Monthly Archives: February 2008

Playing favorites

            I used to worry that all our pictures had me holding Benjamin and J holding Zachary.  When he looks back, years from now, will the child think I dumped him for his younger brother?  Will he wonder whether we had any time together once the baby came along?

            I have stopped worrying about this, and not because of some wisdom of mature parenting or improvement in my ability to juggle two children.  I have stopped worrying because nowadays, Benjamin spends precious little time in my arms.

            He is way too busy sitting on his father’s lap.

            Once upon a time, I was the apple of his eye, which is saying quite a bit when you consider how he feels about apples.  Now, I am just a means to an end, a person to tend to his needs till his daddy shows up, at which moment I get pitched like last week’s lemonade. 

            As soon as he sees his father, Benjamin breaks out into a giant smile.  “Daddy!” he exclaims, then turns around, assuming the position.  If J is a little off his game, Ben helps him along by pushing his legs till he sits down, cross-legged on the floor.  His seat in place, Benjamin plops down, wiggling his ample bottom with pleasure as he gets just the right arrangement of tushy inside lap.  Then, he reaches around and grabs his father’s arms, pulling them around him.

            Now, J is not the only victim of lap-jacking.  Pretty much anyone who has known Benjamin for more than twenty seconds finds his derriere waving about in her face as he clutches a book and earnestly says “Building Site” or “La Luna,” depending upon the book.  But, J apparently has a very special lap, because it is by far Benjamin’s favorite vacation spot.

            He sits there in the morning if J is still around.  He sits there after supper.  He snuggles in before bath, and he gets one last cuddle during book time.  In fact, the only time I ever see the child sitting still is when his father is firmly anchored underneath him.

            One recent morning, as Benjamin beamed from his perch on his father’s lap, Zachary told me that he thinks his brother wants Daddy to take care of him all day, and I think he might be right.

            “Who gives better hugs?” I ask the nineteen-month-old.  “Mommy or Daddy?”

            “Daddy!” he exclaims.

            “Who has a better lap?  Mommy or Daddy?” 

            “Daddy!”

            “Who gives the best cuddles?”

            “Daddy!”

            “No,” Zachary counters, “Mommy AND Daddy.”  Then, noting an opening, he strides past his little brother and his father, and moves in for a Mommy hug.  At least someone likes them.

Feline troubles

            Please know, I do indeed understand the meaning of the word “irony.”  I want to state that up front, because I fear that later you will be too busy gasping for breath on the floor as you sob with laughter to notice such disclaimers.

            When we left Philadelphia, we had a cat, Nala.  She had been with me for many years, long before Zachary came along and usurped her role as ruler of the house.  Unfortunately, we could not move her with us, both because the quarantine is excessive (we did not have enough notice for the chip) and because she does not like a three-minute ride to the vet, let alone a seven-hour flight.  We found a former student of mine who was just graduating college who wanted a cat in med school. 

            However, knowing that women just graduating from college cannot predict the trajectory of their lives, I assured my young friend that, if her circumstances changed over the next two years and a cat was no longer feasible, I would take Nala off her hands when we returned to Philadelphia.  It would be her choice.

            Cue ominous music.  This young med student can no longer keep Nala.  She loves the cat, really she does, but she is going on away rotations and then will be at the hospital all the time for clinicals.

            But, the problem here is that we are no longer returning to Philly, and shipping a cat from Philadelphia to L.A. just to be with a family she no longer remembers strikes me as a form of animal cruelty.  (Shut UP about the irony, please.)  We really do not wish to put the cat through that ordeal.  We would like to find a nice family within an hour or two of Philly who wants a cat.

            If you know anyone, here’s the deal.  She’s old – thirteen years.  She’s calico with some Siamese, we think.  She’s ornery but not violent – she’s just a cat and she likes things her way.  She’s affectionate with the person she attaches to (because, she’s a cat).  She’s fine with children, never hurting them, but she isn’t dying for kids.  Although, that said, she tried to curry Zach’s favor in hopes of getting me to pay attention to her again.  She’s your basic coddled house pet who wants a nice spot in the sun and a lap to sit on.  While she is OK with children, she is not OK with other animals, so she needs to enter a pet-free household.  She never goes outside of the litter box, she is a good mouser, and she generally earns her keep.

            So, if you know any nice people in the Philly area who can verify that they are kind to animals, please send them my way.  (If you have never before commented and I suddenly hear from you, I am going to assume you are the kind of person who tries to get your hands on innocent cats to do awful things to them and I will disregard your offer.  Don’t take it personally.)

            Thanks folks.  You can stop shaking your head in amazement at the twisted paths of fate now.

While you’re busy making other plans

            I was ambivalent about fertility treatment.  On the one hand, I wanted very much to be a mother.  On the other hand, it seemed to me that if my body was not cooperating, it would be irresponsible to deplete scarce medical resources for the sake of bullying it into compliance when there were certainly already enough children overpopulating the planet, one or two of whom might find us to be suitable parents. 

            Sometimes a social conscience can be a bitch.

            But not always.  In this particular situation, when it became apparent that – for reasons entirely too long and excruciatingly dull to go into here – adoption was not the best of options for us, I was able to gag my social conscience and lash it to a chair in the corner.  I sort of fell into fertility treatment, going in one day to find out what was wrong and a month later walking around with track marks on my arms from all the blood tests.  It was not long before I found myself jabbing myself in the thigh each day with a needle, reasoning, “Well, it is only a small needle.”  Perhaps I was comparing it to the three-inch monstrosity the nurse used to give me my HCG shot.

            I did, however, draw a line in the sand.  There was a point – never mind where – at which I told J we would have to stop treatment and start adoption proceedings.  I just could only justify so much medical intervention when I knew full-well I would love an adopted child just as much as a biological one, when each child produced over-populates the planet a little more, and when I felt like medical resources should probably be going towards children with cancer, not my pathetic excuse for a uterus.  We never did reach that point.  We were on the cusp of it when I got pregnant with Zachary.

            None of this is meant to judge or wag fingers at those who choose to do whatever it takes to get pregnant.  I have been there, I have done that, and I have the increased risk of ovarian cancer to prove it.  I get it.  But I was ambivalent about my own participation in the process.

            The second time around, we needed much less help.  After trying for six months on our own, I went in to my reproductive endocrinologist.  “We’ll start the Gonal-F next month,” he told me, “since you are about to ovulate.  Let’s give you some extra progesterone this month and see if we can steal a pass.”  Three days later, I ovulated; for the next two weeks, I spotted every day.  Two weeks later, we found out I was pregnant. 

            And that was it.  I have two lovely boys.  To have one child is to fill a strong, primitive need to reproduce.  To have two children is to give them one another, a precious gift if ever there was one.  To have three?  Well, to have three is to more than replicate ourselves, to increase the number of people on the plant rather than maintaining the status quo once we kick the bucket.  Given the gigantic ecological footprint of American children, I knew there was no way I would go ahead and have more.

            Our hearts have enough room for several more children.  I am just not so sure about the planet.  And J?  He’s not so sure about the budget.  And so it was that, every time Benjamin outgrew a toy or a t-shirt, we gave it away, and fast.  No sense storing those things, gathering dust.

            Here are two things we have learned lately. 

1)      Getting rid of something is the fastest way to ensure you will need it again. 

2)      A past history of infertility is not the most effective method of birth control.

We’re going to need to be careful from now on, or next time it will be triplets, given the curve on which my fertility seems to improve.

            There is not enough room on the planet, which puts the burden on us to make sure we are even more responsible in our use of resources.  There is enough room in the budget because, really, the kids don’t need as much as we think they do.  There will be enough room in the car, because we found out a week before J bought our new car, making an abrupt switch from a Prius to a minivan (oh, shut up, social conscience).  And there sure is enough room in all of our hearts, although Benjamin may take some convincing that there is enough room on our laps.

            Two pink lines.  Unplanned but very welcome.  And John Lennon had it right.

Energy crisis (part two)

Second part of a two-part post.

What would I miss most in a world with rationed energy supplies?

            It is easy to forget how much we rely upon cheap fuel.  I am not just talking about filling the gas tank or heating one’s home.  Everything we buy must travel.  Ideally, it does not travel 1/3 of the way around the globe, but it travels.  I may get my milk from a local dairy, but since there are no cows in SW London, it stands to reason that someone did have to do some transporting.  The books I read, the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the medicines we take, and the water we drink all need to travel.  Not only that, but it takes energy to produce all of these things.

            I fear a world in which I could not get what I think of as basic necessities because there is not enough oil to transport them.  A world in which heat waves kill hundreds and cold snaps kill thousands because there is not enough energy to go around.  A world in which I cannot feed my children fruits and vegetables unless I have a back yard and can grow them myself.

            I would not miss driving.  Honestly, I really dislike driving.  I am happy to walk everywhere possible, but not everywhere is possible, so I suppose I would miss the ease with which I can now see people on the other side of the city or the other side of the country.  Mostly, however, I would miss feeling like my children have a chance to grow up in a world where they have everything they need.

 What can I do to help?

            “This environmental obsession of yours is sure saving us money,” J told me last week.  That is not really true.  Yes, I buy much less than I used to.  If I no longer like something but it is functional, I keep using it.  We no longer buy paper towels since we switched to rags, we buy fewer tissues since I transitioned to handkerchiefs, and I will not buy new Tupperwares just because the old ones are discolored and grey (although I think I will be looking for a non-plastic option).

            We buy less partly because the landfills are overflowing, partly because manufacturing goods spews crap out into our air and our water, and partly because of the energy required to produce new goods and then get them to our house.  Theoretically, we ought to be saving a bundle.  If only I weren’t pouring the savings into the things we still do buy – when we need new clothing because the kids keep eating or mine is in tatters, I try to buy ethical clothing.  This is only so feasible.  Why is it I can find loads of fair trade, organic shirts but no trousers?  I feel like a hypocrite as Zachary wears his “Little Green Radical” shirt (pink, of course) with whatever jeans we can find that actually fit his little behind.  And, please, if someone has found an ethical bra, let me know.  This is off the topic, however, as the question is about energy, not pesticides or child labor, and one of the best ways to reduce energy usage is to buy used items locally. 

              I would buy used if used-clothing stores didn’t stress me out so much because I hate shopping and they require patience to sift through things.  Seriously, I would rather buy nothing, which is what I usually do, than have to spend hours in a store trying to find a pair of jeans.  I think I am going to have to start shopping used for environmental reasons, but I am going to need to bring my inhaler with me.  Used is about the only way our shopping habits have become less expensive.  On the whole, we are buying fewer things and paying more for them.

We pay more for a milkman and our produce is organic and locally grown but more expensive.  We are using disposable diapers with Ben (a subject for another post), but we are using the pricey, environmentally friendly, not-made-with-a-tub-of oil kind that I have to walk a mile to buy.  We are pretty much spending exactly what we used to, in purely financial terms.  But, we are also spending much less energy, getting a few things we need rather than unnecessary things we want.

            I struggle in a few areas.  We still buy toys now and then, but I try to insist upon quality toys that will last through the children.  And then there are the books.  It is an addiction.  When we move, I need to start using the library more (the one here is awful) because too much energy is going into bringing books to my door.  Yet, I cannot imagine breaking the book-buying habit.  Who would support all those authors?

            We walk a lot.  Part of that is personal preference, but part is an understanding that we do not need to drive everywhere.  I suspect moving to LA will be very, very hard.  Did I mention that I like to walk, not drive?  All we can do is try to cluster all our services in one area and then try to live in that area.  J will still need to travel for work, and there is not much we can do about that.  But the rest of the family can limit our fuel intake.

            “This house is so cold,” my husband complains.  So, wear a sweater.  ‘Nuf said.

            There is no doubt in my mind that we will continue to use energy.  It is almost impossible not to.  But, now, when I think about cost, I do not just think in terms of money.  How much does something cost means how much pollution did it create, how many children worked in a sweatshop to make it, how much packaging does it come with, and how much energy did it take to bring it to my door.  Chances are, if it is a 99¢ tchotchke from Target that will end up in the landfill, it costs way too much. 

Although we did buy Zachary a big pink ring.  Story for another day.

.

I am not tagging anyone, because that would be absurd, given how many memes I have not responded to.  However, please feel free to take this and run with it.

Energy crisis

            Believe it or not, I am actually doing a meme.  It probably helps that no one tagged me for this, so I can retain my illusion of free will.  I found it over at Tales from the Reading Room, and I could not resist.  If you would like to pick up this meme, answer the following three questions:

What do I fear most about a serious energy crisis?

What would I miss most in a world with rationed energy supplies?

What can I do to help?

My answers are long (go figure), so I will post part today and part next week. 

.

 What do I fear most about a serious energy crisis?

            Once upon a time, when I was young and childless, I was teaching a class of college students.  It was actually the last class I taught, and they were a phenomenal group of kids.  I was pregnant and I had to tell them right away because, well, classes got cancelled for a week due to my bed rest and then I had to sit while teaching for almost a month.  Something about them knowing I was expecting created an openness and comfort beyond what I have experienced before.  Either that, or they were just a wonderful class.

            Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower was on my syllabus.  (She ended up on my syllabus a lot with one book or another.  I loved having an excuse to focus on her work.)  Raise your hand if you have ever read something by Butler.  Yeah, that’s three of you.  The rest of you need to stop at the library this week.  Trust me.  When was the last time someone recommended an African-American, female science-fiction writer to you?

            Parable of the Sower is a futuristic text, set in southern California.  While the whole world has been affected by an energy crisis and environmental disarray, the total social collapse of southern California is the worst.  I won’t tell you much more except to say that this is the book that turned me into an environmentalist.  It will rock your world, so go read it.

            Anyhow, the way I started each class was to have students turn in questions about the text, which we then used to guide discussion.  One day, a very sweet young man (and brave, as most of the boys had dropped my class) wondered “What has happened in the past twenty years that has been drastic enough for the world to be like Butler portrays it in the book?”  I looked up.  I tried no to stare. 

            “You don’t believe that things are dire enough in the world to create this kind of a social collapse?”  And he didn’t.  I was teaching at a very homogeneous, very privileged college.  He had never been down the road a few miles to West Philadelphia, so he had no idea that the economic conditions necessary for this kind of disintegration already existed.  And, it was just before everyone except for George W. Bush finally accepted that there is such a thing as global warming.  This young man was so secure in the world he had grown up in that it never occurred to him that it could all disappear.

            I wonder about him now, in a post-Katrina world.  Does he now know that it could happen?  Does he now realize there could be street warfare over gasoline?  Does he now understand that, without alternative forms of energy, we are poisoning our air, polluting our water, manufacturing wars, and creating an economy that can topple like a house of cards?

            What do I fear most about a serious energy crisis?  Read The Parable of the Sower.  Octavia Butler was way smarter than I am, and she said it best.

Curious George has four

So, we are considering getting a laptop, as it is getting to time for a new computer.  Anyone want to make a pitch for a Mac or a PC?  It will be mostly mine, which means the most complicated thing it will be used for is uploading photos off our digital camera.  I’ll take any suggestions.

And, while you are giving computer advice, can anyone suggest good, educational computer games for a three to four year olds and for a twenty-month-old, preferably games that will keep them entertained for, say, two hours of the eleven-hour flight we need to take next month?  Thanks.

——————————–

.

It appears I was mistaken in yesterday’s post.  According to a member of the Israeli Parliament, new rules in the Holy Land allowing same-sex couples to adopt have ticked off God so much that He is sending earthquakes.  I stand corrected.

—————————-

.

            Our dinner table, three to five nights a week, is set for three.  J is traveling or working or stuck on the Tube, and the boys and I are used to pressing on without him.  There is sort of a rhythm to our lives together, one that is thrown off when their father arrives.  Without him here, we read each others’ cues flawlessly.  OK, not flawlessly, but generally the boys know when to patter over to their chairs, I know when Zach needs his Taggie picked up off the floor if I want him to stay in his seat, and Ben knows to sit and patiently eat peas on the floor until his supper is on the table.  Every now and then, however, one needs water, the other needs his sleeves rolled up, and the pasta has been in the pot for fourteen minutes, which is at least two more than recommended on the box.

            Even these moments have their rituals, which includes me saying “Boys, I only have two hands” a lot.  I know that I must repeat this frequently because, recently, in one such moment, when I was trying to simultaneously retrieve a dropped spoon, serve up milk, and stop the tofu from burning, I told them “Hang on boys; I’m moving as fast as I can.”

“You know, Mommy,” Zach responded. “You have two hands.  That means you can do two things at once.”

Real dads don’t suck

Inspired by this post over at Blogs are Stupid.

————————- 

            It seems our friend Jon has wanted to be a parent since before I met him, which was long enough ago that I was still perky in places that now respond to gravity’s call and he still thought he dated women.  He is destined to be one of the world’s greatest fathers, possessing the perfect mixture of nurturing, fun, pragmatism, and idealism.  Big heart, contained ego, and fantastic sense of humor – just about all anyone could ask for in a father. 

            So, we were all thrilled when he met a partner who brought to the table the additional attributes of a bit more reserve and wryness that inadequately covers for a remarkable good nature.  Good.  One more friend taken care of. 

            They got married the month before I had Zachary, because people really like to get married someplace far away just before or just after I have babies.  Other than the fact that J and I missed the wedding, the only thing to mar the day was that, well, legally they weren’t getting married.  They held their wedding a stone’s throw from the White House, perhaps to show George Bush just what they thought of the restrictions on their civil liberties.

Religiously they were, however, married, although they did have a hard time finding a rabbi to perform the ceremony.  No one objected to the fact that they were both male, but they took umbrage with the fact that Jon’s husband isn’t Jewish.  They finally found an officiate when Jon promised he would raise the children Jewish and would cover their ears every time his husband spouted off about atheism and the like.

Now, of course, the concern became adopting those children they were going to raise Jewish, given that the marriage had no wombs to speak of.  For a time, Jon thought that perhaps they should seek to adopt twins, under the theory that “At least when they are running around reaching for the knives, we won’t have a newborn to contend with.”  No, just two toddlers with sharp objects.

To me, this smacked of insanity.  Here we were with a newborn who declined to ever be put down, thank you very much, and our friend was thinking that two of them at the same time sounded like a good idea.  I nodded encouragement while trying to sneak a peak to see if he had sprouted a few more sets of arms.

I do understand that parents of twins say in some ways it is easier, and if that is the card a family is dealt, it is wonderful in all sorts of ways.  However, the idea of actively seeking out such an arrangement…?

A few weeks later, we were visited by the only relatives still speaking to me, distant cousins who were in town to visit their son, Kevin, who is our age.  As I watched Kevin’s twin seven-year-olds run into the other room, I mentioned the story of Jon and his moronic heroic irrational naïve belief that raising twins would be easier.  Kevin laughed.  His mother paused, pondering for a minute.

            “Do you really think it’s fair, though?” she began.  “Don’t you think children should have a father and a mother?”

            Fortunately, Zachary even at this tender age was able to cling to his parents like some sort of baby tree sloth, or I might actually have dropped him at that moment.  It’s not that I was surprised at her sentiment; despite my time in college theater, I have crossed paths with one or two homophobes in my time.  Nor was I particularly surprised to hear it coming from one of my relatives, since I was only too aware that sometimes my relations can be a bit insensitive.  She was of a certain age when perhaps her conservatism got the better of her.

            I was, however, floored that she would decide to express her sentiments that particular way.  To me.  I mean, given that she remembers my mother before she died, a luxury I do not have.  Given that she knows what a fantastic replacement my father found.  Given that she knows the extent to which my father gave three shits about how I was being raised. 

            It just seems that, talking to me, perhaps she might consider that her lovely sentiments about family structure do not always translate into reality.  Should all children have a mother and a father?  Hell, I’d have settled for just one.

            And so, to Jon and his husband, who will (God willing and the crick don’t rise) be bringing home a baby sometime in the not-so-distant future, and who will probably warp that child with the erroneous notion that all children are raised with two loving parents, I just want to say this: If I had my druthers, I’d have traded in the whole bunch of ‘em for even one of you.

            And to my distant cousin and anyone else who says otherwise?  Well, I’m a lady and I don’t use that kind of language.