Thursday, August 25, 2016

Zoe vs. Gratitude: Is It Worth It?

How important is gratitude? Both the everyday thank-you, like the one you say when the barista hands you your change, and capital-G Gratitude, as in the count-your-blessings feeling you have when you look at the World As A Whole, and think, oh my god, aren't I lucky sitting here in an air-conditioned cafe sipping my half-sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiato?
Just like you, dear civilized reader, I was raised to say "please" and "thank you." And naturally I want my daughter to learn the social niceties as well as how to be a good person. It's part of my duty as a parent.
But that parenting philosophy met its true test this week, one I'm not sure the ideal of Gratitude will survive.
This week Zoe had to write thank-you notes.

Teaching your children to be thankful

She'd had her family birthday party a week before and, now that she was turning six, and could write, ish, I figured it was time she expressed her gratitude more formally.
I also thought it'd be good for her to write because school starts soon and we've done exactly nothing to reinforce what she'd learned in kindergarten.
But apparently I'm the one who'd forgotten all I learned. As with the pain of childbirth, I must have repressed the pain of supervising Zoe as she did her homework.
My announcement of Project Gratitude was met with tears and a general falling about. As if I was threatening to pull off her fingernails or, worse, never polish them again, and if I did, she'd be stuck with one color choice forever. Probably white. The horror!
As she carried on, I did what I usually do when she's being unreasonable. I mocked her. Oh, the suffering! I said. How could your mother do this to you? She must be the most terrible woman.
Zoe countered: How could she spend time writing these eight cards that would take FOREVER to write when she HAD TO play?
I said, Well, I can take all those toys away that you just received as GIFTS from people WHO LOVE YOU and then you'd have plenty of time.
Her face drained of blood. Then she muttered under her breath, heaved a shaky sigh, and sat down, the Saddest Child in the World, rejecting one pen after another because using the proper writing implement was important, even if this meant she was eating into the time she probably could've spent playing. I suppose you can't rush an artist. (Drama queens are artists, right?)
As she searched for the Holy Grail of pens, I wrote out our family's names, thinking she could use that as a guide and write out her cards with minimal supervision---meaning I wouldn't have to stand there and spell out "Grandma" fifty times while she deliberately misheard my n's and m's. 
And there were two grandmas to thank, people!
The cold hand of regret squeezed my soul in its gelid fingers as I realized she, the person who moments before had had an emotional breakdown over having to do this, would also take much longer than necessary doing it. She has a "Queens" Grandma and a "Connecticut" Grandma, so obviously she needed to spell out their locations as part of their names. I said, "Grandma" would suffice since when each one opened her envelope and actually held the card in her hand, all would become clear.
But she wouldn't have it. A thing worth doing is worth doing well is a phrase I've never said to Zoe. And never will. I'm all about cutting corners. I'm the Meghan Trainor of shortcuts.
Wisely, I had revised my original plan, which was to have Zoe mention each person's gift in particular and also say "Thanks for coming to my party!" But that was Advanced Thank-You Card Writing. And exclamation points invited unnecessary smiley-face art within their bottom dots. Doing the names---each letter she formed shaving another year off my life---was taking long enough on its own, so I edited the message down to six words (one each for her age): "Thanks for my gift. Love, Zoe."
That would've sped things along, I think, except for the added wrinkle that, after recovering from her initial shock, Zoe now wanted to "have fun." Each card  had to be "perfect," which meant they would look far from it, since when she made a mistake she crossed it out so she could rewrite it. That and she had to add art, lots of hearts, an occasional cat.
So we're about a week in now and out of eight cards she's finished three.
Prayers are appreciated. Just don't expect a note of thanks.

Zoe: 146; Universe: 0

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Zoe's list of things she is thankful for that she "wrote" when she was 4.

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, August 18, 2016

Zoe vs. Bad Poetry Day

You've waited all year.
It's finally here.
Bad Poetry Day! 
Twenty-four hours set aside
For verse few can abide.
Bad Poetry Day!
Hark! Here it comes.
Grab your bottle of Tums.
For it's the day. The day for bad poetry.

Bad Poetry Day August 19

August 18th is Bad Poetry Day. In honor of this High Holy Day, I have written some bad poetry. With Zoe's help.
Taking a page (zing!) from some of the most famous poets in history, we looked to daily life for material, and then we took another page, by which I mean our poems might sound familiar, but with some differences. Terrible, awful differences.

"Cleaning Up Toys on a Tuesday Evening"
Whose mess this is I think I know
She was supposed to clear it hours ago
The toys, some sharp, are three-feet deep
Quite a few were hardly cheap
I've got work to do before I sleep
I've got work to do before I sleep

"To My Child, to Make Much of Time"
Gather ye dead leaves while ye may
Because we're leaving this park in two minutes

"Ode on a Strange Sound Coming from Her Bedroom"
Heard children are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter
What discordant shrieks and mysterious thumps?
What mad raving? What wild possession?
That loud sound was nothing, Mother,
And nothing made that sound
That is all Mommy knows on earth,
And all Mommy needs to know.

"Hope is the thing with feathers"
I don't know what that other toy is.
The one without feathers.

I entered her room and found her thus, proclaiming:
"My name is Zoe-mandias, Queen of the World. Also, Brooklyn.
Look on my works, Mommy, and despair!"
Her bedsheets in disarray, ruins tell the tale of a stuffed-animal explosion. 
Around her feet, books spill out from her bookcase. 
And all over the floor just really a shit ton of Legos.
Colossal wreckage, boundless, stretching far away.
Like, that many Legos.

"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"
Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage, and keep raging.
Are you still raging even though it's way past your bedtime?
Well done.
Now ask them for water.

"This Is Just to Say"
I peed in your bed
Last night
And not just a little bit.
Forgive me.
I was comfortable
And my legs weren't working.

Zoe: 145; Universe: 0

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Zoe vs. the Keurig (plus an ode).

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

Quoth the Raven: Nevermore . . . than one post a week, if that, the Raven's tired. 
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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Zoe vs. Something Bad

"Do you want to know something bad, Mommy?" Zoe asks in one of her familiar yet chilling non sequiturs.

I pause in emptying her backpack and look up at her, my mind jumping tracks from the did-she-eat-her-lunch suspense to uh-oh-what-fresh-hell suspense.
"Really? What's that?" I ask conversationally, belying my panic. 
As I wait for her to finish basking in my undivided attention, I think: Why does she always drop bombs on me when we're just through the door and I'm sweaty and tired and have to make dinner in five minutes? 
Probably---and by "probably" I mean "definitely"---this has something to do with the basking-in-attention thing. All kids crave attention, but Zoe has extra reason. Her mother is so frazzled on weeknights that it's bath time till the woman notices what new bruises and black-and-blues Zoe's acquired that day.
So I understand her timing. It's just a wee bit frustrating. 
I brace myself as she finally answers.
"I know what this means." She holds up her middle finger, then waits for my reaction.
"And what does it mean?" I ask, still nonchalant.
She sways from side to side, holding her finger. I can tell she's just itching to flip me the bird again, in the interests of science.
"Something very bad."
"You're right," I tell her. "It means something rude and vulgar and we don't do it."
Meanwhile, I'm thinking, Daddy and Mommy give each other the finger all the time super casually just to mess with each other. But it's probably not appropriate to tell a five-year-old how Daddy often puts his hand in his pocket like he's looking for something and then, acting very surprised, pulls out his middle finger, holds it up to me, and says, "I think this is for you." Never gets old! 
"Did someone at camp show you that?" I continue to Zoe.
She nods, then tells me all about how so-and-so did it to somebody-or-other so then so-and-so got in trouble and was in timeout for the rest of the day until his mother came and how the counselors told everyone not to do it because it was bad.
"Well, sure sounds like he learned his lesson, right?" 
She nodded and then she went to play. It seemed like the counselors had done a good job, but naturally Zoe had absorbed the DRAMA and wanted to discuss it. Overall, though, I kind of felt I'd dodged a bullet.
Before Zoe was born, I had this idealized view of the "teachable moment." They would always occur in some lemon-yellow kitchen where the sun eternally shined, and my child would be reading a book with me or we'd be engaged in some art or craft, which in real life I have no patience for, when she'd stop for a moment, look up at me--her all-wise and all-knowing mother---and say, "Dearest mother, why do bad things happen to good people?" And I'd have a speech ready in my hip pocket, one that was carefully nuanced, full of wisdom and lyricism and ending with a recommended list for further reading, and afterwards I'd say it was time for bed, even though the sun was still beaming aggressively into our kitchen, and she would immediately comply and go to sleep with a smile on her face, which is of course the most far-fetched part of this whole scenario.
It turned out, however, that that was not the end of the Middle-Finger Incident. As soon as Daddy came home, she asked him the same thing, and also got the same sober attention as he explained that that was a bad thing to do and she shouldn't do it. What an effect this question was having!
And then the next day we were eating dinner with friends when, into a moment of silence, she turned to our friends and said, "Do you want to know something bad?"
I rolled my eyes, but I have to say I was also impressed. Maybe I need her to start writing my blog titles, because she's a natural at click bait.

Zoe: 144; Universe: 0

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Zoe vs. The Five Big Questions,
in which Zoe answers "Why do bad things happen to good people?" much better 
than I ever could.

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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