Monthly Archives: January 2013

Do you like my hat?

When my daughter was little, she spent at least a day a week at my parents’ house where the book Go, Dog. Go!, by P. D. Eastman, was a big hit, at least with my dad. “Do you like my hat?” is a recurring line in this charming easy reader. Dad loved to put on a ball cap and then say to Hannah, “Do you like my hat?” Then they would both giggle and recite the response, “I do not.”

do you like my hat

Hats were the subject of an exhibit that Andrew and I saw at the Peabody Essex Museum. The show was called, Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones. Stephen Jones is a contemporary British milliner and he designed many of the hats in the collection; hats worn by movie stars and royalty and other wealthy people. Other designers were represented as well, along with historical hats, like old-fashioned bonnets and caps, for perspective. Mostly, though, there were avant garde hats; hats made from metal, and plastic, and wood. There was a hat made of long strings of hair-like material that covered the entire body, like Cousin Itt from The Addams Family. They also had the helmet worn by Darth Vader. Perhaps that was a sop for all the poor husbands being dragged around the exhibit.

I love hats in theory, but not to wear, because when you wear a hat you invariably end up with the dreaded hat-head. In old movies, women had perfectly coiffed hair that didn’t appear the least bit mussed when they removed their hats. I’m guessing that their hair must have been thoroughly lacquered. I’ve never had a good enough hair day to be willing to cement it in place.

I did buy a hat once; I wrote about it three years ago in the post, Cocktails anyone? The woman who sold it to me insisted that I promise to wear it at least twice. I’m certain that I did, after all, I promised, but I can only remember one of the times. It was at a restaurant in Cambridge called Cuchi Cuchi, where the waitresses all wear little hats called fascinators. Technically, my hat is also a fascinator. Maybe that’s why I never wear it. I’m just not that fascinating.

Meanwhile, back at the exhibit, there was a fun, interactive display. You could sit down in front of a large screen and see what a selection of hats from the exhibit would look like on your own head.

judy_PEM_hat2

So now it’s my turn to ask, “Do you like my hat?”

Is writing about coming out still relevant?

Perfect is a book for young adults by Ellen Hopkins, a New York Times bestselling author who writes in verse. It’s the story of four high-school seniors, how they define perfection and what they are willing to do to achieve it. One of the characters, Cara, is in search of perfect love. She discovers it, to her surprise, with a girl.

My current WIP (work-in-progress) is a coming out story. The pitch for it might read like this: Emma’s façade of style and heterosexuality crumples when she hosts Maja, a gay Swedish girl, who makes Emma confront her decision to stay closeted out of fear – and her crush on her best friend Kaitlyn. There has been much discussion in my critique group and among my online writing community about whether or not coming out is still something teenagers struggle with. For every person who says, “That’s an important story to tell,” there is someone who says, “I don’t think it’s such a big deal anymore, certainly not around here.”

One of my writer friends, supportive of my contention that a story of a girl who is unwilling to risk friendships and social status by stepping outside the norm is still pertinent to today’s teens, suggested I read Perfect as proof that the topic is still timely.

I got a copy out of the library and set to reading. I was on page 107, where Cara meets the girl she will fall in love with, holding my breath for what I hoped would happen next, when I turned the page and was distracted by a small pamphlet that someone had left in the book. I finished the page, which ended with an electrifying kiss, and picked up the pamphlet.

The front showed a young person sitting on the ground, their head on their arms; the picture of dejection. The headline was, is there something missing in your life? My first thought was that a sad teenager had read the book last. Then I opened the pamphlet and realized it was a religious tract. I couldn’t read any further than, “If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ on a personal basis, that is the problem.”

What an incredible coincidence, I thought. Someone left the tract at the exact place in the story where Cara kisses Dani. Then I thought, hold on, if it was a bookmark, did that mean whoever left it there never finished the book? And then it hit me. Someone left the tract there on purpose. Someone who disapproved of the character’s storyline and felt the need to make a statement left a “helpful” note for the next reader. A note that says, in part, “My friend, repent!”

I’m not that worried about my WIP’s relevance anymore. Apparently, there are still people who would make it difficult for a teenager to feel comfortable coming out—even around here.

Survived, and thrived!

Last week at this time, I was anxiously awaiting the return of my daughter from her survival weekend. Shortly after I posted Survival, I hope, the phone rang.

“You’re alive!” I exclaimed.

“Where are you?” she replied, as if she’d never been gone.

I hopped into my car and raced down to the high school to retrieve her. I got out to hug her, but I kept it brief; there’s no shower in a debris hut. Despite the fact that I was busting with curiosity, we agreed to wait until her father got home for the full debriefing. I did ask a couple of baseline questions like, are you alright and did you have fun, but I was content to wait for the details.

It turned out, not much actually happened during the trip, but as we all know from Seinfeld, a show about nothing, it doesn’t take much to make a great story and my daughter is quite the raconteur.  There was the bit about crawling into her sleeping bag with all her clothes on, including a pair of mittens, only to discover that she couldn’t use the zipper with mittens on, and she couldn’t get the mittens on once she was in the sleeping bag. Happily the sleeping bag was warm and mittens were not necessary.

hannah at survival 2013

She told us how wonderful it was to fall asleep while looking up at the trees and the sky, only to realize when she opened her eyes that she hadn’t actually been asleep. Without a watch, it was impossible to tell what time it was or how long it took to do anything. With or without sleep, she loved her nights in the woods.

She came home the self-proclaimed “queen of peeing-in-the-woods” and an expert snow mason (two unrelated, newly-acquired, skills).

There was also a touch of pathos; the first full day was a bust when it came to building a fire. Her spirits were dampened, but she rallied and the next day she not only built and maintained her fire, but she was able to boil water and cook macaroni and cheese. Then she sat by the fire and ate while reading Walden. She brought home the leftover mac and cheese, in the pot, and told us that she intended to put it in the freezer and eat it again on the anniversary of her adventure, the way one might a slice of wedding cake.

The only human contact the kids were allowed was with the support crew when they made their daily visits at daybreak and dusk. She chose to do her trip solo which meant that as long as she posted a note each morning and evening that said she was fine they wouldn’t intrude. However, the outing took place in a state forest, open to the public in Townsend, MA, and every once in a while she saw someone walking through the woods who was not associated with the base camp. They would wave, or look at her quizzically, but fortunately no one stopped to ask what she was doing out there on her own. Even the man she thought she recognized who went by with a baby on his back, and later found out was, indeed, another gym teacher from the high school!

So all in all, it was a wildly successful trip. I can’t begin to tell you how proud we are of her. The only tiny problem is that she might have come home a bit spoiled. When we said goodnight that first night home, she complained that her bed was too cold!

Survival, I hope

This quarter, instead of playing volleyball or vaulting over the pommel horse in gym, my daughter learned how to build a bivy sack and a debris hut to attach it to. She also learned how to start a fire by directing sparks onto a shredded cotton ball seasoned with magnesium bits. The survival course is an alternative to the traditional gym class at Arlington High. The course ends with a four-day, three-night, solo outing in a state forest. The kids are given six “strike anywhere” matches and a ten by ten tarp. The list of things they are responsible for bringing include a roll of string, a knife, a flint, a metal trowel, a pot, a few cotton balls, and yes, a roll of toilet paper.

The school provides a few other key things as well; a sleeping bag rated for some ridiculously cold temperature, a pair of army surplus boots that are guaranteed to keep their feet warm (unless they wear too many socks or tie them too tight), and enough food to keep them from starving, to wit; a block of cheese, a stick of pepperoni, a couple of bagels, some oatmeal, and a package of mac and cheese. Can’t start your fire to heat water? Kids have been known to chomp on uncooked pasta.

The teacher of this class, Bob Tremblay, told a room of concerned parents that Arlington High has been offering this course for forty years and he’s been leading it for nine. Bob looks like my idea of an outdoor guy, with shoulder-length hair and a full, grey beard. Given the variety of kids going on this trip, it may be time for me to reassess what an “outdoor” person looks like, but I can tell you what they don’t look like – me.

When Hannah first said she wanted to do this, I said, “Are you out of your freaking mind?” My response probably caused her to rocket straight from interested to determined. If I had shrugged and said, “Whatever,” maybe she’d be home with us now, warm and well-fed. But shocked as I was, I was also inordinately proud, even though this was clear proof that kids are hard-wired for things parents can’t take responsibility for, good or bad.

We spent the weekend in Vermont before her trip so she could practice building fires and huts. As you can see, she seemed to get the hang of it. On the official outing, the kids are separated from each other. Each one is given roughly two acres of their own and confined to their area for the duration. If you sneak off to meet a friend and they catch you, you fail the course. One of the things Bob likes about those heavy army boots is that they slow the kids down, make it hard for them to cover too much ground.

debris hut

By the time you read this, she will have been returned home, hopefully safe and sound. Strangely, I was relatively relaxed while she was gone. I did worry briefly each night that she’d be bored and cold, and during the day I was grateful that it wasn’t unbearably cold. Now, though, as her return becomes imminent, I am getting more anxious. Maybe that’s because I’m finally allowing myself to think about her, rather than actively working to distract myself.

No matter the reason, I’m sure that when I see her and express my joy and relief at having her back, she’ll respond with her usual aplomb, “What? It was no big deal.” But we know the truth. It was a very big deal.

Cooking is for the birds

Did you read my last post about cooking my first turkey? The sub-text, which I skipped over when I realized how much I had to say about the turkey experience itself, is that I don’t like to cook. I blame my mother.

I love my mom. I think she did a great job, considering what she had to work with. When friends talk about how lacking their own mothers are, I offer to lend them mine so they can get whatever it is they didn’t get from theirs. I feel very lucky in the mom department. But when it came to cooking, she fell down on the job. Mind you, we weren’t starving. She knew how to cook and she did feed us, but from my perspective she wasn’t enjoying it. (She may, of course, have a different take on the subject and she’s welcome to comment if she feels the need.) Having observed that cooking was a thankless task, I had no compelling desire to learn how to do it. Then I met Andrew.

On our third date, he made dinner for me at his apartment. I remember sitting in his kitchen in Somerville, drinking the wine I’d brought and eating the goat cheese he’d put out for me to munch on while he bustled about. The meal started with tomato soup, and he served roasted tomatoes with the entrée. I don’t like tomatoes, but I was impressed with his culinary skills. I congratulated myself on having found a man who was not only handsome, smart, and funny, but could cook. When he found out that I was a take-out kind of gal, he was disappointed. I decided to step up my cooking.

Then I met my future mother-in-law and I began to feel like I was living inside a bad joke with the punch line, “not as good as his mother makes it.” My MIL is an outstanding cook. I was intrigued, and a little annoyed. Particularly because, after committing to the long-term relationship, I discovered that Andrew didn’t actually do much cooking. He had cleverly dangled the possibility that he would cook as bait and I had swallowed the hook.

During our double-income-no-kid years, cooking never posed much of a problem. Between Andrew’s penchant for pizza and my love of Chinese food we could go for weeks without turning on the oven. Then we had Hannah and we had to confront the subject all over again. Although Andrew argued that pizza provided a balanced meal, Hannah never developed a taste for it, and before she had teeth who could blame her?

I managed to perfect half a dozen suitable dinners and before long my loving daughter learned to say, “That again?” When I picked her up after school, she would ask what we were having for dinner and then express her dismay. I started sticking my fingers in my ears when I saw her coming. While my repertoire has increased, and Hannah’s taste buds (and manners) have developed, dinner remains somewhat problematical at our house and frankly, I don’t expect it will ever get any better. I just don’t enjoy cooking.

If after reading this you’re feeling bad for my mom, don’t. One day Hannah will write about what an abysmal model she had for cooking and my mom will have the last laugh.