Monthly Archives: December 2009

A letter to the peeps in Copenhagen

Dear World Leaders,

So, I hear you people have all gotten together in Copenhagen for a little retreat to talk over a couple of things having to do with luxuries like air and water.  Since you are all, like, People and you are all leaders of more People, I was under the mistaken impression that your primary concern is, you know, People.

If that were the case, however, you would realize that, if we don’t take some serious fucking action, People will be extinct soon.  It may seem that I am exaggerating, except it turns out that all species depend upon their environment for the basic materials of life.  Shit like food and water, not to mention oxygen.  And, bizarre little species that we are, People seem to be doing our very best to make sure that the very materials we rely upon are completely destroyed in short order.

I know that you world leader folks think all the stuff you are arguing over is so very important.  I have read high-flown terms like “matter of principles.”  You know what?  I don’t give a rat’s ass in a bikini about principles at this point.  I want air to breathe.

So, get over yourselves.  Stop the pissing contest that uses the earth as a target.  You are world leaders.  Your ONE responsibility is to lead the world in saving itself.  Anything else you do will not matter one damned bit because there will be no people left to enjoy whatever you have managed to accomplish.

If it helps at all, I am sure that you all have very large penises, even the women.  Now that we have established that, can we move on to, you know, stopping Armageddon?

Thanks dudes.

Emily Rosenbaum

My bed is in a small town

It should not have come as a surprise that it gets dark earlier in New Jersey than it does in Los Angeles, yet somehow this phenomenon caught me off-guard.  Even after experiencing the pitch-dark London winter afternoons, I somehow had forgotten that moving north moves up December evenings rather dramatically.  It is dark here early.

In Los Angeles, I never noticed the nighttime like I do here.  There were streetlights and store lights and so many homes close together with car doors slamming and teenagers laughing.  Night was never really night because there were always sounds and sights to break into it.

Here, in this little town, they have night.  Real night, disturbed by relatively few streetlights.  The Christmas lights on most of the houses break up the visual silence right now, but the cars are few and far between after 7:00.  People are home, and there is no place to go.

I am living in a small town.

Not since I was (as they say) knee high to a grasshopper have I lived in a place like this.  I spent my teen years in a busy suburb that at the time seemed dead to me, so I set off for an urban campus and never looked back.  For almost twenty years I have lived in or very close to cities, as long as the likes of Chapel Hill and Charlottesville can be called cities.  They can be, I think, because they have that intense walkability, where ice cream shops and bars are all a quick stroll at the end of a busy day.

It bears repeating: this is a very small town.  There are no bars or, come to think of it, ice cream shops.  There aren’t any coffee shops, book stores, toy stores, Gymborees, Gaps, sporting goods shops, or gelaterias.  Of course, those things are all a quick drive away, either one town over or just up the highway.  We are not, after all, in the Himalayas.  It is weird, setting out along the highway and entering the world of commerce, because here in town there are the following businesses: one sandwich shop, one restaurant, one car repair shop, one hair salon, one dentist, and one Lionel train enthusiast store.  That’s it.  People who live here have chosen a life without quick access to the flotsam and jetsam of American commercial life, and so they come home at night and stay at home.

Urban life affords a certain anonymity that I had come to take for granted.  Not so here.  Dropping Zach off at kindergarten the first day, the aide looked up and smiled.  “Oh, you just moved in down the street from me!”  Recalling the previous day’s bike ride, which featured me hollering repeatedly at Benjamin to stay to the side of the road, I tried my best to smile in return.

After that first kindergarten drop-off, I drove the 27 seconds down the road to Benjamin’s preschool.  If we buy in this town, we hope to buy closer to the elementary school so that I can walk that short distance.  Yes, I mean to use the definite article here, as there is only one elementary school.  And two preschools.  Dropping off Benjamin, I see many of the same mothers I have seen just moments before outside the elementary school.  Because they are almost all mothers.

I took Benjamin into his classroom.  His preschool teacher smiled at me.  “You just moved in down the street from me,” she remarked.  Fuck.  Note to self: stop yelling at the kids in public.

We have chosen this town because it allows us to slow down.  Despite being an hour from New York City, this town is a throwback to a quieter time.  There is a town Christmas tree lighting, featuring Santa arriving on the fire truck.  A week later, as a nod to the changing times, the town has a menorah lighting.  Mid-morning, if I am out driving or walking, the dog-walkers and joggers wave, just in case I am someone they know.  Across the street from our rental house is a boy from Zachary’s kindergarten class.  It is charming, but I fear it will start to chafe.

No, I know it will start to chafe.  There will be a long period of discomfort, after the novelty has worn off, when I realize I have intentionally denied myself the energy and vitality of the urban life.  Yet, I believe, I truly do, that once we get past that period, we will find something less glittery than urban conveniences that is nonetheless worth putting up with everybody knowing our business.

Sorry things are so spotty around here…

…and that I have been such a loser about reading your blogs.  I seem to have misplaced my identity.  It may be in one of the boxes I haven’t yet unpacked.  I’ll be posting as often as I can, and hopefully things will get a little more stable soon.

Eleven more days and counting

I do my best not to lie to my children.   If a shot is going to hurt, I acknowledge that fact.  If they want to know about sex, I give them the straightforward – albeit simplified – response.  If they see pictures of unrest in Iran on the cover of a magazine in the grocery store, I try to explain the importance of fair elections.

And when Zach came home from his Jewish preschool talking about God, I was honest then, too.  “Many people believe that God exists,” I told him.  “I do not.”

“Well, I believe in God,” he told me.

“That’s fine.  A lot of people do.  I just don’t.”  To be frank, it made me uncomfortable.  I am not at all on the fence on this one.  I am quite sure that God does not exist.  And I do not like my kids being indoctrinated into a belief that I do not hold.  However, I made the choice to send them to a Jewish preschool because it is their culture, and I get that part of that package is a discussion of the Big Guy.  So be it.  It’s definitely not the worst thing he could pick up in preschool.

Now that we are here in New Jersey, however, he is in a public kindergarten.  With children of different faiths.  But mostly children of one faith.  The predominate one here in the U.S.  In the middle of December.

So my kid is coming home from school believing in Santa Claus.  This is a hell of a lot worse than believing in God, I must say.  At least that’s a belief that fits into the general arc of my own culture.  Santa Claus is big problem on several levels.

I think even if we were Christian, I would not want my kids spending this solemn and holy day thinking about some dude in a red velvet suit.  As a member of a minority faith, the Santa Mania that grips our culture in the month of December is enough to cause a minor seizure.  People in diners lean over to ask my children if they have been good and then to promise that stockings they haven’t hung and trees we do not have will be laden with presents brought by some fictional character who breaks into our house in the middle of the night.  Everywhere we go, we are accosted by guys with pillow bellies and crusty fake beards, wanting to grab my kids and promise them whatever goodies they might desire.

Here’s a little tip, people.  Not everyone celebrates Christmas. You are promising gifts and festivities to small people that they will not receive.  And, even worse in my book, this Santa Mania holds that good boys and girls get whatever they desire.  Well, here’s another news flash.  Santa brings the good shit to the rich kids.  Poor parents or even those who are just struggling a little bit can’t deliver on the promise, which means that their kids learn a terrific lesson – Santa is fundamentally unfair and discriminatory.  Fan-fucking-tastic.

Today, my child will participate in a Polar Express party at school.  I do not mind this so much, as they are giving equal time to Kwanzaa and Chanukah, and they are making it about bringing a book and a cultural tradition come to life.  The teacher has been careful to present Santa as a part of one culture.  However, since the majority of the kids are Christian, they are all blathering on about Santa in every free moment.

“Santa’s not real,” I told Zachary.  “But you shouldn’t tell that to the other children, because he is a part of the Christian tradition and they may believe in him.  A lot of people do believe in him.”

“Well, I believe in him,” my son replied.  We had this conversation about eight times before I decided that, hell, at least my kid wouldn’t be the one ruining Santa for the other children.  I could take comfort in the fact that I had told him the truth and he had chosen not to believe it.

“Why hasn’t anyone seen Santa?” he asked.

“Well, people who believe in Santa say that he only comes when you are sleeping.”

“But what if I pretend to be asleep?  Then I’ll see him.”

“People who believe in Santa say that he can tell if you are just pretending.”

“Well, I believe in Santa and if I am good he’ll bring me something in my stocking.”

“You don’t have a stocking,” I pointed out.

“Oh, yes I do.  I have one I made in art class in school.  And Santa is going to fill it on Christmas.”

“Honey, we don’t celebrate Christmas.”

“But I believe in Santa Claus, so he is going to come.”

I lost my whole resolve not to fight a losing battle.  Because now the poor kid was going to think he was being punished by Santa Claus for some infraction of the maddeningly oblique “Be Good” rule.  “Zach, Santa Claus is not real.  But don’t mention that to your friends at school.”

“Maybe you could pretend to be Santa and if I am good you could put something into the stocking like money or a present.”  Oh, good grief.  It is tiring enough dealing with the eight nights of Chanukah, now he wants me to pretend to be some offensively commercial figment of another religion’s imagination?

Come the twenty-fifth, we’re planning on trying not to mention that this day is actually Christmas.  Maybe he just won’t notice that Santa didn’t come because he won’t realize that this is the big day.  No matter what, however, my husband and I are really looking forward to January.

Settling in

Many of you have asked how we are doing with the move.  We’re OK.  Benjamin is a little confused by the fact that both his preschool in Los Angeles and his preschool here have a Noah and a Ryan, but otherwise he seems to be adjusting nicely.  J is enjoying work thus far, and Lilah, other than the increased eczema, doesn’t care where she is as long as I am there with her.  I’m OK, too.  I’ve unpacked some things, I am carving out a little writing time, I have joined the town’s organic co-op.  In fact, we’re all doing well except for Zachary.

That’s because Zachary has no friends.  The children at school all ignore him, refusing to speak to him.  They also tease him mercilessly, mostly because they are all twice as tall as he is, a year older, and a different religion.  He has been sentenced to a lifetime of loneliness and isolation.

Of course, according to his teacher, the other kids are calling to him to come play with them and he is joining in, laughing.  There are plenty of other five-year-olds in the Kindergarten, he is not the only Jewish child, and he is all smiles and chatter throughout the day.

I appear to be getting somewhat conflicting reports.  While Zachary is always happy after school, he tells a dire tale of Kindergarten Pariah-ship and misery.  His teacher seems to think he is doing fine.  I’ve known him long enough to know that the truth is probably somewhere in between, but I have to take what he says seriously, because it reflects his reality, even if the rest of us cannot see it.  Whereas Benjamin hustles off to school with his pink sparkly Dora backpack, completely unconcerned about the opinions of his peers, Zachary takes things personally and awfully hard.

We’re all hardwired a little differently.

BST

My husband has taken to churning our own ice cream.  He does this both as homage to the fifth food group and in order to provide a treat that all the children can eat.  We make it without eggs for the oldest and youngest and with honey instead of sugar for the middle child.  It is time consuming and expensive, but it is a labor of love.

The children adore it.  Well, the boys adore it.  Lilah doesn’t quite see the point.  Zachary, on the other hand, takes tiny little bites, making his bowl last at least fifteen minutes.  Benjamin, although he takes enormous bites, can make his bowl last that long, too.  This is because he gets up in the middle to pee.  By the time he returns to the room, he has forgotten why he was coming back to the table.  He sees magna tiles on the floor.  He gets agitated because his building of two hours before has been destroyed.  He decides to build a new one, this time a rocket with some sort of side pod on it.  It requires Tinker Toys for scaffolding.

“Benjamin, are you going to finish this ice cream?” I ask him.  He completely ignores me.  “Benjamin, please answer me.  Can I have the rest of your ice cream?”

“No!”

“Then please come finish it.”

“No!  I’m building something.”

“Then I am going to take it away.”

“No!”

“Look, child,” I say.  “Either you are eating ice cream or you are building something.  The ice cream is turning to soup.”  To him, of course, there is no earthly reason why the ice cream should not exist in a state of suspended animation while he pursues his goal of the moment.  He will return to the ice cream when he is ready, and it will be just as he left it.

Such is the thought process of a three-year-old.

To him, there is nothing of importance other than whatever is currently of importance.  Sometimes, it is endearing, such as when he constructs an imaginary world of boats and dangerous creatures out of the cushions on the couch.  Other times, it is life-threatening, as when he turns to comment upon the door of the house we are passing, forgetting the Golden Rule: when riding a bike, always face forward. In fact, we try to encourage facing forward as sort of a goal for him.  When walking through a room, face forward to watch for walls instead of looking behind to see where your sister is.  When descending the stairs, face forward to gauge the distance to the next step, rather than turning to tell us all about the possible existence of dragons in the attic.  When standing at the toilet, well, kiddo, please, please, just face forward.

I clear the melted ice cream, causing him to shriek and run to the table.  I give back the ice cream.  He sits down.  Then, he starts to wail.

“I need more ice cream!”  Sometimes, the ice cream is on Eastern Standard Time.

Thirty-six minutes later

It is ten past five.  The children have been more or less tending to themselves for almost two hours.  I provided a snack, I helped with a poop-related crisis, and I took over a harmonica by eminent domain.  But, otherwise, I have left them to their own devices.  The boys are using the time to wrestle, which is considerably better than the bitter fighting we saw in the early afternoon at the playground.  Lilah is making it her business to pull off the shelves all the books I have managed to get unpacked.

And there are toys everywhere.  The mess is far too advanced to expect them to clean it up themselves.  Well, maybe not.  I mean, they certainly are capable of doing it.  But it requires me to supervise and nag far more than I care to do this evening.

I am writing.  I am revising an essay so that these people can continue their unbroken string of rejections of my work.  I am making progress as children tumble around me and black beans cook on the stove.

When I finish, I send it off to a friend for feedback.  I have bought my writing time at the expense of needing to clean up once the kids are in bed.  I move on to this blog post, which gets interrupted around the second paragraph when the wrestling turns vicious.  Teeth marks.  Then the UPS guy brings a package and I decide to enforce a little cleanup time and Lilah has yet another poopy diaper.  It is 5:32 before I return to finish this up.

So, the TV is on, dinner is ¾ ready, and the toys are, let’s face it, ¼ put away.  I have not written the post about the town we are now living in or Zachary’s insistence that he is the only five year old in the entire Kindergarten.  I have not read to Benjamin today.  Or Lilah, come to think of it.  I have taken the kids to play outside, fed them, and lost my temper when they tormented each other.  I have not exercised or written the post about how I am gaining weight.

But I have gotten an essay done.  When you all write comments, asking me how I manage to make time to write – that’s how.  Sometimes, I don’t write.  And sometimes I let everything go to power through.  It’s the only way that I won’t wake up, five years from now, resentful of the children who I read to every day and taught to clean up all their toys.

Newbie

We decided to put Zachary in kindergarten in the new town, even though he had been in Pre-K in Los Angeles.  He was bored in his old preschool, plus we thought that it was best to minimize the transitions over the next year.  So, his first day of kindergarten, rather than being a proud September milestone, was the last day of November, just four days after we arrived in this very small town.

We took him to the school playground to play over the weekend, for all the good that did.  He kept telling us, “I want to get to school so that it will be over with.”  Just the attitude we wanted from our five-year-old.

I had that first morning all planned out.  I would take the double stroller so that the younger two kids could sit while I took care of delivering Zachary to his teacher.  I brought along apples – my favorite method of crown control.  I thought through exactly what I would pack in his bag and what I would dress him in.

However, the unfortunate fact is that parents simply cannot absorb their children’s anxiety for them.  The first day of kindergarten in a brand-new place with kids who already know each other is terrifying.  There is no way around that.

We went in a few minutes before drop-off to meet his teacher, a long-term substitute who, it turns out, was starting on the same day as Zachary because the regular teacher is out on maternity leave.  Then we went outside to line up with the other kids.

Zach – my brave little guy – stuck close to me.  I turned the stroller so that he could talk to his siblings, thereby giving him a face-saving activity in case all the other kids were checking him out.  He chattered to me, clearly trying to make conversation so that he would seem cool in front of his new classmates.  They are five; they have yet to learn that talking to one’s mother is not exactly the height of cool.

Then, it was time for him to line up.  He stood between two boys.  “This is the line for kindergarten,” the boy behind him said.

“I’m going into kindergarten,” Zach replied.

“How old are you?” the child challenged.

“I’m five.” He held up the fingers, because accompanying hand gestures put everyone at ease.

The boy in front stood right in front of Zach, his chest almost pressed against the poor kid’s face.  “I’m taller than you are.”

Having gone to a Jewish preschool, Zachary has been spared the knowledge that he is very, very short for his age.  In that moment, the first interaction he had with his future classmates, he was forced to come to terms with his diminutive stature and at the same time find a face-saving response.  The other mothers weren’t even aware of the conversation, but my stomach was sinking.  Just then, the teacher stepped out and waved in the kids.

As he ran into the school with the line, Zach called out, “That’s because I only eat bread!”

A few minutes later, when I had to pop into the room to pick up his epipen, he was sitting in the back of the group, looking so anxious that I was certain he was about to vomit all over the classroom floor.  Yet, when I picked him up that afternoon, both he and his teacher said he had a great day.  Apparently, a little girl with glasses had taken him under her wing and pointed out every single feature of the school.

Of course, when we got home, he had to replay the entire “I’m taller than you are” conversation.  “I told them it’s because I only eat bread.”

“Well, what did they say in response?”

“Nothing.  They couldn’t respond to that.  That’s why it was a good answer,” he replied.

You know what?  I think this kid is going to be OK.

Unclear on the concept

“I am NOT wearing a coat,” Zachary exclaimed.  “I am NOT cold.”

“Dude, that’s because you’re inside,” I explained.  To my child, this was faulty logic.  If it is warm enough inside, it is most likely warm outside.  Welcome to the reasoning of the five-year-old transplant from Southern California.  He complains bitterly about wearing a coat in the car or even to go outside.

His brother, on the other hand, has embraced cold-weather fashion.  Having inherited Zach’s old pink mittens from London, Benjamin insists upon putting them on every time he leaves the house, even in the middle of a mild afternoon.  He also wants a hat, a coat, and – if we would allow it – his snow boots.

Lilah, wisely, has figured out that a coat means she gets to go outside.  So she has stopped fighting it.  But the hats?  She is pissed about the hats.  And mittens restrict her thumb access, so you can probably figure out how well those go over.

Imagine my surprise when – the second day of school – Zachary informed me that he had worn his coat all morning.  “You wore it all day?” I asked, glancing up at the teacher.

She shrugged.  “We asked him several times if he wanted to take it off.”

“It’s cozy,” Zach explained.  So, let me get this straight.  He won’t wear a coat in the car, bitches about it outside, and yet wears it all morning in a public school that is comfortably heated to something just under tropical.

I think my kids are a little confused by the move.

The other thing that seems to be causing trouble is this whole multi-level house thing.  Having lived in a little ranch house, they think the tiny three-floor rental is a goddamned palace.  A dangerous palace, however, as they keep tumbling down the stairs.  I have provided them with slippers, but they seem to think those work better as weapons than as protection for their feet.

Zachary scored the best room in the entire house – the attic.  Seriously, if there were a way to get the king-sized bed up there, I would totally switch rooms with him.  He is delighted to have his own space, and he has meticulously laid out trinkets, toys, and books on perfect angles.  Unfortunately, he is also totally freaked out by being up there alone.  Both boys, in fact, seem to be terrified of being on a different floor by themselves.  Like twenty-something women on their way to a restaurant bathroom, they require company every time they go upstairs to get something.  Which can be awfully complicated as they inevitably get into a fight and end up falling down the stairs once again.

It’s all so confusing to them.  The kids pull out their umbrellas at every chance in the house, but then they drag those umbrellas behind them, upside down, in the rain.  Benjamin, having learned from his teachers that December has started and snow will be arriving, keeps asking, “It’s December yet?  Is it snowing out?”  Since he is looking out the window and there is clearly no snow falling, the only thing we can determine is he has absolutely no idea what he’s looking for.

I’ll bet you can guess which book I read eight times today.