Archive | Parenting

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

You Do The Math


timeturner.jpgI got a summons for jury service last fall.I know that some people think jury duty offers a fascinating glimpse into the court system; they feel all civic-minded (and revel in the “hey can’t make that meeting because I’m on jury duty” excuse). 

Not me. 

So you can imagine my joy when a friend told me that full-time caregivers with children under the age of 12 can request exemptions from jury service. 

I got myself down to Centre Street, wandered around from building to building trying to figure out where I should stand in line, finally found the right line, stood there, stood there, stood there. Realized that I was nervous – as if I were about to be arrested for crimes I didn’t even know I’d committed. 

When it was my turn, some very friendly fellow looked at the birth certificates for Liam and Caleb, looked at the form I’d filled out, made a few notes on a piece of paper, and said I’d be removed from the list until Caleb was old enough to be in kindergarten full time.

Et voila!  No jury for me, for at least two years.

But my exemption presents me with a very modern math problem: how is it that I can be a full-time caregiver AND have a full-time job?

I’m lucky: my job has the strange rhythms of the college school year, but lots of other parents don’t have that luxury and they still confront the same math problem: full-time worker, full-time caretaker, one one-hundred-and-sixty-eight-hour week.

So while a jury duty exemption helps a teeny bit, it doesn’t help when you’re supposed to be giving a power-point talk about human resource development at the same time as you’re supposed to be applauding your son’s fourth grade dance recital.

Clearly, until our society figures out how to solve this particular math problem, we should all give birth to Hermione Granger time-turners at the same time as our children slide into the world.

Continue Reading · on September 22, 2008 in Parenting

Lids to Legos; or, Twenty Years in Manhattan


crackvialpix.jpgAt the end of class last week, one of my NYU students asked me where I was from and when I told her that I was originally from the midwest, she looked surprised. “You seem like I always imagined a New Yorker would be,” she said.

I’m not going to hazard what she might have meant by that comment (fast talking? highly functioning crazy lady? digressive to the extreme?) because I was too busy realizing that as of this fall, I’ve lived in NYC for twenty years. Two decades.

Which means that for all intents and purposes I AM a New Yorker.

Which means that to Palin et al, I’m Scary Urban Sinner; to the Rudy G. who showed up in St. Paul, I’m cosmopolitan (said sneeringly) and flashy.

But I digress.

How to trace the journey of two decades? Ostensibly, I moved here in 1988 for a doctoral program in English at NYU, but really I moved here for a boy who said he loved me, and who I’d loved from afar for five years.

The boy didn’t last. The doctorate did. And although I’d planned to come here, get my degree, and leave (with said boy) … I stayed.

Stayed, and stayed, and stayed. Lived in a variety of hellish apartments, moving so often that my mother back there in the heart-land wrote my address in pencil because she was tired of scribbling out the entries in her address book (remember, kids, this was in the days BEFORE palms, treos, blackberries, iWhatevers).

Devastated by the boy’s betrayal, I felt helpless against Manhattan’s onslaught: the labyrinths of the subway, the nonsensical intersections of the West Village. (HOW could West 4th intersect with West 10th? Greenwich STREET and Greenwich AVENUE?)

I crumbled against the cacophony of Washington Square Park, that mythic heart of “the village” and the closest thing that NYU has to a campus.  At college, tucked in the quiet heart of New England, I had been funky — barefoot in my Indian print skirt. Here? I was just another girl in paisley leggings and hightops.

Back in those days, the late 1980s and early 90s, drug dealers patrolled each entrance to Washington Square. Each man had a few square feet of sidewalk as his personal fiefdom but they all had the same chant: “cocaine, loose joints, tripsfoyohead cocaine, loose joints, tripsfoyohead …”  

I never patronized that particular sales force, but the remnants of their wares could be found all over the park. All over the city, for that matter. It took me almost a year before I realized  that the sidewalk was NOT littered with the nubs of Bic ballpoint pens. (This is what happens when you’re in graduate school: EVERYTHING is about studying.) 

Those little blue and red doodads everywhere were the tops to crack vials.

Where did those vials came from?  Were they, in fact, sawed-off pens? (Better a sawed-off pen than a sawed-off shotgun, I always say.)  Or were giant discount bags of nubbin lids available at office supply stores?  I imagined the signs: “Crack-vial Lids on Special! 1000 Lids for Ten Bucks!” 

But somewhere along the way during this last twenty years, the crack vials went away; the drug dealers went away (due to Rudy G.’s tough-on-crime days as mayor of this cosmopolitan, flashy city. Do those people in St. Paul know what Rudy looks like in a dress? Gawjus, jes’ gawjes…


Thumbnail image for rudyg_drag.jpgThat Rudy went away; my hightops went away, leggings too. My friends moved away.

But I stayed.

I got a job. I got married. I got a kid. I got another kid. 

I got a family. In Manhattan. Now THAT is “tripsfoyohead.”

Sometimes I look around wildly when one or another of my children calls out “mommy!” as we walk through the city…certainly it’s not ME they’re talking to, is it?

The only singsong chanting I hear in Washington Square (besides the eternally earnest folkies who sit under the trees doing Dylan singalongs) is me: “becareful, slowdown, don’tpushyourbrother.”

Just for the record, I never smoked crack, but that’s mostly because in my ill-spent youth, I loved cocaine WAY too much and knew that just one crack rock would send me straight to the gutter and an early death.  

There is, however, a new drug in my life and its remnants are everywhere: in my living room, under my dining table, the coffee table, my desk.




016.JPGLegos are the new crack: you need more and more to get off. A small set, innocently purchased as a “let’s see what this is like,” becomes a quest for the ExoForce Mobile Devastator (1009 pieces; my junkie eldest son, 6 ½ at the time, put it together by himself in about 2 hours. God only knows what he’s going to be building when he becomes a disaffected adolescent.)

There is a particular lego piece, however, that we should notice: the nubbin. Perfect for capping a light-saber handle, a space-ship steering column, a treasure chest, a crack vial.

018.JPGSo there you have it. Two decades in Manhattan, spelled out in small, brightly colored pieces.

Continue Reading · on September 14, 2008 in NYC, Parenting

In which a four-year old ponders The Big Questions

Thumbnail image for pacifier2.jpgI promised myself I wouldn’t write any more Palin-ontology posts. Susan, on the clothesline blog ( suggests that we should all shut about Sarah and concentrate instead on getting Obama elected, so that Sarah will slink back (in all senses of “slink”) to The Refuge State and concentrate on her per diem paychecks (suspended during the campaign) and on making sure that all of Alaska gets their hearts right with god.

So instead I will write … about my children. The younger one. He’s four years old and deeply attached to what we call his “little plastic friend” (or LPF, aka his pacifier). He calls the LPF his “nookie,” and boy you should see the heads swivel on crowded Manhattan streets when this child calls out from his stroller (or the back of my bike, or as he trots along beside me holding my hand), “I WANT NOOKIE! NOOKIE, NOOKIE, NOOKIE!”

I imagine grown men walk by him and mutter to themselves, “Me too, kid, me too.”

IMG_1224.JPGExcept when thwarted in his desire for nookie, Caleb is a pretty cheerful little boy (and hey, aren’t we all crabby when we’re thwarted in that particular desire?). He’s usually all dimples and smiles — and the occasional right hook, but that’s another post.

So the other morning, as we stood waiting for the elevator to go to school, on a lovely September day, it seemed out of character for him to be frowning, mournful, as worried as a shareholder in Lehman Brothers. He chewed on his nookie like a poker-playing old man chews on a cigar.

Me: Caleb, what’s wrong? You look so sad.

Caleb: I don’t want to get old, Mommy.  I don’t want to die.

Me neither, kid, me neither.

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Continue Reading · on September 10, 2008 in Kids, Parenting

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