I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Can I give you my testimony about Backyardigans? http://www.nickjr.com/home/shows/backyardigans/index.jhtml

I watch A LOT of tv and this? This is the best thing on tv.

First of all, unlike most kids shows on tv, this is entirely suitable for really little but really smart kids.

Jones is but three and a half, and I don’t relish explaining why the police put Gadget Boy in jail, even though he’s the good guy; or how the Cute but sinister Kitty did that thing with his eyes to enslave the Professor into taking over Townsville.

Or, on the other end of the spec, I don’t want my kids modeling these dopey whiny little imports. I pose to Caillou http://www.caillou.com/language.htm the same query as Ralphie May http://www.ralphiemay.com/Home_Frame.html put to his “Last Comic Standing” adversary, “ I can’t tell if you are a b**ch--*ss punk or a punk--*ss b**ch.”

What are you looking at, Ord http://pbskids.org/dragontales/index_sw.html ? You’re next.

Also, I bring my own particular pet peeve, which is anthropomorphism issues. These, I’ll admit, aren’t so much reprehensible as they are just unaccountably stoopid. Like why a DRAGON who can, y’know, FLY, would employ a wheelchair. Or why the cat should resist the peer pressure to eat, rather than enjoy the companionship of, the mouse. I mean, listen to yourselves!

OK, I think WAAAY too much about this stuff.

But oh Backyardigans. Backyardigans is brilliant. Oh. So simple.
This moose,
this penguin,
this kangaroo,
this hippo,
and this pink creature named Uniqua live in suburban duplexes backing onto a large yard. Each day they meet and imagine themselves on a different adventure – pirates, knights, detectives, cowpokes, etc. – in broad cheery caricature. Like, if they’re pirates, there won’t be any swords or stealing, but they will say “Arrr” a lot. There’s maybe sometimes a moral, but it’s really just this anarchic playtime that ends when one of their tummies rumbles and they cut back to reality for a snack.

But – here’s the beauty part – it’s musical. It’s a different musical genre every time – Cab Calloway, 19th Century Broadway, Tango. All original tunes. And choreography. Like real people do the dancing and then they CGI the creatures on top of it.

You will be captivated. I am not EVEN kidding.

My fave is Pablo, the penguin. Even though sometimes when he rolls his eyes, he looks a little like he’s in blackface.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Not Your Bubbe's Seder

Passover is like my favorite holiday. I think it should be a national holiday. It’s got everything – a great story, great songs, weird but tasty food. But then my second choice would be Mardi Gras, and then probably Ramadan. Now, to give my religion-of-origin its propers, I’ve got no quarrel with Christmas. But everything I would REALLY like about Christmas – the caroling, the pageant, the sleigh ride – went out with Currier & Ives. I guess if I could have a nineteenth-century Christmas then it too would top my list.

So I strong-armed Jaclyn, my half-breed gal-pal who has lately been exploring her Jewish birthright, into throwing a seder and invited myself and Cheryl, the other third of our childhood crime-fighting trio (I, of course, am Farrah). Although husbands and parents were also present, this is not -- you can imagine -- your Bubbe’s seder. Joining Elijah at table were gadflies and rabble-rousers in various states of doctrinal undress – some affecting the American hodgepodge of Jewishness; some clad in alternative spirituality; some unabashedly naked of any religion whatsoever.

I mostly wanted this for Girl. I wanted her to see this. My beloved stayed home and watched “The Ten Commandments” on Tivo with Jones.

My beloved counts himself among the believers but has such a strong reaction against organized religion that he can’t stand to be around even a postmodern take on it. In this, I would say he’s like most of our friends. He will say, drawing his index finger heavenward, back down toward his heart, and up again, “This? I’m ok with. G*d and I talk. But this?” Drawing a circle from self outward to indicate a church congregation, “This? Gives me the creeps.”

Me, I’m the opposite. I love this – the circle, the congregants, the community. But I don’t believe there’s any this – pointing to heaven, prayer, intercession, G*d – behind it. (My father is a deacon and I give him fits, but that? Is a whole other talk show.)

The seder did not disappoint. The food was spectacular. The company magnificent. We even had one of those great moments (I see them as classically Jewish) where the paterfamilias declares the whole thing fairy stories and bunk and the mother argues that there might be some things in heaven and earth that are not dreamt of in our snarky 21st Century philosophy and we the kids all have our take and there’s shouting and interrupting until the referee blows the whistle and reminds that if we keep agonizing over every doctrinal point we’ll never get to the part where we nosh.

This is mostly the part that I wanted for Girl – that she see this life of the mind. Grown-ups fight like cats and dogs over this stuff and that’s a good thing because wherever you come down on this stuff, it doesn’t pay to be too precious about it.

I hope I’m not hurting Girl’s brain too much. I often fear that I am as rudderless as Christine Lahti’s professor single mom on “Jack & Bobby.” This pantheist string of field trips and Veggie Tales clips is no doubt a poor stand-in for Sunday school, but it’s what I’ve got.

Friday, April 22, 2005


"No offense, Homer, but your half-*ssed under-parenting was a lot more fun than your half-*ssed over-parenting." Bart Simpson

I once had a boyfriend whose parents would occasionally attend those “Be your best self” seminars that were so popular in the 70’s and are lampooned so well on “Six Feet Under.” He would hide out at my house from his father’s last-ditch efforts at “connecting” with him, waiting for the EST fever to burn itself out. I would take it all in good humor, because, what with my parents both being mental health professionals, it was news to me that other people’s households ever STOPPED being like that.

"Brian, honey, are you ignoring me, sweetheart? If you are, it's okay, just tell me."
"Berniece, if you left him alone, maybe he'd break out of this prolonged latency."
"Our child is not in latency."
"Keep living in denial, Berniece. Bri, everything all right?"
"Feel free not to respond."
-- Brian's mother and father, “My So-Called Life”

In an era when pop psychology was god, my parents were its high priest and priestess. The tangrams and blocks used in testing were our playthings. We were congratulated on the vividness and complexity of our imaginary friends. We were told what Freudian delusions fueled our childhood outbursts. Even when losing their cool, they were prone to such exclamations as, “Oh, why are your attention-seeking behaviors so self-defeating?”

My parents were these really cool, unflappable folks – so much so that they robbed me of the rebellious loathing that was my adolescent birthright. But, now that I am the parent, I realize that growing up with the psychobabble left me another legacy -- I absolutely cannot allow the mental health profession to win EVER.

My child presents a classic case of gifted/ ADHD and I. Can. Not. Stand. to say those words out loud. It’s just all sooo… cliché? Like what suburban mom doesn’t think her little snookums is a misunderstood genius? But it’s more than that. Like there is an inverse proportion between anyone else’s credulity about a mental health matter involving my children and my own snarkiness.

So you can imagine how I was at Girl’s IEP meeting this week. I about jumped out of my skin. Her ADHD is making ME Hyper. Even the news that she is off-the-charts smart was no solace. I was a TOTAL freak. So what’s my deal? I think it’s like, having grown up with it, I feel like I’m entitled to my disdain. Like the way you get to make ethnic jokes as long as you belong to the group you’re dissing.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Meet the Dinos

It is time you met Husband’s and my two children -- “Girl” and “Jones.” Girl’s name is, of course, not “Girl.” She has one of those surname names that we thought would be so original but is on every pre-printed license plate and sticker set in the toy store. But the appellation suits, not because she is too generic to warrant the simultaneously adorable and imperious moniker on her birth certificate. Quite the opposite. As the first child and first grandchild of ten individual people, she was, for a time, all girls, the girl, the quintessence of girl. Girl is a flakey flake flake with only the most tenuous relationship with the workaday world, redeemed only by her overwhelming genius and perspicacity. When taunted by a boy at school, she responded that he was a “buzzkill” and went on to introduce the term and invite discussion from the second-grade class.

Likewise, Jones is not “Jones.” He has one of those monosyllabic woodsy sporty names that defy the iambic expectations of our speech. It ends too soon. It begs for a suffix. Thus was appended “–sie”, which was deemed insufficiently manly; so we settled on “—ston;” which evolved into “—ston Jones;” then unaccountably shortened to “Jones;” (Sometimes “Jones Mc – ston Mc Jones,” if we are feeling really goofy).

Jones has a mild and entirely cosmetic birth defect. We in the family don’t even remember he has it, except when children ask us “What’s up with his face?” Further, without being asthmatic, properly so-called, his upper respiratory system does seem to be somehow lacking. In another time, he would have been one of those bedridden consumptives the curious heroine discovers locked in the attic. But he is too lively for any of that nonsense. When he laughs, he laughs uproariously; when he cries, the tears literally squirt from his eyes like from a fire hose. He wants alternately to eat you up with a spoon or to defy your parental despotism to the bitter end.

Jones is as boy as Girl is girl. They daily put the lie to all of the “Don’t dress your cat in an apron” undergraduate papers I wrote about how gender differences are culturally determined. From the beginning, if you rolled a ball to Girl she would name it and look for its baby ball and serve it tea. From the beginning, Jones would tackle us from nowhere like Kato in “The Pink Panther.”

We live in the most modest part of a preposterously wealthy and comically ambitious school district, soon to be redistricted such that we would live in the most prosperous part of a burdened school district. Similarly, our house sits in a town that is split by three counties, and happens to fall on the side of the county widely known for its success rather than the two famously chaotic ones. The incongruity has been good for keeping perspective.

The incongruity could be extended even further, because we live in the I-95 corridor of what we grew up calling “BaltoWash.” One foot in gritty, industrial Baltimore; one in lofty, cosmopolitan DC.