Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Al Green, Barack Obama, and Me

I had no idea our President was so musically gifted.  I married my husband because he sang to me.  I might as well vote for a president who does.  And that's what he's going for, right?  Everyone thinks President Obama is pandering to the college student vote, which he probably is.  But I think he's striking gold with the busy suburban moms minding their own business.  People like me who don't agree with all his policies (the Wars: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, The Drug War, NDAA) but who nevertheless melt when someone sings to us. 

Being sung to is a very intimate act.  It's elevating the dialogue.  It's communicating emotions.  Letting someone know you understand how they feel.  It's wonderful.  And it's just what this country needs right now, during this long struggle with joblessness, social welfare and education budget cuts, and rising costs of household goods.  The President is lulling us to sleep, cradling us in his strong, parental arms. 

"Hush, child.  I'll watch over you as you sleep."

That seems like a criticism of those of us not paying full attention to our country's goings-on, but it's not meant to be entirely that.  Sure, I'd rather more people become involved in civics.  Do more than just voting.  Signing petitions.  Demonstrating.  Paying more attention.  But I also know what it's like to be jolted out of bed by a blaring alarm clock.  What it feels like to take care of everybody else's needs first.  To barely have any undistracted time to ourselves, let alone time to pay attention to the big world outside our busy lives.  So even though my inner cynical self knows it's politicky and smells a little like bullshit, the President had my vote at "I-I-I-I- am so in loooooooove with you..."


Four days later...

Some of my more conservative friends have been worrying about me since I shared this blog post.  Even more so than usual. 

Yes, this is an outrageously pro-Obama post, I admit.  And since I claim to be irritated with our president more days than not, it seems incongruous with my political identification.  Trust me, if I could find some good clips of Ron Paul or Mitt Romney singing I'd post them too! Damn.

I think some people don't get my sense of humor. I love politics precisely because I don't take politics too seriously. I think raising awareness of important issues, talking things over with my friends and loved ones, writing letters to my leaders and signing petitions, and above all raising my daughter to be a kind, nuanced thinker will do far more to change the world for the better than voting or not voting for a stupid president. They're all stupid. So I might as well base my stupid vote on a stupid reason like enjoying a candidate's singing voice.

To balance out this post a bit, let me share with you one more clip of a musically gifted President:

Not bad for a Dick.  Let me know if you find any good Ron Paul or Mitt Romney musical clips.  Here's a fun one that definitely leans to the right of the political spectrum:

Doesn't that clip almost make you want to vote for a Huckabee/Nugent ticket?  Yeah, me neither.  I guess that blows my theory about music being able to overcome extreme political difference.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Little Miss Muffet

This image comes from an ebook and is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at

Katie loves cottage cheese. As I stood at the sink loading the dishwasher, Katie sat at the kitchen table enjoying her second bowl for the day.

"Mama! This morning when I was eating my cottage cheese when you were in the shower, you know what I did?"

"What'd you do, Sweetie?" I flicked an ant off the plate. I don't normally like to kill living things. I'm the kind of person who picks up bugs and escorts them outside. Except for ants. When ants invade my kitchen, I turn into George Zimmerman. They're so tiny and travel in gangs it's simply impossible for me to catch them fast enough to relocate them to where they are welcome.

Katie continued, "I said to myself:

     Little Miss Muffet
     Sat on tuffet
     Eating her courage and whey
     Along came a spider
     Who sat down beside her
     And frightened Miss Muffet away."

"Oh, that's wonderful!" I smiled, trying not to laugh at her. I liked Katie's version better than the original nursery rhyme. "I used to recite that nursery rhyme when I was your age too. Where did you hear that?"

"The school librarian. She said courage and whey is like cottage cheese." Katie explained with her mouth full.

"You know, it's actually 'curds and whey' not 'courage and whey'. But I like 'courage and whey'. Maybe if Miss Muffet had actually eaten some courage and whey she wouldn't have run away from the spider. Most spiders are nice if you're nice to them." I looked around for the ant I'd flicked to see if he was still around. Maybe I'd try to take him outside after all.

"1940 WPA poster using "Little Miss Muffet" to promote reading among children."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Green Days and Yellow Days and The Land of Make Believe

Katie had her first yellow sticker day yesterday. When she first started kindergarten last August she'd greet us after school with, "I had a green day today!"

Will and I, both fans of the band Green Day, would laugh at our inside joke, but poor little perfectionist Katie would ignore her silly parents and hold her head high as she walked home from school. After several weeks she dropped it when she realized announcing green days is like announcing the sky is blue.

Until yesterday. As soon as I entered the house after work, Katie ran up to me and without a hi or a hug blurted out, "I had a yellow day today!"

Katie's school issues colored stickers for behavior. Green for no behavior problems. Yellow for minor behavior problems. Red for major behavior problems. Each day kids are sent home with a sticker. It comes on the calendar they carry back and forth in their backpack to keep parents informed about their child's activities.

Katie has saved all her calendars this year. When she fans through the stack you see a blur of green dots. Until you hit April and see one lonely yellow dot.

Will and I responded the exact same way when we first saw it: "It's about time. All people make mistakes."

But not in the land of make believe.

Turns out that's where she was when she was caught daydreaming in class instead of finishing her work with the rest of her classmates. That's what ended her green day winning streak: pretending she was Zelda in Hyrule.

As I was combing her hair this morning, trying to get a knot out that she had twisted in her hair during self-soothing pre-sleep she cried, "I wish I didn't have knots in my hair. But I can't help it because it's how I fall asleep! I wish I lived in the land of make believe. Then I wouldn't have knots in my hair or yellow days!"

Friday, April 13, 2012

At Peace with That Thought

I’ve had writer’s block this week. Like nothing I have to say is worth sharing. So I tabbed over to Google News. A headline caught my eye.

Mayor Cory Booker heroically rescued his neighbor from her burning house last night. This is what he had to say about the experience:

“I didn’t feel bravery; I felt terror.”

And that’s just it. Brave people don’t feel brave. They feel scared just like us cowards. Only they keep going. They rush ahead, jumping through the flames to save someone else’s life while thinking, “I might die.” And being at peace with that thought. “So what if I do?”

I said something similar to Katie yesterday afternoon when she stopped screaming.

The kid takes video games too seriously. Her father broke out his Nintendo 64 so he could show Katie The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. She quickly became addicted. As soon as homework is done she wants to play it. When I persuade her to instead play outside (who is the kid here?) all she wants to play is “Zelda” where she runs around the yard with a giant stick, stabbing the air as she chases bad guys.

Yesterday afternoon I was not-writing at my computer while Katie sat on the futon and her character Alex ran through Hyrule Field. She screamed. My self-centered, highly musophobic self immediately pulled my knees to my chest and my feet to the seat. Mouse. She must have seen a mouse.

“What’s wrong, Sweetie?” I clenched my teeth, hoping I didn’t have to get up to check on her. The thought of having to put my feet on the floor in the same room as a mouse. Ugh. I can’t even stand to think about it.

“I stuck and it’s almost nighttime!”

I’m not a gamer. My parents never bought me a video game console or whatever the hell the things are called that you turn on to pull up the game on your TV screen. Growing up in the Seventies, my friend across the street had an Atari. I’d spend the night and we’d watch “The Love Boat,” followed by “Fantasy Island” snuggled up inside our Holly Hobby sleeping bags, shoving handfuls of popcorn into our faces, drinking pop, and giggling. When the TV shows were over her parents would go to bed and my friend would break out the Atari. We played “Pong” and “Space Invaders”. I was bad at both. But I didn’t care because I could roller skate faster than my friend could and I knew that’s what we’d be doing as soon as the sun came up again.

That’s about the extent of my gaming ways. For about a month I babysat a kid who wasn’t old enough to know how to stop pissing his pants but who knew how to do whatever it was that was the point of playing “Donkey Kong” or “Mario” or whatever that game was that has that annoying earworm-worthy song.

Then I met Will. My husband is a gamer. He grew up playing video games like I grew up playing Barbies. They were his life. They were what he did in his every spare moment on consciousness when he wasn’t outside riding his bike or stealing his mom’s Virginia Slims butts, hiding them inside his clock radio’s tape deck to smoke when he had the house to himself.

I don’t know why he married me. I’m surprised he didn’t insist on mating with a fellow gamer. Once in the early part of our dating relationship he brought over some bowling game and tried to get me to play it with him. After a few tries he laughed, shaking his head as if he’d never met a breed of human like me and said, “Wow, you really are bad.” I didn’t care. He liked my stories.

As soon as Will determined our daughter was able to comprehend words well enough to attempt to play “Zelda” he broke out his old game and controller and showed her how to start it.

From what I can tell she’s pretty good at it. But you know. I’m her mom. When she was younger I’d brag to anyone who would listen how her finger paintings and sandbox sculptures belonged in the Met.

Katie’s strategy in “Zelda” seems to be her strategy in real life too. She avoids conflict. At school when her friends start fighting with each other, she wanders off to play by herself. In the game, when nighttime approaches and she knows the skulltulas are about to come out, she heads to the Temple of Time to convert to a grownup so she can play the Song of the Sun on the ocarina, or something like that. But, she’s five. Sometimes she forgets she can do that and she just screams.


“What’s wrong, Sweetie?” I ask, my feet beneath me in the chair.

“I stuck and it’s almost nighttime!”

I knew I had to get up. I was terrified. But my baby was dying in her game. I’ll never be a Cory Booker, but I was the only other person home, so I was as good as Katie was gonna get.

I talked myself through it. “Just put your feet on the floor. What’s the worst that can happen? A mouse is not going to run across your feet. And so what if it did? Would you die. No, you just think you would die. A harmless mouse is not going to—”

By that time I’d made it to the futon. Katie was curled up in a ball, eyes hidden behind her knees. The game controller at her side.

I suddenly turned into Mother and forgot about the imaginary mouse. “What’s wrong, Sweetie?”

“It’s almost nighttime and I can’t get out.”

Since I don’t know how the controller works, I couldn’t do it for her. I literally had never walked in her character’s elfin shoes. All I knew to do was sit and put my arm around her. So I did.

She sunk her warm little body into mine and cried for a minute.

I said, “It’s ok.”

“It’s not ok!” She sat up straight and had fury in her eyes.

“Why are you so angry?” I honestly didn’t know. I don’t understand gamer rage.

“Because I not brave!” She covered her eyes with her forearm dramatically and fell back into the futon.

“How are you not brave?”

She uncovered her eyes and pointed to the TV screen. “Because I scared of the skulltulas!

I hugged her again. “It’s ok to be scared, Sweetie. Brave people get scared. You have to keep trying. Brave people are just cowards who don’t give up.”

We sat there together for a long, quiet moment that I cherished, aware of its natural ephemerality. With each lesson learned my daughter needs me less.

She broke my mother’s-lament trance and sat up, taking the controller in hand to un-pause her character.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I know how to get out! I have an idea!”

I watched her face and smiled, then went back to write. Leaving her at peace with that thought.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Happy Easter Eve!

First thing out of Katie's mouth this morning:

"Happy New Year's Eve, Mama!"

I had been sleeping, so it took me a second to realize what day it was and what the heck she was talking about. But I've lived with this kid for five and a half years now, so I'm fairly fluent in Kidspeak.

"Oh, you mean Easter Eve?" I said, rubbing my eyes.

"Yes! It's one day until Easter and today we get to dye eggs!"

The dogs began to whine, so I hauled myself out of bed to let them outside. When I returned, Katie was in her room searching for something.

"What are you looking for?" I held my hand up like a visor to shield her bright ceiling light from my half-asleep eyes.

"My pretend Easter egg from last Easter!"

"You still have that?"

"Yes! Somewhere..." She stood in the middle of her room with her pinkie finger at the side of her mouth.

After about two seconds of thinking, she gave up and sat on the bed. I sat beside her.

"Mama, I want to dye Easter eggs now!"

"No, you have to be patient. We have to wait for your cousins to get here this afternoon."

"I don't want to be patient. I want to dye Easter eggs now!"

"We have to wait. How would your cousins feel if we started without them?" I'm big on The Golden Rule of Parenting. Try to remind them how others will feel about their actions.

Katie was quiet for a minute as I sat with my arm around her. I was trying to wake up. I figured she was still trying to remember where she put last year's pretend Easter egg. After a long silence she spoke.

"Mama, do you know the real meaning of Easter?"

I braced myself to retrieve the information stored in the cobwebby closet of my mind. I rarely went to Sunday school as a child, so most of my biblical information comes from listening to my mom, who reads the Bible daily, paraphrase proverbs and other favorite stories. My mom also watches TV daily, so many of Mom's Bible stories ended in ways I recognized whenever I'd catch an episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" or "Soap," great TV shows you wouldn't normally associate with biblical instruction.

I'm a big fan of Jesus and I quote his biographer's words often, but I've been burned by too many so-called Christian's words to use that label myself. Still, I want Katie to have an understanding of the mainstream culture around her even if we teach her to think for herself. And I want her to know about Jesus, The Prince of Peace, because I value the teachings attributed to him even if I'm cynical about the religion that sprung from his life.

"What's the real meaning of Easter?" I like to answer Katie's questions with questions. I used to do it because her answers were so cute, but now I do it because her logic is often more sound than mine.

Katie stood up as if she had an important announcement to make, "The real meaning of Easter is sharing candy with little children who don't have enough candy."

"That's true. And it's also about Jesus. Do you remember him?"

Katie nodded her head and smiled.

I continued, "Some people believe Jesus was born at Christmastime and he died and was resurrected at Eastertime."

Katie stopped me, "What's resurrected?"

"It's a rebirth. A new life. Some people believe he was killed--"

"Why?" Katie had the same look of concern on her face as she gets every time she begins watching the movie "Willow" and the Evil Queen orders the guards to kill Baby Princess Alora's mom. She sat next to me.

"Because the people in power didn't like him. Because Jesus said you don't have to listen to people in power, you just have to love everyone and treat everyone the way you would want to be treated. And the people in power didn't like that so they had Jesus killed. Then his friends and loved-ones put his body in a tomb--"

Katie stopped me, "What's a tomb?"

"It's like a cave where you bury people's bodies when they have died." I paused to see if any more questions were coming. There were none, so I continued, "But after three days, his friend Mary Magdalene went to his tomb and his body was gone. Then she found him walking around like he wasn't dead. She saw his body resurrect--"

Katie stopped me, "What's resurrect?"

"Be reborn. Live again. Like the trees and flowers outside. Just when we thought during winter they had died, they come back to life in the spring.”

Katie looked out her bedroom window into our back yard.

“So Mary Magdalene saw Jesus resurrect and go to Heaven to live with God. So that's why some people like to celebrate Easter. They think if you love Jesus when you die you will be reborn and live with Jesus and God in Heaven. So that's the real meaning of Easter." I caught my breath. I felt quite proud that I had remembered the story my mom told me years ago. Like a game of telephone, I suspected my version had its own bias, but I felt satisfied that Katie would have a better understanding of something so central to our society.

Katie jumped up from the bed and clapped her hands a couple of times. At first I thought she was applauding my performance, but then she spoke and I knew they were just claps of excited anticipation.

"Aaaaaaaaand, the real meaning of Easter is making sure all little children have enough candy!"

She definitely has a firm grasp on our mainstream culture.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Parenting Question of the Day: How Do You Get Rid of Your Kid's Toys?

This weekend is Big Trash Day in our neighborhood. Every-other year our city pays the local trash company to come around and collect, well, big trash. Refrigerators, furniture, carpet.

But I'm thinking this is a great opportunity to clean Katie's room. She has no kitchen appliances in her room, no rolls of carpet, but she does have TONS of toys she's outgrown.

It makes me stop and sigh, pondering the fact that she's an only child with no siblings to inherit her things.

Her twin cousins are a year younger than she is, so they get her old clothes and toys that aren't infested with dog hair and sand. But many of the things in her room are so worn out I wouldn't even donate them to charity. It's time to throw them out.

This isn't the first time in five years I've cleaned Katie's room, although my husband might argue it's close. I generally go through her things about twice a year, when the seasons change and it's time to switch to summer or winter clothes. But I've only once previously gone through her room and discarded unused toys. That was two or three years ago. Just thinking about all the tiny objects I'm going to have to pick up, assess, and put into a pile makes me want to go take a nap.

It's not big trash but a bunch of little trash, so it's still a big job.

I remember coming home from school when I was in second or third grade and my mom had cleaned my room. Instead of feeling grateful or guilty for not having kept it clean myself, I felt violated. Someone went through my stuff. Moved my stuff around. Gotten rid of stuff? Hey, where's my...

So do I do the same to Katie? Certainly I lived through a forced divorce from many of my childhood toys and I'm a fairly well adjusted person. Will Katie be ok if I pitch her crap and don't tell her, letting her figure it out on her own? Or should I fess up and say, "Hey hon, I'm throwing out these toys because you haven't played with them for two years. If you have a reasonable argument for why we should keep them, let's talk about it, otherwise, the trash haulers will carry them off on Big Trash Day."

How do you get rid of your kid's old, un-donateable toys?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Not Now, Katie Bug

After a parent-teacher conference with Katie’s kindergarten teacher last week, I started to worry that my only child will grow into that stereotypical selfish, spoiled brat who always expects to get her way. Her teacher mentioned that Katie behaves a little immaturely when she’s playing with her classmates, still jumping up and down a lot when she gets excited, and not being able to resolve the issue when she doesn’t get her way with her classmates.

“She fights with them?” I asked for the clarification that only a parent who gets one shot at raising a good kid needs.

“No, not really. She just goes off and plays by herself.”

I jotted Katie’s teacher’s words down in the notes I was taking diligently.

But now that I’ve had a couple days to reflect on her words, I think, first of all, “What’s wrong with jumping up and down when you’re excited? Since when did that become a negative thing? The federal government seems so apt to control what our school children put into their bodies in the lunch room, but we’re squelching a child’s natural desire to move her body in healthy ways? That’s silly.

And second of all, regarding the “not resolving issues when she doesn’t get her way” I think, so what? When I don’t get my way I need time to myself to reflect, too. Would I get bad marks in kindergarten for writing a blog when I’m frustrated rather than having the ability to think on my feet when I encounter an obstacle in my interpersonal relationships? It’s not that Katie doesn’t resolve issues with her friends, it’s that she doesn’t resolve them on the spot. She needs a little time to think about it, so she can resolve the issue inside her head. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. I did name the child what I did because I think Kate Carleton sounds presidential. But even if Katie doesn’t heed her mother’s call to serve our country as Commander-in-Chief and head of the free world, even if she more likely will spend twenty years figuring out what to do with her life only to discover that when she figures it out she’s lost most of her energy to do it—oh wait, no, that’s me—does it matter that it takes her a little longer to figure out how she wants to resolve a conflict rather than just jumping to conclusions? Seriously, what’s so bad about needing a little time and space to resolve conflict? And if it’s so bad, I’m guilty of it too, and I’m doing ok in the world.

But it does make me think maybe Katie is the way she is because she’s an only child. Of course certain characteristics have been there since the day she was born. Her ability to focus intently—shutting out the rest of the world. Some would say she’s spacey. I say she’s just paying attention to the circus going on inside her own head. She does have both Will and me, among a long line of proud mental carny-folk, as primary examples in life, after all.

Would Katie be a more successful person in life if she weren’t an only child? By successful I’m not talking about money or possessions. I mean, ultimately, would she be happier in the long run if she weren’t an only child now?

In some ways yes, in some ways no. And the same could be said if she were part of a large family and I asked myself if she’d be happier if she were an only child.

I think she’ll be ok either way. If she remains an only child or if we some day have another. For now, Katie begs for a sibling.

“Please, Mom, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease can I have a brother or a sister?”

It takes practice to learn anything. Maybe my sub-fertility and our too strict criteria for adopting another child will turn out to be “good” for Katie in the long run. What better way for her to practice every day not getting her way?

“Sorry, Katie Bug. Not now.”

Candyland is a Dangerous Place

Katie, age five, setting up the board for us to play: "Candyland is a dangerous place."

Me: "Oh yeah? How come?"

Katie: "Look, no one has any teeth because they've eaten too much candy!"

Me: “What about Grandma Nutt? She has teeth.”

Katie: “Well, that’s because peanuts are good for you! And look, Princess Frostine has teeth too, but she’s a princess and you have to have bea-u-tiful white teeth to be a princess!”