Graphic & Novel

harrys ideaI’m guessing my son’s fascination with graphic novels began when our friend Xavier sent him a Tintin book from France. Many Tintin adventures later, and having expanded into Asterix the Gaul, the little guy not only loves this form of storytelling but creates comics and little books of his own. During our trip to England this past summer he filled an entire sketch pad with comics of various kinds, pulling the pad out whenever there was a lull: after ordering in restaurants, while riding on the train, during a seemingly interminable wait for the Tour de France’s “Grand Départ” to begin in Cambridge. Many of the stories he made were about characters from the Harry Potter series, most with the addition of Ewoks.

I really never paid much mind to graphic novels before my little guy developed an interest in them but I have a new appreciation for those that are done well. Here are a few that are big favorites in our house:

Giants Beware!

Anyone who knows me will be wholly unsurprised by my admiring a book that not only has a dauntless female hero but that features a pug named Valiant. Giants Beware! is an exciting adventure story that seeks to break stereotypes and has a surprising and positive twist ending. Jonah has read this book so many times it is looking a bit tattered. He’ll be happy to learn that its sequel, Dragons Beware! is coming out in May 2015.

Jedi Academy

This Lucasfilm-approved book is a wonderfully imaginative take on the Star Wars franchise. It’s largely a journal by a boy named Roan, who lives on the planet Tatooine and has always dreamed of attending pilot school. Disappointed when he receives a rejection letter and is instead accepted to agriculture school, he grudgingly accepts an unexpected offer from Jedi Academy. The book is an amalgam of journal writing, sketches, letters, and cartoons and addresses recognizable situations even for kids on planet Earth: fitting in, loneliness, first crushes. It’s humorous and clever. And there’s a sequel, Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan, which is just as good as the first.

 Zita the Spacegirl

zitaI love that this book was on my son’s school book fair ‘wish list,’ and I partially credit Giant’s Beware! for helping him realize that books with female protagonists should not be a turn-off for boys. This book is an exciting story about a girl whose strong will blasts her friend into an alternate universe, compelling her to rescue him. It’s more reliant on pictures than language, so it’s a quick read; this might be good or bad, depending on your point of view. The illustrations are wonderful and the characters compelling. I’m sure my half pint will happily read the sequels, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Is Huge Cabret a graphic novel? I absolutely love this book, and find myself entranced by many of its illustrations. Sadly, having been upset by the movie, in which the father is killed in a fire, Jonah refuses to even look at the book. I’m hoping he’ll one day get past this, because he—and most kids, I’m sure—would find inspiration in this stunning classic of children’s literature.

 

 

Images: Top: Sketches by Jonah; Bottom: Cover of Zita the Spacegirl © Ben Hatke, used by permission of First Second Books

It’s all Gone Topsy-Turvy

Let’s just say that the past few weeks might be largely—though not entirely—characterized by the time Jonah and I walked out of Stop & Shop to find the car beside ours parked at a crazy angle, forcing me to squeeze in between to get to my driver’s seat, and I’m a fairly small person. When I opened the car door—although I did so carefully—it touched the other car, prompting the driver (who was sitting in her car, presumably waiting for someone) to honk her horn and gesture at me angrily.

“If you don’t want me to touch your car with my car door, then park properly!” I shouted at her, and she looked at me as though I’d lost my mind… which I had, temporarily, at the injustice of it.

IMG_2583It’s been a crazy last few weeks, with snatches of the inevitable (a big, depressing-if-you-let-it-be birthday), surreal (our local frozen yogurt place taping a handwritten note to their door stating they’re closed and our gradual realization they mean for good, because the cash register is gone, although the tables and chairs remain), and the wonderful (Jonah and I spending a weekend in the city, seeing a play and exploring and just generally enjoying each other’s company. We found a diner/soda fountain that had Bassett’s ice cream from Philadelphia and sat down to share an eight-dollar super-chocolately shake and Jonah said in his not-so-indoor voice, “What kind of ice cream is this again? Bastard’s?”). Most of all I’ve been grappling with several Big Questions and the many possible answers to each of those questions and what to do and what not to and what is the right way to approach this or that situation and it’s all been a bit much.

Do you ever feel as though you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and landed in a topsy-turvy world, thankful for the few voices of sanity countering the shrieks of “No room!” when there’s obviously plenty of room, or the Queen of Heart’s demands that the gardeners paint the red roses white? Ever wonder whether and how much the larger world, full of fear and ignorance and mind-numbing injustice and incivility, influences the behavior of the people around you? Sometimes I have to remind myself that there’s beauty to be discovered, like the work of this Australian artist who creates exquisite creations with thread. Mind blowing, in the best of all possible ways.

mila

These past weeks surprise birthday gifts, unexpected and delightful, have arrived from thoughtful and beloved people. And here is Mila, a seemingly perfect, cuddly combination of pug and something else with whom I’ve fallen in love at first sight and would love to bring home… but I am reminded by the hub-sand that a third furry critter isn’t in the cards for us right now. I know he’s right but I can’t get her out of my mind. She is beautiful.

Life sometimes throws a whole lotta stuff at us at once, making it hard to know whether to duck or to throw our arms open for a whole-hearted embrace. I may need to celebrate a few more birthdays before I’m certain I can tell the difference.

 

New Neighbo(u)rs

 

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

– Mr. Bennett in “Pride and Prejudice” (Jane Austen)

Too Little, Too Late

We hadn’t even officially moved into our new place when it occurred to me that the people living on the third floor weren’t the most responsible tenants in the world. The first-floor apartment, which was to be ours, had been vacant for some time and the second-floor one had brand-new tenants in it. Yet two of the garbage cans were filled to the brim and, in the heat of the summer, were growing quite rank. Once I saw that the other residents of our street had brought out their trash and recycling, I wheeled the heavy, odiferous bins down the driveway and parked them near the curb.

Not long after moving in, I came home to find cat litter spilled on the stairs leading up to the second and third floors. I smelled it before seeing it. It wasn’t pretty. After a few hours with no sign of a kitty litter clean-up crew , I taped a note to the door leading to the outside, which all the tenants use to go out to our cars. The note began “I apologize for this note.” It went on to ask the offending party to please clean up. Our very kind second-floor neighbor left me a note the next morning saying he wasn’t sure it was theirs but had cleaned it up, anyway. I had an inkling it wasn’t theirs. I had no idea which of my neighbors had cats, but I just don’t see how it’s possible to walk downstairs with a trash bag leaking dirty cat litter and not know it.

It turned out there were two women in their early twenties living on the top floor, although one, apparently, had moved out, and the other had plans to do the same.  On Labor Day weekend, her dad arrived from New Jersey with his pick-up truck and—somehow unsurprisingly—blocked the driveway regularly as they filled his truck with her furniture. We spent our weekend very boringly unpacking boxes and organizing our things, barely managing to get outside, but I did notice on Sunday the greyness of the sky and the heavy humidity, confirming the accuracy of the predictions of rain. It wasn’t until the rain began pouring down in sheets that I noticed the pick-up truck parked at the back of the house, filled with our neighbor’s stuff, including her mattress and box spring.

The truck sat there for hours, and I wondered where they’d gone and why. Who fills an open pickup with furniture and a mattress on a day when rain’s been forecasted …and then leaves?

That’s a rhetorical question.

On Labor Day morning, I woke up to this

pickup at 52

and when the hub-sand got up, we couldn’t help it: We laughed. Hard.

Later that day, dad and daughter having disappeared, I found myself dealing with their detritus, breaking down boxes to put in the recycling bins, throwing out junk, and—what a shocker!—disposing of a cat box filled with… you guessed it… dirty, stinky litter.

I don’t mean to be mean. But I’m kind of glad they’re gone.

Dogs Can’t Talk

100_5400Yesterday I sat at a wooden picnic table, watching and waiting at the end of my son’s camp day to give him time to play. The kids were role-playing on one of the wooden ships in the play area; I gathered that one of the other boys was the captain and Jonah was one of the crew. I chatted with another mom, my attention shifting between her and the children; then I noticed that one of the girls had her face close to Jonah’s and was barking like an angry dog. She shook the rope he was gripping, trying to force him to fall or jump off.

“You have to leave the ship,” she told him. The boy captain watched in silent agreement.

He wasn’t in any mortal danger, so I stayed put, letting it play out. In a minute or two, he left that ship and climbed onto a different one.

“Are you all right, Jonah?” I called over to him.

He nodded. “I’m fine.”

A moment later, he came over, saying he wanted to do something else. We gathered our things and, as we left, the captain, a small boy with blond hair, asked if Jonah was still going to be part of the crew.

“I think he’s quitting,” I told him with a wry smile. “But he’ll be back tomorrow and maybe he’ll be part of your crew then.”

As we walked, Jonah told me what had happened. It mirrored what I’d seen.

She wasn’t the captain, was she?”

“No. She was the dog.”

“Since when does the dog get to kick people off the ship? And since when do dogs talk?

100_5399We discussed this for a bit, and I put forth some hypothetical responses to the girl-dog that suggested she could keep her canine opinions to herself. That night, I debated with myself. Should have stepped in, said something? If so, what would have been the right thing to say? “That’s not nice?” “What’s going on?” The little guy is 7 ½ now, and he needs to school himself in the fine art of sticking up for himself. I won’t always be sitting twenty feet away.

This morning, as we left for camp, I presented Jonah with some choice words of wisdom: Don’t take ca-ca pooh-pooh from anyone.

“Remember,” I told him. “Dogs can’t talk.

We hate to see our kids hurt. That afternoon he told me that he didn’t understand how the kids were acting. “One minute they’re your friends and then the next… they’re not.”

And when he said, “Let’s choose a different camp next summer,” it saddened me.

“You love this camp,” I reminded him. “Don’t let a few kids one summer ruin it for you.”

I’m not saying my kid is perfect, but I’ve always stepped in when I saw him mistreating someone. I’ve preached inclusion and kindness and awareness of other people. And he’s a kind-hearted, caring little guy. I’ve also let him know he doesn’t have to put up with ill treatment; when he was in pre-school, I suggested the words “If you’re not going to be nice, I’m not going to play with you.” I let him know that he could walk away from a kid who refused to play nicely and find someone else to play with. Giving our kids tools to take care of themselves is just as important as teaching them to be considerate and kind.

There are times we all face, as kids and adults, when we’re backed into a corner, when other people insist, singly or in unison, that up is down and the Earth is flat. Sometimes it’s necessary to plant our feet firmly on the deck and grasp the rigging tightly, even as it’s nearly yanked from our hands. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that dogs can’t talk.

 

When Flying is for the Birds

birdsA story hit the news this week about a Minneapolis man who, along with his elementary-school-age kids, was booted off a Southwest Airlines flight for tweeting about his rude treatment by a Southwest employee.

These days, it seems we should be full of gratitude when airlines actually deign to honor our tickets. Let’s face it: just because you’ve paid an outrageous sum for your flight, have had to usher your young kid(s ) through rather frightening, trumped-up (and arguably ineffective) security, and then hoped against hope that your flight wouldn’t be overbooked or delayed and that your luggage sent to Peru… well, none of this should lead to expectations of being treated with respect or courtesy.

Unhappy about anything to do with your flight? Get a grip. You should be grateful it wasn’t gunned down by the Russians.

Our little family just returned from a wonderful three-week trip to England, with a few days at the end in Ireland for my son and me. A bit of the trip was paid for, as the hub-sand had a conference at the University of Cambridge. We were also fortunate to have wonderful, generous friends who invited us to stay with them while in London. And yet the trip was exorbitantly expensive and was a big, amazing, we-won’t-be-doing-this-again-anytime-soon deal for us.

airportI am rather anal about arranging things in advance and booked the trip from Heathrow to Dublin months ahead of time, paying a total of £137 for our one-way flight on British Airways. Heathrow to Dublin takes all of 50 minutes (although they’ll tell you it takes 1 hour, 15 minutes, to cover any delays).

Almost exactly twenty years ago, I made the same trip, but from Gatwick. The train to Gatwick from London took longer than I expected, and I was late arriving at the airport. I was visiting friends who were living in Dublin and didn’t have a phone (this was in the days before cell phones and they didn’t have a land line), so I wouldn’t have been able to get in touch with them if I missed it. I remember convincing the people at check-in that I could get to the gate in time and then running like mad. I did make it, and a few other passengers and I were bussed to the airplane, which was waiting on the tarmac. It was quite an adventure.

Oh, how things have changed. As I don’t have a smart phone and it would have been difficult to get my phone to work abroad, a kind friend in London let me borrow an old, extra phone of his, but I’d returned it to him the previous night. Then the hub-sand and I stayed up organizing and packing our belongings, falling into bed well after midnight.

guardsThe next afternoon, after racing out to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (which Jonah very much wanted to see), the lad and I lugged our suitcases from Northern London to Heathrow. This trip involved a bus, two tube trains, and a couple of stairwells, and we sweatily arrived at Heathrow at around 4:35 pm.

There were kiosks for checking in as well as a queue for the luggage drop and I wasn’t sure which to do first. So I asked the British Airways employee stationed by both.

She shrugged and smiled a wide smile. “It’s entirely up to you.”

Oh. I see. Thanks for that tidbit of helpful information. We got into the luggage drop-off line. And then I saw it, posted on the board:

“Check-in closes 45 minutes before flight departure.”

Our flight was to depart in… you guessed it… 45 minutes.

I told Jonah to stay in the queue, bolted to the check-in kiosk, grabbed my glasses, grabbed my reservation… and the machine refused to check me in.

I returned to the same employee, who went away and came back to say she was sorry, but the flight was closed. Then she waved me in the direction of another counter, mumbling something about being put on the next flight, at 6:55 pm.

noah_york_072014But dear oh dear. That counter had one person behind it, and several young men in line with their bags strewn across the floor, as though in full camp-out mode. I remembered my promise to Jonah: “When we get to Dublin, we’ll go out to dinner, take a short walk, and then go back to the hotel and relax.” It was toward the end of our trip and we were tired. We needed a break.

I asked Jonah to stay with our luggage once more and went for help. And more employees did come, but by then, another line of passengers had formed. I was frustrated and exhausted and when we finally got up to the counter I was very angry. And then I was told that they could board us on the subsequent flight, but it would cost a fee of more than £200.

No. I’ve paid for our flight. I’m not paying you any more.”

The manager was called, and was she a piece of work. Nasty and uncaring is putting it mildly. She didn’t even acknowledge my child, who was standing beside me, wondering what was going on and why the adults were losing their minds. When I finally relented, because the manager had threatened to call security (I had said I wouldn’t move until they put us on the flight) and because my child was now terrified and crying, I was informed that the charge was more than £500.

“But she said it was two hundred something!”

“That’s per ticket.

Let’s just be clear, American readers: that’s an additional $850-900. For a 50-minute flight. That was already paid for.

My son and I walked away from the British Airways counter in tears.

kilkenny_x Ultimately, we did get to Dublin, but not until the following morning. I was able to book a flight on Aer Lingus for just under £500 (what a bargain!). But I have learned some lessons from my experience:

1. British Airways’s motto, “To fly. To serve.” is not meant to imply it intends to fly or serve its passengers. Caveat emptor. Their “customer relations” department, which has not yet acknowledged my complaint, seems designed to ensure that relations with customers suck.

2. It’s time to get a smart phone, whether I want one or not. The world is making it impossible to live without one.

3. Crying in front of your young child is hazardous. (Jonah to Mommy in Heathrow airport: “Mom. Get a hold of yourself!” Yes. He is seven going on 15.)

4. Flying… is sometimes for the birds.

 

Images, from top to bottom: 1. © Yongnian Gui | Dreamstime.com; 2. © Zacarias Pereira Da Mata | Dreamstime.com; 3. Guards do their changing thang at B.P., July 17, 2014; 4. Sir Jonah prepares to take on the entire airline industry, York, July 2014; 5. We did make it to gorgeous and fascinating Kilkenny, Ireland, no thanks to British Airways.

 

 

On Father’s Day

Big Boy, Little Boy

papasday061514This morning Jonah and I got up late but earlier than Papa (whew!), so we raced up the stairs to grab the cards and the wrapping paper. There were three cards: one from me, one from the boy, and one from the kitties (which I know is ridiculous, but the kitty on the front of it looked so much like our fur babies we had to get it). We filled them out, sped into my bedroom closet, and retrieved the Father’s Day gift where I’d hidden it. I then knelt on the carpeted floor of the closet to wrap while Jonah placed a sign near where Papa slept. The sign warned him not to leave the room because of an electrical mishap. I wasn’t 100% confident it would work.

“Can you also make a sign for the closet door?” I asked.

sign on doorJonah raced out and in a moment was back with a sign that read “do not Enter,” the effectiveness of which was limited by his having taped it at the eye level of one of our cats.

“Are you ready?” Jonah asked.

“Not yet. Almost. Do me a favor and find out what time it is.”

He raced out again and was back in a flash. “Nine twenty.”

“Okay… Oh no — was that Papa groaning?”

“Let me see.”

A moment later: “Yes.”

“Is he up?”

“No.”

When I finished, Jonah seized his sheathed, plastic toy sword. It was decided that he would march in front and I would follow, carrying the gift and cards. He said he didn’t know a Father’s Day song, so we marched silently, with enormous grins on our faces. We reached the living room, but Papa wasn’t there yet. We heard the toilet flush.

“Do over! Do over!” I whispered frantically, and we fled back to the closet, laughing.

Once in retreat, standing in formation behind my little guy, who was peering out the closet door in his mismatched jammies, sword dangling by his side, I hoped to remember this moment forever.

“Let’s go!” I said, and again we marched, this time reaching the living room together with Papa.

“Happy Father’s Day!”

cardsJonah’s card, which he picked out himself, was a Peanuts one in which Snoopy slides over to hug Charlie Brown when you open it. The hub-sand was touched by that—how could he not be?—and immediately reached out and gave Jonah a hug. It was sweet the way the kid signed it for both of us—he is really into writing my name these days. Papa opened the cats’ card next and was amazed at how like our kitties the cover-cat was. He didn’t seem anywhere as impressed with the fact that our cats had written in it. My card was sort of plain and simple, but I liked it for that. I am fully cognizant that cards are a cheesy way to convey a sentiment, but they’ve always seemed cheery to me, so they remain a part of our holiday celebrations, for better or for worse.

We walked to a local cafe for brunch and then to the farmer’s market and made our way back home again. It’s a beautiful, perfect day after a week of rain, and we’re so thankful to Mother Nature for making it that way. The sun is up, the sky is blue; it’s beautiful, and so are you. Dear boys, thanks for being in my life.

 

These Cats Keep Me Sane

thingTwo0514I read somewhere that a kitty who is shy around people does best in a home with another cat who is human-friendly. This allows the shyer one to observe feline-human interactions and grow used to humans’ strange and mind-boggling ways. We have most definitely seen this play out with our kitties. Jonah chose Thing One from the shelter and, from the get-go, the fur baby was comfortable sitting on Jonah’s lap, allowing himself to be stroked. Thing Two has always been far more reluctant and, to this day, would hands-down be voted Most Likely to Dart Off at the Slightest Provocation.

It must be said that the hub-sand was a reluctant participant in the cat adoption process, but I was insistent and even went so far as to promise Jonah a cat when we moved from our house into the apartment. I felt it was important for him, as an only child, to have pet companionship. And of course a cat requires far less commitment than a dog. You don’t have to rush home to get the pooch out for a walk, you can leave for a weekend without too much trouble, etc. So although I’ve always considered myself a dog person, I realized it was a good thing the boy wanted a kitty.

Now, although I continue to love love love dogs, I am very much relishing having these cats share our lives. We laugh about how the two of them will rush in when one of us is on the toilet, how they slink around our legs, expecting to be stroked, Thing One even jumping right onto my lap for some love. Thing One, you see, is my extra-special buddy. He sticks close to me while I clean the litter box and attacks the broom while I sweep up. Thing Two is still shyer around me but if I sit on a particular step on the stairs, he’ll come and let me pet him. I often turn him on his back, gently, and rub his spectacularly furry, stripy, soft-as-anything belly, the loveliest belly on Earth.

2things0514While Thing One is my special buddy, Thing Two has chosen the hub-sand as his special friend. He likes to keep him company as he works, and this morning, as my husband walked toward his desk, Thing Two rushed past him, jumped on his chair, and sprawled across it, looking up at him. He likes to lie on the back of the chair while the hub-sand is at his computer, but he also climbs on the desk, and once somehow pressed buttons on his cell phone. Thing One does this to me, as well: He climbs on me as I type, often standing on the table, his back right under my chin. My cat beard.

Shrinks will tell you that petting a furry critter is soothing, and holding one of these guys is for me a form of meditation. I love to rock them in my arms and give them kisses. They are fuzzy, they are sweet, and the only downside is getting fur up my nose.

While I’ve had cats before, I’m finally getting why people are cat people, why they talk about their cats so much, and why these creatures are so beloved. I admit that while I’ve always liked them, I’ve up until now relegated them to a sort of secondary status when it comes to having a pet. Never again.

Maybe I’m in a particularly cat-friendly time of life, one in which their calm and zen-like ways are especially appealing. I gaze at Thing Two basking in the sun on the window sill and a special peace flows through me, a respite from all the insanity in the world: mass shootings, kidnapped girls, global warming, misogyny, racism, homophobia, general nastiness. I hold one of them and find I can be in the moment. This allows me to cease worrying, to let go, to stop trying to control things that can’t be controlled.

I believe I’ve achieved Cat Nirvana.

Photos: Top: The gorgeous Thing Two; Bottom: Thing One (left) and Thing Two.