Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The eternal question

Why, oh why, am I so much more wide awake at 9 PM than at 7 PM?

If only I could just go to bed at 7, I could get enough sleep and all my troubles would be over. But of course there's too much going on then, what with dinner and toothbrushing and the nightly ritual reading of Betsy-Tacy.

Ah, well, off to do my reviews. Last batch of the school year!

More substantial posting after Thursday's multiple deadlines. Honest.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Safety rail, hah!

Inspired by Mir's Friday Flashback on Woulda Coulda Shoulda:

When Mermaid Girl was a six or seven months old, we signed up for a service where someone would come do a childproofing evaluation of your home-- for free!--and then sell you the stuff to make it happen. So the Childproofing Lady came into our lives. She roamed around our house, lecturing us, for about an hour and a half. Who knew there were so many hazards? When she left, all three of us collapsed, exhausted, and slept for the rest of the afternoon.

Then RW and I set about fixing all the dangers she'd pointed out, without using any of her expensive and space-wasting products. (I think we bought the outlet protectors. Boy were they a pain.) RW and her dad put a Plexiglass gate over the ship's ladder to the attic. We put latches on the liquor-and-chocolate cabinet and the cabinet below the bathroom sink. We moved all the cleaning supplies to a high shelf. We padded all the sharp corners with rags and duct tape. We looped up the string for the window blinds so no toddler could reach it. We stopped using the fireplace for the forseeable future. We did everything we could think of to make sure that our precious tiny helpless baby would be safe, even after she started to crawl and walk out of our arms and into the big dangerous world.

Never mind that she didn't start crawling until her first birthday, or walking for another four months after that. We were ready! Nothing was going to get to our baby.

When MG was two, we moved her out of her crib and into a toddler bed. We got the bed at a thrift store, as we are thrifty. It was a sweet little white-enameled metal bed with a railing along one side. You know, so she'd be safe and not fall out of bed.

I think I've mentioned before that MG has never been what you'd call a willing sleeper. Even as a baby, she'd be up for an hour or so after we put her to bed, sometimes crying, sometimes playing. As she got older, we started trying to put her to bed earlier, figuring that she just needed the time to settle down and the earlier she got started the more sleep she'd get. We also tried to keep her room relatively dark, hoping she'd get bored with the lack of visual stimulus and conk out. All that happened then was that she was less tired when she went down and spent more and more time in bed, awake, just hanging out and playing.

We were used to this state of affairs by the time we got her the toddler bed, and didn't give much thought to the reality that now she could get out of bed.

Which is how it came to be that one February night we were upstairs watching The West Wing when we heard a horrible, bloodcurdling scream from MG's room.

We rushed downstairs to find MG standing in her bed, screaming from pain and panic, one hand clutched to her right temple, blood everywhere. We cleaned her up and found that it wasn't quite as bad as it looked, though it could easily, scarily easily, have been much worse: she had a big gash about a quarter-inch from her eye; it was bleeding copiously and looked like it would need stitches, but nothing else seemed to be wrong. We washed it and bandaged it and pieced together the story from MG, between calls to the nurse hotline and the emergency room and packing for what we were sure would be a long sojourn in the hospital waiting room.

What had happened? Apparently, our girl got out of bed to fetch something she wanted to play with, aimed for the stepstool getting back into bed, missed (since it was so dark), fell, and hit her head on the one un-childproofed item in the entire house: an exposed screw securing the toddler bed's safety rail.

Then there was the drive to the hospital, the surprisingly entertaining waiting room (it was a children's hospital, with crayons and coloring books and cartoons on the TV), followed by the endless wait in the little examining room (couldn't they have just kept us in the waiting room?) , the examination with Jeremy the Nice Nurse, the horrible irrigating spray (she still remembers that one painful detail over two years later), the clueless intern who quizzed us about MG's biological father, and finally the stitches, during which her drugged-up conversation amused us all: "I don't have a dad...or a bunny...I have a kitty...he's shy...my mommy is kissing my hand! It tickles!"

So it was that the child we were going to protect from all harm came to have a scar on her temple. It was a striking, angry red for a while, then it faded. The doctor assured us that by the time she's grown up it will be barely noticeable. But I don't think it will ever disappear completely.

We didn't throw out the bed, but we did go over every inch of it with duct tape. And we started putting MG to bed a little later. And got her a stronger night light.

And we started to reconcile ourselves to that big parental truth: you can duct-tape everything in sight, instill bedtime routines, put the Clorox up on the highest of shelves, get an expert to install the carseat, limit candy, brush their teeth every night, teach them to stand up for themselves and use their words, move to the best school district.

But every kid ends up with scars of one kind or another. With luck, they'll fade with time. And your kid will have a good story about how they got 'em.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

I Hope She'll Remember Us, Come the Revolution

Our girl wrote a letter to President Bush the other evening. After dinner, while working on her popsicle on the front porch.

She dictated it to me. It went approximately like this:

George Bush President*:

Please can you stop all the wars. Especially the one in Iraq. Stop all wars everywhere.


Mermaid Girl Booland


* I told her that "President" was the respectful thing to call a President [at least to his face], and that he has a hard important job even if we don't like him.

**She didn't want to sign it "love," which is her customary sign-off in letters to anyone she has the remotest acquaintance with. I suggested "sincerely" as an alternative. I think she especially liked that it means "I really really mean it."

MG has told us many times that she hates George Bush and tries to encourage us to say we hate him too. We usually go all mealymouthed and liberal and demur that we hate a lot of things that he does, but we don't hate him, that hating hurts the hater more than the person they hate, etc. etc. RW thinks that Mermaid Girl likes having someone she feels like it's okay to hate. Many people older than her feel the same about someone or other political, I guess.

She's very worried about the war. We don't talk about it much, but she caught a snippet of an NPR news broadcast and quizzed RW until she had to admit that yes, it is far away but there is a war going on and people are dying in it. Then on the way to swim class the other day, all of a sudden she's all "I'm scared, I'm scared of the war in Iraq, I don't want to go to Iraq!"

I said "Don't go to Iraq!" which was a silly reply ("It hurts when I move like this." "Don't move like that!") but I was distracted by traffic.

"Why is George Bush making that war?" she continued. "I wish I could tell him to stop!" So that's when I suggested the letter.

Afterwards, she pointed out proudly that she had asked him very politely. "I didn't say, you're so stupid, George Bush! I asked nicely." I agreed that she had.

Then she got a very mournful look and said in a voice dripping with sadness and pity, "Poor Barbara! I'm so sad for her."

We were mystified. "Barbara? Who's Barbara?"

"George Bush's mom," she explained, a certain impatient edge cutting the lachrymose tone.

"Ohhh... right. But why are you sad for her?"

She dropped the attitude and her voice became even more earnest and mournful, if that's possible: "Because her little boy is making wars."

It was very, very, very, very hard not to laugh. But as she said it I could also see how sad it was, to contemplate this worst of all possible fates for a mom.

Of course we had to go and ruin the moment by explaining that Barbara Bush is probably all for this war, that her husband made wars too, back when he was President, and that it probably doesn't bother her. But I don't think MG believed us. Obviously, as clueless grownups who refuse to join her in calling the President a diaperhead, all our political opionions are suspect.

Don't trust anyone over thirty, indeed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


this is just to see if Blogger will let me see my own blog if I put up a new post. I can see other people's blogs, even Blogger ones. So why not mine?

Okay, let's try this.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Apparently Mermaid Girl Will be Taking the Transatlantic School Bus

From an E-mail exchange this afternoon:

RW: I just saw on the Smartypants Yuppie School website that they're recruiting volunteers for an ice-cream s0cial for incoming Kindergarten families. Wednesday, June l4, 6-7 PM. I assume they'll invite us in some official way before the 14th...

Ginger's Mom [Ginger is also going to SYS next year]: I wonder if they mean Wednesday June 15 or Tuesday, June 14. And who eats ice cream at 6pm? What the heck time do those folks eat dinner?

Me: Maybe the children have dinner at 5? In the nursery? With the singing nanny? Or maybe not till 8, in the European manner, and so this is just a little late-afternoon snack before they set the kids running around the plaza till they collapse in a heap at their parents' feet at midnight or so?

Hmm... England, Spain, England, Spain...who knows?

Oh dear, I seem to be a bit giddy. We just got a little postcard, though: it's Wednesday the 15th.


Honestly, I know why they're having it at 6: it's so the day-care families can get home from work, and the kids with early bedtimes don't have to be kept up late. But Ginger's mom cracked me up anyway.

We are so curmudgeonly. How can we possibly complain about ice cream? Everyone likes ice cream (except my friend Nora, who says it hurts her teeth). I'd eat it at any hour. Mermaid Girl would, too. Maybe we'll just skip dinner that night.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Best Literary Line of 2005

From my mom, apropos of The Kite Runner and The Plot Against America: "8-year-old boys must be this year's little black dress."

I think she's onto something. cf. also Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Though I guess he's 9? Not that I've actually read any of these, mind you; mostly I read kids' books, which, strangely enough, also tend to feature 8-and-9-year-old boys. And girls.

Hmm...thinking about childrens' books vs. adult books with child protagonists. What's the difference? And what about "crossover books" that start out as kids' books and "transcend their genre" to become popular among adults (as discussed in this discussion on Interstital Arts, thanks to my cousin Ellen for the link)?

Then there are the children's books with adult (though often disguised as animals) protagonists, like Time Stops for No Mouse, and The Wind in the Willows, and Avril Crump and her Amazing Clones--that does have a little girl in it, though she's not the main character--and the one I'm listening to on my commute these days, The Mayor of Central Park, by Avi, which gets away with being about some really scary things by using cutesy old-New-York argot and casting all the characters as squirrels and moles and rats.

And what about books that cross over in the other direction, that start out being marketed to adults and then get widely read by kids and teenagers? Like Ender's Game and A College of Magics, both of which have been recently reissued with kid-friendly covers, or Persepolis and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: titles (often with teenage protagonists) that are originally published for adults but end up on lots of recommended Young Adult lists. Or even a book like The Lovely Bones: I had middle-school kids asking me for that one, even though politically I felt like I couldn't buy it for a K-8 library. It's all over the map, what people like: the receptionist at our school loved Holes when I recommended it to her, and I've had 5th graders ask if we have The DaVinci Code.

Lots of teachers and school librarians get hung up on making sure kids' books are "age-appropriate." I used to have no patience for that kind of thing. Now that I've been a librarian for a while, and also not incidentally now that I have a small child, I understand it a little better. But I still think age-appropriateness is an extremely rough and idiosyncratic measure, and in some ways protects adults--from dealing with kids' questions, or acknowledging kids' scary concerns--as much as or more than children.

Then there are the people, often writers-- like "adult" SF writer Connie Willis and "children's" writer Polly Horvath--who insist there's no such thing as children's literature or adult literature, that the distinction is entirely a marketing invention. And it's true, a smart kid who's into the Middle Ages could read and love Willis's The Doomsday Book, and Polly Horvath's The Canning Season--which got trashed at my review group at the same time that it won the National Book Award for young people's literature--is dark and sophisticated in ways that adults can appreciate.

Probably I'm an unsophisticated reader but it's just about all the same to me, except that the adult books are more likely to have sex in them. (I was about to write "and the kids' books are shorter," but that's not necessarily true any more, thanks Joanne Rowling and Cornelia Funke for making me plow through 500-page tomes to get my kid-lit fix.) Most of my friends tend to be big kidlit readers-- RW, MG and I each have our own collection of children's books, which will never be merged, thank you very much. I have my copy of The Saturdays, RW has hers, and one day the Mermaid Girl will have her very own.

There's a really erudite post in here somewhere, with a cohesive train of thought and some kind of conclusion, but it's not happening today. Just stream of consciousness and a bunch of unlinked and unglossed titles, most of which I highly recommend in case you're wondering.

P.S. Yikes! It's almost time to start making the summer reading lists! Always an exciting exercise in realizing just how much reading I have failed to do.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Identity crisis

Sometimes I find myself checking my blog over and over and I realize that it's not comments I'm looking for, it's a new post. Hey, where's that new post on Travels in Booland? Who's that blogger? Why's she slacking off? Fire her!

It's like there's another me, and I'm waiting for her to get all this stuff done. Writing and housework and work work and all that, so I can...I don't know. Read? Go to the movies?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Today Twinkie was in the shop, so we were down to one car, which doesn't really work for us. Maybe next year, when Mermaid Girl will take the bus to school and RW will be able to bike to work, but not right now, with me working across the bridge and RW needing to drop MG off at preschool in the mornings.

I got a ride to work with a co-worker, but she was staying late for a meeting and the other co-worker who gave me a ride back across the bridge could only take me as far as downtown. That was still better than the three-bus, hour-and-a-half one-way trip I would've had to do otherwise, so I was happy. I walked to the bus stop and sat on a bench and waited for the bus to my neighborhood. It was a sunny late afternoon and I had a book. People were all around me, ending their workdays or heading for dinner, people I didn't know, all with their own stories. Then on the bus I didn't have to do anything, didn't have to drive or pass or signal or worry about which route was best or what that funny noise is when I turn left. I could just sit there with my book (and I can still read on the bus! Yay! I don't get carsick like I do now in cars!) and wonder vaguely about the people around me and look out the window every now and then.

Then while we were stopped at the open drawbridge I was able to transfer to the bus that goes even closer to my house. And it turned out to be a poetry bus, poetry all over the walls, including some by 8th graders. This one was my favorite.

When I first moved here, I didn't have a car and I lived near the middle of the city. For a while I worked as a substitute clerk in the public library system. The scheduler would call me at 7:30 or so and ask if I could get to one branch or another by opening time at 9:30, and the answer was always yes. I took a lot of buses, sometimes for an hour or more each way. It was lovely, meditative time. Not like driving at all.

I wish I could take the bus now. But I don't have time.

Monday, May 16, 2005

So thrilled, I can't stop linking

Hey, guess what, I won a contest! That is, I co-won it along with two other people who wrote amazing posts, in whose company I am honored to be. (The people's company? The posts' company? Either. Both.)

Oh boy! I'm really excited. I know I should be playing it cool and not bragging, but honestly I never win anything--anything!--so I have been doing little happy jigs all day.

Now go visit the newly bald Jay's site and Kim's site and Joshilyn's site. And enter Blogging for Books next month! It's fun, even if you don't win. I should know; I've entered before and didn't even crack the top 7, but I found some great blogs, and several great readers-- some of whom have become friends-- found this site.

And go visit this woman's site. And buy her books. (She's the one who gave me A Little Princess, with the Tasha Tudor illustrations, for my seventh birthday.)

This is better than winning an Oscar, because you can't link to people when you're making your Oscar acceptance speech. Also, which would you rather win: a statue, or a signed copy of the #1 Book Sense Pick for April?

Considering that I'm addicted to text, and have next to no visual sense, you can see that this is a no-brainer for me.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The weekend is over, and we are not yet saved

Here's what RW did this weekend:
  • Weeded the backyard, with MG's help
  • Took out all the garbage and recycling
  • Took MG shopping for a doll she'd saved up for
  • Did all the dishes and wiped down the counters
  • Washed the kitchen floor
  • Did several loads of laundry
  • Bought a new vacuum when the old one broke
  • Gathered signatures on 2 different neighborhood petitions, meeting several neighbors in the process
  • Vacuumed and cleaned and changed the bedding in the attic loft
Here's what I did:
  • Chauffeured MG to and from Hebrew school
  • Took MG shopping for end-of-year presents for her Hebrew school teachers
  • Straightened and vacuumed the living room and our bedroom
  • Swept MG's room
  • Cleaned the bathroom except for the tub
  • Went to the library and picked up several books for MG, two of which I have now read to her approximately a dozen times each
  • Changed MG's bedding
  • Folded a little laundry, but nothing like what I need to be folding
  • Made a start on cleaning my office, with MG's help
That's only a tiny bit of what was on both our to-do lists.

And I didn't count cooking, chivvying MG into her clothes and pajamas and through the bedtime routine, feeding the cat...other things I'm sure I've forgotten, too. We did some recreational things too, and I wasted a fair bit of time, but basically we were pretty focused. And we didn't get nearly everything done that we needed to.

This is the big revelation of middle age: how much of life is just about maintenance. Maintaining your body, your house, your car, your family. Your teeth. The dailiness of keeping things going. Who knew it took so much time and energy just to keep chaos at bay?

I don't mean all this to be a complaint, though maybe it's coming out that way. It just continues to astonish me, even though it shouldn't by now. So much of my life for the first thirty years or so was about change, newness, crisis; I think I just assumed, without thinking much about it, that once I got relationships, job, money, housing settled, things would just sort of hum along on their own, and I could spend my spare time reading and writing novels and changing the world and talking with my friends.

And now I've been in the same relationship for almost ten years, in the same house for eight, at the same job for seven, had the same one and only child for almost five, and I understand how foolish that assumption was. Even if neither RW nor I worked full-time, we could easily fill up our days just keeping things going. Taking the car to the shop, writing thank-you notes, cleaning out the basement, sending packages, matching up the CD's with their containers, getting the lawnmower sharpened, exercising, flossing...

When I was in college, I read To the Lighthouse for an English class. It was my first Virginia Woolf, and I remember being wowed by the obliquely beautiful language and stunned by the revelation halfway through the novel (which I won't spoil here).

But mainly, I remember a sort of dumb surprise at the lengthy description-- it takes up the whole middle section of the book--of an abandoned house falling apart through neglect. It had never occurred to me that such a thing could happen: that time, weather, dust, bugs, all by themselves, could destroy a solid structure like the one I'd grown up in. That it took constant work simply to keep a house in livable shape.

I was living in a group house with friends around that time, and it was also a shock--maybe this came from growing up with a housekeeper and a sort of class-based shelteredness, or maybe it was just my particular form of spaciness--to realize how much housework there was, and that it didn't just go away, and you kept having to do it over and over: the dishes were always there, and if you didn't shop and cook there would be no food, and the bathroom got disgusting after a while and something had to be done about it. I'd had chores as a kid, washed dishes and folded laundry and raked leaves and biked to the store for milk, but the relentnessness and daily reality of keeping up a house totally threw me.

I remember sitting in the kitchen one day, looking at the dishes in the sink and the shopping list up on the fridge, and the yellow-brown linoleum, and having an amazing epiphany: oh! the understanding came upon me: This is it! It's not like this is play, a game, a temporary thing like going to classes and writing papers. This isn't an exercise in pretending to be grownups: we are the grownups. And when we leave here it will be more of the same: another sink to empty, another fridge to keep stocked, another floor to wash, and all the rest of it. We don't graduate from this. It's forever.

And I was right.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

In Lieu of Content

A couple of links:

Implicit Association Test, via Bitch.Ph.D. I first heard about this test from Angela a few months ago, but only just found out that anyone can self-administer it online. It takes about ten minutes, not much longer than all those fun, silly quizzes, but don't be fooled: not only is it totally fascinating, but it can lead to some uncomfortable revelations about yourself. The tests are a product of scientific research about biases based on race, age, sexual orientation, etc. You can even sign up to participate in their ongoing study on biases and preferences via online tests.

Turns out I seem to be about as unconsciously racist as I thought I was (slightly), but more religiously egalitarian: I thought I'd test as biased in favor of Judaism, but my test results showed "little or no automatic preference for Judaism relative to other religions." Go figure.

I also tested out as only slightly biased in favor of gay people over straight people, where I thought I'd be wildly pro-gay. (Could that be partly because all the gay-related images were of men? Hmm?)

Speaking of gay people: Romance Rioter and former reporter Kate Rothwell has put her investigative skills to work and uncovered The Real Gay Agenda. It's so secret, even I didn't know about it. Of course, I never go to the meetings.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Contract with America My Kid

The Mermaid Girl's hair is a long curly tangly mane; she's been resolutely growing it for the past year and a half, ever since just after her 3rd birthday when she cut the whole right side of it off while watching TV and Renaissance Woman had to take her out quick for an emergency haircut and she looked like Annie Lenox for months and people stopped cooing over her adorable toddler ringlets and started mistaking her for a boy.

Come to think of it, that's about when she began insisting on wearing dresses all the time.

Anyway, she hasn't looked like Annie Lenox for at least a year now, and her hair is so long and so easily tangled that if we don't brush and detangle and braid it every bloomin' night, it becomes a gigantic blond matted mess which requires much resolute painful scream-inducing brushing to repair.

So we brush it and spray it with detangler and braid it every night. When she complains, we suggest that we'd never have to do this if we just got her hair cut short, and she clams right up.

Usually I do all that, while RW reads the Girl her bedtime story. This should be a lovely family moment, all of us together, but usually we're so tired and behind-schedule that we don't exactly savor the sweetness of it the way we should. I spray, brush, spray, brush, braid, braid, tie it off with a ponytail holder, and that's that.

As to where we all sit for this evening ritual-- well, we used to all just sit on the carpet in her room, but while MG and I were in New York, the Renaissance Woman took on the Hurculean task of pulling up all the carpet in MG's room, laying down laminate flooring, painting the walls and ceiling (because after the baseboards were up you could see the old paint and it looked terrible), weeding and rearranging all the toys and junk, and putting it all back together. She did it mainly because of the whole dust-mite-allergy thing, but the effect goes so much further. It looks like a whole different room, the room of a Big Kid.

She also dug out from the basement the little school desk we bought for MG almost a year ago at a consignment store, painted it gleaming white, and arranged it by the window with all the pens and pencils sorted neatly in cups, and a pad of paper on the desk, and even a little vase with a flower for MG to see the night we got back. Our girl was so happy to have her very own desk; when I suggested that next year she could do her schoolwork at it, she cried in delight "Yes! My homework! Like this!" And sat down at the desk and proceeded to pretend to do homework: "Write write write, write write write, okay! I'm all done with my homework now!" And she pushed out her chair, stood up, pushed her chair back under her desk, and brushed her hands briskly together like anyone who's just taken care of a job.

So, what with the floor being all hard and laminated-wood now, and not so comfortable to sit on, and the nice shiny new desk chair being right there, it was only a matter of time before she insisted on sitting at the desk chair to get her hair brushed. (She has a low little director's chair, too, but it is not of course so new and big-kid-like.)

The problem is that if she does that, and I'm sitting on the floor, I can't actually reach her hair. So I have to go get a stool from the kitchen, and sit on it behind her, and brush and braid her hair while RW crouches on the stepstool next to her and reads her the story. It was all starting to feel just too diva-like for my taste, and I knew once it became a routine I'd be dragging in that kitchen stool every night to brush her hair, and then dragging it back out again, and...I just couldn't. I said no.

(N.B. You may wonder why we don't all just sit on MG's bed and avoid the whole issue. The answer is that we can't: despite being such a sophisticated near-grownup with her own desk and all, she still has her toddler bed, and not only is it too small for us to sit on but it has a big railing along the side so that no grownup can sit on the edge without serious butt discomfort. We are working on gettting a big-girl loft bed, but it's back-ordered at Ikea.)

So, where was I-- right, I said no to the hair-brushing-at-the-desk-chair idea. Cause I'm so mean and lazy. And MG commenced to plead. I mean plead. She got down on her knees and clutched my hand between hers and said "Please, please, please, Mommy, please brush my hair at the desk chair. Just this once! I promise I'll never, never ask you again! Please, Mommy!"

Okay, so you can see that not only is our girl a drama queen, she's a brilliant manipulator. I mean, I was in a no-win position: either come the heavy and refuse my pleading child, sparking a bedtime tantrum over what is basically kind of a silly issue, or cave and feel like a fool (a fool on a stool, at that).

Then, just as her pleas were about to morph into whines, I was struck by inspiration. "You promise?" I said. "You promise that if I let you sit at the desk chair for hair-brushing tonight, you'll never ask to do it again?"

"I promise," she swore.


"What are you writing?" She asked.

"This is a contract," I explained. "I'm writing down your promise, and you're going to sign it. Now, what will happen if you do ask to sit in the big chair again to get your hair brushed?"

"I won't," she said, warming up to full earnest-pleading pitch again, "I promise."

"Yes, yes, I know you promise, but what if you forget? What should happen?"

"I...don't get to watch any TV."

"No way. You don't get to watch TV most school nights anyway. How about, no story that night?"

"Okay," she conceded.


"There." I read the contract aloud to her, and drew a line at the bottom of the page. "Now sign it. That means you agree to it."

She signed her first name, in fancy pseudo-script connected letters befitting the seriousness of the document. I taped it to the bookcase next to her desk. She sat in the chair. I pulled in the kitchen stool and brushed and braided while RW read.

That was last night. Tonight, she sat in the low little director's chair with no fuss at all. This contract thing is great! I wonder if it would work for other issues, like the endlessly-prolonged bedtime song-and-cuddle.

On the other hand, it was almost too easy. I have the uncomfortable feeling that I've just set myself up somehow, and that more experienced parents are reading this with a knowing smirk: "Ah, the old contract trick!" you old hands are thinking. "I remember that one. What a chump. Wait till she sees how that kid can twist it around."

But, you know, it's working so far.

At least I didn't have to sit on that damned stool again tonight.

Mugged on Mother's Day

It was just like The Gift of the Magi or something. Or maybe not like that. But in any event, RW and I both independently and secretly had the same brilliant idea for Mother's Day: hand-painted mugs!

She was much more organized and took the Mermaid Girl to a paint-your-own-pottery place almost two months ago to get my mug done. MG didn't breathe a word about it to me, aside from "I'm not gonna tell you what you're getting for Mother's Day! It's a surprise!" So I really didn't know about it when I noticed that Hugh Crawford's photography site offered mugs as well as prints. I ordered one with MG's photo on it, and it only took a couple of days to get here. Then I realized that if we could find paint that would stick to the shiny mug and not wash off, she could paint on the blank white part of the mug and personalize it even more.

I didn't have a chance to buy paint until Saturday, so Sunday morning found MG and me huddled in my office behind a big "Do Not Enter" sign on the door, trying not to get permanent acrylic paint on her pajamas.

I was happy for her to paint whatever she wanted, as long as she didn't cover up the photo. The paint did slide a bit, but basically it worked fine.

The only glitch came when MG wanted to paint on the inside of the mug as well. I read over the instructions and told her she couldn't, because the paint wasn't supposed to come in direct contact with food.

"Please?" she begged. "Just a little bit of writing in the middle, on the bottom? Because that's what I did with yours!"

Fortunately, I didn't hear that part and so was able to be completely surprised when I opened my present after breakfast.

And indeed, there was writing on the bottom of the cup, dictated by her and written by RW: "Dear Mommy, I love you, love MG." A little reward for finishing my tea.

We had to wait another hour or so before RW's mug had dried enough for us to present it, but she pronounced it the most beautiful mug she'd ever owned. Which is exactly the way I feel about mine. Really and truly, and aside from the sentiment: MG picked the colors just right. That girl not only knows how to keep a secret (should we be worried about that?), but she knows my taste.

All together now: "Awwwwww..."

Friday, May 06, 2005

Return of the Interview Game! Question 3!

Many, many weeks ago, I asked Suzanne to tag me in the Interview Game, and she very obligingly and wonderfully did, and I got my 5 questions, two of which I proceeded to answer in so much detail that I was sure she'd be sorry she asked and everyone else would be too scared to ever ask me anything again.

Then I got distracted and forgot to answer the other three questions.

But now I'm back! I remembered! And by golly, I will answer those questions! Because they are just about the best questions anyone's ever asked me. (Except when RW asked me to marry her, that was pretty nice. And when Mermaid Girl asked me tonight in the car if I would like one of her corn chips. That was good too. But aside from those. And maybe one or two others.)

Links to previous Interivew Game posts:
Interview Game Introduction and Question 1: How I Became a Bunhead
Question 2, part 1: The Great Coming-Out Saga Begins
Question 2, part 2
Question 2, Part 3
Question 2, Part 4: After Much Verbiage, The Great Coming-Out Saga Ends

And so, after only a month or so of delay, I bring you:

Question 3. If there was one thing you could guarantee in life for your daughter, what would it be and why?

The truth is, I didn't forget about the Interview Game. It's just that this question is hard. Telling my coming-out story, complete with tiny violins, was a walk in the park compared to answering this one.

It feels like one of those trick fairy-godmother wishes. Like, if I wish for happiness for her, what if she ends up being sort of shallow and easily satisfied and never finding any kind of deeper meaning in her life? And if I wish that I could guarantee that she'll find a true calling, what if she does that but she's otherwise lonely and miserable?

Or how about love? I could wish that she'll find love, and be able to love and be loved. That's pretty safe. But somehow...I don't know. I wouldn't want her to not have that, but it doesn't seem like enough to base a whole life on. I picture her sitting with her love, gazing into her love's face, and he/she is gazing into grown-up MG's face, and boy are they in love love love, forever, and...well, she could be happy but boring. I don't want her to have a boring life, however love-smitten.

On the other hand, wishing above all else that I could guarantee her an interesting life seems like a very bad idea indeed. You can just imagine.

It's just as well that I became a librarian and not a fairy godmother. All those princesses would be collecting Social Security before I stopped dithering and ponied up with the christening gifts.

What came to mind, way back in the past when I was answering Question 2, was this: I want Mermaid Girl to feel like her life counts. All of it. Not in some scary "this will all go on your permanent record" way, which is how I always felt when any adult tried to convey this wish to me as a Young Person, but more like: it's all a gift, all of her life, every moment. It's a gift to her, and a gift she gets to give back to the universe. It's not a gift she has to wait to unwrap until some specified time: when she gets to college, or gets out of college, or finds a Real Job, or buys a house, or whatever. And it's not a gift that expires when she turns thirty or forty or has a child. It's all real, it all counts, no one gets to tell her what it is, or isn't.

Today we went over to meet RW after ballet class, and we were all driving to dinner, and I said something jokingly about Mermaid Girl going to college, and she said, casually but firmly, "I'm not going to college."

"Oh!" I said. "So, what are you going to do, then?" I think I had some dopey idea of lecturing her, whatever she answered, about how going to college would either be necessary or would help her in her stated goal of being a police officer or an astronaut or a dancer or an Olympic judge (all career goals she's espoused at one time or another).

"Whatever comes next," she said. "I'm just going to go right to that."

I want her to be able to do that, whether she goes to college or not. I want her to go right to whatever comes next, and live it right then, and not always be waiting for it to end so real life can start, or wishing she were still doing the last thing because that's when her real life was, only she hadn't realized it.

Of course I want other things for her too: I want her to have compassion, and to be kind, and to be able to be a real friend and to have good and true friends, and to make a difference in the world, and to respect differences and find commonalities, and to express herself, and to be happy in her body, and to love reading, and music, and to be connected to her families' past, and to love cities, and okay, nature too, and to never know hunger or scary poverty, and to learn from her mistakes and move on.

I want her to know how to apologize to a friend and how to stand up to an enemy. I want her to know how to ask for a raise and when to quit a job. I want her to have community, and work she loves, and a lover who loves her for who she is. I want her to know wonder and joy and even sorrow, and not to shrink from those things. I want her to be able to laugh, like her Biblical namesake; long and hard and with great silliness. I want her to be able to do things she's scared of. I want her to live a long, healthy life. I want her to have a child, or children, if she wants them, and to find the joy in them that I've found in her.

And more, of course, more than I could ever put down here.

But I think if she feels like her life counts, like her now counts, she can have many or even most of those.

And if she would continue to share her corn chips with me, that would be a fine thing too.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Take a Picture, it Lasts Longer

The title of this post is a tribute to my daughter's first wisecrack, which took place just over three years ago, when she was about sixteen or eighteen months old. I swear, she was little.

We'd been having some cuddle time, but she was getting restless and kept hiding under the covers. I started crooning cornily about how I just wanted to look at her, and she locked me with an utterly serious gaze and enunciated as slowly and carefully as she could: "PIC-SHUH."

"You want me to take a picture of you?" I checked.

Nod, nod.

"So I can look at the picture instead of you, and not bother you?"

Vigorous nod.

This is the nature of parenting: your kid totally snaps on you, and all you can do is beam with delight.

Anyway. busy times, over here. What with the re-acclimating to the World of Work, and the writing of the monthly book reviews, and the mounting pile of laundry, and all. I have lots to write about-- our trip, plus the remains of the Question Meme--but it will have to wait.

Meanwhile, here are some photos from Hugh Crawford, otherwise known as Spouse of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn. He took them the Sunday before last, April 24th, at his monthly free-potrait gig at a little clothing store/cafe called Fou le Chakra. (He's doing it again in a few weeks. If you're in the city, you should go!) My dad, Mermaid Girl, and I stopped by briefly between seders, to pose and meet Louise/Only the Blog. Can you find us?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

A couple of unrelated rants

Well, they're related to each other. But not to anything else I've been writing about.

1) Rosie and I were talking on the phone today (O, blessed phone contact! One step closer to sitting together in person at a coffee place!) and I found myself going into this total rant about Ayelet Waldman. Or rather, about the incredibly virulent response to her that I've read both on her blog (even months after she stopped writing it) and on salon.com. I mean, really, really hateful comments and letters about what a rotten person and mother she must be. And it's totally mystifying to me.

I've read most of Ayelet's books as well as her blog and essays, and met her once at a reading, and she seems like a smart, frank, funny woman, loving mom, good writer, with a mouth on her-- a lot like a lot of people we know. Like a lot of people I'm friends with, in fact. Not that different from a lot of people whose blogs I read, come to think of it. So how come she touches off this nerve in people so they react like she's the Devil incarnate, and feel the need to wish terrible things on her and her family?

I mean, I mean, I've been sitting here on the Group W bench for a while now, and like anyone who writes or reads blogs for more than five minutes I've seen some nasty trolling. But something about her seems to make people--lots of people, women as well as men-- consistently foam at the mouth in what seems to me a disproportionate way. I just don't get it. It's not like no one else ever writes with brutal honesty or touches on controversial subjects. Is it something about the way she writes? Is it the fact that she was on Oprah? That her husband's famous? That she has short hair? Does she emit some high-pitched sound that only some people can hear, that makes them batshit? What's up?

It's not like I'm asking for trolling nasty comments over here, on either her or me; honest, I'm just as glad I've never had any (except for my very own troll, of course). But if anyone has a cogent, reasoned explanation for this phenomenon (which reminds both Rosie and me of the mud flung at Hillary Clinton), bring it on.

2) One thing that seems to piss a lot of people off is the way Ayelet's been writing and talking (in the New York Times and on Oprah) about how she loves her husband more than her kids. Since I'm very late to the party, lots of other people--who I should link to here but won't because I'm too lazy-- have weighed in on this on their own blogs (and on Ayelet's comments, and in the salon.com letters), and their responses mostly fall into two camps:

a) Ayelet Waldman is a bitch from hell! How can she be such a degenerate, neglectful mother as to love her husband most! I love my kids most, like any good mom, and so should she. And all of you. So there, underwear.

b) Ayelet Waldman is the best! Of course she puts her relationship with her husband first! So do I, and so should any good spouse. Otherwise, the marital bond will wither on the vine and you'll be divorced before your kid's out of diapers. So pooh-pooh to you.

Here's the thing: I think everyone's right. Or wrong. I mean, what's with the lecturing everyone on how what's best for you is what's best for all of us? Ayelet loves her husband best, he loves her best, their bond is at the center of their family, and I'm sure their kids blossom in the shelter of that love. It works for them, as it does for many families. She's being honest about it, and for whatever weird reason (see Rant #1) has gotten blasted for that.

But it doesn't work that way for all families. RW and me, for example: both of us love Mermaid Girl best. There's no "should" about it; we just do. She's the center of our world. If either of us were stuck in that proverbial lifeboat, there is no question that our beloved life partner would be facing a watery grave if that was the way to save our girl. The two of us have a lot of things in common, and our overriding love for her is one of them. It's strengthened our relationship, if anything. We've got our share of issues--maybe more than our share--but we're absolutely united about her.

Maybe this setup we have will lead our relationship to deteriorate in the long run, even though we try to make time to connect as adults together as well as each having some alone-time. And some people who put their spouses first may find that their kids suffer for it. It depends on the family. For most people, it doesn't matter so much; it's not like there's a shortage of love, you know?

I'm afraid this is coming out defensive, when I don't mean to be. It doesn't make Ayelet wrong, or anyone else who puts their kid first irrefutably right. All I can say is: this is the way it is, with us. And it seems to work for us. And if it works for you that way too, great. Just don't be trashing Ayelet about it*.

(*Not that anyone still is, since everyone but me has totally moved on from this subject. I just had this sudden need to get it out there. And now I have. Thank you all and goodnight.)