I Versed, You Versed, We Versed, They Versed

Superman and Mongul: born to verse:. Two-inch collectibles by Metz-Its. (www.funbeyonddriven.com)

A couple of weeks ago, we acquired a new superhero book. It’s an “I Can Read” book featuring six simplified stories about Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. One of them is called “Superman versus Mongul.” (That’s the one Mrs. Pursell read when Mbot brought the book in for show-and-tell.)

Tonight, after “Harry at the Seaside” (featuring Harry the Dirty Dog (not to be confused with Dirty Harry) and an ensuing conversation about the diet of sea slugs, which was upsetting (“but plants are living things!”), Mbot picked out an old superhero book we hadn’t read in a long time.

“Mom, who does Superman verse in this book?” he asked.

I was mystified. “What does that mean, Moon Pie?”

“It means…who’s the bad guy? Who does Superman fight?’

He was using “to verse” as the infinitive form of “versus.”

This is why I always ask when I don’t understand what he’s said. It’s usually me, not him.

According to www.etymonline.com (the best etymological dictionary I’ve found), “versus” is from the Latin, “turn toward or against.” Today, it would be such a useful word, “to verse,” meaning, “to be against,” or “to conflict with.”

I tend to shy from conflict, unless it’s a rousing intellectual debate with little at stake. But conflict is a part of life–as much as I yearn to, I can’t protect myself, the Bots, or the living plants devoured by the sea slugs from it. Somehow, talking about “versing”–(“Who did you verse today?”), the simple, casualness of the term seems to makes the minor conflicts of daily life seem inevitable–as they are–and okay.

I’m going to start to use it.

Did you verse anyone today?

Reflexology: The New Safe Sex?

You can't get pregnant by touching people's ears!

It is arguable that if the ancient art/science of Reflexology was taught in junior high school classrooms, teen pregnancy rates would plummet.

Surely, even the Right Wing Christian faction would support a bill channeling government funding into such a program (although it does fall under the auspices of Education), when it is obviously such a win-win solution: all of our hormone-saturated larvae get to feel each other up and get felt up, all while keeping on their fig leaves (although they wouldn’t be able to keep one foot on the floor, but there are so many exciting ways of getting around that one anyhow.)

For those of you who haven’t experienced the joys of being on the receiving end of a talented Reflexologist’s fingertips, or for those of you who don’t have a sister like mine, who, after a session, relates it in such vivid detail in a six-minute voicemail message that by the end, I’m reaching for the cigarettes that I’ve forgotten I have never used in my life, read on.

Reflexology is basically this: the health-promoting practice of stimulating energy and relaxing tension in the body by releasing any blockages in the flow of said energy via manipulation of only the hands, feet, and ears. It’s holistic, if you haven’t figured that out already, and some people think it’s hocus pocus, but it sucks to be them: they’ve obviously never had their ears fiddled with properly, nor do they have a sister like mine.

I admit, I had my feet fiddled with once, but although the fiddler worked at a spa, she wasn’t a registered Reflexologist, and she basically gave me a lower leg rub followed by a dip in hot paraffin that made my feet soft and the rest of me wish I’d just gone for the full-body massage. But my sister has sold me on trying it again.

Color chart of pressure points and their corresponding organs. Apparently, we are all wearing our hearts on the balls of our feet. (reflexology-usa.net)

She described lying on a massage table under a sheet with only her head, feet, and hands exposed and manipulated. Soft music played, and the table vibrated in time to this music. She described in breathless tones what she claimed was the loveliest, most relaxing and at the same time invigorating experience she has ever had, ever. Ever. And this is a woman who enjoys her massages, and who sails down narrow mountain trails on bicycles at thirty plus miles per hour.

It was her suggestion that Reflexology could be hailed as the New Safe Sex. Then The Guru suggested that perhaps the Shakers did it. The Guru’s knowledge extends far, encompassing the sexual mores of a near-dead religious sect that most people associate only with old spindly-legged furniture. Apparently, in order to perpetuate their clan of woodworkers, the Shakers either adopted children or indentured them, because they didn’t believe in intimate fraternization and in vitro hadn’t  been discovered yet. Then indenturing went out of style, and that pesky law forbidding religious groups to adopt children was passed in 1960, and their numbers spiraled downhill. No wonder there are only three or four left. But I stray from my point.

All those in favor of drafting a petition to introduce Reflexology classes into America’s public schools, not only for the future health of our nation but as a creative new form of birth control, write to your Congressman. After watching this video, I also vote to practice it regularly on the GOP candidates, with the hope that they, like the Shakers, will stop attempting to reproduce.

Reflexology works on all species, maybe even politicians http://www.thehealthylivinglounge.com

ABC report on last Monday’s March protesting Roe vs. Wade decision

Here’s a direct link to the newscast.

Who’s in favor?

Look Ma, No Pedals!

Got bear?

If you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, Mbot and Junepbear are both only 3 1/2, surely they are too young for a bike,” you are embarrassingly ignorant of the latest in velo-technology: the pedal-free two-wheeler or, as the inventor Ryan McFarland calls it, “the no-pedal balance bike.”

This “pre-bike” is the greatest thing to come along since spandex. Instead of pedals, there are foot rests, and as soon as I figure out how to link my Youtube account to my blog, I’ll post a short video that ends well of the pair shown above cruising downhill at speed. But let’s not hold our breath for my original footage; in the meantime, click here.

Several companies make similar bikes, but the first model we bought had a convex top tube, making it difficult to stride with the bike between legs that have a sixteen inch inseam. So we splurged for the original Strider, and Mbot hasn’t been seen since. I suspect he’s in Europe training for the spring classics.

They’re marketed for kids as young as eighteen months, and Gbot and his animal-du-jour travel the neighborhood, although he hasn’t yet got the balance to cruise, footless.

But my parents report that their neighbor’s son, who is 2 1/2, has been doing it since before he turned two, and will give Mbot a run for his money in Belgium. This child’s grandfather has ridden his bike across most of the continents, and so I’m thinking the kid’s got a genetic headstart.

But does he have a bear?

It's best to choose a cycling partner who never complains.

Discoverments #4 and #5: Into the Danger Zone

Great idea and all, but does the iTunes "Science Lab" app provide the thrill of freefall? http://www.itunes.apple.com

Discoverment #4

Hypothesis: Since Mbot learned that Alexander Fleming went on vacation in 1928 and came back to his laboratory to find that one of his experiments had gotten moldy, thus resulting in the discovery of penicillin, Mbot is under the impression that he can make medicine for himself and Gbot, who has had a drippy nose for two weeks, if he only had some moldy bread.

Procedure: Place a piece of bread in an old spice jar and set it on the kitchen window sill. Check it every day.

Results: After six days, there is still no mold.

Conclusion: 1. Moisture needs to be added to the bread. 2. We need to go on vacation?

Discoverment #5

Hypothesis: A bridge can be built from the kitchen table to the sofa  using a sofa cushion.

Procedure: Proceed while your mother is emptying the dishwasher, with her back turned to the table, the sofa, the cushions, and the possibilities. Span the distance of about three feet with a cushion. Climb onto the kitchen table and prepare to crawl across the new bridge.

Cry, “Look Mom! We’re making a bridge!” Then proceed onto the bridge. Exclaim with surprise when your mother moves faster than you’ve ever seen her move before–faster than either you or she believed she could move, faster than it seems physically possible for a mother to move, as though she’s wearing one of those special suits Olympic swimmers wear that mimic the behavior of a dolphin’s skin, which forms, at high speeds, microscopic creases that allow a better flow of water–and catches your arm just as gravity kicks in, allowing you to, instead of land on your head on the tiles three feet below, come to rest softly on the failed cushion bridge, instead.

Conclusion: 1. Cushions do not make good bridges. 2. Try tiptoeing next time?

What have you learned from your latest discoverments?

From Singing Alone to Music Together

The Wee Bot Bee Bop at Music Together

“Hey look me over,

Lend me an ear,

Fresh out of clover,

Mortgage up to here….”

No matter that I was thirteen and had no idea what a mortgage was, I bellowed the classic loud as an air horn and flat as a shredded tire.

Mrs. Northrup, head of the eighth grade choir, placed me strategically beside a girl who projected with perfect pitch, so if I didn’t manage to tone with her, I would at least be drowned out, causing minimal damage. My favorite songs had little range for the alto section, because I couldn’t go from doe to tea without hitting a falsetto. High on my list of greats were “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and “Hey, Look Me Over,” which Louis Armstrong could not have belted out with more enthusiasm.

Who doesn’t like to sing? It is an old, old instinct to test the hilly pitches of one’s voice. For animals and children, tone is more meaningful than words. Before Homo sapiens spoke, I am sure we hummed.

During the Christmas Eve church services my family attended through my childhood, I had to switch octaves a few times to get through “Silent Night.” I couldn’t make it to the end of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” without my larynx failing in the upper reaches of the first verse. When all ye nations were joyfully rising, my voice refused to; it did not join in triumph in the next line, and by the time the angelic host proclaimed, I was squeaking like rubber shoes on a wet floor.

I am not tone deaf, but I came into the world with completely unexceptional vocal cords  and an inability to reproduce with accuracy the sounds I hear.

My dad (The Guru) for a long time believed that most of what a person accomplishes in life is determined by genetics, like you’re shot from a sling out of the womb into your highest achievement. (Now he probably believes that it’s a combination of genetics and politics.) I remember him and my brother David arguing about it when we were teenagers. David disagreed: he insisted that anyone could do anything if they tried hard enough. I thought that sounded like a bad high school graduation speech.

For example, I knew for a fact that Mary Cartmill, who I helped with math on the school bus, would never be a nuclear physicist. My own philosophy settled somewhere in the middle but more on my father’s side. We were all born with limits that would shape—had already shaped—our lives. You had to have a proclivity.

In my early teens, I became very self-conscious of my singing voice. I only sang when I was alone.

And then, thirty years later, Mbot was born. He ate slowly and slept poorly and four times a night, every night, I read novels aloud while I fed him. I found myself listening to the sound of my own voice for hours. As the weeks passed, I start varying my tone, altering inflection and rhythm and timbre.

I also began making up songs for everyday activities: a song for waking up and a song for sucking binkies and a song for rubbing on sunscreen (“We put it on your legs, and we put it on your cheek, and if you were a bird we would put it on your beak. We put it on your tummy and we put it on your other cheek, and if you were a mouse, we would put it on your squeak!”) I started singing his nursery rhymes. One Little Piggy went to market to a swingy gospel melody with extra notes and a catchy refrain followed by deep, repeating bass lines: “….The little piggy went wee we wee wee weeeee all the way hooooome….”

I loved having an excuse to sing, and my audience was appreciative and forgiving.

Seven months after Mbot arrived, I signed us up for a ten-week class called Music Together. It’s a nationwide franchise aimed at the six-month-through-four-years set (and their parents),and involves forty-five minutes a week of interactive singing, dancing, and music-making with an instructor and a small group of other short and tall people. One of my worksheets likens music to a foreign language–no surprise there–and tells me that “the best thing for…development is lots of exposure and practice.”  The program was launched in 1987 by the Center of Music and Young Children, in Princeton, New Jersey. The website claims that research shows that unmusical adults are unmusical “due to lack of experience, not genetics.”

I didn’t sign us up to learn to sing better. The possibility that I could never crossed my mind. I signed us up to get out of the house and to escape the hundred degree heat of my new hometown and to meet other mothers. I signed us up to tire out Mbot, who did not seem to need sleep. I was newly pregnant with Gbot, and I very much needed sleep.

In the heat of a Phoenix spring, Mbot and I drove to our local Music Together every Thursday morning no matter who got how little sleep. In a Sunday school classroom, Moms and toddlers marched and twirled and shook plastic eggs filled with beans and beat wooden sticks on the linoleum floor and sometimes, on the heads of others. Moms herded toddlers away from light switches and stacks of chairs and other people’s sippy cups. We all sang. No one really had a good voice.

Our imaginative and energetic leader, Miss Mary, who has degrees in music and early childhood development, as well as years of experience as a kindergarten teacher and professional cellist, plays the guitar, too, and makes the recorder sound mystical and haunting. In class, she took suggestions from the bigger kids, who delighted in suggesting that we all swim like sharks or rumble like trucks. In the first few classes, I mumbled haltingly to unfamiliar but predictable tunes. I discovered that many of the simple songs had been written just for me. “Old Brass Wagon” starts out with just one note, an F, repeated seven times. Making momfriends didn’t happen right away, but least Mbot usually fell asleep on the ride home.

We listened to the CD (registration fee had included two) at home and in the car. After a few weeks, I was singing “The Water Is Wide” as I pushed Mbot’s stroller to the park. On about the hundredth rendition, I discovered that if I took a breath first, and stretched my mouth wide, my voice could reach all the way up to the boat that can carry two.

As the months pass, and we progressed through another and yet another semester, my repertoire widened. I hollered, “Hey, Betty Martin, tip toe, tip toe,” ad infinitum while driving, and found that if I actually moved my face, like I am biting into a big cookie at the same time I am pretending I’m British, I can nail the “t’s.” By this time, Mbot was mimicking words. “Tip toe, tip toe,” he chanted. We sang about old dogs named Blue, about chickadees and blackbirds and little goats snowy and white. In the car, if I switched from music to NPR, Mbot fussed in the back seat. “More, More.”

By the time Mbot was almost two and his little brother, Gbot, was about six months old, I calculated that I had sung “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” over one thousand times. The alphabet song—which I discovered has the same tune as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” is close behind. Strangely, my voice did not sound like it used to. It seemed bigger somehow and more willing to do what I asked. I didn’t give this much thought. I ventured into the old Christmas carols and the scraps from eighth grade choir, pushing air from my chest and rearranging my facial muscles in ways that would have mortified me at thirteen in a room of my peers.

After over thirty weeks of Music Together classes, when Mbot was twenty-three months old, we visited my family in Idaho. Mbot dived into the roomful of his older cousins’ toys. He homed in on a long plastic arrow with a suction cup on one end, and a giant toy bow strung with string. He had never seen a bow and arrow. He manipulated the bow so he was grasping it carefully at its center, and anchored one end on the carpet. He drew the arrow back and forth across the bow string and raised his voice. “Twinko, twinko, witto staw!” he sang. He was playing the cello.

The next afternoon or the next, while I fed Gbot, Mbot curled up under a blanket in the kitchen while my mother and I prepared dinner. Thinking that perhaps the miraculous would occur and he would fall asleep, I began to sing. I was still not accustomed to singing with anyone over twenty-three months in the room, but I raised my voice carefully, as if I were singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the seventh game of the World Series. “Twinkle, twinkle, little star….” I was conscious of the movement of my tongue, my lips, my cheeks.

It was not Loius Armstrong. But my voice sounded strong and oddly rich and resonant. At the end of the song, Mbot was no closer to sleep. But my mother turned from the oven. “That was beautiful,” she said with unflattering surprise. “Where did you get such a pretty voice? I never had one.”

“Neither did I,” I replied.

“More sing,” said Mbot. And I began again.


I’m a little bit short of the elbow room

But let me get me some, And look out world,

Here I come!

Is how hard you try a genetic trait? Is there a gene for conviction, and persistence? Or is it learned? As a parent, I will try to nurture that quality.

Adventures with the Earth

These women may or may not be harvesting broccoli. (From the British dramality show (who knew), "The Only Way is Essex" (www.gossipgirls.onsugar.com)

We got broccoli yesterday. Not from Safeway or Sprouts, but from The Earth. And no, that’s not the new organic market that opened up down the street. I actually mean from the earth. You know, that dirty thing that always seems to be at ground level. Unless it’s at knee level, having sucked you in to the tops of your doggie rain boots, or at face level, coming at you at twenty miles an hour in the form of dust. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last summer, the staff planted a company garden on the farm, and we are all welcome to its bounty. We take little enough so that no one even notices we’ve been there. Husbot has taken the WeeBots many times, and returned home to dump bags of corn onto the kitchen floor and shucked it right there, fat caterpillars who also like organic corn, and all.

I have wanted to go, but for some reason I cannot put a finger on, but probably involves shortness and loudness, I had never been there. Yesterday afternoon, though, a family outing to the garden seemed like a great idea; the Bots were tired but seemingly nowhere near sleep, and I was getting over another cold and felt being outside would do me good. So, in spite of a chill in the air caused by an ominous cloud cover and a gentle insistent cold breeze that had sprung up, we loaded up and drove north.

The drive is short, on narrow roads that stretch between fields that rotate between either roses and red potatoes or various organic greens. There are also great stretches of bare, tilled earth, acres and acres of it. We pulled onto a side road and parked along a ditch that separated us from a garden about the size of a football field, minus the end zones.I could already smell the rich, distinct odor of cabbage.

Mouth watering, I gazed out across the bounty of broccoli, Romaine, iceberg lettuce, spinach, kale, carrots, eggplant, and several ruffly rows I couldn’t identify. Oh, which to pick first? It was a good thing I’d brought a big box.

“They’ve just watered,” Husbot announced.

My spirits fell. To the uninitiated, these words mean little. But when I was new to The Farming Life, I’d made the mistake of wading into a rose field on irrigation day. I was lucky to escape with my shoes, but they were never really the same.

We changed our game plan. Instead of gamboling together merrily into the salad, I stood on the road, while Husbot stood in the garden, and we passed the Bots back and forth over the empty but slick-bottomed irrigation ditch to take turns with the harvest. It’s not something you’d see happening on The Food Network or on any show about the pleasures of The Organic Way. Especially the part where Gbot  ended up on intimate terms with the bottom of the ditch, and Mbot’s boot, sucked up to the rim, nearly got left among the carrots. Meanwhile, I noticed that, looking in the direction of home, I couldn’t see the mountains anymore, nor the horses that I’d sworn were in an adjacent field. In fact, I couldn’t see the field.

I also noted with alarm that the wind had picked up. As we headed back to the Midgetmobile, I saw a blanket of dust that came to about the level of Gbot’s head blowing up the road toward us. I picked up Gbot and, careful to coordinate with Husbot so that only one car door was open at a time (to avoid creating a wind tunnel), we stripped the Bots of their clothes and deposited them in the backseat. Then, turning the Midgetmobile so that the dust wouldn’t fill it, I loaded the veggies into the back. We started south. We shouldn’t have. Two hundred yards later was a wall of dust at least fifty feet high. We crept toward it, wondering about our options and expecting John Steinbeck‘s ghost to appear at any moment and start taking notes.

I closed the vents. We inched around the curve in the road south of the sump pond. It’s a sharp turn, and goes on for an unexpectedly long time. We passed, at snail speed, a carefully tended cross memorializing the lives of two people who had not made the curve on a motorcycle several years ago.

After what seemed like ages but was really only about four minutes, we emerged into daylight again, and four minutes after that, we raced through the gale from car to front door with our bounty, and headed for the tub.

The kids needed washing, the clothes needed washing, the car needed washing.

But except for a quick rinse, the veggies did not.

I was certain we would have encountered neither mud nor dust on the way to the Safeway. But which would you rather have to wash–the lettuce or the Lexus?

Night Suits

Which suit would you choose? I wouldn't choose any of them, either. http://www.uncrate.com

From the backseat, in the dark, very late, on the drive home from Grandma’s house tonight:

Gbot: “I want a butterfly suit so I can fly home.”

Mbot: “I want a bat suit so I can stay out all night.”

I’d have taken a butterfly suit myself; after a busy weekend, home couldn’t come soon enough. Now if I could only fall asleep for two weeks, caterpillar-style, and awaken, transformed….

What kind of suit do you want tonight?

Junepbear 1, Outside World 0

This computer game from 1992 pretty much says it all. http://www.gamegraveyard.net

As it was, neither of us had to grow up. This morning, I asked Mbot if I could borrow Junepbear to give him a bath before show-and-tell. Mbot put his face close to Junepbear and I could hear him take a deep sniff. “But he smells great!” he said.

At the first opportunity, I loaded Junep into the Automobot so I wouldn’t forget him in the chaos of getting everyone else loaded up. And then Mbot announced that he wanted to take his new superhero book for show-and-tell, instead of Junepbear.

“Are you sure, Bug?” I asked, now a little disappointed that Junepbear wouldn’t be introduced to the Outside World.

“Yeah! I want to show them my favorite page.”

I put the book in the car so I wouldn’t forget it.

“You can decide which you want to take to show-and-tell on the way to school,” I told Mbot as he headed out.

“But I already decided,” he said. “I’m going to take Junepbear and the book.”

“But you can only take one,” I said.

“But I’m going to show everyone how I read to Junepbear.”

Now, I have a high regard for logic, even if its source is a three-year-old angling to take his bear to school.

At the door, Mrs. Pursell greeted him, with his armload of superhero book and Junepbear, eagerly exclaiming, “It must be your show and tell day!”

Mbot, his superhero book, and his giant, great-smelling bear disappeared onto the playground. It’s the first time he hasn’t run back to hug and kiss me goodbye.

Three hours later, he was the first kid to emerge from the classroom. “We really enjoyed “Superman versus Mongul,” said Mrs. Pursell.

“What did you tell the other kids about Junepbear?” I asked Mbot.

He smiled, hugging his bear. “I told them I sleep with him and play with him.”

“What did they say?” I asked.

“They said that he’s beautiful.”


Did you dare to share your bear today?

Junepbear: Out of the Closet

The folks at giantmicrobes.com have made a rhinovirus that looks a little like Junepbear.

It’s show-and-tell time again in the Joshua Tree classroom.

Last week, when I asked, Mbot wanted to bring what’s known around this house as The Cold Book (to the rest of the world, it’s Your Body Battles a Cold, by Vicki Cobb, Andrew N. Harris, and Dennis Kunkel), and which is to the common cold what The Stomach Book (Your Body Battles a Stomachache, by the same trio) is to throwing up. (See Recycle Robot vs. Sister Mary Villus.) He got it for Christmas. Now he wants to be a macrophage for Halloween. (For those of you who aren’t students of physiology, a macrophage is the blobby white blood cell that devours bacteria and other dead macrophages and ends up as pus. It’s a good guy.)

“Gbot, you can be a rhinovirus,” Mbot told his younger brother.

“No!” replied Gbot petulantly. “I want be Batman!”

Mbot: “But Mom, Batman doesn’t go inside the body!”

“It’s okay, Moon Pie. He can be Batman. I will be the rhinovirus.”

The sacrifices we make in the name of motherhood.

But yesterday when I asked, Mbot asked if he could bring Junepbear to show-and-tell. “Yes,” I told him, inwardly cringing.

Because Junepbear is…well…so loved. So sacred.

He’s the giant blue bear Mbot has had since birth. His extravagantly raggedy fur has absorbed blood, sweat, tears, chocolate, dust, and love. What if a friend makes fun of him? Or asks why his feet are so dirty? Or tells Mbot he’s not real? Or that he’s babyish? What if they make fun of his name? Or are mean because they’re jealous because he’s really a big, cool bear?

Will Mbot have to grow up tomorrow? Or will I?