Mermaid Slippers and Princesses

What kind of jokes do six-year-olds tell? Do they wake up at five thirty and tumble down the stairs with the cat to ask if grandma is ready to watch morning cartoons? And what cartoons would they watch?

Our annual summer vacation with our granddaughter just finished. The lilac mermaid slippers left behind by a five-year-old didn’t fit the tall seven-and-a half-year-old girl who searched for a heavy, snuggly blanket while ignoring her old favorite princess cover. Her Frozen cup looked small in the hands that now write stories, multiply numbers, turn pages in a chapter book. She reads to us, no longer sounding out as many words, instead adding emotional emphasis to characters. 

In a mostly rainy week, there was one beach day when we watched her patiently teach two very young children how to use a squirt gun and return a dead minnow to the water. She learned with great enthusiasm how to play old video games. She and her mom made craft projects. And we watched a different set of morning programs cast with early teens as well as an Australian cartoon about a family of dogs. She made the dinner salad one meal. What mattered was that we were together around the clock as a family. Creative as we tried to be last year, this experience had been lost.

Far greater losses were experienced during the pandemic lockdown. Far greater losses are being experienced now as the pandemic continues. It is not over. People are falling ill. Fewer people are dying, a small comfort to those who do lose a loved one. With an unvaccinated child in the mix, we returned to considering when to mask, where to eat out, avoiding crowds. She is the last in our family to walk unprotected in open communities. It is scary to know our kids are still at risk. It is hard to not be disappointed in the adults who contribute to Covid’s continued spread in our country.

I’m not sure how I could convince an unvaccinated person to take the jab. For me it was a mix of trusting science, hope that the virus would be slowed, and feeling responsible for contributing to the safety of our country. But I didn’t have to balance concerns of caring for a family if I got ill from the vaccine or missing work. Maybe neighbors are part of the next push to increase the vaccinated numbers. The wearers of mermaid slippers are our future. Let’s keep them healthy and safe.

Family vacation puppet show 2021

Confessions of a Pandemic Parent

Now that this COVID pandemic is largely over—or at least we hope—this may be a safe time to make a few confessions, one parent to another. 

When the lockdown began last spring, we adjusted to working and schooling at home for what we thought would be a few weeks, at max. I thought, “Great! What an opportunity to spend more time with my kid!” I imagined a sweet vision of idyllic harmony as my tween daughter and I bonded even more as we read books, painted watercolors, went for walks in the neighborhood. I could even get more involved in her education. Ahhhh. It was going to be bliss!

It didn’t exactly turn out that way. Here’s what really happened:

I was often afraid my daughter would develop scurvy from her largely unregulated diet of carbs, salty snacks, way too much sugar, and way too few fresh fruits and vegetables. My frequent reminders to eat more fruit are met with “I’m full.”

I was frequently tempted to Google “feral children” after seeing my daughter’s hair in a mat of frizz after no one had bothered to brush it for days. We learned that grooming is overrated.

Pajamas often doubled as day wear (and vice versa), especially when we never left the house. And socks were wholly unnecessary, even on those rare occasions when we did need to go somewhere and there was snow on the ground. We learned to get by with a minimum of fuss.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I thought it just might be fun to homeschool. I must have been nuts. After months of distance learning mainly via Zoom, the best I could do was ask, “Aren’t you supposed to be in class now?”

More often than not, 4:00 p.m. rolled around and I found myself asking my daughter, “Did you eat lunch today?” I feared the answer would be “no” because I know I certainly didn’t make her anything. If I was lucky, she may have concocted a smoothie at some point during the day.

It’s okay for a developing child to go to bed at 11:00 p.m., right? After all, there was not much taxing her brain and body during the day. Every night as I watched the time tick closer and closer to my own bedtime, I cried out, “Why are you still up!?!”

I found myself suddenly more amenable to things that would have been hard and fast “no’s” just six months earlier. Case in point: getting a cat, to which I am allergic, and yet it was sold as a method of providing “emotional support” during these trying times. And where does said cat sleep? On my bed, since the cat has started waking up her “true owner” at 5:00 a.m. by biting toes.

After years of putting off entry into more social media, I acquiesced to creating an Instagram account, which has been appropriated by the tween and is mainly a vehicle for posting pictures of the cat and recipes for smoothies.

We quickly careened down the slippery slope of unlimited screen time. I don’t know how we got here. It seems so far from the reasonable and even idealistic standards I used to have—actual daily screen time limits of an hour or so. But this pandemic parent lost her will to enforce more limits.

While my daughter has never been a good napper and has always seem to not need that much sleep, I on the other hand, found myself growing more and more tired. I perfected the afterwork nap. Pandemic life is exhausting!

I found new delight in doing errands. All. By. Myself. Drives to the bank and post office have never been more satisfying. And even the excuse of going into my empty workplace was a welcome change.

Someone should really start a Parents Union with universally agreed upon work expectations, hours, duties, etc. The words “I am done for the day!” have slipped out of my mouth more than once—mostly at the end of what has seemed like an endless day. (See late bedtimes, above.)

I even tried going old school in the fall after we had been indoors way too much. Me: “You know, some parents just send their kid outside and say, ‘Don’t come in for an hour’.” Daughter: “Mom, you are NOT that parent.” Touché, kid.

So faced with my shortcomings, I swallowed my pride and admitted that the year knocked me for a loop. Then I mustered up some gumption to do it one more day. And then another.

Slowly, we have started leaving the house for school, for work, even to socialize with other people—in real life. As life begins to look a little more normal, we may even begin to miss each other a little (in the case of the tween) or a lot (in the case of the weepy mother). And then I will wish for all that time at home, when we rarely said “goodbye.”

Broken Dreams

Aniya Allen’s funeral was June 2, 2021.  Six years old, the newspapers said she wore a sparkling tiara in her small pink coffin. The second to die of three young children caught in gun violence in Minneapolis this May. One is still in hospital. On a local television news show, young Minneapolis school children talked about being afraid to play outside or go to the park or to see friends. They asked, begged, demanded that older kids and adults put down guns and give peace a chance and kids a chance to grow and dream. 

Unfortunately these two families are not the only ones who have lost their very young children to the senseless and unexpected gun fighting of young men with disagreements that should have been resolved with discussions, even strong words, maybe fists. Not guns shot in an alley. Not a shootout on a street corner where parents drove home from grocery stores or taking a child to McDonalds. These babies cannot be replaced, these families’ broken dreams cannot be rebuilt.

According to Brady every year 7,957 children and teens are shot in the United States. More than 1,600 will die from gun violence. Gun sales in the United States grew over 65% increase in 2019 and continue strong in 2020. Like icebergs, there is no true tally of general U.S. gun possession that accounts for arms purchased illegally or stolen. 

A child’s funeral is about the saddest gathering on earth. Eulogies for a child describe their smiles, their bright eyes, their wonderful laugh, their love of sports or dancing or swimming, their helpfulness, of pride in being a big sister or brother. All the ways a young child’s life should be talked about when families gather for birthdays or holidays, but not in a solemn church or temple service while mourning the one resting in a small pink coffin.

We have all lost Aniya Allen and Trinity Ottoson-Smith and the other 1,600 children and teens dead because of gun violence.  So many broken dreams.

Middle School Dances Are Not Just For Kids

IMG_5199They are for adults, too.

It’s my reward for living with two squalling 10 month olds who I swore would always be 10 months old. I could not see the day that I would be standing with the two of them at their first middle school dance.

Middle school dances are also for the adults who volunteered in kindergarten and all through elementary. These same kids that we chaperoned on the apple orchard field trip and to Wood Lake Nature Center are now looking at each other with different eyes. And, if we are lucky enough, we’ll be able to discern who is looking at who.

Antonio showing his id and getting his bracelet.

Antonio showing his ID and getting his bracelet.

Middle school dances are also for adults who volunteered in the community as Cub Scout and Brownie leaders, supervised playdates to Edinborough Park, Children’s museum, and the Children’s theatre. All these places that our children are too old to go to now (almost).

It’s our due to see their faces clean, to watch them carefully choose their clothes even if it’s their favorite black hoodie.

Middle School dances are also for adults who never went to a dance in middle school or high school. You can pretend that you’re supervising the dance floor when really, all you are doing, is checking it out.

Don't let her face kid you. Crystel is excited that I'm at her first middle school dance.

Yah, she’s kidding. Crystel loves me at her dance.

If you are a Police Reserve Officer you can roam the halls with the middle-schoolers, duck into the karaoke room, the Wii dance room, the gymnasium with the four different inflatables, or stop and watch the donut eating contest.

Then go back to the dance floor.

Middle school dances aren’t for standing in one place.

They’re for watching, observing, and hanging out.

And, if you’re fortunate like I was, those same Cub Scouts and those same kids you chaperoned will smile and say, “Hi.” And, though you are much older, you’ll remember their name. And, let them use your cell phone to call their grandma to pick them up.

Antonio with friends

Antonio with friends

And, you’ll be asking your own kids about the kids who didn’t come.

Cause it was so much fun.

 

Why We Read The Books We Do

f306a4206f3db95e9d87a8b4aaf37eb6[1]“Guess what I’m reading,” 12-year old Crystel says.

First, I try the vanilla genres, “Fiction, non-fiction, memoir, science fiction, fantasy?”

She shakes her head no every time.

What else is there?

“Dark Romance,” she says. Her eyes light up.

Oh, my, I think. “Books let you read anything you want,” I say, thinking of Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James and wondering what she IS reading.

I have a 1 ½ hour round trip drive to work thus my book reading has become books on tapes. Jody noticed Fifty Shades in the car. She raised her eyebrows.

“Don’t push Play when the kids are in the car,” I said.

Fifty Shades ended up too spicy. I returned the trilogy to the library. How much flavoring can one take? Jody’s happy if I hold her hand.

12-year old Antonio reads Pokémon from back cover to front. “I like reading different stories about Red the Trainer,” he said.

Recently, he’s been downloading the series onto his IPod to read.

I’ve not read a single page of Pokémon. I don’t enjoy graphic novels. It reminds me of the funnies. In my family of 14, the funnies were prime reading material on Sunday mornings. I avoided any tussling by turning my back on the colorful newspaper that would be shredded by noon.

I don’t read fantasy or science fiction either. Give me the real stuff. Memoir, non-fiction, and fiction based on truth.

One evening, Antonio held up a thick book. “Look what I’m reading,” he said.

The heftiness of the book surprised me. What could hold his interest that long?

He laughed. “It has lots of pictures in it.” He had found Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick in his school library. Not that he went to the libary on his own volition. He needed a book for reading prep.

“Ta dah!” I’m sure he exclaimed after perusing the pages.

I asked if the illustrations reminded him of his own pencil drawings. “Nope,” he said. There goes that elevated thought.

After finishing Wonderstruck he found The Invention of Hugo Cabret by the same author.

Antonio doesn’t know (or care) that the book won the 2008 Caledcott Medal, the first novel to do so.

With 284 pictures within the book’s 526 pages, the book depends as much on its pictures as it does on the words.

Selznick himself has described the book as “not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things.”

“Guess what page I’m on?” Crystel says in the car, on the couch, in her bedroom, as she makes her way through her dark romance.

“How did you find this book?” I asked her.

“When I was on Utube I clicked a thing on Ellen and Twilight.”

“I learned enough about the characters that when I went to our school library and saw the series, I picked it up. They didn’t have the first book, Twilight but they had New Moon. I read a little from the middle and there were no words that I didn’t know. And this cat is so cute. I’m reading Eclipse now.”

The four Twilight books have consecutively set records as the biggest selling novels for children.

Even so, I’m not interested in reading the series. It’s not my genre.

Is the lesson here that parents can model reading but not the genre?