Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Witching Hours

If you were to stop by our house for a visit these days, I would recommend that you NOT come between the hours of 5:00 – 7:00 pm.  The witching hours, as my sister, Martha, calls them, are when my normally kind, imaginative, helpful child becomes a brat of monstrous temperament.  Daily, he is almost always very unpleasant to be around then.  I’ve tried different approaches – I’ve tried ignoring him unless he is annoying a pet (this is my go-to witching hour attitude, as it gets the best results); I’ve tried distracting him with a better activity--peppy suggestions such as, Let’s go play upstairs! (sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t); I’ve tried getting angry (this doesn’t work well; Owen seems to get angrier himself in proportion to my anger); and I’ve tried time outs (which do not work at all with Owen.  How is it that the time out is so popular with parents?  How do they get their child to sit still and reflect?  Owen becomes a dervish in a time out and gets so ragey, that by the end of it, he is about 200 times angrier and apt to misbehave than he was when he earned the time out in the first place.  So ixnay on the time outs from here on in.)

I’m hoping it is just a last ditch vestige of the threenager, and that once he turns four the witching hours will change to a time during which we can dine peacefully and talk of things like books and future plans.  Ha.  I’d settle for two hours in which he isn’t flinging toys recklessly at my head, or whining, or hitting, or pinching.

Owen:  When I grow up I’m going to put lipstick on and go to work!
Me:  Well you might!  Or you could put on chapstick!
Owen:  And I’ll put shaving cream on my beard!
Me:  --

Owen:  Daddy shares all his food with me.  And mommy shares her water.
Me:  That sounds about right.

Owen, upon seeing Sean wear shorts for the first time this spring:  Dad, [wringing hands] why are your legs sticking out of your pants?!

Owen:  Mom, what are you doing?
Me:  I’m thinking.
Owen:  Oh.  Are you thinking about Lady Gaga?
Me:  --

I mentioned in a previous entry how Owen likes for me to tell certain stories about our pets over and over.  There is one I tell about the time I was living in my Philadelphia apartment and had a blue cupcake on a plate.  I turned around to get some milk, and Posy faceplanted into my cupcake, so that when I turned around, her face, whiskers, etc., were covered in blue.  Now when I tell this story to Owen, he adds, “And then Owen came in with many cupcakes!  A blue one all her own for Posy!  And chocolate cupcakes for Owen and Mommy!”  One time Sean was sitting with us, and added:  “And then Dad came in with even more cupcakes!”  But this made Owen angry!  (We have a lot of oedipal feelings in our household these days).  Owen said indignantly, “You weren’t there, Dad.  You were away…eating an onion.”  Ouch!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tell It Again, Mom

If you were to spend any time in my house these days, you would likely hear me tell, over and over and upon request, a very boring story about Dorothy being noisy in the night.  For some reason, this very quotidian story fascinates Owen, and I can’t quite figure out why.  In a nutshell, Dorothy jumps off my bed, goes and drinks water forever and loudly, and then comes back to the bed, upon which I have to get up and help her back on.  This is a nightly occurrence in general, but one night she jumped off, drank, and then needed help getting back on three times, and so after the third time I kicked her out of the bedroom.  But as the “story,” such as it were, has been told, Owen has added on his own coda, in which he, Owen, came in with a sign on which he had written “BE QUIET, DOROTHY!” and taped it to my door.  So that when Dorothy returned to attempt to get back on the bed, as she did multiple times throughout the rest of the night, she was able, according to Owen, to read the sign and understand why she was denied entry.

Is it that he is the hero of the story that makes it appeal to Owen?  Or that he was able to explain something to Dorothy? Or that it is a joint story-telling effort with Owen picking up the tale at the time that Dorothy is heading glumly downstairs by herself?  I’m really not sure.  He likes to hear other stories about the pets, his favorites being When Plum Ate My Vitamin C, When Norman (my childhood dog) Played With a Grape Instead of Eating It, and When Posy Faceplanted Into A Blue Cupcake And Then Pretended She Hadn’t.  These are all stories he requests multiple times per week.

The other day Owen and I were eating and I bit my tongue and said ouch, and then had to explain to Owen what happened.  The next morning Owen said, “tell me the story of when your tooth got too excited and bit your mouth.”  Okay, although I think he just told the story himself better than I could have done!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Book Reviews April 2016

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.  I’ve heard so many good things about Elena Ferrante’s quartet of novels, of which My Brilliant Friend is the first.  Having said that, however, I realized while reading that I didn’t know any specifics about why the novels are thought to be so good; all I really knew was that Ferrante never makes any kind of author appearance, and all of Europe is abuzz over just who she might be.  (That is, is she really a literature professor or is “Elena Ferrante” the nom de plume of someone famous.  Speculation abounds).  I enjoyed the book, although I was not blown away by it.  If I understand it correctly, the quartet is about a friendship between two women, and this first book is about their childhood growing up in a slum in Naples.  The narrator, Elena Greco, excels in school, and is driven to do better by the innate talent of her classmate and eventual friend, Lila.  Education is not the norm for either Lena’s or Lila’s family, but Lena’s family enables her to continue on to middle and then high school (unheard of for that area) because of a teacher’s intercession.  Lila is not able to continue on after elementary school, although for awhile she works hard to educate herself by reading almost every book in the library.  Lila is smart and odd and ferocious, and Lena is drawn to her, although she does see her good and bad qualities.  The book is about how their paths veer and how each is envious of what the other has.  It’s also about a friendship and luck.  It was interesting and I look forward to reading the next three; I don’t quite see what the fuss is all about yet.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.  I just finished this book on the train today and am still struck speechless by it.  It’s a long novel and wonderfully written.  The writing drew me in so much that I would just barely remember to get off at the right train stop, and once I did I really didn’t know where I was or what I should be doing.  It would take me a few minutes to regroup.  It starts out being the story of four male friends who meet in college, and then she follows two of them in particular through the next almost forty years of their lives.  The main character, Jude St. Francis, is a man who had probably the worst imaginable childhood possible.  He is very scarred by his first fifteen years, mentally, emotionally, and physically, and Yanagihara focuses on how he struggles to believe himself worthy of a fulfilling life, despite his life’s beginnings.  The novel is really a love story about Jude – between him and his partner, between him and his friends, and between him and his father figure, Harold.  It is often a hard book to read – Jude self-mutilates – but there is something so magnetic about her writing that I couldn’t wait until I could open the book again.  I have a few small complaints – the organization is a little haphazard for one.  At first it seems like it is going to be about the four friends equally, but then it ends up being mainly Jude’s story.  Also, at some point through the 700 page book you realize that it is always going to be about the present, but then with bits of Jude’s past story doled out here and there, and sometimes that got a little annoying.  I’m also still working out what I think about how she presents Jude’s abuse.  There’s been a lot of controversy about this book, some of which concerns the constant victimization of Jude, and what this says about the victim culture of today.  And then Jude and his friends all end up so successful and with such money, that the book has been criticized as a kind of rich city lifestyle porn.  Both are valid criticisms, but I think the book goes beyond that and is a really impressive achievement.  It is epic.  I can't stop thinking about it.

How To Cook a Moose by Kate Christensen.  This is the kind of nonfiction I like best:  a mixture of memoir and food writing with recipes.  A new Mainer, Christensen concentrates in this book on her adventures with Maine food and the people who grow and make it.  She’s a good writer and enthusiastic and I enjoyed reading the book.  That being said, I don’t think I could find someone who I have less in common with culinarily than Christensen.  What she likes to eat, I do not; what I like to eat, she never does (she even wrote a sentence in her book that caused me to gasp in horror:  she doesn’t like sweets and desserts and never eats them.  Ever.  Except for the occasional donut.)  So I think there is not one recipe that she included that I would ever attempt to make, and that is generally the fun of culinary memoirs—you find good recipes and know the context for them.  Her comfort food tends to be very spicy red sauces on pasta.  Her writing also is without a sense of humor and tends to be very earnest.  I find her nonfiction to be very pleasant and interesting; she just isn’t my kindred spirit.

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan.  This first novel was a very entertaining read.  I began it with a bit of skepticism, as it seemed t might be a little lighter than I like, and it was relatively light, but also funny and well-done.  Alice is a mother of three in New Jersey and has to find a full-time job, since her husband was recently downsized at his big law firm.  She gets a job at a huge corporation that is planning on opening up virtual reading rooms; this company is a nightmare of corporate speak and acronyms and twentysomethings forcing Alice to be enthusiastic and join in the groupspeak and be available at all times.  Alice is a good sport about it at first, since she is happy to be back at work, but tensions escalate both at home and at the office.  It reminded me of a Liane Moriarty novel, only based in NJ instead of Australia. I recommend it.

100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write by Sarah Ruhl.  The word that came to mind while I was reading these essays is delightful.  As an essayist, Ruhl has a great voice—she is funny and wry and very thought-provoking.  I do not know much about theater and drama issues, but she’s so good an essayist that that didn’t matter.  These essays are about plays and the theater and the audience, but also about being a working mother in general and a working playwright mother at that.  It was an enjoyable read and I hope she writes more.