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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Master of Cool

These days my kids, Ethan in particular, are all about "cool." Either something (or someone) is "cool," or it's not. And if it's not, look out. At 4, Ethan has deemed Curious George, Mickey Mouse and Calliou (see previous post), all programs he used to love, totally Uncool. Jonas's excitement when we find a Mickey Mouse episode is quickly squelched by Ethan's protests of "But I want to watch something cool!"
"Well what's cool?" I'll ask. "Is Berenstain Bears cool?"

I'll fly through the channels. He'll stop me only for one of three shows: SpongeBob Squarepants, Phineas and Ferb (which he insists is Fern no matter how many times I try to correct him because I'm the one who can read and spell), or Dora. That's right. My son thinks Dora the Explorer is cool.

Why would a four year old care about what is cool, anyway? I sometimes wonder if I had something to do with it. I mean, I do catch myself saying "Wow, that's really cool," to Ethan alot. But it doesn't mean anything. It's more like saying "That's interesting," when you don't really know what else to say.

I suspect, however, that more than mommy here, his friends are the cause of his obsession with cool. I know he thinks this kid Lyle is cool. Lyle is in Ethan's class at school. Lyle, I'm convinced, is a bad kid. I decided this after watching Lyle try to steal a popsicle from the freezer in his classroom the other day, a crime he would have committed had it not been for his father.

"It's not yours Lyle," his dad said. "Put it back."

I could see the admiration in Ethan's eyes at the time, as though he too would steal a popsicle right in front of his mom if only Lyle had gotten away with it.
A couple of mornings later, when dropping Ethan off at class, Lyle greeted us with, "Hey Ethan, you're sweeper today. Only bad kids are sweepers."

This confirmed it for me. Lyle was evil. On my way out of the classroom, I vaguely threatened the boy. "You be nice," I whispered in his ear. "I'm watching you."
I was halfway down the hall near the exit when I heard Lyle's voie. "You're not watching me now." I turned around. He was by the door to his classroom.

"I'm watching you now," I said, creeped out by this five-year-old's, how shall I put it...balls?

I turned around and kept walking.

"You're not watching me now," he said louder this time.

OK. He had a point. I didn't have eyes in the back of my head. I turned to look at him again. He was smirking. Then, to my relief, the teacher called him back into the room.

A few days later, when I came to pick up Ethan and asked how his day was, his teacher added something to her standard answer of "Great."

"Oh, he had a great day...but well, he did hurt his friend Joey, hit him in the tummy...I think they were playing and Joey got hurt but it was an accident. And Ethan hugged him and said sorry right after."
I thought this was odd, but no big deal. Joey is a nice kid, and Ethan's best friend (according to Ethan). I was sure it must have been an accident. I asked Ethan about it and he didn't say much. At least, not at first. Then, a couple of hours later, while giving him a bath, Ethan said, "You know why I hit Joey, mommy?"

"It was an accident, right?"
"No, because Lyle told me to."

Ethan was smirking. I immediately launched into a lecture about what a great kid Joey is and how he shouldn't follow kids like Lyle because Lyle might be a bad kid and it's not cool to be a follower.

When Ethan continued smiling, I wondered if maybe he was lying. Because I forgot to mention this, but lying is WAY COOL these days.

That very same afternoon of the hitting incident Ethan's teacher had asked me if Ethan had really gone to Africa when he was three to see the Pyramids. I shook my head. "He's never even been on an airplane," I said.

"Oh well, he's got quite an imagination then," she said.

Whether Ethan was lying about the Joey incident or not, I suddenly understood how my mother must have felt when at age 11, I broke off from my innocent childhood friends to join an evil suburban Jewish girl gang led by Kelly, who just happened to be an Irish Catholic chick who was really cool. My mother thought she was a bad influence, and tried to talk to me about it then too, the way I tried to talk to Ethan about Lyle. But whatever she said had no effect because right around that time, I had deemed my mother no longer cool. At least with Ethan at age 4, maybe I still had a chance to make a difference. Maybe I still had a chance to open his mind, and teach him not to judge. To teach him that everyone was cool, in his or her own way.

Yet, like so many things we try to teach our kids, change comes slowly. For now, the cool factor continues to weigh heavy in our world. The other morning, Ethan told Jonas that his Batman pajamas shirt wasn't cool. It was a crushing blow to his little bro.
"Yes it is Ethan...Take it back. Say sorry!" Jonas lashed back.
"But it's not cool," Ethan said again.

"Mommy, daddy," Jonas said nearly in tears, "Ethan said my batman shirt isn't cool."

"Of course it's cool," I said. "Don't listen to him." I looked at Ethan and shook my head. "Ethan's not the master of cool, anyway. Daddy is. And daddy wears that Batman shirt we got him for Father's Day!"

This made Jonas smile.

"Ethan you are not the master of cool...,"Jonas repeated. "And I smelled your breath and it's stinky!"

I stifled a laugh and the little cheer I wanted to do for Jonas while thinking: now that is one cool kid.

Making a Case for the C-Word

How do you feel about Calliou? Read my piece on Making a Case for the C-Word

Friday, July 16, 2010

Am I the only person who thinks the Giving Tree should be banned?

Why J had to pick that bag at the book swap (see previous post), I'm not sure. But he did. He picked the bag with another copy of the Giving Tree in it.
My first thought was: we'll just give that away. Right away. We already have a copy of the damn book anyway.
But no. Jonas wanted to read it that night.
"Why don't we read Batman again?" I suggested.
But he pushed.
"Mommy cries when she reads this book," I warned him.
"Read mama," he said.
So I began reading.
And there was the little boy who loved his tree. He would swing on the tree's branches, eat her apples, and sleep in her shade.
(so far so good).
But then the little boy grows up and he needs money and he comes back to the tree who says takes my apples (the little boy is about 30 years old now) and the little boy takes his apples. And the tree's happy.
Then the boy comes back and he's middle aged.
"That's not a little boy," J points out.
"You're right," I say.
And the little boy who's a full grown man with a beer belly and less hair needs a house and so he takes up the tree's offer to take all her branches as wood for his house. And after the little-boy-turned-pearshaped-and-balding takes the branches the tree, again, is happy.
(still, no tears...I'm gonna make it!)
Then the little boy who is very old now comes back and wants a boat and the tree offers his trunk, which the elderly little boy takes and the tree (to this reader's horror) is left nothing more than a stump but still happy (although not really.)
Then the little-boy-near-death-old returns again and the tree apologizes saying, "I have nothing left to give you, My apples are gone..."
"Where'd his apples go mommy?" J asks, and the next thing you know I'm bawling like a baby, snot running out my nose and J says, "Can I go see daddy?"
"Of course," I say, half crying, half laughing.
I can't help but wonder: Is it just me? Does anyone else cry when reading this book to their children? Does anyone else wonder why Shel Silverstein had to go and write such a damn depressing children's book?? I know it's supposed to be a lovely tale for the ages but I would much prefer a revised version where the tree says to the boy-man, "Stop being such a selfish brat and go out and make some money to build your house and your friggin boat!"
That would make me very happy.
Now does anyone want a copy (or two) of The Giving Tree?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Book Swappers BEWARE!

It seemed like a good idea at the time. A book swap instead of presents for J's third birthday party. Although I had never attended a party with a book swap, I knew they were pretty popular around here. In case you are not familiar with book swaps, here's how it works. Each child who attends the party brings a wrapped book, At some point, all the kids sit in a circle and each kid gets to pick a book to take home.
A nice concept, right? One that screams: "We are not a shallow family! We are deep! We value literature, not meaningless toys!
Here's where this line of thinking backfired. WE equals parents. As far the kid whose birthday it is well, that's a different story.
Perhaps if E had a book swap first, things would have been different. But at E's birthday in January, it was all about the presents. It was all about transformers, Spiderman, hotwheels, you name it. I remember J watching in awe and envy as his older brother opened all those presesnts.
I suppose as his birthday approached he thought in what is now becoming the usual, ongoing sibling rivalry (are children just born knowing how to say "Na na na na na"?), now it's my turn.
Then came the party. As the guests arrived and the wrapped books piled up, Jonas got excited. "Look at all these presents for me mama!" He said.
"Well no, sweetie," I explained. "These are for all the kids."
He stared at me blankly.
"Where are my presents?" he asked.
"Well you already got lots of presents, you know, from me and daddy. And Nana."
Again, the blank stare.
Later, after the party, J was still searching for his missing gifts. He'd see an empty bag. "Is that my present in there, mommy?" Even a simple scrap piece of gift wrap induced longing. "Is this mine mommy?"
"Well no honey, but look at the great new books you got from the book swap!"
"Yes, mommy - a batman book!"
"Yes!" I said relieved, thinking his sadness, his feeling of being ripped off had passed.
Then, the next morning on our way to school, he asked what his friend Kyle gave him.
"He brought a book," I said.
Then E had to chime in and say, "Justin got me a spiderman for my birthday" and I snapped in typical mommy dearest fashion: "No more talking about birthdays! What does it matter what Justin got you anyway?" In the rear view mirror Ethan looked stunned.
But the worst was four days post-party. We're driving in the car when out of nowhere J says, "I didn't want all my friends to take my books at my party."
I wanted to cry. I'm still not sure which one of us is more scarred from this whole swapping experience: him or me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Holy Testosterone Batman!

The boys latest game is called "Fight."
No more playing with trucks. Or fixing things with tools.
Now it's all about the fight.
There are variations of the game. First you can do it with Lego men. You line them all up on the TV stand and count to twenty.
If you are two-year old J, whenever you get past ten, you just repeat what your older brother is saying or make something up like 'six, ten, five...twenty!' Then you shout "Kapow! Chow! Frow!" as your lego people beat the crap out of each other.
The second variation is to actually fight with each other.
Again, if you're J, you put on your best Superwhy cape and mask, announce that you are Batman (or Robin, depending on your mood), and yell "FIGHT!" If your brother does not respond because he's too tired, you ask more politely:
"Hey, E, wanna fight?'
If he says no, sulk.
If he says yes, pounce.

At first I worried I created this problem by letting the boys watch old Batman episodes on YouTube.
"If it wasn't Batman, it would have been some other fighting game," my mother-in-law, an early childhood specialist assured me. To be sure, I bought the book The Way of Boys, because honestly, I was clueless about the way of boys. I had sisters. We played Barbies, not bad guys, and rarely did Barbie and Ken beat each other up. As a kid, and even into adulthood, boys always seemed a strange and scary species. When I first found out I was having a boy,in fact, I dreamed his was born smoking a cigar and speaking in tongues. No joke. I was terrified.

Sure enough, in the book, there was a whole chapter on how boys need to be bad guys, the author's words again assuring me this was normal.
So, when it comes to the fighting, I try to take the stay out of it approach, telling myself I'm letting nature take its course. The only time I interfere is if the fighting breaks out in public, or when I hear something bang hard against a wall (almost always J's head), followed by crying.
The last time this happened, I went in to the boy's room to console J who was crying and saying "E hit me! E hit me."
Moments later, E started crying too.
"Why are you crying?" I asked him.
"He wanted to fight mommmy," E said.
Was he crying because he was scared of getting in trouble? Or because he felt badly?
I wasn't sure.
Later that evening, J fell off his chair while eating dinner. No one was fighting then. It was just one of those awkward toddler moments when you miscalculate your distance from the table and the next thing you know you're hanging upside down from your chair, your head bonking the floor.
My husband picked up J and took him to the couch where he proceeded to cry and scream for several minutes.
E left the room and to our suprise, returned moments later with J's batman toy. He handed it to his brother, who stopped crying. "Here you go, J," he said.
My husband and I looked at each other.
There is hope for the male species after all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Of Squirrels and Squash
Part II

Saturday, February 20

Two days after the squash incident, a squirrel decided to make an appearance in our attic.
I had already forgotten the certainty with which my mother-in-law said we had squirrels in the attic when she slept over two weeks ago.
“Yep, I heard them all night…scurrying around,” she said.
For the next couple of nights, I listened, but heard nothing.
“She was probably confusing the sounds of the heater with squirrels,” I said to Ben, who agreed.
And that was that. At least until something crashed to the ground Saturday morning and Ben opened the attic door to see a squirrel standing at the top of the stairs.
“Was it big?” I asked, as though a slight difference in size mattered when there were wild animals in the house.
“Yep,” he said. “Looked big to me.”
The boys were excited.
Jonas grabbed his Red Sox baseball bat and kept calling “Where are you squirrel?” Then he practiced how he’d “bonk” the critter, using his stuffed penguin as a stand-in.
All day, philosophical discussions ensued, such as the following:

Ethan: Um, the squirrel jumped up to the window then he chewed up the squares and the glass and found a hiding spot in the attic.

Jonas: We can build a house for him.

Ethan: But the squirrel likes hiding places in the forest. Only in the forest, not here where there are houses. They like bears. If a bear comes and tries to get him he finds a really good hiding spot.

Jonas: No, he gets in his car and drives away.

Ethan: But squirrels can’t drive – but they have legs on their bottom and they run like babies (Ethan demonstrates by crawling on the floor)

Jonas: And, um, we can build a cage for him.

Ethan: but he likes it in the forest only

Ben: So, Jonas, are you still going to bonk the squirrel?

Jonas: Yep.

Ben: So you’re going to build a house for the squirrel and then bonk it?

Jonas: Yep.

Ethan: But his house has to be in the forest.

Ben: Where’s the forest? We don’t really have forest in Arlington.

Ethan: It’s in Chicago.

Ben: So how does the squirrel get to Chicago?

Ethan: On an airplane. Um, Squirrel Air.

Ben: But who drives the squirrel airplane?

Ethan: Um, Captain Squirrel.

Jonas: Can I watch Spiderman?

I am happy to report that no squirrels were bonked that day. A nice man from BayState Wildlife (doesn’t really sound like a pest removal company does it? More like an animal sanctuary) came and installed little one way doors over the areas where the squirrels were coming in. We haven’t seen a squirrel in our house since.
Then again, they probably took a plane to Chicago where they’re living in a nice house in harmony with the bears.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Of Squirrels and Squash

Part I

Thursday, February 18

Hell morning.
The boys are at each other, fighting and whining over everything.
I take them out in the backyard, in the snow, to try and relieve some tension.
It works. For a few minutes at least. Then:
“Jonas you’re standing on my snow!” It’s Ethan. He’s hysterical.
“Nobody owns the snow, Ethan,” I try to explain.
“But that’s MINE…my snow. I want it!” He pushes his younger brother, who tries to bite him.
“There’s enough snow to go around for everyone,” I say, while wondering how on earth I got be the mother of these two insane beings.
Every now and then the irrational behavior of my children gets to me. Every now and then, my nerves feel dangerously raw. And this is definitely one of those days.
The boys continue to fight like the Arabs and the Palestinians over whose snowy territory is whose. Finally, it’s 12pm. Time for lunch.
“Time to go in!” I say, trying to sound chipper.
They both cry. They want to stay outside. I end up carrying them both upstairs, one in each arm, the two of them slipping so low their boots hit the stairs with each step. Breathless and irritable, I plop them in front of the TV to watch Calliou while I put water on the stove for Mac and Cheese.
Then I grab the squash out of the freezer.
I read the directions:
Remove from package and place in microwaveable dish.
Cook for five minutes.
Cook for 1 minute.
This sounds easy enough, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
As I begin to peel the paper off the squash, however, I notice some pieces are being difficult. They cling to the icy squash as though their worthless little paper lives depend upon it.
“Shit,” I mumble as I pick at the squash and little chunks get stuck beneath my fingernails.
I try to run the block of squash under hot water to see if that helps. Nope. The paper still clings and taunts me. For a moment I consider just throwing it, paper and all, into the microwave, but I am afraid of poisoning my children.
Instead, I grab a steak knife from the drawer. I begin by artfully trying to extract each piece of paper from the squash’s icy grip, but each time a piece comes out, there is more. I’m digging deeper and deeper, and there’s no end in sight.
“Mother f’ing squash!” I say, now manically stabbing it with the knife (BTW, did I mention that I was also hungry?). “I hate you!”
I’m lunging the knife now, barely missing the tips of the finger of my other hand. I am Tony Bates in psycho, only instead of stabbing a woman in the shower, I’m stabbing a frozen vegetable.
Then, finally, it’s out: The last piece of paper. I am elated. Game over m’fucker. I’m thinking.
“F’ you squash!” I say out loud now as I throw it in the microwave to beam it to death.
“Mom?” Ethan says from the other room. “Who are you talking to?”
“Oh, nobody, just myself,” I say, wondering who the crazy one is now.
I mean, who am I to call my children irrational when I’m stabbing and talking to a squash? This last thought makes me chuckle.
Still, it’s not over.
I pick up the remaining packaging and look for the 1-800 number to call Birdseye’s customer complaint department. A sweet woman on the other end tells me how this happens to her all the time. “What I do is run it, packaging and all, under hot water.”
I don’t want your stupid advice, lady, I’m thinking. But all I say is “Oh.”
After a pause she says, “How about I mail you some coupons?”
“That would be wonderful,” I say. “Thank you.
I hang up the phone and it's like I’m like a new person now, my nerves calmed, all thanks to some therapeutic squash mutilation, and a few coupons to look forward to in the mail.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Shout out to my sister...

Some storytelling tips for all you mommies out there!
(I'd like to add one: Don't fall asleep while reading the stories, like my husband often does...)