Thursday, October 23, 2014

Babysitting 101

The last words of my daughter – the mother of Leda and Iggy – before I took her to the train station, were: “Good night. I love you guys. No TV or candy.” The kids were still at the dinner table with CSB, indifferent to our comings and goings.
I drove Reine to the train station so she could hop on for the short trip north to Tarrytown for a friend’s concert at the coffee shop there, while we played with and read to and put to bed the grandchildren.
I drove back from the train station, walked into the kitchen. All three of them were watching Jeopardy! in their favored poses: CSB on a kitchen chair, Iggy bouncing on the sofa, Leda hanging from the ceiling, literally. (There is a 12-foot ladder leaning against the cupola.) CSB was offering Leda $5 for every correct answer (i.e. question) she gave, which was a pretty cheap and easy offer on his part as she is 8 years old, and this is adult Jeopardy! Also, Iggy was eating Swedish Fish. (Ingredients: Sugar; invert sugar; corn syrup; modified corn starch, citric acid, white mineral oil, artificial flavors, red 40 and carnauba wax. Is this a good time to wonder about ‘invert sugar’?) He and Leda were engaged in a lively discussion slash negotiation of how each little packet contained 6 fishes, and how they had previously shared Leda’s – three each- and now Leda was explaining to Iggy that he must likewise share his packet with her. This seemed reasonable to Iggy. He also praised his sister for having found the Swedish Fish at all. (Having yesterday discovered them in one of CSB’s pockets, I had hidden them in the pantry. Don’t ask why I didn’t simply throw them out. There is no good answer.) CSB likewise praised Leda for finding them.
Now that the children were properly jazzed on invert sugar and game show decibels, it was time for me to put them to read and read them quiet stories. Iggy chose: Life Story, The Story of Life of Our Earth from Its Beginning up to Now. I was initially a little puzzled by this choice, until I realized the cover featured images of dinosaurs. He listened raptly as I read about the Big Bang, about back when the earth’s surface was a red-hot sea of lava, onto the Proterozoic Era and the introduction of sedimentary rocks, and of course about the hegemony of trilobites. Iggy likes trilobites, though not as much as he likes dinosaurs, sharks and spiders. He was riveted by the Paleozoic era and the movement of amphibians onto land and their evolution into reptiles. Reptiles lead directly to dinosaurs, as every three-year-old knows. Then it was the Cenozoic Era and early humans were painting on cave walls. Iggy’s interest flagged, his eyes got heavy.
Then Leda and I read from The Children’s Homer. Leda is fascinated by Greek mythology these days, and this is a good thing when you are in the third grade and the girls are behaving like maenads. After a few chapters we slipped from Odysseus’ love of his homeland, to general cuddling and idle chatter. Next to the bed is a framed print from Simplicissimus, a satirical German magazine published from 1897 through 1967, with a hiatus. It was gift from a dear friend, Bine, many many years ago, and every time I see it I mean to ask her the very questions Leda asked. Why is that man holding a knife? Is the woman asleep or dead? Why is the man with the top hat smiling such a creepy smile? I tell her the plot of Othello – very simplified. I discover that some things do not lend themselves to simplification: why why why does Iago want Othello to murder his wife? Because he is jealous. Because he felt slighted. Because he is vengeful. Because because because. Because he is unloved. But no, doesn’t Iago have a good wife? And why would Othello fall for that BS anyway?
You try explaining Othello to a warm and cuddly bursting synapse of questions.

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