Week In Review: This One Time At Bird Camp

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This week, bottles of breast milk were warmed and served to a mostly appreciative customer. Episodes of Oprah and Curb Your Enthusiasm were watched. So was the State of the Union address. A pot luck dinner reunited Missoula-area alumni of last summer’s Bird Camp.

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A potentially momentous discussion began.

More will be revealed.

The Week’s Tweets (2010-01-31)

  • Man, Oprah is being a lot harder on Jay Leno than on Sarah Palin. #
  • 12 tips to help you read more. Most helpful: if you're not enjoying a book, stop reading it! http://bit.ly/cMsWje #
  • Can anyone recommend some reading that might quickly give some sense of what it's like to know/care for someone in a coma? #
  • What "family values" really look like: paid paternity leave in the UK. http://bit.ly/8ZZHhz #
  • OK, ACORN pimp guy may not have been "wiretapping" after all. http://bit.ly/bHfTI4 #
  • Definitely can't imagine buying an iPad. #iPad #
  • Flattered that Obama took the time to email me right after the State of the Union address. He must have been tired! #
  • Why Dems are so often frustrated in their policy goals, from Nate Silver: "Power is as power resists." http://bit.ly/cLcKr1 #
  • Loving my @FlipVideoBrand camera but hating their support. 2 open tickets, 2 weeks with no response. #
  • Guy who busted ACORN arrested for felony wiretapping of a Democratic senator. http://bit.ly/choNBB #
  • Wait, I thought Lost was supposed to be good. #
  • If Coen's attention span doesn't get longer soon, I may have to finish Horton Hears A Who on my own sometime. #
  • Stop using "lead" as the past tense of "lead"; not only is it wrong, it's confusing. "Led," people. "Led." #
  • Great from @johncr8on: “You can count on Americans to do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all other options.” http://bit.ly/8lQsXq #
  • If a corporation can be a person, a dolphin definitely can. http://bit.ly/7aMefC #
  • What do you mean, television can't turn my baby into a genius? My latest Went West column: http://bit.ly/4vsCXP #

Hofstadter Quote of the Day

As mentioned yesterday, I’ve been reading Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

Part of what I’m enjoying about Hofstadter is the way he does not seem to be out to get anyone or any party, but is simply describing and thinking about the way people behave. In this, there is something reminiscent of Joan Didion’s political writing.

Here’s what he means by “paranoid style” (hint: he’s not actually diagnosing anyone as paranoid).

“I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. …

He gives an example from 1963 that sounds like it could be from last week:

“Shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, a great deal of publicity was given to a bill … to tighten federal controls over the sale of firearms through the mail …. Now there are arguments against the … bill which, however unpersuasive one may find them, have the color of conventional political reasoning. But one [person] opposed it with what might be considered representative paranoid arguments, insisting that it was “a further attempt by a subversive power to make us part of one world socialistic government” and it threatened to “create chaos” that would help “our enemies” sieze power.”

I like the reminder that reasonable people can disagree about such a bill, but unreasonable people will also make themselves heard, so it’s important not to lump the former in with the latter. In any political disagreement, there are those who-thought they hold a contrary viewpoint to yours about some specific issue-are still in touch with the reality of the situation, and so may be counted on to be reasonable in the discussion and might be willing to compromise on a solution.

The “paranoid”-as Hofstadter defines them-might not be.

“Of course, the term “paranoid style” is pejorative, and it is meant to be; the paranoid style has a greater affinity for bad causes than for good. But nothing entirely prevents a sound program or a sound issue from being advocated in the paranoid style, and it is admittedly impossible to settle the merits of an argument because we think we hear in its presentation the characteristic paranoid accents. Style has to do with the way in which ideas are believed and advocated rather than with the truth or falsity of their content.” [my emphasis]

Keeping this in mind, I’m going to do my best to remember that what counts is the content of ideas, not what “team” they come from.

The Paranoid Style

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to reading Richard Hofstadter.

Hofstadter was a historian who wrote a book called The Paranoid Style in American Politics, which takes its title from an essay that began its life as a lecture delivered at Oxford University in 1963.

Sean Wilentz, another historian and writer who has penned the introduction to a recent reissue of Hofstadter’s book, describes the essay, and the book that contains it, as “a study of political cranks and zealots,” which seems to sum it up nicely.

One of the thrills of reading great fiction from ages past is to experience the pleasure of knowing that other human beings have felt the same way you do about life, love, and all the rest of it, even in entirely different times and settings. Though Hofstadter’s book is nonfiction, I’m experiencing something similar as I read his careful, measured observations. They are observations of specific times, specific events, but his reflections and analysis feel timeless.

It’s reassuring and illuminating to learn, for example, that the phenomenon of radicals pretending to be conservatives (i.e., people who want to change much more than they want to preserve about the nature of this country) has been a fairly constant one throughout American history. (Having typed that sentence, I pause to wonder what it is about that fact that I find reassuring; I suppose it’s the implication that our politics are no weirder today than in the past, and therefore that today’s weirdness is not necessarily a sign of the impending collapse of the American experiment. Well, here’s hoping, anyway.)

The title essay, published in the early 1960s, treats with what Hofstadter saw as the “pseudo-conservative revolt” that manifested in such forms as McCarthyism, the John Birch Society (ascendant again, in case you hadn’t heard), the nullificatory response of so many people to Supreme Court decisions that began in the modern era with certain rulings on civil rights, and so forth. But his more general descriptions of “the paranoid style” (which, to be fair, exists on the right and the left) feel as if they were written this morning; this seems a truly useful book for anyone interested in the current shape of American politics.

I’m not very far in to the book yet, but this is from Hofstadter’s introduction, in the course of an explanation of why-at the time he was writing-so many observers of American politics were starting to move away from “an older conception of politics” as primarily concerned with the rationalistic question “who gets what, when, how?”:

“The findings of public-opinion polls have made us far less confident than we used to be that the public responds to the issues as they are debated, and more aware that it reacts to them chiefly when they become the object of striking symbolic acts or memorable statements, or are taken up by public figures who themselves have a symbolic appeal. …

People respond, in short, to the great drama of the public scene. But this drama, as it is set before them and as they perceive it, is not identical with questions involving material interests and the possession of power. Even those who exercise power are not immune to the content of the drama. In any case, they are forced to deal, as an element in their calculations, with the emotional life of the masses, which is not something that they can altogether create or manipulate, but something that they must cope with. The political contest itself is deeply affected by the way in which it is perceived and felt.”

Sound familiar?

I think I’m going to enjoy this.

Happiness Project: “Let It Go”

For context, click here. And the rest of my “Happiness Project” posts are available here.

Rubin’s second personal commandment is “Let it go.” In other words:

“One of my resolutions is “Remember how little most things matter in the long run.” Also, I’m trying to be less defensive when I make mistakes.

I hate to be wrong, I hate to screw up, I hate to forget to do something ““ and it really bothers me when I do. I want to bore everyone with my endless explanations, justifications, and excuses.”

My first reaction to this commandment is that this is not really a problem I have, but I think this had more to do with the nature of the example she gives (screwing up something about the invitations to her child’s birthday party).

But as I think about it a little more, I think that one area in which I need to learn to “let it go” is in my online writing, and in discussions about politics and social policy.

To start with the online writing: in addition to this blog, I write the Missoula Notebook for New West and Went West for the Washington Times Communities.

And sometimes I LOSE MY MIND when someone dares to leave a comment disagreeing with me. I take it so personally sometimes that it makes me wonder if maybe I should stop writing on the internet. Just like with comments left anywhere on the internet, mine are almost never worth reading, but read them I do. Sometimes I respond with the first thing that comes into my head, which is invariably a mistake, and sometimes I spend hours or even days crafting a devastating response to something that some aggressive, anonymous troll tossed off in seconds and never gave a second thought to. (Even worse is when the critical commenter actually knows what he or she is talking about. I HATE THAT!)

I’ve taken steps to minimize my contact with comments on my New West columns, partly by hardly ever writing any columns, but mainly by setting up a filter in Gmail so that my comment notifications don’t show up in my inbox. And I’m extremely grateful that the Washington Times Communities doesn’t even offer this “service,” so I have to go actually check for comments. (Well, some well-meaning tech guy set me up an RSS feed, but I don’t open my NetNewsWire reader very often, so I’m relatively safe.)

This delaying tactic is a good first step. I find that if I don’t find out about a comment seconds after it arrives, my reaction tends to be more measured.

But it doesn’t get at the root of the problem, which is that I need to take things less personally.

Of course, it would help if I tried not to write in the mode of “internet instant expert.” As I’ve touched on elsewhere, something happens to me when I am writing some of these columns: I slide into the voice and style of writers I enjoy, who devastate their opponents with erudition, rhetoric, and expertise. And, in my case, this means that I tend to sound more certain than I really am about some of this stuff.

Having had some experience now of what goes into producing columns on a regular basis, I suspect that this may in fact also describe some of the very writers I am imitating, but since I don’t know that for a fact, I’ll reserve judgment and give them the benefit of the doubt.

In fact, perhaps “benefit of the doubt” needs to be a component of my version of Rubin’s “Let it go” commandment, which could then be worded something like “don’t ascribe to malice what can be explained by [insert more innocent explanation here].” Or maybe, “don’t assume malice.” Or maybe I’ll just stick with, “Give the benefit of the doubt.”

I need to do this in more than just my online writing. Last night, during Obama’s speech, the camera paused on Susan Collins, the Senator from Maine who “negotiated” with the Democrats for so long on health care, got basically every concession she asked for, and then withdrew her support anyway because the bill was “moving too fast.” In other words, it is fair to say that it is partly a result of her actions that this bill wasn’t passed a long time ago.

Anyway, when the camera paused on her, I identified her for Amy and used an unkind word as I did so.

After the speech, I apologized to Amy and pledged to start working on biting my tongue in such situations, because I don’t want my son to ever hear me accord my fellow citizens’ elected representatives any less respect than at least their office deserves. I’ll always feel free to call them on inconsistencies, contradictions, hypocrisy, and the like, but in my house we’re not going to stand for contemptuousness, and we are going to bend over backwards to think of possible explanations that don’t assume malice.[1]

I think that it is this kind of attitude that is part of what I most admire in Obama himself. As satisfying as it would have been-as deserved as it would have been-to see him devote most of his speech to railing at the Republicans for their refusal to assist in running the country over the last year, it would have achieved absolutely nothing productive.

I admire Obama for reminding us of the more positive aspects of the old saying “politics is the art of the possible.” Often this is a cynical statement, or at least is used to excuse inaction. But in Obama I think we can see an example of what it looks like when someone keeps his eye firmly on what is possible (what professional negotiators call the “zone of possible agreement,” through negotiation, concession, conversation, and teamwork.

Through acting like an adult.

Which I guess is what I’m really after.

1. And we’re going to eat our vegetables, too!

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Signs of the Times: Unemployed, Uninsurable—and Loving It!

One of the great things about being a writer-aside from having the right to go anywhere, talk to anyone, and ask anything you want (really; I can show you my permit)-is that even when bad things happen to you, it’s all just grist for the mill.

And really, we writers kind of want bad things to happen to us. There are very few good books in which nothing bad happens. Some of us want bad things to happen so badly that we go kind of crazy, forget what principles we may once have had, and actually root for wars to break out, perhaps so that we can write with the moral clarity and fierce urgency of our hero, George Orwell.

Along these same lines, it has always just killed me that my family wasn’t severely dysfunctional in some way, or that my parents were so good at hiding how little money we had when I was growing up, or that I couldn’t at least have been born a member of some oppressed minority. Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad! What did you think I was going to be able to write about, anyway?

So while my parent/husband side is dreading the end of March, the writer in me is looking forward to it ecstatically, for that is when I will get to experience a sort of double-whammy of the current zeitgeist.

Amy’s current job ends then, and-if she doesn’t find another one that offers benefits-so will her health insurance, most likely. She’s been denied in the past (for a “preexisting condition”: seasonal allergies!), and we didn’t know back then that you never let a health-insurance company turn you down without a fight. Now, if she has to apply for individual coverage, she’ll have to answer in the affirmative to the question about whether she’s ever been denied.

I don’t know for sure that this will prevent her from obtaining coverage, but my point is that there’s an up side, either way. Either she gets coverage and our family has some defense against bankruptcy, or she doesn’t, and I become qualified to write about the gnawing insecurity that afflicts the 30 million or so people who aren’t insured in this country.

And if she gets sick and we have to declare bankruptcy, even better! I’ll be able to write my own Down and Out in Paris and London Missoula! (So, you know, no offense taken if you’re one of the ones who’s been holding out for the even better bill we’re sure to get now. I know you were just offended by the lack of perfection in the current one, and either way you can see it’s going to work out great for me!)

Of course, forget finding a job with benefits. She’ll be lucky to find a job at all, at least before we are defaulting on our mortgage, anyway. October brought news from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that “the average job search now takes over six months, the longest average since the government started tracking unemployment in 1948.”

So we’ll have to count ourselves “lucky” if she finds work at the video store, and even then we’ll have to figure out a way for her to fit that work in, and for me to fit my work in, and somehow also take care of Coen all in the same day.

What’s that you say? Day care? Sure, maybe I’ll also buy a gold-plated hovercraft after I print some more money. Then there’s the near-physical aversion I have to the thought of passing off a five-month-old to strangers. It’s funny, I grew up understanding that one of the central battles of modern times was the fight to free women from having to stay home with the children, and now we’d both give anything for Amy to be able to do just that.

I know, I know-the key part is all in whether or not she “has to,” but it’s still a shift in thinking that is taking some getting used to. Still, did we really “win” this fight? You can look at it like “women are free to work outside the home,” but is that a victory when there aren’t very many who can afford not to? Really, considering that real wages in this country are now lower than they were in 1964 (and most expenses, in real terms, are much higher), it sometimes seems more as if what we “won” was the need for both parents to work, and children to suffer, in order to earn what one person used to be able to bring home.

But you won’t hear any complaints from me. What could be better for a writer than to live in a time of crumbling empire, crashing economies, and political unrest? Hey, here’s hoping martial law gets declared sometime soon, too!

Shocked SHOCKED To Learn TV Won’t Make My Baby A Genius

My latest Went West column looks at the recent controversy over Baby Einstein videos, which, you may be surprised to learn, were never designed to be “educational.” According to the company, anyway.

The company chooses a strange angle from which to defend itself. Responding to a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under two watch no television at all, the company argues that this advice does not “reflect the reality of today’s parents, families and households.”

Why not?

Because, Baby Einstein says, “a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 68 percent of all babies under two years old watch screen media on any given day.”

The company’s clear implication is that, if all of this television-watching is happening anyway, it might as well be Baby Einstein videos that the kids are watching. In the strangely qualified words of one of the company’s co-founders, “a child is better off listening to Beethoven while watching images of a puppet than seeing any reality show that I can think of.”

The rest is here.

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Happiness Project: Career Implications of “Being [Yourself]”

Yesterday, I finally got going on my discussion of Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin’s personal commandments. I was talking about her first one, “Be Gretchen” (i.e., “be yourself,” i.e., in order to have fun, you have to figure out what you enjoy which isn’t as easy as it sounds).

When I left off, I was reflecting on the implications of this idea for recreational activities, but Rubin isn’t just talking about hobbies and diversions. There is also the question of what makes you tick, what sort of work you should do and that sort of thing. As she writes, “it doesn’t matter what I wish I were like”:

“Once I realized this, I saw that this problem is quite more widespread. A person wants to teach high school, but wishes he wanted to be a banker. Or vice versa. A person has a service heart but doesn’t want to put it to use. Someone wants to be a stay-at-home mother but wishes she wanted to work; another person wants to work but wishes she wanted to be a stay-at-home mother. And it’s possible — in fact quite easy — to construct a life quite unrelated to our nature.”

This thought strikes me where I live. I know I’m supposed to love being a freelance writer for the flexibility and freedom it gives me, and I do, but there is also a part of me that wants to be part of teams (and wants to work on more important issues than what I write about). Rubin’s concept of a “service heart” feels familiar.

When I was in high school, I wanted to be a cop, and the main activities I enjoyed during my first attempt at college had nothing to do with the classes: safe-walk escort, safe-ride driver, security dispatcher, RA, first responder for the campus’s emergency medical service. I loved being part of the infrastructure of the campus and helping to make the place run. More specifically, I took pride in being someone who looked out for others, who was “on duty” while other people were getting drunk and having fun. I liked being on the fringes, watching for trouble.

Later, when I was in the Coast Guard, my expression of this urge reached its zenith on overnight watches. There I was, doing work during every minute of the day that qualified as being part of the infrastructure of the country and helping to “make the place run,” but even then-even on a ship full of people with similar urges-I most enjoyed being awake while everyone else was asleep, making sure they were safe, making sure the ship kept going where it needed to go.

At the “Kiddo Care” course (first aid, CPR, etc.) on Saturday, I really wanted to talk to the teacher, who works as a paramedic, about her job. I still think that could be a line of work I would enjoy-at least as much as I enjoy helping sell server computers, anyway.

But could I do it as a job? I’ve already spent a good deal of time in a hierarchical protective-services-type job, and I know that kind of work requires more than a strong stomach and the technical skills to render aid in emergencies. It also requires getting along in an environment that can attract petty tyrants who care a lot about unimportant rules that have little to do with why you signed up.

While I’m not always what I would call “inspired” by the nature of some of the work I’ve been doing lately, I love how little it gets in the way of enjoying my family. It feels great to be really present with Amy and Coen. On the other hand, I’ve always been put off by the prospect of people who, upon popping out a little one, announce something like “it’s all for my kids now.” It seems obvious-default-that it’s “all for your kids.” The question is what you are doing for them, and giving up on dreams and the things that really excite and motivate you because now it’s “too late” doesn’t seem like much of a gift to give them or behavior to model.

There’s work and then there’s work, of course. Another part of me is really interested in being a novelist. Of all my dreams, this feels like the most important one not to give up on. I don’t want to be mumbling shamefacedly to my son about how I once wanted to be a writer, but I never got around to it. (I am working on something now, but it’s slow going.) I can see a scenario in which my job exists simply to make a living (hoping to make a living as a novelist is almost as unrealistic as hoping to obtain a tenure-track position as a humanities professor), but I’ll find satisfaction in working on my own creative writing in my off time.

Food for thought.

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Happiness Project Commandment One: “Be [Yourself]”

As mentioned here and here, I’ve been exploring a blog called The Happiness Project.

Gretchen Rubin, author of that blog and a book by the same name, spent a year considering, essentially, how she wanted to live. She phrased her quest in terms of “how to be happy,” but while “happy” is a word I’m suspicious of (in other countries, people often don’t know what Americans mean with their constant talk of whether or not they are “happy”), her project doesn’t seem to me to be as silly as it sounds. (I keep saying that; perhaps I protest too much?)

Rubin eventually came up with twelve personal “commandments.” Today I wanted to jot some thoughts on the first of these. It’s called “Be Gretchen,” but what Rubin is really getting at is “be yourself.” What she means is that, in order to do more of what you enjoy, you need to figure out what you enjoy: “just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for you, and vice versa.”

I ran into this as I hit my thirties and discovered, for example, that I didn’t like spending as much time in bars or staying up as late as I once did. Ever notice the slightly ashamed or embarrassed tone that creeps into people’s voices (maybe even yours) if they are forced to admit that they are usually in bed by ten p.m.? “Are we boring?” Amy sometimes asks me, when we are confronted with the fact of how little we “go out.”

By commonly accepted societal standards, yes, we are. But it’s important to step back and realize that there is no objective definition of what is fun. If it’s not fun for you, well, it’s not fun-no need to feel guilty about it. And it’s probably the case that you’re not alone when the standard “fun” things leave you cold. We live in a consumerist, youth-worshiping culture, so it stands to reason that (1) fun is a marketing tool to get you to buy things, and (2) there is an automatic but by no means warranted assumption that the most fun is to be had doing the things that young people do. Here’s what Rubin has to say about some of her own realizations about what she finds fun:

“It’s a Secret of Adulthood: just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for you, and vice versa. Wine-tasting, skiing, baking cookies, reading mysteries — I personally would NOT enjoy any of these “fun” activities. They’re fun for some people; not for me. Don’t try to be self-improving, and don’t plan a “fun” event based on what other people would enjoy. Make time for something that’s fun for YOU.”

Of course, deciding this stuff isn’t easy; there’s a price to be paid. Rubin says it made her sad to acknowledge that these things aren’t fun for her.

“The world offers so much!–and I am too small to appreciate it. The joke in law school was: “The curse of Yale Law School is to try to die with your options open.” Which means — at some point, you have to pursue one option, which means foreclosing other options, and to try to avoid that is crazy. Similarly, to be Gretchen means to let go of all the things that I am not — to acknowledge what I don’t encompass.”

I can identify: to be Sutton, I have to acknowledge not enjoying things such as going to art museums, hiking, loving recorded (as opposed to live) music, and board games. I’ll do all of those things with you, if you want, and I won’t hate doing them (if the company is right, far from it). But if I were going to plan out an ideal day just for myself, it probably shouldn’t include any of those things.

It seems pertinent to mention that, having typed out that list, I immediately want to qualify it and remove items. It’s like I’m afraid of offending that portion of the world that does love these things. But my acknowledging I don’t like these things is nothing against the people who do. I’m just trying to figure out what I enjoy, and an important first step, it makes sense to me, is figuring out what I don’t.

It’s obvious that neither step will be easy or fast, however.

Tomorrow: some thoughts on what the commandment “be [yourself]” means about choosing jobs. (To the extent any of us get to do that, especially now.)

Week in Review: Tantrums Increasing Nationally, Decreasing Locally

The week began with the first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in American history with a black man as president. I didn’t do much to celebrate other than watch a few of the reverend’s speeches on Youtube, including this clip, one of the most stirring expressions of defiant courage ever captured on tape.

We should all be so brave, but we aren’t, as became unmistakably clear this week in the wake of Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special election. The wisdom of my “add-on resolution” to-among other things-try to stop thinking of politics as a team sport was borne out by the pathetic Democratic response to this development. It was clear almost immediately that not only had no Democrat in a position of leadership considered what to do if Coakley lost, but also that the rest of them actually seem to think that there is something inherently good about their remaining in office, even if they are never able to achieve anything important. (We’ll leave aside, for the moment, the obvious lunacy in their apparent belief that, first, voting almost unanimously to approve a health-insurance reform bill, and then letting it die, will somehow help them this fall.)

It’s not that I’m switching teams, because I see no signs that the Republican Party is interested in the effective functioning of government or in anything else save regaining power, whatever the cost for the nation. But the Democrats-or enough of them that the rest don’t matter-seem equally as intent on losing power, at least as long as some of them get to keep their jobs. What is it about national political office that attracts such mediocrities? I wonder if they know how many of us wouldn’t hesitate for a second to trade every last one of them for the passage of the Senate bill. As insufferable as I find the smug self-satisfaction of so many people who call themselves “Independents,” it is difficult imagining ever again doing anything with the words “I am a Democrat” except choking on them.

I suppose there is still a one or two percent chance that the House might still pass the Senate bill, so perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I’ll certainly be interested to see what Obama does with his timely access to a national, prime-time audience this Wednesday.

On the home front, I began to feel this week as if I were finally understanding Coen a little better. I’d been experiencing real trouble getting the boy to take a bottle during my daily afternoon-long sentence shift as a house-dad, while Amy works a half day. The problem, in case you’ve never considered it, is that with a four-month-old you never know why he’s fussing, and-as you try to respond-you have no good way to do what scientists call controlling for variables. In other words, when he finally does take the bottle, you don’t know whether the temperature, position, timing, or some other unknown factor was finally right, or if he is finally hungry but wasn’t before, or, really, anything else except that you have experienced defeat at the hands of someone who still poops in his pants and doesn’t even have a Facebook account yet.

What happened this week sounds simple but borders on an epiphany for me: I realized that Coen is hungry less often and sleepy more often than I had previously been in the habit of thinking. Sure, when offered the bottle, he’ll try a few sips, but-as in the case of his father-the mere fact that he is eating doesn’t tell you the first thing about whether he’s hungry or not. The whole experience is a good reminder that we see what we expect to see-the proportion of hungry to sleepy has essentially reversed itself from what I got used to early on-but I expect I probably won’t really learn from this experience, instead continuing to make similar mistakes in attempting to understand Coen for at least the next twenty years or so.

Speaking of Coen, we enrolled on his behalf in a so-called “Kiddo Care” course that was organized by a local parenting magazine called Mamalode. (In addition to offering a course in first aid and CPR aimed at parents of young children, Mamalode has the good sense to publish my writing; my essay “Mate Feeding” is currently scheduled to appear in their February issue, although I’m pretty sure the magazine’s content is only available on paper.)

We asked a colleague of Amy’s to babysit for us while we attended the Saturday morning class, but when she stopped by for “training” on Thursday, it quickly became clear that Coen is not really all that sittable right now. We decided to just take him along to the class (after asking the teacher), and it worked out pretty well. There was a twenty-minute interlude when I had to pop him in the stroller and go for a walk along scenic 39th Street (the course, taught by a paramedic, took place in the classroom of the city’s Fire Station Number Three at the bottom of Hillview Way), but overall he was very well-behaved, including when the instructor used him to demonstrate infant CPR.