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When I originally made the reservation to stay overnight at the Liberty Hotel in Boston to celebrate my 18th wedding anniversary with The Spouse, there was nothing on the calendar in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.