Thursday, December 29, 2005

Tradition!: It doesn't matter why we do it, as long as we do it

This year my boys are finally starting to be old enough to get excited about Christmas and to participate in getting ready for it. Little Nico even made a Christmas-tree-shaped calendar like the one at school to count down the days until Christmas. We've had fun so far.

Last year their participation was mostly limited to screaming their heads off when prevented from ingesting fragile glass ornaments. I know, I know, I probably could have saved myself some of the screaming at least if I'd trained them to be a little more obedient. But, you know, 20/20 hindsight...

Fortunately, even with a relatively botched upbringing, kids eventually reach a level of maturity where they can usually be trusted not to injure themselves with ordinary household objects. That's what we're shooting for. We're not quite at the point yet of having a proper Christmas tree or any festive, decorative choking hazards within reach of tiny hands, but we'll get there.

A lot of people ask me why I celebrate Christmas at all, considering that I'm an atheist. The answer is obvious: "Because it's a tradition!" That, and I'm a ridiculously sentimental nostalgia maniac.

The above question is particularly absurd coming from Christians. If you don't see a winter festival of lights as being interesting for its own sake and have to see it in terms of its religious origins, you might notice that Christmas is essentially a pagan holiday with a light coating of Christianity painted on. Now, I'm no more pagan than I am Christian, but if the Christians can take a perfectly good pagan festival and attach their own stories to it, then so can I.

The Christian establishment hasn't always been so gung-ho to embrace its best-loved holiday. Notably, the Puritan pilgrims outlawed the celebration of Christmas. They invented the holiday "Thanksgiving" as a replacement to put a stop to all the partying, fun-having, and other pagan customs traditionally associated with the yuletide season. So if you were wondering why Thanksgiving is such a lame holiday, that's why.

Of course the Catholic church has often taken an attitude of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" with respect to any indigenous customs it fails to suppress in its converts. And now it seems that even Protestants have followed suit and given in to the lure of Christmas, even going so far as to permit the use of mistletoe now that everyone has forgotten that it once had non-Christian religious significance.

That's fine with me. To me, a tradition is a connection with the past and with the future, and it doesn't necessarily need to have any more explanation than that.

One time back when I was a programmer in New Jersey, some of my colleagues -- recent arrivals from India -- were intrigued by the Halloween custom of carving a jack-o'-lantern. I may have answered wrong here, but when they asked me for the symbolism behind it, I told them that I didn't think it had any.

They didn't like that response, so they went to the Internet and found themselves a just-so story about a guy named Jack.

That satisfied them, but personally I couldn't help but feel like such an explanation isn't really necessary. Sure, today it seems pretty odd to carve a face into a pumpkin, of all things. But today any object humanly imaginable -- of any size, shape, color, shininess, sparklitude, and luminosity -- can be manufactured for pennies in China. So you'd have to be pretty crazy to just spontaneously decide to waste your time carving vegetables.

But think back to what it was like for people at the time when the jack-o'-lantern tradition arose. Just because they were peasants with no access to the magic of cheap Chinese manufactured goods didn't mean that they didn't want festive decorations for their holidays.

And think what they had to work with: dirt, vegetables, maybe some rusty tools if they were lucky, and candles. Under the circumstances, carving vegetables into lanterns seems like a perfectly obvious thing to do, hardly requiring any kind of excuse or explanation.

And now it's a tradition.

And so help me, I'm going to follow it.

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor December 15, 2005.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Mormon Lit Misfit: Trying to write like one of them when you no longer are

The editor of the LDS literary journal Irreantum is quoted in the latest issue as saying "The animosity I sense in Utah, at least, toward Mormonism, from both within and outside of the culture, is potent."

I know you're going to tell me that I need to cut out the solopsistic paranoia when I tell you this, but my first reaction on reading the above quote was "Uh-oh, I hope she's not talking about me."

To any reasonable person it should be obvious that she can't be talking about me -- I'm not even in Utah. And just because I submitted some not-terribly-faith-promoting stories set in Utah to her magazine doesn't necessarily mean that I've pissed her off.

Any guilt about possibly having pissed her off didn't really set in until I read further and got to the quote where she talked about the difficulties of juggling family responsibilities plus a regular job while trying to do good work on her literary pursuits on the side. That's something I can totally relate to as a programmer-mom-"humorist/novelist." (I put that last one in quotes because that's the one of my titles that's imaginary.)

So as my penance for possibly having annoyed Laraine Wilkins (editor of Irreantum), I'll risk wearing out my welcome with the Utah Valley Monitor's readers by asking you all very nicely to consider a gift subscription to Irreantum for that Mormon-Lit-fan-who-has-everything-(exept-a-subscription-to-Irreantum) on your Christmas list.

I'd get a subscription myself except that (a) I'm barely making ends meet as it is, and (b) it's probably really expensive to get such a subscription with shipping all the way to France included, see (a). So I had to lift the above quotes from the blog A Motley Vision and just hope I can trust the bloggers over there not to have misquoted Laraine Wilkins or anything.

I've seen the magazine Irreantum in real life, even though I don't subscribe. At my parents' house, my mom had a big stack of copies of it on her nightstand. I wanted to read it, but I didn't because I had just had a story re-jayed by the magazine, so I couldn't bring myself to look at it.

I know that was a totally irrational reaction. A rational reaction would be to say, "I should take this opportunity to read the magazine so I might get an idea of what kinds of stories they print in order to have a better chance of sending something appropriate in the future" instead of saying, "Ouch! Painful reminder of rejection! Must look away!"

It was doubly irrational since -- facing reality -- the story I sent in wasn't all that great, and in fact the editor (same editor as quoted above) sent me back a very nice email full of perfectly good suggestions. Of course, I'm just barely rational enough to recognize the difference between rational and irrational behavior -- not quite rational enough to act on this knowledge and actually behave in a rational manner.

My other irrational response to the above rejection was to write another story that was at once 10 times better and 10 times worse -- and then enter the new story in the Sunstone fiction contest. Ten times better in terms of story structure, characters, dialogue, and stuff like that. Ten times worse in terms of content.

The story I entered in the contest is a really good story that would for sure merit at least an honorable mention if the subject matter weren't so questionable. Seriously, that's my honest opinion. Of course I also think my own kids are the cutest kids on the entire planet, so you might take it with a grain of salt.

The trouble is that the story is really racy. The whole thing is "adult themes" plus one bad word. When I sent it in I was saying to myself, "It's Sunstone. Everybody knows those guys are practically apostates anyway. They'll love this."

Then in a more lucid moment (after dropping it in the mail) I thought to myself, "I've got to be off my nut to imagine that any practicing Mormon at all would be anything but offended by this story."

After that I thought to myself, "You know, I'm really making a nuisance of myself here."

Now, I'm not trying to make a nuisance of myself on purpose. Please allow me to explain how I ended up thinking it might be a good idea to send stories to LDS publications.

My mom is a writer (professionally full-time now, freelance when I was a teen), and she always used to say, "Write what you know." I'm pretty sure it was my mom who said that. Well, anyway, some writer said that, and it seems like good advice.

So, digging around in my little brain for entertaining stories to jot down, naturally in a dusty old trunk near the back I found a bunch of great, hilarious material about Mormons.

Some may say that by writing stories about Mormons from an apostate perspective, I'm being one of those people who "can leave the church but can't leave it alone."

I ask, whose childhood am I supposed to write about? I didn't ask to be raised in this religion.

I know some of you who believe in the pre-existence will say that in fact I did ask to be raised in this religion, before I was born and everything. But I know myself pretty well, and I'm sure that if I did ask to be raised Mormon back in the pre-existence, I was just kidding.

Of course even if you grant that it's not evil for me to want to write stories about Mormons, that still doesn't explain how I got it into my head that it was a good idea to send such stories to publications by and for faithful LDS. That is a story in and of itself.

What happened was that I sent a collection of my stories to a novelist friend of mine (the author of The Grasshopper King), and as part of his response, he sent the URL for the blog "A Motley Vision" which leads to resources on the web for LDS authors (which, in fact, led me to Irreantum).

I laughed at my novelist friend's naiveté about how LDS culture works, thinking that I might get help from mainstream Mormon Lit resources. My friend is Jewish, and he was probably foolishly assuming that Mormon lit works like Jewish lit, where merely having Jewish characters and themes is sufficient for a story to be Jewish interest (without necessarily having any spiritual/supernatural content at all).

My impression is that that's not the way it works in LDS society. You see, if (like me!) you write a story in which most of the characters just happen to be Mormons (some more righteous, some less), throw in a bunch of borderline-inappropriate sex jokes, and top it off by accidentally forgetting to mention how inspiring General Conference is, that's not Mormon literature. That's anti-Mormon literature.

Then I thought that maybe I wasn't giving these LDS literature resources enough credit. For all I know, maybe some LDS publications (the ones that aren't directly sponsored by the church, at least) are actually interested in getting a complete narrative portrait of Mormon culture from all different perspectives.

After all, in the blog "A Motley Vision" there's a whole article about "Fiddler Envy," i.e. the fact that the Mormons would like to have an LDS work that is as popular in mainstream society as Fiddler on the Roof. Well, one thing that jumps out about Fiddler on the Roof is that it's just a story about ordinary people who happen to be Jewish -- it doesn't try to demonstrate that Jews are necessarily happier or more enlightened than anyone else. So maybe the Mormon lit community would be open to neutral stories in which the characters happen to be LDS.

Irreantum's editor writes: "Of the handful of texts I think of as foundational for Mormonsim, spiritual autobiography is embedded in the very narrative structures and rhetoric that church members use to understand and articulate their own search for truth and connection to the divine."

I translate that to mean that they like spiritual stuff, particularly the kind that portrays the LDS Church as being true. That's not the perspective I write from, but maybe there's no harm in trying....

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor December 8, 2005.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Horrific Voyage: With two little kids, everywhere is a No-Fly Zone

There's a good reason why one parent alone shouldn't take a multi-leg transatlantic voyage as the sole guardian of two toddlers. The reason is that if all goes perfectly according to plan it's awful, and if anything goes wrong it's a disaster.

The story I'm going to tell you is a true story. I have to apologize in advance for the fact that even though it's on the humor page, it's not very funny, or at least it wasn't at the time. You might get a laugh out of it if you subscribe to the theory that "comedy is tragedy plus distance" and/or if you're a big fan of the type of comedy where somebody steps on the end of a rake and the handle swings up and smacks them in the head. I'll tell you the story, and you can decide.

It all started when we determined that, due to work constraints, my husband couldn't fly out to Minnesota to visit my family with me and our two boys but would be joining us there partway through our visit.

We were supposed to fly Bordeaux-Amsterdam, Amsterdam-Minneapolis. The big suitcase was checked through so that I wouldn't have to deal with it until the very end, going through customs on arriving, which is good because I can't transport both boys, plus the carry-on needed to sustain them for the long trip, and the suitcase all at once.

We got up at 4 a.m. and took the taxi to our morning flight.

We then got on the first flight, and got to the point of going down the runway when they realized there was a mechanical problem with the plane. Flight canceled, everybody out, get your checked baggage and try to change your itinerary.

Fortunately a nice airport employee helped me. Nothing was available for us with a single connection for at least three days. If I had known then what I know now, I would have said "OK, book me on that -- see you in three days." But I accepted a new itinerary with one additional connection: Bordeaux-Paris, Paris-Newark, Newark-Minneapolis, knowing I'd have to take my checked bag through customs by hand and re-check it in Newark.

After four hours waiting with the kids in the Bordeaux airport, I was already stressed before the first leg of the trip.

Bordeaux-Paris went fine -- the kids played in the plane. Making the connection in Paris went OK, too. Nico was such a good boy, he kept up and kept a hold of the stroller as we raced -- me with two backpacks and Leo in the stroller -- to our next flight.

The first seven hours of the eight-hour flight to Newark went OK. Leo had to run around in the aisle a bit, but mostly they were OK and didn't throw any tantrums.

Then the last hour we went into a holding pattern just before arriving because of a storm over New York City. No planes landing or taking off. After 45 minutes of holding, we landed in Boston. As we were landing, Leo threw up all over my leg.

Since a bunch of other planes were in the same boat, we had to wait to refuel and then wait for a turn on the runway. They announced a one-hour wait. We were on the tarmac in Boston for three hours. Three hours!!! After that long flight. And there I was stressed out of my mind wondering what I was going to do about my missed flight on arriving, knowing I would have to fight the crowds of 300 passengers on this flight and who knows how many others -- with my two babies in tow and my giant suitcase -- to try to get booked on something. I didn't have any milk left for Nico and precious little for Leo if they were to wake up and start crying. Terrified, I ask the stewardess to call ahead to Newark to tell them I will need extra assistance with my babies on arriving in Newark.

Then after one hour of flight and we arrived in Newark, both babies asleep. It was 9p.m. -- too late to catch the last flight to Minneapolis...

Everything was a mess at Newark, but fortunately one airport employee had been set aside to help me through customs. This was necessary since both boys were asleep Nico wouldn't wake up to walk. So I carried Leo (who is a big boy) all through customs, etc. pulling my big suitcase and the airport lady took my backpack and pushed Nico in the stroller.

The airline had arranged us a hotel, and new return tickets. We sat on the sidewalk with the other passengers for an hour not knowing when or if the bus was really going to come to take us to the hotel.

Waiting for the bus, Leo cuddled and didn't cry. Nico asked for the picture book my parents had made for him about this voyage we were making. Nico "read" each page about how we would take a taxi to the airport and see the airplanes, etc. It almost brought tears to my eyes to see this sweet boy comforting himself in this ordeal by reading this book about how fun his adventure would be. Of course I was practically in tears already.

Getting on the bus, I looked at my flight tickets for the next day. I should have looked earlier -- they had booked Nico and Leo on a different flight from mine!!!!!

The bus took us to a hotel more than an hour south of the airport (like if you'd been grounded in Salt Lake and they put you up in Provo, or farther). We passed many of my old haunts where I used to go all the time, including passing a few blocks from one of my old apartments. Unfortunately I didn't really know anyone in the area anymore and didn't have the phone numbers of the few I did know....

Arriving in my hotel room, it was 1 a.m. With the time difference for me, that made 30 hours straight of nonstop stress, and probably worse to come. I called my parents collect and begged them to call the airline and fix my tickets for the next day.

Fortunately by 2 a.m. they were able to fix everything and got us booked on an 11 a.m. flight. That didn't give much time for recovery sleep, and I didn't even know how I was getting to the airport the next day, except that Mom had said that the airline had said that something would be arranged at the hotel.

Leo slept right away, but Nico stayed awake for hours crying for milk. I had none to give him and no way to get any. When he finally fell asleep, I was still so stressed and terrified that there was no way was I could sleep, so I took a shower. I really needed it, and it helped my relax a little tiny bit. I packed our things back up and washed their drinking cups for the next day.

I got 1 1/2 hours of sleep before Leo woke me up with a big smile, all playful and ready for the day. I gathered them up and went to breakfast. They didn't want to eat any of the unfamiliar food except that Nico wanted some orange juice. He drank plenty of orange juice, and I filled his cup with more for later.

I asked the man at the desk about the transportation, and he told me that there was a bus arranged for us and that it would leave for the airport in 15 minutes. I wasn't quite done packing in the room, so I begged him not to let the bus leave without me, and I raced back with the boys to finish up. Fortunately I didn't miss it.

When we arrived at the airport, they dropped me off at curbside check-in, and I was able to get rid of my big suitcase. So with Nico up and walking again, we were portable without assistance once again.

When I got to the gate, I found that an earlier flight to Minneapolis had just been canceled. It was a madhouse -- people standing in this hours-long line to fix their flight. I had two hours before my flight at this point, and was terrified out of my wits that my flight would be canceled too.

I was a walking zombie at this point -- I couldn't stand up without getting dizzy. I was only able to watch my kids still because it was an absolute emergency. If our flight was canceled, I had no energy left to handle it in the slightest. I was inches away from having a full-scale nervous breakdown right there. But at least I had confirmed seats and boarding passes, so as long as the flight wasn't canceled, it would be OK.

Once we boarded the plane I felt an immense relief. Before we took off, the pilot fired up the engines for a long time without moving. I began to panic once again -- mechanical failure!!! We would have to get off!!! But no, he told us over the loudspeaker that it was just that they had overfueled and needed to burn some off to get down to take-off weight.

Nico colored quietly for the first hour of the 2 1/2 hour flight, and Leo slept like a baby angel the whole time. Once we were at cruising altitude, I slept too.

A few things added up to a delay of about a half-hour on that flight, and I laughed when the pilot apologized to us for such a trivial delay.

When we landed and found my dad, I was so incredibly relieved, it was beyond words.

The whole thing took 41 hours. It was the most extended period of intense fear and stress I have felt in my entire life, beating out even the qualifying exams in grad school (which at least I was prepared for, unlike this!). I took a long nap and had nightmares that I was still off in some strange city and needed to arrange a new flight to take the boys home.

I will never again fly alone with two toddlers through a city where I haven't arranged in advance someone to meet me in case of emergency.

Our little boys aren't always 100 percent perfectly behaved, but when it came right down to it -- and Mommy really needed them to be good boys -- they were very good boys.

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor December 1, 2005.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Programmer Technophobe: Living with technology without loving it

I was one of those long-term holdouts who didn't want to ever get a cell phone. The thing is that I'm not really a phone person, so it already annoyed me to have to answer the phone at home and at the office. I couldn't imagine wanting to take that task with me wherever I go.

Since getting a cell phone, I've learned that the trick -- which most of you probably already know -- is to only give your cell phone number to people you actually want to talk to. That, coupled with my usual strategy of discouraging potential callers by just being really ornery whenever I answer the phone, has made it so that this new modern convenience I've been strapped with hasn't given me too much trouble.

You see, even though I write computer programs for a living, I'm a bit of a technophobe. I will never buy the latest gadget just because it's the coolest newest thing. A new gadget really has to convince me that using it makes my live easier and/or more wonderful than whatever old curmudgeonly thing I was in the habit of using instead.

For example, instead of a portable computer or PDA, I like to bring an old-fashioned paper notebook with me to take notes during meetings. This is mostly because I don't like to take notes during meetings. As far as I'm concerned, it's bad enough I have to sit there and listen to it the first time. A paper and pen is much more convenient for the kind of notes I like to take, which mostly consist of portraits of the other people who are also stuck in the same meeting. Now, when notebook computers get really good at saving drawings -- and add a feature so that they flip immediately from the drawing to something that looks work-related as soon as someone looks over my shoulder -- I'll for sure go out and get one. That's the kind of life-enhancing convenience that a really good gadget would provide in my ideal world.

I also like to use a paper notebook for writing first drafts. Acutally I would prefer to compose at the computer if that were feasible, but the problem is that if I spend too much time on the computer at home, a couple of naughty little boys come around and press the power button and manhandle all of the discs and start dismantling all of the computer hardware as much as they can. With a paper and pen, the worst they can do is decorate the page with trains and scribbles, which only serves to remind me that I'm supposed to be playing trains or blocks with the little guys anyway.

Pencil-and-paper technology is underrated. A pocket-sized spiral notebook is the perfect tool for carrying with me to jot down any snide comments that strike me about France which could be later used in a column. It may sound like I'm being ungrateful here to my new homeland that has been so kind as to welcome me with open arms, but really this activity helps me fit right in. Making cynical remarks about anything and everything is one of the national pastimes here, right up there with workers' strikes and pretending to be able to tell different wines apart by taste.

The only reason I finally broke down and got a cell phone was because I was writing a book on how to write Java programs for cell phones, and I could hardly give reasonable advice on the subject if I'd never tested my programs on the real thing.

In my opinion, it's loads of fun to write a program for a cell phone, but actually getting the program installed on the phone? That's hardware. Sure I could figure out how to do it if I wanted to, but it's just that much easier to let my system administrator do it. Fortunately, I'm on good terms with my home system-and-network administrator. In fact, I'm married to him.

My husband is a huge Linux nerd who loves nothing more than constructing a bunch of computers from parts and networking them together and installing all the latest Linux versions on all of them, plus whatever other fun stuff he can find on slashdot.

All of you who work in the software industry know that the programmer and the sys admin are natural enemies. Putting that on top of the fact that my husband is French and I'm American -- which I don't think I have to tell you is like cats and dogs -- it's a wonder he and I were able to overcome our differences and get together.

Actually, I was thinking of writing a romantic comedy about our courtship. The story would open with me annoying him with my incessant demands for more bandwidth and disk space and him annoying me by keeping lots of stinky French cheeses in the server room. As the story progresses, all of our fiery disputes would be laced with sexual tension which would evolve into heart-warming passion by the end of the movie. You know the standard romantic comedy formula. Anyway, it's a thought in case any of you movie producers out there are short on scripts or something.

So when it came time to write the part of my Java book about how to load your program on your device, I just took my husband's detailed notes on the subject and translated them into my own homey style. (Don't worry, his contribution is detailed in the acknowledgments of the book.)

Normally I would expect that having a Ph.D. in math and a published tech book to my credit would mean that I should at least get to be the smartest person in my own house. But noooooooooo! It's not enough for my husband to have a Ph.D. and leave it lying around or something, he also has to be a professor with lots of papers in journals and research grants and stuff. It's not enough for him to have practically written one of the chapters of my book, he also has to have three thick math books to his own credit that not only did I not help him write, but that I couldn't read and understand in any finite length of time. And I'm pretty tall, but he had to be just a little bit taller. It's like he has some sort of "anything you can do, I can do better" thing going. At least I can console myself with the knowledge that he has never been invited to write a column for a prestigious publication like the Utah Valley Monitor.

It might be fun to one day devote myself to being a full-fledged technophobe rather than just being half-technophobe, half-information-technology-professional. That would be possible if by some miracle I could support myself on writing these silly stories and columns. But for the moment I'm not quitting my day job.

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor November 24, 2005.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Bilingual Babies: How do you say 'ga-ga' in French?

I almost didn't get a chance to write a column this week because my son Nicolas took my lucky notebook to draw pictures of trains in it. He finally gave it back Sunday night, though I never did find my lucky pen (also commandeered for train-drawing duties). So I had to write this whole column in green colored pencil, and since a grown-up topic would look ridiculous scrawled in smeary green letters, I have no choice but to tell you about my little boys.

In my first column, I told a bunch of stories about weaning my baby. Actually, that pilot column was written more than three years ago when my oldest was seven months old. Now I have not one, but two rowdy, rough-and-tumble boys, ages 4 and 2. For simplicity, let's call them "Nico" and "Leo." (That's what I normally call them at home, so it saves me having to think up pen names for them.) The happy ending to the weaning story is that they've both been weaned for some time now, thank heavens!

The first thing people always ask me about raising kids in France is whether my husband and I speak to our kids in French or English. The answer is that I speak to them in English, my husband uses both, depending on the circumstances, he and I speak to each other in English, and they get pure French at school and from their babysitter.

The second canonical question is what language the kids speak. The answer is both and neither. That is, both in Nico's case and (almost) neither in Leo's...

Before having kids, I read a whole bunch of books about raising kids in bilingual households, and they all said that typically such kids learn language very late, but that they learn both languages well. Also, everyone knows boys learn language later than girls. So you can imagine how enthusiastiacally we were patting ourselves on the backs as champion brainiac parents when -- despite all that -- Nico was an early talker, saying several words correctly and consistently before he was a year old, and having a big vocabulary of French and English words -- including simple sentences -- at 18 months. Then you can imagine our corresponding surprise when Leo decided it would be more prudent to follow the textbook model of the bilingual child, and is just now starting to say a lot of different words at the age of 2 1/2.

Leo's vocabulary includes words like "airplane," which is his word for all things that fly, such as airplanes, birds, and the dragon in Shrek. He also has his own special use for the phrase "thank you" (i.e., when he sees something he wants, he holds out his little hand and starts yelling "Thank you!" over and over until you give him the desired object). Plus he's learned the French words for "dog" and "cat" ("chien" and "chat"), but since he can't really tell them apart, he just kind of slurs the ending to the word so that it could be either one.

So -- just as it happens with many parents -- our first child taught us all about what kids are like, and then the second one taught us that all that stuff we learned from the first one wasn't really so much info about kids in general, but rather was only relevant to that one kid. I think it was a famous mathematician who once said, "I used to have three theories about child-rearing and no kids; now I have three kids and no theories about child-rearing." I'm kind of like that myself, except that I have only two kids, and I hate to think I was ever presumptuous enough to imagine I had a theory of child-rearing other than "Love 'em lots, and good luck!"

So when they're watching their favorite show (The Wiggles), we have Nico on the one hand who at 4 can read and write the word "Wiggles," and Leo, who has just learned to say "Wiggles" -- in fact pronounces it "Gigo," but he says it often enough that we know what he's talking about. Here I really ought to launch into a few paragraphs making fun of the Wiggles, but I can't bring myself to do it -- it would just be too easy. I assume many of you Utah Valley folks have small kids, so you know what I'm talking about. Just think of your favorite joke at the Wiggles' expense and imagine you read it here.

Now please don't take the above stories as an indication that we're treating the two differently from each other and/or playing favorites. Each one is going at his own pace, and they'll both turn out just fine. Each one is different, and it's not as if one has problems and the other doesn't.

Actually, we ended up having a few parent-teacher conferences at Nico's nursery school last year regarding the fact that little Nico seemed to be off in his own dreamworld instead of being interested in socializing with the other kids. I'm in favor of any sort of special attention his teachers and his daddy think he needs, but on some level I have a hard time seeing this as a very serious problem since all of my own kindergarten teacher's comments -- which my mother saved -- contain exactly the same remark, and I turned out more or less OK, in my opinion, anyway. In fact, now Nico has already found himself a good friend at school, and he's only 4. I'm pretty sure I didn't make any friends until I was at least 6 or 7, so as far as I'm concerned, he's socially precocious.

Now you're probably thinking that, in the interest of full disclosure, before reproducing with my husband I should have warned him about my early childhood development. In my defense, I have to tell you that he and I have been married for five years and we knew each other for five years before that (not to mention that we obviously met in the pre-existence and everything), so if he's just figuring out just now that I have a slightly different definition of "normal" than your average normal person, then he hasn't been paying very close attention.

As well as Nico's social development is going, it turns out that Leo is even more socially precocious than Nico. Just the other day, Leo and I were at a department store and he tossed his stuffed kitty off the escalator. His daddy told him that that wasn't a very clever thing to do, but the result was that two pretty girls rushed to bring him the kitty and took the opportunity to tell him how cute he is. So even if he's a little behind on language, at least he's right on track with respect to those social skills that are so important for a handsome young Frenchman.

So you see that our two little bilingual babies are on their way.

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor November 17, 2005.