Wednesday, January 27, 2010

it's the end of the world as we know it

In the car, Iris hummed and then sang out, "Leonard Bernstein!"

"Mom, do you know the words to 'It's The End of the World As We Know It"? " she asked presently.

"Not really," I admitted. "Were you thinking of the 'Pearls Before Swine' cartoon?" (In the "Pearls before Swine" collection Iris got for Christmas, there is a cartoon where two of the characters admit that although that is their favorite song, they only know the words "Leonard Bernstein").

Iris admitted she was thinking of that cartoon. I asked if she knew who Leonard Bernstein is.

"He invented the Bearenstain Bears."

I attempted to explain who Leonard Bernstein was, going so far as to sing bits of "West Side Story" tunes after pointing out the differences in pronunciation and spelling between "Bernstein" and "Bearenstain", but Iris was adamant. Arriving at her writing course at 826 Valencia St., I called upon the scruffy writer manning the pirate store to arbitrate our dispute. He informed Iris that Leonard Bernstein was a famous conductor who invented the Bearenstain Bears.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

an entry in the ongoing study of a young hypochondriac

Today I insisted that we all walk down to the library, as I had overdue books and we all needed some exercise (and the rain had let up after five days of storms). Iris uber Alles was game, but Lola was upset.

"You need exercise, Lola! You haven't had any exercise today."

"Then why am I kicking my legs?" Lola, lying prone on the landing, kicked her legs listlessly over and over again, attempting to prove that she got more than enough exercise without being made to leave the home. This falling flat, Lola was compelled to go out.

As we walked down the hill, Lola explained that it makes her throat hurt to walk on a slant. This symptom was complained of all the way to the library.

Friday, January 22, 2010

pants, the overrated clothing

Iris uber Alles, like Lady GaGa (whom incidentally she admires greatly), likes to abstain from wearing pants. "Pants are overrated", Iris rants. Unlike Lady GaGa, Iris thankfully limits this behavior to the home, and lately she sports a bright pink Slanket. A day is a successful day in Iris's opinion when it can be spent entirely pantsless.

As Iris walked across a room in her pink Slanket, the effect is like that of a hospital gown (and indeed it made me preemptively cringe on my own behalf, as I'm scheduled to check into a hospital for a few days in the near future). This can lead to unwanted commentary. "Iris," chirped Lola sweetly, "your underpants are just dazzling today!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lola plays the race card

We've been assailed by vicious storms these last few days, storms which we welcome heartily with the hope that our drought-afflicted reservoirs will recover, but from which we recoil in fear of traffic accidents and power outages (it took me two hours yesterday to make what should have been a 42 minute drive on 280; two horrendously stressful, white-knuckle hours during which I hydroplaned twice and drove past three accidents). The children and I looked about cautiously as we were leaving the house to take Iris to her evening writing class. "Is it going to rain?" they asked me.

"I think so."

Lola took offense. "You're racist!"

"What?" I didn't get where that was coming from.

Lola explained. "Maybe that is a colored person cloud, not a rain cloud. You're racist!"

I stared at Lola nonplussed. Iris explained. It turns out there was an all-school assembly today in honor of the Dr. Martin Luther King, and Lola was quite impressed by it. Why she would take this new-found commitment to acceptance to turn against her own mother, who baked a cake on MLK Day in remembrance of one of the most celebrated graduates of her own beloved university, Boston University, though, remains obscure.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


an original song, sung in a sweet, tuneful voice by Lola:

Have you looked at your buttocks this morning?
They are looking so dashing.
You should look at your buttocks right now.
They are looking so dashing.
Are they looking dashing, are they looking dashing?
I think they are...

Oh... who doesn't like buttocks?

I am even better than a cat

Seven year-old Lola presented me with a bright pink Post-it note. It said:
a poem
I was deeply moved as Lola said proudly, "Even better than a cat!"

Saturday, January 16, 2010

making friends in the insect kingdom

I ran across an interesting Carolyn Hax advice column today, where an aggrieved mother-in-law complained about a disastrous Thanksgiving visit which had led to an estrangement with her son's family.
On Friday morning, the new wife said she had bug bites. I said that twice in the past I had bites also and thought they were from bedbugs. We had done some Internet searching and gone to my dermatologist and discovered bedbugs are not medically dangerous and not the result of uncleanliness. We gave her hydrocortisone and sympathized with her.

That evening, they moved into the hotel. Our son said his wife was absolutely adamant that they get out of our home as soon as possible. She has the reputation of being a "strong" woman, and she earns a very high income, so she is able always to get her way.

My husband and I felt embarrassed and disappointed that she reacted that way, but we are aware that a first-time, 45-year-old mother probably had mother-bear hormones at play, and we don't blame our son too much for giving in to her demands.
Leaving aside the spellbindingly unsubtly veiled hatred of the "new wife", this letter fascinated me due to the accepting approach the writer took towards bedbugs. She "discovered bedbugs are not medically dangerous and not the result of uncleanliness", and so she decided to do nothing about them but instead live with them peacefully. This reminded me of someone I know with the same live-and-let live attitude about parasites.

Last year there was a major lice infestation in Iris uber Alles's class at school. Iris did not go unscathed (by the end of the year, 70% of her class had lice), and there was a lot of sturm und drang at the school. There were many parents who took a very common sense attitude and just worked hard to eradicate the lice without drama. There were other parents who also worked hard to get rid of the lice, but who had some drama along the way (some wanted a scheduled overnight field trip canceled). And there were some parents whose children (allegedly) did not have lice, who you would think would be happily sitting on the sidelines, but had a lot of drama anyhow regarding those of us who did and got it treated. Several parents weighed in that those of us using professional lice treatment clinics were idiots.

Most memorably one mother sent a couple of angry emails to the class email list, rather condescending emails about how she is a medical professional who "could not remain silent any more", so anger-provoking were our emails back and forth about the status of treatment and preventive measures. We needed to know that lice were not considered a disease in many countries, and that many schools do not check for lice, and we should just let the lice go. (It is true that some public schools in our area no longer check for lice, but it's because they cannot afford to stay lice-free. Schools get funds based on each day that a child actually attends, and a child who must stay away due to lice causes a little cessation of state funding. Additionally, one district determined it would no longer bar lousy children because the lousy children would perform poorly on tests if they missed a lot of school, and this could result in a loss of school funding and local administrative control under the No Child Left Behind laws).

At school one day I had the misfortune to run into that angry, louse-loving mother. The conversation amongst the parents waiting for their third graders turned, naturally, to the ongoing lice epidemic, and that mother glared at me angrily, and, with a loud, raised voice and with veins visible in her forehead, ranted, "LICE IS NOT A DISEASE!!"

"I never said it was," I said firmly. "But it's a disgusting parasite which I don't want to live with. You can live without parasites." The louse-lover was disgusted and furious, and she stomped off. Another mother whispered to me, "She thinks we should all just learn to live with them. She thinks that's the right thing, like those countries where they do that."

"Where do they do that?" I've lived on three continents but had never met a louse-lover before.

"England. I think she used to live in England."

Monday, January 11, 2010

plays well with others?

First grader Lola was upset when her older sister quit playing a game with her and burst into a room, handed Iris a note, and ran out. Iris looked at the note and said incredulously, "Lola just gave me a note saying 'Play another round or you go hell"!?" When that note failed to pay dividends, Lola acquired a huge poster-sized piece of paper and wrote, "ANOTHER ROUND OR GO HELL love Lola" in foot-tall letters.

Friday, January 08, 2010

the look which is not of love

First-grader Lola reports excitedly, "Iris is looking at me with guilt!"

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

the further adventures of Lola's friend, Audrey

"Okay so once upon a time, there was a venomous fly trap, and it bit Audrey. This was not just any Venus fly trap, it was a poisonous venus fly trap. And then she got very very sick, and she was just a second away from dying, but she didn't die. She lived on and on. "

(This particular story has been repeated to me by the Sober Husband, Iris uber Alles, and Lola herself).

Monday, January 04, 2010

being pressured into discovering one's true team

It has probably escaped almost nobody's attention that "Twilight" in all its forms has gripped the girls of North America with a firm, expensive grasp. I myself read all the Twilight novels last year, on the theory that in a few years Iris uber Alles would be reading them and so I should stay on the jump and know what the phenomenon was all about [I found the books weirdly absorbing for something so repetitive(how many hundreds of pages about dry humping can one woman write??), and I commend the author for her creative revision of the vampire and werewolf mythologies].

Fourth grader Iris uber Alles brought up Twilight with me some time ago. She shared that a friend of hers was very ostentatiously reading the books "but she doesn't understand them, I don't think." I told her that I thought the books were fun but highly repetitive and that they probably wouldn't make so much sense to a pre-adolescent, who wouldn't quite understand why a tortured teen would act like hormonally-driven Bella. Iris decided to wait a couple of years before getting into the whole Twilight thing.

Then the "New Moon" movie came out. Suddenly the fourth grade joined the higher grades, which had already been Twilight-obsessed (when I read the books, I was unable to get them from my private library or from the school library, as the private library had abstained from buying them and the school library's were always checked out. My friend and hairdresser loaned me the first one, and I bought copies of the others, which I donated to our school library after reading. The librarians were grateful indeed to get more copies). Evidently Twilight is now the primary topic, and all the fourth graders were reportedly taken to the movie, which they to a child loved.

Iris felt left out and felt a lot of peer pressure to see this movie. "My reputation will be ruined if I don't see it." But neither of her parents wanted to take her. I let it slide, hoping someone would invite her if they went back to see it again or that she'd forget about it. Then I unfolded a piece of paper I found in the kitchen and discovered a list she'd composed and left lying around the house, a list of arguments for her being allowed to see the film. I realized this was a much bigger deal than I'd thought, and I decided to get Iris to that damn movie.

First I devised a fun and painless plan. We would invite a friend of Iris's who also hadn't seen the movie, and I would take the girls to a particular theatre which has lovely tables and couches just outside the entrance to the screening rooms, near the popcorn vendor. I would stay there, on a couch or at a table, with an engrossing book and my laptop, while the girls enjoyed a modicum of independence and saw the film by themselves (the Sober Husband argued a bit that I should be right by the girls, which I countered by saying that we were overprotective parents and that I'd be right nearby and that if anyone bothered Iris, she could say, "My mother and attorney is here if you would like to speak to her"). This ran into a snag when the invited friend (who attends a different elementary school, a Catholic school, where it appears the nuns and priests have kept that damn vampire nonsense out for the most part) reported back that after some investigation, her father had decided she wasn't allowed to see that film and could we go to "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" instead on that same night?

Seldom defeated entirely, I created a new plan which was also pain-free. I suggested strongly to the Sober Husband that he take Iris to the film on his last night of holiday vacation, so Iris could return to the fourth grade no longer a Twilight ignoramus, able to hold her head up high and proclaim some opinions. He recoiled on the grounds that he needed to get some sleep before returning to work, but I shot that down, pointing out that an early showing would work just dandy with his REM cycle. Iris booked the tickets on the spot using the Sober Husband's iPhone. That night they set out, the Sober Husband having no idea what he was in for. I instructed him tongue-in-cheek upon his departure, "When you come back, you need to tell me whether you are on Team Edward or Team Jacob." [This inspired Iris to inform us quite gravely which team each of her friends is on. They really do take their teams seriously, these girls].

When they came back, Iris was buzzing. She couldn't stand still, and "Yeah. It was great."

"Was it better than 'Avatar'?"

Pause. "They were about the same. Both good!"

"Which team are you on?"

(very emphatically) "Team Jacob!!"

"Who is your favorite vampire?"

"The Volturi!"

"But those are the bad guys."

"They're Italian and cool! They have style!" [Iris uber Alles vacationed in Italy as a toddler, and it was a formative experience].

The Sober Husband said, "Can I whisper something in your ear?" He had no opportunity until much later after I'd had a long talk with Iris about what was good about the movie (Taylor Lautner), what was not good (Bella "is just depressed and doesn't do anything, she doesn't have a personality") and my question, "How much do the vampires sparkle?" answered ("A lot. It's like they're suns, with rays coming out of them"). Finally the Sober Husband said to me vehemently, "That was the worst movie I ever sat through. It was PAINFUL."

"Why do you think I wanted you to go? Why did you think I wanted to sit in the lobby?"

Sunday, January 03, 2010


Over dessert tonight, Lola asked out of the blue, "Did I miss anything? I was lost in the whipped cream."