Tough Preschooler Questions

January 24, 2010
Jo: Why don’t Sam and I look the same?
Me: Well… because… (idea!)… because you and Sam were made out of different material.
Jo: Material? Why?
Me: Well, it’s kind of like when you make a collage.
Jo: A collage?
Me: Yes, you make a collage out of scraps of red paper, and then you make a collage out of yellow paper. Both of the collages are yours, you made them, but they look different.
Jo: Oh.
Me: So Sam and you were both made by Daddy and Me in my tummy, but we used different material for each of you, so you look different.
Jo: In your tummy? We were made in your tummy?
Me: Yes. With Daddy’s and Mommy’s material.
Jo: How did it get in there?
Me: (Why did I say anything!) (dodged this one) We put the material in there, some of Daddy’s, and some of mine, and it made you.
Jo: And what did it make?
Me: It made your brown curly hair, and your blue eyes, and your pale skin.
Jo: And what else?
Me: And your chin that is my chin, and your eyelashes that are Daddy’s, and your feet just like mine.
Jo: And was I really tiny?
Me: Very very tiny! And you were in my belly, and I ate food to grow your body, so you would get bigger.
Jo: So I ate what you ate? I ate your dinner?
Me: Yes, you did!
Jo: So you ate your dinner and I ate it after? How?
Me: Well, it went down my mouth and into my tummy, and then from there it went into your tummy.
Jo: And did I poop?
Me: Yes, a little. But mostly the food made your body. Just like how we eat food now, so that we have energy and grow.
Jo: Did I wear diapers?
Me: No, you were naked.
Jo: I wasn’t wearing anything?
Me: Nope. You were totally naked and curled up and when you came out, we put a blanket around you.
Jo: Why?
Me: To keep you warm when you came out! And then you nursed and drank my milk, and you had hiccups and Daddy talked to you.
Jo: And did I cry?
Me: A little.
Jo: And did I start with a J?
Me: Yes, because your Daddy and I decided to name you Josephine.
Jo: Will I have a baby when I grow up?
Me: If you decide to, you might.
Jo: I will decide to.
Me: Well, we’ll see. You may not want to.
Jo: I want to; I want to have a baby.
Me: Well, you have plenty of time to think about it.

Jo: Mommy, when will I be five?
Me: Next year.
Jo: I want to be five now.
Me: Why?
Jo: Because I have too many time-outs, being four.
Me: You know what? Even grown-ups take time-outs.
Jo: They do?
Me: Sure! Time-outs don’t mean you’re bad. They mean you’re taking some time to calm down and remember how to listen and be a kind person. I take time-outs when I get grouchy sometimes.
Jo: Oh.

Jo: Mama, is your Daddy died?
Me: Yes.
Jo: Why did he die?
Me: Well, his body was sick, too sick to stay alive anymore, so he died.
Jo: And where did he go?
Me: um…
Jo: Did we bury him in the ground?
Me: Yes, we did, didn’t we? You remember? We put him in the ground so he could be part of the earth as it continues.
Jo: But why did he get sick?
Me: Because he was old.
Jo: You’re not old.
Me: Not very old, no.
Jo: I’m not old. You’re not old. We’re young.
Me: That’s true. We won’t be old for a long time. But we do get older. Everyone does. I used to be as young as you, for instance, and now I’m older.
Jo: Where was I when you were young? Charlottesville?
Me: No, you weren’t here yet.
Jo: Where was I? In your tummy?
Me: No, I was a little girl.
Jo: Where was Sam?
(Don’t remember how I got out of this one…)

Jo: Mama, when is Tomorrow?
Me: Tomorrow is tomorrow.
Jo: Is Today Tomorrow?
Me: No, it’s tomorrow. We don’t ever get to it. It always stays – tomorrow, the next day.
(later) Jo: Mama, tomorrow isn’t happening anymore.

Posted by maiaomin


Why the Big Eyes?

January 21, 2010

girl with big eyes

Applying Tinkerbell-sized eyes

I have a problem with the big eyes.

[Note: I have small eyes – tiny, beady eyes that I always wished were bigger – it’s a sore point with me, so if I sound slightly bitter, now you know why.]

But even despite my personal hangup, you have to admit that from the Disney princesses to the Dora dolls to Tinkerbell fairy cartoons to all the little dogs and cats and ponies marketed to young children, the eyes are always MASSIVE, completely out of proportion, and bordering on the hypnotic/psychotic/ frightening.

The eyes on Josephine’s Tinkerbell doll take up HALF her face.

Believe it or not, I have a theory! Sure, on the surface, toy designers are probably exaggerating features known to be attractive, the way cartoons tend to exaggerate features as a general strategy to make a character larger than life. We all know big eyes are signs of beauty. So, make them BIGGER and the doll will be REALLY BEAUTIFUL. (Ahem.)

But there’s more than meets the eye (ha ha) if you dig deeper and consider research that looks at iconography and symbols going back into the old stone age and beyond.

Psychologists have found that infants register their mother’s eyes and recognize faces in general by the eyes and maybe mouths – not noses or head shape of anything else – they play a prominent part in forming our earliest imprints of connection.

Anthropologists have used these findings to explain the predominance in the many ancient goddess/mother figures dug up in Turkey and thereabouts, have only eyes, maybe mouths, where the eyes are huge.

Greek religious ikons also feature giant eyes; so do our contemporary imaginings of aliens.

It seems humans tend to attribute mythic, spiritual, special beings – deities, saints, aliens – with the large eyes that connect in our deepest brain matter to our first images of love – our mothers.

I took a film class in college where the instructor showed us a number of films that used iconography to imbue main characters with that supernatural quality – of course, all of the actors in these roles had prominent eyes.

So, go figure – that annoying, horrific, plastic Tinkerbell doll shares her cultural roots with Venus figurines in Mesopotamia and Greek Orthodox Madonnas. The toy and cartoon producers know instinctively what features will make their characters seem extra-special to our children. Too bad the doll is still really ugly.

And can we do anything to promote the idea that people with small eyes can be attractive??

The Lessons of “Glee”

January 15, 2010

the cast of GleeI like the TV show “Glee.”

But I’m not sure if I totally agree that it teaches the valuable lessons it’s trying so hard to convey.

On the surface, you have a collection of kids that would heart-warm any hard-core member of the Liberal Diversity Police – they’ve got it covered, with the gay kid, the kid in the wheelchair, the Asian chick, the big black girl, the “ugly” but talented girl with two dads, and the “beautiful” cheerleader who gets knocked up.

And somehow, they’re talented performers learning the valuable lessons that despite their shortcomings and differences, they CAN have friends, they CAN earn success, and they CAN – yes, they can! – find love and acceptance!

You can tell I’m being sarcastic, can’t you?

So, yes; the kids overcome their challenging flaws.

But the show’s argument, “valuable lesson,” still rests upon, agrees with, the founding assumption that being anything less than blonde, svelte, abled, white, and “pretty” indeed is a challenge and a flaw.

This is a problem. And it’s an outdated one. I don’t know what reality the show’s high school is based upon, but I went to two high schools, one in California and one in Virginia, and neither of them looked at all like Glee’s.

Yes, there were cliques, and distinctions about popularity and beauty, but they weren’t this cookie-cutter, this cut and dry and black and white.

One of the most popular girls at my magnet school in LA had a large port-wine birthmark on her face – yet she was a dominating queen of the social sphere, barely talking to me.

And in California, the most popular girls were the most tan, and that made the darker skinned girls – of various Asian and African-American ethnicities – reside securely at the top of the heap.

At my high school in Virginia, where the student population was more starkly black and white, it wasn’t so much beauty as past relationships and histories dating back to kindergarten that created hierarchies of power and exclusion. Really ugly girls with pimples and braces could sneer at gorgeous ones, because the former were known and the latter had just transferred from out of state.

Glee’s ideas of who is in and who is out seems more based on simplistic cliches promoted by advertising – and the whole thing is very slick, shot in that clear, colorful glow of a commercial – instead of reflecting the complexities of how things truly work.

I just really have a problem that the black and Asian girls are considered outsiders by virtue of their race – there’s no real question of this initial line of thinking. Yes, I’m sure there are plenty of places in this country where that kind of discrimination exists – but the show presents this without any cultural context, or without calling it racial discrimination. It’s just assumed that that’s how things are.

So instead of really questioning and undermining our ideas of beauty and acceptance, the show reinforces stereotypes – including the stereotype that blonde cheerleaders are mean and thoughtless snobs. I was a redheaded cheerleader, and I can tell you that plenty of my teammates were just like that – but not all of them conformed. My blonde friend Jennifer was a sweetie pie.

The main lesson I’m learning from “Glee” is that television shows have an easier time finding their popularity by staying on the surface of our cultural cliches –  and we apparently are so starved for any kind of diversity in our media, we’ll take it. Which is kind of pathetic.

Those French, or Put Your Children Last

January 12, 2010

So, apparently the French don’t put their children first.

Those French!

I heard about a magazine article written by an American woman raising her child in France and discovering that the parents there expect their children to learn to accommodate them – not the other way around. Which means:

  • – no sippy cups
  • – no childproofing
  • – walking strollers in high heels
  • – no toys all over the place
  • – going to bed on time so parents can have their adult time

And more.

Wow! What a good idea! Certainly, this doesn’t just sound like some random invention of those cranky Europeans; it reminds me of ‘how things were done in the old days’ on this side of the pond.It used to be like that here – but in the last thirty years or so, we’ve gotten into this mindset that we ‘do it for the children’ to the point where things are pretty out of balance.

The outcome?

1) Our kids grow up with an inflated, egotistical sense of entitlement. With a “soccer mom” around, who needs a servant or a slave? Kids learn that their whims, needs, get catered to; they get cell phones and rides on demand; the family schedule revolves around their schedules; the family vacations, the house location – all of it is about what’s “best” for them.

2) Women become identified as “mothers” only – which, here, is tantamount to second-class status / near servility. Harried, exhausted, stressed, and completely banished to the sphere of children (playgrounds, PTA meetings, soccer practice, playdates, dr visits) whether working or ‘stay-at-home,’ the mother/wife/woman is a domestic servant. Her life, her needs, her friendships, her sexuality, her career, her hobbies, are LAST on the list. Not only does this ruin her as a person, but it sets up her sons and daughters to believe that this is the predictable status/end of every woman.

Let’s re-prioritize and re-balance our homes and our lives. Without a solid identity, a solid marriage or romantic partnership, without friends and a life and being valued as a person first, a woman-mother can’t be the example to her children for how to live a happy, fulfilled existence.

So: Let the kids struggle a bit with the regular glass. Teach the kids not to interrupt you when you’re on the phone. Make your children adhere to a sensible bedtime. Instill in your children a sense that they are part of a community, a household, a world – not that they are the driving center of it.

And they will grow up to respect you, others, and eventually themselves – and the world! – and you, likewise, will respect – and not dislike – your grown, adult children. If this doesn’t work: Send them off to France.

The New Albemarle Family Website

January 12, 2010

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The Baby Illusion

January 9, 2010

It’s 7 a.m. and my almost two year old son is sucking on a lollipop. Watching Teletubbies.

This is an image of giving up.

There’s this arrogance many of us have before we have a child that comes from the illusion that the challenge of having a baby is like any other challenge. Hard – but doable.

Kind of like when you watch The Amazing Race and think, “I can carry a chicken on my head while rollerskating through Mexico City. What’s these rubes’ problems?”

Or when you go to the modern art museum and scoff at a Rothko: “Come on, I did that in preschool!”

You hear that frustrated mother struggling with a baby on an airplane or watch the father close to tears with a toddler at the supermarket, and you think, “These people are sooo lame.” You make a face at the baby and it giggles. There: You’ve proven your point.

Someone gives you a copy of Ann Lamott’s memoir on having her child, Operating Instructions – and by “you” I am, of course, talking about myself – and you, eight months pregnant and high on hormones, smugly roll your eyes at her descriptions of bleary-eyed, hair-tearing episodes with her infant. “She really is a wack job,” you conclude, recalling those graduate school debates with your best friend of Ann Lamott vs. Natalie Goldberg.

Then you have the baby.

And sometime soon thereafter – maybe the first day, maybe not until the sixth month, maybe not even until the kid is almost two and you can’t take it anymore and make him stop crying with a lollipop – I wrote about the weaning process recently, but it was just the beginning – the visions of all those people in the grocery stores and airplanes and Ann Lamott herself come rising before you, ghosts of your ignorant, arrogant past – and all you want to do is crawl on your hands and knees begging for forgiveness.

I am so sorry. I had no idea and no right to judge.

Because having a kid is not like pulling all-nighters in college; it is not like a military boot camp. It is also not like The Amazing Race or painting a Rothko,, either. It may be possibly like some cult indoctrinations or torture techniques used in totalitarian regimes. But I am sure it not like those much, either.

Nothing else melts you so utterly, strains you and pushes you and drives you mad and breaks your heart and fills your soul and stresses you out on every level – spiritually, mentally, physically, psychically, emotionally, intellectually, socially…

There’s no way to describe it or portray it that can wipe the smirk off the uninitiated’s face.

So, while I ask for forgiveness to those I wrongly judged in the past, I also say to those of you judging me for the lollipop:

It’s okay. I forgive you.