mrissa: (Default)

Earlier this month I was the author guest for Literacy Night at a local grade school. My presentation (repeated three times–though never the same) was half an hour to kindergarteners through fourth graders and the adults they had in tow, about how to take an idea to the point of being an actual story.

It was great. The kids were great. At one point we ended up with a dragon riding a roller coaster with a robot yeti and fleeing a wendigo–and that was all one kid. The parents were also great, with one dad postulating a unipotamus (a hippopotamus with a unicorn head), both envying and envied by a dragon, each learning to be themselves.

The thing I focused on was learning to ask questions, learning to ask the right questions, which is to say, the kind of questions that result in a story. “Where do you get your ideas?” is the cliched question, the question that interviewers seem to simultaneously want to ask and want to avoid asking. But I think that behind the cliche there can be a genuine desire to know about a skillset the interviewer does not have, and that’s even more the case the younger the person asking the question. Sometimes what they’re really asking is: how do you do this thing, in specific, concrete terms so that I can do this thing too. Or at least so that I can see whether I can.

I think that one of the major aspects of keeping childhood creativity–or even a fraction of it–into adulthood is learning to direct your questions rather than stifling them. Learning which questions are the ones that suit you, that take you where you want to go. Learning when to break out of that pattern and try some new questions. So I tried to give these kids a sense of what kind of questions you can ask yourself about a story you want to tell.

If they keep up with questions, if they practice asking questions, most of them will discover that the questions that interest them most are not a fiction writer’s questions. They will look at the same birds on a half-frozen pond as a storyteller, and they will find that they have questions about how to make water look wet and ice look slick on paper, how those particular birds behave in summertime, what things we don’t already know about helping someone see at a distance. That’s okay. It’s actually great. But I think it’s fair to start giving kids some ideas of what kind of questions you can ask, how this actually works, where those questions lead you.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (Default)

My godson Rob was diagnosed with celiac this spring, and while we haven’t made all the changes we would if it was someone in my household, there has been a lot more paying attention to what has wheat and barley and the like, what doesn’t, what does but can be made to work without it. Also, we have been saying for years that my goddaughter Lillian is almost old enough (and definitely enthusiastic enough about baking) to be included in Cookie Day. This year, the two things combined: we had Lillian spend the night and then spend all day having Gluten-Free Cookie Day.

Here is what we made.

First, in our pajamas, we made fully glutenated waffles for breakfast. Because Lillian hasn’t been diagnosed with celiac, and sometimes having the gluteny things you like when you’re not sharing them with your big brother is a good plan.

Then we got ready for the day and finished putting out the Christmas decorations (usually wayyyy too early, but I’m going to be in Montreal, so I needed to get it done if it was ever going to happen) and waited for my folks and my grandma. And then the reinforcements got here and we really got going.

We made: chocolate fudge with hazelnuts; double-layer chocolate/peanut butter fudge; caramels; strawberry shortbread with gluten-free flour*; chocolate-dipped apricots; chocolate mixed nut clusters; amaretti (tinted lavender–Lillian’s choice), some sandwiched with frosting and some with raspberry jam; Nutella cookies; and chocolate chip peanut butter cookies. We didn’t get to the blueberry meringues, so I’ll do those tomorrow before we really get going on the gluten-y cookies, and there was a teeeeeensy mishap when we were boiling the apple cider down for apple cider caramels, so that got scratched for the day.

And in the process, we taught Lillian about when you whip a lot of air into egg whites to make them fluffy, how to use a pastry blender to do exactly the opposite, how to use a pastry bag to pipe dough out, how to make frosting from scratch, and many other topics in the worlds of baking, chemistry, finance, and more.

All in all, a lovely day. More of it coming tomorrow.

*This was our only use of a gluten-free flour product. All the other cookies and treats were recipes that are just naturally made without flour. I know that some of the wheat substitute flours can taste pretty good for people who need them, especially with a strong flavoring like strawberry covering up the fact that they don’t taste quite the same, and they’re a good resource to have. But when I’m not working around another dietary restriction like nuts, dairy, or eggs, I prefer to make recipes that were gluten-free to begin with, rather than adjusting things to become gluten-free. Several of the above were also dairy-free, though, so ask if you’re interested.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (Default)

There is a blog I like to read that tells funny stories, personal stories, about the blogger’s own life, but about every third entry the blogger does something that makes me wince on her behalf. Before the main subject of the post, she goes into Sad Godzilla Mode, stomping all over her own internal Tokyo with her mascara running, thrashing around destroying the buildings and roaring, “Not perfect! not perfect!” before she can start telling the story she wants to tell. She covers the blog post with disclaimers about how she doesn’t have a perfect life–quite often adding, “not like those bloggers you see” and then a list of the attributes of Perfect Life Bloggers.

And the thing about perfectionists–I know because I am one, and I used to be even more of one–is that telling her, hey, you don’t have to do that, it’s better when you don’t do that will just make her more self-conscious, not actually make her feel better about herself. There is no way to frame this as a far-outsider that will make her feel like she doesn’t have to be perfect. She has to come to that idea on her own, because anybody else introducing it–at least from as far outside her life as I am–will sound like “we have already realized that you suck, and here is another way that you suck: you write your blog posts badly,” not like, “hey, perfection is not a thing that exists in humans, so let’s move on without the disclaimers and hear about where your kid put the peanut butter; that’s what we’re all here for.” I would love to say, “No one reads a blog post and thinks, ‘that person is perfect, their life is perfect,'” but in fact this blogger’s comments are proof that some people do cherish that illusion about others, and flagellate themselves with it. It’s just…most of the rest of us don’t. Most of the rest of us get it. We’re all just doing the best we can, and hey, today the dog was cuddly because she got a haircut and the weather turned, woo. Or today something funny happened in the Ikea elevator when I was there to have lunch with my aunt and uncle. Or whatever. Onwards with today. That is what we’re all doing, glossy photos or not. We are all doing the onwards with today thing.

This is actually why I have started trying to avoid the opportunities to tell my favorite new college student How To College. She will college just fine. She will screw some things up, not because there is something wrong with her but because we all screw things up, and she is in a time in her life when everyone is telling her How To College, as a subset of everyone telling her How To Her. And so when she asks for my thoughts because I actually know something she wants to hear, okay, but otherwise, I am trying to mention thoughts like, hey, I love you and I believe in you, and otherwise thoughts like, I thought this picture Tim took was cool. Here is a video link I liked. Etc. In Hard to Change, Meg Hutchinson sings the line, “don’t wanna make the same mistakes that my parents did,” and once in concert she talked about how her father called her to say, don’t worry, honey, you’ll make your own mistakes. And I think that can be hard from the older side, thinking, well, I’ve made these mistakes, I should be able to stop my younger friends, my children or grandchildren or nieces or nephews or godchildren or whoever, from making them. But there’s a line between the sensible teaching and the overadvising, and the overadvising just feeds into the Sad Godzilla that lives inside many of us. I don’t want my favorite new college student to spend her first year at college feeding Sad Godzilla. I don’t want to be a force in her life pushing her towards thinking about what she’s doing that’s not perfect. I want to be a force in her life encouraging her to think about what she thinks is awesome.

This week I started a class in Scandinavian Woodcarving. I knew I would not be perfect at it. If I was aiming for perfect, I would never have taken it, because I was guaranteed to start out vastly, vastly imperfect. As it turned out, I started out even more imperfect than I had hoped, requiring five stitches, so we’ll see if the vertigo meds induce too much neuropathy for me to do this or if I can work around it. But it’s the sort of thing that can’t arise if the question is, “What would my life have in it to be more perfect?” The question has to be, “What might be awesome? Can we try that and see?” And then iterate. Get better or try something else, or both. Not perfect. Not perfect. Yes. Dreams don’t come in perfect. Let’s hear about what might find room for awesome after Sad Godzilla is done with the flattening.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (thinking)

Last week the Strib had an article about teenagers–mostly girls ages 13 to 15–posting painfully sincere selfies and videos asking the internet to tell them the truth about whether they are ugly. And most of this article was about the effects on the kids in question, but there was some of the usual hand-wringing about how supposedly narcissistic this young generation is.

Narcissism, you see, is something that groups mostly suffer from if they’re younger than you. If you go to a nursing home and everyone there wants to talk about their individual aches and pains for hours, nobody wants to talk about the narcissism of the elderly. (And rightly so, because plenty of old people are not narcissistic. But plenty of young people aren’t either.) It can’t be that some percentage of people are pretty self-centered, and it’s more culturally acceptable to call younger people on it than older people. It also can’t be that developmentally people in their teens and early twenties are going through a time when they’re figuring out their abilities and plans and place in the world. Nope. The particular teens we have at any given moment are perpetually uniquely narcissistic. You can read it in the paper. ALWAYS. So it must be true.

Self-assessment is useful in many areas, and it can be hard to get help with it from the people around you. I’m not surprised that these teens want to find out whether they’re pretty or not. I’m somewhat surprised that they’re still naive enough, at thirteen, to think that the internet will tell them the truth. Of course the people around them–Mom, Dad, friends, whoever–will not. They will say, “You look so pretty,” when they mean a dozen different things like, “I love you,” and “I want you to feel good about yourself,” and “I understand and approve of what you’re wearing more today than yesterday,” and “you look so much like your grandmother today–I miss her so much–I wish she could have been here to see you grow up.” Thirteen-year-olds are old enough, smart enough to know this. They’re trying to figure themselves out and figure out how to relate to the world. That’s not necessarily narcissistic. Asking the internet is naive. But we all wanted to know where we fit, who we were, when we were thirteen. We still do, but we’ve got more data, more practice at it, past that age.

I was thinking about this in terms of all the advice about not telling kids that they’re smart, telling them that they did a good job on a specific piece of work. I see where that advice is coming from. But a few weeks ago I was at the zoo with my godson Rob, who is twelve, and I needed to tell him, “Rob, you’re walking very fast. It’s faster than the other people in the group can walk right now. They need you to slow down because they literally cannot keep up with how fast you are walking.” There are times when being a smart kid is like that. There are times when you’re young and not entirely socially aware, when it’s very useful to know that other people are not goofing off on purpose, they’re not failing to pay attention because they’d rather be doing something else, they are just not as smart as you, or not as smart in a particular subset of picking things up. They are trying. Telling a kid they’re smart is not always praise. Telling a kid they’re pretty, musical, fast, strong, whatever, is not always praise. It doesn’t have to be handled that way. Sometimes it’s useful feedback at an age where they’re not very good at self-assessment or at placing their self-assessment in the context of others and compassion for those others or compassion for themselves.

In science fiction, we have an established critique culture. It’s just a known thing that you can go to some group–friends, or a workshop in person, or an online workshop–and get an assessment of how you’re doing at something that affects your life. You can arrange, one way or another, to get other people who actually know something about it to critique your work, and you can get enough of them to do it to get at least a bit of triangulation. You won’t know perfectly, of course, but you’ll have the rough outlines, what’s working, what’s not, whether you’re publishable, whether you’re way out of that category. And I think we take it for granted as adults that external feedback above the level of “u suck” will be available. We need to recognize that while the internet has given teenagers access to all sorts of things we didn’t have, perspective is one of the ones that’s hardest to get that young, and cut them a break.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (ohhh.)
When I was small, my cousins and I went to the Emmy Gifford Children's Theater all the time. There was James and the Giant Peach, for which my aunt Kathy got us peach Jolly Ranchers to suck while we watched the beautiful giant bug costumes--I expect there was a James, but I have no memory of him--and there was Cinderella, for which one of the stepsisters wore tennis shoes under her ball gown and chewed gum and was hilarious. Who knows if I would find her funny now.

But there was, oh, there was Where the Wild Things Are. And they put up a miniature stage in the middle of the seating, and the Wild Things. The Wild Things came out and danced. Right there where we were sitting. In the aisles and on the little platform down the middle of the seats.

My world changed.

I could not have been as old as my godson was now, but I was old enough to have the two levels of it, the immediate ooooh and the hey can you do that? I wonder what else you can do that I didn't think about.

Thank you, Maurice Sendak, for the wild rumpus that sparked so many other wild rumpuses in our hearts and minds.
mrissa: (scold with Lilly)
On Saturday [ profile] markgritter and I took our goddaughter Lillian to the Children's Theater performance of Pippi Longstocking. Lil announced that she was taking her Bear*, decked out in Bear's theater-going dress, in case things got scary. I told her that things were unlikely to get scary, but there was no harm to bringing Bear.

I was wrong.

They had added Obligatory Orphan Angst and Nightmares to Pippi Longstocking. The end of the first act was Pippi having a nightmare about being small with her parents and then being separated from her (now-dead) Mama and waking up screaming for her Mama. Then the curtain went down and the house lights came up; intermission!

There were a lot of unsettled little faces in that theater.

Look, I get that the theater is not always about sweetness and light. But Pippi Longstocking. It is not about woe. It is not about psychological realism. And I find it pretty sketchy that their mode of introducing the woe and the psychological realism just happened to be removing a lot of the anti-authoritarian content of the work along the way. Pippi is a strong, funny, independent kids' fantasy** who carries her horse around on her shoulders and thumbs her nose at stuffy grown-ups? We can't have that without injecting lots of stuff about how kids need to learn manners and go to school and have adults looking after them!

Look. Pippi is 9. NINE. It's okay for nine-year-olds to have fantasy characters who turn school upside down and never apologize. It's okay for nine-year-olds--hell, six-year-olds, twelve-year-olds, forty-year-olds, eighty-year-olds whoever--to have trickster characters who make bureaucrats look foolish and trip them with their own words. Not every play--book, movie, whatever--is about Teaching A Great Moral Lesson. Not every character is a role model. That is not the only thing we do. But also, not every role model is or should be modeling dependence. Kids know they need their parents. We don't have to tell them this at every single turn. "Don't even think about having fun with a horse and a monkey and your best friends, because your real focus should be the horrible impermanence of life! And also fitting standard adult modes!"

There are good plays for kids that do the psychological realism things and the role model things. Good books, movies, stories, whatever. Pippi was not written to be one of them, and I don't really like that it was rewritten to be one of them. I accept that children's classics sometimes need to be adapted to work better on the stage. Adapted to have more pro-authority message, less joy, and more nightmares...for the single-digit set? No. No, no thank you, no. Not a win for my goddaughter, not a win for her attendant godparents. Not even a win for Bear in her theater-going dress. I try to set aside my instinct that things have to adhere to the details of the book to be good when I go to something like this. But this version went very much counter to the spirit of the book--the meaning of it at all. And that made me frustrated and angry as well as leaving Lillian wanting to go home at intermission. (We decided to stay for the second act, in which Pippi's pirate father turned up. So at least there was that. The ending was incoherent but considerably more colorful.)

*Not to be confused with [ profile] matociquala.
**I mean this not in terms of genre fantasy but in terms of daydream non-realism.
mrissa: (loathing)
I have a different question than [ profile] timprov does about this Star-Tribune article in which teenagers are claimed to be inserting vodka-soaked tampons rectally in order to get drunk. The key line for me is, "Although no students have been caught in Minnesota as yet, no one doubts that kids are soaking Gummi bears with booze or finding other creative ways to get drunk."

We have no actual examples. But no one doubts that it's happening anyway.

Why not?

No one doubted that "teenagers these days" were having "rainbow parties" a few years back, either, and yet no one could find anyone who was doing it or even could make it work logistically.

We do not live in the Dubious Hills, people. Doubt is not a cuss word. Doubt is healthy. Doubt is, in fact, A JOURNALIST'S JOB AUUUUUUGH.

Okay. Okay, I'm okay. Really. Vodka-soaked gummi bears, whatever, this is not that different from Jell-o shots. So y'know. I hope the kids don't damage themselves too much with them. But seriously, gummi bears--how many of those would you have to eat to get drunk? Even if they're soaked in Everclear? That's kind of looking like a lot of gummi bears to me, and I have a really low tolerance for alcohol. But that seems reasonable as a thing people who are much more committed to alcohol than I am would do. So maybe the rest of the article is fine also!

Okay, maybe not. So here is their source for the vodka-soaked tampon thing: an emergency-room doctor in Phoenix has a nurse who has a daughter who has a friend who totally did that once and totally like passed out.


This is journalism? Seriously? They describe this ER doc as familiar with this behavior. But he doesn't claim to have seen even one case. Ever. He worries about vaginal walls (so apparently it's only boys who are inserting them anally), and about if the people doing this do pass out. But he cannot point to a single one. And honestly? I know teenage boys are more comfortable with tampons than they once were. They already were when I was a teenager more than my parents' generation had been at that age. But seriously, unless you can point at even one actual teenage boy who is willing to shove a tampon up his ass under any circumstances, I think that this is what we in realityland call not a big problem.

Also also also--and this is probably too graphic for some of you--but I am willing to admit it: I have in my life used a tampon. And I have flung it in the toilet after. And what happens to tampons when they get thoroughly, thoroughly soaked, such as being immersed in a fairly thin liquid rather than doused with a more viscous one? They expand. They do not magically stay the same pre-insertion shape when they are sopping wet. This is physics, people! This is, in fact, how tampons work at all! It's like people are faced with an object for dealing with menstrual blood, and they lose all sense of practicality relating to the thing.

It frustrates me because it's emblematic of journalism not doing its job. (I would love to say "any more," but we can all point at examples of various scares perpetrated by the press over the last hundred years.) But it also frustrates me because the attitude is that teens are dangerous and horrible in completely foreign and unfamiliar ways.

I'm having my favorite 17-year-old over for dinner tonight. Is she an angel, pure as the driven snow, with never an unkind or unpleasant thought in her head, much less deed in her life? Of course not. (Seriously, I already said I liked her.) But what she is? Is a good kid. And her friends--some of them are really together, and some of them have no idea where they're going and what they're doing, and you know what? That's okay. They're teenagers. They will screw up in utterly predictable ways, and they will come up with new ways to screw up, and both of those are part of life. But what they don't need is to have wacky teenage rumors supported by adults going, "Oh yeah, that's totally true, I absolutely believe what Britney's friend Aidan told her Josh's girlfriend's cousin did. I mean, Josh's girlfriend's cousin! That's reporting gold! Put that in the newspaper!" We need to teach them better standards of skepticism than that. They will have natural doubts. Sometimes it's our job to reinforce them.
mrissa: (question)
People want to answer questions, but no one seems to want to ask them. Except [ profile] timprov! Here are his questions and their answers.

(I will give you one of my secret methods for questions. [ profile] yhlee said she wanted random distractions, so I hit "random entry" on Wikipedia pages to see if they reminded me of anything that might be a coherent question for Yoon but would not feel too directed/non-random for her taste. "How do you feel about Carver County?": not a coherent question for Yoon. "What's the furthest north you've ever been?": coherent question for Yoon.)

1. Does Angela get to blow something up? Pretty please?

Heh. [ profile] timprov is showing off. He has read the recently-finished manuscript of The True Tale of Carter Hall. Angela is Janet's best friend from college. And no, I'm pretty sure she does not get to blow anything up. She's a social worker from Minneapolis! Where is she going to get the stuff to blow stuff up? I mean, if she was a social worker from Thief River who was living in Minneapolis...and anyway, mostly what she's got to go on is Janet's uneasy feelings; I don't even know what she could usefully blow up. That's the problem with dealing with Faerie: it's not where you can blow it up.

Dammit, that's the first line of a Carter story, isn't it: The problem with dealing with Faerie is that it's not where you can blow it up, and all the other solutions are less satisfying. That one is totally on you, Prov.

Also I am not changing Angela's profession so that she is a demolitions expert from Minneapolis instead. Or the kind of landscaper who gets to take out stumps and stuff. I might do a story wherein Carter and Angela have to take out stumps and also fight crime Faerie forces and stuff. If you're nice to me.

2. Am I actually impossible to encourage, or does it just feel like that from in here?

You're, uh. Pretty difficult. I might say impossible if I was good with impossibilities, but you know how I am on that front.

Because I'm uncreative: 3. If money was not a consideration, what would you do/where would you go if you kidnapped Rob for a week? How about Lily? (You're allowed to bring helper-grownups in this scenario.)

I think Rob could have a field day in Washington DC with the Smithsonian and like that, and we could take day trips out into the Virginia countryside to look at plantations and stop at the roadside and things if he got overstimulated in the city. Also it is not so distant from visiting a [ profile] jonsinger, which Rob would also like. I'd want to take Lily somewhere with a lot of flower gardens and good chocolate, so...well, Montreal actually. There are lots of good kids' parks in Montreal even aside from the Jardin Botanique, and she could practice her French and discover where she could usefully know more French, and she could ask [ profile] papersky questions about everything under the sun and [ profile] zorinth would probably argue with some of his mother's answers and Lily would like that. And so would I.

4. I found that The Weepies were pretty much the ideal music for Pt. Reyes. Can you come up with other unexpected music/location combinations?

My most recent music/location combination was entirely predictable: "The End of the World As We Know It" came on the music at the Berkeley Whole Foods, and [ profile] alecaustin and I rocked out and joked that everyone in their 30s in the entire store had just said, "Leonard Bernstein!" in unison. That is not the least bit unpredictable. That is demographic.

I think Josh Ritter on the plains south of here is entirely predictable also.

Now I want to listen to Meg Hutchinson in the fog in California hills, though. I don't know that that counts as unexpected. But I think it would be nice.

5. What's a cool, unboring thing for me to do with a race of semi-intelligent commensals?

Architectural structures from the weird things their partner race does? Or quasi-architectural at least? I don't just say that because I know you like architecturalnessitude.
mrissa: (hippo!)
1. So [ profile] alecaustin and I were IMing about our own tendencies in worldbuilding, and his tendencies towards cathedrals with grotesques and gargoyles. And I started to say, "Everyone likes cathedrals!" when I realized that I had neglected several prime cathedral-building opportunities in my worldbuilding in favor of cultures/groups with a flatter, more utilitarian, or generally less opulent architectural approach. And what popped into my head is, "My stuff is more Frank Lloyd Frazetta." I am mulling both the serious and the silly bit of that.

2. My godson is 9. He picked out a birthday card for me that his mother was sure I would find Just Awful. It is a hangman puzzle that lists H _ _ _ Y B _ _ T _ _ _ _, and then on the inside the answer proves to be HAIRY BUTTOCKS. I am aware that I have a 9-year-old godson, so I was not the least bit horrified at this. We are, however, looking for amusing alternatives. [ profile] timprov proposes HELPY BINTURONG. Other suggestions welcome.

3. We have further evidence that I am not being obvious when I think I'm being obvious. Hands who's surprised.

4. Our lettuce may go to seed and not be producing edible crop at any time when our tomatoes and cucumbers are producing edible crop. While not the end of the world, this would annoy [ profile] markgritter. Still, being able to make lettuce wraps and top other people's hamburgers with our own garden produce is very nice indeed, and the eggplant is flowering promisingly, and the tomatoes have set fruit.

5. My birthday is Tuesday! This is sort of implied by #2, I know, but I haven't been going on about its approach. There is edamame hummus, though, and there is a bit of strawberry cake still, and the hearth is full of presents and cards, and I am so very very fond of birthdays. This year the scones will be whole wheat raspberry. I will report back in if they're awesome.
mrissa: (and another thing!)
I am extra, extra careful about giving my characters my point of view on comparatively obscure things. For one, it's not always appropriate, and for another, I don't really like having people assume that I mean to use some character or another for a mouthpiece in general just because we agree on a particular point.

So I have thought long and hard, and I am absolutely sure that Carter feels as I do about godparents. It is appropriate and right that he should do so. His world--both the one in which he grew up and the one in which he finds himself now--requires it. Your godparents help give you your name, they help fix your identity to you, they give you a place to stand, somewhere you can move from wherever you will go. Your parents should do all that, too, but it's a big job. Standing with the kid, teaching them what they need to know, taking on all comers: it's more than parents should have to do alone. And it's not just my relationship with my godfather that makes me say this*, and it's not just my relationship with the godkids. It fits with the magic structure of the world Carter lives in.

But it's also in mine, and apparently I need to give fair warning yet again: I don't approve of ignorant prejudices in general. None of us do, or we would call them "sensible notions" instead of "ignorant prejudices." But if you say something ignorantly prejudiced in an area that pertains to one of my godchildren, either them personally or categories they belong to? You should consider yourself lucky if I don't pull the heavens themselves down on your head. That is not what we do, folks, and there's one less person welcome in these parts today than there was yesterday because she apparently forgot it. Do not. Mess. With my godkids. Really serious, people.

So in related but actually Carter-ish news, if he says he doesn't want to say it until he's at the font (because Tommy Heikkanen trained him good) but he knows what he's going to name his son, do those of you who have read some of the stories know what it has to be?

*Like Jessica Lin-Laird, like my own godkids, I have three godparents, two male and one female. I love my other godfather, and I love my godmother. But when I say "my godfather," I always mean Dave. And Jess will always mean Carter when she says "my godfather"; if she means the Puck, she will say his name or "my fairy godfather." Jess is not me, and Carter is not very much like Dave at all. But sometimes you have my godfather, and that is that. I mean. My godfather. You know.
mrissa: (auntie: Amber)
So [ profile] seagrit put up this picture, and it reminded me of the events immediately preceding it.

Amber (the elder of the two niecelets, age 4) had just opened her fairy wings from Uncle Mark and Auntie Mrissa. She was squealing and jumping up and down, and I said, "Do you want to put them on?"

And she stopped dead and stared at me with round eyes and said, "Put them on?" As though simply owning fairy wings was more delight than any 4-year-old could expect to have in her life, and wearing them was far above and beyond what she had ever expected.

Yah, so. That's what we call a happy little girl. And a successful Christmas present.

(I think she's a little disappointed that her little sister Lily isn't big enough to wear hers yet, though.)

(Lily is still a bit skeptical of Auntie Mris.)
mrissa: (and another thing!)
As many of you know, I'm an only child; when I refer to my brother, I'm talking about the one I went out and got for myself in my late teens, not one who was parentally provided. And he is a very fine brother and all one could ask for in a brother...and does not affect my only child brain processes in the slightest. He is very much loved, but as for how my brain works by default, it's all in only child mode.

This got to be a problem this Christmas, because I have several sets of small child siblings to buy for. Very small child siblings. I am, I flatter myself, good at buying presents for little kids. I know about various picture books with dinosaurs and pirates and knufflebunnies; I keep track of where to buy toys that come with spaceships and toys that roll into little magnetic balls and toys that build a million different things that aren't pictured on the box. I even found some soap in the shape of Hello Kitty this year for a little extra, making me officially awesome in the eyes of my Hello Kitty-obsessed goddaughter.

But when the gifts are going to siblings, it's not the same as buying for a kid and then buying for another kid. I have learned--oh how I have learned. There are times when it's okay to buy one kid books and the other toys, for example, and times when it is not. (Buying the older, more mature kid who freely and joyfully admits to reading on his own a toy, and then his younger, supposedly pre-literate sister books? Not so much.) And then there are all the things it's awesome to buy for an 18-month-old...that you already bought for an 18-month-old last time they had an 18-month-old, and you have no reason to think they've thrown the thing in the garbage since. So then you have to come up with something else. That won't be too redundant. And it can't be something somewhat too old for the littler kid that they can grow into, because if you do that, you've de facto given the older sibling two presents and the littler one zero. If it's too directly age-appropriate, they'll grow out of it in five seconds flat; if it's not limitedly age-appropriate enough, you risk the older, bigger kid sidling up and taking it over.

("I don't think that's a big problem," said [ profile] markgritter, himself an oldest. Hah. I watched it happen.)

And if you have opposite-sex siblings to give gifts to, and you look and say, "Well, what don't they have around the house already?", the answer is often highly gendered. And you really don't want the message to be, "Big sib is the oldest, so they get the cool stuff: the telescopes, the building toys, the best books. And you get the really gendery Girl/Boy stuff, which frankly kind of sucks." Even if they will not, before they are out of preschool, see the suckage--that's kind of the point. They won't. But I will.

This will all be so much easier in just a few years, when the younger siblings in question can say, "Auntie Mris, I want a--", or their parents can say, "You know, he/she is really into--" and then I can go off and get that sort of thing, or something tangentially related to it. Four-year-olds--contrary to our culture's common beliefs--have opinions and interests. Eighteen-month-olds do, too, they're just not as good at expressing them in advance. Moral of the story is not to get too attached to them adoring any given present, I guess; I have that one down for all the kids. I just...I think it comes down to not being comfortable with intrafamily conflict over presents. It alarms me. Probably if I'd given some other kid a good whack to make them let me have my Ewok Village back, I'd feel more comfortable about this, but I didn't, so I don't.
mrissa: (auntie: Robin)
When I put things on the calendar, I will often just shorthand with one of the people involved, sometimes the one with whom I did the scheduling but sometimes the one who is most keenly interested in the activity. So even if the whole family is going, it will say, "Gma El Loro," for example, if we are to have lunch with Grandma at the Mexican restaurant closest to our house, or "[ profile] laurel ballgame."

In what will seem like unrelated news, my beloved godson has decided that his full name is all right for family use, but really he wants a more curt version for everyday, a fairly standard nickname for the name he was given. And he is also passionately, passionately fond of mass-produced seafood and was permitted to decide where he was taking me for dinner.

This is why my calendar for the week includes the line item, "Rob Red Lobster."

This has produced much hilarity about adding, "Knock over liquor store," etc. in the time slots following it, and is the kind of highbrow thing I thought I would share with you fine people when I have been thinking about books and exceptionalism and actually very many other things.


Mar. 6th, 2010 08:24 pm
mrissa: (auntie: Robin)
The world that is my kitchen is vast and contains multitudes. I have made plum cake, pear cake, lemon cake, caramel cake, turtle cake, spice cake, ginger cake, Guinness gingerbread in cake form, at least three kinds of apple cake, and more chocolate cakes than you can shake a stick at, to say nothing of cheesecake, shortcake, shortbread, pie, crisp, cookies, scones, and the like.

Tonight is a first for me. It breaks a barrier not only for my own kitchen but for my use of other people's kitchens as well.

Tonight I got down the red-and-white checkered cookbook we only have so I can argue with it, and I opened it to the first page in the "Cake" section, and I made the basic recipe for yellow cake. And I did not fix it. Not even once. I did not add just a little of this. I did not throw in some of that. No nutmeg, no orange zest, no dried sour cherries, no hazelnut liqueur, no nothing. There is in my oven right this very moment plain old--"classic," if you will--yellow cake.

(No uranium was harmed in the baking of this cake.)

You see, there's my godson. And he has asked for lo these multitudes of castle cakes. Chocolate. Lemon. And vanilla.

Until tonight, I did not see the point in plain yellow cake. Now the point is very clear: Robin wants it, and I am a firm believer that if the boy wants it and it's a reasonable thing to want and he asks nicely, I will do it for him. He should know that. Because he is the best Rob I know and I love him more than bacon, as they say in some kindergarten parts of Soviet Canuckistan. And the world is full of times when you want something perfectly reasonable and cannot have it, and even at seven he already knows that all too well.

But when you ask your godmother for cake, it is not one of those times.

Even when it is not your birthday.

Even if the cake you want is plain yellow cake and does not fit with your godmother's culinary pretensions.

Well. At least it will have the best chocolate frosting a plain old yellow cake ever had. (He wanted chocolate. If he had wanted plain buttercream, I would have acquiesced without a murmur. Love is like that.)
mrissa: (japanese garden with amber)
We (this being [ profile] markgritter and I) have arrived in Michigan in the same number of pieces as we were in when we left Minnesota, I believe. The new niece is a very nice baby. The old niece remains a very nice little girl, curious and fun to be around. We do not, unfortunately, see enough of her that she remembers us very well from visit to visit, but we are not the sort of grown-ups who expect that a child who hasn't seen us in ten months will want to fling herself affectionately upon us first thing. There was affectionate flinging. Just not the very first thing. Far better to let the child pick and get genuine hugs than to force the issue and make sure that she remembers she didn't much like you because you were grabby.

(We got "good job eating dinner" hugs. And Amber didn't even have a clear understanding of how nasty the plane ride was for me, so these were just run-of-the-mill congratulatory after-dinner hugs. Sort of in place of a mint, if you will.)

As for the plane ride, I can report that it was a perfectly ordinary plane ride, and that we have not apparently reached a time when perfectly ordinary plane rides are reasonable things for me. Blarg. (I was going to say that they were not a comfortable thing for me, and indeed they aren't, but as we're referring to commercial airline travel in the early 21st century, I expect they're not comfortable for anybody. But, at the risk of whining, less so for me. Even without turbulence, they sometimes want to turn or bank the plane or make it go up or down further. I cannot at this point approve of this behavior. I am still feeling the aftereffects. We'll see how the rest of the weekend goes. Uff da.)
mrissa: (auntie: Robin)
Words we explained to Robin today: mild-mannered
perspective (both senses)
Edited to add: and phlegm. I forgot phlegm.

Robin, upon seeing the stairs at the Children's Theater: "Here, Aunt Marissa, take my hand on the stairs so you will feel more steady." He was also concerned about whether I would feel unsteady if I had to take his sister into the theater bathroom to change her, before he knew she was going to decline today's invitation, and had volunteered to come help.

Best little dude ever.

Really do need a new icon with him, though.
mrissa: (and another thing!)
Me: Lillian, do you like leading questions?
Lillian: Yes!
mrissa: (scold with Lilly)
Today my goddaughter Lillian is spending the day with my mother. Mormor and Milly called me this morning so that Milly could ask a very important question:

Would Auntie [ profile] mrissa put her hair in puppytails today too?

(Note for the uninitiated: my mother doesn't like pigs. So when I was growing up, one tail was a ponytail--a side ponytail if it was on the side, because I was after all a child of the '80s--and two tails were puppytails.)

(I also wore my hair in Princess Leia buns on a fairly regular basis. I had a very happy childhood.)

Well. So. Is there anything I wouldn't do for this kid? Probably, but messing with my hair is so not over that line. So today I am wearing my giraffe pants and a camisole top. I attempted low puppytails, but in combination with the cami it made me feel like I was about to suggest to people that if they wanted to commence a sexual relationship with me they ought to pursue friendship first and that, in fact, what I really really wanted was a ziggah-ziggah-ahh. So as Geeky Spice is not a persona I ever intended to adopt, I braided each side. Then I looked in the mirror at the finished result.

Um. Will somebody please buy me an autoharp? Seriously. This is just alarming. I know I don't actually smell of patchouli, but I have to keep sniffing to make sure. And I have the sudden urge to macrame something.
mrissa: (Default)
The state of Minnesota is having another go-round with its high school graduation standards, particularly in the area of math. We set up a math test people would have to pass to graduate high school. Surprise! People didn't pass it. Lots of people didn't pass it. Surprise again! There was a great deal of uproar, because what were we to do with these high school juniors who didn't pass?

High school graduation the supposed skill certification and high school graduation the social ritual have become inextricably intertwined in our culture. So it's no surprise that people are up in arms and saying things like, "These kids ought to be able to graduate." I even agree with them, but not in the way they think: I don't think high school graduation is most useful when it's a certificate of attendance. But I do think that if you don't know enough or can't do enough to meet graduation requirements, you should be getting feedback to that effect. The idea that you would have passed all your classes and yet not know the things they feel you should know at that point seems like something has gone wrong, and I doubt that there would be this much uproar if we were talking about kids who hadn't passed their classes--for whatever reason, we are culturally on board with the idea that if you fail math, you don't graduate. But these kids are failing at learning math, and they're not failing math, and that, to me, is a big problem. Sure, we're not talking about students who are passionately committed to mathematics here; not every student is or should be. But we are talking about students whose best indications on whether they know an acceptable level of math for a high school student is that they do, and those best indications are, apparently, wrong.

I'm sure there are people who are totally okay with a math test but not with this math test. But that's not what we hear every time this issue comes around. It starts to boil down to, "But math is hard! You don't really need math! And it's hard!" And at that point, well, what do you really need from a high school education? What can't you work around? There's not a heck of a lot, on the level they're talking about here. If having to calculate the area of a room from its dimensions is too much to ask of high school graduates, I'm starting to think that the people constructing these arguments are, in fact, arguing for a high school diplomat to be a certificate of attendance, a verification of age.

One of the things we are not willing to say in this discussion is that people who can't do math are missing out. They're missing out on ways of protecting themselves, sure, on a measure of independence that comes from being able to do some rough calculations yourself. But they're also missing out on something wonderful. Something beautiful. I know I'm talking to some of you about yourselves, and yes, I'm sorry: you're missing out. That dimension of understanding is worth cultivating. It is worth having. Some of you can't do math the way a person who is completely tone-deaf from birth can't learn to identify a piece of music upon hearing it, but the vast majority of you who can't do math are more like someone who doesn't know any songs because no one ever taught you any. It doesn't make you a worse person. It doesn't make you an unintelligent person. But it's still a damned shame to induce disabilities in people who don't have them to begin with.

I believe that math-related learning disabilities are real. I absolutely do. I do not believe that irremediable math-related learning disabilities are as prevalent as people who were taught math very, very badly, often by people who did not themselves know how to do math.

I don't really know what to do about that. Saying, "Yes, fine, go on ahead and get out of here; it's not like we have any real preparation to teach you math from here anyway," seems practical in the short-term but distinctly suboptimal in the long-term. It treats the problem as one of what to tell the students--yes, you are a high school graduate, or no, you are not--rather than what to do to fix a system that "should have" done something but did not.

It allows us to keep on with math education the way we have been. And on the one hand, we sort of have to. And on the other hand, we sort of can't.

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