Friday, February 29, 2008

The Leap Day Roundup

I knew a guy in high school who was born on February 29, 1976. He only had a birthday every 4 years. So wherever you are, Jason What's-His-Face, happy 8th birthday. Hope you get that 10-speed.

In honor of leap day, here is my post full of things that I didn't think of myself, favorite new places on the internet, questions I've recently been asked, and other randomness. I am reserving this one day every four years to fail to think for myself.

Watching an episode from Season 3 of "The West Wing" last night, probably one of my favorite quotes ever:

Leo: It was a screwup, but I love how he just ran full speed at it. Bam! It's like, there's a Sam Seaborn-shaped hole in the wall.

Aaron Sorkin: greatest TV writer ever.

A Twitter by Mighty Girl's Maggie Mason: "BABYBOI plate and "I've got piercings in places you'd love to lick" license frame suggest that aging is gonna be hard on you."

Dan and I are in a mighty battle with our weight, which has collectively become a little out of control. I have lost 8 pounds; Dan has lost an inch and a half from his waist, but after seeing the food porn at Sunday Night Dinner, I think we'd give it all up for that spicy, totally greasy Thai wide rice noodle dish that I can't think of the name of at the moment.

Imaginary notes to your kid and from your kid to you: At Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet and Finslippy. If Max were going to leave me a note it would say, "FYI: Anything I liked last week, I now hate. You are a terrible mother. Never talk to me again. Love, Max."

The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks made me put my head down on my desk and laugh so hard that I cried this week. There is very little that I like more than a grammar Nazi.

Tertia at So Close frequently speaks publicly about her journey through infertility to motherhood. This week she wrote a little about bedside manner and how medical professionals can better meet patients' needs. As a sufferer of a chronic illness and secondary infertility, I really appreciate the comments of her readers.

I hope that Sarah of Sarah and the Goon Squad doesn't mind me stealing her Leap Day Pop Culture survey, but she would have made an outstanding MTV reporter. Her questions are great ones. They are as follows:

1) What is the last movie you saw in a theater? Was it good?

2) What is your favorite tv show?

3) What is the last album you bought (or stole from the internet, or burned from a friend) that you loved?

4) If you were in charge of People Magazine’s Sexiest Person Alive, who would win?

5) Who is your favorite artist? (Like art artist)

6) What is your favorite musical/opera/play?

7) What do you think is the worst song ever recorded?

Leave your answers in the comments.

I am so weary of hearing about the dangers of aspartame. Let me throw something out there for you, people: I am diabetic. I would rather be temporarily cranky from aspartame than permanently dead from kidney failure. Sugar may occur in nature, but insulin does not occur in my pancreas, so stop telling me what to eat or I will ritually destroy myself before your very eyes. Additionally, aspartame breaks down in digestion into naturally-occurring substances, and recent studies show that cancer may be hereditary in lab rats. So, thanks for your input, but as it turns out, you know less about my endocrine system than I do, so go away.

Does Christian Siriano know how he comes across on TV? I feel like I'm trying to peel, slice, and eat a bag of limes every time he talks. If only somebody would give me a large bottle of tequila to go with the limes, and also to ease the pain every time he calls something "fierce."

If you have favorite recipes or food that you don't have a recipe for but you still love, email me and I'll talk it up on A Year In The Kitchen. Along those lines, here's a recipe for a Leap Year Cocktail, apparently conceived for a 1928 leap day celebration in London.

2 oz gin (I'd go with Beefeaters on this one)
½ oz sweet vermouth
½ oz Grand Marnier
¼ oz fresh lemon juice

Shake above ingredients with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass,
then garnish with a lemon twist, just so.

Just so? Pip pip, old chum.

Does anyone have a Leap Day tradition? I think I should start one, but what should it be? A leap or jump of some kind seems appropriate, but what? And keep in mind that I am not that coordinated, nor am I looking to break a bone or anything.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Politics of Food

(Cross-posted at A Year In The Kitchen.)

Let me just say that I'm a political person. I follow politics. I am interested in politics. I pay attention to politics. I think politics are important and interesting.

A British chef and cookbook author who I mostly think is full of shit, however, thinks that cooks (and celebrity chefs in particular) should stay out of politics.

Delia Brown, I'll keep food out of politics when politics stay out of my food.

There was a great deal of discussion at Mark Bittman's blog Bitten yesterday about how poor people eat poorly (nutrition-wise, that is) due mostly to ignorance. I would just like to say that while this may not be the medium to get political, I am offended on the behalf of poor people living in cities everywhere.

The comments on the blog ranged from "These poor people should plant a garden and grow their own vegetables, eat less meat and poultry, and stop eating so much processed junk! We should educate poor people everywhere as to why their health is bad, their children are failing in school, and their communities are in ruins!" to "The cultural bias of poor people is to eat large amounts of bad-quality, badly prepared, unhealthy food. There's nothing that can be done for people who don't know any different."

I am horrified by the ignorant, elitist, stereotyping nature of these comments, as I feel quite certain that none of the commenters have any idea what it's like to be poor in the inner city.

Poor people don't eat junk food because they love to eat junk food. Poor people eat junk food because junk food is what's available to them and they don't get a lot of say in what is ultimately on their table at the end of the day.

If you don't think that there's any conceivable way that could be true, let me give you a snapshot of what it's like to be poor in Washington D.C.

You probably are the single head of a household in a family of three or four, and you're probably female. You probably work at least two jobs, one at $9-10 an hour, the other at $7. You probably live in Southeast, an area of the city that is frequently compared to certain parts of Atlanta, Detroit, and South-Central Los Angeles for its rates of poverty and crime, in a one-bedroom apartment. Chances are, you rely on Section 8 vouchers to help you pay your rent, and chances are, that is not the only form of public assistance that you recieve. You might be helping to support one of your parents, or a sibling. You're probably paying at least something for daycare, but you get some assistance from vouchers as well. Maybe you have a sister who watches your kids at night, or a parent.

You probably rely on public transportation, because you've never owned a car or learned to drive. In your neighborhood, there are probably a dozen carryout restaurants and at least that many convenience and liquor stores. There are check-cashing services, and maybe payday advance outlets. There might be a bank. There is no grocery store.

Let me say that again. There is no grocery store in your neighborhood. There isn't one within walking distance. You have to take two buses to get to the nearest grocery store, and walk 3/4 of a mile. On a Saturday, your only day to shop, it might take you an hour to get there if the buses run on schedule. An hour there, an hour to shop, and an hour home.

Remember, you are poor, so you're probably not in the best of health. Hypertension? Probably. Type II diabetes? Possibly. That mile and a half you walk round-trip to get to and from the grocery store is a major effort for you, especially in the winter, when it might be icy, or in the summer, when it's most definitely hot and humid.

But you have two or three kids to feed, and most of your food budget comes from WIC or other public assistance. The convenience stores in your neighborhood don't accept food stamps or Bridge cards, and even if they did, that pound of bananas that cost $.49 at Save-A-Lot? They're $1.89 in your neighborhood. A gallon of milk costs $2.99 at Shoppers; Joe's Convenience Store has that same gallon of milk priced at $4.19. A small can of vegetables is $1.49, but in your neighborhood, there isn't anyplace to buy fresh vegetables. And you have to pay cash.

So you might shop once a week at one of the bigger discount grocery chains, making that walk with your kids and your folding grocery cart, then taking the two buses. Say you've got two kids to feed for a week, plus yourself. Your kids qualify for free breakfasts and lunches at school (and don't even get me started on the quality and nutrition available in school lunches), and you carry your lunch and eat dinner at work (your second job is probably in food service somewhere), that's two breakfasts times three people (6), five lunches times one (5) and two lunches times three (6), five dinners times two people (10) and two dinners times three (6). That's 33 meals and no snacks. Count on ten bags of groceries.

So are you buying organic carrots for $3.99 a pound? Local produce at three times the cost of commercially-farmed? Of course you're not! Produce is expensive, and heavy, and doesn't stretch very far, even if there's anything like that available in the grocery store where you shop. This isn't Trader Joe's. Plus, your kids might not eat it, and that's a waste. So you're buying potatoes and rice and pasta and dried beans, maybe some canned veggies, fruit, peanut butter and jelly, cheaper cuts of chicken and meat. You might have an hour or two at home in the evenings to feed your kids before you go off to your second job, so things like TV dinners and frozen pizzas and lasagnas are quick and your kids like them. The WIC nurse says that your kids need dairy products for calcium, so it's milk and cheese and eggs and maybe yogurt. White bread, because it's cheaper. Individual bags of chips for snacks, maybe Fruit Rollups, maybe Kool-Aid or off-brand sodas. Sugar, flour, and other staples.

You've got a grocery cart which carries three or four bags of your heaviest groceries. Some grocery stores have riders out front--unauthorized taxi services that will take home shoppers and their groceries for money, usually in the $10 range. You need your $10 though, so you're taking the bus. Your oldest kid carries a couple bags, your youngest might carry a bag for you too. That leaves you pushing or pulling your cart and carrying the last three bags as well.

The bus is late. Hope it's not summer, because if it is, you're sitting in the sun with all that food--chicken, meat, milk, cheese, eggs, frozen food. It's all going bad while you wait.

Could you bake your own bread? Sure, maybe you'll get time for that someday, but not this week. Could you grow your own vegetables? Where? The fire escape? You don't have a yard.

I'm not making this stuff up or exaggerating; this is modern hunting and gathering for poor urban families where I live. Of course poor people eat junk food! Of course they're not in good health. Of course their kids don't do well in school. Of course this lifestyle contributes to a cycle of poverty that is hurting millions of people every day in very profound ways.

Food isn't like driving a nice car or having high-speed internet access. Think about how you would feel about your kids going to bed hungry at night, or being contacted by their teacher because they're falling asleep in class. Just think about how helpless you would feel at having to choose between keeping a roof over their heads or giving them the basic nutrition that they need to break this impossibly ugly cycle of poverty and dispair.

I shop at a comfortable suburban grocery store and I seldom worry about the cost of my food. I know what to give my husband and my son and myself and how to prepare it to keep all of us healthy and functioning at optimal, and I don't have to make impossible choices like keeping the lights on or keeping my kid from being too hungry to concentrate. I have the opportunity to shop for locally-produced, sustainably grown goods and organic vegetables, fruit, and meat, and as often as I can, I take advantage of it.

But this stupid goddamn elitist attitude of bragging about where our food comes from and then looking down our noses at people who genuinely don't have the luxury of making the choices that I make is absolutely the worst, stupidest, most ass-backward form of knee-jerk liberalism anywhere. It's bad, and not in a good way. It's unproductive. It's biased and sad.

And I see so much of it in reading about food. The nerve of chastizing people who struggle every month to feed their kids and keep the lights on and the roof over their heads for not owning a bread machine with which to bake their own bread or a yard in which to grow their own vegetables is staggering to me. Practically demanding that poor people cease eating meat left me speechless.

I think we should have a real discussion about the politics of food in America's poorest communities, but I think that when the focus of this discussion is about why America's poorest communities aren't growing their own microgreens or baking their own bread, we are missing the point so massively that it makes me sick. I want to talk about why there aren't incentives for major grocery stores to move into neighborhoods where accessability to fresh, affordable food is a major roadblock. I want to talk about the correlation between food and education, especially early childhood education. I want to talk about why people whose food budget exceeds $1200 a month think it's okay to tell someone who doesn't own a car that they shouldn't eat junk food and only does so because that person is stupid.

I want people to understand something about modern poverty: the solutions to this problem aren't fixed by organics. They're fixed by understanding what the problem really is.

So far, the people who are doing virtually all of the talking don't seem to be able to wrap their heads around it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Newly Obsessed

My new fascination is shibori, an ancient Japanese fiber technique. Have I told you how much I love Ravelry, by the way? It is a web application for yarn artists (that's what fancy-pants knitters call themselves) that functions sorta like Myspace, only without all the pictures of 17-year-old girls in their bras. Oh my God, the Google searches that last sentence will almost certainly generate. I apologize in advance.

I saw a few felted shibori scarves in Ravelry and I love them. They are so neat looking, not drapey like an unfelted scarf in wool or alpaca would be, but with real visual interest due to the 3-D nature of the construction.

So as soon as I am done knitting for Kimberly's coming attraction, I am going to try shibori. And with no further ado, here is my homemade, badly-illustrated guide to shibori felt.

Before you make fun of my illustrations, I think that we should all take a minute to think about the fact that uploading pictures to blogger is really just about at the outer range of my technical know-how, so I'm sorry about the teensy type in the pictures, but I hope you can squint sufficiently to get the idea of what it is that I'm talking about when I say that this is the coolest thing ever.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Alarming Meat!

Last week, my boss' boss was looking for some statistics about foreclosure for a presentation. When she sent me an email asking me to do some research for her, she asked for some "alarming meat" to include in her presentation.

I found that phrase so thoroughly hilarious that I've been looking for places to use it, despite being inappropriate. Dan asks what's for dinner? The answer is alarming meat. I thought it was so funny I told my boss about it, and she thought it was so funny that we've been using it regularly since then.

When you Google the phrase "Alarming Meat," sadly what comes up is a lot of information about things like sick cows. However, when you Google the following things, what comes up is this here blog:

Your life will return to you after these messages: This isn't my life? Whose is it? Because I knew my husband was supposed to be taller.

Uses of heroine: Numbing the pain of not being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Mom's Machine Sex: I don' you maybe mean "Mom's a sex machine?" Because while that's really no less weird, it at least means something. Unsavory as it is.

Chicken butt alternatives: Guess what?

Young MC Taco Bell: Yo quiero Bust A Move.

30 Year Old Grandmother: I guess technically it's possible. Dan's taught some baby mamas whose mothers were younger than him, so maybe it's not that strange.

What's got two thumbs and doesn't give a crap?:

*Two thumbs up.* Bob Kelso!

I did borrow this line awhile back, I think. I couldn't remember where I'd heard it, but when I googled it, the second thing that came up was a picture of this guy, and it rang a bell. I do love me some Scrubs.

Hot French Moms: I have no idea how you ended up here, but let me just say that you have wandered far, far afield, as usual.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Beach!

I am at the beach! The beach!! I keep saying that, because damn, here I am, in Virginia Beach, in an oceanfront room, and I can hear the waves and I would be able to smell the salty frickin' air if the entire state of North Carolina weren't on fire and blowing northward. I don't even care that that is what North Carolina smells like, because I. Am. At. THE BEACH!!

(I am desperately in need of a vacation, the kind where there aren't one or more sets of my parents or in-laws involved. Can you tell?)

This was neither an unreasonably long drive, nor was the traffic terrible. The hotel is reasonably priced with an indoor water park and free wireless internet, and did I mention that I am AT THE BEACH?

I am going to try and eat some delicious things this weekend, and probably re-knit the fleece border on the cable baby blanket that I have already finished once and am not happy with. I am going to play with my kid and run around on the beach, because I am here! At the beach! Stop it, Molly. Oh, also, I'll probably buy some fudge. Because that's what you do here.

This is shaping up to be an excellent weekend. I will keep you updated, probably in short bursts, and when I do, I will stop shrieking THE BEACH!

Boy Crazy

Once Dan and I knew we were having a boy, it was all boys all the time for me.

I am an only child, technically speaking--I have two half-brothers from my biological father's previous marriage, who, for most of my childhood, lived with my mother and I. Complicated. One is nine years older, the other eleven years, and neither of them have remained close to me. Also complicated.

The result of me doing most of my growing up without a male in the house was that it made me slightly boy-crazy. I always had big, juicy, emotional crushes on multiple boys at the same time in high school, but I rarely had a boyfriend. My senior year, when I did, I felt so conflicted: a simultanious need to cling to this guy and to spread my wings and test uncharted waters at the same time.

I spent the first half of my pregnancy consuming entire loaves of toasted white bread and reduced-calorie cranberry juice and wondering what I could possibly figure out about raising a son. Girls I knew; I had some experience. I was a relatively late baby--my mother was 35 when I was born--so I hit puberty right about the time that she hit menopause. Dear Lord, the hormones flying in that house. You would not BELIEVE. But I had no experience with boys, except to know that I hadn't married a typical one. As one of my good friends said when she got pregnant, unexpectedly, under some incredibly frightening circumstances, "What do I know about teaching responsible penis usage?"

We of course found out we were having a boy; from the moment that the unmistakable shape of male genitals appeared on the ultrasound screen, it was boys for me. You find out what you're having, and even if you were expecting something else, really believing in it, there's no turning back. I was mother to a boy before he was born.

There is something unique about parenting a boy. He will unexpectedly climb into your lap to give you the warmest, tightest hug in the world, then jump down and run off to play, but he will rarely cuddle with you. He will understand that, while his father holds the earth up on his shoulder, you are the one that makes a soft spot to land. You will be the one who he gives in to, not his father, when you are trying to make him do something he doesn't want to do.

He will break your heart when he asks for his father when he's as sick as he's ever been, but it'll heal you when a train whistle frightens him and he pushes people out of the way running to jump into your arms. You'll be the first one he says "I love you" to.

Personally, I love this all-boy kingdom I have. I know that things will change as he grows up, and the toilet seat will always be up and there'll never be any hot water for a shower for me. I know it'll be like AM Sports Radio at the dinner table. I know that instead of girls' nights with pedicures and chick flicks and dress-up, there'll be lacrosse practice and girls calling my house at dinnertime and fart jokes.

But I don't know anything about girls. Even as a child, other girls were mysteries to me--they seemed catty and cruel and untrustworthy. I've had a few close girlfriends throughout my life, but not many, and rarely have any of them liked each other very much. My birthday parties always devolved quickly into several bickering cliques between which I felt torn. As a mother, as little as I know about responsible penis usage, I know even less what to do about a Barbie Doll crisis, a cheating boyfriend, a best friend who buys the same prom dress, or any other girl-specific crisis.

My mother was sure I was a girl. Back in 1975, before ultrasounds, there was no way of knowing, but she didn't even think up a boy's name. I doubt that she knew any more about raising a girl than I would have, but she did her thing and she did it as well as she possibly could. The paradigm of my family is so different from hers. As the mom, and the girl, in this equation, I have a unique position as the center of my boys' universe, and I like it here very much.

If there's ever another one, I can't help but hope he's a boy. I feel like I was born to be a mother to boys. He fits me. When I thought about him before he was born, thought about what he would be like, he is so close to what I imagined, he is so much like what I thought he would be like, sometimes I can't believe he's not a figment of my imagination. I think that the universe somehow sends you just the right kid for you, the one who will test you and push you and make you grow in leaps and bounds.

If I had to describe parenting in one word, it would be transformative. In the little galaxy of our family, we are each other's centers of gravity. Adding Max to the mix changed everything and made us complete in ways we never thought of. The fact that he's a boy made me something special in this equation.

That song by John Mayer, "Daughters," talks about the power of a father's love in a daughter's life. There is an equally important story of mothers and sons to be told. I haven't seen enough yet to be able to tell it. I just feel incredibly lucky to be learning these lessons.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

According to Dan: Vanity Plate, Route 1 College Park, Last Night

Dan: "Do you think they're talking about Jesus?"

Molly: "Maybe it's a woman, and her husband died and she got a big insurance payout."

Dan: "Maybe it's an excuse for why the driver is driving so incredibly slow."

Molly: "Her husband probably has one that says 'He is Risen.'"

Dan: "Or maybe, 'She Died.'"

Monday, February 11, 2008

I am down to my last skein of Noro Kuriyon with the wrap I'm making. It's super-simple, just top-down garter stitch with a decrease at the end of each row to form a triangle. The colorway of this yarn is gorgeous, purples and blues and greens and grays. I am sort of in love with this yarn, and with the yarn store where I bought it. I never knew this place existed until two weeks ago, but it's about two miles from my office and it's all I can do to not spend every penny I make there. I am waiting until Kimberly finds out what she is having and then I plan to go nuts buying gender-specific colors for way more blankets than I will possibly be able to finish between now and when this baby is born.

Along the lines of way more blankets than I will possibly be able to finish, I am a big fan of Ravelry. It's sorta like MySpace for knitters and crocheters. I have about twelve patterns queued up, including baby hats, Dan-sized hats, Max-sized hats, Molly-sized hats, and about fifteen other things. Unfortunately, I already have an obscene number of projects on the needles and I need to wrap some of them up before I get rolling on baby knitting for Kimberly.

In other news: Dan and I are going to Virginia Beach next weekend for the long weekend. Our hotel has an indoor waterpark with one of those "Lazy River" things, waterfalls, etc. Max will go for that. If it's not horrendously cold, the Virginia Aquarium has whale-watching tours, and Dan is interested in that. Other than that, I need some ideas. Anybody have suggestions of what to do with a 2 1/2-year-old boy and a 36-year-old man-child in Virginia Beach in February?

I am gearing up at work for our busiest time of year, with an enormous (think several phone book-sized) grant application to the Federal government due, a block of money that supplies the bulk of our funding to the network of affiliates that we train and support. In addition, we are two days away from completing a second grant application that will provide almost $18 million in funding to housing counseling agencies who do "on the ground" work, preventing foreclosures at every step of the homebuying and homeownership process. This grant has had me and our corporate development officer working 12-hour-days for the last three weeks and is the reason for my relative lack of my usual drivel here. However, I continue to drivel daily at A Year In The Kitchen, so if you miss me, you can, you know, go there. And maybe cook something and tell me how it was.

Is anyone else watching "Project Runway?" and if you are, do you not just want to put a patent-leather muzzle on Christian? If this were a drinking game, everyone would have to do a shot every time he described something as "fierce" and we'd all be barfing by the time the show was over. And any full-grown adult who goes by the name Sweet P and has the cajones to wear short-shorts and a polyester blouse with an attached scarf and short, puffy sleeves that I swear to cheebus my mother used to wear to work when I was, like, 8...well, I just don't know what to say, except stop it. I am also really annoyed that Kevin got sent home, and I was even starting to dig Elisa, who, admittedly, had the design aesthetic of a traumatic brain injury victim, which, as it turns out, she actually was, which explains a lot, but by no means does it explain everything.

Well. That's enough now, I think. Carry on, designers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I Can't Actually Believe This Is Happening.

As I type this, my company's COO and the new markets consultant are in my office discussing a deal with J.P. Morgan Chase. I was working with the COO when the other guy wandered in to talk to him, interrupting me.

When it turned out that the conversation was going to take more than 30 seconds, the new markets guy took a seat.

This is what I can't believe: He is sitting on my desk.

I am not kidding. He pushed my inbox out of the way and just plunked right down.

What the holy hell?

He is still talking. Quick, leave me a comment and tell me what in the name of God I should do. I am so stunned by this lack of etiquette, I am powerless to do anything except post it on the internet.

Monday, February 4, 2008

All Apologies

Oh, what a weekend. I am in need of some minor first aid after two days with a two-and-a-half-year-old, one who seems bent on doing me bodily harm.

This adorable boy, this blond, curly-haired little peep of a guy, is having a major meltdown when it comes to his behavior. After over a year of not biting at all, he's suddenly taken it up again with great gusto. Even worse, the head-butting: he pretends he's coming in for a hug, and then he rams his head into your face, splitting lips, bloodying noses. I have a bruise--an actual bruise--on my right cheekbone. I managed to almost successfully dodge him that time.

He is punished every time it happens, and every time we punish him, he seems to express what appears to be real remorse, as if he's forgotten that he's not supposed to do that. These are not my finest moments as a parent--yelling, time-outs, slamming doors. I've got a little of that Irish temper from my paternal grandfather; this behavior is absolutely infuriating to me and it sounds terrible, but I just can't stop myself. Even worse, yesterday he jumped up on my lap to give me a hug and immediately bit me so hard on the shoulder that it made me scream from pain and surprise. This morning, I still have a round bruise there with a few spots of broken skin. And he bit me through a t-shirt.

I bit him back, in the same spot.

I didn't bite him nearly as hard as he bit me--come on, I'm not, like, Britney Spears or something. There's no need to send Child Protective Services to my house. Still, I felt awful immediately. As soon as he realized that he had bit me hard enough to hurt me, he started to cry. He started saying, "Sorry, Mama. I sorry I hurt you." He even got his Curious George and gave him to me as a peace offering. Both of us cried. We hugged and talked it out--it's wrong to hurt people on purpose, and when you bite someone you will always hurt them. Biting is not okay.

Still, all weekend, it was one thing after another. He threw the television remote at Dan and bounced it right off his ribs. Sorry, Daddy. He hit him so hard in the grocery store that he almost dropped him when he was trying to put him into the seat in the cart. Sorry, Daddy. He asked to hold my hand in the car on the way back from Virginia, and pinched me on the arm hard enough to leave a red mark. Sorry, Mama.

Every time, we got an immediate and sincere apology from him, and every time, we punished him nevertheless. Mean, horrible parents! Bad people! Terrible! Right? Okay, well, here's the thing: I think that Max thinks that it's okay to do whatever he wants to someone as long as he apologizes afterwards. By making him say that he's sorry--and we don't make him say it, per se, but we did teach him that when he hurts someone, the kind thing to do is to apologize--I am worried that we're validating this awful behavior.

I really don't think he's too young to understand that actions have consequences, and I know that he's trying to get a reaction out of us. I don't think he's getting the reaction he wants, and his frustration is building, and that's the reason for the escalating violence. I'm just not sure of how to get the message through to him. For a kid who picks things up so quickly, he is just not getting this. Either that, or he's getting it, but he's getting it all wrong, and man, am I taking it on the chin for that. Literally.

I never spank Max, and until this weekend, I have never hurt him intentionally--not even a little. I am more of a time-out, loss-of-priveleges, stern-talking-to kind of parent, known to raise my voice from time to time, even known to slam a door or something when really angered. Dan, on the other hand, is a little more prone to spank, but it's usually in reaction to Max's doing something dangerous or destructive. He got spanked by Dan for jumping on the couch this weekend--sorry, Daddy. And then right back to the jumping. Aaarghh! And if he gets hurt doing something that he has been explicitly forbidden to do, we never punish him further. It just seems cruel to me.

I just am at a loss as to what we should do. Wait it out? It seems clear that this is a phase, but at one point does it go from a phase to a habit to a real problem? Try to figure out what's causing this sudden streak of violence? Well, he's two and a half: that seems to be a key element, from what I understand. Giving him increased attention and affection when he offends seem to be exacerbating the situation, if anything, and I think it may be leading to this attitude of "anything goes as long as I regret it afterward."

Alice at Finslippy talked a few weeks ago about "making" kids apologize, and took a lot of heat because her kindergartener Henry pushed a kid who wasn't following the rules, and then wouldn't apologize to him afterwards. His reasoning: he was going to get blamed for not following the rules, not this kid, and you're really supposed to follow the rules, so why should he say he was sorry. I kind of get it: what's the point in a forced, insincere apology anyway? It reminds me of when I was in fourth grade and made a girl in my class cry by making fun of her weight. The teacher insisted I stand up in front of the class and apologize; I got up, went up to the front of the room, and hissed at her, "Alissa, I'm sorry you're so fat!" I was wrong, I get that. The point, I understand, was to make me empathetic; the result, as it turned out, was to make into a person who'd rather be hilarious just to myself than nice to other people far too much of the time. Also, karma's a real bitch sometimes. Lesson learned.

How do I make Max nice? How do I make him empathetic? How do I make him stop trying to maim me? I know the internet loves to give parenting advice, and in this case, I'm happy to hear almost any of it that you have, as long as it's, you know, constructive. And not about the fact that I bit my kid yesterday morning. Man, I feel awful about that, I don't really need anybody to tell me, "Yeah, don't do that again." But short of those two things, it would be great to get some input. Obviously, kids don't come with instruction manuals, but I'm starting to feel like they maybe should.