Sunday, February 11, 2007


I have been helping with the costumes for Grease, the musical that the 4th and 5th graders at the kids’ school are doing this year. When the musical was first announced, Rees was very excited until he found out that it was not about ancient Greece. He was even less excited when he found out it was all about romance between boys and girls. Now he doesn’t want anything to do with it and won’t even go near one of the circle skirts I am sewing when I need to see if it is approximately the right size. I always felt a little deprived because I had never seen Grease and it was very popular when I was in junior high. It certainly has stuck around.

Apparently the version Rees’ school is doing has been charmingly adapted and sanitized so that it is appropriate for young children. I am dubious. I finally borrowed the DVD and did my annual ironing while watching it. My assessment? It is terrible. I could find very little of value in it. Between the tacky costumes, cheesy dream sequences, and almost unbearable musical production, the story stinks. It’s basically about a sweet girl who is too sweet for her own good. The idea seems to be that you have to join a gang, drink, smoke, and sleep around to be cool, and if the “one you want” goes for the hot dancer from another school, you need become a biker chick. Or something like that. These young couples in relationships that already seem old and tired, getting pregnant or married right out of high school was just depressing to me, not amusing. Having high school graduation be the highlight of their lives made it very clear that it was all going to be down hill from there. I guess I am just jaded. I will be interested to see how this is rehashed for ten-year-olds, something that seems a Herculean task (from a very different sort of Greece).

However, the girls at the school all seem really into it, to be sure. Beauty-school dropout and all. Is that sad or fun? Anyway, I asked Rees, who is in the chorus (as are all the 4th graders), what he needed in the way of a costume. There was a long pause before he replied,

“Um, mom, I think I am going to be a hoplite.”

“A hoplite?” I wrack my brain as the word sounds vaguely familiar. A hoplite is…oh yes, an ancient Greek spearman. You go Rees.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


In college I remember hearing a quote attributed to Toni Morrison that went: "Women love their sons and raise their daughters." I thought that was so true! Why is it that girls/women always seem so functional and responsible and boys/men are cut so much slack? Yes, blame it on those soppy, soft-hearted mothers. They loved their sons and raised their daughters.

Then I heard a radio piece recently about how, on average, girls do two hours more housework each week than boys do. The reporter of the story attributed this to leftover sexist stereotypes where women’s domain is the home. They interviewed moms, their daughters, and their sons. Everyone agreed that it wasn't fair, but they all just said that was the way it turned out.

In college I would have agreed that this was due to sexism. Now that I am the mother of sons, I have to defend mothers and say that we are not to blame. Now I know the sad truth: it is not sexism, it is just that boys have zero interest in doing things that you ask them to do. Zero. Ask them to do something practical and watch as their eyes glaze over and their body goes slack. Ask a girl, and they will be interested and give it a try. They may not be thrilled, but they want to be helpful. I see this all the time when I work in my son's classrooms. The girls enjoy the idea of doing the work, doing it neatly, and getting it done. The boys could care less.

In the end, it is just a whole lot easier to ask a girl to do something. With boys it is like pulling teeth. There is so much resistance that it often ends up taking more time than it is worth. It's not that it can't be done, but it truly is tempting not to bother. The basic fact is: you are going to have to work harder to get boys to do the same number of hours of housework. That seems to me to be a much more sensible explanation for why girls tend to do more housework. The idea that it all stems from ingrained sexist attitudes seems more remote. Now that I have sons, I truly believe there are innate differences between the sexes. Our job is not to make things the same, but to make them equal. I’m all for fairness and equal shares, but boy is it an uphill battle.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

More Boulder moments

You know you live in Boulder when…

You go to pick up your child from a playdate at his classmate's house. You follow the directions, find the address, and discover it’s your local yoga ashram. Cool.

You go to your friend's house to sew Halloween costumes after school. She is a practicing Buddhist and has a lama from Bhutan staying with her. You sit and sew and explain the characters of the Lord of the Rings to him. You ask him what he thinks about kids playing with toy weapons. In broken English he replies: "You can't go against nature." Good answer.

You are working at a garage sale at someone else's house when a woman shopping at the sale introduces herself as a neighbor. You explain that this is not your house or even your neighborhood, but she does look familiar. She agrees. You stare at each other, compare notes on schools, etc., but nothing matches. "I feel like I know you, like we have had deep conversations," you say. "Yes," she nods, "I feel that too. Well, I am a professional clairvoyant and an intuitive." Oh great, you think, we probably met in a former life. Finally it hits you, that you know her from your magazine writing class. Yes, yes, that's it! She gives you her card. Another typical acquaintance.

Read more Boulder moments here and here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

What a difference temperament makes

First Kadin and then Rees have come down with a nasty virus. It starts with a sore throat and fever and moves on to laryngitis, trouble breathing, and a bad cough. I am pretty sure Kadin got it from his friend at school. I was briefed on the progression by this friend's mom. Luckily, or I might have taken Kadin in for a throat culture. He missed three days of school, hung out at home, napped, played on the computer, and generally was amenable and amused himself. He had this terrible wheeze, but didn't seem overly bothered by it and just soldiered on. "Don't you want to cough?" I would ask, and he would shake his head, "It hurts to cough," he would croak. He recovered.

Almost a week to the day later, Rees came down with a bad sore throat then a fever. He too stayed home from school. But he is a different guy with a different temperament. He doesn't really nap. He doesn't really self-entertain, and he is not prone to relaxing. If he has trouble breathing, he works harder at it, feels trapped, starts to panic, tightens up some more and it starts this whole negative feedback cycle. Poor Rees. His eyes wide, sweat on his brow, his chest heaving, he is desperate to breathe, getting worse and worse! If Kadin hadn't had it first I would have rushed Rees off to the emergency room thinking he was going to die. Hoping to avoid such a scenario, and knowing that his tendency is to tense and work harder, I talked him through relaxed breathing: being patient and letting it happen, pausing at the end of the inhalation and the exhalation, long, gentle, slow breaths. Luckily, he listened (for a change), and it worked. Soon, he was breathing normally again.

As he lay on the couch I gave him a little bell since he couldn't call out (he had lost his voice) and he was too tired to walk. Sometimes he would ring the bell if he was having trouble breathing and ask me to talk him through calming down again. Sometimes he would just ring the bell to ask me to be with him. It seems that he could sense as soon as I was in the middle of the really critical part of something and then ring the bell. That's Rees. He needs someone to be involved with everything about him. Alas, he is a difficult patient to have at home. He is resistant to things that might make him feel better like trying a cup of tea or taking a bath. By dinnertime on Friday it was really bad. I'm sure it didn't help that the “high” temperature was in the single digits so the air especially dry. He didn't want to stay home when I went to pick up Kadin from school (a 5 min walk) so went with me for a little bit before deciding to turn back. When we returned from school, he ran out to meet us, panic in his eyes. Running in the frigid air was the wrong approach. His lungs just could not recover. Finally, we made a warm vapor chamber with the shower in the bathroom and that stopped the cycle of panic and calmed his lungs down. I was worried we'd be up all night, but he slept well. In the morning, it took a while of him laying on the floor in the steamy bathroom and asking me to talk him through breathing a few times before he could get up and function. I hope that was the worst of it. And I hope Greg and I don't succumb. It has brought into stark relief what a difference temperament makes. In a survival situation where strength, fast action, and effort is required, Rees would win out every time. In a situation that requires, calm, finesse, and patience, Kadin is the one who will shine.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Natural history of dust

In the low winter light you become aware of dust. It's a seasonal thing. Dust doesn't seem such a big deal in the summer. I am sure it is still there, but with the sun high in the sky, it is nearly invisible. The winter, with it's low-angled rays brings dust to your attention. You can see it's shadow on surfaces and it is alarming: big, hulking elongated shadows creeping up behind you like giant mutant dust creatures from a horror movie. High up by the ceiling, cobwebs are suddenly backlit. Swirls of dust never seen before are illuminated as they twist though the air.

I am not a big fan of dust, but still, it fascinates me. It's kind of like the weeds in the garden in that, though unwanted, can still teach you things about what grows well where. Weeds can map the water available and the microclimate of different areas. Dust is a map of energy flow. Particles are picked up from high-flow areas and deposited in low-flow areas. You can use this knowledge of energy currents to help you arrange things and prioritize cleaning. Maybe you could even make a clever dust trap behind the door or under that dresser where it always gathers.

And what about what is in the dust? In my kitchen, it is usually filled with goldfish cracker crumbs and the like. In the entry, the grime is more sandy, in the bedroom, more feathery. After we got the cats, it became more furry. Maybe I should set up dust traps in different parts of the house, collect little vials, and compare...

Anyway, I am not alone in this odd idea. Just today I read in the paper that the National Institute of Standards and Technology sells 10 gram samples of "standard house dust" [Standard Reference Material 2585] for $450 a bottle. (Yes! I have a gold mine! Except that the NIST samples are irradiated and somehow expensively processed to prepare them for study. Sigh.) This "standard" house dust is used to give environmental scientists a baseline of chemicals that would normally be found in a house. Just so you know, higher concentrations of toxics were found in American household dust than European household dust. Interesting. I wonder how our house dust compares. And I've noticed that the dust is different in the different places we've lived. In more urban areas it is darker, blacker. Out here in Colorado it is a sandy tan color.

So before you throw open your windows on the first warm day of spring and whisk it away, think about what you can learn from the dust in your home.

And then there’s dryer lint…