Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Random Tuesday Thoughts: Stroller Modification, Bicycle Harassment, Organizing Your Crap


Trying this "Random Tuesday" stuff from The Un Mom.

Trying to generate random thoughts.  Squeezing head.  Oh..a bunch of stuff just happened.

Thinking about how to rig up the Chariot Cougar II (bitchin double stroller) to my dog's drafting harness.  It seems like it's possible.  That reminded me of a couple months ago when some friends were visiting from London (he's German, she's Indian).  We went for a walk to the park near my house.  Had our little twins in a stroller, and the big dog pulling our friends' two kids in a wagon.  It looked like the circus was in town.  A lady had to slow down to let us cross the street.  She scowled.  I said to no one in particular, "What kind of person can look at the spectacle of us walking down the street and not smile?"

"A German," replied my German friend.

For some reason, this reminded me of a time when I lived in Virginia and was out for a lunchtime bike ride on the country roads near where I was working on a construction project.  A couple rolled up next to me in a primer-gray pickup at a stop sign, and the grizzled woman in the passenger seat rasped at me through broken teeth as she exhaled a cloud of mentholated cigarette smoke: "Gettin' some exercise, sexy-boo?"

There was another time when I was riding up the hill that gets you to Monticello, out of the saddle and hammering for all I was worth (which was not much, but a lot more than I'm worth now), and two little kids in the back of a pickup yelled at me: "Hey you, shiny-heinie!" scaring the bejeezus out of me,  and almost causing me to ride into the ditch.  I guess they found my lycra-clad ass somehow amusing.

I'm not sure how to spell the word that is pronounced "hai-nee."  Anyone else know?

Random recommendation I have been meaning to make: Somehow, in aimlessly drifting around the internets, I was made aware of this site called Alltop.  It helps you organize all of the garbage that you look at online in one spot.  Somebody described it as a digital magazine rack, I think.  Anyway, it's an apt metaphor.  You make your own page, with links to all the junk you look at organized into categories (you can also choose from the millions of suggestions they provide).  There's a box for each site you have chosen that shows what recent activity has taken place there.  Then you can roll the cursor over the boxes for previews of the articles before you decide whether to visit the website or not.  You can also recommend sites you think should be listed there (e.g., your blog).  It's much easier to use than it is to describe.  You should just go check it out.  My old Ed Tech professor told me it's legit, so you don't have to just take it from me.

Now you are supposed to click on the button and play the randomness game.  I think.

Penis-free Parenting: A Rhetorical Analysis

There's a more serious discussion of issues along these lines at dadwhowrites.  Check it out. 

The twins are startled when I come bounding into the playroom, shouting, "The new issue of Parenting is here!! The new issue of Parenting is here!!"  Soon enough, though, their fear dissipates and turns to mere bewilderment.

"Well, you might not understand; but you certainly will reap the rewards," I tell them as they go back to chewing on spent AA batteries.

Although I'm confident that my childcare instincts are sound, it can never hurt to get some practical tips from the experts; and Parenting (Early Years), which mysteriously started showing up in the mail, should be just what the case worker ordered.

I thumbed through the last couple issues when they arrived, but I didn't have time to really put my arms around what I'm sure were sensitive treatments of the pressing issues facing modern parents.  I seem to recall something about a vibrator giveaway.  Nah...that must have been some other magazine.

So I skim the pages of the April 2010 issue to get a quick sense of what a Parenting parent looks like.  The pages are filled with photos of happy, beautiful children and equally attractive parents, all in stylish clothes.  These are people I can identify with!  And diverse?  It's an ethnic rainbow inside, featuring gorgeous people of every shade!  This is a magazine I can feel comfortable with because, like many white people, I firmly believe in media images of a happily integrated society.

I finish my once-over and pause.

Well that's curious, I think, starting from the back and flipping my way through the pages again.  Although ethnic groups from Ethiopians to Azerbaijanis are represented in the photos, there is one thing conspicuously absent in the vast majority of these model parents: a Y chromosome.  (For those of you who, like me, barely made it through high school biology, Y chromosomes are what make dudes dudes, genetically speaking.  I consulted with my wife on this.)

In all, I count five images of fathers in the entire magazine.  One (a caricature) is teaching his son to be a good loser.  One, pictured from behind such that only the back of his head, his stocking feet, and his remote control hand are visible, accompanies a feature in which an advice columnist explains how to deal with us typical guys who ignore our families so that we can watch sports on TV.

The other three men are fixin' to get buck wild with their babymommas.  This IS the magazine that had the vibrator giveaway in a previous issue!

In the issue I'm looking at, a feature article called "Mama Sutra (Hot tips for a more satisfying sex life)" advises, "A hand job here or a blow job there will go a long way toward keeping him physically satisfied and the pilot light (for both of you) smoldering."  Elsewhere in this issue are a chart with foods that will increase your libido and a review of mom-tested vaginal lubricants.  This is not the parenting advice I was expecting. 

The only other place (aside from a very small number of ads) where I can find even a suggestion that there could be a man somehow involved in this whole parenting enterprise is in the "Hot Dad Alert!" where the reader is asked to go to the website to submit pics of her hot husband.

Okay, I get it.  This is not really a "parenting" magazine so much as it is a "mothering" magazine.  I'm sure there are other publications out there for parents that are directed to a mixed audience.  Right?  I realize that stay-at-home dads are a statistically irrelevant minority not worth advertising to; and probably most of us don't actually care that we aren't represented in glossy magazines full of diaper ads.

But when men are mostly "out of the picture" in depictions of family, and the few times they are included they are portrayed as boorish obstacles who nonetheless must be kept on standby for booty calls, the ideal of gender equality is not served.  I suspect that the writers and editors of this magazine don't actually condone a society in which moms do all of the parenting (even sometimes parenting of the dad himself), and there is probably nothing more pernicious happening here than marketing and social attitudes reinforcing one another in an endless cycle that guarantees a glacial pace in movement away from traditional gender roles.   

So should fathers feel slighted by the clear message that their role as parents is not only secondary, but insignificant to the point of being invisible?  Sure.  Should women be exasperated that, despite their advances (and the demands placed on them) in the working world over the past half century, they are still expected to do all the heavy lifting in the area of child-rearing?  Of course.  Should I, as a stay-at-home dad, be indignant because I am largely ignored by the parenting media?  Absolutely.  Will I work up a sense of righteous indignation sometime in the very near future?  Probably.  But right now, I have other things on my mind:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Flashback Fridays: How Twins are Made, Part IV-Confrontation at Mardi Gras

Read more about the love story here.

New Orleans, 1992.

We bob together in the tributary of hurricane-sweating beadwhores that has fed us into Bourbon Street without our having noticed.  In an eddy around a French Colonial stoop we strike at baubles tossed from Spanish wroughtiron balconies though our necks are already heavy with the shimmer of plastic treasure.

I am shirtless in overalls, and my friends are with me.  A skinny Englishman with granny glasses and a ponytail.  A strapping wunderkind who once thought he was in love with me but finally realized he only admired my capacity for drink, which rivaled his own.  And my Asian pixie, toothsome and quietly knowing. 

Brain cells are sacrificed,  laws are broken.  But in this place our sins are laughable.  We are amateurs.

Later, in the parking lot of Ratshit Motel, I am cornered.  Confronted.

"What am I to you?"

I mumble.  She persists.

I sidestep.  She demands. 

The shadow of a languorous ceiling fan drifts over her icy gaze.  Dark.  Light.  Dark.

"My special lady?" I venture.

Her lip curls into the slightest snarl.

"My lady friend?"

She spits.

"Um, girlfrie...I guess girlfriend?  Yeah?"

Her face becomes soft again.

Addendum to Yesterday's Post about Safety: Snake-proofing is Impossible

My friend sent me this news clip as a reminder that, no matter how we prepare, there is no way we can protect our kids from everything.  A tragic lesson.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Safety: The Two Most Important Things You Need to Houseproof Your Child

As the twins have started becoming more mobile and more curious, I've had child safety on my mind.  I keep hearing about this idea of "childproofing" your house, which would be great if it weren't the completely wrong approach.  Not only is it impossible to make a house totally safe for (and from) your children; it is the wrong message to send them.  Do we want them to think they can just alter their environment so that it accommodates them?  Do we rope off the ocean so they won't be in danger of drowning?  Do we level mountains so they will never fall?  Of course not.  So why should we alter our homes and give them a false sense of security and an erroneous notion of how to deal with danger?  I'm not suggesting that we let them hurt themselves.  But we can teach them to adapt to whatever environment they find themselves in by identifying perils, using common sense, and deploying the proper protective equipment.

In the case of houseproofing your child, here are the two most important things you need.

  1. Wrap, bubble
  2. Tape, scotch or duct
Or you can wait until my prototype goes into production:

Not only is the bubble-wrap onesie impact resistant; it is also comfortable, stylish, warm, non-conductive, and buoyant.


Now that I have the twins' physical safety dialed in, I need to figure out what to do about the frightening realization that they seem to be headed down the road to becoming emo kids.

Cobra only wants to learn minor chords.  Look how sad that makes her sister.

"I wear pink on the outside, but black is how I feel on the inside."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Cruel Wife and Her Cute Babies

On our way to REI to pick up the jogging kit for our awesome stroller/bike trailer/jogger/xc skier/hiker yesterday, I say, "Hey--let's stop by Runner's World and get me some fancy running shoes!"

"For what?!" she demands.  I've never been in a running store before, nor have I owned a pair of shoes specifically for running.

"Cuz I'm gonna be logging all kinds of miles once we get the baby jogger going.  You know, losing the baby weight and all..."

"Phht.  Whatever," she says.

"But I neeeeed them.  And some of those short shorts too, and..."

"And a jog bra?"  she says, and then chortles the rest of the way to the store.


So I have to run in my raggedy-ass old cross trainers with my toes sticking out, but we can afford a fancy new camera so she can take pictures like this.

It's just not right.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Five Things for Cynics to Do at Church

The first thing I learned yesterday did not come from church, but from an article I read about being a good blogger.  It said that you should make the title of your post a list with numbers in it.  Apparently people can't get enough of that sort of thing.  Although math is not my strong suit, I will try to deliver on the numeric promise of this title. 

We went to church yesterday, which is not something we regularly do.  Before my betrothal to Dr. Mom, I had probably only been to church a couple dozen times.  My mom will protest and say she tried to get me to go when I was a kid; but really, I'm thankful that she didn't try harder.  Somehow the religiosity gene from my mom's side of the family was overcome by the sleep-till-noon-on-Sunday gene on my dad's side.  I felt like I needed the sleep more than the redemption.  

My wife's family, on the other hand, have been hardcore Roman Catholics since the first Jesuits started knocking on doors in Hanoi about 400 years ago (although they still burn incense at ancestral altars when no one is looking).  So in order to marry into this family, I had to go through a year of adult catechism, get baptized, and renounce Satan and all his works (I was all even the footnotes?)  This was not negotiable. 

Since the year of my conversion, we have gone to church faithfully on Easter, Christmas, and whenever the in-laws are around.  We also went a number of times in the run-up to the baptism of our girls, so that we wouldn't be complete strangers to the priest when he performed the rites.  One of the things I like about the Catholic faith is that, as far as I can tell, baptism is a "get out of hell free" card (as one of my evangelical cousins would disapprovingly say).  Of course, the idea that we will be tormented for eternity if we choose the wrong religion--or no religion--strikes me as preposterous. And the implications even for the people who choose to practice the right religion in the right way--they'll go to heaven but most of their friends and family probably won't--are pretty sucky.  But still, a little holy water never hurt anybody.  Except vampires. 

But yesterday we did not go to the Catholic church that we regularly attend every so often on a sporadic basis.  We went to a Unitarian Universalist church.  The welcome message on their website explains their M.O.  as follows: "Together we explore the answers of humanity's wisdom traditions - not only from Jewish and Christian sources but also from the world's religions, from nature, from science, and from modern thought."  No one longs for answers from the world's wisdom traditions more than I do, and the most pressing question that I wanted an answer for was, "Can we go ahead and jump the line to get our kids into your conveniently located, reasonably priced preschool?"  Seriously--people get their kids on the list for this school while they are in utero.  We are way behind the curve.

So that's the main reason we were there.  And here are the five things I did while we celebrated the service, and that you too can do if you find yourself in a house of worship:

1) Scoff.  As the words of the hymns appeared on the screen above the somewhat disheveled youth choir, I had a knee-jerk reaction to roll my eyes.  The hymns were familiar Christian verses modified to eliminate any religious references.  The purging of "God" and "Jesus" resulted inevitably in the overuse of terms like "compassion," "love," "spirit," "life force," "tolerance," etc.

2) Gawk.  This was not the same crowd that we would see in the Catholic Church (at whom I still gawk, but for different reasons).  The UU congregation comprised mostly older folks.  Like my age and up.  There were very few small children, but a good number of eclectically dressed teens whom I probably would have been friends with as a kid (as long as they didn't go spouting off about spiritual healing and social justice).   I know it's not completely accurate or fair to judge people by their haircuts, but I would guess that a good 30% of the pews were populated by lesbians.  The church being in the heart of Fiercetown, this didn't surprise me.  But where are all the gay men? I wondered.  It turns out they were at brunch having mimosas.

3) Recoil.  This was another visceral reaction that I was not expecting.  When everyone enthusiastically recited the Unitarian Universalist creed (specific to this congregation, I think, because UU'ers are dogmatically opposed to dogma) while throwing the "UU" gang sign and smiling broadly, I found myself looking for the nearest exit.  I think this panic was due to my having overheard a conversation between students one time in which the Baptist student was trying to get his classmate to join him at church.  The classmate said, "Sure, I'll go to church with you.  I'm open to anything.  I even went to one of those Unitarian churches once.  But it was weird--seemed kind of like a cult."  CULT...Cult...cult...cult.  The word echoed through my skull and set off a montage of scenes from afterschool specials I had seen in the eighties.

4) Judge. This is something you can do anywhere, not just in church!  Just look at someone you suspect is not pure of heart and say to yourself, "Phhht.  Hypocrite."

5) Repent.  Toward the end of the service, I started chastising myself for being so cynical.  After all, there was nothing anyone said from the pulpit that I didn't agree with, which is more than I can say about any other service I have been to.  So why was I turning into Glenn Beck when I heard these values proclaimed joyously and publicly?  And why do a couple of innocuous symbols seem cultish to me while the ritualistic rigamarole of Catholic mass doesn't even faze me anymore?  I'm going to take a tour of the preschool soon and get a better idea of what goes on there; but insofar as it's possible to indoctrinate toddlers, I think these are the people I want doing it.  And I will try to work on my squeamishness around earnest, sincere people.   


Friday, March 19, 2010

Flashback Fridays: How Twins are Made, Part III--Europe, Debauchery, Romance

As long as I am providing every detail of the highly sanitized and romanticized version of the early days of the Beta Dad/Dr. Mom story, I might as well back up a bit and explain what else was going on in my life when we met.  This might shed some light onto why my future wife realized that I was such a catch.

Between the time we met at the Mudhoney show and the time we first started--you know--going out or whatever, I had graduated from college (a ceremony that for me involved driving to the registrar's office to pick up my diploma and then drinking a forty or two), and spent a month in Vienna, where my parents were living at the time.

One of my housemates, the snooty architect, let's call him Mac, also had parents in Europe (my dad worked for the U.S. Defense Department, his dad worked for a German heavy equipment manufacturer), so he stayed with us in Vienna for a while before going on to hang out with his family.  We also made friends with a bunch of other American college kids that were visiting their families who worked for the U.S. Mission in Vienna.  Almost every night involved a party at the stately apartment of some diplomat or another, failed attempts to hook up with some diplomat or another's daughter, hoisting liters of Goldfassl at the bars, dancing at Sprockets-esque techno clubs, and on New Year's Eve, when the usually straight-laced city goes completely apeshit, playing football in the train station with empty champagne bottles while dodging M-80 firecrackers casually tossed by other revelers (the only people who didn't think this was fun were some priggish American tourists).  One night I re-injured the wrist I had broken months earlier and had to wear a brace for the rest of my visit.  Mac still swears this was a result of my punching him in the stomach as he and another guy played this fun game where they blocked me from getting on the train as it pulled out of the station; but I know for a fact that it happened while we were scaling the wall of the Gothic cemetery near my parents' apartment.

So when I got back to sleepy, provincial Charlottesville, I thought I would only be there for a few months, tops.  I had big plans to seek my fortune in Europe as soon as summer brought out the nude sunbathers on the banks of the Danube.  The little backwater of C-ville just couldn't hold me.

While hatching my Europe plan, I was almost able to scrape by on the wages from my part-time job at Kinko's.  I had gotten that job despite the manager's policy to only hire gay guys and overweight women because of our mutual friend, my neighbor Bill (R.I.P) who would knock on our window at 2:00 a.m., shaking a paper bag full of homegrown weed, which was his signal that he wanted to hang out at our house because his landlord didn't allow smoking in his apartment. (Already I was mastering the art of networking by making allies of important players.)  But Kinko's was not providing me the capital I needed to set out on my European conquest.  I needed more work and better pay.

As the infinite lattice of coincidence would have it, Bill, the same neighbor who indirectly got me the Kinko's job, happened to be the vice president of Dave Black and Associates, a small construction outfit.  This was a company dedicated entirely to depleting the trust-fund of its president, Dave Black, and it was way ahead of schedule in accomplishing its mission.

Dave, a dyslexic English major, had attempted to design and build a custom home in a tony suburb, armed only with half a million dollars, a rag-tag band of frat boys, rugby players, crackheads, and an evangelical Russian former tank commander;  and the unflagging confidence that, since construction workers seemed real stupid, any idiot could build a house. 

I first met Dave when Bill brought him to a party at our house.  I struck up a conversation with him, mentioning my own experience as a carpenter, and hinting broadly that I could really use some work.  Dave excused himself to go fill our toilet and much of our bathroom floor with partially digested chicken tenders, and then pass out on the vomit-soaked linoleum.  Bill said he wished he could help with the mess, but it would only make him throw up as well, so he bid us farewell and dragged Dave's limp carcass down the stairs and out the front door. (To Bill's credit though, he had a change of heart later that night and drove the Dave Black company truck to a convenience store in the worst part of town in order to get some cleaning products to scrub our floor.  But he didn't make it back in time because Mac had already cleaned it up.  Also, he was delayed when some fellows at the liquor store wanted the truck and Bill did not want to give it to them.  So these fellows beat the tar out of him and took the truck anyway.  The next time we saw him, he had forty stitches around his blood-red eyeball and a fistful of pain killers to go with his paper sack of weed.)

The upshot was that once again, through my growing knack for networking, I landed a job despite the usual hiring policies of the management. With my two years of pre-college construction experience and summer carpentry gigs, I became the most experienced tradesman on the crew.

Dr. Mom was still a student then, taking classes from the likes of Richard Rorty, which were only offered to graduate students and elite honors program undergrads like herself.  She lived in a world of ideas, populated by limp-wristed nerds.  I was a rugged artisan and a well-connected up-and-comer.  I brought home a whopping seven dollars an hour from the construction job, and still worked some graveyard shifts at Kinko's, so I could afford the finer things in life, like eating at Chi-Chi's and drinking Cisco.

It's no wonder then, that when, after only a handful of dates, I asked her if she would like to accompany some friends and me to Mardis Gras in New Orleans, she agreed, even though she would have to miss Sunday Mass for the first time in her sentient life.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

We Don't Need No Stinking Minivan

Upon hearing about our having twins, people tend to ask right away what kind of minivan we will purchase.  Honestly, I would not mind having a minivan at all.  I think they are marvels of ergonomic technology, offering endless bells and whistles that you can actually justify paying for.  But Dr. Mom is dead-set against them.  To my surprise, this seems to be the case in many families.  Dads think that minivans are pretty cool, stuffed as they are with gadgetry; but moms see them as an admission of defeat: mom jeans with remote control sliding doors.

But our attitudes toward minivans are irrelevant, because there is no way we can afford a new car, having racked up so much debt remodeling our house.  Whereas the labor was mostly free, the materials were not cheap.*

So, since we can't have a minivan, I have decided to sneer at them thusly:

Why on earth would anyone drive one of those hideous breadboxes?  Who needs all that space and all those conveniences?  There were five of us in my family, and we never had such a thing.  When I was a toddler, we had two cars: the sports car, a '56 Austin Healy; and the family car, a '65 GTO  with a 389, a six-pack, and a 4-on-the-floor tranny.  We drove cross-country like that--Mom behind the wheel of the Goat with a trailer in tow, and Dad driving the Healy because no one else was qualified to operate its complicated, highly modified (rigged) electrical system.  Was it comfortable?  Not really.  Safe?  I think the Goat had seatbelts in the front.  But that's the kind of experience that really helps mold a bunch of people with shared DNA into a family; and it provides great stories to bore your children with.  Was it ideal, when all of us kids were bigger, to travel across Europe in our rusted out Audi 100 LS ?  In some ways it was.  By driving a beater, we were able to afford ski passes; and in addition, it built character and helped us learn to fight hand-to-hand in close quarters.

So Dr. Mom and I are eschewing the minivan in favor of our classic autobahn cruiser, a sweet German sports coupe...well, more of a sedan...all right--a 13-year old hatchback.  By cleverly accessorizing, we are able to carry both the kids, their gear, and their bitchin' Chariot II stroller/bike trailer.  We could also theoretically carry a bike on top and a large dog in the way-back.

Nice rack, right?

The Chariot Cougar II.  Rraawwrrr!  Thanks Grandma & Grandpa.

*A word to the wise: read the fine print carefully in financial agreements.  It turns out that Home Depot is entitled to one of our children if we don't pay them off by February 2010.


  • I don't really think I have a brain tumor.  I went to the doctor the other day and he told me to stop being such a fatass and tried to assign me some Michael Pollan as homework.  I was like, "Look Hippie, I've already read all that crap.  Why don't you just give me one of them lap bands already."  He also gave me referrals to two specialists for other non-brain related, non-serious issues.  That's why I avoid going to the doctor.  I didn't bring up the headaches.  Maybe next time.
  • Stella is doing quite a bit better.  At least I am less mad at her.  Probiotics seem to have helped with the chronic diarrhea, and PPA has mostly stopped the urinary incontinence.  I've been trying extra hard to be nice to her and give her some special Dad time every day.  She seems to have adjusted to her new food
  • I changed the settings so you can write comments without logging in, based on a suggestion from a lazy reader. 
  • The big shindig over the weekend went really well.  12 grown-ups, 11 babies, heaps of bbq, and no meltdowns or huge messes.  My concerns about our guests judging us were unfounded and indicate my own shallowness more than anything.  Everyone had fun and loved our house. 
  • I am substitute teaching a nighttime English Lit class at a trade school for gamers and anime fanboys.  I had to miss the girls' bedtime for the first time since they have had a sleeping schedule.  Dislike.  
    • The girls are already thrifty!  See how they fight over a Babies R Us coupon? 

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    First Playdate with the Asian Mommies

    Last week I was feeling very proud of my self for joining not just one, but two playgroups--an ethnically unspecified dad group and an Asian mommy group called "Asian Mommies."  So far nothing has happened with the dad group,  but today was the day that I would have my first encounter with my new Asian sisters and their young'uns.  As promised, I went into this adventure with an open mind, free of preconceptions and anxieties.  I mean, there's always a modicum of nagging dread about one thing or another lurking just beneath the surface, but it tends to be drowned out when logistics are foremost on one's mind.   As they were on mine this morning.  But still...

    My niggling anxiety going into this was simply that the Asian Mommies would a) think I was weird for being a stay-at-home dad, and b) think I was creepy for wanting to hang out with Asian women.  Anxiety a is based on the attitudes about gender roles that I have observed among some of my Asian in-laws that are my age or older, and also among stock characters from Amy Tan books and martial arts movies.  Anxiety b is based upon the popular notion that white guys exoticize and fetishize Asian women; and also upon my own creepy motives towards Asian women in the past.  But I'm over that, of course.

    Upon meeting the three Asian Mommies who showed up for this event, I quickly categorized them based upon the offensive stereotypes they most closely resembled.  There was the leader, a ruthlessly efficient and expensively accessorized Dragon Lady, the nerdy FOB (if you aren't Asian, you probably don't know what this means; and if you are, you're probably composing an outraged comment in all caps), and finally the mousey mom who is secretly a great master of tiger style kung fu and could exsanguinate a man with a diaper wipe (she just had that look about her.)

    Having conveniently pigeonholed my new bestest friends, I felt quite at ease.  It helped that we met at the zoo, which I consider my turf since it's just minutes from our house and I have been there five gazillion times.  But the mommies were not as comfortable as I was.  They were a bit distant toward me at first, and the social ritual that followed could best be described in terms of an appropriately zoopomorphic analogy:

    As the docent explained the eating and play habits of the orangutans, the mommies and I exchanged furtive sidelong glances while warily circling each other like bonobos with expensive strollers.  Even though my stroller was vastly superior to any of the others, I squatted next to my babies in a gesture of submission, like one of those little gopher-looking things that they have that whole TV show about.  Meer-cats or whatever.  Then the Dragon Lady, the great silverback of our herd, made an approving comment about my offspring, and after that we all got along like a jovial flock of sea lions cavorting among the icebergs.

    And so the rest of the excursion went.  Butterbean and Cobra were perfect little angels even though they stayed out long past nap time.  They seemed fairly interested in the animals, and they even interacted with other kids and grown-ups.  The Asian Mommies and I (I guess I am an Asian Mommy now?) exchanged a warm farewell and spoke hopefully of the good times we would have together in the future.  By the time the twins were getting their nap on, there were a number of emails awaiting that alerted me to future Asian Mommy events.  The next one is a trip to the outlet mall, and--I'm sorry--there's just no way.  But I did RSVP for a lunch date next week, further establishing my group membership by voting on which Asian restaurant I preferred as a meeting spot.  But to avoid being chastened like the low-ranking orangutan who challenges the pecking order by eating the popcorn of his den mother, I added that anyplace would be fine with me.

     Hanging out at the zoo--learning about orangutans, getting juiced up.

    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Are Our Children Killing Us?

    Hi Explainer!

    It's become conventional wisdom that marriage increases life expectancy, especially in men.  But I was wondering what effect children have on the life expectancy of their parents.  I did a little bit of research, but I only found one study that shows increased lifespans in men who have lots of kids before they are 30.  I'm 42 and we just had twins.  How long have I got?

    That's an email I just sent to the "Expainer" column on Slate.com because while I'm concerned about my health, I want someone else to find the answers for me.

    Aside from having somehow given me license to forgo exercise and healthy eating, I think the twins have had some positive effects on my health.  I get less sleep than I should (not because they keep me up, but because I'm goofing around on the internets, reading, or blogging); but I nonetheless wake up more energized than anytime I can remember.  Of course, at about 6:30 a.m., when the cycle of rustling around, chattering, giggling, softly sobbing, and full-on fussing begins, I silently plead with them to let me sleep past 7:14, at which point Mom, already halfway through her first pumping session, rousts me out of the sack. 

    But even though I look every bit the disheveled bleary-eyed wino as I shamble over to scoop the babies up, upon entering the closet/nursery where they share a crib that's way to small for them but we can't yet bear to move them out of because the real nursery is all the way downstairs where we can't spy on them as they sleep, I am greeted like Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show.  The little ladies scream and giggle and generally make me feel like I'm the most awesome human that ever lived.  Can there possibly be a better way to get up?  Starting the day like this must have some positive effects on my health, right?

    On the other hand, I'm pretty sure Butterbean has given me a brain tumor with what I like to call the "sonic icepick."  Cobra can scream as loud as the average banshee when she puts her mind to it, but her best effort is like the gentle tinkling of bamboo wind chimes in comparison to Butterbean's mighty screech.  This is not a cry of distress or anguish, but rather an expression of exuberance.  It usually happens toward the end of a satisfying meal of sweet potatoes and fruit, or while she triumphantly waggles a toothbrush over her head; and the more I wince in pain, the louder it gets.  But she can strike at any time.  When we are out for a walk, innocent civilians half a block away hit the deck when they hear what sounds like an air raid siren blaring from the stroller. 

    I have played in bands whose great volume has been their most remarked upon attribute, attended countless punk rock shows in tiny, acoustically suspect venues, and worked on construction sites with no ear protection; but I have never had any noise make my skull crumble like Butterbean's shriek of delight.   I have not been able to capture this blood-curdling racket on video, but the sound that comes closest to matching it's devastating power is the acoustic weapon known as the LRAD, used to keep pirates and anarchists at bay.  This may come in handy if we are frontally approached by bandits while Butterbean is in the stroller or Baby Bjorn, but when she's in the high chair, it is me who receives the brunt of the punishment.

    While I am not technically a doctor, I pretty much got my wife through medical school and residency, and I think it's safe to say that the sound waves from this cataclysmic cacophony are accelerating the particles all up in my brainpan and forming a thermonuclear tumor that could go off at any moment, leaving a mushroom cloud where my head once was.  Also, I think one of those kids is giving me angina.

    I used to laugh in the face of mortality, even very recently.  We met with our life insurance guy to upgrade our policy a couple months ago and I was all, "Haha--when the plane goes down, just make sure the godparents don't spend all the money on themselves har har har..."  Now I get these low-grade headaches every night, or some unexplained pain anywhere in my upper body and I'm all, "Damn--maybe we should have gotten the policy with the bigger payout."

    Dr. Mom doesn't seem concerned about my nuclear tumor, but I've got an appointment with my new family doc tomorrow, and we'll see what he says about my diagnosis.

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Flashback Fridays: How Twins are Made, Part II

    So Babymommadoc and I studied together, and it didn't really lead to anything that night.  But it led to some stuff that would eventually lead to some other stuff pretty soon.  To whit: we started hanging out with the same group of people and going to the same social events.  And in Charlottesville in 1991, there was only one social event that mattered, and its name was Dave Matthews.

    I know your jaw just dropped in disbelief at how cool I am.  Or was.  Sammy Hagar pants, mullet, and now this news that I saw Dave in his heyday.  In fact, I partied with Dave.  He was at my house the first time I made my future wife cry by being a total dick.

    In college, I lived in a house that a former girlfriend described as being like the movie Hellraiser in that it was an alternate universe offering the ultimate in pleasure and pain.  I never saw that movie, but I think the characterization is fairly apt.  Maybe a little overstated.  There were four of us in the house (a duplex, the other side of which was the unofficial house of one of the African-American frats...er I mean "fraternities" on campus...oops, I mean "grounds"), and we each had a special role to play, like a band of superheros.  There was the politico (student council president even), the snooty architect, the gay club kid, and me--the grit.  Every Tuesday, we would drink beer at home until after 11:00 and then walk over to this stanky joint called Trax to check out Dave.  After 11:00 the cover charge went down to two dollars, or free, depending on the whim of the bouncer.

    So Babydoc started hanging out at the house and going to see Dave, who she thought was cute, but otherwise never saw what all the fuss was about.  I was trying to weasel out of a relationship, and so was she, and I was pretty sure she was vibing me.  Especially after our mutual friend English Tim said, "Are you bloody stupid?  She's throwing herself at you, mate."

    One night after the weekly Dave show, I got Babydoc to drive me to Lucky Seven for some cigs (a habit which she later broke me of by strategic use of tears and shame), and she busted a move.  She asked me out to dinner at some unspecified time and place.  And then I leaned in toward her and gently took her hand, our lips searching for contact as the streetlight glinted off the Jesus fish hanging from her rearview mirror.  Did you just throw up in your mouth a little?  Me too.  Let's just say that we were kind of like a couple of middle school kids going steady for a while after that.  Seriously.  

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Party Planning

    First, a little administrative business.  The Blogspot robot guru wants me to tell you to go ahead and click on the "follow" button in the upper left corner and then comply with the easy instructions that you see, if you have not already done so.  The reasons for doing this are kind of complicated and you probably wouldn't get it, but here's the short version: see blog in Google Reader blah blah RSS feed blah increase readership blah blah blah community blah blah=huge revenue stream!  Also, you will have good luck for 60 days after joining!  So do it.  Or, if you hate babies, don't do it.

    On Saturday, we'll be hosting a meeting/party for this pregnancy/post-pregnancy support group thing my wife belongs to.  Okay, I guess I belong to it too.  Not that I need support or anything.  I've got this shit dialed in.  So does Dr. Mom, of course, but she read a study somewhere about expectant moms in Sweden having better outcomes when they joined a group, so she hit up the internets and made it happen. 

    Now that everybody in this group has had their babies, it turns into a pretty good opportunity for baby socialization.  But almost everyone lives too far away from us for it to be a regular playgroup.

    I think we are the only family in the group that has not hosted an event.  Until recently, we always had the excuse that the house was under construction.  But now that major construction operations are complete (Mission Accomplished!), we can no longer shirk our responsibility.

    It was almost a year ago now that I finally got the permits (Building Department, Historical Society, FAA for cryin' out loud, etc.) and started working on the addition.  When we found out Dr. Mom was pregnant with twins, that's when we called our architect friends and started the whole process.  During the months of permit gathering, I can't count how many bureaucrats (with whom I invariably played the my-wife-is-pregnant-with-twins card to expedite the process) shook their heads and pointed out that I would never get this thing built before the babies arrived.  Of course they were correct, but we had been trying to get pregnant for a while, and didn't want to jinx it by building a big addition before there were any buns in the oven.  Plus, you know, twins.  We maybe could have lived in 800 square feet with one kid, but not with two.

    So in the past year, I tore this crummy old bootleg addition off the back of the house, built a two story, 800 sq foot addition with two bathrooms, a laundry room, a master bedroom, and an all purpose family room that is now filled with babies and their junk.  I also had to change the whole electrical system, installing two panels and burying the main power line.  And with help from a friend, I added air conditioning and heat, which we previously did not have.  Did I mention that this house was just a slightly tarted-up shack when we bought it?  Then I reconfigured the kitchen so that it was twice as big as before.  I got subcontractors to do the plumbing, the foundation, and the sheetrock, and I hired a day laborer for a few weeks, and our families helped out when they came to visit.  But other than that it was all me.  I'm not going to pretend that I don't think I'm pretty cool for having done all this stuff.

    We lived on this construction site all during Dr. Mom's pregnancy and for the first 7 months or so of the twins' post-natal existence.  While Mom was at work, the girls napped in their nursery (which is really a walk-in closet, or will be once they move out) as I installed siding with a nail gun on the other side of the wall, baby monitor hanging on the scaffolding.  When they started fussing, I would clamber down, change clothes, and get all nurture-y.

    Now, the inside of the house is--I don't think I even need to qualify this anymore--done.  The outside is also done except that it needs paint.  And landscaping.  And a handrail on the deck.  Once I get the handrail up, I can get my final inspection and we can legally move into the addition (where we have been sleeping for the last six months).

    I should not be worried about hosting this party on Saturday.  I'm sure that, although our guests will be coming from affluent suburbs and sparkling condos, they will appreciate our funky neighborhood, the vagrants in the alley, the dirt/rock/concrete/scrap metal pile behind our house, and our neighbors' even more dreadful yard.  All I need to do is be a good hausfrau and tidy up, cook up a big mess of pulled pork BBQ, and make the jell-o shooters.  The house is good to go.  There's one more trick I'm going to try on the carpet to eliminate the the remaining odor from last week's dogshit debacle (we soaked it in vinegar and re-shampooed it, which makes it smell not like shit, but kind of like someone left a mincemeat pie on the landing for a week or two).  Maybe I could make some kind of gesture toward child-proofing.  Put tape over the outlets or something.  Make a sign that says, "Don't let your child out on the deck or the scaffolding or the rubble pile or near the nervous incontinent giant dog.  Rusty saw blades are not toys."

      I like how the playroom looks like a casino for babies.  Tasteful wooden toys?  No thanks!

     Cobra is ballin' and Butterbean is gettin' her drink on

     Nervous incontinent giant dog and neighbor's dreadful yard

    View from the master bedroom window: handrail-free deck, dirt/rubble/scrap metal pile.  It looks a lot better since the rains came and the weeds covered it up.  That building is our garage.

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    Breaking into the Playdating Scene

    Apparently, children need to be socialized, just like dogs. This is what I keep hearing.  The most overt expression of this sentiment came from one of the women who cleans our house.  (Yes--we have our house cleaned every other Wednesday for about the price of dinner for two with a carafe of the house red at Olive Garden.  Don't get all judgey.)  When "the ladies," as we call them, arrive anywhere between 4:00 and 7:00 p.m., they demand to know where the babies are.  I reveal their location in my broken Spanish, and the ladies shove me aside and swarm the girls, cooing, chattering, and squeezing.  The girls, not knowing about Wednesdays, or cleaning, or people who don't live in our house, are understandably scared shitless by this home invasion.  The last time the ladies were here,  they were able to hold the babies for about four seconds before the wailing started, at which point the babies were unloaded on me.  One of the ladies said, with thinly veiled disapproval, "They don't see no one during the day?"

    I stammered, bouncing the girls as they sniffed and shuddered, "We go to the park a lot, and...and...they see you every two weeks." She shook her head and clucked almost imperceptibly.  I got the message.

    So they have a little stranger anxiety.  I can relate, having quite a bit of stranger anxiety myself.  The American Academy of Pediatrics says this is very common at their age.  While my anxiety is easily mitigated by the administration of several cocktails, AAP does not recommend this for infants.  So I'm tackling this challenge head-on and probably mostly sober.  I am shopping for playgroups.

    Historically, I have not been much of a joiner.  I was going to blame this, like many of my faults, on having lived abroad as a kid and then come back to the States to find that all of the cliques had already closed out their membership, to which I reacted by declaring that I didn't want to be a part of any stupid groups or teams anyway.

    But then I remembered an even earlier trauma: Little League.

    From the ages of six to ten, I lived on one of the smallest and most beautiful Army bases in Germany, in a town called  Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  Surrounded by the Alps, perfectly manicured forests, mad King Ludwig's fantastic castles, Nazi bunkers, and craters full of artillery shells, abandoned appliances, and dog skeletons, it was a kid's paradise.  But the U.S. military, in order, I guess, to make sure we didn't go native, tried to recreate the trappings of American culture wherever possible.  This included Little League baseball.

    There were only three teams in our league since there weren't many Army bases way down there in Bavaria.  Our base was the smallest, so there was a dearth of eligible players.  Therefore, despite not meeting the minimum age requirement, and not having enough mass to fill the smallest uniform more than about halfway, I got drafted.

    I soon realized that our team sucked.  Bad.  We lost every single game we played.  Of course we were mocked by the other teams.  And since I was the smallest, most useless player, my comrades would take out their frustrations on me during the long busride home.  So yeah--good times.  On the mornings of away games, the bus would stop by my house to pick me up, and someone would be dispatched to find me, hunkered down in the woods, trying to camouflage my white uniform with pine boughs.  When I tried to quit and my mom told my dad to give me the pep talk about toughing it out and building character, my dad said something like, "Why?  It doesn't sound like any fun to me.  I wouldn't play."  Maybe it's genetic.

    But through years of practice, I have overcome my aversion to joining.  Mostly.  So I have decided to try out a number of playgroups in the area, hoping to find one that will encourage the girls to interact with people from outside of the cloister and not make me want to hide in the woods.

    I started searching online for dads' groups, and found that there are fewer than I would have expected.  Once I ruled out the groups that were located too far away, and the groups whose websites say "dad's" when they really mean "dads," I was left with three possibilities.  I sent an email to one daddy group, quickly got a reply, and am currently in negotiations about a playdate.

    Unlike the slim pickings in the daddy play groups, the range of options for mommy play groups is quite broad.  I  browsed through a number of these groups on Facebook and Meetup.com, pausing on one called "Asian Mommies" just long enough to think, isn't that interesting?  Then I got distracted by something else--parenting maybe--and forgot about the mommy groups.

    Sometime during the afternoon, it occurred to me that "Asian Mommies" would be perfect for Butterbean and Cobra.  We don't have many Asian friends here, and the girls don't see my wife's family all that much.  It would be great if they could be around other Asian folks and be exposed to "Asian culture" as the group's website promises (I don't know if they sub-divide the group by nationality and attend more specific cultural events, or if everybody just goes to P.F. Chang's). Since I had navigated away from the Meetup.com page earlier, I instinctively googled "Asian Mommies," hoping to find a quick link to the group.  Instead, I found a lot of other websites with the same or similar names, most of which would not be safe to open at work.  Of course, I haven't really been "at work" for a long time.

    Finally, I found my way back to the Asian Mommy group I had started with, and went ahead and joined, sending the moderator a message explaining that I'm neither Asian nor mommy, but my wife is both, blah blah blah, Stay-At-Home Dad, blah blah blah.  I quickly (like within seconds) received a cordial reply and welcome to the group.  It turns out there is already another SAHD in the group, so, you know, no worries about being the only one who can't breastfeed.

    So the wheels are in motion.  I have joined two groups in one day, and laid the groundwork for the twins' new social life, and maybe mine too.  I'm pretty stoked about it at the moment, and fully intend to go into this without any preconceived notions or ancient social anxieties.

    Stay tuned for the next episode: "Preconceptions and Social Anxiety"         

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    TV-Free Shorties

    I stumbled on this post from Mom-101 about the insidious effects of TV ads on children and, for the millionth time, I thought "Why are these kids watching commercials anyway?" I have a somewhat irrational (maybe) aversion to TV and am horrified when people mention that they have a hard time keeping their toddlers and even infants from staring at the idiot box. I restrain myself from suggesting to these parents that they just turn off the goddamn TV, because there is no way to do so without revealing the judgmental, officious prick I really am in my heart of hearts. Also, I know such a comment would bite me on the ass once I caved in and brought one of those devil machines into our home.

    So yeah--we don't have a TV. I get various reactions when I tell people that, but the most common is a mixture of misunderstanding and disbelief that renders the interlocutor unable to process--or even hear--the information:

    Joe Blow: Oh my God! Did you see it last night?

    Me: Uh...

    JB: Dancing with the Child Star Rehab Dropouts! C'mon!

    Me: We don't have a TV.

    JB: You don't get the Humiliation Channel?

    Me: Well, no. 'Cause we don't have a TV.

    JB: Yeah. I don't really watch much TV either.

    Although people who know my wife and me might tell you otherwise, we don't go around trumpeting our virtuous TV-free lifestyle. But sometimes it must be addressed to explain why we missed important programming like the Oscars or the Super Football Sports Game. But mostly, when TV becomes the subject of conversation, I just think about pie until a new topic comes up. If I announced that I prefer not to rot my brain with meaningless dreck every time someone brought up a TV show in conversation, I would sound even more sanctimonious than I do right now. And I would not have many people to talk to. And it wouldn't be exactly true. I have been known to watch hours of Arrested Development online, or get sucked into marathons of single shows (Chappelle's Show, The Deadliest Catch, and--God help me--Rock of Love) when I'm stuck in a hotel room in some boring place. Like Maui. That's one of the reasons I fear TV: I kind of have a problem with it.

    When I was a tiny kid, we sometimes had a little TV set in the house, but it wasn't that much of an attraction because it was the olden days and there were only two shows on the air. Then we lived overseas for many years, and I just couldn't get into watching The Smurfs (Die Schleumpfe) in German (they're disturbing enough in English), or Soviet programs like The Young Pioneers in Tashkent or America the Imperialist Ghetto.

    But when we returned to the U.S. of A., I sat down on the couch to watch my first episode of The Love Boat, and I didn't get back up for eleven years. I learned how to drive from The Dukes of Hazzard, and how to love from Fantasy Island.

    My TV consumption dropped off quite a bit by the time I finally got around to going to college, but I still dabbled, and occasionally binged. It was not until my thirties that I finally went cold turkey. My wife (fiance at the time) and I were unable to make a decision about what kind of cable service we wanted, so we decided we would try to go without. We still had a hulking low-tech set in the middle of our 300 square foot cottage, but we couldn't even receive the local channels on it. It became a silent, dusty totem in our living room, looming over our awkward dinner conversations until we adjusted to the tranquility. That was ten years ago.

    Other parents often tell me about the great educational shows that could expand our kids' minds and allow us to do the dishes, if only we would break down and buy a TV. For now though, our eight-month-old twins are pretty easily amused by the physical world around them. The American Academy of Pediatrics (Dr. Mom's go-to reference) says no TV before age two , but they also say that Sesame Street improves readiness for school. (Indeed--Dr. Mom learned English from Big Bird). So we may get a TV--or more likely access this programming online--when the time comes; but I don't want my kids running around nagging me to buy Happy Meals. Is there any reason, in this age of DVRs and streaming video, for kids to see commercials, even if they do watch commercial programming?

    For now, Cobra and Butterbean are only exposed to NPR and whatever shuffles up on the iPod. Which reminds me--I should learn how to filter out the gangsta rap and, according to my wife, the entire Tom Waits oeuvre. Because there is always an ass-biting waiting just around the corner.

    Flash forward to 2014--

    Cobra: I wanna tote-bag! I wanna tote-bag!

    Me: But sweetie, the pledge drive isn't until October.  Anyway,  I just got you a coffee mug, and you haven't even played with it. Where is that mug anyway? 

    Butterbean: [grumbling] ...shootin' midget Filipino dice in a Monte Rio boxcar...I lost my mug and my porkpie on a rattlin' snake-eye...and I buried Robert Wood Johnson in a rubble foundation...

    Me: What's that, sugar?

    Cobra: Get me a hand-crank radio or I'll go all Scott Simon on your bitch ass! East sah-YEED!

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Flashback Friday: How Twins Are Made

    When I was teaching high school, I had this problem with freshmen and sophomores. Seniors I could kind of deal with because they were a lot like regular people in some ways. But underclassmen were like feral cats. No matter what kind of dog-and-pony show I put on, no matter how many empty threats I issued, no matter how much public humiliation I meted out, they could not be drawn out of their world of adolescent intrigue. Somehow, I started talking about my wife one day (in the context of achieving some state-mandated standard I'm sure), and they started asking questions: "Why don't you have kids?", "Have you ever cheated on her?", "Aren't you gay?" When I realized that this was a way I could get their attention, I began to make it a regular reward. Do some work and don't scream for 15 minutes, and I'll tell you about our wedding. That kind of thing. I felt a little bad about doing this instead of "teaching" until I read Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. It turns out that all he ever did as a teacher was tell stories about himself, and he was like the best teacher ever! So I'm applying this strategy here in hopes of keeping your attention in case I have something important to say.

    How Twins Are Made

    My wife and I first met at a Mudhoney concert in a smokey bar in Charlottesville that smelled like stale beer and vomit. We had a mutual friend, and it turned out that we also had a religion class in common at the local charm school, UVA. The class was called "Faith and Doubt" which becomes funnier later, since she was brought up to be faithful and I was brought up to be doubtful. We recognized each other from class. I had had some filthy thoughts about her for which I was profoundly ashamed, and she had noticed me asleep at my desk. From then on, we chatted after class, or at least after the sessions that I attended.

    It was 1990. She was a second-year (can't say freshman, sophomore, etc. at UVA for some stupid reason) student in an honors program called Political and Social Thought, and I was a four-and-a-halfth year garden-variety English major with two years of pre-college soul-searching (trying to be a rock star) under my belt. We both felt bad for the TA leading our silent and disinterested discussion group, and hated the one guy who always spoke up in class. I was attracted to her, and why shouldn't I have been? She was 90 lbs of coquettish Asian sexiness, with her modest brown jeans, asymmetrical hairdo, sensible 3-eye Doc Martens, and oversized tortoise-shell glasses. But because she seemed so young, innocent, and serious, I never imagined that she was interested in me.

    There were a number of factors that made it seem unlikely that we would ever get together. The first was that I was a 24-year-0ld man of the world and she was a virtuous and young-looking 19, barely cut loose from her mother's apron strings. I had fully planned on moving to Prague after graduating, where I would teach English and date artsy expats, and she had two years of college left to go. And then there was the inexcusable fashion crime that would come to be known as the Sammy Hagar pants. I had a friend who held a lot of sway over me even though he didn't have my best interests at heart. He convinced me to take bodybuilding supplements, grow a scraggly goatee, buy a bb gun, and he probably delayed the long-overdue demise of my mullet by at least six months. There were other, even more tawdry things that he encouraged me to do, but the worst of them was to invest in several pairs of boldly patterned baggy drawstring pants of the type favored by gymrats who wear bandannas on their heads. Oh yeah, I also sometimes wore a bandanna on my head. How could any woman fall in love with a man dressed as I was? On top of all these social and sartorial impediments to the fulfillment of our destiny, we were both dating other people.

    One weekend toward the end of the semester, I was playing rollerblade hockey and got knocked on my ass. I had bought knee and elbow pads, but was still saving up for the wrist guards. It turns out that I should have gotten the wrist guards first. I broke a teeny little bone, the scaphoid, that takes a very long time to heal, and I had to finish my college career left-handed. Momma Doc and I had started sitting next to each other in class (again--when I could make it there), and she took pity on me as I scrawled notes with my clumsy meathook. She suggested, or maybe I asked, I can't remember--but in any case, arrangements were made as the final approached for me to go to her apartment and study her notes. Of course, I couldn't drive my car since it had a stickshift; so the young woman I was half-heartedly dating, kind of a militant feminist biker chick, who had been chauffeuring me around for weeks, dropped me at my future wife's pad, jokingly admonishing me not to get up to any funny business, lest she have to kick both of our asses. Ha ha ha ha ha. Yeah. Ha ha.

    Kitchen Bitches and Nourishers

    In the article “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” published in the June/August 2009 issue of The Atlantic, Sandra Tsing Loh exhorts her readers to avoid getting married and recommends some alternative models of (loveless) marriage for those of us who have found ourselves in the unenviable position of already being hitched. She does this in the context of rationalizing her own infidelity and the dissolution of her marriage of twenty years, and what she sees as a growing dissatisfaction among women with the venerable institution and their partners in it. Although she does not portray women as blameless for this sad state, for the most part she points a disdainful finger at the postfeminist pussies they married, who, unlike the detached patriarchs of yore (for whom she seems to pine), are involved with every detail of family life except for their wives’ emotional and carnal needs. These men, represented by the trope of the “male kitchen bitch,” have forgone pants-wearing in favor of home economics and hen-pecking. She describes the husband of one of her friends:

    Ian subscribes to Cook’s Illustrated online and a bevy of other technically advanced gourmet publications—he’s always perfecting some polenta or bouillabaisse. If someone requests a cheeseburger, he will fire back with an über-cheeseburger, a fluffy creation of marbled Angus beef, Stilton, and homemade ketchup. Picture him in bike shorts (he’s a cyclist), hovering over a mandala of pots that are always simmering, quietly simmering.

    She calls Ian a “Competitive Wife” who scolds his spouse for her transgressions against saucepans; she mocks him (and another friend’s husband) for building custom kitchen shelves to house their specialty cookware. Her gripe is not just that these man-shrews have taken over the wife/mom role, but that their contemptible competence in multiple spheres alienates and demoralizes their all-too-human wives. Even the traditional male arena of home improvement is derided as fussy, passive-aggressive performance. Although the bedroom may be the locus of shame and disappointment for Loh and her jilted kinswomen, for the purposes of her attack on renaissance dads who ignore their wives, the kitchen is the seat of power for the new oppression.

    Hanna Roslin says everything else I would have written (plus more, plus better) about the meme of the kitchen bitch in this excellent piece on Slate.com.

    I was thinking about this trope as I thumbed through my favorite cookbook (from the editor and publisher of Cook’s Illustrated) in preparation for cooking last night’s dinner. (I have been responsible for the majority of our dinners since Dr. Mom went back to work.) Later, as I lovingly dried the All-Clad Dutch oven and nestled it in one of the cabinets I had built while remodeling the kitchen, I realized that despite a passing resemblance to Loh’s character “Ian,” I would never rule the kitchen in our house, aspire as I might.

    In addition to the fact that my cooking skills are still rudimentary and my competence in other areas of housewifery is marginal, my feelings about food preparation are much more superficial than my wife’s; and therefore I’m sure I will be demoted back to sous-chef as soon as her love affair with the breast-pump sputters to an end.

    I propose a counter-trope to the Kitchen Bitch: The Nourisher. Hanna Roslin (among others) points out that men cook to “show off,” whereas the traditional, feminine motive for food preparation is to express love. I don’t suggest that every cook falls into one or the other of these categories, and I don’t think they are strictly “masculine” or “feminine” positions. But while I could name of a handful of female kitchen bitches off the top of my head, I don’t think I know any male nourishers. And I have to admit that my interest in cooking has to do mainly with satisfying my own decadent appetite, succeeding at constructing something impressive, and winning the praise of anyone who shares the end product. I’m a selfish cook, and would be a kitchen bitch if I were less lazy. My wife is a nourisher, like her mom, who cooks selflessly, and derives most of her satisfaction from watching people stuff her food in their faces, even if they neglect to tell her how wonderful she is. As I am an inveterate glutton, we have achieved perfect symbiosis. And our children are providing Mom the Nourisher with more satisfaction every day (see video below).

    This kind of enthusiasm is what motivates Mom to steam and blend fruits and vegetables and portion them into tiny plastic containers in the middle of the night between half-conscious breast pumping sessions. She derives endless satisfaction from the idea that our babies are made out of her milk and the food she has prepared. I can’t compete with that.

    Both Dr. Mom and I were raised by nourisher mothers, and most of our friends growing up had similar experiences. The nourishing was not reserved for family, but rather extended to anyone who crossed the threshold: if not food-as-love, at least food-as-hospitality. My mom was (and is) a nourisher of the wholesome appetizer variety. If anyone was at our house between mealtimes, they could expect to be served a plate of fruit, cheese, and some kind of bread or cracker. This became awkward in the later years of high school (“Mah-ahm…we don’t want your bourgeois cheese plate! We’re anti-establishment punk rock non-conformists! Do you not see our leather jackets? Geeez! Don’t we have any Doritos?”) But my mom was indifferent to my discomfort, and the cheese plates persisted. And were always consumed in the end.

    The manifestations of my mother-in-law’s nourishing compulsion are far more extreme than modest appetizers. Regardless of the time of day, her kitchen—the working area of which comprises industrial gas-burners and jerry-rigged appliances in a shanty cobbled together on the deck so as not to fill the house with the smells of cooking oil and fish sauce—simmers with multiple meals in various stages of concoction. Sit down at the kitchen table at 11:00 p.m. and you will be expected to eat several bowls of rice with pork and greens, and perhaps a fried trout or two. If you decline her hospitality, she won’t be personally offended. But she will think much, much less of you. (My appropriate response to her cooking gestures, by the way, was one of the few ways I was able to convince her that I was not the worst choice her daughter could have made for a mate.)

    Lately, I have racked up a couple of impressive (to me, anyway) culinary triumphs, often involving deep-frying; and I am on the verge of reading a book about cooking that doesn’t have color pictures and recipes in it. I well up with pride when I see my girls eat lustily—I guess I consider it a genetic gift—and I’m happy to think that they will derive great joy from eating good food, which is among the top two best things about being alive. It’s important to me that they eat a wide variety of high-quality foods and I hope they will fearlessly approach new eating situations. But whether my wife or I prepare the food doesn’t concern me. Once Dr. Mom is released from the clutches of the breast pump, I will show her the secret shelf where the lemon zester and shrimp deveiner live now, and turn the kitchen back over to its rightful chef.


    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    Butterbean and Cobra in Disguise

    The girls have a weird aunt who likes to dress them up and take pictures. For example:

                                              Butterbean as vampire

    Cobra with mustache

    Night at the Park

    My wife, who I’ll call Mom or Dr. Mom because she prefers to remain anonymous, told me I should not mention the name of the city in which we live.  She says this is a convention of the mommy bloggers she reads.  I’m not sure why our city needs to remain anonymous, but I know what happens when I ignore my wife’s advice.  I end up getting a concussion or getting ripped off or losing all the data off of my computer or getting food poisoning or talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses for a really long time.  So, suffice it to say that we live in a pretty good-sized city somewhere near one of your major oceans and not too far from a country where everyone speaks Mexican most of the time.  Let’s call it Sunnyburg.

    Sunnyburg is made up of many small neighborhoods, each of which has a distinct character and reputation.  Our neighborhood, let’s call it Hipster Heights, is known as the city’s bohemian enclave, although many of the locals don’t seem to realize that.  Even though the preferred attire here includes skinny jeans, tattoos, old-timey hats, and a kryptonite lock tucked into your belt that you can use to hitch your fixie to the rail outside of the coffee shop and brandish at drivers who honk at you during Critical Mass, there are also people obliviously walking around in broad daylight wearing Dockers and polo shirts.  It makes you wonder what the hell they are thinking.  I’m pretty sure I have even seen a few un-ironic mustaches.  We also get some spillover ambiance from the abutting neighborhoods, Keepinitrealville to the East, and Fiercetown to the West.  A typical block on the main drag of the business district in Hipster Heights boasts a coffee shop, a head shop, an adult bookstore, an art gallery, a dive bar, a tacqueria, another head shop, an extravagant dessert shop, a hipster bar, a really good restaurant, a bar for big hairy guys who like other big hairy guys, and a Supercuts.  So it’s eclectic I guess.

    Another thing about Hipster Heights is that it’s pretty expensive to buy a house here, even with the real estate bubble busted like a piñata full of lead-tainted lollipops.  We bought our house about a year before the market peaked, and we paid more for it than my in-laws did for a brand new 4,000 square foot McMansion in the Houston suburbs.  But our house was a shack when it was built in 1910, and had only been slightly improved upon by the time we bought it.  900 square feet, no foundation, single-wall construction (no studs), no insulation, no a.c. or heat, one 5’x5’ bathroom, one 8’x8’ kitchen, all the cast iron plumbing stacks exposed on the outside of the house.  But we didn’t even care.  “This place is a gold mine!” I gushed when we first walked in.  And for the first year that we lived here—a year my mind’s eye sees as a reflection of my wife and me in a mirrored ball, clinking champagne glasses and throwing our heads back in laughter (except my wife is a white lady with a Dorothy Hamill hairdo…I think this might be an image from a documentary I once saw about Studio 54)—we did “make money.”  By making some mostly cosmetic improvements in our house and faithfully checking Zillow.com, we “earned” enough “equity” to invest in a rental property!   Oh, halcyon days!  But that’s a different story.  This is a story about tranny hookers.

    One of the reasons Hipster Heights is so desirable is its proximity to the coolest park you have ever heard of.  Let’s call it The Park.  The Park, which someone told me is built on an old landfill, has nature trails, interpretive gardens, tennis courts, a dog park, a pool, a disc golf course, an archery range, soccer fields, baseball diamonds, bocce courts, volleyball courts, playgrounds, and a velodrome!  A fucking velodrome!  Do you have one of those at your neighborhood park?  I thought not.

    The Park is home, or playground, or hunting ground to all manner of man and beast: raccoons, rabbits, coyotes, hobos, professional recyclists, hawks, squirrels, skunks athletes, etc.  I have visited the park almost daily since we moved to Sunnyburg, except for the brief time between the death of my last dog and the adoption of Fancy Dog Stella.  While the atmosphere at the park can be like an international carnival on weekend days, it’s the sights and sounds of the night that really fascinate me: the hoary owl eyeballing Stella and me from atop the backstop, the hair-raising chorus of coyotes, the punk rock band throwing a guerrilla gig behind a storage trailer, and of course the tranny hookers.

    Now, I have to admit that I’m pretty sure I only ever saw one tranny hooker, but she was popping up all over the place for a while.  And by tranny, I just mean she was trans-something.  At least transvestite, maybe transgender, maybe transsexual, who knows.  That ain’t none of my beeswax.  I just remember the first time I saw her, walking down my street toward The Park at about 11:00 pm, wearing a leather miniskirt and knee high boots, her teased blonde wig shimmering in the moonlight.  I was all, “He-ey…there’s a tall drinka…oh…a tall drinka tranny.”  And, to be fair, I don’t know that she’s a hooker.  I would see her lurch bowlegged across the soccer pitch in the moonlight, her heels sinking into the sod, with some guy half her size.  Or she would pop out from behind an electrical transformer, scaring the bejeezus out of both Stella and me.  “Hush, Stella,” I’d growl from beneath my hoodie.  “Atta girl, c’mon girl [whistles], yep—just out walkin’ the dog.  Good girl, Stella.”  So I don’t really know what kind of business transactions, if any, the tranny hooker was involved in; but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t just bird-watching, and I don’t think she was collecting aluminum cans in her swap-meet Louis Vuitton clutch.

    I had heard rumors about the cruising scene at The Park, and I had always noticed men (neither fierce nor hip for the most part) roaming around after dark without dogs or athletic footwear.  My instinct was to avoid making eye contact with these fellows, and to make it clear that I was with a dog, and later, with one or more babies (in the days before they had strict bedtimes of course).  This arrangement, although it made me feel rude, was fine and seemed to be acceptable to the cruisers too.  Except for one time when Stella was a puppy and I had to evade a guy who followed me in his car as I walked home, no one ever approached me.  Incidentally, I’m not one of those straight guys who thinks that gay dudes will be unable to resist molesting them: after 7 years of going to the gym in Fiercetown, I haven’t received so much as a salacious look.  This indifference both comforts and stings. 

    I don’t think attraction is a huge factor in the cruising scene at The Park.  As I learned from a dear friend who knows about such things, it’s all about loneliness, horniness, and expedience.  In an email that included more technical detail than I need to repeat here, my friend explained that most of the guys who cruise parks are closeted, married, or for other reasons unable to participate in the thriving open market in our area (I think he mentioned the word “ugly”).  As to the etiquette of these encounters, my friend says they start with a stare and, if the stare is returned, move on to a grope, and finally culminate in a clumsy coupling in the bushes and a hasty parting of ways.  Phone numbers are rarely exchanged and dinner dates are almost never in the offing.  Or so my friend hears. 

    One night when the kids were about two months old, I had taken Butterbean (who we were calling “Midnight Demon” in those days) for a walk to quiet her screaming.  Stella came along, of course.  As we rounded the bend toward the fountain Stella always drinks from, there was a rustling in the shadows by the scoreboard.  I put on my stern face and muttered something to Stella.  The tranny hooker came tottering into the streetlight on her clacking heels.  When I saw that it was her, I relaxed a bit and said “Oh—hey.”  She didn’t respond, and we just kept walking.

    It occurred to me as we headed home, Butterbean snoozing away in her Ergo, that as a parent, perhaps I should be concerned about the unsavory characters and goings-on in our neighborhood.  I tried to summon up some outrage, but none arose.  For some reason, even though The Park is only patrolled by a lone grandpa in a Wackenhut truck, you hardly ever hear about bad things happening there (there was a fatal shooting there a few months ago, but that was between friends).  I wouldn’t go there alone at night without a big dog, and I don’t think Dr. Mom will let the girls hang out there after dark anytime soon.  But The Park is like the ocean or forest: a self-sustaining ecosystem, with every coyote and rabbit and vagrant and cruiser and bocce baller and trash-picker and yuppie parent contributing and extracting resources in just the right amounts; and as long as we respect the system and don’t demand too much of it, we shouldn’t have to fear it. 


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