Hi there. JJ here. I'm no longer updating this blog, but you can visit me at jjkeith.net. I also update on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, including copious kid pics. You can buy my new book, Motherhood Smotherhood, by clicking here.

Monday, August 5, 2013

If You Skim This, You Will Break My Heart

My life changed drastically when the kids started going to school full-time last month. For the first time in over four years, I have well, not exactly free time, but time. Time to work, time to think, time to make marinara from scratch (it was surprisingly good) and time to, um, watch Bunheads and eat nachos in bed in the broad daylight — my personal take on the Peg Bundy Bonbons/soap combo. To wash down all that Gilmore-style fast talking and melted cheddar, I like to mix up a bottle of my signature daytime beverage: a half-liter of water, carbonated by my best friend and confident, Señor Soda Stream, which is doused up with a splash of mai tai mix, but the non-alcoholic kind because despite the valiant efforts of Kathy Lee Gifford to normalize day-drinking, it remains off the table for me. At least on weekdays. One must have standards.

I've been lazy, is what I'm saying. I mean, it's not like I haven't worked: I have several projects in progress. However, I haven't been maximally productive, for which I feel guilty. For so long I've had a chip on my shoulder about doing all the work I do with so little childcare and now that the chip is finally gone, I gotta figure out how to be productive now that I don't have to relegate my work to whatever spare moments I can string together. The plan might involve 100% less cancelled ABC Family dramas about ballerinas during the day. Might.

It doesn't matter anyway. In a few weeks, I'm about to have a lot more work and this mama always gets her shit done. And during this down time I have done some thinking and oh yeah, I buried the lede of this post because I like doing that. (Years of watching The Simpsons has warped my sense of structure.) So, here's the rub: after over four years, I'm killing this blog. I've loved making this. This is my 475th post, if you can believe it! It kept me writing when all I could think about was the day to day operations of being a stay-at-home mom and gave me an outlet during the indescribably difficult early days of having two-under-two.

Remember the that a random ex-boyfriend that I'd almost forgotten about who started leaving mansplainy comments under the pseudonym of "Mary Shu" but my wannabe hacker cousin helped me bust him using his IP address? Yeah, good times. Oh, and hey, remember that time that my wannabe hacker cousin got me permanently banned from Ad Sense? That shithead still denies it but once — once — he admitted that he created a little program to automatically click on my ads for me. Remember when Our Little Lady of the Pink Cheeks puked inside her daddy's mouth? Remember when I talked about my bewbz constantly? Remember when Kasper exploded from my innards like a jack in the box? Remember that time when some monster asked me when I was due when I totally wasn't pregnant at all and then followed that shit up by asking me why I wasn't exercising more and so I got super upset and I started trying to exercise more and while doing so I walked past a homeless man rolled up in a blanket jerking off while staring at me through a hole in the blanket? Ah, memories. But you can relive them at your leisure. I'm not going to take this blog down. It'll remain right here as an archive. But I'm not going to add to it anymore.

In addition to being my outlet and my comfort over the last four years — some of which has been extraordinarily difficult — I learned how to write for an audience. I learned how not to be a dick when writing about my friends (a few posts have been deleted from the archives). I learned how to gulp down haterade. I learned how to fess up when I'd been a dick. I learned to not to hit "publish" when I was still in the throes of a moment of anger/elation/sadness/any strong emotion. I learned how to set my ever shifting boundary between public and private. I learned how to be read, which is in many ways more important than knowing how to write.

Oh wait, I buried another lede. I have a big announcement to make...really big.

Can a woman in her reproductive years say that without making everyone think that she's recently Googled "DIY IUD removal?"

I'm not pregnant. Not with a human anyway. No, I'm pregnant with a book! That's right. Fall 2014, Skyhorse Publishing, Stop Reading Baby Books. For reals. It's based loosely off of something I drunkenly posted on this very blog, (well, technically I posted it the next morning because of the aforementioned lessons learned about writing stuff that some people actually read). It's not a blog-to-book kind of dealio though. Please don't expect anything like "JJust Kidding: the Book." I'm taking the tone and idea of that one post and expanding it to a book about baby's first year and all the dumb stuff that people get all worked up about like the way that women can be equally shunned for breastfeeding in public and feeding a baby formula in public because we're just all so fucking worked up about tits and nipples and bottles and food that it's a struggle for a parent to just go about feeding their baby without getting fifteen kinds of shit from fifteen different camps of people who give too many shits about boobs and bottles.

I wrote a proposal in March and April. I got an agent in May. She sold it in July. That might all seem quick, but from my perspective it has been FUCKING GLACIAL. Like, you can not even imagine how much anxiety and terror has gone into getting to this point, but I think the book is going to be the awesomest and I'm excited as hell to finish writing it and get it out in the world. Oh, and maybe some of you have the same question my father-in-law did: yes, it will be a "real" book, available both as an ebook and printed on actual paper and sold in stores. And please buy that sucker up because I'd like very much to write some more books.

Oh, and since I have a book coming out and it would be stupid to stop blogging, I'm not. I am killing this blog, but I'm starting anew over on my personal page at http://jjkeith.net/blog. The first few posts are up for your perusal. I'll post once a week or so as I've been doing here, but the content will be slightly different in that it'll skew less personal and more topical because realtalk: my kids are getting old enough that they're entitled to not have their damn mother live-blogging their childhood. It'll be more reflective of the content in Stop Reading Baby Books and the kind of stuff I've been publishing outside of this blog on HuffPo, Salon and elsewhere, but instead of essays, it'll be shorter and less developed things.

IMPORTANT: If you read this blog via its RSS feed, you will automatically be subscribed to the new blog (I hope). I'm just going to redirect the feed (I hope). You don't need to do anything (I hope). However, while I figure out how to do that, you might see some wonky shit in the feed.

So in summary:
  • I like to watch Bunheads while eating nachos and drinking virgin mai tai mix. 
  • Say bye-bye to JJust Kidding, including and especially its awkward, punny title. How do you pronounce it? No really, I'm asking because I still don't know.
  • Say hello to my pretty new wordpress blog.
  • And please pee your pants with anticipation for Stop Reading Baby Books, my book which'll be released by Skyhorse Publishing in Fall 2014. 
Signing off, 

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Bunk Bed


My mom is the kind of person who will put your cup in the dishwasher if you set it down for even a second. I think my childhood catchphrase was, "Hey, I wasn't finished!" And the woman never met a yarn-adorned Mother's Day gift that she couldn't toss out with the kitty litter. It is a miracle that my Legos escaped her, oh, but they did. I swore I'd never be like my mom, at least not in that regard, but alas, the rigours of being a family of four in 800 square feet demand otherwise. If we ever want to see our floor, then shit has gotta go!

And so it has come to be that all this stuff is gone. Slowly over the last several months, we've redone both bedrooms. (We are still hoping/trying to move, but we've realized that it might take awhile to find the right place). Our bedroom is now just ours, and a functional office to boot, and theirs is a proper kids' room with a bunk bed for my big kids. A bunk bed! I know!

I don't get all worked up about letting go of baby things. There's too much exciting kid stuff coming up for me to weep about not having a baby in the house. I mean, I have my moments. A while back, at a playdate with a mom who was about to go into labor, another mom sighed warmly and said to the about-to-give-birth mom, "Nothing like having a new baby in the house." And though there are a thousand snide ways to counter that sentiment ("And good thing you're not sleeping so you get to savour every single moment of it!" yuk yuk), she was right: there isn't anything like having a new baby in the house.

It was truly the most wonderful feeling I have ever felt when I brought Bea and later Kasper home for the first time and whispered into their bitty ears, "This is your home now. I hope you like it." I remember that the day Bea came home she slept all friggin' day except for her first fifteen minutes in our cottage. She opened her goopy eyelash-less eyes up wide and gaped at her room, ostensibly saying, "A woodland-themed nursery? Really? Could you be any less original?" (I watched a lot of Friends when I was pregnant so maybe that's why she was born speaking in Chandler's voice.)

Still, I am so happy that Bea is writing her own dialogue now (and she's not nearly as much of a dick as I voiced her to be). I am delighted that they go to school and I have more time to work. I cannot wait until I sell the last stroller! Future, ho! Last week we sold this old Ikea chair that I got for her nursery and I was like, "Smell ya later, raggedy Poang!"

So it was pretty weird when the next day, I found myself sitting in the garage hunched over and crying because I'd let the chair go. It was this chair, where I sat outside during that stupidly hot August while I was trying to keep Kasper sucked up inside of me to avert his attempted prematurity despite having a 1.5-year-old to juggle.


And then, once he was born, early but healthy, I sat outside with him in that chair so he could sun off his jaundice.


I sold that chair. I sold it and I didn't think twice. I mean, what was I supposed to do, haul a chair I didn't like around for the rest of my life because I sat in with a new baby? That's kinda Great Expectations-y, right? Still...still...

P.S. I'm working on a new project (details coming soon) and I need your help! If you see an internet comment or post about parenting espouses an extreme viewpoint or generalization about another group of parents, could you email or tweet me a link or a screen grab? Extremes both to the right and left are welcome. Some examples:
  • "The government is trying to make it illegal for me to spank my own child." 
  • "Moms who don't breastfeed are just lazy."
  • "If you let your kid watch TV, you might as well let him smoke crack."
  • "Parents who don't practice AP aren't even parenting."
  • "We don't need no stinkin' govt to shovel our kids into school." 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Actually Watching TV is the New "I Only Watch Documentaries on PBS"

I'd like to depart from my normal topics of parenting, writing and, well, me, and talk about something very near and dear to my heart: television.

I live in Los Angeles, a place where though many, many, many people live off of money made in "the industry" in some manner or another, and yet the cool people are always all, "I only keep my TV around to watch BBC news" or "My TV is just for screeners." Like, seriously, if I mention a TV show in a crowded room, people race to be the first to boast that they're "out of it" or "too busy." Which, dude, is fine. To each her own. But I've now cut out of my life anyone who would unironically refer to TV as "the boob tube" or blanketly dismiss TV as something that "rots brains."

It's always been my dream to get paid to watch TV. I've come close: I used to have a television column on PopMatters before I had children to obsessively chronicle and I once was almost hired by Big Brother to write summaries of their online feeds (which would have involved watching the online feeds, something that might have required a touch more dedication to Big Brother than I actually have). Alas, as I get older, I am realizing that television watching may have to remain strictly a hobby.

Despite my dedication to the medium, I did something earlier this summer that I thought I'd never ever do: I cut my cable. We have continuously had DVR service for the last ten years, even when we were crazy-broke, even when we had to sell off our DVDs to keep paying for it. But lately, we've been giving our monthly bill some side eye. I mean, $108 per month?! Obviously, we had to have HBO to get Girls and Game of Thrones and we had to have Showtime for Shameless and of course we had to get a good channel package to make sure we got Lifetime so we could watch Project Runway and Bravo for Top Chef. And so it just ballooned until we realized we had to get this shit in check.

Much to our surprise, cutting our cable has been relatively painless. We only watch a few network things over the summer (I'm not [very] ashamed to admit that I still watch Big Brother), and it's not so bad to sit through commercials because I'm always using my iPhone while I watch anyway. It's not like Big Brother requires my full attention. Plus, it's on CBS.com anyway. Most of the rest of what we watch is available through Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime. All the goodies are available: Community, Sherlock (the BBC one with my boyfriend Benedict Cumberbatch), Downton Abbey, Bob's Burgers (which, if you haven't seen, is much more than a clone of The Simpsons), Daily and Colbert — basically, all the goodies, except for HBO and Showtime, both of which are locked into stupid, outdated modes of distributions.

We figured out that our quality of life would improve if we just cut some shows that were crap anyway (all of the Real Housewives, and, actually, everything on Bravo except for Top Chef, for example) and most of the rest we can get online somehow. We may have to wait for the DVD release of some shows and we may skip some others. But we will be okay! And we're saving a ton of money, even with all those online subscription services. We have Amazon Prime anyway because two-day shipping is my jam, and then Netflix and Hulu Plus are $7.99 each, so that's a pretty major price reduction, even when you consider that we pay per episode to watch new episodes of Adventure Time on Amazon and we'll have to do the same for Breaking Bad when it starts up again. (But can I come over to watch Girls, Veep and Game of Thrones when they come back on? I'll bring beer...) I'd estimate that our monthly TV costs are down to about $30, which is a price we can handle.

It's long been apparent that cable shows can reach incredible depths when freed from the contraints of broadcast TV. I mean, dude, Homeland is no joke. But more recently, I've had my socks blown off Netflix and I haven't even seen House of Cards yet. First, Arrested Development, while flawed, was soooooo great. I'm just gonna up and say that Alden and I were huge fans of AD when it was on the air the first time and have been snidely bitching about all the people who didn't listen to us rave about it, but then became huge fans later. (Mostly inspired by one former friend who was into AD that she maintained a Tobias Fünke parody account on Twitter and would lecture us on the show's merits, forgetting that years earlier our AD boosterism fell on her deaf ears.) I've been bringing this up while trying to convince people to watch the recently-and-tragically-cancelled Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, which I think will be another show that has a cult afterlife. Van der Beek as himself is brilliant.

But what has me all jazzed on new programming models at the moment is Orange is the New Black. I'm not gonna spoil anything, but just go and do whatever you have to do and go watch it. What is revelatory is not just the quality of the show and its writing, but that if it existed on networks or cable, it would have been butchered. The characters are diverse in terms of their race, social class and sexuality. Its politics are overt, but not heavy handed. (The Newsroom, it is not. I mean, geez, Aaron Sorkin, tell us what you really think about the debt ceiling.) It features a transsexual character who is richly developed and freed from stereotypes. And like Weeds, which was also created by Jenji Kohan, its main character is morally ambiguous and not 100% likable, but I find Piper a lot less frustrating to watch than Nancy Botwin. If you're not convinced, read this Pajiba listicle.

The new arrangement suits the kids just fine. They still watch a few Nick Jr. and Disney Junior shows on the iPad, plus whatever is on Netflix and Sesame Street on Amazon. My only gripe is that I wish the online services would let me ban certain shows so I didn't have to repeatedly put the smackdown on The Littlest Pet Shop and Bratz, but one of the upsides of living in a tiny house is that my kids can't get away with jack shit because we're always ten feet apart.

In conclusion: cutting cable=highly recommended. Also, if you think you're too busy for TV, make time.

Alden stumbled upon this, the food truck from Happy Endings, in a parking lot near our house and geeked out. Rest in Peace, Happy Endings. I guess it wasn't The Year of Penny after all. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Four Things I’ve Learned Now That I'm Four (And a Half) Years Into Being a Mom

1. Toddlers don’t give a crap about arboretums
They're humoring me, the sweethearts.
There’s something about seeing my kids gambol about in a proper English garden that makes me feel like I might not be screwing up this whole parenting thing. We’ve had some okay visits to botanical gardens, arboretums, nature preserves and the like, but there’s always a point about an hour in when the kids are like, “Cool flowers, Mom, but where’s the slide?”

Turns out, that they would waaaaaay rather play at the sketchy park next to our house than drive thirty minutes out of the city to stare at an endangered species of fig. They are far more impressed by six inches of water in a kiddie pool than they are by a dancing fountain. If my kids had a choice between ten acres of blooming South African aloes and a shoebox-sized backyard with a rusting swing set that hadn’t been used since the early 1980’s, they would gleefully take the latter.

There might be a day when one of my kids says, “Hey, how about we go to the arboretum this weekend so you can teach me everything you know about botany and I can watch you take hundreds of macros of leaves?” Like, technically, the universe is infinitely vast and possibilities are limitless, but realistically...? Well, you know.

2. Kids are surprisingly durable
He did not come down with a case of the polios since this was taken.
Children face many real dangers. From car crashes to kitchen accidents, there are too many things out there that can hurt a kid! I can hardly sleep at night thinking of all the things that could go wrong in my kids’ lives.

But because I spend every moment of life awash with anxiety that today is the day that the big earthquake happens and our car is be smooshed in the underground parking garage at Target leaving me dead and my semi-orphaned children to escape their own carseats and subsist on the granola that has accumulated in the cracks between my seat cushions until they can claw their way to the surface and begin their motherless existence in a post-earthquake deathscape (or something), I really can’t be bothered to rag on my kids to stop trying to do dumb stunts on their scooters.

Some children are naturally cautious. My children are not. They freak a lot of people out by doing things like somersaults down slides or wrestling like feral kittens. I think the #1 most frequent thing that strangers say to my kids is, “Careful, you could get hurt!” and every time I find it really difficult not to snort-laugh in response. Yeah, they could get hurt, and they do get hurt. All the damn time. Our days are an endless parade of scraped up butt-cheeks, dinged faces and grass-burned knees. But I've set a high threshold for intervention because otherwise I would always be intervening and that would seriously interfere with the headspace I need for imagining earthquake scenarios.

3. Just Ignore Shit
Or, if you can't ignore, take a pic.

On a recent plane ride with the fam, the lady sitting in front of us kept glaring over her shoulder whenever Kasper fussed. It's like she thought that if we only knew that we were annoying her, we would be able to change the situation. Welp, no. Both my husband and I were already doing everything within our power to corral the kid. And sure, Bea was happily plugged into the Kindle, but Kas was not having it… because he’s two.

We tried everything we could, but when that hose beast wouldn’t stop glaring, I just up and carried the kid up to a part of the plane where people were less glare-y. And lo, up next to the bathrooms was a cute young couple who was like, “Aw, poor guy; poor mommy,” and then, with a sympathetic nod, they put there headphones back on and ignored me and my angry kid.

Those people having the grace to ignore us was the greatest kindness they could have offered. I instantly felt a thousand times better. But then it occurred to me — the grace in ignoring things? Couldn’t that apply to me and how overworked I was about the lady in front of us who wouldn’t knock it off with the bitch-glare? So I took the kid back to my seat and made another fifty attempts to amuse/distract/placate him, all the while ignoring the bitch-glare until he finally succumbed to an age-inappropriate episode of Adventure Time. Win win. Someone get that lady some headphones.

4. I am Large, I Contain Multitudes
"C'mon, kid. Let's ditch this joint and hit the road."
I’m not saying anything newsworthy when I acknowledge that becoming a parent messes with people's heads. Though it seems kinda dumb to admit now, one of the things I had to figure out was that I could be a mother who stays home with her kids and still a person with an intellect and outside interests. The problem I had to resolve was that I had long thought of the world as being occupied by just two types of women: career ladies and moms, which, yes, is dumb as hell, but I’m not the first nor the last person to fall prey to this clumsy oversimplification. And note that my misunderstanding persisted despite a bookshelf full of books (that I actually read!) making the polar opposite point. Idiocy can be persistent.

For a long time, in both my writing and my personal interactions, I made jokes about being a shitty housewife, which was just my coded way of saying that I was more than a housewife because if I was bad at running a house it was only because I was too good at other things. And now, with apologies, I’m going to renovate the old humblebrag into a new, more honest, humblebrag: I keep a tidy, orderly little home. My plants only die sometimes. Though I will never be a great cook, I am growing to be an adequate one, and one who takes actual pleasure at chopping up an onion the right way for the first time in her life. My children contain all the layers of sweetness and naughtiness that children usually contain. And they seem to genuinely like me!

Yet only recently have I arrived at this “duh” point: I am still me. I am still every bit as smart, obnoxious, goofy and capable as I’ve always been. Doing a good job of taking care of my kids is not mutually exclusive to being good at taking care of myself. So hooray! I can make a decent dinner and still be a complicated woman, which is not so much a revelation as a newfound awareness of something that I should have always known but somehow didn't. Totally my bad.
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