My mother-in-law, emerging from a catatonic state brought on by watching Wonder Pets for four days in a row, recently sent the boys a couple of DVDs. The first to arrive was The Sound of Music, which I quietly buried under a stack of old Baby Einstein boxes. While I am happy for the hills to be alive and all that crap, I am not quite ready to explain the Nazis to Zachary. The second movie was Mary Poppins.
It seemed benign enough, so one afternoon when I had no help and needed Tweedledee and Tweedledum to stop fighting for a half-hour while I fed their Twedledette, I stuck it in. The one-show-a-day rule is, like all other rules, made to be broken by exasperated mothers.
If you haven’t seen this movie recently, you probably remember a bunch of chimney sweeps and in interminable sequence when everyone goes into the chalk drawings. But, the movie is not all spoons filled with sugar. Oh no, it certainly is not. In this movie, there is a mother who is so busy parading around with a bunch of suffragists that she cannot seem to make time to raise her children. That’s why she needs a nanny.
It actually reminds me of quite a few families I know that have full-time help, two kids, and a stay-at-home parent, yet somehow always seem completely overwhelmed. (OK, that was kind of bitchy, especially since until this week I had half-time help and an au pair arriving next month.)
Anyway, in the movie my children now fondly refer to as Merry Puppets, the suffragettes march around the house a little at the beginning of the movie in sashes, before they head out into the streets to demand the right to vote. Zachary looked a little confused.
I told him that women weren’t allowed to vote back then and the mommy is asking the government to change the law so women could vote. Zach sort of nodded as he fixed his attention on the screen, so I decided to pass on explaining that the entire premise of Mary Poppins is that Mrs. Banks is a deficient mother for wasting her time agitating for the vote when she should be home minding the children. We’ll save feminist film theory for another day. Gotta leave something for them to learn in second grade.
If I had any ability to learn from past experience, I would have realized that the conversation had merely been tabled for another day. Anyone who has ever spent longer than 90 seconds with a four-year-old knows that, two weeks later, as we were walking to the library, Zach busted out with: “But, why were the women not allowed to vote?”
So I explained that some people thought women weren’t smart enough to vote. “Does that sound fair?” I asked, which was probably a leading question. What ensued was a string of questions on his part about legislative history and a string of lame attempts on my part to explain the nineteenth amendment. (Because I was already over my head, I was not going to get into the suffrage fight in two different countries.)
“Mommy, how do they,” pause to search for the word, “cancel unfair laws?” Somehow, this line of questioning landed us in Prop 8 territory, as he wondered about how laws change. But, then it occurred to him: “What happens to the people who were married before Proposition 8?” At which point I found myself trying to explain Supreme Courts and lawyers to a four-year-old.
I was really fucking relieved when the conversation finally ended and resolved that we would be reverting to our old viewing habits. Tinkerbell, at least, doesn’t require an entire civics lesson.
Unfortunately, Passover is coming, and the preschool teachers explained to the children that the last plague made the Egyptians really sad, but they didn’t tell the kids the precise nature of that plague. Come on. Really? Did it not occur to you that this would only pique their curiosity? There’s nothing like trying to explain the Death of the Firstborn while merging onto the Freeway.
“But, Mommy. Why was God mean to the Egyptians?”
I think I’ll book him an appointment with the rabbi. And I’ll probably stop opening packages from my mother-in-law.