Books I hate to read (but do) – part I

I take my kids to the library weekly so they can pick out new books to enjoy at home.  My daughter (8) graduated to chapter books and picks a variety of fiction and non-fiction, but my son (4) gravitates to the same four shelves every week, just as his sister did at the same age.  Occasionally, he accepts my suggestions, but for the most part, I know we will come home with at least one Clifford or Berenstain Bear book.

Contrary to the slogan, I’m just going to say it — I don’t love Clifford.  I’ll give props to Norman
Bridwell for creating an iconic character that kids love, but that doesn’t mean I’ll share the love. As a parent, I loathe reading them.  As my husband points out, the art is terrible, but perhaps the kids like the drawing because the skewed perspective is a bit like theirs.

I’m more troubled by the continuity issues in the art rather than the style and quality of the art.  Buildings change color, size or disappear completely.  There are three distinct versions of the mother and at least as many versions of the father.  It makes me think Emily Elizabeth and Clifford have spent a lot of time bouncing through the child welfare system.

Artistic choices aside, I find the message unsettling.  The kids think Clifford’s foibles are funny.  I take away the message “you can only do good if you are big.” Clifford the puppy slips and falls and has to be rescued.  Clifford the Big Red Dog steps in to save a kitten from traffic, by causing an auto accident that so badly crunches the car, it’s a miracle the driver survived.  It makes sense that he could support a bridge, but the idea a building would burn to the ground if Clifford didn’t step in to help the fire-fighters is asinine. And an insult to the brave men and women who train hard to be fire fighters.

Time after time, Clifford is the best because he’s big.  I am not a big person.  I’m shorter than the average adult.  Does this mean I can’t do good? Does this mean my children cannot be helpful? That they will never be able to find the most easter eggs or lend a hand because they of merely average height? Is size really all that matters?  I hope not.

p.s – I’ll tackle the Berenstain Bears later.  In the meantime – what do you think?  I’m ready for the onslaught of Clifford lovers to sway my opinion.

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A hole lot of trouble to be a good neighbor

My neighbor’s son got it in his head that he needed to dig a hole over the weekend.  I have no idea why.  I do know that in the process, he found a troublesome wire. He promptly removed a four-foot section of it thus plunging my house into internet, phone and cable silence.

Trust me, I have many good ideas where to put that shovel, but I’ll suppress my anger and frustration in the effort to be a “good neighbor.”

I seem to do that a lot.  I want to ask the kid, a fourteen or fifteen year old boy to stop hanging out with his friends in his side yard, swearing and setting things aflame when my eight-year old and four-year old want to play in our adjacent back yard. (FYI – We have a corner lot.) Instead, I take the kids inside and we talk about why it might not be such a good idea to make a fire that reaches the eaves.  When the boy and his friends break out the B-B gun for target practice, the kids and I go inside, close the blinds and hope the birds and squirrels find safety.  When he takes the riding lawnmower for a daily joy-ride – his habit of the last six years – I cry for the noise and air pollution it creates.  When the kids start coughing and cover their ears we go inside.

I don’t know what to do.  The pre-kid me would have confronted the parents and the son about the repeated infringements onto my property line since their side yard is rather narrow.  The hole straddles the line and utility easement. I would be within my rights to lodge a formal complaint, but over the years, I’ve learned such confrontations rarely end well.

Besides I like our neighbors. The same kid who cut the internet line is also known to hop on the riding mower and help pick up leaves in the fall or mow the back yard when it is over 100 degrees and hubby is toiling in the front yard with the push mower.  The situation is maddening, especially when I couldn’t find solace in Pintrist, Tap Fish  or News of the Weird.  I’m glad Verizon installed a temporary line so our outage lasted only forty-eight hours.

A fence seems so…. aggressive, so final.  Besides, he could still dig a hole on the other side and unleash just as much chaos.  So I ask you, dear readers, what, if anything, would you do if these were your neighbors?

What do they do? Tales from a school volunteer

Since September, I’ve volunteered bi-weekly in my daughter’s second grade class.  Seeing the inner workings of her class room brightens my day.  Her teacher is wonderful, friendly and fun, but firm. She leads the class with confidence. Over the course of the year, I’ve seen the children blossom under her guidance. Ms Turner knows how to bring out the best in each child and I’m grateful my daughter has been part of her class.

But one thing still mystifies me. What do those children do to those pencils?

After sharpening the pencils once early in the school year, I realized that is an easy task for me to start on when Ms. Turner is busy instructing the class. It is a tedious task, but I don’t mind it since the school has an electric pencil sharpener. I’ve watched the pencils dwindle in number, even discarding a few myself as the stubs became too short to feed to the whirring blades of the sharpener. It pleases me that the children use them so much. I see them scribbling away in notebooks or working on math pages when I visit, but sharpening the pencils reminds me how much work they do as they learn.

But evidence of tooth marks tell me they sometimes suffer anxiety. By now, most pencils feature multiple bite marks. I picture the children I’ve come to know putting the pencil in their mouth as they apply “strategies” to their science or math tests.  Perhaps the kinetic learners need this gesture in order to get their thoughts in order, for others it’s nerves.

Most worrisome of all are the pencils whose severely dented metal ends and lack of erasers indicate a number of parents will one day pay for braces.  My daughter assures me she doesn’t chew on the metal, but she said nothing about chomping down on erasers. At least she cleared up one mystery for me.  Last week she informed me the boys beside her bothered her by competing to see who could break a pencil first.  Now I know why I discarded four jagged stubs today.