Friday, July 30, 2010

Summer is. . .

Going off the high dive for the first time AND learning how to do the monkey bars.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Big's Questions

So Big is a Question Guy.

He's that typical four-year-old with the running inquisition that usually turns tautological if you attempt to answer him literally.

Tonight we had a terrible storm that blew the lights.

We were in the middle of our last bedtime story of the evening, and Big was pretty dissapointed to have it halted prematurely.

He just couldn't understand how some external source governed the electricity of our home and those around us. And who was going to fix it? And how? And would they wear protective suits so they wouldn't get electrocuted? And when would this all happen? Would it happen in five minutes? In fifteen minutes? What if it didn't happen until tomorrow? What if our electricity was still not on tomorrow night? And do things with batteries still work? What things in the house have batteries? Let's see! Would his DS work? Shouldn't we GET the DS to help us get through the current crisis? Etc. Etc.

Oh, and he was hot, of course.

The most profound question of the night, however, happened earlier over pizza with Cousin and her kids.

He turned to Cousin and asked: Are you sad to be leaving us?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Alternative Plot Line for The Kids Are All Right

Okay so I've been a little obsessed with how I should feel about the hetero-affair in the Kids Are All Right.

Mark Harris of Entertainment Weekly, for example (as pointed out over at Mombian) that it is really a movie about marriage. And a great one at that.

He writes:
I couldn’t remember the last time I saw such a good film about being married. . . . I was startled to realized that the best ones that occurred to me—The Awful Truth, His Girl Friday, Kramer vs. Kramer, Shoot the Moon—were all (a) about divorce and (b) at least 30 years old.

The Kids Are All Right . . . celebrates the journey through marriage in a way that, for the movies, is quietly revolutionary. . . . Make what you will of the bitter irony that the first really great, believable married couple on screen in ages cannot legally marry. . . . This is marriage as you’ve rarely seen it, except perhaps in the bathroom mirror. . . .

[Director Lisa Cholodenko] doesn’t sanctify Nic and Jules as pioneers of social progress. . . . They’re not intended to be role models or billboards for gay coupledom. They and their marriage are, however, recognizably human, which this summer counts as one giant leap in the right direction.

So yeah. I get that.

But here's my alternative, and much better plot line that keeps the heart of what the existing movie is, but adds to it and keeps everyone happy:

1. Paul (sperm donor) is married.
2. Paul meets Laser and Joni. Hi-jinks ensue.
3. Paul's relationship with the kids develops and he is a mixed influence. Jules and Nic are concerned. Paul's wife is involved in the periphery (initially).
4. Paul's wife wants to hire Jules to landscape their backyard. Paul is gone at work during the days. His wife and Jules get closer, eventually have an affair.
. . .
The rest plays out the exact same way HOWEVER
5. The affair brings Paul and Nic closer, and the influence of Paul on the kids weighs toward the good.

Here's the REAL kicker: Paul's wife is played by Portia de Rossi.

What do you think?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Movie was Alright

So this past weekend me, BioMom and Cousin got out to our local indie theater and saw The Kids are All Right.

Warning: Plot spoilers below.

We had read LesbianDad's initial review beforehand (and her follow-up to people's skeptical responses) and were definitely willing to give the movie a shot.

Here's my review: it was alright.

There were tons of funny, lighthearted, insightful moments.

I loved, for example, how Joni (the eighteen year old daughter) referred to her parents in the singular: "moms". "As in, I don't want to hurt Moms feelings."

It was also really interesting and exciting to see our lives (only eight years from now... REALLY???) projected on the big screen: two moms with an eighteen-year-old daughter heading off to college and a fifteen-year-old son, both of whom are spending some time questioning their lives as kids conceived through donor sperm, with two moms. And, now that one is eighteen, they actually have the option to perhaps meet the man who donated the sperm that, in fact, enabled their very existence.

At one point the son, Laser, says to his sister something to the effect of "Respect. Without HIM we wouldn't be HERE."

The big hubub about the movie, however, is the affair that Jules (Julianne Moore) has with the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo).

Despite LesbianDad's urging that the film is "breathtakingly subversive" I was and am still extraordinarily disappointed that Lisa Cholodenko (writer/director) chose the heterosexual affair (however plausible. I fully recognize that sexuality is fluid) as the main point of tension and conflict in the story.

Of course, it was well done. As LesbianDad pointed out, the scene where Nic realizes that her partner of 20 plus years is having an affair with this "interloper" is absolutely breathtaking both from the actor's perspective, but also the director's.

Even if you've never experienced anything like what she experiences right there on screen for your visual pleasure, your heart's gonna be in knots. The scene is that good.

So that's the thing. That is what you take away from the film. It is that large of a part of the story. Even though there are tons of perhaps "subversive" subtexts (a bit of roughhousing with the son's jerk-of-a-friend's dad leaves you wondering if he actually longs for a father and then, perhaps, the astute viewer realizes that the father doesn't turn out to be much of a role model to this impulsive, disrespectful, drug-using friend) you don't walk away with those messages. You walk away thinking about the affair first and foremost, and that it was a heterosexual affair secondly.

I guess maybe that's the point. Not that it was a movie ABOUT a family headed by a lesbian couple. Not that it was about kids coming of age and dealing with their desire to get in touch with the sperm donor.

Sometimes I think that when I look back on my intellectual life, that all I will see is that I've made the point over and over again that we're just like you. That gay and lesbian families really aren't any different than heterosexual families.* And maybe that will be an important outcome and maybe that's what Cholodenko is trying to say.

It's just that it seemed unnecessary. There was plenty of conflict to be had in that situation. Wouldn't it have been far more interesting and creative for her to explore almost any other of the potentially awkward and conflict-ridden relationships in the group rather than the trite lesbian-really-needs-a-man stereotype even if she does ultimately dismiss him and return to her long-term-lover?


Oh, and it didn't help that the sex scenes with him were better too.

Double ugh.

*I'm working on a research project right now and although we don't have any real results yet per se, I suspect that that's what they'll say.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer is . . .

Arty Pants at the Walker.

The first little activity involved Big and I sharing a two-earphoned ipod that had us looking for art in particular galleries not unlike a scavenger hunt. Then, once we'd find a piece of art, they used sounds to help us explore it. Big loved it. The first piece was a huge picture of a boxing match. The sounds in the ipod were of fans and bells and pure excitement.

It was a great way to explore art.

This activity was really cool. You filled these little pouches with paint and then threw balls at them hoping they'd explode all over the canvass.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summer is. . .

His first soccer goal. Ever.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Do Parents Hate Parenting?: Joy Versus Happiness

We were having a little taco night with some fellow parent friends the other night who recently bought this awesome house near the lake with a great backyard.

As you all know, it is fun to be around fellow people with a couple of kids once in a while. As we were saying, once adults have kids, and particularly, more than one kid, you can see/feel/nearly taste the fact that they've given up.

Given up what you might ask?

Well, at some level, you start to give up what was formerly known as your adult life.

This is not to say that you can't have some semblance of an adult life. I work. I work out. I consult. I read. I see movies. I (once in a while) have conversations with other adults. But in all honesty, I don't do any of those things as much as I'd prefer.

Note: even as I write this I am stealing some adult time, blogging and watching the Tour de France as Big plays Batman on his DS (Yes. I'm THAT kind of Baba).

But what I mean is not so much even that. What I mean is what I've noticed of other friends with a little older children, particularly children whose kids participate in sports. Cousin, for example, and Sidekick's parents spend three or even four nights per week nearly year round attending sports events: hockey, soccer, baseball with their ten-or-less year old kids.

And get this: they love it.

I signed Big up for soccer this sumer and BioMom sort of groaned at the thought of spending summer nights on the sidelines of a hot soccer field watching four-year-olds chase a ball around like the Keystone Cops.

We have just not yet quite given in yet.

But it is coming.

Anyway, the other night we were chatting over tacos and Summits about this article: Why Parents Hate Parenting by Jennifer Senior.*, **

From the perspective of the species, it’s perfectly unmysterious why people have children. From the perspective of the individual, however, it’s more of a mystery than one might think. Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines.

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize–winning behavioral economist found that women preferred housework over childcare.

Other research shows that children reduce marital satisfaction.

Here's some more preference rankings:

Having kids doesn't necessarily make you unhappy, they simply don't make you MORE happy.

Each additional child produces diminishing returns.

Mothers are less happy than fathers.

Single parents are less happy than couples.

Babies and toddlers are the hardest.

What is interesting about all of these results is not really the results themselves, but how people react to them. We don't believe them. Maybe more precisely, we don't WANT to believe them.

So what's the deal with kids?

Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist claims that what children really do, he suspects, is offer moments of transcendence, not an overall improvement in well-being.

The article author makes the claim that perhaps parenting has changed quite drastically over the years, making it less of a happiness-producing activity.

Before urbanization, children were viewed as economic assets to their parents. If you had a farm, they toiled alongside you to maintain its upkeep; if you had a family business, the kids helped mind the store. But all of this dramatically changed with the moral and technological revolutions of modernity. As we gained in prosperity, childhood came increasingly to be viewed as a protected, privileged time, and once college degrees became essential to getting ahead, children became not only a great expense but subjects to be sculpted, stimulated, instructed, groomed. (The Princeton sociologist Viviana Zelizer describes this transformation of a child’s value in five ruthless words: “Economically worthless but emotionally priceless.”) Kids, in short, went from being our staffs to being our bosses.

My bold.

Annette Lareau, the sociologist who coined the term “concerted cultivation” to describe the aggressive nurturing of economically advantaged children, puts it this way: "Middle-class parents spend much more time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child's thought as a special contribution. And this is very tiring work." Yet it's work few parents feel that they can in good conscience neglect, says Lareau, "lest they put their children at risk by not giving them every advantage."

One study found that parents' dissatisfaction only grew the more money they had, even though they had the purchasing power to buy more child care. This is explained by the fact that we're having kids later in life and as a result are aware of the loss in autonomy. We are aware of the alternative uses of our time. Of kids one psychologist commented "They’re a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit."

While children deepen your emotional life, they shrink your outer world to the size of a teacup, at least for a while. ("All joy and no fun," as an old friend with two young kids likes to say.)

Another quote:
Loving one's children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing.

It turns out that the question really is what is happiness? What is joy? What parts of happiness are about sheer immediate experience and satisfaction or about reward and long-term pleasure?

One study found that the least depressed parents are those whose underage children are in the house, and the most are those whose aren't.

This is key. Technically, if parenting makes you unhappy, you should feel better if you’re spared the task of doing it. But if happiness is measured by our own sense of agency and meaning, then noncustodial parents lose. They’re robbed of something that gives purpose and reward.

I know that I feel a great sense of purpose and reward because of the kids. Great losses too. Losses that I feel, really every day. I also have a constant sense of nagging and questioning: did I do that okay? Did I just stomp on his/her self esteem? Are we spoiling them? Are we not spoiling them? Etc. etc. I guess at some level, my over-thinking style of parenting produces a lot of emotional agony. I know that sounds dramatic but it is true. Ten and I butt heads so often and we are so different that I am constantly evaluating and re-evaluating our interactions.

This article hit a nerve for me. I have to say that I am happier with them. And there certainly is joy. And I am a better person for them in my life.

I just wish I could go on that three hour bike ride this afternoon. . .

*Here is the Michelle Martin NPR show on the story.
**Also check out the reference to the article and its own additions in an Economist article.

Monday, July 12, 2010

European Vacation Travelogue: Day 16, Transatlantic Travel and a Tornado

So on Day 16 we sadly headed home.

Ten was really looking forward to returning to her best friend and neighbor but the rest of us were quite sad to be leaving and ending the extraordinary trip and special time spent together.

The flight itself, although long, wasn't too bad.

Big and I spent some time playing "hangman" with an interesting twist: He made up the words that I was supposed to guess!

I got to spend some time watching the Temple Grandin movie (played by Claire Danes) which is absolutely fabulous and I highly recommend it.*

We arrived at Chicago O'Hare around 3:00 p.m. expecting to leave around 5:30.

We were fairly exhausted at that point having left our hotel around 10 a.m. Dublin time and arrived at 9:00 p.m. Dublin time.

There was some hint that the airport was having troubles when we heard the luggage guy tell the gal checking the luggage to stop sending luggage back.


Our second hint were the hoards of people and the long lines at restaurants and particularly restaurants with alcohol (which, by that time, we were accustomed to at that hour).

Our third hint were the darkening skies and the guy over the loudspeaker saying that the airport was shutting down due to the tornado in the area.

We finally decided to head to a hotel, give up trying to get home that day, and get some rest. As it turned out, we wouldn't be able to leave Chicago until the next afternoon, so we gave in even more and decide to explore the Shedd Aquarium.

It was a great conclusion to our trip even though at the time we only wished we were home.

On the way over we ran into the public sculptures Agora by Magdalena Abakanowicz.
These were an amazing set of seemingly anonymous, yet distinct--each set of legs was different than the other--overlarge legs walking in all directions. It reminded me of the Dave Matthews Band's song Ants Marching.

When I saw her title Agora, I laughed out loud. How perfect.

And then we headed over to the aquarium with the gorgeous Chicago skyline in the background.

*She, by the way, has a TED talk about autism that is also worth your attention.

Big's Observation of the Flower Girl

So Big is fairly competitive.

We race everywhere. To the car. To the house. To the end of the block. Across the rug (literally).

Today on the way to the YMCA he told me that he observed something about the flower girl that I hadn't.

This came out of nowhere as we haven't really talked about the wedding much lately.

What? I asked.

He responded: I saw that she had SIX moms and no dads.

Me: !

Big: Yeah. I saw them. And I only have TWO moms and no dads. She's lucky.

He miscounted but still. . .

Sunday, July 11, 2010

European Vacation Travelogue: Day 15, Kenmare Stone Circle, Blarney and our last (Fresh) Guinness

We spent the morning of our last day in Ireland in the little "tidy town" of Kenmare.

It is a darling little town and, as usual, we only wish we had had more time there.

Naturally, I had to drag everyone to the Kenmare Stone Circle.

This circle was about five minutes' walk outside of the town and is unique in that it is quite large and has a Dolmen in its center which probably denotes a burial of someone significant.

Of course, the kids, instead of seeing a sacred space, see a megalithic jungle gym.

I should have said something. Stopped them somehow. Somehow explained to them how sacred was the land and rocks on which they stood. But I didn't. A woman with her daughter scolded them and Ten got a little embarrassed about it. We headed back to town for a little window shopping and a cup of coffee.

In town I wandered into "Skyline Gallery" a photography studio featuring artist Eoghan Kavanagh and was immediately struck by the magical photographs of Ireland, none of which were trite or expected.

His wife was at the desk and Big and I wandered around enchanted as she talked to us about her husband's work. He was upstairs talking with other fans of his work.

I just fell in love with one rectangular photograph of an enchanted forest and we ended up taking it home. Our most favorite souvenir from Ireland, other than pictures and memories. The artist explained that the photograph was taken at the Gougane Barra woods near Cork.

Here's a photo of the photographer and his wife.

We added that to our list for the day, on the way to Blarney and took a short detour on the Ring of Beara (another for the "to do list next time", skipping the Ring of Kerry).

The park was amazing. It was situated in a valley and had cliffs jutting out of it with a lake that was carved by glaciers.

The most striking aspect of the park, however, were the trees, particularly the Sitka spruce covered with enchanting moss.

We reluctantly headed out toward Blarney, well aware of the clock today, knowing that the closer we could get back to Dublin, the better off we'd be the next morning.

Kissing the Blarney stone was really Big's idea.

He had heard about kissing this stone, leaning over backwards, and climbing up in some castle from Grandma and would not be thwarted from the plan.

On that particular day, BioMom and Ten and I were all hesitant and could have easily been talked out of this particular tourist trap. The night before I read that the Blarney Stone itself was filthy; British soldiers probably regularly pissed on it as do current disgruntled castle workers. Not to mention lipstick and saliva and all other remnants of a day of tourists lips on a particular spot of a particular stone.

Plus, I had heard that among kids under eight, it is entirely up to the guy helping potential smoochers as to whether or not they can do it.

So it was my greatest fear that we'd head all the way down to Cork, get to Blarney, pay our way in, climb the stairs and Big would be told he couldn't kiss the stone.

We took the risk.

It was really really fun and, despite the touristy schtick, we loved Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone.

Of course we had to explore the dungeons.

And then headed up the windy stone stairs to the top to kiss the stone.

At the top the helper guy was, in contrast to expectations, very helpful and even welcomed Big to the stone.

Now,he officially has the gift of gab, but to be honest, I can't tell the difference between how much he talked before and after kissing the stone. It is all non-stop!

Oh and don't forget the "murder hole" on the way out!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

European Vacation Travelogue: Day 14 The Ring of Kerry and the Skellig Ring

On Day 14 we headed toward the Ring of Kerry with the hopes of ending up near Cork and, in BioMom's dreams, Kinsale.

This day incorporated both my high and my low of the trip in terms of both expectations and sites.

Basically any guidebook or travel show about Ireland raves about the Ring of Kerry. We did it backwards (not the "long but satisfying day by car from Kenmare" that Rick Steves discusses)* but from Dingle down counterclockwise on the Ring, ultimately to Kenmare but passing first through the Skellig Ring.

It was all very beautiful, no doubt, but compared to the dramatic sights of the Dingle Peninsula, we were (at least at first) somewhat disappointed.

We decided to add on the additional Ring of Skellig to the tip of the Ring of Kerry because of my growing fascination with the Skellig Islands: Little Skellig and Skellig Michael.**

I first noticed the islands from Dingle. They are very distinctive and Gothic, rising up from the sea.

The smaller of the two islands is now a bird sanctuary and World Heritage Site. It is the home to Ireland's largest gannet colony, with 22,500 pairs in 1993. Again, if you look at the pictures, the white is not the natural hue of the rocks. One guidebook says that if you boat out to the islands, Little Skellig looks like it lost the largest pillow fight in history.

The larger of the two islands (Skellig Michael)is a steep rocky island that is estimated to have been founded in the 7th century and became a Celtic monastic settlement. On the island itself, a steep climb of 600 stone steps leads to a small cluster of six "beehive" huts, two oratories and small terraces are located 714 feet above sea level. Historians think that the Skellig Michael community consisted of about 12 monks and an abbot and that they abandoned the harsh life in the 12th century. Here is a short video on the World Heritage Committee site of Skellig Michael.

For obvious reasons, we did not attempt the 8 mile treacherous boat ride that may or may not really get you to the islands during our trip--depending on the weather--and, instead, put getting to Portmagee on our "to do list" for next time and head out to visit the islands.

In real life we did, in fact, stop at Portmagee, grabbed a few sandwiches, and headed up to the tip of the Skellig Ring to relax a bit and catch a view of the Islands.

These views were amazing and again, note the laissez faire attitude of the Irish about falling off sheer cliffs. The warning sign in the picture below was VERY serious.

These cliffs, too, were home to thousands of birds and their nests. See the little white marshmallow-looking things below. Perhaps they are the actual Peep prototypes. Upon close look in real life, you could just barely see them moving when the parent-bird would come back and feed them.

After our lunch, we hopped back into the car and headed toward the second half of the Ring of Kerry which turned out to be much more scenic.

We got to Sneem and decided to step out and regroup after the long day of driving. Could we get to Kinsale?

Really, I just wanted to talk BioMom into getting to Kenmare and relaxing at a B&B while it was still light out for our last "real" night in Ireland.

We talked her into it, sped the 20km to Kenmare and headed out for some pizza and a good night's sleep.

Day 15 would be our last day in Ireland and we had to explore Kenmare, kiss a stone to get the "gift of gab" and get as close to Dublin as we could to catch a noon flight on day 16.

*Check out his videos (here for a short one and here for a longer one) on the Ring of Kerry for some excellent views of the scenery.
**At some point we found out that the term "skellig" means "splinter."