Listening to Myself

Saturday, February 26, 2005

At the Zoo

Going to the zoo with just Emma was an interesting experience. Forgetting the stroller made it even more interesting. I liked Emma's take on this omission though -- "Mommy, not having a stroller means that we can go up the stairs together!" The zoo did not seem as not as crowded as I thought it would be, but that was largely because we went straight to the new Grizzly Bears then worked our way forward, opposite of just about all the other zoo visitors. The two Grizzly Bears were a lot of fun to watch. They were very playful and active while we were there, and we sat and watched them for a long time. Fairly regularly one of them would start to sniff the air intently, and after a little while I realized that she was doing that every time the breeze started blowing the delicious grease-laden smells from the nearby cafe towards her enclosure. That must be rather hard to take for a bear with such an acute sense of smell! Emma and I really did have a good time, until I violated one of the cardinal rules of parenting -- namely, do not keep going once your child gets tired!

Going to the zoo with only Emma also allowed me ample opportunity to eavesdrop, so I present this as a service to the blogosphere:

A Helpful Guide for Fathers Taking Their Children to the Zoo
  • When there is a lion with a mane, and a lion without a mane, there is an extremely good chance that the lion without the mane is not a "he"

  • Generally it is best to read the sign before telling your children what the animal is in the enclosure (e.g. the spectacle bears are not "small black polar bears")

  • Do you realize how ridiculous you sound when you tell your toddler daughter: "Oh look, the tiger loves you! Don't you want to give the tiger a big hug? Don't you want to play with the tiger? Phoebe, say I love you tiger!"
(I don't know why it was just men who I overheard saying dumb things... and I refuse to speculate)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

About that job and other things

So that job I was thinking about (and mentioned in this post) - I decided not to do it. Things were very much up in the air, and there was no confirmation that I would get it or even when it would start... but still, I decided to take myself out of the running. After I had made my decision, and before I told anyone, I came across this quote which I found particularly relevant. This is from an essay written by Real Live Preacher (aka Gordon Atkinson) called Mountaintop Searching. He speaks about what he feels when he is in the mountains, and this is a part that I felt particularly hit home.

And I often feel a strong desire to speak out loud to the Great Intelligence I sense is behind the universe. So I pray, and my prayers sound something like this:

Thank you for my life, for the gift and the responsibility of it, both for the good and the bad of it, for the joy and even the pain of it. Thank you for not being fair. Fair is entirely too predictable and human a thing for the likes of you. Thank you for trusting us to fill in the details. Thank you for the freedom, especially since you understand more than anyone the great evil that often comes from it.

I’m sorry for wasting so much time and life. I’m sorry for what I should have seen but did not see. I’m sorry for giving so much of myself to any Tom, Dick or Harry who offered me a paycheck and a little security.

I think by going down this path, I would be committing the grievous error that Atkinson speaks of in the last part of this quote, and I would regret it. I think I can even venture to say that I know I would regret it.

So, what now? Matt and I have been talking a lot (all the way up and back from Tahoe - which if you know Matt really says something!), and we're starting to think that option one is sounding better and better. We recently received the latest issue of Mother Earth News, and the cover article reawakened Matt's desire for a log home. I'm not so sure that I like them though - to me they seem heavy, dark, and perhaps even a little oppressive. I also really don't like the floorplans we're seeing - all these homes are HUGE! They seem to be substituting room size for design ingenuity. I was looking a little at other options, and I came across the Glidehouse, which I promptly became enamored with (especially this floorplan - it would be perfect for us!). So, yeah, Modernist prefab is a completely different style (although there are some parallels in function, general construction, and impact) from log building, and I'm not sure what we're going to do about that. But we still need to figure out if we really want to do this, where we want to do this, how much money we think we can scare up, etc. etc. etc. and all of these things will also heavily influence our end result.

So, right now we're brainstorming about mountain communities with a strong homeschooling presence in California. Anyone have any suggestions or thoughts on how to do this kind of research?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Judith Warner and "Mommy Madness"

We received our copy of Newsweek last night, with Judith Warner's article about "Mommy Madness" on the cover. I eagerly read the article last night because I'm always interested in this sort of thing, and I've been trying to digest it ever since. Really, I'm not sure what to say -- the world she describes is largely foreign to me. I just don't seem to travel in the same circles she does, and I don't see the same sort of behaviors. I don't know if it is a California thing, or the fact that I'm a bit younger than the moms she's targeting (she's looking at moms born from 1958 to 1970), or if I'm just oblivious.

I do get out -- I belong to a local mom's club and I participate in playgroups occasionally (about once a month) and I'm part of a bookgroup with a bunch of other moms. The moms I know just aren't like what Warner describes, I don't really see that hyper-competitiveness, obsessiveness, and unhappiness. Around here, we tend to practice something I've heard described as "benign neglect". The moms I know read a lot to their kids, but they don't play with them. The kids play by themselves or with their siblings, with minimal parental intervention (mainly for really out of bounds behavior). Even at the park, minor infractions are left for the kids to deal with, and the moms stay on the sidelines, ready to jump in if things get out of control, but willing to let the kids sort it out. Some people do preschool, some don't, and it isn't really particularly competitive to get into preschools. People don't seem that into all the various lessons and such, but kids do take one or two things if they're really interested in it. Sure, people are busy and occasionally stressed, but it just doesn't seem like the mania that Warner describes really exists here, at least among the people I know.

Ok, I admit it, there is a strong possibility that I'm just completely oblivious. Personally, I just refuse to buy into the whole competitive thing and perhaps that makes me not really notice it. We don't do the big birthday parties, playdates, lessons, preschool, etc, etc, etc, and I rely on my parents for the occasional night out babysitting and sanity breaks so we don't have to deal with the whole finding a good babysitter scenario.

Here's some other interesting takes on Warner's premise, as well as another article Warner wrote recently.
Geeky Mom
Half Changed World
Raising WEG (probably my favorite take on this article)
Warner's article in Elle (a better article than the one in Newsweek, I think)

And another thing I've been thinking a lot about... her suggestions for solutions seem rather useless. I think the most important step is for women and families to just decide to step out of the flow, and refuse to compete and participate in the world Warner describes. The women who's blogs I linked to above have some really interesting things to say about all this, (and they say it a lot better than I am managing) so I highly recommend taking a look.

UPDATE: I also particularly like James Lileks' take on this article. I was trying to pick out a couple quotes to put on my blog, but there's just too many good ones.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Working with a Child

Mothering Magazine recently published an article and a slideshow showing women at the workplace with their child(ren) in tow. There's an interesting post and discussion about this on Half Changed World about this idea, and the feasibility of it.

Personally, I think that the second comment on this post sums it all up quite well - this all is getting rather ridiculous. First, we were supposed to be superwomen by having children and working, now we are supposed to bring our children to work with us?? Next we'll have to work, take our children with us, and homeschool all at the same time! This just all seems so unrealistic.

This whole idea of how to blend working and childrearing is something I've been thinking a lot about the past couple of days. I think I may have a job offer for a part time position, and I'm trying to decide what to do. There's a certain attraction to going back to work, even though the position isn't exactly my heart's desire. But it would be interesting enough, and the money would be nice to have. My mom's offered to take my daughter while I would be working, and it would give us the money to enroll her in the Montessori program that we've been interested in, but unable to afford (well, we could stop saving for college/retirement, but that seems rather dumb). It would be quite a change though, for all of us. But maybe it would be a change for the better? I really don't know.

Part of my problem is that I have two competing and mutually exclusive visions for what I want - one where we're living on a couple acres in the mountains near a small town, homeschooling our four children, and with a nice cozy home, a big veggie garden, etc. etc. etc. The other one has us living in a somewhat urban environment, preferably in cohousing, with just one or two children who go to a private or charter school and with me working at least part time. So, yeah, at some point we need to pick which vision we're going to go for. At this point, we're heading towards option number two, and me taking this job would push us even further in that direction. However, we're not far enough along on this path that we couldn't still change our minds, and I think that's what makes this more difficult. Each big decision (moving, working, preschool) pushes us a little more in one direction, without us having actually made the full commitment to one choice over the other.

Sometimes I think I would just like to stop time for at least a couple days so I could just stop and ponder for awhile!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"The world is dark and wild. Stay a child while you can be a child." *

Earlier today I was listening to NPR in the car with my (almost) three year old daughter. I was only half-listening, really, also thinking about errands I needed to run, things I needed to do, and the rest of the usual mental clutter that usually streams though my mind. I was vaguely aware of the news report, a story about a 13 year old boy who was killed by a police officer, and was thinking something along the lines of "gee, that's too bad" when my daughter asked from the back seat, "Mommy, who died?". I groaned inwardly to myself, not really wanting to have to explain this to her, but answered her question, saying "A boy died, a 13 year old boy". Emma then asked "Why did the boy die? What happened to him?" and I took a deep breath and answered "Well, a police officer shot him, because he thought the boy was dangerous". She responds "Why did the police officer think the boy was dangerous?" (Yes, my daughter talks like this) and I tried to explain about the car and the accident, and about how it all really was an accident and at that point, I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. I felt sadness because I had to explain something as horrid as a police officer's life ending overreaction to my three year old, but also because the boy's death had finally become real for me, just as it was already real for my daughter.

Children are focus points, lenses, and perspective shifters all wrapped up in a energetic, creative, and sometimes maddening little bundle. I think people tend to focus on everything we have to put out to keep them safe and help them grow up well... but if we listen and pay attention, I think they have have just as much to give back in return.

So then I also wonder, do I stop listening to NPR in the car when she's there? Do I stop listening to the music I like because it sometimes has difficult themes? (no, I do not relish the idea of explaining some of Ani DiFranco's music to her) I could try to have her grow up in a bubble, unaware of everything in the world that isn't bright and happy. Or do I just go ahead and expose her and answer the questions as best I can? If I take this latter route, how do I make sure she doesn't feel crushed by the weight of everything that's wrong in the world?

I wouldn't give up being a mom for anything in the world, but egads this gets difficult sometimes...

* Into the Woods, Stay with Me

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Social Security, correction

The White House has made a correction (by same unnamed senior official? I wonder) regarding the second part of my post below. The government will not seize a substantial portion of your personal account upon retirement, rather they will reduce the guaranteed portion of your Social Security payment by the amount of your contribution to your private account, plus 3%. Six of one, half dozen of the other? But at least they aren't mucking with the retiree's personal account.

Clear as mud? That's what I was thinking too. Wake me when someone actually proposes some real legislation.

Here's the article in the Washington Post correcting their earlier article.

Social Security

I've been meaning to write something on Social Security for quite a while (although I suppose I did write something here, although this proposal seems to be DOA) and I think I'll try to do that today. It seems like an appropriate time, given that we just heard the President's State of the Union address last night.

My first thought is regarding the general need for reform. I may be completely off base here, but my understanding is that the money currently being borrowed by the Federal Government from Social Security overpayments is not being borrowed by simple accounting slight of hand, but rather the Federal Government is issuing treasury bonds to the Social Security Administration (SSA) to cover the borrowing. I believe the Federal Government started doing this after our last big round of Social Security reform in the 80's under Reagan. (where they raised the payroll tax rate, and supposedly that fixed everything - hah!) If this is actually the case, that means to me that when the SSA needs to start drawing on the interest and principle of these bonds in about 13 years, the Federal Government should honor its debts, and pay up. However, the current administration is emphasizing that Social Security will be running a deficit in 13-14 years, and saying that they do not want to be subsidizing Social Security out of the general budget. To me, it seems that they are arguing that the Federal Government should not be responsible for its debts and it should not have to pay back the treasury bonds that the SSA owns. If that's the case, what kind of precedent does that set?

My other concern is not so much structural, but rather involves the minutiae of the reform plan. I have read a couple articles, the most recent being this Washington Post/MSNBC article, which cite unnamed senior administration officials and discuss aspects of the reform plan. One particular aspect that I've heard about occasionally since before the election is the idea that your private account would not actually be all your own money -- that the government would take a substantial chunk of it once you reach retirement. This is rather ugly, and goes contrary to what President Bush said in his speech last night -- "You'll be able to pass along the money that accumulates in your personal account, if you wish, to your children . . . or grandchildren," Bush said last night. "And best of all, the money in the account is yours, and the government can never take it away." -- but still, it would go a long way to making privatization work financially... which perhaps is why the idea keeps surfacing. The basics of the plan are:

Under the proposal, workers could invest as much as 4 percent of their wages subject to Social Security taxation in a limited assortment of stock, bond and mixed-investment funds. But the government would keep and administer that money. Upon retirement, workers would then be given any money that exceeded inflation-adjusted gains over 3 percent.

. . .

Under the system, the gains may be minimal. The Social Security Administration, in projecting benefits under a partially privatized system, assumes a 4.6 percent rate of return above inflation. The Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill's official scorekeeper, assumes 3.3 percent gains.

If a worker sets aside $1,000 a year for 40 years, and earns 4 percent annually on investments, the account would grow to $99,800 in today's dollars, but the government would keep $78,700 -- or about 80 percent of the account. The remainder, $21,100, would be the worker's.

Quotes via this MSNBC article, hat tip to Reason.

Granted, the return rates are rather low and perhaps the gains could be a lot more, but still I have a hard time seeing this going over very well with anyone who is planning on their private account to help provide for them after they retire. Either this idea is going to be dropped, or it will be buried and most average people won't know anything about it until they start getting close to retirement. At that point, things should get really ugly, since who's going to want to give a substantial chunk of their supposedly protected private retirement account back to the government? And Congress, always willing to placate, will probably try to reform this away as well, and the public debt and structural debt should get even worse than it is today.

Well, at least there's something to look forward to...

And if I seem a little obsessed by retirement, well, I guess I am. I'm starting to realize how fast time flies, and I have no intention being stuck with little or no retirement savings as we get older -- especially since aging is not something that happens randomly to only a few people and it is something that we all have the opportunity to plan for well in advance.

Of course, this probably means I'll be one of the few people who will get hit by a proverbial bus at age 35, but at least Matt will have a good foundation to retire someday...

OK, it is really time to stop now, this is getting ridiculous.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A visit to our old stomping grounds

On Sunday, we went to the Santa Cruz mountains to visit our former neighbors. This was Matt's first trip back to the area since we moved, and only the second time Emma and I had been back. The old house looked sad and a little run down, and it was strange to see it that way. It's a lousy time of year there though -- the sun barely touches the ground, and the moisture is so thick in the air you can feel it as you breathe. It makes the temperature feel at least 10 degrees cooler than it actually is, and it quickly chills to the bone. I'm glad we moved, and that I didn't have to go through another winter under the redwoods.

After our visit, we visited some of our favorite places in Santa Cruz. We took a walk by the lighthouse and watched the surfers (the temp was about the same, but it was actually pleasant by the ocean), ate at Planet Fresh (a tasty and cheap burrito place), browsed Bookshop Santa Cruz (Matt bought Hammered by Elizabeth Bear, and we also got Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel for Emma), bought some coffee at Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company (our favorite is the Sweet Italian), then got a cookie at Pacific Cookie Company. It was a nice, nostalgic little visit, and I'm glad we did it. It was shocking to see all the people around, especially out by the lighthouse. I think we've gotten used to a much lesser degree public space usage here out in the suburbs. The people in Santa Cruz are definitely different... they didn't used to seem quite so much so before when we lived in the area, but the difference is much more noticeable now in contrast. Another notable difference -- all the places we went were local establishments and we could easily walk to everything.

It was a fun day, and we all enjoyed ourselves. We're all glad we moved though, even if we do now live in 'burbs.

Updated to add the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting company link - I knew I was forgetting something!


I don't think of myself as someone who holds a grudge, but I've realized recently that there is one I've been holding onto for about three years. My husband and I have a friend who came to visit us only days after our daughter was born -- he just happened to be passing through and stopped by for a visit. During the visit, he hardly even acknowledged our brand new baby's presence, and referred to her as "it" when he did notice her. I can understand him not being terribly interested in baby, he isn't someone who has a lot of (any?) experience with children. But to call her "it"? And when my husband said something about his choice of phrasing, he defended himself, calling her something along the lines of a little sexless blob.

To a new mother, those are fighting words -- and I haven't forgiven him for this. This brief conversation has become strongly linked in my mind to this person, and I wish it wasn't this way because I'm sure he wasn't trying to hurt us with what he said. But still, I can't help but to hold it against him and to let this color my memories and thoughts of him. I wonder if I find this so disturbing because I take his words as a larger dismissal of my role as a mother, a role I have placed at front and center at this point in my life.