Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tiny Teeny Bopper

“Wait, Mom!  Keep that!  It’s Katie Perry.”  I’m flipping through the dial, trying to find some holiday music on the radio.

Or at least anything that has nothing to do with guns.  This hasn’t been easy the past couple weeks.

“Cause baby, you’re a fiah-work!” Sophie warbles from the back seat.  “Come on let your col-ors burn,”

“It’s “come on let your colors burst,’” I say.  Just trying to be helpful, of course. 

“Nuh-huh.  I’m right and you’re wrong!” Sophie says in a drawly, sing-songy mean girl voice. 

Does puberty start at five now?  But I’ve been feeding her hormone free milk!

Another day she comes home from school singing,

“We are NEVER EVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER,” with all the angst and indignation of a jilted teenager. 

“What is up with that?”  I ask. 

“Oh, it’s just something my friends and I were singing on the playground.”  She proceeds to repeats the refrain about 316 times. 

Much to my surprise, we later hear this song on the radio.  It’s Taylor Swift, and—no offense to Ms. Swift, but it is awful, particularly the spoken parts of the song: 

Huh, he calls me up and he’s like, I still love you.  And I’m like, I’m just, I mean this is exhausting.  You know?  We are never getting back together, like ever.

Is this even English?  I mean, I recognize each individual word, but what happened to the syntax?  Maybe if Taylor was being ironic, I could stand it. 

But something tells me Ms. Swift is dead serious. 

And Sophie LOVES it, with all the fervor of a tiny teeny bopper.  This new passion is hard to fathom.  She made the switch from Baby Beluga to Lady Gaga so suddenly.   One week my 6 CD changer was full of Music Together, the next week Sophie told me, “I don’t want to listen to that.  Turn on some traffic music.” 

“Traffic music” is Sophie’s term for “radio.”  I haven’t had the heart to correct her.  It’s a sign that she’s still my little girl.  I know I don’t have much longer before she drops this like she dropped Raffi. 

 “Turn on some traffic music, please.”  There is only so much adolescent behavior one can take from a five-year-old.

“Turn on some traffic music, please,” she replies in my intonation.  Mocking me?  “I want to hear “Call Me Maybe.’”

Sophie gets frustrated with me when I can’t immediately locate her favorite songs.  She doesn’t seem to get that I do not control the traffic music.  That somewhere, in a station far far away, a computer is carefully selecting, playing, and replaying songs with the aim of cultivating her addiction—playing the song just often enough to prevent her from touching that dial, while ensuring that the lyrics take up 40% of her brain space. 

DJs are cultivating her taste.  Which, in my humble opinion, leaves something to be desired.  Not that Sophie doesn’t have her preferences.  She does.  After all there has to be some innate inclinations, something inscribed upon her genes that the environment coaxes out into the open.  Like me, she seems to have an affinity for mellifluous chick music.  But my chicks are Susanna McCorkle, Helen Merrill, and Billie Holiday, and hers have dollar signs instead of letters in their names. 

That’s right.  Still not out of her princess dresses, Sophia quotes Ke$ha while playing Legos…

“stockings ripped all up the side….”

The next line, if one is keeping current, is “looking sick and sexified.  I jump in, “looking slick and Sophified!”  I shout. 

“Stop it mom.” Sophie says, “that’s not how it goes!”  But she doesn’t sing the next line.  I have successfully diverted her.  This time. 

Am I going to have to resort to Kidz Bop?  I had always been somewhat put off by the genre—a bunch of kids singing sanitized versions of the latest pop songs.  I remember my sister telling me a story that before her son could speak, he would run up to the television and point at the stars of Kidz Bop and grunt, preverbally expressing his desire to rock out to his very own Kidz Bop album.  I figured it must have some strange juju to do that, hypnotizing toddlers through the screen and convincing them they want to live La Vida Loca  (Kidz Bop 1, Circa 2002). 

I cringe at the thought of having to listen to it.  Their saccharine, overly exuberant voices transforming the barely tolerable into the detestable.  I’ve spent too many years paying my dues, listening to Music Together.  It’s high time this girl gets some exposure to what’s out there. 

So, when I come to something that I like.  I make her listen.   Or I play my own albums, despite her protests.  Last week, she sat through four tracks of the Police.  After dinner one night, Kevin and I force fed her Graceland for dessert.  And recently, I instituted a rule that when cruising the dial we always stop for the Beatles. 

Though she puts up a fight, I find that the same principle Top 40 stations operate on, works for other stuff too:  repetition breeds appreciation. 

The proof is in the singing.  Soon after we began the mandatory taste-making sessions, Sophie sprang from her bath and dripping, she danced around in front of the full length bathroom singing a line from one of my favorite Police songs (about, ahem, a student-teacher romance), “Don’t stand!  Don’t stand so!  Don’t stand so close to me!” 

Yes, perhaps still inappropriate.  But the influence is purely mine.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Kid Fears


I sat on the train, coming home from a beautiful and moving morning of therapy.  I would now head home, write up a report, and pick Sophia up at school.  I gazed out the window, feeling mildly euphoric, watching the landscape change from urban streets, to the broad expanse of the Delaware, to the darkness of tunnels.   A young woman with bright-red, raggedy ann hair sat down in front of me, and I was reminded of how I longed for midnight blue hair when I was a teenager.  How strange that seemed now—I had felt so invisible then.  I wanted a mark, something that expressed my sense of otherness.  Of uniqueness. 

We emerged from the bowels of Camden, and I pulled out my phone to check my email.  Then the news.

Twenty children shot dead!  In their elementary school! 


I did and did not want to read on.  There was something inside of me that craved the story.  The facts.  That wanted to make sense of the senseless. 

I was still in graduate school when Columbine happened.  Columbine.  A word that connotes an event, not a place or a thing.  I was surprised to read in a Maurice Sendak book that a columbine is actually a flower.  A meaning that will forever be obscured by the horror of that day.  The word now conjures images of violence and anguish, not of a delicate perennial, named for its cluster of petals that resembles five doves huddled together.

I lived with another student at the time; we were both in a school psychology program.  My roommate obsessively watched the news while I actively avoided it, sequestering myself in my room, waiting for the media frenzy to pass.  To this day, I have still not seen any of the footage.  I did not want those pictures burned into my brain.   Grainy images from the school video cameras.  The awful suffering of the survivors.  Like the others in my program, I struggled to understand what had happened, how we might out into the world and try to prevent these horrors from happening again.  We spent hours analyzing it—shouldn’t someone have seen it coming (someone like us in a position we would one day hold), thinking about school emergency response (how do you react when it’s happening and in the aftermath).  Thus, as painful as it was, I was able to hold the incident at a cool intellectual distance. 


This time, during this school shooting I am a parent and the pain is visceral.  Again, I have no need for images.  There are all immediately available to me, in my dark imagination.  I can picture one of those children being my own.  I can see the fear on her face. I can envision myself doing whatever I could to shelter, to protect and to rescue.  I can feel the pain, the deep, irreparable pain tearing through everyone around me. 

Like every parent I know, all I wanted when I heard the news was my child.  I wanted to put my arms around her.  To feel her body push me away (Mom! Stop!) and smell her hair in the brief seconds that I could hold her.  I wanted her joy.  Her carefreeness.  Her utter lack of awareness that terrible things happen in this world every day. 


Since I read through that first article, I have so many reactions—as a parent, a psychologist, a person—but fear is not one of them.  I am no more worried for the safety of my child than I was before last Friday.  Perhaps it is because life always seems precarious to me.  As Sophie dangles herself from a banister, as a truck comes careening towards me in my rearview window, as I am pulled wordlessly by a Chinese family from the Natahala river, just before the current tugs me, boatless, down Class VI rapids, I know that I am not special. 

If anything, the fear is of fear itself.  That Sophie will be exposed to the ubiquitous media coverage of this event and her innocence will be shattered.  I will have to have that difficult conversation that so many parents are having with their children across the country right now.  I will have to let her know that I am doing everything in my power to keep her safe. 

But my powers are limited. 

The only thing I can do is turn off the noise and tune in to what is. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

More in the Family

I think Sophia is finally coming to terms with the fact that the shop is closed.  For good.

“Look!” I said pointing out my car window to the right.  “It’s a store just for exotic fish.”  The tanks are glowing with cobalt light. 

“Oooh. Cool.” Her head swivels as we pass the store, trying to keep it in view. 

I stop at a light and she says, “Mommy?”


“Can I get a pet fish?” 

“You want a pet fish?”


“Why do you want a pet fish?” I ask, rather than just shoot the request down.  She delivers the answer, which tears off a tiny corner of my heart:

“So there can be more in our family.”

She’s stopped asking for a sibling.  I haven’t heard the request in weeks.  She’s lowered the bar hoping that something small and scaley, or short and furry will wend it’s way into our lives.  

I have mixed feelings about this resolution.  On the one hand, I’m glad that she has heard what I’ve had to say on the subject, gets it, and appears to be fairly unscathed.  On the other, I feel a great deal of sympathy for her desire to have a live-in pal.  My heart aches every time she brings up the subject.  I wish I could give her what she wants, without it coming into conflict with what Kevin and I have decided.

A couple days later, at dinner Sophie suddenly announced, “I think I’m finally mature enough to have a cat.”

“Oh really?” I say, raising an eyebrow.  Well, actually both of them.  I can’t raise just one, but I wish I could. 

Kevin, across the table, raised one eyebrow.

“Yeah.  I take care of grandma’s cats.  I feed them all the time.”  It’s true.  She is very good about feeding them.  She loves to do it, and, in fact, often remembers when my mother doesn’t.  But feeding them is a once-a-week treat, not daily drudgery. 

“There’s more to taking care of a cat than feeding them,” I inform her. “What about their poops?”

Her eyes get wide.

“You have to scoop their poops and clean their litter box.”  She had not considered this.  Sophie has an aversion to anything with a strong smell.  She can’t make it through the cheese department at Wegman’s without holding her nose. 

“Could you help me with that, Mom?”

“That,” I say, “is a slippery slope.  I would….support you in it.”

“Does that mean you would scoop their poops?” 

“No, honey, I’ve scooped enough cat poop in my time.  Until you are ready to do that, I don’t think you’re ready to accept the full responsibility of caring for a cat.”

I was five when I got my first cat.  I swore up and down I would care for it.  But it was my mother who, day in and day out, cleaned the litter box, filled their bowls, and picked cat hair off of everything.  I know how this works.  I’ve sat in Sophie’s seat.  And I know, for sure, that, as the mother of a five-year-old, I am not ready to accept the full responsibility of caring for a cat. 

Sophie gasps.  “I just thought of something!”  (She has learned this from me, a habit of gasping when she has a sudden epiphany, though mine are usually around forgetting appointments or losing my keys).


“Well, if we had a cat and you and daddy went to work all day and I went to school, the cat would be lonely.”  It was a lovely, sympathetic sentiment, but was she doing what we often do when we can’t have something we previously thought we wanted? We devalue it.  We find rationales for why it would be no good for us.  Was she already trying to let go of this wish?

“Mmmm.  True.  I guess that’s why grandma and grandpa have two cats.”  Did I just say that out loud?  Where can I buy myself a filter?

“Oh!  Right!  We could get two cats.”  She looks at our faces.  “When I’m older.  Like seven or nine.” 

“Yes, maybe by seven or nine,” I agree. 

One day, when we are all ready, she shall have more.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Don't Wipe Your Face on Your Shirt!

After watching Sophia use her dress to clean the oatmeal off her chops for the 9 billionth time while a perfectly good napkin, pristine with neglect lay at the side of her plate I told her:

“Sophia, I am going to pin a sign on your dress reminding you to PLEASE USE YOUR NAPKIN.  It’s just gross.  Look you have oatmeal sticking to the bottom of your dress.  There’s milk in that, if we don’t wash it out it’s going to start to smell. 

“No, mommy.  It’s not.  It’s just a little oatmeal.  And here, I rubbed it off, see?”  There was

“I want you to start using your napkin to wipe your face.”

“OKAY!” she said, exasperated.

But later, when she dribbled toothpaste out of the corner of her mouth, she used her sleeve to sop it up.

“Sophia! Please don’t wipe your face with your shirt.  Now you have an oatmeal AND a toothpaste stain.”  She was beginning to look like a ragamuffin, and we had to leave for school.”

“SORRY!” Sophia screamed back, sounding anything but sorry, and reached for the towel I had laid out, wiping her already-clean mouth. 

I took a deep cleansing breath.

Before Sophia was born, someone gave me an album of children’s music, The Bottle Let Me Down.  It was full of funny, silly, sometimes irreverent songs, like “Funky Butt” and “I’m My Own Grandpa.”  But there was one tune on the album that I simply didn’t get:  “Don’t Wipe Your Face on Your Shirt” by the Cornell Hurd Band. 

Dad?  What is it that we do that really makes you crazy?

Well, I’m glad you asked.  Now, you boys know that I give you guys a lot of room in this family.  But there’s one thing, just one thing, that absolutely drives me nuts.

Look out!  He’s going to sing!

Daddy’s from the do-your-own-thing generation,
No I’m not afraid of mud, or grime or dirt
But you boys must understand, there’s a line drawn in the sand,
Don’t wipe your face on your shirt!

“Of all the things to freak out about, this is what makes this guy crazy?  His kids wiping their faces on their shirts?” I said to Kevin, with all the incredulity of someone who is not-yet-a-parent.  Kevin was in full agreement.  Aside from thinking that the song was kind of gross in general, e.g., You can eat that tub of lard but when you thrown up in the yard, don’t wipe your face on your shirt, he didn’t recognize wiping one’s face on one’s shirt to be an issue of song-worthy proportions.

Now, five years later, I understand what all the exasperated singing is about.  This face-wiping thing really is a problem.  It moves a parent to artistic expression of the deep frustration that arises from having a child who will not use a napkin.  At least it does in my household. 

Of course, I have to ask myself, why do I care?  What’s it to me if she has a thin line of snot snaking down her sleeve, like the opalescent trail of a slug? 

Well, for one, I have to look at it. 

And others have to look at it too.  I have to admit—I worry about what people will think when my daughter shows up at school, a friend’s house, a special event wearing a three-course meal.  I suppose it wouldn’t drive me quite so crazy if we kept this entre-nous (and given that Sophie doesn’t stay in any one outfit for more than a couple of hours, I needn’t be all that concerned—if I don’t like what she’s wearing, the one thing I can count on—she’ll change).  But I do want my child to appear somewhat kempt in public. 

So, imagine my great joy and surprise when, this weekend, after dribbling some milk from her cereal down her chin, Sophie reached for her napkin and sopped it up.

I cheered!  “You did it!  You remembered to use your napkin!” I cried.

“I don’t want you to hang a sign on me mommy.”  Sophie explained.  The corners of her mouth turned down.  “All the kids at school will laugh at me!”

What am I, Mommy Dearest?   I didn’t mean for her to bear a scarlet letter screaming the sin of wiping her face on her shirt.  I was sick of nagging her.  It was an intervention born of the recognition that what I was doing wasn’t working.  I had more of an only-during-mealtimes-in-the-home, “employees must wash hands” kind of vision.  In truth, I thought it would be funny—something that we could laugh about.  A gentle, but concrete reminder to change her behavior until it became an automatic habit.  Turns out, the fear of humiliation she built up in her mind was a much more effective teacher.

I felt a little guilty about this.  But when she got up from the breakfast table today tidy and grime-free, her napkin crumbled alongside her bowl, smeared with the detritus of the morning meal, I felt satisfied.  Whatever I did in my fit of exasperation, worked.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to Cook a Turkey: 2012

Tired of the same old succulent bird year after year?  Been scouring the Internet looking for a cutting-edge turkey preparation techniques?  Anyone coming to dinner against whom you have a massive grudge? 

Well, look no further!

It’s that time of year again, when the culinary geniuses of Miss Judi’s four-year-old class at the Children’s Workshop Preschool put their little noggins together to devise a recipe for Thanksgiving dinner that will rock your world (or at least your intestines).

Here we go, yo:
  1. Go hunt for a turkey on a mountain or in the woods.
  2.  If you can’t find one, buy it at Shop Rite.  (This is not meant to be an endorsement of Shop Rite.  I’m sure if you can’t find one there, you can probably find a perfectly good turkey on a mountain.)
  3. Put it in the trunk of our car.  (It may be an important detail that the turkey goes in the trunk of the 4-year-olds’ car, not your car.)
  4. Take it out of the package.
  5. Wash it with water and cut the nasty stuff off with scissors or a knife.  (If it was up to me, there would be no turkey left after this step.)
  6. Put on black pepper and salt.  And maybe maple syrup.  (Because what doesn’t taste better with maple syrup?)
  7. Stuff the turkey with vegetables and juice and wasabi (not for the faint hearted) and beans and carrots and apples and rice and stinky seaweed.
  8. Heat the oven to a trillion hot.  Or 1000 degrees.
  9. Cook it for 100 hours.
  10. Take it out and eat it.
Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers!

Disclaimer: Any follower of this recipe (or guest at the table of the recipe follower) holds Melissa, Ms. Judi and the four-year-old class at the Children’s Workshop Preschool harmless for any damages, including illness or death, that result from following any and all of the above instructions for cooking a turkey.