Monday, January 31, 2011

"Some say the world will end in fire . . ."

. . . but the newscasters all say ice. And snow. And sleet. And thundersnow. For days. Seriously. They held press conferences about it and flash periodic words on the screen about how to build a fire out of your furniture to stay alive. It's a little scary.

And on top of that, I feel like a monster because I had to hold my baby's arms and try to keep her distracted while she got her two-month shots. She was smiling and cooing at the nurse, and it was horrible to watch her confused and then pained face.

So, to distract myself from all of this, I share this video my boss sent me this morning.

Commercials and the Future I Can't Avoid

The other day the program I work for held a workshop. One of my students had to bring her (very well-behaved and absolutely adorable) four-year-old daughter. Since I wasn't leading the workshop and I wanted my student to get all she could from it, I sat in the back of the room with the little girl while she watched Nick Jr. video clips.

Now, this wasn't all bad. I haven't had any exposure to contemporary kid's shows since they looked like this:

And, despite my many worries about exposing my daughter to television and all of its ills. I tend to remember Nickelodeon fondly. If nothing else, at least the network pushed some boundaries with diversity.  As illustrated by the not-lily-white and necessarily-stick-thin cast of All That and the concept of Gullah Gullah Island.

As I watched some of these clips, I was pleased to see that the cartoons were things I would approve of. They seemed educational and forward-thinking. The female characters had equal footing, there was racial diversity, and overall I could see myself being content with my daughter watching them.

Then the commercials started. Commercials fascinate me. As a rhetoric scholar, I watch them the way scientists eye petri dishes, but I also know their power. They make us buy things we do not want, let alone need. They have the power to reinvent our image of whole segments of the market. They are invasive little mind worms, and they terrify me as a parent.

The commercials between the Nick Jr segments seemed innocuous at first (skin care products, shampoo), but I had this nagging feeling about them. So I went home and thought about it.

My reaction is two-fold: general and specific.

In general, I don't like the idea that my pre-school aged daughter is being filled with these industry standards for beauty while watching some innocent cartoons. The cartoons themselves seem to be doing a pretty good job of portraying realistic body images (or as realistic as a cartoon's body can be). So why let the commercials show women of unrealistically thin proportions as beautiful? Plus, beauty products sell for one reason: women think they need them to be beautiful. The whole premise of the commercials is to make the viewers feel that they are lacking something in the looks department and need to open their wallets to fill the void. Fine for an adult who can analyze this decision, not fine for a child.

Now, onto the specific. One of the commercials (which I can't find a clip for--sorry!) is for Herbal Essences. At the end of it, the voice over says it will make your hair "soft and shiny--the way nature intended." (They make the same claim on this website.) This voice over accompanies a woman running her hands through her silky and smooth brown hair. My daughter is biracial, and her hair is likely never ever going to look like that. Not only is this commercial setting up standards of beauty that she'll be unlikely to meet, it's telling her that those standards of beauty are the way nature intended. I do believe nature intended my daughter's hair to be exactly what it is, and that's every bit as beautiful as the woman's in the commercial. How can we start indoctrinating her otherwise in commercials playing during shows intended for preschoolers? Can't we give our kids a running start at feeling good about themselves? 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Great Clutter War of 2011

I have so many things. I do not know where they came from. Many of them serve no apparent purpose, and I want them gone.

Occasionally I will get in a mood to deep clean and have a brief window of time where I want to throw stuff out. Not now. Now the window is wide open, and I want to simplify absolutely everything. It's just so damn hard--and time consuming.

I started in the kitchen. And it's still not done. I threw out all of the expired dry goods. We are not canned soup people. Lesson learned. I threw out the spices that had hardened to the point they would no longer come out of the jar. Then I organized the spice drawer. I have four opened jars of chili powder. Four.  But the spice drawer was so cluttered I never knew what I had, so I bought chili powder every third time I made chili. This is no way to live.

Also in the kitchen were not one but two "junk drawers." The complicated no-man's-land where batteries, power cords, and unidentifiable plastic pieces went to die. And die they did. I threw them all out. We don't even have a Blackberry device in the house, but we had three power cords.

I gave up on the kitchen after a while, leaving the utensil drawer untackled and the small appliance cupboard in disarray.

In the living room I attacked the basket full of magazines with a vengeance. Gone are the Glamour magazines of 2009. The recycle bin over flows with the Better Homes and Gardens issues that went unread (the subscription was free with the purchase of my living room curtains--who can resist?) Then the mail pile. I have lived in my house for a year and a half. Before we purchased it, it was on the market for months. Before that, it was being renovated for months. Tell me, then, why after three years (and my countless "Return to Sender" pleas) do I still get stacks of mail for people who do not live here each week. I feel guilty throwing them out. So I keep them, write "RTS" on them, and try to remember to stop by the post office. Sigh.

It's not just the physical things I want to simplify. We dumped Direct TV last week. After analyzing our viewing habits, we realized TV time went something like this:
"See anything on?" We'd scroll through the guide three, four, five times.
"Want to see what's on Netflix?"

We paid $70 a month for this privilege, and so we cut it out. I removed the box. One less remote. Fabulous.

I have now run out of easy projects. I have not, however, run out of clutter. There are the clothes I rarely wear in the closet. The clothes I'd probably wear if I ever brought them up from the basement. The "important files" folders sitting in heaps in the "office" that has seen narry a desk chair nor any productivity since we moved in, though it has no shortage of books packed in boxes.

And then there's the new stuff. The baby stuff.

She only weighs 11 pounds. She can't even propel herself forward. How in the world can she possibly have so much stuff?

I dedicated one of the previous junk drawers to her bottles, but they don't stay put. Each morning, I fill some up for daycare, then I bring them home, and put them on the counter. They are quickly joined by the bottles that I use to pump. Then the pump parts. Then I wash them all, so they can sit on the other side of the counter to dry. Then I use them again. And wash again. And dry them again. They go in the drawer while I'm asleep. I'm never even awake to enjoy the empty counters.

And her clothes. She already doesn't fit into newborn clothes, so I need to pack them up or give them away or something.

Plus she has to have places to sit, right? So there's a Pack n' Play in the bedroom, a car seat that floats between the nursery, the living room, and wherever else it happens to land. A swing in the living room. A bouncy chair in the bedroom or (when I need to shower) the bathroom.

I can't win.

So tell me, how do you fight the clutter?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Life: Take 1

I went back to work today. It went a little something like this:

10pm: Put M down for the night. The past week and half she's slept two four-hour shifts like clockwork. Not tonight. Oh no. Tonight she is up every hour and a half to eat. I am not a good sleeper, so it takes me a while to fall back to sleep each time. All in all I get about two or three hours of sleep.

7:30am: After a restless night for him as well, my husband oversleeps his alarm and rushes around like a madman trying to get himself ready for work. M wakes up, eats, and then decides she's awake for the day. We talk and play for a while.

8:30am: I start getting stuff together. I'm only working part-time for the next few weeks, so I don't have to be in until noon,but I want to get off to a good start. I double-check the bag with the stuff we'll leave at daycare (clothes, diapers, wipes), the diaper bag, and my pumping bag. I also have to carry my work bag. I'm the bag lady.

10:00am: I start to freak out because I can't get the daycare to answer the phone. I want to make sure that the last bit of paperwork they needed got faxed okay. They didn't answer the phone yesterday, either. I start to worry about what kind of business doesn't answer the phone. I call frantically every 15 minutes, each time getting more and more convinced that I'd chosen some sort of mob front for a daycare. Then I tell myself that surely a mob front would have to have someone answer the phones in order to work. Then I think, "Great, I've picked a mob front that's run by incompetent mobsters for a daycare!"

10:45am: The time that I had chosen to leave the house. I'm packed up. I've put two of my multiple bags in the car, and this child will not go in the car seat. We have never had this problem before, but today as soon as I sat her down she was screaming. Not crying. Not fussing. Screaming. Face red. Can't breathe. That kind of screaming. I pick her up, she calms down. I try again. Same thing. The clock is ticking, and I'm losing it. I call my husband, crying. "I don't know what to do!" He asks if I want him to come home. Of course I don't. That's just silly. He's 45 minutes away. But what did I think calling him was going to accomplish? She finally subsides to just normal cries, and I take her to the car. It's 11:05. She falls asleep before I even get into the driver's seat.

11:15am: Daycare drop-off is pretty uneventful. They're really nice to me. The phone line is being repaired, they tell me, and they give me an alternate number to reach them. Maybe they're not a mob front. I try to leave pretty quickly because I feel myself tearing up. I say goodbye and walk out. I only cried a little, and I had stopped by the time I parked the car. I call it success.

11:45am: I get to work. The day is packed. I have to catch up on emails, tell students the schedule for the program I coordinate, and teach two classes. The classes are awesome. I feel completely on my game.

5:00pm: Since it was the first day of classes, I let the students go a little early and rush to pick up M. She's awake and happy. She did, however, eat all of her food. I sent 8 ounces, and she was only there 6 hours. I'm a little worried I won't be able to pump enough. I only pumped 5 ounces while I was at work, and that was in two separate pumping sessions.

Overall, the morning started out horrendous. I was a mess and I felt completely discombobulated. By the time I got to work, though, I was back into a groove I felt comfortable with. Aside from the pumping, which was a little tricky, but doable, I was completely at ease. This gives me hope that as soon as I get down a good morning routine, the whole thing will feel much more manageable. We'll be trying again tomorrow for a 9am-noon work shift. Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Riddle for This Feminist

Here are some things that I believe:
1. You don't have to be married to be in a committed relationship. I completely understand people's arguments that marriage is just an institution that has nothing to do with their love for one another. This belief is deepened by the fact that some loving adult couples are not legally allowed to marry, and I believe that their love is just as important as anyone else's. Marriage doesn't change who people are.

2. Being married in no way guarantees two people are ready for parenthood, and two people who are not married (or a single parent) can easily be better-prepared, more committed parents than two married individuals.

3. Married people can have unplanned pregnancies, and non-married people can responsibly plan to have a baby.

I really do believe these things, which is why I've been surprising myself lately.

My husband and I are traveling for the first time since our daughter was born, which means we're out and about around strangers for the first time. People love babies, and they keep coming over to ask how old she is, gush over how cute she is, etc. It's nice, and I appreciate it. But I've noticed something strange. See, my wedding rings don't quite fit me yet. I had a lot of swelling during pregnancy, and even though I'm only five pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight, my fingers are still a little swollen.

I've found myself conscious of the fact that I'm not wearing my wedding rings whenever a stranger gets close to look at the baby. It's not a huge deal, but it makes me wonder why I'm doing it. Somewhere inside me, I want these strangers to know that I am married to this man and maybe even that we planned this baby, that we're responsible adults who are in love.

Of course, my wedding rings don't necessarily say any such thing. Any why do I care what these people think about my private life? I know what kind of life and marriage I have, what kind of parent I am. What difference does it make?

Maybe it's because we're young. My husband and I are both 25. We both have advanced degrees, careers, and own a house, but some people (and not just strangers) have suggested we're too young for a baby. Maybe this has caused some insecurities that make me want strangers to know that we're married?

Maybe it's because we're an interracial couple. I've read some studies that say while interracial dating rates have increased, interracial marriage rates have basically stayed the same. But again, why does it matter to me what these observers think?

It's an interesting reaction that I'll have to keep pondering. In the meantime, I'll refrain from screaming "we're married" at innocent people congratulating us on our daughter.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why hello there, 2011--I wasn't expecting you so soon.

My husband and I went out without the baby for a little bit on New Year's Eve. This was a somewhat challenging task. We don't have family in town, and my mom lives way out in the sticks. We wanted to go see a movie, but I'm a total movie snob. If I'm paying nearly $10 a ticket, it had better be good. As a result, we really only go to the theater if I'm pretty certain I won't be disappointed. (Though there have been a few upsets--The Happening, I'm looking at you.)

That being the case, I was dead set on Black Swan as our movie choice.

Of course, it wasn't showing in the closest movie theater to my mom's house (20 minutes away). The closest place I could see it was 40 minutes from my mom. That meant we had to drive to my mom's house (1 hour 15 minutes), drive to the theater (40 minutes), drive back to my mom's (40 minutes), and then drive back home (1 hour 15 minutes). This is a lot of work for a movie.

But I'm glad we did it. It was a great movie, and it was nice to get out of the house. I fed my daughter at my mom's house right before we left and left her 6 ounces of breastmilk, thinking there was no way she'd use it all in the five hours or so we'd be gone. I called after the movie, and everything was great, so we decided to grab some dinner, too. As we were getting the check and heading back towards my mom's, she called to say she was going to feed her the last 3 ounces. When I got there about 45 minutes later, those were gone and my daughter was yelling for more, so I fed her again. Considering her habits in the day after this, I'm pretty sure that was the start of a growth spurt. I certainly hope she doesn't need to eat that much every time I leave her, or I'm never going to be able to pump enough while I'm at work.

So, now that 2011 is here, I have a lot on my mind. I start back to work two weeks from today (20 hours a week; then 40 hours a week five weeks after that). I called the daycare today to get things squared away, and it made it all seem very real. I have a lot to think about and even more to do in the next two weeks. Since this is coinciding with the new year, I'm also thinking about my longer-term goals. Here, in no particular order, are the things on my mind:

1) Figuring out the daycare logistics: who's doing drop-offs, how many bottles do I need to pack, am I supposed to label everything, what else do I need to bring, what stays there, what do I take back and forth

2) Finishing my syllabi for the classes I'm teaching

3) Figuring out how in the world I'm going to get this sporadically sleeping baby out the door at a set time each morning

4) Losing the baby weight

5) Making some headway on my PhD reading list (including creating the half of the list that I have control over)

6) Finishing a paper for a class that I took an incomplete in last semester (the last day of the class was on my due date--the day I went into labor)

7) Making myself presentable to the outside world: haircut, unpacking clothes that were put away while I was pregnant and seeing what (if anything) fits

8) A new budget for our new life with baby

Wow. Writing it all out like that, it's no wonder I'm feeling a little overwhelmed.