Friday, December 21, 2007

Things I've done since I've moved here that I couldn't do in South Dakota.

Since I moved here, I have:

1) Had my hair cut well by two different people. (This is a curly thing.)

2) Gone to the Somali mall to buy awesome scarves for $5 or $10 each.

3) Eaten delicious Ethiopian food...from the co-op!

4) Noticed that there is a pollution report on the Weather Channel's "Local on the Eights."

5) Driven past five different museums.

6) Seen an African-American fathers' demonstration against gun violence.

7) Had the option of buying whole, organic, locally-produced foods in great varieties and quantities at any one of a number of stores. (Which is why I'm spending too much on food.)

8) Finally tried White Castle. (Verdict: OK, but kinda soggy.)

9) Seen many, MANY liberal bumper stickers. (God, I love this place.)

10) Had an abortion. (Just kidding!)

Ah, ye of little faith...

...that means you, Skippy! I got my birth certificate in the mail today. So I can toodle on down to the driver's license place tomorrow and hopefully not wait in line for too many hours. And I can also start the processing on my passport., crap - which means I need to look good tomorrow for my pictures because I am vain. And I was counting on skipping the shower and wearing my weekend clothes. Darn it!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Nuns put the Toilet Seat on Upside Down.

When I moved into this apartment, one of the neighbors on my street told me that two nuns had lived here previously. And in general, they kept things in fine shape. But when we moved in, I took an instant dislike to the toilet seat, which is one of those squishy seats that collapses while giving a long, hissing sigh when you sit on it, and that makes the whole experience far more intimate than it need be. (I like my toilet seats firm and aloof, thank you.) Even worse, the squishy seat had palm trees on the lid. (I generally prefer my toilet seats to be sans decoration - though I will admit that I would buy this one if I were willing to spend $30 on a toilet seat, which I am not.)

Back in September, after much careful deliberation and even some measuring (which was difficult to do while Bean was methodically sticking his head through every display toilet seat), I purchased a brand new toilet seat, one that neither collapses nor hisses. Well, tonight I finally got around to getting it out and putting it on.

But first I had to get the old one off. And let me tell you, if you're ever in the position of installing a toilet seat, and you wonder, "hmm, does the flat part of the nut (the screwy on thing, for those who are wondering, as opposed to the thing that looks like a long screw, which is the bolt) go on the top or the bottom?" - it goes on the TOP. The reason for that is that if you put the flat part on the bottom, when the next poor sucker goes to remove the nut, they will not be able to gain any purchase whatsoever because there will be nothing to grab as they won't be able to get their fingers into the tiny space between the flat part and the toilet, and they will be laughed at by their children because they are lying on top of the toilet with their heads hanging down between the toilet and the wall, trying in vain to see what the hell is under there so that they can grab it with pliers and unscrew the bolt from the top. And meanwhile, they will be wondering, "what the hell is this sticky stuff that is on my fingers??" and fighting the urge to wash their hands every two minutes.

I did manage to get the seat off - no thanks to the nuns - and now my bathroom has no inappropriate palm trees nor rude toilet seats.

Plus, I even bought a little rug for the floor. I could live in there. Which might be a good thing, given my last post.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The real truth about being a single mom.

I realize that, in some ways, this post title is horribly offensive since, although I am living here alone with my kid for several months, I am not a single mom. Further, the topic I'm going to address is not the first thing that comes to mind for the single moms I know (childcare is generally the first thing, simultaneously with or followed closely by money, sanity, and sleep).

But what I wanted to talk about today is what I've learned about being a full-time employee and a full-time, sole parent. When I started out a few months ago, I wondered what would be different, other than less sleep. One of the main things that I found was that, after the initial period of abject panic, I learned to live with the constant threat of - and experience of - chaos. There is a physical sensation that comes with this. It's a sort of inner tightening, as if all of my organs are tensed, ready to react with lightening-quick efficiency should I suddenly have to sprint the several miles from work to my son's school. For the first couple of weeks, I would have daily freak-outs that lasted fractions of a second, during which I would forget what day it was and not know where Bean was at that moment. By the time my body knew to start feeling sick, I would have remembered and everything would be fine.

It was these brief moments of panic that I noticed most, initially. And then, as I got into the routine and got used to the fact that Bean might get sick or the sitter might cancel or anything could happen and my meetings/classes/etc. would have to accomodate his needs, I began not to have the panic attacks. I became able to function with the uncertainty and the chaos. I was much more tightly-wound, but functioning.

And then, over the last several weeks, I've started to notice another pattern. When you are working all the time at one job or another, something has to give. Usually, the first thing is sleep. Exercise goes. Eating well goes. I've been there before, and while it was disappointing to see my muscle tone disappear, it wasn't a new experience.

But lately, I've lost something else, something no one ever told me about and something I never expected.

I've lost the time to go to the bathroom.

I'm not sure how this happened. I will probably end up with kidney failure soon, but essentially what happens is, whether I'm sitting at my desk, driving to pick up Bean, or running errands, I do not have time to go - and so I don't. I have on several recent occasions noticed at around 3:30 that I had to pee when I arrived at my office that morning but still haven't gone. Or, I'll need to pee when I leave, hop in the car, pick up Bean, stop to go grocery shopping, pick up and eat dinner at the store, drive home, get him ready for bed, and notice, oh yeah, I still haven't peed.

I don't think I've made any big changes to my diet. I just think that, as one becomes accustomed to functioning - and functioning well on little sleep - when pressed, one can also go without other essential bodily functions.

Maybe this is one for Morgan Spurlock?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

We blend.

Two days after Thanksgiving, I put up my Christmas tree. Over the next couple of weeks, I put up all sorts of decorations, because finally - finally! - I have a space large enough to actually put all the crap away so that when I decorate, it doesn't look like a pile of papers and boots with a Christmas card lying on top. Now I actually have something close to the "Christmas in every room" theme I've always wanted.

The menorahs - and there are several - are sitting out in the dining room, next to the Santa Claus village; there's another on the living room mantle, above where the stockings are hung. You see, we blend.

I've been told that blending holidays is confusing for children. I think this idea is based on the notion that what we want to be teaching kids is to follow only one tradition, and so we don't want to contaminate, say, Hanukkah, with Christmas. Well, fair enough - it does seem unfair to Hanukkah that we celebrate it next to a Christmas tree. And Christmas has become, simply, "Capitalism," and as such, it's pretty hard to avoid, and it does overwhelm a little holiday like Hanukkah.

But on the other hand, my general approach to religion is that I do pretty darn much what I want to do, picking and choosing the traditions I like, the ones that I find meaningful, and tossing the others. As a blended family, it is not important to us that Bean pick only one tradition. We are not teaching him to follow only one tradition. We will probably start sending him to religious education in one of the synagogues at some point, but that is not because we want him to practice only Judaism - that has more to do with wanting him to know what Judaism is (because he won't get that through osmosis here) and with wanting him to know what it means to Judaism to be a Jew, so that he'll have that as he figures out, later, who he is. But my message to him is always that God is bigger, that faith is bigger, than the boxes marked "Christianity," "Judaism," etc.

And if what I want is for him to be an educated "free agent," then blending is a great opportunity to learn about different religious traditions.

So as for this idea that blending causes confusion - you know, I find that just a little bit offensive. It implies that I want to prevent my child from being exposed to different traditions, which I know that many parents do with the excuse of "rooting" their children in their own faith. They want their children to learn only their own tradition, or to learn just enough about other traditions that they have a vague knowledge of them but not so much that they might actually choose to follow those other traditions. It implies that there's something wrong with challenging organized religion, and to be honest, maybe it's my location over the last several years, but I'm still shocked and amazed that at this point, people still find it surprising that many folks create their own rituals and celebrate all kinds of traditions. I'm also shocked and amazed at how far some people have their heads up their own asses when they argue that saying "Happy Holidays" is anti-Christian or that Christmas is the only holiday in December (yes, some people actually argue that point).

The comment also frustrates me because there is also a hint of the need to keep Jewish children Jewish - and frankly, these approaches always make me want to run screaming right out of Judaism and take my kid with me (and from the other blended families I've talked to, I think many people share this reaction).

The thing is, really, that there's nothing confusing about blending if that's simply what you do. It's like, I grew up in a home in which God was never mentioned. We had no religion. That was not confusing for me in the least. But other people, people who grew up with religion, were perplexed by this. They could not fathom such a thing. To us, though, it was absolutely normal.

So I guess that's really my issue - I don't accept that my choice to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas is confusing. It may be confusing for others, but that's not my problem: it's theirs.

(This has been a bit of a ramble. I'm rusty.)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Driving Hazards.

When I move to a new place, one of the last things I get around to doing is updating my driver's license. If it's just a matter of a new address, I've been known to go years (I think four years is my record, and I only updated it then because I'd lost 40 pounds and bore no resemblance to the original picture and was too vain to keep it any longer). Moving to a new state, though, requires additional annoyances. In the state of Minnesota, one is required to take a test in order to get a license. I did not know this. I had passed by the office in the strip mall with the large "Driver's Licenses" sign several times, and on this Monday, I had an hour and figured I might as well take care of it.

The clerk was a far cry from the slightly insane, overly friendly women I remembered from South Dakota. This clerk reminded me of DMV clerks from my New York days - gruff, uninterested in his work (can't fault him there), and of few words. He directed me to my testing station and wished me a surprisingly-sincere-sounding "good luck."

I sat down in front of number 25, touched the screen to begin, and started my test, confident that my 19 years of driving would stand me in good stead. No, not just confident - I was arrogant. I was sure that whatever they'd throw at me, my years of experience would more than equip me to handle.

Good think I didn't have to take a driving test: I missed about seven questions. One or two were in error - I had known the answer and accidentally chosen the wrong one. The rest were real mistakes - things having to do with the exact number of feet one must leave between oneself and, say, a school bus (I still don't remember).

I ended up scoring an 86 on the test, which I was a little indignant about. However, after I had filled out my paperwork and gone to wait for my eye exam, I learned from an enthusiastic and very friendly young man that 80 was passing, and I felt relieved that I hadn't missed any more of the questions. (The young man told me he'd waited ten years to get his license, and I wish, now, that I'd asked him about that, because that's interesting: Why ten years? What was keeping him from getting his license all that time?)

When I was finally called up for my eye exam, I was asked to present a birth certificate - which I didn't have on me. It had never occurred to me, stupidly, to ask what paperwork I might need to bring (although I've never needed a birth certificate to get a license, at least not in recent memory). They told me to come back with it and to bypass the line. I had been there for an hour.

I came back later that afternoon, armed with a copy of my birth certificate. The line, by this time, had gotten quite long, and I felt anxious about cutting in front of all of those people (but I did it anyway - I'm not crazy, and besides, Bean was with me. If we'd had to wait in that line, people would have been asking me to go ahead of them just so they could hustle us out the door faster.).

My birth certificate copy is not "official." This means it does not have a raised seal.

Thankfully, the unofficial copy still has all the pertinent information, so that when the driver's license people turned me away, I could go online (here is a good site for U.S. folks, if you need to do this) and find out to whom I should write.

I joked with a friend that I'd be sunk if the birth certificate people needed a copy of my driver's license - and as it turned out, they do require a copy of a photo ID. I'm wondering if the fact that my driver's license has a different address and state on it than my check and mailing address does will cause me problems.

So, now I wait. If I get the new, official copy of the birth certificate within 30 days, I don't have to take the test again. Cross your fingers.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mommy meme: Leslie Bennetts

1. Why did you decide to stay at home with the kids or go to work. Was it a choice?

Yep, they are choices, but I think it's important to not that for the majority of women, it's not ONE choice and it's not exclusively between staying home and not engaging in waged work or working full-time out of the home. The vast majority of women work, and most mothers work, even if they are "stay at home moms." Many SAHMs work at home - the SAHMs I knew in SD had part-time careers (doula, photographer, website hosting, etc.).

But anyway, I stayed home full-time for about eight months because I wanted to do the whole attachment parenting thing, I wanted to quit my boring marketing job, and I wanted to have time to finish my dissertation. (I did the first two things on my list - the third took an additional year.)

Then I went back to work, on a part-time basis. I don't remember why exactly I made that decision at that point, but I do remember that I was ecstatic to be working - teaching! - again. Probably it was a professional decision - I knew I'd be applying for teaching positions, so it made sense to be teaching. But also, I really disliked being a SAHM, and I treasured the intellectual stimulation of working.

Now I've made the decision to work full-time, and that has taken some getting used to. I'm glad I had the privilege of being able to wait until Bean was older to do this, though I also feel as if I'd spent the last several year locked in a cage, and am only now beginning to feel free again. That was not a function of mothering but of 1) working in a job that had no future and in which I felt I could not do all that I was capable of doing, and 2) not knowing if I'd ever be able to find a job that would fulfill my creative and intellectual desires.

2. Leslie Bennetts claims that there's a stay at home movement that is encouraging more women to return to the home, even women who are poor. The work vs. home argument used to be just about white upperclass women. Is it spreading?

I think she's right that the movement is encouraging women to return to the home, and I would add this movement likes to argue that women's pay is so little anyway that it would just about pay for daycare, a work wardrobe, and travel to and from work - so why bother? This is such a problematic argument. First of all, it assumes that money is the only benefit from work, and while I haven't read Bennetts' book, Bennetts notes here some of the other benefits that working gives women. Second, it not only accepts but seemingly condones the fact that women are paid - what is it, now? $.74? - to men's dollars. How interesting that the movement is not to push for pay equity so that women can be independent and plan for a secure future that includes health care and perhaps even a pension. Instead, it pushes for increased dependence on men (you know, assuming one even has a male partner to make all those big bucks in the first place).

And then, too, the work v. home argument was NEVER just about white upperclass women, not really. True, white upperclass women were the only ones who had the luxury to choose to work or to stay home. But all other women felt the lack of that choice and very often tried to pattern themselves after the wealthy women who stayed home, because that was what "true womanhood" looked like.

I think what we should be asking, rather than is the SAH movement spreading, is whose interests are best represented by this movement? (Hint: NOT the children's!) I'm not saying that SAHMs are pawns supporting the patriarchy. But I *am* saying that, as Bennetts points out, these decisions are not merely individual choices - there are larger social issues to consider.

3. Which of Bennets's arguments are most convincing? Which least convincing? Which did she miss?

That I cannot say, as I have not yet read the book.

4. Did your mother and grandmothers work outside the home? How did that turn out for them and for you?

That second question sounds a lot like Dr. Phil, and not in a good way. I want to respond with, "It worked out JUST FINE for me. Watch what you say about my mama!"

My mother and grandmothers did not work outside the home after their marriages, as far as I know, except for my mom, who did try to re-enter the work force on several occasions and was not able to due to ageism and other problems that come up when you try to re-enter the work force after years of being out of it. This is usually the place where people - well, my students, anyway - often insert a comment about how glad they are that their moms stayed home with them and how their moms are wonderful, self-sacrificing people, etc., etc. I will instead say that my mom did sacrifice a lot, but I don't think that's a good thing. I know that she would have been a lot happier had she not been a housewife, and my brother and I would have been stronger for having to cook dinner once and a while.

5. Bennets said in an interview that she wants this book to be a one-stop resource for women to gain all the information they need to decide whether or not to return to work after having children. Did she succeed?

See number 3.

6. One of the women Bennets quotes says that she felt ostracized from the stay at home moms at school when she was working. Is there a divide between working women and those who stay at home? How can we bridge it?

I think the divide has been mischaracterized in the media - I don't think it's so huge, and in fact, there's been a lot of research that comes to exactly that conclusion. This doesn't mean that individuals won't feel out of the loop, but it does mean that there's a lot more support among mothers for other mothers than we tend to consider.

7. Did you prepare in your education for paid work? Why or why not? Do you wish you had done differently?

Yes, because I always assumed that I would need to - and should - take care of myself and contribute financially to my household. Is this a serious question? Are there really people out there (who aren't obscenely wealthy) who think they won't ever have to work, that they are immune from divorce, death, health emergencies, etc.? No, I certainly do not wish I had done differently.

(OK, wait - I just dredged up a childhood fantasy of being the woman in the Calgon commercial who gets to take a bubble bath in a gorgeous, palatial Romanesque bath. I did think, when I was twelve or ten or something, that being a housewife meant getting to lie about in baths all day, and so I did for a time plan to do that. I think it would've gotten boring, though. That, and my fingers would get pruny.)

8. How do you divide the domestic labor in your relationship? Did you always do it that way? Is it working?

Not very well. I do most of it (well, right now, I do all of it, but that's because Mr. Plain(s)feminist is not yet living with us - I assume he's doing his own housework where he is living). Over the last several years, I was working part-time, and I think that became reason for me to take on a larger share of the housework. However, now that we are both working full-time, that will be changing.

I tag Amy, if she wants to do it (if you do, let me know, and I'll link - if not, s'ok).