Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review: The Baby Book by William Sears et. al.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like some other first time parents, we got ourselves a small bookshelf of pregnancy and parenting books when we found we were expecting. And these stayed readily available at our bedside, referenced almost every night during pregnancy, and during the middle of the night during the first several months (since we were up anyway). Pregnancy was more straightforward (we joked that our son was taking the checklist approach, pretty much everything that the books said would happen did to some degree). Parenting is harder, because every child is different, and wildly so. What makes the Dr. Sears book the one we (or at least I) still open up and read is that it recognizes that fact with every page.

Every parenting book is reviewed at the extremes. And that is probably just the nature of thought about parenting. There is probably nothing that people take so personally as discussion about their parenting skills. Even if they are like us and state up front that we know nothing and we are learning as we go along. (and my inlaws who are staying with us say the same thing, which makes our dynamic better then what may be feared.) So, any parenting book that has any opinions whatsoever will have lots of reviewers complaining about how it is unyielding. But the book does what I think it should do. It lays out an issue, states an opinion, then works with various levels of departures from their opinion. So the chapter on breastfeeding is followed by a chapter on bottlefeeding and formula. The parts on attachement parenting are alongside chapters on issues faced by working mothers.

But what keeps me coming back to this book is the chapter on fussy baby. We have one. And that means I get to hear many potential solutions. Probably more then there are days where this will last. When the pediatrician declared 'colic' I regarded this as a disaster declaration, with months of exhaustion to look forward to. What this book gives is a framework that puts it in perspective. So based on the classifications and descriptions we don't have a true member of the colic club, we have a high-needs baby. As the well-meaning advice comes in (usually from people who have never experienced a fussy/colicky baby), I can take it in stride, recognizing that we're not missing the non-existant magic bullet, but adding to our battery of tricks, each of which may or may not work on any given day. And that is OK. And while there may not be an end to it (only changes in form), there may be things we can look forward to with our sensitive, interactive, communicative son that we will be glad to see someday.

I'd highly recommend the book. It is not just a set of paragraphs of facts (there are some sections that are, but all parenting books have those), but also good discussions on how to approach this turn-your-life-inside-out thing called parenthood.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

NYTimes: Parents Seeking Danger by Lisa Belkin

Lisa Belkin, Parents Seeking Danger - The Motherlode, New York Times, February 18, 2011

After the “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan was brutally attacked in Cairo, one Web site asked today whether she was a bad mother for being on the scene in the first place., which more usually spends its bandwidth on stories about whether Jennifer is sneaking around with Brad behind Angelina’s back, yesterday all but said that Ms. Logan was partly to blame: “Her bio says she is the mother of two small children. So, do you think she’s really brave, or completely irresponsible for putting herself in such a dangerous situation when she has two little kids waiting for her to come home?”

In last weeks entry in The Motherlode (the New York Times blog on parenting), Belkin highlights the response to the sexual assault of journalist Lara Logan in Cairo during the uprising in Egypt. (While Belkin highlights Katie Dunn, writing for, Media Matters has a long list of those who decided to play 'blame the victim') Ms. Dunn's words immediately brought to mind several people I served with in Afghanistan and many firefighters and police I know, all with young children. And I thought "Are these people completely irresponsible for putting themselves in dangerous situations when they have little children waiting for them at home?" And my answer is NO!

But this is an attitude that has been spreading. I remember being told that there is no place for heroes (I had made the mistake of going looking for and finding someone who got lost and was calling for help during a backpacking trip). And many of my activities are dispised by others around me, who think there is no place for people who prepare themselves to go towards scenes of danger. Kipling's Tommy could look around and nod in recognition.

Of course, I am in regular contact with people who deserve the title of hero. And our son will grow up doing so as well. While my wife and I may have some differences in our hopes and what we consider desirable for our son, one thing we agree on is we will not hide him from the realities of the world. As he grows and gets older, he will identify the ugliness of the world. The dangers and hazards. What needs to be done to be safe in dangerous environments (natural and manmade). How to recognize danger or safety (and what is only the appearance of danger or safety) That not everyone is kind and helpful and there are those who will despise him with all the wisdom their God has to give. That things that are worth doing are hard, and the path can very well include failures, with consequences. But even with all that, there are things that are worth it. The confidence of knowing you can survive and thrive in adversity. That in the heat of the moment, you can act and live. Of being called 'brother' by those who would hold that term for those who have earned it. And this is worth the disapprobation of lesser men.

Is this a guarantee? No, he will grow up around those who disagree. But he will know both sides. And we hope he chooses ours.

Feelings of journalists change when they have children. So do feelings of police officers, and soldiers, and firefighters, and coal miners, and airline pilots. And that leaves all of the above with two choices. To limit your personal risk, which is one way to protect your children, and one that I would never criticize. Or to increase your commitment, which is another way to protect your children. And one that I would never dream of questioning.

Come home safe, everyone.
- Lisa Belkin


Thursday, February 10, 2011

PSO: Technique or Freedom

Bellefield Hall [Originally posted at Pittsburgh Symphony Blogs] As part of the Tchaikovsky Festival, some members of the PSO played in a recital on the University of Pittsburgh campus at Bellefield Hall. And, instead of playing pieces by Tchaikovsky, they played pieces by his contemporaries, starting with Anton Arensky. One thing that makes Arencky Piano Trio in D minor special is that there is an 1894 recording of a performance of the trio, with Anton Arensky playing his own piece on the piano. With him are violinist Jan Hřímalý (known by violin students for his Scale Studies) and Anoatoly Branukov.

Copeland in his book "What to Listen for in Music" states that in any piece of art, there are three actors. The composer, the interpreter (performer) and the listener. All three must do their part for a complete expression of a work. But it is fascinating to know that we have an depiction of how the composer interprets his own work. And preserved in a fashion that is not distorted by the twists of time and fashion which always occur over that period of time. At the recital, they played the recording from the Block cylinders (1894) after Ms. Orchard, Mr. Istomin and Mr. Vatchnadze performed the piece, giving us the opportunity to compare them both. And the style of play was notable in how different it was. While Hřímalý is known for his studies used to hone violinists technique, this performance is highly improvisational, taking great liberties with the rhythm, tempo, and even the written score. Almost surprising given how we view these greats.

What is different? The recordings by the original composer and his friends almost sounded like a jazz interpretation of his piece. The parts coming across as freeform expressions of personality instead of technical mastery and artistry. And if some student played like this in a recital or audition, they would surely have been snubbed.

I wonder if over the decades we have fallen completely victim to a tyranny of technique. It is very easy to hear a fast tempo performance and because the performer was even capable of hitting all the notes, in time and express the dynamics of the piece and declare it to be a great performance. And because it is easy to judge it on these quantifiable criteria, we value the mastery of techniques. Comparatively, it is considerably more difficult for us to judge artistry and expression which is not so easily quantifiable, we do not instinctively accept it as readily. And there are other fields where this is also true. The teaching of math has in many ways become the memorization of formulas and theorems. The teaching of history has become a memorization of facts, names and dates. The students subjected to this education rightly declare it useless, and the mathematicians and historians who see these students in college dispair that these students know nothing and are unable to think or reason. Despite being filled with useless facts and good test scores. And I question if this has made us better, whether it is understanding math, history or music.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Sitting around the radio

[Originally posted at the Pittsburgh Symphony Blogs]
WQED - Pittsburgh Classical music broadcasting the Pittsburgh Symphony live

Our son is three months old now. It is Friday night and he is fussing, tired but not sleeping. We're in the family room, with the radio turned on to WQED, where the Pittsburgh Symphony is being broadcast live in concert. The Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto is one we know. So we hum along starting with the opening horns. And our son joins us in delight. But by the end of the first movement, he is asleep. Good night.