Monday, May 13, 2013

Lean Back

I'm tired of feeling guilty for being unambitious.

You know what, Sheryl Sandberg? You're a freak. Even Penelope Trunk admits it, and she's usually my go-to source for feeling lame in my career.

The truth is, if you want to make $845 million a year, you have to be exactly like Sheryl: very smart, able to work 18-20 hours a day until your mid-30s, and absolutely obsessed with success. You also need to get access to plenty of rich, successful, MALE mentors who will guide you on your way as the token woman. And you need to cultivate relationships as if you're constantly living on LinkedIn, rather than living an actual life.

I do agree with some of what Sandberg says - spend less time on work, and less time on childcare. Of course, since you don't have her disposable income, you need to do this by cutting back on your ambitions, rather than delegating. It's ok to turn off your cell phone and your computer at 5:00 and go the hell home. Or at 3:00, if you can swing it. It's also ok to let the kids play video games and run around in the backyard unsupervised.

If you adjust your expectations, there is very little difference between sitting with your bare feet in the sandbox drinking a home-made margarita with your S.O. while your kid plays and sitting on some exotic beach doing the same, except one is much, much cheaper.

Here's what I do want:

A good, strong relationship with my family and friends. I want them to know that I will drop whatever I'm doing to help them when they really need me, and that I still love them even if I don't want to drop what I'm doing to tend to their every petty issue.

A comfortable home with lots of natural light, and functioning heat and A/C. Pretty much everything else is negotiable. Non-leaking roof would be nice, but you can always buy another bucket.

Time to do what I love best: reading, gardening, cooking, drawing hanging out with friends and family, critiquing stupid bestsellers on the Internet.

The opportunity to do meaningful important work that benefits actual people, and doesn't just make rich people richer.

That's pretty much it.

I don't want a size 0 body. I don't want a jet. I don't want a $2 million salary, or even a $200,000 salary, not if it means trading in what's most important to me.

Although every once in a while, I would like a new pair of shoes.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Why I Love Video Games

The Kid has a habit of leaving his room a "creative" mess, with Legos strewn everywhere from his latest building project. I can relate - my study requires a periodic whirlwind cleanup to excavate important pieces of paper. But this post isn't about the fact that video games create no mess.

Every once in a while, we work together to scoop up all the Legos and sometimes even sort them into bins, and the kid exclaims how nice it is to have a calm, clean room. The problem is, he assumes EVERY TIME that dumping out another bin of Legos on the floor will not lead to needing to do it all over again. (Much as I tell myself that it's ok not to put the dishes away right this second and then find a few hours later that the house has become a sinkhole of clutter).

In the last few months, he's picked up some benign kiddie games on the Roku player, things like downhill bowling (collect stars and knock over pins!) and frisbee (collect stars and go through hoops!) and Angry Birds (shoot vicious avians into precariously constructed structures full of green pigs and watch the carnage!). The common thread is that the better he does, the harder the game gets.

It's called "leveling up."

And it's seriously the best life lesson this year.

We could see that at school, once he'd behaved well for one period, he thought his job was done for the day. Now he could goof off as much as he wanted, because, hey, he did a "good job." Once. As we've gone through a series of diagnoses and behavior modification attempts, the metaphor of "leveling up" has become our go-to explanation of stepping up his game. What's the reward for a job well done? Another job, of course, and probably a more challenging one.

He went from tracking and self-monitoring one behavior a day to several, in several different circumstances, and is getting better and better at meeting his peers' and teachers' expectations. Although we're proud, it's more relevant that he's proud of himself. He has finally taken on responsibility for his own efforts and the rewards that come with them.

So thank you, video game makers, for teaching The Kid how a challenge can be its own reward.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Decision Fatigue: Snaps Edition

I had a breakdown yesterday after spending half an hour in a fabric store trying to decide whether to buy snaps.

We're living on a ridiculously low income right now, while Bad Cohen is in grad school. This is compounded by the fact that I haven't found steady work in the hellish economy that is Cleveland and our spaz of a kid is in an expensive private school because we didn't want to let his tiny spirit be crushed until he reaches middle school, like everyone else.

So my days are an unending barrage of decisions about making trade-offs in which I end up feeling guilty and besieged no matter what I choose: I can buy unethical, factory farmed, cheap food and worry that I'm poisoning my family, or outrageously expensive organic food and worry that we'll use up all our money and be out on the streets; I can spend the next hour trolling for jobs that have over 200 applicants and low wages and won't meet our schedule or building my freelance website for work that people need but don't want to pay for, or goof off by doing fun design work that builds my portfolio but that I can't sell because everyone's getting similar stuff for cheap on Etsy.

Enter the jeans.

The Kid is growing all the time. Growing means new clothes. Clothes are freaking expensive, especially given that he'll tear through the knees of a new pair of pants within about a month. So we put out the call to relatives for bargain-hunting on used clothes in his sizes. One great-aunt came through with an awesome stash that included jeans he loved.

Now, The Kid is a sweatpants kind of guy. Part of his MO has always been refusal to wear anything the slightest bit form-fitting or complicated. Finding jeans he likes is only slightly less amazing than wondering how Superman gets into a skin-tight suit in the confines of a phone booth.

The jeans he loves are missing one part of the snaps.

(Head, meet wall.)

At this point, I can either find a matching snap (nearly impossible) or remove the remaining old one (which idea makes the fabric store personnel raise their eyebrows and start backing slowly away). Also, they don't sell a pair of snaps (the two parts that go together); they sell multiples. Plus the special "snap tools" you need to install them.

After 10 minutes, I calculate that replacing the snaps on these jeans will cost upwards of $15 and require Herculean effort. It takes another 20 minutes of back and forth on the merits of this particular pair of (free but useless) jeans for me to completely lose it and end up sobbing in the car.

I'm an editor. I'm used to making tough decisions on a tight deadline with high stakes. But I was reduced to a puddle over a pair of used jeans. And then what I really wanted was to go buy and eat an entire pint of Haagen Dazs (@cost = 1/4 of a pair of new jeans).

It seems that my 2013 insight is into what keeps the poor entrenched in poverty. It's not pretty.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Fisking the gun argument

A friend who keeps a gun at home "for safety" posted a link to Sam Harris' blog about why he likes his guns and thinks it's silly to give them up. It is, in short, asinine. I'll summarize the first bit for you:
  1. People worry that having guns in the home increases their risk for gun violence, instead of decreasing it. Although that’s actually true, I don’t care, because I’m special.
  2. If someone wants, for some inexplicable reason, to break into my home specifically to hurt me, the police can’t help in time, so I have to be my own police.
  3. Although it’s perfectly reasonable to keep a gun right next to the people you care most about, carrying a gun around in public is crazy because it will escalate problems just like a knife. In fact, knives and guns are pretty much equivalent in terms of the damage they can cause, except where they aren’t.
  4. Gun violence is going down, but everyone’s got guns, so it’s getting safer and safer to have or be near a gun. Especially in the countryside. And the safest guns of all are assault rifles because they’re involved in such a small percentage of the thousands of gun deaths we see each year. Really what’s dangerous is urban (black) people. They’re really scary, man.
  5. And who cares about deadly weapons that are designed only to kill people when so many people die from other accidents? We all get more upset when children are being shot, but that’s so unusual, which is why we’re more upset, but damn, it’s really upsetting, isn’t it. What was I saying?
 One of his main points seems to be that crazy and evil people will always be able to find a gun, so why bother trying to limit them? It's just too hard. It's sort of like trying to explain politics to women, which is why only men are allowed to vote, right Sam?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It could have been us

I have a 6-year old first grader.

Every day that he goes to school, I rely on his teachers and staff to keep him safe, as well as to educate him. But I also rely on the law enforcement, emergency personnel, mental health professionals, and legislators who are supposed to be helping all of us. I rely on a president so afraid of the gun lobby that in two supposedly "moving" speeches about a heinous act of domestic terrorism he couldn't even use the word "gun."

Enough with the platitudes. I don't think dead children go to heaven. I think they go in the ground or into a crematorium and their families live through hell right here on earth. There is no consolation in sharing our grief if you don't get off your ass and do something to change the laws and support systems that enable this kind of violence.

No more excuses. No more.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mi Casa es Su Shoebox

This remarkable house in Warsaw, half art installation, half studio, was created for Israeli writer Etgar Keret, whose mother once had to cross a bridge between two ghettos in the same spot. Worth a look. 

Monday, October 08, 2012

Hipster Halloween - it's not about the kids

I do like to mock hipsters, but sometimes they just make it too damn easy.

Seriously, my kid wants to go as Batman. While I usually think every parent and family should make its own choices, if your 6 year old wants to be Andy Warhol for Halloween, you're probably doing parenthood wrong.