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April 26, 2007

Adelaide Has Revealed My Bigotry

That sounds a little extreme, but allow me to lay before you the case: When I stroll Adelaide around our little town, and I come to a corner and check for traffic, I am keenly aware of how new the oncoming cars are. If they are old or in any way poorly maintained, I am extremely cautious about them, usually letting them drive on even if we have the right of way.

And why do I single out old beat-up cars? I am, of course, cautious with all drivers and their ability to hit my child, but why especially them? Looking into my heart, I realize it is because I think that drivers of old beat-up cars are more likely to be reckless, on drugs, or insane. I think that drivers of old beat-up cars are more likely to run us over because they have less to live for. I realize that this is irrational. I am profiling my neighbors based on perceived economic class. I am a big-old bigot.

I’ve probably always had this prejudice, and Adelaide’s presence in my life has most likely revealed only the tip of my bigotry. There is a theory about racist thought (and it probably has an official name) that describes surface behaviors of racism as a mere slender visible growth with a mighty root system below, i.e. If I act a little bigoted about people in crappy cars, I’m probably brimming with secret, barely-perceived prejudicial thoughts in my heart of hearts.

For me, this is a wimpy and ridiculous variation on the “Mama Bear” phenomenon: A Bible camp counselor I knew as a kid said that she was an avowed pacifist, “except about my kids. If my kids are threatened, I’m like a mama bear- I’ll kill anyone to keep them safe.” I don’t much feel like a mama bear, more like a fearful meerkat, always on the lookout for danger, but not all that sure as to how I’d deal with it.


The thing I’m probably most ashamed of is that I have no urge or plan to turn this thing around. I don’t want to take sensitivity training, I’m not going to try and expose myself to people with crappy cars and learn their point of view, I’m just going to wallow complacently in my narrow-mindedness.

Come to think of it, I drive a pretty crappy car! A 1993 Pontiac Grand Am with two missing hubcaps and a big windshield crack. If I saw myself coming, I’d smile nervously and wave myself on. My bigotry turns inward: I’m a classic case of the self-hating crappy car driver.

April 25, 2007



When you're learning the gentle art of table manners and self-feeding, noodles and marinara make a delightful diversion from the rules of polite society.

April 22, 2007

One Book-a-Month Club

One might argue that I use my liberal arts education but little these days. One might even go so far as to say that the most profound use for all that expensive book learnin’ is my ability to mentally cull a six-letter synonym, containing an “e” and a “v,” for the clue “work of art” in the Press and Dakotan’s Friday crossword puzzle. And that the vestiges of my rebellious feminism and bleeding heart liberal loudness of the decade bygone are a sort of shruggish relativism regarding current events and politics.

But for all that, I argue that I can do more than complete the daily crossword with my education … I can appreciate.

I recently finished one of my Christmas gifts, a tome containing a seeming million tiny words in Times New Roman book-ending a handful of glossy plates depicting hats, flounces, poufs, and culottes, all telling the coiffed and coutured tale of the Queen of Fashion, or rather, What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.

I’ve read many a popular history in my day; my favorite historians have included chroniclers of Britian’s royal Tudors (pre-through-post Renaissance), namely Antonia Fraser and Alison Weir. During my early twenties, I simply couldn’t get enough of the seductive Henry VIII, his wives, his progeny, his court, his court jester … I devoured nearly every bit of fiction and non-fiction I could find about the Tudor family.

Until my days were filled with the rhyming tales of another king: Old King Cole, and his compatriots Humpty Dumpty and Jack Sprat. Although there is certain pleasure in teaching another person about the wonders of books and language, a mother quickly craves a story all her own. So, last year after Adelaide was born, I turned to escapist drivel. Oh surely, I managed to sneak in a Pulitzer Prize winner here and there, but mostly I engaged my mind with trashy, fictional romps involving headstrong heroines and their besotted paramours. Naturally, then, I vowed on New Year’s Eve to read more, not necessarily better (because everyone enjoys an easy, light read every now and again), but just more. I determinedly promised myself to the One Book a Month club.

With a whole stack of uncracked, smooth new Christmas hardcovers filling January, February, March, and April, my vow has not been difficult to keep. Of all the books I opened I was most interested in and most daunted by Marie Antoinette. The hefty historical tome persistently called my name, and – to afraid to start something that I couldn’t finish – I resisted and she sat untouched, collecting late-winter dust. In my mind, non-fiction requires a certain commitment that fiction does not – a certain acceptance of bibliographies, complications, and foot-noting. In the face of Marie Antoinette – a subject that I knew not at all (unless you count that whole “Let them eat cake” episode) – I was daunted.

Until one day, when Adelaide was blissfully napping the afternoon away, I snuck a peek under the cover. I recall barely lifting the corner of the cover and stealing a glance at page one sideways, so that I might quickly snap the book shut and say to myself, “I wasn’t choosing that one for March!” All too quickly, I found myself joyfully enveloped in the author’s satin-smooth introduction, opening with a description of a recent fashion show that paid homage to France’s star-crossed queen. From page one to 300, the story simply flew by, reading both like a comedy of errors and Greek tragedy. The author’s clever use of clothing to describe the often restricted, the always vibrant, the sometimes daring, the forever political rise and fall of Antoinette was a delight.

A delight that has given me the confidence and heart to delve into non-fiction once again.

April 20, 2007

Adelaide au Parc




April 15, 2007

Who's Kid Is This?


Sometimes when I snap Adelaide's photo, the resulting image captures a face that I don't readily recognize.

April 10, 2007


Since the inflatable Santas are all packed away, I’ve redirected my withering glare at the questionable use of quotation marks around the region. To be more specific, I’m talking about quotation marks that are not apparently used to identify a direct quotation. For instance, a local restaurant put up on its marquee: Come In For Our "Spicy" Soup.

How am I, as a potential consumer of their soup, supposed to read that? Did someone eat the soup and exclaim, “Man, this is spicy!” upon which utterance the soup was dubbed "Spicy" Soup? It’s probable that the purveyor of the soup just wanted the word spicy to catch the eye of passers by, but my first instinct is to read the quotes as scare quotes- quotes used to create a negative connotation for the words contained by the quotes, sort of like preceding the words in question with so-called.

So, now, to me, the soup in question is certainly not spicy. Perhaps it’s in quotes because somebody with an exquisitely sensitive mouth- some wuss that everyone makes fun of for refusing to put ketchup on their fries because ketchup is way too hot- thought the soup was spicy, but I certainly won’t.

There’s a truck that drives around town for a local contractor service. I’ve never had cause to hire a contractor, but I understand that they are legendarily… time flexible. In his book Homes and Other Black Holes, humorist Dave Barry describes his contractor as a cross between a ninja and The Cheshire Cat. As soon as Barry hires him to fix his house, the contractor fades into invisibility before his eyes, disappears for weeks at a time, and appears out of nowhere periodically to look pensively at the broken house. So, in my mind, contractors are not known for being punctual, and this is what I’m thinking about when this truck goes by with the logo Your "On Time" Contractor on its side.

My last, and most complicated example, is another truck logo. The truck belongs to a waste disposal company and it drives around the area (I’ve seen it in two different towns) with the phrase We Want Your "Business!" emblazoned on its side. My first thought here was, “Whoops, here we go again, they wanted to attract attention with quotes, but now I’m thinking that the waste they specialize in disposing is in some way questionable.” But upon further reflection, I began to wonder. Maybe they specialize in removing waste that it would be vulgar to refer to, perhaps feces, human or otherwise, and this is their naughty little way of letting us know that, in effect, they want our poop?

And now that I think more along these lines, I’m reminded of my friend Nate’s little dog, Gretchen. Gretchen was mostly an indoor dog, but Nate would take her outside to poop, cueing her to move her bowels by saying, “Time to do your business, Gretchen.” I thought this was weird when I first heard him say it, but in the intervening years, I’ve heard other dog owners use the same phrase for exactly the same purpose (omitting the “Gretchen”, obviously). So perhaps in the case of the waste disposal company, the scare quotes are knowingly self-directed? Maybe there are scads of people who see the word “Business” used in that context and think, “Oh good, here are some guys I can pay to empty out my septic tank.”

April 1, 2007

Words Come Pouring

Adelaide suddenly has a vocabulary of ten. After an anxious time from months nine to twelve (anxious for me, Aimee is always entirely sanguine about Adelaide’s development) in which she babbled a great deal but said little that we could understand as speech, words now have begun to pop out of her mouth at a rate of two or three per week. Her spoken vocabulary now includes Dada (even though I still refer to myself as “Papa”), Cat, Doll, Dog, Car, Cow, Ball, and Adelaide also uses American Sign Language to say Bird, Milk and the all-important trio of Eat, More, and All Done.

In the picture she may look like she's simply gesturing vaguely to her mouth, but I assure that she is quite seriously stating her desire to EAT.

She actually has a few more signs, reproducing Cat, Ball, Dog, and occasionally perhaps Yes, Wash Hands, and Bath. The sign language comes thanks to the television series Signing Time, DVDs of which we found at the library and now watch nearly every day. Signing Time features a mom, her non-hearing child Leah, and Leah’s hearing cousin Alex, along with a cast of signing kids. The format is pretty simple, in each segment a word is introduced by painfully cheap computer animation, and appears in letters and Alex says it out loud, then Leah’s mom clearly demonstrates the sign, then Alex and Leah act out a scenario in which the word is used (e.g. Leah is reading a book and Alex wants to see it, so she asks him if he has Washed his Hands), and, to conclude, clips of home movies show a bunch of different kids more or less reproducing the sign. It is this last that Adelaide loves the most. Some of the kids play with balls, eat things, or, best of all, play with dogs, and Adelaide watches wide-eyed.

If we start the DVD up in the living room, she’ll come running (well, okay, crawling swiftly) from another room, insist I sit down on the carpet, and crawl into my lap to watch. I’m a little freaked out that she’s so addicted to a TV show, but I love hearing her words and seeing her signs. The idea is that she’ll be able to communicate with hand-signed words long before her mouth is nimble enough to pronounce them. This will encourage her to learn more words, enable her to communicate with us, and avoid frustration in our relationship. The Terrible Twos, I’ve read, are largely due to children being unable to get their point across. Thanks to her new skills Adelaide can, instead of shrieking, reliably sign More to Eat.

I'm continually finding new Very Favorite Things about Adelaide. Currently, my Very Favorite Thing is when Adelaide, by way of making conversation, holds up her toy and remarks, "Cow!"