Thursday, April 28, 2016

Zoe vs. 10 Most Effective Responses to Prevent a Child from Telling You About Their Minecraft Game

Today's post will be brief. Zoe's home on spring break, and so I'm short on time and mental resources. What I do have, by the metric ton, are Minecraft updates. My brain is buckling under unintelligible reports from Zoe of her Minecraft adventures: where she's been, what she's building, how many chickens and horses she has trapped, stacked one on top of the other, in horrendous conditions, because she loves them.
I know other parents have dealt with this, the interminable, Look at this, Mommy, or, Watch me build yet another stone hut, Daddy, these essays on Minecraft play that never end.
Sure, you've tried generic polite responses, but the "That's great, honeys" don't get you out of hearing more than anyone should have to about an underground library filled with rosebushes. (How is it a library if there are no books?)
So no more saying "Wow" or "Whoa" or "What a Time to Be Alive" while hoping that will suffice to make your kid go away. You need to be ready with one of the following responses.
The best ones, delivered in just the right tone, will leave your child with the impression that you're encouraging and interested but are also so strange your child will be more than happy to go back to their game rather than engage a mommy who's "being weird again." Because just as you're over Minecraft, she's over your jokes.
So the next time Junior or Princess starts in on how he or she is building a mansion with a roller coaster running through it, have one of these handy:


10 Most Effective Responses 
to Prevent a Child from Telling You About Their Minecraft Game
1. Wow, honey, that sounds like a job for the super delegates.
2. Interesting. I bet the Illuminati had a hand in that. 
3. Minecraft giveth with one hand but taketh away with the other.
4. Did you know "may you live in interesting times" is a curse?
5. I wonder what Peter, Paul, and Mary would've done if they had a Minecraft hammer. 
6. Shh. Did you hear that? I thought I heard a bell. I'm listening for beer o'clock. 
7. You know how Mommy sometimes says she can't even? This is exactly why. 
8. I used to believe Falco and Taco were the same person but then I found out that was just an urban myth. 
9. There's no "i" in team. But there are four in itinerant irritant. 
10. The Lambada is the forbidden dance. 
Full disclosure: none of these have actually worked for me yet, and I'm writing this hiding in a closet, my body covered in flop sweat, but, hey, maybe they'll work for you. If they do, let me know? I'm starved for adult conversation.

Zoe: 133; Universe: 0

 For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Zoe vs. The "Urban" Wasteland

April is National Poetry Month. And "April" appears in one of the most famous opening lines from a poem---"The Wasteland" by T. S. Eliot. I thought of titling this post "Zoe vs. T. S. Eliot," continuing my proud tradition of Headlines Least Likely to Grab the Casual Reader. But then I thought, What does a five-year-old girl from Brooklyn have in common with a modernist poet from the twentieth century?
It turns out, one main thing:
Like T. S. Eliot, Zoe eschews rhyme for obscure allusions that are either nonsense or so esoteric that they're beyond understanding.
Secondarily, there have been accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against her.
By me.
So, when I went to the park with Zoe the other day, to prevent my mind from going completely numb, I started rewriting "The Wasteland." Something about a playground in Brooklyn---on a spring day teeming with crowds of riotous children, on a winter night abandoned and empty---seemed rife for lampooning in a parody of "The Wasteland," an epic poem concerning death and destruction and a world devolving into chaos.
The day we were there the park was crowded, and there were some older kids, led by one girl in particular who was ordering the others around. A Zoe from the future. I didn't hear her name, but let's just call her April. . . .

The (Urban) Wasteland
Part I. The Burial of the Mother
April is the cruelest child, leading
other kids through zero-sum games, mixing
frustration and desire, stirring
fresh wounds with old pain.
Mothers gab on benches, covering
forgetful children in hoodies, feeding
toddlers cheddar goldfish.
Connor surprised us, coming backwards down the slide,
with a shower of pee; we stopped a few feet away
And went on in dryness; it was time for the swings.
Then to drink juice, and talk for an hour.
"My eyes shoot laser beams. I'm Queen Elsa. And I'm from outer space."
Remember in winter, the hills in snow
I went down on the biggest sled.
I was scared but said I wasn't. Mom said, Hold on. And down we went.
In the park, where I feel free
After, I'll be tired, but I'll keep Mom up most of the night and go to bed late.

What kind of tree is this? Can I play with this 
dangerous-looking branch? Child of mine,
One, I don't know, and, two, put it down,
you'll knock out your eye. I need some shade,
I burn so easily, and here, I need to put sunscreen on your face.
Hurry up, please, it's time.
Mommy, can I show you something?
Look at the worms under this rock. This one's dead.
Come, look, here's something else equally disgusting
I will show you fear in a handful of whatever a five-year-old can put in her hand.
Garbled speech in another language.
That's not any one I know.
Mommy, what am I? Half Italian and half Irish.
No! I'm not. I'm Spanish!
Bow nas, diaz! Uno! Quatro! Adios, abuela!

Part II. A Game of Hopscotch
I can't sleep tonight. Can you sleep with me?
No, on second thought, I want to sleep in your bed.
Taking up most of it.
Why did Daddy move to my bed?
I had a dream.
We were all in bed together.
You liked it.
What shall we do tomorrow?
How about the day after that? Can I skip school?
Is it time to get up yet?
Hurry up, please, it's time.
Ah, the violet hour, when the child gets everyone up, claiming she's hungry
But refuses to eat breakfast.

Part III. Death by Talking
Gives no quarter, does my daughter
I'd really like a scotch and water.

Part IV. What the Five-Year-Old Said
Who is this other grandpa you keep referring to?
Last I checked, there were only two I know of.
There he is, mother, he lives in that tree. And in that house.
And some other place I went to when I was two.
You weren't there. (Seems unlikely.)
There is always another grandpa walking beside us.
Only I can see him. He's very small.
Is he standing next to you right now?
Nothing again nothing.
What is that noise you're making now?
What infernal lamentation?
I looked at it, it's just a tiny cut. And, I told you, I don't have any Band-aids.
Who are those hordes in hoodies swarming
Over endless playground equipment, riding scooters over cracked rubber mats
Ringed by baseball diamonds and porta-johns?
What is the land across the river?
Staten Island, then New Jersey. Further north is Manhattan.
Where my grandpa lives
She says without smiling.

The girl hands me her ponytail holder, hair loose and tangled
Is that a twig in her hair?
Then spoke the five-year-old.
What had I promised? Dammit.
Three episodes of Paw Patrol before bed?
Damn. Dammit. Blood surges through my heart.
The awful price of a moment's surrender
Which an age of vigilance can never retract.
By TV, and TV only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our Facebook updates
Or on Twitter heralded by an insidious bird
Or on Tumblr, or Instagram.
Or our abandoned MySpace profiles.

I have heard the incessant whining.
Is it possible to say no once and once only?
She thinks of Band-aids, each a negligible boo-boo
Thinking of the Band-aids, each confirms a bloody gaping wound.
Hurry up, please, it's time.

I sat upon the bench
Ignored. Phone in hand, children screaming around me.
Shall I at least write my grocery list? Dare I buy her a peach?
She's not going to eat it, I just know.

Child, we are going home, going home, going home.

Let's go home to Daddy.
"Dada. Dadyata. Daddy Daddy Fofaddy." (She's gone mad again.)
"Shantih shantih shama lama ding dong."
What does that mean? I ask.
"The peace which passeth understanding. Geez, Mommy,
I thought you studied this stuff in school."

Zoe: 132; Universe: 0

 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 14, 2016

Zoe vs. the Deep Funny

On Saturday I checked something off my personal bucket list, an item I'd placed there over a decade ago, and one I wasn't sure would ever get checked off, not for want of any action I could take.
On Saturday I went to see a play.

More than ten years before, when I had the idea that I was going to be a playwright, I used to go to this reading series/open mic night in the city on Tuesday evenings. The series was for writers who needed scenes work-shopped; we would put our names in a hat, and if chosen, we'd pick from among the actors present to perform our scenes.
I know it was more than ten years ago because my father was still alive at the time, and he died ten years ago. Anyway, I did this on Tuesday nights for about a year or so, was never picked, and at some point stopped going.
One night, however, the playwright Kenneth Lonergan (This Is Our Youth; You Can Count on Me) showed up. There was no question we'd all yield the stage to whatever he needed work-shopped, which turned out to be a scene about a successful country music singer who returns to the town where he grew up following his mother's death and decides he wants to renounce his high-rolling life and work at the local feed store instead.
In the scene, the singer tells his brother his plan, and his brother is, to put it mildly, incredulous.
At the surface level, the lines themselves were hilarious, but the humanity beneath, the wrongheaded ways we sometimes attempt to live but fail, made it deeply funny. 
All present that night---actors, writers, and directors; amateurs and professionals---felt we were in the presence of Art. This was so much more than the overwrought dialogue and small humor the rest of us had been trying to elevate. Lonergan's deeply funny scene turned a light on for me. This was what I wanted to do.
My previous relationship to comedy . . .
It started with my father, who was a fan of W. C. Fields, Woody Allen, and Rodney Dangerfield. Perhaps as result I was enamored of the lovable loser type. I never understood why the comedian wasn't the hero, why he never "got the girl."
I loved situation comedy, parodies, and farce. I always had a joke or sarcastic comment ready to fly. My dad called me a smart aleck as a kid. Eventually I graduated to smart ass.
I fell in love with writing and decided I'd be the next Erma Bombeck with a side of Anka Radakovich (look em up, kids!). 
Fast-forward twenty years and I'd finished my MFA in creative writing, having written a slew of short stories and one comedic play. I didn't do much with any of it until fifteen years ago when a close friend died suddenly. She was one of the funniest people I'd ever met and we used to joke about writing a comedy screenplay together.
When a contemporary dies, I suppose, like many people, I felt I had a responsibility to somehow make up for the future that had been denied her. So I started getting more serious about my writing, sending stories out to literary magazines and submitting my play. Eventually I got some stories published and my play was performed off-off-off-no-keep-going-Broadway, by which I mean Tulsa, Oklahoma. 
Over the years it also had several staged readings and won a contest or two. One of the directors I met said something that has stayed with me. He said that comedy doesn't get the same respect as tragedy even though he felt comedy was harder to do well, because comedy is what happens when you get to the other side of tragedy.
I always thought my father would one day see my play but then he died, ten years ago this past Sunday.
On Saturday I went to see Kenneth Lonergan's play, finally finished. Over ten years had passed since that Tuesday night when he'd work-shopped the scene from what would eventually become Hold on to Me Darling.
That scene was still there, with a lot of the same lines. My reaction was different, being older, but it was still deeply funny, in the way that had struck me years before. It ended with a poignant scene where the country singer meets the father who'd abandoned him as a child and finally understands both the limits and expanse of love, as well as fatherly pride. Overall the play was funny in its sadness, deeply human.
Deep funny is the funny I've felt many times since Zoe was born. It's what touches me when she's suffering from some mundane disappointment, and it's human nature, especially for a child, to give in to it. But I try to catch her before she gives herself over to whatever tragedy has befallen---the iPad has no charge; I won't let her take her tricycle to the park in the snow---and I'll shoot her a look, one of the ones in my arsenal---they have names: "comical surprise," "shrewd discernment," "mock horror"---and despite herself she starts to laugh instead of cry. It's a narrow passage between the two, after all.
It doesn't always work, but it works enough times to keep trying.

Zoe: 131; Universe: 0

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

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