Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Decade: An Overview


As I recently noted, I love me a good year-end wrap-up.

So what better opportunity than the close of this decade to do a wrap-up of my own and hit a few of the highs and lows of the last ten years? I'm not talking world events here; I'll leave 9/11 and the tsunami to Time magazine. And trust me. You don't want to hear me try to explain the sub-prime mortgage thing. I'll stick to what I know.

I realized in the shower today that my tenure as a parent very neatly bifurcates the decade: I spent roughly the first five years without kids and the second five with. Or, more precisely, I spent the first half of the decade not appreciating how nice it is to sleep as much as you want and the second half wishing I had. And stepping on a lot of Legos.

On January 1, 2000, I was 31 years old. I lived in a rental apartment in DC's Dupont Circle, drove a ten year old cherry red VW Golf and still used a dialup connection in a pinch. I had been dating my boyfriend (now husband) for seven months, although I think I already suspected he was a keeper. But I still skipped my tenth college reunion that summer because I didn't want to have to hear myself say over and over that I was single and childless.

Let's see what happened next, shall we?
  • August 9, 2001: I finally go on my first European sojourn. Eschewing those traditional European starter countries like England and France, I go straight for the hard stuff and see Poland and Ukraine. While I am gone, my apartment is destroyed in a freak flood, prompting me to move in with aforementioned boyfriend. His friends still refer to the "flood" with a wink and air quotes. But it was real, I swear!
  • July 14, 2002: My debut in the pages of the New York Times Magazine. I wish I could say I wrote a clever "Lives" column or a brilliant profile of Jhumpa Lahiri. But no. It was my photograph that appeared in the magazine, along with my brother Daniel's story about our trip to Eastern Europe, which eventually became his award-winning best-seller. A photo of me...cradling my head and crying at a devastatingly sad story about the Holocaust. You know, because when I first appeared in the pages of the Times Magazine, I actually wanted it to be a picture of me sobbing. No, really.
  • August 11, 2002: Ending years of angst over my certain march towards old maidhood, much of it on the part of my mother's elderly cousin Trudy in Queens, I get married. As I once said in a Washington Post column, I was right to be jealous of my friends all those years: getting married totally rocks. You have a religious obligation to buy jewelry. And you get to register for lots of cool shit you want other people to buy you from Williams-Sonoma. And then you go to Italy and eat mozzarella and prosciutto. For breakfast. (The having a husband/partner/true love part is also pretty great, I must say. He also makes really good scrambled eggs.)
  • May 1, 2003: We move into our first home. Six and a half years later, I am still traumatized by the process of trying to pick paint colors. That school bus yellow in the dining room? It was supposed to be kind of a warm Tuscan umber. Oops?
  • September 2, 2004: I give birth to my first child. Without an epidural. And not by choice. Yes, yes, the ends justify the means and all that. But I really would have loved if the means did not have to involve spending 36 hours tethered to a hospital bed, enduring the misery of a failed induction that I was told was necessary because my baby could, you know, well, die. And then dilating from one centimeter to ten in 25 minutes. (Yes, I said 25. I know "My labor was suckier than yours" stories are totally cliche, but I must say I often win the cocktail party contests with that one.) And the ends? The ends are awesome beyond words.

  • September 22, 2004: The book I helped write comes out and spends one glorious week on the Times bestseller list. Because I have a six week old, and spend most of my time shuttling between nursing, weeping, and actively second guessing the decision to procreate, I am too petrified to try to travel to New York to attend the book party. In my next life, I will totally go and look kickass awesome. Like Mary Louise Parker at the Golden Globes that one year.
  • October, 2006: I survive my 20th high school reunion without a single person laughing out loud at the fact that they voted me Most Likely to Succeed. I consider this a success.
  • August 17, 2007: I give birth again, this time with an epidural. Labor? What labor? I laughed. I lounged. I read People. I think I might have gotten a pedicure and an aromatheraphy facial, too. I mean, seriously. This was labor? If the first one had been like this, I could have given Michelle Duggar a run for her money. Plus, I ended up with this. What could be bad?
  • December 7, 2007: Oh wait. I know what could be bad. Four month old Alec wakes up 12 times in the course of a 12 hour night, shattering all records previously held by his notoriously sleepless older brother, who I was certain was unbeatable. Call it my own personal Pearl Harbor. The next night, in desperation, I decamp to my inlaws'. And second guess the decision to procreate. Again.
  • November 11, 2008: I turn 40. I still have no idea how this happened to me and walk around in a depressive fog. Wasn't it just last week I was all dressed up in my goomie bracelets on my way to see Madonna's Like a Virgin Tour at Madison Square Garden? Actually, even though I am in denial, I celebrate with a long weekend in Bermuda with my two dearest friends. I'm not complaining. Except for the part where, for the first time in my life, I was actually told by a gate agent that I simply could not get to my destination on the day I was ticketed to do so, not on USAir or any other airline. (Weather-delayed flight, missed connection, etc etc.) There were tears, people. And that was from the agent I smacked upside the head for suggesting that maybe I "just wasn't meant" to go to Bermuda that day. OK, I didn't really hit her. But I wanted to. This trip was far too long in the making. I was 40 fucking years old. I was going to Bermuda that day, missy. By some incredible stroke of good luck, my hairdresser had just told me about USA 3000, a cute little charter airline that flies about three places out of BWI, and one of them happens to be Bermuda. And because they're a charter, they aren't part of the system that the USAir agent was using to search for available flights. I called them. They got me to Bermuda that day. Direct. For like $150. And USAir gave me a refund. I think I actually made $10 on the transaction. When does that ever happen? OK, I take it back. Being 40 might not be so bad.
  • January 1, 2009: I launch this blog, which quickly becomes a national sensation. I'm using the loose definition of "national sensation," of course, which means, "the most popular blog at my parents' split level on Long Island." The rest, as they say, is history, right?
Happy New Year, everyone. Here's to a new decade filled with many, many bloggable moments.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Virgin

You thought this post was about Kevin Jonas, didn't you?

Nope. It's about how I'm relatively new to the bloggy/twitter world. A newbie, really. But I've always secretly coveted one of those invitations to participate in some cool meme. It seemed so deliciously insider-y. You like me! You really like me!

And now (excuse me while I sniff back tears) I've actually gotten my very first one.

My friend Becky Sain just sent me this:



What is it, you ask? Why, it's an invitation to be part of a cool meme! I only have to "do a post where I ha(ve) to reveal three things about myself that no one (or hardly anyone) knows." Now I happen to have noticed that Becky was tagged by Judy, who cut the list down from seven things to three. I was originally going to compromise and do five. But who am I kidding? A chance -- nay, an actual, bona fide invitation -- to talk about myself? I'm going for all seven. (Number eight, by the way, would be, "I really really really like to talk about myself.")

I hope you're sitting down. And taking notes. Here we go.

1. I feel incredibly awkward wearing any kind of name tag, particularly the sticker ones where you have to write your name yourself. If I'm given one to wear, I usually try to see if I can get away without putting it on. If the powers that be insist, I slap it on my pants. But something about having my name sprawled across my chest, especially in my own handwriting, really creeps me out.

2. I have surprisingly strong opinions about seemingly inconsequential design matters like fonts and wrapping paper. It actually bums me out when people I like send an invitation or a holiday card with a font I find unattractive. (My favorite font, should you, say, want to make me a birthday card next year, is Bickham. But only the top version, in green; the others are way too swirly.) And I will actually go to another store rather than buy wrapping paper I don't think is pretty, even if it's just something that's going to be torn to shreds and thrown away. I care, people. I care.

3. I am (ahem) over 40 (but just barely!) and I have never been skiing or camping. I don't ski because I have a) a strange fear of not being in control of my feet and b) a pain-in-the-ass medical condition known as Raynaud's phenomenon, which can make being outside in frigid weather for extended periods of time truly unbearable for my hands and feet. The camping I'll blame on my parents, who instilled a love of many wonderful things, like classical music and books. We're Jewish intellectuals from New York. Sleep outside? Appreciate the outdoors? Not so much.

4. I absolutely loathe parties that also include the sale of anything, even the "There's no pressure! Really! Just come drink wine!" ones. If there will be orders taken for cutesy kitchen gadgets, pocketbooks, jewelry, or organic home cleaning products, don't wait up for me. (This one isn't entirely a secret any more because I posted it in a Facebook list of things I hate. But I thought it bore repeating.)

5. I have a soft spot for the rumpled, vaguely college professor-y older man. He's pushing 70, but I still think Sam Waterston is sexy. And I've long had a thing for Newsweek's Evan Thomas.

6. As a kid, I was obsessed with the paranormal, and one of my first career ambitions was to be a parapsychologist. (The others were writer and anthropologist, for those keeping track at home.) I've lost the obsession but still maintain a wholly out-of-character firm belief in things like ghosts and psychics. I'm also ridiculously superstitious.

7. I am the furthest (farthest?) thing from a Luddite you could imagine. But I insist on having a paper calendar rather than an electronic one. I also don't own a Blackberry or an iPod. Which means that if I'm blogging or tweeting, you can picture me doing so in a room with four walls, with my butt planted firmly on a chair. Refreshing, isn't it?

I also really like the smell of hardware stores, don't like onions or chicken on pizza, have been to Ukraine and...Oh wait. It's time to stop now, isn't it?

OK. Now, part of the fun is that I'm passing on the fleurs and the obligation to post about them to some bloggy friends, who must in turn pass it on. And apologies if this is something you've already done, like, years ago; I'm new at this, remember? Be gentle.

My taggees, in random order:
1. Brenna of The Real Bean, who I hope isn't too uncomfortably pregnant to play along!
2. Max Weiss of Hey I'm Maxthegirl, my compadre in all things Long Island, cello and pop culture
3. Ashley of Ashley, Unscripted. If there's a wittier pharmacist on earth, I've yet to meet her.
4. Wendi Aarons, who regularly makes me spit out my coffee
5. Laura Zigman, from whom I may have been separated at birth
6. Julie Klam, whose hilarious memoir I am in the middle of.
7. Brian Shields of Dada-ism, in hopes it will get him to blog again. :-)

Ready? Set? Go!

Monday update: Anyone who would like to play along and share some things about themselves in the comments is more than welcome! It's like a revelation free-for-all around here. Yeeeeeehah!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I Know, I Know...

there are far more pressing matters facing the world today.

But can someone please invent a sippy cup...



that you can put cocoa in?

(Why yes. That is cocoa in his left eye. Thanks for asking.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Challenged

I've always been a sucker for the year-end wrap up.

Hopelessly sentimental, there's nothing I like more than those end-of-the-year issues of magazines, with their tidy accounting of the annual best and the worst, all that assigning of highs and lows. I love seeing the pictures of the year. The stories of the year. The songs of the year.

With 2009 drawing to a close, I'm being asked to participate in my own wrap up, of sorts.

Just about a year ago, I was asked to be part of a challenge to do something extraordinary in 2009. Something bigger than a typical New Year's resolution, but smaller than a midlife crisis stunt.
"Somewhere between losing that extra five pounds, and winning a Best Director Oscar," read the invitation.

Sure, I thought. I can do this. The person whose aspiration was deemed the coolest (and who actually achieved it) wins a $50 bottle of booze, not to mention the satisfaction of a job well done. I put forth three proposals. And now it's time to submit my essay explaining why I should win.

So let's have a look at how I did, shall we?

1. To play the cello in public again

Can I just write a big fat FAIL and be done with it? As I write this, I see my cello sitting forlornly in the corner, bathed in dust. The cello that was once so central to who I was.
The cello I played for hours each day for years and years, and lugged with me on planes and trains and subways. The cello whose physical presence -- the literal feeling of the calloused flesh of my fingers on its strings and wood -- was what I missed most desperately at first, like a phantom limb. In 2009, I didn't even get as far as opening the case. Play in public? Uhhhhhh.....no. Ain't gonna happen. Next?

2.
To have a byline in the New York Times

See, this one is interesting.

I've never written for the Times and still fervently hope to. For years now I've had a vague idea that I could write a piece for "Modern Love," the wonderful column in the Sunday Styles section. It's where my friend Ayelet Waldman secured a berth on Oprah by declaring -- PC parenting police be damned -- that she loved her husband more than her children. It's where writer Amy Sutherland placed her now-famous "Shamu" piece. And it's also the place where one of the most devastatingly moving personal essays I've ever read, Ann Hood's "Now I Need a Place to Hide Away" appeared. (Warning, not for the faint of heart.)

Lifetimes ago, I had a rather colossal romantic disaster of my own, one with all sorts of nuances I suspected would make for perfect Modern Love copy. I've long wanted to take ownership of that experience and write about it. I've had a number of false starts over the years, but, spurred on by the idea that I might actually meet my 2009 goal and place it in the Times, I finally got to work on it in earnest. I spent a long time painstakingly crafting that column.
I became a little obsessed, to be honest, revisiting what was undoubtedly the most wrenching time of my life, re-reading exceedingly painful journal entries from that period and dredging up some very unpleasant -- and surprisingly unresolved -- feelings. I found myself writing and re-writing the piece in my head at all hours, to the point where I could quote it almost from memory. And I finally came up with something I really thought captured precisely what I wanted to say.

I let a select few people read the piece, and the response was overwhelmingly favorable. My agent said simply, "Wow."

Would the Times have accepted it? I don't know. And may never. Because ultimately, I decided not to submit it. Perhaps one day I'll feel differently, but for now, I've come to the conclusion that it's a pot best left unstirred, an intensely personal story better left untold.

Case closed, right? I'm 0 for two? On to number three?

Not so fast.

Because a funny thing happened in the wake of writing my erstwhile Modern Love piece. Literally the moment I got the column into its final form, and then made the decision to hold onto it, a calm came over me. Through the very process of writing, of forging the jumbled soup of my inner life into a stream of words that could stand on their own and tell a meaningful story,
I made my peace with whatever vestigial ghost of that experience was still haunting me. Any residual hurt I may have held onto was entirely exorcised by the writing process. Vanished. Gone. Poof. Done. It's like it never happened.

I know how therapeutic and empowering the writing process can be. But I had never seen it work quite so transparently before. All that writing and re-writing? Duh! I was...working it out. Literally.

So the New York Times isn't going to happen for me this year. But I'm calling this one a victory nonetheless. It's just not the one I was aiming for.

3.
To build a loyal following for this blog that actually includes people I don't already know.

OK. So here we go.

I know there have to be people reading this blog that I didn't know on January 3, 2009, when I posted those words. Because I simply didn't know enough people to match the numbers of hits I'm getting, even if some of them do get here by googling odd things like "diaper love story." (Don't do it. Please. Just trust me.) Besides, my mother doesn't know how to use a computer. My post about experts was recently quoted in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, by a reporter I a) swear is not my mother and b)
swear I did not know at all on January 3, 2009 and c) swear I did not pay or sleep with. My "Showtime" post got named one of the best of the week by the Five Star Friday blog. (See aforementioned a, b, and c.)

So yes, I did manage to accomplish this goal, technically speaking. I'm not sure how stickler-ish the judges will be when it comes to proving my readers are loyal, or when it comes to what constitutes a "following" per se. So let's have some fun, shall we?


At the risk of totally humiliating myself by what could be deafening silence, I'll ask: Are you a regular reader of these pages? Did you know me prior to January 3, 2009? Can you attest to your loyalty to Clever Title TK in a comment here, or, if you prefer, an email to blogmail@jenmen.com?

Perhaps you've got the blog name tattooed across your chest? Have a photo of yourself wearing a CTTK logo t-shirt at the top of Mt. Everest or Machu Picchu? Named your baby "CleverTitleTK?" (BTW, a Twitter friend just told me about a kid on the playground named "Treblinka." If that doesn't win every bad name anecdote contest from here to eternity, I quit.) Perhaps you suggested that NASA put one of my cogent analyses of American Idol in a Mars probe, just in case there's intelligent life out there? Didjya? Didjya?

OK, I'm kidding. I'll take anything you've got, even if it's just a simple declaration that you've been here,
(Just write, "Present!") only because you were searching for diaper fetish photos. (See? I told you you didn't want to know.)

C'mon. There's booze at stake! Not to mention my honor. So help a girl out, won't you?

Update: December 30. I've just been named to a list of the 50 best mommybloggers who didn't make the real list of 50 best mommybloggers. Granted, all I did was reply to a tweet asking if any moms who blogged had special talents, (mine is that I can always tell how something's going to taste just by looking at it) but I'm taking it. Followers? I got followers. Yay!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

And I'll Cry if I Want To

Hello? Mr. Counterman at the Fancy, Overpriced Bakery I Swore to my Husband I Would No Longer Patronize Because They Charge $9 for Coffee and a Muffin?

A word, please.

When I asked you to walk me through your selection of fancy, overpriced cakes, you oh-so-imperceptibly scoffed when I asked if this one was Oreo. And launched into a ever-so-slightly condescending explanation of how it was made with uber-fancy Valrhona dark chocolate.

"Have you ever had Valrhona?" you asked. A whiff of superiority clung to the air.

"I don't think so," I said sheepishly. "But really? It looks like an Oreo cake to me."

"Well, it shouldn't," you said, ever-so-slightly patronizingly.

I bought it anyway. It was my birthday, you know. My husband was too sick to get me a cake. And it looked good, whatever the hell it was.

But dude? Valrhona my ass. That is an Oreo. I know from Oreos. Don't mess with me when it comes to Oreos.

That is all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Experts? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Experts

Years ago, during the first Dubya presidency, I heard a story on NPR that stopped me dead in my tracks. Just like when the Challenger exploded, I remember exactly where I was when I heard it.

The piece was about how the fact that President Bush didn't have a -- how shall we say? -- intellectual bent really resonated with voters. Like it was a selling point.

People actually liked that he slipped up so often. That he made grammatical mistakes while speaking and spouted non-sequiturs. And that he didn't seem like a wonk, with his head all crammed full of...complicated ideas and whatnot. Apparently that made him more likable. Relatable. People wanted a president who seemed like an average guy, just like them.

Not surprisingly, they re-elected him. Well, sort of, but I'm not going to get into that now.

Me? I'm not ashamed to say I like my Presidents smart. Crazy smart, actually. Sooooo-much- smarter-than-me-it's-not-even-funny smart. Rhodes Scholars? Bring it. Harvard Law Review editors? You got my vote, hon. I want the person with his or her finger on the nuclear button to be so frigging brilliant they can barely be conversant with me. I like my Presidents, in other words, to be...experts.

I was honestly floored that my fellow Americans did not share this view. It was a wakeup call for me, having grown up in a family where smarts were the coin of the realm, trumping just about everything else. You wanted my four brothers and me on your It's Academic squad, not your basketball team.

I've been thinking about that NPR piece a lot lately.

Because there's a trend at play in the social media world that I find worrisome, and it's an offshoot of the same social forces that apparently helped elect George Bush twice. (If it isn't particularly worrisome to you that a man like him could be President of the United States for eight years, maybe you shouldn't read any further.)

It's been said a zillion times that one of the great things about the explosion of social media is its great democratizing effect. And I get that, really I do.

I'm constantly telling my husband what a thrill it is to discover the voices of bloggers who are not professional writers but who regularly craft absolutely haunting, honest, charming or uproarious prose. (Heather, Megan, Stephanie and Ashley come to mind off the top of my head.) I'm so delighted that blogging has allowed their voices to be heard so widely. I also said years ago that the guy who used to write the Bachelor recaps for Television Without Pity deserved a Pulitzer prize.

Nor is it lost on me that that the online readers are often just as funny as the celebrity panel on Us Weekly's Fashion Police. (True story: I was supposed to have a tryout for the Fashion Police right around the first week of September, 2001. It, um, never happened.)

There's a flipside to that same democratic impulse, though, that I find troubling. In this great information revolution, we're throwing the baby out with the bath water. It's undeniably heady to have so many easy means of information transmission at our fingertips, both inside and outside traditional media channels. Just about anyone could, say, send a tweet right now to Wolf Blitzer. Or write a long blog post about how they feel about CNN.

But we're biting off more than we can chew. We're appointing ourselves experts on anything and everything, spouting off simply because we have easy means to do so, not necessarily because we have anything valuable or credible to say. Good, trained reporters are losing their jobs left and right, in favor of doing journalism on the fly by wikipedia and twitter, even when that can sometimes mean getting just about everything wrong.

There's almost no way not to sound hopelessly old-fashioned and/or defensive (I was, after all, a print journalist), but there's something to be said for the trained information gatherer, the careful vetter of sources. Someone who can listen to a cacophony of information, much of it contradictory, and make level-headed sense of it. Someone who's trained to search for unvarnished truth and know when they're being spun. Someone who's trained to talk to experts and glean what's valuable, separating the information wheat from the chaff.

To wit. Last week I saw a link from a popular mom blogger who'd been invited to write a guest post on another blog about carseat safety, specifically about the benefits of keeping your child rear-facing. Sure! I'll write your guest post. I have a laptop! And a Starbucks down the street! With WiFi! The only problem was that said mom blogger apparently didn't really know anything about carseat safety; her post basically had her repeating some anecdotal Snopes-ish urban legends she'd heard on when to turn your baby forward facing. But now that post, inaccurate as it is, becomes part of the body of information on the subject.

Then I followed a link touted as "really good information" about the H1N1 vaccine. This time it led to a post from another mom blogger, who admitted the difficulty of finding credible information supporting the anti-vaccine position. But luckily, she had found some. Well, sort of. Her sources included a few natural health websites and blogs I'd never heard of, one I have heard of, and not in a good way, (the infamous mercola.com,) a Baby Center mom blog post "with over 100 comments," and my personal favorite, some squirrely, conspiratorial youtube videos of unknown provenance. Oh wait. I forgot the story from Inside Edition.

Once upon a time, in the old timey days of publishing, I was a fact-checker for Time-Life ("Coincidence? You be the judge.") Books, where we had to use something quaintly known as "red check sources" to verify the accuracy of what we printed; none of these, I can assure you, would have passed the red check source test. And I'm not trying to slam said blogger. Really I'm not. I'm sure she fervently believed she was doing readers a service. They thanked her in droves in the comments, actually. I'm just sad that in their zeal not to be taken in by the party line, to RESEARCH THIS INFORMATION YOURSELF, as one of those youtube screeds warns, people are, rather ironically, being taken in. Just not in the way they thought.

This isn't about the vaccine per se. I am not going to use Clever Title TK as a forum to debate the merits of the H1N1 vaccine or get into how the mainstream media is in bed with big pharma and hoodwinking us all about the evils of vaccination. I'm more than happy to admit I have absolutely no credentials to do so. That's just not my thing. I'll leave that to the... (wait for it) experts. (I will, however, thank Queen of Spain for this post, which makes the brilliant observation that refusing the vaccine has become the "hipster parenting move of the moment" and asks us all to "take off our tinfoil hats." OK, I just tipped my hand, didn't I?)

What I will do is argue passionately that while the channels for information distribution can be democratized to the nth degree, and everyone and their cousin's plumber can have a blog and a twitter feed and can make movies on their iPhones and slap them up on youtube, the stubborn fact is that all information is just not equal. Just because something has been published somewhere on the Internet does not automatically lend it credence. Some information is reliable and credible. Some is not. Credibility isn't intrinsic; it needs to be earned. And I will never trust the information coming from your cousin's plumber's sister-in-law in a Facebook comment as much as that coming from the CDC. If you don't want to get the H1N1 shot, that's your prerogative. But please don't tell me that I should be moved not to because of something you saw in the comments of some random blog on Baby Center for God's sake. Please. (I can't help thinking of the person who commented on a recent Newsweek movie review by calling the author -- who happens to have been my brother Daniel -- a "real dick" and a "tool." There are some super people out there in commentland, I tell you.)

I can't help but wonder if this is yet another splinter of the creeping narcissism I wrote about last week. Is it that same seemingly endless hunger to examine our own lives closer and closer, to hear our own voices rather than listen to the words of others? Is that why we have we become so afraid to put our trust in experts?

“It’s shocking,” science journalist Michael Specter, author of the new book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives, recently told Wired. “We live in a country where it’s actually a detriment to be an expert about something.”

How sad is that? I think we need experts. I like experts. I like expert doctors and expert urban planners and expert Presidents. I like expert washing machine repairmen and expert teachers and expert chefs. I like that they all know things that I don't have to. It's a good system. It works for me.

And before you get all up in my face screaming elitism, I'm well aware that experts are never infallible, and that there will never be a true consensus on who qualifies as one. I know that there are instances when the government, even its scientists, hasn't acted in our best interests. I know we have to advocate for ourselves, even in a democracy. I know the media is far from perfect and Jayson Blair and blah blah blah blah. I know. I know.

But I am not going to allow the random comments of 100 people on a Baby Center blog post -- are they virologists? epidemiologists? doctors? high school graduates, even? -- become the equal of the warnings of the experts at the CDC, in all their peer-reviewed bureaucratic glory. Ever.

And maybe even more importantly, I refuse to be made, in this upside down world, to feel sheepish or worse -- actually stupid -- for valuing genuine expertise, both scientific and otherwise, with all due respect to your neighbor's manicurist's babysitter.

Yes. You heard right. I'm coming out of the closet. I'm an information snob.

My name is Jennifer. And I trust experts.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Fall Rocks...

and then it sucks.


Double click to see in all its glory. And that's only part of the yard, mind you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Showtime

It's no secret that I love me some good Internet fakery.

I blogged earlier this year about stumbling upon a blog I sensed -- and later proved -- was a fraud. The woman behind it, who had the unmitigated gall to represent herself as a mother devastated by the death of her small daughter, actually wasn't a mother at all, but rather a career scammer with a criminal record to boot. (Note to self: never post stock photo of infant on blog and say it's your daughter; too easy for curious reader to be puzzled as to why a family photo is named "newborn-baby-girl-three-3-days-old-face-closeup-1-DHD.jpg." And then a quick google just might lead them right to a free online image gallery.)

Just a few months later, my brother Matt, who had been one of my three trusty sidekicks in the case of Scooby Doo and the Imaginary Dead Daughter, called me all excited. There was a story on CNN about an even bigger blogger being exposed as a fraud. This time it was the "April Rose" hoax perpetrated by one Beccah Beushausen. Beushausen had strung legions of devoted readers along for months, blogging in great detail about her heartbreaking pregnancy with a child she knew would die at birth, a child who...she totally invented. (Note to self: never try to pass off photo of a doll as photo of a real baby. Those people on the doll forums are totally eagle-eyed, I tell you.)

So naturally, my interest was piqued when I heard that a story causing quite a buzz throughout the twitterverse -- a story I confess I initially passed along without verifying -- turned out to be how shall we say? not quite as it seemed.

I am not going to rehash the details of Nicole White's fifteen minutes of virtual fame; this post does it far more thoroughly than I could ever hope to. The Cliff's Notes version? White used Twitter and her blog to disseminate a highly melodramatic account of having overzealous TSA agents in the Atlanta airport take her 18 month old son away from her while they were being searched at security. It was a story that she apparently knew would generate enormous media interest. (Check out the screen shots of her twitter feed here.) The only problem was that nine different security camera angles begged to differ. Oops.

Nicole White's response to being called out was to insist that she had shared something called "her truth." my truth was told, shared, tweeted out in the hopes of changing something for the better, she wrote in that trademark high school literary mag lowercase prose, in a post entitled "ownership." i own that. it’s up to you whether or not you choose to believe it. (So we each get our own versions of the truth these days, to disseminate as we please? Suh-weet! I knew I loved the interwebs.)

Maybe I'm just jealous. On our way to Boston this summer, those same persnickety TSA agents actually snatched LaLa, Alec's much adored constant companion, right out of his hands as we were about to walk through the metal detector. Full-on hysteria ensued until the two were happily reunited at the end of the belt, but somehow I failed to seize the opportunity to use my trauma (LALA's GONE! THEY TOOK LALA!) to become a minor Internet celebrity. Oh well, there's always next year.

Anyway, as I said before, this post isn't about proving whether or not Nicole White lied about what happened in that airport. Instead, I'm going to get all meta on you.

In one of those awesome moments of serendipity that only Neil Postman or Marshall McLuhan could have concocted, the White story broke the very same day as that ghastly Heene family perpetrated Jiffy Pop-gate, using a similarly terrifying story about a missing child to generate interest in them for a reality show. A story that as we all know, turned out to be false. They presented a distorted version of their "real" lives to broadcast to the world via television. Or, more to the point, they whored out their six-year-old son and scared the shit out of eleventy billion people watching live on CNN so that they could get on tv. (And I'm not even touching the part where the kid then puked on the Today show in the middle of being interviewed. Or that his name is Falcon.)

The TSA and Heene dramas are part of a much bigger cultural ripple that I find alternately fascinating and horrifying: people's lives are increasingly turning into a kind of for-profit performance art. For better or worse, the endless proliferation of media technologies have allowed us countless vehicles for documenting our day-to-day lives in excruciating, mindboggling detail. (Lunchbox blogs, anyone?) And because we have become ever aware that we are, on some level, being watched, we increasingly play to the gaze.

I see it in the faux shock of the spoiled teenagers on My Super Sweet 16 when, inevitably, the car with a ridiculously huge bow is wheeled out for them. There's always a car, kids, always. That's just what happens when you go on this show. Stop pretending we think you're surprised.

I see it in the trainwreck of Jon and Kate Plus 8. Just as McLuhan predicted, the medium trumps all, and the reality these reality shows claim to document inevitably becomes tainted through the very process of showing it. What started as a show depicting the real lives of a family with eight children became a perfect inverse of itself: the Gosselin family's real life became about being on the show, and more and more of what they did/ate/wore/played with (Crooked Houses! Let's play in our Crooked Houses! Wait, did someone just say Crooked House?) became a construct of the show. Eventually, it seemed there was no "real" life left to document. Their very lives, in other words, became a kind of performance. (In one episode, Kate chastised Jon for referring to something having happened in a previous "season" rather than a previous year.) And not surprisingly, their once very real marriage -- a ten year partnership that produced eight very real children -- gave way under the pressure. Didn't the advertisers feel even a little bit...dirty? And why are people, both famous and not, still lining up in droves to be on reality shows?

I see similar forces at work in the blogosphere.

Heather Armstrong, queen of the mommy bloggers, now supports her family of four simply by sharing her family's life -- the cute outbursts, the quirky food aversions, the mind-numbing sleep deprivation -- with millions of readers through her blog. Which means that advertisers sponsor her...life. Don't get me wrong. Given the opportunity, I'd probably do it, too, but am I the only one who thinks there's something a little Truman Show-ish about it all? (Scratch that. I just googled "Dooce" and "The Truman Show." I'm not the only one who thinks that.)

But anyone who blogs publicly, from Heather Armstrong on down to, well, me, is, in effect, conducting a kind of performance. Until we reach that futuristic moment when our actual, unedited lives are streamed live to our "viewers," by blogging we are putting forth versions of ourselves to be consumed. We choose which moments we share, even the unattractive or painful ones, and we choose the words and photos we use to present them. We might be entirely honest, constructing personas that are quite reflective of our "real" selves. But we are, on some level, performing for an audience. And just like being on reality tv changes your reality, the fact that scores of people are paying attention to (and potentially paying money for) your life via your blog changes things, in ways both subtle and not. When traffic to that blog about the contents of your child's lunchbox starts spiking, you feel that much more pressured to actually make your child the kind of lunches that you want people to see on the blog. And voila! The act of blogging has changed, ever so slightly and entirely benignly, your real life. (I believe that mommy bloggers have, via this mechanism, actually forged a new model for contemporary motherhood, but that's a whole 'nother post.)

As the stakes become higher and higher, with more and more eyes watching and more and more advertisers paying, that same benign impulse that makes you pass over the Lunchables in favor of the quinoa salad allows those who traffic in exaggeration and embellishment to waltz right in and take advantage. In this climate, it's rather easy to embellish, and not that much harder to entirely manufacture drama wholesale. It's the Internet equivalent of a publicity stunt during Sweeps Week.

Mercifully, the most egregious lying liars are almost always tripped up eventually by some stubborn piece of evidence of the real world that they've failed or forgotten to hide: a photo, a video or an IP address. But often not before they've sucked in an eager audience which then feels betrayed.

And why does it matter? Because playing to the camera really works.

I'll leave you with a bit of a math problem. (And thanks to Amy at SecretSpinelessWhine for opening my eyes to this.)

For the eight months prior to posting about her TSA experience, (or should that be "experience?") SiteMeter shows that Nicole White's blog received a total 22,512 visitors, for an average of 2,814 a month. But in the month of October, when she told her TSA story, she got an astonishing 161,225 visitors. That's an increase of 5,629 percent. (Or so says the Internet percentage calculator I used.) 'Nuf said.

Now I'd love to stay and chat with you all about this, but there's a homemade spaceship in my backyard that I've been sorely neglecting. I'll be sure to tell my boys to wave for the cameras.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sniglets for Moms

I'm probably dating myself a bit, but man how I loved sniglets. You know, words that aren't words but should be.

I still can remember my all-time favorite: lactomangulation. It means, of course, "manhandling the 'open here' spout on a milk carton so badly that one has to resort to using the 'illegal' side."

Brilliant.

The best sniglet of all time, however, is not actually from the show but rather was coined by my dear friend Steven: he calls the cleaning you do before the cleaning people come....pre-maidication.

Brilliant.

Lately I've been finding myself in need of sniglets. Because as a parent, you often find yourself in situations that don't have names...but should.

It happened the other day when I was so pleased that Alec had fallen asleep so quickly and easily for his nap...only to realize -- doh! -- that the monitor wasn't actually on. There should be a name for that, I thought to myself.

Yesterday, just at the very moment that I realized that our lunch server's pokiness was going to make my best friend miss her train to Washington, I also realized that Alec was in emergent need of a diaper change. Both ladies' rooms were occupied. The men's room had nowhere to change him. So I ended up having to change him on...the sidewalk on Cold Spring Lane, on top of an insulated grocery bag from Trader Joes I found in the back of car. The grocery bag, sadly, had to be burned, but Michele did catch the MARC with all of about four seconds to spare, and that was only because she bought a ticket on the train.

Anyway, as I crouched on the sidewalk, frantically trying to subdue my poop-covered octopus of a child, knowing that with every wriggle he was putting nails in the coffin of Michele's timely departure, I couldn't help but think that there should be a name for this: the propensity of children to move their bowels at the most highly inconvenient moments. And the corollary to it, which is that when time is of the essence, you will be forced to change a diaper in the most impractical, inconvenient place possible. (A kindly man actually slowed down and yelled, "Do you need some paper towel?" out his car window. I kid you not.)

And then it happened again today. There was someone I had been hiding in my Facebook feed for months, too wimpy to actually defriend. Something prompted me to look her up today and I realized she had actually defriended me. And I still managed to feel a little pissed. There should be a name for that, I thought.

And a name for that there shall be. We at Jenmen.com World Headquarters are all about public service. So I'm launching a sniglets feature you'll see semi-regularly. I'll post some modern-day situations in desperate need of convenient terminology, like the three I've put out there today. And you will come up with witty names for them. Maybe if I ever get any actual swag, you can win it. For now, you'll just get the glory of a job well done.

So let's see what you've got now, shall we? ;-)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Who I Am

I know, I know. I haven't been blogging.

It's because I've been thinking. Ruminating. Churning.

When Ethan turned five last month, it also marked five years since I traded in my long career as a freelance journalist -- much of it writing about celebrities -- to be a stay-at-home mom. My last big professional undertaking was in 2004, helping the fabulous Carson Kressley write his first book. While in New York one frigid January weekend to have a trial work session with Carson, I had my first-ever hot flash. Green to the gills, I swigged ginger ale through our entire meeting. The two pink lines showed up that afternoon, and I was offered a book contract the next day. "Did you ever think I'd come in here and the fact that I had a book deal would be the second most important piece of news I had?" I asked my shrink, one eyebrow raised. When it rains, it pours and all that.

Ethan Alexander made his debut two weeks early, on September 2 of that year; the book, of which I was enormously proud, arrived in stores three weeks later. And Carson, being the world's best fairy goduncle (his term, not mine), sent us the tiniest, most adorable Gucci tuxedo loafers you've ever seen. (One foot is embroidered with "Hug," the other with "Me.") Alas, Ethan had precious few black tie events on his calendar as an infant; we mostly just trotted them out to visitors to ooh and ah over.

Anyway, like so many professional women before me, I made the decision to hit the pause button on my career right about then. Billions of words have already been devoted to the agony of making this choice, and I don't pretend to have anything insightful to add. Largely because I found the decision surprisingly easy and angst-free: after ten long years slogging it out in the freelance trenches, I was really ready to take a break. I'm well aware that I'm extremely lucky to have had this option, which isn't available to every family. I'm equally aware that as a freelancer, making the decision to quit my job was a lot less traumatic and complicated than it is for most women, since technically, I didn't actually have a job. The assumption was always that at some point down the road, I would just hop right back in. It's just like riding a bike, right?

Lately, I've been starting to wonder if that point is...now. (And yes, that's partly because Ethan's school tuition costs more than my college tuition did.)

Anyway, I think the seed may have been planted last January, at my semi-annual Miss America party, where I brought together a bunch of friends both old and new. There was some trading of celebrity gossip. My wonderful friend Heidi, who I met while our kids bonded over turtle time at My Gym, admitted she didn't know that I was such a pop culture junkie. My wonderful friend Maggie, who I've known since college, but haven't seen much of since we both became moms, was completely dumbfounded. "What Jen do you know if not the one that's a pop culture junkie?" she asked. She turned to me with mock horror. "Who are you?"

Good question. Lately, I think I may have become that person I always looked askance at: the one who couldn't identify every starlet on magazine covers, the one who couldn't give you the elevator pitch on every movie on a given marquee. I no longer read a daily newspaper or subscribe to EW. Yes, I'm still razor sharp on American Idol, but I confess I had no idea who Lady Gaga was when she made a guest appearance there. Bryan Cranston won an Emmy this year for Best Actor on a show that...I had never, ever heard of. Not once. I used to be a People magazine reporter, for God's sake. This will not stand. (And if this all seems ridiculously trivial to some of you, fear not: I know the world will not be substantially bettered if I am conversant with Lady Gaga. To me, it's just shorthand to indicate that I am clearly no longer at the top of my game, professionally speaking, having -- cue the schmaltzy cliche alert --traded Lady Gaga for Lady Topham Hatt. Silly as it might sound, knowing who Lady Gaga is was actually part of my job.)

Enter Serendipty, stage left.

A few weeks ago, my former Slate colleague Dahlia Lithwick had the brilliant idea to try to write a chick lit novel in under a month. She asked for input from readers on everything from character names to plot twists. And suddenly, it was like the floodgates opened. Though I haven't written a word of fiction since high school and have never once considered trying, I found myself mesmerized by Dahlia's exercise. As Dahlia asked questions to propel her story forward, I found answers almost effortlessly. Characters began to emerge from my head, etched out in painstaking detail. It was like all the experiences I've had as a reporter, meeting scores and scores of interesting...well, characters, began to brew. Why yes, I knew exactly what the heroine's husband's name would be, and came up with a back story for him on the spot. Actually, I did know what the publisher of a DC legal blog called Bar Czar would eat for lunch. I could hear that woman's voice and see the way she dressed for work. I knew what she smelled like, for God's sake. It was like I began to flex a muscle I wasn't quite aware I had. And it felt really good.

While following Dahlia's project, I learned of a brilliant program called NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, in which participants agree to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. And I'm having this crazy idea I should give it a whirl, though the idea seems alternately ludicrous, terrifying and exhilarating. Literally within a day or so of first hearing about Nanowrimo, one of my oldest friends randomly e-mailed me out of the blue (or maybe not) to ask if I was familiar with it. I took that as a sign.

Then, Tweet Deck randomly (or not) recommended I follow someone on Twitter. I clicked on the profile, only to learn that she was longtime freelance magazine writer -- a diehard pop culture junkie who's profiled scores of celebs -- who has become a bestselling novelist. I took that as a sign.

Randomly, (or not) I also noticed that an old college acquaintance I haven't thought about in 20 years had replied to a mutual friend's Facebook status. I looked her up, only to learn that she now runs a way cool business as what she calls a "writing/creativity/life coach." She helps creative people focus their energies and find their specific creative calling. I took that as a sign.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning writer I admire enormously then randomly (or not) sent me a message about my Twitter profile. "Hey, whoever you are: Your name and your bio are excellent," he wrote. There was that question again. Who am I? I took that as a sign.

But then the real sign came. My agent emailed with a potential ghostwriting project. I found myself getting genuinely excited at the idea of working, of flexing those dormant muscles again. The project didn't work out this time, but it's left me craving the chance to do something creative, though I confess I'm not sure what that should be. (The novel? I might just be talking smack.) I find myself unmistakably hungry for the storytelling process that was my lifesblood for so long, for the maddening but blissfully satisfying art of forging something beautiful with words. It's who I am.


A footnote:
To help answer the burning question of Who are you?, (or maybe, more precisely, to answer the question of Who were you?) I've created a new sidebar on my blog. Though until now, CTTK has largely been nothing but a personal forum to showcase how impossibly cute my kids are, I've linked to a small and probably somewhat haphazard sampling of some of the magazine work I used to do. In other words, I've resurrected my professional persona and it will now vie for attention in this space with those two little boys I adore beyond words. I'm hoping in the case of this particular fight, we can find a way for everybody to win.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Hangman Makes Me Happy

Ethan was the giver. :-)




And yes, I realize that my blog has become nothing but a series of Wordless Wednesday posts. I'm waiting for... inspiration. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Let's call this one, "Random things you find in your dryer when you're the mother of two small boys." Uhhh...I have no idea. :-0

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Lost


Ethan's discovered The Magic Tree House.

We're thinking we might hear from him again when he's, like, fifteen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Your Story Here

I thought at first it was a dead animal. Roadkill.

Instinctively, I averted my gaze and tried not to drive over the pile of matted fur that was lying in the middle of Baltimore's Greenspring Avenue.

But then I got a better look and realized it wasn't a carcass at all. It was just...hair. Human hair. And lots of it. Cascading curls, to be exact. Now I'm no expert on wigs, but I'm pretty sure it was what's called a "fall": a hairpiece meant to be worn in addition to one's own hair rather than in place of it.



But why was it lying in the middle of a busy city thoroughfare? And did it have anything to do with that poor orphaned shoe I wrote about last month?

It's Wednesday. I'm wordless. What have you got? ;-)

Wordless Wednesday: He Wanted to be Cozy



I love this boy....

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Itchy



So today is my 7th wedding anniversary.

Feeling predictably nostalgic, I started going through my wedding photos and remembering the amazing summer day when I stood in what has to be the most beautiful room in Baltimore -- the Peabody Library -- and said my vows.


(You can click on these photos to see them full size.)

In the jenmen world, however, snark often trumps sentimentality. And humor always trumps everything.

And so, in honor of my anniversary, I present you not with a treacly recounting of my wedding or of the seven blissful years since, but rather, the following.

Greg and I honeymooned on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Heaven on earth, for sure. And then we spent a few days in Paris. Where we found ourselves, rather predictably, at the Eiffel Tower one morning, trying to get that perfect souvenir photo.

Now let it be said that when it comes to taking photos, it's clear that all the talent in the family went to my brother Matt (who took the photos above, btw.) I have basically no idea what I'm doing with a camera.

And so it was a great relief when we came across a European couple who appeared to be professional photographers. They were grappling with several cameras, and some heavy duty photo equipment, engaged in what appeared to be a heated argument about perspective. Trying to get the perfect shot, they were pretzeling themselves into Twister-like contortions.

We even got a photo of them at work:


Delighted, we asked if they would take our photo.

And this is the shot they got of us:


Wait, let's try that one again, shall we?

OK, maybe next honeymoon.

Thankfully, later that afternoon, a random stranger took this for us, one of my very favorite pictures of the two of us.


The Eiffel Tower skewers my head. Miraculously, I smile. Now that's what I call deliriously happy.

Thanks for seven great years, Greg. Here's to many many many more... Oh, and thanks to Tariq, our awesomely honest Parisian taxi driver, who Fedexed our camera back to us after you we left it in the back of his cab at the airport.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Storytime

For as long as I can remember, I've been endlessly fascinated by other people's stories. When I go to a wedding or bar mitzvah, even if my connection to the festivities is tangential at best, I feel compelled to learn everything about the celebrating family. I want to know all their back stories -- to figure out which cousin belongs to which black sheep uncle, and which sister-in-law is the Iraq war veteran with a medical degree from Harvard.

When I see a homeless person on the street, I can't help wondering, "How did they end up there?" I want to fill in the missing parts of the trajectory from the little boy running through a sprinkler under a mother's loving, watchful eye, to the man standing on the side of Northern Parkway with a sign asking for money.

It's the storyteller in me, the reason I've spent most of my adult life dropping into other people's lives for a short while to learn their stories, and then telling them in the many magazines and newspapers I've written for. In all honesty, I think it's a bit of cowardice that inspired my professional life. I'm perpetually fearful that I'm not particularly interesting or insightful enough on my own. I prefer to be the empty vessel, filled up with the collective energy from all those amazingly interesting people I've trailed over the years, the Grammy winners and Senators and middle school teachers and good Samaritans.

And it's not even just people's stories that fascinate me. It's any story. Stories about places and things, even. When we pulled out the rusted medicine cabinet in our 1930 bathroom, I was morbidly fascinated by the cache of used straight razor blades we discovered in the empty space in our wall. (Apparently, old-style medicine cabinets had a slot in which to deposit them.) It wasn't quite as shocking as finding, say, a dead body or a dinosaur bone, but it felt almost thrilling to me, somehow. A tangible link connecting us to the stranger who'd stood in our bathroom all those mornings years ago.

Which brings me, somewhat improbably, to a blog post about a shoe.

Specifically, a slightly grannyish, black leather Franco Sarto woman's pump.

At about 5:00 in the evening on Saturday, I dashed out for a last minute run to the grocery store. And as I walked into our neighborhood Shopper's, I couldn't help but notice that there was a single shoe perched rather regally on a concrete ledge facing the parking lot. There was nobody around. Not a soul. (The store is frequented by a heavily Orthodox population and is notoriously empty on Saturdays.)

There was just this....shoe.

I had to take a picture. I just had to.


Immediately, my mind began to wander. How had that shoe -- especially just one of them -- ended up in that spot, at that moment? Where was its owner? Where was its...mate?

I know that there are all sorts of fascinating urban legend-y theories about why shoes get hung over power lines, but I've never heard anything about leaving singletons in grocery store parking lots.

And so I'm putting it out to you.

Use the comments section of this post to create a plausible (or not) explanation for the fate of this poor abandoned piece of footwear. You know it has a story. Everything has a story. So let's see what you've got, shall we?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wordless Wednesday


Why not-quite-two year olds are only of limited value when it comes to emptying dishwashers...Thanks, Alec!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thanks, Kenny B

So my old friend Ken Baker of E!, who I helped get his job at People magazine way back in the mesozoic era of journalism -- pre-Facebook, pre-Google, pre-Blackberries, and not quite but almost pre-e-mail, gave me a shout out on Twitter today. (Remember when "Ask Jeeves" seemed like the coolest thing ever? And your cell phone weighed about 14 pounds?)

If you're one of Ken's tweeps stopping by, hey! Thanks for visiting. And while you're at it, follow me on Twitter, won't ya? I'm only 14,094 followers behind!

Oh, and tell him I love him, even if he does look just like Murray the Red Wiggle.


Some gratuitous Friday fun

So do you think this is a statement about my less-than-stellar housekeeping, or about his undying love for Sesame Street? ;-)



video

Monday, July 6, 2009

Gremlins

I've never been much of a conspiracy theorist.

Moon landing? Totally happened. 9/11? Bin Laden and Al Queda, plain and simple. And I don't lose any sleep at night thinking that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

But lately I have to confess that I'm becoming increasingly gripped with paranoia that a nefarious force is at work in my life. Don't tell anyone, ok? But it's got to be...gremlins.

How else to explain the regularity with which items in my life disappear, as if swallowed up by black holes? Where else could Ethan's "Touchdown" pajamas be? Where in God's name is that years-old Tiffany's gift card, which managed to vanish right after I was (shockingly) actually able to locate it and send Tiffany's a form confirming that I did, in fact, still have it? And why is that when I search and search for the missing cap to a marker, the very moment I finally locate the cap I can no longer find the marker itself??

I'm disorganized. Horribly. Pathologically. I know that. I spend ridiculous amounts of time looking for things. But there's a whimsical quality to my searches, one that has me believing someone is watching and laughing. It's different from the way, that, say, my husband misplaces his wallet and car keys all the time. How, you ask?

Well, I once was determined to reprogram my universal remote. You know, where you do that godawful thing where you try all the different codes to make it actually turn the tv on and off? But I ended up unwittingly acting out what must have looked like an Abbott and Costello routine. As soon as I put my hands on the long lost remote instructions, I swear to God that the remote itself was then nowhere to be found. And as soon as I put my finger on the remote, the instructions would mysteriously vaporize into thin air. This went on for a truly unreasonable period of time. I started to wonder if I were on Candid Camera.

Yesterday, en route to my in-laws' house, I became convinced I had left my sunglass clip at the pool. It's custom-made to fit my glasses; losing it would be a serious pain in the ass. So, upon arriving at their house, I nervously popped the trunk and scrounged through the pool bag. I was so relieved to find it that I did what any normal person would do: I put it in a pocket inside my purse, so I wouldn't misplace it again.

And now I have absolutely no idea where it is. Turned the bag inside out. It's just...gone.

And that's why I think it's gremlins. They saw my concern, the ensuing relief, and...laughed. They mocked my attempt to be pre-emptively organized.

To wit: A few weeks ago, I wanted to return a shirt to Macy's. I was so proud of myself because I actually located the Macy's receipt, no small feat in my world. Or so I thought. Because only after I zoomed up to Macy's during the one 20 minute window I had free that day, and then waited in line at the register, did I realize that I was holding the receipt for something else, and that I'd wasted precious babysitter time on a useless errand. Take that, Miss "I'm Actually Going to File My Receipts So I Can Locate Them."

And here's where the Gremlins come in.

Because the very next day -- the very next day! -- I put on a pair of shorts and felt something in the pocket. And wouldn't you know, it was the receipt for that damned shirt. The weird part, though, is that the receipt was dated February 15. When I think I can pretty safely assume I wasn't wearing those shorts. How did it get in there? I have no earthly idea.

But I think he might.



Go on, laugh. I dare you. But then don't expect to find your car keys.

Friday, July 3, 2009

From the Mouths of Babes

Yesterday I had one of those moments at the playground.

A chatty little munchkin plopped himself next to me as I sat watching my boys play in the sandbox.

He told me he was four.

And then he said, apropos of nothing, "I know a rhyme!"

What followed was a true Hallmark moment: an impossibly adorable impromptu rhyme slam between the two of us.

He did cat and bat. I did shoe and blue.

Ladida ladida. Aren't little kids just sooooooo creative and delightful, I thought dreamily.

Until it was his turn. And he came up with "digger" and, well, a word that rhymes with it starting with n.

I froze. Literally. About a million things went through my head at once. Was it my place to tell him that that wasn't a nice word? Should I tell his mother? Or was his mother was the one who taught him that word? You know, when you're sitting at home teaching your four-year-old words that rhyme with digger?

In the end, I just decided to believe that it was an unfortunate accident, and that he could have just as easily said "wigger" or "zigger." Because nobody actually sends their four-year-old out into the world anymore thinking it's ok to use that word in public, right??

Right??

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Where's the Love?


So maybe you heard the story that was circulating a couple of weeks ago?

A woman named Danielle Smith, a mommy blogger from Saint Louis, had gotten an unnerving message from a college friend now living in the Czech Republic. Did Danielle know, he asked, that a family photo of hers he'd seen on Facebook -- the Smiths' holiday card photo, actually -- was being used as an advertisement on the front of a local grocery store? Well, no, actually. Danielle didn't know that.

Quite naturally, Danielle blogged about this strange turn of events. And as sometimes happens, her story grew legs and went viral. Thousands of people visited her blog and weighed in on the saga of the stolen Christmas card picture and how she and her family unwittingly ended up shilling for cereal, half a world away. Hundreds of media outlets the world over told her story.

But this post is not about Danielle's photo, per se. What I found even more fascinating is that in the aftermath of her initial post about the stolen photo escapade, Danielle felt obligated to write another post. This one was about the incredible amount of vitriol directed at her. Writing about the quirky little photo caper opened Danielle up to the cesspool of vipers. You know, the anonymous online hordes who spend their time looking to say cruel things about anyone they can? They came to Danielle's blog to tell her that her family was ugly. They belittled Danielle and those who defended her as "soccer moms....clearly bewildered on Bisquick and oven cleaner." They haughtily scoffed at her stupidity for posting photos of her family on her blog or Facebook. Because clearly everybody who does something so supremely idiotic should just sit back and wait for those photos to be plastered on grocery store windows in foreign countries. "Get over yourself," a commenter calling himself "Brighteyedangel" wrote.

Ironically, Danielle herself had marveled just weeks earlier at the depths of hatred online, reeling from a comment on the uber-popular mommy blogger Heather Armstrong's site, dooce.com. Armstrong, who was then 35 weeks pregnant, wrote about an unexpected ultrasound. And this is what she heard in return:

162. Anonymous
said:

Too bad. I am still hoping something horrible happens to that troll fetus inside of you. What is it like having such a hideous daughter? I wonder what she’s going to do when all the kids start picking on her for being ugly? Ugh. It’s so disgusting you are bringing another creature into the world. Don’t end up in the looney bin this time. LOL

Anyone who's ever written anything online, whether it be a column, a blog, or a message board posting, inevitably sees it happen. I've seen mothers on a parenting message board ridicule someone else's child as ugly. Years ago, when I wrote a humor column for Slate -- a humor column! -- my work would occasionally be teased on the MSN homepage. Whenever that happened, scores of people who were clearly not regular Slate readers would click on the link. And then they would proceed to leave comments.

What would they say about my lighthearted humor column, you ask? Oh, you know, that I was a stupid f*cking worthless bitch who didn't deserve to live. That I was a moron who had no right to have a column. That sort of thing. I can't even remember all the names and epithets that were hurled at me. For something as innocuous as writing funny columns about the supermarket tabloids. It floored me, seriously. The level of hostility out there is beyond terrifying.

But now I know for certain that no one, and no subject, is immune from this kind of spewing. Blogger Heather Spohr posted yesterday about the ongoing agony she feels as she grieves the unexpected loss of her 17 month old daughter, Maddie.

And look what some peach of a chick named "Kelly" chose to share with her:



I don't want to put too fine a point on it, and I hesitated whether it was even worth drawing further attention to, but just try to imagine, if you will, sitting down at your computer, composing the above and hitting "post" on the blog of a woman whose baby died not quite three months ago. Who are these people? And what in God's name is wrong with them? (Full disclosure: I have left comments on Heather's blog that I later regretted may have come off differently than I intended; it's sometimes hard to say the right thing to someone in pain. But I can say with absolute certainty I was never this far off base.)

And it doesn't stop there. I just came across this terrifying New York Times Magazine article about online trolls. Trolls who make a sport of, say, ridiculing the families of children who've killed themselves. You know, that sort of thing. Lord knows I am no purveyor of puppy dogs and rainbows. I'm as cynical and jaded a former New Yorker as they come. But this makes me feel incredibly naive. And honestly frightened.

What terrifies me is that this can't be just an Internet phenomenon. Anonymous and Brighteyedangel and Kelly aren't just screennames. They're people, with arms and legs and hearts (well, not really.) They work in the cubicle next to us. They serve us fries and a shake. They're our cousin's next door neighbor. They're the mom with three kids we held the door for at Target. And they are so clearly seething with hatred and loathing. Must it bubble up in their real lives as well, or does the Internet simply provide an effortless outlet for them to spew without real consequence?

I'm not sure. And I'm not sure I want to find out.