Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Full of Light

In John Waters' movie Pecker there is a crazy grandma who thinks her doll version of the Virgin Mary keeps trying to say "full of grace". However, since the grandma is not very good at vantriliquism, what escapes from her pursed lips is "full of grease! full of grease!"

That's how I often feel after a good latke binge at Hanukkah. Nevermind that I've abdicated the making of latkes to my non-Jewish husband. The smell of onion, potatoes and grease is so pervasive, it can winnow its way under closed doors and infuse towels and sheets with its eminence. It's the kind of meal you can burp up for days.

I talk about this because every time this year I start on a guilt binge about the Holidays (capitals intended). I grew up in the age of the Jewish family that had a Christmas tree, which morphed into a Hanukkah bush and then totally disappeared. Yet Hanukkah is a poor replacement for or facsimile of Christmas. (Well, DUH, you say).

By dint of its timing, Hanukkah has been subjected to the seasonal humiliation built by America, for America. Like many 'intermarried' couples, we decided to parse and diagram the situation as we've seen fit. That meant that we didn't celebrate Christmas ourselves... we always went to Germany to 'help' my husband's family celebrate while we variously either lit Hanukkah candles at home or schlepped the menorah with us.

This year, we're staying put. Finally. Not by choice, mind you. If we hadn't just bought a house and a car and a washer and dryer, we'd be all over going to Germany. Stocking up on good chocolate and lovely shoes. But this year it's just not in the cards.

And for me, staying home has brought up all sorts of thoughts. Heck, having a home, knowing that we are 'staying put' for potentially the rest of our lives has added a whole new dimension to my philosophical meanderings and led me to interesting tight spots on many issues.

The deal is: I love string lights. I love them. I love funny glass-blown snowmen and pigs and taxi cabs so thin that even breathing on them can cause them to shatter like a lightbulb. Do you see my quandary? I cannot do these things or have these things because they are so totally owned by Christmas.

I love my neighbors' gaudy holiday displays. I can do without the manger scenes, but otherwise, I really do love them. They make me chipper driving home from the store at 5:15 in the evening when it's already pitch-black and raining sideways.

I've been going through these huge contortions on whether or not I think it's ok for us to string white lights around the little tree outside our front windows. I remember growing up that downtown the trees had white lights on them all year round and I loved that illumination. All the little indirect halos and shadows they threw. Can I not have them? Those lights? The lights that are those wonderful glittery night things?


Garrison Keillor has a short piece on Salon.com called "Don't Like Christmas? Get a Life" in which he exhorts:
There are people who feel "excluded" by Christian symbolism and are offended by the manger and the angels and the Child, but there have always been humorless, legalistic people. Complaint is an American art form, and in our time it has been raised to an operatic level. To which one can only say: Get a life. When you go to France, you don't expect a stack of buckwheat pancakes for breakfast or Le Monde to print box scores. You're in France. Now you're in America. It's a Christian culture. Work with it.
In true Keillor fashion, he starts the article in one of his run-on descriptive, windy kinds of ways which sort of lull you into feeling whistful and accepting, then drops that little ditty in for good measure. What? Excuse me?

I mean, I'm all for the gingery cookies that he describes. Singing? Check. Gift-giving? Check. Philanthropy? Check. Little lights? Double check. I'm just not for the Christian part of it.


For however half-assed I always feel about Hanukkah, I've come to realize that it's a false bill of goods that I've been selling myself. Any self-respecting Jew knows that Hanukkah is supposed to be a minor holiday. It's a feisty little holiday about perservering. And, may I add, light.

Yup, folks, you heard it here first. Hanukkah is the festival of lights. We start by lighting one candle, then two, and by the time you get to the eighth night your menorah is so caked with crayola-covered wax that it may just take you until next Hanukkah to scrape it clean. And it's fun. You eat lots of fried stuff, exchange little presents. Not a bad little holiday.

It was never meant to compete with the big dogs. The big dogs are so totally beside the point of Hanukkah. Hanukkah is about the small stuff that builds up. The oil in the temple that was only supposed to last for one day and ended up lasting for eight. The little engine that could. The bottomless reserve when we think the little light is going to go out.


I was reading in the NYT about this prayer book from the middle ages they found and discovered that, like many other books of that time, that the physical book was originally another text alltogether, a palimpsest. Because the materials used to make books were so valuable, instead of pitching them when their circulation went down, those ever-crafty monks would scrape the surface of the vellum and literally scrape off the text and write a new one. (Palimpsest is greek for "rubbed again").

Now they are spending tons of money and using all sorts of great technology to "read" and translate this "lost" text, the text behind the text, for its insight.

Perhaps the same is also true with Hanukkah. There is some elemental truth to the winnowing of days, to the losing of light, which makes us crave it that much more. The impulse is ancient. The technology may be different. All sorts of other things have gotten magnetically attracted to the concept like shiny wrapping and Jesus babies and the like. But the light is really where it's at.

Hanukkah is not some sort of overblown Jewish answer to Christmas. Christmas is the overblown answer to Hanukkah.

Reclaim the string lights!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Destination Anywhere

I went blitz-holiday shopping this afternoon while my son and husband were tucked into their respective beds for a winter nap. I came across a book of dirty quotes that I bought for my sister-in-law, a hip young thing. I found one I especially liked:

"I tell you, we are here on earth to fart around, and don't let anyone tell you different"- Kurt Vonnegut


Just about the time I tucked this book into my purse with its receipt, I was receiving a call on my home answering machine from Northwest Airlines telling me that my package had arrived at the Madison airport. The guy said It's leaking pink and green. We're not sure what to do with it. Please call us and let us know if you are going to pick it up.

Pick it up? Wasn't it the fools at Delta who were supposed to have A) gotten it on the right plane in the first place and B) at least try to deliver it or call me begging for forgiveness? It's enough to make you want to lie a bit... tell them the ice cream was for your Aunt Bessie in the nursing home and how disappointed she'd be.

But no, I called and told them to throw it away, as long as I could use their name to corroborate my loss report so I didn't have to jackass across town with my digital camera to photograph the pink and green puddle (Wicked Witch of the West after consuming Pepto Bismol?)


I returned home to find that my ever-industrious across-the-way neighbor had been at it with the holiday decorating. His house is quite primped and lit and symmetrical with its garlands and bows and lights. I can only think he must look over to our darkened house with disappointment (or, perhaps, relief-- my husband installed energy-saver flourescent bulbs outside and we mostly forget to turn them off, which means that our house is forever bathed in that pale, flickery light most often reserved for the outsides of jails and big-box parking lots).

Now that it is dark just before 5pm here, my son is quite captivated driving around town, especially now that people have begun the bedecking of their houses with all manner of lights and snowmen and tableaus of white deer in silhouette. The poor thing-- he almost doesn't know where to look, there's so much going on.


The other thing is that we have been patching my son's strong eye for the past three weeks, hoping that we can strengthen the weaker one. Apparently it's pretty effective, and many kids end up doing it at one time or another. Still, there's something almost sad about having to do it. I know that he will be better for it, he will see better for it, and it is better to do now than when he is 7 and some dopey kid gives him shit about being a pirate or something.

In order to get him to stay still while we put the patch on, we give him two M&M's minis which he joyfully chomps on before revealing a green or blue grin. I ordered these special patches online which are decorated with, variously, stick figures, ladybugs, dalmation spots and the like. Other kids seem to think it's just a big sticker. Though apparently a 5-year-old at the playground this morning accused my son of being a pirate and said that he must be slain. Umm, ok. Get your wacko kid away from mine.

He seems to see not too badly (or at least compensates for it well enough) out of the unpatched eye... obviously, though, his peripheral vision is affected. In some ways he compensates almost too well, which makes me let my guard down. At a playground the other day he walked directly into a woman carrying an infant carrier because he simply didn't see her.

At any rate, he seems much less self-conscious about the whole thing than I do for him. At the very least, he seems to have no concept of how long he's been patched or how long into the future it will continue. He seems to measure things by the pairs of M&M's which come twice daily like tides. Vision is the least of it.


I've always loved people and things that are a little off-kilter. That's one of the reasons I love nicknames-- real nicknames, the earned ones.

I met up with a girlfriend this afternoon and she told me that she had given her daughter an unfortunate haircut. Her new nickname for her daughter is McGuyver, after the eponymous TV show.

My son's nicknames are of an evolving nature. There's the diminutive of his name. Then we turned to Muck-a-muck, which is one of the nonsense syllables he ran around saying at 12 months "muck-a-muck-a-muck-a-muck-a-muck". Today he is I HEART MUCKABEES, a combination of the previous Muck and the wonderfully helium-inspired movie I HEART HUCKABEES where Mark Wahlberg and Jason Schwarzman end up beating the crap out of each other with inflatible pom-pom balls.

One day my son will be able to pronounce his own name. He will stand behind it with all seriousness. I remember giving him that name and at first being so shocked that this little being had this serious, official existence. Now, the shock of the arrival has faded and we are left with this little muck (muecke is the german word for mosquito) who buzzes around us and points out the lights.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Yesterday we returned from our Thanksgiving sojourn to Cincinnati.

Cincinnati is not one of those places that has a cache. Even someone from Oregon is more interesting than someone from Cincinnati.

I spent the years from the time I left for college until I had my son trying to avoid Cincinnati like the plague. To me, that's not a manner of speaking. Whenever I landed I was overcome with physical and emotional torpor. What more can one want from a homecoming, a relaxing vacation? Here, have this coma. No thank you.

Part of it comes from the physical layout of the city. It's built on seven very steep hills (like Rome, everyone said) that rise up from the Ohio River basin. The peculiar geography is both a protection and a trap; it means that tornados can only skirt around the city and hit outlying areas; it also means that air is basically trapped down in the valley, causing pollution and the adored Cincinnati sinus infection which perpetually haunts its inhabitants.

I remember early mornings if it was foggy standing out at the bus stop and smelling the Proctor and Gamble plant making Tide. P&G not only dominates business in the city, it dominates the very air.


I'm not quite sure why the birth of my son has changed my feelings about the city, though I think it is because it has fundementally changed not the city, but who I am.

Somehow before he arrived, every time I went back 'home', I couldn't help being re-haunted by old ghosts. Perhaps it's that same stagnant air that pushes all change to the outskirts. One might call it resilience, one might call it being stuck.

The other thing that comes to me now is that the birth of my son realigned my family. It signalled the final dissolution, interruption of the old order. Somehow the people who spout family values are unable to understand that not all families can be healed by the wave of a magic value wand. My family has been most healed by its dissasemblence, by the fundamental change and growth that has gone on by the parting of ways and the disruption of the old.

Now when we talk about old times, it is almost as if we talk of other people. Lost people, lost places.


There was an article in the NYT today about Cincinnati's inner-city renaissance. The oldest extant part of the city, settled by German immigrants in the mid-1800s and called, fittingly, Over-the-Rhine, is being repopulated as a hip arts neighborhood with condos and cafes.

I actually went to school in an extension of that neighborhood before the school fell into such disrepair it was demolished in the '90s. My school was right across from the high-rise projects, and its students were half from the neighborhood, half bussed-in. It took me 45 minutes on the bus each morning to get to school.

It's probably hard for most people to imagine why I would long for something similar for my son. He will more likely than not go to a brand-spanking-new school which is being built just a mile away from our home out here on the far edge of Madison. Perhaps its the same reason why I adore that he will grow up down the street from a horse farm. Like a palette, a little bit of all things, some sweet, some bitter, some sour, some salty, seems to me the balance most kids achingly need.

As a parent, we wish to spare our kids pain and exposure to unpleasantness. Yet in the process of protecting them, I think we sometimes over-protect them from things that won't necessarily do harm. Perhaps protecting them is really a guise for us protecting ourselves. It is we who have construed our lives so carefully to avoid unnecessary pain.


Yet I know it is foolish... my son's life is only partially mine to construct, and only for a while. The more I get to know him, the more I am aware that he is a being with ideas, instincts, predispositions and, yes, faults all his own. In the same way I have stopped looking for family resemblances behind his face, I have started to accept that he acts as he is, not as I was or his father was or are. And no matter how permanent he seems, he will change. He will not always fight sleep like this or wake up in the middle of the night to be held. Somehow I lose sight of this when it's the middle of the night or the next morning when I can barely see straight and I say to myself, I cannot wait until this is over.

More likely, it will be over and I will miss it. He will be different, and I will be different. We won't be able to resurrect those needs or those people. We will configure our lives and our emotions around a different center. Things that are irksome or difficult or painful lose their charge, reorient, begin their orbit around some other star.

While it is almost self-evident to me that this process stretches far ahead of me, of my son and my family, it is still so strange, so foreign the idea that the past can do the same. Without our conscious knowledge it gets up like those mice in the Nutcracker and walzes around in the middle of the night. No matter how much we know the past by rote, we forget it. Or, having placed it like a pair of old slippers at the side of the bed for so many years, its position has moved slowly, achingly and without our knowledge, a millimeter at a time.


Yesterday on the way to the airport, I hopped out of the car at the Graeter's ice cream factory to pick up 12 pints of ice cream I ordered packed on dry ice. I did that once before when I was pregnant with my son and subsisted on high-calorie milkshakes. Those pints of black raspberry chip and mint chocolate chip were the best I had ever eaten before or since.

At the airport I carefully inscribed our address on the styrofoam cooler with a blue sharpie, making sure to write on the top and sides, in case the two should be separated.

Upon arrival in Madison, the cooler was (you guessed it) nowhere to be found. It was packed with an optimistic 4-5 hours worth of dry ice. Currently, the automated Delta baggage tracking system shows that it has been sitting in Minneapolis-St.Paul for the last twelve hours.

The lost baggage form innocently asks whether the contents of a lost bag are (check one of the following): male, female, child or other. No place to write in a more appropriate description: melted. Shape-shifted. Irretrievably and deliciously gone.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


This is what happens when you drink too much coffee. This morning we went over for brunch at a friend's house, and the second cup of coffee awaited (I normally only drink one). I remember when I was taking creative writing classes and we had a deadline ("one new poem a week") my writing buddies and I would drag ourselves off to a coffee shop called the Daily Grind (apropos) and try to caffeinate ourselves into inspiration. Often we could get something going, but the question is whether it would hold up at all the next day or next week in the light of full posession of our faculties.

That's the problem with coffee-- and with writing. They are fully compelling and enthralling while in the midst of them. Their ardored anticipation (laying in bed in the morning wishing someone else had already done it for you) and the dissolution of their state and effects, not so much. And more seriously speaking, it was never writing itself that I had a problem with. It was always what came in between writing, the before-and-after stuff that dragged me down.

So now it's the afternoon, the child crashed into his nap headlong and as we drove home from the brunch, the across-the-street neighbor had finally surrendered to his task: He had already plucked all but the topmost t.p. streamers from his shade tree. The whole shape of the thing had changed. It maintains its diameter only if seen from above. The concept has discintegrated.

I was catching up on reading and found an article in today's NYT Magazine about good old Paul Muldoon. For those of you unfamiliar, Paul Muldoon is an Irish poet who won the Pulitzer prize for poetry. He also judged the Graduate Poetry contest at U of M while I was there and chose my poems to receive the prize.

This single event was such a strange mixed blessing: It was at once a huge recognition of my poetry and at the same time drew me into the competitive crosshairs of the other grad students. The day after my prize reading, I had an anxiety attack that led to prolonged depression. I left two weeks later and never returned to complete my degree.

Before my prize reading (though after they had announced I had won it) I had the honor of introducing Paul Muldoon at the U of M. Afterwards I had volunteered to drive him to his hotel which was near Georgetown, in the D.C. area affectionately called "Foggy Bottom". For as much as I should have been able to (or wanted to) discuss with him (how often do you get to chauffeur a Pulitzer-prize winner?), I just couldn't. He seemed so tired to me. And also not quite a little concerned about being driven around by some random grad student.

It turns out that he should have been a bit weary of being in the car with me: I didn't know my way around D.C. well at all, limiting my flight patterns to a tired groove which spanned the Beltway between Bethesda and College Park. As anyone who even knows about D.C. knows, there are lots of parts of D.C. you should manage to avoid. I had picked a route that made sense on paper (though I didn't manage to bring that paper with me) and was abandoned to a mere directional sense. As evidenced by the NYT article, all's well that ends well. Paul Muldoon is still alive and kicking, despite my failure to perform.

And yet my graduate poetry award lands on my resumes, it lands on my web site. It seems like something someone should know about me, the me that's on paper. The me that is qualified, the me that's uncomplicated by failure.

As I was reading the article, I started to think: Who is it that I associate with this writing? Who is this other person who has the backstage access, who dispatches the words? She's certainly not the idea I have of myself. There would be too many expectations.


When I was at Trader Joe's last week, there were no balloons. That's a big deal for someone who uses the promise and posession of said balloon to partially tame an explorative toddler into shopping cart submission. I asked at the checkout why no balloons. The guy told me-- I lie not-- there's a helium shortage. I began to ponder what that might mean. Where did helium come from, anyway? Are there helium manufacturing plants with little cleansuited guys running around? The cashier boy suggested that there were Helium mines, pockets of it trapped in the earth. Hmm...

A few days later I was listening to NPR and there was a listener letter responding to a story they'd apparently done on said helium shortage. The listener admonished the reporters for inhaling helium to affect their voices, saying it could cause your lungs to overinflate and burst.

Not that I took that danger vary seriously. Nor do I think it will keep small kids from sucking helium from balloons (once they return). It did make me think, however, about how many small things we take for granted, all of which make up our ideal concept of a balloon.

There is the tensile surface of an inflated balloon which causes a light source to be reflected just so; there is the long strand of ribbon (seems far too puny as a tether for something so buoyant); and there is the weightlessness, the suspension. The top of the balloon like the perfectly-defined arch of a question mark, posed mid-air for the asking.

So many of our concepts are like that: So fragile. Often we can only start to parse them if something is awry. Then we ask: What is wrong here? What is askew? Even slight violations of form or function can catch us off guard (as a helium balloon which, losing its luft, hovers sort of halfway between up there and the ground).

Maybe we should grant even the partial things their wholeness, their own gestalt. The trees half-decked, the laundry partially folded. The writing and the people somewhere hovering in the middle.

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.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Transitions are sometimes difficult, as from not-knowing to knowing. You would think, given life, that we would be much better at this in-between-becoming business, but it still knocks us for a loop.

And so today the clash of the seasons is upon us. Two days ago it was 65 degrees and we played in the park until 5:30, well past dusk. Today it is thundersnow.

When my son was just a few months old we were awoken at almost point midnight by the loudest thunder crack ever, the bolt simultaneous with the lightening. So loud, so present it rattled my teeth. My son slept through it. Not a peep.

We thought, how could this be? This little being, so present in his needs, and yet so totally absent to the shaking of the world.

Today the thunder started before the snow. He was in his high chair and we were consumed with the delicate balancing act of corn on a large spoon.

He seemed to react to the thunder almost before it shuddered, like some animals do. I have to wonder: what did he think he heard? I quickly made sense of it for him: it was like a big truck. A big truck starting up its engine of snow.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


It's an odd thing to try to describe a phenomenon that happens to many people at once, practically simultaneously. In disease, you have epidemiologists who work to trace outbreaks of illness in order to quell their spread and perhaps predict their occurrence. In politics, you have the ubiquitous pollsters. Then there are the social scientists that try to explain things like how we associate in groups or act as individuals within groups.

Somehow I have a great fascination with how we swim in and out of associative groups without ever knowing we were in them, and at the same time feel great skepticism as to the reach of our scientific understandings about how such things take place.

I think it's because there's some elemental emotional or spiritual element to what impels people to think, speak and act that is not accounted for, perhaps by definition cannot or should not be accounted for.

Take for instance the recent midterm election. No matter how much the media was abuzz before the election about how we said we were going to vote, I had to ignore it. I can too easily be swept into a rapture thinking that the world will be righted, that it is just around the corner. And yet, something did resonate in many individuals at once. (Hallelujah!) At the same time I celebrate this, I must steel myself against thinking that in two years we will do the same. There is something about particular moments in time that synchronize us in thought and feeling with most if not many. Who knows the whims that will grip us then? Why count on that?


On a related note, there was an article in, where else, the NYT the other day about speaking in tongues. Neuroscientists have imaged the brains of people in both devotional activities and then in those trance-like states where they are said to "speak in tongues". The results? It seems that there is a loosening and a deactivation of many different parts of the brain which seem to suggest they are indeed giving themselves up to something. Is it perhaps a learnable sort of neural programming, the way that meditation is?

It makes me also think about the mystical nature of language-- especially foreign language-- and its place in worship. There are many Catholics that rue the disappearance of Latin from the mass. I find myself, despite my liberal leanings, yearning for more and more Hebrew in my religious practice. What is it about another language that opens us up to the devine? Or is it that it activates a different "I", a different speaker, a different self?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Helicopter Mom

My mother arrived five days ago to visit and since then my son has been practically surgically attached to my leg. Not sure whether it's just the cold he has been battling or if he is taking a man-on-man defense in order to assure that the mama does not abdicate to big momma.

Sometimes I wonder whether there will ever be a time when I don't feel like I am a mother to everyone and everything.

Being a mother is such an intense thing-- it's at once the most powerful and powerless position to be in-- responsible for, though not in control of, others' happiness.

When I am exhausted (as I am now) I can almost not believe what I do in a day. It goes well beyond the creative (putting it kindly) meal planning and cooking required for a toddler, well beyond the preparation and the clean up and the staging of every practical transaction. It seems everything holds an emotional weight. Everything is learning (for him and me). There is the sweet predictability and the onerous predictability. There are the sweet moments of discovery and the excrutiatingly slow practice for discovery.

And all the while trying to both serve and stifle the instinct to make everything kind and good and better than it was growing up. In order to give your child the framework for hapiness and let him invent his own content, follow his own kite-strings.

And yet trying to not turn into the mother of all mothers; take too much responsibility everywhere else where it is unwanted, unasked or unnecessary. Like a bird thinking a mailbox is its nest and waiting for those chicks that will never arrive.

As my therapist once said, who do you think you are, Jesa?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Color of Hunger

Two days ago was my son's first real Halloween-- though even that may be hyperbole. At 1 1/2 he did seem amused at being costumed, ran with bated breath every time the doorbell rang and was quizically interested when we took him to two neighbors' houses and they put all sorts of colorful little packages into his pumpkin bag.

Yet, he's 1 1/2. He doesn't know he's getting candy. He doesn't know the kids are all running around out of their minds in anticipation of a massive chocolate-and-sweets binge. I've tried to construct what his perspective might be, and I'm bluffed. What kind of meaning can you string together from these events?


So my son was a pumpkin for Halloween. My reasoning being that this is perhaps the only Halloween when I alone will have a say in what he dresses up as. Given his predeliction for all things automotive and truck related, lord only knows what we have in store for us once he starts talking and asserting his will backed up with the specificities of words.

It's interesting to me that universally it seems that small babies are dressed up as food or food-related items. Let's not forget that the pumpkin is in fact a vegetable. Then you have the babies dressed up like pea pods, carrots with tops, hot peppers. Of all the stinking cute animals in the world as resources for costumes out the wazoo, I beg of you, why dress him up like a vegetable?


Probably the same reason we find little babies so delectable. Did it ever strike you as odd that one of the first ways that many people "play" with babies is to act as though they are eating them? Have you ever felt the twinge or desire yourself to nibble on an opportune little ear or stray toe?

Though it may all have somewhat cannabalistic overtones, I think the truth of it is probably much more honest to come by: feeding is the most essential activity of nurturance for a small being. In a NYT article from Valentine's Day this year there was a fascinating discussion on where the idea and practice of kissing comes from. The most compelling explanation in my eyes:

A few anthropologists have suggested that mouth kissing is a "relic gesture," with evolutionary origins in the mouth-to-mouth feeding that occurred between mother and baby in an age before Gerber and still takes place in a few parts of the world today. It can hardly be a coincidence, they note, that in several languages the word for kissing is synonymous with pre-mastication, or that "sweet" is the epithet most commonly applied to kisses.

So kissing is a kind of feeding and a kind of feasting. Children are the apples of our mouths.