Monday, June 29, 2009

Free-Range Kid

I picked the Mermaid Girl up from her first day of camp a couple of hours ago. She was chowing down on mango and complaining about how HUNGRY she was and how I didn't pack enough lunch and can I please pack more tomorrow because she was STARVING, when the phone rang.

"Hi," said a kid's voice. "This is Trillium. Does MG have plans for today?"

MG took the phone. "Sure." She said. "Okay. How about in fifteen minutes?"

I said I'd walk her, but before I even had my shoes on, she'd finished her mango and thrown a skirt over her leotard.

"I'm going now!" she called, and was out the door. By the time I had my keys, she was down our half-block hill and across the street.

I followed, far enough behind to see her, but too far to call out comfortably and be heard. She knows the way to Trillium's house; it's less than four blocks away, most of which is the same as her route to school. So I didn't try too hard to catch up, just kept an eye on her as she walked down the street, past the school, and through the schoolyard.

She passed out of sight as she rounded the corner to the next side street, but as I passed through the schoolyard gate I could see her standing on the corner of the semi-busy street that separates the school and Trillium's house.

That street makes me nervous, even more so than the Main Street a block away. Especially in the late-afternoon rush. There are no street lights on Semi-Busy Street, only four-way stops at every corner; commuters use it all the time as an alternative to Main Street, and they don't always stop.

MG stood on the corner for long enough that I had a chance to observe her observing the cars. She danced in impatience as one car zoomed past heedless of the stop sign; then I saw her take a step, and wave at something, and hesitate while looking purposefully to her right--and now I was close enough to see that she was looking at the next car to make sure it was definitively stopping for her. Then she run-skipped across the street and dashed the few short yards to Trillium's house.

She walked up the stairs to the front door, then turned around and walked back down--nobody had answered her knock, I figured--and went around to the back.

She was in the house and out of sight by the time I caught up. Trillium's mom was waiting in the doorway and waved at me. I waved back, said a few words of greeting, and turned around to walk back home.

Last week I read Leonore Skenazy's "Free-Range Kids", and was intrigued. I especially liked the card at the back, meant to be clipped out and carried around and shown to worried adults. "I am a free-range kid," it reads, and goes on to explain that the bearer knows how to cross the street safely, knows not to go anywhere with strangers, that the adults in his/her life know s/he is out and about and that this is okay with them, but if the reader is concerned, here are the parents' contact phone numbers, which they should feel free to call.

When I finished the book, I'd shown the card to MG, and asked what she thought about it. I wasn't sure she would approve; she has an ambivalent relationship with autonomy and independence, and often asks us to to do things for her that I think an almost-nine-year-old should be able to do for herself. She even likes us to pick out her clothes for her.

She read the card, and gave a wordless, eloquent thumbs-up.

I think she's just given it another one.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Facebook angst

Until we moved two years ago, I worked at a private K-through-8th-grade school, as the librarian. I've written about it a fair bit so you probably know this. Anyway, I was there for nine years, so by the time I left I'd known virtually all the kids since they were in kindergarten.

I loved some things about being in a close-knit community, I really did. I loved getting to know all the kids over the years, I loved the village that was the staff room, where I learned almost everything I ever needed to know about being a spouse and a parent and a grownup. And I really enjoyed the company of many of the parents.

There were some things I didn't like, too: the close-knit community sometimes felt too boundary-less to me. The kids sometimes acted infuriatingly entitled. I didn't like all the parents, especially the ones who were also infuriatingly entitled, and didn't like how the structure and nature of the school sometimes left me unprotected from their (I'm pseudonymous here, and don't work there any more, so I'll just say it) craziness. When there was a solid and supportive administrator in charge, that craziness was generally buffered. But there were several years, including my last few, when such was not the case.

Anyway, then I left. Left that school, that metropolitan area, that country. I missed the kids, and many of my colleagues, and some of the parents, but, hey, whee! Clean break! I never have to see the ones I don't like again!

Except, not so much.

Because now we have Facebook. All of us. And our exes and elementary-school friends and high-school teachers and everyone else we thought was faded out of our lives forever, adrift in the world somewhere, well, they can all find us. And we can find them. And we can all be Facebook friends in the great big cafeteria/mall/staff room in the ether, forever.

I am Facebook friends with some of my old co-workers (a few of whom read this blog-- Hi! hi there!!), and that is swell and it makes me much less lonely to be in touch with them and hear how things are going. So that is really nice.

Then, a few months ago, one of my old students sent me a Facebook friend request, and I haven't replied yet. I like her a lot, but I know this student isn't fourteen, and I don't think she's even thirteen, and even though she's not my student any more I wasn't really comfortable with letting her into my grownup facebook life. Just tonight, I got another friend request from another former student. This one is a year older, and again, I like her a lot and would be happy to be in touch with her but just don't want her to see all my stuff. I figure there will be other friend requests from other former students--I wasn't a hugely popular figure, but some kids, the bookish, thoughtful ones, liked me and I liked them, and some more will probably friend me when they think about it or see me commenting on one of their teachers' Facebook pages. I need to figure out what to do about this.

Then there are the parents. I thought I had decided for myself, in my new, happily non-boundary-challenged life, that I would not friend parents from my old school (unless they were also former co-workers). But then I got a friend request from one of my very, very, very favorite parents ever, the mom of one of my very, very, very favorite students ever, and a woman I'd always liked and thought would be a good person to be friends with, but felt somewhat constrained by my professional role. So I accepted her friend request.

And now I see that of course she's friends with other parents, including a few I'd rather not have much to do with, and they will see my comments if I write on her page, and then they and I will no longer be forever out of each other's lives. They might friend me, and I don't want to friend them, but now that I've friended this parent will they be all upset if I don't friend them too?

I have to remind myself that it doesn't really matter, that they are no longer my employer or anything like it (some of them thought they were, which drove me nuts and made me very jumpy), they can't complain to the principal because I won't Facebook-friend them or because they don't like something I wrote on my page. I can friend who I want and not friend who I don't want. That I am a grownup and that--on Facebook and in real, non-Internet life--I don't have to like all my friends' friends.

I'm curious about other people, and would love to know if you want to write in comments: What do you do? If you work at a school or a church or some other similar institution, or are a parent, or just for one reason or another need to set boundaries about who you let into your Facebook-- how do you decide?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sweet Tooth

Perhaps it is true that no one cares what I had for lunch. But! I care! And I will tell you why.

I like many, many things about our life here in Vancouver better than back in Seattle. You know the drill: health care gay marriage skytrain ethnic neighborhoods spelling colour with a "u" blah de blah de blah. And I think I've even mentioned in braggish passing the wealth of ethnic and just generally wonderful food available just a hop skip and jump down the road here in our un-groovy Nearby Suburban neighborhood: Chinese, Italian, sushi sushi sushi, barbecue Vietnamese, Greek, middle Eastern, even Ethiopian. Yummy. Never more need I bemoan the dearth of cannoli in my life, for I can pick up a box of the stuff any time I like.

BUT. There has been one notable lack here in Vancouver. A flaw, a lacuna, a fly in the rainy ointment.

We have not been able to find any decent, cheap, convenient Thai food.

Now, Thai food in Seattle is like Chinese takeout in New York or sushi in Vancouver: ubiquitous. If there are two restaurants on a Seattle street, chances are that at least one of them is Thai. In our old neighborhood there were, at one point, six--SIX!--Thai restaurants within a five-block radius of our house. The owner of our favorite restaurant knew us and always gave MG special treats when we came in. There were times when we ate Thai food every week, and we always got Tom Kha Gai, the miraculous Thai chicken soup, when we were sick. Even the Mermaid Girl, notorious in our family for her food pickiness and not generally fond of anything without orange cheese or nitrates in it, had two or three Thai dishes that she reliably liked.

Not only that, but at almost every Thai restaurant I ever ate in in Seattle (and I ate in many over the years), the service was quick and unobtrusive, the menu was cheap, and the food was reliably at least decent and often transcendent. Thai food was a staple of my routine. It was hard to imagine life without it.

Then we moved to Vancouver, for a better life. But can a life really be considered better if it doesn't include regular doses of satay and rard nah? We stepped gingerly around that question.

Oh, sure, there were Thai restaurants. In our new neighborhood, even. We tried them. They were...underwhelming. And the service was uneven. And they were expensive. It was hard to get used to Thai meals not being among the cheapest restaurant food going.

So, in the manner of immigrants everywhere, we adapted. We learned to eat the local cuisine (which, luckily for us, encompassed a dozen or more other local cuisines.) We tried to forget about Thai food. And, aside from a few wistful sighs over the bathing rama of yesteryear, we almost succeeded.

Then, today, I stopped at the Sweet Tooth Cafe for lunch.

I've passed by the big blue Sweet Tooth awning dozens of times in the past couple of years. It's right on Hastings, a couple blocks East of Commercial, right on my way from Nearby Suburb to almost everything I need to get to in Vancouver proper. I always wondered about it, and thought I should really go in sometime to see what kind of cookies or pastries they had in store. With a name like the Sweet Tooth, that would be what they had, right? Desserts?

But I was always too busy. Until today.

Today I had a half-hour to spare between one errand in Vancouver and another in the Northern suburbs, and the Sweet Tooth was exactly on the way. So I pulled up the van and approached.

I thought they'd serve, maybe, some sandwiches or something to accompany all the sugary things that must surely lurk within. Imagine my shock to see, prominently listed in the window, "Soups, Salads, Desserts, Sandwiches, THAI FOOD."

Inside, it looked like a bare-bones cafe, not a Thai restaurant. No travel posters, no purple wallpaper, no bronze statues. No ambiance whatsoever, in fact. I demanded of the middle-aged woman behind the counter: "Do you really have Thai food?"

"Oh, sure, we have Thai food," she said, bemused. She pointed to the menu on the wall, where four or five Thai dishes were listed along with some soups and sandwiches. "What do you want? Do you want Pad Thai? I make the best Pad Thai in the city."

Pad Thai is the basic, signature Thai dish, the roast chicken or macaroni and cheese of Thai food, but it is easy to mess up. Even in Seattle, there were places that made amazing fancy Thai food but flubbed the Pad Thai. Here in Vancouver, we'd ordered it at every Thai restaurant we tried, and I'd been disappointed every time.

I ordered the Pad Thai. And a lemonade.

The food cost $7.95, which is about what a Seattle Thai joint would charge for Pad Thai.

She brought it over about five minutes later.

It was fucking fantastic. Not too sweet, not vinegary, not gluey or mushy. The noodles were distinct and the vegetables were crisp and there was a liberal dusting of chopped peanuts and it had a hint of that limey, fishy taste that makes it special. And there was plenty of it. If it hadn't been so incredibly good that I couldn't stop eating, there would've been enough to save a nice bit for leftovers.

I took the empty plate back to the counter. "You're right," I said. "That was amazing Pad Thai."

She nodded, pleased but not surprised. "I learned how to make it from my mom's friend. She'd been making Pad Thai for thirty years, and hers was the best in town. She sold it at a stall, in the market, and then she stopped and only cooked at her house, and people followed her there and came to her house for her Pad Thai.

"Even in Thailand, you know, you can't always find Pad Thai. It's street food. You can't get it at a fancy restaurant. And everyone makes it differently. But her Pad Thai was the best, and I learned from her."

I thanked her again, and promised to be back. And I will be.

This isn't normally a food blog, or a review blog. And I don't usually name specific businesses here, at least not with their real names. But I will today: The Sweet Tooth Cafe. 2404 Hastings East, on the corner of Nanaimo. For Pad Thai like they make it in Seattle, and maybe even better.

Oh, and the lemonade was pretty amazing, too.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Random asterisks of time keeps on ticking ticking ticking

*MG cut her hair. Well, unlike when she was 3, she went to a haircutting place and someone else cut her hair. I'd made a reservation for her at the cutesy little kids' salon at the mall, but when she and RW got there, they realized she was way too old to squeeze into the little cars and watch a Dora video, so they cancelled the appointment and went upstairs to the grownup hair salon, which was so much cheaper that RW bought her a Webkinz with the difference.

*Now my daughter's hair is only about down to her shoulder blades and she looks around two years older than she did.

*She is on a campaign to get her ears pierced for her ninth birthday. We told her we'd consider it if she demonstrates some self-sufficiency in other areas of personal hygiene, since care for newly-pierced ears is no joke. So now she is a fiend for tooth-brushing and face-washing and even did her own bath and shampoo by herself the other day. This might not seem notable for most kids, but it is for her.

*Every time she brushes her teeth or hair or washes her face or performs some other evidence of competence in the taking-care-of-her-own-needs area, she says, "Am I getting closer to being ready for pierced ears? Am I?"

*Did I mention: NINTH BIRTHDAY!?


*RW got her a CD-ROM keyboarding tutorial out of the library, and now she is learning to type. Which is good because handwriting is an agony for her.

*We are trying to figure out how to rig up an old computer so that she can type at will, but doesn't have Internet access.

*The laptop on which I am writing this very post is a prime candidate.

*The other day we were driving around, and she was pretending to talk on her pretend cell phone (which is really an eraser). She informed me that the ringtone was "Money Money Money" and then proceeded to sing it in an undertone for a few seconds before pretending to pick up each call. It went like this: "Money money money, always funny, in a rich man's world...Hello? Oh, hi! Yes, a party, can you come? We're going to have sushi, and pizza, and ice cream...yes, on the beach! Okay, bye! [beat] Money money money, always funny, in a rich man's-- Hello?"


*I asked how she knew about ringtones, since RW and I both have cheap cell phones with just regular old rings. "I just do," she said.

*Then she asked if she can have a cell phone when she's a little older. "Maybe in a few years," I said. "When you're old enough to go places by yourself. But we might get you a cheap one with no ringtone too."

*"Don't worry," she said loftily. "When I'm older I'll get my own cell phone. And it will have a cool ringtone."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Find a Window

There is, as usual, a bunch of stuff that I need to do that I've been avoiding. Some of it is at the point where further avoidance will have actual notable consequences, and yet, of course, the longer I've put it off the more I don't want to do it.

I was talking about all this at breakfast this morning, mostly to the Renaissance Woman but the Mermaid Girl was there too, picking at her cereal in her usual morning fog.

"It's like all my fear and resistance is this great big WALL," I said miserably. "And I have to BLAST THROUGH that wall to get anything done."

RW, sensibly, suggested that rather than think about blasting through the wall, I just let the wall stay there and sort of do a few things around it.

And then MG looked up from her cereal and said, "Find a window."

I blinked at her. Sometimes she says things that don't seem to make sense, because she's following her own train of thought and not whatever the grownup conversation is, and I was thinking maybe this was one of those times. We'd been talking a lot about windows lately, what with all this heat.

"You don't need to break down the wall," she explained patiently. "Just find a window. Or make a window."

"Oh!" I said, and "Thank you!" and "That's just exactly it! Wow! Thank you!" It was like the Buddha had airlifted down to our breakfast table in the guise of an eight-and-three-quarters-year-old girl whose hair was dipping into her cereal milk at that very moment.

She was still late to school. Probably to throw us off the track so we don't figure out that the Enlightened One lives among us.

Off to find a window, now.