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The Best Laid Plans

10 Apr

It looks like I’m not going to finish the teething crib guard (and thus, the tutorial), until late next week, when we get back from Disney World. (I’m going to Disney World!) I can only sew in the evening after the baby has gone to bed and is, ahem, using the crib. So I have to attach the velcro straps but I’m not sure where to place some of them. And tomorrow night is book club, and then Thursday is packing, and then Friday is Disney. So there you go.

We are going to Disney to celebrate my nephew’s second birthday. It will be nice to spend time with my family, who I don’t get to see enough. But golly, Disney is expensive. Expensive isn’t quite the right word. If everything cost half of what it does, it would be expensive. Exorbitant is closer to the mark. But we’ll have fun, since the pain of paying those bills has been felt and dealt with.

The book for book club tomorrow is Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I read it while I was pregnant, about a year ago, and I really enjoyed it. I’m not sure if I could read it now with the same sense of pleasure because (spoiler alert) children die in it and I can’t help but put myself in their mother’s shoes and then I feel sick. The deaths aren’t graphic, but they are there. Hunger Games is one of those rare novels that actually caused me to change my behavior. Before I read the book, I would watch train-wreck reality television like Jersey Shore when there was nothing else on. Afterwards, I realized that just as the citizens of the Capitol were complicit in the Hunger Games by watching them, and so I was complicit in the continual degradation of popular culture by watching those trashy shows and their commercials, and thus encouraging it. I think there is also something to be said about professional football, where people (including me) cheer on healthy young men as they injure each other for our entertainment, until those men have to retire with serious injuries and frequently brain damage. Hunger Games has hidden depths – on the surface it is an entertaining story about a strong young woman who stands up to an evil empire. But if you look a bit further you see distorted reflections of popular culture and our modern civilization, and how some things aren’t as innocuous as they seem. Great fun!

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Review: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

5 Apr
Cover of The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

I recently finished reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson on my Kindle. It is one of those rare works of nonfiction that reads like a gripping novel. The book mostly follows the stories of three protagonists who were part of the Great Migration, with ancillary stories and corroborating accounts woven in. These three people, Ida Mae Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Pershing Foster, never crossed paths, but their reasons for participating in the Great Migration and how it affected their lives are remarkably similar. Wilkerson does not put the heroes of her book on a pedestal, which is a temptation for many authors (fiction and non-fiction). But the frankness and honesty of Wilkerson’s reporting makes the reader really like Gladney, Starling, and Foster, despite their flaws and mistakes.

Before I read this book, the Great Migration and Jim Crow (the largest factor in its genesis), were abstractions to me. I knew of their general existence, and of the civil rights struggle to end segregation, but I’ve never taken any classes or read previous books that dealt with it in any great detail. I am so glad I read this book and filled in this gap in my knowledge. It is a little shocking, in retrospect, at how this history has been played down. I think that it would be very beneficial for this book to be assigned in high school American History and English classes. In English classes because the author does a fantastic job of personalizing a subject that could be very dry and academic, and American History classes because the Great Migration completely altered the American landscape. In 1910, 89% of all black people lived in the south, but by 1960, it was down to 60%. That’s significantly larger than the emigration caused by Ireland’s Great Famine. I learned about all sorts of things, such as the everyday brutality of Jim Crow – it wasn’t just segregation, but included racially motivated murders that were routinely unprosecuted, and that in northern cities, white people would riot when a black family tried to move into the neighborhood. I had heard of the 1967 riots, but never these other riots, such as the 1919 riots.

This is a fabulous, fascinating book and I highly recommend it. The subject matter is serious, but I didn’t feel morose while I was reading it, which is important when it comes to my limited leisure reading time. The stories in The Warmth of Other Suns are those of the triumph of the human spirit over awful conditions and forbidding odds. And I love those kinds of stories.

Review: Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina

26 Mar

Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina is one of the best parenting books I’ve read. Not only does it give great advice and explain the science behind that advice, but it is enjoyable to read as well. So many parenting books have a dogmatic tone – “do it MY way or your child will be sad, friendless, stupid, anti-social, fat, etc.” and their advice is backed up only by the author’s view of how the world works and some anecdotes. The information in Brain Rules for Baby has both been published in academic literature and also reproduced. And because Medina is a true scientist, in his introduction he makes clear that:

  • Scientists don’t know everything, and the name of the game is to maximize your chances at raising smart & happy children. (That is, there are no guarantees!)
  • “Every kid is different”
  • “Every parent is different”
  • Children are strongly influenced by their peers
  • Most data shows association (links) rather than causes

I find this honesty very refreshing because not many parenting books speak these truths.

Brain Rules for Baby has five chapters: Pregnancy, Relationship, Smart Baby, Happy Baby, and Moral Baby. Each of those chapters is divided into Seeds (“nature”) and Soil (“nurture”). At the end of the book is a sixth chapter called Practical Tips that is a great summary of those five chapters.

Smart Baby was my favorite chapter because it confronted several parenting myths head on and was very practical. One of the myths that Medina demolishes is that “helicopter parenting” or “hyper-parenting” is good for children. Some ways that hyper-parenting is harmful:

  • extreme expectations stunt higher-level thinking
  • pressure can extinguish curiosity
  • continual anger or disappointment becomes toxic stress

This makes me feel much better about my gut reaction to avoid the academic extracurriculars, and instead, let Daisy have vast amounts of imaginative play and pursue her own interests. However, in the Happy Baby chapter, Medina reveals that the one helicopter parent favorite – starting music lessons at a young age (before 7) – is excellent for training children to hear the subtleties of emotional speech.

My least favorite chapter was the Pregnancy chapter because, first, I am no longer pregnant, and second, I found much of the advice to be pretty common-sense or well-covered in other books.

If you are looking for a parenting book that is a pleasure to read and also helpful, give Brain Rules for Baby a try. The material is fascinating and the presentation is deft.