Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making Time: Parents Gotta Put in Time . . . for Themselves

I very nearly canceled my overnight trip to a Boston hotel with my husband earlier this month (we were only in the city from 6:30 p.m. through 11:30 a.m.) because the Picket Fence Post kids’ schedules were weighing on my guilty mom conscience and I didn’t think I could choose going away over them.

When I originally made the reservation to stay overnight at the Liberty Hotel in Boston to celebrate my 18th wedding anniversary with The Spouse, there was nothing on the calendar in early December. (The hotel was a former jail which I thought was ironic given that the whole point was for us to gain some “liberty” as a couple, for just one night.) My intention was that we’d go to the city early on a Saturday afternoon after leaving the kids with The Spouse’s sister, walk around for a bit, enjoy a nice dinner and on the following day, have a leisurely brunch then do a little shopping at the kinds of stores the kids complain bitterly about being dragged into.

As the date drew nearer, three youth basketball games, two youth hockey games and a Nativity play in which all three kids were appearing (The Girl was the narrator) were scheduled during what was supposed to be "our" weekend. But when I got cold feet and wanted to call it off, it was The Spouse who insisted that we could figure it out. And thanks to the kindness and flexibility of my sister- and brother-in-law, The Spouse and I were indeed able to get away, for a few quality hours any way . . . and after having one FABULOUS dinner at the Beacon Hill Bistro.

My realization that we NEEDED to make our time together a priority – because if we don’t make it a priority ,who will? -- was the focus of my Pop Culture and Politics column this week.

Do you ever struggle to find time to be alone with your significant other? Do you allow the kids’ schedules and activities to overwhelm your own social/romantic life with your spouse, to put it last on your priority list because making arrangements is too exhausting?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Flicks/TV Specials: Moms in the Background

While writing a recent Pop Culture & Politics columns I gave a lot of thought to Christmas movies and TV specials, in particular, how moms are portrayed.

With the exception of Doris Walker, the strong divorced mom in Miracle on 34th Street, most of the moms who appear on the Christmas movies/specials the Picket Fence Post family owns on DVD, were mostly background figures, like Mary Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life (which the Picket Fence Post family just watched together), who was mostly just an accessory for George Bailey. Ditto for the moms in Elf, The Year Without a Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

I wrote at length about all this on my pop culture blog and declared that only one other mom, Mrs. Parker from A Christmas Story, really asserted herself, albeit in a passive aggressive manner. (Think the leg lamp’s “accidental” demise.)

Do you have a favorite mom character from a Christmas movie or TV special?

Kids' Verdict: 'It's a Wonderful Life' Too Long, Potter Should've Gotten in Trouble

According to two of the three Picket Fence Post kids, I engaged in an act of parental abuse over the weekend: I made them watch It’s a Wonderful Life together, as a family.

The two boys had seen in with me two years ago, but they didn’t remember a great deal of it, so it was as though they were seeing it for the first time. As for The Girl, she was practically dragged into the family room to watch it with The Spouse and me because we thought she’d get something from it.

And what did they take away from one of my favorite movies?

The Eldest Boy – whom we joke can sometimes act like Alex P. Keaton -- declared that all of George Bailey's troubles were money-related. If George had money, none of this bad stuff would’ve happened, he reasoned. (Though I doubt it would stop Uncle Billy from losing cash.)

Meanwhile, the Youngest Boy and The Girl were enormously ticked off that Mr. Potter got away with keeping his ill-gotten gains and that nothing happened to him in the end for his evil behavior. (The Girl, in fact, used that very word, observing, “Oh, he’s just EVILLLL!” while she watched the scene where Uncle Billy was frantically searching for the missing $8,000 as Potter looked on from behind his office door at the bank.)

Later that day after watching the film The Youngest Boy told his hockey coach that the reason he was so tired when he took to the ice for practice was because, “My parents made me watch It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a four-hour movie.” (For the record, the film’s running time is 130 minutes.)

Image credit: IMDB.com.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No Longer Campaigning for Two Canines

A while back, readers might recall, I was somewhat obsessed with the notion that Max, our 1 1/2-year-old Havanese/Wheaten Terrier -- we call him a "Mini-Wheat" -- needed a friend. Not a friend of the human variety. He already has those in the three Picket Fence Post children, The Spouse and me, whom he follows around the house while I work from home, though watching me work at my laptop all day is dreadfully boring.

You know how a person can sometimes be described as a "people person?" Well Max is a dogs dog. He absolutely perks up when he's around other dogs and stays that way. (He perks up when he encounters new people or when the kids return home from school, but the effect doesn't seem to last.) Maybe he'd have more fun with another dog to pal around with, I thought.

In spare moments, I would browse through the pet adoption site PetFinder -- which is how we found Max -- looking for an appropriate canine companion or him. Over a period of weeks during the summer and fall, I must've e-mailed The Spouse a dozen links to buddies whom I thought might get along well with our pooch. The Spouse, who was solidly against having two dogs, would either find a reason why the dog wouldn't work well with our family or just beg off from my e-mail saying he had too much work to do to look at the link.

The Picket Fence Post family was, in fact, divided over this second dog issue. The Girl was in her father's camp, asserting that Max likes being the one and only dog in the house, the king dog if you will . . . but I can't help but wonder if that's not somehow related to her feelings about being the only girl in our house and the only granddaughter on one side of the family. Both The Eldest and The Youngest Boys, however, were on my side and would sidle up to me at my computer to look for potential new dog buddies.

Then the chocolate incident occurred last month where Max got into some concentrated cooking chocolate and wound up spending a collective total of two days being cared for by professionals, first in an animal hospital, then at our vet's office. It took him weeks to return to his normal, friendly, goofy self after nearly being poisoned to death and having to sport a cone around his head to stop him from scratching at the shaved areas where he'd had his IVs and the EKG pads. (That plastic cone came off only last week and there's a nice ring of matted hair around his head with which I'm currently contending.)

After all that craziness, I hopped off of the "We should have two dogs" campaign, at least for now. When I tried to imagine what it would've been like had TWO dogs gotten into all that chocolate . . . well, let's just say that that scenario put the kibosh on my dog shopping. And quick.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards Didn't Suffer Criticism of Her Parenting Silently

*Cross-posted on Notes from the Asylum*

I can only aspire to be as strong and confident and brave as Elizabeth Edwards was in the face of her fatal breast cancer diagnosis, of the humiliatingly public love affair her longtime husband had with another woman that resulted in the birth of a child and of the cruel, ruthless criticism of her life's decisions after she learned that her cancer was incurable.

When I learned late today that the 61-year-old Edwards had died, I felt a pang of sadness because of all the sadness she's had to endure in the final years of her life. I searched the links to posts about Edwards on my Notes from the Asylum blog was struck by how she was attacked for writing her book called Resilience, specifically for addressing her husband's infidelities because people said it simply breathing new life into an old scandal. People had the temerity to accuse HER of making things difficult for her children. Elizabeth, not her philandering husband.

When Edwards took her young children along with her and her husband John during his recent presidential campaign, there were critics who had the nerve to tell her that that was a bad choice and literally called her a “terrible mother.” One blogger wrote: “Elizabeth, I don’t like the choices you’ve made. Take your kids home. Get off the freaking campaign trail.”

Edwards' response? She said: "With all due respect, what you would choose to do is relevant only once: When you choose how to spend your remaining days. I made my choice; because of our lives it was a public choice, but the choice doesn’t belong to the public, it belongs to me. And with all due respect, you have no idea what the quality or amount of the time I spend with my children is . . . You don’t get to say I am a terrible mother because you think you wouldn’t make my choice in my situation.”

Throughout all the garbage she was forced to endure, she stuck to her guns, advocated for issues about which she felt passionate, responded with intelligence to her critics and was classy to the end. Just today we learned of her final Facebook post:

"You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces – my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human.

But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. It isn't possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know."

Image credit: Mommy Tracked.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A UMass Hoop Game, the Boston Garden, Thunder Sticks & the JumboTron

Image credit: J. Anthony Roberts/The Republican
My college roommate, our husbands and our six kids high-fived Sam the Minuteman on Saturday during something we rarely get to enjoy these days: A night out together that had nothing to do with youth sports or school activities. We watched our alma mater, UMass-Amherst, face off against Boston College in a men's basketball game at the Boston Garden.

Going to this raucous college basketball game after a long, stressful week was awesome for three reasons, despite the fact that my team lost in the end:
  • I got to sit with my gal pal and make snarky wisecracks. (I need more time with friends, sans kids. Seriously. It happens too infrequently.)
  • We got to yell at the top of our lungs and not be accused of spousal or child abuse. (My voice was hoarse after the game.)
  • We got to make a lot of noise with the plastic thunder sticks the folks from Powerade distributed to the enthusiastic UMass fans (who far outnumbered the BC fans and we were in Boston), even though the people who run the Garden made an announcement saying that thunder sticks were banned from the arena.
It proved extremely cathartic to be able to scream, "Booooo!" in response to the refs' questionable calls and bellow from the pit of your stomach when the situation called for it because, in real life, I can't "boo" my kids when they tick me off or loudly make noise at people who irritate me.

As for the Picket Fence Post kids, their favorite moments included:
  • Spending gobs of (my) money on food and drink. (Why are chicken fingers so freakin' expensive in arenas?)
  • Appearing on the JumboTron three times while dancing like little maniacs and waving the thunder sticks during time outs for the express purpose of making it onto the Jumbo-Tron.
The Spouse and I joked afterward that we should bring the thunder sticks to The Youngest Boy's hockey game, just as a joke, to satirize folks who go overboard in their cheering/booing/screaming at youth hockey games, but then thought better of it as we weren't sure people would get that we were being ironic.

Image credit: J. Anthony Roberts/The Republican.

Ice Rink . . . Still a Work-in-Progress

Ah, The Spouse. He tries so very hard on so many things. And try he has for several years to create for our three Picket Fence Post kids a backyard ice rink. Operative word is try.

This year his efforts have shown the most promise in that I've actually toyed with going out to the store and buying myself some ice skates for the first time since junior high.

Until The Collapse on Sunday.

After I'd learned that we were forecast to have a string of bitterly cold days, I suggested to The Spouse that we fill the rink with water over the weekend. He got out the hose and put some water into it on Saturday and things were A-OK. Hopes were starting to rise in the Picket Fence Post household.

But then Sunday came and, just before we were going to go out to buy our Christmas tree, The Spouse was checking on the status of the water in the rink and noticed that one area of the plastic lining -- that had been tethered to the PVC pipe frame with plastic connector ties -- was bowing out. When he tried to adjust it, a tide of water came streaming out, across his shoes and sweeping his gloves, which had been on the ground, away. (The rest of us, who'd piled in the car in order to go get the tree, cooled our heels while we waited for him to change his shoes and grab new gloves.)

While The Spouse and I attended The Youngest Boy's hockey game later that afternoon, I shared the latest ice rink developments with my fellow hockey moms and one of 'em offered to send her husband (who'd bought rink supplies through Craig's List and has a big rink) over to the house to help out. The Spouse took it all in stride and said he realizes he needs to go out and buy some boards to support the plastic lining.

As for me, I'm trying not to snicker as I cross my fingers in the hopes that we'll have a workable rink in our yard some time before the children go off to college.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ice Rink and Other Wintry Things (Like Hanukkah & Christmas)

As we near December 1 – and we here in the Picket Fence Post household recover from two Thanksgivings -- here’s a photographic update on the status of our years-in-the-making ice rink:

If and when The Spouse completes the backyard rink – bouts of mild weather haven’t helped the project any – I’ll run right out and buy myself a pair of skates and take to the ice alongside the kids. I swear.

Speaking of December 1, I cannot believe that Hanukkah starts at sundown on Wednesday on the same day when Advent starts. What does this mean for me, the mom of an interfaith home in which we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah? I'll tell ya:

Buy Hanukkah candles -- Check

Remember to light the Hanukkah candles, make (or buy) potato latkes to have in between kids’ extracurricular activities on Wednesday

Buy gelt (chocolate “coins” in gold colored foil) -- Check

Take down the Thanksgiving decorations to make way for, at the very least, the Hanukkah decorations, with Christmas decorations to come

Pull Charlie the giant Advent Elf my mother gave the kids years ago, who has pockets for advent candy, out of the holiday decorations closet in time for Wednesday

Fill Charlie’s pockets with candy . . . which I need to buy

But not chocolate ones, lest Max the cone-wearing dog attempt to raid Charlie’s pockets. We don’t need another trip to the doggie ICU.

Oh, and get the kids’ Christmas list to my mother because she wants to take advantage of Christmas shopping discounts. NOW!

Figure out what The Spouse and I are going to buy for whom

Take the Christmas card photo (I’ve got a great idea, but whether it’ll be great when I try to take the photos in reality is another story.)

I seriously need to hit the “pause” button, for just a moment. Need to breathe. Maybe take a break with a hot cup of peppermint tea, and perhaps start doing what my good friend Gayle joked that she was going to start doing: Answering her phone, "Buddy the Elf, what's your favorite color?"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snarky Video Addresses the Insane Questions Directed at Moms of Twins

When my now 12-year-old twins were babies I was frequently subjected to all sorts of bizarre questions from strangers, specifically about whether or not the children were identical even though one's a boy and one's a girl.

Seriously, I had this argument more than once with people -- usually at the deli counters of grocery stores -- about how some folks thought that my kids HAD to be identical because they looked alike (they didn't). One time when I was severely sleep deprived and stressed out, a woman just would not drop the issue, saying they had to be identical . . . until I remarked, "One of them has a penis." That shut her up.

A man once came up to me at grocery store and asked me if I took "them pills" in order to get pregnant with the twins, to which I just responded with an angry sneer and pushed my stroller by the idiot.
This is why seeing this new video made me smile so broadly. Even though it's been a long time since I've fielded questions about having twins, the questions in the video represent exactly the kind of thing moms of twins usually hear. LOVED how the mom of twins asked the nosy inquisitor what kind of tampons she buys when she asked if the mom of twins had IVF.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Three for Thursday: Thanksgiving TV from 'Gilmore Girls' & 'Mad About You' to 'Mad Men,' Helicopter Parenting on 'Parenthood' and Pining For Thanksgivings of Yore

Thanksgiving TV Episodes from Gilmore Girls and Mad About You to Mad Men

Who can forget the wretched awkwardness at the Francis family Thanksgiving table when Betty Draper Francis literally forced her daughter Sally to eat sweet potatoes – shoving a forkful into Sally's mouth which led to the girl gagging them out onto her plate – in order to please her new mother-in-law on Mad Men? Or the Gilmore Girls episode where Lorelai and Rory wound up attending four Thanksgiving dinners because they couldn’t say, “No” to their friends and family? Or even the time when Mad About You's Paul and Jamie Buchman hosted their first Thanksgiving in their apartment and had to grapple with some serious passive aggression from their family members and friends when they didn’t like the fact that Paul and Jamie wanted to have dinner “buffet style” and had messed with everyone’s idiosyncratic ideas of what a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner is “supposed” to be?

I highlighted some of my favorite Thanksgiving episodes over on my Notes from the Asylum blog, including the one of the famous Cheers Thanksgiving food fight.

Helicopter Parenting on Parenthood

This week’s episode of NBC’s solid, incisive and sharply observed drama Parenthood provided a mixed bag of parenting portrayals.

On the one hand, you had Sarah Braverman, who gave her daughter Amber a much-needed push to get her to overcome her fears and meet with an influential alum from a university she wants to attend. And on the other hand, you had an over-the-top helicopter parent in the form of Kristina Braverman insisting that her son was entitled to an invitation to a classmate’s birthday party even after the mother of the birthday girl said he wasn't invited and that her daughter specifically didn’t want Kristina’s son there. While there’s a whole powerful, poignant and painful Asperberger’s backstory there, and some real bonding eventually occurred between the two moms with children who have challenges, a big chunk of the Kristina story bugged me this week. Read more about why in my review of the episode.

Pining for Thanksgiving Days of Yore

In my Pop Culture column this week, I pine away for Thanksgivings and Christmases of my youth, when I used to actually enjoy this time of year tremendously and didn’t see them the way that I do now: As one, long, life-sucking list of things to do, all at the same time, and all while under a heap o’pressure with no time to just sit back and soak in this time in your life. But when I think of how I used to love this time of year, to quote Liz Lemon, I want to go back to there. But how?

Exactly How Dysfunctional IS Your Thanksgiving Dinner?

For several years I’ve been writing and posting snarky Dysfunctional Family Bingo cards every November where I have filled the boxes with potentially horrific scenarios that could occur during your Thanksgiving dinner, though you wouldn’t want them to. Unless you’re a sadist. Or post-divorce Don Draper . . . before he hooked up with Megan the secretary.

I decided to go another way this year. Out with the Bingo cards. In with a silly, snarky quiz in which you look at a potentially ominous Thanksgiving dinner scenario – including one inspired by Mad Men’s Betty Draper Francis -- and decide which one, in your opinion, represents the best reaction in the face of insanity. At the end, you can see whether you’ve picked mostly minor dysfunctional responses or seriously dysfunctional ones (which can sometimes be the most entertaining options):

1) The turkey, which was proudly presented to the assembled guests at the Thanksgiving table, is dreadfully dry. We’re talkin’ sawdust. The people with whom you’re eating dinner respond this way:

a) By pouring a bit more gravy onto the turkey and saying nothing so as not to hurt the hosts’ feelings.

b) By pulling the host and hostess aside while they’re doing dishes and offering future turkey roasting tips.

c) By someone announcing, “Damn! This sucker’s dry! How long d’ja cook it for Chrisssake?”

2) The hostess of the dinner, who made all the food, loudly observes, for all the diners to hear, that your 8-year-old nephew doesn’t have any yams on his plate. “What, you don’t like my yams?” she asks from the other side of the table. “Why don’t you try some? They’re really good.”

a) Your sister-in-law frowns, then says, “Sure he likes them, don’t you Tommy?” Then she shovels some into his mouth as he protests and gags.

b) Your sister-in-law says, “Thanks for asking, but he’s not a fan of yams. He loves your cranberry sauce though.”

c) “That’s right!” your brother bellows, “smart boy! Just like his dad. NO ONE likes yams.”

3) Your cousin’s 12-month-old is toddling around your mother-in-law’s glass-topped coffee table, checking out all the items that have been carefully arranged there: A crystal candy dish filled with M&Ms, a stack of hardcover books and a pair of ceramic candle sticks your mother-in-law made in a pottery class. Before you can reach over little Susie’s head and grab the candy dish, she’s knocked it off the coffee table, sending the M&Ms flying and knocking over one of the candlesticks, breaking it. What happens next?

a) The baby’s mother rushes over, grabs her daughter under one arm and then starts one-handedly trying to pick everything up as she profusely apologizes.

b) The baby’s parents do nothing while everyone else looks around waiting for someone to pick up the debris.

c) The baby’s mother shouts to your mother-in-law, “You knew we were coming here. This is what you get when you don’t child-proof!”

UPDATE: Max Much Peppier, Still Ticked About the Cone

For those of you who've been concerned about the fate of the tan Q-Tip known as Max the dog, I'm here to report that he has substantially improved since Monday, when he was listlessly lying on his side looking as though he'd shed his mortal coil.

Now he's eating, drinking (wouldn't drink out of his Red Sox water dish, but will out of a generic plastic one), running, doing doggie tricks and enthusiastically greeting the kids at the front door when they come home from school. I feel like I can finally breathe because I've been fretting about when the good old Max would make his re-appearance and start bouncing around the house again wagging his tail.

However . . . Max still has to wear that silly cone around his head because he simply will not stop gnawing at the two shaved areas on his front paws -- he looks like he's wearing a pair of furry boots -- in the locations where he had IVs. Plus there are two big shaved areas on his belly which he'd been biting and making bloody. Until the fuzzball stops nipping at those areas, he's going to have to wear the cone.

He's starting to navigate his environs a bit better while wearing the humiliating cone, which he loathes, although his head occasionally jerks back when the edge gets caught on woodwork or furniture. That's not such a pretty thing to watch.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When Max Met Chocolate . . . NOT a Love Story

We’ve been on an odyssey of sorts in the Picket Fence Post household since approximately 8:30 p.m. on Friday when we returned home (after being gone for roughly an hour) to discover that our 1½ year-old Havanese/wheaten terrier Max had managed to bust into the pantry (the door had been shut) and not only ransacked it, but unwrapped and ate a 3.5 ounce disk of concentrated cooking chocolate used to make hot cocoa.

And oh, the fun we’ve had since then.

The Spouse raced Max to the animal hospital, since our vet’s office wasn’t open at that time of night. (Of course this had to happen over a weekend. Of course it did.) Long and the short of it, Max was admitted to the doggie ICU overnight, hooked up to IVs and an EKG. His heart rate was really, really high.

The entire family went to the hospital to pick him up on Saturday afternoon and he seemed chipper, or maybe he was just psyched to get out of there because when he got home, it was a different story. Slowly, over the course of Saturday night, during Sunday through Monday morning, the usually effervescent, chipper pup continued to act strangely, shying away from everyone in the family, not responding to us, declining most food and all drink. He looked like a public service advertisement for canine depression screening.

By Monday morning, Max was re-admitted for medical care, this time to our vet’s office for the day after he was diagnosed with dehydration (what’s that about leading a dog to water . . . ) and he hadn’t been able to flush any remaining chocolate from his system. When we brought him home Monday night, it was with a plastic, transparent cone about his neck and cans of special food and a special powder to soothe the irritated, inflamed, bloody spots on his skin (belly and legs) where he’d had catheters and EKG pads and had bitten them.

He’s still not acting like himself, but at least he ate his breakfast. I’m also having to carry him outside, where he will eventually do his business. But this sulky, forlorn version of Max is breaking my heart.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Is Modern Motherhood a 'Prison?'

According to one writer in the Wall Street Journal it is.

I must say that I gained some major validation from reading Erica Jong's essay, "The Madness of Modern Motherhood" in the Journal about how motherhood has become so all encompassing and complicated with its current mandatory maternal martyrdom:

"Attachment parenting, especially when combined with environmental correctness, has encouraged female victimization. Women feel not only that they must be ever-present for their children but also that they must breast-feed, make their own baby food and eschew disposable diapers. It's a prison for mothers

When a celebrity mother like the supermodel Gisele B√ľndchen declares that all women should be required to breast-feed, she is echoing green-parenting propaganda, perhaps unknowingly. Mothers are guilty enough without more rules about mothering . . .

. . . [W]e have devised a new torture for mothers—a set of expectations that makes them feel inadequate no matter how passionately they attend to their children."

I thought I was the only one who was grumbling about how hard it is to feel good about my parenting when youth sports for my three children is collectively commandeering gobs of our waking hours, when the schools expect that parents should listen to their fourth graders read aloud passages and then grade their fluency homework four nights out of five (never mind sign detailed reading logs, indicate that we've seen math homework/tests and that we're aware that a child has a book report coming up), when it's expected that parents volunteer for every organization in which they've enrolled their children, when there's pressure to make all these healthy meals at home fresh each night, never mind withstand the griping of my kids telling me that "all the other moms" drive "all the other kids" around town so they can hang out with one another. Sure, we can fit in having me host a bunch of kids at our house or drive my kids around to socialize in between school and hockey and soccer and basketball and baseball and band and school newspaper and the library youth book club and church and, oh, Mommy's work, Daddy's too.

There's a lot to ponder in Jong's piece. And when I read her line, "American mothers and fathers run themselves ragged trying to mold exceptional children" believe me, I was nodding vigorously.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Three for Thursday: Ice Rink Part 47 Billion, Kids to the Polls, 'The Middle' . . . for a Much-Needed Laugh

Image credit: Amazon.com
Ice Rink, Part 47 Billion

Yes, we’re trying again.

To do this home ice rink thing.

(And yes, we know we're fools.)

For years, The Spouse and I have thought, “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have an ice rink in the backyard?” The Youngest Boy plays hockey and adores skating, while The Eldest Boy and The Girl have eagerly chimed in how much they’d love to skate at home. I’d even be willing to get myself a pair of skates if we had a rink at home.

The problem? All of our previous attempts have failed miserably. (We took a break from our annual humiliation last year.) I’ve chronicled our mishaps for years, much to The Spouse’s chagrin, including the time when we tried just flooding the yard with water and the time when we got the wrong kind of tarp resulting in the water draining out of the rink area and into the woods, where it frozen amid the trees. The Spouse is really sick of hearing about how we never got the ice rink thing off the ground.

But he’s back again for punishment this year, emboldened with a new tarp. I’m not sure what else he’s planning to use because I’ve been hesitant to bring the subject up. It's been a sore subject, though I suspect he was motivated by me saying that I was thinking of buying one of those ice rink kits and giving it to the kids for Christmas.

Anyone with a home ice rink, got any suggestions or advice before we embark upon this . . . again?

Kids to the Polls

We all made our family trek to the polls on Tuesday, the entirety of the Picket Fence Post family, minus Max the dog and the 400 pounds of Halloween candy that now lives with us. The Girl accompanied me to the voting booth. The Youngest Boy was with The Spouse, while The Eldest Boy moved back and forth between booths relaying questions to and from The Spouse and checking out for whom I was voting.

When we checked out, The Girl and The Eldest Boy were jostling over who would get to feed my ballot – a sheet of paper – into the voting machine. I was a bit concerned that they’d wrinkle it, thereby rendering my ballot invalid, so I started getting antsy, muttering under my breath that someone needed to let go, NOW. The Eldest Boy finally relinquished it so his sister could feed it into the machine.

The next day, however, when some of the folks whom The Youngest Boy hoped would win didn’t, I had to remind him that the concept of good sportsmanship applies to politics as well as sport.

The Middle . . . for a laugh

It’s been a fairly stressful couple of weeks here at the Picket Fence Post house. And I sorely needed a laugh last night. In a big way. And watching a new episode of The Middle did just the trick. I laughed out loud while watching it -- more so than I did with Modern Family, which was also funny, but not as much as The Middle.

The episode focused on the hilarious birth story of the youngest child in the family, Brick. It was not at all what I expected when the story was finally told. The tale involved lies, greed, rabid football fandom and idiocy.

Image credit: Amazon.com.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Anniversary Goodness

The Spouse frequently says I use him as a rhetorical punching bag whenever I mention him on a blog or in a column. And he's got a point. He's oftentimes thrown under the bus when I'm making a point, however he has given me a blanket permission slip to do so, even though he frequently cringes when he finds out what I've written about him. ("You wrote about that?")

But I'm writing this post to do something unusual: To write something nice about him. He recently sent me red roses for our 18th (!!) wedding anniversary and took me out to dinner at a place which doesn't use paper placemats and doesn't dole out packets of crayons. We had a lively conversation that wasn't interrupted by a single, "Hey Mom!," "Dad! Dad!" or the sound of the dog knocking over a trash can and chomping on the garbage. Our anniversary dinner was squeezed in between dashing around to three youth sporting events, getting new tires put on my vehicle (which failed inspection that afternoon because it needed new tires) and delivering baked goods and donations to our church's fall fair.

And even though when we got home from dinner we both fell asleep well before Saturday Night Live -- we had gotten up at 5 a.m. that morning to take The Youngest Boy to his hockey game and he had an 8 a.m. practice Sunday -- it was nice to take a few hours to remember that before we were the parents to the Picket Fence Post kids with their schedules from hell, it was just the two of us. And besides, I got to watch SNL on DVR on Sunday and fast-forward through the commercials.

So while the kids are enjoying their Halloween candy, I'm enjoying the roses.

Reflections on Halloween 2010

A couple of observations from yesterday's Halloween celebration where I unleashed a soccer player, a football player and a scary-looking "Army/Commando guy" in a mask onto residents in my town where the kids collected the massive bowls of sugary goodies shown above. (The Youngest Boy actually counted how many pieces of candy he got so he could make sure no one pilfers from his stash. The total was 150.)

Teenagers: What's up with all the teens showing up at my door with no costumes and clutching pillow cases? Seriously guys, is it too much trouble to make a tiny bit of effort if I'm going to be giving you free candy?

Clever gals: Speaking of teenagers, a trio of teen gals wheeled up my driveway on their scooters, which were wrapped with colorful feather boas and lights. They were all dressed up in sparkly skirts, as music emanated from one of their bags. Now those were clever outfits warranting extra candy.

Ringing the bell: I live in a densely developed neighborhood and lots of people drive their kids here to trick-or-treat which means I'm constantly answering the door (and constantly fearful I'll run out of candy) between roughly 5:45-9 p.m. Because the doorbell rings so often, I sit in a chair about three feet from the front door. Last night, in between giving out the candy, I watched the New England Patriots' game on TV, while listening for the sounds of trick-or-treaters. However there were many kids who couldn't handle the fact that it took me three whole seconds to get to the door -- which was open so you could see into my hallway and that someone was home -- and kept ringing the doorbell impatiently, as if they expected adults to stand in the doorway all night long and not move so as not to inconvenience them. Patience, my children.

Oil spill: A BP oil spill came to my house asking for candy. He was very polite.

Grabby: There are some seriously grabby kids out there who try to push my hand out of the way and grab their own candy out of the bowl I'm holding. Or they'll tell me that I didn't give them enough candy and ask for more. (When I was fearful I'd run out, I was only giving out two to three pieces per kid.) There was the occasional cherub who'd tell me he didn't like what I just handed him, as though he could place orders. My least favorite tactic I saw used by the pediatric set last night: Putting their hands out, when they have a perfectly good candy receptacle into which I wanted to place the candy, in the hopes that I'd give them a fistful of candy instead of two or three items.

Did your Halloween go smoothly? Lots of kids?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Three for Thursday: Rotting Jack-o-Lanterns, Homework Monitoring & Hockey Schedules

Rotting Jack-o-Lanterns

Once again, I have the scariest doorstep in the neighborhood.

Why? Because The Spouse and I have left the three jack-o-lanterns that the kids carved on Columbus Day weekend on the front steps. Now they’re moldy, collapsing piles of mush. So the question is, do I leave them on the doorstep to "scare" people on Halloween or toss 'em out to prevent the spreading of the mold-infested mush all over my doorstep? (I'm inclined to go with option number two.)

Homework Monitor: Helicopter Parenting or Responsible Parenting?

He knew that he had to finish the hat. The vocabulary word hat to be precise. Each member of my 9-year-old’s class was assigned a vocabulary word and was asked to create a hat which represented the meaning of the word without using other words.

For days I’ve been nagging The Youngest Boy about his hat – had he thought about what he’d like to do, had he pulled together the necessary material, etc. “You don’t want to wait until the last minute,” I told him as he'd tell me it wasn’t due until Friday.

When he presented me with his hat yesterday, I suggested that he needed to use something sturdier than Scotch tape to hold up this big piece of cardboard he wanted to attach to a hat. I offered to help him attach an elastic string to it later, later meaning today.

Then, as we were pulling out of the driveway this morning, with 10 minutes to spare before he was supposed to walk through the school door, The Youngest Boy started shouting that his hat wasn’t due on Friday, it was due TODAY. And because I was the one who suggested that he ditch the tape and replace it with an elastic but hadn’t yet done so, all of this was my fault.

I will admit that I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory when I reacted angrily to all of this. Luckily, The Spouse was still in the house, so I told The Youngest Boy to get out of the car and have his father assist him while I drove the other two kids to school so they wouldn’t be late.

Here’s my question: Where’s the line between being a helicopter parent (who is doing her offspring no favors by doing everything for them, coddling them, instead of making them learn to do things for themselves, always coming to the rescue) and being a responsible parent who’s trying to teach her kids, as they gain the maturity, how to be responsible for themselves?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Martha Stewart & Perfect Crust Dreams . . . Crushed

Several years ago, a fellow Mommy Tracked columnist, Risa Green referred to the Pottery Barn Kids catalog as “mom porn.” Well,  when the November issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine arrived in my mailbox this weekend, with its cover featuring picture perfect slices of Thanksgiving pies, I felt like I was looking at “bakers’ porn” or “domestic goddess wanna-be porn.”

I bake a lot of pies around this time of year. I even use some of good old Martha’s recipes from her magazine when, for example, I make apple pies for the church fair or for Thanksgiving. But they never look like hers.


It’s those damned crusts. Whenever I make pie crusts (as opposed to buying the pre-made ones from a box which I do in a pinch), there’s a 50-50 chance that they’ll wind up looking as though a ham-handed preschooler mashed them into the pie plate and make 'em all lumpy, uneven or torn. The other half of the time, they look okay. But it’s hard to refer to the perfection I see on those glossy magazine pages and not feel depressed when mine don’t look at all like that.

And as I leafed through the magazine and my mouth watered at the likes of cranberry tartlets and corn bread, bacon, leek and pecan stuffing (The Spouse and I usually use Martha’s corn bread stuffing recipe from years ago) I wondered when or if I’ll be able to find the time to try these recipes out.

Ah, ‘tis just the beginning of the holiday season (and it’s not even Halloween yet) in which I try to enjoy this time of year with the Picket Fence Post kids without making myself crazy that I don’t, and won’t, live up to Martha Stewartian standards. Those pies do look amazing though.

Image credit: Martha Stewart Living.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Three for Thursday: Jail for Missing Parent-Teacher Conferences, Former Bully Target Asks Parents to Help, and Spoiling the Kids

Miss Parent-Teacher Conference Go Directly to Jail?

Say you’re a single working parent in the Detroit area, or you and your child’s other parent both work and neither of you can’t show up for a parent-teacher conference, and perhaps you're not in contact with your kid's teacher even though your kid's not doing well. In that case, the district attorney in your area thinks you should be incarcerated. Because putting a parent behind bars makes a bad situation better, right?

According to the Detroit News, the Wayne County prosecutor is trying to convince the Detroit City Council, as well as the county commission and the state legislature to implement her proposal which “would require parents to attend at least one conference per year or face three days in jail. Parents of those excelling in school would be exempt, as would those whose health issues make travel difficult and those ‘actively engaged’ with teachers through e-mail, phone calls or letters.”

While I think parents being involved in their children’s education is very important (I wear the "Bad Guy" hat all the time when I inquire about the Picket Fence Post kids' homework and school papers and pester them until I see the pieces of dead trees), I shuddered when I read comments like this one from the Detroit city council president who said, “If you aren’t involved in your child’s education, and he or she is failing, it’s child abuse.” Seriously? Child abuse?

Formerly Bullied Kid Asks Parents to Intervene

The web site Lemondrop recently ran a guest blog post from a now-23-year-old woman who started getting harassed by her peers when she was in third grade. The torment lasted all the way through high school. She once asked a teacher for help, but that teacher was unable to make a difference in the student's situation. The writer said:

“Even after I sought help, the bullying didn't stop. From third grade until the age of 16, I was bullied every day. I became increasingly walled off. In class, I would sit in the back, too afraid to say a word, in case anyone would laugh. I tried to become invisible.

Every day, the bullied shrink further into themselves.”

Now that she’s an adult, she’s pleading with today’s parents to step in and stop it if they see or hear about it happening. “I was one scared and lonely girl,” she wrote. “Looking back, I wish I had known that I wasn't alone, that I wasn't the only one going through such a dreadful experience. That's why now, as a well-adjusted adult, I'm choosing to write this letter.”

Author: Stop Spoiling, Start Parenting

The Motherhood web site held an online Q&A with Richard Bromfield, the author of the new book, How to Unspoil Your Child, Fast.

One of Bromfield’s quips was apt about the pressures parents face to act a certain way or buy their kids certain things:

“. . . [A] majority of parents see their own children as spoiled (and also feel handcuffed to do anything about it). It, I think, has been a creeping process that has been fueled mostly by the influence of advertising and media, making everyone want and need more. Previous generations indulged less (or differently) but it can’t be that those parents were good and we are not. We are up against huge and powerful forces that lead us to indulge.”

Whenever I think about this subject – something of which I’m about as guilty as anyone else at times – I think about how my kids are always telling me how bad they’ve got it as compared to all those "other kids" whose mothers, they tell me, are always around to drive their offspring wherever they want whenever they want, frequently schedule awesome sleepovers, sign the kids up for any and all activities their hearts desire (and don't cruelly limit them like we do), give them all cell phones (except for my kids) and whose moms (this is key) don’t do work like I do, even though I work from home.

While I have to listen to my kids tell me how far I’m falling short in comparison to their friends’ mothers, I like to say that they’re just learning to make do with less . . . less of mom completely sacrificing every second of every day for their own, personal enjoyment and enrichment and teaching them to do a little bit more on their own. Making their own snack after school, making their own school lunches and breakfasts in the morning . . . all good things, at least in my book, even if I don't win the Mother of the Year award.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Do YOU Dress Up When Taking Your Kids Trick-or-Treating?

Image credit: NBC
While watching last night's Halloween-themed episode of Parenthood as all the parents with small kids, along with the children's grandparents, dressed in costume while the children trick-or-treated around the neighborhood, I wondered, "How many parents actually do this?"

Sure, I might put on a pair of Groucho Marx glasses or don a weird hat when I'm answering the door to trick-or-treaters while The Spouse is taking the Picket Fence Post kids out to collect sugary goodies which'll turn them into actual monsters, but I've never donned a costume. Neither has the The Spouse. And neither have the parents who've taken their kids to my house to trick-or-treat on Halloween.

Do parents in your area dress in costume on Halloween night when they take their kids trick-or-treating?

Best part of the Parenthood episode -- "Orange Alert," which I reviewed here -- was when the parents looted their kids' Halloween candy afterward. So. True. (It'd be a lot easier to pilfer from their Halloween bounty if The Eldest Son didn't literally count his candy before going to bed.)

Image credit: NBC.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

'Waiting for Superman' Prompting Real Discussions About Education. Finally.

Sure, the new absolutely heart-wrenching documentary, Waiting for Superman, is controversial. Teachers and their unions say it demonizes them and heaps upon them the blame for the failures of the U.S. public educational system in many parts of this country, even though there are plenty of kudos in the film given to talented teachers. They're described as vital to a student's success, even called works of "art" in the movie.

The filmmakers have also been taken to task for promoting charter schools as the big answer. They didn't spotlight any public schools which might be doing well and which could be used as a role model for success in the public sector.

I'm fine with all that criticism. I welcome it. I want people to talk energetically about this documentary and to vigorously debate it. I also want them to see it. Only by getting intellectually engaged by the subject and emotionally involved in it will people actually start to give a hard look to the schools to see where we can improve and where we should stand up loudly say, "Awesome job!" to those who are making a positive difference in children's lives.

After having written a column about the film for Mommy Tracked, I wrote a note to one of my kids' teachers thanking him for inspiring my children to become interested in current events and make them feel like they have a stake in what's going on in the world. If you've got a kid and that kid goes to school, you've got a stake in this subject too.

Oversharing Parents Mocked with New Video

While reading the web site Gawker today I saw this Taiwanese video from Next Media Animation mocking parents who overshare personal information about their children online, on Facebook and on Twitter. For such a brief video, it made a very big point. It even lampoons the infamous "Charlie bit my finger" video as well as the Google Street-cam chasing a kid down a street to record every move for all eternity.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Should I Read Anything Into This Jack-o-Lantern?

My 9-year-old carved his jack-o-lantern to look like a jail.

He took two of his Star Wars action figures which our dog Max had already decapitated and put them inside, prisoners. One was dangling from the top cover by his foot.

A fully in-tact Clone Trooper was placed next to the toothpick bars, reaching out for his freedom.

An analogy of sorts?

The War on Coats

My 9-year-old has announced that coats are his enemy.

He will no longer wear them, he says, because they're not necessary for a kid like him. As an out-of-touch adult, he says, I just wouldn't understand. I also shouldn't pay attention to him when he's shivering and says he's not really cold.

If we lived in a warm climate, that wouldn't be a problem, necessarily.

But we live in New England.

Just this morning, I was getting ready to drop The Youngest Boy off at school when I realized he hadn't brought a coat. (I had to strong-arm him into putting a long-sleeved shirt over his short-sleeve one after breakfast. This was after The Spouse made him put on jeans instead of the shorts he was originally wearing.)

The temperature outside the school was 40 degrees. So I turned around, drove home and insisted that he run into the house to grab a coat. This is a kid who's been dressing in shorts and short-sleeve shirts up until this morning.

And when he was leaving the car, he hand his coat in his hand but informed me he wouldn't be wearing it while he was at school.

How long will this go on, only time will tell. But next time I drive the kid to school, I'm going to make sure his coat's in the car first.

Image credit: Standish web site.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Documentary Spotlights Anti-Gay Bullying in Schools

I just saw the trailer for the educational documentary Bullied: A Student, A School and a Case that Made History, produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and found it powerful, as well as extraordinarily timely given the recent news out of Rutgers University regarding the student suicide, as well as other stories about children committing suicide after being taunted by classmates.

According to the SPLC press release:

"Bullied chronicles the powerful story of a student who stood up to his anti-gay tormentors and won a landmark federal court decision that school officials could be held accountable for not stopping the harassment and abuse of gay students.

Despite that ruling, anti-gay bullying continues to be a severe, nationwide problem. In Massachusetts, for example, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hanged himself with an extension cord in 2009 after being bullied by classmates who perceived him as gay. In September, at least four teens killed themselves after being subjected to anti-gay bullying and harassment. In the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota, at least four students have committed suicide in the past year alone."

The documentary is being made available to schools free of charge. I think this film could be a valuable tool of which I hope schools take advantage.

Three for Thursday: Spaghetti Tacos, No Time for Life, No Cheers for Skimpy Uniforms

Image credit: NYT
 Item #1: Spaghetti Tacos

The New York Times ran a feature story this week about a joke from a children's television comedy, iCarly, that has become, unironically, an alleged reality: Spaghetti tacos:

“On an episode of the hit Nickelodeon series iCarly, the lead character’s eccentric older brother, Spencer, makes dinner one night. Glimpsed on screen, the dish consists of red-sauce-coated pasta stuffed into hard taco shells. What could be more unappealing?

. . . That punch line has now become part of American children’s cuisine, fostering a legion of imitators and improvisers across the country. Spurred on by reruns, Internet traffic, slumber parties and simple old-fashioned word of mouth among children, spaghetti tacos are all the rage.”

To crib a bit from Saturday Night Live: Really New York Times? Really? Parents – aided and abetted by “mom blogs and cooking web sites" – are honestly serving their children carbs inside of carbs with a coating of tomato sauce? Really? It looks like something you see on those gross surgery scenes from Grey's Anatomy.

Have any of you heard of this trend? The Picket Fence Post kids watch iCarly, but I'd never heard of spaghetti tacos before reading the story, nor had I fielded any requests to serve spaghetti tacos. You?

Image credit: NBC
 Item #2: No Time for a Life

Maybe I should just write a weekly segment: What happened on the NBC show Parenthood this week? The show has been so on the mark about issues facing today's parents that I sometimes wonder if the writers have planted spy cameras in my house.

This week, the issue of family overscheduling was highlighted via the characters of Adam and Kristina Braverman. They, along with the at-home dad character Joel, were the stand-ins for parents who don't have enough time to have lives of their own -- to enjoy their own hobbies, to connect with their spouse -- because of the fact that the expectations of modern day parents dictates that they be hyper-involved in all areas of their children's lives, to enroll them in myriad activities and ultra-competitive sports, and to sacrifice their lives so that they can take their kids to all their activities and oversee/correct homework assignments. It’s, on the surface, a small story, not having time for a date night, but it goes right to the heart of discontent, at least in my house.

While I find myself struggling not to be negative or resentful about the sheer quantity of the time-demands placed upon our family by our children’s many activities, I cannot escape the fact that I frequently find myself mourning that I don't have the time I crave and need for myself and for my marriage. Time with my friends? Forget about it. Our schedule is almost entirely devoted to work and kids' stuff, with a bit of volunteer work tossed into the mix. (That last hour-and-change after the kids have gone to bed in the evening and the dishes have been cleaned, doesn't count as grown-up time in my book because The Spouse and/or I are frequently doing work or we're both falling asleep.)

You can read my review of Parenthood, including how the at-home dad of a kindergartner freaked out because he said he has no life outside of taking care of her and the house, here. At least when I'm watching the show, I don't feel like I'm the only one trying to figure out a way to deal with these issues without losing my mind.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Three for Thursday: Satirizing Sanctimommies, Bullying the Allergic, Uncool on 'Parenthood'

Item #1: Satirizing Sanctimommies

When I found this series of online videos satirizing sanctimommies, I was immediately smitten. The videos, posted on xtranormal.com, feature two women at a park, one “normal” (meaning she tries to raise well-rounded kids with her feet firmly planted on the ground) and one who thinks that parenting is a competitive sport complete with winners and losers, who believes it's wise to install GPS chips in her kids.

What I love about the series of videos is how the “normal” mom has the stones to refute the inanities spouted by the judgmental whack-job mom, and the "normal" mom is quick with the retorts, whereas we mere mortals might be rendered speechless and slack-jawed upon hearing such unmitigated garbage being emitted by a fellow parent at a park.

Here’s one of my favorites:

Item #2: Bullying the Allergic

When I read this Fox News story I was astonished and disheartened by the cruelty some children can level at one another. According to a study published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, over 30 percent of school children said they have been the target of harassment at school because they have a food allergy, Fox reported. Forty percent of those kids who were harassed said the harassment took a physical form “such as being touched with their allergen, such as a peanut, or having the allergen thrown or waved at them,” Fox reported.

The vice president of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, who also worked on the study, said, “Recent cases involving bullying and food allergies include a middle school student who found peanut butter cookie crumbs in her lunchbox and a high school student whose forehead was smeared with peanut butter in the cafeteria.”

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the study found that 20 percent of those who harassed students with allergies were teachers or school staff.

Item #3: Uncool on Parenthood

The first few episodes of Parenthood this season have been excellent. They’ve depicted parents as flawed, selfish, selfless, controlling, hopeful and worried adults, in other words, like flesh and blood, well-rounded people. This past episode (still available for free online viewing until Nov. 3) stood out for me because I completely related to it.

First, there was the dad, Adam (Peter Krause), who had his feelings hurt when his son Max, who has Asperger’s, was disinterested in speaking to or spending time with him. Adam tried, on several occasions, to engage Max in a conversation, to persuade him to sit next to him and watch a baseball game, all to no avail. Are there any parents who HAVEN’T experienced that gut-level twinge when our kids push us away, don’t seem to care about our feelings or act like they don’t want us around?

Second, there was Adam’s wife Kristina (Monica Potter), who used to work on political campaigns before becoming an at-home mom, who was over the moon when she learned that her teenage daughter Haddie was going to run for class president. Only Kristina, blinded by her enthusiasm, pushed way too hard, tried to take over Haddie’s campaign and then admonished her daughter for not appreciating her mother’s efforts. Just a few hours before this episode aired, The Girl came home from school and told me she was thinking about joining the school newspaper. I, a former newspaper reporter, was ecstatic (even though newspapers are, in their current form, dying) and had visions of my mentoring her running through my head. But after watching how this played out on Parenthood, I think I’ll wait for The Girl to come to me and ASK for help if she needs it.

Third, there was the sad spectacle of Sarah (Lauren Graham) who was jealous that her teenage daughter Amber was spending so much time with her friend’s parents, who are rich and with whom Sarah felt she couldn’t compete. In order to fashion herself into the “cool” mom in her daughter’s eyes, Sarah went to great lengths, though it was painfully clear – especially after a bouncer called her “ma’am” -- that she’s no longer a hip club-hopper and that trying to seem cool to her a daughter is a losing battle.

For my review of the must-watch episode, go here, to the Clique Clack TV site.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Being 'The One' Who's Mean and, Apparently, Power-Mad

Image credit: Comics Kingdom/Oregonian
“Why do you have to be the one?”

That’s what a child of mine – who shall remain nameless -- asked me recently when said individual was railing against me, the power-mad, all controlling mother who'd said, "No," to something the person requested. Over the past few weeks, here are the questions two of the Picket Fence Post kids have asked me this person wanted to know was:

Why do I have to work? (Two of my children gripe about the fact hat I’m not as available as “the other moms” who volunteer in the schools, constantly arrange play dates for their kids and sign their offspring up for as many sports and activities as the children desire. Meanwhile, I can barely get the kids to their sports practices on time, feed them, oversee their homework and do my own work.)

Why do I make the family go to church? (Our Christian-Jewish family attends a Unitarian Universalist church where the Picket Fence Post kids – two of ‘em anyway – are practically dragged kicking and screaming into Sunday school each week. They think that my forcing them to go to church is, like, totally unfair and mean.)

Why don’t I drive the kids to school/pick them up every day like other parents? (Whenever possible, I have the kids take the school bus. It's simply more convenient. However because they have to be at school early – meaning before the bus would arrive at the school – for various activities, The Spouse or I already drive them to school three mornings a week.)

Why do I buy “only healthy” foods and try to avoid foods containing high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats when “no one else's mother” does? (I’m constantly accused of depriving my children of sweets and being a wild-eyed health nut. Me! The one who’s addicted to coffee and has an unhealthy attachment to barbecue potato chips. When I pointed out to the child who was asking me this question that, during the course of the week in which this statement was uttered, I’d made apple crisp served it with ice cream, bought a second gallon of ice cream, purchased Mint Milanos, snickerdoodle cookies and Cheez-Its, the kid replied, “Well those don’t count.” Why didn’t those foods count? Because all the sweets/snacks had already been consumed when the kid said this, except for the vanilla ice cream, and the complainer didn’t feel like having vanilla ice cream.)

Why don’t I allow the children to have unfettered access to the internet and computers in their rooms like “all the other kids at school?” (The kids can use a family laptop computer as long as they do so in a common area of the house – like the kitchen or dining room – and there’s a parental control on it which, I must say, is a pain in the neck as I'm constantly having to "approve" sites. In instances when they’ve wanted to go on YouTube -- which gets blocked, they’ve had to do it with me or The Spouse overseeing it. This makes me/us overprotective, hovering freak(s), apparently.)

Why do I limit their TV watching/video game playing? (We have a so-called “TV hour” on weekdays, timed to occur when I’m making dinner and don’t feel like dealing with the inevitable gripes about what I’m cooking. However they’ll keep watching/playing long after the hour has elapsed, waiting for me to tell them to turn it off. Even if it’s been in excess of an hour, I still get griping or pleas of, “Oh Mom, just let me finish this level” or “But we just started this show!”)

Why won’t I let them have cell phones when “tons of other kids” in their school have them? (I’ve told them that when they’re going to be in locations where they will have to spend time alone, without adult supervision, or if they have to walk long distances alone, I’ll get – or loan them – cell phones. So far, there hasn’t been a need for them. When they’ve taken walks with the dog, I've let them borrow my phone. This unreasonable, irrational anti-cell phone stance means that I’ve destroyed their street cred and made it impossible for the other kids to text them.) This last question was the subject of today’s Pajama Diaries comic which made me laugh when I saw it this morning.

Sometimes being “The One” who places all these restrictions on the kids feels pretty lonely, especially when they make me sound like just this side of Attila the Hun. I just hope that, once they're older, they'll get that I was trying to do what I thought was right for them, not act like a power-mad dictator. Believe me, it's not because it's fun being "The One." It'd be much easier for me to say, "Yes" to most of these things instead of enduring their criticisms all the time as they sometimes wish aloud that one of the "other" sainted mothers that their friends have were their mom.

Image credit: Pajama Diaries via Oregonian/Comics Kingdom.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Me & The Mom from 'The Middle:' Trying to Get (And Stay) Organized for School

Image credit: ABC
While watching The Middle’s season premiere this week I felt as though I was a kindred spirit with the lead character, Frankie Heck, played by Patricia Heaton.

After a disastrous first day of school in the Heck household – everyone got up late, the grade-school-aged boy’s backpack still had a rotting sandwich from the previous school year inside, the kids (including the teen boy who was still in his boxers but was holding his clothes in his hand) missed the bus – Frankie vowed to change things when it came to school, “get in front" of the things they needed to do” for once in their lives.

The following morning, Frankie got up early and prepared a hot breakfast of bacon and eggs (which seriously confused her kids because she never does that), got and set an alarm for her teenage son so he could get himself up, bought her youngest a new backpack, baked a freezer full of brownies so she’d be prepared for a year’s worth of school bake sales, filled out all school paperwork immediately, dashed off a check for her daughter’s cross country team sweatshirt right away and met with her youngest son’s teacher on day three of school to give her a head’s up on his idiosyncratic behavior.

I’ve been trying to do a similar thing since the Picket Fence Post kids have returned to school. Thus far, I’ve filled out and returned every form immediately (or at least I’ve handed them to the kids, whether they’ve submitted them is anyone’s guess). I’ve grabbed my BlackBerry and the family calendar in our kitchen and recorded the dates and times for things like school picture day, curriculum nights and parental information nights so as to not inadvertently miss them. I’ve been writing the day’s events on our white board in the kitchen (next to the fridge and the family calendar) the evening beforehand after the kids are in bed so everyone can see what’s on the agenda and plan accordingly.

After a disastrous first day of school in the Heck household – everyone got up late, the grade-school-aged boy’s backpack still had a rotting sandwich from the previous school year inside, the kids (even the teen boy in boxers, holding his clothes in his hand) missed the bus – Frankie vowed to change things when it came to school, “get in front of them” for once.

The following morning, Frankie got up early and prepared a hot breakfast of bacon and eggs (which seriously confused her kids because she never does that), got and set an alarm for her teenage son so he could get himself up, bought her youngest a new backpack, baked a freezer full of brownies so she’d be prepared for a year’s worth of school bake sales, filled out all school paperwork immediately, dashed off a check for her daughter’s cross country team sweatshirt right away and met with her youngest son’s teacher on day three of school to give her a head’s up on his idiosyncratic behavior.

I’ve been trying to do a similar thing since the Picket Fence Post kids have returned to school. Thus far, I’ve filled out and returned every form immediately (or at least I’ve handed them to the kids, whether they’ve submitted them is anyone’s guess). I’ve grabbed my BlackBerry and the family calendar in our kitchen and recorded the dates and times for things like school picture day, curriculum nights and parental information nights so as to not inadvertently miss them. I’ve been writing the day’s events on our white board the evening beforehand after the kids are in bed so everyone can see what’s on the agenda and plan accordingly.

Then I went to two different back-to-school nights and learned that one kid had reading assignments he was already supposed to be doing at home but hadn’t been. Teachers referred to some textbooks that the students had been given, assuming that we parents knew all about them. (I know that my kids had to – and promptly did – put covers on their textbooks. The Spouse helped them turn paper grocery bags into book covers the night the books came home, but I personally didn’t had a chance to comb through all their books. I did peek at a social studies text though.)

The two boys are in their school bands but neither child can seem to remember exactly when they’re supposed to go to school early and when they’re supposed to bring their instruments to school. Given that The Youngest Boy has a giant xylophone in a rolling case, it’s kind of important to know when he’s expected to lug it there. Though I’m really big on getting the kids to be responsible for their own things and assignments – how will they learn if they don’t make mistakes? – I must admit I’ve sent e-mails to their band teachers attempting to clear the confusion so the kids don’t spring a “Hey mom you need to drive me to school!” announcement while I’m still in my PJs and they have to leave immediately.

For the fictional Frankie Heck on The Middle, her valiant attempts to “get in front” of all the school madness backfired, went kaflooey and she gave up. Hopefully, that won’t be my fate too. I’m still doggedly hanging on the illusion that I can keep on top of this school stuff. Then again, it’s only September.

Image credit: ABC.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Three for Thursday: More on Dad's Stand for Bullied Daughter, Sports Schedule Woes & Saying Good-Bye to Family Car on 'Modern Family'

Item #1: Dad Stands Up for His Daughter, Follow-Up

Remember the story I wrote about last week about the Florida dad who boarded a school bus after his daughter had been bullied on it, demanded to know the identity of her tormentor(s) and was threatened with arrest? Well more info on the story has come to light.

After the father apologized for his behavior – he was charged with two misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and disturbing a school function -- he told the media that his 13-year-old daughter has cerebral palsy and that students on her bus had allegedly repeatedly harassed her, smacked her on the head, spit on her and even tossed a condom at her. Reading all of this and seeing the video below, who can blame this dad for getting angry and storming onto the bus?

Item #2: Sports Schedule Woes

I’m trying to be a good sports parent. Really. I am. *earnest smile plastered on face*

Although I deeply resent how, in order to allow one’s children to participate in youth sports at even a minimum level, one has to assent to having one’s family’s weekends hijacked by uncompromising sports schedules which make visiting family or things like having old fashioned Sunday dinners – as I longed for when I wrote this post – nearly impossible, I’ve been trying to go with the flow these past weeks.

It hasn’t been easy.

The Youngest Boy’s hockey schedule is extremely fluid. Too fluid. To borrow an analogy used on Mad Men on Sunday night, it’s like soup that’s spreading all across the kitchen counter, but no matter how much you try to capture it in a pot or hold it in your hands, there’s still more of it that you’ve missed, that's still on the counter or slips through your fingers and it winds up dripping all over the floor and onto your shoes.

There’s no one regular hockey practice time, therefore, practices pop up in my e-mail box intermittently, most of the time for dates when I’ve already made plans for that particular time slot and have to do major schedule shifting, delaying and appealing to other parents for transportation help in order to accommodate these “new” practice times. (I get that booking hockey times can be extremely challenging, but something that we can at least count on and work with would be nice.)

Just this past weekend, there was a 6:50 p.m. practice scheduled for Sunday. But when The Spouse brought The Youngest Boy to the arena, they were informed that the folks who send out the e-mail schedule updates had mistakenly put “p.m.” instead of “a.m.” The practice was at 6:50 a.m. The Spouse and the other parents who showed up with their kids were admonished to check the hockey web site EVERY DAY to see if there are changes to practice and game schedules that weren’t either e-mailed to us via the hockey calendar e-mail system or the coach. (Like parents have nothing better to do than to chase down the hockey people to see if they’ve decided to switch things around with no notice and without telling anyone. Add it to the list with making sure the kids are fed super-nutritious and home-cooked meals, bathed, clothed, have done their homework and didn’t leave their shoes by the front door so that the dog’ll chew them up.)

Even when the schedules are set, things are still proving rather, shall I say, constraining. The Eldest Boy’s soccer practices go until 8 on Friday nights. One of The Girl’s soccer practices is late on Sunday afternoons, and The Youngest Boy’s hockey games range wildly in their times from very early in the morning – I’m talking 6 a.m., which means he has to be at the arena at 5:30 – on a Saturday or Sunday morning, or they can be in the middle of the day, when he’ll have to wear his uniform to church and race out of there in order to make it to the game. He has a few games on Friday evenings.

What does this all mean? It means that we have practically no weekends where there’s a significant block of free time to, say, drive out to western Massachusetts to visit my parents for an afternoon or spend the day in Boston if we wanted to. I’ve had to tell The Picket Fence Post grandparents that the best way to see their grandchildren is to come to their games.

This is making Mommy extremely frazzled – especially with new hockey practice times cropping up like time bombs waiting to blow the family schedule all to hell – but I’m trying, really, I am, to be a good sport about all this. Go team!. . . and please pass the ginormous cup of java. I really need it.

Item #3: Modern Family: Saying Goodbye to the Old Family Car

Modern Family returned last night for its sophomore season debut and it was funny – I laughed out loud at Cameron’s flinching when Mitchell used the nail gun and the nails went through a wall and nearly impaled Cameron’s back – but I think my expectations for this wonderful show were too high because I wanted it to be off-the-charts hilarious, and it fell short of that.

But there were moments that resonated nonetheless, like the story arc about the old Dunphy family station wagon that Claire wanted Phil to sell because it’d been sitting in their garage, unused, for years. It was the car they used when their children were very young, when Luke was a toddler (and used to frequently puke in it, thus they nicknamed his puke bucket they kept in the car, “Buckety”). While going through the car to prepare it for sale, Claire began to feel nostalgic about when they were a young family, so they took the old bucket of bolts out for one last hurrah and the video below is what happened.

This reminded me of how attached members of the Picket Fence Post family were to our tan mini-van – christened the “funny van” by The Eldest Boy when he was 2, who’d misheard us call it a mini-van; the “funny van” name stuck – when we got rid of it a few years ago. We got it when I was pregnant with my 9-year-old, and when we got rid of it, it was a very sad day for one unnamed member of the Picket Fence Post family.