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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
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Let's Panic

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it.

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« No more whining in 2006! | Main | Here's something old and dusty. Merry Christmas! »
Friday
Dec302005

And here's my last whiny post of 2005.

Oh, but I am feeling low.

I could blame the chocolates my mom bought my husband--my delightfully Jewish husband who is all, “I do not understand you Christians and your strange Christ-birthday; who is this ‘Christ’?” and then insists that my family only give him presents that he can consume. So we get these damn chocolate confections that are incredibly delicious; one of them makes you feel that you require twelve more, and then the second one provides you with the sensation of needing to tear your skin from your face and set your pants on fire. I ate three.

Also, Henry is sick. We put him in preschool and he fought off every virus that came his way, but one weekend with my family was all it took to bring him down. The night before last he had the CROUP, and we immediately rushed him into the steamy bathroom and sat there until the ceiling melted. He continued to whuuup and hurrk far long than he ever had before, but then as we discussed our imminent trip to the ER, he decided hospitals were not his thing, and the episode passed. But now he’s all drippy and crusty and feverish, and when I’m not worried about him I’m worried about how I’m going to keep from killing him.

He is moany and whiny and needy and I can understand why, but he’s not needy in a way I understand. Lying on the couch requesting blankets and tea—this I can understand. Running around and throwing toys while wearing nothing but socks and screaming at me to take off his socks—this is his version of being sick, and it makes no sense to me. No he does NOT want soup, take that blanket OFF him, he LIKES shivering, and don’t THINK about giving him Motrin, on second thought the Motrin tastes like candy so give him EXTRA, what do you MEAN extra is bad for him? THE NAKED BOY WANTS EXTRA MOTRIN.

When he isn’t demanding that I overdose him, he wants me to play, except what he really wants is not for me to play—he wants me to sit next to him and watch him as he plays. This way lies madness, as we know, but I am not given much of a choice in the matter. If I try to pick up an action figure and join him in playtime, I am berated. If I attempt to rise and get a glass of water, or maybe use the bathroom, there is much screaming and pleading for my company. If I sit right next to him and read a book, the book is torn from my hands. My attention is demanded constantly, but it’s only to acknowledge whatever it is he is doing. “Look, Mommy!” he announces, holding up Batman. “I am holding Batman!” Pause. “Look! Look! Look! Look! Look! Look!” and so on, until I respond, “Yes, that’s Batman, all right.”

Repeat this with every one of his two hundred figures.

I am bored out of my mind. Literally, I have no mind.

So maybe this is not the best day to take stock of my life. But whoops, too late.

Waaaay back, I got an MFA in creative writing and I told myself I would have a novel published before I had a child. Ha, ha! No really, I did! I know! Then when I was pregnant I downscaled my ambitions to, “Hmm, I should really get a short story published before I give birth.” I didn’t make that goal either, but I did eventually get two stories published. And a poem. Which, okay, more than zero! Not so bad! But really if I consider myself a writer, I should have more than two stories published in my lifetime. Two stories (and a poem) would make a crappy collection.

So now I’m working on a book. Which is nice, to have an idea, to be working on something. To finally, after years of struggling with rock-bottom expectations and crippling self-doubt and blar de blar twelve years of therapy blar, be doing what I’ve always want ed to do. Except! I have no time! Ever! Because there’s this child! Whom I think a great deal of, who’s really a great kid, but who demands every second of my time! And I may be just a wee bit resentful about that!

I’ve been getting up at six in the morning to write. I am not a morning person. But Henry isn’t either, and as he gets up at 8 at the earliest, it seemed the perfect time to get some things done. But by the time I get a cup of tea, turn on the lights, find my robe, use the bathroom, stare at my freaky morning hair in the mirror, turn on the computer, and try not to throw up as I see what I wrote the day before—by the time I’m ready to write it’s 6:30. So the most I can do is an hour and a half of writing. And it’s not enough. I need that much time just to remember why I’m sitting there, what brought me to that place and what it was I wanted to say, again.

Today I made the mistake of reading an interview between Paul Auster and Jonathan Lethem, and they were talking about the five or six hours each day they devote to their writing, how satisfying it was to have SO MUCH time to write! Devoting those hours to their Art infuses the rest of the day with a “kind of grace,” they agreed. And I thought, if I see you fuckers on the street—and there’s a good chance I will; they’re both around here somewhere, I’ve seen them before—I am going to kick you in the shins. Six hours! Hey, Jonathan: once we were at the same party and you were dancing and you danced like a moron and I laughed. And then you went home and wrote a masterpiece. Wait, that didn't make me feel better. Asshole.

I don’t know how anyone who is a mother is also a writer. I suppose you have to achieve a certain level of success so that you can hire a nanny without killing yourself from the financial burden or from the guilt or choosing your nonexistent career over your child. But if I don’t have the time, then I can’t write the book, so I can’t get the money, which I need to, um, have the time. I go around and around like this, and then I want to throw up. Or maybe that's the chocolates.

I am sorry to end the year like this, so I will say Happy New Year, and then I will go to bed, and maybe tomorrow, the last day of 2005, will suck a tiny bit less.

Reader Comments (107)

sorry, that last link didn't work. It's www.nanowrimo.org, not www.nanowrimo.com. A book in a month...it could work!
January 1, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMichele
Henry will get older, and you will get more time to yourself. Hang in there for now, even if you can't write as much at the moment as a couple of men who are not the primary caretakers of a toddler.

You are a fantastic, gifted writer. You have a talent and ability that many wish for and few have. Don't give up on yourself. Sometime in the future, all of us who are reading now will be buying your newest book from our favorite bookstores.
January 1, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermeganann
Or um, a primary caretakers of a preschooler? Sorry about that, don't know where my brain went.
January 1, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermeganann
I suppose the grass is always greener, isn't it? I have the time, I have not the talent. Be happy with what you have.
January 1, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
The answer, CLEARLY, is to just have more children. At least that's what I'm telling myself.

I'll let you know how it goes.
January 1, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda
A post from a collection of comments in Edge about "dangerous ideas".

JUDITH RICH HARRISIndependent Investigator and Theoretician; Author, The Nurture Assumption



The idea of zero parental influence

Is it dangerous to claim that parents have no power at all (other than genetic) to shape their child's personality, intelligence, or the way he or she behaves outside the family home? More to the point, is this claim false? Was I wrong when I proposed that parents' power to do these things by environmental means is zero, nada, zilch?

A confession: When I first made this proposal ten years ago, I didn't fully believe it myself. I took an extreme position, the null hypothesis of zero parental influence, for the sake of scientific clarity. Making myself an easy target, I invited the establishment — research psychologists in the academic world — to shoot me down. I didn't think it would be all that difficult for them to do so. It was clear by then that there weren't any big effects of parenting, but I thought there must be modest effects that I would ultimately have to acknowledge.

The establishment's failure to shoot me down has been nothing short of astonishing. One developmental psychologist even admitted, one year ago on this very website, that researchers hadn't yet found proof that "parents do shape their children," but she was still convinced that they will eventually find it, if they just keep searching long enough.

Her comrades in arms have been less forthright. "There are dozens of studies that show the influence of parents on children!" they kept saying, but then they'd somehow forget to name them — perhaps because these studies were among the ones I had already demolished (by showing that they lacked the necessary controls or the proper statistical analyses). Or they'd claim to have newer research that provided an airtight case for parental influence, but again there was a catch: the work had never been published in a peer-reviewed journal. When I investigated, I could find no evidence that the research in question had actually been done or, if done, that it had produced the results that were claimed for it. At most, it appeared to consist of preliminary work, with too little data to be meaningful (or publishable).

Vaporware, I call it. Some of the vaporware has achieved mythic status. You may have heard of Stephen Suomi's experiment with nervous baby monkeys, supposedly showing that those reared by "nurturant" adoptive monkey mothers turn into calm, socially confident adults. Or of Jerome Kagan's research with nervous baby humans, supposedly showing that those reared by "overprotective" (that is, nurturant) human mothers are more likely to remain fearful.

Researchers like these might well see my ideas as dangerous. But is the notion of zero parental influence dangerous in any other sense? So it is alleged. Here's what Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association, told a journalist in 1998:

[Harris's] thesis is absurd on its face, but consider what might happen if parents believe this stuff! Will it free some to mistreat their kids, since "it doesn't matter"? Will it tell parents who are tired after a long day that they needn't bother even paying any attention to their kid since "it doesn't matter"?

Farley seems to be saying that the only reason parents are nice to their children is because they think it will make the children turn out better! And that if parents believed that they had no influence at all on how their kids turn out, they are likely to abuse or neglect them.

Which, it seems to me, is absurd on its face. Most chimpanzee mothers are nice to their babies and take good care of them. Do chimpanzees think they're going to influence how their offspring turn out? Doesn't Frank Farley know anything at all about evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology?

My idea is viewed as dangerous by the powers that be, but I don't think it's dangerous at all. On the contrary: if people accepted it, it would be a breath of fresh air. Family life, for parents and children alike, would improve. Look what's happening now as a result of the faith, obligatory in our culture, in the power of parents to mold their children's fragile psyches. Parents are exhausting themselves in their efforts to meet their children's every demand, not realizing that evolution designed offspring — nonhuman animals as well as humans — to demand more than they really need. Family life has become phony, because parents are convinced that children need constant reassurances of their love, so if they don't happen to feel very loving at a particular time or towards a particular child, they fake it. Praise is delivered by the bushel, which devalues its worth. Children have become the masters of the home.

And what has all this sacrifice and effort on the part of parents bought them? Zilch. There are no indications that children today are happier, more self-confident, less aggressive, or in better mental health than they were sixty years ago, when I was a child — when homes were run by and for adults, when physical punishment was used routinely, when fathers were generally unavailable, when praise was a rare and precious commodity, and when explicit expressions of parental love were reserved for the deathbed.

Is my idea dangerous? I've never condoned child abuse or neglect; I've never believed that parents don't matter. The relationship between a parent and a child is an important one, but it's important in the same way as the relationship between married partners. A good relationship is one in which each party cares about the other and derives happiness from making the other happy. A good relationship is not one in which one party's central goal is to modify the other's personality.

I think what's really dangerous — perhaps a better word is tragic — is the establishment's idea of the all-powerful, and hence all-blamable, parent.



January 1, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMichael
Don't knock that hour and a half-- they add up.
January 1, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterroo
I had a children's book published in my early twenties and ever since then, nada on the writing. But I heard an interview with the author Carol Shields a couple of years ago that was immensely comforting, far more so than the exchange between Paul Auster and Jonathan whatshisname. Carol Shields said she dreamed and dreamed of becoming a published writer and the day that her youngest of her five children went off to school, she sat down and started writing her first novel, at age 40. Small Ceremonies (the book is called) So I cling to the belief that I still have time to do it. My youngest is due to start school in two years...
January 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMinnams
All right, Michael, enough. Go start your own blog.
January 2, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteralice
I would buy the book with the two short stories and a poem.

I, too, am trying to be a writer and trying to wrangle a toddler. The only thing that has worked for me so far is to keep my expectations really low. I have no novelistic aspirations and content myself with being a writer-for-hire for magazines and doing some blogging. If a novel strikes me, I'll write it. But I can't imagine that happening any time soon.

Several thousand posts ago, someone said the far worse thing would be to have oodles of time and no talent. Be glad you have the opposite problem.
January 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRosenleaf
YOU ARE A GENIUS. I don't have a child, but for five years I had Wrestling With My Infertility to keep me company while I didn't write. I have also declared you my Favorite Public Figure of 2005 in my livejournal.
January 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret
see you should do what I did. give up writing. take up scrapbooking. Then you are deveoting your time to recording your precious child's life! he will love you! you write on the pages! oh and then you can get totally caught up in whether or not your pages are getting published in national scrapbooking magazines and feeling like a faliure because you arent meeting your publishing goals there either and . . . never mind. don't do that.
January 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAmy B.
oh the croup. I know this one well. It attatches to my children like gum to the bottom of your shoe.
January 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCandice
1) I read your story in Fence, and it was good. Jolly, Jolly, Panty Good.

2) I SAW Jonathan Lethem through a window and he was picking his nose and crying "why! why is alice funnier than me? why can't I do it!?" so there. He is a boogery watery sad man. And a bad dancer, too, or so you say.

3) If you're getting an hour an a half of writing done a day, that's glorious. If I wrote that much, I'd feel like a genius.

therein ends my comment. happy new year!
January 2, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlis
I am now picturing Jonathan Lethem picking his nose, and I am laughing.

(I failed to mention that during the hour and a half of writing? I'm actually just picking my nose. Honesty in 2006!)
January 2, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteralice
You are WAY too hard on yourself expecting that you should get so much accomplished while having Henry in the house. I admit I had no freakin' clue until I had my own little MonkeyBoy last October. Even though I stay home full-time, I still have a teenaged cousin come in a few times a week so I can get a few things done in the house, run quick errands, and go to the gym.

Not to Assvise you or anything, can you hire a teenager to come in and hang out with Henry while you work on the book? A friend of mine did that so that she could work part-time from home and it went quite well.
January 3, 2006 | Unregistered Commentercagey
No, I haven't read all the comments, but. I took up running a few years ago, then we had a son. In order to run I get up at 5:30 am. I respectfully suggest that you ditch the "I am not a morning person" self-identification and replace it with "I am a writer who gets up early to give myself enough time to get into my groove."

My novel, I work on during my two-hour commute. There is time in the day, you just have to make it.

And you know what? I'd trade the enjoyment I get from reading your blog for the enjoyment I would get from reading weekly notes that say "I am writing something else but thanks for checking in."
January 3, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterbraine
"And I thought, if I see you fuckers on the street...I am going to kick you in the shins."

I am still laughing.

As to what braine said, I use my blogging to get my creative juices flowing. It really helps me and I think I need it in addition to my other writing.

My kids are older, but my youngest (10 1/2) loves to interrupt me with inane things, like "Mom, do you like my new word--uppeadambowambo?" Or some other such nonsense. It just throws off my whole train of thought/thinking process. It makes me laugh now, though, to think what my face must look like as he says it to me. I am sure it is an utter look of disgust and confusion. I am sure he goes into his room and laughs hysterically.
January 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterShelli
The childless should never, EVER give advice on parenting. Period. Of course, one can never know this until they have a child themselves. Michael, as one man to another, shut up about this. You have no idea and are not expected to, so chill. I have a friend who is a writer, and when his wife was expecting their first child, he layed out his plan for squeezing in some writing after the baby is born. This will make all the parents laugh. It went like this:

I'll set up the bassenet nest to my desk and write when she's napping.

I laughed in his face when he told me this. Needless to say, it did not go as he planned.
January 3, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterthe patriarch
Lady, please. You're totally kicking ass. You're writing online, raising a sweet little boy, and spending about 550 hours a year on your book.

It's a novel, for pete's sake, it's going to take a long time. Of course, owing to your extraordinary talent and wit, your novel will be better than most people's novels--even people who spent a lot more time--and that will be lovely. We will have tea and chortle over your demonstrable superiority.

Enjoy your lovely mornings alone in the twilight writing, I find they infuse the rest of the day with a kind of grace.
January 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie
Everyone is focusing on the parenting issue and not at all on the depression. (Pardons if I missed a comment or two that did)

Depression can create false feelings urgency.

I'm sure you understand that writers, unlike Pop-tart singers for instance, can create their art until they're very, very old and grey. On some level I suspect you know this but it bear's repeating: you have time. Even if it takes a couple of years to be in a place where you can devote yourself fully to writing, you will still be capable of writing once you get there. Indeed, the experiences you gain in the interval might even make you a better writer.

The hour or two you're doing now may not *feel* like enough, but it's better than nothing. Besides, feelings need to be viewed with suspicion when you're depressed.

The time you're spending now is more than enough to keep your skills from atrophing. The evidence is right here in this blog. You're a fine writer right now, despite your current lack of free time.

I wish you the best, I have personal experience with depression and it's a tough, tough thing to deal with.

To everyone telling Michael to shut up: if you disagree with his argument address the arguement. Give a counter argument, explain why the *argument* is wrong. He might indeed be incorrect, but saying he doesn't know anything because he's not a parent isn't proof. Or more to the point it isn't proof that the studies he's citing are wrong. Comtemptuous dismissal doesn't furthur anyone's understanding.
January 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCoelecanth
I don't know if it is any comfort, and it is actually lame of me to say it, but ME TOO! My son is seemingly a close copy of yours, and I am an artist with a career that is more or less on hold, and I have all the same Issues that you described so well. And my son does need every tiny molecule of my attention. And not only that, I have a new son as well. hahahahaha! Thank you for providing me this one break-- it is the only blog I read and I never miss it. So, um, you ARE doing something, at least for me.
January 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJen
The problem isn't Michael's argument, it's that his argument isn't applicable here, as it doesn't help Alice (or any parent of a demanding child). Seriously, before my peers starting having kids, I always thought, "What's the big deal? Kids start getting too annoying, you just firmly tell them No!" Then I saw some actual toddlers in action. You have no idea how good they are at ruining your day. And they simply don't seem to be able to step back from the situation and look at it rationally! It's quite amazing.

January 3, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdebl
P.S. Toddlers, preschoolers, close enough....
January 3, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdebl
With all the time you (don't) have, you should read Shirley Jackson's 'Life Among the Savages' and/or 'Raising Demons'. I feel the same as you do about the time/money/daycare/writing thing, but then, the idea that Shirley Jackson had the same issues and still managed to write some wickedly scary stuff... well, I guess life's not complete without a little guilt.
January 3, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermox

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