Sunday, February 28, 2010

Married, No Children

Here are some lyrics you won’t hear on a Raffi album.

Pregnant women are smug,
Everyone knows it, nobody says it
Because they’re pregnant.
Effing son of a gun
You think you’re so deep now, you give me the creeps now
Now that you’re pregnant.”

The derivatively named, Garfunkel and Oats, a team of LA performers sings this little ditty. When you watch their performance on YouTube, you might notice that for all their sting and strum, when it comes to smug self-appreciation, they are the ones who deserve a serenade.

I’m going to guess that neither of these women has ever experienced morning sickness, back pain, leg cramps, constipation, acid reflux, months of Braxton Hicks contractions, and actual labor. If they had, they might cut pregnant women some slack for feeling, on occasion, like something rather special was going on in their otherwise unrecognizable bodies.

Still, point taken. The glow from our gestating sisters could probably confuse nesting sea turtles. And, once the baby is born, watch out. Smugness does not fully describe the pride parents take in their children’s existence.

But, it doesn’t accurately describe it either.

I asked a friend who has chosen a childfree marriage how she felt about living in a culture that was so kid-centric.

“I don’t think the world is kid-centric once you’re committed to not having one.”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Eavesdropping on a Sunday Afternoon

My dad is a journalist and there are two things he does instinctively. Eavesdrop and read upside down. You can imagine how he’s used these skills to cover politicians, but let me tell you how it plays out when we go out to dinner. The maitre d’ doesn’t stand a chance—the list of names ahead of us, notes scribbled on napkins, tabloids tucked behind sign-in sheets— all fair game. Once we sit down, he has a doglike ability to sniff out the most interesting conversation and tune himself to that decibel.

“Dad, you’re not listening.”

No he is. Just not to us.

I don’t share his ability to read documents upside down, but eavesdropping, I am sorry to say, comes naturally to me. My husband has no aptitude for it: he’s from Connecticut.

So, it’s difficult, at times, when I am the only one acutely aware of some fascinating or terrifying conversation taking place within earshot. I can go on an entire emotional rollercoaster and my husband is still parking the metaphoric car.

Which is what happened last weekend at Borders.

I don’t know how anyone missed the first tidbit; it was announced over the PA system.

“Would the owner of a green Chrysler (something or other) please report to your vehicle.”

We heard this as we entered the bookstore. Five minutes later, I saw a police officer pacing the aisles.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mad, Madmen

I love football, but I didn’t get to watch much of the Super Bowl last week. A few of the ads drove me from the room. And, I think, that is exactly what they were meant to do.

The Dodge Charger, FLO TV. That about sums up my experience of Super Bowl XLIV.

Coors Light and your frisky, tasteless obsession with twins, how I miss you. I had no idea objectification was so preferable to vilification. And, “villain” is the role we women have been assigned. The helpless victim in need of saving, however, is no damsel in distress. If we buy into the method behind these Madmen, it’s the American male.

The Kellogg School of Business Super Bowl Review explains:

“The most interesting creative theme (of the Super Bowl ads) was the domestication of the American man. Four advertisers tapped into the insight that men in the United States are feeling weak and powerless. We suspect there is some very compelling research backing this up. Certainly the recent unemployment and payroll data suggests that many men are indeed having a tough time.”

The admen must have surmised that after thousands of years of male dominance, it was only fitting that when “times get tough” the tough blame their mothers. Or girlfriends. Or Wives. Basically, whoever has a job and control of the remote control.

It’s all a myth, of course, which is what they’re in the business of selling. But, this one, which I first thought was simply anti-woman, comes at just the wrong time.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

For the Sake of the Kids

My daughter recently corrected my pronunciation of Stegosaurus. “It’s Steg, Steg, eeeeg,”she said, “not Stag.” How can I explain to her that I was born in Wisconsin and any exposure to dairy products unleashes my otherwise subdued Midwestern vowels?

At nearly five, the kid has an ear for detail. So, when she completely misuses a word, it’s always interesting. “Let’s go sit in the caboose,” she’ll say, pointing to our plastic kids’ gazebo. Someday, when she’s arguing with a confused wedding photographer, I’ll correct her.

There are other mix-ups. I’ve let them stand not because they’re cute, but because I’m avoiding an uncomfortable conversation.

“Why did that man die Luther King?”

I heard this a few weeks ago when I picked her up from school.

Kill. Die. I am glad she’s so unfamiliar with these words that she doesn’t know how to use them. When she does say die, it’s usually in the melodramatic sense, as in, “my balloon died,” after the helium has fled and it hovers pathetically near the floor.

“Why did that man kill Martin Luther King?” I said, translating her four-year-old speak. We’d recently observed the holiday and I knew they had talked about MLK in school. It was only a day or so earlier that she’d walked me to the car with a, “Guess what? A bad man shot him.”

It was then that I said to a friend, “Don’t you think they’re young to hear about the assassination?”

“Well, you don’t know,” she said, pulling on her experience with her older child, “another kid might have brought that part up.”

I think that’s true. And, even if it wasn’t, I trust my daughter’s teacher immensely, and imagine however the conversation went, it was handled well. But, it was still a shock, like the other newsflash I was met with last week:

“Guess what? There was an earthquake in Haiti and a lot of kids had their parents DIE. They’re ORPHANS!”

Haiti was not a surprise. I’d left the New York Times on the kitchen table day after day, photo after photo, and already talked to her about the earthquake. The school was having a fundraiser, and I knew they’d discuss it in class. But, the part about orphans--the part about kids whose parents were killed-- that was a surprise. And, sure enough, later that day, “Mom, when are you going to die?”

Moving away from the tragic and to the fiercely contentious, I heard this three days ago at pick-up:

“You know what? A girl can marry a girl and a boy can marry a boy!”

Given the fear of cooties and self-imposed gender segregation in preschool, you can imagine the euphoric relief with which this was shouted. And, I don’t think they were discussing the fallout of proposition 8 on the playground.

I am happy to send my daughter off to school. I am even glad when I am shaken out of my bubble and forced to think about conversations I’ve avoided. And, as a former teacher, I have a lot of faith in the ability of other teachers to lead sensitive discussions, and handle the inevitable curve ball tossed their way.

But, lately, my daughter’s casual conversations sound more like talking points for Larry King Live. And, I’ve had to work very hard to suppress my natural instinct, which is to scream,
 “How on earth did you hear all this?”