Campfire Parenting, New Context, New Friends.

From Flickr User lowjumpingfrog
Our campfire was not on the beach, but I feel idyllic about campfires, and it might as well have been, it made me so pleased.

Ever have casual, peripheral, or professional contact with people and know that you want to know them more?

I love people, and I love to meet and talk to new ones.  But I don’t always love to sustain relationships.  Sometimes, I find myself doing it anyway out of proximity or convenience or a desire for adventure, self-punishment, or intrigue.

But other times, I am so charmed by a person or couple’s energy that I become absolutely exhilarated if the opportunity to learn to know them better presents.

Lately, a fellow solo-professional, Jon, and his wife, Katie, have been on my radar in that second sense.

So imagine my excitement when they invited Fella, Child and I over for a campfire the other week.  I already shared one anecdote from those glorious two hours.  But here’s some additional homage.

On Campfire Parenting

Campfire parenting is hands-off.  I tend to be pretty hands-off in general.  If I can hear my kid, I’m good.  And I’m also from the “you’re not hurt that badly, brush off and keep playing” school.

Child kept falling.  No wonder: she was running around in the dark with Katie & Jon’s kid, and their (fabulous) neighbor kids.  And she is typically not a drama queen.  But she kept scraping herself and requiring bandages, which the other children administered, and which were generously fetched (along with antibiotic cream) from inside by Katie.  Campfire parenting dictates that it takes a village.

Marshmallows!  Child had at least four.  I don’t know how many the other children had, but I know that the best part of a bag of ‘mallows was obliterated.  Campfire sugar doesn’t count.

Then, science experiment in which I lent the application for flashlight on my phone to illuminate.  It involved speculating about throwing roly-poly bugs into the fire, and strict admonishment not to by the grownups.

On New Context

One thing that I did know about Jon is that he used to be a Philadelphia police officer.

Being the lawless rebel that I am (haha), I have a specific view of police officers in my head: They are stern yes-people with no capacity for critical thought, caprice, or joy.  Also, they take sadistic pleasure in restricting other people’s freedom, which seems to be something that ought to be taken with absolute certitude of desert, and great consideration, but of which the fuzz seem to be collectively incapable.

And this notion never really jived with my sense of Jon.  But the campfire fun totally crystallized the fact that there’s not an ounce of that in him.

And when Katie told me that she grew up just her and her sister, I said, “So are you stoked to have boys?”

Which seemed like a reasonable question in thought form, but one that was mildly beer addled, b/c I felt like an ass as soon as I said it.  But Katie saved the moment from raised eyebrows and back-pedaling.  She said, “You know, I’m just stoked to have human beings.”

And she said it in this kind of awed tone of voice that accurately captured the sense of power, helplessness, and accomplishment that comes with parenthood.

All of this is why it’s exciting to be alive, to meet new friends, and to be a parent who likes campfires.

Yes, Principal. I do swear in front of my kid. What’s it to you?

Child made these, or most of them.

How is it possible that some time in the very near past, my unbelievably cool child couldn’t even write her own name?

At the present moment, she is so competent that she corrects my pronunciation.  I remember doing this to my mother.  I remember being six, and getting the stick that my mom was some kind of numbskull.

This is not true, of course, but being six and obnoxious, I believed it.

But my mom never told me that she was smarter than I was.  In order to boost my self confidence, she would feign ignorance.  I think she still blames herself for the fact that I thought she was stupid.

I would’ve gotten there anyway, just probably not as young.  I figure, bonus for my mom having a few years to get used to it before things got real bad during the teenage years.

I do tell Child I am smarter than she is.

I also do not censor my language around her too much.  I’ve waffled on this point, but here’s my reasoning.

My own potty mouth (which is considerable, though usually mixed with some money vocab) is a product of my extremely conservative, Christian upbringing, and the fact that while I lean hard on being a pretentious wanker, I have always abhorred open pretension and making people feel stupid just because they haven’t read as many books as I have.

Some sheltered, indoctrinated kids discover booze and sex and go nuts?  Nothing like the nuts I went, and continue to go, on the profane tongue.

I am amused and edified by few things as much as I am by a stream of–especially creatively strewn–four-letter words.  Yes.  I do mean edified.

And using the cussy vernacular gives my social tendrils greater reach.  I am not perceived as a goody-two-shoes, nor as someone who can’t identify with uneducated people.  And, this is the best part: people who are and would be offended by my speech can stay away.

No Words are Bad Words

So my current rationale for swearing in font of Child is that no words are bad, and thinking of words as bad or profane is kind of unhelpful.  The idea that a radio personality can’t say “f*ck” on air is nuts.  What is this? 1500?

Might as f*cking well be.

I mean, I can’t even spell out the f-word on my blog for fear of getting found by a bunch of prawn connoisseurs.  Yes.  I do mean prawn.

Anyhoo, so I’m thinking that m’child will not be so amused as I am by the swear words because she will have grown up hearing them.  Hell, she might even intentionally NOT swear just to be different from me.  Wouldn’t that be a rub.

As it stands, I do not hear my child cuss often.  Usually, if I say, “Oh sh*t.” to myself, she’ll say, “Oh sh*t what, mommy?”

But she hangs out with her Christian grandparents sometimes, and has returned from their house on a number of occasions with the news that “God doesn’t like it when you say, ‘Jesus Christ.’  It hurts his feelings.”

Child was, for a time, saying, “Jesus Christ, Mommy!”

I was, of course, amused by this especially.

But since Grandma’s kibosh, Child doesn’t say that.

What’ll You Do When You Get The Call?

Fella shakes his head at me sort of regularly and says, “You’re going to get a call from the principal.”

Last time he said, “I’ll back you up.  I mean, in theory I agree.”

Answer is, I don’t know.

I’m a total wuss about confrontation.  Though I tend to be less so where Child is concerned.  Last year, at least one time, I marched into the Principal’s office and said, “What’s up with X?”

Probably, I’ll tell Child she has to accept whatever punishment she gets at school, because sometimes the world is different than our ideals, but that she’s not in trouble at home.

And it’s not as if she thinks it’s always all right for kids to swear.  She’s been informed of the differing viewpoints.

Whenever she says something a little off color, Fella or I remind her that it’s okay with us, but that she shouldn’t say those words at school.

Kids these days

The other day, when I picked up Child, her very intense little friend who likes to talk to me ran up to me and began to squeal, “I got him!  I got the boy!”

Later discussion with Child revealed that she and the other girl have a crush on the same older boy, and they don’t know his name.  Child said that she likes his hair and shoes.

“Have you ever talked to him?”

“No.”

“Has your friend?”

“No.”

Honestly, I was sort of appalled by the inherent competitiveness and gloating absurdity of the other child.  My child seemed embarrassed about the whole thing, which was heartening.

Then the other day, we heard one of our neighborhood children shouting, “It’s Aspergers, Bitch!”

I also recently heard some sad stories about kids with drug dealer parents and the mounds of sh*t those children see, have seen, and wade through daily.

Clearly, some children have real problems.

Anybody care to weigh in with their own experience or ideas on the topic?

How do you talk to a six-year-old about grownup stuff? Like So:

My Sugar Bugger.

I know, I know, I promised you I’d write about the YMCA, physical fitness, all of that.  I’ve been making notes on the YMCA post for months.  But it’ll wait.  Because I’ve gotta get this one out.  It’s the kind you like, it’s emotional.  And the Y’s in it.  Sort of.  We had occasion for this conversation because of the Y.

People who know and love us might cry.  I didn’t, but I’ve had six years to deal with the inevitability of this conversation, and I must tell you that it went tons better than I was expecting it to go.

If you’re new to the story or this blog, you can read some of my thoughts about parenthood, some other thoughts about parenthoodChild’s present fake father situation, and the Child: Origins in (lightly) fictionalized form.

So last night, on the way home from the Y, Child was talking about her little friend whose house we passed’s father and mom’s boyfriend.

She got this sad look on her face, and she said, “I wish I had a father.”

I am so accustomed to being able to dodge this conversation that I said, “You do!”

She said, “No.  Fella’s my fake dad.  I mean a real dad.”

“You do have a real dad, Child, but Fella’s way more your dad than he is.”

“Really?!” She was legitimately surprised.  There are some real pleasures in observing childhood, of getting to re-live that naivete, that utter faith that nobody around you is trying to mess with you, be dishonest, or dick you over.  Life pre-awareness-of-sex.

“Yeah, really.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s a guy I knew in college for a while.”

“Were you married?”

“No.  We were just friends.”

“Then how’d you get me?”

“Sometimes that happens.  Sometimes friends get babies together on accident.”  (I was not in a financial position to be on whore pills, but we were using lots of birth control)

“I want him to be my dad.”

“Why?”

“Because Fella yells at me all the time.”

“Your biological dad would yell at you all the time, too.  It’s what parents do.”

“I want to meet him.  Can you call him?”

“I don’t have his phone number, Child. I don’t know if you’ll ever get to meet him.”

“Why not?!”

“Because, Child.  He chose not to meet you.  He said he wasn’t ready for you yet.”

“When will he be ready for me?”

“I don’t know, Sugar bugger.  And anyway, what’s so wrong with Fella?  Doesn’t he play with you?”

“Yes.”

“And hug you?”

“Yes.”

“And buy you stuff?”

“Yes.  But can I tell him?  About my real dad?”

“Sure you can.  He already knows.”

So that’s the way it went.

The bit that surprised me was the, “I want to meet him.” She said it with such certitude and finality.

I’ve heard tell that kids who are adopted or who only know one of their birth parents have some kind of psychic off-kilterness. An adopted friend who had two kids of her own and was married happily looked up her birth mother.  She said it was compulsive.

It’s a real thing, the biological magnetism.

And personally?  I’m totally torn.  I’ve always said that when Child wants to meet her father, I’m absolutely going to help her with that.  But I was expecting it to be at least seven years from now.

I know her biological grandparents would dearly like to be in her life, but out of respect for their son’s arrangement with me, they have not.

And my kid is awesome (of course I think so).  She’s sassy and resilient and really good at not taking things personally.  But she’s six.  I mean, is it fair to say, “Ok, we’re going to meet your father, but we’re not going to live with him, and he’s still not going to be in your life.”?

She’s still hopeful and naive and happy about the world.  I don’t want to invite disillusionment.

Because I’ve also said that if he ever craves involvement, I’ll need him to put his money where his mouth is and pony up with some back child support and some kind of legal accountability before I put my sweet girl in emotional harm’s way.

But again, I was expecting that to happen you know, really any time before she’s officially a grown up.  Or even a teenager.

And here’s the thing.  I have great faith that if child’s bio dad wanted to, he’d be a terrific father.  But he has not had the advantage of six years during which his life is literally upside down, and he doesn’t matter much, and people make ridiculous assumptions about him and his character based on his having a kid on his own.

And even if he had, it’s totally different for men.  Men who are single dads are total heroes. They’re like the Don Juans of the playground benches.  Sisters and moms and strangers bring them casseroles and come pick up their laundry to do.  Women who are single moms?  We’re whores. And if we accept welfare, we’re whores who deserve to be poor, and who are trying to trick Uncle Sam into paying for our Lexuses.  (I would like to posit for the record that the brief times during which I have accepted financial assistance from the state, I would have never been able to afford a Lexus, or even a 1997 Ford Aspire. True story.)

Therefore, I imagine Child’s bio dad to be very similar to the way he was when I knew him, that is to say he is still probably not especially responsible.  And probably still doesn’t like himself terribly well.  And probably still drinks too much.

So even IF I could, with a clear conscience, say, “Okay, Child!  Let’s go!  We’ll find your father this summer!” What kind of can of worms would I be opening?  What are the statistical odds that her life would be better after that?  That it would be worse?

My basis for asking Child’s father to make the same choice that I had to make (100% or 0%) was extremely unscientific, but was that the most rogered up people I’ve ever known are the ones who’ve had here-and-gone-again fathers or mothers.  Who’ve had a consistent stream of rejection in their young lives.  (Also, it seemed unfair to me for him to have to be cool with whatever choice I was making, but that’s a post for another day).

So what are we going to do?  I dunno.  But I’ll keep you posted.

I welcome your input and feedback, but if you’re going to be hateful toward me or toward Child’s bio dad, I thank you in advance for keeping your comments to yourself.

Macaroni & Cheese Masterwork

This is mac & Cheese pre baking, pre crumbs.

Should Thursday be Food Thursday?

In addition to being a witty devil and a swell writer, I am also a fine cook.  Don’t be jealous.  There’s a lot of pressure that goes with being good at lots of things.

But Macaroni & Cheese is one of my FAVORITE comfort foods, and I think I just found my perfect, perfect cheese sauce Mac & Cheese.  My traditional recipe involves shredding the cheese and mixing it all up with the pasta with some eggs, butter, milk, and seasoning.  But a lot of folks prefer the sauce style, including Child & Fella.

So I bastardized a not-kid-friendly Food Network recipe to come up with the following:

Bastardized Food Network Mac & Cheese (really, people.  Fancier is not always better.)

8 T butter
1/2 c. flour
4 c. milk  2% or higher milkfat. (skim cannot be trusted)
1 lb macaroni, elbows, penne, cavatappi–whatever kind of pasta you like to bake.
2 oz swiss cheese
4 oz each, two other kinds of cheese.  This time I used sharp & mild cheddars.   Use your favorites.
salt & pepper
Crumbs for topping (sometimes I use pretzel crumbs, this time I used Ritz Cracker Crumbs)

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Shred the cheese.  Or be smarter than I am, and buy it pre-shredded.

2.  Melt the butter in a sauce pan, and then stir in the flour to make a roux.  Let it get all bubbly and nutty tan. Stir in the milk. Season it with salt and pepper.

3.  Cook it over medium or medium-low heat, whisk occasionally,  until it gets thick and bubbly.  Once it’s thickened, put it on low heat, just to keep it warm.

4.   While the milk sauce is working, boil the pasta al dente.  Let it hang out in the collander to drain, and while it’s drying out, turn up the beschamel (that’s fancy for milk sauce) to med-low, and stir in the cheeses.  All of them.   Yum.

5.  Grease a casserole pan.  We use a nice Pyrex one.  But you can really use any oven-safe  vessel that’ll fit this amount of delicious. Mix the cheese sauce and macaroni together, pour it into the  casserole dish, top it with crumbs , cover it with foil, bake 20 minutes.

6.  Remove the foil, bake another 10 minutes to brown the crumbs and incite the bubble.

7.  Rest the concoction for 10 minutes before trying to eat it, or you’ll have little wisps of mouth-roof-skin peeling off for the next week.

If you’re lucky enough to be childless, making this for grown ups, or if your kids’ palettes have diversified, do yourself a favor and soften some shallot in with the butter before you make the roux.   That is a DIVINE addition.

ALSO: Unless you’re a health nut, or your domestic partner forces the issue, do not use whole wheat elbows in this recipe.  They’re too tough and nutty–even when overcooked.  This is a recipe for regular semolina.

Macaroni & Cheese, after the bake. Trust the sauce. It seems like a lot, but the little pastas soak up some of the moisture during baking.

Moms are Boring!

Public Image

I have always thought so.

Listen, other moms, don’t bristle and run away.  I know your cursor is hovering over the back button, and you’ve got this wild offended look and you’re almost in tears.

It’s true and you know it.  What other group of people can babble, ad infinitum, about poop, school projects that involve pipe cleaners and egg cartons, petty-five-year-old tiffs & inappropriate mom reactions, good or bad teachers, report cards, pencils, after-school activities, and be so interested in these topics?

Only moms.

I’m a mom, and I don’t really think that stuff is interesting.   It’s undignified to let our kids take over our lives.  Like we help our kids grow into whole other people, we have to maintain our own identities!  If we forget who we are, how can we help them become who they are?

When I was pregnant, I used to tell dead baby jokes.  I did it because I was rebelling against the mom babble.

I was more heroic and successful about avoiding that when I was pregnant.  It’s easy to do anything in theory.

But I reckon that if my fabulous child knows that I have something else going on for myself, she won’t come across any zany ideas when she reaches her late teens and early twenties like that she can’t take that awesome internship in Zimbabwe because if she does I’ll be a wreck.

Hell, I want her to go to Zimbabwe!  I want her to travel the world! I want her to know how to be a whole person outside the definition of our family.  I want her to have that understanding early, and to take it and run off into the sunset and build herself a mountain of success and experience and heartache and trouble.

There’s this video:

But I think that in some ways it doesn’t get better after the spawn emerges.  Us moms have this unspoken club of martyrdom, and nobody without kids belongs OR could understand.  And whenever I catch myself clucking my tongue, smiling knowingly at one of my childless friends (who is horrified at how little it bothers me when my busy, busy kid is all in my face about something absurd or interrupts our conversation) and on the verge of some ridiculous statement like, “someday you’ll understand,” I get a little bit sick inside.

I get embarrassed.  It’s the equivalent of saying, “I don’t care what it is as long as it’s healthy.”

Listen, I WANT free time.  I WANT to be unfettered.  I WANT to go back to being April, and not Mom: the grown up who goes with the kid.

And I’ll totally indulge in the conversation about poop or homework or projects, about Mrs. Smith, Mr. Deacon, or the principal.  But once all that can be said has been, I want to talk about Breaking Bad or Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I want to go out after 8:00 p.m. and take in things that aren’t appropriate for children, either because of the content or the attention span required.

I want to drink beer and practice my guitar with abandon, and read for three hours without interruption.

I am pining for the day that 75% of my time is not spent on teaching my kid how to get dressed, do her own homework, checking on her when she’s playing with her friends, volunteering at her school, making sure she gets culture, making sure she eats well, making sure she has clothes to wear.

Yes, all that stuff is more rewarding than I could possibly describe.

But, I don’t want to be at a loss when it’s over.  I do not want to have to be 75% overwhelmed by the care of another being in order to feel like myself.

So let’s quit being boring, Moms!  Let’s be ourselves AND moms.  And when we’re done being moms, let’s have a bucket list as long as the distance to the moon of awesome stuff we’ve been dying to do/think/read/be/try.

Our kids will be better for it, and then when they’re pre-parent grownups, we’ll have stuff to talk about with them.

 

School Fund Raisers

When I was a kid, we were given candy order forms or big boxes of Hershey’s bars and told to hit the street.  I recall going door-to-door in my neighborhood toting my wares, and not thinking for a partial moment that there was even a narrow possibility that something bad would happen to me.

Of course, part of that was the kid in me who was developmentally unable to process the concept of mortality, but another part was the rural area in which we lived and the 20 + years that have passed.

I legitimately do not believe that there are more psychopaths now than there were in the ’80s and ’90s, it’s just that they have more bad press, and the world wide web and programs like Megan’s Law make them more visible.  Still, the perception is that there is more crime and children are in greater danger in their own neighborhoods than ever before.

And so school fund raisers have become celebrations of TOTAL passive-aggression.

Pearl’s first fund raiser of first grade: the School Mall Program.  She brings home this booklet with a picture of a glow-in-the-dark Spongebob T-shirt, and she’s like, “Here mom.  You have to sign this.”

“What is it?  I can’t sign it now.  I’m busy.”

“Can I watch TV?”

“Yes.”

20 minutes pass.  Pearl bounds into my office (she’s into bounding).  She’s holding this Spongebob T-shirt thing.

“Mom.  You forgot to sign this.”

“I didn’t forget, I just don’t want to sign it until I can see what it is.”

“Can I finish my show?”

“Yes.”

She has a really strange metric of when to ask for permission.

So we make and clean up from dinner and I sit down with Pearl to look at this crazy thing.  It is a booklet full of order forms  with spaces for family’s addresses and a note from Pearl on the other side.  The booklet is shrouded by the glow-in-the-dark Spongebob T-shirt picture and a bunch of sales-y rhetoric, and I squirm a little because it feels dishonest and passive-aggressive to me, and I’m having a hard time discerning the method.

Pearl has no patience for the rhetoric and is instead bouncing around the living room talking about her glow-in-the-dark Spongebob T-Shirt, and then an insert falls out with what appears to be an iPod touch pictured (closer examination reveals that it is a “smartphone shaped FM radio” ), and her giddiness skyrockets.

“Oh my god mommy!  I can have that too? Do you think it has games on it?”

“Sure,” I say, absently, still trying to decode the instructions and figure out whether I’m supposed to mail these things or just supposed to provide the school with the information they need to sneak attack my relations and close friends.

So I figure out what to do (I give them my family’s addresses, and they mail the stuff.  They assure me they’re not going to sell my family’s addresses), and we fill out this booklet, and I’m getting anxious a) because the order form includes a spot to indicate which side of the family and how the “sponsor” is related to pearl, and I just have a whole pile of anxiety about how the world points out to Pearl, constantly, that her family is not like the other families and that’s basically unacceptable and b) because I kind of want all these people to subscribe to some magazine.  Not for the school, for my kid.  I want my kid to be the asshole whose parents do the fund raiser for her, and who gets all the best plastic junk and kudos.

I do not want to want this.  I remember being totally snowed as a kid with those “prize presentation assemblies” they used to call us in for, where the stage was piled high with plastic garbage and a boom box and a bike and maybe later a boogie board, and the kid who sold the most stuff in the fund raiser would get the best prize.  I didn’t put together that the people who ran the fund raiser were doing something immoral in attempting to bribe children to sell things on which they would net massive profit, and which would have no practical use in any household anywhere, and kicking a nickle or two back to the school so they could pat themselves on their wide, corporate shoulders and feel great about being greedy capitalists.

I remember figuring it out years later and thinking, “I can’t believe the school let them do that!”  But at the time, it hurt to get to choose a red kazoo for my three orders when the girl whose mom worked at a large office would get the maincure set with pink Lee press ons, and I kind of want Pearl to be the kid who gets the boogie board.

So we filled out the booklet, and I’m internally grimacing, and if you happen to get one of these “requests for sponsorship,” I’m sorry.  Really I am.  Just buy a damn magazine, would you?