Saturday, December 31, 2011

gummy bear lessons in mothering

I'm pretty sure that gummy bears taught me some important strategies in mothering. Note, I did not say good mothering. But maybe it was good mothering. All I can say is it took my daughter about 22 years to figure out what I'd done.

And I'd do it again in a heart beat if needed. Still. It was deceptive, if not cruel.

Here's what happened.

I put my precious daughter in her stroller and we zoomed down the hill to the produce market around the corner. The one with all the ethnic woven baskets hanging out front and piles and piles of sweet smelling long-stems to choose from. And wheatgrass baskets. And a machine to juice your own wheatgrass right then and there. And bins of coarse-ground bulghur. And three kinds of couscous, including dark whole wheat (which nobody in their right mind in North Africa would ever eat). And kiwis and mangoes and papayas when they were available. And Acme sourdough baguettes that you put in long bags yourself.

And on the bottom row of bins were gummy bears. And gummy worms. And chocolate covered raisins. And dried cranberries.

And I was lingering admiring the bulghur and filling a bag full for dinner (with caramelized onions and simmered in stock and wine)—when I looked down in horror.

My precious daughter had a mouth overflowing with bright colored twisty gummy worms and two fists full of gummy bears, mostly neon reds and orange. She looked like a gummy medusa who'd just devoured her own snakes.

She looked up at me, sugar-rush not kicked in yet. Innocent big brown eyes that refused to be admonished. I mean, the bins were placed exactly at her level, right? They were put there purposefully to tempt her. What's more—she was in that developmental stage that's pre- right-and-wrong. Although that innocent look looked like she was working it.

This vision went through my head right then and there. A vivid picture of a fat (I mean super-fat), unhappy, acne-faced, caries-ridden teenage girl who was my daughter. And it was all my fault for not taking action right here and now. My daughter, I suddenly realized, had sugar-lust. And probably gummy-things were made of much worse than sugar.

And as I cleaned up the gummy mess as best I could, and paid for our Acme sourdough, tomatoes and avocados, a new vision came to me. A vision of rules.

Until that point, I'd been mothering without rules. My first-born son didn't seem to need any. He was (and remains) reasonable in all things large and small (with very few exceptions). I don't remember any rules with him at all.

Clean-up time, for example when those Brio trains covered the entire family room with little pieces of everything, clean-up time was simple. A game we played either by color-coding or by letters of the alphabet. And the carpet magically reappeared in its totality after a full day's disappearance.

Games like that never worked with my precious daughter.

But this was serious. That horrible vision required an intervention.

Walking back up the hill, the rules began to take shape and form all by themselves. And they weren't all about gummy-things.

The ice cream rule:  No ice cream unless it's over 85 degrees outside.

The hot chocolate rule: No hot chocolate unless you've been skiing all morning or afternoon.

The cookies rule: No cookies unless you (we) bake them yourself.

M & M's: Allowed in gorp (aka trail mix) along with nuts and raisins. One sandwich baggie allowed while hiking on the weekends.

Gummy bears and worms: I couldn't think of a reasonable rule at all. There was just never a reasonable time to eat gummy worms.

But wait. Halloween to the rescue to cover everything else:

Candy and crap of every persuasion: You may keep all your Halloween candy that fits into a large mason jar. That's the candy and crap for the year. Ration it as you will.

Here's the weird part: It worked.

My daughter became an expert at weather prediction. Eighty-five degrees is pretty hard to achieve when you live in the foggiest part of San Francisco. But it does happen for a day or two in late September, early October. And in the High Sierra where we'd go camping. There were a few hot days then as well. And she managed to get her rule's-worth of ice cream in each year.

And she became an avid skier. And snowboarder as well. Earning her hot chocolate.

The cookies we baked were really awful. That solved that one.

And almost nobody gave gummy bears for Halloween. That kinda took care of that.

The loophole: Playing at other kids' houses.  Precious daughter found the loophole pretty quick once she was post-stroller. But by then, the rules had pretty much been internalized.  Although she was still trying hard to control the weather. Global warming, however, has had little impact in the Inner Sunset. Look outside: it's as foggy as ever.

So. Here's the thing. Both kids embraced the Rules. My son, the-future-lawyer, devised trick questions to get the rules more precise:

"What if it's only 85 degrees for five minutes that day?"

Stuff like that.

We built up rules together. Amendments to rules. For some reason, the kids were okay with the rules. Especially given the loophole.

Results: First-born-lawyer runs the NYC marathon and is licensed as a personal trainer. Precious daughter and sometime vegetarian aspires to Vegan-hood at some point.

She was in her early twenties when she figured out how unfair it was.

I mean, she really had worked the weather angle really hard. And no matter what she did, we just didn't live in hot weather. Whereas her friends across town in the Mission, Noe Valley, or even Pac Heights—all had sun. And we didn't.

We were in NYC when she called me on it. Yes, I admitted. Yes, I knew those ice cream days were going to be few and far between.

"Thank you," she said. "Thank you so much!" She was effusive.

Can you believe that?

And she meant it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

homeland finale's insanity

Okay, so I've been hooked on this show. Best thing on since Caprica got axed. Why am I hanging on every word, every scene? Because it's about the larger picture.  Sure, it's got good story, good characters, and a good time slot. But I've never been swayed by good characters. In fact, the more the focus on them, the more annoyed I seem to get.

I don't care about characters, really. I don't care what happens to them. Their petty little lives. I think this why I can't watch a show like Nurse Jackie or the one with Laura Linney about cancer, or that other one with William H. Macy.  Or, god forbid, Dexter. See. I remember the names, but the shows are close to unbearable to me.

They're just not important enough.

Then there are the shows that focus on character, but pretend to have a longer arc. That would be stuff like Bones or the Mentalist or Warehouse 13. Maybe Eureka (that pretends to be about science). I'm embarrassed to say that I check in with these shows to see if maybe this time they're worth the bother.  And no. They're just bleeping not.

They're entertainment, you say.  Right. Exactly. And I want them to be important. Treme important. But even Treme isn't large enough for me. I want the larger picture. La longue durée.  I mean, isn't there enough large going on in the world to ask TV to contemplate it with us, rather than hand us escape?

Maybe nobody else wants what I want out of scripted TV. Fiction lets us imagine possibilities that the news just can't provide. Lets us think about the real world in new ways. BSG and Caprica did this. And Homeland does it now.

But the season finale, and last scenes thereof, just pissed me off.

I am sick to death of the strong-woman-turns-to-blithering-needy-idiot scenario in movies and TV. And sure, I know, they'll revive Claire Danes character and make her strong again or else have no show at all. But still. Electric shock treatment?

I'm not even against it. I know it works. It doesn't Cuckoo Nest me at all. It can indeed jolt the recipient back into functionality.

And I'm not strictly speaking against the Cassandra storyline, as frustrating as it is.

Partly, it's that I remember the weeks before what we now call 9/11. I remember being at the CDG, wondering what all the security was about. And asking. In my nicest French.

"Is this about the Israelis?"

"Non," the gendarme with the bayonet said. "This is about you. You Americans."

He didn't say, you con Americans, but I heard it in his voice. Con is a very French vote of disapproval.

"We have gotten warnings all summer of an attack on your planes..."

All summer. Before 9/11.

And that's what Claire Danes' character deals with in Homeland. Episode after episode. Knowing. And having no effect at all. And not being able to stop the march of history. Or, not much, anyway. Or, having an effect (season finale) and never knowing that she's made a difference.

It works. The Cassandra thing. It makes for good TV. It makes for good real-life, too, I guess. Thinking or pretending that somewhere someone gets it.  Someone like Lawrence Wright, who got so much flack for writing The Siege. Read everything he writes that you can get your hands on.  Or Greg Palast. Cassandra indeed. With next to nobody listening who can make a difference.

Homeland's first season is filled with that frustration of knowing, or trying to know. Of doing one's homework. Of (quite literally) banging one's head against the wall. Of insights that are ignored. And (yet another) tough female character who's blithering and raving and helpless in her final scene.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

the ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny diet

I've been reading these amazing diet books, which could drive a man insane.  At the one extreme is Dukan (recommended reading from my daughter) and at the other extreme is Skinny Bitch, before which I'm probably the last person in America to stumble and fall.  Reading these two together is, as I said, completely crazy making.

But wait! There's anthropological distance!

So. I've decided, with all of my knowledge of 19th century unilinear social evolutionary false categories, to make up a diet of my own.  Clearly the field is wide open to all takers.  Oh. Don't worry. I know the name's a misnomer. But I like the sound of it better than Morgan's Unilineal Social Evolutionary Diet. Which is not as appetizing.

I call it the 'ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny' diet.  Cookbook to follow.

And this is my first go at it, so you're welcome to add in your own two cents worth of sea salt (or whatever).

I've decided to make it Creationist-friendly. Who am I, after all, to discriminate?

So. This diet is seven days long. And then repeat.  This should keep you in touch with either the evolutionary process or Creation, take your pick.  On the seventh day you can rest.  Just wait and see.  (And please note, this is right off the top. No edits. Not yet).

Day One—Gather:  On the first day, you may eat what has fallen from the trees and bushes and shrubs.  We haven't even invented hunting yet. We're barely even scavengers of the carnivorous beasts yet. Still too dangerous. We're pre-hunting-and-gathering, being of the gathering-only persuasion.  No fire. So don't cook.

Note that I'm not saying on Day One eat eggs and on Day Two eat frogs.

Day Two—Scavenge: On this day, we commemorate our vast leap into the realm of following the big predators and eating their left-overs. This includes sucking out left-over bone marrow, and sucking on bones.  We've managed fire. Yay us. So. Take that stuff you're still gathering. Add the bones. And a bunch of flavored grasses (like chives...), as well as the miracle of salt, and appreciate soups today. And the acquired taste of stuff thrown into fire.

Day Three—Huntin' an fishin': Oh, how we've progressed! Now we kill things. And boy, with that invention of fire, have we gotten a sweet-tooth for it. So. Pig out. Literally. Catch your limit and don't throw any back. Wrap those trout in bacon (something I've recently learned from my favorite hunting-and-fishing family in the world) and stick 'em on the grill.  Throw on some roasted almonds. More of those chives and a sprinkle of sea-salt. Enjoy the innocence of killing for food. A shame the killing part got so addictive.

Day Four—Horticulture:  It's an early stage of growing stuff.  Really early. As in, plunk it in the ground, go off still hunting and fishing. Come back a season later, and voilà!  Manioc! That you get to beat with a stick and leach out the bad stuff. And then wow, the possibilities are endless. And not just tapioca pudding.
Oh, but now we've got the taste for the really starchy stuff.

Day Five—Agriculture: Which first started out pretty good until we decided to make everything refined and white.  So. On this the fifth day, you can have your cake and eat it too. Just today and not tomorrow. All the home-baked breads and pies and cakes that you can imagine. This is the stage Real Estate agents love. They trick home buyers who just can't resist.  Cinnamon rolls baking in the oven!

Note that Jacob and Esau play this dietary battle out. The competition between hunter/gatherer's stage (roasted meat and lentils) and agrarian diet (pita and hummus, with baklava for dessert). In case you don't remember, Jacob (agriculture) wins. Esau is hypoglycemic which leads (it's a long story why) to his losing his birthright. Jacob (agriculture) not only wins, but gets an additional prize: to be renamed 'Israel'. But that's another story.

Day Six—Chemicals: If you're not totally revolted by the deterioration of your evolutionary recapitulation yet, this is the day for you. For now, we've invented better living through chemistry. Additives. God, how we've evolved! Twinkies! If you're gonna go out and commit a crime, do it on Day Six and call it a sugar/carb/additive overload.

Day Six might feel like the pinnacle of the evolutionary process in your week's recapitulation, but no. Day Seven is always what it's about.

Day Seven—Cholent: Here it is. The Sabbath.  Mom's authentic antidote to the entire week slowly drying out in the oven. Not to worry. It's kosher. Cholent and chicken soup will make you long to start the week all over again. Long for nothing more than picking dried cranberries off the kitchen counter. Or dipping into the dry-roasted almond jar. Simple fare, you're longing for. Realizing not that we've come a long way, baby, but that all we really want to do is return to simpler days and simple pleasures.

That's it. That's all I've got. A good meditation on what it really means to be human, and how hard we've worked to get here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

procrastination makes the heart grow warmer

Let's see now. I've gone to a holiday party. That for sure counts as major and desperate procrastination. I've  spent hours searching for the perfect set of specs. Oh. And a perfect pair of socks. I've watched worse than bad TV on the tube, almost puking my guts out over 'Christmas Specials.' I ate leftover Thanksgiving pumpkin ice-cream. Blech. You'd think I'd be ready to sit down and grade the effing term papers by now, but no. Oh. Here I am writing about procrastinating.

Let's take them in order:

Spectacles: Do you know how many eyeglass frames there are out there? This alone should be enough to procrastinate well into Retirement when I won't need any more excuses. I found a company I like called Mykita. Had fun reading more about the internal fights between the founders of the company, and their philosophy on Asian nose bridges than searching for the perfect pair. Further procrastination: finding a place in San Francisco that covers Mykita (there were two retro frames I actually liked). And then a whole evening in the Castro and Noe Valley— Funny that opticians here are open very late. This seems to be an evening entertainment in the City. For first dates? Nothing else to talk about? Procrastination? Oh. Let's look at spectacles.  I found Spectacles for Humans looking like it was closed. But no, I think they were just saving energy. There was a parking space, so we went in. We talked Mykita. We talked the Ukraine. We talked Zeiss mostly. I've been looking for frames for almost two years. Mostly in procrastination season. Dmitri showed me the exactly perfect set of frames. I spent almost $700 in one night of not grading papers. They weren't Mykita.

Socks: The socks were at least cheaper, but they weren't cheap. This bit of procrastination only wasted about an hour and a half, but it was well worth it.  And, in my own defense, it wasn't my fault we walked into Any Mountain—a place I'm generally too snobby to set foot in, what with Marmot down the block one way, and REI down the road the other way. T was looking at shoes. Blame him. Or, thank him for another hour's diversion.  There were three different sections carrying socks. Oh. Why did I need socks in the first place? I gave my cushy thick socks to my precious daughter, who's working on a film in the cold and snow of Vermont.  So. Hiking socks: boring. Skiing socks: wow. Did you know that skiing socks have built in shin guards? I found a couple pairs I thought might keep me warm. Oh, but then! The snowboarding socks! Brilliant and perfect in every way. Cushy, with the most outrageous sense of humor I've ever seen in real live functional socks. I picked up a pair of chicken feet. And I'm going back for more. The best gift ever! And good for hours more procrastination, given that I bought the last pair at AM.

Christmas effing Specials: My brain is surely mush by now.  And here, it's not my fault. I thought the new season of Eureka and Warehouse 13 had started up. But no, just utter and total Christmas crap that doesn't even fit in with where the season left off. If it weren't for the procrastination value, I'd boycott these shows forever more, not being the forgiving type. But. Credit for two wasted hours not spent grading.

What happened to the good old days, when I spent not-grading-papers painting the house? Or getting tattoos? Or belly dance for the very-very-timid. God I've become an indolent slug.

Ice-cream: This was just sheer self-loathing, I think, at all the procrastination. Self-punishment of the worst kind: leftover pumpkin ice-cream from Thanksgiving still in the freezer. Revolting. And only worth 15 minutes procrastination time. The function of the ice-cream was somehow supposed to make me brave enough to go to the holiday party. If you understand the logic there, be sure to let me know.

The holiday party: Something under normal circumstances I avoid like the plague. What was I thinking? But my good friend, O, the most tolerant friend a friend could have, did the driving and got me out of there when the music started blaring. Whew. Along with the bad-TV antidote, this bit of procrastination was worth about 6 hours, and by then, of course, it was too late to start grading. I got to bed late, and—

Read a book curled up in bed: Which is worth the rest of the night and the next morning. Which means that after walking Rosh at Fort Funston, it is now almost 4:00 PM on Sunday, and I have yet to pick a single paper.

No more excuses! Time is just plain running out now.

But first:

A cup of tea...
Oh. And maybe I should work off that ice-cream first...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

breaking dawn part one — the good, the bad, and the very very bad

Now that the crowds have calmed down, we went to see Breaking Dawn—Part One.  And this turned out to be the perfect night to see it.  The audience was fairly up in arms...

But first, here's a review of Breaking Dawn—Part One, in no particular order:

The pregnancy:  blurry, with crackling sounds. Stephanie Meyer really gets pregnancy. The movie doesn't.

Vampire-'werewolf' fights:  blurry, without crackling sounds.

Vampire-human sex: blurry, with feathers.

Telepathic shape-shifting wolves: noisy, but drowned out by audience laughter.

The wedding: gorgeous but with sappy music and way too much dizzy camera gushy stuff.

Jacob: not as annoying as usual. Maybe because he keeps his shirt on most of the time.

The Cullens: crappiest distracting white makeup and hair to date.

The lovely couple: doing their best, I suppose, given what they've got to work with.

Soundtrack//songs: Too schmaltzy for words and bounced the audience out.

Okay, but the movie itself wasn't the most interesting part.

The best part was standing in line for the Women's Restroom after the movie. Which tonight was totally packed. There were two hostile camps of young women. Those who'd read all the books (or listened to them) and those who had not read the books. They shouted and screamed at each other, but managed not to rip each others' hair out.  One camp expected the movie to be well-made, comprehensible, and gratifying. The other camp couldn't care less, because they could fill in the blanks from their reading the books numerous times. Both camps were pretty yucked out by pregnancy. And that's probably a good thing.

Consensus: Sucky music. Very sucky wolves. Suckiest wolf voices. And most of all, not enough vampire-human (safe?) sex rather than just noisy smooching.

But these are things that can be fixed.

My advice: get back to the editing room until you people get it right. How hard could that be?

So. You're wondering. What then was the good part?

The good part is that the story is important.  Stephanie Meyer depicts—and the movie attempts to address—the transference of allegiance from the gooeyness of romantic love to the ferocity of partum and maternal love, all of which comes down to biologically triggered hormonal madness.  I mean, who writes about that shift for young, purely romance-driven girls? It's something they now get to talk about. Or scream about in the Women's Restroom.

It's just not a very pretty sight on screen.

Post-mortem: If done right, the descent of Bella in Breaking Dawn Part One into oxytocin-spiked spine-ripping self-sacrifice should be redeemed by her grande post-partum/postmortem empowerment in Part Two.  Those who can't stand Bella's current apparent lack of agency will just have to wait till next year till she comes into her own.

Either that, or pick up the books and read. It's a hell of a lot more gratifying.