- fire watcher
- bike courier
- delivery truck driver
- security guard
- technical diver
- special effects makeup artist
- pastry chef
- robotics engineer
- checkout clerk
- Foley artist
- tollbooth attendant
- line cook
- sex worker
- book artist
- tree surgeon
- line technician
- postal carrier
- charcoal burner
- chef de cuisine
- spice harvester
- travel journalist
- parking attendant
- food service worker
- sanitation worker
- auto mechanic
- college professor
- television host
- bus driver
- bike mechanic
- YouTube personality
- park ranger
- civil engineer
- social worker
- marine biologist
- historical gastronomist
- hunting guide
- knitwear designer
- forensic anthropologist
- museum docent
- barge captain
- religious ascetic
- bloodspatter analyst
- orphanage worker
- finger artist
- historical re-enactor
- abortion provider
- elephant trainer
- food truck owner
- drive-in theater operator
- fitness instructor
- ferry operator
- childcare provider
- guerrilla conservationist
- building contractor
- historical archivist
- film editor
People love to invoke terrifying conversations that scar children for life whenever progressives are pushing for changes that will improve the lives of marginalized people. Over the course of my life, I’ve heard people object to same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting on the basis that they couldn’t explain it to their children.
This is manifestly bullshit. If your kid comes home from kindergarten and asks you where Heather’s daddy is and why she has two mommies, you say “There are all kinds of different families– some people have a mommy and a daddy, and some people have two mommies, and some people have two daddies, and some people have just one parent. People are all kinds of ways.” Done and done.
But there are some things I shouldn’t have to explain to my kids, because they shouldn’t be real. For example:
20 Things I Shouldn’t Have to Explain to My Kids
- Normalization of non-consensual touching. Obviously this includes rape, but more often, especially in children’s media, it’s smaller things like kissing someone or tapping their shoulder over their objections, that are overwhelmingly dismissed as “teasing” but obviously normalize a lack of bodily autonomy.
- Deportation of unaccompanied child refugees. Did you know that children as young as three years of age are expected to act as their own attorneys in deportation proceedings? Disgusting.
- Islamophobic violence. I don’t even know where to start on this one.
- Children dying of neglect or abuse, especially when the people who are supposed to protect children from harm in the worst case scenarios (cops, social workers, CPS, etc.) are aware of the situation and failed to act.
- The glass ceiling. We’ve had MANY talks about this one in the last several months.
- The “gay panic” legal defense. What. The. Actual. Fuck.
- Police murdering young people of color in the street with apparent impunity.
- Body shaming. Why is the episode of Phineas and Ferb about Candance body-swapping with Perry the Platypus called “Does This Duckbill Make Me Look Fat?”? How is that child-appropriate, Disney?
- Cartoon misogyny and gender policing in general. It is absurd that I have to point out to my children explicitly that non-femmefolk have eyelashes in real life.
- “Chief Wahoo”, “Chief Thunderthud”, and Tonto. None of that shit should have happened. None of that shit should be CONTINUING to happen.
- Blackface. We recently looked up some of Bojangles Robinson’s tap dancing on YouTube and inadvertently opened a whole can of horrible racist worms. Thanks, 20th-century America!
- Rooms full of old white men making decisions about children, women, and people of color.
- “Sundown Towns” and lynch law and slavery and the Back to Africa movement and everything else white supremacist society has cooked up to eliminate black people.
- Dr. Seuss’ political cartoons advocating the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans, and, in fact, Japanese and Japanese-American internment itself.
- Reservations, the Trail of Tears, extermination campaigns (aka “the Indian Wars”), Indian scalp bounties, buffalo culls, Philip “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” Sheridan, the Indian Removal Act, and the cultural holocaust (including residential schools and the Dawes Act). Not a complete list.
- Accidental shooting deaths of children. The NRA has successfully lobbied against parents receiving information about the dangers of guns at child well-visits, and apparently everyone is just okay with this even though TODDLERS continue to accidentally shoot themselves and their family members on a regular basis in this country. I cannot with this.
- The criminalization of abuse victims who act in self-defense. How am I supposed to raise kids who stick up for themselves enough but not “too much”?
- Companies paying millions of dollars to defend their right to destroy the planet on which all their employees and customers live. WHAT.
- The Flint water crisis. And, by the same token, Love Canal, Cancer Alley and whatever the next poisoned, neglected, and gaslit community is going to be.
- The pay gap, the second shift, and all that other bullshit that characterizes the price of living while female in this country of supposed liberty and justice.
I am honest with my children.
No matter what.
It’s difficult. It means sitting with a lot of uncomfortable truths. It means prefacing a lot of statements with “I think” or “basically.” It means admitting to my own ignorance and failings more often than my ego would prefer.
It also means we don’t do those childhood myths designed to scare or haze children: no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, no Sugar Sprite, no Boogeyman, and no Tooth Fairy.
We do preserve the parts of those traditions that are important or fun, because growing up is significant and life should be fun, but there’s no fanciful explanation for it. My kids know that Robert hides the Easter eggs, that I make the majority of their Christmas presents, and that the house takes a cut of their Halloween candy action (which is only fair, since we supply transportation, room and board, and attire).
And most of the time I feel like it’s magic enough to have a loving and stable family,a safe home, and a beautiful world to explore.
But for some reason, when I looked in Númenor’s mouth a few months ago and saw two VERY loose front bottom teeth and the permanent teeth already erupting under them, I felt a little tug of sadness about the fact that our house is a Tooth Fairy No-Fly Zone. I worried, just a little, that somehow this milestone wouldn’t be as important or as marked as it should be.
So I thought about how we should shape our family traditions as we turned this new corner. Here’s what I came up with.
Some practical equipment, namely toothpaste. Until now our smalls have been brushing their teeth with just water, which works fine, but we want to be extra-careful with those new permanent teeth coming in because they have to last. So now Númenor has his own little pot of baking soda, bentonite clay, and coconut oil to help him clean and polish.
A special gift for this special first tooth, in this case, the A-frame play tent I’ve been planning. There will probably be a special gift for the last tooth, too, when we get there.
Two tiny bits of tradition: a tooth traded for a gold coin, and a special place for the dead drop. The trade is the magical part, and the pocket money is the bit kids actually care about.
This is the beginning of the end of the little-kid parenting in our family. Now that those first teeth have dropped, Númenor is just a regular kid, no longer a little kid. There are still others coming up the ranks, of course, but we will have one child who is too old to be called little anymore.
Which is equal parts frightening and wonderful.
And plenty magical.
It’s Advent and time to get ready for Christmas! In celebration, here’s a list to help with your elving. It’s current as of 2016, and I will update it as necessary in the future. I hope you find something to inspire you here– enjoy!
If you’re like me, you have no problem coming up with presents to give people for the holidays, but filling stockings is a bit more difficult. Picking out a dozen appropriate trinkets is much harder than finding a couple big gifts!
As I have filled my children’s stockings over the past several years, I’ve struggled with exactly what belongs. I don’t want to fill them with cheap junk, or with too much candy, and I don’t want to spend a lot of money or time on stocking stuffers. I want the things in my family’s stockings to be worth getting, but still small.
So I brainstormed up a list one year, based in part on what I’ve found works and in part on what I predict will work but haven’t had occasion to try yet. A lot of the things on this list (I’ll use an asterisk * to denote them) can be made at home with only a hobbyist skill level.
Stocking Stuffer Idea Masterlist
For babies and toddlers:
- fruit— it’s cheap and they love it. Easy-peasy. If you aren’t doing baby-led solids, you can always tuck a couple of their favorite *purées into the stocking instead.
- wooden spools— great for stacking, rolling, even lacing.
- recycling— seriously: yogurt tubs, the metal lids from frozen juice concentrate, and squeezable condiment containers are all excellent toys for kids this age
- *playsilks— one of the ultimate open-ended toys
- *massage bars or food-grade oil— for baby massage. We use almond, but olive or sunflower would work equally well.
- wadded paper— not only does it take up a bunch of space in the stocking, but you know they’ll love it. It’s fine to just use printer paper, but unbleached newsprint is ideal.
- *crunchy snacks— puffed grains, yogurt puffs, or crackers in a little container are a great treat for a toddler, and they promote fine motor development.
- hairbrush— a soft goat-hair brush is not only the perfect tool for keeping wispy baby hair groomed, it’s also a good sensory stimulation tool for teaching names of body parts and promoting coordination
- small board books or indestructible books— Sandra Boynton books are a great size for most stockings.
- *cake crayons or crayon rocks— this is a great present for older siblings to give a toddler as they can recycle their old crayon stubs.
- *knot doll— perhaps the easiest doll to make, a great introduction to dollmaking for the giver and to dolls for the recipient.
- *playdough— a single container of storebought is the perfect size for a stocking, or you can fill a baby food jar or other small container with homemade.
- *bath toys, bubble bath, etc.— older babies are moving from just getting bathed to actively taking a bath, and that means it’s a great time to make sure they’re having good cleaning fun. Our favorite brand of bubble bath comes in a stocking-dominating 1-quart size, but it’s still an awesome way to make bathtime more playful.
- *hat— whether it’s a soft stocking cap for a tiny December babe or a funny animal-eared hat for a toddler, a little warmth is always a welcome addition.
- *bubble solution— most kids won’t be able to really work out how to blow bubbles at this age, but they’ll love watching someone else blow bubbles for them.
- *fingerpaint— with art, it’s best to start them young. A tasty, good-to-eat fruit-based paint is best for this age, because you know they won’t be able to resist.
- *blocks— whether it’s a thick branch cut into chunks or a delicate, German-made rainbow of fancy shapes, blocks are a great filler gift that even a newborn will quickly grow into.
- *rattle— soft fabric or shiny silver plate, old or new, there’s a reason rattles are classic.
- *teether— we prefer silicone here, but natural wood is nice, too.
- large buttons— to this day, I don’t think I’ve topped the Christmas when I gave my 1-year-olds a collection of 1.75-3″ buttons. A mix of colors, textures, shapes, and materials will be even more compelling.
For symbolic functionalists (ages 3-7):
- magnifying glass— learn about bugs, optics, and the world in general. A great stepping-stone for kids who aren’t quite ready for a microscope.
- hand-size ball— nothing too hard or too bouncy for younger kids, just a nice-sized toy for rolling down ramps and off of tables and using as a pretend egg.
- colored pencils, *crayons, or markers— give good-quality tools that are a true pleasure to use. Everyone has their favorite brands and varieties; ours are Lyra Super Ferby, Prang, and Giotto Turbo Maxi.
- craft sticks, large wooden beads, ball of string— open ended and cheap, these are an excellent way to get young engineers thinking about How To Make It.
- glue stick, *ruler, and paper-only scissors— all great simple tools.
- flashlight— something rugged, waterproof, and with a wind-up, shake, or squeeze-charge battery will save future headaches.
- *small dress-up elements— animal ear headbands, fancy gloves, pirate eye patch, false mustaches, domino mask, etc.
- magnet— a nice, big one is the best plan; something that can be used for testing surfaces and making paperclips dance but won’t wipe hard disks.
- *paper airplanes— virtually free, this one is easy to underestimate, but a few sturdy pre-folded paper airplanes will give a kid this age at least a full day of play, if not a whole weekend.
- crazy straws— be ready with a strongly-colored drink for maximum effect (grape juice works well).
- *stickers— a guaranteed hit. To save money, buy up a bunch of stickers on clearance after seasonal holidays throughout the year. Kids this age will love stickers and stickering no matter how strange it is to be decorating with Easter bunnies in December.
- sunglasses— equally for dressing up and eye protection, a cheap pair of kids’ sunglasses is the perfect size for a stocking.
- *small soft toy— 90s Beanie Babies are cheap and ubiquitous and the perfect size for a stocking.
- novelty socks— whether the kid in question loves Winnie-the-Pooh or sugar skulls, you can probably find something. The bargain section of Target often has great novelty kids’ socks throughout the year.
- inflatable ball— deflated for a stocking, just blow it up for Christmas afternoon burning-off-energy.
- temporary tattoos— especially if a kid has an inked parent, this can be a fun addition to the dress-up possibilities. In our house, we use temporary tattoos as post-bath incentives (because they stick better to clean skin, of course).
- *hair accessories— the “ouchless” style of hair elastic made from fold-over elastic is best for kids this age. Don’t shy away from sparkly, glittery, fuzzy, or generally over-the-top– little kids understand exuberance, but have no concept of tackiness.
- *alphabet or number toys (stamps, stickers, games…)— a set of mini alphabet stamps or a spinny speller, number stickers or a set of dice with Arabic numerals on them, or even place-value blocks are all great learning tools and toys for this age.
- small notebooks, sketchbooks, or writing pads— some kids will make a single mark on each page, flip through to the end and declare themselves done, while others will fill every blank space and still be trying to cram more in. Either way, they’ll love it.
- small musical instrument— such as a whistle, ocarina, mini hand drum, maracas, etc. for making noise and (hopefully) contributing to the family band more than to the family headache.
- *small motion-based toys— paper yo-yos, tops, bamboo-copters, hooey-sticks/whammy-diddles, buzz saws, pinwheels, Slinkys, Jacob’s ladders, climbing bears, etc.
- non-toxic nail polish— little kids love to dress up and adorn themselves for special occasions, so a tube of Piggy Paint or another kind of non-toxic nail polish can be an awesome little treat.
- *glow-in-the-dark anything— no really, anything. Buy some glow-in-the-dark beads and seal them into an old spice jar and call it ectoplasm or toxic slime or magic beans or ghost pills…
- sunprint paper— as always, a fun little novelty and a good opening to talk about the science of sunlight.
- small building sets— Playmobil, Lego, etc. often have mini-project grab-bags for a good price around the holidays.
- *Ostheimer-style figures— look around online or in a natural toys catalog for inspiration, then grab a jigsaw and see what you can do. It doesn’t have to be perfect, especially if you portray a favorite animal, because it’s driven by imagination anyway.
- Play house accessories— doll clothes, felt food, dollhouse furniture, play tools, mini spray-bottles, whatever the kid in question is into.
For concrete operationalists (ages 7-10):
- glow sticks— whether they save them for the next summer’s drive-in movies or make a Boxing Day alien autopsy movie in the living room, there’s always a use for glow sticks, and you can buy them cheaply at the dollar store!
- field guides— look at your local used book store or library book sale for a field guide to wildflowers, butterflies, minerals and gems, or whatever the kid in question always seems to need to know more about. Pocket field guides are the perfect size for a stocking!
- temporary tattoo paper/*henna kit— a great gift for the kid who is already planning their 18th-birthday tat or needs even more ways to dress up for parties.
- Japanese puzzle erasers— you can get them for about $1/each, and they are cute and functional. Kids this age love to collect and trade, too!
- *small notebooks or journals— for secret thoughts, big plans, or just writing notes
- stapler and staples, tape, scissors— the age-appropriate upgrades to the creation station, art table, or mini home office.
- craft kit— a basic sewing/mending kit or an intro-to-knitting kit are great for this age, as are friendship bracelets, pin looms, beading kits, etc.
- *tote bag— some kids this age are defined by their stuff– they need to organize it, secure it, travel with it, whatever, and a tote bag is a great, basic way to do all that.
- pocket microscope— for the kid who wants to identify sub-species of ant or is always wondering what the inside of leaves look like, this is a perfect, stocking-sized upgrade to the magnifying glass.
- magic trick— see what introductory tricks your local magic shop recommends– kids this age are finally ready to start learning some showmanship and they love feeling like they’ve outsmarted others!
- book— “pocket” paperbacks are a great fit for most stockings. Kids this age usually love adventure novels, sci-fi, and fantasy. A book of jokes or a foreign language phrasebook could be great for the right kid, too!
- origami paper— it’s pretty and versatile (it’s good for much more than origami), and it will spark creativity.
- watercolor paints— the nicer kind that comes in little tubes is ideal for kids this age, and they’re still usually pretty cheap.
- *jewelry— kids this age love fancier stuff, and a lot of it can still be affordable enough to be practical, such as a pendant on a ribbon, birthstone earrings, or bangles.
- *pinback buttons— whether they have favorite characters, are themed for favorite holidays/seasons, or are just a cute typography of the child’s name.
- *novelty keychains— tiny flashlights, a decorative initial, a pony-bead animal…so many possibilities here.
- card/dice games— whether they play by themselves, with friends, or at family game night, this is a great fit for both stockings and older kids.
- *coordination toys— yo-yos, diabolos, jacks, marbles, and jump ropes are all great for kids this age.
- Mad Libs or single issue of kids’ magazine— a great way to make reading fun and approachable, even for early readers.
- clay or modeling clay— for kids who have graduated from play-dough.
- collapsible or transforming anything— collapsible drinking cups can be found with camping supplies.
For tweens and teens:
- earbuds— easily lost or broken over the course of a year, and pretty cheap to replace. Older teens might be ready for a high-quality pair that’s meant to last.
- temporary hair dye/hair color spray/hair chalks— tweens and teens are all about decorating themselves, and this is a fun way for them to experiment without committing.
- washi tape— a versatile and fun craft supply that makes great décor and personalization touches, it’s ideal for teens and tweens
- *clothing embellishments— iron-on patches, hot-fix spikes or rhinestones, or just a pack of big safety pins can delight a punk-aligned teenager, although they will probably be too cool to show it.
- *zip-up pouches— whether for makeup storage or organizing pencils, somehow young adults never have enough smallish, zip-up bags and containers.
- *makeup and makeup tools— you can make simple makeup at home, but even the most sensitive-skinned brand snob will need supplies, and the local beauty supply store can have great deals on brushes, eyelash curlers, sponges, etc.
- gel pens and black paper— tweens love novelty school and office supplies for sending notes to each other and personalizing their spaces and belongings.
- small journal or diary, preferably with lock— it doesn’t matter how cheap and easily-defeated the lock is, a tween will still appreciate it.
- embroidery floss for friendship bracelets— even jaded, consumerist tweens love doing little crafts like friendship bracelets, and most older teens would be happy to continue exchanging little handmade tokens with their friends.
- polymer clay or cold porcelain— for the tween or teen who has outgrown modeling clay or wants something easier than natural clay.
- *amigurumi— there are free patterns for virtually any character, animal, or interest. If you’re not crafty, you could still put together a kit for your teen or tween to make it themselves.
- *accessories— a teenager’s need to play the fashion game can be met with a minimum of expense and trouble if they have a sizable and frequently-refreshed collection of accessories such as belts, hats, fashion jewelry, hair accessories, infinity scarves, etc.
- *personal care products— teenagers are all about grooming. Indulge them with moisturizer, bath salts, lip balm, shave soap, or whatever they might need. Trial or travel sized goods are perfect for stockings and will help young adults figure out what works for them.
- *favorite snack foods— if there’s any particular treat they love and you don’t like, or can’t understand, or normally refuse to pay for/make, slipping a few into their stocking is a great way to show that you love them.
- novelty flash drive— for transferring term papers from home computers to school computers, sharing pics with friends, downloading movies to take to grandma’s 20th-century historical re-enactment (aka her house), or whatever, a fun flash drive is a must-have.
- *monogrammed stationary— a fun, grown-up present for a teenager who loves all things personalized
- calligraphy supplies— some teens pride themselves on the beauty of their handwriting, or the sophisticated ease of their doodling, or want to feel more connected to their Asian heritage. A couple pens and some ink is a great way to try out calligraphy before committing to a big expensive set.
- CD/DVD/iTunes gift card— used CDs and DVDs are cheap and a great way for a young adult to start building their own media library. If you can’t find anything they like in a physical copy, you can put a little money towards their own digital purchases instead.
- nicer, “grown-up” supplies for their handcraft of choice— whether it’s a nice pair of bamboo needles for a knitter, a little book of watercolor paper for a painter, a few remnants of silk for a sewist, a multi-needle punch for a felter, a couple fat quarters for a quilter, or something else entirely, a little investment in their interest now is a message that you believe in their talents and skills.
- office/art/craft supplies— whichever ones they are always borrowing and forgetting to put back (sticky notes, nice sharp scissors, novelty hole punch, etc.)
- gift cards to local food shops— ice cream parlors, smoothie stands, pretzel stands, candy shops, or whatever you have in your area, in small denominations. Check the mall food court for ideas if you’re not sure. This one is great because you’re basically giving them a chance to hang out with their friends.
- *phone accessories— headsets, cases, car chargers, plugs/dust excluders, charms–we all know how teenagers live on their phones!
- public transit passes/all-day-fare tickets— the gift of transport and independence, great for tweens and teens in a metro area
- car wash vouchers— really a gift for you (if your teen doesn’t have their own car), but most teens are desperate for any chance to drive the car, even through the car wash, so they’ll like it, too
- books— most teens have a favorite YA/pulp paperback author or series, such as Discworld, but if not, this is a great opportunity to introduce them to yours. Teens also like banned books!
- grown-up coloring book— this is a great trend, whether your teen likes it or “likes” it
- gift card— for their favorite coffee shop or other small indulgence
- *consumable goods— especially nice soap or shave soap
- *hair accessories— everyone always needs more hair elastics, bobby pins, etc. because the little stuff like that is always getting lost
- *keyrings/fobs or luggage tags— especially with their monogram or a favorite character or theme
- *artisan chocolate— the Thanksgiving or Halloween clearance is a great way to pick up a couple little things that are still delicious, even if technically the snowflakes are would have been more seasonally-appropriate than the acorns.
- *bottle of micro-brew beer or gourmet soda— Jones or Dry soda are my personal favorites, but check your local supermarket and ethnic stores (Jarritos come in some pretty wacky but delicious flavors!)
- *cold-weather accessories— most adults suck at self-care. Make sure they have a warm hat, gloves, mitts, scarf, cowl, slippers…
- socks or underwear— if you know their favorite kind, it is perfectly acceptable to buy socks or underwear for the stocking of an adult
- *photo art or memory art— especially featuring their kids, grandkids, or pets
- *shot glasses— plain glasses are cheap and it’s easy to DIY them into something amazing and personal– but it would be tough to fit most stemware into a stocking. A shot glass or two, or maybe a single tumbler, is the way to go for stockings.
- liquor minis— if their favorite alcohol is too expensive to buy often, you can still likely get a mini of it for a very reasonable price.
- *coin purse or pouch— especially people who carry purses or handbags tend to get a bit disorganized and could use more little secure containers, regardless of their system for coins.
- *billfold or wallet— even the perfect wallet wears out, and you can easily and cheaply replace them with DIY options
- sealing wax and signet— a great, low-cost present for the antiquarian, the anachronistic, the steampunk aficionado, or just the perpetual host or avid papercrafter
- multi-tool— some people need all the help they can get perfecting their EDC.
- *small puzzle or brain teaser— everyone likes a challenge, and everyone likes a toy, no matter how old or “grown up” they are
- novelty standard card deck— whether they love flowers or baseball or Star Trek TOS, you can probably pick up a card deck that caters to them for a reasonable price.
- *desk toy or fidget— mini zen garden, stress ball, worry dolls, paper construction set, or a magnetic sculpture of paper clips, everyone needs something to play with to help them work
- old photograph of them— choose one from 10+ years ago that evokes a special memory or looks like it has a story behind it. This is especially great for elders, because it’s basically an opportunity to reminisce for an audience.
The past year has seen a dramatic shift in Númenor and Ithilien.
Sure, they’re bigger. And they speak more conventional English now. But all that is trifling. I’m talking about a big, fundamental change.
As unschooled kids, they pretty much run wild through their lives. They do whatever they want to do, and as their parents, teachers, and facilitators, we try to stay out of their way and provide them with resources and opportunities. And last spring, that was all that was happening.
But as the mornings turned cooler and the scent of woodsmoke began to permeate our early autumn landscape, something changed.
It’s difficult to put into words exactly what’s different, but it’s almost like they have become more focused.
I used to offer to help them look things up. Now they demand to be shown information.
The endless rattling of questions has started to follow a particular path instead of zigzagging madly between topics.
They listen longer, and closer. They make more guesses and inferences for themselves instead of asking me to give them each piece of the puzzle.
They have plans. Real, concrete plans for things that might actually happen– lots of fantasy still thrown in there, but more akin to daydreams than to the acid binges of imagination we were used to.
Before, learning was something that happened to them– they were naturally curious, of course, like all primates, but they didn’t trouble themselves overmuch with knowing anything particular. Now, they almost seem to vibrate with the intense, conscious desire to learn.
They want to cook, so they are helping to make the menu, and browsing in cookbooks, and being the chefs de cuisine one night per week.
They want to stargaze, so they are finding astronomy books and star guides at the library and making sure we check the weather forecast.
They want to knit, so they are watching my hands intently and making some tentative starts with fingers and spools.
They want to know about bugs, so they are running for the guidebook and carefully trapping interesting things under upside-down juice glasses for observation.
They want to write, so they are using the sound map and copying words from books.
So things look a bit different this spring than they have in previous years, when our children were just the vessels of our vision for this grand educational experiment.
In the fall, the change will likely be more complete, and Númenor and Ithilien will be taking even more leadership in their own lives, but for right now the shift is still underway, and we’re balanced between the two of them being our satellites– doing their own thing but always around what we adults are doing– and all four of us being off on our own individual journeys and making a rather messy pack as we go.
It’s strange to think that, not that long ago, they were each just a tiny tickling thing behind my bellybutton.
Strange, and wonderful.
I know my curves are delicious, but they are not for you. Consent is important.
When I say “please don’t kick me”, gently placing the soles of your filthy feet against my body and then pushing off with them is an asshole move.
You do not stock enough of the chocolate-covered almonds I like. This is unacceptable behavior.
— A chocolate fiend
Dear Bernie Sanders,
YOU HAVE LOST, okay? Kindly sit down.
Dear Proudfoot the Australorp,
Your job is to turn kitchen scraps and weeds and bugs into delicious eggs. Nowhere in your job description does it say “be a total dick by hopping the fence multiple times a day in some vain attempt to eat the peas growing in the garden.”
Knock that shit off, because you are a dual-purpose breed and three of us eat chicken.
— Your humans
Dear Donald Trump,
OMG STAHP. Get some therapy and work on yourself, and in the meantime don’t be airing that shit you believe in public because it’s dangerous and disgusting.
That strawberry ganache pie you make is fucking delicious. But every time I order it, your employees are like “Oh, the strawberry chocolate ganache?” and that undermines my faith in your food because, and I loathe that I have to even say this outright, GANACHE IS CHOCOLATE BY DEFINITION.
I notice that these same employees are never saying “Oh, you mean an egg omelette?” which would make exactly as much sense. Omelette = eggs + milk + whatever, ganache = chocolate + cream + whatever.
I don’t expect you guys to be Julia Child; I am aware that it’s a diner, but not telling your staff what the items on the menu are is clearly not working out.
Dear student loan companies,
Yeah, I know that I will pay more over the lifetime of my loan because I’m on a reduced payment plan now. But if I could pay more now, I wouldn’t have qualified for the reduced payment plan, so I’m not sure why you’re wasting my time and your money sending me mail about this fact unless it actually is the purpose of your existence to trigger my anxiety and depression.
Dear the ’90s,
I still don’t miss you.
Dear Gen X,
You used to be cool. What happened?
A special edition of My Life in Picture Books to celebrate (admittedly a few months late) the 90th anniversary of Winnie-the-Pooh’s introduction*!
Some classic children’s books aren’t necessarily uplifting to read, like Mary Poppins (spoiler alert: in case you don’t know, the Disney version of the character is sugary-sweet by comparison to the real MP). Some classic children’s books are problematic due to racism or sexism or imperialism, like…well, anything written by Rudyard Kipling. Some classic children’s books are difficult to read aloud because of language or dialect issues, like The Wind in the Willows. Some require a LOT of background information, so much so that to read them to a modern child is to give line-by-line commentary, such as the Little House series or the All of a Kind Family series.
And some classic children’s books are every bit as sweet and charming and relate-able as you remembered from your own childhood, like Winnie-the-Pooh.
Here are a handful of vignettes from the classic books about the stuffed animals that live in a fictionalized version of Ashdown Forest that have become part of our personal Darmok in the Surton household:
1. “Really as blue and as bracing.” We use this phrase to mean “it was all it was cracked up to be” or “it was even more wonderful than I expected/remembered”.
Piglet wasn’t listening, he was so agog at the thought of seeing Christopher Robin’s blue braces again. He had only seen them once before, when he was much younger, and, being a little over-excited by them, had had to go to bed half an hour earlier than usual; and he had always wondered since if they were really as blue and as bracing as he had thought them.
2. “French word meaning bonhommy.” An exclamatory phrase used to explain that a word or phrase is difficult to define or untranslatable, or is so obvious a cognate or etymology that it stands for itself. Eeyore is perhaps the oldest inhabitant in the forest; he has the sarcastic and cynical attitude of a teenager at least, whereas the other characters behave like little kids. When the other animals forget Eeyore’s birthday and he is trying to get Pooh to ask why he’s upset, he is in rare form.
“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”
“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
“Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”
“Oh!” said Pooh. He thought for a long time, and then asked, “What mulberry bush is that?”
“Bon-hommy,” went on Eeyore gloomily. “French word meaning bonhommy,” he explained. “I’m not complaining, but There It Is.”
3. “Aha!” The other animals kidnap baby Roo and leave Piglet in his place. Piglet tries desperately to carry out Rabbit’s plan (everyone would say aha! to Kanga so she understands that Roo has been kidnapped and will only be given back once she agrees to leave the forest forever). We use this phrase, and its repetition, to indicate that a Cunning Plan has come to fruition and we want other people to notice.
“Aha!” said Piglet, as well as he could after his Terrifying Journey. But it wasn’t a very good “Aha!” and Kanga didn’t seem to understand what it meant.
“Bath first,” said Kanga in a cheerful voice.
“Aha!” said Piglet again, looking round anxiously for the others. But the others weren’t there.
4. “I think the bees suspect something.” From one of Pooh’s most famous escapades, in which he dresses up as a cloud and rides a balloon up into the sky next to a beehive in an attempt to steal some honey. We use this phrase pretty much exactly as Pooh did– for indicating that someone has caught on.
After a little while, [Pooh] called down…
“I think the bees suspect something!”
“What sort of thing?”
“I don’t know. But something tells me that they’re suspicious!”
“Perhaps they think that you’re after their honey.”
“It may be that. You never can tell with bees.”
5. “Spotted or Herbaceous Backson.” A phrase used to stand in place of bullshitting. Poor Owl, who can’t really read or write but is far too proud to admit it, is presented with a note from Christopher Robin, who is just learning to write (“Gon out, backson. Bisy, backson. C.R.”), and tries to pretend he can both read and understand it.
“It is quite clear what has happened, my dear Rabbit,” he said. “Christopher Robin has gone out somewhere with Backson. He and Backson are busy together. Have you seen a Backson anywhere about in the Forest lately?”
“I don’t know,” said Rabbit. “That’s what I came to ask you. What are they like?”
“Well,” said Owl, “the Spotted or Herbaceous Backson is just a–”
“At least,” he said, “it’s really more of a–”
“Of course,” he said, “it depends on the–”
“Well,” said Owl, “the fact is,” he said, “I don’t know what they’re like,” said Owl frankly.
Many happy returns, silly old bear!
*While A A Milne wrote several stories and poems about childhood and his young son and even Edward Bear in the late 1910s and early 1920s, the first story about Winnie-the-Pooh was published in the Christmas Eve edition of a newspaper in 1925.
I just found this in my drafts folder. Life must have gotten in the way as I was setting out to take pictures and finish up this post…but it’s a perfect snapshot of my life at the moment, perhaps especially because I’m posting it nearly a week late and still unfinished.
Here’s the picture of the finished project, though:
start date: 1 March 2016
time elapsed: 1 day
At some point in the last couple of years, apparently while my back was turned, Ithilien developed a favorite color.
So the last time I was making new socks for the smalls, Ithilien was quite insistent that he wanted red socks. Red socks with gray toes and gray cuffs. Having just finished up a pair of red socks for my mother’s birthday, I was happy to use my leftover yarn to oblige him, and the red socks have been his go-to pair for the last year.
But as he put them on one morning last week, the heels no longer reached far enough to cover his heels.
“Oh no,” I said, “They’re too small. You can wear them one last time today, and then they’ll have to go into storage.”
“Okay.” He said. “But you have to make new red socks with just gray on the toes and the cuffs.”
“So I can wear them.” Said he.
“Because I very love the color red.” He said.
“So I need more red socks.” Said Ithilien.
“Oh.” I said. “Really?”
“Yeah. And then when I am a grown-up I will need very big red socks, and you must knit them.”
And that is why I am knitting new red socks for Ithilien this week.
The yarn is lovely and smooth Limited Edition Chickadee from Quince and Co, which I dyed a semisolid red with equal parts strawberry and black cherry Kool-aid. I’m holding it doubled for this project. The pattern is Rye from The Simple Collection by Tin Can Knits, which is a great basic-but-attractive sock in a variety of sizes. The pattern is definitely written for beginners, which feels slightly patronizing when you already know how to knit socks, but it’s very well-written. I did an eye-of-partridge stitch heel flap instead of the prescribed stockinette and am knitting a 7.25″ foot, otherwise I’m following the pattern pretty closely.
I remarked to Robert this week that Oregon will always be the frontier of America– wild, lawless, not quite part of the Union and not quite foreign, where cultures collide and there’s still far more natural than human on the horizon.
That Oregon is a refuge of weirdness is well-known. There’s a whole television show about the quirkiness of Portland, which, believe it or not, is the actually the most Americanized, most assimilated place out here. In the small towns, composed of farmers, ranchers, fruit-pickers, teachers, nurses, midwives, distillers, and store clerks, things are downright eccentric.
People are a little bit skeptical of strangers, like in all small towns, but they make an effort to be friendly. When you are introduced to someone, you lean far, far out of your personal space, feet firmly planted, to extend an overbalanced handshake. When you greet a friend, you raise your left hand and hug them across the shoulder blades from your right side, and the pair of you briefly create two cache-coeurs around each other with your arms.
We celebrate weird, here.
We go to the drive-in, and we shop at the farmer’s market. We have a parade to celebrate flowers, and we drive 50 miles on the freeway as if it’s nothing. We walk home in the rain and we travel to seek out snow and surf. We know that the best watermelons come from Hermiston and the best strawberries from Hood River. We watch the fields stream by out of the windows of cars and trains and buses and we know: that’s barley, that’s hops, that’s rye, that’s cabbage, that’s grapes, that’s green beans. We speak Spanish and Chinook jargon and French. We chop wood and haul wood and mill wood and burn wood and plant saplings and listen to the forest sighing in the wind and count the rings on our Christmas trees and always seem to have some pitch on our hands. We are Facebook fans of that hideous airport carpet, that, ugly as it is, means “home.” We vote by mail to protect the salmon, and we hold nothing more sacred than our own self-determination.
I’ve lived all over this state, and traveled even more of it. I’ve tracked deer in the Wallowas, I’ve boogie boarded in Pacific City, and I’ve stared up at the stars on the Nevada border. I know the sharp smell of an approaching thunderstorm in the high desert, and the gentle susurration of ocean waves on a sunny afternoon, and the chill of dew on prairie grass under my bare feet.
And I can’t imagine raising my children anywhere else.
Today is the third anniversary of the day we bought our plane tickets home. My eyes sting with tears as I think about that– how long it’s been, how we’re starting to take Oregon for granted again, how Númenor and Ithilien don’t really remember living anywhere else.
The fact is, back east was too much for us. Too much in our business. Too much snow. Too much traffic. Too much crowding. Too much America. Too much pollution. Too much conformity. Too much erosion of the mountains. Too much lime in the drinking water. Too much fuss to vote. Too much fear. Too much civilization.
When I stepped off that plane and saw that hideous windmill carpet in PDX, I could breathe again. As we drove through rainy, nighttime Portland, trying to find the food we’d promised our beleaguered toddlers who had just endured a three-layover cross-country flight, it all came back to me. How to navigate Portland, and that we should be looking for a Plaid Pantry, and what it felt like to know you belonged somewhere.
The state of Oregon will be turning 147 years old this month. But somehow, it still feels like a territory. It’s a place of changes and contradictions and clashing cultures and weirdness, where the rules don’t fully apply. And it is my home.
So thank you, Oregon, for flying with your own wings. And thank you, fellow Oregonians, for keeping this place a weird and wild exception to the rules.
Life on the frontier is a perfect fit for me.
“There is no use trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
—Through the Looking-Glass
My five-year-olds spent the weekend with their grandparents so that Robert and I could get in some quality couple time before the new baby comes and we descend into complete chaos and madness for a few sleepless, teary weeks.
To our credit, we did housework. And nesting work. We also ate sushi and watched foreign films, though, because that’s what grown-ups do. But when our sweet babes were returned to us by grandparents who had unwisely taken them to the zoo even though animals defecate (which fact five-year-olds are THE BEST at remembering, pointing out, and discussing at length), I was met with a moment of total panic.
My mother handed me a sheet of notepaper with the explanation that it was “Númenor’s presents list”. Apparently he’d demanded that she take dictation for this critical manifesto.
That’s right, folks.
My kid came home from grandma’s house with a Christmas wishlist.
Why is this a problem, you might ask?
Um, because it was December 5th when this happened, and I had already compiled the wishlists and distributed them through the family network weeks prior, not to mention that I had also long finished the shopping I was intending to do. Because we plan ahead in this family, at least when lists are involved. And in my defense, the wishlist I had was based on things I thought Númenor would like. I pay attention to the smalls’ interests and research toys and games and books constantly, and moreover, I asked them explicitly what they wanted for Christmas and they were both totally uninterested in telling me.
To be fair, that was in October. And when you’re only a few years old, the subjective time-dilation is extreme. Númenor probably genuinely couldn’t fathom wanting things for Christmas when I asked him about it with a jaw-dropping 11 weeks to spare.
And he has NEVER made a wishlist before. We don’t do Santa, so we never write letters to Santa, which means my children had to be developmentally capable of picking up this idea from fiction, and even then, they hadn’t previously shown interest in the activity.
But the fact is, he came home with a Christmas list.
And three things on it were alive, one thing was impossible, and two things flew right in the face of our standards for toys. Which left only one item. Which, to be fair, I already knew he wanted and had plans to make. One out of seven, I thought, would likely disappoint him.
Perhaps the worst part of this debacle was not the list itself, in fact, but that I found non-living, non-impossible work-arounds for things and Pinterest projects for cardboard versions of other things until I felt that I had satisfied his list, and only then did I realize that only ONE of my TWO five-year-olds came home with a list.
Which meant I had to ask the other one what he wanted.
And he wanted one impossible thing, one alive thing, one thing he already has (?!?), two things that don’t meet our guidelines, and that same item from the first child’s list that I was already making anyway.
You love them, and you do your best to give them a well-balanced, fulfilling, and overall positive life experience, and they go around asking for impossible things and exotic pets all the time, like that’s any way to behave.
Of course, that’s what children do; it’s their simultaneously inconvenient and inspiring function in society to be the ones tilting at windmills and dreaming the impossible dreams and riding off to brave adventures with their parents as their loving but often flummoxed squires.
And someday, soon enough, they will come to the inevitable end of their quests. Laid low by a reality that did not go away when they stopped believing in it, they will grow up. In twenty years, they may be making business plans instead of drawing a picture of the storage system for their happy rainbow dreams. In ten years, they’ll almost certainly be more concerned with the opinions of friends and external authorities than with quoting imaginary advice from a well-worn teddy bear.
But today, Númenor wants a Star Destroyer and a rectangle tank of deep-sea jellyfish, and Ithilien wants a pet baby talking opossum and a self-driving car that transforms into a self-flying plane. They never doubted for a second that these were things they could ask for and hope to receive.
There is a wild power in not knowing the bounds of reality or accepting the limits of possibility.
Honestly I’m a little jealous.
But mostly, I’m nervous about my ability to fulfill these requests.