Educating Spider-Man

This weekend, I had the great privilege of accompanying my daughter to a Spider-Man themed birthday party for one of my former students. It was wonderful to be out and about with her, seeing her interact without fear towards new adults and older children (median age between four and five years), but I did not anticipate her extremely positive reaction to seeing Spider-Man emblazoned on everything from a Happy Birthday banner and balloons to the rented bouncy house.

My daughter is 20 months old, and though my family owns all of the Spider-Man movies that have been made, she’s never seen one. She actually has very little interest in TV, though I have it on for the background sound of other adult voices while I’m heating up dinner after work, and only the movie Frozen has successfully stopped her in her tracks for a solid hour and a half. Since last Halloween, she has had a love of both real and cartoon spiders: “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” is her favorite nursery song, and “spider” was one of her first successfully said words. When my husband and I found a red T-shirt with a simple black outline of Spider-Man’s face in her size, we thought it would be cute on her. She was immediately interested in it, recognized the pattern was close to the look of a spiderweb, and caught on fast that it was a person named Spider-Man. I just didn’t realize how much she loved him, from just one T-shirt, until we walked up to the birthday boy’s backyard.

Girlfriend near lost her damned mind.

“Spider-Man!! Spider-Man!! SPIDER-Man!! Spider-MAN!! SPIDER-MAAAAAAAN!!”

She pointed out every last one of the items that showed her hero, almost every boy at the party had a Spider-Man T-shirt on (the lone boy who didn’t had a bright pink shark shirt on, and I had to high five him on general principle) and they were all suddenly her very best friends in the world, and a very big deal was made that my daughter had on a red Spider-Man T-shirt. I smiled and nodded and repeated, “Thank you,” many times as the birthday boy’s family members exclaimed over her shirt, her two poofy pigtails, and her pink and green sunglasses.

Then, Spider-Man came walking up the driveway. Now, I’ve been to a New Kids on the Block concert back in the day. Magic Summer Tour, seventh row, third balcony, at Foxboro Stadium. I was deaf and mute by the time the concert was over. That was nothing, absolutely nothing compared to the cacophony that followed Spider-Man’s appearance. My daughter let loose an ear piercing, “SPIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDAH-MAAAAAYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAN!!! “ and toddle-ran headlong down the driveway and bounced off the back of a young man who pulled up to a halt just in front of the web-slinging wonder. While all the adults at the party pulled up short and began to worry that she might be hurt, my daughter righted herself, looked straight up at her hero and smiled. “Spider-Man!” 

The performer they hired was absolutely fantastic. He was personable, had great command of his audience, knew when he was losing the kids’ focus and adjusted accordingly, and I was impressed with both him, and my daughter. This is no humble-brag. This is a straight up brag-brag. My kid sat in her spot on that driveway, laser-focused on Spider-Man for a half an hour. Thirty minutes. Child development is my life. I’ve been a teacher for 14 years. 20 month olds do not do this. They do not sit still, they do not show this kind of intense concentration for this long. I was dumbfounded. Parents were whispering to me, asking me how in the hell I managed that. What was my secret? ….freakin’ Spider-Man, that’s all. She’ll sit for stories and songs for a while, and then, squirrel! Something else will catch her attention and off she goes. Here? Now? Spider-Man.

Then he broke out balloon sculpting. Oh holy crap, that’s it. It’s all over now. Spider-Man will be her life, right up there with Olaf. It was at this point he finally asked for the mom of this little Spider-Girl—

And here my baby piped up and said, “Spider-Woo-min!” because that’s what Mama and Dada have been calling her at home. Spidey took a second, glanced at me with a tilt of his masked head as I sat behind my girl and nodded at him, and he spoke, “Of course! Spider-Woman!! And would Spider-Woman like a butterfly or a flower?” My little woman shook her head and pointed at the birthday boy’s sword. “A sword?” he asked, and for some reason glanced at me again for confirmation. I nodded, and looked pointedly down at her head, indicating that he should be talking to her.

Spidey didn’t get it. He continued to address me when he asked, “What color would she like?”

I asked her.

“Puh-pull.”

Spidey replied, “Purple? Well, I have this dark one here, or every girl’s favorite, a lighter pinky purple!”

I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth just a bit, and then I heard the sweetest voice ever correct Spider-Man, “No pi-k. Stop. Stop. Puh-pull. PUH-PULL.”

I opened my eyes, saw Spider-Man’s fingers freeze over the pink one, and I swear he was going to ask if she was sure, and just to move this along, I confirmed, “Purple. Spider-Woman is not your average webslinger.”

Junior looked at me for real this time, really seeing what was going on here in a way that was palpable even through his mask and he nodded his head. “You’re right, Mom. This hero is way above average.” 

Thus, Spider-Woman got her puh-pull sword. Which popped about five minutes later. But her point had been made: my little woman knew what she wanted, asked for it, pressed to make sure she was heard, and got what she wanted. Maybe Spider-Man learned a big lesson, too. 

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The Art of Singing: Opera vs. Preschool

“Pop quiz, hotshot!”

Him: “Wut?”

Sigh. Too early for 90s Keanu references, noted.

“Sing ‘Baby Bumblebee’ for me. Let’s see how far you get.”

Him: “…is this for your blog?”

“Just sing it! …yes, fine, it’s for the blog, now sing.”

Last year, after a spectacular fail at singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in his practiced, full, gorgeous tenor’s vibrato that caused my then five month old daughter to produce her very first WTF face, I taught Mike how to sing like us regular folk so as not to freak her out again. It was then, as I walked him through my litany of preschool standards, that I realized something.

My Tenor can sing in at least five different romantic languages, but fumbles almost every preschool song I know by rote. So this morning, I decided to quiz him. He gets past the first verse of Baby Bumblebee with no problem, but he skips the second verse, wherein the child violently smashes the offending insect to bits between her hands, and goes straight to wiping off the remains of the bee on his pajama pants.

“Nope. Try ‘Five Little Ducks.’”

He starts singing, I stop him, “With the choreography.”

Him: “There’s choreography?”

Right.

I admit it, in the beginning I was frustrated with him. Ridiculous as it sounds, I could not fathom why he, of ALL people, couldn’t pull it together and memorize a few simple nursery songs to sing to our daughter in order to engage, soothe, calm, and educate her. I was this close to banging my head against a wall in time to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Speaking of, the man still fans out his fingers like a flower instead of making a sun-circle with his hands when he sings the line, “out came the sun,” and he’s been trying to sing it for a year now.

I’ve heard him try to soothe her while combing her hair with softly sung arias, and those just drive her even more batty. I can hear it in her cry, “Seriously, Dad? I want ‘Twinkle, Twinkle,’ not ‘Barber of Seville!’” 

This morning I asked him what he thinks his block is about, why he’s a whiz kid when it comes to learning his music for work, but he struggles with the preschool songs. His best guess is, he’s trained to sing bel canto: songs that feature lots of short phrases that repeat over and over again. Once he gets those short phrases, and the meaning behind them if they’re in a different language, then it’s note memorization. Those preschool songs are damned tricky with their choreography, the same tune sung with different lyrics (ABCs, Twinkle Twinkle, and Baa Baa Black Sheep are all set to the same tune, by Mozart), and… and… uh…

At this point I’m just looking at him. The Look. Really? That’s your block? Preschool songs are just much too complicated for a simple opera singer like yourself? Let me have a crack at it:

One of Mike’s favorite things to say when he’s feeling beat down by his job is, “Well, it’s not coal mining.” His work can be tedious. Practice, memorization, the rehearsal upon rehearsal, and then performances, the late hours…. However, he knows he’s lucky. He works with adults, all (or, y’know, most) geared towards a common goal. There’s very little minute to minute multi-tasking that isn’t rehearsed ad-nauseum beforehand. 

Then there’s my job.

Here is a thirty second snippet of my day at lunch time in the preschool classroom:

I just got 12 three year olds to successfully serve themselves food out of serving bowls, when Molly poops her pants. I need to change her, she wants to eat. Molly becomes a stinky, messy, screaming ball of hungry Tasmanian Devil, but I get her into the bathroom. Teacher is distracted; party!! As I’m cleaning up and changing Molly, Cain starts poking Abel with his spoon, and Abel starts yelling at the top of his lungs for Ms. Jennie to HAAAAALLLLLP! Timmy grabs the nearest serving bowl and starts gobbling up the tuna macaroni and cheese casserole with the serving spoon straight from the bowl and I’m watching helplessly from the bathroom with one eye while the other eye is watching to make sure Molly’s messy backside isn’t backing into me and my clothes or skin, and oh wonderful, here comes my director with a tour of potential new families for my classroom and I launch into “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

This is not any ordinary song, however. I sing it the regular way the first time. The second time, I sing about the “Little Baby Spider,” which is the original tune sung in a FABulous ear piercing falsetto, followed by everybody’s favorite, the “Great Big Spider,” again, same tune but sung in a monstrously low, gravelly voice. By the time I’m halfway through the second song, things have calmed down, Molly has stopped wriggling, Cain and Abel are clapping along, and my director has removed the serving bowl from Timmy’s grasp and places it on the lunch cart, and the prospective parents are smiling about how wonderful everything is.

Mike has trouble remembering the original, no frills “Itsy Bitsy Spider” when changing his daughter in the privacy of our own bathroom. His level of multitasking is different from mine, in that he doesn’t have this skill set, yet. It will come with time, patience, and practice. Honestly, I feel he will have a full book of preschool songs memorized and ready for use…

When he’s diapering his grandchildren.

I am One Avocado Away from Assimilation

I had just finished sharing on a friend’s Facebook post how easy it is to make a smoothie, and I momentarily freaked out. My inner New Englander just smacked me upside the head and demanded to know what the hell I was doing sharing smoothie secrets, when four years ago I didn’t even know they existed.

I moved out here to the East Bay with my husband in 2011. We were three days into wedded bliss, I was 36, and I had no idea what I was in for. Let us breeze past the paralyzing depression I entered after realizing I just moved to a place that I wasn’t familiar with, that had wildly different social norms than the ones I grew up with, and where I knew absolutely NOBODY. That’s a blog for another time. Right now, let’s talk culture clash.

First up (others will be examined in future posts), where are the Dunkin’s? It took three days for me to realize there are none out here. None. Not one. Zero. Every five feet that I walk around here I could trip and fall on a Starbucks, and because of that, I’m guaren-freakin’-teed to find a Peet’s on the opposite street corner, but there are no Dunkin Donuts to be found. After that shock had faded, I thought, That’s fine, I brought $150 worth of gift cards with me (I’m a teacher, and god bless the parents who know what keeps us motivated. Kids? Nah. Caffeine!), so I’ll just order online– NO!! Oh, god, no! What kind of godforsaken land have we moved to where Dunkin’s doesn’t even deliver to California because of some freaking disagreement between the company and the state about their food processing? For god’s sake, I want my DD’s french vanilla coffee!!

I’m not ashamed to admit, my mother smuggles in my DD fix in the form of K-cups when she and my Dad visit, and thankfully the first Dunkins in the Bay Area will open this year, or so I’ve heard. I’ll be their best damned customer ever. Until then….

A small aside: I’m a recovering Catholic. I was brought up in the faith, got as far as Confirmation, and once I was old enough to understand how much of that faith was based on dogma and a patriarchy stretching back thousands of years? I have my own belief system now, and it works just fine for me. However, I do need to honestly fall on bended knee and confess this one massive sin:

I like Starbucks.

Forgive me, it’s true. My fall down this dark hole of frothy, syrupy seduction began with a newfound addiction to Target. My daughter was born, my need of stuff, things, and sundry grew, and the Powers that Be built a Target two minutes from our home, and within that big, beautiful red dot of a store lies a Starbucks. I’ve been a preschool teacher here long enough that I’ve received roughly $30 worth of gift cards for their brand of liquid crack, so I caved. I caved hard. Like a smoke after dinner, I need a medium (yeah, screw you, I will not ever use faux Italian to order a select size of hot beverage, unless I am actually in Italy) caramel macchiato to begin my each trip’s Target shopping experience. With every cardboard-cozied cup of Eden I fall deeper and deeper into West Coast assimilation.

First it was Starbucks, then it was smoothies. If you ever see me eating an avocado and it’s not a smudge of guac I failed to completely scrape off my nacho or burrito plate? Feel free to smack me upside the head. I deserve it.

 

My Husband Wears More Make-up than I do

I used to be a make-up fiend. In college I was Gen X Goth, all black kohl eyes, blood red lips, and hair dyed every color of the rainbow. When I entered the work force as a preschool teacher, I toned it down until it was foundation, brown liner, and a funky lip color. Then I met my future husband, and I stopped trying. Not in that way where guys believe once we hook The One, women feel the need to take a permanent vacation from presentation. I was out-matched, out-gunned, and out-kohled, and I knew it. I threw in the towel, and went along for the ride of my life.

Just the other night, he asked me if I’d seen his tights.

Let’s back up nine or so years ago. I met my Tenor, Mike, at a mutual friend’s party. He walked in late, shaking rainwater off his pleather trench coat, and my inner Goth girl heart went pitter-pat. He was bald, well dressed, and I planted my wall-flower self in range of watching him hold court in a circle of his friends as he regaled them with tales of…. Oh, damn. Musical theater. He had a role as one of the Harlem Gang in a production of Ragtime the Musical, and was waxing poetic about the set pieces, the costuming, the choreography, and dammit, just my luck, he’s gay.

Stop, right there. Don’t even say it; they call it a stereotype for a reason.

As I have a background in theater and singing solo and in a chorus, our mutual friends tossed us at each other and I thought, what the hell, it’s safe enough considering he’s so obviously—

Alright, not so much. He’s straight, very straight, and we’ll leave that night at that, shall we? Even his cast mates joked that he was probably the only straight man in Harlem. Now fast forward five years.

The big, dramatic, blowout wedding my Tenor and I had? His idea. His first marriage was in front of a Justice of the Peace, and he wanted big and flashy. I was ready to book a flight to Vegas, but gave in. He got his big wedding; I chose A Nightmare Before Christmas theme. I had the DJ play,“A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd, during the dinner presentation. Really, it was a win-win.

Three days later, we moved my life out to San Francisco to chase his dream of being an opera singer. And he nailed it. From local productions of musicals to tenured tenor in the Men’s Chorus of the San Francisco Opera in just nine years? That’s “discovered by a talent agent at the mall and having a public breakdown on TMZ after fighting with Kimye” fast.

As I got used to being a New England transplant in the Bay Area (still not very successful, and oh my god, is my Boston accent so glaringly obvious out here), I went back to school to earn class units to qualify as a teacher in Cali, and am now celebrating my 14th year being a preschool teacher. I also get to be a part of my husband’s world. It’s living in that world which makes it crystal clear that our daughter, a 19month old toddler, is going to grow up in a fairly flipped gender role household.

She will get to know the theater, the world of opera, and while it’s true that there are tights, and codpieces, and horns, and “Kill the Wabbit”, she will get to meet people from all walks of the theater life: singers and dancers, writers and directors, conductors and instrumentalists, men and women reflecting our lives back at us through an unparalleled art form. Plus, how cool will it be for her on “Bring your daughter to work day”? Or when she gets to bring to school a picture of Dad at his job, in which he’s wearing blue eyeshadow, kohled eyes, and gold lame MC Hammer pants (seriously, check out the SFO picture archives, under Aida)?

What a wonderful, wacky, completely non-normalized, non-judgemental upbringing my daughter will have, due in part to the fact that my husband wears more makeup than I do.

Welcome!

Writing used to be my life. Then I began teaching, and that became my life. Then I became a wife, and I had to marry my husband into my old life, and start a brand new one in California. Then I became a Mama.

She is now my life.

Since I’m already juggling all of these crazy lives, I thought, well why the hell not? I’m bringing my first love back into my life.

So, here I am, writing about subjects that matter to me in my life: motherhood, being a wife, being in an interracial marriage, raising a child in the San Francisco Bay area, raising a child with a New England born Mama, raising a girl to be a strong woman, raising an interracial child, being a teacher, and being the wife of an opera singer.

It’s crazy. It’s insane. There’s no one else like me, and I want to share it all with you.

Thanks for reading.