Philip Roth Died

And he’s not even all that old, just 85. So sad.

Picking up on our yesterday’s topic, Roth was the founder of the kind of immigrant lit that Junot Diaz is practicing. Roth would use Yiddish words every once in a while without providing a translation. But where Roth would do it once every hundred pages, the younger practitioners do it five times in a sentence.

Another difference is that Philip Roth started with immigrant lit but didn’t get hung up on it. He became a true American writer because he didn’t spend his whole life peddling identity.

If you’ve never read him, I recommend The Human Stain. I think it’s his absolute best. Don’t watch the movie, though. I love Anthony Hopkins but the movie sucks ass.

A great, great writer. RIP.

The Power of the Media

A French-Canadian writer who graduated from McGill’s Slavic Studies program (the one whose Canadian chair sat under a huge portrait of Putin in his office while she studied there) was so inspired by the love of Russia by her McGill studies that she decided to visit. And encouraged friends to go with her.

Last week, she arrived in a small Russian village and approached a group of Russian mouzhiks hoping to express her love of Russia and practice her Russian. The mouzhiks beat her and her friend into a bloody pulp. Reason? The mouzhiks heard her accent and figured out she’s a foreigner. They hear daily on TV that foreigners want to turn Russia gay. So they piled on the poor woman and her friend with screams of “we don’t need no stinking gays here in Russia!”

When Russian reporters interviewed the woman, she defended herself by saying she doesn’t even have any gay friends. So it’s unfair she should be brutalized for spreading gayness. The woman’s friend had two ribs broken and has serious brain trauma. He is so traumatized that he refuses to go back to Russia to testify against the mouzhiks. So they won’t face charges.

True story.

An Example

Or take today, for instance. Klara was very moody in the morning. Didn’t want to get dressed, brush her teeth, or go to school. And I had an appointment at 9, so I had to get going. Only a parent knows this desperate feeling of needing to be somewhere and not being able to do it because a toddler just wouldn’t cooperate.

So instead of starting a battle, I asked her to tell me what was wrong. She didn’t want to at first but I demonstrated that I was going to be very receptive to whatever it is. And then she finally shared that she didn’t want to get dressed because she first wanted to find out if Mr Bird had enjoyed the gummy worm she’d left for him at the park yesterday. So we went outside, talked to Mr Bird, and discovered he was very grateful and was going to see her at the park after school today. After which, she was eager to get dressed and get to school. She’s 27 months old, and she already can verbally explain her emotional states to me, so instead of a battle over brushing teeth, we had a very nice moment in the morning.

People looked at me like I was a freak when they saw me address long speeches to an infant at the store or a public bathroom. And they still stare at the playground because I repeat everything she says after her. But who cares if I get results.

And at this stage, it all is about consent. I can’t make her do anything. She’s too big. So what’s the harm in getting used to the concept early? The folks who rejected the idea of diapering consent because they (very understandably and justifiably) bristle at the word ultimately harmed nobody but themselves.

I know a young mommy who was fired from her job because she was late for work every day for two months. Her 18-month-old refused to cooperate every morning and she couldn’t make it on time. Every suggestion that experienced mommies tried very respectfully and non-insistently to offer on FB was rejected because she saw them as a criticism of her parenting style. And it’s just sad because now she doesn’t have a job and they really need the income. I know them personally and they are such a nice young family, so it stinks that they are now in trouble.

And mind you, I’m not blaming this young woman. I blame the culture that is so insanely individualistic that your kids are considered your problem and if you are not handling things perfectly (which nobody is, believe me), then you are somehow defective. People’s whole sense of self is undermined when it becomes known that they are having trouble or their kids are having trouble.

In the ideal world, the young mommy’s supervisor would say, “gosh, I totally get it. When my kid was this age, it was a bloodbath every morning. Why don’t we do a floating schedule for you until it gets better? And by the way, this is what we did when my kid had this problem and it helped.”

And no, it’s not impossible. I had a student this semester who gave birth at the beginning of the course. I’ll be damned if I force a new mother to leave her infant and schlep to class twice a week, so I offered her distance learning. (Which I normally hate but this was an exceptional situation). She worked hard, did great, and didn’t have to delay her graduation. Who would have gained from me taking the position that she should have thought about the Spanish requirement before the very last semester, so now it’s her problem? Absolutely nobody whatsoever.

Babies and Consent

There was a lot of hype over a lady who said parents should seek a baby’s consent before changing her diaper.

The idea was worded very inelegantly and in a way that seemed meant to antagonize as many people as possible. But it’s actually a great idea. It’s deranged to use the word “consent” in this context but it definitely helps, even with a tiny, newborn infant, to explain what you are about to do in a calm, soothing voice and in great detail.

“Now it’s time to get changed. I’m going to take you upstairs, and put you on the changing table, and take of the stinky, dirty diaper, and put on a fresh, clean diaper, and it’s going to feel so good, and fresh, and clean.”

Obviously, a baby doesn’t understand speech. But she recognizes mommy’s and daddy’s voices from long before she was born. They have a soothing, comforting effect. The baby feels that nothing bad is happening, mommy is right there, mommy is feeling calm and is signaling that there’s no danger. N and I tried both methods, grabbing the baby and hauling her away to get changed in silence and doing it while explaining what’s going on. The talking strategy wins hands down. It makes life easier, and show me a parent who is against having a bit of an easier time of it.

Of course, initially it doesn’t matter what you talk about during diaper changes (or any other activity with the baby.) You could retell the weather forecast with the exact same effect. But the sooner the baby begins to make a connection between the sound and the object it names, the easier the parents’ life will be.

Do you know how much easier it is for me to handle everything now that Klara can say things like, “I’m sad because I miss my friend Madison because she’s not in the Duckies room [Klara’s group at school] any more.” Instead of trying to interact with an incomprehensibly pouting, miserable child, I have a situation that I can very easily remedy.

There is nothing like talking in terms of making child care easier at any age (until the teenage years when the best method is to know when to shut up.) A really great, useful idea was buried because it was expressed in an unproductive way. But I also fail to comprehend the adults who were pouting all over the internet over this idea before trying to see if there was a seed of something useful in it. I’m getting brilliant parenting suggestions everywhere because I’m open to listening. Talking to an infant, for instance, was taught to me by my sister, and I’m forever grateful.

Dear Santa

This is the kind of garbage I receive from the MLA:

Dear Colleague:

The MLA publications program is beginning development of the volume Strategies and Perspectives on Social Justice Work. The essays in this volume will tease back the layers of what constitutes social justice theory and praxis and offer perspectives that reveal the many ways that allies and supporters are taking and can take action. This volume proposes to address the action and change necessary for all those facing oppression, discrimination, violence, disenfranchisement, and dehumanization; it is meant to be an intervention for those in and outside various justice circles.

Fuck you, freaks.

If somebody had shown me this 20 years ago, I would have chosen another profession. I don’t want to be anywhere near folks who are “teasing back layers of social justice theory.” I’m scared of them. Please, dear Santa, make them go away!

It’s All Parents

Also from the NYTimes:

Outcomes are worse for foster children. Ten percent of them enroll in college, and 3 percent graduate. To my knowledge, among more than 5,000 undergraduates at Yale my senior year, the number of former foster children was under 10.

Yep. It all lies with the parents. Both parents:

The professor asked students to anonymously respond to a question about parental background. Out of 25 students, only one student besides me did not grow up in a traditional two-parent family. It’s no accident that most of my peers at Yale came from intact families.


Demonization of Eastern Europe

Krugman has finally lost it completely:

There have always been dark forces in Europe (as there are here). When the Berlin Wall fell, a political scientist I know joked, “Now that Eastern Europe is free from the alien ideology of Communism, it can return to its true path: fascism.” We both knew he had a point.

Really? Fascism is somehow an Eastern European thing? Because Italy, Spain and Germany are in Eastern Europe? WTF is this shit?

I’m so tired of this deranged demonization of Eastern Europe.