A Modern Girl's Musings

My earliest political memory is of my parents laughing at me when I asked if we were voting for Ronald Reagan. Even I could tell poor Carter wasn't looking so good. I was about five. I think the laughter was accompanied by something along the lines of "for crying out loud!"

Nevertheless I consider myself a Reagan Baby. Those eight years of my childhood were spent realizing that there was still a lot of work to be done, despite Dr. King, in addition to the Kennedys (a lot of them were still alive then), and hopefully including me (if my Quaker education by the hippies was teaching me anything at all).

So after Reagan, after Clinton, after hiding in those Bushes, I am still hopeful, I am still working on my addition, I'm still on my way to a new way of living in this world.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Letter to a Dear Friend

Dear Time Out,
I wish I could use you just for obnoxious behavior without having to give reasons or a time limit or ask the "do you know why you're in time out" end of time out question. She knows why, despite her claiming otherwise.
Instead I will use you the way you are intended.  Supernanny will be proud.
I know there is a method called time IN!  Where the parent sets up a nice place for "someone" to chill out and relax with books and pillows, given the theory that when "someone" acts up and out, it is because she is feeling stressed and out of control.  But that seems rather swank when that someone has just spat in my "general area", whimpers and whines, and willfully chases and pushes her brother, who is learning to count early because said "someone" gets lots of 1-2-3's to self correct and yet we are still always using 1-2-3's. 
Dear Time Out, I shudder to think you will be with us for a long time to come, because the boy-boy has started to yell and stamp is feet at me.
Have a nice day, Time Out.  It is 8 AM and we have already seen you this morning.  I am sure we will see you again soon.  Until then, Time Out, until then...
A. Mommy

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hey, Grumpy Troll, this is America!

Tonight we had roast beef.

I was determined to roast SOMETHING, seeing as it was a damp chillier than I would like day, and these are the days when roasting something seems appropriate.

Dinner went how it usually does:  the table is always a little bit sticky, food or drink is always in some form of falling to the kitchen floor, and I don’t sit down very much.

After dinner I was racing to clean up (I run a very tight ship in the evenings around here) and Katia and Hunter were playing around me.  As Ron entered the kitchen from the back porch, Katia blocked him like the Grumpy Old Troll from DORA THE EXPLORER who lives under "the bridge": 

“You can’t come through unless you have money.”

To which my husband replied, “I don’t need money to come through here.”

“You can’t come through unless you have MONEY.”

Well, suffice it to say, if this were truly the case, my husband and I would be separated by a kitchen length and a tiny three year old for years, because neither of us have any money. 

I could see the gears turning in my husband’s head.

“No one needs any money to come through here.”

“Sure you do.  You need some money.”

“Anyone can come through here.  It doesn’t matter if they have money or not.”

And I could see gears turning in my daughter’s head, too, trying to figure out exactly what my husband was really talking about.  She’s a sensitive three.  While she doesn’t always understand the plurality of a situation, she is in tune enough to realize plurality does indeed exist.

“Daddy means any one can walk through here.”

More gears.

I didn’t want to use the term rich, because the can of worms that could open would be just too large to put back together as I was trying to wipe gravy, cucumber, and ice cream off the tile floor.  But the moment felt charged and deserving of more time than someone who is wiping gravy, and cucumber and ice cream before dreaded bedtime would probably have at her disposal.

And I guess the moment was charged by the fact that this is most definitely America, and it is an America where the promise of prosperity has withered before everyone’s eyes, including those who can shop at Whole Foods, buy enough to last a week without having to go to a Stop and Shop and STILL not blink at the bill.

I think the promise was already pretty crinkly for me, since my family experienced its own “recession” in 1989, when my parents separated and there wasn’t enough money for my mother and my sisters to live “on our own”.  I watch the Today show do spots on multi generational households and think, yeah, that was us, but without the camera crew, the experience was one that felt more as if we were the homeless relatives come to stay during the 1930s, than one filled with festive family dinners and walks with Grandma and Grandpa through the subdivision.  While we’d always been scholarship kids at each of our private schools, my sister’s and I did not feel the real blister of “no money” until those years in the late eighties and early nineties when we all of a sudden qualified for food stamps (which we used) and free school lunch (which, being fifteen, I would have rather eaten my own hand off than used) and shopping for school supplies became the dreaded ordeal it remained for all of us for decades to come.

When we finally were able to move out of my grandparent’s house, while I was elated, I was all of a sudden hyper aware of how much things cost.  How much food costs, how the phone bill costs, how much furniture costs.  I can say that while many kids my age were hoping for a new car for graduation, what made my heart sore was the rental couch my mother got so guests could have somewhere to sit for my graduation party.  You mean we can keep it? we asked my mom.  Yes, we can KEEP IT.   And for one of the first times in three years, we felt as if we were finally part of the American Dream once again.  And this couch, let me say, was ugly.  A strange multi colored, fabric-pill-intentionally sewn in the material type of late eighties masterpiece.  We kept it for nearly a decade, we were so proud.

So, I sit back with wonder as I watch people who can afford couches talk about clipping coupons.  I am guessing they are the same people who, when and if laid off, take some time to work on their resumes, maybe spend some time working on that novel they started in college.  They live on their unemployment and don’t worry too much because they have Cobra and they can always sell something like their house if it gets too bad. And they believe this is what it is to be poor.  They are between the having and the not having.  But it is the not having that I think is still foreign to most.

Because what eventually ends up happening when you are part of those who do not have is you begin to feel as though you do not deserve.  

I just spent over a year talking myself up and down and up and down about buying a bookcase and a desk.  I am chagrined to say that while I am a writer for a living, I have written my last handful of plays sitting on our couch (which we bought in cash.  Outright.  We’ll not mention it is now threadbare and desperately needs a steam clean.  I am still just very proud I have two 2! Couches no matter how stained they are).  And I must admit that in a way, what I was doing, was telling myself I do deserve a bookcase and a desk.  Perhaps this is materialistic but also, perhaps, this is the by product of living amidst capitalism, amidst kids at those private schools whose parents never worried about if they had enough gas to get to work or enough in the bank to renew their license even.  I am pretty sure those kids, all grown up, do not talk themselves into buying things this way because they do not worry that they do not deserve.

And I know this is why my husband was refusing to let this money thing go. 

While we may not have all of these things and assumptions those who do enjoy, what we are able to give our daughter (and her brother, too) is the sense that each one of us deserves because we are human.  Period.  End of story and let me walk across the freakin kitchen before I give you a time out.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mommy Wars: Just Some Thoughts

There is a book called MOMMY WARS that is on my reading list.  Since my current book weighs in at about six hundred pages, on that list MOMMY WARS will stay for a long time, but I am still more than intrigued by its premise, which is that there is a huge amount of strife between two sides of the same coin: stay at home moms (SAHMs) on one shiny side of the coin and working moms (or, as everyone on my mommy websites like to clarify: moms who work outside the home, so as not to make SAHMs feel as though what they do does not equal work.

Because it does.  If you’ve ever hung out with one or two or six kids at home, and had to feed them, clothe them, and entertain them, not to mention pick up after them, you realize pretty quickly that staying at home with kids involves a shitload of work.  And it is rather lonely.  A three year old who just filled the in-hallway potty seat, making your home smell like some circus animal’s been visiting is just not equipped to discuss the war in Afghanistan, Bristol Palin’s turn on Dancing With the Stars, or the mid term elections, no matter how much network news you leave on during the day.  Days with kids can be grueling, now matter how fun it may seem when you play hooky from work and yank your kid out of daycare to do it once or twice when you just can’t take the office anymore.

And those of us who work outside the home—which really brings to mind women in business suits and heels crouching on standing briefcases, clandestinely typing away on a laptop amidst the hydrangeas—know that work and kids is not a juggling act, it is a three ring circus, the kind that we cringe at when we see the ads for tickets on TV.  You are constantly on and constantly tired and constantly feeling stretched and guilty and a little hungry, as your day is spent being spent.

I occupy both sides of the coin, so I instantly get rattled when SAHMs get characterized as people they probably aren’t: lazy (in terms of having a “real” job), entitled, out of touch….and I get equally rattled when I hear “working” moms get characterized as people they probably aren’t: lazy (as in “she’d know how to deal with her kid if she spent more time with him”), entitled, and out of touch….

All of this came frothing to a head recently when I heard of a new dance studio devoted to children.  This seemed wonderful, and I emailed the link to my friends who have small kids.  Very quickly one of my friends emailed back and commented that there were only two (2!) Saturday classes, and they were geared towards tweens, not toddlers.  This seemed unbelievable. Saturday morning is primo kiddie time in the “let’s  pile on the extracurriculars so my three year old does not end up at community college” race to the top of the food chain.  But it was true.  And odd.  So I do what I am always telling my husband I will do, and I wrote an email to the studio, which is run by a mom, a working mom, and so the answers I got back were dismaying.

‘We’re adding Monday classes at 4:30, which seems to work great for our working moms.’  

I swear to God I felt palpitations and my blood went cold the way it does when I want to attack something, the same way I supposed it does in a lizard, when it is going to lash out with its tongue. 

And I suppose that is because I just don’t know very many full time working adults who are able to take a class at 4:30 on a Monday afternoon. 

And I also felt the urge to point to the gaping wide hole in her schedule that is Saturday and say: this THIS is when most adults are FREE!

And it got me thinking about the idea of revolution.  The book I am reading posits that “[i]t is cliché that revolutions in societies occur not at the point of maximum misery but during periods of rising expectations.  The same can be said of individuals.  Those who are taught to expect things often wind up thinking that they deserve whatever they have, and that they have a right to expect more” (Gordon-Reed, 329.  I know, I know.  Citations!  In a blog!  What is surprising to me, though, is that I am using this quote to discuss mommydome, when I was planning to use it to discuss those Tea Party people, but this dance studio schedule really got me flipping riled up).  And so I can’t help but start to ruminate about how these mommy wars and feminism relate to the idea of revolution.

I suppose, in a conventional sense, I could say: after the revolution there will be no more mommy wars because in a world after the revolution something will finally be done about the fact that the majority of our work force is women and the fact that over ninety percent of women eventually have children.  Yay for childcare.  Whoo Hoo.

But if we were to shirk convention, perhaps, after the revolution, there might also be a way to reconfigure the assumptions we make about parenting.  Because, implicit in the decision to offer a working mom’s mommy and me at 4:30 on a weekday afternoon is the idea that a certain type of working mom would be available at a time when, well, most people are still working, and that a certain type of working mom, well, wouldn’t be in the market for this type of class anyway, so why market to her in the first place?

And I guess what got me hot and bothered under my collar is that the person creating this schedule is a woman.  Who works.  And so it is not so difficult to see how a Sarah Palin could voice such strong opinions about restricting Choice, or healthcare or tax cuts.  Sure that is a leap, but I’m leaping it, watch me.  And I am sure this person would be horrified to be likened to Palin.  I am sure this person’s blue state of mind would be very disgruntled to be compared to Palin even for a nanosecond.

But I guess what I am hoping is that as our culture evolves (we’re evolving right?  we’re getting better at this shit, right?) we start to ask more of ourselves even in these little moments, and reach towards inclusion.  Maybe.

Work Cited:
Gordon-Reed, Annette.  The Hemingses of Monticello. W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 2008. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

You Speak Truth, Ms. Benning

One of my favorite lines from a movie is when Annette Benning’s character in AMERICAN BEAUTY screams at her daughter who has grown up in affluence and is seemingly what most of us might consider “spoiled”: “when I was your age I lived in a duplex!” 

The line is funny and heart wrenching, because despite this movie family’s affluence, they are all miserable.

Similar feelings seeped up as I forced my husband to watch REVOLUTIONARY ROAD.  My husband does not much like any movie made after about 1974 or so.  I think he only agree to watch that one because I had just had my second baby and it was a way to spend time together and the week before we’d decided to throw a birthday party for me one week after my c section and despite smiles during the party, that was perhaps an ill planned idea, as washing wine glasses and high ball glasses and cheese plates isn’t really something you delight in as incision pain runs up and down your sides. 

I loved REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, as Kate Winslet probably can do no wrong in my eyes, but I must admit my husband and I sat there a little, well, annoyed.  And that is the point, to be watching this young, beautiful couple living the dreamy 50’s American dream in Connecticut fumble around being unhappy despite having so much to be not unhappy about.

I think it is safe to say that we would not mind living in Annette Benning’s old duplex.  That we would not mind the PTA or the Rotary.

Right now I am in the midst of planning a Black History Month event for the Historical Society in our hometown.  It is supposed to match the theme of the year for the society, which is: A day in the life of____________.  In devising the program with my mother, one thing we agreed upon that was an integral part of a certain brand of African American middle class life oh so long ago was being on committees, belonging to associations and groups and societies.  And when talking to my husband, he has agreed life was similar in his own family.  His mother and father belonged to things. 

This is something that is a little bit foreign to us. 

Because to be part of these groups that meet, say, every Wednesday at eight or every other Saturday at three, you must say to yourself, yes, these are people I can meet with every Wednesday and every Saturday, and you must also agree with yourself that you would like to convene with these people in person, for a cause  for which you you’re willing to get a sitter to be able meet with people in person.

And herein lies one critical issue:  in person.  Not online.  In a room where you can actually see and hear and feel another person next to you, where you know how that person actually pronounces her last name, or if he uses the paper cups provided for his coffee or brings his own mug from home that has his college insignia on it because he wants everyone to know he did, indeed, go to college.  And while I guess you can put your college affiliation on your Facebook profile, it’s decidedly different to see a forty year old sip Maxwell House from home in a thermal mug that reads Brown in crumbling letters on the side.

Yesterday I read an article that talked about creativity and technology.  Its premise was not revolutionary—primarily that the same things happen in our brains when he hunt and gather for an idea as when we hunt and gather for say, the best price on the Ashton Kutcher camera that we really want and really deserve because our one years old got so much baby slobber in the one we already own that one day the flash on it putted out now it is only good for sitting in the everything drawer in the kitchen, screen smeared with something sticky that said one year old spread over it once you realized it was rendered useless.  And that by spending oh, say, the equivalent of days searching for Mr. Kutcher’s camera, we are wasting our creative processes on technology in a way that only those of us who have comparison shopped on Overtock then Target then Amazon then oh what the hell I am broke anyway Walmart know about all too well.

But what it got me thinking about was letters, those hallmarks of a good, safe, middle class well made play.  At the heart of many a good story is some sort of article of documentation.  That someone wrote.  Not a link.  Not a cut and paste job.

And what that got me thinking of was how much time we spend click click clicking.  Not revolutionary either but what that got me thinking of  was how this program I am to be giving in February really does belong in the brochure for a historical society.  How Thursday at eight and Saturday at three are now often spent click click clicking, as opposed to smelling the soap waft towards you from three seats down at a meeting you got a sitter special to attend.  And even if you do make that meeting, if you smell that soap, you are probably using an app to tell you what kind it is, where to get it, and how to buy it for yourself at a store you can get to with a GPS.  When you could ask in person.  Instead.

Because although a duplex seems painfully un American as a life’s goal (unless it’s a condo, then maybe), there is kinship in it, there is another family, another group of people who might like to meet on Saturdays at three, on the other side of the wall, instead of the other side of the cul-de-sac. 

And maybe you’d like each other’s soap.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yes, VR Crazee

Every few months or so, I try to coerce my husband into going RVing.    Back when we spent hours together alone without cutting other people’s meat or fetching sippy cups of apple juice, we used to watch RV shows on Sunday nights. 

The shows usually consist of older wealthy men with rather young and botoxed wives, who often decorate the RVs themselves.  Everything is very shiny and in muted, pastel type colors, like the inside of Foxwoods.  Sometimes these kinds of couples also shared the insides of their boats, too.

“You can rent them with baby seats.”

“Yeah.  I really don’t like driving that much.”

“We can pick a theme.  See everything in the country that relates to that theme.  Like Frank Lloyd Wright.  Wouldn’t that be cool?  To see everything related to Frank Lloyd Wright?”


Sometimes he will half agree to it, especially if we were to travel on back roads that do not have a lot of traffic. 

“Like this would be okay,” he said recently as we drove past Walden Pond.

But we both worry a lot about the Klan, so back roads are out.  It sounds funny, but we did once get invited to a private party when we were playing pool with a guy in a bar in Kentucky when I had a play at Humana.  And then there was the time our GPS took us—mysteriously, since we were going a straight shot to Manhattan from Medford—into the wilds of Connecticut, which, I learned from going to school there, has a rather high level of Klan activity.   I’m talking dirt road, in the dark, with our race mixing family inside our Toyota, with us wondering two things: why did our GPS fuck us over like this and when was the guy with the machete going to come and chop us up? 

I don’t think the Klan uses machetes, but I know it hung out in Connecticut in the 1990s, when they used to demonstrate sometimes at the supermarket during graduations and parents weekends.  Or so went the myth and the reason one guy I met during undergrad insisted he needed to walk around with something akin to a prison shiv in his sock.  “I’m ten times safer in New York City than I am in Middletown!  I wouldn’t walk around here without it!”

I guess RVing speaks to the American in me that yearns for that perfect family vacation.  The problem with trying to capture the perfect family vacation as an adult is that you, as an adult, are in charge.  Of the driving, the hotels, the food, and any shivs needed.  And for most parents, being in charge of a trip kinda sucks.   It’s the packing and the laundry before the packing and the yelling from the back seat and the dropped snacks on the floor and the nasty rest stops that only serve McDonalds.  Or worse, Roy Rogers, which is just disgusting.

But still I dream:

“I wouldn’t say we should get a Tear Drop*.

But at least something big enough to bring my mother. 

If not Frank Lloyd Wright then maybe stuff that deals with baseball?”

Nada.  Not a bite.

Looking back I guess, by classic American standards, our vacations were a little bit lame.  There was camping, but not the forge out your own campsite kind, the kind where there is an outhouse somewhere nearby and the place to build your campfire is the place where hundreds of other people who paid for the campsite before you put their campfire.  There was the time we were warned mountain lions had been attacking campsites, which is kinda wild westy, but probably should have been a sign to go home for my parents, who were camping with us who were maybe maybe two and four at the time.  But, for some reason it did not deter my parents and for some reason they kept bringing up in front of us. For the most part, though, camping was, well, pretty much like a hotel except with more dirt (horrible for me and my desire for cleanliness and great for my sister who had PICA and liked to eat sand). 

There was Niagra Falls, where we went on a whim as we took my middle sister to college one summer.  Stateside our tour guide was very nice, saying we would surely get back in time before restaurants closed and ensuring we’d get to know everything possible about Niagra Falls.  On the Maple Leaf side that guy revealed his true cheesy self, although I guess the tip off was the very cheesy limo bus he was manning.  He refused to answer any of our historical questions and instead directed us to listen to the piped in recording overhead.  Which was not very historical at all.  What really ruined the relationship was that he let the rest of the tour decide if we stayed in Canada for fireworks or not, while the Greenidgegirls’ stomachs rumbled in our rainbow-beam-decorated seats.  You just don’t mess with our feeding time.  We’re like bears. 

There were countless trips to the Cape and Maine and StoryLand, and North Conway and while many of them did not have the zeal of Disneyworld or ClubMed or Aspen, looking back, they were fun enough.  And substantial enough to try to build upon them in my imagination as I plan trips for my “own” family.

“I’d love to see everything Frank Lloyd Wright.”

Chirp.  Chirp chirp.

“Wouldn’t you?”

“If I didn’t have to drive.”

“My mom can drive.”


“So next summer.”

“There’s a reason that show was called RVCrazee.”

Okay, so next summer it is.

*A tear drop is the kind of motor home experience that is very tiny and only has a bed and everything folds up into it.  You drag it along behind your car.  Which doesn’t have to be a truck, cause the “Tear Drop” is so dainty.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Unplug It, For Reals

Perhaps I will regret writing this.

I am proverbially and chronically always late to the technology party.  Ipod?  I have one in my desk drawer and another, newer, sleeker one that my husband bought me for our anniversary that mocks me as I wonder how to make a musical theatre mix to listen to on it.  I know it is not that complicated, it just takes time I usually use to do the dishes so I am not writing amidst filth.  And while I know my smart phone is much smarter than I am, I am kinda content to let it stay that way.

So you can imagine I was not exactly excited to see, upon taking the kiddos to the Boston Public Library’s Children’s Room for the first time, that there is, in that room, a computer.  For preschoolers.  Complete with a plastic Playskool console. 

I was not excited at all.

Our first trip to the Children’s Room was a hot mess.

Until this summer I have kind of avoided the library. 

While I am a semi functioning adult, my sisters and I harbor similar thoughts about the idea that we each might fall on the Spectrum.   For those of you without kids in the 21st century, that is The Autism Spectrum. I kid you not.  My younger sister thinks closer to Aspergers, but sometimes I am not so sure.  One of us can’t stand rugs, while another feels compelled to travel with her own cleaning supplies. (Maybe that is more OCD, but anyway).  We have issues with texture and sound and routine and all three of us have thinly veiled social issues that can seem quirky and charming at first but then twist into something a little removed from that once you spend time with us and realize that No, we really Are That Way.   (try staying in a Super 8 with us and you will probably end up shooting yourself). So, while I love books, I also think libraries can be dirty places where I honestly could not see myself selecting germ ridden volumes to bring home to my toddler no matter how much Purell I have in the pockets of my diaper bag.

But we live on a budget.

And I have banned myself from Amazon for a while.

And my daughter’s attention span has outgrown many of the books that are sitting in our playroom, spine up like the mags say to do, in their bins.


On a slight whim, when I woke up one morning and decided I could not chase my one year old around Porter Square Books’ Story Hour again without buying myself a book as a treat for putting up with it all, I’d decided we were going to venture in to the Library.  I looked up the activities for the day (Sing A Long! Yay!), and called my sister who practically lives at the Library as a PhD Candidate in American Studies to see if she’d like to meet up with us, and away we went.

Our family loves the BPL.  We’re also snobs who smirk at the idea of seriously visiting any of the libraries that are more local to us.  Instead of partying on Friday nights, when I was home from Iowa and my sister from Oberlin, all four of us would head to the BPL as a family.  Once a Security Guard, when realizing we all looked a little alike as he saw us traipsing around separately, said to my mom: “They each got they own STYLE!  One kinda funky, one kinda bookish, one kinda real petite sophistiCAT!”  But the BPL feels onus to no one.  You often can’t find what you’re looking for, get treated badly by librarians especially if you look like a high school student which I did until these two babies aged me twenty years, and if you want to get any real work done you have to plan research time around when the smelly people are in there.  And a lot of smelly people visit the BPL, not all of them homeless, there are some pretty ripe rich people strolling around there, too.

True to BPL form, the supposed Sing A Long was not that day, but only on Fridays.  Um, yeah, that was not what the website said, but I have encountered so many surly BPL librarians since getting a card there two decades ago, that I was barely phased.

The fact that there was no sing along, however, was the least of my problems.

Despite my bookish tendencies, the BPL did not have the soothing quality people might think it would have on kids whose mom is a writer.  Rather, my two lovelies completely went nutter on my sister and I.

Each skimpered off in a different direction and neither seemed to realize the place was filled with books.  That each might like. 

And this was doubly so when they discovered The Computer.

As I tried in vain to look up some of the books I loved as a child, my 2.0 kids gravitated towards The Computer. 

They even went so far as to squeeze their way onto the multi child bench with other kids whose nannies weren’t sure how to kick them off of there politely.

And so The Computer really began to grate on my nerves.  What the hell was it doing in here with the slimy germy books I had finally made peace with enough to contemplate bringing in to my home?  And if it was truly necessary as a teaching tool, couldn’t it live in its own room?  Away from kids whose parents had taken them to the library precisely to get away from screens and animation in the first place?   I could have just put The Little Mermaid on repeat and saved the Parking Garage money.   While I know that many kids do not have access to computers at home and limited access to computers at school, I just can’t make my mind stretch and embrace this Children’s Room Computer.

Today, on our second time at the Library, to return our first stack of books and get more, I was even more disgruntled when that became the first place my daughter walked towards once we’d parked her sleeping brother in a corner next to a very loud babysitter and her even louder charges in the hopes that all the chatter would simulate Boylston Street and I’d be able to keep him strapped up longer.

While I was able to distract her enough to get a good fifteen books in our library bag, I had to come to the realization that mine was a losing battle.  Once my son got loose, and I was then expending my time chasing after him instead of serenely reading Beatrix Potter to my daughter, said daughter felt the only thing to do was to get on The Computer and push buttons, since she can’t read yet anyway. (This is a very sore subject for her. She is very upset she can not read and gets very mad at the idea others, like me, can).

I suppose my point is—and I do have one—that The Computer in the Children’s room makes me sad.  I was not the only adult in there doing battle with it.  Even the librarian came over at one point to turn its volume down, chirping: “it just does what it wants and gets louder by itself all day long.”

Well then unplug it.

I know technology can be our friend.  I know our kids will live in a world where they will have no choice but to embrace it and their Ipods will not mock them.

But I want that librarian to take her room back.  And quick.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Cult of Dad Is the Cult of Personality

I am a jealous person.

I can probably help it.

I blame not going to church and a superstitious nature. 

Jealously rears its green ugly head most often these days when I get rejection emails (they don’t even cost money to churn out nowadays) and when I encounter the cult of Dad.

Case in point, our last trip to the grocery store.

The kids and I usually go alone.  I pack snacks and fill the sippies and if I am lucky the “right” cart is available at the store, either the car or the multikid family one.  These are the carts my daughter will get in without protest.  When she was one she would escape and run willy-nilly down aisles, my preggo self lumbering after her holding my belly with one hand and my list and the creepy varicose vein that kept me from prenatal business travel in the other.  Now she enjoys those carts, and the “situation” is usually my son, whom I pacify with a raw whole cucumber from Produce when we first hit the store.  This usually calms him and keeps him occupied until the paper towel aisle.  From then on if I turn on my mommy chatter (“oh, look, maybe we will have beans tonight, do you guys like beans? You know who loves beans, your Auntie Kerri loves beans, let’s have beans!) we can make it to check out and high tail it out of there before all hell breaks loose.  Because my husband and I work odd hours, I am very fortunate that usually when we pull onto our street and park, all I have to do is text and down he swoops to help us bring all the bags up the flight of stairs to our apartment and I don’t have to lug two very little children plus food alone.

But yesterday we were preparing for Earl.  Just in case.  We are from New England.  While there are many false “BIG ONES”, we know all it takes is one kinda right  one to make a difference.  

First we hit the hardware store.  The kids were restless, but okay.  Kinda like a tropical depression.

Then we headed to the grocery store.  With dad.  And this gave both kids all the extra energy they needed to go Category Five on our asses, and right quick.

Obviously, both kids love Dad.  I love this because my own dad was, well, difficult.  So I really take great joy in the fact that my kids love their dad and their dad loves them and is able to demonstrate that love and care by being actively involved in every aspect of their lives. 

And I can openly admit sometimes I get jealous of the cult of personality that surrounds Dad.  Everything is a holiday when dad is around.   Whereas, quite often, when it is just me, the mood can turn, um, a little sour.  I try to make it fun.  I sing.  I make up rhymes, I can pass pack very tasty snacks at stop lights like you wouldn’t believe.  But nothing is quite like the air around an outing that includes Dad.

As a feminist these are moments to be studied.  The private sphere/public sphere, traditional domestic roles we play kinda thing.  But as a person who watches kids squeal with delight at Da-Da-Da-Da-Da, I am left a little bit heartbroken.

The grocery store.

My daughter bee lines it to the car cart, which my husband pushes, and I wrangle the boy one into a regular cart.  Not even half way through Produce, cucumber in hand, my daughter escapes her confines, charged by the idea we are all in the store TOGETHER!  She claims she wants to be with me, but it is a sorry excuse to run around the meat section. 

The juice aisle, where we ventured alone while DAD! filled the car cart with groceries for his mom, witnessed many questions about DAD!  Where is Dad?  Does Dad have that car cart?  What is Dad getting?  Da Da Da Da DA!

Once Dad was sighted, more energy got released.  My daughter who is usually pretty good at Johnny’s Foodmaster went completely haywire in Johnny’s Foodmaster half way through the baby aisle.  My son, who had left a woeful trail of chewed cucumber and carrot (the carrot was my usually trustworthy snack, presented in the pasta aisle to a deceptively smiley set of children), was now is whimpering mess.  Perhaps it is the new bra I got that lifted these ladies so I can maybe look like I have not been nursing for almost three years straight (think South Pole, Antartica) but which have the added effect of  just taunting him.  Perhaps it was the skittish feeling my daughter was giving off as she buzzed around him.  Whatever it was, I resorted to nursing him in front of the baby food, thinking it was the safest place to do so in this somewhat conservative area of a more conservative than Cambridge town.

That did not help.

By the time we hit the bread section (last stop before check out thank Goodness) both kids were beside themselves and I can’t help but think it was due in part to how charged they were by their Dad.  Who was able to remain calm throughout as I pulled soggy with saliva and tears cucumber and carrot off the dirty linoleum floor. 

“They aren’t usually like this,” I said to him as we got ready to pay.  I don’t want him thinking his kids and wife are blazing through supermarkets other business establishments as if we reside in a barn.

“People are staring.”  Said with amazement at realizing we are THAT family.

“I know.  They’re usually okay.”

And they are.

But there is something about Dad, who despite my singing and rhyming, is just much more fun.

I don’t think I’ll get over it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

LiLo on the GoGo

As Chris Rock says, being the parent of a girl means your job is to keep your daughter off the pole. 

I think of this a lot when I see Lindsay Lohan. 

I was horrified when she was in the remake of THE PARENT TRAP.  Compare to Hayley Mills?  Are you insane?  At nine I thought Hayley Mills was pure genius, and double so when my father temporarily ruined the movie by telling me and my sister Hayley Mills played both parts. “But one’s from CALIFORNIA!!!!!”  My father just laughed at us.  “Is this TRUE???” We demanded of my mother.  “Well of course it’s true, girls, she looks the same, don’t those two characters look the same?”  “But they’re…twins?”  My father laughed harder.  My mother sighed audibly.  The kind of sigh that makes you wish you had rethought your argument, perhaps brought up a different movie, like POLLYANNA. 

But I caught LiLo’s version on a cross country flight and I have to admit, it was not bad.  Lindsay Lohan, actually, was quite good.  For eleven. 

So it was with rubber necked horror that I watched her transform from sweet red headed and freckle faced girl to the kind of girl you’d smoke cigarettes with in the girls room in junior high. 

Still, despite the kinds of scripts she found herself in, she was enigmatic to watch on screen. 

And then came the rain.  The criminally needy dad, the Long Island stage mom.  The boozing, the car crashes the fire crotch love of it all train wreck of a little girl lost career. 

So of course I shushed my kids when her mother appeared on Today, blaming the judge, the media, everyone, for the disaster that is her daughter’s current predicament.   I thought to myself, if this were my daughter, what would I do?  And I thought to myself, this is a question you ask when your kid asks could she have a few friends over, and maybe a beer or two, since it’s Friday night and it’s okay, we’re just going to be inside, it’s just a few friends, please mom?  I thought to myself, this is a question you ask when your kid asks, can I have that? And you don’t want her to have that, it’s just been Christmas, her birthday, Easter, the fourth of July, and she doesn’t need that, she has enough, already.  I thought to myself, this is a question you ask when your kid says OW! I just feel, and you offer a popsicle, you offer that chocolate chip cookie, you placate and supplicate and your kid takes that cookie, that new toy, that beer, and consumes.  And then burns.  Way up.

I heard a grandmother in Target the other day say no.  To her granddaughter who tried three ways to Sunday to get a Princess and the Frog Barbie out of her.  “But I have three dollars coming from—“  NO.  “I can clean—“ NO.  “How about if I—“ NO.  I said no, I mean no.
No voices were raised. 

It was all very matter of fact.  No Fuck Yous written on finger nails.

I think of Chris Rock and that pole.  Lindsay played a stripper in one of her last movies.  The needy dad, the stage mom, her brothers and sisters, in order for them to live all this attention that they feel they need, require LiLo to get up on that pole.

Consume.  Burn.

Your job as a parent of a girl.  

Is Earl My Daughter's Gloria?

So there is a hurricane barreling its way towards Boston.  In a sense, this is perfect, a perfect beginning to this school year.  In my mind’s eye, the start of the school year and hurricanes are forever linked.  It’s the marriage of Gloria and Andrew two previous hurricanes that have shaped my experience of hurricane season in New England.

For those who live in the Gulf, this may seem silly, because by comparison, we don’t get as many stormy hurricane eyes staring us in the face.  In fact I don’t remember paying much attention to hurricanes until 1985, when Gloria came to town.

I was eleven.  It was the start of sixth grade.  Despite being bookish compared to the rest of the population of the United States (which is not very difficult), I did not like the start of school.  I liked my Trapper Keepers.  And I liked seeing classmates.  But basically the end of August to the start of November made me almost physically ill.  First was my feeling that my teachers would hate me.  I don’t mean dislike, I mean I was convinced I was the student to be reviled the school over.  I was a good kid.  I never once ended up in “the office”.  So I am not sure where the basis for this came from.  Possibly it came from first and second grade when I started school late because my mother was trying to enroll me in private school, which did not work out until I was eight.  So although I was only a few days behind, I always felt on display, like the soy sauce on a perpetual Lazy Susan.

Or maybe it was, because of this bookish tendency, the start of school was a failed promise for me to be cool.  I can be very honest and say that being cool in the sixth grade is quite a challenge if you still play with dolls and sleep with the light on.  It was also not made easier by the fact that my clothes came from Decelle’s and Ann and Hope, not The Gap, which was the pinnacle of preppy cool that I knew I was entitled to, but which my mother was keeping me from attaining, what with having to buy clothes for not just me, but my sisters, too. 

1985 was no different.  I was not very cool.  And I spent most days feeling very, very anxious.

Which was why Gloria was so exciting.  Before any rain even fell, school was called off.  My sister and I spent the day playing with our friends in our duplex, while the four parents sat around as if it was the Super Bowl. Power lines fizzed and sparked and spun like Pentecostal eels in the streets.  The lights went out by evening and my sisters and I feel asleep to the whir of the Boston Edison trying to repair the damage.  The next day we took a drive through Arlington and Belmont and Cambridge, the places were we had all our Saturday lessons.  Duct tape X’s marked almost every window and door.  If you rolled down your window the sound of buzz saws never ended.  For a few days I was spared from school, and I felt calm.

Andrew was much different.  If Gloria was the kind of girl who danced on bar tops and took off her top for beer, Andrew was the dud of a boyfriend holding Gloria’s purse and shoes and shirt in the corner, drinking a Rolling Rock.
I must say that no matter how much I love school, I have always hated those first few weeks.  My experience of college, from my pre-frosh weekend (look it up.  Frosh was indeed a term.  I went to school with hippies) up through until Thanksgiving Break, was tainted with an extreme feeling of doom.  Despite getting almost a full ride to my first choice private school, I was terrified of leaving home.  When I arrived at prefrosh weekend and had to eat in the dining hall with my host, I freaked out.  When a few people mentioned they’d be seeing me on the Hill for some kind of party, I almost peed myself.  I found a payphone and made my mother come get me. I had begged her to not leave Connecticut.  And although we were on the brink of going into public housing, she paid for a hotel for the weekend and came and peeled me off the pavement outside of Butterfield, which is referred to as the Butt, which to me was appropriate.  During my whole four years there I only stepped foot in that place a handful more times and those times were not by happy choices.

When it was time to actually GO to college, I tried many tactics to remain home, feeling this was somehow diabolically opposite to what a normal American teenager should be doing when she gets in to her first choice of school.  First I avoided the topic.  School shopping?  Nah, no thanks, spend it on my sisters, since we don’t really have the money anyway.  Pack?  Nope!  I can do that in one night, leave me alone.  Summer reading (all frosh were supposed to read the same books based on a theme, and then go to seminars about them during orientation.  By some divine miracle the theme was JFK my frosh year.  “You’ve been obsessed with all that stuff for years!” my mom cried when she read my frosh packet.  “Isn’t that WONDERFUL?”  But I was slightly horrified.  To be able to shrug off this going to college thing, I would have to deny my love for all things JKF.  This almost physically hurt.  But I did it, not reading LIBRA until a week before school began and then picking fights with everyone in my family because I was grumpy I had to rush through it because it turned out I actually liked it, and I felt like an idiot).  The kicker came when I just flat out began pleading my with mother to let me stay in Arlington for the rest of my life. “PLEASE!  I’ll keep working at the library.  I’ll live in the basement!”  When my mom reminded me we didn’t really have access to the basement in our rental apartment, I said I would live in the attic, which was way creepier but which you could get to from my room.  “You’re going, Kirsten, this is utterly ridiculous.  You’re not staying here to make five dollars and twenty-five cents an hour at the Robbins Library, that’s just stupid.”

Mothers have a way of pointing out the obvious.

But an impending natural disaster gave me hope.  And being miserable with the prospect of having to grow up a littler, I relished in any company I could get.  And I got it from one of my high school friends, who didn’t want to go to school either. 

As news reports focused on Andrew and his path, we feverishly called each other and schemed.  I was still a good kid, and so was my friend, so our conversations went something like this:

“I don’t want anyone to get hurt—“
“Oh no, no”
“Or anything”
“But if it could hit Wesleyan and then Tufts, that’d be great!”
“Yeah, like maybe we could miss just a little”
“Fingers crossed!”
“Fingers crossed!”

But Andrew was very much that dweeb with the Rolling Rock. 

“Andrew fucking sucks”
“Yeah, Andrew sucks”
“When do you leave?”
“My mom is making me start to pack”
“It totally should have hit Middletown, then Medford.  No one had to even get hurt.
“Andrew’s lame”

And he was.  

No match for a girl like Gloria.

And now, years later, I am preparing for my own back to school.  Usually that includes writing syllabi and, as of late, scrambling to find a sitter.  But this year my daughter joins the fray.  School clothes have been bought. She has selected her powder blue Tinkerbell back pack that I think adds to the degradation of women but which I purchased without so much as a post feminist peep.  We’ve begun reading books about school and missing mommy and next week we will play in the playground near Temple Shalom, which houses her classroom.

And I cannot help but smile to think that perhaps, for her, this school memory will be laced with Earl.  A howling protest to the end of summer; her father stocking up on flashlights and checking the Weather Channel; her mother pointing to the screen and saying “No, look, it’s not even going to hit Nantucket”. I hope she knows that no matter what the teachers do, we love her. And while her clothes may not be internet-boutique-chic, she is the coolest preschooler I know.