Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Media, Competitive Parenting and other stuff

If you were anywhere near a computer, television or magazine stand in the last two weeks, chances are you saw the deliberately provocative TIME magazine cover of a woman breastfeeding her almost 4-year-old son while he stood on a chair, looking scared out of his mind because he knew what he was in for when he turned 10 or so.  There are 2 things we all know: the internet is forever and children are relentless when it comes to making fun of others.  So he can thank his mother now for the ridicule and the therapy in the years to come. 

But it was an image that sparked 1000 discussions about a whole gamut of parenting issues.  The article itself was focused on Attachment Parenting of which breastfeeding as long as possible is one of the main tenets.  Articles and TV/Internet commentary that spun out of it also brought up the phenomenon of competitive parenting, feminism's new role in parenting, how parents do what best for them (not their kids) and on and on and on.  To be clear, there are very few things that hit a nerve like judging someone else's parenting choices.  But some people didn't take the article and ensuing controversy seriously at all as evidenced by the picture below.  This is my favorite spoof that I've seen so far: undeniably bad-ass and irreverent.

Artist:  Seivewright 
There you go. Alien Mother is definitely Mom Enough.  

I'll admit, I'm relatively new to parenting and I only have one child at this point so I am intrigued as a participant and a spectator about how easy it is to get swept up in the "parenting-as-a-competitive-sport" wave.  From another TIME article called "How Feminism Begat Intensive Mothering," there is one passage that stood out to me:
They [educated, affluent, older moms] want to make their sacrifices mean something. If they’re giving up so much to raise this new human, they’re going to make sure the kid is raised like a blue chip stock price.
That passage made me pause.  Is that me, I wondered?  I too left a lucrative career in hi-tech to have children in my late 30's and focus on the Groundhog's Day-like pattern of playdates, preschool and potty training.  My logistical expertise and project management instincts still yearn to fire up and what better focus than the progeny I watch over every day.   Despite my Asian heritage, I'm no Tiger-Mom though I'm not so loose as the Free Range Kids mom who let her 10-year-old traverse the NY subway alone.  But then I realize I have to give up long held assumptions about praise after reading the intuitively contrary Nurture Shock then cross reference our belief system (or rather non-belief) in the secular guide Parenting Beyond Belief.  With all this reading, it could be a college course, nay, a college degree.  Parenting as a major!  Wouldn't that be something?  Oh wait, did I just prove the author's point?

Anyway, my friend Sarah made a good point about moms/parents taking responsibility for what they accept from the media.  While media can be held accountable for causing part of the neurosis about "doing the right thing" or being a "good enough" parent, the other part of the equation is the parent or mother who internalizes it and is victim to it's suggestive and subversive message.  It's like the media wants to keep people uncertain, fearful and recriminating. What sells magazines, doesn't necessarily serve parents.  So thoughtful reflection and evolving consideration are needed for raising self-assured, independent, productive humans who can handle interpersonal relationships without the crutch of mom and dad.  It's totally natural to be unsure but it is ultimately up to you the parent to stand up and live it.

One thing I am struck by when my Mom and I compare parenting stories, is how often she says, "In those days we didn't know as much as you do now..."  Sounds like in the 70's, they didn't have all the issues and details we find commonplace in raising children--whether it be food, safety, interpersonal relations, self-esteem, schooling...whatever.  It's also sounds like they didn't worry so much and just did their best then let us sort out the rest.  Maybe it was because that generation of moms was really coming into their own with the rise of feminism/equality so they split focus to their own development & self-fulfillment.  Or maybe it's because they didn't live in a world so saturated with information, opinion and contempt for one another.  Or maybe subconsciously our generation feels a bit insecure in our parenting abilities so we over-compensate.  All I know is at no time in history did parents spend as much time with their children as now though I'm not sure if kids are better for it.  Liz Moyer at the Wall Street Journal thinks too much attention could produce a generation of control freaks--so there's always that. 

Finally, there's Kristen Howerton at the Huffington Post who says to skip all this competitive bullsh*t and self-examination purgatory about what you do or don't do as a parent because some kids don't even HAVE parents to worry about them.  Boom!  So yes, that has a way of putting this all in perspective, I guess.  I do take one exception to the "live and let live" parenting creed.  And that is vaccines.  I believe in science and doctors, scientists & the CDC.  So I have no sympathy for voluntarily non-vaccinated or alternative schedule folks.  Especially not with a whooping cough epidemic ripping through this area and certainly not when Washington State is the highest state in the nation for non-vaccinated or alt vaccinated kindergartners.  I cannot abide.  I simply cannot.  Unless that parent wants to home school and keep that child out of society forever.  But I digress.

So far as I can tell, being a parent is balancing confidence with humility and facts with faith (in one's self).   It wouldn't be such a hot button issue if we didn't care so much.  Propagation of the species is fundamental and one of the guiding instincts of our existence but it's not so simple as evidenced by all the noise...and the TIME magazine cover.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Intruder-us in the Uterus: 27 weeks

From the moment we explained that there is a baby in my belly, Sidney has sought to emulate it by putting her teddy under her shirt.  Then when little brother started to kick and could be felt by folks on the outside, Sidney would also have her baby kick by shifting it suddenly under her shirt.  Finally she announces that her baby will be born in "two minutes" and asks if my baby can be born just as swiftly.  It's a lot of fun to share this experience with her and see what she makes of it all.  

We have a book called It's Not the Stork which is a primer on how babies are made and all the fun topics that go along with that, appropriately addressed for her age group so she knows some stuff though not everything.  But the concept of how the baby gets out was still a little fuzzy.   The other day, she wanted to see babies being born so Ken rustled up some birth videos on YouTube and they watched it together.  I think at her age, I was also watching birth videos since my mom was a lamaze teacher and I loved it.  The footage left nothing to the imagination but it was as natural as anything else.  Ken said he even learned something because even during Sidney's birth he did not really get on the "business end" to take a close look.  Just a precaution, I forwarded him this link of what to do in case he had to deliver the baby.  Let's hope it never comes to that because that means I will not have any medication.  

Velociraptor Riding a Shark while holding Explosives & an Assault Rifle

I don't know who made this but it's undeniably awesome.

(Update: A friendly commenter named Tsad let me know the Velociraptor image can be found on his page.  See the comments on this post for the direct link.  Thanks!)

(I do know the shark part is from a photo taken by South Africa Great White Shark Expert Chris Fallows.  I ordered one of his posters several years ago and I hope to go on a Shark Watching Trip with him and his wife one day.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Week in Rawk: Part 2

It's been 2 months since we had the Ballard Basement Band rocking out in Seattle and I'm finally getting around to posting the fruits of our labor.  It also appears that Mr. Ken is probably not going to mix down any more of the songs due to work, time constraints, travel and oh yes, the immanent arrival of our son.  But out of 15 songs attempted that week, 4 made it to YouTube including a revealing Outtake Reel.

I think the best song was our last one performed: Radiohead's "All I Need."

I'll be the first to admit the video from that week leaves much to be desired.  While it was important for documenting our time together, it was never a #1 priority which is why the shots are sort of boring and Dave is half out of frame.  Being the hack lead singer and the videographer while 4+ months pregnant and juggling normal household responsibilities never let me focus on any specific thing very well.  For all the musical gear that was procured for that one week, I said next time we need to put some resources toward some video equipment.  Even security cameras mounted in the corners that can shoot across for coverage.  Something. Anything.

While "All These Things That I've Done" was slated to be a sloppy run through and the guys did not spend nearly as much time learning it as the others, I felt it came out very true to the original.  This song by the Killers was one I worked with my vocal coach on years ago when Ken had bought me singing lessons.  It's a song I really like.

Ken actually mixed more than the 4 songs and did his best on our attempt at The Black Keys' "Too Afraid to Love You" which was the one song from our set that I wanted to nail more than anything.  But on the best take of the band, my vocals were uneven & tired and the video was chronically uninspired.  The same can be said for "Howling for You" also by the Black Keys.  So those videos were never put together.  While I did edit The Smiths' "Girlfriend in a Coma," the video does not really capture how fun it was in the room to do that song as a band.  It felt tight even though it was far from the musical taste of the guys.  The song was just one of my requests and I was grateful that they indulged.

The guys did perform several songs instrumentally by Rush, Radiohead & old Genesis and I was blown away by their rendition of "Planet Telex".  I had waived off learning the vocals for that song since it was not a Radiohead song that I was familiar with and I already had 7 songs to try and not suck at.  But after hearing what they did with it, I said I would learn the vocals so that next time we were together they could reprise it fully.

"Sinister Kid" by the Black Keys came through pretty much as I had hoped.  Charly really stepped up with the slide and the improv on guitar, though that is not his favorite thing to do I'm told.

It was a crazy, fun week preceded by many months of preparation and thought.  Ken compared it to ramping up for something very big and then when it was over he felt a little sad.  I totally know how he feels.  That is exactly how I felt after our wedding: so much planning, expectation, anxiety and vision then it passes.   While you don't have that event looming anymore, the excitement, anticipation and energy are gone too.

Speaking of planning, despite all best intentions, we did not anticipate everything...
  • Ken and Dave made MANY trips to Radio Shack for cables and stuff.  On one such trip they were witness a comical and yet disturbing argument between two homeless people in the parking lot.  It was as if they were putting on a performance.  An imitation of this event is performed by Dave in the Outtakes Reel.
  • There were multiple trips to Guitar Center for things, including getting the bass (borrowed from my cousin) repaired.  
  • Ken & Dave went off to Everett half-cocked on a wild goose chase for a piece of much needed equipment (see next bullet).  Turned out to be the wrong thing.
  • Ken scanned Craig's List for a "multiple USB stereo channel input/output box" and came across a guy who lives only 15 minutes from our house who would swap (as a loan) his unit for Ken's beloved high-end Theremin.  Our jaws all hit the floor and we struggled in disbelief to believe Ken agreed to this.  It all turned out fine but later in the mixing stage, Ken suspected something within the unit introduced pops and clicks into to the tracks.  Boo.
  • Garage Band presented a steep learning curve to all involved.  
  • One of the official institutions of the original band (Ken, Dave & Charly), a bag of Sun Chips, was purchased.  Music making could then proceed.
  • At the beginning of the week, Ken and Dave nearly kill themselves trying to get our "drop-ship" delivered, king-sized mattress up the front stairs and into the house.  Dave suffers a strained neck/shoulder as a result.
  • Mid-week, the Prius rear window gets stuck in the down position after a Radio Shack/Guitar Center run just in time for a torrential rain & hail storm.  Ken & Dave fashion a ghetto-fabulous cardboard cut out to get the car through the night.  A day in the shop and $600 later, the window was fixed.  
  • Build it and they will come.  Banter and there will be Outtakes.  Behold:

Looking forward to our next jam session.  Though with a new baby, I am not sure how likely it will be by March 2013.  But I already have some songs I'd like to suggest.   I think I mostly look forward to when there is not a tiny human compressing my lungs and diaphragm so I can actually attempt to sing.   Next time too, Dave will get better video coverage and Charly will no doubt wow us with more POD Guitar Effects Processor magic.  It would also be great if Ken could show some of his Theremin skills in a song or two.  Here's hoping...until next time!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Everyday Should Be Mother's Day

All the retail stores and websites are gearing up for the most over-rated, under-delivered "holiday" known as Mother's Day.  The anticipation is sometimes met with a valiant attempt of appreciation but usually it just doesn't live up to the hype.  That's because nothing anyone can do in a single day can embody the sacrifices, logistical wherewithal and good times that moms bring to our lives year in and year out.  But I don't say this because I didn't get diamonds or a spa day last year, I say that because as cliche' as it sounds, doing something nice for your mom/a mom-like figure/the mom of your kids on just one day and then going back to the status quo the next is, well, lame.  It would be much better to spread out one's guilt appreciation during the year, especially at times when there is little to no pressure to do so.   That and you don't have ads encouraging you to buy your mom picnic pants, gold encrusted roses or a chinchilla apron.  True Story: One year my brother and I gave my mother a garden hoe and a set of measuring cups.  Practical but not very--how you say--"honorific."

After I was a teenager but before I was a mom, I objected to the retail compulsion of making this holiday a second Christmas.  I would then just get my mom a card (usually) and a giant helping of self-righteousness about retail manipulation.  Now that I am a mom, I can see how mothers might have high hopes to have a perfect day where they can relax, receive some pleasant surprises and feel honored.  But guess what, everyone else is trying to do the same thing too so not only does it feel unoriginal, it also feels that if your Mother's Day doesn't turn out awesome, your family didn't care enough to get their act together or in typical maternal guilt fashion, it must have been something you did to deserve a less than stellar Mother's Day.

So I say, let it be Mother's Day 24/7.  I know that sounds tiring to even attempt but let me explain.  I have a pair of UGG slippers I wear in the house.  They are definitely a luxury good and are more expensive than most of my other shoes but let me tell you, it's "Mother's Day" every day I wear them.  The same goes for my electric kettle that boils water in 90 seconds for my favorite tea, lavender chamomile.  It's "Mother's Day" every time I have a cup of tea. Or if things are not your bag, (pre-second pregnancy) I belonged to a Moms-only yoga class that met once a week in the evening.  Ken adjusted his schedule to fit this class and I got to do something just for me that also was good for my mind, body & spirit.  Similarly, when Ken is able to take Sidney for most of a weekend day, that is a little slice of heaven that I use to relax, get some tasks done or go out with a girlfriend.  That doesn't happen every weekend, especially recently, but it's definitely more often than one day a year.

But if we get right down to it, it's just noticing what moms do and letting them know you appreciate them for it.  For example, not long after we moved into our current house, Ken complimented me on the meticulous way I organized the giant bathroom cabinet of supplies and other necessities.  He said something about the way I did it made him realize how much I cared about our family.  Um, EXACTLY.   That is exactly right.  I was speechless.   This seemingly thankless effort that I put into making the household run a little more smoothly got noticed and I never thought it would.  The gals from Rants from Mommyland talk about this concept too and that it usually takes another mom to see it and appreciate the totality of it.  In this case, I was delighted that it was my husband who noticed.  It made my whole year.

Finding the little moments of appreciation is what most moms really want and reminders that their sacrifices do not go unnoticed or unvalued.  So by all means do something nice for your mom next Sunday but think beyond just the day and see how you might delight and honor her in small ways all year long.