Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Last weekend, a swarm of security guards and people with cameras walked by us at the park. Naturally, we were curious and followed the crowd. I guess I shouldn’t say we, since Toby rolled his eyes at us, but my dad and I decided to see what, or rather who, was causing the commotion. One man rushed by us, having just had his picture taken with the dark haired celebrity. “Who is it?”, we asked. “I have no idea!” he gushed, still excited that he had a photo of a nameless, but famous, man. When we walked up to the crowd, we could see the tell-tale platinum blonde hair of Gwen Stefani. Her husband, Gavin Rossdale, held their son, Kingston, and gamely posed for pictures with beaming people from the crowd. Gwen waved to the crowd and then took off at breakneck speed in her silver sports car. Our curiosity satisfied, we headed up the hill to join the girls at the merry-go-round.

It‘s unlikely to go through a week in Los Angeles without seeing someone who looks vaguely familiar. Most of them are less well known than Gwen Stefani, people I recognize but don’t know their names - “the brother from My Name is Earl”, “the guy with a wide mouth who used to be on Spin City”. Mostly it’s mildly frustrating because I see someone and just can’t place him or her and then spend the day trying to remember where I’ve seen that person, like having a song at the tip of my tongue.

I don’t consider myself anything more than mildly interested in celebrities. (Full disclosure: my dad will likely disagree with me on this since I did know that David Duchovny was a sex addict and that Kanye West’s mother died of plastic surgery before he read an article to me about it in the paper.) Admittedly, I do like my People magazine from time to time, but given the choice between dinner with my sister or any actor or actress and I’d choose my sister any day, and seeing a smile from Evie on the soccer field is worth seeing 1,000 David Beckhams, However, I’ll admit that there is something fun about living in a place where someone famous might pop up any minute. Running into Gwen Stefani is a story - like the coyote walking down our street a couple months ago, it’s something different from every day life, which is why I think people are interested in celebrities to begin with.

Toby, on the other hand, could not possibly care less about celebrities. I guess I can’t say that completely these days given that his job, and therefore our dinner at night, relies on people’s interest in celebrity life. Still, I challenge you to find someone less interested in celebrity gossip than my husband. In fact, last week he met with Brittney Spears’ managers to discuss a website. The conversation went like this:

Manager: Well, we’ll have to look into that part of it since she doesn’t manage her estate.

Toby: What do you mean?

Manager: Well, you know, since her father has control of her assets.

Toby: Come again?

Manager: Good God, have you been living under a rock? How can you not know about this? Don’t you read those People magazines your wife leaves on the back of the toilet at home?

(OK, I am using an artistic license here, but you get the gist of the conversation.)

Toby’s theory is that our nation’s obsession with celebrities reflects the breakdown of communities: gossiping is a natural human urge and, since we don’t sit with each other on front porches anymore talking about all our neighbors, we look to the television and tabloids to get our fill. I think there’s truth to that and I could probably write plenty about the roll of celebrities in the erosion of American culture or the fact that after reading People magazine, I usually feel more like shopping than like making the world a better place. But for now I’m kind of enjoying the random celebrity sightings as an interesting back drop to life in LA. I’m not about to break out the camera or ask for autographs anytime soon, but I’m not ashamed to report that I pay attention to who is walking around the farmer‘s market on Sunday. So consider this a fair warning: if Zac Efron buys grapefruit or oranges, you’ll hear it here first.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Number 3

“Three, it’s a magic number.“ - Jack Johnson

My friend Joanna is the youngest of three girls. She once told me that she found three scrapbooks at her mom’s house, each with a name of one of the girls on the front. She opened her oldest sister’s album. It was full of pictures and notes about first words and first steps. Her middle sister’s album wasn’t quite as complete, but there were still a good amount of pictures in it. She came to her album and it opened with a resounding crack. It was the first time that it had ever been opened. She was horrified that her mom could forget her, though she said that once she had children of her own this horror turned into understanding. I listened to her and put my hand protectively on my pregnant belly and vowed that our third daughter would have a scrapbook of her own.

On June 22, 2007, Noelle Bethea came into the world. After three years of waiting, I couldn’t believe she had finally arrived. Two miscarriages had lead me to believe we would never have another healthy baby, but “Noni” was the picture of health - she skipped the scrawny newborn stage altogether and came into the world with chubby cheeks and a perfectly round belly. I spent the first two days of her life in the hospital with her, talking to her, nursing her and trying to soak her all in.

On the third day of her life, the hurricane of her two sisters arrived. Chatting a mile a minute, they burst into the room and announced they were there to take us home. Toby picked up Noni in his arms and I thought, “Goodbye little baby, it was nice to know you!”
That’s a little dramatic of course. She basically didn’t leave my sight or my arms for months, but I really felt her more than I saw her. She was the pleasant warm weight that I carried around as I rushed to soccer, school, brownies, gymnastics and ballet. She fell asleep in the car, in the stroller, in my arms, but was often awakened to be dragged elsewhere and rarely saw the inside of her crib. She listened to me help her sister with homework or read to her older sisters, but rarely did I talk directly to her. Her first year went by in a blur that, frankly, I barely remember.

This year, for the first time since that hospital room, she and I have some time alone together. For four hours a day, five days a week, her sisters head off to school and it’s just the two of us. Granted, most of that time is spent at the grocery store or Target or vacuuming the house. But, without being interrupted, I am able to teach her new words by pointing out the different fruits and vegetables to her and she has her own little vacuum that goes alongside mine.

Being a third child has definitely affected her personality. At least once an hour, during our mornings together, she rushes to the door saying “Yoosh, Yoosh”, imploring me to get Lucy from school. When she falls, she’s just as likely to ask for “Edie, Edie” as for “Mama”. Her sisters are influencing her life at least as much as Toby and I are. While her life is often chaotic, this is the benefit of being the third child - she has a lot of people to learn from and to love.

Fifteen months later, I still don’t have that scrapbook. But, times have changed a little. I do have hundreds of photos of her on Flickr and a blog to help record her childhood. So Noni, if you are reading this thirty years from now, I’m sorry I never made you an album. And, yes, you did get lost in the fray from time to time. But never doubt that we have always loved you very, very much.

The New Kids at School

When I dropped Lucy off for her first day of school, I was nervous. The memories from last year were all too clear in my mind - passing a kicking and screaming Lucy off to her teacher and avoiding eye contact with all parents in the hallway. It wasn’t like that every day, she could go happily off to school for weeks at a time, but she definitely had her moments, her spit and vinegar days. She’s a love, but she’s a Scorpio through and through. I still sing praises to her teachers for their patience with us. Given her reaction to a school she knew well, I was concerned that a new school in her new town would be an even tougher sell.

As I walked into the school, I thought that at least Toby and I can feel like we did our absolute best in finding a school that would be a good match for her creative and independent spirit. Lucy’s new school, I’ll call it O., is ridiculously wonderful in my mind. The children spend the first hour of school just running around outside, playing, painting, climbing on the tree house in a school yard that is bursting with art projects, laughing children, and friendly, huggable teachers. You could quite possibly see unicorns flying around the yard and not find them out of place.

After signing Lucy in, I walked with her over to the art table and sat down across from her, wondering how to approach the topic of leaving her there. Two minutes later, an adorable little girl with brown braids sat down next to her, introduced herself as Charlie, and told Lucy that she could sing the song “Lucy in the sky with diamonds.” “Really?” I asked, trying to maintain the flow of conversation, “We should play that song for Lucy because you know she actually hasn’t…” but I was talking to myself. Lucy and Charlie were off, swinging from the monkey bars, huge smiles on their faces.

Since then, every day Lucy wakes up and yells, full volume, (she gets this from her dad, trust me,) “AM I GOING TO SCHOOL TODAY???” She loves it. She loves her friends and her teachers. She loves having some independence. I don’t know if it’s the school or the amount of growing up she has done over the summer or both. Either way is fine by me. She and I both walk in the school gate every morning with huge smiles on our faces.

As much as I was nervous for Lucy on the first day of school, I was confident that things would go smoothly for Evie. She has always loved school. At age three, after the first day of nursery school, she wanted to play school with me at home. “You pretend to be Mrs. Davis and I’ll pretend to be me and I’ll cry because it’s time for my mommy to pick me up.” I was glad for her independence, but I remember thinking maybe a teeny tiny bit of homesickness would be nice. She made friends immediately and was always eager to head off and see them.

Her school in California is big. There are six classes in the second grade alone, and each one of these classes heads out to recess at the same time. The other day she said to me, “Nobody notices me at recess.” All I could say was, “It will get better”, but this broke my heart.

I didn’t think there was much I could do to help her with it beyond talking about it, but today I decided to write to her teacher. She responded immediately to my email and said she was so glad I had shared it with her. Since she isn’t there at recess, she wasn’t aware of the issue. She’s going to switch Evie’s seat in the classroom so she is next to one of the “more chatty girls” and assign her some more in-class work with partners. My relief told me that it had been a larger concern to me than I’d even thought. When Evie went to bed tonight, she told me that she was excited because they have science lab tomorrow. It’s funny because she loves her classes (she is the Virgo after all), but I’m mostly looking forward to the night when she tells me that she’s excited about recess the next day.

Moving has brought our family a mixture of both challenges and exciting changes in ways that I never expected. After just a couple of months, Lucy is suddenly more self-assured and even-keeled. And, while Evie is feeling intimated with meeting people at school, I’m hoping that the challenge of making new friends is ultimately good for her. As parents, we try to smooth the bumps in the road as much as we can. But, since bumps and twists and turns are all inevitable parts of life, perhaps the more important job is just to help our children to see them as part of growing up.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Miley and Me

“Is it the Jonas Brothers?“ - Ten-year-old Malia Obama, when told there would be a surprise for her at the Democratic National Convention. (Unfortunately for her, it was just her dad on satellite.)

Teen pop stars are taking over my life. Miley Cyrus has dibs on the car stereo, The Jonas brothers monopolize the living room stereo and Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens claim the TV. Today I found myself singing a Hannah Montana song (“rockin’ it wherever we are…”) as I was jogging, so apparently they have taken over my brain as well. I’ve long ago given up the hope of listening to any good music - I have already endured years of the Wiggles and Raffi - but suddenly the music has a, well, teenage sound to it, and I’m starting to wonder, should I be worried about more than just my sanity?

We all go through the process as parents of learning where to set boundaries on our children. When they are really little, it’s pretty easy: Peanuts, bad. Applesauce, good. Sticking little fingers in the outlets, bad. Learning to go down the slide with adult supervision, good. Suddenly it gets a little more complicated. After listening to The Jonas Brothers for half an hour on the way to the beach, Toby mentioned that maybe the lyrics aren’t so child-appropriate, as almost every song refers to a girl that one of them “wants” or “needs” or basically just thinks is smoking hot. Should our four- and six-year-olds (assuming our one-year-old is clueless) really be listening to these lyrics? We thought about this for a while.

The truth is, I don’t really want to take away their cheesy teen pop CDs. There is nothing the girls love more than channeling their inner pop stars and dancing in the living room, choreographing moves and taking turns as the lead singer. Watching them brings back memories of my sister and I dancing to records on our pink plastic record player in the basement. What is it we were listening to? Oh yes, Michael Jackson. Singing about how he got down and dirty with Billy Jean but he’s not about to claim her son as his own. Hmmm. Suddenly songs about summer crushes don’t seem so bad.

What’s hardest is navigating the territory between what feels comfortable and what is out of bounds. Just when I’m feeling like I’m ok with the music, here comes the request for the tv shows. It’s natural to want to watch Hannah Montana if you’ve been listening to her all day long. So I’m the cool mom, right? I’ll give it a try. But no, it’s just too torturous. Miley is sneaking out of the house to see a boy, then she’s gossiping about her friend behind her back… it’s one thing to listen to her singing about it, but to have the girls watching it just doesn’t feel right. I turn off the television, which results in Evie running to her room and flopping dramatically on the bed (proving that the show had already had an effect).

Later that day, I found a note on my bed from Evie. It read: Since I am Bigger I never get what I want. So I want a weekly Break without little sisters. But how? This note cracked me up but it also made me realize that she really is growing up. She’s growing out of her old tastes and wanting to explore new territory. Part of me loves that and finds it exciting, the other part of me longs for someone else to set the guidelines. But we are thrown into it, like it or not: the role of navigating for her the difference between growing up and growing up too fast. One day Evie will go to slumber parties, watch cheesy teeny bop movies and giggle over crushes. There’s something wonderful about that, but we’re not there yet.

Still, after reading her note, Toby an I decided to give her some more grown-up freedoms. She and Toby now bike together every Saturday, with no little sisters along. She is allowed to stay up half an hour later reading in bed (and hopefully offsets some of the music lyrics by gravitating towards books with strong female narrators - Ramona Quimby, Laura Ingalls, Kit Kitteridge). We’re keeping the television shows off limits for now, though I’m sure we’ll be working our way towards them in the future. And, of course, there’s always the music. Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers are here to stay.

As for my sanity, tomorrow is the first day of school, giving me six full hours a day to adjust the car stereo as I choose… that is until Noni discovers the Wiggles and the cycle begins again.