Thursday, May 19, 2005

Inter-Planetary Travel

Daughter and I were in the car, as usual. The traffic on the freeway was progressing at a stately four inches an hour, and the next off-ramp was somewhere in the next county. A voice piped up from the back:

“Mommy, tell me again all the different ways people can die”

She might be young, but she understands the concept of a captive audience.

Here are some questions I have fielded from the driver’s seat over the last month. Please note these have always been asked when we’re driving someplace reasonably distant, so we would have plenty of time to wrestle this subject into submission:

“Why was that man in the grocery store wearing a dress and lipstick? If he can wear lipstick, why can’t I?”

(This led to heartfelt thanks for not raising the question in front of the man in lipstick, a graceless monologue on tolerance, and a brief reiteration of how small children, be they male or female, don’t need to wear Crazy For Coral Lip Luster.)

“Why does Grandma smoke, if she knows it’s bad for her?”

(This led to a short explanation of the roots and causes of addiction, a boring harangue about Daughter not smoking when she’s older, and a final passionate plea that she not lecture her adoring grandmother.)

“What does it mean to be married?”

(This led to an unspeakably dull lecture of the history of marriage, including the nature of a dowry and the trading of livestock for brides, followed by a tedious digression into the changing definition of marriage in the modern age. I then had the sense to ask her what she thought marriage was. Daughter thinks marriage is when you dance together and get cake.)

“What do people do with dead bodies?”

(This led to me mumbling “A bunch of things” and pointing out a hawk flying over the freeway.)

I actually enjoy taking a large, complicated idea and breaking it down into bite-sized chunks a small girl can manage. I had assumed, though, that Consort and Daughter were wrestling some big issues as well. As usual, I was painfully mistaken.

Daughter and I got home from some errand which had been enlivened by “Why can’t we give the man sitting on the corner money, like his sign says? Why does he need money? What was Vietnam? Did we win? How can someone’s brain get sick and how does a Doctor make it better?”

Back in the kitchen, I mopped my brow and said something to Consort like “How do you handle the car questions?”

He looked blankly at me.

“The car questions,” I repeated. “You know: life, death, our commitment to keeping Southeast Asia free from communism. How do you handle them?”

“We listen to Motown. She doesn’t ask me questions. That’s something you two do together.”


Baking muffins, scrap-booking and Hula classes are some things mothers and their small daughters do together. There are magazines devoted to such pleasures. I don’t get these magazines. What I do get are big-issue questions while attempting to merge into freeway off-ramps at rush hour, which is like juggling pre-menstrual wolverines.

But this led me to think about what my daughter expects out of her parents. I look at the parenting Consort and I do, and I would say we are consistent parents. We have similar views on education, religion, the behavior we expect, more or less, from our kid. If it’s just one parent and one child, however, each parent gets very rigid about certain things, very lax about others. From Daughter’s perspective she simultaneously dwells on planet Mom and planet Dad.

On Planet Mom, fast food is Mexican. Owing to my being a Los Angeles native, I believe food looks naked without salsa and the best neighborhood restaurants should offer goat meat stew. I won’t eat it, you understand, but it makes me feel cozy to see it on the hand-written menu which is tacked over the paper-napkin dispenser and the jalapenos and pickled carrots. The background music is Mexican polka.

On Planet Dad, fast food is pizza, and there is no time of day that pizza doesn’t enhance. I suspect pizza has been their first meal of the day on more than one occasion. Consort’s errands with Daughter somehow always manage to end right next to some pizza joint which uses only water imported from Brooklyn for the dough and has an autographed picture of Danny Aiello up on the wall. The background music is Howard Stern.

On Planet Mom, Daughter may, if she chooses, pretend to be a cat, complete with meowing for a while. Any meowing at all makes Planet Dad’s eye twitch. On the other hand, Planet Dad is always up for a weekend trip to the beach while Planet Mom finds bright sunlight and sand in her purse exasperating.

When Daughter is getting dressed in the morning, there are advantages to dual-planetary citizenship. Planet Mom can braid hair. Planet Dad will let her wear anything she wants, and will let her style her own hairdo, which recently meant wearing five small ponytails scattered across her head like bales of hay. However, Planet Dad is not a morning person and has been found sleeping with his head on the toilet tank when he was supposed to be supervising teeth-brushing. Planet Mom is flawed but awake, which makes the drive to school less invigorating, but more survivable.

Even the language is slightly different. On Planet Mom, “I’ll be there in a minute” means “I’ll be there when I finish my work, unless I hear a sudden shriek of pain combined with the sound of something heavy hitting a skull, at which point I will dash in, but don’t even try faking it to get me in there sooner, because the consequences will be simply horrifying”.

“I’ll be there in a minute” on Planet Dad means “You said something, and I responded automatically, but never actually heard you. If you really need me, please walk in here and pluck at my shirt for five minutes while chanting 'Daddydaddydaddydaddy' but know that I will only hear you when Planet Mom finally shouts ‘Am I the only one hearing that?' ”

Hmm. I’d better stop now. I am starting to realize Consort and I have no common points of parenting beliefs besides “Well-mannered girls don’t set their house on fire"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to know what happened to the last few letters of this posting! Is your home indeed burning?

And if so, when can we expect a hilarious recap?

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my favorite unanswerable questions was when my Jewish then 4 year old was watching me nurse his baby brother and asked, "Mommy, how does Jesus get the milk in your bosoms?" Oy.

ps: I LOVE your writing SO MUCH!

11:13 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Sister of Danny,
Considering how much fine writing you have flying around your house, I take that as the highest compliment.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

And thank you, Anonymous, for alerting me to my inability to cut and paste, a task I believe Capuchin monkeys can do.

3:59 PM  

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