Saturday, October 23, 2004

Dante's Peak

I just saw this movie. I had had it muddled in my mind with Twin Peaks, which I still have never seen, but have grouped in my brain with The X Files, probably as the result of some terrestrial station's programming schedule in the mid 1990s, so I REALLY wasn't sure what to expect. *ahem*

Scriptwriters' meeting: "Go on, think of three more ways you could NEARLY die in a volcano"

As a family movie, all the important characters will survive - except for those marked out at the beginning by their immoral behaviour, obviously (BTW, did anyone else spot whether the bald business man worried about the impact of an alert on the local economy made it? Evil capitalist, you see. I kept expecting to see a shot of him with red hot rocks falling on his head). Even so, there were plenty of sound-track-assisted adrenilin surges.

I like the variant of the classic public kiss ending (they'll *have* to get married now) for a man who clearly has fallen in love with the whole family. But there was one character missing from the final scene. Did anyone else spot whether or not the dog bought it? I worried about that until we got to the disclaimer that "no animal was harmed during the making of this movie" *phew*

Friday, October 22, 2004


Gossip is talking about people who are not present without their permission; it does not have to be malicious. I've been thinking recently about whether one should avoid it altogether.

After all, if Abigail wants me to know something, she will tell me. And if Abigail wants Brenda to know her news, how much more fun for both to tell/hear it directly rather than have me steal Abigail's thunder.

Avoiding having a tightly-knit circle of friends whose one common interest is that they are a tightly-knit circle of friends is one good way of avoiding setting up a network of gossip. And instead maintaining friendships where one actually has common interests is another (getting the Civilisation board out rather than settling down with a cup of tea and "so do you know what X is doing now?", say).

However, we often come across stories or experiences that might help our friends. I used to think it is alright to say to someone worrying about possible infertility "Don't worry, I had a friend with polycystic ovaries and she got pregnant" as long as no names were mentioned and one came up with concrete ideas as well as anecdotal support ("have you read Taking Charge of your Fertility yet, Muriel?"). But I become less convinced of this as I realise how interconnected people with similar interests are (remember the Friends episode where Ross runs around trying to stop the trail?). I was once having a conversation with a friend of a friend who I had JUST MET and he said "Oh I was at a dinner party and X told this hilarious story about a woman who came into the shop where he works and she..." well, you don't need to know what she did that was so hilarious. She was me, of course. There's always a trail.

Of course, if something is out there in the public domain, then perhaps it makes no difference to pass it on further. But there is always the danger that one is the final step in the trail, like that hapless friend-of-a-friend of mine.

BTW, did you know that gossip is forbidden according to Jewish law?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Love is all you need... doo doo doobee doo

Elliot suggested in comments below that while children who get held a lot may be happier, it might not be the holding that helps them. Instead, it may be because their parents care, or are not distant.

Is a child of loving parents going to be happy? There is no reason why that should be the case. You can love someone and care for them without respecting their wishes. There are points in many children's lives when this is all too clear: the time when children begin to be aware of being manipulated and coerced and forced to do things against their will, and learn how to buckle under it, is often known as "the terrible twos"; the moment when children finally have the physical strength together with mental frustration which leads them to reject this coercion is known as "teenage rebellion". The fact that western babies are expected to spend a large amount of their time crying suggests to me that the first months, when they are becoming accustomed to not being responded to, is another key moment.

Caring is not sufficient. A caring parent of the 1950s or 1960s, wanting to give their child the best possible start in life and reading all of the most highly recommended parenting manuals will have:

- Not fed the baby more often than every four hours, and only for ten minutes on each breast.
- Moved onto solid foods (and OFF breastmilk entirely) when the child was four months old, on the advice of the health visitor.
- Never brought the baby into bed for fear of smothering them. Sitting up to feed at night will have made the mother exhausted, for months on end. One of the most common questions asked of new parents, with a smirk, is still "how are you sleeping?"
- Worried about spoiling their child by holding it too much.

Things have changed a bit, but new mothers still worry about whether their milk is "good enough" or whether "baby likes it", about whether it is time to start pureeing vats of simple solid food for a baby with no teeth, about whether they would smother their baby by bringing it into bed and whether, once in, a child would EVER be prepared to sleep alone, about whether they will become a slave to their child by trying to help hir when se cries.

Caring has to be combined with responding to the baby's wishes to keep everyone comfortable. Most babies want to be in physical contact with their primary carers for greater periods of time than mainstream western society expects, and it takes great self-confidence to do that against the advice of most books and health care professionals.

It occurs to me that parents are more likely to have self-confidence with second and subsequent children... perhaps non-first-born children tend to be more relaxed... [bah - cod psychology]

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

List #1: the best ever ready meals

These are my favourite options for those days when you do not want to cook, just eat, because you are in the middle of something.

4. buy a takeaway from a really good curry house. Only comes in at #4 because if the curry house is any good it'll take them 20 minutes to cook it. Besides, by the time you've been to the curry house and home, you've hardly avoided interrupting whatever you were doing.

3. cheesy peas. This used to be my personal favourite ready meal. cook frozen peas. Grate cheese. Add cheese to peas. Eat. [It's a personal variant of magma, the baked bean and grated cheese budget standby, for people who like baked beans better than I do]

2. Look in freezer for something I cooked in huge quantities one day when I felt like cooking. heat. eat.

1. Best of all... it's basically the same as #2, but someone else cooked it in the first place.

I love freezers and microwaves. I also think I may be the only reason why these things are still made.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

My perfect work place

Many public places are not designed for children. An exception is some churches, probably because they know that their future depends on welcoming families with children as well as welcoming the elderly.

The best churches have vergers who welcome families and tell them that they are welcome, but that if the children's noise level concerns the parents ("it won't worry the rest of us!"), then there is a vestry/ belfry/ other room with comfy chairs and toys where they can take a break.

The best churches have hymn books in some pews and books and activity packs in others (they are usually religious in focus, obviously), so that when children have had enough of sitting watching and listening, they can go and get themselves something fun to do.

The best churches regularly have family services, which are aimed at children. Children are not merely tolerated, but integrated into the activity of the group.

My dream workplace is like one of those churches - a place where children are welcome to pursue their own interests and goals, to drift in and out of direct participation as the work interests them or not, a place with a playroom where parents can take their children for some noisy fun if the parents are worried about disturbing colleagues.

Maybe there would be an equivalent of a Sunday school where the children could play in a nearby room if they wanted, and come and go between the creche/parent as they wished. But the best thing of all would be if every office worker had a cubicle large enough to act as a base (like those boxed family pews in 17th-century English churches) and the children could be there, or visiting friends nearby or whatever.

Working at home is a good way of integrating parenting and work, but taking one's children to my dream workplace would enrich everyone's life, IMO.

Sunday, October 17, 2004


"Now, you _said_ you wanted to do this 6-week 5-a-side football course. Keeping commitments is important, you know"

"When someone asks you to do something, there are three possible answers. 'Yes'. 'No'. Or 'I'm not sure, I'll look in my diary' If the answer is one of the first two, you are expected to stick to it. If it is the third, you are expected to return with a reply as soon as possible"
(anecdote I heard about what some schoolmaster has on his classroom noticeboard)

Parents often try to hold their children to commitments that they no longer wish to fulfill. Why shouldn't they change their minds? Is there something inherently wrong about rescheduling or crying off entirely?

There's certainly something wrong with simply not turning up when one promised to, because of leaving friends and relatives waiting indefinitely on street corners.

But I think the reason parents are often so pushy about their children honouring commitments is that it is often the parent who makes the phone call to cancel or reschedule, and they are embarrassed. But it REALLY isn't that bad.

One phones the person up and says "I'm so sorry, we can't do it after all" and they say
"Oh, don't worry at all, that's fine, we'll reschedule"
or "Oh never mind, I'll drop the materials off on my way home so you can have a look if you like"

and the metaphorical sun suddenly starts shining. There is something so liberating about being able to change one's mind and say "no, in the end I don't want to spend my time doing what I thought I would want to do". It is important to help one's children have that same freedom.

The bit just before the phone call is ghastly, but it is never as bad as one thinks it will be...

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Continuum Concept

Jean Liedloff's book was published in 1975. And here is what I thought:

Jean says: babies are happier in the short term and become happier adults if they are mostly held.

Babies are happier when they are mostly held - no question; I agree entirely. This is the main point of this book and the only sad thing is that any parents need telling it. With the arrays of prams and car seats and buggies and cots and vibrating chairs and baby gyms that some parents surround themselves with, I suppose their children do end up out of arms most of the time. The heartbeat, the warmth, the vibration of the voice, the in-focus eye contact, the movement - all provide a safe place from which to view the world.

But what about in the long term? Liedloff lists many of the "woes" of the world - criminality, persistant illness, drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, failure to build close relationships, child battering and homosexuality [yes, that's really on the list - well, it was 1975, I suppose] - and attributes them to a lack of mothering. There's a lot of blame in this book, a friend of mine said. Yup. And it's all being aimed at parents. Even if people haven't been held enough as children, are their (presumably well-meaning but not very responsive or spent too much time and too little attention reading Dr Ferber) parents accountable for all ills that may befall them in later life? Can parents never find ways to make amends, and are their offspring passive victims of their upbringings rather than responsible for their own actions and happiness? I say no to both questions.

Jean says: if babies are held all the time they will always be happy

Someone reminded me recently that Liedloff did not have children herself, and it shows. Her strong implication is that if a baby cries, is sick, sucks hir thumb, has colic, sometimes prefers to sleep alone, or ever has a wet nappy for more than 35 seconds, the mother is just tilling the ground for her child to grow up with psychological problems. All I can imagine is that the Yequana babies, who Liedloff studied, never grew teeth, and were condemned to lives of eating well-mushed breadfruit. Don't tell me that breadfruit doesn't grow in the Amazon. I don't want to know. And why are western babies more sick? Well, it might be that they are more stressed, or it might be that western mothers are so well nourished that their milk tends to be more plentiful and richer than the baby strictly needs so the baby goes on sucking after se has reached "wafer-thin-mint" stage. Or maybe Yequana babies have a mutation making the muscles at the top of their stomach become strong earlier, thereby avoiding positing. I don't know, but neither does Liedloff, and one of us isn't trying to make mothers feel like failures every time their child puts hir thumb in hir mouth.

Jean says: Preindustrial societies are filled with happier people than post-industrial ones.

Brace yourselves for the myth of the noble savage. The Yequana are definitely noble savages although, interestingly, the Sanema indians are hardly mentioned at all, and the behaviour we do hear about is somewhat less noble (pillaging neighbouring villages etc). So even Liedloff knows that not all savages are noble.

There are some strong advantages to living in pre-industrial societies. In my opinion, these include:
- being in a community small enough to be easily self-governing rather than developing a centralised government
- people of all ages being in regular and close contact with each other
- children being integrated into daily life rather than put into "child care"
- physical activity being a normal part of life. This is an advantage because babies like being carried around, and also because of the parent's endorphin high.
- work is a welcome part of life rather than being a necessary evil.

But you don't have to reject the microwave and the freezer to achieve any of these things in western society, it just takes a little creative thought. And there are disadvantages to living in preindustrial societies which Liedloff does not ackowledge. Like... um... dentistry (hello, Alice!). It's hard to grow knowledge when most of one's energy is expended on surviving. Of course, I'm assuming that growing knowledge is a good thing - perhaps I need to put a justification of that on my wish list of posts to write.

Jean says: Western society puts many obstacles in the way of children

No question. We need to find ways of helping children pursue their own goals, without controlling them through praise and blame, and without either neglecting them or stifling them with protection. It's not easy with most of our peers looking askance, but that is no reason to despair.

Jean says: being held is an evolutionary expectation of babies, and therefore we should hold them

Lack of technology and prevalence of predators do mean that pre-industrial babies will have been largely carried around. But this, in itself, is not an argument for babies to be constantly held in arms now. The human body was designed to eat meat; is that a reason that vegetarianism is wrong? Our bodies have not been primed in evolutionary time to use computers or read books, to use telephones or the combustion engine. Must all these things be avoided to ensure psychological well being? Relying on precedent is a weak argument. And dropping in quasi-scientific justification (what is an evolutionary expectation, anyway?) isn't strong either.

How would I argue it?
- Held babies tend to be happier
- Mothers holding the babies are happier because the babies are happier
- everyone they meet says "what a calm baby" and is happier
So why wouldn't you co-sleep and baby wear?

Friday, October 15, 2004

conversation on a bus #1

"don't stand on the seat, Mary, you'll fall when the bus goes round a corner... don't make me say it again... *bus goes round corner; Mary bangs chin and cries*... I told you so; when will you learn?..."

The child does learn. She learns that buses make unpredictable lurches and that her parent won't help her learn how to balance safely. She learns that her mother is not interested in helping her achieve her goals, but is bent on thwarting her and then gloating when she does not succeed alone (with the smugness of being proved right).

In dreamland:

"Shall I hold on to you to keep you steady so you can see out of the window?"


"Shall we slip your shoes off so the seat stays clean?"

or, even better,

"Let's pop this small rubber-non-slip bath mat under your feet so the seat stays clean AND you don't slip")

or just quietly 'spotting' the child without comment so if the bus lurches they don't bang their chin.

I wish I lived in dreamland.


thanks Camille - yuh, it was easy to change the title. you're linked. you only weren't because my cut'n'paste boredom threshold is astonishingly low.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Reply to Elliot

You're right, just a matter of cut and paste *adds link to Curiosity*

I'll let you know how the a3 opening pans out. I'm sick and tired of the pawn-knight-knight-white bishop blah blah splat option that has hitherto been my (not wonderfully successful) default opening.

Conversation on a train #1

Mother: "are you going to be a good girl for Granny this weekend?"
20-month-old person: "No"

No slouch, this one.

There's no way she could promise to be a 'good girl' when given no indication of what actions that would entail.

If trying to meet someone else's expectations, we are fearful if we do not know exactly what those expectations are (and fear makes it very hard for us to do anything at all).

Even if we do understand the expectations, the general 'good girl' script allows no room for manouevre, because someone else has decided what 'good girls' do. "Sit at the table to eat your lunch like a good girl" (table manners are important, you see, even if the adults are discussing their tax returns and there's a really good cartoon on TV... /sarcasm)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004


No offence intended...

It took ages to work out how to make sidebar links, so the result is minilinking until I can face adding more.

Object lesson:

I'ver never explored HTML before.
Noone showed me how to edit HTML, or gave me an HTML lesson, or told me I ought to learn it.
I worked out how do do it because I wanted to do some links.
If I'd needed help, I'd have asked one of the HTML-literate people I know.

I once had a book on SGML, actually. Great insomnia cure, but I don't remember a word of it. Why did I have it? I could tell you, but you'd find the answer too soporific.

my new blog

Well, this is very exciting. I've paddled my toes in group blogs but I've never had my own blog before.

I am planning a few book reviews (The Continuum Concept; The Natural Child; With Consent; whatever I read next - some John Holt probably)

I want to write about:

Not disciplining children
Not schooling children
Charity shopping
Talking to strangers
The relative merits of Torres and Settlers

So that should keep this going for a week or so, which I understand is the standard shelf-life of a new blog.

Two pieces of personal information to divulge:
I love lists so much that I have been known to make lists of lists. Borders on listeria.
I love writing to commission, so commission me in the comments. Reactivity as standard operating strategy is why I am more likely to win at chess when playing black. :-)