The boy who ruined Santa

Today at the playground, I overheard my son bickering with his friends. All I caught was the tail end, which threw me into damage control mode.

“He is, too. MOM! Is it true that Santa is still alive and lives in the North Pole?”

Oh, dear Venus, no. Please don’t be having this conversation. And not just because it’s four days after Halloween and at least one of you should be ashamed for joining the likes of the big box stores that are cramming holiday pressure as early as October.

actual holiday catalogs that arrived today and cats fighting over them.

actual holiday catalogs that arrived today and cats fighting over them.

A defiant Butterbean stood, hands on his hips, in the middle of the sand, holding court with his adorable, blindsided, angry friends. I rushed over, trying to make it seem like no big deal, and the other four-year-olds tried to listen as I talked. To my son I whispered, “Everyone gets to believe what they want, and we don’t tell them they’re wrong. The story of Santa is about giving and kindness and magic, and some people remember how kind Santa was and they want to give to those who need. But some families feel that magic more and say that Santa is still alive and lives in the North Pole. That’s okay for them to say. And our story is okay for us to say. Everyone gets to believe what they want. We are right for us and they are right for them.”

“No,” he said.

Succinct. Bold. I’ll give him that. Intrinsic sense of justice, firm grasp of the concept of black and white. He has a strong future ahead.

But, and I’m not just saying this because the preschool parents are going to absolutely murderize me for parenting the kid who doesn’t believe Santa is actively watching and list-making, Butter needs to learn the nuance of belief, and of respect of belief. He needs to be okay with people thinking something different from what he thinks.

Peanut, his older brother, took very well to the idea of shrugging, and telling friends, “okay.” He is, by nature, a watcher. He observes and takes it all in, but doesn’t always engage. When people tell him about Santa or God or the tooth fairy, he just says, “okay.” He certainly doesn’t correct people when they’re wrong. (He tells me long stories about how other people, who do correct others, are boorish. But I don’t think he uses the word boor. Yet. Give me time.) Peanut never told any of the kids at school that he thinks Santa is just a story. I’ll ask him this year what the third-grade conversations are like. I don’t feel too protective of nine-year-olds. They can read and a shocking number of them have their own iPads. They’ll know about Santa soon enough.

I don’t want my children to squash other kids’ hopes and dreams. Some families tell the Santa story to cultivate the magic of the season, and I want them to feel good about that. I also want to feel good about what I teach my kids, because I have every right to believe something, even if it doesn’t conform to dominant culture.

I do think it’s upsetting that generations of parents have tried to coerce certain behaviors from their children by threatening them with Santa. Blackmail isn’t a kind way to parent. And I do recall quite clearly, after learning Santa isn’t real, thinking that nothing in the world is stable if I couldn’t trust the stories my parents told. I know they wanted to share the magic of the myth, and they meant well. My mom still gives me a gift from Santa. It frustrates me for a moment, until I remember it’s her right to find magic wherever she wants to.

And that’s the point of what we teach our kids. Because Santa is tradition. And family traditions are important whether December is about Jesus or Santa or Macabes or Solstice. We have to respect each others’ right to believe. Believe in magic or God or triumph over the night. Or belief that your parents will tell the truth.

Belief is good.

And the magic of the Santa story is powerful, so I don’t want to take it away from anyone. The idea of someone who gives selflessly to everyone is lovely. The idea of someone who reifies quantum physics theory and is everywhere at once is even more lovely.

channel-islands-mikebaird-190717-h

In our family, we teach our kids that the idea of Santa is an old legend about a man who gave to those in need. Not everyone. He gave coats to those who were cold, coats. He gave food to the hungry. And in celebration of Santa’s giving, we bring food and toys to the animal shelter, and socks and toiletries to the homeless shelter. We give backpacks of goodies to the homeless around town.

I don’t, however, tell the kids to expect that a flying sled will bring us presents from an uninhabitable part of the globe. Because I believe in magic and theater and natural wonder, but I don’t believe in lying. If Santa wants to buy or make and wrap and deliver, he’s welcome to bring gifts on over. And he’ll get all the applause. Otherwise, I work for the money, I choose the gifts, I force the boys’ dad to wrap them, and I’m taking the credit.

I felt awful at the playground today. And I apologized to the other mothers. (Note: I’m not being assumptively gendered. The only parents there today were moms. No grandparents, no dads, no aunts or uncles or nannies. Praised be rejection of normativities. But they were actually moms.) I told them we’re working on respecting others’ beliefs and traditions.

And they told me some kid last already told the four-year-olds that Santa isn’t real. So my son isn’t so much ruining the story as planting additional seeds of doubt that will blossom in a few years when they really lose faith in what their parents tell them.

Knowing that someone beat my kid to the decimation of Santa feels a bit better. Not just because we didn’t kill Santa for friends’ kids. But because they respect our beliefs, too. And they teach their kids the same thing we do: “every family believes what they need to, and what we believe is just right for us.”

Measure D

Peanut cast his first ballot in a national election when he was 2.5 years old. He didn’t pull any levers, because that’s illegal. But he was sitting on my hip in a sling while I voted. And I’ve been taking both boys to vote, despite my preference for early voting, to every election since.

I want to teach them voting is important. And I focus on reading them ballot initiatives and discussing candidates’ positions so they understand why people vote different ways, and why every vote matters.

Express yo'self

Express yo’self

We’ve been seeing dozens of signs on front lawns, a handful of mailing supplements, and billboards aplenty. No on D. Yes on D. And Peanut wants to know what’s with all the hubbub, Bub.

I talked to him about the measure itself. Measure D is Berkeley’s Tax on Distributors of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages initiative. It’s been framed as Berkeley vs. Big Soda. And as local government sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong. The truth is somewhere in between, as is always the case with ballot measures.

I told Peanut that the basic idea is, if this measure passes, when you buy a soda, you have to pay more. A few cents. And that money accumulates and pays for the government’s costs for healthcare and services. That the people who wrote the bill want the cost of making a choice that hurts your body higher so they don’t have to pay so much later to help bodies that are hurt by soda.

It’s not that simple, of course. But he’s eight. Voting needs to be simplified a bit when you’re eight.

Since Measure D taxes sugar-sweetened beverages, it doesn’t tax artificially-sweetened beverages, which studies have suggested are actually worse for bodies than sugar-sweetened beverages are. And I told Peanut this, that the tax isn’t for all sodas, or all unhealthy drinks. Just sugar-added drinks.

He shrugged. “If it’s bad for you, and the tax is only a few cents, you should vote for it.”

“Maybe. But if the goal is public health, why not chemically-sweetened sodas? Why not juice? Why not tax sugar itself?”

“Because,” he said. “Sugar can be used a little or a lot, but in soda it’s a lot. And soda doesn’t have protein or fat, just sugar.”

Now we’re talking, buddy.

We’ve gotten too many mailers from the Beverage Industry, which whine that the measure doesn’t tax sugar-added coffee drinks. It does tax them if they’re in a bottle on a shelf, but not if you order one freshly made. But the goal is not taxing sugar; the goal is to tax sugar-sweetened processed beverages. Adding sugar to coffee later is optional, even with frothy $5 coffee drinks with syrups and whipped cream. You can order those without syrup or whipped cream. You can’t order a Coke or Pepsi without syrup, nor can you order a Starbucks bottled, shelf-stable thingamabob without sugar. Because those drinks are processed and packaged with the sugar already added, they are, in fact, different. Soda manufacturers don’t have to like that difference, but it is still a difference.

So what about the public health benefit of reduced consumption and increased tax revenue for health education?

There’s no way to determine that consumption will go down based on a tax. People still smoke, despite tobacco taxes. But they do smoke less. People still drive, despite heavily taxed gasoline. They drive a smidge less when gas is over $5 a gallon. But the increased revenue from Measure D’s penny-per-ounce tax pays for healthy-eating education, so ideally it will have an aggregate effect where each additional tax collected will further drive down consumption. It might wind up disproportionately taxing poor and less advantaged residents who will drink soda for a variety of reasons, including the low cost offered by federally-subsidized sugar priorities and lack of access to healthy alternatives at neighborhood markets.

I had Peanut read the mailers we keep getting. Clearly, the American Beverage Association seems terrified of this initiative, because they’re pouring enough money into mailings to pay for the education of all Berkeley students ($11 million at last count; I have no idea what that would pay for, but it’s a gobsmacking amount of money to preserve the low cost of soda and makes me mad enough to vote for D regardless of the nuances).

The marketing efforts focus on how residents must be confused about Measure D.

Confused? Marketer, Berkeley has one of the most educated populations in the country. Don’t you worry your sweet corporate head about our confusion. We’ll be okay. Across the Bay, San Francisco is deciding a similar measure. Don’t worry your CCM degree about them, either. They’re pretty smart, too.

my son trying to escape Berkeley for San Francisco

my son trying to escape Berkeley for San Francisco

What would make Measure D successful despite its limitations is if it cracks the door for governments to push food producers toward actual food rather than lab-facsimiles of food. Ideally, this will get us talking about federal subsidies for sugar and corn syrup. Hopefully, Measure D will spur a diet soda tax. Perhaps Measure D will get us talking about the artificial colors, banned in other countries and in U.S. cosmetics, but legal in our food. Maybe Measure D will get some effort behind the nutrition programs in Berkeley, where we’re teaching our kids to grow, prepare, and eat healthful foods but face smaller and smaller budgets.

If nothing else, Measure D has allowed some good talks in our house about legislation, about nutrition, and about why it’s important to vote.

Go vote! Unless you’re eight. In that case, wait ten years. Sorry.

Move on, but how?

Two nights ago, I wrote this about the insanity in Ferguson:

I have no idea what to do with the news of a shooting and civil unrest and police insanity in Ferguson. I just don’t. I have no idea what it’s like to live in fear that my boys will be shot, unarmed, just because of who they are. And I have no idea what to do with people who assume that grotesque uses of police force are ever justified. I simply don’t know what to do with police wearing camo who refuse to hear peaceful protesters, and instead aim assault rifles at them from tanks. (What are they camouflaged for? They’re in a town. On streets. There are no fatigues for that. Stop hiding as though you’re in the freaking jungle. Put on your blues and walk your beat like a proper, compassionate, protect-and-serve cop.)

So I’ve compartmentalized my “I don’t know” into a tight, painful pit in my chest, and carried it around for several days. And it’s nothing compared with what millions carry, including people in communities who know their town, state, and country don’t care about them. So I swallow hard and move on.

But I couldn’t bear to post those unfinished thoughts, especially when they then led, in my draft, to a long list of the things causing me serious existential pain right now.

It’s obscene, I think, to ramble on about the joys and the pain in my life while the very foundation on which our society is based falls apart. I have no right to blog when people are being brutalized.

So tonight’s shift, wherein social media regales the world with the monumental difference between fear and communication, between criminalizing speech versus hearing protestors, between waging war within cities and showing compassion within communities, has begun the process of healing.

Not healing entirely. But cleaning off the wounds enough that we can start looking, and really seeing, what is going on in our country.

Changing the leadership from assault to engagement has made Ferguson feel safer tonight.

What are we going to do to make the rest of the country safer? More engaged? More honest about tensions? More open to solutions?

We need to talk about assumptions. We need to talk about law, rights, and enforcement. We need to talk about race, poverty, representation, and listening.

Where do we go from here?

Sulking

I mentioned a few weeks ago that life is settling into a quite lovely reprieve lately. The boys are old enough to hold their own, to help, and to navigate life with a level of alacrity that informs our interactions. They’re people more often than actors playing needy little whelps, and I enjoy being with them.

Client work is winding down, as it typically does before the holidays. I’ve been looking forward to this window so I can work on my book. I don’t participate in NaNoWriMo because I’m participating in NaNoWriDecade. My novel needs at least two more huge overhauls before it’s decent, and I want to do that work.

And I’ve been contemplating going back to work. The sacrifices of curtailing my career for child-rearing smacked me right across the mouth with Ann Marie Slaughter’s article on working and motherhood…I’ve given up almost a decade of income, a decade of retirement savings to be with my children. I’ve stayed in the game by consulting, but there’s a certain point at which I need colleagues. In writing, in editing, and in brand naming (a seriously awesome niche of the linguistic world wherein companies call me to name their widget, their salad, their company) I’ve been working alone or hiring the same small group of trusted creatives for a decade.

Then LinkedIn sent me an email. “Did you know Awesome Niche Company is looking for someone like you?” I clicked, read, gasped, and submitted. Jobs like this don’t come along often, and I had to acknowledge the fit. So I applied. I got an interview. I researched nannies and school schedules and I waited, day after day rethinking my every interview answer. I talked too long on that point, I didn’t turn that back around to the issue at hand, I poorly articulated something at which I excel…If you’ve ever interviewed, you know the process.

And then I got the email. “Lovely to meet you…experienced and enthusiastic…better qualified applicants.”

I wish them great luck and I’m sure they’ll find the right person for the job. But in my head, I was the right person. And hearing they don’t agree is a ridiculously oversized blow to my ego. I should focus on the fact that clients don’t agree. I get hired quickly and repeatedly for jobs because I’m good at what I do.

But for now I’m having a good sulk.

This is the first time I’ve gotten excited about a job in a long time. A job like this won’t come around again for five years. This was the job.

Oh, goodness, am I pouting.

I need to polish my interview skills, so this doesn’t happen again. And I need to work on my book, so when I get the perfect job I won’t have an unfinished novel looming over my head. And I need to write proposals for two nonfiction books and apply to law school and write that scholarly article I’ve been promising for three years and turn down more client work and actually ditch sugar and…

I just want someone to look at my accomplishments and be impressed. And ask me my opinion on something. My children can’t and won’t fill this function. My husband can’t either. My colleagues don’t care because they have their own baggage to manage. My clients think they’re engaging in exactly this sort of supportive respect by hiring me.

So why the big ol’ pout? this isn’t high school. “You need 100 auditions to get one gig, so just go do another 99,” my acting coach always said.

Why not go and do something on the List?

The List. The List shall guide you. Use the List, Luke. Help me, List, you’re my only hope.

But I’ve written my own to-do list for more than a decade. Can’t someone else hand me a list?

Wait, do I really want that? Haven’t small people and clients and students and employers been handing me a list for twenty-plus years? Don’t I want my own list?

Yes, but that’s not possible. I have a family and bills and clients. My list will never be my own. Just as it’s not your own list when you’re under your parents’ roof, or in college, or gainfully employed, or imprisoned, or unemployed, or an elected official, or…wait, are independently wealthy, single people the only ones with self-generated lists?

Does LinkedIn send opening for that role? Single and independently wealthy?

I hope so. Until then, I have things to do.

Blog shutdown to end soon

I’m already bored of this joke.

Get your act together, Congress. You can’t just take your ball and go home because you don’t like one part of the government. If you don’t like something, govern. Write your laws and get them passed.

I don’t care what you do…I’m not actually going to hold my blog hostage while you act like idiots.

Anyone else want a real post soon? And maybe even a real government?

Blog shutdown, day three

If my blog is shut down in protest over grownups pretending to do their job but instead throwing petulant fits and refusing to do their job, then why am I still getting fake followers every day?

Fake people pretending to follow me, fake legislators, pretending to…well, they’re not even pretending.

So the spammers fake following me hoping that I’ll click over to their spammy websites are better people than legislators refusing to do their jobs? Yup. I think so.

If you’re not pretending or faking today, what do you think? Much respect for the pretending and the faking? Or the fits?

Blog shutdown, day two

I’m already bored with holding this delightful blog hostage with a faux shutdown.

Except that somehow nobody is commenting on or visiting the blog lately. Maybe I’m in alternate universe where people only visit my blog when they have jobs, and all my previous readers had government jobs, and now they have no income and nowhere to go, so they don’t read my blog? Maybe?

I don’t know. But I know that sitting on my hands isn’t going to work out well. So call your Representative and Senators and let them know you want my blog back. Or something similar, like a functioning government and economy. Right?

Procrastinate

Someone said, in an interview or an article or on an NPR game show or something like that, that you should procrastinate doing important things by doing other important things.

What the?

No more procrastinating with useless things I should never do?

Actual productivity while procrastinating?

If this is a thing—a realio, trulio thing—then what the heck is the Internet for?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go complete several tasks from the top of my list to avoid doing…the other bits on the top of my list.

Boooorrrring.

One fine howdeedo

Let me catch you up on the past 48 hours.

One of the best people on the planet, who has been fighting cancer and winning every time the catabolizing bastard raises its disgusting head, thinks it might be back.

The boys finally agreed to ditch their beds for a bunk bed. Little guy screams a lot at night, both in his sleep and wakefully needing my presence. Turns out the toddler bed was too small and when he kicked the walls of the former crib (that kid sleeps like the kung fu master in Shao Lin vs. Lama) it woke him up. Now in a bigger bed he just screams all his dreams in their entirety. Without waking up. “No! No! I said no! Go away! Mommy go to sleep!”  [I swear on all that's true and good that was last night at 2am.]

In the process of putting together the bunk bed I had to disassemble that restrictive toddler bed. The one I put together as a crib seven and a half years ago, seven months pregnant with the biggest right turn my life has ever taken. My babies are really and truly gone, the last few hex screws said.

A dear, dear friend who has been with our family for every high and low for the past 30+ years died last night. I hope it was painless and I hope her wonderful friends heal knowing what a special friendship they shared. I have lots of treasured memories and photographs and I consider myself very lucky to have had her in my family’s life.

A member of the family rodentia has apparently chewed through our emergency box and has tasted everything but the bandaids.

Two friends have told me stories tonight about their friends dying and leaving small children behind. And one told a story about a child dying and leaving parents behind.

My eldest child, whom I adore and who drives me nuts at least 50% of the time, turns seven in a few days. First slumber party.

My youngest child, whom I adore and who drives me nuts at least 50% of the time, turns three in two weeks. First real party.

Syria is breaking my heart. North Korea is breaking my heart. The frogs, the bees, and the icebergs are breaking my heart. A solid percentage of Africa and Asia are breaking my heart.

The house needs to be cleaned, furniture moved, lunches made, food cooked, feelings stuffed down and ignored, others feelings fanned out for everyone and their cat to see.

What?! Oh, you know what I mean.

I know that this is what life looks like. Life, parties, fear, death, hope, constant low-level panic, love, really loud dreams, and rats.

And there’s only so much crying I can do. Because there are only so many ineffective, preschool-made bean-bag ice packs in the freezer. And a forty-year-old woman who averages 5 hours of sleep a night and two showers a week can’t possibly be seen wandering aimlessly through her day with puffy eyes.

Because if someone asks me what’s wrong, I’m going to tell them.

Life and death are what’s wrong.

Oh, HAIL no.

I just got home from volunteering in Peanut’s first grade class. I’ve wanted to do this all  year, but my schedule hasn’t allowed it. Until now. I’m giving his sweet little face and adorable friends an hour of my time every week. They’re reading to me. I could eat them up.

Most of them.

But right now I’m so freaking mad.

Not at the teacher. She’s heaven and perfection wrapped in a package of cuteness. She might actually be the world’s most ideal first-grade teacher, but I don’t want to sway the judges in case she’s actually second or third best.

I’m not mad at the school, though I always have complaints. Shocking, I know. Naptime Complaining is the name wordpress always offers me when mine’s about to expire.

No, it’s not the institution that has riled me. I’m enraged at whoever is raising those two boys who debated with me today in class.

One came right out, apropos of nothing, and told me that girls can’t play soccer.

Um, yes they can. May I introduce you to the tale of the US women and the 1991 World Cup? I’m sorry, what, punk? Did you just say no to me? How about a little thing called the women’s Olympic team? No? Never heard of it? Hmmmm. Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain have a little something to tell you, boy, about the four gold medals the US has won playing against seriously talented female soccer players from all over the world.

His tablemate joined in. “Yeah. Did you know girls can’t play with boys’ toys?”

Ah, hello, 1940. Yes they can. “Well,” I said, “that’s not true. What do you consider boys’ toys?”

“LEGO,” he said.

“Girls play with LEGO,” I said. “I play with LEGO, my nieces play with LEGO, our neighbors play with LEGO. Building is not just for boys.”

“Sure it is, he said. “Girls can only play with LEGO friends.”

I’m assuming those are the asinine pink LEGO sets I railed against when they were introduced…until I found out girls loved them and were introduced to building and physics and architecture and spatial relations due to pink LEGOs. So I shut the hell up and found another cause for my feminist-consumerist rage.

Never once did it occur to me during this classroom bickering, by the way, that they were taunting me just to get my goat. First-graders don’t pick fights just to get a rise out of someone, right? That’s what husbands are for, I’m pretty sure.

Who is raising these little misogynists? I told my son, who was reading a soccer book, that the jerk boys at another table said soccer isn’t for girls. I didn’t say jerk boys, since I’ve told him repeatedly to stop calling those two particular boys jerks, a parenting practice I will now cease.

“Well, here’s one,” he said, pointed to a girl playing soccer in his book. “And C, D, and N and O all play soccer.”

“Right,” I said. “And there are professional women’s soccer players and Olympic women’s soccer players.”

“Yeah,” said one of the friends who has been to our house once and now gets a permanent invitation. “Women play soccer really well. All over the world. The American team was even in the World Cup.”

“Damn skippy,” I totally didn’t say. I probably “Yeah”ed him, but I don’t remember. My affirmative replies are funnier when I write them in Jazz-era-colored hindsight.

I can’t stand it. I want to go fight with those six-year-old boys. I want to call their parents. I want to write a letter and a school-wide presentation and host a sit-in.

Seriously. What the hell? Who still believes women can’t play soccer or play with blocks?

Of course this is coming from their parents. But are they isolated cases of ignorance and small-mindedness or are there whole cultures who still believe this? There were four boys who chimed in about grrl power. There were two boys who insisted girls can’t do what boys can. Aside from knowing whose mom I need to take out for drinks and whose dads and uncles and brothers need schooling, how do we change this? Do we hope the four educated boys talk some sense into the misogynists? Do I make it my goal—instead of going back to work, finishing my books, publishing my academic articles, and learning a few foreign languages so that finishing my doctorate is a real option—to teach all of the school district that boys and girls can both do anything they work hard for? To reassure both genders that they don’t have to compete, but to recognize each other as individuals? To build teams that are gender-blind but that reach to cover the whole gamut of talents, from interpersonal skills to knowledge in hard sciences to sportsmanship to verbal acumen to creativity to mathematic excellence?

Do I need to take up the standard that the Third Wave has shrugged off because they have ten million other things to do (and because seriously with the all-or-nothing guilt, First Wavers). Do we need to have more open talks in this country about race and economics and gender and assumptions and hatred and ignorance and teaching your kids some manners when talking to a delightful school volunteer?

The teacher overheard one boy and asked me what prompted his statement about girls being less than equal. I explained. Her eyes widened. “Oh, we have a new book to read after we get back from the library,” she insisted, promising with her tone that the rest of the day would be about grrl power.

Damn skippy, I say.

Holiday gifts

Hey, there.

I haven’t posted in forever because I’m crazy busy.

But I have something for you. A gift, perhaps.

Go to HealthyStuff.org and check out the toys you’re going to give the small people in your family. Or use it to check the stuff you’d really rather donate to charity, under the guise of making room for new toys by getting rid of the old.

Our government and our corporations do a really horrible job of making sure we can buy things that won’t hurt us. At least one major company has resolved not to use carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting chemicals in products for children. Good for them. But there is arsenic and lead and PBDEs and PVC in a lot of the stuff you or your loved ones can buy, gift, use, and enjoy this time of year.
Toxic phones, toxic car seats, toxic household products, toxic sunscreen, and toxic makeup and shampoo.

Some of the data is old, and a lot of new toys aren’t on the Healthystuff.org reports. But still. Do what you can. Nobody wants to give their niece a toxic piece of chemical waste for Winter Solstice. Right?

Find some healthier alternatives at Safe Mama. Her cheat sheets will help you find safer toys, lunch gear, backpacks, bug repellent, and more.

Be safe out there. It’s a gross mess of lead-tainted wrapping paper and tape and poison-PVC tinsel and lead-filled holiday lights out there.

It’s still an awful lot of fun though. Happy holidays, and enjoy all the fair trade gelt and organic candy canes, and whole-wheat winter solstice gingerbread you can eat!

Heartbreak

Oh, my dear sweet boy. I wish I could make it easier. And I will never, so that you can hear, tell you that it will get much, much worse. This is already more than your little heart can handle, and all I can do is offer a shoulder to cry on, a warm hug, and a fierce advocate in your efforts to pick up the pieces.

I know your heart is breaking. I know this news has disrupted your sense of self, rocked the security of your community, and upended your trust in security.

But it is, really is, going to be okay.

Some friends at school told you the news today that LEGO is phasing out Ninjago. They don’t know you well enough to tell you the right way. They are six; they had no idea they needed to cushion the blow and to frame it properly. They didn’t think they needed to tell you carefully, so they just dumped the announcement on you.

And you tried so hard to make it through the day without breaking down. Once we had said goodbye to everyone, you made it halfway across the playground before you just lost it. Heart breaking, tears streaming, you told me. Softly.

“They took Ninjago away.”

The school did? You mean your small group of friends who cares for nothing but pretending to be ninjas, fighting off playground evils with the powers of ice, lightning, earth, and fire incensed those dolts who run the show? They’ve taken the tools of your play and your first real bridge to community? Bastards! Bureaucrats! Troglodytes!

“No, no. LEGO took them. They’re taking them all away from the stores.”

Recall? Figures. Those corporate whores are always trying to make goods cheaper so they can pocket the profits. I can’t believe they’ve endangered you just to make a few bucks.

Wrong again. Honestly, I don’t get much right.

After a lot more tears and some help from one of your friends I understood. LEGO is phasing out Ninjago for another theme. They’ve saturated the market, gone as long as they can with this batch of good vs. evil and are retiring it.

“But they’ll replace it with something else,” I explained. “They’re just trying to get us to buy more stuff.” (Oh, stupid woman. Don’t go all anti-consumerist right now. Your Berkeley is showing and it’s ugly in the face of this young man’s devastation.)

“But the ninjas are just another iteration of bionicles and hero factory and…” (Oh, ye sightless and heartless wench. They’re not the same. Never say that.)

“But you just learned about them and asked for them for Hannukah and Solstice and Christmas, and you’re still going to get them. They’re not taking them out of stores. They’ve made millions and they’re just going to stop making more so they can make something else. And we can still buy them if that’s what’s most important on your gift list.” (You’re getting closer, lady.)

“Here. What is your plan with Ninjago? And does this news change your plans?”

You explained that your plans are to acquire ninja figures and make them battle, and surround yourself with a darling community of like-minded ninjas who also want to battle.

“Well, you can still do all that.”

(Ah. Finally. Saved it just at the end there, cupcake.)

Motherhood title not revoked. Close enough to smell your undying disdain. But we’re still okay.

And to get bonus points, I jumped at the chance to join your club. The group of ninjitsu devotees talked at school today and you’re all starting a club to convince LEGO to bring back Ninjago.

Strongly worded letters. My spe-ci-a-lity.

Here’s what you drafted before dinner:

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I hop yes, too, buddy. I hop it’s as easy as getting corporate to mark the “yes” box on your ballot.

I love you. And your strongly worded letter. And your persuasive ballot.

And I won’t tell you until tomorrow that a cursory search online tonight has yielded no confirmation of the terrible, terrible first-grade rumor about Ninjago’s demise.

Let’s all hope that, either way, your letter will persuade LEGO to come to their senses and keep making the cement that bonds your school relationships.

But if they do pull Ninjago from production, I promise to play “If You Leave” on an endless loop for you.

The most sincere wish I have for you is that your generation has a John-Hughes-esque artist to help you make sense of your heartbreaks.

Selling ourselves short

I love social media. I enjoy Twitter and Pinterest. I read dozens of blogs. I ditched Facebook but certainly used it for several years.

What I don’t love is how corporations are weaseling their wares into my personal conversations. And I really don’t love how complicit some of my online friends are in this process.

Long ago, in a world where there were newspapers and magazines and three television channels, ads came for paid sources. Companies would buy space or time on conventional media to promise us that we’d be richer, thinner, taller, hairier, less hairy, smarter, and more popular if we bought their products.

People grew weary of these approaches. Companies tried new tactics. They put their cereals quietly on a shelf in Seinfeld’s fake kitchen. They had celebrities use their sun lotion on a lovely Malibu beach.

The goal and basic message was the same. “Pay us money and you’ll be happier.”

Now, with social media, companies are paying regular people to shill their products. But they’re paying much less than they ever paid newspapers and they’re changing the way we read what friends write.

The basic premise? “‘Like’ our Facebook page and get a coupon. Then all your friends see that you like us. You’re advertising to 100 or 200 or 800 people, and all we give you is $5 off a sandwich.”

Same tune, different channel. “Here’s a great recipe using all our crappy products as ingredients. Pin it on your Pinterest boards and all your friends will do the same. In exchange, you get a delightfully transparent adverecipe. Free!”

Wanting to get their brand trending on Twitter, which gets them a front page advertisement on every screen using the site, companies come up with ridiculous contests. “Tweet our name a lot and we’ll enter you in a drawing. The winner gets a few dollars. You give us free advertising and there might be a trinket in it for you.”

I’m sick of seeing blogs and boards and feeds get covered in corporate slime, especially when I know the people (whom I used to trust) only got a few pennies, if anything, in exchange for interrupting my social media day.

Today was the last straw. I just got a form email from an author whose books I really respect. Paraphrasing, he said, “My new book is coming out. Think you’ll like it.” Fine. Makes sense. Advertise to the people who already like your work. That’s an ad I welcome.

But the email continued.

“I’m going to put together a marketing team of really smart people like you. If you’re selected for this highly respected team, you’ll conceive of and execute my marketing for me. And I’ll give you a free book!”

So I do all the work and you give me…a book. Son, people get paid tens of thousands of dollars to come up with marketing campaigns. I’m not doing one for you for a token of appreciation.

It’s a long walk off a rotten pier.

Aside from being mad at being undervalued, though I am, I’m really angry at how these marketing schemes cost relationships. I see a blogger I really like and respect start shilling diapers. Or books. Or pumpkin pie filling. Doesn’t matter what the product is. I stop reading as often, I stop trusting what I read, and I stop visiting their blog.

One reader isn’t a big deal. One online relationship dead is not, either.

What matters is that the companies are playing us like fiddles. They get free advertising *and* a sneaky inroad into places marketing isn’t expected. I follow people on Twitter because I want their voices. Not their ads for credit cards.

The companies think they’ll benefit from the trust I have in my social network. I’ve been reading Sue’s blog for five years, so when she sells out to Frozen Fish Sticks Company I’m supposed to be more likely to trust FFSCo as much as I trust Sue.

But I see through you, Frozen Fish Sticks marketing team. I’m pretty sure I don’t trust Sue less because of her deal with Frozen Fish Sticks Company. I know Sue wants to be heard and wants to be paid. But I’m also pretty sure they’re not paying Sue what she is worth. I’m pretty sure all she got out of the chance to annoy me and make me think about visiting her blog less often is a box of frozen fish sticks.

You’re better than that, Sue.

I understand the draw. A lot of people want to feel needed. They want their writing seen by more people and they want to get paid.

Excellent goals.

But getting a nickel to do work that should be paid two hundred dollars isn’t a win for anyone except the corporation that just saved $199.95.

But who am I to tell people to stop writing two-cent ads on Twitter? I forward links to books and magazine articles. The authors and publishers don’t ask me to. They don’t know I’m going to do it. But if I blog that I liked a book, that’s advertising, too. Why draw a distinction between (nominally) paid ads and personal opinion that might drive sales?

Intention.

Maybe I’m grumpy. Or feeling guilty. Soon I’m going to try the aggregating-commercial-site thing that all the kids are doing these days. I’m going to put some of my posts on other sites for free to see what happens.

But I wonder how much that process cheapens what I’ve stood for all these years. I know better than to let my work get away for less than I’m worth.

So why do it?

I still don’t know. I can say that the ads on the sites where most bloggers are aggregated are standard, expected, and usually ignored. It’s like performing on a street corner and being surrounded by billboards. This is simply our online landscape.

But I think it’s really because writers are, at heart, applause whores. We’ll sell our soul to be told we’re good. That’s why we sell ourselves short by selling products, ideas, and companies for far too little.

And in agreeing to have my posts on aggregating sites I’m probably doing exactly that for which I’m thinking of unfollowing other people: shilling crap that nobody needs in exchange for less than I’m worth.

Oh, well. Here’s some Lloyd Dobler to enjoy while you eat your fish sticks. Remember when we were this idealistic? Yeah. Me, too.

Here’s to being a decent human being

Aside from some serious electoral euphoria today, I’m gobsmacked at how rude some people on this planet can be.

So I’m spending my morning sending sincere emails thanking people who have been decent to me lately.

I recently made a few purchases from ebay, which I never do. But we’re going to see some snow this year and the kids needed suitable clothes. We live in a snow-free wonderland and I had no success at local used clothing stores.

So I turned to ebay.

Several great experiences. And one person who sent a horribly damaged item.

So I emailed and explained that I did not get an item in “perfect condition” as described. I wanted a refund or return. I sent photos of what the item looked like out of the package.

I got a scathing, hateful email back about how I was wrong.

Not sure what I was wrong about, I politely asked customer service to mediate.

I got another hateful email about how I’m a liar and how I ruined the item on purpose to get my money back.

I held my tongue. I used a larger monitor and saw that the original photo unsuccessfully disguised the damage. Within a few hours, ebay sided with me and refunded my money.

Stomach sour with being called a liar and a cheat, I emailed all the other sellers with whom I’ve had an easy and successful transaction. I thanked them for being decent human beings. I told them I appreciated them. I gave them good feedback.

And I am rather lost now, wondering what makes people hateful and mean. I wonder why, when told that something went wrong, the person in question didn’t say, “Weird. I could have sworn it was fine, but I’ll look into it.” This person didn’t do that. She leapt at me, clawing at my throat. For ten dollars.

Why all the hate? Where is the civility? The critical thinking?

I don’t understand some of the disgusting things said by people about the election. Whomever you voted for, there are ways to say you disagree or find someone dishonest without namecalling. Whatever you believe, there are ways to teach your kids your beliefs without demeaning other ideas. In fact, having strong opinions seems to be an ideal time to teach children. Someone cuts me off in traffic I talk to my kids about road rage and how dangerous it is. About choosing your battles. About being safe instead of being right.

I tell my children what other people believe about politics, religion, and childrearing. I explain why their opinions have merit. And I say that I disagree. Sure, I explain my side a lot more thoroughly. But I don’t call names or judge or teach hatred.

What’s up with the namecalling, America? Why can’t we believe different things without attacking?

If you are a decent person, thank you. Please endeavor to be decent to someone today. And teach your kids to do the same.

Because seriously? I’m increasingly shocked when someone is nice.

And that’s a gross way to live.