Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nature and Nurture

Last friday it snowed here. We woke up the next morning, the world bedecked in white... toilet paper. Not on our house, mind you, but on the house directly across from us. Our neighbor's small, fledgling trees all aflutter with very careful, deliberate, equal-sized lengths of toilet paper.

Our neighbor is one of those guys who is always out there tending to his lawn. He bags instead of mulching. He edges, for god's sake. He owns a leaf vacuum. Need I say more?

Every day since the snow/draping he's been out there with a bucket dispensing with the soggy toilet paper which has been torn asunder and landed on said lawn. My husband and I have been shocked, though, at his general patience with the grand display: He has not touched it.

We're not quite sure, given his general predisposition for fastidiousness, why we are still gifted by the presence of our neighborhood act a la Christo, even long after the snow has melted away. My playgroup moms agreed-- it looks really cool. Gives some lovely shape to the shade tree which has stood nude and prone since the leaf drop. Even the plumber yesterday was impressed (and he should know from t.p.) He remarked a mess to clean up but damn neat what they did there.

Has our neighbor given his yard up to the expression of communal whiteness here in suburban Wisconsin? Has it driven him to madness? Can you even use a leaf vacuum on wet toilet paper?


My son still isn't talking yet. Or rather, again?

Mind you, he spoke at 12 months. He said trrrrruck! (That's how you'd know when he had woken from a nap).

Then we spent the summer in Germany and he decided (we suppose) Oh, to hell with you people. Truck was just fine with me. Now you want me to call it a Kraftfahrzeug? A Lastwagen? Excuse me??

Now when we look at books with him, he can identify almost anything by its German or English name. By pointing to it. If you ask him what something is, he says ba. Not just ba. Ba! Enthusiastic ba! Take that, you bilingual yuppie academic fiends!

Yesterday I said, is that a squirrel? Quirl, he repeated after me. Today again, quirl. Not that I am expecting much. He's done this before... had a word for a couple of days and then abandoned it to never-come-again.

This word, however, holds particular meaning for me. Long ago when I was in grad school for my MFA in poetry, I got into a knock-down drag-out exchange in a workshop with an eminent poet over squirrels in poems. An avid birder, he didn't like squirrels. Apparently they were always knocking over his birdfeeders and causing general havoc. That was enough to piss him off.

And, as an eminent poet, he could pretty much say whatever he liked. After his comment to me that I should get that f*#ing squirrel out of my poem, he told another woman that she shouldn't write about her children. Squirrels, kids, nobody cares! he said, throwing his arms in the air.

By that time, my ire had boiled up into my head and I said just because you haven't managed to have kids doesn't mean this is a bad poem. Boy did I piss him off! Not that I cared. He deserved it, old lecherous coot. Poet or not.

So, I throw down the gauntlet. My son will say squirrel. Someday. Life is uncontrollable. He will speak in his own time and will probably say things I don't agree with. Perhaps some teenage girls will someday t.p. our house. And I will think back to the beauty of the white tree and the squirrels that stole small sheets to pillow their nests.

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