I think it’s absolutely heartbreaking that there’s even a need for educators to argue in favor of letting small children play. This is so freaking obvious. How have we lost our way so far that we expect kindergartners and first graders to spend their time filling out worksheets? It’s sick.
So, we all picked up colds on the plane back from Arkansas—Robin was the first to succumb and the first to bounce back, and Sam recovered quickly as well, but Davy and I have been dealing with lingering congestion and low-grade fevers. This morning when I picked up Davy I saw that he had what looked like snot coming out of his ear. We took him to the pediatrician, who confirmed that the poor little dude has an ear infection. It’s pretty common for colds to trigger ear infections in children—as the Dr. Sears website explains, “The middle ear space is also connected to the back of the nose via the Eustachian tube. In infants and young children this tube is much shorter and is angled. It is therefore much easier for bacteria to migrate from the nose and throat up into the middle ear space.”
The buildup of mucus and pus in his inner ear actually caused a perforation in Davy’s eardrum, which is why the grody stuff was coming out his ear. This is common too, and the doctor assured us that his eardrum will heal. In fact, he’s probably feeling a lot more comfortable now that the pressure in his ear has eased. So he’ll be on antibiotics for the next ten days, and we’ll see the doctor again in two weeks.
Internet, I want to know: Should I let Robin play with his food?
Currently he’s leading a troop of plastic dinosaurs through the primordial landscape of his afternoon snack (banana and raisins). The dinosaurs are smooshing the banana, but he’s being careful to lick them off afterwards, and he seems to be admiring the tracks they leave.
On the one hand, it’s messy and it interferes with the project of learning good table manners, so maybe I should make him stop. On the other hand, it’s self-directed and imaginative, and there’s something very charming about his little-boy focus as he creates this intricate play world. You’re only three and a half once, so maybe I should let him enjoy his childhood innocence and not squelch his delight in this creative endeavor.
I’m genuinely torn. What’s the right thing to do here? Probably I should try to redirect him into a more appropriate activity (using playdough with the dinosaurs, maybe, instead of banana?) but then I’d have to make some playdough and it would take a while. And he just got the dinosaurs today.
Update: Never mind, Internet. In the end I let Robin play with his food for exactly as long as it took him to come up with the bright idea of fetching his trains and running them through the mashed banana. Now he is playing with his dinosaurs in the bath, I am cleaning up the table, and I am planning to stick to a food-is-strictly-for-eating policy for the forseeable future. On reflection I think it unlikely that this will crush his budding artistic spirit. But I’m still interested in how other parents, and maybe especially the grandparents, would’ve handled this situation!
Update the Second: Wow, as I was clearing the table of Robin’s mashed banana, Davy (who had been happily observing the show from his high chair) began issuing an increasingly urgent series of hoots as the banana migrated closer to him, and when I picked it up for disposal he let out an earsplitting wail. He didn’t use a single word but I don’t think the message GIVE ME THAT BANANA could possibly have been communicated with more clarity. (I gave him the banana. He dropped most of it on the floor, but he seems satisfied with the banana flavor he was able to lick off his fingers.)
My brother Bob took this photo in Fayetteville, when we were visiting last week. I love the way it shows off his starry eyes and long eyelashes. It also kind of looks like he’s playing a guitar!
Tonight I was reading Robin a bedtime story, and instead of going for one of his usual favorites, I decided to pick a book we hadn’t yet read together. This handsome board-book edition of “Peter Rabbit,” which someone had very kindly given us as a gift some time ago, looked like just the ticket:
So I started reading, but…as I turned the pages, the book seemed wrong. The pictures were right, but the text seemed dull and lifeless. It wasn’t the charming story I remember from my own childhood. I flipped it closed and took a closer look at the cover. And then I noticed, as I had not at first, those tiny little words at the bottom—based on the original and authorized edition.
Based on the original? BASED ON THE ORIGINAL??? They re-wrote Beatrix Potter? For the love of all that’s holy, why? I just about started screaming. I flung the book down and went to find my own little well-worn copy of Peter Rabbit.
Here’s how the original starts:
“Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were—
They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.”
“‘Now, my dears,’ said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put into a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”
Now here’s the bowdlerized version:
“Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter. They lived with their mother under the root of a big tree. ‘Now,’ said Mrs. Rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden.”
Firstly, the charming specificity of detail has been wiped away. Instead of the picturesque “in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree” we are left only with the bland, straightforward “under the root of a big tree.” Secondly, the voice of the original—the musical, sing-song cadence of the language—has been lost. Beatrix Potter’s writing tugs at us like a nursery rhyme. She obviously took great care with the sound of the words and the rhythm of their placement, and it’s an important part of why her stories work the way they do. The new version is plodding and graceless.
But thirdly, and most terribly, the plot has been eviscerated. In the original, we know what the stakes are. Peter Rabbit faces death if he’s caught by Mr. McGregor. In the new version, Mrs. Rabbit gives no reason at all for her prohibition. As a result, the story makes no sense. We don’t know why Peter is supposed to avoid the garden, and we don’t have any reason to care about whether or not he manages to escape Mr. McGregor.
The rest of the story is butchered in a similar fashion. Compare a passage from the middle of the tale:
“Peter was most dreadfully frightened; he rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate. He lost one of his shoes among the cabbages, and the other shoe amongst the potatoes. After losing them, he ran on four legs and went faster, so that I think he might have got away altogether if he had not unfortunately run into a gooseberry net, and got caught by the large buttons on his jacket. It was a blue jacket with brass buttons, quite new.”
In the board-book version, this becomes: “Peter was very frightened. He rushed all over the garden and lost both his shoes. Then he tripped and got caught in a net.”
I kid you not. I mean…I can’t even.
And I am so sorry, generous gift-giver, whose exact identity I no longer remember, if it seems that I am ungratefully railing against your thoughtful present. You would have had every reason to assume that a book titled The Tale of Peter Rabbit and attributed to Beatrix Potter was, in fact, the book that Beatrix Potter actually wrote. I think you were swindled and I am outraged on your behalf. But mostly I’m outraged at the idea that significant numbers of children might be fooled into thinking that this drek is Peter Rabbit. Because a parent who buys this book when they wanted “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” has been cheated out of some money: but a child who gets this instead of Beatrix Potter has been cheated out of something truly precious.
I read Robin the original version, of course. He was not in the least alarmed by the allusion to Peter’s father’s “accident.” He was a lot more interested in the fate of Peter’s shoes.
My holiday fruitcakes are in the oven right now, filling the house with their deep, rich, spicy aroma. I love fruitcake. When I was growing up, my mom’s aunt Louise sent us a wonderful, intense, rum-soaked fruitcake every Christmas, and it was always received with great delight. A few years ago I set out to try and make similar fruitcakes of my own (the dry, storebought versions with their lurid cherry toppings in improbably day-glo colors are no comparison), and I found Alton Brown’s recipe, which is entirely satisfactory. I’ve made it every holiday season since.
Now I understand that there are people in this world who like to scoff at fruitcake, but I’m pretty sure that these people have simply been eating the wrong fruitcakes. The real thing is fantastic.
Meanwhile, Robin is on his stomach watching his toy train (an early Christmas present from his Uncle Bobby) going around our tree:
Our stockings have, with all due care, been hung by the chimney:
Our advent calendar (a gift from Robin’s Nonna and Pappy) is up-to-date:
And generally we are feeling pretty festive. We’re just back from seeing Pops and Mo and all of my siblings except for the boys’ Uncle Jesse (who was missed) in Arkansas—it was a lovely visit, although unfortunately we all developed the sniffles on the way back. Stupid plane germs! But even that’s not all bad—Sam stayed home sick today, and so was able to perform Valuable Cuddle Services while I worked on my holiday baking.
This risotto with cabbage and ham recipe (from Cook’s Illustrated) makes a filling meal for cold nights. You dice up an onion and a small amount—2 to 4 ounces—of pancetta, deli ham, proscuitto, or cooked sausage. Heat up three tablespoons of olive oil in a big heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, and sauté the onions and meat for a few minutes. Meanwhile shred half a cabbage and throw that into the pot too. Cover your pot and let the cabbage cook for about fifteen minutes (or until it is limp and beginning to brown), stirring every now and then.
When your veggies have softened, add about a teaspoon of salt and two cups of Arborio rice. Stir it up and add a cup of water along with two cups of chicken broth. (Home-made chicken stock will make this recipe drastically better.) Turn up the heat until the broth mixture starts to boil; then keep it at a simmer, stirring occasionally, for eight to ten minutes, or until the bottom of the pan seems dry when you stir the rice. Add a half a cup of dry white wine or vermouth and stir that in; when it’s absorbed, check your rice. If it’s not fully cooked, keep adding water a half a cup a time until the risotto is creamy and al dente. Meanwhile grate a half a cup of Parmesan. When the rice is done, stir in the cheese, check if it needs more salt (it will, everything’s always better with more salt), and serve hot.