Category Archives: Parenting

The 13 Original Colonies blues

Ellie has entered the “Colonial History” phase of first grade this past month, and let me tell you, it is AWESOME. The other day she had an assignment to draw the Battle of Lexington (!) and her ink rendering of patriots and redcoats running hell-for-leather at each other, loaded .45’s (sorry, Dad) gripped in both hands (those colonials were HARDCORE, y’all), with little dotted lines to mark the bullet trajectories … well, if they don’t hire that girl to illustrate elementary school textbooks when she grows up, it’s a crime, that’s what.

The colonial era is one of my favorite historical periods, and one of the only periods of American history that interests me. (Yeah, I prefer European history. I also voted for Obama, eat arugula and yearn for a single payer healthcare system. I’m a pinko, is what I’m saying. Try to contain your surprise.) It never occurred to me until this month that one of the probable reasons for my enthusiasm about the American Revolution is that I grew up in one of the original 13 colonies. And you better believe that even in the free-lovin’ 70s, every little Georgia scholar had it drummed into their brains that we were among the first – the last of the first, to be precise, squeaking into that elite group at the late date of 1733. It’s cool, dammit! Even as a first-grader, I was awed by the ineffable link between my boring daily life and the exciting days of Boston Tea Parties and cruel winters in Valley Forge. Starvation! Marching with your feet wrapped in rags! The Redcoats are coming! SHIT JUST GOT REAL, YO.

I kind of wonder if wee Minnesotans have that same sense of wonder about something that happened not only so very long ago, but also so very far away. Anachronistic illustrations of weaponry aside, can they comprehend the reality of the Revolutionary era? Or is it just another story from “once upon a time?” I don’t know, but having volunteered in Ellie’s class recently I can tell you that (1) Ms. Larson, Ellie’s teacher, is an enthusiastic and creative leader on this historical journey (her in-class reenactment of Jefferson throwing out discarded pages from the Declaration of Independence is a sight to behold), and (2) first-graders think the word “Monticello” is HILARIOUS. I have no idea why.

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Just call her Po

Driving to preschool today:

SYLVIA: Mama, I see the sun!

ME: Yep, there it is.

SYLVIA: It’s followin’ us!

ME: (feigning interest) Is it?

SYLVIA: Yeah, lookit! Ober dere! Maybe I fink it wants a playdate.

ME: (pause) A what now?

SYLVIA: The SUN wants a PLAYDATE wif SYBIA.

ME: Well, that would be pretty interesting. What do you think you’d do on a playdate with the sun?

SYLVIA: (thinking) Mmmm … the sun can’t talk.

ME: No, the sun can’t talk, that’s true.

SYLVIA: Yeah, it gots no face.

ME: Right, it’s not like the sun on Teletubbies. No face, no way to talk.

SYLVIA: I luuuuuub dat baby-in-the-sun.

ME: I know you do, honey. You love all kinds of babies.

SYLVIA: Maybe I can have a playdate wif a BABY.

ME: That sounds more doable, yeah.

He’s the reason for the season

Whoa, where did that week go? Christ, the Christmas prep is killing me this year. It’s like a perfect storm of no money, no time, no ideas. Speaking of Ol’ Jesu, our kids, who have darkened the doors of a church I think once in their young lives, have recently adopted their parents’ blasphemous epithet habits. Ellie, on stubbing her toe: “JESUS CHRIST, my foot hurts!” Sylvia, on anything that affects her in any way whatsoever: “OH MY GOOOOOOD!” We cringe, we reprimand, we give them more acceptable alternatives (“say ‘Oh my gosh!’ instead! Or ‘holy cow!'”) , we talk about being respectful of other people’s belief systems (yeah, I’m THAT parent) … nothing has really made a dent. The irony is that, of course, Chad and I say those things primarily to avoid saying something even less appropriate for a 3 or 6-year-old. And I guess I’d rather hear the occasional (ok, constant) “Oh, my God” than “Holy shit!” or something. It’s just our little way of appreciating the Messiah, in this, the appropriated month of his birth. Speaking of which:

2012 Xmas CardYou know how in most family photos, there’s that one kid who never looks quite right? Yeah. I’m that kid.

Also:

2012 Xmas Letter

 

This was our Xmas letter this year. I love being married to a graphic designer, I tell you what.

We’re heading out to parts southern tomorrow, to spend Xmas with family. Blogging will almost certainly be light. Hope you get lots of good loot! Also world peace!

 

You can’t spell “Christmas” without “r-a-c-i-s-m”

Today was a good day. Chad let me sleep in, which he always does, which is why I will never divorce him no matter how often he makes me listen to Bryan Adams songs; we took the girls to see Santa and his elf, Albert, and for the first time ever *both* girls were brave enough to sit with Santa; and then we had lunch and sat down to watch some holiday programming on Netflix. Sylvia requested The Nutcracker, Maurice Sendak’s awesomely designed version of the ballet, so we rocked that. Then Ellie chose “Christmas Classics, Vol. 1,” a collection of short Christmas-themed animations from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. So: awesome, right? We embrace classic animation! Max Fleischer rules!

And the first video, the original cartoon of Rudolph, is just what you’d expect. Snow-Whitish animation, cheesy music, Reindeer doing silly things. All good. The second short, “Santa’s Surprise,” however, is … how can I put this … RACIST AS FUCK. OK, no, that might be too strong. On a scale of racism where 1 is a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial event and 10 is a KKK rally, this movie was, like, a 7. So it could have been worse, but it’s still not something you want your kids watching.

It’s funny, because when you describe the film, it actually sounds kind of progressive. The story is that after Santa gets home from his journey around the world delivering gifts, an assortment of kiddies from different nations get together to make a Christmas surprise for Santa – they clean his house, get him a tree, and leave him a nicely wrapped present. Kids of all nations and colors working together! World harmony! It’s sweet! Except for how all the non-european kids are represented by the most screamingly blatant stereotypes you could possibly imagine. The little Asian boy personifies the Yellow Menace, the African boy is like the love-child of Little Black Sambo and Aunt Jemima – you get the idea. It’s bad enough when they’re just marching around singing about how they’re going to make a surprise for Santa, but then they start cleaning up and the white girl is sweeping whilst the black kid is shining shoes “to a boogie rhythm” and the Asian boy is … sigh … doing the laundry.

The thing is, it’s a short film, and I was so taken aback that all I managed to get out was “Um, this movie has some problematic racial stereotypes, kids …” (“What’s a stereotype, Mama?”) and then it was over. Fortunately, the rest of the shorts were harmless. UNfortunately, I’m pretty positive the girls are going to want to watch this collection again, and I have no idea how to explain in 6 and 3-year-old terms why that second film is a problem. I guess I could just forbid the whole thing, but that seems extreme. I feel like this is one of those educational opportunities you hear so much about, and I AM BIFFING IT.

Also I just found out that Bing Crosby was an asshole. So, you know. Whee!

It’s beginning to look a lot like GAAAAAH!

Look, I don’t want to freak anyone out here, but … it is the last week of November, y’all. There is officially less than a month left until Christmas. And je suis SERIOUSLY UNPREPARED.

Now, I love Christmas. Despite the family drama, the disappointments, the frenetic pace and hemorrhaging of funds from my bank account, it’s still my favorite holiday. Which has just about zero to do with the alleged birth of one Jesus H. Christ, who, even IF you accept him as a historical figure WAS NOT BORN IN DECEMBER do not get me started. It’s all about having a solstice celebration to get us through the darkest part of the year, and celebrating family rituals, and also OMG presents! Presents for EVERYONE! Which really is the awesome part, but also really can be the stressful part, in that I am neither a) Martha Stewart nor b) independently wealthy.

I don’t know if I mentioned in my introduction how many kids there are in my family. There are six of us in total. I’m the oldest, then my two biological siblings, then my three step-siblings. We span a range of 10 years; four girls and two boys. The whole psychotropic Brady Bunch situation we’ve got going not only made for some extremely interesting living arrangements, what with two couples sharing different joint custody arrangements with six kids, it also was a real study in the radically different way members of the same nominal tribe can construe the meaning of the term “family.” Like for example, I personally would say that I have five siblings and four parents, and I typically distinguish between “step” and “bio” family members only when it would confuse other people not to do so. I do not think that all the members of my family feel the same way; each person has their own way of thinking about that grouping, their own sense of who’s in and who’s out, and Christmas is often the time of year when that becomes most apparent. When we were kids it was pretty straightforward: you gave a gift to everyone. As we’ve gotten older and partnered and spawned it’s gotten more complicated. For a while we we came up with an insane gift-giving matrix that supposedly spread the financial and emotional burden evenly around, and didn’t require anyone to give a gift to anyone for whom it might be awkward. This quickly became untenable (for both logistical and sanity reasons) and for the past five-plus years we’ve been in a weird gift-giving limbo, where some of us sometimes get individual gifts for everyone, and some of us do family gifts, and some of the gifts are sort of token/Christmas ornament-type gifts and some do labor-intensive handmade projects and everyone feels vaguely weird about it. Or that could just be me projecting.

Anyway, a few years ago I decided that the only way I could think about the gift-giving thing without losing my ever-loving mind was to figure out what mattered to ME about the gifts. Like, was it important for me to give the same as I was getting? Did I have to give every person their own gift every year or would I be ok rotating? (annually, for example) How critical was it that the gifts I gave be something their recipients specifically asked for? And so on. Which, actually, I think these are pretty good questions for *anyone* to think about at the holidays, and maybe I’m late to the party, but anyway, what I came up with was, 1) I like giving gifts to everyone, every year. 2) This pleasure is not connected to *getting* gifts from everyone, every year. So, you know, I don’t have to have that “well, X didn’t give me a birthday present last year so are we not doing that any more or what?” conversations with myself. I have successfully removed any reciprocity clauses from my gifting platform. 3) I look at gifts as a way of telling the recipient that I’ve spent time thinking about them with affection. And the time and affection are the important things, not crossing items off a list or spending a given amount. 4) Once the gift is given, my part of the ritual is done. Maybe the recipient will cherish it for generations, maybe they’ll throw it in the trash first chance they get. Maybe I’ll get a thank-you note, maybe the person will never refer to the item again. Doesn’t matter. My job is to give with thought and affection, and that’s it.

Which is grand and all, and I really do think it’s the right approach for me and my family, but I tell you what: there are times when I really wish I could just win the fucking lottery already so I could hire a personal assistant to buy impersonal but wildly extravagant loot for my nearest and dearest. (Personal assistant would be third in line, after I hired a full-time, live-in housekeeper and a personal masseuse. Aw, yeah.) BECAUSE IT WOULD BE SO MUCH EASIER. Christ, the time. THE TIME. It flies, and I do not know what I am doing for people! Last year I decided in mid-October that I was going to knit every adult in my family a hat, goddammit, and that’s what I proceeded to do. I think some people probably wear them. I’m sure some don’t. But I make a decent hat, and it was fun picking the colors and patterns to match each person, and amazingly I did not get carpal tunnel from knitting two dozen hats in the space of a month and a half. Mostly that’s the kind of present I like to do: handmade, creative, personal, and functional. One year I did lino-cut prints; one year I made everyone felted things; sometimes I do jewelry.

But this year, I did a show, which just closed. Which means my crafting season got cut down to 1/3 its normal size. And all my siblings have partners. And most of them have at least one kid. Plus parents. And in-laws. Also kids’ teachers. And probably some friends. Plus broke, plus kids to take care of and classes to teach. (At least the holiday cards are done. Thank you Costco for your sweet, sweet cheapiness.)

I mean, it’s the usual stuff, right? Just the usual holiday crap. And of course I’m grateful even to be in the position of fretting about gifts, and not, say, salvaging the remains of my material goods from Superstorm Sandy, or something. So anyway, I’m not looking to get out of giving the gifts this year (attention family and friends: do not, repeat NOT, post comments telling me not to give you anything. I mean it.) But I am wondering what other people do on the gift-giving front, and what good ideas and advice you smart people might have. Also Pinterest. Pinterest will have some ideas…

Aside

So Ellie brought home a little booklet she made at school, titled “We Are Thankful,” which comprises photocopies of pictures and statements from her class illustrating what they’re most thankful for. Three things: The vast majority of kids were thankful … Continue reading

This is me

Hi there. My name is Elise Robinson and I am … well. Where to begin? Since 2003, I’ve been blogging pretty regularly at various places on the internets. And then the parenthood shark swallowed my blogging ability whole (how’s THAT for a painful metaphor?) and I went on an extended hiatus. And then a couple of my friends were all, don’t be a jerk! Start writing again! So I submitted some stuff to an online parenting magazine, but they didn’t really want it, so I dithered around for a while and then I finally decided to start a brand new, all-me, all-the-time website. Because, when in doubt: solipsism.

So who am I? I was recently told by an editor that I’m a “modern parent,” which I guess is as good a place to start as any. I mean, I certainly qualify for that category, in that I am both a parent and alive right now. NAILED IT. Of course, that’s not what most people tend to think when they see the phrase “modern parent” or “modern family,” is it? I mean, “modern” usually connotes something edgy, alternative, boundary-pushing. Anything but old-fashioned and traditional. And that’s where I start smiling nervously and slowly backing out of the room, because for someone who once spearheaded a pro-choice advocacy group AT A CATHOLIC COLLEGE and liked Boy George before it was cool (I know, I know: it was never cool), I have become a pretty freaking traditional person in a scary number of ways. Check it: I am married. To a man. We got married before we had kids. Once we had our two girls, I quit my job so I could stay home with them full-time. My husband supports us by working outside the home. I’m college educated, middle-class, middle-aged, and WHITE, for chrissakes. Practically the only way I could get more traditional would be for you to surgically attach pearls and a twinset and give me a lifetime membership to the Junior League. Could I BE any more boring? (Case in point: I just did a Chandler impression to add humor to my opening paragraph. THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT.)

Well. Ahem. I guess maybe it’s not quite as bad as I’m making it out to be. I have kind of a crazy extended family, for one thing. For example: my stepmom and stepdad used to be married … to each other. Ima give you a minute to work that one out. Take your time. Think it over. Got it? Yeah. There were two couples: my mom and dad, and their best friends, Mr. and Mrs. Future Stepparents, and then both couples got divorced and then they sort of, uh … switched out. Changed partners. Do-si-do’ed. Whatever you wanna call it, it’s most definitely neither traditional nor old-fashioned. All of us kids got YEARS’ worth cocktail party small-talk out of that one, I tell you what. Don’t you want to hear some of the stories? Then there’s the fact that my mom, dad, and step-dad are all philosophy professors. I’m not sure what normal 80’s-era families talked about at their dinner tables (football schedules? Kirk Cameron? Bowling? Seriously, I have no idea) but at our house, we were learning how to construct logical syllogisms while chowing down on our nightly meal. As a game! It’s fun! And I really mean that, which is one reason why you probably don’t want to invite me over for dinner, unless there’s enough alcohol to make me stop correcting your children when they end sentences with prepositions.

Or, if my family quirks (of which there are many! So, so many) don’t trip your non-traditional trigger, how about my faith? For a long time I listed my belief system as “Militant Agnostic: I don’t know and you don’t either,” partly to be snarky-funny and partly because I kind of actually DO think that. But then, right on schedule, I had a mid-life crisis and realized that I was actually probably Buddhist, and sort of unknowingly had been for a while, because that Siddhartha Gautama? Was one enlightened motherfucker.

(Er – I may have forgotten to mention that I have a tendency to swear like a sailor. Does that count as non-traditional and modern?)

I’m also urban, for what it’s worth. Or at least, I don’t know if I’m urban, exactly, but I live with my family in south Minneapolis, MN, in a neighborhood that a realtor would probably describe using words like “up-and-coming” or “a real investment opportunity” and that normal people would just call “kind of shitty.” We’ve been living here for six years now, and the neighborhood is definitely improving, in the sense that we’ve only had ONE fatal-stabbing in a three-block radius so far this year. Woohoo! Raising kids in the middle of the city can be weird – I grew up in the south, and it’s hard for me to fathom a childhood that doesn’t include regular contact with wild snakes and overt racism – but Minneapolis is also a really awesome place to have kids, and if I could just move this town to somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line I would happily live here forever.

So anyway, that’s me: just your average southern-fried, forty-something, lefty, feminist, academic, Buddhist, theatre-geek mama. As I sit here typing, I’ve got one ear cocked towards the baby monitor in case my three year old decides to, you know, act like a three year old; my husband is trying to lure me away from the computer with a pre-recorded episode of Louie; and in the back of my mind I’m trying to figure out what to make for dinner tomorrow when we don’t have any food in the house and we don’t get paid until Monday. I’m tempted to make some sarcastic remark about how I’m “living the dream,” but my life is actually pretty rad most of the time. Even if I do still use completely outdated 80’s slang words like “rad.” Pleased to make your acquaintance.