Sunday, April 24, 2011

Reaching the sugar glass ceiling

In the blink of an eye the mystery of Easter was forever mangled by the silver screen: The Easter Bunny (or E.B. as he's known in the diminutive) was sitting on the hood of a Volvo, hunched up his haunches. There was a clattering sound and when he stepped aside ... a pile of candy.


"That kind of gives new meaning to 'you're full of beans, doesn't it, mom?" said Ittybit, first as a whisper and then a wall of giggles. "Full of beans."


It was too late. A new understanding had already taken root. "Hop's" jelly bean fountain overflowing with a rainbow of color, which had made us all gasp at its beauty as we sat in the darkened theater, was nothing more than cartoon sewer system for all the animated inhabitants of Easter Island.



A tub of popcorn accidentally spilt on the floor. Two trips to the snack bar later and the credits started to roll. With them rolled Ittybit's questions: "Mom?" she said cautiously in a whisper: "Is there really an Easter bunny?"

Ah ... the seven-year-itch. The phrase generally accepted to mean the time in a marriage when the strength of fidelity weakens. The magic is gone or maybe it wasn't ever there to begin with.

In my mind that kind of thinking may start at the average age of seven, when we begin to understand that Santa was just a nice old man with whiskers moonlighting at Macy's to supplement his pension.

The gossip was probably all over school.

I knew it was only a matter of time. The fabric of the fantasy was beginning to unravel around the edges ... all those threads that were just at loose ends were now starting to fray.

I was silent. I didn't want my baby to disappear completely. Even as I roll my eyes and wish she could read the pulpy fairy stories by herself already, I didn't want all the magic to vanish.

"Did you hear me? Mom? Is the Easter Bunny real?"

"What do you think? Do you think he's real?" I ask with equal care. I don't want to douse the magic but I don't want to be accused of perpetrating an outright lie."

"I don't think there is one," she said softly, not wanting to tip off her happily oblivious brother to the possibility. Maybe she didn't even want to be right. "I think parents bring the candy."

I shrug my shoulders. What can I say? The story always seemed a little unclear. ... A rabbit, dressed in velvet and silk, hopping around the world delivering baskets of treats to kids as they sleep? ... And doing it all without thumbs?

She's probably been asking herself the same questions.
How would a rabbit even hold the baskets? Why do some children get toys and others get candy? Sometimes he hides the baskets and sometimes he just leaves them out in plain sight. And how does he deliver to all the children of the world in just one night? It takes us two hours just to go to the grocery store. It just doesn't make sense.

And those inconsistencies don't begin to explain the reasons why Hollywood has cast every single bunny as a boy. Ittybit finds it completely unfair, especially seeing as her favorite Easter story is about a mommy bunny with 21 children who defies all odds and is chosen to be The Easter Bunny. There must be a sugar glass ceiling in Movieland's ornate panoramic eggs.

It's all too complicated. There has to be a simple answer: The Easter bunny isn't real.

She takes a deep breath.

"You're the Easter bunny, aren't you?"

I shrug my shoulders.

"I can't explain magic," I tell her. "I just believe."

She smiles and accepts my explanation. But she can tell it's just the icing of denial spread thinly over a bitter-sweet chocolate cake. She only wants the frosting anyway so It's not hard to swallow. Her truth is underneath it still, waiting for her to take a bite.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's a bargain, I tell you

I couldn't sell ice water in hell, and not because my conscience prevents me from profiting from another person's pain.

In fact, I'm fairly certain that were my life to depend upon getting some thirsty soul to pony up a few pennies for a drink, I'd be pushing up daisies in short order.

Weighing the value of time and energy against the perception of a finished commodity has long made me uncomfortable. It might all boil down to the fact that I hate to ask for money. I'm much better at forking it over one paycheck at a time.

My daughter, on the other hand, is at the age where there is no better use of her playtime than selling some chunk of rubbish to an unsuspecting neighbor.

The wily world of finance has her rapt attention: "This lovely piece of crystal can be yours for only five cents," she calls over the fence toward Sunday strollers.

She's always working some angle.

It was a beautiful day; the first in weeks in which people ventured out of their houses on foot. Just the sight of all the people walking past our house gave Ittybit hope that her shop would be a wild success.

Behind the fence ... yards from the road and sidewalk ... she continued to hawk her wares.

"We got rocks. Lots of rocks. ... and crystals ... Pretty crystals for sale. Five cents a pieces. Buy one get one free. Pay no money down ... Just a nickel. That's it, just a thin nickel. Give us a quarter and we'll give you back two dimes. That's 20 whole cents you'll get back. ... It's the bargain of the day."

"Get yer rocks here. We got yer rocks here."

It was all so intoxicating to her as she gathered supplies and readied her shop for the onslaught. She lined up her wares — two dozen ancient wine bottle corks, a handful of gravel and two chunks of driveway sheared off during winter plowing — and set them in neat little rows.

Repetitively she pawed through a tin box full of change and separated each coin by denomination.

"There is so much to do," she fretted, as she taped a few cardboard signs to the fence.

"5 cents per cristal!!!!!" and "Get your rocks here, cheep!!!!"

A few kind souls ventured down the length of driveway where the shop stood a safe distance from traffic. They exchanged a few nickels for rocks.

Emboldened by the transaction, she taped another sign to a pencil and handed it to The Champ.

"Your job is to walk back and forth with the sign. Don't forget to hold it up."

He waved the piece of cardboard in front of my face. Crossed out was: "We have ALL colors" In its place read: "We have RED rocks."

I turned and saw that all the colors of the rainbow had spilled out onto the driveway.

She watches me look at the puddle of paint.

"Sorry. Will it come out?"

Yes. It will come out ... of your profits," I say with a laugh and a faux stern look.

"Ok ... but the rest I'm donating to charity."

Turns out she's not terribly fond of profiting from another person's pain either.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In marriage, some assembly required

The next order of business: The purchase of a ground-based structure resembling an aviation contraption in which many children can play at different altitudes. It comes in a box. A heavy, heavy box. With many pieces.

Who would like to second?

All in favor?

"AYE! WILL VOLUNTEER MY HUSBAND TO ASSEMBLE IT!" I blurted, a little too eagerly, as I registered my vote during the monthly board meeting of the Marilla Cuthbert Academy for Unspeakably Charming Children.

I was angry with him, you see, and could think of no better way to express my true feelings than to sign him up to sift through a-thousand-and-one teeter-totter pieces. I was giddy just imagining him having to fuse the parts all together with a million-and-one bolts ... on his day off.

Oh, I could see it all so clearly: He'd bring all his tools ... except the one that would REALLY help. The first bolt he'd need, the M80-10, would be in a mislabeled packet on the bottom of the pile, and would turn out to be missing two pieces to boot.

The drawings wouldn't look anything like the parts strewn about the play yard, and some frowny-faced emoticon would vex him as the realization set in that some way, some how, he'd managed to install the whole contraption backwards or inside out.

My voice would ring in his head in sing-song annoyance: "You should have read the directions first."

I pictured a black cloud, heavy with his expletives, hanging low over the playground like a cartoon bubble. Unable to be borne by the wind, it would hover there until Monday when the children arrived, hopefully wearing ear muffs.

For him — a fabricator and installer of large scale sculpture — it would be more like a dare than a busman's holiday. He'd do it, of course, because there's nothing that makes a man feel bigger than when his son thinks he's a superhero. And there's nothing that says superhero more perfectly than a shiny new toy assembled out of shapes no mere mortal could ever imagine.

In this crowd of knee-high beings, there are few paths to superherodom: Wearing a suit of all one color, driving trucks that crush solid waste or being responsible for the coolest plaything on Earth.

Oh sure, he'd be swearing under his breath as he turned the directions this way and that; he'd be demanding to see the designer's credentials once the drawing diverged from reality. But that's just part of the fun. The moment his son gazed at the Not-An-Actual-Flying-Toy (Nor to Be Used as a Flotation Device) and realized HIS FATHER had been the man who made it happen, it would all be worth it. There would be a ticker-tape parade in his honor. There would be praise and adulation. There may even be the unsolicited gift of pie. Pecan pie.

Then there would be the let down. The moment when the gift horse is asked to open its mouth. The moment that inevitably reveals the punishment for that particular good deed.

"That's ... uh ... really nice ... but it would look better over on the other side of the playground. Can you just move it, please?"

I was practically salivating at all the myriad ways this simple mission would be miserable.

*Clap* *clap* *clap*

His applause brings me back from my demented daydream.

"That will be great," he answers cheerfully, giving me a sly look. "We can all go to the school on Sunday and work together as a family!"

Turns out my husband has a few bones to pick with me, as well.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Cupcakes for dinner and other shared traits

She couldn't keep her hands out of her hair. Or maybe she couldn't extract her hands from her hair. Her knotted, bedraggled hair.

Realizing the finer point of distinction, such as it is, I find it hard to tell. I try to smooth it, saying her hair needs some kind of protein salve or cream rinse or some other product of detanglement that has thus far eluded me, too.

"Leave it be," she says and shoos my hand away.

So I rationalize her smile outshines her lank locks. That's what I tell myself as we are out in the world, just the two of us. My mini me, or so has been marveled by many-a stranger.

"She looks just like you," they'll say with a smile. I wonder if it's the long messy hair that people see in common ... or the clothes that seem to have been selected by covering the closet in kibble and seeing what the dog drags out. It can't be our features or our personalities.

As I look at her, with her easy smile and solid profile, I see each feature in terms of fruit tossed into a salad by the family tree. She has father's eyes and her grandfather's nose. She has one grandmother's hair, and the other grandmother's hands.

I find it curious how all these bits and pieces seem to have played genetic hop-scotch in shaping her, and yet I don't see myself in her at all. Especially in personality, she seems to be my polar opposite.

Yet it's near impossible to put yourself down when someone is comparing you to your child.

She is easy going. Cautious but not shy. Once she's jumped in, I know pulling her out will take all my resolve. "How much do we really need to be home by bedtime?" is a question I've asked myself far too often. We all know who runs the show.

These thoughts and more (like how long can a person go without food before they start to shake and growl and chew at their clothes) were going through my head as Ittybit snaked her way through the crowded Art Center, trying to fill up her passport sheet with stamps from each workshop station.

Drawing, check. Jewelry, check. Printmaking, check. Pottery, check. Swing dance, check. Art installation, check. Music, check.

"Hey, look. ... Cupcakes! Let's go check the kitchen."

I follow her, knowing she is following her own drum beats. And we might get lost along the way.

It's girls' night, after all. And it's a rare event. Time alone with mom usually means bursting into the bathroom unannounced and being shooed out unceremoniously. It might also mean sitting in a darkened room, crying, whilst listening to mom rattle off a laundry list of reasons why playing hide and seek with your brother must include actually going to look for him.

Doing something fun together is as rare as eating cake for dinner.

"Have one," she says, holding up a her creation: A Chocolate Vanilla Delight"

"You'll like it ... it has protein."

I bend down, brush the hair from my own face and take a bite. I don't have to tell her how many times I've eaten cake for dinner.