This week's Chronicle of Higher Education has an article entitled "Singular Mistreatment," about the trials and tribulations of unmarried faculty in academe. It's such a hard life, you know, making an average of $66,000 for nine months of work. The article is filled with the usual complaints of single people: we pick up the slack for the married people, why can't I have health care for my cats since we give health care to children, etc.
One of the people interviewed is Benita Blessing, a history professor at Ohio University. She complains about the number of baby showers and engagement parties for people in her department:
"I received a very prestigious fellowship from the National Academy of Education, and I got a couple of words of congratulations in the hallway. But no one bothered to throw me a party."
My children are developing personalities. Caleb, for example, is a persuader. "Daddy, would you like to go to the ice cream place after dinner?"
"Well, after we eat, we could go to the ice cream place, you know, and I can get a ice cream with sprinkles on it."
"Maybe. You'll have to wait for the answer."
"Okay. After I eat all my beans, we can go."
Eli is more bull-headed. He's developing this remarkable sound, which is exactly the noise a teapot makes when its contents reach the boiling point. We're getting a full dose of it lately, along with the lying on the ground and the screaming when he doesn't get his way. Remarkably, there's only one thing that will get instant compliance.
"Okay baby," I tell Eli, "it's time to put away the basketball and take a bath."
He sprawls to the ground and begins to squeal. "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!"
"Tea's ready," says the wife. Sometimes she's not what they call, in common parlance, "helpful."
"Eli, get up," I say in my most serious voice.
"I said, get up!"
Eli adds foot stomping to his performance. "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!" Thwap thwap thwap.
"Alright. Go get the spanking spoon."
At this the boy pops up and gives me a half cheerful, half tearful "Okay." He toddles into the kitchen, where I hear a drawer open, and a little hand rummaging through it. Then around the corner he scurries, a wooden spoon in his hand. "Here go."
I take the spoon and tap him on the bottom a few times. "You must be obedient."
"Now say, 'I apologize.'"
"Okay, I forgive you. Now put away the spoon for Daddy." He takes the spoon and returns it. Then he comes back to the scene of the crime and stands looking up at me, feet planted, waiting.
"Eli, it's time to take a bath."
Pitch forward, commence wailing. It reminds me of that Bugs Bunny cartoon in which a sheep dog watches over a flock while a wolf devises various ill-conceived schemes to steal sheep. The sheep dog, of course, catches the wolf at every turn, and generally gives him a good pounding. What's funny is that they both behave like employees; they greet each other cordially as they punch a time clock to begin the day, they take lunch breaks, and so on.
I'm not sure whether I'm the crafty sheep dog or the stupid wolf, but I definitely see the parallel.
The good thing is, he'll grow out of it. I think. Sometimes I work with people who make me think otherwise. The difference is, I can't tell co-workers to go get the spanking spoon, because apparently there's some law against that.
I worry, though, that Eli will figure out that the command to fetch the spanking spoon can also be met with a tantrum. Fortunately, Caleb is always close by, and delighted to retrieve the spoon when it's not for him. He's helpful that way.
The call came as I laid hold of my intended purchase. "Honey, where are you?"
"The CVS Pharmacy. Why?"
"Well . . . can you pick up a box of [insert name of exceedingly personal female product here], please?"
Sigh. "Okay." I turned and there they were behind me, the entire array of goods designed to mitigate a curse that, let's be frank about it, wouldn't have happened if Eve -- the woman -- could have kept her chompers out of the one fruit God said not to touch.
The wife is fond of pointing out that Adam was standing right there the whole time. Like the woman would have listened. But perhaps Adam would have mustered an objection, had he known that in addition to getting kicked out of Paradise, he would be consigned to purchasing items with names almost as embarrassing as the informative pictures on their packaging.
As luck would have it, my checkout person was a teenage girl. It just doesn't get any better than this, unless you count the two other women standing behind the counter with nothing better to do than observe. You'd think I was buying nude pictures of Rosie O'Donnell, for crying out loud. They're chicks, after all. Have they never seen the product I'm buying? Is there some law that says a man can't pick up a box of freaking [personal female product] for his wife who really, really should have planned her weekly shopping a bit better?
There ought to be such a law. I love my wife, but not to the point of risking jail time, and that could have been my perfectly defensible cover story. But there are no laws against buying products you can't possibly use yourself, probably because the fruit cake industry would long ago have gone defunct otherwise. So there I stood, with a big ole box of humiliation in my hand.
"Do you have a CVS card?" the girl asked as she fumbled about with the package, looking for a price.
"No. And don't you dare price check that."
Transaction completed, I slinked out of the store and made my way home. Now, the interesting thing about the embarrassing personal product aisle is that its contents aren't always properly separated. A well-intentioned shopper might intend to pick up a box of [personal female product], for example, and accidentally purchase a bladder control product instead.
In front of witnesses. Which I did.
Exchange? I don't think so. Go back? Not on your life. I paid my dues. The car starts just as well for the wife as it does for me.
And don't think, once she's there, that I'm not going to call and ask her to pick up a can of jock itch spray. I believe you know me better than that.
Some who make their money by practicing medicine (and let's get the incentives clear at the beginning, shall we?) believe the use of ultrasound devices by people with insufficient medical degrees should be stopped. The specter of giddy expectant parents ogling a four-dimensional image of their bundle of joy in utero under the smiling guidance of a mere technician is more than the blue-bloods can bear. This is medical technology, after all. Would we want these proletarians doing their own brain surgery?
Next on the physician/FDA cartel watch-list: hot cocoa, wool pullovers, and the sun.
Underlying this debate is the fact that ultrasounds are an enormously effective abortion deterrent. Pro-life advocates across the U.S. have established clinics next door to abortion shops, where mothers considering abortion are offered counseling, adoption and welfare services, housing, and frequently, ultrasounds. Very rarely will a mother, once she has seen for herself that the "cluster of tissue" notion is a lie, choose to abort.
Pro-abortion groups are hoping that the medical profession and FDA win this battle, because it will drastically drive up the cost of offering ultrasounds. There is at least a hint of collusion, as is evidenced by the intonations of Lawrence Platt, former head of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. He warns against the "misuse of technology" and the dangers of employing it to "sway one's decision and impact someone's rights." I don't think he's referring to the rights of the unborn child.
The practice is also dangerous, Platt continues, because sometimes an ultrasound will reveal abnormalities in the child, and this can be traumatic for the parents. It's best, he says, that such a revelation take place with a physician at one's side.
Right, because you can't throw a stick at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association without hitting a compassionate doctor. Of course I don't really believe this is the case, but don't let my skepticism stop you from testing the hypothesis yourself.
This was a weekend of firsts in the Woodlief house. To begin, Eli began full-fledged potty training. I got home Friday to find him running about the house in nothing but a t-shirt and socks. There's something to keep in mind when you potty-train little boys: They will pee on your furniture, frequently with neither awareness nor remorse.
We like our furniture, so Eli spent a good deal of his weekend on the potty. We read Once Upon a Potty to him enough times that I have all the lines floating about in my head such that I'm liable to say something embarrassing at work today -- not that we didn't already know it by heart. The names change depending on whether you've got a boy or girl, but the plot is basically the same: kid wets his diaper, grandmother buys him a potty, and then, after much valiant effort, he drops a load in it. It's the Horatio Alger of poop stories.
Sometimes during potty training, because life goes on even as the sphincter refuses to cooperate, you just have to put a few books and toys around the kid and wait him out. Eli, being resourceful and impatient, is rarely satisfied for long with what's in reach. So every once in a while we heard the grating s-c-r-a-p-e of the plastic potty across the floor as he propelled himself like a two-legged crab toward some object that momentarily held his fancy. It's a bit disconcerting to leave your child sitting on the potty in one place, step out of the room for a moment, and return to find him sitting on his potty under the kitchen table.
Caleb's first was a serious haircut. I'm talking high and tight. That's because my first was to give the haircut. This is ordinarily the wife's duty, but she left Caleb and me alone on the back patio for too long while she dilly-dallied upstairs. Here was the boy, and there were the clippers, and one thing just led to another.
It's amazing -- you can be married to someone for thirteen years and still not have heard every sound they're capable of making. Caleb said he wanted a haircut like Daddy's, and so I gave him good customer service, and I think any divorce court judge would concur.
After the massacre, I told Caleb to strip down to his tighty-whiteys so I could hose him down. He went inside to put down his clothes, and in the interim the wife gave my own coif a little touch-up (not without unusual vigor, I might add). Suddenly out streaked Caleb, buck naked. He frolicked as God must have intended before Adam decided that nudity is a sin, especially for those with a typical American diet.
The thing about Caleb is that whenever he gets an outdoor nudity opportunity, he likes to pee on something. (And really, guys, who among us doesn't?) So he marked the fence as part of his territory. Eli found this immensely fascinating, and I'm afraid that he drew the wrong lesson from it, and so I'm very glad that today is a working day for me.
People sometimes ask: does your wife work? As if what she does at home is something less than work. Use that sloppy language around her today, as she rushes about the house with a roll of paper towels in one hand, and a spray-bottle of carpet cleaner in the other, and you're liable to get a punch in the stomach. No matter how difficult we who work outside the home may find our co-workers, odds are we needn't worry about them taking a whiz on our bookshelf. And in the unusual event that they do, there are legal remedies.
But odds are as well that our co-workers aren't nearly as loveable as my wife's. So it's a trade-off -- we who go to work every day get to have adult conversations (such as they are) and be free from worry that we'll be vomited on after lunch. But none of our co-workers will be gathered around us on our deathbeds, unless we happen to work in a mortuary with a good employee discount. All in all, I think it's probably a good trade-off for those who can do it.