Parenting is one long Jacob-and-the-angel-esque wrestling match with ethical dilemmas. Here’s this week’s bout: Maxine, age 4, was walking home from school with our wonderful babysitter Rita, and they passed a neighbor who often sits on her stoop. Maxine observed, loudly, “That lady is very fat!” Rita desperately hushed her: “Don’t say that!”
Josie wails, “I hate flute! I won’t play Takahashi Twinkle!” She hurls herself onto the couch, swanning and weeping like Sarah Bernhardt.
If you live in or near New York, get over to the DR2 Theater to see “Dear Edwina” before it closes on April 19. “Dear Edwina” is a musical for kids about manners, but it’s also charming, tuneful entertainment that will not make adults want to drive spikes into their own ears. It is so delightful I bought the album with my own actual money. (You can too — it’s available on Amazon.com and stars a bunch of Broadway regulars including Kerry Butler, Rebecca Luker, Danny Burstein and Terrence Mann.)
My childhood Sedarim involved a slight disconnect. Perhaps yours did, too. Here we were, a big tableful of upper middle class white folks, reclining on pillows around a beautifully set dining room table, discussing our history as slaves… while Mrs. Dyer, our cleaning lady, bustled about in the kitchen, ladling out the matzoh ball soup and scrubbing the haroset-smeared dishes.
When I was 11, we were in Israel for Purim. I was shocked at the number of non-Esther, non-Mordechai costumes. There was a Karate Kid, a Darth Vader, various zombies and ninjas, a spandex-clad, gum-chomping Sandy from Grease.
I’ve been thinking a lot about resilience lately. When faced with adversity and horror, why do some people crumple like used tin foil while others manage to cope?
Tu B’Shevat, also known as “the New Year for the trees,” starts at sundown on February 9. (So soon? Why, it seems like it was just the 10th of Tevet!) Like a Rorschach inkblot, this holiday can reveal a lot about who’s celebrating it. Originally it was merely the agrarian equivalent of April 15 for our farmer ancestors, a date established to count the year’s harvest for tithing purposes. Later, it became a symbolic time for early Zionists to celebrate their bond with the land. Finally the crunchy hippies got their metaphorical hooks into it, turning it into an environmental preachfest about conservation and our custodial responsibilities toward the planet.
Maxine, at just-turned-4, is in a superhero phase. This despite the fact that the only superhero she’s actually seen is WordGirl (the vocabulary-building crime-fighter from the planet Lexicon) on PBS. Both Max and her big sister, Josie, love the show; for Halloween, they dressed as WordGirl and her chimp sidekick, Captain Huggyface. (Guess who had to be the sidekick.) Jonathan played one of the arch-villains, The Butcher, who butchers the English language and hurls meat at the superheroes while bellowing catchphrases like “Pastrami Attack!” and “Chicken Cordon blam!” His Kryptonite is tofu. I dressed as another supervillain, Lady Redundant Woman, a disgruntled copy shop employee who has an unfortunate industrial workplace accident after which she can make duplicates of herself to do evil. Yes, we are a family of nerds.
Josie loved the book “Angel Girl,” by Laurie Friedman. She was a fan of Friedman’s Mallory books, chapter books about the travails of a modern-day third grader: friendships, pets, moving, having her mom begin teaching music at the school she attends (mortifying!). But “Angel Girl” was very different — a non-fiction picture book filled with gorgeous, lyrical, tilted-perspective paintings, about a Holocaust survivor and the “angel girl” who saved him by tossing him apples over the work camp fence.
The New York Times recently published its roundup of the year’s Best Illustrated Children’s Books, and I had to laugh: Some of them are the literary equivalent of liver wrapped in spinach and seasoned with mortgages and Xanax. In other words, they have zero appeal to actual children.