The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Dad

Once upon a time, I was a Berenstain Bears fan.

I checked those books out of the library at least a dozen times.

My favorite was The Berenstain Bears and the Truth–an episode that I swear was source of the idea for “Larry Boy and the Fib from Outer Space”.

Brother Bear and Sister Bear are playing soccer in the house–always a no-no–and they knock over Mama Bear’s favorite lamp, shattering it. But instead of fessing up, they tell a tall tale about a large bird with a purple breast, red wing tips, green claws, and yellow fringe above its eyes. Or was it a bird with a red breast, green wing tips, yellow claws and a purple fringe?

Or was it, as Papa Bear adroitly guesses, a black and white bird JUST LIKE THAT SOCCER BALL BEHIND THE CHAIR?

Yes, I loved the Berenstain Bears.

I remember that my mom wasn’t too keen on them–she didn’t like the way Papa Bear was portrayed or something. But I paid her little mind and kept on reading.

Re-reading them as an adult, I am aghast at how unperceptive I was as a child.

Papa Bear is described as an absolute boor. Not only is he portrayed as just like another of the kids that Mama Bear has to keep in line–he’s even worse than the kids.

He gets behind on his taxes, he breaks the Mama Bear imposed TV fast, he gobbles up junk food like nobody’s business. He hops right into the Beanie Baby craze (called something else for the sake of the book, of course), he is the world’s worst sports parent, he never remembers his manners. He’s a lout, plain and simple.

I’ve heard of the “Father knows Best” phenomenon (while I’ve never seen the show of the same name)–but I can’t help but think that this opposite extreme is just as dangerous or more.

Fathers are fallible, they don’t always know best. They make mistakes, sometimes big ones.

But that doesn’t mean fathers are do-nothing, overgrown children who need Mama’s strong hand to keep them in line.

Portraying fathers in this way can only degrade them in the sight of their children. Portraying fathers in this way gives boys and men no standard by which to live.

At least in the olden-way, the “father knows best” way, men were expected to be hard workers and good providers. In this portrayal, men are expected to be toddlers, reluctantly straining against the wife’s leash.

My opinion of the Berenstain Bears has changed (with the exception of The Berenstain Bears and the Truth, the one title that does not portray Papa Bear as a big galloof.)

I do not like them. I do not like them at all.

Reading My LibraryFor more comments on children’s books, see the rest of my Reading My Library posts or check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.

A Christmas Announcement

Our family Christmas last night was enjoyable, but the last gift absolutely stole the show.

In a box labeled “From the Menter family to the Menter family”, we found two cards and several “Grandma” and “Grandpa” baby bibs. It was my brother and his wife’s way of announcing that they’re pregnant.

Baby J. Mentner will be making his arrival somewhere around the middle of July.

They’re not finding out Baby’s sex, but Debbie and I just KNOW it’s going to be a boy. (Grace reads over my shoulder and says “And me!”) Daniel, of course, is obstinate and insists it’s a girl–and that she’ll be the cutest girl in the whole world.

The pre-wedding plan said something about having the first kid somewhere around January 2012–but I’m glad they re-thought that plan and decided to start a bit earlier. Since they anticipate moving elsewhere for Dan’s Ph.D. program sometime in 2012, this gives Auntie Rebekah a bit more time to spoil the little one!

Yep. This announcement definitely stole the show.

And NOBODY is complaining!

Flashback: Architecture of a Family

I often like to say that I was born out of season. And my hearers often agree with me. One friend memorably told me (after urging me not to take offense) that he could see me as Little House on the Prairie.

Yep, so could I. I could see myself in quite a few different generations–all of them older than my own.

But the truth is, the family structure I grew up in really was from a different generation than my own.

Linda’s asking us about family structure today…

Flashback Friday buttonPrompt: How was your family structured when you were growing up? Did you grow up with both original parents in the home? …Was yours a multi-generational household with grandparents living with you? Did your mom work outside the home, and if so, was it full-time or part-time? Was there a clearly delineated division of labor between your parents (or parent and step-parent) and how traditional was it? Did your parents believe in child labor?! That is, how structured were chores? What responsibility, if any, did you have for things like doing your own laundry, fixing your own school lunch, etc.? Were your parents do-it-yourself-ers or did they hire people for repairs, painting, etc.? …

We were an old-fashioned family in a new-fangled day, a country family in the middle of the city. In the age of increasingly blended families, dual-income households, and latchkey kids, we were a holdout from an earlier age.

Dad worked at “the office”, Mom worked at home.

And I do mean worked. Mom was no welfare queen popping bonbons and watching soaps–and neither was she a harried housewife running children from one event to another. Instead, she homeschooled her seven children, put homecooked meals on the table twice a day (breakfast was cold cereal, usually), and kept a massive garden. Every summer she put up over 200 quarts of tomato products, not to mention the pickles, the beans, the beets, the fruit, and the jam. And then there were the frozen products–corn, especially. On top of that, she sewed much of our clothing and frugally purchased the rest at used stores and garage sales.

Dad bought bikes from police auctions. Mom took them apart and reassembled them into useable bikes for us kids.

We kids roamed the neighborhood on bikes and by foot. We had an 1100 square foot house on an almost 3/4 acre yard. The house was far too small for the nine of us–but the yard made it okay. We swung on the rope swing in the backyard tree, played in our “Eagle’s nest” and made up our own games to play.

That’s not to say that we didn’t work too. We were a country-fied family–there was too much to be done for anyone to sit back and twiddle their thumbs. There was a garden to be hoed, beans to be stemmed, tomatoes or apples to be “squitted”. There was an (enormous) lawn to be mowed with our push mower, to be raked in the fall. There was a long driveway to be shoveled in winter. There was a house to be cleaned and dishes to be done. There was trash to be loaded up and taken to the dump.

Our tasks were a mixture of scheduled chores and things we were simply expected to pitch in with when they had to be done.

In one sense, we were a family of the fifties, when Dad went to work and Mom stayed home with the kids. In another sense, we were a family of long before that, when the family business of farming took every member’s involvement. In many ways, we were a family from every era of recent modern history–every era except our own, that is.

Hear how other families were structured by following the links at Linda’s

Flashback: Bedtime Stories

Flashback Friday buttonPrompt: What was bedtime like when you were growing up? Were your parents strict in enforcing bedtimes? Were you a difficult one to get to bed? Did your parents share stories about getting you to sleep when you were a baby? When did your parents turn bedtime over to you?

It always gives me pause when parents nowadays can’t ever do anything in the evening because they have to get their kids home for a 7:30 or 8:00 bedtime. I don’t remember bedtime being a big deal in our home. There was never a magic hour. We just played in the living room or did our evening activities until dad said that it was time to go to sleep. It generally was around 9 or 9:30, but there was never a set time identified to us kids as “bedtime.”

I do remember wanting to stay up past when Dad gave the bedtime announcement. My sister and I shared a room, and we were both eager book-a-holics from a very young age. Mom and Dad left our bedroom door cracked to let the hall light shine into our room as a “night light”, and I remember Anna and I laying with our books in the stream of light that came through the crack. We moved our books up and down to read them if the light stream wasn’t wide enough to cover the whole book. That was when we were reading the “Little House” books, so we were probably in second or third grade.

During our slightly older elementary years, problems arose with our shared bed situation. Anna liked to kick or poke or tickle–and I didn’t appreciate it when I was supposed to be trying to sleep. We tried a variety of solutions. One in particular involved making two separate “beds” on our double bed. We each folded a sheet and blanket in half for our half of the bed and slept in between the layers as if we were in a sleeping bag. I guess this wasn’t completely effective–or maybe Mom didn’t like it–because we ultimately ended up with a different solution.

I finally got fed up with the bed mess–so I moved into the closet.

Yes, you heard me. I moved into the closet.

We were responsible for our own laundry by that point, but that doesn’t mean that we were actually responsible about DOING our laundry–so we generally had a nice soft foot or more deep collection of dirty clothes in our closet. I took my blanket and my pillow and slept in the closet. I imagine if my parents had found out, they would’ve insisted that I go back to bed–but I slept in peace in the closet for months, at least, if not a year.

I remember being thrilled that we were homeschooled, because it meant we could actually have fun at night–unlike all the kids in the neighborhood whose parents insisted that they go to bed while the SUN was still shining. We had a couple of friends whose backyard adjoined our way-back yard, and I remember many a night when they’d come back to the privacy fence that separated our yards. They’d say their good-nights, and maybe offer us a bit of their “midnight snack” (I particularly remember some Laffy Taffy). Then they’d go to bed while we waited for the sun to go down. Once the sun was down, you see, we could play kick the can with Dad.

While the rest of the school-aged crowd slept in their beds, a Menter kid could be heard with a shout resounding through the neighborhood: “One, two, three on DAD!!!” And another would shimmy his way over a fence, slink through the grass, and hide behind the well house before finally breaking free to kick the can out from under an unsuspecting watcher while yelling “Ollie, ollie oxen free!”

Visit Linda for more bedtime stories.

Sunday Snapshot: Hissy Fits

Last week, my family rented a couple of cabins at one of our local state parks and enjoyed a nice little retreat.

My sister prepared some fantastic food for us. For Sunday dinner, we had steak, vegetable packets, watermelon and s’mores.

My dad cut one bowl-full of watermelon. I ate one wedge and then went back for more–only to find that the bowl was empty.

That’s definitely provocation for a hissy-fit. I mentioned the idea out loud–and then, egged on by my siblings, went on to throw a full-fledged hissy fit. I laid down on the deck, pounded my feet and fists, and yelled “I want more watermelon.”

Rebekah throwing a hissy fit

John enjoyed the performance so much that he begged for a repeat–so that he could join in.

John throwing a hissy fit

Another sibling desperately attempted to take snapshots–but we were a bit wild, so the photos are understandably of poor-quality.

Ah–I love my family!

Our Shared Addiction

Although scientists have struggled to discover precise genes for addictions, it is generally recognized that certain addictions tend to run in families. Alcoholism. Nicotine addiction. Addiction to elicit drugs.

Just like most issues ascribed to genetics, the question always arises–is it nature or nurture? Do I act like my family acts because it is hard-wired into me or because I learn it from my family? I don’t know. Scientists don’t know. It’s been debated for years.

My family might be said to have an addiction. At least, my father and I share a common addiction. We’re both “information junkies”. We like to be surrounded by information constantly–whether reading it, listening to it on talk radio, discussing it with a friend, or watching a documentary. Give me information.

Cut off from information, I go through withdrawal–I start to twitch and make random noises. :-)

Thankfully, information is readily available at my local library, online, and across the yard at my parents’ house. So I rarely have to experience withdrawal.

You might say it’s genetic. My dad is a notorious information junkie.

But maybe it’s nurture. I grew up listening to Ravi Zacharias on the way to church, Rush Limbaugh on errands, and RTB Radio Podcasts while my dad showered in the room next door. I remember watching coverage of the Gulf War after dinner on the little television we took out of the closet expressly for that purpose. My family had (still has) three sets of encyclopedias. I read them regularly.

Nature or nurture, I’m an addict. So is my dad.

He got me hooked at a young age, as I took sips from the deep glasses he drank from. The encyclopedias acted as a gateway drug, the library my nearest pusher. Soon I was a full-fledged addict. Our drug choices and routes of delivery diverged throughout my teen years, although we still took time to snort together.

But now, again, we have come to share in our addiction freely.

I read blogs, a great variety. My dad reads blogs, mostly news, science, and politics. In Instapundit, we have again found a shared addiction.

“Did you read that article by the Instawife?” Dad asks.

I ask for a bit more description. I checked Insta early that morning–this hadn’t been posted until the afternoon. Dad catches me up on the latest.

“What do you think of that piece on electric cars?” I ask him right back.

We discuss nuclear energy, Supreme court rulings, male empowerment, and liberal extremism–all sparked by our new common link.

Maybe it runs in families, maybe it’s just us–but information is our shared addiction, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Luckiest girl on earth

If I said I was the luckiest girl on earth, I wouldn’t be the first to say so. But that doesn’t change my general sense that I am indeed the luckiest girl on earth. And why might I be so lucky? What happy occasion heralds this joyous exclamation?

I began to realize it last night, when I told my family that it was official: Love Memorial Hall and AGN will be doing a bike-a-thon to raise money for Cedars Youth Services. We will be riding our bikes to the Missouri game on October 22. I mentioned that I should probably bring my bike back to the hall and start doing some serious riding before then. My mom told me that she’d gone out and gotten me a new inner tube for my bike as soon as she’d heard that I was possibly going to participate. My old tube was leaking around the stem and couldn’t be patched. My little brother Timothy put it on for me. But not only did he replace my inner tube, Timothy also prevented me from taking the bike back to the hall until he had adjusted the brakes so that they wouldn’t rub.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world because I have a family like no other. My sister offered to take me back to the hall in her new car, but took a bit of a circuitous route. First she dropped by Walmart to get me all of my little necessities–tissues, printer paper, deoderant. And not only that, she ran me by Wendy’s and got me a sandwich and a Frosty. What have I done to deserve my sister’s lavish gifts? Nothing. She works her butt off between going to school and her job as a Diet Tech, and I enjoy the fruits of her labours.

I’m the luckiest girl because for a seventh grade research paper, my dad brought me to UNL’s Love library. It was a research paper-why not go to a research library? He believed I could understand what I read and I was determined to prove him right. We wandered the stacks at midnight, searching for just the right book. We walked the stairs with crisp turns, pretending we were nerds without needing to pretend. In sixth grade, he got a book on HTML and wrote up an announcement to post on our family bulletin board. “Wanted: Web Designer. Must have at least a fifth grade education. Will train. Send resumes to…” I sent my resume in and got the job. We skipped, hand in hand, in the SAMS club parking lot on our way to get milk for the family.

I’m the luckiest girl because my mom spent five hours adjusting the bodice for a pattern I just couldn’t get to fit. It was supposed to be a simple pattern, the design of the dress would be a cinch to sew. I hadn’t counted on the adjustments–Mom patiently walked me through them. When I was in second grade, she read us The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I loved it and always will. When my fish died and she found it before I did, she flushed it so I wouldn’t have to. And when my bike had a leaky inner tube, that I didn’t even know about, she bought me a new inner tube.

I’m the luckiest girl because my sister Anna, though I once thought she was my worst enemy, is my best friend. Out of the blue, she announced to me that she was paying my car’s registration–“After all, I think you might have paid mine last year.” She’s at home because she can’t afford the hall, so she buys me everything I need to be comfortable here. She came and cooked for me on my busy day–despite the fact that everyday is her busy day. She never lets me dwell on crushes. She protects me from my own mind. To paraphrase Colonel Fitzwilliam, she takes prodigiously good care of me.

I’m the luckiest girl because I caught my brother Joshua as we were crossing Cornhusker Highway on our bikes today–going the opposite direction. I waved and shouted, and he was a bit embarrassed. But he’s my brother and it’s okay. When he’s in the middle of a deep history conversation and I break in with a piddling contextual question, he patiently answers. He lets me read his stories, even though I’ve always been a hard critic. And he took on my dish job when I went away to college.

I’m the luckiest girl because I’m always trying to one up my brother Daniel at busyness. I go to school and do a thousand piddly things. He goes to high school and works almost thirty hours a week. But that doesn’t mean he’s too busy to drive me around while the gas prices continue to rise. He’s always trying to torque me off about women’s lib, but I know that he respects me as a woman and as his sister. He started to work out and dropped fifty pounds after he scared himself at 200 lbs. And he had the grace to let me come to the gym and spot for him–even though I’d never done it before. He let me buy him some jeans for Christmas last year–even when I insisted on them being European style. And he asks me for clothing advice. He actually thinks my opinion matters.

I’m the luckiest girl just because my brother John is alive and is my brother. Because he loves missions and is on our church’s mission team with me. Because he loves children and begged me to let him help out in the nursery–we work together so that he’s not a boy alone with them. He’s got more energy than anyone I know, and he never lets anything get him down. He loves people and he wants to do everything within his power to help them. He’s the only one of my siblings who doesn’t correct me when I sit down at the piano. And he actually begs me to cut his hair–even though I cut his ear the one time I tried.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world because I can talk to my brother Timothy about books. We started with Lemony Snicket, back when he hated to read. Now he’s begging me to read Eragon, because he thinks it’s the best thing in the world. We read Phantom of the Opera out loud together in three days. We discussed our melancholy over loving and hating Eric at the same time. Tim’s growing up and his voice is deepening, but he isn’t outgrowing his sister. He comes up to me at youth group and gives me a hug, tells me about his day. He’s gotten into fixing bikes recently, and wasn’t content until he’d gotten my seat to just the right height.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world because my little sister Grace spent the night with me on Saturday. She helped me prepare the Sunday school lesson, and tried to pick out what I wore. She asked my advice on the right kind of eyeshadow to get as her first makeup. She asked me if I thought Meg Cabot’s All-American Girl was appropriate for her. (It isn’t.) She asked me “What does eighties music sound like?” Grace sewed me a patchwork pillow that perfectly matches my decor, being careful that all the little people on the toile fabric pointed in the same direction. And she only glares at me but does no more when I call her Trixie for the thousandth time.

And that’s only my immediate family. I could go on for pages and pages about the rest as well. How my grandpa checked my antifreeze and gave me an extra jug before I came back down from their farm last spring break. How my grandma and my aunts and I always get into huge theological discussions every time we’re together. How my Aunt Martha-ma-ba took me for a drive and asked me why I was thinking about going into teaching. How my Aunt Lisa, new to the family, had my sister and me over for a week when we were eight or nine. How my Uncle Jim solemnly informed us not to drink the pickle juice out of the pickle jar until the pickles were all gone. How my Uncle Leo places coffee filters on the girls’ heads and suggests that we become Mennonite. How my Aunt Alice organized a family dance after we discovered that we enjoyed dancing together at my cousin’s wedding. Yes, I could go on forever, because I’m the luckiest girl in the world.