Thursday, September 18, 2014

Zoe vs. Barbara Walters

Zoe is like Barbara Walters: When she asks questions, someone ends up in tears. Usually me.

Grown-ass men sobbing. When we return.

I am Zoe's usual victim interviewee. Her questions fall into one of the following three categories.

1. Questions with the Same Answer
Each day starts with these. Where are we going? School and work. Who's taking me to school? Daddy. Who's picking me up? Mommy. Who's putting me to bed? Three out of five weekdays the answer is Mommy. 
Same questions. Same answers. Still she asks
As I'm putting on makeup: What's that? Eyeliner. Can I have some? When you're older. Or, if I'm feeling all Teachable Moment: Eyeliner is one of the few Things That Cannot Be Shared, like a lollipop that's already been in your mouth. 
Because it's unhygienic. 
What's eugenics? 
. . . It's when a bad guy says that all the questions should have the same answer.
She thinks for a moment then says, "That's silly." Isn't it, though? 
At night on the way home (regarding a random person): Where is he going? Home. Why? Because everyone's going home now. Why? It's dinnertime. 

2. Questions with No Answer (or at least not one that satisfies)
At night on the way home (regarding a specific person): Where's he going? Home. 
Then when Specific Person walks up to a door: Why's he going there? I guess that's his home. Why? Because that's where he lives. 
Sometimes this leads to the third category (see below) but sometimes, just to be perverse, Zoe says:
"No, he doesn't." 
 "What do you mean, 'no, he doesn't'? 
"He doesn't live there."
"We just saw him go in."
"He doesn't live there."
At this point I sputter that we'll have to agree to disagree. How do you explain the obvious? Especially when you don't really care.

Jerry keeps pressing for a bathroom break
but is soundly ignored.

Another example:
She wedges one toy inside another toy and then needs help getting it out. On the edge of tears but gamely holding them back to underline just how well she is bearing up under the full scope of the tragedy, she comes to me for help. 
With some finagling I finally remove the toy. As I hand the consciously uncoupled items back to her, I say, "Now don't do that again." Zoe asks, "Why not?" What can be said to this that wasn't evident from all that preceded?

3. Questions That Lead to More Questions
One of Dante's Circles of Hell must have its circumference paved with the questions of preschoolers.
Let's say we're going on a car trip. . . .
Where are we going? Who's going to be there? When are we coming back? Can I take the largest most unwieldy toy with me, the one with multiple tiny parts that never stay on and will end up being left behind causing untold emotional anguish or, at minimum, regretful pining? Why not? Now that we're ready to go, and I said I wasn't hungry the twenty times you asked me before, I am now, in fact, hungry, so how about a grilled cheese sandwich? How come? Can I take a squeezable yogurt with me in Grandma's car? Why not? Is Grandma coming with us? Where are we going? (Return to start.)

Those who coveted the Play-doh in life, must separate
mounds of it into their constituent colors in death.

So far I've managed to dodge embarrassing questions, like why is that person standing within earshot fat? But she's come close.
One day she asked me "Why's that kid so short?" as we passed a man who happens to be a dwarf. 
(His size, by the way, had nothing to do with why she called him a kid. She often calls adults kids. Or boys and girls.) 
I don't think he heard. I'm always awkward around this particular dwarf because he's sort of a neighborhood fixture. He can be seen at Christmastime dressed as an elf. For the St. Patrick's Parade, he's a leprechaun. Sometimes, for no obvious reason, he's decked out in a top hat and tails.
The reason for my awkwardness is that before Zoe was born he and I lived in the same building, and every time I saw him he would reintroduce himself. Now that we are no longer living in that building, I'm even more doubtful he remembers me. 
So all this noise is running through my awkward brain when Zoe asks why he's short, but I just say, He was born that way. 
Because he's a dwarf. 
I immediately regret using that word, not for any political-correctness reason because I've kind of lost track of what's the proper term (midget? little person? height disadvantaged?), but because I'm afraid she'll now associate him with Snow White and her seven companions and so I'm way ahead of her when she asks, Where's his beard? (He has a mustache but he is bald.) 
He shaved it, I say. 
He was hot. 
This seems to satisfy her for the moment.

If You Were a Tree, What Kind of Tree Would You Be?
Barbara Walters was famously mocked for asking this question of Katharine Hepburn, even though Hepburn herself opened the door to Walters asking it. 
As a mother, I know how this feels. I often find myself asking questions I never expected to ask another living soul, like "Did you lick your shirt?" and "Why are you trying to put that toy in your butt?" I know something about context and being misunderstood and how if you make one mistake there's always a person standing just behind you who will never let you forget it. "Mommy made a mistake." (Statement, not question.) 
If Zoe asked me what kind of tree I was in the middle of the usual chaos, I'd be tempted to say the Giving Tree, from Shel Silverstein's eponymous book, y'know, the tree that gave and gave till nothing was left, not even a stump. Do you know what a martyr is, Zoe?

Go ahead and sit. If I could only provide shade,
but someone chopped me down.

Last night I asked Zoe what kind of tree she was and she said, "A leaf tree. No, an apple tree. No a bean tree. No, a big one...." Why did I ask?
Zoe: 61; Universe: 0

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Zoe vs. Catapedaphobia

Catapedaphobia is not the fear of cat feet, which is what I first thought when I heard the word. But then who would be afraid of cat feet? They're so fluffy and cute.
Until you touch them and the cat swipes at you with her claws and you're bleeding.
So now I have a new fear.
But it's not catapedaphobia, which is the fear of jumping from high or low places. 
Zoe may or may not have catapedaphobia. In any case, it's the closest word I could find to describe Zoe's antipathy to bouncy castles.

Ablutophobia: fear of bathing.

There are a lot of unusual fears out there, and many of them get their own words. For instance, did you know somniphobia is the fear of sleep? Maybe that's another fear Zoe has. It would certainly explain a lot.
Ever hear of iatrophobia? That's the fear of going to the doctor (another one Zoe may have). Taphephobia is the fear of being buried alive. But who doesn't fear that? Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is the fear of long words, which sounds like some pscychologist's cruel joke since people who suffer from it can hardly self identify.
But back to catapedaphobia. Over the past two weekends Zoe confronted her fear of bouncy castles and, eventually, conquered it. 
Let's start with two Saturdays ago when she went to her first kid's party, a boy's of course. It was at an indoor "play arena" where the revelers could enjoy several different bouncy castles. Some had slides, some had climbing, some had both, and some were just for bouncing.
Zoe did not want to slide or climb or bounce. She wanted to go home.

The horror of watching children play,
or pedophobia.

Maybe it was the size of the structures themselves (megalophobia). Or perhaps the bright colors (chromatophobia).
Whatever it was, I had to hold her for the whole two hours of the party. On the positive side, this alleviated my own social phobia. I was too busy with Zoe, alternating between psyching her up and then comforting her when her socked foot touched the entrance to the inflatable structure and she jumped back into my arms, to worry about small talk. She was a 36-pound conversation piece. "I guess she's afraid." "She just doesn't want to." "Whaddaya say, Zoe?" "Look, the birthday boy is doing it." "Kids, huh?" 
Zoe has a history of taking her time warming up to things. She was that way at an amusement park we visited earlier in the summer.
In Phase One she'd say she wanted to go on a ride but then she'd stand and stare at it in silence for several minutes, her hands pressed to her cheeks.
Was it tachophobia, the fear of speed?
Or kinetophobia, the fear of movement?
How about neophobia, the fear of new things?
Phase Two was her getting on a ride, then crying to get off before it started, then standing outside again, watchful, waiting for an explosion perhaps. 
Phrase Three: the carousel. She went on. She stayed on. Progress.
Considering her obsession with coin-operated horses (the gateway drug of rides), I knew the horse part wouldn't be the problem. (She is not equinophobic, thank god, because I was afraid of that.)
But in light of the fact that I'd never been allowed to put money in the ride (mechanophobia?), I wasn't so sure she'd be okay when the carousel started moving. However, my fears proved groundless and she ended up loving the carousel.
Therefore, at the bouncy place I figured she just needed time to warm up. I was right. Apparently that time was seven days.

In this picture, how many things are there
to fear? a) 4 b) 5 c) a + b?

Last weekend we went to a block party, and they also had a bouncy castle. As I had the week before, I stood at the entrance to the anxiety-inducing inflatable holding a serious Zoe, who played with her hair, a considering frown on her face.
Again we went through the false starts. She'd say she wanted to go in, I'd place her on the castle's foyer area, and then she'd scuttle back into my arms. Foyerphobia?*
I'm not sure what finally decided her. Maybe it was that while she was busy ruminating, her friend, who is a year younger, had bounced all over like a curly-haired pinball and gone down the slide umpteen times and she wanted to join her.
So Zoe goes in and I follow her around on the outside until, lo and behold, a smile. "Mommy, I like it!" Miracle!
This bouncy castle had punching bags erupting from the rubber floor like stalagmites in a clown cave, and the bigger kids were knocking into them. At one point Zoe got hit with one and went down. A moment later she bounced up, saying, "I'm okay." 
When she finally came out she told me, "I loved it."
So when trying something new, Zoe's action plan is: 1) abject terror and resistance lasting about a week, then 2) grim acceptance, followed by 3) like quickly followed by 4) love then 5) obsession as evidenced by nonstop talking about it forever plus infinity.
Bouncy castles do not foster equanimity. 
I was glad she'd gotten over her fear and enjoyed herself. And I was glad none of the kids had eaten before bouncing, because if they got sick, that would've triggered my emetophobia, fear of vomit. Can you picture it? Bouncing vomit. Vomit getting on socks. Vomit in hair.
If you feel queasy, maybe you're emetophobic too. You should probably seek help.
Zoe: 60; Universe: 0
*Okay, I made this one up. But I can't be the only one who hates that moment when you first enter someone's house for a party and everyone looks at you.**
**Scopophobia: fear of being stared at. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Zoe vs. the Kardashians

Public urination. Questionable taste. Unintelligible ramblings. Am I describing a preschooler or a Kardashian? Trick question. These are features belonging to both. Perhaps I'll dub my own preschooler Special K so she can join the club of Kris, Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Kylie, and Kendall. After all, she is in Pre-K, which may as well indicate a Kardashian in training.

From sex tape to reality show
queen. What a long and crazy ride.

Without further ado, here are 7 ways Zoe is like a cast member---sorry, kast member---of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

1. Look at me! She wants us to watch her no matter how mundane or repetitive her activities. "Look at me!" (She's sliding down the slide for the umpteenth time.) "Watch me, Mommy!" (She's twirling around in a circle till she's overcome by dizziness and falls down in a heap.) "See what I did!" (She pooped.) Each time she jumps from the koffee table to land on a kouch kushion, I must affect amazement. Most of her stunts are run-of-the-mill but sometimes I watch with my heart in my mouth: Is she really going to klimb onto the windowsill before jumping, rolling to her feet and then vaulting over her Disney Kastle like she's mastered Parkour for Preschoolers? Yep. Often, I'm impressed with her athleticism. (She gets this from Daddy.)

2. Self-absorption. No one is as interesting as she is. Refer back to #1. She's never met a mirror she didn't like. That meal you slaved over? No, thanks. Except in place of the "thanks" she puts the plate on the floor for Harley, our Kat, while she waits for "something good."

3. TMI. With short updates from "I'm gassy" to full-blown stories with no konceivable end, Zoe is a konsummate oversharer. Many times she kan be seen hopping from foot to foot and holding her krotch, saying, "Pee-pee, pee-pee!" (She gets that from Mommy.)
Full disclosure: I've never actually watched an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. I'm just not strong enough. However, I did hear about the episode where Khloe was enlisted to judge which sister's, um, kookie jar smelled better, Kourtney's or Kim's. (Kim's, in kase you've been living under a rock.)

Three Mile Island
The original TMI, but less irritating

4. Sensationalism. If there's drama, a preschooler will wring out every last drop. If she hurts herself, prepare to supply All the Band-Aids. You hurt her by accident, and you'll never hear the end of it unless Social Services takes the bait, and your child.
This brings us to a mini mystery, one which may explain our queer fascination with Kardashians and preschoolers, namely: How much are they aware of their own bullshit? I mean, at first, do they know they're lying, but do they end up being taken in by their own lies? It may be the greatest mystery of our time. 

5. Mercurial as to kommitments. Dora. No, Paw Patrol. No, Dora and Friends. Not that episode. No, wait, that episode. Kris Humphries.

Previous record: 72 days.

6. Mugging for the kamera, yet requesting privacy. All depends on mood. She wants attention but under her terms.

7. Public urination. Zoe kan do that one in her sleep. And has. I believe it was Kourtney's husband and honorary Kardashian Scott Disick who gets kredit here. He has been known to relieve himself in trashcans, both at home and out and about. The only difference is Zoe is now potty trained.

I may not know what the writing
says, but I'm sure it didn't need
that many characters.

Speaking of "honorary," more on Lord Disick. That's right, on a trip to England, he purchased a royal title so he wouldn't have to "walk around like some peasant." Not sure why he didn't go for Kount. I think he missed an opportunity there. Then again he's not a blood relative. But here's the weird thing about Kourtney's baby daddy. He's the ultimate riddle: full of himself and klueless, yet out of The Silly occasionally emerges a nugget of truth, even, dare I say, wisdom. Like a fortune kookie from hell. Click here for examples. Reading them was enough for me; I find I am unable to type them in.
Another thing. Apparently there was an episode where he visited a terminally ill woman after the Make a Wish Foundation informed him that her dying request was to meet him. Now, to me, the only thing more tragic than being terminally ill is to have meeting Scott Disick be your final wish. But, hey, who am I to say? And to give him kredit he did go, whether it was motivated by PR or not.
Still, it gives me an idea for that YA dystopian novel you're writing. A mash-up of Hunger Games and The Fault in Our Stars about a game show where terminally ill teens vie to see who gets to "take someone annoying with them" when they shed their mortal koil, sponsored by the omnipresent Make a Death Wish Foundation. You get away with murder because you'll be dead before you kan go to jail. Win-win! Sort of!

The hyperstructure of our dystopian future, where
kids can frolic in Thunderdome-style bounce houses.

In summation, greedy and goofy, attention-seeking yet oddly fascinating, whether it's a preschooler or a Kardashian, one thing's for sure: I'll never be able to keep up.
Zoe: 59; Universe: 0

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Zoe vs. the Bechdel Test

You may have heard of the Bechdel Test. It's a pop-culture phenomenon that measures gender bias in film, TV, etc. It's named after Alison Bechdel, who in her 1985 comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For featured a character who said she'd only go to movies that had three elements: 1) at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man.
Many movies fail this test because, if I may channel my inner Nathan Detroit: Broadly speaking, there ain't enough broads.
There are movies, of course, where applying the Bechdel test would be silly, such as Saving Private Ryan. Movies featuring World War II battle scenes would obviously involve a dearth of women. Or a movie like Gravity, where there's a dearth of earth itself. (Sorry but this juxtaposition was unlikely to be available to me again.)
However, there are other movies that fail which really make you wonder, for example, Avatar or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The latter is especially disturbing since it's specifically aimed at kids. Some of whom are girls! Girls like Zoe! Who may herself be sexist! But is it nature or nurture?!

Fails Bechdel test because Tammy is instructing
Midge on how best to shoot her husband.

If a camera followed Zoe around all day at school, the film that resulted would almost certainly fail the Bechdel test. Since Zoe learned to speak, she's been telling me about the boys in her class. When I ask who her friends are, ten out of ten times she gives me a boy's name. When there's a new boy in her class, the next day he is her best friend. There are girls in her class, but I don't think Zoe interacts with them. If I ask about a girl, she'll maybe acknowledge her, but only if pressed, much like a Hollywood producer.
As for her likes and dislikes, right now her favorite cartoon is Paw Patrol. This show fails the Canine Bechdel test. Six rescue pups and only one is female. When Zoe plays pretend, she is never Skye (the female). Often she claims to be Ryder, the human male in charge of the pups.
When I first watched the show with Zoe, my main issue related to anthropomorphism. I wasn't sure if the humans were understanding the pups. Episodes underwent repeated viewings, a la Sixth Sense, to gauge whether people were responding directly to what one of the pups said. Once I was satisfied on that score (they do understand them), I moved on to the sexism.

Not quite.

There are two main human female characters---Farmer Yumi and Mayor Goodway (note the position of power, undercut by the fact she calls upon a boy and his puppies to help her in any and every emergency)---and they do interact, but I think these two could easily be male without losing anything. Then again, three-dimensional cartoon characters are sort of oxymoronic.
This past weekend when Zoe and I went swimming, we played Paw Patrol. I pretended to be caught in a whirlpool and called Paw Patrol for help. Zoe pretended she was Zuma, the male chocolate Lab. Each time I called for aid, Zoe would turn from her pretend computer display, run around the pool, and then walk carefully down the stairs in her water wings saying, "Zuma to the wrecks you [rescue]."
After a few rounds I specifically called for Skye to come with her helicopter, but Zoe insisted on being Zuma. Occasionally, maybe, Ryder. I fretted inwardly, which at least lended verisimilitude to my outward displays of distress as Zoe tugged me to safety over and over again.

A broad, abroad.

Later I Googled Paw Patrol. Nick Jr.'s description of Skye didn't do much to alleviate my concerns. "Skye tries everything with a back flip, grace, and a smile." Hmmm. Not how one would describe a male hero like, say, Thor. 
Then I scrolled down to read about Zuma. That's when I learned he is specifically the "water rescue" dog. Had I been so blinded by the sociopolitical landscape of Paw Patrol that I had overlooked individual character traits?
So maybe Zoe's not sexist. She's just accurate. Thus the limits of the Bechdel test.
However, while on the Nick Jr. site I also noted that all the pups are pure breeds except for one, Rocky, the recycling dog. Allow that to marinate for a bit. Rest assured I will be writing a strongly worded letter to Nick Jr.
Zoe: 58; Universe: 0

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Zoe vs. #Sorrynotsorry

Kids today. With their emojis, text messaging, and hashtags. If I can't keep up now, how will it be when Zoe's a teenager? I was never cool and always old, which is what I believe the kids call "the whole package." Where others rub some funk on it, I rub some Julie Andrews on it. Still, I must make an effort to learn. #hero
Ready to learn along with me? Then let's floss and fly.

"Let's floss and fly this mofo."
---Tom to Maggie Tulliver in
George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss

Zoe---aka, my boo, my bae, my shawty---is already cooler than I am, as evidenced by the desperate slang-slinging of the preceding clause. And that's fine, I mean, chill, but I need her to take me somewhat seriously while she's young so I can teach her good manners. I don't want Zoe to be---in the immortal words of Rudy from Fat Albert---like school in summer, i.e., lacking in class. #KickinItOldSchool

WWJAD (What Would Julie Andrews Do?)
As always, Julie Andrews is my guide. Whether I'm channeling singing super nanny Mary Poppins or singing super governess Maria von Trapp, I strive to be a Model of Good Behavior (MGB). Only without the singing. #offkey #stopsingingmommy
We started early, presenting the holy trinity of civility---please, thank you, and sorry---before Zoe could even speak. We exposed her to sign language via the Baby Signing Time videos led by walking primary color Rachel Coleman.

A-S-L. American Sign Language to those over thirty.
Age, Sex, Location to the young and happening.

To the accompaniment of excruciatingly catchy tunes, Zoe learned that if she made a fist, and after punching Mommy with it, rubbed it in a circle over her chest to show "sorry," Mommy would stop making the angry face and perhaps give her juice. (and a #Parentfail)
When Zoe began to speak, we emphasized verbalization of the trinity. She learned to say "Sorry," but she also tacks on an, "I forgive you," conflating asking for forgiveness with dispensing of same. So her actually "meaning it" may take longer. I may not be the best MGB in this regard. Encounters with the ice cream truck reveal Mommy's insincerity. 
Either Zoe's hearing is preternatural or I'm losing my own---perhaps due to age, perhaps due to the repeated battering my eardrums endure from the screams of a certain preschooler---but she always hears the ice cream truck before I do.
BTW, you know you're old when the Mister Softee song brings sorrow instead of joy. Like Pavlov's dog, Zoe hears the music and salivates. I hear it and panic. Zoe informs me of the truck's approach and I say, "Sorry, honey, we can't have ice cream before dinner." (Or after dinner, for that matter, but let's cross one bridge built over a river of lies at a time.)
Am I insincere with my "sorry"?
Am I faking regret over refusing her sugar before bedtime?
Are haters gonna hate?
Zoe's starting to "get it." Not the feeling remorse part. But when others don't feel it. Sometimes, when she's in the bath, I sneak away to catch up on e-mail or read my book to the end of a chapter. When she calls me, I keep saying, "Be right there," until sooner or later she calls me on it and I say, "Sorry, honey." The other night she said, "You're not sorry, Mommy." I had to laugh. Mommy was pwned! I only felt slightly ashamed, and may or may not have finished my chapter.

Oh no he didn't. (He did.)
So Zoe's a keen observer of human nature. However, empathy for her subjects may take longer. For instance, at the park, where my presence is required on all the playground equipment, she'll hover behind another kid at the top of a slide, and if he's taking too long to go down, she'll turn to me, and with wide-eyed innocence, say: "Can you push him?" #DoMyDirtyWorkMinion. What's sign language for "Screw this kid, it's my turn"? Though I guess you can't really sign that if your hands are busy shoving an unsuspecting toddler.

Such delinquency may be beyond Julie Andrews. Perhaps I'll need to go oldest old school with What Would Jesus Do? Something Christian, I suspect. Apologizing and meaning it. Playing well with others. I'd stop short of turning the other cheek. Those playgrounds are rough and I want her to stay frosty. Besides, someday she may have to ride the subway like her mom, and let me tell you, turning the other cheek will burn you out pretty quick in New York.
Jesus may have been tempted for forty days and nights in the desert but he didn't have to ride the R train at rush hour. Let's imagine the son of god standing on the platform, the crowd getting antsy. Somebody says, It'd take a miracle for this train to come. And as everyone served up J.H.C. a heaping dose of stink-eye, he'd look away, whistling the theme song to Highway to Heaven (You don't have to believe in God to know Michael Landon's his favorite. #truth #drop some knowledge).

The Fonz explains the finer points of
"sitting on it" to Potsie and the gang.

This is shorthand text messaging for I Don't Know. You can also make it a hashtag. This is good since my ignorance is the only thing I have that works across all platforms. As Zoe gets older, I also imagine that this is the acronym I'll find the most handy.
In conclusion, #winning and #blessed. GTG. TTFN.
Zoe: 57; Universe: YOLO