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Archive for the ‘kids’ Category

Remember when proponents of Ohio’s proposed “Heartbeat Bill” tried to get a fetus to testify in favor of the legislation, which would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat becomes detectable? (That’s usually between the 6th and 8th weeks, when many women still don’t know they’re pregnant.)

Well, apparently pre-born witnesses aren’t awfully reliable. One of the two pre-born tykes invited to testify last spring flat-out refused to make a statement. No galloping hearttones were entered into the legislative record for her (or him).

The lastest trick, now, is to bring in post-born children. This age group is bound to afflict our legislators with a new level of chaos. The messes! (I still have one prone to wreaking EVIL with crayons.) The backtalk! (Ditto for both of my beloved boys, though vastly improved.) The irreligiosity! (At our annual Christmas Eve foray to church, my Tiger kept asking loudly what “Amen” meant. Meanwhile, his older brother the Bear managed to set his church bulletin aflame during “Silent Night,” the candlelit portion of the service.)

But not all post-born children are like the hoydenish heathens I’m raising.** Those who testified were surely obedient, docile Christian children. They know when to say Amen. Granted, they’re no longer imbued with the perfect innocent of the pre-born, but at least their heartbeat is reliable.

This is how the testimony of post-born children played out last week (thanks, Daily Record, for covering it):

Christian Harrington didn’t mince words during his moment at the Statehouse Tuesday.

The 8-year-old wants the Ohio Senate to take action on the Heartbeat Bill, legislation that would ban abortions within weeks of conception.

“I’m here to save babies with beating hearts,” Christian, barely tall enough to peer over a podium, told a packed committee hearing room. “And I want to tell the senators to pass the Heartbeat Bill right now. And when I mean right now, I mean right now.”

The youngster was one of more than 50 children who were in Columbus Tuesday as part of the latest attempt by backers of the Heartbeat Bill to convince lawmakers to pass the legislation.

They had a press conference with reporters, held a faux committee hearing showing lawmakers how to vote in favor of the bill and delivered Teddy bears, complete with real heartbeat sound chip, to all 33 Ohio senators.

“Do not believe the stuff the people tell you at the abortion clinic,” said 11-year-old Sydney McCauley. “The just say it’s a blob of tissue, and that is not the truth. That blob of tissue is actually forming into a baby.”

She added, “Think if someone aborted you. That would be a whole generation of people who (would not) be able to live their lives.”

Fifty kids? That’s a veritable Children’s Crusade. These children are being brainwashed into a key tenet of movement pro-life belief: that their existence was predestined. No one is telling these kids, “Well, you wouldn’t exist had the condom stayed put.” “You were only possible because Mama lost her first pregnancy after four months, and you came along 12 months later.” “The only reason you came into this world is that my ex was just too damn hot, and oh, I know I shouldn’t have – I know it! – but I just could stop loving him. A week later he punched me in the jaw. Never seen him since.” Or even: “You can be glad your Mom and I got drunk and horny on New Year’s. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here today.” (This last one came to me via my own father, though I’m pretty sure he didn’t quite say “horny.” I was, in any event, a September baby – and fortunate to have been wanted and well-loved.)

The “Heartbeat” movement has no truck with chance. Its obsessions with the pivot point of abortion as the arbiter of live and death effaces all the other contingencies and serendipities – every crazy chance of fate – leading up to the conception and birth of  a particular baby. It constructs a teleology in which every baby was always and forever meant to be, and thus their (potential) mothers are obligated to carry every pregnancy to term.

Catch me if I’m wrong, but are there Christian religions other than Mormonism that envision a pre-heavenly waiting room of souls? Otherwise, it’s just silly luck that you were born as opposed to another combo of gametes in your parent’s DNA deck of cards.

But this seemingly philosophical question – “what if you’d never been born?” – is a standard cudgel in the hardcore anti-abortion toolbag. It’s as simple as it is existentially threatening. No wonder it resonates with the tween crowd.

The kids hauled into Columbus to testify can’t begin to gauge the depth of dishonesty and muddy thinking in the slough of despond (first their churches, then the Ohio Legislature) to which their parents have led them. And so it feel abusive to me to use children to try to score a few cheap emotional points. All kids can do until their early to mid teens is to parrot their parents’ opinions. I mean, my Tiger has political ideas at 8, but danged if I’m gonna force him to the mat to defend them. I’d much rather test and challenge my kids’ ideals –  in hopes that they will eventually understand what is truly their own.

Let us hope to all the gods – their God, my Buddha-Jesus, and the Ceiling Cat – that these kids urged to perform for the legislature will someday find enough distance from their manipulative parents that they can later make their own wise, considered sexual decisions.

And let us hope that the Heartbeat Bill, which was left to languish last month, won’t be revived by this small horde of child crusaders.

Further, we can only hope that the vicious overreach of the Heartbeat Bill – its overly broad provisions, sloppy thinking, contempt for women, prima facie unconstitutionality, and far-ranging interference with the rights of both doctor and patient – will doom it, no matter how many post-born children mount testimony, church pageants, or lemonade stands in its favor.

But given that the latest  Quinnipiac Poll found public support for the Heartbeat Bill at a dead heat (45% favoring, 46% against), I’m skeptical that Ohio has any chance of electing pro-choice legislators (the theme for this week’s Blog for Choice day).

Instead, we need to start pointing out how the self-styled champions of children are using other children as a political ramrod. We need to question their leaky teleology of sex –> pregnancy –> birth –> earthly arrival of souls from heaven. And we need to howl to the moon about the lunacy of the Heartbeat Bill, which – like a zombie, a vampire – isn’t dead yet, but poses a mortal threat to women’s autonomy.

** My kids are actually quite wonderful, in my wholly unbiased opinion. But the incident with the church bulletin aflame really did happen.

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We planned to celebrate 14 juillet by attending the German-French friendship fest. All began well: bumper cars! bungee jumping! mini-airplanes! roasted, sugared almonds! the Tiger feeling horrid on one of those “Himalaya”-style rides (or so they were called in my childhood) that consist of speed, minor up-and-down bumps, and a disco-ball plus smoke machine.  (He loved it last year. I take some pride in still enjoying it at 47. I could hardly toss him overboard, could I?)

At 10 p.m. sharp, all the rides, games, and drink stands started to roll down their blinds, much to our puzzlement. Why, we hadn’t even ridden the giant ferris wheel, the one point of consensus in my little family of four! (Evidently some pickle-hearted neighbor – unbothered by the noise of the adjacent airport?!? – had complained after some forty years.) The gal at the whisky stands gave us a generous pour, and then the fireworks began. First the Tiger objected that we were going to miss them. Then he wailed that they were too close. It is not easy to be a small tiger.

And so, since I have no footage of our fireworks, and since any such hypothetical video would be marred by heartrending cries of  “make it stop, Mama, this is SKEERY,” I offer instead the happy patriotic kitten that David Futrelle posted a couple of weeks ago:

By the way, if the images in the clip come from Uzu, as seems to be the case, this program has also been cheap entertainment for my own kittens this summer. Sometimes a light show is best at a safe remove. Ditto for cat claws. I’ll hold my tongue on the complex relation between state power military might, and liberty, since this day is supposed to be one of celebration, after all.

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If you haven’t seen this sweet kitteh hugging her very young baby, you probably haven’t been on the Internet this week. Watch for the real hug about halfway through:

If the hugging mama kitteh is already old hat, then you’ll want to proceed straight to these three clouded leopard cubs, born in the Nashville Zoo (via William K. Wolfrum). There’s no actual mother in this clip, only a human simulation of leopard-mama technique. Watch for it starting at 1:05. (My first thought: Oh, if only my son the Tiger had enough of a scruff for that trick to work!

And on the theme of calming our cubs, I’m besotted with the cover of this book,

Go the F**k to Sleep,

which isn’t out yet, but is eagerly awaited.

The cover art alone gets the Kittwampus pawprint of approval for felinity. Want to see the cozy cat family inside? The whole cubs, kits, and kaboodle has been leaked and put up on YouTube:

Sweet dreams! I, for one, am off to emulate that lucky mama tiger, except I won’t be using either of my cubs as a pillow.

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Yesterday, the Tiger asked me: “Mama, what’s the opposite of ‘boys and girls’?”

Me: “Do you think there has to be an opposite? Well, some people think boys are the opposite of girls, but are they really?”

Tiger: “No! They’re all just people.”

Leave it to a seven-year-old to dismantle oppositional sexism.

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The kids are asleep, as of 11:55 p.m. EDT. I’ve got candles burning in the same tealight candelbra that did a job on Grey Kitty’s whiskers, lo those many years ago. I sit on the front porch as the rain cascades around me, letting me and my candles burn.

Oh, and I’m wearing a bathrobe, just to confirm that most hoary of prejudices against bloggers.

The kids will wake soon, and when they do, I’ll be presented with offerings. One involves dirt. Or earth. Or something that requires earth. I’m all for it, though I nearly managed to kill my ‘mater seedlings this weekend through a deadly combo of drought, too-close grow lights, and lack of fertilizer. (When my own fumbling incompetence rains down, I do wonder how my children continue to thrive. It helps that their CNS trumps the tomato’s defense mechanisms. I guess opposable thumbs don’t hurt, either. At any rate, my earth mother cred is shot to hell; just ask my ‘maters.)

I will tear up at my children’s sweet offerings, no matter that they felt obligated or spurred by a class assignment at school.

I will hug them and kiss them and keep their presents forever.

And yet, I still have a wishlist.

1) Can we get beyond the idea that women are uniquely suited to multitasking? Cordelia Fine just bulldozes this stereotype in her book, Delusionas of Gender. And more: Kevin Drum marshals the evidence that multitasking is folly for everyone, irrespective of gender. No wonder I still have a florid scar from the time when I tried to pull a baking sheet from the oven while ensuring that the mini-Tiger (aged not-quite-three) wouldn’t get burned. (Guess who got schorched instead??) I keep multitasking, I’m liable to lose that opposable thumb. Picture a dog watering a tree. Picture a dog baking a souffle. The intersection of that? Um, that would be me. Multitasking. The combo of onions and knives is a particularly foolhardy ideas.

2) Can we please just “be excellent to each other,” as Bill and Ted would say? The one thing I truly want from my beautiful boys is kindness. Toward each other. Toward me. They have mad skillz with their friends, so can we please bring those skillz home? Because, y’know, rudeness is a neurotoxin, especially when rudeness is spread among peer or near-peers. I’m well aware that another camp of researchers regards sibling arguments as healthy, spurring on their verbal development. May God, or some benevolent goddess, or my pal the Ceiling Cat save us from further precocious verbal development. We’re already at a point where the least bad outcome could be a Amero-Germanic version of Alan Dershowitz. But back to the neurotoxins. My kids appear to bee more than fine. They chat; they argue, they wear me down. But my brain? It’s in acute danger of rotting! Neural termites and mad-cow disease could hardly hollow it out any faster than the daily squabbles! No wonder the Red Cross recently rejected my blood on suspicion of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakobs disease, aka mad cow for homans. (True story.)

That’s just my very personal list. I know theere’s ooodles more to say about what other kids and mamas need – not to mention daddies. I realize that my personal wishlist is very much formed by the concerns and privileges of educated, middle-class mothers.As for what less-privileged mothers need – well, Katha Pollitt pretty kicked it into the goal with her commentary on the “Tiger Mother” flap.Please read what she has to say about class,mothering, and solidarity, and I’ll just leave it at that – with the injunction that we should all be excellent to each other, to our parents and our children, tomorrow and always.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all, be you bio-mother, step-mother, adoptive mother, other-mother … or just another exhausted multitasker of any age, gender, or species. May your day be crowned by candles, flowers, champagne, and the survival of your opposable thumbs.

And on those days when excellence turns to flatulence? Well, you’ll still be welcome here at the Kitteh, where we recognize that being a child or a parent or just a fallible hooman is simply who we are. Welcome to the club. I’d light a candle for you, but I must admit it’s rather perfumed, and you might just prefer eau de methane.

(Next up: our local Mama Robin, if I can manage not to terrify her.)

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Dear Bear and Tiger,

The Bear baskets are on the left. The Tiger baskets are on the right. The presents not in baskets are to be shared.

If you fight over Hello Kitty I will only bring you vast amounts of bunny poop next Easter. Seriously.

Love,

Your Easter Bunny

This missive was left by the Rabbit, gracing (?) baskets full of sugar and plastic crap that will probably condemn my children to tooth decay and type-2 diabetes.

Kindly note the pastel colors. For all her turdly threats, this is a high-class rabbit who respects Easter traditions. (She also knows that the Tiger loves any poop reference. She further realizes she’lll regret this cheap poop joke a thousand-fold as the Tiger compares each and every chocolate egg to … well, ’nuff said.)

The aforementioned Hello Kitty product is a bubble-blowing set. The Bunny is weary; she has lost all photo-taking capability and merely wishes to sleep until the rain ends in southeast Ohio. (That might be late December, at the rate we’re going.) This blog will not feature a picture of said plastic-crap bubblicious Kitty. You will therefore have to use your florid imaginations. Suffice it to say that the HK product looks incredibly ineffective, as you would expect from a Kitty without a mouth. I mean, how else should she blow bubbles?

Perhaps we’d best not answer that question.

Instead, here is a thing of beauty from the Bunny’s garden. It was not toothsome. That is why we could capture it in a picture, which was taken a few days ago, before the Bunny and her handler committed to a good nights’ sleep. The rain clings to the blossoms. Its fragrance makes us believe in magical rabbits, unearthly and perfect. If only blogs offered scratch-and-sniff functionality!

Happy Easter – or belated spring solstice – or whatever blessed moment you choose to celebrate as the earth awakes from its too-long slumber.

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Long time no meow. Earlier today, longtime reader Euchalon Grandy commented on this blog’s unfortunate radio silence:

Oh No!  I’ve killed Kittywampus with my angry rant!  Please, Sungold, Oh Please come back!  I’ll never post after midnight again!  Nothing but kittens and pink, puffy unicorns from now on…

First: Euchalon, if you bring puffy unicorns onto this blog, they will be driven away by the fierce sound of hissing. (I am honored that you missed me, though!

Second: The blog went dormant because I went on spring break. Even as a student, I never did that! (Too broke.) Then, once I got a teaching job, either my husband or I had too much work (usually both of us). This year, I felt squeezed between winter-quarter duties and spring-quarter prep. I’m still not sure when I’ll get to filing my taxes. Yet I ever-so-maturely decided: SCREW THAT. And so, we were off to the beach. Hilton Head, South Carolina, to be precise, which turned out to be a delight.

The drive south was long indeed (and rains threatened to wash us clean off the mountainous West Virginia Turnpike), but it was also a curious compression of space-time. We left Ohio in sodden winter; by North Carolina, the redbuds were bursting forth; and as we plunged deeper into South Carolina, spring wrapped its green tendrils around us and refused to let loose. It was as though we’d driven three weeks into our future. (Well, the palm trees won’t come to SE Ohio anytime soon, I’m afraid, but the redbuds will soon catch up.)

If you want to view vacation instrumentally, there’s emerging scientific evidence that play is good for us, as Jonah Lehrer reports at Wired. Studies are showing that not just preschoolers benefit more from unstructured play than from direct instruction; even young adults learn better when they have time for play. I’m here to testify that it works for the, um, no-longer-quite-so-young adults, too. As Lehrer notes,

Nietzsche said it best: “The struggle of maturity is to recover the seriousness of the child at play.”

And so I finished my grading from last quarter on the beach, then launched into some reading and brainstorming for a new class that began yesterday already. It was all pretty painless with the salt breeze wafting in the window and the tides whispering and roaring. Nor was it all work. I read a novel for fun and started Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. (I’m not far enough into it to comment yet.) The kids dug such deep holes in the sand that they could practically disappear underground. They scampered after shells and flied kites with their dad. Most days, we were treated to weather in the upper 70s, balmy enough to sit and read a book (my favorite beachy activity) even with kite-brisk winds. One day I had a cocktail on the beach – a Funky Monkey – another experience completely novel to me. Evenings, we dined with other families who’d traveled with us and played board games next to the pool. When everyone was sunburned and avoiding the peak sun, we putt-putt golfed amid semi-tropical bougainvillea and palmettos.

Instrumental thinking? Oh, screw that too!

It was my first trip to the Deep South, apart from New Orleans, and a few things jarred. At the resort where we stayed, black men took care of security, while Latina/os cleaned. The guests were overwhelmingly white, with a few Spanish-speakers in the mix. More than one business establishment called itself a “plantation” of some sort. At the same time – perhaps because we’re steeped in white privilege – we met unfailingly warm, friendly people, from the (black) security guards who used humor to spice up their day, to the (white) elderly lady who informed my husband that she once lived in Ohio, but the good Lord brought her back to the South.

Now we’re back home. I was greeted by my unfinished syllabus and the tragic crayon-in-the-clothes-dryer incident that exploded 10 minutes before we were due to leave on break. I’ve thought more than once: Why are we not still at the beach? and our friends who went on the trip are querulously asking the same. But just this one thing: When we rolled into town again, weary from an 11-hour drive, we were saluted by a stand of daffodils welcoming us home in our front yard. Even the snow that frosted our yard the first night home couldn’t drag them low.

(The pictures below are all courtesy of my husband.)

Two crispy-burned kids in the surf.

The beach, backlit by sunset.

Sungold turning toward the wind.

A friend and I, casting long shadows framed by palmettos.

Just the beach. That is all. It is enough.

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When my little Bear was actually little, he loved the show “Bear in the Big Blue House.” Now my Tiger has discovered it, too. Yes, it’s aimed at preschoolers, but Muppets are ageless. Myself, I can’t stand the squeaky voice of Tutter the Mouse, but I’m utterly charmed by the big Bear and his little niece Ojo.

(Image borrowed from here.)

I’ve always loved the show’s music, too, even after logging thousands of miles with those tunes filling our car. The one that always struck a melancholy chord in me is “The Goodbye Song,” sung by the Big Bear in a duet with his lovely friend Luna the Moon at the end of each episode. Meant to help the child let go of the fantasy world and transition calmly back to reality with the promise of another day, it had an opposite effect of me, evoking fragility and impermanence and frank loss.

(Click here if you can’t see the clip.)

It’s partly the key change that would put me in a melancholy mood, but most of all it was Luna’s voice. Before googling the show yesterday to see if it’s still in reruns (apparently yes, but not where I live), I didn’t know that Luna was sung by Lynne Thigpen, an actress and singer whose career spanned the stage (Godspell), movies (Anger Management), and oversized Bear muppets.

Thigpen was struck down at age 54 when she suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage in early 2003. When she died, the show died with her. Her Wikipedia page says that “the crew’s hearts just weren’t in it anymore.” I had wondered why the show disappeared so abruptly and blamed corporate greed at the Disney channel. Wish I’d been right.

I never knew Ms. Thigpen, but I love her voice, and I love her work. I wish I’d known her name years ago. Her voice lent company and comfort in those topsy turvy, sleep deprived, sometimes lonely days of early parenthood.

Bear: Hey, this was really fun

Luna: We hope you liked it too

Bear: Seems like we’ve just begun

Both: When suddenly we’re through

Bear: Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye

Both: Cause now it’s time to go

Bear: But, hey, I say, well, that’s OK

Luna: Cause we’ll see you very soon, I know

Bear: Very soon, I know

Both: Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye

Bear: And tomorrow, just like today

Luna: (Goodbye – today)

Both:
The moon, the bear and the Big Blue House
We’ll be waiting for you to come and play
To come and play, to come and play.

She died too soon. Tomorrow is not just like today. It’s not OK.

So to Lynne: Goodbye, goodbye, good friends, goodbye. And to Luna: Thanks for the light.

(Photo of Lynne Thigpen from her tribute page at Muppet Central.)

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I cannot talk about Christina Taylor Green without starting to cry.

My kids are too old to be sheltered from terrible news. And so I have to talk to them about it. We have been talking about the Tuscon massacre since the weekend, in small doses, with as much reassurance as I can muster. It’s not enough.

Tonight we watched the memorial together. The Bear, who’s eleven, said, “It’s important.” He wanted to watch. The Tiger, who’s seven, wanted to be near us, too, though he was playing with rubberbands and flipping through books and asking when we could watch Simon’s Cat again.

The Bear started to cry when the image of Phyllis Schneck came on screen, as Obama talked about her quilting and churchgoing. “The pictures make them real, Mama,” he said. I think she may have reminded him of his grandma.

When Obama’s speech turned to Christina Taylor Green, I broke down, too. Then Obama said:

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

I squeezed the Bear’s hand. He squeezed back and said, “Yes! But something terrible shouldn’t have to happen before we get better.”

Indeed.

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People go to such lengths to keep the Santa myth alive! Kenneth Rapoza, writing at Salon, details the lies he spins to preserve the magic for his children:

We send letters to the Santa Claus Main Post Office in the Arctic Circle in Lapland, Finland. A real place. We even got letters back from them two years ago.

That tradition began after my daughter, at 5, discovered in school that the North Pole had no land mass and didn’t support life, except for an occasional polar bear in the winter months. I pointed out that Lapland was a hot spot for actual Santa activity and told her that the North Pole was just one of many Santa stories: not real. It was a nice recovery, but year after year, it’s getting harder to trick her.

What she doesn’t get is the logistics. How can Santa deliver toys around the world in one night? It’s not one night. It’s two because of world time zones and dates, plus the story that Santa flies through the sky on reindeer is just a story. Years ago, he delivered toys in his hometown by sled, pulled by reindeer. But Santa has a big staff now. The Santas you see, including those in the fake beards who are trying to dress like Santa, represent Santa in other cities and towns and — upon receiving your letters to Santa — fill in your wish list with small presents that Santa makes. This is reality, dear. Santa may not be as magical as you think. But don’t ruin those stories for others, I say. She’s cool with it.

Maybe his kids are in for a gentle landing. Maybe it’ll be more like a brutal crash, with reindeer blood and tears despoiling the winter wonderlandscape. That’s sort of how it went for my ten-year-old nephew this year. Everyone had assumed he was in don’t ask, don’t tell mode for fear of losing the loot. But when his seven-year-old sister learned the truth and immediately spilled the beans to him, there were histrionics. I wasn’t there, but I hear it involved oceans of tears and at least a half-hour in the fetal position. He’s fine now, but to judge from Salon’s comment section, there are adults walking this earth who still suffer the aftershock of disillusionment.

My mom has long said she hated lying to us kids about anything, even Santa and the Easter Bunny. I shared her qualms (even though I hadn’t been terribly traumatized, myself) and so I vowed to keep the lies to an absolute minimum. Yes, Santa comes to our house, but their dad and I never told the kids a lie when their budding scientific minds began to deconstruct the Santa myth .

The Bear, age five: How does Santa get into houses without a chimney?

Me: I don’t know. What do you think?

Bear: I bet he uses the door.

Not long thereafter, the Bear determined that the Easter Bunny couldn’t be a real rabbit; he had to be a person. A few days later, he announced, “And I know who he is! It’s Santa Claus in a bunny suit!”

By the time the Bear solved the puzzle, he had a lot of pieces in place: the impossibility of making all those deliveries in one night, the absurdity of flying reindeer, the fact that all the elves’ handiwork was “made in China,” the presence of familiar handwriting and (oops) wrapping paper on Santa gifts, and the small can of blue paint in our garage that perfectly matched the base of the fish tank Santa brought him. The Bear was proud to have done the detective work and thrilled to guard the magic for his little brother. He was a perfect co-conspirator; not once did he let the secret slip.

Over the past year, the Tiger – now seven – would ask occasionally whether Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy was real. I’d always counter, “What do you think?” He would respond, “I think he’s real.”

Earlier this month, he raised the question again:

Tiger: Is Santa real?

Me: What do you think?

Tiger: I think he’s not real.

Me: Why? What made you decide that?

Tiger: Because magic is not real.

Me (with a slight pang – knowing that when magic dies, the whole world is disenchanted): What would you think if you knew it’s me and your dad who are Santa?

Tiger: That would be nice!

I couldn’t have wished for a softer landing. In general, my parenting is pretty imperfect, so I’m reluctant to claim any special wisdom here, either. But if you’ve got young sprogs on Santa’s delivery route, it might be worth trying our approach. Let them decide what they want to believe and how much of the myth to question. Follow their lead. (Hmm, that’s starting to sound like my philosophy on sex ed, too!)

I’m curious how other parents handle this, as well as what went right or wrong in your own falling away from a world enchanted.

Happy holidays to all, whatever you celebrate or believe!

Illustrations are a few of the cookies that my family and I made during the last run of snow days – photos by me, Sungold.

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My seven-year-old Tiger would put Kackel Dackel at the top of his Christmas list, if only it were available in the U.S.! (Amazon.de has it but the shipping times were too long.) This toy has got everything: animal cuteness, extruder action, and scat!

(Click here if you don’t see the clip. Via Andrew Sullivan, who got it from Warming Glow.)

See, this is why I spent all those years learning German! I knew it would come in handy someday. My rough translation:

Oh no! Poopy Dachsund is pooping again! Quick, into your doghouse! Naughty Poopy Dachshund!

Fix his food – feed him – roll the dice – and one, two – what’s that noise? [Cue excretory sounds.] Collect the most [poop] piles, and you’re the winner!

Poopy Dachsund! From Goliath Toys.

Whoever said the Germans were anal-retentive? This pooch is just the opposite. In fact, Berlin alone must have 50,000 live-action Kackel Dackel, all of whose piles are left on the sidewalk for pedestrians to tread in, forming a sort of obstacle-course game of their own.

In any case, given the popularity of the Captain Underpants books, I’m positive there’s a U.S. market for Kackel Dackel. Maybe next year?

Just for good measure, here’s Kackel Dackel in action, speaking a completely international language.

(I found this clip at Toytown, a site for expats in Germany. The comments there are worth a visit. “BDSM Bear,” anyone?)

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(Dazed kitteh from ICHC? captioned by me, Sungold)

Despite having foolishly booked my return flight to Ohio through Chicago, I managed to avoid getting stuck there in last weekend’s blizzard – only to be snowbound with the kids all this week. We’ve had three full snow days and two mornings with two-hour delays. The high school kids didn’t get to take their final exams today; my fifth-grader and his friends have to postpone their geography fair until January; and neither of my kids had math even once this week, since that’s scheduled first thing every morning.

A walloping half-foot of snow has fallen over the course of the week, maybe a tad more.

We here in Athens, Ohio, are not like Seattle or Atlanta, where snow takes everyone by surprise. We get it every darn winter. Here in southeast Ohio, we actually get less snow than, say, Cleveland, but my students from Cleveland laugh at our inability to carry on with school once a snowflake sticks to the ground.

The problem, this year and every year, is that we don’t have the equipment to clear the snow quickly. We don’t have the manpower. The city does pretty well at clearing the main streets, but the county roads remain impassible. It’s all a function of money. You could just as well call many of our snow days “poverty days.”

It’s not even the first day of winter, and we’ve already blown through all our snow days. In fact, thanks to our “tornado day” back in September, we’re one in the hole. Our inestimably wise legislators reduced our allotment of calamity days from five to three, starting this fall. I guess they thought our kids would get more edumacated this way. Instead, we’re likely to have a few dozen more two-hour delays between now and March. To make up the snow days that we’re sure to have in the new year, we’ll lose every holiday except MLK and Memorial Day. The school year will extend into the summer, like it does every year. And our kids will miss a month or so of math.

(From ICHC? captioned by me, Sungold)

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Earlier this week, I talked to my husband and kids, who are keeping the fires burning in Ohio while I’m visiting family in California. All of them were aggrieved. My husband was planning to fix broccoli and noodles for dinner. Both boys were insisting that they would not eat it and furthermore never had liked broccoli. Never mind that two reliable witnesses (both of their parents) have seen them eat it with gusto! The standoff ended when the broccoli was discovered to have both mold and bugs.

You might imagine that this was simply an instance of children being picky and ornery. You would be wrong. New research shows that I am to blame!

When I saw the headline on the medical news wire Ivanhoe – “Pregnancy Diet Predicts Food Choices of Children” – I figured it would insinuate that mommy is at fault. But the actual article was much worse. It managed to blame mothers directly in its very first sentence:

If you’re a mother to a finicky child, then you may be to blame for his or her picky taste.  A new study conducted at the University of Colorado School of Medicine uncovers the possibility that a mother’s diet during pregnancy can both familiarize the unborn baby with specific scents and tastes and directly influence what the child will later prefer to eat or drink.

“This highlights the importance of eating a healthy diet and refraining from drinking alcohol during pregnancy and nursing,” lead researcher Josephine Todrank was quoted as saying.  “If the mother drinks alcohol, her child may be more attracted to alcohol because the developing fetus ‘expects’ that whatever comes from the mother must be safe.  If she eats healthy food, the child will prefer healthy food.”

I’m dizzy with those leaps of logic. How did we jump straight from food to alcohol – the kryptonite of mother-blaming? And how many children are attracted to alcohol, anyway? Yes, fetal alcohol syndrome is a serious problem among the offspring of binge drinkers. I don’t see a lot of kids clamoring for a glass of Merlot. In fact, we’ve let our kids taste beer and wine, when they expressed curiosity, just so they could discover that it tasted “pooey” to them.

Read a little farther and you learn that Todrank et al. tested their hypothesis on newborn mice. For better or worse, mice don’t have much of a culinary culture. They aren’t tempted by the toys in Happy Meals. Nor are they exposed to my delicious vegetarian chili. Even in terms of the mouse lifecycle, one wonders whether the pups acquired a broader range of tastes as they grew. Also, mother mice are never told to drastically limit their diet while breastfeeding due to a colicky or restless pup.

My firstborn child tolerates much more spice than I do. He eats chard and Thai curry and Kalamata olives with gusto. My second son? He’d live on candy, breakfast cereal, hard-boiled eggs, Kraft mac-n-cheese, and more candy if we’d let him.

If this study has any applicability to humans, you’d expect to see the same pattern in every family: the firstborn should be a foodie, while subsequent children – conditioned by the relatively bland diet that families often adopt while feeding a toddler – should be pickier. You’d also expect the children of my spice-loving friends to be omnivores, yet many of them are pickier than my younger son.

It may well be that the biological effects on taste and smell that Todrank et al. found in mice have some applicability to humans. If so, it’s heavily filtered through culture. As parents generally know, young children usually have much more restricted tastes than their parents. I, for one, forced myself to eat broccoli during pregnancy even though it triggered nausea – and look where it got me!

Can we stop with the mother-blaming already? Most women consume a reasonably well-balanced diet during pregnancy. The few who don’t are usually either poor or plagued by hyperemesis gravidarum (that’s medicalese for uncontrollable barfing). Let’s not make mothers feel guilty because they failed to eat their brussel sprouts.

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PB&J Caturday

This has got to be my stupidest Caturday entry in a long time – probably ever. I thought this clip might be dredging the deepest, dumbest depths of YouTube, but then I saw the video of the same kitteh dancing to Britney Spears. It gets even worse, folks.

YouTube also offers kittehs singing that old Christian Sunday School tune, “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy down in My Heart.” That one’s unbearable, even for my kids.

But my seven-year-old Tiger adores this PB&J kitteh.

I do not. Especially after five viewings. Watch at your own risk.

(If you can’t see the video, click here, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.)


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When the TSA is questioned on its procedures, its first go-to excuse is that they’re keeping us safe. If you press harder, a favorite second-line rationale is that they need to treat everyone the same – even toddlers and the elderly – because the alternative would be “racial profiling.”

Sure, the TSA may be treating everyone the same. That doesn’t mean they’re being treated equally, however. Some people are more vulnerable than others. I’ve already touched on the likelihood that a grope search would trigger a rape survivor’s trauma. Newsweek has a good in-depth analysis of this issue.

I’d argue that children are also vulnerable to being traumatized. Two nights ago, in response to an adult conversation that in retrospect I wish I’d postponed until after the kids were in bed, my eleven-year-old son, the Bear, said: “Do you remember when the security guy searched inside my waistband in Belgium? Are they going to do that to me again?” His eyes welled up. Granted, he cries easily – a trait he inherited from his mother – but he seemed deeply upset at the prospect of a replay.

Now, imagine a child who’s actually been sexually abused. How will she or he react to being groped, no matter how officially and “professionally?”

Today, TSA head John Pistole (is that a pistole in your pocket? … oh never mind) told an NPR interviewer that children twelve and under would be exempted from the enhanced pat-down:

We did not do frankly a very good job of communicating initially that there would be an exemption, if you will, from the thorough pat-down for children 12 and under.  That was under review when the policy came out, and so we have clarified that.  It does not apply to children 12 and under.

(You can hear the interview at NPR.)

Frankly, I don’t think that this exemption existed until today. Goldblog cites an incident about ten days ago where an eight-year-old boy was selected for secondary screening after he went through the metal detector. Yes, the boy’s genitals were checked, and his father was appalled. I suspect Pistole’s volte-face (or flip-flop, for the Francophobes still out there!) is a reaction to the public anger about subjecting children to intrusive groping. I think he and Janet Napolitano realized that anything smacking of pedophilia could doom their program. Hence the age of thirteen, when, apparently, children are no longer children. But pray tell how, exactly, a thirteen-year-old will process the experience differently than a twelve-year-old?

While there’s been an upswell in outrage about children being groped, there’s been almost no public attention to another group that will suffer disproportionately: people who are trans or intersex, or who for whatever reason don’t conform to sex/gender expectations. A couple of days ago, GallingGalla left a comment here that vividly highlighted the real dangers and humiliations awaiting her:

Apparently, TSA considers us to be terrorists simply by our existence, as they have issued directives indicating that people dressing in what they, the TSA, perceives to be the “wrong” clothing are more likely to be terrorists. I guess, since they think that trans women are “really men”, we must be hiding bad things in our lady clothes.

Along with that, I shudder to think about the harassment and sexual assault that is *sure* to follow the discovery of “non-standard” genitals.

It is because of back-scatter machines and pat-downs that I do not fly. I don’t have the privilege to “opt-out”; I simply *cannot* fly, as my very person will be in danger.

How long will it be before photos of people stripped naked by back-scatter machines wind up on 4chan or local “she-male” porn sites?

(I quoted most of it; the whole comment is here.)

Of course, the TSA policy both taps into and reinforces the trope of the “deceptive” trans person. It sets trans passengers up for public humiliation and violence. TSA personnel are not even trained to search a child with sensitivity. What are the odds that they will react calmly and reasonably to non-standard genitals?

Trans men are worried too, as evidenced by this anonymous comment at BoingBoing:

I’m a trans man (FtM transsexual), and I’ve NEVER packed when I go to the airport b/c I’m sure my dick would show up looking like plastic explosive in my pants. My home airport only has the n00dscanners, so now I am not entirely sure what I should do. Either way, it looks like I’m destined for molestation at the airport. Pack, and be singled out for a pat-down based on what shows up on the scanner, or not pack and have the TSO end up concerned/confused when the “enhanced” pat-down turns up the fact that I don’t have any balls for “resistance”.

I have a flight planned in January. I’m pretty nervous about it.

Those are pretty terrible choices. And in case anyone was reassured by the blurriness of the naked-scanner images that had been stored at a Florida courthouse and leaked yesterday by Gizmodo? The resolution on those is much lower than the machines are capable of delivering. The TSA has told the New York Times that the machines are able to image a sanitary pad. They weren’t able to say, however, whether the pad would trigger an enhanced pat-down.

Update 11/17/10, 11:10 p.m.: Edited above to add the material from Goldblog, where he notes that the war on terror is colliding with the war on pedophilia – and so far, terror is winning.

Update 11/22/10, 10:40 a.m.: See also this post by Rebecca at The Thang Blog on how the new procedures have effectively grounded her as a trans woman.

Update 11/22/10, 3:30 p.m.: … and similarly, this piece by Bridgette P. LaVictoire at Lezget Real, who stresses the humiliation and danger to which she’ll be exposed. The mainstream media remains (predictably) silent.

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The New York Times reports that anti-bullying programs are already under fire from opponents who fear our wee children will catch The Gay if teachers present LGBT folks as, well, fellow human beings:

Some districts, especially in larger cities, have adopted tolerance lessons with minimal dissent. But in suburban districts in California, Illinois and Minnesota, as well as here in Helena [Montana], the programs have unleashed fierce opposition.

“Of course we’re all against bullying,” Mr. DeMato, one of numerous pastors who opposed the plan, said in an interview. “But the Bible says very clearly that homosexuality is wrong, and Christians don’t want the schools to teach subjects that are repulsive to their values.”

The divided Helena school board, after four months of turmoil, recently adopted a revised plan for teaching about health, sex and diversity. Much of the explicit language about sexuality and gay families was removed or replaced with vague phrases, like a call for young children to “understand that family structures differ.” The superintendent who has ardently pushed the new curriculum, Bruce K. Messinger, agreed to let parents remove their children from lessons they find objectionable.

(Read it all here.)

Message sent: We’re all against bullying, except when it comes to kids who are gay, or might be gay, or dress up as Daphne on Halloween even though they’re male. (If that last story doesn’t ring a bell, follow the link, stat!)

Opponents of bullying-prevention spew predictable condemnations of people who have “chosen the gay lifestyle.” I know a few lesbian parents in my town, and believe me, they are leading the “mom lifestyle.” Yes, it can be twisted, but they have chosen it! We see each other at music lessons and soccer. When it comes to carpools and practices, though, there’s not a heap of “choice” involved. (So sorry to disappoint the homophobes). Non-hetero moms and dad are supervising homework  just as painfully as the rest of us parents.

So go right ahead, you sanctimonious Christianists. Let us who’ve chosen the “mom lifestyle” hear just how depraved we are – just how repulsive! We can take it.

Just leave our beloved children out of it. My elder son’s favorite color was purple up until about second grade. I don’t think either of my kids are actually gay, but if they were – so what? So fucking what?

No kid deserves bullying, period. As long as wingnuts and ignoramuses act like gayness is a communicable disease and marriage equality is the death-knell of Western Civilization, kids who step outside the norm will continue to be bullied. Some will despair. Some will take their lives in their despair.

What kind of “family values” justify the lethal bullying of children? (Maybe Jerry Falwell will reach out from his grave and enlighten us?)

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Today was crap. I caught a student plagiarizing (off Conservapedia, no less!) and that’s the least of my concerns. I’m wound up, worried, and sad about a bunch of things I can’t write about here.

But this? It warmed even my shriveled soul.

(Click to enlarge.)

In case you’re having trouble diciphering:

Dere MaMa

I love you mama you are the best mama

in the howl younavers

you ar betr than the howl werld.

His signature follows (I blanked it here), along with maps of the werld (I am doing a backfloat on it – which sounds about accurate for today) and a diagram of the younavers, which consists of pointy houses that look like mountains – and me.

Of course, I cried when he gave this to me. Who wouldn’t?

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Longtime readers of Kittywampus may recall that there are just a few things that viscerally scare me:

Almost all of these things enter into the story from Thursday night, through I don’t believe any wasps were involved. But honestly? I wouldn’t know; I was holed up with my kids. As I was cleaning up the dinner mess, I heard the scream of an emergency siren. I knew that the university was planning to test its emergency system – on Friday. So I flew out to my front porch, straining to hear the announcement through its bullhorn-distortions. All I picked up was “take shelter,” along with the oppressive air on my porch, and that was good enough for this North Dakotan-bred gal. I yelled upstairs, “Tornado warning!” The Tiger yelled, “Tornado warning!”

He and his brother, the Bear, tore down the stairs. I followed them into the basement, laptop and phone in hand. (Why, oh why, didn’t a flashlight even occur to me?) Minutes later, I chanced the upstairs again just long enough to rescue a few treasured stuffed animals and the cord for my laptop. I was alone with the kids. Mmy husband was at a meeting in the country, out of cell range, which was a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because he holds the theory that tornadoes never strike Athens, and that warning aren’t worth heeding. A curse, because I couldn’t be sure he was in safety.

For a good half hour, the biggest challenge was keeping the Tiger’s whine of “I’m bored!” from driving the rest of us around the bend. I let them watch a couple of silly YouTube clips (this one cracked them up again). I was hoping we could go back up once the warning expired at 7:15. The Bear would be about to go to his music practice, and we could try to track down their dad.

But then we heard the emergency siren again. And again. Soon sirens were wailing every minute or two. I still couldn’t catch the message, but I was certain it wasn’t “all clear.” I’d have guessed, oh, “prepare to die.” The next day, a friend said he’d heard “Tornadoes are surrounding Athens!” which I’m sure was close to the truth.

Here’s what it really said:

Looking around our basement hideaway, I started toting up the hazards. The small window. The bookshelves. My French horn (hey, that would be deadly if it went airborne.) I gave each kid an oversized pillow to shield their noggins and necks. At that, the Tiger’s boredom tipped over into terror. He would not be consoled by how silly it was to have a lumpy Winnie-the-Pooh chair over his head. I nixed YouTube so I could hear, and the LOLcats just weren’t cutting it as a distraction. Even the Bear was fighting tears. Heck, I was working hard to act brave. It didn’t help that the National Weather Service was starting to report multiple sightings of a twister touching down. Or that I was frantically hitting refresh on their page.

When we finally emerged from our secure underground location after an hour and a half (without ever sighting Cheney, I might add), we were all rattled. So were our neighbors and friends. We’d kept our power while most of the town and county had lost it. An acquaintance had actually seen the funnel cloud moving merrily down his road. Afterward, he had to take his chain saw to the large trees that had fallen across the road, trapping him and his family.

News filtered in only slowly. It seemed clear that Athens and its environs had been struck by at least one tornado. Rumors started to spread that the high school had been hit. One of the first reports noted that Pine-Aire Village had suffered damage and had to be evacuated due to a gas leak. The tornado had duked it out with the achingly poor mobile home park where I went canvassing in 2008. As usual, the tornado won. As usual, Pine-Aire Village lost. People who are trying their damnedest just to eke by now have new worries.

I haven’t taken a look at Pine-Aire because frankly, I’m still scared of the meth dealer and the vicious, unleashed dogs. But I did see how similar trailers were flipped and squished nearby in The Plains, the closest thing Athens has to a bedroom community. These mobile homes were located right next to Athens High School, which for bizarre reasons relating to government pork funds is located in the Plains.

This picture (and the next) was taken by my husband the next evening, as dusk was closing in. The woman next to the trailer is a Fox News local reporter. (They just lapped this up.)

Note how someone has scribbled “NOT SAFE” in big red letters. I’m not gonna argue.

The rumors about the high school turned out to be true. It was full with soccer and volleyball players and their families. The morning after the storm, a good friend of mine – the mother of the Bear’s best friend – responded to my worried email. She’d been working in the concession stand when some prescient soul yelled that a funnel cloud was approaching. She sprinted up the long steep hill to the high school and took shelter in the bunker-like locker rooms. Other adults, perhaps thinking they’d be safer sheltering in place (the hill is pretty daunting), remained in the concession stand. At least two of them were injured, though not seriously. One was taken to the hospital, the other treated on the scene.

That’s the inside of the concession stand.

That’s its exterior.

Meanwhile, the students on the field had sought shelter from the rain in the press box. Someone ushered them down to a locker room that’s located right on the edge of the field. Good thing. The press box blew clean off the top of the bleachers.

Cars were crushed as the press box collapsed behind the stands.

My friend had a bad half hour before she was reunited with her son. The fear of another strike hadn’t quite abated enough for everyone to be released. My friend was in cell contact with her son, but the wait was hard, especially as the smell of gas indicated leaks. When they were finally permitted to leave, they found a moonscape: mature trees snapped like sticks, debris everywhere, and a stadium that won’t host games anytime soon.

The scoreboard is whacked.

The football goals stand at jaunty new angles.

The wreckage in the foreground used to be a stadium light. (Those to the right and left remain standing, but their lamps have been turned 90 degrees.) The wreckage in the back – well, that was the visitors’ bleachers.

Structures to the right and left of the locker room were decimated. And yet, the kids sheltering there stayed safe.

School is called off until further notice. The high school suffered damage to some classrooms.

It also lost its two 1000-pound AC units, which blew off the roof.

It is a miracle that no one was killed. I heard one chopper take off Thursday night, and the next day a colleague confirmed that one person was injured badly enough to require transfer to Columbus. On the whole, though, injuries appear to be few and minor. Property damage is much more significant.

The tornado also touched down in Athens proper, leaving its main mark on Autotech, an automotive servicing and towing company at the edge of town. The only two buildings farther out along that road are the Super 8 Motel and the clinic where I had my colonoscopy. Those facilities survived with only minor damage (mostly missing shingles). Just a few yards away, Autotech was damaged beyond redemption.

The view from the highway.

Note the Coke machine encircled by corrugated metal. (I took this photo yesterday morning, and the machine was liberated by evening.) Note, too the wads of insulation. We saw them everywhere. All those years growing up in North Dakota, and I never imagined that the hallmark of a tornado could be oodles of rogue insulation.

Of course the impaired Coke dispenser adds credibility to the conspiracy theory …

… that this tornado was brought to us by Pepsi. (Photo from the high school.) Yes, I’m being flip. Black humor is one of the ways I deal with the world’s horrors.

I’m grateful that my family didn’t suffer any harm beyond the shock and fright. Today the Tiger has been playing with Lincoln Logs. Every once in a while a tornado comes and knocks them down. It’s spookily reminiscent of boys I knew who were 10 after the Twin Towers collapsed. They built mega-towers out of legos, which were level by terrorist flying planes. I shudder. Yet our kids seem to need these reenactments in order to come to grips with destruction that none of us can really fathom.

I’m grateful that all of the neighborhoods in Athens proper were spared, and that the elementary schools (except the Plains?) seem to be fine. (I still expect them to stay closed on Monday, given the track record of my boyfriend, the superintendent. We’ve now burned through a full third of our three calamity days.)

Ohio University got very lucky. It appears undamaged. Nor will the Darwin Award go to any of those students who went outdoors to watch the storm “cause I’ve never seen a tornado!”

Tonight, my thoughts are with the people of The Plains, the families of AHS students, and (further afield) the people who did succumb to the storm: a man in West Virginia as well as those killed in Queens in a separate, even freakier storm.

And I’m grateful for the rescuers, pictured here in an extraordinary photo by Spencer Heaps, taken the same evening as the storm:

Spencer Heaps has several other stunning photos at his blog. Please do pay him a visit.

The Athens News also has info on Athens County being declared a disaster area and on the confusing scene at the high school. They offer a photo gallery, too.

There’s no really good footage of the tornado itself, thankfully. (I don’t want people putting themselves in harm’s way!) The next closest thing is this clip, taken by college students living on a hill on the south side of town, which to my knowledge was not damaged.

Photos by me and my husband except as noted.

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Americans who oppose “big government” usually oppose “handouts” to the poor. But here’s the thing: You may be comfortable. You may think you have all you need. And yet, if there’s poverty anywhere in your vicinity, you will not be immune to its pernicious effects.

This came home to me again – twice –  in the past week. My adopted hometown, Athens, Ohio, is a lovely, liberal little college town tucked into the Appalachian foothills. The town itself looks reasonably prosperous, but it’s encircled the remains of a region that mined its coal and then hit an economic dead end. Some of the folks with no money and no future live right outside the edge of town in abject poverty, as I saw while canvassing for Obama in 2008. Within the city limits, the tax base isn’t so flush, either, since the 20,000 students and the university are essentially parasites on the permanent residents (whom they vastly outnumber). Just over half of Athens residents live below the poverty line, and not all of them are students.

Today’s instance of poverty splash-over: BOIL ORDER! Thanks to our weak tax base, the town’s infrastructure is crumbling. The water system is decrepit. Boil orders are issued as routinely as parking tickets. If you Google “boil order,” your second hit will be “City of Athens Boil Order Instructions.” Only the University of Missouri Extension Service outranks us. Sure, Boston had a boil order affecting 2 million people this spring, but Athens beats Boston on the Google! Boston! And its two million (2,000,000!!!!) water customers! If Boston can’t touch us, our title as the reigning champions of boil orders is virtually untouchable. (Yes, I realize most of the world should be under a boil order. Only my First-World privilege leads me to believe my family and I have a right to safe water from the tap. I’m not quite sure that Athens is located entirely in the First World.)

Today’s boil order alert went out via email at 3:30. (Email notification is still a novel service, implemented by our new-ish progressive city leadership.) I last checked my email at 3:25 before I picked up the kids. So I didn’t see it until 8:30, by which time we’d all swilled a glass or two of water and I’d washed our dinner veggies in it. Usually, boil orders affects other neighborhoods. Today, of all days, it hit my own.

So far no one is ill, and I think we’ll probably be fine. I suspect that the boil order is due to a hydrant that I saw spewing water this noon. (Hence the “splash-over” metaphor.) The likelihood of serious contamination is low. Still, I’m irked that we have to deal with the hassle until tomorrow evening. I’m uneasy as we wait and wonder if we’ll all come down with Athensitis indigestion.

Second case in point: the impact of poverty on local schools. I’ve written repeatedly about how often our kids miss school because there’s no money to clear the hilly county roads. (The city is rich in comparison to the county.) Now we’re seeing a decline in the elementary schools, which is having a ripple effect throughout the district.

At our back-to-school potluck, I learned that our little neighborhood school (let’s call it “International Elementary”) has 50% more kindergartners than in the past few years. At the last minute, they had to hire another teacher and carve out another classroom (which involved displacing disabled services to the poorest of our district’s five elementaries). There simply weren’t any open classrooms. Baby boom, you say? Unh-uh. They were all intradistrict transfers, most of them fleeing the second poorest elementary, whose test scores recently tanked. (You can see the data yourself at Greatschools.org under the listings for the “Athens, OH” district – and you can check out your own area schools as well.) I don’t know why their scores tumbled, though I’m loathe to blame the teachers. Much more likely, poor kids are suffering from hunger, which is rampant in our region, and can’t learn. Or their families are unable to be supportive because they received a crappy education, themselves. I’m guessing it’s the more affluent parents who are moving their kids, while the poorest children are staying put.

So the poverty in the county isn’t just hurting the two most vulnerable schools. It’s now spilling over into our excellent little school. I completely sympathize with the parents who are moving their sprouts; even it I didn’t, NCLB apparently gives them the legal right to switch out of a faltering school. In their place, I’d be attracted by International’s strong test scores and relatively diverse student body – which drew us to this neighborhood.

International Elementary will be fine for this year. But what about next year, when we’ll presumably need another first-grade room, too, and the years thereafter? What if we’ll permanently have three classrooms per grade instead of just two? The school is already in cramped quarters. The counselor and psychologist (who rotate through the district) share space with a skeleton in a closet. (Literally.) And you can’t extend the existing building. There’s just no space. I suppose you could just get rid of the playground … but even then, who’s going to fund the construction? The alternative – classes of 30 or more children – would just gut International’s strength, small classes with great teachers.

My point here isn’t just about “me me me,” though it sure feels good to vent. The larger point is that poverty can’t be contained. It spreads like a contagion – like a “miasma,” as nineteenth-century doctors would have said – and it ultimately affects us all.

So never mind altruism. It’s in everyone’s self-interest to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society have enough.

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Via Andrew Sullivan: A new study finds that the crucial swing group who decided to vote for Prop 8 wasn’t African Americans; it was composed mainly of white parents of young children. Their fear, stoked by TV ads? That their kids would come home from school having learned that they could marry a person of the same sex.

And now Prop 8 has been struck down. The Bear (aged 10 1/2, with occasional excursions to toddlerhood and middle age) already regards marriage equality as a no-brainer. The Tiger, at 7, was less clear on the issue. We talked about it in the airport right as the news of Judge Walker’s verdict hit CNN. His main concern: could he have another piece of candy?

The Prop 8 legacy thus led directly to the Tiger learning that boys will be allowed to marry boys.

I would like to thank the Mormon Church, all the other major Prop 8 donors, Maggie Gallagher, and NOM for underwriting one of my better moments in parenting.

Update 2:30 p.m., 8/7/10: In case you were wondering what that fear campaign looked like, in fall 2008 I posted on an ad that warned about schools teaching kids that a princess can marry a princess.

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