Oct 7 2012

A Little Edgy

I know it’s not a becoming word, the f-word. I manage to avoid its use in the presence of clients. It’s harder to edit myself in the more relaxed company of close colleagues or at a bar with friends. Of course I try to refrain from saying it in front of my children, but often the bodies attached to those innocent ears are the source of irritation and rage that elicits the use of the very word I’ve made a concerted effort to avoid.

I suppose this is a serious #fail as a mother. Not that it’s so frequent; it’s still a surprise when it happens and the kids still look at me in shock. Of course I immediately acknowledge that I’ve used a bad word, apologizing and instructing them, please, not to repeat it. Inside I’m kicking myself because I know they’re likely to use it sooner because of my carelessness. I don’t mean to be a foul-mouthed mom. I never heard my mother using the f-word, ever. I think the worst curse I ever heard from her was Jesus H. Christ on a crutch, or maybe an occasional Oh shit. At least here’s one example of me not turning into my own mother.

The thing is, I like the f-word. It’s expressive. It’s fun to say. It starts off all furry. Then there’s a deliberately passionless vowel. And it ends with the sharp bite of ck. It sounds like what it means. I’m not so wild about its use as a verb, but as a general expletive, it’s unsurpassed in its efficient expression of annoyance. It is the pinnacle of curse words.

~ ~ ~

It’s usually the high point of the day for me, watching the Daily Show. After De-facto marches the kids out the door to go to school, I refresh my coffee mug and set myself in front of the previous night’s episode. Sometimes I’ll wait until he returns from the school-run to watch it. If it’s an especially busy day I’ll hold off until bedtime; tucked into our covers with pillows propped behind us, we’ll open my computer to the web page – living abroad we can only view the show via the Internet – and sit back for 20 minutes of funny.

He’s a hero of mine, Jon Stewart, pointing out the absurdities in the news and revealing the illogical policies and practices of Republicans. He makes fun of the Democrats, too, but these days there have been more reasons to ridicule the Republicans. Until this week, that is.

The girls had gone to bed; the house was quiet. I suggested a viewing of the Daily Show before lights out and De-facto agreed. The episode that opened for us was the one in which Stewart reported on the Presidential debates that had aired the night before.

Everything he said about President Obama’s lackluster performance was true. It was a stellar job of poking fun at the campaign and calling out the shockingly sedate stance of the incumbent candidate during this political exercise. De-facto was laughing out loud. I knew it was funny, but I couldn’t laugh. I was too agitated.

I remember when I was little, watching the I Love Lucy show. Lucy would get herself in such a pickle, I’d get too nervous and I’d have to leave the study, where we watched television, and run through all the rooms of the house, several times, ultimately ending up in the hallway sitting on the stairs too upset to return to the TV show. Even though I knew it was just a TV program, it wound me up too much. I had to physically leave the room.

“I can’t look at it anymore,” I told De-facto, before bounding out of bed. I paced around the kitchen and the living room, on edge, cursing. I let the f-bombs fly.

I thought everyone was asleep. I thought wrong. My string of obscenities prompted Short-pants to run down the stairs to see what was the matter.

“What wrong, mama?” She looked alarmed.

“Your future!” I screeched.

I walked her back upstairs and told her my fears about what might happen if President Obama wasn’t re-elected and why I think we need him now, perhaps more than ever. I reminded her of previous discussions we’ve had about women’s rights. I talked about the growing anti-science stance of the extremists in the other party. I tried to explain the impact on the Supreme Court if Mr. Romney were to appoint the next two justices. Thoughts of the latter, almost provoking another f-bomb out of me right there in her presence.

“But I don’t have to worry,” she said. “I live in France.”

“That might not always be the case,” I said, thinking of the modest but consistent donations I’ve started making to my alma mater just in case she wants to go to university in the States.

I’ve become rather invested in the Obama campaign. I haven’t donated just $5 or $41; I’ve attended fundraising events here in Paris that require writing larger checks, the most recent, a Paris fashion-week event hosted by Anna Wintour and Scarlett Johansson. (Mick Jagger even came by.) I worry, daily, about the outcome of the Presidential election. I read Politico and The Dish religiously. Nate Silver is my second hero, after Jon Stewart.

I went to sleep last Wednesday night hopeful for at least an uneventful debate, or at best, a trouncing of the challenger. Thursday morning I scanned the emails from all the news services to which I subscribe, each subject heading more discouraging than the previous. I felt myself shrinking, message by message, until I had to close my laptop computer. I couldn’t read any more. Nobody was home with me, so I just said it out loud without apology: fuck.

~ ~ ~

Last night at the dinner table, after some light-humored nudging about using silverware instead of fingers and napkins instead of sleeves, Short-pants, in a gesture of turnabout-is-fair-play, told our dinner guest, a school friend of Buddy-roo, about how sometimes I let a curse word slip out, and how the other night I was downstairs circling the kitchen island in the dark when I used the f-word. Everyone at the table looked at me like I was the crazy woman that I guess I am.

Some things you can’t lie about, so I owned up to my mistake. But following this political race so closely, I guess I’ve been learning a little about spin.

“Listen,” I said, “ten years from now you’ll think I’m cool. You’ll be able to tell your friends that your mom’s got a little edge.”

“That’s right,” Short-pants smiled broadly, showing the food in her braces. “I’ll say, ‘My mom’s a little edgy.'”

Yeah, okay, maybe not.


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.


Aug 27 2009

On the Road

Have grip, will travel. That was my grandmother’s motto. My mother, too, loves to travel and has voyaged to many far flung places. Travel is certainly my drug of choice. And apparently, my girls have acquired this gene for being happy on the road. They’re happy to bob along behind us, backpacks in tow. No matter what the time zone, sleep seems to come easily to them. We still get a few cries of “Are we there yet?” But complaints are minimal, and the adventure of travel is generally embraced.

We left on a jet plane, Short-pants read her way across the Atlantic while Buddy-roo – in pig heaven with her private video screen – watched five movies (some repeats) without interruption.
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Even long drives don’t daunt the wonder girls. Short-pants read her way across the New York Thruway. Buddy-roo had only as many movies as we had computer battery power. But that was enough.

Though they carry its passports, the United States is a country that feels foreign to the girls. At a rest-stop, Buddy-roo wondered out loud why the toilet seats were so much bigger than those in France. This led to a delicate conversation about the size of people’s behinds in a country where portions are perhaps more generous than we’re used to.

But everything is big here. Kitchen appliances are enormous. TV screens are expansive. Channel choices, exhaustive. (Buddy-roo, again, in pig heaven.)

At my mother’s home, a flash-back to my playful past: every Fisher Price toy I ever owned is there, stored away to be brought out for just this kind of occasion. I watched my children sprawled out on the living room floor, their little fingers nudging the little wooden people through the rooms of my old doll house – and school house, airport, castle, etc. (I had an extensive collection.) I always loved those little people, little being the operative word since during the last thirty years safety measures have forced Fisher Price to change the design of its little people to make them too wide to swallow, keeping in step with the general size and girth of things on this side of the Atlantic.

What else is most noticeably large? The welcome we received from our family and friends, all along the route. The amount of fun we had. And of course the satisfaction we’ll feel when we walk through our door – when we’re home at last.


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.)
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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.
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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.


Feb 12 2009

Selective Memory

Yesterday, on my way out, I reached for my keys, which are usually stored in a shallow ceramic dish on a shelf next to the door. They weren’t there. I checked the usual alternate spots: Kitchen island? No keys. Dining table? No keys. On top of the microwave? No keys. On the bed table? In the office, on the desk? On top of the washing machine? I searched any place that a set of keys might light, and here’s what I found: no keys.

I’m relatively organized. Not that I run an everything-at-a-right angle shop here, but I make it a practice to pay attention where things end up. This is how I avoid spending too much time picking-up after my family. It’s like I’m continuously playing the card game concentration (or memory, as some call it). I spot something, usually in an incongruous place, and I remember its coordinates, like mental GPS. When somebody else who lives with me is missing something (“Seen my wallet?”) I can nonchalantly direct them to it (“Bottom shelf, bathroom”).

I know it’s not the end of the world to misplace a set of keys from time to time; I don’t need to be too hard on myself for an occasional memory lapse. Except here’s what’s disturbing: After a double canvassing of every room in our apartment, I slapped my sides in exasperation and that’s when I heard the noise. I slipped my hand into my coat pocket, and just then, at the exact moment my index finger touched the cold metal of one of the many keys on my chain, it all came back to me. A rush of a memory of something that had happened only five minutes before: Yes, I’d picked them up and put them in my pocket before I went to the kitchen to get a drink of water and returned to the foyer and picked up my ice-skates.

Within 30 seconds of the key-grabbing event, it had slipped from my gossamer memory, so completely out of my mental reach that I spent five minutes combing every room in the house for something that was on my person all along.

What kills me is how I did not remember picking up my keys only five minutes before, and yet, I can remember – vividly – this episode from McMillan & Wife circa 1972: Sally (a sassy Susan St. James) is kidnapped, and her husband Mac, the police commissioner (Rock Hudson) is trying to track her down. During the obligatory ransom call, he insists upon talking to her. “Are you okay?” he says. “Mac,” she says, “I haven’t been this nervous since our wedding night.” The captors grab the phone, and hang up.

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But Mac knows it’s got to be a clue. Sally is not only sexy; she’s smart. For the rest of the show (and it was long, like an hour-and-a-half) he’s racking his memory for what was distinctive about their honeymoon. The Eureka moment at the end of the episode: they’d spent their honeymoon near a harbor with a terrible smell of fish. Wherever Sally was now, blindfolded and locked in some closet, she must be smelling the same odor. Mac put it all together and rushed out to the port and saved her from the kidnappers.

It’s equally frightening that I also remember the quirky Sargeant Enright, and of course the McMillan’s housekeeper, Mildred, played by the ubiquitous mother-in-law of ‘70s television, Nancy Walker.

Why do our minds hold on to some things, and not others? How can I not remember something I physically enacted not five minutes before – slipping that heavy, noisy, set of keys into my pocket – yet I can remember, in embarrassing detail, this Sunday Night Mystery TV episode from more than twenty-five years ago? Something’s fishy.