Jan 21 2012

How to Flirt

“Antoine keeps dragging me.”

This is a turn of phrase I’m accustomed to hearing from my contemporaries, reporting about a wildish night out or even just what happened waiting for me to turn up at our favorite café for an afternoon beer. I didn’t expect to hear it from Buddy-roo.

Dragging is a classic example of Franglais. In this case a French word transformed into an English verb by adding -ing. My friends often do this with French words to be funny or sarcastic. Buddy-roo simply didn’t know the equivalent word in English: flirting.

This use of dragueur comes from the French cineaste Jean-Pierre Mocky and his 1959 film, Les Dragueurs, in which an unlikely pair of men, one a serial skirt-chaser, the other more reserved and eagerly seeking a wife, go out on the town in Paris, flirting with every woman they meet. It was called The Chasers when it was released to English-speaking audiences, and if you watch even a short excerpt of the film you’ll see that the title is apt.

The original verb draguer means to dredge or trawl. It’s also used to describe the task of minesweeping. But as a result of the film, the term is more commonly used to describe the act of hitting on someone. As a noun, a dragueur (or dragueuse) is the consummate flirt.

“What about Vincent?” I asked her. Last week he was Buddy-roo’s true love. “Or Ethan?” He was last year’s heartthrob, and it’s my understanding that kisses have even been exchanged between them.

“I still love them,” she shrugged, “but now I like Antoine, too.”

This all sounded too familiar to me, in that transparent, embarrassing way that your children mirror a part of yourself or your past. When I was going through the boxes I’d left in my mother’s basement, I found several diaries from when I was Buddy-roo’s age. I sat on the dusty chair under a single light bulb, reading the pages of dribble and cringing at the recounting of the romantic details of my life at age eight: how Kenny smiled at me in the lunch line, or how Billy said he loved me but I really loved Phil. Would Timmy hold my hand at the roller-skating party? Five pages later, the names were changed but the passion was just as fierce. How fickle, the flame of young love.

How do we learn about flirting? Is it something that just comes naturally? Is it observed or inherited? Short-pants can’t be bothered to think about the boys in her school as anything but classmates, while Buddy-roo intuitively creates a hierarchy of her romantic preferences. I’ve seen her in action. If those boys are dragging Buddy-roo, there’s a good chance they’re merely answering her coquettish call.

Should I talk to my daughters about flirting, its benefits and consequences? I know a bit about the subject. I was named biggest flirt in my high school senior poll and I’ve been told I’m not so bad at barstool banter. I’m a good wingman for my single friends; I’ll start a conversation and leave it for them to finish. One English summary of Les Draagueurs describes how the two bachelors think they’ve struck gold until “it becomes apparent that these two wily lasses only want someone to pay for their drinks.” That’s a motive I understand. It could be my epitaph: She only wanted him to buy her a beer.

My mother never gave me any advice about flirting. I don’t fault her for this. It wasn’t part of the logos of her generation. But I’m wondering if some kind of guidance isn’t appropriate. What would I say? How it’s fun but you have to be careful, how it can be hurtful to someone who takes you more seriously than you intend, or you can inadvertently hint at something you don’t mean to convey and get yourself in a sticky situation. How it’s a dance, but you have to be mindful how you step. Unless drawing attention to it only hastens the 50-yard dash Buddy-roo is already making toward the world of love and lust. Arming her with a bit of information could make her wiser – or just more wicked. Either way, I think we’re flirting with disaster.


Oct 5 2010

Yeah, baby.

Buddy-roo pressed her pinky finger against her lip, “Preparation H!”

She and Short-pants doubled over laughing. They didn’t really understand the joke; you can’t find this product in France, neither of their tender bottoms have ever required treatment for hemorrhoids. But they giggled out loud because they know that it’s supposed to be funny; no doubt when they watched Goldmember with their father, this joke must have cracked him up.

What to do? Laugh at loud or react in a way that would hopefully discourage them from repeating this and any other lines they’ve learned from watching the film. I turned sharply toward De-facto and gave him the look. “What?” he said, “It’s a funny movie.” I guess there are worse films for them to see, but Goldmember is not first among the DVDs I would have selected for family viewing pleasure.

But what is a suitable video? A Disney film in which the mother deer (or bear) dies in the first scene? A film in which an elephant, who’s mother is also killed in the first scene, returns to the jungle to civilize the wild animals so that they live like humans? Barbie and her princesses, or Snow White, Sleeping Beauty or any of those films where the female character waits helplessly for a strong, handsome man to save her from peril and make things right? (Shrek attempts to dispel this stereotype, but it has to go up against an entire library of princesses waiting to be rescued.)

A greater concern – to me – is the violence that is has become an habitual part of Hollywood films. At least the relatively small amount of violence in the Austin Powers‘ films is so campy that it couldn’t possibly be a shock to a generation of movie-viewers accustomed to life-like murders, realistic Hollywood shoot-outs and car chases with miles of carnage left behind. Except that we don’t watch those gun-toting crash-bang films with our kids; Short-pants and Buddy-roo are plunked in front of the feminist-irritating Disney favorites, or more often, they watch the real classics. Last Saturday, De-facto and I got to sleep in while the girls watched Barbara Streisand and Walter Matthau in Hello Dolly. Or the favorite electronic babysitter option: The Electric Company.

As much as we try to protect our children from violence, our world is violent and they manage see its violent images. If we happen to watch the television news while they’re in the room, it’s in front of them. If they look through the news magazines that end up in the bathroom, there are photographs of war and brutality. We try to filter the media that they take in, but we can’t control it every inch of it.

Anyway, Austin Powers is a comedy.

Except there’s a lot of sexual innuendo. It’s all silly slapstick and sophomoric humor. Is it still too much mojo for them? If I have to choose between letting my girls watch a film that was violent or sexual, I’ll choose the latter. Sexual content I can explain. I can put it in context. I can address their questions. But violence? How do you ever make that acceptable?

Which begs the question how do I want my daughters to learn about sex? Do I want it to be a clinical discussion? Should there be dramatic overtones of true love and finding the one? Will it come from Lady Gaga? Is Austin Powers such a horrible introduction to the world of sex? Sure, the woman are objectified (especially the Japanese twins), but then, so are the men. Everyone is having a good laugh. There are no sexual victims. All the main characters in the film think that sex is good and pleasurable. If anything, it’s the Holy Grail.

For now, I think it’s it all going over their heads anyway. It appears that the 20 back-to-back euphemisms for male genitalia haven’t registered with them (yet).

Yesterday, Buddy-roo did not want to leave the park after school. Then she complained all the way home. Her life is too hard. She misses her old school. Why does she have so much homework? Why does she have to go to school at all? Why can’t she stay at home? Why don’t I home-school her? Unhappy with each of my responses, she stormed ahead of us; I found her pouting in front of the front door to our building. She cried all the way up the four flights of stairs. Once in the apartment, things did not improve. I could see the evening spiraling down, something much harder to manage when I’m flying solo, which is the case this week because De-facto is out of town on business. In fact, he’s in Holland, where they speak freaky deaky Dutch (not far from Belgium, the home of Goldmember himself).

“Any and all kids who eat their dinner and do their homework without complaining, whining or dilly-dallying get to watch a movie before bedtime,” I pronounced. And then, don’t ask me why, I added, “the movie of your choice.”

Goldmember?” both of them, in unison.

I backed myself into this one. There was nowhere to go. “No whining? No fussing? None of this, wait let me do something else first?”

Heads nodded solemnly. Then, in tandem, their elbows folded in order to place their pinkies on their bottom lips. How could I say no?

The mood changed instantly. Dinner was executed without a hitch. It took over an hour for Buddy-roo to do homework, but she stayed at the table and slogged through it. It wasn’t easy-peazy, lemon-squeazy, though she smugly used this phrase, borrowed from the film, after writing out a few of her lesser-challenging spelling words.

Homework completed. Jams on and teeth brushed. We three curled up on the couch with Austin and his cast of characters. I can’t say I wasn’t cringing, I kept the remote in hand to mute the sound and distract the girls with a question about the plot when I couldn’t stand the puns any longer. Then at nine o’clock, about halfway through the film, we pressed pause (as agreed) and they ran upstairs without prompting (as agreed) and slipped into bed without any fuss.

And all I can say is Yeah, baby.


Oct 26 2009

Lying through our Teeth

It’s not easy, maintaining the myth of the tooth fairy.

I’m not sure why I feel compelled to perpetuate this little legend. It’s a lie.
I suppose it’s an automatic reflex: The tooth fairy comes to take away our children’s teeth because our parents told us she (it is a she, right?) came to take away ours. Just like Santa Claus lives at the North Pole and rides behind his preternatural reindeer on Christmas Eve because that’s what our parents told us, so we tell our kids. Say all you want about how Santa exists in our hearts and in the spirit of Christmas, but no matter how you dress it up: it’s a big fat lie.
foster_grant_smile
Last summer, Short-pants expelled a baby tooth that had been hanging on for over a month. She was so excited that she put herself to bed early, the tiny piece of enamel centered under her pillow, waiting to be magically traded for a coin, overnight. The next morning she galloped down the stairs in tears.

“The tooth fairy didn’t take my tooth!”
Oh Shit, I said. (Not out loud, though.)
“That can’t be,” I said, audibly.
“It’s true,” she said, lifting her cupped palm up toward me. There it was, that little tooth, the same one that had fallen out of her mouth the afternoon before.
“Wait a minute,” I said, “What’s today’s date? Are we in…is it August?”
“Yes?” she said, verging on hysteria.
“Well of course, the tooth fairy must be on vacation!”
“Really? On vacation?” she said, reining in her sobs, hope in her little voice.
“Everyone in France goes on vacation in August. It’s the same for the tooth fairy.”

De-facto quietly shut the door to his office.

“We just have to try again,” I assured her. We agreed to put the tooth under her pillow the next night, and again the next night – every night in August if necessary – until the tooth fairy returned from her holiday. (That tooth garnered 2 euros, btw, double the usual booty.)

Should I have told her the truth? “Mama was supposed to sneak upstairs and take the tooth from under your pillow and replace it with a one euro coin, but as a result of a 10-hour brunch in the courtyard with Ricky and Lucy, she fell asleep before you did.” (And why does mama speak about herself in the third person on occasions like this?)

Or more brutally: “I forgot.”

Two weeks ago, Buddy-roo’s front bottom tooth was wiggling; this would be her first tooth to come out. I was about to leave for a 10-day trip, De-facto would follow several days later to join me for a work assignment. I worried, what if the tooth fell out while we were gone? I wrote a note to our babysitter – she’s loyal and reliable but from another culture that doesn’t have a tooth fairy – explaining this ritual. She heeded my request but because Buddy-roo wanted us to see the tooth before it was relinquished to the fairy, it was put away for safekeeping. When we returned, the babysitter
without_toothwent to get it from the basket on top of the microwave oven, where she’d put it, but looked back at me in a panic. She uttered one word, the name of our cleaning guy, and the whole story was clear.

“Wait,” I said to Buddy-roo, who was impatient for me to examine the lone tooth. “I really want to see it, but I have to do one thing first.” I nodded at our babysitter to let her know I had a plan. I ran to my bedroom closet, dug into those precious jewelry cases stashed in the back, and pulled out one of Short-pant’s little lost teeth – probably the same one from last August. Returning to the scene of the crime, “Now, let me see that tooth,” I rummaged around the top of the microwave, pretending to find the tooth that had been left there. Buddy-roo even inspected it herself and couldn’t tell the difference. Crisis averted.

Essayist Paul Graham suggests that adults lie constantly to their kids for a number of possibly legitimate reasons: to protect them, to preserve their innocence, to maintain our authority – or sometimes simply to keep the peace.

We arrive at adulthood with a kind of truth debt. We were told a lot of lies to get us (and our parents) through our childhood. Some may have been necessary. Some probably weren’t. But we all arrive at adulthood with heads full of lies.

Will my daughters resent me when they discover this? I never held it against my parents. Why? Why didn’t I resent being lied to? Will my girls forgive me when they find out the truth about Santa? The Easter bunny? The tooth fairy? And anything else I might have to make up just to help them make sense of this world?

I asked De-facto if he was uncomfortable with the ruse of the tooth fairy. He said losing a tooth could be pretty traumatic for a little kid. Maybe knowing the tooth fairy sees value in this small spare part makes up for the shock of having it fall out of your mouth.

So I lie to my kids. Sometimes for their own good. Sometimes for my own sanity.

Like the time we let the girls watch Sophia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette. It’s one of those films made for an adult audience, but it’s nuanced enough that the girls can watch it. At the end of the film, there’s a scene in which Marie Antoinette is being taken away in her carriage and she looks out the window at the Petit Trianon for the last time.

“Where is she going?” Buddy-roo asked.
“They’re taking her to prison.” I said.

Then there’s a shot – maybe the last one in the film – very slowly panning the boudoir of Marie Antoinette and Louis the XVI, which has been totally
Versailles_bedroomtrashed by the angry mobs of protesters that made their way to Versailles.

“But why did she go to jail?” Buddy-roo asked.
“Because she didn’t clean her room.” I said, nodding at the screen, “Look.”
“Oh,” she said, “She really went to jail because she didn’t clean her room?”
“That’s right.”


May 2 2009

Tube-Head

I assume some responsibility for Buddy-roo‘s addiction.

When she was about 10-months old, she started spending her mornings with the television. This is because she’s always been much too early a riser. We compensated by feeding her a breast-in-bed (and later a bottle) and then removing her from the room designated for sleeping adults, and exiling her to the living room.

Far from punishment, she delighted in the placement, upright and secured in the exersaucer, smack in front of the television. First it was Baby Einstein (et al) that entertained her. I choose the word entertain carefully, as I never bought into the intelligence-enhancing promise of these DVDs and I would prefer not to be confused with that sort of obsessive mothering. Let’s call it like it is: survival parenting. Ya gotta sleep.

De-facto and I would take turns. One of us would fetch her from the crib, and then after the feeding, the other would carry her out to the living room and sleepily plant her in the large plastic circular device. Having set up the video the night before, it’d be just a matter of hitting two remote buttons and she’d be glued to the tube while we could stick to our pillows.

As Buddy-roo outgrew the marbles dropping (and other hallucinogenic images) in sync with Mozart, her morning fare evolved to longer movies, mesmerizing her for sometimes up to an hour and a half, permitting us the equal prolongation of that oh-so-needed shut-eye.

A gold-medalist, Buddy-roo broke all the exersaucer records. Not only could she sit in that thing twice as long as Short-pants ever did, she continued to use it until she was more than 3-years old. Her legs would be bent into a full squat, even with the saucer raised to its highest setting. Pulling her out required pressing my own foot on the saucer tray to hold it down and get enough purchase to wriggle her legs and feet through the holes of the cloth seat/harness. It was like pulling Winnie-the-Pooh through Rabbit’s window. (Another favorite, by the way.)
on_the_town_on_tv
We created a habit. Like a drug, Buddy-roo consumes movies. She thinks about watching one first thing in the morning. She asks for it the moment she’s home from school. This is her most favorite pastime.

As a rule, we watch very little television in our home and we try to avoid watching it when the kids are around (our HBO box-sets come out after bedtime). The exceptions to this include only the CNBC’s Squawk Box (De-facto loves his business news fix) and Jon Stewart’s Comedy Central relay on CNN. But despite our abstinence, Ruby-doo loves the idiot-box. At least we avoid commercial TV; she’s limited to a world of DVD movies.

We have many-dozen. Half of them are Disney. I know there’s a whole storm of anti-princess sentiment. I don’t particularly love those caricature films, but Buddy-roo does. Sure, we’re promulgating a false rescue by non-existent Prince Charming, but I’ve tried to compensate by coaching the girls a bit about the gender roles depicted in these films. While watching Sleeping Beauty, I asked Short-pants and Buddy-roo, “What if the prince pricked his finger and fell into an eternal slumber? Would you fight the goblins, forge through the thorny forest and slay the dragon in order to deliver the awakening kiss? Would you do it for him?” After a moment of reflection, Short-pants responded, “If I felt like it.” Good enough.
easy_reader
I’ll admit that I use the electronic babysitter when I have work to do. This becomes problematic when the kids choose to watch something more educational, like Sesame Street or The Electric Company episodes. De-facto and I can’t help ourselves; we end up gravitating to the couch, too. What’s not to love about award-winning actors Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno and Bill Cosby teaching your kids how to read? I’d argue that the 1970s produced the best children’s programming on television.

Perhaps I should be ashamed or discouraged about my tube-headed daughter. But I’m not. For her, watching a movie is a physical activity. This becomes especially evident when she’s watching a musical. She’s up in front of the TV screen acting it out. She’s marching up the mountain and sitting with the Von Trapp children as they do-re-mi through their first picnic. She’s kicking up on the rooftop with all the chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins. She dances every move with Miss Turnstile in On the Town. She hides behind the couch during the fight scene in West Side Story. (I know, that’s a kind of a tough movie at the end, but I figure I’m introducing her to Shakespeare.) For Ruby-doo, television is not a passive activity. It’s her greatest pleasure.

So we mete it out. A little each day. Her reward is our salvation.

The other day, while watching Mary Poppins, Buddy-roo asked, “Why do people put their money in the bank?” I gave her a simplified explanation about savings and interest and borrowing, finishing my tutorial just at the start of that scene near the end of the film where there’s a run on the bank. She watched the panic as the bank tellers slammed their window screens shut. “But why do people put their money in the bank?” she asked again.

Maybe she is ready to watch Squawk Box.