Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Real Mary Poppins

I came across a Facebook argument on whether *Mary Poppins* was a worthwhile book to read to children, and I was reading through and thinking about whether to weigh in, when I saw someone had quoted me . . . with a link  . . . from a forum discussion 9 years ago. I basked in the moment of Internet immortality. 

Then I thought perhaps I should reread it again and see if I still agree with myself. It is all too easy to get out of the habit of reading children's books when one no longer has small children to read them to. And I have to admit that *Mary Poppins* was probably not one I read out loud to the children (I'm pretty sure we got audiobook from the library) nor one that any of them particularly latched on to. (Top ones there would be *Robin Hood*, *Winnie the Pooh*, and *Wind in the Willows*.)

It always has a special place in my heart, though, because though there are many families with four children in literary canon and even quite a few with two boys and two girls, they are the only ones with girl, boy, girl-boy twins to match our lineup. (Though I'm pretty sure Jane and Michael are more like 5 and 7 rather than 3 and 4 that I had to contend with. And I did not have a Mary Poppins nor even a Robertson Ay.) 

But it does tend to draw a lot of flack. Mainly because people watched the movie first. And the Mary Poppins of the book is not much like the Mary Poppins of the movie. She is prickly and stern and uncommunicative. 

One of the newer criticisms I saw was that Mary Poppins is a "narcissistic witch." Well, if you don't like magic you won't like Mary Poppins, but she never casts a spell or rides a broom. I feel she would sternly disapprove of both as unnecessary folly. It is just that strange and wonderful things happen around her, things she usually refuses to discuss.

Narcissistic . . . no. She is vain, undoubtedly. It is quite often pointed out. But it is an innocent, childish vanity that likes to look nice and has no need to feign otherwise, like Yum-Yum in The Mikado. Narcissism is one of those words that gets bandied about so that everyone's former boss, tenant, landlord, and spouse is afflicted with it. But it is grossly overused and it certainly does not apply to Mary Poppins. A narcissist is someone who makes everything all about them. And Mary Poppins is the reverse of that. Everything about her is deflected back outward. When she gives up her new gloves so that the girl from the stars can have a Christmas present, she downplays it entirely. The little world of the Banks children never revolves around her and she does nothing to make it do so. A narcissist in the nursery would be busy manipulating the situation, playing the family members against each other, treating the children's bad behavior as a personal affront, bribing the children's affection one moment and using it against them the next.

Then there are complaints against the Banks parents as distant and uninvolved, which really I think come from the movie, not the books. Yes, the Banks parents rely on servants, like everyone else of their time and class (and frankly everyone else of upper classes through most of time. We only got rid of widespread servitude with automated home appliances.) But they care more about their children than about funds, they are present in the day-to-day lives of their children, and it is not from lack of care for their children that they got help with all the buttoning and unbuttoning. Mr. Banks requests the children meet him for lunch as a treat--his idea, not theirs or Mary Poppins. Mrs. Banks is around enough that the children can pester her all morning with questions.

Tolstoy was wrong about happy families (he had probably never met one)--they can all be quite different. The Banks might not be a modern attachment parenting family, but they are a happy one, and it is quite a good thing for children (and their parents) to learn that not everyone has to be just like them.

Another new buzzword I have seen applied is that Mary Poppins "gaslights" the children. This because she generally refuses to discuss the magical things that have happened in her presence. On a careful read, though, I found only one case where she appears to deny it, and that is after the laughing gas episode when the children refer to her uncle as "bobbing about" on the ceiling. Even then she doesn't so much deny it as criticize them using such undignified terminology about her uncle.  

But I think this really misunderstands what I think is one of the key themes of Mary Poppins, which I bring up at the risk of reducing a real, whole book full of real, whole people to a mere point. At the end of the chalk painting chapter, Mary Poppins tells the children, "Don't you know everyone's got his own fairyland?" And an entire chapter is devoted to the babies learning that on or about their 1st birthday,  they will forget how to talk to the birds and the wind (Mary Poppins of course being the notable exception to this general rule).

The world of Mary Poppins--and the real world--are full of Wonder. Strange and amazing things are around every corner. But it is easy, easy, easy to lose that. It can be lost through too much talk, too much poking and prodding. We can hardly help but lose it as we grow up and become more rational. Mary Poppins--for reasons we do not and probably cannot know--is a conduit to that Wonder.  She has never forgotten how to talk to the wind. She cannot tell you how, but if you will be quiet for a minute, perhaps you can eavesdrop. And if not, off to bed with you. 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

It Has Been a Week

While there are probably many things I could blame for the decline of posting over the past several years, the biggest one has been DOB's succession of car accidents that not only threw everything into chaos, but meant any reference to them or their effects (which would have been every moment of every day) could become part of discovery in ongoing litigation. However, now that things are resolved it is easier to make posts about the day to day.

Which hasn't settled down all that much, though DOB is doing much better than he has in years. 

We started out this week pretty well. Duchess had been working at a camp and missed our annual summer trip to the beach, so she requested a family weekend there. Summer, which was conspicuously absent this June, decided to stay on an extra two months and we had two days of boogie boarding and s'mores on the beach, which we managed to accomplish all by ourselves without the collective skills and supplies of the extended family which we usually rely on. DOB has a three-wheeled electric scooter that rides a tight line between mobility device and off-road vehicle so he can get around on the beach.

After we arrived home on Monday, and I was at last enjoying that moment which all parents of large families know, in which it is finally *your turn* in the bathroom after a two and a half hour car ride, Deux came in and said in relatively calm tones that I was needed in the driveway immediately. Deux, who had been helping DOB finish unloading, is mathematically precise in all his speech, so I immediately emerged. While DOB was backing the scooter down the ramp off its hauler, the hinges on the ramp had given way. The scooter had flipped over sideways and DOB was dangling head downward over the side of the hauler, with his foot trapped under the scooter. He was conscious and able to move himself as much as might be expected for someone dangling in that position, so I decided the thing to do would be to get the scooter off his foot and get him out of there. Unfortunately, no means of doing this did not increase the pain in his foot. (Note: Do not try this at home. I am definitely not trained for this.) But leaving him dangling there while more competent help arrived also didn't sound like a great option. So I finally decided to go with what I could do and do it quickly. I tipped the scooter back up and DOB winced but we got him down to the ground and then upright and he was, astonishingly, still functional. Deux and I were able to lift the scooter down flat on the ground and DOB was able to park it. After several thorough checks from his various medical people, it seems that he sustained no serious damage either to brain or foot, which is amazing.

Anyway, then it was back to work on Tuesday. We are still working through the backlog of appointments and work that got sidelined during our trial last month. For me this includes several evictions that were filed during the trial and therefore I may or may not have reviewed as carefully as usually. Deadlines for evictions are different from normal civil practice, at least for the tenants, who have no deadline for their responses. This is a rule that predates them having state-funded lawyers, but now that they do their lawyers tend to take advantage of it. On Wednesday afternoon I was working my way through my appointments, one of which was a potentially very serious and emergency situation for a vulnerable adult that I was trying to sort out through a language barrier and would need to file in the adjacent county under a statute that just changed and I am still getting the hang of. I finally wrapped it up and went to join the Zoom for my next consult and just briefly glanced at my email to see that the opposing attorney to whom I had wired $300,000 in settlement of a judgment the week before--on which daily interest was hundreds of dollars--was emailing to say that it had not arrived. 

Over lunch I'd wrapped up a response in one of my eviction matters--the lease had been omitted from the complaint as it wasn't a significant element in that eviction and the landlord had brought it by and we'd submitted it with an additional declaration and argument on why it was not important. Another one came in with an 8-page brief that needed a detailed and carefully substantiated response. None of this could I start, of course, until I had very calmly met with my next two clients, both of which were complex trust situations that needed a lot of discussion. DOB went to the bank to find out what happened to the wire transfer but the local branch, although helpful, could not tell us anything except the money had definitely been sent because the wire department was already closed.

Well, that was a rough Wednesday, but I got my second eviction brief mostly drafted before I left for home. Thursday I had another full morning of meetings, including merger discussions with our suitemates, but I was doing OK wrapping up my second eviction brief when I got more briefing in the other case, in which opposing counsel accused not just my client of fabricating the lease because the January date on the lease used the previous year (before he bought the property), but accused me of knowingly aiding and abetting this "fraud." Never mind what the chances are of writing the previous year in January vs. messing up the dates on a document being forged to fool the court. I was a lot more insulted by the implicit stupidity than by the asserted evil. We did find out that the wire transfer was just someone forgetting to click the approve box at the receiving bank so hopefully no one blames us for it. 

Anyway, Friday came, motions day, and I had four evictions on the morning calendar. I moved the "forgery" one to a different judge and DOB argued it so I wouldn't spit nails. Each eviction was argued and examined by the court with great care and it took all morning. The court sternly denied sanctions in the "forgery" case and set it for trial. Meanwhile my paralegal had worked out when and how I needed to file the vulnerable adult matter and I had just time to scarf down lunch before heading to Tacoma.  

We got the matter filed but then had to hang around a few hours until a translator was available. Luckily I had my computer so I went to the law library and tried to deal with a few other emergency situations that I had not yet had the time to address that week. 

The time finally came and we had a long and difficult hearing what with the language barrier, the translator being on phone and not able to hear half the time, and us having almost no information to support our petition (which was the basis for our petition--the petitioner had been locked out of all her own bank accounts and we're still trying to figure out what the heck happened). We didn't get a temporary order, but we did get a hearing set and court authority to support getting the authorization we needed. 

Anyway, I do not carry fluids with me because I would just dump them on important things, and the courthouse, as far as I have been able to ascertain has a total of one water fountain set to "dribble." After an afternoon of this I was absolutely parched and did not think I would make it home. I thought, "Normal people would drive through a coffee shop and get something." I hate coffee but thought there was a chance someone might have unsweetened ice tea.  But not being a normal person I could not find one. I took an exit that I knew led to a large shopping area but there was no coffee shop there. There was a Target, so I thought maybe there was something *inside* Target having vague recollection of seeing that before. (Not being a normal person I go inside Target maybe twice a year and have never actually purchased a beverage there.) 

I couldn't find anything, but I thought, "Target sells water, right? I could buy water?" I walked to the back where of course I realized that Target does sell water but only in large cases. So I got a case of water and a bag of chocolate-covered nuts because water alone seemed insufficient at that point and as I'm standing awkwardly in the checkout line with a case of water and a bag of nuts (and no cart because I'm just getting a drink, I don't need a cart), behold there is Starbucks immediately before me, right next to the door I came in.

Anyway, I hauled everything out to my car. There was a rather random-looking gentleman walking behind me as I went out to my car and he was saying something I couldn't quite work out, but when I got to the car he appeared interested solely in addressing the sky and the Office Depot opposite so I left him to it while I slammed a couple of bottles of water. 

I then got lost trying to get back to the freeway and passed several more coffee stands. I always get lost in Tacoma but I never worry about it because if the sun is in my eyes I will find my way home eventually. And I got a chicken at Costco and came home and crawled into bed. 

I hope next week goes better. 

Saturday, September 10, 2022

A Few More Books

 We are midway through a jury trial which is the culmination of four years' hard labor, most of it solo while DOB was recovering even though litigation is not my preference. Despite the disjunction, it all seems to be coming together. And DOB is noticing that his strength and stamina are even notably improved from the trial we did in April. Mine, alas, has not changed and regardless a multi-week jury trial is a grueling physical and mental marathon.

So I am not attempting any new projects nor many very ambitious books. I did finally finish one called The Lords of Easy Money by Christopher Leonard. It was not a cheerful book, being about the policies of the Federal Reserve over the past two decades. It takes a full book to translate financial gibberish into moderately understandable terms and I am going to try to sum it up in a few sentences. Without conspiracy theories or using the ever-amorphous capitalism whipping boy, it pointed out how the Federal Reserve, acting from no worse motive than an earnest desire to be useful, or at the least to appear to be useful, has taken it upon itself to always take action to ensure continued economic growth. Unfortunately, the only tool it has at its disposal for promoting that growth is, in one form or another, lending money it just created to the people and institutions who are already the richest, creating incentives for them to purchase riskier and riskier debt, and then bailing those same people out when those risks do in fact occur. The result has been economic growth that is highly inequitable, largely illusory, and completely unsustainable.  And it has gone on and on and compounded regardless of administration or economic ideology, because they are not elected and very few people can even get their heads around what they are doing. 

I also gave a try at podcasts, which are all the rage, but I find that I do not like listening to people just talk, not even people whose blogs I enjoy on topics I am interested in. However, SOME people have created podcasts that are in fact audiobooks. I have never been much into audiobooks, but the house is intermittently quiet enough these days that an audiobook is not bad, and coupled with a peaceful building game relistening to Jane Austen is a highly relaxing activity. Even though I must now acknowledge with some chagrin I am almost certainly older than any of the living mothers.  

The first one I did was Mansfield Park. Emma is notorious for being a heroine Austen thought nobody but herself would much like, but I always suspect in Fanny she set herself the challenge of writing a heroine she didn't much like. She is quiet, docile, feminine, almost completely passive, everything that ought to make her dull as dishwater. Except she is not. The reader has the uncomfortable feeling of growing in appreciation of Fanny parallel to the villain, Henry Crawford. (And Crawford is perhaps Austen's least redeemable villain.) On the things that actually matter to her, she is bedrock. And Austen upends--before the genre had really gotten going--the romance novel convention of a charming rogue tamed by the love of a good woman. It could have been done, she acknowledges, but she will not sacrifice Fanny to the cause. Crawford is not willing to exert any effort to redeem himself, so he deserves no help from any other quarter. 

Then I did Sense and Sensibility. The dichotomy between Eleanor's sense and Marianne's sensibility is of course a commonplace, but I could not help noticing that Lucy Steele shows us there is another end of the spectrum. Eleanor is actually the golden mean--she has sense, yes, but also genuine feelings. She just knows when feelings should be expressed and when concealed. But Lucy Steele is all calculation; has no genuine feelings at all for anyone else, simply acts always and inevitably to what will advance her own self-interest. 

Another thing that is simply lovely in Sense and Sensibility is the warm and genuine friendship between Eleanor and Colonel Brandon, which exists before there is much hope of their ever being related, which never gives rise in either of them (though occasionally speculated upon by their friends) to any expectation of romance, but is simply two people who quite like and respect each other. Even in books where there are reasonably congenial brothers in law, none of them are really friends--Elizabeth and Mr. Bingley, say, are not what anyone could call friends. He never confides in her and she never seeks him out. I am sure in later years they have pleasant enough dinner parties and Christmases but I doubt they ever recommend books to each other. 

Also I cannot help but think that if I were Mrs. Dashwood and widowed at 40 I might have made a move for Colonel Brandon myself. 

Saturday, July 16, 2022

A Slight Apocalypse

 Every once in a while, a long time after everyone else, I get around to something and Have Thoughts on it. 

This time it was *Dune*, which I decided to give a try since it's considered iconic and I do like some science fiction and it seemed better than making myself sit through any of *Star Trek*. (OK, so I really only like *obscure* science fiction. *Babylon 5* forever!) 

Perhaps it is just now being the mother of teenage boys, but I feel like the teenage-boy-protagonist-will-save-the-world thing is way overdone. With apologies to Deux and Dash, who are quite decent human beings, really, here are the responses you would *actually* get if you asked a teenage boy to save the world: 

  • "Does the world really have to be saved? Couldn't we just skip it this time?"
  • "I saved the world *last* week. It's Andromeda's turn to save the world."
  • "Mmmppphh."
  • "I have to finish fighting this boss first."
  • "Oh right, I forgot. Save the world. Will do."
  • "I would, but I'm leaving right now. Maybe when I get back."
Finally, in exasperation, one would lay into them with a store of accumulated righteous indignation, only to have them say, "I already did it!"

Repeat weekly, which is how often world-ending scenarios come up in science fiction anyway.

However, it's not just the having of a teen hero. After all, the Codex Alera books have a teenage hero saving the world, and they're delightful. Mostly, I think it's just that Paul is such a thoroughly dislikable person. Cold, detached, unrealistically competent, followed by unreasonably adoring fans and worst of all, he's boring. I would not want to be his mother. Whereas I would be quite proud to be Tavi's mother. He's warm, curious, funny, he makes mistakes and has to deal with them, and just all round feels like an actual human being. 

I think the clincher for me is when Paul is proposing to the Emperor's daughter and his common-law tribal wife is like, "Oh, Paul, you don't have to worry about me, I won't get in the way of your galactic ambitions." Even though *their child was just killed by the Emperor's forces*. Kitai would have throat-punched Tavi if he had even thought about something like that. And he would have known he deserved it. 

Then again, maybe I'm just too old for this, and I will go back to cheering on Thursday Next and Precious Ramotswe. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

A Few of the Books

Dame never really adapted to regular school, and deals with a lot of chronic pain and fatigue. Last February she was missing so many days from not feeling well that we decided to let her come back home. This is equal parts delightful and exhausting for me, as I missed homeschooling very much but also don't have a lot to give after work (and Dame is not a person who prefers to work alone, so not much is done before I arrive home.)

What we do is about equal parts Ambleside Online (currently roughly based on Year 7) and um, let's call it unschooling but it's mostly Youtube videos and her designing her own fantasy universe in luxuriant detail. Deux also still enjoys fantasy worldbuilding (the "world in his head" has been a major presence in our life since he was very small indeed) only while Dame is aimed towards books in the end Deux builds RPGs, which we cannot possibly play as fast as he designs them. 

Although Deux is doing Running Start, his classes have still been entirely online and they do not appear to absorb much of his time (I assume he is passing when he gives me the parental permission sheet to sign up for the next quarter), so he and Dame have plenty of time for intense arguments about the logistics of their respective worlds and magical universes. Deux has the edge in physics and chemistry, but Dame probably knows more about habitats and zoology. Regardless, the discussion is always lively. 

For assigned school we are reading about the Middle Ages. The really long readings we tend to listen to on Librivox while we play video games. This is not a very impressive scholastic habit, but it keeps us going. And we are reading Ivanhoe (which I have never actually finished before), and Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc and In Freedom's Cause this way. We tried Idylls of the King but the readers just didn't quite make epic poetry easy to follow, so I'm reading that one aloud, along with Molecules by Theodore Gray, Eric Sloane's Weather Book, and Julius Caesar in which we take parts. There are also a goodly number of books she reads on her own, one of which is a Chaucer adaptation while I am tackling the (translated) whole thing. I can't believe it's taken me this long to try Chaucer, he's really quite hilarious and snarky. 

I also do some reading of books I might like to try for the future. Next year I want to tweak her science to give maximum support to worldbuilding, so I am looking for books on anatomy (especially comparative animal anatomy), ecology and habitats. We already have The Way We Work by David Macaulay to get us started on anatomy. I read The Hidden Life of Trees  by Peter Wohlleben and absolutely loved it, but was a little saddened that it was (naturally) so strongly skewed to the species in his native Central European forest, where Douglas fir is an ill-adapted stranger. So now I am looking at a North American focused book called Forest Walking but it annoys me just a tad because it (reasonably enough) has a North American co-writer and I always find the way people interject things from the cowriter to be odd. But content-wise it is probably more what I am looking for, there's a great deal about things we might see on a walk around the neighborhood. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

It Has Been Too Long

Somebody (perhaps Lewis Carroll?) advised that one should never begin a letter with an apology for how long it had taken to write back, and I suppose the same should apply to blog posts. I took an actual Day Off this week, an extremely rare event, and even though I spent a pretty large part of it scrubbing the kitchen which was sustaining several new ecosystems, I took some time to sit about long enough to remember that I needed to hunt up photos for Duchess' graduation slideshow. And the only place I really have photos is on here.

I have always figured that one of my glaring failures as a mother would be a lack of photos for the graduation slideshow (since graduation classes at Duchess' and Dash's school generally consist of 4-6 seniors, everyone gets star billing), but I was pleased to discover I was able to supply quite a respectable number even before she turned 13 and started keeping her own. Of course, most of them have Deux in them but they are quite tolerant of each other these days. 

I don't know if other people find this about growing older, but I realize that I don't feel my life stretching behind me as a sequential thing. Myself as a 12 year old scrappy know-it-all and myself as a 25 year old new mother or a 36 year old trying to juggle everything are all still here and the people and the worlds of those times do not stretch out behind me in receding distance. They are like the blog posts, just around the corner. I could step into them at any time; I might go into a room and find my mother and grandfather deep in a friendly argument, or step into the back yard and find a troupe of little Ducklings constructing a monument to unspeakable chaos out of scrap lumber. I could, but somehow I don't. 

Instead, the former Ducklings remain distressingly tall (Duchess is the only one who is shorter than me, and likely to remain so at this point) and disconcertingly independent. Somehow, as attested by the datestamps on the blog posts, eighteen years of parenthood are behind me, and Duchess is about to graduate and start her first job and college, Deux is in Running Start (at which he needs absolutely no parental guidance whatsoever but fortunately he does still appreciate parents who will play a round of Magic: the Gathering), and the twins (Dot now prefers Dame, but Dash will always be Dash) will enter high school in the fall. I feel less prepared for parenting than I did at the beginning when the first panic of having a small human in care hit me--and yet somehow, incontrovertibly, we have made it this far. 

I never did get much better at the things I was bad at (I still have boxes and boxes in the garage of Miscellaneous Things I Didn't Have The Patience to Put Away). I have faced many challenges I never expected and given up on many things that were important. There were quite a lot of things I never got to until it was too late. We never did music lessons, or sports, or make beautiful nature journals with watercolors. We did much fewer read-alouds and much more screen time than I would have believed. But I still think--hope--I managed to hold onto everything that was truly essential. 

I spent a lot more of these past seven years working than I ever wanted. I can't get that time back and it hurts every time I think of it, though it was what was necessary. But I made quite a lot of good soup, and we still had a backyard (however overgrown) and books were at least about the place and everyone learned to hate bad grammar, verbal ambiguity, and Christmas songs before Thanksgiving. And DOB is doing better, mentally and physically, than he has in many years and is finally able to return to work. 

A fair portion of my work is estate planning and so I sit down with a lot of elderly people--often their children are older than I am--and they talk about their lives and families, and sometimes it's beautiful and sometimes it's heartbreaking. In the end, not a lot matters. Not the type of diapers or the dietary plan or (within reason) the type of discipline. If your children are honest and reasonably responsible and still on speaking terms with you, you have done about as well as anyone can hope for and been luckier than many. 

And since this is a good place for my pictures, here is one. It's actually a year old (from my oldest niece's wedding--I now have three married neiphlings and two great-neiphlings), so add an inch to Deux and three to Dash, but otherwise it's pretty on target .

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Protecting Dissent

The consequences of freedom of speech when a global platform is within the reach of just about anyone seem to have gotten a little overwhelming lately. On the one hand, it's true that freedom of speech is a political right, and therefore is not intrinsically infringed by the choices of a private entity. On the other hand, it's equally true that political rights do not thrive when they cease to represent the values of a society. 

And it is difficult to remember just how unnatural the concept of freedom of speech is. The natural human instinct is for consensus, for harmony, and for shunning if not blotting out people who disagree, a practice that was undoubtedly in place long before the Pharaohs started scratching out engravings to their disfavored predecessors. 

Even though it's my job to have people disagree with me, I still hate it every time. Still get sick to my stomach when I see that new round of pleadings come in, still get annoyed when a malicious tenant has managed to cajole a public interest attorney to dragging out an eviction to the damage of everyone around them.

At the same time, I know that this is absolutely necessary. That without that adverse position, I would get sloppy and cut corners, no matter how much I tried not to. There's no substitute for someone actually getting in the ring against you to keep you honest and careful.

And dissent in every setting has that same function. A recent book by Charlan Nemeth, In Defense of Troublemakers, points out that dissent improves thought processes and decision making--even when it is 100% wrong. It's not just that dissent is valuable because it might be right--it's because even when it's wrong, facing up to it causes us to dig deeper, consider more angles, probe underlying reasons and causes, and ultimately come to a better decision. It's because welcoming even stupid dissenters makes it more likely we'll get to hear from wise ones.

So while I certainly understand the difference between government censorship and the content choices of a private organization, I also think it's worth speaking up and fighting for freedom of speech as a social value, not just a constitutional right. That it's worth preserving the voice of the cranks, the ignorant, the prejudiced, and that one guy who has questions about line 48 in the budget just as the meeting was about to adjourn for doughnuts. Because freedom of speech is hard. It's not natural. It takes practice. And it's how we keep learning.