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.

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

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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.
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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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Zoe vs. Two Truths and Lie

Previously on Zoe vs. the Universe, we spoke about games people play in the car. Since that time, Zoe has become obsessed with these types of games. We must play them every day: to and from school, during her bath, and before bed.
Her new favorite is Two Truths and Lie.
It all started about a week ago when she wanted me to guess when she was lying, offering me low-hanging fruit like "I'm in the bath" or "I'm a mermaid." Not exactly challenging to my deductive reasoning skills. So I introduced her to the Two Truths and a Lie game.

Two truths and a lie

First, I made her guess which two foods Mommy has eaten and which one she hasn't:
1. pizza
2. snails
3. monkey brains
Pizza was a gimme, since she'd seen me eating it. But was it snails or monkey brains I was lying about? She guessed snails was the lie, but I said no, and told her about the garlicky deliciousness of escargot. I have yet to try monkey brains, I said. Would she like to try them with me? I'd make some tomorrow night.
She screamed in horrified delight and she's never looked back.
Now I have to come up with several of these a night to present her with so she can guess which is the lie.
Meanwhile, when it's her turn I get:
1. My favorite color is pink.
2. I'm in first grade.
3. My name is Zoe.
Forcing me to ask, "Did you change your favorite color, because as long as you've been able to say the word it's been pink?"
"No. The lie is I'm in first grade."
"Unless I missed a memo, you are in first grade."
"I am? Oh yeah."
Move to the head of the class, I think.
Then it's my turn again. Time to show off my smartitudes, or, more to the point, see how smart she thinks I am.
1. I can speak five languages.
2. I know the alphabet in sign language.
3. I have no middle name.
"Middle name," she guesses.
"Nope, that's true. I have no middle name. The lie is that I speak five languages, but I'm glad you think I'm a polyglot."
She squints her eyes at me as she always does when she knows Mommy's showing off by using a ten-dollar word. Then takes her turn.
1. I speak six languages.
2. I have a middle name.
3. And I speak English.
"I'm going to say the bit about speaking six languages is a lie, unless we're talking about the ones you made up."
She just laughs and mumbles something incoherent.
I say, "I've never skied or been on a motorcycle, but I have ridden a horse."
"No, I've been on a horse. At a dude ranch when I was in eighth grade. The lie is saying I've never skied. Because I did go skiing once. When I was in college. I fell and hit my head. A week later, I met Daddy and we started dating."
She blinks at me, recognizing my waiting-for-a-laugh face.
"It's funny because I'm saying I had a head injury when I got together with Daddy. Get it?"
Still no reaction. My next lie would be I've never told that joke about a million times before or maybe Daddy loves that joke.
When she's out of the bath and in her pajamas, she begs for one more round before story time.
I decide to end on something mostly sweet but which also includes her favorite subject: bathroom humor.
1. I love Zoe.
2. I love Daddy.
3. I have never farted in my life.
She thinks for a moment and says, "You love Daddy is the lie?"
Aghast but laughing I say, "No! Of course, I love Daddy."
Maybe it is time to retire that head-injury-dating-your-father joke, gold though it may be.
At the same time I'm sort of . . . proud, I guess, that she thinks I've never farted. That would be quite an accomplishment for a pizza-and-escargot-but-not-at-the-same-time-eating woman without a middle name who can speak five languages, four of them made up. And ain't that the truth?

Zoe: 159; Universe: 0

If you enjoyed this post, you may like Zoe vs. The Truth, from those halcyon days when her lies were more transparent.

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Zoe vs. Games to Play in the Car. Or, How to Be DRIVEN to Madness in 20 Questions or Less

Lately, Zoe, the Husband, and I have been spending a lot of time on the road. Unusual for us since we don't own a car. In fact, I've never owned a car.
(Unless you count my dad's 1974 Chevy Nova, which he sold to me for $1 in December 1999, and which didn't make it across the finish line to the new millennium, so let's not.)
We live in the city and take public transportation. Whenever we need a car we rent one, so we've mostly missed out on the perils and pitfalls of driving with children: the sedimentary layer of toys beneath the layer of Cheerios, dropped down or vomited up, and perhaps worse than all that, Kidz Bop.
However, we've had to drive back and forth from Brooklyn to the Bronx for the past several weekends since we're cleaning out my aunts' house, which means Zoe has spent a lot more time in a car than she's used to. Since she's older now, we can't count on her to fall asleep, so we play games.
Ah, nostalgia! Remember the fun you had as a kid playing the Alphabet Game and the License-Plate Game and I Spy with My Little Eye? Zoe does not like these games.
Not that I Spy would work on the BQE. What is there to spy except other cars or trucks and former raccoons flattened on the side of the road?
How to describe the BQE for those who've never been on it . . . The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was probably a model for a highway in Grand Theft Auto. There's a plethora of potholes outpacing the never-ending road work, and the drivers don't signal because it's none of your goddamn business what they're going to do---it's anyone's guess, which appeals to Zoe.
Because she likes guessing games.

20 Questions and other games to play in the car

One of the two car games she likes to play is Twenty Questions. Though she doesn't understand how to play.
Let's say it's my turn and I tell her I'm thinking of a character in one of her TV shows. For those playing at home, I'll whisper the answer:
Kion is Simba's son, and he's on Disney's The Lion Guard, which Zoe watches almost every night.
Zoe: Who is it?
Me: You have to ask me yes or no questions. Like, is it an animal?
Zoe: Is it an animal?
Me: Yes.
Zoe: What kind of animal?
Me: Is that a yes or no question?
Zoe: Aah, that's too hard!
Me (sighing): For instance, is it a lion?
Zoe: Is it a lion?
Me: Yes.
Zoe: Kion? (I nod.) That was too easy.
It's no less absurd when it's her turn.
Zoe: I'm thinking of a person.
Me: Is it someone we know?
Zoe: Yes.
Me: Is it Daddy?
Zoe: Daddy's not a princess.
Daddy (under his breath): Says you.
Me: Ah, so it's a princess. Wait, we don't know any princesses.
Zoe: Yes, we do!
Daddy: Is it a cartoon princess?
Zoe: What do you mean?
Daddy: Cartoon or live actor?
Zoe: She was in a movie.
Me: Have you seen the movie?
Zoe: Yes.
Daddy: Have we seen the movie?
Zoe: I don't know.
Me: A short blonde who's extremely frustrating.
Zoe: We're not playing Jeopardy, Mommy!
Daddy: Does she have long hair?
Zoe: Yes.
Daddy: Rapunzel?
Zoe: Yes, Tangled.
(Note: Both Daddy and Mommy have seen Tangled about a gazillion times, approximately all of those sitting right next to her on our couch.)
The second car game she likes is Wheel of Fortune, where we have to guess what person, place, or phrase she's thinking of without the aid of paper or an opponent who can spell, but with the benefit of being stuck in traffic.
Luckily, even with her woeful ability to spell, cracking her code is fairly easy.
"I'm thinking of a type of dinner," Zoe says. "Three words. First word starts with s, second word starts with a, and third word starts with m."
"How many letters in the first word?" Daddy asks.
"I don't know," says Zoe.
But since she just ate spaghetti and meatballs for dinner I offer that as a guess. And I am correct. Go, Mommy (metaphorically speaking, as traffic has come to a standstill).
Since Mommy got it right, it's time to play something she wants to play, I tell her. It's called the Quiet Game.
Unfortunately it's a game that only ever lasts ten seconds.

Zoe: 158; Universe: 0

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Zoe vs. the Oscars 2017

The Academy Awards air on Sunday, which means it's time for my fourth annual roundup of all the movies nominated for Best Picture. This year I've actually seen one of the movies. This may be the first year that's happened since Zoe was born! Time to celebrate by summarizing each and relating them to life with Zoe, the lens (get it?! lens!) through which I view everything, even the movies I don't see.

La La Land: The overall theme of this movie, as I understand it, is we are not to become cynical and ought to remain starry-eyed in the face of rejection. I'll try to remember that the next time I suggest Zoe try a new food or put on the pair of adorable boots she received as a gift but won't wear. Regarding the musical aspect, Zoe does sometimes break out into song, only the songs are about farts and diarrhea, i.e., not award material.

Breaking out into a dance never made sense until I had a child . . .
who finally went to sleep.

Moonlight: From the description, this movie has startling similarities to Zoe's life as a black boy raised in Miami by a strung-out mom except not at all like that since she's a little white girl from middle-class Brooklyn. Though her mama does make the occasional inappropriate joke about her need for hard drugs. One thing that I can relate to, though, is the feeling that Zoe is being played by at least three different actors.

Hell or High Water: I'll take, "Phrases used in extremis, for $2,000, Alex."

Fences: I read one description of Viola Davis's role as "a woman enduring a loved one's loud and erratic moods as well as their volatile behavior," and I'm just gonna stop right there.

Manchester by the Sea: I do love Kenneth Lonergan. Casey Affleck plays a janitor. However, I believe that his is a paying position so I probably can't relate.

Hacksaw Ridge: All parents wade unarmed into battle.

Just another dad telling his kid it's time to leave the park.

Hidden Figures: Let's see . . . I never get the credit I deserve. . . . It's a struggle to get to the bathroom sometimes. . . . I'd like to be shot into space. . . .

Lion: Sometimes I'm so tired that I fall asleep on the train and miss my stop, which is just like this story of a five-year-old Indian boy. Can I get Nicole Kidman to adopt me now?

Arrival: This was the one movie I saw, and I have to say, a story about a mother who's trying to communicate with an alien being who has an unusual concept of time really, really resonated with me.

Zoe: 157; Universe: 0

If you enjoyed this post, you may like my post last year about the 
Oscar- nominated movies.

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

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