Saturday, April 22, 2006

The DTR Talk

Students have been describing a new phase in their ambiguous courtship ritual: the "define the relationship" talk. They dread it.

They hang out. The group does things together. Two people start "talking" (or are "at the talking stage"). Some kissing may happen about here. Or more. Possibly with alcohol involved. While still hanging out, and doing group things, and talking.

At some point, the couple starts to wonder if they are a couple. Often, he is enjoying the ambiguity, especially if the kissing and more is included. Usually, she will crack first. She will say, "we need to define the relationship." Then an earnest and often uncomfortable conversation follows, which, she hopes, will result in clarity.

How will she know for sure if they have moved up to boyfriend and girlfriend?

He lists her that way on Facebook.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Space Your Babies Close Enough to Mess Each Other's Roles

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that the ideal spacing for babies is at least 18 months, but fewer than five years. Too close together and your risks of low birth weight go up, at the rate of 1.9% per month. Too far apart, though, and you start to run the risk of birth defects or sheer difficulties in having children, though co-author Dr. Agustin Conde-Agudelo acknowledges that these reasons are more speculative.

This five-year gap reminded me of another aspect of family life: birth order effects. Frank Sulloway, in Born to Rebel, says that birth order effects are strongest for siblings who are fewer than five years apart. If there is more than a five-year gap between one sibling and the next it is as if you started over, and the next kid is more like another first born.

Putting these two things together, the Expert Advice of the moment would lead to this conclusion: Have your kids far enough apart that they can occupy distinct niches (unlike "Irish twins" born nine months apart). On the other hand, don't have them so far apart that they don't shape and influence one another.

I am happy to report that the Gruntled kids just about fall within the parameters: 17 months between the first two, then four years to the next. No birth weight of birth defect problems. And they definitely influence one another's roles, in the family and in the world.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Divorce is a Polarizing Institution

The family sociology class is working through Marquardt's Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, which I have written about before. This time I was struck by a point I had missed before.

Institutions are made up of sets of related roles. We make the institution real by enacting the roles.
Marriage is an institution in which men and women learn to be husbands and wives by doing it. The structural logic of marriage draws a couple closer, and works best if they act in a unified way. It is especially important for a married couple to present a united front to their children.

Divorce is also an institution. Ex-husband and ex-wife are roles, too, though they are less defined by law and custom than are their affirmative counterparts, husband and wife. The structural logic of divorce pushes a couple apart. The natural drift of people who no longer have to accommodate one another would produce a widening gap. More than that, though, the divorce will be easier for each of the exes to bear if the couple is demonstrably different from one another, too different to live together. The more different they get, the more the divorce seems justified, even inevitable.

Marquardt's point is that the more different the parents become, the harder it is for their kids to construct one coherent moral worldview.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Today's post will be a more interactive than usual. I am being interviewed by Melinda Roeder from our local television station, Channel 36 in Lexington, about blogging, while I am writing this blog. One of my main points is that blogging is an interactive medium. So if you happen to be reading this while the story is running tonight at 11, please reply, thus completing the loop and/or introducing a wrinkle in the space-time continuum.

I have been blogging for the whole school year. I have come to welcome the daily discipline of collecting and organizing my thoughts. Francis Bacon wrote that "writing maketh a precise man," and I have found it to be ever so. I tell that to students when they fuss about the number of writing assignments in their Centre College classes. That is the glory of a small college, though – the professors can take the time to read (and improve) student papers, one by one.

There have been several stories about this blog on the college webpage and in our local newspaper, the Danville Advocate-Messenger. My Introduction to Family Life class produces a wonderful blog based on the studies we read together. My students have been reading other blogs and joining in their wider conversations. Melinda Roeder mentioned that she has a blog on MySpace.

Yet the spellchecker in Word still does not know "blogging" as a real word. I imagine in the next edition of Word, blogging will be included. According to Technorati, there are 35.6 million blogs in the world. By this time next year, there should easily be 100 million. Students take to it as a normal way to communicate. Some of them get in trouble for being too candid. They imagine, as young people do, that their friends will read what they write – forgetting that the other billion computer users can read it, too.

Blogging will shake out eventually. Many will try them, and stop. The discipline of writing regularly is a hard one, like sticking to a diet. But blogging will also become a standard way for people who want an interactive conversation about a very specialized topic to get instant information, and informed responses.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Recruiting Vandals is No Way to Teach

Sally Jacobsen, and English and Women's Studies professor at Northern Kentucky University, saw a pro-life display on campus. A student group had set it up with permission, the sort of thing that happens as part of the normal exchange of ideas at campuses everywhere. Professor Jacobsen disagreed with the display. She felt her personal beliefs were "horribly violated."

What would you expect a decent professor to do here? Go on a rampage, like Islamist cartoon rioters? Write a letter to the campus paper? Set up her own counter-display? Or perhaps, if the professor saw her job as, you know, teaching students, go talk to the students she disagreed with and have a civilized argument?

No, she thought up a possibility that would never have occurred to me: she recruited students to destroy the display.

University president Jim Votruba has, to his great credit, strongly and publicly criticized the professor and the students. They will not only face campus discipline, but the case has also been turned over to the police.

As you know, we at the Gruntled Center are not prone to advocating harsh remedies. But in this case, I think Sally Jacobsen deserves more that just being fined. She deserves more than being fired. In my opinion, she has shown that she does not understand what a professor is.

Sally Jacobsen should be banned from the profession.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Matzoh Brie

It is the custom of the Gruntled family to honor the Jewish part of our heritage (we are very much American Mixed-Breeds) with matzoh brie for Easter morning. It used to be hard to get matzoh in Danville, Kentucky. The growing cosmopolitanism of our world, though, means that not only does our local Kroger always stock matzoh this time of year, but in multiple varieties. I like the everything kind, but the more delicate palates of the junior Gruntleds leads me to get the plain kind.

So here is the one and only recipe to appear in The Gruntled Center:

Break some matzoh up into a bowl of warm water.

Beat some eggs.

Scramble them together in a frying pan over medium-high heat to the consistency you like.

Good with a bit of salt, I think.

Happy Easter.