In which Wile E. Coyote, Sisyphus, and Robert Frost help with the chores

LOONEY_TUNES_LOGO_001.jpgLiam and Caleb have been watching Looney Tunes lately in their after-dinner TV hour and their laughter – is there a better sound anywhere than the laughter of small children? – makes it almost okay with me that they’re watching cartoons.

(My husband says, “not cartoons. Looney Tunes. Classic, subversive, elegant.” He also told me once that my inability to appreciate Looney Tunes, along with my general dislike of “Seinfeld,” almost rendered me unmarriageable; one of my oldest friends sees my distaste for “Seinfeld” as a significant moral failing. What can I say? I take comfort only in the fact that unlike Sarah Palin in the V-P debate, I’d be able to answer the “Achilles’ heel” question.)

But I digress. So the boys are watching Looney Tunes and howling with delight at poor, beleaguered Wile E. Coyote and his futile attempts to catch Road Runner. I do have a soft spot for Coyote because of his endless optimism: this time, his Rube Goldbergian plan will work. This time, it will be different. This time, when he runs off the cliff and into thin air, he’ll keep running and not plummet to earth.

coyoteedge.jpgBut of course, he never catches that damn bird and he always falls to earth.

Coyote is Loony’s version of Sisyphus, whom Zeus condemned for all eternity to roll a huge boulder up a hill … only to have the boulder tumble back down before he can reach the top. Sisyphus had tried to trick the gods – had in fact declared that he was smarter than Zeus (never a good idea) and as a result he suffers from the eternal frustration of a never-completed task.  

sisyphus.jpgSisyphus and Wile E. Coyote have something else in common, however, other than their shared inability to reach a satisfying conclusion: they are the twinned patron saints of parenthood.

Think about it: if you ever wrote down everything you do in a given day, you’d never get out of bed. Breakfasts, lunchboxes, dishes, shopping, laundry, email, doctor’s appointments, babysitting arrangements, menu planning, food cooking, school organizing (where are the empty boxes for the art project, where is the reading book, where is the permission slip, where are the gym shoes) … and that’s even without a job, if you’ve got one.  It’s like Coyote: as long as he doesn’t look down, he keeps running on air. But once he notices …WHAM.

And Sisyphus … well, look at that list. An infinite loop of chores. I stare at the dishwasher and wonder, why put the clean dishes in the cabinets? Why ask the boys to put away their toys, why put the remotes in the basket, why… wipe off the counters, swab away the pee that dribbles down the toilet (o the joy of three boys, all of whom seem to pee with their eyes shut), put away the coats, fold the laundry …

Why not just let that damn boulder thunder down to the bottom of the hill and leave it there?

I can’t control global warming; real estate prices; the environment; Sarah Palin; Wall Street; the crackers who won’t vote for Barack not because he’s black, you know, they’re not racists, it’s just that they’ve heard things, you know, and then there’s his middle name. You betcha.

I can’t control the slow shuffle of food tourists on 14th street, who meander from Trader Joe’s to Whole Foods and back again; I can’t stop the maniacs who dart through traffic on the Cross County like they’re racing in the Grand Prix; and the fate of the Mets is out of my hands.
I’m sure you have your own I-can’t-do-anything-about-it-even-though-it-makes-me-nuts list. We all do.

But within the confines of my four little walls, you see, I can impose some order. Temporary order, yes; fleeting serenity, perhaps … but at least it’s something.  Who knows? Maybe Wile E. Coyote gains the same pleasure as he rigs his (doomed) rocket-blasting-roadrunner-destroying contraption; maybe Sisyphus simply enjoys the view (each time) as he gets close to the top of his hill.

I do have one – unlikely – source of comfort to help with the Sisyphusian nature of house-and-child keeping: the curmudgeonly Robert Frost, who was not a particularly good father or housekeeper, but was a hell of a poet.

Poetry, he wrote once, is but a momentary stay against confusion.

And you know what? So is folding sheets.

Beep beep!

Continue Reading · on October 6, 2008 in Parenting

An Alternative Bailout Plan…?


Chipmunk2.jpgA grey and chilly Saturday morning, about 10 o’clock – not inviting weather for playgrounds, too early for running and screaming in the hallway outside our apartment. Caleb has a pile of cushions in his arms and a few of my old scarves.

Caleb tries to entice his brother into a game:  “Leeeaahm, plaaaay with me. Pleeeezzzze. We can play money…”

Liam: “Okay, all right, stop bothering me. We can play money. How do you play?”

Caleb: “First we kill the good guys. Then we take the money and run around like chipmunks.”

Liam: “Cool. Let’s do it.”

Continue Reading · on October 4, 2008 in Children

Clarice Plays for the Rangers

clariceandrudolph.jpgClarice here is not Clarice Starling with her good bag and cheap shoes (or was it good shoes and cheap bag, that hissed insult from Hannibal Lecter), but the original Clarice — the literally doe-eyed friend of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

I remembered Clarice after we saw Circus Amok last weekend because in our house, Clarice-the-deer is not the hyper-feminized bashful herbivore she is in the world of Rankin & Bass. Liam made her something else…

Last fall, for Liam’s birthday, we went to midtown with three of his friends, who have developed a tradition of going to Build-A-Bear Workshop for their birthdays. Why it’s become such a fixture with them, none of us can understand, but it’s easy and relatively painless as an outing, if you can resist the endless rows of bear-friendly accessories (wildly over-priced, just like accessories in the real world).

Liam spent long minutes perusing all his choices and then chose Clarice.

But then … what should Clarice wear?

The decision? Apparently, Clarice plays for the New York Rangers: blue plush pants, Rangers jersey, little blue pillbox “helmet” that sits awkwardly on top of Clarice’s permanently affixed red-and-white polka-dot bow.

The checkout clerk held up Liam’s creation to the other clerks and said “I’ve never seen this before.”


Given the almost endless permutation of ensembles available at BBW, it seems rather remarkable that Liam is the first to put together this combination. At Build-A-Bear, you can find every sports team, rock-n-roll, hip-hop, construction workers … You can even buy full combat uniforms for all branches of the military – with one significant omission, as one of Liam’s friends discovered: “WHERE ARE THE GUNS?” he bellowed. 

And it’s not a bad question, really. I mean, if you’re going to sell Army bears, Marine bears, SEAL bears, Air Force bears … why not be completely honest about what you’re selling? Why is it okay to sell fatigues and uniforms from all branches of the armed services and yet sidestep the one thing that all these uniforms have in common?

If we all have the right to bear arms, why isn’t it all right to arm bears?

Clarice, by the way, had a wonderful season with the Rangers and will be starting at forward this year.

I think Jennifer Miller would approve.

Continue Reading · on October 1, 2008 in Gender, Politics

that certain je ne c’est quoi…


Walking home with Liam today after school, around 5:30.  Liam was chatting madly about a new dessert he’s going to invent, “Butterscotch Caramel Kingdom,” which – as near as I can tell – involves dipping butterscotch candy in caramel sauce and mixing each piece into ice cream.


Walking towards us along Irving Place came a Hasidic man with prayer curls and a long beard, wearing the full ensemble: beaver hat, white stockings, round-toed slippers, long black coat.  He asked us which way to First Avenue, then continued on his way.

“Wow,” said Liam, dessert thoughts temporarily banished. “He must be French.”

Continue Reading · on September 25, 2008 in NYC

Sandbox Economics


playground.jpgThe playground. To an outside observer, it is a noisy but innocent enclosure, in which children frolic and gambol, engaging each other in happy chatter and utterly compelling games of make-believe.

From the inside, however, the playground offers insight into the world Darwin saw in the Galapagos a hundred years ago: a universe in which the strong perch on monkey bars hurling projectiles at the weaker inhabitants below.

Consider, please, the sandbox.  Ever watched a two-year-old in the sandbox as he or she marches around snatching all the shovels, all the buckets, all the little sandy matchbox cars and plastic ponies and green octopus sand-molding thingys?  And then she herds these things into a corner, claiming that she NEEDS them.  She WANTS them.  They are all, in fact, HERS.


sadie-sandbox.jpgThe parent nervously intervenes, tells little Coco or little Cooper that, no, the toys belong to the other children too, see, and won’t it be more fun to play together? 

To which the child would respond, if the child had the proper vocabulary, “Fuck that. I got this stuff, possession is nine-tenths, lady, and those suckers are SOL.” 

Every parent has been in the position of having to reach gingerly into the sandbox and redistribute the toys. And if you’re a parent and insist that you’ve never had to do that…well, either you’re not paying attention or you’ve given birth to Christ.

Don’t you love the moment when you realize the only recourse is to lift your kid bodily out of the sandbox (ignoring all those veiled glances from the other parents  who are delighted that it’s not THEIR kid causing the scene) and carry his flailing, weirdly strong little body (how a child can be so strong on a diet comprised basically of white food is anyone’s guess) over to a bench for a little talk about how it’s nicer to share. 

The kid may grudgingly agree with you, but it’s a purely contingent acquiescence, designed only to get the hell back INTO the sandbox and start the process all over again, perhaps attempting to lure another child into becoming a co-pillager, thus deflecting some of the trouble away from himself.

Over the past few years, as I sit in the playground, watching all these would-be Masters of the Universe stomp around, I’ve had the depressing thought that maybe, at base, we are all … base. Are greed, self-interest, and violence so deeply embedded in human nature that my endless reminders of “say please! say thank you! ask nicely! share with your brother!” will create only the thinnest veneer of civilized behavior and that as soon as the going gets too tough – or too easy – it will be every man for himself? Caveat emptor, mofo…

I trust that by now you see where I’m going with this? Let’s substitute … hmmm …Wall Street for sandbox, and million-dollar bills for buckets and shovels.  Does the picture become clearer?

The men (and okay, probably not all men – Carly Fiorina comes flapping to mind) who have been running our economic show (into the ground) remind me of the seagulls in “Finding Nemo,” who hurtle through the harbor, screeching “mine, mine, mine” until they get stuck, beaks first, and are unable to move.


So now Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke et al have their beaks in a sail (or asses in a sling; choose your visual) and we are supposed to do what, exactly? 

A $700 billion dollar bailout? That’s a whole lot of buckets and shovels. 

As we say on the playground, there are consequences for bad behavior.  Do these guys really expect us to REWARD them for their greed and stupidity, their cupidity and amorality? 

We’re going to give this big check to Henry P. and expect him to be the grownup who patrols the sandbox and gets everyone to behave? A man who only a few months ago was on the Sunday talk shows extolling the virtues of the “flexible” US markets?  He reminds me of the playground parent who sits on the bench furthest from the sandbox, scrolling endlessly through her blackberry while her little angel tramples everyone in the sandbox. This same parent, of course, swoops in, eyes blazing, as soon as anyone dares to chastise Little Angel for grinding sand into some other kid’s hair.

If there are no rules – no rules that anyone can understand, anyway – and no punishments for skirting just to the outside of the law, then why should we be surprised that Wall Street is slipping slowly into New York Harbor? No one with any power to intervene seemed to notice, or care, that scruples were being compromised almost as fast as fortunes were being made.

And now these same people want us to give them back their toys, maybe even give them newer, bigger, shinier toys.

My own inner child – herself never far from the surface – looks at this mess and screams “NOT FAIR NOT FAIR NOT FAIR.” 

She’s right. It’s not fair. But that’s life in the sandbox, I guess, if there aren’t any grownups paying attention. 

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Continue Reading · on September 24, 2008 in Politics

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