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.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

One Up, Two Down

We’ve all done it.  I know I have.  Maybe it is a byproduct of living in this computerized age, this tendency we have to cut down, rather than support or build up.

Nowhere does this prevail more than between mothers. It’s actually a bit frightening, even though I think most of the time it occurs the same way a ring of dirt appears during bath time.  It sneaks up on you and then it is there, in plain sight and offensive.

I belong to several mommy groups.  They each have their own hallmark of membership.  There’re my breastfeeding groups (yes, plural) and my born in 07 groups (again, plural), and my paranormal lover’s group and my mother’s to boys group and my “mixed” babies group and my c section mama and proud of it group…the list really does go on and on. And on.  And with the exception of one group (it knows who it is), what all these groups have in common is the way the moms in each have the uncanny ability to go right for the jugular.

“What is it with these MOMS”?  My sister often asks.  “Why are they like this?”

For these mamas are far removed from the warm and gentle milk and cookie toting June Cleaver types.   They are more likely to call you a dirty ho bag than invite you in for sanka and a shared smoke.  Perhaps this is the best case for persistent feminist thought to pervade our culture further: rather than advocate for the blending of the domestic sphere—which has always been considered to be feminine and therefore the “logical” place in which women should exist—with the dominant and male centered public sphere of the workplace, perhaps we should admit that that gentler, warmer, domesticated space that we expect should be filled with gentle waves and soft pastels—you know, like on those old feminine hygiene commercials—is as biting and about as nurturing as a tank full of piranhas.

Maybe we should rejoice that the stereotype has been shattered.  After all, mommies are people too.  Who just happen to be female and can’t all happen to be nice, or in command of a sense of humor.  But to be honest, a lot of what I see on these mother boards horrifies me just as much as it does my sister.

Part of this relates to this book I read for one of my mom’s book clubs (yeah, I belong to a mom book club, wanna make somethin’ of it?) called THE MASK OF MOTHERHOOD.  Basically the premise is that as mothers (or, parents, too) we hide behind a mask.  A large, community condoned mask of “isn’t this WONDERFUL?  I LOVE being a mommy SO much, ALL the time every MINUTE, to be precise, because every second is so fulFILLING and REWARDING! And to admit anything else would be saying I do not love my family or my baby or myself, because really I was MADE to do this, if you don’t feel this way the moment you find out you are about to be a mommy and stay this way through every moment of your baby’s childhood, then, well, I feel sorry for you because there is something wrong with you and by the way my baby sleeps twelve hours a night and eats very well and never cries and is hardly ever sick because well that would mean I am a bad mommy, letting germs get to my precious lovely, and that is not me at all, that is not me at all because I am a very good mommy.  I am a very very very good mommy.  All the time.  This is exactly how I knew it all would be, my partner helps whenever I ask and my mother in law says all the right things because she knows, she knows how good at this I am, and I have no second thoughts about anything because I am a good mommy, right?  Anyone?  Still listening?  To me?”

And perhaps the people at Hallmark are still listening because they need inspiration for their overpriced greeting cards, but by that point in the mommy game, the only other people still listening are parents who also have marshmallow sweetness coursing through their veins.

Because to admit to the confusion and chaos and sleep deprivation that is parenthood during the early months and years, is to admit, somehow, that something has gone wrong with you.  To vent about it is akin to admission that you really feel you should have left your children in some Baby Safe Haven drawer like the grotesque parent you are.

Because what often happens when we as parents participate in the one-up-manship that is often at the core of our playground and dance class interactions, is a swift and sure dismantling of affirming that the person who has just admitted their baby only eats chicken nuggets or only sleeps two hours at a time or still wears diapers…at 4! is able to be, has within them, the ability and tenacity and determination to be a kick ass amazing parent, even if her kid still craps himself, can’t self soothe to sleep, and has the eating habits of a person with a severe and acute eating disorder.

And that is what a simple “I am so sorry” does.  It affirms.  It whispers that you are not the freak of the natural world who does not know how to parent.  (And modern parenting is, actually, a learned behavior that changes and changes and changes, even when we’re doing it right). 

A few months ago a friend* whose oldest daughter is on “the spectrum” updated her status on Facebook at that desperate hour of four AM.  “Four hours of sleep,” it read, “Jessie up all hours and the other two due up soon.”  Obviously, this is a terrifying status update.  She is more of an acquaintance so I did not recognize her other so-called friends, but the long list of mommy admonishments in the comments boxes made me cry.  And made me get very angry.  I am a know it all, so the how to posts were understandable.  It was the posts that basically said this night from hell was somehow all my friend’s fault and that she should suck it up that got me hopping.  Within them was the sentiment that if she did not glory in the splendor of parenthood when she was shaky with fatigue that she was somehow spitting on the blessings she had been given.

And they are blessings. 

But somehow it seems a “friend”, and certainly another mother, could maybe cut the girl some slack and just say “It will get better”.  As opposed to: “Oh, I don’t have that problem, Micah sleeps through the night!” Which translates into: I am better than you at this parenting thing, sorry you are such a sap and in need of so much couples counseling that you can’t rouse your husband up to deal with you.  Which is often a cover for, now that you mention it, just last week three of mine were in my bed all night and for the life of me I couldn’t get them out, they were all over me and my husband who just slept through the whole thing, like those bed bugs the hotels can’t get rid of, so they’re at my mom’s for the weekend because there is something growing in my fridge I need to bleach out and I can never do it cause I am just too tired all.the.time.

I’ve done, we’ve all done it, that one up man ship.  But when I can jump out of the piranha tank for minute and remember we’re all human, I  hope I always do that instead.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Twitterpated On Nantucket, or Perfect for Halloween

One date I would like to go on with my husband is the Boston Ghost Tour.  There are several but the one we’ve picked out is the one where, in the promotional brochure, there is a goulish looking woman holding a small deformed baby, perhaps? That looks as though it has been borrowed from the Mutter Museum for this photo shoot and costumed by some goth kids.  The guides for this particular tour make up their own characters.  Their costumes are not so much period as passably olden days looking.  For this tour you hop on a bus and they take you around to haunted places in Boston and aside from the cost being the same as outfitting our kids for boots and winter jackets, the reason we probably will not go on this ghost tour is because ghost tours and me have a past, a past that is not very pretty.

I went on my first ghost tour on Nantucket.  Ron and I had been together a year, but he lived in Boston and I was in school in Iowa, so our relationship had the excited, frenzied feeling of a couple enjoying a soldier’s shore leave together (minus, of course, service in the armed forces).  I was never in classes when we were dating, so dating was really that:  dinners at the Top of the Hub, weekends in Rockport, sangria by candlelight accompanied by tapas our future kids would spit out and declare “BESCUSTING!”  It is safe to say we were, in the word of that Owl from Bambi as he discussed true love, “Twitterpated!”

But after a year of dating, my husband had not seen many of my neuroses in full force.  I have quite a bit.  Quirks, really.  I’ve grown to embrace them cause I’m not about to let them go any time soon.

One such eccentricity is my fascination with ghosts and scary things.  I kid you not, I’ve spent many a night awake while at writers retreats or in workshops, wondering what might get me when the lights went out.  My blood actually ran cold when Lloyd Richards told us, during my first time at the O’Neill Theatre Center’s New Play Conference, that there’d been a sighting the night before and for all of us to respect the ghosts, that this was their home and we were their visitors.  I was not warmed when during my next visit, a year later, I was housed on the very hall where Lloyd Richards had said the ghost had been seen.  I was not warmed but I was not surprised because it seems many development programs like to house writers in creepy places.  I remember being accepted to one program and the literary manager saying “OH! And you will love where you’ll be staying.   A lovely old hotel we’ve got here in town.  Maybe the ghosts will inspire you!”  But actually, the thought of ghosts really just made me need to pee my pants.

So perhaps my affectation with this subject is a way to tame the beastly imagination within.

At any rate, when on Nantucket, I thought it might be FUN! to go on a ghost tour with Ron.  I don’t know why.  I should have known better.

Our tour guide took ghosts very seriously.

There were many children on the tour because it was us, a few other couples, and a large family group who also thought a ghost tour might be FUN! during their family reunion.

The kids tuned our guide out, though, when he told the story of a sighting on the street where we stood, and asked us how we thought this could be, how could someone dressed in old fashioned garb not be a ghost, did we think? 

“She was an actor in a play?” one little girl offered.


“Maybe she just got dressed up in a costume from another play.  From before,” ventured another kid.

Our tour guide leveled his eyes on this kid and said “There were not any plays that day or any other day. It was: A GHOST!”

Then he proceeded to recount Einstein’s theory of relativity and  ruminations about bands of time and alternate spatial and spiritual planes—the kind of stuff my mom says “well if you explained this weird thing you have with  ghosts like that, honey, it doesn’t seem AS crazy, then it’s SCIENCE.”

He lost the kids after his conspiracy theory-can-we-play-World Of Warcraft-at-your-house-cause-I-still-live-with-my-mother tact, and come dark those kids spent the rest of the tour shining their family reunion emblazoned laser lights in his beady ghost loving eyes.

The tour criss-crossed the commercial sections of the island.  Nantucket is one ghosty place.  It’s the sea, the ghost books I read about it explained.  Or perhaps it is “something else” the tour guide intoned.  Whatever the hell it was, I spent the rest of the week scared out of my ever-loving mind.  I kept vigil for orbs of green and blue light.  I tried drinking more than anyone else in our cottage, hoping I’d just pass out and not notice if, while sleeping, any ghosts would come around and try to wake me up—one ghost we learned about liked to have sex with people in the middle of the night.  This would prove very embarrassing since Ron and I were sleeping in the middle of the living room.  Passing out from too much gin and tonic began, with so little sleep in my system, to seem like a logical way to combat this problem.  But, as I learned on that trip, Ron’s friends, with whom we were on vacation, can drink more than me any day of the week and this was not a good or viable plan.  In the day I scanned the beaches and streets for apparitions.  At night I lay next to Ron, poking him every twenty minutes or so, asking if he was awake and had he “heard anything?”

These were also my pre mommy days, where I had the habit of peeing every two or three hours at night.   In my post ghost tour haze I would seriously weigh the idea of making Ron get up with me to go to the bathroom, in case any ghosts were in there near the toilet or waiting to catch my gaze in the mirror when I washed my hands.  They like mirrors, those ghosts.  But it was a week of hard partying, and many of those nights Ron just snored off his Knob Creek loudly beside me, as I scanned the cottage and wished the owners had invested in larger drapes for the sliding glass doors, where I was certain I could make out figures out on the porch.

By Friday I was a basket case, if my condition earlier in the week had not already deemed me so.

I spent our last night sitting up in bed, watching the local cable Nantucket access channel, wondering how the ghosts felt about the TV coverage.  I thought of the nun ghost I’d read about, who would appear on the stairs of one young girls’ home when she was too late coming in from dates.  I thought about the rum runner ghosts I’d read about, who apparently hang out at Nantucket’s Chicken Coop, running barrels of rum underneath people’s cars in the parking lot.  I thought of the little black girl who wanted to go to school, but instead got pelted to death and now the school house –on NANTUCKET! and home to the Black Heritage Trail People [my name for them, my sisters were Park Rangers for them]—is witness to the sound of chalk writing against a blackboard and stones hitting walls.   These stories are not to be confused with sightings of orbs and strange lights, which often have people calling in to the Nantucket police station, so said our guide.

Around four in the morning, Ron told me I had to go to sleep, since we were leaving on a very early Ferry back to Hyannis.  Reluctantly and against my better judgment, I closed one eye and lay back.  For better or for worse, Ron was in twitterpation with a girl who was obsessed with ghosts.  And for some inexplicable reason, he did not run away.

Ron does not believe.  He listens to my stories, all my ghost stories, waits a beat, and then says, “Kirsten, that’s just ridiculous.”

And yet I’ve watched his eyes when I rattle off my latest tale.  He always waits that beat before he speaks; because some little part of us always believes, if only for minute, if only for a second.  It’s a tiny little pull in your stomach.  It’s that little catch of light in the corner of your eye.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

And What Village Are You From Again?

It has been a very long week.  Rewarding and exciting but very, very long.  Sunday we packed up and headed to the land of Packies (known as liquor stores in other states)  and Huskies (go UConn!) so I could start rehearsals for a new play.  Once there I promptly left for a one day reading process in Philadelphia (land of the “pay six dollars to get into our city by car”).  The whole six days has left my kids hella crazy.  Which I completely understand.  So while my husband and I know we can’t let them be nutters (meaning, whiny, demanding, freak of nature children, you know, the kind that fill up Chuck E. Cheese’s) just because mommy has to work, we’ve cut them a little bit of slack this week.  Just a little bit.  We ain’t goin’ soft up in here.  There’s till been plenty of time outs doled around, even for Mr. Huggy Bear, aka Hunter-man (30 seconds tops for the little guy.  I know. I am a mean mean mommy).

So when we rolled back in to town this afternoon, I was determined to make the hours between lunch and bedtime “easy” for them.  I did not insist everyone “just try” his or her lunch.  Just one spoon of yogurt, hun?  Oh SURE!  No PROBLEM!  Waste away on the toddler diet, I have absolutely no misgivings about that in the least.  Not wear a sweater under your coat?  Oh CERTAINLY!  No PROBLEM!  I will just put four extra fucking sweaters in the already stuffed to the gills diaper bag and happily lug it all over the place.  Play “your music” in the car?  Oh FanTAStic!  I love Laurie Berkner so much, it’s my pleasure to play this freakin CD over and over and over after having listened to it in the car all the way back from Yale.  LOVEly!

My Stepford mom approach included a trip to the playground, despite my wanting to start the ten loads of laundry that is waiting for me or make a dinner with spices other than the four I bought for our Yale apartment.  Two of those are just salt and pepper, so you can imagine it was a pretty bland week for the Nigros. 

We went to the Davis Square Park, my new park of choice.  It’s got that rubber ground that makes the whole operation seem safer, although truth be told Katia has wiped out almost every time we’ve been there.  It also has a nice offering of sand, but not too much.  Don’t get me started on sand and parks.  You’d never know I adored that combo as a kid to hear me lament about them now.  But now all I think about is: how dirty can they get and how long will it take me to get their skin and their clothes and their shoes clean enough so they don’t look like they don’t have a home?

Once there I scoped out the other parents.  Despite all the mother’s groups you can join (online, offline, at the Y, at Isis, with people you’ve known for years, with people with whom all you share is that you happened to get it on in the same week a year and a half ago and now are linked cause your kids are the same age) motherhood can be a lonely experience.  So I usually look around to size up the other parents and see who might be willing to talk to me.  Desperate, perhaps, but until you have stared down the next six hours of your life and realized you will not utter words to anyone with an emotional vocabulary that does not resemble that of a mental patient (not the Hollywood kind but the 48 hour hold I guess I need a new roommate kind), don’t knock it.

At first it was slim pickings.  A mom and her toddler and two grandmas:  anyone could see this new mom had her hands full, negotiating between a one year old, her own mom, and her partner’s mom.  Maybe this is an ideal Saturday afternoon in the magical land of in law love, but from the weary way they were all just sitting there, I guessed perhaps not so much.

Then there was a dad and his three kids, the third of which took forever to coax out of the Dodge Caravan.  “Fine, you stay in there if you’re going to whine like that”, and magically a little four-year-old head popped out from the recesses of the last van seat.  The dad carried an official looking binder and proceeded to read from it for the rest of their time at the park.  Katia immediately took a liking to the kids, but the dad was a no go.  My guess was either his wife made him leave the house so she could clean or knock back some pre supper margaritas, or this Saturday afternoon of fun was part of his custody agreement. 

I kept looking.

Next was a mom whose darlings were the same ages as mine, roughly: a preschool seeming daughter and a baby son.  But she was the type of mom I probably would avoid if in my right mind.  She wore a long skirt, very large wide brimmed hat, and booties.  Not the type Kim Kardashian would wear, but the kind my sixth grade teacher would have worn:  quilted looking and mud brown and possibly made by Isotoner.  I will admit I was intrigued.  And later when we did get to talking, I found her to be very very nice and also very very funny (“Duncan!  My, my, my you are very aromatic!”  she exclaimed just before she had to strip the poor kid from the waist down and use half her supply of baby wipes on his butt).  While at first peek it would seem she might be a holier than thou mommy, ready to pounce on my disposable diapers and prepackaged non organic snack raisins, I was proven wrong when she pulled out a huge bottle of coke and downed it in large meaningful swigs.  We were also similar in our choice of generic baby products and the way we both narrate everything—kinda a bit too loudly—so that both kids have a clue as to what the hell is going on and not have one of those toddler style panic attack shriek fits.  But a mommy with two kids who are not yet four is a distracted mommy, so our conversation went something like this:

“How old is yours oh come back honey, okay, mommy—.  Sorry…”

“…Oh, no worries…”

“…Is she three?  Oh!  Akk.  Come back sweetie—.  Sorry…”

“…Two years and two months apart.  I’m so tired all the come back, come back please—.  He’s a quick one.  Sorry…”

After about an hour of my Stepford mom park experience, I was ready to pack it up and head to Foodmaster so we could have that more than four spice dinner.

This of course entailed leaving the park.

Which takes a certain amount of finessing, unless you have Stepford children, but those are sold separately from the Stepford mom model.

To leave the park with most children you must first give “the warning”.  This includes a time limit.  It can’t be too long, because the non Stepford kids have no idea what the hell time it is.  And it must be exact, because the non Stepford kids will never have any chance of learning about time if five minutes turns into thirty while you discuss babysitters with the new parent who just walked in the playground gate.

I usually dole out a five minute, a minute, and a thirty second.  I make sure I make eye contact so Miss Lovey knows I know she heard me.

This afternoon my five minute, during which I mentioned Foodmaster and STEAK!, was met with “But that’s BORING!” from the divorcee’s oldest, who had befriend KK during a game of tag.  “I know.  It’s very boring.  But we have to eat!”  I had the Stepford going on Go-OOD!

“Got that, Katia Kai?”  I chirped.

No answer.


She reached into her pocket and placed her sunglasses on the ground.  Which was distressing.  As this is a gesture you do when you are planning to STAY in a place, not merrily follow your mother to Foodmaster to buy STEAK! and whatever else your mom will bribe you with to make the night remain in the cheerful category. 

“Did you hear me?  Katia?  KK!  Lovey?”


“You heard me?”



“I heard you.”

“Good.  You know, how about I hold your sunglasses for you?  Okay?  Off the ground?”





And as I stepped out of the playhouse where she and her new friends were cooking pails of sand, she said, in a rather chipper ring “Can you take my glasses?”  It was a sweet request.  Not the demanding parentally demeaning growl of the THREE year old that makes my husband and I feel like we are raising a brat and keeps me in particular up at night doing google searches about normal preschool behavior and then slinking to bed sadly when it seems this IS normal preschool behavior and the only way to deal is with limits and boundaries and consistency and set bedtimes and set meal times and and and all those things we all do but still at the end of the day, have THREE! to contend with in a way that makes you very very sleepy.

But while I was basking in the sweetness, someone else was decidedly not.

I’d noticed him a bit earlier. 

He looked a little ridiculous.

He wore a felt semi cowboy/semi Indiana Jones hat and kick ass beer guzzling boots but since he was in a playground, it just looked like this was an outfit he did not get to wear much because now he was a dad and could only go out in the daytime like the rest of us, and yet still he wore it anyway.

His own kid could not yet walk.  Maybe he had more kids at home.  Maybe he felt he knew how to commandeer THREE!  Or maybe he’d just read so many parenting books and websites that he felt he could utter what he did, despite probably not even having to really child proof his house yet because his kid was still a BABY!

“Say PLEASE!” he said to Katia, and I immediately smirked and thought, you are an asshole.

I took the glasses and said “Thanks very much, lu lu.”

Uber-parent looked up at me (cause, you know, he had to hold his kid in the upright position cause um SHE is still a BABY! and so was on the rubber ground) and smiled.

Which is when I felt a torrent of emotion.  You don’t tell my kid to say PLEASE!  I I  tell my kid to say please.  And after a week of crazy bed times and pizza two days in a row those first days which is a sign things are wonky cause mommy did not cook and hours upon hours of no mommy and not being able to see her beloved Albie at school, a sweet non please prefaced request when I am about to yank her from the one spot of bright fun she’s had all day works just fine for our family, Mr. my kid still uses a bottle and I have not given one time out in my entire life yet.  I don’t live in your village, you do not get to discipline my kid.

This torrent of emotion surprised me.

I like to think I might do well living in some communal housing situation.  I’ve even looked into it.  My husband and I were thinking, since we don’t belong to a church and dropping two kids off at a friend’s, even one that offers, seems intrusive, that living in a co op might be um nice…?  But the ones in Cambridge have pictures of these shared dinners on their websites and my husband and I agree there’s only so many gluten free  vegan no nuts no meat no dairy free rangey Sunday dinners one should eat in a life time if one enjoys bread and nuts and meat and dairy in an almost obscene way normally.

But after this afternoon I am realizing I don’t think I could handle having someone in my shit in terms of child rearing.

And I agree, years ago when all the neighborhood parents had license to tell you which way was up, there was more community accountability.  I remember making a disparaging remark about the housing project next to my private school—something like how that was why we had plastic windows at our school, because of the poor people next door, and my friend’s mother saying “So!  Those people are just as good as anyone else!”  I will never forget it and she was right and I am thankful for it.  My snotty little eleven year old self needed that and right quick.

But my friend’s mother knew me.  My friend’s mother had respect for me and my family.

In the car on the way to Foodmaster I thought about it. 

Cause what this guy lacked was knowledge of our context. And to be fair, I was not very open to learning more about his context, either.

Perhaps this guy just saw another newish parent and thought, oh, we’re in the same boat, we live in the same area, we have similar values and so I will tell her kid how to ask her mother to do something for her.


Or, maybe, this guy saw a youngish looking mom with two kids she is narrating to like a crazy person, and thought, she needs help disciplining her child, I can be that help!  (It’s that you look so small and like maybe a teenage mom or something and that’s why people want to help you, my sister Kaitlyn has said to me more than once.  But if I am so small how come my size fours won’t fit any more, I’d like to know).

So I look like a teenage knock up in need of parenting classes as opposed to a mother of two kids under four, maybe.


Or, what if this person is just as judgmental as I can be, and went about assigning his own context to the situation.  Youngish looking mom (he can’t see the grey, but it is there, lemme tell ya), two kids close in age, black, kinda, cause the daughter seems not but her hair really is, so black but maybe white, too, and that little girl is pretty, and she can’t get away with treating people like this just because she is a cute kid, and maybe this cat thought, hmm, it is up to me to instill what I know on to this family because I know what is best for this family even though I never met this family.

And a torrent of emotion flooded through me because I do not know what exactly was behind this moment.  It was probably harmless from his point of view, but I do know it felt wrong.  It did not feel like a warm village hand was patting my daughter’s forehead while gently showing her another, kinder way to be in this world.  It felt like a yahoo was denting the easy afternoon we were having because I had to drag my kids to another state so I can work and finally I was saying “just BE. We’re back home and you can just BE, for a minute, before I start in on the Pleases and the Stop that’s, and the this is your warning 1, 2, THANK YOU!  GOOD JOB oh don’t oh okay oh this is your warn--.  GOOD JOB. I LOVE YOU.”

‘Cause I don’t think that guy loves my kid.

Maybe it was the way he said what he did but maybe it was also the way he stared, smug, as I buckled my screaming kids into my double-wide. After the thirty second was issued.  See.  Those kids ARE bad.  She should say please.  I pictured him at dinner, his baby girl quietly eating mashed something the way serene only baby children do.  Happily.  Eagerly.  Not the chaos that descends when there is more than one and both are toddlers and want to run away.  “You should have seen it honey there was this mom at the park and her kid, well I told her to say please, Bethie’s not gonna behave like that.  Kids have to learn.  I told her to say—“

And I’ve been there, I’ve told Ron how some kid at dance class was a real stinker and no way were we gonna raise a jerk like that.

But it still does not feel right, that interlude in the playhouse on the rubber ground.

Cause I don’t think that we live in the same village.

I don’t think that guy loves my kid.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Every Breath You Take

Almost every one of us who grew up in the 80s remembers Fraggle Rock. 

Since my sisters and I could not tell time when it originally aired on Sundays nights, it was always a fantastic and jarring surprise that it came on.  FRAGGLE ROCK!  OH!  It’s ON!  And we’d watch with glee as those little muppets who lived in Doc’s wall got up to their crazy antics.

Our favorite episode of all Fraggle time was and still is “Dagoonie”.  I am sure the episode as a proper title, but this is what we call it.  We love it so much that pretty much all you have to do is yell out “DAGOONIE!” and the three of us will curdle into the floor emitting peals of girlish laughter.  Which is embarrassing because we’re all old now.  Even you, Kaitlyn.

“Dagoonie” rings true to our Greenidgegirl hearts.  And sadly, it probably always, always will. 

In this episode Mokey, the fraggle who seemed as though she’d spent time enjoying “the green” on a commune somewhere donning that hemp looking get up of hers as she drank herbal tea and perhaps made her friends gluten free foods with lots  of mushrooms before she lived in that wall, befriends a random newcomer fraggle  whose name is, yes, Dagoonie.   Full disclosure here, Mokey was not my favorite fraggle.  Her “far out, man”  California vibe made me a little uneasy.  I’m an east coast person.  I realized this when I moved to Iowa and felt just that much more hyper than almost everyone around me.

Dagoonie had long Laura Ingalls style braids, buck teeth, and odd bags under his eyes.  We’re talking major luggage.  A bit like the kind I sport now, with two kids three and under who do not like to let me get more than two hours of sleep in a row.

Dagoonie and Mokey become fast friends.  And here is where the episode turns south, for Mokey at least.  Because Dagoonie is a bit, um, high strung.  Dagoonie enjoys Mokey’s company and friendship very much.  So much that Dagoonie begins to stalk and emotionally isolate Mokey from her other friends and finally lures her away from all the other fraggles and critters living in that wall and traps her by herself so she can be only his friend.

Whoa, man. 

Even to an eight year old, this episode seemed heavy.  It had the forbidden aura of very special editions of Webster and Diff’rent Strokes. 

Even to an eight year old, the lesson of Dagoonie’s stalker behavior was clear: do not do it.

But this lesson was secondary to us Greenidgegirls, even at such a tender age, because, in all honesty, we found the Dagoonie episode one of the most pleasurable and humorous of our viewing history.  And it has remained so to this day.  Of probably every show any of us has every watched.   And it has served as a template for how we’ve conducted ourselves in our relationships ever since then.  In fact, when I first met my husband, and began to shower him with Dagoonie flavored attention, he was like, I like you, you don’t have to do all that.  I was touched.  And the fans were flamed even more, which I suppose was okay because we’ve been together eleven years now.  And, truth be told, his disposition is more akin to  Mokey’s than to mine.  He dresses much better though.  And does not drink herbal tea.

We Greenidgegirls can come on strong.

Which is why we can initially come across as rather shy.

We’ve realized the Dagoonies of this world are often misunderstood, and so we stifle.

Case in point, Dagoonie appeared in no other episodes and countless google searches have never delivered him from the cloisters Jim Henson and his muppet workshop have placed him within.  Dagoonie’s exuberance can get you a restraining order and probably 5-10 easily, so he is perhaps not the best role model. 

So while my sisters and I delight in Dagoonie, I was hoping this proclivity would skip a few generations. 

But I do not think it has.

My sister Kaitlyn first noticed my daughter’s desire to attach when Katia was maybe two or three weeks old.  Unlike many babies her eyes learned to focus almost immediately.   My first maternal feelings came a few hours after her birth when she looked up at me from her basinet in the hospital and said with her eyes which were dark blue then, and, at that moment, wide wide open: please take care of me.   When Kaitlyn showed up to spend some post delivery time with us, she was deeply alarmed by Katia’s gaze.

“Why is she looking at you like that?”

“The books say they do that.”

“No.  Your baby is creepy”.

Because even at two weeks old, Katia’s eyes were intently trained on me in the way a stalker takes special interest in his or her current project.

Still, this was not enough to feel as though Katia was, like us, a Dagoonie.

There were little hints here and there, but it was when we were at a family cook out when she was two that my sisters and I realized nuthin had skipped nuthin.

My sister Kerri had invited close family friends of hers that she and her husband often refer to as “the Nigerians”.  They are all related and if you invite some you are really inviting them all, and at that gathering there must have been twenty or so extra guests, kids in tow, to enjoy the “Seafood Extravaganza” that was my mom’s birthday meal that year.

Katia can be slow to warm, so at first she didn’t play with the other kids, who she’d never met before.  And they were older boys, so she was shy.  Or apparently just latent because within a few hours she’d taken interest in one boy in particular:  Calvin.  By dessert she was chasing Calvin around the yard, yelling his name, jutting out her hip with all the sassafrass her tiny body could emit: “Cal VIN!  You come HERE!  Cal VIN!  I’m gonna get YOU! I’m gonna get youuuuuu!

My husband and I were embarrassed.

I would have tried to rein her in but I was nine months pregnant and it was July.

Everyone else thought it was hilarious.

Still.  There was hope.  Her tendency to literally hide in my skirt folds if nervous made me think she was not a Dagoonie.  Or, if that was not the case, she was a reluctant one.  One that could still take after her father, if she was at all lucky.  Because being a Dagoonie can be a lonely thing.

But this fall Katia started school.

On orientation day we met the other families and kids in Katia’s class.  As Katia’s teacher explained her classroom to us, I scanned the other parents.  I must admit, I was sizing them up.  We’d searched for months for an affordable school that was not a daycare center.  When a mother at dance class mentioned this one, and I researched it, it became clear the school was a magical place where parents were not asked to pay more tuition than we would at a small private college and was not a childcare wasteland where your kid could be eating paste all day for all you know.  I was curious who else was joining us in this Shangri la and were we the least heeled couple in the lot.  I couldn’t tell what kinds of cars these people drove, since we were inside, but I could furtively scope out engagement rings and handbags.   I know.  I am horrible.  I should have been listening about curriculum and pick up practices, but I am a nosy B.

However, I became distracted.

Across the room a little boy was trying to break the heck out of there.  Both his parents were trying to calmly and smoothly keep him from going AWOL.

“Albie*!  No, No!  Stay in, this is your new classroom.”

“Albie!  Stay!”

But Albie was not having it.

The teacher showed her seventeen years of experience.

“This,”  she pointed to Albie below her, who was rattling the door with all his might. “This doesn’t bother me.  It bothers you.  Don’t let it.  I know how to handle this.”  And she kept on about snacks and making sure we packed hats and mittens in our kids’ knapsacks during winter.

Later that evening, Kaita mentioned she looked like a random chubby white guy on TV, and my right-quick prompted discussion that followed revealed she had picked up on the fact I was the only “brown” person in the room that morning. When I told my husband Katia thought I stuck out  (my words) he was like, No you didn’t stick out, you know who stuck out?  The parents with that kid who was trying to get out.

“That’s not nice.”

“Kirsten.  Come on.”

And okay perhaps they…did a little.

Because in a room full of women dressed like moms, Albie’s mother looked like she hadn’t yet received her mom gear package in the mail.  Tight acid wash jeans, long blond extensions, starlet oversized sunglasses, Uggs.  I would have thought she’d had botox except Albie’s lips exhibited the same bee stung look.  She smelled like perfume, not cheese or apple juice, like moms sometimes can.  (And we can).

Albie’s dad stood out, too.  White tight ish T shirt, tight pants, gelled curly hair.

“I am the only brown person.”  I wondered if I should have pressed more for financial aid at the other places that prided themselves on diversity.

But “Come on,” was the reply.

The first day of school came.

Katia was rather secretive about how it went, until just before story time, when she drew a picture.  Or, had us draw things, and narrated what should be in them.

“And, um, could you draw a little man over there?”

I did.

“That’s Albie.”

I got excited.  A friend!

“Is Albie in your class?”


“Is he your friend?”

Two large brown eyes looked up at me, disturbingly and suddenly blank.  Albie was still her secret.

I didn’t push.

Of all the kids for her to glob on to, she chose that one, my husband and I remarked.  Alberto* is family name on my husband’s side.  It was a little uncanny.

Because Albie kept coming up.  Over and over.  But it was not until this week that I began to worry.

“I wish I was a boy”

“Oh yeah?”

“Cause the boys, they not like girls and no one listens to me because I’m a girl.”

“Were you trying to play with Albie and he was playing with someone else?”

“Yeah.  Other boys.  I try and try but they not listen because I am a girl.  One day I can be a boy.  I just don’t know how.  No one listens, I am just a girl”.

I should have had a good come back for this, but it broke my heart.

Later she revealed she needed to ask Albie to marry her, but she was not sure how, but could I please ask Albie’s mother for a playdate?  So he could come into our house?

And recently she snuck an extra headband in to school to give to, you guessed it, Albie.  When I told her we couldn’t bring headbands to school for just one kid, she said she had more for the other kids, but this one was for Albie.

She is breaking my heart over and over.

“That poor kid,” my husband said today. “He probably tries to get away from her.  She’s probably driving him crazy.”

Our tactic now is to mention the other kids in her class and hope Albie is not her only Mokey.  Maybe she can find someone else who is as exuberant as she is.

Because it is hard to place your heart out there in the shape of headbands and have it be ignored.

Which is probably why my sisters and I still laugh so hard at that one half hour of Fraggle Rock that we’ve carried around with us for decades; the laughter is a cover.
Because it is a wrenching experience to be a Dagoonie.  It is much easier to keep your headbands to yourself. 

And I wonder how to teach my daughter to keep her heart open and warm, when her experiences will probably ask that she does otherwise.

So Dagoonie, wherever you are, I feel you, man.  All four of us Greenidgegirls do.

*Names have been changed
**This post is made possible by a generous intellectual contribution from Kaitlyn Greenidge

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mirror, Mirror

I am working through my feelings about my daughter’s Halloween choice, which is to be Snow White.

I get the princess thing.  To some extent every little girl fantasizes she is a princess.   I did.  My sisters did.  And now my own little girl does.

But try as I might, I am having a hard time reconciling with the idea of these flipping DISNEY princesses, who are everywhere, in case you haven’t noticed.  Try to buy a knapsack? Boom, there a bunch of them are, mocking all of us with their large and too-beguiling eyes that seem inappropriately suggestive to be placed in the world of a three year old.  Try to outfit your kid with shoes or beach towels or underwear,  and there they are again, waltzing across the fabric, dainty wrists poised, thin waists waiting, for their Princes’ meaty paws.

My husband and I agreed “none of that princess stuff” when I was pregnant with my daughter.  “Or Hello Kitty, either!” I’d often add.  For about two years it worked.  It was easy to keep her cloistered away from all things Disney when her world consisted of my husband and me and our apartment.  We looked with disdain at three and four year olds decked out in full Disney regalia.  That poor kid, her lousy parents just can’t say no.  No way is that going to be us.  Ours is going straight to NASA camp.

But slowly, those princesses wheedled their way into our midst.  A Minnie Mouse dressed as Cinderella here, a rubber ball with Belle, Ariel, and Sleeping Beauty there, and voila, all of a sudden you look around and realize you are surrounded.  While our daughter’s only watched two princess movies—THE LITTLE MERMAID and THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG—I can say with chagrin that if you were to walk through our apartment today, you wouldn’t know of our secret prenatal, pre-parental pledge.

So we’ve been infiltrated.

But I am having a hard time with Snow White.

Perhaps it is her name and the unavoidable mention of her hue.  There’s no hiding what kind of princess Snow White is.  She’s white.  White, white, white;  the fairest of them all. 

But in my daughter’s mind, I don’t think she sees this as a problem.  Last year her ballet school had one class do an entire Snow White number to “Someday My Prince Will Come”, and half those girls in that dance were black.  And not part black, like my daughter who, okay, could technically be in a close running for fairest of them all, behind her dad.  But she knows her dad is not a princess, so I am sure in her mind he doesn’t count.  No, those girls in the dance last year were very black and very pretty and so I am wondering if this is the harbinger of that post racial America everyone keeps claiming we live in.

Cause we ain’t there yet.

Cause this Snow White thing is stuck in my craw.

For a while now I’ve been trying to fix all this princess stuff.

A few friends had turned me on to THE PAPER BAG PRINCESS, where a prince gets kidnapped by a dragon and the princess saves HIM! and in the process loses her nice clothes and hair and when she gets to him the prince says she looks awful and she calls him a bum and kicks him to the curb and lives happily ever after by herself, Single Lady style.  My daughter was kinda keen to it but my niece who is the same age threw her copy across the room and yelled NO at it.  So, perhaps it does not reach everyone in the manner it was intended.

Recently, I also checked two versions of Rapunzel out of the Boston Public Library, one white, one “Caribbean”, thinking I could get her to change her mind to be Rapunzel—a cute biracial Rapunzel—but that backfired, too.  The hair thing freaked her out “why are they climbing up her HAIR?!?” and the black version got too carried away trying to be all Harlem Renaissancey and by the tenth page or so had dissolved into too many poemy words for a three year old kid to take in.  It is probably the only bedtime book that really has put my very hyper kid to sleep.

So the princess thing is hard to “fix”.

But there’s TIANA! others with teeny girls exclaimed when I posted once about my daughter wanting to throw ahem Snow White off that rubber princess ball because her hair was too black and “different” than that of the other princesses.

I had resisted Tiana.  I’d resented feeling left out of the princess circle for so long that when THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG hit theatres last year, I had built up quite an ugly wall of resistance.  It was not until my little eugenics aficionado tried to kick Snow White to the curb that I realized the conversation was happening now, and banning the princesses altogether was only going to make them that much more alluring.  So with great trepidation and my feminist card melting itself in my back pocket, I broke down and bought “Tiana” on DVD.

We’d seen bits of Tiana at Disney on Ice.  Sh.  Don’t tell anyone I actually bought tickets to that thing, or its sequel, which is where we met Tiana for the first time.  I was appalled by my being there and also by the lack of dramaturgical expertise exercised in the evening.  I am a playwright.  Storytelling is part of my job.  So when I could find no through line or arc to my TD Bank North Garden one hundred and twenty dollar night on the town experience, I was confused.  At intermission—during which I held my pee because my daughter refused to leave her seat because this being her first show ever had no idea what an intermission was and would not leave her seat without a screaming scene because she was waiting for “the princesses” to come sliding back—I called my husband: “There’s no arc to this f--king thing!” I growled into the phone, my hand covering my mouth so my swear words didn’t echo in the arena or over to our daughter. “Kirsten, it’s the ICE CAPADES!”  “Yeah, well, still.  If I handed in a script like this to a theatre, they’d laugh at me and I wouldn’t get paid.”  “It’s yeah DISNEY.”

But I must admit I was intrigued by Tiana, not necessarily because she looks like my daughter, but because when we watched her skate around with her prince on the ice, they looked like my daughter’s parents. And maybe, just maybe, I thought, even though Tiana is shades darker than she is, my daughter might be able to have entry into this world of princesses after all.

So I began to love Tiana.

What is brilliant about THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG is Disney knew what it was up against.  It could not have this movie fail.  The one with the black girl could not be crap.  Gone were any fancy cutting edge animation feats and back were hand drawn pictures that harken back to, well, the very first princess, Ms. White in all her classic Disney glory.  I would see this Tiana movie over and over just for its transitions alone.  And, while a child can see it and understand Tiana has less than her rich best friend and her love interest, it is still a few years off before a parent would really have to explain why Tiana lives so many street cars away from all the glitzy action (she’s black) and why her real estate deal falls through (she’s black) and why she probably wouldn’t be at that ball except to serve her beignets (she’s yep black).  The story is all about race and yet manages to transcend it at the same time.

We’ve watched it many, many times.

We play the CD in the car.

I am delighted but still shocked to see Tiana up there with the other princesses.  I get a strange feeling when little blond kids wear Tiana bathing suits and t-shirts. Forget 2012, this is the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it for me.  Never would I think a black girl would go mainstream in this way, unless she was selling pancakes with a doo rag on her head or the sexay sexay with clothes designed to show off her behind.  Tiana don’t got to do neither.

And yet, this Halloween season, I am searching Amazon for Miss White’s clothes and repeatedly asking my daughter, are you sure?  Really?  Are you really, really sure?

Because what makes me uneasy about the princesses is that somewhere wrapped up inside them, whether it is my beautiful little everything daughter or some purely blond little pig tailed formerly all American looking kindergartener, these princesses carry something in them that is unattainable, something perfect that only exists as an inverse.

And, you know, girls go anorexic over shit like that.

They cut over shit like that.

They sit in salons straightening cause of it and sit in salons curling cause of it and they lie about their age because of it and they have skinny and fat jeans in their drawers because of it and they inject plastic under their skin cause of it and they charge up their cards on Overstock because of it and they drink too much cause of it and they don’t break up with they guy because of it or they marry the guy cause of it and they sit in their friend’s kitchen with the granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances wondering, begrudgingly, why their kitchen still has formica because of it and they covet, covet, covet because of it because those movies promise a dream when it’s life we all walk through instead.

So. Really? Snow White?  Are you sure?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Don't Drink the Milk

One of my English teachers in twelfth grade told us point blank that if high school made up the best years of our lives, we probably couldn’t expect to have much of a life.  I think several teachers said this in some way, but the one I remember actually uttering the words was Mrs. Powers.

When she let this idea slip out, it felt as if she’d just ripped the veil off of a well kept secret.  I was enamored by the fact an adult would let classified information like this just spill out.  If these weren’t supposed to be the best years of our lives, why were John Hughes movies so fucking popular?  If these weren’t the best years of our lives who was going to tell all the football players and cheerleaders their lives were destined to be crap, seeing as how delighted and fulfilled they made life seem as they toilet papered each other’s houses while riding around in cars their Dads bought for them.  As empowered as I felt by Mrs. Powers’ words, I sure wasn’t gonna be the one to sidle up to any of their lockers and say, hey, why don’t you invite me to that kegger seeing as in about ten years you’ll have realized I am worthy of being acknowledged as a human being.

I’ve been thinking of Mrs. Powers a lot as I listen to famous people’s Youtube posts about how life will get better.    The posts make me both gleeful and uncomfortable.

I was not bullied. I was one of those kids who was benign enough to occupy the outskirts of many social groups enough so that I could not really be considered popular, but I was definitely not chosen as a target, either.

But Sarah Berkowitz was.

Sarah Berkowitz was part of my combined third and fourth grade class at the Quaker school.  And she was odd.  Or, even in this community that prided itself on being opening and diverse and warm, this girl stuck out as poison ivy personified. 

Which is just the sort of person my mother, the not yet social worker, loved for our family to reach out and embrace.   The woman was no joke.  She’d done it before with Chris Ziembab, the class spaz, in second grade when I was in public school.  He'd been kept back twice already which really just indicated to me that even his twin sister had had more than her share of him in the womb and there was reason she'd left him in the dust.  My mother even made it a point to bring that kid along with us to Walden Pond to go swimming, since he told her he loved it there.   The key to this exchange was he told my mother.  He'd figured out the way "in" was through her, not me.  At his house one afternoon I discovered his love extended beyond the innards of Concord when, during one of his freak outs, his mom calmed him by saying  “Kirsten won’t love you back if you can’t control yourself.”  Wait, wait, wait, my seven year old self said.  This cat is crazy.  My association with him is ridiculous and my mother is completely to blame, with her take -in -the -strays way of behaving all over the place.  From then on I made sure I threw my own tantrums when Mrs. Ziembab called for me to come over.  My mother never realized the better punishment would have been to cart me over to the Zeimbab's than to make me stay home with my little sisters.

So in third grade, when she heard my friend Michelle and I giggling about Sarah Berkowitz, she was in the mood for laying out the free cat chow, since it had been a long time since she’d gotten to go into very embarrassing parent mode.  And to be sure, these were the nervous giggles of the only black girl and the only Korean girl just happy to be the gigglers, not the giggled at. 

Nevertheless, when she heard them she sprang in to action.

First she called Sarah Berkowitz’s mother.

“…OH.  OKAY.  I CAN DO THAT.”  My mother’s voice was booming in the way it did when she was slightly uncomfortable.  She hung up the phone and my heart raced.  Could she work that fast?  Could Sarah Berkowitz be on her way to our house that quickly?  If so, what might work best as a deterrent?  A sudden stomach ailment or a spontaneous fight with the baby wherein I knocked her down the stairs or something? Not enough to really hurt her, I could catch her, but enough to stop the madness.

“Is she coming over here?”

My mother consulted the student phonebook again.

“Her parents are divorced,” she said in a hushed and excited voice.  Despite considering herself more open than the average wife and mother on the block, divorce! was still a predicament that was out of the ordinary for our particular block back then, especially if any kids in such a family hadn’t gone to college yet.

My mother got a hold of Sarah Berkowitz’s dad, who was the one who would have her over the weekend, when my mother was proposing what is now referred to as a playdate but which at that precise moment in time I was thinking of as a few select hours in the pit of darkest hell.

We went to the movies.

Something animated that I can’t remember because the entire time I was wondering if someone from school might be in the theatre, too.

It didn’t matter because Sarah Berkowitz seemed more interested in my sister.

And that felt right to me.  Stay away.  No sense in forming a friendship.  What happens in the Burlington Mall Cineplex Stays in the Burlington Mall Cineplex.


After the movie we went back to my house, where whichever parent who hadn’t dropped her off was going to pick her up. 

I got the impression Sarah’s parents weren’t too keen on each other, but it was just a hunch. 

It turned out, from what I could tell after the movie, that maybe Sarah Berkowitz liked some of the same things as my sister and I.  Maybe.  It was hard to tell for sure because when we got home, Sarah Berkowitz slid herself under our large dining room table and wouldn’t come out.

“PLAY!”  My mother commanded. 

“I’m trying,” I said under my breath, so as not to call attention to the obvious, which was that Sarah was coming in a close second to Chris Ziembab as one of the worst comer overs in the universe.

“May 21st!” Sarah Berkowitz called out from under the table, which was draped with white lace and plastic.  “Let me think, let me think: November 21st!  NOVEMBER 21ST!!!!!” 

My sister Kerri peered out from under the table with her large, glassed in eyes.  “It’s my half birthday!” 

“Let me do yours!” Sarah Berkowtiz practically screamed.

“That’s okay.”

“Then Martin Luther King's?”

Kerri and I looked at each other.  This was obviously commentary on us being black.

“Why don’t you come out of there?”  I said it the way my mother told us we were only embarrassing ourselves when we acted out in Stop and Shop.

But she didn’t. 

Under there Sarah Berkowitz stayed until the other parent came and got her.

As our parents talked, as Sarah Berkowitz got her coat on, I squeezed out, under my breath: “Don’t tell anyone about coming over here.  It’s a secret.”

Going under people’s tables is weird.  Calling out Martin Luther King’s half birthday is also weird.  Over my dead body was she gonna let it spill out that she’d been inside my house or with me at the movies. 

A little part of me felt badly I could not be nice, but a larger part of me realized what little popularity I had was being severely compromised by Sarah Berkowitz standing in my living room while our parents shot the breeze.  Why was my mother being so nice to these people anyway? 

Monday Morning Share Time came and went and Sarah said nothing. 


It wasn’t until a few weeks later that that little part of me began to start to feel something more than extreme fear.

Nobody liked Sarah Berkowitz. Her hair was stringy and dishwater brown, he skin pale with green veins  around her eyes and forehead.  She wasn't cute or funny.  She was sad and annoying.

As the year progressed, girls in our class began to talk more openly about just how much Sarah Berkowtiz got under their skins.  She had to be stopped.  From what, we weren’t sure.  And how?  We still weren’t sure.  But soon.

The plan became that each of us would bring in to school a little of that very cheap little girls perfume drug stores used to sell.  Michelle and I had the Holly Hobby kind. During snack it would be so easy to pour little bits of our perfume into Sarah Berkowtiz’s unsuspecting paper cup of milk.

And it was.

Although I never brandished mine—I believe my mother saw me put my bottle in my school bag and told me the glass would break and to leave it in my jewelry box and why was I bringing perfume to school anyway only big ladies wear it so put it back, I watched in sick fascination as more than one girl snuck out hers and poured teeny amounts into Sarah’s milk.

I watched, too, as the cup sat there on the table, waiting.

“That milk doesn’t look very good,” I said.

Sarah Berkowitz didn’t seem to care.

But she listened.  

And she didn't drink that milk.

And I was relieved.    

At not only the fact she did not die by ingesting Holly Hobby perfume, but at what I realized I had after all, after the movies and my ugly threat: that my conscience was not as thin and measly as I thought, that somewhere, although I did not want my mother calling either Berkowitz household in the near future, I was not, in my eight year old mind, a murderer, and I did have some compassion for Sarah Berkowtiz, whose parents pulled her out of our school after that year, and we never saw again.

When I mention Sarah Berkowitz now my mother always says “that poor girl, her parents going through that divorce like that, she couldn’t even come out from under our dining room table that time, that poor, poor girl.”

So this week I have been thinking about the Sarah Berkowitzes, the people other people think it is okay to “do things to”.  And I think about the capacity for cruelty, and my mother, and how she acts as though we are each capable of helping better come sooner than later.

To each Sarah Berkowitz, I hope your better comes sooner.  

Friday, October 1, 2010

You So Far From Heaven, Mistah Draper

I love the 50’s shtick.  The clothes, the cocktails, the post war-pre-shit-hits–the-fan wholesomeness of it all.  I’ve loved it for decades, when I was probably one of Oldies 103’s youngest voluntary listeners as a kid.  I kept loving it when I moved to Connecticut and gleefully discovered Connecticut radio is almost all Oldies stations, or was in the 1990s.    Maybe what I love about this time period is this wholesome image that glosses over what we know was going on at the lunch counters and the voting centers.  Which is why I love MADMEN.  I mean, I really love it.   I watched seasons one through three on DVD this summer and felt an overwhelming sense of loss when I got through it  and had to wait for season four on television. I can forgive some of the less sophisticated dialogue (and believe me, having Don Draper go to California and meet up with the conventionally well read co ed was bad writing) because the camera angles and story are so spectacular. And I can also usually forgive the lack of non-white characters.  Unlike FAR FROM HEAVEN, MADMEN does not promise it will give voice to the cadre of serving class characters that it introduces to Don Draper’s world, who also happen to be the only black characters the show offers up.  I won’t even go in to the Chinese family the ad guys use to welcome Pete Campbell back from his honeymoon as a joke.  Ballsy television in this post PC world, but not that funny when you are actually of the colored variety.  And I get the joke.  I repeat, it was not that funny when you are actually of the colored variety.

Despite all my love and forgiveness, a little part of me felt neither of these emotions when Lane’s new girlfriend showed up this past Sunday.  My sister and I had high hopes.  I had to check myself the week before because the way we were talking about it, we sounded like my grandparents when a black actor was about to make an appearance on TV.  Their delight was palpable when the “black soap opera” began airing in the 80s.  It took a few days of staying home sick at their house and watching TV with them to realize the show was not black, but simply had more than a few black characters on it. They were so proud.

And so once we got word a black character was coming on our beloved MADMEN and was signed up to do more than one episode, we were also ready to be proud.  But here is my sister’s Facebook Wall post from last Monday, and I quote: “Black Playboy Bunny?!? WHA?”  That’s what she said.  You can look it up.  And it rings true.

I have nothing against Playboy Bunnies.  I used to want to be one.  My mom got offered a job to be one.   And I think probably only turned it down cause she wanted to help deaf and blind kids in state institutions whose parents just left them there alone all their lives (she was good at it).   I just don’t understand why this particular character had to be one.  And Lane?  I will put my feelings aside, because I find Lane more than oogie, but I find it curious that Don Draper will sleep with anything with a vagina except for black women with vaginas.  And we have them, trust me.

When I have brought up the lack of black characters on this show with anyone except my sister (who loves it just as much as I do), their eyes don’t exactly roll, but their voices do.  But the show’s not about that, it’s about Don Draper.  Don’t you just love Don Draper?  And I do.  I love Don Draper.  I don’t understand it cause he is a horrible person, albeit a brilliant character.  But, I find it interesting that this world only has black people in it when those black people are doing things for white people.  Or when they are in black face.  And even the black face was not problematic to me because in 1963 it makes perfect sense, that at a Kentucky Derby party this would be an acceptable and “funny for the white people” type of thing.  Even though the party was not in Kentucky and none of those people are Southern.  Cause who doesn’t like a good darkie joke?  I am supposing the same people who don’t mind a good Chiney joke. 

What I find so dismaying about the Playboy Bunny insertion is that this was a chance for MADMEN to give this character some texture.   And I don’t mean by mentioning Freedom Rides or fried chicken or Harry Belafonte.   Maybe by giving the character an arc and interior world just as rich as the Jewish store lady we saw Don hit it with.  Or maybe even like the nice pretty teacher he semi lived with whose brother even got a life story of having epilepsy. They gave that guy whole scenes!  But there is still hope, she only had about ten lines this go around.  Maybe she, like many of the actual Playboy Bunnies, is working her way through medical school or law school, or is doing it to stick it to her parents who own on the Vineyard and are snootier than Lane’s cane wielding father. 

I suppose I just find it hard to believe that the only black people these MADMEN guys keep running into are part of the help.  In New York. In 1965.  And I also find it hard to believe that in a show that is mastering the art of story telling in a world where storytelling is not as valued as it used to be, that it can’t think of any way black people might enter this world when they aren’t taking care of these people’s kids (Carla) or pushing elevator buttons (the elevator guy.  I liked him.  I do not see why we couldn’t have more of that guy.  Just a little bit.  Maybe if he had epilepsy or something) or carrying a tray (Lane’s girlfriend who didn’t even have some high gloss clever way of greeting Lane’s Dad after he embarrassingly has her serve them drinks at the Playboy Club.  Yeah: wha?)

But Kirsten, the show isn’t about that.  Um, is it not about people?  In our country in nice clothes in (now) 1965?  Cause um, yeah, black people were around.  There’s evidence, there’s pictures of us there.  And we had nice clothes and there are pictures of us in them, and not just pictures of us getting hosed down or chased by German Shepherds.  And yes, I get the joke: proper Lane goes for a black cocktail waitress.  Ha ha.  And then Daddy beats him with a cane.  More Ha Ha.  I just don’t see why the cocktail waitress could not have more of an interior life that was skillfully shown in less than ten lines, which MADMEN seemed able to do so skillfully with every single other character in its cast—the whites ones, the women, the gay ones, the kids. 

Wait for it, wait for it, you say?  After all, the actor’s signed up for more screen time.  To which I say: it’s been a long time comin’, and it shoulda done been here by now.  This show is not reality.  People write it.  And in this case, they can write better.