Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Once again, the kid makes a liar outta me

I can't tell you how glad I am to have been proven wrong.

Happy Halloweening to you

As I look back on my many, many years of Halloweening, an ample number of vampire variations come to mind. For some reason, even as a little person -- though not quite as little as Ittybit -- I loved the nightlife, particularly the undead nightlife.

So far, Annabel really doesn't share my infatuation with becoming someone else for a couple hours one day a year.

Last year, Annabel almost participated happily in the Halloween events at Olana, Frederic Church's hilltop home, but then she wasn't really interested in getting dressed in costume or even getting her face painted. I tried to entice her into it by showing her by example but all I got in exchange were funny looks at dinner for my increasingly smudged cat nose and whiskers.

And things just went downhill from there.

This year, I thought maybe it would be good to start early. Do a little leg work to get her interested in dressing up.

Right off the bat it was a flop.

Mommy: "What do you want to be for Halloween?"

Ittybit: "A bear."

Amah: "What are you going to be for Halloween?"

Ittybit: "A fairy."

Daddy: "What do you want to be for Halloween?"

Ittybit: "A pumpkin."

Papa: "What are you going to be for Halloween?"


With a dizzying list, I took ourselves off to Target to see about our options which turned out to be Lion or Chicken.

Now, I liked the chicken costume a lot but I knew it would be a hard sell as a bear, so I opted for the lion outfit.
Of course I tried to TELL her it was a bear and she saw right through it.

"Mommy! That's not a BEAR, that's a LION!"

She put on the furry vest and hood for a total of four minutes, long enough so I could get a blurry shot of her wearing it before she pulled it off and dragged it around by the tail.

When she got dressed for this year's Halloween party, she put on her favorite halter dress over a stars and stripes t-shirt because they were pretty. I brought along the sad lion costume just in case.

Little Bo Peep greeted us at the door, but her sister, The Little Lost Sheep, was wearing a pumpkin t-shirt and jeans.

"She didn't want to be a sheep," their mother explained. "Bo Peep has a tendency of lording over her flock, if you know what I mean.

"What is little miss Ittybit this year?"

"Well she's a Bear-lion-fairy-pumpkin-tiger, but only in my mind. At the moment it appears she's Cyndi Lauper."

Oh yeah, and that gratuitous photo at the top of the page? The one with fake teeth? I'm not showing her that one until she's much, much older. I don't want to jinx my chances for next year.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Almost caught, still red handed

You think you know what you're doing.

You have it all figured out. Nothing left to chance. Only. It's all left to chance.

My plans were simple. Take a nap (me); visit Goodwill, Ittybit needs some long-sleeved shirts and pants that don't show off her ankles (cute as they may be, it's getting cold outside); and the dreaded laundry. Always the laundry.

She isn't napping, which means she's wired. W.I.R.E.D. Dancing around, showing off her new, diaperless bottom to anyone who cares to be a bum looker. I wasn't even thinking as she pirouette around the living room, pouncing on the new (to us) orthopedic dog bed built for two.

It never occurred to me that the woodstove might still be hot. I wasn't even thinking about it. It had been hours since we stoked it up. Last year we were vigilant. We set up barricades, frowned on living room frolic. Stressed how HOT it could get. She stayed away. We considered her an old pro.

But she lost her balance, reached out to steady herself and pressed right up against the stove. I wasn't motionless, for once. For once I was right there, moving toward her. But not fast enough. Her hand pressed against the window in front. I could almost hear the faint sticking sound of her fingertips pulling away from the hot glass. It all happened in less than a second.

She was silent, and then screaming.

I rushed her into the kitchen and put her hand under the running cold water. I still couldn't tell if it was shock or pain. But the crying didn't subside, she couldn't get comfortable and ringing her hand just made it worse. More water. Ice. Eventually, a glass of water she submerged her right hand in as if Madge were in charge of the manicure.

Second degree burns. Three white blisters appeared, one each, on the fingertips of her index, middle and ring fingers.

She cried and sobbed for what seemed like the entire afternoon. Even though she ate three pieces of pizza, handfuls of Cheez-Its and several "Lunch Box Juices," every time she caught sight of her hand the tears came all over again.

I finally convinced her to take some Motrin, and she calmed down. She took a bath and played in the warm water, using both hands to squeeze toys and transport water.

she ate dinner eagerly with both hands. Pork, broccoli and homemade applesauce.

Another "Lunch Box Juice."

Only at bedtime did the hand pain return. I filled a sippy cup with crushed ice (and some water) and told her to hold it and drink. She did, but it was just a ploy. She wanted to talk about how she'd get just as big as me one day, and maybe even as big as "Jed." She likes to remind me that she knows our names, and thinks she's so big for using them.

All day I was Mamamamamamama.

Tonight, at bedtime, I was Sha-waon.

She's feeling better.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Behind Door No. 1

Wordgirl called on the internets to show her the door. Their front door to be more precise. She even proclaimed October 24th, when she sent out the call for portals, "Show Me Your Front Door" Day.

Now I don't know about you fine folks, but my house is NOT my castle. As a 6,500 square-foot converted barn, the place has been bucking for palatial recognition since it was built, but so far hasn't passed majestic muster. Renovations, though at times astounding, have been slow and have meandered through waves of previous inhabitants of many eras and varied talents.

When we moved in, one of the first things we did was replace the decrepit, weather-inviting doors. Since we had little money, we replaced them on the cheap with Home Depot specials. We repaired steps of the porch and put in a small garden with greenery and flowers. The garden has always been temporary. And with the exception of the year we were married, it has always looked like it was planted and tended by chimpanzees.

This year, however, the area surrounding our entrance has been ignored so that a weed of a tree has volunteered where lower forms of vegetation had previously flourished. I never got around to pinching it out when it was small; call it inattention. So it grew. It encroached on our steps, snagged our shirts as we walked inside. It even seemed to mock me in August as it towered over my head. I still neglected to chop it down and dig it out; call it laziness.

And though we've changed a lot about our house -- we've slapdashedly renovated the kitchen, sanded and painted floors, redesigned the layout and configuration of rooms to accomodate a child, and even turned a barn storage space into a huge open space, where we celebrated our wedding reception with dozens upon dozens of friends -- time still marches on and the pristine space (though never quite finished) seem increasingly less pristine.

I find myself apologizing for my house whenever we have guests. And we have guests because I refuse to accept any shame, even though I sometimes feel it. I refuse to worry what the neighbors say because I know that the only thing that really matters is the little girl who yells "Mommy's home!" when I come through that front door. The rest of it is just a few walls, a few windows and a door.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

VA VA VA VA , I'm not listening ...

Ittybit: Where was you, mama?

Mama: It's where WERE you, honey?

Ittybit: I was home! Where was you?

Mama: I went out to meet some friends.

Ittybit: Why?

Mama: Because I wanted to knit with them.

Ittybit: But where was you last night?

Mama: With my friends. ... In Voorheesville. Knitting.

Ittybit: My Lori?

Mama: Not Lori, honey. Voorheesville. It's a place.

Ittybit: Yes, Lorisville! That's my favorite place.


Ittybit: No. You said Lorisville. I know that. LORI'S-VILLE, LORI'S-VILLE,

Monday, October 23, 2006

Come on in, the water's fine

This one isn't writing itself.

The words just aren't coming. The emotions are all there, still bubbling under the surface, but the words, well, they are gone. So forgive me as I stumbled through the next few paragraphs.

This past weekend I bundled the family up and took them off to the Boston area for our second-ever real-life meeting of some of my "imaginary friends."

Internet folks. Bulletin board brethren. People I only know in prose.

I've written about life online before (here and here): The strange phenomenon of not knowing the neighbors but making what feels like deep philosophical connections with strangers clear across the country and around the world.

People who you know would be wonderful friends if they just lived next door.

We meet in virtual playgrounds, typing away when time permits, usually the middle of the night.

Midnight is California time; a time when my perfect playgroup would be meeting if the kids didn't need their beauty sleep. You know, after the work day is done, the kids have been bathed and bedded down and everyday chores are complete. I imagine my California contingent have befriended many in Europe for that same reason, not to mention some of us Night-owl, Insomniac East Coasters.

Occasionally you luck into a group in your own time zone and the possibility of a real-life meet-up is not only possible, it becomes inevitable. Please Send Vodka is that group for me.

PSV is a bulletin-board-type forum in which moms post messages in threads and others respond. Back in July a thread got started for folks who'd be interested in participating in a fall meet-up and dozens signed on. A site was set that would be central for the majority of Boston-area members, and people generously volunteered their houses for parties and places of respite in between events. The group has made such an impression that even some of the more far-flung members were inticed to buy plane tickets or buckle the kids up for an hours-long drive to the Bay State.

As fate would have it, the first stop on the weekender was in Concord, Mass., where we could stay with family and the little miss could have a little mini-reunion with the great grandparents, too. How could I not sign myself up and volunteer to bring juice boxes? I couldn't.

But I don't think I can go on without saying what wonderful and diverse people this meet-up allowed me to introduce to my family. They are teachers and lawyers and designers and nurses and mothers and others. They are are as different as they are alike. Every one struggling with some hardship that will make them that much stronger one day, I am sure. Each one is generous and loving and caring, even if they don't give themselves the credit they deserve. They are also witty, irreverent and urbane, traits thinking women just can't resist.

During the weekend, each one of us crawled around the pumpkin patch with our kids, took oodles of pictures and gabbed until we were horse. We marveled at renovation projects and drooled over pot-luck delicacies. We got to play with the real-life kids some of us had only seen in pictures. We ran road races and jumped in leaves. We hiked around the area Henry David Thoreau made famous.

And some of us even took off our shoes and socks and waded in the waters of Walden Pond.

"That tells me you aren't right in the head," one of my new friends said, and I just laughed.

"You have no idea."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Stand-up guy

I used to tell my brother-in-law that I was going to steal his woman - Jed's sister - away from him.

I wasn't joking, really.

But now I'm finding myself in the preternatural position of wanting to abscond with the entire set, including the cutest little almost-two-year-old this side of ours truly.

Eric's blog, thinair, discusses lots of geekage I will never even pretend to understand. As a programmer, he writes about something called a lisp, and it has nothing to do with speech impediments. The end. Game over. Remedial math for me.

But his dedication to ideas outside the inner workings of a computer has me so inspired that I often find myself nodding my head in agreement and wanting on the bandwagon.

As I was a little embroiled (like being a little pregnant?) in debate today over the role of parents in their children's education, 'thinair' pops up on my RSS reader.

Now Eric, who's aforementioned almost-two-year-old will attend a neighborhood school that's been abandoned by most of its affluent neighbors, is taking the bull by the horns and diving in to make education better for all students before his son ever steps sneaker inside a classroom.

My debate had to do with the role parents play in their kids' education, and more often than not that it seems it's not the lack of involvement that's the problem, it's the type of involvement.

We all hear-tell of parents who could care less about whether their kids attend school or not, whether they do their homework. We know there are parents who don't read to or even talk to their kids. We know logically that when they get to school, these kids are going to have problems.

But it seems as if even more of a problem to the educating sect are the parents whose little angels can do no wrong. The parents who fight legal battles to make sure their kids get every break unbecoming to them, and that's tying their hands as educators as much as kids whose parents are non-existent.

His debate concerns a recent development at his school in which the school board implemented fingerprinting to better keep track of student lunch accounts after a number ID system failed when the younger students couldn't remember the six digits assigned to them. And his little school isn't alone in this growing trend towards modernization. Programs like it are being adopted around the country and around the world.

This is the part where I almost spit coffee all over the keyboard ...

Aside from the obvious worries about privacy, here's the rub: The school district didn't tell parents. In fact they told parents they could opt out of the program two days after the kids had already been digitally printed.

See folks, your fingerprints are forever and it would seem digital files can be, too.

These parents can't be terribly assured that the records will be completely destroyed. And say 20 years from now when police are investigating a crime, they can go to the schools and demand such records. Currently fingerprints are only available on folks who have previously been arrested, and controversially, people accepting public assistance. If this printing of school children becomes commonplace, schools will be vast data pools for police.

So here's where the two debates collide. You have parents who aren't involved in school at all, parents who are involved in the wrong way and schools that are making decisions that will affect everyone, forever, without parental involvement or without parents who fully understand the consequences. And in doing so, society changes in places we cannot predict.

I'm not sure where this is going, but I'm afraid it won't end well if folks who can and do advocate for their own don't step in and advocate for the ones whose parents can't or don't.

And hey, School District: Why can't you cross reference the kids' names against the number you've assigned them? Oddly enough, I bet most kids will know their names. Computers have the power to do that, no?

Nevermind, School District, I'll ask Eric. He'll know.


UPDATE: For those who, like me, were waiting with bated breath for the next installment of thinair.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Up, up and away

Dear Annabel,

It seems as if we're back where we started, you and I.

Well, not ALL THE WAY back but back far enough so that the difficulty of trudging around the house late at night, tripping over shoes abandoned in doorways while trying sooth you back to sleep -- and willing the night to come when you'd sleep straight through -- comes rushing back in a way that seems like it never left.

I'm not sure what's keeping you up at night, but there's no doubt your sleep patterns have slipped.

At 8 p.m. we start our ritual: You put on your jim-jams, brush your teeth and collect your books. We read three stories, and when you're all cuddled in, you say you want me to do exercises. I stretch a bit on your carpeted floor. An upward-facing dog, a downward facing dog and child pose. I kiss you "goodnight" and power up your CD player, Peter and the Wolf is the selection tonight. Sir John Gielgud's voice fills your room. I turn it down to a whisper. You protest, telling me you can't hear it. I increase the volume slightly so you're satisfied and dim the lights.

For a moment you are quiet. I settle onto the living room couch, switch on the computer, dig out the Christmas ornaments we've been working on and wait for your soft, skittering footsteps to sound from the hallway.

"Mama, there's monsters in my woom."
"Mama, I dropped my binky."
"Mama, the moosic stopped."
"Mama, I want any something to drink."
"Mama, my blankets don't work."
"Mama, I dotta do potty. ... And them m-n-ms, mama."

You visit until almost 10 p.m. when, out of sheer exhaustion, you fall asleep, your pacifier on the floor, bedclothes in tangles and legs half off the bed.

When I finally drop off to sleep an hour or so later, maybe getting four ornaments started, the dishes put away and a load of laundry in the wash, I know I when next I wake the house will be pitch black and the digital clock will inform me that its 3 a.m. For the next two hours it will be an up and down endeavor to get you back in your bed and back to sleep. Your father will rouse himself and try to get you to realize NIGHT IS FOR SLEEPING, but in 20 minutes you'll be back, complaining that something's wrong in your room.

By 6 a.m. we'll have gotten you off to sleep again and if I'm lucky, you'll wake in an hour, ready for the day. More than likely though, you'll sleep another two hours and I will have to rush the morning rush.

Of course, everyone and their mother is telling me that I must resist the temptation and let you scream it out, let you wrestle with the demon insomnia alone - but it's a tough sell. I give an ultimatum, and even I think it sounds hollow: THIS IS THE LAST TIME I'M COMING IN HERE. HERE. HERE.

"Ok, mommy. Than I'll just tum out. That would be a good idea."

"No, honey. It's not. Now go to sleep."


Monday, October 16, 2006

A mother's remorse ...

Since Ittybit hasn't really been able to wrap her mind around the concept of playthings going to Iraq, I've decided to take a break from reality long enough to examine the fact that, essentially, I sent Kermit The Frog (or as I like to refer to him, Kermit D. Frog) into a dessert war zone.

Ok so it hurts my head to think about actual children living in the deplorable circumstances we helped create, so for the briefest of moments I'm considering this little absurdity because of the humanity Muppets embody.

I feel remorse. ...

I should have sent Elmo.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Lost in translation

I can probably expect more bedtime banter like this for a few more days:

Mama? Where's Kermit?

Don't you remember, we're sending him, Zoe and Buffy Bunny to Iraq so they can make some children happy.


Because you have so much and there are some boys and girls there who have nothing.


Because there's something called a war, and it's very bad, and some of the children are alone and scared. Your toys might help cheer and comfort them.

Oh. ...

Are they standing up or sitting down?

?? Um ... standing up?

We dotta put that in a cage!

Uh ... what?

We have to get that raccoon out of there so the kids can play with Kermit. We need a cage to put him in.

Honey. ... What raccoon?

You said we're sending Kermit to a raccoon for the childrens because they're lost and lonely.

I said E-Rack, not A RACCOON. We're sending toys to Iraq. It's a country in the middle ... Oh nevermind. We'll talk about this when you're three, OK.

NOTE TO SELF: Invest in a world map.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

New Rule

Another piece of sage advice that we disregarded: Never, under any circumstances buy toys in a child's presence. The idea is that if you NEVER buy them things, even when they're not begging for them, they will stop asking.

Uhm ... This lasted all the way up until she learned to talk and asked oh so syrupy sweetly for a stuffed cat. She named him Fudgy and our fate was sealed.

We are pushovers.

So today at the apple orchard -- which for some strange reason (possibly a result of the fact that farmers don't live by apples alone ... you know since China surpassed our apple production in the 90s) harbors an entire gift shop of overpriced toys and novelties that have nothing whatsoever to do with apples -- when Annabel begged and pleaded for a stuffed cow that chimes moo (three times) when you press its middle, we struck a bargain.

If we bought the $10 bovine she would choose two toys in her collection that we would ship to an underprivileged kid somewhere in the world. She quickly agreed.

So as we make room for MOO on her bed, Buffy Bunny and two of her friends (Annabel was insistent they go in threes) are off to Iraq, where they will have a second chance at love.

The toy drive is being undertaken by United States Army Corp of Engineers Officer Edmay Mayers who is taking it upon herself to distribute the playthings to impoverished children. Until recently, she's been buying the animals and candy herself, but the need has overwhelmed her resources.

So do a good deed today. If you have gently used toys that need children to love them, send them to her here:

Edmay Mayers
APO AE 09331

Friday, October 13, 2006

It's been a while ...

"Hello baby," I say as I climb out of the car.

"Hello baby," she replies with outstretched arms and chocolatey smile.

The camera wasn't between us, even though it was.

She smiled anyway.

And then we were off and running.

Run Lola Run.

I remember not too long ago when someone lovingly told me:
Just wait. There will come a time when even YOU won't be able to get all those Kodak moments anymore.

And I cursed her.

Because she was so right.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Early warning system ...

This just in on the DADDY REPORT:

ANNABEL: Daddy, how is Santa doing to det down the shimney.

JED: Uh ... What? Santa?**

ANNABEL: Yeah. ... How's he doing to det down the shimney? What if there's a fire?

JED: I told her he only uses chimneys for people who don't have doors.

ME (to Jed): Why didn't you just tell her 'magic?'

JED (to me): She's too smart for that, she'd never believe it.

ME (to Jed): But she'd believe people live in houses with no doors. Nice.

**So is it natural for two-year-olds (almost three) to wonder about the feasibility of a giant elf breaking into our home to leave presents?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The incredible shrinking mommy

Ok. So everyone is pregnant. MOM-101 just posted her brilliant photo-essay announcement, and it seems everyone in the Please Send Vodka forum has been totaling tea for months now.

While I am wildly jumping up and down and wishing I had enough money to send extravagant layettes to each and every one of them (and also wishing they'd all invite me over so I can make pictures of their wonderful, beautiful families) I am also a little sad.

The sadness is partly that I am not pregnant despite "trying" for a year, and in part because I see each passing minute as another in which my baby goes away. I'm a the-glass-is-half-empty AND containing-sea-water-on-the-way-to-a-desert sort of person.

Some of you might have gathered that in addition to being a pessimist I am also a photographer. Although I try to see the world in as many ways as possible, the first way is usually through the lens of my camera. Lately the camera has been tabled.

That is because Ittybit is firmly in the "NO pishers!" side of the camp. Although the message was slow in getting to me (notice all of the less-than-thrilled facial expressions of late), it has gotten through, loud and clear, thanks to her father's more frequent intervention and the fact that her constant scowl-y faces trained in my direction whenever I lift the lens have recently been replaced by very loud shrieks of displeasure.

So I've had to turn my camera toward objects, hoping to wait out the storm until the day comes when I am welcomed, camera in hand, back into the playroom.

Of course this means I have to torture myself. I have to revisit my clothing project; the one in which I had decided to document her clothes as she outgrows them. It never really went anywhere when I first got the idea because, after all, clothes are merely objects and I am interested in photographs of people.

The results are never satisfying.

But here I am torturing myself anyway, sorting through bags of stored clothes destined to wind up at Goodwill, and weeping openly as I relive the day in my mind - a seeming eternity ago - that we took her home from the hospital.

So I must stop it. I must pick myself up off of this mopebox and get on with the celebration. All this crying is fogging up my lens.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The twain meets, we just won't admit it

Why is it that Packrats and Would Chucks often dwell in the same habitat?

Is it because during the first blush of romance we look at the newspapers and magazines piling up on the chairs of his bachelor pad and think, 'Finally! a man who reads?'

I know that there are many, many, many people out there who think they live with the king (or queen) of all packrats, but let me tell you, as politely as I can, that you are wrong. That distinction, I'm afraid, belongs to me and the 2,000 square feet of space underneath my house that allows my husband to collect thousands upon thousands of very important things.

And for those of you who think you can reform a packrat, let me assure you they don't call us Would Chucks for nothing: We would chuck if we could chuck, but the packrat just finds it, fishes it out of the trash and restores it to its unnatural habitat.

Yet the thing I didn't realize until recently was how Would Chucks who are also consumers - folks who would normally throw out two items for every one they bring home - enable their packrat counterparts by adding to the inventory of things that will never go away.

In the end, most Would Chucks wind up being Packrats by proxy.

So it is with this in mind that I tell you, dear reader, although I love my husband, I also love when he's away on business for a few days.

For those 24 to 72 hours I am a free woman. Free to let my inner Would Chuck out. I am free to toss with wild abandon (the things that I buy) and straighten up out without the eyes of consternation (and futility) upon me.

In 72 hours I can empty the cupboards in the kitchen of three-year-old spices; cracked cups, which followed us from apartments to house but have not seen a drop of coffee in their tenure in our employ; and nearly empty containers sitting on the shelves alongside their most recent replacements. I can rid the refrigerator of things we will never eat but seem a shame to waste.

During those precious 72 hours I can find appropriate boxes and put things inside of them. And where I put these things they stay. For three days the scissors are in the drawer with the utensils (where I always look for them) and the mail is sorted in the bins with our names. For three days nothing piles up on the counters, nothing is draped on chairs and everything that has a place is in it.

In that long weekend of casting out I reclaim my inner soul.

"What is that? Who cares, it's gone," I sing to myself as I pitch another little bit of something that mysteriously appeared and that we never used. Only the recycling piles up: Seventeen half canisters of ground cinnamon await reclaimation, their long-stale contents down the drain and rinsed away. I vow to shop more wisely, and resist impulse. I feel lighter and the weight of the chores seem lighter, too.

Of course when he finally comes home, kicks off his shoes and flings his coat toward the chair, missing it by mere inches, I'll be glad to see him, but I'll also be ready.

"Hey, where are you going?"

"To Target; we need another coat rack."

Monday, October 09, 2006

'Tis the season

Christmas comes but once a year in this house, but Halloween is celebrated day in and day out. Annabel was introduced to monsters early because I wanted her to make friends. Don't act like this surprises you. (I live on the edge.)

It's genetic, really. One of my earliest memories of my grandmother was of watching Frankenstein movies with her while my parents had stepped out for a night on the town. Together, curled up in blankets, we'd also listen to General Electric's Mystery Theater on the radio. So when Annabel decided the sharks in Nemo were scary - and that's why she liked them - I understood completely, and even felt a little pride that she was a mama's girl.

Since then I've been collecting a veritable library of frightful tales for bedtime, read, of course, with the covers pulled up and monster spray in hand.

I believe these books are not only a joy to read aloud, but they are really wonderful literature as well. So in the spirit of the season, and without further ado, here's our favorite spooky reading list for you.

Curse in Reverse
Written by Tom Coppinger
Illustrated by Dirk Zimmer
Simon & Schuster, 2003

Agnezza the witch is an unlikely heroine. She spits green phlegm at those hard-hearted souls who turn her away in the bitter cold. Of course Ittybit loves her and her wicked ways. But when Agnezza meets the lovely and charming Trettors, a childless couple of modest means who give her the best of what little they have, she repays them with a curse. And it's the most wonderful curse ever. Keep an eye out though for little details in this woodblock-esque illustration that will make your little demon howl in delight.

The Spider to the Fly
Written by Mary Howitt (1821)
Illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
Simon & Schuster

You won't go wrong with this Caldecott metal winner based on Howitt's early 19th century cautionary tale about falling into the trap of vanity when you believe a silver-tongued devil such as DiTerlizzi's silvery arachnid. No happy ending here folks, but believe me the beauty of the words are worth the brutality of the deeds ... even for an almost big girl.

Jitterbug Jam: A Monster Tale

Written by Barbara Jean Hicks
Illustrated by Alexis Deacon

Ripped from the funny pages, this book tells a heart-warming story of what would happen if a little monster stood his ground with the red-headed boy that torments him during daylight hours when he is supposed to be fast asleep. A wonderfully illustrated book, Jitterbug Jam is told in an unmistakable, buttery southern drawl that will make your mouth water as you read it to your little monsters. A great book for kids who are afraid of things that go bump in the night. They'll learn monsters have fears of their own.

Who Will You Meet in Scary Street?: Nine Pop-Up Nightmares
Written by Christine Tagg
Little, Brown; Pop-up Edition

I'm a sucker for pop-up books, and I this one is so gross it's good. I love books that have a rhyme and reason, and a few blood curdling twists and turns, too. Although the age recommendation on this one is 3 and up, I got it for Ittybit when she turned 2, and she loved all the eye-popping characters from the Mummy pair traveling everywhere to the Vet with all the ferocious pets. And a surprise ending that will make you scream for more. We read it over and over again.

Friday, October 06, 2006

From Here to Maturity

she's all me

There's been a lot of exciting sex talk on the blogosphere these days, and even I entered the mix before I heard what everyone else was saying. ... All more points to ponder, don't you know, as the discussion becomes more defined.

Some believe our puritanical society, which links sex and violence, as a cause of many ills. That if we were comfortable in our own bodies we'd be more comfortable in the world and less likely to snap from all the repression. Others believe that the sexualizing of "everything" from baby dolls to instant coffee is leading our nation down the path of critical debauchery, where the only thing we can look forward to is the white-knuckled waiting for results of our twice-yearly STD tests.

There are SO MANY great arguments on all sides of the debate that I have to wonder if the real problem (and solution) isn't somewhere in the middle? In some ways many of us seem to think birds are eating all the breadcrumbs intended to lead us back to reality.

Perhaps we should begin by agreeing that sex isn't bad. It is part of our biological makeup to ensure the human race is continuing to attract new runners. (Repeat it to yourselves a couple of times: SEX. ISN'T. BAD).

I think the problem really isn't S-E-X. It isn't that girls and boys (and any combination therein) are engaging in an activity that we don't even want them to know about. I don't even think it's about which is worse, repression or expression. I think it has more to do with maturity and security. And the quest for maturity shouldn't end just because we've reached the age of it - maturity that is.

We might all agree that a 12-year-old probably isn't mature enough to fully deal with the emotions that come with sex. It doesn't mean that he or she won't initiate the deed, nor think to themselves that they are fully prepared and they know what they are doing. All one must do is transport ourselves back in time to just about their age. If your memory hasn't failed you, and you can admit it, you we're once just as clueless.

But do we ever consider that women and men put off by public breast feeding probably aren't terribly mature either? Same goes for the people who can't turn off the televisions without doing their part to make sure you can't make the same choice for yourselves. I don't think I have the energy to discuss all those people who put their own need for satisfaction first.

We all know (and accept) that our society makes rules that govern what it collectively deems to be a standard ethic. As times change these mores also evolve. Sometimes the ideals seem to conflict. It seems the only thing we all typically agree on is that adults cannot have sex with children. Otherwise, just about everything else is gray area. Is it good? Is it bad? The only thing for sure is that it's a tough call.

Brittney Spears, Bratz Dolls, rap and hip-hop, provocative clothes, fellatio and cunnilingus clubs (in junior high school) ... we think that the world's going to hell in a handbasket. Yet there are many who say it's pretty much the same now only different. Kids are no worse today than 25 years ago. They grow up, the grow out of it. Life moves on.

And every moment of every day I'm stuck right in the middle.

I have known people whose parents encouraged them (as teenagers) to have sex when they felt ready. They allowed them to bring their significant others home, rationalizing in a time -- a decade after Son of Sam -- that it was safer for them to have sex at home, under their roof, than in a parked car on the sly.

Although I'm not offering empirical data, it has been my observation that those kids fared no better in long-term relationships than those whose parents wouldn't let them date until they were 17 and refused to accept any behavior other than abstinence (whether their kids heeded the warnings or not). And isn't that what we're going for? To make sure that our kids' early experiences ultimately lead them to make good choices in mates later on so that they don't have to deal with divorce court or domestic violence.

I can honestly say I have NO idea what is best course of action here, or if there even is a best course. I happen to be modest by nature, so my feeling is that sex should be a personal expression. The details, especially. I also think that the only way sex is fulfilling is when each person really is safe rather than just feeling safe: when each person knows where they stand (so to speak) when they are laid bare (literally and figuratively). Honesty and maturity is where I think the security part comes from. How we get there, I suppose, will always be an individual journey.

Perhaps, though, as we're working on teaching our kids to understand how precious they are and how wonderful sex is, maybe we have to work on our own maturity. Maybe we parents have to realize, again, what's really harmful before we label everything with a skull and cross-bones.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Stream of consciousness

Dear Annabel,

These last few weeks have been unbelievable.

Somewhere between the time we packed you off in the car one morning, dropped you off at "school" and picked you up that evening you had turned into a child. We keep calling you baby, but it's only wishful thinking now.

In the span of what seems like six hours, but must have been more in the neighborhood of six weeks, you relinquished your babydoll voice with all it's velvety sweetness, four-word sentences and lovely uni-terpretations.

When you phoned your Ama, she didn't recognize your new grown-up tone.

Your thoughts now come in a gush instead of a trickle.

MOMMY: How was school, baby?

ANNABEL: I'm not a baby. I'm a big girl. Sometimes I'm a kid. Jacob put the rice in his mouth and Marcia said: 'No putting rice in your mouth.' She wasn't happy that he was taking rice out of the table. She said: Don't take rice out of my table please.' You ONLY eat rice that's food. Not shovel rice. I said that. But Kaylee wasn't there. MAD-A-LINE was there but Kaylee wasn't there. She had to sweep or something. I didn't know.

MOMMY: How about your other teacher, Pat?

ANNABEL: Pat? Pat wasn't there.

MOMMY: Pat wasn't there? Wasn't she there helping you with art projects?

ANNABEL: Pat? She? Oh. I though you meant the Pat who is funny. Sorry. She was there. But I didn't know. Did Pat who is funny bring back Pinky and the Brain, Brain, Brain? I wanna watch that sometime. I think that would be a GOOD idea. Who's donna get me some possipils later? We dot to det som possipils. I like purple and red and oran ones. And green M&Ms. Oh we don't need them. Silly me.

It's not only your words that have grown stronger. You whole body is taking a new shape. Your arms are filling out again in this cyclical bulking up and slimming down metamorphosis of childhood. You are noticeably heavier in my arms. Your grasp is stronger. Picking you up isn't as easy, and I find myself trying to negotiate more "down time."

Whereas your temper tantrums have increased in velocity so has your ability to understand the give and take of the parent-child relationship. More and more you are teaching yourself to calm down.

More than anything, however, it is your observation of the world passing by our window as we commute here and there that makes me want to hold you and press you into me until we are one person again.

An example:
Counting on the moon

I want the moon, Mama.

This moon is not full, mama, it's dust round. A moon is a moon when it has sides.

We have to fly up there and take it down. Bring it home to my room. It would be so happy with me. We could count and sing songs and you could read to us. He would be my friend, too.

Okay everybody, let's count.

One, TWO, three, four, five, sis, seben, eight, nine TEN, elephen, twelb, firteen, sisteen, sebenteen, sebenteen, eighteen, TWENTYTEEN.

I'm not sure how many times I told you I loved you tonight, Ittybit.
But I'm sure there must be room for one more.

I love you, boo.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Another piece of the puzzle

hide in shower curtain

Every time the news of the day is about a senseless tragedy where children are involved I feel helpless.

I feel as if I am in the minority of people in my profession in that I believe knowledge isn't power; mainly because I don't think the kind of reporting done today aids in true knowledge.

When the headlines read "10 children shot in Amish school, five dead," and days later the talking heads are still spinning off stories of sensational detail and opining about the lack of safety in the nations schools, I can't help but hang my head in desperation.

What no one seems to mention is how RARE these tragedies are or even try to put it in perspective. According to NISMART-2, a study released in October 2002, which researched the year 1999, an estimated 797,500 children were reported missing in the United States; 58,200 children were abducted by non-family members; 115 children were the victims of the most serious, long-term non-family abductions called "stereotypical kidnappings"; and 203,900 children were the victims of family abductions.

Let me repeat: Stereotypical kidnappings numbered 115 out of 797,500 children reported missing. That's less than one percent.

Of course, no one wants ANY children to be the victims of abduction or violence of any kind in school or at home but I can't help but think that by overreacting to such news, painting it with the broad brush of missunderstanding, we are trading one horror story for another.

We are willingly signing up for a life guided by fear and anxiety.

This week we're talking about the horror of two men walking into a schools, planning on doing unspeakable acts, and turning it into a shooting gallery before taking their own own lives. We surmise that the system must have failed, and to prevent another tragedy, we have to ACT now. We have to make something -- anything -- illegal. We have to lock down our schools, never let our children out of our sight and we have to get more cops, more jails, more walls.

Now I realize we can't throw up our hands and say: We can't keep ourselves safe so why bother. But by the same leveling of the sword we can't pull our kids out of school, hole ourselves up in our homes and wait for the apocalypse. Nor should we make this a school issue alone.

We have to understand that laws and enforcement can't prevent isolated instances from happening. We can't just rail against the scum of society, as if punishment were the answer. We have to fix problems that helped make the situation exist. We all have a part to play, even if that role is merely to be a part of the dialogue. We have to ensure that lawmakers are looking beyond prisons and into social services, mental health services and appropriate interventions.

Acting appropriately = not overreacting.

Overreacting does nothing to keep us safe, but everything to keep us in a state of perpetual fear and panic.

We need to TURN OFF our televisions sets and start writing letters demanding responsible coverage. We need to demand our elected officials pay more than lipservice to the problems. We have to demand reality and not its perception. We should accept no less.

We need perspective that actually gives us some, and not merely scares us into thinking the problem is bigger and more widespread. We need to be told (and listen to) the truth. We must seek it out instead of spreading fear.

Of course we can't let young children out of our sight; they can't even cross the street safely. But we also have to teach our sons and daughters to respect themselves, we have to teach them to be actively involved in the solution and not merely potential victims. We have to make them ready to be on their own and contribute the society we want them to have.

But we must do all these things without scaring them and without scaring ourselves. NOT every stranger is dangerous. Most are not, and just because it's hard to tell the difference sometimes does not justify the vilification of our fellow humans.

Now more than ever we need each other, and we have to get off our moral high horses. We have to realize we are not all cut from the same cloth, and that "if we just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps we can all be OK" is a lie. We have to understand that there are people unable to do that either by brain chemistry or upbringing or lack of upbringing. We can only expect, if we ignore the plight of the poor and the diseased, we will be inviting more of the destruction to bemoan.

I can't help but think we have to learn more about the crimes, more about the illnesses and more about the treatments before we build any more prisons or any more private schools that segregate us further. We have to make sure that we are giving the best care to all our citizenry, not just the ones we deem deserve it.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Cover ups

Whenever I have an inkling that there will be picture taking at a function I try to remember to apply mascara. It comes from a time way back when I used to obsessively pick out my eyelashes.

It started when I was in the fourth grade. I had just been placed in a new -- Catholic -- school and while trying to make friends with the popular gaggle of girls one of them scoffed at me when she noticed a gunky buildup of sleep crud in between my lashes. I became self conscious, and in the years that followed -- and throughout high school and college -- tension would invariably lead my hand toward my lids where I would absently scrape away at the offending matter. Gaps began appearing in the lash line along with angry redness.

I'm not sure when it stopped, really, because the tension is still there and my hand travels up to twirl the lashes even as I type this, but I don't have the same urge to pull them out the way I use to. The gaps have been filled in and the lashes returned to something I can only imagine is how they would naturally be had I not pruned them mercilessly in the first place.

I was thinking about this recently because a friend has taken to commenting on the length of my lashes, and how she never noticed how long they were before that very moment. She kids me that the wind from their fluttering messes up her hair and threatens to knock her off her feet.

It seems odd to me, that comment.

In my mind, I am still that little kid; all gaps and gawk. I am still the young adult, who without makeup, disappeared into the whiteness of the northeast winters. When tired I look as bad as I feel. Even a gruff (but beloved) typist from my first "real" job, a woman who wouldn't seem the least bit fixated on cosmetic alterations, told me to put on makeup: "your eyes look like two piss holes in the snow."

And there I am, worrying about appearances.

So it is with this in mind that I look around and see all the things I am not doing -- all the neglected chores that held my interest for seconds (if at all) are piling up and scoffing at me. I wonder, am I missing out? These are all things I never wanted to do really -- mowing the weeds in the garden, tending the yard all overgrown, sifting through office clutter piling up -- and yet the compulsion is still there, eating at my core.

The need to take pride in the place I live, to enjoy the outdoors (in the daylight) only reminds me that I am tired. To accomplish anything seems impossible. I wonder where the energy will come from? Where has it gone?

There are so many things I don't want to do. Never cared to do. And yet these are the things that make us feel a part of the world: painting the house, planting the garden, cleaning out the crap and starting fresh; all things that give us purpose and satisfaction. In expending energy, we get energy in return. Or so I believe.

And yet, most days, all I want to do is sleep, even if I rarely do. I just want to crawl back under the covers and close my eyes.

I suppose I'm still trying to figure out who I am, and worrying that what I'm really trying to do is project who I want to be in Annabel's eyes before she has a chance to decide for herself. (A conclusion that will likely be accurate but not how I'd wish to be perceived.)

Of course, my fear is huge, and chances are mascara's just not going to cover it.