Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book Review: Baby Faces

As we all know, there is no higher honor in life than being given a guest post spot here at Grey Skies. Today, I magnanimously allow my youngest child, the 6-month old Duke of Juban, to write a review of his favorite book. Enjoy.


Baby Faces. 2006 Ed., originally published 1998. DK Publishing, Inc.

:::Spoiler Alert!:::

The literary world is, of late, unfairly divided into two camps: those who have read the classic board book, "Baby Faces," and those who have not. The message boards are on fire with furious and poorly constructed arguments on both sides. But I say that this is an unfair division because to eschew vitriol on babies who haven't read this book is to misdirect the blame. No one doesn't read "Baby Faces" because he or she doesn't want to read it; rather, one doesn't read "Baby Faces" because one's parent or guardian does not keep it in the house. The blame, then, lies with the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and well-meaning family friends who refuse to expose their baby to the cultural nuance of such a book, the underlying message of inclusion and diversity, and the sheer - I would say almost bottomless - emotional depth the book provides. Shame on you, grown-ups.

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about the book. "Baby Faces" presents two challenges to the modern baby reader: first, there are words, and while it is not imperative to have a grown-up read the words to you, I do highly recommend you find one who will do this for you; and second, there are no new textures to touch or chew on as there are with other well-esteemed members of the baby board book cannon such as "Animals" or "Let's Get Dressed." But the lack of texture inside "BF" enhances, rather than detracts, from the book's draw: you, the reader, are forced to really LOOK at the baby faces. This emphasis on the sense of sight -- and only sight -- is deceptively simplistic. If you don't believe me, wait until you get to page 3: after two seemingly straightforward faces of babies listed as "Happy" and "Sad," the word under the emotion is read as "Puzzled," but clearly this expression can additionally be interpreted as "confused," "disappointed," or even "constipated." The brilliance of this writing is so far above what most baby books present, and in this way the reader is rewarded for his or her persistence, patience and intelligence.

One of the book's more controversial moments, and my personal favorite, is the two-pager "Peek-a-boo!" scene. In case you've been living under a rock and haven't caught wind of the firestorm surrounding this dramatic scene, I'll sum up for you: a red jumper-clad baby appears from under a basket, thus demonstrating the traditionally admired game of "Peek-a-boo!" 

The controversy around this scene is twofold. Not only does this scene take up two pages of a 16-page book, but in the first page of the scene the baby is not entirely hidden under the basket. In what is widely regarded as the authoritative book written on the subject of "Baby Faces," Stuart Gilbert's "James Joyce's Baby Faces: A Study" claims that without the baby's eyes being hidden by the basket, this game of "peek-a-boo" is false, and a trick. While that is a fair and valid reading of the scene, I agree with what David Foster Wallace said in an interview, which is that by seeing the baby's eyes at all time the scene is meant to be a parody of "peek-a-boo," and the reader invited in on the joke. 

Finally, no review of "BF" is complete without at least a casual mention of the kissing page. If the "peek-a-boo" pages are one of the book's more controversial scenes, then the kissing page is, without a doubt, the most controversial scene. Some words pulled from other reviews and online message board comments about this scene call it "gratuitous," "exploitative," or even "silly," but again, those are overly simplistic explanations for a rather complicated book. Sure, in an otherwise culturally diverse book we have two white, blond babies giving each other a little kiss, which might undermine the presence of the rest of the colorful cast, but my reading of the scene was that it was a natural progression of the plot. 

My strongest issue with the book is the ending. After rewarding the reader again and again with imaginative plot twists ("Angry" juxtaposed with "Worried!") and wink-wink-nudge-nudge satiric humor ("Hungry!"), I was left with a bad taste in my mouth at the vapid "Fast Asleep" last page. Maybe I'm being too sensitive, but I don't like when a book thinks it can trick me into sleeping with a picture of a - yes - sleeping baby. Not only was this an insult, but it was a low-brow one, which makes it all that much more disappointing.

Will "BF" be loved by everyone? Of course not. It already isn't. Is this something everyone should read anyway? Absolutely. Despite the ending the book manages to entertain, surprise, and challenge the reader in the best of ways, and this is why I return to these colorful pages again and agin.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stinky Feet

There is just no nice way to say it: my babies have stinky feet.

My older kid, the 3 1/2-year old Juban Princeling, has grown out of it, but I remember how bad his feet smelled as a baby. And now my younger kid, the 5-month old Duke of Juban, has the same stinky feet.

I don't understand it. It's not like the baby puts on his old sneakers and goes for a jog. He doesn't play in mud, and as far as I know he isn't friends with any skunks. I don't let him play in garbage. He doesn't even sit up yet, much less stand, much less walk, much less walk around all day in stinky shoes.

The irony is that the Princeling does wear shoes all day, sometimes old sneakers with no socks, but his feet smell fine. Well, maybe not fine, but they certainly don't smell like cat diarrhea anymore.

And yet.

The Juban Princeling's dirty feet, circa July 2009. At least
these feet had a reason for being stinky.

When I give him a bath - which he has finally come to terms with (Mommy-1, Baby-0) - I wash between his toes and scrub his little feet. Then, without putting lotion or socks or ANYthing on his feet, a few minutes later they stink like a homeless person stuffed Camembert cheese in his armpits.

How is this even possible?

My theories:

  • If babies' heads smell so good, then the law of balance dictates they have stinky feet
  • The Duke is making cheese with his feet in his crib (unlikely, since I have a video monitor and can see him when he's sleeping) (unless we're talking about a "Speed"-like trick here?)
  • Ghost Mommy is soaking his feet in turpentine and sour milk during his naps
  • The MTA has found a way to bottle that special New York subway station smell and has filled invisible baby shoes with it and put those shoes on my baby the last time we were on the subway
  • That one time we took him to New Jersey stuck to him, but only his feet
  • He's found a way to vomit via his toes
  • It's a defense mechanism to keep me from eating up his yummy chubby little baby feets and toesies

Ideas? Advice? Commiseration?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Real O'Clock: Politics

Every now and then here at the Grey Skies World Headquarters, we like to take it down a notch, from our usual wine-guzzling, Walking Dead-watching, geek con-going ways and get Real. If this were a rock concert, now would be the part where I sit atop a stool, mic in hand, spotlight on, and croon "Every Rose Has A Thorn" while swaying gently, like my depth and emotion are far too sincere to be contained by sitting still.

Get out your lighters (or cell phone screens), because it's about to get Real O'Clock all up in here.

Now that the Olympics are over but "Downton Abbey" hasn't started back up yet, we Americans are left with little else to do but talk politics. I've heard there's one of these "elections" coming up that the KidsTheseDays are all a-twitter about. 


Kidding, of course. I can't turn on my TV, open my laptop, or feed my baby without hearing about it. (My 5-month old baby, the Duke of Juban, has some rather strong opinions about campaign finance reform.) And aside from admitting that I think Ryan Paul is kinda hot in a weird white-boy sort of way, or reiterating my invite to the Obamas to come to my house for pasta and Tasti-D-Lite, I don't like to talk about politics.

I never have liked it, but lately I refuse to engage in political discussion. What's the point? Most of my friends, on both sides of any given issue, just like to repeat one-liners and soundbites, or post sad little FB memes with quotes taken out of context. 

From what I've seen, few people actually like to engage in an actual conversation about actual politics. Most people like to spew their opinions. You can either agree with them or not, but they really don't care. They say their piece and then shut their ears. Even people who consider themselves open-minded, or claim to listen to "both sides" before making up their minds, already have their minds made up. Having political discussions with most people I know is a pretty useless exercise in futility and frustration. I will never get my Conservative friends to admit that Obama is anything but a Socialist, secret Muslim, elitist tyrant who wants to take away their guns and force their daughters to have abortions, just like I will never hear my Liberal friends admit that Romney is anything but a Bible-beating, civil liberties-hating, gun-crazy pig who wants to turn American women into The Handmaid's Tale.

From Wikimedia Commons, author Cpl. Megan L. Stiner, 2004

Which brings me to my next point: political shorthand. To say that I am tired of people using this as a way to define anyone who doesn't agree with them is a woeful understatement. For the record, here are some terms, as well as things they are NOT synonyms for:

  • Liberal (or Progressive)
    • NOT a synonym for:
      • Tolerant
      • Open-minded
      • Non-racist
      • Gun-hating
      • Baby killing
      • Godless
      • Hippie
      • Elitist
      • Unpatriotic

  • Conservative
    • NOT a synonym for:
      • Ignorant
      • Gun toting
      • Racist
      • Misogynist
      • Religious
      • Rich
      • Patriot
      • Xenophobic

I'm a Liberal and I have Conservative friends. I know, but it's true! And sure, sometimes they post things on FB that make me roll my eyes, or sigh, or just scroll through. But here's the thing: they are people. They are my friends.

I still talk politics with people close to me. Sometimes the husband and I talk about things that are going on. But I refuse to engage in political discussion with others, especially on FB. I don't see this as irresponsible or unpatriotic or ignorant. I see it as saving my sanity. This doesn't mean I don't care about issues: I still give money to the charities and organizations I believe in, I still read, I still watch the news. I just don't want to talk about it much except with a few people I trust - including my Conservative best friend, Tia. I'm not sticking my head in the sand, I'm being selective.

What about you? Do you discuss politics, and if so, have you ever changed your mind or admitted you were wrong about a politician or an issue?