Rant: Rewriting Children’s Literature for Realism

There is a dark part of me, the ego-driven, socially conscious, bossy side of me that sometimes surfaces while I am reading to Blossom from the cannon of classic children’s literature. I feel this deep-seated need to rewrite the story.  I find myself tsking the writer, or the dated, unPC character:

“So what made you think you weren’t going to come home to a disaster if you left a monkey alone all day, Man with the Yellow Hat? Hmm?  That’s what you get for taking a wild creature out of his natural habitat.”

While my corrections might not be as entertaining, they would certainly satisfy the part of me that thinks modeling is important:

“I’m sorry, Son, that was my bad, I really am a terrible dad, Papa Bear admits he doesn’t know how, so maybe you should show me now.”

I secretly resent that most children’s programming tells them that as long as they are polite, and follow the rules that everything will go according to plan.  We keep it so nice for them.

I want Dora to sing a song about how she didn’t do it, she tried everything, she had all the help in the world, but no, she failed.

“We failed, we failed, we tried it but we failed!”

I want my kid to understand that often there is no resolution.  There are often desires that go forever unsated.   The world is highly unstable.  I remember the horrible feeling when I was eleven upon realizing that I was going to be required to do more and more math, that there were no longer any unowned pieces of the planet, that the social mesh we live inside just tightens with time.  It was not a slow realization, it was a car wreck.

To have a child in this lifetime is to really upgrade your level of denial about the state of the planet, our country, or even more fundamentally, about human nature.  We hope, as parents, to ease them slowly into these dismal truths, like the frog in the hot water.  That is why we lie to them in the stories we read them.

And honestly, as a person deeply committed to the literary tradition, I understand that these stories represent a time and place, that they have merit even when some of the particulars are no longer applicable.

My friend Gan Golan illustrated a great parody of Good Night Moon, called Good Night, Bush, http://www.goodnightbush.com/ and while it is a dark satire of the Bush Administration, it also deliciously satisfies the part of me that wants to call out the weirdness of the old stories.  A bunny in a nightgown, a bowl of mush even though it is night time.  ?

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There is another, unsettling thing that happens to me when I read her these books: I take them way too personally.

My mom gave Blossom a copy of Mr. Seahorse, a lovely Eric Carle book about all the Daddies in the ocean who take care of their babies:

“How are you, Mr. Kurtus?”

“Perfectly fine, Mrs. Kurtus just laid her eggs and I have stuck them on my head. Now I am taking care of them until they hatch.”

“You’re doing a good job, ” said Mr. Seahorse.

I read her this book right as my ex-husband was moving out.  In my mind it went more like this:

“How are you, Mr. Kurtus?”

“Perfectly Fine, Mrs. Kurtus just laid her eggs and I am going down to the Bay Area to do god-knows-what while she changes 100 diapers.”

“You’re doing a totally predictable job.” said Mr. Seahorse.

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Somehow knowing there are all kinds of male creatures out there holding it down for their offspring just made me bitter and sad.

In The Owl and the Pussycat:

Pussy said to the Owl, ‘you elegant fowl, how charmingly sweet you sing, oh let us be married, too long we have tarried, but what shall we do for a ring?”  I want to pull her aside and say, “you know, he is going to use this against you later, saying you pressured him into it, you’re going to let him pay that pig an entire shilling for a ring you won’t want to wear when you divorce, just sayin’, Lady. Besides, don’t you think there is some symbolism in your buying the ring from a pig and getting married by a turkey? Think it through!”

I get to the end of that book and I experience a pang of melancholy: “And hand in hand on the edge of the sand, they danced by the light of the moon…”  It’s wonderfully romantic story.  But in real life cats eat owls, a tiny boat like that wouldn’t survive a week on the open ocean and there is no island that would support their inter-species relationship.

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It’s getting a little out of hand, I admit.  I get that it is a metaphor, a glorious one.

I really do manage to keep this impulse under control for the most part.  I could get away with making comments when she was a babe, but now she cocks her head at me and says: “that’s not what it says, Mama.”

So if you have suggestions for Kid’s Lit that deals with real life, please send me some suggestions.  All this internal revision is exhausting.

Some of my favorite realist Kid’s Books:

The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst :http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/140185.The_Tenth_Good_Thing_About_Barney

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible no Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst

Red Tree by Shaun Tan

Spinky Sulks by William Steig

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Sacramento

Blossom and I have been settled here for almost a month and I still startle when the neighbors slam a door or the mailman delivers.  The country really sensitized me and it’s a little weird to have other humans, strangers in such close proximity.  

We love our little house, it’s the perfect size and the landlords are retirees so if I need anything they are often here within the hour.  The camilia bush is blooming.  

On my first week here my mom offered to watch Blossom on a Friday night so I could go to a movie.  I looked at the map, saw how close I was to downtown and hopped on the business 50.  It was bumper to bumper and I thought: you idiot, you are in the city now, everyone is doing what you are doing.  Two minutes later I passed a fender bender and the traffic disappeared as if Sac was saying, “hah, gotcha, we don’t really do that here.”  As an Angelino I am traumatized but the deadening effect of relentless traffic.  I left the Bay Area largely because of the traffic.  Its a concession for me to drive at all.  In fact, moving here was so enticing because it is a highly bikeable, flat town.  But I am blown away by how manageable getting around is in a car here.  I took Blossom to her first day at preschool at 8am and it was like a sunday afternoon.  So hallelujah.  

Today was B’s second day of school and despite the allure of pajama day with popcorn and a movie, she was unmoved and wept loudly when I left.  I guess this is what other parents have to deal with alot, but B has always handled the transition with aplomb.  The school, Discovery Tree, is beautiful, the staff is warm without being cloying.  And out of all the places I looked at, it was the least expensive.  My friends in SF pay twice what I pay for two days a week.  

I just need work.  Today is really the first day I have had any time to make a concerted effort to join the workforce, only it happens to be the day before Thanksgiving.  Too bad, I am doing it anyway.  Yoga studios, the Juvenile Hall, recovery programs, UC Davis Med Center.  Wish me luck.  Today is the day.  

Hello and thanks for the mellow, warm welcome, Sacramento.  

Poop Management

I watched a Louis CK bit recently where he said something to the effect of: I wish someone had told me that parenting was really about cleaning shit out a tiny vagina several times a day.

As soon as you think about it, the diaper part, it makes sense, but no one really tells you that your primary job in the first 3 years is really Poop Management.

I am now in a difficult phase of my career as a poop manager: the potty training phase.  The real problem with this phase is that you are fooled over and over into thinking they have a handle on their various functions enough to at least warn you when something mighty is about to happen.  You get lulled into this post diaper bliss that is altogther illusion.  You drop your guard.  And your diaper bag.

For the last week, the girl was not sticking to her regular poop-right-after-dinner routine.  I didn’t think about it much, these things have a way of straightening themselves out whether I fret about them or no, but we were also taking a short jaunt down to the Bay Area for a peer’s birthday party.  The girl decided to wear a newly acquired magenta dress (she was adamant that we not refer to it as pink) and I made the mistake of adding tights to her little ensemble.

Half way through the party, while I was making a last vain attempt to get her to eat something resembling nutrition before the cake came out, she announced that she had to go.  So I trucked her out to the bathroom and put her on the training potty our hosts had made handy.   She then produced a couple hollow sounds not unlike beans in a tupperware.  The contents of the potty resembled some little, hard crumbs of corn and beet, neither of which the girl had eaten in the last few days.  It looked like brown gravel, more like rabbit droppings I noticed, but decided again not to think too much about it, I was just grateful something was coming out the other end.

So we went through the flushing and the struggle of readjusting tights and the hand washing and made our way back out to the party.  The song was sung, the cake was cut, the frosting was smeared all over most available surfaces, apologies were made.  The party was winding down when the girl suddenly howled from the play area that passes as a backyard in San Francisco: “Pooooop!” I could see from the way she was standing with her knees bowed and bent that this was not a pre-event announcement.

I scooped her up and returned to the bathroom.  Oh my.  I think is what i said, I really hope that is what I said.

Well, the tights and the big girl panties were, uh, transformed, and since I had no provisions I had to peel off the offending layers and, well now what?

“Whoa, das a man size poop,” she said employing one of my often used tactics to make light of a disgusting situation as i did my best to shake some of it off into the toilet.  I spent a good half a roll of toilet paper.  Kicking myself, I decided to go upstairs with a naked-from-the-waist-down child to find a bag to put the mess in, conceding, despite the several sangrias  I consumed, that leaving soiled underwear in someone’s wastebasket was not good manners.  Even if it had a lid.  I learned that lesson the hard way when I was in kindergarten.

But our hosts were the fastidious San Francisco types who have not a single plastic bag in their abode.  So I settled for a paper bag, folded tightly with every intention of dumping it on the way out.  Of course, in the hubub of leaving, saying good bye to a dozen people, I absently tucked the thing into my purse.  I dropped it into the car and promptly forgot about it and It immediately blended in with all the other useless shit that invades my car.

Not recognizing it as a parcel of mass destruction until I got home, I opened it with total curiosity.

I almost fainted, let me put it that way.  Bummer about those tights too.

You think there are no surprises after you witness your infant’s first bout of diarrhea.  But no.  The gifts keep coming.

When she is 15, I will still be following her around with wipes and a change.  Much to her abject humiliation.