Mistress of the Metaphor

If I think too hard on what actually might be the point of all this, I’m pitched headfirst into the Slough of Despond, but that’s kinda what happens whenever I think too hard about anything that has to do with writing. Your — the reader’s — entertainment is certainly higher priority than my — the writer’s — edification, but all the same, I’m learning things, and I hope my readers don’t feel ill-used by being part of this grand experiment.

First things first — being artfully artless, one of the chief goals of any good blog, is a hell of a lot harder than it looks. As I’m seldom artfully artless in Real Life (I was never a good flirt, and as far as my life goes, things that are difficult also generally look difficult) it would stand to reason that I’d find this a challenge in my blog-life as well.

More interestingly, though, (at least from a writerly perspective, this insight and 4 bucks’ll buy you a cup of coffee in the Real World) I’ve also noticed that the more unappealing I find some aspect of parenthood, the more apt I am to use metaphors to describe it. Thus, Younger Girleen’s preschool has appeared in the same sentences as allusions to:

a soap opera
the Jonestown Massacre
A soulless corporation
Wonderland, as in where Alice Ended Up
the royal court of Marie Antoinette

My sense that XXXX Preschool gives me the opportunity to experience a world (I always wanted to time-travel, I just didn’t know having children would make it possible!) full of political intrigue, Machiavellian plots, and character assassinations has, if anything, grown in the past few weeks. And in fact, I’ve realized that I actually like thinking of XXXX Preschool this way.

Once upon a time, way back in those days of peasant blouses and bellbottoms known as the early ’70s, a well-meaning hippy-ish couple sent their first born off to the world of public school in small-town Georgia clutching a brown-paper sack lunch. At noon, when she sat down to lunch in the cafeteria redolent with the smell of overcooked collard greens and unpacked a Roman Meal bread sandwich wrapped in waxed paper (less plastic in landfills) and a bruised Red Delicious apple, she looked at the Twinkies, the SnakPak puddings, the lovely pillowy Wonder Bread bologna sandwiches of her peers with the first real envy of her young life. That is, until she met the only other third-grader forced by her parents to eat sandwiches made on whole wheat bread. They became inseparable, inventing games that got them through the school day: they were spies, they were detectives, the school rotunda was haunted by the ghost of the man the school was named after… And everyday at lunchtime, they unwrapped the waxed paper from around the sandwiches made from peanut butter purchased at the town’s only health food store (less sugar), closed their eyes and said to each other fervently: maybe if we pretend real hard that we’re actually eating pizza, these sandwiches will start tasting good.

Metaphor enlarges our lives. This might be why “it is what it is” is such a frightening buzzword. If you extrapolate from “it is what it is,” a good many of the tasks we are forced to undertake in parenthood (this is probably true of life, too, but we don’t take on that weighty subject here) are — let’s face it — just plain tedious and unnecessary. Given that alternative, wouldn’t you rather see yourself as a a cloak-and-dagger courtier skulking in a dark corner of the royal palace? Or an anthropologist taking notes out in the field? Or a clandestine operative working undercover?

Plus, I have to say I enjoyed giving this entry the header “The Mistress of the Metaphor” — as if I were some sulky dominatrix.

Metaphor. I did it again. I wonder what kind of inappropriate search engine tag will come from using that one.

Oh, How Are the Mighty Fallen…

After nine months or so without a real babysitter (“trading” nights with neighbor moms is great in a pinch but doesn’t give me the same joie de vivre as paying someone to watch my kids while I go out to kick up my heels, no strings attached), The Husband and I are going on a real date. To the theatre. To see this.

Apparently, this is how we kick up our heels these days. As I Lay Dying with puppets.

(I admit this could probably be considered filler but a send-off for a school functionary so choreographed to heighten parental emotion it almost resembled Triumph of the Will and a dentist’s appointment were also on the books for before 10 a.m. and I’ve got to keep you checking back in somehow).

Let This Be a Lesson to Us All…

Younger Girleen, who we usually think of as so biddable (suckas!), feels that this would be a good time to remind everyone within earshot that she is not her sister and that she knows her own mind.

— No, no, NO, she said last night during yet another dinner discussion about who shall be what for Halloween. —Not FAIRY! DORA fairy! DORA fairy!

You can tell she’s a second child — the first one had yet to taste the joys of Dora the Explorer, dark chocolate or soda when she was 27 months old.

The Husband, who for reasons inexplicable to himself, wants Younger Girleen to be a fairy for Halloween as much as I do, now that the idea’s been lodged in our heads, has come up with a solution: a pair of binoculars around the neck will accessorize the original fairy “look.”

There! Everybody’s happy, and we can still make use of the fairy wings already being shipped.

Rumbles of discontent from Elder Girleen, who puts down her fork:

— I don’t want to be a fairy. I want to be a PRINCESS.

Entering the World of Fairy, or, I Did This To Myself

As anyone with a lick of sense knows, the second most important day in the year is RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER. This being the case, I figured I better start polling the Girleens about what they wanted to be for Halloween, because woe betide the mom who leaves this to the last minute.

They said “Fairies.” Or, more accurately, Elder Girleen said “FAIRY, Fairy, Fairy!” and Younger Girleen studied her closely and said “Ohhh-Kay.” I was so thrilled that the answer was not “PRINCESS, Princess, Princess!” that I highed myself over to the computer and typed in “fairy wings,” because, as anyone with a lick of sense also knows, to transform two small children into delicate fairy-like beings takes time.

Let this be your source for breaking news: there are 495.00 dollar fairy wings a bride can wear to her wedding. Fairy flower girls are now a marketed concept. In fact, I could spent the rest of my natual life trolling internet sites about fairies.

Mattel’s recent packaging of Tinkerbell and her “friends” aside, fairies have become the role-playing choice du jour of daughters of beleaguered women everywhere. Princesses carry HUGE baggage (for grown-up women at least, four-year-olds, who have the dress sensibility of drag queens, just like the spangles). Fairies, on the other hand, are magic, can fly, and are mischievous. Plus, they still get to dress in spangles.

Actually, now that I think about it, a more accurate observation might be: due to Mattel’s recent packaging of Tinkerbell and her friends, beleaguered women everywhere have been convinced by their daughters under six, who swim in a media sea we can’t even begin to imagine, that fairies are a better role playing choice than princesses.

Elder Girleen, unique being though she is, tends to go with the mainstream: she was Cinderella the Halloween there were twenty other tiny Cinderellas roaming our block. Astute anthropologist that I am, I realized this was also the same exact second that Disney repackaged the Cinderella movie and I suspect Tinkerbell is a calculated, mercenary attempt to cash in on the conflicted emotions of our nation’s moms. Let me know how many tiny fairies knock on your door come October 31.

But because I’m the kind of mom who can be convinced that fairies might somehow be “better” than princesses, I’ve also deluded myself into believing that store-bought costumes suck originality from our children’s lives: way back in the dark ages of the 1970’s, we made our costumes, utilizing our creativity (Actually, we were utilizing our mothers’ creativity). To avoid fairy costumes with Tinkerbell’s face printed front-and-center on the bodice, I would make the Girleens’ costumes. Some fairy wings, tutus and leotards they already have, glitter, and there you go! Instant fairy.

Then I found the Apple Blossom Fairy.

Yeah, the poem’s a little cloying, but oh, those fairies!!! That petal collar for the younger one! And the older one has brown hair exactly like Elder Girleen’s! Flower fairies apparently were an Edwardian craze and just say the words “Edwardian craze” (as opposed to 2007’s marketing concept in girl’s toys) and I’m all over it.

How hard could it be? Buy some fairy wings, make a little collar for Younger Girleen, and find a apple-blossom green flowing nightgown for Elder Girleen.

This is how the moms we all love to hate are born. You know, the ones whose children never have dirty faces, who make pies from scratch, etc etc …. insert whatever aspect of momdom makes you feel most lacking here.

The only flowing nylon nightgown I’ve been able to find that doesn’t have a branded character on it will cost 40 bucks.

Storebought costumes might be the name of the game.

The Wry Jocularity School of Parenthood Writing

All my life, whenever I’ve relocated to a new place, the first thing I’ve always done, often even before the household goods are out of boxes, is pay a visit to the public library and apply for a card, an impulse which means the library cards I’ve held serve as a pretty good road map of where I’ve been:

Writer that I am, I still find it a fairly admirable trait: to receive spiritual sustanance from books, and for libraries to serve as the churches one turns to for solace. But to put this same trait in a perhaps less positive light: I am always on the look-out for Operating Manuals (capitalization intentional), a method of moving through your life which means you damn well better have a library card. If I don’t know something, I assume there’s a book out there that can fix this lack in me, a lifelong search for meaning through the written word that might explain why The Husband and I have checked out a total of 27 books about bathroom renovation in the past six weeks, though the fact that much of the upcoming weekend will probably be spent trying to undo an abortive attempt at bathroom caulking indicates either that we never read them or that we forgot every instruction they gave within seconds after reading it.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that as soon as Elder Girleen was born, I hightailed it to the library for my fix. And oh, did I score! As Elder Girleen slept a total of approximately fifteen minutes in the first two months of her life, I was particularly fixated on infant sleep and in quick succession read:

  • Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
  • Baby Wise
  • Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems (The Ferber Method)
  • The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night
  • Dr. Sears Baby Book
  • What to Expect the First Year
  • Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care
  • Some book put out by the American Academy for Pediatrics that you get for free if you join the Publix Grocery Baby Club

I now know that some children simply don’t sleep and there was no answer to my problem. But at the time, (just to continue the odd religious thread of the past few posts), I felt as devastated as if I had staggered to a church and found the door barred against me.

Because I was nursing Elder Girleen (a lot, because remember, she didn’t sleep), and I had gotten so proficient at it that I could read voraciously while I did so, I was also simultaneously reading every single “motherhood” book I could get my hands on. (Talk about being a glutton for punishment — where else, given all this, could I possibly have ended up but on the primrose path to postpartum depression?)

What was I looking for? I think what I was looking for was a lifeline, a comforting voice that would say something along the lines of hey, it’s okay if you think you suck at this; in fact, it’s also okay if you actually do suck at it, as long it’s in a sort of minor way and you’re not like, a crack addict who sold her baby or something. Or maybe what I really wanted that comforting voice to murmur was Forget sucking at this parenthood stuff! It’s actually okay that you hate it, or some of it, that you’d rather have ground glass shoved in your eyes than go to another playgroup, that what you want more than anything else is to go see a movie or walk in a coffeeshop with your prebaby body back and unencumbered…

Most of the writing I found instead seemed to fall into one of two camps. The first, which I’ve come to think of as the “And Then I Stared Down at the Little Miracle in My Arms” school of parenthood writing was so unrelentingly sentimental that I had to return those books to the library unread (I like my sentiment as much as the next girl, but it has to be leavened with something… I dunno, gore, or something). The second took the place of the lifeline I’d been looking for. Frayed, it was a lifeline that wasn’t pulling me anywhere I particularly wanted to go, but at least it kept my face out of the water. “The Wry Jocularity School of Parenthood Writing.” It felt subversive, even though it often schizophrenically veered off into “The Little Miracle in My Arms” territory in its final paragraphs. I liked it. It made me feel better. But if the “Little Miracle” school was formulaic, so was all this Dry Wit.

Part of loving reading may be a longing for that elusive, inexplicable moment when, reading something, you think yes, that’s it, that’s exactly what I felt. The two schools of parenthood writing, as formulaic in their ways as romance novels, could be good reading, were good writing, were sometimes excellent writing, but the jolt of recognition I occasionally got from them was more like the sort of feeling you get when you talk with a kindred spirit at a cocktail party that it was a profound expression of emotion. (And who am I to expect this from anything, anyway, now that I think about it?)

Two weeks of this blog under my belt and I’d be thrilled if any of this served as good example of the Wry Jocularity School of Writing — I mean, I want my Dear Readers to want to read this, want them to be at least momentarily entertained. At the same time, I’m also seeing how easy it is to fall into one of these two camps when you start writing about Parenthood. Is it because we live in sound bites, these days, and both techniques, the sentimental and the jocular, lend themselves to that? Is it because there’s something ineffable about the very state of parenthood, and that words fail it?

One of the definitions of ineffable is “not to be uttered” and maybe the problem is that parenthood may be one of the last social realms we have left that’s full of taboos. (Using the words “hate” and “parenthood” together in the same paragraph made me more uncomfortable than I like to admit). Or is it that the state of parenthood is bent almost to the breaking point by its cliched baggage?

My Little Missionary or Life On Fire, Footnoted

OK, two weeks of this under my belt, and I have to say I love the way blogs “manage” your writing. Labelling, sorting and archiving posts sorta legitimizes the whole process, doesn’t it? I don’t have “thoughts” — I have Thoughts. Ditto regarding the way I can link and footnote. When I was working on my first novel (that’s the unpublished one in a box in my attic if you were wondering, thanks for asking!) I sometimes found myself making weird tree diagrams with stacks of real cut-and-pasted manuscript pages, trying to figure out what went where (you only have to resort to this if you’re ambitious enough, or stupid enough, to try to create a novel from six points of view). If only I’d written it in blog form! I could have easily linked portions of the narrative, like this:

In her Friend V (she of the fire-n-brimstone grandma), Elder Girleen found her first theologically-inclined buddy. Last year in preschool, Elder Girleen and V discovered that they both knew the words to “Jesus Loves You” (taught to Elder Girleen by her grandmother, not on my watch), which they then with great relish taught the whole preschool class. Causing so much consternation that the teacher felt obligated to put the following into her weekly newsletter for parents:

“Some of you have asked why I am teaching your children the words to religious songs. Some of the children have enjoyed teaching songs they know to other children in the class. Learning religious songs is not part of the instruction at XXXX Preschool.”

Just so we’ve all got our separation of church and state straight.

Three Little Words, Revisited

An astute reader reports that she’s run across the new sanitized Wheels on the Bus (with “the mommies on the bus say ‘I love you'” replacing “the mommies on the bus say ‘ssh, ssh, ssh'”) elsewhere, as well as a sanitized version of “Rock-a-bye Baby”–instead of “down will come baby, cradle and all” they sing the last line as “mommy/daddy will catch it, baby and all.”

Oh, the years of therapy the Girleens will need — not only were they sung the wrong versions of these two songs, but also “Hush Little Baby” complete with lines about horses and carts falling down.

OK, I have now parsed out The Wheels on the Bus as much, as not more, as the author of last Sunday’s Modern Love column.

It’s all either Grist for the Mill — or I need to get a life.

Life, On Fire

Last night, over dinner, Elder Girleen presented us with the following example of deductive reasoning:

“V– said that her grandmother said that if you say bad words you will live in fire.” Pause. “When I was three I said bad words and I don’t live in fire.” Pause. “Live in fire. I don’t know what that means.” Pause. “I think V– was confused. I think what her grandmother said was that if you say bad words you will be FIRED.”

This is what happens when dinner conversation for the past month has revolved (in code, we thought) around corporate layoffs.

Three Little Words

I tend to read the “Modern Love” column in every Sunday’s New York Times the way one slows going past a car crash: with equal parts disgust with myself and prurient interest. It’s never one’s better self who taps the brakes driving past someone else’s tragedy; it’s certainly not my better self that immediately after scanning the Book Review (I admit, there are vestiges enough of my writer self left that I still read the Book Review first) immediately flips to the Modern Love column in the Style section.

No offense to any of the writers published there (I’d certainly be one if I could), but I had no idea that navel-gazing could be elevated to such an extraordinarily high art within the pages of a daily newspaper. In a blog, yes. But in the New York Times?Does the world (or New York, or those small portions of the country that actually read the New York Times) _really_ need to know what it’s like to… be a egg donor… an abused woman… at the losing end of a bad breakup… or, as was the case this past Sunday, what it’s like to be a mother who doesn’t particularly like to say “I love you” to her two-and-a-half-year-old?

(Don’t get her wrong… it’s not that she doesn’t actually _love_ her child; she just doesn’t care to say it much, a realization that dawns on her after she hears a woman sing the following verse of The Wheels on the Bus — “The mommies on the bus say ‘I love you,’ ‘I love you,’ ‘I love you…’ — to her stroller-strapped offspring.

First things first. I’ve NEVER heard this verse of the Wheels on the Bus. And I’ve been singing the Wheels on the Bus, a song I was lucky enough to never even have heard of until I had children, until I’m blue in the face for the past five years, particularly at Mommy and Me Swimming classes, a scam foisted upon well-meaning middle-class parents who, being led to believe that you can actually teach a toddler something that resembles swimming, pay good money to stand waist-high in a swimming pool singing the Wheels on the Bus and This is the Way We Splash Our Hands while their child, and every other in a two-mile radius, screams its head off. I mean, how stupid do we think children actually are? The Wheels on the Bus is no way interesting enough to distract anyone from the fact that they’re being dunked in water, which, in case you didn’t realize it, Mom, you can drown in.

All that aside, there are a couple of ways one could react to this essay:

1. When the song The Wheels of the Bus leads you to start parsing out your relationship with your kids, it’s time to reevaluate your life

2. Maybe this was published in the Times so that all of the rest of us parents — whether bad, run-of-the-mill or stellar — can feel good about something. We may forget to pick up our kids at school, may exchange store-bought cookies for homemade ones when it’s our turn to bring snack to preschool (provided one’s preschool allows cookies), may buy our kids Barbie outfits at Target so that we will have five minutes to stand in the dressing room to try on t-shirts that make us look pregnant (having, as we move through our child-bearing years, travelled the ignominious road from wearing Exhilaration! to Mossimo to Cherokee Woman) without having to contend with a child who is either screaming or trying to squirm under the dressing room stall door into the adjoining stall where a 65 year old woman who does not like children is trying on brassieres. We may do all that, but at least we are ok about telling our children that we love them.

Of course, like every other parent, this woman makes herself feel better about her disinterest in saying those three little words by making the whole act of doing so seem vaguely suspect, as if it were akin to

1. Letting your child watch too much t.v.
2. taking them to MacDonald’s
3. Bribing them with sugar

What a pretty pass things have come to. The other day I was in the check-out line in the grocery store and against my better judgement picked up Real Simple’s Family issue. Did you know that letting your child eat something that’s dropped on the floor gives you two stars in a one to five scale of bad parenting? Likewise, sending your child off to school without a scarf or mittens? Don’t even ask how many stars neglecting to make them brush their teeth one single night can give you.

Forgive me, for I have sinned. My youngest daughter trolls around on the dining room floor after dinner occasionally popping that morning’s dropped cereal into her mouth. My children are congenitally incapable of wearing mittens, and more power to you if you can get them crammed on their recalcitrant hands. Sometimes when the Husband has been away on business for four nights running, we … forget… to brush our teeth.

I guess the title of this post should really be: I Just …Don’t… Want… to …Know.

If I were Smarter…

I guess if I were smarter, I would’ve started this blog five years ago — and hooked whatever hypothetical readers there might be out there (as of now there aren’t any, since I’m afraid to “unveil” this to friends, much less the world) with the easily-packaged narrative arc of motherhood: the pregnancy; the baby; the sleepless nights; the long haul from childlessness to parenthood; the slow, incremental realization that when, Before Children (B.C.), people (like your mother-in-law) said “boy, your life is going to change,” what they really meant was: “have fun being broken down by the boot camp of parenthood. The screaming drill sargeant, the face shoved in the mud, the complete subjegation of your will in the service of something larger than yourself — all true.”

Or probably if I were REALLY smart, I would’ve started this blog even earlier, while working some mind-numbing job, from which I would’ve then gotten fired because of time spent blogging, a la dooce.com. Oh, the publicity! I would’ve been set for life.

But on the other hand— if I were really smart, maybe I wouldn’t start a blog at all. We all know you should never say anything online that you wouldn’t want the entire world to hear, a caveat that, disregarding the damage following that advice would do to all the hundred million blogs this one keeps company with, makes me realize that I have never said or written anything I want the whole world to hear, not even my grocery list. I mean, think about the whole world: my mother-in-law, previous boyfriends, George Bush, potential employers, people who might one day publish the book I should be writing instead of this blog, the old lady who lives next door, the director of my daughter’s preschool, the C.I.A. Talk about stifling creativity! This may be why much of the writing one finds online more resembles the sort of automatic writing channelled by a medium from dead souls than it does any kind of art. Nothing squelches art like the idea that it has to undergo the scrutiny of the whole world.

All it takes is toggling from one button to another: and then this blog will go from being ether to being something that anyone, including actual strangers or the F.B.I., can read (Is there a file out there somewhere labelled Subversive Mothers? Would it be all that bad if I actually ended up on it, especially since, so far, I haven’t had anything particularly subversive to say?)

I’m not sure if this dilemma is unique to Blogworld, or hits on something about writing in general. You either make the leap and reveal something about yourself, or you don’t.

And you know, I can’t have it both ways. I can’t both fret that no one in the world will ever read this AND simultaneously worry that having written it will someday come back to bite me on the ass. The two are mutally exclusive.