Monthly Archives: January 2011

Day of Reckoning [Leggo my Lego]

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“He took my Brick Daddy!! Maaaamaaa!” Brick Daddy is the bad guy in Lunar Limo, one of the Lego sets that was long and deeply coveted by Cool J. There has been a flurry of excitement, therefore, over Brick Daddy’s recent arrival in our house (Bless Chanukah for its metamorphosis into an extenda-Christmas, gefilte mit many gifts from grandparents!).

“I’ll give it back! I just need him for the spaceship I built!”

“Mama!!!!!!”

I am about to suggest to LL that he pick another bad guy to drive the spaceship—say, Jawson? Or Rench? But I see that LL has his own ideas, so, curious, I hold my tongue for the moment.

LL turns to Cool J to offer him a deal: “Listen. How about I give you 2 storm troopers and you let me use Brick Daddy?”

“I don’t want storm troopers!!!”

“OK, how about you let me use Brick Daddy for 2 minutes. All you have to do is count until 120.”

“I don’t know HOW to count until 120!!!” Big tears.

“Hey, I have an idea. You can look at the instructions for my Imperial Star Destroyer and when you finish, I’ll be finished with Brick Daddy. OK?”

Silence.

“And I’ll make you TWO presents at school tomorrow.”

Silence.

And you can wear my Superman shirt.”

“OK.”

The kids smile at each other. Isn’t it remarkable when kids can negotiate with each other better than, say, people with many years on them, and perhaps several university degrees?

Now, if I had wanted to go all Tiger Mom on them, I would have handled the situation quite differently. I would have stormed in, grabbed Brick Daddy, and announced that if they were going to fight about him, no one would get him—he was going in the garbage.

But I didn’t, because I figured that would be a lose-lose-lose. LL would be miserable, Cool J would be miserable, and I would be miserable because I would have to listen to them being miserable. Add to that the cost of the Lego in the trash.

Instead, I let them work it out for themselves, and everyone was happy and playing quietly, including me. Win! Win! Win!

Chairs do not always rule their departments as I rule my household. And grown-ups do not always resolve their disputes themselves even if the opportunity presents itself. Which is perhaps why Real Job didn’t happen.

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Day Zero: Life as I Envisioned It

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This isn’t about a daydream I fabricated sitting in my desk in high school one day, tuning out of trig or chemistry. It’s not a fantastical account of great riches and an ultra-luxe apartment with a park view in the San Remo or the Dakota. It was a very real dream, and not only because when you’re pregnant, dreams are more vivid than shows on an LED TV (which I totally want, by the way—they’re way cooler than either the plasmas or the LCDs).

This is how it went: The Scientist was going to get a job at the university where he was working as a postdoc. A job as in a Real Job. The tenure-track kind, with a very decent salary (the university claims to be second-best paying in the country) and even better, a spousal hire (the university has a whole program devoted to Spousal/Partner Employment). The Scientist was even asked to participate in the writing of the Job description for the Job he was (obviously) going to get, for the Job being created for him. In the meantime, a pregnancy popped up and surprised and delighted me. Baby 3 was going to be, of course, my girl. My Chinese Gender Calendar predicted it. So did the Shettles Method—I got knocked up as early in my cycle as could be (although Shettles’ reputation surely took a turn with the publication of Middlesex—no?). And I had been skipping breakfast—well, intermittently—because a new study claimed that British women who skipped breakfast gave birth to more girls.

So, here was the vision: The Scientist and I would both have tenure-track positions at an R1 institution (or its Canadian equivalent, anyway) in a city where we had an abundance of amazing friends; we would hire a nanny (as so many of our Canadian friends do—thanks to the “Live-in Caregiver Program” sponsored by the Canadian government) who would take care of the children, clean the house, and prepare our meals; and we would live happily ever after. Fait accomplit.

For the moment, The Scientist was still a postdoc, and I was a full-time instructor on a year-to-year contract. We rented a big, charming, character house a short walk from the university—a house I wanted to buy as soon as the Real Job came into existence. We had not a live-in nanny, but not nothing. A woman (or rather, a sequence of women from the Philippines with zealously Christian names) came in twice a week to erode our giant mountains of laundry and magically make our piles of crap littering the house disappear (usually by sticking them in drawers or hiding them places we never did discover). We had our kids in excellent daycares (part-time for Cool J, so I could enjoy my days off with him) and the whole series of lessons (skating, swimming, music, and so on). We met, The Scientist and I, a couple of times a week, usually at a quaint restaurant by our house that looked like a trailer from the outside, but surprised you on the inside by being a small corner of Europe tucked into that “redneck and proud of it” Western Canadian city (the lattes are the best in the city; the pizzas truly gourmet; the scones little bites of heaven). And we were able to take a number of almost-glamorous vacations (like the one to France, where we stayed not at the Ritz, but nonetheless at a perfect vrbo that allowed us to feel as though we were a real French family who did what other French families did—go to the market, play in the dinky little urban park, join strangers in games of pick-up soccer/football) (that was also the trip, mon Dieu! which landed me with Baby MoFo, whom we called, at least in utero, “Paris”). We were able to enjoy our lives even as we were careful not to be too extravagant—Real Job hadn’t happened yet. Not that we had any doubt that it would. We were so sure that The Scientist turned down a doll of a job in Portland, OR (a doll of a city), and I didn’t bother going on the market at all.

Real Job didn’t happen.

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Once upon a time . . .

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I’m not really a princess. It’s even been said (by my sister) that I’m the lowest maintenance person in the world. I think my sister meant that I’m the lowest maintenance person she’s ever met. Of course, Nancy Botwin that she is (straight out of that first year of Weeds), she has never actually left her upscale exurban ghetto which really does resemble, remarkably, Agrestic. But when we arrived in this princely town, with its grand 18th century estates, a candle in each window, and its picturesque town square, I felt like a princess. Also, despite what “Nancy” says, I might have a couple of princessy tendencies. But for now, I’m going to do without—and so will my family of 5.

So that’s what this blog is about: the year we are going to do without. By without, I don’t mean without food or shelter. Actually, I don’t even mean without private school or organic milk (I am not giving up the chance for my children to enter the private-school-private-college-privileged-life track, though somehow my husband, The Scientist, and I managed to get derailed from it, and I am not feeding my kids antibiotics and hormones and whatever other disgusting things end up in the milk in this country). I mean without lattes, sushi, manicures, pedicures, laser hair removal, hockey, Music Together, $100 Lego kits (recent DIRE requests for this category include Max Security Transport and Space Police Central), iPhones, iPads, organic eggs, organic kosher free-range grass-fed meat from Kol Foods which I really wanted to try upon moving to the East Coast, garbage bags that come with the ties built-in, Netflix, trips to Europe, and trips to Whole Foods. Many of these have been staples in our lives. My oldest, LL, had traveled in Estonia, Latvia, Germany (twice), England, Italy, Belize, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S by the age of 1. The middle child, Cool J, didn’t do too badly, traipsing off to Asia at a year. My youngest, Baby MoFo, who is just shy of 1, recently made his first international trip (our move)—to the U.S. from Canada—and I think he’s done for a while.

We are spoiled. I can’t deny it. We have some fine ideals, I think, but we’re not always good at living up to them (I can’t bring myself to read Stuff White People Like because I’m afraid it will hit too close to the bone). We love the library, but we prefer to own our own books (and by our own, I mean our own—my husband, The Scientist, and I have separate libraries with many of the same books; it’s not uncommon for me to order 2 of the same from amazon.com —after all, I must write my comments in my book, and he must write his comments in his). We love public transportation, but as a family of 5, our Odyssey seems so much more practical. We love the idea of living simply, of having no material attachments, but when we moved to our new home on the east coast this month, we managed to schlep with us 1600 cubic feet of crap. The thing is, though, we are a spoiled family of 5 about to embark on a serious adventure—the adventure of living off of a gross salary of $50,000.