On privilege

Ever notice the word “privilege” had the word “vile” sitting right there in the middle of it? I didn’t until tonight. Here’s what privilege is: being in your mid-thirties with an advanced degree and a writing job and still always wanting to insert a “d” into that word. Privilege is relying on spell-check for professionalism. It’s having spell-check in the first place.

We’re in the middle of a few “national conversations” right now: about flags, and states rights, and history, and somewhere on that list, maybe pretty far down, racism, spelled timidly with a lower-case “r.”

Privilege is the luxury of time to discuss these things, the ability to dissect issues from a so-called objective space. To determine from your own impartial analysis, for example, in the case of many recent killings, whether the dead person – presumably someone of color and with little privilege – somehow “instigated” the situation. To not fear any real consequences no matter what conclusion you come to. To know that no one in your inner circle will be targeted in an attack because of their race while you are making up your mind.

Privilege is discussing race, and gender, and sexuality, and religion, and, yes, privilege, in the safety of a classroom. It’s paying exorbitant sums of money to do so. It’s walking away with academic credit and a “specialization in diversity studies” on your resume.

It’s a gift. It’s ripe for misuse. It’s the option to not have read this far. To click “like” and move to the sports page. To disagree by posting vile commentary.

It’s willful ambivalence. It’s knowledge without action. It’s uncomfortable silence.


Privilege is paying hundreds of dollars to take a class about privilege and leaving with academic credit.*

*In many cases without once having to interact with anyone not also considered privileged.

On vaccination

Here’s what I know. If you’re reading this you’re either going to agree or disagree with me. You already agree or disagree. Reading this will reinforce what you already think, or you will think that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t expect to change any minds. These are exactly the topics that I try to steer clear of online because I’ve never seen a productive conversation following a post like this. So I know I am opening my own can of worms.

But I know I have to say something. I am reading about an outbreak of measles in New York City, and this makes me nervous. I know that this is the first time I’ve thought about measles in my 33 years. I know that vaccination has become less routine, and that this has consequences.

Let me start by saying I sympathize with the desire to opt-out. I know the creeping feeling that our society is over-medicated, the suspicion that we swallow pills instead of solving problems. I know that I try to fix things the natural way. I won’t take aspirin for a headache until it’s lasted for hours. I ask doctors about the necessity of taking antibiotics before filling their prescriptions. I read every possible side effect of everything I ingest. I know what it feels like to give birth with breath as your only sedative.

I know what it feels like to become a mother. The awe. And then the terror. The realization that you are in charge of something – someone – so fragile. The certainty that he will experience pain you won’t be able to protect him from. The joy of trying to do so anyway. The agony of watching him suffer.

I know how much it hurts the first time you stand helpless as a a nurse sticks a needle into your son’s thigh. He looks at you for comfort. You cry. He screams. I know how it feels not to be able to explain. To watch for fevers at night. To rub the lump out of his leg. I know I hate it every time we get him vaccinated.

I know I am doing the right thing.

My son turned six months today. He is a strong, healthy baby, breastfed and big-cheeked. Just tonight, he rolled from his tummy onto his back for the first time. He laughs when you lower your finger to his nose. Tomorrow he will taste sweet potatoes – something new. He will go for his scheduled shots on Monday. He is still six months too young for MMR.

I know 19 out of 8 million is a tiny number. I know that we have to go on living our lives. I know when we were waiting in the doctor’s office last week, my son with his first bad cold, there was a boy with bright red cheeks who coughed in the waiting room. I know I wouldn’t have imagined they were spots if I hadn’t overheard the phone call, another worried mom on the other end of the line. I know the receptionist said that MMR is 99% effective after the first dose. That full immunity is usually conferred by age four. That there is no advantage to getting the second dose early, unless a student in your class is diagnosed. I know that other boy probably had a cold, just like my son. I know that won’t stop me from feeling his forehead for the next two weeks.

I know now why my mom always worried.

I am glad my son’s pediatrician insists all patients follow the schedule. Relieved his daycare requires proof of vaccination. I know the other adults in my son’s life are doing the best they can for him, but I know they can’t protect him either. I know that all vaccines carry a risk. I know that I’m willing to take it.

A friend is coming to visit later this month who is immunocompromised. I know that anyone dealing with serious immune system issues already has enough to worry about without adding preventable illnesses to the list. That the same is true in households with infants. I know that in both cases, they don’t have a choice in the matter: they depend on our health for their own. I know that isn’t convenient. But it must be acknowledged. No man is an island on the Island of Manhattan. We are all in this together.

I don’t know anyone who has had the measles. I do know the reason they haven’t.

A thousand untrue words


Since H was born, one of the conversations I keep having with other parents – after we get through the obligatory “how’s the baby” talk – is the issue of perceptions vs. reality of parenthood. At least once a day I find myself living a moment that feels like a scripted sitcom, but in fact is now my life.  

(I kid you not, my child picked this moment to poop so loudly he startled himself awake… will resume writing after a diaper change.)

So yes, my 4-week-old is developing a great sense of comic timing.

When I was pregnant, other moms of young children loved to tell me about the challenges of parenthood: the sleepless nights, the mountains of poo, the random inconsolable screams. Yet these stories stood in stark contrast to the photos these same friends posted on Facebook of delightful smiling cherubs whose main objective, so far as I could tell, was to make the world a cuter place for us all. 

As someone now receiving a crash-course education in the world of babies I can say safely that there is always a story behind the photo. Let’s consider the picture below, taken yesterday:


At a glance, this is the stuff the internet is made of: cat, baby, and smiling mama, all snuggled together on the couch as baby eats his 7th lunch of the day (infant eating schedules put hobbits to shame). But of course, this fails to capture what is really going on here:


After 15 years of being the spoiled only child, Sam’s response to the baby has been less-than-enthusiastic. This photo marks one of the only times Sam has willingly come near the baby, and notice he is touching my hand, steering clear of the infant. While his careful avoidance of H has advantages for us new, worried parents, Sam has been the big looser here as the worries are no longer about him. What this photo does not show is the giant, crusty booger that’s stuck to the cat’s nostril that I noticed just after taking this. Sam has had some sort of feline sinus infection for days and we, overworked and overtired, have neglected to take him to the vet. And so the snot festers and I try to wipe it off while feeding the baby and then realize that cat snot on my hands is probably bad for the baby and attempt to retrieve hand sanitizer without disturbing the baby (the cat having already sulked off in protest of me messing up his nose-sculpture) but that too fails and the baby begins  alternately crying and gasping for food and thus the magic is broken. 


Every feeding is futile. Babies are never full. We’re lucky our little one is putting the milk to good use and gaining weight as expected. But for every ounce of weight added to the charming rolls of baby-tub, my guess is that at least 4 ounces of food are wasted. This meal, like all the others, came quickly out both ends soon after this photo was snapped. The diaper that followed this feeding contained a bonus otherworldly pinkish liquid, in addition to the standard baby poop fare. This led me right back to my newfound expertise as a poop-googler (I might as well bookmark the “baby poop color” results page). Thankfully, it appears this particular rainbow is perfectly normal.  


The lack of make-up, jewelry, or any sort of effort with hair is the stuff stereotypes are made of. Not pictured here is the lower half of my outfit, which consists of the same pair of maternity jeans I received secondhand from a friend’s sister and remain the only pants I am able to wear. A mid-September due date meant a New York City third-trimester summer of skirts and A-line dresses but not a single pair of new maternity pants. This seemed like an economical and fashionable plan, until I found myself nearly 5 weeks postpartum with the leaves turning and the temperature dropping and a big-old baby gut that is going nowhere fast. Someday I will find time to go into a store and figure out my new size. Until then, I submit that clothing may be part of the reason it’s so hard to get new moms out of the house. 

I’ll take a moment to acknowledge here that this is the tame stuff, and to thank the universe for our luck. For every family with a new baby experiencing these sitcom moments, there’s a family struggling with health issues for baby, mama, or both. There are unplanned surgeries and screaming fights and postpartum depression and feeding problems and unpaid medical bills and a whole host of other issues that never appear on Facebook, but that you slowly begin to hear about as you start talking to other families.

In short, if you have a really good friend with a kid,  and you’re not afraid of body fluids, ask for the story behind the latest pics. I promise, there will be one. 

Returning a different person

Since my last post, 11 months ago, I grew and delivered a child. A healthy, hilarious boy, born 9/14/13. Three weeks into new motherhood and my first week home alone all day with baby. The grandparents have come and gone. The husband has exhausted his leave and work from home time. From here until January, it’s me and the baby and the cat, making a happy life.

Having this rare period of time away from work, I want to return to this blog to use the part of my brain that isn’t stimulated by regular diaper changes, feeding sessions, and googling questions like “how long can breast-fed baby go without pooping?”

Setting the goal for a weekly post. Given that it can take me 12 hours to complete a 3-line email these days, that seems a fair bar.

In which dreams imitate life

My husband, some friends and I were trapped in a house. There was no exit. It was a game, but we didn’t know the rules. We couldn’t leave until someone won. We spent days, weeks, months going through motions, going from friends to increasingly agitated individuals to near-enemies. Alliances formed. Drama everywhere. It was Big Brother without an audience, and the only prize would be to someday leave the house but keep going, taking with us whatever lessons we’d learned. The fights escalated until my friend punched his wife in the nose. A swollen nose was how you won the game. She was thrilled. /Dream

The Week of the Hurricane

Part I: The storm

One week ago today, I was holding a marathon cooking-fest, trying to make sure my husband and I would have plenty to eat should we loose power in the impending storm, which by that point, we had decided to take seriously. Zucchini fritters, roasted chicken and vegetables, plus bottles of water in the freezer that we could use to keep our food cold should our refrigerator stop working. All of last Sunday felt like a waiting game which persisted into Monday. Businesses were closed across the city, and the sky was a relentless gray. Rain fell lightly off and on, but much of the morning we were waiting for “it” to happen, unsure of exactly what “it” looked like, but fully confident “it” hadn’t arrived yet. Then came the winds. Wind strength can be hard to gauge in a Brooklyn apartment when there are few trees outside to witness swaying. But this wind, we heard. Not whistling or howling, or any word you’d usually use to describe the sound. This was a creaking,  a heavy sound, like someone was walking on our ceiling. Chuck said it sounded like we were on a boat getting rocked back and forth. (This wind, we would learn later, uprooted 300 tress in Prospect Park that night, just 5 blocks from our apartment.)

We kept waiting all through Monday. The lights flicked on and off, but always came back. The rain remained a light sprinkle. The streetlight in front of our window shuddered. After making another dinner, and watching a movie, and drinking a bottle of red wine, and discovering it was not yet 10 PM, we consulted the amateur hurricane tracking studio we’d assembled in our living room and determined that the center of the storm had passed us and the worst was over. When the creaking quieted, we ventured outside for the first time in 24 hours. Our short walk around the block yielded what you’d expect: lots of downed tree limbs, taped windows, nearly every business closed, (Der Kommissar, which slung beers and sausages throughout the night, being the exception,) and a still quiet rarely experienced in New York. I snapped a few photos of an empty 5th Ave. that night.

And then the trees started shuddering again and we got ourselves back safely indoors. We followed every newsfeed we could. The New York Times. Facebook. Twitter. The actual TV news. We heard about green lightening. The exploding power station on 14th street. The evacuation of hospitals that had lost power. The darkened lower Manhattan. The news was worse with each post. We went to bed, grateful for heat and power, unsure what we would find in the morning.
I woke up to this view out our front window:

Ecce Homo

I am absolutely obsessed with this story. I love the image of the old woman, entering her beloved church with her carefully chosen palate on her paint board, approaching the face of her God. This was, my friends, a true act of love. She saw Christ suffering and went to fix him. I am sure the real Jesus would have appreciated her attempt. Still, it feels like there are a few deeper lessons. A true reflection on impermanence. Or maybe, even, Jesus is using this “crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic” to teach us a lesson: we came from the apes, folks, and to apes we shall return. If it’s good enough for him, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

Click here for  an amazing interview with Cecilia Gimenez, amateur art restorer.

Carbonara Con Carciofo

I went all renegade rebellious with dinner tonight, refusing to go grocery shopping and vowing to make something delicious from whatever was left on our shelves and in our fridge at the end of the week.

More often then not, these experiments result in something that works for the night and is never replicated. And I have an epic failure or two on my record. I also have a husband/dining partner who is not afraid to say exactly what he does or doesn’t like about what he’s tasting. So tonight when I cobbled together a pasta dish that Chuck proclaimed was so good I should post it on the internet, I thought it would be good carbonara Karma to do so. The following is an expansion of Mark Bittman’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara recipe in How to Cook Everything. It takes about half-an-hour, contains all the food groups, and is so tasty it’s a shame that it would murder your cholesterol to eat every night.

In the fridge/freezer/shelves, I foraged the ingredients: 1/2 lb. spaghetti; 2 strips thick-cut bacon; 2 eggs; 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (left from Christmas lasagna…); 1/4 onion; 5 mushrooms; 1 box frozen artichoke hearts.


1) Boil and salt water for the pasta.

2) Cook the bacon in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until crispy – set aside.

3) While the bacon is cooking, chop the onion and mushroom. Then saute in bacon pan, adding mushroom after a few minutes. Note – do not empty grease from pan before cooking.

4) When the pasta water is boiling add it in. At the same time, beat eggs and cheese together in a large heated bowl. ( I have no idea why Bittman says to heat the bowl – maybe to help cook the egg later? But I just added hot water to a bowl and dumped it out and it was nice and warm and everything came together well, so probably a step worth taking). Also at this time, cook the artichoke hearts on the stove or in the microwave.

5) Chop cooled bacon.

6) As soon as the pasta is finished cooking, drain and dump into the egg-and-cheese mixture. Mix well. Add bacon, grease and all cooked vegetables. Mix again. Serve with more Parmesan and lots of pepper!


I’m having one…

I’m having one of those “you can’t always get what you want” type of days. You know the kind: you work really hard for something, and then it just doesn’t happen, due to circumstances outside of your control. And while I prefer to take a deep breath and bring in some famous French wisdom – que sera sera, whatever – it doesn’t change the fact that it utterly sucks when things don’t happen the way you want them to. At least for a little bit.

But here is me, accepting and not moping. So, Happy New Year, everyone. Here are the things that I am celebrating today, in spite of a little setback:

1) I have a glass of red wine next to me, and a cat on my lap. If the combination of these things is not the cure-all for whatever ails you, I don’t know what is.

2) My 95-year-old grandfather just had heart surgery. And he’s recovering well. Not only can my relatives can still rock life 95 years into it, they still strive to make themselves better.

3) I can so relate to Mick Jagger today. And, obviously, we have a ton in common. Especially the long flowing hair.