Friday, February 23, 2007

Driveway Highway Moment

This Story Corps piece on NPR totally had me sobbing this morning. Right on the highway, on my way to work.

I think it was the daughter's thoughtful questions, as much as anything, that pushed me over the edge.

Here's the link to the Morning edition web page, in case the Real Audio link above doesn't work for you.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Liar, Liar, House (not) on Fire

The house across the street, a sweet little place where a succession of neighbors have lived before each set had a kid (or, in one case, a second kid) and decided to move somewhere bigger, is being torn down. Our neighbors were over there yesterday salvaging plants and hardwood flooring, and today the firefighters are there for a practice session. They're making fake smoke and breaking the doors down and generally putting on a fine show. The Mermaid Girl and I watched for a good long time out the window, her all princesslike in her pink satin nightgown and the crown and pink earrings she "won" by playing a phantom opponent in the vile yet beloved "Pretty Pretty Princess" board game someone gave her for her 5th birthday.

As the firefighters carried in huge sheets of plywood, MG suddenly said, "Oh, right, I remember those."

"You do?"

"Mm-hmm. Last year when I was in kindergarten, a house across the street caught on fire, and the firefighters came. they put out the fire, and then they brought those in. I don't remember what they did with them, though."

"A house caught on fire? Last year?"

"Yes. It was choice time, and we all went to the windows and watched. Mrs. L. told us to stop, but we didn't."


"Someone left a stove on."

"How did you know that?"

"The firefighters came afterwards and told us."

"They came to your class??"

"They came to the school."

I let it drop. I have absolutely no idea if this really happened. Last summer when MG was stung by a bee at the hot springs, the medical worker asked her if she'd ever been stung before, and she gave a detailed account of how a bee had stung her at day care when she was three: She'd been outside, she said, playing on the climber, and a bee stung her right on the leg, right there, and Teacher B had pulled out the stinger.

"I don't remember that happening," I said.

"Well, it did," insisted MG.

"I never saw an incident report about it," I said. I might not remember every report they sent about a skinned knee or a bite, but I know I wouldn't have forgotten a bee sting. Still, her memory of the incident was so exact...

"Oh," she said airily, "I told them they didn't have to write one."

Right. Not bloody likely. That was when I started to get spooked. Most of her lies are pretty minor, and she couldn't know that making up the bee sting story could have huge implications for our knowledge of whether or not she was likely to have an anaphylactic reaction to this one or the next one.

It was cute back when she was 2 and the haircutting guy asked "how old are you, sweetie?" and she coolly replied, after looking him up and down and calculating how much she thought she could add and get away with it, "Five". But she's almost six and a half now, and an excellent storyteller. She knows how to pile on the believable detail, how to keep a straight face. It's a pretty good bet that the more she protests and insists "I'm not lying!", the more likely it is that she is.

I know all this is developmentally appropriate, that she's testing out the difference between truth and fiction, fact and hope. RW and I do our best to underreact to her fibs and stories, and not to put her in a situation where she feels like she has to lie.

But it's strange to live with someone you can't believe. It means I'll never know whether she really saw a house catch on fire in kindergarten last year, or if she just made it up out of a wish to seem experienced in all things. I just hope we can help her grow out of it before the consequences become more serious.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

My Librarian Moment

The thing I said today that gave me that warm glow of accomplishment, as 7th graders stared at me gape-mouthed while trying to wrap their minds around the fact that Wikipedia--and, in fact, all encyclopedias and all information found in print and online--might not be completely 100% reliable:

"The Encyclopedia Britannica didn't just drop out of the sky, you know."

Sometimes, I love my job.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Kicking and Screaming

"For there was that law of life, so cruel and so just, which said that either one must change, or pay more for remaining the same."
--Norman Mailer. For real.

I HATE change. For the last several years I've managed to tuck myself into a nice comfortable rut life in which I deal with as little change as possible. But there are signs that that time is coming to an end.

Even Blogger thinks so: I was kicked onto New Blogger today, whether I will or no. And it seems to be fine so far.

RW ordered me a new computer today. It should be coming within the next couple of weeks. This is good because my trusty old museum piece of a laptop, on which I'm typing this very entry, has shown signs of imminent demise. And the new one will be better, faster, stronger, lighter, snazzier. And have a DVD drive. Still, nothing is without bumps.

And there are more changes coming, one way or another. Bigger, better (or maybe worse) changes.

The very thought made me so sleepy that this afternoon I lay down and took a nap.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Not the Stork

One day in high school, we had a pretest to start a new unit. We all took out lined pieces of paper and creased and ripped them lengthwise and wrote the numbers 1 to 12 on alternate lines and got ready to write definitions.

"Number one," said the teacher. "Conception."

Wow! I thought. That's hard! I mean, I know what it is, but how do you decribe it? "Conception." I wrote. "The act of having an original or new idea or thought." There, I thought. That's close enough.

"Number two," said the teacher. "Sexual intercourse."

D'oh! I thought (or would have thought, if the word had been invented in those benighted pre-Simpsons days), erasing furiously while mentally smacking my forehead. What was I thinking? I scolded myself. This is Health class.

It's not that I'm squeamish; it's just that my mind isn't necessarily on the body. In any case, we're starting to think about how to explain this particular idea or thought to the Mermaid Girl.

The Mermaid Girl knows quite well where she came from: there was a speck from Mama and a speck from Uncle Skaterboy and the specks got together. We think she might be under the impression that they got together in Mama's tummy, so therefore Mama must have swallowed the speck. We feel vaguely guilty about not being in a huge hurry to disabuse her of this notion, since the reality was so...well, "ridiculous" is the word that springs to mind when I recall the logistics. Also, even if we correct her current misconception (as it were) and explain in careful clinical detail where she came from, she'll still have very little idea how it usually happens. She'll be The Kid Who Thought All Babies Are Conceived By A.I. And while it's kind of a relief to not have to break to our kid the squicky news that her parents did that, it kind of begs the question.

No problem, right? The conventional wisdom is that kids will ask you what they need to know, so you shouldn't go burdening them with undue information too early.

But if we know our girl, she's unlikely to do something as straightforward as asking us. Because asking us would mean admitting she doesn't know everything in the world, and heaven forfend she should appear less sophisticated than her 40-something housemates/parents. Instead, I'm sure she'll do all she can to pick up information on the sly, probably from kids at school.

This approach has in the past led to MG passing on to us such nuggets of wisdom gathered from her peers as "California is going to sink into the ocean soon" and "If you eat something while you're lying down, you DIE." So it's a little scary to think about what they might tell her about sex and reproduction.

On the other hand, she might ask us in disguise, like she did the other day. "[a kid in her class] is so silly!" she said brightly. "He said a woman has to be married to have a baby! I told him that's just wrong!" She tried this out on me and RW separately, and we both agreed that he was mistaken, all you need is a speck from a woman and a speck from a man, but independently suggested that many people, including possibly her classmate's parents, think that it's a better idea for a woman to be married when she has a baby so the baby will have two parents to take care of it, since babies are a lot of work.

(MG's current plan, by the way, is to be a single parent, so she can make all the decisions herself. We have repeatedly gently suggested that single parenthood is not the easiest path, as it's generally very hard to take care of a baby and also earn enough money to live on. "I'll have my baby after I retire," is her solution. Hey, it worked for Annie Liebovitz...)

While we were talking about babies and specks and misinformed classmates, I thought it might be time to slip her some official terminology, and told her that many grownups call the speck from a man a "sperm" and the speck from the woman an "egg," even though it's very very tiny and doesn't look at all like the eggs we have in our fridge.

She stopped jumping rope and stared at me, struck by a sudden thought. "Do you have eggs in you?" I assured her that I do, but they've never met any sperm.

"And," I added, "You have eggs in you, too. They're not ready to make a baby yet, though."

She resumed jumping, looking very smug and pleased.

So I brought home It's So Amazing! for RW and me to preview. We spent the evening looking through it and agreed that it's a terrific book, extraordinarily well-written and informative, with funny and accurate cartoony illustrations. MG might not be quite ready for it yet, due to the overwhelming amount of information and text. Probably next year, though. It covers all the mechanics, and touches in a matter-of-fact way on gay families and adoption and masturbation and (briefly) abortion, and just about everything else you might want (or not really want) to discuss. And the cartoonish pictures are funny and accurate.

Even the masterful Robie Harris has her squeamish moments, though. It might be nit-picky, but I noticed a couple of question-begging elisions in the book. For one, the careful diagram of female genitalia labels all the parts, and also tells what they're all for--the labia protect the vulva, the vagina is where the baby comes out, the urethra is where the pee comes out--except the clitoris, which is just described by apprearance ("a small bump of skin about the size of a pea") and location. No purpose there, apparently. Hmm. Who knew?

Also, on the page where she bravely tackles artifical insemination, the explanation is that "Doctors can place sperm into the vagina or the uterus with a syringe". It was a surprise to read that only doctors can do this; I don't remember there being any doctors around the day we got MG started.

Though both RW and I, like a certain famous Doctor, do have master's degrees... in [library] Science! Maybe that counts.