pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I love to be scared by horror movies, but it almost never happens. The Ring is the high water mark of scary for me, and even that didn't reach great heights of fear, it just lingered for a while. Video games have done better, but I'm clearly the tail end of the bell curve when it comes to scarability. So when I tell you that I watched three movies from Rambling Beach Cat's first list of 10 short scary movies and am afraid to watch more alone, I want you to understand my full meaning.

I'm beginning to think that horror and comedy are alike in that they either need to be short, or serving something else. Everyone knows a good horror movie makes your brain do all the work for them, but I get resentful if I don't feel the movie is doing it's fair share. Maintaining pacing such that I feel the movie is rewarding me for my imagination, but giving suspense time to build, and not relying on jump scares, is almost impossible over a 90 minute movie. But it turns out to be ridiculously possible in a 2 minute period. They give me a seed, I work myself up over a myriad of possibilities, and they pick one before I've had a chance to acclimate, thus simultaneously giving me a sense of closure and one of fear.

It's also much more forgiving. Of the three I watched (Bedfellows, The Closet, and Red Balloon), The Closet was the least impressive. It was tense and then there was a jump scare and that was about it. But that is absolutely enough to sustain 200 seconds without my ADD kicking in.

Coincidentally, I also saw a live stand up anthology act last night (and by last night I mean Halloween, which is when I originally wrote this). The theme was supposed to be "comedians tell their dark secrets", but only some of them got the memo. The ones that did were my favorites. One of the sucky things about doing a lot of open mics and watching a lot of local comedy is that I'd heard a lot of material before. One of the neat things about doing a lot of open mics and watching a lot of local comedy is that I could recognize when a performer is capable of doing traditional stand up, but changed to "emotional story delivered with humor" for the night. I did not laugh the most at her, but I felt more emotionally fulfilled.

This reminded me of why I like British comedy: it's very slow burn. Where Americans are constantly trying to go for the laughs, British comics are constantly just-under-the-threshold funny, punctuated by something absolutely amazing. Like horror, I can appreciate a single short funny thing, and then I'm done. Or it can use horror/humor as a tool to explore something else. Christopher Titus and Mama are in many ways talking about the same thing.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen...And Listen So Kids Will Talk (Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish) is very, very good. It is in many ways the For Dummies accompaniment to Brene Brown's work on connection, and that's a good thing to be. It's aimed at parents, but since the whole idea is treating your offspring less like things you are a building and more like independent human beings, it translates to adult relationships very well. It has already made me a better listener.

My one complaint is that it not only doesn't address what to do when the techniques don't work, it explicitly tells you it's going to, and then doesn't. For me, this is uncomfortably close to saying that the techniques will always work if you work hard enough/are smart enough, and that's not fair or helpful even if it's true, which it is not. But beyond that, it's an excellent resource I recommend to parents and non-parents.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Hypothesis: parents reminding you bring your jacket or pointing out the highway exit are not disproportionately annoying because of the implication you can't remember your own jacket or notice an exit- I myself have forgotten both of those things, and never more often than when my parents are around. The extra annoyance actually stems from the implication that I couldn't cope if I did forget my jacket. This was a reasonable assumption when I was four, but in recent years I have gained the ability to tough it out for the walk from the car to the restaurant without freezing to death. Similarly, when I was on my learner's permit, it was necessary to point out exits a mile in advance, but now I can handle both fast lane changes *and* getting off the highway and turning around. I'm crafty like that.
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Once Upon a Time is really grew on me. It rewards thought. Moreover, I'm beginning to think that a lot of the things I originally took as flaws to be gotten past were deliberate choices trying to convey a message.

Spoilers for season one. Seriously, friends who are watching it, don't read this )

I am not entirely convinced the show is doing this intentionally. It is awfully subtle. On the other hand, several of the writer/producers are affiliated with Whedon shows (and one director started on The Shield), and the show's three biggest characters are all women. Exact Bedchel test passing rate depends on whether how you count a 10 year old boy as a conversation topic, but even when they're talking about men, the focus is on the women. With the exception of Rumplestiltskin, the male characters are plot objects, ciphers, and refrigerator occupants. And even if it's not strictly intentional, it may be consistent enough that I can enjoy the show by applying my own interpretation, like Glee.

The two worst traits continue to be the child's lack of trauma over his evil queen mother (did you know evil queen is a pop-psych type of narcissist?), and the protagonist's complete and utter willingness to trust everyone, in the face of both genre savvy and a life that should have left her anything but. These both annoy me.

If I had to pick two themes for OUaT, it would parental love and acceptance of one's fate. I cannot tell you the number of times a character has struck a bargain with someone clearly untrustworthy, and justified it by "I don't have a choice." I don't think I need to bring back the spoiler tag to protect you all from the fact that this doesn't work any better than going double or nothing in blackjack. If the characters simply accepted how bad things were, that fixing them would be slow work, and certain things were irreplaceable, they would ultimately be happier.

I don't know how much I have to say on the parental love thing, because I have nothing to add to it. It's very well done, in an area that, for all it's importance, gets a lot less attention than romantic love in media.
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After several boring attempts to cheer myself up, I stumbled upon Fatherhood Dreams, about gay fathers in Canada. This one managed to be both thought provoking and not horribly depressing, which is nice. I don't know enough to have coherent thoughts, but here are some things I found interesting:

there's a single gay man who has a dearth of good options for having kids. There's essentially no chance of adoption because birth mothers prefer couples, and it's impossible to find a surrogate who will work for the rate mandated by the Canadian government (he eventually illegally pays a surrogate a higher amount). I probably don't want kids, but when I think about that decision, it's always with the knowledge that I totally could if I wanted to. Single men who want kids, which includes my best friend, really don't have that option. Apparently How I Met Your Mother covered this exact issue, with a woman who'd never wanted kids finding out she physically couldn't and feeling really weird about how sad it made her.

This guy was also interesting because he views his decision to parent, and parent solo, as separating him from the gay community. He'd still like to fall in love and marry, but he assumes the odds of doing that with two newborns are negligible, and that having kids will always severely limit his options. It struck me as very sad that he probably burned a lot of bridges to come out as gay (just going by his age, he doesn't mention anything), and then has to burn a lot of the new bridges in order to become a parent. It's a reminder of what an incredibly strong drive the parental instinct is.

There's a couple that adopted, and they were chosen (by the baby's grandmother, who was the one calling the shots) in part because the grandmother felt that this would keep a place for her daughter in the baby's parental pantheon.

There is something really amazing about watching something adorably mundane, like parents playing with their baby, and knowing how upset it would make certain idiots.

One of the failed attempts to cheer me up was a documentary on the early days of the AIDS epidemic in San Fransisco. I wonder how much of the difference in resonance between this and Fatherhood Dreams is due to documentary quality, and how much is due to where gay culture was when I grew up.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Today's pattern is best exemplified by this letter to Dear Abby:

DEAR ABBY: One night I woke up to my cat scratching at my bedroom door to be let in. When I got up and opened the door, I heard my parents making love. They were so loud it grossed me out, because my little sister is 10 and we share a room right next to theirs. She still doesn't know about this kind of stuff.

I want to tell them they don't need to be doing that, because what if she got scared and woke up and tried to go in there? What should I do -- tell them to go to a motel? -- GROSSED OUT IN MADISON, MISS.


There's so much going on in five little sentences. First, the story has unnecessary set up involving the cat. Either the intro is important in ways we don't understand, or she's preemptively defending herself against accusations of doing something wrong. It strikes me as not-un-possible that it was actually her parents who woke her up, but she can't bring herself to admit it.

Second, there's the fact that she doesn't own her discomfort, and projects it on to her little sister. This could be a horrible manipulation, but I'm inclined to believe she's fallen victim to the fairly common problem of teaching little girls that they don't have a right to anything for themselves and their feelings don't matter, but they are strongly obligated to look out for other people. Given that incentive structure, of course they start using other people as reasons. This might actually explain the cat thing too- "I was just caring for another one of G-d's creatures when..."

Third, watch how her language gets more and more distance. She starts with "making love", which is somewhere between euphemism and romantic description, then "this sort of thing" and then finally just refers to sex as "that."

Finally, and most heart breaking to me, is her use of the phrase "don't need to" to mean "shouldn't". There's a pattern here that's operating just like the "you're not entitled to want things" problem, but I don't know what it is. All I can think of are all the other times I've seen "necessary" used to absolutely shut someone down. One possibility is that it is in fact the same problem: you can't/shouldn't want X for yourself, so once I tell you no one else wants it, you must stop wanting it. Another is that it implies X is so horrible you could only possibly be doing it out of necessity, and once I tell you it's not required, you'll stop. It's incredibly shaming.

My favorite high school teacher, the only one who was really on my side, once observed a very rare incident of me (verbally) standing up for myself to another student. His comment afterwords was "that was unnecessary." With 10 years of retrospect, I can see he might have meant it in a comforting fashion: "you didn't need to get so upset about that because her opinion has no material impact on you life" What came across at the time was "protecting yourself is not necessary because it doesn't matter if you get hurt." Which is a terrible thing to teach anyone.

So I guess what's going on here is the use of the need preemptively invalidates any other reason for doing something. "I want" is sufficient for actions that don't hurt other people. What's extra tragic in this case is that she's not only invalidating her parents' desire for physical pleasure and intimacy, but her own desire to not bloody hear it, which is a thing I think she's entitled to want and have reasonable accommodations made for.

Dear Abby's answer is, of course, worse than useless. Tell the girl she ought to be happy about it and should not talk about it and moves on to sex ed for her sister. First, it turns out that the fact that something is associated with good things (like your parents still being in love) does not obligate you to be happy about it. Second, don't tell anyone, but especially not adolescent girls, to be happy about something but never speak of it. Seriously, don't. Third, her sister's sex education is not her responsibility. So an all around failure.
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The most interesting part of Teen Mom is the couple that gave their daughter up for adoption. In Season 1, the pattern was as follows: Boy is sad about adoption, but girl is devastated, because girl's body knows there was a baby and now it's gone. Very typically gendered reactions. But come season 2, girl is kind of over it. She's still sad, but she's had her pain validated and processed in the myriad of support resources for birth mothers, and she can take comfort in what a good life her daughter has with her adoptive parents. Both kids have been very clear that they could have raised a baby, and would have done so, but felt the adoptive parents could give her a better life. And they're probably right on both counts: these kids seem to have better heads on their shoulders than the others on the show, and he especially seems like a better father than the others, but they're still in high school, and would be swimming against the tide of their very screwed up home lives.

So while "your child is better off" is pure comfort for the girl, who is simply missing her daughter, it's bittersweet for the boy, because the fact that his daughter is better off with her adoptive family makes him feel like a failure as a man, that he was so unable to provide that she was better off with someone else. And unlike his girlfriend, who could go to a birth mother's retreat and find piles of validation just sitting there*, the boy is pretty much alone. Obviously responses to adoption are varied, but nearly all girls and women are going to have common language of hormonal bonding. The landscape for men in much larger: some find out years later or never know at all, some are happy to be off the hook, some participate fully with the mothers in placing the child for adoption, some watch from the sidelines, torn but not wanting it enough to intervene. There aren't any retreats for them. The best he gets is a phone call with another birth father.

It's hard to judge how much of the next part is reality TV editing, since we only hear people talk about it, not demonstrate it, but it seems pretty plausible: both kids shut down significantly post-birth, and stop doing things they used to find pleasurable. Obviously some of that is depression, but a large chunk stems from wanting to prove that they gave up their daughter to benefit her, not them. Honestly, that's something I never thought of in regards to adoption. It seems so win win: baby gets parents who want her and are in a position to raise her well, birth parents get to continue their lives without the encumbrance of a baby. But I was missing just how much people bond with even initially-unwanted children. And while I hate to see them torturing themselves, I really respect where it's coming from.

*For certain very emotionally wrenching definitions of "just sitting there"
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Son: Can I dump this bag on floor?
Mom: No.
Son: No meaning yes?
Mom: No meaning no.
Son: Y-E-S spells yes?
Mom: NO.
Son: Make me a sandwich.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Watching Teen Mom, just to see if I missed something book store clerk was implying, and I'm actually sort of impressed. The two moms with relationship drama are boring, but the other two couples show two things I rarely if ever see on television: the aftermath of adoption for the birth parents, and woman-on-man abuse.

I'm not sure what I can say about the adoption couple besides "suck it, people worried about post-abortion syndrome". We tend to whitewash how wrenching it is to give up your baby, and the show does a great job of demonstrating how much they love their daughter and haven't stopped being her parents. The (most) heartbreaking part is that both of their parents attacked them for the adoption before and after because "all you need is love." and continually telling them how awful it is that they gave the baby up.

You actually start out sympathetic to the woman in the other interesting couple- she's trapped inside with their baby all day, she wants to get her GED, her fiancee is unsupportive. But over two episodes you see her get more and more demanding, more and more hostile, ending with (in ep 3, which I'm watching now) her grabbing his throat and slapping him. And you can see how even though he's significantly bigger than her, he feels absolutely powerless to do a thing about it. And how she pulls all the classic abuser moves ("you know I didn't mean to hit you, right?") even though she's not only smaller than him, but completely financially dependent. Where else do you see that, ever?

I know reality TV is a misnomer and I have no idea what's actually happening, and their voice overs make me want to stab the TV, but these are important stories that TV never tells, even if they're not strictly factual.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
For the past couple of weeks, there's been a thought bouncing around in my head: There's a remarkable correlation between things I'm bad at as an adult and the things I was allowed to be bad at as a child. But it turns out there's an even better correlation between the things I'm good at as an adult and the things my parents could teach me as a child. My dad even said outright "It would have felt hypocritical to expect you to have good social skills." I'm a pretty big genetic determinist, and there are numerous relevant studies showing that adopted children resemble their birth parents more as they age, but... wait a minute, I just figured something out. But first, the counter-anecdotes.

I have thought of two major talents I had as a child that have gone nowhere in my adulthood: fiction writing, and target shooting. The fiction writing started before I could actually physically write, or read. I dictated stories to my mom. Judging by my teacher's reactions, I was very good at these for my age. I think it was actually a good thing my parents didn't push or formalize my writing, but it meant that it did eventually get more or less dropped in favor of other things. Writing is such a difficult career that I can't say I would have had one, but I definitely would have gone farther with it if I had had someone to teach me writing the way I had my dad to sit over me when I learned algebra. I did eventually reach the point in science where my dad was unable to help me, but that was after years and years of being taught that science was a Thing I Can Do.

I started target shooting was I was 16. Under the theory that it's not bragging because it's relevant to the story but unimportant in real life: I was extremely good at target shooting. I would have had the top honor the junior club gave in a year and a half if mono hadn't eaten up the five months before college (I did get it the next year, but was slowed significantly since I was only shooting when I came home on breaks). Multiple people who had worked with olympic shooters said I had the potential to be one. But the next step would have been attending the empire state games, and the first year the fell on the same day as the SAT IIs, and the next year I had mono and that wasn't happening, and then I was at college. I could take it back up now, but I don't have the time to be as good as I was in high school so what's the point, especially since it's competing for much the same energy as martial arts and I think that's the superior choice. But if I'd been one of those kids whose parents shot, and took them to the range at 6, or even 12, I would have gone pretty far in the sport. I want to give my parents some credit here in that they were incredibly supportive and put a lot of time into taking me to the range so I could practice, but none of us had the time to make up for 8 years of not shooting.

Then we have the one thing I'm good at that my parents never taught me: Computers. Seeing as that's my career, it seems like a pretty big counterargument, but I don't think so. As very young children, computers were my brother's thing. He was a prodigy at manipulating computers' inner workings the same way he was at math. But come 8th grade (homeschooled year) we got a computer, and someone needed to talk to tech support. My dad couldn't do it because he was at work, my mom couldn't do it because she'd get stuck at "go to the start menu", and my brother couldn't do it because it involved talking to people. I wasn't good at it, just the least bad option. But over a few tech support phone calls, computers moved from those things I could play games on if they were working to things that could be learned and controlled. So I'm still left with a pattern of "I'm best at things where someone pushed me over the first hump".

I thought this whole "best at the things I was taught" was going counter to the evidence for genetic determinism, but actually it's not. The specific studies I'm thinking of showed that as adopted children aged, they resembled their adoptive parents less and less and their birth parents more and more- i.e., reflected genetics more than environment. But that's perfectly consistent with what I'm doing- I'm probably getting slightly worse at math ever year, since I never have call to use the last four semesters I took, but I'm consistently getting better at the things my parents couldn't teach me- what we could consider moving towards a truer reflection of my genetic talents.

I'm still working this out, so everyone is encouraged to share their own stories of learning.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
When I read Maus (about a Holocaust survivor and his son), the only thing I would say about it was that it felt very honest. At the time, I thought it was a cop out, because I didn't want to admit that I hadn't enjoyed this book that everyone else loved, and was about such a horrible thing. I no longer think that. I know this because I'm reading A Child Called It now, a very detailed autobiographical account of one of the worst abuse case in Caifornia history, and I don't feel like it has any emotional heft at all.

I feel like an asshole criticizing the writing. ""Pleaded"? The only speaking words you should ever use are "Said" and "Asked". Didn't you have time for a writing class in between your mom locking you in a room with a bleach/ammonia mixture?" I feel no such compunction about criticizing the reader of the audiotape, so let's really pile on him: the reader is awful. Both on a strictly technical level (his volume is uneven, making it hard to hear) and on an "conveying how the main character feels" level. So the book isn't accomplishing anything on a wordsmith level.*

On a story level, there is no story. It's just a list of awful things his mother did to him, with an occasional "this made me feel bad" and "my father did nothing" mixed in. Without some exploration of why the people involved acted the way they did, it just feels like autobiographical torture porn. I have a list of specific things I wish had been addressed, but that's really besides the point, because it's not my story. But I feel strongly that the book needed some context about something.

There have been accusations that the book was made up or exaggerated. Before I started the book, I decided I didn't care. Once you've been documented starving, beating, and stabbing your child, I stop giving you the benefit of a doubt when he accuses you of abuse that doesn't leave marks. No one has a perfectly accurate memory of childhood, much less one that traumatic, and his brother's accusations of attention seeking seemed like exactly the sort of thing a non-abused sibling would say about their abused sibling to make them feel less guilty about standing by while their mom starved him. But in the absence of explanations, some of the abuse really does ring false. Elaborate humiliation-based abuse is not only very rare, but disproportionately likely to be a false accusation. On some level, I feel like using a child like a slave, and beating and starving him as incentive systems, doesn't need an explanation for why it was done. I can guess. But forcing a child to eat his brother's feces? That's a lot of work and you're going to get messy. It doesn't *never* happen, but it's rare enough that I'd at least like a hint of explanation for it.

I'm sort of weirdly drawn to comparing this Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. My original thought was that it's a testimony to the power of writing: Amy Chua somehow makes hours of music practice fun to read about, Dave Pelzner made being locked in a room with a clorx/ammonia mix seem mundanely annoying. But I think there's a case to make that BHotTM is also very minor torture porn: it's litany of shitty things she did to her daughters with only a bare, ineffective attempt to reflect on why. And yet I finished BHotTM in a day, while the only reason I'm still reading ACCI is that it's my only book on tape, it's short, and I feel like maybe I'll see some growth in the sequels.

Upon further further research, it seems like Pelzer has made a career out of having been abused, and tells a lot of easily verifiable lies designed to make him seem more impressive or tragic. Which still doesn't mean he wasn't abused: when you're forced to learn how to lie at age 8 in order to feed yourself, it's hard to lose the habit. But it does make the book fundamentally less interesting.

*I feel compelled to note here that yesterday a close friend offhandedly said that I don't like books that are too easy to read, and I had to spot him that one. There are simply worded things I'll read, and I don't like overly poetic writing, but I am all about the compound sentences.
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Over here is an unbelievably depressing story by a black man who strangers continually confuse for anything but his child's father. Uncle, babysitter, cousin, but never father. Oh, and parents at the park accuse him of attacking their child without evidence.

This is an unmitigated tragedy, and deserves to be recognized as such. But I also want to note my dislike for his judging of other parents when they don't play with their kids at the park. Now, he's earned the right to some unjustified scorn, especially after a woman who wasn't watching her child saw only the aftermath of a fall and told her husband "this big nigger just pushed Miriam to the ground." For Taylor, who is working full time, the park is a place for quality time for with his daughter. But for SAHMs who spend all day with their kids, it's a rare chance to talk to grown-ups, and his condemnation of them for not paying more attention to their kids bugs me.

Which is not an attack on Taylor in the slightest. I very literally can only imagine how deeply that knife cuts. I admire both how he handled the incident at the time, and how he's thinking about it now. But I do hope that at some point we as a society stop judging people for not visibly parenting the same way we do.
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Just finished Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. First thought? Too soon. Her younger daughter hasn't even finished high school yet; there's no way we can know the long term effects of her parenting. More than that, her writing feels like someone who has learned something but doesn't fully understand it yet. As an example: having a pet is very much against her style of child rearing. She gets a puppy to bribe her youngest into learning a violin piece, then obsesses about making the puppy learn tricks so she can impress people (in a fight with her husband, she accuses him of not caring about anyone, that the kids and the dog would never reach their potential if it were up to him. He assume the fight is over because she's making funny jokes about bettering the dog). At some point, she calms down about this enough to stop attempting to teach the dog complicated tricks. Then she calms down enough to get a second dog for no real reason. But she's unable to explain why or how any of that happened. This is third hand, but a friend of mine read a number of reviewers who said the same pattern applied to her historical/economic scholarly articles: she records data without synthesizing or drawing conclusions.

Which brings me to another point: she's not just a practitioner of Chinese Parenting, she's a product of it. And she is not a rousing endorsement. She says she pushes her kids because "nothing is any fun until you're good at it." This is a terrible thing to teach your children for a number of reasons, but three of them are: many things continue to not be fun even when you're good at them, and by then you've wasted a bunch of time on it, and jesus christ, they're four, they don't need to do *anything* for six hours a day except sleep. And if you look at Chua as an adult, you see someone who never developed internal motivation, who drifted into a career in which she's technically competent but has no passion for and derives little enjoyment from, because it was prestigious, and wouldn't know where to start changing things to make herself happy.* At some point, someone needed to teach her how to assess whether you're in a temporary frustration or genuinely don't enjoy a thing.

When called on her atrocious behavior, she has claimed that 1. the stories are exaggerated for effect and 2. the book is about her learning not to do that. The first claim seems weakened by the fact that when pressed for specifics, she stands by every thing she wrote (on the other hand, the ending does seem more or less made up). As for the second, it's hard to tell because the book is so devoid of introspection and analysis, but she looks a lot more like someone who failed and gave up than someone who learned and grew. She finally gives her daughter the option to quit violin (she chooses to continue but at a less intense level) and take up an activity of her choice (Tennis), but, against her daughter's desire to just do tennis without intervention, screams criticism at her and keeps looking for better coaching for her. Nor does she express any regret about anything she did up to that point. She talks about other people thinking she did the wrong thing, but still maintains she was correct, or at worst following the right ideology in a world that didn't appreciate it.

She also never drops her belief that she's doing this "for the kids." From my perspective, that's physically impossible: the kids didn't enjoy it, it won't benefit them later in life**, and the opportunity costs were enormous***. Her counterargument that she was miserable too doesn't impress me: if she was truly miserable, she could have stopped doing it, a choice she didn't give her children. She is also clearly getting off on the accolades her children receive.**** What I found most disturbing was the pride she took when adults complimented the children's love of music -"Wow, that piece was so her", "She must really love music to play so well"- when she's the one providing all the motivation to play (and in the first case, enforcing it by denying the child water and bathroom privileges). That's not evidence of success, it's evidence that adults are imperceptive.

So this book certainly isn't a helpful parenting model, and the author has not succeeded in her stated purpose of demonstrating her own personal growth. It is, however, a very quick read and extremely interesting. And educational as hell, if you're willing to put some time into reading between the lines.

*She does talk about shifting from corporate law to academia because she doesn't enjoy corporate law, but I still think this assessment is solid. Among other things, she doesn't talk about enjoying academia, and whenever she has some success, it "just happened," rather than being something *she did*.

**Even if they become classical musicians, it's not like that's a career with a lot of external rewards.

***See: never being allowed to socialize, ever.

****And in general was extremely concerned with how her children were perceived. They should eat caviar not because it's delicious, or even an interesting experience, but because if they don't then people will think they're uncultured. They shouldn't make fun of foreign names not because it's mean, but because, again, it makes them look uncultured.
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I'm reading a book, Kidding Ourselves, about creating more equal marriages. The author, Rhona Mahony makes the point that marriages will not be equal until extra-martial options are equal- if divorce leaves women desolate and men well off, women will put more energy into the marriage. One of the things she suggests to produce this is ensuring that women receive child support regardless of when their husbands pay it.* Essentially, she'd have the men pay their child support to the government, and the government pay the child support to their children's mothers regardless of whether the man actually paid.

This idea has a lot of innate appeal. There's a lot of ways to stall on paying child support without going to great effort and without getting in trouble. Men can use this to bargain their ex-wives into accepting lesser child support payments because they need the money now**. And that's before you get into men who are willing to move out of state or work off the books. There's also the fact that instability is more expensive than stability, and the time value of money, that means even if the men eventually do pay, it's worth less when it's delivered late and sporadically. A guaranteed mechanism would prevent this.

But I'm not convinced a government bureaucracy is the solution to anything being too slow and erratic. Could private insurance do the same thing? Assume several companies offer child support insurance: they pay the mother the court mandated $N, and the husband has to pay $N + the insurance premium. I would allow negotiation such that the man could offer the woman more child support in exchange for going without insurance- but since people tend to marry (and sleep with) people their own level of maturity, the men most likely to skip out on child support are most likely to have bred with women inclined to forgo insurance. Do we allow them to change courses mid-stream? That's hardly insurance.

There's also the issue of choosing insurance companies- the payer will want the cheapest one, the recipient will want the one that's easiest to work with. And given how some divorces go, some recipients will choose the most expensive one just to spite their ex. We could make the insurance payments the responsibility of the recipient, with a possible increase in child support to pay for it, but since rates will presumably be higher for payers who are more likely to be delinquent, that will still punish the recipient for the payers irresponsibility.

But I really can't see making insurance, or government mediation, mandatory. The government is slow and disorganized. Had my parents divorced, I know my dad would have been more timely and reliable than any government or private company, because he loves me and my brother and wants us to be taken care of. He's not the only one.

I can't see a lot of bad coming from making these options available. It's possible that the existence of insurance would make people more callous towards recipients who don't get their support, but it's also possible this will free up law enforcement to go after dead beats more vigorously, or even that insurance companies will invest in increasing the enforcement rate.

*I assume she'd be fine with the reverse as well. For ease of discussion I'm going to use men as the example child support payers and women as receivers, because that's 99% of what happens, but everything I say would apply in reverse, or to homosexual couples.

**Newt Gingrich did this to one of his ex-wives, to the point that her church held a fund raising drive to keep her and their children from starving. I'm pretty sure this is not the ex-wife he served with divorce papers the day after her cancer surgery, but I could be wrong.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
There's a quote in The Artificial Ear from the hearing parents of a deaf child, that put her in a mainstream classroom instruction because they "wanted to give her a normal childhood" and "didn't want deafness to define her." Those are reasonable goals, but... you can't give her a normal childhood by putting her in an area where normal children have normal childhoods. We talked in about the need for peers in regards to gifted ed, but it's even starker here: being surrounded by people you can't communicate* with isn't normal, and won't lead to normal development. And claiming she can get normal emotional development from a clearly abnormal situation strikes me as a serious acceptance issue on the part of the parents.

*If I remember correctly, the kid was not yet good enough at lip reading and speech to interact well with hearing children. obviously getting her to that point is a good goal, but you can't reach it by pretending you're already there.
pktechgirlbackup: (amen)
I'm watching Into the Arms of Strangers, which is about the Kindertransport: a network that allowed Jewish parents in Nazi Germany to send their children to live with foster families in England (this was before the war, when Germany was actively encouraging Jews to emigrate). And all I can think is: the only choice these parents got to make was kids alive/not alive. They had no control of even knowledge of the families their children went to. Forget choosing between concerted cultivation and natural growth, they sent their children away knowing they could be neglected, or used as servants, or molested, and that it was still better than staying with them in Germany. This is parenting at its core: keeping your kids not dead.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
So if poor/working class parents practice "natural growth" and middle class parents practice "concerted cultivation", what do Chinese mothers practice? I'm going to go with "forcing the motherfucking flower to bloom." Excerpt, about a woman's daughter's failure to play a fairly difficult piano piece at age 7:

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic....

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

This apparently isn't a parody, but I'm not convinced it's not a deliberate exaggeration to drum up publicity for her book, especially since her parents were Philipino by nationality, she was born in the US, and she married a white (Jewish?) man. The attempt worked, I'm on the library waiting list for it now. I'm withhold comment on her actual parenting style until then, but I do want to comment on this:

, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

By contrast, I don't think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. "Children don't choose their parents," he once said to me. "They don't even choose to be born. It's parents who foist life on their kids, so it's the parents' responsibility to provide for them. Kids don't owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids." This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.

Her husband could be quoting me, because I've said the exact same thing several times. And yes, it is a bum deal for the parents, which is why I fully support a wide variety of birth control methods. But that's not actually a counterargument to "this was a result of your choice, not theirs." There's a special level of hell for someone who makes herself miserable to make you miserable and then expects you to pay her back for it later on. Yes, good parenting involves a certain amount of things that incidentally make your children miserable, and they will in turn make you miserable for that, but there is something sinister about measuring your success as a parent by how miserable you made them, and then translating that back into them owing you. If you don't like the deal- and I'm not particularly fond of it myself- don't have kids.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Stevie is a documentary by an ex-Big Brother about his ex-Little Brother, who has since grown up into a violent criminal. The documentary isn't very good, but it got me thinking- foster care is set up to fail. By the time a parent fails badly enough to have their kids taken away, it takes a near-perfect loving foster family to have a chance to right the kid. And that's ignoring the time gap between "irredeemable abuse happens" and "irredeemable abuse proven and children removed." There are some very good foster families out there who do incredibly things, but there aren't enough, and they're at risk of burning out. That any of the kids turn out okay is more a testimony to the incredible durability of children than anything we do right.

Nor can we fix this with preemptive foster placement. Giving the government the power to decide you're probably going to be a crappy parent so we'll just redistribute your kids now is unacceptable. There's anecdotes of them trying it in the UK to buff up their adoption stats, and it's terrifying. But we have to accept that we're sacrificing certain children in order to maintain that ideal.

For once, I think we can solve this problem with money. I'm prepared to declare caring for 3 special needs children (and if they're in foster care, they're probably special needs) a full time job and pay for it as such. In return, I expect people who are demonstrated awesome at caring for these kids. I also want to give the kids advocates in schools, tutoring, extracurriculars, and some stability in school. I want support systems and baby sitting in place (this could just mean more money, if parents are able to find special needs babysitters are there own) So basically, Treehouse, except for once I think the fact that this is being done by private charity rather than included in the government system is a travesty. Even if more money attracted only mediocre parents, it would relieve pressure on the good ones, lessening burnout.

I wasn't aware of this, but apparently some if not all states are smart enough enough to pay people who adopt special needs kids (where special needs is basically defined as anything other than a healthy white infant) and give them free medicaid for life (or at least through age 18?). This is a good idea. There are probably lots of people who would love a special needs child but can't afford to take care of them. And if someone is adopting a kid for the stipend, then they're a crappy parent who shouldn't get a kid under any circumstances and I hope we're good enough to catch that. My only problem with this system is that medicaid sucks and I assume the stipend isn't big enough.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Good news everyone: I finished Unequal Childhoods and will be going into another nonfiction fast for a bit, so I will maybe be shutting up for a bit, except actually I finished last week and was waiting to post this till I finished the posts I'd held in reserve (yes, this was me pacing myself), and I keep coming up with new things to say, so maybe not.

If there's one piece of good news in the book, it's the dearth of an influence of race. Black families in the study had to deal with slightly more crap than their white counterparts, but in general, being SES trumped race. Middle class families practice "concerted cultivation", which means signing your kid up for 5 million activities, encouraging him to use words as magic spells, and vigorously fighting educators on his behalf, and poor and working class families practice "natural growth", which means giving your kid lots of autonomy to go out and play, expecting obedience to adults, and a lot of deference from you to authority figures. This surprised me because every other study I've read (see Black Picket Fences for an example, but I've read it in many other places) report black middle class families doing less concerted cultivation than white middle class families. Either this study is a fluke, or the difference lies in the definition of middle class: most studies use income level, but UC used the social status of the parent's job (interesting/high autonomy/requires education=middle class, boring/low autonomy/doesn't require education = working class, none = poor. Note that this means you can end up with a working class family having more money than a middle class family, if the working class parent has a high paying union job and the middle class parent is an arty type. But I don't think that was the case for any of the focal families). Further proof that the S is in SES for a reason.

There's also a number of interesting tidbits about teachers in the book. I have friends who are teachers (and are reading this), so I want to make it clear that I know not all teachers are like this, but in general: aaargh. The teachers at the poor school complain about parents who don't care and don't do enough. The teachers at the rich school complain about parents who are too quick to intervene and over schedule their kids. And that's okay. People like things that make their job easier. I complain about my devs not documenting even though it's a basic fact of my job. But somehow when teachers do it (not all teachers, but not just the ones in this book either), it takes on this edge of sanctimony. They're not suggesting you do more/less/different because it would make their job easier, no, they're suggesting it for the welfare of your child, you over protective/neglectful bitch. And it is always the mothers they're complaining about.

The author mentions that no poor kid would ever take food (from their family, in their family's house) without asking a parent first. This is one of those things that simultaneously made me understand something a new light, made perfect sense as soon as heard it, and would never, ever have come up with on my own, event though it made perfect sense as soon as I heard it. It may also be my new definition of poor.

At the end of the book, the author admits you can't make poor/working class parents act like middle class parents by giving them money, but nonetheless thinks we should do that. She also suggests things like scholarships for extracurriculars, which I think is a fantastic idea and have contributed to organizations that do just that, but I wish she didn't assume the government is the one to do it. I wonder if providing an advocate would do any good- someone to go to the dentist with the family and explain to the mother what "tooth decay" means (actual example from book), to yell at the school if a kid's special needs testing feel through the cracks (again, actual example), and maybe slip in a $25 registration fee for band now and again. So like Treehouse, but without requiring the kids to go into foster care. I'm already on board with extracurriculars at schools, including publicly funded ones, but this is just another reason for it.


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May 2014

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