Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mama Berenstain

Every morning, usually before I’ve even had a sip of coffee, I’m given my role for the day and then I’m promptly notified if and when that role changes.

“Mommy,” says Finny as he carefully descends the stairs into the kitchen, blankie in one hand, teddy in the other, and hair pointing in fifteen different directions, “You be Kitty Softpaws, I be Puss, and Charlie bees Humpty, okay?”

And we’re off.  He’s a strict director too.  If I start to sound too much like Mommy and not enough like Kitty, he is quick to yell CUT!  “No, Mommy, I thought you were Kitty Softpaws?”

And we try again. 

“Mommy, you better get Humpty off the couch.  He’s jumping around and he might crack.”

When David comes home, we usually switch gears to Jungle Book because David specializes in Baloo the Bear and he calls Finny “Little Britches,” or “Little B,” which always makes him smile.

“Mommy, I be Mowgli, you be Shanti, Daddy bees Baloo and Charlie bees Ranjan.”  We don’t play Jungle Book I.  We play Jungle Book II.  We’re sophisticated like that.

Today, I have already been Puss, Shanti, and now after an episode of Clifford the Big Red Dog before lunch, I am Emily Elizabeth.  I had to wipe my face when I left his room at nap time after being licked three times.  I promised him a bone for snack.

But I have to say that lately my favorite role is that of Mama Bear from The Berenstain Bears.

I be Mama Bear, Finny bees Brother Bear, Daddy bees Papa Bear, and Charlie bees Honey Bear, and we live in a tree house in Bear Country. 

And it’s such a lovely place to be that I find myself seeking out more ways to spend time in Bear Country.  We got books from the library and the bookstore, and I’ve just reserved some of the cartoons, and every day at naptime and bedtime, I practically beg Finny to let me read him another Berenstain Bear book.

So, I started to wonder why.  Why do I look forward to reading these simple little stories about this stereotypical family of bears?

And now I think I know. 

It’s Mama.  I love her.  She’s my girl.  I wish she lived next door and I could run over and borrow a pot of honey and we could talk bear-to-bear about the trouble with chores and too much TV and the scary babysitter, Miss Grizz.  We could commiserate over how our little bears aren’t sleeping because of bad dreams and being afraid of the dark.  We could sip coffee and share common values.  She’s a sista I could count on.

She could also probably use a little time with me too.  The turquoise polka-dotted nightgown and nightcap she wears all day, everyday could use a good trip to the Salvation Army, and I could probably pull her away from flower arranging and quilting club to really let loose with a half-price bottle of wine somewhere.  But beyond those minor, little…oh, delays in her evolution…, I think she and I actually have a lot in common:  we want our children (and our husbands) to behave and help out.

Don’t get me wrong, David is not exactly Papa Bear, who all too often gets lumped in with the kids when they’re not doing what they should.  David is a great help to me and our family and he would not be caught dead in those Jordache overalls, nor would he ever use a push reel lawnmower.  But, I can relate to the idea that Papa Bear, can never completely understand what it’s like to be Mama, and I must admit that I enjoy the fact that the stories always end with the WHOLE bear family realizing that Mama is, in fact, right…about everything…no exceptions.

I guess these books are outdated, I guess they do a poor job of depicting the “modern family,” and there is no doubt they are overly stereotypical in their definition of what it is to be a Mama, a Papa, a Brother, a Sister, a Baby.

But I find comfort in their simplicity, I like what they are teaching my son, and I can relate to all the little troubles, worries, and concerns that affect their little bear world.

I might still be Emily Elizabeth at bed time, but I hope Finny lets me read The Berenstain Bears Show Some Respect.  Looks like someone in the bear family has really ruffled her nightcap in that one and I can't wait to see how she gets all her cubs in line.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


That’s what I thought when we first turned the key to the new, old house.  Eww.  Uh-oh.  What have we done?  A thick layer of dirt and dust everywhere I looked.  The floors, the blinds, the cabinets, the stairs, the porch.  Dirty.  And I guess I did not do a great job of concealing my disgust.

“This is a yucky house, Mommy.”

“No, no, Finn.  It just needs a little cleaning,” I said.  Cleaning that should have been done before I got here, I thought.  “Let’s go down to the basement.”

“This basement is poison, Mommy.”

“Posion, huh?” I said, but I did not disagree with him.  The cement walls and floor chipping away, dark rooms, old junk, rusty pipes, a toilet caked in…something…brown.  Poison was a real possibility.

But the kids found the fun.  Big, empty house with lots of doorways, lots of stairs, lots of room to run and chase and laugh after a long car ride.  So they laughed as I cringed at the dust cloud that formed when they banged on the blinds, at the many wooden stairs they would now have access to and would no doubt be tumbling down head-first, at the hive of yellow jackets between the window panes in Finny’s room.

When we went out to the front yard, the yard of weeds and a rotting old stump, I laid it on thick in my discussion of the street.

“Finny, you must never, never, never go into this street.  The cars will come very fast.  And we must always watch Charlie and if you ever see him going into the street, you call to Mommy and you bring him back.  Do you understand?”

And he did understand because he repeated this to me at least eight times over the next four days.

When we got back into the car, I bit my lip to keep from crying and told David to call the movers to move it back a day, so that I could clean, clean, clean.

And then I had to pull it together because they read me like a book, especially Finny, paying attention to every last worry that crosses my face and recording every last word I try to utter in confidence.  My fears easily became his fears.

And the newness was frightening to him too.  The first few nights, he trembled and screamed in his bed at what he imagined was a bug moving around in a spot on the wall where the window frame was pulling away from the wall.  Bugs for Finny were suddenly everywhere he looked.  Crumbs, fuzzers, spots in the hardwood.  Bugs attacking him from all angles.

But we adjusted.  We moved in.  I wiped down the floors and cabinets and dusted the radiators, David filled in the hole where the window was pulling away from the wall, and my mom dusted every blind she could in the short time she was here.  Slowly, but surely we are making it our home.  We are putting things away and hanging things up and finding our favorite spots to sip coffee and eat Cheerios and build towers out of blocks and put together puzzles.  Even the poison basement, with a carpet runner, a big Windex wipe down, and the door shut tight on the yucky old toilet, is not so poisonous after all.

The house, it turns out, is actually quite lovely.  Stained glass windows, beautiful woodwork, big front porch, a view of Lake Calhoun from Finny’s bedroom window.  Now that we’ve cleared away the dust, the charm is shining through, and our rented house on Irving Avenue is actually a pretty cool place to settle in for a while.  Even despite a few new fears and worries.

A couple days ago before my mom left town, she noticed we had an ant problem in the dining room.  After dropping her off at the airport, our big adventure for the day was to find a Home Depot and buy some bug spray.  When we successfully found the Home Depot after a few detours, Finny told me I had won ten gold doubloons and we went home to put them in our team treasure chest.

But a few minutes later, Charlie wandered into the kitchen with a new word in tow.  “Yu-Cky. 
Yu-Cky.  Yu-Cky,” he kept repeating as he backed into the kitchen away from the dining room.

“What’s yucky, Charlie?”  And he led me to a spot on the dining room floor where an innocent old brownie crumb was hanging out.  When I picked it up and put it my hand, he ran away from me in tears, “Yu-Cky!  Yu-Cky!” 

I laughed out loud.  Charlie who drinks toilet water, Charlie who eats bird poop, Charlie who sticks his tongue in any dog bowl he happens upon is now grossed out by a brownie crumb?

We are teaching these little boys a lot of things and fear is one of the trickiest lessons.  We have to get it just right.  I want them to get over their fear of bugs, but not their fear of the street.  I want them to learn to use the toilet, but not drink from it.  I want them to be afraid of the water, but I want them to learn to swim.  I don’t want them to fear the jungle gym, but I do want them fear the gaping holes at the top that they are not yet big enough to maneuver.

I want them to be full of fear…and then I want them to learn to overcome it.

And the best way to learn this is by trying something new. 
By moving to Minneapolis. 
By finding what’s yucky and scary and different…
and making it clean and fun and our own.