Icon: For Love of Barbie

When I was twenty, Barbie was a symbol of oppression with obvious food issues. No way would a future child of mine identify with that.

When I was twenty, “princess” was another word for “child of oppressor.” Monarchs went with pogroms and capitalists.

If I ever had a daughter, she would be one of the people. Or a leader of the people. Or an anarchist. Or most probably an artist. Art was problematic because it also went with corporate capitalism (when not going steady with poverty) but at least the few artists who made money disdained it, if only publicly.

Twenty wasn’t easy.


When I was twenty, when I considered bringing a child into this world of wrong, I pictured her enjoying organic produce and healthy ethnic cuisines.

Decades and chameleon lives later, I was married and we were expecting.

After our daughter was born, I suggested raising her vegetarian. It seemed wrong to feed an angel on the blood and limbs of slaughtered animals. Her mother said she’d go along with the vegetarian angle as long as I did the research and committed to preparing fresh, nutritionally balanced meals that supplied every nutrient our child would need.

So she eats meat.

Mostly she eats french fries.

She sometimes eats at McDonald’s. Also she eats candy and plays with Barbies. She says she is Barbie’s biggest fan. Soon after learning to say Dada and Mama, she asked if she was a princess. We said yes.


What used to be my elegant teakwood dining table is now the staging area for a Barbie apartment. The Barbie pool, Barbie camping van, and Barbie salon that comprise the “apartment” barely leave room for the Barbies, Stacies, and Kellys who make use of these facilities.

The princess turns six in September. She’s working on the party guest list and we’ve already decided on her birthday present: a Barbie house.

Barbie is now fifty. But fifty is the new 49. There’s a reason she’s stuck around all these decades. Turns out it has nothing to do with theory and everything to do with girls.


P.S. Hint to my people: when you go to barbie.com, enable Flash.


It’s a process

After finishing her late-night snack, she left the empty bowl beside her in the bed “for Emile’s spirit to nibble on.”


Choose Death


When I returned from Boston, my little white dog was much sicker. It’s the lungs. There’s a constant honking gasp, except when he’s sleeping. The doctors said this would happen, they just didn’t say when. Despite the constant meds and steady love, there comes a time when the animal can’t breathe—and nothing medical can be done, other than the merciful horrible.

So today is the day. I feared it on the afternoon I came home and I knew it for sure last night. Where there is life there is hope, until there is no hope. It’s time for Emile to go gently to foreversleep.

If my daughter wasn’t with me, I’d have taken him in for the procedure yesterday. As it is, to minimize my daughter’s trauma, I’ll have to squeeze it in today, while she is at school. Death on a schedule: between my workout at 9:00 and my first business appointment. Tears at eleven.

At this second, little Emile sits comfortably on his dirty red cushion, cleaning himself after a hearty breakfast of flavorless hypoallergenic food stuffed with pills. His breathing is normal enough to fill me with guilt, hesitation, and denial. Is there still hope?


The First Time

A friend’s young son had just used the toilet and wiped himself for the first time.

She congratulated him on being a big boy.

To which he replied:

“Mother. Surely you don’t expect me to do this for the rest of my life.”


How my grandfather came to America

Harry

While my great grandfather hid in a rain barrel, a Ukrainian villager raped my great grandmother. Some time later, my grandfather was born.

He looked Ukrainian—so much so that he could slip away to the village, pass as a Christian child, and overhear the neighbors scheduling their next attack on the Jews. Then he would scamper back to the shtetl and let his parents know it was time to hide in the woods again.

My father and brother inherited the Ukrainian rapist’s good looks, and I inherited his thirst.

I first learned about the Ukrainian rapist last year, in the context of one of my father’s breakfast table reminiscences. My father mentioned it as if it were one of the old family stories—like the stories about my father’s childhood, or my mother’s father’s death in an airplane crash, or my parents’ marriage. I’ve been hearing those stories since I tasted milk, but the rapist in the family tree was news.

 

Perhaps because the boy’s face reminded him that he had failed to protect his wife, my great grandfather made a daily exercise of beating my grandfather.

He beat him in Ukraine, he beat him in steerage on the passage to America, he beat him in the new land. He only stopped beating him when my grandfather, with my great grandfather’s written consent, enlisted in the US Army at age fifteen to go fight the Huns.

 

The US government arranged to have my underage grandfather’s soldier’s pay sent directly to my great grandfather in America.

My grandfather might have thought World War I would be softer than life with Poppa, but if so, he was mistaken. He emerged from trench warfare with a plate in his head, a metal disk in his knee, and certified paranoid schizophrenic as a result of exposure to mustard gas, a chemical agent the civilized nations were using on each other’s soldiers.

When he emerged from the hospitals, the US government gave my grandfather a disability pension, and this time the money went to him. Armed with those small funds, a mentally ill poor man’s talent for the grift, and his striking handsomeness, he won my grandmother and produced two children, one of whom was my father.

In deference to tradition, my grandfather beat my father every day. He extended the tradition by also beating my grandmother.

That stopped when my father, still wearing his Navy uniform, returned from World War II and threw my grandfather out.

 

In the decades that followed, my grandfather would sometimes appear out of nowhere, creating emotional havoc in my parents’ house until my father gently put him on a train back to New York.

My grandfather married seven women that we know about, but none of the marriages stuck.

He gravitated to the Bowery and probably died there.

 

We last heard of him in the 1970s when I was in high school. Late one night, the phone rang. I answered. A New York cop told me he had picked up a deranged homeless man claiming to be my father’s father. Could we come pick him up?

We didn’t live in New York; my parents were out of town; as a minor watching my younger brother in my parents’ absence, I couldn’t travel to New York to fetch my grandfather. So I told the policeman that my father’s sister—my grandfather’s daughter—lived in the New York area and gave him her telephone number. Then, very politely, I hung up.

I had a bad feeling, like I should have done more, but what?

We never heard another word about my grandfather.

 

Kids say the darnedest things. Say the darnedest things. Say the darnedest things.

“Daddy, let’s play dinosaur. You can be the daddy dinosaur, mommy can be the mommy dinosaur, I can be the baby dinosaur, and doggy can be the doggy dinosaur.”

“Okay.”

“Daddy, let’s play leprechaun. You can be the daddy leprechaun, mommy can be the mommy leprechaun, I can be the baby leprechaun, and doggy can be the doggy leprechaun.”

“Okay.”

“Daddy, let’s play vampire. You can be the daddy vampire, mommy can be the mommy vampire, I can be the baby vampire, and doggy can be the doggy vampire.”

“Okay.”

Parenting a four-year-old is like living with Rain Man.

[tags]myglamorouslife[/tags]

The lessons of September 11, 2002

On September 11, 2002, I found myself in a place as strange as Vegas. I was there to speak at a web conference. They must have gotten a good deal on the rooms, it being the first anniversary of the attacks.

“They’re holding a conference on September 11th?” I had shouted aloud on receiving my emailed invitation to speak at the show. “How could they?”

And how could I, as a New Yorker, respond to such an invitation?

But people told me if we couldn’t hold web design conferences on September 11th, then the terrorists had won. People said many stupid things back then and still do. I don’t know why I heard wisdom, or the call of duty, in this sophistry. But off I went, persuaded that I was somehow taking a stand against the people who had so grievously harmed us.

On September 10th, I gave my talk to a roomful of hungover IT professionals. On September 11th, I slouched around the conference site at Caesars Palace feeling absurd and unreal and painfully missing the woman who is now my wife. (I love you, honey.)

In New York, George Bush was laying a wreath at Ground Zero. In Las Vegas, I was lying on a sedan chair, watching the animated flag on the JumboTron outside the Bellagio. The pixelated call to patriotism felt not merely inadequate but crazily beside the point. Its 60-second cycle seemed to proclaim that our enemies may fly our planes into our buildings, but damn it, we have big-screen animation.

Many of our subsequent responses to 9/11 have felt like that giant LCD—gung-ho about the wrong things, a garish distraction to keep us from seeing and solving our real problems. But on September 11, 2002, I only knew that it was not patriotic or wise to have left my woman alone in New York City on that day.

And that JumboTrons suck.

And that I hate Vegas.

[tags]myglamorouslife, september11, 9/11, anniversary, webdesign, conferences, lasvegas[/tags]

A Town Called Gale

I’m still having medical problems, and at 4:00 AM I awoke in pain.

The nightmare that woke me concerned a town called Gale, Kansas.

It was a town for young murderesses and their parents.

If your child had killed another child, your family would be relocated to Gale, to start a new life under an assumed name.

There were no Holiday Inns in Gale. Tourism was not merely discouraged, it was disallowed. A visitor stopping at the town’s filling station would be subtly encouraged to drive on.

Of course, nobody from the outside world knew the secret of Gale. Nobody knew but the parents and children who lived there.

I remember thinking “murderess” was unnecessarily sex-specific and overly harsh. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe your kid hadn’t meant to push that other kid. Maybe she’d meant to push but not to kill. Maybe she had no idea what kill even meant.

Hopefully you had more than one kid. That way nobody would be sure which was the murderer.

The parents of the town accepted each other and each other’s families because everyone shared the same tragedy. But there was never trust.

The town had a library, but no newspaper collection. Internet use was monitored to prevent the curious from learning specifics about each other’s crimes.

As they grew up, the children were encouraged to date each other, to marry, to stay in the town.

Why Gale? Gustav, I imagine.

Why Kansas? Something to do with Dorothy, I suspect.

Comments off.

[tags]gale, kansas, dorothy, murder, murderer, dreams, parenting, families, wizard of oz[/tags]

Death

Ava, who is nearly four, is not so bothered about Daddy’s crippling monster toe, but great-grandma’s passing still troubles her.

She has calculated, correctly, that if great-grandma can die, anyone she loves is fair game.

Sometimes Ava defies the inescapable logic. She’ll tell a stranger, “My great-grandma died, but my grandma is never going to die.”

At other times, she plea bargains: “Mama,” she says, cuddling on the couch, “I don’t want you to leave me.”

She knows the happy part is that great-grandma is in heaven, but the sad part is that we don’t get to see her any more. And that she can’t talk. Or write letters. Or go to church. Or anything.

In short, she knows that dead is dead. And while she accepts the heaven part, the consolation is abstract.

Novelist Anne Rice lost her daughter in 1972. From the pain of this infinitely unfolding tragedy, she conceived a series of works about vampires, whom she portrays as god-like, immortal beings. In Rice’s vampire novels, a vampire seeking companionship in the dark night of eternity can confer “the dark gift” of immortality on a mortal by biting them just so. The series resonates in part because it darkly mirrors normal human experience. Life itself is a dark gift: every parent knows their child will suffer and die.

Our daughter is not yet on intimate terms with death, but the two have now met and exchanged a few words.

[tags]ava, family, growing up, death, glamorous, myglamorouslife[/tags]