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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

letters are still coming

It's 56 emails so far and counting on the Happy Tree Friends story. I got one this morning from a mom in Hungary!
As before, the majority are saying things like "you are not alone," which I appreciate a lot, but the dominant tone of the critics (by far mostly men for some reason -- idealists, perhaps?) is why in the world would I let my six-year-old surf the Internet unsupervised.
Well. I don't want to sound too defensive, but in this particular case, since there seems to be such interest, my 9-year-old was looking on a math-quiz website recommended by his fourth-grade teacher, while his brother watched over his shoulder. As is the very pragmatic reality of even the most blessed moms, we who get to stay home after school with their kids, I got interrupted -- I truly forget if it was a phone call, something burning on the stove, someone knocking on the door, or what. Gentlemen (except for at this point one mom and one grandmom), this is reality. And when I came back, there those nasty creatures were.
But this is in fact not the point. The point, as I mentioned in the piece, is that the Internet is unavoidable and getting moreso. Pretty soon shows like Happy Tree Friends will be available on cellphones. And too many summer camps (like the one where my older son caught the Happy Tree virus) and after-school programs have unsupervised Internet use. Furthermore, too many harrassed moms will, with much justification, grab any excuse to keep their kids out of their hair for five minutes or more while they do such self-indulgent things like take a shower or cook dinner. The question isn't my personal style of parenting. It's how we all share responsibility for our culture.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

quick p.s.

If anyone is sufficiently moved by the Happy Tree Friends site to want to complain to the government, I spoke to a lovely woman at the FTC who said she's willing to record complaints. Her name is Mary Engel, at the bureau of consumer protection, at 202-326-3161. There's not much she can do but perhaps if enough people complain it might change that....


It's still early Sunday morning and so far I've gotten about 35 emails about my op-ed in the Washington Post on the vile Internet cartoon, "Happy Tree Friends."
They're running about 2-1 in favor of the column. The people who like it are calling me courageous and thanking me and wanting to sign up for a campaign against media violence and specifically this site. Those that oppose it are mostly making ad hominum attacks on my parenting style, charging me with neglect for letting my kids at any time watch the Internet unsupervised.
Wow. While I'm glad I've hit a nerve, I guess some of the critics didn't read the part where I said one of my sons discovered this site at summer camp. I'm wondering if they think I shouldn't ever have anyone else care for my children. Perhaps I should home-school them. I feel guilty -- not!
But I'm concerned these readers missed a larger point. I'm a very, very blessed mommy, with a part-time job of my choosing and time to chase my kids around the house and supervise, to a huge extent, their media experience and everything else. But I'm in a very small minority here. My worry is mostly for the majority of kids growing up today who don't have this luxury....
I also got some criticism for not advocating censorship of the Internet. Here, I'm wondering just how this would take place, and certainly welcome ideas. Should the U.S. government file suit against people who design content that one reader called "cultural terrorism"? Who would set the standards, and how, on the Internet, could governments control this? It's not something I researched in the story as I think the Internet on the whole has been a huge boon to society and am not comfortable with the idea of censorship. But I'm sure curious what these advocates of controls might suggest.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


My son's swimmming coach and de facto Zen guru Marc Detraz tells him to "slow down to speed up" -- i.e. he's got to get more deliberate about his strokes if he wants to win any races.
I keep thinking of the mantra as I try to give myself sufficient time to heal before truly jumping back into things. After all, my husband is still home, helping with the kids, and work deadlines are mostly of my own choosing these days...but yesterday I found myself doing final edits on a very rushed story in the car while my spouse was driving us to swim practice, with both kids screaming and biting each other in the back. (Due to my cellphone conversation, we couldn't do our usual trick which is to put on a CD book on tape to hypnotize them.) I had to turn around in the midst of the conversation with the very patient editor (she has three kids of her own) and yell: "There Will Be Consequences!!!"
Ironically the story I was editing was about how mothers, more than most, summon compassion in our daily lives. You can read it in the LA Times op-ed section Sunday. Because I'm on a manic streak -- fueled probably by pure relief and joy at this point, since I've been off the post-op drugs for more than a week -- I also have an op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, on a vile Internet cartoon called Happy Tree Friends.

Monday, October 17, 2005

on the other hand

Sometimes -- often, actually -- daddy-brains can teach mommy brains a thing or two.

Case in point: before I left for the hospital, I stuffed a huge manila envelope full of things for my husband to take care of. Swim practice schedules, school conferences, lunch menu ideas, you name it. One of the items was a letter my 7-year-old got from a fellow first-grader about a "sticker club." You've probably gotten one of these: a plea to send a pack of stickers to the first name on the list, and letters to six other names. And the notation: "If you can't do this, please call and let us know, as it would be unfair to all the other little munchkins who are relying on you..." (or words to that same guilt-rendering effect!)

Looking back, of course it was compulsive of me even to have read the letter in the days before I was leaving for brain surgery, and even more so to expect my husband to give it a second thought as he was wrestling with our hyper-intense kids. (He just laughed and "misplaced" it.) Ok, and maybe it was also compulsive of me to call today with apologies for being late and flaking out. The funny thing was that when I called the mom who'd sent me the letter, she burst out laughing and said that if we had complied, we would have been the only ones. "Bless your heart," she said. "All the other moms just called and said, Sorry! No time!"

So maybe I'm saying daddy-brains have a thing or two to teach ME in particular. I know I'm more compulsive than most. Just thought this was a worthwhile counterpoint to the used-brains joke....

Sunday, October 16, 2005

on the lighter side -- finally!!

An Internet joke I just got sent---

In the hospital the relatives gathered in the waiting room, where their
family member lay gravely ill.
Finally the doctor came in looking tired and somber.
"I'm afraid I'm the bearer of bad news," he said as he suyveyed the
worried faces. "The only hope left for your loved one at this time is a
brain transplant. It's an experimental procedure, very risky -- but it is
the only hope. Insurance will cover the procedure, but you will have to
pay for the brain yourselves."
The family members sat silent as they absorbed the news.
Finally someone asked, "Well, how much does a brain
The doctor quickly responded, "$5,000 for a male brain, and $200 for a
female brain."
The moment turned awkward.
A few men in the room actually smirked.
Then one blurted out the question on everyone's mind: "Why does the male brain cost so much more?"
The doctor explained: "It's just standard pricing procedure.
We have to mark down the price of the female brains, because they've
actually been used."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Days of Awe

I didn't plan it this way, but I find myself recovering from brain surgery during the days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the 10 days when even if you haven't been through so momentous an experience, you're supposed to reflect on the past year, the year ahead, and whether in general you are living in a meaningful way. I am staying with my parents, aged 78 and 81, with whom I have always been close, though at times at war, and we are sharing a deeper meeting of minds than I'd ever expected. Last night, for instance, I was playing backgammon with my dad and we both seemed simultaneously to forget what color markers we controlled. "I think we have some of the same issues," I said. "But you have an excuse," he said. This could be an exaggeration. My folks are in blessedly good shape, including mentally, and so am I -- the operation went better than I'd ever expected; I have a clean bill of health and am recovering very quickly. Yet together with them, I've been spending an unusual amount of time thinking about the ephemerality of life, of independence and control. In a strange way, it's liberating -- and it ties back to Mommy Brain ideas for me powerfully in that being a mother was my first taste since childhood of being extraordinarily dependent on others and finding that that is often quite okay. I won't be blogging often over this next week as I'm trying to quickly recover to get back to my spouse and kids, but just felt a huge need to express my enormous gratitude for the many people in my life who have come through for me during this time, in ways that have absolutely dazzled me, and to Dr. Michael McDermott, a surgical star.