Category Archives: baby

Los Angeles, November 2019

Actually, I arrived on October 31, but who can resist a gratuitous Blade Runner reference?

I was in town for the always-interesting meeting of the IPAM science board. Keep an eye on their schedule; there are great workshops coming up!

There was chaos and anger at LAX when I landed, because the airport just this week moved Lyft/Uber/taxi pickups offsite. For reasons I don’t fully understand, this has led to long waits for rideshare cars. For reasons I understand even less, people are waiting an hour for their Lyft to show up when the regular taxi stand is right there, and you can — I did — just hop in a cab with no wait and go. (Yes, a VC-subsidized Lyft is cheaper than a cab, if it’s not surge time. But the bus is cheaper still, and once you’re not saving time with the Lyft, what’s the point?)

So I got in my cab and went to the beach, and watched the sunset over the ocean. Clear view of a really nice Moon-Jupiter conjunction and Venus still visible down at the horizon. Last time I went to Dockweiler Beach I was all alone, but this time there were several groups of people in Halloween costumes around bonfires. That was probably the most Blade Runner thing about this trip and it wasn’t even November 2019 yet!

I have a first cousin in LA, and good luck for me — my first cousin’s first baby was born my first morning in town! So on Saturday after the meeting I got to go see my first cousin once removed on his second day alive. I haven’t seen a one-day-old baby in a really long time! And it’s true what they say; I both remember my own kids being that age and I don’t. It’s more like I remember remembering it. I thought I was going to have a lot of advice but mostly all I had to say to them was that they are going to be amazing parents, because they are.

The hospital was in East Hollywood, a neighborhood I don’t know at all. Walking around afterwards, I saw a sign for an art-food festival in a park, so I walked up the hill into the park, where there wasn’t really an art-food festival, but there was a great Frank Lloyd Wright mansion I’d never heard of, Hollyhock House:

As with most FLW houses, there’s a lot more to it than you can see in the picture. A lot of it is just the pleasurable three-dimensional superimposition of rectangular parallelipipeds, and that doesn’t project well onto the plane.

There were a lot of folks sitting on blankets on the hillside, even though there was no art-food festival, because it turns out Barnsdall Park is where you and your 20-something moderately hipster friends go to watch the sunset in LA (unless it’s Halloween, in which case I guess you dress up and build a bonfire on Dockweiler Beach.) Sunset:

Then I ate some Filipino food, since Filipino restaurants sadly don’t exist in Madison right now, and went back to my hotel and read MathJobs files.

My Lyft driver on the way back was a 27-year-old guy from Florida who’s working on an album. That’s no surprise; my Lyft driver yesterday was also working on an album. Your Lyft driver in LA, unless they are a comic, is always working on an album. (My Lyft driver yesterday was also a comic.) This ride was a little deeper, though. This guy was a first-generation college student who went to school out-of-state on a soccer scholarship, majored in biology, and thought about getting a Ph.D. but was too stressed out about the GRE. He said whenever he started studying for the math part he was troubled by deep questions about foundations. Pi, he asked me: what is it? How can anyone really know it goes on forever? For that matter, what about two? Why is there such a thing as two? He also wanted to be a perfusionist but sat in on an open-heart surgery and decided it wasn’t for him, not in the long term. He started asking himself: is biology what I really want to do? So he’s driving a Lyft and working on his album. He also told me about how he doubts he’ll be able to make a long-term relationship work because he doesn’t believe in sex before marriage (he said: “out of wedlock”) and how he had dabbled in Hasidic Judiasm and how he was surprised I was Jewish because I didn’t look it (“no offense.”) Anyway, it just made me think about how normal and maybe universal his existential doubts and worries are for a 27-year-old dude; but for an upper-middle-class 27-year-old dude from an elite educational background, those existential doubts and worries would be something to process while you continued climbing on up that staircase to a stable professional career. That would just be a given. For this guy, the world said “You’re not sure you want that? Fine, don’t have it.”

Now I’m in LAX about to go get on the flight home to Madison, the direct flight we so gloriously now have. The last time I was in this LAX breakfast place, there was a big tumult around somebody else eating there and I realized it must be a celebrity, but I didn’t recognize him at all, and it turned out it was Gene Simmons. In LA people know what Gene Simmons looks like without the Kiss makeup! I do not. For all I know he could be in here right now. Are you here, Gene Simmons?

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David Lynch/parenting protip

Don’t watch “Inland Empire” while holding your baby.  Your baby won’t mind, but if you watch a David Lynch movie for ten minutes and then look down at your baby, your baby’s face will freak you out.

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In which I make oblique reference to a change in my personal circumstances

When you fill out a birth certificate in Wisconsin, there’s a “Mother’s Information” section and a “Husband’s Information” section.  If you’re unmarried, you’re not allowed to put the father’s name on the birth certificate.  You have to leave it blank, and petition the State Vital Records Office after the fact to get the father included.  And if you are married, you have to put the husband on the birth certificate, whether or not he’s the father of the child.   In fact, if you’re married to Mr. X, conceive a child by Mr. Y, and subsequently get divorced from Mr. X, the ex-Mrs.X still has to put Mr. X on the birth certificate.  He can only be removed by court order.

What can the rationale for this be?  I guess it must arise from acrimonious cases where the paternity of baby X is really unknown, but Mr. X, angry at having been cheated on and dumped, insists, rightly or not, that the baby is not his, and refuses to pay child support.

It is not at all clear how you’re supposed to fill out the form if you’ve been married to more than one man over the course of the pregnancy.

(Mrs. Q would like me to clarify that the abovementioned change in my personal circumstances is the one which entails filling out a birth certificate request with the State of Wisconsin, and does not involve any alterations in marital status, unknown biological parentage, or outstanding claims of child support.)

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Parenting for primates

If you’re a primate and you have kids, I encourage you to pick up my aunt Harriet Smith’s book Parenting for Primates, a book of useful parenting advice field-tested by millions of years of natural selection and informed by my aunt’s many years of raising cotton-top tamarins in her house. She just got a nice writeup in the APA magazine Monitor on Psychology.

It’s just squash curry!

CJ and I went to Taste of Madison today, where the assembled restaurants and caterers of Dane county sell mini-portions of selected items at $4 a pop, and formerly anonymous members of formerly popular AOR bands play the Solid Rock Stage. (This year, anyway. Last year we got Lou Gramm!) CJ was adventurous, as usual, happily putting away half a spinach and mushroom enchilada, some Indonesian corn fritters, and half a bag of fried okra. He was in an independent mood and wanted to hold his food himself; he tried this with a take-out box of squash curry but immediately dumped most of it on the ground. Then a woman walked by and stepped in it. She started complaining to her friends and seemed pretty upset — after a second I realized that, having stepped in something kind of yellow and creamy with rice embedded in it, she thought she’d stepped in someone’s vomit. I wanted to explain the actual situation, so I called after her, “I’m sorry about that, it just happened!” but that only made her hurry away even faster, and I realized that she thought I was the one who had just vomited, and was uninterested in my apology. I hope it didn’t ruin her day.

Do you need daycare in Madison?

An experiment in using the blog to accomplish something other than yakking about this and that follows:

CJ is in a home daycare which we like a lot: T. (not her real initial) takes care of 4-5 kids at her house in Middleton (just over the Madison border, an easy 15 minute drive west from the campus area.) CJ’s been going there for almost a year and we’re very happy with his situation; T. is experienced and caring (and state licensed), the house is pleasant and filled with fun toys (which for CJ means “lots of trucks”), CJ doesn’t get sick very much. Dropoff is 8-8:45, pickup is 4-5.

Two of the kids there have just moved on to preschool, so T. has two openings, one for a child of any age (even an infant) and one for a child 2 or older. Part-time attendance is a possibility. If this might suit your needs, send me e-mail and I’ll put you in touch with T.

Why yellow is a good color for kitchen linoleum

Because at some point your kid is going to dump a whole bottle of turmeric on the floor, and when he does, the stain is really not all that bad.


I always thought “togetherness” was an ordinary English word, but it turns out it was invented in 1954 by McCall’s magazine as part of a publicity campaign to encourage families to do things, well, together.

“…this new and warmer way of life not as women alone or men alone, isolated from one another, but as a family sharing a common experience… Had Ed been a father twenty-five years ago, he would have had little time to play and work along with his children. Husbands and fathers were respected then, but they weren’t friends and companions to their family. Today the chores as well as the companionship make Ed part of his family. He and Carol have centered their lives almost completely around their children and their home.”

Time Magazine reports on the end of togetherness, 1959, here. Did you know Time’s entire archive was available free online?

Update (27 Jun) John Cowan points out in comments that in fact togetherness was a well-established English word before the McCall’s campaign. Maybe I should start looking stuff up before I post! I do get the impression from the contemporary sources that in the mid-50s the word was very strongly associated with the campaign; but maybe it should be seen as roughly analogous to the present position of the word “abstinence,” which has a dictionary meaning but which at the moment is closely attached to a specific political initiative.

Puter Puter

If you have a baby and a Mac, I highly recommend recording some samples of your baby talking, cutting them up in GarageBand, and putting a loop under them. Nonstop fun. You can hear my first attempt below:″

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