Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Magic, Revisited

Ainsley came in from school Friday grinning like the cat who ate the canary. She threw open her backpack and held up a well-worn and well-known book.

"Look what I got at the library today!" she said in a sing-song tone usually reserved for "I told you so." And behold, there was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

I sighed. Not because I do not want her to read this book; on the contrary, because I want her to read it and love it as much as I do. She'd been lobbying to give the book a shot for several weeks and I had been urging her to maybe wait until she's a little older.

"Just wait a little while," I had said. "I know you're a great reader, but it's really meant for older elementary and middle-school kids. You might get frustrated and give up. That's one I think you will really, really love and I want you to be able to understand it and enjoy it."

So basically I made that book Forbidden Fruit. I've been working with young people for 14 years; you would think I'd know by now that the surest way of getting someone under the age of 21 to do something is to tell them not to do it.

I saw a bookmark in it, and it wasn't on the first page.

"Have you started it yet? Are you getting it?"

She beamed. "I am on the second chapter already."

So it begins. She's getting to know The Boy Who Lived.

Ainsley loves to read, but this summer she wouldn't read for longer than about 5 minutes at a time; the outside in general, and the pool in particular, were always calling. Knowing that we had weekend plans to go to the pool, I bet that I wouldn't see much of her coveted Mr. Potter that weekend.

I bet wrong.

The book went with her everywhere. She took it to the pool and cracked it open at every adult swim and sometimes beyond until we reminded her that it was 90 degrees outside and she might want to stay cool. She read in the car, she read while the television was on and trying to capture her attention, she read sitting outside while we waited for the space station to appear overhead. I've seen her get wrapped up in a book before, but I've never seen one hold her quite to tightly in its grip.

As a school librarian, this doesn't surprise me; the Harry Potter series truly is magical. As Ainsley's mom, I am a little surprised. We own the first movie, and one afternoon I decided to pop it in the player and test the waters; it's not a great movie on its own, but I wanted to see if Ains would take the bait and at least get interested in the story and characters. This has been a couple of years ago, well before I thought she'd be ready to read the books. I just wanted to see if there was any fan-girl potential there. And to get away from the terror of the Barbie movies.

"This is boring," she said about halfway through. "I don't like Harry Potter." And she walked out of the room to go play, leaving my librarian's heart in shreds inside my chest. How can I have a child who doesn't like the Potter?

I'm not sure why all of a sudden the interest in reading the books is there, but I am thrilled. Now that she has started the first one and seems to be loving it she's already asking about the others, and we have told her that reading one a year, so that she matures as Harry matures, might be the best way. As well as she's doing with Sorcerer's Stone, I still don't think she would quite understand the Dementors and why they're so terrifying, not to mention the various mildly gruesome deaths that occur in later books.

Besides, I had to endure long, suspenseful waits between the books...she should, too. Anticipation builds character.

It's been fun these last few days reliving the joy of Harry Potter through her eyes. I've re-read several over the years, mostly in anticipation of whatever movie was being released that year, but nothing quite captures the joy of the first time, does it? Watching Ains read, or listening to Jason read to her at bedtime, takes me back to the week I devoured the first three books. I was in my first library job, working in the education library of a university, fresh out of library school. I'd heard all the buzz surrounding the books, but they were so new (the third one not even published until the summer I graduated) they weren't yet required reading in my children's lit classes. I found myself under doctor's orders to stay away from work for three days due to a suspected case of "walking" pneumonia. To bide the time and to do something vaguely related to my job while recovering, I grabbed the first three books from the library's shelves.

I read one a day. And went into a kind of illness-assisted state of depression that I had to wait months for the fourth one.

When I closed the cover of the final book, I felt I was closing a door. Never again would I enter that world of magic, never again would I wonder if Harry, Ron, and Hermione would all three come out alive in the ultimate showdown of good versus evil, never again would I speculate whether He Who Must Not Be Named could be defeated in the end.

Now I'm getting to live the books again, this time through a different, younger set of eyes. Her excitement when it's time to read the next book, her joy every time she starts a new year at Hogwarts alongside Harry...I'll be right there with her, watching and listening. And being so glad that my kid loves Harry Potter, after all.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Some Days You're the Dog, Some Days You're the Hydrant...And Some Days, You're A Squished Dead Possum In the Turn Lane

It was one of the most horrifying things I've ever seen.

Two fluffy, well-kept-looking white dogs were in the middle of a busy 5-lane highway I travel every day. I saw them a long way away; everyone was hitting their brakes, dodging them as they went from northbound to southbound and back to the middle.

Please, God, I thought, don't let one of these dogs get hit. I just don't know if I can see that today.

And as far as I know, I got my wish. No dogs died in the making of this blog entry.

The horrifying part was what these cute and collared dogs were doing and what had them running hither and yon and then sticking it out in the turn lane. A possum had been hit and then run over, repeatedly, in the middle lane. It was little more than a flattened mass of pulverized flesh and fur ground into the asphalt.

And yet for these dogs, it was apparently dinner. Though there wasn't much left to try to eat, the dogs were turning their fluffy white heads to the side and gnawing on the pavement, trying to extract something of substance from what used to be a living being. As I passed, I was shocked by the looks on their once-tamed faces and by the violent way they were trying to get something, anything, into their mouths and to their stomachs; these dogs, who were wearing collars and still looked clean and well-groomed, had been turned from man's best friend into the basest core of their own animal nature.

After feeling repulsion (this is an over-used phrase, but I did kinda throw up in my mouth a little bit) I started to feel sad. What had to have happened to those dogs for them to stoop to that level? They looked like they had very recently been loved and washed and given identification to wear. How bad does life have to get for a dog before squashed possum, eaten alongside cars honking and zooming along at 45mph, seems like a good idea?

It's been days since I saw this, but I am having a hard time getting that image out of my head. Especially yesterday. Yesterday was a bad day for me; it was one of those times in my job when I really wasn't liking what I'm doing. I felt incredibly overwhelmed by all the things I've been asked to do and incredibly annoyed by how little work I end up getting done after a constant stream of questions and interruptions. We've all been there.

A coworker stopped by and asked me how my year was going.

"Well, you know," I replied, "some days you're the dog, some days you're the hydrant."

And in my mind's eye I saw those white dogs eating roadkill. Sometimes being the dog isn't such a stellar thing, either. I actually felt some sympathy for the possum, too, and found that I could relate; it sucks to not even be able to stop being pestered when you're dead. That's pretty much how I felt; like a mashed lump of flesh, fur, and bone being picked apart even after there wasn't much left to pick at.

I imagine I will, animal lover that I am, think of the dogs often. I hope that, if their owners are good people who just left a gate open, they're reunited and welcomed back into the home that used to feed them. I hope their owners never know their capacity for gnawing up roadkill (may their people never question too much the red stains around their little white mouths.) If they are strays, I hope they can find better (and safer) pickings.

My day got better yesterday, and by the end of work today I was (mostly) loving my job again and wondering what all the doom and gloom was about yesterday.

Sadly, for those animals, there may not be any more good days.

Couple that with the viral video of the woman who threw the kitten into a garbage bin, and my heart breaks for those animals who depend on us for everything, only to be harmed, neglected, mistreated. It may be true that every dog has its day; but sometimes that day is spent celebrating a score of fresh roadkill.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's My Party And I'll Fall Off the Diving Board If I Want To

I'm not one to turn down a party. Unless that party is for 20 children under the age of 10.

One of the rules for birthday parties at the kid's school is that if you invite one classmate to your big bash, you have to invite them all. No joke. We were told this at kindergarten orientation and people actually stick with this program. I've long been hoping for a revolt, but the closest I got was last year when one of Ainsley's BFFs invited just the girls in the class over for birthday princess makeovers. Apparently, this ticked off the boys (and even some of the boys' parents) because birthday parties are supposed to be "fair" and no one is supposed to feel left out.

You know what I say? Suck it up, kids. Life ain't fair. Get used to being left out now because the teenage years don't make you feel any more popular. And if it's your birthday, you should get to choose who comes over to your house and eats cake. If you don't want that weird kid who sits behind you in class and sneezes all over your ponytail to come sit behind you in your house and sneeze all over your ice cream cup, that's your right.

Even though Ainsley's class has dwindled some in number, inviting all her classmates to a birthday party for her would mean having the pitter-patter of about 18 pairs of 'tween feet in my little home. No amount of drugs could ever make that seem like a good idea, so I have put off the big class birthday party.

But we belong to a pool, and that means we can do a relatively affordable birthday party for a large crowd there. And by relatively affordable, I mean we only had to refinance the house once. It's not everyday your only child turns 8, though, and she's one of the last in her class to have a classmates party in the three years she's been in school, so we decided to take the plunge (literally) and have the big birthday bash at the pool.

Even though I didn't have to do any decorating, and the food, paper products, goodie bags, and entertainment were all taken care of, I found myself at the end of the two-hour affair breathless, harried, and exhausted. How do elementary-school teachers do it? You get well over a dozen kids together, throw in some sugar and a few waterslides, and anyone over the age of 17 is going to get really tired, really quickly.

The party-planning packet I received from our recreation center advertised that a birthday party there creates "memories that last a lifetime." We probably did give Ainsley a day she'll never forget, but that may have more to do with the fall she took on the diving board ladder in the last 10 minutes of the party than the festivities themselves. Nothing kills a good party's buzz quite like the guest of honor saying her goodbyes through tears while blood trickles down her knee.

What I'll remember, though (aside from the fact that the boys didn't want to sit with the girls at pizza time; gosh, that starts early) is how tight-knit Ainsley's class is. So tight-knit that it's borderline intrusive; everybody wants to get in everybody else's business.

When you have a small class like that, a class that's been pretty intact going into their fourth year of school together, the kids know each other almost too well. Everyone's presents for Ainsley were pretty much spot-on; they showed that they know she loves to read, loves to be a girly-girl, loves to color, loves her Webkinz. Listening to their little conversations, though, you realize they're all about being up in each other's business. It's like Gossip Girl, elementary edition.

Everybody wants to know who's sliding with who, and who's talking to who at the diving board, and who's parents are doing playdates afterward, and who didn't finish their cupcake, and who all Ainsley's adults are, and on and on and on. When it was time to open presents the kids were inordinately interested in who got her what and what did they write on the card and so on--that just isn't normal. The gift-opening is supposed to be the least interesting part of the party for everybody but the birthday kid and the poor parent who's trying to keep track of it all.

It all adds up to this scary fact--these kids are going to be together, with perhaps just a few withdrawals and additions, all the way through 8th grade. Eventually the girls are going to see the boys in a new light and the boys are going to actually want to sit at the same table as the girls, and everyone is so wrapped up in everyone else that there's bound to be endless drama. Soap operas may be dying, but in about 3 years there will be such a daily saga at that school between the hours of 8 and 3 that anyone who still misses As The World Turns can totally get their fix.

Until then, I've at least given Ainsley that party to remember with friends she'll never forget...and yet another scar on her knee.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Black Leather Leggings (In A Youth Size 7/8)

I came this close to buying my 7-year-old a pair of black faux-leather leggings.

We were in Target looking for the perfect little hip outfit for her to wear to tonight's Jonas Brothers concert. We found a black tunic with a big, screen-printed red rose surrounded by sparkly things; it looked so like something I would have worn as a tween in imitation of Cyndi Lauper or Madonna that I felt Ains just had to have it. A pair of leggings were in order to make the outfit complete and ready to go for the kid's first ever concert. I picked up a pair of black ones in a girls' size medium and noticed they were made of something shiny and slick and clearly meant to imitate leather.

Black leather leggings...well, that's kind of "rock star", isn't it? I thought to myself. Ainsley oohed and ahhed and I was on my way to the register until I found myself returning to logical thinking and realizing that black leather-ish leggings are maybe, just maybe, a little too sexy for a child.

"I changed my mind, Ains. These leggings are just a little too hootchie-mama for you."

Sometimes I say really dumb things out loud to my kid. I waited with held breath for Miss Curious to ask what a hootchie-mama is, and I just don't know that I have a really good age-appropriate answer for that one.

She didn't ask, though I had questions of my own. Namely, why in the hell a store would sell black leather leggings in the young girls' department when it's not Halloween. Can we just try to keep our little girls as little girls until their age has entered double digits? Please?

We chose a pair of simple cotton capri-length leggings instead and the kid's first pair of Converse low-top Chuck Taylors. People I work with have been telling me she's my mini-me; I would have picked out a very similar outfit had I been going to a concert in, say, 1987. And I, like her, would have looked trendy and kinda cool while not at all crossing that fine line into hootchie-mama.

Of course, it's going to be in the mid-90s tonight for this outdoor concert, so she's probably going to have to save this very retro-chic rocker ensemble for some other big event this fall and sing along with the Jo-Bros in a sundress. But at least I can live with putting the clothes aside and saving them for, say, some school-related function; had I bought the leather leggings, that might have clashed with traditional Catholic-school values.

Clothing choices aside, Ains is stoked for her first concert experience. A good friend scored two tickets for free and knew Ainsley would go nuts when she saw them. (After 30 minutes of flipping out, she looked at me and said, "I never thought anything like this would happen to me!")

I haven't heard from y'all in a while; chime in below with memories of your first concert. How old were you, and who did you see, and where? And did your mom dress you in age-appropriate separates?

(I'll start--believe it or not, my first concert wasn't until I was 18 years old. It was a week before I left for Centre, and I saw the B-52s with the Violent Femmes in the same outdoor venue we're going to tonight. Knowing me at the time, I probably dressed too old, though not in a slutty way--I seem to remember a pair of Mom-jean rolled-up cutoffs and some hiking boots. Sexy, right? Now THERE was a girl in desperate need of some fake black leather.)