Sunday, March 28, 2010

Two and tantrums go together like cats and dogs

He’s making the face. His nose is crinkled, his mouth askew, his eyes are so small there’s no light reflecting in them. He crosses his arms and tips his head down.

That’s when The Champ announces his alter ego has arrived.

He says it just so: “I. AM. MAD. BOY. I. AM. NOT. HAPPY.”

This would be the point where, were we reading along with a comic book, the lightning would CRACK in the sky panel and the masked villain with the initials “MB” on a billowing cape would take up the rest of the cell space on the page.

I can even imagine a cyclone to rival Dorothy’s might open the roof and slurp each one of us out as payment for the laughter than ensues.

I really feel bad for the kid. It’s taken him so long to reach his terrible twos and no one really takes him seriously.

Even the dog yawns and goes back to snoring when he tries to rile her.

Probably doesn’t help that his tiny protest over whatever it was that stepped on his independence -- maybe we started the waffles without him … or we put away the miles of train tracks as he slept … or maybe we just took the scissors-markers-knives-blowtorch away from his sticky little grasp — is so easily squelched.

It’s difficult for a little squirt to stand one’s ground when the big people in his life can still pick him up and whisk him away from it.

Of course being difficult doesn’t mean the endeavor is impossible.

In his developmental fishing expeditions The Champ has become an expert in baiting his big sister.

For instance, he has become fond of telling his sister that he is bigger — one of only two statements that will reel in her ire hook, line and sinker. The other, of course, is insisting that he is older, too.

“He is not older than me. Tell him mom. YOU ARE NOT BIGGER, AND YOU ARE NOT OLDER!

“I am the one who gets to use the blender. NOT YOU.

“I know how to use scissors. NOT YOU.

“I can get my own drinks. YOU CAN’T.

“I don’t have diapers … YOU DO!


He just smiles at her with is signature sideways grin. He’s gotten the exact reaction he was after.


The house is in an uproar. His sister’s eyes have gotten smaller than his. Her mouth has almost completely disappeared.

It has also turned us into referees.

I try to hold each of them at arm’s length as they circle my legs in this antagonistic dance.

“Tell him he’s little.”

“I not little. I am big. You are little.”

I next try to reason with the big kid:

“You know you are older. You know he’s just a little kid. Why can’t you just ignore it?”

“Because it is just not fair,” she screeches.

“No. You not fair,” he echoes at the same decibel, one that threatens shattering windows.

I wish only the dog could hear this. I glance over at her bed and realize her selective hearing is allowing her to sleep through the din. I take it back. I don’t really wish this torture on a defenseless animal.


I send them to their separate corners, wherein they stare angrily at each other from across the room.

“I do not want to hear one more peep from either of you until your moods have changed for the better. …

When you’ve calmed down we can make cookies,” I add hoping to speed the process.

I poke my head in when I hear a gravely dragon growl answered by a low monster roar.

“Not a peep.”

In a few minutes, I hear the older one chirping happily. Her brother peeps back.

“Peep …peep … peep …peep. We’re ready to make cookies, mom.”

“How about you. Are you ready, Mad Boy?”

“I’n ready. I’n not Mad Boy anymore. I’n just a boy.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ittybit's 'Other Mother' would never approve

"He just smacked me on the head. He needs a time out. If you don’t give him one I will."

She may only be six, but she’s already a better mom than I’ll probably ever be.

Even on the rare occasions when she and her brother disappear happily into a world of make believe, she’s the loving mother who knows just what to do … usually the opposite of what she thinks I might do.

It occurs to me that when it comes to parenting failures, I don't just get to the brink of bad and teeter on the edge or even fall over its cliff unable to stop forward momentum. I sense impending doom and plunder right ahead as if getting to the other side will redeem me.

Case in point:

Sunday afternoon Ittybit wanted to watch a movie. So we HBO Anytimed "Coraline."

Now, I had previously watched about two-thirds of the film and thought it was tame enough for Ittybit, who, as a fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas, LOVES all things scary. ... How scary could the ending be?

Turns out the answer is: Pretty freaking scary.

The story itself is kind of a parable of modern life: A family has recently moved to a new and strange place. The daughter is struggling with the transition, but her parents are too engaged in their own lives — chained as it were to their computers and work deadlines — to have much tolerance for her needs, be they real or whims.

One night Coraline crawls through a mystical passageway into a world that is a mirror image of her own life. Only here, her parents seem happy, loving and normal, save for their button eyes. Her Other Mother cooks wonderful meals. Her Other Father sings sweet and charming songs.

One might think the sewing needles, and the creepy doll doppelganger of Coraline that shows up in the opening sequence would be enough to have me switch the channel.

... Or when the Other Mother slides a box with a sharp needle, thread and two buttons, and tells Coraline she can stay in the alternate world if she agrees to the switch.

... Or when the Other Mother, once so seemingly wonderful, turns into a gaunt horror and comes at the daughter with darning needle hands that resemble a spider.

So when Ittybit’s hands came up to her eyes and she tells me she's ready to move on to watching grass grow or paint dry, instead of turning off the TV then and there as a sane parent would have, I convinced her to just hold out to the end.

"Why are you letting me watch this," she asks. "This isn’t appropriate for children. This is NOT good parenting."

The twisted hunk of matter that passes for my brain rationalized she'd already seen the worst part. She'd see Coraline as the heroine of her own story, and then the color would return to the Pink Palace and all would be right with the world again. The End.

"I'll be right here. I promise nothing bad will happen to Coraline. ... It's just a movie. She is an amazingly brave girl, and amazingly brave children always prevail in movies."

And that’s what we did.

I held my hands over her eyes, and told her what was happening.

When the credits rolled, we both sighed in relief.

I thought it was over. We’d made it to the light at the end of the tunnel — the credits.

However, such thinking only works until the lights go out at bedtime and the shadows of innocuous things dance in menacing ways across her pretty pink walls.

The only thing a parent can do after that is settle in under the covers and wait for her breathing to deepen and become steady. Then slip out and cross your fingers the shadows stay at bay until sunrise.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Widgets, gizmos and big blue 'pills'

It’s been years since I’ve been to a first-run movie theater. You know, the kind where you save for weeks, get a sitter, wait in line with your home-computer printed tickets and your $30-worth of snacks that could arguably feed and saturate Rhode Island?

I can sense you are rolling your eyes.

Go right ahead and roll ‘em whilst I complain about something that a majority of planetary humans (including myself) find enjoyable — "the movies."

There we were, on a Saturday evening, herded into a line that snaked around the lobby of the multiplex like an errant garden hose, waiting to see James Cameron’s Avatar in 3-D.

It was my husband’s turn to choose the movie.

I, after all, made the final decision for "Up in the Air" at the $6 per-ticket theater as a Valentine’s Day treat. Now, while I would argue Jason Reitman’s comedy drama offered a far better (albeit depressing) story for less than half the price of Cameron’s predictable, epic sci-fi adventure, it wasn’t what anyone could rightly call romantic.

I know you probably don’t believe me right now, but I really do hate to complain about things I love.

And I love seeing movies in movie theaters. I love sitting next to people I don’t know and having a shared experience without ever having to speak. I love the hours of chat it can provide later, should the movie prove either interesting or insipid. I really do.

And yet I know why it takes a production going totally over the top to get us out from behind the small screens in our own isolated little lives.

Even without the excuse of children and limited leisure time, "dinner and a movie" is so far from being an affordable night of entertainment that even the phrase "Dinner and a Movie" should have already become a relic of a bygone era.

Now that a person pays the equivalent of two days’ worth of groceries for snacks and drinks, and is then held captive by advertisements we’ve successfully (thanks to TiVO and DVR) eradicated from our small screen lives, the movie experience doesn’t hold the same appeal.

Nothing short of epic will cajole us out of our cocoons.

I would not have dragged myself from the house if it weren’t for the nine-foot-tall blue creatures sticking it to the imperialist marauders, and the optical illusion that the miraculous mayhem was all happening from the seats next to me … for that one can be sure.

And yet, as I sat there in the packed house, seemingly a part of the movie itself, all I wanted to do was take off the stupid glasses and just watch.

It wasn’t just that the offending set of specs were at once slipping off my face AND digging into my head, but they seemed to act as a barrier between me and the film.

Sure, I supposed it was cool for a minute that it felt as if *spoiler alert* the ashes from the devastated world were floating over my head and into my hair, but after a short while the scenes just played out like expensive parlor tricks. My own imagination was obsolete.

As we were leaving the theater there was only silence between us.

"You hated it didn’t you?"

"I didn’t hate it. … I just think of it as an epic music video. After a while it’s not really that special it’s just three hours of special effects."

My husband, poor guy, just wanted to see the widgets and gizmos and watch the technical marvels, and NOT think about real life for a while.

"There’s nothing wrong with that."

Sunday, March 07, 2010

I hate when they are right … for all the wrong reasons

A report last month in the Detroit Free Press that Detroit Public Schools have teamed up with Walmart to provide job training in four inner-city high schools has angered critics who say the relationship between the beleaguered school district and the behemoth discount store amounts to an attack on education.

Some also believe the plan — described as an 11-week, credit-bearing program intended to pair about 60 inner-city students with access to entry-level, after-school jobs in suburban stores — does nothing more than funnel cheap labor to the corporation and plant underprivileged youth in dead-end jobs.

Unidentified students from one of the schools, Frederick Douglass Academy, wrote of their outrage on a teacher-posted Web site:

"We the students of Frederick Douglass Academy are not going to accept the attack on our education! Allowing Walmart to come into our school, set up elective ‘classes,’ and the (sic) offer 30 Walmart jobs, is an insult. … The Frederick Douglass Affirmation proudly states ‘We are determined to get the root of success, not just the fruit of success.’ When we decided to come to this school, we were deciding to make our dreams and aspirations a reality. We came here to learn and grow. We wanted our lives to have meaning, and we were going to be somebody. Frederick Douglass Academy was built to create leaders. Its purpose is to give students the opportunity to get a real education and get into schools like U of M. Frederick Douglass Academy is a beacon of hope for many Detroiters. We cannot let our hopes be trampled. We deserve MUCH more than Walmart.”

As I read the statement I was livid: “What have they done to deserve anything?” I railed. “These kids are leaving school thinking the world owes them their dreams. The world owes them nothing. It was here first.”

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was only against the hubris of youth and their perception of the situation, not their position on the situation.

I don’t shop at Walmart for reasons that include my opinions of its history and its employment practices. But I have to admit the reasons also include unpleasant shopping experiences, such as dirty stores, long lines and poor customer service.

On the whole, I would agree with the students that being trained to stock shelves at Walmart isn’t what anyone should call education. Nor is it appropriate for such a course to be on the taxpayers’ dime.

When students graduate completely unprepared for higher education, Walmart will train them anyway. And they should train their employees on their own dime.

Learning how to be a cashier at Walmart isn't the same thing as learning how the supply chain works in the retail industry.

Had this plan included other retailers and various industries, I might not be as inclined to object. Students may get their first work experience in the stockrooms, perhaps, but if we want to call it an education they should also be in the board rooms and the buying rooms as well. They should meet the deal makers. They should see exactly what goes into buying and selling an entire spectrum of products from the high-end to the dirt cheap.

And yet, as I read the students’ words about hopes and dreams and aspirations I couldn’t help but think that they’ve missed an important understanding of success. Schools don't create leaders, leaders create themselves. The students have to find their own way.

The “root of success” is rhetoric concerning an ethos of stability and perseverance, which requires a network of small, unseen fibers to support a larger structure. No single experience should topple that structure. What these children are plucking from education is bitter fruit. There should be no shame in starting at the bottom. There is no shame in honest work.

If these deserving scholars really believe the people who work in Walmart are nobodies, what they still have to learn only life can teach them.

The world IS their oyster.

But they must come to understand what that metaphor's message really means: An oyster that opens on its own isn’t worth eating.

Without the right tools -- without a work ethic, without usable experience, without some real understanding of how society actually works as opposed to how we think it should work – we’d never be able to claw our way into that oyster, we’d just throw it away.

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