Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Magic Cup

I’m in support of anything that creates magic and joy in childhood. I don’t have any hang-ups about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. I could even get into the oft talked about gnomes at Luke’s Waldorf preschool. My parents always upheld the traditional childhood myths for my siblings and me during our childhood, and I have no traumatic memories of discovering the truth and feeling betrayed. I think that they answered any of our questions with, “I wonder, “ and “hmm.” They let us believe and half-believe as long as we wanted to, and must have finally admitted the truth when we clearly knew ourselves. I don’t even remember learning that Santa Claus wasn’t real.

In addition to Santa Claus filling stockings, St. Nicholas filling shoes, the Easter Bunny hiding treats, and when it is time, I’m sure, the Tooth Fairy exchanging teeth for money, in our house, Daddy can pull money out of ears. Luke has always played this game with Craig, and I was never totally clear on whether or not Luke believed that Craig was truly performing this amazing feat. Nevertheless, this has been a fun game in our house for many years.

The other night, as usual, Craig was playing with the boys after dinner while I did the dishes. I began to hear a lot of excited noises coming from the boys’ room, but ignored it. I enter the room after dinner only when necessary. But soon, Luke came racing out of the bedroom, face red with excitement.

“Mom!” he yelled. “We have a MAGIC CUP! It gives us things! Come and see!”

So I was off to the bedroom. Clearly this was more exciting than the ear trick.

“Remember,” I heard Craig saying as I entered the room, “The magic cup can only give us things that are already in the house.”

“Yes, we know!” replied Luke and Henry.

“Okay,” said Craig, holding a plastic cup adorned with aliens. “Magic cup, magic cup, give us a prize,” he began in a singsong voice. The kids began chanting with him.

“Magic cup, magic cup, give us a BIG surprise!” they all intoned. Then, as Craig tossed the empty cup into the air, the kids chanted a high-pitched “ahhhhhhhhhhh!” with rapt smiles looking up into the air.

This part was a bit uncomfortable to witness. Craig made it part of the trick so that he could slip a toy under the cup while the boys were busy looking up, but they were on their knees, looking up and chanting. It seemed like a bizarre religious ritual, especially when I looked into their flushed, spellbound faces. It seemed to me that I was witnessing a Pentecostal, consumerist, magical rite.

I would like to say that I stopped this somehow, or that I walked from the room. But when the magic cup gave Luke a piece of candy and Henry started crying, I went to the candy stash—Craig couldn’t leave the room easily—and got a treat for Henry, which I then snuck into Craig’s pocket.

That night, in bed, the magic cup was all Luke and Henry could talk of.

“Maybe the magic cup will give us some toys tomorrow! Toys we don’t already have!” Luke said.

“But Luke, remember? The magic cup can only give us things we already have in the house.” I responded.

“But the cup is magic! I’ll bet it will give us some new toys tomorrow if we say the words really loudly,” said Luke.

“Hmm,” I responded, “I wonder.” Then I let it drop.

But during our prayer before they boys went to sleep, Luke added, “Thank you, God, for giving us our very own magic cup that will probably give us some new toys tomorrow.”

After the boys were asleep, I mentioned to Craig that I was feeling a bit uneasy about this whole thing. “After all,” I said, “You are totally manipulating their emotions.”

“Oh come on!” said Craig, “It is just a game. They are having fun. It is like Santa Claus.”

“Yes, maybe, but Santa Claus is a cultural tradition,” I retorted. “WE didn’t invent him as a completely random lie.”

Craig shrugged, and so I dropped it.

* * * * *

The next morning, the magic cup was the first thing on their minds. Since Daddy was still asleep when Luke left for school, the boys had to wait until Craig got home from work to play with the magic cup again. But all afternoon, they mused on what fun might await them when Daddy returned. Of course I tried to encourage them to think realistically, but there was no reasoning with them. I finally began to ignore them, as I was becoming too uneasy. And besides, I thought, Craig started this, let him work it out.

But I smelled disaster in the air.

When Craig arrived home, the boys greeted him with shouts of excitement. He told them to wait for him in the bedroom. As Craig puttered around fixing himself a drink, putting away his coat and shoes, I whispered my concerns.

“I don’t think this is a good idea. They are too excited. They think they are going to get new toys,” I protested.

Again, Craig brushed my concerns away and headed into the bedroom.

As I was washing the lettuce, I heard increasingly loud shrieks.

“You didn’t talk loudly enough to the cup! You need to talk louder!” Luke ordered, his pitch growing increasingly high with every word.

A few minutes later I heard crying.

Craig came out of the room to tell me what was going on. Apparently, Luke was convinced that the magic cup could be more magical if Craig only performed the ritual correctly.

“You see!” I hissed at him. As Luke’s cries and screams issued from the room, my own blood pressure seemed to rise. “This is where your lies and emotional manipulation have gotten you!”

Craig was trapped between a screaming child at one end of the house and a seething wife at the other. He had nowhere to go, and so he admitted defeat, heading off to tell Luke the truth.

A few minutes later, an angry and tearful Luke came out for dinner with the rest of us. Craig had apologized and had told Luke the truth.

A few minutes into dinner, Luke asked, “So, all those times when you pretended to pull money out of my ear? You were just fooling me?” Craig admitted that this was true.

“So how did you do it?” Luke asked. As Craig explained, I began to realize that if Luke asked about Santa Claus right now, we would have to admit the truth. The conversation that Luke and Craig were having was quite lovely, actually, and they talked a bit about how you can’t just ask God for whatever you want and have it granted.

But a bit of Luke’s innocence disappeared that night, and I certainly wasn’t ready to leave Santa Claus behind. Thankfully, Luke was distracted, and the conversation ended there.

Every day, a bit of the magic of my kids’ childhood slips away, and the growth and understanding that takes its place is amazing to witness. But I hope I can keep a little of this magic tucked away for them, in a cup, in a wish, in their hearts.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Other February Happenings

The boys defy gender stereotypes by playing with their toy kitchen.

We admire the cool shirt Uncle Peter bought for Luke, which he inexplicably found at an open-air market in Camaroon. (This says, "Luke is his best friend." Peter did not have this specially made, and it was the only one there.)

Luke celebrates his half birthday with homemade spiderman cookies (and a few flowers.)

A tree falls on our car!

February Days

I have hit a bit of a writer's block. Here's why, I think. First of all, Jenny and Julia, among others, have been writing such succinct, themed, lovely posts, and my mind just feels mushy. Well, actually, that is a bit wrong. I have several quite lovely pieces that I have written, but I feel that I can't post them for various reasons.

Also, I have been editing that piece that will appear in Literary Mama this summer, and that has been wearing me out. I don't know about this whole publishing thing.

And, too, there is the fact that I have been cooped up in the house with the boys because of bad weather. It is a February thing, I guess. I met January determined to get outside, face the nastiness--and I also had that trip to Seattle to look forward to--and now February just drags on and on, with snow and cold, cold wind and freezing rain. I feel trapped in a repetitive cycle of sibling squabbles, piles of laundry, and pools of melted snow. And somehow, all this indoor time does not equal more writing. Not at all.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Love Note to Craig

Those of you who know my husband need no explanation for this to be funny: He is now the faculty advisor for the Argentine Tango club on campus.

For those of you who do not have the pleasure of Craig's acquaintance, this picture should suffice.

Craig is an introverted, gruff, animal-shooting, hairy, sarcastic mathematician. But he is also a man with a well of kindness underneath it all. So when his colleague asked Craig if he could be the faculty advisor for this tango group, Craig couldn't say no. He told me that he made it very clear that he would not, under any circumstances, be doing any tango.

Craig's colleague, however, does not speak English very well. And Craig is sometimes--how shall I say it?--less gruff than he aspires to be. So I got a phone call on Friday from this professor, asking when we would be attending Tango lessons.

"Craig?" I asked in shock.

"You and Craig, I was assuming," said Craig's colleague.

"Well, we don't have a babysitter for the kids so I'm not sure," I stalled, not sure what Craig had said to him. Maybe Craig hadn't said no firmly enough, or had given the stock answer of, "I'll have to talk to my wife."

"I know," the professor offered helpfully, "You could come on Saturday nights, and Craig could come on Sunday nights! We are short a man on Sunday nights, and besides, learning to dance is kind of like learning a language."

At this point, I started to discreetly giggle, but the man went on. "If you learn while dancing together, you will only be able to speak the language of dance to one another. If you learn individually, when you come together in the tango it will be that much better."

"Well, yes," I said, "I'll mention that to Craig." I had some idea of what Craig might say if I used this as an argument in trying to convince him to tango. You see, there is some small possibility that I might be able to convince Craig to tango with me, but without me? Not a chance.

After I got off the phone, Luke asked, "Mom, what is the tango?" So we looked it up on YouTube. Not just tango, but Argentine tango. I wanted to know precisely what it was that my husband might be doing. I can't describe this dance very well in words, but let's just say that I'm still laughing, two days later, as I imagine Craig performing it.

But, really, I will have to discuss it with him more. Maybe he wants to dance. Craig has whole worlds inside of his head, of which I'm only acquainted with bits and pieces. When you look at his beard, hear him speak, you might not imagine that he was the guy in high school that danced with the awkward chubby girls in Russian class folk dance practice that everyone else avoided.

But he was that guy. And he danced well, and with joy. Oh, he'll mock me endlessly for writing this. He'll laugh at me in his sarcastic way and go down to his workshop to hammer something. But I know there is a tango going on somewhere inside of his head.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Identity, Half-Birthdays, Eighties Cartoons

Luke loves to play Go Fish these days. After winning two hands in a row, he asked, "Am I like a Go Fish champion?"

"Yes, Luke, you are really good," I responded.

"I think maybe I will practice and practice and then I can win Go Fish competitions!" he exclaimed, warming to his topic. "I will have Go Fish trophies!"

My son, CIA field agent and Go Fish gold medal winner.

* * *

The other day I asked Henry, "Are you the apple of my eye?"

"No," he laughed. Then he did his cute, trademark shrug and said, "I'm just Henry."

Luke, on the other hand, ever since Craig yelled the following at him for being so bossy, refers to himself as "the king of the world."

* * *

Henry is obsessed with She-Ra, Princess of Power. Does anyone remember this cartoon from the eighties? I let him check it out from the library because it has the superhero-type stuff without being too violent. There is no "sassy talk" like there is in a lot of current cartoons, and there always seems to be a "good message." Of course, there is a wealth of realistic body image discussions to be had, but that is another topic for another day.

Oh, I'm listening to it right now, and I forgot that there is a public service announcement at the end of each episode. Oh, this is really worth another post. I'll leave it at that for now, but let me just leave you with this teaser:

She-Ra's horse transforms into a unicorn when she activates "the power of gray skull."

* * *

Luke celebrated his half birthday at school yesterday, since his birthday falls in the summer. All of the kids made him cards in school. One little girl wrote, "I love you," on his card. She is a little, scrawny thing in glasses. As Luke and I read this one together, I thought he would say something mean. He does not, after all, let me hug or kiss him in public any more, and he does say "duh" regularly. (Don't even ask me where he learned this.)

"Well," he said, "I think I love her, too." Oh my goodness. I didn't ask him what he meant, because it was just too sweet and innocent to discuss.

Lately Luke has more and more moments like these: moments where, all at once, I can see his prickly shell and his melting heart.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Interview With A Dreamer

It is 9 am and already, I realize, I’m dreaming big. Or indulging in ridiculous fantasy. I’m not sure which.

A few days ago I got a sort of acceptance for an essay. The piece was (provisionally) accepted by a non-paying online publication, Literary Mama, and they want to make some editorial suggestions. They want me to be “willing to work to make this excellent piece even better.”

You would think I was publishing a book for all the dreaming I've been doing.

The first fantasy that popped into my head was that I would finish writing the short story about the high school girl with insecurities, it would be accepted, I would continue to write for young women and eventually found an online journal—akin to Literary Mama but for teenage girls. This would be after writing several essays for the Literary Mama, then being invited to write a regular column, and then working as a (finally paid) editor for one of their departments. You know, the kind of person that makes editorial suggestions to emerging creative writers.

Later, I caught myself in the car giving an imaginary interview. I had already answered several questions when I realized what I was doing.

“Well, when I was in academia, I always said I wasn’t a creative writer. And I still do love literary analysis. But that is what book clubs are for, right?” I laugh with my imaginary interviewer.

“It is such a luxury to be able to work from home, what with the kids. When I was finishing up my Masters Degree in English, I just decided that I did not want to live in a household with two academics. It took me a while to find my niche after that, but I believe that I have.”

“Well, certainly,” says my interviewer. “As your body of work proves.”

* * *

I am not generally a big dreamer. I’m not a pessimist, but not an optimist either. I don’t usually see the glass half full or half empty; I tend to believe that I should take a drink of water before I decide what to think. Perhaps it isn’t even water at all.

When I was late in labor with Henry, I was contracting every five minutes and barely able to talk, and yet I said to my friend Heidi, “Can you take Luke? I mean, we’ll see if I’m even in labor at all, but take him just in case.” Such are the statements of a tentative dreamer.

I remember what a joy it was to begin spending time with my friend Jenny, who truly understands the pain that comes in the package of life, but who still chooses to dream big, almost every day. I watched her grow as a freelance writer—because she is a great writer with unique vision, yes, but also because she believes that nothing is off limits. In the time I was her neighbor, Jenny sent articles off to all kinds of publications, sent show ideas to Oprah, wrote a children’s book, started a novel, and wrote two Everything books, among other things.

And from the first day I met her, Jenny has encouraged me to write. Even when she didn’t know if I could write. I would relate my latest co-sleeping adventure with Luke and Jenny would say, “What a great idea for an article! You could submit that to Mothering!” I never really took her seriously. But she persisted in making these kinds of comments for five years.

Last year after Jenny started a blog, upon her encouragement I started one too. Jenny persisted with her “when you begin publishing” comments, and I guess they have started to sink in. She has recently been dropping "when you publish your first book" casually into our conversations.

Jenny has been living in Kona for a few months now and recently someone asked her, “Can’t you live somewhere a little more realistic than paradise?”

I think paradise is the perfect dream for Jenny.

And writing a book, editing an online journal, and giving regular interviews are the perfect dreams for me.