Archive | December, 2012

Whole Newtown World

19 Dec

Beautiful, beloved children die every day, and they die by gun violence every day, and although this fact should bring me to my knees, it doesn’t. I find a way to live with that knowledge, to carry it around with me. But the senseless horror of the school massacre in Newtown, CT on Dec. 14 is proving so difficult for me to get a grasp on, mentally and emotionally, that I feel guilty. Doesn’t every tragedy deserve this kind of reverent grief from me?

Oh, those little children. Those valiant adults.

December 14 was the day before my child’s sixth birthday, and so many six-year-olds died that day without a chance to celebrate seven. The event happened in a school similar in size and population to my kids’ sweet neighborhood school, the same one I attended myself. I spent the morning at that school on Dec. 14 handing out birthday cupcakes. The parallels haunt me.

Tonight I went to the first post-tragedy PTO meeting. The principal opened by hastening to reassure the gathered parents with information about safety drills, measures being taken to monitor the dialogue and mood at school, precautions to prevent such a tragedy happening to us. But as I listened to her speak, this wonderful educator whom I know without a doubt would protect my children with her life, this mother of two small children of her own, all I could think about was the unlocked front door of our school, and the way it opens on a hallway lined with plate glass, where all the administrative offices are. When she asked for questions, I raised my hand and said, “What about staff safety measures?” She answered gracefully, but as she talked it seemed to me that the unspoken truth is the staff knows they are the first line of physical defense, and see it as part of the job. Their unaffected bravery is absolutely heartwrenching.

After the meeting we gathered in the school auditorium for the winter chorus concert by the third and fourth graders. It was my third grader’s first chance to perform in the auditorium, and her excitement has been at a high pitch. She needed a white button-down shirt for the occasion, and we ended up just borrowing one from her younger brother–shrunken menswear being very much on trend, after all. As she walked out on to the back riser (she’s tall, just like I am–I always got stuck in the back, too), her knobbly wrists jutting out of the shirt sleeves, and her big feet clomping in new black shoes, her smile blazed as she caught sight of me and her father and little brother. Her eyes were huge and bright in her small, dear face. Our kids don’t know what happened, at least not yet. My daughter’s innocent joy in this unfussy occasion, her ability to be absolutely transported by the opportunity to perform for her parents and friends, her pure pleasure in the moment, were balm for my soul.

I’m sort of cumulatively tired of Christmas music. Every year it grates on me more, the manufactured emotion and stock sound effects and cheesy lyrics. But winter carols sung in the perfectly imperfect warble of elementary school children are another thing altogether. As I sat holding my precious six year old in my lap, watching his sister try to smile and sing at the same time, my nose buried in his fragrant hair, waves of gently dissonant sound washing over us, I felt so sad and happy and fearful and fortunate. There was so much love in the room, and I know there is so much love in the world. I wish the power of the love we have for our children was enough to keep them all safe, always.

Santa Baby

13 Dec

As a companion piece to my Religious Holidays for Dummies post, I wanted to transcribe the childrens’ 2012 communications to a higher power they definitely believe in, aka Santa. In looking back at my own checkered relationship with the big man, doubt started creeping in the year I was eight, and by the time I was nine we were donesies, so it strikes me that this is probably my last year to enjoy both of my kids’ unsullied faith in a myth I have carefully constructed and perpetuated. It’s bittersweet, especially as I hate to think about my daughter putting Santa’s name in air quotes next December, as in, “I hope “Santa” will carefully consider my request for a laptop.”

Anyway, my soon-to-be six year old kept things simple. He dictated and his faithful maternal scribe got it all down:

Dear Santa,

How are you and your elves? I hope you’re having a good time making toys. I would like:
1. A new kind of Magnatiles.
2. A dollhouse with no roof.
3. Really pretty necklaces with crystals.
Plus surprises. Please.

Love, M–

Nothing to sweat on this list, Santa’s feeling pretty good about her chances of procuring these items. I’ll be trying to skillfully coax a little more detail out of the kid on the “no roof” thing. Ditto “crystals”–I hope he isn’t thinking “diamonds.” Have I got a future Liberace on my hands? Time will tell.

My eight year old has a long history of bargaining for mercy with Santa. A few Christmases ago she composed a crookedy little Christmas Eve note to put with the cookies and milk that pleaded for last-minute leniency thusly: “I know I’ve been bad but it’s hard.” Her conscience was obviously smiting her again this year as she crafted her five-page opus:

Dear Santa (a heart balloon floats next to his name with ‘I love Santa Claus!’ written inside),

I know I’ve been a little bit bad but it’s hard being a big sister. I mean some things are only my fault but some things are because my brother and I interacted. You are one of my biggest heroes. Thank you for all the presents. Could I get your autograph? Autograph _____________. Thank you. Here are the things I want:

1. Easy Bake Ultimate oven
2. A glow-in-the-dark digital clock
3. Kit Kittredge’s American Girl doll bed

And please surprise me! I like fashion, real making food, and making fashion, etc.

One of your biggest fans,

The kid clearly knows that flattery will get you everywhere, and sometimes the best defense is a good offense. A classic case of her doing as I do rather than as I say. The list itself is straightforward, although I’m wondering what kind of surprises would best please her–maybe a “Make your own Carmen Miranda fruit hat” kit? I’ll let my imagination run wild.

I was a little stressed about the autograph request, as it seemed like a “first chink in the armor” type of suspicion confirmation, but lucky for me I just got to do a dry run.

A week ago my five year old lost his very first baby tooth after about three months of toothy malingering–he wouldn’t let anyone touch it, and the darned thing seemed determined to wiggle around in there forever. Finally it came out while he was jumping on his bed with a friend–the details are hazy, but everyone was smiling afterwards, so whatever. That night, with the help/direction of his big sister, he left the Tooth Fairy a note requesting that she please leave him 1. the tooth because it’s “special to him” (cute), and 2. her autograph (SHIT.) Generally I leave the Tooth Fairy work up to my spouse, but he was out of town, so it fell to me and my shaky hands and creaky knees and cracking ankles to make the magic happen.

I knew I could never manage to get the actual note plus the pencil he’d tucked in beside it out from under his head, but I decided to make that negative a positive–because the Tooth Fairy is a FAIRY, so she’s SMALL, right? Instead I’d leave my own teeny tiny note, which I could scootch in there with the money. I found an appropriately sparkly piece of paper and, without even a warm-up, just busted out an eensybeensy curlycute signature. Turns out I’m a natural. See below.

Pen for scale. Eensy! Weensy!

Pen for scale. Eensy! Beensy!

I managed to creep into his bedroom, leave all my surprises, and creep back out without disturbing the young master. It felt good! I eagerly anticipated his morning excitement, and he gratified me by bounding in first thing to show me his… MONEY!

Me: “Wow, you’re rich! Was there… Anything else under your pillow?”

Him (puzzled): “Like what?”

Me: “Like… Didn’t you ask for the Toothfairy’s autograph?”

Him: “Yeah, what IS an autograph anyway?”

Me (rolling eyes): “It means you want someone to sign their name.”

Him: “Oh! Well she didn’t sign the note, the note’s still there and it doesn’t look different.”

Me: “Uh, but maybe… Uh… Could there have been… You know what? Let’s just go check again.”

I walked him back into his room and rooted around under his pillow. And my cute little note was GONE! I started searching the whole bed, thrusting my hand into the cracks between the mattress and the bed frame, then getting down on my knees to look underneath.

Him: “Mommy? What are you doing?”

Me (grunting): “I just don’t think the Toothfairy would have ignored your request for an autograph like that. I mean, she left you the tooth like you asked, right?”

Him (starting to lose interest): “Yeah, I guess…”

Finally, after a frantic five minutes of searching, I found my teeny slip of sparkly paper and showed it to him in triumph. He still didn’t seem too enthused, and I would have been a little chagrined, but I got my reward a few minutes when my daughter burst into his room yelling, “Did she come? Did she sign the paper?!”

I showed off my handiwork. She snatched it and scrutinized it closely, looking from the paper to me.

8yo: “This… This ISN’T your handwriting. Is it?”

Me: “What?! No! Of course not!”

8yo: “Huh.”

And so the slender thread of belief was extended just a little longer.

Religious Holidays for Dummies

11 Dec

I was raised Catholic by my father, whose deep faith continues to sustain and nourish him. Going to church with him was a great experience for me, one I feel lucky to have had. The mass itself was a little talky and boring, maybe, but the music–our church used the folk mass, so there were guitars and singalongs–was great. I loved sitting next to my dad every Sunday, harmonizing with him and taking some quiet time to think about things. Things like rollerskating and Nancy Drew, but bigger things, too, I’m sure.

Plus, every week before church we ate these honeybuns my dad had found in the freezer section of the grocery store and served warm alongside scrambled eggs–I would unroll mine into a long snaky strip, saving the middle of the coil between my thumb and index finger as a last sweet soft gluey perfect bite. And after mass the grown-ups set out trays of donuts in the lobby! The whole room smelled like coffee and warm fried confections, and my sister and I would sidle over to the table, swipe two or three, and sneak away to quickly cram them into our mouths, the goal being to have empty hands and a mouth full of the “one” donut we were allowed by the time Dad caught up to us. (Hi Dad!)

When I went away to college I tried to keep up with my faith, but the church on campus used the Latin mass complete with thick clouds of choking, spicy incense which made my eyes water, and my one religious studies class kind of tanked my opinion of religion, and I was trying to be a good lefty, and long story long I drifted away. Upon reflection what I had loved most about church was the time with my dad. And the food–no honeybuns, no donuts, no mass. Another couple of hours of Sunday sleep, please.

And now I have children. My husband was also raised as a church-goer, but neither of us is a devout adult, and we have very much enjoyed quiet Sunday mornings at home throughout our marriage. When we had a baby and a toddler, adding church to the schedule was unthinkable, but now the kids are older, and I must admit to some churchy pangs. I have a creeping suspicion that it’s our responsibility to expose them to a church so they can make an informed decision about church-going. And I feel guilty that they don’t know anything about religious doctrine; for one thing, they’re never going to get blasphemous jokes. Plus they have only a shallow understanding of holidays with religious underpinnings. I went to church faithfully for eighteen years, but my grasp on theology is only so-so; still, it’s better than theirs, so the other night at dinner I decided to make sure my kids knew the story of Christmas, the “Reason For The Season” (or at least the churchy one.)

Me: “So you guys know that Christmas is the day Jesus’ birthday is celebrated, right? I mean, that’s one of the reasons Christmas is a holiday. I mean, it wasn’t actually his birthday? Because he lived a long time ago and no one knows when his birthday was really, or if he even had an actual proper birthday, I mean we just don’t know a lot about him as a historical figure, but anyway it is a day that people who believe in Jesus celebrate his birthday.” (Already sweating.)

8yo: “Wait, who’s Jesus again?”

Me: “He’s the son of God. Like, he’s God represented on earth as a human being.”

Blank looks.

Me: “Like, God put his spirit into a baby, and that baby grew up to be Jesus, and Jesus went around telling other people what God thought about things.”

5yo: “Ok. But Mommy, what’s Easter, then?”

Me: “Right. Well. Easter is… So, imagine if someone was walking around saying they were the son of God and telling all these people what God thought about things, and imagine that a lot of people believed him, and then imagine that Jesus started saying that God didn’t agree with what the government of his country was up to. The government got really mad at Jesus and wanted to get rid of him, so they. Well, they put him to death.”


5yo (eyes huge): “How did he die?”

Me (wincing): “Uh. So you know those plus signs that you see on the front of churches where the down part is longer than the sideways part? That’s called a cross. And Jesus was, um, hungfromacrossandthenhedied. ANYWAY!”

Kids: “He died from being hung from a cro–how did that kill him–didn’t that hurt–how did they hang him–how did he stay up there–did he cry?”

Me: “Right, well, anyway, so it took 3 days and then they put him in a tomb and then his followers came back to visit the tomb and they found the stone in front of the tomb rolled away, and then it turns out God had brought Jesus back to life, and that’s what is celebrated at Easter! Jesus coming back to life!”

5yo: “Mommy, what in the world does that have to do with the Easter Bunny?”

Me: “That’s a really good question, buddy.”

8yo: “And why does the Easter Bunny bring eggs when bunnies don’t even LAY eggs?”

Me: “I have always wondered that myself.”

And it’s at this point that I realized I can’t even explain secular traditions properly. Well, this has been another dispatch from the House of Awesome Parenting. You’ll probably want to print it out for handy reference.

If I Were President

4 Dec

Does it make you uncomfortable if I snark on my own kid’s writing? Yes? No? Oh, yes? Well, aren’t you the delicate flower. OK, here we go.

An 8 year old breaks it down.

An 8 year old breaks it down.

Since you may not be able to read all the words of goodness from the photo of the goodness, I will replicate below. All [sics] sicced.

If I Were President
(Well, before she even got started she just penciled in a stovepipe hat on Ole Abe’s head there, because everyone knows he wore one, duh.)

1. Make peace.

That’s how a leader leads. Big ideas. Broad decrees. Bold strokes.

2. Make computers cheaper!

On the other hand, a leader should pay attention to the minutiae of daily life. No detail is too small, especially if you are always asking for a computer and always being told they are very expensive and no.

3. I would take the most important people live with me.

This one’s a little obscure. I’m going to assume that there is no kidnapping of Percy Jackson or the cute boy she sits next to in Social Studies implied here.

4. Make smoking illegal.

She’d never get elected in her home state talking like that.

5. Make the poor pay less on taxes. Rich the same.

Rich pay the same? As the poor? As they do now? Rich also pay less? There’s the kernel of a very fine sentiment here, and we’ll continue to work out the details. Much as our government does in real life.

6. Make only FUN activities be done in school.

Like reading Percy Jackson books, and buying strawberry shortcake pops at lunch.

7. Save all animals endangered or being killed! No killing animals!

Unless she wants to eat one on a bun with some ketchup.

8. Don’t have to much sugar!!!

You might get all hyper and crazy about punctuation and confused about your to, too, and twos!!!

9. No violence! NEVER EVER!


10. No littering EVER!

Never mind that you can track her progress through the house by following the trail of coat, socks, shoes, backpack, granola bar wrapper, empty cup, tented book, discarded pencil, teeny tiny paper scraps/sticker backs/pieces of glitter, dirty clothes, and damp towel directly to her unmade bed.

11. Have only girl presidents! HAA!

Now this one I can really get behind, but sadly it seems to have been suggested in jest. Amendment, I say!

12. No E-mailing aloud!


13. Treat every human being the same.

Except for her little brother/slave/whipping boy.

I say put the kid in charge! I love peace, important people, and fun activities. And I think my husband’s relationship with Siri is borderline inappropriate.