Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

My cousin was babysitting the kids recently and when I got back, I asked, “What’d you guys do?”

“We read Gothic novels!” exclaimed Primo/

“Reeeeeally?” I asked my cousin.

“Yeah, we were talking about where the Frankenstein story came from –“

“Mary SHELLEY’S Frankenstein,” Primo interjected.

“And I told him about Gothic literature and he was interested so we read about it on Wikipedia,” she said.

Give the internet credit where credit is due.

"What did you learn about it?”

“Well,” said Primo. “Gothic novels are very tragic and usually someone kills someone else and there is a lot of revenge.”

Pretty spectacular babysitter I’ve got, huh?

So, a few days later, we were plodding through an Easy Reader – not Mittens, thank you very much, I think it was from the Dancing Dinos series, in any case not the most enthralling material – and I pointed out to Primo that the more he practiced, the more choices he’d have about what he could read.

“Before you know it, you’ll be reading Frog and Toad, and Magic Tree House, and stuff like that,” I said, “And by the end of first grade, I bet you can read Ramona Quimby.”

“And Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?”


“Will I be able to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by the end of first grade?”

“Oh,” I demurred, “I doubt it. I mean, that’s really hard. A lot of adults have a hard time reading it.”

He looked crestfallen. I reconsidered.

“Well, who knows?” I said, “You’re a smart little boy and I bet if you really put your mind to it, and practice super super hard, you might just be able to read some of it.”

“You mean I can read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by the end of first grade?” he cried jubilantly.

I love how he specifies that its Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein he’s referring to, not a knock-off or lesser iteration but the real deal.

“Um, I bet you could. If you try really hard. Some of it. Why not?”

That night, where it is usually a striggle for him to read three pages in his Easy Reades, he read five entire books. He brought the books to bed with him. He was a man with a mission. Its waned a bit since, but his goal – however lofty—is pretty great incentive.

I, do though, really hope it’s the sort of thing he forgets about, by June. Or that he makes major strides with the reading. Because from What’s That Mittens? to Frankenstein, well, its quite a leap. But, as the song says, don’t stop dreaming about tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Wrong Dangers?

Just read a great piece about Protecting Our Kids From the Wrong Dangers, in the NY Times by Lisa Belkin. Here's a taste:
If history is any guide, we seem to veer between overreaction and underreaction — all while defining our own response as “moderate.” There is an inherent hypocrisy in our attempts to control our odds — putting the organic veggies (there is no actual data proving that organic foods increase longevity) in the trunk of our car (researchers tell us there is “evidence” but not “proof” that car emissions accelerate heart disease), then checking our e-mail on our cellphone at the next red light (2,600 traffic deaths a year are caused by drivers using cellphones, according to a Harvard study).
As a wired-to-be-neurotic mother with fully paranoid parents and one worrywart kid, I find this subject really fascinating. In reading the piece, I was reminded of a part of a book called Freeing Your Child From Anxiety by Tamar Chansky, which mentions an important thing to keep in mind when battling worry is this: just because something is really terrible to imagine doesn't mean it is likely to happen. Pretty obvious, I know, but when we start to imagine something awful, we get so sidetracked by what a terrible thing it would be, that we forget to consider that facts say its pretty improbable.

Everyone, especially modern parents, needs a gentle realignment in perspective sometimes. I know I need to be talked down from the ledge of overbearing, oversheltering, overparenting parenthood pretty frequently. I am, without a doubt, what people inclined to use labels would call a helicopter mom: its just in my genes, for better or worse. My parents called the cops no less than four times during my high school career, whenever I was more than an hour late coming home after school (making out with the b-friend, every time, so there). I come from a long line of mothers who don't even make an attempt to control the crazy and who think "smothering" is a positive parenting term. So hovering is a major improvement.

But let me just say that it annoys me to no end that we've grown accustomed to using terms like "helicopter mom" and "free-range kids." I get where Lenore Skenazy is coming from, and I think its beyond ridiculous that she got letters accusing her of child abuse for letting her kid take the subway solo (though if my grandmother could write in English, I'm pretty sure one of those would be from her), but the idea of intentionally starting a parenting "movement" with manifesto-type language aggravates me. We're all doing the best we can, in a world that's scary and in which we feel, and are, pretty powerless.

Plus, I often find myself at the playground having to contend with the kids of "free-range" moms who are letting the little ones develop independence, at my expense: I'm stopping them from throwing sand in other kids' faces, and watching them do tricks on the rings over and over again while my own kids get mad at me for not paying attention. So, my word to the wise is this: before you crown your kids free-range, make sure they're not going to wreak havoc.

But I digress. Give the article a read. Tell me what you think.

Monday, September 27, 2010

First Day of CCD

This weekend was Primo’s first CCD class. For those of you not in the Catholic know, that’s religious instruction. Catechism. Yeah, it’s old school.

I’ll tell you one person who wasn’t too happy about attending his first CCD class.

“ON SATURDAY??” Primo yelled at bedtime on Friday night when I finally worked up the courage to break the news to him, “THAT'S MY DAY OFF!”

“I know.”


“Well, it’s not school. It’s just CCD.”


I assured him that the one and a half hour CCD class would not impinge too heavily on his “relaxation” time since he had no plans for the whole rest of the weekend.


Then came the question, of course, “Why do I have to go to CCD?? NO ONE ELSE GOES!!”

This was a tough one. I said there were a bunch of reasons but one good one was that it was important to me that he learn about God, because there are a lot of things that happen in life that leave you feeling sad and confused and lonely and when you believe in something greater than you, it can give you a feeling of peace and comfort in those times. He understood that and settled down a bit.

Then I bribed him with a trip to the store to buy part of his Halloween costume. That sealed the deal.

Funny part is, when we got to CCD, we saw a friend of his from preschool, who sat next to his mom with a terribly sour expression on his face.

“Is he in a bad mood?” Primo asked the boy’s mom.

“Oh,” she replied, obviously embarrassed, “Sort of.”

Then, when the kids went off to their classroom, she leaned over and told me that they’d waited til the night before to tell him about CCD and he, too, was pissed. That cracked me up.

When I came back to get him, he was all smiles. They were going to read about Bible stories, he said, and there was a prayer table with a candle, which he thought was rad. And his teacher turned out to be this super-sweet, down-to-earth mom of one of his friends from nursery school and she gave them scratch and sniff stickers.

“And,” he said, “We are going to have a BREAKFAST WITH SANTA CLAUS!!!”

The Catholics do know how to pull it out in the clutch.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Apple Picking: an expose

As we are prepare to do a little light apple-picking tomorrow, I came across this gem of a piece, from Slate, guaranteed to make you feel like total shit about your family-friendly weekend recreation.

What particularly got me was the revelation that the trees we pick from are dwarf trees, stunted little mutant freakazoid trees that regular apple trees would laugh at. Thanks Daniel Gross, for tearing the veil off my eyes and ruining my freaking apple-picking outing. At least the children haven't found out the AWFUL truth about apple picking. Think I'll keep it that way.

Happy trails!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

As God as my witness, I'll never read Mittens again

Which is to say: a list of easy reader books which don't prompt you to knock yourself unconscious:

Elephant and Piggie

These are, by far, my very favorite, and Primo’s too, because they are freaking hilarious. Like, they stand on tiher own as picture books, too. And I read them to Seconda, who gets a total kick out of them, too. Besides being hilarious, the language is really simple which helps to keep morale up, and there is tons of repetition, -- not in a Seuss-y way, because it doesn’t rhyme, but in a Meisner way. I keep feeling like I’m back in acting class:

“I love the rain!”

“You love the rain?”

There are very few words on each page which keeps us truning pages at a nice clip, making Primo feel a sense of accomplishment,and giving him new illustrations to look at.

PLUS, one huge advantage I’ve found with these is that because it is all dialogue between the two characters, it works perfectly to perform as a play. So when Primo is feel particularly resistant to literacy, I can get him interested by telling him we’ll perform it as a play for Daddy and Sec, complete with props. It also makes the task more acheavable because he only has to reads half of the dialogue. Because the characters often yell at each other and have really broad facial expressions, it’s a fun play to put on. And then he’s read a book without even noticing, If only one of plays would include Piggie eating a plate of spinach, we’d be all set.

All Things Seuss

I feel like you love Seuss or he annoys the shit out of you. I love him, and Primo does too. Green Eggs and Ham is a favorite of his to read. One Fish Two Fish is good too and the Cat in the Hat, of course. Only trouble is, there’s a lot of text on each page, and the books are fairly long for beginner readers so he gets a little overwhelmed by how long it takes him to get through a page and loses momentum.

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You

You can make any book a “you read to me, I’ll read to you book” by alternating lines. This fact is not lost on me. But I found one of these series at the Strand and since it was “spooky tales to read together” (Primo’s still nuts about spooks) and it cost under $4, I bought it. As it truns out, Mary Ann Hoberman, the stellar children’s poet, penned it, and the son of our favorite illustrator and drawing-book-auhor, Michael Emberley, did the pictures, so we were extra psyched. Primo loves the fact that the book was MEANT to be read by two people – so that it was required for us to share the load of the reading. Everything rhymes which really helps the beginner reader to figure words out, and the poems are all spooky and gross and creepy, just the way my brood like it.

Meg and Mog Books

These aren’t easy readers per se but a fantastic series of picture books from England about a crazy witch and her motley crew. The illustrations are so bold bright you feel like you’re having a hallucination, and that’s reason enough for me to crack it open. Simple text, fun stories.

As God as my witness, I’ll never read Mittens again.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Great American Dine Out

When I had my son five years ago, I instantly adopted my grandmother’s insane obsession with kids having enough to eat. Nonnie is the prototypical Italian grandmother who cannot rest until she has stuffed everyone, but most especially children, full of food. It’s not a hip or cool position to hold but that’s how I am now. If my kids refuse to have breakfast in the morning and I have to send them to school with just a few bites of apple or a handful of Cheerios, I spend all day agitated by the thought that their little stomachs are rumbling.

So the idea that there are children out there whose little stomachs really are rumbling, and not because they’re pesky and picky, but because there’s just no food for them to eat, is agonizing. Which is why I was thrilled to learn about a program that’s trying to help, called The Great American Dine Out, which is underway right now, and in which you can participate all week. Here’s the deal:

From Sept 19-25, participating restaurants nation-wide (and here in NY, that’s everything from The Palm and Blue Smoke to Boston Market and TGI Fridays) will donate a portion of the money you spend there to the No Kid Hungry campaign, run by Share Our Strength, whose goal is to eradicate childhood hunger by the year 2015. Basically, for this week, you donate by dining out. You can search for participating restaurants by entering your zip code here.

Here’s exactly what the program helps to achieve (from the Share Our Strength site):

  • Enroll more eligible kids in school breakfast, after-school snacks and meals, and their families in SNAP (food stamps).
  • Bring community gardens and farmers markets to low-income neighborhoods
  • Bring affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables to urban corner stores.
  • Teach at-risk families how to plan, shop for, and prepare healthy, low-cost meals at home.
  • Help local food pantries, food banks and soup kitchens meet the pressing demand for more nutritious food.
  • Increase awareness and understanding of childhood hunger and solutions to it.

Oh, and get this: the 150 year-old Australian wine company, Jacob’s Creek, has joined Share Our Strength and will donate $1 for every glass or bottle of wine ordered in a restaurant and for every glass of wine virtually shared (to do that, click on

Yes, what I’m saying here is you can help hungry children by drinking (great vino, too, I might add – tried the Pinot Noir last night and yum yum, hit the spot)

Drink booze. Save yourself a night of cooking. Help kids. Who DOESN’T that appeal to?

Monday, September 20, 2010

I heart NY, even with tornadoes

We had one of those I heart NY weekends. Who would not be suffused with passion for our great city when their day consisted of the following activities:

Lunch of pierogies and borscht at Veselka. (When the waitress saw my five year-old eat an adult portion of pierogies, she said, “You must be Ukrainian!”)

Endless browsing and reading at the Strand. (OK, almost all of it was spent in the children’s section but hey, I now get my kicks finding half-price, wacked-out versions of Snow White from Sweden – so sue me).

A full tour of Halloween Adventure, where the kids tried on every bloody, mangled, ghoulish, creepy, horror-show mask they could find. My children are balls-out crazy about Halloween and their inaugural trip to the mecca of creepy costumes was good research for their year’s masterpieces.

Though that was already a full day, we decided to stop off on the Lower East Side and visit our new favorite playground (both newly-constructed and new to us) on Hester Street. This playground rocks our universe. It has a huge red rope spiderweb

climbing structure which kids can interact with in about 20 different

ways. There were kids climbing horizontally and vertically and hanging under it and slipping through it and laying on it. This red rope DELIVERED. The kids’ other favorite spot was this area on the floor made up of metal squares which played like bells when you jumped on them. The whimsy of this just about slays me. Seriously.

Ahhh, New York. Its got to be this good to make up for the fact that we now have tornadoes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tornado in Park Slope

The kids and I were just smack in the middle of an actual tornado. Thanks to Primo, we were saved from possible injury and definite stupidity. And also, I guess I’m a liar.

We were coming back from Seconda’s first ballet class, and the sky had looked overcast since I picked Primo up from school. So when we passed the playground right next to our house at about 5:15, I wasn’t deterred from hanging out there for a bit just because the sky was ominous-looking.

“I think its going to rain,” said Primo.

“I think you’re right.” I said, “But that’s OK. We are really close to home and a little rain won’t hurt us.”

Then I ordered the children to run around as much as possible and exhaust themselves. At about 5:30, the sky got seriously dark. Sec was having a rocking time with the spiral slide and not ready to depart, and I figured we had a few more minutes – if it started to rain, we’d be home in two minutes. But Primo wasn’t so sure.

“I want to go home now. It’s going to thunder and lightening!”

“You can play for a few more minutes,” I urged him, “We’re so close to home.”

I coaxed him to do some swinging on the rings, and then, less than a minute later, a flash of lightening split the sky.


I literally laughed out loud (great parenting, I know).

Primo has been terrified of a tornado hitting New York since last year when his reading buddy at school, a fifth grader, read him a non-fiction book about twisters. He went through a phase where he’d ask me constantly, several times a day, if there was going to be a tornado in Park Slope, and I told him every time, that it is impossible for a tornado to come to New York, because New York is right by the water and tornados only form in flat plains, like Kansas. I PROMISED him that a tornado would never hit New York because it was impossible.

But, as evidence of how much he trusts my judgment and believes in my promises, at the slightest sign of a storm, he freaks out at the tornado potential. So I did not think he was prophetic when at 5:30pm, he predicted the tornado. I thought that he was neurotic.

“Will you please calm down?” I asked, the way you do as a parent, not asking but really demanding, in a not so nice fashion.

“PLEASE CAN WE GO HOME RIGHT THIS MINUTE???” he screamed. Another clap of thunder. Then lightening. “WE HAVE TO GO!”

I did agree, by that point, but getting Seconda off the top of the spiral slide was no small feat. She isn’t scared of thunder of lightening or tornados or the apocalypse. That kid is fearless.

With Primo screaming prophecies like Nostradamus, I chased Sec up and down the playground apparatus until I finally grabbed her, tossed her in the stroller and speed-walked out of the playground.

Halfway across the block, Primo asked my permission to run. And I told him, fine, run down the block. Knock yourself out.

We walked into the apartment and I said, “See that? We didn’t even get rained on.”

Upstairs, we sat by the window and counted the seconds between the flashes of lightening. The skyline was spectacular.

But then within a few minutes, the sky went from gray to shit-is-going-wrong dark.

“Why is it so dark?” Primo ventured nervously.

“Just a storm, honey.” I replied.

“Are you sure it’s not a tornado?”

“For the last time,” I replied, “THERE ARE NO TORNADOES IN PARK SLOPE.”

Then I noticed that I could not longer see the neon lights of the stores across the street. That was odd because I have never not been able to see them – in fog, in rain, in blizzards, those neon lights are legible. I got a definite, for real, bad vibe. There was a black cloud filling the avenue in front of our window so I couldn’t see anything. But I could hear the wind and it was preternaturally strong. I’d never heard wind like that. It occurred to me perhaps it wasn't so wise to sit by the window with my two little children. So I shut the blinds, and took the kids into the other room.

Five minutes later, the sky was clear again. And a little while after that, David came home from work and told us that on his walk home from the train he'd seen trees had been uprooted, crushing cars, that the streets were a mess with branches and roof tiles, and that a man was blown down the stairs of the subway and had to be carried out of the station on 9th Street in a stretcher.

“What was it?” I asked.

“T-o-r-n-a-d-o,” he replied.

So there you have it. Primo, pipsqueak prognosticator, saved the day. And tornadoes can hit New York. Don't believe me? Watch this crazy video on Gothamist.

Here's hoping everyone's safe and we can file this episode in the "Freak-accident- thank-God-we-haven't-been-through-a-real-natural-disaster-and-remind-me-not-to-visit-Kansas" file.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sir Gawain

Primo’s obsession du jour is King Arthur tales. Unlike Greek myths, I don’t know anything about the Round Table stories. I am finding, though, that they are pretty freaking awesome. Racy stuff, these Arthur tales. Lots of extra-marital affairs. Honestly, it smacks of a romance novel, the Lancelot and Guinevere stuff. I love it.

Right now, we’re reading a book about the trials and tribulations of one of King Arthur’s nephew, a worthy and virtuous knight by the name of Sir Gawain.

I’d like you to take a stab at pronouncing that. Go ahead.

My guess, and I’ll stand behind it, since it’s as good as any, was ‘GAY-wan.” Say it fast and, yes, it basically sounds like GAY-one. Sir Gay One

I read this book Sir Gay One and The Green Knight to Primo for an hour or so, probably 20 pages worth, repeating Sir Gay One no less than 45 times.

Then David gets home, hears me reading, and says, “Its Ga-WAYNE. Ga-WAYNE.”

“Are you sure?” I replied, “Because I thought it was GAY-one.”

“No, it most definitely is not. So stop saying that.”

I believed him. And I did try to stop saying it. But you know how once you get a pronunciation stuck in your head, you can’t possibly replace it with the right pronunciation? The spot in your brain that decides how that word will be uttered is already taken and the incorrect pronunciation can not be deposed – it is too powerful. So every night now, I settle down and read some more of the book and every single time I’ll read, “The monster approached Sir Gay One –“ and David’ll yell from the other room: “Its Ga-WAYNE.”

A damn comedy routine.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A way to wake up

I woke this morning to Primo dancing around the room and climbing on the furniture in a way that seemed surprisingly goal-oriented.

”What are you doing?” I muttered.

“I am teaching the fish to play hide and seek,” he replied cheerfully.

Is there a better way to wake up? To think, there was a time I used to wake to an alarm clock.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Coliseum brings out the worst in people

School's started and summer is becoming what it works best as -- a memory. But if you thought I was done with the Italy stories, you were wrong. I've yet to relate the lowest point of our Italian adventure, and what kind of a mom amok would I be, if I kept my parenting failures to myself?

A few days before we left Italy, David's sister flew in from California to join us. All of us were delighted to see her and since she’d never been to Italy, I put myself in charge of showing her around the town.

“I’ve saved all the big stuff to do with you,” I told her before she came, “St. Peter’s, Galleria Borghese, and, of course, the Coliseum.”

Looking back with a clear mind, one not deranged by international travel, I see this was akin to telling her “I got you a root canal for you birthday!!!” Who the hell wants to go to the Coliseum at high noon in August?

I had, though, been priming Primo for the trip to the Forum and the Coliseum, having read half a dozen books about ancient Rome. We knew that the Romans ate stuffed jellyfish and camel’s heels and we knew all the names for the various rooms of the public baths (frigidarium, caldarium, tepidarium) and that Roman pater familiases could sell their children into slavery. We were ready for the moderlode of ancient Rome. We were ready for the vomitorium.

Since we never got up and running in Rome ‘til about the crack of noon, we arrived at the Coliseum by 1pm, the absolute peak of heat and crowds. The line to get in was beyond insane. Even more insane was the level of whining and complaining coming from the kids.

“I DON’T WANT TO GO TO THE COLISEUM!” Sec yelled over and over again, “I WANT TO GO HOME!”

“This is boring!” Primo whined, “I’m bored. I’m hot. I’m thirsty, My legs are tired. I need to be carried. I’m hungry. This is boring.”

When he saw the line, it was, “Are we going to have to wait on that LONG LINE????”

“No,” I said, Ingenious, resourceful Momgeuvyer that I am, “We are definitely not. No way.”

I'd done some research on avoiding lines at the Coliseum, and though I was not willing, under any circumstances, to give up any sleep to get there earlier, I was ready for some shortcuts. I’d read that as your tickets always includes both the Coliseum and the Forum, a good trick is to walk a few blocks to the Roman Forum ticket counter, where there’s hardly ever a line, buy the ticket there and proceed directly to the front of the line at the Coliseum. We did this, and it worked marvelously. Only problem was, we opted to actually go into the Roman Forum and take a look around, seeing as we were already there and had the ticket and all.

I knew this was a bad idea. I’ve NEVER had a pleasurable time at the Forum and I’ve been many, many times. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was all a big hoax engineered by SPQR centuries ago to generate some buzz and tourist traffic. Unlike the Coliseum or the Pantheon, which are both pretty much intact structures with irrefutable grandeur – the kinds of places that give you goosebumps -- the Forum is a collection of rubble. I’m not trying to be mean, and I know there are those who’d disagree, but let’s be honest here. You’ve got a bunch of broken-down columns and lots and lots of piles of broken rock: it could be ANYTHING. No one, not even those with electrifying imaginations, could possibly imagine any of it as anything other than well-placed rubble. It is impossible to ever discern what any of the rubble used to be because for some reason no one has ever bothered to erect any signs. If there was a large placard which read “Curia” or “Senate” then that’d be a start,

But as it is, everyone just trips along the uneven stone ground and stares at the columns and stuff and says

“Ohhhh. Wow,” like they’re moved or amazed when they’re all thinking the same thing as me which is, “Are you shitting me? I paid 12 Euros for this?”

This trip to the Forum was just as disappointing as the others except that we were carting around two tired, hot bored kids around and I felt compelled to educate them on the place because we’d read so much about ancient Rome, and this, we heard, was the very heart of it.

So I basically stood there in the middle of the Forum, shouting in no particular direction, “What is this I’m looking at?” and sometimes another tourist would make a stab at a guess and then I’d make up some shit about Julius Casear. After a half hour of this, everyone was worn out. We all wanted to go home. But this was just a warm-up to the Coliseum. So we walked BACK over there, in the heat, dragging now, really depleted of energy and goodwill.

But then something amazing happened. Once we were finally in the Coliseum, and once I’d secured a book from the gift shop with plastic overlays that showed what the Coliseum used to look like, inside and out, Primo was jazzed up and totally engaged. He sat on a bench and started sketching in his travel journal.

“This, right there, is what we do it for,” I was thinking.

Then David said, “OK, let’s go.”

“What?” I said, “He’s finally into it. We’re sitting down in the shade. Give him some time to sketch/”

“Well that’s great that HE’S into it,” he said, “but the rest of us are totally over it. Your daughter hasn’t wanted

to be here from the get-go and she won’t shut up about it/”

It was true. She was lying on the ground, crying and kicking her feet, a full-on tantrum.

“We’re going NOW,” he said.

“Well, I am enjoying myself,” I said, “And I don’t FEEL like GOING yet.”

“There are more people here than just you!” he came back.

“I KNOW THAT!” I yelled,

David’s sister was looking agonized, between Seconda’s never-ending tantrum and our shouting match.

“We should just go SEPARATE WAYS!” David exclaimed.

“GOOD!” I yelled back.

Then it occurred to me that it really was a good idea. “We should,” I said, “We should divide and conquer. Why didn’t we think of that sooner? You guys go get some food and I’ll stay here and sit while Primo sketches/”

Which is precisely what we did. And the day started looking up. It was clear that after nearly two weeks of constantly being together, we needed a break, particularly the kids, from each other. Both of them transformed from awful brutes to sweet, agreeable dears: David said Sec even APOLOGIZED for being such a pain, as soon as the strolled away from the Coliseum. Primo and I walked all over the city that afternoon – to Piazza Venezia, the Campidoglio, Torre Argentina, the little-known rooms of Saint Ignatius where there are three-dimensional angels from the sixteenth century on the walls. When we reconvened in a few hours, we all felt better and happy to be together again. Then David, his sister and I went out to dinner while my aunt and cousin watched the rugrats.

Togetherness is a wonderful thing but you know what they say about two much of a good thing. It freaking sucks.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I'd rather bang my head against a wall then listen to another Easy Reader

Hotdamn, its hard to learn to read. It is so freaking hard, in fact, that I don't know how anybody manages to do it. Seriously, as I write this, I am in awe of the fact that I know how to spell the word “spell” and that you know how to read it, and understand what meaning I intended when I typed it.

What I’m saying is that if you are reading these words now, you are a genius! And yes, I am one too. Not only are we genius, we are industrious, patient and full of faith. Because it takes all those qualities to learn how to read. This is what I’ve learned from my five year-old.

Much to my surprise, Primo has been totally uninterested in learning how to read. I thought he’d be the kind of kid that taught himself by the age of 3 by studying the cereal box, but I see now that was insane. I see that reading is hard, even for semi-brilliant children. And the English language has begun to annoy me too, because so much of it is not only non-phonetic but just stupid.

Like the way “k” is weirdly silent sometimes, as in “know” and “knock.”

And the inscrutable pronunciation of “ough” as in “through” and “furlough” (hey, screw you if you’re thinking what easy-reader has the word “furlough” in it – YOU think of another “ough” word.).

Even the way you say “one” is aggravating. Who would guess that’s how you say it?

An vowels. Good God, how are we ever supposed to figure out which exact sound the “i”s or the “e”s make. It’s EXHUASTING having to explain it: I can’t even imagine how exhausting it is having to learn and remember it.

Nonetheless, I have been forcing Primo to read a few pages of an easy-reader book almost every night, continually reminding him that the more he does it, the easier it will be. I don’t blame him for hating it. I hate it too. It’s fucking boring to listen to “Mittens flaps his tail./ Mittens hits the ball./ Mittens hears a noise./ What’s that Mittens?” especially when the reading of those mind-bendingly boring words takes ten minutes. I try to keep things suspenseful by commenting on the action of the book but it’s near-impossible.

“Oh, Primo! What do you think it is that Mittens hears?”

My son gives me a look that says, “I’m not an idiot. I just can’t read yet.”

“It’s a dog, Mommy.”

“Well, maybe but let’s turn the page and find out!”

I am tempted to just crack open The Iliad and have him learn to read with that. I mean, can I really ask my literature-lover to slum it with this awful I-can-read shit?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

First Day of First Grade

Primo starts first grade today. This is a big deal to him because it is the first of the grades. In his opinion, kindergarten didn’t count.

All last year when people asked him, “What grade are you in?” he replied, “I’m not in a grade. I’m in a garten.”

Now, both he and I are both spared the strange looks we used to get in response to his reply, because he can simply say “First.” That, already, will be an improvement.

Big changes happen in my son’s school when kids enter first grade. Parents no longer accompany students into the classroom and help get them settled in. Now, Primo will be dropped at the front door, with several hundred other big kids. First graders don’t eat lunch in their classrooms or have recess in the small front yard, with just their classmates and with their teacher supervising. Now, Primo will have lunch in the cafeteria and recess in the big, back playground with the whole first grade and a half-dozen aides trying to keep order. He’s a big kid, and this is what big kids do.

The new backpack is hanging on its hook, with his name written in permanent marker on the front.

The new, matching lunch bag contains his favorite lunch and a vanilla wafer.

The bag containing over a hundred-dollar’s worth of school supplies specified by his teacher (and that’s just the mandatory ones, not counting the “Wish list” items – who knew flet-top pens cost so much money?) is waiting by the door.

We are all systems go.

Cross your fingers that neither of us sheds a tear at drop-off.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day: or someone save me from these maniacs I birthed

I’ll be honest and share that not only have I no flipping idea what Labor Day commemorates, but I’m so uninterested that I’m not even going to google it now.

I’ll continue being honest and say that I DO, however, understand what Labor is, and have, ever since I went through the most literal definition of it five and a half years ago. That labor took about nineteen hours, and at the end of it, I had one stunning, spectacular specimen of boyhood. If necessary – and let’s thank God its not – I’d totally endure an hour or two of that labor every day to have my boy and girl with me, snuggled tight for bedtime stories. Hell, I’d even go through transition daily if necessary, as long as I could have an epidural with it. These kids are worth it.

But, I’ll pursue this honesty policy further and tell you that the work it takes to mother them literally boggles my mind. I’m not precisely certain what it means to ”boggle” a mind but if it entails shooting pain in the brain between the eyes and a throbbing in the lobes, well, that’s what I’ve got these last two weeks of summer.

Summer was NEVER this long when I was a kid. No friggin’ way. These summers get more and more endless every year, and more intense, The kids get bigger, the apartment gets smaller, the temperature gets hotter and the kids get bored-er and whiny-er than ever before in history.

My kids have been out of school for only two and a half months but since camp ended at the beginning of August, every day has felt like a week. Since we got back from Italy, every day has seemed like a friggin’ month. I can only guess that tomorrow and the Thursday and Friday which we have off for the Jewish Holidays will feel like a year. A really cranky year.

And I know it’s not just me. Every mother I’ve run into this past week has echoed these sentiments exactly, even the ones who are exquisitely composed and never lose it with their kids. I have a friend who is a psychologist and has three kids whom she treats with the utmost respect, even when she’s disciplining them. After I see her and her kids, I think to myself, “Why can’t I be more like THAT?” One time, her phone accidentally called my phone and left a super-long message which was just the sound of footsteps and her sweet voice talking to the kids as they walked to somebody’s birthday party. And I listened to the WHOLE thing, for almost 10 minutes, hoping that I’d catch this mom screaming bloody murder or calling the kids “shitty little brats” or something, anything, which would make me feel better. She was impeccable, the whole time. It was wildly demoralizing.

But over the weekend, I ran into her in the playground and she said to me, “I am gonna kill these kids! They’ve been like animals. I can’t wait til they go back to school.”

I have loved having whole days with the kids so we can go to the museum, and check out the new fancy playground on the Lower East Side and get bento boxes for lunch. It’s been swell. But I’ll tell you one thing: this Wednesday, it will be with a heart full of joy that I escort Primo to his first day of school. Kids need to learn. And parents need a freaking break.

Happy Labor Day, and even happier End-of-Labors Wedneday.

Friday, September 3, 2010

In the piazzas

We have tons of good stuff here in the old US of A, like buses which run on time and Target and shower curtains, but we don't have anything like the piazza. The kids loved running amok over the cobblestones of the piazzas. Behold:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A very special birthday

Ferragosto is a huge national holiday in Italy which you’ve likely never heard of. Officially, it’s the day to celebrate the Assumption – the day the Virgin Mary’s soul ascended into heaven. I’m not sure the thousands of drunken youth having sex on the beach know that’s what their celebrating, though. In practice, Ferragosto means a day off (not that the Italians need it, since they’ve got the whole month of August off). And in the beach town of Terracina, where I (and hundreds of other braniacs) go to celebrate, it means a huge, blow-out bash on the beach culminating in fireworks and a midnight dip in the ocean.

Besides all of this, there is one particular reason our family loves Ferragosto. The big bash always takes place on Ferragosto Eve, August 14th which also happens to be my husband’s birthday. Before we had the kids, I took him to Terracina for Ferragosto and the two of us swam into the ocean at midnight – me, probably topless – and watched the fireworks explode overhead as we swayed in the black Tierian Sea. It was a pretty incomparable birthday celebration. So when I realized that we had happened to book our travel to Italy over Ferragosto, I was thrilled to repeat the experience and to bring the kids into the festivities.

We started the celebration at 6:30 on the piazza, watching some very trusted churchgoers carry the Santa Maria della Assunzione – a huge icon – down the stone steps of the ancient church onto the street, where they loaded her onto a pick-up truck to get the procession started. I’ve walked in the procession with my grandmother, years ago, and it was an incredible experience, even if I was the youngest person in attendance by oh, 50 years. My mother likes to joke that my grandmother can’t walk across the street but if she has a procession to go to, she can walk for miles without complaint. So me and about a hundred old Italian ladies walked up and down the hills of the town, singing hymns and, when it got dark, bearing candles. I pitched it to the kids this year and they were totally gung ho, for about five steps. We hadn’t even made it out the piazza before they were over it. It’s walking and singing. Got it, Now we can go get a gelato?

So we headed back to my aunt’s apartment for a little party she threw in honor of David’s birthday – spaghetti alla vongole veraci, mille foglie cake and plenty of red wine. With all that wine, by 10pm, I was lying in bed, nodding off as I read King Arthur to Primo. Seconda was already asleep in the other room.

“Mommy, Mommy, wake up!” he yelled, “Aren’t we going for a midnight swim?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said, looking over at David, “Is that still happening?”

“I don’t mind if we skip it.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m exhausted,” I said, “Primo, do you want to just stay home and read?”

”No, I want to go!” he said.

“Really? Because it’s a long walk to the beach and then a long walk home, up the huge hill.”

“It’s OK.”

“Are you sure? Because if you don’t want to go, we can just stay home.”

“I want to go.”

David and I exchanged the “Do-we-really-have-to?-I’m-freaking-fried” look. We wearily got up and put on our swimsuits. We wearily walked the 20 minutes to the beach.

When we got there, it was like New Year’s Eve. In fact, in this beach town, Ferragosto is bigger than New Year’s Eve, because no one there’s on Jan 1st but in the middle of August, it’s where everyone is. Every club on the beach was blaring house music and all the Casanovas were out with their shirts unbuttoned, hanging on the ladies with their gladiator sandals and bikini tops.

The three of us sat in beach chairs by the water. Primo was so overcome with excitement to be part of something so special and adult, that he kneeled on the sand and told me he was saying a prayer. We began to feel peppier after that. Soon it was minutes away from midnight and we took off our over-things and shoes and watches and held hands by the shore. Then we heard shouts and whoops and fireworks and we knew it was time. Holding hands, we ran into the dark water, which was cool, but not cold, and jumped the waves and laughed.

Then we wrapped ourselves up in towels and looked up because directly overhead, and I do mean right over our heads, fireworks were booming. I’d never seen fireworks so close up and it did occur to me that we might end up burned to a crisp in a freak Italian fireworks accident. But we stayed anyway and held our breaths and watched the sky explode with color. It was a moment I’ll never forget. It was a moment you squeeze into a tiny. neat bundle and stick somewhere inside of you to remember later. It was sublime.

“I’m glad we didn’t stay home tonight.” I said, “Thanks Primo, for giving us a reason to come.”

He just smiled, stars in his eyes.

And that’s why, despite the jet lag, and the crowded quarters, and the heat, we had one helluva time on our Roman holiday.