Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bedtime Stories

I am not complaining, but if I had to read another book about Llama Llama or Dora the Explorer tonight, I was going to lose my biscuits. Our nighttime routine needed some sparkle and some inspiration. I decided it was time to introduce Sadie and Simon to poetry.

Where better to start than with the Beat poets. I sure as hell didn't want anything that rhymes, because that's too close to sing-songy children's dreck that I wanted to step away from-- even if it was for just one night.

And even though the mood was far from lachrymose at my house, I was called to the Kaddish. I forgot what a wild ride that poem is. There were notes in the margin from graduate school, which basically track my 22-year old self's understanding of repression and Cold War politics, as well as the personal nature of the poem: Ginsberg wrote the poem for his mother, who spent most of his youth committed to the Communist party and going fucking insane. In fact, Ginsberg and his brother agreed to allow doctors to perform a lobotomy on their mother in 1948, as her behavior had grown so bizarre and erratic. And the psych meds made her fat. You can imagine that a little Catholic girl from Texas might have a bit of an uphill battle putting that all together. (In Texas, it's worse to be fat than to be lobotomized.) And because I am a giver, I figured I would spare Sadie and Simon the fate of having never read the Beats or having never been exposed to poetry at home.

On some level I hope that Sadie and Simon never know Ginsberg's anguish-- he missed his mother's funeral and later learned that because there were not enough men present, the kaddish (prayer for the dead) was not read. Two years and lots of drugs later, Ginsberg writes the kaddish. (It's never too soon to start subtly and subliminally informing your children that their presence at your funeral is a non-negotiable.)

I skipped over the parts that hint that Ginsberg's mother may have been more than a little sexually inappropriate with him. We focused more on themes of memory, forgiveness, and specific images from New York and New Jersey.

So, yes, I read them the Kaddish while they scrambled around the living room-- Simon chasing Sadie with a plastic golf club and Sadie, clad in her new Dora swimsuit, running back and forth from the living room to the kitchen so many times that her hair was matted with sweat when she finally collapsed and asked me: "Are you done reading that recipe book to us?"

Ah, the mouths of babes. I knew she would "get" Gingsberg. My wee genius.

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