Tuesday, July 6, 2010

RTT: Party twins, crowdsourcing my responsibilities, failing at feminist fathering

Many naps were missed and bedtimes violated this weekend as we took the girls to another twin one-year-old birthday party (their own was last weekend), a fabulous 4th of July party, and a pool party on Monday.  We all had fun, but I'm now enjoying being back in front of my laptop with the shades drawn as the girls catch up on their sleep.

Here are some things I need your input on:

Goin' to Montana

This Saturday, we are flying with the girls to my ancestral home (or the closest thing I've got to one), a log cabin that our family built on Flathead Lake, on the Salish Kootenai Reservation south of Glacier National Park (as far as I know, we don't have any Native American heritage--we just bought the land from the tribe).  We started building the cabin when I was about five, and we're almost done.  I think that this year, I will be excused from most projects because of my status as New Dad.  Anyway, I'm not too worried about what happens when we get to the lake (although the cabin is pretty rustic and the landscape is rugged): what I am nervous about is taking two one-year-olds on a plane.  Any advice?

Teachin' Enlish

I need to get a syllabus together for this class I'll be teaching at the art school starting on July 22nd.  It meets three times a week, and each meeting lasts for two hours.  The entire class lasts for six weeks.  It's an "Introduction to Literature" class, and there are no real standards, objectives or course outlines I need to follow.  Also--get this--the dean tells me that most of the reading should be done in class, since these scholars will not crack a book on their own time.  I know--it ain't Cambridge.  So, what were your favorite poems, short stories, and plays that you read (or wished you had) in college (or high school even).  What were the most useful things you learned about literature in school or elsewhere?  What's a good way to "sell" literature to illiterate students who may not be inclined to read?

Irresistible girliness

I believe it was Big Daddy Kane who said, "Feminist parenting ain't easy."  Word up, Daddy.  

As much as I try to protect my kids from the frills, flounces, and pastels of girlthings, these accursed accoutrements seem nonetheless to make their way into our house.  And once they are in, I am helpless against their charms.  I know we should be dressing the girls in gunnysacks and raising them in a gender-neutral environment, but check out these pictures.

What am I...made of stone?

The girls model their Tea Collection dresses; Dad sports his only shirt with sleeves and no holes

Butterbean ready for the club

Cobra in velvet catsuit

Butterbean helps the birthday twins (the other ones, not ours) open gifts

Cobra helps crush one of the newly unveiled presents


Now, go random up with Keely et. al


  1. Are you kidding? Those little girls have AWESOME fashion. I'd wear those dresses. And Butterbean's looking all 70s retro in the velvet pants and shirt. I approve wholeheartedly. Now to find that outfit big enough to fit ME! :)

  2. Total dolls! I love their outfits but give in - just give in to the big flowered headbands and clips.

    Don't count on getting out of work at the cabin. It's not like you just gave birth, and in most cultures, even THAT isn't an excuse. Your family will have a chore list a mile long with your name on it. It sucks!
    Have fun!

  3. They are GIRLS! Let them be frilly and flouncy and cutsie pie. Girly things are awesome. And look how adorable your girls are! Dress them up!

    Some of my favorite lit books are:

    The Good Earth

    The Count of Monte Cristo (though this may be a bit deep, especially if you're reading only in class-Is he SERIOUS?)

    A Tale of Two Cities


    The Importance of Being Ernest

    Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the Dog)


    The Crucible

    The Outsiders

    O. Henry Short Stories

    Our Town

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    Murder on the Orient Express

    Robert Frost's Poems

    Walden and Civil Disobedience

    Marcus Aurelius' Meditations (though this is more philosophy than lit, but I read it in a lit class)

    Bud, not Buddy

    The Giver

    The Handmaiden's Tale

    A River Runs Through It

    The Trumpeter of Krakow


    Wuthering Heights

    I could go on and on. I'm a big reader. What did I learn about lit? I honestly can't say, other than it's amazing how a book can transport you so completely and how a book can change the way you think and feel about something or even yourself.

  4. Oh, oh! I forgot these:

    The Kite Runner

    The Book Thief (love this book)

    Like Water for Elephants (love, love, love this book)

  5. I second the O.Henry rec. Oscar Wilde also wrote some depressing fairy tales that might work. PG Wodehouse has some very silly, clever shorts too. Mark Twain is always a winner.

    Love Butterbean's club outfit! The pants are very cute.


  6. Oh man, vaya con dios on that plane ride. I'm glad I'm not on the flight! Haha.

    I always appreciated it when my English teachers made our reads relevant to our lives. It's a tough stretch with a lot of lit, but possible.

    Your girls are too cute!!

  7. Love the title of your third paragraph "Teachin' Enlish". That was meant to be a typo right? If not, you can totally get away with it due to the content of the paragraph it pertains to, and feign comedic genius. I do it all the time.

    My favorite book of all time is Les Misérables but I wouldn't suggest it for your class. The edition I had was in four volumes and it took me a few years to read it.

    They might like the "Twilight" series. Oh wait, that's not literature. Never mind.

    How freakin' cute are your girls! I love their outfits. Why do babies get all the cool clothes?

  8. Those dresses rock. As someone who is soon to inhabit a household full of 3 men, revel in those bows baby!

  9. Oh, and my favorite short stories were by Charles Bukowski, Alice Munro, Steve Almond and Denis Johnson. Don't forget Raymond Carver and Anne Lamott. I could go on for for-comment-ever.

  10. They have to read in-class? Ooh, tough. it's what, community college level? I like Mom in Heels' suggestions, but you may consider novelas as they go faster.

    For poetry: Emily Dickinson is always a good choice. Edna St. Vincent Millay is a fave, TS Elliot (The Wasteland is LOADS of fun and can be read like you would a novel, but with poetic style). Also, there are some fun Ezra Pound poems they might get into. Skip the epics though.

    Achebe's Things Fall Apart is a quick read and is full of deep themes, but not too difficult to read.

    Waiting for the Barbarians is a good read and is easy, but also complex. There is torture in it and everyone loves torture.

    Dubliners is a great but dark set of short stories which I covered multiple times as an undergrad.

    I have loads more if you need. :D

  11. Oh my gahhhhh... how stinkin' cute are your babies? It's almost too much to handle!
    Thanks so much for stopping by to say hi. Now I'm off to check out the rest of the cuteness here.

  12. A couple of travel essentials for us these days are:
    1) the peapod, a tent that is way lighter and more comfortable than a pack and play
    2) the totseat, a fabric device that converts any chair into a highchair

    Have fun in MT. Thanks for the great blog posts!

  13. I don't recall ever seeing your cabin when we were in Montana. We stayed at that other cabin, with the bartender who disliked me...right?

    As for the plane: snacks and toys are about the only options available. My nephew has flown a bunch since he was less than 1 and never had problems, though I know the change in altitude can hurt some babies' ears.

    Why not just teach your favorite books? Start with Confederacy of Dunces; everyone likes that book. Oh, and be sure to have them read short Ezra Pound poems out loud, one word at a time.

  14. Oh, and I meant to add that I don't think modern real-world feminists are all that opposed to gender-appropriate clothing. Maybe some alternative thinkers, but not mainstream feminists. The main concerns I read about involve choice of toys, friends, and the like. And in any case, most of the feminist stuff doesn't apply until the kids are old enough to have some say in the matter!

  15. @Everybody,
    Thanks for the suggestions for readings! There are a bunch that I haven't thought about before. I've never taught O.Henry, Wilde, or Woodhouse before, and I don't know why. I love them all. I'm sure the students would dig Bukowski too.

    You could probably find some crafty Etsy type to make you some baby clothes for grownups.

    Thanks. I don't mind working on the cabin. In fact, it would feel really strange to go there and not do any improvements.

    Thanks, I always voy con dios. I think I will hand out earplugs to all my neighbors on the plane.

    Yeah. Heh heh. I totally meant to make that typo. As a joke. Hahaha. I don't think Les Miserables is going to work for this class. Did Victor Hugo write any limericks?

    I complain, but you can tell that I really love it. Thanks for the story suggestions.

    I guess it's community college level. I don't really know much about the place. But if I'm going to be doing story time with them every night, even a novella would be tough. Looks like short stories and poems pretty much. And lozenges for me.

    I can't deny it--I have that reaction to the girls every day! Thanks.

    Thanks for the advice. We've got a peapod that we've used before--pretty cool. I think my sister is going to hook us up with high chairs, pack 'n' play's etc. It's mostly the part where we sit on the plane and hang out at the airport that I'm concerned about.

    I don't remember why we didn't stay at our cabin. Someone may have been using it. Yeah--we stayed with my buddy who had a problem with gay people because his "straight" brother was sleeping with a gay guy. You can see why it would bug him.

    I would love to teach Confederacy of Dunces. But I don't think it would be possible in a class where they only read at school. Ridiculous. Kids these days.

    It's hard to know where to draw the line with gendered clothes, toys, etc. We were surrounded by crates of pink frilly clothes that people had given us before the girls were born, and I caught myself thinking, when I was playing with my nephew, "It's too bad I won't be able to play in the dirt like this with my girls...wouldn't want to get the pink frilly stuff dirty." That stuff messes with your head.

  16. book suggestions: Maus I (and II) - it's a graphic novel about a family's experience with the Holocaust. Fantastic-amazing literature - plus it would make for good in-class reading. And blow their minds a little bit at the same time.

  17. OK, so: When I taught intro to lit, it was very much criticism-based. I did reader-response criticism for the short story unit (Everyday Use, A Good Man is Hard to Find, A Rose for Emily, and something else I can't remember); new/formalist criticism for poetry, cultural criticism for Midsummer Night's Dream, and gender criticism for Toni Morrison's Beloved. While I operated with similar lack of guidance/guidelines, a friend who recently got her PhD in Lit really helped me here and said that teaching the different forms criticism is really the crux of the intro to lit classes. It was actually very fun looking at different texts and the possibilities of where their "meaning" is found/made: text, author, audience, context. You may disagree. We should talk! I also have a buttload of prompts/explanation of critical forms as a result of this.

    We had a long talk the first day about how literature/art are relevant in terms of communicating cultural differences, making meaning out of everyday occurrences, etc. I was surprised at how much they were able to come up with for "why am I making you do this?" Art students should be even better!

    As far as travel tips, check out this link from Mighty Girl: http://mightygirl.com/2008/01/23/12-travel-tips-for-flying-with-a-baby/

  18. Do they take binkies or bottles or sippy cups? During take off and landing I would nurse Elijah to help with his ears. Now that he's older I try to get him to drink a sippy cup instead. The one time I couldn't he cried for a half hour.

  19. I'm convinced the main reason babies scream on planes is because their ears don't pop and it freaks them out and hurts and they don't know what to do about it. I'm sure they cry for other reasons too, but that's the screaming that the usual baby-calming tricks don't seem to have any effect on. If you can give them bottles at takeoff and landing, that seems to help. And I mean *right* before takeoff. Like when you start accelerating down the runway. Don't believe anything the pilot or flight attendants tell you about how soon you will take off. You do NOT want to run out of bottle until after the seat belt sign goes off.

    I've finally pared down what I carry on to the essentials: two more diapers than I think I'll actually use, wipes, an extra outfit for each kid and an extra shirt for me, essential meds, a snack, a drink, 1-2 kid books and 1-2 toys. And I know it's not your style, but you might consider borrowing a portable DVD player and some Baby Einstein DVDs. Even with the sound off it can make life a lot easier. And don't even bother taking a book/magazine/iPod/etc. for yourself. If you do, by chance, get a moment of not tending to babies, you will want to do absolutely nothing but sit and stare at the seat in front of you.

    BTW, some of the prohibitions on liquids are lifted for people traveling with children. You can take milk/formula/juice/meds/baby food as long as you pull them out and show them at security. I always pack that stuff in a big gallon ziploc bag so I can just pull it out of my carry on to show them and and throw it back in.

    I also try to be as social with people in the boarding area and around my seat as possible before we get up in the air. They seem to be a bit more forgiving if you've built even a tiny bit of rapport before the chaos ensues.

    Good luck!!

  20. Oh, and I'm super jealous of the Montana trip. I think the last time I was at the cabin was right after Shannon's wedding. I'm hoping we can get over there next summer. Play some barrel-o-monkeys for me :)

  21. a.) on the plane make sure they are sucking or chewing on something during takeoff and landing to keep their ears draining and popping.

    14.)when studying the classics in literature, i think it's most engaging when discussions or papers focus on drawing comparisons with modern day life and relationships. my favorite books are any written by Chelsea Handler, Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut, Shel Silverstein, Ken Kesey, J. D. Salinger, Charles Bukowski, Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Dr. Seuss, David Sedaris, Bill Maher.

    ix.) those girls are too beautiful.

    *have a great trip!

  22. How are you supposed to teach Lit if your students refused to read when they leave the room? (Sigh)

    Regarding the insidious nature of frilly foofiness into your daughters' lives -- it just happens. We were the same way with our own kid. We didn't bring any of it into the house on our own, but the Army of Princesses invaded anyway. We'll talk later about the hours I spent playing the "Pretty Pretty Princess" board game with her -- let's just say my wife has some great photos of me wearing a tiara and clip-on earrings.

  23. Maybe getting pink frilly stuff dirty is the perfect compromise for a reasonable feminist parenting approach?

    Plus it's like a prologue to mud wrestling in bikinis, a very feminist activity which allows women to express their aggressive masculine tendencies while still celebrating feminine swimwear fashion, and their breasts.

  24. Another awesome post, Andy! If I may say so, frilly is wonderful! I've seen guys do frills just as well as girls (think Gucci under Tom Ford). What kind of literature are you teaching?

  25. We took Jake on planes at that age. I read somewhere that parents flying with kids should just accept the fact that they will most likely annoy others on the plane, instead of worrying too much about it. For some reason that advice helped me to chill, for what it's worth.

    I also bought a few small toys that he hadn't seen before and gave him little presents during the flight.

    John Hersey "Hiroshima" Incredible nonfiction work, short, easy to read, powerful. Could be read in class.

    Louise Erdrich "Scales" short story

    "The Bridle" Raymond Carver short story.

  26. First, I want to go on record as being one of those who voted for you in the 'Hottest Daddy Blogger' category, notwithstanding the difficulty of registering and then finding you. And, you're not even my type.

    I was going to vote for you in the 'Best Parenting Blog' category, but then saw that The Bloggess was also nominated. And who can beat a Mom who also writes a sex column and may (or may not) be a little crazy?

    I've been fascinated with your blog since I stumbled across it a while ago. Many moons ago, I once thought I could do what you're doing too - but staying home with the kid (we had one at a time) was waaaaaaayyyy harder than I ever imagined, and I had to concede defeat in pretty short order.

    I'm also astounded at the fact that you built an addition to your house. Not long before the birth of our first child, we bought an ancient farmhouse that we were going to restore on our own. Cutting to the chase, that lasted an even shorter time than my ability to be a stay-at-home dad. Luckily, I have a pretty high tolerance for failure.

    As for the frills and the 'girly' stuff, don't fret. Thousands of pictures would attest to the somewhat ridiculous outfits my daughter was reluctantly forced to wear. (One Easter dress, in particular, must have weighed almost as much as she did. I've saved it as a testament to our parent-of-a toddler insanity.) Now, 16 years later, we have to practically beg to get her into something other than jeans and flip-flops. So perhaps there will be a backlash to the frills for Butterbean and Cobra too.

    Lastly, I just went to a seminar where they gave an example of challenge-based learning for teaching Literature. Rather than make the students sit and read during class, challenge them to act out a piece of literature (not word-for-word, but to show they get the general idea). In the example at the seminar, the students really stepped it up, and probably did way more work than they would've otherwise.

  27. That sounds like a great trip.

  28. @L-sq,
    Thanks. That's my inclination too. But I talked to the dean (who also teaches lit) about doing critical/analytical writing, and she was like, "no--I just get them to write poems and stories in the genre we are reading." That makes my job pretty easy, but still...

    Thanks for the advice!

    I knew I could count on you for the details! I'll play some barrel-o-monkeys and some Uno for you.

    I know. Ridiculous. I'm thinking about as a "lit appreciation" class. It's not even as rigorous as a neighborhood book club. Whatevz. It should be easy and fun to teach.

    That's a good point about man-frills. Maybe I'll start wearing them. When I was about 15, I really wanted to be a New Romantic (a la Adam Ant), but it was too hard to find poofy shirts, so I just continued as a regular punk rocker.

    Thanks! I don't think I've read that Carver story, but I'll check it out. They should be able to get into Carver.

  29. @Rob,

    Thanks for all the feedback! The stuff about your daughter's habits of dress are especially comforting.

    Don't beat yourself up (not that it sounds like you are, but just in case you're considering it) about not loving the SAHD gig--it's not for everyone. And I could only do the addition because of a lifetime of construction experience. In the last year and a half, my jack-of-all-trades thing has finally paid off. Before that, I mostly seemed like someone who couldn't handle having a "career."

    I taught at a performing arts magnet high school, and I took every opportunity to let the kids sing, dance, and act their way through whatever we were reading. I'll probably do something similar with this class. Sounds like a good seminar.

    Re: "Hottest Daddy"--thank you so much, pal. I really feel close to you, even though we've never met.

    Re: "Best Parenting"--JUDAS!! How dare you? After all we've been through. And to vote for that hussy, The Bloggess? Unforgivable. How often does she even mention her kid? I talk about my dog more frequently, and I'm not trying to win "Best Animal Blog." For shame.

  30. I have a question. Are your girls' names on their birth certificates "Butterbean" and "Cobra" or is this just something I have yet to understand because I dicovered your blog today?

  31. They're taking a course in Literature but they won't read? Oh good Lord, what is the world coming to?
    1. One year olds on plane advice? Do everything in your power to get them to nap. I am not necessarily advocating the use of unneeded Benedryl, but...
    2. Low effort lit - Poe's fun. Fitzgerald's very readable. Jane Austen. I remember a particularly gruesome Mishima seppuku short story they might like.
    3. Girly = good.

  32. I'm not a huge advocate of "girly", but those outfits are pretty cute. They're not laden with unnecessary bows or lace, at any rate.

    Lord of the Flies?

    I took my 18-month on the plane last year and I was dreading it, but it turned out much better than expected. I just kept a ready supply of snacks and small (new) toys. It was a pretty smooth flight, so he cruised the aisle, and everyone was fairly tolerant because he's so damn cute. On the flight home, the "newness" had worn off for him, but he was so tired out from our vacation that he just stared out the window and napped.

  33. Re: Teachin Enlish
    Poets: ee cummings, Robert Frost, Margaret Atwood, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," Dorothy Parker
    Short Fiction: A&P by John Updike, The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross, An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, Chickamauga by Ambrose Bierce, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, Celebration by W.D. Valgardson
    Plays: A Streetcar Named Desire, The Crucible
    Essays: Dave Barry (for a few laughs)
    Start with their favourite words or words they have a story about then ask to bring in an excerpt of a favorite reading and share it. Good luck. I'm jealous (I want to teach adults someday!)

  34. Walker Brothers Cowboy by Alice Munro, The Dead by Joyce, try the Skunk by Seamus Heaney

  35. I'm taking my 5 year old on a plane for the first time on Monday. I wish I had advice for you. I'm terrified I'm going to be "THAT mom". You know, with the hysterical unruly child that you can't spank because you're in public and that's considered child abuse these days. Sigh.

    Anyway, I hope you guys have a fantastic (and peaceful) trip. The pictures are so adorable! The last two dresses are my favorite.

    As for the lit class...I say break out some David Sedaris. Throw um some modern writing. All the other classics have pretty much been mentioned. Let us know how it goes.

  36. You will have already been on your plane trip...but my advice would have been...Send them with their Mother and you take a later flight. Worked for my ex husband. Maybe I should emphasize that..."Worked for my EX husband"...Hope it all went well.

  37. 1) How did it go?
    2) What age group?
    3) Aha! I'm struggling with an invasion of Princess obsessiveness. As one blogfriend put it, it's viral. Once they're in contact with other little girls, you've had it. So you might as well roll over and enjoy the cuteness in all its toxically unfeminist glory. I try not to but I secretly do.

  38. This might be too late, but I am in the thick of teaching my first lierature course at my local community college, and here is what I've learned so far:

    -"Girl" by Jamaic Kincaid was a great first piece of short fiction to model how to read literature and how to discuss it in class. We had a very fruitful discussion because of it.
    -They LOVED the selection from Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried"- you know, the part where they carry things.

    In the poetry unit:
    -Working through the language of Shakespeare, Marvell, and Donne with them was well worth the revelation that succeeded it: "Oh, it's not a sappy love poem... it's about having sex before marriage! This is stuff I can relate to!"
    -Starting with poems like "Ars Poetica," "The Voice You Hear When You Read Silent" and "Intro. to Poetry" are wonderful for explaining that a "poem should not mean but be."

    Lastly, I have not started the Drama unit yet, but I'm going with Shakespeare!

    Wish me luck,



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