Only child

I came across this in an old New Yorker and wondered whether Mookie would find the description familiar.

I am an only child. And when you are an only child you have an unusual relationship with your parents. There are only the three of you, and you come to rely on one another for company as much as for anything else. You spend a lot of time travelling together, going to movies together, and watching public television together, with your dinner in your lap. Your mother and father are not so much your parents as they are your weird, older roommates. Or, better, a pair of older cats who wander in and out of the rooms of your house. They silently judge you, but they can’t stop you from whatever it is you’re going to do. (John Hodgman, “‘Downton Abbey’ With Cats,” 1/13/14 issue, page 29)

A pair of older cats. That sounds about right.

Scared of police

A book series I loved as a child, The Moffats, includes an incident in which Jane Moffat hides from the Chief of Police, afraid that he’s there to arrest her. Eventually she’s found and confesses her fears, and he assures her that police are for her protection. Most children are constantly aware that there’s something they’ve done that they shouldn’t, so a rules-minded child like my daughter might also be afraid when she sees an authority figure. The opportunity to reassure her, “Police are your friends,” just came up this week. I didn’t take it. How could I?

Mookie was telling me about a friend who’s scared “of everything.” Like what, I asked. “The dark . . . monsters . . . she’s even scared of policemen.” Really? Scared of police? “Yes,” Mookie said. “But police aren’t anything to be scared of. They’re here to help us.”

This is how these opportunities arise. How do we talk to our kids about race? As the issue arises, and it will, all the time, if we’re listening. How do we talk about police brutality? The same way we talk about any other difficult subject: honestly, at their developmental level, and with faith that they can handle tough information if they know we’re here to help them. People with black children have to have these conversations as a matter of survival. My white child needs these conversations, too, for the survival of her soul. After all, what we teach in church and our home is that other people’s troubles are our troubles, and that unfairness is wrong whether we’re the ones who got the smaller slice of cake or the bigger one. That when we notice that someone’s being hurt, we have to do something about it, and that if we’re not noticing, we have to pay better attention.

So I would love to be able to say to her, “You’re right. Police aren’t anything to be scared of.” But I’d be lying. So I said, “Police are supposed to be here to help us, and usually they are. But sometimes they do really bad things.” I wish I could report the whole conversation, but I can’t remember the details. I know we touched on how people make assumptions based on other people’s color, and that police do that too, even though they shouldn’t, and how that means that some people have to be scared of the police, too, instead of knowing they can turn to them for protection. (Is her friend’s fear well-founded? She’s Latina; her parents immigrated here; maybe someone in the family is in the U.S. without papers. I stayed off that topic, not wanting a thoughtless comment from Mookie to give her friend any more real monsters to fret about.)

The subject will arise again, just as it arose when she was sitting on my lap when I learned that Darren Wilson wouldn’t be charged, and couldn’t help from gasping and sighing.

(“What’s wrong, Mama?”

“A teenage boy was killed by a police officer, and he isn’t even going to be arrested.”

“Why did he kill him?”

“I don’t know. We’ll never know the whole story, since there isn’t going to be a trial now.”

“But he was just a teenager!”)

It will come up because it just keeps happening.

(In a tiny flat in London, bent over with pain from the news from home: the decision by a Florida jury. “What’s wrong, Mama?”

“A man should have gone to prison because he shot a boy. But he isn’t going to go to prison.”

“Why did he shoot him?”

“I don’t know. He says it’s because he was scared. Some white people think that someone is dangerous just because he’s black.”)

Just like the time before and the time before that. The girl her age who was killed by a Detroit cop who burst into her home firing a submachine gun, whose killer won’t even be charged with manslaughter; the Cleveland boy a few years older whom the police killed only two seconds after jumping out of their car. It will keep happening. The opportunities to talk about it won’t run out, and I won’t always know what to say, what to ask her, how much to tell her. I just know that nothing in our values as parents and people allows us to tell her, even implicitly, “You don’t have to worry about this because you’re white, and blond, and female, and not poor.” It’s our world, and our worry, all of us.

When Jane went past [the Chief of Police’s] house, she was careful not to step off the sidewalk onto the lawn even one little inch. She tried to remember always to walk, never to run, lest the Chief of Police take her for a thief running from the scene of her latest crime. But she never walked too slowly lest she be arrested for loitering. (Eleanor Estes, The Moffats,  25)

I’d love to tell my daughter that that’s the amusing paranoia of a child. But it’s too close to the real experience of millions of her countrypeople: not paranoid, not childish, not amusing.

Venn diagram


Mookie just loves Venn diagrams, and created this one describing our family. I dispute the claim that I don’t have puffy cheeks, and showed her my puffed-up cheeks to prove it, but she is sticking by it.

Now we know what to suggest the next time she says “What should I dooooo?” There are so many things in the world to put into Venn diagrams.



What do you do on a rainy day at the end of a long holiday weekend?

Build a spectacular marble run, of course!

We’ve made a zillion, but Mookie has never really done the building, much less the designing. She asked how you do it, and I suggested picking one from the Quadrilla booklet and following the step-by-step instructions. Naturally, she created one from scratch herself instead, and did pretty well figuring out how to engineer it so the marbles would go in the direction she wanted.



Hers is the tower with the big spiral on top, in the foreground in the first photo. We built two separately and then bridged them.

Now she is enacting an elaborate drama with the royal family, a special subset of marbles with unusual colors.


The caste system: royalty, workers (with their two leaders), and soldiers (with their five leaders). Hmmm.


In the annals of pastor-parenting: today Mookie sang in the children’s choir, and I didn’t cry.

According to her pronunciation, they sang the hymn “We Sing Now Togedder.” I am going to cry when the last of these mispronunciations vanishes. They’re on their way out. Mookie said “tooth” instead of “toof” last week, and Mookie’s Mommy and I looked at each other and sighed. She still says “bekkfast,” but that seems to be habit, since she doesn’t drop the “r” in other “br” words. Heck, after seven years of morning routine, I pronounce it “bekkfast.”

Anyway, it was a thrill to see her stand up so confidently and sing before the congregation. Now her stuffies are giving Grandpa a choir concert.



When I asked Mookie to grab a jacket this morning, she chose the poncho her guidemother Darcey made her. Ever since then, she’s been from Peru. She’s chattering in Spanish, quite fluidly, about how much she likes to climb the mountains of Peru, and chatting in English with her invisible llama, whose name is Aunt Verpa. (“As in vapor.”)

A case in point

Mookie had been sniping steadily all the way from music class to the BART station.

Mama: No scootering on the platform.
Mookie: Why?
Mama: Because it’s dangerous.
Mookie: Why?
Mama: I’m not answering that.
Mookie: Why?
Mama: Because you’re in one of those moods where you argue with everything I say.
Mookie: Not everything.

At that point I cracked up and said I had to share this conversation with the world. She helped me transcribe, giggling the whole time. I love that she gets what was funny.