Talking (or Balking) About Race with Kids

race+is+hardIn a recent episode of This American Life, producer Chana Joffe-Walt recalls how she didn’t know how to respond to her preschooler who, in a bath-time game of running a pretend restaurant, decreed certain items off limits to Jews.

“What am I supposed to say?” Joffe-Walt muses. “I should say something, right? . . . Or is the best approach not to say anything? He’s just having a bath!”

She continues, “It’s your job to teach them about stuff that matters, but . . . they’re little . . . so you have to be careful about saying, ‘Well, let me tell you a story about a man named Adolf Hitler. He would have liked the way you run your restaurant, by the way.”

Joffe-Walt’s story brought me back to how ill-equipped I felt twenty years ago when at a playground with my daughter, Ally, who is white, and her friend, Dory, who is black. They were four years old.

“OK, I’ll be the queen, and you be the slave,” I overheard Ally directing Dory.

I was horrified. And speechless.

Omigod! Where does she get this?” I thought to myself.

I was pretty sure it wasn’t Sesame Street indoctrinating my daughter about life on the plantation. What was Ally picking up from the culture at large or from us? And more to the point, how should I handle it? A lesson about the legacy of slavery and the power dynamics of white privilege hardly seemed appropriate, nor did shaming my daughter for saying something she probably didn’t intend and Dory probably didn’t hear as racist. Would I make things worse by calling attention to what could just be innocent play?

I was at a complete loss. So I punted:

“Why don’t you be the slave and let Dory be the Queen now?” I suggested lamely to my daughter.

Taking on race with preschoolers seemed beyond my abilities, but I could at least try to balance out Ally’s tendency toward the imperious.

Maybe they traded roles, maybe they didn’t. I can’t recall the outcome on the playground twenty years ago, though I can still feel my shame and my floundering. And also how easy it was to just let it drop, something I did not then recognize as part of my privilege as a white person.

Certainly now that Ferguson, NYC, and Baltimore have pricked the nation’s consciousness, and even conscience, we are far more encouraged to make race part of our national conversation. I like to think if I were raising young kids today, I’d be better equipped. But maybe I’d still feel just as flummoxed by a game of Queen (and Slave) for a Day as did Chana Joffe-Walt in the face of Anti-Semitic Restaurant.

As she points out, “These conversations are how we make our mark on the next generation. They’re also, very often, how we learn how much we do not know.”

It won’t get any easier if we don’t try.

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What quandaries have you experienced in talking about race with kids? Moments of cluelessness and awkwardness? Fortitude and forthrightness? How did it go? What have you found helpful/unhelpful? 

If you want to delve into this more, keep scrolling. Please feel free to chime in with your own recommendations!

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Kamau Bell’s segment on the same episode of This American Life describes the quandary– and a possible solution–beautifully.

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/the_kids/2014/03/teaching_tolerance_how_white_parents_should_talk_to_their_kids_about_race.html

http://www.tolerance.org/blog/talking-students-about-ferguson-and-racism

And watch this page for other resources from SF-based writer and therapist Rhea St. Julien and her musician husband Joel St. Julien, parents and activists who walk the walk. (“Talking with Your Kids About Race,” the June 4 event their Stay Woke Parents Collective is hosting, is sold out.)

W is for Whatever

whateverI had been feathering the empty nest with self-pity and sadness since our daughter Emma left for college. Imagine my surprise, then, to discover at the breakfast table a baby bird not yet launched—Ally, our younger daughter.

Such is the lot of the second child. Even in utero Ally suffered benign neglect as I consumed the occasional Diet Coke or glass of wine.

“Whatever,” I’d think.

After an exhausting labor, I couldn’t have cared less when Ally was whisked away to the nursery and given a bottle. This from the same woman who wrote a four-page letter of complaint to Kaiser when a nurse suggested a little sugar water for my firstborn! The second time around, I was too busy contemplating not so much the miracle of birth as the debacle of my body, which felt like it was filled with concrete.

“Whatever,” I rationalized as they carted away my squalling baby. “What’s the harm in a rubber nipple now and then?”

This was unthinkable when Emma was born. We were warned not to introduce a bottle within the first several weeks lest the baby get confused and reject the breast. Of course, Emma screamed the house down the first several times we eventually tried a bottle. Initially tyrannized by the cult of breastfeeding, we were next tyrannized by an infant who was furious rather than confused about the difference between rubber and flesh.

As for the whatever child, doomed by a mother who preferred sleeping over bonding–she sucked happily at both breast and bottle from the get-go. And she did it wherever, whenever, since she was used to being hauled around to suit everyone else’s schedule.

Benign neglect had further salutary effects. Whenever Emma pitched a fit, I oozed empathy, thus encouraging marathon tantrums. With Ally, I just stepped around her sob-wracked, prostrate body. Whatever. I went on with my business, and pretty soon she went back to hers.

I wonder who suffers more: the subsequent children who are so often ignored, or the firstborn who lives so cozily in an enchanted web of enmeshment? Ally may not be coddled, but she avoids the sticky entanglements of my too-rapt focus. She’s an independent go-getter. Still, she complains that she can’t get enough of my attention.

I took note. While mooning after Emma, who needed to fly free, I had overlooked the one who still relished my company.

So this weekend Ally and I spent a whole day together, just the two of us. I cheered her on at her track meet, then we gabbed over lunch at the Beach Chalet. We chased down ducks with a pedal boat at Stow Lake, then prowled her favorite vintage clothing haunts.

I know it won’t be long before she’s rolling her eyes and saying “whatever” under her breath, ignoring me as I once ignored her. But until then, I’m going to savor every moment.

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How’s it been for you as a parent of more than one child on this score? How about as a sibling–either firstborn or subsequent? 

 

T is for Training Hikes

Mont-Blanc_001My husband and I met on a 15-mile hike almost 31 years ago; as such, we have our reputation to uphold. That’s why you’ll usually find us hiking. The French Alps have long been on Jonathan’s Bucket List (my BL is rather more modest, but still, I’m game), so that’s where we’re headed in June.

We would have headed there last year, except that Jonathan was laid low for five months by bum knees—not just the little twinges of middle age, but excruciating pain for no apparent reason. Instead of walking five minutes down our hill every morning to catch his bus, Jonathan relied on me to drive him to the bus stop at 6:30 a.m. Which meant I was up and out early enough to hike up Baldy most mornings before I had to go to work. Jonathan had never been lamer, and I had never been more fit.

Slowly but surely, Jonathan regained the full use of his knees (he’s the one person I know who religiously follows his physical therapy regimen). We went from hobbling a few yards for a picnic to our usual and far-afield hikes.

So we booked a six-day trek through the French and Swiss Alps on Mont Blanc. Why not celebrate rejuvenated knees while we still can? Plus, we both turn 60 this year, and Jonathan is retiring! Might as well make it an occasion, even though our knees had not been out for a good test run on the kind of terrain our Tour de Mont Blanc threatened promised.

Raw Travel, the company we booked with, offered training tips:

 “You should prepare for walking several hours a day (5 – 7 hours per day) with steep ascents and descents. We will average almost 800-1000m a day in ascents so your training should reflect this in the lead-up to the event. Choose hills with steep ascents to train on and push yourself to do long days to prepare yourself adequately.”

Piece of cake! Plum cake, to be precise, since that’s what we encountered at every last Alpine hut on our previous sojourns in Switzerland and Austria. We could easily manage 800-1000’ climbs!

Oops! Wait a minute—did they say meters? A unit of measurement that equals three feet and change? Sure, those little Baldy strolls I do most days would be great conditioning—if I repeated the circuit twice.

“Probably most of the people booking with them are from Kansas,” I said to Jonathan hopefully.

No such luck—Raw Travel is based in Australia, land of the Walkabout and an entire populace living out of tiny backpacks for their 18 months of foreign travel. Was the company name some kind of warning or cruel joke?

So Jonathan and I started trying harder—13 miles on rolling green hills, all day long on my birthday, for example. A similar killer trek up Mt. Diablo recently.

“Great,” I’d remark to Jonathan each time. “We’ve just achieved the bare minimum of altitude gain.”

So during the past few days, we redoubled our efforts, even though we need to triple our efforts to simulate a typical Mt. Blanc day. We hiked on the Big Sur coast, famous for the coastal range plummeting into the Pacific. For three days in a row, we went pretty much straight up. And straight down.

This would be all well and good, except that perhaps those knees aren’t as rejuvenated as they might be. Jonathan’s still protest from time to time, and mine joined the chorus right on schedule the week I turned 60. And why not? After all, my birthday brought notice from my disability insurance company that my premiums would go up, and my doctor’s office informed me that I was now eligible for the shingles vaccine. Why shouldn’t my body issue its own birthday communique?

Still, what are ice and ibuprofen for–not to mention trekking poles (a sure sign of middle age)? So up we went and down we came—with ticks and poison oak serving as the welcome committee for the glorious, wildflower-bedecked vertical cliffs disguised as “trails.”

We have now returned home from our training session, our supply of ibuprofen depleted, our knees more or less intact. Here are some pictures so you can save yourself the trouble:

Now we have only to wait to see if we start to itch where poison oak has left its mark, or if bull’s-eye-shaped bites emerge. Or if we can walk at all tomorrow.

But Alps, here we come! At least there won’t be any ticks or poison oak.

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Where is your favorite place to hike? Have you been to Mt. Blanc? Should we buy the kind of travel insurance that includes Medi-Vac?

S is for Send-off

 

I prowl the bulk food aisle at the grocery store, scooping my daughter’s favorite dried organic mango and granola into plastic bags. Ally’s about to leave for college, and I’m in charge of provisions. Scanning the shelves for the chai tea she loves, I find myself thinking of the King Tut show that came through town a few years ago.

At the exhibit, case after case contained wondrous artifacts that kept the Boy King company on his journey to the afterlife: a whimsical child’s chair; a model boat fashioned from papyrus; clay vessels for his favorite food and wine; an inlaid board game to while away the eternal hours.

I imagined Tut’s grieving courtiers and family members busying themselves by accumulating the little treasures of everyday life. What did he prefer to eat?  Remember how he crowed triumphantly every time he won this game! Don’t forget his boat, complete with oarsmen to help him cross over. This little clay animal will remind him of the pets and people who still love him when he is lonely in his journey to the afterlife.

My daughter, still very much alive, is simply starting college. But I feel a kinship with the ancient Egyptians as I place the mango and chai into the box next to the toothpaste and family photos I have been stockpiling for Ally’s send-off.  After all, she’ll need to be prepared for the new life that awaits her far from home.  Who knows if they have proper provisions in the world beyond known as college?

I add Scrabble and a deck of cards to the cache of treasures. When Ally’s homesick, they’ll help her conjure up nights of laughter with those who love and miss her. For good measure, I tuck in her old stuffed dog, whose soft pink plush Ally long ago caressed into a colorless, misshapen bundle. The mundane accoutrements of home will provide succor for the uncharted passage ahead.

We moderns marvel at the golden funeral masks and ornately painted sarcophagi unearthed from the royal tombs. Yet it is the relics of domesticity used in the ritual of farewell that captivate us. Several millennia span the time between King Tut and today. But the impulse is timeless to send along a bit of home, a bit of ourselves, in the hard task of saying goodbye.

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What tokens of home help you or a loved one when far away?

 

R is for Rodents

Rodent controlWhen mice skitter across your kitchen counter in broad daylight, it’s time to call in the pros. That’s how Dave the Exterminator came into my life. He was the White Knight to my Damsel in Distress, and I fell for him hard.

Dave praised me for correctly identifying mouse droppings in the cutlery drawer. “Most people are way more in denial—they think they’re coffee grounds,” he cooed. Who wouldn’t love a guy willing to credit me with astuteness when it had actually taken mice traipsing through the dinner preparations for me to give him a call?

Dave came, he soothed, he plugged my holes. Like a partner who loves you anyway despite cottage cheese thighs, he reassured me that mice were a natural part of living next to open space, not a sign of dubious housekeeping or moral rot. Best of all, he came every couple of days with his little black bag to discreetly remove the corpses. The dog loved him. Who can resist a man who passes the pet test?

My friends tried to temper my infatuation. “Sure, he’s cheerful and reliable. But do you really want to throw over your husband for a guy whose name is stitched above his pocket and who carries around dead mice in a briefcase?”

They had a point. But even if it wasn’t true love, my first exterminator will forever have a place in my heart. Also on my refrigerator, since his company’s magnet reassures me that Dave is there for me should I ever be invaded by mice again.

Today Mick the Termite Man arrived on my doorstep. Having a doorstep meant the house was still standing, so the call was obviously premature. Since I wasn’t buried by a towering mound of sawdust, I saw no need for further Exterminator Lust. But the Homeowner’s Association insisted that I go on this blind date, interested or not.

The dog liked Mick as much as he’d liked Dave, but this time I was more discerning. Politely bored, I only half listened as he told me about what he’d found in probing my siding. He showed me a tiny hole near the garage harboring termite feces. With unseemly excitement, he said there was no way to tell if the infestation had just begun or had been there for years. For $4,000 he’d be glad to tent the house and kill everything in it. Except, of course, the termites might come back right away.

“What’s the point, then?” I asked, like a woman pushing 40 finding out after the first cocktail that her date has suspicious gaps in his resume and no interest in having children. Why bother to even order an appetizer? Chitchat over bruschetta is for those with time on their hands and hope in their hearts.

Maybe the dog was still a sucker for animal magnetism, but my taste had matured. This was a guy who went around pumping poisonous gas into people’s houses, after all! And the termites, unlike their rodent counterparts, were hardly causing me to shriek and jump on top of the stove in a pathetic pre-feminist caricature. If they wouldn’t bother me for several years, who was I to bother them?

Sorry, Mick. Sure, you can give me your phone number. I’ll maybe call to set something up. Like after the house collapses.

But wait a minute. There on the corner of the estimate was a faint notation in red ink: “Tell about rats.”

“What’s this?” I asked, pulse quickening.

“Well, there are some rat droppings, nothing much . . .”

Move over, Dave.

P is for Pinnacles

Pinnacles_National_Park_-_Flickr_-_Joe_Parks

It’s a steep haul up the High Peaks Trail, especially when you’re seven months pregnant with your first child. But back then, giddy with promise, my husband Jonathan and I floated past the massive boulders of Pinnacles National Park. Cresting the summit, baby bulk and all, I relished the double take of the buff, shirtless teenagers loitering atop the rocks. They paused mid-swagger to glance in horror at my swollen belly as I conquered the mountain in my smocked maternity top.

Our family has returned to the Pinnacles again and again, drawn by the massive cliffs, soaring spires, and lush spring wildflowers. Leaving behind the fragmented kaleidoscope of daily life, we are calmed by the reliable sameness of the timeless, indifferent peaks.

Yet even in this constant landscape, change is under way. The fantastic rock formations are the remains of an ancient volcano ravaged by erosion, creeping steadily up the Salinas Valley along the San Andreas Fault. I am grateful that only subtle clues dispel the illusion of permanence. A precariously balanced boulder has fallen from its perch. Spatters of chartreuse and rust lichen toil as alchemists, turning rock to soil. Their magic allows monkey flowers the color of apricots to bloom from dirt pockets hidden in solid stone.

Time has worked its alchemist’s magic on us as well. Two years after our initial trip, we camp at the Pinnacles, weighed down by the accoutrements of toddlerhood — diapers, goldfish crackers, juice boxes, a travel crib. Emma, whose in utero view had been obscured, now enjoys the scenery from the baby backpack that digs into our shoulders as we trudge along the dusty trail.

When we return again, the campground has been paved over for more parking. This time, we have two young daughters in tow, barely out of diapers. But Emma and Ally are definitely into sit-down strikes at the prospect of hiking more than a few hundred yards. Not wishing to fight an uphill battle, we content ourselves with the flat path at the base of the mountains so the girls can splash in the creek. Jonathan, impatient with the meandering pace of childhood, sprints to the summit while the girls and I delight in wild bouquets and rocky forts along the valley floor.

The next time the Pinnacles beckon, Emma and Ally gamely traverse the High Peaks Trail. They are enchanted by poppies sprouting out of boulders, the rock that looks like a camel. The girls nibble on miner’s lettuce and strategic bribes of chocolate, scampering around the summit while their tired parents lag behind. Rocks and children tame each other: whininess turns to exultation, forbidding stone becomes an infinite playground.

Although the incline invites vertigo, the girls clamber up and down, up and down the footholds chiseled into the rock, swinging from the metal banister as if nature and the Park Service had fashioned monkey bars just for them. Jonathan and I must squeeze through the narrow cliff passage in an awkward crouch. But it is just the right size for Emma and Ally, who march through boldly upright, giggling as their crooked parents bump their heads against the rocky overhang.

We are not the only ones who find the Pinnacles a good place for families. Condors, recently reintroduced to the park, build nests in the sheltered crevices. While they teach their young how to catch thermals, we show ours how to catch the shine of buttercups on their chins in the warm sunlight.

Now our daughters have taken flight too, soaring and wavering in their own grown-up landscapes. Alone again, Jonathan and I make our pilgrimage to drink in the riotous wildflowers and steadfast rocks whenever time allows. As always, we stop in Soledad at Pacheco’s Mexican Grocery for tortas — soft white rolls dripping with spicy carnitas.

Soledad, gateway to the Pinnacles, has sprung up even faster than Emma and Ally. Twenty-seven years ago, it consisted of Pacheco’s, a prison, a few dusty streets of dilapidated houses, and a fleabag hotel with a cracked, empty swimming pool. Now the highway billboard reads: “It’s happening in Soledad.”  Vineyards dot the hillsides, and a tony resort lies adjacent to the Pinnacles. Kids from tidy homes with manicured yards swarm the soccer field at the spanking new school. A vast shopping center dwarfs the original Main Street, but we still head to our old Mexican grocery. Pacheco’s, whose tortas remain a juicy, scrumptious bargain, is as timeless as the Pinnacles.

Fueled by the succulent tortas and memories, Jonathan and I start up the High Peaks Trail once more. Although stiffer and a little creaky, we ascend quickly past the boulders and apricot blooms of monkey flower.

Again and again, we come back to ourselves in the shelter of the enduring cliffs.

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What is your favorite family place that you return to over and over?

N is for New Nest, Spiffed up with Cleanser (and Love)

cleaning suppliesI am down on my hands and knees in my pajamas, scrubbing my daughter Emma’s bathroom floor. The one-inch hexagonal tiles were clearly not installed with college kids in mind, to say nothing of the Deco light fixtures and grooved wainscoting. Every nook and cranny is caked with grime.

Emma is asleep upstairs in the bed abandoned by the previous tenant. She’s exhausted from yesterday’s 12-hour drive and the thought of setting up her first home outside the dorms. But I’ve been up since daybreak.

It’s been years since I’ve cleaned my own bathroom. I replenish the empty bottles of Soft Scrub and Windex that Maria leaves on the counter. That’s the extent of my exertion. How do I instruct my daughter in the lost domestic arts?

“Make enough money so you can hire a housecleaner” is my usual advice. But Emma at 20 is years away from a good paycheck.  What was I thinking when I let Maria scrub the toilet?

Emma may have grown up with Maria, but I grew up without hired help, under the tutelage of a mother who swore by Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Housekeep. When I was just a few years older than Emma, I shared an apartment with my friend Jane, whose mother’s domestic Bible was more Lutheran than Peg Bracken. Their credo was “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”  Jane once surveyed the bathroom I had just scoured and asked in a despairing tone, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you about cleanser?”

My mother did teach me about cleanser, but she imparted a different lesson. She associated housework with the humiliation her own mother endured scrubbing floors for a sadistic boss during the Depression. My grandmother humbled herself for a pittance so her daughter would not starve. Maria, albeit with a kinder employer and higher wages, does the same. I am lucky to escape their desperate need. But here I am, another mother engaged in the sacrament of love through sacrifice, down on my hands and knees scrubbing the floor for my daughter.

By now my back is aching, so I pause to stretch. Chrome faucets, mirror, and light fixtures gleam. Stripped of encrusted layers of filth, the wainscoting and baseboards are blindingly white. I survey my efforts with pride, grateful that years of paid help have not stripped away my ability to clean, limited though it may be. For the grueling labor that is basic to love cannot be hired out.

Emma is awake at last. She comes downstairs, yawning and stretching as she stumbles into the bathroom. Her delight is a balm for my sore knees and stiff back.
After breakfast, we search out provisions in Emma’s new neighborhood, emerging from the hardware store with a Swiffer Sweeper Starter Kit and several other weapons in the war against grime.

Back at the house, Emma and I tackle the kitchen together. We work side by side, scrubbing the Formica counters, polishing the cabinet fronts. I remember a moment years ago, when baby Emma kept me company in the kitchen, her luscious neck folds spilling out of the collar of her cotton jammies. As I sat on the floor polishing with the cleaning rag, I glanced to my side. There she was right next to me, vigorously wiping circles on the cabinets with her blankie. Baby Emma grinned with delight as we swooped, cackling, into one another’s arms.

Now Emma spritzes Windex on congealed spills atop a glass table in the living room. We ooh and ahh over the house’s multiple charms—the elegant bathroom, soft pine flooring, built-in window seats. Emma and I scheme about getting rid of all her housemates’ junk. I think, If only we could get rid of them, I could move in here with you, and we could really fix it up nicely! But I keep this sentiment to myself.

The next morning I must head for home. Emma is content to stay behind, running her Swiffer under the sofas and across the honey-colored floors.

I go into the gleaming bathroom one last time. Pausing in my morning ablutions to admire my handiwork, I see that I have missed some spots. The window is streaked, and stray cobwebs dangle from the upper molding like Spanish moss. But overall, the bathroom cleans up nicely. It has good bones.

I’ve missed a few spots with my daughter as well: how to budget, how to scrub a toilet, the uses of cleanser.  But Emma, too, cleans up nicely. She has good bones.

My aching bones remind me again of my gratitude for Maria. I’d still advise Emma to earn enough money to hire a housecleaner. But I would impart some additional wisdom as well: Learn how to clean, so that someday, if you are lucky enough to be moving your daughter into her first house, you can know the sheer joy of scrubbing her bathroom floor on hands and knees while she sleeps.

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What was it like moving into your first home away from home? If you have children, what’s it been like helping them set up in their newly fledged adult lives?

M is for Movie Group

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYears ago, when our daughters were in kindergarten and third grade, my husband and I started a book group with other families we knew through our kids’ school. Five couples and 11 kids met for a potluck dinner every few weeks. The third-graders discussed The Babysitters Club (this was before Harry Potter was invented); the younger children pitched fits. Total chaos. Plus, I noticed over time that a mixed-gender group tends to choose a lot of books about war and history.

Still, we had a lot of fun for many years, and even read a few good books along the way.

Once our Babysitters Book Club kids had all gone off to college, my husband and I decided it was time to start a new group. By this time we had wised up, and knew our limits. No kids, of course—we only invited empty-nesters (different friends from our old crew, since I still harbored resentment about some of those literary choices). No full-scale dinner parties—just dessert.

And, best of all, no books–just movies! An assigned book you don’t like is a torturous investment. An assigned movie you don’t like, on the other hand, is a serendipitous nap!

Our movie group kicked off in 2008 with Elegy. I don’t remember a thing about the film, except we all agreed that anything with Penelope Cruz in it is worth seeing for the visuals alone. (I personally have a crush on Jesse Eisenberg, making me the lone member who didn’t think his Mark Zuckerberg was an asshole in The Social Network.)

Elegy was the one and only movie we all saw together, sitting in our stretched-out row in the theater. After that, people have seen the movies on their own, according to what works best for their schedule, including whether they can only stay awake if it’s a matinee (not naming any names here!).

The challenge is picking a movie that will still be around close to the time of our next group: If we see it too early, we won’t remember it. After all, we’re all old enough to be empty-nesters—which means we don’t recall anything that’s happened more than a few days ago. (If we see a movie in our independent art theater, my husband and I won’t remember it at all, because we will have slept through it—even the matinee.)

I adore our movie group, which rotates among our houses every few weeks. The hosts provide dessert and pick the movie, usually with consensus reached via email beforehand. But if I wanted to pick some obscure Jesse Eisenberg film, it would be my prerogative to cram it down everyone’s throat. Every host but me always makes food to match the film’s theme—a nice touch that I always forget. Except when we saw The Help, but I just couldn’t bring myself to serve chocolate pie.

Other than Boyhood, which we all loved, and Unmistaken Child, which we all hated, we never agree. Part of the fun is predicting who will have what opinion.

One thing’s clear, though: the right people are married to one another–movie tastes are similar between the members of each couple. This vindicates my husband and me, because years ago, we developed a theory that couples’ compatibility could be predicted based on the 10 favorite and 10 least favorite movies of each (those dogs in the middle, i.e., the bad films my husband likes, don’t count so as not to skew the results). My husband and I had to put our theory aside to save our own marriage after a dispute about a very fine film, The Piano. But now our data set of four couples proves its validity once more.

So, if there are any algorithm geniuses from Netflix and Match.com out there who want to cut us a percentage of the killing they will make from our theory, give us a call.

Or better yet, catch us at the movies!

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Are you in a movie group? What’s your favorite movie? Would your relationship withstand the test of our Movie Compatibility Theory? If not, would you ditch the theory, the movie, or the relationship?

F is for Family Life

bunny-crib-beddingI just became a grandmother. Pepita, as we affectionately call her, sleeps a lot, nestled in her bunny-bedecked bed. She is tiny, her head a perfect oval, as bald as an egg.

Maybe that’s because Pepita is an egg. My 13-year-old daughter Ally just brought her home as part of Family Life’s attempt to prevent teen pregnancy. All eighth graders are charged with 24/7 responsibility for their hard-boiled infants. No sleep-aways in the refrigerator next to the leftovers, no cracks or substitutions, no transformations into egg salad allowed. During PE class or nights on the town, a reputable eggsitter must be found. Ally even has to read 20 minutes a day to Pepita. Unlike with real babies, no pages can be skipped, and the egg’s grandparents must vouch in writing for this exemplary parental behavior. Also unlike with real babies, the experiment with teen parenting lasts only five days, and no college tuition must be salted away.

My neighbor, whose kids are much older than mine, had warned me about egg babies years earlier. She described how all the eighth-grade girls fussed and cooed over their charges, spending hours planning play dates and making little outfits for them, while the eighth-grade boys pretty much left their children in their lockers for the week. Since I have a lot of friends my own age whose parenting styles parallel this gender divide with only modest variation, I was dubious about Family Life’s ability to transcend hard-wiring.

I am happy to report that my daughter is breaking gender stereotypes. Ally tends more to the neglect side than the cooing side of the parenting spectrum. True, she deigned to decorate Pepita with a marker-drawn bow, big blue eyes, and rosy cheeks. But soon after coming home with her new baby, she was trying to unload her on me.

“Can’t you just keep her in your purse?” Ally wailed as we prepared to go to a photography exhibit. “I don’t want to lug her around, and you’re bringing your bag anyway!”

“You’re the one who got pregnant!” I countered. “Deal with it.”

Pepita spent her first art opening crammed into a linty, airless pocket of her sulky mother’s sweatshirt. After that, she’s been pretty quiet. You might almost be tricked into thinking how easy it is to have a baby around the house (or locker). After all, eighth-graders have to read 20 minutes a night anyway just for English.

One thing’s for sure, although I didn’t need egg babies to clinch the case: At 13, my daughter is way too young to become a mother.

And having only recently liberated my purse from carrying around snacks and extra socks for my own kids, I’m way too young to become a grandmother.

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I wrote this several years ago. Now Ally is a language assistant teaching English to babies and toddlers in Barcelona (or maybe she is “exposing” them to English, just as they are exposing her to constant viruses). According to Ally, exposure to the real thing–germs and all–is an even better preventative than egg babies! 

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What are your experiences with efforts to prevent teen pregnancy?

E is for Easter

I thought I would take another day off and recycle an old post today, but I am refreshed from Sundays off on the A to Z Blogging Challenge. How appropriate that this first Sunday happened to be Easter. I guess you could say I’m experiencing a resurrection of the writing spirit!

I was raised as a Unitarian, where Easter meant church and a new spring outfit, complete with hat, coat, and shiny shoes. There were also, of course, drugstore chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and dyed Easter eggs. We hid the jelly beans as well as the eggs around the house, and 15 years later when my parents  emptied the bookcases for a move, dessicated sugar orbs fell out from between the pages.

Now I’m a lapsed Unitarian, which means my Sunday mornings are my own and I don’t get fancy new duds for spring. The family I helped create is more apt to celebrate Easter with a hike, preceded, of course, by eggs and baskets with better chocolate and strict rules about jelly beans.

Now I have even given up the baskets–our daughters are 26 and 24, with one in Barcelona, where it costs a small fortune to mail anything. The other one, who has recently moved home, was horrified on Easter Eve to hear that there would be no chocolate rabbits in store for her this year!

But we still hike. We got out before the rain came–just a sprinkle on Easter itself, with more forecast for later this week. Here in California, where we are suffering through the worst drought in history, the weather itself feels like a miracle of resurrection.

I’ve included some pictures from the altar at which we celebrate. The ones at the top are my iPhone-gathered bouquet from my Easter morning walk around our neighborhood. And these are from my favorite place in the world, Point Reyes National Seashore (our Easter weekend hike happened to be Muddy Hollow to Estero/White’s Gate to Glenwood trails and back):

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How did you spend your day off? What rejunevates your spirit?