If You Give a Monkey a Passport….

niagara falls

This little monkey named Marlin has been with my daughter since she was born – 11 years.

He’s traveled on road trips up New England and through the Midwest, to Mexico, Puerto Rico, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, overnight camp, France, Italy, Disneyland (where he actually rode on rides tucked safely in my daughter’s jacket), and Disney World, and a few weeks ago to Canada where he enjoyed Niagara Falls.

It’s strange how a little stuffed animal can become a member of the family.  But, there he is, stuffing sagging, a bit deflated, his fur matted down and his sewn-on mouth long gone.  And yet no family journey would be complete without him.

Trying to Explain the Unexplainable to My Daughters

This morning before my daughters headed off to school I had to sit them down and tell them about an unimaginable tragedy that had happened yesterday in our NYC neighborhood.  Two children were allegedly stabbed to death by their nanny, and one of those children was a student at their school.  Knowing that there could be reporters outside the school, and that they would be hearing about it from other kids and teachers, I wanted them to hear it from me first.

As a parent, what happened is beyond comprehension, and when I found out last night that this was a family in our school it made it that much more real.  This wasn’t a head line, this was something that happened in our community.  It’s hard for people to understand that in a huge city like New York small ties bind residents, and nowhere is that more true than at school.  As we gear up for the first big fundraiser of the year, a huge festival of Halloween fun for families that relies on over 200 volunteers to make happen, there is now an unmistakable sadness that will permeate this kid-centric event. And most likely we will be having discussions today as to whether or not to even hold the event.

When I told my daughters about the tragedy I wasn’t sure how they would process the news.  They are ten, the “seniors” of their elementary school.  They feel protective of the younger students, take huge delight in having kindergarten book buddies that they read to once a week, and take pride in having new responsibilities as 5th graders.  What happened yesterday goes against everything a child is taught – that their parents would only leave with them in safe hands, that your home is a place of security.

But, at ten they are old enough to start to understand that random and sometimes horrible things do happen.  That you have to be grateful for the good, and not take your loved ones for granted.  It’s not an easy lesson to learn for anyone, let alone kids.  As a parent I can’t begin to imagine how those parents will recover from the horrible loss of two of their children.  And, as a mom I struggle with how to explain the unexplainable, but also know that now that my daughters are on the verge of middle school their awareness of the random cruelty and violence in the world around them is only going to increase.

While their school brings in counselors and deals with the difficult job of trying to make things as normal as possible, I know that my girls are going to have endless questions here at home over the next few weeks.  There will never be a way to answer them.  Maybe that’s the first real part of growing up – knowing some questions don’t have answers, that you have to accept that and still keep your heart and mind open, and live your life with hope and optimism.

 

Theme of the Week – Growing Up and Moving On

Sharing the Baby Swing So Long Ago...

I didn’t realize how much this summer would be about my daughters moving up (to 3rd grade), moving out (to sleep away camp) and moving on (cleaning out their toys.) But obviously the idea of them growing up and entering a new phase of their lives, which means I am entering a new phase of my parenting life, has been humming in the back of my mind for the last month.

My latest West Side Independent column grapples with what growing up in the city means and the milestones that are unique to an NYC upbringing. Who knew I’d be sad to leave Hippo Park Playground behind?

Read it here…

The Bittersweet Inevitability of Growing Up – A Weekend Spent with Peter Pan and Toy Story 3

my daughter and her beloved monkey

My daughters finished 2nd grade and now at 8 years old they have declared themselves to be “tweens.”  I personally thought the whole tween thing was for ages 10-12, the real prepubescent years with middle school and all those horrors.  But no, Time Out Kids had an entire tween issue and right there on the cover it said ages 8-12 and if it’s in print, especially full color giant sized print, my daughters take it as gospel.  They will go to sleep away camp for one week this summer, for the first time.  Next year they will be in 3rd grade, starting standardized testing and being a part of the “upper” grades.  Whether I truly think of them as tweens or not doesn’t really matter, the sad truth is they are growing up and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

As if this weren’t already weighing on my mind we spent a weekend taking in two great shows that hammered in the nostalgic, heart wrenching reality of childhood’s inevitable demise.  On Saturday night we went to the Papermill Playhouse’s production of Peter Pan and on Sunday watched Disney’s Toy Story 3 in IMAX 3D.    Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan – the boy who refused to grow up and gave up a chance at a real family and real love as a result.  Like all good stories Peter Pan changes as the reader ages.  When I was in 4th grade I played Peter Pan in a school performance.  On the most basic level the musical is wonderful, full of witty and rich songs, colorful characters and perfectly drawn characters.  But when you’re a child the sad character at the end is really Wendy who got old and is now a boring old mom who watches her daughter fly away for an amazing adventure in Neverland.  Seeing the play as an adult I just felt bad for Peter at the mercy of his petulant, immature ego and constantly looking for new lost boys to follow him and new little girls to play mother to his pretend father.  (The other thing that was glaringly apparent seeing the play as an adult is that both Peter and Captain Hook are perhaps two of the biggest narcissists that ever walked the stage.  But that’s a an examination about manhood vs. boyhood that deserves its own post, or Master’s thesis!)

I watched my daughters intently during Peter Pan.  They were completely entranced.  The flying of course is always spectacular and as I said the execution of the show from cast, to choreography to direction was flawless.  But at the end both of my daughters couldn’t understand why Peter would go back to Neverland rather than stay with the Darlings and have a real family.  To them Neverland didn’t seem like a fantasy come true – it seemed like a place with kids who needed someone to take care of them.  I never thought of it that way, after all the entire conceit of Neverland is that never growing old is the ultimate wish, but it’s more of a wish of an adult looking back than of a child looking forward.

Toy Story 3 was another matter.  While the mother’s quiet dismay at sending her son Andy off to college plays in at the every end of the film it is Andy himself who has to make the brutally conscious choice to give up the symbol of his childhood, Woody the cowboy, and leave childhood behind for real.  While of course I cried like every adult I’ve spoken to who saw Toy Story 3, my daughters cried even more.  Now, one of my daughters always cries at movies when they get the least bit sad or sentimental and always has.  It’s one of the reasons she hated going to the movies.  She does not like having her emotions manipulated.  But, she gave into it this time and just sort of went with it instead of being scared by it.  For my daughters the thought of giving up their beloved stuffed Monkey or blanket was horrifying.  They could not fathom how Andy could give up his most prized toy friend to another child.  And because the movie was so beautifully done you could see that Andy couldn’t quite deal with this decision either.  It’s one thing to make that inevitable march towards adulthood because that is where the thread of time is pulling you, and another thing entirely to make a wide-awake decision to abandon a cherished part of your younger self.

As a mom I am constantly torn between wanting my daughters to mature and take on more responsibility – pour your own cereal and milk into a bowl for god’s sake! – and then wanting it all to slow down and be thankful that they still want to crawl into our bed in the morning and cuddle.  They also seem to be struggling with wanting to remain in that fuzzy babyish realm of childhood and move forward into the adolescent world of making their own decisions, keeping secrets and taking on new responsibilities.   Spending a weekend with Peter Pan and Toy Story 3 made it abundantly clear to them and me that while growing up cannot be avoided it’s not something any of us need to rush.  And yes, my daughter already told me her stuffed monkey will be going to college with her.  I don’t doubt it.