On interpersonal communications

I woke in a panic at 3 a.m., and not just because the congested toddler next to me gets violent when he’s fighting a cold.

No, really. V.i.o.l.e.n.t. Kicking, hair pulling, pinching. In his sleep. Good times.

My 3 a.m. cold sweat arose because I realized in my semi-conscious state that I had misheard someone twelve hours earlier. She had said, it was now perfectly clear in the dark of night, “Did you have a fun Thanksgiving?”

But I heard, “Did you have fun playing?” So I had turned to my son who had just finished playing kick ball and asked him if he had. He mumbled something and I smiled at her. And considered the conversation over.

But that was all wrong, I suddenly saw in my darkened and mostly quiet bedroom. Socially horrific. I was supposed to beam and say, “Yes! Thanksgiving was great! How about you?”

I botched the answer. Not just because Thanksgiving was seriously top-notch great and I should have asserted that clearly but without bragging. No, I should have answered the actual question asked because those are the rules. You don’t defer to your kid on adult questions. And you definitely don’t leave someone without a reciprocal, “And how was your Thanksgiving?”

I screwed up an adult exchange. I hate that. I still have PTSD about failing in my conversational duties once in 1994. And another time in ’08.

So I did what any other rational adult would do…I weighed pros and cons on how to handle the gaffe. From 3 a.m. until 4 a.m I debated my options for righting this egregious wrong.

What would I do? Pretend it never happened? Confess the next day that I misheard? How? By saying, “I was replaying my day in my head searching for excuses to beat myself up for gross incompetence, and came upon our conversation…”

Of course not. If I addressed it at all I would be casual and adorable.

Ha ha. Got you. Of course I went with the creepiest, most apologetic and unbalanced approach. I hurried over to her on the playground as soon as I saw her and confessed my deepest darkest socially incompetent moment. Of the day. Including the 3 a.m. part. Because nobody who has ever met me has accused me of being anything but the poster child for neurotic.

All I want for Christmas is grace. The kind where I can let mishearing an acquaintance go, and get some sleep once I elbow the hair-pulling kung fu master next to me. That kind of grace. Wait, is that grace? Or am I thinking of peace? Or kickboxing-yoga fusion?

Anyway, this woman, to whom I’ve spoken three times in my life, got the whole story this morning. “I woke up in a sweat at 3 a.m. because I misheard you. I’m terrible at interpersonal communications. I couldn’t sleep after that. I’m a dork. Help me.” (Paraphrasing. Because there were a lot of melodramatic “Oh My Gawd”s in there, too. And perhaps an invitation for her to join me at a therapist’s office. of her choice. Because I’m not domineering.)

But at least I got in my, “So what I would have said if I weren’t a spazz, is ‘Our Thanksgiving was wonderful; how was yours?'”

I’m not exactly sure how she answered because I was so proud of myself for getting an “A” in grownup interpersonal communications. But I’m sure she had an answer. And probably felt all special because I noted and remedied my craptacular end of the conversation.

And that’s what communications are about, right? Making other people feel special and totally not 3 a.m.-panicky?

So why didn’t she do the same for me yesterday? Boy, she has some nerve…

Selling ourselves short

I love social media. I enjoy Twitter and Pinterest. I read dozens of blogs. I ditched Facebook but certainly used it for several years.

What I don’t love is how corporations are weaseling their wares into my personal conversations. And I really don’t love how complicit some of my online friends are in this process.

Long ago, in a world where there were newspapers and magazines and three television channels, ads came for paid sources. Companies would buy space or time on conventional media to promise us that we’d be richer, thinner, taller, hairier, less hairy, smarter, and more popular if we bought their products.

People grew weary of these approaches. Companies tried new tactics. They put their cereals quietly on a shelf in Seinfeld’s fake kitchen. They had celebrities use their sun lotion on a lovely Malibu beach.

The goal and basic message was the same. “Pay us money and you’ll be happier.”

Now, with social media, companies are paying regular people to shill their products. But they’re paying much less than they ever paid newspapers and they’re changing the way we read what friends write.

The basic premise? “‘Like’ our Facebook page and get a coupon. Then all your friends see that you like us. You’re advertising to 100 or 200 or 800 people, and all we give you is $5 off a sandwich.”

Same tune, different channel. “Here’s a great recipe using all our crappy products as ingredients. Pin it on your Pinterest boards and all your friends will do the same. In exchange, you get a delightfully transparent adverecipe. Free!”

Wanting to get their brand trending on Twitter, which gets them a front page advertisement on every screen using the site, companies come up with ridiculous contests. “Tweet our name a lot and we’ll enter you in a drawing. The winner gets a few dollars. You give us free advertising and there might be a trinket in it for you.”

I’m sick of seeing blogs and boards and feeds get covered in corporate slime, especially when I know the people (whom I used to trust) only got a few pennies, if anything, in exchange for interrupting my social media day.

Today was the last straw. I just got a form email from an author whose books I really respect. Paraphrasing, he said, “My new book is coming out. Think you’ll like it.” Fine. Makes sense. Advertise to the people who already like your work. That’s an ad I welcome.

But the email continued.

“I’m going to put together a marketing team of really smart people like you. If you’re selected for this highly respected team, you’ll conceive of and execute my marketing for me. And I’ll give you a free book!”

So I do all the work and you give me…a book. Son, people get paid tens of thousands of dollars to come up with marketing campaigns. I’m not doing one for you for a token of appreciation.

It’s a long walk off a rotten pier.

Aside from being mad at being undervalued, though I am, I’m really angry at how these marketing schemes cost relationships. I see a blogger I really like and respect start shilling diapers. Or books. Or pumpkin pie filling. Doesn’t matter what the product is. I stop reading as often, I stop trusting what I read, and I stop visiting their blog.

One reader isn’t a big deal. One online relationship dead is not, either.

What matters is that the companies are playing us like fiddles. They get free advertising *and* a sneaky inroad into places marketing isn’t expected. I follow people on Twitter because I want their voices. Not their ads for credit cards.

The companies think they’ll benefit from the trust I have in my social network. I’ve been reading Sue’s blog for five years, so when she sells out to Frozen Fish Sticks Company I’m supposed to be more likely to trust FFSCo as much as I trust Sue.

But I see through you, Frozen Fish Sticks marketing team. I’m pretty sure I don’t trust Sue less because of her deal with Frozen Fish Sticks Company. I know Sue wants to be heard and wants to be paid. But I’m also pretty sure they’re not paying Sue what she is worth. I’m pretty sure all she got out of the chance to annoy me and make me think about visiting her blog less often is a box of frozen fish sticks.

You’re better than that, Sue.

I understand the draw. A lot of people want to feel needed. They want their writing seen by more people and they want to get paid.

Excellent goals.

But getting a nickel to do work that should be paid two hundred dollars isn’t a win for anyone except the corporation that just saved $199.95.

But who am I to tell people to stop writing two-cent ads on Twitter? I forward links to books and magazine articles. The authors and publishers don’t ask me to. They don’t know I’m going to do it. But if I blog that I liked a book, that’s advertising, too. Why draw a distinction between (nominally) paid ads and personal opinion that might drive sales?

Intention.

Maybe I’m grumpy. Or feeling guilty. Soon I’m going to try the aggregating-commercial-site thing that all the kids are doing these days. I’m going to put some of my posts on other sites for free to see what happens.

But I wonder how much that process cheapens what I’ve stood for all these years. I know better than to let my work get away for less than I’m worth.

So why do it?

I still don’t know. I can say that the ads on the sites where most bloggers are aggregated are standard, expected, and usually ignored. It’s like performing on a street corner and being surrounded by billboards. This is simply our online landscape.

But I think it’s really because writers are, at heart, applause whores. We’ll sell our soul to be told we’re good. That’s why we sell ourselves short by selling products, ideas, and companies for far too little.

And in agreeing to have my posts on aggregating sites I’m probably doing exactly that for which I’m thinking of unfollowing other people: shilling crap that nobody needs in exchange for less than I’m worth.

Oh, well. Here’s some Lloyd Dobler to enjoy while you eat your fish sticks. Remember when we were this idealistic? Yeah. Me, too.

Stop supporting slave labor

There have been numerous articles on the use of slave labor, particularly forced child labor, in the production of chocolate. And I’m glad there are alternatives so we don’t have to choose between abstaining (NO!) or feeding our families the product of slave labor (HELL NO!)

When I buy food, I try to balance the important issues: maximizing nutrition while minimizing toxins, cost, and labor abuses.

Didn’t think you had to worry about slavery anymore? I wish that were true.

We buy locally grown organic tomatoes to avoid the pesticides and chemical fertilizers of conventional farms, and also to stay as far away from supporting the obscene work practices of some tomato farmers. I refuse to buy or eat products that are the product of slavery or of child labor. In the case of tomatoes, though, I had no idea I was supporting both until I read Tomatoland, the tomato’s version of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

We also buy fair trade coffee to vote for a world where local cooperatives grow and harvest coffee in conditions safe for the workers and the planet, where workers are paid a fair price for their products, and where crops are not grown in harmony with, rather than at the expense of rain forest.

As we prepare for Halloween, I was thrilled to find Kristen Howerton’s guide to an ethical Halloween because I think Americans spend a lot of time and money ensuring their own kids’ safety, and should learn how the holiday is harmful to other people’s children. Major chocolate companies often get their chocolate from farms that use child labor, child slavery, unsafe working conditions, and grotesque chemicals.

Go read more about the truth behind fun sized chocolate. Then check out one of the alternatives: fair trade chocolate (yum) or treats without any chocolate (also yum). Heck, give out toothbrushes or pencils like I always threaten to do.

Just make sure all children have a chance to be as safe as yours will be on Halloween.

Shut the cluck up

Poor, dear Emily over at Motherfog is in the middle of a sh*t tornado. Go leave a bottle of cyber-wine or a bouquet of cyber-flowers to make her feel good, please.

And now we begin our regularly schedule rant.
People close to the Penn State football program are actually bemoaning the pain caused to the innocent people by sanctions of a program that…wait for it… institutionalized pain caused to innocent people. Shut up about your money, your scholarship, and your football inconveniences. Your privileged life will continue, with only the logistics altered. Sandusky’s victims are Penn State’s victims, and they faced trauma the likes of which a small blip of inconvenience do not compare. You want to know what hurting innocent people really looks like? Talk to the victims. Selfish jackasses.

***

The US Congress is narrowing in on approving a Farm Bill that takes $16 billion away from a program that feeds hungry families, and gives $36 billion to giant agribusinesses. That’s what small government means, I guess: decreasing what U.S. taxpayers spend on people and increasing what we all pay to companies.

Congress is rushing, pretending that passing the bill affects crop insurance for this year’s drought, which it doesn’t. It also includes language that would bar states from enacting their own laws, as California has in banning grotesque chicken farming practices. States rights, apparently, are paramount only when legislators and big business want them to.

***

Sally Ride was a hero for all Americans, but especially of science geek girls (like me) everywhere. She taught us we really can do anything and go anywhere. But her partner of 27 years is not eligible for any of Ms. Ride’s federal benefits because lesbian heroes aren’t, according to our government, equal citizens under the law.

***

The further we get into this election cycle, the more mad I’m getting at the gross ineptitude of our government to treat us with decency, humanity, and honesty. They’re lying to us, their big corporate donors are lying to us, and they’re not doing their jobs, choosing instead to perform political theater for the rest of this year.

Oh HAY-il no.  No.

Running on empty

April’s Runner’s World has an article that promises to tell me “Why [and how] a pair of busy mothers make time to train for races and why [and how] you should, too.”

Spouse brought it home for me after he read the issue because he has a) time to read magazines, b) additional time to train several days a week and the resulting endorphins lead to sharing, c) the speed to win half marathons almost every weekend, the endorphins from which also lead to sharing, d) had enough of me complaining about baby weight and no time to exercise, and e) a death wish.

The article consists of the impressions, opinions, and feelings of two moms. They enjoy running. They race. Yay! I should, too.

(To the two moms whose stories are featured in the Runner’s World piece? I’m glad you’re enjoying your running. Really. Keep it up!)

But there are no data points in this article. How do they fit in runs? When? How many? How long do they race compared with their weekly mileage? Who helps with their children when they run? How old are their children? Does current research show that training while you exist on 5 hours of sleep is good or bad for your body? Should moms who are lactating run less, more, or the same as they would normally run? (That last one is answered on http://www.kellymom.com in case you need more than rant-iness in today’s blog surfing. I aim to be a resource even as I snark, yo. Power to the runner mothers.)

Aside from the indignity of claiming to include a “how” and then neglecting to do so, the article also highlights a wildly insulting quiz written, I’m guessing, by a male editor. In assessing what my next race should be, the quiz’s author mentions having “a baby attached to my teat” as though I were a beat of burden not a human. He also mentions the milestone of having a “child extracted from my loins” as though I just laid there and had Roto-Rooter do the job for me.

Putting aside such condescending douchebaggery for just a moment, let’s look at the pathetic options given in their quiz. According to Runner’s World, having multiple children, a fried brain, years of sleep deprivation, intense isolation, poor eating habits, and relative inactivity (all my actual answers to their stupid multiple choice questions), I should run a 5K. Jackalopes, with those qualifications you should be offering me a vacation, not a freaking three-mile race. Don’t make me stick you in my life for a month, dillweeds, to enable your writing a weepy article on how to handle a 5K when your soul is worn down in ways BodyGlide could never ease.

The other quiz results, by the way, are this stupid: go race soon, race longer than you think you can, or try a longer distance. Um, from which third-rate school did you graduate if your choices are “specific distance, unspecific distance, yay, and more”? Anyone teach you “mutually exclusive, completely exhaustive?” Thought not.

Look here, fathermuckers. Stop pandering with covers that proclaim a “Mommy Solution” and cease publishing sub-standard bullshite.

Here’s a real quiz for you.

You have only the following three choices for running:

1. get up at 5am to run before the kids wake. But you go to bed at 1am every night because that’s what business hours require for now.
2. run with the toddler in the jogging stroller when it’s time to go get the kindergartener from school. NB: you’re not a noontime runner, the toddler resists the stroller like I resist compliments, and the way to school always involves a significant uphill stretch that, with a 25-pound stroller plus 25-pound kid kills what little energy you have to run.
3. Run at 8:30 pm, despite being a morning runner; and after being beaten down all day, using all you energy to pretend patience, and binge eating once the kids finally get into the bath.

Tell me, you smug douche canoes who wrote and printed this useless pseudoarticle, which of those three options is the best for a runner who just cancelled payment on the family subscription?

Plan B

Hold the phone.

After promising that science would “inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health,” President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services has overriden an FDA recommendation to allow over the counter sales of Plan-B, an emergency contraceptive quick access to which is necessary for efficacy.

Since when did we decide that setting a precedent of overruling the FDA was a good idea? Is that a power you want future Presidents to have, Secretary Sebelius and President Obama? Because believe me, the next Republican President will gladly take your idea and apply it to every FDA recommendation he doesn’t agree with. (Yes, I assume the next Republican President will be male, even if they don’t take the White House for 12 years. That was not a casual lack of gender awareness; that was an intentional choice of gendered pronoun.) Science and math are not something one can disagree with. To paraphrase Ira Flatow today on Talk of the Nation, “Pythagorean Theorum? I don’t believe it. It’s only a theory.”

Since when does politics get to trump science? Didn’t you state as a goal, President Obama, that you wanted:

“To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisers based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions. That is how we will harness the power of science to achieve our goals — to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.”

And didn’t you say this:

Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health…. The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.

Sir, you are going to pay for this politically. Severely. You just ruined your relationship with liberal voters and women voters. Really, really dumb move.

Since when does the government get to tell women that they have to wait for the right pharmacist at the right pharmacy at the right time, else be forced to have an abortion? 72 hours is a tight window if you live in a small town and have to find a willing pharmacist during pharmacy hours when the people you can’t trust aren’t watching (for instance the husband who will beat you if he finds out, or the parents who will throw you out if they hear about your need for emergency contraception).

Hillary Clinton said that she believes “in the freedom of women to make their own decisions about the most personal and significant matters affecting their lives.” Once the FDA said Plan B should be sold over the counter, Secretary Clinton fought for three years to implement that recommendation.

Well, I hope she’s reading Obama the riot act tonight. I hope Hillary Clinton and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Obama are right this minute telling that man how reprehensible it is to let politics dictate science.

Politics, by the way, that the OTHER SIDE hold dear.

Your supporters, President Obama, DO NOT SUPPORT YOU IN THIS.

End of Rope Found

Today was a day to go with the flow. I’m down to one client project, Butter has spent so long resisting nap that I just give up, and all the things I need to do are “wait until after bedtime” things. So I vowed to follow Butter and just be with him all day. No timing naps or tasks or emails. I don’t even pull out my phone for most of the day.

After we drop off Peanut at school, Butter asks to go see the construction site. Sure. It’s a block past the coffee I like and the cheese rolls we both like. So we grab a cuppa, a muffin, and a cheese roll and head to…oh, he wants to get down.

Sure.

He then proceeds to walk all over the neighborhood, closely supervised, touching every single rock and leaf and dog and flower and bee. (Yes, bee; he has this uncanny ability to pick them up and have them walk all over his arm and blow them off and they never sting him. Weird.) We traveled every inch of a one block radius several times. We used the bathroom in CheeseBoard Pizza five times. We got water from CheeseBoard seven times. We watched construction for what might have been two million years. He dug in the dirt and put rocks in his cup and carried them ten feet and dumped them out and started over. All unmolested but safe and loved. Awesome sauce.

For three hours. For the record, I started getting a little twitchy at two and a half.

He finally asked to be held and fell instantly asleep on my back. And I knew I couldn’t take him out or he’d refuse a nap. So I took him home and edited with him asleep on my back.

And when he woke just as Peanut got out of school, I willingly followed them both as they giggled off toward home.

It took two hours to travel one mile. I let them do their thing except for safety and kindness issues. For the first 90 minutes. And then I found my limit.

Children, I cannot go slower than 1/3 mile an hour. I can’t do it. I know I hurried you along a bit toward the end, and kept saying, “I know their yard looks fun but we have to go home.” I was cold. And tired. And Type A. Yes, we can sort through all these rocks and choose our favorites and compare them and leave them for the homeowners who paid for them. Yes, we can crunch through leaves. Yes, we can throw them and laugh and play and rake them all back in a pile with a big stick to start all over again. But we have to get moving after 30 minutes because…because…well, because I guess I just don’t love you enough. I know play is important. I know unfettered and undirected and spontaneous is great. I know adult pace isn’t right for kids.

But I will stab myself in the eye if I ever again spend 5 hours moving at tiny scientist pace.

So. Lesson learned. Never, ever, ever, ever spend more than four hours doing what the children want. Ever. Ever.

Never.

Ever.

Take one step back

Oh, my word, Interwebs. To say this day sucked rocks would be like saying a deluge can be a bit damp.

Wake up at midnight to screaming baby. Comfort measures don’t work. Endure *hours* of baby flopping all over bed trying to get comfortable, a feat he seems to think can be achieved by pulling my hair, head butting me, and slapping me. Any attempts at comfort get a screamed “nah nah nah!” and a push in the face.

By morning I’m a wreck but he screams that he wants to get down. When I take off his diaper he rages that he wants it back on. I offer comfort which he refuses. He pees all over the floor then rages when I take off his wet pants. I offer comfort. He refuses. I offer new jammie bottoms. He refuses. I offer pants. He refuses. All refusals offered loudly.

The morning proceeds like this. Offer food, he screams at me. Offer dancing, he screams at me. Offer to help when something doesn’t work and he throws himself on the floor, more mad at my suggestion than at the rat bastard toy. Which he then throws across the room to express frustration. Then throws himself down again to express longing for the toy.

He screams the whole way to school, trying to leap out of the backpack carrier. My back does not appreciate 0.8 miles of sideways baby lurching around, but I try to figure out the problem. Want your hood on? NAH! Want your hood off? NAH! Do you like the rain? Dah. (beat) *scream*

He wants no playground, no home, no cafe, no music, no anything. He nurses as though it’s his 3-week growth spurt. And screams as though he’s auditioning for something very, very sad and angry.

He won’t nap. He won’t get in the stroller or the car or the sling or the mei tai or hiking backpack. At one point I leave him in the living room, crying, to go scream my head off in the kitchen. I scream so hard and loud that I actually wet myself. I’m not the only one, though. As with yesterday, the kid refuses to go in the bathroom. He pees his pants so much I almost run out of pants.

And he stays awake the whole walk to school, two hours past his naptime.

And when a friend greets him sweetly I tell her he doesn’t get any niceness today. He’s a b-a-d b-a-b-y, I say, so don’t talk to him. I’m only slightly kidding.

Brief discussion ensues. She mentions an asymptomatic UTI her toddler had around the same age. the treatment for which turned him back into a normal child. It’s Friday. I’m not going to put up with this all weekend or I will be homicidal.

Two hours later the doc finds two raging ear infections.

[brief note on second-time parents and gross stupidity: if the first one had been acting out of the ordinary, I would have assumed illness. It is evidence of the shell shock born of a really tough time with Peanut that made me jump right past “maybe he is in pain” to assume Butter had just turned the corner into his semi-long-term asshole phase. I plead exhaustion and end-of-my-rope-d-ness to excuse not seeing the signs. I also submit that he was clingy while sick and the refusing to be touch thing smacked of jerk rather than illness. Further, I offer that I used to be good at problem solving and am now good only at barely making it through the day.]

While the pharmacy mixes up some goo (don’t judge our easy use of antibiotics on this one; we’re a wait-and-see family and we’ve gone through nine ear infections with no antibiotics including one ruptured ear drum but this kid is not effing human today and I can’t let him or me go through another day of this) I take both boys to CheeseBoard for a treat. The eldest wants Peet’s instead. Fine. It was a long hour in the doctor’s office and you’re a tired, hungry kid. Muffin it is. Surely I can carry a miserable toddler and a pizza the one extra block.

Peanut gets a bran muffin, finds a table, and willingly shares with his baby brother without being asked. Things are looking up. All the little monster wants is a chair so he can sit next to the big guy. I ask a woman sitting alone at a two-person table if she needs the second chair.

She rolls her eyes and says, as sarcastically as she can muster, “Well, I guess not any more.”

I blink, unable to conjure all the replies she deserves, then walk away as she starts to point out a chair across the restaurant. Lady, I have two small children, one of whom is a Tasmanian Devil toddler who can open the door unassisted and who is currently roaming loose without supervision around strangers’ hot coffee. I’m not going to travel farther from him to get a chair.

“That’s okay. We’ll make do.”

I squat and offer the toddler my knee on which to perch. He throws himself on the floor screaming. I whisper, “Honey, sweet, I know it’s frustrating, but there’s only one chair.”

The condescending, poisonous, passive aggressive asshat says from three tables over, “Oh, geez. Just take the chair.”

Given one iota of energy and the guarantee that my children would be safe while I stepped away for a moment, I would have walked over and punched her square in the face, so help me Aphrodite.

Instead I lovingly scoop up the demonic presence inhabiting my youngest’s body and walk outside with him. I gently ask the beleaguered older brother to come with us. The wee one squirms out of my arms and almost knocks himself unconscious on the concrete. I help him stand and offer comfort and options. He pees all over the sidewalk. In his only pants. In the rain on a 45 degree Fall evening four blocks from the pharmacy.

And I actually don’t cry. Or bang on the window and curse at the fathermucking selfish c-word who couldn’t even admit that she needed the empty chair.

I put the screaming sadsack in the carrier and sing to him as we walk to the pharmacy. I pick up the goo while he screams. I pay while he screams. I walk him to the car while he screams. And sit down in the car with the five year old who willingly reads a book and eats his muffin. I want to cry but don’t. I nurse the baby, text Spouse a warning about my mood, and tell myself that if I can make it 10 hours into this day, I can do two more.

Look, I know sometimes you have a long day and want to sit alone in a cafe. I know sometimes you’re waiting for someone and need a second chair. I know sometimes the love of your life just occupied the chair across from you and you want to keep the essence of your bond alive by leaving the chair vacant. In that case, just say you need the other chair.

I’m not entitled to the chair. I am, however, entitled to some fracking human compassion. There are only two answers: Yes or No. Sarcasm and confusing condescension and weirdass nastiness should not be part of the equation.

I’ve been asked if I can spare a chair. I answer either, “Nope, it’s all yours,” or, “Actually I’m expecting someone, sorry.”

Isn’t that in the social contract somewhere?

Failure

I don’t usually remember dreams, but I always remember nightmares.

My recurring nightmare since college finds me waking in my dorm room in a panic, realizing that I haven’t attended one of my classes all semester and that today is the final. My angst, though, is not that I haven’t studied for the test. In my version of sheer terror, I’m worried that I won’t find the classroom (haven’t been all semester, after all) and that I won’t do well enough on the final to offset a whole semester of homework and tests. The explaining as I walk in, really, dwarfs my realization that I don’t even have a passing familiarity with the name of the class, let alone the subject matter.

For the first time, that dream has changed.

Last night I dreamt I was a spy. Kickass, counter-terrorist, highly trained Superspy. And I was assigned a mission to go save a bunch of innocents by stopping evildoers. I probably even had the skin-tight yet highly flexible costume of all highly skilled and intelligent women, as mandated by mainstream (read: feminist) television and movies.

But I realize as the appointed hour arrives and I leave the weird government building (which seems a lot more ASPCA than Langley, VA) that I don’t know where to go to stop the bad guys. And that I have no bullets. None. Big ol’ gun that I’m sure I know how to dissemble and reassemble blindfolded in under 20 seconds, but no ammunition. And somehow I’m supposed to get in my rental hatchback (wtf? how am I supposed to spy with this tin can?) and drive to…somewhere…and stop a major plot with an empty gun.

I awoke as I was trying to figure out if, somehow on my way I could stop and break into a sporting good store (my assassination/rescue mission began in the wee hours, naturally) for bullets.

Stress I get. Fear of academic failure…sure. Concern that I’ll be at the wrong place at the wrong time…clearly a theme for me. But worried that I can’t save the world because I’m ill equipped? Come on subconscious. Now you’re just scaring me.

And a bag of chips

Things I learned while I was deathly ill last week:

9. I’m a very patient person.
Stop laughing and listen.
I didn’t think so either. I thought I was fair-to-middling in the patient parent category. But during the first 6 hours of the fever-and-puke-and-sore-throat-fest I like to call The Painful Beginning to Losing the Baby Fat, every time my kids balked about, whined about, or snapped at one of my requests, I burst into tears. It was eye-opening for all of us. And I have a new way to make them do stuff. Ask once, wait not at all, then fall down whimpering softly.
Try it. It works.

8. Hot showers were created for people with fevers. (Sorry, developing world. I’m sure blankets and herbal treatments are nice, too?) I used to think, thanks to an ex-boyfriend, that showers were invented for people in Boston who just couldn’t get warm in the winter. (Sorry, again, developing world and residents of steppes and deserts; we really do suck as a culture.) And hot showers are really, really good for restoring warm bloodedness to the chilled, it’s true. But those with multi-day fevers get stiff necks and headaches from muscle tension, and showers are muy bueno for melting muscle tension.

7. The false hope of recovery given by a shower lasts exactly 7 minutes when you have the early-October public school creeping crud.

6. Old people stay sick way longer than young people. Peanut had a one-day fever and a half-day recovery. I got the four-day version. He kept telling me it was a different germ. I kept looking at him, loopy with pain and disorientation, not caring whether I ever regained my will to form speech sounds but thinking something like, “Nuh-uh.”

5. Children are loud.

4. October in Northern California, with its 80 degree weeks, really sucks when you’re sick. Briiiiiiight. Hhhhhhhhhhot. Dryyyyyyy.

3. Children move very, very quickly. Like hyena.

2. Spouses who can leave work after their really important meetings and blow off their kind-of-important meetings to take over 100% for ailing parenting-partners are worth their weight in chocolate, syrah, or Ricola (pick your fever-poison). Spouses who do not even once ask you what to cook for the children or where to take the children while you writhe and whimper on the couch are worth their weight in quiet, solo vacation time.

1. And yet somehow I know this four days of decrepitude is going to count as a vacation in later debates when I trot out the old, “when was the last time I got a break?!”

That’s okay, I guess. He can win every debate for the next month at least.

Hope you’re all well, readers!

Enough

I started running again a couple of weeks ago. I let go of the Shoulds and the Rules I’d constructed around my life and let myself have 20 minutes, three nights a week. Because I need exercise to feel good and I have been denying myself that because there are other, more important things to do. Because I need oxygen to feel good, but I have denied myself that, too, because there are other, more important things to do. I know I need to follow the rhythms of my body, after a day of following the rhythms (often conflicting) of two little people, to feel good, but I don’t let myself because there are things—an endless list of things—to do. I was being self destructive and eating to relax because I can eat while I do at least half of the other things I need to do.

Need. To do.

So I started running. And the first night I went, I relaxed and let go and tried to feel the night and the lights and the air and the PAIN of running after almost a year wash over me. My body has not been my own since I grew Peanut six years ago. And I took one step in getting it back.

At the midpoint of my teeny tiny run I saw a woman laughing near the window of her living room, the walls of which were decorated with exotic percussion instruments. She had her arms over her head, and she was dancing and playing some bell/drum thing. [Let’s pretend I was going so fast I couldn’t quite place the instrument; more likely I was trying to be in the moment and not stare at the neighbors.] And I thought, “That’s what I want in my life.” She looked happy. And comfortable in her body. And she was having fun with music in her home in a cozy neighborhood that I’ve loved for years.

As I ran by she saw me. And stared. Really saw me and stopped to think about it. It was probably only four seconds, but in my head it was forty. And she was thinking, according to my self-doubting Critic brain, “What is that woman doing? Is she really out running and ruining your knees on asphalt, alone, when there is life to be lived? Wow. I can’t imagine.” In my brain she is much more gentle with me than I am, because she probably should have thought “pathetic,” “delusional,” and “clearly unbalanced.”

I kept running, but seeing how this woman spent her 20 minutes this evening had me thinking about how my rejection of my rules, of my shoulds, needed to go even further. I needed to be drumming and dancing and singing. I needed to be happy. I needed to reorganize my priorities and balance my life and don only what’s most important…well, it simply wasn’t enough to work all day, without a break, then run and then write or edit and then clean and then prepare and then start all over again. It was just not enough. I am not Enough. And she’s the one who told me that with her look.

[jump forward one week]

Today after school Peanut and Butter and I went to a playground with two other families. We liked each other, we wanted to see if our kids could be friends, and we wanted some adult company while our kids burned through their after-school energy. So we talked as I chased Butterbean through a creek and across rocks and up hills and after dogs. And when I mentioned where we lived, one of the other moms told me where she lived. I told her that her house was on my new running route.

She looked at me and said, “I knew that was you I saw running. I was in my living room acting like an idiot and I recognized you.”

And there it was. She stared because she knew me. And from that recognition I read judgement and pity and superiority. I told her I thought she was looking because I was pathetic. And now that she knew I had seen her, she quickly tried to couch her reckless abandon as silliness and lunacy when all I had seen was joy and humanity.

The rules and the shoulds and the inferiority and the judgement are there, waiting to sabotage. Waiting to say it’s not enough, whatever it is.

Maybe, every once in a while, we can remember whose rules they are. Because if we’re not Enough we can change, and when we are Enough, we need to see it.

Maybe we could see into our own living spaces with the eyes of a gentle, tired, flawed human and see who we really are.

I’m pretty sure it’s Enough.

***

(This post is being simulcast over at Dump Your Frump, where they believe whatever you do is more than enough.)

In which I go all Yosemite Sam

Frickafracka galldarned fanglewrangle pifflepoffle…

[UPDATED 8/21]
Searching for a child-sized non-toxic backpack for Peanut is some serious bullsh*t. Almost all the backpacks out there have PVC and lead, and I’m furious that I have to work so hard to find that most companies are a bunch of corner-cutting liars, thieves, and jackweeds. Not shocked, mind you. Mad.

Phthalates were banned from children’s toys in 2008 (but not other children’s products). PVC (vinyl) and small amounts of lead are allowed in the manufacture of children’s toys and in other products. Despite the hazards of PVC, shocking number of school supplies are still made of this toxic plastic, including binders, backpacks, sheet protectors, paper clips, and rain gear. And offensive as that is, since none of the parents I know are willing to buy products that invite their kids into the worlds of asthma, reproductive problems, cancer, obesity, ADHD, and learning disabilities; lunchboxes and backpacks with PVC have lead, too. That’s because PVC is made with heavy metals. Bonus, special for you today: (at least) two toxins for the price of one! (and don’t get me started on cadmium)

Sorry, what? They’re making stuff for kids to carry around and touch and eat from that are not free of lead or PVC? What the frickafracka glippidygloppedy…

Here’s what I’ve found (in my copious free time for such nonsense):

DwellSmart’s backpack is bigger than a toddler pack and smaller than a big kid pack. PVC-free and non-toxic. Cotton and whatnot. Thank heavens. Also? No chance my kid will want it. I would. But he likes bold and designs. And glitter and sequins and stickers and neon lights on everything. [sigh]

Dwell Studio offers some nice retro-esque prints and an ideal size.

Cute packs for big kids and for little kids by Beatrix are just the right size and fit our non-toxic requirements.

Ah, hemp. Can’t go wrong with natural fabrics, right? Rawganique has a whole selection, including a mini backpack just the right size. As with DwellSmart, small problem with the lack of kid-friendly prints or design. Perhaps they could add just a sweet cotton applique or stitched design? My kid would choose either if they had a stitched robot on the pocket.

Fluf Organics has my personal favorite kindergarten nontoxic PVC-free, lead-free, phthalate-free, BPA-free backpack.

Not Quite:
Wildkin pack-n-snacks are PVC-free, phthalate-free, and BPA-free but don’t specify lead-free. They say they comply with legal standards. That pretty much screams “probably has lead but don’t sue us because we didn’t promise it didn’t” to me. There’s a big difference between lead-free and lead-compliant. Lead compliant means within the legal limit for lead. Federal standards for lead is less than 100 ppm (if they actually found that level feasible, having proposed lowering it from 300 ppm. So complying with federal law means less than 0.03% to 0.01% lead. Lead free, however, means no lead. Given how much energy I’m investing in these kids, I prefer lead free.

Crocodile Creek has some backpacks that are PVC-free, phthalate-free, and BPA-free. Again, they say they comply with legal standards. Less than 100 ppm lead.

Hanna Andersson has a line of PVC-free backpacks, too. They will only say they comply with lead and phthalate regulations, which does not set my mind at ease. Plus, they don’t have any without pink and purple right now, though, and my long-haired, nail-painting, pink-loving son has enough hurdles entering kindergarten that I’m not showing him these.

High Sierra has PVC-free backpacks (and tents, which we found as we searched for a four-person tent [shout out to Butter, y’all!] But I can’t find one for kids and their pack-finding tool at the High Sierra website is broken, so I’m mad at them.

SafeMama, the guru of hunting down companies until they weep and admit their eco-toxic ways has a cheat sheet for us. Naturally.

But everything else out there is too big for my kid or too toxic for anyone.

[aside: if you have someone larger than a kindergartener, you might be interested in this link from Be Safe Net. That, plus SafeMama’s cheat sheet, might lead you to High Sierra and Jansport and Patagonia and Timbuk2 and Ecogear. Maybe not. If you have a smaller dude on their way somewhere important, like school or day care or from one room to another, you’ll check out Mimi the Sardine and Skip Hop zoo backpacks. And CBHstudio, which has the most adorable backpacks I’ve seen, PVC-free, BPA-free, phthalate-free, lead free. Maybe you’ll make your own backpack. Maybe you can send me one and I will be grateful.]

Frickafracka…we’ll see which of the five options I found that work for us, DwellSmart, DwellStudio, Rawganique, Fluf Organics, or Beatrix.

Why can’t we just go to local stores and buy things that are safe?

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Shirking duties

To the two dads at the library this weekend: you are a couple of jackasses. I’m guessing your partners asked you to “please take the kids somewhere so I can have one freaking hour to myself.” When you agreed, layered under the gratitude and the giddiness there was an unspoken understanding—unspoken because your partner should absolutely not have to say this—that you would actually be with your kids. Whether you chose the library or not, you should have known that being with your kids means parenting your kids. Not taking them somewhere and ignoring them.

Jackass #1, I don’t want your goddamned daughter following me, hovering over my shoulder, leaning on my kid to see what I’m reading or showing him on the computer, and asking me to read to her. I don’t like her. It’s not her fault; it’s yours. You left her alone with a big wad of gum in her mouth and a need to talk to someone, anyone, who would listen. She’s five, dude. Spend some time with her. And take that goddamned gum out of her mouth. When she asks you to read to her, as she did when you finally showed up an hour later, don’t tell her “not now, maybe at home.” Fracking dillweed. You’re at the library. You have to read to your kid. It’s the law. (By the way, why would you bring home that crappy book she chose all by herself while you had totally abandoned her to do whatever it was you desperately needed to do alone while your kid wandered aimlessly and alone? Why not read that piece of junk now and take home something good? Something that, say, you pick out with her based on her interests? Oh, right. Because you’re a jackass.)

Jackass #2: Thanks for making Jackass #1 look good. He, at least, told his daughter not to leave the library. Your four-year-old is in the freaking parking lot answering questions from strangers about where her daddy is. She doesn’t know your name, by the way, you anal pore, because you don’t spend enough time with her for her to think of you as human. In her defense, we don’t think you’re human, either. And she doesn’t know where you last were because you’re so self absorbed that you don’t know four-year-old time runs in a parallel universe where fifteen minutes of something they like is “one minute” and one minute alone equals fifteen minutes of destruction. Or fear. You’re a useless sack of subhuman compost. And a useless father. When the strangers who are helping your daughter find you I hope they read you the riot act. And that they then call your partner who will now pay for that one hour of trusting your sorry, pathetic lack of common sense with the knowledge that that one hour a week, that one glimmer of hope at a sense of self should become a whole weekend twice a month (if you got joint custody, which no judge would grant). You’re as useless and horrible as a spicy linguine speculum. Jackass.

To all you other fathers out there, I hold out hope that you actually spend time with, think of, and care for your daughters. Leaving them alone at the library is, as you well know, not acceptable until they are old enough to head for the Judy Blume section. Once that happens, it is your job to hang out near the librarian’s desk so you can answer questions, listen in, and escort her out when she’s ready to be with you again. Until she’s reading Forever, though, please actually parent her. And after she reads it—for the sake of all that is awesome about fathers and daughters—keep parenting her.

It’s your mothereffing job.

(So is kicking the crap out of the Jackasses who don’t do their mothereffing jobs. Help the rest of the parents out, would ya? We can’t do this alone.)

If it gets me a week off, I guess I’ll take it

“Parenting is overrated. A secret for child-rearing success: do less http://theatln.tc/ifc4ae #longreads”

The Atlantic‘s tweet makes it sound as though we don’t have to parent, because nature takes care of most of it. In fact, if we try hard, we’re screwing them up. But the article says different. The article says if we do everything we’ll screw them up. If we are perfect, our kids will suffer.

No risk of that here. I’m not trying that hard. And I’m failing with a nice steady rhythm that would back a hot hiphop routine.

But I was all prepared to let up a little. Twitter promised me a parenting vacation, seeing as how all my attention was killing my children’s future potential. I had a lot of reading to catch up on, so I was willing to try lounging and reading and ignoring.

But all Lori Gottlieb argues, really, is that overprotecting children, carefully directing and managing their every moment makes for unhappy future adults. Duh. If you don’t let them feel disappointment, handle their own sorrow, wallow a bit in a stew of lonliness and marginalization, we rob them of coping skills.

Who are these parents who have so much time they can get them invited to every party and armwrestle teachers into better grades? I can barely get three meals and two snacks into them. I can barely get books back to the library within ten dollars of their due dates. I can’t even remember their jackets half the time. How the hell am I gonna micromanage their emotional lives to spare them disappointment? Please.

I’d be happy to back off more, except that if I back up much further I’ll need binoculars to see them grow up. My goal is not to make life perfect for these amazing, sweet, interesting, wonderful little boys. My goal is to give them every chance to figure out who they are and what’s important to them. To offer them what I can and have them make the rest for themselves.

So I felt betrayed by The Atlantic, whose tweet had promised a parenting vacation of novels and bonbons. But I couldn’t hold a grudge because an hour or so later I got really mad at Rolling Stone.

I saw in a Rolling Stone piece that Michele Bachmann was raised by two lifelong Democrats. Too much parenting? Not enough parenting? All I’m saying is that what keeps me up at night is that if we try really hard and parent in earnest, and then wind up with a borderline psychopath for our efforts, I’ll have to explain myself to Rolling Stone. In an issue with a reinvented, 80-year-old Madonna on the cover.