Book Review Monday: If You Give A Cat A Cupcake

cat a cupcakeIf you give a cat a cupcake, he will look at you with unconcealed disdain.

Unless it has bacon sprinkles.

The child-free (you lucky bastards, if that is indeed your choice) may not recognize this as being part of a series of “If You Give A…” books, charming little tales of unintended consequences, which present lessons about the chain reaction that a single, seemingly innocuous event can detonate. (Current members of certain majority parties in certain Houses of government could perhaps learn a few things from these books.)

The first one I read was “If You Give a Moose a Muffin,” though I believe “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” was the first in the series. It doesn’t really matter; you get the gist.

Before I dive in, let me just say: do NOT; I repeat, do NOT give that cat a cupcake or any other item containing sugar. Check his pupils! Dude seriously needs to chill. But, unfortunately, adults promoting good choices are in short supply in these stories, so I will continue.

All of these books start with an animal, a child, and a conditional clause: “If you give a…” The meat of the story is in the “then” part of the sentence. In the four books we own, only two are plausible in their food offering to a particular animal: I think a pig would eat a pancake, and a mouse would eat a cookie. In three of the books, I can follow the chain of events without much stretching; once you accept the initial condition (you have, indeed, given a moose a muffin, and he has accepted said muffin), I can see how we could plausibly go through the chain of events.

This book? Not so much. It’s not just because I live with cats, and no cat in my house would perceive a muffin as acceptable food. Even if I could accept that, the rest of the events are just a bit far-fetched. A cat would never clean up a mess he made (the purple footprints all over my kitchen and bedspread this weekend attest to that). If he did clean it up, he would definitely not want to cool down at the beach, in or near water, wearing tropical bathing trunks. Any such cat would be banned from all future feline meetings, should they ever be scheduled, as napping in sunbeams and scoffing at puny humans leaves little time for administrative duties. And no cat I know would ever feel the need to work out at a gym or go near any exercise equipment, as most exercise equipment is made of materials that are decidedly un-shreddable and aside from yoga mats, difficult to throw up on.

If one can accept that a cat would want to go anywhere near a row boat (one can’t), the only sentence that makes sense in this book is: “He’ll be the captain, and you’ll have to row.”

That pretty much sums up life with a cat.

“If You Give a Cat a Cupcake”
by Laura Numeroff
Illustrated by Felicia Bond
Harper Collins, 2008

Oh, Sweet Prince

controversy

A drawing I did in 1985 for a demonstration speech in high school speech class.

It was dirty. It was sexy. You knew you had to hide it from your parents. He was deliciously weird and beautiful. His talent was desperate and compelling. His music formed bonds as we shared it between ourselves, sought out rare B-sides and the legendary and almost mythical Black Album. We listened to “Darling Nikki” on our Walkmans through headphones with a double jack, scandalized and delighted.

Prince died today, and every time I hear even a snippet of his music, I become the person I was when I first listened to that song or album, and I fall apart.

His music is the punctuation for my life story.

For the life stories of so many of us. We played “Gett Off” while we were getting ready to go out, dancing around the apartment. We belted out “U Got the Look” when we were driving. We did the finger motions for “I Would Die 4 U.” We doodled on our notebooks, spelling with 4s, 2s, and Us, pinned “Rude Boy” buttons to our jackets, and wished we could pull off heels like he did.

His songs are themselves and they are the memories they evoke in us. He was positive and strange and his music is filled with joy and love, humor and social commentary. It’s times like this I wish I believed in an afterlife, because then I could say there’s an other-world where David Bowie and Prince are exchanging fashion, riffing on lyrics, and jamming until dawn.

Parenting, by the Borg (Part II)

I’ve been drafting a few more serious pieces, and even though you don’t need a Star Trek sorbet, I do, courtesy of Seven of Nine.

time for regeneration

A couple of these are consistent battles in our home with our almost-8-year-old, and one could be applied to both kids and grown-ups. You decide.

digital entertainment

In any case, last night, I watched Frontline’s “Children of Syria” , and I encourage everyone, especially Americans, to do the same. This morning, I watched said 8-year-old refuse to eat his toast because it was “broken,” which elicited this comment from me: “You are whining about broken toast, and there are children in Syria digging through rubble for toys.”

I know, right? Awesome parenting. I love it when I do those things I said I would never do. I heard it coming, and I had a split second to stop it leaving my mouth, and then I chose to let it fly.

You know what, though? He picked up the toast and ate it immediately without another word.

emotional outburst

Book Review Monday: Tommy’s Camping Adventure

tommy023

He’s like a huge-headed modern-day Cinderella.

Tommy’s Camping Adventure or, Who Would You Leave in the Woods to Die?

It’s a conundrum for the ages; one that philosophers and poets have wrestled with for centuries:

What is my camp job?

Of course, this question is really getting at the core value inherent in modern American society: “How can I be useful to my fellow humans and contribute to the greater good?”

Right, America? Right?

Oh, wait.

I’m pretty sure it’s: “Every man for himself, and women, quit whining.”

In this mid-20th-century fable, the Perfect American Family is camping, and Young Tommy wants his own camp job. He stumbles through the first part of the tale attempting to find one, only to discover that not only are all the jobs taken, but he totally sucks at them.

Is everyone working at their traditionally-assigned gender roles? Yes? Then let’s go!

tommy024

Big Sister Ann is sweeping dirt. Dad is chopping nothing with the blunt side of the ax. Mom is already cooking even though she has not unloaded the groceries. Tommy, you don’t want these people to assign you a task. Sweet wagon, though.

“Tommy wanted only one thing–a special camp job that he could do.”

Tommy, you are insane. This kid looks to be about five or so, it’s hard to tell from the size of his head, but what kind of freak is he? Dad builds the fires, Mom cooks the eggs, brother Dave handles the tackle, sister Ann sweeps the camp. Tommy, it’s your job to stay out of the way.

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American Voters: Crap Voters Say

Yesterday, I posted a con23575123105_fc5336adb1_kversation I had as an election judge with a voter. I live in Minnesota, and as far as American elections go, we are pretty good at this whole election thing. We have a high voter turn-out (again, for America), and we allow same-day registration. Not to mention that in 2012, the voters rejected a republican-led ballot measure that would have instituted voter ID laws.

(Aside: People may not be aware, but not only does Minnesota have a Voter’s Bill of Rights, but there are many statutes that cover elections, including not sharing or showing your completed ballot and not campaigning in or around polling places.)

In 2012, I was a precinct judge who was assigned to be the “greeter.” Ramsey County initiated this as triage in high turn-out elections to make sure people walking in the door to the polling place are in the right place and are pre-registered. I could look up the voter’s address and direct them to the proper place if necessary as well as check and make sure people have all the documentation they need to register in our precinct. I did this from open to close, which is about 13 hours.

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American Voters, Prologue: A Conversation

I’ve been thinking a lot about the American Voter this campaign cycle. Well, I’ve been thinking about them for way longer than that, but this campaign cycle has caused me to go back through the notes I often take on Election Days while I am election judging. This conversation with a voter at the polling place is a fine example of some of the things going though my head. More to follow tomorrow.

Voter: “Why don’t they put their denomination [party affiliation]?”
Me: “Some elections are held by party, and some are not. These are not.”
Voter: “What do you mean ‘by party’?”
Me: According to political party.
Voter: “How do you know? I mean what if you are fed up with the Democrats, especially in Minnesota, and you want to vote Green or Socialist? How do you know?”
Me: “Go to the candidates’ websites; do your research.”
Voter: “How do you even know who the candidates are?”
Me: “It’s on the news; it’s on the Secretary of State’s website; it’s on the candidates’s websites; it’s in the papers.”
Voter: “What if you don’t read the papers?”
Me (internally): “What if your brain falls right out of your head?”

Book Review Monday: The Cat in the Hat

cat in the hat cover2

Or: “Always Keep Your Doors Locked”

“The Cat in the Hat”
by Dr. Seuss
copyright 1957 by Dr. Seuss Enterprises
Published by Random House Children’s Books

I’ve long suspected that people who draw and animate cats neither like nor know cats. Considering that animators have traditionally been mostly dudes, and the stereotype goes that dudes don’t have cats in their homes (notice I did not write “own”), it’s not surprising that there are few animated cat movies, and when cats do appear, they tend to be sinister.

In the case of “The Cat in the Hat”, it’s clear to me that this “Suess” guy, who was certainly not a real doctor, did not live with a cat. No self-respecting cat I know would ever be this pointedly industrious in the middle of the day or would pay this much attention to humans with no promise of food in return.

Also: this book is messed up.

Right away, we meet two nameless children who are sitting mildly in chairs in front of a window because it’s raining and they can’t go outside to play. Clearly, this is not happening in America. Can’t they just switch on the damn TV? Why don’t they have any indoor toys? Had they not been invented in 1957?

On page 6, a new character is introduced by a loud BUMP: a (sorry) THE Cat in the Hat. He must be known to them already because, while their facial expressions show surprise and the resident talking fish is shocked, they know his moniker and don’t seem freaked out that a feline with questionable sartorial taste has entered without waiting to be invited. He announces that they are going to have good funny fun, clearly using some form of mind control to make them believe their “mother will not mind at all” if he shows them new tricks and games.

Well, who doesn’t want to be taught new tricks and games by an enormous cat that looks nothing like a cat, walks on his hind legs, wearing a hat he probably picked up from some beatnick in a smoky club, and who knows the children are home alone? That’s not creepy at all.

(As a side note, while I try not to judge other people’s parenting, these kids don’t look to be more than 8 years old, so what in the name of great thundering Thor are they doing home by themselves? It appears that the shocked talking fish is in charge while their mother is away, which is super awesome because we all know how good verbose cyprinids are at minding human children from their little glass bowls.)

THE Cat in the Hat is not to be trusted, and he winds up making a huge mess while showing off his funny fun. The children look horrified throughout the book, but they do nothing to make the festive feline leave the premises.

They are clearly too stupid to be left alone.

cat in the hat cover

They are like Chandler when he tried to do a nice thing for Monica by cleaning the house.

After he makes a mess, the cat fetches a big, red, wooden box to play a new game that the cat calls “Fun-in-a-box.” The children are still gaping in open-mouthed incredulity, or from abject stupidity, when out of the box pops little blue haired Things wearing red footie pajamas, which The Cat has clearly been enslaving for events such as this.

Cut to kids, still wide-eyed with stupid.

Cut to fish, still remonstrating like a stern British butler.

Suffice to say that the Things make even more of a mess, and by page 47 (this very long for a non-chapter book), Mother is coming home. Indeed, we can see her Mary-janed-shod foot out the window.

Now this is where I just don’t buy it. By page 60, their mother is coming in the door, everything is clean, all the interlopers are gone, and the kids are back sitting primly in front of the window.

How long is their front walk?

Parenting, by the Borg

Snacks are irrelevant

I’ve been streaming Star Trek: Voyager on Netflix, and I think I’ll start talking to my kid like Seven of Nine. There could be standard responses to common child behaviors: whining, wheedling, sleeping, eating, babbling, dressing, grooming, emoting. All that is needed is cool clarity.
maturation chamber

Is it OK to just flash memes at your child? Is that an acceptable modern parenting style? Finn can come back from spring break to Borg Mom.

pointless remonstration

I have more. I’ll save them for later. The nice thing is, many of them can be used on adults as well. I like it when a thing can serve more than one purpose. It is most efficient.

Parenting: Whoop it up

“What I hope to do, and have had some success at times in doing, is persuading the fence sitters, parents who have heard the pseudoscience of the antivaccine movement and have become frightened enough to consider not vaccinating.”

—Orac, Respectful Insolence “’Dr. Bob Sears’: Perfecting the Art of the Anti-vaccine Dog Whistle”

When I first started writing this essay, I was responding to reports of a whooping cough epidemic in California in 2010. Something sidetracked me, most likely in the form of my offspring and its ever-present demands. However, “thanks” to the cult of anti-vaccination, I no longer have to worry about being irrelevant when it comes to outbreaks of preventable diseases. Another one is right around the corner, as is some new conspiracy regarding the government, Big Pharma, and SCIENCE all converging in a jabby vial of poison wielded for profit and mind control. Due to their vaccine deferrals and refusals, outbreaks of pertussis and measles continue in America, including Measles in the Magic Kingdom!

I do not want a Fastpass for that ride.

Back in the late ’90’s, a friend of mine who works the renaissance festivals told me that the kid in the trailer up from her had whooping cough, and I said, “Whooping cough? What is this, 1936?*” She said, “Yeah, they don’t believe in vaccination.” “WHAT?! Stupid fucking hippies.”

Yes, that’s my baby, born at 25.5 weeks.

Then in 2008, I had a baby; an extreme preemie, as a matter of fact, and by that time these stupid fucking hippies had a platform and a celebrity spokesperson and organizations and propaganda and bogus medical studies to point their fingers at, and the news media was reporting on the controversy like it was, you know, actually a controversy. I fell into their emotional, fear-mongering worm hole. These stupid fucking hippies were now educated white liberals with crunchy ideas about parenting just like me! And I was all about the crunch, to the extent that I found myself agonizing over vaccinations.

It’s highly embarrassing, and I cringe at the me who left the NICU weeping because my infant was getting one—and ONLY ONE—vaccination. For pertussis.

I cringe at that woman, who I am certain caused eye-rolling and deep sighs from her team of doctors and nurses when she expressed her ludicrous concerns. Who decided that she somehow knew better than the highly-educated experts whose job it is to know about these things. I cringe at her, cherry-picking evidence to believe something she had, for some reason, decided she wanted to believe: that vaccinations would somehow corrupt her tiny, defenseless infant. I wanted to be afraid; in the midst of the real terror I was already experiencing, I chose a fear that led me to have some sense of control. I could say “no” to All The Vaccines.

This is just to say, I understand the fear some parents are feeling; I understand all too well. And I don’t have anything nice to say about it at all now, nor should I. Nor should anyone. The anti-vaccination movement spouts dangerous lies and engages in wrong-headed thinking, encouraging parents to alter or abstain from the recommended vaccine schedule without an evidence-based, medical reason to do so. They can’t hide in the herd anymore because they have infected the herd with their nonsense, lunacy, and fear mongering, and the herd is losing its immunity.

“Natural” is alluring. I went all woo-crunchy for awhile, going with what “sounded good” or “felt right.” I was staggeringly careful with my pregnancy and my home environment. I didn’t pump gas, go near the litterboxes, or eat soft cheese or deli meats or sushi or do anything remotely fun. I got rid of “toxic” personal products. I read the “green pregnancy” books.

I still had a preemie.

When Finn was a baby, I relied a lot on advice found in Mothering forums, magazines, articles, and books. I read the Dr. Sears Vaccine Book, taking copious notes in the cafe of the NICU, and even passed the bloody thing on to a friend (I have since recycled it). I practiced some attachment parenting with my son: we co-slept often, didn’t cry-it-out, and nursed well into the toddler years. (These last choices I do not see as detrimental; they worked for our family and for our son.)

…getting close to one year old

I get that it’s scary to be have a kid, be a parent, transform into a family. You have a whole new life to nurture; it’s your job to create a well-adjusted member of society who will contribute in a positive way to the common good. That’s no easy task.

Modern life seems complicated. It’s hectic and busy and overwhelming. The news is terrifying. We can feel removed from nature and from our emotions by technology and ever-increasing demands on our time and skills. We are removed from criticism and truth by creating our cozy  little Internet echo chambers. We are isolated by time and science from the physical reality of vaccine-preventable illnesses and the suffering that accompanies them because so few actually remember it.

We want to get back some control, take the reins on a life we feel is subjugated to work, money, and possessions, so we go “natural.” We embrace the idea that it was better in the past, and we long for the “good old days.” This isn’t new. But now, we’ve elevated instinct above education on so many levels, actually devaluing the role of the expert, and replacing it with the ridiculous icon of the Warrior Mommy with Google as her Guide.

It’s an expression of privilege to feel this particular sense of removal and fear. When you don’t have to worry about putting food on the table or that your family will be ruined forever if someone gets into an accident or falls ill, you can worry that the CDC is in collusion with Big Pharma and Monsanto to vaccinate GMO mosquitos with aborted human fetal cells to create a super race of shills. Not having the everyday worries simply regarding survival, you have the luxury to wallow in false fears and descend into a chaos of your own making.

This March, warming his hands by the fire at a pub in Ireland.

My 2-pound baby is now a second grader, vibrant and kind and fully-vaccinated on schedule. I came around, soon after he was out of the hospital and we had gone to a couple of pediatrician appointments. Our doctor was nice about spacing his vaccinations out, but I’m sure she was internally eye-rolling and sighing at us. It’s how I look back at me, if you add a touch of rage.

Why the rage? I’ll take responsibility for buying to the fear-mongering and the manufactured controversy, but I’m angry at the media for reporting on it for so long as if there were truly two sides the the story. I’m angry at the parents who peddled this nonsense, moving the goalposts, cherry-picking, and accusing anyone who disagrees with them of being “sheeple.” They are still at it, and if anything, they have gotten worse as their arguments continue to be dismantled, the media reports on facts rather than hysteria, states begin to crack down on vaccine exemptions, and a major film festival decides not to show an anti-vax “documentary.”

I wish I had better documented how I came out of my fugue and got back on track, but I know it has something to do with who I was before I became pregnant, that person who was appalled at the idea that someone could “not believe in vaccines.” That person eventually sat down with the all mighty Google and decided to do some poking around. Because my default state seems to be skepticism, which I was misapplying during my months of fear, once the fog cleared, and my son was safe (thanks to science-based medicine), my questioning nature reasserted itself and turned inward. It led me to look into the modern anti-vaccine movement and its methods. I found science blogging sites like “Respectful Insolence,” “Science-Based Medicine,” and “Neurologica.”

I put the Orac quote at the beginning because I hope the same thing: that he and others can have some success with the fence sitters. He certainly did help me find my way back to sanity and the value of science-based medicine. I fear that not much can be done with the strong core of anti-vac fundies, but we can advocate for stronger rules on vaccine exemptions, and make sure our elected officials are not only hearing the voices of the fear mongers. We can listen to friends or family who express concerns that are based in the fear cloud of the anti-vaccine movement and gently steer them back to reason. We can share the growing number of resources offering general science information and humorous woo-debunking. Hopefully, it will be in small increments and not more outbreaks that we continue to turn the tide.

*147.237 reported cases of pertussis in 1936. In 1976, there were 1,010, and in 2014, there were 32, 971 reported cases. That’s the wrong direction.

Book Review Monday: Four Little Kittens

four kittens cover

“Four Little Kittens”, a Little Golden Book by Kathleen N. Daly, should be enjoyed for the colorful and soft illustrations by Adriana Mazza Saviozzi, rather than scoured for any life lessons. Indeed, I must have been a child to have enjoyed a tale in which children are encouraged to choose between a life of homelessness, vagrancy, killing, or freeloading.

The “Four Little Kittens” of the title are born in a barn to a single mother with very little education or experience of the world at large. While being a caring and proud parent, her ability to envision a future for them is limited by her narrow scope of reality. She is also rather quick to force upon them the kind of decisions that are difficult to make when one is still a very small animal.

“Children,” she says, “the time has come for you to decide what kind of cats you will be.”

Before they have been properly socialized and before she has had the time to observe their personalities and preferences, she foists identity upon them in the form of occupation, reinforcing the uniquely American idea that “you are what you do.”

Because of her provincial nature, her already limited vision of the future is further limited by her presentation of only three kinds of individuals: one can be an alley cat, a ship’s cat, or a farm cat.

four kittens cover 1Alley cats are described as care-free anarchists, like the beatnicks of the feline world. They don’t have to wash, and they “make fine music at night.” Of course, they are vagrants, subsisting off the scraps of human city life, and they create no social value. One could argue that they help to control the rat population, but my guess is that rats and cats in this particular ecosystem are competitors rather than predator-prey. Tuff, the biggest cat, chooses this life and takes off immediately.

This would be a good time to talk about sexism and gender roles. This feline world reflects the human mores of its time: America in 1957. Of the four kittens, Tuff, Luff, Ruff, and Muff (we could have a separate review discussing the ingenuity of names in this tome), only one, Muff (of course), is a girl. This will play out in the mother’s discussion of occupation.

A Ship’s Cat is a stowaway. They are described as “jolly” and “roving.” Much like members of the armed services, they get to travel abroad, meet interesting foreign individuals, and kill things, as they are expected to keep the rat and mouse population under control. Luff chooses this life.

Farm Cats, like the mother cat, are killers. They catch mice and rats and live in a barn. “No House Cat am I,” says the mother proudly. She is “splendid, useful, and strong,” insinuating that House Cats are none of those things. Ruff chooses to be a Farm Cat.

The smallest, youngest, and most traditionally female kitten, Muff, is “gentle, playful, and pretty” as well as fastidious about her white paws. Clearly, she’s a nuisance and is ill-suited to any sort of life of hard knocks or challenges. The mother cat is frustrated with her, sighing “I don’t know what kind of cat you are,” before going off to catch a mouse for dinner.

Muff is afraid of big rats, likes to be clean, doesn’t want to travel, and she despairs of ever finding her purpose. In a classic depiction of the pathetic fallacy, she is rained on as she wanders the streets of the city alone, feeling cold and hungry and cross. She is then saved by a paragon of the patriarchy: an older, white male.

She winds up anfour kittens cover 2 a warm house with a little girl. She is given saucers of cream and cozy fires. She “jumps” and “pounces” in her “prettiest way” and never looks back to her siblings or mother. She discovers that she is “a cushion and cream cat, a purring cat, a cuddlesome cat, a playful cat, a little girl’s cat… a House cat!”

It’s a thinly veiled lesson to the little girls who are no doubt attracted to this little kitten book: boys can Be Someone, even if that Someone is of dubious value to society. Girls must be taken care of and fill their role as a pretty object, expected to perform at the will of the master. They are chosen not for their skills or their qualifications, indeed, they are not even expected to develop skills; they are chosen for their looks and their temperment, both of which are tied in to the societal expectations of their gender.

It would be one thing if this sort of attitude were confined to a time when we just did not know better, but, sadly, it is all too contemporary.

“Four Little Kittens”
Written by Kathleen N. Daly
Pictures by Adrianna Mazza Saviozzi
A Golden Book, copyright 1957