Sunday, March 30, 2008

Grape Arbors and Childhood

It is next-to-impossible to find Concord grapes in a supermarket or even a farmer's market around here; I have no idea why that is, but it is.

So I bought two vines tonight at Lowe's and as soon as it stops raining and the ground dries out enough so that I can walk across the lawn without sinking up to my ankles, I'm going to plant them and look forward to the Welchie goodness that will be mine.

When I was a child, we lived next door to a big house that had a huge grape arbor in the back yard. Back then, all neighborhood yards belonged to all kids in that neighborhood, so we used to play underneath it and help ourselves to the Concord grapes. Many homes in the neighborhoods of my childhood had Concord grapes vining up the sides of their porches, and people would sit there eating grapes in the summer and watching the people go by.

Back then, people were more interested in each other than in celebrities.

The first time I tasted Welch's grape juice as a small child, I knew immediately what kind of grapes were used in the making of it. Concord grapes have a taste so unique and so absolutely out of this world delicious. . . other kinds of grapes are good, of course, but no other grape can rival Concord grapes.

If Bambi and his parents devour my Concord grapevines, it won't be the meadow they'll need to fear.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 10:28 PM | |

Spatially Speaking, Enough Was Enough

I still dream sometimes about my classroom back in the middle school. My classroom wasn't an ordinary place. It wasn't even ordinary-looking. My classroom was moving almost all the time.

I had a lava lamp on the bookcase behind my desk. A rubber chicken hung over my head as I worked at my desk. A large silver disco ball spun slowly at my right, and a static ball glowed eerily at my left. Rope lights wound all around the room. There were silver "perpetual motion" statues here and there. There was a life-sized human hand with poseable fingers on the shelf behind me; I liked to pass it to students who asked me if I could give them a hand. I had to keep my eye on those poseable fingers, though. I gave all that stuff away to sentimental students who asked me if they could have them.

On the left-hand wall was a huge bulletin board, which I changed twice a month to correspond with whatever we were studying. On the wall to the left of the bulletin board were several Harry Potter posters. I put them up for several reasons: I am the biggest HP fan in the universe; I wanted to encourage my students to become HP fans; the posters were on sale at Barnes and Noble for a dollar apiece; reading is a good thing; and I wanted to annoy the disgracefully large contingent of clueless mothers who, even though they had never read a single HP book, genuinely believed that the books were satanic because their pastor's next-door-neighbor's mother-in-law's beautician read something somewhere that said those books would make your child evil.

Behind the student desks but facing mine was the long wall containing bookcases full of my carefully chosen class sets: The Diary of Anne Frank, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Tom Sawyer, The Jungle Book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Twenty and Ten, The Devil's Arithmetic, Night, The Miracle Worker, Our Town, and The Martian Chronicles. Between the bookcases was a huge bare expanse of wall. Here were our Broadway lobby cards; I took my students to a dinner theatre every spring and bought a show card as a permanent souvenir. Below the show cards there was room for an ever-changing display of all kinds of posters, usually theater or movie or book-related, but sometimes just something that caught my fancy.

To my right was an entire wall of green slate. Above the board was a really long print-out of one of my favorite quotations: "Let joy and innocence prevail; believe that love will never fail." (Bonus points if you know the source.) In the corner behind me hung our television and VCR, and below the tv was a bookcase full of ISTEP prep: all kinds of practices and drills to get the kids ready for the big standardized test. Next to the Prep Case were three file cabinets. The bottom drawer of the cabinet on the far left was full of band-aids, antiseptic cream, cotton balls, isopropyl alcohol, sewing supplies, and girl stuff. The machines in the girls' restroom hardly ever worked, and when they did work they were usually empty, so for many years I let my girls know where they could get supplies in the event of an emergency. I kept little WalMart bags in there so the girls didn't have to make anything public. I kept alcohol and cotton balls in there because the nurse was in our building only two mornings a week for two hours, and our secretary once told a boy who had been bitten by a BAT to "go warsh it." That was it. "Go warsh it."

My desk was very, very old, and none of the drawers locked. On my right was a large drawer full of paperback books, cd's, granola bars, Pixie Stix, drink boxes, and hand-made bracelets and necklaces. It was the prize drawer. (Yes, I often gave out prizes to a student who knew something about the unit that the test didn't ask.) I kept my purse in a little section of that drawer behind the loot. Above that drawer was a small drawer where I kept my hall passes: 8-inch wooden paddles with "HALL" written on one side and my room number on the other side, and huge hard rubber dog toys with loud bells on them for bathroom passes, and the words "Couldn't Wait" written in large black marker. We weren't supposed to let kids go to the bathroom without a signed agenda pass, but sometimes I did if I could tell it was an emergency. They had to walk down the hall and keep the bells quiet, though. If I could hear those bells out in the hall, there was big trouble.

On my left were three small drawers. The bottom drawer held official paperwork stuff; the middle drawer held my gradebook and seating charts, and the top drawer was full of thises and thats: comb, paperclips, scissors, glue, tape, staples, markers, pens, etc.

To the left of my desk was my computer, and against the edge of my computer table was another little table that held things for the use of my students: stapler, three-hole punch, tape, paper clips, kleenex, hand sanitizer, pencils that were left on the floor, and a large pair of scissors.

There was a big closet in my room, but I didn't hang my coat in there. I kept extra clothing for kids in there. Sometimes I would dump a ton of clothing on my tables and my girls would come in during lunch and take whatever they needed. My daughter is a bit of a clothes horse and shoe lover, and when she cleaned out her closet and brought the stuff to me, my girls would go through it and get some nice things. So many of my girls had nothing pretty to wear, and even though I got a ton of criticism from other teachers for doing that, I did it anyway. I was constantly being criticized, so I figured I might as well have the game as the name. What the heck; I thought it was important so I did it. I was uncomfortable giving clothing to a male student, so I brought in my son's outgrown stuff and asked the principal to do that for me. Once in a while I would take a student to a hair salon, but my budget didn't allow for that very often. Before our dinner theatre venture, I would take a few girls dress shopping.

My walls were deep blue and my carpet was blue and tan flecked. There were three doors; two that led into the hall and a third that led into the classroom next door, where my dear friend Pam still teaches.

After a while, enough was enough.

My students will be writing spatial essays in a week or so. I suppose I'm giving myself a refresher course with this post. Or, maybe I'm just lost in the past a little. It still happens, but less and less. I really do love teaching at the college level, and I wouldn't go back to the public school for any amount of money. Not that there was ever that much money.

I'm fine right where I am now. My blood pressure is lower, and my co-workers and department head are lovely, ethical people with a wonderful sense of humor, who truly care about the students and who bend over backwards to help them and who encourage us all to be creative and compassionate, so unlike my experience in the public school!

But sometimes, I dream about my old classroom.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 12:54 AM | |

Friday, March 28, 2008

Another Mean Post. Stand Back.

That scene in Kindergarten Cop where Arnold sees the "father" who has been beating his wife and little boy and, in full view of half the school, throws the bum up against his car and punches him out? That scene?

I watch this movie over and over, just to see that scene. I cannot imagine any teacher who hasn't longed to do that to some "adult" who lays a violent hand on a child.

There is no excuse. There are no reasons. There is no kid anywhere who is naughty enough to deserve it. There are, however, "adults" roaming the streets, free as birds, who go home to use little children and pathetic enabling wives/shackups/ as punching bags, and feel justified to do so. It's never this "adult's" fault. It's always the wife/shackup/child who MAKE the "adult" scream and yell and throw things and hit. "See what you made me do?" "Why do you make me do this?" Baloney.

The big mystery to me is a woman who stays, and allows an "adult" to harm her little child. Let her stay, herself, if she's that stupid, but the woman who stays knowing this "adult" is going to, of his own free will because it makes him feel bigger and stronger and because the kid asked for it and cries too much and needs luxuries like food and shoes when the "adult" should be able to use his money for himself is just as disgusting as is the "adult" who actually draws the blood.

It's a sad commentary on our culture that we seem to value the rights and promises of these proven psychopaths over the rights and safety of our little children. Sometimes, nothing much is done to these "adults" because the courts, for some bizarre reason known only to them, BELIEVE the sobbing promises to do better and put the children right back in the "home" with the "adult" who then commences to do his abusing even stronger and harder because he's so angry that the children told on him. And are these children ever going to tell again? I doubt it. Some of them will be dead, and some of them will be too traumatized, and some of them will never trust a policeman or judge or teacher again because, after being told that it would be all right, it was even worse.

It's not until these monsters are finally locked up that true justice is done to them. Even the most hardened ax-murdering psychos have very little tolerance for a man who does violence to children, and many times, these foul creatures are stomped to death in a prison cell. Jeffrey Dahmer got his, and high time.

Ahnold might be a lousy governor in real life, but as a fictional kindergarten teacher, he did what all of us dream of doing: letting a known adult bully get what's coming to him.

As for the child's mother. . . . she stayed with this man and made excuses for his behavior and allowed him to beat her child. Such women get what they deserve. I only hope their children survive her inability to detach herself from a beast.

"I have to stay - I have no marketable skills! I don't have any way to earn a living!" Well, now, whose fault is THAT, missy?

An adult without a marketable skill is a shabby pathetic thing indeed. It's not the schools' fault, either. Blaming the school for dropouts and low scores, etc, is like blaming the photographer when the kid's picture is ugly. You get what you put in.

Oh, and "anger management issues" is a euphemism for "big overgrown heartless brainless sissy selfish baby boy."

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 6:39 PM | |

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I Am Extremely Picky About the Potential Weapons in my Kitchen

I need a new paring knife. Can anybody recommend one? Unfortunately, I am terribly picky about my kitchen knives, and am not easily pleased. Hub likes knives to be heavy and thick, while I prefer my kitchen knives to be razor-thin AND razor sharp AND lightweight.

WalMart and K-Mart and Kohl's and even Big Lots all have a wall covered with paring knives, but they are not thin enough or razor-like enough or anywhere near sharp enough. I do have a Cutco paring knife, but I hate the thick handle, and I only bought it because a friend's son was selling them to help pay his way through college. Otherwise, way too pricey. Ridiculous. I never use it. I hate it.

Since I am the one who does most of the cooking (my choice; I LOVE to cook!) I get to choose the knives. I used to have a lovely Henckel paring knife, but I used it so much the handle got sort of crumbly and then it broke in two. I priced Henckel knives tonight at Kohl's and was absolutely horrified at the price! No WAY would I pay that for a paring knife! I hope you did not pay that much when you bought that knife for me for Christmas years ago, Other Sister, dear.

I did love that knife, though. Sigh. I used it all the time.

Whatever happened to those lovely cheap Ecko paring knives that you could buy at K-mart for $1.49? I do still have one of those that I bought thirty years ago and even though I use it almost daily, it's still as sharp as ever. But one paring knife isn't enough for the kind of kitchen work I do, and I need another paring knife.

Does anyone know where I can get a razor-like paring knife for a reasonable price? I don't need a whole set of knives; I just want one paring knife, and I prefer not to have to get a bank loan to pay for it.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 11:03 PM | |

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"This child was born of parents who can read and write. To me, this is a great miracle.":

“Francie thought it was the most beautiful church in Brooklyn. It was made of old gray stone and had twin spires that rose cleanly into the sky, high above the tallest tenements. Inside, the high vaulted ceilings, narrow deepset stained-glass windows and elaborately carved altars made it a miniature cathedral.”

Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1943) p 390.

This is Most Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn. Betty Smith used it in her novel and had her heroine, Francie Nolan, in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, love to look at it, and love knowing that her grandfather had carved the altar as part of his tithe. He had no money, so he donated his considerable talent. Francie's grandfather was a horrible abusive man, but he honored his commitment to God.

Francie's grandmother and all but two of her daughters were illiterate, but revered literacy. The grandmother did not at first understand that education was free to all in America, so her two older daughters didn't go to school. Her two younger daughters, however, were sent to school and kept there as long as possible, until family circumstances required them to go to work. Such was life, back then. Formal education was honored above most other things, but it was also one of the first things to go when times got harder.

Two of my favorite books are A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, and Everything But Money, by Sam Levinson. They are a great deal alike in that they are both about immigrant parents, the value of education, and the sacrifices that good parents make so their children can have better lives.

Our immigrant ancestors came to this country pretty much knowing that there was no chance of them, personally, fulfilling very many of their own dreams and aspirations: all of their hopes and dreams and aspirations were for their children.

Our immigrant ancestors didn't really move to this country for themselves; they were adults, and the time was long past for them to develop and use their talents in any official or professional capacity. There were exceptions, of course, but the truth is, most of our immigrant ancestors put their own hopes and dreams and ambitions on the back burner so they could concentrate on the hopes and dreams and ambitions they held for their children.

Tenement houses were filled with mothers, grandmothers, maiden aunts, and shirttail relatives, singing in the kitchen that their children might some day sing in Carnegie Hall. Factories and stores were filled with fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and more shirttail relatives, singing at the assembly lines and behind the counters and down in the mines that their children might some day sing in synogogues and cathedrals. People with artistic talent displayed their art with beautiful pies, cakes that were a picture, carved altars in the church, rich embroidery on simple pillow slips, and tailoring that was a work of art. Ancestors who, today, might have organized businesses and found success on the stock market used their skills to make something out of nothing, that their children might have something to make something out of when it was their turn.

Their children were being educated, and that was enough. Our ancestors looked ahead to the future; they had no time or energy or money to do much for themselves. It was all for the children, and for the future.

Parents too weary from sweatshops and never-ending domestic drudgery didn't have much time to "play" any more. These parents loved their children far too much to stop and indulge themselves; every nap meant pennies not earned. Parents were there for discipline and meals and clothing and love that was demonstrated by the laying aside of their own desires to focus entirely on the future of their children. NOW was never as important as TOMORROW. This forced their children to be inventive, creative, organized, resourceful, problem-solving, appreciative of things that today's kids throw away, and hungry enough every night to eat whatever Mother put on the table. A child who asked for something else would have been laughed at.

Adults gave each other blessings that relied on the behavior of the children. "May your children bring you happiness," "May your children make you proud," "May your find joy in your children," etc. Children who misbehaved in school or in public or right there in the house brought shame to their parents and disgrace to the family name. His siblings recoiled from a misbehaving kid, and his mother cried. Families used "shame" to help shape a character that knew what it meant and therefore stayed as far away from it as possible.

Adults have changed. A large percentage of adults put their own desires and urges and feelings and wants before the needs and wants of their children. Kids today don't care if they bring shame and disgrace to their parents. It's never their fault anyway; it's that heartless teacher who doesn't understand Buddy or Muffy and doesn't appreciate the cute way he stomps his foot when he's mad or the adorable way she twists and chews her hair when she's deciding who to invite to her latest party. Adults get home from work far earlier (usually) than their great-grandparents did, yet adults today are too tired to go to PTA meetings or choir concerts or spelling bees, things their ancestors viewed with such honor (they were not available to peasants in the old country) that they wept and trembled with emotion as they bathed and put on their best clothing in order to show respect to the school and the teacher, and to watch their children represent the family in a scholarly event. (Surprisingly, many adults are not too tired to go to an athletic event.)

Many immigrants came here in the first place so their children could take advantage of the free public education. Illiterate parents pointed with pride to the row of schoolbooks on the kitchen shelf, and boasted that their children could READ THEM! They weren't worried about new ideas; they encouraged the learning of new things. They did not worry that the new ideas would usurp the old ideas; they just honored all learning and assumed their kids were wise enough to blend the old and the new together and come out with a new "new."

A poorly behaved child brought great sadness and shame to his parents; usually, the sight of his father and mother's grief, brought on by the child's poor choices, was enough to straighten the kid out. If not, our ancestors weren't afraid to use other means to demonstrate to child that certain behaviors brought certain consequences. Shockingly, this didn't result in a child quivering with sadness and with no ego or esteem left in his system; it usually resulted in a child who knew better than to try THAT again, by golly.

Modern parents are often so worried about causing their children emotional pain that they ignore or neglect all kinds of opportunities to demonstrate to their children that nice people are a lot more welcome in society than people who feel they have a right to do their own thing regardless of where they are or what the mean old rules might be. A child who is taught in no uncertain terms that one sits quietly at the table, be it at home or elsewhere, eats whatever might be on his plate - or at least tries to eat it - without complaining, and who knows, because he was taught, that one does not get up from the table without permission, and that "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" really are magic words. . . well, let us be euphemistic, even though I loathe euphemisms, and just say that nice people of all ages are more welcome and appreciated than are people whose manners and whose tolerance for poor manners need some adjustment.

Our ancestors would be appalled at some of the attitudes and behaviors of their descendants. I know I am.

The title? I've used this quotation many times before. Do you know which novel it's from, and who said it?

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 9:28 PM | |

". . . that's why we Lutherans use red Kool-aid for the blood of Christ. . . ."

The language is terribly un-PC, but since when have I ever cared about that? Don't let the children watch, though.

This is one of the FUNNIEST MOVIES EVER. Nothing is sacred, and the one-liners come so thick and fast, you really have to watch it all the way through six or seven times to hear them all. You'll miss a lot of them because you'll be laughing out loud.

Fair warning: not for the easily offended. Easily offended people wouldn't get it, anyway.


Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 12:48 AM | |

Monday, March 24, 2008

"I Base Most Of My Fashion Sense on What Doesn't Itch"

Fair warning: I have no sense of taste when it comes to clothing. My daughter and my sisters and even my son can attest to that. I have a horror of going out in public wearing old-lady clothing, but I don't always know when I do it. My tastes somehow never graduated from Spencer Gifts and little boutiques and shops that carry only sizes so small I could wad an entire dress up in my hand and still have room for a cheeseburger. I can't wear the clothes I still gravitate towards: for one thing, it would be ridiculous, and for another thing, they only come in size negative-ten. They're still the clothes my mind likes best, though. In my day, we couldn't wait to grow out of the "girls" sizes and into the junior sizes. Girls today brag that they "have" to shop at Baby Gap. Size zero, with Victoria's Secret underneath.

Me, I love hippie clothing; broomstick skirts and long low-necked tops, but fat women don't look good in broomstick skirts; I think you have to be shaped like a broomstick to look good in a broomstick.

I am happiest in jeans and old t-shirts, but the t-shirts I like best - my Broadway shirts and a few select sarcastic comments about other people's mentality - I can't wear out in public. Why can't I? Because I think people over a certain age really can't wear "See me, feel me, touch me, heal me" Tommy shirts without people wondering who would want to do that in the first place. If you're 70 years old and wearing a "Truckers do it in the road" shirt at Marsh, people will laugh. Well, I do. I have a drawer full of favorite t-shirts that I can only wear around the house for fear of my own critique. Fortunately for my fashion sense, I spend a lot of time around the house.

I'm also way too large to wear what I like best in "dressy" mode. I used to wear dresses and skirts almost daily when I taught; now, I usually wear black slacks and, I dunno, some kind of top that looks teacherish.

That's why I let WalMart and Kohls guide my fashion sense much of the time. Heaven knows I need a guide.

I had a favorite dress once. It was green, pale-ish green, and was made of some soft fabric that was, at the time, quite unique. It might possibly have been a forerunner of those microfibers, but a little more silky and less like a blanket. It had three-quarter sleeves - still my sleeve of choice - and a rather low, narrow v-neck with those curvy 70's "woman" lapels. I recognized the lapels as monstrosities even at the time, but as they were a part of this dress I embraced them, too.

The dress hit me between knee and ankle, and had a wide sash that tied in the back. I felt so good in this dress. That dress emphasized my small waist and hid my skinny chicken legs. It showed just enough cleavage that I could wear it to school and still feel sexy. I bought it with my first teacher paycheck and I wore it at least once a week.

I have no pictures of me in this dress, and I'm actually glad, because that frees me to picture myself looking so fine, feeling the dress swish around my legs as I walked around the shared teachers' office space, knowing everybody else in there was over forty while I was 23, and I am not even embarrassed to tell you all that when I wore this dress, I would occasionally spin around so I could feel the skirt breath with me. . . . yes, my dress and I liked to twirl.

When I remember this dress, I can't really picture the entire thing. I remember parts of it, but not the parts fitting together in any logical way. Possibly that's because my brain is protecting me from seeing the dress as it really was: a 70's horror, complete with extra-long attached sash and lapels that would make me gasp and back away if I saw them today, made of slightly ribbed blanket fabric and the color of green goth Big Lots nail polish.

That dress and I were both a size 5. I bought it at the Diana Shoppe, which burned down shortly thereafter, possibly sparing the world from similar dresses which I probably would have bought and worn and twirled in as well.

Perhaps some disasters were meant to save us from other disasters.

I do own a dress now but I can't for the life of me remember what color it is.

Maybe I need to start getting out more.

The title? Gilda said it.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 11:33 PM | |

Frazzled Catfish Balls

Tomorrow begins the week of midterm exams. It's quite stressful for my students, but very boring for me. I would far rather actively teach and lead discussions than just sit there and watch people filling in little bubbles, erasing frantically, and occasionally bursting into tears.

I want to tell them not to worry so much. It's just a piece of paper. No piece of paper will ever be as important as YOU are. Relax. Breathe deeply. Stand up and stretch when you feel the need. Go get a coke out of the machine, and maybe a Snickers bar, too. Chocolate won't hurt your scan-tron sheet; it's graded by a machine, and a little sugar might be just the energy boost you need. Get up and walk around the parking lot for a few minutes; clear your head. Look at the trees behind the college. Watch the squirrels. When you come back inside, take a few deep breaths, pick up your #2 pencil and begin again. Read carefully; you KNOW these things. I know you do. I've heard you talk about these topics for half a semester and you KNOW them. Don't let your fear of the test itself overcome the knowledge in your head. Don't let a piece of paper take you down. USE the piece of paper to prove your knowledge of these things. Let the piece of paper encourage you to express what you know. You are the boss of this piece of paper. This piece of paper cannot defeat you.

Actually, I did tell my students those things, last week. I hope it registered with them. Students occasionally fall apart because of the dread of a big test. The test itself is never as awful as the dread of it beforehand.

In other news, my kids have gone back to their respective homes, there are little wads of multi-colored chocolate-scented foil all over my carpet, and I have a feeling that I'll be sifting Easter grass out of the litter box all this week.

Also, my house smells like frazzled catfish balls.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 12:27 AM | |

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter, 2008

Happy Easter, everyone.

What? Oh, oops. . . . .

Here. This is more like it. I do love those vintage Easter postcards. I hated growing up and finding out that those baby kittens were probably going to eat those baby chicks. I would also hate to have to tell you all how old I was before I realized that the bunnies weren't really responsible for all those eggs.

But ultimately, this is Easter to me.

And isn't it wonderful that so many of us, with so many different beliefs, can hang out here in the Blogosophere and get along great and love each other without having to constantly proselytize and try to sway each other to our own beliefs?

Oh, sure, those people are online too, but I don't pay much attention to them.

It's the people whose beliefs are quietly lived every day, the people who show me by example what their values are, who get my attention.

And who says God doesn't have a sense of humor? If you don't believe me, just look around for a minute or two. Think of your family.

And if you're alone, look in the mirror.


Happy Easter, dear internet people. Eat chocolate. Smile. Have some eggs. Rejoice over something.

It's a good day for rejoicing. . . .

(Originally posted on Easter, 2007, but nothing's changed since then.)

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 12:23 AM | |

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tevye Knows Best

Once again, I present to you all my rant about Easter baskets!

It's been updated for 2008, but it's the same rant.

Mom always created our Easter baskets herself, piece by piece, each little object carefully selected and each little foil-wrapped chocolate placed in exactly the right spot in the basket. Our Easter baskets were art. No other child in the world had Easter baskets like ours.

I create my children's Easter baskets myself, piece by piece, each little object carefully selected and each little foil-wrapped chocolate placed in exactly the right spot in the basket. My Easter baskets might not be considered art, as Mom's were, but no other child in the world has a basket like my children's own individual baskets.

Mom went out and bought an Easter basket before each of her children's first Easter, and she used the same basket for each child every single year, up until we grew up and moved away. The only reason she doesn't still create an Easter basket for us is that we've all got spouses and families and NOBODY could afford to make an individual basket for that many people. People that wealthy probably don't bother, have the nanny do it, or cop out and do it the lazy, easy way buy ready-made baskets, put together by a stranger who knows nothing about the children who will be tip-toeing into the living room Sunday morning to see what the Bunny left for them.

She considered creating one big basket for us to share, but we've never shared well and I doubt we'd start now.

I use the same baskets I have used every year that my children have existed. I would never even consider using a new basket, and I think, even now, that the kids would be horrified if I did. My children's Easter baskets, like their Christmas stockings, are unique and are re-created yearly only for them.

My children aren't even children, except they'll always be my children. They're in their twenties now, but I still create an Easter basket for them, every year. The eggs are boiled and cooling in the refrigerator so the kids can mix the food coloring to get all kinds of colors (science and art and holidays mix, you know) and I've had the basket goodies stashed away for weeks.

I think the main reason I create my children's Easter baskets from scratch every year goes further than just admiring the way Mom did it. I don't want to give my children something put together by anyone but me. I plan their Easter baskets long before I begin to put them together. I can see them in my mind's eye, before they even exist. It was so with the children themselves, and it is so with the things I do for them that separate special days from ordinary days. I believe that Charles Dickens said it best:

"The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed, but a thing created is loved before it exists."

The baskets in the picture are from Easter last year, AFTER the children were finished with them. That Easter grass is almost thirty years old, and all those little dangly things are, too.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 8:59 PM | |

Movie Theaters Used To Have Such CLASS

When I was a kid, there were two movie houses in town. Both were very old theaters, quite ordinary-looking on the outside. Once inside, however, there was nothing ordinary about either of them.

We bought our tickets at the booth outside the theater. Nobody entered the lobby without a ticket. Once in the lobby, the magic started, but the lobby, draped in red velvet curtains and gold trim as it was, couldn't hold a candle to what was waiting for us through either of the two draped doorways into the theater itself.

Most old theaters, on the inside, looked like medieval castles. Since I live in The Limestone Capital of the World, our theaters were stone, inside and out. The stage itself was a genuine stage, where live plays and concerts could be performed, not just a wall with a screen hanging on it. On either side of the stage, in each of those corners, were turrets and towers and colorful flags on long poles, that made everyone in the audience feel that he/she was in a palace. There was often a real balcony by these turrets, large enough for an announcer or emcee or soloist to stand. In my mind's eye, everything was stone, or red, or gold, or velvet, inside those old theaters.

Lining both sides of the theater were real balconies, where people who wanted to be seen could sit, but the view from the side wasn't all that great.

The seats on the bottom floor of the theater began about a foot from the stage and extended all the way back to the opposite wall. If we sat in the front row, we had to look absolutely straight up to see the screen. Above was the main balcony, which started around the middle of the theater and went all the way up to the back wall.

"Sitting in the balcony" didn't cover the front half of the balcony. Anybody could sit in the front half of the balcony. "Sitting in the balcony" meant, sitting in the back ten rows or so of the balcony. It didn't have anything to do with watching a movie, either. Bad girls sat back there. Girls got pregnant just from sitting in a back balcony seat. Once a girl sat "in the balcony," her reputation was ruined. People gasped if you mentioned that the theater was crowded and you had to sit in the balcony. Girls were asked if they had sat in the balcony, or actually "sat in the balcony." Boys would always ask hopefully if their date wanted to sit "in the balcony." Mothers would say, "You didn't sit in the balcony, did you?" Teachers warned us about sitting in the balcony.

Little boys generally sat in the front row of the balcony so they could drop popcorn and ice on the people below. Sitting in those middle seats down there was hazardous.

Every theater had several ushers, in gorgeous brightly-colored uniforms and goofy hats, whose main job was to keep people quiet while the movie was playing. I sincerely wish that theaters would bring back the ushers.

I don't remember ever going to the movies as a kid that I didn't get to watch at least one rowdy get thrown out of the theater. Old people, young people, little kids. . . all you had to do back then was clear your throat a couple of times and the usher would be there, shining a flashlight into your face. It was awesome, and everybody else was always so grateful. If theaters would just spring for a few ushers, there would be no more disgusting chatterers, disturbing gigglers, annoying cell phone talkers or ringing, no crying babies, no climbing toddlers, no rude people at all. What they paid out for usher salaries would be made up in people coming back to the movie theaters who haven't been in years because it was so noisy. As for offended people who didn't return because they weren't allowed to let their kid run wild or talk during the film. . . who cares? Good riddance.

Each theater ran only one movie at a time. A movie was usually there for a week and one, maybe two weekends. Modern theaters run a dozen or more movies at a time, and I think it takes away from the magic that movies used to be. I think studios made better quality movies when they concentrated on making one at a time, instead of trying to release as many as possible in a year's time. Quantity isn't the same as quality, as our mothers used to tell us. They were right, too.

Modern theaters have no individual character now, either. They're just one huge building divided into little cells, each with a different movie showing. The cells could be somebody's basement. None of them has any personality. Some of them have folding chairs. We don't even have to plan ahead to go to a movie now, either. Whenever we get to the theater, there will always be some movie or another getting ready to start. Some people, these days, go to the theater and pay to see any movie that's handy, instead of seeing a preview, reading about a movie that's about something you're interested in and being reminded of that preview, hearing someone who's seen the movie talk about it, discuss going for a while, and then finally, all excitement and money in your pocket for Junior Mints, going to the movie.

Movie trailers, back then, really piqued our interest, too. They were classy and well-done, and made us interested in coming back and watching, without giving away any of the really good stuff. Modern trailers are often the best parts of the movie, including the ending, and then when you do go to see the movie, it's boring because you've already seen the good stuff, or they've changed it so much between the time the preview was filmed and the film was released, you don't even recognize it.

Newsreels were long before my time, but I wish they'd bring them back. It would do people good to know what's going on in the world. They don't show a really good cartoon before the movie any more, either, and I wish they would. Disney doesn't count; they're just blowing their own horn when they do it. Back in the day - and I don't remember this either - movie stars would often visit a theater that was playing one of their films, and stand around in the lobby talking with people and signing autograph books. Nowadays, many celebrities are so full of themselves, they charge money for an autograph or brush a fan's request aside, even when it's not inconvenient. (Fans who bother a celebrity when he/she is busy deserve a brush-off.)

Movies are fun in any case, but having ONE BIG MOVIE playing, and everybody going to see it and therefore having something in common to discuss in study hall on Monday, was a lot more of a big deal than throwing a dart at the list of twenty-seven movies all playing seven days a week, with a new one beginning every fifteen minutes, and randomly going to see whatever title the dart hit.

I seldom go to the movies any more, mainly because of the obnoxious noisy people who aren't thrown out any more but are allowed to remain and destroy the experience for the nice people, and because of the price. Movies are just too darn expensive now. I can wait a month, buy it on eBay or Amazon for less than the price of a ticket, keep it if I like it, and sell it back if I don't. Complicated? Maybe, but not as much of a hassle as trying to keep my temper when I've paid to see a movie and can't because of rude, immature, disgusting loud people who can't sit still, either, and would rather DIE than turn off their cell phones, and who have more rights than well-behaved people because these days, we are all so worried about stepping on somebody's personal rights or injuring their self esteem that we step on everybody else's personal rights and figure the self-esteem of a nice person isn't worth as much as the self-esteem of a rude beast.

I dream sometimes about those old-fashioned movie houses. It was so easy for a little girl to imagine being a princess, when she's sitting underneath a bouquet of turrets.

That's where I was sitting when I first saw Sleeping Beauty in her beautiful BLUE dress.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 1:38 AM | |

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It's True. I'm A Snob. You Should Be, Too.

When people's lives are focused primarily on television shows, celebrity antics, pizza delivery, Nascar *, sports, farting, belching, frantic sneaky extra-marital sex, having their own way in everything, leaving work early, going to work late, not going to work at all, gossip, yelling as a way of life, hitting when things don't go their way, and looking after #1, how can they stand themselves and each other? I'm serious. And why would any sentient person even sit by someone like that, let alone marry them and breed with them and be seen in public with them?

I know people who yell a lot and to be perfect honest, and you know I will be on this blog, nothing they have to say is remotely interesting to me. I don't do "yelling." Raise your voice to me and I'm out of there, mentally for sure and physically if at all possible.

I'm a people-watcher, and there are times when I've wondered if some peoples' heads contain anything that doesn't resemble styrofoam peanuts. Is it really possible to sustain and nurture any kind of relationship based on a mutual love of American Idol and Flamin' Hot Cheetos? What kind of children will such people bear, and rear? (Wait, I already know the answer to that one. . . .)

I know I'm a bit of a snob - people have been pointing out that little fact for years now so don't bother - but this kind of life seems really, really, really, really shallow to me. Life without intellect. . . . life without constant intellectual exchange. . . Life without debates and conversations and trivia contests at the dinner table and music and art and knowing how such things are put together and playing 6 Degrees of Separation with all kinds of topics. . .I couldn't live like that. I wouldn't want to, either. I'm not saying, either, that EVERYBODY should know the things I know, but I want to know things others know; shouldn't everybody want to know everything they can possibly absorb in the short time they're on this earth? It seems sometimes that some people work hard so they won't have to learn things, rather than work hard so they can.

Americans know every detail about Britney and Lindsay and Mel and Tom, but how many Americans can name five scientists? Five distinguished politicians - not the overweight pork-bound stupid scandalmongers who drown girlfriends in lakes and get by with it or actually believe blowjobs aren't sex - but five distinguished, scandal-free, honest, kind, decent politicians?

There are Americans who have Dale Earnhardt up on a pedestal and who lay flowers at his grave and practically revere him as a god, but who have no earthly clue who Clara Barton or Father Flannigan or Virgil Grissom were, and if they did, they wouldn't care. Beer! Tailgate! Cars all covered with advertising! This was never meant to be a lifestyle.

There is probably not an American alive today who can't tell you something about Bill Clinton's sexual antics in the White House, but how many people can tell you a single thing about his actual presidential accomplishments?

Kennedy snogged Marilyn Monroe, but what else did he do?

Who's been to the moon? Who conquered polio? Whose fortune funds your public library? What did Alfred Nobel invent that enabled him to set up the Nobel Prize? Can you name five people who have won the Nobel Prize?

There was a movie about Ghandi. Many people don't know he was a real person. What did he do?

What's the address of the White House? Who was the first president to live there? What First Lady instigated the Hot Lunch Program in all American schools?

How many Americans know that George Washington turned down the proposal that he be crowned king, and that it was he who established presidential protocol, ie, we don't bow to the president, etc.?

What is the name of the janitor who cleans your office? Is he married? Does he have kids? I bet he knows YOUR name.

Why does the Pentagon have so many bathrooms? And no, it's NOT for your personal convenience.

When you play Jeopardy, do you know at least half of the answers?

Can you make at least one connection between any famous person and something else that affects your daily life? When you read or study anything, ANYTHING, can you connect it with something you already knew? Is your schema constantly activated? Do you have tons of prior knowledge to lay on the table?

What nation launched the first satellite into space? What was the satellite's name?

For whom were the planets named? Why? Who named them? Do you know each planet's similarity to the entity for which it was named?

The first telescope was about as powerful as a child's binoculars. Who invented that weak little telescope?

Can you think of an invention that was created by accident? Did Columbus really discover America? What are these "microwaves" that heat your oatmeal every morning?

Safety pins are handy little objects. So are zippers. What did people use before they were invented?

Most Americans can recite all kinds of sports stats. Can you recite a poem? Can you name five famous living poets? Five living authors? Five dead authors?

Wahh, wahh, math is hard. I can't do it without my calculator. Why should I EVER have to do it without my calculator? Can you add a column of a hundred big numbers with a piece of paper and a pencil? Teachers used to do that every six weeks, for every student. Can you figure a square root with a pencil?

Can you tell the difference between satire and racism? Do you have any sense of historical context when it comes to studying literature, science, and history? If you don't, you're easily and often offended. If you do, you laugh a lot, shake your head a lot, and understand almost everything you read or hear.

How big is your vocabulary? The more words you know, the better your understanding of the world and the better the world can understand you. (By the way, it's ". . . make ends meet," NOT ". . . make ends meat." Dear Lord. A college graduate actually asked that question.)

I love to observe people talking to one another, in restaurants, airports, waiting rooms, etc. I'm not saying that I sit there and make judgment calls, but I do tend to sit there and make judgment calls.

People whose children are running wild in a public place probably aren't talking about Darwinian theory or comparing a book to its movie adaptation. Men who think bodily noises and odors are hilarious and classy probably don't converse about citizenship and the importance of discipline in our schools. Women who have affairs with married men probably don't converse about proper behavior or philosophical ethics or Plato or morality. Grown men who don't remove their hats inside a house or public building probably don't listen to Bach or read. . . much. Adults who honestly believe they've got a right to sit and rest with friends and have a coffee and a croissant while their toddlers destroy the restaurant and get angry if the owner asks for "inside voices" probably weren't discussing missionaries or tutoring or foreign policy or volunteering. Children raised in homes with Jerry Springer will often enter kindergarten completely illiterate and with no clue about how to hold the scissors except to stab things. Adults who drink too much, use drugs, fool around, curse constantly, and hit, generally breed children who don't know how normal, decent people are supposed to behave, and who either wash out completely in school and life just like their parents, or somehow, miraculously, transcend their parents and become wonderful human beings who love learning and make their own living. I love it when that happens.

Many Americans don't even KNOW anybody who earns their own living. Many of them don't even know how a person would go about earning their own living. Many Americans have permitted themselves - and yes, it's ALWAYS their own fault - to become adults who have no skills whatsoever that might earn them a living.

In any group of a hundred people, 95 of them are like the people on my blogroll and my Google reader: kind, intelligent, considerate, thoughtful, decent, ethical, helpful, hardworking, interested, interesting, and thirsty for knowledge. It's the same in most schools. Most people are good. Most people mean well. Most people try.

What a shame that the majority of the world's attention, money, and interest seems to focus mainly on that 5 percent that are the complete and utter opposite.

A shame, and a travesty, and a disgrace, in fact.

Awards, rewards, badges, certificates, trophies, and self esteem mean nothing unless they're honestly and individually earned by accomplishment and merit and work. Prizes for showing up are a joke. Trophies for trying, ditto. Every kid knows there are no points "given" for missing the basket, no matter how angry your mommy might be that the mean scorekeeper didn't understand how HARD he tried and how MUCH he wanted those points and how UNFAIR it is that the other kids on the team are taller, etc. But I've ranted about this before.

And I'll probably do it again, because our culture is going down the tubes and most of it is due to people insisting on their share of the pot even when they haven't put anything in the pot.

Why yes, I might be a tad opinionated. Why, what's your point?

*No offense meant to Nascar fans who also know how to carry on a conversation about Einsteinian theory and Scrubs, and who can pick out the fine points of a Sondheim counterpoint.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 10:41 PM | |

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sleeping Beauty's Dress Is Supposed To Be BLUE!

I know I've blogged about this issue before, but it's still eating at me. Important issues stay with me for a long time, you know. Only the important issues.

And, I've whined complained about this issue before, to no avail. Are important people not listening to me? This is important!

My favorite animated Disney fairy tale of all time is Sleeping Beauty.

I loved everything about it. . . her beautiful hair, her beautiful eyes, her beautiful voice. . . the three fairies who gave up fairydom to raise the baby. . . the King and Queen, who actually had personalities. . . the Prince, who had a personality, too (unlike most Disney princes who are merely charming). . . . his horse, who had the coolest personality of all. . . and while I didn't LOVE Maleficent, I still believe she's the scariest witch the Disney studios ever concocted. Holy scheisse, she used the word HELL in a Disney movie!

Most of all, I loved that beautiful blue dress Princess Aurora wore, the one the fairies made for her. Remember how they argued about the color? Should it be pink? Should it be blue? And by the end of the movie, it was blue in almost every scene except the VERY end when two of the fairies kept changing it back and forth, but everybody knew the dress was supposed to be blue because that was the prettiest?

What happened?

Every toy, every costume, every advertisement, every everything about this movie now portrays the Princess in a pink dress! I hate the pink dress! The dress is supposed to be BLUE! BLUE!!!

I sure wish I knew who was responsible for this stupid marketing stunt. Sleeping Beauty is one of my childhood's icons, and icons shouldn't be messed with. The dress is supposed to be blue.

Dear Marketing Person Who Made The Decision To Market This Dress As Pink: You suck.



Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 10:42 PM | |

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke has died. He was 90 years old.

He was fantastic.

His short story "The Star" has haunted me since I was a young child; he didn't merely have talent: he was an artist. An artist, painting universes on paper canvases for the literate world to see.

An author or artist or musician is never really completely gone, of course. He/she will have left many legacies behind, in print or on canvas or in marble or coming from pipes, concealed in an ornate wall, of a gigantic organ. We refer to books and paintings and statues and music in various other aspects of our lives; being intelligent is all about making connections, you know. NOTHING lives within the four walls of a classroom and nowhere else, whatever your opinion of algebra and grammar may be.

Arthur C. Clarke is gone. His DNA will soon be shot into space.

We are lessened.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 9:06 PM | |

Monday, March 17, 2008

Brownies, Girl Scouts, and Why I Don't Give To The United Way

I was looking through my jewelry box tonight and I found my Girl Scout stars and badges and pins. I was a Brownie, and then a real Girl Scout, and I absolutely loved it until sixth grade, when Scout Headquarters decided to mix ages and put together all-new troops with various levels in each.

This sucked, so I quit. All the older girls quit. It meant we could no longer go bowling, because the little kids had to be watched and taught. It meant the end of our going for the badges because we were expected to help the little girls earn theirs. It meant we could no longer hang out in the Public Service kitchen downtown and cook stuff, because the little kids had to be watched and shown how to do everything. And watched.

We were being used as babysitters and we didn't like it.

That Public Service kitchen was awesome. We had loved going there, even though our scout leader's idea of teaching upper elementary girls to cook consisted of "how to read the instructions on a box of cake mix." I was genuinely shocked to discover that there were girls my age who didn't know how! I mean, seriously, how stupid could they get? Yes, I was compassionate even in my youth.

Twelve-year-old girls who had never cracked an egg. Twelve-year-old girls who didn't know how to measure water. I was horrified. I'm still horrified.

I still have my Public Service pin, too. I couldn't for the life of me remember his name, so I called my cousin C. Naturally, she knew, because she knows EVERYTHING. I've always thought so.

I'm almost afraid to ask, but does anybody else out there remember. . . . Reddy Kilowatt?

As a lovingly handled my pins, I remembered my last contact with the Girl Scouts. It was in the eighties, when my daughter was in lower elementary school. I taught in a small rural K-8 school, one of three middle schools in a large system, and the only one that was wayyyy out in the country, miles from any kind of business. Next door on one side was a cow pasture. On the other side was a cemetery.

There really wasn't much of anything for the little girls to do, so I thought about becoming a Brownie leader and organizing a troop of Belle's friends and classmates, meeting every week right there in the school so their parents wouldn't have to drive all the way to town, and re-creating the fun experience I'd had as a Brownie, myself. We were so poor that I was cutting up my dresses to clothe Belle for school, but my time would be free. I'd been giving to the United Way for years, and they would pay for supplies, etc., right?

It didn't happen.

I called Girl Scout Headquarters and asked how one went about doing this. The woman I spoke with was ECSTATIC that I wanted to be a Scout leader. She proceeded to tell me that my list of girls would be waiting at the office, and oh, I should find a meeting place in town because that would be central, and oh, I needed to find a business to sponsor us, and oh, when could we start selling cookies?

I had a few questions. The first one was, what list of girls? I had a list of girls, well over twenty. "NO NO," she said. "We have a waiting list of girls. Your own daughter may join them, of course, but the rest will have to be put on another waiting list." I could feel the pulse begin to pound in my neck.

My second question was, what do you MEAN, a business to sponsor us? I'd been giving to the United Way for years; I thought that was paying for Brownies, etc. in my community. "Well, no," she said. "The United Way doesn't pay for anything concerning the individual troops."

My third question: Where is all this United Way money I've been donating, believing I was sponsoring scout troops, paying for craft materials, refreshments, etc, actually going, then? "It all goes to Corporate," she replied.

My fourth question: Am I buying carpet and wall art, and paying salaries, for Corporate, with my donations? Why am I buying carpet and wall art and paying salaries for an organization that then tells its individual troops they have to solicit businesses for craft supplies and refreshments?

"Um, if you'll give me your name and phone number, ma'am, I'll have someone call you tonight."

You do that.

Later that night. . . "Rinnnng."

"I feel there has been a misunderstanding regarding your desire to be a Brownie leader?" I'm hoping, so, yes. "We already have several lists of girls who need a leader, so we're hoping you'll agree to do that. They're all in town. When can you start selling cookies?"

I prefer to lead a troop out in the country, right in my classroom, immediately after school. I have a list of over twenty little girls.

"I'm afraid that wouldn't work out for the girls on our lists. They all live in town and really prefer a central meeting place. When can you start selling cookies?"

I'd be happy to include some of the town girls in my troop, but I have twenty names of little girls right here already in the school building."

"I'm afraid that isn't possible. We already have lists of girls right there in your town. When can your new troop begin selling cookies?"

I don't live in town. I live out in the country, fairly near the school. The little girls on my list all live out in the middle of nowhere, and after school in our building would be perfect for them, and for me. Now, please tell me about soliciting a business to pay for what I thought the United Way covered.

"I hope this won't in any way compromise your opinion of the United Way, ma'am. The money they collect is all sent to corporate; they don't support individual local Scout troops. Local Scout troops must ask a bank or store to sponsor them."

Then why are the Scouts on the list of local supported United Way clubs and agencies?

"Um, ma'am, why don't I have a United Way representative call you and explain?"

Don't bother.

A frantic woman from the United Way called me the next night, but I wasn't interested.

I give to many local charities, agencies, and clubs, but I do not give to the United Way. I had never been so disillusioned in my life. I do it all individually now.

If anybody can explain all of this to me, I'd really love to hear it, because even though it was years ago, the memory still makes me furious. Is it still like this? Please say no.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 8:10 PM | |

Pogue Ma'Hone, Again.

May you be buried in a
casket made from the wood
of a 100 year old oak
That I shall plant tomorrow.

(This picture is by Tim Nyberg, a fantastic artist who draws wonderful things for the Wittenburg Door, which is a wonderful thing in and of itself.)

What is it supposed to be?

Why, it's St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, of course.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all. If you're not wearing green, strangers are allowed to pinch you.
Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 12:01 AM | |

Saturday, March 15, 2008

More Childrearing Advice from a Mommy Who Learned Many Lessons the Hard Way

I can remember being really little, and I can remember my parents playing with me. They played with me whenever they could, but it wasn't very often. I can remember Mom sitting on the floor, playing paperdolls with us, and showing us how to dress and undress our dolls. She still loves to play board games. I can remember Dad rolling a ball toward us in the back yard, teaching us to play kickpen, the Major Game of the Playground back then. He taught us songs and poems and put us on top of the table and had us sing and recite for people. They both sat with us every year as we watched "The Wizard of Oz," which used to be a big deal before it was found in the bargain bin for five bucks. Mom and Dad interacted with us, just enough to make it special.

I do NOT, however, recall my parents being at my beck and call. When my parents got down and played with me, it was a big deal, partly because it was such super extra fun, and partly because it was rare enough to be a genuine treat.

Mom was busy. I remember her ironing in front of the tv while the kids played all around her. Was she playing with them? No, she was busy. But it was all right, because we knew where she was and what she was doing, and we knew if we needed her she would drop everything and come.

We played outside in the yard. Our house was on a VERY busy corner, and the wide street was dangerous. We did not go near it because we had been told not to. Period. We played with each other and with the neighbor kids. If a parent had tried to play with us, we would have been frightened and we would have gone into the house. I mean, jeepers. All the parents in the neighborhood, however, watched over us and never hesitated to tattle if there was something they thought another parent would want to know.

I did not expect my parents to play with me constantly; why should they? The world is not supposed to be a 100% blend of adult-child things; there is an adult world and there is a child's world. Frequently, they interact; mostly, they do not.

Nowadays, however, I guess I should phrase that last: mostly, they SHOULD not. Because in many households today, the children are in charge.

"Play wif me, watch Barney wif me, sit wif me, stack blocks wif me. . . ." And the parent drops everything and lets the child be the person in charge of the household, because to deny a child immediate pleasure is to be a bad, bad parent.

Children do NOT need a parent to play with them every minute of the day. Children need to be forced to acquire the inner resources to entertain themselves. Most kids own enough toys to stock a store; put the kid in there and tell him he's on his own because you've got grown-up things you simply must do. Be sure you can keep a close eye on him, if he's tiny, but make him do some exploring on his own, for crying out loud. And speaking of crying out loud, don't fall for THAT one, either.

A child who doesn't have the inner resources to entertain himself becomes an adult who requires outside stimulation (shut up) at all times because they don't have what it takes to sit quietly and dream, or think, or draw, or read, or open the damn toy box and find something to play with. Requiring your children to learn to entertain themselves encourages them to become imaginative and creative. Being at your child's beck and call discourages these things.

Far too many parents give up and turn on the tv. That creates yet another generation of adults who can't entertain themselves; it has to come from OUTSIDE themselves. How many adults do you know who MUST keep the tv on pretty much 24/7 because they CAN'T function without some sitcom or show on, always? I know several. Listening to background music isn't the same thing at all, because there is no picture - often not child-friendly - for a kid to be captivated by.

I used to think I was pretty much alone in this reasoning until I read this month's Woman's Day and found an article full of helpful hints about raising children. Lo and behold, this one was among them!

Do not become your child's on-call playmate. Make your child entertain himself. Whenever you can, sit down and play with him, but honestly? Your kid does not need a grownup play buddy. Your child needs to learn how to figure out how to play by himself.

Is your child more important than housework or yard work or home office work, etc? Absolutely. But your child also needs to learn that Mommy or Daddy is NOT at their beck and call, 24/7.

"Playpen" is a dirty word for many parents, but the fact is, with a playpen, you can put your tiny tiny toddler in there with some toys and get some work done. "But he cries when I put him in there!" So what? Let him cry a while, and eventually he'll see he's getting nowhere and he'll start to play, by himself. This isn't a sad pitiful thing, poor lonely child, etc; it's a step towards independence and a step towards becoming a person who has what it takes to keep himself occupied and entertain himself, and become resourceful, so he won't grow up to become a person so in need of outside stimulation and affirmation and so "entitled" to attention in all aspects of life that he talks out loud in the theater, bellows in a restaurant, talks on his cell phone in public, is at a loss if he finishes a test early and is told to just sit there and read for ten minutes, doesn't have any homework and can't handle the free time in study hall, etc.

Play with your kids whenever you can. But don't let your kids rule your home, and don't deny yourselves your share of the "adult" world you are so very much entitled to by reason of your ever-advancing age. And yes, those ARE grey hairs and yes, they appeared AFTER you had kids.

Seriously? There is something sad and creepy about a parent so involved with her kids and their activities that her feelings are hurt when the kids don't invite her to play, too. It's almost as creepy as the kids who have no conception of figuring anything out themselves because a parent is ALWAYS there to explain every. single. little.thing.

The children's novel "Understood Betsy," which is one of my favorites, has this to say:

". . . Elizabeth Ann had always before thought it an essential part of railway journeys to be much kissed at the end and asked a great many times how you had 'stood the trip.'

She st very still on the high lumber seat, feeling very forlorn and neglected. Her feet dangled high above the floor of the wagon. She felt herself to be in the most dangerous place she had ever dreamed of in her worst dreams. Oh, why wasn't Aunt Frances there to take care of her! It was just like one of her bad dreams - yes, it was horrible! She would fall, she would roll under the wheels and be crushed to. . . She looked up at Uncle Henry with the wild eyes of nervous terror which always brought Aunt Frances to her in a rush to 'hear all about it,' to sympathize, to reassure.

Uncle Henry looked down at her soberly, his hard, weather-beaten old face unmoved. "Here, you drive, will you, for a piece?" he said briefly, putting the reins into her hands, hooking his spectacles over his ears, and drawing out a stubby pencil and a bit of paper. "I've got some figgering to do. You pull on the left-hand rein to make 'em go to the left and t'other way for 'other way, though 'tain't likely we'll meet any teams."

Elizabeth Ann had been so near one of her wild screams of terror that now, in spite of her instant absorbed interest in the reins, she gave a queer little yelp. She was all ready with the explanations, her conversations with Aunt Frances having made her very fluent in explanations of her own emotions. She would tell Uncle Henry about how scared she had been, and how she had just been about to scream and couldn't keep back that one little. . . But Uncle Henry seemed not to have heard her little howl, or, if he had, didn't think it worth conversation, for he. . . oh, the horses were CERTAINLY going to one side! She hastily decided which was her right hand (she had never been forced to know it so quickly before) and pulled on that rein. The horses turned their hanging heads a little, and, miraculously, there they were in the middle of the road again.

Elizabeth Ann drew a long breath of relief and pride, and looked to Uncle Henry for praise. But he was busily setting down figures as though he were getting his 'rithmetic lesson tor the next day and had not noticed. . . OH, there were were going to the left again! This time, in her flurry, she made a mistake about which hand was which and pulled wildly on the left line! The horses docilely walked off the road into a shallow ditch, the wagon tilted. . . help! Why didn't Uncle Henry help! Uncle Henry continued intently figuring on the back of his envelope.

Elizabeth Ann, the perspiration starting out on her forehead, pulled on the other line. The horses turned back up the little slope, the wheel grated sickeningly against the wagon-box - she was SURE they would tip over! But there! Somehow there they were in the road, safe and sound, with Uncle Henry adding up a column of figures. If he only knew, thought the little girl, if he only KNEW the danger he had been in, and how he had been saved. . . ! But she must think of some way to remember, for sure, which her right hand was, and avoid that hideous mistake again.

And then suddenly something inside Elizabeth Ann's head stirred and moved. It came to her, like a clap, that she needn't know which was right or left. If she just pulled the way she wanted them to go - the horses would never know whether it was the right or the left rein!

It is possible that what stirred inside her head at that moment was her brain, waking up. She was nine years old, and she was in the third A grade at school, but that was the first time she had ever had a whole thought of her very own. At home, Aunt Frances had always known exactly what she was doing, and had helped her over the hard places before she even knew they were there; and at school her teachers had been carefully trained to think faster than the scholars. Somebody had always been explaining things to Elizabeth Ann so carefully that she had never found out a single thing for herself before. This was a very small discovery, but it was her own. Elizabeth Ann was as excited about it as a mother-bird over the first egg she hatches.

She forgot how afraid she was of Uncle Henry, and poured out to him her discovery. "It's not right or left that matters! she ended triumphantly; "it's which way you want to go!" Uncle Henry looked at her attentively as she talked, eyeing her sidewise over the top of one spectacle-glass. When she finished - "Well, now, that's so," he admitted, and returned to his arithmetic.

It was a short remark, shorter than any Elizabeth Ann had ever heard before. Aunt Frances and her teachers had always explained matters at length. But it had a weighty, satisfying ring to it. The little girl felt the importance of having her statement recognized. She turned back to her driving."

If you're not familiar with Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield, run out and get it immediately! It's a charming story, full of delight.

That magazine article also advised parents not to tiptoe around the house and speak in whispers when the baby naps. Let the baby learn to sleep through the natural noises of a busy household, and you'll save yourselves and everyone who lives with you YEARS of tip-toeing and whispering. You'll also end up with a child who has learned not to wake up every time a feather falls to the floor.

I remember when Mom was teaching my brother to stay in his own bed all night. That first night, his crying broke all of our hearts, and it lasted pretty much all night, too. The next night, he went right to sleep and stayed in his bed all night.

They test us. They test us constantly. As they get older, the tests get harder. During the first years, they cry a lot to try and break us. As they get older, we cry a lot because sometimes, they do. But we can't let it show, or we've lost.

Oh, and that curse all mothers put on their kids, the one that goes "I hope, when you grow up and get married and have kids, that you have a kid who is JUST LIKE YOU."

That curse works.

By the way, the biggest problem with childrearing advice is that the best advice often comes from someone who has learned these things the hard way and wants to spare young parents from the same battles. The second biggest problem with the best childrearing advice is that young parents don't know what these old people could possibly know about raising children.

Times change. Babies don't.

Unless, by "change," you are referring to diapers, in which case, starting saving your money now. Oh, and if you've got a sensitivity to bad smells, buck up and get over it.

My point? Do I have to have one?

You are not obligated to play with your children every waking minute. You are an adult and you have things to do, too. Kids will learn if you give them no choice. Make sure they know you're nearby and can hear them, but require them to learn to develop inner resources for themselves. We've already got more than enough adults who don't have what it takes to keep themselves internally entertained; we certainly don't need any more.

One of them usually sits by me on a plane.

P.S. I'm not talking about newborns here, although I used to put mine in the playpen to keep the cat off her. I'm talking about toddlers on up. Duh.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 11:32 PM | |

Friday, March 14, 2008

One More Thing That Makes Me Wonder About People

When did people start eating at every event they attend, including the grocery store, WalMart, and church?

When I was a kid (oh stop) we had three meals and maybe one snack. Yes, we were HUNGRY when it was finally lunch/supper time; maybe that's why we ate what was on our plates. (usually, and often under duress, but we eventually ate it or went without.) We knew it was a long time till the next time. Parents who fix Courtneigh and Jerameigh some toast when they don't "like" the meal are doing them no favors. But then, I don't even think restaurants should offer burgers and nuggets and hot dogs on the children's menu. Smaller portions of what everybody's eating, that's what it should be. It makes me shudder to see kids eating chicken nuggets at the Chinese or Mexican place. Why even bother going? Let your kids get hungry and THEN see what suddenly looks good. "My kid will go for a week without eating unless I fix him chicken nuggets." Yeah, well, if he passes out, put him to bed. When he wakes up, offer him whatever the family is having. I bet he gives it a one-bite.

Now, wherever I go, people are drinking and eating. Can't we push a cart down the grocery store aisle without nursing a bottle of water and a granola bar and a sack of cheesy goldfish?

I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder yesterday, and a page dealing with Laura bringing Pa his midday drink of water struck me: I bet most people these days would feel abused if they had to wait a MINUTE for a drink, let alone hours and hours when the sun was broiling hot and they were doing hard, really hard, physical labor. Back then, people got up at dawn, had breakfast, worked four hours, had a drink, worked two more hours, had lunch (dinner, back then) worked three more hours, had another drink, worked three more hours, went home, did an hour's worth of chores, had supper, sat around talking for a while, and went to bed. I don't mean that I think the good old days should be brought back, but what happened to us that we honestly believe everything must be accompanied by food? And that we must drink and eat the very second, EVERY second, we feel hungry? And often when we aren't even hungry; we just want it!

If I owned a store, it would bother me to see customers and children handling the merchandise with wet, cheese-encrusted fingers, spilling food and drinks on the carpet, etc. Are there really people whose kids are so out of control, they have to be placated with a plate lunch while riding in a grocery cart for twenty minutes? Well, of course there are. Nobody likes them, either. Are there really adults who feel they must quench every thirst the very minute they sense it? And you really don't want to get me started on people who start eating the food before it's even paid for, at the grocery store. You see them all the time, pushing their baskets full of kids and food, opening the bags, helping themselves to food, nibbling, nibbling, nibbling, sipping their water. . . . They've turned grocery shopping into grazing! And it's not yours until you pay for it, so technically, you're stealing! You can't wait a single minute more? You'll really pass out cold if you don't dig into the white seedless grapes right NOW? Your kids will scream if you deny them a fruit rollup the second they demand one? Isn't it bad enough that you allow your kids to DEMAND a fruit rollup in a store? Or anywhere, for that matter? We've become a nation of pigs. People who simply can't wait a single second for anything. Are there really people like this?

Well, to our shame, of course there are. And their habits are making the population fat, and entitled to instant relief of every "need," and you can't convince me it doesn't have something to do with rising prices in stores, men males who visit prostitutes, students who don't feel they have to do any work, and probably 3/4 of all welfare recipients. (the remaining fourth are people using the system as it was intended: TEMPORARY help for which we're supposed to feel a tinge of shame, that we are striving as hard as we possibly can to get out of and back to work so we'll be productive members of society, not leeches.)

Your kid tells you he's STARVING, and you're not at home and can't feed him IMMEDIATELY? Well, the mountains will fall and the stars will explode and the four horsemen will gallop down your street, won't they. Your precious child's arms and legs will break off, and he won't ever love you again.

Let the kid wait. Maybe some of his pickiness will miraculously disappear if he's truly STARVING. Oh, and if he bitches about the wait, don't give him any dessert.

If he's old enough, show him some pictures of people who really are STARVING, and tell him to be ashamed of himself for even using that word to describe a kid who eats pretty much any time he wants to.

We have lost the fine art of waiting, which is, of course, just another way of saying that these people have no patience, and no conception of the fact that when you wait, it's even better.

Tell your teenage daughters.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 4:35 PM | |


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