Friday, December 21, 2018

Downsides of living in Utopia

There aren't many, except this: "Restaurants open on Christmas Day." The author of this article gushes, "Contrary to popular belief, for the holidays, you can beat home sweet home." He then proceeds to share our four entire options for doing so: one Chinese restaurant, one hotel brunch buffet, Waffle House, and...a gas station. Fortunately, the Chinese restaurant is quite good, and we have been meaning to take the kid to Waffle House.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Christmas music, redux

I think I have said before (or every year) that I love Christmas music, secular and sacred, within reasonable boundaries - beginning only after Thanksgiving, not completely taking over my usual radio stations but being prudently mixed in, and excluding certain extremely terrible songs like Santa Baby and Last Christmas. This is apparently the first year in history that Jews have felt empowered to say publicly that they do not celebrate Christmas and resent its omnipresence during the month of December because no one has ever complained about it before, but I alas cannot join in this principled and landmark protest.

Christmas music is one of the few canonical genres of anything in America, and one of our few longstanding and truly national rituals. Apart from Independence Day, which is of course explicitly civic, the canons of Christmas are the only other time when I feel that I'm taking part in a longstanding (well, by American standards) national tradition together with everyone else in the country, and not in an distant, academic, or ironic way, but completely naturally and casually. This is, for example, the only instance when we all enjoy music from the 1940s as though it were contemporary. The US is not a country big on the cultivation and demonstration of national solidarity, which is mostly fine, but it's good occasionally to be recalled to the fact that you do live in a nation, even if it's a nation of individualists and haters. Surely songs romanticizing snow by Bing Crosby are the least offensive such reminder.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Goomba development file: 3 years

I told Goomba she wouldn't be allowed to turn three if she refused to use a fork to eat her pasta. She believed it and started using the fork.

When I put her to bed, she insists that she will go to sleep sitting up. I tried to dispute this for a while and explain that it is impossible to sleep sitting up, and that only giraffes could do this (I have no idea if this is true, but one of her books claims it is). She said, "No, giraffes sleep standing up. I will sleep sitting down." Now I just tell her to go ahead and try it. The best part is that when I wake her up in the morning and she sits up, she concludes, "I was asleep sitting up!"

Goomba: Birthdays are like Shabbat.
Me: How are they like Shabbat?
Goomba: We light candles.
Me: Yes, but we don't say blessings.
Goomba: We sing "Happy Birthday," which is a blessing for cake.

"Today, I am a kitten. Tomorrow, I will be a horse. After the horse, I will be a goat. After the goat, I will be a sheep. After the sheep, I will be a rooster. After the rooster, I will be a cherry pie."

Me: Would you prefer to have a little brother or a little sister?
Goomba: A little brother, because I have never seen a brother.

Goomba: When is the new moon?
Mr. Self-Important: I don't know, we'll have to check on the computer.
Goomba: I cannot use the computer because I don't know how to press the buttons. I need a grownup to press the buttons.

"Is Argentina a house?"

"You don't know anything, Daddy! My teachers know better."

"I am not content with my lunchbox. It does not have an ice pack."

Pointing to her middle finger, during Hanukkah: "This is my shammes."

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

"It runs in the blood of our family to steal"

Almost every semester, I teach this passage from John Adams's Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States:
"We cannot presume that a man is good or bad, merely because his father was one or the other; and we should always inform ourselves first, whether the virtues and talents are inherited, before we yield our confidence. Wise men beget fools, and honest men knaves; but these instances, although they may be frequent, are not general. If there is often a likeness in feature and figure, there is generally more in mind and heart, because education contributes to the formation of these as well as nature. The influence of example is very great, and almost universal, especially that of parents over their children. In all countries it has been observed, that vices, as well as virtues, very often run down in families from age to age. Any man may go over in his thoughts the circle of his acquaintance, and he will probably recollect instances of a disposition to mischief, malice, and revenge, descending in certain breeds from grandfather to father and son. A young woman was lately convicted at Paris of a trifling theft, barely within the law which decreed a capital punishment. There were circumstances, too, which greatly alleviated her fault; some things in her behavior that seemed innocent and modest; every spectator, as well as the judges, was affected at the scene, and she was advised to petition for a pardon, as there was no doubt it would be granted. "No," says she; "my grandfather, father, and brother were all hanged for stealing; it runs in the blood of our family to steal, and be hanged. If I am pardoned now, I shall steal again in a few months more inexcusably; and, therefore, I will be hanged now." An hereditary passion for the halter is a strong instance, to be sure, and cannot be very common; but something like it too often descends in certain breeds, from generation to generation."
The students tend to find this story funny and preposterous, but apparently it is also an actual phenomenon. Who knew? Now I have statistics to back it up for future semesters.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Local social media

I am a member of both local moms' Facebook groups and local lost pets Facebook groups, both of which completely dominate my newsfeed. As a result, when I scroll down and see posts that read, "We lost this girl today..." or "Please help find this baby!", I temporarily panic and think OMG SOMEONE'S CHILD IS LOST IN TOWN!!! But then it just turns out to be a cat or a parakeet or whatever, and I am like people, please.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Paean to my new vacuum cleaner, for which I have been longing for a year

"How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys, is not so much the utility as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniencies. They contrive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry a greater number...

Our imagination, which in pain and sorrow seems to be confined and cooped up within our own persons, in times of ease and prosperity expands itself to every thing around us. We are then charmed with the beauty of that accommodation which reigns in the palaces and economy of the great; and admire how every thing is adapted to promote their ease, to prevent their wants, to gratify their wishes, and to amuse and entertain their most frivolous desires. If we consider the real satisfaction which all these things are capable of affording, by itself and separated from the beauty of that arrangement which is fitted to promote it, it will always appear in the highest degree contemptible and trifling. But we rarely view it in this abstract and philosophical light. We naturally confound it in our imagination with the order, the regular and harmonious movement of the system, the machine or economy by means of which it is produced. The pleasures of wealth and greatness, when considered in this complex view, strike the imagination as something grand, and beautiful, and noble, of which the attainment is well worth all the toil and anxiety which we are so apt to bestow upon it."
--Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments

Things my two-year old has requested for her third birthday

- A cup
- Toilet paper
- A spoon

When I told her that her first choice, the cup, was not really a good idea, she burst into tears and wailed, "But I want a cuppppp!" I guess we should be grateful that her expectations are still very, very low.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

More 2.5ish

31 Months:
- "Whobody?" This is the greatest. Extrapolating from "somebody," Goomba determined that the logical way to ask about the identity of somebody is whobody. "Whobody starts him car?" "Whobody left him towel here?" Often the whobody in question is Goomba herself.

- Potty training victory! After six months of wheedling and exhorting and arbitrary use, she one day decided to ditch diapers and use the toilet. It was a like a switch unexpectedly went off. Now we have many unused diapers.

- Potty training defeat! As a result of graduating to underpants, Goomba has decided that she is, alternately, a big girl and a grown-up, and therefore no longer under any obligation to obey our instructions. She will not put on her clothes or shoes, and she will definitely not go to bed. Conversation:
Me: I will sing you one song, and then we will say night-night, and you will go to sleep, ok?
Goomba: Two songs!
Me: Ok, two songs and then what?
Goomba: Say night-night.
Me: And then what?
Goomba: Then I cry!

- Where does everything poop? "Where do bears poop?" "Where do squirrels poop?" "Where do birds poop?" "Where do mooses poop?" "Where do butterflies poop?" (Where DO butterflies poop? I could not answer this one.)

- "I want to drive!" She is very serious about this, and requests it every time she gets into the car. More than one meltdown has been precipitated by my informing her that she can't drive our car.

32 Months:
- Extremest psychological distress from trying to decide if she is a big girl or a baby. She now understands that this is a trade-off, and if she wants to wear underpants and drink out of a cup and sit in "the big girl chair" (aka, a chair), she must also do things like go to sleep on her own at night, and clean up her messes, because this is what big girls also do. But she doesn't want to do all the big girl things, only the ones she enjoys. So she begs to be a baby, then insists she is not a baby, then begs to be a baby again.

- Conversation (after I called her little):
Goomba: I am big. The little is gone. Now I just big.
Me: The little is gone? Where did it go?
Goomba: To eat a sandwich.

- On eating some pasta I made for her: "It's good. You are good, my mommy." Thank you, my kiddy.

- Conversation:
Me: You are my sweet pea.
Goomba: I not a pea. Peas are green and I not green.
Me: Ok, good point. What are you?
Goomba: A pasta! Pasta is yellow and I yellow.
Me: You are my sweet pasta?
Goomba: Yes.

- Playing on her ride-on car: "Where is the air-conditioning on this thing?"

34 months:
Enter Niney onto center stage. Niney is a stuffed cat that she's had since infancy and she has always favored, but now Niney is everything. (His "real name" is Nigel, after our real cat, who is referred to now as "Real Cat.") She feeds and diapers and bathes him and potty-trains him and projects her entire self onto him. She is his mommy, and sometimes also his daddy, his grandma, and his babysitter. Niney does everything she does. "We inform her that she's going to swim class tomorrow, and she responds, "Niney also going to swim class." She also re-enacts many of her interactions with us with him, with her playing our part and the cat playing her. The best part is that Niney is blamed for all her misbehavior (but is never credited with any good behavior). As in the following exchange:

Me: Goomba, why did you throw your fork on the floor?
Goomba: Niney did it!
Me: I just saw you do it. Niney is not even in the kitchen.
Goomba: Niney did it! [Switches to Mama voice and addresses imaginary Niney] Niney why did you throw your fork on the floor? You can't do that!
Me [in a Niney voice]: I didn't do it! Stop falsely accusing me!
Goomba: You did do it Niney!
Me [in Niney voice]: No, I didn't do it! You did it!
Goomba: NO I DIDN'T!! NINEY DIIIIIDDDDD IT!! [bursts into tears]
This exchange occurs on a regular basis. She is always extremely distressed when her obvious guilt is pointed out to her.

So she has learned to lie, but at least she's still pretty bad at manipulation. She'll ask, for example, to go to the bathroom right before bed in order to get out of bedtime, and when I ask her, "Are you actually planning to run down the hall and throw yourself in mommy and daddy's bed?", she proudly replies, "Yes!"

She has learned what I do at work. No longer do I go to campus and "eat pizza." Now, she informs me that, like mama, she goes to work on campus, where she "teaches students." "And Niney goes to work too, but he gets bored so he stays in the car and sleeps." Already she anticipates the nature of the college lecture.

To thwart her continued efforts to drive our car, we told her that you need a driver's license to do that. This worked until she found some cards with pictures on them from a card game and took one and insisted that it is her "lisenn." She carries it around and shows it to people and again demands to be allowed to drive.

35 months:
- Conversation:
Goomba: I love you mommy.
Me: I love you too.
Goomba: BUT WHY???

- Conversation with apologies to my students:
Goomba: Are you a teacher?
Me: Yes.
Goomba: But you are not a teacher at [her preschool].
Me: But teachers are not just for preschool. They teach big kids in big kid school.
Goomba: You teach big kids?
Me: I teach...very big kids, yes.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Efforts to defuse meritocratic competition will all lead to more competition

Ok, we are back to fighting the meritocracy. Do you know what the ultimate democratic and anti-meritocratic selection mechanism is? A lottery. When we select something by lottery, we give up all pretense of selecting for the best. So no one will have to compete to be the best anymore. Will this not solve all our problems with university admissions? Yes! Yes! No more squabbling and lawsuiting over who deserves to get in, because it will no longer be about desert. Except, of course, if we condition admission to the lottery on meeting certain pre-requisites and those pre-requisites are themselves a little subjective, such as...
After a cull using this automated scoring — applicants would need, say, a combination equivalent to a 3.7 grade-point average, 4 out of 5 on the essays/activities and 1500 on the SATs — the final selection for acceptance would be done purely by lottery.
But what if Harvard created a fixed set of criteria that it deems desirable—say, an SAT score of 1470 or above, a 3.5 or higher GPA, a demonstrable interest and aptitude in particular non-academic activities, a record of overcoming obstacles, and so on? To continue to promote diversity, the school could give extra weight to certain applicants depending on, say, their zip code, the kind of high school they attended, their income, and their race. 
Then what will happen? Will we perhaps turn all our energies toward squabbling and lawsuiting over the precise calibration of qualifications for the lottery instead? What makes a "4 out of 5" on an essay or an activity? Why was my essay a 4? Why not? Just how many obstacles does an applicant need to overcome to clear the bar? How much interest is "demonstrable interest"?

So many questions, so many lawyers to raise them in court...

H/T Joanne Jacobs.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The irreparable trauma of daycare?

These are all sad stories, but one thing I'm struck by in the family separation coverage is how strange this ubiquitous claim is:
“There is no greater threat to a child’s emotional well-being than being separated from a primary caregiver. Even if it was for a short period, for a child, that’s an eternity,” said Johanna Bick, a psychology professor at the University of Houston who studies adverse experiences in childhood.