Based on my hard-hitting expose on how much I dislike Star Wars, Huffington Post Live has invited me to join them online tonight, March 28, at 6:40pm EDT to talk tolerating your spouse’s strange hobbies! Hope you will join me as I try not to embarrass my sci-fi-loving husband too much. This is taking show-shaming to the next level! Exciting!
Welcome to Fussy Mother’s. All menu items are micro-local, carefully sourced from a five-block radius of Fussy Mother’s. Menu items vary seasonally and with the vacuuming schedule.
Snow local boot mud, Massachusetts gravel
Housemade yogurt shake milk-flavored, November sippy-cup
Apple juice half town tap water, virtuous
Dregs recycle-bin wine bottle
School gym Cheerio native dust rabbit
Couch Goldfish damp leather sous-vide, oatmeal-crusted owl-head bowl
Year-old robin’s egg nest of pencil shavings, shredder paper
Shaped crackers native Lego
Backyard scourge mint call it basil if you want
Fridge-aged baby carrots lightly orange, dry
Stop & Shop Cereal Bar unwrapped, no TV
Apple squeezer stained car seat, I-95
Additional Goldfish when I get around to it
Lunchbox contents available till dinner
Freezer chunk brown, ice crust, saddish peas
Sidewalk pine cone rain-stewed, not poop
Native dumplings plastic bag, 1994 Nissan, organic soy sauce
Found PB&J bitten, French-like jam
Meatballs backyard tomatoes, grandmother watching
White oak acorn mash driveway shards, chipmunk pee
Braised chicken cookbook-sourced, yuzu, wild rice, asparagus, deal with it
Sal’s pizza you liked it yesterday
Roasted farm share root vegetables for decoration
Girl Scout Cookies pushiest local troop
American chocolate fun-sized, Halloween 2011
Pez Spider-Man, with please and thank you
Mandatory apple peeled, or “whole bites”
Cheese plate wrapped stick, finger pinches of grated romano, no thank youGod forbid you provide your mother with gratuity 18% of the time You won’t eat eggs so we don’t have to worry about how raw or cooked they are
This week my son brought home The Cat in the Hat from his school library, which is fitting because on March 2, Dr Seuss, the great children’s author and illustrator, would have been 109 years old.
He was great. Wasn’t he?
“Oh God, I hate Dr Seuss! He’s the worst!” my mother says. This jibes with my childhood memories; I had a ton of books at home growing up, but not a lot of Seuss. A few, yes: The Lorax, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (but not the first one), and that’s about it. On my mother’s list of forbidden childhood fun, Dr Seuss came in at number two, just beneath Santa Claus. Number three: Play-Doh. Number four: every other toy that was messy in any possible way. Number Five: Fun-Dip or Fun-any kind of candy. Funyuns also. No, she’s a great mom. Really.
Recently when my son took One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish out of the library I realized I had never read it before. At least as a child. After college I worked at Random House Children’s Books, which publishes the works of Seuss: the ones he wrote when he was living and the ones he wrote after he was dead. One of my tasks was tracking the sales of Seuss books. The top title, if I recall correctly, was Green Eggs and Ham.
I did not read that in my house. I did not read that with a mouse. I did not read it with my mother. She did not like it, so don’t bother!
“Why do I hate Dr Seuss?” she said, when I called to ask her. “Can’t it just be fun and simple? Why does he have to be a such a smarty-pants?”
This makes sense. If there is one thing my mother can’t abide, it’s a smarty-pants. “It’s like he’s trying to prove he’s so smart so he goes on and on and on. Sam I am Sam I am who cares? You know me, I want it short and to the point. Not impressed.”
For many years my mother worked in the library at our local kindergarten center, so she has a pretty good knowledge of kids’ books. What was your policy on Dr Seuss in the library? I asked.
“Of course kids took the books out, but I didn’t promote Dr Seuss, I didn’t read Dr Seuss. I didn’t tell them not to, but I wasn’t going to read that jibber-jabber out loud. The Lorax, and all that stupid stuff? There’s nothing about it that I like.”
All righty. So, who are your favorite kids’ authors, then? How about Maurice Sendak? “Nope, didn’t like him either.” I almost hung up. I think that Where the Wild Things Are is one of the most perfectly written books, for kids or adults, ever.
“But I love Little Bear [which is illustrated by Sendak but written by Else Holmelund Minarik],” she said. “It’s so sweet and charming. And what else? God, I can’t think, I’m out of the library business. Kevin Henkes [I agree, I love everything he writes]. And Rosemary Wells [Oh that Max and Ruby!]. The Arthur books. Tomie De Paola. I don’t know, something that made you feel happy and cozy and comforted. Or something really funny. I don’t find Dr Seuss comforting or funny.”
“So can I pin this dislike for Dr Seuss on your childhood?”
She pauses. “Yeah, probably.”
My mother was born and lived, until she emigrated at five, in the south of Italy, in a poor, rural, mountain village. It was not unlike the setting of Strega Nona, the Tomie De Paola book which is a favorite of hers. Strega Nona is set in a fictional, fairy-tale Calabria, the region she was from, with its rough edges softened: Catholic and hardscrabble and peopled with goats, stubborn country folk and witches, like her mother, my own Strega Nona, without all the smiling and kiss-blowing.
It’s the kind of upbringing that looks romantic and interesting only in retrospect, from our family’s new vantage point on the U.S. east coast. But at the time, there was little room for romance in a medieval house with no heating and dirt floors. There, I would imagine, you’d seek comfort. Coziness. A simple happiness found at the edge of a desperately practical existence.
As we were talking about Dr Seuss my aunt walked into my mother’s house. She immediately gets on the anti-Seuss bandwagon: “Oh, I never wanted to read Dr Seuss to the kids either,” she says. “Sam I am? I am Sam? Really?
“And The Cat in the Hat? In our house cleaning up was not an option.”
“Our mother never left the house, so we never got the chance to make a mess,” my mother added. “That’s for Americans with leisure time.” Oh, the zingers you’ll zing.
I will grant them their literary tastes. It’s a free country after all. You can have unusually strong opinions about whimsical children’s book authors if you want to. But I can’t let Dr Seuss go undefended on his birthday. Especially now as a parent, watching my five-year-old, newly-reading son, read Seuss books.
As fanciful as Seuss books are, it was Hop on Pop that introduced my son to reading in the most sensible way. The book repeats simple words and then switches the final letter, and encourages kids to note the differences as they are helped along by the bright, silly pictures.
Children’s books serve all sorts of purposes. The books published before Dr Seuss, were, in many cases, cozy and comforting, and those books, like Goodnight Moon, have their essential place. And there were those, too, like the work of the excellent Virginia Lee Burton (The Little House), which took on the real world is a wonderful, honest way.
On the other hand, Dr Seuss, smarty-pants extraordinaire, introduced twentieth-century children to a world beyond the comforts of hearth and home, a world that recognizes the importance of letting your imagination run amok. Yet, they are not just flights of fancy; many Seuss books have essential lessons that burst right through the silliness. Think of The Lorax, The Sneeches, the Grinch, on and on. These books were of little use for my mother and aunt whose imaginations were shaped back in the old country, where they pretty much lived in the sixteenth century.
A few minutes after we spoke, my mother called back. “Here’s another quote for your blog. Everyone says they love Dr Seuss, but do they really?” When we say we like Dr Seuss, are we all just pretending to like something that comes off a bit highbrow? Like jazz, or Champions League soccer? I asked my son when he got home from kindergarten.
“O darling child, may I ask you something? Please, finish your quinoa and locally-sourced beets first.”
“Hm?” Looks up from book of mazes.
“Do you like Dr Seuss books?”
“Yes,” he says, unreservedly.
“Because they’re funny.” (Take that, Mom!)
OK, I can see that this is going to be the typical cavalcade of one-word knee-jerk responses. Not the burst of enlightenment I thought my research would bring me. But suffice it to say, he likes the books. He wants to read them, or have them read to him. My two-year-old does, too. He even likes And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. But he’s old school.
“What are else are you going to write about me?” my mother asked. “‘She didn’t bake, she didn’t play games, she didn’t do arts and crafts,’ right?” Well, she didn’t really. Those things aren’t in her bones. But listening is. And she talked to us. Candidly. And all the time. She still does.
So right now I’m going to call her back, for the fifth time today, and tell her: my grandparents schlepped all the way to America so that their descendants could sit around and enjoy piffle like Bartholomew and the Oobleck. So let’s, shall we? Oh, the places we can theoretically go!
[WARNING: this post contains a Downton Abbey spoiler. I know it seems weird but it comes up. Thanks!]
I don’t care if that blasted groundhog saw his shadow and said that spring was coming. It’s not, OK? I can see well enough out my window, you wretched ball of fur, and here in New England we are still in the deep, bleak, midwinter. And I’m coming out of my own personal burrow, filled with muddy boots and half-heartedly made indoor crafts, to tell you: winter with little kids…sucks. I was trying to think of some other, more elegant way to say it, but it sucks. That’s what it does. So, Punxatawney Phil, you can tell all those old dudes in top hats to just calm down. We’ve got a long way to go.
I know I’m stating the obvious, but can we just commiserate for a minute? Maybe five? Can I ask you to read a few of my invernal complaints? Before I became a mother I used to love winter. The silence of the falling snow, and how it looked blue in the dusk. Cozy evenings in front of the TV watching The Sopranos or whatever drama everyone used to carry on about at the time. I remember, one President’s Day in Cambridge, we got 27 inches of snow. That’s OK! we said, all rosy cheeked and cheery, and we put on our boots and marched out to dinner down the middle of the street. Throughout the harsh winter, our daily routine would just go on, with a little added inconvenience, maybe, and a lot of romance derived from gazing at hushed scenes of trees covered in white.
Now, even without 27 inches of snow, even on just an average winter day, having kids makes winter wickedly more complicated. For starters: tack an extra million minutes on to getting ready for school, or going anywhere, to pull on snow pants, boots, hats, mittens, and huge winter jackets. Remember the scene in A Christmas Story, in which the mother heaves and grimaces as she puts her five-year-old into snow gear? “You can put your arms down when you get to school!” All these years later, and even in these salad days of high-performance heavy weather gear, it’s still just as much of a grind. It’s like a full-on wrestling match before 8 am. And still the geniuses at all the gear companies that produce such beautiful catalogs cannot engineer a mitten that will stay on the mitts of a two-year-old who wants to eat an awful lot of filthy snow on the way to school drop-off.
Now tack on another million minutes, maybe more, for all the additional tantrums that winter brings. I’ve realized, after spending so much time indoors with two little boys in the cold and day-shortened dark, how much good it does them to spend their free hours out-of-doors, as they do the rest of the year. How good it is for their spirits to just throw on a pair of sneakers and run outside, unencumbered by layers of clothes, and patches of ice, and blistering wind that can knock a child down (and did, just yesterday). Plus, a poor two-year-old, no matter how much he wants to go outside and play in the snow, spends much more time out there on his face than romping around. So an intrepid expedition out into the snow, like the one we had this morning, is usually very short and cold and involves carrying a doubly-heavy toddler in boots up and down stairs and over snowbanks that he has just fallen into. Tiring. I may just have a tantrum myself. I wouldn’t put it past me.
Once indoors, and stir-crazy, we are scrapping over toys, doing crafts for five minutes before tossing them aside, or taking magic markers to walls, before it’s Movie Time! Somehow, letting your child watch TV for a while so you can get some peace or do some chores sounds less bad if you call it Movie Time! rather than Several Episodes of Max and Ruby Time! On the bill today, while the little one sleeps and I write this: The Empire Strikes Back. And by the way, I will say this to you since I can’t say it to my son, I SO DO NOT CARE what happens to whomever on the ice planet Hoth! I LIVE ON THE ICE PLANET HOTH and it sucks so I don’t need to hear any more lectures about it thank you.
So there’s the slog of coats and boots and falling over and buried cars and no parking and crowded supermarkets where everyone is shopping for Armageddon and school snow days and weeks on end where we pass the same colds around to each other and cancelled travel and playdates and weak sunshine and then Downton Abbey has to go and end and SPOILER ALERT Matthew up and dies so you have to transfer your crush to Dr Clarkson (you’re too good for her!) and it’s months until Breaking Bad starts again so there’s nothing on and I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE! Is it Easter yet?
Still, as wearying and frustrating as winter is, I know that what we go through these days is nothing like what people once suffered before central heating and Patagonia puffer coats were invented. Times when winter meant an autumn of preparing and stockpiling food, which you hoped would last, and might not; when homes and lives were much more vulnerable to the cruel, harsh elements, and were often taken by the deep cold. It makes me think of the old poem Beowulf, which I love, and picture in my mind to be set in a perfectly dark world, where it’s always a cold night in the north of Europe. Where the only brightness comes from within the mead halls, glowing gold with fire and drink, yet still open to attack from beasts, like Grendel, from the edges of consciousness. In the poem, and in those dark days, lives were measured by winters survived. Life was harder. You think I’m in a bad mood? Just look at Grendel’s mother. And who could blame her?
Now, we get through winter, wrapped in blankets of heat, and electricity, and TV weathermen who warn us, with great alarm and fancy graphics, to prepare for every inch of snow and gust of wind that might threaten our cocoons of comfortable existence. But even though that immediacy, that shivering rush for survival, is gone for most of us, winter still gets under our skin. No amount of Gore-Tex can change the fact that nature is still our master. It changes our moods, our outlook; it governs our daily lives. We’ve got cabinets of snacks to sustain us and can go buy watermelon once the winds let up, but those winters of old are still out there, they’re in our bones and the way we bristle at the weather report. With every ice dam or snow drift we battle, we are like the people of Beowulf, “deep in their hearts/they remembered hell.” Even if hell for us now might mean the cable going out.
I know what some of you might be thinking: “Why don’t you move to California or something if you hate winter so much?” No, I’m not doing that. Have you seen Annie Hall? And don’t worry, April and May will pass soon enough and I’ll be on to complaining about schlepping kids around in the heat.
Hello. How are you today? Here’s my credit card. Thank you. Where should I sign? Of course. Sorry, I just have to turn the paper a bit…what? Yes, I am left-handed. Thank you. I know. It’s a gift.
Don’t be jealous. Being left-handed is special. You ninety-percenters, right-handers of the world, don’t get to have that constant reminder that we lefties have, every time we pull out a pencil or fail to open a can, that we are different. Rarified. No matter how mundane our days ever are, we can always hold on to that. And we often have to hold on to something, as we stumble our way through a mirror-image world.
Yes, I know how we suffer. It’s terribly difficult. Being left-handed lets you feel like a martyr without ever having to sacrifice anything significant. Except our life expectancy. There’s that, perhaps. O we rare, delicate birds.
But that’s not enough about how great it is to be left-handed. We keep the finest company. Though we only make up about one-tenth of the world population, a disproportionate number of our coterie have soared to great heights. Alexander the Great, famously. Joan of Arc, our patron saint! Now I know how Joan of Arc felt! Julius Caesar! Aristotle! Charlemagne! Napoleon! Queen Victoria! Prince William! Great leaders all! And four of the last seven U.S. presidents? Lefties. Five if you count Ronald Reagan who was ambidextrous. Which I don’t. They’re just right-handers trying to steal our thunder, these so-called “ambidextrous” types.
Back to the real lefties: Paul McCartney and David Bowie. Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Bart Simpson! Chewbacca…BOTH Olsen twins. Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Tom Cruise! I could go on. OK, I will: Neil Armstrong, Jack the Ripper, Angelina Jolie! Is there any star left in the firmament? I think I’ve named them all.
So why is the world so against us? We are already a bit left out, as it were, when it comes to navigating the everyday world. Can’t open wine, sharpen a pencil, drive a car, use stairs, walk in a straight line…the list goes on. In some sports it’s an advantage to be a southpaw, sure, but I, personally, am still working on wounds received when I took Fencing for PE at college. The instructor, who had a Prince Valiant haircut in real life and claimed to be a member of a deposed Hungarian royal family, took one look at my grasp of a foil and gave up on me. He asked me to please stand to the side, and just observe. Infidel! I say!
And once, in a neurologist’s office, as I was ticking boxes of known “diseases” in the family, I came across, listed alongside cancer and epilepsy and other actual conditions: LEFT-HANDEDNESS. Now, see here! Offense! It’s bad enough my mother had to write away to a shop in Boston when I was in first grade to get scissors that I could use without embarrassment!
Being left-handed may not be a bona-fide medical condition, but it is a mystery. No one really understands why a minority of people like me, and my younger son, and a few other excellent people I know, are left-handed. There have been theories of every variety: lefties killed a right-handed twin in the womb (If only! But debunked), or there is perhaps some sort of evolutionary advantage to right-hand dominance. But it’s never been truly understood. So that leaves only one explanation: lefties must be evil.
I don’t need to rehash all of the terms, in all of the languages, that equate left-handedness with being less-than, or worse. Maybe I do a little. Our word sinister come from the Latin term for left; today, in Italy, left is sinistra. And dexterity? Comes from dexter, the Latin for right. Do you want to be gauche, on the Left Bank or anywhere else? No, of course, it is right to be droit. Right? Right.
And wasn’t it just a short time ago on Downton Abbey that the Earl of Grantham called Catholics “left-footers“? The Earl has been cocking things up royally lately, but he really, as they say in Hungary, bal lábbal kel fel, or got up with the left foot on this one (Am I right, Coach Valiant?). And besides, the Catholics don’t go in for lefties much either. My left-handed great-aunt told me she was struck on the hand with a ruler by nuns until she started writing with her right hand. But her penmanship was excellent, at least.
Fortunately for me and my son, we are free now to write left-handed, to turn our papers 90 degrees to the right so we don’t smudge all our words. These days, the malicious connotations of left-handedness can no longer harm us, like they did our aunt.
But, in a way, I love those cruel terms and backhanded compliments, because they have persisted so long. Thousands of years old by now, our attitude toward left-handers has become vestigial, no longer with any real meaning, but still present in our language, and in a world engineered under the assumption that right is still right.
Of course, other prejudices are just as old and still full of venom – those must go away. But for lefties, the wounds have healed over, and the scars just remind us of our older selves. They are palimpsests, old meanings smudged and written over with new hands. Like the groundhog peeking out from under the surface of the earth, on the old holy day of Imbolc, which we can no longer pronounce nor understand yet still celebrate. And today, Valentine’s Day: who knows what that is really about anymore, or how it began, but it still gets us through the long winter and lets chocolate shops and florists thrive. Then there’s King Richard III, palimpsest personified, recently uncovered in a churchyard in Leicester, now a parking lot, with his left arm now proven to be whole.
The discovery of the skeleton of Richard III is a reminder of how the past is really never put to rest. No king has had a legacy so cemented in infamy as he, with a great Shakespearean tragedy to back up his bad name to boot. But bones were uncovered, and the truth comes roaring back to life. Maybe, we realize centuries later, he was misunderstood.
So, given that it takes centuries, or longer, for the truth to catch up with us, I’m going to start a new mythology of lefties, and I’ll be long gone once anyone figures it out. By then, this blog, the ur-text for this new story, will no longer be readable, just a lot of gibberish encoded on the future’s equivalent of a Betamax tape. So, ha ha.
Here goes: did you know that lefties are the descendants of an ancient line of Mesopotamian kings and queens, who are all beautiful and graceful, with perfect pitch and really good taste in clothes? And according to ancient legend, on St. Valentine’s Day, you should honor all lefties that you meet with a small bow, a few dance moves, a bouquet of peonies and some Cadbury chocolates? AND they are entitled to free drinks all the time, coffee, wine, or juice boxes, upon proof of penmanship? Well, now you know! So, go! The winter of our discontent? Is over!
- Clumsy and cack-handed? Lefties are leaders, not losers | Mind your language (The Guardian)
- On the Left Hand, There Are No Easy Answers (The New York Times)
- The Shape of a Life: Richard III’s Twisted Bones (The New Yorker)
- Unraveling King Richard III’s Secrets (The Daily Beast)
The kind people at WordPress send all manner of emails to its users to help us trudge our way to successful blogging. Which I appreciate; I need all the help I can get. If WordPress has any advice on how to get two little boys to brush their teeth without slapping each other, I’d gladly take that too.
One of those emails is the Daily Prompt. Usually I don’t take the prompt, because I am working on something else, but today, I will:
Explain why you chose your blog’s title and what it means to you.
I started this blog nearly a year ago because my husband started one too, and I figured, well, if marriage be a battle, I can’t let him beat me on this one. I have always considered myself a writer, but wasn’t writing much post-children, and so the gladiatorial spirit of marriage spurred me to action.
So a few days after his (very good, I must admit) blog went up, I registered at WordPress as well, not knowing what I was going to write about, and not knowing when I would do it. But I figured facing a virtual empty page, looming in cyberspace, might help get me going again.
And I told myself, I don’t need to write the Great American Novel. At least not yet. The blogging format is forgiving; speed is of the essence; it’s more important that you put something out there, that’s decent, and readable, then closet yourself with anguished draft after draft. So I thought I wouldn’t put any pressure on myself, or require myself to set aside hours on end to write. I would try to get hold of an idea, whatever it was, and spend five minutes (metaphorically – more like 20) writing it, closing my eyes, and pressing Publish. And if anyone read it, that would be great; and if not, then at least I was doing something, rather than upsetting myself about all the time I spend not writing.
So I just picked a title that illustrated one of my main obstacles: time. One of the things I find most challenging about motherhood, especially stay-at-home motherhood, but it certainly applies to working parents as well, is that I cannot finish one task without being interrupted. Just writing these sentences, my two-year-old, T, has required my attention five times. Five times I’ve lost my train of thought. Five times I’ve had to start again. Wait, I have to get him something, I’ll be right back.
OK. It’s like that old commercial for Mirena, that IUD (I know), where a bubbly woman is standing in front of a rapidly changing background listing all the things she would do in five years (“Move…to Memphis!”), and it ends with her saying, “Finish a book. Finish a sentence!” That commercial always annoyed me with it’s teeth-gritting cheerfulness, but I guess it’s aimed straight at my demographic (like the Honda CR-V). Because (wait, there’s T again) I cannot finish a damned thing without being interrupted.
And that lack of forward motion is frustrating. Overall, my life as a mother is hurtling forward, no many how many times I stumble in a day. The boys keep growing, learning new things; they get better all the time. But, from hour to hour, there are so many fits and starts. Someone falls over. Someone cries, won’t put their shoes on, spills something, needs something, has to be somewhere. So the laundry is always half-folded, there are dishes in the sink; breakfast (which I didn’t even eat) to clean up; emails to catch up on; on and on.
And so, not having time to while away hours finding the most perfect, just this side of twee blog title, the kind I envy and can’t come up with on my own, I called this blog Five Uninterrupted Minutes. Which is what I would need to find to get my writing moving forward, just one small step at a time.
Now, this is not the greatest title, I can see now. It’s long. It’s kind of whiny. And it’s incredibly easy to misspell Uninterrupted. I’ve done it three times already today. But I’m stuck with it. And I’m still looking for that time, so it fits.
There are so many things I should be doing this morning instead of standing at my sticky kitchen counter, writing this. I meant to go to Target to buy animal crackers for C’s 100th Day of Kindergarten Celebration, which technically must be pushed back two days because of this infernal snowstorm. But, in the narrow, post 27-inches-of-snow streets of Boston, the traffic is still bad, and I don’t think I can get out of my driveway much less make it to Watertown. I also need to buy paper towels, tin foil, garlic, which I forgot at the supermarket yesterday because I was distracted by repeatedly crashing one of those carts with a Cozy Coupe attached to the front (Why?!). I also have to buy nail polish remover, because I got halfway through removing my toenail polish and starting again when I reached the bottom of the bottle. (What color are the most stylish, harried mothers wearing these days? Essie’s Power Clutch!)
But one thing that the blog has done for me in the past year, as it forces me to find those Five Uninterrupted Minutes (got to go back and correct spelling), is make me stop, and take a few minutes for myself when I can. The dishes can wait. The phone can ring, as it’s doing right now. The house and its contents, human and otherwise, do not have to be in perfect, spit-shined condition for me to take some time to write. And that’s been a good lesson.
Nevertheless, my five minutes is up. This is my fiftieth post, and I hope in the next few days I can post another, something that’s been sitting half-finished in a folder for a while. That will feel good. The snow is melting, the flu is retreating, spring is coming. Down the line, the kids will get older, and the five minutes I look for will expand to ten, and fifteen, as they aren’t so little and don’t need me so urgently, every minute of the day. And as overwhelming as that can feel now, I’m sure I will miss that feeling someday. But right now, there is a dirty diaper with my name on it. That I won’t miss so much, I can tell you.
Originally posted on Five Uninterrupted Minutes:
Sometimes when I drive the boys around town I take intentionally circuitous routes, thinking they won’t notice an extra five minutes tacked on to their journey. It’s an extra five minutes of peace for me, keeping them in their car seats, contained, controlled, unable to leap out and run away or start smacking each other about the head.
But lately, C has been on to me. We are taking the long way home from an after-school trip to the supermarket.
“You’re taking the long way! You’re doing it on purpose, to make me tired!” He knows a few extra minutes in the car will push him into nap territory, which is fine with me. ”We live the other way! Turn around!”
Who are we? How did we get here? These are the ancient, universal questions that all bloggers must seek to answer. If they want more hits on their blogs. Why does my blog exist? I know my parents read it, but who are those so wholly unconnected with me that visit? WordPress was kind enough help me develop a creation myth for Five Uninterrupted Minutes.
I love the statistics WordPress provides on the people who read this blog (aka my new best friends). And the most fun thing to do when I want to feel like I am blogging, but don’t want to write anything, is to look at the country map on the Stats page, and see where in the world people are clicking on these pages. I like to imagine glowing screens in places like Uruguay, Estonia, Mongolia, and the Maldives, where web-savvy readers gather round to chuckle heartily at my musings on parenthood and things I watch on TV.
Or, more likely: “I searched for X and have no idea how I got here.” Here are some of the actual search terms that have brought people here:
Colorful rugs for preschool in india Can’t help you there, good luck though
Jonathan Crombie is creepy NO HE’S NOT YOU’VE OBVIOUSLY GOT THE WRONG BLOG
What happened to Bob Costas’ face? Too much Botox, I reckon
I have a crush on Gil from Bubble Guppies AGAIN, MOVE ALONG
Is Norman Fireman Sam’s son YES
Aside from a surprising number of queries as to “why do divers use such tiny towels?” – a question I posed during the Olympics (here’s the answer, in case you are one of those people who seeks this information), the number-one topic that people came to Five Uninterrupted Minutes to read about is, according to WordPress Stats: What is up with Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins’ sideburns? Yeah, that. Hilarious/poignant observations on family life? No. Facial hair on some bloke. Who won a bike race.
Bradley Wiggins has quit Twitter, probably because of twits like me that ask these inane questions [But is it really so dumb?]. So I am afraid this one will remain unanswered. Far be it from me to question a knight of the realm. The best answer I can give is to direct you to this interesting documentary about the UK Sports Personality of the Year - Bradley Wiggins: A Year in Yellow from Sky Atlantic.
So to sum up: the top country for blog readership: the USA [where I know the most people], followed by the UK [Wiggo], and right up there at number three is Australia, because apparently there are a lot of people down under who are mystified, hurt, and confused about the Wiggles breaking up. And then they end up here, to read Oh no, I accidentally broke up the Wiggles, my most-viewed blog post of the year. I never set out to write about Australian preschool music, but there you go. Come for the Wiggles information, stay for the essay I wrote about “show-shaming.” Why not?
Most people from Oz got here because of some variation on the search terms “Sam Moran fired” and “Wiggles break up.” So many that, when you Google “Wiggles break up” my essay is the fourth item that comes up. Which is good, I guess? One even came here by typing “Captain Feathersword does not look happy.” Too right.
But sorry to disappoint you, I am not the Yoko Ono of the Wiggles. I did not break them up, by accident or otherwise. But in the spirit of giving the people what they want, I will endeavor to answer some of the burning questions posed to the Google gods.
Why do the Wiggles sing in Greek sometimes? I have wondered that myself. Anthony Field, the last man standing of the original Wiggles line-up, has a wife of Greek descent. Opa.
Does Murray Cook have children? Many people seem to be curious about this. Yes.
Lately, I have had many people seeking news of “anthony field affair.” So maybe there is a Yoko Ono of The Wiggles after all. I can’t speak to the matter, even as a Wiggles Expert (at least according to Google search algorithms). But I can link to stuff, so you need not seek further. Click here for an article. Also, for those who can’t get enough Anthony Field: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Wiggle (via The Australian).
That last article gets extra points for having a good title. And that brings me to an important lesson I’ve learned about blogging from obsessing over WordPress stats: A good title will get you far. Oh no, I accidentally broke up the Wiggles? Lots of hits. An Ode to the Dreamcrusher, my next biggest blog post, which was also Freshly Pressed? Solid title, sweet hits. But Missing Teeth? I like to think it’s a good essay (who wouldn’t want to read about my family’s strange teeth? I mean really!), but the hits there are not quite as sweet. If anyone can think of a better title, I’d be obliged.
The other thing I’ve learned is that writing about topical, newsworthy stuff is obviously better in terms of generating an audience. I wrote a few posts about the Olympics, to good effect. August was my best month of the year for viewers. But the Olympics won’t be back for another year (Sochi 2014!). Dash it all to hell!
So I’ve got a Google news alert going on to let me know when the Wiggles drop some major news bombs. And when they do, oh, I will be there.
I’m still waiting. In the meantime, maybe I can just pepper my essays about children’s books and my strange Italian relatives with words like Super Bowl! and Justin Bieber! and see how that works.
This blog is only nine months old. I haven’t been at it even a full year, but blogging has made writing central to my life again. And I am grateful for that. In this time, every connection I’ve made with a reader has been gratifying (My favorite comment of the year? From someone called Johnnyboy: “I’m stoned and I have no idea how I ended up here, but I like your review of Moonrise Kingdom.” Success!). Every time I hit the “Publish” button I feel good. It’s one more thing I wrote that I couldn’t write a year ago, or two years ago, when I felt so blocked. Being here has helped me start writing again after having kids, and I am proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, and excited to keep going.
Thank you WordPress! And thank you for reading! I am looking forward to Super Bowl! another year of writing Oscar Buzz! and connecting with other writers Kate Middleton! and readers Gangnam Style!
One year later, I am still grieving for Newtown.
[Originally posted December 17, 2012]
The morning after last Friday, my five-year-old son, C, went over to his little play table, and told me not to look. But I watched his back as he sat quietly, even though he kept calling over his shoulder: “Don’t look at what I’m doing.” What else could I do, but look at him? Since he came home from kindergarten the day before all I could do was hold his face in my hands, rumple his baby-chick hair, listen to him earnestly tell me about another Friday at school. I hardly let him walk at all on Friday night, and Saturday morning; I practically carried him around the house with his head on my shoulder. So he knew something was up.
“OK, you can look now,” he called, and I hurried over to him. He made me a card. “C loves Mommeyy” it said.
I turned away from him, hid my tears. I rummaged in the drawer to find tape, take a breath, and stick the card up on a cabinet. I hugged him, again. “Don’t forget T,” he said, and I hugged the two-year-old too. Again. And that little glimpse of sadness is about as much of an inkling I want them to have that something horrible happened on Friday.
The internet is clogged with cliches this week, and here’s another: once you become a parent, you can never relax again. It’s a cliche because it’s true. And I can’t. A parent’s job is to anticipate peril, in any form, and shield a child from it as best we can, for as long as we can. But what about a peril, an evil, that’s so palpable, and hits us right where we send our children to be safe, and to thrive? We all know danger is always right around the corner, no matter what we do, but this is too stark and immediate a reminder to us all that everything must end.
I am sure I am not alone when I say it was difficult to send C to school today. Another embodiment of the fact that every goodbye releases him into the unknown. So we all put on boots and hats; instead of one or the other of us dropping C at school a few houses up the street, we all decided to go.
When we opened our front door, it looked like another raw, wet December day in New England. But on his first step out of the house, C slipped and fell. The wooden porch and steps were covered with a thin, invisible layer of black ice. The front walk looked merely wet but it was too, too slick; back in the house we went. We would go out the back door. But those steps were the same. We stumbled back into the house.
Finally, we made it out the third, and last door, through the murky basement. Cobwebs cover the stone foundation walls. C hoped that our noise would scare away the mice he thinks run rampant down there. “What’s that?!” A leaf scurried across our path as we opened the door.
Out on the sidewalk, C was still slipping on the invisible ice, and I walked tentatively, clutching a squirming T. I grabbed a bush to steady myself as I walked, and the leaves crackled. “I’d better take T back inside. Just hold on to C and go,” I said to their dad. There were more pressing dangers at hand; I couldn’t risk a fall to make a statement that would only soothe me, and not protect the boys.
Aside from police that are set to cruise by schools in town throughout the day, it will, I hope, be just another day. And though I will continue to grieve for Newtown, and pray that something good will come of this nightmare, I will say nothing of it all to C. He is five; he is too little to comprehend the evil that people are capable of in the world, evil that can end the lives of twenty beautiful children, and how close to it we all can find ourselves. Though on the other side of it, there is a lesson to be learned in the bravery that was shown by so many that day.
Little kids, judging from watching my own at play, see the world in black and white, like the pages of a comic book. Nearly every game C invents with his friends is about “good guys” and “bad guys.” It could be Spider-Man, or Batman, or themselves in superhero form. But in their make-believe world, the emphasis is not on the evil that these dreamed-up bad guys do. They are just bad; what they do is never specified. What’s important, in the game, is the imperative that the good guys (themselves included) have to vanquish evil and save the day.
“Are bad guys real?” C asked me a few days ago, before any of this happened. “They are,” I said. “Bad guys in comics aren’t real, but there are people in the world that aren’t nice, that do bad things. But there are good guys out there, to stop them.”
We can’t always, as we learned so painfully, stop them. And I can’t always carry my children around the house, or away from black ice, or shield them from terrible things. They will have to be able to stand on their own one day. But not today.
Now, all I can do is foster the good that lives in them, and remind them of the good in the world, the kindness, the bravery. In our town, and other New England towns like ours. And I will remind them with a smile, with warmth and reassurance, while all the while I wear a mantle of grief and fear, that I will hide behind me.
Now, I am not usually someone who enjoys taking her husband’s advice. You know what I mean? Girl, I know you do. As a pediatrician, he often pretend-casually tosses me articles and books about child rearing that he comes across, full of what I am sure are good parenting practices. That I am meant to read stat. I know there is a lot of value in these bits he passes on, but part of me wants to say, yeah so? I’ve got a deal with them all day and then read a book about how I’m doing it all wrong after they go to sleep, when I can instead watch a TV show without any talking animals in it? I’m the mother; I know what’s best, right? And that’s the part of me usually gets to say what it wants.
“I think I know what I’m talking about here!” he says in a huff, when I blow off his reading tips. Harumph to you too.
But I’ll admit that recently he gave me some reading material that I will take to heart (See? I do listen sometimes). In book called NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, which I’ve promised to read in its entirety just after I read this stack of old Hello! magazines (And also! That DVR won’t empty itself!), there is a chapter called “The Inverse Power of Praise.” The gist: when you praise your child, like we all do, you should praise effort towards specific tasks, and not general ability. For example:
Not: “You finished that whole Lego Star Wars set all by yourself?? For ages 8+? And what are you, FIVE? You are so smart!!!!!!!! Exclamation point!”
Instead: “You put that Sarlacc together all by yourself? I am so proud that worked so hard at that and you did it!”
“The presumption is,” the book states, “that if a child believes he’s smart (having been told so, repeatedly), he won’t be intimidated by new academic challenges. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that the children do not sell their talents short.” And as Dr. Carol Dweck, who has pioneered much of this way of thinking, says, “When we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game, look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” NurtureShock, as well as Dweck’s research, argues that if a child is constantly told he or she is smart (or, I extrapolate, a natural athlete or musician, say) he won’t risk the damage to his self-esteem by attempting something difficult or challenging, and failing.
The book also quotes NYU professor Judith Brook: “Praise is important, but not vacuous praise. It has to be based on a real thing.” So the praise, which we can’t help but give, is better directed toward specific goals. “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control. They come to see themselves in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding for failure.”
OK, that’s enough quoting. I think I’ve proved that I read it. Suffice it to say, it gave me pause.
I give C the third degree on the walk home from school every day, and I get some facts out of him, like what he did in gym or math, or some other bit of schoolroom arcana, but it’s hard to put it all together to get a full picture of his day. It’s a mystery, it’s omerta; it’s being five, I guess.
So besides the cryptic comments about “choice time” and “work board” and being the “lunch helper” and all of the other byzantine rituals of school he now holds dear (“I don’t tell anyone when I have to go the the bathroom, I just go!”), my best vantage point from which to observe C’s new life is on the playground after dismissal. I watch him and his friends dash back and forth, leaping and cutting swaths through the air, falling tragically to the ground, then touching black to regain their superpowers, or touching something blue to transfer them.
The hotspot on the playground, for all of the kindergartners at C’s school, is the monkey bars. It’s where it’s at. Daily I watch as six or seven of them clamor over each other, each trying desperately to achieve mastery of this six-foot row of rungs. They look like kiddie versions of the dancers in that old Paula Abdul video where they are all flinging themselves over some scaffolding. But it’s where their whole day boils down; you can see who’s agressive, who hangs back, hear what they really think. I heard a girl there call C “mean” because “he’s blond.” “But you’re blonde,” her mother said. Touche, mama. Or, nanny-nanny-poo-poo, which I am told is the thing to say in these situations, to you too.
But hey, she’s under stress. Have you, adults, ever tried crossing the monkey bars? It’s hard! I tried it recently and I couldn’t make it one rung without deep pain. But maybe that’s just me. I couldn’t do them when I was a kid either. Maybe its because my parents never praised my effort, just assuming that I would be awesome at them. No, I don’t think that’s it. I think they knew those Olympic dreams were never going to get off the ground.
Since the first day of school, C has been determined to make it all the way across the monkey bars. Every day I watch him wait his turn (“You’re only supposed to go across in one direction!”), and then take his first one-handed swing. For weeks he fell to the ground as he tried to get to the first rung. It didn’t seemed to bother him; he just kept doing it over and over again until his friends called him to some other business. And while C was at the monkey bars, little T was climbing the play structure steps gingerly, then more steadily, to the top of the slide, standing there, then turning around and stepping back down. No amount of cajoling could get him down the slide.
Then one day, T stood at the top of the slide, waited for me to look at him, and slid all the way down. I cheered and hollered. Then, he couldn’t be stopped. And while catching T at the bottom, moving him out of the way of a fifth grader that was coming barrelling down after, I looked over at the bars; C was swinging all the way across.
“Did you see me?” he said, hopping down and running over.
“I did! I did! That was amazing! Wait till we tell Daddy!” I went ape, as it were.
As we were walking home, over the sound of T’s devastated mewling at being torn away from him new favorite thing, I said to C, “Do you see what you did on the monkey bars? You couldn’t do it at first, and then you kept trying, and then you did it! Do you see what you can do when you practice? If there is something you want to do, keep trying…” I hammered the point home in as many ways as I could: you wanted to accomplish something, you made an effort, and you succeeded. Well done. He beamed.
I don’t want to be one of those parents who carries her child through life on a cushion of praise, hands outstretched constantly to break every (figurative) fall. I guess, aside from keeping them healthy, what I want most is to teach my boys not to fear challenges. To aim for goals, and rise to meet them. And to be able to cope, and pick themselves up when they, as they inevitably will sometimes, fail. If they can do that, I think, they will have the tools they need to be in control of their own success, and strive for lives as big and as broad as they want them to be, rather than take a safe, middling, path. They can put to use whatever attributes they might have: intelligence, athletic ability, Lego skills, rather than lean on perceived strengths, taking them for granted.
It feels a little strange to hold my tongue when I want to call one of them smart. “Sweet lord, you are a f***ing genius!” are not words you often hear in our house, unless I am saying them to myself when I’ve figured out how fit all the sippy cups in the cabinet without them all falling on my head. Instead, I try to replace that impulse with a wordier compliment about their efforts, and keep the kvelling in my head.
Hopefully, this philosophy will serve them well. We’ll see. Look, it’s worked for their dad! My not taking his advice? I just don’t want him to get a swelled head! That’s it! It’s not because I don’t want to read articles. No, I do it for you, dear!