Monday, August 14, 2006

The Otter at the End

Thanks to The Lovely Mrs. Davis, today we're celebrating 37 years of Sesame Street. My mother says I learned to tell time at two years old so that I could watch the Street each day, so I knew I would write a post describing what kinds of books, shows, movies, and music from my childhood I plan on sharing with my children. (And yes, I do consider Buffy the Vampire Slayer a part of my childhood, as the series began when I was sixteen.) After I settle the logistics of such a plan, this post becomes a story of how Jim Henson contributed to my neuroses, divined a husband from a boyfriend, and is the lynchpin of a family tradition.

Within the next few months, I will be a mother for the first time. Right now, my husband and I don't know if our child will be male or female, we don't know if we'll have a single child or three, and we don't know if they'll be infants or teenagers. We are adopting from foster care.

When adopting from foster care, you check, or don't check, a lot of boxes to narrow down the children to whom you might be matched. Male or female? 0-5 years old, 6-11, 12+. Single child or sibling group? Degree of legal risk? Limited English proficiency? ADHD? Prenatal drug exposure? These questions aid placement workers during homestudy reviews, but they are preliminary, they deal more in conditions. Later on, you find out how well you suit each other, but families don't get matched to children based on a shared fondness for One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Since we're most interested in children over six, our kids will have their own preferences firmly set before we have the pleasure of meeting them. Yes, I'll expose them to the things I like, and the things I liked as a child, but I will not try to remake them in my image. They are already themselves. If my son worships Spiderman, I'm not going to try to convert him to Batman, no matter how much cooler I think the accessories are. My kids will not be blank slates, and if creating continuity means that we spend money on something with Hillary Duff's image on it, I will summon every tool I learned back at the Black Box Theater Company to mask my horror.

I want them to love the things I loved, but lets just pretend that my kids refuse the majority of my musical, cinematic, or literary advances. They have their tastes already, thankya very much, and no Mommy-Come-Lately will turn them into consumers of the works of Butthole Surfers, Henry Rollins, Stanley Kubrick, or Joss Whedeon. The runway scene in The Muppets Take Manhattan will fail to impress, even with all those parasols. While I do the dishes listening to Primus, they will stalk into the kitchen and beg for noise-blocking foam to be poured into their ears Right Now. While I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer as I fold laundry, they will scoff and mumble about cheesy first season special effects. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH will be pronounced lame. I may even be lectured as to why Jessica Simpson is better than Gwen Stefani. The Fraggle Rock DVDs we ordered last month may procure eyerolls. There's a chance that Roald Dahl, Lemony Snicket, Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss will be rebuffed as bedtime reading, as in, "Mom, don't try to James and the Giant Peach me tonight. I just want to watch That's So Raven."

But here's the plan: Our kids are going to be exposed to so much new stuff, that just once in a while, something will have to agree with them -- call it the blind squirrel theory. If we can find one CD's worth of music that we all tolerate, be it Tom Waits, Dinosaur Jr, Cat Stevens, Beck, or Nirvana, we'll listen to it till the wheels come off.

With all that said, there is one movie that is important to me, and this movie I will play even in spite of any protests, whether our children are 2 or 15 when they become our family.

For about twenty years, I had fragments of a movie floating in my head. Name of the movie? Nope, didn't have that. Characters in the movie? Fuzzy singing potatoes, if I had to name a genus and a species. See, I thought that I'd seen this move in first grade, right before the Winter vacation, sitting crosslegged in Mrs. Lindbloom's classroom. But then I never saw it again, and you'd figure that, since it was a Christmas movie, it'd be as overplayed as those freaky claymation Rudolph ones. So every once in a while the sing-song phrase, "There ain't no hole in the washtub," would cross my mind, and I'd become further convinced that my childhood was spent under the hazy influence of too much DEET in the bugspray, and that I had hallucinated the entire movie. C'mon, singing potatoes?

Fast forward nineteen years. I was pretty sure I was in luuuurve. And this time, he had a job! He was nice! He wasn't still sleeping with an ex! The background check my father ran came back clean! Yes, in every way, I was thinking William was the man for me. It was in those first few weeks, the weeks where you gaze at each other and are both lulled and electrified by the other's words, where each touch sends a sizzle down your spine, that I thought to myself, "There ain't no hole in the washtub." I found it strange that my mind would characterize this blossoming relationship in those terms, a line I hadn't reminded myself of in years. I laughed out loud.

I said to him, "I think I saw a movie a long time ago about a washtub, and the washtub was good because it could still be used to wash clothes. Does that sound silly? I just thought of it."

He paused, then said, "You mean Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas?"

I think I looked at him like Britney Spears trying to figure out whether to drink at a bar or drink at home. "Was it about fuzzy potatoes?"

"Well, they're potatoes in the form of otters, I guess."

"Do they sing, 'There ain't no hole in the washtub?'"

"Repeatedly. You know, I watched that movie every Christmas morning from three until I was twelve."

Validation, thy name is William. Twenty years of questioning the safety of feeding children lutefisk evaporates. No, snow blindness did not cause insanity, and DEET? Bring it on.

As for William? I married him six months later.

Our first Christmas together, I unwrapped the collector's edition of Emmet Otter.

We watch it together, fire in the fireplace, snuggling under a blanket on Christmas morning.

Our kids will, too.

We can't wait to know them, whoever they are.


Jeff - OWTK said...

Oh my god - what a funny post! Thanks for sharing your childhood memory. I am very intrigued by your movie selection.

Also, you will find success in penetrating those little minds with good music, books, theater, and film. Don't worry. Your passions will be evident and contagious.

Best of luck!


Mrs. Davis said...

I love that you made this connection with your husband! I can vaguely remember this movie from years ago. Maybe one for us to find this Christmas.

Margaret said...

I have no recollection of that movie. But I will say I'm very happy they were otters and not really fuzzy potatoes.

This post was awesome. So many great little bits. Mommy-Come-Lately is the best phrase I've heard in a while. Love it. That's what we are, isn't it?

Maerlowe said...

In all honesty, the movie isn't the best effort from the mind of Jim Henson. The first time I saw it again, probably about 20 years to the day from the first time I saw it, I told my hub he'd need to make my eggnog a double. It is sweet, it is earnest, and it is based on The Gift of the Magi, so there's nothing wrong with it, it just isn't as transcendent as, say, a 1990 Chateau Margaux. But it is a big part of our history, me and The Hub, and for that, I will love it and force it on my kids with the utmost sincerity.

Glad you enjoyed the post. I worked on it a long time.

Amie said...

That was the most hilerious thing that I have read in a LONG time.... I noticed that you checked my blog so I clicked over, I am sure that it was a disappointing trip for you, but I am glad to have found yours. It is also good to connect with other people in the foster to adopt maze. Good stuff! Amie :)

I am going to link you btw.