Friday, December 28, 2007

The Velveteen Rabbit

I was annoyed by the "three-minute bedtime" version of the Velveteen Rabbit, which we purchased in a desperate moment at an airport a few years ago so that we'd have entertainment for our kids on a long flight. For Christmas this year, my children received the authentic, original version, which thrilled me--classic literature with pictures. Wonderful.

Sadly, I'd forgotten the narrative twist that occurs when, after the Boy's bout with Scarlet Fever, the doctor exclaims when looking at the Bunny: "Why, it's a mass of scarlet fever germs! --Burn it at once. What? Nonsense! Get him a new one. He mustn't have it any more!"

And what follows: "The little Rabbit was put into a a sack with the old picture-books and a lot of rubbish, and carried out to the end of the garden behind the fowl-house. That was a fine place to make a bonfire...."

I'm thinking Margery William's own children must not have had their own "Real" stuffed animals, because if they did they might have exhibited a reaction similar to my children's, who each have their own tattered, much-loved, Puppies.

The fact that a fairy princess rescues Bunny from the bonfire pile did little to relieve the trauma of picturing the cremation of their own precious Puppies. The three year old had tears streaming down her face mid-story, and after the "happy" ending, my five-year-old laid on the couch with her head in my lap and sobbed, frequently asking, "You'll never burn my puppy, will you?"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Oh, no, Mom! It's made in China!"

It's nice to know that some things I teach my kids about are actually making an impact. I've been thinking about ethical consumerism quite a bit this fall with the holidays coming up. I've changed my chocolate buying habits to exclusively fair trade chocolates, and I've limited white sugar consumption (check this link out). I've also been harping on the problems of lead paint in children's toys, not to mention the uncovering of many many sweatshops in China (run by contractors for our toy god, Mattel) where human rights are trampled on and pregnant workers are exposed to toxic levels of lead in the paint they use to make the toys. Because we have a one-year-old at our home every week, I've been telling the girls to be careful about what Josh puts in his mouth, since only God knows if and in what instances Mattel can be trusted.

Well something sunk in. The other day I heard Una shriek from the hallway where she and her sister were playing with a Nativity set (not Mattel's). "Mom! The angel's wing is broken off. Josh must have eaten it. AND IT'S MADE IN CHINA and FULL OF LEAD PAINT!"

"Oh no!" Evvy, the three year old, chimed in.
I knew for a fact that Josh hadn't bit off the angel wings. They were factory defects, breaking within just a few minutes of play in almost the exact same spot on each wing. And we didn't actually know if these toys were made in China or any place that might use lead paint. But Evvy clearly did not believe me when I explained this. As she folded her hands under her chin, she announced, "I'm going to pray for Josh." She then uttered a half-intelligible prayer, "Lord, please... Josh... paint... China.. thank you. Amen." She lifted her head and smiled.
This afternoon, Una and I were wrapping Christmas ornaments to give as gifts to friends and I turned one over and saw the little "made in China" sticker on the back of one. Darn, I'd missed that when we bought it at the store. "It's made in China," I told Una, who became more distressed than I expected. "OH NO. MADE IN CHINA?? MADE IN CHINA??? ON NO. There's probably lead paint in there."
All this is to say, it's nice when you realize your kids have been listening to you, even if the message they regurgitate is slightly lacking in balance. And really, what a sincere prayer for social justice scripted by Evvy: "Lord...paint...China. Thank you. Amen."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Politics of Address

It's the one time of year that I sit down to address a hundred Christmas letters to friends, relatives and acquaintances, and every time I do it I agonize over the greeting and the sign-off. I've received enough greeting cards and invitations in my life to be thoroughly disgusted with the form of address to our family that seems to ignore the fact that I am a part of it. "Mrs. Mark Weber" has a way of pissing me off, unmatched by many things. But a lot of women in my generation identify with feelings of anger over their identity being subsumed under their husbands' names, and I'm getting fewer and fewer cards like that anymore. The more subtle and challenging politics of address come, for me, in the ordering of names at, say, the opening of our Christmas letter. "Dear Mike, Susan, and kids" is the traditional route, not "Dear Susan, Mike and kids," but I'm finding myself compelled to embrace a sort of affirmative action when it comes to naming females in the families.

But I pause with each new couple. Is the re-ordering of their family names something they'll notice? And depending on their age, socio-economic status, religious and political persuasions, etc, is this reordering something they'll be offended by? Additionally, I suspect everyone getting our Christmas card will know that I am the main composer and signer-offer on it, that it's the woman in the Weber family making these executive decisions on how to order names. Will they, therefore, perceive these address decisions as the subversion I intend them to be? I prefer it not be so noticeable, and prefer to subtly sneak my female-affirming greeting into their lives, catch one of those mothers or wives off-guard with the site of her name first leaping off the line of greeting in our Christmas letter. How refreshing, I imagine.

At the same time I want affirmative action in these lines of greetings, I am also an egalitarian, and I"m conflicted by the desire to make up for centuries of female-identity-subsumed-under-male-identity (by listing female names first consistently) with a desire for fairness, to affirm the importance of both the sexes in the present.

So it turns out, none of my lines of greeting take the same format. If I address the family as "Susan, Mike and kids" I might find myself signing off with "Mark, Heather, and kids," and if I'm scared of the reaction of a rather patriarchal family in South Dakota (they might write me off b/c I'm a feminist??), then I might just go the traditional route, cringing all the while. This makes for a painstaking Christmas Card mailing, pausing with each recipient, wondering how best to acknowledge them this Christmas.

The possibility that no one will either notice nor care how I acknowledge them has also occurred to me. This is both good and bad news.