Monthly Archives: May 2009

Cain and his brother

            Among the pearls of wisdom I wish to impart to my eldest child is the following: when you are among the smallest in your class, hyper-verbal, overly sensitive to other people’s opinion of you, and weigh only slightly more than your mother’s flip-flips, it is not particularly smart to taunt another child, particularly one who resembles a Mack Truck with hair. 

           Wait.  I don’t have to teach Zach that lesson.  His younger brother is taking care of it for me, one injury at a time.

            Zachary, you see, has a damned road map to his brother’s buttons, and he delights in nothing so much as pushing them. 

            “You can’t play with those,” he snaps, to which Benjamin replies, “I want it!”

            “You’re a baby,” he taunts, to which Benjamin replies, “I not a baby; you a baby.”

            “I had it first and I’m going to put you in jail and take away all your food and lock you up and then you’ll be dead,” he yells.  At which point Benjamin pokes Zachary in the eye with the stick for playing the triangle.  (The triangle is no longer playable in our home, due to the confiscation of said stick.)

            J frets about this, but I reassure him that it is normal.  Siblings fight, I tell him.  We have to let them work it out themselves, I sagely intone.

            Lately, however, I am starting to think maybe it is beyond acceptable in our house.  It seems we get an awful lot of surprised stares as Zachary comes into preschool with yet another black eye or lump on his head.  “How did you get that bruise?” the teacher asks.  It seems that by this point she could cut out the chit-chat and just ask, “What did your brother do to you this time?”

            (Although, in fairness to Benjamin, the first black eye was totally Zachary’s fault, as he fell off a stool while playing Go Fish and hit himself on the corner of a table.  Go Fish is now considered a contact sport in our house.)

            Zach whales on his brother plenty, don’t get me wrong.  While it is usually Zach starting it and Ben finishing it, sometimes it is the other way around.  And while Benjamin acts out of frustration, Zach has the finely tuned cruelty of an older sibling. 

            I worry because Benjamin is getting in the habit of resorting to physical violence, which does not help our efforts to keep him from shoving the other children in the preschool.  I worry because it feels like kids shouldn’t end up in tears this frequently.  And I really worry because one day, one of these kids could end up really hurt.

            God help us if I ever decide I need to start blow-drying my hair.

            So, I guess I’m asking you all: at what point is it out of hand?  When do we have to worry?  How much fighting is normal between siblings?

            In the meantime, rest assured: we never leave Lilah alone in the room with them.  And if we do, we arm her with a toy school bus.

Announcing

My brand new book review blog, Edge of the Page.  Please go check out my first review (and let me know if there’s anything you want me to review.)  Thanks to Brigid for the blog name.

I think the apostrophe should come after the S

            Friday was the Mothers’ Day celebration at the boys’ preschool, which meant that I scored myself a heart pin with rhinestones, a beaded necklace that Benjamin continually told me he had made for me while at the same time insisting he wanted it, a card Ben’s teachers had made and a card on which Zach had written “I love you Mommy, Zachary,” a keychain with my eldest child’s name on it, and a puppet that was supposed to look like me.  That last was wearing an awful lot of jewelry, so it was really Bling Emily, and Zach’s teacher confided that he had informed her, “My mommy doesn’t wear jewelry.”  I guess he was hoping I’d take the hint and learn to accessorize.

            All in all, a mighty fine haul. 

            The bummer about the day is that the school combines Teacher Appreciation Day with Mothers’ Day, as though they can just sort of glom all the women in these children’s lives together.  The “Buddies” get their own day, the “Grand-pals” get their own day, but mothers and teachers don’t really do all that much, so we have to share our day.

            The first part of the event is an assembly for Shabbat and Teacher Appreciation.  Come to think of it, that means the mothers are actually sharing the day with both the teachers and God, who frankly gets plenty of attention as it is.  At any rate, the Rabbi and the other Rabbi were up front, leading a large crowd of mothers, children and teachers in the service, although “leading” is a dubious term when dealing with a hundred preschoolers.  Zach sat next to me and Ben sat on my lap, an arrangement that made me rather nervous, given the hit-or-miss nature of the child’s potty training.  Next to me there was an empty seat.  Gil, a little friend of Zach’s, sat on the other side, continually turning about and craning his neck to look at the entrance.

            “Your mommy is coming,” I told him.  “It’s just hard to find parking out there.”  I looked back at the entrance, noticing a family seated a little behind me to my right.  All four children were there, as were both of their parents.  There was, however, no mother.  Because these children, although they have two parents, have no mother. 

            I don’t remember how I felt about events like these when I was a preschooler, sitting there without a mother while those around me cuddled in the maternal lap.  As I grew older, though, I was bitter about the assumption that everyone has a loving mother and a father.  I felt marginalized by the institutionalization of the family model.  This past Friday, I wondered how those four children felt at the Mothers’ Day assembly.  Was it different for them than it was for me because they have (to all appearances) a happy home and two parents, even if neither of those parents is a woman? 

            Sure enough, a few minutes in, Gil’s mother arrived, and he settled down, assured that he had the Mommy required for the Mothers’ Day event.

             It is not uncommon for me, this vacillation between assuming a certain status in my children’s lives because I am their mother and resenting the whole Cult of Traditional Families that oozes through every event I attend.  I can’t even define “mother,” because the truth is that there are biological mothers and adoptive mothers and foster mothers and people who mother who are not female and bad mothers and do they get to be called mothers because they aren’t mothering but they begot the child.  Yet I am such a plain-vanilla, easily-defined-as mother that I am loathe to give up the built-in recognition for the sake of the children with families that are not so clear-cut, such as the one that tore me into little pieces.

              Who shows up for Mothers’ Day when there is no mother?  In an ideal world, is there always someone mothering?  And what the hell does that mean, exactly?  Was my abusive step-mother closer to a mother than either of those two Dads sitting a little behind me to my right, simply by virtue of being a woman?  That sure as shit doesn’t make any sense.

               They occupied a moment, these doubts, and then we moved on to the brunch downstairs, where I got all teary in Zachary’s four-year-old room as he sang the sappy songs with the hand motions and in Benjamin’s two-year-old room as he stared blankly at the ceiling while all the girls sang the sappy songs with the hand motions.  And when we got home, I went to get my hair cut (it looks fabulous – check out my About page) as a little Mothers’ Day treat for myself.  After all, I have no mother to buy for and no mother who will think of me on this day.

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                Most of the time, I wander about, any old mama in a sea of other mamas.  On Saturday, we went to another event.  I had been invited because I am apparently part of the New Media (a relief, since the old media doesn’t want me).  I am getting solicitations to review crap here on my blog, despite the fact that anyone looking at this place for twelve seconds will realize that I don’t even carry ads.  I won’t try to sell shit to my readers, but I am more than happy to bring my family to your promotional concert, because I’m cheap as hell and times are hard. 

               We arrived late because we have three kids and simply going to the toilet and putting on shoes before leaving takes fifteen minutes.  The concert had already begun, so I sat in the back in the shade with the kids where I could assess whether my new haircut was within the category of all the other mothers about my age.  Betcha didn’t know I was so insecure.

               The singer was doing a little number about a kid who eats way too much ice cream, resulting in the requisite giggles from the under-seven crowd.  (And yes, I did like the songs, mostly because I am sick to death of children’s musicians who seem intent upon appealing to the adults as well, while Debi Derryberry sings songs the children actually understand without asking 72 questions.  They gave us a CD on the way out, for which I am incredibly grateful, as my children have kept me on a steady Peter and the Wolf, Dame Edna version diet for the past two weeks.)  There were chocolate covered bananas and fruit-kabobs, all meant to tie in to the theme of the Flying Banana puppet that Debi conversed with throughout the concert, which was really much less annoying that it sounds, although both of my sons now want a banana puppet.

               The whole thing was impossibly cute and well-rehearsed.  Except.  There was one moment, right near the end, when Debi mentioned something about “your moms and dads.”  We all do it.  Hell, I even do it, and I, of all people, ought to be more sensitive to the fact that not everyone is the Cleavers.  No one would have thought twice, but that perky little performer in her orange pants and teal top caught herself.  “And your grown-ups,” she added, stumbling a bit as she said, “We have so many wonderfully diverse families here today.”

               You had me at “hello,” lady.  You want to know how to get props here at Wheels on the Bus?  All it takes is recognition that one size does not fit all. 

              As we headed back to the car, the kids were worn out and whiny.  Lilah was wearing strawberries all over her face, and Zach had a drip from a chocolate-covered banana straight down his shirt as he clutched the gift bag and the card with the singer’s signature.  And Benjamin insisted, “I want Peter Wolf.”

               The definition of a mother?  I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I reached over and turned on Dame Edna.

Name that blog

Yesterday, I reached in my back pocket and pulled out a British coin.  That’s because I hadn’t worn those trousers since we lived in London.  Which is my way of saying I am fitting into clothes that I last wore before I got pregnant with Lilah.  Either the breastfeeding is starting to pay off or the flu I had two weeks ago had some side benefits.

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I am going to start a book review blog.  It’s going to be super cool because I will be writing about books in much the same way I write about everything else.  So, it might be just a little irreverent or edgy and certainly won’t be anything you’d find in the NY Times (sad to say, because I’d love to be found in the NY Times).  But, I need a name for this blog.  So, please, tell me what to call my book review blog.  Think of a kickin’ title, because I suck at titles (except for the article I wrote about Dreiser’s anxiety about the theater, which I titled “Performance Anxiety” — that was a good title.)

Potty training

            There, I’ve said it.  Commence running screaming from the room. 

            People can bitch all they want about breastfeeding, but I’d rather breastfeed twice and skip potty training altogether.  If anyone wants to trade, I am more than happy to wet nurse your baby for a year if you would please just come convince my kid to poop in the proper receptacle.

            Any takers?  Yeah, that’s what I thought.

            The first one potty trained early because the orderliness of it all appealed to him.  This second one?  He’s been peeing in the potty for a year, but he continues to do it in his pants if we don’t take him to the potty on time.  Worse still, we can’t just put him in underpants because the kid simply poops there.

            He will not poop on the potty.

            It doesn’t help matters that I have a baby person to care for so I can’t exactly follow him around watching for signs of pooping in his pants.  Half the reason we got an au pair is to help train this freaking child.

            He’d like to stand to pee all the time, but we will never train him to poop if we allow that, so we sit him down on the little pot.  I think whoever designed those damned potties did so with an eye to tormenting me.  Do they really think that little ledge is going to keep the pee in?  Come on, people, half the toddlers have the type of equipment that points up when they pee.

            So, I find myself hovering over him, admonishing, “Benjamin, pay attention to where your p-nis is,” which, come to think of it, is probably a life lesson in and of itself.

Note: I wrote this last week, and three days later, he was wearing underpants all the time.  “I a big boy now,” he tells me, which translates to, “most of the time I can hold in my poop until you put me in a pull-up for naptime.”

Kindergarten homework?

A friend and I are working on an opinion piece about homework in the early elementary school grades.  I need your help.  PLEASE leave a comment if you have any input you are willing to share, including:

- personal anecdotes (parents and teachers, as well as from your own childhood)

- opinions

- information about how this differs across locales

- articles to read on the topic

If you leave information about your personal experiences, please indicate the type of school (rural, urban, wealthy, struggling, private, public, geography, size, etc.).  We will not use your anecdotes without getting your permission first and we would never violate your privacy or steal your words.  But, we are interested in hearing all the arguments out there before we make our own.

Thank you in advance for your input!

Scrap Kins

You all left such fantastic comments on my post last week.  This is the first of several replies I’ll be posting over the next few weeks.

          When I was eighteen, I dated a guy from the first floor of my dorm.  Actually, I dated quite a number of guys from quite a number of floors in quite a number of dorms.  It’s amazing how much of the freshman class a girl can get through if she dates each one for only two-and-a-half minutes.  They coined the term “serially monogamous” just for me.

            This particular guy was very sweet, so the relationship may have lasted as long as three or maybe four minutes.  Neither of us thought we were finding our soul-mate, and we broke up with absolutely no ill-will.  We continued on friendly-like throughout college, bumping up against one another doing theater or taking classes together.  We were both in Viking History, a small seminar, and then in Greek and Roman Mythology, a lecture that had about twice as many students as my graduating class from high school.  Brian and I often sat together in the lecture, and we joked that maybe we could make a major of Mythologies From Long Dead Societies.  Brian, it turned out, actually did major in that, although he called it “Folklore.”

            Now, a Folklore major may be the only major at Penn that is more useless than an English major, and you can rest assured that Brian got plenty of ribbing for choosing to major in Where the Wild Things Are while all his friends were preparing for careers in investment banking over at Wharton.  After college, he kicked around a bit here and there, and I’m sure all our friends on Wall Street tittered a little about humanities majors as they tucked into their six-figure incomes.

            We all know what half those Wharton graduates are doing right now, which is inserting their thumbs up their butts on the unemployment lines.  But, what is Brian doing?

            Brian has created an entire cast of lovable little monsters named the Scrap Kins.  These little furballs live in a recycling center, and they are the masters of the whole Reuse ethos.  They build their lives out of the crap you and I throw away.  Brian takes his Scrap Kins on the road to schools and parties and other events where children are likely to turn up.  He does art projects with the kids and uses his monsters to empower children to take responsibility for their own eco-living. 

            Brian, in other words, may be the only Folklore major in the history of Penn who actually is using what he learned in college. 

            So, when Lillian asks whether part of my angst is that I am subscribing to values that hold fame and beauty up above all else, the answer is “no.”  Brian, I suspect, is probably not about to start his own foundation with his personal wealth from teaching eco-art, and he looks about his age, which is to say my age.  But, he is using his talents to affect our world positively.  He is living a meaningful life.  That is the standard to which I am holding myself, and I am disappointed in myself. 

Brian has t-shirts and other Scrap Kins stuff for sale on Zazzle and Etsy.  If you are thinking of buying a gift for a child, the stuff he has is adorable, he’ll bend over backwards to make sure you are happy, and you will be supporting an artist who is trying to save the world our kids have to live in.  Please, go look at what he has to offer and think about whether you have any upcoming birthday parties to buy for.  Normally, I don’t review products on this blog because if I were getting something out of it I would feel like I was using my friends, but I asked Brian if I could write about him.  The work he is doing is so extraordinary and I believe in it so fully that I want to make sure you all know about it.