Nov 29, 2004

Firehouse Rock

On Nov. 20, we all spent some time at the Swarthmore Firehouse. For a three-year-old boy and a five-year-old boy, a birthday party in the firehouse is nirvana. As the mother of one of the guests said, "It doesn't get any better than that, does it? " The table was in the bay where the ambulance truck normally sits, between the vintage firetrucks (1923 and 1928) and the new $800,000 ladder truck. No party decorations necessary.

Swarthmore has volunteer firefighters, and three of them were on hand. One put on his whole outfit in front of the kids, so they would know not to be afraid if they ever need to be rescued from a burning house. Lessons in survival skills at a birthday party. "It doesn't get any better than that."--me.

The chief took them on a tour of the firehouse. ("They have a television upstairs. Cool.") Then they rode in the truck, in two batches. Very bumpy, and they got to ride backwards. Will, Jack, and their friends Christopher and Alex spent most of the time arguing about what state the firetruck was driving to, New Jersey, Texas, or New Mexico.

Although I do love to bake birthday cakes and make primitive-looking smudged pictorial representations of fierce creatures and powerful vehicles on the top, this year's cake was from Terstappen's, with a beautiful firetruck picture, no visible crumbs, and a highly legible "Happy Birthday Will and Jack."

Anyway. (That word, serving as one sentence, reminds me of a great Roddy Doyle story in the Nov. 29 New Yorker, of the I-really-hope-this-doesn't-happen-to-our-marriage-but-oh-god-it-just-might sort.) There we all were, a small bunch of parents who (wonderful people!) decided to stay with their children instead of hurriedly dumping them off and then returning to collect them one minute shy of the official end time. And eight wired little boys and two very civilized little girls.

"I'm ready for pizza!!!" announced Christopher in a very loud voice. "We don't have pizza, but we have some yummy snacks!" I chirped gamely. "Is apple cider all there is to drink?" he bellowed. No wonder his father had left to "run some errands." Christopher proceeded to dislike the ice cream (Jack's choice, cherry chocolate chip) and his favor, a kazoo. "You can't win them all," as my mother in law said. I think he had a good time anyway, not that I care, the ungrateful little wretch. He did give Will and Jack really loud plastic toys that they love, and that Will sleeps with, so it's a wash.

"Did the boys buy this shared birthday party idea?" you ask. I don't know yet. I thought we had explained the concept in excruciating detail many times. But yesterday, when I was explaining to Will that his actual birthday is November 30, he said "That's when I have my police party!"

Nov 14, 2004

Liberal Mennonites Feed Raw Eggs to Children

It was Jay's turn to do children's time at church today, and he was in overachiever mode. He wasn't going to be one of those slackers who mumble a story from a book and hurriedly say "OK, you can go back to your seats now!" before the children can ask any questions.

No. He carried a large plastic tub and wore a white jacket that he appeared to have wrested from a petite woman. The children gathered around and he took bowls of baking powder, flour, chocolate chips, and sugar out of the tub. He started giving out cookie ingredients to the children so they could dump them in a big mixing bowl. Jack and Will got sticks of butter, and Lucas got flour, which he was fine with until Jay started to "help" him stir it. Destiny got to break eggs into the bowl all by herself.

Around this time, I began pretending really hard that this wasn't happening. Had no idea I was going to have to worry about greasy little hands and floury clothes at church. Jay's hands were now covered in flour, butter, and sugar up past his wrists because he realized that stirring cookie dough with a spoon takes too long, and children's time is supposed to take about five minutes. Pastor was waiting to preach. Had been waiting a while. "I washed my hands," Jay assured us unconvincingly.

The point of children's time seems to have been something about cooperating, I was gathering through my dissassociation haze, as Jay cheerfully assigned another person with dirty hands to pass out large lumps of raw cookie dough directly into the hands of the children. The small, trusting souls crammed the blobs into their mouths with delight.

"Thanks, Jay! That was fun!" I lied wildly. Praise should be heaped upon anyone making an effort to be creative with children's time, short of using matches and lighter fluid to demonstrate a burning bush. The cookies got baked during church and we all had some. They were delicious, and no one is sick yet. God is good.

Nov 13, 2004

Good Conductor, Bad Conductor

We train commuters are creatures of habit, taking the same train every morning, and some of us the same train every afternoon, even the same car. When conductors are reassigned, which is every few months, the chemistry changes.

Until about two weeks ago, we on the 4:06 train from Suburban Station enjoyed a conductor who watched us getting off the train without fail, cheerfully admonishing us "All three steps! No skipping steps!" He was always close enough to catch us if we fell. The new conductor stands back far enough to avoid having to help anyone who falls, and maintains a stony silence.

The old conductor teased people who didn't have their Trailpasses out on time, roared goodnaturedly at passengers standing in the middle of the aisle, remembered the "regulars" and knew who could take some ribbing on a Friday, knew how to make an official announcement with just the right undertone of irony and topnote of optimism. The new one doesn't talk except to utter a gloomy "All passes and tickets out at all times," which he told me when I had been busy talking to a friend. It was the first day I had ever forgotten; don't I get ANY CREDIT? It figures that he is also one of those people who frowns momentarily whenever he sniffs.

Small slips of paper left on the seats yesterday informed us that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) is running out of money, again, and the state says they're not going to make up for the shortfall. SEPTA is threatening to cut out all weekend routes and trim back on weekday schedules.

On second thought, give me a grumpy conductor any day.

Nov 12, 2004

Ronald Reagan was right.

Ketchup IS a vegetable. Ketchup IS a vegetable. Ketchup IS a vegetable. Or so I keep telling myself. My almost-three-year-old son Will had four helpings of the stuff last night. He "dipped" his chicken in it, but the chicken was merely a vehicle for the ketchup. Meanwhile, his Democrat vegetables, sauteed spinach with red peppers, garlic, and ginger, lay untouched on his plate, pure and untouched as his small pile of brown basmati rice.

Every night I give him small helpings of healthy vegetables, which go untouched so often that I feel like I'm offering them to the gods. Occasionally, this little god will touch a vegetable and say "sgust" in the most venomous tone of voice. (Only the most forceful sounds in the word "disgusting" will do--never mind the weak prefix and suffix.)

We are joining "Winter Harvest," a winter version of a CSA, in a couple weeks, which promises many more piles of untouched vegetables and "sgust" proclamations.