And Then I Stepped in Gum . . .

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Remember the Maine, the Plymouth Rock, and the Golden Rule!

(Urgent undercurrent of crowd chanting, "TROUBLE, trouble, trouble, trouble . . .)

All right, I just read a second instance this morning of someone wondering if Thanksgiving is solely an American holiday, or if others in the world share it with us. Doesn't anybody remember the whole Thanksgiving story as we learned it in pre-PC times? You know, Indians (or Native Americans -- your choice, since it's unlikely we'll be giving it back to them), Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock, Mass.? Why on Earth would someone think that perhaps Thanksgiving is celebrated in England or elsewhere?

I'm all for political correctness (ask Tori, with whom I got into a discussion about it this weekend), but perhaps global education is making some minds a bit too open and inclusive. Or at least, it's not being done well enough, because there are people out there who aren't getting it.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday. (There is a Canadian Thanksgiving, but that's celebrated on America's Columbus Day.) And yes, thank you Dave, Ben Franklin wanted to make the turkey our national bird (first sighting of that reference was in yesterday's episode of Stanley). So have fun with it. And don't feel too bad for the British. After all, they've got Guy Fawkes Day and the Queen's birthday. It's okay for them to have separate holidays and even their own national identity. Really.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

"T" Is for "Two" and "Time Out"

OK, he's not quite two (about 5 weeks to go), but we've definitely hit that "terrible" stage with Ian. Although he's said the word "no" for quite a while now, he hasn't really been in the "no" phase. Well, he is now. Everything we say to him elicits a response of a firm, unconditional "no." And I've started putting him in time out for it. "Ian, go eat in the kitchen." "No!" (accompanied by flinging bits of banana -- on purpose -- over the fabric I'm working on). Result: time out in his room. "Ian, stop coloring on the chair. Crayons are used on paper." "No!" (accompanied by renewed determined scribbling). Result: another time out. I wonder how long this is going to take.

He also enjoys telling us to "DOP!" when we're doing something he doesn't like, like sitting somewhere he wants to sit or picking up something he wants. He curls up his little fist and sticks out his pointer finger at us and hollers "DOP!" That's just really got to go.

And what's the deal with a kid who can't (won't?) say "dog" or "cat" but has no problem learning "top drawer" and "cuckoo clock"? I tell you, he's just experimenting with us to find our buttons so he can push them for the next 40 years.


I'm sure you're all just dying to know how my "date" with Alexander McCall Smith went. I did get to go (after abandoning my husband and children at a car dealership to deal with men who want to sell us a minivan for way too high a price), and it was a lot of fun. McCall Smith, who lives in Scotland (though he grew up in Africa), arrived in a lurid orange and pea green plaid kilt, complete with green knee socks, green tie, and leather sporran. It was quite a sight. All I can say is, if I were born into that clan, I think I'd farm myself out to be adopted!

I was surprised by his accent when he began to speak. I'm not sure what I expected, exactly, but he had quite the posh British accent -- no trace of Scottish until he said the word "bewwwwk" (book). He's in his late 50s, probably (too lazy to go look it up), and he had a very dry sense of humor. He shared anecdotes about the "Really (pronounce "rahly) Terrible Orchestra" that he plays in (that's really it's name -- it's like a high school band for adults who aren't musically inclined but like to play for fun), readers who confronted him with the type of books he ought to write, people he'd met in Africa who had inspired some of his characters, and how he never intended to become a "serial novelist." He also answered questions from the audience.

This is where I found the proceedings somewhat strange. The reason McCall Smith came to town is that Tears of the Giraffe, the second book in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, was chosen as "Mobile's Book" this year. You might have heard of this program, in which a city adopts a book and encourages people in the community to read and discuss it, and events are organized around it. It's been spreading across the country; the first I heard about it was when Chicago chose to read To Kill a Mockingbird a few years ago, and last year Long Island selected The Great Gatsby, since it was set on Long Island's Gold Coast. Anyway, I thought Tears was an interesting choice, but I couldn't get anyone to explain to me why it was chosen. While I find the series a good read, and enjoy the books for their incredible description and characters, I'm not sure how "literary" they are. Even a member of the committee who chose it didn't know exactly why they picked that one, except that, she said, the author had to be willing to come to Mobile to give talks.

I thought perhaps choosing a book set in Africa was a nod to the fairly large, but also fairly separate, African American community within the city. This may have been influenced by my seeing an ad for a discussion of the book at a black bookstore (i.e., a bookstore that specializes in black literature). Maybe, I thought, this book was meant to bridge cultural gaps.

If so, I think it may have been a failure. Of about 150-200 people at the free talk given at the library, I'd say approximately 10 of them were African American. And several of those were either employees of the library or of the aforementioned bookstore, which had a table set up to sell copies of the book for signing. And, of course, McCall Smith himself is white.

What I really wanted to ask him to do, but couldn't bring myself to, was to address the issue of writing novels that are so evocative of a culture that really isn't his own. Recently I've been reading Cry, the Beloved Country, a novel set in the 1940s (when it was written) in South Africa that focuses on the racial divide and violence and the difficult (to say the least) circumstances for blacks or "natives" at that time. And yet that, too, was written by a white man. I know that novelists don't have to restrict themselves to writing characters that are just like them -- literature would probably be pretty boring if that were the case -- but it seems such a leap in these instances. And to me, it smacks of at least a little bit of paternalism -- perhaps unconscious paternalism, as I don't want to ascribe negative motives to anyone without giving them the benefit of the doubt -- but paternalism nonetheless. I would really love to have heard the author address that.

Instead, he was asked questions such as, "What does J. L. B. stand for in Mr. Matekoni's name?" (I know the answer but it's supposed to be "confidential") and, "What does red bush tea really taste like?" (in response to which he gave a plug for Republic of Tea's rooibos tea). I did get a chance to ask a question, and I went with the less-confrontational "Why do you think there's so little action in your books [he had previously acknowledged that there was a lot of tea drinking and cake eating]?" follwed up with "Do your editors ever push you to insert more action, climax and denoument and so forth?" He gave very thoughtful answers to my questions, which just made me wish more people had asked some probing questions.

Another racial note came up when I realized that the reception afterward was catered exclusively by African Americans. Again, interesting. I don't know if people down here don't notice it, but I certainly do. Yet I'm not quite willing to bring it to everyone's attention, which makes me feel a little bit cowardly. It's bad enough being a Democrat.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Eating My Words

Umm . . . whoops. See that egg? There, all over my face? I made a mistake. Alexander McCall Smith is talking on Tuesday night, not Wednesday. So I think I can go after all (she says with a sheepish look). Unless, of course, I've unavoidably roped myself into a meeting that I planned -- got to go work on getting myself out of that.

God, I'm so embarrassed.

A Good, Old-Fashioned Vent

Dave, don't read this. I'm not pissed at you, but I am pissed.

Next week, Alexander McCall Smith is coming to town. He wrote the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, which I read and really enjoyed. I can't imagine that internationally renowned bestselling authors come to Mobile all that often. I've been looking forward to going to the talk he's giving at the local library (just down the block!) for about two months, ever since I heard about it. I made my mom send back my copy of the first book in the series so I could get it autographed.

Lately, I've been reading Cry, the Beloved Country and enjoying that also (well, I was, until I reached page 192 and it skipped to page 129, right in the middle of the crucial trial, because of a misplaced signature -- I still have to get to Barnes & Noble to rectify this). Between this book, set in South Africa in the 1940s, and the Precious Ramotswe series, set in Botswana, I'm getting a feel for a foreign continent about which I know almost exactly nothing. I've been very interested in issues of race and white paternalism in African countries. I'm especially intrigued by the fact that both of these authors, Alexander McCall Smith and Alan Paton, are white men writing about black or "native" African culture. Are they representing it accurately, or are their descriptive and narrative efforts affected by not belonging to the society they are illustrating? How would/have native/black Africans relate or react to these books? I don't know if I have the nerve to confront McCall Smith with accusations of racist paternalism in a book talk setting, but maybe someone will bring it up.

Well, now I may not get a chance to find out. Dave has been suddenly ordered to NY to do some filming at Brookhaven National Lab and Cold Spring Harbor Lab -- our old stomping grounds. Never mind that he's gotten to go away twice in the last couple of months, leaving me doing the single parent thing (though I admit, this is less daunting these days than it has been in the past). Never mind that he gets to fly on an airplane, alone, reading books and magazines and dozing, something he and I were just fantasizing about the other night in the hot tub. Never mind that he can't even think of anyone he wants to visit, right there where we used to live, and I would love to get together with a couple of my friends. But the trip overlaps with the book talk! So unless I find a babysitter, I don't get to go. And we don't exactly have a babysitter yet, though I have a couple of leads. I guess I'll be hunting those down. I'm just so pissed that something I've planned for and looked forward to for so long, something that's really important to me, is getting shafted because of a last-minute thing.

There is a lunch that day, during which I would have childcare, but it's downtown and costs $25. I may go anyway, if I can find the contact info, because it would be easier (and maybe even cheaper) than finding a babysitter. But damn! I really wanted to go to this library talk!

That's it. I don't know if I feel better for venting or not. But I've got to go straighten up a bit before our new nanny's first day. Cross your fingers it works out, and remind me to blog about filling out the nanny application and struggling to resist the urge to channel Jane and Michael Banks.

Monday, November 08, 2004

My Little Fashion Victim

We had a bee-yoo-tee-ful weekend down here in Mobile. Highs in the low 70s, sunshine, a coolness to the air . . . it was fantastic! And finally, time to break out the long sleeves and pants! So I get to get out all the little outfits I bought on clearance at the beginning of the summer for Ian. The only problem is that at the beginning of the summer, he was just so much more of a baby than he is now. So I may have made some fashion faux pas in regard to him.

The biggest one became evident yesterday. I dressed him in this cute one-piece coverall sprinkled with cars and keys. Navy blue knit with red and yellow cars. Snaps down the front, but not all the way. The first thing Katie did when she saw him was mock him: "He looks like he's wearing jammies." Dave chimed in. I told them to hush -- I didn't want Ian to think the outfit was jammies and refuse to wear it. We went off for our outing (a cornfield maze and some shopping).

Then while we were shopping, at about 4 p.m., a gentleman walked past Ian, looked him up and down, and proclaimed, "Looks like somebody's ready for bed." "They're really not supposed to be pajamas," I protested weakly. I mean, I know they're not supposed to be pajamas, because they had a little tag on them that clearly stated they were not to be used as sleepwear. So obviously, they can't really look like pajamas, right?

Then we went to a bookstore and putzed around for a long time. When we'd finally (mostly) gotten our fill, we headed home. In talking to Dave, I conceded that, all right, I might decide to relegate the outfit to jammies status. "Why?" he asked. "Because of the comment that woman made in the bookstore?" He hadn't even heard the one in the other store.

Sigh. OK, so maybe he's not such a baby anymore. At least he still looks cute in overalls.

I Think [cough, cough] I Smell [gasp] Gas

I had to call in backup to pick up Katie from school today (fortunately Dave works about 5 minutes from there) because I had to stay home for the gas service and the plumbing service. Why? Because the gas smell I called about months ago (and freaked out about at the time) is not, as the plumbing service would originally have me believe, the smell of new Sheetrock, but actually the smell of a leak in the attic coming down the wall and out behind the stove. (And here I was thinking it was just my imagination in some way -- that'll teach me to ignore my instincts!)

The only way I found out about this is that I went out to get the mail today and smelled gas in the front yard (everyone has gas lampposts in our subdivision) so I called Mobile Gas, and the guy came out with a little "geiger counter" to detect gas, and I asked him to check behind the stove while he was here. And it went off like crazy! AAA!!! The gas guy said it was a little leak -- not really dangerous -- but definitely a leak. Now the plumbing guy is here and he's amazed that no one detected it before, and can't believe the gas guy left without turning off the gas at the main line. AAAA!!!

And I, big hypochondriac that I am, am wondering if this free-floating gas in our house is the reason I've been having bad dizzy spells. Oh, sure, it could be that I went off the Zoloft and my brain is adjusting to that, but that's far too simple an answer. Must . . . have . . . things . . . to . . . fret . . . about . . .

OK, oil heat sucked in NY, but at least you never had to worry about your house spontaneously combusting if something went wrong!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

They Never Had a Chance . . .

Our poor children. Our poor, destined-for-geekdom kids. It's bad enough that they're smart. And that their parents don't have an athletic bone in their bodies. But now this!

We listen to NPR. A lot. Well, we used to listen to it a lot when we were in NY and could get it almost any hour of the day; here, we listen when we can. And so Katie, at 2 years old, was overheard to be singing a little song to herself while eating breakfast: "Oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal, oatMEALLLLL" to the tune of the theme song to All Things Considered.

And now Ian, at just 22 months, is humming the song to himself too.

The poor dears.

Although I guess that says a lot for the catchiness of the show's theme song!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

And One More Thing . . . or Maybe Two

I forgot to say in my previous post that it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if the Democrats could have fielded a candidate that people were truly excited about, not just one whose primary attraction was that he wasn't Bush. I guess whoever said that any person who wanted that job would be someone we wouldn't want in it might have been right.

And I'm also really, really hoping that Bush doesn't take this win as a sign that he made the right move with this "War on Terror"/invasion of Iraq -- that he doesn't see re-election as a reward for such behavior. I'll just have to hope that he sees the division in the voting public as a wake-up call that maybe he's not as right as he thinks he is. But I have to say, I'm not holding my breath.

Getting Political

I'm depressed about the whole election thing. So much so that I'm going to blow off my chiropractor appointment this morning because I just don't feel like going. And I'm not even gonna call -- I'm going to pretend I forgot. Whoa, look at me rebel!

I've been posting my political thoughts to my March Moms e-mail list, and I have been trying to tread very carefully. I know there are members of the list who feel differently about certain issues than I do, and I know they feel equally as strongly as I do, and I know that they have put thought into these issues just as I have -- we've just come to different conclusions. That's everybody's prerogative (cue Bobby Brown), and I don't want to offend. It's just not the place for that.

But here -- it's my blog, and I'll kvetch if I want to!

How, how could Bush have won again? How can people not see through him? I know that my Weltanschauung is colored by my high personal emphasis on intelligence and intellectualism, but as far as I can tell, he's just not smart enough to be president. I used to think that was okay -- that he surrounded himself with good, well-informed people to help him make decisions. I won't judge someone for using their resources wisely. BUT THEY'RE NOT GOOD, WELL-INFORMED PEOPLE! Donald Rumsfeld scares me, as does Dick Cheney. And I'm sure I don't even know about half of the people who have the president's ear.

The popular vote is once again so close, and what does that say? To me, with the parties' platforms so polarized, it says that approximately half the people in the country really strongly disagree with the other half. That just seems wrong. A diversity of opinions, sure -- that's America. But two opinions, at opposite ends of the spectrum, with half of us believing one and half of us believing the other? It's a tug-of-war, and it's apparently going to go on for four more years.

Honestly, I look at some of these issues as no-brainers, and I just can't understand the viewpoint of people who stand on the other side from me. Abortion rights? To me, a no-brainer -- the person who's going to have to be tied to a child for 18+ years should make the decision as to whether that's the right choice for her. Sure, I think people should be educated about and take responsibility for their sexual activity -- remember, this is the woman who waited until she was 21 and a college graduate before having sex -- but I think an 18-year-long sentence is an awfully harsh punishment for mistakes or thoughtlessness.

Gay rights? Including the right to marry? Again, a no-brainer for me. Why should anyone who is an adult and able to make his or her own decision about every other aspect of his or her life be denied the right to choose a partner for life and enjoy the same privileges almost everyone else in the country does? Why do we feel the need to intrude on the happiness of couples who have found each other? Because it's not what the mainstream does? Yet I firmly believe that hardly anyone chooses their sexual orientation. And so why should we punish a subset of citizens for something they haven't chosen?

Prayer in school? The Ten Commandments in a courtroom? How clear does the Constitution have to be about the separation of church and state? How can we not look at societies like Afghanistan under the Taliban, Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, Israel under Jewish rule, and others and realize that maybe those founding fathers knew what they were talking about? That maybe it's not such a good idea to have people who think they know what God wants be the ones making the decisions for everyone else in the country?

Obviously, what these issues have in common is that some people believe that there is a morally wrong side and a morally right side to them, with those morals founded in their chosen religion (generally, but not always, Christian). I wonder what our politics would look like if we could just set these issues aside during the election. So many seem to vote primarily based on where they stand on these issues, whether that's in their best interests related to how the country is run or not. Sure, it gives candidates an easier banner to stand behind (on both sides) and allows them to skim over complexities that can really matter to people. We wouldn't want people to really have to think now, would we?

I was listening to a pundit on CNN (sorry, I just can't keep track of all the names) this morning who, very reasonedly, interpreted the results of the election to mean that the Democrats just aren't listening to the voice of the people whom they want to represent -- that they think they speak for a lot of the people in the country, but that they really don't. And I wonder, is that true? All -- and I mean all -- of the Democratic principles represent my viewpoints. Inclusion, taxing to pay for things rather than just running up debts, separating church and state -- I can't think of anything I disagree with the Democratic party about, unless it's having to kowtow to people in order to compromise and get things accomplished. (Yes, I'm even "left of my own party," as a local campaign ad was accusing a candidate of being.)

So am I that out of touch with the mainstream? I don't feel like I am. I'm a typical suburban mom, raising my kids and making a living and trying to live the best life I can. How can I be viewed as wrong by so many people in this country? Does this mean I don't belong here? Not that I'm seriously threatening to pull up stakes and move to another country, but it does cause some existential doubt. Just as I have internal conflict about whether I should still call myself a Catholic when I so vehemently disagree with many fundamental principles of the Roman Catholic Church, I'm wondering whether I'm really an American. I know I'd like to consider myself a part of the majority, but apparently, at this point in time, I'm not. It's depressing.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Wisdom I Must Share

So here I am, blogging in the wee hours of the morning. And why? Because I have stumbled across some ageless wisdom that I must share with you, my faithful readers, and I can't rest until I've done so.

So here it is.

#1: If you've been sidelined with a stomach virus for all of the previous day, even if you think it might have been food poisoning, and your child complains that her tummy hurts at dinnertime, don't -- please, for the love of God -- don't feed her carrots for dinner.

#2: If you ignore Wisdom Item #1, don't engage in pillow talk with your partner about how you hope your child isn't getting sick, and then joke, in a mocking manner, "If she does throw up, what is she going to throw up -- the three carrots she ate for dinner?" For to do so is to tempt the fates.

#3: When your child approaches you in the dark, not two minutes after such ill-conceived geniality, and is very upset and says again that her tummy hurts, rush her to an uncarpeted area. Do not stand in the hallway with her, futilely attempting to catch the vomit in your hand (even though that's a proud badge of motherhood, IMO). Your hands aren't big enough.

#4: However, if you manage to keep your cool about all of these things and get the child back into bed without being more upset than she would normally be, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for your good mommy moments (and also give thanks that the child's timing was exceptional, as 15 minutes before would have been really, really inconvenient).

And then pray, cross your fingers, make sacrifices to the temples, whatever, that the little one doesn't get it, too. Or, God forbid, your husband. But whatever you do, do not make jokes. I assure you, I won't.