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Posts tagged ‘Childhood’

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.

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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?]

Missing teeth

A young boy after losing two baby teeth, exfol...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was seven years old when my mother lost her last baby teeth. She was 32. I remember sitting at our dining room table and my mother striding in from the kitchen, then stopping. She put her thumbs in her mouth, gingerly touching each incisor. “Uh-oh,” she said. “My teeth are loose.” She wiggled her baby fangs, smaller than the rest of her teeth.

My mother and I were losing teeth at the same time! We were going through a childhood rite of passage together. The only difference was that my falling teeth were followed by visits from the tooth fairy, and hers by trips to the dentist to get fakes to replace adult teeth that were never going to come in.

In time, the family condition caught up with me. I was 10 when those same baby teeth came loose in my own mouth, with no permanent teeth underneath. I had to get a false tooth attached to my braces. Then at 11 I had a little operation to pull the other incisor down into my mouth from way up in my gums, or my head, wherever it was, tucked up in my sinuses, or my brain. I’ve heard of tumors that can grow teeth and hair within their amorphous masses. Teeth are strange, lawless little things that can grow in all the wrong places.

Eventually, when my braces came off, I had a bridge put in like my mother’s. Little metal wings stick the fake tooth to the two real teeth on either side. I walk around in my adult life waiting for the glue to become unstuck.  Where will I be, I wonder, when the bridge inevitably falls out? A PTA meeting? Pulling out my own child’s teeth?

After college, I went to a dentist for a checkup near where I lived in Brooklyn. I knew someone who lived above his office; she called him the “rentist.”

“Wow,” the rentist said when he checked my bridge. Then he said that since I had fewer teeth than the vast majority of people it meant that I was “highly evolved.” Fancy that. (Actually, it’s a genetic condition called hypodontia.) People with fewer teeth and less hair, according to him, were the future of the human race. A sleeker, smoother, less ferocious version of our atavistic selves, who would run wild through primeval forests, on the hunt, shaggy hair flying, like gaping, growling vestigial tumors.

I thought of my mother, with an extra missing incisor and fine, thin, straight hair. So she is as powerful as she would have us believe.

Naturally, I expected that my sons, being one generation more evolved than me, would also have a long wait for the tooth fairy. Imagine my surprise when I got a text from their Dad a short while ago: “C has a loose tooth!”

I was shocked. First because I’m usually there for every little thing my five-year-old does, for good or ill, and now I miss a major milestone whilst sitting in an Indian restaurant with a friend. As I picked up a samosa I felt a little woozy. I had a visceral reaction to the idea of these strange bones wobbling around his head.

I made it home just as C was settling into his bed. He let me put my finger in his little mouth and feel the front bottom tooth wiggle. “The tooth fairy is going to come soon!” I told him, a maniacal smile on my face. “Who’s the tooth fairy?” he asked.

I stroked his head as C fell asleep, untroubled by the tooth and the threats of paranormal nighttime visitors. I touched his cheek. But he just got these teeth! I thought. And they’re going already?

I closed the door to his room and went back down the dark stairs into the lighted kitchen, guns blazing. “Tomorrow we have to pull that tooth. It’s ready to come out. I feel queasy just thinking about it,” I said to his dad.

“Why?” he said. “What’s the rush?”

“What do you mean, ‘what’s the rush?’ We can’t just leave it hanging in there!”

“Why are you getting so excited about this? It will just fall out on its own, when its ready.”

Fall out when it’s ready? That’s not the way it was done in my family.  I knew my sisters would understand. I texted them about C’s tooth, and they both responded: “Don’t tell Crair.”

Our family is filled with stories of teeth that have been waylaid up in our heads or gone permanently missing. But when one of us gets a long-awaited loose tooth, it is removed post-haste. You’d think we’d want to enjoy it, let it hang out for a while. No. In our Italian family, our grandmother, whose teeth were most often found in a water-filled jar, or our aunt Crair (actually Elda Pia, which was Americanized to Claire, which became Crair in broken English) was summoned.

They were witch doctors for loose teeth. I still squirm when I think of myself at Crair’s house: steamy from bubbling pots on the stove, the telegiornale blaring, a thumb wrapped in a handkerchief bounding toward me. A sharp yank downwards. A dull, knee-weakening pain. The handkerchief shoved in to stop the blood.

I asked my husband, “This never happened to you?”

“No, that’s not how normal people do it. My parents never pulled out my teeth. I would just do it myself.  When it was really loose, I would just lift it out.” He moved his fingers like he was plucking a crocus. “Your family is weird.” Oh, really, you think my family is weird? I’ve never heard that before. ‘Mericani, I muttered. Just letting teeth flail about, instead of being proactive about it.

A few days passed, and the tooth was still dangling from C’s gums at all sorts of odd angles. I couldn’t take it anymore. I took matters into my own hands. He was at the dining room table waiting for an afterschool snack.

“Sssooo…do you want an apple? ” I asked him. He would. Super! Such a simple snack. I grabbed one from the kitchen, ran it under the tap, and proffered it to him in an enticing Lightning McQueen napkin.

“Is it fresh from the farm?” he asked. Kids these days.

“Oh yes.” I nodded innocently. “Enjoy, son.”

I went about my business. Then I heard, “What’s this?” On the napkin was a tiny morsel of white, with a bright red tip. Was it a bit of apple?

I was delighted. I picked him up and carried him around, making a fuss. I took pictures of the tooth, and his new smile, and sent them around. I talked up the tooth fairy, big time. C himself was a bit confused. “That red on the tooth is from the apple, right?” Sure it is. And then he moved on, to cars, Legos, pestering his little brother, who had eaten the remainder of the apple, seeds and all, when I was carrying on about the tooth.

I remember thinking, when C was a newborn, that once he sat up, or rolled over, I would never see him the same way again. He would become a totally different person to me. And now, with this tooth, and another one that fell out the following day at a Chinese restaurant, mid-dumpling (we never found it: presumed swallowed), it was the same. He was shedding his skin, and becoming a new, older boy, right before my eyes. As I parent I would need to catch up, again, and quickly morph into the mother of a genuine schoolboy, not a toddler, not a preschooler anymore.

Peeking in his mouth, I see a new tooth has already erupted; the baby tooth had no choice but to flee. Through these long days that make up life with little children, when it takes what seems like days to put on shoes and get out the door, they evolve so quickly into big, independent people. It’s like watching a time-elapsed video of a flower blooming. I try to keep up, but I know that one day, like the dinosaurs, I’ll be left behind by the march of time.

Even so, I am anxious for change to happen. I think of all the times I would prop up the boys up to sit, or roll them over, or wiggle C’s loose teeth. Though I love the boys how they are now, I know it’s my end game to see them through.

My mother was there as C’s second tooth came out in the restaurant. She looked over at him a little wistfully. “I’m still waiting for the tooth fairy,” she said.

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