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Posts tagged ‘Boston’

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.


(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 (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


(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)


A mid-winter’s whine

Boston Winter 2

Ugh (Photo credit: DanielCon)

[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.

Enough already.

Enough already.

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?

Grendel's Den: now a pleasant watering hole in Harvard Square (Wikipedia)

Grendel’s Den: now a pleasant watering hole in Harvard Square (Wikipedia)

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.

Five Uninterrupted Minutes? The title is self-explanatory. I’ll explain anyway

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.

Top five reasons why a new blog post is so very long overdue

It’s been well over a week since I have posted on my blog, and I tell you, it eats at me. I just haven’t found [see blog title]. But really, I have some legitimate excuses, uh, reasons, for not posting in a while. Here are the few of things that have eaten up all of my [see blog title].

Hurricane Sandy (2012): 60 km Wind Area Forecast

Hurricane Sandy (2012): 60 km Wind Area Forecast (Photo credit: Canadian Pacific)

1) Worrying about Hurricane Sandy. I type this faster and more anxiously as the wind whips up outside, and even though here in Boston we are well away from the center of the storm, school has been cancelled and the T has been shut down, so we are all four at home today. Read: no me time. Just lots and lots of we time. Which is great, great, great, of course. So instead of finishing my next post, which has been sitting in my draft folder for some time now half-finished, I have been drawing Bubble Guppies for T:

And I didn’t win the Art Award in sixth grade because why? No, I’m not bitter.

Daddy is taking charge of C’s homework (brought to you by the letters S and U, cut from magazines), so I have a few minutes on the computer. I’m typing fast. And when the time for the heaviest winds arrives, I’ll close the laptop and start pacing back and forth in front of the TV as Pete Bouchard tries to conceal his excitement about storm surges and gust MPHs and astronomical high tides. These meteorologist guys live for this, don’t they? They rub their hands in glee while we worriers wear pasta pots on our head waiting for the trees to come crashing down upon us.

English: The 2003 Tour de France on Alpe d'Hue...

The 2003 Tour de France on Alpe d’Huez, with Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, Haimar Zubeldia, Roberto Laiseka and Joseba Beloki. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2) Everyone else is blaming Lance Armstrong, so why can’t I? As a cycling fan, I have been completely consumed by the stunning revelations about Armstrong’s alleged doping. Of course, when T was asleep and C was at school, I dropped all important chores and tasks to read the 200-page “reasoned decision” published by USADA, as well as the Tyler Hamilton book. I have had Cyclingnews constantly open in my browser. And like many others, I have been dismayed at charges too hard to ignore, and at watching elder statemen of the sport fall one by one. Another day brings another admission of guilt, another tarnished record, another achievement that was too good to be true. I’m not an expert, so I don’t feel qualified to say much about it. So I will leave it to known Mod and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins to say it best:

“It’s a sport I love and have always loved. It’s a shame that cycling is being dragged through this again. It’s not a shame he’s been caught. As you get older, you start to realise that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. And that was always the case with Lance.”

Bradley Wiggins racing to Gold in London 2012 ...

Wiggins wins the gold in the time trial, London 2012. (Photo credit: EEPaul)

You have to love this guy. I choose to believe Wiggins has never doped, because that’s what he says, but who’s to know for sure? Who can we trust? Ever? It’s sad that I wish Cyclingnews would publish a list of definitively clean riders, so we could have something to hold onto while the sport goes through this wrenching, scorched earth period that it must endure to restore its integrity.

3) Oh yeah, there’s that election. And Halloween.

C’s “master plan” for Halloween. Or the election???

4) We took a trip to NYC to visit my family and take C to see the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid. Out on the flight deck of the old aircraft carrier, we passed rows of fighter planes with teeth painted on them and helicopters just wide enough for one person; I imagined them flying like whirring envelopes. And there’s the Captain’s bridge where you climb narrow stairs to talk to WWII veterans who were stationed on the Intrepid, and see an officer’s cabin where there’s a calendar from the year the ship was decommissioned (1974) still on the wall.

Beyond all of that, a temporary bubble houses the shuttle. Inside, the Enterprise floats above our heads in a cloud of blue, like that model of a huge, blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History. Just as hushed, just as commanding of respect. I wonder how the Enterprise will fare during the storm? It’s been through much more, I suppose.

The glowing ship.

5) Sorry, I had to watch Downton Abbey again. It just had to be done.


There are a million things to do, and there always will be, and they are calling me now. But it still makes me glad to know the blog is there, and I will get back to it in the next few days. But as I write this, the house is shaking; there is a big gust. My heart is beating faster. T will wake up soon. I’ve drawn the shades but I know the branches are bending and leaves are streaking by. I’ll need to start pacing soon, and pottering around, putting Legos back in bins, making meatballs, reading stories, vacuuming up crumbs, doing all the things I do to put the fear and worry at the back of my mind.

I hope everyone stays safe!

It’s just a flesh wound!

Near the Indian restaurant we like and the music store where I bought C a ukulele for his second birthday, at the main intersection in this New England town, there is a corner park where an old train track runs catty-corner to the streets. Elsewhere in town, the route of the old tracks runs nearly parallel to the main road, and has become a bike trail. Weaving over and under the streets it crosses, and almost everywhere shaded with oaks and willows, the Minuteman Bikeway traces, as near as it can, the path Paul Revere trampled with his horse when on April 18, 1775, he (and others) rode to Lexington to warn the new Americans, “the Regulars are coming out!” (He didn’t actually say, “The British are coming!” Thanks, internet!) Now the words that usually ring out on the Minuteman sound more like “On your LEFT!” or “Move that stroller!” or worse sometimes, huffiness dependent on the seriousness of the cyclist.

The Minuteman Bikeway. Look, I’m not Ansel Adams.

On his own second birthday, recently, I took T there after Indian food and he stepped on and off the rails, holding his cousin’s hand, while I looked in the sheet music sale bin, filled with old Suzuki violin practice books, the same as I used to avoid as a child, and a piece of music called, “Pleasure Time.” And in the park there is also this stone monument, one of many in the town that mark some moment or other of the Revolutionary War. I held T’s hand while I took this picture:

The old Yankee spirit.

I love this. Of course I don’t love the idea of anyone, especially not the British, dying. But in it there is so much to love and remind us about the New England persona. The best part of it, anyway: the part that is resolute, resilient. Full of stick-to-itiveness, as they say, with a little touch of stick-it-to-’em.

My cousin also loves this marker. We laughed as we thought of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the knight who lost limb after limb and still stood fast, in his own insane way. “It’s just a flesh wound!” (Here’s a link to the scene, though I still maintain that, as great as Monty Python is, no one EVER sounds cool quoting it. I’m doing it, but I never said I was cool.)  “It’s so New England,” she said, laughing. “Samuel Whittemore was just like all the other old coots around here, coming at some scamps yelling, ‘Get off my land, you whippersnappers!'”

Looking around, that sentiment remains, and it’s transferred from dry, crotchety farmers to local urban types: the Charlestown resident digging four feet of snow out of a parking space, then putting an old chair, or I’ve even seen a dresser, into it to save the spot that’s been dug out, and raising holy hell if anyone dares move that chair and takes the spot. Or my friend’s neighbor in Somerville, who cursed me out in front of a one-year-old C for daring to use his driveway to turn around on a narrow street (I’ll drive to the next town to avoid parking anywhere near the apron of his driveway, slapped up with menacing yellow paint). Or there’s the Boston driver willing to take a ding to the Subaru rather than let someone move in front of him (especially if that person has New York plates).

And then there’s me, having a canary and yelling at people who would park in my driveway when we lived in Cambridge (“It’s the principle of the thing!” I remember yelling at a neighbor. “If you would have asked me I would HAVE SAID YES!”). Isn’t that what we fought the Revolution for? John Locke? Life, liberty, and parking spaces, er, property! And a getting a good parking space truly is the pursuit of happiness in these parts.

When Samuel Whittemore stood his ground, when muskets were drawn on the Battle Green, anyone I was ever related to by blood was far from here – they were in the hot, dry mountains of the south of Italy, or the volcanic fields near Naples, or in quiet villages in the flatlands of the north of Germany. But nevertheless, the old Yankee spirit has found its way under my skin. Each time I enter a rotary to do battle with oncoming traffic, something deep within my flesh tells me not to give an inch. To stand my ground. Even if by law, I don’t have a leg to stand on.

The Thunder-and-Lightning Brothers and the battle of good over evil

We live in the Boston area, so seeing guys standing around in full colonial garb is no uncommon sight. We’ve seen them waiting for the bus, hanging out eating ice cream, what have you. But as the boys and I were driving through Lexington the other day, I performed an awesome Boston driving maneuver and flew to the side of the road, to the closest available bad parking spot.

“Get out! Come on!”

We dashed down the sidewalk to a guy in modern dress with headphones who showed us where to stand. And we stood, transfixed, as a full Revolutionary War battle reenactment played out before us. Now, that you don’t see every day. Well, you do see it on Patriots’ Day, but none of us feel like waking up at 4:30 to go the Battle Green. Maybe someday.

In the park below us a formation of Redcoats, their drum steadily thumping, flag flitting the in breeze, beat a measured path to a group of Minutemen, confused, rag-tag, but determined. And then the (pretend) guns went off. I had my arms around each of the boys; I could feel C’s heart leap in his chest. The baby? Not a blink. He’s that stone cold.

Unprepared for the gunfight, the Minutemen fled to the nearby woods. Then they ambled back, and started the scene again. “What is this?” I turned to a spare British colonel on a Dunkin’ Donuts break. “It’s for the Discovery Channel,” he said haughtily. So I asked the headphones guy. “Did you like it?” he said to C. Nod. “It’s for a show called How Booze Built America.” Sounds awesome, but I guess we won’t be watching that one en famille. And by the way, Colonel Crueller? Just chill. You’re not Clint Eastwood.

We watched the battle unfold a few more times. C had lots of questions. “This isn’t a real battle, right?” No, I assured him. They are showing us what happened right here, more than two hundred years ago, so we can learn about how America was founded. And how Fish-House Punch was so integral to said founding. “So which are the good guys and which are the bad guys?”

Good guys and bad guys. It seems like C’s whole four-year-old world can be boiled down to that dichotomy. I first started noticing C parse the world this way while watching Star Wars. “Are those guys good guys? Are they bad guys?” he asks. Then I realized most of his play revolves around good guys and bad guys, whether it’s pretending at Star Wars, his favorite superhero, Spider-Man, or turning me into a villain who makes him get dressed and eat vegetables. Heroes and villains and their epic battles have such a hold on preschoolers. Even when they turn off the TV, or shut the book, the battle rages on. It’s how C approaches Legos, playgrounds, dinner, everything. Bath night is Waterloo every time. What is it about the battle of good versus evil that appeals to C and his ilk so much?

As a so-so literature student, I often gravitated to a book of criticism by Northrup Frye, called Anatomy of Criticism. It’s quaint to even think of Frye as quaint now, I think. But C’s superhero aspirations reminded me of the archetypes of literature Frye lays out in that book that I enjoyed bungling so long ago.

Here, let me oversimplify it for you. It’s fun. In the book, Frye lays out four seasons of literary archetypes. There is comedy (Spring), romance (Summer), tragedy (Fall), and winter (Irony). (Can you see why this book made for an easy, last-minute essay?) These superhero stories that appeal to C so much belong to Summer, romance. Not kissy-kissy romance, but tales of quest, of good battling evil. The hero who embarks on this quest embodies the ideals of a particular society; they are threatened by villains who don’t share their ideals, and try to stop them, thereby saving the world. It’s starting to sound an awful lot like every episode of Spectacular Spider-Man I’ve ever watched. And it’s Star Wars. Beowulf. It’s cowboys riding off into the sunset. If you think about it, many children’s TV shows take this form: Dora the Explorer besting Swiper (in her lame way); Phineas and Ferb against Doofenschmirtz; Super Why against, uh, illiteracy, maybe? You see what I mean. Through these kindergarten romances, children get their first introductions to literary tropes that they will revisit through their entire lives.

C has devised his own superhero identity. “Please call me Mr. C. Lightning,” he said (it’s funnier with his full name). “And this is my sidekick,” pointing at the baby, who he’s slapped an extra cape on. “T. Thunder. Together, we are the THUNDER AND LIGHTNING BROTHERS!” The Thunder and Lightning Brothers find that the most efficacious way of saving the world is running up and down the hall multiple times yelling until T. Thunder bumps into the wall and falls down. Evil (and my patience) vanquished.

Mr C. Lightning and T. Thunder.

In their own minds, preschoolers are romantic heroes, living in the center of a black-and-white world. Frye describes romance as having a “perennially childlike quality.” Their plots are rooted in adventure; they are linear, and “at its most naive, [romance] is an endless form in which a central character who never develops or ages goes through one adventure after another until the author himself collapses.” Sounds like a typical day. Though, unlike a superhero, who never ages, our preschoolers will take what they learn now and move on to the other seasons: comedy, tragedy, and teenaged irony. Oh, that’s going to be fun. Then after that, life is just one long Seinfeld episode.

But until they grow into a sarcastic world, full of stasis and reluctant compromise, the Thunder and Lightning Brothers are my boys of Summer, all dreams of perfection that they tirelessly try to achieve until they collapse into Spider-Man sheets at the end of the day. And I guess, as their mother, I’ll have to put up with being the villain, the force they rail against as they try to figure out their places in the world. Eat this, get down, come here, stop that, no! No! No! But it won’t be this way forever. Someday they’ll realize life is not all stark opposites, that things change. Right now, I’m Mother England, and they’re young America, tossing dinner on the floor like tea into the harbor. But someday, we’ll be friends. Right, British people?


Updated: You heard it here first, or maybe second: How Booze Built America will be on the Discovery Channel on September 19.

When watching grown-up TV with your kid goes wrong, #2: National Geographic: Volcano!

Pompeian painter with painted statue and frame...

From Pompeii (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Previously on “When watching grown-up TV with your kid goes wrong”  — watching cyclists crash at the Tour de France.

So. The traveling Pompeii exhibit came to the Museum of Science in Boston over the winter (I know I’m late, but I didn’t have a blog over the winter), and we took C to see it. Mainly, I must admit, because I wanted to see it. I love Italy and ancient history, so it was a good excuse for a kid outing which would feature something I might enjoy. And I love the MoS, but was excited to skip my googleplex visit to the space capsule that every kid in Boston climbs in and out of a googleplex times, and see something new.

C was a good sport and perused the exhibit’s displays of Roman art. He was surprisingly interested; he asked questions, and let me explain what a fresco is (“Oh dear mother! You learned ever so much in college! ‘Twas not all in vain! Enlighten me further!”).

But then we came to a video, playing on a loop in a darkened alcove, recreating the events of August 24, 79 BCE. The scene opens on a quiet Campanian summer day. Then, a distant rumble! It quickly ramped up to buildings crumbling, a lone statue teetering on a roof and falling, rampant fire, and a finally, a carpet of blackness rolling toward the viewer. And, scene. And, scene. And, scene. We watched it several times. It was romantically eerie. C was captivated.

One of my favorite things about C is that he’s not a fearful child, by and large. He’s fine with the good old-fashioned dark. He is very matter-of-fact about thunderstorms, and ferocious beasts, and monsters in the closet. So what came into play here was his taste for the morbid – which I wouldn’t put in my top five of C traits, but he’s certainly not alone amongst preschoolers there, I don’t think. Or we just know a bunch of weird kids, I don’t know. And we hadn’t even walked through the casts of the dead yet. When we did, he didn’t really understand them. He thought they were sculptures, and all I could say was that, in a way, they were, and that they help us remember how these people lived and died.

Though I didn’t want to add fuel to the flames of his love of the macabre, I also didn’t want to gloss over the sad truth about what happened in Pompeii; personally, I don’t think it does C any good to pretend that bad things never happen. I know that lots of parents felt the exhibit was inappropriate for their children, and did not take them. And all I can say is that for many children, it probably wasn’t appropriate. Knowing my son, I felt that, with my help, he could handle it. And by shielding him too much from frightening things, I fear he won’t learn how to develop a mechanism to cope. That’s not to say I let him watch films and TV that feature outright violence, or even the (often terrifying) five o’clock news – he doesn’t.

Coming away from the exhibit he had a lot of good questions. What began as a morbid fascination turned into a real interest about Pompeii itself – we even took a couple of trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where he was nearly kicked out of the Greek and Roman hall for yelling to his cousin, “THESE SCULPTURES WERE AROUND WHEN VESUVIUS ERUPTED! THAT’S WHY THEY HAVE NO ARMS!”

But while Pompeii was far across an ocean, and far into the past, volcanoes, he realized, were still around. And this did make him a little nervous. There were no tears or sleepless nights (though he did have a dream that he was swimming in a “cold volcano”), but he often wanted to talk about volcanoes, and how they worked, and he needed to be reassured that there are no volcanoes where we live (though someone in his class at preschool told him there was – thanks a lot, kid!). He reasoned that if we found ourselves near a volcano, say on the way to the supermarket or something, we could outrun it. Or our car was probably fast enough.

So we bought him this book, which is written for young readers, and despite the title: Pompeii…Buried Alive!, carefully handles, without glossing over, the destruction of the day. We also got this book on volcanoes, part of DK’s Eye Wonder series, which is great. Both of these became quickly dog-eared. They helped me explain to C that people know a lot more about volcanoes now than they did in the year 79, so that we are much better able to predict and prepare for volcanic eruptions. I remembered when Mount Saint Helens erupted, I told him as we looked at the Eye Wonder book. I was little like you. But many fewer people died during that eruption. It was nothing like Pompeii; they had much more warning, because of science and all that people had learned since.

But these books led to even more questions. Like, how many people died in Pompeii? The number is too great for C to get his head around. I tell him that it was a lot, but we don’t know exactly how many (it was around 16,000).  Then, for more answers, I go to the mother ship – the TV! She knows all! Let us check the oracle of Netflix!

I found the video National Geographic: Volcano!  on that cursed Netflix streaming. I guess this highlights one of the problems of Netflix streaming – it’s TOO fast. Whatever you want is at your fingertips. You want polar bears? Click. Special on polar bears. Episode of The Backyardigans? Done. Episode of The Backyardigans? Done. Episode of The Backyardigans? Done.

So we just pressed play. I figured, it can’t get more wholesome than National Geographic, right? Let’s watch this! I told him. It will tell you about volcanologists. They study volcanoes so that we can understand how they work. They can walk right on active volcanoes – right next to lava sometimes! And it’s fine! It’s fine! You’ll see!

It’s NOT fine, as it turns out. About fifteen minutes in, after a spectacular montage of volcano action footage that C wanted to watch a thousand times, a group of volcanologists head up a volcano, and only about half of them make it back. Great. Hey, television: it’s one thing to address important issues in a realistic fashion. It’s another thing to make a liar out of me! Thanks a lot!

But he still wants to be a volcanologist. Actually a “volcanologist bike racer superhero.” I wonder, like with most things C does, does he say that to please me or annoy me? I’m not sure. Both, I guess. He is still at the age where he tries to hold opposing thoughts in his head concurrently. Example: I wanted him to sit down and eat dinner. He wanted to say no, just to stick it to me. But he was hungry. After some hemming and hawing: “How can I eat dinner and not eat dinner at the same time?” I don’t know, I told him. Maybe Netflix has a show about that.

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