Adventures in making and raising our test-tube babies

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Pleasure of Being a Bad Influence

We call Elisa "Elisa-Lamb." Sometimes I play with that: Elisa-Lambkins, Ellie-kins, Elkins. And I think about Bobby Elkins. The Bad Influence.

Bobby (he calls himself Bob now) Elkins has been a friend of my parents since they all started kindergarten in 1949. He picked up a wife, Donna, along the way. And they all picked up another couple, the Bermans, in college. Now I'm an adult and they're adults, but once upon a time, they were adults and I was a kid.

And that's where the games began.

Around 1978, the Elkinses and Bermans came to town for a visit. Bobby Elkins brought my brother and me fake tatoos and candy cigarettes. Why? Because it was funny to try to teach his friends' kids to be bad-asses. Of course, nothing could make us happier. I think we have pictures of ourselves with the tatoos on our inner forearms (apparently no one gave us any practical guidance as to where people wear tatoos). We tatooed the experience permanently onto our little brains.

In the meantime, David Berman told jokes. They were of his own making, mostly the self-deprecating humor he learned as a Jewish kid in Brooklyn. I laughed and laughed and laughed, my stomach aching, as he said he should come to town more often, as it was good for his ego. I've told him several times now, as he humorlessly points out, that he shaped my sense of humor. His influence followed me to college at Columbia, where I was surrounded by hysterical Jews and Jewish-wannabes. I realized my dream was to have been born Jewish. The best I could do was to go on to marry a Catholic, which I have been told is just as good. I do love my Catholic boy dearly, but he knows it's not quite the same.

When I think about the influences my parents' friends have had on me, I think about the influence my friends are having on my babies. My friends Eric and Karen handed us four baby books when they first came to see our offspring. The books were entitled Baby fix my car, Baby do my banking, Baby make me breakfast, and Baby mix me a drink. They're published by McSweeney's, an irreverent artsy publication, and epitomize the loving corruption my friends hope to pass along to the next generation.

But it's not just my friends, and it's not just humor that have been leading the girls astray. Their grandmother Tish is a perfect grandmother except for her sucky sleep-enforcement. "She wasn't sleepy," Tish will say to explain the only-five-minute nap. Or, "She doesn't want to go to bed. She should stay with us in the kitchen for another few hours instead." I roll my eyes.

I can't pretend that external forces are the only source of spoilage. I myself am swayed by my parents' attitudes and the equal and opposite reactions they inspire in me. At our twins play group last week, a mom brought her boy-girl twins, decked out in gender-appropriate gear. Ella was wearing a wide headband covered with cloth flowers, as if she were Esther Williams in a dry pool. First I thought, "I wonder why she needs to assert Ella's femininity so strongly in only the seventh month of her life." And then I thought, "Screw that. Who doesn't love flowers on one's head!?" So I bought fourteen stretchy headbands on the Internet, to decorate with bows and flowers and any other pink thing that responds to the hot glue gun. It's in direct reaction to my parents' gender-neutral boy-girl twin parenting experiment of the 1970s. Damn straight. Bring on the Barbies.

So here is my summary. The babies are tabulae rasae, and we scratch and dent them every time we come into contact with them. The "bad influences" I have listed above? They're really influences of humor, love, whimsy, and personality. Add those to lots of singing, Spanish speaking around the house, appreciation of color in vegetables, and modeling love for our fellow men, and you have the rest of our arsenal.

Mama wants a martini.

Thank you baby (and please pass the pretzels).

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