Friday, July 31, 2009

Summertime and the living is easy (snapshots)

School's in -- around here, we start early, and his school starts earlier than most -- and I was afraid we'd squandered our vacation time. It flew by, and now it's back to work. Back to reality. Now we'll have even less time together. I was sad.

I was stupid. He thrives in school, as always. I'm almost eking out a routine that will actually produce some stuff. I'm getting stuff done around the house, and when I pick him up, we make sure to treasure our hours together. We're all getting into a routine, and it's far from drudgery. It's comforting.

Continuing another routine (hey, three times is good for me), here are the snapshots. His pictures, my words.

**He set up a notepad on the shelf of our backyard grill and took notes on everything: me ("Mom seems to enjoy taking pictures of the storm"), my husband ("Seems to have trouble telling boys from girls") (not what it sounds like), the cat ("Likes to smoosh his paw against the window and purr"), the birds ("Like to fly crazy in the clouds").**

**He wrote other stuff, but he said the rest is secret. He hunched over the tiny blue notepad, pencil scratching. The sun sank, casting bright platinum and gold strings, tracing his chin and upper lip, each fine hair along his arm, and the pencil in a glowing ribbon.**

**As I tried (in vain) to get work done in the afternoon, I heard "Hey. Hey! What's that spilling all over the coffee table?!" followed by the sound of pounding feet, frantic towel-fetching, and "Sorry! I'll get the carpet too. Sorry!" I drowned it out with the sound of fingers on keyboard.**

**A black cloud of some bird or other (we said doves, but they were so wild, so primal), now rippling along its ranks and now morphing and globbing like a giant amoeba, slowly made its erratic progress across a heavy slate gray sky. The three of us stood watching from our driveway as a fierce wind hurled dust and leaves into our eyes.**

**I dropped him off at school this morning, and instead of lining up he dawdled in a patch of tall grass. "I don't know what he's doing," I said, half-irritably, to no one in particular. "They're looking at spiderwebs in the grass," a neighboring mom told me. "Oh!" I replied. "Well that's fine then!" She looked at me as if I had said it was fine for them to poop in the hallways. My son glanced over, smiled, waved, and raced to line up.**

**After the spill in the living room, I continued to tune out my family as I heard the commencement of a raucous game of living room ball (the object of which appears to be to kick a ball about the living room until the cat is traumatized or something gets broken). My husband kicked the ball, which bounced off my son. "You hit me in the ASS!" he said. "Your what?" "My ass!" He replied, pointing, my husband later told me, to the front of himself. Discussion ensued. Some minutes later: "David! No one has one giant booby!" I snickered, gave it up and joined them.**

**I came in from working in the yard for an hour, dizzy and radiating heat. He ran to hug me. "You smell like the sun," he told me. "Thanks a lot," I said. Are you saying I smell sweaty?" He shook his head. "Nope. Just like the sun. It's beautiful."**

**He whined, groused, and dug in his heels about homework. Even counting to three in a threatening tone didn't work. "Fine," I said. "You can be grouchy alone."**

**Pink sunrise light streamed through his bedroom window. We moved getting-up time back ten minutes, and played with action figures on his bed.**

**Fifteen minutes after the homework confrontation, he crept into the office, walked silently up to me and kissed my cheek. "I'm sorry I was a grouch," he said. All his homework was done.**

**He brought me a curled brown leaf, probably left over from months ago and dislodged during yard clearing. It was wholly unremarkable. "Here," he said. "This one is special." I took it. I still have it.**

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Harry situations

The world isn't divided into good people and Death Eaters. --Sirius Black to Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Accio brain! --Ron Weasley to giant brain, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Also what some folks evidently need to say, provided they ever find theirs again.

[Warning: This post isn't intended to be spoilery, and it segues (very lamely and very briefly) to what this blog is meant to cover, but I'm not trying not to be spoilery. If you haven't read/watched through HP No. 6, be ye warned.]

Recently I've been receiving (or re-receiving, in most cases) a small mountain of correspondence in the form of forwarded e-mails ("FW: Fwd: FW: RE: FW: Re: Ur DESTROYING ur CHILDREN") relating to Harry Potter. It coincides with the theatrical release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. But really? I thought we were over this.

Even so, I'd be slightly sympathetic to (though not in agreement with) claims that the movie/book in this case is too dark or morally ambiguous for children under, say, ten to handle. I'm sympathetic enough to these claims to clam up when says so in my presence, instead of pointing out that my seven-year-old son is currently part of the way through Half-Blood Prince, scary stuff, complexities and all. And I'd be in agreement with some claims against the movie, namely the baffling absence of two nearly made-for-the-screen scenes at the end of the book, severe abridgment of dialogue, the removal (again) of the Dursleys, heavy dilution of the titular aspect of the book/film, and other issues.

That's not what these e-mails are about, of course. They're all the same. Though they all go into considerable pseudo-depth, decked out with numbers, bullet points, emoticons, and glittering smiling Jesuses; the upshot of every single one is: Witchraft = evil doings. Harry Potter teaches witchcraft. Kids learn witchcraft, turn evil. (Or, at least, the potential is there for them to learn to mutter incantations and sacrifice Fluffy at the next equinox. Or it might just desensitize them to occultism and they'll blithely hand over Fluffy. And really, who wants to take that chance?)

I take exception right away. Witchcraft isn't real, people. It isn't. It makes me want to restate it with all caps and periods after every word, it's so frustrating. Also, that's not what the Harry Potter series is about, any more than The Jungle Book is about the ability of animals to act in an anthropomorphic manner.

But what if kids don't realize that? What if they turn evil in some misguided quest to be like Harry?

But you know what; I say who cares, because the occult issue distracts from the bigger theme. What if kids don't know? Know what? The difference between real and fake? Between moral and immoral? Good and evil?

Kids are smarter and more nuanced than we acknowledge. If we've done a halfway decent job as parents, they can identify friendship and greed, right and wrong, Mom smiling indulgently and Mom looking like she wants to chuck me out the window of a moving car if I don't stop whining. In fact, if there's anything I really love about the Potter books lesson-wise, it's maintaining an understanding of these things in the face of ambiguity, flaws, and the startling realization that no one (not parents, not authority figures) is perfect. I think that's what makes people uncomfortable, even more than all that evil potion brewing. (For those who haven't read the books, the classes are used far more to show character interaction than magic. Potions, for example, resembles nothing so much as the dictatorship that was my seventh-grade Home Economics class.) It's easier to just tell our kids this is allowed; this is not. This is evil; this is good. Bad people lack love; good parents never make mistakes; teachers and parents and cops never screw up.

It is easier, and I think it's necessary -- almost constantly when they're young, and to some extent throughout childhood. There is a threshold at which parents, teachers, and other authority figures have to have authority just because, a trust from kids that they do know what's best even when kids imagine adults to be far stupider than themselves. But what happens when the teacher is unable to protect you from bullies? What happens when you see Mom and Dad bellowing at each other, slamming doors unnecessarily? If your positive view of them hinged on their supposed perfection, and you've gotten old enough to realize adults are flawed, what then?

The characters in the Potter universe work through these realizations. It is our choices that define who we are, Dumbledore tells Harry. Love and protection and friendship and loyalty are hard won and diligently maintained. Almost all the parents love their children fiercely, even a bad-guy mom, and in all these people, love is to be admired. Bad guys turn out to be good. Good guys turn out to be bad, owing to poor choices. Look more closely, the whole series nearly shouts. Really get to know.

We've used the series to spark a number of conversations, and none of them about wand waving. We do miss people who are gone. Parents aren't perfect, but the good ones never stop trying to be. They'd do anything for their kids, they just don't always do the right things. However, they usually do, and you'd better listen to them if you ever want to receive another Bakugan toy. I think he respects me for being honest. I know it makes him more honest. And it makes him want know more about us. He's taken to keeping notes on us, and it has nothing to do with what we give him or what we won't let him do. He cares about us, as people and as parents.

I wish the e-mail forwarders would look more closely, or at least modify their write-it-off-automatically policy. It's like how David looks at the natural world. Did you know cockroaches spread disease rampantly? That daddy-longlegs have the most potent venom? David knows otherwise, because these things aren't true. I'll keep him away from actual bad influence, as well as disease and deadly venoms, but he has an overwhelming desire to see what's really up with just about everything. To branch out. To discover nuances, freak out about them, make the wrong assumptions, and come around to an understanding about life he didn't previously have. To challenge himself. To question. I'll never keep him from that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer snaps

As promised, sort of. The end of summer vacation sneaked up on me, and I've been more concerned with offline, kid-centric stuff(which doesn't include Mom sitting at the computer being boring, or really Mom having any alone time). So consider these last week's snapshots -- my words, his pictures. More to come soon.

**Giddy on a visit from my sister and an end-of-summer-vacation high, he sprinted around the living room, squealing and screeching and hurling a Nerf ball, until his head was pouring sweat.**

**He intently watched a Whale Wars commercial. There was a long sniff. "I'm going to be a whale biologist," he said. "I'll teach everyone." Oh, and there was something in his eye, he said.**

**He played the drums on Guitar Hero. He seemed distracted, so I left the room. I figured he must have given up and turned on the menu screen, because a demo song began playing, complete with a complex drumming part. I crept back to offer encouragement -- it was him. Playing drums to a song he didn't even know, with his eyes closed.**

**The section of the yard still needing work was suddenly populated by weed stubs instead of full weeds. "I did it for you!" he said proudly. I gave him a sundae and pulled the stubs when he wasn't looking.**

**I was opening and cropping the photos for this entry. I wonder if he even remembers taking these, I thought. "Hey!" he said. "I don't want the moon shot to look THAT way! Those are my pictures!" I relinquished creative control.**

**We went to Meet Your Teacher Night. Some kids' moms filled out the cards clearly marked "STUDENT." Not us. He grabbed it, plopped down, and filled it out proudly. He had a hard time fitting everything on the "What I did this summer" line. On the way out, he gazed wistfully at the door with peeling beige paint marked "Band."**

**After a stupid, stupid argument between my husband and me, which we fooled ourselves into thinking was unnoticeable, I stood in the kitchen, emanating grouchiness. My son ran to me and hugged me for a full minute. I don't remember what the fight was about now.**

**An unexpected thunderstorm rolled in on the heels of immense golden-brown and blue clouds. Birds wheeled, soared and dove against the backdrop of building thunderheads, and below, he spread his arms to catch the maximum amount of water and twirled as the rain painted bright warm streaks for an instant each in the charged air.**

**We spent a few days hanging planets and sticking up glow-in-the-dark stars -- big ones all the way down to tiny ones, to give the illusion of depth. It was really getting old, the job. But last night, he turned out the lights. "I feel like I'm floating in the whole universe," he said.**

Friday, July 17, 2009

RIP Walter Cronkite

There's nothing I can possibly add to the tributes circulating tonight about this giant of journalism. Read here or here for nice articles on him, or here for a tribute from my alma mater. Really, he said it all himself. That's why he was so great. And I know from my brief, fleeting encounter with the man that he was generous, sincere, sharp and keenly interested in everyone with whom he crossed paths. That made him pretty great too. It makes me proud to be even a tangential member of the same profession.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Oh, Snap.

In college, like all students, I procrastinated like hell. So the hours directly preceding my advanced writing courses usually found me stuffing an entire muffin down my gullet while I raced to the computer lab, hoping one of the dinosaurs that still accepted my floppy disc was open so I could glance over my woefully inadequate notes and pump out some writing that at least appeared to be advanced.

One such day, I was accosted down the sidewalk from the computer lab by a screeching nerve bundle of a man who wore a sandwich board proclaiming all the groups he thought were on their way to hell ("pencil-necked men" was my favorite, but "rebellious women" got bigger play). Like all right-thinking human beings, I was compelled to spend the next twenty minutes trying to disabuse him of his psychotic assholery mistaken ideas, all the while resisting the urge to employ his sandwich board and a whistle he repeatedly blew in some decidedly more creative manners.

That, most definitely, is a story for another time. But the upshot that day was that once I arrived at the computer lab, I had ten minutes to crank out a masterpiece, and the line for PCs wrapped around to the drinking fountain that always smelled like ass. So I hightailed it to the front of the Mac line, which was always a couple of students long, plunked down, typed from the top of my head, and printed it off. I called it "Snapshots of My Family," and chronicled moments of my family from the last ten years. That essay got the best grade of the semester.

The moral here is definitely not to blow off writing. I have learned my lesson the hard way about that, as has, I suspect, anyone who has ever put pen to paper or finger to keyboard (or put off doing so to put mouth to beer bottle or ... well, never mind). The moral that I should have immediately gleaned from this is to get the hell over myself and just write. I plan, and plan, and plan. And think about writing. And plan some more.

As before, my son shows me how it's done. He just does.

It always goes the same. I'm neck-deep in some Important Stuff drudgery.

"Mom, come on! The clouds are glowing!"

"I'm coming!" I lie.

"Just come on."

And I do.

Here, then, starting with that awesome cloud shot, are some of his snapshots. And in words, some of mine. I think maybe I'll do this once a week. You know, just because.

**He sat down in the office chair, still in his pajamas, and wanted to know about the big bang and human evolution. I told him. He understood.**

**He ran in and needed his camera right now to capture the sunset. He was right. It was almost neon, it was so bright.**

**He held back tears as we searched the house for the stupid cat, who had been missing for hours. The cat eventually wandered down the stairs nonchalantly, whereupon he was ambushed by a strangle hug and a teary seven-year-old who wanted nothing more than to bury his face in cat fur. The cat actually seemed to like it.**

**My husband found a huge toad in our driveway after the recent rain, and we all sneaked outside to watch it eat crickets. The cat darted outside. We collected him, deposited him in the house, and went back outside to stalk the toad with a flashlight. My son's still talking about how its fat legs trailed behind it when it hopped.**

**He took my side, but managed not to be a know-it-all, as my husband claimed that the Harry Potter actors pronounce Voldemort "Vahldemart."**

**He hung a notebook-paper sign -- "Seacrit Headquarters" -- on the unusued spare bathroom upstairs. The inside is plastered with more paper: "artwork painting" drawings of us, control panel buttons, a menu, and a drawing of every pet he's ever loved, living and deceased.**

**He riffed off some background music in a cartoon last night, and made a song and beat that was totally unique, but had real cadence and rhythm.**

**My husband and I stalked a dragonfly together the other day, hiding from our son because, technically, I had my feet a couple of inches in the water when I wasn't supposed to. Minnows nibbled my heels.**