Monday, May 30, 2011

I'm the Fourth Child - An Urban Fable

One blustery, gray day in Ithaca, an urchin child was spotted driving a Big Wheel, aimlessly, through the aisles of Target.  When stopped by a kindly old woman, who asked, "Don't you know you're not supposed to play with the toys in the store?  You could run into someone.  Where's your mother?" the urchin child replied, "I'm not sure where my mother is.  She's in here somewhere.  She told me to go play while she did her shopping in peace.  You see -- I'm the fourth child."

Later that same week, in the Tompkins County Public Library, the urchin child was seen randomly grabbing books off the shelves in the children's section, and tossing them into a pile behind her.  The children's librarian touched her gently on the shoulder and said, "We musn't mess up the organization of the books.  You aren't even looking at the titles.  Books are not meant to be grabbed up and thrown around.  Didn't your mother teach you to respect books?"  The urchin child smiled and said, "This is what I do when my mother is folding laundry.  She doesn't care what I do as long as I'm quiet.  You see, I'm the fourth child."

A family in Panera Bread watched as the urchin child retrieved a dropped cracker from the floor and placed it in her mouth.  In horror, the family rushed over and grabbed the cracker in the nick of time.  "Where's your mother?" they asked.  "I'm sure she wouldn't want you eating food that's been dropped on the floor!"  The urchin child gazed at them in wonder and said, "It's fine to eat food off the floor if you blow on it.  That's what my mother says.  You see, I'm the fourth child.  With my brother, who was the first child, she boiled and sterilized everything that came in contact with a foreign surface, but that was a LONG time ago.  We don't do that anymore."

The urchin child peered in at the local Mom & Me play group and watched as the moms & tots spoke to each other using sign language.  Using sign, one mother gestured for the urchin child to join them.  Of course, the urchin child didn't know what she was saying.  The mother tiptoed over and said, "I was inviting you to join us.  Hasn't your mother ever signed with you?"  The urchin child thought, "A few times.  I know 'please' and 'high five' and I know what thumbs up and thumbs down mean.  Does that count?"  The mother frowned as the urchin child continued.  "She did a lot of signing with my siblings, but she's more tired now and says I'll communicate when I'm ready.  There's always writing if the speech thing doesn't work out.  She says if I know how to wave, I will be set, as I can use that for flagging a cab, saying 'good-bye' AND 'hello', and fanning myself if there's no A/C.  It's different when you're the fourth child."

Right at that moment, the urchin child's mother appeared.  "Wave 'good-bye' to the nice lady, sweetheart.  It's almost lunchtime.  I bet you'd like a Frappachino."

Friday, May 6, 2011

Barbie doesn't live in Ithaca

You know you've been sucked into the Ithaca vortex when you begin to question whether there might be a better doll than Barbie.  Let me paint a picture of Ithaca for you:  it is fair-trade, buy local, drive a Subaru Forester, breastfeed until they go to kindergarten, wear socks you knitted yourself while eating kale land.  We love it, but we are still aliens.  We've only eaten kale once.   I've come to appreciate and love our little local shops and today I visited a couple that specialize in making you feel like every toy you've ever gotten for your child is not merely wrong, but, in fact, debilitating.  I perused the shelves, admiring the all wood, not-made-in-China wares.  In particular, I noted two families of dolls:  one was all wooden (of course) with yarn hair, clothes clearly made of hemp, and cheerful smiles.  They live in a lovely wooden house with wooden furniture, a wooden dog and cat, and no car in sight.  The other house was also wooden, with another little cheerful family.  Sensibly dressed mom with a bob haircut and a pair of high-waisted denim-ish pants.  They had what appeared to be a fuel-effecient car and a recycling bin in their kitchen.  I was drawn in by their simplicity.  They reminded me of my first dolls: the Sunshine Family.  The Sunshine Family had a long jumper-wearing mom with sandals, a dad with a shaggy haircut, turtleneck and hiking boots, and a baby.  They had their own pottery studio and seemed quite content with the furniture I constructed for them out of plastic strawberry baskets and kleenex boxes.  As I took this nostalgic trip in the downtown toy stores, something occurred to me --- I had never seen a Barbie in Ithaca.  Oh sure, maybe there were some in Wal-mart or Target, but those aren't REAL Ithaca stores.  I began to think, "Maybe Barbie is too shallow.  Materialistic.  Hung-up on clothes and parties and her career and tanning.  Maybe Emma Clare NEEDS the Sunshine Family or their responsible recycling or wooden counterparts."  What a traitor I am.

Barbie was my friend (until I was 12, truth be told...).  She had an awesome house --- they don't call it "Barbie's Dream House" for nothing.  She had a car.  A Winnebago.  (OK -- if you were born after 1976 and are asking yourself, 'what the heck is a Winnebago?', please go and Google it right now.)  She had an enviable wardrobe.  Little tiny food in her fridge.  A flushing toilet.  A boyfriend with perfect hair and an equally substantial wardrobe.  She could whip herself instantly back into shape after giving birth.  She was perfectly comfortable in high heels (although not so comfortable in flat shoes, alas...)  She was fluent in many languages (Spanish Beauty Barbie, Jamaican Fun Barbie, Parisian Barbie)  How could I abandon her so easily?  The wooden family didn't have extra clothes in their closet.  The recycling family was not very stylish.  They were probably manufactured in the USA -- not very diverse or well-travelled. 

I think Barbie can fit in here.  She has an outfit for every occasion, so it's not a stretch to assume that she has a pair of sandals and a knit hat in there somewhere.  Her house is large, so she can rent some rooms out to Cornell students.  The Winnebego -- perfect.  And I'm sure Mattel manufactures a pink Prius.  Now all she needs is a hemp bag and a boyfriend with braidable hair.  Look out Ithaca - there's a new girl in town.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thank you, Mike Chowns...

for spurring me on to post something, already!  It's been a while...

So, allow me to tell you about my recent trip to the Boston Marathon.  Not to be IN IT mind you ( I barely enjoy driving 26 miles in a car), but to watch it and to cheer Ryan on.  It is a surreal experience to be surrounded by so many uber-fit people, who say, "What the heck?  I wasn't doing anything for the next 2-6 hours anyway.  Why don't I just start running?"  Some of the more intense ones (insert: my husband) don't listen to music or anything.  Just them and their thoughts.  For 2-6 hours.  So, I went along to gawk in curiousity and in the hopes of getting some freebies at the Race Expo.  At times I tried to project a runner's air about me, so that people would think I was one of them.  I think they could see through that, though.  They probably have a sense for their own kind, like dogs do.  The second American woman to finish had a baby just 6 months ago.  Show off.

I digress -- I also brought Emma Clare along for company, and convinced my sister, Stacy, that she had nothing better to do with her weekend than to fly from the opposite coast and gawk at really fit crazy people with me.  Unlike me, she has actually done a marathon before, however she said afterwards she was peeing blood -- another reason I'll never do one.  As if I needed another reason.  So, the night before the marathon, just when Ryan and the rest of the racers in our hotel were settling down for a little pre-race slumber (to dream about running, Gatorade stations, those shoes that look like bare feet with all the toes...) Emma Clare declared that she was having none of this sleep business, and proceeded to protest, loudly, anytime she was put down in her pack & play.  (For the uninitiated, the pack & play is like a small animal kennel with no top, that we took with us to avoid the requisite sketchy hotel crib that always seems to be lacking a regular crib sheet and instead has a giant queen size bed sheet wrapped multiple times around the sketchy mattress, rendering it a virtual death-trap.)  She didn't even care that the portable crib/dog kennel had a lovely Burberry-like dust ruffle.  She wasn't buying it.  We tried to ignore her, but, as she knew it would, it proved impossible.  Enter the Martyr Mom.  I snatched her up and, with a sigh, left the hotel room.  Now, it is an interesting thing to see what's going on in a mammoth hotel, pre-marathon, after 11PM.  While I would have thought that most racers would be sound asleep (minus those with contentious babies in their midst) it seems that a good number were also Celtics fans and decided that the hotel bar was the place to be.  You wouldn't think that so many rum & Cokes would be good for your race time, but I think you'd be wrong (or maybe you'd be right and I'm wrong....whatever).  Along with the Celtics fans watching a playoff game, the other late-night (and yes, I'm that old that I consider post-11PM to be 'late night') inhabitants of the Marriott were:

1.  The "Starbucks is closed, man!" man:  He lurks in the dark just outside the closed hotel "We Proudly Serve Starbucks" place.  He just sits.  No phone, no computer, nothing.  Just sitting.  Waiting for it to open, I guess.  Maybe nobody told him that it would be 8 more hours.  It probably doesn't matter because he had so much espresso before it closed, that he'll be awake that entire time.  Since he'll be first in line, I briefly consider giving him some money and having him grab me a Boston Starbucks mug.

2.  Gamer-dude:  At this point, you should know that I walked around the hotel and attached mall for a good 2 hours before returning to my room to try to get EC to sleep.  The entire time I was walking, gamer-dude was making use of the free Wi-fi to play computer games.  He was all alone (undoubtedly there was a reason for this -- maybe because he plays so many computer games?) and just sat, glued to the same spot, playing games.  No email.  No Facebook.  No brilliant blog.  Just games.  He never even looked up when I passed by him for the thousandth time.  Presumably he sees a lot of haggard hotel moms in his line of late-night leisure.

3.Really important security guard:  RISG wishes that he had followed his dream and become a police officer.  Instead, he is patrolling the Marriott, keeping the conference rooms safe from uber-fit partiers on the night before the Big Dance.  He kept giving me the eye, maybe thinking that underneath the baby blankets, I had a giant bottle of Jack and some Uno cards, and was looking to meet up with some other moms in the "Harvard Room."  I noticed that he had also helpfully cordoned off the motionless escalator, but not the stairs (?)

4.  The guy who pushes the loud floor-mopper/sweeper machine.  He chased me all over the mall.

I got to do a lot of window shopping in the deserted mall during my late-night jaunt.  I could have left Boston with a replica of Kate Middleton's engagement ring, for a mere $199.  I'm sure no one would have known the difference.  For a few hundred more, I could have purchased a pair of Jimmy Choo's which, although nice looking, don't really seem like theyre worth that much.  I think people just like saying the name.  It helps that it rhymes with "Shoes."  JC's has something called a "Double-Banded Bootie."  Doesn't that sound like an endangered bird?

Eventually I was too tired to continue, although EC showed no signs of weariness.  Perhaps she should have been training for a marathon.  I walked back to the room and tried to put her down again.  No dice.  I picked her up again and sat, in desperation, outside the bathroom, with tears streaming down my face.  Pitful scene, isn't it?  At that point, Ryan came over and offered to help.  It seems that he'd gotten some sleep and why should he need more than 2 hours of sleep just to run 26 miles?  We compromised and put her in bed with us where, promptly, I fell asleep.  I don't know what she did, but at least she did it quietly.

The next day we watched as our man, on very little sleep, placed 3021st out of over 23,000 runners.  While we waited amongst throngs of screaming people with clanging cowbells, Emma Clare drifted off to sleep.