Thursday, February 17, 2011

Preemptive Plea

First-time mothers can be silly in a lot of ways. One of the worst ways, in my case, was to avoid taking much of the help people kindly offered me. So I'm going to preemptively beg, in this case:

Since Sparrow won't have nearly the same amount of time off after the Raspbaby is born, I'll be stuck alone with a new baby and a toddler, trying to exclusively pump while recovering from a c-section. This is a recipe for depression.

I know many of you have suggested you would like to come to see us. I ask two things:

First, that you avoid coming to the hospital. With Thorn, our room was over-filled most of the day, and while I loved everyone there, at night I paid for it in exhaustion and panic attacks. If you must come, I'd love to see you, but limit your time, and then take Sparrow out for dinner so I can sleep. :P

Second, after you've given us a few weeks to recover, by all means, come visit. Come in droves. Come and STAY. I'll need the help and the company! Especially in September.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Screwing the Little (Wo)Man

I got this email the other day from a supervising manager. Basically, it suggested Logos move me to a freelance capacity rather than my contract capacity. Reasoning wasn't given, and the only thing which would change, the manager said, would be my method of reporting completed projects. The manager went on to say that I was not in trouble and that I couldn't call until two days later.

In my work as a manager and sub-manager, and this was one of the worst combinations of polite wording I've seen. Never mention anyone is EVER is trouble, even if they are. This isn't preschool. Unless we're talking theft from the company or sexual harassment, the only "trouble" one can be in is in terms of less productivity or worker interaction. Those aren't trouble issues: those are communication issues. You can't solve them with email.

Second, don't treat your worker like an idiot. If you're not mentioning the reason for the change in contract, it's clear you don't want a record because something uncomfortable is involved. Moreover, anyone who knows anything about freelancing knows that it carries a 25% tax rate. I'd consider that more of an inconvenience than how the work is reported. It's why I ask for a higher rate of pay when I freelance.

I called the manager today. I was told 1) that work on the project was winding down, and she wasn't sure there was enough work for me to do my forty hours anymore; 2) that she had noticed I had been doing less work of late; 3) that my freelancing was more convenient for them.

The last statement was undoubtedly true: Logos employs innumerable writers and editors as "freelancers," which is another way of saying, "poorly-paid university students with no benefits." I have virtually no loyalty to this company, being a project-only editor myself, so mentioning that it benefits the company only increased my perception that it was screwing me for their bottom line. The first statement was either a lie or sign of a misinformed manager. I know that the editor directly above me has had no shortage of work to give me. The second statement I cleared by telling her I was sick last week, as I emailed her, and that I've never had less than a forty-hour week since I was hired, even doing unpaid overtime to meet deadlines. I also told her that I would prefer to quit than have the inconvenience of a 25% tax rate for the mere three weeks left in my contract.

She got quiet. She said she'd talk to my superior editor. And (no surprise), she wrote back saying that my contract would remain the same for as long as there was work of the current level on the project.

I've a distinct feeling they tried to pull one over on me.

Turn off the Tube

T.V. Turnoff Weeks this year are April 25-May 1 and September 25-October 1. In anticipation, I offered a cake to anyone who would turn off the television for a month and didn't end up happier as a result. No takers thus far.

I used to watch television avidly. I share, with others of my generation, various cartoon references to Smurfs, Thundercats, etc. I watched Star Trek: Next Gen with my family as it aired, as well as DS9 and some episodes of Voyager. I've seen a whole corpus of old films through Turner Classic Movies. And for a time in my late teens, I was obsessed with the Weather Channel.

When I moved out of my parents' home, I took a television with me. I didn't hook it up. Suddenly a whole world of other things became available. As I went through therapy for panic disorder, depression, and agoraphobia, I began to articulate my life goals. I realized how incompatible they were with television-watching.

When we got married, I convinced Sparrow to avoid hooking up the television, keeping it for games and DVDs. When our first child was born, we were faced with tiny bit of precious time in which to be alone together. It wasn't going to be spent in front of the tube! This past year, I can count the movies we've watched at home on one hand, mostly done in a group with the D&D guys. Our living room is filled with books, and the television is hidden in the office.

Our son never sees television at home. Grandparents have their own rules, however, and my respect for them is such that I wouldn't snap off the set as soon as walk in the room. I'd like to, especially with eventual dementia concerns, but it's a different generation, and they are adults who make their own choices. I hope, perhaps, that viewing this blog may help them understand why I am so adamantly against television.

In a policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children under the age of two should NOT watch television. I have repeated this to other parents, to grandparents, at the doctor's office, and at my church nursery. Few people take it seriously. After all, most people watch television, and few of us are really harmed, right? One woman even stated, as she flipped on a screen for the "benefit" of two-year-olds, that I shouldn't believe everything I see reported television.

Heads up, lady: I don't watch television. And here's a list of reasons why:

Regarding Adults

1. Multiple studies have linked television-watching with depression, either in developing it or lengthening it in those already depressed. Unhappy people watch an average of 20% more television. If you or an immediate family member has a history of depression or depressive tendencies, it's best for everyone if the tube is gone.

2. Watching something interesting on a screen lowers a person's blink rate. A lower blink rate late at night can lead to episodes of insomnia.

3. You burn more calories doing anything other than television-watching except sleeping. A study limiting the amount of time a group of adults watched television found they were passively burning more calories than the unrestricted group. And I need not cite the endless studies linking television-watching with obesity, not only from lack of exercise, but from food product marketing.

4. Like your news programs on television? Research has shown that periodical readers are significantly more informed than television viewers. (With stations like FOX and MSNBC, are you surprised?) Moreover, less television-viewing is associated with more community involvement. Translation: You want your neighbor to turn off the tube, too!

5. Marital intimacy can be maintained better through virtually any other medium. Discovering and participating in mutually enjoyable events, from exercising to writing together to cooperating in a game, have the benefit of interaction. Even writing a letter to an absent spouse is better for intimacy than sitting side by side watching the tube. Some couples say they speak when they watch television. Afterward, yes, but during? All I've been witness to are shallow one-liners. That isn't intimacy. You could be commenting to a wall. It's also multi-tasking. No one can argue that texting while driving is as alert as driving alone, nor that talking to one person face-to-face and another on a cell is going to be as in-depth.

6. On the subject of marital intimacy, adult television is frequently full of sexist stereotypes reinforcing discursive power about what makes a "man" or a "woman." The more you watch, the more you are likely to agree.

7. More television means less reading. While society emphasizes teaching children to read, it is just as crucial to keep mental alertness into adulthood. Television watching is associated with various forms of dementia in the elderly.

8. Not watching television frees you from a bulk portion of materialist societal pressure. Now I know what you'll say: what about billboards, shirt logos, magazine ads, etc.? My answer: turn off the tube. A month later, have a fashion talk with a friend. You'll see what I mean.

Regarding Children

1. Research has shown that even in the presence of television as "background noise" for children ages 1-3, parent-child interactions were less frequent and child attention spans were shorter. This would translate, as reported in the American Behavioral Scientist in children ages 1-6, to less verbal skills, reading skills, and greater propensity to watch television than read.

2. Television shows and commercials lead to distorted thinking and behavior in children and adolescents. Research reported by the AAP cites television as having negative effects on sexuality, self-image, nutrition, substance abuse, and aggression, among other things. Children as young as two have shown brand preference based on commercial viewing, or will avoid objects others portray as negative on-screen. There is a correlation between television-watching, substance abuse, and early sexuality in adolescence. Metabolic rates for children watching television are lower than for children at rest.

3. Watching television teaches children to be passive absorbers of information, not analytical thinkers. There is no interaction: a child cannot ask a question of a program or challenge what he or she is seeing. Young children have virtually no life experience to tell them that what they're seeing isn't how things are in the real world. This requires parental interaction, and in households were television is on most, parental involvement is least. Many parents admit to putting children in front of the television so they can have personal time.

4. Television-watching can lead to poor sleep quality in children, not only from the low blink rate issue, but from nightmares. Over a quarter of parents report their children upset or losing sleep over an upsetting event on television.

5. Children's shows have more violence than any other form of programming. Much of this violence is made "cute," with few consequences shown for a violent choice over a non-violent one. According to the AAP, children's shows average twenty acts of violence in an hour. I know many people who despise equating television violence with real violence. Frankly, there are now too many studies in desensitization to avoid the connection. The AAP goes so far as to state that, " as much as 10% to 20% of real-life violence may be attributable to media violence."

6. Watching television marketed for young children can actually lead to developmental delays. In an article published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2007, babies aged 8-16 months who watched Baby Einstein videos were harmed, not benefitted, by the supposedly educational tool. For each hour spent watching the videos, there were 6-8 fewer words in the children's vocabularies.

7. In one study regarding language development, children learned better from a real adult than from a video of the same adult demonstrating the same thing.

8. Television is an excellent way for children to pick up sexist attitudes about gender relations.

9. Areas of the brain which activate through creative, imaginative thought are under-used in children who watch too much television. (Too much being defined as ANY viewing under the age of two, and over two hours in older children.)

10. More television means less reading, for you and your family. The television-viewing habits of parents and siblings most greatly influence a child's eventual viewing habits. If you want your children to read more and watch less, model the behavior. Reading for yourself where your child can see you for only fifteen minutes a day can have positive repercussions on that child's view on the importance of reading.

There you have it, or at least as much "it" as I can write in an hour. There will need to be more studies done regarding passive media in other formats, which is increasingly popular in the younger generations. Many friends of mine do not watch television on a T.V. set, but on the computer or phone. Passive watching on the Internet is increasing.

Reading about television usage over the last decade has convinced me that turning off the tube is a good first step to intellectual, emotional, and societal health. But why take my word for it? Do some research for yourself.

Sparrow's ADDENDUM: This from TEDxRainier on how babies learn language.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Platforms for Participation

Fox posted a video to Facebook wherein Michael Wesch, a professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, discusses the classroom and its faults. His lecture is thick, full and heady with the possibilities and the pitfalls of so-called 'new media'. I was struck in particular by his comments on the structure of our classrooms, which reflect limited diversity across universities. The university classroom is structured with a space or a stage for a lecturer to speak from and a series of desks or rows of chairs where listeners assemble. The chairs all face a chalkboard, whiteboard, or, in some of the newer classrooms, a screen for the display of digital presentations. It had never struck me before, but the room can be read as a binary (thanks Claude): authority (lecturer) and governed (listeners). Most classrooms do not facilitate discussion, and if they do, it follows the binary system. A single listener can direct a question to the lecturer, but not, generally, to a fellow listener -- unless an openness has been permitted to the system, and the binary has been relaxed. The thing is that while this model has served as the bulwark of university education for centuries it fails to provide us (the faculty) with the type of students we want to see our schools produce. We want free thinkers. We want collaborative thinkers. We want critical thinkers. This means that authority must be questioned, and not simply for the sake of agitation, but for the sake of developing cognition. When we read, we must question. We must, to go postmodern for a minute, deconstruct. To do otherwise is not to read critically, it is not to question, it is not imagine how the authority could be wrong. We want our students to imagine that, and more, speaking now as an historian, we want our students to pull together disparate threads and to make connections. We want them to see how economic pressures coupled with political motivations combined with material availability can lead to conditions that precipitate social change -- as an example. The presentation of information without the inclusion of the tools needed to process and criticize that information is dated and useless. I am reminded of a recent, fictional history teacher -- Cuthbert Binns of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series. The only ghost who teaches at the university, his lectures are dry (almost) ramblings of facts and dates -- nuggets of digestible material that students must successfully regurgitate when asked. This is not, however, history, though it is what our discipline has become for many. History is investigation. History is critical thinking. History is innovative, dynamic, and absolutely essential if we are ever to answer the question that Michael Wesch poses to all of his students: Why are you here? We cannot afford to be ghosts. We must interact with our students and have them interact with one another. We must restore dynamism to the classroom. If we don't, we shall be irrelevant, just like Binns, relegated to the back corner of the student's busy mind.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Thorny Week

Thorn is in bed, though not asleep. Some nights, if he is particularly cheery, he'll sing the "dadada" song, a vaguely verbalized homage to the old man, before he goes to sleep. This may be coupled with coos and vrooms as cars get in on the action. Not that I give him cars to sleep with, but one always ends up in the bed. Maybe toys do move when you're not looking...

It has been a momentous week for little Thorn. He has grown gastronomically and verbally.

As you may know, our child is a picky eater which, when compounded with his many allergies, makes Sparrow and I nervous wrecks at mealtime. Thorn will eat any green vegetable and all sorts of veggie-derived milk products, but it has been an uphill struggle to get him to eat fruit and meat. This week, as always, we tried a few new contenders. Not only did we discover he will eat kale like candy, but that he'll eat chicken if it is made succulent through Sparrow's genius. Coupled with jerky, Thorn is actually getting a non-soy protein for once! Another problem was solved in the fruit arena: red pears are apparently wonderful. Poor kid thought an apple I was cutting up today was a red pear. I should say poor me, because I got to clean up the results!

Even more exciting for us was Thorn's sudden verbalization of two new words this week. His first two-syllable word, "nummy," applies to all non-liquid food, and he now uses it a thousand times a day. A differentiation much appreciated! Even better was his sudden identification of me as "mama" this morning. I had begun to wonder how much longer I would be "dad" or a noncommittal grunt. I'd almost given up, but Sparrow was diligent, and it was he who got the precious "mama" out of Thorn's mouth. Preen, Sparrow, preen.

We took Thorn out today to our 13 week prenatal appointment. He was very charming, offering all and sundry items from his bag of gluten-free Cheerio alternatives. He sat between my legs and watched Dr. B curiously as she rubbed down my abdomen with various instruments to find the Raspbaby's heartbeat. These were ultimately to no avail. We were sent downstairs for a sonogram. While an active, headstanding Raspbaby was a great relief for Sparrow and I, such an image did not impress Thorn in the slightest. The bright red biohazard box did, though.

Afterward, even though we were getting into his naptime, we went to Red Robin, which Thorn loved. He watched everyone come and go, rocking and pointing at the enormous carousel horse decorations. The only food he can have much of there are the fries, but he did tolerable justice to them. I feel as though I am projecting the image of a bad mother, with my son sitting there eating fries with water. I want to explain to every passing frown that he's actually thin for his height. That he eats asparagus at home! Ah well. Strangers had best forgive what they don't know.