A Laptop Naptime Mama

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Benny the Cosmopolitan Genius

Benny is not the brightest bulb in the palace chandelier. At least not according to conventional ideas about what constitutes a bright kid. For example, where other three year olds can count out a hundred cheerios from the Cheerio box, Benny’s grasp on numbers goes something like this: “1..2..3..7..8..14..15.” Similarly, when I find his little red toy car that’s been missing for a week under the sofa (and probably covered in dust bunnies and six month old, squished-up raisins) and say, “Here’s your red car,” Benny cries out with an empathic gasp, “NO, dat’s the blue car.” Oh, and getting him to distinguish between a circle and a square? Forget it. Benny lives in a land of circles. Every shape, whether it has straight side, curved edges, or 90 degree angles, is a circle.

Perhaps I should be enrolling him in a fast-track, special ed, one-on-one, intensive developmental leap-frog, gifted-but-unaware-of-it, program. But, you know what? I don’t give a hoot about his grasp on numbers, shapes, and colors. Because I know my boy is a genius. And not an ordinary kind of genius. Benny is an A-grade, valedictorian, summa cum laude, “Cosmopolitan Genius.” “Cosmopolitan Genius?” I hear you shout. I know, I know, you may not have heard of such a thing. But, I’m telling you, my son is one – and a pretty impressive one at that.

Instead of spending our time doing “what’s this shape?” drills with Benny, Brad and I have exerted our energies elsewhere. We’ve been encouraging him to become the perfect little New York City companion. Almost a second after he was born, we swooped him up into the Baby Bjorn and took him out to bars, restaurants, gallery openings, book readings, and cinemas. We kept at it even through those difficult toddler months where he’d run headlong everywhere and put any unidentifiable object into his mouth (although, we always stayed near the door for quick getaways and chose venues with music loud enough to drown out any toddler hysterics).

And now, it seems our efforts are paying off.

Although he’s just turned three, Benny is a class-act when it comes to frequenting the bars, restaurants, even art house cinemas in the city. If we go to our favorite Mexican restaurant, he sits happily at the table playing with his toy giraffe and zebra. When we attend readings at the local bookstore, he sits on our laps leafing through books borrowed from the kids section. And the other night, when we took him to Almodovar’s new movie, he sat quietly chomping on Goldfish snacks through the entire two-hour subtitled film.

But, of course, such genius comes with its downsides. Like Einstein and other geniuses before him, Benny has had to face his skeptics, doubters, and naysayers. He’s had to endure the tsk-tsks from fellow moviegoers, when he’s getting seated at the theater. He’s weathered scornful, bespectacled glances when he’s showed up at readings. And last night, for the first time, Benny found himself barred.

While waiting for a table at a restaurant we’d never been to before, Brad and I decided to order drinks at the bar. As we always do, we schlepped Benny onto a barstool and handed him giraffe and zebra. Benny sat happily playing, while Brad and I discussed whether to go frozen or on the rocks with our margaritas. Just as we settled on frozen, the barman emerged, face like thunder, and instructed us that Benny must be taken away from the bar...immediately. Brad and I exchanged worried glances and looked down at Benny. But there he sat, doing nothing untoward, sucking on the straw in his water and talking quietly to his animals. I looked back up at the barman and politely asked, “Er, why?”

“Because a bar is no place for a child,” he barked, “There’s too much drinking and cussing.”

I had to stifle a little smile (because I love the word “cussing”) and I was just about to point out that if “drinking and cussing” were not good for kids, then perhaps Benny shouldn’t come home with us – because in our home cussing and drinking have definitely been known to happen.

However, the bartender shot me a steely gaze and I was immediately silence. “And it’s against the law,” he barked.

At this point, I realized trying to sweet talk the barrel-chested, surly bartender into overlooking a law or two wasn’t going to work. And so we removed Benny from the bar and retreated out of the restaurant (we know, after all, when we’re not wanted). Benny trailed behind us, forlorn and bemused, clutching his toys to his chest, and narrowly avoiding plates of hot food whisking past his head.

It's tough to be a genius sometimes. But, perhaps one day Benny will take heart that he helped forge the way. And perhaps one day those tsk-tsks, withering stares, and silly laws will be a thing of the past. Three year olds will be free to bar-hop and movie-go whenever and wherever they please!

For more of Joanne Rendell's mommy blogs - including "Fishing for Poo," "Should Mommy's Wear Thongs?" and "What's that dangly thing between his legs?" then Click Here to visit her at the popular website, Get Crafty. To return to the Role Mommy home page, Click Here.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Move Over, Thomas the Tank Engine. Come on Down, Little Engine that Could

By Joanne Rendell

Call me a sourpuss, but I’d just like to say… “Thomas the Tank Engine, take your idiotic, chubby, eyebrow-less face and your inane little stories about you and your boy pals and go jump!”

I know, I’m sorry, a lot of people love Thomas. And even if they don’t care either way, their kids love him so they are happy for the peace and quiet which a clutch of “Thomas and Friends” DVDs offer. I totally understand. Benny would happily watch Thomas the Tank Engine all day everyday and, if I let him do that, I can only imagine how many blogs I would write, the hoovering I could finally get done, the piles of dirty clothes I could launder. Hell, I could finish a novel or two while Benny sat slack-jawed in front of the darned engine.

But, I’m telling you, Thomas the Tank is a menace. And it’s not because of his lack of eyebrows or the mischievous things he gets up to. No, it’s because behind those plump cheeks, doe eyes, and toot-toot whistle lurks a girl-hating, patriarchal oppressor.

Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh. But, have you ever noticed how “Thomas and his Friends” should more accurately be called, “Thomas and his Boy Buddies”? There are a few female engines, it’s true. There’s Emily and, er, who else? Oh, of course, Lady – who, just in case we couldn’t tell from her pinky-purple coat, has a name that makes it a hundred percent clear she’s a “lady.” But, two female engines compared to over twenty-five male ones? (yes, I’ve been counting). Please.

And then there’s the matter of the coaches, most of whom are female. Not only are they relegated to this secondary role of being pulled around by the boy engines, but they’re also portrayed as giddy and silly and in need of disciplining. For instance, in the story “Thomas and the Big, Big Bridge,” our hero (!?) Thomas arrives at a precarious, big, big, bridge. While he and guy-pal Henry thoughtfully consider the dangers of crossing, Annie and Clarbel the coaches cry, “Hurry, Hurry,” and get “so excited” that Thomas has “trouble keeping them in line.” Oh poor Thomas, what a trial it must be for him to keep those naughty girlies in line!

Now, I know what some of you might say. Thomas the Tank Engine was written years ago and their Reverend W. V. Awdry who created him didn’t know any better. However, it’s worth pointing out that the first Thomas the Tank Engine book was published in 1946 – sixteen years after the Watty Piper version of “The Little Blue Engine that Could.” Even though “The Little Blue Engine” portrays cutesy trains with smiling faces, this picture book – which is a retelling of the 1910 story “The Pony Tale – shares little else with Thomas the Tank. Indeed, “The Little Blue Engine that Could” kicks Thomas’ ass!

In case you haven’t read it in a while, I’ll give a you a quick recap. A little engine carrying toys and treats to kids on the other side of the mountain is chugging happily along when all of a sudden *she* breaks down. A big engine, an arrogant engine, and a tired engine – all of whom are male – refuse to help. A little blue engine arrives, however, and even though *she* is small and inexperienced, she saves the day. “I think I can, I think can” goes her famous chant, as she hauls the coaches up and over the mountain.

So, okay, the book might be a little second-wave feminist for many people – i.e. girls are best, boys suck. But, when Thomas the Tank Engine and all the other boy-club stories (think “Cars” and “Bob the Builder,” to name just two) still rule the airwaves and dominate the shelves or Barnes and Noble, I think “The Little Engine that Could” and its celebration of girl power is very much needed!

Puff, puff, puff, chug, chug, chug. Ding, dong, ding, dong! Little Blue Engine, you rock!