My Un-Adult Confession

I’m afraid of ghosts, even though I don’t believe in ghosts.

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Ghosts are usually Victorian children.

To start with, it doesn’t make sense that most ghosts come from the 19th century. Where are all the old guys in Bermuda shorts? You never hear about mundane ghost problems like Uncle Rob eating all the mixed nuts every time you leave the room.

It’s never Aunt Josie hanging her orthopedic bra over your shower or some 80’s kid who keeps flipping the stereo to Michael Jackson hits. No, it’s always some  creepy little girl in a white dress staring you down in the hallway, or an axe murderer writing blood messages on the mirror. What about Neanderthals?

The rational part of my brain doesn’t believe in ghosts for a second, but that doesn’t stop me from flipping the light on every time I think about them too long.  I’d never be able to sleep in a haunted house because I’d be too busy curling into a quivering ball at every random noise (Being a ball totally protects me from supernatural powers, right?)

So, I have a completely irrational fear of ghosts and to make matters worse, I now have two little kids running around. There’s a fine line between kid stuff and haunted ghost paraphernalia.

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How thirsty are you?

These days, if I need to walk across my house in the middle of the night, there’s a very good chance of encountering a discarded doll along my journey. She’ll just be lying on the floor, staring at me in the quiet darkness with her menacing dead eyes as I crab-walk sideways to grab a glass of water.

And it was in this creepy hellscape of frozen dolls and off-key music boxes last night that my four-year-old daughter Brontë asked me, “I don’t like dead bodies, mommy. Do you?”

“NO. I do not like dead bodies,” I told her while wondering what put this idea in her head.

“Where have you seen dead bodies?” I asked.

“I’m seeing them right now.”

Aaaand that’s when my blood turned to ice.

Heart pounding, I looked down at the Wii balance board I was fixing up for her, sorting out what direction to insert the double AA’s. Something clicked.

“Dead… BAT-TER-IES?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Brontë says. “Dead batteries means your stuff doesn’t work! You don’t like them, right?”

Okay, maybe I overreacted.

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Gorillas Can tell Us Whether The World is Good or Evil

If you ever find yourself on an airplane near a screaming child who is thrashing around in  his seat, desperate to zig-zag through its narrow aisles, you’ll discover there are two kinds of people in this world:

  1. Those who think the child’s behavior is intolerable, angry about children being on planes at all, and
  2. Those who think the first type of people are horrible, because For heaven’s sake, weren’t they once children themselves?

The crazy thing is: both of them are right.

Just ask a parent. We know better than anyone just how infuriating children can be. They scream, they whine, they repeatedly kick you when they’re too hyperactive to sit still before suddenly pretending their legs don’t work when you need to get somewhere, to the point where sometimes “You need a time-out” is actually code for “I need a time-out, before you throw that toy in my face one more time and I end up teaching you the rules of the jungle.”

Any parent who says otherwise is lying. Possibly to themselves and probably out of guilt, because there are two kinds of parenting experts in this world:

  1.  Those who believe children are all born perfect, eager to please us, and will only be derailed by our failure to love or support them enough, and
  2. Those who believe kids begin as sinful, selfish sociopaths who will one day wreak holy terror on the rest of us, unless they’re properly guided with enough firm, consistent discipline.

And in this case, I believe neither extreme is right.

Kids are BOTH. Loving and selfish, wild and innocent, insecure and bold… all human potential rests in these budding balls of hyperactive, overemotional people-larvae. Child development experts might act as though raising children were a science, but I believe it’s more of an art form. You’re the maestro of a complex orchestra, making sure the delicate winds and higher strings are neither shrill nor overpowered, while the thumping bass gives enough structure without drowning out all of the nuances.

And OF COURSE we were all children once. We still are. When we look at them, we’re looking at ourselves… before we learn better ways of hiding our motivations or understanding the unspoken social rules about defining our place in the hierarchy.

Do you really believe wanting an impressive handbag or car is sophisticated or altruistic?

Do you think tailgating a slower driver to teach them a lesson represents a practical, mature attitude?

Do you think fighting for a closer parking space is a productive use of our energy?

When we deal with children, we’re dealing with human beings stripped down to the essential truths. Yes, child brains aren’t fully developed, but the foundation is there if you’re brave enough to consider it.

People who reject the theory of evolution are often put off by the idea that we descended from primates, even though primates are incredibly intelligent animals. If you dig into it enough, it gets harder to reject the theory…

koko.jpgLast week, I watched “A Conversation with Koko,” a PBS special from 1999 about a lowland gorilla who learned over 1100 words in sign language. Since gorillas can’t “talk” the way people do (based on gorillas’ physical limitations) this vast language acquisition allowed her to communicate with her teacher, Dr. Penny Patterson, in ways previously unknown.

As a parent, I found myself weirdly identifying with Dr. Patteerson. We were both dealing with wild subjects who could throw fits and poo with reckless abandon, yet were probably more capable of tender emotions than the subject’s rough exterior would suggest.

Koko the gorilla liked to paint, as do my toddler daughters. None of them paint with much sophistication, yet they want to express their creative vision in a way we should probably appreciate and respect.

Koko invented new words, calling her hairbrush a “head-scratch,” for example. My daughters also invent new words, calling socks with stars on them “outer space rocket socks.”

Koko adopted a kitten. She named her “All-ball,” because she would ball up. When the kitten died, Dr. Patterson tried to explain it. Koko quietly nodded before Dr. Patterson left the room. She closes the door to Koko’s room, and then you can hear Koko screaming in agony on the video. She holds it together until the moment she thinks she is alone, then sobs and wails in grief over her lost kitten.

And this is an important point, I think. Gorillas are animals, and remain animals even though they are our closest relatives in the animal world. They have no reason to care about anything that isn’t selfish or self-sustaining, yet Koko was tortured by the thought of never seeing her little kitten again.

Koko used practical signs to get through her day, but sometimes she would go off script and ask her trainer something impractical..

She would say:

“Koko is good. Koko is a good gorilla. Love me. Love Koko. I’m good.”

And there, folks, is the window into our soul. And the souls of our children.

We want to be loved. We want to be good. Despite all of our flaws and selfishness, we desperately want people to love us. Because it matters.

And if it matters to primates, then it definitely matters to kids and to the rest of us.

Kids are imperfect, but they want to be loved.

And maybe the way we react to them says a lot about how we feel about ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World From Three Feet Up

My four-year-old daughter snagged my phone the other day. It was the huge pile of blurry photos at weird angles in my photo library that tipped me off.

At first, I was annoyed by all random shots, but the more I looked… the more I realized what an interesting window they were into how our enormous world appears to a tiny child.

My daughter doesn’t know anything about framing or technique or what she’s supposed to find beautiful. Her take is still completely authentic and unfiltered… and involves following cats.

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Squirrel Power!

The house we moved into a couple of months ago has a big, beautiful orange tree in the backyard.

I know the oranges weren’t ripe when we first moved in because my daughter Bridget would compulsively pick them before running over to me–screaming “ORANGE PLEASE” like she was warning me about an impending Viking attack–until I peeled them.

After trying a wedge, I’d shudder from its sourness and so did Bridget, but she seemed to still enjoy it and would polish off the rest of the orange (between shivers) before demanding yet another one.

Well, it’s a couple of months later now and the oranges seem ripe. They’ve been dropping off the tree all over the place, hard enough to crack the peels.

Or so I thought. One day I noticed tiny pieces of orange peel all over the yard. Weird. Was Bridget peeling them when I wasn’t looking? Did she know how to peel oranges all along?

No. The mystery was solved the very next morning while I was taking a shower. Looking out the window after a bright flash caught my side-eye, I saw a squirrel sprint along one of our trees while carrying a massive orange in her arms.

When she found the perfect spot on a branch, her tiny squirrel hands frantically tore a hole into the orange. I swear she looked me dead in the eye as she was chewing on the orange and then I smiled at her, like that would mean something to a squirrel.

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The shower and tree where it all went down

I wish I could’ve taken a picture, but it all happened very fast and I was in the shower at the time, so…

I’d seen that squirrel around before. I’ve decided to call her “Alice” and maybe she did end up recognizing my smile as a friendly gesture after all, because she stopped taking pains to cover up all her orange heists.

In fact, I caught her hosting an Orange Party the very next day.  Four squirrels were munching oranges on our porch swing, throwing their peels on the ground. I swear they were even swinging a little, back and forth, while chowing down on a bunch of giant citrus balls, which is probably an awesomely good time in the squirrel world.

Or maybe not. Maybe the monotonous hours of counter-wiping and Lego patrol involved in watching kids all day has gotten to me… to the point where I’m having to invent social dramas about backyard wildlife.

But it works for me, so I was carefully crouching down and readying my phone to snap a picture of the orange-eating squirrels partying on our porch swing when my daughter Brontë walks up and says, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING, MOMMA?”

Aaaaaaaand, the squirrels all ran away.

But on the bright side, when I told her I was trying to take pictures of the Squirrel Orange Party taking place in our yard, it made perfect sense to her. Because four-year-olds think that crouching to snap paparazzi photos of squirrel galas is a reasonable objective, so she fell all over herself apologizing for being so loud and promised not to compromise my mission in the future.

The squirrels left a huge pile of half-eaten oranges and peel dust behind. Many people would be really annoyed by this, but I’m a bit strange, sentimental, and probably a Druid deep down.

I started wondering if I could be friends with Alice. Maybe I could leave a trail of cashews along a little half-wall in our yard, slowly earning her trust with regular food offerings until she took them straight from my hand. Better than just wiping down more counters, right?

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Moments before Alice makes her escape

So I set up my lure and was happy to find Alice hanging out on the half-wall the next day. I snapped a photo, but wasn’t quick enough to capture what was going to happen next…

See, while I thought it would be cool to make friends with the squirrels in our yard, my lunatic dog Douglas was DEFINITELY not on board. He took one look at Alice shamelessly hanging out on our half-wall like the Whore of Babylon IN HIS FACE and tore off after her, barking doggy threats that I shudder to imagine.

She raced across the wall and gracefully leapt up to the high fence as he continued to promise grievous bodily harm the second he could reach her. She stood up on her hind legs and held a giant orange against her chest.

And then… I saw something amazing.

Alice pushed the orange away from her chest and spent a few moments aiming it just so before dropping it on the dog’s head.

She NAILED him. She made her escape as Douglas wobbled around, compulsively sneezing.
It was AWESOME. I had NO IDEA that squirrels could throw grenades. Sure, it happens in Open Season, but you don’t expect animals to measure up to their cartoon counterparts. They never wear clothes and have long discussions in real life.

But she did it and it WORKED. I was genuinely thrilled until I came back inside and found out my daughter Bridget had spent the last five unsupervised minutes opening up every banana in the house.

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And she’s super proud of herself 

I hope we’ll be seeing Alice again, that she has enough grenade-lobbing pluck to show her face around this joint on the regular.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Pink Boxes Made of Ticky-Tacky…

For today’s post, I was inspired to try something different: a freehand comic strip!

The only problem is… I don’t know anything about making panels or drawing on computers, which complicates things.

But was I gonna let my complete ignorance and total incompetence stop me? Hell no!

So here goes… and I swear I’m going to get much better at this.

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My Super Bowl Confession

I have a deep dark confession to make. Are you ready?

I have no idea who’s playing in the Super Bowl later today.

Or where it is.

Apparently, it’s Super Bowl #51, but I just had to look that up. In fact, I’d forgotten that the Super Bowl was even happening until one of my Facebook buddies posted a picture of us at her Super Bowl party last year.

I don’t even remember who played last year, because I only knew for the duration of the party and only because I looked it up on the car ride over, whispering the team names to myself, over and over again.

I didn’t want to risk drawing a blank if someone asked me about it at the party, or not know what cities the teams that were playing were from. I knew what an idiot I’d look like if that happened, how much it would blow my cover of normalcy.

And I didn’t even  know who won at the time, because I wasn’t paying attention to the game at all.

I do remember that the woman from Texas who hosted the party made the most incredible tacos… real cotija cheese and fresh guacamole… and handmade fudge for dessert that I kept on dipping into.

I like good food and hanging out with people, which is why I went to her Super Bowl party in the first place. It could’ve been a monster truck rally or a bunny-fighting championship for all I cared, because I was just there for the conversation and nachos.

Not a cookie party though. In fact, the only time I can recall voluntarily throwing a football is when I ran out of a cookie-making party to throw footballs with the guys, because THAT’S how desperate I was to get away from the cookie party.

It was one of those deals where your girlfriend ropes you into attending a party that’s actually a giant sales pitch… in this case, selling these big plunger deals that would spit out even doses of cookie batter into PERFECTLY ROUND cookies to make your batch EXACTLY EVEN.

We all donned these ruffly aprons and took turns squirting out exactly-even cookies while hearing chirpy lectures about the virtues of consistent cookie shapes that droned on like IRS guidebooks from audible.com played at half speed. Man, these women had a lot to say about convection and how hard it was to make circular cookies by hand.

I think I was trapped in there for two full hours before slowly backing out into the yard to play catch while talking about ANYTHING besides making perfect cookies. I can BUY cookies real cheap, thank you very much.

Plus, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a cookie while thinking to myself, “I’m not really enjoying this, because I can’t help noticing how this cookie is not exactly the same size and shape as the cookie right next to it,” so I was having trouble recognizing it as a pressing issue.

Geez, I really feel like I’m failing at suburbia sometimes, given my problems rallying for homemade cookies and the Super Bowl. It’s downright un-American, which is why I keep taking pains to hide my heretical ways. Someone’s eventually bound to figure out I’m an imposter, so I make a point of Googling the Super Bowl before forgetting everything I just read, ten seconds later.

I think part of my problem with sports is that the players aren’t actually from the cities they play for, so what’s the rivalry deal really about?

If my city challenged our neighboring city to a football game, I’d actually show up for that and find the outcome entertaining. But random people getting drafted to random places… how does that represent any kind of legitimate geo-battle?

Still, it’s not that I hate football, it’s that I’m this guy:

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For those of you who are confused, that’s Maurice Moss from the British show The IT Crowd, which is fantastic. In this scene, Moss is desperately trying to fit in with “normal” guys by attending a football game, which means soccer in British.

He really wants to make friends with other guys while knowing sports knowledge and enthusiasm are key, so he prepares canned statements to make on game day while pretending he also thinks the movements of an elliptical sphere are fascinating and important.

It may be my favorite episode of the entire show because of how much I relate to it.

Also, my last job before leaving the corporate world to take care of my kids was working for an IT Help desk.  Just like Moss.

Coincidence?

Maybe not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monster Attacks as a Teaching Tool

Some parents bribe their kids when faced with an avalanche of tantrums and whining. There are entire discussion threads devoted to the most effective toddler bribes.

Other parents resort to scare tactics. A friend of mine once warned her daughter not to scream in grocery stores because monsters would hear her. Many people, especially those who place honesty at the top of our ethics pyramid, would consider such tactics underhanded.

You should NEVER lie to a child, they would say.

And I roughly agree with them, though separating lies from creative fantasy can be a gray area. The Puritans thought novels and theater were straight from the Devil’s playbook, for example, since they involved people spinning yarns that weren’t true or pretending to be people that they weren’t… a SIN.

Well… thus far, I’ve tried to wield honesty as a weapon when appropriate, but enforcing social norms by definition involves some amount of lying.

My two-year-old daughter Bridget really doesn’t want to sit at the table to eat her food, preferring to run around eating it as she plays or explores, which means dropping food all over countless crevices in the house.

I tell her that we can only eat food at the table, which is technically a lie, because people can definitely eat food without sitting down at a table. She’s able to bust that myth every time she eats standing up, so why take me seriously?

I supervise her whenever I’m around, but human beings with opposable thumbs are surprisingly tricky. She uses step stools to dig into kitchen cabinets in the middle of the night, leaving unholy crumb trails all over the house… occasionally, even decaying bananas or apples under her bed which aren’t found until their funky stench prompts investigation.

Morning after morning, I wake up to find graham cracker bits all over the carpet, tables, and furniture. Demanding that Bridget clean them up kicks off predictable routines involving defiance, time-outs, and repeated lectures.

Even her four-year-old sister Brontë is getting frustrated, and she doesn’t struggle nearly as much as I do with ethical training methods. Four-year-old kids are  a paradoxical mixture of wild fantasy and pragmatism, as evidenced by the following recent exchange:

wolfMe (upon finding Graham cracker ground into the carpet again): Bridget, don’t throw food on the floor! It STINKS and we’ll get ants all over the house!

Brontë: YEAH. Ants and WOLVES!

Bridget looks alarmed.

Brontë: Right, mom? Ants and wolves will come?

Me: It’s possible.

Bridget trots over to the garbage can and chucks in a handful of cracker.

By God, it worked.

Bridget stopped dumping sugary crumbs once she learned that violent wolves might tear into our sanctuary after smelling them.

Apparently, my four-year-old had already thought of bringing monster threats to the table… and I just let them slide.

Why Mummies are Good At Camping

mummyThe other day, my four-year-old daughter abruptly stopped building her Lego princess skyscrapers to stare off into the distance, clearly lost in thought.

After a while, she turned to me and said, “You know… mummies would always have toilet paper on them.”

I laughed, which was not okay.

“That’s NOT funny!”

She’s fond of mummies, so maybe she found the mockery of their toilet-paper bodies unacceptable. Or maybe I was supposed to be wildly impressed by her deductive reasoning.  Maybe anything bathroom-related is sacred, or she views not having toilet paper as a very serious issue that should never be taken lightly.

Either way, she was completely disgusted by my irreverence.

One should never mock how mummies could always conveniently wipe their butts.