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Monday, January 29, 2007

The Tooth, The Whole Tooth and Nothing But The Tooth

First of all, let me say that I'm a library patron who LOVES deep cuts.

That is: library books that I loved as a kid and haven't thought about in years (Elizabeth Levy's Something Queer Is Going On series was such a treat to rediscover at my beloved DC Public Library - home of the "NO fines for the entire juvenile collection" policy, hooray!).

One such deep cut, I thought, was Johanna Hurwitz's Nora books, including Nora and Mrs. Mind-Your-Own-Business.

In fact, I don't think I did read it as a child, but it reminded me of a certain kind of New York City-centric children's books (e.g. The House on East 88th Street, From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) that I devoured as the child of New-York-Jews-Who-Moved-Elsewhere-To-Deprive-Their-Children-Of-Decent-Bagels. Lore Segal's fabulous Tell Me a Mitzi is another fine example of the genre.

Anyway, I checked several Nora books out and brought them home, and immediately began to read them aloud to my bookivore audience of rapt listeners. All went well through several fun chapters of resourceful urban kiddos. All went well, in fact, until the part when Nora, who has lost a tooth, wakes up in the middle of the night to find Mommy and Daddy hunting under her pillow (spoiler alert: if you are under the age of, oh, I dunno, eight, STOP READING THIS BLOG ENTRY!). Nora proceeds to sit up in bed and discover that, as her father jokingly puts it, she's actually related to the tooth fairy.

Well, faster than you can say "Yikes, self-edit! Self-edit!" I finished the page and Franny stared at me, the implications sinking in.

"Her mom... is the... tooth fairy?" For a second, I considered trying to pass this off as a novel situation concerning the character's mom's lineage in fairy terms (even though she is clearly depicted as a regular mom of the wingless variety).

"Uh, I, uh. Wow, I dunno." I'm really a terrible liar. Especially when put on the spot.

"Are YOU the tooth fairy?"

By now, I had recovered my composure. I tried my best weapon: silliness. "How in the world would I do that? Do you think I can fly all over the world?"

"Yeah, but ARE you?"

Truly, dear reader, I did not know what to do. What did she want, exactly? The truth? Or reinforcement of what she believed? And what did I want? A co-conspirator (and, thus, a potential security breech, seeing as our second child has a mouth full of 20 secure baby teeth, as of this writing)? Or a CHILD, still on the right side of the line of that separates boring old truth from magic.

"No, I'm not." Given a little time to prepare, my limited lying skills kick in. I spend the rest of the afternoon wondering if I've given the right answer. I mean, she'd simply have to check with an older child and I'd be unmasked as a total fraud. A humbug, in the 1899 parlance of L. Frank Baum. But she seemed satisfied by my answer, so I dropped it.

Verification that my response was, quite likely, the one she sought came at bedtime.

"Mom?" she asked, gesturing to a large reference volume on fairies (the regular, non-tooth-specific kind) that lay spread open on her floor.

"Can you close that book up? I don't want the fairies to get out."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

It's Only Natural

Since both of my kids had strep this week (not at the same time, of course... that would have been too boring!), AND I had a bunch of freelance work due, I didn't get a spare moment to brush my teeth, much less post. And even now, I should probably be downstairs, tending to Bougie, who is liable to hurl on the couch without any warning.

Dedicated blogger that I am, I'll take that risk.

Here's the subject of today's post: the difference between my two kids (other than 3 and a half years, a foot or two of height, about 30 lbs, and another foot or so of hair).

Kid # 1 = We drove past a dead possum on the way home the other day and then had to go through an extended discussion about life, death, the mourning Mr. Possum's family was probably doing, and what if this?, what if that? and what if the other?. Yes, Kid # 1 is seven, so what if is big for her right now, but the conversation reminded me of how, when she was 3 and a half, she used to get upset if we watched the occasional nature documentary and anything, you know, natural (like, say, a big fish eating a smaller one) happened on screen.

Cut to Kid # 2.

Kid # 2 = Is currently 3 and a half and was watching a nature documentary today about the wonders of the sea. Needless to say, we learned that the poorly-named angel shark is a bloodthirsty killer, who hides on the ocean floor and snaps up unsuspecting (and cute!) smaller fish in greedy gulps, generating puffs of bright red water.

Hmmm. I waited for her reaction with baited breath (sorry, couldn't resist).

"Wanna turn this off and have dinner?" I asked.

"Okay," she said. Then: "Mom?"

"Yes, hon?"


"Do we have any fish?"

"Um, fish?"


"You mean like tuna?"

"Yes. I want to eat some fish."

O-kay. My first child has her problems, god love her, but she is sensitive as the day is long. My second child, however, is a bloodthirsty fish-eater. Kid # 1 rejects the law of the jungle. Kid # 2 not only embraces it, she welcomes an opportunity to reenact it!

Still, with the strep, Kid # 2 hadn't eaten (or wanted to eat) anything in days. What could I do?

I got the can opener.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Best Picture Book I Read Today

Let me start by saying that I read a LOT of picture books today. Bougie was home and it was drippy so we went to Politics and Prose and the Cleveland Park Library. And CVS, but that was just so we could buy some more modeling clay to make an igloo for Pinga, the black and white modeling clay blob she made in the likeness of the sister of Pingu, the claymation penguin of short-film fame.

Most of the books we read were about Peter and the Wolf. Seriously: three separate books, read multiple times each. Bougie tends to get a little obsessed when she's on a topic and this week it is Peter and his orchestral pals. The narratives were so similar that it was almost like reading the same book nine times which, I'm sure I don't have to tell you, puts this whole stay-home-and-bond-with-your-kid-a-few-days-a-week thing to the test. The pictures varied, thank God, yet none of the illustrators strayed too far from the basic concept. Peter always wore a tunic, the wolf was always gray and sinister, the final spread was always a parade to the zoo. Yawn.

But then, behold, another book entered the scene. I almost passed over it because of the title, My Best Sweet Potato, which suggested an overly syruppy narrative (e.g. "Love You Like Crazy Cakes"... which may well be a good book, but which I will likely never read because of the title). Thankfully, the cover illustration, a girl in a weird oversized patchwork bathing cap pulling a string protruding from a faceless gingerbread man of a doll, piqued my curiousity.

The book, by Rainy Dohaney, the author/illustrator of the similarly ideosyncratic Tinka, is just about the best thing I've discovered in ages. It tells the tale of an odd girl who stubbornly loves her almost scarily faceless ugly doll, Woolyman (who is not, just to be clear, an Uglydoll, all of which have at least one eye), and who actually loves him more after the washing machine renders him unable to talk normally. Post spin cycle, he barfs out botched phrases, all of which include the words "Sweet Potato." Still, he's good company, hanging out, playing games, and willingly eating jam sandwiches without benefit of a mouth, to humorous effect.

This totally rang true for me, since my childhood doll, Alice Winn Luis (which I named in honor of my mom's friend Alice Winn and "Luis" from Sesame Street) went from saying "Mama" to "Ma" to "burrrrp!!" and, now that Bougie has her, only says "ugh." During our read-aloud, Bougie seemed to particularly like it when I said the words "sweet potato" with a wacky kind of rhythm to them, like a skipping vinyl record. I like to believe this is how the author intended them to be read.

The illustrations are wonderful (reminiscent of Peter Sis and Sergio Ruzzier) and I loved Mac the Weaverbird (the character who briefly comes between the girl and her Woolyman) for his friendly-stoner voice (he calls Woolyman "buddy" and "man" repeatedly). Both of my kids got into this book, which was particularly pleasing since Franny has been showing an alarming amount of interest in books about American Girls and Rainbow Magic Fairies lately. I was starting to wonder if her literary tastes were shorting out at the ripe old age of seven. Luckily, she redeemed herself by getting on board with My Best Sweet Potato. Her gushing "That was a GOOD book!" at the book's close was genuine and heartfelt.

Too bad the next words out of her mouth were, "Do we still have time for a chapter of 'Kit's Surprise'?"

Hey, could be worse, I guess. Could be round ten (eleven? twelve?) of Peter and the Wolf.

Monday, January 01, 2007

One More Makes...

Well, not quite Ninety-FOUR, but we're now up to SIX in our family.

Meet Fern!

Yes, she's a guinea pig. Likes: timothy hay, baby carrots, scuttling under furniture, getting scritched behind the ears, hitting the bottle (water, that is) late at night. Dislikes: um... I'll have to get back to you on that. So far, she seems like a pretty agreeable pig.

Fern joined our household immediately following Hannukah, Christmas, and The Day Of My First Review In The Washington Post (not a holiday, technically speaking, but cause for bouncing into the bedroom way too early in the morning and waking up Mike, thus confusing him into believing Santa had come a day early). In case you blinked and missed the blurb, here it is: Erica's Washington Post Review!!!

In other holiday news, our family has been eating a healthy diet of the four food groups this holiday season. That is: the cookie group (gingerbread, pecan puffs, chocolate peppermint bark cookies, frosted sugar cookies... and don't even get me started on Katy Kelly's cookie party! my lord, that woman can write AND bake like nobody's business!), the chocolate group (See's, and those cool Belgian seashell kind), the regular candy group (ribbon candy, candy canes, vanilla tootsie rolls) and, perhaps most importantly, the cake group...

Our smorgasboard of cake started with Franny's peppermint birthday cake (pictured... did I mention that I bake too? guess it is a kids' book writer thing), then moving on to cakes decorated with ice skating rinks (with walls of mini-marshmallows to contain the rink part) and tiny cut-outs of skaters on them, then finishing with a flurry of new year's cakes (at home and at our pals Elizabeth and Rusty's house).

Oh, hey! That's right. Happy New Year!

So as to fight off the ill effects of all that sugar, I've been scrubbing the teeth of our whole household (except Fern) like a mad-woman and I've been trotting around town with my new Nano, hoping that no one will get close enough to overhear me singing along with the Rent soundtrack. Yes, I am a big chili cheesedog. I just can't get enough of those doofy rock operas. So sue me.

Our holiday season was made extra festive by visits from friends and family. Some had so much fun visiting us that they did NOT want to leave. Take Ruby, for example, who successfully convinced Franny and Da Bouj to stage a protest with her by chaining themselves to a pole at Union Station when it came time to say goodbye.

Say it again, girls: "Attica! Attica!" Okay, one more picture. That's great. Now, Ruby, let go of the pole, okay? You too, guys. If I don't have to peel your fingers off we can go home and have some more cake. Atta girl.

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