Thursday, October 24, 2013

That Time Lucy Didn’t Know That When People Die We Don’t Eat Them, or How American Girls Dolls Taught My Daughter That Cannibalism Is A Cultural Taboo

In May, while I was engaged in various bridesmaids’ activities in the city of Chicago, weekend off Don was alone and lose in the Windy City with a ten mile run rush of endorphins and his wallet.  A dangerous combination, made even more so by our location in the Watertower Place on Michigan Avenue.  When I returned to the hotel room to change for the rehearsal dinner, I found Don napping and several gigantic American Girl Doll bags crowding the hotel room entryway. 

Little did I know that this frenzy of commerce, followed by my horrified and confused exclamation of “What have you done!?” would lead to some of the most interesting and unexpected conversation that I could ever hope to have with my three year old daughter.

Lucy's Kit Kittredge haircut

Since Kit Kittredge came into our lives that fateful Memorial Day we have decided to focus less on the dolls and their many accessories and outfits, and more on the girl’s stories and their accompanying book series.  So far we have read all of Kits, Kaya’s and Felicities books, and Lucy has decided we will work our way through the rest of the girls chronologically.  It is adorable how she has every girl’s description memorized, and sometimes fashions names for her imaginary friends or playmates from one of the girl’s biographies.  The other day in the car she was having an elaborate imaginary play session with someone named “Spunky Colonia” and after a few minutes it was Don who figured out that she was remembering that phrase from Felicities’ description as a “spunky, sprightly colonial girl.”

So far we have had long talks about homelessness, poverty, the Great Depression, kidnapping, tribal rivalries, tyranny, patriotism, and hoboes.  These are all subjects I never expected to discuss with a three year old, but they came along naturally enough in the framework of the stories we have read so far.

Last night, however, I encountered a new subject while reading the last book in the Felicity series that really took my by surprise: cannibalism.  If you are not familiar with the American Girl’s let me sum something up for you, an observation that was put very succinctly by Don after we had already read a few stories.  American Girl dolls serve a very important function for privileged families.  They provide these families with a framework to teach their privileged daughters about adversity, usually the kind of adversity that these girls will largely be sheltered from their entire lives.  Poverty, depression, hunger, homelessness, imprisonment, death, war, etc.  Each girl lives in a time of change and turmoil, and has to display great strength of character to overcome her situation or problems that arise.

Our current heroine, Felicity, is living in colonial Virginia in 1775, and facing the many changes that our country faced at the dawn of the American Revolution.  Her beloved Grandfather is a loyalist to King George while the rest of the family are Patriots.  At the end of the books, her Grandfather goes out in bad weather to help several people at the jail, becomes ill, and eventually dies.  Now, I expected this to affect Lucy deeply, as she is very sensitive to death.  I expected tears and sadness and a long talk about the nature of life and death.

What I did not expect was this.

Lucy: did they take his bones back to the plantation to bury them?
Me: Yes, they did.  He wanted to be buried at his plantation.
Lucy: oh.  After they ate him?
Me: I’m sorry.  What?
Lucy: They buried his bones after they ate him.
Me: Just one second sweetie.  Let me think about this.  <<pause to gather my incredibly scattered wits>>  Lucy, do you think that we eat people after they die, like we are eating Chubbs?
Lucy: Well, yeah.
Me:  OK, that is understandable.  Let’s talk about that.  Eating other humans is actually called cannibalism, and amongst humans it is considered to be very, very bad.  It’s called a cultural taboo.
Lucy: Taboooooooo.
Me:  Yeah.  So we do eat lots of different animals.
Lucy: YEAH!  We NUM them up!
Me: That’s right.  We eat cows, and pigs, and chickens, and many other things…
Lucy: AND horses!
Me:  Well, actually, in America we don’t really eat horse.  That is considered another kind of taboo because they are companion animals, like dogs and cats.  In other places they eat dogs and cats and horses, but not in America.
Lucy: oh…
Me: And we don’t eat other humans either.  It’s very, very bad.  Some animals eat each other.  For instance, if a shark gets hurt and other sharks are around, they might eat the hurt shark.  But one of the things that separate us from other animals is that we do not eat our dead, we bury them.
Lucy: OK.

In hindsight, it makes sense.  I mean, I was an anthropology major.  I know all about the various cultures that condoned and practiced cannibalism of some form throughout history.  Even now it is not considered a mental illness, and is practiced in extreme circumstances, during wars or famines, though it is then almost always considered a crime.

The point being that the cultural taboo against cannibalism is just that – cultural.  It is passed on through culture, and a culture can either subscribe to it or not.  Children learn a culture through all sorts of avenues: parents, extended family, schools, other children, media, etc.  Most of the time I feel like the question of cannibalism gets addressed without parents even really knowing.  I guess I never really thought it was going to be an actual conversation that I had with my kids, something that I had to spell out and explain. 

But Lucy is the precocious kind, and we have had to have all sorts of conversations with her that we never expected.  The difference between boys and girls conversation came when she was only 21 months!  This past summer we bought a pig at the Steuben County 4-H Fair, had it butchered and processed and have most of it in our basement freezer.  We like knowing where our meat came from, and supporting local kids and their families instead of factory farming corporations when we choose to eat meat.  Lucy actually met Chubs at the fair before we bought him, and she was very excited when we picked up the meat and took it back to the house.  


However, the first night we had a pork burger at the house, it was too big for her to finish, and Don started to explain to her how important it was that we don’t waste meat.  He told her that Chubs died so that we could eat him, and we had to respect and honor that by not wasting him.  She looked at him, her eyes filled with tears, her lips trembled and she exclaimed “He died?!  I didn’t want him to die!!  Why did he have to die, Daddy?!”  Well, it seems we had skipped a key step in our explanation process there.  She knew we were buying Chubs to eat.  She knew we took him to the butcher.  She knew he came back from the butcher as many packages wrapped in white paper filled with bacon and chips and sausage.  But she didn’t know that to go from pen to butcher to our freezer he had to die in the process.

The whole Chubs affair (after a heartfelt talk and explanation she continues to enjoy pork products more than any other meat.  If you tell her something came from Chubs, she will devour it) probably contributed to her confusion over cannibalism as well.  We wanted some meat, we bought Chubs, and then we ate him.  Felicity’s grandfather died, so he was already dead, so they probably ate him.  Right?

We finished the Felicity books last night, and tomorrow we hope to go to the library to pick up the Josephina series.  Josephina lives on a ranchero in New Mexico in 1824.  I can’t begin to imagine what conversations this new character will open up.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

First Day!

First Day! First Day! First Day!

Yesterday was Lucy’s first day of school.  Well, in true Zimmer fashion, it was everyone else’s second day of school, but Lucy’s first.  Her first day she had missed because we all traveled together to my lovely college roommate’s wedding on Cape Cod (wooooo!  Congratulations Trish and Dan!)  So there we were, the last parents to drop off their child, taking video and shooting pictures of her, teary eyed behind our sunglasses.

"First day!!"

The emotion of the day was somewhat lost in the last minute hustle and preparation, but now as I am writing it I recall the long discernment process that we had leading up to this seemingly careless walk into a brick building at 8am.  Do we send Lucy to preschool this year, or wait another year?  Is she ready?  If so, what school do we send her to?  A parochial school, a public school program, or one of the many Montessori options available?  Is a self directed environment better for her than a more structured program?  Will they teach character strengths and focus on moral development along with ABC’s and 123’s?  If we decide to send her and decide where we should send her, then what schedule do we go with?  Full days, half days, how many days a week?

The options are endless, and even though we were just talking about preschool, each decision seemed to carry the weight of her entire educational career.  We wanted to make smart, informed decisions.  We wanted our decisions to carry the weight of our own educational experiences.  And the weight of these decisions were compounded by the fact that many of our friends here have degrees in education and were wrestling with these decisions concerning children of their own.  We had a group of young professional friends highly educated about education and neurotically analyzing every aspect of each preschool system and its possible implications on growth, development, character, morality, intellect, and future success.

In some respects this is a very exciting and beneficial environment for raising ones child.  In other respects, it is a quagmirey hell of second guessing and too much information.

But, make a decision we did, and I think it will turn out to be the right decision for us and for Lucy.  For preschool.  So 8am came (well, 8:07am) and we walked Lucy into her brand new preschool building (well, Don and I walked, and Lucy bounced) wearing the first day of school outfit she requested (jean skirt, cookie shirt, her friend Pauline’s old play shoes), her tummy full of the first day of school breakfast she had ordered the night before (oatmeal).  Don held out little video camera, capturing the moments, while I held Lucy’s hand through the parking lot.

And Lucy, how did she do?  Were there tears of separation and anxiety?  A long, drawn out goodbye?  Was she nervous about entering the classroom already full of children loudly playing and interacting and joining them on their little gathering mat?

Um, no.

Lucy quickly found her special cubby (there is a picture of a ladybug above it, which starts with an “L” just like “Lucy”) and hung up her backpack.  (Note: Yes, she has a backpack for preschool.  All the kids do.  Yes, I totally overdid it and bought her a purple backpack with a pink horse on it from Pottery Barn and had her name embroidered on it.  Yes it is ridiculous.  What does a preschooler carry in her backpack, you ask?  Well, today it was  a stuffed squirrel, two American Girl doll books (Kaya), a tin of magnetic dolls that we took on our trip, a folded up blanket, some felt sandwich food, two bracelets, a bag of cheerios and dried fruit, her sunglasses, and a fruit and vegetable pouch.  She will not put her backpack on unless it is bulging out of the sides.  Literally.)  She then ran past us into the room, stopped for exactly three seconds to locate her friend C, then ran up to her, grabbed her in an aggressive toddler embrace, and started jumping up and down for the next 90 seconds.  Her teacher called her back to the front of the room to put her ladybug popsicle stick into the “here at school today” cup, and Lucy immediately ran back to the circle of children.
Parents?  What parents?

Don and I glanced at each other and at the teacher.  That was it?  No hugs?  No goodbyes?  Should we just leave since she is so happy?  Should we force her to say goodbye to us to acknowledge the magnitude of our own emotions?  Finally, her teacher saved us.

“Lucy, would you like to say goodbye to your mom and dad before we begin?”

Lucy pranced over (literally) and we each had barely a second to put our arms around her and kiss her cheek before she wriggled away and ran back to her friend. 

As we walked out the door and back to our car, Don and I held hands.

“Well, I guess we made the right decision to send her this year.”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

“Maybe we should think about upping her days from two to three or five.”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

Still not ready to miss this face every morning.

Or maybe not.

Bonus Recipe for First Day of School Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

3 cups of water
1 cup whole oats
1/4 cup barley
1/4 cup farro
1 1/2 tablespoons of flax seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons oat bran
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
1 medium apple diced into small pieces
1/3 cup raisins
1-2 tablespoons of butter
sweetener to taste (brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave syrup, whatever)

1.  Bring water to a boil in a small pot.  When the water starts to steam add the apples and raisins to cook them through and plump them up.

2.  When the water is a t a full boil add the oats, faro, barley, flax seeds and bran.  I usually put these all together in a measuring cup and shake it a little bit to let the bran, cinnamon and flax seeds permeate through the cracks.  This keeps them from clumping when you add them to the water.  Stir well and put the heat on low.

3.  It takes about 10-20 minutes to cook all of the grains through, but I usually know its done when they absorb all of the water.  Then I stir in the butter and something sweet, and scoop some out in a bowl to let it cool down.  I have to let it cool on the counter for at least 5 minutes before Lucy sees it, or she will start eating it without checking and scald her mouth.

4.  It can be saved and reheated for several days.  When I reheat it I add a splash of milk or cream before popping it in the microwave for 30 seconds.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

5 Things to Know for Your 32nd Birthday

After a horrific night trying to calm an inexplicably hysterical Lucy for several hours (I will not get into the specifics now.  It was so bad I may not get into the specifics ever, unless I need to use this as emotional collateral one day in family therapy), I thought that both Don and I would be sleeping in every available second this morning.  Especially because it is a certain someone’s 32nd Birthday, and I had very vague plans to ruin our “My Body is a Temple” week of healthy eating with cinnamon rolls and bacon for a birthday breakfast.  However, we were both up with the birds and the sun at 6am, Don for a run and me for a cup of coffee. 

While browsing the web with my cup of joe (ok, mostly it’s a cup of natural vanilla creamer, lets be honest) I came across an entirely ridiculous daily blog on CNN called 5 Things to Know for Your New Day.  This, apparently, is a daily feature updated at 6am designed to “clue in” busy morning commuters and news junkies to the top five stories trending (at 6am) along with some other “buzzy items.”

There were no surprises on today’s list of super important YOU MUST KNOW THIS news items: more analysis and commentary on the same information of the George Zimmerman acquittal, more analysis and commentary on the death of Corey Monteith, more gossip and speculation on the birth of the Royal Baby, a story on weapons being shipped to North Korea by Cuba, and a story on beating the summer heat wave.  Nothing ground breaking, nothing new, nothing really positive.

It’s craptastic.  Especially given that today IS a special day.  It is my love’s 32nd Birthday, and that makes it a day deserving of far better analysis, commentary, speculation and fluff than CNN has managed to throw at us today.  So I decided to write my own list of news, some real news stories and some of a more domestic variety, and offer it up to you all today, as a tribute to the love of my life.

Here you are, Donny, your very own 5 Things to Know for Your 32nd Birthday:

  1. Our friends at always have their ears to the ground for news, and offer their readers action items in order to make a difference in the stories they read.  Today, on your most excellent birthday, they have some real reporting gems!  Here are my favorites:

  1. This day in history!  Although surely the most auspicious of events, July 17th is not only known as your birthday, my love.  Many other events occurred and many other people were born and died on this day, both famous and infamous.  Here are  a few fun facts, courtesy of
    • 1762 – Catherine II becomes the Tsarina of Russia.  Weird things ensue.
    • 1861 – Congress authorizes paper money!
    • 1890 – Cecil Rhodes becomes premier of Cape Colony.  He later travels north.  Rhodesia happens.  A whole lot of shit ensues.
    • 1934 – Babe Ruth draws his 2,000th base on balls at Cleveland!
    • 1952 – David Hasselhoff is born!
    • 1955 – Disneyland opened its doors in “rural” Orange County, CA.  Happiness ensues.
    • 1981 – YOU are born!  Also, Humbar Estuary Bridge, UK, world's longest span (1.4 km), opens; 1981 - Israeli bombers destroy PLO/al-Fatah headquarters in Beirut; 1981 - Lobby Walkways at KC's Hyatt Regency collapse 114 die, 200 injured; 1981 - USSR performs nuclear Test at Eastern Kazakh/Semipalitinsk USSR;  and, Fulton County (Atlanta) grand jury indicts Wayne B William 23 year old photographers, for murder of 2 of 28 blacks killed in Atlanta
    • 1998 – Russia buries Tsar Nicolas II and his family 80 years after they were murdered.  Weird.

  1. Great news!  You know how you have been considering joining Twitter so that you can follow news sources and get instant updates on important topics of our times?  Well here is the final incentive: Pope Francis Offers Indulgences to Twitter Followers!  Now, in addition to keeping up with world news and education reform and the Chicago Cubs, you can also reduce your time in purgatory while helping the Church find its way to modern times.

  1. In the world of science, an exciting announcement was made today by paleontologists digging in the Utah desert.  They have described a new species of dinosaur found there, the Nasutoceratops titusi, a member of the triceratops family with an even bigger nose!  The name actually means big-nosed horn-face.  Descriptive, if not original.

  1. Lucy took a nap!  After almost a week of hellish evenings due to over-exhaustion, our daughter finally listened to her body’s dire warnings and fell asleep at nap time.  She did not play Kit Kittridge for an hour, rearrange her bedroom furniture, sneak into the bathroom to make maps out of toilet paper rolls, or put on all the dresses in her closet at the same time.  She slept for two hours.  And awake pleasant and excited to take you dinner at work.  Hallelujah!

  1. BONUS: Your favorite movie, Die Hard, was released 25 years ago this week!  Although the franchise has gone downhill slightly in the character development and dialogue departments (explosions and random killings are still high caliber) with the latest installment that we saw a few days ago, the bar remains high on this most excellent of movie series.  You can amuse yourself with this quiz to test your knowledge of the films offered by our very internationally minded friends at the Guardian.
P.S. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that I scored a 19 out of 20 – it’s a testament to my love of you that I have watched them so many times in the last 9 years!

Happy Birthday my love!  It has been my honor and pleasure to know you these last 11 years or so of your life, and I look forward to the next 80 plus years together.