Friday, January 27, 2006

A Rock Star in What Way?

When I picked Zeb up from daycare the other day, I saw Bette, the mom of a boy who went to school with Lulu.
His name was Mason and we remember him because he supposedly made up one of Lulu's favorite jokes: "Knock Knock. Who's there? Someone in your underwear.''
Mason was kind of a shy, though. He seemed to come from a happy home, but he often looked forlorn when I came to get Lulu at the end of he day.
Bette, on the other hand, was glamorous--a thin and funky stay-at-home mom in a Lexus SUV. She had curly blonde hair and an array of casually chic outfits that she could wear without a bra because she was so flatchested and fit.
She was nice, too, the kind of woman who would hug you with apparent sincerity if she hadn't seen you in awhile.
I hadn't seen her in awhile, so she hugged me.
She asked how Lulu was doing and I gave the perfunctory answer: good, she likes second-grade.
When I asked about Mason, Bette replied with a proud little sigh: "Oh, he's a rock star.''
I was annoyed and a little puzzled. It seemed like bragging. But what exactly did she mean by this? That he was no longer so shy? That he was singing or playing the guitar? That he had developed a flair for self-dramatazation?
I didn't know. And I didn't ask. I just said, "Oh, that's good. He likes second-grade?''
Driving home, though, I wished I would have said, "Oh, so is Lulu! She is a HUGE rock star.''
I love rock stars as much as the next person--in fact, far more than the next person--I am a thwarted groupie. So of course I think my own children are destined to be the biggest rock stars of all.
Lulu, I imagine, will front a punk band, sneering vivaciously as she prances around in a torn dress, a cross between Hole-era Courtney and Poly Styrene.
Zeb is a singer-songwriter kind of dude. He'll be the tall quiet bassist who is the creative force behind the obscure but influential indie rock outfit. (But he can also dance and play keyboards, so I can also see him as a hip-hop producer).
But what kind of rock star is Mason?
I guess his mother is the only one who knows.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

First Kisses,1976-1977

I was interviewing an author about her book on kissing (for a Valentine's Day story) and she talked about her first kiss and how the boy shoved his tongue in her mouth and she didn't like it.
I realized that I couldn't remember my own first kiss, which seemed odd to me. It might have been with Ryan Moss in sixth grade.
That was a bad year for me. I had braces and didn't know how to act around boys and I wasn't getting invited to any of the good spin-the-bottle parties.
One week, the entire sixth grade took a camping trip to Mount Misery in the Pine Barrens (yes, this is actually its name). Everyone was pairing off, and the sexual tension culminated in square dance night (because you actually had to hold hands with the opposite sex!)
When a boy asked you to dance, you were pretty much stuck with him for the rest of the night, so you didn't want to end up with Nickolai Sidwell, who had really big ears, or Wayland Morris, a geeky boy in flood pants, or Stew Craiger, who got a lot of laughs with his "Three Stooges'' impressions but was small and pudgy, a freckled George Costanza.
All the cute boys were taken. But there was Ryan Moss--who wasn't that cute or popular, but he was a cut above Wayland, Nickolai or Stew. He was gangly and mournful, but could sometimes be funny. He was never mean to anyone, and, like me, he slouched.
It seemed inevitable that because Ryan and I occupied the same social middle ground, we were supposed to pair off, too. But neither of us were feeling it, and I felt somehow humiliated, like I had been forced to settle, when only months before, during an orgasmic and never-to-be-repeated rush of fifth-grade popularity, hunky dark-eyed James Ness had been flirting with me while I hung out with Rue Finch, the queen of sixth-grade (see "Election' in my blog's November archives).
Now all I had was Ryan. I think after the dance he might have kissed me, but I can't even remember. Maybe because kissing him felt so much like resignation.
A year later, I had my first French kiss and I remember that vividly.
In seventh grade, I was going to the roller rink every Friday. It was liberating because it wasn't just kids from your school, so no one could tell if you were popular or not. The hottest guys at the roller rink were the ones that could skate backwards. During slow skates, they would put their arms around your waist, just like you were dancing or about to kiss.
The boy I liked, John McGee, couldn't do this. We just held hands during slow skates. But he was adorable, with curly blonde hair, lush lips and green eyes. He looked like my favorite Tiger Beat centerfold, Leif Garret. He was shorter than me, but I was used to that--hence the slouching.
I had been skating with John, and having phone conversations with him, a big step in junior high courtship, when I decided that I was going to French kiss him. I was psyching myself up for this, like I had to run a marathon or something.
That weekend, we didn't go out on the floor during the slow skate. When the pastel lights were lowered and we started kissing I opened my mouth. His tongue felt like a clam wriggling out of its shell. It was like drinking your first shot of whiskey. You wanted to gag, but after it went down, you were glad you got it over with. Now that it wasn't actually in your mouth, it felt good--at least in retrospect.
That summer, at Ocean City, where our family rented a house every summer, I Frenched another boy with dirty blond hair and brown eyes. I think his name was Vince. He had an older friend who was 17, and I was much hotter for him. But I liked Vince, too.
He took me for a walk on the beach at sunset and we made out under the bulkheads. I could finally understand why people wanted to do this. He put his hand briefly under my tube top but didn't linger there, like he wanted to get to second base, but he knew that actually kicking back and enjoying it was more than either of us could bear.
Back then, my friends and I were always wearing Bonne Bell Lip Smackers lip gloss. My favorite flavors were choclate chip mint, Dr. Pepper and strawberry. The smell of strawberry lip smackers and Loves Baby Soft perfume--which I wore when I wanted to get lucky--- makes me think of kissing Vince, or whatever his names was.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Deb is in the House

We've been seeing a lot of Deb lately, Zeb's girl persona (see "Dunst' in the November archives').
It climaxed last week when Lulu led him down the stairs proclaiming, "Introducing Deb!''
And there he was, tricked out proudly in a pink floral skirt from Target; Lulu's old Daisy uniform (really just a yellow tee-shirt); maryjanes and a tiarra. We oohed and ahhed over how stunning he looked and didn't think much of it.
Once again, for the next hour, we had to call him "Deb,'' and he'd get pissed if we referred to him as "he'' instead of "she.'' If I was out on an errand, Regis would warn me upon my return: "Deb's back. She's upstairs playing.''
In Lulu's room, we'd hear her begging him, "Don't you want to be Deb now?''
Sometimes, he'd protest and go off to play with his trucks. Sometimes, he'd say yes immediatly; and sometimes it was obvious he was giving into her because he was sick of being harrassed.
This is one of Lulu's greatest fantasies, to have an older sister, preferably one named Kelly Clarkson, and she knows this is the closest she'll ever come.
Zeb, on the other hand, never tries to coerce her into being his little brother "Louis,'' for instance, although sometimes he gets her to pretend she's his dog (named "Jenny'').
At first, we weren't worried about Deb since she isn't the only character in Zeb's repertoire. Many are quite butch. In his green mardi gras mask, he's "Superdude.'' As the "Fixin Guy'' or "Rescue Man'' he likes to talk in husky voice as he directs traffic or rummages through his tool box.
There's also "Johnny,'' a role created for him by Lulu. Johnny is a twenty-something diner-owner who, heedless of child labor laws, employs his younger sister "Chrystal,'' a ten-year-old waitress.
But when Deb kept reappearing, in ever more frou frou outfits, Regis and I wondered if this meant Zeb would turn out to be gay. We tried to tell ourselves that if he was, big deal.
"Life will be hard for him,'' I said. "But he'll probably be a much better dresser than either of us.'' Although, so far, his fashion sense wasn't anything to write home about.
What really bothered us was that we didn't want Zeb to feel like he had to be someone else to please Lulu.
One day, when we heard her say, "You know, you can be Deb all day at nursery school if you want,'' we stepped in to say he couldn't.
"Hey, Mister,'' we told him. "If you don't want to be Deb, that's okay. It's okay to just be Zeb. Deb is nice, but we love Zeb so much.''
"But I wanna be Deb,'' he replied.
Then we fell all over ouselves reassuring him that it was okay to be Deb, too.
Only, we wanted to add, perhaps not so much.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Fox News and Other Laffs

The news was on while Lulu and I were in Dunkin' Donuts. The top stories were a murdered family, a girl killed by a pack of sharks and ailing Ariel Sharon.
We don't watch the news when the kids are around. In fact, we don't watch it when they're not around. We both work at a newspaper and get enough news there.
When Lulu is exposed to TV news, I'm always hoping she won't really notice, but she does.
As she ate her cream donut, she said: "They should call this the Dead Channel.''
"Not everyone dies on it though. The prime minister of Israel is just very sick,'' I said.
"Then they should call it the Dead and Dying Channel.''
And because I feel guilty for short-shrifting Zeb, here are some things he said:
While playing his game "The Fixing Guy'' with Lulu: "We have a toolbox. Let's tool!''
While examining a piece of popcorn: "This looks like a chicken.'' (According to Regis, he was right. Not unlike the time we were watching "Madagascar'' in the theater and he loudly observed: "The lion's fingers look like french fries.'')
When he was mad at me for yelling at him not to jump on the couch: (in tears) "You're going to jail! And I'm going to poop on you and pee on you!!!''

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

My Serpentine

In my mid-twenties, I could imitate the shoulder-snaking, foot-sliding dance of Axel Rose.
But somehow after Lulu was born, the ability disappeared, as if it had slipped from my body during childbirth.
Maybe it was taken from me only to be resurrected within the hips of my children, where it shall lie dormant until that shining day they hear "Welcome to the Jungle,'' and they discover the awsome power of the Axel dance within them.
And I'll know why I had to give it up.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

How Not to Teach Your Child About the N Word

For months, our family couldn't get enough of Kanye West's "Gold Digga.'' Whenever it came on Z100, we'd dance in the car and sing along, blithely overlooking the subject matter (see "My Lumps.")
Then Regis downloaded the song so we could listen to it at home. And, unfortunately, he didn't get the radio edit. Instead of the line, "But she ain't messin' with no broke...broke....uuhh'' our children could now hear, "But she ain't messin' with no broke nigga.''
Lulu and Zeb didn't seem to notice. But Regis and I looked at each other, stricken. What if they DID notice?
What if they started using the word? What if they started using it around black people?!!!
Regis rushed to explain, at least to Lulu. Zeb was watching TV.
"Nigga is a word that black people sometimes call each other, and when THEY do it, it's okay. But it's not okay for a white person to use it. Then it's a really bad curse word and it hurts people's feelings.''
"Can you call a white person that?'' she asked.
Because it's a very bad word, we told her.
"Why is it worse to call black people that?''
We felt compelled to trot out the whole issue of racial injustice, which we also confront during drives through Newark, where we work, when Lulu wonders why there are so many black people there. When we tell her that one reason is because many of them are poor, she asks why, and it gets long and complicated.
On Martin Luther King Day, we supplement the snippets of black history Lulu learns in school so she doesn't believe the Time Magazine for Kids explanation she got in kindergarten about Martin Luther King wanting to change the world because as a child he wanted to play with white kids.
We wanted her to know that a lot of black people fought for their rights--even died for them--that it didn't just happen because of one man, or because Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus.
Now, we had to explicate "nigger'' for her.
We told her that this it was a horrible curse word white people invented for black people back when they made them slaves. But black people had turned it into a different kind of word that wasn't so bad and they sometimes used with each other, especially rappers.
Lulu nodded as if she understood. But she didn't.
That night at bed time, she was still wrestling with the complexity of the word.
"So black people can see each other and be like, "Hi, nigger!'' she said brightly.
"No, they don't really use it like that,'' I tried to explain.
"How do they use it?''
"Maybe more like when we call you "stinker'' but we mean it affectionately,'' I replied.
"Oh, you little nigger!'' she said in an amused, maternal voice.
She was enjoying the word, and every time she said it I winced.
"Listen,'' I said. "You can't use that word. It's really the most awful word you can ever use. And it's especially awful if you use it around black people. They could get really mad at you, or you could hurt their feelings very very badly. So DON'T EVER USE IT.''
Of course, by describing "nigger'' as the ultimate verbal taboo, I had invested it with an allure even more powerful than "fuck'' or "shit,'' so now she was irresistibly tempted to try it out.
It slipped from her mouth a few days later, when she was angry at Zeb, sputtering, "You butthead!!'' (She lost TV for the day over that).
When she watched the "Cat in the Hat'' movie and the evil Alec Baldwin character came onscreen, she looked at me wickedly and said, "He's a ni---'' waiting for me to stifle her before she finished the word.
I told her to cut it out, but tried not to respond with shock and outrage, since that only heightened the word's potency for her. We tried to treat it like any other profanity, telling her if she had to say it she can go in her room with the door shut and say it when no one's around.
Meanwhile, we wait in suspense, wondering if she'll utter the word in school, or in front of an actual black person, just to see what happens.