Friday, March 26, 2010

Mervyn the Moon Man

Some time ago, Laney and I went on a moon vacation. This is something you do on a summer night when you don't have to get up for school in the morning. You put on your pajamas and walk to the beach and play there for a while in the moonlight. If we lived in some balmy community where you could take moon vacations in the winter when the moon was out at more reasonable hour, we'd take them all the time. But the combination of cold Chicago winters and the communist plot known as Daylight Savings Time (I believe I've made my feelings on that subject abundantly clear) moon vacations are a rare and special occasion in the Bon household.

After our first moon vacation, I began telling Laney stories about a fellow name Mervyn the Moon Man who would, from time to time, send his moonscalator down to Princess Laney of Sheridan Road and she and her dog Ginger and her cat Scrapper and whichever doll was in favor at the moment would sit on the moonscalator and ride it up to visit Mervyn. As time progressed, we started to meet Mervyn's friends: Suzie the Sunstress and Windoor Wildwave (not to brag on my child too much, but she came up with that name all on her on).

Suzie lives on the sun When Princess Laney visits her, she sungee jumps up for her visits. She rides a bubble to the bottom of Lake Michigan to visit Windoor Wildwave (seriously, how great is that name).

Tonight, Princess Laney and I had a rather extended trip to Leona's for dinner. Her friend Princess Brooklyn was there, and I sat a the table chewing the fat with Princess Brooklyn's delightful and regal parents.

So, it was about 9:30 when we left Leona's. By this point, Mervyn was putting on a pretty good show.

In the car, Laney said to me "I believe in Mervyn. I don't hear him with my ears, but I hear him with my heart."

And I thought that was such a lovely thing to say that I was inspired to tell Laney the story of how Mervyn, Suzie and Windoor came to do what they did. And I thought I'd share it with you all:

A long, long, long time ago, long before there was a Princess Laney or even the Realm of Sheridan Road, or even people or light, there was a flat stretch of dry, cold land and there were three little monkeys sitting together. The three little monkeys looked at each other and were sad and they each shook themselves very hard. And all of the sudden, instead of three little monkeys, there were two little girls and one little boy.

And they were all sad. One little girl was sad because it was so dark. One little girl was sad because it was so dry. And the little boy was sad because there was nothing beautiful to see.

The first little girl closed her eyes and concentrated very hard. And then she stretched out her right hand and all the fingers on it. And suddenly, light came pouring out of each finger. And then she stretched out her left hand, and all her fingers, and light came out of each of those fingers. She did the same with her feet, and light came out of all her toes. And she started throwing and kicking and the light came together and made a ball of light. And it got bigger and bigger. And the girl pushed the ball and she kept pushing and pushing until she left the flat dry land and went into the sky and out into space and she made the sun and built her kingdom there.

The next little girl pursed her lips together and closed her eyes and concentrated very hard and water began to stream from her mouth. And she grabbed the water and threw it. And the first place she threw it became Lake Michigan. And then she threw some more water and it became Lake Superior. And then she threw some water to make Lake Erie. And then the other two that i couldn't remember the names of (I am creative... my geography skills are lacking). Then she got up and started running and threw water to make more lakes and rivers. Suddenly she tripped. And it hurt, so she started crying. And she grabbed the water from her tears and made the great oceans of the world. And then, when she was done, she dove back down to the bottom of Lake Michigan and built her great underwater kingdom (we Chicagoans do not lack in our civic pride, do we?).

The little boy sat by himself and saw things happen. The sun and the water came together and made plants and they were OK. But not quite beautiful like he wanted. So he was still pretty sad.

Suzie got tired. She fell asleep and the little boy knew what to do. When Suzie woke up, he rolled himself up into a ball and started sucking in all the light he could. And the more he sucked in, the bigger her grew. And he rolled and rolled up into the sky and waited.

And then, when Suzie fell asleep again, he drifted the light, gently back to the land.

Windoor, from the depths of her gorgeous watery kingdom saw the gentle moonlight and she reached her hand up from the water and trailed her fingers across her watery ceiling. The water mixed with Mervyn's gentle light.

And that's when the world was ready for Princess Laney.

Now, consider yourself virtually tucked in. I'll bring you a virtual glass of water. Virtually kiss you three times on the forehead and once on each cheek and tell you that I love you more than milk or meat or money. And you can have the same sweet dreams I left my little girl with.

Me? I'm going to have a drink, watch a little Lost, root for the Panthers and be happy that I have a little girl who hears things in her heart that she can't hear with her ears.

Good night!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Eternal Optimism of SpongeBob Squarepants

We watch a lot of SpongeBob in this household. Laney is a big fan. On any given weekend morning, Don or I will catch an extra hour or so of sleep while Laney watches Spongebob. The odd effect of this is that Spongebob has a soporific effect on me and Don. We hear SpongeBob and immediately begin to drift off. At this point, it's kind of like a double dose of Tylenol PM.

Another thing you should know about SpongeBob is that it is the most ubiquitous thing on TV. I'm pretty sure that there isn't a moment of any day that you can't find SpongeBob. 3:23 am on a Sunday morning, I'm betting SpongeBob is on. Recently, I wrested myself free from a SpongeBob induced torpor and started paying attention to the show.

(You should know that I am the best mother ever and did just start paying attention to a show my kid has been watching for a couple of years now. But, I'm not one to beat myself up, so I'm just gonna move on)

SpongeBob is gross and loud and obnoxious. But, isn't that the M.O. of every kids cartoon since there've been kids cartoons? What makes SpongeBob stand apart is that on every single episode SpongeBob comes out on top almost exclusively by being indefatigable, optimistic and kind. SpongeBob is a guy who appreciates the little things, who is fiercely loyal to his friends. He's brave and good natured.

I love SpongeBob.

SpongeBob's primary foils is Squidward Tentacles. Squidward is a lot like Ethan Hawke's character in Reality Bites. Always with the wry, sardonic response, obnoxiously superior about artistic matters, confident of his own intellectual supremacy, lazy, and just fucking exhausting to be around.

I survived the 90s and all that slacker bullshit. So it's awfully nice to see slacker uselessness exposed in the face of square yellow optimism and all around nice guy-ness 7,000 or so times a day.

I also kind of like that the show's resident tough guy is a southern squirrel who's a girl.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Quick Lost Bloggity


Here's what makes me INSANE about this show.

Sayid: For nine months I lived with my wife. The happiest nine months of my life.
Locke: Where is she now?
Sayid: She was murdered.
Locke: I'm so sorry. If you need to find me, I'll be at this hotel in L.A.

I May Get in Trouble for This

[Jesus] also preached ''teach them how to fish, don't give them a fish. You don't work you don't eat."
-Mary Matalin on The Colbert Report

I think it's just good form for secular me to avoid in general telling Christians what they should believe about the Bible. For example, I think the hypocrisy of using Leviticus to preach against homosexuality if they eat shellfish is self-evident. But if I don't accept the Bible as an authority, then I don't think I get to use it to prove my own points.

That said, I have a little biblical game. I did, after all, attend Catholic schools from the age of 8 to the age of 27. OK, so we weren't doing a whole lot of mandatory religion classes in college and graduate school. But I know that not only did Jesus never say anything close to that (her sources are Lao Tze and the evil sheriff in Cool Hand Luke), but it's pretty much antithetical to everything that Jesus DID say. He said, instead: "whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me."

I don't believe in God, and I don't accept Christ as an authority. But I do believe that we have a responsibility to the least among us. And I believe that society structured with that in mind has the happy result of being not only ethical and easy to live in, but also strong and self-sustaining.

I think this is all strategy for the most corrupted wing of the conservative movement: give cover to a primary goal of restructuring wealth in a way that favors the super richity rich. And they do this by saying over and over again that if you are rich, it's because God favors you and if you're poor, it's because you're lazy and have pissed off Cool Hand Luke Prison Guard Jesus. And this seems to be working on a whole host of people who won't benefit at all from this wealth restructuring. Mary Matalin is no dope. She knows Jesus didn't say "poor people can starve." She does knows that if she can get people all pissed off about welfare queens and Acorn, then they won't notice when the banksters siphon all their money away to already fabulously wealthy people.

I remember well when Islamic fundamentalists first started calling for Jihad against that Dutch cartoonist. A boatload of self-professed Christians demanded to know why moderate Muslim leadership hadn't spoken up to decry this perversion of their faith. They had a point and then they ruined it by almost immediately citing the failure of Muslim moderate leadership to speak out against jihad as proof that Islam was invested in a religious war against Christianity. Sigh.

Still and all, it seems to me like the modern Christian leadership has an obligation to speak to their followers in just the same way. I might not be a Christian, but I think I still get to say that.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Random Thoughts on My Girl

Laney got straight A's on her report card today. I'd love to be the kind of person who doesn't get excited about things like that, but I confess I'm a total Lisa Simpson when it comes to that kind of thing. I was talking with a friend a while back about how we'd both love to have the money to be professional students and a big part of that is grading. I wish I could be graded now. I'd love to get a Mommy report card and a writer report card and a software support report card where some knowledgeable and impartial third party grades me based on a set of previously determined standards. But life isn't like that and so, I guess I'll have to live vicariously through Laney's grades.

I'm an accidental Montessori parent but have over the last four years become quite the evangelist for it. In Laney's homework packet for the week, part of her reading comprehension was to write "thick" and "thin" questions about a story. I'm going to quote directly from the packet:

"A thick question is one that addresses large, universal concepts and often begins with why? how come? I wonder? The answers to these questions are often long and involved. Thin questions are asked to clarify confusion or to understand words. They can usually be answered with yes or no.

Laney is in first grade. This is a quality, thoughtful education she's getting. And for free! Well, as free as things are in this world. As a DFH, I don't beef too much about paying taxes.

But beyond the learnin', Montessori just really seems great for kids who march to the beat of a different drummer. There's a great deal of focus on individuality and respect. And my girl is kind of a goofball. She's a hilarious, smart, lovely, kind goofball. But she is a goofball. She would describe herself as a Knucklehead McSantaClaus (this goofball moniker brought to you courtesy the good people at SpongeBob Squarepants - and I personally find it oddly evocative). She will not pose adorably when you point a camera at her. When she's got your attention she's going to use it to waggle her tongue and cross her eyes and break out into some contortive dance.

The Knucklehead McSantaClaus's are the ones, I am convinced, who end up setting the world afire. But in a primary school world, kids can be jerks to each other. Laney's been called weird and a baby and ugly. But, she's in an environment where that kind of stuff is dealt with. Where there's the bandwidth and will from the staff to deal with it. And so, she's a happy girl when I pick her up. A grinning goofball ready to regale me with stories from her day and to ask me a "thick" question or tell me that 158 rounds to 160. Brainiac.

She calls me Mrs. Bighead. Which tickles me, because when I was in first grade the kids called me "bighead" and it was not a compliment. It's not a compliment from Laney, but it is a direct statement about the size of my head vis a vis hers. And, as such, that's cool.

Oh, you guys, she's such a great kid. My little Goofy Goober.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Homeless People and Catholicism

(it's late and I don't know if this makes sense)

A while back my friend Jessica (who, by the way, is the number one example of people I know named Jessica who are awesome - I have never met a Jessica who wasn't awesome. If you're thinking of baby names for a girl, I suggest you bear this in mind) asked me a question. She was wondering if Laney had ever had an uncomfortable run in with a homeless person. I was chewing that over for a while and remembered one.

When Laney was about three or so, we were in the Wicker Park post office doing something. Don and I were at the counter and Laney was kind of wandering around, being three. It was around Christmastime. This crazy old bag lady came up to her and asked her if she knew that Christmas was about Jesus and not Santa. I sort of steered her away and when the woman approached me I just said "no" and shook my head. Then she followed us around telling Laney that if she couldn't get away from us, she'd go to hell. She kept telling me that I was damning my baby to hell.

I was filled with a mix of pity and rage. Laney wanted to play with the stamp machine.

And then I remembered something that If I live to be a million I'll never forget. Way back in December of 1977 or 78, Fr. Stritch told a church full of kids that we were all going to go to hell if we didn't settle down and listen to the service instead of getting all excited about the promisingly heavy snow outside. In Memphis! On a school day! That mean old fart actually told eight year olds they were going to hell. Almost ruined our snow day. Asshole.

I still remember that mean old priest. I don't think Laney will remember the crazy old homeless lady. I was older, sure. But I think it's important to note that unlike the crazy old post office lady, Fr. Stritch was in a position of unquestionable authority.

I'm not sure that one has anything to do with the other. And I also seriously doubt there are any priests left who roll that way. I imagine that if you wandered into any Catholic church and told the pastor that story, he'd be appropriately appalled and would talk to you about Jesus' love for children. I also think there are few (if any) parents left who'd be at all leery of questioning the authority of a priest who said such a horrible thing to their kids. And questioning it with choice words, no less.

People will say shitty things to kids and from our position as adults, we'll have a hard time discerning how much that will scare the kid in question. But, we hope that we can raise our kids so that they know they can come to us with their fears and that we will do everything in our power to make sure they know they're safe. My own personal opinion is that I think it helps when you run your household with Mom and Dad as unquestionable authorities instead of the near-retirement priest at the failing grade school. But I'm sure there are people out there who disagree.

More to the point, and in keeping with my last post, I'm hoping that when moments happen with crazy homeless people, I can use that as (and I'm so sorry for using this hackneyed phrase) a teachable moment. To tell her that people on the streets are often people who are sick in their mind, either from disease or addiction, and that they deserve our kindness and not our judgement. I often remember this thing I heard about Jane Addams: she'd never judge a person for what they'd become because she knew what life could do to people.

And, you know as I ponder it from my vantage point all these years later, I think I could afford some posthumous kindness for Fr. Stritch too. In his own way, he was a victim of what his life did to him. Although, the word "asshole" still echoes through my brain.

It's a process, I guess.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Commute Conversations

I picked Laney up at around 6:00. We chat a little through the first half of the commute, but by the second half of Lake Shore Drive onto Sheridan Road, we've fallen into a companionable silence, listening to Chicago Day on WXRT, when Laney breaks the silence:

Laney: Good job, Mom
Me: What?
Laney: I've said enough.

Ah, the deep abiding mysteries of mothering a kid like Laney.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Living in the City

I love living in the city. I still, even after all these years, get such a gas out of the skyline, the bustle, the people, and extreme civic pride we have in Chicago. I might disparage American Exceptionalism, but I have no doubt that Chicago is, indeed, the Greatest City in the World.

But it ain't easy raising a kid in the city. And you miss some pretty great stuff. Laney won't know the singular, kidly joy of riding her bike to a friend's house, hanging out in the back yard, playing with her friends outside until it's dark on a summer night. It's not safe for her to do that here. And this makes me sad, because I have such fond memories from my own childhood of that.

But, she does have something I didn't have, and it is priceless and wonderful: Laney has immediate, every day experience rubbing elbows with people who aren't like her. She is surrounded by different races, different religions, different socioeconomic classes, different sexual orientation. I tell her all the time that the world is a big place and there's room for all kinds of different people, and my great hope is that by raising her in this little townhouse on the far north side of Chicago and by sending her to public school on the west side of Chicago, that she'll get that at a molecular level.

Lately, we seem to be very eager to define America with a series of Us vs. Them. We are Democrats, They are Republicans. We are Christians, They are Muslims. We are Good. They are Terrorists. We are "Real Americans." They are Dirty Fucking Hippies. I don't think I'm wrong about this; slowly America seems to be dividing itself up on a vast, Manichean fault line, and it scares me a little.

My hope for Laney's childhood is that she'll end up finding this Us and Themism alien and disgusting.

*Note - this isn't a city vs. suburbs polemic. There are plenty of places outside the city limits that offer the kind of rich diversity that we get in Chicago. But the buildings aren't as awesome.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What? But... why? Really?

Have you guys seen this ad?

It's for a no touch handsoap dispenser. Because people with gross, germy hands are putting them all over the handsoap pump. Ew.

Then again, presumably, the action that immediately follows the handsoap pump is, you know, a handwash. It's hard to fathom another reason why you'd be pumping handsoap.

This is the thing you buy right before you wrap all your furniture in plastic, right? This is like something that Howard Hughes would have installed in his private suite on the Spruce Goose? Are we really living in a time when people are worried about getting their hands dirty immediately prior to washing them?

This baffles me as much as those bathtub Cialis ads. I just ... what?