with my total lack of propioception (Jason taught me that word. It means an awareness of one’s own body in space. He claims all species have it. I claim I do not.) and coordination. So by the time I’ve figured out if my legs are properly aligned and my back is straight and I’m trying to engage my abs and not arch and put my hands where they’re supposed to be and what the hell do I do with my toes?, I’ve collapsed.
A lot of my workout problems come down to coordination. Here’s what happened. I was disgusted with myself yesterday because all week I have promised myself I would accomplish something during the day, then we go downstairs and I make us eggs, and then I turn on the TV and watch endless episodes of My Name is Earl off the Netflix Instant Queue and nothing happens. So I made a new daily schedule, which included me waking up with Jason’s alarm at 5:30 to go do an elliptical workout.
I did not wake up at 5:30. Jason claims he tried to wake me. I have no memory of this. Instead I woke up at 5:50, when he did, and attempted to get downstairs, but he waylaid me with concerns about the time and my hearing Zoe, and then Zoe woke up and needed a feeding in order to go back to sleep (because I am still f-ing breastfeeding this child), so by the time that was done it was, like, 6:05. So I decided that I would see if Netflix Instant Queue had any workout videos and do one in the library.
Well, surprisingly, the Netflix Instant Queue workout video availability is pretty limited. I did not expect that, because really, wouldn’t you think it would take no skin off of anyone’s back to offer the workout video this way? I mean, really, Neena and Veena – it would kill you? So I chose the Crunch Boot Camp something or other from the limited menu. And although not too many of the exercises were too difficult for me strength-wise (I mean, difficult enough that the were a workout, but not so difficult that I couldn’t do them), they were all too difficult for me coordination-wise. And these moves should not be difficult. I mean, there was marching. Okay, I can march. But then there was marching to the side. Ooh, tricky. And then you march to the side and then forward and back. Oh, no. I can’t handle that many instructions. I get confused.
And it doesn’t help that I still don’t know left from right.

More Thoughts on TV

As an avid watcher of such silly programming as “Parenthood” and “10 Things I Hate About You” – and yes, I am referring to the television shows and not the movies on which they are based – I have to ask a question. How have we decided, as a culture, that the natural and acceptable reaction of a father to his teenage daughter entering the world of dating is that of a jealous boyfriend? Why do we not regard that reaction as vaguely sick and problematic, or at least wholly inappropriate, instead?

As a note, we do tend to see mothers who view their sons’ dating this way as wholly inappropriate and maybe a little sick. Is it that we are more judgmental about mothers? Or more judgmental about teenage girls’ dating lives? Or both?

Television

For my second, very important post, I would like to discuss . . . television. (“Daddy! Mote! Watch TV! George!” is something else Zoe can say.)

Anyway, Glee is coming back in April. I had a wishlist all worked out in my head but from what I hear, my first item might be taken care of. It was . . .
1. Idina Menzel comes on as Rachel’s surrogate mother. I hear that she’s actually coming on, and that’s probably the role she’s playing. I mean, I try not to read spoilers but I hear rumors sometimes and that’s one I hear. I have been rooting for this since the first episode, continuing my highly prescient abilities to predict plotlines on teen television. For example, my sister and I were rooting for a Joey-Pacey pairing before the theme song played on the first episode of Dawson’s Creek. And then, when promos were running for the summer show that ran in between Dawson’s Creek seasons, American something-or-other, sponsored by Coke, showing a father saying, “You can’t be with him!” to his daughter, I immediately said, “Because she’s your sister!” Yup, that’s why he was saying it.
(On a completely separate note, I feel weird about the term “surrogate mother” if it is both the woman’s egg and her womb that brought the baby into the world. I mean, in that case, isn’t she just “mother” or even “biological mother”?)
So here’s hoping the rest of my wish list comes true:
2. Kurt and Finn as stepbrothers! Come on, it’d be awesome! At least let us flirt with the possiblity.
3. More songs per episode. I love the show, I do. But mainly I love that my daughter loves the dance numbers. And we watch them. All the time. All 13 episodes still exist on my Tivo so we can play them whenever she says, “Watch TV! Glee!” But that means that, when an episode like Mattress has only 2 song performances (I’m not counting the song Smile that plays over the concluding montage because there’s no dancing and therefore it is not interesting to my daughter), I am keeping 60 minutes of HD Tivo space for only less than five minutes of song. So what would be great for me personally is if we could have at least one song for every two commercial breaks in each episode. Thank you.
And since you’re doing this for me personally, I’d like more of those songs to be from musicals, or rock classics, or, you know, songs I know. Thanks.
4. Pick a writing team and go with it. You can’t have both the sappy, over-emotional stuff and the funny bulimia pamphlets. You need a tone. So I say you choose the funny team and ditch the melodramatic one. Like, the show is great when we’ve got Emma Pillsbury telling Rachel Berry that her lack of gag reflex will turn out to be a gift. The show is not great when Sue Sylvester has a Down’s Syndrome-having sister. And actually, while I mean that as a synechdoche, I actually have major problems with that particular character development. I mean, aside from being annoyingly sappy, which is the writing team I think they should ditch, it was a bad choice. The brilliance of Sue as a character is her over-the-top evilness. But she only works as a cartoon villain type. If she’s human, capable of sympathy, capable of taking good care of her Down’s Syndrome-having sister in a loving manner, then the horrible things she says to Quinn about her pregnancy, to Will about his failures, etc., etc., come from a human and therefore sound like horrible things to say, rather than hysterical things to hear.
5. Keep the writing tight. One moment that’s been sticking in my craw is when Kurt, initially excited by the idea of a makeover, refuses to work on Rachel because . . . she dresses badly? Who else would you do a makeover on?
6. No more episodes in which the kids start off feeling like losers because they’re in Glee Club, and then end up recommitting to Glee Club because it means so much to them. If they already figured that out last episode, we won’t really be charmed by them doing it again in the next episode.
7. On the other hand, we could use a little more characterization for the minor characters. That episode where the football players chose Glee over football? Made no sense. We have no idea why they would. But Finn chose football. Even though he had chosen Glee in the two episodes prior. Which speaks to number 5. But I’d like to hear just a little bit more about Brittany, Santana, and the two football players whose names I don’t know. Like, I’d like to know their names.
8. It would be awesome if Rachel and Quinn joined forces for some reason.
And that is all I have to say about Glee.
But I’d like to say a few words about Lost.
I don’t know where it’s all going. I don’t. But it seems to me that, just as the show asked me to believe Dr. Jack Shepherd was the most awesome awesome to ever awesome (which I didn’t and still don’t), the show is now asking me to accept its dichotomy of Jacob=Good and Esau=Bad. But didn’t Jacob, through Richard and Ben, arrange for the genocide of the Dharma Initiative? Maybe the show will do a good job of accounting for this. I hope so.
And that is all I have to say about TV.

Bragging

Today will be a day of many posts, if Zoe stays asleep a little bit longer.

First, and most important, babycenter.com claims that Zoe should be between 10-50 vocabulary words as of this week. Haha! She surpassed the 50-word mark months ago. I can’t even count the number of words she’s got now, but it’s got to be over 100. Plus, she strings words together. “Thank you, Mama,” or “Thank you, Daddy,” or whomsoever deserves thanks. “No, uppie down!” “Come on!” “Hang on!” “I see water!” And so on. My baby is a genius!