Monday, July 28, 2008

Wimp Nation: the interview

*Update: there is a final part of this interview. Please see the post above this one, or go here to hear the last piece of my interview with from A Nation of Wimps author Hara Estroff Marano. She concludes our conversation with words on the pitfalls of professional mothering, the value of boredom in childhood, and why tricycles and bike helmets don't go together.

Crabby friends and enemies,

Today I am doing something a little different: I'm running the first piece of this post here at my Cookie magazine bloglet and the second part of it below. Some may see this as a ploy to get you to go to Cookie. (Goodness, what a fallacious idea!) Actually, though your traffic at the bloglet won't hurt, the real reason for splitting this piece into two is that I had big ole' fat convo with my new favorite author, Hara Estroff Marano (Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting), and to put the entire chat up in one spot would be way too dang long for a single blog post.

So, here's how it works: go here to read the first part of the interview, in which Hara E. Marano shares her impressions of—and considerable research on—freaky, hyper-anxious parenting, or skip the first piece if you must, and pick up the thread below. It's a very loose but not unedited version of the interview; I deleted all the bits in which I rambled insanely, and then I reshaped my own words to make myself sound amazingly on the topic. Kidding. I couldn't delete all my rambles, but I tried. Anyhoo, I hope you find this to be of interest and as always feel free to give a thumbs up or down, as you see fit, in the comments.

To set up this bit, Hara and I were yakking about how uber-protective parenting manifests in our culture today. I asked her for some crazy overkill examples...

Hara Estroff Marano: I was visiting my younger son, and friends of theirs told me about this couple and their 2-year-old toddler daughter who visited. They flew into the airport and they jumped into a taxicab and on their way to the hotel the couple asked the driver if he would please stop off at the Home Depot. And they ran out and came back with a roll of bubble wrap. And they literally bubble-wrapped their hotel room to protect their 2-year-old toddler!

Crabmommy: [makes horrified noises about the though I had never done a single over-protective thing in my sensible career as a mother]

HEM: That's what anxiety does. Whether you bubble-wrap the child or the room, there's no psychic space anymore for trust. Every corner of the psyche has to be filled up with anxiety—

C: What your book does so well is to point out that extra caution doesn't make the world a safer or a better place for your child.

HM: No!

C: Because if you breed that kind of fear-based thing in them from the very beginning—making them believe that everything they do is terribly dangerous—they won't be able to embrace failure and learn from it, or take risks in their life, or do anything that departs from a very safe plan.

HEM: Exactly.

C: As you say, psychologists are now seeing record numbers of kids that can't cope with ordinary college stresses or can't really think for themselves—

HEM: Right.

C: But where I connected to your book, as the mom of a young child, is where you talk about play. When you have little children, you often find yourself negotiating in play dates and getting very involved in what the children are doing. And I think your book is suggesting that moms should back off, let the kids work it out.

HEM: Absolutely. One of the origins for this book was a day when I was out jogging and I passed the playground where my kids had spent many hours and so had I when they were growing up—and I don't like to use my experience as the touchstone, but my experience is a generational one here. When my kids were little we would take our kids to the playground and the parents would sit on the perimeter. We stayed on the park benches and we let the kids play and we actually didn't get involved until the kids came crying to us: "Jason pushed me off the bike," or someone's feelings were hurt. We were too busy talking abut our own lives, and maybe about our kids. But what happened on that particular day when I was jogging: I was passing the playground—it was a Sunday—and all these fathers were out with their kids. And what struck me so was that the parents weren't sitting on the perimeter. They were totally in there with the kids. It was as many parents playing as there were kids playing. And I was struck by that. And I began observing it again and again. And I thought this change had occurred in which the parents were kind of co-playing with the kids, directing the kids...that struck me as a really big change, a tremendous—

C:—a serious trend.

HEM: Yes, a serious trend with very powerful effects, even though on the surface of it people may not understand the psychological ramifications of such a simple act. Play and how kids play is really very important.

C: You're talking about free play, where they can just be in their own world without adults helping them negotiate or figure out—

HEM: Right. The key thing that happens in free play—there are lots of things that happen. But if you just imagine free old is your daughter?

C: Almost four.

HEM: So you've probably seen this with her and her friends. Let's say they decide to play house. They make up the roles and the rules and then here's the really key part: they subordinate their own impulses to the rules that they have just made up. And you don't know this because they don't do this when the adults are around. When the adults are around they turn over the communication to the adults. That's what kids do. This is the great secret of play: kids learn how to control their own impulses. This is the source of emotion regulation; this is the source of attention regulation. In addition, physical play stimulates brain growth, stimulates the growth of the frontal cortex which is the area of the brain that is responsible for executive function, for emotion control, and attention play is really vitally important. Plus you learn to be nimble, you learn to read ambiguity. It's kind of a cognitive high-wire act.

C: There's this part of the book where you talk about the phrase "child's play" and you speak about child's play as something we dismiss.

HEM: To adults play looks like a waste of time. And to kids it's extremely important.

C: To the point that there are psychologists theorizing that a lot of teenagers diagnosed with attention deficit disorders might actually just be—

HEM: —play deprived.

C: Play-deprived children. Can you explain that theory?

HEM: There's considerable evidence for it. And I don't think parents are particularly receptive to it. They'd much rather, somehow, give their kid a drug.

C: And just to clarify, the idea is that by over-scheduling children, and watching over them, directing them and so forth, the idea—outlandish or true as it may be—is that their brains rebel against that at some point, because they haven't been able to just do nothing, and just be.

HEM: Right. And it's not so much that their brains rebel against it; they haven't stimulated that portion of the brain that develops in response to play. They haven't had the experience of regulating themselves through free play, so their circuits of attention are not developed. And we know from studies that attention can be trained. And so play is one of the ways that attention gets trained. And it's so counter-intuitive to adults. Many would rather just give a pill when their kids can't pay attention. And I find it unbelievable that people would give a pill to young kids whose brains are still developing. And nobody knows what the long-term impact of these drugs is on brains, and some of the evidence that there is, is really not fantastic. And I find it amazing that adults are more willing to accept the mechanical or mechanistic solution than the behavioral one.

C: There's a wild bit in the book where you cite a well-regarded psychologist who prescribes for these ADD-type boys intense bouts of roughhousing with their fathers, to offer some experimental antidote to medication. I guess with some kids it seems to really work, that just by fooling around in intensive ways their brains resettle and learn how to do those things in free play that you say are restricted by the way we raise kids these days.

HEM: The fooling around contains important ingredients. Fooling around involves social engagement and touching; these are the mechanisms by which the play, shall we say, gets transmitted into the brain...There's this physical contact, this physical activity, and it's highly motivating. But to kids its just fun; they don't know their brains are being built by it. So, concealed under all this fooling around there's some very serious brain growth going on.

Okay, so I have a bit more of the interview, which I will post at a later stage. Needless to say (for the thousandth time), I think Nation of Wimps is an important parenting book for our times. A wake-up call for people like those twits who need grief counseling when their kids go off to camp. And for the rest of us too. But what do you think? Does any of this ring true for you and/or the moms and dads in your orbit? Let's convo seriously this week and then I'll go back to posting pix of George Michael and the like as a reward!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

There's a Little Black Dot on the Sun Today

Make that a large-ish gray cloud hovering over the sun. It's the same old thing as yesterday. And I don't dig it. Not even the end of July and already I'm back in cardigans. It's just plain depressing to whip out a cardigan in July in America.

Here I go, beginning what is sure to become a recurring, if slightly less than thrilling, theme of bashing my new climate of the northwest, which, I have hinted, is rainy and gray quite a lot of the time. Some of you may also recall that I longed for rainy and gray quite a lot of the time in my old climate of the mountain west. Which was insanely snowy. And was itself chosen over the ghastly thick damp heat afforded by the east coast and south, where for at least half the year you feel as though you live inside someone's armpit.

That Crabmommy, wherever she goes, there she does not wish to be. Is it a mindset I can change? Some might say so, but the farthest I am prepared to go down that path is to examine it with the Zen approach, simply recognizing the moment and allowing it to be what it is, free of judgment. Meaning (I think) that I can judge the climate and all and generally feel all Crabpissy at things, but I must not judge myself for judging. For I am but a whirlpool in the river of life. And while I might have a bit of debris in my whirlpool, I must not make a big deal out of the debris. I must just see the debris and (if I am understanding my present material reading correctly), when I see that debris I mustn't try to fling it out of the water or shout at it and judge it and be all harsh on it, but instead I should just acknowledge that there is debris in my whirlpool.

You can say that again.

But before I let my babbling brook become a mighty stream of nonsense, let me get back to why I started this post with Police lyrics: Crabhubby and I went to see the Police reunion concert, for which we were given tickets as a present from my m-i-l. Now there is surely not a human being alive who has not mocked Sting, and certainly I have done so in my time. I have always found his wife to be particularly unsavory, with a face somewhat like a stiletto shoe, and then there was all that Tantric sex business that you really didn't want to visualize with a stiletto shoe....and then that phase of his career where he got choirs of Guatemalan children to sing uplifting backup vocals for him...or whatever it was he got up to (okay, so I don't really know what he got up to but). I picture that whole period of "Sting" to be a series of highly expensive tickets to private benefit concerts held in the same places where Yanni might perform: the Colosseum, atop the Acropolis, a Druid cave...all involving, of course, interesting lighting effects and, quite possibly, some powerful chanting and a very dorkish audience.

That said, I went to the Police reunion concert with low expectations and it was fantastic. In large part this had to do with Sting himself, who performed extremely well and remains annoyingly in shape, although he now looks a bit like Hemingway from the neck up, because he is sporting a very silvery exuberant facial hair situation. But he channeled my teen past right back at me and I briefly thought of getting that poster again, the one I used to have in my room, of Sting eating a piece of fruit, which I used to kiss before I went to bed at night (you laugh, but before Sting came along, I was kissing a poster of Ralph Macchio, so it's all relative).

The very best part of the show, for me, was the Stuart Copeland side of things. I have always thought him amazing, and he drummed his pants off, with a permanently shocked expression on his face. He is very handsome, in an elongated sort of way. He looks a bit like he has had electric shock therapy, or that he might need electric shock therapy, not sure which.

The opening act was Elvis Costello, whom I adore, OBVIOUSLY, but he was ill-suited to the large stadium of aging light-bulb salesmen, grim housewives, tarty younger people with husky voices and French manicures and silver flip-flops, and the generally undistinguished people that comprise a Police concert audience. Seriously, how freaky a Police reunion audience is. It's quite remarkable how unremarkable so many of the fans were in appearance! And many were old. So plum old! Meaning, people the same age as Sting himself only balding and paunchy and in bad shirts because they don't do yoga seven hours a day and then have marathon Tantric bouts with a stiletto shoe, in between performing rock concerts. And there is something both sad and heartening about seeing such people attend a concert, people whom you would swear would never attend a concert and yet there they are, with their kids, enjoying some family entertainment.

And right here I would like to say a word about attending music shows with your offspring: I think it's just wrong. Even and especially if you're a hipster mom or dad (or think you are), you ought not attend pop/rock music concerts with your child. Music is fundamentally about dissing your elders, even if your elders are on-stage playing songs that are 35 years old. I still don't get why there are still so many parents out there who don't get this one timeless truth: when you attempt to be cool with your kids the opposite effect is achieved. And if your kids somehow do think you're cool by going to a show with them? Well then, your kids are supremely uncool. Poor buggers. I saw a number of embarrassed teens at the Police concert, edging away from their dads in pleated pants and moms rocking out in Keds.

To close this post, a thought about age and music. Some musicians age in a yummy sort of way, the musical equivalent of a piece of excellent old Brie.
Others refuse to age, but instead tweak their gorgeous selves into something scary and impish by dint of too-young hair and wickedly smooth eyes.
And howzabout those naff criss-crossed arms? What are you doing, David Bowie?

And then there are people who just look, well, sort of not great as they get older, even when they aren't very old, but are simply older. In this category do I find the person whose image is to follow this paragraph. Apparently he is performing again, and I challenge you to find in the following photo, any resemblance to the gayly swarthy crooner whose careless whisper sent far too many people in the 1980s into a tizzy. Seriously, I don't think this could put a boom-boom into my heart, much less leave me hanging on like a yo-yo:

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Vax Files

Yup, there's a reason for my silence: it's my big mouth.

Some of you know I wrote a pretty silly and inflammatory post up at my bloglet last week. X-Files actress Amanda Peet had gabbed in Cookie mag about being pro-vaccines; for the first time in what must surely be forever, I found myself in ready agreement with a shalebritay, and I posted accordingly. Unfortunately, I did so in a rather foolish and crass manner.

It wasn't very smart of me to tell the non-vaxers to go and live on an island by themselves with no airport. It wasn't very nice of me to gloss right over the gray areas of the vaccine scene. But I am a crabby mommy first and foremost, and well, sometimes even I don't like myself. Unfortunately in blogging, sometimes you say some sassy things late at night and then you press "publish." It's the nature of the form. And so blogging means sometimes having to say you're sorry, if not really for content, then at least for delivery.*(see mitigating circumstances/ pass-the-buck footnote)

To those who have been following this little ripple in the Crabscene: no, the mag hasn't fired me for being peppery and rude to the non-vaxy people. Yes, we all agreed the post had to go, and no, I'm not going to link to the Google cache. It was a stupid moment. The bottom line is that when something is too serious to be made fun of then Crabmommy should not be writing about it.*(see mitigating circumstances/ pass-the-buck footnote)

I know what must come my way in the form of punishment now: the many voices claiming (but erroneously) to represent autism at large will find this blog and start their engines (some already have). Skipping ahead, this is what I think the blog comments will look like: I will probably have to engage in extremely long conversations about serious issues with some who agree with me and a ton who don't and of that ton, a very tiny percent will sound like reasonable people. We will back and forth and insult each other. I will be forced to concede, grudgingly, there exists, maybe—unlikely but...who knows—a weentsy something-or-other of gray area, but the non-vaxy crowd will not concede that many a pseudo-scientific premise raised by their camp has been disproven. Words like "mitochondrial disorder" will be bandied about. This is not a serious blog but we will all be forced to have a serious discussion.

I know I opened the can of worms and I wrote something in a beastly impish tone entirely unsuited to the material, and I'm sorry for it. I am not a heartless person and to write flippantly about something that touches a nerve for a great many parents who have heartfelt and unhappy reasons for questioning vaccines (if not, to my satisfaction, the proper facts to back up their feelings)...I'm not proud of this. I apologize for my tone here, and I expand on my personal vaccine views in the self-same post, so feel free to go there if for some peculiar reason you want to know what someone as entirely un-balanced as Crabmommy thinks about vaccinations and why. I am also ready to answer your questions, if I must. I can't say I'm looking forward to this conversation; it is my experience that there is a vast and deep Grand Canyon between the pro-vaccine people and the vaccine skeptics, and in the space between is a lot of angry and inflammatory rhetoric.

So, in brief, for those who are deep into this debate: I think the vaccine skeptics are doing some very harmful things. On the other side (being as reasonable as I am capable of here) I will also say this: it's a shame that our major spokesperson in this debate is Dr. Paul Offit. I believe in Offit's message, but it's absolutely true that he is paid to create vaccines. And while he pooh-poohs the conflict of interest thing, it doesn't make the pro-vaccine camp look all that fantastic in this regard and thus is excellent fodder for the other team.

I don't really want to say any more, because already I am incredibly weary after reading tons and tons of links and this exhausting forum. I don't want to say anything more but I suspect some of you will make me. And that's fair enough. I asked for it, so bring it on.

*In my defense I was, for the first time, actually asked by the mag if I wanted to blog on the topic of vaccines (they did not suggest to me what POV I should take). I've been avoiding this one throughout my blogging career, but when they asked, I felt I should deliver. It has to do with keeping a job that allows me to sit on my bot at home and pick at flecks of dried toenail polish.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Summer Camp Blues

Missing your loved ones. Crying over it. Failing to enjoy the freedom that summer camp brings. I'm not talking about kids here, I'm talking about their utterly wussy, wimpacious parents, as mentioned in this piece that appeared in SF Gate.

The article describes a woman who, on bidding adieu to her 8-yr-old for 2 weeks, noticed that it wasn't the kids who were crying: "There were no children crying—just parents." The piece continues with the following:

These days, camp leaders and family counselors say it's an increasingly common dynamic. It used to be the homesick kid begging to come home from camp. While that still happens, they've noticed that it's often parents who have more trouble letting go[...]They call it "kid-sickness," a condition attributed in large part to today's more involved style of parenting.
Kid-sickness. Barf. But I'm not surprised. We live in a wimpy-parent nation, where parental wimpiness abounds and, as such, will be disseminated to the children, wo in turn will either wimp our completely or, one can hope, rebel against their parents' clingy ways. Here's a real kicker of a paragraph:
The time and energy camp directors put into preparing parents for camp is now equal to the time they prepare children for camp," said Peg Smith, head of the American Camp Association, which works with about 2,600 camps nationwide.
I wrote a little something about summer camp. Mind you, they call it "Camp" but it's just school and only for 4 hours a day and not (unfortunately) a sleepover scenario. I wrote about how thrilled I am to have this time of mother-child separation, which I absolutely need and which Crabtot absolutely needs. As expected I got a comment in there about how love is about being with your kids and some other tiddly coddlewash nonsense.

Oh, America! As a foreigner I have always admired and sublimated your practice of summer camps. As a child, I longed to attend one. The lakes! the horse-riding! The bunk beds in cabins! Meeting your identical-separated-at-birth twin! Having s'mores (so exotic to the foreigner)! The American Americanness of it all! And now we have parents wailing and gnashing their teeth. No wonder their kids weren't crying. They couldn't wait to get away from Mom and Dad and I don't blame them.

I think the clingy attachment-parenting-gone-berserk behavior exhibited by such parents smacks of selfishness entirely and love, not at all. Your job as a parent is principally and finally to encourage your child to live in the world. You do that by fostering independence. You give a hug and a kiss and tell them you can't wait to see them. Then, idiots, you let them go. That's what love is, not making kids feel they are the constant and total center of your universe, even if they bloody are. After they go you run off and do something grownup that you've been longing to do: like smoke in your car, or read some seriously uninterrupted Tolstoy or have a really big party or do something notable and grownup (or something very childish), or, fine, cry in your car if you must. The point is, you put a smile on your face for your child's sake and then go and get a life while you can. And if you can't think of anything to do with your time, then I'd say you have a problem.

But that's just me. I mean, I totally respect that we all have different takes on child-rearing. *cough cough* Seriously, camp parents who literally need counseling from the camp peeps when they say goodbye to the kids? What a bunch of tits.

On an equally depressing note, I now have to go do situps because I issued a challenge over here at my bloglet to do 5 mins of work a day on my "mom-flap." What's that? you say. Read and join, my lady friends...I have 21 people signed up at yahoo (where the Cookie bloglet also appears). Crap! I loathe, loathe, loathe tummy crunches almost as much as some folks loathe the advent of summer camp. But I'll go to great lengths to keep my bloglet job...and if this means crunches and push-ups, so be it. Gotta make my readers think I'm not allllll negativity and misery! CRABMOMMY CAN BE INSPIRING TOO!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Neighbors

I have a problem: I don't know whether to tell Crabtot that Captain Hook lives next door to us or to wait for her to figure it out for herself. I'm scared she will get a fright if I don't warn her. Of the man down the street's hand. Which is actually a hook. And this is relevant right now. Since we have just bought Peter Pan on DVD. And I don't know why I am writing in fragments. Somehow the problem. Necessitates choppy sentences.

Those of you who came to this blog in its infancy will recall my fascination with my then-neighbors, Crabtown's finest, slummiest, and in fact most charming cowboy campers, who did seasonal work at the Crabtown rodeo and spent an awful lot of time asleep in temporary homes comprised of rusted husks of metal propped up on bricks.

I miss them.

And I miss spying on them.

But I have some interesting new folk around me. Like Captain Hook: he has a wild head of woolly hair, two somewhat fractious Bassett hounds and, to repeat, a hook for a hand. I noticed the hook last week when walking Crabtot to preschool. She's at the age where she asks me out loud in front of some poor blighted human why that person is fat or has pimples or uses a wheelchair, so I expected her instantly to spot the hook as neighbor wrangled his Bassett hounds. But she did not. And then I expected again that she might remark upon the hook when we saw this man again raking leaves with his hook. (He didn't rake leaves with the actual hook. He had a rake. He just, you know, has this hook.) She did not remark on the hook. But it is only a matter of time.

Not being accustomed to thinking about hooks for hands, I am a little puzzled by the hook. I don't know; I thought maybe by now the modern era could produce something better than a hook. I imagine a hook must be useful otherwise someone wouldn't sport it in lieu of a hand. That said, a prosthetic robot hand would surely be better? But maybe you need like super-schmantzy health insurance to get your, um, hand on one of those...?

Anyhoo, the dilemma here has nought to do with the actual hook, but with how to approach the hook with Crabtot. This past week, she has become obsessed with Peter Pan and is a tad freaked by Captain Hook and all. I have been pushing the PP DVD because Strawberry Shortcake gets on my last nerve, but now am wondering whether to push the Friendship Cake scene back into the mix so we don't develop the nascent interest in Captain Hook.

To clarify, my real fear here is not that Crabtot will become scared by the real-life Captain Hook down the road. No, I fear that she will embarrass me by asking me in front of him why the dude has a hook for a hand. Should I discuss in advance, I wonder?

Our neighborhood! Chock full of fascination! There is another chap down the block who drives a giant stretch limo and has a giant built-up shoe. He tools around, chain-smoking, outside his house, which is incredibly dilapidated (there is an old cardboard box that ever since I moved here has been propped beneath an attic window to hold it up and, I suppose, let air in [or smells out?]). Said limo driver is very sweet and very proud of his limo company. He gave Crabtot his business card the other day on our way to preschool, and told her that he gives "discounts for good grades"! Then he turned to me and said, "It's never too early to start getting them motivated!"

Did you hear that Crabtot? Study hard and in 13 years you might get 10% off our neighbor's limo service as he drives you to your prom!

Okay, so maybe Crabtot isn't yet properly motivated by the limo discount to study hard for her entire school career, but she is rightly impressed by the limo. "When I'm a grownup I'm going to drive that big car," she told me yesterday. "I'm going to make a bed in it for my babies....My ten babies," she clarified when I asked her how many she would be having. (It's always between five and sixteen).

The limo guy is truly very sweet and we stop and chat often. He's always trying to make Crabtot pick dandelion flowers and weeds from the strip of "garden" in front of his house; he's quite crafty that way. On July 4 he drove the limo round and round the 'hood, gingerly approaching our street where we had fireworks going...but he glided by after a round of rockets, and waved like the queen and we all waved back and I half expected a rain of limo business cards to fall upon us all like confetti.

We also have a sexually ambiguous couple (Crabhub thinks one is transgendered). One of the (wo)men repairs unbelievably ancient bicycles and has about seven hundred of them in her yard. Their house is quite magnificent (if you ignore the very gay giant faux-Tuscan planters in front of it) and they are quite unfriendly but they have two beautiful little daughters who are quite polite.

Love my 'hood. Seriously, people, unless you're on the wrong side of the tracks you're doomed to a dull life (says she who, like, checks real estate listing in tony zones about, oh, every day)!

What should I do? Discuss hook in advance and coach Crabtot on how not to react when she actually sees it thereby sparing Captain Hook's feelings and, more important, saving me from embarrassment? Or let the metal prong announce itself organically (okay, that word doesn't quite work) in its own time...and let the subsequent reaction be whatever it will be?

A tough question for a tough times.

Friday, July 4, 2008

How Do You Make a Friendship Cake?

Remember the character Strawberry Shortcake? Do you know that she grew up to be a 'ho?

Okay, maybe not quite, but as many of you probably saw, the Times did this piece on how all these cute vintage kiddie franchise characters have been tarted up for a new generation. Meaning that Strawberry Shortcake now has, like, hip-slung jeans and a tween mini-bra and plays with Bratz and stuff, and Holly Hobbie ditched her Amish dresses and frumpacious physique for toned abs and a half-top. Or, that's the gist of it anyway. Here's the vibe:Seems corporations feel that kids of today won't relate to the vintage stuff completely, but apparently relate to them enough to resurrect them from the 1980s; thus the modern makeover. I noticed this phenomenon before reading that piece, since I had grabbed some DVDs for Crabtot at the library and thought she would find Strawberry Shortcake cute. I couldn't remember much about Strawberry except for her giant fruity hat, but I figured her DVD would be wholesome and sweet and not annoying.

It is wholesome. That is, if you tune out the terribly insinuating pop soundtrack with Strawbs rocking out to electric-guitar based riffs. Then it becomes incredibly saccharine and cheesy and stupid, I suspect also a part of the modernization. For example, Strawbs goes around the world on a global "friendship tour," like Angelina Jolie. Except that instead of a private jet, she has a strawberry-shaped hot air balloon and instead of Brad Pitt by her side she has a little dog called Cupcake.

What really gets my goat in this series is not so much the rock-out revamp, but the fact that the movie is so full of utterly inane conceits that dovetail perfectly with modern parenting trends to over-sweeten everything in childhood. Like when Strawbs goes on her world tour she meets a French girl and a Japanese girl and they meet in this cute Strawberry clubhouse because they are in the Friendship Club. A club anyone can join.


I guess the nature of friendship and the process by which young girls make friends has changed since my childhood. I remember clubs, but they were exclusive by definition. That's why they were called clubs or groups or gangs, duh! I was actually part of an actual Secret Friendship Club when I was about ten. We met beneath a hollow umbrella-like bush in a park. We called ourselves the Golden Eagles. I was admitted by the top-ranking officials, Devina and Michelle, but only as an underling. To be specific, I was Secretary Treasurer. And this meant when the other two entered the room (or climbed inside the bush, as it were) I had to stand as a gesture of respect. Which was fine with me as I worshipped and groveled before the feet of Devina who like her name suggested, was ethereal and divinely beautiful with a heart-shaped lip and a cool manner and a complicated relationship to fawning underlings that included equal doses of benevolence and rejection. Girls and friendship: never simple, only sometimes sweet.

Crabtot loves the Friendship Club. And she loves the friendship clubhouse where the friends meet and loll about on fruit-shaped couches eating confectionery and catering to each other's self-esteem. Crabtot is so taken with all of this that she sings the Friendship Song all over the house:

How do you make a friendship cake?
What's it gonna take?

A drop of kindness

A touch of generosity...

[insert a number of other admirable ingredients]
And that's how you make a friendship cake!
The friendship song is dreadfully infectious. Which is berry berry annoying. And just not berry realistic. Or is it? After all, nowadays we see birthday parties where everyone in the whole class is invited, and where everyone receives a present, not just the birthday girl...

Truly it's a different world of childhood out there for my Crabtot, one perhaps sweeter in many ways than my own. However, there will come a time when she, like the rest of her peers, will not be able to sustain the culture of sweetness, fairness, and democracy with each other that I think we are raising them in. And I wonder what happens when the world tells them that actually life is berry much the opposite of what we told them, and that the big open-to-all friendship club they're looking for isn't there. Yes, I know these little cutie-pie movies aren't meant to be real or impart actual deflating truths about the suckiness of life. But do they really have to take to be so appallingly misdirected?

To be the mother of a girl carries with it special dangers...for girls have their machinations and their subtle ways of courting and crushing each other. And that's how you make a friendship cake!

Slightly unsweetened thoughts of a Sunday. Btw, I wrote this entire post sitting on a package of fireworks left over from 4 July celebrations. A box of poppers under my rear end.