Archive for April 2008

MotherTalk Blog Tour: That Baby CD/DVD

Edited to add:
If you’re interested in ordering That Baby DVD, or That Baby CD, or the set, enter the coupon code “MotherTalk” when purchasing from the website, and save 20% on your entire order! Also, from now until May 18th, all orders using the coupon code “MotherTalk” will be entered in a drawing to win a new iPod nano.

I grew up listening to my parents’ music: Judy Collins, The Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez recordings, augmented by occasional trips into Manhattan for afternoon symphony rehearsals. “Kid’s music” as we think of it now, didn’t really exist, though everything my parents played, of course, was perfect kid’s music: clear lyrics (focusing often on peace and social justice); beautiful melodies. And my tastes now run usually (though not exclusively) toward the unplugged and the solo vocal or small group over the bigger, more raucous sound of a band.

When Ben was born, we didn’t run out and start buying kids music. I played him the Indigo Girls, Tony played him hip-hop. We were doing just fine (and Ben was learning about many different kinds of stringed instruments, plus keeping the beat very well) but inevitably kids’ music started making its way in the door: Dan Zanes, Ralph Covert. We signed Ben up for a music class with a local former indie rocker, Chris Molla, where he banged a tambourine and learned great old folk songs.

I didn’t realize how lucky we’d been with the music Ben, and then Eli, were listening to until recently, when we were given an “educational” CD called Color Train. I’m not linking to it because it’s simply too terrible: over-engineered synthesizers and a chirpy vocal, with inane lyrics like “Where oh where did the dinosaurs go? I guess we’ll never know!” which make Tony and Ben yell at the CD: “We do! We do know! We know because of science!”

I disappeared the CD as quickly as I could and we went running back to our beloved staples.

After the Color Train debacle, I didn’t expect much from the That Baby CD and DVD, but I signed up for the MotherTalk blog tour because something in the description of the CD and its producers made me think it might be ok. It’s a Mom and Pop outfit, literally. Rob and Lisi Wolf aren’t a committee of teachers and child development specialists who have compromised their way to 41 minutes of age-appropriate pablum. They sound kind of like me (parents who think having kids shouldn’t mean turning the stereo off for 10 years), and their musical tastes are right in line with mine. The track list for That Baby CD showcases the groups that created the soundtrack of my high school years: Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, 10,000 Maniacs, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and more.

But still, I was skeptical. If the music’s that good, why not play your kids the originals, rather than acoustic covers? Well, we very well could, but the fact is we don’t. The CD is like a mix tape made by a good friend, someone who knows your taste well enough to put some of your favorite songs onto a recording, plus some great unfamiliar stuff. So, in fact, while I love Bruce Springsteen, the Springsteen song on this CD, Pony Boy, is new to me, and the cover (by Jaycob Van Auken, a Lyle Lovett-sound alike) is gorgeous (the accompanying video is one of my favorites, too). Stephanie Schneiderman is a terrific discovery for me, as well; I think she’s brave to take on Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game, but she brings something beautifully new to the song. Her cover of Peter, Paul and Mary’s Garden Song is a beauty, as is her take on Paul Simon’s St. Judy’s Comet (honestly, I like her voice so much, I’m going to buy her solo CDs).

The CD is now firmly established in our car music rotation; the accompanying DVD is terrific (except, I have to say, for the kids lip syncing to Brass Pocket, which we all find a little disconcerting!) Although we don’t watch a ton of tv around here, and when we do, it is hard for the boys (or any of us, really) to shake the family Oswald habit, they have started to request repeat viewings of the That Baby DVD, and I am happy to oblige. The That Baby CD and DVD make a great addition to any family’s music repertoire.

Calling all Mama Writers!

Literary Mama’s Literary Reflections department is seeking personal essays about writing as a mother, reading as a mother, or developing a career as a professional mother-writer. If any of you have such an essay in your portfolio or an idea brewing along these lines, we welcome your participation. Also, pass along this call to any other writers/mothers who may have an interest in submitting to LM.

Click here for the complete submissions guidelines.

The First Sleepover

We’ve been talking about this for so long, imagining Napa Valley hotels and sumptuous dinners out. But whenever we made a plan, somebody’s kid got sick and we had to cancel at the last minute.

So it’s a wonder we didn’t try it this way before, because this is what worked:

A play date plan with a family we’ve known since Ben was a baby (their son is one of his best friends; their younger daughter has sweetly claimed Eli as her own) — both families together for the afternoon and dinner.

A casual, “And if Ben wants to sleep over…” When I mentioned it to Ben, he said no, but Eli said, “I want to sleep over!” So Ben changed his mind (no matter that Eli followed quickly with, “What’s a sleepover?”) We stuffed their pillow cases with bed guys, pjs, clean play clothes and the travel kit with their toothbrushes and flossers and headed across the bridge to their house.

We played all afternoon, ate dinner, got the kids all into pjs and set up Ben and Eli’s cozy nests on the floor next to their friends’ beds. There was no longer space to walk in the room, but no matter. Eli alternated between “I’m so excited!” and a puzzled “Why not Mama gonna stay?” But we encouraged the excitement, pointed out all the unfamiliar train books, and kissed them both goodbye. When we left, the dad was sitting on the floor with all four kids, the mom snapping pictures from the doorway, all of us excited at the possibilities in this new chapter in their friendships (remember the hotels, the sumptuous dinners?)

We didn’t want to head back across the bay until we knew our guys were sleeping, and we’d missed all the 7 pm movie starts, but downtown Berkeley is not a bad place to spend a warm Saturday evening, especially when a new branch of a favorite bookstore has just opened. We browsed and read and then checked in after about an hour: the kids had been excited and pretty raucous, and they weren’t yet sleeping, but everyone was quiet. We headed home.

The first best part of the sleep over was waking up this morning at 6 AM and rolling back over to sleep. The second best part was waking again at 7 and reading in bed for two hours.

And the last best part was when we collected the kids, after we got our big reunion hugs, after Eli asked me again (not upset, still just a little unclear on the concept) “Why Mama not stay?” watching Eli hold up his arms to give our friend–his friends’ mom– a great, big, arms-tight-around-her-neck hug.

So now I’m checking the calendar to see how soon we can reciprocate, and how soon we can get our boys to their house again!

A Plumm Summer

What do you think of when you think “family film?” For me, it’s the Herbie the Love Bug movies that my parents took us to in the early 70s. I confess I don’t remember a thing about the plot of these flicks, but I remember a late summer evening’s drive to a movie theater, all six of us piled into the car, and I remember being happy. When I was a little older, we all saw Star Wars together in Ogunquit, Maine; it was the opening weekend, and the six of us couldn’t all sit together (as I recall, my brothers sat on the stage directly in front of the screen, their heads tipped back to watch). I was more into the experience — the crowd, the excitement — than the story on the screen. And we all saw Airplane together, too (why, I wonder?), when I was old enough to be embarrassed to be seen at the movies with my parents.

We watched movies together at home more often. I loved staying home from school when I was little (before my mom returned to work) because we’d watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies together. We watched James Bond movies, which when I think back on it were entirely inappropriate — but probably most of the R content was over my head, anyway. We watched nutty 40s capers, like Kind Hearts and Coronets. We watched Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movies. And of course we watched The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music every year on television, too.

Of course when I was a kid, I didn’t think much about the difficulty of “family movies.” We watched movies together. With four kids 8 years apart, probably one of us was always a little bored and someone else probably didn’t entirely get it, but no one complained because it was still nice to all be doing the same thing. Well, I should amend that: I didn’t complain, because as the youngest, I was always just grateful when my older siblings were doing something with me! That’s more accurate.

It’s a little easier with my guys today. The “family movie” options are greater, and the boys are close enough in age that they can watch the same things, so we’ve watched The Sound of Music together (once in the ER) — a good family film despite (for now; someday because of) the Nazi plot (they don’t ask about the war themes , and I don’t volunteer.) We’ve watched Toy Story a lot, which is probably the household favorite right now; we’ve watched Enchanted once. But even most of these films have elements the boys don’t get, or I don’t want them to get. It’s hard to get a family movie right for everyone in the family.

A Plumm Summer is a new family movie opening this weekend, and MotherTalk and Mom Central are trying to spread the word. I’m all in favor of helping out a little independent film, and this one’s got a great cast (Henry Winkler and Peter Scolari were my favorites) with a sweetly nostalgic voice-over by Jeff Daniels. The film’s set in 1968, and based on the true story of what happened in a small Montana town when the beloved Froggy Doo, a “Superstar puppet,” in David Brinkley’s words, was stolen. It’s a story of brothers, which of course interests me a lot these days, and about how their parents are managing their difficult path from sweethearts to partners. It’s got a bit of Scooby Doo feel to it, as the kids run circles around the FBI trying to solve the mystery of who stole Froggy Doo. Some of the themes and scenes are too heavy for my boys, but I’ll save it till they’re older. If you have kids in the 8-12 range, it might well make a good family outing for you.

New Columns at Literary Mama

Two of my favorite columnists have new pieces up at Literary Mama!

First, Libby Gruner’s Children’s Lit Book Group feels a rare twinge of nostalgia as she contemplates sending her daughter off to college:

“Three of my favorite read-alouds are Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day. These three wouldn’t seem to tell me much about a child going off to college, and indeed they don’t. But they do tell about the power of the imagination, the appeal of the unknown, and the comforts of home, in ways I’m finding helpful right now.”

And in Me and My House, Elrena Evans is way too tired for nostalgia:

“As a Christian mother I sometimes feel like I can’t turn around without stubbing my toe on the God-as-parent metaphor, hand in hand with its twin, you-are-your-child’s-first-image-of-God. I love the idea of being God’s image for her, being his hands and feet on this earth, and I want more than anything to show that kind of love to my daughter. But it’s hard, at 3:07 a.m.”

Yum, Yum

When Eli outgrew his crib, we moved him into a big-boy bed in a now shared room with Ben and I–for the first time in my life–got an office. One small room with a desk and, well, yes, a pull-out couch because it’s our guest room, too. But mostly it is my office, with a tall bookshelf stacked with my old grad student books (the ones I wasn’t so sick of that I sold back), and my favorite novels, and tons of anthologies, and one little picture book about food that never made it down to the kitchen, where it belongs. It’s a collection of Andy Warhol’s comments about food, illustrated with his drawings, and now everyday after his nap, Eli comes bombing down the hall with his blanket and his bear and his bunny and his two doggies and his ball (because ever since our trip east last month he is a dog, he says, who needs to sleep with a ball), and he pulls the book off the shelf and says, “Mama, let’s read Yum Yum!” So we do.

Some of the lines are profound:
“Progress is very important and exciting in everything except food.”

And some of them are not so profound:
“Tab is Tab, and no matter how rich you are, you can’t get a better one.”

Some are sweet truisms:
“It’s nice to have a little breakfast made for you.”

And some make excellent points:
“When you want an orange, you don’t want someone asking you, ‘An orange what?'”

This is my favorite line:
“I love the way the smell of each fruit gets into the rough wood of the crates and into the tissue-paper wrappings.”

And this is Eli’s:
My only regret was that I didn’t have an ice cream scoop in my pocket.

I don’t remember how the book came to us, but I’m glad we have it. As Eli says, “I’m great fond of this book!”

Mama at the Movies: Enchanted

This month, in search of something light, I decided to watch a fairy tale with my boys:

“Mama, what’s a magical kingdom? Why is the queen evil? Why will she lose her power if her stepson gets married? What’s true love’s kiss?” We were barely through the opening credits of Enchanted (Kevin Lima, 2007) and I had to pause for a quick fairy tale run-down. Of course, neither of my boys has any problem with some of the common elements of the filmed fairy tale, the richly animated world in which animals talk and plants participate in human life, and they are beginning to hear stories with good guys and bad guys. But the particular spin of a fairy tale, in which children are generally motherless, struggling to protect themselves against a new family member (the evil stepmother) was new to them, and troubling.

Read the rest over at Literary Mama. And while you’re there, check out the other new columns, new fiction, creative nonfiction, and a great reading list to take to your local bookstore!

Some Nice PR

Check out the write-up of Mama, PhD in the latest issue of eGrad, a newsletter for Berkeley graduate students:

Up on the web — it’s a site, it’s a blog, it’s a book!

Mainly, at the moment, it’s (almost) a book. It just happens to have the regulation 21st–century promotional bells and whistles, so it’s an instant community, and not a tiny one at that.

Read the rest of the article here. We’re hoping to do some readings and campus talks at Berkeley next fall, so stayed tuned!

Train Heaven

Amtrak + California State Railroad Museum = two happy boys.

Ben: “I almost forgot that after the train ride, there’s still the whole train museum!”

Eli: “I love this train. I want to stay on this train forever.”

Spring Break: Plan C

Plan A: 5-day road trip to visit cousins in Santa Barbara and Long Beach. The kids play, the adults talk books and art, we all curtsy to the Queen Mary and enjoy the warm weather. Canceled due to illness.

Plan B: Ride Amtrak for a day trip to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. The kids play, the adults enjoy the scenic train ride, we all enjoy the warm weather. But, we get to the train station bright and early, our bags packed with camera, picnic and coloring books, only to discover that the trains aren’t running due to an accident on the line.

Plan C: It’s 9 AM Monday morning, a day when most of the Bay Area kids’ museums are closed (why, why all on the same day?), all our Berkeley friends had spring break last week so they’re in school, and it’s a little too early and too chilly to go to a playground.

But we’re near Berkeley, and I spent long enough there to know a couple things to do. So, we visit the T-Rex in the Berkeley Paleontology Museum; we go to the Campanile, hoping to ride to the top (but it’s closed on Mondays, natch) and then we go to the Lawrence Hall of Science, where there’s an exhibit involving build-your-own Lego race cars (did they know we were coming?)

After a picnic lunch, we call an old friend from the city who’s moved to Berkeley. School’s out for the day and the family is free! The big kids make scenery and rehearse scenes from The Magic Flute (somehow, both of their kindergarten classes have recently learned the story) and the littler kids play trains. The moms catch up and drink tea. After a couple hours, we’re treated to a short and well-rehearsed performance of excerpts from The Magic Flute. We head out for Chinese food, follow it up with some gelato, and finally head home after the evening rush hour’s over.

Thank goodness for Plan C.