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Posts Tagged ‘children’

The Cat Came Back

April 9, 2014 | by

The Incredible Journey Quad

Detail from the poster for Disney’s The Incredible Journey, 1963.

Yesterday, a dog raced a Metro-North train from the South Bronx into Manhattan. The train slowed down at several points so the dog, an adorable shepherd/collie mix, would not risk injury. Passengers feared for her safety during the mad dash—and cheered lustily as she was collected by two transit cops, who took her to animal control to treat her injured paw.

We love to see pets going to great lengths for our companionship, or whatever it is they’re doing. It’s hard enough to know what your dog or cat is thinking as it goes from room to room—and no one can divine the thoughts of these heroic specimens who follow their masters across continents, Incredible Journey–style. We usually choose to regard this as proof of pure devotion. But in other cases, we see these antics—especially by cats—as slightly sinister. Consider the case of “The Cat Came Back.”

Written in 1893 as a minstrel song with a very different title, “The Cat Came Back” tells of a malevolent cat who won’t stay away—until he’s killed. It’s not the sort of enlightened fare we usually associate with modern elementary education. And yet, a sanitized version of the song is a staple of nursery schools and day camps, where it’s seen as a useful tool for teaching young children about rhythm and harmony. For whatever reason, kids love the minor-key tune and the story of the grim, Mephistophelean cat.

There’s a G-rated modern version in which the owner tries to pawn the cat off on Santa Claus and an air balloon; and then there’s an earlier iteration, in which said owner clearly wants to see the feline dead. Kids laugh at both, because this cat will not be ruled by man. He defies adult authority—to say nothing of the laws of physics and geography—and this is as reassuring as it is terrifying. He “couldn’t” stay away, we are told—but not because he so loves the beleaguered Mr. Johnson, or Wilson, or whatever the owner’s name happens to be. He is a law unto himself. And the glee in telling his story has little to do with affection, and much to do with things dark and unexplained.

If no owner claims that train-loving dog, animal control is going to put her up for adoption, even though her heart is clearly wild and free and her thoughts inscrutable. But maybe for someone, that will be an adventure. Maybe they’ll like the minor key of its small mysteries. And why take on another life, if not for that?

 

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No Grownups Allowed

March 27, 2014 | by

MERRY-GO-ROUND_AT_AMUSEMENT_PARK_-_NARA_-_543213

Photo: Dick Rowan, 1972

There are certain places—mostly playgrounds—that post signs advising visitors that no unaccompanied adults will be admitted without a child escort. Sometimes, these are practical concerns: jungle gyms and ball pits are not made to bear a grownup’s weight. (This is to say nothing of creeps.) But maybe they are also meant to give kids a sense of specialness in a grown-up world.

There should be far more of these signs. In fact, they should be expanded to include “No unaccompanied adults on grounds of preserving their dignity” and “No unaccompanied adults on grounds of Baby Jane–style macabreness.” Signs for both these categories would bar adult entry to petting zoos; most merry-go-rounds, with special dispensation for the kind with brass rings; and any restaurants clearly intended primarily for little girls. (These prohibitions sort of apply to groups of wild teenagers who scare little children, but of course they know exactly what they’re doing and run the world.)  It is not that I don’t understand a need for nostalgia and childlike wonder. But over the weekend—while I was accompanied by young children, may I add—I saw a young French woman texting as she rode the Central Park Carousel, so. Read More »

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“By Jove, the Monocle Has Returned,” and Other News

March 10, 2014 | by

Height_of_fashion

Illustration: Jean-Baptiste Adolphe LaFosse, c. 1854.

  • Writing advice for children: “If you can get inside the creepy, disgusting mind of a monster you will really scare your reader.”
  • For more than a century, the Times has seldom passed up an opportunity to discuss the monocle: “Monocles used to be gimmicky … but now people realize they are useful with menus and theater programs.”
  • Thirty cult films you must see, including Sharktopus: “the tale of a genetically engineered half shark, half octopus who wreaks havoc at the beach.”
  • At last, a quantum leap in airship technology—the new Airlander can stay aloft for three weeks, and is, despite its bulbous bloat, pretty handsome to behold.
  • Silence is now a luxury product. “The fiercely defended philosophy of the quiet car is spreading.”

 

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O, Youth!

January 30, 2014 | by

post office

From letters published in the February 1, 1881, edition of Harper’s Young People, a spinoff of Harper’s for readers six to sixteen.

Will Mary R., of Sunbury, Pennsylvania, please oblige me by giving her method of cultivating heliotrope, as it is one of my favorites, and I can never succeed in raising it. I have over two hundred plants in my parlor and sitting-room windows, and not one heliotrope.

I have a beautiful black goat named Dan, and a complete set of silver-plated harness … Dan will not allow any boy to come near him, but he loves me dearly, and I love him. I am eleven years old.

I and my brother used to have such good times fishing on these lakes in our canoes, and hunting deer in the woods, but now I am so lonely, for my only brother is dead. He went out in the woods to hunt deer, and got lost, and froze to death.

I am a subscriber to Young People, and although I am not one of the “little folks,” I find the Post-office Box very interesting, as I am very fond of children and of pets. I have a bright, intelligent pony, a Mexican dog four years old that does not weigh more than two pounds, a mocking-bird, canaries, and a lot of fancy pigeons, and two aquaria filled with fish.

In my letter printed in Young People No. 62 I intended to say that I would exchange postmarks, not for other postmarks, but for stamps and minerals. I regret that I made the mistake.

I am very much interested in “Toby Tyler” and “Mildred’s Bargain.”

I spent one summer at Cape May, and there I found a turtle that was so tame it would eat out of my hand, and drink out of a tea-spoon. I fed it on raw meat, soaked bread, and worms, but it ran away.

 

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Radio Silence

October 2, 2013 | by

Highway 51 Bridge Between Wagoner And Coweta

I am driving west on Highway 51. It’s Tuesday, the day before Indie’s ninth birthday, and as I pass the city limits of Stillwater on my way to Oklahoma City, I switch from the Sinatra station, the one playing “I’ll Be Seeing You,” to the seventies station, the one playing Marshall Tucker Band’s “Heard It in a Love Song.” I’m gonna be leavin’ at the break of dawn. I rarely listen to the song now, though sometimes when Indie is in the car, I’ll let it play, even sing along, assume the next time she asks me why he left, I can say, “You know that song, the one about the guy who never had a damn thing but what he had, he had to leave it behind?” She’ll know the song. So many times, when she’s singing along to Ambrosia or Bread, Jackson Browne, especially America, in the car, I ask her how she knows all the words to those long-ago songs, and she always has the same answer, “You sing all the time.” He used to tell me that, too. I change the station to NPR.

I recognize a familiar voice:

The American family has changed. The nuclear family in the house across the street is still there, but different kinds of families live on the block, too: unmarried parents, gay parents, people who choose not to have children at all and, of course, single parents.

A new Pew Research poll asked Americans about these trends and found almost 70 percent believe that single women raising children on their own is bad for society.

Of course, there is a wide array of single mothers. Some women choose to raise children by themselves. Others find themselves without a partner through divorce or abandonment. But when seven in ten believe this is bad for society, it makes you wonder.

So we want to hear from single mothers today. How do people treat you? Tell us your story. 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

I grip the steering wheel and glance at my cell phone in the cup holder. I keep my eyes out for a rest stop. Read More »

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Long Pregnant Summer: Kim, Kate, and Stella

August 13, 2013 | by

Streetcar-MPAA-Code-Paris-Review

“The subject of childbirth is an old and honorable one on the screen and on the stage,” wrote Tennessee Williams to Irene Selznick and Elia Kazan, his producer and director for the 1947 Broadway premiere of A Streetcar Named Desire. “It has been treated so frequently that a good many well established conventions have sprung up about it, so that it can be treated realistically and without offence to good taste.”

Williams was not, of course, here to witness the 2013 summer of public pregnancies: the Kardashians, amply exposed in tabloids; and the royals, followed everywhere, including through The Daily Show’s segment, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Cervix.” If he were, he could have also tracked my own experience, important not only to my friends and family but apparently also to old men passing on the sidewalk (“Talk about timing, you must be hotter’n hell!”), Whole Foods shoppers (“Did you read that piece last week about cord clamping?”), and a young female officer in a police buggy stopped at a light, noticing me under my umbrella at the crosswalk (“Is this your first? Are you nervous? Ooooh, it’s gonna huuuurt!”). Read More »

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