Sunday, February 27, 2005

54 Months: a Rambling Tribute

Tomorrow is Mermaid Girl's half-birthday. She'll be four and a half.

She appears to be even more excited about this than she was about turning four. If that's possible. Four and a half. It's its own word, its own state. Fournahalf! Anticipation of the traditional Half-Birthday Cupcake is high, too.

She invited three school friends to her party. She was so proud to tell us, and then we had to break it to her that there's no party for a half-birthday. Just the cupcake. Tell them you're sorry, you made a mistake, we said. But they can come to your fifth birthday party in the summer.

She took it pretty well. Very mature, our girl, except when she's not. More mature every day. Tonight I watched her at the computer, playing the Wiggles game, complaining that the mouse wasn't working right and it was annoying, and felt again--this has happened so many times in the last few months--that a time in her life and ours is ending: the little-kid time that started four and a half years ago. When I look at her now, I see the school-age kids I teach, not the toddler she was. Her face is different, her hair, her vocabulary, her attitudes. She's a girl, her own girl, starting to move away from us already.

When her best friend Jemma comes over the two of them hole up in her room for hours, talking, making up games, trading pieces of their matching tiny plastic Disney Princess sets that they got on sale together. None of us grownups knows whose tiny plastic dress is whose; the girls keep track of it.

She listens to whole novels. She follows adult conversation. She has political opinions. She wants to talk about big things: war, God, death. (Though she doesn't talk about death as much as she used to; she's learning, the way kids do, to censor herself, to protect the adults around her, those fragile, jumpy creatures.)

She unbuckles her own seat belt, opens the car door and slams it closed herself. She helps carry groceries into the house. Last weekend she made me breakfast: a bowl of cereal, four different kinds, with my favorite kind on top.

I never got to write about our time in Florida back in December, how great she was with her baby cousin, playing with her and entertaining her, singing her to sleep in the car, really helping. Whenever she sees a pregnant woman she asks, "Are you going to have a baby?" And when the woman says yes, MG lights up and confides, "I love babies!" When I see her with a baby, the next-door baby or one of her friends' little siblings, I remember how she loved 4-year-old girls as a baby herself, how she'd perk up and her eyes would follow them with the same "here comes the circus!" look I see in theirs now. Those girls seemed so big then, practically grownups.

She still likes to wear dresses, but sometimes now she'll choose jeans of her own accord. Her jeans are nothing like our workaday ones: they're fringed and embroidered and glam. I don't know where they came from; presents, I guess, or hand-me-downs, or maybe she materialized them with her stylish mojo. A couple weeks ago she went to Hebrew school in her fringed beaded jeans and a shiny glittery velour shirt that she's had for a year or two. The Hebrew school director laughed when he saw her, and said, "A little belly shirt! That's just the cutest! But, you know, our dress code..." I was mortified: yup, the shirt did indeed roll up to show her little tummy. Right away I started trying to roll it down and tuck it in. MG sighed: "That shirt always shows my belly button, Mommy." But it didn't last year!

Today I was driving her home from Hebrew school (in a demure purple dress, this time) and we were talking about some people in the Bible. I got to Isaac and Rebecca and how people's parents used to decide who they would marry, not like now. "It would be like if Mama and I went to you and said, 'We've been talking with Robin's [8-year-old boy who she adores] parents and we decided that you two are going to be married.' What would you think of that?" (Sort of fishing, because secretly I halfway wish we could betrothe them in real life.)
"Not good," she pronounced.
"Why? You don't like Robin?"
"No, I don't like not getting to choose."

She'll still curl up in RW's or my lap and say, "I'll always be your baby, right? Even when I'm grown up?" Or she'll climb between us like she did this morning, crowing, "It's a baby sandwich!" She still likes to pat RW's breasts and talk about how she used to nurse.

She can't really remember nursing any more, though. She doesn't remember being home with RW last year, or the seder last Passover. Last year, she could remember things from when she was two, or even younger. I can almost see her brain rewiring, new connections fusing, old ones disappearing, as she turns herself into the next version of herself: Mermaid Girl 2.0.

In another four and a half years she'll be nine. Some nine-year-olds I know have their periods. Nine years after that, she'll be eighteen. So as of tomorrow, she's one-quarter of the way to adulthood.

When I think about it that way, a cupcake seems like the least we can do to mark the occasion.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

A Miracle! No, two miracles!

Well, really the first one was the Suburban Lesbian, who tipped me off to "System Restore." I did it and lo and behold, proliferating popups are gone! Ads are gone! Homepage is restored to what it should be! Whew, it was like hacking through overgrowth around here. It was like a nightmare.

I know, I said I was swearing off the computer until Monday. But I had to look up a phone number from an e-mail. And also I was eerily drawn to it; it was like the virus had wound its creepy tentacles into my brain as well as my hard drive. I had to see if those popups were still real or if I'd dreamed it all.

Thanks all for your good wishes. Especially Suzanne, before whom I bow down in gratitude for her computer expertise. (And all you Mac fans, boy do I hear you, in fact our official home computer--the one that blue-screened and is now in the repair shop--is one. But this is my work computer so I have no say in its make. And we're in M1kerosoft territory, you know; we don't cotton to no Macs around these parts.)

But I have learned my lesson. I'm turning OFF the computer now. And taking a nap!

Oh but I have to say before I sign off that the long-awaited Nat is here!! Yippeeee! Go congratulate the happy moms!

How To Conquer a Blog Addiction

  1. Make sure all computers in your house are nonfunctional. [I know I should link to previous posts here, but I'm beat. You'll understand if you read on.]
  2. Bring home work computer for the weekend.
  3. Plug in wireless card.
  4. Surf blogs harmlessly for an hour or so.
  5. Take a cute little quiz. [No, I'm not linking to it. You'll understand why in a minute. But guess what, if I were an obsolete skill I'd be Latin!]
  6. Check Chez Miscarriage to read the 157 new comments on that great drive-by thread.
  7. Notice that there's a weird hyperlink on the word "work" on Grrl's latest post (as in, "We all work to maintain a supportive atmosphere around here.")
  8. Click on the word "work," only to be startled when a page full of job-search links suddenly appears. That doesn't seem like Grrl...
  9. Go back to your own blog. Notice weird hyperlinks on random words you wrote earlier, like "work" and "love."
  10. At the same time, notice several popup ads popping up all over the place.
  11. Also, there are some new icons down at the bottom of your screen.
  12. And some new icons have installed themselves on your desktop.
  13. And several of the pop-up ads are suggesting that you install them to get rid of unwanted pop-ups and spyware. Oy!
  14. Go to your Control Panel and laboriously uninstall everything you can identify as virusware.
  15. There's lots.
  16. Restart.
  17. Check your blog. Yay, weird hyperlinks are gone!
  18. But several annoying popups remain. And somehow the virus has reset your home page.
  19. Set your home page back to Google.
  20. Uninstall some more.
  21. Restart.
  22. Smack head against wall as 25 ads immediately pop up, freezing all operations to a halt.
  23. Shudder to think of how you will have to throw yourself on mercy of previously-maligned Tech Guy come Monday.
  24. Restart.
  25. Click "x" box madly on all popups, until you're down to just three that won't go away.
  26. Open a new Explorer window.
  27. Open Blogger.
  28. Post your woes.
  29. Determine that if there is a God, She does not want you going online.
  30. Turn off computer, throw away wireless card, swear off all Internet use forever.
  31. Or at least until Monday.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I took out the cow and chickens. But I miss them.

I love that old Jewish folktale about the poor farmer whose house is too small. He, his wife, his kids, and his mother-in-law, are all crowded into a tiny cottage, and the noise and chaos are driving him nuts.

So he goes to the Rabbi for advice, and the Rabbi surprises him by asking, "do you have any cows?" "Um...yes," says the guy, and the Rabbi says, "Take the cow into the house to live with you."

Of course it's even worse after that, what with the cow wandering around and mooing and pooping and all. So a couple days later he goes back to the Rabbi, who tells him to bring his goat into the house too. Next day? Same thing, but bring in the chickens.

Finally, with the goat eating everything in sight and kicking things over and the chickens squawking and pecking and laying eggs and the cow, who's still there, the man can't take it one more moment. He returns to the Rabbi, terrified at what advice he'll get this time, and is amazed to be told, "Take all the animals out of the house."

So he does. And the next day he returns once more, fervently thanking the Rabbi. "With just my family in the house, there's so much room! It's so quiet! Life is an absolute pleasure!"

I've never had enough time, you know? Then I had a kid, and had even less time. Then we got wireless, I discovered blogs, and there went any semblance of free time I'd ever thought I had.

So last night, for the first time in a loooooong time, I had no Internet access. And here's what I did:
  • Picked up Mermaid Girl from preschool.
  • Made dinner. (Easy dinner, a couple of Trader Joe's things mixed together.)
  • Supervised MG's bath. (Admittedly, though, this was really easy since for the first time ever she washed her very own hair! Can I hear a Hallelujah!)
  • Ate dinner with Renaissance Woman and saw her off to her singing rehearsal.
  • Hand-washed MG's ballet socks. (She has only the one pair, and they're required for her class, and almost impossible to find anywhere, these little pink ankle socks made out of some very specific thin synthetic material. So I just let her wear them for class and then take them off right after and put them away till the next week. But even so...well, it turns out that although MG doesn't yet have body odor she does have foot odor. Yuck.)
  • Washed the bathroom sink, while I was at it.
  • Made banana bread! (It didn't take nearly as long as I feared, and MG was ecstatic at the novelty of Nighttime Baking.)
  • Harried MG through her bedtime routine.
  • Folded laundry while talking with a friend on the phone.
  • Washed dishes while talking with RW, who'd come home from her rehearsal by then.
  • Got clothes and lunch ready for the morning.
  • Read a few chapters of a book I've been wanting to get to.
  • Got to sleep before midnight.
For contrast, here's what my evenings usually look like of late:
  • Pick up the girl from preschool.
  • Make dinner.
  • Eat dinner.
  • Harry MG through bedtime routine, if it's my turn.
  • Wash a couple of token dishes.
  • Fall into the Internet until much too late.
  • Collapse.
Methinks this break from home computer use might not be such a bad thing, no? So few distractions! Such a relaxed yet productive evening! Who knew there was so much time in the world?

And yet...when I have Internet access, it's so hard to keep from reading, and reading, and reading, and commenting, and's not even the writing that takes so long, it's Keeping Up with the Blogosphere. I love it! It's like my dream party, full of kindred spirits and stuff to read. And yet I obviously can't continue at this rate.

How about you? How do you keep blog-reading/writing from taking over your life? Or do you feel like it has? And if so, how do you handle that? (Feel free to leave an anonymous comment if you don't want to be traced by your name or usual pseudonym.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Glad we didn't get to "sextuplets"

I'm at work! I'm posting at work!

After work hours, but still. It feels odd and scary. Illicit posting. Like I'm drinking beer in the stacks or something. (Not that I would; I hate beer.) I just don't want to bring the computer home tonight. Let's see if I can survive a whole evening without the Internet!

Speaking of living on the edge, I'm going to go whole hog and post about work too. (Go whole hog, in for a penny in for a pound, might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb... can it be that posting at work is actually making my writing looser and more stream-of consciousness? Wouldn't you think it would be the opposite, that the blandness of my e-mail-to-all-employees-to-pimp promote-the-latest-reading-incentive style would creep into my post? Maybe it's the adrenaline coursing through my veins.)

This is so innocuous, even if my paper-thin veneer of anonymity were ever penetrated, I don't see how anyone could object:

A couple weeks ago I was talking about Greek and Latin roots with an older class. I know, couldn't be duller, but actually it was cool. This is a really sweet group, up for anything, and I was showing them a great book that presents the whole thing like a secret code (which it is, when you think about it), so they got all excited when I showed them how "tricycle" can be broken down into the roots for "three" and "wheel," and then made them guess what the roots for "bicycle" were, and then one of them said "Oh, and unicycle means one wheel! So 'uni' means 'one!'" (Aren't they smart?)

They all ran with it:
"Like universe!"
"And unicorn!"

Then the quietest, most timid little girl in the class raised her hand and giggled, "and unibrow!"

I love my job.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Technical Difficulties

The good news: I presented at a conference last Friday! With a P0werpoint and everything. And it went well.

The bad news: Friday evening, I discovered that I'd left my computer's power cord at the conference. And the conference was at a school that's on break all this week. And my laptop only has about 40 minutes of battery life.

The good news: RW said I could use her laptop until I get the power cord back!

The bad news: RW's laptop was almost immediately felled by the Blue Screen of Death. She's on the phone right now with her cousin, trying to nurse it back to health.

The good news: I brought my work laptop home!

The bad news: Just remembered that my work laptop is missing its wireless card. I've been bugging the tech guys about it since December, but forgot since I usually use the plug-in connection at work.

The good news: I figured out how to plug my home computer's wireless card into my work computer! Take that, tech guys!

The big question: Will I remember to pack this computer up and bring it back to work tomorrow? Or will I make a total fool of myself by forgetting it? Any takers?

Also lost (but found) in the last few days:

The Vanagon's CD panel (the removable front part of the car CD player/stereo). I was over helping Little Latke's parents clean their basement for a few hours this weekend, and took the panel out because I wasn't sure it was safe in their neighborhood and we've had car stereos stolen multiple times. When I got back home, the CD player was nowhere to be found. I searched my pockets, the car, called their house and asked them to look, all to no avail. Then the Renaissance Woman checked my coat pockets one more time and found it. I could've sworn it wasn't there. Weird.

Mermaid Girl's new ballet slipper. Her friend Ginger was over and the two of them were having a great time dressing up and trashing her room. At one point she raided her ballet-class bag so they could both be ballerinas. That night the three of us cleaned up the mess, a huge project. I found one ballet slipper, but not the other. "It'll show up when everything's put away," RW assured us. So we put away the Barb1es, the dress-up clothes, the puzzles, the jewelry, the felt-board pieces, the infinite small plastic items. No ballet slipper. We had given up and were lecturing MG on how she can't take things out of her ballet bag any more and she would have to split the cost of new ballet slippers with us, blah blah blah, when she spied one last felt-board piece in her garbage and pulled it out. And, ta-dah! The ballet slipper was hidden underneath it. In the garbage.

My parking-garage ticket from this afternoon. Actually that's still missing. I remember pulling it out of the machine when I got to the garage, because the clock read exactly one minute before my doctor's appointment. Then? The ticket disappeared. Not in my bag, not in my wallet, not in the car. But! Turns out I didn't have to pay, because the parking-garage people were all gone by the time I left. But I feel this is a Bad Sign, and I can't run on dumb luck forever.

Things fall apart. The center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon my life.

More next time I bring the computer home. Or when that power cord shows up. Or I buy a new cord. Please stand by.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Another Convert

You know, we bloggers can't be content with simply living our unhealthy lifestyle and congregating in seedy Mafia-owned bars...we must recruit. Heh, heh.

So I badgered my friend Rosie into starting a blog! She has a thrilling tale to tell: chock full of twists of fate, disasters, tenure travails, and one jaw-droppingly unfortunate e-mail incident that rivals Dooce's famous story both for narrative chops and cautionary value.

And I say this even though I'm jealous that Rosie has already, on her second post, garnered a complimentary comment from a complete stranger. (How well I recall my own early days, laboring in a veritable comment-free desert, floating my posts out like so many messages in bottles, mixing my metaphors freely, trudging to school for miles in the snow, uphill both ways... and I had to lick the floor clean!)

Ahem. Anyway, she's earned it. Read the whole post; you won't regret it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

She's got metaphor

Me, trying desperately to make toothbrushing fun! fun! fun!: Washing the downstairs...washing the upstairs...

Mermaid Girl, jumping up and spitting in the sink: Fire drill!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Valentine's Day: The Next Generation

Mermaid Girl's preschool, thank ye gods and anti-bias curriculum, doesn't fuss about the holidays. No Christmas tree decorations (with or without token Menorah cutouts thrown in), no Easter bunnies, no handprint Thanksgiving turkeys. So V-day has been low-key in the past.

Last year, however, one or two shiny miniscule mass-produced valentines did show up in MG's take-home folder, much to her delight. The most prized one--signed in her very own hand!--from the girl who was then the oldest Dragonfly (since moved on to greener kindergartenian pastures). This year, being a Dragonfly parent myself, I took it into my head that MG had a certain pay-it-forward obligation to at least give cards to some of the kids she's closest to. So ensued the following tragicomedy:

Late January: Briefly consider creating homemade valentines with Mermaid Girl: red cutout hearts, stickers, lacy doilies. Scrap idea after looking at packed calendar and considering MG's attention span and fine-motor development; just writing names on prepackaged cards will be enough of a project.

February 2, early evening: On a pre-dinner trip to Fred Meyers, drop MG at playroom and scour the Seasonal aisle for acceptable valentines. Push past towering piles of Sc00by Doo, Disn3y Pr1incess, Sp1derman, assorted saccharine-sweet themes, and seemingly endless varieties of Br4tz cards (3D hologram, tattoo, naked--hah! just kidding!) to find one box of Eye Spy and one relatively inoffensive set of He11o K1tty. Swing back to playroom and present both boxes to MG for her choice. Surprise! (not) She chooses Kitty. I briefly consider buying Eye Spy as well, just for backup, but figure there are plenty of cards in just the one box.

February 2, after dinner: Much excitement about the valentines. With our help, MG enthusiastically compiles a list of everyone she wants to give them to: friends from school, closest friends outside of school, baby cousin, grandparents, Little Latke. I write up the list in block letters so she can use it to write each recipient's name herself. I perforate the sheets and she sorts through the individual cards, cooing over all the cute little pastel kitty designs and insisting on taking one to keep for herself. No problem; there are 32 cards. We are rich in cards! And in time. There's more than a week to work on them. For once, we planned ahead! We're so good.

February 3-12: Valentines? What valentines? We have busy lives, you know.

February 13:

4 PM: RW and Mermaid Girl are out at a friend's. I remember the valentines, then think, Well, she can work on them tonight.

5:45 PM: I'm on the other phone with a friend when RW calls: they're invited to stay for dinner, do I mind? No, no, of course not, go ahead.

6:00 PM: Oh, sh*t! The valentines!

7:55 PM: RW and Mermaid Girl return home. They've already thought about the valentines: it's no problem, MG will just write them while she eats her dessert cookie.

8 PM: While MG engages in an elaborate show of cookie-eating and milk-drinking, I read aloud an abridged version of the list we came up with in the first heady flush of planning: no grandparents, no cousins, just the school friends she mentioned. We don't have time to mess around. She chooses one friend. I circle the name, help her figure out how to make the letters (it's a short name, thank goodness). She writes the name slowly and painstakingly. She freezes when she gets to her own name: the pressure! I make a dotted outline of the first letter for her--sometimes she gets it backwards. I fold the card in half, she pulls a heart sticker off the sheet to seal it, and we're on to the next card. This will be just fine.

8:15 PM: Three valentines down. First crying meltdown of the evening, brought on when I absent-mindedly seal one of the cards myself instead of letting MG do it. Fortunately, the heart sticker comes off easily.

8:45 PM: Eight valentines down: "Write my name for me, Mommy! Please!" [curling up in my lap] "This is a lot of work for one little child!"

9:10 PM: Thirteen valentines down. MG has a breakdown halfway through the fourteenth. "You could stop, you know, you don't have to do cards for everyone," I say. "No!" she insists. "If he sees the other kids have one, his feelings will be hurt!" We agree to take a short sanity-restoring break while she puts on her pajamas.

9:15 PM: RW and I try unsuccessfully to convince MG that she can stop after the next card, since she doesn't know most of the other kids that well. She is affronted: "I know all the preschoolers!"

9:20 PM: A pajama'ed Mermaid Girl and I come up with a plan: she will do one more card in her own hand, for one of her best friends at school, and I will address and sign the half-dozen others in her name after she tells me who should get each one. Most of them are for younger kids who won't care as much who actually wrote them, anyway. And we'll still have plenty left to send belatedly to friends and relations.

9:30 PM: With all cards addressed and signed by either Mermaid Girl or me, and with RW on bedtime duty, I count up the completed valentines and realize that the kids Mermaid Girl has listed constitute most of the preschool, and that if only the few she didn't mention are omitted they may, in fact, feel bad. (The take-home folders are at adult height, so it's not like the kids would be looking through them. But still, if almost everyone gets a valentine, the few who don't might notice.) Belatedly, I look through the preschool directory, and discover 10 kids who were left off her list. With a sinking feeling in my gut, I count the remaining He11o K1tty cards. There are eight left.

9:40 PM: back at Fred Meyers, in the depleted Valentine's aisle, which now shares space with the newly-stocked Easter section. He11o Kitty is long gone, as is Eye Spy. I survey the remaining boxes, muttering curses. A giggly, carefree young couple in their mid-20's swings by: she's in the cart, he's pushing. They offer advice: "Well," she observes, "there's lots of Br4tz cards left." I shudder and make an involuntary noise. "Yeah," she agrees. "I don't like them either. They're like little prostitutes, aren't they?"

10:10 PM: Mermaid Girl is in bed. I show RW what I unearthed. We junk the sappy Pr3cious Moments cards and go with the puppies-and-kittens themed box. I sort the cards, looking for the vaguest, least-committing messages: "be mine!" and "friends forever" cards don't seem appropriate, considering she doesn't even know she's giving these; I wouldn't want to lead some poor 3-year-old on...or am I being too literal?

10:30 PM: Done. Valentines in a big envelope to take to MG's school in the morning. Leftover cards left on the table so we can continue the torture tomorrow evening, with the belated cards for friends and relations.

Happy Day, all.

Friday, February 11, 2005

This was going to be the ballet post, but it turned into something else entirely

Many thanks to everyone for your kind words! And for standing up to my troll and telling him/her where to go (I'm not sure of my troll's gender; it appears to change according to the occasion). Turns out I have lots to say now. Amazing!

I was thinking this morning about how, without my really noticing it, Mermaid Girl has turned a corner in her life, and we have also. Our lives as parents are no longer primarily about ensuring her survival in the world and her basic physical needs. You know, like eating, getting dressed, not falling off high things. She takes care of a lot of that herself.

I mean, yeah, financially she's dependent on us and will be for a long, long time. And emotionally she still needs us. And she can't do her buttons in the back. And like that--she's still a kid, and in this culture kids are (or should be) taken care of. But she knows how to be in the world, she knows who she is, she can walk and talk and grab a piece of cheese out of the fridge and negotiate peace with her friends (sometimes) and notice when something looks dangerous and get away from it. She has opinions, and judgment. She could even cross the street by herself, if we'd let her; she knows all about traffic safety and will lecture us on the topic at the merest opportunity.

So what's left for us to do, aside from doing her braids and cooking over a flame and buying stuff and driving her places?

All the hard parts, it turns out, are what's left.

Like: How much of the rest of her childhood is going to be about us helping her unfold into whatever her spirit wants to be, and how much will be about our passing our values and traditions on to her? They're not mutually exclusive, and of course you want to do both. But what about when they come into conflict? There are only so many hours in a day, after all. If she goes to Hebrew school (my heritage) and learns an instrument (RW's values) and does dance or gymnastics (her own desire and talent) she will be a very busy girl throughout her elementary school years.

And didn't I once, long ago, once upon a time, bemoan the overscheduled youth of today and vow that my child would have ample time for daydreaming and futzing around? Isn't that a value too? What should go, then, to make room for it?

Or how about this one: What should education be about? Being nurtured and learning compassion? Getting to know lots of different kinds of kids? Being creative and using your own initiative? Getting lots of intellectual stimulation and being exposed to a rich variety of ideas and disciplines? Well, all of them, of course. And it's not hypothetical: these four sets of qualities pretty much represent the strongest points, respectively, of the four schools we're looking at most seriously for Mermaid Girl for next year and possibly the next six years.

I've written about this before, but now we've toured all the schools and talked with lots of parents and teachers and seen lots of classrooms in action. We've examined the hell out of the school district web site. I've read mission statements and brochures, watched slide shows, viewed class projects on the walls, scrutinized class schedules. I've seen how kids act in the halls and on the playground. I've made charts and lists: one school has swimming lessons, one has a chorus; one has a great gym teacher, one has a stupendous library (and I should know).

(Important parenthetical aside: All four schools, incidentally, are propped up by strong PTAs made up of educated, committed parents with surpluses of time and money. The wrongness of the need for that is a rant for another time, but I don't even have to write it because Jo Spanglemonkey has written some kickass posts about the same issue in her town. Read them all!)

RW and I both keep having to check ourselves for whether we're picking a school based on what we would want or what Mermaid Girl will thrive in. We each have visceral attachments to schools that echo our own school experiences: RW has a warm spot for the Groovy Alternative School, even though on close examination their educational focus seems a little fuzzy.

For my part, I'm pulled towards our neighborhood school, the only one in our cluster where white students are actually a minority (they have some kind of special permission to bus kids from the South End). I love that it really is diverse, there are Somali girls in headscarves and kids whose parents don't speak English and middle-class African-American kids and poor kids andwhite kids with liberal yuppie gay parents (like ours) and, well, everybody. When I think about the social environment I want for her, that's it, in large part because that was the the way my school was (and that is also a whole other post for a whole other time).

But when it comes to the official educational aspect, the Neighborhood School doesn't stand up as well--I don't care so much about test scores, but in the kind of work on the walls and the way the teachers talk about what they do and the precariousness of the kids' focus. And on balance the much-less-diverse, not-very-alternative Smartypants Yuppie school gets my vote every time. Is that because I'm a liberal hypocrite at heart? Or because that's really where Mermaid Girl would thrive the most? How can I possibly know? All I can do is take my best guess.

When I wrote about all this earlier, several people commented that Mermaid Girl will do well and be happy and learn wherever she goes. And I do think that's true. We are very lucky: all the schools in our cluster are really good, in different ways. But the point is that we have to choose, we have to put something down first. And the process of making that decision turns out to be about us as much as about her, about our vision of her childhood.

It's like this: There's what Mermaid Girl wants, right here, right now. But she's only four, we don't make life decisions for her based on what she thinks she wants at the moment. Then there's the vision we have of the sort of Platonic Perfect Childhood, wherever that comes from: movies, parenting books, the zeitgeist, whatever. Then there's what we want for her based on our own lives and ideals, which might not be the same thing as the PPC, or the same thing for me and for RW. Then there's what we would choose for her if we focused on what Mimi Smartypants calls her small flame of personhood, the her in her, as distinct from what we think she should learn or value. And each of those is important, in different ways, at different times.

So all this angst isn't just, or even mostly, about kindergarten: it's that kindergarten is the first major decision we've had to make while keeping all those factors in mind. It's that kindergarten choice is the beginning of what parenting is going to be like for the next ten or fifteen years.

After that, Mermaid Girl gets to try to balance all those factors for herself. Good luck to her, I say!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Just testing the comments here. Go about your business.

But can I just say, Heather, you are brilliant? My troll is so happy. Maybe it will leave me alone now that it has its own space.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Trolling, trolling, trolling...

Hey, guess what? I have a troll, just like the big-time bloggers.

Well, not exactly. Because my troll is imaginary. But powerful. So powerful that it sends me nasty troll-ish comments about my potential posts before I've even written them. And it shoots them directly to my brain, so I can't block its IP address. How tricky is that?

It's like this: I'll think, say, "Oh, have to write something on Mermaid Girl's ballet class and my conflicting feelings about it and my fear that I might be a stage mom projecting all my own desires onto my child."

And immediately, before I've even logged on to Blogger, the troll is all over it, with a response like, "You overattentive parental twit, you are projecting your own desires onto your child; it's plain to see that you're a bourgeois tool of the heteropatriarchal anorexia-promoting ballet-industrial complex. Plus, you're boring."

Or the idle fancy crosses my mind that I might write a post on Mermaid Girl's adorable propensity for pressing a treasured toy or doll into my hands as I head off for work and insisting that I should take it! really! It will keep me company and remind me of my little daughter!

But no, hardly is the thought formed into words before the troll is typing furiously on my internal comments page: "Eeeeeww, this is making my teeth hurt! That is the most saccharine thing I've ever heard. I always knew you were just another self-absorbed mommy blogger; all you do is brag about your little darling. Gag me. Oh, and you can't write for beans."

Or I muse that maybe I should just jot down a little something about feeling sort of blah and not being able to think of anything to write -- you know, so readers don't wonder whether I've dropped off the face of the earth.

Even that is fodder for my troll. "Readers!" it scoffs. "You won't have any readers if you keep posting self-pitying, self-referential drivel like this. Don't you have a life? There are people out there with real problems! And you complain? It's an insult to readers everywhere, especially when committed with such lack of wit or style. Bah!"

Damn trolls.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Polyamory Hits the Mainstream

Seen at the supermarket, among the Valentines for Wife and Valentines for Husband and Valentines for Son and Valentines for Daughter and Valentines for In-Laws and Valentines for Niece and Nephew and Godchild and Godchild's Niece:


Sunday, February 06, 2005

Your children are not your children

I always thought that any kid of mine would be, well, a nerd. Like me. Odd, bookish; the kind of kid who takes a while to find her place in the world. The Renaissance Woman always assumed the same. We figured we'd be able to support our child when he/she got picked on by bullies, giving him/her the benefit of our accumulated wisdom and a safe haven in our dorky little household.

As they say in "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues:" Ha ha ho ho and hee hee.

As Mermaid Girl's friend Hermione's mom said yesterday, while our two confident, socially-savvy, pop-culture-saturated offspring cavorted on a playdate*: "I've given birth to the girl who beat me up in sixth grade."

As Khalil Gibran said: "Your children are not your children, they are the sons and the daughters of life's longing for can house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the place of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams." Somehow I don't think an obsession with Dlsney Pr1ncess und3rpants is what he had in mind, but okay.

Don't get me wrong: My kid, despite occasional imperious tendencies, is a mensch. She's kind to babies and toddlers, eager to help out at home and do good in the world, sensitive to injustice everywhere. But she is an Alpha Girl; there's no way around it. More likely to be the picker-on than the picked-on. And this is a puzzle to RW and me.

It's not that I want my kid to be unpopular or bullied, of course not, I want her to be happy and loved and surrounded by flowers and butterflies everywhere she goes, but if she were bullied, I'd know how to help her deal with it, how to help her love herself in all her oddness and uniqueness. We're a culture of nerdiness in this family: we're both nerds, our parents were nerds before us, my brother is a nerd who married a nerd. Thank God Mermaid Girl has her Uncle Skaterboy to support her in the coolness thing, because aside from the general goal of teaching her to Use her Powers for Good, we're stymied.

Mermaid Girl's friend Ginger is a sweet, unworldly nerd with nerd parents, and I admit I'm a little jealous of them. Ginger's mom and I were discussing this the other day at one of the endless Kindergarten-related events we've both been going to. She was telling a story about a friend of hers who's all freaked out because his daughter is the most popular kid in her class.

"Yeah," I found myself saying, "I keep thinking, maybe Mermaid Girl will learn compassion from other kids thinking it's weird that her parents are gay...but then, this is Seattle! *snapping fingers in frustration* No one's going to give her any grief about it."

I was being flip, of course: if anyone does give our girl the tiniest hard time about her family, RW and I will be all over it. And seriously, I hope and believe that she can become a compassionate person without being a victim herself. We just have to work on the specifics as they come up. So far, we do pretty well: we limit her exposure to television, we won't buy her B4rbie or D1sney things (though we let her keep the ones that come as gifts), we and her teachers talk ad nauseum about, and try to exemplify, kindness and thinking about how other people feel.

Maybe we can get together with Hermione's parents and start a support group: Nerd Parents of Alpha Kids; N-PAK for short. Sort of like P-FLAG. But different. Anyone want to join?

*I swore I'd never use this word, I hate this word with its connotations of four-year-olds carrying palm pilots, but here I am, doing one more thing I promised myself I'd never do. There's just no other way to say "visit over at another kid's house" concisely so it flows into a sentence.

Now I'm Out to Everyone in My Family immediate family, anyway.

Hi, Dad! Welcome to my blog.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Lost pleasures

Mermaid Girl's finally at the age where she can follow the plot of a chapter book. RW's been reading her "Pippi Longstocking" at night while I brush her hair. (Yes, we are Her Highness's handmaidens. There's no point in making any bones about it.)

Tonight we read the chapter from the 2nd book where Pippi goes shopping and buys 72 pounds of candy to give to all the children in town. All kinds of yummy stuff like raspberry cremes, lollipops, licorice boats... and chocolate cigarettes.

Mermaid Girl was perplexed. Chocolate cigarettes?!? We might as well have suggested that Pippi ran down to the 7-l1 to buy some strawberry machine guns.

She doesn't know how to read, but she knows that CIGARETTES ARE BAD. When she sees someone on the street smoking, she points and whispers in indignant, scandalized tones, "That person is smoking a cigarette!" As if they're kicking a puppy, or pooping on the sidewalk, or worse.

I was shocked, myself, to think of the merry abandon with which I used to buy candy cigarettes. RW has fond memories of them, too. There was a candy store on my route to school, and I'd pick up a pack of candy cigarettes of a winter morning and eat them on the way down the hill, casually waving one about between my second and third finger, like a grownup. The best part was holding it up to my mouth and then breathing out, so that my frozen breath made "smoke."

Mermaid Girl will never know that thrill.

On the other hand, she can buy these, unheard of in my youth, with her hoarded allowance. So who's the deprived one here, really?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Still here, don't worry.

*Blowing dust off Blogger account*

Hi there, all you who are still visiting and haven't given up on finding appreciable content over here at Travels in Booland. Nice to see you. I haven't given up either. I'm sure my muse will be

Meanwhile, I've been flitting around like a regular social butterfly, reading and commenting and writing over-lengthy and discursive e-mails, probably scaring away any prospective correspondents. I have a long post brewing, maybe more than one, all about public school and race and integration and the two-hour phone conversation I had last weekend with my friend and sometime commenter Angela, and why the phrase "The hard, painful work of undoing racism," intoned frequently, sends the two of us into uncontrollable guffaws. (Short answer: a few too many extremely earnest, self-lacerating anti-racism workshops in our respective pasts.)

All this brought on by the looming specter of Kindergarten Choice, of course. And finally finishing The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem, all 528 pages of it (well, I did listen to much of that on CD). And by the series my mom is writing that's partly about why they moved us to the suburbs. (Ah, who's the copycat now? Me, I guess.)

In the meantime: a small moment, brought to you by Mermaid Girl, who didn't like what was on the dinner menu tonight.

Me: How about some cheese, instead?
Her: No! I will not dine on cheese.

Well. All right then.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Buster Update

After I sent them this e-mail, my local PBS station shot back a form e-mail saying basically that they were reviewing the Buster situation and would make a decision soon. Today they sent me a follow-up, excerpted below:

The [Sugartime] episode has been criticized in some quarters by those who feel it would inappropriately expose children to information about non-traditional families with same-sex partners in parental roles. We acknowledge that the topic of same-sex couples is a sensitive one for some people, but after screening this episode we are comfortable that it addresses the issue in an age-appropriate way for the viewers that we serve. Just as in other episodes of the series, parents’ lives in “Sugartime” are included only as a backdrop to the kids’ lives; the focus is on Buster's visits to a sugar house and a dairy farm.

KCTS has not rushed into this decision. We have taken the time to review the program, compare it to other episodes in the series and discuss the issue internally. We also received helpful feedback from a member of our Advisory Board’s Education Committee, and were contacted by many viewers, most of whom advocated for the broadcast of the program. Ultimately, however, the decision to air the program was rooted in our belief that KCTS and KYVE serve diverse communities which are comprised of many different kinds of families, and that it is healthy for children to learn about that diversity in appropriate ways.

We encourage our viewers to watch the program, and then to tell us what they think about it.
Isn't that nice? It's airing February 11th at 4:30. We're going to tape it.