Archive for August, 2006

Things I’ve Learned This Week

August 30, 2006

1) That the trolls that cruise the flashier corners of the blogosphere are waaaay meaner than your everyday, run-of-the-mill mommyblogger tards. The thrill of getting a post up at the must-read Huffington Post was harshed somewhat by the sting of blogtardage.

An example: reading your piece made me want to scream… (at) my own mother.

He didn’t mean that in a good way.

2) That it’s cool to see your writing up at a site like the Huffington Post, even with the blogtardage. Bring it on, bitches.

3) That the mothers of the blogosphere are extraordinary. Okay, so maybe this wasn’t something new that I learned, but the lesson sure was hammered home. Your songs of love for your children, your odes to the profound physical connection that bonds mother and child, have been taking my breath away. Moving me, and inspiring me, and reminding me that this is an extraordinary community.

Thirty-five posts and counting. Keep singing.

4) That babies will eat cat food if they can get it.

Veganism is making me pale. Bring on the meat pellets!

********

*Kristen also has a post up at HP. Check it out.

*An early visitor to the Basement is back with an update to her story. You’re gonna want to hear this

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What Did You Do With *Your* Old Pasties?

August 27, 2006


The It’s Not Easy Being Green Dancers prepare for their upcoming command performance of Anne Geddes WTF: Geddes Gone Burlesque.

Performance is all about presence…

Confidence…

… and kick-ass costuming.

Dude. You gotta wear the pasties. I have a reputation to uphold.

You’re takin’ pasties for the team, Frog.

Gimmicky, yes, but it draws the crowds: PussyFrog Doll

YES.

I put pasties on my baby.*

I am a Bad Mother. I make no apologies.

(And, yes, I am an abuser of helpless toys. Kermit will doubtlessly require years of therapy to recover from the damage of being coerced into prancing about as a skank ho-phibian. Again, no apologies.)

And. Am hungover. Last night was TO mommyblogger debauchery, and all that buffing and vodka tonic slurping knocked me (already struggling with a cold) on my ass. It was all that I could do today to lift a hungover finger to upload exploitative pictures of my child and her amphibian dance companion.

Full report, with photos, tomorrow on MamaBlogsToronto.

In the meantime, seriously – what did you do (what would you do) with all those leftover pasties?

*You asked, Dawn. I delivered.

Another Mother Weighs In…

August 25, 2006

In response to my ‘struggling-to-write-love’ series, and to your responses to those posts…

Hi Sweetie,

I’ve just been reading your most recent posts and some of the responses. They have evoked a lot of feelings in me, but not what I expected. It was a timely reminder of why I do what I do,* particularly at this time when I thought I was winding down. It intensified the passionate feelings I have regarding injustice and has spurred me to a new ferociousness and fearlessness in my advocacy work for all of those children who have not had and/or will not have mothers whose feelings for their children moves them to tears, whose love for their children radiates from every fibre of their being. It was, as you know, my eternal gratitude to God for the wonderful gift of you and your sister and my outrage at the injustice of circumstances of birth that started me in this direction. My wish is that these wonderful, loving, blogging mothers will, at some point in time, reflect on the children born who will never experience the depth and breadth of love that you feel for WonderBaby, that I feel for you, and that they feel for their children, and that they will reflect on the children whose parents do not have ability/means to provide their children with what is necessary for those children to pursue their dreams and to be all that they can be. And that they will reflect and do something.

Love you dearly,

Mom

*My mother is executive director of a treatment center for youth in crisis (specific to drugs and alcohol). Working with and advocating for youth has been her life for a very long time.

**My mother rocks.

Word to Grandma.

Speaking a Joy Which Can’t Be Words*

August 23, 2006

EDIT: More links added below. Andthe posts that follow-up my correspondence with another blogger about the problems faced by some parents in expressing love can be found here and here. You should read these.

Last week, I wrote about my desire to write about my physical love for my daughter, about my love for the physical being that is her:

What I want to write… is an ode, of sorts, of whatever sort I can manage, to the real, the pure, the heartwrenching and heartlifting beauty of her form. To the impossible harmony of strength and fragility and softness in every curve of her limbs, every tilt of her downy head, every grasp of her fierce little hand.

And I want to write about this, too: how my love for her is physical, desperately physical. How my love for her wants to cleave to her, always, to feel her pressed against me, her breath on my cheek, her tiny hands tangled in my hair, her wee proud belly warm against my chest. How there is something of the erotic – the Platonic erotic, Socrates’ eros as a yearning for beauty, for the Form of beauty, of the Good – in that love.

But, I said, I feared that such love is inexpressable. And, I feared that writing about such love, in such terms, was imprudent. That writing about such love, in such terms, would provoke censure, or, perhaps worse, invite unwanted attention. And so I invited you all to join me in this effort, to find ways of expressing the inexpressable, and to find ways of doing so without fear.

So many of you rose to the challenge. You used your words so beautifully, and I’ve created a list of all of the posts (below) so that those words can be read and shared and so that they can inspire and encourage other parents the way that they’ve inspired and encouraged me. These posts stand, I think, as testament to the power of words and the power of community in facilitating and supporting words. The power of community in supporting love, in all of its messy glory.

And this power is so important, because some of you couldn’t write those words of love. One of you wrote me privately to say that the fear was just too great, to say that for the parent who is quote-unquote different – the parent who falls outside of the socio-political ‘norm’ of heterosexual parent, biological parent – such words might be dangerous.* Others wrote to say that a history of sexual abuse makes the topic too uncomfortable, too frightening. That sexual abuse corrupts any possible distinction between non-sexual eros and sexual eros, and that it destroys the possibility of viewing the physicality of such love as innocent.

*EDIT – the posts that follow-up this correspondence can be found here and here. You should read these.
As I said in the post that was provoked by those correspondences, I have no response to this. I have no words. It just hurts my heart.

I can’t change the world. I can’t snap my fingers and make it the sort of place where love is always good, where love is always joy, and where that joy finds expression in all forms. But – and I know that this sounds unbearably corny – I can, we can, make such a world of this space.

So keep writing your love for children. I’m going to keep a link on my sidebar to a page with a running list of links to your posts about love – posts that put into words the crazy messy wonderful experience of loving the amazing beings that are our children – and I’ll just keep adding links as you send them to me.

Because.

Speaking a Joy
Paige – In Response
Mommy off the Record – Make of Me Sanctuary
JessiLouise – Inside
Jen at UrbanMoms – That Moment
Mo-Wo – My Little Love
MotherBumper – Before I Had Bumper
The Mouse’s Nest – My Missing Piece
Bombadee’s Garden – Senses
Mom-101 – Born Smiling
Cheeky Lotus – Letter
Cool Zebras
Bubandpie – Beloved
Kittenpie – My Skin, My Soul, Child of My Loins
Binkytown – Unspoken
Melanie in Orygun – True Love
Sunshine Scribe – Living In Me
MetroMama – Not a Baby Anymore
Java Junkie and The Monkey – The Secret of My Own Addiction
A Mommy Story – The Power of Touch
Beanie Baby – Love Song
The Silent I – About A Boy
Much More Than A Mom – Indescribable
Crunchy Carpets – Untitled
I Got Two, Babe – It Becomes Me
Urban Urchin – Mothering
Petra’s Shadow – My Child
Zanti – Holding Little Hands
Mama? Mama Come Here! – My Love for You
Better Make It a Double – Motherlove
Soleclaw- How Do I Love Thee?
StayAtHomeMotherdom – Falling In Love
AngelBaby (in the Basement) – Physical Love
The Bookish One – This Post Has No Title
CrazyMummaSays – Animal Love
Itty Bits & Pieces – Exquisite Form
The Mad Momma – Perfect, Perfect Love
Table4Five – A Gift of Wanting
Merry Mama – Pumpy
On My Own and 30-Something! – A love that can’t be denied
All This – Motherlove
Daddy Diary Tales – Luff
Urban Urchin – Mothering
I’m certain that I’ve missed some posts – I’m continuing to scroll comments for links. If I’ve missed you, I’m very sorry – please leave a comment here reminding me of your link! And if you haven’t written on this yet, why not give it a try, add your voice? (And remember, The Basement is open to anyone who’d like to write there…)

I’ll be adding my own post on eros and baby-love this weekend…

*With continued apologies to e.e. cummings…

I don’t like Mondays

August 21, 2006

EDIT/Update: I’ve secured relevant permissions and have posted the ‘Motherhood is Boring’ article (discussed below) on another page. You can find it HERE.

And! I was on the news! As Her Bad Mother! My secret identity is no longer secret! Does this mean I lose my powers?

**********


I don’t like Mondays (tell me why…)

Because it was a long, challenging weekend with sniffles and teething and husbandly mood-suckage and I really would just like to bitch bitch bitch but that would take more emotional energy than I have and would just exascerbate the mood-suckage of the husband (who I love dearly, but seriously, dude? There’s only room for one beeyatch in this house. Don’t start a turf war.)

Because I have multiple blog posts on edit in my head in addition to the backlog on my to-do list and every single one of them is H-E-A-V-Y and I’m getting a bit tired of doing heavy-lifting blogging. Not to mention that I’m starting to feel like I might be the sort of person that other people find interesting from a distance but wouldn’t want to have over for dinner (yes, she is very thoughtful and obviously *cough* very intelligent. But I think that she might bring the mood down, don’t you?)

Because I cannot get Gitterdun out of my head.

German opera in the style of Wagner? Um, no.

For some reason, the gods have seen fit to torment me by putting this trailer on an endless loop on each of the very few television stations that I watch.

On the flip side, I am the one person in North America that does not have mother-f***ing snakes on a mother-f***ing plane! running through her head. Small mercies.

Because I was outed as a blogger this weekend. Which isn’t such a big deal, really. Except that I had totally forgotten that I had provided quotes to a journalist as Her Bad Mother and was somewhat alarmed to wake up Saturday morning to e-mails from random acquaintances and colleagues and long-forgotten whomevers saying hey I saw your picture in the Globe today and omg you have a blog!

My picture?

For the record, everyone: the peroxide blonde who is morosely clutching her infant child while sitting in an amusement park ride in the picture at right is not me. Yes, the highlighted quote under that picture is from me. But the sad looking woman with dark roots in the picture? NOT ME.

Please.

This is what I look like on amusement park rides.


Note absence of infant child.


Note lovely, if damp, hair.

(Also, note creepy satanic dude eyeballing my husband behind the camera. More reasons to avoid amusement parks.)

(You’re wondering about that article. Summary: the work of motherhood can be boring, some mothers say so, others get mad that any mother would refer to her Great Work as an exercise that would sometimes benefit from the infusion of large quantities of vodka. I can’t be bothered to get all worked up about anyone who would deny the inherent dullness of sterilizing bottles and wiping asses, nor can I be bothered to reflect on tards who dislike their children. So that’s all that I have to say about it. For now.)

(To be clear, in case anyone is getting panties all twisted about Bad Mother proclamations on boredom: the WORK of motherhood can be boring. Diapers are boring. Shit is boring, and gross. My CHILD is not boring. She fascinates me, because she is fascinating, and also, because she would kick my ass if I was not fascinated by her and failed to demonstrate that fascination every waking moment of every freakin’ day…)

Because WonderBaby continues to impose her will in all matters concerning her well-being and upkeep.

Her Bad Mother has learned her lesson and is now keeping camera and camera assistant on hand in dining area. (That diaper helps us maintain our PG rating. It was loudly protested by WonderBaby, Vegan Nudist, who prefers to dine upon her tofu and humous and veggie spinach nuggets au naturel.)

Because I wrote this post this morning and Blogger wouldn’t let me upload the necessary photos and so I have been stuck in blog purgatory all day.

Motherf***ing Blogger is a mother-f***ing pain!

Why do you not like Mondays? (And if you do like Mondays, you’d better have a good reason.)

Weekend Reality Check

August 19, 2006

There has been much waxing poetical ’round here recently, and much deep thinking inspired by motherhood. One might think that the Bad Mother household was a haven of blithe domesticity, a tranquil domain wherein mother wiles away the hours in cuddle and play with an angelic baby, pausing only to reflect upon the sweetness of maternal love.

One would be mistaken.

WonderBaby is a lovely, lovely child. I adore her. But she is not remotely angelic, unless we understand ‘angelic’ in the strict Old Testament sense of mighty and punitive and very often bearing ancient weapons of mass destruction.

It may not LOOK like a flaming sword, but trust me. It’s an ancient weapon of mass destruction. You do not want it in your home.

She capable of the greatest sweetness, but she is heaven-bent on destroying me. Every exercise of our day involves a mighty struggle, an intense battle of wills that I, inevitably, lose.

To wit: the thrice-daily Battle of the High Chair. WonderBaby has decided that high chairs are for chumps. WonderBaby has decided that she, mighty being that she is, should not be restrained in a high chair. WonderBaby has decided that, should she deign to eat, she should not be expected to do it in such ignominious conditions.

She has further decided that she should not be expected to do so while fully clothed.

So, last night, WonderBaby took her evening meal while standing, facing backward, in her high chair.

Starkers.

While I crouched on the floor behind the chair, plying her with toast and yogourt.

(No, there is no picture. My nine-month old baby was balancing naked, on two sturdy but nonetheless unreliable baby legs, in an assembly line high chair. You want that I should have run for the camera?)

(Fine. I was tempted. But I resisted.)


I think that we can safely say that it is now official: I am her bitch.

Guided by the not-so-benelovent spirit of Michael Landon,* WonderBaby’s quest for world domination proceeds apace…

*With thanks to the Junipers for iconographic playwear.

How Far We Have Not Come

August 17, 2006

Last night, I cried. Big, fat wet tears.

While blogging.

I almost never do this. I tear up from time to time, at the occasional post, moved by its language or its imagery or its story, but I almost never get to the point where my heart presses hard against my chest and my eyes burn and the tears spill hot and wet no matter how hard I blink to hold them back.

They spilled last night.

Last night, I read and re-read the beautiful comments to my post of the other day, the post in which I expressed my concerns about my ability to write about – and my comfort in writing about – my physical love for my daughter and in which I asked that somebody, anybody, join me in trying to overcome fears of inadequacy and fear of being misunderstood in order to express this love. So that I might be inspired and encouraged. So that I might understand my own hesitancy better. So that I wouldn’t feel alone.

I followed the links that some of you had left, links to the posts that my post had inspired, or to posts that you had already written but which nonetheless answered my call, posts that I promised to (and will) pull together with my own thoughts in a post that will celebrate this amazing, complicated love. I read these posts, and I felt overwhelmed, in a way that I’ve never felt in the short time that I’ve been part of this community (more overwhelmed than when visiting the hundred some-odd Mommy Blogger Love-In posts. Yes.)

I felt overwhelmed because the full force of what it means to be in community, to speak with and listen to and have conversations within a community, struck me while reading these beautiful posts. Other women were writing my words, speaking my feelings. These complicated feelings, feelings that I expected other parents to share, but that I did not, I suppose, expect to see shared in the same language, with the same depth of complexity, with the same unabashed and unrestrained amazement.

You know how I feel. You have these feelings, too. You are not afraid to speak these feelings. I knew all of this, of course. But last night I saw it living and breathing on the page. And I thought, how silly to have been afraid. How silly to have thought these feelings, these ideas, unbloggable, unwriteable. How silly to have felt fear in such a community.

And then I received this in my inbox:

As the “Other Mommy” in a two mommy household I have to say that I could NEVER write such a post. I would be too damned afraid of the authorities coming and taking my child from me. Ever since he came into this world the one thing that has terrified me the most is that someone might come and take him from me – because of my sexual orientation, because I’m not the “real” mommy. I lay awake nights thinking about it even though I am on his birth certificate and have adopted him… I am constantly censoring myself to make sure no one can say I’m not a fit mother. Am I touching him for too long? When I change his diaper am I wiping for too long? Don’t linger with that kiss on his cheek, etc. Every scratch or bruise he gets because he is an extremely active young one, I obsess over because someone might call Child Services to report the “evil lesbians”.

I love my son more than I can adequately express but frankly I would be afraid to even try. Losing him would kill me and I just won’t risk it.


And tears came.

I cried because I was right to be afraid, and because I couldn’t see beyond my own privilege far enough to imagine that the most serious implications of those fears might not apply to me. Because I was cocky in stating that I didn’t care if some self-righteous puritan thought that I was bad mother for talking about sensuality in relation to my child, because I have the luxury of knowing that as a white, married, heterosexual mother I can stand up to anyone who questions my mothering. Because although I need to worry about the pervs out there, I will probably never confront, in any serious way, the soul-wrenching possibility of being seen as a perv myself.

Because we live in a world where that’s a real fear for some women, and for many men.

Because I prattle on about the amazing, empowering possibilities of this virtual space, where women and men speak their truth to power and empower and inspire one another, and I forget that that inspiration and that empowerment does not come easily to all of us.

Because I speak with the voice of privilege, and I take that voice for granted.

Because one woman out there can’t speak her love for her child in all of its force and complexity, for fear of the unimaginable, and because while I want to say that that’s one woman too many, I know that she is just one of many women. And men.

Because I lack the words to express my frustration and my rage and my shame, at this.

*********

Okay, so maybe I’m overwrought with the whole white/hetero/liberal guilt thing. But still. Words fail, and I feel terribly that words fail me here.

*********
All that I can think of, as a response, is to ask that you respond. And that you keep shouting out your love for children in all of its messy glory, so that we make one small stab at demonstrating how ordinary, how natural, how good is that extraordinary love. (And if you’d prefer to do it in the Basement, anonymously, I’d be honoured to host.) I am more determined to pull this all together, with my own thoughts, into a post about this love.

I don’t care what it looks like, how you speak it. Just speak.

Of a Joy Which Can’t Be Words*

August 15, 2006

Yesterday, WonderBaby turned 9 months old.

Nine calendar months is roughly the period of time that she spent in my womb. (41 weeks to the day, to be precise, which, counting from November 14, puts us pretty near to today. Yes, I counted. On my fingers. At 3am.) She has now, then, been out in this world for as long as she was in the cozy little world of the womb, where she grew from the tiniest microscopic speck to the eight and half pound miracle that somehow managed to work its way out into the world through the most unlikely – in my view – of passages. And: I have been a mother, now, for the same amount of time that I was pregnant and dreaming of becoming a mother.

I thought about marking this day, these days, with some reflection upon my evolution as a mother. I thought about writing my post about fear, about how fearful my experience of motherhood has been at times and what I am learning about this fear, to mark the passing of these first nine months. I also thought about writing that promised post about why and how parenthood really is, in some respects, like a secret club. I thought about all variety of musings on motherhood, all of which seemed particularly appropriate as reflections upon these first nine months, the first nine months of our life together, here in this big bright world.

But none of these musings and reflections could capture, perfectly, the extraordinariness of this experience, of these nine months and the nine months that preceded them.

So I decided to try to write the post that I’ve been struggling to write for some time now, a post that I have sat with and worried over and laboured over. A post that I was not sure I could tend to with the proper care, a post that I was not sure that I was qualified to write. A post that I have wanted, desperately, to write, but that I have been afraid of writing. A messy post.

The post that I have wanted to write is this: a reflection on the physical beauty of my child, and my fascination with and attraction to that beauty.

I do not want to write about the beauty that pleases superficially – the roundness of eye, the curve of eyelashes, the sheen of her pale blond hair. This would not be an analysis of her physical assets, nor a reflection upon the possibility that she might escape the burden of physical quirkiness only to acquire the burden of beauty. What I want to write, rather, is an ode, of sorts, of whatever sort I can manage, to the real, the pure, the heartwrenching and heartlifting beauty of her form. To the impossible harmony of strength and fragility and softness in every curve of her limbs, every tilt of her downy head, every grasp of her fierce little hand.


And I want to write about this, too: how my love for her is physical, desperately physical. How my love for her wants to cleave to her, always, to feel her pressed against me, her breath on my cheek, her tiny hands tangled in my hair, her wee proud belly warm against my chest. How there is something of the erotic – the Platonic erotic, Socrates’ eros as a yearning for beauty, for the Form of beauty, of the Good – in that love.

But here is where I stop short. We cannot, must not, speak or write of our children in these terms. And even if poetry – the natural (perhaps forced?) lyricism of motherhood – affords me the right and the space to sing hymns to Eros extolling the beauty of my child, the muck and the filth of our culture, and of this virtual world, calls into question that right, and sullies that space.

I have dared to use the word erotic here, in writing about my child, and that I speak in terms of daring says it all: I am, I think, taking a risk. One aspect of that risk is not so frightening: that some puritanical parent, or non-parent, will find these words offensive, and take me to task for sexualizing my child. I am not sexualizing my child: I am trying to find language to express a non-sexual love that is nevertheless deeply physical. Our culture confuses the physical with the sexual, and so I expect that many would perceive even this effort to write the physicaly beauty of my child as troubling. But I can live with that.

What is more difficult to live with, even for a second: that in using the language of the physical and of the erotic – even in a pointedly Socratic sense – I am opening the gates of Google pervdom and waving in the creeps, the monsters, the card-carrying N*MBLA members. Here! Physical love mother and child! Translate to filth.

And this is what stops me. And it pains me. My mind swirls, my fingers twitch: I have words. I have sentences, phrases, similes, metaphors, paragraphs, stanzas. I have poetry. I am aching to spill it. I am aching to shout out to the world the sharp joy, the stinging bliss of this physical love, this love that will, I know, lose its sharpness, its edge, become blurry as she grows into her own self and I back into my separate self. I want to capture it. I want to tell the truth about it.

Will you help me? Would you – could you – tell me how you would write this? Show me? What I am asking is: would you write an ode to your child, to your children, that is both forceful and safe? And if you do not think it possible (in the context of safety, or any any other context) would you tell me why? Is this – really, frankly, writing about our love for our children, about the physicalness of our connection to them in that love – unbloggable? Is this even more true – as I suspect it is – for fathers? Am I overthinking this?

I’m going to labour through this post over the coming weeks. My objective will be to give it birth by the end of this ninth month (August). Between now and then, if you write a post about your love for your child, or about writing about your love for child, or about why it might be imprudent to write such love, please leave the link for me here, in these comments. If you prefer to not write such a post, leave a response (if you have one) here. I’ll look to these for inspiration and insight, and when I post my own, I’ll give all due credit and, hopefully, situate my words within a broader discussion about love for our children and writing that love.

*Apologies to e.e. cummings…

*********

Currently, in the Basement… our first ever circle share! Come, join in…

Most Sensational, Inspirational, Celebrational…

August 14, 2006

Edited below: a question for the blog-addled, mainstream-media-deprived masses…

The Lovely Mrs. Davis has told me what to write about today, and so any complaints about further pre-emption of regularly scheduled HBM programming should be directed to her.

But it’s such a worthy subject: Sesame Street kicks off its 37th season today! And to celebrate, I must wax nostalgic about my favorite childhood televisions programs… Which is easy, because, for me, there were really only two.

(This is, um, sort of a lie. I loved Zoom, and The Electric Company, and The Banana Splits, and Little House on the Prairie and – Canadians will get this – Mr. Dress-Up. But you wouldn’t want this post to get out of hand, now, would you…?)

I loved Sesame Street. I loved Big Bird, and the Snufflupagus. I loved Ernie and Bert. I loved the Count. I loved Oscar the Grouch. I loved Cookie Monster. And, of course, I loved Grover. Sweet, friendly, lovable old Grover.

I wrote about Grover a while back. I wrote about how a Little Golden Book featuring Grover stands out for me as one the more important books of my childhood. This is part of what I said about that book, The Monster at the End of This Book:

Grover was familiar and safe and comforting (in a way that the Cookie Monster, for example, was not. I always suspected that the Cookie Monster could turn on a kid at any time, revert to his monster-ish, Mr-Muppet-Hyde dark side while in the grip of a bad cookie trip.) Grover did not seem a monster: he was a sweet old furry blue uncle, very possibly with bad breath, but certainly generous with the hugs.

The book gripped me with the revelatory reminder that he was, indeed, a monster. It also, of course, gripped me with its narrative suspense. I think that this book was a wonderful introduction, for a very young reader, to the thrill of the page, to the incomparable magic carpet ride – destination unknown or anticipated or delightfully feared – that is a good story. And it demonstrated amply that a good story can boil down to just a few simple, well-directed and well-constructed lines. It was all of these things. But it was mostly the thrill of being reminded that “Grover’s a monster I’m supposed to be afraid of monsters but I’m not afraid of Grover the monster” that kept me pestering my parents to sit down and read this book with me.

Roland Barthes argued that there is pleasure in narrative suspense – the “gradual unveiling” of a story – but that this pleasure is not the true pleasure of the text. The text of pleasure, he says, submits to and offers comfortable reading; the text of bliss, on the other hand, discomfits. It unsettles the reader’s assumptions, “brings to a crisis his relation with language.”

These words address the nature and character of the book, and of reading, but for me they also capture something of the magic of certain television programs and movies. They certainly, in my opinion, capture the magic of Sesame Street and its edgier cousin, The Muppet Show.

Sesame Street grabbed the attention and gripped the imagination of children (I’m using the past tense here because I have only my own childish experience of the Sesame Street of the late ’70s to go on; I can’t speak to the magic or lack thereof that attends Sesame Street in its 37th season). It grabbed attention and gripped imagination because it walked, steadily, perfectly, the childish tightrope between the expected and the unexpected. Animals that speak and monsters living in garbage cans do not surprise children. Giant talking birds who have giant fuzzy elephantine friends that may or may not be imaginary do surprise children, and delight them. As do monsters who love cookies and monsters who are a little bit shy and who like hugs and grown-ups who see and hear and love such monsters. Talking animals aren’t surprising, monsters aren’t surprising: it’s the unexpected details (details that are at once fanastic and banal) that unsettle – thrillingly – childrens’ assumptions and so provoke delight.

The Muppet Show, which still delights me, pushed the envelope of the unexpected – of ‘unsettling (viewers) assumptions,’ and of ‘bringing to a crisis (their) relation with language’ and image and narrative – to another level entirely. In the Muppet Show we see the same agglomeration of walking/talking/dancing/singing animals and monsters as we do on Sesame Street, but these are not the (mostly) child-like creatures of Sesame Street, and nor are their relationships defined by the simple junior politics of the schoolyard/neighborhood. The Muppet gang is a rag-tag band of ne’er-do-well performers and hangers-on and wannabes who strut and fret their full-grown-human-style neuroses and anxieties and issues and agendas upon a surrealistic stage before a largely disapproving crowd.

It’s life, man.

When a sinister-looking monster lurks in the corner of the set while Gonzo’s chickens disappear, we discover very quickly that, yes, as we should expect, the monster has eaten the chickens. And this is what we should expect – this is life. Bad things happen to good chickens. But this element of the Muppet Show packs the same whallop of surprise that comes with Sesame Street’s unexpectedly sweet and playful and co-operative monsters: we don’t expect Muppet monsters to be nasty (and, indeed, they’re not – they’re just hungry), we expect them to be like Grover, or, at worst, just grouchy like Oscar. In the world of Muppets, which is really only down the road a ways from Sesame Street, where frogs run theaters and pigs develop crushes on frogs and bears do stand-up comedy (badly) and a tripped-out band of puppets keeps a monster chained to a drum-set, we expect playfulness. We, who have learned to play and count and hug and be nice to other people even when they don’t look like us (one of these kids is not like the other!) from the denizens of Sesame Street, expect harmless fun in Kermie and Piggy’s playhouse.

But we discover there – and here is where we are brought ‘into crisis,’ blissfully, happily, with our relationship to story – that play evolves. We discover that play can become all the more exciting when fear and discomfort are re-introduced. It is lovely and heart-warming that Grover is a sweet monster who only wants hugs, and as children we are delighted by the surprise of his unexpectedly sweet monsterness. But as we grow a little, sweet monsters remain only that – sweet monsters – and the lesson of the sweet monster (don’t judge a book by its cover, love friends for their hearts, not their appearance, etc. etc.) gets – dare I say it – stale. As does the thrill of cozying up to a monster. What the Muppets bring to the playground: the scary monster, who is hungry and who lacks impulse control but who is nonetheless ready to play. Sweetums brings excitement back to play by bringing danger back to play. And, he reminds us that the sweet lessons of Sesame Street (love your neighbor!) must always be tempered with caution (make certain that your neighbor does not want to eat you!). Or, in the case of Animal, beat you about the head with his drumsticks.

As an adult, I’m tempted to insist that The Muppet Show is really a show for adults. But I loved it as a child, and I can keenly recall loving the scarier monsters and the bad temper of Piggy and the recurring accidents and the borderline violence of puppets flinging, kicking and/or pummeling other puppets (and in some cases, real grown-up Guest Stars doing same.) It was a childish, surreal representation of the world of adults that allowed me laugh at that world while at the same time both yearning for it and dreading it.

It was genius. Still is.

The It’s Not Easy Being Green Dancers had hoped to have completed choreography and rehearsal on their epic revision of Swan Lake, “Frog Lake,” but, alas, the corps-des-tadpoles walked out (er, flopped out) after learning that the pointe-shoes would not be customized to accommodate their tails…

So, a question (and yes, this takes us away from Mrs. Davis’ assignment): what childrens’ programs, movies or books do you think are perhaps best appreciated by adults? And – what quote-unquote adult-oriented material – if any – is perhaps better appreciated by children? (Can you even think of any, other than movies made by SNL alum?)

Ashlee Simpson and Me

August 12, 2006

I regret to inform you that today I will continue to stray from my blogging to-do list. But the universe keeps throwing shit at me, and I must respond.

Today, the universe told me this: Ashlee Simpson got a nose-job.

More specifically, Ashlee Simpson went on record in Marie-Claire magazine as supporting quote-unquote real beauty and said things to the effect of “everyone is made differently and that’s what makes us beautiful and unique” and helped some inner-city teenage girls make a mural celebrating real beauty while pumping her fists in the air and hollering “what tough mother-fucking bitches we are!” and just generally getting all hopped up on girl power – and then trotted off and had her nose done.

And, consequently, brought something of a shit-storm down upon her surgically-altered head.

Bear with me.

The shit-storm came in the form of, reportedly, some thousand outraged readers of Marie-Claire, who opened their ‘real beauty’ issues of the mag after Ms. Simpson the Younger revealed her new, better, altered face. Such was the shit-storm that the new editor of Marie-Claire (who was not editorially responsible for the Simpson spread) allowed extra space in the latest edition of the mag for reader letters addressing that matter and stated, on behalf of the magazine, that “we’re dazed and confused – and disappointed – by her choice too!”

I’m not going to address questions concerning the hypocrisy of a fashion magazine – no matter how “progressive” that mag – criticizing a celebrity for fiddling with her appearance. Whatever. Marie-Claire has sniffed the armpit of the girl-power market and is going after it. Great. Better than going after the aspiring Pussycat Doll market. But still. It’s a fashion magazine. It sells Maybelline (maybe she’s born with it… maybe not!)

I don’t care all that much about whether fashion magazines grow social consciences. I don’t read them for their social conscience (in fact, I’d say that the more socially pious such a magazine gets, the less likely I’d be to read it.)

What I do care about: asking to what extent beauty is socially constructed and figuring out how to shield my daughter from the more pernicious aspects of that social construction. No, I’m not going to do that math here. (Yes, I felt that massive, collective sigh of virtual relief.) What I need to do here is figure out why and how such ideas about beauty matter to me. Figure out why that Ashlee Simpson story hit me in the gut.

To that end… onward to the cliffs of HBM’s psyche!

(Deep breath.)

I have always hated my nose. In sixth grade, some tard named Donald nicknamed me ‘Big Nose’ and it stuck. That nickname had run its course by the time I entered seventh grade, but still, that year of rhino-mockery stayed with me. For years I did everything that I could to avoid being seen in profile: my hands fluttered constantly near my face, and I was ever pulling my hair down over my cheeks as a veil.

I hated how I looked. Hated it. I would have sold my soul, in some painful, angst-ridden moments, to change my nose. To my young, insecure mind, if my nose were smaller, everything would fall into place. My face would be a face, not just landscape surrounding a nose. My face would be a face. Maybe, it would be pretty.

As I got older, I relaxed a little about my nose. Sometimes, when I was feeling dramatic and confident and having a Diana Vreeland moment, I even liked it. But mostly not. Mostly, I thought, I’m smart and funny and maybe sort of pretty, or at least, I might be sorta pretty, if it weren’t for the nose…

And then I’d beat myself up a little for obsessing about my nose. Because, you know, cool girls don’t do that. Cool girls don’t care. Cool girls are proud to be all jolie laide, yearn to emulate Charlotte Gainsbourg, take to heart Marcel Proust’s dictum that pretty women should be left to men without imagination.

Cool girls don’t care about tiny little cheerleader noses. Cool girls don’t care. It’s not cool, it’s not progressive, it’s not bad-ass to care.

But I did. I cared.

I get why Ashlee Simpson cared.

But I wish that she didn’t. I really, really wish that I hadn’t. That I wouldn’t now, ever. And I wish, more than anything, that my daughter will never. Care about her looks, her face, her nose.

I wish this more than anything. That she not be Ashlee Simpson (on so many levels, but for now, let’s focus on this one.) And that, in this singular respect, she not be like me. That she not care.

I have two conflicting dreams for my daughter. In one, she inherits most of her looks from her father, who is smashing handsome with a fine straight nose and who is blessed, along with rest of his family, with some serious Dorian Gray reverse-aging genes. In this dream, she never has to give her looks a second thought. In this dream, she never wonders whether or not she is pretty because she is never plagued by the concern that she is ugly. She will be blessed with the luxury of having no need of concern over her looks. She will not have reason to care.

In the other dream – the more powerful dream, the better dream – she inherits my looks, the good and the bad. In this dream, she has my eyes (as she already does) and my nose and my smile and they become her own, completely her own. And she loves her looks. In this dream, she recognizes, early and for always, that she has a beautiful mind and a beautiful heart and a beautiful character and a beautiful soul, and that this beauty radiates from beautiful eyes set within a masterpiece of a face. Her face, her beautiful, unique jolie jolie face. She will care – but she will care well. She will care for herself, her self.

In this dream, it won’t matter what the Ashlee Simpsons of the world do or do not do about their magazine-cover faces. It won’t matter whether or not magazines or soap companies launch campaigns for ‘real beauty.’ Because in this dream, speaking about ‘real beauty’ will mean speaking in redundancies. She’ll be perfectly content, happy, to be real, beautifully real.

This is my wish for her, my dream. I’ll do everything in my power to make it real.

I’ll begin by loving my own beauty.