Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween: Part 3 of 3

Our day, in reverse order, began with me, of all people, in my new role as PTA VP, organizing a "staff luncheon". No pictures here to document, but, suffice it to say that bugging people about whether or not they were going to bring carnitas is not my forte. Below are the highlights of Halloween 2007.

About the whole trick-or-treat thing, I don't think Big really understood the concept until we were about half way around the block and in Minnesota, you really only go around the block as Halloween usually begins the 'cold season'. Seven, after having gone off with her friends for a bit, came back and started showing him the ropes. He never got around to the "trick or treat" part, but after each door, he'd come running down the steps yelling "WEEN! WEEN!" which, was a shortened "Happy Halloween" followed by an urgent "OPEN! OPEN!" to us which meant that he wanted to immediately consume whatever he had just plundered.

Here are our three amigos this year and about three years ago.

And lastly, the parade at school. Big got to go up on stage with his big sister.

By the end of the night, Seven, over-sugared and sad that the next holiday is over three long weeks away, was in tears, and we could hear Big in his crib yelling out "WEEN! WEEN!"

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween: Part 2 of 3

Great Pumpkin Karma

Seven came home a week ago with a plan to fill this box with coins. She would do her daily "duties" (getting dressed, brushing teeth, brushing hair, packing up backpack etc. and the reverse on the flip side) and in exchange we'd put $0.50/day in the box. Grandma would, hopefully, match the donation.

It's due tomorrow and we're scrambling to find enough change to fill the box tonight.

Needless to say, Seven is already a much better person than I was at that age.

The following story is one of those family lores that is requested on a regular basis at bedtime: "Tell me a [Blogauthor] and [Cousin] story! . . . The one about the pumpkin!!!"

The story is not one of which I am proud. In fact, it captures one of my most morally bankrupt moments. At night, before bed, for Seven, it goes like this:

When I was little, we didn't go to the pumpkin patch to get pumpkins. They were all out on this little platform at our local grocery store, Food City. Let's just say that this store was no Kowalski's. It was seriously named Food City and I remember many community events in the big Food City parking lot: pancake feeds, rummage sales, and, of course, pumpkins.

This particular year, I was determined to have the biggest pumpkin on the lot.

Every time we'd walk by the pumpkins, on our way to shop for groceries, I'd nag at my mom, hanging back and picking out the biggest one. And every time she'd ignore my pleadings.

As Halloween approached, I knew I'd have to take matters into my own hands.

Cousin has an older sister--about five years older than me--who would plant seeds in our heads about life's possibilities. I reached into this little bag of tricks she'd built for us, and came up with a "fundraising plan" to get the money to buy the biggest pumpkin: get a pop cup from the Runza Hut in the same shopping complex, head over to K-Mart (I shudder now to imagine Seven crossing the enormous and very busy street that we crossed to get there. I know, by triangulating these events around other major occurrences in my life, that we had to have been about 8 when this happened) and set up shop outside, posing as fund raisers for Unicef.

I don't know why, but the plan actually worked. Despite the fact that we were "collecting" for Unicef with Runza cups, people dropped nickels and dimes in the cups, and we looked at each other in shock as the coins clinked together at the bottom of the cup, people passing by without questioning our true motives.

At one point, I got an elbow in the rib from Cousin, looked up, and saw one of my mom's good friends approaching. She saw us and smiled what I thought, even then, was a naive smile, dropping an actual five dollar bill into the cup.

It was at that point we felt seriously guilty.

Not guilty enough, however, to track the people down, return the money and apologize.

Or ACTUALLY give the money to Unicef.

Having landed the big load, we headed right over to the Food City pumpkin platform, practically drooling and dizzy with the excitement of having the freedom of getting to actually GET the largest pumpkin on the entire lot.

I can't remember even how we chose it. I can't remember how much it cost. I can't remember going in to pay at all, or eating the candy that I'm sure we purchased with the leftover money. All of that is gone.

My next memory is having the pumpkin, turning to Cousin, and realizing that we had no way to get it home. We hadn't considered actually HAVING the pumpkin. We hadn't considered anything at all beyond the moment of picking it out. What would we tell our moms? How had we paid for it? How would we carry it home? It was bigger than us!

Going home and getting a wagon and coming back the four blocks each way was too much of an eternity to us. I'm sure I tried to con Cousin into going for me so that I could keep watch over my Great Pumpkin, but she'd have nothing to do with that. In retrospect, I'm surprised she didn't take me up on my offer and leave, never to return to me and my pumpkin.

My next best plan was to roll the pumpkin home. It wouldn't be too difficult as it was downhill much of the way. I was convinced it was possible.

You probably know what happened to the pumpkin. My karmic justice was immediate. Before we even made it to the bottom of the hill, it was so severely pockmarked, that you could hardly even tell what it was. We abandoned what was left of it it at the curb and headed home.

Now THAT'S karma.

Here's a poem I wrote about the experience a couple of years ago with a few changes to protect the innocent.

I Still Don’t Know If She Knew That I Was Lying

Standing with my reluctant cousin
Triggering the automatic doors with her anxious toes
My elbow dug into her ribs
Whenever another K-Mart Shopper approached
And we held out our emptied Burger King cups
Announcing “Easter Seals!” with rehearsed sincerity

Mom never let me choose the biggest pumpkin.
It called out to me from its parking-lot home
Standing earnestly like a teenager
On tip-toes angling for a back-row position
In a family photo

And it was going well
People smiled, hurried and grateful
Dropping nickels and dimes into our makeshift collection cans
Checking off their day’s good deed
And moving on to their more pressing errands

We were elated, successful entrepreneurs
Periodically sizing up our profits
Dreaming of the biggest jack-o-lantern in the neighborhood
Until I saw one of my Moms’s friends approaching.
I had played at her house a million times
Bored with the quiet of no young kids
The smells of coffee, cigarettes and gossip

I thought to hide the cups
And their guilty contents
But even our presence there was suspicious
We were still so small, less than nine because mom was still alive

She said nothing her eyes looked quizzically:
“Alberta didn’t tell me you were volunteering!”
I smiled and looked away
She dropped a five dollar bill into my cup
It made no sound
A lonely bill next to the raucous, cooped-up coins
In their own bottom-of-the-cup rendezvous.
Even so, its fall was deafening to my ears
Echoing for the last three decades.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween: Part 1 of 3

The Ghosts of Halloweens Past

Two Years Ago

One Year Ago

This Year

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Arbeit Macht Frei?

And now, back to the (new) title of this blog: Confessions from a Stay at Homo.

Obviously, it is a take off from the acronym SAHM, which usually stands for Stay At Home Mom.

I am not exactly a SAHM. Nor am I a stay at home "Baba". I'm not even really a stay-at-hom-er. But right now, it feels like it.

Some for-and background:

So, last week I submitted a proposal to my department requesting a part-time schedule. It begins:

The following document outlines and describes the policy, process, and my proposal for what I am calling a “temporary-but-extended work reduction/buyout plan.” I am submitting this to the faculty of the economics department for review and discussion to explore the impact and feasibility of my proposal, and, ultimately, approval.

For those of you who have been following this blog over the years, you could probably read between the lines to see that I have been struggling with work-life balance for quite some time, mainly because of the commute. I'm tenured at a college about two hours away and, before Big came along, I'd head down on Tuesday mornings and return on Thursday nights.

This seemed fine. BioMom and I could each enjoy our careers, and I had some extreme flexibility on Mondays, Fridays, and in the summer.

Of course, we had some friction. It's never fun to be home alone with a kid on a regular basis. But again, it felt worth it, given that I really enjoyed my job and that it was, ultimately, so flexible.

Then came Big. I was off of work for the first six weeks of his life, and then on for the next semester while BioMom took her maternity leave. Then I took a semester off for FMLA, and then a semester's leave at a local college. That college offered me an opportunity to replace someone on sabbatical this year and so I bought myself another year without a commute.

Needless to say, it has been wonderful.

During this time, I have become more primary to the kids while BioMom has simultaneously stepped up her career. At the time, we thought this would be a good chance for her to do some traveling for work and take on some extra responsibilities in anticipation of me returning to my commute, and consequently losing flexibility while I would be gone.

It's funny. I would have never expected to find myself in a relationship and a household with such a seemingly strict, 1950's style division of labor with BioMom in the "public sphere" working for a wage, and me in the "private sphere" focusing on domestic work.

In reality, I have continued to both work and earn a salary, but it nearly feels like I am not working without the commute. Plus, I work a lot less than she does, and I don't travel.

At the start of this semester, my sister-in-law asked, in a concerned voice, how I was doing about returning to work. "Fine!" I said, and wondered why she'd be so worried. I realized after that she thought I was going back to commuting and leaving the kids for what ends up being three nights a week as I don't get home until after 9 on Thursdays.

My heart dropped thinking about it.

And I started processing in my head.

How could I give up six years of graduate school and another six years toward tenure? My job is great! I enjoy it, it has become manageable, I get summers off, I don't have a boss, I can be as creative as I want to, I can research problems that interest me. . . . The list goes on and on. How could I give up my life's work? Would something else come along? Would I regret it once the kids are off to college? I started interviewing people about their careers, gauging passion and commitment. I started seeing family and work as a true tradeoff. I asked HFRM#1 about the new director of the Walker Art Center (a 41 year old superstar curator who had risen to the directorship at the Hirshhorn): does she have kids? I questioned my commitment to my discipline: I don't rush out of lectures and talks with economics problems gushing out of my head! This must NOT be my passion!?! I'm not even UP for the John Bates Clark Medal and I'll be 40 in a couple of years!?! I wondered: What could I do instead? Is being at home with the kids enough? Can BioMom and I survive this role-reversal? Would it feel like we are in an unequal relationship?

But after all the extremes, I kept coming back to the thought of being without them each week.

And it wasn't so much the being gone. What felt so restrictive was that, by necessity, the schedule was rigid. In order to fit in my teaching load, it HAD to be Tuesday morning through Thursday late afternoon. Every semester.

For those of you with kids in school, you know that everything happens Tuesdays through Thursdays. So, I extrapolated to forever, thinking that I'd miss everything.

So here I am. Proposal to teach one semester per year submitted. If they accept it, it sort of lets me be both a worker and a SAHM. Possibly the best of both worlds.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

On Language Development in Toddlers

We were at a restaurant the other night when Big (loudly) recognized and then announced, in tandem, one of his utensils and then the round time-telling device on the wall.

Problem? He hasn't quite accomplished the "ell" sound for the letter "L" or the "arr" sound for the letter "R".

He Just Missed National Coming Out Day!

JK Rowling just announced Dumbledore's sexuality!

Were he living, we'd be sending the male-version of the toaster: a year's subscription to Details.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Is BioMom Happier than Baba?

There's been a bunch of back-and-forth going on in the newspaper articles, blogs, and listserves that I frequent about David Leonhardt's article in the New York Times about two economists research (Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers) about changes over time in women vs. men's self-reported happiness.

Basically the story being told by the research reported by Leonhardt is that there is a growing "happiness gap" between men and women.

Here is a direct quote from the author:

Two new research papers, using very different methods, have both come to this conclusion. Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, economists at the University of Pennsylvania (and a couple), have looked at the traditional happiness data, in which people are simply asked how satisfied they are with their overall lives. In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have
switched places.

Mr. Krueger, analyzing time-use studies over the last four decades, has found an even starker pattern. Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.

Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work - and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don't enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the
gap is 90 minutes.

The Language Log has a great overview and critique of the entire discussion if you're interested.

In particular, Jezebel is quoted on the topic from this blog entry (I'm borrowing the quote in its entirety because it is so funny):

Remember that study on women being less happy than men? Sounds about right, right? The internerds thought so! (Different ways internet commenters said no shit: "Boo hoo, the feminists made their bed and now they have to lie in it with their cats" and "Men are dogs. Dogs are happy. The end" and "Duh, we get Halo, and you get periods." ) But hold on! Some linguists think it's not true! It's an academic freestyle battle! So after the linguists called bullshit (and by the way, what the fuck is up with linguists knowing everything about everything?) the original economists who published the study struck back to say the linguists were wrong, women really were unhappier, and here's their proof:

* Gender happiness gap at the beginning and end of the sample
oprobit HAPPY SEX [aw=wt] if YEAR==1972
oprobit HAPPY SEX [aw=wt] if YEAR==2006
* Changes in the gender happiness gap using only the first and last years
xi: reg vhappy i.SEX*i.YEAR[aw=wt] if YEAR==1972 | YEAR==2006
xi: reg unhappy i.SEX*i.YEAR [aw=wt] if YEAR==1972 | YEAR==2006

Ha ha ha ha, here's a little regression theory for you guys! (Get it? Blow me! Don't you think I'd be happier if you could?)

Maybe the real happiness gap started setting in whatever year it became popular for economists to stop working on the economy by day and getting their wives off at night and started applying advanced calculus to every single mundane happening in their lives including though not limited to why their wives were faking it! Because that happened in 2004.

The idea of significance is old and the point that the Language Log makes is obvious. Despite this critique, however, I think the article has a true ring to it. BioMom and I are currently discussing our future as two career women with two young kids. My stint at the local college ends at the end of this year and I'll be expected to return to my home institution that is 2.5 hours away. With that I'll be commuting a few nights a week. This reality has put a significant dent in both of our expectations of ourselves as mothers and as workers. I've really enjoyed being home more, and becoming the "primary" to the kids. She's really enjoyed ramping up her career. But both of us ahve also experienced a 'grass-is-greener' effect with each other. I mourn the potential loss of being a 'serious economist' and she mourns the potential loss of not being 'primary' to the kids (especially Big, to whom I've been the primary caretaker for the majority of his life.

Another quote in the original article rang true for me:

Ms. Stevenson was recently having drinks with a business school graduate who came up with a nice way of summarizing the problem. Her mother's goals in life, the student said, were to have a beautiful garden, a well-kept house and well-adjusted children who did well in school. "I sort of want all those things, too," the student said, as Ms. Stevenson recalled, "but I also want to have a great career and have an impact n the broader world."

I've often thought that gender roles (if not too constraining) provide a nice 'short cut' to complicated rational decisions in life. For example, in the proto-typical (stereotypical?) 1950's household, men and women didn't have to spend time (read: opportunity cost) negotiating about who was going to mow the lawn. The upside for the 1950's women was that her constrained choices in the job market translated into easier decisions for the family. It just made economic sense that women stayed home and raised the kids, while men went to the market and worked.

Of course, there were a bazillion downsides to this 1950s stereotype, not least of which was that women who wanted to work didn't have a nice range of choices from which to decide, and men were discouraged to stay home with their kids (and even take a strong role in raising them).

Feminism can take some credit for expanding these roles. This is the upside. Women, now have many more options in school and in the labor force, they can choose to stay at home, and some lucky ones can even have a bit of both, with some part-time options available (albeit quite limited). Further, men can choose to be stay-at-home-dads (if the family can afford it).

The downside is that with choice, comes anxiety. Especially when the ghosts of traditional roles still haunt our homes. I've long said that women can't win in the work/stay-at-home wars. If you stay at home, women wonder why you don't work, or are envious that you can afford not to. If you work, you feel guilty being away from the kids. Without the strict roles of the 1950's we have nothing to blame but ourselves.

As Jezebel put it, maybe it's all the economists causing the problems. In that case, our household is facing a triple-whammy: two moms, two careers, one economist.

Now that's significant.

Irregular Monthly Newsletter: 2 Months to 2 Years

Danke schoen, Darling, danke schoen!

At 22 months, Big, BioMom and I agree that you've become a heckuva lot easier. You're fairly easy-going, you can concentrate long enough to play a bit on your own or with other kids, you can go up and down stairs by yourself (although you'd prefer a little help) and you're learning to communicate.


I was mostly waiting for the day when you could do stairs so that I didn't have to constantly freak out: SHUT THE GATE! SHUT THE GATE!

Oh, and we're much less worried about you choking on stuff. Which is a really good thing since we haven't re-proofed the house since the whole toy-scare. I'm sure we've got Polly remnants somewhere in the basement with the magnets that could seize up your intestines, but we'll worry about that later.

You did recently have your first temper tantrum for Mof4. A harbinger of months to come, I suspect. As she relayed the story to me, it was hard for her to keep from giggling about your over-reaction to not getting to play with kids on their bikes that you saw from a block away. On the way home you angrily threw your cars cars and dumped a box of animal cookies all over her car. Upon arrival, you laughed about it all.

That's the nice thing about you; your sense of humor. You've got this infectious laugh and cute little dimples that make it practically impossible not to laugh back at you.

As far as words go, you're into the stage of copying everything we say, but some new favorites are "cookie" and "cake". Those two are irresistible to me, too, Big. There's construction on the freeway nearby and while driving the other day I heard you saying "Cain! Cain!" while pointing out the window. I finally understood that you were saying "Crane!" without the "r".

You're also starting to express preferences in loads of areas. Or, maybe we're misunderstanding preference expression with a desire to say "no" with a firm shake of the head. BioMom said that the other night when she was putting you down, she'd start to sing a song and you'd shake your head back and forth. She understood that to mean that you didn't want the particular song she had begun. She went through the list in her head of bedtime songs, but all of them were unacceptable to you. Finally, to a made-up tune, she just started listing all things with wheels and all things that move:

"Trucks, balls, cars and diggers. . . Buses, tractors, cranes and more balls."

You snuggled right up and fell asleep in her arms.

We love you, sweetie.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

No Gay People In The Following: Iran, Boy Scouts and Books

There's been a theme running through our lives lately.

Seven's curmudgeonly ex-nun teacher-replacement while the real one is on maternity leave assigned the kids weekly homeworks to examine and present international, national, state and local news.

Yeah. I know what you're thinking: brilliant idea! Gets the kids interested in real-world topics, and gives them some tools for reading the news or any other story. I thought that too, at first.

It is actually infinitely more difficult than I imagined. Take last week when we were hunting through our local rag, the New York Times and some online sources to find a story that was palpable, readable (to a seven-year-old) and not-too complicated (read: to understand you need years of back-information).

I thought: There must be something about Hillary.

In fact, it was a complicated, wonky article about political strategy.

Okay. Here's something about Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia. Great! Free speech. That'll be easy AND I can rile up her penchant for drama and tell her about the little spat I had with my sister-in-law about the whole ordeal earlier that day! The first sentence of the article read:

There are no homosexuals in Iran.

She knows that we call ourselves "gay" and "lesbian", but I had never used the term "homosexual" with her, and wasn't interested in dealing with the clinical term, let alone the Kinsey Report with her at that point in time.

As an aside, check out Alison Bechtel's comment about the cover on this week's New Yorker (I just got it in the mail but hadn't had a chance to look at it). She's right . . . It's brilliant!

The next night a uniform-clad boy from Seven's class came up to our back yard selling (his soul) popcorn etc., for our little school's cub scout troop.

Seven: What're we gonna buy? It's for our school!!! What're we gonna buy??? Can we get some popcorn?

I started into the whole the Boy Scouts discrim-um-hurt-um-won't let-um I mean, well, I mean to say that the Boy Scouts aren't nice to gay-um-people like us-um-I mean, me. And mom. Yeah, and mom too.

The boy looked at me with a huge question mark on the top of his head as if to say: My troop is hurting someone?

Harlyn Aisley, over at Are You My Mothers recently posted about a friend of hers' son receiving a flyer to join the local troop and their decision to boycott the whole thing despite the fact that the kids wanted to join. She says:

"The issue that plagued my friend was not simply this, but that a public school – the one to which she entrusts her children and donates her time and money – endorses an organization that excludes members of its community."

It is funny, the places you find yourself in life. We're already down the path of joining the discriminating muck, what with being in a Catholic school and all. At some level, we've already chosen the path of 'change from within.' I'm not sure if Big will want to be apart of the Boy Scouts, but part of me wants to join and get involved (and make a big stink of it if they don't let me). I can't imagine telling Big that he can't be apart of it, if all of his friends are as opposed to joining and trying to make it a better place. Also, both of my brothers and my two nephews are eagle scouts. We'll definitely cross that bridge when we get to it.

Lastly, a perennial problem is the books that we have around the house. LesbianDad has been posting reading lists in honor of banned books week. These posts are well worth your time.

For a future post: what I think is missing in the literature.