Monthly Archives: June 2013

Kind of Leaning in?: My Good-enough Martha Stewarting for LL & Cool J’s Awesome Ninjago Party

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The other evening at a GNO, I said I’ve been hesitating to read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In because I’m afraid it will just confirm my suspicion: I lack ambition. If I really wanted to writes piles of dense scholarship, wouldn’t I? If I really wanted a tenure-track job, wouldn’t I apply to every single one that came on the market? But then I brightened: “Oh, but I can’t say I’m not ambitious at all. Let me tell you about this Ninjago party I’m planning–”

The women shook their heads. “That’s not the kind of ambition Sandberg’s talking about,” said my friend, Sulochana, a Martha-Stewart type who sews complicated costumes and just baked her daughter this fantastic cake last week:

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I call this a cake, but as each layer has to be prepared and baked separately, it’s more like 6 cakes

Sulochana’s domestic diva-ness is an aside. She is actually an assistant professor who is writing a book that will change the way scholars understand poetry. We might all agree she has the kind of ambition Sandberg has in mind. She’s good.

As for me, I lack both her homemaker skills and career path, and I lack the drive for both. I am not “good.” I am “good enough.” Good enough cooking and baking, good enough career, good enough parenting.

I still think, however, the Ninjago party planning showed a spark of ambition. Inspired by Craft, Interrupted (The Scientist sent me this site featuring supercrafty moms as we began our planning, as well as another one that showed a mom refurnishing her entire house to fit the Asian theme. Now that’s “good”!), I decided we could do a version of it, too. Here’s how it all went down:

The 24 kids were divided into 4 teams of 6–Jay, Zane, Kai, and Cole (Lloyd was so coveted, I had to exclude it for fairness). Each kid got a pin to wear on his shirt:

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All the eyes are a little creepy, no?

Two teams went to the park with The Scientist for Ninja star throwing, the “Serpentine” obstacle course, and Lord Garmadon’s Relay race. The Ninja stars were a pain in the ass to make  so I delegated that role:

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Ever been to a carpet factory in Egypt? Our house was something like that . . .

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my MIL had the kids decorating their “Bonezai boxes” with their Ninja names–using crayons in the shape of minifigs–while I ran the photo booth:

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The Ninja name of Poor Princess is . . .

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Testing . . . testing . . . Does this thing work?

Then we went to the backyard for Ninja training–

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24 kids + one non-industrial bounce house = complete chaos

before the final mission: attacking the head of Sensei Wu:

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Sensei Wu is full of crap — sweet, sugary crap!

And that was that. Well, almost. There was also an ice cream cake–

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And, it being 2013, I also made a gluten free one–

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And that was that. A good-enough party by a good-enough mom (and dad and Bubby and Zaidy) for good-enough kids.

But who am I kidding? It was pretty awesome! (at least I thought so!)

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D Day

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So, remember that decision we were supposed to make months ago about moving to the UK? Right. We’re still in the process of making it.

And in doing so, we are constantly weighing pros and cons. The biggest pro is that it is a professional step up for The Scientist. And there are other pros, of course, like new cultural experiences and European travel. On the other hand, I worry about not having a job there–about not ever getting a job there. Nevermind the longer term career issues for me, how can we possibly afford to live off of one academic salary? Also, I am also loathe to leave a place where I am quite content. But on the other hand (like Tevye, we seem to have many hands to play the other)–The Scientist has turned down tenure-track jobs before, and this is a really good one. How do we decide? Will a message just appear from the heavens?

It happens there are messages, like Chinese fortunes, but unwrapped and there for all to see, not up in the sky, but below, on the paving stones dotting my college campus. Throughout the semester–and our decision-making process–I trod on two on the path between my office and my classroom. One says “Yes!” (apparently the whole of the letter of acceptance a former dean used to send out). Another says, “Be happy. Never be content.”

It’s hard to ignore the signs.

BUT, there are other signs. Like grapes.

The other day, I’m chatting with my mom on the phone as I’m unpacking my groceries. Crunch, crunch, crunch in her ear. “Mom,” I gush, “I am eating the best grapes in the world. Do you know what I mean when I say the best grapes?”

“I know good grapes.”

“No, but I mean the best grapes. You know–like crispy.”

“I know crispy grapes.”

“But not just crispy. Crispy and –” chomp chomp –“juicy.”

“Yes, honey, I got it. I know crispy and juicy grapes.”

“You know what it is, mom?” I ask.

“What?” asks my mother, whose patience for me is astounding.

“It’s that Whole Foods charges, like, double the price for everything. This bag of grapes cost me $10, but here’s the amazing thing. It’s still a good deal.” I continue to unload my brightly colored organic produce, carefully packaged containers of cheese, and freshly ground peanut butter. “The thing is,” I say, “Their stuff is actually five times better than normal supermarket stuff.”

My mother sighs.

“Oh, princess,” she says, “You are not good at being poor.”

Alas, D Day approaches. In the next couple of days, we need to give the UK university an answer. What will it be? Will we stay on in this princely town . . . or will we go back to our (non-organic) salad days in a new land?

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Our former salad days: When Cool J came along, we didn’t have money for a place with a bedroom for him . . . but he survived!

Best Parent (not really, but whatever)

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Last week, The Scientist and I went to England for six days. Six days. Sans kids. It was spectacular.

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What kids?

But–I worried. I did. Not about the kids, who I knew would be fine. I worried about my parents. Would they survive? Would they be completely destroyed on our return? Would they beg us to never, ever, ever show them the faces of their horrible grandchildren ever again? I wondered/feared/suspected.

Not at all. I was wrong. When I said, “I’m sorry if the baby climbed in your bed 95 times a night,” my mom said, “Huh? He never did that.” There has not been a night in remembered history that Baby MoFo has not shown up in my bed–and when returned to his own room, he comes back. And back. And back. When I said, “Sorry if they wasted all the food you made,” she said, “They ate beautifully!” When I asked, “Did the TV ever get turned off?” she said, “It never got turned on. They love to read!”

The day after I came home, I went to the boys’ school for LL’s “Authors’ Breakfast”–a morning where second graders read from the books they’ve been writing all year (needless to say, LL’s books were about zombies, plants–as they relate to zombies, that is, and Ninjao, and soccer). LL’s teacher calls me aside. “Were you away?” she asks. “Yes, I say. Thanks for asking–.” “I was wondering–all week?” “Yes, we–.” “He was perfect this week. Best he’s ever been.” “Great.”

Of course he was. Because it turns out what my parents have suspected all along is true. They are better parents than us.

But today I decided I redeemed myself. This morning was Cool J’s kindergarten graduation. It was very cute: the kids danced around and sang various songs about being friends and sharing and all that other kindergarteny-type stuff. At the end, our attention was drawn to the mini-people on the wall that the kids had painted and decorated. Each child wrote under the words “After I graduate I” what he or she wanted to be. Our jobs, as the parents, was to figure out which minifig represented our own child. Was mine the own who wrote “I want to be an artist”? “I want to be a cook”? “I want to be an emergency room doctor?” No, I knew right away:

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I could have picked any of the kids’ pictures. I could have picked the one whose said “After I graduate, I want to be a lactation consultant.” I could have–really. I could have, but I didn’t. And do you know why? Because I know my kids. I might not get them to eat their greens at every meal or stay in their beds or read regularly, but I know them. Because I am the best parent. Well, not really, but whatever.

Selfish Reasons I Have Kids

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Disclaimer: I haven’t read Bryan Caplan’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. I’m sure it’s fantastic. But there’s no way I would buy it, because I really think it would be a bad idea to read about reasons to have more kids. Frankly I’m pretty sure I already have one kid extra.

On the other hand, I like this vision of the world–in which not sleeping through a single night for over 8 years; spending all my money on childcare (which isn’t even full-time childcare) and soccer (which in the early years consisted of a minute of play followed by a request for a snack) and high fructose corn syrup food items, which somehow keep ending up my shopping cart despite my constant avowal that I would never allow such disgusting things in my house; feeding, bathing, and comforting my kids (even when I sure as hell need to be fed, bathed, and comforted); and practically throwing away a doctorate it took me 9 years to get–is somehow “selfish.” “Selfless” is so passé. That whole 19th-century “angel in the house” type? The “self-less” type? No one wants to be her! I don’t want to be her! I’m going with selfish.

And so, inspired by Caplan’s book that I will never ever read, I came up with 3 selfish reasons I have kids.

1. I am a not-so-neat person, but with kids, I can hide this defect.

Imagine I got up this morning, and I made my bed–hospital corners and all.  But within minutes, Baby MoFo wanted to show me his song and dance:

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Then Cool J came along. And somehow The Scientist got in there, too:

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My bed never stood a chance. So, whether I had made my bed or hadn’t–would you know the difference? Exactly.

2. They’re balls of entertainment and love. Around 5:30am, I woke up to Baby MoFo screaming his head off beside me in my bed (I know how much each part of this sentence sounds like it should go on the other side of the divide, but read on). He was in the throes of a nightmare about Cool J: “J . . . is eating a lightsaber [lifesaver]! He’s eating the whole thing up! He isn’t sharing! I angry!!! I angry!!!!” The Scientist and I, roused (again) from our (oft-disturbed) sleep, burst into laughter. Baby MoFo then rolled over, wrapped his arms around me and murmured, “Mama, I love you. I kiss you.” He planted a series of kisses on my face and promptly fell back asleep. There are other ways to wake up–breakfast in bed, a few yoga poses, the sound of chirping birds–but laughter and love seem pretty good, too.

3. On a bad day, an academic (who is perpetually seeking that tenure-track job — that shimmering oasis in the sand) might receive a number of letters that look something like this:

Dear Applicant,

Thank you so much for your application to Buttfuck University, where, if hired, you would teach hundreds of students every semester, be expected to serve on numerous committees, and be evaluated only on the publications you clearly would never have time to write. You would also be paid less than the secretary writing this email. While your application was quite strong, so were many of the 785 other applications, and unfortunately, we’re not going to read any of them because we’ve been planning to hire an internal candidate all along. This is, of course, a vast improvement from last year, when you also applied for our listing; we brought out applicants from all over the world for interviews (one of them came all the way from Australia for less than 48 hours — and another abandoned a wife in labor!), put each of them through the ringer for several days, and then canceled the job search altogether. That was a hoot!

Many thanks, Applicant. And please do accept our apology for cc’ing the other 785 applicants in the earlier email. Your privacy is important to us.

Many thanks, BU

On an awesome day, an academic might receive a letter that looks something like this:

Dear Professor,

Thank you for your submission “A Feminist Reading of a 19th-Century Filipina American author that 6 people have heard of–maybe.” We have received the readers’ reports, and we invite you to revise and resubmit your article based on their 20+ pages of recommendations that basically undermine your argument, force you to read all their publications, and should take you about a year to complete. Congratulations!

Best, The Editor

If you ever want to have your confidence in your intelligence and self-worth decimated, please become an academic.

But, if you then want to have it restored, become a parent!

Here is Baby MoFo playing on the stairs:

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A minute later, he bursts into tears: “My feet hurt!”

I say, “Why don’t you take the cones off your feet?”

“NOOOOOOO!”

“Try it–I bet they won’t hurt anymore.”

He tries. Big smile again. “Mama!! They don’t hurt anymore!! Mama!! How you knew?”

You see–in my field, I’m a moron. But in my house, I’m a genius.

Well, Bryan Caplan, it’s possible you’ve covered all these reasons and many more in your book, and I’m sorry that I’ll never so much as peek at the Amazon reviews, but I am grateful to you for helping me appreciate my boys and my life.

Love, Poor Princess