Thursday, May 11, 2017

Zoe vs. Lord of the Flies. Or, Who Said It: A Six-Year-Old or William Golding?

I read Lord of the Flies when I was in seventh grade. I'm not sure if my teacher thought it was a good book to read because it was short or because the characters were kids. But if it was because we were supposed to learn something about man's inhumanity to man, I wanted to say, Lady, all we really need to know we learned that time you stepped out to take a phone call and left us unsupervised for two minutes.
But today, almost four years into writing a humorous parenting blog, I wonder how it is I've referenced Lord of the Flies exactly once? Maybe it just seemed a little too on the nose. The whole children-descending-into-savagery thing. I have a kid. I've been to a playground.
Zoe, like all children, is a walking Id, so imagining her running free and unsupervised on an island with a lot of branches to fashion into weapons gives me pause.
Plus, when you wear glasses like I do, and poor Piggy from Lord of the Flies did (RIP, Piggy), you live in fear of them being broken by a mischievous child. And it's really only a short jump from there to imagining your entire body being crushed under a rock when mischief makes that right turn into murder.

Or, Who Said It: A Six-Year-Old or William Golding?

So today we're going to play "Who Said It?" Is it Zoe or is it one of the British boys from William Golding's Lord of the Flies?
After all, the line between human and savage is a fine one, especially when the latter is digging her elbow into your sternum and you're both cranky.
Answers at the end.
No peeking now!
Who Said It: Zoe or William Golding?
1. "Which is better, to have rules and agree, or hunt and kill?"
2. "I thought I might kill."
3. "I'm going to make everyone dead."
4. "Everyone has to listen to me."
5. "I was chief, and you were going to do what I said."
6. "Everyone's happy when I'm happy."
7. "Kill the pig! Cut his throat. Kill the pig! Bash him in!"
8. "I can explode you two times and you'd be dead."
9. "We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages."
     9a. "Who cares?"
     9b. "What matters?"
10. "I'm not going to play any longer. Not with you."
11. “The mask was a thing on its own, to hide behind, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.”
12. "Where's my mask?"
13. "When is the Earth going to be destroyed?"
14. “He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one's waking life was spent watching one's feet.”
15. “Maybe there is a beast… maybe it's only us.”
16. "I'm your worst nightmare."

Answer key: 1. Ralph from LOTF. 2. Jack from LOTF. 3. Zoe. 4. Zoe. 5. Ralph. 6. Zoe. 7.  Boys from LOTF. 8. Zoe. 9. Jack. 9a. Ralph. 9b. Zoe (her version of "Who cares?") 10. Jack. 11. William Golding. 12. Zoe. 13. Zoe. 14. William Golding, but this is what the expression on Zoe's face said the other night when she threw herself on the ground and refused to walk another step carrying her backpack because she was just "so exhausted." 15. Simon from LOTF. 16. Trick question. This is an oft-repeated trope from movies and TV, and I imagine it will also be the tattoo Zoe gets when she's fifteen and about which I'll write "Zoe vs. My Worst Nightmare Tattoo."

Zoe: 164: Universe: 0

If you enjoyed this post, you may like Zoe vs. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Zoe vs. the Fidget Spinner

When I first heard the words "fidget spinner" I assumed it was just another term for a six-year-old human. Like the one who lives with me and often appears as a blur of motion that makes a lot of noise.
My Darling One is unable to sit still. And she particularly enjoys spinning around in circles. Ipso facto: Zoe's a fidget spinner.

Fidget Spinner

But it turns out a Fidget Spinner is a toy slash tool of therapy for kids who have trouble sitting still in class, in church, at their older sister's accordion recital, or in other places where one is required to sit unmoving through some, shall we say, unexciting material (with apologies to children taking Beginner's Accordion).
The fidgety label can be applied to many children, ranging from the redundant ("I am child, see me fidget") to a formal diagnosis from a psychologist. So these little devices "may" be a good solution for "some." But because this is America, it's quickly spun out of control. (See what I did!)
It feels like last week I'd never heard of Fidget Spinners and now they're everywhere, helping kids focus while distracting those sitting next to them. Adults are using them too, while on the phone with their moms, at work during PowerPoint presentations, and during their oldest daughter's accordion recital.
So could a Fidget Spinner work for my twitchy tot?
I can't see it. I just don't get how what is essentially a toy would help my particular child concentrate. I think she'd just concentrate on the spinner to the exclusion of all else.
I envision Zoe at home, sitting on the floor and spinning away, ignoring my repeated calls to dinner while she inadvertently torments the cat. And he's already stressed out about the shower curtain, not to mention the living room window, which I'm pretty sure has never moved but I can't be sure given the way he stalks and then jumps at it, banging his head, probably thinking it served that other cat who looks exactly like him right.
And if Zoe brought the Fidget Spinner to school, I imagine she'd only tear her eyes away from it when the teacher called her name, telling her to pay attention, at which point Zoe would suddenly let go of the toy, and it would go spinning over her desk and across the room, taking someone's eye out, and then Zoe would have to chase it, the spinner, not the eyeball, though who can say, she likes to be helpful. And then she'd get kicked out of school. And I'd get sued, and then we'd probably have to move to Australia like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
(My ability to spin countless worst-case scenarios in my brain is a Mental Fidget Spinner. [Patent pending.])
With these nightmare visions turning over and over in my brain, I was still curious, so on our walk home the other night, I asked Zoe if any kids in her class had a Fidget Spinner.
Naturally, she wasn't listening. Because we were about to pass a woman with a Dachshund puppy who was straining at its leash, entranced by Zoe, seeing in her a playmate or plaything, and the feeling was mutual.
"Zoe, I asked you a question," I repeated, and she glanced at me for a millisecond before turning back to the dog. "Do any of your classmates have Fidget Spinners?"
"All of them," she said.
Now, Zoe is not the best witness, and is given to exaggerating---I have no idea where she gets it from---so I didn't think ALL the kids in her class had one.
"Seriously? All of them?" I said, picturing a little wind farm in her class fluttering all the artwork.
But again, Zoe wasn't listening, for just then a squirrel ran across our path, and I had to grab Zoe back from chasing it as the dog owner did the same for his tiny charge. But Zoe wasn't on a leash, so eventually she broke free and ran after the squirrel a few feet before stopping to examine an apparently alluring stick.
When I caught up with her, she handed me the stick. Which I threw away as soon as her back was turned. We continued walking.
Zoe then said, "Melvin has a Fidget Spinner."
"Ah, Melvin. Anyone else?"
"Melvin plays with it all the time," she continued. "Until the teacher took it away. And now she says no one can have one. They're distracting."
"That's what I wondered."
"Yes. No one can concentrate when they're around. . . . Can I have one?"
I took my time responding, praying another squirrel might intervene.

Zoe: 163; Universe: 0

If you enjoyed this post, you may like Zoe vs. Boredom: In Which a Child's Ennui Becomes Tedious.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Zoe vs. Happy Days; Or, "Aaaaayy"-t Ways My 6-Year-Old Out-Cools the Fonz

You've probably heard by now that Erin Moran, TV's "Joanie Cunningham," died this past weekend. If you're my age, Happy Days was a TV staple of your childhood. It remains one of the longest-running TV sit-coms of all time, and aired from 1974 to 1984.
Basically, from the time I could walk until I got rid of my retainer, Happy Days was on ABC on Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. 
Joanie, like me, was the pestering younger sister and, also like me, had freckles, so naturally I felt a spiritual connection. Also, Fonzie called her "shortcake." (Erin Moran was the same height as me too.)
The irony that I experience nostalgia looking back at Happy Days, which was itself about nostalgia for an earlier time, is not lost on me. I suppose it's just the human condition to look back on our youth and see it through this rosy glow of innocence.
Of course, it's really that a) we hadn't yet become jaded and b) we hadn't reached an age where we could injure ourselves sleeping.
But were we really "happier" or just thinner and strangers to lower back pain? What made those Happy Days happy exactly?

Happy Days, or, 8 Ways My 6-year-old Out-Cools the Fonz

First of all, they weren't happier for everyone. If you were part of a certain demographic you were happy enough, and in the seventies, Happy Days probably appealed to a lot of folks, those who maybe carried wistful feelings about the years before the Vietnam War and dinner-conversation awkwardness about Free Love and the Civil Rights Movement.
But let me stop myself before I become pedantic. (Too late! you're thinking. Only pedantic people use the word pedantic. And I've used it three times now!) Besides, others have covered this ground better than I could. I'm referring of course to South Park's member berries. Member when MTV played videos? Member the View-Master? Member the Happy Days board game? I had this!

Member?! Sit on it! Member?!

If you really remember childhood though, you remember it wasn't a constant laugh track. There were lots of tears, and though you were free from the responsibilities that define adulthood, you also weren't always free when it came to making your own choices, and mistakes. 
It's no coincidence that the two "theme" songs associated with Happy Days relate to time. The "Happy Days" song lists the days of the week, spending each one with your sweetheart---referring to young love but it could also be the marital contentment of Mr. and Mrs. C. And the other theme song, "Rock Around the Clock," ticks off the wee hours and is about staying up all night dancing (let's keep it clean, folks!).
Do you have happy memories of dancing all night when you were young? Are you glad they're memories and that you don't have to do it anymore? I am. What would make me happiest now is a good night's sleep. Sleep around the clock. Or how about just halfway? Sleep has been hard to come by since Zoe arrived on the scene.
But does that mean I was happier before Zoe came along, when I could sleep in on weekends? And go out to dinner without paying for a babysitter? And see a movie while it was still in the theater? . . . Hmmm. I'm thinking.
I joke. Sort of. Of course some of the happiest moments of my life have been since Zoe was born. Usually just after she falls asleep. (Cymbal crash!) But seriously, love and joy, and discontent and happiness, they aren't numbers that keep to their own side of an equation. Happiness eludes you when you try to grasp it. In fact, don't even look directly at it. It doesn't like that. That's why people meditate. If you remain completely still, maybe happiness will lower its guard and you can catch a glimpse of it.

What if happiness looks like Potsie? 

Recently I've been able to get Zoe to sleep later on weekends because as she's getting older she can be reasoned with bribed. With age, she's also becoming a pretty cool little person too.
Dare I say, cooler even than the Fonz? . . .

"Aaaaayy"-t* Ways My 6-Year-Old Out-Cools the Fonz
1. Arthur Fonzarelli was a mechanic with a magic touch. All he had to do was hit the jukebox at Arnold's and it would turn on. Zoe's magic has the opposite effect. Her touch destroys. And after, she looks at you like, We cool, right? (Fonzie also snapped his fingers and the girls flock to his side. Zoe can't snap her fingers yet so I don't know what the effect will be.)
2. Fonzie wore the same outfit every day---jeans, white T-shirt, and black leather jacket. Zoe can pull off any fashion, including wearing her pajamas all day.
3. Fonzie's office was the bathroom at a drive-in. Zoe's office is the world.
4. In the episode where Fonzie goes blind after being hit on the head, Richie has Potsie and Ralph take apart Fonzie's motorcycle to show him he can repair it even without his sight. Zoe can put together a Lego dragon blindfolded with her hands tied behind her back. Because she has me do it for her.
5. At the Demolition Derby, Fonzie saved Pinky Tuscadero from the Malachi Crunch. Zoe is somehow able to effect a destructive pincer move though only one person.
6. There's no social critique implied by an ever-cool but also personally-stagnant greaser. Beneath the laughter, life with Zoe delivers hard-hitting truths about childhood, interpersonal power struggles, and identity politics.
7. In the episode where the Cunninghams et al go to a dude ranch, Fonzie has to ride a killer bull named Diablo. Zoe wouldn't even need to ride that bull to scare it into submission. He'd be so scared he'd legally change his name to Ferdinand T. Bull and then retire to a meadow to contemplate flowers and read poetry.
8. Fonzie famously "jumped the shark." But Zoe's charm never gets old, with or without a leather jacket.

Zoe: 162; Universe: 0

* "Eight" in Fonzie.

If you enjoyed this post, you may like Zoe vs. 1980's video games. Member Frogger?

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Zoe vs. Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment

Zoe's middle name is the same as my maiden name, Ryan. But I'm thinking of changing hers to Raskolnikov, after the main character from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. She won't even need to throw away all her monogrammed towels!
The reason I may re-name my child after a murderer from a nineteenth-century Russian novel is that lately Zoe has been filled with guilt and a need to confess her crimes. When I pick her up from after school, she'll often greet me with a stricken look followed by a glance at the aides, before waving me closer.
She'll then whisper to me: "Mommy, I did something bad."
Then comes the pulling teeth to find out what great crime she committed. Usually it's that she was too loud or joined in the group roughhousing and got in trouble. But her gravitas and the depths of her guilt would make anyone think the police were about to find the body she'd stashed beneath her floorboards.
But that's Poe, and we're quoting Dostoyevsky today. An equally cheery soul.

Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment

Side note: I once read historical fiction that took place in 1800's Russia, and it was one of those books where the fictional characters mingle with real people. In one scene, our heroine meets Fyodor D. at a party and charms him so much that: "Dostoyevsky's eyes twinkled." I've always loved that line because it amuses me to think of the author of such light fare as The Idiot, Notes from the Underground, and, of course, Crime and Punishment, as a guy whose eyes can "twinkle." Maybe what the character mistook for a twinkle was actually a passing memory of time spent in a Siberian prison camp. Or maybe while she chattered oppressively he was reminded of his crushing gambling debts. Or perhaps that glimmer in his eye was the harbinger of one of his seizures.
Anyway, on with famous lines by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, behavior by Zoe.

"Right or wrong, it's very pleasant to break something from time to time."
Zoe used to enjoy breaking things. This was before things like consequences occurred to her. The other day, when she knocked down a little boy's Lego structure and had to sit in timeout, she saved up her angst and drama until pickup. And a scene unfolded similar to what I outlined above. I'm pretty sure she still enjoyed the actual breaking and destroying part though.

"The soul is healed being with children."
But maybe not the furniture. Or another child's prized possession.
For instance, Just last night, when I picked her up, she greeted me with: "I have to tell you something that happened today."
She continued: "I was grabbing a bit today. But I was only an inch or so involved. And, do you know the game monkey in the middle? And I was trying to help, and the doll broke, and I got a little in trouble, just an inch, because they didn't know I was helping."
Did you follow that? Do you feel healed?

"Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself . . . comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him."
Though sometimes Zoe seems to bask in her guilt, simultaneously, she tries to weasel her way out of it. Classic Raskolnikov, right?
Yes, I pushed him, she'll say, but the second time was an accident.
I wanted to tell her her story would probably make more sense if the first time was the accident. The second time you push someone it's more likely to be intentional. And makes a person think that first time was on purpose too.
Just don't push people, I say, then look around for my parenting medal.

"Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering."
Last week Zoe was on spring break and she stayed with her grandmother a few days. During that time I had one main rule for her I repeated over and over. She was to stay by her grandmother's side on the street or in stores. No running ahead. Because Grandma would not be running after her. And I did not want my mother to have to chase after her in Rite Aid.
Guess what Grandma had to do?
Now, Grandma being Grandma, she was not going to narc on her only grandchild, but I could tell something was amiss when I got to my mother's house that evening. Zoe had the look of impending doom on her face. She beckoned me upstairs, where I got the usual nervous preamble.
Eyes welling, she eventually admitted that she'd run ahead of Grandma in the drugstore and Grandma got excited because she couldn't find her. Then came the flood of tears.
I said, Well, you shouldn't have done that. But I was glad she told me, and not to do it again. After her confession Zoe seemed only slightly mollified. She sulked all through dinner, some furtive guilt eating away at her as if she'd killed a Russian pawnbroker who maybe kind of deserved it, but even so, murder was impolite.

"It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently."
That something is deviousness. For sometimes all the tears mask an ulterior motive. 
As she went to bed that night it was time for more confessing. Same crime but a new angle. "I feel bad that I was bad today."
And you'll probably be bad again in the not-so-distant future, I thought but didn't say. After all, I didn't want to derail her train of remorse.
My silence was rewarded.
And there it was.

"I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea [Legos]."
You see, I'd promised her that if she was good for Grandma, she'd get a new Lego set. Barring really awful behavior, and to have an activity to keep her occupied and save my own sanity, I'd already decided to get her the Legos. But yes, I should've known a big part of her "suffering" was about possibly being denied a gift.
I reassured her that the truth had set her free and, as long as she behaved going forward, she would get the Legos.
"It's okay, sweetheart," I said. "There's nothing you can do that Mommy will be that mad at you." Which might've been true though perhaps I should've held that sentiment in reserve till we were closer to the end of her break. But as Fyodor said:
"You can be sincere and still be stupid."

Zoe: 161; Universe: 0


If you enjoyed this post, you may like Zoe vs. 11 Famous Novels, well-known titles, with a twist.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Zoe vs. Sartre; Or, Hell Is Other People, i.e., Kids Who Won't Play with You (or Maybe It's Because You're a Bossy Cheater Just Sayin')

Birthday parties and playgrounds are two of the most critical social landscapes of childhood, where friendships are made, solidified, and then destroyed in a flurry of betrayals, tears, and too much candy.
At six and a half, Zoe is getting to the age where she's more aware of social interactions. We're not all one big group of friends anymore like we were in preschool. Some kids are choosing favorites and either accidentally or on purpose leaving others out.
When one feels left out, as Zoe felt a few times this past weekend, one tends to sink into an existential funk in which the small child may wonder: Is meaningful friendship possible in the face of our mortality? Is it the playground that sucks or the playas? How long must that red ball lie unclaimed before I can take it home with me?
Jean-Paul Sartre, the French philosopher well known for writing No Exit and Being and Nothingness, and less well known for performing at children's birthday parties, is of course an expert on bad behavior, observing all sorts of human frailty while he smoked in cafes during the workweek and on weekends performed magic tricks that ended abruptly (like life) for pint-sized party goers, and when they cried, he fashioned balloon animals for them tinged with whimsical melancholy.
After one such party---and you can't prove different---he said:
"Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance."
Sure, it sounds dire, but if you've ever attended a seven-year-old's bowling party you know what he was getting at.

An Existential Childhood

Sartre also said, "One lives one death, one dies one's life." Also referencing bowling.
Probably.
Sartre was joy personified, or at least would seem so compared to me after this weekend, where I had to entertain a child who cried no less than five times over interpersonal drama. Four times was at the bowling birthday party, two for good reason---she got her hand caught between two bowling balls. 
The third time she cried was because, by accident, she bowled in someone else's lane. The girl using it yelled at her, and Zoe ran to me crying, saying the girl was mean for yelling at her. Cut to a few minutes later, when Zoe got upset at a kid who jumped on her and hugged her, so that it was now she who yelled at an undeserving someone.
I told her to calm down, which solicited more tears. Exemplifying what Sartre said:
"Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you."
For Zoe this apparently means yelling and hypocrisy.
I wasn't sure why she was taking things so hard. Just a week earlier we'd been at a party where she was playing with a little girl she just met until that little girl ran away and hid. I wasn't sure if the girl was playing hide and seek or trying to get away from Zoe. If she was hiding to get rid of her, I was angry, thinking, How dare you treat my child that way, you horrible little girl? At the same time, another part of me thought, Was my child annoying?
But aren't all kids kind of annoying? However, Zoe had shrugged it off that day. Maybe today she was just tired. 
I probably needed to set up more playdates. Which hurts me right in the introvert.
I hate meeting new people. I overthink social situations: preparing for them, while they're happening, and then afterwards I replay the things I said, making a highlight reel of my awkward.
I'd have to think on this, but in the meantime, I'd keep the social stakes low.

"Three o'clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do."
Unless you're going to the playground.
It's three by the time we get to the park the next day, but that's good because we have to leave by five so I can start dinner. Doing something that requires me to be out in the world with others is always easier if I know the end time.
When we got to the park she saw a boy she knew from school and played soccer with him. After she bossed him around for a while, never allowing him to score a point, he had to go home. Then I was her playmate till she seemed to start playing with another little boy, as wild as she was. (She doesn't seem to play well with most girls, as evidenced by the previous day's party.)
Zoe was playing a game she'd made up called Pirates and Sea Monsters, which involved lots of yelling and chasing. And she was getting increasingly handsy with the boy, and snarling in his face. Eventually he ran away to his mom.
Zoe followed and hovered at distance, waiting for him to come back. Finally she gave up. When the boy started to play again it was with another kid. Zoe watched them for a while, unsure. Then she sat down nearby with her back to them.

"Like all dreamers, I mistook disenchantment for truth."
She came over to me with tears in her eyes. "He doesn't want to play with me."
"Are you sure?" 
"No one wants to play with me." 
I tried the usual things, told her I had a hard time making friends when I was little, that you couldn't be friends with everyone, finishing with: maybe she could play with them if she asked.
"But what if he says no?"
Oof. That's a tough one to hear since it was her mother's excuse for not attending parties, or leaving parties, or hanging out by the bookshelf at parties.

"If you are lonely when you are alone, you are in bad company."
I like being alone. I need to be alone to recharge. I didn't think this was Zoe though. She's more extroverted, especially compared to how I was at that age, not to mention louder.
Thinking of the little girl who'd hid from her the previous week, I took a new tack. I told her I'd noticed she wouldn't let the boy from her class score when they were playing soccer. When he did, she said it didn't count. Then she'd kept yelling at him to go get the ball. Ordering people around and cheating probably wasn't a good way to make friends.
I let that sink in while I also plied her with restorative apple juice.

"Life begins on the other side of despair."
Or after you play guilt soccer with your child.
After finishing her juice and wiping away her tears, she turned to me and said, "I still have no one to play with," so I got up to play soccer with her, and I was not allowed to score.

Zoe: 160; Universe: 0
If you enjoyed this post, you may like Zoe vs. The 5 Big Questions, from when she was a younger existential philosopher.

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
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