Mar 31, 2008

Loving My Tree

My seven year old daughter and I have been taking African Dance classes at our local YMCA. It's a family class full of mothers and daughters, led by a beautiful and powerful woman, accompanied by an energetic and incredibly focussed drumming teenage boy.

As long as we've lived in Brooklyn I've been tempted by classes like this; friends of mine have raved about African dance, Belly-dance, etc. Problem is I've never danced at all ('cepting for those occasional moments when the mood strikes--rare rare times indeed, especially if alcohol isn't involved) and have been basically too uptight and self-conscious to try anything with the word 'dance' in it. But like people who get dogs find that their social lives pick up, so I've discovered how many more things I'm willing to try in the name of my children. What a fantastic excuse they are to get out in the world, to try new things!

Taking my daughter to this 'family class' became a safe entree into the world. And I've really loved it. Hard to believe I could love anything that involves prancing around in front of an enormous mirror in front of other people for an hour, but I really do. Moving in concert with a roomful of women--hammering out steps and movements, moving as one, applauding each other, it's fantastic.

One day after class my daughter said 'Mommy whenever you raised your arms up everyone could see your belly.' Of course I'd noticed this, and because I am who I am I'd considered being embarrassed about it. But it's hard to feel that way in a class full of strong rhythmic heavyset mamas--where size is strength, and where self-consciousness of that sort would seem as out of place as pausing mid-beat to apply eye-liner.

Years ago I saw Eve Ensler's The Good Body on Broadway. I remembered snippets of a wonderful speech given by a Masai woman about her body called Love Your Tree.

"Its your stomach. Its meant to be seen...look at that tree? Do you see that tree? Now look at that tree. (Points to another tree) Do you like that tree? Do you hate that tree cause it doesnt look like that tree?"

In the afterglow of this particular class, I turned to my daughter and replied "I'm proud of my belly, my body's given me three strong children and a wonderful, capable life. It's part of who I am and how happy I am and how proud I am to have had all of my wonderful experiences."

She considered this for a split second and then said 'Oh, well I was embarrassed."

"You were embarrassed when your own belly showed?" I asked, cringing at the thought that she be on the verge of being crippled by self-consciousness.

"No Mommy, I was embarrassed when YOUR belly showed."

At any other time this might have pinched, but again, there in the wake of that empowering class, I channelled the Masai woman and found the words to say "Well I'm not embarrassed about my belly, so you don't need to bother being embarrassed by it either. It's just a waste of your own good energy."

Of course, it was a moment of mommy-strength not unlike the power we're supposed to access in order to lift a small car off of one of our children in an emergency. And this comment does not speak to any consistently true feelings about my body. But it felt right to say it, and I'm hoping she heard it. And now I want to play Belly's song Feed theTree over and over (because it seems related), and tack Love Your Tree up on the refrigerator. And see if we can't get some major tree-appreciation going.

Mar 13, 2008

Don't Be My Guest

The other day I overheard my daughter arguing with her friend Fifi, who was visiting our house. They were both standing with their hands on their hips, bending forward in rage, noses almost touching. They're four.

"But I'm the guest!" Fifi said.

"No, you're not!" responded my own child.

They were in a squabble about who was going to go first with my nine year old's magnetic dart board. Needless to say this item only held their attention for as long as their fight lasted; they moved on to find other things to fight about moments later.

"Yes, I'm the guest. I'm at your house!" Fifi said again.

"Noooooooooo..." my child started slowly. Condescendingly. "I'm the guest" (actually, she says 'ine' instead of 'I'm' so I'll just insert that from here on).

Fifi saw me lurking in the doorway and looked up at me, confused. "She says I'm not the guest, but I am the guest and the guest always gets to go first," she insisted.

"The guest does always get to go first," mine countered. "But ine the guest. Remember? Your mom said so yesterday."

"But that's when you were at my house. Today I'm at your house so I'm the guest."

"No ine always the guest. You were there when your mom said it!" Then she started to tick the number of times off on her fingers......"your mom told me ine the guest, Chloe's mom told me ine the guest, Aliza's mom told me ine the guest...ine always the guest!"

OHHHHHH, I finally realized what was going on. At this moment, as with other similar moments, I remembered that Fifi's eleven days younger than my own daughter. Yet another example of something I forgot to teach my kid. Don't even get me started on the time the boy who's four months younger showed us all the movements to eensy weensy spider. I hadn't even taught my child the song.

In my girl's world, 'guest' has nothing to do with location, it isn't a status that can change. She's been told she's the guest by so many moms, so consistently, that she thinks she's perma-guest. Must be nice to live in her world.

Fifi turned to me for help. Instead of doing what I should have done, instead of intervening on Fifi's behalf (after all, she was the guest, shouldn't I have worked harder to make her comfortable in my home?), I just gave Fifi a look of exasperation. "You know what honey? she just doesn't understand" I explained." I'll have to explain it to her, but I think I'll have to do it another time. I don't think she's in a position to understand it right now." Fifi (did I say she was younger?) shrugged her shoulders and moved on to play with some other seldom-played-with item that was about to be elevated to sudden preciousness. And so the afternoon went.

I stuck to my word and I did try to explain the concept to my four year old. Several times. She nods like she understands, but of course she doesn't like it. Massively demoted, if you ask her. Sometimes when we walk to school and she's doing things like peering in pipes for watery eyeballs, or balance-beaming her way across someone's stone ledge, I see an idea flash across her brain, and she stops me and says "Mommy, sometime when no friends are at my house, can I be the guest?'

"Sure" I say. "No problem."

Mar 6, 2008

Pondering the Piano

The jury's still out on whether or not the piano was a good idea.

We inherited it from a neighbor who 'had no room for it.' Meanwhile, when I showed up to the neighbor's house to get a visual on it, I discovered an enormous house with a grand parlour and visible baseboards, NOT a cramped apartment as I'd hoped. No, this wasn't a true 'we have no room for it,' in which case taking it off their hands and putting it into our HOUSE might have seemed like a reasonable thing to do. It was one of those enormous living rooms where you can actually see the pretty brown stripes on the edges of the wooden floors. We have those stripy edges, but every inch is covered with some bookcase, couch, cabinet, or other vital bit of furniture. When my daughter needed a wall against which to practice hand-stands when she was taking gymnastics at Chelsea Piers we couldn't cough one up for her.

'Want to play it?' The husband offered. I stared at the pretty piano and the inviting keys. I only know three songs, and they're all duets. Testing this piano by playing Chopsticks just didn't seem like the right thing to do. I kept my hands low in my coat pockets and said 'no, I just want to see it.'

He then tapped out all 88 keys to show me which ones were dead and which ones worked. The working ones worked beautifully. If I'd thought to try the intro to the Entertainer (my other big piece) or the bottom parts to any of the three duets I know (Heart and Soul being one of them) I would have discovered that some of the dead keys are kind of central and vital to my limited repertoire.

Then he sat down and played a song to show me that the pedals worked. Pedals? I'd never gone near them, except to make big Halloweeny effects. I had no idea how to use them in a real song. Or in Heart and Soul or chopsticks. The song was beautiful. The piano was free. (The movers were not). How could I go wrong? I figured if he could make such a gorgeous sound then it would suit my children's basic needs--twinkle twinkle, up the swing (up the swing I go so high...then I come down from the sky...up five keys, down five keys), some simple stuff.

So I set about rearranging our living room so we could absorb it. The rearranging led me to weed out our 'game cabinet,' which led me to clean out my 'office supply drawer,' which led me upstairs to weed through the 'dress-up clothes' and to find a new home for the 'bin of plastic food.' I decided to keep one 'tangle of unknown black cords' but decided to toss another 'tangle of unknown black cords,' based on very little investigation into what devices any of those black cords might have operated. A decision I may regret next time I'm looking to download home-movies or plug a dvd player into a cigarette lighter.

Then the big moment--the arrival of the piano. 'Why those guys speaking only Spanish?' my four year old asked, referring to the Russian-speaking and very-efficient piano delivery guys. Man number one walked into the living room to see where it was going to go and said 'nice place,' which I took as an enormous compliment, as though I'd given him a tour of the whole house (all 1600 square feet of it) and agreed that I'd chosen the exactly perfect spot. He didn't make a snide remark about how he'd just moved it out of a prominent spot in a much bigger home, which I appreciated.

They ootched it into place, did a bit of drilling (?) to shore up the leg that was very wobbly (I hadn't thought to kick the legs when I'd gone to visit it), and left. Us. Alone. With. The. New. Piano.

It's been in the house now for almost 48 hours, and I've had to drive our seven year old daughter away from it about seven times already. Play it more quietly, I beg her, if the tv's on and she decides to hammer out twinkle twinkle, or the swing song. Or there's the mildly supportive 'great! you played it like nine times, maybe that's enough?' Why hadn't I anticipated any of this?

After being rearranged to make room for the piano, the computer desk now makes a big L that divides the living room a bit, and if I'm at my computer and my daughter's at the piano her left shoulder is brushing my right shoulder. I've tried to show her that if she kind of leans the heel of her hand against the rim of the piano the keys make a quieter sound. It's a subtle thing I'm trying to show her, and not always effective. But I try anyway.

And she's my piano player. The four year old just bangs away and I don't even try to stop her, which isn't fair, I'm reminded. And it isn't fair. And if our nine year old son approaches it it's a different story too, since he's officially not interested in it. So when he tries to tap something out I rarely stop him, which isn't fair. And it really isn't fair. I know.

I'm hoping that once the dust settles, the kids won't feel they have to play the piano every time they walk by it. It'll also help when we figure out how to lower the little thing that covers the keys. It's there, we saw it when the guys installed the piano, but once it was lifted up there's no visible way of lowering it again. Once that gets sorted out I suppose it'll be easier for them to resist. And yes, I get the irony. I got us a new piano that I hope the kids don't ever play.

The whole reason I got the piano is a strong belief that my kids should grow up in a house with a real piano. I did, and I hated lessons, but I learned those damned duets, and it's fun to bang them out sometimes. And there's something about kids and pianos and being good at math, isn't there? And my son doesn't want to learn any instruments so that's a good reason to have him live with a piano, right? So he can have a bit of familiarity with one? Because this is the closest he might ever get to a real instrument.

Oh, and the duets? We've tried a few of them but very few octaves have all the proper keys working. I tell myself it's better than nothing. But I'm just not sure yet.