Monday, July 26, 2010

First Time Golfing in 12+ Years . . .

. . . and on the first swing, at the first tee, this happened:

I went par-three golfing with The Spouse and The Eldest Boy at a nine-hole course over the weekend, used The Spouse's "old" clubs and could not believe it when the ball and the head of the 6 iron went flying in front of me just after I made contact with the ball. (The ball wound up in a decent spot on the fairway, regardless of my decapitating the club.)

After we all stopped laughing, I worried that this was some kind of bad omen for our little outing, my first time on a golf course since before I had the twins, in what seems like a lifetime ago. But, all in all, it wasn't bad. Whenever I started doing miserably -- which was whenever I lost the tiny bit of patience I possess -- I just picked up my ball and said, "I'm all done on this one." Things went much smoother that way.

I think it helped that The Spouse did not keep score. (We can get very competitive. Scrabble games can spawn epic arguments.) But who am I kidding? He probably kept score in his head and has just grown wise enough after all these years not to say them out loud . . . thus ensuring another golf outing in the future.

For his part, The Eldest Boy did quite well, parring a great number of holes despite this having been his first time on the links in a while. I'm sure, if I asked him, he knows what he shot, and probably what I shot as well. However, I feel just fine not knowing. It'd be too depressing.

Betty Draper, Mother of the Year

*Warning spoilers from the recent episode of Mad Men.*

Mad Men’s Betty Draper could be considered the antithesis of what one would consider to be a good, caring mother, at least by today's standards. She’s constantly telling her kids to “go upstairs,” “go watch TV” or once, to “go bang your head against a wall.”

So when the fourth season of the AMC drama began last night, we got more ammo for our arsenal painting Betty as, shall we say, a less than perfect parent:

While eating her first Thanksgiving dinner with her new in-laws, her mother-in-law asked Betty’s daughter Sally, “Don’t you like the food dear?”

Sally answered honestly, “No.”

“Sally Draper, that’s rude," said Betty, aghast. "You love cranberry sauce.”

To which Sally replied, “It’s got seeds in it.”

“How ‘bout the sweet potato?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Look, there’s marshmallow,” said Betty as she forced a forkful of marshmallow-topped sweet potato into Sally’s mouth. Sally then pulled a Tom Hanks in Big by letting the food fall from her mouth back onto her plate as she gagged muttering, "I'm sorry."

Betty lied, said something about Sally having a fever and being "sick," and dragged her into the other room. Sally could be heard yelling, “Ow, stop pinching me,” as a door slammed.

Later in the episode, Sally tried to call her dad Don, who was living in a bachelor pad in New York City (as opposed to the suburbs where he used to live with his family before the divorce), to wish him a Happy Thanksgiving. The previews imply that it won’t be long before Sally’s practically begging to go live with Don to get away from her cold mother.

Although I despised her, Henry’s mom had a point when she said of Betty’s children Sally and Bobby, “I’ve raised children in my life Henry. They’re terrified of her.”

Image: Michael Yarish/AMC. Video clip from AMC via Jezebel.

Friday, July 23, 2010

'Mad Men' Starts Sunday = More of Betty Draper's Bad Parenting

One of the secret pleasures of watching Mad Men is observing Betty Draper doing a cruddy, cold job of parenting (like reprimanding her daughter Sally for leaving the dry cleaning on the floor but not for putting the plastic bag over her head) and knowing that, at the very least, my parenting looks gloriously Dr. Spock-ian by comparison.

New York Magazine put together a compilation video of Betty's not-so-noble parenting moments:

Then again, if someone were to follow me around with a video camera during these long, work-from-home summer days -- particularly when I'm on a deadline -- I'd hate to see the edited video they'd be able to produce, focusing just on me snapping at the kids.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Summer Shorts: 'Caring' Too Much, 'Despicable Me,' Sabbath Family Dinners Feed the Soul?

During a recent trip to the public library with the Picket Fence Post kids, The Eldest Boy saw the book, Parents Who Care Too Much, displayed atop a book case. “You should read that,” he said, a twinkle in his eyes.


We were on our way to go see Despicable Me, our trip timed so that we’d miss the coming attractions because we’ve had some bad experiences with violent/inappropriate trailers for films freakin’ my kids out in the past. The way I calculated it, we’d make it into the theater approximately 15 minutes after the listed start time so I figured we’d be sitting down just as the feature presentation began. (Before Toy Story 3 began on opening weekend, the trailers went on for 20+ minutes.)

Until I heard this from The Youngest boy when we were a third of the way there: “Oh no! I forgot my shoes!”


Speaking of Despicable Me . . . I really liked the movie (as did the kids), particularly its amusing reference to The Bank of Evil, “formerly known as Lehman Brothers.” I was similarly amused to see the villain/adopted dad Gru having trouble balancing working from home with caring for his three adopted daughters, particularly when he was on a “work call” and doing a presentation that was messed up by the kiddos, causing embarrassment and leading to Gru’s colleagues questioning his dedication to his craft of supreme, treacherous villainy.

At least I’m not the only work-from-home parent who feels torn between work and cute-by-intrusive kiddos every 10 minutes.

Read an intriguing piece in the New York Times yesterday about a mini-trend (if indeed it’s actually a trend, because sometimes I'm skeptical when I see "trend" stories): Restoring the observance of a Sabbath, not necessarily to worship or pray, but as a way to connect with others.

The article discussed Jewish folks who were trying to cut back on Saturday activities, avoiding engaging in “commerce,” scaling back on the use of technology, etc. and instead spending time with one another’s family, friends and community by sharing a weekly meal together, maybe getting outside more often. There were some Christians who were also quoted who are trying to do the same thing only on Sundays.

A former priest/author provided this fascinating quote about observing a “Sabbath” weekend day which includes a family meal: “Its roots are religious. As Christians, we have completely lost the sense of the origins of the Mass, which is the Eucharist, which is a meal. If Jesus were to visit us, it would have the Sunday dinner he would have insisted on being a part of, not the worship service at church.” Was he saying that the Sabbath/Sunday family meal is as sacred as the Eucharist, that it feeds the soul?

‘Twas an interesting concept which I tried in vain to discuss with The Spouse over the breakfast table, musing about whether we should commit to our own dinner ritual on Sunday afternoons (when Patriots' games could be DVRed in the fall and we’d be done with dinner in time for The Spouse to make his men’s basketball league games on Sunday evenings, RIGHT in the middle of the dinner hour). However The Spouse was too consumed with playing the game of Life with The Youngest Boy and The Girl to have a real discussion about it. Or perhaps he was simply avoiding getting sucked into one of my new crusades which would mean we’d have to spend part of Sundays afternoons cooking. Hmm.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Four for Friday: A Friend for Max, More on NY Mag's 'Parents Hate Parenting' Story, Tween Texting & Talkin' 'Bout Birds, Bees

Item #1: A Friend for Max?

Our Havanese-Wheaten Terrier dog Max (we affectionately call him a Mini-Wheat) recently turned one. And although he’s still a rambunctious chewing machine – he’ll gnaw on anything he can grab (like shoes, books, clothing, decapitate action figures, etc.) – I’ve started a campaign in the Picket Fence Post household which is driving The Spouse nuts: I’ve been telling him that, in my humble opinion, I think Max needs a friend.

If Max were a person, he'd very likely be considered a “people person.” Whenever another dog is around, Max is thrilled beyond belief, playful and happy. It’s not that he’s unhappy when he’s home with us or when he’s sleeping on my office floor while I work at my desk, it's just that I’ve been wondering if he’d be happier with another, similarly sized friend to pal around with.

Friends to whom I've mentioned this think I’d be crazy to add to the chaos of our house, even though the kids think it’s a great idea.

That being said, I’d love to hear from anyone of you who have two dogs. Please, give me your unvarnished, true stories about what having two hairy beasts in the house is really like.

Item #2: More on New York Mag’s ‘Parents Hate Parenting’ Cover Story

That New York Magazine story about why parents love their kids but hate contemporary child-rearing certainly hit a nerve. It’s being debated all over them there internets. (I blogged about it here.) The story’s author, Jennifer Senior, appeared this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe (a show to which I’m addicted, by the way) and an interesting exchange ensued. You can see the interview here.

Item #3: Tweens & Texting/Social Media

If you have children in middle school – or about to enter middle school – I believe that it’s imperative that you read this article, “Online Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray” from the New York Times which featured middle school principals who are struggling with the in-school aftermath of vicious, sexually explicit, harassing behavior on social networks and via texting that goes on between students.

The level of vitriol and physical threats became so bad during this past school year that one principal from New Jersey sent an e-mail to parents saying, “There is absolutely NO reason for any middle school student to be part of a social networking site.”

Why? Because the kids can’t, from a developmental point of view, handle it or sufficiently foresee the consequences of their actions. “It’s easier to fight online,” one middle schooler told the Times, “because you feel more brave and in control. On Facebook you can be as mean as you want.” Because when you're called fat, slutty, cheap or stupid by a whole group of your peers, in front of all your classmates on Facebook, it hurts your feelings less, right?

If you pair this article with one I saw recently in the Boston Globe -- which cited studies which have shown that the frontal lobe, which controls judgment, isn’t fully developed until roughly age 25 -- one could make a compelling case to bolster what the Jersey principal was saying about keeping middle schoolers off of social networking and texting.

A Harvard Medical School neurologist told the Globe: “We all know what the frontal lobe does. It’s insight, judgment, inhibition, self-awareness, cause and effect, acknowledgment of cause and effect. And big surprise: It’s not done in your teen years. Hence [teens’] impulsiveness, their unpredictable behavior, their lack of ability to acknowledge and see cause and effect. . .”

So it’s no wonder that kids think that being mean on Facebook or writing a horrifically abusive text messages has no correlation to someone’s real life feelings. Call me a Luddite if you will, but I’m with the New Jersey principal on this one.

Item #4: Talkin’ Birds and Bees

Having THOSE difficult conversations with one’s children -- you know, the sex ones -- can be awkward. And you don't tend to get them over with all at once, in a single conversation. You may think that, once you’ve covered the technical, biological explanations, you’re done, but in reality, that's only just the beginning.

In my house, having THOSE conversations only spawned more questions, MANY more questions. Hence my July GateHouse News Service column about having those talks with my fifth grader twins while The Spouse fled the room in terror.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New York Magazine Asks, Why Do Parents Hate Parenting?

New York Magazine has a very provocative cover story this week by Jennifer Senior about happiness and parenting. Senior wrote:

“Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so.”

The most horrifyingly accurate paragraph went as follows:

"Before urbanization, children were viewed as economic assets to their parents. If you had a farm, they toiled alongside you to maintain its upkeep; if you had a family business, the kids helped mind the store. But all of this dramatically changed with the moral and technological revolutions of modernity. As we gained in prosperity, childhood came increasingly to be viewed as a protected, privileged time, and once college degrees became essential to getting ahead, children became not only a great expense but subjects to be sculpted, stimulated, instructed, groomed. (The Princeton sociologist Viviana Zelizer describes this transformation of a child’s value in five ruthless words: 'Economically worthless but emotionally priceless.') Kids, in short, went from being our staffs to being our bosses."

. . . being our bosses.

I oftentimes feel that, in the world of modern parenting, many things, people and institutions elevate children above their parents, putting the parents – who are financially, legally and morally responsible for said children, must raise them and teach them, etc. – at a power disadvantage. A loud chorus of parenting "experts," who are so fond of prattling on in the media, loves to tell us how very important it is to focus on bolstering our children’s self-esteem, urging us to concoct alternatives to the word “No” and to afford children, even very young ones, the “illusion” of control on many things in their day-to-day life.

Additionally, these experts tell parents that they should not ever shout (never mind swear) at their children because to do so is akin to committing lasting emotionally damage, like the verbal equivalent of whacking the kids on the head with a two-by-four. When parents are struggling for alternatives to the word "No," when they can't shout, can't reprimand, they're expected to be hyper-vigilant, hyper-involved and hyper-aware of everything, like whether the kids have applied sunscreen, bug spray, are properly hydrated and whether they've consumed any high fructose corn syrup.

Then throw into the mix the notion that, as Senior wrote, “middle- and upper-income families . . . see their children as projects to be perfected.” Those “projects,” and the high expectations that people have for parents to entertain, educate, fill with organic/homemade/locavore fare (but not too much "filling" lest we have an obesity issue with which to contend), to take to the “right” sports camps, to get onto the “right” teams, to make sure have the "best" science projects for the science fare (it's called “aggressive nurturing” in the article) are, frankly, freakin’ exhausting. It’s no wonder people aren’t having fun and really enjoying this precious time with their children before they grow up and leave us crying about the end of their childhood like the parents in the audience did at the end of Toy Story 3.

The most fun I have with my own kids, the times when I feel most fulfilled is when we’ve got nothing planned, when we’re not in a rush and there's no pressure to make a specific meal and we just hang around together, maybe talking or playing a game or just lying in a big pile on my bed being goofy. That’s when the pressure to be perfect, to “aggressively nurture” is off and joy enters the picture. And I think that if parents were able to spend more time hitting that release valve and depressurize our families – and stop making parents do things like sign all the homework assignments, fight with their second graders to make them complete homework assignments and run the children run off to yet another practice or game – we’d all be a lot happier, or at least I would. The simpler, the better.

“Loving one’s children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing,” Senior wrote . . . especially when "parenting," according to today's insane standards, has become an unnecessarily complicated, high-pressured gig.

Image credit: New York Magazine.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Me, 'Mad Men-ned' as a 1960s Housewife Like Betty

The good folks at AMC -- the network which airs my very favorite show Mad Men (now that Lost/I'mgoingtopretendthatfinaleneverreallyhappened is no longer on TV) -- have once again tapped the extraordinary talents of illustrator Dyna Moe to produce 1960s-styled avatars which you can personalize by selecting various options (hair, body, clothing, etc.) and insert into various scenes from Mad Men.

When it was first introduced last year, it was a huge internet hit so AMC is trying to recreate "The Wheel" with a new and improved version of Mad Men Yourself. With new scenes (like Betty's fainting couch, and Don at an outdoor restaurant in Rome), accessories and clothing, you can Mad Men Yourself all over again.

Here are two versions of me, circa the Mad Men era, one with java and one with a newspaper:

Wonder what it'd look like if I had the Picket Fence Post kids Mad Men themselves? I'll pick a moment when they're driving me stark, raving insane and then pull out the laptop and see what happens.