Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Sparkly Pink Unicorn by Any Other Name...

On many an occasion have I woken my daughter out of a dead sleep (to go to the bathroom or from a car seat nap) and after doing so she has uttered something quite unforeseen: "I'm afraid of spiders," or "Matisse is my best friend." But last night, I could not have imagined when rousing her from my bed to move her to her own room that I would hear her expound, "Princess Celestia!" Princess Celestia is a sparkling, pink unicorn from the My Little Pony series that Maxwell chose yesterday above all of the other toys at Target to be her present from Uncle Krik.



Truth be told, this is no ordinary unicorn; she is really quite...well...celestial with multicolored ringlets, and wings that light up when you push the cheeky button on her rump. As it turns out, she is also a chatterbox, spouting ear-cringing inanities. Now, I would never expect a toy with the unwieldy moniker Princess Celestia to extol the virtues of world peace or recite Portia's soliloquy or the Pythagorean Theorem, but come on, Hasbo, I about snapped a femur when the first words I heard out of the good princess's speaker box were "My barrettes look so pretty."

I immediately insisted on listening to Celestia's other bon mots and was not amused: Oh, my hair looks beautiful; My wings are so pretty (a bit self absorbed, don't ya think?); Let's fly to the castleSpectacular! Spectacular, indeed. Spectacularly imbecilic.

I thought the dumbing down of little girls was passé. The new wave of American child rearing is supposed to be conscientiously moving away from the girls are beautiful/boys are tough style of parenting that was prevalent, oh, seven or eight decades ago. I get that kids like sparkling toys, I'm not saying Celestia has to resemble a school marm all gray and dour, but I'm pretty sure most parents would welcome this unicorn to have a more worldly view. 

Also, my five year old, like other five year olds, loses shit all the time, especially if it's small. Many a vacuum cleaner has had to be unclogged because of the Barbie pump, or diminutive hairbrush that's jammed into the sucking mechanism. And the thing is, Maxwell isn't really into the accoutrement. They usually end up scattered on the kitchen floor, lying in wait for my vulnerable bare foot. Language more colorful than Princess Celestia's mane has escaped my lips when I've unsuspectingly stepped onto a mini tiara in the middle of the night. I imagine (and I haven't checked) if asked the whereabouts of Princess Celestia's rosette barrettes Maxwell wouldn't have a clue, and what's more, she wouldn't care. 

Perhaps this speaks to my character, but I find it excruciating to listen to Her Highness proclaim over and over, "My barrettes look so pretty" when, in fact, she isn't wearing a single barrette! It's practically surrealism. Speaking of which, I imagine Rene Magritte would appreciate the mind bending conundrum that is the barretteless pony. It reminds me of his pipe, that he says is not a pipe, but goddamnit, it sure as shooting' looks like a pipe to me. 


Come to think, if Celestia were marketed as "a surrealist unicorn" I would have more respect for the product. I could imagine her also waxing curious witticisms like, Your third nose is beautiful, or The melting pocket watches are an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time, or The minotaur took my fiddle! But clearly, surrealism was not intended, so to my mind the toy is a total and abject failure.

Not to mention, I've had this bizarre image niggling at the back of my mind. I can't help but compare the fancy Princess Celestia with another flashy demoiselle with feathers...a showgirl named Lola...

Still in the dress she used to wear, faded feathers in her hair
She sits there so refined, and drinks herself half-blind
She lost her youth and she lost her Tony
Now she's lost her mind!

(You may perceive my jump from Magritte to Manilow as de trop but I'm told I need to appeal to a larger audience.)

Lola may have merengued and cha-chaed, while Celsetia flew to her magic palace, but both females are full of themselves to an almost obsessive degree. Here's the bottom line, little girls are pretty. And they don't need Hasbro or any other toy company validating girl-power prettiness over more desirable qualities: honesty, integrity, intelligence, and good grooming. If from time to time my daughter's topic of conversation lists towards the inane so be it, but there must be a balance. Otherwise, if she is modeled only platitudes of beautiful hair, pretty barrettes, and "a dress cut down to there" of the me, me, me variety, she very well may end up at her own private Copacabana, pining for times gone by, and a hot, dead bartender named Tony.

As I'm cobbling together an end for this piece, my children, I kid you not, are in the other room asking Celestia, "What is two plus ten?" To which the equine responds, Flying is so much fun. Then the kids break out in fits of giggles, as if even they are aware of the foolishness that is Princess Celestia, but damn does she have good hair.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dismembering Santa

It's important to note that the following article was first published in G Man Magazine, a deliciously wonderful online publication that you all must check out. (I'm on page 36.) Just click on the Happy Holidays button. Happy Holidays!


Michael  and I are scathingly honest with our kids. Well...maybe not Aunt-Bessie-got-shitfaced-and-fell-into-the-holiday-punchbowl honest, but honest in that age appropriate sort of way. For instance, Sebastian and Maxwell both know they are adopted, they also know we are a multiracial family and some of what that implies, my son understands he has learning disabilities, and my daughter is keenly aware that her black, kinky hair is a bitch for a white man with stumpy fingers to care for. 

Now, I've not chosen to be honest for some principled reason. I simply find it's directness an easier way to motor through life. To tell a lie or be decidedly vague to my kids and then have to remember and support that lie every time a certain potentially loaded topic is raised requires more mental gymnastics than a virtual Mary Lou Retton is capable. To my mind, straightforwardness, in a sparkly, gay way, no matter how touchy the subject matter, is far more streamlined and a helluva lot easier.

My honest way of life does not always jibe with my husband who likes to...shall I say...embellish. Not with the kids, but when let loose at a party with a chilled cocktail in his hot, oversized mitts I have heard Michael regale to a rapt audience about some event, of which I was apart, and oftentimes his retelling is unrecognizable because it not only borders on, but traverses boldly into utter fantasy. If you find yourself the recipient of his highly entertaining yet inaccurate anecdotes I have developed a formula to divine simple truth; whenever he includes an unwieldy number or amount, simply divide that amount by two thirds. If he were to expound “I went to six callbacks for that role in The Green Mile” do a quick calculation and realize in the world in which we live he went to roughly four callbacks.

I have learned, however, to accept Michael's misrepresentations, which he only lets slip from his lips in arenas where conviviality, free-flowing libation and bubbly banter joyfully collide. Truth be told, he greatly excels in the art of storytelling. And although I initially stepped in like a perturbed hausfrau and tried to amend his gross exaggerations (sometimes with dire results), I have since learned to fade back and enjoy the show, allowing Michael free rein.

What I cannot tolerate is lying to kids, especially when the lie seems unwarranted. Some parents have the misconception that children cannot handle brutal truth. I'll let you in on a secret: children face up to life's potholes much better than adults. Sure, we don't want to see disappointment or alarm spread across their little faces, but to envelop them in bubble wrap, giving them no tools to deal with life's disappointments is a tremendous disservice. Besides little'uns don't lug around emotional baggage like big'uns do. I would imagine the emotional baggage of a child fits into a space about the size of a Hello Kitty lunchbox, while ours barely squeezes into the cargo hold of Air Force One. Thus, when a life changing event occurs, like a death in the family or the season finale of Lost, children accept the news with a simplicity and equanimity that is really quite breathtaking, while, at least in Michael's family, I have witnessed antics at funerals that have been downright Tyler Perryesque: cursing in church, fainting in the aisle, bodies flinging themselves on the coffin. These were not children acting out, these were grown folks, y'all.

This brings me to a pet peeve... Michael and I were attracted to open adoption because we thought it healthier for our children to have personal ties to their biological families. This has paid off. Sebastian has forged wonderful relationships with his five half siblings and Maxwell's birth mom and two half sisters recently came to rejoice at her baptism. Neither child has expressed resentment that they are not living with those of the same genetic makeup. On the contrary, they are more grounded because of these connections. Now, I understand why some adoptive parents prefer to slam shut and bolt the birth family door; it's scary to face the unknown. However, I am intolerant of, and they seem to be out there, male gay couples who've adopted and have flat out lied to their child that they were ever born heaven forfend from the uterus of a woman. (These are the queens who get dramatically pissy and start slanderous email campaigns if their child's school enrollment forms still have the fields mother's name and father's name.) They are so focused on making the child's world all about Daddy and Papa, and only Daddy and Papa, that they are eclipsing a whole swath of reality that will surely backfire when the kid is taking Sex Ed in junior high.

Daddy, Papa, which one of you has the vagina?”

Wake up parents. You are not doing them any favors by cock blocking the truth.

So there's my spiel: honesty, honesty, honesty.

***

Last week, my five year old daughter, Maxwell, asked me, “Is Santa Claus real?”

Gasp.

Even my nine year old son hasn't cornered me with that one. But my Mensa-bound five year old looked at me with those purposeful, inquisitive eyes, knowing that out of everyone in her life I wouldn't result to bullshit.

Honesty, honesty, honesty...

Why couldn't she have asked about penises or vaginas? Or about boys who wear pinafores or girls who like U-Hauls? Or any social taboo really: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, our country's socio-economic problems, immigration, abortion, inbreeding, Herman Cain, anything? But to debunk Santa Claus?


In the flicker of a hummingbird's wing I weighed my options.

***

My thoughts quickly went to this Christmas... Michael is on tour with Cathy Rigby doing Peter Pan. (I know it sounds like a punchline, but if it comes to a theater near you be sure to catch it. You will be charmed.) And this leg of the tour ends in New York City (Madison Square Garden, thank you very much) just in time for the holidays. As soon as the winter break begins I'm packing up the kids to join Michael for a ten day stretch in the Big Apple.

We'll be staying in Manhattan most of the time. But for Michael's days off (Christmas Eve, Christmas day and the 26th) we'll be in New Jersey with our friend Erica, her wife and new baby son.

It doesn't matter where in the world I've christmased, the Foster Family traditions have always come with me: Paris; Vienna; Zurich; and now North Plainfield, New Jersey. Michael has embraced and even incorporated these traditions when we go to his hometown of Alton, Illinois; and now my diabolical plot includes indoctrinating the Hayes-Bradshaw Family as well.

The compendium is as follows: on Christmas Eve the Christmas Fairy leaves a present on the the children's pillows, matching pajamas; of course, Santa will have visited during the night, having taken a bite of a cookie, a reindeer having nibbled on a juicy carrot; presents, presents, presents all morning long; followed by the Foster Family Christmas breakfast, Eggs a la Goldenrod (a fancy Egg McMuffinish extravaganza using English muffins and Canadian bacon), pancakes, sausage links, and for the adults, homemade eggnog spiked with rum and bourbon. It's highly caloric and a nap following is recommended.

It promises to be a wonderful trip. Michael gets another Broadway credit, I get to see old friends and revisit familiar haunts, and probably most exciting, the kids get to experience an honest to goodness white Christmas in New York City: ice skating at Rockefeller Center, buggy ride in Central Park, strolling the Great White Way, Times Square, Statue of Liberty, MOMA, FAO, BMT...all lit up, smelling like roasted chestnuts and cloaked in a thin layer of snow. I'm getting really excited...

...and at the same time, incredibly trepidatious. Sure, it sounds idyllic, but at any moment it feels like things could go terribly awry. To start with, I'm going to be solo-parenting on the flight from California to New York, always dicey. Then, Michael's two-show a day schedule is so demanding, he will be unavailable from lunchtime on. And most daunting for me, it's two children and TEN FULL DAYS. Ten days of I don't wanna and he started it. Ten days of living out of a suitcase, wearing that dirty t-shirt just one more time. Ten days of possibly cold, wet, bored and cranky children. Not another museum, Papa! All I need is an ice storm that keeps us hotel bound and I'm positive security will find a couple extra cadavers this holiday season.


Christmas used to be so much easier. I remember buying the kids' stocking stuffers while they were right there with me, chilling out in their strollers. And there was never any need to hide the presents, they just had to be kept above eye level. Even navigating Santa seemed effortless. Last year, Michael was asked by Maxwell's preschool to be Saint Nick for the Winter Solstice Carnival, which makes sense; no one resonates ho, ho, ho more than my husband. I had an initial moment of panic wondering how the kids would interpret Daddy donning such gay apparel. As it turned out, there was no need to worry. Sebastian just thought Daddy was doing drag...yet again, while Maxwell, as she tells it, knew it was Daddy but also thought he might be the real Santa at the same time (sort of like Vincent Price and the fly morphing into one). Basically, it freaked her the fuck out and she stayed far, far away.

And it was much less exhausting to appease the kids' Santa related questions back then. A vague, not well thought out answer would satisfy them and they'd go on their merry way. But last month, before Maxwell sucker punched me with Is Santa Claus real?, my stock, evasive strategies proved not to be enough. She kept pestering me with an intense barrage:

"How will Santa know where we are?"
Santa just knows those things, honey.

"Do they have a chimneys in New Jersey?"
I imagine they do. I've not really taken a census.

"But how will Santa get into a house if there is no chimney?"
Don't worry about it. That's all part of his magic.

"If Santa has magic, why did he bring me a talking kitty last year when I asked for a talking doggie?"
Maybe Santa wanted you to have a talking kitty.

"But why did talking kitty say Made in China instead of Made in the North Pole?"
Perhaps Santa outsourced and enlisted help from Chinese elves.

"But if Christmas is supposed to be about Baby Jesus, why does Santa..."
I don't have time for this, Maxwell. I really don't.


Do you see the problem here? Lies built upon fibs supported by fallacy. It's a leaning tower of fabrication teetering on a foundation of sand and grit, and the whole thing is threatening to topple, making my nerves fray and my hemorrhoids itch.

Honesty, honesty, honesty...

It strikes me that part of my Christmas angst could be alleviated if I just tell her the truth, tell both my kids the delicious, apple crunching truth. This could be the opportunity I've been looking for.

All it takes is the first word...

***

Is Santa Claus real? Well, Maxie dearest, let's break it down. What do we know about him? He's a man of significant girth who may or may not smoke a bit too much, and he makes a living, if you can call it that, squeezing his bulk into strangers' chimneys in order to give toys to all the children of the world. Inexplicably, the mode of transportation he prefers is a sleigh of flying reindeer, one of which has a shiny proboscis that glows crimson at will. And we're told this jolly old elf makes his own toys in his own private toy factory somewhere in the North Pole, overseen by men of diminutive stature wearing pointy hats.

Are you honestly telling me you don't find that just a bit burdensome to swallow?

The truth of the matter is if you were to take a chainsaw, let's say, and slice off Santa's arms he will not bleed. No, it's not a Christmas miracle; he won't bleed because he's made of paper and ink, and of cardboard, and a dash of sawdust and reels and reels of celluloid. So by all means, slice off his arms, sever his legs, pummel that fucking droll little mouth drawn up like a bow to a pulp, he won't feel a thing. And once you rip off his beard, take the sofa cushions from his belly, and burn that horrendous, cherry-red, velour track suit trimmed in white fur (which was never in style, not even in the eighties) all you have left are deceitful parents and one enormous communal lie.

I'm not sure why we do it. Perhaps we don't want you to grow up so fast, or maybe we have a perverse need to keep you mentally dependent on us. Whatever the reason, it now seems cruel, in hindsight. Let me bottom line it for you...

Maxwell, there is no Santa Claus!

While I'm at it, there is no Christmas Fairy, either. Also, the Easter Bunny, a fake; the Tooth Fairy, a fraud; Kim Kardashian's marriage, a sham. And as you get older you will find out other things are make believe as well, like a practical application for algebra or trickle down economics.

Aren't you finding this liberating? You are undeniably on your path to understanding the true meaning of Christmas. Now, it will become clear to you that A Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life, Rudolph, Tiny Tim, the Grinch, Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, and all those other cozy, iconic Christmas images that we embrace this time of year are not mere entertainment. No, they are marketing tools designed to mesmerize the masses, making us the best doggone card-carrying Capitalists on the planet. At a time when we should be storing our acorns and not emptying the larder, we allow ourselves to be programmed to march in droves to Macy's and Toys R Us and buy you, my darling daughter, merch you may covet but don't really need.

Take a look outside. The wintery sky is the color of a dead moth, the ground as hard as obsidian. It's a dark, cold, and scary time of year, and we as parents try oh so hard to protect you from the Arctic winds that rage and the downtrodden warming themselves over sidewalk grates by distracting you with visions of sugarplum fairies and sought after figgy puddings. But no more, Maxwell. You're a smart girl who saw through the artifice. Brava!

I hope our little talk wasn't too blunt, but it was honest. And you know, above all, I cherish honesty.

***

All this in an instant, the flicker of a hummingbird's wing.

Then back to my daughter's chocolatey, vulnerable eyes; eyes desiring magic; eyes so wanting to believe. How could I not?

Yes, honey. Santa is absolutely real.”