Explaining Annette Lareau

Jonah, did you ask your French teacher about why you got that B on that assignment? At 5:00 p.m. today, you have an orthodontist appointment. We'll pick up Thai food on the way home and then you'll finish your English homework. Don't forget to put a book cover on your essay. A book cover always bumps a grade up half a point. Your dad can check your math when he gets home. Do you want tofu in your green curry or chicken? Ian, do you want noodles?

Every once in a while, you step back from yourself as a parent and say, "Dude! Did I actually just say that? I used to be cool. Did some alien take over my brain and turn me into this Mom Machine?"

No crab-faced alien can be blamed for transforming me from a slacker in a black dress into what I am today. According to sociologist Annette Lareau, I'm a product of my social class.

More here… 

Parties, Suitcases, Vacuuming, Laundry

I sent off another article to the Atlantic last night. I'm going to stick around the house this morning to help promote the article, but then I need to hit the malls and the supermarket. I have to put on the housewife cap for the next few days. 

We're having a party for Ian and his friends on Friday. I always have some nagging guilt that Ian and his friends don't have as much fun as their typical peers. They don't get invited to their birthday parties, and there aren't many after-school activities for them. Playdates are rare. So, every once and a while, I throw massive, over-the-top parties for them.

On Friday, I invited all the kids in his class, plus some who aren't in his class and told them to bring their siblings. I spent a ton of money on special foods. I'm decorating the house with heart shaped banners and candles. I invited the teachers. I have beverages for the adults. I think we're going to have thirty people in the house on Friday evening. I have a ton of cleaning, cooking, decorating to do for that. I'm a guilt-ridden Martha Stewart. 

Then on Sunday, we're flying to Puerto Rico. (The blog will be on hiatus for a week.) This upcoming trip brings with it another set of chores. Overhead suitcases were purchased on Monday; that chore can be ticked off the list. Clothes are a bigger problem. Summer clothes were shoved without ceremony in some boxes in the basement last September. I am weeding through them and determining whether they are too worn out to be seen in public. I think everyone needs new shorts. I have to get over my allergy towards paying full price for clothes, because there are no sales on summer clothes in February. Do we have flip flops? Sweatshirts? Bathing suits? How nasty are my toenails? Do I need a pedicure? I really hate when we go on vacation looking like hillbillies, but I suspect that three days isn't enough to straighten up. 

 Reading material. A vacation requires brain dead reading material. Wendy has thoughtfully suggested some appropriate fun reading. More ideas? 

Katherine Boo and Artisanal Pickles

In today's Slate, Matt Ygelsias talks about my two favorite topics: Katherine Boo and artisanal pickles

I've been keeping an eye on Katherine Boo's new book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity. Boo is one of my favorite New Yorker writers. Her article about families in poverty in Louisiana was just fantastic. Her new book received rave reviews in this Sunday's New York Times, and I can't wait to read it. 

Ygelsias refers to a column by Adam Davidson, "Don't Mock the Artisanal Pickle Makers." Davidson says that there is money to be made in the new economy by appealing to wealthy consumers who crave hand produced items. The artisanal pickle makers may be on the forefront of a new movement. 

Ygelsias tries to reconcile these two worlds: garbage pickers in India and hipsters in Brooklyn hand making pickles. I'm not sure he succeeds. 

Checking Out

Last summer, as a way to procrastinate the house packing, Steve and I sold some shit from the attic on eBay and made some money with it. A box full of old VHS tapes? Really? At the same time, we also got hooked on some History Channel shows like American Pickers and Pawn Stars. So, it was a short step towards our new hobby – going to Estate Sales. 

During the week, I scan the ads for the sales and then show up bright and early Saturday morning with the kids occupied by video games in the car. We're in a good area of the country for estate sales. Lots of old people who have been in their homes collecting shit for generations. 

At 9:00, a crowd starts waiting on a line outside the house. My fellow shoppers are a mixed crew. Illegal aliens looking for old clothes and egg beaters. Mechanics looking for tools. Serious collectors who will beat you senseless over a mid-century chair with good lines. 

The homes are in various states of dishevelment. And they reek of death. Like the booster seat on the toilet. 

I suppose that hardened Estate Sales goers have distanced themselves from the idea that a person actually lived in this home and died here, but Steve and I are newbies. 

The homes are often one step away from the wrecking ball. Water damaged floors and peeling paint. Kitchen cabinet doors hang from one screw. As I walk through the home, it takes a while to focus on individual things, because I can't get over the fact that a person, a real live person, lived in there. 

And then there's the mad collections of stuff. The weird things that people cling to. Magazines from the 1970s. Mis-matched mugs. Old TV sets piled up in the basement. 

What kills me the most is the deeply personal stuff that was left behind. Family photos and papers documenting military service. Did nobody in the family want this stuff? Where was the family? Why had they let the old dude expire like this and let this pit bull from the estate selling company auction off the valuables? 

Sandra Tsing Loh writes about the difficulties caring for her 90 year old father. 

My folks are, thankfully, still relatively young – 70 is the new 50! – and are healthy. However, my mom got stuck holding the bag caring for old people who aren't even relatives. She would love to walk away from that burden, but without my mom's  help managing the health care workers and processing the bills, these old ladies would have ended up over-medicated, propped up in a wheel chair in an old age home. Actually, they would have died five years ago. 

I'm not sure what the solution to all this is. Loh doesn't provide any help. Clearly, the health care bureaucracy needs to have clearer, fairer rules. Nursing homes need more oversight. Yet, there is a limit to what government can do here. This is one burden that can never be outsourced completely. In the meantime, old people need to go into those final years with grace and composure. 

Old age and elder care is  such a bummer of a topic that the tendency is to put off thinking about this. With Baby Boomers hitting that 70 year old mark, we can't put this topic on ice forever.  

No One Makes Passes at Girls Wearing Glasses

Sunday morning, Steve and I were drinking coffee and reading the Times. I put down the house porn in the Real Estate Section and grabbed the Week in Review away from Steve, when I spotted the headline "The M.R.S. and the Ph.D." I thought the article was going to be about all the women Ph.D.s actually finding tenure track jobs. Ha! I spent too much time last week talking to over educated, under employed friends last week. 

Stephanie Coontz writes a column, disputing Kate Bolick, who wrote that American women face “a radically shrinking pool of what are traditionally considered to be ‘marriageable’ men — those who are better educated and earn more than they do.”

Coontz looks at surveys of men in 1939 and in 2008 and finds that the Modern Man places higher importance on "education" and "favorable social status" than did the Old Fogey Man. Sadly, Modern Man also places more importance on looks, so he's not really all that evolved. Old Fogey Man wanted a woman who had good health and could cook. You couldn't send out for Chinese Food in the old days, and antibiotics were hard to come by. 

I'm not sure what to say about the Coontz article. She conflates intelligence, education, and income, which was terribly confusing. Also, it's weird to compare a guy from 1939 and 2008, without considering the larger context. 

I did like her concluding idea: 

For a century, women have binged on romance novels that encouraged them to associate intimidation with infatuation; it’s no wonder that this emotional hangover still lingers. Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to reject the idea that the ideal man is taller, richer, more knowledgeable, more renowned or more powerful. The most important predictor of marital happiness for a woman is not how much she looks up to her husband but how sensitive he is to her emotional cues and how willing he is to share the housework and child-care. And those traits are often easier to find in a low-key guy than a powerhouse.

Being 16 years away from the dating world, I'm not the best person to give dating advice. OK, I'll give marriage advice.  Based on an unscientific review of my friends and family, it seems that in the marriages that work, the couple has to have something in common. It might be education, or maybe it's a similar culture or values. I guess there are guys who are intimidated by a spouse with higher income, but in those few cases, income-envy is part of a larger problem of general assholicness. 

There are people who are intimidated by high status professions or prestigious degrees. And there are people are people who look down on lower status professions and the lack of prestigious degrees. These prejudices not only affect dating prospects, but also friendships. To avoid these uncomfortable situations, we sort ourselves out into separate circles, which is a bad, bad thing. Or we end up "playing dumb" to avoid seeming snobby — also a bad, bad thing. 

The issues of "marrying down" or "marrying up" is really part of a bigger problem. We're not "friending down" or "friending up" either. I wish we could get past this whole thing. 

Comment Policy

Every once and a while, I think it is a good idea to review the comment policy for a blog.

Comments are very important to Apt. 11D. I genuinely appreciate the fact that people like to come to this blog to chat. I have made comments a big part of this blog. I throw out open questions and put the latest comments up on the top right hand portion of this blog – valuable space that could be used for other purposes.

However, sometimes the comments on this blog get a little out of hand. I need for you all to self-police yourselves, because this blog is a hobby. As I've said before, the ads on the sidebar bring in beer money for myself. I have other projects and responsibilities. I have very limited time to manage blog comments, so if this responsibility becomes too burdensome, I will have to remove the comments.

Some quick rules:

1. Sockpuppetry. You have to stick to one name in the comment section. You can't say one thing with one name and then something different with another. Unless you are being purposefully and obviously ironic. 

2. Comment Hijacking. If the blog post is about Topic A, then you really should stick to Topic A. Comments should not exceed the length of the post. One person cannot dominate the comment section. I think that five substantive comments per day is sufficient for the most part. There can be unlimited one-line snark. From time to time, I get complaints from readers that someone is hijacking the blog. I do not have the time to mediate these matters. If you feel so strongly about Topic B and think that I'm completely off base for not considering Topic B, then I suggest starting your own blog. Feel free to put a link to your post in a comment here, so everyone who wants to talk about Topic B can talk about it elsewhere. 

3. Offensive comments. I love debate. I have zero problem with people criticizing an idea or an opinion expressed in a blog post. Sometimes I fail to consider an angle of a story or maybe you're aware of some information that disputes my point. FINE. Tell me. I'll always be cool about it. I'm very proud of the fact that there's a spectrum of political ideology in the comment section and, as long as everyone is civil and respectful, I'm happy to foster that environment. 

But if there's something about ME that deeply and consistently disturbs you – my political leanings, my world view, my family, my house, my choice in footwear, my character, my weakness for celebrity gossip – then you really need to find another blog to read. If you don't move on voluntarily, then I will help you.

I've never had a problem with racist, sexist, evil comments, but if they happen, then the comment will be deleted and the commenter banned. 

I think that's about it. Sound, good? OK, let's move on.  


Education Gap Between Rich and Poor

10divide-graphic-articleInline-v2Fantastic, and horrifying, information from the New York Times about the education achievement gap between the rich and poor

Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

Research point to a variety of factors that have contributed to this widening gap. The rich are super cultivating their kids, with activities and tutoring. Different approaches to parenting of very young children. The shrinking of the middle class. The growing cultural divide between the rich and the poor. 

Spreadin’ Love 566

Nicholas Kristof shows Charles Murray some love.

Today, I fear we’re facing a crisis in which a chunk of working-class America risks being calcified into an underclass, marked by drugs, despair, family decline, high incarceration rates and a diminishing role of jobs and education as escalators of upward mobility. We need a national conversation about these dimensions of poverty, and maybe Murray can help trigger it. I fear that liberals are too quick to think of inequality as basically about taxes. Yes, our tax system is a disgrace, but poverty is so much deeper and more complex than that.

10 states are granted NCLB waivers

KJ's "Mooching Mom" post got a ton of comments. 

Our teens are better behaved than we were. 

Check out the fantastic Islamic Art collection at the Met.  Then check out Tabitha Simmons' house

Two good videos from the NYT: Christian Siriano and the Dancer as Athletes