Shopping alone when you are five

The world must be so exciting for her. I try to imagine how she experiences the shops, the distance to the riverside park or the large playground, the roads full of traffic, the market. Buying a snack in the corner store is something trivial for us, a relatively meaningless act we won’t remember. It’s no achievement, it doesn’t exhilarate our spirits. It is a dull and mundane task that would instill a sense of awkwardness just because I am writing about it.

But when Miru goes shopping, she is all excitement. It is one of my tricks to make her understand the usefulness of elementary math: she must count her coins. I follow her on the street because I want to know if she observes the safety rules: look left, look right, stick up your arm as you cross the street. She does this flawlessly and it looks most adorable. I see her enter the corner store and come out, five minutes later, with a plastic bag. Much as I prefer she buys broccoli, this little step towards independence is most endearing.

I don’t want to speed her up to get her out of the house earlier, Eighteen years of a daughter like we have is a blessing. It is the other way around: by encouraging independence at this tender age will enable her to rely on her parents without embarrassment, says my intuition.

Most of the time it is chocolate biscuits or “pepero”, biscuit sticks dipped in chocolate. Yesterday she bought princess lipstick candy. Shopping alone when you are five is exciting, memorable and gives you a real sense of achievement. It makes me wonder what the equivalent would be for adults.

She just offered me one of her treasured cookies so I am going to wrap this up. Being a parent is a tough job.

Shopping alone when you are five was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Shel Siverstein (1930-1999) was an American painter, poet and songwriter. I read a sweet little poem about the end of the line.

Where the sidewalk ends
There is a place where the sidewalk ends
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight
to cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
and the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
and watch where the chalk-white arrows go
to the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
and we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
for the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
the place where the sidewalk ends.

He paints a precise picture of the place between the sidewalk and the street first, because these details will pay off later when we see the sidewalk as the obvious metaphor it is. It is a childlike, a playful place with the moon-bird and the crimson bright, and the peppermint wind.

When we realize the existence of the end of the sidewalk, we want to leave ‘this place’ with the black smoke and dark winding street, the dirty asphalt jungle of aimless (urban) life. And when we do so, we walk slowly and in a dignified manner. Just follow the arrows, and you will be saved.

Now the fact that the children draw the chalk arrows, and will have to redraw them because they will wash away, is an interesting turn here. The children “know”, but their knowing (about mortality) is a naive knowing. The “just know” and draw the arrows because they like to draw arrows, not because they are philosophers preoccupied with impending death.

Reading: Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein was originally published on Meandering home

Laughing with Miru

There is nothing like humor to discover the signature of a human mind.

Tell me what you find funny, and I will tell you who you are. Okay, I may not be able to fathom the trenches of your soul, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have some sense of your political leaning, your raw intelligence and your general attitude towards life.

Interesting as such musings may be when they pertain to adults, things get really fascinating when we look at the humor of children. Every stage of the development of a child corresponds to a particular sense of humor. When my daughter Miru was an infant, so she was in Jean Piaget’s sensorimotor stage, she laughed at our funny faces. I believe that this first humor doesn’t yet distinguish between love and laughter: A gesture of care is laughable. Fun equals funny.

At age two, Miru laughed at unexpected things, developing a sense of Schadenfreude. This humor was not yet depending on grammar or abstract concepts, but directly related to the behavior of others. This corresponds to Piaget’s preoperational stage, that lasts from age 2 to 7. I would like to see a subdivision of this stage, because her humor became much more refined.

She is five years old today and I’ve found out that she really likes what I call deception jokes. In a restaurant celebrating her grandfather’s birthday, I told her that I turn her water into something else, like soda, and wield an imaginary magic wand. When she tastes the water and finds out the liquid hasn’t changed, she laughs out loud, multiple times. At this age, she knows that the world doesn’t always adhere to any and all description, but the fact that descriptions can be wrong, is still funny. There is a wonderful innocence in this particular sense of humor.

I’m looking forward to her next mental leap, into Piaget’s concrete and formal operational stages, and how it translates in yet another kind of humor.

Laughing with Miru was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: The Unborn by Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds (b. 1942) is an American poet and a leading voice according to Poetry Foundation. She writes about the body and its pleasures and pains. She has won a Pulitzer prize (for Stag’s Leap, 2013) and the British T.S. Eliot prize. She (or her work?) is widely anthologized, if that’s the info you need. Today, I read a poem of hers about unborn children:

The Unborn
Sometimes I can almost see, around our heads,
Like gnats around a streetlight in summer,
The children we could have,
The glimmer of them.

Sometimes I feel them waiting, dozing
In some antechamber – servants, half-
Listening for the bell.

Sometimes I see them lying like love letters
In the Dead Letter Office

And sometimes, like tonight, by some black
Second sight I can feel just one of them
Standing on the edge of a cliff by the sea
In the dark, stretching its arms out
Desperately to me.

It’s a accessible poem that makes proper use of its metaphors. The condition of the children is built up through stanzas 2-4. At first they are waiting in an antechamber for the parents to call them into being, but that didn’t seem to happen. Then the children are pushing and write love letters that don’t arrive because the stork couldn’t read the address. The letters end up in the Dead Letter Office, a dank and depressing place.

Finally the unborn children announce themselves in a vision of the author, her ‘black Second sight’. Just one of them is standing there on the edge of a cliff in the dark and in desperation. What do we make of that? The poem is about the possible children, calling them ‘unborn’ might make conservative America angry (she is not a friend of conservative America, having declined an invitation of Laura Bush to the White House in 2005). But really this is about the possibility of children and these possibilities jump down to the sea, whether we catch them or not.

Olds has two children, I guess she and her husband tried for a long time? Anyway, I like the buildup and accessibility of this poem. But I won’t let you go without quoting some edgier stuff by Olds. This gives a taste of how horny her poetry can be:

As soon as my sister and I got out of our
mother’s house, all we wanted to
do was fuck, obliterate
her tiny sparrow body and narrow
grasshopper legs

Reading: The Unborn by Sharon Olds was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: It Was A November Of Bitter Rain And Snow Blackened By Use

Today I read a poem by the Lebanese poet (and former miss Beirut) Venus Khoury-Ghata in the English translation by Marilyn Hacker. It has a few things in common with poems I wrote about here earlier: It is short, but not too short and contains some surrealistic images that can shake the prepared reader.

we filed the dead leaves by size to ease the task of the forest that was absent for
reasons known only to itself
The parents had left with the door
We mistook puddles for creeks
pebbles for meteorites
the wind’s hordes for wolves
A child would liquefy as soon as a snowflake touched the ground
We could hold out till Epiphany
handling our feet like toys
waiting for a redistribution of parents

Children are sorting fallen leaves to help the forest. If you focus on the individual leaves (or trees) you don’t see the forest, but it’s still there. Here, the forest is absent “for reasons only known to itself”. I don’t see what’s happening here, so let’s read on. The parents had left “with the door”, what does that mean? Did the parents take away the distinction inside-outside?

The children were erring: the mistook “puddles for creeks / pebbles for meteorites” and so on. They blew up every small thing, so perhaps that’s why the forest became absent? After this, they horrifying line about the liquefied child projects us in the middle of a surrealist painting. The softest impact would make the children lose shape. I read this as a metaphor for hypersensitivity. So the poem is perhaps about sensitive children after their parents left them.

Against all odds the children made it, they “held out till Epiphany”. What is it they will see? A redistribution of parents, so they could get parents who don’t leave with the door and will again know the difference between inside and outside: be home somewhere. Why are they handling their feet like toys? Because it was cold in the snow and by objectifying their feet they could forget that they were freezing? Because the children were too fragile to handle their feet like parts of their own bodies. They know that if they don’t play with everything, if they don’t let play dissolve everything, they are vulnerable. So here they are: still filing the dead leaves by size to create an imaginary order, an order that is safe because it is invisible to the parents. The obsession reminds the reader of the autistic spectrum.

The Epiphany, a restribution of parents, is impossible. But what if the “handling of the feet like toys” and the “filing of the dead leaves” brings about some sort of imaginary epiphany, in which the parents are redistributed and the order is restored?

Reading: It Was A November Of Bitter Rain And Snow Blackened By Use was originally published on Meandering home