July 31, 2006

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple

My parents raised me to be a media-savvy kid before most people even knew that was something worth doing. (Thanks again, you guys!) When I was about eight years old, I saw a commercial on TV for a Slinky™ toy. Some of you probably remember it. The ad featured a boy, a girl, and their Slinkies, and wowie, were they having fun! The Slinky climbed down the stairs all by itself! It was the coolest, and I had to have one.

My mom talked to me a little bit about what went into making a commercial, but I was having none of it. Just wanted my Slinky. So my dad slid into the driver’s seat of our blue Chrysler Plymouth station wagon (RIP), and we all trooped off to the local toy store (probably Hesselsons, back before they shifted focus to pool and sporting goods stuff; remember when the toy stores weren’t all giant chains?) and got a Slinky. And then we raced home to learn the painful lesson. The Slinky would only go all the way down the stairs in that magic way about once every fifteen times, and then only if every one of several tricky variables was exactly right. And if you stretched it out and the coils got pulled past the point of springing back to their original shape, well, forget it. My folks had been right, and I literally think I never watched TV the same way. (I also remember the day when I realized that Laura Ingalls couldn’t die, but that’s another story for another time.)

Flash forward to my life as a parent. Compared to what I’m dealing with, Slinkies seem downright innocent. Now we've got lots more commercialism. Lots more advertising. Marketing targeted at infants. And what seems like a tiny little minority whisper of protest.

Our son spends very little time in retail space – but when I say that out loud, most people’s response is confusion. What do I mean? I mean that I spend very little time in retail space, and when I do, I try not to bring my son. I don’t think he has all the tools to handle the barrage of messages yet. I’m not sure any of us do. He finally had his first McDonald’s hamburger this month. And our television (yes, we do have one, my partner is a sports fanatic, remember?) lives in our basement, which also qualifies us for Martian status in some people’s eyes.

Today on the way home I heard a piece about the prevalence of advertising in our kids’ lives on NPR, and found myself nodding in agreement with most of it. But it turns out that about one-third of children under the age of six in the US have a television in their room. And while half of parents say their young children are greatly influenced by food advertising on television, 56 percent oppose policies restricting junk-food ads. I’m a fringe-dweller. Along with these people. And these.

* * *

I spent an hour or so tonight unexpectedly helping a friend… the rental wreck she got dealt had faulty brakes, and so I went and scooped up her kid, who had been stranded at the mall, and brought him home. My partner commented on my friend’s apparently semi-permanent cloud of bad luck, and I said that I thought a big part of it was just being poor. (If she’d had the money to be renting from a top-notch company instead of a bottom-feeder, etc. etc.)

And as I was saying that I realized again the extent to which my fringe-dweller status is linked to my privilege. I am concerned about the effects of creeping commercialism and junk food hawking on my child because I was raised by educated parents, was fortunate enough to be able to get a great education myself, have a good paying job, am relatively healthy, live on a safe and quiet street, and have the time and energy to pay attention to the research. I can successfully avoid Target because I can shop right here in my livingroom with my WiFi’d laptop. Lah di dah. Rich white chick in precious university town saves own kid while sitting on butt in air-conditioned decadence.

And this is one of the things that’s really bothering me about our national state of affairs. Lucky me, I am capable (at least for now) of fending for myself and guarding my child’s childhood. But what about everyone who isn’t?

What about my friend, who regularly has to choose between groceries and dental care? What about her kids, who live within walking distance of fast food, but not a grocery store? What about the 45 million Americans whose lack of medical insurance leaves them one illness from bankruptcy tonight?

Two of my earliest political memories revolve around episodes that evidenced a “we are all in this together” mentality. I remember seeing public service ads on television enjoining me to give a hoot and not pollute – and taking them to heart. And I remember Jimmy Carter asking us to turn our thermostats down during the energy crisis of the 1970’s – and my mom doing it.

Now that we seem to be living in an era of every man for himself, I am longing for leaders who will remind us that there is one boat. And that we are all in it together.

(Oh, Mamas, I thought this theme might pass me by.
Didn't have anything to say. Guess I was wrong!
Thanks for reading all the way to here; bonus points if you comment.
Begging your forgiveness, I remain
a devoted reader of Mama Says Om. Hope you are, too!)

July 24, 2006

Yo, Moms, listen up!

Okay, here's the thing.

I am working on an advanced degree in bedtime delayal. (I'm aware that delayal is not a word, but whatever, I'm not even five yet, you know what I mean, so go with it, will ya?)

To date, my techniques include, but are by no means limited to:
  • profess an inability to select the books which shall be read
  • brush teeth one at a time
  • agonize over pajama choice
  • discover that legs are too tired to ascend stairs
  • realize that starvation is imminent
  • want water, but also want not to get out of bed to get it
  • belatedly discover that yes, I do need to use the bathroom again
  • spook myself by staring deeply into the well-known shadows of my room
On a good night, diligent application of these techniques can buy me up to half an hour. And I think we all have an understanding of the situation.


If, in the course of this little dance, I seem particularly tenacious, inventive, and fractious, if in fact I seem very close to completely melting down into a sobbing heap of pure misery, might it not occur to you that there is something special going on?

You blew it last night. I was totally freaked out about the possibility that there would be no one I knew at camp today, and you missed all the signs. Instead you just got frustrated and angry and downright mean.

But, lucky for you, I'm a forgiving kind of guy. Tonight was much better. Let's hold a good thought for Tuesday, shall we?

(Okay, Mommy, you can have your blog back now.)

July 23, 2006

Risking A Tumble

It says something about me as a parent, I guess, that my first impulse when D started pulling tricks like this (he was about 13 months old in this shot) was to run for the camera! Before I became a parent, I wondered what sort of mom I would be. Based on my experiences with other people's kids, I thought I'd probably be silly, pretty strict about manners, and possibly something of a worrywart. I was right on the first two counts.

I had good cause to think that I'd be a worrier, because when entrusted with other people's children, that was a dominant part of my experience. But once I became a parent myself I realized that much of that worry stemmed from a lack of knowledge and understanding. How could I know for sure if Tasha was capable of successfully landing a launch from the fourth step up?

But with D, I had that first taste of the famous "mother's instinct," and apparently my instinct leans towards the "Hey, what's the worst thing that could happen?" end of the spectrum. Especially because he's a relatively cautious kid, or at least a kid who has a clear sense of what he can and cannot do.

All through his toddler years, other mothers cut me looks as I let him pull stunts like the one pictured above. But he hardly ever fell. And when he did, as terrible as I felt, he always seemed to feel that it was the price of trying. He was shaken a few times, but never truly hurt, and always bounced right back up.

Which brings us to the present. Here he is now, almost five, still relatively unscathed, still enjoying testing his limits.

I hope that I can continue to hang onto my laid back mama stance as the risks get riskier.

(Many thanks to the wonderful women at Mama Says Om
for their continuing inspiration. I've been away and computerless,
and tried like crazy to get through your great "Relax" entries
before they went "poof"... wish we had an archive!
Although maybe that wouldn't be in the
in the moment spirit of the site.
Anyway, missed y'all, and thanks for stopping by.)

July 07, 2006

And Awaaaay We Go!

Our new home will look something like this for the next week or so. You can leave us messages here in the comments (although we probably won't read them until we get back), or, even better...

Send us snailmail at camp! If you're reading this between July 5th and July 10th, here's your big chance to make our day at camp.

Send a little note to
Riendeau-Krause campers
c/o North of Highland Campground
52 Head of the Meadow Road
P.O. Box 297
North Truro, MA 02652

If you'd prefer, you can call the camp and ask them to leave us a note on the camp message board, which is also a big thrill. That number (good from July 8th through the 14th) is 508/ 487-1191, and office hours are pretty much all day with the exception of meal breaks from noon-1pm and again from 6-7pm.

Even if you don't have a chance to send a message our way, we know we can count on you to send warm and sunny thoughts... right?

We'll check our voicemail at home every now and then, don't worry. And a special internet-sized "thank you!" to the Bryants and Scotts, lovely neighbors who will be keeping an eye on the homefront during our absence.

July 04, 2006

Independence Day


Some of the children stop crying
to reach out for falling sparks.
Fathers explain why it is that you see
the booms and whistles before you hear them,
and I can hear the light itself if I close my eyes,
ohhs and ahhs filling those darkened worlks
from the other side with fireworks.

Most of us stand to watch the sky,
thinking ourselves closer. Our heads all find
the same angle, as if we are grown to the hill,
living for one night on spark light an music.
The band leader sways and sweats and wonders
why his job has become so difficult;
if I stop for a moment I can hear
everyone else humming along with the Sousa too.
"Hey!" I shout, "Your band has as many instruments
as there are people on this hill!"
Trying to make him feel better. But he does ot
hear me. It is the finale; children are reaching
for pieces of sky.


Afterwards it feels strange to be separate, uprooted,
trapped in metal and an endless line while
red and white smear from tail to head lights
like a time-lapse photo someone took of the sky.
The stillness feels wrong. Dad wrenches
the steering wheel around and we are only ourselves again.
Lost. The roads twist away from us, embarrassed by their
lack of signs. Tracy and Mom are angry, want to go back
the way we came with the other cars, like following
footprints back to the house in a blizzard.

But this blindness is black, not white, and warm on the
Fourth of July -- Dad isn't turning around.
"Get out and find north, will you Shelley?"
I spin free from the car and look up, whistling
at the stars, half-expecting it to come out sparks.
Me, I don't mind being lost.
John Philip Sousa and I don't mind a bit.

(For poetry of a different sort,
check out the Declaration of Independence
and remember our forbearers, to whom we remain indebted.)

July 02, 2006

I Had Me A Great Birthday

Last year (or was it the year before? I am so chronologically challenged), a friend who understands my love of books gave me a Border's gift certificate for my birthday. Before I'd even taken the card out of its little gift jacket I'd made a vow: I would only spend this money on books for ME. Big deal, right? It was, after all, my birthday gift. But as I hopped on the internet to begin the search, I kept coming up with great ideas for my partner. Or my son. And it went on like that for quite some time.

Almost every mother I know talks about this aspect of parenting. Someone – and I wish I could remember who, so I could give you the footnote you so richly deserve – referred to the first years of parenting as, "hanging out in the baby submarine." You're down there in the murky depths with no sense of the wider world. Every now and then you put up a periscope to confirm your bearings, maybe, but then it's right back into the briny deep. Sleep-deprivation, milk-stained clothes, books in rhyme, and only the barest memory of who you would be if left to your own devices.

But I have to give myself a little credit... almost five years into our parenting gig, I did a great job of getting out of the submarine and treating myself this year!

First, a leisurely meander through the stacks at Firestone Library. Resulting in the haul pictured above (and then some, actually).

Then tickets for the whole family to see the incredible Tovah Feldshuh in Hello, Dolly! at the Papermill.

Did she rock? Don't even GET me started.

Then there were the treats I didn't know to ask for but got anyway. My dear friend Stacy wrote this very sweet note about me and shared it with the world.

And my partner and son spent the days leading up to my big day whispering to each other and yelling things like, "You can't come in here!" and "Don't look!!" which I think was pretty much the biggest treat of all.

So here's to treats, especially for those who sometimes find it hard to think of themselves.

(Thanks to Mama Says Om for the yeast.
Check out the other mama submissions over there,
but be careful, it could be habit-forming!)

July 01, 2006

The Merman Attempts To Cross the River

There is no blending in.
Even after years aground.
The merman knows this,
believes he has made his
peace, and yet.

Lying in his tub at night
he sets tasks for himself.
Go a day without shrimp.
Stay away from the water cooler.
Try a walk across a bridge.

So he finds himself
high above the river
watching the humans,
marveling at their ease.
How do they do it?

Do they not hear
the jostle and shush
of the water?
we’re going to the sea
to the sea to the sea!