HBO: The Weight of the Nation

The Weight of the Nation is a 4-part 2012 documentary, free to watch on HBO and youtube, detailing the health and policy implications of skyrocketing obesity in American adults and children. Part 1 looks in graphic detail at the health consequences of obesity, complete with an examination of post-mortem hearts from normal and overweight individuals, and close-ups of diabetic foot lesions. Part 2 looks at weight loss methods and profiles weight loss success stories. Part 3 looks at the obesity crisis in children, and Part 4 examines the general psychological and physiological triggers for overeating: our hunter gatherer stomachs have not caught up with the first world environment of food excess, and we sit around staring at screens while our ancient ancestors were scrambling up trees and fleeing from wolves. This last segment also pushes fruits and vegetables as a weight loss boon (even though neither makes you lose weight) going so far as to suggest corn and soy stop being subsidized “so broccoli can be on an even playing field.” One farmer “guarantees” people will buy broccoli by the boatload if it were cheaper (for the record, broccoli is already cheap- I can buy a a huge bag of florets for $5 at Costco, frozen florets are even cheaper).

While interesting to watch, this is a “just okay” documentary. Often the most engrossing parts of the films are the quirky obesity experts who deliberate the issue. It’s also very long- it took me days to get through all four parts- and different experts in different sections contradict one another. For example, in Part 1 we’re told that a calorie is a calorie, but in part 3, childhood obesity is blamed on “unhealthy food” including the ever-evil corn and soy (predictably we see a “teaching breakfast” where junk food saturated children are exposed to fruits and vegetables). In part 2 we are told that exercise is ineffective for weight loss, yet in Part 3 the lack of a federal gym requirement is faulted for children’s expanding waistlines. There are also a few assertions I’m not sure are true, or at least have not been definitively proven. One claim is that two people of identical weight and height will have different caloric maintenance levels if one person started out at a heavier weight. This doesn’t make sense to me and I’d like to know how the studies concluding this were conducted, because self-reporting of food intake is notoriously inaccurate, particularly in people who have a tendency to overeat. In fact there’s a TV series based on this phenomena, the BBC Secret Eaters (which is available on youtube if you’re interested).

The Weight of the Nation delves into one facet of obesity I’d never considered: there is a lot of profit made off the obese, and not much financial incentive to solve obesity. The care for obesity related diabetes alone reaps billions for the healthcare industry; the diet industry rakes in billions, and the food industry would lose billions if people ate less. That’s a lot of billions resting on the status quo! So while we may give lip service to solving the crisis, who, beyond the individual, would actually benefit from doing so?

Even more sobering, many of the obesity experts and policy makers featured in the film are overweight themselves. For example, the eminently intelligent and thoughtful Kelly Brownell appears to be morbidly obese. You have to ask yourself: if the best educated and most aware of the risks can’t manage to stay within a normal weight range, what hope is there for the rest of us? This dovetails with my theory that your average person simply cannot not be overweight in an environment of food excess. We’re biologically programmed to eat, eat some more, and maybe more on top of that!

By the conventional wisdom presented in this documentary, my own children should be overweight. Except for the occasional bite of lettuce they don’t eat vegetables (yes, I’ve tried, a lot!); only a few like fruit. They eat much maligned kid foods like chicken nuggets, french fries, pizza, potato chips, and fruit juice. They’re not athletic in the least and spend too much time on video games and TV. But not only are they not overweight, they’re slightly underweight or on the low end of normal. Even my oldest daughter, who gained weight when she started corticosteroids, is on the low end of normal BMI.

I have no food rules and never limit how much of what they can take. They don’t even have to eat meals if they don’t feel like it, or can opt for something different from what I’ve cooked. The only real rule is “no wasting.” There are a few foods I never buy- like soda or heavily processed foods- but there is plenty of junk and borderline junk in the house. And after packing healthy lunches for much of last school year only to have it returned home uneaten and the kids starving, I gave up and began packing foods that fly in the face of new USDA school lunch guidelines.

One thing I’ve noticed with my children is that, for whatever reason, they are amazingly good at self regulating food intake. For instance they love the huge, decadent muffins from Costco but will only eat a fourth at a time.

costco muffins
two fourths to go

I normally don’t buy candy but we have a box of Hershey bars in the house. After a month, and between 7 children, it’s only half gone. When I do try to get them to sit down for dinner they take a few bites, announce they’re full and leap up from the table. This is maddening when I have fantasies of a pleasant sit down meal with my kids, but I guess it’s good for their health and future weight. As for why they are like this, I wish I knew; then I could share my secret with all the parents out there. Perhaps they are genetically predisposed to have small appetites because as much as I love food, I can only eat a little bit at a time unless I make a conscious effort to stuff myself. Maybe my complete lack of food rules allows them to be “in touch” with their true hunger signals. But I really don’t know.

As far as the documentary, if you have five hours to spare I definitely recommend it though it’s not the best food documentary I’ve seen. It does come with some fascinating scenes (like when cardiologists illustrate heart disease with actual human hearts) and people, both those struggling with their weight and the clinicians trying to help them.

Al Sharpton Cometh

Al Sharpton and 15,000 of his friends are due to arrive on the shores of Staten Island tomorrow, so I decided to do all my grocery shopping today. There will be a number of road closures and networks of diverted traffic due to the “We Will Not Go Back” rally (what exactly does that mean? Is it like “Never Again?”). I have trouble believing 15,000 people will journey to Staten Island for any reason, and it’s a shame those visitors who do show up will be marching through one of the more miserable sections of the island. Despite its supposed renaissance as the next Greenpoint, St. George for the most part is not a pretty sight. Yes, there are lovely historic landmarks here and there (like St. Peter’s Church) and some well kept Victorians. But for the most part it’s blight, ugly storefronts, and lots of down and out folks hanging around. Perhaps the borough president should have organized hospitality squads to shepherd protesters on diversionary tours of our sparkling beaches and vast greenbelt. They could even take a golf break in Todt Hill.

The timing of Mr. Sharpton’s visit to the island is serendipitous because the one year anniversary of my breach from sugar is approaching, and as some of you may be old enough to remember, Al once cut a portly figure.

chubby al

My husband often waxes poetic about Sharpton’s jumpsuits and bling that are now relics of a bygone era. Despite being chubby in years past, Sharpton is now emaciated thanks to a prison fast and vegan diet.

skinny al

I don’t know, I think he looked better fat! It’s people like Al who give veganism a bad name. They look sick, gray, and withered. But I’m going to assume that like me he has also sworn off desserts, even vegan cupcakes. It was almost one year ago tomorrow that I decided to quit all desserts, and I only fell off the bandwagon once through that period when under the influence of too much wine. I wolfed down a chocolate chip cookie before I remembered it was verboten.

What is life like without dessert? Honestly, not much different. The only physical change is that I have a somewhat less tortuous time trying to sleep. My entire life I’ve had difficulty staying asleep more than two hours, and without the sugar and accompanying chocolate (my weaknesses were chocolate croissants, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake, brownies, and chocolate) I can occasionally stay asleep for three hours. But other than that I feel no different. No extra energy. No greater immunity to the common cold. So if you’re considering giving up desserts, too, you may not want to bother.

Not only that but two months ago I finally managed to quit bread! This means I’ve been gluten free for some time. Other than some possible withdrawal symptoms, like a severe headache and bad mood, I can report that I feel no different without gluten either. So again, you may want to avoid this current health food craze. In fact, a recent study surmises that the gluten free fad is completely fake.

The only reason I gave up desserts and bread was because I realized they were wasted calories, and I would rather my carbohydrates derive from fruits as they, at least, contain antioxidants and fiber. The only perceptible difference is that so far I’m gaining less weight with this pregnancy than I gained in previous pregnancies, but that’s only because I’m not devouring bagels, rye bread, pizza, and homemade pretzels like I once did.

Yet another radical change in my dietary life is that I’m now eating meat. After being a devout vegan for years I began eating the very occasional egg, piece of chicken, or dairy item. But once I noticed Costco sold lamb at $5.50 per lb the die was cast. If there is one meat in the world I actually enjoy eating, it’s lamb. I cook it on “low” in the crockpot for 10 hours with wine, garlic, and tomatoes. It’s utterly divine and the final nail in my vegan coffin.

However, eating red meat for the first time in nearly 20 years has not made me feel any different. As I’ve noted before, I think humans are more like rats than we want to admit: we can survive nicely on just about any calorie source, as long as it’s not outright carcinogenic or poisonous.

If I weren’t very pregnant I might venture into the fray tomorrow to take pictures for my readers, but as it is, I can barely make the rounds of Costco without bordering on collapse. I don’t know why that is, because I haven’t gained much weight, though I guess it’s the nature of babies to suck the life out of their mothers.

Pregnant Conspiracies

Since all pregnant women are obliged to take selfies of themselves, I realized around six months I should be recording things for prosperity.

pregnant1

And this one I took a few weeks later:

pregnant2

I was surprised when I saw that first picture because I don’t look pregnant at all, despite being shy of six months. Maybe it’s the fluff of the shirt, or the angle, but the picture could pass for a non-pregnant women. This immediately brought to mind the conspiracy theories surrounding Sarah Palin, namely, that she was never pregnant with her son Trig and was in fact faking a pregnancy to cover up for her slutty daughter. Never mind the fact that they paraded said daughter (when she actually was pregnant) and the baby daddy around on the national stage during the election. The “proof” for the fake pregnancy was that Palin did not look pregnant in pictures taken while “allegedly” pregnant with Trig.

Now, I’m a bit of conspiracy theorist myself but this one is just stupid. And unless you think I’m covering up for my 15 year old daughter, who still thinks boys are smelly and annoying, here you have proof that a woman can be quite pregnant but not look it in a photograph.

But there’s an even more bizarre pregnancy conspiracy theory out there! I stumbled across this one by sheer chance a few weeks ago. This conspiracy claims that the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) was never pregnant with heir to the throne George, and that the baby was actually borne by a surrogate with a donor egg. The proof? Kate doesn’t look pregnant in certain pictures taken during the pregnancy, or looks unevenly pregnant in photographs taken over the course of the pregnancy (i.e., bigger when she was less pregnant, smaller when more pregnant).

Even if the baby was carried by a surrogate, as long as it was the duchess’ egg and the prince’s sperm I don’t see what the big deal is. How the conspiracists somehow know that a donor egg was used, I don’t know. But once again, just because a woman doesn’t look pregnant doesn’t mean she isn’t. And having been pregnant a lot, I can tell you that the “bump” changes shape and height over the course of the pregnancy depending on the position of the baby and how much you’ve eaten that day.

Oh, and another piece of  “proof” is that Kate has neither stretch marks nor a linea nigra on her stomach (seen in a bikini shot not long after George’s birth). Perhaps they were airbrushed out- but despite my own numerous pregnancies I don’t have either of those things (though I do have stretch marks on my boobs from breastfeeding, yet another strike against my dismal chest). Here is a picture I took for a previous post.

skinny1

So there you have it. No stretch marks, no linea nigra, and a non-pregnant looking picture -yet I’m about to bring my 8th hellion into the world. Proof positive all these pregnancy conspiracy theories are dumb.

Leader of the Pack

When I first embarked on having children I took it as a given they would all get along swimmingly. I have no idea why I thought this, since my own sister couldn’t stand me as a kid and rarely spoke to me. I don’t have a single memory of playing with her as a child. I learned to play games, including board games, by myself and spent most of my childhood in social isolation (no one at school liked me either). I did collect a few friends here and there but for the most part I was on my own social life-wise until high school.

My prediction was correct for my son and oldest daughter. They mutually adored each other and were inseparable. As soon as they could talk, which was at the same time as my son didn’t talk until he was five, they had a non-stop straight man (my son)/ funny man (my daughter) routine going on, finished each other’s sentences, and even shared a bedroom- by adamant choice- until adolescence. They’d go to sleep at night listening to books on tape, including Richard III which they memorized in long sequences. Life isn’t usually so highbrow around here; my husband considers Airplane! to be “the greatest linguistic achievement of modern man.”

Then the overachiever was born. As soon as she was walking and talking there was constant conflict between the two girls. At first I thought it was competition over my son, or that he and my oldest daughter perceived her as an intruder upon their harmonious union. But as they’ve gotten older it’s become clear that this is, in fact, a power struggle for leadership of the sibling pack. To borrow a term from the manosphere, my son was the natural alpha of the siblings: the tallest, the only male, the most condescending, the most demanding. But the overachiever, in all her ambition, naturally views herself as the predestined leader of the sibling group so the other children had to make choices of loyalty. My oldest daughter sides ferociously with my son, while the rest of the kids might sway son or overachiever depending on the matter at hand, like independent voters.

Despite all this tension and drama I believe we have less sibling conflict than many smaller families. One thing I’ve heard from mothers of other large families is that when you have a lot of kids, feuds and offenses grow diffuse within the larger sea of children. Shortly put, it’s not that big a deal if two children out of seven can’t stand each other, whereas if two children out of two are constantly fighting there’s no avoiding it. With so many children there’s just no time or energy to allow it to take center stage (though it occasionally does). This is similar to my belief that we actually spend less money on our sizable brood than many parents spend on just one or two children. I once met a guy who pays for his daughters to get their eyebrows waxed. Are you kidding me? There is no way on god’s green earth I’m paying for 6 eyebrow wax jobs, so we have no waxing costs. Our beauty treatment consists of me trimming their long hair once a year. Same goes for other luxuries like electronics, exotic vacations and so on that are simply that: luxuries. We couldn’t afford these things for all the children so it becomes a non-issue. And amazingly, the kids don’t complain.

The Zo’e Tribe

Last night I watched a documentary about the Zo’e people, an indigenous tribe of a few hundred living in the remote Amazonian jungle in Brazil. They are a somewhat uncontacted tribe with little to no influence from the modern world, still living with stone age technology. While the documentary paints a rosy picture of life in the jungle, the Zo’e appear to be more peaceful than other Amazonian tribes known for vicious infighting and brutality.

The Zo’e practice a form of open polyamory where both men and women have multiple spouses. I guess this makes sense for a small group of people living in the jungle, since it ensures high fertility among the women and lessens tension between the men. Given that women have multiple husbands, I wonder what their concept of paternity is? Their days are spent hunting and gathering food, preparing food, and caring for the young and elderly (who enjoy daily massages). Life seems to alternate between work and resting in hammocks. Occasionally there are festivities marked by the ingestion of expectorants and ritual vomiting.

I’ve watched many a documentary on indigenous tribes and my mind always falls on one question: what happens to the outcasts in these tribal societies? Or do they not have outcasts? It’s hard to believe kids in the jungle are immune to targeting the weirdo for daily torment and mockery. And given how stringent the borders of tribal territories are, and how deliberately isolated each tribe is, it’s not like you can just immigrate to a neighboring tribe for a fresh start, at least not without being shot full of arrows.

So loners and outcasts must have an especially tormented existence in these societies because there is quite literally nowhere else to go. Imagine being trapped in a jungle, having to eat monkey brains with a bunch of bullies for the rest of your life.

Speaking of monkey brains, the Zo’e, like most other living stone age tribes, debunk a core tenant of the paleo diet. Every indigenous tribe I know of, except for perhaps those living in places with no edible vegetation, create flour from plant starches that is then cooked into bread. The Zo’e use a root flour to make large pancakes; in fact meat and fish seem to be a relatively small (but frequent) part of their diet. In Papua New Guinea indigenous tribes scrape starch from tree trunks and boil it into dumplings.

If you would like to watch the Zo’e documentary it is available on youtube, but be forewarned it contains nonstop nudity- and probably not of the variety you are interested in viewing. There is also an incredibly obnoxious narration that comes across as a Troy McClure parody, but if you can manage to ignore it the film contains a great deal of fascinating footage of what life was like before the wheel.

Fancy Feast

I recently discovered an interesting PBS series, The Mind of a Chef. In each season a famous chef takes you around his favorite haunts, demonstrates dishes in his famous kitchen, and pontificates about food. There’s even a guest scientist who shares factoids about things like frying and alkalinity in noodles.

By far the best episodes are those featuring David Chang of Momofuku fame. Apparently Chang is the bad boy of the culinary world: he refuses to put vegetarian dishes on his menu, makes fun of women and San Francisco, and uses the F word a lot (PBS bleeps it out). In many scenes he appears with food writer Peter Meehan, who wears shabby clothes to Michelin starred restaurants. Chang refers to Meehan in all seriousness as his “boyfriend” which puzzled me since my highly accurate gaydar didn’t go off for either of them.

changmeehan
gaydar: negative

… but according to google Chang does in fact have a girlfriend, so I guess he was joking.

I’ve been watching a lot of food documentaries lately, especially those featuring haute cuisine and world renowned chefs. Almost without fail I can say that the higher up the food chain a restaurant perches, the more disgusting the food looks to me. Alinea, one of the top rated restaurants in the world, offers food that doesn’t even look like food. Maybe I’m not highbrow enough to appreciate paying thousands of dollars for glop and slime while being deprived of utensils and plates- Alinea slaps dessert straight on the table and makes you eat bacon without your hands.

alinea
Looks like kitty threw up.

I wondered if I was alone in my sentiment so looked up patron reviews for Alinea on yelp. Here is one of my favorites:

For the price I paid here I could have flown to switzerland, rented a chalet, and had a private chef for a week. But no instead all my recently divorced friends decided to go to this Frankenstein restaurant. Why would I want to eat edible styrofoam?   What a damn waste.

To be fair, Alinea receives copious yelp accolades and owner Grant Achatz (featured in the excellent documentary Spinning Plates) seems quite affable, if exceedingly pretentious in his views on food. Food is no longer about nourishment, he explains, but entertainment, and the root of entertainment is making people test their boundaries. Granted I’m a picky eater, but “testing my boundaries” Alinea-style might just push me over the edge and make me never eat again.

It is a lot of fun watching Chang relish various dishes across Japan; he certainly does love to eat. I wonder how his friend Meehan stays so scrawny despite shoveling down gargantuan bowlfuls of noodles. Later episodes focus on traditional Southern US cooking, which is more plant-centered than people realize, and British cooking with its fried fish, fried potatoes, and various animal organs put through meat grinders. All episodes from the first two seasons are available on netflix, as is Spinning Plates which is worth watching even if you have no interest in food or cooking.

Polycystic Avian Syndrome

This morning I had an appointment with the new doctor. The results of the triple screen came in slightly elevated for Down Syndrome, but I knew from past experience these screenings have high false positive rates. Also, they gave me the information a month too late so I’m out of the window for an amniocentesis or medical termination (not that I would necessarily want one). As I alluded to before, though I didn’t know this when I chose the doctor from “the book,” the office appears to somehow be associated with the local crisis pregnancy center, a pro-life enterprise helping mothers who fall pregnant under less than ideal circumstances. It’s hard to tell how much of their clientele yields from it but there is a solid representation of teen moms and surly boyfriends in the waiting room.

I discussed the results with the on-staff midwife since the doctor continues to remain AWOL. I knew due to my age (“ancient” says my son) I was at increased risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome- somewhere in the 1-2% zone. But the results of the triple screen put me at a 1:145 odds which is actually a better statistic than the general one for my ancient counterparts. But it is still worse than the 1:270 cutoff used to deem women at risk.

I calmly explained to her that I understood these screenings have false positives and I wasn’t too worried. But I was curious, what happens to women as far along as me who do want to terminate? Is it even legal? Do they make exceptions for medical situations?

From her reaction my question didn’t fall on hospitable ears. “You would have to go somewhere else,” she said vaguely, rustling papers and avoiding eye contact. (Where somewhere else? Another practice? State? Country?) “And it would have to be a saline abortion to make sure the baby isn’t born alive.” She then said I should have a sonogram “So I could see my baby.” I suddenly realized she was trying to talk me out of a theoretical abortion I didn’t even want.

I didn’t delve further and they sent me to the basement storage closet for my sonogram. It’s cramped quarters down there, the waiting room the size of a modest bathroom. In strolled one of the aforementioned teen couples- the guy sporting those miraculously aloft baggy pants, and a hefty mother-to-be sporting tight leggings displaying more of her underwear and ample derriere than I needed to see.

They were both glued to their phones except for the occasional harsh exchange of words. The guy was agitated, pacing relentlessly back and forth in the small hallway muttering along to music off his earphones. He’d sit for a few minutes then get back up to pace. The Steve Harvey show was on TV, and though it’s not my cup of tea I have to admit it was kind of funny. He hosted a comedienne who joked her standard for boyfriends was a few real teeth and the ability to walk.

Then Mr. Harvey interviewed an expert on Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. The teen mom snapped out of her phone coma. “I got that!” she said excitedly. “I got that!!”

“You got what?” asked her boyfriend.

“Polycystic… polycystic… avian syndrome.”

“You don’t got nuthin.”

“Yes I do!” she retorted, all offense. “I got cysts on my… my… avians.”

He remained unimpressed and returned to his phone. I wondered how these two managed to create a baby together, yet all the while he never knew she had a serious medical condition? Then he announced he needed to charge his phone, and as it turned out the only outlet was behind my seat. I wasn’t about to argue with a guy with knuckle tattoos so I switched seats. Well the girlfriend would have none of this and started chewing him out for making a pregnant woman surrender her seat for his sorry ass (her words). She then tried to make me take her seat- which would mean I’d be sitting next to the boyfriend- but by the grace of all the saint statues in the office, the sonographer called me in.

Everything was perfect with the baby, who continues to measure big which is a good sign. All of my babies except the overachiever were born big, but she came into the world a little peanut.

Kale Tastes Disgusting

I have now tried kale steamed, boiled, sauteed, juiced, raw; baby kale and mature kale. No matter what I do to this stuff, it tastes like green, chewy gasoline. If a health nut like me can’t stomach it- literally, it gives me a stomach ache- how are normal people ever going to eat it? Costco sells huge bags of baby kale. Who buys it? Do people feed it to their pets? I guess if you juice it with a very sweet fruit it would be more palatable, but it’s so gruesome I’m not even going to consider it a food anymore. Especially when there are alternatives like romaine, spinach and broccoli.

I initially turned to kale as a non-dairy source of calcium. While dairy foods are high in calcium, they are also acidifying and high in protein, and the theory goes that these facets inhibit calcium absorption. This is why countries with high dairy intake still have high rates of osteoporosis. So even though I’m no longer vegan I thought it behooved me to seek out non dairy sources of calcium. In the vegan world you hear a lot about vegetable sources of calcium, and it’s true, some beans and leafy greens contain a surprising amount of calcium, but what they don’t get into is exactly how much of this stuff you would have to consume in order to meet the daily recommendation for calcium. Take kale for example. 3 ounces contains 15% of the RDA for calcium, and is about 30 calories. First off, three ounces is a lot of kale. Imagine a dinner plate piled 3-4 inches high with kale leaves, and that’s just 15% of what you need to eat to meet the RDA. In fact if you look at it in terms of calories, you would have to consume as many calories in kale as you would in milk to fulfill the RDA, so you’re not even saving on calorie intake by eating horrid tasting leaves all day long.

Short of taking a supplement, the best calcium source I’ve discovered in terms of calories is fortified cereal. Of course this is “phood,” not “food,” just like calcium fortified orange juice or fortified tofu are “phoods.” But for 100 calories of General Mill’s “Total” you get the same amount of calcium as in 3 1/2 glasses of milk (depending on what type of milk you buy that would be 300-450 calories). Unfortunately for vegans, I’m not sure Total is vegan, even though the ingredients on my box are vegan it contains a “D” next to the kosher symbol (perhaps something in the vitamins added? or is this the fact that it’s typically eaten with milk? I eat it dry.). But it might be suitable for non-purist vegans.

Captain Phillips

I watched Captain Phillips last night, a film based on the true story of an American captain captured in 2009 by Somali pirates. This continues a trend of maritime survival stories as the last film I watched was All is Lost. Captain Phillips was good, but not great- perhaps it had been overhyped, but I had issues with the pacing and construction of the narrative. The real action doesn’t start until halfway through, then the film quickly shifts to the military operation addressing the capture, so it was like watching three abbreviated movies glued together.

The biggest surprise of the film was the excellent performance of Barkhad Abdi, a Somali American who, as far as I can tell, has not acted before. He continually upstages Tom Hanks (playing Vermonter Captain Phillips) with his icily sad and philosophical portrayal of the pirate captain commandeering the cargo ship.

abdi
Abdi browbeats Hanks.

Another surprise was the strange camaraderie that evolves between the two captains; I have no idea if this dynamic existed in the real life version of events, or if it was created for cinematic pathos.

I wish Hanks had not bothered trying to fake a New Englander accent. Even worse, as often happens in film and TV, the accent fades and increases unevenly, just like the fake Southern accents on The Walking Dead mysteriously appear and disappear. His accent sounded like a caricature of coastal Maine and nothing like actual Vermontese.

I learned some interesting facts about Somali pirates, namely that many were former fishermen who entered the pirating trade when overfishing of their coastline put them out of work. It would also appear that the men doing the actual pirating are in fact low level cogs in a larger crime syndicate.

So if you enjoy survival films, maritime films, or military action flicks, you would probably enjoy this movie. The re-enactment of the Navy SEAL efforts was thrilling to watch, but I had to wonder if Navy SEALS really look like steroid-pumped GQ models?

maxmartini
Max Martini as a handsome pretend Navy SEAL.

Good Mom vs Bad Mom

This week’s Economist has an interesting article called Choose Your Parents Wisely. (The link is here but it may eventually go behind a paywall.) The author sets forth interesting facts about class and parenting in America. Wealthy parents in cushy suburbs produce children with few behavioral problems and expansive academic achievement, while poor parents in lousy neighborhoods produce, comparatively, badly behaved dropouts. As for why, the article acknowledges a strong genetic factor: smart parents are more likely to have smart children for whom academic, and later financial, success comes easier. Yet 30% of the finished child product can be attributed to environment, where the middle and upper middle class families hold a firm advantage.

The article compares neurotic helicopter parents in well manicured Bethesda, to down and out single moms in Appalachia, delving into the well circulated fact that children from lower class households hear fewer words than children from more verbose upper class ones. By the age of three this results in a 30 million heard-word deficit on the part of the impoverished kids. One Bethesda mother describes talking to her two year old “constantly” over the course of the day.

It reminds me of a poster I saw years ago, in a social worker’s office when my daughter with developmental delays was going through the rigmarole of early intervention. A t-chart, the good mom was depicted on one side and the bad mom on the other. The good mom describes everything she is doing for her toddler: “I’m putting your shirt on now, what color is your shirt?” “I’m pouring orange juice now, is this a BIG cup or a LITTLE cup?” Whereas the bad mom just gets her kid dressed and shoves food in front of him. I cringed when I saw that, because I certainly wasn’t chattering away to my then non-verbal daughter, but I knew in my heart it wouldn’t make any difference. Though not deaf, she rarely seemed to hear a word we said.

It’s kind of funny to imagine well-off, well-educated households obeying each new speculation on child development. I’m sure any number of well-to-do parents now read to their infants by order of the American Academy of Pediatrics. How silly is that? I guess if the baby enjoys it, fine, but I can’t read to my younger kids without them grabbing the book and whacking me over the head with it. In fact, none of my kids particularly enjoyed being read to though they all grew into voracious readers. I can’t take credit for it, though, beyond buying them books and paying library fines.

I remain skeptical when I read articles like this about the dire state of the class divide, because I know so many people who grew up disadvantaged yet have achieved significant financial and academic success. This could be due to my age (perhaps it was easier to pull yourself up by your bootstraps 20 years ago), or maybe it’s the people I tend to interact with (nerds). My husband grew up in the projects with barely literate parents, attended a CUNY school, and is one of the more successful people I know. I had a friend who grew up in a blue collar area of Long Island- his father was a baker and for a time they were on food stamps- yet today he is general counsel at a major corporation (and no, he didn’t attend a prestigious law school). My first serious boyfriend was raised by an emotionally disturbed single mother, he too attended state schools but today is very wealthy and successful in Silicon Valley. I could go on and on with this list, including my own father who grew up in stark poverty in South America but managed to obtain several engineering degrees. The one common thread all these people have is that they’re highly intelligent and their poverty, rather than beating them down, made them driven to achieve a better life.

On the other hand I know many children of wealthy families who turned out to be drug-addled washouts. On a statistical level, though, I’m sure the findings of the article are accurate. As a trend there is more success in stable, wealthier neighborhoods, and more failure and crime in unstable ones. Increasingly the marker between these groups is marriage. A shocking statistic I’ve seen bandied about, including here, is that the in-wedlock birthrate for women with four year degrees or more has remained steady for generations (about 90%). There has been virtually no increase in the rate of well educated single mothers, while the opposite is true for less educated women with an unmarried birthrate of 60%. This is a staggering difference and not one you would imagine from the heavy cultural push to embrace single motherhood as a warranted way of life.

I often wonder if I’m going about things the right way with my children. If I’ve accrued any wisdom over 17 years and 7 children, it’s that you can’t force children to be what they are not. You also cannot force yourself, as a parent, to be who you are not. I couldn’t helicopter parent if I tried, and I have tried, sort of, in the past. I struggle internally with the possibility that I’m too checked out by today’s micromanagement standards (or any standard). But my kids seem more or less ok, they do well in school and know they’re loved. In fact “emotional support” is cited by researchers as one of the two most important factors in raising children; the other is intellectual stimulation (which I guess is where the constant chatter comes in). And that’s good news for any poor parents out there, because love is free.

Spreadsheet Sex

A darkly humorous story went mildly viral a couple weeks ago, about a reddit user who posted an excel file her husband created detailing the number of times he had requested sex over seven weeks (27) and how many times she refused (24). Here is a link to the original thread but it looks like the poster deleted her post, which read:

Yesterday morning, while in a taxi on the way to the airport, Husband sends a message to my work email which is connected to my phone. He’s never done this, we always communicate in person or by text. I open it up, and it’s a sarcastic diatribe basically saying he won’t miss me for the 10 days I’m gone. Attached is a SPREADSHEET of all the times he has tried to initiate sex since June 1st, with a column for my “excuses”, using verbatim quotes of why I didn’t feel like having sex at that very moment. According to his ‘document’, we’ve only had sex 3 times in the last 7 weeks, out of 27 “attempts” on his part.

And the spreadsheet (source):

excel

She acts all shocked and flummoxed to receive this from her husband, but in looking at the pattern of refusals she seems to know exactly what shes doing: she’s got her husband on a 2 times per month schedule which is probably the least she’s decided she can get away with. Even her excuses follow a pattern- too tired, too drunk, too full, too unbathed. Since when have food and alcohol gotten in the way of sex? It sure didn’t stop King Henry VIII who, by the time of his death, weighed 400 pounds, never bathed, and his castle offered a 1 gallon per day ration of beer, not including parties. Yet he managed to go through six wives and countless mistresses without complaining about being too full.

[An interesting aside about King Henry VIII is that despite having six wives he managed to produce only three living heirs, and only two of those lived to adulthood. I've occasionally read this might have been due to Henry having a venereal disease that impacted the fertility of the women, yet, he had as many as seven living children by various mistresses, most of them going on to live long lives. It makes you wonder if, instead of disease, there was some environmental factor within Hampton Court that impaired female fertility (lead? a bad royal doctor?) as one assumes his mistresses were not housed long term in the castle.]

I wonder why excel guy didn’t turn to the manosphere for sage and proven wisdom on how to get his wife to tear off her thong. Back in my message board addiction days, I spent a lot of time on marriage boards where there was an endless stream of beleaguered husbands whose wives simply wouldn’t have sex with them more than once or twice a month, if at all. (Rarely women showed up with the same problem re: their husbands, but it was the exception.) Most had tried mansopheresque techniques like acting more “alpha,” acting indifferent to sexual refusals, and going about their own lives in order to rebuild their confidence (a lot of them take up fitness). But in most of the severe cases, nothing worked.

My impression is if a couple starts out with compatible drives but they’ve hit a rut sexually, then yes, these techniques and others probably can come to the rescue. But if a couple had disparate sex drives to begin with, the imbalance becomes even more entrenched over the course of a marriage until the husband (it’s usually the husband) is expected to be celibate or close to it. Though the female refusal of sex has been going on since caveman days, I have wondered if feminism was the death knell of married sex. Throughout my adolescence and young adulthood it was hammered home that if a woman isn’t absolutely driven to have sex, or has even the slightest inkling she doesn’t want to have sex- even if she changes her mind for any reason partway through- she’s under absolutely no obligation to please her husband, even if she’s the only sexual outlet he has. And since women tend to have more fragile sex drives than men, especially as they age, this leads to a lot of sexually starved men with few options (well there’s always Tarna).

Turning your husband down 24 out of 27 times because you “don’t feel like it” is unconscionable. Entering into a marriage is a sexual contract as much as anything else, and unless you’re loud and clear upfront that your partner should expect sex only 10% of the time he desires it, a sincere effort in the bedroom is called for. But good luck telling wives (and a few husbands) that.

I sometimes wonder how King Henry would fare were he alive today. He’d probably reinstate public executions and get rid of all the immigrants. Maybe he could go on Supersize vs Superskinny to lose some of that weight, though he’d probably just drag the superskinny back to Hampton Court, to fatten her up for his own purposes.

The Man in This Image

From the time I was ten years old, I tried to be a believing Christian. I was raised Anglican from birth but never took it seriously. There is no emphasis on spirituality within Anglicanism. Despite being at church each Sunday it all seemed ridiculous, and it was clear to me that everyone in the pews was there for social reasons and appearances, nothing more. They didn’t meaningfully believe a word they were reciting from the prayer books.

Around that time I befriended a family that had converted to Christianity from Judaism. They were deeply spiritual and believing. I wanted to be like them- but simply couldn’t believe. The whole notion of Christianity was ridiculous to me: a man tortured for my sins is a good thing? And we were supposedly living in the messianic age predicted in Jewish prophecy? None of it made a shred of sense. But I persisted in trying to believe; I prayed, asked God for belief, attended church with this family (much to the horror of my mother). But nothing happened. For a few years I concluded I was an atheist but in my late teens went back to trying to believe in Christianity, this time with more gusto. I explored other branches of Christianity, like Orthodoxy (which I still have a deep respect for). I discovered a beautiful Orthodox church in my neighborhood and spent hours attending liturgy and vespers. I spent so many hours standing during those liturgies that I would be dizzy and weak by the end of it. But I still didn’t believe, and felt like a fake just going through the motions.

Around this time I befriended a friend of the above-mentioned family and we began attending byzantine Catholic masses together. It was in one of these masses that it hit me like a bolt of lightning: I believed in God (so I wasn’t an atheist- yay!) but I simply did not believe in Jesus. This was a radical and huge revelation for me, and a sense of God’s presence flowed through me in a way I’d never felt before.

I can’t remember exactly how or why but I immediately began pursuing conversion to Judaism. Perhaps it seemed like the logical step for a “Christian” who believed in God but not Jesus. Perhaps it was due to the Jewish influence of the above-mentioned family. I’d always been strongly drawn to the few items of Judaica in their home, like siddurs, and had taught myself to read Hebrew from them.

Coming from a Christian background I assumed Jews would be happy to receive and absorb a convert. I was in for a rude awakening over the next few years, but despite the negative experiences I dealt with over the conversion process, it remained an enormous comfort to finally have religious faith. It felt like swimming in a beautiful, warm ocean to have the deep faith I’d been praying for all those years.

But there were problems, and big ones. First, I was already married to a (gasp!) non-jew. My husband is nominally Catholic- it is purely cultural to him- but that cultural part in him runs deep. At first he was accepting of my conversion (in retrospect I think he wanted to appear enlightened and “tolerant”) but we began to have more and more tension between us over my religious beliefs. It got to the point where he was downright rude and cruel to me over it. When it reached the point of the children being raised as Jewish, again, he was initially tolerant, but eventually began to balk over my efforts to raise them in my new faith. It got so bad that I realized I might have to choose between my marriage and my faith. I chose my marriage.

Along with these problems, I began to have issues with Judaism. Not the faith I held within me, but the practical experience of being a convert in the current world of Judaism. While I was always welcomed in whatever shul I attended, it was only until it was discovered I was a convert. Then the attitude quickly changed and I was regarded as a weirdo and an outsider. I quickly learned converts are only welcome within Judaism- and then only to a degree- if they convert for the purposes of marrying a Jew. A “free agent” convert is viewed with suspicion. Don’t get me wrong, people were by and large nice to me- only a handful outright verbally attacked and shunned me- but it was eminently clear from all angles that I was on the outside looking in. I have two particularly vivid and painful memories in this regard, one at a Jewish wedding and another at a Simchat Torah service, where I understood painfully and clearly that I would never be an accepted part of the world I was standing in.

I also consistently encountered the same problem I had with Anglicanism. Reform, Conservative, and even “Conservadox” Jews simply aren’t spiritual. It’s a community and historical identity for them, not a deep spiritual faith. The only place you find consistent pursuit of spirituality within Judaism is in the Orthodox branches, but there was no way in hell (pardon the Christian reference) they would ever let me be a part of their fold, as a Conservative convert married to a Catholic. There were also certain aspects of Orthodox Judaism I could never follow, like covering my hair or dressing ultra conservatively (I dress conservatively, but I do show my arms).

After some years all these problems reached critical mass, and to save my marriage I abruptly abandoned my dearly held effort and left the only religion I’d known in a meaningful way. It is so painful for me that I never talk or write about it (well, until now) and my husband and I never discuss it. He pretends it didn’t happened.

My husband began taking the kids to mass. Remember, he is only nominally Catholic, so it was a “look what they are now” gesture to me. I stood on the sidelines and watched my kids raised as Christians. They were enrolled in Catholic school (we never could have afforded the Jewish day schools anyway) and still are. He dropped off on taking them to mass once the so-there gesture was final, and now the kids don’t even attend mass. I feel like the same cycle of empty religion is being handed to them, just like with me as a child they are being given a “religious label” without spiritual content, though two of my daughters have evolved- without our influence- into Jesus freaks.

For the sake of the kids I tried once again to be a believing Christian. I tried going to mass with them, tried going to other branches of Christianity. Read Christian books. Still nothing. I’ve finally concluded after decades, cumulatively, that I simply am not nor was I ever meant to be Christian. But I feel so distant from Judaism, and it’s been so long now, I no longer feel the deep attachment to Judaism either. I don’t know if this is due to emotional trauma or if I really have lost my faith. Maybe it’s a bit of both.

There were a few tenets in Judaism that I had ethical or doctrinal (to borrow another Christian term) issues with. Namely, I felt the notion of “the chosen people” was unethical, no matter how Jews try to spin it. I also had issues with the situation in Israel, which to be honest I never paid attention to during my conversion process because I was so swept up in my newfound belief. No, I don’t think the Israelis are evil monsters and the Palestinians innocent lambs. But it’s a really ugly situation all around and I know many an American Jew with their own inner conflict on the matter. So in a way it was a mild relief to no longer have to grapple with these issues, and there is a sense of freedom that comes with being “label-less,” but that’s about the only positive thing I can say about having lost my religion.

I have considered just practicing quietly without my husband’s knowledge, or even going back to attending shul. I don’t even know where my conversion certificate is. I could go back to following kashrut- boy has kosher meat gotten expensive!! But we are mostly vegetarian anyway. But I guess it boils down to a fear of being hurt again, and I don’t want to confuse the kids. As far as they’re concerned, they’re Catholic. But why can’t I even bring myself to pray and pick up the siddur? In the privacy of my room, what consequence would that have? But I can’t do it.

I have considered exploring other religions but nothing rings true to me. I know there are plenty of people who happily got through life without a religion, but I’m not really one of them. I feel nameless, homeless, spiritually adrift. The idea of being buried in a Christian cemetery upsets me. Why do I even care? But I’d rather my body be lost at sea, or eaten by wolves.

I ran into the rabbi who converted me a few years ago and he asked where I’d been. I briefly explained it had caused too much tension with my family and had reached a breaking point. He paused for a moment, looking both annoyed and thoughtful. “Well you should have considered that before you started.” Gee thanks. I also ran into his wife sometime later, who asked the same thing- then her eyes zeroed in on a necklace I was wearing with a small stamped image of Jesus- I wore it because it had belonged to my beloved grandmother. I’d never worn it while practicing Judaism but figured I may as well put it back on after the fact. She pointed to it.”Whats that?”

“Look Mrs. Rabbi,” I wanted to say, “If I could believe in the man in this image, I would, but I clearly didn’t and don’t, so could you please get off my case?!” But instead I politely explained it had belonged to my deceased grandmother, and bid her goodbye. That was the last I ever saw of either of them.

jesus
My grandmother’s pendant.

National Geographic: The New Face of Hunger

National Geographic Magazine recently came out with The New Face of Hunger. Like A Place at the Table the article details the “new hungry” in America: many are working poor and most are overweight. So I would have to disagree with the article header that these people are “malnourished.” They are, in fact, over-nourished, like the rest of America. But that doesn’t mean they don’t go hungry or have inconsistent access to food. In fact, overweight people are going to feel hunger a lot harder than a thin person, since their body is accustomed to eating more.

At many points this article had me scratching my head. We hear the usual themes, namely:

* healthy food is expensive
It’s not, and I’ve shown it many times over in this blog. Yes, organic kumquats from Whole Foods are expensive, but non-organic romaine and carrots are cheap at hole-in-the-wall produce stands. I can easily feed my family of 9 on $180-200 a week, which is below what our SNAP allotment would be were we eligible.

* you need to eat healthy foods to stay fit
Again, not true. If you read my blog you know that fruits and vegetables don’t make you lose weight. People can lose weight on twinkie diets. And the “fat head” guy lost weight and improved his cholesterol levels eating nothing but “unhealthy” fast food (he didn’t eat any of the salads). He did, however, limit his daily calorie and carb intake to 2000 kcal and 100 g respectively. And in Supersize vs Superskinny, most of the superskinnies eat junk. One superskinny woman survives on toast and a candy bar each day.

*poor people are more likely to be fat due to the above reason
If you look at data from the CDC you will see the supposed correlation between poverty and obesity is weak, especially in adults. People across all economic strata are overweight. In fact, among certain races and genders, like black men, the reverse it true: wealthier ones are more likely to be fat.

*poor people live in food deserts
The notion of food deserts was long ago disproven. Even the NYtimes admits they rarely exist. Instead, the real problem is when people in suburban and rural areas don’t have a working vehicle. That definitely is a problem when trying to shop frugally for food (or anything else). Perhaps food banks could expand their services to include volunteer grocery runs for car-less families.

The NG article is strong on the ubiquitous push for fruits and vegetables to solve the hunger problem, even going so far as to blame the government for subsidizing corn and soy but not fruits and veggies. As much as I personally love fruits and veggies, they have a very low satiation index compared to protein rich and fatty foods, and this is why the new USDA breakfast/ lunch standards are so troublesome even if kids weren’t throwing most of it in the trash. Indeed, the overweight three year old in this article refuses his free breakfast even when his mother intentionally sends him to school hungry.

Here’s the thing though: not only do they not make you lose weight, but fresh fruits and vegetables are eaten by hardly anyone- either rich or poor. Here is a USDA pdf containing a detailed list of calorie sources for Americans by food type (scroll to page 25 for it). Unless potato chips, fruit drinks, and french fries count, fresh produce doesn’t even make the list.

caloriesourcesamericans

So why are we wagging our collective finger- and that would include the first lady’s ever reaching finger- at the poor to eat their veggies when no one else is doing it? It would be more efficient simply to encourage more homecooking, whether of foodie-approved dishes or not, to stretch SNAP dollars as far as possible. Perhaps SNAP recipients should receive complementary kitchen items like crock pots and mixers; while it would be an added expense, it would save money- and prevent hunger- in the long run.

For instance one family in this article complains their $125 monthly assistance leaves them with empty cupboards (this is on top of the income of three working adults). But I immediately ran the calculations in my head: $125 can buy 350 lbs of flour (a 50 lb bag is $17), which in turn would make more than 500 3-cup loaves of bread. That’s 16 loaves of bread a day in addition to what they purchase separate from SNAP. Bread may not be the most filling thing in the world but a three cup loaf will certainly get you through, especially if it’s not all you’re eating. But apparently most of these people- and people in general- don’t cook either due to lack of knowledge or because they’re too burnt out, tired and stressed. This is where a housewife would come in handy, but those are going the way of the dodo. In fact the only family in this article that does eat well (and interestingly, isn’t fat) and has a small food stockpile that could last months, is a family where food is managed by a stay at home mom. Ironically she got the nastiest comments from commenters (I haven’t read comments on NG, but did on another site) criticizing her for “not working” and for her irresponsible breeding. I guess we women only have ourselves to blame for this attitude. Ever since second wave feminism, having children and managing a household are considered a pathetic waste of time. And if a mother is poor to boot, forget about it. Her ovaries should be ripped out for the sake of humanity. Thanks a lot Betty Friedan.

Whom Shall Pass

I am now past the point in pregnancy where a miscarriage is considered a miscarriage. It would now be considered a stillbirth, i.e. a death. But it’s still legal to obtain an abortion up to 24 weeks gestation in NY State, which is a strange dichotomy to contemplate. It was the same dichotomy I reflected on when terrified of having miscarried earlier on (it would have been my 4th). But the baby hung in there, and each trip to the sonographer revealed the small miracle of a beating heart. Yet at the same time I was fretting over the possibility of losing the pregnancy, any number of women in the world were determined to terminate their viable pregnancies.

I try not to think about abortion much because, in my view, it’s one of those things in life where there is no ethical answer. There’s probably some fancy term for this in philosophy but I don’t know what it is. It’s unethical to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term against her will, yet it’s also unethical to snuff out a nascent human life. Every time I try to figure out which is more unethical, I can’t pick. They’re both equally bad.

And both camps of the abortion debate annoy me. The prolifers are disingenuous, because if they really cared about mothers and babies they would stop trying to criminalize abortion and would instead channel their energies into appealing to mothers’ (and fathers’) hearts, offering real assistance to mothers in need (to be fair, there are some pro-life groups that do this). The prochoicers are disingenuous because they pretend the fetus is not a nascent human life. That’s just stupid. Of course it’s a human life. As my atheist friend likes to put it: everyone who is pro-choice was born.

So I try not to think or talk about it much. I did tell my daughters they should never be afraid of my reaction if they fall pregnant inconveniently, and that I would move heaven and earth to help them in such a scenario. They had trouble believing me. “You wouldn’t be mad??” (no) To quote Orange is the New Black, “You think I’m gonna let you ice my grandbaby?”

I don’t judge women who have abortions. I was close to facing this myself when I was urged to abort my now 6 year old due to a very poor prenatal screening. As I waited the agonizing weeks for her test results to return, I wondered what I would do if they were indeed as bad as expected. I vaguely concluded I would terminate only if the baby would die shortly after birth anyway, but I wouldn’t terminate for Down’s Syndrome (I think Turner’s Syndrome was also mentioned). But she was normal and the cystic hygroma disappeared by the 20 week ultrasound.

I will admit, though, it vexes me when pro-lifers are bashed as the world’s greatest threat to civilization. I don’t know when exactly conservative Christianity became the whipping boy of public opinion. I used to be active on a message board with many atheists and agnostics, and they would say unbelievably crude and nasty things about Christianity- but if you raised an eyebrow to Islam, forget about it. You were branded intolerant which of course is the worst thing a human being can be. But when it came to Christianity it was a free-for-all of mockery and hatred.

It seems throughout history there is a musical chairs process between religions, with different faiths in turn taking the seat of oppressor, pitied, hated and favored. Christianity used to be a true oppressor, of course Judaism was hated virulently through certain eras, and in the early part of the 20th century, Islam was a trendy religion much like Buddhism and Hinduism (through yoga) are trendy with hipsters today. European intellectuals and artists would convert to Islam because it was viewed as exotic and mysterious. But today Islam is an oppressor, Christianity is increasingly hated, and eastern religions are the new fad.

My first exposure to abortion was when a childhood friend casually mentioned her mother had planned to abort her, but changed her mind last minute. I remember standing there aghast, feeling I had just glimpsed some mythical crossroads of life and death. In a flash I imagined a world and present moment with her non-existence. For better or worse, pregnant women now stand at this crossroads deciding whom shall pass. I’d like to think they use the power wisely, but life being what it is they probably don’t. It’s a strange ontological matter to imagine who could have been born and what impact they might have had, however great or small. Bobby Fischer’s mother Regina probably would have aborted him if she had quick access to legal abortion; she was destitute, unmarried, deeply secular, and even lived in a homeless shelter for a period. But as my husband likes to say, which thread do you pull?

Robert Redford Lost at Sea

My husband brought home All Is Lost from the library last week and urged me to watch it with him. I stayed up “late” last night to 9pm to see it with him and my older kids. The film is rated PG-13 which is a puzzle; other than containing some frightening and tense scenes, and exactly one vulgarity, this film is barely PG and could probably pass for G without that swear word. So I may let the younger kids watch it as well.

78 year old Robert Redford plays an unnamed man whose small yacht is damaged at sea; a fight for survival ensues. The film is unique to Hollywood as it contains only one actor and hardly any dialogue. Redford has all of 5 or 6 lines and a few are one-word utterances. But far from being pretentious it’s a beautifully told story of desperation and the will to live, not unlike, but not based on, Steven Callahan’s Adrift. I tend to enjoy survival stories because let’s face it, even in the comfortable world every day can feel like survival. So these tales of survival can be infinitely inspirational for diurnal living.

I have to say Redford looks fantastic for an old dude. In some shots he could pass for 50 (although in other shots you can see his age), and he’s remarkably spry though it dawned on me after the fact that they probably used a body double for the more physically taxing scenes.

My only quibbles with the film are mostly technical; although not an experienced sailor myself, I found some of the main character’s choices and (lack of) preparedness questionable, and I’m pretty sure all survival rafts come with built in stills. There were also a few scenes where Redford didn’t look quite dehydrated and exhausted enough- not even a movie star could look that good lost at sea in real life, though towards the end of the film he does look suitably haggard. I also think the title of the film is lousy, and they should have come up with something more creative and interesting.

So the film comes highly recommended for all ages. Watch it with the kids!

all is lost

The New Doctor

As I’ve mentioned previously, though I never intended to blog about it, the insurance policy my husband and I carried for years was cancelled under the ACA. Our only option at that point was to purchase coverage on the exchange (at full price… no subsidies) and we purchased an HMO with the company we’d been with. I checked with my OB’s office three times to make sure she still participated in the plan, and was told by the front desk that she did. Come to find out she didn’t, but by that point our coverage had been wrongly cancelled so it was the least of my problems.

Once our coverage was reinstated I was obliged to find a new OB; the old OB’s office refused to give a recommendation. “Look in the book,” they said. So I looked in the book, narrowed it down to doctors near my house, and researched reviews online. Women sure love their (male) gynecologists! That’s another thing, my old OB is a woman, but “the book” only had male practitioners. Yet they all had rave reviews from adoring patients.

This will sound petty, but the old OB had an office that looked like something off a movie set. It was sleek, spacious, nicely decorated, immaculately clean, and felt more like a spa than a doctors office. The doctor I ended up choosing runs his business out of a run down ranch home. There’s even a “beware of dog” sign in a window and tacky lawn ornaments scattered over the yard. The interior is cramped, filled with Catholic statues, and the sonographers work out of storage rooms in the basement. The walls are covered with pro-life slogans and posters warning of the dire consequences of drinking during pregnancy (haven’t they read Emily Oster in The Wall Street Journal?). The waiting room has a range of patients, but more than a few teen moms with scowling baby daddies in tow.

And the doctor himself remains elusive. I have yet to actually meet him or be seen by him. Instead, I’ve been treated by various nurse practitioners, sonographers, and medical assistants. There are a lot of pictures of the doctor on the walls in between the “don’t drink” posters. Framed pictures of him running a marathon. Pictures of him doing C-sections. Pictures of him as a kid. In a sense this is a relief as I’d prefer to be treated by women, but on the other hand it will be a stranger delivering my baby come d-day.

Despite my complaints I’m happy with the care I’ve received. In fact, before the old OB, I exclusively saw midwives for female stuff. But due to skyrocketing malpractice insurance they had to close their doors. It’s too late to switch doctors now, as I’m too far along. I’m not sure whom I’d go to anyway as the doctors in my network aren’t exactly hamptons concierge material. But I’m lucky to have coverage and access to sophisticated medicine, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

I’ve watched a few birth videos to try to get myself in the right mindset. Boy is birth disgusting. Why did god/ the universe make childbirth so gruesome and painful? I don’t care what the hippie midwives say: giving birth is scary, painful, and slimy. And why are women always stark naked in their birth videos? I know I’ve complained about this before, but often the dads-to-be are butt naked too. Obviously the women can’t have clothes on from the waist down but is it really necessary to be 100% naked to bring your child into the world? If I ever meet my new doctor, I’ll ask him.

The German Juggernaut

My son will return from New England shortly. He’s my son, so of course I miss him, but I didn’t miss being browbeaten and regarded as a lower form of life every time he enters the room. Unless he obtains some kind of high demand but rare degree (and I struggle to think of what that could be, with our constant influx of H-1B visas) he’ll need to polish his people skills in order to be remotely employable. He’s extremely polite and formal with strangers but it goes no further. And behind closed doors, with us in the house, forget about it. He’s all condescension and ire.

argentina

There he is cheering on Argentina. The final match between Argentina and Germany was a painful one to watch. Of course I was rooting for Argentina, having been brainwashed since childhood to equate Argentina winning the world cup with the second coming. But in this case it would have been difficult not to vote for the scrappy underdog up against the German juggernaut. It was like the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match but with soccer balls. Germany had been widely predicted to crush Argentina but it became clear just fifteen minutes into the game that wasn’t happening. Then came the heartbreaking disqualified goal for Argentina, and from that point on I started to feel like I was watching two guys in a bar brawl smashing bottles over each other’s head, and every time you thought one was knocked out, he got back up and smashed another bottle over the other guy’s head. Germany finally won with an overtime goal, and the fact that my dad is technically German was of little consolation to him. If he weren’t crippled with joint problems he probably would have taken a walk around the block to weep.

I received a somber email from my mom describing the medical plight of my father: he will have to choose between a 10 hour reconstructive surgery on his back, or the potential of being confined to a wheelchair. This is due to severe arthritis compounded by decades of obesity. The thing is, until his 50s, my dad would have been classified as “healthy overweight.” Yes, he was heavy- very heavy, in the obese range for much of his adult life- but he remained very strong and active. In his 50s he began to have back pain and by his 60s he was crippled by back and knee pain. He managed to lose some weight for a knee replacement, but now his mobility is hampered by a spine that spent decades being crushed and compacted by weight.

Watching my parents struggle with health woes caused by excess weight is the main reason I am terrified of weight gain; I’ve always aimed to remain at the lower end of healthy BMI (18-20). By the time they were in their 60s their mobility was impaired to the point they could barely climb stairs. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer that was estrogen receptive positive, which has a strong correlation with obesity. They are currently still overweight, but lighter than they’ve been in decades (thanks to Weight Watchers). But even with that weight off, my father’s spine is essentially ruined and will need to be reconstructed if he hopes to regain any real degree of mobility.

Speaking of extra weight, I was reading an article on my favorite topic- the new school lunch guidelines- and was shocked to see this picture of Michelle Obama.

michelleobama

She’s gained an awful lot of weight, which wouldn’t be a big deal were she not poised as the nation’s spokesperson for healthy eating (no more than 2 ounces of meat per lunch!) and weight loss. She doesn’t look to be within normal BMI range anymore. It also looks like she’s suffering from the Lena Dunham syndrome of not having enough up top to compensate for the curves down below. I thought the first lady had big, or at least adequate, boobs? Maybe she normally wears a push up bra. Fame tends to make people gain weight- one of my husband’s favorite pastimes is cackling over before and after photos of celebrities- but if I were championing the cause of national weight loss, I’d be cautious to stay under BMI 25, and not to gain during my tenure as weight loss crusader.

Hookers On Staten Island

Leave it to that bastion of investigative reporting, The Staten Island Advance, to expose the shocking fact that there are prostitutes on Staten Island. Even more shocking: they operate behind the guise of massage parlors! Who would have thought? To make the article even more scintillating, they include this nasty looking pair of legs (knees?) under the headline:

knees
What’s the towel for?

Those look like she-male legs to me. What do you think? Anyway, the Advance describes a network of “massage parlors” that charge $29-$45 for various degrees of satisfaction. There must be hidden costs because that seems outrageously cheap even for partial sex. You’d have to pay me more than that just to show my knees!

The Advance “confirmed” that prostitution takes place in these establishments. I’d like to know how exactly they confirmed this, given the article was written by a woman? I can just see the meeting now where they brainstormed this idea. “Gentlemen, I think we should send our best men in for a massage…”

The thing is, if I were a guy on Staten Island looking to visit a brothel, my primary concern would not be legality but the high likelihood of someone I know recognizing me sneaking into a house of ill repute. Because Staten Island, unlike the anonymous maw of the rest of the city, is a fairly incestuous locale where everyone knows everyone and everyone is everyone else’s cousin. The chances of crossing paths with someone you know, or of someone who knows someone you know, is solidly in the 90% range over every square inch of the island. So I’m wondering if these spots cater to commuters coming through the Staten Island Expressway, looking for bargain outer-outer borough rates and easy parking.

The advertised girls are typically asian, hearkening from all reaches of the orient including Japan, Korea, and China. Wait a second, Japan? I can’t imagine any japanese hooker plying her trade in the states, as the sex industry in Japan is flourishing (and probably much safer than here), and is legal short of actual intercourse. Maybe there would be use for japanese escorts catering to tourists in Manhattan, but not Staten Island which has a relatively small Asian population, and no tourists ever come here except for the free ferry ride. Maybe they should build a massive brothel in St. George instead of a massive shopping center, to tempt tourists to actually step foot on our territory.

The House I Live In

I had high hopes for the documentary The House I Live In; it was highly rated on netflix and the topic- an examination of the “war on drugs-” seemed interesting enough. But little did I know I was in for a solipsistic, almost-two-hour aimless lecture that did little to address drug use and crime in the United States. Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki is puzzled why the family of his childhood african american nanny has endured so much dysfunction and heartbreak, compared to his own upper middle class household of origin. The answer, he concludes, is drugs; moreover, “the war on drugs” which further moreover, at least according to him, has its roots squarely in racism. We then endure a 90 minute lecture on racism, though his premise falls apart in the last segment when the docu acknowledges the majority of people arrested for methamphetamine crimes are white- and they are convicted with the same brutal sentences as other drug offenders.

The meat of his film, namely, the controversial sentences for non-violent drug crimes, and the snake eating tail financial nature of law enforcement and drugs, are sidelined by Jarecki’s whiny postulations on race and class. It would have been far better, and a lot more interesting, to learn more about these excessive sentences and the precise financial processes between law enforcement and drug seizures than to endure the film’s naval staring. He missed a real chance to make a cogent and pertinent documentary, but dropped the ball.

We do meet some interesting people; a few of the drug dealers, and a prison worker who philosophically questions the nature of his business are gripping to watch. But the documentary is neither here nor there and never quite reaches the goal line.

I would have liked to see a discussion of why street drugs are considered so dangerous, yet prescription drugs, particularly psychiatric drugs and painkillers, are not. It would also be interesting to question why alcohol has not in very recent history been considered a drug, despite its intoxicating qualities.

When it comes to drugs I’m not sure I’m libertarian enough to say “legalize it all.” But on the other hand I’ve always been a pragmatist above all else. If an adult is determined to use drugs, there really is no stopping him and you might as well let him go down the rabbit hole. And while in theory drug violence would diminish were the trade legalized- after all, alcohol is sold in highbrow and polite venues- I’m not sure this would necessarily hold true for street drugs, especially as drug cartels from south of the border gain further hold on american soil. In other words, even if legalized, a deep black market for drugs would likely perpetuate.

I feel similarly about prostitution. If consenting adults want to engage in a financial sexual transaction, who am I to stop them, even if I feel such an enterprise might not be the best of life choices for either party? Either way I don’t see either street drugs or prostitution being legalized in the near future. Politicians from both sides of the aisle know it would lose too many votes if they stood up for hookers and gangbangers. Even Bill Clinton postured a tough on crime approach when it suited him.

In conclusion I can’t recommend this lousy documentary unless you have a burning interest in the subject. Maybe Jarecki can come around and offer a decent documentary on drug use and the practical legal prospects to ameliorate the current state of affairs, but The House I Live In is not it.

Which Way Home

Most people by this point are aware of the growing trend of underaged immigrants attempting to enter the US illegally. While the press has made a big deal about the young age of these children, and indeed, some are very young, the truth is that the majority are likely teenagers, and probably teenage boys. This follows a long and steadily growing phenomenon of adolescent and teenage boys from the region “going north,” which in central america and mexico has the same connotation as what “going to california” meant a few generations ago. Despite press reports that they are fleeing gang violence (which we have plenty of here in the good ole USA- in our major cities the majority of crime is gang related), many of these teens are runaways with all the motivations and psychological baggage homegrown runaways carry. In leaked reports about conditions in the detainment centers, psychologists noted many of the would-be migrants had severe mental health problems, including suicidal ideation, that were going untreated.

There is an excellent documentary about exactly this trend called Which Way Home. It’s a few years old so was filmed at the start of this wave of younger immigrants trying to make their way to the US. The travelers are typically male and in the 12-19 range. They ride as stowaways on top of freight trains that snake their way through the mexican countryside- in fact, an unintended bonus to this docu is that we get to glimpse astonishing vistas of rural areas south of the border, as the camera “rides the train” with the boys on their journey. The train is so dangerous that it is nicknamed La Bestia (the beast) by its stowaway riders.

whichwayhome

Most of the boys are running away from bad situations at home, usually involving stepparents or an unwillingness to follow their parents’authority. They view the trip north with excitement and enthusiasm, convinced that wealth and happiness await them on the other side of the border. Some believe they will be promptly adopted by kind and wealthy american families.

There is a particularly heartbreaking scene where a brother and sister, I think they are about 8 and 9, are determined to make their way north. The girl explains to the camera that God and the blood of Christ will protect them on her journey; they are later never heard from again. Unlike the teenage boys featured in Which Way Home, this sibling duo seemed very sweet and well intentioned, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Hansel and Gretel.

One aspect I’ve noted concerning the recent waves of immigrants is a bipartisan opposition to them, not necessarily among politicians, but from normal people. Even in sympathetic articles on progressive bastions like the NYtimes, the comment sections contain countless statements universally opposed to accepting these children and any more that follow. Even self -identified liberals state bluntly that, particularly in our current economic climate, we lack the resources to properly care for so many children and young adults, and that responsibility for them resides squarely with their families and countries of origin. However, by most estimates, at least 70% will manage to remain either legally or illegally. Ironically, those who do manage to stay will probably find themselves living in areas rife with gang and drug violence, which supposedly is what they are fleeing in the first place.

Which Way Home is an excellent documentary and worth watching no matter what your stance on illegal immigration. It’s still available on netflix streaming as of this posting.

Fruits and Vegetables Don’t Make You Lose Weight

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has published a study confirming that fruits and vegetables don’t make you lose weight. This is something I’ve pointed out several times in this blog, that telling an overweight person “to eat more fruits and vegetables” is about the most hare brained approach you could take to weight loss (yet is the centerpiece of the new school lunch program). In A Place at the Table there is a particularly painful scene where an obese child is told “to snack on celery” by his doctor.

I love fruits and vegetables and eat loads of them. If it can be slathered in olive oil and roasted at 400 degrees, I’ll eat it. Broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, eggplant, onions, etc.- I eat them by the bucket load. I also love green salads and would happily choose a huge green salad with peanut dressing over a piece of chocolate cake. But I also know that without that olive oil, or the high fat peanut dressing, vegetables will leave you hungry as they are basically water with some fiber and micronutrients. Fruits are slightly more filling because they contain more sugar (and thus more calories) than veggies, but will also leave you hungry soon enough even if you gorge on them. It has been firmly established by this point that the greatest killer of appetite is protein; second to protein is fat, and last on the list are carbohydrates. While carbs have their place in the human diet, they are not the most effective food to quell appetite, which, unless you enjoy a gnawing stomach, is an important step to weight loss.

The most efficient sources of protein are meat, eggs, nuts, beans, and some dairy products (vital wheat gluten is a good vegan source of protein, but obviously no good for people with gluten sensitivities). If I were giving advice to an overweight person, I would suggest they focus on these high protein foods while adding moderate amounts of healthy fats. I would further suggest they try to avoid all starches and sugars, and while eating non-starchy vegetables won’t hurt, they have a low satiation index in bare form so I would not encourage them as a diet mainstay. I would also advise that they limit fruit to raw fruit (no juice or dried fruit) and only one or two servings a day. The last thing I would ever say is, “Snack on celery,” because this sends the message that fruits and vegetables will magically trigger weight loss even if the rest of a person’s diet is not radically altered. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Well I had a salad so I was good, now I can eat _____.” It doesn’t work that way! This is the same trap exercise can cause. A person works out for an hour then rewards himself- either consciously or unconsciously- with excess food. So if anything, increasing fruits and veggies might give a person the illusion that they don’t have to make greater efforts in weight loss.

Another difficulty with encouraging people to eat more fruits and vegetables is that they perceive starchy vegetables like potatoes and winter squash as “vegetables,” but these foods are just as calorie-laden as bread. Again, were we not living in a world of food excess, bread and potatoes would be great things to survive on and indeed have sustained many a civilization during times of want. But in our current food excess environment a plate of french fries- even sweet potato fries- is nothing but trouble. Same goes for veggie chips and vegetable laced pastas.

I know all this makes me sound like a low carber, but I’m not. If a person isn’t trying to lose weight, carbs are no problem in moderation. But for a person aiming for weight loss, carbs need to be delicately handled and limited because 1) they are calorie dense 2) they do not quell appetite efficiently and 3) they are easy to overeat on. Having gone through partial fasts in the past where I ate very little, I learned quickly that the best way to endure many hours of not eating was to consume some protein, especially animal protein (as a former vegan this was a tough fact to swallow, no pun intended). So while I am not a low carb adherent per se, it’s clear to me that this technique is invaluable when trying to teach people to manage their appetites.

Of course, if a person eats only fruits and vegetables, they will lose weight. Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live plan is based on most calories coming from fruits, plain non-starchy vegetables, and beans (prepared without fat). While he says not to count calories he admits in his book that most people will not be eating more than 1000-1200 calories a day on his regimen, a level most people would lose on no matter what the calorie sources are.

Supersize vs Superskinny

Supersize vs Superskinny is a British TV show that investigates the rising trend of obesity in England. The show pairs up an obese person with an underweight person and asks them to switch eating habits for a few days. Each episode has a segue or two examining obesity in general, and the host of the show, Dr. Christian Jessen- who acts more like a master of ceremonies than a physician- loves to visit the US to show his obese English patients their future unless they change their ways. In America he seeks out morbidly obese men and women, showing graphic footage of health woes like deep skin ulcers, and toes that fall off due to diabetes.

While the show is sensationalist it does take a refreshingly blunt look at obesity and body image. It’s fascinating to see what people- both fat and thin- actually eat in a given day. Some of the obese people never stop eating during waking hours (one unemployed woman refers to nonstop eating as her “job”), while some of the underweight people eat barely one meal a day.

The show does touch on people with under-eating disorders, but rarely, if ever, does it identify any particular episode’s “superskinny” as being eating disordered, though some of them clearly are. In that respect the show borders on unethical; how can a BMI 15 person who barely eats benefit from sitting at a table with a morbidly obese person, while being asked to eat that person’s daily menu? If anything this will only hammer home further the neurotic perception that heartier eating will lead to hopeless weight gain.

Below is a recent episode featuring Lauren and Shelby, two young mothers who weigh in respectively at 395 lbs and 86 lbs. Shelby subsists on one or two pieces of toast and a candy bar each day;  Lauren eats massive portions of fast food in meals that could feed a small village.

Another problem with the show is that they never delve into why people over or undereat. Occasionally the matter is skimmed over, but most shows consist of a rather superficial dealing with the candidates’ eating habits. For instance, in the above episode, superskinny Shelby is borderline starving herself after she has a child. The show chalks it up to her being “too busy” but surely there are other reasons behind such drastic behavior.

After the several-days swap the supersize and superskinny clients are sent home with eating plans designed by the doctor; they return some weeks later for a weigh-in. Indeed, many of the obese people do lose weight, likewise the superskinnies manage to gain, but you have to wonder what happens when the cameras stop rolling.

Despite my complaints the show manages to stay compassionate and light-hearted, and is keenly interesting for anyone who enjoys learning about nutrition, eating disorders, and obesity trends. I hadn’t realized that England has the highest obesity rate of western Europe in its children, with 30% weighing in as overweight or obese, on par with American rates for childhood obesity. As I explained in a previous post, the much touted drop in childhood obesity was smoke in mirrors using a decade-old outlier that may not have been scientifically sound. The rate of American children either overweight or obese continues to increase, particularly among teens. Perhaps Dr. Jessen can start up a US version of Supersize vs Superskinny, though he’ll probably have trouble finding any superskinnies on our side of the pond.

Most episodes of the show are available on youtube, for those interested.

Land of the Living

Over the weekend I had a sore throat and was sneezing constantly. I chalked it up to dust, since I was actually cleaning the house for once. But sunday night I woke up with a raging fever, agonizing body aches, and could barely breathe. I don’t have asthma but was so congested it felt my lungs were packed with cement. Strangely, it was exactly a year ago that I was struck down with the flu. Who gets sick in June??? Me, apparently. Two years in a row.

I stumbled into the bathroom and found the flu remedy I bought last june and downed a dose. Stumbled back to bed but was still in agony. Downed another dose. Took decongestant. Took advil. Rinse and repeat. It wasn’t until morning that it dawned on me I should research if any of this stuff is safe during pregnancy. To my dismay I discovered most of those meds are category C which means they are not proven unsafe, but not considered safe either, for pregnant women. I took 6 more doses of decongestant through the day just to breathe.The next two days were a delirium of pain and wishing for an easy breath.

In retrospect, a normal person would have sought medical care- I was frantic over my wrongly cancelled health coverage after all- but for whatever reason I am always reluctant to see a doctor unless I’m at death’s door. I sure felt at death’s door. But thankfully, seemingly miraculously (I know it wasn’t a miracle, but it feels like one) I found myself in the land of the living today. I’m still weak and feverish, but when we were out of toilet paper (a dire emergency in a large family) I dragged my son to Costco- so he could push the cart and do the heavy lifting- and I nearly fainted in the checkout line.

The school year is officially over. I have a meeting tomorrow with my oldest daughter’s high school to see if she will be kicked out. Despite scoring phenomenally well on the IQ and cognitive tests she was administered, she is failing two classes and nearly failing most of the others. My other kids did very well- the overachiever made ultra-honors all four quarters, the only one in her class to do so and only one of seven in the school. My son did beautifully despite having no formal education for nine years (he had perfect scores on all his practice regents) and even my daughter with developmental delays, and who is not exactly quick on the uptake, managed to be promoted to third grade.

The overachiever has been dwelling on ontological dilemmas recently and confessed to me that she doesn’t see much point to life- death awaits everyone and there is only suffering until then. I told her that life is like a radio: if a radio is tuned to static you will wonder what the hell the point is, but if you just adjust the channel a few notches you’ll hear beautiful music or insightful discussion. When people are caught up in materialism, self absorption, and achievement (not that there’s anything wrong with achievement, but it can become an obsession) they only hear static- their “antenna” is broken. But if they can shift the dial to a better stance they might discover something beautiful.

Speaking of which I discovered this beautiful cover on the ancient contraption known as the radio. Judith Owen sings a beautiful rendition of Mungo Jerry’s not so beautiful “In the Summertime.” I’m not crazy about the graphics to this video so you may want to minimize.

“If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal. If her daddy’s poor, do what you feel-” someone’s been reading the manosphere! When I heard Owen’s voice I assumed she was a young african american woman, but surprise surprise, she’s Welsh.

Fossils and Purchased Friends

I saw a vascular surgeon this morning for my zombie-looking right leg that is swollen and discolored. There was a problem with my referral; at first they said I could see the doctor but not have a sonogram. They called the insurance, and then said I could have the sono but not see the doctor. Oookay (I ended up seeing the dr anyway). I was the youngest person in the office by decades, and to my surprise, the only female. I always assumed vein problems were a female thing. Once I got to the sonographer, she asked if this was my first pregnancy. Uh… no. When I told her I have seven children she quite literally nearly fell off her chair. Seven kids! Who has seven kids?

“Orthodox Jews,” I replied. “But I’m not an orthodox Jew.”

She then confided she was tormented over whether to have a second child or not. I told her to have it.

Then on to the Staten Island Mall for birthday shopping for the wild five, and soon to be six, year old. I knew exactly what I wanted: a My Little Pony from Build-A-Bear. Here is a picture from the upper level of the mall:

simall

It’s an average mall as far as malls go, but it’s usually clean and orderly. Not that I go here much. A little known fact about the Staten Island Mall is that the floors are tiled with ancient limestone that contain a plethora of fossils. The floors here, believe it or not, are actually studied by geologists. So I stepped on countless gastropods on my way to Build-A-Bear.

At Build-A-Bear, an astonishingly cheerful young woman welcomed me and asked if I was looking for anything in particular. Why yes I am- and I pointed to Twilight Sparkle on display. “I don’t actually have to ‘build’ it, do I?”

She assured me I didn’t and proceeded to bring a limp Twilight Sparkle to life with a bizarre stuffing machine that looked like something from Willy Wonka’s factory. While she stuffed, we discussed My Little Pony. Is my daughter a fan? Yes, a huge fan. I then told her a lot of adults watch the show, and that my son, while he’d never admit it, was a devoted fan (I didn’t use the term Brony but that’s what he is). She replied many adults come to the store to buy the toys for themselves. Then she asked if I wanted a birth certificate for the new Twilight Sparkle. The whole process was a bit weird, especially being pregnant and walking out of there with a birth certificate for a stuffed animal, but here she is:

rainbowdash

Admit it… she’s cute! I kind of want one for myself.

Under Wraps

My mom is showing up tomorrow and she doesn’t know I’m pregnant. I don’t intend to tell her unless she asks directly. While I look pregnant to myself, I don’t look nearly as pregnant as most of the non-pregnant women on Staten Island. So maybe she’ll think I’ve just gained some weight. With the right clothes, I can pass for thick around the middle, not in the second trimester.

As I’ve mentioned, one of my main problems with Orange is the New Black is how inauthentic the characters are. The ghetto rats are way too articulate and thoughtful. Same for the trailer trash. And Piper’s waspish-ness is very much contrived. She whines and complains way too much for a real wasp. Waspishness is all about the stiff upper lip, but Piper’s incessant whining makes her sound more jappy than waspish. Now I adore most of the jews I’ve encountered in life, but god oh god, do they like to complain. Piper’s mom is no better. [very mild spoiler:] Remember when she visits Piper in prison and is supposedly worried she wouldn’t look pretty anymore? That is a very un-waspish concern. Worrying about your daughter looking pretty would be considered unbelievably shallow and tacky for a genuine wasp. Worrying about a strange hair color, or a tattoo, maybe. But it’s in bad taste to worry too much about looks, beyond the importance of looking neat, conformist, and respectable.

But [another mild spoiler:]- when it turns out the family colludes not to inform Piper of her grandmother’s illness- that is waspy. For whatever reason wasps are stiff lipped about sharing information that might ignite emotion. Ask me how I know!

So there were no gushy phone calls to my mom about my pregnancy, nor were there ever any. And of course, it’s unwaspish to have more than two kids, so I violated a rather massive tenet of waspdom with the third through almost eighth. My poor mom, having to tell her friends that she has ELEVEN (and soon to be twelve) grandchildren (my sister violated the code too, though not as egregiously as I have). She’s loosened up a bit in her old age but I’m sure it’s a moment of horror every time the number falls from her lips. So the unorthodoxy on my part provides even less incentive to spill the beans.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever had an emotional conversation with my mother. There were a handful of uncomfortable conversations over the years, but for the most part we interact almost like business associates. In a rare moment of inner exposure she once confessed to my sister that one of her life aspirations was not to be as cold as her parents were. All I can say is if she is the warm version, I can only imagine what her parents were like! I never really knew her father but her mother lived to 103. Over the many years I knew her I never saw any emotion- except mild joy when the Red Sox won another world series (she was old enough to have lived through the team’s 86 year drought). She threw back two martinis every night and watched Jeopardy religiously.

So we’ll see if I can get away with it. I’m joining legions of teenagers worldwide, hiding a pregnancy from my parents. Once the baby is, god willing, at the point of viability I’ll start talking.