Monday, February 28, 2011

Zumba’s trying to kill me

I tried Zumba last night for the first time. I think it’s safe to say I won’t be doing again anytime soon. That’s because, despite this being the winter of my discontent, I do retain a stubborn self-preservation instinct. I barely survived that Zumba class last night and I don’t think I’d be so lucky next time.

For those of you who haven’t tried Zumba, you could Wikipedia it but I’ll give you a better explanation than those clowns. As far as I can tell, Zumba is aerobics on methamphetamines, with a Latin twist. Remember Jazzercise? This is Salsaercise, but done at such a furious, unrelenting pace that you will wonder if it isn’t maybe attempted homicide? Think The Red Shoes, but with sneakers and more sweat.

It’s not that I didn’t like Zumba. I don’t even know if I liked it or not, because I was too busy trying not to have cardiac arrest in front of my friends and neighbors.

I mean, I love salsa and meringue: I love any kind of dance which relies heavily on the hips, and involves shimmying. Part of the advantage of being more ample than I used to be is that I’ve got the goods to shake. But although Zumba relies heavily on the fast foot action of salsa and meringue, and on the attitude, there is a lot of moves which would never be found in any kind of dance, moves which were generically engineered to maximize your workout, moves you do not because they look good but because they are good for that muscle group, There is nothing I hate more than bald-faces calisthenics masquerading as something fun.

Someone in our building sent an email around, announcing a Zumba class starting up in the gym. I was all for it – had heard it was a high-intensity, really effective workout. Of course, that should have signaled to me that it would involved panting and sweating, but as you see, I live in a fantasy land.

As I neared the gym for the inaugural meeting of Zumba club, I could hear the pounding music. It gave me an uneasy feeling. In my experience, the volume of the music tends to correlate directly with the amount of effort you have to exert in the class. This didn’t bode well.

The room was packed, five times as many people as showed up for our peaceful, slow Pilates classes that were JUST my speed. We crowded into lines, too close together and the instructor, a trim, energetic man in a bright orange Zumba Tshirt, walked to the front of the room.

“There are only two rules to Zumba,” he said, bouncing already, “Or I should say, there are NO rules in Zumba but two rules in this class. Don’t stop moving and have fun.”

I wanted to tell him that for me, those were mutually exclusive but I didn’t think he’d warm to that and besides the music had been cranked up even higher and the class had started. The music was too loud for him to yell instructions, so she just modeled the moves and signaled how many reps we’d do with his fingers. This nonverbal system probably would work for Zumba experts, dancers and people who are really fast on the uptake but for most of us, it meant significant confusion.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if you get the moves right, as long as you keep moving.

The first ten, fifteen minutes weren’t so bad. That is probably because that was the warm-up. But when the fourth song started, he did a move which made me laugh out loud.

“A traveling move?” I thought, “Oooh, this is gonna be a disaster!”

It was one of these electric-slide-type side-traveling steps, but the trouble was not only were we cramped way too close together, but since the instructor was facing us, he was doing each move backwards, and half of us thought we were supposed to go in the same direction as him while the other half thought we were supposed to go the other way. There were several collisions and near collisions. Then he signaled with his hands we were going backwards.

“Oh shit!” I thought.

And as I guessed, I did promptly bump my big ass right into the nice, sweaty lady behind me. It was an uncomfortable encounter.

“So sorry!” I panted, “But you should know – I may—accidentally—kill you.”

Then the music sped up and things got hazy. Eating dinner beforehand, it turned out, was not such a capital idea. I was beginning to feel seriously sick to my stomach, like I had had one too many drinks and was about to toss my cookies. In fact, it seems probable I would toss my cookies and I seriously considered absenting myself. But no one ELSE was walking out of Zumba class, miserably defeated, and I didn’t want to be the only one who couldn’t hack it. So I grimaced and hoped for the best, moving my feet so fast the worn rubber soles of my sneakers became dis-adhered from my shoe. Then I was tripping over the flopping sole of my sneakers and lurching around in addition to crashing into people who werecelectric sliding in the opposite direction as me. Soon after the nausea came the light-headedness. The room was spinning and the Zumba instructor was smiling madly, jumping so fast he was literally blurred. Was this all a bad dream? Had someone slipped a rufi in my water bottle? At what point do I cry Uncle?

I looked to my sides and the women there – not Olympians but mothers of young children trying to get back in shape, like me – were perfectly happy, panting and sweaty but smiling. No, I could not admit defeat here. I would rather pass out in a pool of my own vomit, having a heart attack, all of which was imminent. Then at least maybe they’d ban Zumba all over the country, make it illegal, and my death would have been worth it.

I don’t remember much about the second half of the class, except looking down at my watch every five minutes and having a panic attack about how much time was left. I do also recall a series of moves that involves such fast and emphatic humping motions with the pelvis that I could not stop myself from laughing out loud, even though that extra physical exertion nearly did me in. It was like a humping seizure. In fact, it was probably the best moment of the class, because remembering it now still make me laugh out loud.

I walked through the door to my apartment afterwards and collapsed on the couch.

“Never,” I panted, “again.”

“Did they make you sweat?” David asked, “You hate that.”

Zumba, I wish you the best, but we’re done. Caput. And frankly, I think you owe me a new pair of sneakers.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Its just a toy, after all

Just read this piece by Lenore Skenazy in the WSJ called Parents take the fun out of toys

You could sell a bucket of water with a few Chinese takeout containers floating around and say its a "multi-sensory aid" which "promotes cause and effect awareness" and "introduces basic physics tenets" and it would be totally true, but still just a bucket of water.

The bottom line: let your kids play with mud, build forts out of the couch cushions, throw a ball against a brick wall four hundred times in a row. Not only it is good for them, its free.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Midwinter in the Middle of Nowhere

This is one Mid-Winter Break where we did, indeed, need a break. Space to roam, or at least a change of scenery. The trouble is, that costs money. Then a Mommy friend of mine told me about this overnight trip she likes to take with her three kids and husband about twice a year, to the middle of no-where New Jersey. I know, the location doesn’t sound tremendously appealing but located an hour and a half away from the city in the middle of no-where is a business hotel with cheap-o weekend rates on suites, which means a bedroom for parents and a separate living room with fold out couch for the kids. The suite set-up is absolutely key for us, as I can not tolerate being present for the whole three hour process of my kids winding down for sleep. The hotel also features a large indoor pool and hottub and –dealbreaker -- is a ten minute drive from a Funplex. For $130 bucks, two days and one night of funplexing, swimming and not cleaning up after ourselves could be had. I was sold.

On our way to middle of no-where Jersey, I told David, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t marry someone with more refined tastes?”

He said, “When we were dating and you told me your idea of a great vacation was to go to a motel and read Tolstoy all night, I knew I wanted to marry you.”

We didn’t quite read Tolstoy all night, but, I am happy to report, it was still a resounding success.

The great thing about kids is that they need so little to have fun. I am learning to take advantage of this, the way you learn to travel a lot during your baby’s infancy, but only with your second child.

The kids spent a good ten minutes just running around and shouting with joy and jubilation at all the things they’d found.

“They gave us shampoo!!!” shouted Sec from the bathroom, “Look at all this lotion!!”

“There is a COFFEE MAKER!” shouted Primo, “And they give you your own coffee! And sugar! And Splenda!”

The enthusiasm was contagious, “And there are tea bags too,” I exclaimed. “And they’re HERBAL so you can drink them! We can have a TEA PARTY!”

Once we discovered everything we’d been gifted in the room, I called the front desk to see if there was more shit they could give us for free. I didn’t even need anything; I just wanted to continue the feeling that I was getting an incredible bargain, making out like a bandit.

“Do you have a DVD player you can send to the room?”



“What about free wireless?”


“Do you have a brush? Or toothpaste?”


I hung up and told David, “OK, we’ve got everything. Let’s hit the pool.”

Though the pool was about ten degrees too cold for my taste, the kids had a ball of a time splashing around and showing us how they “swim.”

“Good God, don’t ever let them out of your sight,” I said to David, “These kids can’t swim their way out of a bathtub.”

Upon returning to our room, the kids spent at least a half hour playing hide and go seek in the hotel room which turned out to be an ideal site for this game, since it had empty wardrobes, empty under-the-sink cabinets, and empty spaces under beds, coffee tables and armchairs.

Then we ran around the lobby for the better part of a half hour, sitting on all the different couches. While I was ordering a pizza delivery, Sec pulled the leaves off a plant and stuffed them in her underwear, where she hides things when she’s about to be caught red-handed. That’s when I thought we should make a hasty retreat back to our room, where we feasted on pizza and my children had their first taste of buffalo wings.

The room was spacious, a three bedroom by New York standards. Primo fell asleep in the fold-out sofa in the living room, Sec fell asleep in the carpeted area under the sink in the bathroom antechamber (don’t feel sorry for her, she loved it), and we watched “Just Married” in the master bedroom.

The night morning, Primo complained that he felt “nauseous,”

“I don’t even think you know what nauseous means,” I said annoyed after hearing it for the ten or eleventh time. The kid complains of something or other all the time.

Finally, I told him to just go brush his teeth with some minty toothpaste, the which he did and promptly threw up into the sink.

“I told you I know what nauseous means,” he said, piteously, wiping his mouth.

Did this stop us from going to the Funplex, driving bumper cars and riding in the motion simulator?

Of course not.

I fed the kid ice chips for an hour, then we went to Cracker Barrel where he ate a piece of toast with nothing on it while we ate chicken n’ dumplings, fried apples, country-fried steak and every other menu item under “Fast Track to Heart Attack”. Thus fattened up, we headed to the Funplex.

Neither the children not I had a good idea of what the Funplex would encompass. Would it be like Disneyland? Great Adventure? Coney Island?

Sort of, if Disneyland and Great Adventure and Coney Island consisted of bumper cars, a video arcade full of shoot-em-ups and one very terrifying room called “Foam Frenzy.”

The children of course, raced right in there, totally undeterred by the thunderous din coming out of the room. It sounded like some warlock was cooking up a hurricane in there, or a tornado, some kind of condition which involved high-velocity winds. Actually, it was just the sound of dozens of massive air tubes which shot foam balls everywhere, but mostly at your face. There were tubes that shot the balls out indiscriminately and guns which children could load with balls and fire directly at your eye. Primo hesitated at first, but once he loaded his Mega Blaster, there was no turning back. Sec meanwhile just lolled around on the ball floor like foam roadkill.

Then it was off to the bumper cars, which was another new experience for my little ones. Primo and Sec jumped into one together with Primo manning the wheel. That car didn’t move for two whole turns. David and I just stood on the perimeter yelling “Press on the pedal! The pedal! Do you know what that is? Is a big flat button, on the floor! Yes, that’s it, but now, steer with the wheel? The STEERING WHEEL!”

Its worth noting that the kids’ Tennessee cousin, who is five years old, is literally driving her father’s Gator and my kids don’t know what a steering wheel is.

Four or five rides in the motion simulator later, and we were done, Popped the “Robin Hood” audio book in the car’s CD player and drove two and a half hours to a totally different but equally in the middle of no-where place in New Jersey, to my parents’ place. Which is where we are now. Making a piƱata. More on that, of course, next time.

Happy mid-wintering, readers, and may your days be foam-frenzy-free.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Exercise TV, a dream come true

I am addicted to exercise TV. Or I was, for a period of about a week. The addiction is waning now, although it’s possible I can fan the fire back to life. Which was the video that won my heart and got me hooked?

It wasn’t Disco Abs.

It wasn’t Latin Fever.

It wasn’t Zumba Boost,

It wasn’t Learn the Fame Dance.

And though I had high hopes for Hip Hop Cardio, it sure as hell wasn’t that train-wreck, led by the perkiest, most Barbie-like white girl I’ve ever seen, whose aggravating chirps of “Cabbage Patch! Come on! Woo Woo!” nearly drove me to madness.

The Exercise Channel TV show which has one my heart – and Primo’s, too – is …

Bollywood Burn

And, also, its counterpart

Back 2 Bollywood

To select a favorite from between the two is really a Sophie’s Choice. Bollywood Burn was my first, a nearly perfect length at 15 action-packed minutes, and boasts perhaps the best name of any exercise regime ever invented.

“Oh, my legs are hurting!” Primo yelled the first time we tried it/

“Yes,” I panted, just shy of a heart attack, “that’s the burn.”


“Yes, Bollywood BUUUUUUURN!”

We could wile away an hour just repeating the phrase over and over. It’s that pleasing.

The instructor, Hemalayaa, so lovely she gets two “a”s at the end of her name. -- so lovely and graceful, is gorgeous, has a perfect midriff which she is not ashamed to bare, and focuses on sinuous, fluid, belly-dancing type moves.

Back 2 Bollywood, however, has better music, a driving drum beat which galvanizes even my lazy heart, and the instructor Masala Bhangra has got moxy – I love her booming, I-mean-business voice, and the fact that all her dancers wear big, balloon-ey type pants and long tunics, rather than the Lycra biker shorts/ sports bra combo that is so de rigeur in the exercise television world. I like too, that Back 2 Bollywood, while longer at 21 minutes, has a timer in the corner of the screen, is more cardio-heavy, with lots of jumping, traveling moves that remind me of African dance. And perhaps my favorite part is that Masala Bhangra incites us participants to shout cries of Boolabooley!” I LOVE shouting shit when I’m working out, and though its usually expletives, this works just as nicely and is, hopefully, less offensive to my neighbors.

In just 15 minutes, my six year-old and I are transformed into bonafide Bollywood superstars. Pitcher step! Head bobbing! And of course, Bollywood arms waving serpentine-style in front of our faces. Primo enjoyed it so much that afterwards, I pulled up some big Bollywood dance sequences on You Tube to show him. He was astounded.

“Look! It’s the side jump!” Primo exclaimed, ‘That’s our move!”

Yes, I realize that the low commitment of 15 minute workouts means equally low payoff, possibly closer to none, but I don’t mind that because I have this idea that I just need to slowly build momentum, get my foot in the door of exercuse, and then once I do, the famed endorphin rush people talk about will overtake me and soon I’ll be running marathons. Plus, when Bollywood calls, Primo and I will be ready.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Big Girl

Four years ago, at 9:11am, I held my daughter for the first time. I can still remember how it felt to have her little, squirming body on my chest. She was bigger than I expected, 8 whole pounds, and she looked hardy, too. From the start, she' s been my strong, indomitable darling. What I didn't know until later was how she'd make me finally understand that tired old expression about a smile lighting up the room. Her smile does that. Its positively luminous.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mother of the Year Back-Up Materials

This is a picture I took to remind myself, ten, fifteen years down the line, when my daughter is sneaking out and cursing my name, that its not my fault, that I was the kind of mother who allowed her to express herself while widening her perspective. I am filing it under "Mother of the Year Back-Up Materials."

But exposing the kids to the highlights of the MOMA is already bringing me joy. Primo got his first comic book a few days ago and upon opening it, he exclaimed:

"Look Mommy! It has the red dots on the pictures, just like Lichtenstein!"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Babe in Toyland

Its Toy Fair time again, and this weekend, I was invited to the Hasbro showroom to check out the goods for 2011. The real Elmo and Cookie Monster were there for an introductory presentation, and though I’m more of a Bert and Ernie gal myself, I have to admit, it was pretty cool to see the monsters in the flesh, that is, the fur.

And now, on to the toys . . .

There’s lot of action this year in the superhero move category, with both Thor and Captain America hitting theaters. Now – and I am not exaggerating – I am so unfamiliar with comic books and superheroes that I frequently confuse Captain America with Captain Underpants, but when I saw this super retro-looking shield, it was all I could do to slip it onto my forearm and begin shooting my fellow bloggers with foam disks. And I know for a fact my kids would tear each other to shreds for the chance to don this Captain America mask, and run around the house screaming their invented hero catchphrases.

I’m a bit more familiar with Thor, because back when Primo was heavily into Greek mythology, we dabbled in Norse tales. I dig Thor -- any god who wields a hammer and can rock that crazy helmet is pretty hard-core. Thanks to the people at Hasbro, now your kids can get hard-core too, not only bopping people over the head with this massive Lightening Hammer but also using it to zap evildoers with little balls that project out of the hole on the top. I saw a twenty-something man try it out and he looked positively gleeful.

I don’t know about you but I love Lite Brite for two compelling reasons – first, for the nostalgia factor, and second because my child has struggled with his pencil grip for five years and the teachers tell me every year to work on his fine motor skills with activities that involve the pinching gesture. While he’d prefer to practice pinching on his sister, I’d prefer for him to practice by carefully placing the pegs in Lite Brite. Problem is, those darn pegs have always tended to fall out and roll under the couch. But get ready for the new Lite Brite, flatscreen version – who doesn’t prefer a flatscreen, after all?- with stay-put pegs that – you guessed it – stay put.

While we’re on the subject of toys we loved as kids, you should know that the one, the only Easy Bake oven has gotten a facelift. Now, I’m usually not a fan of facelifts on people, but in this case, I’m jazzed, and I’ll tell you why. When I was a kid, there were two toys I absolutely pined for and never got, The first was a Snoopy SnoCone maker. The second was an Easy Bake Oven (don’t know why I was on such a food-preparation jag, and God knows, it didn’t continue through adulthood). The Christmas before last, my sister-in-law granted my childhood wish and gave me an Easy Bake Oven. It has however sat on the shelf in my bedroom, never used, for fourteen months, for one reason and one reason only. I do not have a regular lightbulb and I simply cannot prioritize the purchase of a lightbulb for the Easy Bake Oven, with all the other crap I have to do. But if I had the NEW Easy Bake Oven, we’d be baking already, because there is no lightbulb required. Just plug it in and shove the little tray through, Another improvement: there is storage for the trays inside the oven. May sound inconsequential to you but I for one am sick of looking at those little trays cluttering up my shelf space. The oven also has a new purple, aerodynamic look to it which I suppose is more appealing, though I don’t know that I need more pink or purple in my house.

I was impressed last year by the FurReal animals and the new addition to that family is pretty cool – Cookie, the dog. I don’t know that Cookie would take care of my daughter’s desperate desire for a pet permanently, but I bet it would stave it off for a few months, at least. This toy should work for NASA – it has motion sensor, voice recognition, infra-red technology, and who knows what else. End result? When you talk to Cookie, she turns her head in your direction, when you pet her, she wags her tail. And you never have to take her for a walk or deal with doggy doodoo. Sold.

There are a ton of new games out this year, including Monopoly Live and Battleship Live. The Live part consists of this hourglass-shaped tower you put in the middle of the board which basically talks you through the whole game, telling you what to do every step of the way. I’m sure board game purists would balk, and I. too, think it eliminates much of the collaboration that’s involved when you and your players hash out what the hell you’re supposed to do next, but as someone who never plays games because reading the instructions gives me a headache, I’m all for giving it a go.

Scrabble Flash came out last year and has done really well, so now there’s two new Flash games -- Simon and Yahtzee. I’ve found the Flash aspect insanely appealing, especially for portable game-playing, like on airplanes, cars, waiting rooms, and the like. Plus, who doesn't want to try something with Wonder-Link" technology? There is also a new Scrabble Alphabet Scoop game for the youngest players, where you can match tiles to cards that have words already spelled.

There were tons of other toys ,of course – a new Baby Alive that does it all – pees on her self, eats and cries for her baby mama; a group of toys called Poppin, for the toddler crowd which pops balls in the air for kids to chase madly; and a new line of Lego-type building toys, called Kreo, in which each kit creates two kinds of Transformer toys.

So, I know you’re still blitzed out from Christmas, but when you do recover, in time for birthdays, you’ll have plenty to choose from.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day: musings on Date Night Disasters

You’d think that as a harried parent with no time for myself, I’d just be so grateful to have a chance to catch up with my husband that I wouldn’t care in the slightest where or how that happened. Interestingly, the fact that we rarely have the chance to get out has had the opposite effect, making me even more choosy about the particulars. This wouldn’t be a problem except that David feels exactly the same way and our preferences are diametrically opposed to each other.

David ‘s ideal night out takes place in a pub, or more precisely, a gastro-pub, where microbrews abound and well-reputed cuts of steak are served up rare. He likes there to be loud music involved. After a loud meal of beer and beef, he’d like to proceed to an art film, ideally in another language or in English, but with British accents so thick it might as well be another language. If it is not subtitled, or British, he’d like it to be science fiction or scary or four hours long.

My ideal night out takes place in a candle-lit restaurant with fantastic chandeliers overhead and coat check. Crusty bread served hot is non-negotiable and olives, pickles or olive oil with vinegar should accompany it. There should be wine, ideally sparkling. There should be music, but only enough to buffer the sound of what the couple sitting next to me are fighting about. It should be popular and bustling but not so much that I have to wait over thirty minutes. Goat cheese must be a core ingredient on at least one appetizer and chocolate ganache should be featured on at least one dessert.

Movie selections should be two hours or less, ideally featuring actors up for an Oscar, They can be tragic but always with an uplifting ending. If anyone has sex, they should be good-looking. No sci fi, horror, suspense, or subtitles, apart form Almodovar or movies featuring that hot young actor Gael Garcia. No movies where children get kidnapped, sick or worse. No movies where anything takes place in the future.

As you see, it is nearly impossible for David and I to settle on a night out which satisfies both our needs. Sometimes we just stay in, if you get my meaning, and that works well, but then we get hungry and then we’re back to square one.

A few weeks ago, we had a disastrous date which involved dinner at Jimmy’s No. 43, on 8th Street, which was mobbed with NYU students shouting about inane things and jostling me as I waited FORTY FIVE FREAKING minutes for a table. Then we saw the new Mike Leigh movie, Another Year, which rendered me miserable and melancholy all night. First of all, how many freaking cups of tea can a person drink? And how many cups of tea am I, a paying moviegover, expecting to WATCH someone drink? I wonder, too, if Mike Leigh’s intent as a film maker is to have his audience off themselves upon leaving the theater? Why else would he create a movie in which nothing funny, promising or even generally positive happens? If I am going to watch people sink into abject misery and loneliness for two hours, they’d better be gorgeous Hollywood types, otherwise the whole thing is just too unbearable.

This is what I told David on the way home from date night.

“Next time, you choose EVERYTHING,” he grumbled.

So I did, and for our early Valentine’s Day celebration, we went to Buttermilk Channel, where you get four different kind of pickles and a chocolate pecan pie sundae in addition to a kick-ass rib eye and chocolate stouts for my beer-and-beef beau-hunk of a husband. Then we saw the King’s Speech where I could understand every single word and I only counted TWO kettles of tea being made. Brilliant underdog overcomes adversity! Now that’s a movie I can get behind, especially when it’s so well-acted I don’t have to feel guilty about being so irredeemably mainstream. Even David had to concede he felt pretty damn cheerful when the credits rolled.

And since my parents took the kids overnight, we got to sleep in until a delicious 9am the next morning and then we got to stay in bed til, oh, about half past ten.

I’m sure it won’t happen every year, but it was one Valentine’s Day celebration sans argument which is enough of a present for me. That, and the heart-shaped box of chocolates I sincerely hope David is bringing home for me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Honey, can you say . . .

Nearly every morning, as I wheel Seconda out of the building in her stroller, we pass our super, Frank. Frank’s a affable, approachable guy, and I always flash a smile and offer a morning salutation. Seconda, however, prefer to greet him with a glare – chin downturned, the whole nine yards. To be fair, she only glares malevolently half the time, and the rest of the time, she just regards him blankly, with no interest, as if she were staring at a brick wall. Its not just Frank: this is her default demeanor when it comes to people in general --strangers, neighbors everyone gets the same treatment. It not usually a pressing matter because for the most part, these people tend not to pay too much attention to her or her decidedly unfriendly behavior. Frank, on the other hand, greets her with eye contact and a cheery ‘Hi Seconda!” every morning, and when she says nothing, nada, not even a grunt of acknowledgement, I am flooded with embarrassment.

In a frantic attempt to redeem Sec, myself and our family name, I quickly jump in:
“Honey, can you say ‘hi’?”

It’s a reasonable-enough thing for me to do, to offer a prompt. Maybe all Sec needs is a reminder about common courtesy? Maybe she’s merely forgotten? Wasn’t paying attention? Didn’t hear him?

But if the situation was embarrassing beforehand, my little friendly prompt makes it unbearable. Because she has NEVER, not once, in dozens and dozens of times, ever said ‘Hi’ when asked. Usually she says nothing, and glares even more malevolently. Sometimes she’ll reply with a matter-of-fact, “No.” Then, what might have been interpreted in a number of ways – she’s just shy, she’s sleepy, she’s got her head on the clouds, she has too much ear wax - - becomes irrefutable. My kid is rude.

Her response sets off a ridiculous response on my end, either nervous crazy laughter -- “Oh, Sec, she’s a TRIP!”-- or indignation and shock -- “HONEY! That isn’t very nice!” By the time the ten second exchange is over, I’ve been through the emotional wringer.


She’s pretty good about saying “Thank you” and “Please” but that’s mostly because she stands to gain something in those instances. Trying to get her to say “Sorry” on command, however, is actually impossible. I don’t think she’d say “sorry” if I offered to buy her a pony, or threatened to feed her to wolves. I honestly believe that she’d prefer to be devoured by a pack of starving wolves than to apologize immediately after doing something wrong, especially when I tell her to. Because at least then, she’s have the glory of winning the battle of will with her mother.

You’d think I would have learned by now not to offer the prompt, but the need is great to demonstrate to whoever’s watching that I do not approve, that I did not raise the kid to act like this, that this behavior is totally nature’s, not nurture’s fault, It’s a way of washing my hands – hey, I TRIED To get her to be polite, you heard that, right?. And I’ve seen it work – I just saw this little girl in the coffee shop pounding on the counter, and when her mom asked her to say “Sorry” she chirped it right out, and everyone was happy.

I guess when the kids are babies and toddlers, it’s what you have to do, to teach them what’s expected and appropriate in certain situations. How would they know otherwise? But at 4, they’ve got it. So I’m making a belated New Year’s resolution. No more useless, destined-to-fail prompts for stubborn Seconda. Or at least, fewer. Ok, I’d better hone it down to “I won’t ask Sec to say Hi to the super in the morning.”

Yeah, she may turn out to be an asshole when she grows up, but at least my mornings will be more pleasant.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Grrrrl Eyeball Power

Here I am, trying to get work done and instead listening to my children run around the living room, Primo holding a plastic sword and Sec holding a baseball ball, yelling the following:

Primo:“Well, we meet again. Just try to throw those snakes at me, why don’t you?”

Seconda: “Wa-ha-ha-ha, I will! I will chase you with my horse!”

“Not so fast! I have the magic to make your house ride away. And also to make your horse frozen. BAM! Your horse is frozen!

“Then I will take it to the doctor!”

“BAM! The doctor is frozen!”

“Kill! Kill! I kill you!”

“It backfired on you so you’re dead!”

“Well I’m a girl and girls have magical powers of shooting eyeballs out of their fingernails and if these eyeballs hit you, you will die!”

I find it very convenient, as a writer, that the kids' play style involves narrating everything they do as if performing for an audience of the blind. Makes my job easy. Also, I wish someone had told me a long time ago that I contain eyeball-shooting powers. Would have saved me carrying that pepper spray my mom bought me back in high school.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

FaceTime, my mortal enemy

One of the benefits of having kids is that it made me much less attached to material possessions. Partially that’s because we don’t have money now for me to have any, and partially that’s because whatever stuff I do have, the kids ruin. There is one one possession, though, which I positively treasure and that is my iPhone. I feel a real, robust love for my iPhone and yes, I have been known to sleep, curdled up next to it.

But iPhones get old and decrepit, much like people, only faster. So on New Year’s Day, with my two year plan at an end, qualifying me for an upgrade, I got myself a NEW iPhone, the fancy kind they call 4G. I was excited about the upgrade mainly because my old phone’s battery only lasted 30 minutes or so. But I was also excited to experiment with the new generation’s features, including FaceTime.

Wow, I thought, when FaceTime was explained to me by my sister, I can videochat with someone while I move around in the world? I can just take people with me where-ever I go? That’s AMAZING. Oh, Apple, I thought, you have done it again, you ingenious computer geeks!

Then I used FaceTime, And this is what happened:

As it dialed, on the screen, was a huge image of ME! To call it unflattering would be a grave, gross inderstatement. The image was so awful that I felt confused for a moment, and actually thought, “Who is that poor, unfortunate-looking person and why are we both wearing the same hoodie and earrings?” Then with horror, I came to understand that this was me, and I swear, this revelation was so earth-shattering that I all but bellowed “NOOOOOOOOO!” and shattered the phone to smithereens.

As I was reeling from the horrible understanding that if was possible I actually LOOKED like that, it occurred to me that I was calling someone, a someone who wa sseconds away from seeing this image.

“HOW DO I STOP THIS THING?????” I shrieked out loud, desperately pressing buttons.

Then, oh sweet reprieve, my sister’s face was huge on the phone and she was saying, “Why are you screaming like a maniac?”

“This FaceTime thing,” I replied, “It’s a LIVING NIGHTMARE!”

I tried raising the phone up high, down low, to the side but no matter how I manipulated it, I still looked like a fat zombie version of myself.

“WHY are you doing this to me?” I wanted to ask my beloved iPhone, “How could you ruin what we had?”

Finally, my sister pointed out that I could switch the camera my phone was using to the one on the back of the phone and then, everything was ok.

“You know, it’s really not that interesting for me to see you making yourself a cup of coffee,” my sister remarked.

“Tough shit,” I said, “You’re the one who wanted to do this.”

I should have known FaceTime would be a disaster, now that I think about it. I was all, “The person I’m talking to can see me!” with a perky, positive exclamation point but I should have been all, “The person I’m talking to can see me!” with an agonized, horro-struck exclamation point. After all, the amazing thing about the telephone is that people DON’T see you. Leave it to those computer geeks to never leave well enough alone.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

DIY light sabers and others intergalactic matters

For Christmas, David got Primo a box set of the original Star Wars trilogy. It was just the sort of thing one sees at Costco and cannot bear to leave behind. We decided we would have a sort of a- home film festival, lasting three nights, in which we viewed the whole kit and caboodle. What the hell else is there to do in the boondocks of New Jersey, at my parent’s house, anyway? So we fired up the microwavable popcorn and launched ourselves into a galaxy far far away. As you can imagine, it was impossible for Primo not to get sucked into the early 80s heavenly goodness which is the Star Wars Trilogy. Except for the last few scenes of Return of the Jedi, with the Emperor, he didn’t even find it scary. He did have a few questions, beginning with this one: Why aren’t they doing anything besides fighting and trying to kill each other?

To which I replied: “It’s called a battle scene.”

Kid knows what the word epistolary means, but has never heard of a battle scene.

As a kid, I remember getting all moony for Mark Hamil and pining for braids as long as coil-capable as Carrie Fisher’s but the thing that Primo found most alluring about the movies of course, was the idea of a light saber. Really, I’d have to concur that there is no fictional weapon quite as perfect as the light saber: even the choice of the word “saber” as opposed to “sword” is impeccable and the clashing colors lighting up the darkness of those corridors and imperial chambers and the like, with each gesture accompanies by one of the most iconic sound effects of the 20th century – well, its nothing short of spectacular.

As soon as we were back in Brooklyn, Primo set about making his own light saber set, out of the slim silver LED flashlights we bought at – you guessed it – Costco, a few months ago, These flashlights make such ideal light sabers, I’m surprised the company hasn’t thought to market them to Star Wars fans with a label reading: "sizzling sound effect not included." Primo’s pal came over and the two of them had intergalactic battles all afternoon long. And if that’s not a rollicking, old-school good time, I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

If you've been following my losing battle against the princess parasite, you will not be surprised to hear how excited I was when I heard there was a new book out entitled Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Now, I haven't read the book yet, but the Times review by Annie Murphy Paul, had me hooked and I am DYING to dig in. In the book, Peggy Orenstein heads to toy fairs, beauty pageants, American Girl stores and Miley Ciris concerts, trying to figure out why and how the "princess phase" has become a more or less inevitable milestone of childhood for girls, what that phase morphs into, and at what cost our daughters feed the princess machine. This is Paul summing up the book's explanation of the very calculated invention of "Disney Princess":

"in 2000 a Disney executive named Andy Mooney went to check out a “Disney on Ice” show and found himself “surrounded by little girls in princess costumes. Princess costumes that were — horrors! — homemade. How had such a massive branding opportunity been overlooked? The very next day he called together his team and they began working on what would become known in-house as ‘Princess.’ ”

Kind of creeps you out, right? But as far as I can tell, Orenstein isn't arguing that Disney and the rest of the toy companies have invented the yen for girliness, they've only found a way to sate it and make bank. Here's the part that really engrossed me:

"Orenstein finds one such enlightening explanation in developmental psychology research showing that until as late as age 7, children are convinced that external signs — clothing, hairstyle, favorite color, choice of toys — determine one’s sex. “It makes sense, then, that to ensure you will stay the sex you were born you’d adhere rigidly to the rules as you see them and hope for the best,” she writes. “That’s why 4-year-olds, who are in what is called ‘the inflexible stage,’ become the self-­appointed chiefs of the gender police. Suddenly the magnetic lure of the Disney Princesses became more clear to me: developmentally speaking, they were genius, dovetailing with the precise moment that girls need to prove they are girls, when they will latch on to the most exaggerated images their culture offers in order to stridently shore up their femininity.”"

I find this fascinating because it seems so in line with what I've witnessed in Seconda. Her desire to wear princess dress-up is, in no way, causal -- it's not even a desire so much as an urgent need, and when she is not wearing a frilly dress, she gets genuinely worked up, frantic. Now sure, this is partly because I've got a kid that could get frantic over getting the wrong kind of breakfast cereal, but I see, too, that when she's not donning her dress, she feels in jeopardy in some way. And I'm reminded of how even a year or two ago, she would go apopletic when I put pants on her, insisting, "BUT I'M A GIRL!!!"

I'm wondering, though, why boys don't typically demonstrate such a fervent need as well. Maybe when I read the book, I'll find out.

In any event, I'm soon to be attending the same toy fair Orenstein mentions in her book and while I'm there, I'll be going to a talk on "Rethinking the Gender Bias in Toys", so fret not, readers, you'll be hearing more on the matter.