Dorf:1 Angel: 0

I mean, you might think it’s the other way around and the angel comes out better than the dorf. Go here to the May 23, 2008 entry and tell me who you think comes out better in this literary exchange: William or his third grade teacher. (Two sentences! A two sentence post! A miracle of brevity!)

Okay, okay, a third sentence: I actually do read books, and I’ve updated my “reading” page up there at the top to prove it, and discovered at the very end of that update that I actually don’t like Hemingway’s early short stories (okay, I HATE them), and I’m mystified by that discovery, so pretty soon I’ll update that page and talk about that. (Whew.)

When Advil Won’t Do

Tonight, I overheard one of our children — the one who had to stay up late to work on his science project — telling my husband he had a headache. “Maybe I should take some advil, dad. Or some tylenol.” There was a pause. “Or how about some morphine?”

Clearly, it’s time for summer vacation. It’s also time to answer litlove’s questions about being a mother. Always happy to help with scientific and literary research, I provide my answers below:

How do you view your role as a parent? What are you there to do?

I’m here to keep them from being killed crossing the road, and from chewing with their mouths open when they’re having dinner with the first person they’ve ever loved. Beyond that, I’m pretty sure I should be standing out of their way, and letting them become the people they’re meant to be. Being a terribly bossy woman, I have an awfully hard time with that, but that’s what I aspire to.

In your social circle, are mothers expected to work or are they encouraged to stay home with the child?

Every mother I know well (and those are the mothers I think of as being in my “social circle”) has a sense of herself as having work in addition to her work as a mother. Even if she is currently staying home with her children, the women I know are still thinking about this work, and how to fit it in with their lives. So, I’d say, the women in my social circle are expected (because that’s what they expect of themselves) to have pursuits in addition to caring for their children.

As for physically staying at home, rather than going out to a paying job, that’s a very fluid thing in my community of friends.  There’s a lot of in and out — being home for a while when the children are very young, working part time, working from home are all common choices.  Very few women I know who have children my children’s ages (middle and elementary school ages) work full time at those terribly high powered jobs where they travel a lot and wear clean, pressed clothes — the kinds of jobs where you don’t have time to have much time with your children.   I have noticed though that as my friends’ children get older, their clothes are getting cleaner, and they are traveling more for work, and getting to put more time into the things they like to do besides raising children.  One thing I do know is that most of the women I know are too smart and too busy and too aware of how hard it is to parent and work to buy into the false dichotomy that is the stay-at-home mom vs. working mom thing. 

How do you feel about your child’s education? What’s good about it, and what do you wish could be done differently?

I have three children, and what their early educations all have in common is that they have involved the acquisition of a second language because I think that is a hugely important thing for Americans to do for reasons that should be obvious. In the case of my twins, that language was French, which was acquired at a private French school. My youngest child is fluent in Spanish, a language he learned completely free of charge, courtesy of the Spanish immersion program run by the Berkeley Public Schools. What’s good about their education is that we have lots of choices about how to educate them, both public and private. In some ways, that’s also what’s bad about their education. They don’t all go to the same schools with the children in our neighborhood and that makes their social lives a little scattered.

How do you share the childcare with your partner (if it is shared)? Do you tend towards different activities or different approaches to parenting?

We’re into being “equal.” What that means is that my husband does the morning childcare jobs (lunch making, breakfast making, dropping off at school) and I do the afternoon childcare jobs (picking up, homework browbeating, taking people to lessons and sports). I tend to specialize in instilling them with a love of reading and a little bit of religious education, despite the fact that I don’t actually believe in God most of the time. He specializes in making them fabulous skiers and windsurfers (and rock climbers). We’re nothing alike, and we think that’s probably good for them.

What are the most important virtues to instill in a child?

To keep their eyes open for the thing they love, and to figure out how to do that thing for a living — or to find a decent day job so they can do the thing they love the rest of the time. Is that a virtue? Yes, in fact, it is.

The other important virtue is a skill as much as a virtue. It is learning to really see other people — to listen to them, to try to understand why they do what they do, and in so doing to become a compassionate and loving person.

What’s the relationship like between mothers at the park and the school gate? Would someone you didn’t know help you out in a stressful moment?

I rush in and out of school so much these days I can hardly tell. I probably feel guilty at some level that I’m not participating in the mother-life of my childrens’ schools. But I feel ruthless these days about doing the things I want to do and not getting sucked into running the school auction. But yes, even though I’m not so great about school participation these days, and so am a virtual stranger to many of the mothers at my children’s schools, I’m pretty sure that anybody I asked for help would pitch in and help me. And I’d do the same for them.

What do you fear most for your child?

That they won’t ever find the thing they love to do.

How do you discipline your child and what are the errors you would put most effort into correcting?

I don’t think anybody learns anything from being punished except to sneak around and to be afraid. That said, I have the terrible flaw of yelling at my children when they fight with each other, or are rude to me, or do other stuff that bugs me. I apologize, and try not to hate that about myself too much. How do you get children to do what they should? Well, you model it, of course. Unfortunately, even though I do know this, I still lecture them like crazy. Poor things.

The errors I tend to focus on beyond table manners?  In giving freely, without expecting things in return, there is an enormous amount of happiness.  So, I try to model that, and try to encourage them to be that way.  It’s a work in progress.  I’m not always as generous as I could be, that’s for sure.

Do you think the life of a child has changed much since you were young?

Well, their childhoods look different from mine, with much more privilege and a different style of parenting, but no, I don’t think the fundamental nature of being a child — the imaginative life, and the way children develop — has changed one bit.

What’s the best compliment your child could pay you for your parenting skills?

You might have yelled at us and lectured us and never made brownies like the other moms, but we know you love us and we’d like to invite you to come see us do the thing we love. (Oh, and by the way? We know how to chew with our mouths closed. We always did know how. We just pretended like we didn’t to bug you.)

Happy Mama Day!

Aw. William made me breakfast in bed this morning. He burned himself on the sausage, thus demonstrating his utter devotion to his mother, and his willingness to risk his life for her. (He would like to say that, in fact, there’s no way he’d risk his life for me. That’s my job. That’s why I get breakfast in bed. Because I would, in fact, risk my life for him. In a pinch, I’d ask his dad to do it. That’s why, on father’s day, he gets double breakfast in bed.)

Signing off for now, using William’s favorite phrase, “Burp you later, dude!”

Ten Poops Away From a Tech Deck

Heard around the BlogLily household this morning, father to son, “Dude, you’re ten poops away from a tech deck.”

Translation? Well, we’ve instituted a little reward for doing what you should be doing anyway program — the idea is if you walk Archie ten times (over a one week period, the week being written down on a little anal piece of paper with squares for eligible walks, a picture of which I might even post at some point), then you get something called a tech deck, which is a ridiculous remarkable toy that’s essentially a small skateboard that kids do tricks with, using their fingers. That ridiculous amazing toy is the object of much desire among 2/3 of the BlogLily children, the other being more interested in getting to go to Dark Carnival, our neighborhood bookstore, and buying a comic book.

So. In what can loosely be described as an inspiration, I decided to throw in the chance to get a walk credit for every five Archie poops picked up in the backyard. Don’t work too hard imagining our backyard, okay? Some are willing to scoop poop if it means they’ll get a tech deck. Others need to be reminded. That’s what their father was talking about this morning.

Which brings me, as usual, to something profound. Okay. Profound-ish.

Rewards are not a bad thing. I mean, really, there are just some jobs that don’t float one’s boat. And there’s nothing wrong with a little incentive to get you going.

I’d love to hear about reward programs in other households. In fact, if you leave a comment about a rewards program, I’ll SEND you a reward of some kind. I have a lot of stamps. And a lot of books/cool papers/pens/pencils/rulers/paper clips/paper objects. I promise not to send you a poop. I couldn’t, really, even if I was that much of a weirdo because they’ve all been pretty much scooped up.

Happy weekend all!

Eliot Spitzer: PG-13 Version

I was all ready to give you a post about the fun weekend I spent in San Francisco with three women friends — we stayed at the Kabuki Hotel, had dinner on Fillmore Street and in the Mission, drank martinis, saw that Miss Pettigrew movie at the new Sundance Theater next to the hotel, shopped at high end stores and one of us (okay, me) went to the Presidio Branch of the San Francisco Public Library, but I realize that it is far more urgent to tell you how one family (mine, natch), dealt with Eliot Spitzer’s little escapade.

I figured they’d hear about it, so I just told them. What did I tell them, you ask, reasonably enough? That it’s illegal to pay for sex. And he did pay for it. And he shouldn’t have. Plus, he told a lot of people not to do bad things, so that made him look especially stupid, the way I look when I tell them not to eat junk food and then am caught sneaking their Halloween candy. (But I was just, you know, saving you from it….)

William looked puzzled by the whole thing, frankly. But he did seem interested in making sure he understood the ins and outs of this rule. His question: “What happens if somebody says they’ll have sex with you and you’re just so happy about it that you want to GIVE them a whole lot of money? Is that okay?”

Sigh. It’s important not to get stuff and love mixed up together is what I said, a little preachily, in an Eliot Spitzer kind of way.

And then it was Charlie’s turn to get all U.S. Attorney on me and bust me for my hypocrisy — “But mom, what about that time dad gave you a bread knife for Christmas and you were so mad at him because you thought it was pearls and it wasn’t?”

Sigh.

The conversation moved on to whether we’d sacrifice Archie, our alpha rescue poodle, for a human life. (In other words, if you could save someone’s life by sacrificing Archie’s, would you?) It was not entirely clear that they would give their dog’s life for a human life, which I guess today sort of makes a little sense, given how unevolved humans seem. I kept quiet, given my issue with the bread knife that should have been pearls and my consumption of Halloween candy. (Can you say “glass house” and “he who is without sin”?)  I let them hash it out, because they are far better at what’s really moral than I am, or most adults are, come to think of it, including Eliot Spitzer and those who are up in arms about him today. They decided that they’d never have to give up Archie, but they would if they did, and then the conversation turned to why it’s not okay to call someone “gay” as an insult. I’ll leave that for another day. Eliot Spitzer has totally worn me out.

You Smell Like Disneyland

I think the people at Guerlain might have been taken aback by the conversation in the car on the way to school this morning in which there was some discussion about the lovely Acqua Allegoria floral perfume I was sporting.  It was not, actually, my intention to smell like Disneyland.  Nor was it my intention to smell, as the perfume critic/child said hastily, when he noticed my shocked look, like the “outside of Disneyland,” as though a little distance from the House of the Mouse might make that comparison less troubling. 

But at least they meant it as a compliment, which is how I’m going to take it .

This slight post, you must realize, is just an excuse to tag more planners.  (Ah, Stefanie, you thought maybe I was not going to tag you?  Wrong.  I have a Tag Plan.  It involves a happy half hour browsing through my blogroll and thinking about how lucky I am to know so many smart, funny, impressive people before choosing a group of them at random to browbeat into saying a word or two about how they plan something, anything, that matters to them.  The holidays.  Building a huge office building.  Finishing a novel.  Discovering the source of the Nile.  Getting a poem out into the world.) 

meeta, whose blog was a place where I got to write about my obsession with packed lunches, before I discovered I couldn’t keep that up and breathe at the same time.

 If you have ever run out of things to read, all you really have to do is consult the right hand side of dark orpheus‘s blog.  There is an awful lot of reading going on over there.  Naturally, I would like to know how all that gets done.

Jana, who draws and paints almost every day.  Lovely, lovely watercolors and sketches.  Some days you do not want words.  And then you go here.  I wonder how someone who is so visual makes a plan. 

I realize this is only four blogs, but what wonderful blogs they are! 

Shots on Goal

One thing I really like about children is how fundamentally decent they are, and how wise. When I told William a little while ago that I was feeling a little worried and a little bad about this literary prize my novel’s up for, he said, “You know mom, it doesn’t matter if you lose and it’s nice if you win.” And then, to buck me up, he shared one of his own writing submission stories: “I didn’t win that scary story contest at school, but I don’t care. I kind of suck at writing scary stories.” Well, I didn’t win that Fabri Prize, although I got a really lovely note from the people at Boaz Publishing saying some nice things about my book, which doesn’t actually suck, but maybe wasn’t just what they wanted.

This experience isn’t going to prevent me from writing stories and books and sending them out over and over again. It’s just one of many shots on goal. That’s something I learned from soccer, a game I do not play, but watch endlessly, and even, one night when I had absolutely nothing better to do, read an entire book about. In that book, I came across an astonishing and life-changing fact: for every goal that is scored, a player has to make ten shots on goal. I love that fact. If you keep kicking in the general direction of the goal, and pay attention to where your kicks go, and try to make them straighter, truer and stronger, you will eventually get the ball in the net. If you are a writer, you have to take hundreds of shots, but that is the only significant difference between you and David Beckham. Well, almost. And that, my friends, is the only sports metaphor you will probably ever hear from me.

Have a great weekend — and don’t forget to show me when and how you’re going to be planning your own shots on the goal.