Monday, 2 July 2012
Parenting and How It Got That Way
The last week has been filled with more questions than answers. Partly this is because every other word out of the kid's mouth is "What?" Not as in "I didn't hear you." but as in "Repeat the sentence you just said in images and ideas that I understand." Meanwhile I've been volleying lots of whats to our Central Park Forest Nursery Moms and Dads (that motley crew of parents who continue to challenge all of my ideas about food-eating, kid-raising, and dentistry and medicine.)
The big "what" last week was food coloring. It's not like we didn't know about the problems with food coloring (when the Beast was little we threw out all the pink baby tylenol and went with the undyed stuff). (Yes, I know, if we had been really hip back then we wouldn't have given her Tylenol at all for those baby fevers.) Now as summer rolls around, so does the ice cream truck. Our kid particularly loves the blue and red Spiderman ice cream pops. And what's not to like? They have bubble gum eyes. (And yes, I loved blue and orange Superman ice cream as a kid.) But sadly Red # 40 is not really good for humans. (The blue dye is equally sucky— more on this later.) As for Red #40, even the FDA has admitted that it exacerbates emotional disorders (increases ADHD responses) and is potentially carcinogenic (at least in lab animals). It's not used in Europe (they mostly go with beet coloring). But how to get our little lab animal away from the Spiderman ice cream that we've always said yes to? (At Forest Nursery we've been talking about the ongoing process of "re-evaluating our choices".) We had some luck last week on the ice cream front, switching to a vanilla-based cone. It still has the same old sugar and god knows what other chemicals, but it feels like a good gradual change. As for me, I'm trying to temper my love for snow cones and M&Ms. I can't exactly tell the kid I don't want her eating food dyes when I'm wolfing them down on the side.
The other big what for the week has to do with kid spoilage. Will our kid spoil because of our parenting techniques (or lack of them)? This is the question. It came up first when the kid was nine months old and we went to a pediatrician who suggested we sleep train. She said "It's your choice. You can have a princess or a tyrant." We didn't sleep train of course (and promptly switched pediatricians). Fast-forward to life with a three year old. Princess? Tyrant? Both, of course. And this seems to be what three is all about— the fierceness of "yes, I am lovely and kind and bestow my blessing upon all of the stuffed animals of my kingdom" and the rage of "yes, you will understand that I need ice cream and that you must buy it for me now." It has not been my habit as a mom to call in the UN or NATO or even to issue any statements of censure against our tyrant. It's rare for me to make an executive decision with my kid. (Sometimes I slather her shoulders with sun screen against her will.) And I do sometimes voice my humble opinion ("you should eat some lunch before you have ice cream" or "I'd prefer that we didn't start the day with ice cream" or more recently "I'd like to try the ice cream that is not bright red because the bright red ice cream has artificial food dyes in it.") Sometimes we bicker, sometimes we come to a compromise, and sometimes we get the ice cream because it seems really important to the kid. There's a part of us (the social superego part) that whispers "you are totally going to screw up your kid" and there's another part that says "this is how I want to raise my kid." What? (As the kid says.) My intuition as a mom is to form a certain kind of companionship with my kid— it's a companionship that allows for us to both experiment and make decisions and make mistakes and even sometimes get stomach aches from eating too much ice cream. It's true I envy moms whose three-year-old kids have never eaten sugar. It's true I strive for an all organic kitchen (and it's true that the kid doesn't eat packaged food at home and doesn't have sugar in her real meal food ever). But we have these glitches that have to do with entering the world, exploring it, and figuring it out together. It's not a particularly unique idea. Any unschooler can tell you that this is part and parcel of the radical unschooling philosophy. For me, it has a little bit to do with anarchy and a little bit to do with democracy. Ultimately I would like my kid to make decisions for herself about the value and comfort related to eating well, cleaning the house, and learning, loving, and working.
Hashing this over with my fellow-moms this week I wondered "will my kid be spoiled?" "will she not be able to negotiate the world?" My instinct again is that she'll probably be just fine. I get little inklings here and there of the person she's becoming. She doesn't yet say thank you when a store clerk gives her a treat, but we have our moments here at home where I put a plate of food down in front of her and she says with genuine unprompted enthusiasm "oh, thanks mom." We don't expect her to help with housework or cooking, but she loves to sweep, organizes her toys (into weird color coded rows with all the dinosaurs facing the princesses), and the other day she made us some lasagna (kale, feta cheese, milk, and cashew lasagna). My guess is that as she gets older she'll continue to take part in household rituals in new and more complex ways.
I fall back on Marx's statement "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." (This is also very helpful in marriage I think where it just doesn't make sense to always demand a fifty-fifty split of any responsibility— we all have different needs and abilities from week to week.) Do I envy my friends who are building more structured households with their kids? Sometimes. Yes. There's also a part of me that loves little charts with stars for good performance (I make those for myself). When I was a kid, I marveled at family scenes that ran smoothly with father-and-mother-know-best parents. I loved those television shows like Little House on the Prairie where there was some order to the universe and kids had chores. There's a part of me that would like to train my kid to be a particular person. Of course my influence on her looms large anyway, and my prejudices flow into her life whether I like it or not. But my goal is to see who she becomes with as little traditional parental intervention as possible. As she says, "Be yourself!"
Friday, 22 June 2012
The Duncan Biography is Here!
Tuesday, 19 June 2012
On Being A Mom
Today's rant is pretty simple. I spend four hours in the park with my kid and she's tired and cranky and my back hurts from lugging around kid food, water bottle, kid. We wait for the M1 bus on Fifth Avenue. When we try to get on, the bus driver says "What happened to that child's clothes?" (She's wearing her dress native style, tied around her waist, because she doesn't like the dress and it's the only compromise we could come to.) He says "You can't ride the bus." So the mom and kid can't ride the bus because the three-year-old is showing her boobs. (If you want to call them "boobs" on a three-year-old.)
The kid and I come to another arrangement (she'll wear the dress in a more standard fashion, but without the straps up, because they are itchy.) So the dress is on, but it's below the "cleavage line". (If you want to call it a "cleavage line" on a three year old.)
We walk down Fifth Avenue and several people comment that her cleavage is showing. We get on the subway at 59th Street and while we're on the train a woman comes up to me and says "her dress is low." I say, "She likes it that way" and the woman gives me an odd look.
Can I say What The F*** now? The kid is three. It's a hot day. We're trying to get home. Why is it everyone's business to take issue with her bra line? (If you can call it a bra line on a three-year-old.) Thank you weird repressed puritans of New York for making the afternoon so difficult.
Coming next week: Four thumbs down on underwear, winter hats, Jesus, and school.
Sunday, 27 May 2012
These Are The Days
It's summer here, humid with thunderstorms. The fan is on, which makes me think of that great John Godfrey line "Like Mick Jagger, I turn on my fans". It was eighteen years ago that I moved to the Lower East Side (East 6th Street between A and B, to be specific). We had a fan in that apartment. It filtered in the musty cat-piss scent of early June’s Tree of Heaven saplings springing up in the back alley. I lived with my friend Dave and thousands of roaches, and O.J. Simpson was on t.v. driving around the Los Angeles freeway in his white Ford Bronco. Every night I got a slice of pizza for $1.25 and went to Kim's video on Avenue A to pick out a Fellini movie. It was a steamy Italian summer. Those were the good old days. Were they? Probably not. Some things were good. The rents were cheap, but of course they seemed really expensive. Pizza seemed cheap and was cheap. Falafel too.
There are these heyday moments in life. In 1986, sophomore year of college in Buffalo, I met a bunch of cool twenty-year-olds. Green, New Left, queer/lesbian/straight, feminist, punk, folk, eco-conscious recycling freaks and food-coop-shoppers. We all moved into a big place on the North Side of town at 67 Englewood Avenue and started a sprawling chaotic cooperative community soon to be called “Love House”. Phil lined the floor of his room with leaves and welcomed in spiders, Tae-Wol lined the attic with red carpet and entertained interesting boys, Mr. Kim cooked ox tail soup in the kitchen, Julie and Aaron tripped on acid and stared at a light bulb through a spaghetti strainer, Lori and Kim raged against the patriarchy, we made tie-dye tee shirts in the basement and sold them to pay the rent. I learned about the finer pleasures of life: cashew butter, darjeeling tea, French press coffee, hashish, vegetarian Indian buffet, and magic mushrooms. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll (the Smiths, the Cocteau Twins, Jonathan Richman, and Bob Dylan) were themes of the place, but all kinds of things happened: we hosted poetry readings and edited a magazine called No Trees (published by the Love House Press Collective). On one occasion an ancient friend of Jack Kerouac's named John Montgomery came through town and we lured him to the attic to recite his verse. Discussions of politics inevitably turned into organizing meetings, which turned into direct actions. We locked horns with the college republicans, kept the CIA from recruiting on campus, took over the president’s office to protest the university’s Star Wars-related research projects, held a three day fast in solidarity with the Sandinistas, bused down to Washington to march on the Pentagon. William Blake, Emma Goldman, and Bob Marley were our heroes. Life was good. And then eventually it all fell apart. We squabbled over the virtues and vices of pornography, tofu, and revolutionary violence. The rent didn’t get paid. We stopped sharing food. Some from the group fled for San Francisco. Others stayed on and went to graduate school. Everyone turned out okay in the end (a bunch of lawyers, one librarian, one poet, one nurse, and a queer city council person).
I never thought it would be possible to again have that feeling of belonging and a shared “ethos” like they say. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, really. In New York City the rents are high, everyone works a lot, and people are focused on “making it” in some field or another. And then once a kid comes along you’re lucky if you have the energy to get down the block to socialize with the Pakistani cashiers at the 99 Cent Store. For Thomas and I, the first two years of kid-raising were bright with the joy of the kid and dark with the emptiness of the world around us. Every instinct we had about becoming a family was impinged upon by pediatricians, friends, neighbors, online mom groups, and even people passing on the street (“put a hat on that baby”). We felt more alone than we ever had, and New York was already a pretty lonely place.
Then the unthinkable happened. Back in September, after Bea got tossed from her preschool Waldorf-modeled Central Park-based outdoor nursery group (dress code violation), my first instinct was to buy her an ice cream and head to the Museum of Natural History to see the dinosaurs. Within a couple hours I realized that we had to continue our relationship with Central Park, with or without the acorn-worshipping Waldorfians. (I had had just about enough of Grandfather Gnome anyway.) So I asked around and lucked into the right places (the New York City Attachment Parenting group, a couple unschooling email lists, and the Queens homeschooling community). On our first day out in the park there were a dozen or more families with toddlers and babies. Within a month there were fifty people on our mailing list. By mid-winter the group had shrunk to thirty, with a core group of about a dozen moms and dads who were very serious about having fun with their kids in all kinds of weather even if it meant spending an hour plus on the subway with a hyper toddler. It’s taken months for me to permit myself to believe that there is room for ethical communal social life in New York City in the 21st Century. For the last seven months our free range forest nursery group has gathered every week (indeed three days a week), and the kids are now comrades who cross the rocky ledges of Central Park like a herd of wild mountain goats. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll have become co-sleeping, breast-feeding, and running with sticks. Shoes are optional, clothing is optional, raw carrots, raw milk, and seaweed are staples. In a great turn of events, every instinct I’ve had about child-raising has been confirmed. It’s okay for me to really want to spend entire days (and nights) with my kid by my side. I don’t have to hide the fact that we’re breastfeeding past the age of three. I can say “I didn’t sleep last night” without hearing the tedious return “You need to sleep-train”. I don’t have to bow to any social pressure to tell my kid to share or to say thank you. No one looks at me in slack-jawed disbelief when I say I’m not sending my kid to school. The conversation is not “how many vaccinations did you do at once?” but “are you going to do any vaccinations?” Weekday meetings now extend to weekend camping trips and cross-borough dinner gatherings and child care swaps and online recipe exchanges and chance meetings at secret Amish raw milk delivery sites. The kids make it clear that they’re quite capable of forging hiking routes, inventing games, sorting out squabbles (usually), and thriving under the old Crowleyan maxim “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” As for the parents, we now have a sanctuary where we can sit in the grass peeling apples with Buck knives removed from the damning mainstream accusation of “extreme” child-raising. Call me extreme, but I’m grateful that my kid has a place in a community where she can become herself in relation to a bunch of other kids, and adults, and red-bellied woodpeckers, who are all also becoming themselves out under the oak trees.
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
This and That
It's been hard to get to the blog because of all else that goes on around here: teeth-brushing, toy-picking-up, adventures in central park, slow-food-cooking-experiments. And then once in a while there's a quiet naptime and time to check in here.
We've been thinking about water filters this week, and wondering if we should buy a high-tech water filter to reduce the chlorine and the fluoride and the arsenic and the lead and everything else that is in our water. Sure, the water in NYC is clean and safe. Kind of. It comes from a nice reservoir, not far from our place upstate. But then it has to travel 150 miles to get here. And it's processed to kill the bacteria, so it's more like swimming pool water than spring water. Then the water is medicated with fluoride. We've heard anti-fluoride mamas described as "fringe". Fringe? The fluoride surrounds us, and really it's not that good for you— and sometimes is actually too much for a toddler's teeth (and bones, and organs). We keep it out of our toothpaste, but we'd also like to keep it out of our water. Europe is 97% fluoride free. Why not we? (If we lived in London we wouldn't have fluoride in our water, wouldn't pay for health care, wouldn't have to register our kid with a board of education, and wouldn't be arguing with the doctor every time they suggested a chicken pox shot.) I suppose the fringe American is just a mainstream European at heart. So, we're going to get a water filter that at least reduces the amount of fluoride that we consume (not to mention bathe in).
Meanwhile we've been doing a lot of bird watching in the Ramble in Central Park, and these are our sightings for the month: red-tailed hawk, starling, grackle, downy woodpecker, robin, field sparrow, mourning dove, pigeon, mallard, red-winged black bird, cardinal.
Stay tuned for warblers. And peace.
Tuesday, 1 May 2012
Rather than alienating our friends with our views of the Neighborhood Bully Israel or Crazy Drone Strike President Obama, we've decided to talk about food today.
With a kid in the house, food is a big topic. What should we eat that is good for us and good for the Beast? We've spent the last seven months in Central Park with fellow moms and fellow toddlers, hashing out all the possibilities for good eating. We've switched to a primarily local food diet, and we've boarded the raw milk boat. Lacto-fermentation is a key word. Phytic acid: for or against it? Now other questions loom: gluten or no gluten? Paleolithic diet anyone?
As an experiment, we've decided to spend the next four weeks eating what other friends (families with toddlers) eat. We've collected shopping list from the peops, and here's what it looks like:
Week 1: D's semi-paleo no wheat no sugar (not even fruit sugar) list. This includes sustainable fish, olives, greens, carrots, avocado, yams, quinoa, cheese, cheese, and more cheese, milk, yogurt, eggs, and miso. And we threw in a rabbit.
Week 2: M's Persian picks: lamb, chicken, fruit, fruit, and more fruit, rice, tilapia, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, parsnips, eggs, and saffron.
Week 3: A's hearty homestyle: eggs, cottage cheese, heavy cream, sour cream, ground meat, liver, stock bones, cheese, salmon, carrots, onions, tomatoes, basmati rice.
Week 4: C's picks. Those are pending.
More on all of this next week. After we complete the Grocery Lists of Friends Challenge, we'll try a week of the Okinawa diet. Peace out people, and eat whatever you want to.
Monday, 16 April 2012
It seems like the only way to battle insomnia is by not sleeping. Hence we are not sleeping on a freakishly warm spring night. Expect the temperature to hit 86 in NYC tomorrow. Meanwhile, the outdoor rooftop gardens are planted with pumpkins, tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, and swiss chard. Amish farmers provide most of the rest of the incoming food, including the honey, raw milk, goat meat, ground beef and beef liver (for meatballs), and cheddar cheese. We at Lisablog are very grateful for local farmers.
These days we wonder what is important in life. Should we make money in easy ways or hard ways? Academia would be an "easy" way to make money, but it's really not something we want to do. Gardening is "easy" (we enjoy it), but it doesn't "pay the bills", or not most of them. We'd be content with knitting hats for money, but that's no way to make money you silly goose. So once again we're stuck here in this big stinking pile of capitalism (with limited capital) wondering what to do. The three year old who rules the household like to romp in Central Park and climb big rocks in the morning, and then have some ice cream, and then nap til dinner. This seems like a fine life too. I think where is Marx when you need him? We need "to each according to his needs", and what we need is a modest place to live, some chickens, and some peace and quiet to do our work. But this is what Robert Duncan wanted in 1946, and he never got too close to that except for a year or two in Stinson Beach circa 1958.
So, we sit in this island of insomnia and purring cats waiting for the answer. Until next time, peace out people, and eat the rich.
Monday, 9 April 2012
this and that
We were away from the blog being strip-searched by the Supreme Court. Really, what is happening on the civil liberties front? If you happen to get stopped by the cops as your bike drifts through a red light they can now strip search you even without suspicion that you have drugs or weapons. Any arrest can be accompanied by a strip search. Traffic violation. Open container violation. Going to a peace rally? Save them some time and show up naked. Also what is this problem Obama has with justice and liberty for all? The government of the United States is slap-happy for indefinite detention without trial of human beings. Don't call them terrorists. They're actually human beings. When we think about moving to England we think about all of this. And also about another cracked tooth that is going to net some dentist $1500 an hour. Meanwhile, it's a wild windy springtime in Sunnyside and we are back in Central Park this week to pick the dandelions and invasive ranunculus. Saturday's farm pick up includes ground beef liver. Do you believe it? We're going to make meatballs. Meanwhile, headaches are all the rage here. Does anyone have a good Chinese acupuncturist, NYC area? Peace out people. We'll be back soon.
Monday, 26 March 2012
The mom of Lisa of Lisablog points out that the blog has been languishing. It's been a very busy early spring here, with forays into gardening business (the pansies and primroses are in, and we've started a rooftop vegetable garden on top of a parking garage in Woodside. Meanwhile, Matilda (the oshino cherry tree on our block) has bloomed. She's thirteen days ahead of last year's bloom-fest.
It's true we feel a lurking despair about the state of the world (why are we in Afghanistan? who are these right-wing nuts who want to control women and their reproductive organs? why did Dick Cheney get that heart?).
At the same time we're trying to make things better, bit by bit. Our food supply is clean these days. We give our money to some Amish farmers in Pennsylvania and they provide us with onions, potatoes, goat, lamb, chicken, eggs, and milk. We dabble in local grown lettuces and try to keep a good stockpile of organic apples for the Beast. Our most extragant expense is Pakistani sea salt. (No weird anti-clumping agents.)
We also are imagining crossing the sea to set up house in the United Kingdom. Why? Dismiss it as a back-assward system, but health care and dental care are still the rights of mans and womans and childrens in the UK. The social contract is strong there. (Speaking of which, our friend Rebecca just got back from Tokyo where people leave their bikes unlocked on the street.) Food: the UK labels GMO food. Who knows what we eat here in the USA. And then there's the European Union. What better place to unschool a kid than the EU? Forget about art history class, we're going to the Prado. And yes, we have good friends there. Some of them are even bee keepers.
We'll be back soon with more news of this and that. Keep an eye out for the Robert Duncan book. We've heard we'll see a copy in early June. (I know the pub date is May, but publishing business, oy vey! as Tuli used to say.)
Tuesday, 6 March 2012
Been Away, Are Back
We've been away but we are back.
Reasons we've been away are multitudinous. We're reading proofs of the RD biography mainly, but also kid-enjoying and making yogurt and pickles and soup stocks and rye bread and there are also rice germination experiments.
Also there was a trip to Buffalo, and a long train ride home yesterday with a semi-cranky Beast. Snow in the upstate hills makes us miss our childhood haunts of the cornfields of Derby, New York.
And then there are the Adventures of Tin Tin which never leave our consciousness these days. Tin Tin is the not so secret hero of our household. We've been watching a French version of The Castafiore Emerald over and over and over again.
And we've been out in the park as the non-winter turns to spring. The crocuses and hellebores and winter jasmine shrubs are all blooming. As we change seasons we change gears a bit with the kiddies. We spent the winter days romping through the empty park and huddling close together to eat our snacks. Now we're working toward a more structured "Forest Kindergarden" with games and treasure hunts and story telling and plant and animal identification. If only we could build yurts and have bonfires. It's likely we'll start taking weekend road trips with the crew to add those kinds of activities into the mix.
What comes of all this time in the park? Some wonderful friendships with moms from all over the NYC area. A bunch of kids who are fearless rock climbers. Sightings of blue jays, sparrows, starlings, red tailed hawks, early spring bulbs, squirrels galore. It's simply the best way we can think of to spend our days, and it adds a new dimension to unschooling: giving us a wild environment to learn from in the midst of the metropolis.
We'll be back soon with more news on this and that and hopefully with no news about Israeli bombing raids. Peace out people.
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