Parenting


BB has become a pretty good reader.  He’s primarily interested in non-fiction, particularly science stuff. That’s cool.  His teacher, who I really respect, says that some kids love stories and some kids love the non-fiction.  That said, I’ve been a little disappointed that he really hasn’t been interested in reading classic stories, even if mr. jolt or I am doing the reading.  I do most of my story reading with LB, and my bedtime reading with BB consists of factual recitations of the planets or some such.

So when BB showed interest in the old cartoon collections mr. jolt and I had, I was happy – stories in another form!  That said, it’s clear that Bloom County is over his head because he doesn’t have the 80s political info that gives a lot of that series its bite.  But, Calvin and Hobbes was pretty appealing to him and while I think Calvin has a bad attitude about school (understandably given that most of the lessons that happen in the background appear to be seriously uninteresting), BB loves school enough that it doesn’t worry me.  And I try to point out to both BB, and now LB, who has also picked up the C&H habit, that some of Calvin’s actions are, um, a tad insensitive.  Which may make me humorless mommy, but so be it.  You take your teaching moments as you find them.

So perhaps I shouldn’t have found it surprising that BB found a C&H strip about Calvin singing/manipulating his parents into stopping at a burger joint, for the umpteenth time, on a long road trip.  The song? 99 bottles of beer on the wall.  Only Calvin starts with 10,000 bottles of beer.  No surprise the strip ends with a stop at a burger joint.  BB was avid to hear me sing the tune so he could learn the melody.  I obliged.  And so, tonight at betime, BB and I sang it together, starting at 30 bottles of beer. 

I fear I have given him the weapons for my own future capitulation.

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Mr. jolt’s mom died yesterday.  Fortunately, it was peaceful and he and one of her sisters was with her.  We didn’t get the boys there, in part because it’s a seven hour drive each way.  If we had any other family to be with in the area, we might have all gone up, but 14 + hours in the car combined with a 5-10 minute ICU visit & camping out a hotel didn’t seem like a great idea.

 

So far the boys seem to be taking it okay, although it was really difficult for me to tell them. I had some good books on hand, one a recommendation of a friend; the others I found in the bookstore when looking for the other one.  In the event you are faced with a similarly sad situation, I recommend “I Miss You” – a very factual explanation of what death is, what people tend to do after a loved one dies, etc.  I particularly liked it because it doesn’t refer to heaven or God specifically, but rather has a more generic approach, i.e., that people have many beliefs about what happen, many of which involve the special part of that person joining with the special parts of other people who have died. (I’m not paraphrasing well, but it’s nice).   Anyway, the other two books are “The Waterbugs & Dragonflies”, which is a nice parable that explains why nobody knows what happens after death, and Freddie the Leaf, which talks about the circle of life. 

 

I will probably not be blogging until next week. 

I moved frequently as a young child.  Until I was 10, I never lived anywhere more than about 18 months; one place as little as two weeks (where I was born), totaling seven states (multiple cities in several) and one other country.   Then, we settled and stayed in the same town until I graduated from highschool.  I went to college about as far away as I could from my hometown.  After college graduation, I moved to the big city, where mr. jolt had moved a year earlier. 

I remember vividly my first days in the city.  I was one of the fortunate few of my graduating class that had a job (it was the early 90s), but I had a few weeks before it started.  The city was completely overwhelming to me, having spent all my formative years in small towns, outer suburbs, or or rural areas.  And it took forever to feel connected, to feel like I had any stake in the city and what happened to it.  Twelve years later, when I felt like I owned the city, when I knew my immediate neighborhood inside out, we moved several hours away.

Once again, it took a lot of time to feel connected.  I now feel like I have a decent circle of friends – people I do girl’s night out with, couples we have over for dinner, families we do playdates with.  But I still find it hard to become invested in the local community, other than the school that the boys go to.

A large part of this is that I have no idea how long we’ll be here.  As an academic,  mr. jolt would like to be at a larger university, to be part of a larger academic community.  While this is a great area to raise kids in, and we wouldn’t be unhappy if we were here until the kids went to college, we would be putting some career aspirations aside to do so (my ‘dream job’ isn’t available here).

It makes it hard on a lot of little levels – do I paint the house to cover the thousands of scrapes, dents, etc. made by the boys?  Or do I wait until just before we put the house on the market?  Do I bother replacing the hideous drapes left in the front of the house by the previous owners, or not bother?  Do I gun it at work with the idea of leaping up the ladder in some of our sister organizations? (there’s nowhere to go where I am unless somebody moves or dies)  Or do I work hard enough to do well, do a B+ effort because I won’t be here long enough to move up?  Should we move into a better school district, or do we not bother because we may not be here in a year or two?

All of this combines to form a sense of rootlessness, of disconnectedness.   I don’t deal well with uncertainty, generally speaking.  And yet, I’ve become used to a sense of underlying uncertainty that infects all my decisions.  There is no predictability in the lateral academic market — you never know when an opportunity at a school one is interested in will open up.  And even if you hear of an opportunity, it may be a place that one has absolutely no intention of moving to (this has happened once or twice to mr. jolt already).

Anyway, I have been constantly gnawing at this issue, like a baby on a teething ring, and I still haven’t figured out any solutions.  Every few months, mr. jolt will hear of a rumor here, rumor there of possible opportunities and we evaluate – do we have any interest in moving wherever it is?  Should he pursue it?  So far, none of the opportunities has been worth chasing.  None of the locales would make it worth uprooting.  In part, we both would like the next move to be IT, at least until the boys go to college, but more and more, I think that is an unrealistic expectation.  Recently, mr. jolt heard of a possibility that is not, on its face, out of the question.  We’re having dinner together Saturday night to belatedly celebrate our dating anniversary and the question of whether to explore the option will be heavily discussed.

So mr. jolt swanned off today to teach his class where he’s a visiting professor; as usual he’ll stay over to teach and go to the classes he’s taking tomorrow before gallivanting off to warmer climes for a conference, leaving me with the children for 5 days.  Tonight, however, I had a professional/social meeting so I arranged the sitter.  I arrive at home at 10, thinking, hmm, maybe I can just go to bed!

Then I remembered, oh, I need to make a lunch for LB.

Then I remembered, oh, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.

Then I remembered, oh fffffffft, we never did cards.  So I do cards for LB’s class, hoping I can get BB to write his own classmates’ names in the morning (if not, it will take me 5 minutes).

Then I remembered, oh FFFFFFT, I never had mr. jolt sign us up to bring stuff for either class party.  Double ffffft!!  I can’t run out to the store because the kids are asleep and it’s just me.  Quick! Open the pantry- what can be there?

Let’s just hope that the kids like “butterscotch drop cookies” (found on the side of a box of cake mix, with a convenient bag of butterscotch chips perched above) with pink, purple, and red sugar on top.   I’ll let you know.

Update 1: I burned the first batch b/c I didn’t set the timer right.  This is what happens when you try to bake after a couple of beers.  Triple FFFFT!!

Update 2: Hmm, not bad.  Not as good as chocolate chip, but not bad.  Because I burned the first batch I only have enough cookies for one of the classes, so I ran downstairs to where I stash all the leftover party favors. Score!  I’ve got enough animal stencils for BB’s class and LB’s class gets the cookies.  Lesson: never throw out extra party favors – they will save your ass some cold night in February when you can’t run out to the store for cookies.

 UPDATE: We have found someone -who seems phenomenal & has glowing references-who starts Monday.  Please cross your fingers for me! 

Our new sitter, who was working out beautifully, gave notice yesterday.  She found a full-time job working in a daycare.   I strongly suspect that she took our job as a stop-gap because she was new to the area.  If I’d known, I would have still hired her while looking for something more permanent.  While it saved us temporarily, and she was great with the kids, we are now back searching after less than a month and we will be without a sitter in ten days.

Please excuse me while I run screaming in panic and frustration. 

Update: Just wanted to add that my broken thumb is better and out of its cast.  However,  at the moment, I would prefer a broken thumb than no babysitter.   Yes, that is right, a good babysitter is worth more than a right thumb.

LB has really been acting out at bedtime lately and it’s incredibly frustrating because I like the end of the day, the last moments before we say good night, to be nice.  It may be too much for them to be calm, but tantrum free would be lovely.

Anyway, after mr. jolt had a short battle with LB, he came into BB’s room where BB and I were reading a book.  “LB is being such a twerp!” he exclaimed.

BB asked, “What’s a twerp?”

“Twerp is uh, someone being irritating. Twerp. T-W-I-R-P,” said mr. jolt.

“No, it’s T-W-E-R-P.” I replied.

Hot debate ensued.  I have since consulted dictionary.com and both versions are accepted, although t-w-i-r-p is described as a variant of twerp.  I think that means I win by a nose.  Disturbingly though, twerp is described as someone worthy of contempt, which is certainly a far harsher description than what I’ve usually used it for (and obviously far harsher than what mr. jolt meant under the circumstances).

All I can say is the kid can be very stubborn. 

The NYT had an interesting article in the Sunday magazine a few weeks back, “Family Leave Values” by Eyal Press (probably behind the wall, e-mail if you want the text)- exploring the question of whether workers have the right to care for their families and discussing a new type of work discrimination lawsuit.  The examples cited in the article are pretty extreme, and obviously extreme cases can make the best groundbreakers for a new area of law.  While strong facts don’t always make good law, strong facts can support pushing the envelope on the law.

Anyway, some of the examples are the story of a woman who was pregnant and had a very premature birth.  She talked to her employer over the phone about her need for time off due to the delicate condition of her preemie, everything seemed to be fine, but a few weeks later she found out during the refinancing of her home that she’d been fired.  The employer hadn’t even told her; the bank found out when checking her financial statements (i.e. salary). In another instance, a man asked his employer for thirty days off, available to primary caregivers under Maryland law.  He was told that unless his wife was in a coma or dead “you can’t be a primary care provider.”

One attorney and law professor, Joan Williams, describes the recent flood of lawsuits a result of the pressures as follows:

Williams has been racing across the country giving such speeches since 2000, the year her book “Unbending Gender” appeared. In the book, which set in motion the legal trend that now consumes much of her time, Williams argued that the growing tension between work and family was not simply a product of economic necessity. It stemmed, rather, from a marketplace structured around an increasingly outdated masculine norm: the “ideal worker” who can work full time for an entire career while enjoying “immunity from family work.” At a time when both adults in most families had come to participate in the labor force, Williams argued that this standard was unrealistic, especially for women, who remained the primary caregivers in most households.  

The article also highlights some of the extreme differences between the benefits given parents here in the U.S. and in Europe.  I do agree with the attorneys and advocates quoted in the article, though, that these lawsuits are at best a hatchet on a problem that would be better served with a more precision tool.  Lawsuits are not the best way to try and create public policy.  But they can serve as impetus for better public policy.   And there’s nothing like a million dollar verdict to catch some attention on a problem.

In my mind, some of the problem stems from the traditional undervaluing of care-taking.  It’s considered women’s work and whether or not the woman is working outside the home, there isn’t a lot of support for the time, effort, and patience (oh, god, the patience) it can take.  This plays out in reverse fashion for men who want or need to caretake for their children, partner, etc. 

And the men being faced with this in the workplace may, in fact, be the best plaintiffs.  Many of the biggest strides in gender equality in law in the 70s and 80s were made when advocates found sexist laws, intended to ‘benefit and protect’ women, were in fact harming men (i.e. widow pension benefits higher than widower benefits harming a single widowed dad, etc).  Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a nimble and savvy advocate and won many cases using this technique.  Perhaps the same will be true here.  We can hope.

And the right to caretake does not just involve parents.  That’s why I’m somewhat hopeful that this can be a rallying point across that line that sometimes separates parents and non-parents.  Whether or not you have kids, it is highly likely that at some point in your life you will have caretaking responsibilities, whether for a partner or an elderly or sick relative.

What’s clever is that the cases can be framed as not “just” discrimination cases, but as family values cases, which expands their political appeal if the issue can be pulled into the legislature to act on.

In my view, these types of cutting-edge cases can serve as canaries in the coal  mine, a sign that the system we have now of it being company v. employee as opposed to companies working with employees is simply not working.  I’d like to see the hatchet of litigation exchanged for a thread and needle of carefully crafted legislation to increase worker’s caretaking rights.

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