Archive for the 'childhood' Category

December 11th 2013
Philanthropy: nostalgia, disgust, and objective value

Posted under childhood & jobs & local news & students & unhappy endings & weirdness

cowgirlgunsign1For the past twenty years or so, I’ve been a semi-regular donor to my private undergraduate college.*  I write some pretty big checks in reunion years, and while I sometimes miss a year or two, I’ve given that institution between $1000-1,500 in the past four years.  On the other hand, the pleas from my graduate institution go right into the recycling bin, as does their monthly alumni magazine.  (Honestly:  what a waste of paper and fuel!)  When I get mail from this university, I am disgusted that this large, private research university (which benefits from all kinds of government contracts, including morally objectionable work for the Pentagon, etc.) dares to ask me (me!)for a share of my modest income.

But let’s think about which institution has done the most to help me earn that modest income:  clearly, it’s my graduate institution, which granted me the Ph.D. that made me eligible to work as a tenure-track historian in the first place.  Besides:  my undergraduate college charged me and my parents thousands of dollars a year for the honor of matriculating, whereas I went to grad school for free!  It’s true:  I had a T.A.ship and two years of dissertation support, so I not only didn’t have to pay or even borrow a dime, they paid me!  So why do I react with such disgust and resentment when my graduate institution asks me for money?  That seems pretty unfair, doesn’t it?  But the fact of the matter is that I was happy in college, and I was (mostly) unhappy in graduate school, at least in my first year there. Continue Reading »

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November 17th 2013
Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery by Rachel Adams

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & childhood & class & Gender & happy endings & Intersectionality & the body & women's history

The offending photograph of "privilege."

The offending photograph of “privilege.”

After reading Cristina Nehring’s breathtakingly nasty review (described in the previous post) of Rachel Adams’s Raising Henry:  A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery (Yale University Press, 2013) I just had to read it myself.  So, a borrowed copy from our in-state interlibrary loan system arrived this week, and I’ve spent the last few days in my head with Rachel Adams and her family as they adjust to the surprise of having a child with Down syndrome.  I found the book smart, funny, and incredibly moving.  I also ordered a copy of it for our university library, as I hope it finds a wide audience of readers among parents, teachers, therapists, and people who work in medicine.

Raising Henry is also very self-deprecating–so many of the scenes that Nehring pretended to be offended by are clearly moments in which Adams is holding herself up for criticism or even ridicule.  One of the things I really like about Adams’s style is that she doesn’t brook any false piety about motherhood.  She doesn’t want to be informed that Henry is an “angel” sent to her by God for a special purpose.  She’s a secular (and highly successful) academic:  before becoming a mother, she loved having an entire room of their apartment as her office, where she could “work in pajamas and screen my calls, surrounded by piles of books and notes.”  (Isn’t that the fantasy of every humanist you know?  Those of us who live outside Upper Manhattan, where third and fourth bedrooms are much cheaper to come by, are frequently living that dream, Historiann included!)  When she and her husband move into a two-bedroom apartment of their own upon the birth of their first (non-disabled) son, she confesses to “imagining what it would be like to write in his big sunny room, my research spread out in the space that now held a crib, a changing table, and growing numbers of brightly colored plastic toys,” (82).  Like youth, expensive real estate is sometimes wasted on the young.

Adams is also the author of Sideshow U.S.A.:  Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2001) and a scholar of disability studies, and she incorporates insights from her decades of research in this field into her book about her younger son, Henry.  Continue Reading »

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October 22nd 2013
Smell you later

Posted under childhood & fluff & Gender & happy endings & the body

In a daring experiment, Slate’s brilliant legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick spent a week wearing Axe body wash, shampoo, and spray:

My own boys, at 8 and 10, are too young for Axe. . . or so I shall insist to myself until they are about 40. But after a single day at the beach this past August, when they shared a bathroom with their big hockey-playing Axe-scented cousin-slash-hero, even the 8-year-old was smearing his small hairless self with the body wash, the deodorant, and, in case he still couldn’t be smelled from the next pier over, the spray cologne. I decided to handle this olfactory terrorism like a mature adult: several days of merciless teasing. Dinners quickly became unbearable, with three Axe-drenched young people fogging up all tastes and smells until your pasta simply tasted like the painful ache at the back of your tongue that occurs when every boy in the house sees a daily Axe dip as part of his grooming. On it went, until the final weekend at the beach, when I found myself trapped in the shower with only a bottle of three-in-one Axe ™ product (shampoo, body-wash, and conditioner). So I broke down and used it.

Sunshine. Harps. It was the most sublimely powerful fragrance experience of my adult life. Truly. After decades of smelling like a flower or a fruit, for the first time ever, I smelled like teen boy spirit. I smelled the way an adolescent male smells when he feels that everything good in the universe is about to be delivered to him, possibly by girls in angel wings. I had never smelled this entitled in my life. I loved it. I wanted more. Continue Reading »

15 Comments »

September 28th 2013
The Liturgy of the Book

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & happy endings & jobs & O Canada & publication & women's history

Esther Wheelwright (1696-1780)

Esther Wheelwright (1696-1780)

When Tenured Radical wrote a blog post about the “Grafton Challenge” this summer, I was both impressed and completely intimidated by the blistering pace at which Tony Grafton writes:  3,500 words a day!  Amazing.  Then when she followed up to report that Matthew Gutterl had drafted a book this summer by. . . sitting down to write every day and cutting out distractions like blogging!. . . I thought to myself:  how much longer do I really want to live with the book I’m writing now, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright?  Isn’t it time to move on?

So, I decided to finish a rough draft of my book this fall, with Christmas day as my drop-dead date.  When I finished the second draft of Abraham in Arms eight years ago, the only time I had to myself that was completely free of familial distractions or responsibilities was from 4-6 a.m.  So, several days a week I now get out of bed at 4 a.m. and try to write for two hours.  It’s not as difficult as you’d think.  Caffeine helps, as does a shockingly early bedtime the night before.  I’ve had a cold this week, and the high-test antihistamines I’m on also give me a kick.  (I think it’s the stuff they cook meth out of, so no wonder.)  I prefer the silence of the tomb when I work, and my brain is freshest first thing in the morning, so 4-6 a.m. it is.

(I was reviewing a chapter I had already drafted, and I re-read something I had written last summer about how the Ursuline nuns I’m writing about would rise at 4 a.m. to begin their day.  Coincidence?  Continue Reading »

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September 4th 2013
Back to school! Also, the shrinking life expectancy of poor, white women.

Posted under American history & childhood & class & Gender & Intersectionality & race & students & unhappy endings & women's history

ElvgrenteacherSorry for the radio silence–we’re back to school and I’m up to my skirt in it already.  If you’re looking for something to read over the lunch hour, go read Monica Potts’s sympathetic, sad exploration of the life and death of Crystal Wilson in “What’s Killing Poor White Women?” in The American Prospect.

Wilson isn’t anyone you’ve probably ever heard of, but Potts makes her obscure life and death in Cave City, Arkansas, a fascinating case study. The author aruges that the death of opportunity in rural America has hit girls and women without high school degrees especially hard.  It also implies towards the end that feminism is at least part of the cure.  In the words of the technology coordinator for the Cave City schools Julie Johnson,

 “You don’t even hear about women’s lib, because that’s come and gone. Continue Reading »

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August 26th 2013
A CALAMITOUS DAY unto me!

Posted under American history & childhood & local news & publication & race & unhappy endings

Illustration from Little Robin Red Breast, A Collection of Pretty Songs (Worcester, 1786), p. 42.

I’ve been putting the finishing touches on an essay on age in American history, and one of the editors asked me what seemed like a completely reasonable question, viz., “did everyone in early America know their birthdays and their exact ages?”  I had to confess that I didn’t even know if birthdays were common knowledge among Anglo-Americans, let alone Native Americans, enslaved Africans or African Americans, or French colonists. I figure that the iced layer-cake with candles on it appeared in the later nineteenth or early twentieth centuries, but I had no clue about colonial North American birthday awareness or celebrations thereof.

A little research on birthdays (or “birth-days,” as it’s more usually spelled in eighteenth-century English-language printed material) suggests that around the turn of the eighteenth century if not earlier, the annual acknowledgement of Anglo-American birthdays appears to have been commonplace.  Thomas Foxcroft wrote in  The day of a godly man’s death, better than the day of his birth (Boston, 1722) that “The anniversary celebration of birth-days is an ancient custom,” 31.  Unfortunately, Foxcroft didn’t leave it at that: Continue Reading »

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August 8th 2013
“Opting back in” is SO much less sexy than “opting out,” apparently.

Posted under American history & bad language & childhood & class & Gender & women's history

Judith Warner on “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In:”  Why isn’t this story getting all the attention that Lisa Belkin’s “Opting Out” story got a decade ago?

The 22 women I interviewed, for the most part, told me that the perils of leaving the work force were counterbalanced by the pleasures of being able to experience motherhood on their own terms. A certain number of these women — the superelite, you might say, the most well-off, with the highest-value name-brand educational credentials and powerful and well-connected social networks — found jobs easily after extended periods at home. These jobs generally paid less than their previous careers and were less prestigious. But the women found the work more interesting, socially conscious and family-friendly than their old high-powered positions.

.       .       .       .       .       .

Among the women I spoke with, those who didn’t have the highest academic credentials or highest-powered social networks or who hadn’t been sufficiently “strategic” in their volunteering (fund-raising for a Manhattan private school could be a nice segue back into banking; running bake sales for the suburban swim team tended not to be a career-enhancer) or who had divorced, often struggled greatly.

When Lisa Belkin attempted to reach out this spring to the women she interviewed in 2003, she found a similar mixed picture. Many of the women declined to talk about their lives; a few would talk only if they were not identified. Continue Reading »

44 Comments »

August 4th 2013
Word to your mother

Posted under childhood & Gender & unhappy endings & women's history

Dr. Crazy:

Note to all y’all bloggy readers who are mothers of daughters: when they get to be 38-going on 39-years old?  And when they tell you to stop riding them like they are fucking teenagers?  Listen before they burst into tears.  Listen before it becomes a big THING.  Because you know what?  They will be grown ass women then, and this sort of drama sucks balls.  And your daughters really want to spend time with you.  They just hate it when you act like motherfucking assholes.

It’s probably a good idea to hold back long before your daughters are 38 or 39, or before they’re even teenagers.  Continue Reading »

10 Comments »

July 9th 2013
Why they only need little houses on the prairie now: reproduction politics in South Dakota

Posted under American history & childhood & Gender & the body & women's history

Charles Ingalls (1836-1902), hipster

You might have wondered why I found myself driving across South Dakota recently.  I’ve heard for years about the DeSmet annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant, in which the townspeople put on a play based on one of the Little House series of books.  Unsurprisingly, their play rotation focus on the books set partially or completely in DeSmet–By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter and Little Town on the Prairie.  This year’s production was Little Town, and I have to say that I was impressed.  The talent is mostly local, with the major roles played by high school or college students.  Local younger children and adults played some of the smaller roles.  The permanently installed stage sets, lights, and sound are not small-town at all, and the setting on the South Dakota prairie is beautiful and memorable.  The show was timed so that complete darkness finally fell just as the play ended, so the mosquitoes held off until the curtain call.  I strongly and enthusiastically recommend a visit.

My only criticism?  I don’t mind seeing a high schooler play Charles Ingalls, but he really should try to cultivate Pa’s crazy ugly hipster beard.  They’re back in style these days.

Those of you who know the books will remember that DeSmet is the place where the Ingalls family finally settled after Pa’s restless and relentlessly unsuccessful attempts at homesteading in Wisconsin, Kansas, and Minnesota.  Continue Reading »

31 Comments »

May 20th 2013
When you see Count MOOCbot, scream and run away!

Posted under American history & book reviews & childhood & students & technoskepticism & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

Daniel Luzer on Jeffrey J. Selingo’s College (Un)bound:  The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students, in a review entitled “Revolution for Thee, Not Me:”

[I]f we’re expanding access to college through alternative, technology-based systems, is this really expanding access to college or providing a different experience entirely? Perhaps the biggest flaw of this book is that while Selingo offers a very good take on what declining state funding and innovative technology could mean for both colleges and students, he fails to consider what this “revolution” in higher education might mean for American society as a whole.

“The college of the future will certainly be different than the one of today,” he explains, “but robots will not replace professors in the classroom anytime soon. Harvard will remain Harvard.” He estimates that 500 or so of America’s 4,000 colleges have large enough endowments to remain unchanged by this revolution. But isn’t that a problem? If Princeton and Williams will be unaffected by these trends, what’s really going on here?

It seems that the future won’t unbind higher education for everyone—just for the working and middle classes. That’s because rich people will always be able to afford traditional colleges. Continue Reading »

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