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Weeding the forest

Yesterday I went down to my local National Park to help remove invasive species. Here’s a forest full of weeds, said Ranger John. Pull ’em. He made it clear that we weren’t eliminating the species, just controlling it. As I pulled, I battled the sense of futility and helplessness that I feel a lot these days. What does it matter whether I get all of it. I’m just making it easier for next year’s seeds to sprout or for this other invasive species to survive. And then the feeling of tiny actions having some down-the-road, unseen impact would resurface. I may not see the value of this now, but if I came back five years from now… and I’d try to just enjoy the beauty of the forest.

As Ranger John said in a followup email: “Garlic mustard eradication may seem like a daunting task, but your efforts helped us immensely towards reaching our goal of restoring native plants to the area.” There’s a lot of garlic mustard in my life right now. My research garlic mustard, the garlic of mustard of having the same struggles over and over in my marriage, of course the garlic mustard of my fears for the future of my country and, well, life on earth.

I took the family down to my state capitol for a local People’s Climate March. Since January I’ve learned that I am very picky about which things I will and won’t chant. Like someone started up with NO PIPES! And I was all, uh, nope, definitely need pipes. I’ve lived without plumbing, and it’s a drag. Not chanting that. There were only a few hundred people there–I guess people are tired of hearing about climate change. We already worried about that shit. Being upset about the destruction of life on earth is so 2010! I highly encourage you to read this paper, which details all the ways we convince ourselves we don’t need to act. Let me know if you can’t access a pdf.

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Whatever your garlic mustard of the day, I wish you luck with it. Ultimately, I really do believe that small actions matter. You know what they say: Whatever you can contribute, do that. And it will help. Bloom where you’re planted. Unless you’re garlic mustard in the national forest.

Forty-one year old toes

Yeah…what to do with my squash does seem like a small problem now.

So what have I been up to? Well, at first it was just the usual the semester has started and the little bits of time I have for myself are gone. And it was worse than usual, because turns out that having a full time job and three kids is not the same as having a full time job and two kids, however easy the job and all the kids may be.

My baby turned one year old. See how little anyone cares about you, third child? No fanfare, no pausing to reflect, no lengthy observations about the joys and challenges of parenting… (But still cake, and it was really good, and she ate the fuck out of it.)

Halloween happened, with fabulous costumes. Bun Bun wanted to be a white wolf, and her wolf head came out pretty awesome if I do say it myself. Bunter was the softest, sweetest strawberry on earth for the brief time she wore her costume. Bunlet helpfully just wanted to wear his costume from last year and be a “worker”. Seize the means of production while you’re at it, little one.

And then around 26% of my fellow country people* did something that I still struggle to understand. And I had to take on another full time, unpaid job, giving a shit and trying to make things better.

Here’s a telling figure, since you know how I love data…

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It’s exhausting, the feeling small and the feeling futile and the feeling powerless, and the knowing that those feelings sap the will to TRY, and that you have to try anyway. I have tried in ways that range from marching on our nation’s capital to picking up trash on my walk to work.

At some point I realized that going from zero (maybe even negative 10?) in the political activism/ civic engagement department to…well, not 60 or anything, maybe 35? is hugely transformative. And that like other large personal transformations, such as becoming a parent, it’s going to be very slow and there will be guilt and despair. But maybe some happy moments.

I have been pushing myself very hard this year, doing things that really scare me. A lot more travel, a lot more leaving my house, a lot more talking to people. 2017 has been a year of adventure and personal growth and shit. It turned my toes purple.

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*I keep reading statistics like “53% of white women voted for Trump”. No. Such conversations must start with the reality that only half of us (well, 55%) fucking voted at all. So that’s appalling, but the silver lining is that it reduces the proportion of the people who are unfathomably different from me to something I can wrap my head around, approximately 26%. And by the way, if you’re one of those people, I believe you had a good reason for doing that, because I believe in empathy. So I just ask that you exercise your empathetic capacity and believe that I have good reasons for being upset.

What to do with this orphan?

Summer can’t really be over as long as there are this many tomatoes and this much corn. I made this risotto and it was amazing. (Skip the cream, I say. Not needed). I made this pasta and it was amazing. But then the other night the doorbell rang and when I went to answer it, there was no one there. Just a little basket with something small wrapped in a hand-knit blanket, and a note. I’m sorry, I can’t give it a good home. Please take care of it.

A spaghetti squash.

Is there any way to make a spaghetti squash taste good? If you tell me to stuff it, or to make it into pasta by cutting it into thin strands, I will be like, okay…our tastes do not mesh. But now that I’ve gone and anthropomorphized it (entirely fictional, in case you wondered…though it would be a funny way to get rid of produce. Particularly if you did it at, like, a fire station or hospital. Or is this just making a joke of something really tragic? Well, that’s how I roll.) I am not sure I can just pitch it in the compost heap and let the squirrels eviscerate it.

Eaten by wolves

Yesterday I made Bun Bun a little sticker chart to help her stop responding to every sibling conflict with blood curdling screams. At the top is the sentence Are You Being Eaten by Wolves? and then some further instructions. We’ve talked about the fact that screaming is for emergencies, and that examples of emergencies include fire, bad injuries (blood is coming out, is the criterion there), or being eaten by wolves. But it’s not like I don’t sympathize.

In a little bit I’ll go into the classroom to perform my Professor Bunny act for the 10th year in a row. I think about how I felt the first time I faced that giant room full of students, just a few months out of my PhD program. Extremely. Anxious.

In class we discuss the tapering down of sympathetic nervous system  response to threats that aren’t actually threats, if you experience them repeatedly. Like, for a socially phobic person, stepping out there and looking at all those faces feels like it will result in death, but the probability is pretty low. So if you do it over and over, your brain will learn that it’s going to be okay. In ten years, I haven’t died yet. So while my heart still pounds, I can now pretend it’s excitement and not terror.

So yeah, I won’t be eaten by wolves, probably. But I will still be glad when this week is over.

What the WHAT.

Time. It has passed.

So basically when I got back from Paris, it became clear that the summer was over. The post-it note that has my list of goals for the summer…I mean, I knew it was ambitious, but I’d expected to at least be able to cross off ONE thing. No. Most of my projects have hit a wall where I don’t know how the fuck to approach them anymore, except the one where each new batch of data takes me down a weirder and weirder path… Really? That’s what people did? Uuuuuh…okay. And then I had to push all that to the back burner to get ready for classes. Panic panic panic why am I panicking? I have tenure. Everything is fine. Anyway, things feel a bit more in control now.

I just took the babies to our local fire station. It was so cool. Fire engines are really large, turns out. And they had a whole fridge all for condiments in their kitchen. The firefighter said they really do all eat meals together, which, I don’t know, I find that really charming.  It is the last Saturday of the babies’ summer, so this was a nice way to spend it.

On Monday, Bunlet turns four. On Wednesday, Bun Bun will be a kindergartner. In a couple of months, Bunter will be one year old. She is sitting up and dragging herself around on the floor and has two teeth. Bun Bun dances around to make Bunter laugh. No one can make her laugh the way her older sister can. And now I can get Bun Bun to read me books while I lie on the sofa. It’s the best. And Bunlet puts the laundry down the laundry chute for me, and makes sure his small sister doesn’t get into dangerous mischief.

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I’ve been doing my best to stay in the strange Baby Headspace that being on leave with Bunter put me in. Reminding myself that I only have to do This One Thing that I am currently doing, instead of spooling up into a terrible state of anxiety thinking of the Giant List. Some days are easier than others. The real test will come when I start teaching again. But I don’t know, right now it feels like it might be possible.

I’ve been growing lots of vegetables. Most of the things I planted did not work out at all, but this year for some reason I got lots of beets. Okay! I love beets!

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And while the tomatoes that I carefully nurtured from seeds looked like they were going to die for mooonths, the ones that volunteered themselves from the ground (seeds! They get dispersed!) are doing great. So I guess I should not bother planting things in the future, but just see what comes up. Like, is this a message to not try so fucking hard?

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Spot the volunteer.

So that’s us. What about you?

 

Paris: Not so horrible after all

So there’s this stereotype that the French are arrogant assholes. Maybe they are and I’m just so endearing that I bring out the best in them. Or it’s also possible that, for once, a stereotype is untrue. Quel Miracle. One of my colleagues suggested that the stereotype used to be truer, but there’s been a cultural change. I don’t know, I’m just a bit ashamed that I was so intimidated by these people, who have been so kind. They allow me to limp along in French (which I’ve never studied, but Latin + Spanish + how is it one manages to pick up so much French vocabulary? I really don’t know…) and then when things get tricky they switch to English in a way that doesn’t make me feel humiliated.

I haven’t traveled abroad alone in a long ass time. As my trip draws to a close, I have some observations. First, unless you are traveling with someone who knows all the languages and is very good at making decisions, it may be easier to travel alone. When I’ve traveled with other people, we spend a lot of time wandering in circles because none of us can pull the trigger, on, say, sitting down at a particular café. This one? This one? This one? *All starve to death* By myself, there’s no one to have an opinion but me. There’s also no one to be embarrassed by the language barrier but me. It somehow takes the pressure off. Second, I have changed quite a bit since the last time I did this. I am still timid, but I used to be SO TIMID. I was so afraid of dining in a restaurant that I’d eat every meal in my hotel. Now while I am still tempted to eat in my hotel, the prospect of alcohol gets me out on the street.

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I’ve become a lot more confident as I’ve aged, and I think becoming a parent has a lot to do with that, though I don’t quite know what the connection is. Finally, DAMN, traveling is much easier in the era of the smartphone. No more wrestling with maps and guidebooks. Want to find a lovely toy store? BAM. Found.

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Cadeaux pour les enfants

I suppose it might cut down on the look at the charming thing I discovered just by wandering experiences a bit, but I still managed to have one of those even if the charming thing I discovered was a lot of prostitutes.

Also, I can’t thank you enough for your suggestions. They had a really magical effect. They inspired me, and reminded me that there are lots of things I enjoy. I planned to do a great many of them, but only managed to find an adorable fabric store before my walking feet gave out.

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It’s easy to find cotton, even in my sad city, but this place had tons of beautiful viscose, which is my preferred fabric for dresses.

My conference went well. The room was packed for both my talks, which made me feel good. And I had many good scholarly interactions. I am now an Old in this community, but this was validating rather than depressing, on account of how the young sprouts gazed up at me with such admiration.

I miss the babies very much, and the constant pumping is a weird addition to my professional experience. I am a bit worried about my supply being totally shot when I get home, but there’s not much I can do because if I pump any more than I have, been my nipples will fall off.

So that’s the news. Now I will watch this TV show which I believe is about dysfunctional families being healed through the power of doing an obstacle course (????) until it’s time to brave the streets for one more dinner.

 

In the blink of an eye

On Tuesday afternoon I will board a plane for Paris, where I will attend a conference, sans famille. I will be gone for five days. Oh, you lucky creature! PARIS! Without your family! I am so envious! you cry. And I should feel that way, I admit, but I don’t. I feel scared and sad. Scared to leave my family during what feels like a dangerous time. Those of you who know where I live know I have some small reasons for extra anxiety about the State of the World.

SAD to be parted from my baby, despite the fact that she is a nine month old, with several teeth. But she is still a baby, and I hate, hate, hate to leave her.

As I’ve written before, if you like traveling, you can’t really understand the mind of She Who Hates Travel, just as She Who Hates Travel can’t really understand your mind, but I beg of you, please don’t tell me how much fun I will have and how weird it is that I am not looking forward to this. I am not, and being told I should be just makes me feel bad. I expect to enjoy the conference because it’s all my favorite people and topics, but there’s a wide gulf between arriving there and recovering from jetlag and entering into Professional Mode and feeling okay, and the wrenching myself out of my safe, cozy routine that is looming large on my horizon. I was explaining this to someone yesterday and asking her for a good mantra to help me with the departure part, and she suggested In the blink of an eye. You’ll be back again in the blink of an eye. So true. This trip is so tiny. Obviously in the sense of geological time–my week away matters not at all for the Arctic sea ice melting away, but even in the sense of my own brief life. In the blink of an eye, this will all be behind me.

So that is helping. I also remember when I wrote a similar post about having to go to Vancouver, and Misfit (miss you, Misfit…) suggested that I find one nice thing to do while I was there, so I made a plan for a massage and a trip to a fancy shoe store. And that helped so much. So! If you know Paris, help me find one small thing to do, as I’ll have a day to myself. I am not interested in museums, or THE SIGHTS, particularly, but love to wander around. Where should I wander?

Certified Humane Mamas: An address to the American Council of Infants

It’s an honor to speak to the American Council of Infants. No other forum provides a better chance to discuss topics that matter to babies. *Happy cooing*

Today’s address is directed at those of you who are breastfed. You formula-fed babies probably have IQs so low that you won’t understand me anyway.*

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American babies are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from. I know many babies who will only nurse from an organic mama because of concerns about the pesticides used on crops that non-organic mamas consume. Babies are also concerned about how using these pesticides (and chemical fertilizers) is impacting our our soil and our ecosystem. *Loud wailing*

While not all babies have access to an organic mama, and the cost of an organic mama can be prohibitive, I do urge you to nurse from an organic mama whenever possible. *Gurgles of contentment.*

In fact, I’m actually here to say: An organic mama is not enough. I want to talk to you about Certified Humane mamas.

Like an organic mama, a Certified Humane (CH) mama’s care has to meet strict standards. For example, both organic and CH mamas have access to fresh air and exercise, food grown without pesticides, and are not treated with antibiotics. Even when they get mastitis.

However, a CH mama’s care must also meet requirements for kindness and responsible care. In general, CH animals must be permitted to “do what comes naturally”. What comes naturally to my CH mama is going into the basement and watching Netflix while drinking cocktails. I allow her to do this after I’m in bed every day. This isn’t the most efficient use of my mama, so why do I do it? Well, for two reasons. First, milk from CH mamas simply tastes better. I believe that in time we’ll be able to show that it’s more nutritious, though there’s no evidence  at this time. Second, mamas may just be animals, but I believe they should be treated with compassion. While it might serve me better to keep her up all night so she can cuddle me, or insist that she nurse me all day every day, or keep her in a crate so that I can always find her, these practices stress mamas. Stressed mamas get sick more often and may end up producing less milk. *Angry fussing*

Again, I know a CH mama is not possible for all babies. But I believe that making babies aware of CH handling for mamas can help change the way mamas are treated. In the end, CH treatment is better not just for mamas, but also for babies. *Fat hands clap together*

 

*I fucking hate that breastmilk raises IQs! claim, so this is 100% satirical. In case you’re not familiar with my sense of humor and think I would actually give someone shit for formula feeding. Which I myself did.

First summer

Friday was the last day of the toddler’s first school year (preschool, that is). That makes this their first official summer. Since we’re already paying someone to take care of them, we’re not bothering with camp or anything crazy like that, they’re doing Old School summer. Long days of nothing in particular. I got the plastic pool out and put the ice cream thing in the freezer.

Right now they’re both sobbing, and it’s raining, and there are a million mosquitoes, but that’s their daddy’s problem.

Bunter is also having her first summer.

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That’s probably the only strawberry we’re going to get, given the voracious chipmunks and birds, so I’m glad she got it.

Not taking it personally and not getting in the way

A while back I had my first parent-teacher conference at the Buns’ preschool. At first I had a hard time taking it seriously (because…parent teacher conference? For tiny babies?), but before I knew it I was convinced that I was ruining my child.

Bun Bun scored quite a few “needs work”, in areas that surprised me. I think of her as good at articulating her thoughts and feelings. Teacher said she is quiet and it’s hard to get her to respond to questions. The subtext, at least based on the examples given, was she’s afraid she’s done something wrong and is facing some kind of discipline. So naturally I interpreted this as a critique of my parenting. Along the lines of what are you doing at home that this child is so terrified of answering a simple question about some cupcakes?

Later I was able to take a breath and remember that my childhood of isolation and shyness and anxiety is not her childhood. Yes, she may well end up introverted for reasons of temperament, genetics, and environment, but she is her own sweet self. It’s not all about me. I am not always the problem.

But sometimes I am the problem. Like with toilet training Bunlet. Probably for a year Bunlet had been toilet trained for pee but always took a dump in his diaper during nap/nights. I was determined not to pressure him, but UGGH, SO SICK OF IT. One day about three months ago his nanny decided to leave the door to his room open so he could go into the bathroom during his nap, whereas we’d always closed it for fear he’d escape and wreak havoc. (A reasonable fear, if you knew Bunlet.) Since then, no more shitty diapers. Not one. He was ready, we were just getting in the way.

So how do you know if you are the problem? The hallmark of getting in the way is that you don’t know you’re doing it…

Then this week I had an experience that I’d classify as neither being the problem nor getting in the way, i.e., doing things right. Bun Bun is reaching reading age. I have been doing my best to not get obsessed with it, secure in the knowledge that any kid who loves books as much as Bun Bun does is going to learn to read someday. That it’s not a threat to her eventual world domination if other kids her age surpass her, or if younger kids surpass her, that there’s nothing I need to be doing (because we already naturally do the things you’re supposed to do), etc. Watching other parents I know deal with kindergarten decision-making has tested my resolve to not freak out, but I’ve held strong and only freaked out a little. (I’m denying her best possible start due to my laziness/conflicted feelings!) However, school’s about to be out so I thought we might want to incorporate some reading practice into our lives so she doesn’t get rusty. (I have no idea what they do around reading in her classroom. Nothing, as far as I can tell.) So I got some of those books where the adult reads a page and the learner reads a page, thinking we’d labor through a few pages and it would be frustrating for her. Turns out the child can read. Not fluently or without assistance, of course, but to a degree that I was totally unaware of. Stealthy little fucker has learned to read, by gum.

So I did well with not taking it personally, this time. Now I just have to make sure I don’t somehow get in the way.