Thursday, December 22, 2011

Best Of 2011

Its that time of the year when people do "Best-of" lists and I thought I might as well jump on the bandwagon.

Top 5 movies of the year

I saw 22 movies released in 2011 (in theaters and on DVD)

This year, I haven't had too many opportunities to see some of the smaller releases. I hear The Artist is amazing. Maybe I'll catch that on DVD. Attack the Block is like number 1 on my Netflix queue but there's a long wait. I'll probably see War Horse eventually. Harry Potter for me was the best film I saw this year because it was the culmination of everything that I've been waiting to see in a Harry Potter movie. Action, emotional impact (OMG when Snape died I lost it). Obviously, sentimentality played a big role in the inclusion of this movie, and of The Muppets as well. With both movies I had extremely high expectations going in and was very pleased that they were met (which hasn't always been the case with movies I've waited for ex: Where the Wild Things Are). The Muppets was just a delight. It was an essential Muppet film in that it combined earnestness with humor without being too crass or too saccharine. It was definitely a movie more for the audience who grew up with Muppets than from the new generation, but I don't have a problem with that. Hugo was the movie that surprised me. I really enjoyed the book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick (great year for him. See my review of Wonderstruck below) and in reading it I was struck by how easily it could be adapted to film. When Sasha Baron Cohen was cast, I was really uncertain (hated him in Sweeney Todd) but he didn't ruin it. Scorsese did a fabulous job directing and I appreciated the 3-D when I normally think it superfluous. The young actors of this film did an excellent job capturing the spirit of the story and I have high hopes for Asa Butterfield. I have to say I was similarly impressed with the young actors in Super 8, though it didn't make the cut. It is very difficult to find young actors who are able to portray such realistic vulnerability so well. 13 Assassins was just all out crazy awesome. I loved the action, I loved the crazy convoluted set pieces, I loved it. So hard to make great period action films, and this is how you do it right. Drive was an interesting one. It was heavily stylized and very "80s" in its score and vibe. I really enjoyed it, though. I thought it was very much like a samurai movie or a classic western. Ryan Gosling, who I had never really thought of in any way before, really impressed me with his subtle acting.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

2. Hugo

3. The Muppets

4. 13 Assassins

5. Drive

Top 5 books of the year

This year I read 38 books.

Despite my love for Patrick Rothfuss, Ernest Cline just blew it out of the park for me so I had to put him at number 1. Ready Player One was just so original and funny and brilliant. It also really played into the geek sensibility and reminded me of many memories from my adolescence. Wise Man's Fear wasn't as good as Name of the Wind, certainly. It didn't give me that same tingle of excitement, that same desire to tell everyone I know about it. Still it was magnificent storytelling. I'd say it was on par with one of the middle Harry Potter books in terms of quality, which is still far and away better than most. The Night Circus was lovely and charming. Very Gaiman by way of Suzanna Clarke with some Audrey Niffenegger thrown in for good measure. Original and beautifully realized, I found it lacking only in the incomprehensible nature of the characters. Certainly it is their nature to be unknowable, but I didn't feel emotionally invested. Reading the book was like watching a gorgeous silent movie where the visuals were everything. A Map of Time I reviewed on here previously. It was delightful and unique. A definite winner. Both Breadcrumbs and Wonderstruck are children's books, and definite Newbery contenders. Breadcrumbs is a wonderful modern fantasy that combines both emotional realistic storytelling and fantastically realized otherworldliness in its retelling of the classic tale of the Snow Queen. Wonderstruck, despite its name, is not a fantasy at all but rather a beautifully moving story of memory and loss told in Brian Selznick's unique style combining illustration and the written word similar to what he did with "Hugo." Emotional and powerful, and particularly well researched, it is a must read for any children's literature fans. Not featured on the list was "A Dance With Dragons" which was a slog. I enjoyed the first three books in the Song of Ice and Fire, but ADWD and A Feast For Crows were both disappointments.

1. Ready Player One

2. Wise Man's Fear

3. The Night Circus

4. The Map of Time

5. Breadcrumbs/ Wonderstruck

Top 5 Television Shows of the year

I watch a ton of TV. Most of it not very good.

After knocking A Dance With Dragons, its time to gush praise on Game of Thrones. SUCH a good show. Finally fantasy has come to television in a real way. Not fairy tales, not urban paranormal fantasy with sexy vampires, but good old fashioned swords and sorcery. Bring it! Great actors on the show, particularly Peter Dinkledge who I've loved since I saw The Station Agent. I'm so excited for the next few years of the show, seeing on screen what I've read, but I worry that A) George R.R. Martin won't finish the series fast enough for the creation of the show and B) that the trying parts of the books will be just as trying onscreen. We will have to see. Community I adore. I only place it second because this Fall's season hasn't been as strong as the past. However, I can't geek out about it enough. I nearly bought an Inspector Spacetime shirt. Please keep this show going. Its the best comedy on TV. Justified... wow. What a show. If you are sad there was never a 4th season of Deadwood, just watch Justified. Brilliant acting, great directing, funny funny scripts. Margo Martindale was superb this past season in a guest spot. Love Walter Goggins. Good stuff. Doctor Who just hasn't impressed me that much this season, though it is still a fav. I feel like they are trying to cram too much in to too little time. I wish they took their time with some of the major plot developments rather than having these rushed feeling season or mid season finales where too much happens. Still I enjoy Matt Smith as the Doctor and look forward to the new season. Downton Abbey is the oddball of the bunch but I really enjoyed it so much. Delightful acting and very well written. I thought for the longest time it was actually an adaptation of some novel and I went to find it only to discover that it is an original story. That impressed me even more, because it felt so richly developed. Almost on the list was the NBC comedy "Up All Night." It is the most realistic portrayal of new parenthood I've ever seen on TV. The writing is really spot on. As it hasn't even completed a whole season I'll give it a little more time to put it on the list. Modern Family I still find hilarious as well. Also a fan of Psych and White Collar and Burn Notice... it was tough only picking 5 shows since I watch so many.

1. Game of Thrones

2. Community

3. Justified

4. Doctor Who

5. Downton Abbey

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review:
The Inquisitor's Apprentice
by Chris Moriarty

Grade: B

Sasha Kessler is an ordinary, nice Jewish boy living in the Lower East Side in the early 20th century. His life revolves around simple pleasures and the company of his immigrant family. That is until the day Sasha realizes he can see magic. In this alternate New York, magic is everywhere. There is the native magic of the city itself, plus the magic all the ethnic immigrant groups brought with them when they came, each with its own unique style. Sasha’s own grandfather is a well-known rabbi and Kabbalist, though decidedly of the theoretical variety (no respected rabbi would be caught actually PRACTICING magic). There are laws against the abuse of magic, policed by the city’s Inquisitors, and when the authorities discover that Sasha has a gift, he is asked to join the NYPD as an Inquisitor’s apprentice to the notorious Inquisitor Wolf. Soon, Sasha is caught up in his very first case: someone has sent a dybbuk to kill Thomas Edison. Sasha is horrified at the discovery, particularly because he fears the Jewish witch hunt that may ensue if it is found that a rabbi was the one who summon the creature. As Sasha delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, he finds the truth is even more terrifying than he could have imagined. The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is a rich alternate history with lots of great period details. An open ending leaves the possibilities of sequels, which would build on the backstories of many of the characters and answer some tantalizing questions.

What makes this book special is its uniqueness in setting and plot. There are very few books that focus on the Jewish experience for children, and none I can think of with any magical elements other than maybe Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. While The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is not quite the “Jewish Harry Potter,” it does have some level of crossover appeal for non-Jews, though certain “Yiddishisms” will leave most non-Jewish elementary or middle school children baffled. Overall the pacing was brisk, perhaps too much so in some cases. The author, Chris Moriarty, teases at parts of her world left unexplored, but certain elements, particularly interactions with the mysterious Shen, leave readers wanting. While it didn't overcome its narrative shortcomings to make it on my best-of list this year, overall I found it to be an engaging read and I certainly look forward to future installments. Unfortunately, I can’t say who I would recommend it to among my library’s patrons.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Things That I Read:

This Week: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Grade: A+

Oh my god!! I mean OH MY GOD!!! Ok, this book is amazing. It's kind of hard not to geek out about it because it is like the ultimate book to geek out about. So remember that dream you had in high school where you were defeating the armies of Mordor during the Battle of Pelennor Fields but then all of a sudden you turned into a giant robot and blew up all the orcs with your laser vision? Or that time you imagined you were defending your coworkers from Magneto because really all along you were a former member of the X-Men but like hiding incognito so that nobody would find you? Ok... maybe not. But do you have fond memories of watching 80s movies, of reciting Monty Python by heart, of late night games of D+D, of old school video games? This is that book. This books is like... it's like a mash up of everything wonderful that you've ever remembered.

Alright down to to the plot. Combine the Star Trek holodeck, Comic Con, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and add equal parts War Games and The Wizard and stir. In the not to distant future, the world is connected to one another via an amazing virtual reality world called OASIS. People live almost their entire lives in OASIS: get married, go on adventures to various planets, go to high school, fight in P2P deathmatches. The creator of OASIS James Halliday has died, and instead of leaving his billions to an heir he creates an ultimate scavenger hunt for easter eggs hidden within the virtual world. But the thing is, James Halliday was OBSESSED with the 1980s. So even though the year is 2044, people have become crazy about the 80s again trying to find clues to Halliday's treasure. References to old movies, TV shows, and especially video games abound. This is not particularly a book for the completely uninitiated, though encyclopedic knowledge is not necessary (the reader isn't a "gunter" or egg-hunter after all). We follow a young high school student named Wade, or as his friends online know him "Parzival," as he attempts to solve the mystery of the game. Along the way he is aided by the help of his online friends and thwarted by an evil corporation whose minions are attempting to win the game in order to take over the OASIS.

Is it contrived? At times. Does it read like the notebook of a 17 year old boy? Yes, yes it does. That's its appeal. Because if you WERE that 17 year old boy (or girl) once, if you drew pictures of Transformers or half-elven mages in the margins of your Chemistry textbook, then this book IS you. It really does read like every awesome dream I've ever had, except it doesn't have that part where Indiana Jones comes swinging through my closet (unfortunately). It is epic and funny and exciting, and damn if it is a trip. Like nothing else. Truly worth the ride

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Quick Book Reviews: September 2011

Map of Time

by Felix Palma

This is a delightful book of three intertwined stories about the effects of time travel in Victorian London. An alternate history (of sorts) about the ways in which time travel, or more specifically the idea of time travel, can impact the lives of people longing for something more. It is at its heart really a sweet romance, but the novel is also bitingly funny and sometimes too cheeky by half. H.G. Wells plays a prominent role, as does Jack the Ripper, though the novel is not particularly similar in its plot to the film "Time After Time" despite these cursory similarities. The first 1/3 of the novel plays out more like a traditional Victorian drama with a few witty differences and a unique twist, while the second section is a charming story of star-crossed lovers communing across the centuries. It is really only in the final third where things get far more fantastical. Interestingly, the blurb on the jacket flap might lead readers to think that they were picking up one long story where H.G. Wells was some sort of time traveling detective which this book certainly is not. In fact it plays with genre expectations quite nicely. Some reviews I have read have complained that the use of an omnicient narrator speaking directly to the reader from time to time was distracting, but I found it quite the contrary. This book is simply a delight. It has mystery and romance and science fiction and adventure all rolled into one, and not at all in the way you imagine it would. I actually hate to tell you more about it because I think the surprise of it was more enjoyable for knowing so little of its plot. Likely one of most enjoyable books I've read lately. Plus the cover! B+

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

by Catherynne Valenete

I have enjoyed Catherynne Valente's books for years, particularly both of the Orphan's Tales novels. "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland" is her first work for younger readers, though finding the right audience for the book will be a challenge for me. It is a work of Gilded Age/ Victorian style fantasy set during World War II by a 21st century author who was nominated for a Hugo award in 2009 for a book about people who travel to a fantastical kingdom when they have sex with people who have magical tattoos. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore Valente's writing style, it is lyrical and evocative and absolutely beautiful and the writing in this book is quite lovely and at times charmingly odd, but you have to find a young reader who appreciates that sort of thing. The story follows young September as she is whisked away from her home by the Green Wind and goes on a fabulous journey through Fairyland, discovering herself as an individual while at the same time meeting many enchanting people along the way. Having recently listened to Neverwhere (I hadn't read it in over 10 years) I was immediately struck by the similarities with this book, not in its setting or plot particularly but its... Gaiman-ishness. Maybe that Gaiman blurb on the cover had something to do with that. But, and this is quite significant, unlike Gaiman who writes equally well for all age groups, Valente has written a very good book ABOUT a child who goes on an adventure, but not, I don't think, FOR children or even most teens. The books to which it bares its closest similarity are "The Wizard of Oz" and "Alice in Wonderland" which, if you go back and read again, aren't all that engaging for modern children as much of the great fantasy published in the last decade. If you disagree with me go back and read the Oz books again with a modern 7th grader in mind. I think the biggest problem I had with the book was not the descriptive writing (as I said it was elegant and very unique) or the plot (somewhat standard fantasy fare with a bit of a twist) but rather the characters. The descriptions of the characters and creatures were certainly detailed. I liked the "herd" of bicycles roaming wild and A-L the Wverary was very charming as well. But I lacked a sense of emotional attachment to the characters. The character I was supposed to care the most about, September herself, seemed a bit flat. With a children's book, specifically a modern children's fantasy, characters are everything. Children need characters, as fantastic as they seem, to care about in a narrative, in particular a protagonist that is more realized than September is here. In this regard I think the sometimes grandeloquent language was a detriment. September simply didn't talk or act like any 12 year old I know, even the most precocious ones. In her heart Cat Valente is a poet, I think, and there are lines in this book that read like the best poetry. But, and maybe this is because I read so many children's books and have a far more critical eye, a book needs more than lovely ideas. B-

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Jumping on the Bandwagon: Hey, its THAT guy!

You might say I'm a fangirl. You might say. I think there are degrees of fandom, and I certainly do fall into the range of borderline obsession that in my mind defines a true "fan." But, in some ways I will never meet the qualifications that set a person a part as a "diehard fan" or "superfan" or "expert." On the internet especially, there exists a whole culture of these uberfans who can name specific episodes of Star Trek or can speak Elvish or recite lines from books etc... And I will never be one. For some people this wouldn't matter, for some these crazed fanboys/girls are objects of scorn; but for me, to never be one is sort of disappointing. It is disappointing because to be able to recite lines from memory or name specific pages of a book or speak Elvish seems to be an indication that a person TRULY likes something and I can't.

I own three Doctor Who t-shirts and a homemade paper tardis. I only JUST read the Song of Ice and Fire literally within the past 3 months, but started to post on message boards and fan sites almost immediately (even though, if we are being honest, I will always love the writing style of a Neil Gaiman or Patrick Rothfuss more than I ever will like GRRM). I own signed first editions of both Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear. I've been to Comic Con 4 times. I've been to midnight screenings of Lord of the Rings and midnight book releases of Harry Potter. But sometimes I feel inadequate when it comes to the level of my fandom. Not because I love these things any less than any other geek, certainly. I remember vividly reading Name of the Wind for the first time and getting completely captivated by the story, falling in love with Kvothe and the world Patrick Rothfuss created. There was something about it that struck me as so beautiful and sad, and the writing was so lyrical and lovely. But if you asked me the names of all of Kvothes friends I couldn't tell you. As much as I love Harry Potter, I can't off the top of my head tell you the name of that centaur guy or when he taught at Hogwarts (after Trelawney was sacked? Was he in Half Blood Prince too?). The episode "Blink" of Doctor Who was phenomenal. I always tell people who want to start watching the show to see it first to get an idea of what the show will be like. But aside from its setting (70s?) and the Weeping Angels there isn't a whole lot I remember about it specifically. Just that it was good. Does that mean that I like it any less? Or that I'm not a fan? Or does it just mean that I have a really terrible memory?

When it comes to competitive fandom, the competition is not, as I had thought, in how much one likes something, but more in how much one remembers. I can't remember what I had for lunch 2 days ago or where I was when I found out my grandfather had passed away or what kind of chicken was served at my wedding. Nor can I remember off hand what books I read last year, which is why I keep track of them on Shelfari. Hell, if pressed I couldn't even tell you all the books I've read/ listened to so far THIS year without looking it up. In case you are wondering, they are:

Caught Stealing, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, Wise Man's Fear, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, The Hunter (graphic novel version), Copper, Game of Thrones, Storm of Swords, Clash of Kings, Feast for Crows, Dance With Dragons, Deathless, Zita the Spacegirl, The Emerald Atlas, Moon Over Manifest, Among Others, Bossypants, Gil's All Fright Diner, The King of Elfland's Daughter, 11 Birthdays, Nine Princes in Amber and Neverwhere (on audio). I'm currently reading Map of Time which is far and away the most enjoyable thing I've read all year (review to follow).

So maybe the problem is I read too much. But then, I can't really remember the details of a lot of movies, with the exception of those I've seen over three times, and there are shows I've watched full seasons of without knowing the names of half the characters. The truth is, I think even if I read just one book a year I wouldn't remember it with the level of detail other people seem to. I don't remember what artists sing what songs, I don't remember the names of people in bands, I do inexplicably remember the names of actors, I don't remember significant plot details in books I read 6 months ago, and I can't tell you the names of all my high school teachers, except for the few that really made an impact on me. I remember vividly when I asked Michael Chabon whether he was going to write a treatment for Spider-Man 2 (after he had for the first Spider-Man) at a book signing in Berkeley and he and half the audience laughed at me. But I don't remember what it was like to drive a car for the first time. I'm weird like that.

Is the point of all this that I need to pay attention more to what I'm reading or hearing or watching? I don't even know. I am completely engrossed when I'm immersed in something, but then it all seems to go away. I did well on tests in high school and college, but have trouble recalling what I learned after I took the test. I have Moonwalking with Einstein on hold and it remains to be seen whether it will solve all of my problems or just be another book I forget. But maybe the real point is that fandom shouldn't be measured in degrees at all. I should be able to say that I love a particular movie or book or comic or tv show without having to prove that I REALLY do by spouting chapter and verse or naming all the obscure secondary characters that live and work in Jabba's Palace. Because the bottom line is, being a fan is about devotion, love, and commitment, and let me tell you something, I'm committed and devoted to my husband, but I couldn't tell you his driver's license number by heart.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Moon Over Manifest

by Clare Vanderpool

Before I start off my review, let's have a brief rundown of the past 20 years of Newbery winners, shall we:

2010 - When You Reach Me -semi-Historical (set in the 1970s), fantasy/scifi elements

2009 - The Graveyard Book - straight up awesome fantasy

2008 - Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village - Historical (middle ages)

2007 - Higher Power of Lucky - Contemporary, Small Town

2006 - Criss Cross - semi-Historical (set in 1970s)

2005 - Kira-Kira - Historical (1950s), Small Town, South

2004 - Tale of Despereaux - Fantasy, semi-Historical (vaguely medieval setting), Animals

2003 - Crispin: Cross of Lead - Historical (set in middle ages)

2002 - A Single Shard - Historical (set in ancient Korea)

2001 - A Year Down Yonder - Historical (Depression), Small Town, South

2000 - Bud, Not Buddy - Historical (Depression), Small Town, South

1999 - Holes - Contemporary, Fantasy, Adventure

1998 - Out of the Dust - Historical (Depression), Small Town

1997 - View from Saturday - Contemporary

1996 - Midwife's Apprentice - Historical (Middle Ages)

1995 - Walk Two Moons - Contemporary

1994 - The Giver - Straight-up awesome scifi

1993 - Missing May - Contemporary

1992 - Shiloh - Small Town, South, Animals

1991 - Maniac Magee - Contemporary

1990 - Number the Stars - Historical (Holocaust)

As you can see, about half the winners are historical fiction. 6 are set in small towns. 3 are specifically Depression-era stories set in small towns.

Before I read Moon Over Manifest, the 2011 Newbery award winner, I was predisposed somewhat not to like it. After all, it was yet another work of historical fiction set in a small town during the Depression. Once again, I thought, the Newbery committee has picked a book that would be appreciated more by teachers and librarians than it would by actual kids. Seriously, the only Newbery award winners I have EVER recommended to my patrons who didn't have an assignment to do are Holes, The Tale of Despereaux, The Giver, The Graveyard Book, Shiloh (because they like animal books), and Crispin: Cross of Lead (which actually has a lot of action). I really loved When You Reach Me, but it is definitely not the sort of book that most of our kids would read given that its a bit too heady (think Jonathan Safran Foer mixed with Jonathan Lethem). And I liked Moon Over Manifest, I really did. But once again, I don't know exactly how accessible a book it is.

Moon Over Manifest tells the story of Abilene Tucker, a spunky young girl who has spent most of her life riding the rails with her father, traveling town to town picking up work where they can. But for some reason, Abilene's father has decided not to take her on his next trip, and instead tells her to go to the small town of Manifest, Kansas for the summer to live with an old bootlegger/pastor named Shady. What she sees at first is a dried up town, but what she uncovers is a place full of secrets, a town that has lost something along the way. Over the course of the summer, through interactions with the townspeople, reading old newspaper articles, and hearing stories told to her by the town's resident diviner, Miss Sadie, Abilene comes to know the town as it is now in hard times and how it was back during the first World War. She especially comes to learn of the tale of two friends: a young drifter/ con artist named Jinx (2 guesses on who that turns out to be) and his friend Ned. It is a story of memory and loss, of willfully forgetting the past and regaining what was lost. There are moments of genuine humor and levity (Jinx manages to convince some Klansmen to use poison ivy as toilet paper) and excitement (what Jinx has been running from all along), but mostly it is a story about storytelling, about friendship, about memory. For that reason, I'm uncertain who to hand this book to. Fans of historical fiction or character studies will enjoy it, as it definitely recreates a specific time and place (actual two times: Manifest in the 1930s and Manifest in 1918). I think some mystery readers would like it too, if they prefer their mysteries long-simmering to spooky (the "Rattler" subplot isn't really enough to keep fans of genuine thriller mysteries entertained for long). The depth of emotion and subtlety of the book would probably be appreciated most by upper middle school readers, and the subplot of Velma T's "elixir" and bootlegging would probably be better understood by that age range as well. A 7th grade English teacher could probably do a lot with this book in terms of instruction, such as having students write their own news articles set during the first World War or write their own stories explaining a box of miscellaneous "treasures." But would I hand it to a random kid coming into the library looking for something to read? Probably not. If there was a kid who seemed perfectly matched to this book, I would probably give them To Kill A Mockingbird instead. But, if they liked To Kill a Mockingbird, I might just give them Moon over Manifest next.

Bottom line: it is a well-written, very expertly told story, but one that by and large will be enjoyed more by teachers than by children. In other words, it's a pretty typical Newbery winner.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Remembering Memories Never Had and Times Forgotten

So it is kind of a running joke among my family and friends that I take a ridiculous amount of photos of my baby. Yes my baby is cute, and yes I am a first time mom so naturally I'm going to get excited about every little thing she does, but this doesn't really get to the heart of why I take so many pictures. I live close to 200 miles away from my parents, my nearest relative. My husband's family is in San Jose, my brother lives in New York (though he was in Italy this past semester), I have uncles living in Maryland and Sacramento and Washington state. I have friends in Missouri and Texas and New York and none of them has ever met my baby. So in part I photograph for them. I want those closest to me to get to know my baby as best as they can given the distance and difficulty/ expense of travel. I want my cousins to be able to know her even if they can't hold her and I want my parents to see how much she grows even in the month between visits.

But mostly I don't photograph for other people. I photograph for myself. I photograph for myself because I worry that if I don't take pictures that the memories will pass me by. That I will forget how much she liked to eat her toes or how silly she looks when she kicks her legs to bounce herself in her bouncy seat. I need to capture that time she laughed or looked silly because I might never see it again. And I really might not. She used to be obsessed with making raspberry noises. She spent a full hour in the evening one time making raspberries and getting her self covered in saliva. It was adorable. Haven't seen it since. Does she do it all the time? Truthfully, I wouldn't know. I'm away from my baby 11 hours a day Monday-Thursday. I miss out on a vast majority of my child's life. On Mondays and Thursdays when i come home at 8:30 most of the time she is already asleep. I haven't seen her since I dropped her off at 9:45 that morning and I just get to nurse her in the middle of the night when she wakes up and play with her a bit in the morning before I have to drop her off at 7:40 the next day. The other day, day care sent home a picture of her holding hands with another baby. I don't know this baby's name. Apparently they play all the time, but its not one of the kids I see in the morning when I drop her off. She looks so happy in the picture. But I wasn't there. Now that she can sit up kinda, they tell me they like to sit her in this little toy corral they have and kind of prop her up with toys. She loves it. I've never seen it before. They don't have a picture. In the few minutes I have with her in the morning when I drop her off I don't have the opportunity to see her really interact with the other kids, and my husband is the one who picks her up. When I ask how she is, his frequent response is, "What do you what? She had a good day. She spit up on herself so she's in her change of clothes and they put her hair in pigtails." They put her hair in pigtails a lot. I love that they do it because its so cute, but I wish I was the first one to style my daughter's hair and not somebody else. I have done with my child what I frequently cannot do in the rest of my life: relinquish control. When my husband has her in the evenings before I get home from work he sometimes lets her cry herself to sleep when he knows she needs a nap instead of rocking her. He gave her applesauce without me being there. They have a game they play when he changes her diaper that I've never seen. He makes a face that makes her laugh but I can't copy it. At day care they played with bubbles the other day and she apparently really liked it a lot and I wasn't there to see the expression on her face. I wasn't there to remember it. And of course, my baby won't remember it when she's older either and she can't tell me how she felt when she saw the bubbles pop. It was a memory that just went away.

The common expression is: if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around, does it make a sound? I guess a more appropriate expression in this case is: if a baby laughs and her mother isn't around, who will remember it. Her father will if its one of the times he's with her by himself, but he doesn't really take pictures of things like I do. The women at day care will for a time before new kids come along. But somehow I suspect that every little moment isn't quite as important to them. It is to me, though. Because those are moments that will never come again. Sure they will be replaced by new memories, but I still feel like something is lost. One day she genuinely laughed for me for the first time while I was changing her diaper. It was a real hearty chuckle not just a squeal. I don't know if that's the first time she laughed. I guess I'll never know. Sure if she rolled over for the first time at day care they would have told me (thankfully she saved that for me: even her dad was in the bathroom, it was just a moment between the two of us). But would they really know if that was the first time she laughed? You could say that it doesn't really matter, that she can do it now and first times are often forgotten. But it matters to me.

So I take pictures. I take probably a dozen pictures a week. Many more if we go on trips or visit with family. I take pictures of her in various poses, I take video of her making silly noises. I take picture after picture trying to hold on to the moments I do have with her before I have to go back to work and be away from her again. If I could be with her all the time, I think that I would miss the sense of satisfaction I get helping people at the library. But if only I could be with her MORE. Unfortunately, I can't. Right now working any less than I do isn't a financial possibility and now isn't exactly the time to turn down work. So I take pictures. And I look at them when I'm pumping milk in a storage closet. And I think about the memories I can make when I'm with her again on the Fridays I have off. And the memories my husband and I can make with her when we are all together on the weekend. And the memories my parents and family and friends can make with her when they see her too. And it makes those moments all the more precious.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

And I thought talking about politics was hard...

So it seems appropriate not having blogged in quite some time that my latest blog post is a follow up to the last one. In my previous post (baby pandas) I discussed my insistence that blog/ facebook posts only be about non controversial topics like pandas and kittens as opposed to politics. In the intervening 6 months since that post was written, I have had a baby. This, I thought, is the ultimate panda-like topic that everybody can get behind. Everybody loves babies, right? Unfortunately what I've discovered is that people are even more opinionated about babies and children than they are about politics. Being off work for a while in the beginning of this year and being inundated with all things baby through my professional work I became what I never thought I would be: a "mommy." Let us be clear. This blog will NEVER become a "mommy blog," but I feel I need to give myself one opportunity to get a lot off my mind. Being a mom is different than I thought it would be. Lets leave the whole "oh my god my baby is the cutest thing that ever lived" factor out of it, and focus on the real substantive issues. I knew about poop and lack of sleep and all that day to day stuff. What I hadn't anticipated was an overwhelming obsession with being "right." What do I mean by this? There are probably more books about taking care of babies than there are taking care of plants or animals or cars combined. (not a scientific fact). I've had personal experience purchasing a lot of them for the library with the money we received from our Family Place grant. On top of all these books there are websites, mommy blogs, groups, etc that all have their own opinions and ideas about what is the correct age to start solids or putting babies to sleep or what color their poops should be or whether they should be breastfed and for how long. As it turns out pretty much every mom has their own opinions about these issues and actually tend to get kind of defensive when you disagree with them. As a new mom, especially a reader who likes to read everything, I knew that I would consume a lot of information about babies. What I didn't realize was how difficult and exhausting consuming so much information could be.

Before I had my baby I used to laugh off "granolas" who would talk about organic this or chemical free that or cloth diapers, etc. Then when I became a mom I became so inundated with opinions that I started to question myself. My whole life I have been a bit of a perfectionist, but I didn't realize that I'd be the same way when it came to my baby. If I never read anything I'm sure that wouldn't be the best thing in the world, but reading so much and so many conflicting opinions made me so unsure of anything that I became obsessed. Every week, sometimes every day, I will check websites to confirm that my baby is developing "normally." Oh no, her arms don't seem as strong as her legs. Oh no, she hasn't rolled over yet and she hates tummy time. Oh ok so she rolled over, but she hasn't done it in a while. Did she forget how? Is she regressing?. My god, I put my baby in day care at 7.5 weeks. What if have "ruined" her forever? She seems a bit fussy after her last round of shots. What if I really should have delayed her vaccinations? What if I've poisoned her forever and she'll never be the same? I'm not able to pump enough breastmilk at work and I need to start supplementing with formula. MY GOD! Don't do that! Breastmilk is the holy elixer and cure for all childhood ailments! You have to continue waking up at 5am just so you can pump before your baby wakes up and yes its good that you come home after a hard day and have to pump again just to maybe get enough for the next day instead of relaxing with your husband and baby. If you can't pump enough why don't you get some breastmilk from other people because even someone else's breastmilk is better than... dum dum DUM.. FORMULA. In fact, just the other day I posted this anguished note on facebook about this latest breastmilk debacle and actually did ask for breastmilk from both a friend and perfect strangers on this mommy group page I belong to.

And then one morning I woke up and took a look at myself in the mirror and realized something. I've been a fucking crazy person. Who the hell was this person questioning her fundamental beliefs and being so intent on getting it "right" that she didn't see how wrong she had been. Who is this person reading "mommy blogs" and posting on a breastfeeding support group in the first place? This isn't Joanne Center, librarian/nerd. This was some other strange Joanne who is a "mommy." I make fun of the person I've become, a person who is defined by her baby. Looking back on my facebook posts and my recent conversations they entirely revolve around my child. She did this, she did that, she didn't do this, do I have enough milk to feed her. But where am I in all this? My daughter is important, that goes without saying (though I just said it, didn't I, thus rendering that phrase meaningless) but you know what else is important? Doctor Who. Not saying that it is as important as my baby, but jeez could I think about something else for 5 minutes for a change? Babies have been born and thrived living in poverty without the benefit of a mother who's a librarian and a father who can fix pretty much anything. Babies have been born to mothers who couldn't breastfeed at all or who never saw their fathers because they were away at war. And babies end up ok.

I think this obsession with books and mommy blogs, etc.. is a nationwide obsession that stems from the fact that when it comes to parenting, nobody seems to know what to do. Everybody is so intent on finding out answers that they end up with no answers at all. And the real truth is whether you breastfeed your child or not, or work or stay at home or vaccinate or don't vaccinate there is no guarentee that your child will be all right. Some children develop dibilitating illnesses. Some children are hit by buses or die in plane crashes or are abducted by strangers. Some children who never slept on their tummies to protect them from SIDS died when they fell from the monkey bars at age 6. This is not to say that there is nothing you can do to try to prevent some of these things from happening, but sometimes things just happen. I truly believe that people are just so desperate to do the "right" thing that they lure themselves into a false sense of security. If I only stay at home and wear my baby in a sling 6 hours a day and use cloth diapers and only have wooden toys with no plastic and I only serve them organic foods and don't vaccinate them and don't let them watch tv until they are in high school my child will be "safe" and will learn to read by age 2 and will go on to Harvard and won't get cancer. Sorry to offend, but... actually no I'm not sorry at all. Suck it up.

And really, why wasn't I supposed to supplement with formula again? Its like allergies or something, right? Or something to do with childhood obesity. Like more formula fed babies are obese? I mean she's already in day care, so any of that "protect her from illness" crap is kinda out the window. And her mom is a person who constantly gets sick whereas her dad is someone who gets a cold about once every 2-3 years and he CERTAINLY didn't have this ideal granola early childhood that everybody is talking about. Plus its not like I've stopped breastfeeding entirely... See what I mean? I got myself all worked up and crazy about not breastfeeding exclusively and I can't even tell you why. Only "those people said so." What is up with that?

So I am resolved to chill out a little bit more and to realize that sometimes, truly, there is no "right." I know this will go against many of my friends' beliefs, but I really think it is true. Do what's best for you? Do what's best for the baby? I don't think those are mutually exclusive. You can't go out and say that wearing a baby a majority of the day is best for the baby when it causes the mother back pain. You can't say that breastfeeding exclusively is best for the baby when the mother can't even enjoy the time she spends with her child. You can't say that a mother staying at home is best for the baby if she is resentful of giving up her career. Cuz let me tell ya, folks: bitter mommies are not happy mommies. Now obviously there are best practices like reading aloud and play and love and affection and all of that. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that anybody who has ever read a mommy blog loves their baby. The rest of it... I think all these super defensive mommies online need to give all the rest of the mommies a bit of a break.