Buttercup Grows Up

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My daughter will turn five in July, but she’s still got those chubby little cheeks and arms and toes, that cute little protruding belly that one associates with toddlerhood. I still tend to view her as my baby, needing protection from the world.

I mean, until she started Conversational Spanish last week.

Her big brother saw a friend there—social animal that he is—impulsively asked to attend the camp. I didn’t mind as the group was small and I figured he could ease Buttercup smoothly into an unfamiliar situation. (The teachers had been coming to her preschool all spring, but the class set-up and location were new.) Both of my children would become fluent in Spanish and I would get the mornings to myself.

“Let’s ask Buttercup,” I said, for the sake of politeness.

“I want to go by myself,” she replied.

We stared at her in shock: Buttercup loves spending time with Felix. He makes virtually every activity at least double the fun. When we pick her up at preschool, she begs him to chase her and the other kids around on the playground. “There he is!” she screams in delight “It’s the Freezer! Run!”

On the other hand, he’d just gotten to attend an all-day horse camp the day before, and maybe she wanted emulate his savoir faire.

So we let her go and she had a great time. Alone.

Several days later when we showed up for Spanish, she was the only student; the others had taken ill.

“Um…I’m not sure if….” I hemmed and hawed, feeling that the focused attention of three exuberant Spanish teachers (two with doctorate degrees) might be hard for my little girl to handle. Although she is loud boisterous confident opinionated demanding at home, she can be intensely shy in public, wilting if a stranger speaks to her in the supermarket. For years she attended birthday parties under the cover of one of our shirts. (I don’t blame her; I’d often like do the same!)

Buttercup had already grasped the situation and tugging at my hand. I bent down and she whispered a word in my ear: “Sí.”

I relayed it to las maestras.

“Sí!” they cried jubilantly. “Bravo!”

Later when I looked in on her, all three teachers were gathered around her like acolytes as she read from a handmade Spanish book. She’d even adopted their Castilian lisp.

I texted her father: Apparently she likes the 3:1 ratio.

I was afraid of that, he texted back.

This sudden spurt of maturity might have been less remarkable if it hadn’t occurred in conjunction with another major event: Buttercup’s First Dance Recital.

For the previous nine months, she’d been attending a beginning class offered by a large non-profit agency in our neighborhood. While the “Dance Institute” sometimes seemed a bit uptight (strict dress code and attendance policies), they offered very affordable classes in a beautifully remodeled old theater with brightly-lit studios. We loved Buttercup’s teacher, who was exceptionally encouraging and kind.

Still, when I heard that rehearsals (tech and dress) for this performance were going to bite six hours out of our week, I balked. Is this really necessary? I wondered. Is this karmic payback for boycotting Miss Peggy’s dance showcase when I was twelve?

“She can do it next year,” I blithely decided. But my daughter insisted that she wanted to participate, and her father thought we should support her. I finally came around when he offered to divvy up the rehearsal shifts.

The day of the tech rehearsal I armed myself with a notebook and reading material and a bag of emergency snacks, prepared to make camp with the other stage moms in the hallway. When we arrived the place was more frenetic than usual–an ant pile under siege–with two hundred students (ages two to six ) scrambling to find newly-assigned studios. Buttercup was in a larger one  with about sixty kids I’d never seen before. They all looked bigger, taller, older. I checked and re-checked the assignment. I asked where her teacher was. No one seemed to know.

About that time, the big, officious program director began whirling down the hallway like a motorized street-cleaner, trying to sweep parents out the door.

“This is a drop-off rehearsal, parents,” she broadcast loudly. “You’ll need to leave now!”

Huh? Nowhere in the intricate, six-page leaflet of instructions we’d received (rehearsal times, ticket purchasing, “How to Make a Perfect Bun”) had it mentioned that we were required to leave our children at rehearsals. I’d never left her before, and I wasn’t going to now. Especially when the place was in such chaos, and the only security measures in sight were a few sign-out sheets.

I raised my hand, trying to flag the woman’s attention. “May I ask a question?”

“At the front,” she barked. “There’s a long line ahead of you.”

“I’m not leaving her alone!” I declared in her wake.

Another mom caught my eye and nodded in solidarity. She said that she heard that their teacher was on the way.  Her daughter was in the same class. The four of us went into the studio and sat down. It felt transgressive, like a sit-in.

Two young women were grouping the kids into different taped-off sections according to dances, but no one was doing any crowd control. The noise level was deafening. Little girls and boys laughing and screeching, dragging each other around. Someone was going to get hurt!

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked Buttercup for the fourth time.

She nodded solemnly.  I could tell she wasn’t sure; she was attempting to be brave.

“It’s a three-hour rehearsal,” I explained. “That’s as long as preschool, you know, and they don’t want the parents to stay…”

“You can go, Mom,” she said, pushing me a little.

I shook my head and smiled. Maybe she was brave. But I wasn’t mentally or emotionally prepared for this departure. (I mean, damn it, Kindergarten’s not until fall!) Besides, she had no idea what was in store for her: This was an Institute, after all, not a hand-selected preschool or a camp where we knew everyone by name. Here she was just a single tiny body in a mass of writhing black and pink leotards that had to be pressed into cohesive shapes on stage. I was loathe to abandon her—even for a second—in that pool of indifference.

“What if”—I didn’t want to scare her, just alert her to the possibilities—“you get nervous or bored or lonely?”

She shrugged. “I’ll get over it.”

I grinned. What pluckiness! What determination! What courage! I couldn’t help but to admire her. Then I had a radical thought: Maybe she’s not going to be like me at all. Maybe she’s inherited more of her father’s Eastern European Zen. Maybe I don’t have to worry about her so much. Relief washed over me like a tide.

“Okay,” I said, giving her a squeeze. “In a minute. I’ll go.”

I waited until the rest of her class had trickled in and the other mother had prevailed upon one of the assistants to sit down with our children. I pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote Buttercup a note with a big heart and a lot of little kisses, zipped it into the snack bag, and handed it over to her.

“Daddy will come and check on you,” I whispered. And then I hugged her goodbye.

 

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Loner Interlude: An Egg Party

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”But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked. “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice. “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.” –Alice in Wonderland

It was about time to see my Imaginary Friend. We hadn’t spoken in five months, but Zan had recently texted—Did we want to decorate Easter eggs at her house? She’d even supplied a physical address.

Still, I didn’t get too invested. I didn’t mention it to the kids. Up until the last half hour, I expected the inevitable crack in our plans. But I didn’t hear a peep.

When we pulled up in front of her new house at the appointed time, Zan’s eight-year-old son was cycling around in the driveway. As soon as he spied us, Quentin abandoned his bike and ran inside like one of those kids in a Western. My kids jumped out of the car and chased after him. I was touched to see that he—or Zan—or both of them—had written a large “Welcome!” sign in pastel chalk on the cement steps. We took that as an invitation to enter through the open screen door.

Zan’s new place was cute and compact, like an Ikea catalogue (literally, the size of a magazine) and further congested by objects of whimsy—bowls of marbles and Chinese candies, porcelain chicks. This was only the second of Zan’s four houses I’d seen in the last five years, but it confirmed my belief in her interior design skills.

We found the occupants hiding out in their black-and-white (retro style) kitchen.

“Oh hello, hello!” Zan chirped, giving out little hugs. She was gracious and jittery, like an artist at an opening reception.

I presented her with a rather bedraggled, potted tulip bulb, explaining that’d been in our car all day.

“Oh no, you keep it!” she said, possibly misunderstanding.

As usual, she looked chic in a little black outfit, her dark hair swept off to the side. When all the other moms had congregated in t-shirts and jeans at Kindergarten pickup— Zan had looked like she’d just come from a gallery in the Chelsea District. In the winter you could find her wearing a Russian ushanka, and in the spring, carrying a sheer white parasol. I loved her sense of style, her attention to detail.

In honor of the festivities, the kitchen table was covered with a blue and pink tablecloth, banana-nut bread and orange slices, little plastic wells with dye and vinegar all ready for egg dipping.

The kids crammed some bread in their mouths while Zan tried to elicit some sound bites from them. They gulped cranberry juice liked long-distance marathoners. Then they followed Quentin out back to swordfight in the goat heads, leaving us alone.

Zan and I blinked shyly at each other in bright glare of the skylight, swatted at the spring gnats circling around the orange slices. We weren’t used to interacting in person. Most of our current communication is via text. So we grasped at the obvious: Her new rental and its proliferation of weeds. Her disinterested landlord. My family’s recent spate of sickness (actually, two unremitting months of rotating ailments), including a vomit fest in the van on the way home from skiing.

Not a real conversation, but the kind of low-level grousing women do as a warm-up for the main course. Appetizers, if you will.

Next came the soup and salad: I launched into my latest—and quite possibly most embarrassing—preoccupation: watching the Pistorius Trial (live) in Africa while the rest of North America slumbers; simultaneously reading tweets from courtroom journalists, some of which are quite amusing.

Zan countered with a few of her favorite “binge” viewing experiences, including the most recent addition, Game of Thrones. Meanwhile, the kids kept charging through the kitchen, testing our ability to stick to one single subject. Impossible! Zan served up a little side dish on George W. Bush’s artistic ambitions, paintings that she’s sure are traced out first with a slide projector, which devolved into a pointless political discussion.

“When I saw him on Leno’s last show, I couldn’t believe that he’d been our president!” she exclaimed.

“Because he can’t draw?”

“No, because he’s so inarticulate!”

“Presidents are probably just figureheads anyway,” I said. “Now we have a really articulate president, and what’s the difference?”

Zan shook her head and declared that “thinly-veiled racism” rather than party lines had kept Obama from fulfilling his potential.

“I thought we were beyond that,” I said. “Maybe I’m naïve?”

The kids dumped their eggs into the cups, fished them out with wire dippers, seemed thoroughly unimpressed by the properties of dye. Like fireworks, they’d been through it all before. A few minutes later, they informed us that it was time to go to the park to hide plastic eggs. I’d conveniently forgotten about this segment of the plan.

“Can I bring my bike?” Quentin asked.

“Um….yes,” Zan said.

I was surprised. Three kids and a bike? How was that gonna work?

It reminded me of the time we’d driven an hour in my car to a funky backwoods museum and she’d let Quentin to bring along his ipod and play video games. It’s not that we didn’t own ipods at the time (we didn’t), but that I never would have brought them on a playdate. What’s an unshared ipod, if not a tool of detachment? Besides, kids are supposed to get bored in cars. It forces them to be silly or inventive or desultory, and form lasting childhood memories.

Quentin immediately took off to the park on his bike, Felix sprinting and shouting behind him. Buttercup lay down on the pavement, refusing to move. When I finally lugged her the three blocks to the park, Quentin was circling like a bicycle racer while Felix begged him for a turn.

I dispatched the kids to the playground equipment and Zan and I took over a corner of the park, lobbing questions at each other while hiding eggs: So what are you guys doing this summer? (Quentin is going to Circus Camp.) Are you going to keep on homeschooling? (Yes, we’re having a blast!) Does Quentin like second grade? (Yes, he made a friend this year…) Is Buttercup going to attend Kindergarten? (Well, we’ve applied to a few Charter Schools…)

As soon as the eggs were hidden, the kids scampered through the underbrush like squirrels on speed. I figured that they would be high on serotonin and dopamine and other “feel-good” chocolate transmitters for at least half an hour. Zan and I would finally be able to sit down under a tree and get to the feast at hand.

The second this notion crossed my mind, a young mother and her toddler strolled up, smiling hugely. Zan gave her a welcoming hug and quickly made the introductions: Giselle is American-but-married–to-a-French-musician and living in France, she said; Lillian is “married”-to-a-Hungarian-theater director and homeschooling her son.

I don’t know if she was invited, but Giselle sat down as if she intended to stay. I was disappointed, I confess. Now that a new guest had arrived, we were back to the appetizers again.

Still, I did my best to be inclusive, asking Giselle about “snacking” in France—was it true that French moms didn’t allow it?

She said that most people stuck to prescribed eating times—though there was a specific snack time from four to six p.m.— “le goûter”—because dinner was so late.

Next we covered a myriad of Anglo-Franco differences including: the work week (35 hours) and vacation time (five weeks for everyone, regardless of position, guaranteed by law) and financial support for French artists—“you have to work really hard to get an artistic assignation, but once you do, the government subsidizes your income”—which is why Giselle and her husband had decided to go back to France instead of staying in the U.S.

While we chattted, Zan occupied herself by tickling/squeezing/chasing the baby, eventually abandoning us altogether. At one point I saw her cheerfully swinging him on the other side of the park.

My conversation with Giselle deepened. We talked about how having a baby irrevocably changes your life and how financial dependence can cause a surprising reversion to conventional gender roles, and why I staunchly refuse to do my partner’s laundry. She told me a story about how one woman had gotten over her resentment at ironing her husband’s clothes by having him read to her. She described the man reading aloud on an downturned bucket in a tiny apartment alcove. “That’s so French!” I laughed, totally imaginging the scene.

When we left the park an hour later—after reclaiming Zan and Quentin, bidding  “adieu” to Giselle, leaving the bébé with a basket of plastic eggs—I asked Zan if she felt she had “more of a community” on this side of town.

Nah, I’m a recluse!” she said. “But Giselle’s only here a few months so…”

I grinned, trying to catch her out. “You can afford to be friends?”

She smiled like a Cheshire cat.

Note: On the drive home, I asked the kids if they’d had fun. Neither of them bothered to respond. But Zan texted me a few minutes later to thank me for the tulip. I texted her back, thanking her for the eggs.  

 

 

 

 

 

I

Rotten Parent Intervention

My family loves to go skiing at a little family-owned resort about two hours north of here. They have special “car load” and “local appreciation” days in the middle of the week that make it more affordable for us than the big-name resorts. We stay a couple of days and get a rustic, one-bedroom suite with a wood-burning stove, let the dogs run around in the woods. A great time is (usually) had by all.

The only drawback to this bucolic setting is the back-to-back suites, thin walls, and adjoining bedroom doors for larger families. You can hear everything going on next door, from hiccups to couplings. Last November, a slew of teenage snowboarders were describing—in exacting detail— the anatomy of certain girls that they had known. I sent Oz next door to put a muffler on it.

“If you don’t mind, boys,” he drawled with just the right amount of menace and humor, “I don’t want my eight-year-old learning about S-E-X from you.”

Fortunately they complied. But this time, we weren’t so lucky.

A young couple from Texas and their small children—no more than two and four-years-old—arrived at nine p.m. Some good-natured racket is to be expected. But when both parents started shrieking loudly at their kids to go to sleep, threatening “a spanking” if they didn’t immediately comply, I drew an uneasy breath. Especially when the bedroom door was slammed shut, leaving the children crying in the dark.

“Can you imagine? No bedtime story, just the threat of a beating?” I fumed to Oz, glad that my kids were too busy with their video to have noticed. He just shook his head.

The only way I was able to go to sleep that night was to give the parents the benefit of the doubt: They had probably just gotten off work and driven hours with their tiny kids into the mountains. No doubt they were exhausted. Who among us are perfect??

Everyone I know gets tired and fed-up with the kids from time-to-time, goes into “crappy” parenting mode, yells. I have been guilty, too, of making empty threats (though never spanking) in moments of desperation. But I have learned from experience that lashing out at children doesn’t produce beneficial long-term results.

It might work in the moment, or for a short time afterwards, but then that negative energy inevitably convulses through their little bodies and brains and emerges from their sweet little mouths as disrespect for themselves and others. I can see it so immediately, so clearly when I am the source of that malevolence that I feel wretched and apologize to them and explain why it was  “not appropriate behavior.” And then I try—really hard—to stay conscious of my actions and reactions. To not engender any harm.

It’s an on-going practice; the most difficult work I’ve ever done.

Unfortunately, things didn’t improve next door in the morning. The youngest child began chanting, “Up, up, Mama! Can I get up?” at six in the morning. His voice was hopeful at first, then plaintive, and then shrill This continued for almost an hour, both parents refusing to answer him, attempting to stay asleep. Finally the little boy got angry and started yelling, the parents exploded like a connected trip wire, shrieking in unison at him. Then suddenly the boy was crying “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” and whimpering again.

Eventually the mother got up and gave him something eat. (I heard the Dad saying, “Just give him a couple pieces…” so I presume it was candy.) I imagined that this would definitely backfire later on in the day.

When I ranted to Oz, he had no solution for me. “The parents are young,” he said, as if that was an excuse. “That’s probably the way they were raised,” and, “they don’t even know what they’re doing.”

“But shouldn’t we make them aware of it?”

Oz didn’t think it was our responsibility unless the kids were in any grave, immediate danger. Nor did he want to “start a feud” with our neighbors. And honestly, I didn’t blame him. They were from Texas, after all. What if they a gun rack in their car?

Unfortunately there were no other accommodations available, so if we had to put up with it.

Later I saw the mom walking through the snow smoking a cigarette with the two little ones trailing behind her. She looked bored and disconsolate; her husband no doubt off enjoying himself on the slopes while she tended to the kids by herself. I felt a tiny bit of empathy for her, but was more outraged on behalf of her kids.

That night, Oz and I made sure to talk in extra-loud voices so that our neighbors comprehended the acoustics of the walls. It made no difference: The kids were loud and boisterous, “a handful,” to be sure, but the parents never uttered a kind or loving word in their direction. And at bath time, when the threats started up again, I moved my entire family out into the living room and closed the bedroom door so that we wouldn’t have to hear the abuse. It was quiet when we went to sleep an hour later, but for the second night in a row, I was awakened several times by one of the little boys moaning, “Ow ow ow ow ow!” in his sleep.

Frankly, I was relieved to be leaving the next day. The mother got up early and took the kids into their living room to let the father (and us) sleep in, but around eight a.m., the youngest one came in singing, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” in the most joyous little voice imaginable. This happy serenade didn’t last long; Daddy put a quick end to it, sending the kid running into the other room with heart-wrenching sobs.

When Oz and the kids went off to ski that morning, I packed up our stuff and decided to write our neighbors a letter:

To the “Parents” Next Door,

We have spent the last 36 hours listening to you yell, scream, chide, and lash out at your small children. It was extremely disturbing to me and my family. The walls are very thin and we could hear everything, including your kids having nightmares in their sleep. I honestly felt like calling the cops, but I decided to write you this note instead.

I know that it’s not easy to be the parents of little ones, who can often try our patience and exasperate. But they are a gift to you, and you may not realize it until it’s too late, when they want nothing to do with you (because of this early abuse). They are only this age once, and you only have this one opportunity to do right by them.

Please (both of you) get some anger counseling so that your children don’t grow up to hate you, or repeat this terrible behavior with their own kids.

I pray that you will all get the help and assistance that you need.

Your Neighbor Next Door

When Oz came back, I told him that I was going to put it on their car windshield just before we left. To be on the safe side, I would inform the resort’s manager. Oz shrugged his shoulders but assented.

When the manager read my letter, she nodded vehemently, and said, “I’ll say something too. We’re supposed to enjoy our kids when they’re young!”

To be honest, I felt a bit underhanded in not confronting the parents directly, but I didn’t trust myself to say the “right thing” in “just the right way.” I didn’t want it to come off like sanctimonious criticism.  I wanted them to hear and understand the ideas I was attempting to communicate.

Will it help? Probably not.

But someone owes it to the kids—and the relationship they have with their parents— to intervene. The next time these people individually or collectively scream at (or hit) their small children, I want them to feel like someone is listening in through very thin walls.

Little Blogger

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My eight-year-old has started writing a blog. I blame it on Stampylongnose.

When Felix discovered that Stampy’s youtube channel had reached two million subscribers, his eyes glistened with the kind of fervor shared by evangelists, politicians, rock stars.

My son is a beautiful, sensitive, creative boy, but he’s also a first-class ham.

Since he knows he’s not going to be allowed to tweet or upload videos to youtube, the only way for him to accumulate a large electronic fanbase, at present, is to blog. And this is a kid who doesn’t like to write! He didn’t even know what a blog was until a few months ago, when I started one, but once he overheard a conversation about “followers,” he keyed in really quickly.

I know that most intelligent parents probably wouldn’t consider letting their children have an online presence, but Oz and I decided that as long as we kept Felix’s identity protected and routed responses through my email for weirdo-screening, the benefits could outweigh the risks. Having a “readership,” an “audience,” a reason to express himself might provide the needed incentive for Felix to practice his newly-minted reading and writing skills.

We had a long talk with him about Internet safety and helped him come up with a pseudonym, and then he was ready to go.

For his very first blog, Felix announced that he was going to write about a traumatic event he had witnessed—a man punching a woman in a parking lot the day before Valentines Day. I blanched, suggesting that this “might be a little too grim” for a blog debut—“we don’t want to put people off immediately!”—and fortunately he came around to my editorial viewpoint.

He wrote, instead, about the book we were reading together, The Genius Files. A week later, he wrote about two dove’s eggs he found in a tree with his friends, followed rapidly by descriptions of a typical homeschooling day and food he’s learning to cook. He chose all of the topics himself and wrote the first drafts, and then we went through the paragraphs together, correcting sentence fragments, spelling, and punctuation.

So far, so good. Felix’s enthusiasm for the blog hasn’t (yet) diminished like the guitar lessons or swim team practices. Maybe because he is able to see his work “published” immediately, or because each entry is rewarded by a couple of “likes” or a highly-prized  “following” notice. (One of his followers looks like a hit man but the rest appear to be harmless, kind-hearted, middle-aged women.) Felix cackles over each new conquest, promising to outnumber me before the month is through.

I don’t mind the competition; in fact I take pleasure in it. But for Felix to achieve the sort of Stampy-like success he envisions, he’s going to have to work harder to find his niche, his milieu, his WordPress peeps, and neither of us have a clue about where they might be hanging.

Out of 77 million WordPress sites, aren’t there any other Little Bloggers out there?

Suggestions anyone? Stampy?

Stampylongnose Takes The Cake

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Have you heard of Stampylongnose? If not, you or your kids are probably over fifteen.

“Stampy,” as he’s known in our house, posts daily Minecraft video tutorials and other gaming content on youtube. Minecraft is the block-building video game I agreed to buy for my eight-year-old son last year after watching the PBS documentary, Digital Media, New Learners of the 21st Century. I was intrigued by the way that New York City’s Quest to Learn charter school uses games—traditional and video—to educate children about systems. I thought Minecraft might be fun/educational for Felix. Otherwise, I’m pretty strict about video games in the house.

Back then, I didn’t realize that Minecraft had two modes, “Creative,” and “Survival,” and that in the latter, all sorts of threatening “mobs” (mobiles) would attempt to get Felix and destroy him and his constructions. He had to learn how to build/survive through trial and error, which meant dying and re-spawning a number of times, losing hours of work and accumulated resources. When I suggested that Felix just “stay in Creative Mode and build neat things,” he looked like I’d asked him to stay in diapers.

In Creative Mode, everything is just given to you,” Felix explained. There aren’t as many challenges or risks and therefore “it isn’t as much fun.”

Nor are there any written instructions (in the PC version, unlike the Xbox or pocket versions), and so we non-gamers were of little assistance. It was probably inevitable that Felix would start gravitating to the virtual world for guidance.

Enter Stampylongnose, a cheerful twenty-something-year-old Brit in the guise of a blocky yellow tabby (“Stampy Cat”). Felix fell for him immediately.

“Sometimes he creeps into your world and Stampy’s you,” he told me with obvious delight.

“What’s that mean?” I asked suspiciously.

“He leaves a cake hidden someplace. He loves cake.”

“But how can he get into your world?”

“Only if you invite him.”

“Oh…” I said, relaxing a bit. My son is not allowed to play online yet.

Stampy’s youtube channel appears quite harmless and helpful, espousing cool, first-hand building and evading tricks with kid-friendly yuks on the side. But after a couple of weeks of listening to the same voice cackling from my son’s room, I began to wonder, Who is this guy, really? (Pee Wee Herman with a British Accent?) And who are his friends, Amy Lee and iBallistic Squid? What kind of influence are they having on my kid? Will Felix start talking like Paul McCartney? Giggling like Ricky Gervais?

Since I couldn’t bring myself to watch an entire episode of Stampylongnose—the rapid commentary and movements through blocky terrain give me a migraine—I opted for some gentle sleuthing on the net. Turns out that one day last December, Google created an uproar by removing Stampy’s entire oeuvre from youtube without warning. Although a few mothers reacted with uncharitable glee (comparing his “screechy laugh” to “nails on a chalkboard”) most were in genuine shock, as if someone they (vaguely) knew had just been abducted.

Here’s a small portion of a thread that ran on the Mumsnet Forum that day. (I’ve deleted usernames and shortened it considerably):

SOMEONE HAS HACKED STAMPY’S ACCOUNT and ALL his videos have gone and his YouTube channel has been terminated………My daughter noticed it within 2 mins of it happening, she was watching one of his videos and then they all went ‘pooph’

DS is going to go into meltdown around 3.45pm

BeJesus, fuck knows how I’m going to break that news.

We have a no screen policy until weekends, will they be able to sort this?

OMFG!!! DS will be horrified.

Thank god DS has gone to play with a friend after school so he won’t find out

Oh God, dd2 will be gutted. Me, less so.

It’s not hacked. YouTube/Google deleted it with no explanation.

Save Stampy

We are all shocked too. #savestampy

No No No ds 2 is running around shouting why

He is so inoffensive, his voice does grate a little, but thats what headphones are for

Oh FFS. noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. DD is going to be devastated.

#savestampy is trending in the UK

Twitter says he’s back on youtube.

Yay go stampy!

Stampy is back!!!

Protestors sent over six thousand signatures/messages on behalf of Stampy to youtube/Google in less than one day, and by that night, all of his material was reinstated. Since then, Stampy’s popularity has swelled enormously. A recent visit to his website revealed over 2 million subscribers. (This far exceeded Felix’s guess, which was “one hundred.”)

Although I’m usually quite comfortable in the Loner Camp, this sort of solidarity was heartening. It’s also a relief to find that Stampy’s not just my son’s  private fixation, but the kind of obscure international phenomenon you only know about if you have kids of a certain age, and that millions of moms like me are out there listening.

Vanning It

Our Sprinter Van on another trip (Convict Lake)

Our Sprinter Van on another trip (Convict Lake)

(Retroactive Blog #2, December 19, 2013)

Packing up for Mexico is like cramming for an intense, two-hour Final. No many how much time we put in, we never feel completely prepared.

We don’t take so many clothes because we wear bathing suits (or the same old  thing) a lot of the time, but there are towels and sheets and blankets and pillows and camping gear (folding chairs and table and mini-fridge and cookstove) and schoolbooks and paperbacks and magazines and DVDs and iPods and Christmas presents (Santa’s need to be carefully stowed) and wrapping paper and First Aid supplies and toiletries and dog accoutrements and dishes and cutlery and food. I always bring a bunch of canned beans—ridiculous, going to the land of frijoles—but I prefer organic. Same with nuts and seeds and dried fruit. And we never have enough of our favorite cereal, it seems, or low-sugar ketchup, yogurt, and peanut butter.

We can’t start too much of the process ahead of time, because, of course, our four-year-old wants to help, and that means taking every pot, pan, and can of food in the pantry. Last year we ended up carting her entire, kid-size kitchen south of the border, and this year, nearly every stuffed animal in her collection (approximately 36). Oddly, our eight-year-old declined any toys this time, preferring to play with “found” objects”—sticks and rocks and other bits of detritus he picked up along the way. I had to beg him to pack a few LEGOs.

We usually organize what we can at night—after the kids have gone to sleep—and cart out the rest of it in the morning. Fortunately, we’ve got a gi-normous white Sprinter van that Oz uses for work. We’d had our eye on them from the time Mercedes started importing them from Europe, but it took us about five years to find a used one that we could afford (ours is a Dodge). It’s big and roomy inside–eight feet tall–with tinted windows and a special “landscape” view on the sliding door. The dogs love watching the scenery whizzing by.

In the back area there’s a bench seat with seatbelts, and behind that is a large mattress on top of a frame. Oz built a little partition with an extra mattress that goes over the bench seat at night, so that all four of us can sleep in back. (Dogs sleep in the front seats.) This may have to change, as the kids are getting longer!

We store most of our belongings underneath the frame. Suitcases are too cumbersome and messy, but Oz came up with the solution of plastic units with pull-out drawers that we can access from the back or sliding doors. When we get to our bungalow in Mexico, we just carry them inside and use them for dressers. (I’m not a fan of plastic, but it’s great for keeping the clothes dry in a humid climate.)

When everything is done and the trash is taken out and heat had been lowered and the alarm set and the plants kissed goodbye, we get on the road and phone our last few friends and relations, to tell them we’re on the road. Hasta Luego!

Marry Me

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Once in a while Oz gets wistful for the Old Country and tries his hand at a recipe.

Last weekend he was Googling Hungarian desserts, and announced his intention to make one. As a (perpetually-recovering) sugar addict, I didn’t encourage this activity. Nor did I discourage it. Hungarian sweets are among the finest in the world, especially if you have a penchant for towering layers of cream.

I left the house so that I wouldn’t be implicated. When I returned three hours later, Oz and the kids had just finished making Somloi Galuska, which is pronounced, “shom-loh-ee-gah-LOOSH-kah” — only one example of why I haven’t learned Hungarian yet.

Somloi is a region of Hungary, and Galuska is “dumpling.” It doesn’t do it justice.

Aficionados categorize Somloi Galuska as a “trifle”: three different sponge cakes—chocolate, vanilla, and walnut—with pastry cream, apricot preserves, and raisins wedged in between the layers. The cake was traditionally scooped up in balls (the “dumplings”), topped with whipped cream, and drizzled with dark-chocolate rum sauce.

Oz served his in the “modern style,” cut in wedges to show off the layers. He also used pecans instead of walnuts and Cointreau instead of rum. (Yum.)

It was good—even better than I remembered—and certainly better than expected. Oz cooks great soups and stews and entrees—he barbecues—but I am the reigning Queen of Sweets. Or have been. This recipe was so difficult, fussy and convoluted I never would have attempted it myself, nor would I have ended up with something so indisputably delicious.

The cakes were light and spongy, a three-layered apricot-and-nut springboard into dense, humid white clouds of cream. The raisins freaked out my American sensibilities; my tongue not accustomed to soft sweet lumps in the middle of a smooth cake, but Oz explained that he had skipped a vital step—soaking the raisins in lemon zest and rum—which would have rendered them decadent little alcoholic explosions in the mouth. (That makes more sense, though I still consider them superfluous.) He made up for it by dribbling the aromatic, orange Cointreau (liquor) over bittersweet chocolate syrup, melding the whole dessert together perfectly.

“Now you have to marry Daddy,” enthused my four-year-old.

“Well,” I responded evenly. “Now Daddy has a chance.”

“Come on,” countered my eight-year-old. “You really should marry him!”

This is one of the unfortunate misconceptions in our family: That I have rejected Oz as unsuitable for marriage.

The fact is that his proposals—if one can call them that—have been unsuitable.

The first time, I was in the kitchen washing dishes. He shouted from the bedroom: “Hey, wanna get married?”

“What?” I called, wiping my hands on a dishtowel. I could barely hear; the football game was so loud. I poked my head inside the bedroom.

He grinned. “Wanna get married?”

Like, Will you bring me another beer?

“Uh, NO.”

Oz doesn’t even watch football, so what was he doing? Performing an irony? Or just trying to piss me off?

He knew my dour views: That the institution of marriage was severely flawed. That over 50% of the country and (nearly) every female in my family had been divorced, at least once. That 10% of the population weren’t allowed to exchange nuptials (back then). That I had rescued him from a disastrous marriage himself. That we were Sagittarians, and our sun signs were meant to roam the Universe freely.

Still, I was an American Girl— reared on decades of romantic movies—and I probably would have accepted just about any proposal from Oz. Except the Joke Proposal.

But that’s the Joke is what I got, and the only thing one can do with a Joke is to laugh, screw up one’s face in dismay, or shrug and affect indifference. I think I did all three.

Unfortunately Oz still hasn’t stopped joking, and now he’s gotten the kids in on it.

Just last summer he dropped to his knee in front of us at a grocery store, thrust a bouquet unpaid-for flowers in my direction, and proposed again. I wheeled my cart past him like he was a stranger.

(If this sounds unkind, consider that he had just flashed his buttocks at me in the parking lot.)

The fact is that there’s really no compelling reason to marry Oz. I love him, but we’ve been together over fifteen years now, illegitimately wedded into “Mommy” and “Daddy” by our two beautiful children. What’s a ceremony going to prove to the world?

And so, as we gobbled our Somloi Galuska last weekend, I told them consolingly:

“If I had to marry someone, it would be your father…and probably because of this dessert.”

Oz looked a little too pleased with himself, so I took another bite and added: “Or I could just marry the dessert.”