Monday, July 21, 2008

Odd English-isms

The little girl at the swimming pool yesterday was very cute – maybe 3 years old with lots of baby chub and white-blonde hair. She had on the typical toddler uniform at our pool: reusable swim diaper and UV protective swimming shirt. I happened to glance up as she padded by me and read the word on her shirt. It said “Execute”. What the …?!?@!

Ever the politically-minded person, my first thought was that this was someone’s way of making a pro-death penalty statement that we should fire up the old electric chair and take care of that pesky waiting list on Death Row. Intrigued, I watched her to see what other interesting political swimwear the rest of the family might be sporting. Then I noticed her Mom speaking German to her, and a light bulb went off. They must have bought the shirt (cheap, I hope) in some non-English speaking country where they put odd English phrases on clothes.

I’ve always been drawn to nonsensical English on clothes or in marketing campaigns. Japan is the world master at this sport, but I used to see some good ones in my travels in Eastern Europe too. There are even websites (really funny if you have the time) dedicated to posting English manglings seen in Japan. Two of my favorites: “Poccari Sweat”, the name of a sports drink in Japan, and a phrase seen on a pencil case there, “Spanking! By thhe Sea!”

I wonder if whoever made the “Execute” swim shirt thought it would be clever to use a word that had “cute” in it on kids clothing. Maybe there’s a whole line of clothes like this that say things like “Electrocute” and "Accute”. If there isn’t, maybe I just got my first idea for my very own business.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On Becoming President Some Day

I’ve been thinking a lot about paths not taken. I used to think I would be president. Seriously. When I worked in the Senate, it seemed like that path might still be open to me some day. When I decided to do a Ph.D., I kind of felt like that door was closing. Then I had two kids and I feel like the door slammed shut. Sure, there are some women who have raised their kids and gone on to have careers in politics. I like to cite Nancy Pelosi, who did just that and is now Speaker (Speaker! That’s amazing actually). But still. Reality intervenes.

Not that being president seems like such a great job anymore anyway. It feels like the apocalypse is upon us, especially here in smoky Northern California, where the sky looks pretty much like Beijing’s (from what I gather) and where the threat of global warming seems palpable by the black haze that hangs over us as the mercury climbs. The stock market is melting down, the polar ice caps are literally melting and glaciers the size of Rhode Island seem to be regularly splintering off and falling into the sea. Floods, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, famine, earthquakes…

As much as I love Barack Obama, I really wouldn’t want the job he’s fighting to get. Imagine your first day in office as you try to decide which horrendous policy disaster to attack first. Global warming? Ending the war in Iraq? Health care reform? Energy independence? The mortgage crisis? Reining in our out-of-control budget deficits? Trying to fix any of these would be really, really difficult. Trying to fix all of them while not significantly raising taxes will be impossible. There just aren’t a lot of good options, or maybe I’m just not seeing them. It’s hard to see anything from here, what with the smoke and all.

A cat and two rats, in their new running hats!

Today I bought some new running hats ( just like the rats in the Sandra Boynton book although, sadly, neither of mine came with little wings on the side). After a quick trip to the bank with my 18-month old in tow, I boldly decided it was time to get a hat or two to wear in my upcoming races. I've been needing some kind of hat you can do sports in for a long time and today was the day. I was also secretly hoping that having a hat to run in would magically result in my stamina approximately doubling between now and my first-ever 10 K in two weeks.

My little one is sucking a lollipop that has recently become the obligatory candy-bowl treat she gets every time we go do my Dad's banking. For some reason I fail to notice that her hands are covered with congealing melted corn syrup and food coloring when we go into the sporting goods store. She decides it's hilarious to pick up as many hats as she can and reorganize them in the store. Finally, Sergio, the store owner, hands me two hats and says "Are these yours?". Confused, I am about to say that I was planning to buy a hat but not that super-un-cute light blue Nike one that he's holding. And then I see the sticky yellow fingerprints all over it. "Yes! That's just the one I wanted!" The chic black visor I am trying on also gets put back in the pile so I can buy a much less cute one that my girl has destroyed. I'm now the proud owner of 2 running hats, complete with 20 sticky little finger marks for added flair.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Shiny Happy Parents?

Has anyone been reading about how unhappy we parents are lately? Newsweek just had a piece called “True or False: Having Kids Makes You Happy” and had an article on “How to be a Happier Mom”. Taken together, the second article helps provide some answers to the first, which mainly points out that we parents are reportedly less happy than our childless counterparts.

Apparently there are two factors at work here. The first is that it’s easy to quantify your average daily unhappiness, which is one of the statistics they point to. As a social scientist, I can see it now. Harried mothers and fathers – especially of the under-3 year olds – volunteering to rank once an hour or several times a day how “happy” they are. Never mind that your 4 year old has just vomited all over their car seat when you remember that you have to write down how happy you are. Or that your formerly sweet 18-month old girl has just hit you in the face for no apparent reason. (All of this occurred yesterday). I’d rank my happiness that afternoon as about a 1, but I’m not sure that it captures my happiness level very well.

The second factor, which the piece notes, is that our children bring us joy in surprising and often overwhelming bursts, which are hard to quantify. For me, and I suspect others, these little and big moments sustain us when we reflect on our lives. Even though I was sick yesterday with the stomach flu (definitely would give that day a “1”, Mr. Social Scientist!), I also had a moment of pure parenting joy. Lying in bed feeling ill, I heard the footsteps of my 18-month old girl approaching. She had found an envelope lying on the floor, picked it up and brought it to me in bed while saying (in her croaking frog little voice), “Happy, Mama”. It was so delightful and stood out as something unique to her and me that I still feel happy thinking about it. In a day that was definitely a "1", how do you add in those moments of "11", and make sense of it all?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

One Mother, Rescued (or Nirvana)

It sounds like the perfect ending to one of those espionage novels I read as one of my many guilty pleasures. A Colombian politician, held hostage in a jungle hideout by the FARC rebels for 6 long years is rescued, without a single shot being fired. The perfect operation. According to the Colombian military, it involved spies, deception, helicopters and Che Guevara T-shirts. The politician is Ingrid Betancourt, who was campaigning for President of Colombia in 2002 when she was nabbed by the FARC (Colombia’s main rebel group) and held hostage ever since. I’ve always been drawn to her story for its international dimensions and the fact that it involves a woman politician in a country that has long fascinated me.

Perhaps I think about this story more because I have friends who have been personally affected by the civil war in Colombia, including one whose husband was shot at point-blank range by someone he had angered with his political reporting. The shooter actually fired too close for the type of weapon he was using, and my friend’s husband survived. They fled Colombia with their young son and came to Princeton on an endangered scholars program.

It was only a few months ago when I heard an interview with Ingrid Betancourt’s husband that the story began to haunt me. At one point during her captivity, he dropped thousands of photos of her children from an airplane into the jungle where she was being held in the hopes that she would get one. After that, I found myself thinking about Ms. Betancourt, her captors and of course, her children a lot. I’m sure all parents experience this radical shifting of the lens through which you view and digest life’s events -- especially the news -- after having children. The same stories affect me very differently now than they did 5 years ago (B.C.). I tried to imagine my children being the ages of hers: 13 and 16, and having me disappear into the jungle, possibly to be killed by my captors. Unthinkable.

And how would a person mentally deal with the anguish of being held captive for six years? The rebels and other captives reported over the years that she was feisty and a fighter who tried to escape more than once. Of course she was. This is a woman whose first remarks after her rescue included the comment that she still wants to run for president! I like to think that her iron will also stems in part from the angry, desperate mother in her. The part of all of us that would claw, scratch and bite if we had to in order to get back to our kids. And I’m sure we can all identify with the other side of her, the side that describes her feelings at being reunited with her children after all these years: “Nirvana, paradise”.