I Did It… Their Way

Posted: February 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Kindergarten, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool | 5 Comments »

We’re in children’s literature hell. I mean, if you could go so far as to call it “literature.”

Kate has become obsessed with a crappy series of chapter books about fairies. They’re formulaic Harlequin Romance-quality drivel. They make those V.C. Andrews books (I admit to having read) look like Shakespeare.

The books have unabashedly identical plot lines: nasty goblins and their evil leader Jack Frost wreak havoc on the lives of teensy airborne fairies who dress like slutty tween mall chicks. There are flocks (herds? armies? murders?) of fairies of certain types. So there’s a group of sports fairies, one of pet fairies, gem fairies, musical instrument fairies, flower fairies, even color fairies. Each fairy posse has a set of corresponding books with cutesie usually-alliterative names like Penny the Puppy Fairy or Susie the Seashell Fairy or Trixie the Tap Dance Fairy. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was Glenda the Gouda Fairy or Wanda the Walnut Fairy too.

And there are, of course, dozens—hundreds maybe—of the books. Enough for Kate to whimper and beg to take six or eight new ones home each time we’re at the library. Enough for Mark and I to fear we’ll be reading them for years to come.

Can you tell I don’t like these books? And I don’t even think it’s entirely due to my frustration that I didn’t think up the incredibly profitable franchise myself.

Part of what’s killing me is this: To nurture my daughter’s love of books, I’m told I’m should let her read whatever she wants. She got three chapters in to James and the Giant Peach with Mark, but then the allure of Christie the Crap Fairy became too great. We’ve read her Little House in the Big Woods and the wonderful My Father’s Dragon series, but in her spare time she’s curled up on the couch with Greta the Glitter Fairy.

God help me.

I tried getting her into the historical-fiction American Girl books. They’re in the intriguing big kid “chapter book” part of the library, and there are scads of them. Even though they’re part of a mega doll marketing empire, they seem to have a modicum more literary merit. But halfway through our first one the little girl’s best friend croaks from cholera and is carried off a ship in a wooden box. I saw it coming and made a flimsy excuse before reading that part that the book “was not so interesting after all.” Then I set it aside. Instead of death I’d rather have Kate’s mind embroiled in thoughts of Jenny the Jeans Fairy.

Anyway, it turns out that this ‘what I want versus what the kids want’ thing has become a bit of an emotional tug o’ war for me lately.

Like with Paigey’s recent birthday party. Her teacher gave me a list of the posse she hangs with at school. (I couldn’t fathom inviting the whole class.) I was thrilled to get a whittled-down list of kiddos, but I really like some of the parents of the kids who weren’t on the list. And this stymied me.

“I’ve chatted with Kendra’s mom a few times,” I called into Mark as he was showering. “I like her. But I guess Paige and Kendra don’t hang in the same sandbox circles.”

“And Avery’s parents rock,” I continued as Mark toweled off. “But Avery—not on the list. So do you think it’s okay if I  invite the kids of the parents I like? I mean, Paige will have fun no matter what. Right?”

Unsurprisingly, Mark was The Voice of Reason. “Kristen,” he said (and he only really calls me that when he’s kinda annoyed), “It’s Paige’s party, we should invite Paige’s friends.”

I finally agreed. But I wasn’t happy about it. (Motherboard’s talking about how to help parents see eye-to-eye about when they think their kids are old enough to do certain things. But there’s no mention about coming to terms on the kind of Mom vs. Kids issues I’m wrangling with.)

And then, at Kate’s school they recently started the winter session of after-school classes. I told Kate about all the fun and excellent things she could do—capoeira, chess, circus arts, wood shop. I’m not sure why I was surprised when she—the child personally accountable for the downfall of entire forests due to her prolific drawing, coloring, and art production—wanted to take a lame-o arts and crafts class about animals.

So I stalled. And blessedly, before sign-up forms were due, I found out that the folks teaching the classes were doing little demos at a morning assembly. (Something us parents are invited to.) I was certain Kate would get all fired up and want to take ALL the classes.

And it was inspirational. This swarthy Cuban dude rocked out on some funky instruments then walked on his hands. (I heard later all the gay teachers were swooning over him.) A woman in a bowler performed magic tricks, and an 80′s throwback chick with an asymmetrical haircut, baggy sweatpants, and an armful of rubber bracelets did an amazing freestyle hip hop dance thing.

It was incredible. I clapped like a madwoman after each demo, and was ready to follow the Cyndi Lauper look-alike to her car to see if she held classes for aging housewives.

But Kate was uninspired. She was steadfast in her desire to take the toilet-paper-roll-and-paper-plate crafts class from the substitute librarian. To think she’d bring home even more ungainly cardboard constructions that I’d have to sneak out to the recycling bin in the dark of night. (I’m not heartless about wanting to keep it all, but even Puff Daddy’s crib ain’t big enough to house all of Kate’s masterpieces.)

I asked myself, do I allow her to languish in her comfort zone—or as some softies would call it “let her pursue her own interests”—or do I push her to widen her horizons, see a fresh perspective, and get her groove on?

Well, as it turns out, I let her take the damn crafts class. I caved.

But I couldn’t help but wonder, WWACD? Which is to say, what would Amy Chua do?

Well, actually, I know EXACTLY what Amy Chua would do.

If you’ve been holed up in some underground hide-out Saddam Hussein-style, then you’re lucky to not be hip to the immense media firestorm set off by Amy Chua‘s recent book excerpt in the Wall Street Journal. Although she’s backpedaled like a madwoman ever since, she essentially posited that Chinese immigrant mothers are superior to Western moms. Stricter. More demanding of their kids. More hands-on. And let’s just say you won’t be invited to any of their homes for a playdate or slumber party. They’re too busy playing violin or piano (at gunpoint by their mothers) at all hours of the day and night.

Good times.

So yeah. I’d bet my lazy-American-mom collection of kid’s DVDs that Amy Chua’s daughters aren’t signing up for the Legos after-school class.

As much as I am SO over her excerpt, her book, her rebuttals, and this topic taking over the public radio airwaves more annoyingly than 20 concurrent pledge drives, I hafta admit, I have examined my mothering through it all. I’m not suddenly berating my kids publicly or quizzing them with Latin flash cards. But I am wondering why I don’t have a more clear idea of my expectations for them. Even if I don’t agree with Amy’s agro mothering, I wish I could be as cocksure about my own. I wish I was driven by confidence and determination to know when to push my kids in certain directions—away from fairy books, towards hip hop classes, whatever—and when to let them follow their own fancies.

Until I figure it out, I can rest assured with the knowledge that I’m at least not taking her approach. And maybe, if I keep reading enough of them, one of Kate’s fairy books will reveal the mysteries of mothering that I’m seeking. Somewhere in that series there must be Mable the Mama Fairy, right?


5 Comments on “I Did It… Their Way”

  1. 1 Mary said at 8:44 am on February 4th, 2011:

    Love the description of the slutty tween fairies!

  2. 2 Jeff P said at 2:12 pm on February 4th, 2011:

    what she said. ^

    and also, this entry was slightly disconcerting to me, considering the fact that Noli just got into the fairy school on Sesame Street and she flys everywhere now using her fairy wings (her arms stretched out behind her).

  3. 3 Summer Embee said at 12:03 pm on February 8th, 2011:

    Oh, ugh, grr, we’ve read one of those lame fairy books and I might stab my eyes out if my daughter picks up another. And I’ve had the same reaction to scary tiger mom — it’s made me wonder what I expect from Sally.

    Just found your blog, so I’m not sure how old your daughter is, but a couple really good books are: Toys Go Out (and Toy Dance Party), and Racketty-Packetty House (or The Doll People if you want a more modern version).

  4. 4 Claudia said at 7:17 pm on February 10th, 2011:

    Yes Kristin, the old volvo is real. My heart is with you daughter-friend. It is a mystery. PS the fairy books, as yucky as they are, are valuable as a step to fluency. Your second grade teacher friend!

  5. 5 kristen said at 7:20 pm on February 10th, 2011:

    hi summer! welcome! my girls are three and five years old. and thanks a ton for the book recs. since i have posted this entry i got a great tip from our wonderful children’s librarian–the emily rodda ‘fairyrealm’ books. i’ve been reading them to kate and we’re both enjoying them. phew! maybe she’ll leave the rainbow magic books in the dust. (fingers crossed.)

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