Sunday, February 28, 2010

When theater of the absurd stops being funny

"You will NOT believe what happened," Ittybit says emphatically as she dumps her coat and boots on the entryway floor and runs toward the refrigerator.

"Melanie’s mom SHOT her," she says, rummaging through the crisper.

"What? Where?"

"On the balcony. ... It was an accident," she says, crunching a celery stalk. "She had just gotten married and they didn’t even have a honeymoon! Melanie didn’t even know her mother WAS Carly."

"See, more effective gun control would keep those accidents from happening," I say, closing the door she left open.

She watches "Days of Our Lives," with her babysitter.

I don’t really see much wrong with it, to be honest. My mom watched daytime dramas, too. We always laughed at how Salem must be the amnesia capital of the world.

I still laugh about how my husband found out the twists and turns of naptime adventure, for a non-napping kindergartener anyway, had nothing to do with blankets in a playpen.

"I think the babysitter might be pregnant," my husband whispers to me one night before dinner.

"I don’t think so," I say a little confused. "That’s something I’m sure she would have told me. What makes you think that?"

"Oh … It was something Ittybit said to her as we were leaving … something about seeing a doctor about a baby."

"Oh that. Tat’s just Greenlea ... or Melanie ... or Gormley ... or somebody-E ...


"Characters on the soaps she watches."

He starts to laugh. The television addict in him knows what serial plots can do to a person home during prime daytime hours.

At least there’s humor in the absurd.

Since Ittybit started school, however, real-life plot twists and heartaches have encroached upon her little corner of the world. Illness, death, divorce are all words we’ve started to define. She’s having trouble understanding the concept of two moms or two dads, despite knowing kids who have them.

Sometimes I find myself wondering why anyone would want to get married.

I know there’s a bunch of folks out there who think in narrow and sanctimonious terms: "Marriage is between man and a woman. Period. End of discussion."

They talk about the children and families as if homosexuals don’t have either.

I don’t think that way.

I usually object to the kind of thinking that is drawn with such straight and narrow lines. For that matter, I usually object to any line of thinking that locks out other thought.

Thoughts, in my opinion, shouldn’t be set in stone. Thoughts have to be free to roam, and they should keep their bags packed.

But I’m just one person who can’t help noticing that the people making a mockery of marriage aren’t characters on television. They aren’t even people who can’t or won’t buy in to the rite of passage. Marriage is hurt by the folks who enter it so poorly prepared to handle difficult times.

I thought about all of this when Ittybit came home from school, kicked off her boots, rummaged through the refrigerator, and announced that the police had visited one of her friends’ houses.

A real friend.

"So-and-So’s dad put his hands around So-and-So’s mom’s neck," she said, matter-of-factly. "Now he can’t go to their house anymore."

We’re always telling her the difference between real and fiction. This is

"That won’t happen to us, will it?"

"This won’t happen to us," I say as calmly as possible, trying to be reassuring.

I don’t know what else to say. This isn’t theater of the absurd. This is the just the beginning of one child’s awareness that everything is not always fine.

And it’s the story of another little girl, who came to school with a heart-wrenching tale to tell, that illustrates the sad truth behind heightened security measures in our schools: The most common danger to children isn’t a stranger, or a character on a television screen. The most likely source of harm comes from the people already in their lives, even their own parents.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Have glue gun, will fix ... anything

There will come a day, probably sooner than I'd like, when I will remind Ittybit of the love she once had for hand-me-downs.

Whenever we receive a bag of new-to-her things, it musters the same excitement as Christmas morning. She combs through the piles, sniffing the duds and commenting about the scent of another family's detergent. "Oh ... It even smells like her," she’ll swoon with a soft sweater pressed next to her face.

Having togs worn previously by some of our friends’ daughters - girls she would have loved to have as big sisters – is, to her, akin to wearing the sweat-stained, cast-away t-shirt of a rock star.

Major. Rock Star.

Sometimes I can’t believe she allows me to wash them.

The only problem comes when an item meets the end of its useful life before she's ready to let it go.

She slipped her foot in the pretty pink boots, and she spoke in warm tones about the cozy faux fur. They were the perfect size for her to slip her already-ballet-slippered feet into so she could be the first one ready for dance class. I noticed the broken bit on the boot's toe as she was shuffle-ball-changing around the dance studio in taps.

For some reason the evil spirit that is alive and well in the promise of shopping forced me to mention her need for new boots aloud.

Big mistake.


“ThesearethebestbootsI'veeverhad. These were Anna's Boots! You. Have. To. Fix. It.”

I frown and look back down at the boots.

She doesn't understand that we don't live in an age where cobblers or tinkers hang out shingles.

Things aren't made to last. They're made to be replaced ... usually long before the ink on their warrantee has dried. We generally don't even bother to force manufacturers to abide by their promises because replacement items are so cheap it's not worth the effort or the return shipping fees.

She doesn’t care. She wants THOSE boots and not NEW boots, not even if they looked like THOSE boots.

Snow is coming and we are at an impasse.

"Maybe we can put a patch in there ..." my mother suggests.

"Maybe we can coat it in some kind of adhesive ..." my husband ponders.

"Yes! YES! A patch. A hesive. Anything so that I can still wear my boots," trumpets my daughter.

I leave it for tomorrow. It's late and I still have hope I can get to the store before snow hits the ground. Perhaps she'll see the beauty in a brand new pair if I can find a similar style or something with razzmatazz, as my dad would say.

But in the morning there is snow on the ground and her boots are still waiting for the elves of yesteryear to mend them.

My husband plugs in the hot melt glue gun and gets to work.

"Oh ... thank-you-thank-you-thank-you," she gushes as he helps her on with the boots.

"The fix is not going to last," he warns her. "You will have to get new boots before long."

"Are you trying to break my heart?" she asks playfully.

"No. But you are going to break mine," he replies, and then tousles her hair as she runs for the bus.

"Good thing we have hot glue, dad. We can always fix it."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ode to a man who brought the world to Chatham

Although the words I’ve shared with Tony Quirino, for the most part, were exchanged through the ticket window as I slid a few dollars toward him and he slid my single ticket toward me, when I read the news of his untimely death last month it felt as if I had lost a family member.

I only vaguely remember the first movie I saw at Quirino’s Crandell Theatre, Chatham’s historic, family-owned film house for more than five decades. It was either "Snow White" or "Cinderella," and my parents had fought a quiet battle over which of them would take us. Disney was always a favorite of theirs.

Back in the 1970s Tony’s father, Anthony, was behind the tiny window in the theater’s entry hall. His mother, Minnie, stood smiling behind the concessions counter. I always got popcorn: salt, no butter. My sister always got Good n’ Plenty.

I saw so many movies at the rural cinema it would be easier to name the ones I didn’t see from its lever seats. And even some of those — the scary ones I’d watched through my fingers or while looking into the faces of the folks behind me — were there as well.

My window to the world came through that big dark room. In it I always sat on the edge of my seat waiting for the big clock near the screen to strike the end of the previews. The lights would go down, and the place would seem to melt away.

Those of us old enough to remember the release of Star Wars can tell you where we were when we’d seen it. I can tell you where I sat. I was fifth row, 12th seat. I was jealous of my sister, who’d gotten to sit in the balcony, opened special for the overflow crowd. I have no idea where my parents ended up. It was the first time we’d ever been separated for a film. I felt big.

In the dark, in that place, I traveled the nation and the world. I got to see glimpses of outer space — not to mention puzzle at alien languages and actor hairdon’ts -- from a seat in the balcony eventually. But the tiny theater brought more than mere locations to me it brought me to my generation visiting the nowhere towns of Hill Valley and Shermer, Illinois.

Over the years I’ve come to understand most places and people through sitting in the dark of a theater.

In Chatham, it seemed, no one ever laughed when a movie was funny. By the same token, no one seemed to mind a bad movie when the price was only a few bucks per ticket.

Still, walkouts would be offered their money back, or so my mom once told me. She laughed and told him she wouldn’t hear of it. The fault was hers for not reading the previews for a movie called "Porkies."

When Tony took over the family business I was graduating high school and moving on to college. I still came back for shows. I brought my friends, and we laughed and talked, and got shushed from time to time … though never by Tony.

I didn’t know then, nor until I read his obituary, of his life outside that small window. I didn’t know he’d served in Vietnam, or that he’d been decorated in the war. I didn’t know he had once owned a repair shop or that he could fix just about anything.

All I knew was his face and its far-away smile.

Even though the years passed quickly, time stood still at that ticket window. My single admission turned into four tickets two adults, two children. His hair had turned silver, but his smile was unchanged.

He always seemed to be enjoying the show.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

On friends and friction

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just come right out with it: I don’t like Olivia.

She’s got some very nice qualities, but aside from being inquisitive, intelligent and assertive, she’s also smug, self-centered and greedy. And just because she’s a pig doesn’t mean she gets a pass.

Yet, saying “I don’t like her” — or Caillou or Junie B. or Baby Bear for that matter — feels akin to saying the unspeakable: that I don’t like one of Ittybit’s real-life friends.

We all have our pet peeves. Mine, when it comes to fictional children, are bratty behavior, whining and speech impediments.

Many educators think children’s programming that focuses on how real kids feel, and that depicts adults taking a child’s feelings seriously, helps kids handle real-life situations by teaching empathy, tolerance, coping methods as well as basic social skills.

But I can’t help but think there’s something wrong with a kid (I mean pig) who, night after night, is tucked into bed with an “I love you anyway.”

It just seems as if these characters never break character. Olivia hates her “Little Bother;” Caillou whines whether he’s happy or sad; Junie B. never apologizes for being mean … and no one is helping Baby Bear pronounce his Rs.

So that’s my dilemma.

As a parent, I know all kids have moments of bratty-ness. I know they have tons of difficult emotions from anger and fear to jealousy and disappointment. I’ve even learned, to my great chagrin, that happiness — in any number of over-exuberant presentations — can have an annoyance factor that is off the charts.

And as a parent I would never restrict my child’s access to someone with speech impairment, but Baby Bear is a television character geared toward preschoolers, a set that I would assume is more needing of accurate pronunciation than tolerance training.

I’ve known my alphabet for ages, yet by the end of the little bruin’s segment, I’m even asking the kids to “Pwease tuwn off Seasame Stweet and come in for wunch.”

The idea that we’re educating our children through bedtime reading and “quality television,” though, seems to make those otherwise unspeakable decisions a moral imperative.

And that’s the rub. WE are educating our children, not the books or television programs. When we read we intone how we feel. We ask how it makes them feel. Sometimes we lead our kids and sometimes they lead us.

I don’t want my child to speak in whine. I don’t want her to strong-arm her friends or treat every new situation with resistance and scorn. Each word I read at bedtime about the “Stupid Smelly Bus” or “that May,” has me fearful that I might be kissing Ittybit goodnight for the last time, and that Junie B. will be joining us for breakfast.

I’m choosing to hope for the best. Junie B. is likely to join us from time to time. When she does I’ll be ready for her. At least I know the ending.

Write to Siobhan Connally at or read more online at, click on “Blogs.”