Monthly Archives: April 2010

TMI

Benjamin is in the midst of an identity crisis, which is the kind way of saying he is being a total ass to his friends.  He bombed out two playdates this week – once because of a apple-slice feud that got out of hand.

The second playdate was a disaster from about twenty seconds in.  For the first nineteen seconds, he was excited to have his friend over; then it all went to crap.

In an attempt to salvage the playdate, I suggested we go outside for awhile.

“I just need to run to the bathroom,” the other mother said.  Feeling he had some important information to impart, Benjamin followed her.

“My mommy doesn’t have a penis.  Only a tushie.”

You know it’s bad when that’s the highlight of the playdate.

Beholder

“Mommy,” Benjamin said to me, “I want you to come to my class and read Mickey and the Night Kitchen.”  Except that when my middle child gets an idea in his head, he often gets carried away and forgets about breathing, so what he said sounded more like, “Mommyiwantyoutocometomyclassandreadmickeyandthenightkitchen.”  My husband has been doing Benjamin’s bedtime reading lately, as I am being held prisoner in Zachary’s room by the never-ending Little House series.  One of Ben’s big favorites these days is Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen.  J reads it to the child every night – sometimes several times through.  I’ve not read it in over a year, although one of my favorite bakeries is named for it.

“That sounds great,” I replied.  “I’ll arrange it with your teachers.”

We set it up for today, so last night I pulled Sendak’s book from the shelf to skim it through once before putting it in Benjamin’s bag.  Two minutes later, I was standing in front of my husband.  “I can’t read this to a class of three-year-olds.”

“Why not?” J asked.  “Because it mentions God?”  We’re non-believers around here, and we are pretty sensitive to people indoctrinating our kids.

“No,” I answered.  “Because the kid is naked in at least half of the pictures.  And his penis is very clear.”

“Oh.  I guess that’s true.”  Yeah.  You think?

So, this morning, I informed Ben that I could not do In the Night Kitchen in his class.  “Why not?” he asked.

“Because it’s not appropriate for school,” I answered, hoping and then hoping again that he would not ask me why.  “Can you pick another book?”

Power Rangers,” he promptly said.  His grandmother had bought him a few books over the weekend – all featuring giant weapons and gratuitous violence – and he was completely smitten.  While I’m not happy about the books, I understand that for some reason violence fascinates this kid, and he needs safe outlets for that interest.

“Honey, that’s not appropriate for school, either.”

Star Wars,” he suggested, while I wondered how we suddenly owned only wildly inappropriate children’s literature.

“Look, books with guns and shooting are not appropriate for school.  Go to the bookshelf and look for something else.”  I turned to pack his brother’s lunch, and two minutes later he returned, holding one of my favorite children’s books – And Tango Makes Three.

Which is about a couple of gay penguins adopting an egg.

Now, we live in a pretty conservative area, and I imagine that not every family is comfortable with homosexuality.  My first response to that would be to read the book to the class anyway, because – dammit – censoring homosexual love is just wrong.  If parents have a problem with it, well, that’s because they are homophobes.

But, then I thought about it and tried reversing the situation.  You see, I’d be apoplectic if someone came in and read a book all about God to my kid’s preschool class. I don’t believe in God, and I don’t appreciate people indoctrinating my kids. While I have to answer questions about God from my kindergartener, I don’t want to deal with it yet with the preschooler.  He’s not ready for that type of conversation about respecting other people’s beliefs.

I imagine that some people feel the same way about having to explain coupling, reproduction, and hetero/homosexuality to their preschoolers.  Not everyone is ready to have that conversation yet, and ramming it down their throats will get all of us nowhere.

“How about The Night Pirates?” I asked him.  Since the point was really just having me read to the class, Benjamin was fine with that.  He’d probably have been happy if I had read the back of a shampoo bottle, as long as I was there in his classroom.

This afternoon, after school, we cuddled on the couch and read together.  He picked up a book.  “Is this appropriate for home?” he asked.

“Yes, baby, it’s appropriate for home.”  Of course, in our house, that covers pretty much everything.

Except the Bible.

Every day is like Earth Day

Yesterday was Earth Day.  People honored their planet by recycling and reducing and reusing — all except the mom outside my son’s school who lets her SUV idle for 15 minutes every day while she waits to pick her kid up.

Yesterday was Earth Day.  A day dedicated to conserving our planet for the next generation, making sure there is food and water and air and other little luxuries.

Yesterday was Earth Day.  We all should have been on our best eco-behavior.

Yesterday was Earth Day.

And so is today.

Scisciousci

Lilah, once my easy child, is all piss and vinegar these days.  She has opinions.  Lots of Opinions.  That’s one of the ways we know she’s a Rosenbaum.

The other way we know she’s a Rosenbaum?  About 58% of her opinions are about books.  She goes through obsessions; for awhile every night was William and the Night Train.  Then we had the time that will henceforth be known as the Horrible Days, when she insisted upon choosing from a Disney anthology.  Lately, however, she is all about the Pinkalicious books.  Mind you, she hasn’t actually ever seen the original Pinkalicious, as that one is still packed in a box somewhere, waiting to be excavated on the day we might eventually buy a house.  But from the moment she found Purplicious and its hideous cousin, Goldilicious, Lilah was smitten.

Oh, my sweet lord, is that child in love.  She walks around the house holding one of the books, imploring people to read them to her.  When she cannot find either book, she beseeches “scisciousci,” which is the best she can do.  As we turn the last page of Purplicious, she triumphantly exclaims “scisciousci!”  When we finish the book, she simply turns it over and pats the cover, because naturally it is our dearest wish to read the same two books incessantly.

I think it goes without saying that she sleeps every night with one of the two books.

The obsession is cute as hell.  It warms my heart that she loves books so much, and there is pretty much nothing cuter than the way she tries to pronounce the title.  Plus, the Girly Girl/Extreme Combat Wrestler combo she’s got going on is rockin’.

Reading Purplicious one night to the wriggling mass of excitement on my lap, I couldn’t help but appreciate the message: be who you are, no matter what people think.  Sweet.  And then I noticed something else in the book.

Almost all the characters are white.

In fact, in all three of the Pinkalicious books, there is only one non-white character – a lone black kid in the sea of white faces on the school bus.  I had a friend pull out her copy of the original book and check for me.  Yep, that one is all-white, too.  Seriously, the next book might just be called Whitilicious.

I think Pinkalicious is living in Rockwelland.  Except we don’t have school busses.

Of course, there are plenty of towns with mostly white people and sure plenty of books that are monochromatic.  However, what came as a bit of a shock was that this realization was a bit of a shock.  I had been reading these books to her, nonstop, for a week before the lack of racial diversity sunk in.

As a college teacher, I taught an entire unit focused around deconstructing the implied messages in children’s literature. I’m the chick who carefully bought books like Please, baby, please and King and King for my first child.  Yet, when I stop and look at our collection, we have a distressingly white children’s library.

What bothers me is that I hadn’t even noticed the bleaching of our kids’ books.  When did I stop interrogating my kids’ reading selections?  When did I become so blasé?

The books they read have such an impact, but I’m gonna tell you that I think it’s mightily hard to compile a children’s library that is racially balanced, religiously diverse, socially progressive, ecologically educative, and all-around totally rad.  A girl could really blow a gasket on that one

Is it just too hard to be on our guard, every minute of every day?  Does that mean we ought to stop trying?

Streets of Philadelphia; or, Weighty

“Fifteen minutes until bath time,” I say, looking across the table at my husband.  He knows what I mean; our children have all eaten and asked to be excused, even Lilah, who cannot yet talk but insists upon clearing her own plate when she sees her brothers doing it.  They have retired to the playroom along with their host, a two-and-a-half year old.  We have fifteen minutes to talk to the other grown-ups while the children entertain themselves.

We are in Philadelphia, visiting our best friends.  My husband grew up with Grant – they share a birthday.  And when I say share a birthday, I mean they really share a birthday.  Same day, same doctor, same hospital.  Thirty-five years ago Grant’s mother called J’s mother to tell her she had given birth, but my not-yet-mother-in-law replied, “I can’t talk now; I’m in labor.”  Needless to say, Grant and J have been best friends ever since.

We’re here to celebrate their thirty-fifth birthday.  It has been less than an ideal celebration, thus far.  They boys have been grumpy with intermittent violence, except during bouts of explosive talking.  Lilah has been pissy for weeks as she prepares to turn two and works on shoving out her incisors.  We’re looking forward to these fifteen minutes, with only our friend’s five-month-old around to cause trouble.

“I don’t know why it’s so damned hard to find a house,” I mention to our friends.  “This is the fourth house we’ve had an offer on.

J remarks, “You’d think in this market, it would be a little easier to buy something.”

As the baby nurses, Karen offers us support. “It’s not like you guys are afraid to buy a house that needs work.”  They themselves decided to buy a big old house in Mount Airy, an area of Philly that is a good deal like Diversitytown.  Here, people come in several different shades with varying levels of dreadlocks and a sliding socio-economic level.  It feels like home, not the least because we used to live in Chestnut Hill, one neighborhood over.

“Could you sweeten the offer at all?” Grant asks.

A crash come from the playroom, followed by screaming.  Lots of screaming.  J gets up from the table to investigate.  I don’t even look up.  We are accustomed to loud crashes followed by screaming.

“I don’t think there is any way.  We aren’t going to overpay for a house in a buyer’s market.  That’s ridiculous.”  The screaming from the next room has continued, completely unabated.  “That sounds worse than usual,” I say as I get up from the table.

I step into the playroom.  In the middle of the doorway is a twenty-pound weight.  My husband is sitting on the seat holding my five-year-old son, who is screaming with more persistence than I have ever seen.  “Frozen peas!” J barks.  “Go get frozen peas!”  I can only find frozen strawberries, and I run back into the room

I am repeating over and over, “Oh, my god.”

The boys had found a set of weights and – despite the fact that they know they shouldn’t play with them – they played with them.  Come to think of it, that may be because they know they shouldn’t play with them.  As I sit on the couch holding frozen strawberries to Zach’s foot, J questions Benjamin.

“We were both playing with them,” Benjamin explains.  “But Zach’s slipped.”

That’s twenty pounds of slippage right onto my son’s big toe.  It already looks horrible.  J, a veteran toe-breaker, sees no point in going to the ER.  “They’re just going to tape it.”  But the kid can’t stop wailing and the toe looks pretty bad.  I decide to go, and Grant offers to drive us while the other two remain home to put the rest of the children to bed.

It’s amazing how fast we get service in the Chestnut Hill Hospital Emergency Room.  Perhaps the five-year-old shrieking, “I’m dying!  I’m broken!  Help!  I’m dying!” encourages them to speed the process along.  An hour-and-a-half and a few x-rays later, the nurses have squeezed the pooled blood out from under his toenail, shown me how to keep the fractured big toe buddy-taped to the toe next to it, and given us a couple of prescriptions.

Grant drives us back to his house through Chestnut Hill, a neighborhood not quite as diverse as Mount Airy, although not without it’s charms.  We are in the wealthiest part of the neighborhood. The Tylenol with codeine has kicked in and Zachary’s screams are intermittent, so we can comment upon the beautifully preserved stone mansions we pass.

“I love Chestnut Hill,” I sigh.  I do.  I loved living there, and we still miss it.

“A lot of rich people here.”

“That’s true.  Of course, you do know that we’re rich, right?”  Grant nods.  “I mean, it feels strange to say, because it’s not like we’re jetting off on vacations or buying fancy cars, but in a way we are.”

“Look, the people with the vacations and the fancy cars don’t think they’re rich because they don’t have yachts,” Grant replies.

He’s right, of course.  And, from where I sit, we are privileged.  We have everything we need and are able to make choices about the things that we want.  That’s pretty much the definition of “rich,” nowadays.  If you actually get to choose where you live or what kind of food you buy or whether to stay home to raise kids, you can probably count yourself as rich.

Plus, when a kid drops a twenty-pound weight on his toe, we can take him to the ER without worrying it will bankrupt us.

As we pull into Mount Airy, Zach’s low moans rise to a howl and then reduces to a whimper.  “I just want to go home, I just want to go home.”

Representation

New Jersey has made a bit of a muddle of things, as you may have heard.   The state is just this side of completely belly-up, and they have had to make a whole hell of a lot of cuts.  In fact, only those of us who moved here from California aren’t complaining about the state of things.

The cuts that most directly impact us are the ones to the local schools.  Our district has lost 100% of state funding.  That means that it’s all on the residents of Rockwelland to fund our first-class schools.  The superintendent and school board has held a series of meetings to show the town where and how they are making cuts in response to the crisis.  They are being remarkable fiscally responsible.

But they are also asking for tax increases in a town with very, very high taxes.

Today, we go to the polls to vote on the budget.  If it is defeated, they will need to make deeper cuts in the school budget.  If it passes, our taxes will go up.  It’s a secret ballot, of course, but I don’t mind telling you that I am voting for tax increases.  There just ain’t nuthin’ more worth spending money on than education.

There are those who are opposed, and I get it.  Their taxes are pretty damned high.  But I think if you can afford a house that is appraised at a gazillion dollars and you are sending four children to the school district, you should probably at least consider the merits of a 2% tax increase.  I’m just saying.

Plus, maybe if we do a better job of edumacating these kids than the last couple of generations, they’ll grow up knowing how to balance the state budget.

I can still remember how that music used to make me smile

I’m not sure if she came to my blog first or I came to hers.  All I know is that almost three years ago, shortly after I started blogging, I met a woman named Chani.  “Met” is a strange words for someone I never saw and never spoke to.  But we did know each other.

She supported me fully as I told some difficult stories.  She challenged me, always gently but intensely.  In a world of drive-by clickings, Chani stopped to think.

Her posts were full of self-reflection, strong political statements, and social commentary.  But, more than any other blog I’ve ever read, she treated her readers with respect and used her blog as a space to invite meaningful conversation.

Lately, I have not been reading blogs as much.  Life has been complicated, and it has been months since Chani and I have read one another’s blogs.  The loss is mine, because she has posted her last post.

Last month, Chani died of a heart attack in her sleep.  I’ll never get to meet her in person.  I’ll never get to thank her for being there for me.

But I do want to thank those of you I have deserted lately who have stayed with me.  I will be back, I promise.  Painted Maypole and Coco and Julie and Slouching Mom and Mama Tulip and Lillian and Flutter and Magpie and Alejna and Holly and the list goes on and on.  People I’ve never met in person but who feel like friends.  If I haven’t listed you here and haven’t been by lately, it’s not because I don’t care.  Please know that.

I wish I could tell Chani that.  She always seemed to be searching for peace, and although I don’t believe in an afterlife, I dearly hope she has found some.