Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More thoughts on the infinite

stunt kite, St Simon's Island

Juliet got wheedled into putting up her Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving by her nieces. Yikes, says I. I just got the Halloween decorations back down the basement, I'm not ready to bring up xmas.

Gad, is anyone ever ready for Christmas? Oh now that's not right. I can clearly remember being very into it. When I was single and lived alone, actually.

Now, though, the thought of putting up lights in the cold, clearing out a corner for the damn tree, ornaments on and ornaments off, jeez I just don't need the extra hassle. In fact, I have for years been whining to Mr. Librarian about an artificial tree. Oooh, no mess! Oooh, just snap it together! Oooh!

To me, someone growing a tree so that they can cut it down and sell it to me so that I can put it in my living room and watch it slowly die seems absolutely absurd. Cut flowers, ok, they're pretty and don't take up much room in the garbage when they're done, but, like, a whole tree?

It's got to be bad for the environment too, all the resources in growing, shipping, and disposing - vs. the one-time cost of manufacturing an artificial tree. I made all these arguments to my husband. To further arm myself in case he proved intractable, I looked up the overall energy cost of real vs. artificial.

So guess what. Manufacturing an artificial tree out of PVC vinyl is like so environmentally heinous that you could deforest most of Montana, and, as long as you mulch your tree instead of putting it in the landfill, you'd be doing Mother Nature a favor.

Good thing I checked, huh? Good thing I had the skills, resources, and most of all inclination to look into something that seemed like a reasonable assertion before turning around and beating someone else over the head with it.

This is all I'm saying about the religion thing. I have had several penetrating conversations over the last few days about my atheism blog entry. I especially want to thank A the Niece and Friend Mary for being skeptical and tolerant and willing to civilly discuss what sounded like a big fat diatribe on my part.

In some ways, I am unmoved.

Tolerance, to me, is the ultimate grace. It is the one word that summarizes the lessons one can draw from the stories of Jesus, Mohammed, Rama, Buddha - and you know, I call myself a religion retard but in fact I've read them all.

Intolerance is what kills people. I don't think I need to back that statement up.

On the other hand, I failed to state in my previous entry what has always kept me from decrying religion, and that is the (good) moral and spiritual guidance it can provide. Mary said it best when she pointed out, "My parents didn't send me to Catholic school so that I wouldn't be corrupted by people like you (paraphrase), they sent me to Catholic school to learn right from wrong."

Yeah, I still believe you get that from your parents more than from anyone else, but her Catholic education probably contextualized the specifics that she had absorbed at home, made it obvious that "Don't lie" wasn't just some preference of her mom's - "Don't lie" is a universal value.

Further, there is a lot to be said for the solace and comfort of ritual. And there are intrinsic goods: I know Buddhists who swear that the meditation involved has solved their anger issues.

And take it from me, you cannot study the history of the Western world without learning the history of the Catholic church and of Judaism.

In fact, I largely give the mainstream established faiths a pass. In the United States at least, Catholicism, Judaism, and the older Protestant sects have reached an equilibrium with the surrounding culture. They can accommodate dissenting views without feeling threatened, and, I would say, seem to place more of a priority on maintaining the well-being of their congregants (uh, with certain egregious exceptions) than on micromanaging their lives.

Those kids can grow up and go through a process of doubt and investigation and not feel like they're the first ones to ever wonder about such things.

It is, in the end, the ability of religion to subvert or suppress critical thinking that I take up arms against. It's not just religion that can do this - bad teachers and Dr. Laura play their part - but it kind of is just religion and parents that can start the process so damn early. A friend of Joe's is a middle school science teacher in rural Virginia, and has been told by his students that "our parents warned us about you" because he was known to teach evolutionary theory.

It seems like "good" religious education, promulgated by people who respect the child, allows for curiosity and exploration. But you take an incurious child, or a dogmatic or overzealous educator, and you end up with an adult who forwards email about underarm deodorant causing cancer or Jews planning the September 11th attacks.

Well, hell, Mary's right. You take the word "religious" out of the previous paragraph and it still reads true.


So why am I unable to leave this alone? Because a child's mind is the epitome of potential. Just as we model good behaviors, we should model good habits of thought. We do that mind a disservice when we present statements of faith or dogma as irrefutable fact, without acknowledging alternative points of view or encouraging the child to evaluate those statements on her own.

I would propose two reasonable tests for statements that we make to children:

1. "Is it a (more or less) universally-held belief or value?"

2. "Is it provable?"

(A third test might be, "Is it useful to me at this moment?" which would allow such statements as "I'm sorry honey, the ice cream store is closed for the summer.")

Given these tests,

  • Stealing is bad = universally held to be true
  • Homosexuality is bad = not universally considered to be true
  • The Earth orbits the sun = provable
  • The Big Bang = not completely provable
  • God created the world in 7 days = also not provable

Big Man is losing a tooth, and he's a bit squeamish about it. This is where the Tooth Fairy comes in, right? Promise a reward and the process of losing a tooth becomes less scary. I told the story. I said that when I was a little kid, my parents told me that if I put the tooth under my pillow yada yada fairy quarter etc.

Then I said, "What do you think about that?" He got this kind of incredulous smile and asked, "Is that true?" I told him I personally have never seen a fairy, but I was sure that there would be a present under his pillow in place of his tooth. "How do you think I know that?" I asked, and with another smile he answered, "Because you'll put it there!"

I find it very odd that in our civilization we're quite happy to speak of a Catholic child that is 4 years old or a Muslim child that is 4, when these children are much too young to know what they think about the cosmos, life and morality. We wouldn't dream of speaking of a Keynesian child or a Marxist child. And yet, for some reason we make a privileged exception of religion. And, by the way, I think it would also be [wrong] to talk about an atheist child. - Richard Dawkins


First in a series of reviews of What I Have to Endure Sometimes to Get a Little Quiet.

The time has come. I have now put up with about five years of entertainment aimed at kids, and I am ready to share my opinions. You may not care. In fact, I don't care. But I have formed these opinions and am compelled to broadcast them, at least once.

The Wiggles: They daze me. Four Australian guys in color-coded mock turtlenecks who play music and don't seem to make a big effort to look, like, good-looking. There's this disconnect between their Captain-Kirk uniforms and their jug-eared, cartoony human faces. One guy always looks unshaven, and at least two are decidedly bug-eyed.

The Wiggles have a pal named Captain Feathersword. He tickles people with his (feather) sword and likes to do silly dances. In one adventure, the Wiggles and the Captain impetuously commandeer a spaceship and bing around the galaxy like a pinball (a common trope). The Captain has impulse control issues - when he sees a big red button he sings a song called "What's This Button For?" (which I kind of like and which adapts itself to many circumstances and nouns. "What's this bottle for?" etc.) and then presses said button before discovering what, in fact, it is for. Later, when the group is in peril, one of the Wiggles suggests to the Captain that he do a funny dance. "Awww," protests the Captain shamefacedly, "It were one a' me funny dances that got us into this in the first place!"

After I don't know how many viewings (really listenings, I don't have to be in the same room as the videos, that's kind of the point), I developed a theory about the Wiggles and Captain Feathersword. They kind of aligned in my head with the Beatles and Doctor Robert. Wiggle world is pretty psychedelic, that's for sure, and you can totally read their lines as drug code.
"Captain Feathersword, we're crashing! Maybe one of your funny dances would help!"
("Captain Feathersword, we're crashing! Dose me!")
"Awww, it were one a' me funny dances that got us into this in the first place!"
("I don't know fellas, it were me unorthodox combination of OxyContin and crank that sent us all into shock in the first place!")

These guys are kid superstars though. I hear the live shows totally rock, despite the green-and-yellow dinosaur character and the octopus with the hat, god those things look so random, like they were the costumes that the Wiggly guys got for cheap when a costume shop went out of business back in Brisbane or wherever.

Their beginnings certainly were humble. You should see the early Wiggle TV shows - they look like they were filmed in a doctor's office waiting room. Even the kid guests look desperate and gaunt. How ever did they get so big? Ask a kid his criteria for liking anything, see if you get a comprehensible answer.

PS: Oddly, I think they moonlighted as crowd filler on the USS Abraham Lincoln one day a few years back:

Image capture

Mr. 3 and daddy. photo by Peter Siegel.

Our old friend Pete stopped by last night for dinner and a bed. It was great to see him, he's one of those people that once you meet him you feel like you've known him your whole life. He and his family live in Maine now, which is too far away.

Luckily for us, Peter's job brings him to the MidAtlantic region every now and then. Right now, he's on a trip down and up the East Coast demonstrating high-end imaging technology to museums, universities, and libraries.

How high-end? Click on this picture and then click on "All sizes". The camera he was demonstrating is something like 13 megapixels, a PhaseOne image capture module attached to a Hasselblad body. The originals of these images, which Flickr will not accept, are 115 megs and 7228 pixels on the long side. I could print them billboard sized with no discernable degradation of resolution.

He handed the thing to me, and even though it was beautifully balanced, I suddenly felt all butterfingery when he said, "That's about $40,000 worth of camera there."

"Are they heavy?" asks the lawyer. "Yeah," the kid replies. "Then they're expensive, put 'em back."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

TG 2006

Big Man had a project for school this year - a big piece of foamcore that we as a family were to fill with some sort of statement about our family.

I was at a loss, until we hit on the concept of a jigsaw puzzle. Big Man and Mr Three are maniacs for jigsaw puzzles. I printed a lot of pictures, old and new, of Bob's family and mine, and we cut them into jigsaw pieces and glued them onto the foamcore.

The pieces didn't all fit together perfectly. They overlapped and left gaps, and as we were gluing, Big Man explained to me that families are the same way - not all the pieces fit together perfectly, and sometimes you lose a piece, but when you find the piece again it'll fit into the puzzle ok.

A pretty simplistic observation, but looking at this family picture, I feel it. My brother didn't come home for Thanksgiving - he has a de facto family in Seattle. My cousin Andrew is in Tucson in grad school, and three other cousins were with their father for the holiday. Their mom, my dad's sister, came to be with us. My mother's sister died some years ago, but her husband and son are here. Cousin Jonathan had the heaves and stayed at the hotel with his mom/grandmother, but his dad/grandfather, my mom's cousin Bill, is here, smiling, with three of his kids. Jonathan's mom is in Atlanta. My cousin Nash's wife is from Tokyo. My husband is from Cleveland. Rachel's husband is from Minneapolis. God knows where the dog's from.

In this picture, Mr. Librarian and I are holding our children down with great effort. They didn't want to be in the picture. I can only imagine the effort it will take in the future to even get them in the same room with us.

It's not a complete puzzle - the complete puzzle would fill the whole world. But these pieces - 17 people and a dog - fit together tonight to make a picture of love, and birth, and intention.

I try not to get overwhelmed by sentiment. But Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. (thanks Rae for the picture)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

This is the reason I stopped going to the pictures

For Aimee's cousin John

I have been reading some things about atheism lately.

And I'm convinced.

No, just kidding, I've been an atheist all my life. I'm real comfortable with, as they say, witnessing to it. But there's this recent discussion about evangelizing for atheism.

I'm reflexively against that. Independent thinking is what got me here - why would I try to influence someone else's train of thought? However. The articles that I have been reading, by Richard Dawkins and others, make some interesting points:

  1. Religion is bad. It can lead people to murder. The worst a lack of belief can do is get you murdered for your impertinence.
  2. God is not true.
  3. A population that believes something that is not true - in the face of contradictory evidence - is a psychotic one.

And most persuasively: teaching little children "that there is a higher kind of knowledge which comes from faith, which comes from revelation, which comes from tradition, and that it is the equal if not the superior of knowledge that comes from real experience" (Dr. Dawkins, at a recent conference called "Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival") seems, when you put it that way, to undermine our other attempts at educating them. To subvert any potential for a rational society. Certainly it serves to establish precedent for the kind of mulish credulity that has allowed great swathes of our nation to put their trust in people who have demonstrably lied to them about matters in the public interest.

I've seen this with Big Man's friends. At the risk of alienating some of the other moms, I will say that it is tremendously disturbing when a five-year-old contradicts a factual statement by an adult with some Christian claptrap.

Furthermore, it's not like the claptrap is limited to moral or peripheral issues. I might roll my eyes but I would have no essential objection to a kindergartner telling me that if she punches her brother Jesus will be disappointed. We'll all be disappointed. We allow little children to be incentivized by mythical figures - if it'll just keep her from punching her brother between now and Christmas, say.

No, we're talking death, babies, and the creation of the world - big stuff.

I have held off talking about god to my kids. Death, babies, the creation of the world - and god - when they're ready to know, they'll ask. And I fully intended, when I had to address the question of faith, to speak of diversity of belief, and appreciation of the world's mysteries, and different approaches to explaining things that seem hard to understand.

The religious of the world, however, take the opposite approach. I've had a 4 year old sing out, "I know why Jesus died!" Big Man greets this revelation with concern: "Somebody died? Was he sick?" Not only that, but these kids are learning that I - along with my unbaptized children - am going to Hell.

So fuck it, maybe I will throw in my lot with the more radical atheists here. Why shouldn't I tell my kids that god is a myth? That their peers who speak of god are being taught things that aren't true? And why shouldn't I start now?

Persuasive evidence:

1. Two recent articles, one in the NY Times and one in Wired

2. Ann Coulter

3. A song I heard out of a preschooler:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G,
Jesus died for you and me

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


big man (with Buncos)

Earlier today I volunteered to host the extensive extended family for dinner etc one day this weekend, to take some pressure offa Ma.

Not an hour later I dropped a large pickle jar fulla preserved lemons on the tip of my third finger.

I'm glad I prevented the jar from falling, if it had broken we woulda had to move. Strong smellin stuff.

The pain, however, was the worst pain I can recall in my life. Worse than when I broke my arm. Worse than the time I sliced the tip of my pinkie off with the mandoline. I saw stars. I could not speak. As I cringed on the floor cradling my hand with my eyes squeezed shut mouthing syllables of pain, I became aware that both boys, who react to each others' moments of woe with 100% opaque indifference, were standing by me patting me on the head and face.

Big Man, peering into my eyes, asked, "Are you saying 'ow'?"

I nodded, still unable to speak. He said, "Are you saying 'yes'?"

I don't know why but that cracks me up.

Most of my left hand is out for the count, with days of cooking & cleaning ahead of me. Plus it is hours later and still hurting like a bastard. A purple, swollen bastard.

Hello out there

This is cool - a font made of aerial photos from Google Earth.

Chairman of the Future Frontmen of America club

I know, I mean, where did we think they came from? Icons like Ozzy and Gene Simmons and, lest we forget, Rob Halford, didn't just spring full-grown from the brow of the superbrain.

So this is what they looked like when they were five. Big Friend's dad, rockstar Roy Jr., has got to be the proudest papa in town.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Earth orchids

I got nothing to say, I just wanted to share the thing that grew on our stump overnight. That's some big fungus.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Every topic in the universe...

...except chickens.

Take it from Fictional Jimbo Wales himself, nobody wants to end up thinking that Jodie Foster was History's Greatest Villain.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Aim for the flat-top!"

Sent along by the beeyoutificus Jen, all the way from the frozen wastes of Maine:
Gozer the Traveler! He will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldronaii, the Traveler came as a large and moving Torb! Then, during the Third Reconciliation of the Last of the Meketrex Supplicants, they chose a new form for him, that of a giant Sloar! Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of a Sloar that day, I can tell you!
Just to remind us all of the genius that is Ghostbusters.

An old friend had this theory that all of Ghostbusters was one big addled, guilty homage to Belushi by Ackroyd. He had all kinds of details that supported his theory, like Ackroyd smoking and looking unkempt, but the principle strut of his argument was the fat, white, angry Stay-Puft marshmallow man. Look:

See the eyebrows? Huh?

Related: NYTimes Mag this weekend was all about the comedy. Writing about comedy, ech, like Lou Reed said, it's like singing about architecture. And Will Ferrell was on the cover. He may be funny but I don't wanna look at him. Anyway, they asked a whole bunch of people (but not me, my phone must have been turned off) what 5 comedy movies they'd take to a desert island. If they'd gotten thru this is what I would have said:
I know that's seven, but what else are editors for?

Only 2 by ex-Saturday Night Live guys. 3 if you count Baron Haden-Guest. Young Frankenstein, Beetlejuice, and Zoolander didn't make it only because I've seen them so many times already. And I love The Royal Tenenbaums but I don't know how often I could watch it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Each pregnancy lowers your IQ 5 points

I am full of recommendations, mostly unsolicited. I will tell you:

  • kimchi is good for a cold
  • sweet peas grow best if sowed in fall
  • get your funky shoes at Ma Petite Shoe
  • it's better to start your Mail Merge from Excel
  • move to Hampden
  • freeze chicken in the marinade
  • read the user's manual
  • pay the movers to do your packing
  • Bedekar mixed pickle is better than Mother's
There are not too many categories about which I feel totally ill-equipped to provide advice. I am a real pain in the ass. For example, Big Man (above) seems somewhat skeptical about my endorsement of Thai okra. That's ok, I was kidding.

So it's kind of for the best that I work at the public library. People ASK me questions - not just
"Which tax form should I use?" which I answer with an IRS publication: no way am I touching that one
"How can you tell if a woman is a lesbian?" which kind of boggled me for a minute but I found a book called like "101 Questions You Might Have About Homosexuality" (I did NOT tell him "look at her shoes" which is outdated advice anyway and which, if you follow it, will give you the wrong idea about most many librarians and all most nuns)
but also
"Can you recommend a book about trucks for my three-year-old?" which I am UNBELIEVABLY qualified to answer, having read every children's book about trucks published since and including Mike Mulligan and his motherfucking Steam Shovel.
What I really enjoy giving advice on is books for 13-year-olds. Seems counter-intuitive, as most kids are getting surly or at least uncommunicative by the age of 13, but I have an in with these kids. I'd like to think it's because I look them in the eye and respect their opinions, but I know better. It's the big tattoo on my forearm. God, I love that tattoo.

I like helping them find books because their books are so great lately! Probably the last "teen" book you read was Forever by Judy Blume. Well, Judy Blume is still out there (and people are still gettin all bent out of shape about the sex in Forever), but there's a recent spate of books - tight, exciting, and sans melodrama - that are so good that I recommend them to adult readers. Readers with short attention spans, like moms with little children. Fantasy readers; or people who like kind of edgy fiction. So I'm taking my act on the road - here's a short list of books I cannot recommend highly enough:

  • Kiki Strike in the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller. Fifth grade girls exploring an underground New York City. History, espionage and adventure.
  • The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer. It's sci-fi, but it's not all magicky. Lots of action and an intricate plot.
  • Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Upland. In Victorian London, a thief reinvents himself as a gentleman. Interesting information about the jail system and sewers, and a great story.
  • Stowaway by Karen Hesse. Inspired by the true story of a boy who stowed away on Captain Cook's ship Endeavour on its 1768 voyage of discovery. Great gateway to the amazing story of the voyage, written with economy and color.
  • His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman. Indescribable. I ripped through these 3 books in about a week. Metaphysics, politics, fantasy, all in a quick-moving, tightly-plotted story.
  • The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. 13-year-old MI6 agent. James Bond, Jr.
  • The Weetzie Bat books by Francesca Lia Block. These are lovely. Weetzie and her friends live their dreams in Los Angeles. They fall in love, break up, have babies, and dress like Patricia Field threw up all over them.
I get 'em on audio, that way I can be reading a book and also following a book in the car. And I have to say, my goodness, Tim Curry adds a lot to A Series of Unfortunate Events; Stephen Fry's edible baritone absolutely makes Montmorency; and some guy named David Cale is shivering my timbers reading Stowaway. Mmm! Oh, also that actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, from Dirty Pretty Things, was VERY effective reading The Supernaturalist.

And by "effective" I mean that I kind of wished I had headphones so that he could be whispering in my ear. And for you adults - Campbell Scott reading Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood. Dry and haunted. Now all I need is for Clive Owen to start doing recorded books and I swear to god I would crash the car.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Stay connected to customers, partners and colleagues in today's fast-moving world"

Officially over 40 as of yesterday. It was a good birthday even though I spent a disheartening amount of it trying to get my new phone activated and the email set up and figuring out how to download audio books from the library and then upload them onto my phone.
  • Note to my workplace: the selection of e-audio books available through Maryland's Digital eLibrary Consortium is pitiful. Free, though - that is a plus.
  • Note to Verizon Wireless: just because I'm back doesn't mean I forgive you. I got my eye on you bitches.
Had a great lunch with Juliet and the kids at the Red Canoe, and a swanky dinner out. Mr. Librarian and the kids came through with cute presents, trinkets that I would never buy myself, and terrific cards and pictures.

I missed my annual phone call from Mr. Librarian's best childhood friend, an ex-Marine who calls me on my birthday and sings From the Halls of Montezuma. (My birthday is also the birthday of the Corps.) But he left a message, so I can play it over and over if I want. Third verse:
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven's scenes,
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines
Why do the streets of Heaven have to be guarded? From whom? And how come Marines don't get to relax even once they get to Heaven?

Nobody coughed up $3500 and bought me this, though - come on people how many hints do I have to drop?

But the best present of all came from Three. He woke up at about ten pm, dictated this note to the babysitter, and fell back asleep:
Dear Mommy,
I just love to see you. Don't run into skeletons. I love [Big Man] only when he's cool. I love drinking apple juice.
Happy birthday.
I love Mommy.
[Mr. Three]

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Nine sisters-in-law

Nice shoes, girls!, originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

Now this is only six of 'em, the six that are Bob's actual sisters. The other three came later, when his brothers got married.

  • Bottom step: Janie, public radio engineer
  • 2nd step: Mary, pediatrician; Bob, public schools executive; Anne, teacher (ret.)
  • 3rd step: Joe, practicing puppeteer; Therese, force of nature; Nancy, industrial designer at Fisher-Price (and source of much xmas joy)
  • 4th step: Paul, the father-in-law I never met; Patsy (with Ranger), cook and brain; Frances, everyone's mom; and Jim, who works for the diocese counseling kids and playing guitar.
  • Peter, the oldest, isn't in the picture. He's either taking it or away from home. This was 1971, Paul and Frances' 25th wedding anniversary.

You might think this would be a lot to marry into, and it is, really, it is. I love the noise though, and the music and laughter of this family. Look at all the smiles here - they're a happy group no matter what they say. (Not to mention, look at the shoes. I'd give a lot for Mary's platform slingbacks in this picture!)

Ever since Frances's health began to decline a few years ago they've been going through a lot. She died last spring and this weekend they got together and divvied up her stuff. I hope it was an occasion for stories and laughter, as always, even though I know it was sad too.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"40-year-old part-time librarian from Lauraville"

So, The Examiner did an article on blogs Monday and mentioned Your Neighborhood Librarian. Even put this blog on their "Best Baltimore Blogs" list! To quote the too-modest Anger Hangover, who was on the same list, "...further proof that standards here in Baltimore really are getting lower."

I'm in the last two paragraphs of the article, quoted saying things that read as utter nonsense, and which may actually offend my co-workers - sad, because I have only two rules about my blog:
  1. I don't write anything I wouldn't want my (nine, count 'em, nine) sisters-in-law to hear about, and
  2. I don't write about work ever
But it's probably ok that I come off kind of insensitive and boring, because I'm described in the article as a "40-year-old part-time librarian from Lauraville," and, well, shit, who would read a word THAT person wrote? It's true, every word, but ow. I've never realized you could put those words together like that and be talking about me. Why couldn't I be a "freakishly tall multi-degreed mother of two?"

It's pretty neat to be in the paper, though (well, not THE paper, but the new paper, the free one that had everyone confused for a while: Is it the Pennysaver? Is the Reverend Moon involved somehow?).

But to put things into perspective: our friend Aimee had good news to announce on Monday, too - she has had an article accepted for publication in the International Journal of Epidemiology. Now THAT is impressive!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ammonia perfume

My house is clean.

Deserves an epic delivery: "O! Hear me ye friends and especially hear me o my relations! I say to you, 'MY HOUSE IS CLEAN!'"

Partly because one of the aunties was coming for a short visit, partly because it was time to rotate the summer clothes out and the winter clothes in, partly because I just got up a good head of steam and one thing led to another.

It's lovely, I must say. We have white painted cabinets in the kitchen (not my choice, came with the house) and the least little spatter or drip makes them look like hell, so it's either constant vigilance, or just let them get grimy. You know which route I take here.

So after I cleaned them all Sunday afternoon, the kitchen now has an eerie brilliance. Am I dead? Is that you, Grandma? No, I'm just in the kitchen.

Same thing in the bathroom. I don't get real exercised over the cleanliness of the bathtub because without my glasses I am very nearly blind, and, obviously, I don't wear my glasses in the shower. Come to think of it, if I did, maybe I would have started going to the gym before my stomach had a chance to become an actual second ass.

Now that Mr. Librarian has scoured the walls and tub, well first of all it's a lot slipperier in there, but also, jeez, it's like teeth in a gum commercial. Ting! Like taking a shower inside an iPod.

And opening the closet in the boys' room is breathtaking. It's always been choked to the gills with boxes of once and future hand-me-downs, but I cleared it ALL out. Thinking of putting a lamp in there and making it a study. I could hide out and read my book!

It's not going to stay this clean for long. In fact, if I hold real still and squint, I can see entropy at work, slowly wiggling the puppets out of their basket; cat hair accreting in the corners of the stairs.

(And when I vacuum, I totally secretly see myself as Elastigirl. This is why me not watching much TV is probably a good thing.)

And also he said "fuckers"! (reprise)

And also he said "fuckers"!, originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

You know, it's totally wrong, but I love kids saying bad words.

Mr. Three here went through a two-day phase of modifying every noun with the word "goddamn". We didn't laugh - you mustn't laugh - but it almost killed us.

"Hey dad, can we get some goddamn nuggets at goddamn Ol McDonalds?"

"I love the goddamn Tot Lot!"

"Mommy can we pease have goddamn bubbas in our goddamn baff?"

When his older brother was about a year old he tried out "shit" the same way. Just kept practicing, under his breath. Driving to pick up my husband fromwork, I would hear these whispered curses from the back seat, as if he were trying to, I don't know, thread a needle and kept missing.

I listen to audio books in the car. The current selection is Heat, Bill Buford's book about the restaurant Babbo. I hadn't expected the content to be a problem for the kids to overhear - it's about cooking, right? But I was wrong.

We're tooling along the highway, the kids are jabbering happily to each other. In the book, Joe Bastianich is commenting unfavorably on a restaurant in a village at the base of the Apennines.

All of a sudden the Big Man (almost 5) says, "Stop the tape!"

I stop the tape, and Big Man says, "That man on the radio just said 'Joe'!" (They have an Uncle Joe and aren't aware that it's a fairly common name.)

I say, "Well isn't that something!"

"Yes!" chirps Mr. Three, "And also he said 'fuckers'!"

Wuh-oh, red alert - don't laugh, figure out how to keep this from getting out of hand, we are on our way to my mom's.

"...FUCKersss..." Big Man repeats, really savoring the word. "That's a GOOD word!"

"No it's not," I hurriedly shoot back. "It's, uh, it's really not a word at all." Lie # 2847. When they learn to read they are gonna be pissed.

I pop the tape back in hoping to distract them and hoping Joe Bastianich watches his fucking language for ten more minutes. It's not that my mother will think I'm a bad mom, it's that my father will piss himself laughing when they roll out their new favorite word, and then I'll never be rid of it.

The narrator intones, "This book is continued on Cassette Two".

"Cassette Two..." both boys repeat, rolling the syllables around in their mouths... "Cassette Two!"

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Delicious demon

Dawn of the dead, version 1, originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

We trick or treated last night for an hour and a half. My three-year-old son hung in there enthusiastically, walking around the neighborhood til even my feet were sore! That's my boy!

Scientist costume, originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

He ditched both the wig and the glasses though, I mean, wouldn't you? Our group had a witch, a princess, a ghost, a bee, a vampire, Thomas the Tank Engine, a paleontologist (Mr. Three - I didn't tell him that I have known a disproportionate number of paleontologists, and I have very seldom seen them wearing lab coats), and Big Man, who was a walking art table. We saw hundreds of kids, it was a scene, man. The perfect night, too, warm and misty and moonlit.

A lot of grownups dressed up too. I saw a woman in an Afro wig, hoop earrings, and a miniskirt scarecrow outfit - I think she was a cross between Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in The Wiz! Our friend Daphne and her daughter Neighbor Girl both dressed as witches, with big and little brooms. When someone asked Neighbor Girl what she was, she said, "I'm a witch, just like my mama!" Got a big laugh.

"I'm a witch, just like my mom!", originally uploaded by pwilnyc.

And if you think WE decorate OUR house for Halloween, boy you should have seen the next block over! Fog machines, spinning bats, spooky sound effects, adults dressed like zombies and witches handing out candy... there was even a jack o'lantern carved to look like an Imperial stormtrooper - man that takes skill!

But Tom Chalkley's house gets the prize. Tom dressed like a (dead) gravedigger and was actively burying a body in his front yard. He told some yarn about the "dead" guy and was impressively creepy all by himself, but then, after an extra jet of fog, the dead man lurched up out of his grave and flopped around, convincingly zombie-esque. It was a virtuoso performance - you could hear the kids screaming and laughing all the way down the block.

Now... here is the thing.

Is it ok to scare the bejeebers out of little kids like that? Is it, in fact, ok for kids to go door to door demanding candy?

Well I mean you can tell that I would say yes. I love flamboyant; I love spooky. But I'm also a Nazi mom who doesn't have cookies or broadcast television in the house. In fact, it's because I'm so strict about a lot of things (manners, diet, TV, safety) that I think Halloween has an important place.

For one night, you don't have to say thank you for the candy (although I caught myself reflexively reminding the kids to do it). You can EAT candy. You can go out after dark; you don't have to walk on the sidewalk. You can cross the street without a 30-second ritual of looking back and forth and holding a hand (not the big streets obviously).

One night of transgression doesn't develop bad habits or undo even a short lifetime of training. The costume reinforces the concept that We Are Not Ourselves tonight.

Sweet, sweet freedom.

Big Man's school had a "Harvest Festival" in addition to their Halloween parade, for all the sad kids whose parents are Jehovah's Witlesses (yes I said it) or 7th Day Adventists. They're not allowed to "celebrate" Halloween because it is derived from a pagan holiday.

First of all, do we "celebrate" Halloween? Certainly not in the same way that we "celebrate" Mass, or Diwali, or Easter. I think we "observe" Halloween.

And second, who's going to break the bad news to them about the pagan origins of Christmas and Easter?

I don't get this joyless bullshit. What about Halloween is so threatening as to inspire a ban? I just don't buy that it's the scary witches and devils and the implications of violence - if that's so, those people's kids had better not be watching TV or movies. Is it the lapse in discipline that Halloween represents? Or is it that the children are in charge?

I think the latter. After all, kids are the ultimate pagans - until they are instructed in established traditions, they make up their own rituals and superstitions, and draw their own conclusions about the world, which adults, for the most part, are constantly trying to correct, if not thwart entirely.

And I think that's why I am so offended that someone would ban Halloween. It's this one night when we relax and let them follow their instincts. A drop of anarchy in little lives that otherwise should be tightly controlled. One night of the year to taste freedom and power, to learn that it is sweet but also scary.