Sunday, April 28, 2013

Dream Vacation

So just when I finally agree to Disney, Sophie ups the ante.

I walk into her nursery school and one of the aides comes up to me:

“I heard the exciting news!”

“Pardon me?”  What rumors had Sophie spread, now? 

“Your trip to Paris.  Sophie told us she’s going to France.”

“She what?” The aide is now looking at me like I’m a five-year-old, with a little pity mixed in.

“Oh yes, she told us all about how she’s going to visit the Eiffel Tower.  Sounds wonderful.”

“It does sound wonderful—but we aren’t going to Paris.  I think this is a little wishful thinking on Sophie’s part.”

“Hmm,” said the aide, looking puzzled.  I was puzzled too. 

I quizzed Sophia on the way home.

“Sophie, why did you tell everyone at school that we’re going to Paris?”

“Because I want to.  Can we?  Pleeeeeeease?  Pretty please?”

“Soph, maybe one day, but not any time soon.  We’re going to Disney World, remember?”  You know, that place you’ve been obsessed with for the last two years, I think, but don’t say.  Sophie freaks out when I get sarcastic.  Rightly so. 

“Yeah, but, I want to go to Paris and make new friends.  I want to climb the Eiffel Tower with them like you and daddy did before you were married.  Hey.  Hey!  Can I bring some of my own friends?  Can we take my friends to Paris with us?”  She doesn’t even stop to take a breath. 

“Come on, Soph.  We can’t afford to take your friends to Paris.  And, besides, I don’t think their parents would let us.”

“Yes they would!”  I broke cardinal rule number one:  NEVER, EVER argue with a five-year-old. 

“I’m sorry, Soph, but we’re not going to Paris.  That’s final.” 

“How about if it’s just us?” she suggested, hopeful that this concession would be the thing to win her a trip abroad.  The thought passes through my mind that she might have premeditated this move.  In social psychology it’s known as “the door in the face” tactic:  one makes a deliberately outlandish request at the outset, so a subsequent, lesser request is more likely to be accepted. 
Fortunately, I am familiar with such strategies. 

“No can do, Soph.  Paris is out.  We’re going to Disney.”

Sophie slumps down.  “Hmmmph!  You never let me do anything fun.”

At least not in the last five minutes.  

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Always Uncertain

The day after the Boston Marathon, I was rather surprised that my mother waited a whole ten minutes before she pulled me outside her classroom and asked whether I still planned to run the Broad Street in three weeks.

I have to hand it to her.  She asked; she didn’t tell.  

“I’m not sure, yet, Mom.”  I told her, honestly.  “I am pretty freaked out by it.”  Of course, everyone is affected by an event like this in her own way, but as a runner—a runner whose last marathon clocked in at 3:59 (close to the range of when the bombs went off, 4:09), I feel a kinship with those who were in the race.  The acute sense of it could have been me has been hard to shake.

“Well, there’s no point in taking an unnecessary risk.  What if something happens? You don’t want to lose a leg.”  So delicately put. 

If there is one person on this Earth who is more of a catastrophizer than me, it’s my mom.  Where else could I have learned my uncanny ability to envision the worst, to conjure the most terrible of fates, but at the foot of the master.

“No, I don’t.  But I also think there’s little chance that someone is out there is bombing road races.  There are many reasons why this race, as opposed to any other race, might have been targeted—it was Patriot’s Day, we’re coming up on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombings….” 

“Yes, but PhiladelphiaBen Franklin…the Liberty Bell.”

“I hear you, mom….  But I just want to wait and see what happens—whether this was an isolated incident…the work of one person, or a whole network of people....” 

My mother gave me a pained look.

“I’m not saying I’m going to run it.  I’m just saying we’ll see….”  It is a phrase she used to use on me, when she wasn’t ready to give me an answer I didn’t want to hear. 

“I can’t control what you do, but I’m voicing my concern.”  She issues these final words and disappears back into her classroom.


At least she didn’t say what she always used to say when I was growing up:

“Do what you want.”

Do what you want is a Jewish mother dictum, passed down from generation to generation, meant to inspire guilt so immobilizing, it prevents one from doing what one wants. 

I think if the Broad Street was to get bombed, and I ran it and got hurt, she might have to bite her tongue off to avoid saying, I told you so.

But the truth of the matter is, she is my mother and even as I edge towards 43, she still wants to protect me.  Keep me safe.

And it makes me wonder.  What if Sophie wanted to run the Broad Street, just weeks after the Boston Marathon was bombed.  How would I feel about that?  What would I do? 

Another saying comes to mind:  Over my dead body.

Against all rational thought, this is what bubbles up for me.  The maternal instinct is fierce.  It inspires you to jam your fingers down your child’s throat when she swallows the content of a glow stick.  It makes you snap at children who stomp on your daughter’s sandcastle at the playground.  It’s what sends you flying into her room in the middle of the night when she cries out. 

But just because I am beset with this evolutionary drive, doesn’t mean that I should stand in the way of her living her life. Make her decisions for her.  Solve her problems for her.  Fight her battles.  Choose her path. 

Sometimes the instinct must be fought, or at least called into question. Because the fact of the matter is, the future is always uncertain.   I can only protect Sophia to a point.  As Kevin so rationally points out, there is a greater chance of us being killed in a car accident on the Turnpike, than being victims of terrorism at a local sporting event. 

When I was a child, every time we left my grandmother’s house she instructed my mother to give her “two rings,” when we got home, so she would know we made it okay.  My mother resented making those phone calls—she’d do it, but I can remember her saying, she drives all over the place all the time, what was the big deal about driving back from the Bronx. 

There was no big deal.  We always made it home.  Fear is manufactured.  So is our sense of control. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

I Said "Yes" to the Dress

It all started with a diaper.   

I had developed some idiosyncratic brand loyalty to Pampers.  This is not a plug—they just seemed to accommodate Sophia’s unique baby body shape.  They rarely leaked.  They felt relatively soft.  So I bought them.

I didn’t like the fact that they sported images of the Disney princess trio.  But she was an infant, right?  She wasn’t unconsciously developing her own brand loyalty. 


As soon as she could speak, she demanded to know who they were:  “Name!” she ordered, in the way that she did when we passed anyone on the street. 

Telling her was my first mistake.

And though, I worked hard to insulate her from other, more direct forms of marketing, she developed an acute, super-sensitive form of radar for all things Disney.  Along with Starbucks, she recognized the logo long before she could read: 

“Look, mom, it’s Disney!”  And it didn’t matter what it was.  Plastic teapots, coloring books, clip on earrings.  She pined for it all.

Especially the dresses. 

We tried to buy generic gowns, without the coveted Disney logo sewn in at the back.  My mother gave her a whole treasure chest full of them for her third birthday.  Sophie lifted each one out informing us, “Pink is for Aurora, yellow is for Belle, blue is for Cinderella.”  Disney had effectively color-coded the princesses so the very hue would conjure an association.  No label necessary. 

She wore the pink one until it literally fell off her body in tatters—more fit for scouring the hearth than attending the ball. 

Two-years later, her Disney devotion unflagging, she was ready for a replacement.  Our neighbor, a fellow princess aficionado, conducted all of her daily activities dressed as Belle.  Sophia eyed her frock admiringly. “I love your dress,” she’d say, looking like it took every ounce of her will power not to rip it off her friend’s body. 

Sophie felt a particular kinship with Belle, the beautiful bookish nerd of Provence.  But mostly, she wanted her clothes.  And so, for Hanukkah, I bought her a daffodil of a dress, with layers of tulle and shiny fabric that reached down to the floor.

Sophie wears this dress every day.  When she comes home from school, she quickly sheds her more mundane sequined frocks, for this yellow confection, now ripped under the left armpit and trimmed with dirt. 

I find it particularly exasperating that I often cannot read to her until she puts it on.

“Wait!  Mom!  I have to get my dress first.”

“Come on, Sophia.  I’m reading this one book, and then we’ve got to get ready to go to gymnastics.”

“But, mom, that book is about a princess, and if you read it to me without my dress, I’ll be jealous.”

On the weekends, she wants to wear it everywhere.  To parties, museums, the gym.  Wrestling or dangling from monkey bars, she’s always ready for a last-minute invite to the ball. 

When Sophie is a teenager, an adult, a mother herself, this is how I will remember her:  as an insistent, resistant, persistent princess, giving me a lawyerly argument about why it is perfectly fine for her to [fill-in-the-blank] in a gown. 

I have given up.  It is one of those battles that falls into the category of not worth fighting.

Other mothers reassure me, this is short-lived.  It will end.   She won’t always insist on wearing royal robes.  One day she will wake up and it will suddenly seem babyish.  She’ll move onto leather pants, tube tops and pink hair.  Enjoy it while it lasts. 

But as Sophie’s friends, one-by-one, leave their dresses in a crumbled heap in their closets, Sophie remains ensconced in hers.  And sometimes, I wonder. 

Fact:  Disney World bans adults from wearing princess dresses in their parks.  Apparently they are afraid that children will have difficulty discerning between adult fetishists and the “real” Disney princesses.  Will my daughter be the adult who gets stopped at the entrance?  “Sorry Ma’am, but if you want in, you’re going to have to lose the dress”?  Or will she pass up a college education and head for Orlando to smile beatifically at three-year-olds as they kneel before her and kiss her ring?

I know one thing.  I must not stand in the way between Sophia and Walt.  Trying to separate them will only drive them together.  

Which is why, 
against all better judgment and that which I hold sacred, 
I have just booked a trip to Disney.  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Swearing for Beginners

I am a recovering cuss-a-holic.  It’s true.  I once had a potty mouth that rivaled that of any four-year-old. 

And worse. 

I still hold that profanity is one of the most useful tools we have in language.  There are times where only certain naughty, nasty, dirty words will do.  Words that are full of emotion and intensity.  Saying them yields a deep satisfaction that, “rats!” and “Gosh” or even “F-that” cannot.  And, heck, it feels good to be in touch with that dark corner of myself. 

I took this vow of restraint early on in motherhood, when Sophia was just an infant, at my husband’s urging.  He wanted me to get out of the habit ASAP.  Before it was Too Late, and we had a baby whose first words were “mama f’er.”  Much to my surprise, after years of using language that might have made Sophia’s tender ears bleed, I stopped, cold turkey.

It was a cinch. 

Perhaps it had to do with an identity shift—from a woman who had a whole closetful of words of mass destruction, to somebody’s mother, responsible for nurturance and healthy development.  Or maybe it was just fear that other parents would be appalled by my daughter’s vulgar vocabulary, innocently repeating what she had heard at home on the playground.  Creating a whole cohort of profanity-lovin’ preschoolers:

“These chicken nuggests are f’in awesome!”

“Screw time out!”

“I just pooped on your head. “  Oh wait.  They already say that…stuff.  

If I’m being honest with myself, it was probably the latter.  Shame is a powerful motivator. 

So I cleansed my lexicon, exchanging acerbic, emotion-laden words for sanitized, toddler-friendly ones:  
"F!  G, H, I, J and K!"  “Aw buggers!”  “Rats and cats!”  Shit like that. 

And, gee-whiz, life was just swell for a while. 

But eventually, like all children, Sophie developed an ear for words-that-should-not-be-mentioned.  Words that I would venture are much worse than any swearword I used to utter, because, rather than shout them into the ether (as I would), they are commonly hurled at others and meant to hurt.

“Shut up!”



She didn’t say them herself, but I watched a fire come into her eyes every time she heard someone else say them.  A delight in their wrongness.  And these words are everywhere.  TV.  Books.  Songs.  I might be able to shield her from four-letter vulgarities, but these cruel and wounding words are much harder to avoid.  

When Sophie says, scandalized, “Mommy, she just said the s-word!” she’s referring to the invective “stupid,” one of my least favorite words in the English language. 

“I know, Soph.  And that’s not right.  It’s a word that hurts other people and we do not say it,” I reply. 

“I know mama, “ and she does.  Even in her angriest moments, she manages to keep it clean.  Yet, I watch her struggle with wanting language that describes her sour moments.  She’s taken a cue from me, watching me generate g-rated expletives to sub-in for their r-rated counterparts. 



“I came up with a new word?”

“Yeah?  What is it?”


“Stupungous?  What does that mean?”

“The s-word you won’t let me say.”  It is stupid with sugar on top.  A hybrid of stupendous and the forbidden. 

Just then, it hits me: how am I to tell her that…no…who am I to tell her that she has to limit her expression to just nice words? To bleach her speech? 

As long as she is using them to articulate her feelings—not to attack others—but to air her frustrations and her fury, I see no need for censorship. 

I believe there is such a thing as swearing responsibly. 

“Hmmm.”  I tell her.  “I kinda like it.  Can you use it in a sentence?”

“You don’t use it in a sentence, mom.  You just say it:  Stupungous!”