Celebrating Colum

He Learned It From Watching Me

Colum digs the broom. He actually loves the entire process of sweeping, the dirt skating across the floor, the pile, the dustpan, the swishy sound. But the broom is his favorite part. The other day, as I was cleaning the kitchen, I let him play with the broom, figuring it was too heavy and unwieldy for him to do any damage to himself or anyhting else with it. So I didn't expect what came next: he picked it up by the end of the handle and... well, tried to sweep.
In a fit of paparazzism, I caught a bit of it on tape. (As per usual, the video clip linked below requires Quick Time 6).

Colum Sweeps

Sing, Sing

Colum sings. He's been doing it for a while, singing along to music, and to himself. We discovered him singing in his crib one morning about a month ago; I wish I knew what song was in his head that got him going. Now he sings when we sing, and when music he likes is playing, and when he feels snuggly or affectionate. When he's sitting with me at the computer, he likes to press his lips against face and sing. When he's in the bath, he sings as he plays. After the bath, we usually sing "Baa-Baa Black Sheep" while we put his baby lotion on him, and he'll often sing along.
A few days ago, he started singing every time I'd rock him before a nap. I sometimes sing the "I Love Colum" song, whose lyrics are:

I love Colum
Yes I do, yes I do, yes I do.

Colum's singing hasn't had specific words for the most part. It's usually just wordless tuneful vocalizing, usually the "Wah" or "Eee" sound stretched out. But then, a few days ago, he seemed to realize that songs could be made up of words, and as I sang the "I Love Colum" song one evening, he snuggled close and sang:

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah DA!
Doo doo doo

"DA!" is his current word that means "Daddy"; he was singing, I guess, the "I Love Daddy" song.

We Are Not Fodder For Comedy

I like Rebel Dad. Today he's reviewed one of those books About How Hard Being A Stay-At-Home Dad Is, a genre I cannot abide; dad stuff is new and different, but, like shopping, is as I wrote yesterday, fairly basic and undifficult knowledge. We are not sitcom fodder. Or, as Rebel Dad puts it:

[A]nother of my pet peeves, is the idea that running a household is mind-blowingly complex. That's a myth I can do without. The job isn't always easy, to be sure, but it ain't brain surgery either.


At the end of the day, I don't judge myself primarily by the cleanliness of the house or the professionalism of the dinner I serve. I judge myself first on whether my kid is happier, more fulfilled, more curious, more educated than the day before. I judge myself on whether I was able to share in any of the wonder that comes spilling out of children. The other stuff (which I am admittedly lousy at) is important -- crucial, really, to a functioning household -- but it shouldn't be the focal point of being an at-home dad. Being a dad should be the focus.

Reasons # 1000 and 1001 to Homeschool

In the footsteps of Dawn Friedman, who's been collecting reasons to homeschool, I bring you two more:

Parents furious as Pentagon slides recruiting officers into classrooms.
An obscure rider in President Bush's sweeping overhaul of the education system requires the heads of 22,000 schools which receive federal funds to give every branch of the armed forces the same access to students as university and business talent scouts.
That includes providing unlisted phone numbers and other contact information for students in their final two years.

Related to that is this:
In March 2003, a teenage girl named Courtney presented one of her poems before an audience at Barnes & Noble bookstore in Albuquerque, then read the poem live on the school's closed-circuit television channel.
A school military liaison and the high school principal accused the girl of being "un-American" because she criticized the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's failure to give substance to its "No child left behind" education policy.

A school military liaison? Who is consulted by the principal in matters of school administration? On the one hand, this sort of thing is not far from what I expect from public schools, but on the other hand, I guess I wasn't expecting it enough because I was still taken aback by the news.

Shopping. Fatherhood. Gender Roles.

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were trying to work out the logisitics of Getting Everything Done, one item of which included going grocery shopping. At some point in the discussion, I suggested things might be eaiser if I went to the store with the baby while she was at work, which suggestion elicited laughter. That night, she called from work to tell me that she'd related this discussion to a co-worker, M., who'd also laughed and said "He'd spend too much money!"
Coming from my wife, such sentiment doesn't bother me; she knows me, after all, and knows how I think. But this random woman, whom I've never met, assumed, because I was a man that I'd spend too much money, and this sexist stereotype bothered me for a while, but then it got me to thinking about something that's been on my mind a lot since I've taken over more housework and and mostly a full-time dad.
I have had to learn, as an adult, how to run a household, and I daresay that though I'm not horrible at it anymore, I'm not very good at it yet either. This is not due to any deficiency on parents' part; my stepmother taught me how to cook, clean, sew, and shop. But it might be due to my parents' circumstances: because in large part, even though my father posseses all those skills, and participated in domestic work, for the most part, it was may stepmother who did the lion's share of the domestic work. For the most part, the economic arrangement of my childhood home was the "traditional" one: my father spent most of his working time away from home (more out of necessity than desire) and my stepmother spent most of hers in the home. Both of my parents worked; both did domestic work, but the division of labor was such that my father did most of the out-of-the-home work, and my stepmother most of the at-home work. As a boy, I looked to my father as a model of manliness and his situation, that of an artist trying to juggle a career (out of necessity) and the pursuit of his art (out of passion) was mirrored in society at large, so that even when I was a boy, I took it for granted that my concerns ought to be about non-domestic work, be it in service of a career or of my passions.
I have, of course, tried to eliminate some of the artificial divisons between the two, mostly because of my father's example, but despite my stepmother's excellent tutelage in matters domestic, I lacked something she had, something that was not taught to me, or rather, that I was taught I didn't need.
That something is the same something that allows my wife and her coworker M. to know how to do the grocery shopping without spending too much money, and it is the lack of that something which makes the sexist stereotype that most men won't know how to do that a reasonable stereotype to hold. My wife knows, without being told, when clothes, floors, windows, baseboards, and furniture ought to be cleaned. She knows at all times what food we have in the house, and what food we need to buy. She knows the price of gas on a given day, and knows where the cheapest gas is most likely to be found. She knew, though she was a first-time parent like me, how to hold, feed, burp and otherwise care for our infant son. She knows which clothes ought to be washed wiht which, and at what temperature, and with what soap.
Most importantly, though, she does not remember explicitly being taught any of this knowledge; it is so much a part of her consciousness that when we first began to make our home together, she was often exasperated at how obtuse I appeared to be about what, to her, seemed obvious. I, on the other hand, remember being taught how to do all of these things, and know not where the information went.
A good example: when I was a child, my stepmother decided to educate my sisters and I on how to budget for and do the grocery shopping. She apportioned each of us money every week and took us to the grocery store, and let us buy whatever we wanted, within certain limits (i.e., we weren't allowed to buy junk food) with that money, but that food had to last us the entire week, and had to cover all our meals (with the exception of dinner on certain evenings). I remember getting fairly shrewd with my money; figuring out that I could save a lot by eating mac and cheese for every lunch, and by sharing milk with one of my sisters (which allowed us both to save the difference between a half-gallon and half a gallon).
Seventeen years later, my wife asks me to get some tomatoes. I know we're out, so I find the organic tomatoes, find that the Romas, which are usually cheapest, are in bad condition, very soft and dark, and so I pick enough of the vine-ripened organics to last until the next week's shopping expedition. This, it turns out, was a bad idea; at home, my wife loks over the recipt and wonders why I spent six dollars on tomatoes.
"We needed them," I say.
"But not six dollars' worth!"
it is not, as my wife initially suggests, that I wasn't thinking about my purchase at all, but that my thought process is quite different than hers. It is, to be specific, uncomplicated. We need something; we buy enough to last a week. If it can be helped, I like to buy organic, locally, produced products. I boycott certain corporations outright (like ones owned by Phillip Morris/Altria). In short, I buy with my stomach and my heart.
My wife starts trying to explain to me how she decides what and how many of it to buy, and my head starts spinning. But she explains herself well, and when she's done I realize that she's got a great system; I just didn't know what it was. I've made a flow chart of her thought process (I should point out that my wife takes it for granted that we're boycotting certian brands, so it doesn't appear as an option on the chart. ):

So what happened? Why, even though my stepmother worked to teach me how to shop, did I lack this fairly basic and undifficult knowledge as an adult? My guess is that even though such things were taught to me, I was also, taught society's old lesson, that the work which is the most necessary to life and happiness is least "valuable". We pay teachers and garbage collectors and farmers next to nothing to do stuff we need; we pay CEOs of cigarette companies millions to play golf, and delegate to other people the making of carcinogens. We pay parents nothing, and value parenting so little that we find it acceptable that most middle-class families need two incomes to pay the bills. The whole of society (and until recently, this included feminists too) has disdained domestic work as less important than paper-pushing and bean-counting.
I've known all this in my head for some time, and have desired to pull away from our society's largely dishonest view of work to a more honest one. Thus, I've dived in to the domestic life as best I can, and am trying to ditch a lot of buried, unhealthy notions. At least as regards housework and parenting, society has privileged men, allowing them to forego responsibility in those areas in favor of work it considers more important, but which is actually less important. Aside from the obvious self-destructiveness of such a system in the long term, it actually harms individual men phsycholgically and spiritually all while lying to them with the notion that they're getting some kind of inner fulfillment by helping some rich fellow somewhere make another million dollars. This causes depression and self-hatred and anger and apathy and infidelity, among other things. It is probably a large influence on the high divorce rate in our country.
And so, I'm learning, mostly by asking what, to my wife are probably really annoying questions, how to tend to life's really important stuff, and how to see life and all this important stuff in a new, healthier way. It's my hope that Colum will benefit from my efforts, and maybe when he's a dad somewhere down the line, he won't have to have a paradigm shift just to take care of his kids.

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This weblog 2004 John Paul Davis, Colum Laurence Davis. All rights reserved.