Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mom Censor

I don't know precisely how it happened but my son became obsessed with the 1984 movie, Gremlins. Well, he became obsessed with the idea of the movie, not the movie itself, because I wouldn't let him watch it.

The other day, he decided this was so oppressive BS.

"Mom, it's totally NOT scary," he insists.

"I don't know about that," I reply, "I remember it being very scary."

"But that's only because you were a wimp."

Which is not untrue.

"It's campy!" he persists.

The thing about having a nine year-old is they said stuff like this, stuff that leaves you wondering, "When did you learn that?" And then you remember that they have a life now, a life which includes a lot more than just you, with all sorts of various sources of incoming information and that thought is paralyzing.

"Just let me watch it first," I say, "To make sure there's nothing inappropriate."

"Like what?"

I wanted to tell him I'm not going to recite a list of all the possible content areas that would be unsuitable for his eyes, as that would defeat my purpose, which is to shelter and protect him, forever, from everything.

"Like geysers of blood,?" I tell him, "Primarily, I want to make sure it's not a blood bath."

He perpends for a moment. That's unusual these days. Now that he's an almost-tween, he's got an immediate answer for everything. But I can see he's trying to decide if he's in accordance with this criteria.

"Will you be looking for human or gremlin blood?" he finally asks.

"Only human blood," I assure him, "Gremlin bloodbaths are totally permissible."

He sighs: "Thank God."

And the epilogue is: I pre-screened the thing and as he'd assured me, it really wasn't that scary (I WAS a wimp, truly) and also, there was no human blood, only copious amount of gremlin blood which was totally unconcerning to me. I mean, it was kind of gross when the mom stuck the gremlin in the blender and green gremlin fluid splattered everywhere but that grossness, I'm guessing, is exactly what viewers like my son are tuning in for.

So I let him watch it and he loved every second of it. He decided that Terza is our own personal gremlin and has taught my toddler how to say such useful phrases as "Bye, Billy!" and "Light bright! Light bright!"

Clearly, it was an enriching experience for us all.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I hope they never get too old to play pretend

I just overheard the following exchange emanating from the kids' room:

"Throw me in the volcano Seconda!"

"No, please! I can't!"

"I can't tell you why but it's for my own good!" 

"All right . . . Here. Goes. NOTHING!!!!!!"

I am dreading the day Primo gets too old to play pretend, though I know from my own experience, you can keep on playing pretend til you're a grown-up, depending on your career choice . . . acting lends itself nicely to such endeavors, and writing, too. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Parenting is gross. Really, unimaginably gross

Once, when my sister was a little tiny thing -- three or four, maybe -- she swallowed a button. When my mother called the pediatrician, he told her it was no problem, that all she had to do was make sure the button came back out again.

"But how do I do that? asked my mother. Ha.

I distinctly remember the few days it took for them to locate the button. My sister had to crap into a basin and then, wearing surgical gloves and using disposable chopsticks, they inspected her shit.

At the time this seemed to me the most foul, God-awful revolting thing a person could be called upon to do.

And then I had kids and I realized yes, it is foul and God-awful-revolting and also the sort of thing you have to do ALL THE FREAKING TIME.

I have not had to inspect anyone's shit in a basin yet though I have no doubt, with a toddler on my hands, that that day will come. I now realize that rummaging for buttons in your child's crap is just ONE of the many duties a parent is called upon to do. There is a whole CATEGORY of Shit-Related Parenting Tasks. Not just the constant diaper changing, obviously, and the diarrhea cleaning. Far worse than those merely gross responsibilities, are the emotionally-taxing shit-related ones, like, for instance. administering a suppository. Good God, what a lark. Had I had any hard alcohol lying around in the house, I would have surely availed myself of it that memorable night -- and probably given some to the baby, too.

Shit's just the tip of the gross iceberg. Vomit comes next. I had no earthly idea before i had kids just how frequently children hurl. When you are adult, you might toss your cookies one every few years, during the sporadic flu, or night spent binge-drinking, what have you. But children vomit at the drop of a damn hat. Half the time they're not even sick, they just threw up FOR NO FUCKING REASON. Also, they have unforgivable aim. Out of the approximately five hundred times my kids have thrown up, about two or three of those times was actually in a toilet or trash can. I know, I know, they can't control it, and look, I don't fault them. When they throw up, I'm all "Oh you poor thing, my darling, blah blah blah," But secretly I am thinking WHERE IS THE MAGIC GENIE THAT IS GOING TO HELP ME DEAL WITH THIS VOMITORIUM?

Once you add in the Snot and the Tooth Pulling and the Lice - dear God, the Lice!! -- to say nothing of pinworms and tapeworms and all the other unimaginably revolting stuff these kids get and carry and pass -- well, I'll just say that if I had any idea of how gross parenting would be, I'd have had a full-on panic attack. I would've still done it, but I would have hyperventilated, for a long time.

As usual with parenting, it's better you don't know what's coming. Maybe I should have mentioned that in the beginning so that those of you who don't yet have kids, or are expecting could have skipped this one. Sorry to be the bearer of gross news. Now, go get a paper bag and breathe into it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Go listen to this great podcast from Slate about Why babies learn to say no before anything else

I find this fascinating, particularly now that I hear "I NO LIKE IT!" basically forty times a minute.

Turns out there's not just one way kids mean no, but three general categories:

1. Rejection negation: just what it sounds like
So,"Eat your spinach!"

2. Disappearance negation: negatives with reference to the disappearance of something that is no longer perceivable to the child
So, a kid drops a cookie from his high chair, and it falls to the floor.

3. Truth functional negation: corrects the fact and establishes the truth, what these guys call the "No, dumb-ass."
So, you point to an apple and ask the kid: "Is that a monkey?"


And that's not even getting into the unfulfilled expectations and secondary tier negations and shit.

Pretty cool stuff, huh? Doesn't make it less annoying when you hear "No no no no NO!" but at least it keeps your brain functional.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Wringing out the towel of happiness

My kids love Elvis.

Primo was the progenitor of the family's current Elvis craze. For a long time, he's been hard-core into the crooners -- Frank and Dino, in particular -- and from there, he leapt to Elvis. He has introduced his sisters to it and the King pleases them all, especially the baby. I think it's that simple, driving beat that is so baby-friendly, letting her unleash her frenetic dance moves in all their glory.

Yesterday, Primo cued up "Hound Dog" and the kids had an impromptu dance party in the living room. The baby shrieked with delight and ran over to her sister, grabbing her hand and leading her into the middle of the carpet, while Primo, in a bow tie and suit shirt, joined in. They all bounced up and down like bona fide teeny boppers, wild, joyful smiles spread across their faces, sporadic giggles erupting from their mouths. Does this sound like a Hallmark moment? Good. It was. It was a super-sized feel-good moment that makes your heart so warm, it's molten.

"This is what I imagined when I told you we should have another child," I said to David. "I told you I could see us side by side, watching three crazy kids being loud and ridiculous and laughing their heads off in the middle of shenanigans and I could see us looking at each other and shaking out heads, full of wonder and joy and exhaustion."

"Yes," he agreed,"This is that moment. And you better enjoy it, because it will last approximately three more seconds."

As he finished his sentence, the baby's frenzied dance moves propelled her into the wall, and she started bawling her head off. Right on cue.

David is right. We get those Hallmark moments -- and for our family, they're never the quiet moments of repose, but explosive moments of cacophony, where the three children collide together into a fleeting, thunderous communion of spirit. We get those moments, I'd estimate, once every week or so. The moments where you feel a joy so expansive you can barely contain it. A fullness. It's transcendent. And it never lasts more than 10, at most 30 seconds. Then it's over, and reality descends with crying and squabbling and anxiety and disappointment.

But, when you think about, 10 seconds of transcendence and joy is really a windfall. The trick is not to miss it. So, this year, among my other resolutions, I think I'll work on sucking every last ounce of those beautiful moments in, right down to the dregs. You could call it savoring the moment but I imagine it as a  bit more violent: wringing the towel of joyfulness out until that stingy thing releases it's last drop.

Happy New Year, folks. May you wring the SHIT out of your happiness.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Changing boys to girls in literature for kids

I read in pursuit of many different kinds of experiences but one of them is the "I'm not the only person who does _________ (fill in freaky thing I thought I was alone in doing)" revelation. The freaky thing is, let's be honest, never really THAT freaky, but still, it feels great to know you're not alone in whatever it is -- offering sex so your husband will clean the bathroom, re-gifting baby clothes, never washing pacifiers or - in today's case -- editing children's literature as you read. I love this piece, reprinted in Slate: Bilbo Baggins Is A Girl, in which the author describes switching pronouns when reading great children's literature to her daughter, so that male protagonists, like Biblo, turn into females. She shares a bunch of statistics about how under-represented female characters are in kiddie lit and family movies -- and the female characters that do exist are often unexciting or exciting in a way that seems like a freakish exception to the rule ("She's a PRINCESS KNIGHT!! Would you get a load of THAT? Holy mackerel, that's mind-blowingly cool . . . and also totally weird.")

The first thing I thought when I read the title of the piece was, "Maybe if Bilbo Baggins was a girl, I would've liked The Hobbit better."  Because I read it a few years ago, for the first time, with Primo, and I'm embarrassed to confess I did not love it. I found myself skipping pages at a time without telling Primo just because I was zoning out and kind of couldn't wait to get to some good stuff. Now, I very much doubt that my boredom with the text was a product of there not being a single female character in the entire work -- I think it had more to do with the long, to my mind over-written descriptive passages about the countryside -- but I don't think it would've hurt my interest any if Bilbo, or any of the dwarves, or hell, even Smaug, was a girl. Sometimes, David'll drag me to an action film or some other cinematic experience almost totally devoid of female characters (or at least interesting ones) and I'll find myself saying, "It's just so boring. There's no women in it." Maybe I'm just a simpleton . . .  or maybe I'm tired of feeling like I can't connect with a male-centric representation of the world.

In either event, I love the solution proposed in this piece. While I have never changed a pronoun in the way she has, I often slip in some positive attributes to beef up the female characters; whenever there's a "beautiful princess" I even things out with some other adjectives until she's a "smart, strong, kind and beautiful princess." I'm also a fan of sending princesses to get advanced degrees, often an MBA or PhD. Got this idea from my cousin, who first sent Snow White to medical school.

Happy reading!