Jan 4 2010

To the (Blue) Moon

Every Monday (and Thursday) the same familiar faces gather, parental brows furrowed with the end-of-the-day rush; a crowd of tall, coated strangers stand uncomfortably in a room with too few chairs. At 6:15, precisely, the torrent of children pours into the lobby of the conservatory, a parade of little people laden with black instrument cases and swollen school backpacks. I always crane my neck to look for Short-pants; vigilant for that precious moment, the very first instant when her searching eyes find me in the pack of parents. Her expression shifts in a nanosecond, from awkward to assured, leaving the realm of the unclaimed and taking her rightful place at my side. I never get tired of that look, or the zealous greeting that follows immediately: “Mama!”

Yesterday, her music teacher walked behind her, his hand barely on her shoulder. I couldn’t tell if this was by chance, or if he was accompanying her out of the class. When she called out to me, he smiled and raised his eyebrows, a warning, I suppose, that he was escorting her for a reason. He is celebrity-handsome, by the way, a blonde kind of creature who, were he not teaching music theory at the public conservatory, could as easily be modeling Calvin Klein underwear.

“I wanted to talk to you,” he said, “about your daughter. She was very nervous today.”

She was a bit flustered when I picked her up from school to take her to the conservatory. The frigid temperatures didn’t make playing in the school courtyard very pleasant; she’d gotten a chill after lunch and couldn’t shake it all afternoon. I explained this.

“Yes, that’s what she told me,” he said, “but she is very often a bit nervous and dans la lune.” (I’m translating this exchange from French to English, except for these few words, dans la lune, which mean, literally “on the moon” and figuratively, “in the clouds.”)

“It would help if you could work with her, between classes,” he said, “to be a bit less dans la lune.”

I understood exactly what he meant. He was telling me that Short-pants is easily flustered and a bit spaced out. Though she can be totally focused; she wrote and illustrated a 22-page hand-made book on how to make a Mandala, and worked at it tirelessly, without any prompting from us. But it’s true that often she has her head in the clouds, leaving her eye-glasses who-knows-where, reading four books at the same time, bookmarking them by leaving them spread eagled in every room of the house. It’s a little bit of a miracle that she gets out the door with all her belongings in the morning.

“Yes,” I said to him, “except she has so few years left to be dans la lune. It’s a pity to cut that connection while it’s still so strong.”

Oui, c’est dommage,” he acknowledged my point while standing firm: “but eventually, you must.”

Short-pants and I walked home without talking. It was too cold for words.

The much-heralded New Year’s Eve blue moon is waning, but the last few nights the sky has been so clear that I could see the unfiltered moon through the skylight, beaming in the girls’ rooftop bedroom, proud of its auspicious ranking. Tonight I stole upstairs and searched for that moon again – just a half-moon or even a sliver would be reassuring – but the cloud-cover lays a dark amber blanket over the city, hiding the moon from view. My heart is heavy, though it shouldn’t be. Short-pants is a resilient one. She’ll go to the moon if she wants to.

Photo Credit: Jean Paul Roux via Space Fellowship

Feb 4 2009

Couch of the Valkyries

“Careful, the couch!” This is the Valkyrie cry in our home, since I am prepared to slay any small (or large) being who might casually soil our newly acquired piece of furniture. This may seem a harsh punishment, but if you knew how long I have been waiting to buy a new couch, you might empathize with me.

For years, I’ve been trapped in this apartment with a hideous canapé, a cream-colored (read: off-white and stained) sofa-bed with far too many cushions to add any aesthetic presence to our living room. The seat cushions were famous for their capacity to spontaneously slide forward and down toward the floor. More than once, I sat on what I thought was the edge of the couch, only to hit the parquet myself. The four square cushions that were supposed to line up along the back of the couch were too easily crunched and crushed, or completely removed and transformed into a fort or a roof or series of stepping stones on the floor, permitting dry passage to the foyer without menace from the alligators. That old couch was a boat, a barge, a bridge – about anything you wanted it to be. It absolutely stimulated young, playful imaginations, which was, in the end, the only thing I liked about it.

Then last month, an astro-furniture convergence smiled upon me when three planets finally aligned: Saturn, the planet of limits moved into the 5th house of small children, and conjunct Jupiter, the planet of expansion, and Venus, the planet of beauty, in the 4th house of home and 60%-off. The kids are now finally old enough (and coordinated enough) to pay attention to rules and warnings. A little Christmas cash augmented our budget, permitting this purchase despite the recession. De-facto even agreed that after last summer’s repainting of the living room, the old couch looked pretty tired.

Forget that we had to bulldog the new couch through the front door, since I neglected to measure before purchasing. Absurdly, it was a few centimeters too large. The tiny grease mark on the side that resulted from its dramatic breech birth (feet first, after their removal) into our apartment is barely visible. The new couch matches the carpet, and makes our living room look, well, grown-up. De-facto likes it, too, he says it really ties the room together.


But then, the law had to be laid down. Short-pants and Buddy-roo were summoned to the new couch, invited to admire it, and ideas were solicited for how we might keep it clean and pretty. My children are smart and their suggestions were on the money, so they now have some ownership of the new couch mantra: no shoes, no eating, no drinking, no drawing. Except that occasionally I have to remind them. The minute one of them even looks the couch with their shoes on, or comes within a meter of it while holding a cookie in hand, I’ll shout out: “Careful! The couch!” I can’t help it. I just blurt it out. The other day, Short-pants dips her head and looks at me over her glasses, “I know mama, don’t worry.”

I hate this, really. I don’t want to be yelling at them about a couch. With the old one, I didn’t care. I might casually throw out a gentle warning, “feet off the couch…” but that was only to reinforce good manners. There’s nothing they could have done to hurt that old gray lady. But now I’m nervous, constantly walking the tightrope between the desired aesthetics of my adult life and the vigorous imagination of my children’s. I want them to be creative, which often means being messy and manipulating their environment to match what’s happening in their minds. I just don’t want to look at it, in my living room. And I don’t want it to damage my new, beautiful, stylin’ couch.

This morning, a plastic pink cup found perched on the arm of the new couch – fortunately no trace had been left – but then Buddy-roo’s name came in a shriek and then a stern reprimand of “what did we all agree to, about the couch?” She stood, frozen. Eyes on the couch, then on me. Then that face, the mouth curves down into a precious kind of pout, and an eruption of tears, “I really miss our old couch.”

Not me. I’m glad it’s gone. But this can’t go on.