Which Songs Can You Sing to Kids to Prevent Risk of Brain Atrophy (for yourself)?

The reason I had to get my nails done this weekend is because I was attending a birthday party for a one-year-old that was full of Russian women waiting to judge me.

If a one-year-old does not remember a birthday party, did the party happen?  This is a philosophical question for another day, a day when I need more site traffic from BlogHer.

What I’d really like to talk about is the quality of music at children’s birthday parties:

Because how many times can you listen to “If You’re Happy and You Know It?”  and Rafi rap before you become homicidal? For me, the answer is three. Three times.

One of the songs that looped constantly throughout the party was The Lion Sleeps Tonight, which is actually a song we should be singing to children.  If you think about it because it’s  a lesson in politics, OR a lesson in being badass and killing lions OR a lesson in white people appropriating African culture disguised by AWHEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOEEEEEE Wimbaway:

In the liner notes to one of his recordings, Seeger explained his interpretation of the song, which he believed to be traditional, as an instance of a “sleeping-king” folk motif about Shaka, Warrior King of the Zulus, along the lines of the mythical European sleeping king in the mountainShaka the Lion, who heroically resisted the armies of the European colonizers, is supposed not to be dead but only sleeping and will one day awaken and return to lead his oppressed people to freedom. University of Texas folklorist, Veit Erlmann, however, argues that the song’s meaning is more literal and refers to an incident in Linda’s own youth when he actually killed a lion cub.[5]

So many lessons!  “Gather around, kids.  Let me tell you about the murder of Patrice Lumumba!”

Which got me to thinking.  Which other songs are potentially simple, but deceptively so, and teach Things? Real Thing? Here are the songs I plan to traumatize all the children I know with:

  1. Russian lullabies. DUH. WINNING.
  2. The Banana Boat Song: Catchy, cheerful, exploitation of workers, organizing in unions, tarantulas, yellow fever, Panama Canal, Monroe Doctrine, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, teddy bears.
  3. If I Had a Hammer: Social justice, Pete Seeger, unions again, commies, can white non-Muslims actually call anyone “brother” or “sister” without it sounding insensitive?, civil rights, hippies, hipsters, hips, hi.
  4. I’m Just a Bill: Government shutdowns. Our legislative process. Fear. Anger. Hope. Change. Fox News. Rupert Murdoch. His wife is HOW old? How to correctly pronounce Boehner. Later, you find out it’s about a guy named Bill who REALLY liked hanging out in DC.
  5. Eli,Eli:  Soothing until kids learn it was written by a Zionist woman who parachuted to a certain demise in Yugoslavia by being shot at least three times in her execution, all because she was just like your little Shlomi (i.e. Jewish).  Then you can teach them ALL about the Holocaust.
  6. Run Away: Catchy pop song that forces your kids to listen to your favorite early 90s dance music AND learn about Big Brother. Also commies.  Not to mention dystopia. (“You’re sad because I took away your Legos, Timmy?  Wait until the government takes away our house!  It could be worse!  No wait, don’t cry, don’t cry.  We still have the Bill of Rights.”)
  7. Summer of  ’69: Nice, cute song.  At the beginning, teaches your kids about making memories and working real hard, keeping promises.  Then, when they’re older, teaches your kids all about double entendres and what a punny genius Bryan Adams thinks he is.
  8. Yellow Submarine (do I need to link to this one?): Ecological.  Then, later, really ecological.  Hemp-based, even.  I am ashamed to say that Mr. B had to explain this double meaning to me. Last year.
  9. Pata Pata: Playful, fun, easy to mimic for little kids until they grow up and realize it’s about groping people on Friday nights.

How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire, plus Afghanistan

Mr. B and I were watching Afghan Star last night, which is about as sad and as inspiring as it sounds.  You should check it out.

One of the things we noticed is that, in the beginning of the documentary, about 30 people would crowd around a TV set to watch the competition, like so:

And Mr. B said, “I remember my dad telling me how they were one of three families in their town that had a TV and everyone would gather around to watch,” and I remembered my mom telling me the same thing, except that it wasn’t her family that had the TV but a friend’s and she and the neighborhood kids would run over and watch the one channel that was available in the Soviet Union in the late 1960s. And then I remembered when my parents bought their first TV in 1989 and what a huge deal and joy it was for them to be able to watch nightly news in our apartment while I was safe asleep across the room from them, shielded from the glare of the TV by a closet door propped ajar.  And Mr. B and I understood those kids in Afghanistan very well.

I whined to Mr. B, “I don’t want our kids to grow up thinking that having a TV is normal.  I want them to understand where we came from and not think of ‘back in the old country’ as quaint and far away.  I don’t want them to be spoiled. I want them to be able to understand Afghan Star on more level than one, to be able to empathize beyond simply understanding that those kids are poor. ”   But it’s going to be tough raising kids  that understand what living in the second world means. Especially if they’ve never been in a Russian public bathroom.  We’re going to try our hardest. Probably by exiling them to Russia until they are seven or so.

With this in mind, I’m always interested in how immigrants raise their kids, how immigrant kids like us behave, and, especially, how Russian kids that were born to immigrant parents conceptualize the world, which is why I was pretty excited when I got an email from Babelgum whose subject line was,

“Great feature story on Jewish filmmaker who becomes a vodka importer while investigating his ancestors in Ukraine”

From the press release,

How To Re-Establish A Vodka Empire”, the latest of a series of projects which break the boundaries of traditional film distribution. The 24-part series charts the fascinating and often surreal odyssey of a young filmmaker, Dan Edelstyn, who heads to Ukraine to explore his ancestry. Finding out his great-grandfather once owned the town’s now nearly bankrupt vodka distillery, the filmmaker decides to use his wits and wherewithal to not only revive the business by launching a new vodka brand named after his ancestors, but the fortunes of the small, financially put-upon town from which his family grew.

Here’s the first episode:

The second episode is especially interesting because it goes through the Edelstyn family history during the Russian Revolution with pictures much like the ones I often see in our family albums.  What strikes me most is how much Edelstyn feels the need to connect back to his family roots, even though many generations have passed since anyone in his family has been from Russia.  What is also interesting is that he somehow becomes crazily convinced that he needs to re-open his family’s vodka factory and bring the small village he’s from into the 21st century.

Another interesting fact is that, in the letters he discovered in his attic that led him to start this search, it is revealed that his grandmother converted to Catholicism as a result of sympathy for the Irish cause when the family immigrated to Belfast.  That’s just part of the story he weaves, which includes Italy and Odessa.

Although Edelstyn romantic and extremely naive when dealing with Eastern Europe, that’s part of the charm of the project.  And, you have to give him lots of credit.  Many people (and organizations such as the UN, Amnesty, blah, blah, blah) talk about boosting the economies and living conditions of the former Soviet Union countries, but few do it at a level that actually impacts people directly.

I can’t wait to watch more episodes and see how this turns out for him. After all, his production company is called Optimistic Productions.


Heavy Metal in Baghdad

So, I watched this documentary yesterday and realized I have nothing to complain about in life.

You never hear about how real Iraqis, especially educated Iraqis, live, trapped, beyond the headlines.  The closest experience I can think of was living in Tel Aviv during the 2006 war with Lebanon and feeling for two months like the sky was going to come down on me any second.   At night, I couldn’t sleep because every car door slamming below my apartment window meant a Katyusha from Hezbollah.  But that was NOTHING compared to what these guys have gone through.  Watch and enjoy.


A conversation with my parents about India

As part of our continuing world travel plans, Mr. B and I are planning to go to India this spring because we’re bored of Europe (see: Prague) and ready for a little bit of third-world excitement. Little did we know that the excitement would start before we even bought our tickets.

This weekend, we were in Philadelphia with my parents and my mother-in-law and the conversation came around to our travel plans.

“I don’t like this idea at all,” said my dad surlily as we sat eating breakfast. My dad doesn’t like the idea of most things that are not Russian or American, and this makes him surly in general.

“Why not,” I prepared for a debate which wouldn’t even be a debate since, no matter what my parents think, we are going to India. Ah, the pleasures of balling on one’s own budget.

“You’ll catch a million diseases,” my dad said. My dad is a hypochondriac, a germophobe, and a neat freak, who has hated New York City since 1989 with a vile aversion because the streets are not clean and orderly enough for him. He has also refused to eat at a restaurant once because he thought the color of their plates was unsanitary. I have no idea how he lived the first 30 years of his life in Russia, and the first 10 without real toilet paper.

Oddly enough, I inherited this hypochondria from him, because two weeks ago, I felt a bump on the back of my head that wouldn’t go away, and I was having some issues swallowing. Immediately, I pictured Mr. B at my funeral, solemn but strong, all the Russian ladies around him whispering about what a great wife I had been and bringing him borscht in cans. “So young,” they would say, “They could have had children together, just like their mothers wanted them to,” and I teared up. I would be ok with death. I pictured Mr. B returning to live at home and watching anime in  his basement, a shattered wreck of a man.   But then I went to the doctor and it turned out that I did not have throat cancer or even strep throat, and I was ok again.

“We’re getting shots and malaria pills,” I told my dad merrily.

“That’s not going to be enough,” he said, concerned. “And besides, who knows what you could get in India.  You could become infertile.”   My mom nodded worryingly.

“Are you serious,” I asked.

“I was talking to your aunt and she stopped dead in her tracks when she found out you were going to India,” my dad said.  “She was right to point out that you haven’t given birth yet.”

This medical analysis of Southeast Asia would be all well and good if my aunt were a doctor or experienced in Southeast Asia epidemiology.  However, my aunt lives in Yaroslavl, Russia, has never been further than Moscow up until five years ago when she came to visit America, and has no more knowledge of the medical profession than I have of neck ailments.  Additionally, last I checked, my uterus was not communal property.

Wolf Blitzer, live with the update from my uterus

“Another real Medicin sans frontieres,” Mr. B said caustically from the corner, where my  parents couldn’t hear him.

My parents, more specifically my dad, spurred by this sage advice from my aunt, finally had a solid objection to me going to India as opposed to the general discontent they had been channeling over the past couple of weeks.  It was their rook to my pawn.  Or whatever.

“You really believe that I can catch something that will make me infertile?”  I asked them logically, which is not the best way to approach my parents.


“Do you want us to be like Grandpa?” I asked.   My Grandpa’s been through some crazy stuff in his life, but currently he doesn’t go further than his local grocery store.  He complains every time he has to go to a restaurant for birthdays or other special occasions.  Last time he ordered butternut squash soup at a restaurant, he told my mom, for half an hour, that it felt like someone was plastering on wallpaper in his kidney.

That ended the current round of arguments. Checkmate for now.

My mother-in-law wisely said nothing during this whole debate.  She’s very tactful and never butts in the way my parents do.   Although, a couple weeks ago when I told her about our Boykis World Tour, she said quietly, “You know, there are lots of countries you can take little kids to.  My parents always traveled with me when I was little without problems.”

My parents throw all their pawns and rooks at us.   She brings just the queen.