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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Room with a Scarry View

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There have been a whole series of pieces in Slate and The New York Times about why people choose not to have kids and why they shouldn’t be judged. I didn’t know people judged other people for not having kids. I find it confusing when people think their choices are the only choices. I am happy with my choices, but also appreciate that other people do other things. If everyone got a Ph.D. in literature and had one daughter, the world would stop. People would be able to discuss Joyce but unable to eat; it wouldn’t be pretty. Pressuring people to feel like they should decide one way or the other about very personal things just seems generally odd. Among the reasons people have given for not having kids is, they ruin your career, body, relationship, ability to have fun and a whole bunch of other stuff. Oh, and statistically, according to some, they make people more miserable.* As much joy as they bring into one’s life, a primary argument seems to be that they make everything harder. Okay. The counterarguments for why people have kids usually isn’t “they make life easier,” but a whole slew of other things (again this argument in general seems weird, I cannot imagine life without my daughter, but this doesn’t mean that I think everyone has to have a child).

I’ve got one counterexample to the “kids make life harder” argument (and there are more). You arrive at a hotel for a brief vacation or wedding, look out your window and see a huge construction site. Thoughts without kids: “ARG! Now we will be woken up at 7 a.m. by jackhammers, it will be noisy in here all day, and I will not sleep. I should complain. This is supposed to be a vacation, what the . . .” Thought with kids: “YES, it looks like a Richard Scarry book out there! This will keep my child entertained for hours! I am so excited they gave us this room!” (AND THEN you get a discount on top of that for the awesome construction, life could not be better.) So obviously all people should have kids in case they go on vacation and end up in a room with a construction site outside their windows.

*I also do not think people who do not want kids should criticize people who do have kids. It’s like the mommy wars escalated to the people wars or something. Is this mostly media fabricated or are there really people running around out there thinking “Wow, that woman should have kids” or “Wow, that woman should not have had kids”?

Ode to Habitot

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As we get ready to leave the bay area, there are a lot of things we are going to miss. The weather. The produce (you know, fruit). My daughter’s friends. My friends (whom hopefully I will keep in touch with). My department. My students. Being close to West Coast friends more generally (I have close friends in L.A. and Seattle; it’s been so nice to see more of them). This list is not complete and it is not in order, or else friends would precede fruit. In terms of negatives, I will not miss skateboarders who seem intent on running over my child, but beyond that I have few complaints. As I mentioned, I was alone with my daughter for a good portion of my west coast time and some things (like certain people) have made a big difference. Another thing that has made a huge difference is Habitot. They have two areas that involve books for children, a reading room and a “baby garden” in which there are books for very little ones (20 months and under). We’ve enjoyed the books in both areas. They also have a library for parents of books on child-raising and other things. They have a “toy library” that has been amazing because you can take out toys for three weeks and then return them. It’s genius. Why do more places not do this?

Especially as a “single mom” (albeit temporarily) it has been wonderful to have a place like Habitot to go, where my daughter felt comfortable, open rain or shine (6-7 days a week, depending on the season). There are all sorts of parents and caregivers (nannies, grandparents, others) coming through. I got to have conversations with adults in person on days when otherwise I might not have. The staff is amazing (they greet my daughter by name and are so sweet and creative). A mix of kids go, so my daughter learned from older kids and a little about how to treat younger kids, getting to see and interact with a lot more people than she would have otherwise. When she started school they commented on how comfortable she was immediately with groups of kids, and I think a large part of that is thanks to Habitot. She had access to totally different art supplies than she does at home, her Habitot art decorates our kitchen (see above) and the creativity of the art room projects helped me learn what kind of different stuff she was really excited by (at different ages). I realized how incredibly special Habitot was, when I spent some time in New York. There are tons of resources and centers for kids in the city, but . . . a lot of them are insanely expensive (yeah, rent is high in NYC; it is in Berkeley too!), some of them do not allow you to drop by for a one day visits, some of them (like the children’s museum on the west side) are great but can be kind of overwhelming for a younger child (and the crowds, oh the crowds). In addition, Habitot is really invested in its community: it has great classes for kids, talks for adults, and all sorts of interesting community programs. Habitot, like its staff, really cares. I cannot say enough good things about it. I know this didn’t have a lot to do with children’s books, but it has a lot to do with the often discussed “imaginative play” and they are related. Do you have a favorite children’s museum or place to take your kids? In other words, what is your “habitot”? Do you have memories of going to a children’s museum or something similar from when you were younger?

These photos are from a range of ages, which you can tell by the varying degree of hair.

Wake Up, Mom!

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In Eileen Christelow’s Five Little Monkeys Bake a Birthday Cake, the monkeys hammer, saw, burn things in the oven, throw food on the floor, fall, let strange men come into the house, and cause a fire truck (with the sirens going EEEEEEEEEEE) to arrive. The book used to be called Don’t Wake Up Mama and, honestly, I am not sure what could wake up Mama! She wears earmuffs on her ears that appear to be super noise and worry blockers. They are amazing (are these legal? I may want some, but I am not sure I could block out worry). Then there is another book my daughter loves, Joy Cowley’s Wake Up, Mom! which is basically the opposite of Don’t Wake Up Mama. I cannot pretend I have any idea about how hard it must be to work on a farm (a small or large one). I do know that I understand waking up and feeling like there are all these needy things around that need to be taken care of (be they sheep, children, papers, dirt on the floor, articles, or other things). I have read this book so many times I can read it on autopilot and here is what my brain is saying to me as I read it. (Side note, there are so many kids in children’s books named Henry and Harry, why?)

We can all be monkeys, mice, dogs, etc.

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When reading Maus one of my students (who was not from the West and was not “white”*) mentioned that having the characters represented as mice made them easier to relate to, since she just assumed the mice looked like her, whereas had they been drawn like white Westerners there would have been a stronger sense of estrangement (something I had not considered in terms of Art Spiegelman’s work before). I thought of this again when looking up something about Groovy Girls (my daughter loves them) and found a thread on Berkeley Parents Network about getting dolls that don’t look white. Even if you vary your dolls’ complexions or read books that represent different kind of human families, they have to look like something, but there are tons and tons of books that have animals and tons of kids play with stuffed animals (rather than dolls), opening up more imaginative possibilities. Some books leave open more possibilities than others. The Five Little Monkey books seem to be a large family of monkeys (five siblings, they sleep in one bed — sometimes and sometimes bunk beds—  and sometimes they jump on the big bed) with just a mom; whether or not it is a single mom, a divorced mom, a widowed mom, a mom whose wife is away, a mom whose husband is away, is not clear to me from the books themselves. It’s pretty nice that the monkeys could represent such a range of backgrounds (totally nondescript monkey family). In the final scene of Five Little Monkeys Bake a Birthday Cake (formerly Don’t Wake Up Mama, more on that later) the Mom appears to maybe be flirting with the firefighter, but she could also just be happy about the cake (if she is flirting, is it just friendly? questioning her sexual identity? unfaithful? exploring her new options?). Given the Mama’s situation, I got curious enough about the author’s background (Eileen Christelow) that I looked it up, thinking I would do a quick, always problematic biographical reading of the monkeys’ situation. Luckily it didn’t really change my mind that the situation is very open to interpretation. Another parental figure may show up in one of the other books, we haven’t read all of them yet but we are going to soon (we’ve read four of them over and over and over again). My daughter has Five Little Monkeys Bake a Birthday Cake memorized and as cute as I find it when she says “Don’t spill the oil!” in the process of reciting the book, I need a little more variety in my life.

*All these terms are so problematic/meaningless/too meaningful.

Liebster Award

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I received this from Avra at Red Twighlight. Thank you, Avra! She is one of my most frequent commenters, which I also really appreciate! She writes about a whole bunch of different stuff and has many interesting ideas on a variety of topics: here is the screen shot of her “tags” just to give you an idea. “Squirrels” is bigger than “tales of woe” (and “family,” “food,” “adventure,” “humor,” and “love it” bigger than both), which seems like a good thing in life in general.


1. Thank and link back to the giver of the award.

2. List five blogs with 200 or fewer followers that reach out and touch the hearts and souls of others and let the authors know on their respective blogs.

3. Copy and paste the award on your blog and share 7 random things about yourself.

I’ve enjoyed learning about more children’s books (and parenting) from other people through blogs (and other places too of course). A lot of people write about books for slightly older kids, so I also look forward to reading things they have mentioned. The category (under 200 followers) is fairly specific and some people don’t display the number of followers they have, which makes it tricky. Also, to be honest, most of the blogs I read consistently are written by people I know (with some exceptions). Perhaps this is actually true for many people? I read things as they relate to questions I have or things that interest me at a certain time, but I am always interested in my friends. I also (biased though I may be) think my friends have a lot of interesting things to say. I might be the opposite of Avra in terms of blog consumption (but I don’t know Avra, so she would have to tell me): she seems to have fostered an online community through her broad reading and great commenting on other people’s blogs (her blog world seems big). I tend to read blogs by people I know in real life and sometimes email them about or talk to them about things they blogged (my blog world is pretty small); I am pretty sure that is not ideally how blogging works since all of those conversations and comments are completely separate from the blog itself (doing no one’s blog a favor). I can’t help it: I’ve only lived about a third of my life in the twenty-first century, sometimes twentieth century me wins. That’s right I am blaming it on my age, poor excuse that it is. I am of course not saying bloggers don’t have real life friends as well; I am saying that I am much worse at making connections with bloggers and having “blog friends” (which I know a bunch of people do) than I am at having friends I can physically see/touch/smell etc.

I am not sure if I am doing this right so just write me irate comments below if I am not. I’ll try and fix it. And again, thank you, Avra!

My Liebster Blogs!

  1. Topless Carrot

She writes about redheads. It’s funny, fun, and makes you really think about redheads. It has also become one of my ways to learn about pop culture, since, I am often out of it when it comes to pop culture. So my pop culture knowledge has become very redhead slanted, but that’s okay. Some people with redhead fetishes might even think this is good. For what topless carrot thinks about this, you’ll have to read the blog.

2. Butter, sugar, flowers

A beautiful site about tasty things.  I know from personal experience that she’s a fabulous baker. Yum. She already has one so maybe I am not supposed to give her another? I won’t take it back.

3. Senza Fissa Dimora/Nomadic Subject

A smart guy who writes smart and interesting stuff on a whole range of topics (politics, literature, and all that is left beyond those two topics).

4. DESIGN inspiration

Writes about how things should look or interesting things that look appealing. Or not, sometimes (with a well-honed critical eye). She’s posted about a couple of things that have enticed me enough that I’ve purchased them (reusable bags to replace plastic ones and jewelry). She was also the source of comment about those awesome posters depicting crazy things that parents end up saying to their kids.

5. Childtasticbooks

A mom and child reviewing books, a fantastic idea and a blog full of thought. Also gives some great ideas of books I look forward to reading when my daughter is a bit older.

Seven random things.

  1. I started this blog more or less because I was alone with my daughter. I would often compose them in my head while I was reading (the same book for the four hundredth time). I am not sure if it will continue very consistently now that we are all together as a family (there may be a sharp drop July 14th-ish). I also had a lot more weird time (time in which I couldn’t do my own work, but wasn’t necessarily doing something active with my daughter) than I do now (so happy to have less “weird time”!). In addition, my daughter’s father was also one of my most consistent readers and he’s here now, doing the reading with me. The posts will probably be less frequent (and there won’t be any for the later part of July, since we’ll be on our trip), but who knows. Thank you so much to the people who have read over the past few months!
  2. I have been so grateful to my immediate family, who all live on the east coast and all came to see me/help while I was here without my husband. This isn’t really about me except to say that I feel really lucky to have the family I have. My daughter is also really lucky to have the aunts and grandparents she has. Leaving is making me think about the past couple of years, which leads me to . . .
  3. I could live without four seasons. I love the weather here. I like being able to go outside whenever I want to. I enjoy being comfortable and being able to go to playgrounds with my daughter all the time. When I get back east and start talking about how great it is to have snow and unbearable heat and how I could never live in California because they don’t have four in your face seasons I’ll be lying completely and totally (to myself). Please do not remind me of this.
  4. I wish I knew a language written with a non-Latin script.
  5. Since my first name is strange I get really confused when I have to tell it to someone (like at a restaurant in which they are going to call you). Should I lie? Spell it? Let them butcher it? Let them ask me where it comes from and turn it into a potentially long conversation? Once I was out with my two roommates, one weird named and one normal named. The host at the restaurant asked us for the name to put down and we, the weirdly named, both said the normal one’s name at the same time (adamantly). Us of the weirdly named thought that was hilarious. If you don’t find this funny, perhaps your name is not weird enough.
  6. I never knew monkeys would play such a large role in my life.

Road Trip

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We’re driving cross-country in a few weeks, armed with stickers, Sesame Street, books, toys, monkeys, and food for our daughter. Red Tricycle recently recommended a map on Road Trip Must Haves for kids, so we got a placemat of the U.S. in preparation. My daughter can point out California and North Carolina on it (subtext: she is clearly a genius). I’ve heard “quiet books” are great — I’m trying to figure out if I should make one or not. Any other advice?

We drove across the country when she was four months old (not generally recommended, but it had some real high points, including ending up seeing my parents in Colorado). The photos are of my daughter at Andersen’s and my daughter in a motel (we chose our accommodations based on her attire). Our tentative route this time is Lake Tahoe, Salt Lake City, Cheyenne, Lincoln… and then there is only about 22 hours of driving after that.

Fictional Books

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One of my favorite Wikipedia lists is a list of fictional books,* by which, as they clarify at the beginning, they mean: “A fictional book is a non-existent book created specifically for (i.e. within) a work of fiction. This is not a list of works of fiction (i.e., actual novels, mysteries etc), but rather imaginary books that do not actually exist.” I’m going to add Groffle the Awful Waffle by Leslie Knope to it (no one looks good screen captured, sorry!). Are there other fictional children’s books that you know of? I like that the rhymes in Groffle the Awful Waffle sound like a book that already exists. Wait maybe it does, anyone know? I would google this but I am too busy reading lists of books that don’t exist.

*That’s right, I have favorite wikipedia lists. How people put things together and what lists exist fascinates me. Plus, I just really love fictional books. Call me names if you will. Do you have favorite wikipedia lists?