Priorities

I still haven’t posted birthday party pics. My cell phone died suddenly, so I hope I’ll be able to retrieve them and upload them here some rainy day.

Anyway, I have to report a conversation we had the other day. I was telling Mookie about the Titanic. She wanted to know why the unsinkable ship sank.

Me: It hit an iceberg.
Mookie, in tone of great alarm: Were there any penguins on it?!

Red River Valley

Mookie’s singing class is learning “Red River Valley,” and listening to them the other day I had a flashback to a very sweet memory of her singing it to me when she was about four. I’m sure these aren’t the words they taught her in preschool, but children’s ears have their own logic, and she sang:

Come and sit by my side if you love me,
Come and sit by my side if you do,
And remember the blue vitsy valley
And the one who has loved you so true.

Yes, it says “blue vitsy valley.”

If I tried to describe how much I love my daughter, I would fail. All I could do was show you a film, a snippet from the internal running video of memory, of the sweetness of her voice and the tilt of her head as she sang these words with utter confidence and feeling, and you’d understand. I never even knew this chestnut before she brought the four-year-old’s version home, and now, as long as I live, I will never be able to hear it without tears coming to my eyes.

Transfiguration

Behold, an innocent young piñata . . .

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. . . transfigured into Professor Dolores Umbridge for Mookie’s Harry Potter-themed birthday party, which is tomorrow.

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I hope enough of the kids know the books to appreciate the joy of giving her a good smack.

One thing’s certain: no one in this house puts as much time into styling her own hair as Joy just put into curling Umbridge’s. I’m also very impressed by Mookie’s care to show the twists in the “ribbon” bow.

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More photos of ping-pong-ball Quidditch, Pin the Tail on Dudley, wand-making, and guests in costume after the gala.

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Wonderful day

Mookie had such a great day with her friend K and K’s family, which includes two younger sisters. She’s written three pages about it already in her diary, and plans to continue tomorrow because “I had so many adventures” that she can’t record them all before bedtime. The diary is private, of course, but she’s told us lots about the events of the day. Her eyes were shining when she reported that the littlest sister “kept wanting to hold my hand.” Mookie obliged. Sometimes it’s fun to be the big kid.

They went to Pacifica, where they hiked; collected shells and acorn hats; lost and found the dog; got clay from the soil all over their hands; ate carrots, which Mookie, to her delight, had to have fed to her like a baby because of her dirty hands; went to an outdoor restaurant; played at being Flower Fairies, each with a Flower Power and a usually-appropriate name (Rose, Oopsy-Daisy, Flutter-Shine, Chella–Mookie drew portraits of them); and teased the ocean, which eventually got back at them with a soaking big wave. And Mookie watched the waves for a long, long time.

Photo by MG

Photo by MG

Poe-try

Bubbe and Grandpa Stu gave us a terrific and apt gift for Hanukah: magnetic poetry, Edgar Allan Poe edition. If you haven’t seen magnetic poetry, they are kits full of flat magnets printed with one word apiece, in this case words particularly appropriate for Poe, such as crepuscular, crypt, dread, amontillado, kiss, dark . . .

They arrive in sheets that one has to break apart, so there were some found poems just in the unbroken sheets. I liked

dusk
half
truth
lost
soul.

Mookie found:

dream
within
dream

and some others. Now she is creating Poe-like poetry on the fridge.

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These are two separate poems:

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Thanks for the inspiration, Mom, Stu, and Edgar!

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.