On Comedy

I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of comedy, of humor.  Last week, a math teacher and I sat with our freshmen advisees, and we drew up a list of community norms we’d like to adhere to in our advisory sessions.  Things like, “help others” and “don’t interrupt” were added one by one to the list.  And then the math teacher suggested we add, “have a sense of humor”, which I found completely brilliant and frankly so damn easy to forget in the midst of regular daily life stresses and the uh, bigger ones, like, hurricanes and nuclear bombs.

The next night Eric and I went out to see stand-up comedy — truly a gem of a date activity.  We saw 6 or 7 comedians, and 3 were legitimately funny.  But it was so worth it to sit through the awkward, inappropriate, way-too-raunchy ones for the side-splitting perfection delivered by the truly funny people.  One of my favorite moments was when someone let out a gasp of shock at what the comedian said.  The comedian looked at the person and said, “seriously? this is comedy, not a TED talk! Not everything I’m saying actually happened!”  In other words, lighten up!

I had a moment to re-appreciate the art of lightening up during a walk to school two weeks ago.  It was the first day back after the summer and behind me I pulled a “granny cart”, as another teacher later affectionately called it, stuffed with papers and files and all of the things I worked on this summer.  Ahead of me on the sidewalk was a hunched-over elderly man pushing a walker, and a few feet behind him, a hunched over elderly woman also pushing a walker.  They made slow but steady progress up the sidewalk.  I was closing in.  As I approached, I said, cheerfully, “Excuse me!” and maneuvered around the woman, and then the man.

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The scene of the “Ya flippin’ moron!” incident.

Once I successfully passed them, I heard the man call out, “Excuse ME!”.  I figured he was being polite and hadn’t heard my initial “Excuse me”.  So then I turned around to give him a smile, and he shouted back at me, loudly, “YA FLIPPIN’ MORON!”.  Except it wasn’t “flippin’ “, it was the real thing.

It was SUCH a quintessential NYC moment.  This frail little old elderly person’s got enough spite to flatten the neighborhood.  I kind of chuckled to myself.  I mean, the guy had to be 90, curled up like the letter C, with the stride length of an inch.  I had to admire his spunk.  But then, actually, more profanity and insults came my way.  “Screw you!” he yelled.  And there was more.  And I began to lose sight of the humor in it.  I was almost ready to turn around and get into it with him.  Like, really dude? Who’s the moron?  You are assaulting me with profanity for oh, politely saying excuse me and walking around you.

But I stopped myself.  “Don’t do it,” I thought.  “He’s 90 and parts of his life probably suck and be thankful you can walk at a quick clip and there are a lot of good things in your life,” I told myself, or something along those lines.  But in order to stay in that place of calm, I needed to appreciate the humor of the whole interaction.

I’m reading a book called Younger Next Year, inspired partly by my impending 40th birthday.  The authors recommend lots of things to do to be “younger next year”, namely exercise everyday and quit eating garbage.  But they also point out the importance of a calm, open, happy mindset.  In Chapter 12, the authors say one of the worst things about getting old is “getting grumpy”.  One author shares how about 5 years prior to the book’s publication, he began to just get grumpy — snapping at his wife, giving the finger to cab drivers, etc.  And he wondered if the world was actually becoming more irritating or if he was “getting weird”.  And he decided it was the latter, and that he needed to put a stop to it.  He writes that sure, every now and then we all need to vent, but that “endless anger, terminal petulance, is not so hot.  It doesn’t do any good, and it can do a lot of harm.”  I think the antidote to this anger may just be humor.  By the third comment by my 90-year-old friend, I felt the anger and the irritation bubbling up.  Thinking about how hard my friend would laugh once I arrived at school and recounted the story squashed those hostile feelings.

I challenge you to do something this weekend that makes you laugh.  Really laugh, like out loud, possibly causing your stomach to hurt.  Find a 5-minute video of a comedian you love.  Watch a few minutes of Odd Mom Out or Broad City (note: these are not just chick shows, as my husband can attest).  Or pick up some David Sedaris.  Watch how the  laughter can be a game-changer.

To Sit Or Not to Sit . . . Or to Sit.

The online science publication Ars Technica came out with a piece today entitled, “The new study suggesting sitting will kill you is kind of a raging dumpster fire.”  The title alone fills me with glee!  Debunking science!  Using “kind of” in the title!  And, it’s OK to sit again!!!!

In truth, the study today’s article alludes to completely freaked me out.  It had me googling “treadmill desks” and envisioning doing squats during nighttime TV watching.  But the sun has come out today — the Ars Technica authors poke enough holes in this study to put me back on good terms with our couch.

The particulars on the beef the authors have with the original study, which appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine:

  1. The study was funded in part by Coca-Cola.  The authors find fault with this saying that rather than focus on unhealthy consumption, Coca-Cola funds studies like these to shift the conversation to focusing on unhealthy behaviors.  Personally, this doesn’t bother me that much.  I feel like most people interested in heath — i.e., the people who are interested in these studies — already know drinking sugared sodas isn’t a great choice.  The “conversation shift” certainly won’t lead me to begin chugging sugared soda after a workout.
  2. The study didn’t actually measure sitting.  OK, getting warmer.  Researchers did not rely on subjects’ reports of sitting times, as these are notoriously error prone.  So, they used something called an Actical accelerometer, mounted to one’s hip, which tracks the amount of oxygen a person uses in various activities.  Unfortunately, it cannot distinguish between sitting and standing.  Or lying down and light movement.  So, in this study, working at a standup desk is lumped into regular old sitting.  As the authors point out, nuance is severely lacking here.
  3. The study demographics are problematic.  A bunch of people dropped out early, leaving the more sedentary participants to complete the study which lasted a week only.  Also, the more sedentary groups in the study were on average ten years older than the least sedentary groups.
  4. Statistical challenges.  Once the data were in, the researchers broke the participants into four groups, those who:
    1. rarely “sat” (or did something else of low intensity), and when they did, “sat” in short bursts
    2. rarely “sat”, and when they did, “sat” for long durations
    3. “sat” frequently, in short bursts
    4. “sat” frequently, for long durations

The numbers of participants in the middle groups, as well as mortality rates, were      not high enough to permit any statistically significant conclusions on the effects of sitting in short or long bouts.  The researchers themselves cap off the study with a statement on the difficulty of drawing any conclusions due to issues with statistical significance.

The problem is that while this disclaimer appears in the actual research paper, how many of us read that?  Rather, we tend to read the news summaries, which are often based off of summaries like this, which appears in Science Daily.  And according to this summary,

“A new study founds that sitting around for 12 or more hours per day, particularly if accumulated during 60- to 90-minute periods, increased the risk of early death — even in those who exercised.”

With no mention of the above limitations.  So a big thank you to Ars Technica for probing deeper!

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No really, have a seat.

 

Green Roofs

Last night Eric and I went to an Empiricist League event — one of regular nerdy dates.  The Empiricist League describes itself as “a creative community for those who believe in evidence, observation, and experiment”.  In other words, science.  A few times a year, the Empiricist League holds an event with 3 speakers focusing on some aspect of science, at an area bar.  Last night we funneled end-of-the-week alcohol at Union Hall while learning about “The History of the Future: Steampunk, Spacesuits, and Beyond”.

Wythe Marshall (Harvard grad student in History of Science dept) opened the night with a talk on “Cities of Futures Past: Strange historical visions of the urban future”.  He spoke about early visions of green space in city planning, and then posted a striking photo of a colossal green roof which made me wonder where I’ve been — I had no idea this was happening on Randall’s Island!

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Wythe Marschall talking about Cities of Futures Past.

The Five Boroughs Green Roof is a green roof on top of the headquarters of the Five Borough Technical Services Division of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.  The idea was conceived in 2007.  The before and after photo is striking.

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from nycgovparks.org

At 29,000 square feet, it is the 5th largest green roof in NYC.  (What are the other four?)  I don’t really understand why every roof isn’t green, because the benefits seem so obvious.  I wonder, what are the disadvantages, if any? What specs does a building need to have in place before the roof goes green?  Can anyone recommend a great green roof book/primer?

Dad, One. Frizz, Zero.

It’s back-to-school time . . . and many of us begin thinking of apples, plaid, backpacks, sharp pencils, and smooth, combed out hair.

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This is not my baby.  This is the first time I am using a stock photo! 

But what if your kid’s hair is plagued by frizz?  And in fact, the more you comb it, the frizzier it gets?  This happened to one Dad, Biogeochemistry PhD Boyce Clark.  His daughter’s daily battle with frizz pushed him to first research frizz, and then start his own company fighting it.

After experimenting in the kitchen for nine months, Boyce Clark started Lubricity Labs, a company that makes anti-frizz hair products.  According to the company’s About page, the products

“are all made from naturally-derived ingredients, ultra-gentle cleansers and the highest quality bio-compatible proteins. They are vegan, GMO-free, paraben-free, sulfate-free, and cruelty-free — if you don’t count the hundreds of hair washes my daughter had before we had the Eureka moment.”

The two-step anti-frizz regimen changes the structure of hair, smoothing out irregularities that make hair permeable to moisture and result in frizz.  The treatment takes about 30 minutes, and is needed only once or twice a year.

Clark says it changed their morning routine, eliminating the typical 20 minutes of arguments and crying.  Um . . . if only we could end the tantrums here through anti-frizz hair products!

Note 1: I am not affiliated with Lubricity Labs. 

Note 2: A big thank you to Tomoko for sending an article on this my way!

Author Bingo!

I would rank tonight 2nd or 3rd in “All-Time Worst Bedtime Experience with Kids” so tonight’s post will be short as my wine IV is waiting so I can numb my feelings of despair and failure.

One of the speakers at the Writers Digest Conference shared this Author Bingo card with us.  It’s perfect!  She told us when we get five in a row, to go out and splurge.

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My favorite is “Social Sitch: ‘I Have a Great Idea for a Book'”.  Probably because that was so me, like 4 years ago.

I feel like I would have won Parent Bingo tonight if the squares included, “End the night with everyone crying”, “3-year-old throws self on floor multiple times”, “Discover maintenance broke your bath tub at 7 PM”, “Feel like the tantrum is your fault because you went to work this morning”, and “Rip a Duplo out of a small child’s hand”.  Definitely not any of our finest moments.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Pirates!

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Two things happened a few months ago.  1) BRK and Owl and I left the apartment early on a Saturday morning.  Our newspaper was outside the apartment door, and I figured we’d just collect it on our way back.  However, when we returned, it was gone!  Someone had stolen it!  And I had a minor fit.  2) I began telling BRK a serial bedtime story in order to get her to brush her teeth.

Since then, we’ve had no more newspaper thefts, but we’re going gangbusters on the stories.  We’ve gone through a lot of different plots.  There was the one about the dog who loved walnuts and the squirrel who loved pizza, the one about the rabbit who wanted to go to the beach, and another one I cannot remember.  We are now on the one about the squirrel who wants to become a fairy, and the voyage of the squirrel and his fiends — an eagle, a snake, a lion, a monkey, and some camels — to a wizard who might grant the squirrel’s wish.  Each night I tell her about 3 – 5 sentences of the story while she brushes her teeth, and then I say,

“We’ll do the rest of the story tomorrow night!”

And she says, “Part of it else?”

And I do a few more sentences, then it’s off to bed.

Squirrel and company encountered pirates recently on one of their adventures, when they had to bring the wizard the most colorful parrot in Madagascar.

“What are pirates?” BRK asked.

Huh.  I wasn’t anticipating this one, because we’ve read Goodnight Goodnight Pirate Ship more than a few times.

“Uh, well, they don’t do a lot of good things,” I was just tired and really hadn’t thought about how you explain pirates to a 3-year-old.  I wished Daniel Tiger could save me, but I was on my own,  “They steal things.”

“Mommy,” BRK said, “I think it was pirates who stole our newspaper that day.”

“Um, OK”.  Who am I to squash the imagination of a 3-year-old?  Plus, the image of pirates creeping up to the 14th floor to steal our Wall Street Journal is a great one on a gloomy day . . .

Making lunches for kids

Yes, that’s right.  We have officially entered the Making Lunches years.  School hasn’t started yet, but BRK just wrapped up two weeks of a new summer camp that included “lunch” among the things to bring.

I was sort of dreading this epoch due to the commentary I’ve received from veteran parents.  However, two weeks in, it hasn’t been that bad.  Why?  I think it’s because I have dramatically lowered the expectations of all concerned parties, i.e., me and BRK.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been following this formula for the school lunch:

  1. string cheese
  2. yogurt
  3. a fruit
  4. a vegetable — we are limited to tomatoes or carrot sticks because these are the only raw veggies BRK will consume.
  5. a starch.  So far we’ve done only rice crackers and plantain chips, but I can see this opening up to pastas, etc.

No special requests, no treats, and definitely nothing specially cut or decorated.

And for now, I’ve received no complaints about this formula.  (Though, one day BRK told me about this kid who had JUICE in a CARDBOARD BOX with a PLASTIC STRAW attached and I worry if I’ve been raising my children in the equivalent of a historical theme park.) I’ve also been marketing lunch preparation as an important job BRK can help out with.  And that’s also going well, so far.  (Ever notice how when ANYTHING in parenting is going well, you need to throw in a disclaimer like, “so far”, because you know all hell can break loose in an instant . . . )

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BRK helping to pack her lunch!

So, this has been sort of a dry run, as camp is now over, and we have two weeks until school starts.  Hopefully we will pick up where we left off in terms of enthusiasm for string cheese and helping.

Packing the lunch also led to me think it was time for BRK to get a new lunch box.  She had been using an old crusty cloth cooler I think we had pre-kids.  Meanwhile, baby Owl got an insulated seer sucker (I know) monogrammed lunch box as a gift so it’s really kind of time for BRK to have a nice one as well.

We headed off to the store after camp Tuesday to pick one out.  The woman at the store showed the various pink and purple lunch boxes with princesses and elephants and such, and BRK went right for the dinosaur lunch box in bold primary colors.  I could barely contain my pride.  I just really loved that she picked that one out, but I mostly wanted her to know that actually any of them would be fine . . .  a princess, an elephant, or a dinosaur one.

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BRK’s new lunch box

But it got me thinking as we made our way home, how would I have reacted if baby Owl had picked out the pink and purple princess one?  This feels tricky to me.  I thought about this anecdote I read recently written by a clown who was face-painting, and a little boy wanted a butterfly but his parents wanted him to get something more masculine.  The clown pointed out that we give girls a wider berth here . . . most parents would support a girl getting a butterfly OR a skull-and-crossbones painted on her face . . . the princess OR the dinosaur lunch box.  But we box our boys in.  It’s a moment for reflection for me, and I’m curious to start thinking about these things more deeply and to talk about them with our kids.  It’s too easy with a girl to just cheer on the dinosaur lunch box, and move on.  But with baby Owl growing up, I’m going to have to challenge myself to think more critically about gender and norms and the messages we send our kids about what’s OK and what’s not OK.  I’m grateful for it, and also kind of petrified.  Up until this point I’ve hardly had to think about it, and now, these questions are knocking at the door.