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Posts tagged ‘Humor’

I saw Mommy dissing Santa Claus

Ho ho...no (Wikipedia)

Ho ho…no (Wikipedia)

Prepare yourself for a special holiday memory.

I’m seven years old. It’s Christmas time. My mother is leaning against the butcher block in the kitchen.

“I have to tell you something,” she said to me. She paused. She struggled to suppress a laugh. “There’s no such thing as Santa,” she said. And then the laughter came pealing out, like Christmas bells.

I think I said, “All right,” and then went on with my childhood. After all, we lived on one floor, so I could see the Christmas tree, and my parents putting presents under it, from my bed at night. Spoiler alert! If that was something people said in 1982.

And Christmas went on, too. We always hung stockings, got presents, and listened to worn cassettes of my father’s favorite carols. We drove around in the evenings to look at the neighborhood lights; we went to Rockefeller Center to see the big tree. My father decorated a meticulous tree; my mother made Belgian waffles on Christmas morning. Glad tidings, comfort, joy, all of that.

I asked my mother about this special memory recently, to see if she would admit to it. “Oh yeah,” she said. “If I couldn’t have Christmas when I was little, why should anybody else?” she said in a sing-song voice. Her sense of humor saves her from being the cynic of the Western world.

My mother emigrated to New York from Italy when she was five years old. She was born in a tiny mountaintop town, in Calabria, one of the poorest southern regions. The house she was born and lived in was built, like much of the town, around 1450. Dirt floors; smoking fires in the hearth; animals in the courtyard. There may have been a manger.

“There was no Christmas over there like here. We didn’t have much. Definitely no Santa,” she said. “Christmas was about going to church, the presepio [the Nativity scene], and the food.

“We didn’t have these endless supplies of food, everything was very limited. So whatever sugar or honey you had, you saved for Christmas.” My grandmother made Calabrese Christmas sweets, things we still love to eat, mainly variations on fried balls of dough dipped in honey or sugar: scalidi, struffoli, zeppole, turtiddi. And Christmas cookies. My husband likes to joke that cookies in my family are basically hard pieces of bread with sprinkles on them. But when you think about how getting sugar would mean walking an hour to the market town, it doesn’t seem so strange.

“And then, La Befana would come for Epiphany.” La Befana is the Italian equivalent of Santa Claus, in the form of a witch, left over from Pagan times, who comes on Epiphany Eve in January and fills stockings, certainly not plush ones with Snoopy on them like mine, with oranges, nuts, and candy. These things, part of my own children’s daily lives were cherished treats in Calabria. If you were bad, La Befana brought you coal. So that part translates. It’s the only part that does.

“When we got here, we didn’t speak English. We just didn’t get how Christmas was done,” my mother said. “The first year, we didn’t have a tree. We certainly didn’t have presents. Later we did have a tree, but Christmas was always a hard time. Your grandfather worked in construction, remember, so he was out of work all winter. So things were very lean until he could work again in the spring.” My mother was the youngest of five, with two sisters who were much older. “When they started working in the factory [they were seamstresses], I would get a doll, or they would make me a dress or a sweater. But still, the presents were the least of Christmas.”

Even in New York in the booming 1950s, where they had come to escape the want of the isolated villages of the Italian South, they still would hold sugar and honey in reserve till Christmas. I can see why the idea of Santa – even now, when we can dump entire pots of store-bought honey on trays of scalidi – would make you laugh, a little bit.

“But when we got married and you guys were little, we did Christmas the usual way. Your father always had that kind of a Christmas. Your grandparents would put up the Christmas tree on the 24th after all the kids were in bed, so they would wake up to a big surprise on Christmas morning. It was special for him. And Christmas was always special for you, too. But as for Santa, I don’t know. I just could never get into it.”

We gave Santa Claus lip service growing up, but I don’t have any memory of really believing, waiting for him to materialize in our house in the night. We didn’t have a chimney, so that didn’t help either. The presents, in my mind, were always from my parents, even though they kindly wrote “from Santa” on the labels. I have a friend whose parents did not go in much for Santa either. “We worked hard to buy those presents,” her mother told me. “Why should Santa get all the credit?” A fair point.

As for my all-American kids, two boys, ages six and three, are excited about Santa Claus. As is their privilege. And I encourage them to believe. But what I don’t want, especially when I think of how Christmas used to be for so many in my family, and how it still is for so many people, is for the focus of Christmas to be receiving gifts.

Instead, let it be sweet treats, bright lights on cold nights, being good to each other. My three-year-old is thrilled to screaming at the sight of Christmas lights glowing in the dark; I would rather him hold on to that wonder than the mystery of a man in red bearing judgment, and Legos.

That’s not to say those two will wake up on Christmas morning to a house full of nothing but the smell of good cheer. I look forward to treating them at this time of year. What I don’t want is to dangle the old man in front of them as a threat, and tell them he’ll turn the sleigh around if they are not good; if they don’t stop yelling; if they don’t pick up their toys, or eat their vegetables. That doesn’t seem right.

So, how to handle Saint Nick? Short of calling the boys into the kitchen to deliver some bad tidings?

“Am I a good boy?” my six-year-old asked me the other day. I could see he was apprehensive of the judgment that was coming, the ups and downs of his behavior that year dancing through his head.

“Listen to me,” I held his face, looked him in the eyes. “You are a good boy. Let’s end the suspense. Santa is coming for you.”

His eyes widened. “But can he see what I am doing? Can he see me when I do things that aren’t good?”

“Santa can see that you have a good heart. You are a good brother. You are a good friend. Even good boys make mistakes sometimes, and he knows that. Everybody makes mistakes. But he knows you are good. So just keep showing him the good boy you are inside, OK?”

I guess the best thing about Santa is that it gives you something magical to believe in, in the bleakest nights of midwinter. So let him believe. But also let him believe in the good within himself, year round.

And let him believe that Santa uses the same wrapping paper as us. And has the same handwriting as me. Wouldn’t that be magical?

 

Fussy Mother’s Locavore Cafe: Holiday Kids’ Table Menu

A cone and holly.

Welcome back to Fussy Mother’s Locavore Cafe, where we serve only the finest, locally-sourced foods that your kids will be sure to love.  Just eat it over there, at the kids’ table, please.

Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? At holiday time, Fussy Mother’s makes no distinction. Any time of the day is right for these holiday favorites!

*****

Advent calendar chocolate upon waking, today’s square only, I said

Homemade popcorn garland Ninja Turtle band-aids

Dreidel gelt from last year everybody wins

Freshly trampled snow, cancelled school, 2003 Cab Franc

Grandma’s gingersnaps IKEA checkout, allen wrench, mmmm Swedish Christmas

Candy-cane shiv KNOCK IT OFF

Seven fishes stew minus seven fishes  so, spaghetti then

Spit-roasted elf-on-the-shelf watch it, Elfie

Carrots for reindeer take these from my lunchbox

Cookies for Santa Daddy looks sluggish today

Spiral ham not as fun as it sounds

Christmas Day Lasagna better on Boxing Day, everyone knows that

Neighborhood berries, so bright and red eat just one more and you will be dead

New Year’s champagne at 9pm

Happy Holidays from Fussy Mother!

English: A group of children at Christmas dinner.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Previous seasonal, wholesome menus from Fussy Mother:

Fussy Mother’s Locavore Cafe: Today’s Menu

Fussy Mother’s Locavore Cafe: First Day of School Menu

“The Knife of Teodoro Zuccarelli” over at Medium – check it out!

The blog has lain fallow for a while, mostly because I have been writing some things offline. I also wanted the opportunity to use “has lain” in a sentence.

One of the things I’ve been working on: my essay, “The Knife of Teodoro Zuccarelli” is now up in the Open Ticket collection over at Medium. Go there and read a tale of brigands, a baroness, library books, and things lost in translation. Go read it now! Please and thank you!

Image

The spoiled child: how do you surprise younger siblings?

Spoiler alert! Six-year-olds love Star Wars. Particularly in Lego format. I was that age myself when The Empire Strikes Back came out. I remember the tie-in Happy Meal I received.  And I remember being lined up in a school hallway with my first-grade class, and the hot topic was Darth Vader, I think, and his relationship to uh, somebody, I won’t spoil it for you in case you are one of the few people in the world who hasn’t seen the movie.

Oh wait a second, I just Wikipedia’d the release date for The Empire Strikes Back. Revision: the movie I remember being discussed in the hallway, actually, wasn’t The Empire Strikes Back, it was Raiders of the Lost Ark. [That's right, I remember now: everyone just called it "Raiders" to sound cool, and no one cared to discuss the theatrical re-release of Cinderella I had seen...right right.] In any case, it was some adventure thing I didn’t care about and didn’t see. It’s Harrison Ford in some macho role or other. It’s all the same to me. The Happy Meal was definitely TM George Lucas, though.

Rats, that would have been a great lead-in to this post. But I digress. Back to the point: it occurs to me, as I look around my house, where I live with a six-year-old boy, and a three-year-old boy, and their Star Wars-loving father, Lucas detritus is everywhere. There are Lego Star Wars figurines strewn about the floor in every room, some with heads, some not; the series DVDs are never far from the TV set. When we play in the backyard, we don’t need swings, or even a ball; all that’s required is a few large sticks that become lightsavers (“They’re lightsabres! Even I know that,” I keep telling them). Roles are assigned, and there’s a battle royale; the boys alternate being Luke Skywalker and Hans (sorry – Han!) Solo, and I am usually assigned C3PO, or Princess Leia, and halfheartedly swing my sabre while trying to make the point that Princess Leia doesn’t need saving; she’s fighting bad guys too.

Even when the six-year-old is at school discussing the minutiae of the planet Hoth with his compadres, and we’re at play on our own, the three-year-old still wants to pick up some sticks and fight bad guys in space. He still wants to be Luke Skywalker through most of his day.

When my older son was that age, he was more interested in The Wiggles: things that were cozy and sweet.  His father didn’t introduce Star Wars to him until he was well over the age of four (he waited as long as he could stand). Things are different this time around; with an older brother around to worship and emulate, the little one is growing up so fast, all consumed with the epic battle for good over evil, so he can stay in step with his idol.

Those “few people in the world” I mentioned earlier, who have not seen the Star Wars franchise? Aside from grown-ups who don’t care for space games, who else can those people be, but little brothers and sisters? And how do we stop them from being exposed to secrets they are not ready to learn yet? Like the fact that you-know-who is you-know-who’s father?

As much as I like to make fun of my family for their adulation of George Lucas, the Star Wars films (and no, I don’t mean the ones with Hayden Christiansen, I know I know) are absolute classics, and it is one of the wonders of childhood to watch them and revel in their big moments. It’s almost like Christmas morning, the look of surprise on the face of a kid when the moment of truth comes in The Empire Strike Back; it’s like unwrapping an enormous gift. But it can only happen once.

At three, my little one is not ready for that revelation. It’s one thing to play at using the Force in the backyard, but he is simply too little to watch the films, where the violence is of a much more intense variety that a backyard twig fight. But when the background noise of his daily life with big brother is all Star Wars, all the time, how do we make sure that he will stay unspoiled, so that he can enjoy that moment to its fullest, gasp-inducing extent when he is ready for it?

This conundrum goes beyond Star Wars as well. My six-year-old’s teeth are falling out at an alarming pace and I, as Tooth Fairy, like to leave him a surprise under his pillow from time to time instead of cold, impersonal cash. But the three -year-old, as my personal shopping assistant, is very astute, and saw the special electric toothbrush I bought for his brother and tried to hide at the bottom of the cart, behind boring things like toilet paper and vegetables.  Did he make the connection the following morning when the same toothbrush appeared? If he did, he still doesn’t have the words to express it. But someday, perhaps sooner than he should, he might just put it all together.

And how will he believe in Santa, when his brother no longer believes? And the Easter Bunny? Not to mention every other book or movie his brother will read or see ahead of him. It’s powerful ammunition to have, this information, and I hope it is a long time before big brother realizes that he can wield it.

In the throes of busy days, I can’t police every moment. I can keep him from watching Star Wars on TV, but I can’t ensure that the boys’ playacting is spoiler-free. For now, I can only rely on the fact that three is still very young.  As incredible as his capacity to remember every kind of detail is, his ability to forget is almost as strong. He was, as I am sure he has forgotten, a baby not too long ago. But then again, they change and grow faster than my parenting can keep pace with, so that might not be true for very much longer.

Tomorrow morning, the Tooth Fairy will likely have been here. And that (spoiler alert!) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sticker book might look awfully familiar to a little certain someone. Maybe I will just stick to cash.

Fussy Mother’s Locavore Cafe: First Day of School Menu

Apologies from Fussy Mother that the cafe (and blog) have been closed for so long. We have relocated our establishment from suburban Boston to coastal Connecticut over the summer.

In honor of the First Day of School in our new town, Fussy Mother presents a special menu, filled with the flavors of our new seaside surroundings, and sprinkled with a dash of the glee that accompanies the sight of a school bus heading away from the house.

So please, enjoy.

Breakfast

(NOT served all day)

Local berries lightly picked over

Three–hundredth consecutive daily waffle real syrup: Mrs Butterworth’s will be detected and refused

Alphabet cereal educational, when tired of three-hundredth consecutive waffle

Blueberry scones from the supermarket in our old town (not available)

Yogurt if you want to be a big strong boy

Eggs any style don’t you dare

Box lunch

Nutella sandwich does that count as nut-free

PB&J “for babies”

Heirloom Wheat Thins moving-van aged, summer

Baby carrots also made the journey

Loving note from Mom feel free to disregard

Round-trip Go-Gurt let’s not kid ourselves

Fresh water BPA free, good first impression

Monsters, Inc. juice box available next week

Nutella

Nutella (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After-School Snack

(served al fresco)

Snake jerky street pressed

Fisher cat poop never heard of such a thing in Boston

“10-foot diet” berries red, STOP!

Fresh clams salt marsh, local guy, bucket, good luck

Resident grasshoppers down the hatch

Dinner

(two-bite mininum)

Connecticut pizza universally better than Massachusetts, whole reason for moving

Untouched pasta affront to Italian mother

Most expensive available organic sausage SIT DOWN

Macaroni and cheese everyone else in the world likes it but you

Breaded chicken ditto

Quiet lobster roll at marina, sunset in your dreams

Easter candy finish it before Halloween

Marsh Bride Brook and Coastal Salt Marsh, East...

Our new environs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cringing and typing: the blogger at age 15

Facebook. How you dredge up the past. I mean, this is pretty harmless, but it’s still dredging. A few months ago, a friend from a camp I attended in the summer of 1991 contacted me on Facebook, and sent along a pdf of a two-page essay I wrote when I was 15. I guess I was pretty proud of this essay if I was handing out to camp friends. Jesus.

English: Barnard College, New York City

Barnard College, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was a camp for young suburbanites to experience the splendor of the big city: a month living in a dorm and taking classes at Barnard College, in New York. It was paradise for the slightly awkward, slightly arty teen. We traipsed up and down Broadway like we, as many other fresh, eager-types before us, owned it. We dicked around campus, and museums. We were self-proclaimed masters of the M4 bus. We ordered Chinese takeout to our rooms like big shots, stayed up late, socialized on uncomfortable common room furniture, and amused ourselves with an endless series of inside jokes.  They must have been OK jokes, though; several of the people I lived with at 49 Claremont Avenue are still my good friends. And I mean in the real world, beyond Facebook. PCP ’91!

We bought ten-packs of subway tokens in tiny plastic bags and went way downtown on the 1/9 to Greenwich Village, which is still my favorite place on earth. Sometimes we messed up and got on the express and just hung out at Chambers Street, whatever. Everything was exciting; as much fun as we had going to Shakespeare in the Park and a Violent Femmes concert at the Beacon Theatre, we had roaming the aisles at Love’s Pharmacy. We were old enough to shop for our own shampoo, old enough to decide when to go eat at Tom’s Diner, when to go the dining hall, and when to sleep through class.

I wrote the essay in question in high school, in 1990, for a writing contest (which I won, that’s right!). My friend found it at his mother’s house as she was clearing out old things.  And if I have the stomach for it, one day I’ll go through my parents things, and find the rest of the things I wrote at this brash and hopeful time, which I think even includes poetry inspired by Sylvia Plath (yikes), and my college essay, in which I described my love for the mysteries of New York, and why I wanted to go back, across the street from Barnard, to Columbia. Which I did.

As punishment to myself, I will retype the entire essay, resisting to the urge to correct anything or insert commentary on poor turns of phrase, or missed opportunities for jokes, and let it be. I am not sure why anyone would want to read it, although I still think it’s kind of funny, but if a blog ends up being nothing but a chronicle of one’s self, to be read at a future date, and wonder why, then this needs to form a part.

The Origin of Soul: The Story of Creation

 

In the beginning, there was James Brown.

That’s all there was. No glinting silver moon, no life sustaining sun. The stars were not the watchful eyes of heaven, and no beavers built their dams on the nonexistent churning blue streams. No pine trees shaded the eyes of prancing human beings. There was no life, no universe.

No universe, that is, until that something, that supreme, superior being, that godfather of all creatures, James Brown, felt good. He felt so good, so powerful, just as he knew that he would, that he was sparked with the divine inspiration to create the Earth out of soul, a sharp scream, and brown polyester.

The Earth, soul kitchen, sea of raving fans soon to be, and James Brown’s dance floor. A quick dance step, a quiver of his hips, and there was his glowing disco ball, pure and simple, ready for him to adulterate. What magic, what wonder! That was the first day.

On the first night, Mr. James Brown threw a party, a bash for the masses of nothingness. To decorate and shine proudly upon his new world like his white teeth, he created the sun, the moon, and a myriad of twinkling stars. Hallelujah!

On the second day, James Brown felt nice. So, hence appeared an abundance of humans, sugar, and spice. There were plenty of women, and no jive. The party continued, as it always will, and this time the decorations were the forests primeval, and the oceans blue and teal. Mr. Brown wore his earth brown suit to match his Eden.

On the third day, James Brown did another nifty little jig and created the party animals to follow him and worship him like no other. The panthers, cheetahs, and cockatoos loved their Creator with all their dancing hearts.

And the earth was complete! Glory be, James Brown created Grooveday (now called Sunday, as the term “groovy” is passe), to rest in his yacht in the gleaming Pacific and recover from hangovers. He had now earned the much deserved title of “The Hardest Working Man in Creation.” So be it!

But, as nothing is perfect except the master himself, evil–sinning, blade-sharp evil–began to spawn and grow within the Godfather’s own sideburns. Wars wreaked havoc across the earth, and the globe, once crystal blue, was now tinged with black, stinging crime.

English: James Brown, February 1973, Musikhall...

February 1973, Musikhalle, Hamburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why, oh why,” the people wanted to know, “did James, the Man, thrust this upon us?”

As they did not want to take responsibility for their own actions, James Brown’s sons and daughters sent him to the jail cell to purge all the world’s sins. Heartbroken and stained by his own blood, The Almighty Brown sent M.C. Hammer, musician in disguise, to rule in his place.

“That will show them!” he thought, as his feet were bound and halted from grooving. “The fools know not what they do!”

And lo, show them it did. During the years our James, our Creator, was sadly incarcerated, the world was driven to tears by the horrid sounds of the Hammer. Finally, the people broke through the clogged-up tunnel, saw the light, and praise Soul! James Brown pounded the pavement once again! He forgave everybody.

And the world, and James Brown, and all the party animals in the forest, felt good once again. Amen! Hallelujah!

How my sister can navigate the modern world without having seen Anchorman I literally have no idea

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s 2013 and my sister still hasn’t seen Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Help me understand. Why? Why? I’m in a glass case of emotion! See, she wouldn’t even get that hilarious reference. She’d just stare into the distance, quizzically, as the modern world carries on without her.

She must be the only person in the 18-34…er…25-39 year-old demographic group that hasn’t seen this movie. Advertisers are carrying on with their profiling without her. TV shows are crafted based on data that does not apply to her. She’s just in the corner, pooping hammers all by herself while the rest of us cool people drink three fingers of Glenlivet with a little bit of pepper and some cheese, and play jazz flute. Cannonball!

Seriously, when she watches Progressive Insurance commercials they must just go straight over her head. Poor thing. Does she even know that’s Chris Parnell’s voice playing second banana to that weird Flo? And this is a person who works in Business. How are you supposed to work in Business without knowing this kind of thing? “You’re a poop. You’re a poop mouth.” No, I’m not being vulgar. I’m trying to illustrate, via this film reference you don’t get, how you’ve let me down, sis.

Look, I get it, lady. You work hard. You are tired after a long day of swimming with the sharks down in the big city, crunching numbers or running figures or whatever it is you do. I don’t know what you do. That’s not my problem. Get a can of Red Bull and stay awake long enough to watch this movie before the sequel comes out later this year and you’ll be twice as far behind the rest of the world. What if you go to one of your Business meals and someone asks you how San Diego got its name?  And you don’t know? There’s a deal gone straight down the drain. Because, when in Rome.

Maybe you’ll say to me, “Sure, I haven’t seen Anchorman, but there are many more seminal films I also haven’t seen. Why don’t I watch a few minutes of those? Say, Apocalypse Now, or A Clockwork Orange, or Citizen Kane, even? Or forget that: why don’t I read a book or whatnot?” True. But let’s face it: how’s it going with that copy of Homer’s Odyssey I saw you buy, in some fit of nostalgia over our sunny college required reading days of yore? Thought so.

Look, I know it seems like I am teasing you. But I know how you feel. Oft I have considered reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace but instead watched Arrested Development in its entirety for the fourth time (MAY 26!!!!!). You don’t have to be Dr Chim Richels to understand that everyone needs to relax sometimes. But I kid you not, I am getting around to that book. Soon. Soon-ish.

Think of all the pitfalls you face which the rest of us can avoid. Hey, it’s a Friday night, let’s pretend we are not at home wrangling young children into pajamas and cleaning rice off the ceiling, and we’ve actually left the house. “Let’s go get some margaritas!” you say. “OK!” How about this place, you suggest: Escupimos en su Alimento? Uh, sure, you go for it, the rest of us are going suit shopping.

Even Justin Bieber, that numbnuts, knows that milk was a bad choice. Even he would know that if you are confronted by a bear, you should just mention that you know Katow-jo, the bear’s cousin. Oh Baxter, you are a little gentleman. I’ll take you to foggy…where? Poor Baxter. That wise little Buddha covered in hair. You let him down.

While you’re at it, sure, go meet up with that public television news team without a trident. Or throw a burrito out of a moving car window. You were lucky you got away with it that one time, but if you just put down that US Weekly with Kim Kardashian’s butt on the cover that you are falling asleep on and see the movie, you’ll never do it again.

And, perhaps most importantly of all, without this Anchor-knowledge, how are you going to fill those lapses in conversation that inevitably come, when you’ve exhausted every topic, every angle, every aspect of love, and war, only to let the thread of your talk quietly drop? You shrug, and quietly say, “San Di-AH-go. German for a whale’s vagina.”  And you’re back on air.  As it were. This can go on for hours – through stalled subway cars, the lag between the last drink and the time to go, miles of highway. You’re only going to get so far with the dang Odyssey once everyone nods wildly at the only quote they can remember, that business with the “rosy-fingered dawn.” Which happens right at the beginning of the thing, if I recall correctly.

I don’t really know what I am trying to say here, sis. I don’t know if there is any larger meaning to all of this.  Probably not. All I know is that when you are a big sister, you must guide the younger ones. And my good advice?  Sixty percent of the time, it works…every time. My sweet Brick.

So please, see the movie. It’s on cable a hundred times a day. In fact, I have it perma-saved on my DVR just in case you come by and I can Clockwork Orange you and make you watch it. By the hammer of Thor! Again, that went straight over your head…

(Warner Bros. Entertainment)

(Warner Bros. Entertainment)

The legend of Zelda and Zoe

Zelda with her new boss, Zoe.

Zelda with her new boss, Zoe. Note: not my mother pictured, but our dear aunt Pom Pom.

It makes me sad to think of how most of my daily childhood treasures have probably ended up in a trash heap somewhere. Well, I’m not the only sad one; think of the Toy Story franchise. But it’s sad nonetheless. Whatever happened, for instance, to my Communist Barbie? Someone had to play Miss U.S.S.R. in our makeshift Miss Universe pageants in the basement playroom. So I cut off her matted blonde hair into a spiky do, and Barbie became a breadline-hardened Brigitte Nielsen that always came second to Miss U.S.A. I can pretend she’s keeping other similarly-shorn, well-loved Barbies, Kens, and Skippers company in a cozy daycare somewhere, but, more likely, no claw ever could save her from the fires that awaited.

As you can tell by my lack of respect for Barbie’s golden locks, I didn’t have the most girly of girlhoods. I slept in a yellow bedroom, and wore red and gold Danskin playsets to nursery school, or plaid kilts. My mother didn’t care much for pink, or princesses, which is fair enough. She also wasn’t that sentimental about things, nor did she ever imagine that these toys that she eventually tossed had hearts and feelings of their own. A wise lesson for a harsh world. I tried to take that lesson on, but I still can’t ever throw out a piece of paper with my mother’s handwriting on it, no matter how many school worksheets of mine would have been recycled, if recycling had been a thing when I was in school.

Now, as I fill acid-free boxes upon boxes with my son’s kindergarten scribbles, I realize I have to relegate some to the great recycling bin in the sky, if I don’t want to appear on an episode of Hoarders. And I understand my mother’s drive to declutter; I can hardly see clear to the end of a day if I need to wade past piles of kid stuff to get there.

So the best drawings get kept, and the coloring sheets and letter practice go. I wonder which of my boys’ possessions will still be here when we are all older? I have a few ideas (a scruffy teddy bear, a huge bin of Legos no one will ever make sense of again, a tattered copy of Captain Underpants).

Never to be recycled.

Never to be recycled.

My two boys like to get fawning attention by kissing the odd baby doll, and cruise each other toward bruisin’s in a doll stroller I bought them, but they are really not interested in inheriting mine. Though Communist Barbie got tossed just as the Berlin Wall came down, my childhood baby doll Zelda is still around, and she’s found a new home: with my sister’s daughter, one-year-old Zoe. It was meant to be! The two Z’s, Zelda and Zoe, zestily zipping together to Zanzibar, or Zagreb, or somewhere. New Zealand.

My parents gave me Zelda when I was a baby. She wasn’t fluffy, or pink: she had a hard plastic head and arms, yellow hay-like hair, and a red and white dress. And I schlepped her around the house dutifully like many a baby would. And now, Zoe sweetly does the same. Zoe and Zelda.

IMG_7229

I asked my mother why she named my doll Zelda. Surely that name wasn’t on the box. I though maybe because she wasn’t the daintiest of baby dolls, or looked slightly witch-like, that the name fit. It was too soon to name her after The Legend of Zelda, the videogame, so that wasn’t it.

“We decided that we were going to start at the end of the alphabet,” my mom said. “So I thought of Zelda. There was that girl, Zelda, on Dobie Gillis, I think I got the name from her. Zelda was always the smarty-pants in the gang.” My only other association with the early 1960′s TV show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, is that Gilligan was on it, as the beatnik Maynard G. Krebs. But the show was cancelled long before I was born. Long, I repeat, before.

dobiezelda

I appreciate that my mom chose to name my doll after a “smarty-pants,” and not some gooey, helpless, princess type. Thanks to Zelda, and my mother, I consider myself a smarty-pants to this day. It’s not a bad way to be. Because Wikipedia was invented for such smarty-pants who need answers fast, I decided to look up what happened to the original Zelda, the actress Sheila Kuehl.

It turns out she went to Harvard Law School and became the first openly gay person elected to the California legislature! Way to carry the flag for the smarty-pants of the world, Sheila Kuehl!

I am glad that my Zelda, saved from the fire, is now with my little Zoe. And hopefully, starting with Zelda and her raggedy endurance, I can pass onto Zoe all the things I learned since the doll was my own: to start with the back of the alphabet, go your own way, be a smarty-pants, and take care of what’s important, what’s your own. Especially, future Zoe, your poor old aunt. Will you take future me to the library and the diner when my future sons have forgotten to call? Please, future Zoe?

[This post was written for the WordPress Daily Prompt: Prized Possessions. Question: Describe an item you were incredibly attached to as a child. What became of it?]

Fussy Mother’s Locavore Cafe: Today’s Menu

 

Légumes

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. 

Libations

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

Beginnings

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

lego

Middles

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

Afters

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 you

Your table awaits.

Your table awaits.

God 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

Enjoy!

My mother hates Dr Seuss! and other stories

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, 1957

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, 1957 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.”

Green Eggs and Ham

Sam I am enough already (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Old school.

Old school. My mother’s village in Calabria.

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.

“Why?”

“Because they’re funny.” (Take that, Mom!)

“Why else?”

“They’re cool.”

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!

Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) half-length portrait, s...

Happy birthday to you. World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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