So many words, so little time....

Friday, September 26, 2003

The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project

And just when you thought I might have moved on to meaty topics to the exclusion of all else, we have The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project! Yep. They Turing Tested a Twinkie. Make sure not to miss their results in Haiku!

Thursday, September 25, 2003

My Life As A Mom-friend...

Twenty years ago, young women of my age would send their husbands off to work in the morning, get the kids settled playing in the yard or bundle them up and bring them along in a sort of game of house swap. They would all show up at one house or another to “have coffee” while the hordes of the neighborhood played in the yard. I watched my mother and her friends around the kitchen table enviously so many times, wondering what they had to say to each other that took all that time. With so many young women having careers and waiting to have families the very nature of these interactions has changed. Now, many young women can’t look around her neighborhood and find a group of like situated people to interact with. Instead of the kitchen table, the office and the closest coffee shop are the new venue. The standard office kaffee-klatch will have single people, married people, divorced people, single parents, different genders, you name it. New ways have to be come up with to deal with those different circumstances and the restrictions it can cause.

In response to the new situation, people actually have begun to develop their own new words for the various kinds of situations as a sort of shorthand to explaining all those various circumstances. I was once told I am a “Mom-friend”. With a subtle cynical air, I asked what that meant. She helpfully explained that this means a friend with kids that you can only see when they manage to dump the kids on a spouse or babysitter or whatever. Used in a sentence in place of the term “girlfriend”. She doesn’t seem to make any separation between single parents and married parents. I nodded wisely and let the subject drop, quailing a bit inside.

Later on, I got mad. How dare she pigeonhole me like that? It made me want to throw up. A little delicate probing at another time brought out the rest of the story. This one gal has a whole new hierarchy based on how much time the people can spend with her and what they can do together. Mom-friends rate lower than single-friends, since the Mom-friends can’t just drop everything on 20 minutes notice and come over and watch movies at her house at midnight on a weeknight if they want. Male-friends are guys she sees in social settings but for whatever reason aren’t suitable to become boy-friends. There is a sub-set called Dad-friends, but I don’t know what that is all about, and I’m fairly certain I don’t want to. Everyone she knows is categorized and pigeonholed and her interactions with them are run accordingly.

Since then, I have seen the term a couple of times on newsgroups and message boards. It still makes me a little sick inside. One of the side effects of the Internet has been an explosion of writing, from all walks of life. Until recently, only people who could convince a publisher their words were worth money could get their work on paper and in front of the public. Now, everyone with a keyboard and a dream can spout their prose on the world. Our society has changed in so many other ways as well, and in many cases the Oxford just doesn’t seem to have the right words. Everyone chipping in can make for some interesting discovery, but it also means that with no editorial resources, some interesting usages are getting out there in front of people, and from sheer repetition can become part of our language.

As cold and mercenary as this person’s approach to life seems to me, there is an uneasy germ of truth in it. I am a friend, and I am a Mom, and I truly can’t just drop everything and go play whenever I want. If she wants to categorize people to manage her investment of time, then so be it. I have other friends, who are happy to see me when we can get together, and understand when I can’t. But I don’t like the term, I just don’t. I have a term for her, too. Former-friend.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all....

Been in the Pit of Despair this last week or so, and things are just not looking up yet. It's always interesting looking at life from the belly of the Beast. I mean, I'm just enough into this that I'm starting to get the full view of just how deep the rabbit hole can go, but I'm no where near the spot where I can start climbing out. Sort of like waiting for Christmas when you were a kid except there's no good thing waiting at the end.

I'm not going to snivel on for the length of the Bible about this. I could I suppose, but who the heck wants to read that. Heck, I don't even want to read it.

A couple of high-points:
  • Saw Pirates of the Carribean, finally. Incredibly cool flick. Will be doing a full review here soon. You'll see it on movZilla if GamerDad doesn't need it.

  • Finally got the clearance to updated our spec/requirements/testing procedures at work. That's the good news. Bad part - I get to do it ON TOP OF my current workload, which is vaguely psychotic already. Gonna be an interesting month.

  • At any rate, I hope to develop a more normal schedule of things here soon. Already learned about promising things, though, so I won't. If you're really bored, there is a new review of "The Core" on movZilla, and a link to our new venue Gamerdad (which is also joining our Links Bank here today).

    Thursday, September 11, 2003

    On this day of remembrance...

    That day has come around again. As it will every year now until those of us who watched it in stunned horror are old or gone and only those who have seen the pictures remain. It will join the parade of Time/Life books that our grandchildren will see on our bookshelves and use to build forts and we will explain to them every year why we are a little sad on that day and get a little peeved when they are properly solemn for a second and then ask us if they can use the Elvis one instead, then. I did this to my Gramma on D-Day once. She lost two brothers on those beaches. To me they were just black-and-white pictures in the photo album. Like so many other things, I understand it a little better now.

    And that is how life is supposed to be, I think. We rebuild ourselves. This big sharp thing is driven up through of the fabric of our lives and after a period of shock we blaze new trails around it. Then at some point down the line the edges are softened by the winds that blow through our lives and the grass grows up over it and flowers start to bloom on it, and it starts to feel like it was always there. We pass it on our way, and remember for a moment, but then we have to go on. How many of us noticed beyond a few newsflashes when D-Day rolled around this year? Unless you were in the business of marking the day, most of us just had a few sad introspective thoughts on our drive home and left it at that. I'm just as guilty as everyone else - my Veterans Day poppy which lives on my rear-view mirror got a few more looks that day and the kids and I had a talk while we were driving somewhere and that was about it. My aunt has those pictures now.

    My uncle who worked in the Pentagon (and thankfully wasn't there that day) died in a car crash two months ago. I guess it's all a matter of perspective. I can't tell you if I would have mourned more if we had lost him that day or not. I am glad just from the standpoint that his family had the intervening time with him that they would have lost. I only talked to him about it once. He downplayed it, saying that it was hard to loose all those friends.

    Maybe that is part of the sharpness of this. These people would have all died at some point. We all have to face that. But one day all of them just go off to work or travel, minding their own business and then it happens. Suddenly their families get a phone call and are told they have lost the time between that indefinate and hopefully far off day and this one. That is what I mourn. That is what makes me angry. Collectively, how much love and friendship and every good thing did those families loose? It isn't the buildings and the dust blowing through Manhattan; it is the intangible stuff that matters and is the hardest to track. We can look and try to count how many kid's birthdays are shadowed by a missing parent, how many graduation days. But we'll never know it all; we can't count bedtime stories and kisses on the cheek on the way out the door and a finger pointing out a more correct answer on a homework sheet.

    James Lileks captured it well:
    Somewhere lodged in the lung of a New Yorker is an atom that once belonged to a man who went to work two years ago and never came back. His widow dreads today, because people will be coming and calling, and she'll have to insist that she's okay. It's hard but last year was harder. The kids will be sad and distant, but they take their cues from her, and they sense that it's hard - but that last year was harder. But what really kills her, really really kills her, is knowing that the youngest one doesn't remember daddy at all anymore. And she's the one who has his eyes.

    Two years in; the rest of our lives to go.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2003

    What my learned colleague of the opposition is TRYING to say...

    I somehow got roped into an online debate. The topic is about whether the US government should pay reparations for slavery. The online part adds some interesting twists to things. In a case like this, it is most odd not to know the skincolor of your opponents or team mates. I've never even met my team mates. I know nothing about them but what they've chosen to post on a discussion board, and they know nothing about me.

    It goes the way these things always go. Must dust is being thrown up in all directions about things that you would think have ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with this, but are cast in the most urgent relevency. Soapboxes are in a state of high polish, and there is much holystoning going on down in the ranks of rhetoric.

    I had forgotten just how much maddening joy this is. The rush of adrenaline as you listen to their measured phrases and try to shore up your own arguments while poking holes in theirs. You spend days shaking inside and praying you aren't shaking outside, too. I'm tied up in knots - I can't eat, I can't sleep, but I haven't had this much fun in years.

    It's cool to see the people I usually chat with in this sort of light. We usually talk about non-esentials or politics. Someone may go off and go all formal on one topic or another, but we usually don't get exposed to the true depths of the brains hitting those other keyboard keys to the extent we are now. It is awe-inspiring and terrifying. There is some amazing power just floating around those Fray-boards, and I don't think most of us ever saw it.

    Saturday, September 06, 2003

    Fighting Fair

    Like to argue? Want some help with someone else's "ideas"? A friend pointed out this link to me. It is titled A List Of Fallacious Arguments, and it gives an exhaustive list of how people use bad technique to support their arguements. Since I'm in a debate on one of my favorite forums next week, this will come in majorly handy!

    Wednesday, September 03, 2003

    It isn't the beginning of childhood that is the problem, it's the middle.

    It seems that all my friends have decided it is time to have children of their own. This is interesting to me, because I had mine quite some time ago and so I see them starting out now and I just shake my head. Those days were wonderful, and I wouldn't trade them for anything, but it was not easy. There's millions of words out there of advice about what to do with babies, but let me add a few. I know you're tired. I know you have no idea what you are doing and they seem so fragile, but believe me, that fades. Far quicker than you want it to.
    • This too shall pass. Or, to put it another way, "The darkest hour is only 60 minutes long." This first year is literally that, only a year. It feels like eternity right now, but it does end. And when it is gone, it really is gone forever. Just hang in there.

    • Get a good picture of you and the baby while it is sleeping and blow it up really big. Hang it someplace where you can see it when you are trying to get them to sleep. If you have other children, catch them too, and do the same thing. Sometimes, just the evidence that they do in fact sleep at some point, and they are absolutely adorable when they do it really can help you get through it. (plus the photos are good grandma-fodder later)

    • Everyone has all sorts of advice, but at 3 am, it doesn't mean a bloody thing. You know your child better than anyone. When we were trying to deal with my daughters and the boys, my doctor suggested writing down a list of things to do that soothe each child and stick it to the wall by their beds. That way, when that child got upset at night we could just start at the top of the list each time and work down. Each kid is an individual, so they need their own list. Sometimes having it written out makes it easier to know what do at that unholy cow-milking hour of the morning when you can't see straight and they are wailing like a banshee.

    • You have the same 24 hours per day you had before the baby, you just have more to do in that time. I know it sounds silly, but you are not in some sort of odd timewarp. Prioritization, writing down EVERYTHING, and a liberal dose of help from others (paid or otherwise) will get you through this.

    • Lighten up on yourself, and on your expectations. Due to the aforementioned 24-hours-in-a-day thing, some stuff you used to get done simply isn't going to. Things aren't going to be perfect. There is no amount of wishful thinking or effort on your part that are going to make it so. Be careful what you promise to other people - you don't know the shape of the hat anymore and you can hang yourself. Do the best you can and let the rest go.

    • Newborns hit your life like an atomic weapon and you would have to be some sort of automaton if you didn't feel a bit put out about the entire thing. Your feelings of frustration (or, say it softly, anger) are real. THIS DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD PARENT, A BAD SPOUSE, OR A BAD PERSON. No one likes to talk about it, but we all have the urge to play hand-baby from time to time. The difference is all in what you do, not what you feel. Just put your head down until it passes, give yourself a stern shake and a mental hug (or get a real one from your spouse), and then go in and deal with whatever was just spattered all over the floor.

    • SHARE THIS WITH YOUR SPOUSE! You are both lost, exhausted, and scared. Hormones and fatigue poisons are all over, and you are both on edge. You need each other. The only real strength you are going to be able to find in all of this is in each other. At some point in the evening, put the baby close to hand but not in someone's arms, let the others watch a show or run around playing with their toys, and take a few minutes to sit on the couch, hold hands, and just be together.

    When they get older, information gets thinner on the ground. Friends and relatives stop gushing about their favorite trick for getting Jr. to burp on command and they start changing the subject. Or, you just get commiserating headshakes or vague you-should-have-done-X advice. I do have a few notes to impart. This is about the future. I'm not talking about tomorrow, or the next item on the list, but what you would see if you could lift your eyes up from in front of your feet and see a bit farther out. I mean when they are older. Like when you have a fourth-grader who comes home shouting the words to the latest gansta-rap song his friend let him listen to.

    Sometimes when I am hip deep in the morass of my daily life I remember with nostalgia the simpler time when a diaper wipe and a mop could fix things, and their main goal in life was to graduate to a smaller size of Legos. No matter what they tell you, each age has its own challenges. They are just different, not necessarily easier.
    • They do tend to be less physically messy as they age, unless you have a budding mad scientist in the house like I have. Now it is far less about accidents and more about premeditated actions. Spilled grape juice has nothing on skateboard bearing lubricant.

    • Things are just as hectic now as they were then. You no longer have to feed them every two hours or change their diapers. You have to drive them all over heck and deal with their schedule and their friends and school and everthing else. Starbucks is your friend, still.

    • Skinned knees and other concrete problems are a thing of the past. There comes a point were you are dealing with the specters of driver's licenses and school dances for the boys, and boyfriends and bras for the girls. And "because I said so" no longer works as well.

    • Privacy is not a joke. You are used to knowing EVERYTHING about your kids, and now all of a sudden they don't want you to even know if they have eaten yet today. Understand that they need some distance. Just know when it is time for you to become nosy.

    • You are their parent, not their friend. You have to do things to help them learn and grow in this life and they aren't all fun and games. You can show you love them just as much by telling them no as telling them yes. They may not take it that way now, but that doesn't make it any less true.

    The good news is, they do grow up. And even if you feel you aren't good enough and don't deserve it, they are often generous enough to love you anyways. Yes, there were plenty of those "Someday we'll all look back on this, laugh nervously, and change the subject" sort of moments, but all in all, some of the most precious memories I have are of that time. And if you think poopy diapers are bad, wait until you have to deal with the mess that comes with broken hearts. If could figure out how to make a wipe for that, I would be a trillionaire.

    Monday, September 01, 2003

    School Daze, School Nights

    School is starting again. After running laps between two schools, I got all the paperwork done. I have done my time in the back-to-school-sale trenches and paid really offensive amounts of money for random-seeming stuff and pants with specific names on them. I get my days back to myself, for work or whatever is is necessary. But more importantly to me, we have "school nights".

    People who aren't in my situation may not realize just how precious a gift this is. The days have to belong to my boss or whatever errands and chores need to be done. Evenings and mornings are the children's, to do with as they see fit - part of my job as a mom. But once they are properly settled into bed every weeknight, the next couple of hours are MINE.

    It is the only time of the day that is truly my own. I decide what goes on. I do chores and what have you, but not due to necessity but because I choose to get them done now as a present to myself an easier to do list tomorrow. If I want to spend the entire night with the Master Chief blowing things up or vegging in front of a DVD that the kids hate, I can. If I want to invest it in getting some work done in peace and quiet, I can TS in and do that. I can actually hear myself think if I want to, or I can choose to crank something obnoxious on my headphones so I don't have to. I get my life back to myself for as long as I can stay awake.

    My friends and family are forever after me to "take care of myself". I have tried to explain it to some people, but the only person I know who gets it has sleeping habits as bad or worse than mine. My life is overbooked to the Nth degree. There is no way it all is going to get done, and something has to give. I won't drop the ball at work or take it out of what I owe the children. If I am going to have any time at all, it has to come out of the tattered shards of my day that aren't promised to others and at this point, sleep-time is all that isn't.

    This time is an investment in the parts of me that being a mom and an employee and a friend and every other label I wear do not cover. This part doesn't need much because there really isn't much at this point. But it needs care and feeding just as much as the bloody laundry needs to get done or the kids need dinner. It is the part that will be left when the kids grow up, and when I retire. If I ignore it for all these years, when I need it to step up to the plate and take over for those peeled off labels it isn't going to be able to.